“I would cry every night thinking I had to get up and be a man again the next morning,” said an acquaintance in a biographical article.
Many transwomen use this feeling to explain why they needed to be able to present as a woman in their life. If they aren’t going to be a man, they must be a woman, the thinking goes, one side or the other.
For me, though, from the first time I went to a trans support group, so long ago, my goal was clear: be an integrated person with the best possible choices for me. I used the word androgyny then, which I might not today, but the plan was to engage in genderplay and drop any façades.
The place I went was from trying to be man, which I was really crappy at anyway, to trying to be whole. This meant being willing to be not man, whatever that meant, engaging in the feminine beyond the posturing and measuring that came with manhood.
I never was in a playground fight, didn’t lose my virginity until I was 20, and then to a woman I now know to be a soft butch, never was cocky enough to use the factory equipment very well, and just didn’t feel the need to prove my manhood when challenged. Any success I had was in nerd world, where gender for geeks was a much more malleable thing than in other, more gendered areas of endeavour. I was “psychologically un-castratable” as one woman who tried to manipulate me complained, because my identity was never, ever between my legs.
There is a reason I chose a gender neutral name and a reason I always had deeper conversations with the wives of crossdresser than with the CDs themselves. I had moved to not man, which baffled those who bought into the “Now I’m Biff! Now I’m Suzy!” model that Virginia Prince sold. Sooner or later you would see most of them coming from a masculine space and making man’s choices, playing against their gender presentation to remain a man in the system of desire.
Having been an abject failure as a straight guy, immersing myself in the lesbian community made sense of my teenage years, even as I knew that simply being a lesbian would never be possible for me, for many reasons.
I walked away from manhood as an identity twenty years ago, into not man.
When I think about having to play a man again, it upsets me.
I just left the system of desire because I knew I couldn’t play the part of a straight guy in a dress, couldn’t play the part of a lesbian, couldn’t be the character who potential partners wanted me to be.
When my mother pressed me to dress nicer, thinking about slacks and ties, the notion made my skin crawl. Playing the man she envisioned just felt like hell.
All this, though, didn’t mean that I had to be seen as a woman. I wore my gender neutral clothes, dungarees or cargo pants and a polo shirt, covered with a fleece, and walked in my own space.
I knew that people read me as a man, but as we say in Transland, you can’t care what people think of you. Sometimes people would try and figure out what kind of a man I was, try to ping me, and the responses they got were so fuzzy that they were baffled. Gay? Straight? Who knew? I had a sharp mind they saw as masculine, great emotional understanding, which they saw as feminine, and seemed to be able to walk past the stuff that stopped most men, like personal care of my parents.
I didn’t really care if I was man enough for them or woman enough, I just cared that I was human enough, integrated enough, actualized enough. I knew this dropped me out of the system of desire, but that was the price I knew that I had to pay. My relationship with me was more important than being what others expected and were ready to find attractive.
At this point, where I have to go back onto the grid in some way, any sense that I have to regender myself, wrapping myself in a gender role people expect in order to be easy for them to figure out feels really difficult.
Yes, getting up in the morning and putting on man face, starting with a good haircut and a willingness to pretend I am one of the guys feels like crap, would make me cry.
But then again, putting on some kind of woman face, trying as best I can to conceal my trans nature to keep people from feeling disquieted feels like an impossible to maintain challenge. Paper cannot wrap fire, so my truth will out.
I may believe that seeing me as woman hearted is the most sensible and effective way to be in relationship with me, because my choices are much more on the sensitive and wiggle side, but I also know that seeing me as a man is easier for many people because they want to believe our bodies define us.
For me, the thought of having to try and squeeze into any binary, compulsory gender role makes me shudder, and actually having to do it, cut myself down to fit the expectations of others everyday would make me cry.
Breaking the bounds of binary gender was damn hard. Like almost every trans kid, I prayed to become female, dreamed of waking up transformed. I knew these hopes were fantastic by the time I was 13, though, telling a therapist who pushed me to tell her who I wanted to be when I grew up that I wanted to be me, just me.
This frustrated her, blunting her already crude diagnostic test, but I even by that age knew it was unsafe to reveal trans dreams, knew that there was no magic. The gift of a lifetime is becoming who you are, Joseph Campbell said, and I knew that even then.
I understand why so many transwomen find being forced into performing manhood so incredibly soul crushing. I understand why they dream of becoming women. I feel both of those things on my body.
For me, though, from a very early age, I understood that the first step away from being a “man” is becoming “not man.” That is the role I have owned for two decades now, stepping off the grid into distance. It has been the foundation for my learning, my growth, and my own expression.
“Why do crossdressers always dress so fancy?” one woman asked me.
“Well, I explained, they tend to want to dress up as women, not to dress down as women.”
When I dress down, my gender neutral clothing will do. When I want to dress up, though, men’s clothes just don’t do it. I feel trapped and like a liar.
Dressing up, though, is a important part of expressing our status and authority in the world.
Clothes make the man.
Naked people have little or no influence on society.
— Mark Twain
I am a better in the world when I am not resisting who I am, not policing myself in a mine field. The more anyone feels squeezed down, having to police their choices to stay small and inoffensive, the less they have to give to the group.
When we feel the need to resist who we are rather than celebrate it, the shame, fear and anxiety are killers, taking an all to big chunk of our potential.
I know why lots of transwomen just can’t hack being men anymore. That happened to me decades ago.
I also know why they want to be seen and affirmed for making feminine choices in the world, want to be able to effectively live in a woman’s role. That is what we dreamed of, what more easily fits into the binary notions of either/or.
Does that claiming always work, or do many of us who do emerge as transwomen get lost in our own defences, our own protection, our own attempt to squeeze into a gender rather than flow freely and gracefully in the world? We know that many do.
Jennifer Finney-Boylan recently talked about the differences between herself and Kate Bornstein. Finney-Boylan identifies as female, while Kate identifies as something other. Is one identification more real than the other, more valued, or is one just more objective and one more asserted?
I broke free of gender a long time ago, even though it meant breaking out of the system of desire and other gendered obligations. That’s not something most people feel comfortable doing.
Right now, I feel an urge to squeeze back into gender, want and need the kind of connection and affirmation that doesn’t come to an iconoclast pigeonholed as a guy in a dress. I need my possibilities affirmed, not just my history.
But I am far from sure I have the will and the wherewithal to squeeze back into anything anymore.