Words and Identity

March is kind of an interesting time for me, transition history wise.  It’s the month I got my legal name change (both times), the month I started T, the month I switched to injections, and the month I brought up my gender issues to my therapist.  Because of that I end up thinking about transition this time of year even though I’ve hit a point where it’s mostly not a day to day issue.

At the moment that means thinking about an exercise my therapist had me do when I first started looking at transitioning.  She had me write down every ‘female-gendered’ term I could think of and then whether or not I identified with it.  A fairly easy sounding task, but surprisingly difficult when you’re still a bit confused and unsure of yourself.

Looking back, not too much has changed.  It is interesting, though, which words caused a larger response.  Girl wasn’t a word I could place either way.  Still don’t, really.  I just don’t care.  Woman was a definite “no way” and now is more of an “eh, whatever”.  Tomboy I detested and realised I didn’t identify with at all even though that’s what I’d resigned myself to years earlier.  Wife will likely never be a word I’m comfortable with.  Mija and mijita to this day cause larger dysphoria issues than anything else.  I have more problems being called that than I do with not having a penis most days.  Ma’am I hated then, but now has lost most all meaning.  Miss I cannot stand, but it has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with it not being a word I’m accustomed to being used for anyone over twelve at the absolute oldest.  Lady I didn’t identify with then and identify with even less now.  Princess I think I will always hate.  Diva I considered too feminine then, but now I take a certain amount of pride in it.  Mother did and still does send “DO NOT WANT!” shivers down my spine.  (Interestingly, I can’t identify with Father either, though it at least comes closer.)  Mum/Mummy I surprisingly don’t have too much of an issue with other than thinking it’d be a bit weird, but Mom/Mommy and Dad/Daddy make me want to run away screaming.  Daughter didn’t bother me then, but does now.  (I’m not too comfortable with Son either.)  Girlfriend has never been a word I particularly wanted associated with me.  Aunt made me uncomfortable then, but now doesn’t cause much of a response outside of “WTF”.  Sister I was 100% ok with then while now it feels…wrong.

Most of the changes I can attribute to simply becoming more secure in my identity.  I still get misread about a quarter of the time and likely will for the foreseeable future.  The men in my family simply don’t have very masculine features, I’ve gotten used to it.  I had to learn to deal with being called “ma’am”, otherwise I’d spend a good portion of my life being angry at the world.

Other ones shifted in the opposite direction for much the same reason.  I spent my entire life before transition with my main identity being “big sister”.  I come from a large family and because my parents both worked long hours to ensure we lived in a neighbourhood with good schools (mostly for my benefit) I did a significant portion of the child rearing.  Every time I was praised or punished by my parents some variation of “setting a good example” was mixed in.  It wasn’t a gendered term to me when I was first coming out, just something I was.  Now that I’m removed from that setting I have a much harder time with it.

I’m curious to know how much these will change as more time passes.  I don’t know, for instance, how much of my objection to the parental terms is gender and how much is simply not having much of a desire to be a parent.  I don’t really feel comfortable with any of them so I suspect it’s more to do with the role than the gender.

Fun, if not particularly polite way to deal with butch lesbians insisting on assuming you’re one of them

My salon does quite a bit of promoting for Pride.  It’s good for business and I think we only have one straight staffer so it’s kind of a big thing for us.  Which means that today I was manning our booth while wearing Kurt’s ‘Born This Way’ shirt.

Apparently having ‘LIKES BOYS’ in giant letters across my torso was not enough to deter the lesbians.  Every couple of minutes one of them would come up to me and talk about how great it is to see a lesbian in hairdressing.  (It’s not really, I know at least as many lesbian hairdressers as I do gay men.)  Normally I’m very polite about this.  I’m used to educating and this sort of thing happens to all the cis guys in my family too so I don’t consider it a big deal.

Today I got frustrated.  When a woman (who looked strikingly like Chaz Bono when he first came out) came up to me wearing a ‘dip me in honey and throw me to the lesbians’ and talking about how inspiring I was I immediately started calling her ‘sir’.  Repeatedly.  Even after she corrected me.  I did that over and over and over again until finally one woman got frustrated and asked why I assumed she was a man.

