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.

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