Tag Archives: Genderqueer

“I’m not trans”

Everyone of course has the right to define themself how they like. All labels are invented, equivocal, imperfect, subjective.

But I’d like to encourage those out there who identify as non-binary and “not trans” to reflect on what this might mean.

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Jack Monroe vs Julia Long, C4 News

It’s a tricky territory to negotiate. There is currently a backlash against non-binary, both inside and outside the trans community. In a month that saw the two most prominent  UK non-binary and trans people, CN Lester and Jack Monroe, being pitted against the worst of trans-antagonistic feminism on the national news, I have been experiencing an equivalent attack from within the community, from a minority of trans men and women.

While “radical” feminists on Twitter told Jack and CN that they looked like girls and that their scarves precluded them from being taken seriously . . .

jack

. . . some trans men and women on Facebook were fighting hard for language that continued to medicalise trans existence, or to base our validity firmly in the realm of appearance and presentation. Fighting for terms like “gender confirmation surgery” with its suggestion that we need to alter ourselves to fully affirm our identity. Fighting for the right to have their gender assumed by strangers after transition, ignoring how much that erases those who don’t or won’t or can’t have medical treatment or ever “pass”.

If I hear one more passing trans guy tell me he needs strangers to assume he’s a man because he’s “worked so hard to get there” I’m going to get really cranky. I understand the pain of being constantly misgendered and can imagine the relief when that ends, but it only ends for a lucky few, and that’s a privilege. To insist on that privilege being reinforced, to the detriment of those who can’t experience it, throws an awful lot of people under the bus – boyish looking lesbians, non-binary people, trans people who can’t access healthcare, trans people who simply don’t pass, and people whose presentation does not match their identity.

Because we are not just what we look like, or what’s in our pants, and the sooner we stop making assumptions about other people’s genders, the better the world will be.

And this is where “not trans” non-binary people feed into this narrative, because often “not trans” is put forward to mean “not having any medical interventions” and in creating those definitions, it medicalises trans identities. It’s fine for people to self-identify however they want, but care is needed not to redefine someone else’s identity inaccurately in the process. There is also, among a small minority of “not trans” non-binary people, an air of being superior in the way they are dealing with their gender incongruence – as if all our experiences are the same and should lead to the same “correct” conclusion.

what's in our pants

 

Being transgender is not a medical condition. Being transgender can come with physical incongruence or dysphoria that even in a socially perfect world would be alleviated by medical treatment, but that’s not how it is for all trans people – many trans people love their bodies.

Being transgender can also come with social incongruence or dysphoria that can be helped with medical treatment in this imperfect world, where so much of our social assignment is related to the configuration of our bodies. Ideally, we will change the world to enable trans people to need less medical treatment, but we will never get rid of the need completely.

To be clear, changing the world means things like not assuming somebody’s gender based on the way they look, not invalidating somebody’s gender based on what they wear, how their voice sounds, what their physical attributes are or what’s in their pants. Yes, this means using gender neutral language until someone tells you their gender.

Because there is absolutely no way of knowing someone’s gender other than asking them or them telling you.

This also means not medicalising gender.  Doing away with terms like “gender confirmation surgery” that give extra validation to those who have had medical treatment. Not waiting until someone “passes” or until they’ve had surgery to start using the right pronouns for them. Not suddenly starting to misgender someone because you find out they haven’t had lower surgery. No more gross “hot dog or bun?” punchlines à la Zoolander 2.

Cumberbatch2

For non-binary people, it means not conflating “trans” with medical treatment, or using the “not-trans” identifier to distance yourself from people who have transitioned in more obvious and visible ways, as if those people are somehow a different species. We are all negotiating the complicated path of gender incongruence, and there is no neat dividing line between us. Transition can take on many forms, and “trans” encompasses many stories. It is an umbrella term, and all people who experience gender incongruence belong under it. If you don’t want the shelter, that’s cool, but if you are shunning this umbrella because you want to distance yourself from the people under it, then we need to talk.

I cannot label someone as trans who does not want to be labelled as such. [eta- Many other cultures have other, better language for what I call trans, and this is not about wanting to impose my label on those cultures, or on anyone who doesn’t want it, such as intersex people who have their own language to describe their experiences]. However, I personally see identifying as trans if you are non-binary in *any* way an act of solidarity, not an act of appropriation.

