Some Thoughts on Seeing Myself and Being Seen as Various Genders
I still find it very strange think of myself as a woman. I feel all sorts of shit when I’m recognized as female which these days is still pretty rare. When it happens it’s a jolt. I like it but it also freaks me out. Sometimes I get worried that I’m not really a woman after all, that all that I’m doing and going through now is some other kind of confusion or something. But I’m not a man, maybe a “man” like I got enough of the contents of that social category to fit inside of it but I don’t feel like I’m the same as people who grew up inside that category or people who’ve always known themselves to be men.
I still struggle with the idea that being a woman is incompatible with what I am. The thought of being seen as a woman is scary too. I get nervous when talk to people about why I think I took t and lived as man, why I didn’t see myself as a woman before. It’s like exposing a wound or something, makes me feel vulnerable. It upsets me to think about distorting myself for so long. If I can detach from it some, the whole sequence of events is fascinating but as my life it’s kind of awful.
I think the mental stuff, the ideas I internalized, is actually worse than what I did to my body. I don’t mind most of the physical changes t has made to my body, it’s not the shape of my body that bothers me but what people make of my body. If I had just lived as man for years without changing my body, I think I’d still be dealing with a lot of the same issues I am now.
In any case, now I have this body that misleads people as to what I am and I have this former identity, all these years I’ve spent living as a man that I have to explain and take apart so I can become a woman. I can’t think of any way to explain why I lived as a man without talking about how I came to hate myself, without exposing parts of me that have been hurt and doing so seems risky. Even if I just tell people that I see myself as a woman now and don’t tell them how I got to this place, some shade of the whole story rears up in my head as I talk. I know how I got here, I can’t help knowing even if I decide the person I’m talking to doesn’t need to know about it. I feel a lot of pain inside. I feel like I lost myself, or lost a chance to be a different self than the one I chose to live.
If I count letting people refer to me by male pronouns and trying to live as a guy most of the time, starting when I was eighteen and beginning college, then I’ve been living as a man for almost ten years now. I think that might be a reason why retaking womanhood seems so scary and weird, I feel like I’m going to have to give up a part of myself all over again, like that history will be canceled out. Maybe I was living out a distorted sense of self but I was still there doing that, that’s still my past. It’s in not way insignificant. It’s a part of me. I struggle again to pull parts of myself out of the boxes society has created that say that all of what I am can’t be part of a whole.
Women don’t take t, women don’t live as men. It’s a transgressive act, even though it was also reactionary and conformist. Even though it enabled me to fit in, blend in with society that is not how women are supposed to accomplish that. Women are supposed to “femininize” themselves, not become men.
It’s also weird to think that most of my twenties were taken up with confusion as to what I was. But the more I think about my circumstances the more understandable they become. I had been treated poorly as a girl and better as a boy. More often I related better to boys than most girls I met. I was confronted with many possibilities of what I could be, many different gender options and even ways of changing my body and place in society. These possibilities were new both to myself and queer culture. Traditional understanding of identities in non-straight cultures were being challenged and were in a state of flux. The confusion I found in myself mirrored the disorder of the queer cultures I found and lived in. A lot of people suddenly found they had more options and were trying things out but as tends to happen in many subcultures, trends emerged and certain choices came to have different consequences. The options were not neutral, some came with more or less benefits and power.
I also couldn’t let myself see anything in me that was “weak”, so I couldn’t acknowledge that I was afraid of growing up to be a woman. I projected all my “weakness” on my mom and tried to destroy it by hurting her. I separated from what I didn’t like about myself by displacing it on another person. She died, femaleness became associated with death and I survived that by becoming male. I became a man to give myself more life.
When I passed, when I could call myself part of a majority and part of the group that has power, all sorts of burdens felt lifted. Many fears left me, I could move through the world without fear of harassment for being female or genderfreaky but perhaps one of the biggest differences was due to how I saw myself. Because I knew that I was blending in, that others were recognizing me as male, I felt that I finally belonged to the group whose membership I’d coveted for years. Before I saw myself as a boy I wanted to be accepted by boys, treated as an equal, I wanted our similarities to be recognized. I never really felt accepted among them till I passed as one of them. Finally my “masculinity” was as good as theirs. This feeling, that I was finally a member of the group of people that mattered to me, made me feel more sure of myself, reduced my social anxiety and made it easier to interact with people.
