Sunday, 18 December 2011

Bad Gender Days

Inevitably there are days when a trans* person will feel disheartened, downcast, that all the odds are stacked against em; because it is an uphill struggle to be seen for what you are, instead of what you look like.

I don't have many of those days. (I'm sure I'd have even fewer were it not for all the progesterone that insists on coursing my bloodstream four-weekly.) But sometimes, things break through the wall of blissfully oblivious, physically detached, narcissistic self-belief that makes trans*-ness so easy for me.

I've always been open with my parents about my gender issues, so much so that I probably can't blame them if they see my current convictions as just an extension of my uninformed 13-year-old delusions. They've been aware for a full year that I definitively don't identify as female, and they've been vaguely muddling through trying to accommodate this. But it's very difficult, when someone declares emself to be non-binary, not to subconsciously interpret this as "ey's still [gender assigned at birth] but just sort of not really". So, to forcibly bring the reality of my identity home to them, to prove I was serious, and to prepare them for what might one day happen, I started talking about name changes, testosterone therapy, chest surgery.

They were upset. Upset at the idea. They've never been actually upset by one of my gender-pronouncements before. They talked about not wanting me to change (I said "I've changed so much already, what with puberty, going away to university, meeting new people, you know..." - they said "do you have to change more?"). They said they just wanted things to be the same with me as they always had.

Now in my head, things are the same as they always have been. I have always been this person; the gender I present as doesn't change my personality. But the only reason I was happy to present as female for so many years was because of this obliviousness to how other people see me, and to the power of the 'filter' of male or female which people use when they view everybody. Have my parents been seeing me through a female filter? - overlaying characteristics onto my personality which just aren't there? Would they really feel they didn't know me, feel I'd changed, feel I wouldn't be the same person, if I began to look more masculine on the outside?

Have they ever really known me at all? Has anyone?

It breaks my heart to be misunderstood, and since I'm such a queer fish and so frequently misunderstood, it swells my heart inordinately to find myself among people who 'get' me. And the more I come to understand 'gender', these strange meaningless filters other people employ, the more I feel trapped and depressed by these filters. On top of all those other bizarrenesses of character which severely lengthen the odds that anyone I meet will understand me (and sure I'm used to that by now, it doesn't worry me, I have enough awesome friends for it not to matter), now suddenly I have to add this 'female' filter which everyone who meets me will automatically employ, which will mean they haven't a hope of ever really knowing me.

I thought my parents understood me. For a decade and a half, they were the only people who came anywhere close to understanding me. Now it turns out perhaps they were using the filter all along. Perhaps they never really knew me. I don't know this person they see, this woman who they think I am, who they think they know.

Wasn't it obvious all along that I'm not a woman? It was to me...

And to get past this filter, my only choice, it seems, is to modify my body. Yes, my only choice. I'm out as male at work and I use a male name and I bind and present as best I can, and everyone seems very accepting. But then there's the colleague who I've only ever heard refer to me, three times, using female pronouns (even though she apologized once, at my prompting, and claimed she "usually remembers"). There's the new guy, who was introduced to me under my male name, who should only have ever heard me being referred to as "he", who only ever saw me binding and doing my best to stealth during his first week and a half in the office (he was my litmus test)... who nevertheless defaulted consistently to "she" (then let himself unfussily be corrected, so he knew all right, he'd been told) over the course of the first afternoon I heard him talk about me.

I thought that, with the right priming, a person would just assume another person's gender to be whatever they'd originally been introduced as. Turns out I was wrong. Turns out the filter is stronger than that. Turns out that trying to assert my identity as a non-hormones non-op is going to be the most uphill of uphill struggles (apart, possibly, from trying to jump the necessary medical hoops to get 'treatment').

Do they all just think I'm deluded? Do they all just "she" me behind my back? Do they see me, not as the unfortunate chap stuck with a female appearance, but as the crazy woman who thinks she's a bloke? And if I went on testosterone, would I still look too feminine not just to be read as a mad bearded lady? - and even if I could successfully stealth, I wouldn't want to because I am proud of being trans* and I'm all for visibility, so would people's filters just revert to "freaky deluded lesbian" as soon as I outed myself?

Yup. Some days it feels like an uphill struggle.