[eta- In other words, nobody non-binary should feel “not permitted” to claim the label, and I’d prefer those who do not want the label not to redefine trans in order to make the label look like it doesn’t apply to them].

Can we move away from the idea that trans is a tiny, marginalised and fenced off community and see that aspects of trans stories affect many lives? Surely that is a good thing, making gender a less rigid, sure and certain proposition.

 

 

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David Bowie – mirroring the times on gender

This morning I woke up to news of David Bowie’s death and felt a profound sense of personal loss. As a child of the seventies, Bowie had been a part of my life almost from day one.

One of my earliest memories is of seeing Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and falling completely in love. I was about three years old, and already having a complicated relationship with gender, which manifested in my continually removing the pretty grips my mother put in my hair and “losing” them in the garden. I can still recall seeing David Bowie’s made-up face on the TV, trying to work him out. I remember the thrill I got when I realised he was a man. David Bowie whispered something to me about gender difference that was compelling even at that tender age.

[image: Ziggy Stardust perches with mic on edge of stage, wearing a playsuit - black and white image]

I look back across his life and see that Bowie was both a gender pioneer, and a mirror of the times. In one of the earliest media clips of Bowie, he is challenging the expectation that men should conform to gender stereotypes, as part of “The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men”. It really is worth a watch, if only to see the kinds of conventions he was up against at the time:

A window opened up in the late sixties and seventies around gender liberation and queerness and Bowie jumped straight through it, dazzling us with the way he flaunted conventions of gender and sexuality. We will always be left to wonder how much of his gender variant expression and open bisexuality was a calculated performance and how much was an expression of his authentic self; but whichever it was, he did an immense amount for the visibility of bisexual and gender variant people, and gave hope to young queers like myself.

But, as if to prove that progress doesn’t just roll smoothly onwards, the 1980’s happened, with a new conservatism, a backlash against the LGBT community, and of course the AIDS crisis. At this point even Elton John was married to a woman, and Bowie started showing up in suits, the image of respectability. He then claimed that coming out as bisexual had been “a mistake” that was bad for his career. But there was a knowingness in his cultivated image even then; he made us look at ourselves and where we had got to. If even David Bowie is wearing a suit, god help us!

I was a teen in the 80’s, and this social regression at such a formative time made who I was seem almost impossible. I hid myself under roles as conventional as Bowie’s suits, and bided my time.

The gay world recovered considerably from the crisis of the eighties, but I’m not sure gender variance did in the same way, because while Elton John is now happily married to a man, a figure like Bowie becoming as iconic and successful while turning gender performance on its head seems even less likely now than it did in the year of my birth.

But the 2010’s have given gender variance a resurgence, the hint of new possibilities. And there was Bowie right in the middle of it all again, cross-dressing with Tilda Swinton in a perfect image that encapsulates so much about the gender story of both these icons:

 [image: Black and white image of Tilda Swinton dressed as David Bowie and David Bowie dressed as Tilda Swinton]

And then there was that amazing V&A retrospective on Bowie in 2013 reminding us of what had once been possible, whispering that perhaps it could be again.

It’s no surprise then that this has also been the decade when I came out fully about my own gender. Visibility begets visibility, makes it possible to be seen and at least partially understood. Bowie did not show me the way this time – rather, we were both riding the same wave. Many social movements follow this pattern – revolution, backlash and regression, and ultimately, integration. Whatever his motivations, Bowie was part of that revolution, inspiring generations and showing us a different way. At the very least he was a public, visible symbol of an important change that was happening.

Bowie also had many very problematic moments that we 100% need to acknowledge, such as sex with an underage groupie and a drug-fuelled brief fascination with fascism. And if you want to know if it’s still okay to admire aspects of Bowie after reading this, try this article on “How to be a fan of problematic things“.

Intriguing and compelling to the last, I feel huge loss for this man who showed me an image of masculinity that was a million miles from the buttoned-up rigidity of my military family. Thank you, David Bowie, for showing me other ways of being a man.

No, AFAB privilege is not a thing

I’ve been pretty loud about the relative privilege of trans men, but lately I’ve been hearing this term “AFAB privilege”, which frankly irks me as a feminist. So I wanted to explore the complicated relationship AFAB trans folks have with male privilege and feminism, and debunk some lazy tropes.

