Calliope Wong is a recent high school graduate and activist. This spring she launched a media campaign to make Smith College change admission policy to include trans women. She is a member of the GLSEN Connecticut Students of Color Organizing Team and SPARKteam.
As a Chinese-American pansexual transwoman activist (among other things), I’d say that I’ve put myself out there. In the past year, I’ve started a Tumblr-based media campaign to promote transwoman inclusion at Smith and other women’s colleges. I’ve worked with the Huffington Post, ABC, and other news organizations to get my message out. I’ve given workshops on the societal and internal-cultural struggles of trans and gender-nonconforming people of color at True Colors, the largest youth conference in the US. As of current, I’m a member of GLSEN Connecticut and SPARKteam, both organizations that promote minority representation through action and writing. Sure, I’m an activist, in that I believe in changing the world for the better. And I will use my thoughts, words, deeds, and whatever it takes so I can help close those gaps I see between ideal and reality.
Yet, there are still very much those moments in life when I’m terrified and even ashamed to be…well, queer, weird me. It’s more than just dysphoria, the often-pervasive sense of disconnect between mind and body that many transfolk deal with as a part of daily life. There’s this deep-rooted and internalized sense of self-invalidation mixed in, built up from years of self-doubt and lack of hope that other people will see me for who I am beyond stereotypes. Even though I consider myself relatively open about my history as a transwoman, the fact of the matter is that come those moments when I’m being stared at while in the women’s aisle of a store, or in public walking about, or getting my DMV identification information checked I sometimes back myself into the corner and resume being the cowering wallflower I was for so many years. Afraid. Unable to speak. And very, very far from proud of myself in the face of adversity.
In those moments, I’m not at my strongest. Those cracks in my shell have been there since the beginning and they come from a thousand different sources. When I was a little kid, lost and wondering who I “could” be friends with--boys or girls--and ended up alone for years. When I began burying and repressing my gender identity as a girl, until denial caught up with me and I had to face the truth in sophomore year of high school. It certainly doesn’t make life any easier with internal-cultural struggles, when loved ones like parents, who come from your same cultural background, lack the vocabulary or experience to respect who you are. I can honestly say I understand the horror of feeling like a small person in a very big world--when life bottoms you out, and pride feels like an impossible thing meant for other people.
So what can a person do, when pressured to feel small and back down?
I will never tell anyone to “suck it up” and “just deal with it;” more than rude or hypocritical--that’s really useless to say. The only thing I can give as advice is something that’s worked for me, when my pride seems to have fled me.
What I want to get clear is that--even when you’re afraid or unable to be proud of yourself at a bad moment--there is always a sense of unbreakable honor that you can fall back on. I’m not asking anything impossible when I suggest that you close your eyes--just for the span of a blink or so--and remember.
Remember that there is a certain honor, a greatness, in being a part of the community of people you love. I don’t mean that as a sort of lead weight to drag a person down--I don’t want to imply that anyone in the LGBTQ+ community (or for that matter, any community) is ever obligated to become an activist or start doing anything that he/she/ze doesn’t want to do for the sake of others. But I am saying that confidence and pride is in the people you love, and who love you.
Clear your mind of all the twisted, convincing things that might tell you that you are going nowhere--that you are powerless, and not as worthwhile as anyone else out there. Close your eyes for that blink of a moment. Imagine all the ones who have ever believed in you, standing with you in the room.
And, looking at that crowd, you realize you are not powerless. You are not no one. And you are never really alone.
You have everything and everyone you need to stand tall.