Op-ed: What I Have In Common With Superman

Being transgender is a lot like being a super hero.

BY Riley Chattin

August 05 2013 4:41 AM ET

Shortly after accepting myself and telling others that I am transgender, someone asked me, "What kind of a man do you want to be?"

It was an almost confusing question as I did not see how my social actions as a man would be different than as a woman. I would continue to treat people with respect and compassion.  Now, of course, I recognize there are social expectations of men, such as opening the door, standing to offer seats to women, elders and other elements of general male politeness.

I did not think about that question again until I saw Man of Steel, when Clark's father said to his son, “You have to decide the kind of man you want to grow up to be, Clark.”

There it was again. The same question asked not only of any superhero, but one of my all-time favorite heroes, Superman.

I might have a special place in my heart for Superman perhaps because the Christopher Reeve movies were released during my impressionable pre-teen and teenage years. Still young enough to feel like one day I was going to fly, but also at a time in my life where I was realizing I was different from everyone else. I would run through our ranch style house from one end, out the side door and leaping off the side of the porch for weeks after I watched the first Superman movie. I hoped that one day, I would lift upward into the sky. That did not happen, but I knew I would wake up one day with a sense of clarity and understanding over what was going on in my life.

I have always identified with superheroes and their solitary ways. Though not by choice, but by being different and being cast aside by people who do not understand me.

I cried when The Hulk died on his show years ago. I felt that connection of still wanting and knowing I could be loved even if I held this monster inside. Though I quickly learned, hiding our "secret identity" can make us turn into the Incredible Hulk and live in fear of anyone finding out.

I felt like Wolverine traversing the forest, moving from place to place not to get to attached to anyone or place, because someone will discover the monster I held inside. Thankfully we learn that not unlike our heroes in Lycra, we are able to declare our differences and act upon how to live our lives fully. I personally feel like I should have gone to Xavier Institute of Higher Learning to develop all of these unrefined powers. Maybe then I would have embraced these differences sooner.

It is for many reasons we often hold onto our secret identities. Whether our secrets are self-imposed, or we are told that we should never disclose it, we learn that it must remain hidden behind the exterior that society accepts. Only in the dark of night, like Batman, do we go out with completely different clothes. Maybe even hide our faces in a webbed Spider-Man-like mask so those closest to us cannot recognize us.

We shift from counselors and doctors, surgeons, friends and others who help us shift our bodies and minds. It is part of the journey of any hero. We have our guides like Yoda that help us to identify the path for our journey to our true selves. The philosophers that help us to understand the changes that will occur in our bodies and minds. Each of them take us as far as they can. Often we have to move on our path alone, before the next guide or teacher comes to us.

As I approached yet another milestone in medical transition from female to male, I was assured I had the ability to be a shape shifter. I realized I am a superhero, as are all transgender people whether realized or not. Like superheroes, we learn at different stages of our life about our unique abilities to become shape shifters. Finding the courage deep inside of us; finding the gift of being transgender, and being able to experience life from both genders.

Although many people will enter our path, many will fall away. They cannot identify us by the name we have chosen or the person we are becoming. They do not wish to understand our true identities. People will not be able to see us for who we are at times, that is part of social roles that can be like kryptonite for our spirit. People who do not use our correct name or correct gender-identity pronouns, don't understand how that hurts. Think of it this way: when Tony Stark is in his Ironman suit, no one calls him Tony Stark. Yet everyone knows that Tony Stark is Ironman, people still honor and respect Ironman, recognizing that Tony is still a part of Ironman.

And just like superheroes we will have a beast to battle, whether it is our body dysphoria, rejection, social stigma or something else, we will repeatedly be asked to stand up for what we believe. According to Joseph Campbell's theory of mythology, the hero has to battle the beast before the hero can achieve greatness or an understanding of the meaning of life. I have become my own hero, continually striving to be a man of integrity and respect to those around me. Recognizing the ability to release limitations, then embrace the power we have within ourselves to achieve greatness, overcome obstacles and live with compassion is a gift of being transgender.

RILEY CHATTIN is a writer and blogger sharing the spiritual journey of transition. He may or may not be found in Lycra in Roanoke, Va. Follow him on Twitter @findingriley.

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