So here’s a post that I’ve been scared to write for a while now. Transgender issues. I don’t have much of a vocabulary for it; I know how I feel, and I can describe that, but I didn’t take gender studies in college and I’m not much good at heady conversations anyway, so if anyone wanted to debate me I’d lose pretty much instantly. I have friends who are transgender, who I feel very protective of, and I have friends who are not so comfortable with trans folks, and I love them too, and I really, really don’t want to bring them together in a conversation. I’m going to take the risk anyway and hope that everybody is nice to each other. And be nice to me. This is hard to talk about. Feel free to add your cents. Nicely. So.
15 years or so ago, I stood up at a conference on gender and identified myself, based on the standards offered, as transgender. I never “came out” again, but it’s come up in conversation lately, and I’ve gotten to thinking about it. Only my outward appearance has changed since then, to what by societal norms would be considered more feminine. How I feel, and how I’ve always felt, is exactly in the middle between male and female – or, more precisely, solidly both. That conference was the only setting I’ve been in where “transgender” included me. Conventional wisdom holds that the transgender experience is one of male to female or female to male – a girl “trapped” in a boy’s body, or vice versa. (I know that even for an already-simplified definition, that’s dreadfully simplified. But I plow onward.) By that definition I’m not transgender. I wouldn’t dream of saying I identify with that experience. Any problems I’ve had associated with my gender have been because I’m a woman. I don’t know how my level of privilege compares to that of a transgender person whose appearance/voice doesn’t quite fit “the mold”, but I imagine they’ve had it worse.
Why I don’t say I’m transgender:
Reason #1: I have been kept from wanting to claim transgender for myself based on the feeling that I may have, compared to aforementioned trans folks, experienced a certain kind of gender privilege.
Reason #2: I have also avoided it because, lets face it, I’m pretty femme-looking. If I told people I was part guy, they’d laugh in my lipsticked face. Right?
Reason #3: Does feeling equally male and female really make you transgender? According to the people who study these kinds of things, it does, if you feel it does. I feel it does, deep in my bones, just as I always have. However, according to the mainstream, the bulk of which does not ever question gender, much less study it, it does not. I live in Kentucky, people. I love Louisville. If I didn’t I wouldn’t live here. But I don’t hear a lot of people talking about this kind of stuff in Kentucky. Please refer back to the “laughing in my lipsticked face” section above. Except instead of laughing, insert a blank stare, followed by a change of subject to horse racing or, I don’t know, bluegrass, or something.
Reason #3.5: And what the hell is that, anyway, this “feeling” of being male and female? How do you quantify that? Is it that I like chainsaws and tractors and also baking a nice apple crisp? That I like shaving my legs AND my head? That I graduated college in a three piece suit and lipstick? This line of thought is also deepened (or wonderfully complicated?) by the fact that my family, the one I was raised in, has tended to buck traditional gender roles all the way back to my grandparents. My mom was the tough one with the crew cut and my father was the gentle, pushover hippie. You all right, I learned it by watching you! [If you missed the reference, watch this now. Ah, the artistry of the 80s PSA.]
Reason #4, and perhaps the most compelling reason for not talking about it: I’m just scared of it. I’m scared to be more different, outwardly, than I already am. It’s not easy, already, being a) a woman, b) poor, c) queer, d) an artist, and e) a pill-poppin’ mental case. Also, the woman I married is brown. Obviously the racism directed at Mo is a shit-ton worse than any flak I get from it. But in some settings, being in an “interracial” relationship is almost as unsafe as being a dyke.
William Shakespeare once said to me, “To thine own self be true.” I made that my motto, my code to live by, when I was a teenager. I was determined to stick to it, come thick or thin. It’s not as easy as you might think.
[illustration is from the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center website: http://lgbtqcenter.org/taq-group-22013/ and which way is it to the Hudson Valley?]