Writing A Gender

As a writer, you write for a purpose. You create texts that try and convey meaning through the limits of language. You use a set of symbols to construct something that shares something ephemeral, just in your mind or your feelings.

Is there a reason why your trans expression is any different? Aren’t you just using the symbols of gender in the world to try to convey some inner meaning, some deeper knowledge or truth about yourself in the world? (1999)

When people write about their trans experience, I usually find a great lack of definition. What is gender? What is a woman? What is authentic? The answer to all three are usually “what I feel,” which isn’t very useful in creating a shared context and understanding. There are much better and more considered answers.

Since I came out in the mid 1980s, the notion that trans expression symbolizes some kind of real meaning has been very controversial. I remember conversing with Helen Boyd and talking about the “tells” that I saw crossdressers do, trying to hold on, and she loved the idea, putting it on her forums. The participants viciously attacked the idea, asserting “realness,” even if they only wore women’s clothes once a month.

I believe that you want to show something about yourself in your carefully crafted feminine expression. And I know that in a world where the platonic ideal is to be able to insist that others use your preferred pronoun to refer to you, however they experience you, this seems quaint, retro, reactionary, submissive and politically regressive. Trans is about demand, to them, not about crafted, considered and cohesive expression. The need to show yourself in a way where others can evaluate your choices rather than just your assertions is oppression pure and simple.

To me, the term “woman” has clear meanings about gender role experience. It’s not just about dressing as a woman, it is about identifying as a woman, being immersed in the shared culture of women, experiencing the social pressure that women do and more. This is why I can have reservations about seeing crossdressers call themselves women while remaining men in dresses, even if I know that they are only using that word to say they have stepped away from manhood. “I was man, I was not man, I was woman, I am not woman,” as Kate Bornstein said, and as I understand.

I do believe, however, that you are working hard to show your feminine, tender, trans heart through your expression of carefully selected, polished and nuanced choices of expression. Rather than just asserting something, you are working to embody it, to manifest your feminine truth in the world.

That is a powerful thing. Personally, I have no trouble identifying as male bodied, as we can’t change sex, but I get upset when people identify me as a man. My biology is my biology, but I worked damn hard to claim my own gender truth, to stand connected with other women.

Having someone read the expression you created, the one that exposes your truth to the world, and get the message is powerful. They don’t reduce you to your biology not because you demanded they not, but rather because you revealed something powerful.

Jhana Steele,actress and Las Vegas showgirl, replied to a reporter who said she fooled him into thinking she was a woman, “No, I convinced you I am a woman.”

Is trans about concealment of our biology (passing as being born female), about asserting our politics, or about telling the truth of our heart?

You work hard to tell the truth and get the feedback that your message is received.

It’s like writing a gender.

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One thought on “Writing A Gender”

  1. I wrote this as a response to a specific post where a crossdresser wrote they liked to be called m’aam when they were dressed up. My goal was to talk about the relationship between essential meaning and cultural symbol, but the response I got was dismissive, explaining how sex is not binary and transgender is real.

    Confusing truth with expression, meaning with symbol, is a kind of voodoo where we want to believe in the fundamentalist magic of clothes example. Crossdressers love to see the meaning in the makeup, but the meaning lies inside, and the maquiage only serves to express it.

    Transvestism is about changing your clothes, transsexualism is about changing your body, and transgender is about changing your mind.

    Only when you understand that the essential and the way we represent it are NOT the same thing can we learn to make new connections, new possibilities and new ways to be in the world.

    But I couldn’t explain this notion in a way they could hear, at least not now. They found no value in these notes, lecturing me instead on what is real.

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