Edit to add – just to be clear, although today I am looking at how misogyny affects AFAB folks, I am not turning my back on my overall mission to highlight transmisogyny and the overwhelming inequalities trans women, and particularly trans women of colour, experience. I still think male privilege, and trans male privilege, are real things. But there are some complications . . .

There is no symmetry in our experiences

There is a bogus idea of symmetry that comes from our traditional, binary view of gender and what Julia Serano calls “oppositional sexism””. If trans women are so doubly disprivileged by their gender and their transness, in the form of their unique experience of transmisogyny, then surely trans men must be equivalently advantaged? But it doesn’t work like that.

In reality, our experiences are completely asymmetric; when they live as themselves, trans women rapidly lose any male passing privilege they had (I don’t think we can call it male privilege because they’re not men), as they become visible as trans women.

We do not gain male privilege with anything like the same rapidity.

Prior to transition, trans women often have the experience of being treated Ben Barres, a trans man and scientist, head shot, wearing checked shirtas not being “real” or “proper” boys and men. This is one of the many reasons I dispute the idea that trans women are raised with straightforward male privilege. But we are also a long way off society treating trans men as “real” and “proper” men either, so the male privilege of trans men can be as complicated and conditional as for pre-transition trans women. Trans men such as Ben Barres (pictured left) have reported huge gains when their trans status is not known about, but this again becomes a passing privilege, contingent on our truth being silenced.

Many of us always had some masculine privilege, though. I gained from having a strong inner voice that could dismiss any negative societal messages about girls and women as not applying to me. It’s also much safer and more socially acceptable to be gender non-conforming in the direction of maleness or masculinity than in the opposite direction.

I take issue with the idea that I was “socialised female”. I was socialised tomboy, and that was unlike the experiences of my cisgender peers in both good and bad ways – male privilege, trans disprivilege both playing a part. And importantly, though often forgotten, cis privilege is not a “lesser” privilege to male privilege; the impact of being trans as a child undermined me more substantially than my masculinity advantaged me.

All trans people have experienced misogyny or misplaced misogyny

I’ve fought, and will continue to fight, for the inclusion of trans women in feminist spaces, and I acknowledge “male of centre” folks like myself are sometimes included in women’s spaces where trans women would not be welcomed. That sucks, and needs to be challenged. But I don’t think a full reversal of this is any more of an ideal, where we go back to the bad old days where any hint of masculinity renders someone’s presence within feminism suspect.

It isn’t a zero sum game, and I realise that many people fighting for trans women’s inclusion, myself included, have at times erased trans men’s need for inclusion in feminism. The way forward has to be more nuanced than a full reversal of the second wave status quo. We need to develop an understanding of how misogyny, and misplaced misogyny in the case of trans men who are 100% binary identified, impacts each of us differently, and a continually self-reflective view of how much our voices need to weigh in on each issue.

Labelling non-binary folks according to their birth assignment is oppressive

The terms AFAB/AMAB are as difficult to avoid sometimes as MtF/FtM, but they’re just as problematic. In another triumph of “biology is destiny”, the non-binary world is being categorised not according to the genders people are, but according to their birth assignments.

“AFAB privilege” is often lazy code for masculine privilege, but once that false connection is made we’re once again mired in the binary. There are plenty of ways in which an AFAB person can be trans without any sense of maleness or masculinity at all, because there are not only two genders. Equally, an AMAB person might not have a shred of femininity. At the same time, we might struggle to communicate our complex genders through the limited language of the gendered clothing currently available to us.

I love pretty things that some might consider feminine, but if I wear them, I am more likely to be misgendered. I dress to communicate my gender ambiguity, to balance out my female-[image: Sam Hope, someone who is still clearly AFAB, wearing a suit and tie]appearing face and body – not to express masculinity. And the fact is, no matter how masculine my clothes appear to be, I continue to be treated as and gendered as a woman in most situations, with all the casual misogyny that goes with that. A suit and tie is not magical armour against misogyny, or misplaced misogyny. As the picture, right, taken at a recent wedding, illustrates, it takes a ridiculous amount of overtly masculine dress and hairstyle to make people hesitate in gendering me female, which, to be clear is my only goal in dressing this way. Testosterone will change this for me, and I will accrue male “passing” privilege, but alongside this I envisage a struggle to express my “not-male”ness, in ways that could put me at risk of misogynistic violence.

