Trans Pride vs Gay Pride

I am not at all a poster child for trans pride.  I take no joy in the fact that I am trans, at best I consider it a kind of annoying condition that allows me a different view of the world than most people.

However, I have an incredible amount of gay pride.  My selection of gay pride t-shirts is ridiculous enough to need a rotation because they don’t all fit in my closet, damned near everything I own has a rainbow sticker or button on it, and I spend quite a bit of my free time working with *gay youth.

What’s the difference?  I think it’s a combination of things.  First off, there has never been a time in my life where being trans has felt like a positive thing.  I don’t subscribe to the gender binary smashing ideology so for me being trans is most often a pain in the ass.  Being gay isn’t always a picnic, but the bad times are at least balanced out by the good.  Yes, I may be assaulted for no reason other than my rainbow scarf.  I also get to experience that kind of giddy feeling when I’m first interested in a guy and all of the fun that is going to a truck stop diner with fifty other gay men in various levels of drag.

Which leads into the second reason: community.  I don’t feel any connection to the trans community.  I interact with it because I want other guys to know that there is more than one way to be a man, but if I were to stop tomorrow I wouldn’t miss it.  Part of this is due to ideological differences, but most of it is because I honestly don’t view being trans as an important part of my identity.  Clearly this is not the case with my sexuality.  I can’t really say for sure why other than that being gay plays into my day to day life far more than being trans.

People don’t know I’m trans.  I’ve reached a point where the things that used to scream “look, you’re different!” at me (bathrooms, packing, swimming, etc.) are so instinctive that I don’t think about them unless I’m having a particularly bad day.  Everyone knows I’m gay.  The woman working the register at the grocery store at least assumes I’m gay even if she doesn’t know for sure.  I could try to mask it, but I’d only be hurting myself.  So I get daily reminders of my sexuality in the form of whispers and odd looks and the occasional yelled taunt.  I also get the “family” looks and knowing smiles and sometimes a flirtatious gesture or two.

It helps that I choose to express my sexuality in a certain way.  I don’t have to be effeminate.  I don’t have to get involved with gay organisations.  I don’t even have to go to gay clubs.  If it really bothered me I could change.  The thing is, I don’t want to.  I did straight drag for a while when I first came out.  It sucked.  I made the conscious decision to say fuck what people think, I’m going to be who I want.

I didn’t get that option with trans.  It was either transition or kill myself.  People say “oh, you don’t have to physically transition, you can learn to live with your body,” but they don’t know what it’s like to wake up every day and wonder who that person in the mirror is.  I didn’t choose to start T because I wanted the changes, I chose to start T because my brain already viewed myself as having those changes and not having the visual image match up with the mental one was driving me slowly insane.  I never once got a choice in the matter.  Not if I wanted to continue being alive (which, admittedly, is not always as clear as it should be).

That’s not to say I’m not proud of what I’ve accomplished since coming out.  I am incredibly proud of what I’ve done and the person I’ve become while also dealing with depression and dysphoria.  However, that is pride in myself, not pride in the conditions.

*I also work with trans youth, but that’s more rare.

“There is more than one way to have a male body you know”

Can we please stop saying any variation of that when a guy is experiencing severe dysphoria over his genitalia?  It dismisses the problem in favour of gender theory, an approach that is neither compassionate nor effective.

We know that there’s more than one way to be male.  Trust me, we know.  It’s virtually impossible to be part of the trans community for more than five minutes without being told that particular aspect.  That’s not why we’re upset.  Some people transition for social reasons, some people for a mix of social and physical, some for entirely physical.  Those of us who are more on the physical than social side of the spectrum shouldn’t be talked down to simply because the prevailing attitude says having a penis isn’t important.

Having a penis is important to me.  I don’t feel right having a vagina.  Fuck social gender, fuck theory, fuck anything else that says having a vagina isn’t relevant to my masculinity.  It’s relevant to me.  That should be all that matters.

When you feel like crap because looking down makes you feel like you’ve been kicked in the stomach you aren’t helped by people saying “oh, it doesn’t matter, there are a ton of different ways to have a male body.”  In fact, that only hurts.  It says that what you feel isn’t important.  That your entire sense of how your body should look is irrelevant because being transsexual isn’t PC any more.  You can live without a necessary limb, you’ll be fine.  After all, these sixteen gender theorists say so.

