Overcoming my Hidden Transphobia

I admit, as a transgender woman, I still struggle with transphobia.

Amethysta Herrick
Amethysta Herrick
, modifed slightly by the author

This statement may sound ridiculous — how could I be afraid of myself, especially when so much of my writing has been a celebration of the last five months of transition? But this point was brought home forcefully yesterday when I went to change the name and gender marker on my driver’s license.

Amethysta: the early years

When my wife and I arrived in Colorado, I was not in good mental health. We moved here because — after ten years as a software developer — I figured I could be happier back in chemistry. I accepted a post-Doctoral research position, believing that the gnawing pit in my soul could be filled by dye-sensitized solar cells when it could not be filled by XML web services.

The first time I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles in town, a transgender woman helped me with my driver’s license. I remember being repulsed by her. How could such an abomination exist? Didn’t she realize how wrong she was? The whole world was against her. I was appalled she would be as vain as to spit in the face of society with her transition. How dare she?

A normal person — even having felt such emotion — would likely forget this encounter quickly. I did not. The encounter stuck with me. It fact, I seemed to cross paths with this same transgender woman all over town. I go to coffee with a friend of mine? There she is chatting with a friend on the couch across from us. I eat lunch with a different friend at the mall? Again, there she is, this time reading a book, relaxing in a chair in the sun by the door.

No matter where I went, her specter lingered, haunting my footsteps, leaving me checking over my shoulder in case I should be accosted.

I hated her.

The dawning realization

In the past year, I have come to understand myself better than I ever have. I look back over my behavior for 52 years and see patterns that scream gender dysphoria. Emotional puzzles that appeared to have no solution are obvious through the lens of a burning need to transition gender.

I never hated the transgender woman at the DMV.

I envied her.

I hated myself for not having the strength to do what she did. More accurately, I hated myself so much I could not do what she did. It takes a threshold value of self-love to recognize the time has come to tear yourself down and rebuild. I was never convinced I could find that love inside myself.

Instead, I held the hatred inside myself, cultivated it, ensured that I could never love myself. I also projected my hatred outward — toward the LGBTQ community, toward the very people who could have helped me find the acceptance I desperately needed. Any sign of transgender made me uncomfortable. But I did not realize my own transphobia until early this year, as I began to accept that I, too, am transgender. That I, too, am worthy of living as who I am.

My new driver’s license

Yesterday, I went to the DMV to renew my driver’s license. A judge granted a legal name change in November. Three weeks ago, I filed to amend my California birth certificate. I am ready to change the rest of my documentation and become Amethysta full-time.

When I arrived at the DMV with my wife, I wondered if I would be helped by the same transgender woman I had reviled in my mind for fourteen years. In my crazy Universe, I felt there would be a beautiful symmetry to the situation. Perhaps I could finally close that chapter in my ugly history.

Unfortunately, I did not see the transgender woman as I waited to be called. I sat patiently until my number was next. Just then, the door opened, and the transgender woman walked to a desk, ready to accept another customer. The Universe had listened to my deep need for realization.

She called the number of the person after me. I have no idea why — we were both there for a renewal, but we learn from an early age not to question the DMV if you expect to get your needs fulfilled.

The best time I ever had at the DMV

My number was called by the woman directly next to the transgender woman. As I stepped up to the counter, I told the lady helping me — I will call her Brianna — that I needed to change name and gender marker. Brianna lit up like a child experiencing a fireworks show. She pointed to the transgender woman and asked if I knew their “resident rock star.” The transgender woman — whom I will call Luna — turned and smiled. She recognized her kindred and introduced herself, the other poor, license-renewal-needing schlub forgotten.

Fourteen years of hatred, fear, and pain dropped away.

Brianna and Luna were delighted to help me change my name and gender marker. I got to know both ladies in the fifteen minutes I stood there. Brianna told me several times that my new name, my new look — my new everything — was so much better than that old, grumpy one. Luna handed me a business card with local resources in case I needed them. I felt loved. I felt seen. I felt that I could even see and love myself.

My license renewal complete, Brianna wished me the best, then said “Hang on, let me come around.” She jumped up from her desk and broached the hermetic seal of Plexiglas that prevents the DMV from appearing at all welcoming. She held her arms out to me for a hug, tears in her eyes. I would like to report that I kept my composure — if for no other reason than I still needed to take a photograph and certainly could not afford to smudge my makeup before. But no, I teared up. Brianna hugged me fiercely, she gave me congratulations, that she was honored to have helped me, and proud of me for becoming who I am.

My head reeling, I sat and waited to take a new photograph. The lady working the camera mispronounced my name slightly, and took two photos — she wanted to make sure that she got a good one. When she was finished, she looked up into my eyes and declared that this photo had such a bright smile. She told me I “look beautiful — much better than that old one.”

If ever it were possible to have a pleasant time in the Department of Motor Vehicles, I had it yesterday. The sense of my own realness — that I truly exist — had been buoyed by three women who could have stamped my renewal and sent me on my way, but had chosen to affirm me as I am.

All three have my love and thanks.

Living without phobia

Each of us in the LGBTQ community faces hatred and fear daily. Both are constant shadows of our existence, the story we tell the world about ourselves and hear told to us from those around us. But the highest barrier I experienced as a transgender woman is the barrier I erected myself.

I allowed myself to hate who I am. I allowed myself to fear who I am. If I had not decided to transition, I still could have met Luna, Brianna, and the camera operator next March when I needed to renew my license. But they would not have seen me. I would not have seen myself — how could they have seen me?

My transphobia is gone, thankfully. Well — for the moment, anyway. Transphobia, homophobia — xenophobia — still exists in the world. I hope the stories you read on Medium help you overcome the barriers you encounter, regardless of who built them. Love yourself. Nobody else can do so before then.


Amethysta Herrick

Ami is a transgender woman dedicated to exploring identity and gender. She is Editor-in-Chief of Purplepaw Publications, LLC.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the offical policy or position of Purplepaw Publications, LLC. Please view the Disclaimer page for further information.