What Makes a Man
“I do not want to be a spokesperson. I do not want to be the face of transgender. I just want to be a person.”
Ansley Pope, or Pope as his friends refer to him, sat across from me, amongst people filled with the raucous restlessness that the first whispers of spring can bring.
It was an honest sentiment, a sentiment shared by most who are trying to earnestly look themselves in the freckles that dot cheekbones, attempting to figure out what lies underneath.
Sometimes, it is just not that simple.
Pope is a junior at the College of Charleston, studying women’s and gender studies.
“I really like women’s and gender studies. It is very focused on activism, which is what I wanted to focus on when I moved here. This is my community now, and all I really want is to better it.”
Pope found people who understood him soon enough, calling his close collegiate friends his “chosen family.”
While Pope began his transition from black female to identifying as a black male his freshman year, not much changed in the eyes of those who mattered most.
“The pronoun change was the most difficult for my close friends and family, but really, they were there for me completely.”
While transitioning will inevitably be a unique path to tread, Pope may be among those with the most burs to barge through, going from the racially loaded to the ever more racially loaded—black female to black male.
“What I didn't realize was that I am not going to be a man, I am going to be a black man.”
Pope appears pensive and frustrated before continuing.
“I used to give tour guides for the College of Charleston, I am used to seeing faces that appear lost. I see an elderly white woman near the public library, middle of the day, looking helplessly lost. I walk up to her and see if there is anything I can do. This woman looks at me with terror.
I will never forget that face.
I will never forget my first instant of the negative side of 'passing.'
Well shit, I'm a black man.
When I identified as a black woman, I was at least able to approach people without feeling like I was doing anything wrong.”
Pope again shares a wellspring of an educated frustration of injustices based either on people being privy to the fact that he once was regarded as female, or the intolerance reserved solely for men of African descent.
“I used to be afraid of walking home at night, as a female. I still do now, but it's a different fear. I'm now afraid of the white men in cop cars patrolling streets. With everything that has happened nationally, I feel some small level of PTSD every time I see a cop.”
While Charleston is no stranger to racial intolerance, there is a hope that springs from cracked-concrete occupied by a racially eclectic group of people that would suggest that racial equality is something that Charleston is, at the very least, tiptoeing towards.
“I am from an upper-middle class family. My parents gave me their sports car for my graduation present. I never had a problem with police until I started passing. It was a Sunday, 11 p.m. He asked me what my parents' address was, what college I go to, after I convinced him I went to college. He asked my GPA, my major, the people who I am under with my insurance, which is of course my family. He made me wait in my car for 30 minutes while he ran my information. His reason for pulling me over was a dim tag light.”
Pope never filed a complaint after he was found by police to be a citizen legally allowed to be black in an expensive sports car.
“I was too preoccupied with my education to give voice to the situation.”
While Pope has experienced his share of ignorant mistreatment, abatement has come in the form of those who have come to know him, to love him.
“Girls Rock Charleston is an organization that I am really close to. They do so much for women, for LGBT people. They have always been very supportive of me. Beyond what they do for me, they are very active in teaching members of the community things that matter; it's a passion I share with them.”
One could look across the room, see a stylish and edgy human, and wax whether this human has ever identified as man or woman, wonder whether this human will be prone to late-night attacks or late-night accosts.
When one looks deeper, when one asks the name of this vibrant human standing strong against the struggles that life can present, there is no question, there is no transgender person, there is only Ansley Pope, a man beaming bright against what certain sects of society have told him about who he is supposed to be. A man hungry to teach others that they are allowed to love whomever they feel they are.