Would you tell someone with severe depression that it’s ok, “there’s more than one way to be happy”?  I doubt it because there have been amazing shifts in the way depression is looked at.  That wouldn’t have been an uncommon response in an earlier time though.  It was perfectly acceptable to brush off depression as just another state of being, a personal flaw to be overcome rather than a debilitating illness.  Most people think that’s a horrible thought now, yet we do the exact same thing to guys with genital dysphoria.

I get that for some guys there really is more than one way to have a male body.  There are guys who love their vaginas, guys who don’t feel the need for T, guys with any number of different ways of viewing their bodies.  However, that is not the case for all of us.  Some of us really do have a very binary way of looking at our bodies.  That doesn’t mean we’re any better or worse than the guys who experience less genital dysphoria, it just means we’re different.  Acting like we’re simply in need of education fails to recognise that.

Reclaimation and “faggot”

When I was coming out “transfag” and “trannyfag” were fairly common terms to throw around.  “Trannyfag” has slowed down a bit (largely due to trans women correctly pointing out that you can’t reclaim a word that isn’t generally used to describe you), but “transfag” still exists — though it’s shifted meaning a few times.  I don’t particularly like either term, but I understand the desire to find something, anything, that correctly describes who you are so I go with them.

However, I am sickened beyond explanation by the sudden rise of trans guys calling themselves “faggots”.  With all due respect to the guys who are just coming out, you’re a bunch of morons if you think that sort of crap is going to get you anywhere.

Notice that passing guys and cis guys rarely even use “fag” as an identifier — and when we do it’s in very limited contexts.  “Faggot” is not the gay man version of “dyke”, there’s no real debate over whether or not it should be reclaimed.  It’s more synonymous with “paki” than “JAP” (Jewish, not Asian).

What’s even more irritating is that most of the guys deciding to “reclaim” the word have never been called it.  Just like with “tranny”, you don’t get to reclaim this one.  Until you’ve felt the intense fear that grips you when some stranger yells “faggot” at you in the street you don’t have anything to reclaim.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t get it at first.  I knew better than to use it because I grew up with gay guys, but I didn’t really see how it was that different from “fag” or “queer”.  Then I got bashed.  Yeah, the guys who beat me up yelled “fag” and “queer” a few times, but what really got them going was “faggot”.

There is a difference.  It’s only three letters, but it’s huge.  Learn that now, from me, a random guy on the internet.  Otherwise you’ll end up having to learn from a bunch of thugs pounding it into your face.

Why I still go to FtM groups

I hate FtM support groups.  Cannot stand them.  Most of the time I want to strangle everyone there.  Still, every time I’m in a new place I look for the group that’s furthest away while still being accessible and go check it out.  I go, I sit, I listen, I try not to get into too many fights.  Then the next time they meet I go again.  I get nothing from it other than maybe a headache, but I go anyway.

Why?  Because I remember my first meeting.  I remember being the guy that everyone looked at funny and whispered about when they thought I wasn’t paying attention.  I remember going to another meeting a few years later and being told by a particularly irritating person that I must be genderqueer because real men don’t challenge the gender binary.  I remember having my identity dismissed in every possible way every time I went anywhere near another FtM.

I go for the same reasons that I started this blog.  I know that I can’t be the only gay, effeminate, non-genderqueer FtM out there.  Somewhere another guy is being told that he can’t wear pink.  That he has to speak only in a monotone.  That he needs to stop crossing his legs.  I may not be able to stop all the gender policing that goes on in FtM circles (rather like how I can’t stop it when it happens amongst teen boys), but I can at least let people know that there’s more than one way to be a guy.

You see, when I’m around it’s hard to pretend that a trans guy can only pass if he’s butch.  It’s hard to pretend that anyone who doesn’t change their entire personality is somehow not trans enough.  It’s really hard to pretend that you can only be effeminate if you’re genderqueer.  I still get treated like the class fag, but I’m ok with that.  In the vast majority of FtM groups I am the class fag.  I’m the small, queeny guy who wears glitter and likes showtunes.  Of course I’m not going to fit in with a bunch of butch guys who like to talk about sports and girls, I wouldn’t fit in with them if they weren’t trans either.

No, I definitely don’t go for the bonding experience.  I just know that one of these days another small, scared kid is going to come in with rainbow high tops and a swishy walk and I want to make sure he doesn’t get run off.

Sissyphobia and the FtM community

When I went to my first FtM meeting I expected to find out more about local doctors, how to tell my parents, what to do about dating…basic, “I just came out and I’m bloody terrified” stuff.  I figured there’d be guys in all stages of transition and a variety of different personalities and gender expressions.  I grew up with guys, I knew how varied they could be and I assumed that trans guys would be the same.

