“No, I am not trans.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have had to utter this phrase. Ironically, since I have interacted for my whole adult life almost exclusively within feminist and queer-normative spaces, the pain of the utterance is all the more great. I cut my activist teeth protesting the Michigan Women’s Music Festival in defense of my sisters, but I knew without a doubt that I would have been welcome on the other side of that fence.
Believe me. The salacious older lesbians who came over to visit us made sure I was well aware of the fact. One of them offered to take me back with her. I was seventeen.
I none too graciously declined, stating I knew where I belonged.
I have had many transgender friends over the years; and have also interacted with some I can no longer call friends. Identity is no predictor of fit company. I’ve been there for the Benjamin Letter; the injections; the pills; the doctor searches; the hormone crisis; the pills; the creams; the surgeries; the scars. I have been there for all the doubts and the tears and the longing and the pain.
So even though my gender is likewise non-conforming to the mainstream, I just don’t rightly feel like the word “transgender” actually belongs to me.
My experience and my pain are altogether different.
Because of my early exposure to feminist gender literature contiguous to my sexual awakening, my identity developed in accordance with the teachings, at the time, thereof: That the main issue effecting the queer community as a whole was the perpetuation of the gender binary bias. I believed this so fully I used a project opportunity to sneak a presentation about the issue into a psychology course on my phobic Christian campus.
Afterward, once the room had mostly cleared, the professor shook my hand and said, simply, “Thank you.”
I was raised an Equity Feminist, though my mother would not have used these words. The focus was on empowerment; of preparedness to face the harsh realities before one with strength, courage, and grace. We listened to Peter, Paul and Mary and learned about the Peace and Civil Rights movements from the California bohemian cultural soup in which we were spawned.
On the other hand, I was given from the age of two the classical training a southern young lady would have been expected to have three-quarters of a century ago — cooking, sewing, cleaning, home economics, food preservation… Heritage was very important to my Grandmother. I wore something I had made to the first day of Kindergarten.
It was a good thing at least one of us was suited, for when the need arose (just a few short years, a cross-country move and a catastrophic marriage later) my eldest sister fled. The practical matters of caring for my three younger siblings in the most abusive and neglectful sort of deep poverty environment imaginable fell to me. I had to turn the police away at the door for the first time when I was eleven years old.
What kind of gender do you call that?
Out of a need for survival, I became the sort of person who can respond adaptively in the moment to the requirements of the situation. I could be anyone I needed to be, had to be; because the stakes were simply too high.
There has been much ado about stripping the stigma from alternate gender identities by scrubbing them of their relationship to the mental health field. I understand the legal necessity, but part of what is getting lost in the process is that for many of us, the complexities of our gender identities do lie in traumas experienced at formative stages in our development. It is a problem disproportionately impacting the poorer elements of this community, and especially those of us who are second generation.
Is any of this the reason I can feel where I am supposed to have a penis but don’t? I have no idea. But no, before you ask me again, that still does not make me trans.
No, I wouldn’t want to have surgery anywhere else. And for that matter, I’m not interested in phalloplasty until they can give me a fully functional one. Tell me again, why are my genitals any of your goddamned business?
Will you please quit trying to sell me on hormones? Any of them?
So, what does that make me, you ask? In 2017, does the feminist queer community still need some kind of convenient box with a label to put me in; so that now queer and straight people can project their gendered norms, values and expectations upon me, too?
Ok. Well, if you must have something, how about “Drag Queen that Got Lucky”? Or maybe, “Chick with a Dick, but Without One and From the Other Angle”? Or, “I’m Pretty Much Just a Gay Man in Here, But I Like to Crossdress”? I don’t know, because I don’t believe in putting people in boxes like that at all. My gender is itself Non-binary. It is non-binary both on the masculine/feminine scale and on the cisgender/transgender scale. I consider all gender to be performative and culturally relative.
Good job, early 2000’s Queer Feminists. You made a convert. In fact, you manufactured quite a lot of us. Now you are just going to have to deal with the results. We reject androphobia, heterophobia, and cisphobia with the same vehemency as we reject misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia.
You can’t count on us to side with women leadership just because they’ve got tits (or queer leadership because of who they fuck) if we think they are actually wrong. You can’t demand we play out our expected gender roles in your spaces without reasonable energy exchange — and no, the privilege of being present to do the work does not count. You can’t tell me who I can and cannot sleep with on the basis of a gendered hierarchy of acceptableness in which I do not believe and in which I do not participate. You are going to have to deal with me as an individual, because that is what you promised me we were all here to accomplish.
And I am going to hold you to it.