Being Trans in the Gun Community [2022]

Being Trans In the Gun Community Featured Image

There comes a time in the life of every post-industrial denizen when they must make a realization. One in which they understand that their actions have real and long-lasting consequences both on themselves and the people around them. This is the principal shift from adolescent to adult in our modern society. Along with that realization, a responsibility arises to better one's own life and lives of those around them.

A month before my 20th birthday, I started transgender male-to-female hormone replacement therapy. A year later, a week after my 21st birthday, I applied for my Massachusetts Class A License to Carry firearms. In applying for a license to carry and participating in the firearms community, I committed to a decision. I decided that I bear some responsibility to defend my life, the lives of those in my family, and even those fellow denizens participating in a polite society who I may not know.

This principle, too, is why I chose to begin transitioning from male to female. I knew deep down that I wasn't living a life in which I knew I would flourish. This is, I’m sure, an experience had by all transgender individuals. In the years leading up to that decision I presented female in various facets of my daily life. I learned from these experiences that the person I could be in transition would be more of the person whom I should make myself to be.

I took a step knowing the responsibility to conduct myself within the norms and expectations of society. In this way, setting forth into the world as the person and gender that I’m meant to be is the same as setting out with a concealed firearm at my waist.

Social Facts Trans-cend the Individual

Sociologist Émile Durkheim is most often associated with the coining of the term "social fact." Social facts are the elements persisting in society that are not the products of individual acts or beliefs. Rather, they are the very threads that hold together the fabric of social reality. Thus, social facts have a coercive power on the individuals engaging in functions of social organization.

Culture provides a wonderful example of a social fact. The expectations and norms implicit to the culture are a powerful force in dictating the actions of individuals. Every day, we live and work in social environments. Meanwhile, we subconsciously pay heed to what is expected of us by society as a whole. Deviant behavior which violates the social norms is met with a reaction from society.

When someone chooses to bear a concealed firearm, they are expected to abide by a set of norms. For example, if the weapon isn't kept well concealed, it might make others uncomfortable. And certainly, if the weapon is ever drawn in the wrong situation, the consequences could be fatal.

In the same way, being trans bears many of the same expectations. Our culture does provide a great deal of leniency for gender expression. However, for transgender people, there exists a greater need to conform to social norms. For instance, the desire to pass (to be perceived as one's preferred gender), is critically important. Failure to pass can have social, legal, and in some cases, deadly, consequences. Thus, both carrying a concealed weapon and transitioning are choices that must be made with regards to the consequences.

Trans-planting Myself into the Gun Community

Upon the receipt of my LTC, I was invited by a local shooting group by a friend. He was active in the LGBT groups I frequented, as well as online firearms forums. I imagined that this group might have been too conservative for my participation. However, I uncomfortably (but not without helping hands) nudged my way in. I feel my politics lean fairly liberal (in the classical sense of the word), but I was worried that I might be picked out, scrutinized, or ostracized for who I am and who I’m working to be.

After all, these were 4chan-frequenting men almost a decade older than me and entrenched in gun culture. What would they think of a trans woman entering their space? Fortunately, I found with time spent that my fears would be assuaged. I grew to be friends with these men, and I found that the culture actually emboldened my identity. I formed my place within the group, (and perhaps the jocular misogyny somewhat validated my femininity).

Being Trans In The Gun Community Test
A "Test" I shot at a recent event.

But why did I engage with the group in the first place? Aren't there LGBT friendly firearms enthusiast groups? I’m sure there are, but what I desired wasn’t a place where I’d fit in or be validated for my trans identity. I wanted a place in which I might be challenged in my knowledge, skill, and responsibility in firearms ownership, and in the way in which I operate in society. If I wished only to be among those people that I should be always totally comfortable, I might as well never leave home. The world outside is one where I may have my identity challenged, or where I may have to use a firearm to defend my life or another’s from an assailant.

Growing up and moving forward

Within the firearms community I’ve met teachers, friends, and a wonderful and handsome boyfriend. I sought a community to better my knowledge, instruction, and familiarity with firearms. In addition, I wanted a community that would at times both challenge and validate my identity.

If I hadn't participated, I’d be doing a disservice to myself and vacated a responsibility implicit to the right to keep and bear arms. A responsibility to face the real world of danger, uncertainty, and an agreement to operate by the acceptable norms of society. I would also be left unprepared for a real world of human interaction and judgement, and the social norms implicit in being a woman (trans or otherwise). These are the consequences and responsibilities that everyone has to understand and accept to operate in our society. At least if they consider themselves grown up.

About Sarah Austin 3 Articles
Sarah Austin is a university student with an interest in firearms, the outdoors, and the studies of sociology and anthropology.

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