My story is a woman’s story.
I know that’s not true for all the stories of transpeople assigned as male at birth or soon thereafter. Many of them knew themselves to be men, and still know themselves to be not women. They see themselves as crossdressers, drag queens, sissies, genderqueer or just trans. Good on them.
For me, though, the whole man thing never clicked. I never married, never had children, and never was cocky enough to effectively use my male parts in bed. I never obsessed about female bodies — I had no collection of Playboy under the bed — and was naff at sports and guy bonding.
Instead I held hands under a poncho at a Redstockings feminist meeting, lost my virginity after twenty with a woman who later came out as a soft butch lesbian (I had trouble topping, couldn’t get the rhythm), and fell in love way too easily. I spent years being a hausfrau, cooking and taking care of partners and others, including my aging parents for a decade.
I have lots of the characteristics that are often considered feminine, including quick empathic learning and a long memory for relationship details. My choices make much more sense when seen as the choices of a woman, emotional and intuitive. I first learned to manipulate to get the love I needed, then, as I realized the limits of that behaviour, I learned to serve.
When I want to understand a situation or an idea, I look to the narratives and faces of women. Their communication resonates with me, makes sense to me, answers the questions that I would ask. Like most women, I find it easier to judge men by the women they are in relationship with, because seeing those relationships tells me about him.
I never, ever identified as a crossdresser. My goal was always a kind of integrated gynandrony, which is just androgyny with the woman part coming first. I always dreamed of changing the sex of my body, but early on I realized that we had no way to really resex a body; my big bones and narrow hips weren’t going anywhere, and there was no way I could ever have my own baby.
Instead, I saw my life as a kind of breeches role, where I understood that I was cast as a man, whatever my heart was.
I remember, for example, a recently divorced friend who I would repeatedly ask out and she would always say no to me, gleefully and giddily practising how to stand up to a man. I understood this task as a woman, helping another woman claim her own power.
I saw the way that for so many full time transpeople, life became all about the defences, all about the shell, the armour they wore in the world. To me, the trade-off seemed to be between clothing and intimacy, between bold assertion in the world and open receptivity. I decided I would rather just wear my androgynous jeans & polo shirts while maintaining relationships than to assert my will about appearance and be more off-putting.
My choice was to live the role of a dutiful daughter even if that meant not pushing my own sense of style in the world. I could be graceful and even beautiful in my communication and my service, at least.
In 2002, I wrote that my transgender, my gender expression, is about my work, my calling, not about dressing up for inner reasons.
In 2013, I know that my service to the world has to shift modes; no longer do I need to take care of the human details of my parent’s lives, rather I need to share my own hard earned knowledge and understanding in the world. I need to make spaces that more honour feminine principles of sharing and cooperation, of respect and love. That requires my own nature to be more visible.
My choices have often baffled other transpeople born male who tend to believe that their transgender is about what they wear and how they appear, rather than about how they think and serve.
In the 1990s I remember talking to a crossdresser who wrote a column in their newsletter about what they saw and liked when they were in their boy clothes, which they called “The Hidden Crossdresser.” I suggested that a better name might be “Always Trans,” acknowledging that they always saw the world with the same eyes. I came up with a button that said “This is what a transperson wears” that could be worn on any outfit, saying that trans wasn’t about expression, rather it is about heart, about who we know ourselves to be in the world. I couldn’t demand how other people saw me, but I could always know myself.
Is trans about concealing our birth sex or about revealing our inner nature? Is it about external expression or about internal knowledge and understanding?
I always knew the answer for me. In the choice between being bullish enough to demand the right to wear what I desired and being meek enough to connect with people, connection always seemed the most vital bit. To me, anyway, that was the choice of a woman.
I knew that I am trans. I always knew that. I live in a world where birth sex is seen as primary, essential and immutable, where the assumption is that if you know someone’s birth genital status you know something real and powerful about who they “really are.”
It took me years to understand all the issues around lying and deceit that people laid on around transgender, the justifications they used for pinning gender behaviour to birth reproductive status, for dividing people by birth sex.
In the end, I realized that it’s easy to generalize about what males are and what females are, or even to generalize about what men are and what women are, but that those generalizations don’t serve at all in understanding any individual person.
If I tell you a person’s birth genital configuration, what can you tell me about them? Can you tell me who or what they love? Can you tell me what they are good at? Can you tell me how aggressive or receptive they are? Can you even tell me how tall they are? Sure, most males are taller than most females, but we all know females over six feet and males under five feet tall.
In the end, birth sex doesn’t tell us much about any individual. Someone’s reproductive biology isn’t the defining characteristic in who they are. To use sex as a defining, essential boundary is just not useful, rather we need to identify our continuous common humanity beyond boundaries.
I know, I know, I know. That’s a very feminine viewpoint, this taking people as individuals, understanding them as unique. Mr. Rogers wasn’t the most macho guy on the planet when he told kids how special they are just to be themselves.
What I want is to be able to make the choices of a woman, not the choices of a crossdresser, even a crossdresser with a femaled body. I may value integration and gynandrony more than anything, may come with a very queer attitude that takes everyone as an individual, but that doesn’t mean I see myself as genderqueer. That may make me less than politically correct to people who value binaries, be that feminists, traditional gender people or even just guys who want to whack off to she-males, but I know who I am.
I have always known myself as a woman, even when I felt so policed, by society and self, that I didn’t want to be seen making the choices of a woman for fear of loss. I always knew I wasn’t one of the guys and also knew that I wasn’t one of the girls, but I always knew where my heart was. And I knew that it was more important to keep my heart tender and open than to expose myself to other people’s judgments about what is true and what is not about who is “real” and who is not.
Even for all the years so many people have been unable to hear over my little penis, my story is a woman’s story.
I know that it’s my story, and not the story of any other transperson, but it has always been my hope that if I engage and accept their own stories of who they know themselves to be be, they will be able to engage and accept my story of who I know myself to be, accept all the other stories. That’s a very queer expectation, I know, but as a woman, I need to have hope.
My expression may need to change as my service to my world changes, and that may mean I need to be more exposed and more open with my heart, but it is still the same woman’s heart that has always fuelled my desire and my service.
It is the same woman’s heart I have always held close and tender inside of me, even as I struggled to get people to see my presence beyond their own binary expectations and assumptions, beyond the walls that comfort them and others.
It is the same woman’s heart that connects me to our continuous common humanity, and binds me with love.
My story is a woman’s story. It’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.