This is what it is like, my cis friends. I write this blog not just to angst and rant (although those are definite fringe benefits), but to tell you what it's actually like to be trans*. It can't just be reduced to "man trapped in woman's body, man undergoes exciting sexy surgery to become not trapped in woman's body"; it's a head thing, it's all in the head. And what's worse, it's all in other people's heads. Thanks a bunch, Other People. You and your stupid filters are forcing me and all the other not-very-physically-dysphoric trans* people to undergo dangerous and difficult-to-access medical procedures just so that we have half a chance of being seen for who we are. 

You know what would be much, much easier? If you just changed the way you thought. And what's more, it would swell my heart inordinately.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Autism: the Extreme Male Chauvinism theory

Not one to let facts get in the way of a punchy title, me.

I've just been offered an appointment with the Adult Autism Centre. This means that me and my mum between us managed to scrape together enough "signifiers" in our paperwork for them to think it worth their while to bring me in and attempt to diagnose me properly.

Let me explain at this point that I'm not convinced that I have Asperger's; if I do, I don't find it a hindrance in the least (at least not these days), and either way, I'm not even sure I believe Asperger's is an actual thing (at least not to the very low level at which I might have it). And I'm not just writing to Autism Centres in the hope of gaining the right to sew yet another Minority Membership badge onto my woggle. I got myself referred to them purely to settle a point: my mum has told me all through my life that I'm "probably a bit Asperger's", without ever going to get me diagnosed or do anything more constructive than just give me a complex about my inability to function socially, and I just wanted to settle the matter once and for all. This is not a sympathy post, it's a "Simon Baron Cohen wtf ffs?!" post.

My intrigue regarding the topic of autism thus once again piqued, I bimbled around on Google and found this: a paper linking FtM transsexuality with autism. It's not like I wasn't expecting Science, as embodied in Simon Baron Cohen and his "extreme male brain" theory, to declare my gender identity a function of my neuroatypicality (if applicable) or vice versa. But even so, it triggers my natural defensive response to having my identity put into question. Particularly when one of the things I had scrawled on my initial paperwork was a small diatribe in the "Sex" box about how I'm female in biology but not in gender. I wonder how much my declaration of "I AM GENDERQUEER!!!!!11ONE!" contributed to their decision to offer me an appointment.

My problem with the "extreme male brain" theory is similar to my problem with most attempts to categorize people according to their brains (e.g., the very concept of Asperger's Syndrome itself). The thing is, right... people have brains. And all these brains are usually quite different. Thus people are different. It's not really surprising if people who do science tend to be "more autistic" than people who do arts, because what you've done there is you've labelled one of these infinite points of difference the "autistic" point, and then if you measure any two people, let alone two groups of people, with respect to their distance from this point, one of them will turn out "more autistic" than the other.

And the concept of a "male brain" or a "female brain", let alone an "extreme" version of either, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are a "typical male", you will have this kind of brain. If you are male and don't have this kind of brain, you're not "typical". Thus the many studies reporting that pre-hormone-therapy FtMs have a "more typically male" brain structure sound good at first - hurrah, scientific validation, we're ACTUALLY really men! - but on closer inspection, the message is more depressing.

The message is that all men have a certain kind of brain and all women have another certain kind of brain, and if you were born "female" but you don't have a "female" kind of brain, you're "not really female". I would like to state that, whatever my gender identity, I am (as far as such things can be defined) biologically female, and this is the brain I have. It is possible for a woman to have a "male-type" brain, or vice versa. Attempting to homogenise three billion people into one "typical female" brain pattern, and then throwing out those who don't conform to it as "atypical", is, well, bad statistics, surely? Take an "average" of three billion people and you're likely to get something pretty meaningless.

See, if you take an "average" of ANY group and compare it with the average for another group, you're likely to find a difference - because people are different and their brains are different and if you attempt to homogenise one set and then another set you will always get a difference. If you took a representative sample of hockey players and a representative sample of ginger people and got them to do this kind of test and averaged out the results, you'd probably - nay, definitely, though not necessarily to a "statistically significant" degree - find that one group came out as, on average, more "male" (i.e. more systematizing) than the other, which would obviously come out as more "female" (i.e. more empathizing).

So what? So bleedin' what? Scientists aren't going to sit down and test hockey players and ginger people and then declare that there is a "typical hockey brain" and a "typical ginger brain" and we are all on a spectrum from hockey to ginger. They're simply not going to try and make generalisations about such arbitrary groupings. But since "male" and "female" are the one big accepted set of arbitrary groupings, study after study after study will focus on this "binary difference". Sure, there may be observable differences between "male" and "female" brains. But there are probably observable differences between "hockey" and "ginger" brains: the hockey players might be more confident because of their physical prowess, the gingers might be more neurotic from being ribbed about their hair colour. The nature/nurture debate is still wide open with regard to so many other characteristics - criminal tendencies, high intelligence, gingerness-induced neuroticism - so why is it so firmly closed whenever the hallowed arbitrary grouping of binary gender is mentioned?