“Why did you assume I’m a woman?”

She didn’t really have an answer for that.

“But you have female socialisation!”

I cannot begin to explain how much I loathe statements like that.  They’re most often said by women trying to explain why they prefer trans guys to cis guys so I don’t really have to deal with them, but when I do…very little pisses me off faster.

Why?  Because there is so much wrong in that one simple sentence that I’m not entirely sure where to start.  It assumes that all women have some magical girlhood experience.  It assumes that the little girl in a rich, white New York family is socialised the same way as a Latina in the LA ghetto.  It ignores that socialisation differs based on time, location, socio-economic class, race, religion, and a whole host of other factors.  It implies that trans women will never be “real” women because they’re missing this mystical childhood socialisation.

Beyond that, it gives trans guys way too much credit.  It says that we must instinctively understand and agree with issues like rape culture because we were raised as girls.  I’m trans and I gotta say, half of what people talk about when they mention rape culture never once occurred to me.  I’m not automatically a better feminist because of my genitalia.

It could be said that I missed everything because I socially transitioned myself so young.  I can believe that.  I’m not the only one with these problems though.  Ask a group of trans guys about their upbringings and you’ll get a mixed bag of answers.  Some will say they 100% were socialised as girls and they understand what that means.  Others will say gender wasn’t an issue in their upbringing because they were treated the same way as cis guy relatives.  Others will say they were socialised largely as a boy by accident.  Still others will have a range of answers somewhere in between.

Being trans does not make me a more enlightened breed of guy.  In fact, being trans has often worked against my ability to understand feminism.  It took a very long time for me to be able to understand that just because I didn’t experience a certain aspect of being seen as a girl doesn’t mean no woman has.  It took even longer for me to recognise my own internalised misogyny and start to work through it.  I’m sure I still have issues I haven’t noticed yet.  So please stop acting like I’m magic.  I’m not.  I’m just as capable of being a jerk as any other guy.

Guest Post: How I Figured Out I Was Trans, the short version

When people ask me how I knew I was trans, I often don’t know where to start.  There were all sorts of signs that I was trans throughout my childhood, but being as this was before the internet, I had no idea that transitioning was a possibility.  Like many trans people, it wasn’t one thing that let me know I was trans, it was a thousand tiny things that piled up into a narrative.  Eight years after transitioning, I still have moments when I remember tidbits from my life that confirm my transness.  These tiny moments didn’t make sense at the time, but in hindsight I can see what they meant.

Some trans people talk about being in the wrong body and some talk about not liking their social role.  For me, it was a strange combination that led me to transition.  The biggest thing, the one that trans people don’t like to talk about, is sex.  Yes, sex – I figured out that I was trans through having sex.  It started in the summer of 2000.  I was a junior in college and had just started dating a older man (lol, he was only 26, but it felt like a huge difference at the time).  The sex was great in the beginning, as I had gone a long time without any sexual contact due to my extreme studiousness and shyness.  After a month though, the sex turned bad; I felt locked up, stoic and frigid.

Being the perfectionist that I was, I spent days poring over sex books to figure out what I was doing wrong.  Convinced that I just wasn’t doing it right, I made it my goal to explore sex like I never had before.  I watched porn, bought toys, went to the strip club, read erotica, subscribed to Abercrombie & Fitch’s catalogue (my first softcore gay porn!), but nothing helped consistently.  I started to think it was physical, so I went to the doctor’s – nothing wrong there.  I practiced kegels, read up on kama sutra and tantric sex, tried the positions with my boyfriend, all to no avail.  Slowly sex became a chore that I loathed doing – a fact that is depressing as hell when you’re horny.  The only thing that helped was having sex right after waking up.  Curious, I started a dream journal.