Visibility is not directly related to privilege

“AFAB non-binaries are too visible” I have lately heard some folks say, citing Ruby Rose and Miley Cyrus, and ignoring the fine and very visible tradition of AMAB folks queering gender and getting famous for it for decades. At the same time I hear equally strenuous arguments dismissing invisibility as a problem when hyper-visibility can have such lethal consequences.

There is nothing beneficial about either invisibility or hyper-visibility, and comparing the two is like comparing bananas to bicycles. They are two very different consequences of oppression and neither of them is a symptom of privilege, even if the consequences of one oppressive tactic is far more dangerous than the other. I’m enjoying this little moment of AFAB non-binary visibility, superficial as it is, but let’s be real, it’s a mere moment amid millennia of silencing.

Misogyny is a continuum

Eddie Izzard and Richard O’Brien both identify as transgender and are both internationally well known and successful. These folks live with primarily, but not ent[Image: Eddie Izzard on the Labour campaign trail with two others. Izzard is wearing make-up and a skirt suit]irely, male identities. I’m sure they’ve both been affected by misogyny. Yet Izzard (pictured left on the Labour campaign trail) is contemplating the possibility of a successful campaign to become the 2020 mayor of London, and O’Brien is returning to the Rocky Horror stage amid noisy adulation. I think the calculation of either of their gender privilege is more complicated than simply AMAB+Trans=All The Bad Things.

Misogyny is a continuum that affects trans people in complicated ways that are more related to our actual genders than to our birth assignments. With the possibility of multiple genders and presentations, and our complicated bodies, there are simply no straightforward ways to do maths that will be infallible in our attempts to play “Top Trumps” with each other over oppression issues.

For nonbinaries like me, and probably for a lot of trans guys, the variable mixture of male privilege and misogyny or misplaced misogyny we experience is difficult to negotiate. I have moments of frustration on the occasions someone tells me I have all the privilege. But I’m aware that trans women are unfairly told they have all the privilege much more often so I try and take it on the chin. And yet, it’s not right for anyone to make such lazy assumptions about any of us.

As a whole trans community we have so much in common in our experiences of misogyny and gendered oppression, our difficult relationships with women’s spaces that have been created for a safety we all might need, our perilous negotiations with the oppressiveness of invisibility and the unsafety of visibility. We need to let go of our unhealthy need to use our birth assignments as a point of reference, and start to explore our current genders and bodies, our losses and gains, in all their complexity.

Catch 22

Life is full of catch-22s when you’re trans.

Here’s one – act like the gender you most identify with and you’re “aping stereotypes”, act in the slightest way non-stereotypically and you fall under instant suspicion, as if you’re revealing all your “true colours” in one gesture.

But for me, the most insidious of all the catch-22s is the madness trap.

[image: a pebbled beach with some pebbles arranged to form a question mark]The original novel Catch-22 tells of a war pilot who couldn’t get himself grounded for being mad because not wanting to fly in war is the very definition of sanity. Trans people are faced with the very opposite conundrum – trying to prove we’re in sound mind when gender dysphoria is still considered a psychiatric diagnosis.

But the catch-22s keep on coming – because if we look happy about being trans, why then we’re frivolous and selfish, putting our own needs and desires before the common good. If we look unhappy, well that’s proof it’s all a big mistake.

If the stress of stigma and oppression make us mentally ill, this feeds into the notion that being trans is in itself a mental illness – society can bully us and then point at the results of its bullying and go “look how damaged you are, why should we listen to someone like you?”

Generally, I try to brazen it out – I don’t want to let the world in on my internal struggle, the difficult road that brought me to the decision that transitioning would be the best thing for me. If I show any pain and conflict, I know well enough it can be used to undermine me and make me doubt myself. So I only share my doubts, my fears and my turmoil in very safe places.

As a consequence, I’m sometimes shocked by the people around me who think that I am easy and confident about my transition – I’m clearly putting on a good front.

The question that plagues me most is, “Am I being selfish?” I ask myself that all the time – some days the feeling is so strong I wonder if the world would prefer not to have people like me in it, so it can go about its business as usual. The internalised, hateful narrative I go into is completely erasing of who I am.

It took me a long time to realise that I had been subject to a form of “conversion therapy”. Conversion therapy is a form of therapy that seeks to brainwash the recipient into having negative associations whenever they think of being gay or trans, until they reach a point where being gay or trans is so painful to think about it no longer is viable. Not long ago, I had a moment of clarity – conversion therapy was exactly what was happening to me, because I was being foolish enough to listen to the toxic words of people who don’t want folks like me to exist.

