I had never understood English grammar very well until I took Latin in the seventh grade. While the other pre-teens complained about being forced to study a “dead” language, I found it thrilling. Through learning conjugations, I understood how English was structured. The other enlightening thing about Latin was that once I had a handful of verbs and a healthy dose of prepositions memorized, I could figure out the meaning of any long English word derived from Latin. So when I encountered the word Transgender as an adult, of course I immediately knew exactly what it meant. “Trans” is the Latin preposition meaning “Across,” so a trans-gender person must be someone who has crossed the invisible line from one gender to another. Simple. Knowing Latin had made things so.
But not long after, I started to realize that things were not as simple as they seemed. There were people who called themselves transgender who seemed to fit into neither of the pre-existing categories of man and woman. And furthermore, it seemed as if I might be one of those people!
I changed my name, asked my friends, colleagues, and family to call me by gender-neutral pronouns, and continued to express myself in the multifariously gendered ways that I always had. And yet, I resisted jumping into labeling myself as transgendered.
Transgender: Across Genders. But if I don’t believe there to be only two genders, how can I say that I’ve crossed something? If there is no hard and fast line separating masculine and feminine, how can I have crossed the border?
I experimented with calling myself genderqueer. Definitely fit. My gender was as queer as all get-out. But there was something lacking in that term. Or rather, it was not enough.
(Why does it matter what you call yourself? Aren’t labels what divide us?)
Well, yes, they can be very divisive, it’s true…
(If we didn’t have these labels, man, woman, black, white, Christian, Jew… Couldn’t we all just be people? So many wars could be avoided if people weren’t so obsessed with categorizing themselves into little factions.)
I guess you’re right…
(So why are you so obsessed with finding a label for yourself?)
Good question. Why was I so obsessed with labeling myself? Why did I want a name that would separate me from other people, plunk me down into a nice, safe category? Why did I want to be part of an Us, when Us implies Them?
(This is the women’s room.)
(Are you a boy or a girl?)
(Excuse me sir… Oh, I’m sorry, I mean… Ma’am…?)
(Heeeeey! Look, a Lesbian!)
(You must be a boy, because you have hairy armpits.)
(Okay buddy, let’s see your license.)
(What do you think it is? …I don’t know, let’s pull its pants down and find out.)
There is power in claiming your own labels. In a world where everyone around you is constantly slapping their own labels on you, without your consent or sometimes even your knowledge, it is powerful to stand up and say: No thank you. I do not want that label. I want this one. Having a label for yourself is the beginning of being able to verbally express what’s wrong with the pre-existing system of labels. If I have a word for how it is that I interact with the system, I can start to explain the system’s flaws to other people. Language is an invaluable tool for defending one’s beliefs. You must be able to articulate your beliefs in order to share them with others!
There is also a degree of validation that comes with assuming a label. I am this thing, which is a real thing. It’s real because other people subscribe to it also. Therefore, I am real. That was part of why transgender felt like an important distinction to make beyond the word genderqueer.
When I told my boss I wanted to be called Ze and Hir, and that I was genderqueer, she misinterpreted the term to mean that I was defining my gender based on my sexuality. When I wrote her a letter identifying myself as transgender, she understood much better. There were books for her to read, articles, websites, references. She had heard the word before, and that gave it validation in her eyes, which in turn validated me. But this is dangerous. Relying on other people for validation of one’s existence is not a practice grounded in true self-understanding or self-acceptance. I am a real person with a valid identity because I know it is true, not because I belong to a club that other people say is an acceptable way to be.
So my search for a label, or rather, my search for a way to fit into the existing label transgender, derived from all of these: self-defense, articulation, reclamation, validation. And… a desire to belong. I did not belong to woman or man, and while I rejoiced in that, some part of me felt homeless. It is a very human desire, the desire to belong to a group. But now I felt that I was not so sure I belonged to this group either. As a female-bodied transgender person I perceived that there were certain stories to which I was expected to relate.
(I am a man trapped in a female body.)
(I’ve always known I wasn’t a girl.)
(I have a constant sense of somatic dysphoria.)
(I never liked “girly things” when I was a kid.)
I found myself ashamed to admit that I had loved ballet class as a kid — A kid who was quite certain I was a girl,with my peter pan haircut and the frilly pink tutu that made all the other five-year-old girls jealous.
There seems to be an obsession among transfolks with our own histories. Why do we sit around telling these hair stories, bathroom stories, school stories, family stories, stranger stories? Are we looking for validation of our present state in the stories of our past?
And the most pervasive of them all:
(I have always been this way.)
Have I always been this way? Which way? Have I always had a sense that I am neither man nor woman… Well… No. I was quite certain that I was a girl, even as a teenager. Have I always straddled the line between masculinity and femininity in my presentation, likes, dislikes, mannerisms, activities?… I suppose so. Have I always…
Fuck this always nonsense! How could I always be anything? I’ve been constantly changing and growing and adapting since I was born! Isn’t that what humans are meant to do? Every piece of information, every experience, has served to mold me into who I am at this moment, just as what I am undergoing in this moment is shaping who I will be tomorrow. The only thing I have always been doing is growing. Who cares whether we have always been this way? Let us instead say: I have always been becoming what I am right now.
And what am I? Well, just look at me. I’m a female-bodied, queer, flaming, faggy boi. Isn’t it obvious?
(Excuse me Ma’am?)
(Can I help you, miss?)
(Ma’am, this way please.)
(How are you ladies doing today?)
(What can I get for you girls?)
(How are you today, Ma’am?)
I’m fine, except that everyone seems to think I’m a woman!!!
Okay, I get it. I get that the heterosexual heteronormative strangers I meet might not pick up on the subtle differences between my gender and their unquestioned, ingrained notion of a woman. But… I don’t seem to be passing in the trans community either. I’m not passing as trans.
I’m afforded a lot of privilege by this not-passing. I’m not questioned in restrooms much anymore, and no one is surprised by the name or gender on my driver’s license. I am in less danger than many of my trans friends who are attempting to pass as cisgendered men, and who may or may not succeed from moment to moment. I’m not complaining about that privilege, certainly. But that does not mean it feels good. Being misread both by he world at large, and by one’s supposed peers, is saddening and tiring. I do not feel that I fit into man or woman, but it seems that I also do not fit into trans.
Wait — I knew this! I knew this when I took on the word trans as a personal label — I knew that other pronouns existed, that other ways of being masculine and feminine existed. That was what gave me strength to claim it in the first place! Per, Hir, Ze, Sie, Xe, Thon… How did I lose sight of you all? I got so stuck in passing, in trying to get across…
But poor little Trans. I shouldn’t take out all my aggression on you. You begin words that I adore, and identify with fully: Transgress. Transcend. Transient. Transpire. Transform. Transparent. Transact. Transcribe. Translate… I ought to give you another chance.
I don’t have my Latin dictionary anymore, but since I was in seventh grade this handy thing called the internet has been invented. There are more meanings to “Trans” than I had remembered! Not only does it mean across, but it also means beyond! So transgender doesn’t have to imply crossing an imaginary line… it could mean going completely beyond the gender binary! I can transgress the rules set in place by the patriarchy about how gender must be enacted! I can transcend gender.
kinds of pairings i’m all about
- height differences
- high contrasting designs like light and dark colors
- happy one with the grumpy one
bonus points if
- the grumpy one gets embarrassed by kisses
- the short one is the grumpy one
- the happy one’s presence makes the grumpy one really shy
April and Andy
The funerary mask of Sheshonq II mask 22nd dynasty Cairo Museum
Green Hanging Cacti, 2013
Watercolor paints/pencils and oil pastels on paper