One afternoon, I was waking up from a short nap in which I hazily remember having sex with a man.  Normally, this would have just been considered a good use of daylight hours, but this time I had a penis and I was the one penetrating him.  The dream was so vivid, so electric, that I thought about it for months, totally confused as to why I would have a dream like this.  It didn’t make any sense.  I tried to put it out of my mind, but a big part of me liked it so much, I started to have this dream every night.

After a few months of this, I furiously started researching the internets.  I came across a picture of a masculine presenting female-assigned trans person.  Floored, intrigued, excited and scared, I slowly I came to accept that my dream was telling me something important and that the only way I would figure it out was to break up with my boyfriend and explore my sexuality with other people.  Three months later, I chopped my hair off, graduated from college and somehow became convinced that I should start my experiments with women.

When graduate school started in the fall, I started dating another grad student – a woman.  My goal was to somehow embody my dream, to somehow feel male, so dating a woman seemed like the natural thing to do and I went with it.  At first it was new and exciting, just like my last relationship, but after a month of sex in which I never took off my clothes, I got bored and anxious.   I also felt like a fraud cause she thought I was a lesbian, but making her come did absolutely nothing for me.  After five months of exploring sex (including BDSM lite) with her, I took to the internet once more.

This time, thankfully, I came across a message board full of queer and trans people.  I spent months reading the archives, searching for some truth that mirrored my own.  I stopped having sex again, started to obsessively study myself in the mirror and make myself as masculine-looking as possible.  I lifted weights every day, starved myself, started shopping in the men’s side of the store and, most importantly, I started having the special dreams again, except this time they were more explicit and longer.  Jolting energy spilt through my penis, like I’d imagine a cis guy would feel and it was very unlike the orgasms and feel of vaginal sex.  I had a masculine chest, fur, fuzz on my face and I found myself furiously sucking my imaginary partner’s cock like I never had in real life.

Up until this point, it had never occurred to me that gay trans men existed.  In my dreams, I was a man having sex with a man, but acknowledging this out loud to other people scared the shit out of me.  So I continued on my quest to look more masculine while entertaining the possibility of sex with lesbians who digged people like me.   Convinced that I was disgusting, not worth dating and certainly not sexy, the attention and ego boost were nice.   I had some odd encounters with lesbians, but the spark wasn’t there.  I felt mostly dead down there when it came to having sex with women.

Slowly my dreams became more elaborate and I started wondering what else was possible.  Just going to a gay porn website was enough to make me start shaking and sweating at this point.  It felt forbidden and wrong.  It took me a full year of thinking before I finally downloaded some gay porn.  At first, I was confused.  I mean, I had sex with plenty guys growing up and I’d seen plenty of penises, but seeing gay porn for the first time made me feel completely ignorant of male sexuality.  I watched the twinks giving each other blowjobs, examining their bodies and noticing how skinny and smooth they looked.  Then one of them starting topping the other and my mouth literally gaped open – I thought “that’s exactly what my dream was like!!!”.  A part of me didn’t want to watch anymore (they weren’t my type and they looked rather sickly), but I couldn’t look away – it was calling my name.   Scared to death that I was really a gay man, I told myself that it wasn’t my cup of tea and that perhaps I was into the type of sex that has never existed in real life.

Meanwhile, I took steps to start testosterone therapy for my physical transition and graduated from college.  I moved to a new town and met some gay men for the first time in my life at age 23.  This is when my life started – I’m not exaggerating.  My new role as a man was being accepted rather easily with the help of testosterone-induced masculinization, a very trans-friendly community and top surgery, but making that step into gayhood became some sort of looming monster.  The closer I became with one of my gay friends, the more apparent my sexuality became to others, the more I couldn’t ignore the truth.  I finally came out, which surprised no one (apparently I make a rather fey man).  In less than a week after coming out, I was making my privates hurt from the constant masturbation from just the release of finally accepting myself.  Soon, I went after the real thing and for the first time in my life, my sexuality felt easy, not forced.  I no longer had to get in the perfect position, think of England, or imagine I was somewhere else.  I could be in my body and feel the electricity and most importantly I could share it with someone else, like humans were meant to do.

