Pride Month 2022 – Interview With Hannah Simpson

Pride might list every single day of your life, but it’s nice to have a whole month dedicated to giving people a voice and a platform to voice their stories, concerns, and ideas. So, as part of Lovense celebration of Pride Month 2022, we are thrilled to feature Hanna Simpson, comedian and business person with some deep and inspiring words that everyone should read.

Let’s dive in!

Q1: When did you first feel like the sex you were assigned at birth doesn’t match with your gender identity?

First, I don’t harbor any resentment toward anyone who in my first moments of life incorrectly made presumptions about my gender. They were working with the information available at the time. What bugs me however, first are parents and parents-to-be who “reveal” this characteristic to their friends and set expectations (or in some places, even decide whether to continue the pregnancy) before a child is even born.

And second, is how–in light of new information, most relevantly my own self-assessment of the matter–how frustrating it is to get things amended how obstinate some people are. Where else in any part of science, let alone reality at large, is wrong data so dwelled upon after it is corrected. If an earthquake strikes and it takes a few days to fully calculate the scale, it was still an earthquake of that scale even if it wasn’t assigned that number immediately.

I like to talk about gender identity by inviting people to pick up a pen, or mime holding one, and try writing their name… then to try so again using other hand. It’s still you doing the writing, but it’s not the best you can be until you put the pen back where it needs to be.

Gender is the same way (granted it’s not such a binary, nor is handedness really). For generations, people were taught there was only one way you could be, just because the majority of other people were that way. Being lefty was literally “sinister,” and akin to evil. We understand better now, that your handedness, and gender, are intrinsic parts of our identities that we share into the world, not the other way around.

My own first gender epiphany came in the 2 year old nursery school class at my synagogue. I was sitting on the floor, as one does at that age, and glanced across the classroom at girl in my class sitting behind one of the desks. She happened to be wearing a little skirt, red tights, and maryjane shoes, but she happened to be the only girl in the class with short hair, rather than long. Seeing her “divided” by the desktop itself, I realized that if you only saw her skirt and tights, you’d know only girls wore those. But if you only saw her short hair and turtleneck, you’d think she was one of the boys. It made me think that if I just wore the clothing girls wore, maybe someone could also see me as a one of the girls and perhaps I’d get to do the things girls got to do too.

pride month 2022

Q2: Have you ever faced any difficulties because of the fact you are transgender? If you are, could you share an account of that incident and how you dealt with it?

I transitioned while I was actually in medical school, it was a dream of mine to become a physician and help others find from me the welcoming and affirming care that I struggled to find. While most of my fellow students and faculty were tremendously and tangibly supportive, or at the very least ambivalent, it only took a few individuals to derail my ambitions. A faculty member touched my legs in front of fellow students commenting on how I was wearing a skirt (and hose) to school for the first time, and a classmate decided to make fun of my breast growth by squeezing one.

A completely inappropriate squeeze on my breast got her a “slap on the wrist” from the Dean of Students, who asked me outright, “Help me in understanding, how much of this are you just going to have to take as students adapt to your situation?” They pressured me to drop the issue with the student, rather than simply expel her for gross violation of literally everything we teach in medical school about the dignity of touch. I didn’t even bother reporting the faculty member, even when other students saw it. I felt unsafe, and had to take a leave of absence from the program. I attempted to return a year later, but never felt safe again and couldn’t keep focus.

I wasn’t the advocate for myself that I hoped perhaps I could become for others, and when different nursing and even other medical schools began to contact me about sharing my experience, I realized I might find a slightly different niche in teaching hundreds if not thousands of future doctors about respecting transgender patients across countless specialties. Perhaps, in a way, I could have a positive impact even larger than I could as a singular physician doing my best with the dozen or so patients I’d have directly treated any given day.

I’ve had a pretty clean driving record anyway, but my premiums went down just a smidge after I told them I was female.

Q3: What does gender #TRANSition mean to you and how do you feel now after you’ve #TRANSitioned?

Transition isn’t a layer I put on to be myself, it’s actually one I took off. I am my most authentic me now in every moment of every day, and I think that changes the way I interact with those around me in positive ways. There was one a girl I had a crush on a Jewish community in Boston, back when I was feigning cisgender heteronormativity (while I was still presenting as a guy and trying to ask girls out), but although we became friends it never materialized into a date. It was hard to explain how hard I wanted it to work, I was deeply in denial about myself and honestly thought finding a girlfriend would snap me out of my gender dysphoria.

