Way back in June 2003 I had a dream that began a long string of nervous decisionmaking to embark on this whole gender transition journey of mine. As I progressed, I gained confidence, but I was making everything up as I went along. Somehow my culture hadn’t already identified a ready to wear outfit for having a sex change. I plunged into the Internet, which at the time was All About Messageboards, and somewhere beyond the thick soup of hyperspace were actual people. Some of them were newbies, like myself, asking questions, others were at the intermediate level, as it were, and still more folks had set themselves up as mini-gurus on the topic.
To say that in the midst of these personalities, there was some conflict would count as something of a stunning understatement. I suppose that in every community, there is tension and alienation, but what seemed specific to the transgender community is a long-standing argument about authenticity and identity. Because transgender is a big umbrella term, people with very different vantage points on gender are all in the same space. There are the “traditional” transsexuals who want to go from point A to point B, plain and simple. They’re not the sex they were assigned at birth. There are people who call themselves genderqueer and they may have one of a thousand possibilities for how they understand their gender, using neutral pronouns, affecting a different gender on different days, claiming a new kind of gender for themselves, and so on. There are as many ways to be genderqueer as there are people with the identity. There are folks who change up the terminology of a category with its rough-hewn definitions. I’m a transsexual who identifies as such. I’m stealth (meaning no one in the real world knows they’re trans). I’m trans* and I leave it at that.
If a person who believes they’ve suffered a grave injustice by being born in the wrong body opened a thread on a messageboard, chances were, in the early aughts, that a genderqueer person would call them out for all of the assumptions they were making about bodies, sex assignment, social constructivism, and a whole host of other things that would come up as the thread progressed. It got ugly, a lot. What made it particularly frustrating to witness and engage with were all the bits that got erased in the process of these fights—that some people have more education and/or articulateness than others, that transition looks different for people of color, that folks who don’t pass as their chosen gender today may in a couple of years, or that everyone is actually allowed to have their own transition if that’s what they’re seeking. There was a lot of silencing via calling out, and because it was posited as critique, there was a lot of shielding for very bad behavior.
At some point I needed to admit that these were spaces of invective and with most of my questions answered, I should walk away. Life was strange and difficult enough as I took hormones in secret. And for many reasons, some of which are clear in this post, I was glad to be done with the start of my transition.
Recently a fight erupted on an email list, over whether a local physician here in the Pacific Northwest should be recommended to trans men or not. There was the fight again: binary gender subscribers versus genderqueer. She’s “only” good if you’re looking to get your hormones and get out. That’s a pretty insulting way to see someone, I thought. I actually don’t know anyone personally with that attitude. Perhaps it’s a stereotype. Genderqueers have their own pressure, being judged as not committed because they’re not living in their chosen gender full time, as if they’re not really in the trans family.
It’s time to stop this nonsense. Nobody’s gender is my business but my own. There is no authentic gender, period. It’s a thing we’ve invented to make sense of our world, and possibly because men have womb envy.
I have been spit on as a masculine woman by a stranger in the street (I just flashed Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford—wow). I’ve been ridiculed in my early days of taking testosterone, been told by Leslie Feinberg that being in the middle is hard, and then one day, I started passing with more regularity. Did that make me feel like less of a velveteen transsexual? Not really, although I appreciated not having to look over my shoulder as much. But I try to remember those experiences, not excoriate them. I want to remember, because I want to keep myself ready with empathy for people who are not in my exact position. Forgetting is easy. It’s the call of memory that keeps our actions and comments in proper context.