This isn’t to say that my sex life is easy and that I have no issues.  When I’m with a cis guy, I immediately feel less than a man – how do you come to terms that someone ran off with your penis before you born and not feel inadequate?  A lot of times, men aren’t interested in having sex with me once they know I’m trans.  On the street, if you saw me you’d never know that my package was manufactured at some plant in China.  Naked, well, you’d be really dense not to notice that my penis is quite small, much like an overgrown clit (testosterone makes it grow, a lot) and that I can’t fuck you with it.   Some don’t care that I have a vagina and some really like it.  I try to tell myself that being trans is like being short – it’s much harder to find people that are into you, but it’s not impossible.  Sometimes, my lack of a penis keeps me from cruising for a date.

Those times I’ve had sex with men who didn’t care, who fucked me all night (yes, I’m a bottom), who either didn’t notice or didn’t care that they had the only penis in the room when there were usually two, have given me years of contentment.  I was a gay man with them, just like any other guy and we enjoyed each other’s bodies like gay men tend to do.  I’ll never forget those times when I could forget that I was born female.  Like the dreams that started it all, they are seared into my brain and they make me feel alive even when I’m alone for yet another saturday night.

I may not make sense to you.  That’s alright.  It took me years for me to make sense of myself.  But I do exist – I’m not weird, or disgusting…. I’m just gay and male and trans.  For a few years I lived my life as a straight women, but not since my first gay sexual experience have I felt any longing for my former life or like I could just turn back.

You’ll never know what it’s like to be trans (unless you are actually trans) and that you’ll never know what it’s like to be a gay trans man (unless you are one), but that doesn’t mean you can’t accept it.   This is me.  I am gay and I am a man.  Take my word for it, otherwise I’ll have to bore you with more details of my mostly uninteresting life and then you’ll be really sorry you asked because you couldn’t understand.

Kian currently lives in NH with his two cats. He would be wicked excited if he didn’t have to move to a ginormous city to the south in order to have a fulfulling sex life (he’ll miss the snow and the ice-skating too much.) He can be reached at kian217 at gmail dot com if you’re interested in conversation, an argument or in sending a nicely worded hate letter.

Requisite disclaimer: All opinions expressed in guest posts are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NotAiden.

Why I try not to get hung up on terminology

When I was first coming out “trans” as a word of its own hadn’t really caught on yet.  “Transgender” was not yet an umbrella term, it was what you used for people who wanted social transition, but not any sort of medical treatment.  “Transsexual” was still a perfectly acceptable way to describe someone who wanted hormones and/or surgery.  “Genderqueer” was for anyone who didn’t fit either of those categories.

However, those definitions were regional.  A friend who came out at the same time in a different part of the country had “transgender” for anyone with a non-binary gender ID and no particular word for people who wanted social, but not medical transition.  The word for “genderqueer” was everything from “genderblender” to “bigender” to “agender”.

I can’t even really say the terms have been entirely defined now.  Most people use “transgender” as an umbrella term, but some use “trans” or “trans*”.  It’s pretty rare for guys coming out now to use “transsexual”, but I still hear/see it occasionally.  Going to trans groups in different cities, states, and sometimes countries means that I end up hearing damned near every term there is and most of them have been used in at least two or three different ways.

You’d think all that exposure to different ways of describing being trans would mean that I don’t make mistakes.  It doesn’t.  I am always putting my foot in my mouth, usually because a word I’m used to means something else when I’m in a new area.  It’s like the trans equivalent of a Brit calling a proud southerner a “yank”.  To the Brit that just means the person’s American, but to the southerner it’s something else entirely.

What’s more, trans-related terms change at a much faster rate than just about anything outside the tech industry.  Words I used to come out to my mother could well be considered offensive by a guy coming out now.  They’re hard — if not flat out impossible — to keep up with.  So I try very hard not to dismiss someone’s question/idea based solely on word use.  That doesn’t mean I won’t correct words that are less than appropriate, but I’d rather deal with the point of what the person is saying first.  Keeps the discussion going and tends to be a bit more effective.