In their haste to document and catalogue the crazy, inescapable Mars-ness and Venus-ness of "the sexes", everyone seems to ignore the possibility that "maleness" and "femaleness" can be environmentally conditioned - gender is a social construct whereby those of us displaying [fe]male sexual characteristics are prodded throughout our lives into behaving how a "typical [fe]male" behaves. And it's no wonder if our brains soften under that pressure - or harden against it. The last thing we need is for Science, wearing its extreme-male-brained Simon Baron Cohen face, to come along, chew up our socially conditioned gender differences and spit them back out at us disguised as "inherent sex differences" - thus adding to that social-pressure concept of the "typical [fe]male" in an ever-amplifying feedback loop.

(Completely unrelatedly, did I mention how much I want this book for Christmas?)

Do you know what the "FtM transsexuals already have male brains!" theory says to me? It says: at least some of the female-assigned people who come to see themselves as male-gendered might do so because society affords them absolutely no way of expressing themselves as female, when their natural way of thinking and behaving is traditionally - and "scientifically" - male-coded.

The Adult Autism Centre might attempt to smugly, scientifically claim that my Asperger's tendencies are just a symptom of my gender dysphoria, or that my gender dysphoria is just a symptom of my Asperger's tendencies. Either way, it's not the kind of "science" I'm keen to subscribe to.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Asexuality Awareness Week: obligatory Asexuality 101 post!

I always have trouble with concepts that are ineffable.

Well, ineffable's the word I like to use, but you could substitute "visceral", "intuitive", "instinctive" - anything where one's supposed to just know. In case you hadn't guessed, I'm more the analytical kind. Anything that can't be broken down and worked through by logic, I have problems with. Religious experience is ineffable, so is love; they don't come with checklists. Gender identity, too - some people have a very strong intuitive sense of their own gender, which might lead to comfortable, happy cis-ness or raging, unbearable dysphoria. Me, I just look at gender blankly, and fumble about trying to work out if I have one or not.

And the big one, as in so many other situations, is SEX.

Sexual desire, sex drive, sexual attraction - they're all about as ineffable, visceral, intuitive, instinctive as they come. Or so I'm led to believe. Which is why it's so difficult to satisfactorily make sense of any absence thereof. If you have it, you damn well know about it. If you're female-assigned with an overwhelming attraction to female-assigned people, it takes some pretty impressive skills of repression not to realise you're homosexual (even if you find it hard to admit it to yourself, or act on it, or come out as such). Or so I assume. But if you lack any kind of strong attraction, you can find yourself barking up all sorts of trees in your uncertainty. Maybe you're gay? Maybe you're bisexual? Maybe this is what attraction feels like? Maybe sex is supposed to hurt? Maybe if you keep on doing it you'll eventually develop a desire for it?

This week is Asexuality Awareness Week, and since it took me maybe 20 years to become aware of asexuality as a concept, and then another two or three years to become aware that it might actually apply to me, it's something I'm very much up for people becoming Aware of. The thing is, not only am I convinced that more people are asexual than realise it, I also think that the (intuitively analytical ;) ) way asexuals tend to approach that big broad complicated concept of SEX can be beneficial for people of any orientation.

Asexuality is a sexual orientation: the word is analogous with "heterosexual" or "pansexual", not with "transsexual" with its annoyingly confusing etymology (and before I identified as asexual I accidentally referred to myself as such several times when what I meant was "agender"). And the point of an orientation is that it is directed at someone: a homosexual has sexual feelings towards some people of eir own gender and not really any towards people ey considers to be of a different gender, a pansexual has sexual feelings towards some people but their genders play no part in determining which ones, and an asexual has sexual feelings towards... well, nobody.

