Thursday, June 3, 2004

Who am I?

I am a twenty-five year old white, queer, transperson, artist in a female body with a desire for a flat chest and facial hair.

I want to look more like a man but not loose everything I've learned being a woman.

I want to be able to live my life as both a man and a woman, or neither a man or a woman.

I want to learn what it is like to be a man so I can understand what its like to be myself.

I want to be a feminist and a sensitive man like my father and not loose my understanding of womanhood that goes above and beyond what anyone born male could have.

I want to change the way gender is experienced and interpreted.

I want to be true to every important issue of my identity, my life and my world.

I want to live with integrity and authenticity.

Now how do I do that? The first aspect of masculinity every trans guy I know takes on is male privilege, or so I've been told. What does this mean? What is this thing of male privilege and as I begin taking testosterone how do I avoid it? How do I avoid spending the rest of my life thinking of myself in male terms when I know that this is in no way who I am or what is authentic to me. To be perfectly honest, although I know taking T is the right decision, I'm terrified. I'm terrified not of the drugs, and not of the changes, I'm terrified of being honest with the world for the first time about who I am. I've never done that before. I've never let the world be able to see me at first glance. What will it be like being both male and female in everyday life? What will it be like being living gender theory, something that's usually reserved for college level women's studies classes. Here I am trying to become something that the world has no place for. The unfortunate thing about transgenderism is that it both undermines and reinforces the ultimate supremacy of gender as an inherent way we categorize our lives. I grew up a feminist. I knew the words to "I am Woman, Hear Me Roar" before I knew what they meant. I listened to "Free to Be You and Me" and knew all the words to every song. There was one song about mommies and daddies. "Mommies are women, women with children; some mommies drive taxis or sing on TV, yes, mommies can be anything that they want to be." Then the male voice comes on and says, "but they cant be grandpas or daddies." Here I am proving them wrong. My parents' daughter is becoming their son, sort of, and if I had children I would suddenly change from their mommy to their daddy. Biological determinism reigns supreme, even now.

Our mothers fought for so much that we take as fact, but no one ever fought for my right to be a grandpa or daddy. Our sex determines so much. If one wants to take on cross sex behaviors that is fine. Cross-sex identities are a bit more stigmatized, but allowed, assuming that the person once they cross the great divide of the sexes assimilates back into male or female. To do anything else would be a failure in transitioning. So what of me? I'm not a woman. I knew that from an early age. It had nothing to do with my interests, my attire, my friends. It was as inherent as anyone else's identity is. I never felt like I was in the wrong body then. And even now, as I am preparing to begin testosterone treatments in less than a week, I don't feel like I'm becoming a man. How would this be possible when I've had 25 years of the world reinforcing my femininity?

So where does this leave gender politics? Trans is the new queer. Tranny-boys are all over. It leaves one to ask, is this a personal gender identity or is it the new queer identity. Genderfuck and gender subversion have been around in queer circles for ever, but suddenly the word trans is being attached at an ever more rapid rate. On a personal level I sometimes find this disconcerting. Maybe I'm being selfish. Maybe I'm doing to these tranny-boys what lesbians did to bisexual women 30 years ago. I don't know. I don't know what kind of introspective personal journey these people have had to go on to arrive at that label. I only know my journey, where simply saying tranny-boy isn't enough, calling myself a man isn't authentic and being a woman is completely out of my frame of reference.

I grew up believing wholeheartedly in my boyhood. I took off my shirt when my dad did, I abhorred dresses and pink, and wanted a boys haircut as soon as I was old enough to know that hair was a signifier for gender. When I finally did get this haircut at six it was just in time, but almost too late. Adults started calling me young man and sir. I was so proud and confident, but the people around me that knew I didn't have the biological seal of maleness grew increasingly uncomfortable. My parents worried about my feelings being hurt, I worried about hurting theirs. I learned to operate in a world where every feeling I had was second-guessed. I learned to never trust myself. I was a boy where everyone around me expected me to grow out of my tomboy phase, and I did, I guess. I grew my hair long and became a feminist.

