I had a sort of crisis last week and exploded. The crisis was brought on by my conversation with my butch father figure, who interpellates me as a masculine female and does not want me to transition. I was more shaken up by the possibility of losing her support than I expected. Within my psychic life, she is the “good parent” and my actual parents are the “bad parents.” I don’t dare expect the support of the “bad parents” for fear of being hurt and disappointed, nor do I care about pleasing and impressing them. But losing the support of my “good parent” would be devastating. I sent her a Father’s Day text, and in her response, she called me “son” and said that I was “a good boy,” so I think she’ll stick through it with me. But my initial fear response made me realize how much I need a permanent “good parent” figure in my life, one who I can keep in touch with and come back to. So I have to have a conversation with her in which I formally propose that she be my Dad for life and explain why I need this and what it would entail. But that is a matter for a future post…
The point here is that the conversation, in which she saw me as a masculine female like herself and wanted me to stay female, brought into my consciousness the fact that sometimes I do feel a little bit female. I realized that my constant efforts to eradicate my femaleness so as to look and feel 100% male all of the time were the source of a significant part of the stress that I had been experiencing. In terms of both my appearance and other people’s perceptions of me, it is pretty obvious why this should be a source of angst, since it is impossible for me to look or be seen as male 100% of the time at this point. But the feeling was the more disturbing part. Sometimes, when gendered female in public, I would feel depressingly and hopelessly unable to escape my femaleness. It would make me feel my femaleness, which felt a lot like failure. This, I think, is understandable. What is more complicated and, to me, troubling, is that sometimes, even alone or among friends who gendered me male, I would still feel a little hint of something not quite male. And I don’t mean effeminacy, which I embrace, I mean femaleness. I don’t quite know how to explain what femaleness feels like… maybe it’s a lingering awareness of female body parts, maybe it’s a slackening in my male body image, maybe it is a sense of identification with some female butches like my mentor, maybe it is a certain inability to fully fill out the categories “man,” “male,” and “he”… but it is undoubtedly there sometimes, this femaleness that I am trying to escape. When I would feel it, I would turn to testosterone as the solution, the potion that would take away these disturbing feelings of femaleness. Over time, however, I simply began to feel exhausted and worn down from constantly fending off this disturbing feeling of being female as well as from the mental effort it required to feel fully and unproblematically male. And underneath the exhaustion, the unacknowledged fear: that if I had to fight off femaleness, it is because I was female, and if I was female, then I should not transition or use male pronouns.
Confused and exhausted by these feelings and frightened at the possibility of losing my mentor’s support, I decided to call a hiatus on gender. That is, I resolved to neither think nor care about my sex and gender for the next few days. I resolved to make no effort to feel male or to defend against feeling female and to exert no energy in eliciting male pronouns from others. I even resolved that if anyone asked me what pronoun I preferred, I would say that I was agnostic about pronouns and that they should just call me whatever pronoun came most naturally (the only resolution that I broke).
I was not sure what the outcome of this experiment would be. I just know that I exploded and had no more capacity for the crazy thoughts in my head (I should mention that I was having PMDD at the time, a particularly intense form of PMS, for which my doctor wanted to prescribe me estrogen). One possibility, I thought, was that not defending against my female side would make female pronouns feel appropriate and would lead to me realizing that I was a masculine female after all, no different from a female butch except in my sexual orientation.
The end result was not nearly so dramatic. I dispassionately observed that I did feel quite male sometimes, even without trying. I noticed that it felt nice and accurate when people called me “he.” I observed that it felt rather strange when people called me “she” or otherwise gendered me female — not apocalyptically so, just somewhat uncomfortable and wrong. It was, no doubt, nice to not worry about how I was coming across, to not police my gender or scrutinize my reflection in the mirror (though I did feel surprised, on occasion, to come across my reflection and to see that I had hips and a smooth baby face). I also felt surprised and a little ashamed when hearing my voice sometimes. Interestingly, letting down my guard against feeling female did not, in the end, make me feel particularly female. Most of the time, I felt neither fully male nor fully female, but trans.