But an orientation is a complex thing, more so than happily ineffable sexuals tend to give it credit for (well, the non-analytical ones, at least). Because one can have sexual feelings but not towards anybody; one can also have feelings towards people which are not sexual; and as for what sexual means, that'll be a whole 'nother post. I have definitely, ineffably, experienced sexual arousal (and I can tell objectively, because it involved my sexual organs - *ticks off on ineffability checklist*) - but it's been triggered by [the thought of] certain acts, not by [the thought of] any other person involved in the act. I have definitely found myself drawn to people, attracted to them... but by what? To what end? I'm drawn by their personalities, I want to spend time with them, make them happy. That is not sexual attraction, but romantic attraction. (Sometimes I want to touch them, but that'll come under the whole 'nother post.)

Arousal vs attraction and sexual vs romantic are two very important concepts of distinctions drawn up by those clever, analytical, non-intuitive members of the asexual community with too much time on their hands. It's all too easy to assume that sexual arousal goes hand in hand with sexual attraction, or similarly that sexual attraction goes hand in hand with romantic attraction. (In the interests of completeness and the spirit of bewilderment, I'm still trying to work out whether romantic arousal is a thing.) But they really, really, really don't, and you can cause yourself all manner of problems by assuming that they do, no matter your orientation. You can end up in a relationship with someone whose personality doesn't suit you at all, because you rationalise that "I'm attracted to em, right?" - when perhaps ey's incredibly sexually attractive but leaves you completely cold in romantic terms. Equally, you can feel obliged to try and initiate inadvisable sex with someone, whether you're already lovers or whether you just get on like a house on fire, because you're attracted to em, right? - and having sex is what you do with someone you're (romantically) attracted to, right?

Or, of course, you might be ragingly sexually (and also, optionally, romantically) attracted to someone, but just find yourself completely unable to get it up. And then, because neither of you understand that sexual attraction and sexual arousal don't automatically correlate, ey assumes you don't like em any more and you have an unpleasant argument.

The cute thing about having unpacked the concept of SEX like this is that you can now declare yourself to be asexual, but homoromantic - attracted to some people who are of the same gender as you[1], and keen to spend time with them and engage in close and profound relationships with them, but uninterested in having sex with them. Or alternatively, you might think all this selection-by-gender stuff is nonsense and want to declare that you're pansexual, but your genitalia annoyingly seem to think otherwise. It's simple: you're panromantic (you think people are awesome) but you're gynesexual or androsexual (you're only turned on by bodies of a certain shape). And people of any sexual orientation might be aromantic - uninterested in engaging in that kind of a relationship at all (though they might well still be perfectly sociable people with many very good friendships).

[1] this is getting annoyingly clunky, so here's a fun word: androromantic! It means romantically attracted to men! It's still irritatingly binarist but less confusing for genderqueers. Similarly gyneromantic means romantically attracted to women; cf androsexual, gynesexual.

Thus there's a great deal to be gained, in the realms of self-acceptance, self-knowledge, self-security and sensible decision-making, from separating out one ineffable concept (sexual attraction) from another (romantic love). Because, in truth, certain aspects of this big broad unapproachable topic of SEX aren't all that ineffable. In our society we have a dangerous tendency to mysticise sex, to romanticise it, to hold it up as The Big One, the uniquely incomparable experience. But it's not magic; it's a desire not unlike most other desires. It comes and goes, it is satiated or it wanes or it becomes unbearably strong, it affects certain people, at certain times, in certain ways, more powerfully than others. To riff on the classic metaphor, I might be someone who generally likes cake (let's go for the absurdity factor and call it cake-eatual), but at the moment I might not feel like having any cake (I might have no cake-ual desire). Or at other times I might see a piece of particularly tasty-looking cake and feel cake-ual arousal, then eat it and feel cake-ual satisfaction. (I am almost certainly not cake-romantic. But, having said that, I might be something like cake-aesthetic: I might enjoy spending time baking, decorating, trying out new recipes, without this necessarily being accompanied by a burning desire to eat the results immediately - enjoying cake on an intellectual level as distinct from a level of OM NOM NOM DELICIOUS CAKE.)

It works for plenty of other stuff too. Like, I spent a long time wanting to write a post because it was Asexuality Awareness Week but not knowing what angle to take; before I wrote this I felt intellectually frustrated.