I have now stopped listening. I considered their point of view very carefully, and for many years. I utterly reject it. I don’t need to keep hearing it.

Yes, I am a threat to the status quo, and if that’s terrifying for me, no doubt it’s also threatening for all those people who want to be able to divide the human race into 2 neat, unchangeable, segregated and non-overlapping groups, for whatever their reasons.

So coming out as transgender, then, could be seen as a little crazy – so much to lose, so much respect, potential employment, social support, lost through the process of admitting you cannot endure the process of sex assignment inflicted on you at birth.

This is perhaps why, since coming out, I have encountered people like me who conceal their trans nature. Some take hormones or have surgery in secret, some live only part-time as who they really are. Others simply manage their gender incongruence as best they can, fearful that “coming out” would put extra psychological pressure on them, that the gains would not be worth the losses.

I was one of these people – feeling like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the male person in female spaces. The psychological pressure of that alone was pretty unendurable, but I cannot judge which is the hardest route to take.

In the end, I think we owe it to the world to find a place in our lives where we can resolve our psychological conflicts as best we can. I don’t think coming out, being open to the world is the only way of doing this. I don’t believe deciding to transition is inherently better or worse than deciding not to. But I do think the knowledge that diverse narratives and paths are legitimate is essential to everybody’s psychological wellbeing, so the more we strike out for our own truth, the more others are liberated by our example. Living as a masculine women is just as valid for some as living as a trans man is valid for others, as non-binary identities are valid for others still. I celebrate a world in which all are possible, and accepted.

I do know coming out is risky. Exposing a trans nature leaves us open to so much undermining and social judgement. So it does take a certain amount of psychological strength to come out. For some people, coming out is a matter of choice, but for others there is no choice at all, they could not survive in the position they were allocated, or they could not survive in their body as it is.

I am not sure whether I did have a choice. Could I have endured as I was, or were my efforts to hide my transness ultimately doomed? I am aware that society, with its either/ors, to some extent limits my choices. If I could be understood in ways as both a man and a woman, a trans man and a lesbian, then I would be entirely happy.

And that’s the ultimate catch-22, the trap of a society that disallows the possibility of multiple, overlapping and sometimes paradoxical stories about our lives and identities.

Together in our differences

When I came out at work about my plans to undergo a medical transition, at first I didn’t even bother to go into “non-binary” and what that means, because it felt too hard for people to understand. I told colleagues a simplified version of my truth, which implied I was transitioning to live “as a man”. It felt right at the time, but I quickly realised this identity was just as suffocating for me as the assigned female identity I’d been lumbered with at birth. I rectified the situation, took time to explain non-binary to people. They were nice about it, but clearly they did not understand. I felt more authentic, but way out on a very bendy limb. I was a unicorn*, tempted to saw off my horn to appear like a less authentic but more believable pony.

Of course, if all us unicorns wore our horns out and proud, we wouldn’t seem so imaginary. But the reality is, most of us, cis or trans, spend time negotiating the varying sized gap between “fitting in” and “being ourselves”.

Was I lying to my colleagues when I implied I was a man? No – in a world where currently there are only two legal and social options, I’m enough of a man – maleness being a significant part of my gender story – to deserve to be included in male spaces, male toilets, male services, if that’s what I need to exist in this imperfect, either/or world.

If we start to erase my right to belong to the group “men” by citing my femaleness, my femininity, then we’re falling into dodgy territory where people need to perform a perfect version of masculinity in order to be acceptable. Hell no, that’s not the way to go – though of course trans people are under constant pressure to perform this perfect stereotype because our identities are continually scrutinised and questioned – any hint of femininity, female socialisation, female-typical or stereotypical behaviour, and I am invalidated, as people encourage me to widen my leg position, shorten my hair, lower my voice etc. to “pass” as myself.

I am not always given the space I need to be “the same, but different”.

not afraid

(I wish)

The tension between “sameness” and difference

I guess it’s normal to hide a difference if it comes with the threat of exclusion, but at the same time parts of ourselves can be suffocated, crying out to express “I am not the same as you!”

