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trans
July 22, 2013 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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Boy Meets World

As a child, I thought I was bad at being a girl. I later realised that was because I’m not one. I’m a transmasculine fella, a non-binary swoonprince smashing heteronormativity and tearing apart the fabric of society as we know it.

 

I’m transmasculine. For me, this means I’m a cute femme boy with a cunt. I was born into a body labelled ‘girl’, and that’s how I was treated. It never really felt comfortable. As a child, I avoided dresses and pink and stereotypical markers of femininity and femaleness. My mother lamented my masculinity. I was presented with standards of behaviour—of ‘girl’—and fell short. Then I learnt about tomboys and figured I must be one of those. This was recognisable and understandable, and so I never really questioned it. I remember strongly owning a few items of ‘boys’ clothing’. Wearing them made me feel self-assured and comfortable in a way that was totally unfamiliar to me. My favourite was a hand-me-down from my brother. It was a big ol’ orange polo shirt with teal sleeves and collar. #fashion

As I grew older, the narrative of girl became intertwined with ideas about desire – specifically, the idea that boys like girls and girls like boys, and all the complex ways that can play out. I wasn’t particularly interested in boys or girls. I liked to draw comics and play video games and hang out with dogs. I brushed off my classmates’ kissing and going out as juvenile and pointless. Because I was a fat tomboy, I was a walking archetype of undesirability. This raises the question of whether I was really uninterested in others, or if I distanced myself to avoid needling. In any case, I was a real sassy little nerd of a kid. I mostly thought I was smarter and better than other people and spent a lot of time on the internet. Once, I convinced a classmate to give me his Neopets password. Totally stole all his Neopoints.

In high school, I went through various identifiers. First, I was a straight girl. I had my first kiss at the tender age of 15, with a boy I dated for seven months. I asked him out because I thought he liked me and I wanted to prove that I was attractive and desirable. He was a nice enough guy, but kind of boring. Following that, I realised I was attracted to women and figured I was bisexual. Then, I lost interest in boys and thought I was gay (I never really took to the term ‘lesbian’). After that, I learned about genderqueer people on the internet; something clicked for me. The notion that ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ were the only options fell away, and I realised I could identify and present however felt right for me. For a nerdy li’l chubber like me, the possibility of feeling comfortable in my own skin was both exhilarating and frightening. You know how sometimes you get what you want and all you can do is worry that someone will take it away? I strongly associate my identification with queerness as a sexual orientation with a queering of gender. With this realisation, I could suddenly picture a future for myself. Before, I felt I was failing as a woman and as a person, and couldn’t comprehend how I would or could comfortably live out the narratives I was presented with.

Today, I identify as transmasculine. I’m flamboyant and playful (traits usually read as feminine) in my presentation because I’m secure and grounded in my masculinity. I feel safe in that. I came out to my family recently. It went pretty well. My mother was confused and, I think, has some mourning to do – fair enough, as to her she’s losing a daughter. I’m out at work and privileged to be surrounded by supportive, understanding people. My mother has been asking me questions that I never thought to answer, because trans* stuff is pretty familiar to me by now. I forget that most people don’t have access to education on the topic and that the way we’re portrayed in the media is generally pretty awful (if we’re mentioned at all). It’s a strange thing to have to justify in detail the dreams for yourself and your body that seem so obvious and necessary. For instance, she asked me if I was “dissatisfied with [my] face”, or if I thought I wasn’t masculine already. I’ll be honest; I’m a handsome fucker, but a big motivator for me in terms of transitioning is dysphoria – essentially, a discomfort with my body and perceived gender. That’s putting it mildly. I get especially uncomfortable around my chest and my period. Having breasts and a uterus just feels wrong to me. It’s often a physical sensation and is difficult for me to explain, but imagine if your body had accoutrements associated with the opposite sex. You probably wouldn’t identify with those body parts; they would perhaps seem alien and ill-fitting. Combine this with a sense of failure, a fear of never living up to rigid expectations, and a feeling of self-loathing. Shake well. Serve over ice. Dysphoria cocktail.

There are many elements to a transition, and it’s different for everyone. I’m about to start taking testosterone (T) in order to counter my dysphoria. It’s been something I’ve wanted since I was (at least) 16, so I’m naturally pretty excited. I was actually taking small doses of T a little while ago, as I ‘obtained’ it from a friend. I had heard endocrinologists weren’t understanding about non-binary people and so thought that getting it through legitimate channels wouldn’t be an option for me. I’ve found a lot of doctors don’t really ‘get’ trans* people, and I generally have to teach Trans* 101 each time I see a new medical practitioner. Admittedly, it’s more the fault of the system than of them specifically. In any case, I’m lucky enough to have a solid relationship with my GP, so I gave it a shot. I raised the issue with her and she knew enough to refer me to the endocrinologist at Wellington Hospital.