So there you have it: my take on the classic Asexuality 101. Maybe it's helped you understand asexuals better, maybe it's helped you understand your own interpersonal feelings and motivations better, maybe it's even helped you realise that asexual is a word that fits you. (And just like any other label of sexual orientation, and many other labels besides, it's a matter of self-identification, so the only criterion for "Am I asexual?" is "Do I want to use the word asexual to describe myself?".) But hopefully, whatever starting point you're coming from, you'll agree with me that a lot of the ideas I've talked about here are useful, even necessary, in a culture which seems to be so saturated with SEX, so fixated on it as an unquestionably universally permanently desirable thing, so unwilling to accept that some people might not be that interested in it (whether they identify as sexual or asexual, romantic or aromantic), so ill-prepared for negotiating the complex interplays of sexual and romantic desire, interest, attraction and arousal which make up the ever-changing, multi-faceted, three-dimensional human experience we're taught to simply call SEX.

Enjoy the rest of the week, and for a hell of a lot of awesomeness, try going to

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


Update post. My work email name has been changed! I did The Explanation! Everyone is being very supportive! (Well, that or silent, and the truth of that will out once the obligatory official PC supportiveness dies down, but I'm optimistic that these are nice people.) I bumped into my boss in the men's and I think he was slightly taken aback! It's all good.

But my name hasn't been changed in lots of our other electronic systems, which is far more potentially confusing than the simple fact of transitioning my name from female to male. Two days in to the change and I've already run up against this problem: a person I was emailing under my male name (let's say that's "Ganymede") is now going to get an automatically generated paper compliments slip from me under my female name (let's say that's "Rosalind").

Professionally awkward though this is, I secretly quite like it. Heaven only knows what these external correspondents will think when interacting with "Ganymede/Rosalind". Which will they assume is my "proper" name? Will they twig the gender mismatch or just assume that my male name is a "valid" female shortening of my female name - or even that "Rosalind" is a "valid" male given name? Or will they just ignore it? Way to inadvertently genderfuck your external colleagues, Employer. :D It's like there's two of me, one for each binary gender role, which quite entertains me (confirming my vague worries that I might be genderfluid... I'm not prejudiced, it'd just be damn awkward).


Anyway, one way or the other (or both, or the ones in between >_>) I'm pretty happy with all of this now that the stressful first day is out of the way. I am generally very happy, with life in general and with my gender identity in particular! I have come out at work and it's exactly as small a deal as it ought to be! Happy, healthy, sane, supported and FtM. That story would be a really good example for scared closeted trans* teens, wouldn't it?

Because the flip side of increased visibility = increased tolerance among "normal" people (for trans* as for any minority) is increased visibility = increased comprehension and hope among the "invisible" members of that minority. When I was in my early teens and flirting flippantly with the idea that something about me wasn't "normal" gender-wise, I educated myself the only way I could: through the chinks of trans* visibility that got through the cracks in mass media. And in the realm of FtM transgenderism, that meant only one thing: Brandon Teena.

Brandon's story, dramatised in the film Boys Don't Cry (which I devoured with rapt interest when Channel 4 screened it in the early noughties, followed by a documentary called The Brandon Teena Story), is an awful, poignant one which deserves to be told: transsexual boy growing up in unenlightened American Mid-West goes stealth, gets girlfriend, attempts to quietly live life, is uncovered as biologically female by "friends" then brutally raped and murdered. But it's not the story to tell to a questioning young female-assigned person growing up in a rather more enlightened region, in a rather more enlightened decade, with a high probability when ey becomes an adult of moving to an even more enlightened university town in an even more enlightened decade, where eir work colleagues barely bat an eyelid at eir transgenderism.

I remember watching that film and making a worried mental note (in my flippant adolescent way) never to move to Falls City ("they hang faggots there", as Brandon's brother anxiously reminds him). I had to make that mental note to remind myself that, although my life might well end up paralleling Brandon's in some ways, our circumstances were far from identical and my life was unlikely to end the way his did. But as a confused, naive maybe-FtM, he was the only role model I had, and these caveats were hard to keep in mind.

I'd like it if Channel 4 were to screen something like The Ganymede/Rosalind Story: transgender sort-of-boy growing up in accepting urban Britain goes to university as female, gradually and openly comes out, is completely supported by friends and colleagues, remains non-hormones and non-op, doesn't feel the need to worry about going stealth or binding and packing 24/7 or suppressing his penchant for dressing up in fishnet stockings from time to time, is comfortable with having a gender identity which is vaguely masculine but is far from neatly fitting the binary, has thus far not undergone a single incident of anti-trans* abuse. (Would that MtFs were so lucky, of course. And with the side note that I have not once been abused/harassed/etc for being trans* since coming out as trans*, but during my early teens presenting as nothing other than a kind of weird tomboyish female, I got mocked with "You're a boy!" - it works along the same lines as "You're gay!", that is, it doesn't work - all the time. Adults are largely very nice about these things, but children are gits.)

