When I think about the big questions:
Do I want to consistently play the social roles accorded to men?
Do I want to pass as male?
Do I want to take male pronouns?
Am I transgender?
…it feels overwhelming. Certainly, all of the above are powerfully appealing, as long as they remain on the level of fantasy. But when I think of taking concrete steps to make them happen, it suddenly becomes very scary. Scary to really have to shift my social role, not just for queers who are accustomed to such shifts and accommodate them rather easily, but for gays, lesbians, and straights for whom it would be a HUGE deal. Right now, it is a fun, exciting, pleasurable bonus when strangers recognize my masculinity, when gay guys grab my but or rub my head, when I get sirred, when I am treated like one of the guys, when I see that certain glint in the eyes of those usually attracted to men. But if I were to actively and seriously try to pass, attempt to be consistently recognized and treated as a man (or at least a not-woman), then the bonus would become the desired norm and the current norm the dreaded failure. My worst nightmare is to actively seek recognition in gay male space and not only to be seen as a lesbian, but also be made to feel that I don’t fit; that I don’t flirt or cruise right, that my body language or vocal intonations are off, that I’m somehow “girly” without succeeding at being “faggy.” So I don’t actively try.
I deeply want to know and to be able to say without a doubt whether or not I am transgender. But, for the moment, I have to admit that I simply don’t know. Now, I am transgender in the sense of suffering from cisgender oppression because I do not fit into the gender role assigned to me because of my female body. Walking and working in the haze of gender ambiguity, being misgendered in a way that erases me, or being properly gendered only to find that the one doing the gendering finds me freakish, laughable, or embarrassing is one transgender experience that I know well.
I am also transgender in the sense of having socially transitioned from the gender of my upbringing to a new one requiring new clothing, behavior, and hair, and a new sense of self. I have gone from awkward, unattractive girl to androgynous dyke to boyish faggy dyke to simply, fag. In the process, my masculinity has moved being simply a gendered style that looks good on me to a core way of experiencing my body, my self, and my sexuality. It has seeped from the surface of my clothing to the depths of my sexed body and being. If it has a horizon, I’m not sure I can see where that is. And this scares me. Lately, when I look in the mirror and see a guy, I feel good – sexy, powerful, confident, and daring. When I see a girl, I feel weak, shamed, worthless. I have new desires: wanting to eliminate the slightest curve of breast, to accentuate facial hair, to find the perfect articles of clothing that hang on my body as they would hang on a man’s frame. Along with these changes has come a change in my social role. It feels great to be treated as one of the guys and sometimes even one of the gay guys.
In all these senses, I am transgender. But when it boils down to it, transgender means one thing to me: taking male pronouns. Until recently, I could say without a shade of doubt that this did not feel right to me. Even after I started to disidentify with the term “woman,” then “girl”, then “dyke”, and finally “Ma’am,” and to take more and more literally my identifications as a “fag”, a “boy”, and a “Daddy”, “she” remained right, whilst “he” had a foreign and vaguely dangerous ring. But now, something has changed. “He” is starting to sound good to me, still scary, but now also thrillingly potentially right.
It would be easy for me to ask my closest friends to call me “he”, just as I originally asked them to call me by my chosen name, to see how it felt and if it fit. But a part of me doesn’t want to take this pronoun until it becomes all but impossible for folks to call me “she”. I want “he” to be effortless. But this is only part of it. I think I’m also afraid that I will like it too much. That this innocuous pronoun will put me on a slippery slope into the unknown. What if it does feel right? What if it fits seamlessly? Worse, what if it makes me feel honored and recognized? What if it makes “she”, previously the neutral term, feel alien, unwieldy, shaming, and hurtful? What if new modes of feeling and identification orient themselves around “she” and “he” in a way that I can’t control, that leave me vulnerable to new types of pain and attuned to new sources of pleasure? Just as, with my new first name, I’m afraid that “he” could move too quickly, from being optional for friends to being necessary from everyone. I’m afraid of the potential power of this pronoun to change me, to show me incontrovertibly and without a doubt that I am trans, to force me to take concrete steps to seek universal recognition as a man, steps that would change my life, perhaps before I am ready for it.
For now I hesitate, live in suspension.