By Jade Sylvan
Coming-of-age, graduation, marriage, new babies, new jobs, new homes – you can go into a drug store right now and find a panoply of greeting cards to congratulate someone you care about on any of these major life transitions. I went through a phase of dismissing greeting cards as mass-produced schmaltz or worse – as a plot by corporations to make money off of human emotions. Now I see greeting cards as extremely useful in situations of true emotional transition. They help mark and acknowledge the transition, as well as offer deeply-felt sentiments that it might be difficult for the card-giver to express on their own. In addition, it can be comforting during times of transition, which are almost always unsettling, for the transitioner to know that this is a journey that’s been undertaken by others. That it’s just part of life. Greeting cards help do this. They effectively say, “Your transition is recognized as an important life-stage deserving of a societally-condoned ritual. You are seen.”
For a transperson the period of social and/or medical transition to their true gender can be one of the most fulfilling, scariest, and important times of their lives. Wouldn’t it be great to give someone you love a congratulatory greeting card to mark this occasion? Unfortunately no big greeting card companies seem to be making Congratulations on Your Gender Transition cards yet, so if your friend or family member was transitioning and you wanted to honor it with a card, you’ve had to get creative. A lot of people I know have re-purposed “It’s a boy/girl!” cards or bar/bat mitzvah cards to celebrate their loved one’s now-known gender. While those cards can be adorable in context, not having mainstream congratulations cards that explicitly name the occasion can contribute to a general feeling of otherness.
An acquaintance of mine transitioned awhile back. I was not super-close to this person, but I wanted to show my support and thought that a greeting card would be a perfect way to do so. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any that I liked even on the internet, so I did what 90s kids do and I made some myself. My social network expressed excitement when I wrote about the cards. Soon other people were asking me to make some for them, and finally I printed a whole batch of them. ProudOfYouCards was birthed.
I wanted to make them not just for transpeople, but also for supportive friends and family who may not have the language to express their love in these situations. I know many people who do not identify as part of the LGBTQ community who have friends or family members who are transitioning. They tell me that they want to show support, but don’t know what to say, and are especially afraid of saying the wrong thing or accidentally offending their loved one.
I wanted ProudOfYouCards to be as positive as possible. A message I see a lot is “I love you no matter what you call yourself.” The sentiment is nice, but it’s still expressed negatively. “…no matter what you call yourself” implies that the speaker is standing against some sort of implied objection. I wanted to make cards that were purely positive, that stated the recipients pronouns and name affirmatively and joyfully without caveats.
I made ProudOfYouCards simple and direct. Language is important to many transpeople, so I decided to create the cards centering around words. The front of the cards celebrates the recipient’s pronouns. Inside the card states “I’m so proud to call you ______” with a blank space for the giver to write something in. It was my original idea to have the space be filled by the recipient’s relationship to the giver. For instance, “I’m so proud to call you my mom,” or “I’m so proud to call you my brother,” but it would work equally well to fill the space with the recipient’s name. “I’m so proud to call you Cora.”
Of course every transperson is different, and I know there are some who wouldn’t like to receive a card like this for one reason or another. Maybe they don’t like that type of attention or they don’t view their journey as a transition at all. That’s great! I don’t expect these cards to work for everyone. Still though, I’ve shown them to so many people who lit up and said “I wish I got a card when I transitioned!” I created ProudOfYouCards for those folks and their families and friends, so that gender transitions can be commemorated with ordinary specialness just like life’s other transitions.
Jade Sylvan is a writer, producer, yogi, and Oxford comma enthusiast living in Cambridge, MA.