But, y'know, where would be the story in that? No exciting shots of the transsexual squishing and stuffing his body into shapes it wasn't designed for, no cute time-lapse sequences of his facial hair coming through or his muscles developing or his body fat being redistributed, no dramatic moments as he shuffles warily into a male-only space and is accosted by a suspicious passer-by... No point in screening something that won't pull in the ratings just to reassure poor scared gender-variant kids who are desperate to see Someone Like Them.

The moral of the story is, I suppose, thank gods for the internet... and thank gods that I, happy flippant Genderqueer Lite, coped reasonably well growing up in my assigned gender without the peer group it could have provided. I only hope the same can be said for other proto-Brandons of my generation.

Friday, 23 September 2011

And not a Ferrero Rocher in sight

[Disclaimer: This came out a lot longer and less pithy than I was hoping. But as ever, if I don't post it now, I'll never get round to editing it.]



I've been given a date. T(ransition) minus three days. Um, just my screen name at work, that is.

After a week of silence from HR and IT (and a gentle nudge from me) came a pleasantly matter-of-fact email from the Chief Administrative Honcho to say that by the time I arrived in work on Monday, my display name for email, IM and all manner of other onliney worky systems would have been subtly but unmistakably masculinized. This very visible change will then give me an excuse to send The Email, start The Explanations - in short, start being a trans-bassador.

I've hesitated about this for a long time, just as I have over all other aspects of social transition, largely because I am very aware of the fact that I'm a political genderqueer, and it's all very well waving your politically genderqueer flag around when your politically genderqueer actions might impact negatively on "proper" genderqueers for whom coming out can literally, in all sorts of ways, be a matter of life and death.

Oh, I'm a proper genderqueer too, put down those pitchforks, but for me, being misgendered isn't a searing dysphoric agony, it's just a simmering annoyance, and I think I could live with being she'd the whole way through my career (I think...) - I just choose not to. And that's because I believe passionately that public perceptions about trans* people (and about gender in general) need to change, and the most effective way I've found so far to be an activist for such issues is just by politely EXISTING in people's faces.

I want my colleagues to knowingly know someone who is trans*, and not just trans* either, but FtM. I want HR to have to think about what to do when they have a trans* employee. I want to increase visibility, a ripple effect, so that all these new people who now know someone who is trans* have a whole bunch of friends who will now know someone who knows someone who is trans*. (It's along the same lines as "Repost this if you know someone who has a mental illness", but slightly more memorable.) And I want to be - for the sake of all the "proper" genderqueers for whom this Really Fucking Matters, am terrified of not being - a damn good trans-bassador, a competent employee and entertaining conversationalist and General All-Round Nice Colleague, so that everyone who now knows someone will be able to say, "Oh, I know a transsexual from work, she's very nice. I mean he. Um."

(I also want to blow the mind of our daft oestrogen-sloshing choir-mistress, who every week manages to inadvertently hurt me with some epic sexist generalisation on the assumption that the room is a female-only space, or some comment along the lines of me being a "tenor lady" or "pretend man".)

It's often said (for which read: I read it in a blog once, forgot to note my source, then came up with too many variations of it in a Google search to be able to find it again) that true equality means not having to be an ambassador. Whereas first- and second-generation Asian immigrants to Britain around the 70s felt a pressure to be Super Extra Nice, hard-working, polite, inoffensive, for fear that one bad school report or angry outburst would get their whole ethnic group labelled as "lazy" or "violent", it's to be hoped that British Asians today don't have to tread so carefully, can display all the good and less-good sides of their personality without fear that their behaviour will be reduced to a function of their ethnicity.

Therefore, it's revealing in my case to consider how far from equality trans* people still are - but it's a lot more revealing to look at gender as a whole and realise just how often we are all treated as ambassadors.

Purely by virtue of the fact that I'm generally assumed to have a vulva, I've been forced to be an ambassador for femaleness my entire life. And you have also had to be an ambassador for whichever gender people assume you are all through your life. If, as a baby, I cried easily, people would react with "Ah, she's a girl, she's sensitive". When, as a child, I watched Thomas the Tank Engine, people would look sidelong and say "That's a very boyish programme for her to be watching". When, in school, we had to get changed after swimming, the teachers in the single-sex changing rooms would try to get us out of there faster by exhorting us to "Beat the boys! You're better than the boys - prove it by getting changed quicker than them!" (And thus the entire reputation of my forcibly-assigned gender would rest on my desire not to wander home in damp underclothes and a misbuttoned, half-tucked-in shirt - I, as an individual, was Slow, thus The Girls were, collectively, Slower than The Boys, thus Girls are Slow, thus Boys are Better. There probably isn't a word for this particular kind of logical fallacy, because it's so incredibly stupid that if we created one the Ancient Greeks would explode.)

