Becoming a Dude: Part Two-Continuing My Gender Studies
I received a lot of different messages about my gender. Like that I made a cute boy but an ugly woman. I made more sense to people if they saw me as a boy but seemed to confuse or disturb people if they read me as female or couldn’t figure out what the fuck I was. Physically and behaviorally I was so out of line of what people thought a woman should be that my femaleness itself was questioned. Once during high school, this girl hostilely asked me “Are you a dyke? Do you have a dick?” Rumors circulated round my school that I’d had a “sex change” and at one of my lgbt youth groups I found out that some people thought I had “tits and a dick”. I got plenty of messages that as a woman/female I was a freak, not what I was supposed to be and that some people couldn’t figure out what I was and got weirded out and disgusted as a result. I didn’t get that type of shit when I passed as guy because then I didn’t upset people’s preconceived notions of gender.
When I went to college I found plenty of people who seemed eager to see and accept me as a trans dude. Some of these folks practically bent over backwards to try to make me feel comfortable. For example, when I got to my dorm room, my legal name was on the door to my room and when my RA met me and found out I went by another name she apologized and made me another sign for my door. She figured I was trans and asked me about how I felt about rooming on a floor where everyone else was woman, how I felt about sharing a bathroom with the girls on my floor and so forth. This was quite a change compared to how I was treated before when I got read as a dyke or a freaky female.
I went to a small liberal arts school with many queer and queer/trans friendly students but very few trans kids. Trans issues were very “in” and cool with a lot of queer kids on campus, especially those into queer theory and gender studies. Some people seemed interested and supportive because they wanted to seem “with it” or win “tolerance” point but many others were just trying to be be decent folks. Suddenly I found myself amongst people eager to hear me talk about my gender and people listened to me when I discussed being trans, passing as dude and being a big ol’ genderbender.
Many people at my school could understand transsexuality in some sense, they got the idea of a “man in a female body” but didn’t understand being genderqueer. At the time, I considered myself both trans and genderqueer because I felt discomfort in my body and liked passing but also saw myself as multiple genders, sometimes feeling like several genders at once and sometimes shifting between genders. My gender seemed complicated and I was trying to sort it out into something that made sense to myself and other people. I thought I might want to take t and/or get top surgery but I still wasn’t sure if I’d be happy living as a man or not. That’s why, when people starting calling me “he” and treating me like a guy, I saw that as an opportunity to see if that made me more comfortable. I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt like a “regular guy” though.
Around this time I started doing a lot of research online about transitioning, passing tips, how people figured out they were trans and shit like that and visited various FtM online communities and forums. On one of the communities I frequented the most, many of the trans men there had very hostile opinions concerning genderqueers or anyone whose experience deviated too much from “i’m just another guy except for this physical condition I have and I want to take t and get top surgery and live as stealth as possible”. Some people said they used to see themselves as genderqueer but now saw themselves as just men and so a bunch of people thought of being genderqueer as just a phase. Other people saw it as something people said they were to be cool or make a political statement or because they read too much gender theory. A lot of people just couldn’t see how anyone could live as anything other than a man or a woman. Some thought that genderqueer people gave trans people a bad name. Not everyone in this community held such opinions but they were fairly common and made an impression on me.
Both from reading the net and interacting with many people at my college, I got the message that being a man was possible but that being genderqueer was not recognized or taken seriously and even a lot of trans people felt this way. It seemed like a lot of people I talked to just didn’t hear me when I talked about being genderqueer and not just a dude. Often people saw me as enough of a dude to just put me in the guy box and ignore any more complicated bits I presented.
Some queer kids, including those well acquainted with queer theory, were more understanding of my gender-strangeness but often more as an idea than as a lived reality. Some of them may have read and wrote papers about subverting gender but as far as I know they weren’t falling into deep depressions because they didn’t know what gender they were or how the hell they were going to live among people who assumed gender was so obvious and clear cut. They would listen to me talk about it but it wasn’t something they could personally relate to.
I had a really surreal experience one time when I was taking a class on gender-bending. The class was very small and most of those in it were queer but I was the only trans person. One of our assigned readings discussed packing and binding and it was strange to hear people talk about it in this removed academic way while I’m sitting there wearing my binder. Though they weren’t discussing me specifically I still felt like a specimen being dissected.
I absorbed a lot of queer theory at that time and I wonder how much of that was because its adherents were some of the only people who acknowledged my weird gender and saw it as “subversive” and therefore valuable. There was certainly a lot of academic fetishization of trans people going on at the time, treating trans folk as proof of this or that theory of gender rather than as complicated living people. I read some queer and gender theory because I found it interesting and sometimes it spoke to my experience but I also think I turned to it cuz it gave me a way to redeem what I’d previously been shamed for, turn my freakery into culturally and politically hip gender transgression.
I slowly began to see myself as a man but never solely as man. I never stopped feeling genderqueer despite many people’s unwillingness to see me as such. I saw myself as a different kind of man than men who’d been born with cocks and raised as boys and different from trans men who saw their transsexuality as a birth defect or medical condition. I was a man who loved his cunt and felt that growing up as a girl and living as a dyke had significantly shaped me. I saw myself as “third-gendered” too. When I did take t, I did so with the intentions of both passing as a man and “creating me own sex”.
Now the idea that I could have it both ways seems stupid but I came to believe this because I fell for the idea that I had the power to make up my own sex and gender, that all that shit was made up anyways so I could be whatever I wanted. Though I’d come to believe that sex and gender were creations of society, I focused on the created part and neglected the social. I overestimated my own degree of control and failed to realize other people had a hand in creating my gender, that other people’s perceptions and ideas of gender could restrict what I could become. I hadn’t yet realized that something can sound really appealing and convincingin theory but have nothing to do with how the world actually works. I found that out the hard way.