How am I different from you?

How am I different from you?

This is a question Robin, my transitioning partner, is asked over and over by lesbian friends who identify as women, but have some experiences that echo his own. It is also a question we ask of each other, as our lesbian and transgender experiences have sometimes merged, and sometimes diverged. The points of similarity make a mockery of any binary, either/or notions. He may be happier as a “he” whilst I balance precariously as a genderqueer “they”, but our experiences align way more than they diverge.

A lot of lesbians have some elements of gender dysphoria – “I thought I was a boy when I was a child”, “I feel sick at the idea of wearing a dress”, “I hate my breasts and if I had to have them removed I would be glad” . . . but often the conclusion to any of these statements is, “but I still consider myself to be a woman”.

Recently, we were faced with the challenge of exploring why Robin is “more of a man” than a butch identifying lesbian friend. The conclusion we came to is that Robin, who has never been particularly “butch” himself is not “more of a man”, or at least he is not more masculine than this particular friend; if you were to imagine an over-simplified, linear scale from masculine to feminine, Robin would be somewhere near the middle, a little to the masculine of centre, and this friend would happily admit to being all the way over on the male side. In fact, it was clear that the extent of this friend’s masculinity is such that she does not need to alter herself whatsoever to be read as male in the ways that count for her, no matter what pronouns she uses. Her lived reality is congruent and makes sense, and she does not experience that painful dissonance between how she feels and how she is experienced.

This friend has experienced what many would call gender dysphoria, and has found a way to manage it that works for her. Fortunately, this friend is still open-minded enough to admit that how she experiences herself is related to her gender and not her sexuality. She also says that had her body, face and voice been less androgynous, she might well have needed to transition.

The implication of this is not that Robin’s claim on the terms “man” or male” is tenuous, but that there are many, many people with an equally valid claim that will not need to transition. For some, the risks, stigma and isolation associated with transition might outweigh the benefits. For some, living as a lesbian is as much a matter of gender as it is of sexuality, and identifying as a lesbian is more comfortable and (sadly) more socially acceptable than identifying as transgender. Equally depressingly, some lesbians would even say that it is more morally acceptable to be a lesbian than to be transgender.

But what if it is ok to be either a lesbian or a trans man, or even to identify as lesbian and trans, and that the two things are connected, inter-related – not in a clunky “lesbians are confused trans men/ trans men are confused lesbians” way, but in a complex way, in that many lesbians are gender variant and gender dysphoric and for some this is so strong transitioning may be the most helpful thing to them in leading a fulfilled and happy life. Maybe some gender dysphoric lesbians have even found other ways of transitioning, keeping hold of their pronouns and their community, their medical needs perhaps not being quite as profound. And of course, there are also lesbians who take hormones and have surgery in secret, afraid of their community’s or society’s rejection.

What a different world it would be if we saw being transgender as a continuum rather than an either/or. Have we created another binary within a binary, where cis/trans has become as much of a dichotomy as man/woman? The reality is so much greyer than this, the borders we have created between man and woman, cis and trans, gay and straight are artificial, socially constructed barriers that many of us straddle in complicated ways. I sincerely believe the transgender community is a lot bigger than we realise, or at least that its boundaries are impossible to locate.

If transgender is what you are, rather than a process you go through, there are possibly many, many more transgender people in the world than will ever transition or identify as such. Medical transition may be a necessary and appropriate response to gender variance and dysphoria for some but not for others – but do we really need to argue about who is more valid, or could we not accept that people ultimately do what is right for them, and in doing what is right for them, their happiness will inflict less wounds on the people around them. In which case the act of transitioning or choosing not to transition does not mark us apart in any fundamental way, and we are all, perhaps, still members of the same community, with more in common than we have separating us.

6 thoughts on “How am I different from you?

  1. Tam

    I wish this ideal world existed and maybe one day the classification of humanity by gender will cease to have meaning. Until that happens gender will be used to polarize and subjugate us in ways we have barely begun to fully appreciate.

  2. Barbara René Barrett

    This reminds me that there was a shift in perspective in the m2f community and medical profession between the 90s and now. Back then there were folk who lived as women, identified as such, however they had either no medical/psychiatric intervention, or just some, but would not go for SRS. The TS community rejected them – calling them everything from “full time transvestites” to “traps” – Those that wanted medical interventions (From HRT or Electrolysis to referrals for FFS, BAS, Tracheal Shaving and other surgeries) had to pretend to the medical profession that SRS was their goal to obtain any treatment. Sexuality was in the mix too, as late as the early 00s even someone who did want SRS was not accepted as TS if they admitted to being attracted to the same gender (female)! The Psychiatrist at Charing Cross back then was very clear about it “Our service exists to provide for the medical needs of Transsexuals, NOT Transhomosexuals” [SIC], (or should that be; “I shit you not”?)!

    Since then the sexuality of the transsexual has become recognised as irrelevant (Something the Trans community owes to the GLB community because it was they who made a lot of noise about Gender and Sexuality not being connected) and non-medical and non-op transsexuals are recognised and those that request treatment are processed thought the system just as the TS who seeks SRS is. The system isn’t perfect, but equality with “vanilla” TSs is progress. Nor has

    The *older* term for transsexuals, transgender, was revived and was seen as more inclusive. And since then M2Fs who are not in any way “traditional” about gender-presentation, or indeed “passing” (horrible word) became much less of a “thing”. T3ism been eliminated from the M2F community, it is still hanging in there by it’s exquisitely manicured talons; gender fluid, two spirit, and bi-gender folk do not get an easy ride, but they get acceptance from most and their voice is being heard.

    The relevance to your blog article is that I think the F2M community has yet to go though the same self examination and revolution. My late son Kim , who identified as a “third gender” F2M had no end of problems, particularly as he saw his sexuality as that of a gay male and did not want a penis. More than once he was excluded from groups, or refused medical treatment, because he wasn’t a “real” transman! No Gay Men’s group, on line or in real life, would ever accept him into it’s ranks.

    By 2014 he was having fewer problems from the F2M community, (although he still had his identity questioned and policed by them – just not as often, or universally, as he did in the 90s) but still had major problems with the medical community because the genital surgery he wanted beyond the hysterectomy was, in his words, “Just all trace of femaleness removed – like a Ken Doll”

    I have noticed too that the groups for genderfluid/genderqueer folk are *mostly* populated by people assigned female at birth (the polar opposite of the genderfluid/genderqueer folk in Trans groups), who’re attracted to females, but have little to do with “standard” Trans groups (mixed or F2M only) and even less to do with Lesbian groups.

    In the M2F world the non-binary assigned male at birth have mostly come out of the shadows (some such as Male-2-Eunuch however are still rare) and while the main F2M groups accept genderqueer folk, their voice is small in those groups, and the variation of identity one can see in the groups for non-binary people just isn’t there.

    So what I think your blog article is about is the first tentative steps within the AFAB lesbian/F2M/Queer section to examine their spectrum of sexual and gender identities.

  3. Pingback: How society sees trans people - Empty Closets - A safe online community for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people coming out

  4. Pingback: How am I different from you : an article about trans men and butch women - Empty Closets - A safe online community for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people coming out

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