Jeremy Clarkson recently took a hit on Twitter because he wrote, in his usual blokey way, that transgender issues are driving him nuts. He defended himself, though, because he ended the column by saying that the experience of being trans must be awful and offering a solution that he could get behind.
This is far from a new idea. Lots of transpeople have identified third gender/third sex as a good option. Virginia Price fought for the rights of gender variant men and against the mutilation of genital reconstruction, as did Jim Fouratt who I parodied in 2000.
Janice Raymond and her ilk, down to Germaine Greer and Barry Humphries make the same argument: the best people born male can ever do is become queer, neutered men. Eunuch is the most they can ever claim.
Even Arlene Istar Lev was all about men with something extra and not transwomen when I suggested that, as an ally, she needed to refer to us as “she.” She resisted until she heard Barbara Smith follow her lead and call a transwoman “he.”
Much of what I have written is about this question, from The Guy-In-A-Dress Line (1999) to Warrant Women (2013). The biggest hit post ever on this blog is also about this issue, Who The Fuck Wants To Be A Tranny? (2006).
No kid falls asleep in their bed dreaming about being the “other.” We don’t imagine a day when we can place ourselves out of the system of gender by checking an “other” box on a government form. It just doesn’t happen.
We dream of being who we dream of being, which is why trans activists have such a hard time building a political movement. We don’t want to be part of a group marked trans, we want to be who we dreamt of being, not lumped in with a mess of other others.
When I came out as trans in the mid 1980s, I came out as a guy-in-a-dress, trying to claim healthy androgyny by being a gender variant man, queer and playful.
Since then, I have followed a “trans-natural” path, supporting others in their choices but not choosing hormones or surgery for myself. I was aware that no intervention would let me pass as having gone through puberty as a female, making my birth sex totally invisible.
This has forced me into claiming a trans voice which has been able to help those who tried to claim womanhood but found that their body and their history just didn’t make that possible. I encouraged them to own their own story, to change their own mind, and to claim their own power.
I have always, though, argued against the notion of creating some kind of third sex/third gender box. It seems to marginalize us as “other,” outside of everything.
Beyond that, what would that sex/gender mean? Transpeople are so individual that no one box can contain us all, unless it is the box marked “human.” From transmen to genderqueers, from femmes to whatever, we are not easily lumped together.
I tried to be happy being a queer, playful gender variant man, but it was clear by the early 1990s that didn’t fit me. I stopped identifying as a man at all. I understood that was the box I was put in, but I knew it wasn’t me.
Sure, it was easier to stay on the fringes of manhood than to claim womanhood, even as my mind changed. I was man, I was not man, I was woman, I am not woman. I listened to stories across the board and found connections, ways to understand the unique map of my own heart. I found my own way past the assumptions of gender to claim a more continuous common humanity.
When I present as a woman, which includes looking as female as possible, I do it for one simple reason: I know that my view of the world and my choices are much, much more the choices of a woman than of a man.
While, as a femme, I love looking pretty and even having curves, like most women, I know that as long as people see me as male bodied they will tend to not be able to engage the contents of my heart. Their assumptions about sex and gender, about the averaging that creates a ludicrous, heterosexist binary, will override any truth I try to express.
I like dressing to express who I am, but I know that’s not my primary goal when presenting as a woman. I have to, in that case, work to erase as much maleness as possible so that the noise of my body doesn’t overwhelm the singing of my heart.
It is an enormous treat to be with other grown-up queer people who see the world like Shaw’s tailor, measuring everyone anew when they meet, trusting the contents and not the package. These people look at eyes, listen to words, value choices and don’t need a pronoun label to take each and every person they meet as a powerful, gorgeous individual.
The struggle to be visible in a world where binaries are imposed by deep and thoughtless habit is an incredible challenge to me. I never know what other people assume from what they see, never know when the third gotcha will kick in.
Have I hidden enough? Have I revealed too much? Have I reached out too far? Have I not confidently projected my choices? How have I failed in my expression today? These are all the prices of concealment, of attenuation, of the inevitable failure that comes from having to hide rather than be boldly and powerfully yourself.
The price of being “other” is written deeply and painfully in my experience. Other is to be without standing, neither this nor that, something on the margins without the imprimatur of real humanity.
I don’t want to be other. I don’t want to have to go back and be man, either; that just doesn’t fit. So, if there are no other choices, well, bugger me.
There are limits to eccentric, as I know from having reached them.
I know why a third box to throw the dregs into seems like a kind and charitable option, a way to keep the good old binary heterosexist system going while allowing the abject and odd to have a little shack at the back just for their kind.
I just also know the price of that is the price of smashing the dreams every transperson had as a kid, the simple dream of being seen for who they are inside.
And that, well, that hurts each of us.