I have been out for over ten years now. Heading quickly toward fifteen, actually. I have seen the transition from transsexual to transgendered to transgender to trans* to trans to I think now we might be on “gender expansive”? I’ve watched genderqueer go from that thing college lesbians identified as before transitioning to a full umbrella term in its own right. I’ve watched the emergence and near disappearance of genderfucked and it’s various spelling variants. I’ve watched as the first generation of trans children have grown up and the transition from 20 being a young age to come out to it being considered too old to bother. I’ve seen trans women on screen portrayed sensitively and by actual trans actresses. I’ve seen being trans go from something most people didn’t know existed to a full fledged political issue, complete with religious backlash. A surprising amount has happened in the last decade, especially when it comes to trans issues.
But one thing hasn’t. And it’s that I still don’t fucking understand genderqueer.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to misgender someone if they tell me they’re genderqueer (at least not intentionally, I am human). I’m not going to use the wrong name or pronouns or tell them they don’t get to identify that way. Now that I rarely go to trans groups and therefore don’t have to put up with people telling me I’m genderqueer it really doesn’t impact my life. So I don’t particularly give a fuck. But I am still confused.
See, I don’t get this concept of “feeling like” a gender. Or not feeling like a gender, for that matter. What the hell is a gender, anyway? I identify as transexual for a reason and that reason is that my body — specifically my primary and secondary sex characteristics — does not fit what my brain tells me it should be. Gender has fuck all to do with that. That’s just social and I can ignore social crap. I’m a gender non-conforming, gay trans man, I ignore social crap all the damned time.
From what I can tell from having asked around and generally existed in queer spaces, it all seems rather wrapped up in the very gender norms people claim to reject. I cannot count the number of times a genderfluid person has said to me that they “feel like a boy” on one day because they want to wear jeans and hoodies and “feel like a girl” on another day because they want to wear makeup and pretty dresses. I don’t think I have ever once heard a genderqueer/genderfluid person say that they “feel like a boy” one day so they’re going to wear a fabulous glitter tuxedo jacket and kilt. Or that they “feel like a girl” another day so they’re going to wear their favourite softball jersey and comfy sweats. It’s all wrapped up in stifling as all hell gender norms.
And that…concerns me. As a gender non-conforming trans man who was significantly more gender conforming as a girl, it worries me that so many young people are playing so strongly into gender roles. Because if “feeling like a boy” requires stereotypical boy things then where does that leave me? Where does that leave the fourteen year old right now who feels the way I did at fourteen? Who can’t figure out why breasts make them so uncomfortable and being mistaken for a boy immediately cheers them up….but who also loves old movies with Audrey Hepburn and reads things like Emily Post’s Etiquette guides for fun and could not play a sport if their life depended on it. Who fantasises about adult life involving a partner who dances on top of Pride floats in his underwear and excuses to wear purple velvet tux jackets. What happens to that kid when even the queer community reinforces the idea that being a boy/man must involve only the most conservative gender norms? How do they find their space?
A genderqueer person went to the Oscars earlier this week — and didn’t get taken away in handcuffs for using the bathroom. I think that is amazing. That is so much more than I ever expected when I came out. Yes, even in LA. But as amazing as it is and as happy I am that we’ve managed to get to this point despite the bathroom laws and the bigots and the Dr Zucker’s continued status as the expert on trans children, I still wonder and worry about what will happen to the kids like me. I was an anomaly within the trans community when I came out because I was too gender non-conforming. I got laughed out of trans groups and shamed for continuing to enjoy pink and glitter — despite the fact that this was the height of metro so even straight guys were wearing pink. Then the culture shifted a bit and I got called a conformist and bigot because I identify as a man, without any sort of trans qualifier, and view myself as having a medical condition.
Now, I am an adult. I can handle those things. I have learnt to accept the fact that I’m too queer for the transmedicalist types while also being too binary identified for the current incarnation of the trans community. But I don’t believe I am the only person to ever feel the way I do. The world is too large for me to be unique in that regard. And right now I don’t know that a kid today will have any better luck finding a space than I did.