Now, imagine being LGBTI in a state like West Virginia, where there are no protections for LGBTI people when it comes to discrimination, including housing and employment. In the state, men who engage in sexual activity with other men can’t donate blood. The state also permits conversion therapy among LGBTI individuals.
It’s not surprising Don Saas, a 28-year-old queer individual from West Virginia, has had problems fitting in. Saas uses zir and zie pronouns.
West Virginia: beautiful, but regressive
‘Growing up in West Virginia was a weird dichotomy,’ Saas explains to Gay Star News. ‘The state is full of so much natural beauty and wonder that even though I’ve lived here off and on my entire life, West Virginia still finds ways to leave me in awe.’
‘It’s also an exceedingly patriarchal region of the country. Anyone that’s not a man — because they’re a cis woman, because they’re trans, because they just don’t meet patriarchal standards of masculinity — is explicitly and subtly treated like they’re less than a person.
‘As a kid, I thought it wouldn’t be a problem once I was an adult, but it just gets worse the older you get.’
‘Much like my journey to being trans, I didn’t accept I liked men until I was older than the average LGBT person first coming out. I was 21,’ Saas, who came out as queer in January 2017 via zir piece for Vice, says.
‘I was not sober the day I realized I liked men as well as women (later realizing I was attracted to all genders). Like a lot of trans folks, I’ve had significant struggles with substance abuse at various points in my life,’ Saas explains.
‘It was 6 AM and I hadn’t slept the night before. I was watching Glee, which honestly should have been the first sign,’ zie recalls. ‘It was the episode where Kurt and Blaine kiss for the first time, and I was suddenly struck with the realization all of my favorite couples on television were same sex: Kurt and Blaine, David and Keith from Six Feet Under, Willow and Tara from Buffy. I said “oh” out loud because for the first time in my life, I admitted to myself my first crush growing up was John Travolta in Grease.’
While Saas identifies as male, zie doesn’t identify as a man. ‘Male is my sex,’ zie says. ‘Like most trans folks, I have body dysphoria, but it doesn’t stem from my genitalia.’
‘I have so much empathy for transsexual individuals because the oppression and hardships they deal with are not things I’ll have to ever deal with as part of the nonbinary trans community.’
‘I was never accepted by other men as a man,’ Saas says. ‘I was small. I was unconditionally affectionate. As I grew older, I gradually lost my capacity for the domination games — psychologically, physically, emotionally — which define masculine socialization.’
‘Retreating from masculinity cost me work. It cost me friendships. It exacerbated my already intense tendencies towards anxiety and depression. The problem was I wasn’t retreating consciously. I didn’t know why I couldn’t stand being around most of the men in my life anymore; why the never ending rituals of gender were leaving me utterly exhausted.’
Then, Saas lived with a woman and another non-binary person, both well-versed in feminist theory. It was then zie realized there was a vocabulary for the things zie was feeling.
‘I also knew a lot of trans people through my work as a video game journalist. I felt more comfortable around them and around women than I had ever felt around men. I accepted once and for all masculine expectations because of my sex had only ever harmed me,’ zie says.
Saas is overwhelmed by the state of the country under President Trump.
‘I spend every day convinced he’s going to drag us into nuclear war with North Korea or China,’ zie says.
‘Being from Appalachia, I know precisely what will happen to poor folks if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. As a trans person, his ‘religious liberty’ bills allowing state-sponsored discrimination against trans and queer folks fill me with existential dread for every young trans person who doesn’t have the social/career capital I’ve been able to build up before coming out.’
‘Every day in this country is a new nightmare. None of us should be sitting quietly by and accepting it.’
Writing, Coming Out, & Moving Forward
Saas says: ‘Now that I’m out and transitioning, it’s helped focus my writing. All of my recent pieces have come from an explicitly trans-feminist perspective and it’s been a long time since I’ve been this happy with my work.’
In the past, Saas was selective about who zie came out to, only revealing zir queerness to zir parents earlier this year, after the Vice article was published.
Lately, Saas has gotten more aggressive about zir transness, getting the issue of ‘coming out’ to someone new done as early as possible.
‘I want the men around me to know I’m not one of them and they shouldn’t feel comfortable engaging in any toxic masculine behavior around me because I will call them out on it,’ zie says.
‘Coming out represents a lot of things for me. It’s an inherently political act,’ zie adds.
‘For the first time, I feel more happiness about how I’m living my life than I do guilt or shame…That’s a truly priceless improvement in my day-to-day reality.’
In terms of Saas’s hopes for the future, zie wants to see America shift to intersectional socialism, as zie believes it’s what the country needs.
‘Maybe then we’ll have a world where trans kids don’t need to live in the terror and confusion I spent nearly 30 years of my life in. It’s unacceptable any kid has to live that way, and it’s the moral obligation of anyone who really cares about trans lives to do something material to make the world a better place.’