I hate the question “Are you full time?”
It’s a question asked around transgender, usually to code expression. “Do you wear women’s clothes full time?” often seems to be the implied question. And it’s a question that implies some kind of a binary; one or the other, switching between.
The problem is that from my very first trans meeting in the 1980s, my goal was always to be full time.
I never went in with a femme name. I used the name my parents gave me. And I so didn’t try to pass that you could see my chest hair.
My expression has changed over the years, but my goal never has. I wanted to be integrated, actualized, authentic, honest, androgynous/gynandrous, whatever. I wanted to stop compartmentalizing my life, to become whole and connected.
In other words, my goal was to be full time me.
It’s the same goal I told the therapist they sent me to when I was in seventh grade. She asked me if I could be anyone in the world, who would I want to be? It was the best diagnostic test they had back in those days. She wanted me to answer either John Wayne or Marilyn Monroe, something that would tell her where on the binary I sat.
I smelled a trap, yes, but I also knew the answer. “I want to be me,” I told her. And even when she pushed, I didn’t move off that answer. Turns out that Joseph Campbell said that the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are, but being the budding theologian I was back then, I knew the answer.
Am I full time? Yup. Full time me.
If I wear jeans and a polo, with no wig or makeup to take care of my parents, that’s me.
If I wear my clerical garb, my black dress and stole, well, that’s me.
Same me. Full time.
I came out to my parents as me in 1994. I’ve been out and trans every day since then, even if I never made a big point about it, or let my expression make noise where it wasn’t needed. Often, life is about doing the work, not about my indulgence.
I love the idea of performance, of immersion. Playing a character sound like fun, and lots of them swirl through me. But I never, ever lose myself in them, or think they are not part of me. Maybe I’m losing some exploration by not getting lost in character, but I can’t do it any other way.
I do know that I make somewhat different choices depending on expression. I’m much more likely to want a salad when I’m dressed well, more likely to grab McDonald’s when I am sloppy. But I doubt I’m the only woman who finds her choices subtly changing to reflect her current expression.
My clothes don’t define me, though they may express my current role. I don’t have the neat boundaries of gender that are enshrined in much trans belief; “Now I’m Biff! Now I’m Suzy!” That’s why transvestism and transsexuality aren’t my bag, rather it’s transgender, expression of the self beyond conventional sex/gender binaries.
“In a culture with rigid gender boundaries, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.”
I knew that phrase was my mission statement the first time I heard it. I knew it in that therapist’s office when I was in seventh grade.
My goal has always to be full time me. And that goal has been hard to achieve, as people kept wanting me to cut off parts of myself to fit into their preconceived notions. I took the pounding and the loneliness to not assimilate as one of the gang, being individual and iconoclastic enough to hold to my own self-knowledge, even as I entered the trans community who wanted me to declare TV or TS, to declare femme-self vs man-self.
Did I dream of a kind of perfect me? Sure. Did I ever think I could separate myself from my biology, my history and my nature enough ever to create such an expression? Certainly not.
And now, I know that playing small, trying to amputate parts of myself to blend in better as some idealized role is not just futile, but also a denial of the challenging gifts my creator placed inside of me. My lesson plan for this life wasn’t learning how to blend in and be normative, rather it is how to be myself.
The more I know myself, the more I know myself as femme. And the more I know that the choices and expression of a woman fits me better, makes more sense in communicating the essence of me to others. Boy/Man never fit, and I wish I never had to try to pretend that they did.
But I also know that I will always be an immigrant to woman, with a unique trans experience and worldview. Not only do I not have a girlhood, but I also have the experience of being pounded into a gender that doesn’t fit, plus the experience of walking in no-man’s/no woman’s land. I can’t easily bond with other women by knowing we are not like those men, because my continuous common humanity is always very real to me. Like any shaman, I know that walls are really illusions, and our connections are much more profound than our separations.
I know that deep down, all of us are normal and none of us are ordinary. If you aren’t working to integrate your life, you are working to disintegrate it.
I know what I need to be.
Full time me.
And I work towards that every damn day.
No matter what I am wearing.