Gender, Politics, and Being Old

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.

It doesn’t always get better

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the It Gets Better Project.  In some ways I agree, there are very few things worse than high school.  At the same time, I feel like this is one of those times being transsexual is different from being gay.

For me, it hasn’t gotten better.  Not enough.  I am still trans.  I still wake up every morning and am slightly surprised that my lower half is entirely different from what I feel like it should be.  I still have days, weeks, sometimes even months where seeing myself without a shirt and pants is physically painful.  I still have times where I wonder if that pain is worth it.

Part of this is because I have chemically based depression.  Just like being trans, that isn’t something that is going to change.  I’ve known that for far longer and have mostly come to terms with it.  However, coming to terms with it has not made things any easier.

I admit, my life is much better than it was before I came out.  I have words for my feelings now.  I’ve found people who feel the same way and can sympathise, even if they can’t fix things.  I’ve treated my condition in the only way anyone knows how to treat it: with legal documents and hormone injections and therapy to help with all the things that aren’t solved with a simple shot.

I no longer am so caught up in my own nameless pain that I can’t function.  I have a successful career, incredibly close friends, and a generally decent life.  Not amazing, I’m not rich or famous or anything, but good.  In the most basic of ways my life is better than I could have imagined at 16.

Unfortunately, there will always be reminders.  My trans related depression was never linked to people disapproving.  It was never linked to bullying or bigotry.  It wasn’t even really related to society’s perception of my gender.  No, my depression was always due to the knowledge that I would never be fully comfortable in my own body.

Some of that has gotten better.  I enjoy my tenor voice.  I like the feel of slightly rough skin when I rub my face.  I love that my slim build now allows me to develop the long, elegant muscles that I wished for during years of ballet classes.  I will never be a bulky man, but my toned abs are a particular point of pride.

Those things are nice.  Very nice, actually.  However, they don’t make up for what I lack.  They help.  They allow me just enough strength to push through the depression.  Most of the time they’re enough to keep it away entirely.  There are still moments.  Moments when it feels like nothing in the world will help because medical science isn’t moving fast enough and likely never will move fast enough, not when being transsexual is seen as something deviant rather than a condition to be treated.  Not when medical professionals view us with emotions ranging from mild curiosity to outright disgust rather than compassion and dignity.

Yes, it has gotten better.  It also has not.  I am no longer a terrified young adult.  I no longer worry about being shut out from society.  I no longer look in the mirror and fail to recognise the face that looks back at me.  However, these things all come with their own drawbacks.  I am not afraid, but I am aware.  Aware that there are people in the world who hate me simply because I exist.  I am not isolated, but in some ways that hurts more.  It hurts when I have to decide whether I trust someone enough to disclose.  I recognise myself, but that’s just another reminder.  Every day I am faced with the reality that sometimes I don’t have the mental or emotional energy to look past my waist.

For me it wasn’t quite as simple as leaving high school and coming out.  I wish it was.  It’s not so bad that I feel like killing myself every day as I did when I was in my late teens, but it’s also not all better.  I’m not going to lie to people and say it is.  It’s hard.  Some days it still feels impossible.  I still keep sharp objects and all ingestible medications locked away.  Most days I don’t need to.  Some days I do.

Not all of us will ever be fully ok.  Some of us will always feel that pain, will always have to fight against our darker emotions.  Is it worth it?  I don’t know.  For me, today, it is.  Tomorrow I may have a different answer.  Point is, we keep fighting.  I don’t know if that makes us stupid or strong, but we do it anyway.

Dealing with the lower surgery hate mail.

Seriously, people?  It’s been weeks now and you still feel the need to bitch at me on formspring because I’m not willing to shell out $20-100k on surgical options with results that don’t make me happy?  Do you not have anything better to do?

I have spoken to surgeons in over a dozen countries about every possible lower surgery option there is right now.  I have talked to surgeons you probably haven’t even heard of because they can’t find a transguy willing to be a guinea pig for their new surgical technique (honestly, it’s likely because they’re not all that different from the known procedures and have more risk).  I learned several different languages solely so I could speak to researchers.  I have spent the last decade of my life pouring over medical books and the latest research findings trying to guess at how long it’ll take before there’s a surgical technique I’m willing to try.  I’ve done enough research to have multiple job offers from surgeons and academics as soon as I have the formal education necessary to make it legal.  I know what I’m talking about when it comes to this.