Oh how wrong I was.  I showed up in layered polos and jeans, standard college-age apparel for where I was living at the time.  Almost as soon as I walked in a random guy came up to me and said I couldn’t wear pink any more because it’s a “girl” colour.  Another guy told me I needed to stop using so much inflection when I spoke.  Yet another told me to start wearing relaxed fit jeans even lower on my hips and baggier shirts.

The meeting was an hour long.  During that time every single thing I did was ripped apart as “too girly” or “too gay”.  Nevermind that I had stated in my introduction that I am gay, none of the guys at the meeting seemed to understand that that meant I’m attracted to men.  They were all largely the same person, early T guys who considered themselves straight and masculine.  They wore the same clothes, had the same hair, and hung out in the same places.  After the meeting they all went out to lunch at a diner popular with a certain segment of the lesbian community.  I was invited, but left before the food came as I was getting sick of them making jokes about an effeminate gay man who was seated a few tables away.  (Yes honey, I’m sure you are more “manly” than he was.  Too bad that’s not the same as being more of a man.)

It’s been long enough now that FtM meetings have changed quite a bit.  At the very least, most guys now know that you can be gay and trans at the same time.  However, one thing that hasn’t changed is the subtle disdain for any man who is neither genderqueer nor masculine.  There is an obvious answer as to why trans men as a group tend to have an overblown fear of anything that might be perceived as feminine, but there’s no reason for why we continue to allow it.  Misogyny is a fairly common after effect of coming out, but we certainly don’t allow that (and rightly so).

This is a particularly large problem for guys who are just coming out.  There’s a tendency to shelter ourselves within the FtM community when we first come out, something that’s fully understandable (I tried), but also leads to certain issues.  How can you develop a realistic idea of what cis men are like if you’re never around any?  It seems that most ideas about men within the FtM community come from the community.  I’ve noticed that at most FtM meetings there will be a large portion of newly out guys and maybe one or two who’ve been out for years and are fully passing.  Generally the only one is the moderator.  Of course there’s a skewed view of what men are like, few of us have ever interacted with any.

So how can we stop portraying all men as caricatures from the 1950s without also losing the sense of solidarity that comes from associating with people like yourself?  I’d start off with not berating the guys who don’t fit a certain image.  Don’t assume that the guy in glittery red Converse wants to butch up.  Stop telling people that in order to pass they need to wear one specific uniform.  Not only does it not work for everyone (I always passed better in tighter clothes), it also may make us feel more uncomfortable than dresses and heels.  Let people decide what kind of man they want to be for themselves.

That would all be helped by checking out all the different types of guy there are.  Turn off your television, get away from the sporting goods store, and go to the gayborhood.  No, not the lesbian section.  Go to a bookstore or coffee shop frequented by gay men.  DON’T try to get laid, you’re just here to watch.  Notice how they’re all different.  Some guys swish, others are more subdued, most probably don’t look all that different from the guys on a local college campus.  Don’t have a gayborhood?  Go see whatever theatre production the high school is putting on.  Find the nearest environmental group.  Check out an artsy cafe. Just get away from the stereotypically male areas and see what else there is.  Not all men are sports watching, beer drinking, hygiene lacking beasts.  Actually, most men aren’t.  Just like most women aren’t fussy, cooking, cleaning, vapid bimbos.

Really, that’s a great way of looking at it.  Every time you start to think “oh, well, men do [stereotypical thing]” switch it around.  Instead of “men sit with their legs wide apart and scratch their balls” think “women sit with their ankles crossed and fuss with their aprons”.  Sounds a bit silly, doesn’t it?  I’m sure some women act like June Cleaver (a friend of mine actually loves to and gets all dressed up), but most don’t.  The same is true for men.  Some men act like Tarzan, but most don’t.  For one thing, loin cloths get rather cold in December.

Don’t Make Your Entire Life About Transition

I know, sometimes that seems impossible.  When you first come out it’s like you figured out this secret society full of cool new people and ideas.  It can be overwhelming, especially if you also jump into physical transition.

You don’t want to make your entire life about being trans, though.  It’s a damned good way to make sure you feel like crap after you’ve done everything you want to do.  It’s also a good way to start yourself off on a bitter and lonely life.  When the only aspect of yourself you focus on is being trans the world seems more hostile than it truly is.  Let’s be honest, life’s not easy for a boy named Sue.  Life’s really not easy when Sue can’t just whip out his penis to answer any questions.  If you allow yourself to only focus on the transphobic aspects of society you’ll miss all of the good things we’ve done.