As a senior in high school I wrote an article for the school newspaper that took a paper known for such hard-hitting stories as doors on the stalls in the boys bathroom and got it pulled from distribution and locked in the safe. Barrages of calls by angry parents were made to the school. Perhaps this is first when I learned that identity and truth are powerful. My identity and truth, however, are more complex than being a feminist. What does it do to the feminist identity if I say I am not a woman? Sure I've estrogen pumping through my body right now. I menstruate with the full moon. I'm carrying around D-cup breasts and childbearing hips, but all that is going to change.

Will I no longer be a woman? Will I become a man? I can't be a man if gender is a social construction as many theorists are so fond of saying. I've been socialized as a woman. But if gender is a social construction and womanhood is what everyone has been socializing me towards for the past 25 years why is it that I remained convinced throughout it all that I wasn't a woman. If that's the case, why can't I extend the definitions of woman or even extend the possibilities of gender as a whole. I carry around so many agendas with me that I find it difficult to trust the instincts that everyone has to know to a certain extent who and what they are.

So lets go ahead and let the personal be political. I am not a woman. I've never felt comfortable with that. Everyone naturally assumes that that would make me a man, and I can't blame them. I saw that as my only other option as well even though that wasn't the truth either. I'm going to start taking testosterone. I'm going to have my breasts removed. I'll grow facial hair. My voice will drop. My body fat will redistribute. I'll probably look a lot like a man. I don't think that makes me a man anymore than looking like I do now makes me a woman. So I keep asking myself what am I? Identities, for being as natural and instinctive as they are, are more complex than we give them credit for, especially when were trying to figure out words to attach to them.

I'll let you all in on a little stream of thought. Trying to figure out this next sentence and act like I know what the hell I'm doing and becoming makes tears begin to stand in my eyes, tears welling up make me feel like a girl, feeling like a girl when I want to cry makes me angry that I can't cry as who I am. It makes me angry that I can't cry in front of anyone except my girlfriend. If I let the tears flow, will the answer come with them? There's so much pain in trying to prove yourself everyday and even as I try to explain it to you I get angry that you don't understand. I get even angrier that I don't understand. Most of all I'm angry that anything needs explaining at all.

Little kids aren't allowed to just be and let that develop. Even a four year old, for whom gender consistency shouldn't have set in yet, has trouble understanding that I'm not really a girl like his mom and I don't really know how to explain it to him. Sometimes I look like a boy, I tell him, and sometimes I don't. People can be either boys or girls if they want to. Its their decision. He nods as he looks at a picture of me with sideburns. He understands now, so why don't I?

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

from the mouths of babes...

At four years old I didn't think gender consistency had set in yet. Not so for Liam (far right). Apparently he's an advanced child.
My friend Ursula and her two children came to visit me the other day. Unlike some parents who may worry about exposing their children to the tranny boy Ursie is quite excited that her children will be exposed to such things so early in life. You've got to love her for that.

As I'm putting my shoes on to go out Ursula informs Liam that I'm a boy now. Liam is having none of it. He knew me as Betz the girl and if I still look like Betz the girl why would he call me by a different name and think of me any differently. I can't blame him. I ask myself the same question sometimes. I called him over and he climbed up on my lap and we looked at some pictures of me. I showed him pictures of me with facial hair and without and asked him what I looked like in each, a boy or a girl? He said boy sometimes and girl sometimes. Then I told him that sometimes people look like girls and sometimes like boys and people can choose which one they want to look like and what they want to be. I'm sure his father would be freaking out if he heard me tell his son he could be a girl if he wanted. Liam said he understood and we left for the city.

Although Ursie and he had many more arguments that day about whether I was a boy or girl I feel like something must have changed in his mind. At least little Luxe doesn't care what I am. She's just along for the ride.