Well, one year it was Pride, and I worked up the courage to join the parade with some of the Jewish organizations. Even before I was out entirely, for the entire day I dressed up as a female and “beta-tested” presenting as Hannah out in the world. It was going just fine until I saw that same girl in the crowd, right as she saw me too. It had never occurred to me that she was a gay woman… but it had clearly never occurred to her that I was a gay woman too.

In light of mutual new information, the very first thing I did was ask her out again. Relationship-wise, we mostly just became better friends. I wish I could tell a story with a more romantic ending, but at least my best self was seeing her best self and I wouldn’t change that moment–or so many that came later–for the world.

Q4: At which point did you decide to make the change and how did you overcome the challenges during your #TRANSition journey?

Transition doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a social, medical, bureaucratic, emotional, and legal journey on top of the thrill of self-discovery. After a few false starts prior, I really got serious after college in my late 20’s. The best way I can guide anyone toward overcoming challenges is… take one at a time and allow yourself to take small steps before larger ones.

As an example for me, taking time to freeze sperm and possibly preserve my fertility, depending on what parts my future partner has, made it easier to start taking estrogen. Taking estrogen and feeling the changes made getting laser hair removal on my face start to make more sense. The changes were subtle at first, but grew evident over time.

As I started to feel more confident going out in public as a woman, I had to start replacing my wardrobe. An avalanche is just the result of momentum that built from a few flakes taking a step in the right direction.

Q5: If you could travel back in time to give a word of advice to your younger self / yourself before you started on your #TRANSition, what would it be?

There is plenty I wish I could change with a magical time machine, but so often what I say about my current advocacy is that not hiding my own past might help others to stop hiding their futures.

One specific thing I feel kept me hidden more than others: The mental health institutions, or at least the specific therapists and psychologists I was sent to by my school (or sought out) out over the years as a smart, yet socially awkward teenager and young adult. I remember once trying to feel out bringing up gender identity in a session, and was met immediately with the response that I could have a sexual fetish.

And some of the best affirming moments are the silly little ones that you never expect or consider.

Another therapist, upon my saying I might be trans, said he routinely worked with trans people and adult diaper wearers too. I mean no disrespect to the diaper wearers, but that wasn’t my situation and I internalized his equating the two as if being trans was again a fetish, an oddity, or something that needed to be “fixed.” I never experienced the worst of “conversion therapy,” but I would still tell myself that I was right all along and not to let people who were wrong, despite being in a position of power, dictate my perception of myself.

Q6: What are some misperceptions that society has about transgender people that you would like to address?

One of the most frustrating, pernicious, and downright dangerous misconceptions is again that being trans undermines our authenticity and our desirability. Far too often, trans women, the overwhelming marjority those who are black and brown, are maimed and murdered by male partners or potential partners who feel they were misled or deceived into doing something “gay.” This is a heinously warped perception of reality that needs to end at every level. Many states are outlawing the “trans panic” defense for committing this hate crime, but we really need to start sooner teaching society’s young men that loving a trans woman is loving a woman.

A potential partner on a first date does not need to know you are trans, even if they think they deserve to. I tend to be of the opinion that discussing the matter is helpful to do early on a first or second date because I am a desirable woman with a backlog of guys and girls who want to date me. If you are not worth my emotional energy, it is best I know as soon as possible once I have decided whether I trust you or not to discuss the issue. And even then, I always pick a public place like a restaurant, or well-traveled park, or the steps outside a train station, just to make sure I can scream for help or leave if needed.

There is nothing wrong with being gay, obviously, but if I go out with a man I am doing so as a woman. I did all the hard work discovering and uncovering myself just so you can sit there, smile, and keep calling yourself “straight” without any additional introspection if you don’t wish. If it sounds like I’m doing a lot of work for a guy who needs to do nothing more than appreciate it… well, welcome to womanhood.

Q7: What is one topic or question you wish that people would ask more about transpeople?