I still refuse to go with any of the options I’ve heard of so far.  Why?  I don’t like them.  For me they’re not worth the money.  They’re not worth the potential complications.  They’re not worth the risk that I won’t be able to have another surgery when an option comes around that I actually want.  If you want to have one of the current surgeries then go for it.  It’s your body, you know what’ll make you comfortable.  Just stop telling me that I think your body is deformed.  Because I don’t.  I honestly couldn’t care less about your body, it’s not like I’m sleeping with you or something.  I simply have a different opinion when it comes to the current surgical options.

For those of you who still think I’m some asshole who thinks you have a frankenpenis or something: find a better use for your time.  Go help the homeless or get laid or something.  I’m just a guy with a blog.  I get an average of 50-100 hits a day, most of them from the same people.  I’m really not important enough to be yelling at.

For everyone else: sorry about this.  I’m just a little sick of getting home to an inbox full of expletives.

Non-genderqueer Transmen

I seem to be getting quite a few hits for variations on “ftm not genderqueer” lately so I figured I’d do a little post.

First of all, it is possible to be FtM without being genderqueer.  Actually, I’d say it’s the default seeing as how genderqueer is outside binary gender and FtM is inclusive of binary gender.  In fact, it’s so inclusive that it means going from one end to the other in terms of how a person is perceived.  Now, that’s not what most of my contemporaries believe.  Most of them seem to say quite the opposite, actually.  For more on why I think that’s illogical, see here.  For why I think transmen identifying as genderqueer due to non-stereotypical behaviour is problematic, see here.

Onto transguys who aren’t genderqueer.  There’s been a bit of a backlash against this lately, particularly towards those of us who aren’t stereotypically masculine.  I’ve been told that I’m self loathing, that I’m bowing to the patriarchal gender binary, that I can’t fully love myself until I accept that I am both male and female.  No one seems to understand that I do accept that there are some aspects of myself that are considered feminine.  I simply reject the idea that all effeminate men must consider themselves something other than male.

Why do I not identify as genderqueer?  I don’t have to.  I did for a few months before I first came out.  I hadn’t heard of FtM transexuals yet so the idea of being both male and female was as close as I could get.  Then I realised I could just be a gay man and adopted the identity of a gay, genderqueer transman.  That lasted about a month.  During that month I started paying more attention to the behaviours of my cismale friends.  They had gender expressions that varied from the uber-macho guy from my cadet corps days to the walking swish stick who introduced me to slash fiction.  All of them identified as male.  Well, if they could be just male even when they wore nailpolish or made daisy chains then why couldn’t I?  There wasn’t a logical reason so I stopped identifying as genderqueer and simply embraced my life as a slightly effeminate man.

What I can’t understand is why all other transmen insist on trying to force a genderqueer label on me.  For a group of people so adamantly opposed to labelling people without reason, they certainly seem to enjoy doing it to others.  Notice how Lawrence King was championed as a young man who died for being transgender.  In actuality, Larry was more likely than not a budding drag queen.  While drag queens/kings are included in the new “transgender umbrella”, that was not the reason he was shot.  His murderer simply decided that he didn’t like the idea of some faggot trying to ask him out so he pulled out a gun and killed him in the cafeteria.  It was Larry’s sexuality that was the problem, not his penchant for glittery gowns.

So what’s a guy to do when all the other transmen are talking about their genderqueer identities?  Honestly, I have no clue.  I withdrew myself from transmale circles early on for exactly that reason.  *I know that the FtM group on Dreamwidth specifically states no genderqueer issues, but the owner of that has had to deal with quite a bit of backlash.  Other than that I’m not sure there are places for non-genderqueer transmen.  The people who want a split between transgender and what they wish to call Harry Benjamin Syndrome are close, until you realise they’re going back to a 1950s model that wouldn’t include gay transmen or those of us who aren’t perfect stereotypes.  Really, there seems to be nothing for plain and simple transexuals anymore.