Trans people have our own unique experiences and culture, we have our own history of oppression and a profound difference in how we relate to our bodies, and how we culturally respond to assigned sex and gender. At the same time, when we are “othered” it marginalises us to the point where it becomes difficult for us to access things like services, toilets, social spaces and employment, so many of us spend a lot of time fighting for inclusion, and stressing our “sameness”.

Our dilemma is how to let the world know we are both different and the same; the dance many minority groups find themselves in, between isolating self-segregation and crushing assimilation.

Everyone has their own, entirely unique relationship with gender, sex and their own body. There are common themes, but none of them are absolutes. People need space to be different without risking rejection from the warmth, safety and security of the pack. Humans are suited to collective endeavour, but we are not a hive mind.

Organising across difference

Whether we focus on similarities or differences matters a lot when it comes to any kind of social organising. If we can only join together with other “people like us” to organise against oppression, or to create safety, there are problematic consequences. Organising around sameness and commonality risks erasing or excluding all difference. It also creates an inherently oppressive atmosphere in which assumptions are made about what “we” collectively think, feel and experience. It negates the need for us to work on our empathy and our ability to build bridges across divides.

Organising across difference lets the air in – people are free to not “fit in”, but to work together for something collectively beneficial. In a place where difference is celebrated and accepted, we are not always seeking to expel or exclude people, we are not focussed on doubting their legitimacy or vulnerability.

For non binary folk like me, there is an importance for both/and thinking that fights against the tyranny of the either/or: I have some experiences, feelings, history and biology that situate me as a woman. On the other hand, my predominant instincts from my earliest memories have drawn me towards male social rules, expression and behaviour, and in that I find I have a lot, if not more, in common with men. How I negotiate my relationship with the world given these complicated facts – how I identify, and where and how I wish to be included, should be up to me, as these experiences are inherently marginalising and render me highly vulnerable.

In an ideal world both parts of myself, and all the other parts of me that do not neatly fit this dichotomy, would be generally welcomed rather than excluded – there are some conversations that I do not feel a part of, but there are many, held under the banner of “women’s issues”, that certainly affect me.

The same but different

In reality, I am forced to conform to narrow ideas about who I am in order to negotiate my relationship with the rest of the human race; in my need to belong, I might sometimes grow tired of wearing my unicorn’s horn for all to see.

I am just the same as you, and I am nothing like you. Because mine is the minority experience, cis people have the power to choose whether to include me, accept me, believe me, or whether to use my differences to shut me out of spaces, conversations, civil rights, services, employment, toilets, and the safety of social inclusion; my being part of the human pack is entirely at the discretion of people who do not share, and may not understand, my experience and my difference.

*This blog was written just before I discovered the new, and infinitely improved, gender unicorn graphic

gender unicorn

Me and my hormones

In my 20s, nobody minded messing around with my hormones. Like most uterus owners who sleep with testicle owners, I was shoved on the pill at an early age. For me personally, one dysphoria* trumped another – my absolute terror of pregnancy meant I would do anything to ensure sex was safe.

The pill seriously screwed me up, physically and emotionally. In my early 30s, a doctor figured out that I was naturally low on oestrogen, and the modern oestrogen-low pills were just making things worse. She prescribed me one of the old-fashioned pills, higher in oestrogen.

I read through the side effects and dire health warnings nonchalantly. For a very short while I felt a little better, but my body had other ideas.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) happened, and that was the end of me taking any kind of hormonal contraception, or any other oestrogen-based drug.

DVT meant not being able to walk, months of medical messing around and eventual surgery. More frightening than that, the clot could have travelled and caused a fatal embolism.

Needless to say, I don’t take any medication lightly now.

A decade or so later, and I am contemplating taking another hormone – testosterone. Of the physical dysphoria I experience as a transgender person, hormonal dysphoria is quite the most persistent. Ever since puberty, I have felt as if my hormones were slowly poisoning me.

The desired effect of testosterone is that I will feel better, and I admit this is an experiment – it may not be true, but I believe the anecdotal and scientific evidence stacks up enough to give it a try.

I may take it and not like it, and that’s okay. I can always stop taking it.

Like the previous hormone, I may be one of the few that suffers undesired side effects, even though the therapy has been proven to be very safe. That’s a risk I am willing to take. It frightens me – I suppose it should frighten me, but I am well informed and this is my body, my risk to take.

