Saturday, June 7, 2008

Gender Non-Conforming Histories

At the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference - which was amazing and invigorating and simply overwhelmingly good - I attended a conference on "Celebrating the Nontraditional Narrative". That workshop was in the last bracket before the closing keynote, ensuring that everyone was too tired to tell their "narratives" again. However it brought up a lot of thoughts for me, most of them around the difficulty I found of being not only a transgender man, but a transgender man who was consistently effeminate. This disturbing and horrifying interview on NPR brought me back to my childhood activities and I began thinking about my gender non-conforming narrative. A much truncated version:

I have always loved the color pink. When I was young my room was filled with stuffed animals and dolls, and because my favorite animal was - and is – a pig, the majority of my room was a pink shade. Add to that my pink comforter and flying-pig curtains and you have my room in a color-coded nutshell.

When I was in the second grade the mother of a friend of mine looked into my room and declared “oh! It’s a typical girl’s room!” and walked away. I, so proud of my defiant feminist nature and tomboy attitude was appalled to see myself stereotyped by a woman who didn’t even glance at my Rosie the Riveter poster or my collection of Great Women Author playing cards.

So my room changed. I re-hung yellow curtains stolen from my mother’s fabric collection, used my brother’s discarded blue comforter and I stashed all but a few choice pigs and dolls into cardboard boxes under my bed. For years I would take a hard-core anti-pink stance, so much so that I briefly convinced myself that I, too, hated pink.

Days after I came out as queer my sophomore year I showed up at a party with a glittery pink scarf wrapped around my neck. Every single person commented on that scarf, usually with the ending line “I would never think you’d wear pink!” I worried that my coming out had become too compromised by that pink scarf. After all, I came out as “wanting to date girls now” a decidedly not-lesbian-identifying statement, and there was campus-wide knowledge that I was “still” a virgin. Wanting to be taken seriously, still suffering from the shock of coming out as queer, and clearly not confident enough to come out as a pink-lover, I put that beautiful scarf aside and eventually sold it at a used clothing store.

The following year, as I was grappling with my gender identity these incidents came back to me. After all, most people assumed I was butch-identified and in the baggy clothes I wore to cover my female body I certainly fit the stereotype. But, a butch man who loves pink? A butch man who shakes his ass as he dances alone in his room and practices a mincing step when no one can see him? Even I couldn’t get my head around that. I briefly tried to be a femme, believing my mincing and ass-shaking meant I wanted to let my femininity out. I did. But I wanted to rock it with tight jeans, muscle-Ts, and grinding with the boys on the dance floor. I wanted to shake it in the men’s room.

I wish I could point to a specific instance when I realized I was an effeminate man but there is no single date. That realization is interwoven into all these snapshots of my past. I was a tomboy who never really wanted to destroy things or annoy people like the other tomboys did. I was a woman who dated women who hated any touch to my chest and who felt like an outsider in women’s spaces. Since the time that I claimed an effiminite male identity I have been called sensitive, vulnerable, and delicate, as if to emphasize how pronounced any display of femininity becomes when exhibited in men. I was never called these things before, although I am certain i acted in the exact same way.

I must have known all of who I was when I finally approached my therapist last September. I went to her so that I could access surgery, and for no other reason. When she asked me about feeling like a boy when I was little I told her that when I said “I want to be a boy” as a young girl, I was talking about sexism. I didn’t want to play baseball, or go to horror movies, or be allowed to watch adult movies. I didn’t want to participate in a patriarchal cult, I just wanted the same choices my brothers had. I wanted to be asked "do you want to go?" so that I could say "no". I wanted to be allowed to play roughly and loudly, to run fast and climb trees. And when I did so I didn't want to be told "you do that well for a girl". But those feelings are not about being transgender. Those feeligns are about sexism. So I didn’t want to be male as a young girl, and I am glad most misogynistic cigender men still don’t think of me as male now. I don’t want to be part of that masculine ridiculousness. All I want is the right to shake my ass on the dance floor in a glittery pink scarf.

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