And the thing about this unprovoked ambassadorship is that not only is it inescapable, it's also inflexible. Genderqueer Lite as I am, my other option would have been to take the ambassadorship and run with it - to be a shining Unusual Female Role Model, to prove to the world that even people who look like they probably have vulvas can wear ties, geek out about steam trains, dislike shopping, put up flat-pack furniture, ride a bicycle like a reckless testosterone-fuelled idiot, and a whole host of other trivial and not-so-trivial assumption-breakers. The thing is... people just don't pay attention. They write you off as an exception, no matter how many of you there are, no matter even if you're the majority within your assigned gender, or worse, they chastise you as a Bad Ambassador. "That's not very ladylike", "Boys don't cry", "Don't be such a girl", "Take a blind bit of notice of my double standards"... on and on they go. Watch as your unique un-{gender}-like personality quirks are glossed over by your lazy, [un]consciously sexist peer group! Marvel as any even vaguely gender-conformist tendencies you have are blown up out of all proportion!

Be a good ambassador, Mr or Miss (or Mrs, but definitely not Ms or Mx) Reader, and if you're not, everyone will act as though you are anyway.

Shortly after I began work here, I was told of a notoriously undiligent predecessor, the most notable of whose actions were a) to fall off a table and break his wrist during drunken celebration of handing in his notice, and b) to be male. The department head who later interviewed me had apparently reacted to his complete inability to be arsed by exclaiming "I'm never going to recruit another boy again!" It takes the edge off the irony to know that it was most probably she who had recruited our department's "token bloke" (>_>) a few weeks before I arrived... but even so... Heaven help all the potential employees who looked like they probably had testicles, for whom this workshy, drunkenly-wrist-breaking character had acted as an ambassador in the department head's eyes.

Oh wait, it's not called being an ambassador, is it? It's called insidious, unconscious, incessant, all-pervasive, pure and simple prejudice.

We haven't arrived at gender equality yet, because true equality would mean it not being such a fucking big deal to everyone what we looked like we probably had in our pants. And maybe if one of these unconsciously-prejudiced subscribers to a rigid gender binary knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who is fucking about with that binary, it might just briefly make them stop and think.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Invisibly transgender

I don't have secrets; I just have facts I don't know how to tell people.

I don't want to be in the closet at work, but I don't know how to come out. I present as male as I can/dare/desire: with my short back and sides, my standard uniform of not-very-tailored shirt and trousers. I sing tenor in the work choir. I don't know how to make it any more obvious (side note: to my chagrin, nobody here wears ties). I've got a binder on its way, but even if I wore it regularly under my baggy shirts I don't expect people would notice.

I've been thinking about testosterone. Well, naturally, I've been thinking about it for a while. The length of time I've been thinking about it is a function of how utterly uncertain I am that I'd want it. I don't suffer from physical gender dysphoria - I don't feel discomfort at having a female body. (Not that I feel any great connection to my body or its femaleness either; the most obvious {symptom? cause?} of this is probably my asexuality.) I wouldn't say no to the physical perks of having male hormones coursing round my system, but the fact that I can live with it as it is implies firstly that I wouldn't be a "worthy" recipient of any state-supplied hormone treatment (here I'm probably falling into the fallacious trap of thinking I'm "not trans enough"), secondly that it wouldn't be worth my while struggling through the torturous hoops of The System for gender reassignment candidates (fault of The System, clearly), but thirdly that I shouldn't take the risks, both superficial and real, inherent in this kind of body modification.

The problem is, I've ignored my genderedness for most of my life, without realising how blindingly obvious it is to the people around me. In my head, my breasts are discreet and insignificant, my voice is unfemininely deep, and now that I've found a decent haircut my face is no longer girlish. But it's only as I become aware of how overwhelming these cues of enlarged mammaries, high-pitched voice and delicate features are in other people's heads that I want to change them. A binder's a start. A broken voice would be good, too, and the potential for sideburns...