Don’t forget that there’s more to you than being trans.  I’m sure you’re an amazing person with unique gifts to offer the world.  Everyone has something that makes them special, even if it’s as mundane as being able to recite the entire Twilight series from memory.  Go do things that made you happy before you came out.  Nurture those things, don’t push them aside just because you’re excited about being trans.  You’ll regret it once you’re no longer focused on transition and have to catch up on web design or piano or WoW.

Also remember your pre-transition friends.  The ONLY reason to ignore them is if they refuse to accept who you are — and even then I’d give them some time to adjust (took my oldest friend two years to come around).  Friends who’ve known you a while have a different perspective than new friends.  They know about the time you accidentally pushed the principal in the pool and how you’re terrified of bees because you stepped on one when you were five.  Old friends also know the stories from pre-transition, stories you may not always be able to tell new friends if you don’t want to come out.

I don’t want anyone to think they shouldn’t have trans* friends.  Without my trans* friends I’d have never made it through the first year.  Even now, I like having trans* friends so I can vent about things like still being uncomfortable in locker rooms and not knowing whether or not to disclose to someone.  There are certain things that only another transperson can understand.  Just make sure you’re not neglecting your non-trans friends in the process.  Most of the time they want you to be happy, even if they don’t quite understand why you need to transition.

Go to trans events, have trans friends, explore this new aspect of your life.  It is important — certainly for the first year or so — and you’ll end up learning some pretty cool things about yourself.  As long as you remember to set aside some time for the aspects of yourself that aren’t trans-related you’ll be fine.  Give yourself the opportunity to be a whole person instead of a transperson.  You’ll have more to look forward to once you’ve gotten the physical stuff out of the way.

Stealth vs Out: The Neverending Dilema

One of the things all transguys have to deal with eventually is how open they want to be about their trans* status.  Unfortunately, most of us don’t start thinking about this until it becomes a problem — whether because we didn’t realise we weren’t out already or because suddenly people we don’t want knowing have found out.  I actually had both problems at the same time which is at least amusing, if also a little frustrating.

The first thing to realise is that there are more options than simply “no one knows, ever” and “everyone in the world knows, from my mom to the mailman.”  We just looked at the spectra for sex, sexuality, gender, and gender expression, look at disclosure as another spectrum.  On the one end you have deep stealth and on the other there’s 100% out.  Some people are on the ends, but most fall somewhere in the middle.  Where you fall can also shift as you transition and figure out your own comfort levels.

I fall closer to the stealth end simply because I hated being the token tranny.  Could not stand it, felt more uncomfortable then than when people considered me a weird little tomboy.  So I tend to not tell anyone.  If I’m likely to try getting in someone’s pants then they get to know, but other than that I avoid the topic entirely.

That said, it wasn’t always like this.  When I first came out I was all gung-ho “yay, trans pride!” and figured I’d be out to all of my friends, regardless of whether they saw me as a girl or a guy when we met.  For a while this worked out simply because early in transition it’s nearly impossible to get the right name and pronouns out of people unless you’re open about things.  Being stealth wasn’t even an option at that point, it was either out myself or deal with people thinking I was a girl.  So I blogged and told people and participated in studies and even was in a few news articles (this was back when transguys were THE hot news topic).

Then I moved.  All of a sudden I didn’t have to be out.  People assumed I had some sort of glandular problem, but they weren’t questioning what was in my pants.  It took me a while to realise this, but once I did I was thrilled.  No more having to explain gender theory, no more awkward questions to avoid, all I had to do was be myself.  Until they started Googling my name.  One person found out and told another person who told another person and it all went to hell.

That was when I realised that I don’t really like being out as trans.  It was a great option when I was starting, but as I grew into myself it started being more and more uncomfortable.  Problem was, it’s ridiculously difficult to take things off the internet.  Eventually I managed to change over all my old blogs and convinced the people who’d found out to keep it to themselves.  That still left all the studies and news articles I was in.  The studies weren’t as big of a deal simply because they all had their own privacy plans in place so even I can barely tell that I’m Patient X.  The news articles on the other hand…well, let’s just say that six months of calls only showed me that reporters are rarely (if ever) willing to change even a word of something that’s already been published.