That said, if you’re a guy who’s trans and not genderqueer, you’re not alone.  Hang out in online groups, get a feel for how everyone identifies.  Often you’ll find someone to talk to when you’re least expecting it.

Response to an Essay in “Beyond Masculinity”

I’ve refused to read the essays in this collection simply because I knew they’d all annoy the hell out of me. I loathe the current generation of queer feminism, I reject the idea that I need to apologise for being a guy, and I don’t believe it’s necessary to spend every waking minute of every damned day analyzing “what it means to be masculine”. First of all, I’m not. Second, even if you were to take the more “butch” aspects of me (read: I like martial arts and was in JROTC) I don’t think they’d be considered exclusively male. My partner’s mom is more masculine than I am and she’s a perfectly happy, straight, cisgendered woman who just happens to like camping and working on cars.

However, this essay was linked in one of the trans communities I read so I broke down and looked at it (I couldn’t help myself, there were a ton of comments and I’m a sucker for internet drama).

I do not identify as a male, but as simply, FTM

And here starts the insanity. FtM stands for “female to male“. If a person does not identify as male then they cannot be FtM. Why? Because they are not meeting the second requirement of the definition. If you identify as “not female” fine, but don’t call it FtM. Call it FtNF or genderqueer or non-binary or something. FtW (female to whatever or female to win) is my personal favourite, but I’m a bit of a snarky jackass like that.

My refusal to identify as male scares many transmen I‘ve met so much that they are pushed to going out of their way to take me down. My identity, they feel, somehow undermines their safety.

Not really, mate. You’re putting way too much thought into this, not to mention making yourself out to be far more important than you actually are. We’re not afraid of you, we don’t think you’re going to mess with our safety. We just want you out of our spaces because you don’t meet the basic definition of being a transguy. Again, it’s right there in the name.

Simply put (and it is very clear to them,) transman equals male. What seems to baffle and miff them is the idea that in a broader sense, transman can include masculinity that is not necessarily male. Okay, now, hold on right here. Am I crazy, or isn ‘t that what FTM transgender is? An FTM can be a man who is not male.

Yes. Transman does equal male. Why? Because transman = FtM and male is right there in the definition. You seem to have some serious issues with reading comprehension.

Now, I have no problems with the idea that masculinity does not necessarily equal man. I know more than a few masculine women, masculine genderqueers, etc. I also have no problems with men who are not masculine (hell, I’m one of them). However, you lost me at the last sentence. Male is a synonymn for man (and boy and guy and a bunch of other words). A person cannot be a man without also being male in some way, shape, or form.

For example, I am a transman. I consider my physical sex to be FtM because I have female genitalia with male secondary sex characteristics. My gender identity is 100% male. (Man who is male.) A cisgendered man would have a male physical sex and male gender identity. (Also, man who is male.) To go the other way, a transwoman would not be male (or a man, obviously) because they’d have MtF as their physical sex with a female gender identity. (Woman who is female.) “Boy shaped” genderqueers could have a male physical sex, but their gender identity is not that of man. (Genderqueer person who is physically male.) Nowhere in there do you get “man who is not male.”

Traditionally feminine characteristics, be they performed outwardly or in my case, lived in my emotional experience, particularly as a partner (boyfriend,) are highly looked down upon by much of the trans-masculine community.

This is true and it drives me batshit. That’s a rant for another day though, if I started now I’d never get back to the original point.

I was suddenly expected to wear big baggy pants (preferably cargo) to hide my hips, big square polo shirts to give me a rectangular torso shape and hide my chest, cut my hair short but add just a bit of gel, stand slouched, shoulders curved to further hide my chest, hands in pockets, to emphasize the squared off posture, and drop the ends of sentences instead of doing what women and gay men do, raise them.

