This is what I knew when I first came out as trans, near thirty years ago now.
There are no magic sex changes. The effects of puberty cannot yet be reversed.
Sure, we can intervene with hormones and surgery, but those have limits.
“You were never, uhh. . .” said my sister, searching for words.
“Never slight of build?” I offered.
“Never slight,” she agreed.
I knew when I came out that my body wasn’t one that could be easily femaled. And since then, I have come to understand that any attempt to pass as being born female bodied is going to lead to failure, separation, discomfort and shame. Just this week I heard Brené Brown say that the biggest generator of shame in society is the attempt to cut ourselves down to “fit in.”
Gender theory teaches me that male and female are birth sex, like in all mammals, but man and woman are gender roles, constructed by humans and based in choices, not biology. I knew I couldn’t be female in this lifetime, the best I could do is make the choices of a woman, choices that reflect my own knowledge of my own feminine heart.
In a binary culture, though, we have been taught to believe that biology is truth, that someone’s body tells us more about them than their choices.
When people who believe that, then, identify that I was born male, am male bodied they then decide that I can never be a woman.
The best that I can be in their eyes is a modified man.
And that breaks my heart. That gives me no hope for my heart ever being seen over my biology and history.
I’m really OK when someone calls me male. I know that is my birth sex. But when they call me a man, to me that means they are erasing and negating all my choices, all my expression, all the work I have done to come to self knowledge and to own my own womanself.
If the best I can ever be seen as is as a modified man, well, that offers no hope.
TBB chose to do all the body modification work that might help her be seen as female in the world. She even worked to support people going through genital modification, most of whom hoped that bottom surgery would change everything for them. After all, if it is so highly guarded by therapists and doctors, it must be magic, right?
It’s not magic. And many of the things we transwomen do for magic, like pumping up our curves with illegal and dangerous liquid silicone not only put us at risk but also show how desperately we will struggle to try and have our heart and our choices seen in the world.
I went through this twenty years ago with a now famous therapist in the gender world. She liked the “man with something extra” construction, but I told her that if she wanted to be my ally, however she saw me, she had to call me “she,” to help hold open the space and possibility of transformation in the world.
She dismissed me until one night, as we both stuffed envelopes at the local LGBT centre, another woman referred to me with masculine pronouns. She then got that she set that expectation, and it was brutal and limiting.
Sometimes, when all people see is a modified man, TBB wonders why she had body modifications anyway. Do they just leave her looking like a freak? She recently greeted another aviation enthusiast at a bar and got the response, “Behave,” and felt the tension, felt the resistance, felt the call to play small and disappear, but she pushed through it, did the work to get past what she calls the Trans-Wall.
If I know that many people, if not most people, will end up seeing me as nothing but a modified man, then I know I have to constrain my choices in the world. I know my safety margin is thin and i need to stay defended.
Ogres know that humans are very dangerous to them, especially humans in fear and in crowds, but humans assume that it is the ogre who is dangerous. They expect that solitary different individual to come out and calm them, that freak, to own their own internal fears. This is a mammoth ask for transpeople, one that can easily leave us hiding like anyone cast out as an ogre would.
Modified men are scary, always something else. We may be told that we are magical, that we should be proud, but that is outside of real life. In the movie “To Wang Foo,” a townswoman tells Vida Boheme “I don’t see you as a man. I don’t see you as a woman. I see you as an angel,” to which the movie character says “That’ll do,” but a real transwoman has to wonder if at the next rest stop she would be expected to do her business in the little angels room.
I heard Amy say “Good night , sir” when we parted on Friday night. That reminded me how many people see me as a modified man, a guy-in-a-dress, how many people hold my biology as paramount over the choices of my heart.
I know that there are many transpeople who would tell me that is a result of my failing in doing enough to fit in, in not cutting myself down enough that my biology and history is not visible. I also know what I knew when I first came out; cutting down my biology is an impossible task, and cutting down my story is a shame venerating one.
Many would tell me that being a modified man should be enough, that I can find social acceptance and value in that role, that I should be a man with pride.
Sorry. That feels like my heart is made invisible, and if my heart is going to be invisible, then why not just make all of me invisible? Click, click, poof!
If the best I can ever be is a modified man, then I can’t get the love and belonging I need, because I can’t trust my own choices, can’t feel my feminine heart in the world.
And that is hope destroying.