It was perhaps a stroke of fate that, in the midst of this dispassionate evaluation of how I felt when I made no particular effort to feel any which way, I met my trans doppleganger. Now, this guy neither looks nor acts like me, but in every other way, he embodies my particular form of transness, projected into a utopian future of happiness and plenitude. He is small and Asian and reads as having a fully achieved and embraced, carefully cultivated and exquisitely styled gay effeminacy. His look might best be described as “Asian art fag.” Bathed in the perfection of his trans dandyism, which so closely resembles the gender I would like to have, I felt such a sense of happiness, hope, and relief.
Talking to him was even more astonishing. He was aglow, at the end of his transition, fresh from chest surgery and off T due to an allergic reaction. He is happy with his current embodiment, saying that female masculinity was great, but it just wasn’t him, that he had tried to be butch, but it never felt right, that he preferred androgyny, but felt the need to be an androgynous man rather than an androgynous woman (I was shocked to hear him articulate so many of my own thoughts). He said that now, in his androgynous male body, he finally felt free to embrace both his femininity and his femaleness instead of fighting them off and hating them as he had in the past. He said that he felt neither male nor female, but trans, and that he wished this could be visible to others. It had taken him a long time to get there, but he was radiating peace, finally at home and free in his gendered embodiment. T had made him bulk up a lot, changed his facial shape, broadened his shoulders, and dropped his voice. While he was on it, he had been invested in passing as and being male, and that is what he did. When he went off T, he slimmed down again, but was lucky to have a naturally boyish body shape which, along with his broadened shoulders and low voice, led me to read him as unequivocally, if androgynously male. Embracing androgyny, he let go of the butch act, stopped caring about passing, and elaborated a queer dandy style. Perfection! He had finally reached a place of comfort with himself and the gender he was able to express in this body.
Like me, he was not “always” male or “always” trans. He said that, even now, he did not feel male or like a man, and he winced when he heard the pronoun “he,” though “she” certainly didn’t fit. And yet, he had to physically transition. This was encouraging, because in the past, when I had admitted to myself that I was neither female nor male or simply been concerned that there might be a little bit of femaleness in me, I would worry that I no longer had any good reason to want to transition or use male pronouns. Meeting my doppleganger demonstrated to me that one could be neither male nor female, but still have the need and the right to transition into a body that allows one to express a queer gender in a way that makes sense and feels right. His transition wasn’t even motivated by sexuality, since his fagginess is a false sign, and he actually only dates dominant femmes. But, like me, he didn’t feel right expressing butchness, female masculinity, or female androgyny. His embodiment is not perfect now. People assume that he is a cis male, which is not how he identifies or would like to be seen, and they assume he is gay, which is not who he is either. But it is as good as it can be for him, in this world of binary gender and sexuality. And he is happy with it.
He went forward, then back again, taking testosterone, then coming off of it before he settled into his current gendered embodiment. And now he is exactly where he needs to be.
Really, I could not have constructed a more inspiring and hopeful representation of my own transition future if I had dreamed one up myself. I can hardly believe the stroke of fate that put him into my path exactly when I needed him the most. He helped me understand that my “crisis” need not be a crisis, that I am perhaps more genderqueer than I realized (though I hate that term). I now identify as trans or Third Gender rather than female or male. As a Third Gender person in a gender binary culture, I know that I am never going to be seen as exactly how I feel. I will be seen as a masculine female or an effeminate male, neither of which will be entirely accurate. But I am still entitled to use the pronoun and undertake the body modification that will allow me to express my queer gender in the way that feels most right. And my doppleganger is living proof that doing this, even for a Third Gender person, can lead to happiness and fulfillment, even in a gendered embodiment that fails to perfectly communicate how one identifies. Most of all, I realized that the fact that I feel a little bit female sometimes is OK. I just don’t want to be seen and treated as someone who is predominantly female. And I hope that, after meeting my doppleganger, I will be able to use transition not to eradicate and repress my remaining traces of femaleness, but to get to a point where I can at last feel comfortable honoring them.