People are talking about eggs right now.

Essentially: what do you do when you suspect your friend is trans? What do you do when you see some small part of your own hurt younger self in the other? Lately, out of the mouths of people talking about respect, I mostly hear that you're supposed to mind your own business and wait for them to tell you if they are. That anything else is manipulative and overstepping.

They are right about several things, including that you will never know for sure if your friend is trans or not, or if they feel most comfortable nebulously in-between. It's up to them. But I also want to talk about why people do make egg jokes about other people, on and off the internet[1]. It's always harder to replace a bad habit with only an absence, after all--what is the good outlet for the impulse?

Some people just like to be right and smug about their eggdar, sure. But trans people also remember their own claustrophobic past, and want to help, and don't automatically know how. It's sort of impossible to know how, before a person has even figured out how to ask for what they need to be themself.

It's idealistic to think people always know exactly what they need. It's paternalistic to assume you know better. Yet, always, unpredictably, someone will know best. Someone has the best advice. Someone has made a lucky, educated guess at the (relatively) right path forward.

I've called the comings-out of a few dozen friends at this point. I still bristle at being called nonbinary because it was the word people kept pinning to me, without asking, when I first started to express my gender-weirdness. I still owe my actual egg-crack moment to the president of a trans org asking me out of the blue if I was trans and offering "not cis?" while I waffled.

I've wondered for years about a younger, hyper-femme acquaintance who imprinted on me, hard, when I first came out. Her trans friends have started playing pronoun roulette with her because she "doesn't care". I remember being there, and I remember other people putting words on me that I still can't stomach, and I pray that the egg jokes her friends have started to throw around are making space for her instead of taking it.

If I pull at the knot, there's this craving for ideological purity--I want to start respecting her "true self" as soon as I can. I want her to feel more at home in her own skin, as I slowly have been, and I want to be a part of that for the next generation. I want to get a good grade in Trans Community, as it were.

And here's where I think the lingering stink of essentialism continues to hurt us. If I see my young friend as Currently Trans because I suspect she might come out one day, that she's in denial, then aren't I misgendering her in a way if I keep on acting like she's cis? Aren't I hurting her by treating her as a gender she Isn't Really and will realize she never was in a few years?

(No. The answer is no.)

It doesn't really hold much water written out like that, probably, but I think this feeling is very real for trans people still working through their own trauma of being closeted. It's so hard to see past the event horizon of your own cracking, really, to remember what it was like when you were near your breaking point and didn't feel like your current self.

Non-essentialism is the way out, then, logically speaking--to accept that no one is innately trans and no one can actually predict it and that "best" advice is relative and unprovable. Maybe the actual best way forward for someone hasn't been invented yet. Maybe they need to do some rearranging in the shell before they're safe to touch the air with bare skin.

Egg-essentialism reminds me[2] of some things that Aubrey Gordon and other fat activists have said about formerly-fat people and the way that many view the currently-fat almost exclusively as people who are pre weight-loss and just don't love themselves enough or haven't buckled down to do it yet. We, too, are a group that has been remade with a certainty of the possibility of change which can sometimes turn into evangelism.

The essentialist story might be easier for us to tell, might make us more confident in our choices and might make the world (conditionally, temporarily, fickly) more comfortable with our presence, but it has consequences on how we see the rest of the world, too. If we cling to "I was always trans" essentialism, it will also affect how we think of our former selves and how we think of others. If we view people who eventually come out as trans as unhatched versions of themselves who haven't truly lived yet, no wonder it feels righteous to act like we know more about people, sometimes even strangers, than they know about themselves.

Being trans is a story I'm telling about myself in the language I've been given, with as many strategic deviations and neologisms as I can get away with while understanding them myself. I can cast the net pretty far back for the foreshadowing. I also think that if you'd told young me that she liked certain things because she was a boy, she'd punch you in the teeth.

What, from the outside, is the difference between someone who hasn't learned the language to understand the story yet and someone who can't express something else they know internally to be true? What if the idea of transness is never mathematically true or false but can sometimes be useful? What if we cannot brute-force the techtonic movements of someone's internal definition of the word "want" nor predict what landmass it will ultimately encompass?

But that's the logical, philosophical side of things. Emotionally, pragmatically, what do you do when you look at your friend who you love and see the younger, sadder version of yourself who you can't look in the eye?

You make the world better for gender nonconformity, however you can. You knock on the door of all the little spaces between categories and say hello, it looks cozy there, can I get you a cup of tea?

I do think it's good to say, sometimes, things like "you can be trans if you want" or "you don't have to be cis" or "forget man and woman, forget cis and trans--what do you want to do?". It's good to remind people that they have options. But I think the utility of spaces for the questioning, the eggs, the curious, the nonconforming, and the overinvested allies breaks down every time we try to link that inevitably to an escalator that ends at coming out as whatever flavor of queer we've decided is the real and stable one.

No essentialism, no escalators, no timelines, no new boxes. Practice for your friends, and maybe you'll find it a little easier to let yourself exist uncertain while you do what you want, too.

  1. This is more about people you at-least-kinda-know than celebrities and parasocial relationships. I think the conclusions are relevant either way, but with celebrities you really need an extra dose of "you don't know them" and "someone may know or be out in their private life, and they don't owe a coming-out to you or the world". Parasociality really easily magnifies egg jokes and the like into harrassment, just by virtue of scale. ↩︎

  2. Surprisingly, because people move from being more marginalized & judged to less when they lose weight, and coming out as trans is a pathway to further marginalization. The more obvious parallel to the formerly-fat are the detransitioners. But no matter how much I think about it, this particular comparison still seems true to me--it's the same impulse to share self-improvement tips with people who are struggling, which people also do so often to the ill and disabled with "magic cures". I find this elder-trans-to-egg-advice-giving the most sympathetic version for exactly the reason that it's the individual voices of the marginalized trying to accept people for who they are, but I don't think it's just a power differential that makes this kinda interpersonally shitty and unhelpful behavior. ↩︎