Becoming a Dude: Part Four-Dissociation+ Experimentation+Sexist Conditioning=”Manhood”
I was exploring what I could be. The place I was in seemed like a shit hole but I found a way to move to a new space and I decided to check it out. I ended up going deeper and deeper into this space to get away from what was fucking with me but I was also was just curious about what I would find there. I didn’t see it like this at the time but taking t and living as a man seem like experiments, attempts to adapt to the world and become happier. I was trying things out to see what worked and what didn’t. The choices I made were highly influenced by the culture I lived in, the media I consumed, positive and negative feedback I received from people I met. I was thinking, trying to figure shit out and making decisions and simultaneously I was being conditioned by the world around me. I didn’t realize how effected I was by other people and my environment until years later partially because I couldn’t admit to myself that I had any issues or that my mind could be influenced like that. A lot of the shit that shaped me was painful and I blocked it out of my mind and didn’t even realize I’d forgotten it until years later.
I didn’t realize that my view of gender was narrow and limited, that I had sexist beliefs too until I came upon people and situations that challenged my perceptions. I was one of those kids who wore “fuck your gender” and “smash the binary” patches. I thought I had it all figured out. I read up on queer, trans and feminist theory, took women and gender studies classes, even lived tin a collective house occupied by my college’s feminist organization. I was one of those arrogant young radicals who didn’t realize how much the dominant culture I hated had gotten inside my head. I had to maintain my image of myself as a strong proud queer and I couldn’t admit that I dealt with any self-hatred.
I didn’t figure out how much living in a sexist culture and being surrounded mainly by people who conformed to mainstream gender roles effected me until I started hanging out in subcultures that cared a lot less about that crap or had different gender rules. As I traveled around the country in my early twenties and hung out with different groups of people, I saw how what was normal and acceptable in terms of gender varied greatly in different places and subcultures. I met a lot of women, many of them straight, who weren’t “girly”, didn’t conform to conventional “femininity”. Some of the most macho people I ever met were crusty traveler girls. Sometimes I wonder if I were exposed a larger variety of people when I was younger if I would have transitioned. It’s hard to say. Part of me believes that trying t as some point was inevitable. I felt like I needed to see what it would do for me, if it’d help me or not.
In any case, my identity as a man didn’t last, though it lingered in some form for a while. I first started thinking of myself as a man rather than as just a boy when my mom was at her worse, not long before she killed herself. I don’t find that insignificant. I created a male identity over time which solidified right around my mom’s death and then slowly disintegrated over the following years.
I had to try being a man to figure out I wasn’t one. I could imagine myself as several “masculine” genders, which lead to confusion. I could interpret my gender as a man, boy, butch, or genderfreak. They all felt real. Which one I felt the most like shifted and sometimes I felt like a combination of genders. I think my ability to feel like multiple genders is connected with my strong imagination. My imagination can make things feel very real. Like when I working an idea for a story I’ll often end up making up worlds that seem so real it feels like I’m channeling information from another dimension. It didn’t always occur to me that my ability to imagine things into reality could effect my self perception. I didn’t just make up my gender out of pure fantasy. I observed traits inside of myself and then tried figure out what to call them. I learned of various possibilities and my imagination made several of them seem real and compelling. But making something real in the mind is not the same as moving through the world we collectively experience.
Despite what possibilities I could dream up, I couldn’t know what it was like to have others see me as a man or if I could alter my body to seem more gender-strange. I’d been trying to pass as a man as much as possible for at least a year and a half before I started t and I passed regularly but I couldn’t anticipate how different it would be once I started looking unambiguously male and passing a hundred percent of the time. That was trip, ended up fucking with my head a lot. Didn’t take long for for me to pass all the time either, within three to six months. I loved it at first. I started t for the first time when I was twenty, a few months after my mom’s death.
I dropped out of college and moved into a largely queer collective house. The people I lived with and started hanging out with thought it was cool that I was trans and transitioning. I found more people willing to support my decisions and listen to me talk about being trans. I’m not trying to blame these people or anything. A lot of them are still my friends and have also been supportive of me stopping t and coming out as a woman. More I’m trying to highlight how I can see now that taking on a trans identity and taking t proved to be a way to get positive attention from the people I hung around. This is certainly not the experience of many who come our as trans or transition. Many face rejection and other hardships but I met a lot of people at my college and among the punks, queers and radicals I hung out with who found my trans identity and transition interesting, who’d listen to me talk about it and show me respect. So being trans provided me with a way to have positive interactions with people after years spent feeling hated and out of place.
I had all these expectations and hopes of what t would do for me and I think that influenced how taking it made me feel. I got something out of changing my body, at the very least a feeling of control. I couldn’t determine all that happened to me out in the world but I could take control of my body.
I’d also fallen for this romanticized version of trans experience, trans people as subversive shape-shifters who smash gender boundaries by simply existing or some bullshit like that. I think I was conjuring up this fantasy to help me deal with shit I didn’t know how to handle. Since I was able to totally block out my grief over my mom’s death for over a year, I wager my ability to distort and deny reality was pretty strong. One of the most fucked up incidents of my life had just happened and I was also carrying around a busted sense of self from years of social maladjustment and I needed a way shield myself from all that crap, distance myself, and try to get on with my life. I tried to do this by taking on a trans identity and now this seems fucked up. I took on elements of transsexuality and then embellished them with queer theory “gender radical” mythology to deal with my personal problems. I fully believed I was trans at the time and people had been telling me that I seemed trans and/or a man for years. It’s embarrassing realizing and admitting to myself how much other people’s views of me influenced my vision of myself. I sometimes joke that I must have a lot of “male energy” because so many people have told me in one way or another that I appear to be a man to them. All the times I had man projected onto me ended up fucking with my head.
I guess I come sum up what happened by saying that people’s projections and judgments of me combined with fucked up relations with my peers and dealing with my mom’s depression and death combined with feeling like I needed to figure myself out and find a stable, livable identity combined with feeling a need to turn all these issues into a problem with a clear solution lead me to see myself as a trans man and take t. That’s just some of the factors that effected my decisions and self perceptions. Like I said it’s fucking complicated.