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.

Response: Is there a transgender ‘lifestyle’?

I’m going to be honest, I don’t read many trans-specific websites.  In fact, I don’t think I read a single trans-specific anything if it’s not on Tumblr or LiveJournal.  I’m past that phase in my life and most of the people on trans-specific sites annoy the hell out of me.  Plus, I can’t keep my damned mouth shut when I should.  However, every now and then a post will so saturate the web that even I notice it.  Such is the case with the (relatively) recent editorial on Transguys.com.

We’ve all heard ‘lifestyle’ used in a negative context, generally in the form of religious leaders saying they can’t support trans* rights because they don’t approve of our ‘lifestyle’.  What we don’t generally think of is the more common usage of the word, one used to denote a particular set of common traits and beliefs.  If someone talks about their ‘bohemian lifestyle’ we immediately picture bare lofts in industrial squats, homes packed with artists, and few (if any) modern comforts.  I also picture Mark Cohen dancing on a table, but I’m kind of a geek.

Using that definition is there a ‘transgender lifestyle’?  I don’t think so.  There are so many different ways to be trans* that to me the idea of us all fitting under one nice heading (even one as large as ‘transgender’) is a bit absurd.  I am not the same as a genderqueer identified person.  I am not the same as a trans man who considers the ‘trans’ part of that to be central to his identity.  I’m not even the same as most gay (trans) men who could easily be thought of as straight.  We all have different needs, different comfort levels, different ways of approaching society.  Many trans people wish to challenge the gender binary and bring awareness of genderqueer and other-gendered identities.  I have no desire to do such a thing, in fact, I’m perfectly happy with my “man” box.  I simply wish more people would recognise that it’s my box to occupy.

The other term being considered is ‘culture’, a word that has a much more high-brow sound.  When people refer to culture it tends to be either in an academic sense or when speaking about such things as art and literature.  In that case, is there a transgender culture?  I would say there is, particularly considering the recent emergence of magazines, artwork, films, and books written by and for trans* people.  However, I feel it is important to note that not every trans* person has any interest in what could be considered trans* culture.  As I said before, I don’t read anything trans-specific these days.  If there’s a new biography out I might pick it up, but I’m far more likely to read the latest on Simon Doonan or Sir Elton John.

I see this in very much the same way I see ‘gay lifestyle’ and ‘gay culture’.  Many people (rightly) get upset when spoken to about their ‘gay lifestyle’.  There’s a certain connotation that none of us is all too thrilled with, it sounds like we try to “convert” little boys in between clubbing and obsessing at the gym.  ‘Gay culture’, on the other hand, brings to mind drag queens, pride parades, and rainbows.  Not everyone likes drag queens, but they are an integral part of gay history and early gay experiences.  Those who wish to have no connection to gay culture have every right to go about their lives ignoring it.  I know many of these people and in every case I can understand why they choose not to participate.  They relate to gay culture in the same way that I relate to trans* culture: it’s simply not something they need.  However, for those of us who didn’t have words to explain our interests, camp films and drag shows are incredibly affirming.

FtM 101: Sex, Sexuality, Gender, Gender Expression

This is something I probably should’ve posted months ago since it’s so useful for explaining not just transsexuality, but also how I can be a gay, effeminate FtM transsexual.  Back when I started this blog it was everywhere though so I figured I didn’t have to.  Apparently the trans community has changed a lot since then.

Everyone take out a piece of paper.  On that paper draw 4 horizontal lines.  Label the top line “Sex”, the second line “Sexuality”, the third line “Gender”, and the final line “Gender Expression”.  So now your paper should have something like this on it:

1

Now we need to add descriptions for the end points.  So on the Sex line label one side “Male” and the other “Female”.  Sexuality gets a bit tricky because people get confused by “gay” and “straight” when the person is trans.  So in this case we’re going to put “attracted to men” (or just “men”) on one side and “attracted to women” (or “women”) on the other.  Gender gets “Man” and “Woman” and Gender Expression has “Masculine” and “Feminine” (or butch/femme, masculine/effeminate, whatever similar words make you more comfortable).