In short, I realised, I want to be visibly transgender. Because at the moment, all I can be is verbally transgender - and I just don't know where to start on that. Every few days a window of opportunity comes round ("gosh, the department's so female-dominated!" "I wish more men would come to choir." "Funny that you don't like shoe-shopping - it's most women's dream, isn't it?") - and every time it comes round, I hesitate, unsure how to phrase my by-the-way, and miss it. Then I spend the next hour fuming, at the generalisation and at myself.

The thing to do, I suppose, is change my name (even though I like the one I have). Change my name, or change my body - or spend weeks, months, years politely correcting every person I interact with. I've already started signing myself with a male name in postal correspondence, and getting letters addressed as such in the shared pigeonhole (though there was the one where the author had clearly debated over which title to use, begun with "Mr" and then corrected it with atrociously messy scribblings to "Ms [Male name] [Surname]" - go figure...). At some point, maybe very soon, maybe once my binder arrives, I will work out the most sensible way of petitioning {HR? the IT department? my line manager?} to change my name in all the public online systems, then explaining the significance of the change to my colleagues. Because of course they'll make the assumption of least resistance ("oh, that's how you spell the short form of your name - funny way of spelling it") unless I explain.

I wish I didn't have to worry about those windows of opportunity, those constant little assumptions that renew the crushing burden of needing to explain myself. I don't know how much body modification it would take before that stopped.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Draft: Socialisation

This is a half-arsed rapidly written unedited thing, posted because if I waited until I'd rewritten it properly I'd probably never post anything at all. COMMENTS PLS. Any and all comments, however half-arsed. You're a clever person, tell me something clever. :)


I was socialised as a boy.

I decided I wanted to be a boy, and like any other boy, I picked up on the messages from society telling me how I should and shouldn't behave.

But unlike any other boy, I wasn't punished for my failures to conform to this behaviour; all I was was weird, an unknown quantity, ploughing my own furrow, marching to the beat of my own drum. Which was ironic, since it wasn't my own drum at all, it was a drum stolen from every single masculine normative influence I could see.

Was I also socialised as a girl? Maybe I was told what to do, told girls shouldn't do X or should do Y, punished by my peer group for failing to conform to X and Y. I'm not sure I really paid attention. I was already Weird, and any peer-group punishment seemed to fall under that umbrella. Besides, I didn't have much truck with My Peer Group of Girls as an en-masse entity, or much respect for what they wanted me to conform to.

But, rebellious as I was (and stubborn as I always have been), I was very quick to ignore the "direct" socialising forces of "Don't do X" (haha, so much for you, I'm going to do X now!). And, naive as I still struggle not to be, I lapped up with earnest the "indirect" socialising forces of "Boys are strong and make jokes and don't care about their appearance and are in awe of the clever, sophisticated girls they like, etc., etc.! Look at this masculine role model! Blindly copy the way he sits, talks, walks, acts!"

I'm only now beginning to unpack all these layers. For a little while I believed "Okay, I'm female, but I'm not a Proper Girl" (my mind poisoned by pathetic models of femininity). For another little while I declared "I think I'm what happens when a child isn't socialised as either gender" (because my parents, bless them, were never particularly bound (and didn't bind me) by gender roles - aside from the occasional despairing exhortation, once I hit my teens, for me to start shaving my legs, or the occasional exasperated exclamation of "Woman!" by my father as though it were an insult, or my mother's sudden mild retrospective panic at letting me watch Thomas the Tank Engine for hours on end as a small child when I recently declared I thought I might be a boy).

But it's becoming clear to me that gender socialisation is truly inescapable. There are so many influences, and people are bound to pick up on them, at least some of them, even if they're not the "right" or "intended" ones, even if people pay attention to them only in order to rebelliously reject them (and in so doing, fall into the trap of accepting other ones, influences on how a Tomboy or a Rebel - or a Boy - should behave).

I don't know where this leaves me; I don't feel as though I've had a Woman's Experience, because I only ever submitted partially and confusedly to the pressures that dog life as a female, but equally, I clearly haven't had a Man's Experience, because my (I think fairly respectable) efforts at bowing to the pressures of being male were not interpreted as such and thus not reinforced or criticised in the same way.

But much as I've liked to claim in the past that I'm far too sensible to bother conforming to stupid old gender roles, and much as I think that I might honest-to-goodness be genderless, have no internal concept of being masculine or feminine in my identity at all, I guess I feel as though I've had a gendered experience.