I was really nervous on the day of the appointment. I put on my butchest plaid shirt and asked a pretty cis lady-friend to join me, due to the bizarre pressure I felt to live up to conventional standards of masculinity. I feel that pressure constantly, despite my ideological rejection of those norms. It can get confusing, but in this case I figured the ends justified the means. I submitted to the pressure and pretended to be a super manly dudebro. It worked! It was a long appointment and I was asked a lot of intensely personal questions. Had I not been prepared, it would have been a lot more stressful than it was. Again, I’ve been lucky enough to have a supportive network of trans* friends to guide me. Despite this support, it remains bizarre to me that even in transgressing/transcending/subverting traditional ideas of gender, I feel that pressure to perform it in specific and prescribed ways. The primary mechanism I’ve developed for reconciling this cognitive dissonance is to identify strongly with extremes: beefcake bears, pretty princess femmes, queens, twinks, and teen heart-throbs. My presentation is a synthesis of the outliers. My sexual orientation is confusing and fluid (hence ‘queer’ as a useful term). My gender identity is an important part of my life, because it affects so much of how I’m treated and what I experience. However, as I think about this stuff, I realise how intertwined it is for me. My gender, my sex, my fat body, my sexuality and my relationships all affect and are affected by each other in ways that are impossible to separate (intersectional feminism what uuup).

I grew up as a feminist woman. This has left me with questions and concerns about spaces I’m allowed in. As I undergo more changes and become increasingly read as male, I’m allowed privilege and power that I didn’t previously have access to. In light of this, I’ve been carefully considering my interactions and relationships with women and feminine people. It’s really strange to go from an equal footing to a hyper-awareness of an institutional power imbalance, especially given that’s complicated by my non-binary trans* identity. This is still something I’m in the process of negotiating, but I’m basically just trying to be kind and respectful. It seems to be working okay? I’d recommend it as a life strategy. Gender stuff is complicated. Relating to other people is complicated. Be kind and don’t make assumptions. Growing up would have been a helluva lot less confusing had I not been constantly made to feel as if I was failing at something I was told was biological.

TRANS* 101

Why *?

The ‘*’ in trans* signifies the diversity of identities that come under the category of trans. It includes genderqueer, agender, genderfluid, genderfuck, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, fa’afafine and many other identities. It recognises the invalidity of the traditional idea of the gender binary – the belief that only two modes of expression and identity exist: male/masculine and female/feminine, and the belief that those absolutely correlate. In short, there’s more than just dudes and ladies. People often argue that gender is psychological/social while sex is biological. This is simplistic and not really true! Sex and gender are both diverse spectrums! Intersex people exist, after all – people whose junk doesn’t fit clearly into our arbitrary standards of male/female. People also have varying levels of hormones and secondary sex characteristics.

Trans* v cis

‘Cisgender’ (often abbreviated to ‘cis’) basically means that you identify with/as the sex and gender you were assigned at birth. Most people are cis. ‘Transgender’ is the opposite of that; you identify with/as a gender/sex other than that which you were assigned.

Most trans* people come under the category of either female to male (FTM) – born female, transitioning to male, or male to female (MTF) – born male, transitioning to female. There are also non-binary trans* people!

Transitioning

It’s vital to remember that every person’s experience is unique. A transition can have social, medical and legal aspects, such as name changes. Some people undergo medical procedures as part of their transition, such as surgery and HRT (hormone replacement therapy), but others don’t. Some people may choose purely to have HRT without surgery, or vice versa.

Etiquette

Trans* people are humans with feelings, not kooky aliens existing for your entertainment or titillation. Treat them as such. Use the name(s) and pronouns you’re told to use and don’t ask invasive questions about their bodies, histories, sex lives, etc.! I wish I didn’t have to say it, but because of a lack of education on the subject, you’d be surprised at the things people think are acceptable.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Sarah McKenzie says:

    Fantastic read Emma! Good on you and keep your writing out there for me to read!! All the best with your journey.

    • sebastian says:

      thanks, Sarah, but also, my name is Sebastian. it makes me really uncomfortable to be referred to as my birth name, so please don’t use it.

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