One of my favorite questions for people to ask a trans person is: “Hi there, I recognize that you just completed a multi-year project with many constantly changing milestones. I see that you rallied various stakeholders, confronted hostile reactions, and became a self-taught expert on medical issues intersected with governmental bureaucracies. You overcame many obstacles. So what can you do for my team?”

Hire us. Date us too (per the previous question, we make great partners), but bring us on your teams per our individual talents and expertises. We need good jobs, and sometimes just that first chance. One fun part of being active in the trans community is making friends from so many walks of life all around the world. I know software executives, elected officials, police officers, truck drivers, and even falconers, who I’d likely never have crossed paths with otherwise.

Q8: What are some solutions or steps that society should take to help encourage acceptance and understanding of the transgender community?

One of the most important things to do is to remember the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who reminded us that a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are watching lawmakers and powerful people, along with a small yet vocal minority, shoving through awful, hateful laws in Florida, Texas, and elsewhere in clouds of doublespeak and deliberate misinformation.

In Texas, labeling affirming care for trans youth as child abuse may lead to thousands of senseless investigations into wonderful parents. I fear it will be used like a “broken taillight” clause, and once investigators are in the door the will find something (i.e., plant something) to justify taking kids away from their parents. We saw something similar happen when children were separated from their parents at the US border.

Even after a new government finally put a stop to the active separations, the trauma and irreparable damage was done. Some of those kids died in US custody, others contemplated suicide, and a few have yet to be returned because we honestly have no idea who or where their parents even are. We need to wake up and recognize how cruel and dangerous the intentions behind these laws are. There is no “debate” to be had around the merits of supporting a trans child. Do not legitimize anyone who suggests a child’s gender is within a parent’s prerogative, let alone even their ability, to determine.

Q9: What’s the best thing that has happened to you ever since you started your #TRANSformation journey?

So many wonderful things have happened since I transitioned, really it is the people I have met and the relationships I have forged. I volunteer in disaster response with the American Red Cross, and deploy out to help run shelters and organize other volunteers after hurricanes and wildfires. We open our doors to everyone without reservations or asterisks, but the reality remains that trans and non-binary people may still face barriers to services or fear being in close quarters with others who might reject their very existence. I have had the privilege to teach about these kinds of issues, and sometimes fellow volunteers tell me stories.

One gentleman once told me, “I heard you talking about this a few years ago. A lady came up to me and in a shelter I was managing and said she was concerned that another lady, who happened to be trans, was using a ladies bathroom. I suggested that the lady complaining could always utilize a single stall restroom at the other side of the building, if she remained concerned.” I. Completely. Melted.

I have a similar feeling when tending to the small business I started, “ChangedMe,” that sells pride flag pins around the world as small trinkets of visibility that my customers can put on their own clothes or gift to others. Sometimes I get to relay the kindest, most sincere gift messages that a buyer writes for their recipient. Maybe it’s a child, or a parent, or a sibling… sometimes it’s clear, sometimes I can only imagine as if I were a fly on the wall.

And some of the best affirming moments are the silly little ones that you never expect or consider. A few months into my transition, I was starting to get documents that affirmed gender and new legal name. Then came forging ahead with relaying that news to all my subscriptions… one was the car insurance. Not long after, a check arrived in the mail. Apparently it was a prorated refund for my overpayment. I’ve had a pretty clean driving record anyway, but my premiums went down just a smidge after I told them I was female.

Q10: What is the best way to support a transgender friend, family member, or loved one who has just made the decision to start their #TRANSition? Are there any words you’ll like to convey to those who have yet to come out or start their transition journey?

I didn’t change my gender; my gender changed me.

Support for trans people, in the polarized world we live in, has to be unconditional. If you are trying to be an ally in a family that has other members with mixed “opinions,” do not try to live in two worlds if the trans person is not welcome in one of them. Two empty seats at the Thanksgiving table sends a stronger message than one if you still show up. Speaking of seats at the table, ask your trans friend or family member what they need. If each and every one of us just looks out for one other human being in this world, the entire world will be covered.

The words that I would convey to any young trans person are simple: Trust in yourself. You don’t have to have all the answers today, but the questions you are asking are real, are valid, and will lead you on the track you need to be on. Wherever you end up, you are seen, you are human, you are special, and you are worthy of the love and intimacy you desire.

Keep kicking ass out there.

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