Making Up Stories
When I write out my past and try to explain how I got to where I am now, sometimes I feel like I’m making shit up and in a sense I am. I can’t trust my memory to tell me the absolute truth, just to give me the reality I need to see at the moment. I find myself questioning the reality of what I believe now compared to what I believed in the past. It seems like a different interpretation, a different emphasis and selection of the available information. Whatever happened seems more complicated than anything I can explain, to myself or other people. Sometimes I intuit what happened, I can “see” all this interconnected information but putting that into concepts, into words, is very difficult . I struggle to say something that will make sense to other people while staying true to the complications and contradictions I perceive. What I end up conceptualizing and articulating is not false but it is a story I’m making up. I’m representing something, I’m not simply telling the truth. There’s a lot of translation going on, a lot of filtering and what I have in the end is a creation. I have memories, little details that I might find interesting but that others may find very boring if I listed them all out. It’s challenge to select the bits that are both interesting and that best communicate what I want to say. That means some information is going to be left out.
Like talking about when I was in college. Yes, a general trend was that far more people saw me as a trans man, more so than ever before in my life, but not everyone. For a lot of my life I let people assume whatever the hell they wanted to and I liked how some people thought I was a guy and some people thought I was a dyke. I had a friend while I was in college, this dyke I met at a drag king show who happened to live in the same town I was from and she knew me as a dyke. A lot of people saw less of a distinction between butch dyke and FtM then than they do now and some people saw me as some mix of both.
I can never recall a time when my gender has been singular. Whenever I try to craft an orderly progression from one identity to another I end up simplifying and thus distorting reality. For a good chunk of my youth, most especially pre-t, I was read as many genders and saw myself as multiple genders. When I took t and started passing, strangers and some acquaintances knew me as a man but my friends knew me as a genderfreak, as a genderqueer boy with a cunt. For most of my life, different groups of people have known me as different genders. Even now, how I think about my gender changes a lot. Even though I don’t think of myself as a man I’m still very male-identified in some ways. Now I understand it as a result of living in this society rather than something I just am. A lot of the time I don’t feel like any gender. I doubt my gender will ever finally settle because nothing about me really settles forever.
To go back to my original concern, I know that whatever happened to me is too complex for me to fully express. I’m not a good enough writer to get in all the information but I’m a perfectionist so I want to, I want to reproduce reality as much as possible. I’m left with the sense that I’m making shit up again, making up stories, making up a sense of self, worrying that I’m drawing a picture that’s far too orderly when what I really see when I look back is more chaotic. I can talk about social conditioning and how my relation with my mom effected my sense of gender but I know I’m making generalizations. I know that a specific series of events got me to where I am now, that it’s all interconnected, all this shit happening together made me what I am. To make a case that this lead to that, it’s tempting to leave out information that complicates such a linear argument. But all the evidence doesn’t add up to one simple conclusion, it’s ambiguous and I could use it to say a lot of different things if I wanted to.
I can’t know for sure what’s motivating me now to create the truths that seem the most compelling to me. What I’m doing seems risky, I get scared sometimes that who and what I am is going to change again. I reassure myself by thinking about how I started having doubts very early on in my transition, about how long I’ve had feelings that I was female or still a dyke even while I was on t, and how I’ve been feeling more and more like a women over the last few years. But I wonder how different that is from when I was searching for evidence that I was really trans, when I was trying to reassure myself then. I may not know what my motivations are now, why I’m thinking and feeling and reconfiguring my identity until years have passed.
I’m beginning to think that our self-knowledge is always limited. Even if we’re trying to be as truthful to ourselves as possible and observe as much about ourselves as we can, there’s always some parts we can’t see no matter how hard we try, parts we can only become of aware of after some time has passed and we’ve gained some distance or changed into a different person. Or that there are parts of ourselves that others can see but we can’t. It seems like there’s knowledge that can only be seen from the inside of where we’re at now but also knowledge that can only be seen from outside of that living moment.
I know enough not to be certain that I’ve finally figured myself out, I only know that I’ve figured myself out differently than I have in the past and can assume that my view of myself will change in the future. Even if I see myself as a woman for the rest of my life, what that means will change as I get older.
I know that misogyny, stigma attached to breaking gender rules and cultural beliefs about gender in general have effected me but I’m far less sure about actually being a woman. I know being born female had an impact, being raised as a girl with the expectation of growing up to be a woman had an impact. Seeing myself as part of the class of women and of female makes sense to me. I also feel like when it really comes down to it, I don’t have a gender that exists independently from the rest of the world. I only have a gender because I’ve been taught to understand certain parts of myself as gender and other people also project what gender they think I am onto me. I feel like in some ways I don’t really have a gender and that in others I have a whole lot of gender. I’d like it if I didn’t have to have a gender, if people stopped projecting genders on me and if I didn’t have to call myself anything. I’d like it if my traits and body weren’t be connected to any specific identity.
While I’m not sure if I’m really a woman, I know for a while I decided to distance myself from everything associated with woman, girl and female and that was fueled by self-hatred and lead to self denial and forgetting large parts of my past. Reconnecting to femaleness, deciding to try being a woman has helped to expand myself. Becoming a man helped me figure some shit out but also ended up restricting me. I ended up denying myself some possibilities in order to make myself more “real” as as a man. Becoming a woman doesn’t mean changing who I am but changing what I think is possible, changing what I think woman means so that it can include me. This has helped me express myself better. I’m using woman to summon up some old ideas and memories of my past, reconnect with parts of myself I realized I lost and also expand into new territory.
I’m not so much going back to being female as recreating myself as female, based in part on who I used to be when I was younger. I’ve never really been a woman before. As I was moving into adulthood, I was assuming a male identity. I went from girlhood into manhood, with a gender chaotic adolescence in between. This is my first time living as a woman and it’s still very incomplete since I still get viewed as a man a lot. I’m a very non-traditional woman, since I spend a lot of time not being seen as one. Then again, plenty of women in the past passed as men for one reason or another, so I also harken back to a very old tradition though one that’s largely unknown.
I have a sense that what I’m doing now is a way of healing myself from old wounds, reclaiming a past I denied and making myself whole as well as exploring more gender possibilities but I can’t say for sure that that’s all that I’m doing. I don’t know what unconscious motivations I have or what else I could be accomplishing by doing this. I don’t assume that I know the whole story and I’m open to changing it as I go.