Girls can wear jeans \ And cut their hair short \ Wear shirts and boots \ ‘Cause it’s OK to be a boy \ But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading \ ‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading \ But secretly you’d love to know what it’s like \ Wouldn’t you \ What it feels like for a girl –“What it Feels Like for a Girl” Madonna (2001)
To an outside observer, I probably looked like I was acting out of character. I was awake and tuned in to catch the music video for “What it Feels Like for a Girl” when it aired for its solitary time on MTV. After all, I’d never been that interested in Madonna. I didn’t know anything about the song beyond the title, and that I had one chance to see it because of its controversial nature. Fact of the matter was, I was so desperate at the time for some connection to my womanhood, the title of the song was all I needed to ensure I was there to hear, “But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading / Cause you think that being a girl is degrading” when it came across the TV.
I remember I got defensive on hearing that. I didn’t think being a girl was degrading!
“But secretly you’d love to know what it’s like \ Wouldn’t you \ What it feels like for a girl”
Oh yeah. I did.
In the roughly 12 years that passed between seeing that video and my transition, being a girl became ever more valuable in my mind. I see being a woman as placing no limits on a person relative to a man. I considered the achievements in my pre-transition life (including becoming a Computer Scientist and becoming a private pilot) well within the reach of any girl, because at the time I did them I was girl, just not visibly. Ultimately, my hidden womanhood put my spirit in a place where I had to risk losing everything I had earned (or been blessed with) in my life, because the constant dissonance between my mind and body for over 30 years had become too painful. I was starting pickup self destructive habits as result.
Today being a woman for me means my life is fantastic. I also love being someone who can not only say being a woman is important and worthwhile, but has taken action to back her words up. During and after traveling between lives, I gained a love for and comfort with myself, wonderful supportive friends, and made gains in my career I never thought possible.
All that said and true, on occasion the legacy of “Mr. Rudnick” finds me. I was freshly reminded of this upon receiving a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration about the medical clearance I need to be a Pilot in Command again, because said letter opened addressing me as such. On reading the letter my feelings did not improve as it also contained the words, “Your records are being forwarded to the Federal Air Surgeon’s Office for review.”
Why? I passed the medical exam all pilots get back in January. I am on no medications that preclude me from being a Pilot in Command. Indeed, if a cisgendered person went to the Aviation Medical Examiner with everything I did, save for being trans themselves, they would have left with their third class medical. According to the request from the FAA I received, it is only because I am transgender that my case was deferred to Oklahoma City for review, and now to the Federal Air Surgeon’s Office. With a misgendering of me tossed in along the way.
When I first went to the Aviation Medical Examiner, he gave me a heads up that the FAA was behind the times in regards to treatment of transpeople. That didn’t really surprise me. Being transgender has only stopped being labeled a disorder in 2013. The FAA has not been challenged to accommodate transgender people fairly because transpeople were labelled as “not well”.
As recently as 2012, the FAA required transgender pilots to undergo a battery of psychological tests to find out if they were fit to fly because they were transgender. Thanks to efforts taken by Tamsyn Waterhouse in 2012 when she confronted this reality, the burden was supposed to be decreased. However, I was still asked by the FAA to subject myself to the core battery of exams, which could have cost me thousands of dollars, as though it were pre-2012. Instead I provided only what I am supposed to per the FAA’s own current regulations.
There is some hope for relief in the form of the so-called “Pilots Bill of Rights 2” that just came up in the House and Senate. But even if that passes, it will not help commercial pilots and it will place limits on the types of planes transgender pilots can fly before they encounter discrimination. As such, the problem is not being fixed, just possibly moved. Therefore, urgency remains in seeing this unnecessary additional testing of transgender people end. The FAA has no legs to stand on, especially since in 2013 being trans is rightfully no longer considered a disorder.
Do you know what it feels like for this girl? Well I am upset to the point of activism for how the FAA is treating me and my people. I feel gratitude for, blessed by, and loved by my friends who have rallied behind me to support me in this and in the rest of my life. While acknowledging that a transman would face the same discrimination I am, I feel confidence from the long history of girls before me being told they can’t do something, and who effectively responded with, “Watch me” and went on to do the thing with great success. I feel thankful for Her Story Arc for being a platform I could start to fight back about this. For me, I feel being a woman is something to celebrate and is the bedrock of my identity and resolve. I feel healed by my womanhood as I’m no longer a hermit, and I’m not losing ever more control of myself with anger, nor holding bottles of beer in my hand I don’t want.
Photo by Ladyheart
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12 thoughts on “Grounded: What it Feels Like for a (Trans)Girl”
Thanks for sharing. Have you heard back from the Federal Air Surgeon yet?
Nothing direct, though the last mailing I had to send went to Illinois so I think my case is back in the Midwest. I’m hoping that’s a good sign.
I hope so too. I’m in the same boat trying to get a special issuance for depression. I’ve been waiting since February. They sent my package to DC recently so maybe its a good sign. Have you tried working with AOPA Pilot Protection Services? They may be able to help advocate for you for a small price. I’m trying them now too to try to speed it along.
I haven’t tried working with AOPA, though the thought has crossed my mind. Good luck in your efforts and let me know if they work out for you!
well this is just shameful– I’m sorry you have to deal with this. The FAA has a lot of maturing to do, here’s hoping they grow up fast!
You are amazing, Paige! ^_^
What a lovely wonderful post/blog!
Cheering for you, Paige! Hopefully the Pilots Bill of Rights 2 is a stepping stone and a model pattern for how commercial pilots are licensed as well.
Hopefully the Pilots Bill of Rights 2 would help trans pilots like me in General Aviation should it become law. But commercial pilots or, by extension, trans Flight Instructors could still face difficulty which is why I’m moving ahead with making some ruckus.
Go Paige! This was an inspiring and educational article. I had no idea trans pilots face so much discrimination.
Thank you. I didn’t know about the discrimination either until the examiner I saw told me I should expect some delays getting my medical.
To me you are a brave and inspiring person – genre is secondary to what we really are – a person who achieves, struggles and overcomes.