I lived with just about everyone in my world knowing about my status for a little over a year.  Any time I met someone knew I wondered if I should tell them myself or wait for them to find the articles online.  Most of the time I waited.  About 3/4 of the people I didn’t tell eventually asked me directly after trying to find my Facebook or MySpace or the articles I was starting to write for the local gay press.  There was always a bit of a shift after people found out, I was no longer just another one of the guys.  That irritated me more than anything else, I had been more accepted as just another flamingly gay teen long before I ever even came out!

That was when I found out I’d be moving again.  I had applied for a study abroad programme with no real hope of getting in, but ended up being more qualified than I had expected.  With four months to prepare, I had plenty of time to decide what I wanted to be different.  I knew that I absolutely, 100% did not want to be out unless I was the one telling people.  I still hadn’t fully figured out when to tell, but I knew that I didn’t want them to find out via Google.  The only way I could even begin to do this was to change my name a second time and even that wasn’t a guarantee as name changes are public record.  Still, I didn’t figure people would be interested enough to look through stacks of records in a different country.

So let’s recap.  I came out, figured I’d always be out, was very public about being trans, moved, realised I didn’t have to be out, tried to be somewhat stealth, had people find out via internet, and went through a second name change in order to be given my preferred level of privacy.  It all worked out in the end, but it was kind of a pain in the ass and not how I’d do things if given a second chance.

Which is why I’m always a little concerned when newly out guys start posting things online without any concern for their anonymity.  It’s easy to assume that you’ll always be out, the early days of transition are intense.  There’s an immense pride in discovering yourself, particularly once you find a community of people who understand.  Few of us consider that there may come a time when we don’t want to be out to everyone, something that is exacerbated by the fact that most trans* support groups (both on and offline) are predominantly populated by the newly out/early in transition.  It’s the downside to so many transmen going the exact opposite route and never speaking to other transguys again, but that’s a topic for another day.

Finding Our Place: Social Acceptance for Non-Traditional Transmen

I tend to get into fights when in areas designed solely for transmen.  Actually, I tend to get into fights when in areas designed for transpeople in general.  It’s odd for me because I do have trans friends (both men and women), it’s the only way I would have managed the early days of transition.  However, I can’t seem to get along with the trans community in general.  At least, I can’t online.  In person it’s a little better.

The reasons for this are two-fold.  First of all, I’m not a gender/women’s studies major.  I don’t do queer theory.  I don’t care about the latest research on gender socialisation.  Just about everything being said now was debunked with the Reimer case in 70s so I’m not sure why we insist on going back to it.

The second reason is that I’m simply not like the vast majority of the trans community.  Rather, I’m not like either of the sides that present themselves online.  I’m not masculine enough for the man’s man FtMs, but I’m also not genderqueer.  I have a very distinct, binary gender identity, but my expression isn’t stereotypical.  I like glitter and I’m not afraid to say so.

I’ve come to terms with this.  I no longer really care if I’m accepted within the trans community because I don’t need a trans support system.  I’ve hit a point where every few years I may need a factual answer to a specific question, but beyond that I’m pretty good.  What concerns me is what will happen to the guys coming out who are like me.

That’s why I have this blog.  There aren’t a whole lot of guys like me, I realise that.  Most guys fall into one of the two major camps, either masculine or genderqueer.  However, if I help even one scared kid realise that he isn’t alone then the time and effort put into this are worth it.

I do wish there was somewhere else these guys could go.  Somewhere that has passing tips for effeminate guys, suggestions on how to bind while still wearing tight shirts (hint: it’s not always possible), ways to pass without sacrificing who you are.  I can do some, but let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like having a bunch of people you can go to with a problem.  Unfortunately, I don’t know enough guys like me to set up something like that.  Let alone guys like me who have transitioned, most of us simply assimilate into the gay male world.

There’s Femme-FtM on LiveJournal, but they’re more genderqueer than FtM transexual.  Beyond that, the vast majority of guys on there aren’t effeminate in the “flaming queen” sense of the word.  Lots of emo, scene, and punk.  If you want to gauge your ears you’ll be welcomed with open arms.  Some anime-style bishounen (did I spell that right?) if that’s your style.  Not so much for the guy whose ideal look is a cross between Brian Kinney and Emmett Honeycutt (from Queer as Folk for all you youngin’s).

Dreamwidth has a few trans groups that are more open to effeminate guys, but none of them are very active.  I’m not sure the mod for most of them has checked in in a few months.  Other than that there’s not really anything.

It’s too bad.  Effeminate men in general are marginalised, transmen even moreso.