The side effects I am ambivalent about are the visibly masculinising effects of testosterone. I want them up to a point – as a non-binary person, I would love to be able to press “pause” at the point where it is impossible to tell whether I am “male or female”, and nobody will gender me ever again. In reality, I know from my transitioning friends that there is no such point – people will always seek to gender you, and I have friends who have been ma’am’d and sir’d on the same day.

I don’t believe that testosterone will “turn me into a man”. I don’t “want to be a man” – I am who I am, and always have been; no amount of testosterone will change who I am. There’s a chance that it will make my outside appear more congruent with who I am, because if gender was on something as simple as a line (it isn’t), then I fall on the more male end of that line.

So, a possibly beneficial side-effect of testosterone is it may ease my social dysphoria, as well as my physical dysphoria. Quite honestly I would prefer to ease my social dysphoria by challenging and changing this cissexist, sexist, heteronormative and binarist society. Sadly, changing myself turns out to be a tiny bit easier than changing the entire world – who knew?

If I get read as a man it is also quite possible I’ll feel I’ve exchanged one lie about myself for another. Only time will tell, and many people in my situation have to moderate and stop/start their testosterone dose in order to get where they need to be.

Other folks may not be entirely comfortable with the fact I don’t know exactly how (and if) things will work out for me, but I am over being certain for other people’s benefit – all of life is one experiment after another, and this is no different – it’s a thought-through, talked-through and well researched experiment, but it’s still an experiment.

I want to take testosterone and I suspect the internal map of who I am will match up to that hormone with a click, as it has for the many other trans folk who have felt the need to take it.

If it doesn’t click, well I just stop – no harm, no foul. It’s my body, my choice.

But the hormones that could have killed me, they were handed over to me with no fuss or preamble – no year of waiting, no searching questions, no psych diagnosis, no “are you really really sure?” – given to me like candy, there was a carte blanche to mess with my hormones as much as they liked as long as it was “women’s hormones” I was given.

Even that’s a lie – we all have the same hormones – men have oestrogen, women have testosterone. In no way are we as divisible, separate and binary as we love to think of ourselves.

So, next time someone speaks in hushed tones about whether a trans person understands the enormity of what they are doing, here’s the challenge – is the “enormity” really about health and psychological consequences, which have been proven time and time again to be highly favourable for trans people who seek medical treatment, or is it simply because we are screwing with a simplistic, binary picture of nature and sex?

Because I think what I am doing is no more screwing with nature than the contraceptive pill is screwing with nature. No more unnatural than anaesthetic, or abortion, or any other surgery or medical intervention that is known to prolong, preserve, or improve quality of life as medical treatment for trans people has been categorically proven to do.

I don’t want my identity to be medicalised – my identity is what it is no matter what treatment I seek, but I want the option to access healthcare that can help me.

There’s a good chance hormones will make me healthier and happier – all the evidence points that way. I hope one day my right to bodily autonomy will be fully recognised, and that folks will accept that healthier happier people do not make the world a lesser place.

 

*I’m on the fence about the word dysphoria – given its true meaning, the opposite of euphoria, it feels apt in my case, but I dislike the medicalisation of it and it’s relationship with diagnosis and mental health – my apologies to those who might prefer I used a different word.

What does dysphoria mean to me?

It took me a long time to come to the decision to transition, even though I have been out at home and work as transgender for over a year. I spent a lot of time asking would transition be right for me, whether I am “trans enough”, feeling like I was in a no person’s land.

Last week I was finally sure of my way forward; I changed my name to Sam, change my title to “Mr”, came out to the world yet again, referred myself to the gender clinic. I feel better than I’ve felt in a very long time. But I realise that, while suffering from what is currently known as “gender dysphoria”, I’ve never really tried to explain to people what that means to me.

At its most basic, I simply cannot live with the category that society placed me in when I was born. Cis people feel more comfortable having a legal and social label that is related to their genitals, whereas this categorisation causes trans people great distress.

Does that mean I think I was “born with a male brain”? Er, not really. Humans have been designed by evolution to be uniquely adaptable; our brains develop as much after birth as before, meaning we can “download” our social and physical environment and adapt easily to the changing world we’re born into. We are not, contrary to popular belief, stuck with whatever our distant ancestors adapted to in terms of social roles.