I didn’t always feel totally confident. When I realized that male society had all sorts of rules and codes of behavior I wasn’t familiar with and when I fell apart due to grief and felt like I was unable to behave as aggressively as I had in the past, I found myself becoming insecure about how my “masculinity” came off. I worried that I came off as effeminate or that people who knew I was trans didn’t think I was a real man. As a result, I tried very hard to fit in and behave how I thought dudes were supposed to but I frequently felt uncertain and insecure.
Still, I felt plenty of elation. I’d finally gotten through the door to the boy’s club, I got to enjoy male puberty, I could indulge in teenage boyhood, whatever that meant to me. Maleness, “masculinity” had become a prize in my mind and I relished it for a time, only realizing later that what I was enjoying was largely a product of my perceptions.
Some of it was due to a real shift in how others were treating me as well as being rooted in my view of myself. Not having to worry about being seen as a freak or a woman freed up a lot of energy. People gave me shit for being a genderfreaky dyke but I’d also come to think that being seen as female was awful and I felt like I succeeded when I was seen as a guy. When I was more gender ambiguous, I passed a lot of the time but I spent a lot of time and energy worrying about not passing and I made more of a conscious effort to pass, it was something I purposefully did. After being on t a few months, I didn’t have to worry about that. I passed all the time, so my anxiety reduced significantly. I still experienced insecurity but it was more about what sort of man I was coming off as. I was getting daily feedback from the world that I was successfully passing and since that was so important to me it made me feel really good and calmed me down.
T itself also seemed to directly effect my psychology in some ways, reducing how strongly I felt emotions for example. I thought that t was directly effecting my mind in all sorts of ways when I first went on it, like reducing my anxiety and depression and making me feel “normal” for the first time. I thought that was due to my hormones being balanced but as time goes on I question how many of these changes were due to how I perceived t working on myself and how my changed body altered how others were responding to me. Being on t made me feel like it was easier to get shit done but that could have been because being on it made me feel more confident. I certainly hoped that taking t would have beneficial effects on my personality.
On some level, I’d learned that this was a man’s world, I knew deeply what living in a patriarchy meant. I both identified myself with men, thinking that we shared much in common so why shouldn’t I be admitted among them, and envied them for the power they seemed to hold. I knew I wasn’t equal to them as long as I was a woman. Woman represented my difference from them and so I sought to do away with that difference by doing away with my femaleness. To be seen as a man became a compliment. When people thought I was a man I thought they were telling me that my “masculinity” measured up.
Female “masculinity” is not widely rewarded or recognized. I’ve come across fewer people who respect it. Many people find it repulsive. A lot of people can’t seem to conceive that a woman could really be like a man. Now that more people know about trans men, if a female bodied person is “masculine”, possesses enough traits associated with men, many people seem quick to assume that they’re not a woman, that they must be a man with a female body. This is quite remarkable because transsexuality is highly stigmatized and misunderstood in this society. But sometimes a “mannish” women is even more inconceivable to people than a man with a cunt. In a world where beliefs about biology make it conceivable to many people that a “male brain” could exist in a female body, these same people seem readier to see that possibility when they encounter a “mannish” female than to reconsider their ideas of what a woman could be. To put it crudely, it is easier for a lot of people to believe that nature makes mistakes sometimes than to think that what they’ve been taught about the nature of women and men is bullshit, something their culture made up.
Should this really be surprising when the news constantly reports on the supposed differences between men and women’s brains? Biological determinism still reigns, as do ideas in general that women are one way and men are another. So when someone shows up who grew up in one category but acts like people in the other one are supposed to act, many people find it easier to explain this person in a way that keeps the categories more or less intact rather than question their basis in the first place. Hence, to some people, transsexuality can be easier to swallow that questioning what a man or woman can be. Questioning sex can be easier than questioning gender.