Yes, you were expected to do all of those things. So was I. I followed the “rules” for all of a month before figuring out that I was trading one hated box for another and started discovering out my own style. Now I wear pink and purple fitted shirts with fitted jeans (“Jeans are like the UPS man, they should always give you a nice package.”), rainbow shoelaces, earrings, and occasionally something over the top camp like my pink, glittery collared muscle shirt. I stand how I like, sit how I like, speak how I like, and act how I like. Why? Because I see no point in transitioning if I’m not going to be who I am. That doesn’t make me “not male”, it makes you too stupid to figure out that you didn’t have to either conform or stop identifying as male.

When I look at pictures and videos of me and my friends from that time, I ‘m shocked to discover that we were clones. Literally, we wore the same shirt in different colors and we all had the exact same hair cut. (Image here)

Of course you were! Look at 99% of teenage boys, they all look the damned same (teenage girls too, but we’re focusing on guys here). In fact, that picture could be of any 4 of the guys I grew up with. Transmen go through the same awkward teen years as cismen, we just tend to do so several years later. If you think about it it makes sense, we have the same hormonal changes happening as 14-18 year old boys and we’re just starting to learn how to navigate the world as men. It’s a confusing, sometimes scary phase of life, but it’s not unique to transmen. If anything the extra couple of years make things easier for us.

My comfort level lies somewhere in between — I like passing, but I also like remaining visibly queer. I would like to be read as a transman most of the time, but there are exceptions, like in bathrooms, gas stations, or on busses or, for that matter, anytime when strangers are within earshot.

I understand the desire to be visibly queer. I grew up in San Francisco and I identify very strongly as a gay man. Long before I came out as trans (or even knew there was such a thing) I interacted with people online as a gay boy/man. It started when I was about 11 and continued up until I came out as trans (at which point it was no longer necessary). I never changed anything about myself other than my name so I’m not sure it would actually qualify as role playing, but that’s how I justified it.

Again, that does not mean I identify as something other than a man. I am a gay man the same way any other 23 year old gay male is. I see no reason to stop considering myself a man simply because I do things that cisgendered gay men do all the time, it’s ridiculous. It perpetuates this idea that transmen are fundamentally different from cismen in ways other than genitalia and I’m offended by that. Which is also why I hate people who want to be “visibly trans”. Be visibly “other” if you like, but transpeople are NOT “other”, we are the same with regards to everything except what may or may not be in our pants (and in some cases we’re the same there too!)

I just want to be treated with respect and dignity.  I want to be treated like a human; an adult not a child; responsible not immature; a person not a sinner. The “sore-thumb-sticker-outters” are often blatantly discriminated against and harassed. While I admire their bravery, I don‘t have the energy for dealing with constant harassment — especially when I get so much of it from my fellow transmen. This doesn‘t make me weak, as some quite visibly queer folks I‘ve encountered have scoffed.

This is just plain contradictory. You want to be visibly queer, but at the same time you claim you don’t have the energy to deal with the consequences. No, that doesn’t make you weak, but it does make you a bit of a flake. If you want to be treated like an adult you’re going to have to learn that sometimes you do have to pick a side.

FTM, to many, means the transition from female to male, starting in one place and ending at another. It is not intended as a place to stay, but is only the transition, the midway. The idea here is that the point of being FTM is to become a male, eventually.

Again mate, that’s where the “TO MALE” part comes from. Seriously, why is that so hard to understand?

Much of the controversy surrounded the fact that I am exclusive to dating transmen, and I don‘t date non-trans men. This group of transmen found this offensive because they believe to be considered different than non-trans men emasculating and devaluing. What they don‘t understand is that I highly value and prefer the masculinity of transmen, mainly because it is chosen and continues to be chosen at each injection day

This entire paragraph is just patently offensive. I don’t care if you like transmen more or think we’re “better” than cismen for some ridiculous reason, it is still saying we are different and I am not ok with that. I did not choose to be a man any more than I chose to have brown hair or an allergy to grape juice. It is part of who I am, a biological aspect that was programmed into my brain without any input from me.

I did choose to transition. I did choose to stab myself with a needle every week for the rest of my life. However, that was a choice made out of necessity, it was either transition or be miserable until I finally broke down and killed myself. I’m not sure that can be considered much of a choice.

