I don’t mean “butch” as in butch lesbian. I’m using “butch” here the way gay men use it — to describe a manly, masculine man, not an effeminate or queeny fag. But it’s still a crisis.
Ever since I started using male pronouns, I’ve been working my ass off to inhabit the male social role. In a homophobic culture, though, being a “real man” means being a straight man, or at least a straight-acting stoic, inexpressive, matter-of-fact, and serviceable man. The kind of guy who leaps at the chance to carry heavy equipment, who calms others down, and makes everyone feel like things are under control. Now, sure, I have this side — the Daddy side that takes cares of people and exudes the air of having everything under control. But that is only one of my masculine sides, and lately, it is the only one that is getting a chance to shine.
I have to act butch now, because I want people who might just be getting used to the idea to really believe and understand that I’m trans, and that I belong on the male side of things. In more anonymous public settings, in particular, I’ve grown terrified of getting Ma’amed and she-ed, so I try to project a straight masculinity. And I want to present as male a silhouette as possible, so I gravitate towards the boxier, more sober clothing in my wardrobe.
These tactics are working well. People are accepting my pronoun. Among strangers, at the store, and at restaurants, I am more likely to be Sirred than Ma’amed, and most likely to get no honorific at all. And I am getting guyed (treated socially like a guy) more and more often.
But on the other hand, things are not working at all. The whole point of taking male pronouns was to make it possible to be, and to be seen as, a gay boy. To make my masculinity, which is a non-butch effeminate gay masculinity, readable to people. To make it possible, in other words, to be, and be seen as myself. Without taking testosterone.
I realized this the other day in a conversation with my mentor about how to be out as trans and use male pronouns at work. Some of her advice was about taking care to not do “girl” things in the workplace, like talking about my private life, going into excessive explanations, apologizing, taking care of others, and being generally “nurturing” and accessible. Now, I disdain all these things anyhow, especially in the workplace — whether because of my gender or out of a sense of personal privacy and dignity — and I am more than willing to do whatever it takes to project “male” in the workplace, but purposely fitting myself into male social patterns of entitlement and privilege in order to be read as male feels like a loss to me.
I am getting the feeling that being trans without physical transition is going to be an exercise in butchification, in trying to resemble, as closely as possible, a conventional straight-acting man. Maybe I’m still new to it and I lack confidence in my ability to pass without butching it up, but I can’t help thinking that expressing my effeminacy, with my baby face and my slight, non-transitioned body, and expecting people to call me “he” and see me as male is an impossible endeavor.
I chose to use male pronouns so that I could inhabit social masculinity full-time. But the type of social masculinity that I have to inhabit in order to use male pronouns without transitioning my body is just not the one that fits me.
I used to make a distinction between “transgender” and “transexual”, thinking, “I’m transgender because what I care about is being perceived socially as a fag. I’m not transexual, because I don’t care that much about changing my body”. But the paradox is that I can’t seem to socially transition without changing my gender into something that it isn’t. On the other hand, if I took testosterone and changed my body, I could finally let go of policing my gender and trying to control other people’s impressions of me. I could be as faggy and outrageous as I wanted to be. I could wear tight clothes, show off my body as I walked, and be as sensitive and expressive a man as I liked. The burden of trying to constantly embody and perform people’s idea of masculinity would be lifted from me, and I would finally be free to be, and to be seen as, myself.