Go ahead and add a marker in the centre of each line.  For Sex we’ll assume this is what most people would consider “true hermaphroditism” (horrible word, use “intersex person with ovotestes” instead).  In terms of sexuality it could be bisexual, pansexual, or whatever new word for “I like people, not parts” is in vogue at the moment.  The midpoint for gender would be genderqueer, bigendered, two-spirit, etc.  For gender expression we’ll call it androgynous.  Label these if you want, I’m not going to because it takes up too much space.  Now we have something like this:

2

Time to define our terms and fill in where we fit.  Sex is the physical sex we were born as.  Most of us were given an easy male or female and have found no reason to question that.  Some people have an intersex condition and therefore fall somewhere along the line.  In my case, my sex is considered female (though I’ve started to wonder).  Dot goes all the way at the far right end of that line.

Sexuality encompasses the people we are sexually attracted to.  Transmen are included with men and transwomen are included with women.  If you like “women and transmen” you really need to go read this because that’s a controversial (at best) view to have.  If you only date people who identify outside of the gender binary go ahead and put your dot in the middle or even somewhere off the line if you feel that fits you better.  I’m pretty boring, I like men.  So my dot goes all the way on the far left end of the line.

Gender is where it starts to get fun.  This is your internal sense of whether you’re a guy or a girl.  If you identify as non-gendered put your dot off the line.  Genderqueer leaning towards guy?  Somewhere towards the left of the middle.  Once again, I’m boring.  My dot goes all the way at the far left because I identify as 100% male.

Now we’re onto gender expression.  This is where people get confused.  Gender expression is not gender identity.  Just because I like glitter and stuffed animals does not mean that I’m something other than male.  I simply have a different way of expressing my gender.  I’m a bit of a queen, much like my non-trans friends.  My dot goes towards the far right, but not all the way to the end.  So now my paper looks like this:

3

One thing I see more and more newly out kids doing is saying “well, I’m not FtM because I’m not really guy-ish enough…”  You don’t have to be macho to be a transguy.  Just because you’re not a perfect 1950s image does not mean you have to identify as genderqueer.  If you really do feel like you’re not a guy or a girl then that’s great, but don’t say it because you think there’s only one way to be a guy.

By the same token, just because you like sports and cars and…I dunno, spitting doesn’t mean you have to be trans.  Plenty of tomboys exist in the world.  My mother is one of them, she’d be vastly offended if anyone implied she wasn’t a woman.  That’s why gender and gender expression are split, it all comes down to how you feel inside rather than how you present outside.

Language: Effeminate vs Femme

I don’t use the word “femme” to describe myself.  Never have, likely never will.  That’s not so say that I’m butch or anything, I just don’t like the word “femme”.  Other people use it fine, but not me.

Why?  Because rarely (if ever) will you hear a gay man refer to himself or another man as “femme”.  Effeminate, flaming, fabulous, but not femme.  Femme is a word that is used almost exclusively by lesbians for other lesbians.  It has been brought into the trans-masculine community by transmen who used to be lesbians and never bothered to learn the nuances of gay male culture.

What’s more, it is almost always used by the “women and transmen” people.  As in “I only date women and femme FtMs”.  Yeah, sorry, no.  That’s vastly offensive and if you don’t know why you can go read this.

Why is effeminate different?  It’s a word that is used by men to describe other men.  It’s not a word that has been historically used to describe lesbian dichotomy.  I dislike describing myself in lesbian terms, something that most transmen can’t understand as they were once lesbians.  I wasn’t, I don’t have that history.  My life has always been rooted in gay male experiences so I use words to reflect that.

Now, some transmen (I’d say most) are fine with using femme to describe themselves and others.  That’s great, people should be able to describe themselves how they see fit.  I simply take issue with people describing me with that word.