Experiencing the world as a woman, even if it was only for a matter of years, gives us transmen wholly different perspectives — not to mention different kinds of bodies. While non-trans men and transmen share secondary male characteristics, there are things that each of us knows that the other will not (and perhaps cannot) know. It‘s kind of like understanding the misery of menstrual cramps or knowing exactly how awful a kick in the balls feels, for example.

I think that this is true for *some* transmen in *some* areas, but certainly not all. I was raised to do whatever the hell I wanted and gender roles be damned. Now, I did do some pretty girly stuff for a while, but I was also a huge tomboy. I modelled and competed in beauty pageants until I was about 9 or 10 years old. I also was a competitive in-line skater and started taking martial arts classes when I was 6.

I was the first girl born to my father’s side of the family in two generations so I was surrounded by uncles and older male cousins who I was expected to keep up with. I played with boys almost exclusively and the two or three girl friends I did have were just as rough and tumble as me. I joined JROTC in high school and was well known for maxing out the male version of the fitness test when only two of the guys could. I can knit, crochet, sew, and I adore cooking, but those are all things my guy friends could do as well.

I have never understood or fit in with girls/women. They really are like a foreign species to me with their over analyzing of the simplest things (no, really, your boyfriend IS just tired) and inability to separate sex from love (he was horny, it doesn’t mean you should be picking out china). I tried, but being a girl is not something I will ever be able to do. For one thing, I can’t stand about 75% of the female population (to be fair, I can’t stand about 75% of the human population). In most ways I respond to things the exact same as my gay male friends, when I don’t I respond the same as my straight male friends. So how exactly have I navigated the world as a woman?

I‘ve even been told before that I was transphobic, that I was certainly not trans myself, and that I dangerously fetishize transmen because I prefer to date them over non-trans men. My preference for transmen has been the cause of tremendous offense on more than one occasion. I shouldn‘t have to really explain why I don‘t want to date non-trans men; I‘m simply not sexually attracted to them when it comes down to it. I‘ve tried. I just don‘t get hot.

Here’s my issue: I like my men to like dick. Why? Because I’m gay. One of the fundamental differences between a gay man and a straight man is a love of dick. Now, there are the gay men who prefer the secondary sex characteristics (hairy chests, beards, etc) to the primary (yay penis!), but for the most part gay men like cock. If you don’t like cock then I can’t be sure you’re seeing me as fully male and I can’t sleep with or date anyone who sees me as even remotely female or other.

I also do think liking transmen, but not cismen is fetishizing. Some guys are ok with that, but the vast majority aren’t. Why? Because it’s loving a part of ourselves that we wish wasn’t there. It’s being attracted to the one part of us that we don’t identify with, meaning you’re not actually attracted to us at all.

I make conscious decisions about things like how much space I take up, how loud I speak and how often. Personally, I believe this is how I can be a responsible man, accountable for the privilege handed to me.

I knew this would come up eventually. It is one of the parts of queer theory and women’s studies that drives me the most insane. Has anyone ever considered that men “take up more space” because they’re usually bigger? Why is it that I suddenly have to scurry around trying not to bother anyone simply because I’m a man? I always thought it was enough to be polite and well spoken.

It really is a reverse form of sex discrimination. First women were the ones expected to sit quietly in the background, not interfering with “men’s work”. Then the first wave of feminism hit and women were clamouring for equality (which I’m all for, btw). We could have (and should have) stayed there where all women were allowed to choose for themselves what they wanted to do with their lives whether it was becoming an engineer or staying home and watching the kids. Instead we moved on to third wave feminism (second wave got squashed pretty easily, no one likes man-hating lesbians) where everything is about the patriarchy and all men have privilege and need to account for it. Bullshit. I am living my life the exact same way as when I presented as female. If anything I have less privilege now because people assume I’m a snot-nosed little boy instead of a driven, responsible woman.

I’m not even going to get into how no one seems to understand that effeminate men (be they gay or not) are treated far worse than masculine women. That’s an entire essay all on its own.

Essentially, this guy has managed to sum up everything I have ever hated about “FtM, not man” types and queer theory. It is people like him that make me want to be completely stealth for fear that someone will think I’m just as crazy.