Tell Us As You Write Your Story: What’s Been Standing in Your Way?

I’ve learned so much from writing about transphobia

Tucker Lieberman
6 min readAug 10

pile of rocks on sandy beach
Photo by the author

When writers don’t know how to continue an essay, we often use the metaphor of a roadblock, as if something stood between us and our goal and we didn’t detect any path to circumvent it. Or we use the metaphor of stuckness, as if our feet were trapped in mud.

Sometimes our own imagination is in our way: We dream up an adversary. Other times, when an adversary really is out there, our lack of imagination can block our escape. In that situation, we’ll find a way out if we believe it’s there to be found and are brave and creative enough to take that path.

Post-Transition, New Gender Roadblocks Appear

Years ago, while I was beginning my gender transition, I once walked into a barbershop, and the barber told me “I don’t cut girls’ hair” and gave me the cold shoulder. That door of that particular barbershop was closed to me that day. That’s a small example of how some specific tasks seemed to be temporary roadblocks.

On other occasions, people reacted more subtly and I took longer to figure out what was happening. Nonetheless, the outcome was similar. Unfortunately, if someone isn’t perceiving my gender the way I intend to present myself, we aren’t having quite the interaction or relationship I was angling, planning, or hoping for.

Twenty-five years later, the roadblocks I hit are different. People see me as a man, and they assume I’m cis. Those perceptions are agreeable to me. But confusing questions can arise:

  • What if I want to talk about the experience of being trans? What even is “trans”: Is it something I did 25 years ago, or is it something I still am today? How do I explain it?
  • What if someone who’s believed for years that I’m cis suddenly realizes I’m trans? What will happen between us then?
  • What if I’ve believed all my life that being trans is a social limitation and there’s a ceiling on my potential achievement? How would I find out if this is true? Do I want to go through the risk and potential disappointment of finding out?

The Name for Trans People’s…