But do I think something made me think of myself as male from the get-go? Yes I do, and that’s a whole different thing, because once you understand that a young trans person instinctively sees themselves as different to the sex assigned to them, you can start to understand what it is that makes them accumulate the social conditioning of the opposite sex. I naturally followed male cues, male instructions, male rules. I ignored female ones. I was effectively socialised male, particularly when I was young. I cared about guns and bullets and hated dolls not because of something innate and natural in me but because of the way society socialised me to fit the male role. If that didn’t happen, if we didn’t have a sense of self, for whatever reason, that filters and mediates the societal messages we get, well then I guess we’d all be walking gender stereotypes.

So what’s natural, and possibly innate, about me is simply the sense of self that initiated all this male socialisation. Fundamentally, and for reasons I do not fully know, I think of myself as a male and always have done.

I think it’s also important to note that people around me responded to my “boyishness”, and that reinforced it – so they weren’t just treating me as a girl, they were also treating me as a boyish person, and a gender non-conforming person. My socialisation was completely different than that of a cisgender girl.

Trans people’s socialisation is not straightforward

So when people say trans folk were socialised as their assigned sex, that’s just not true. I may have experienced some sexist treatment for being perceived (in some ways) as a girl, and considerably more cissexist treatment for being non-conforming, but I also experienced a lot of approval for my “masculine” traits and behaviours; I definitely absorbed the message “I am masculine and masculine is better” – I also developed ideas about femininity being more artificial and inferior. Of course it felt artificial to me because I wasn’t orientated that way, but now I can see that my own way of being, my own attitudes and behaviours were just as artificial, just as constructed, albeit constructed with a built-in notion of male superiority.

So, I hate it when folks say all people with vaginas have some sort of shared experience of womanhood that trans women never had. Trans women have a shared experience of womanhood that is a mystery to me – they have thought of themselves as female and absorbed the according social instructions.

I, on the other hand felt like an imposter, an infiltrator in girls’ and women’s spaces, and a lot of gender conforming girls and women shunned me for my “male energy”. I was an outsider; I fought long and hard to fit the category “woman” and I absolutely don’t believe I should have been shunned from it. Nor should I have had to spend so much of my life changing myself to try and conform to society’s ideas about what a woman should be. I understand and empathise with gender non-conforming folks assigned female at birth fighting to be accepted, included and recognised as women.

But being part of the lesbian community healed that wound for me – I was accepted as a woman, and my difference was embraced. I am glad I had that experience so that I know I am not choosing my current path for cisnormative or heteronormative reasons. But in order to reinforce that sense of belonging to the arbitrary category “women”, the lesbian community erases a deeper dialogue about transgender experiences.

I am what I say I am

As someone who has a fundamentally different socialisation experience from both cis men and cis women, but is forced to live in a world where cis people dominate the discourse and dictate the terms of our lives, I feel very strongly that only I can choose where best I fit in this false and imperfect system, and how best to deal with my situation. If I say that “I am a man” this does not mean I think I don’t have a vagina, it means that “I am a man” is the statement that best describes who I am in a world that has categorised everyone for the comfort of cisgender people. Equally, if it felt comfortable for me to do so, it would be just as valid for me to identify as a woman. Only I get to decide this, because only I am inside my own head and body.

In reality, I remain genderqueer – a person with an identity too complex to insert into a neat binary, but the binary is here and I have to deal with it whether I want to or not. And believe me, the gender and sex binary mutilates me in ways no surgery ever could. If I choose to take hormones or have surgery to ease my distress, that should not be anybody’s business but my own. Nor should transition be seen as something so very huge – HRT and reconstructive surgery are routine things; what really feels huge to cis people is the challenging of sex assignment as the natural order of things.

And to be clear, I do not believe that giving children the burden of a legal and social status according to their genitalia is “the natural order of things” – it’s just a tradition we go along with without thinking.

There’s another side to this. My need to stand in my power as a masculine person and not duck the issue by pretending to be someone I’m not. It has been incredibly hard for me to admit my maleness, to accept that if there is a “male gaze” then like it or not, I have it. I have experienced huge amounts of shame and denial about this. I cannot say that I “want” to be a man, but I am finally ready to admit and take responsibility for how much of a man I am.

Many other cultures treat what we call transgender people as spiritual and important. Alternative perspectives in society can often be hugely positive if we don’t try and co-opt or erase each other. To me, we are all interrelated, all of us who transgress gender rules and norms. Not the same, but natural allies. We should be working together to dismantle all aspects of gendered oppression.