Neither Male Nor Female

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.

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9 Responses to Neither Male Nor Female

  1. butchtastickyle says:

    It’s really awesome that you could not just envision a way to see your future, but actually meet an embodiment of that future. I’m not sure how it happens, but quite often, if we pose the question clearly and loudly enough, the answer comes into our lives.

    You don’t like genderqueer and I do, but the commonality we have is that people don’t tend to see us in a complete way. I am male and female, but people really only see the masculine female, not the man who’s also residing in me. For the most part, I’ve not tried to fight against that perception. Hell, I’d be fighting all the time and that’s no way to live.

    I’m very happy for you that you found such a positive role model.

  2. Faggot Boi says:

    Thanks, Kyle! FYI, I think I probably am technically genderqueer, I just don’t like the elitist way that a lot of genderqueers use the term to imply that other genders aren’t as “queer” as theirs. I also dislike the way the term is often politicized, so that it becomes an expression of “radical queer politics” to do gender in a genderqueer way. Often this is cast as superior both to being cisgendered or to being a trans person that can pass for cis. Which is not to say that you or many genderqueers do any of these things. But I don’t like using the term for myself because I feel like it carries this linguistic baggage with it.

    It’s nice that you don’t feel the need to fight for the man in you to be seen. I think I need to talk to a lot more genderqueer or permanently non-passing trans people about how they come to terms with everyday misgendering and being incompletely recognized. But I hope that at least SOME people in your life are able to see the man in you!

  3. Emmy says:

    I found your blog from a link in Kyle’s blog. I’m so glad I did. Some of the things you wrote about resonate deeply with me. I’m coming out as lesbian in my mid forties. I feel so at sea sometimes, like there are only questions. I am married to a man I genuinely love, but I dreaded sex so much. I thought it was because I’m an incest survivor, but I’m coming to see that my chdhood abuse made the thought of authentic sex too frightening for me to understand my sexuality. So I married someone who feels like family but wasn’t threatening sexually. Me coming out has deeply wounded him and he is behaving badly and I have had a hard time thinking it is acceptible for me to open myself to exploration of myself at the expense of my family, which includes 2 kids.

    The exploration has surprised me in many ways. I never identified my femaleness because I wasn’t like the straight women but now that am with a woman, I’m finding part of me that’s most comfortable being girly.

    Uh, I’m going to stop writing now, mostly I wanted to thank you for putting yourself out there. I feel less alone.

  4. Pingback: Reflections on Feminism, Transition, Debt, and Continuity « Transfaggotry

  5. Kyle says:

    I’m glad you don’t consider my use of genderqueer to fall into that arrogant, exclusive category. I don’t see myself as better than any one who uses other words, I just think that words applies well to my situation. Creating those divisions is unproductive and hurtful, and indicate more about the people who perpetuate them than those who are kept out of the exclusive groups.

    Emmy, glad you took the time to check this blog out, it’s a good one.

  6. anon says:

    Hey, I know this is an old post, but I just wanted to say how much this resonates with me. I’ve been struggling with my gender identity for a while, because while I long to be read as male & have a more masculine body, I can distinctly remember times in my life were I felt “female.” It’s been frustrating for me, because I know I prefer male pronouns (the first time someone called me ‘he’ I was *ecstatic*, and since it doesn’t happen as often as I’d like the thrill hasn’t quite worn off) but there are still times when I feel that same femaleness you’re talking about.

    Though I’m not horribly opposed to female pronouns, either — lately there’s a bit of disconnect, a twinge of discomfort when people use them, but overall it’s not something that I get really upset about. This made me think I could live as a butchy woman, but it still doesn’t quite sit right. I’m a feminine person, really, and I feel like I have to stomp down on that in order to get people to recognize my maleness on some level. (The alternative would be to present as a ‘feminine woman,’ which… no. I just couldn’t.) I can’t help but think if I transitioned I could be my full self, no more trying to fit into the category of ‘butch’ that doesn’t really suit me at all.

    Anyway! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. ❤

  7. hunter says:

    Your post about meeting this man has been nearly as affirming for me as actually meeting him seems to have been for you. To be honest, your whole blog has been incredibly affirming as I see many parallels between our discomfort with female masculinity and how our desires for erotic recognition have influenced our decisions to transition. I also cannot fall back upon the “I knew I was a boy when I was five” narrative as my gender became clear to me only as I began to experiment with my sexuality. The only difference which has made me question why things you write resonate with me so strongly is that, while I am attracted to effeminate men, I am primarily attracted to feminine women as well as (theoretically) to all the genderqueers, transguys, transwomen, and maybe even soft butches out there capable of recognizing me as something other than female and something that is definitely not butch/your typical heterosexual male. You say that your sexuality motivated your transition while his did not. Are you sure that the sex he’s having is so clearly heterosexual? The sex I have with women is definitely not lesbian sex, but queer sex seems much more fitting than heterosexual sex to me. I could see myself with an exclusively gay cisman but I do not think I would find straight women attractive. For me, I think that even if I wasn’t attracted to male identified people, the disconnect between the ways I sexually orient myself and the ways my body is read, more than any pressing need to socially transition or super intense physical dysphoria, would still be the the primary reason I identify as transmasculine (or as I sometimes like to call it transeffiminate) and have started taking a low dose of t to make my identity more apparent to others. I’m curious as to whether or not you view my experience and your own as analogous or not and if so, how you went about coming out to people (like your mother) without going into considerable sexual detail. I graduate college next semester and it’s about time I tell my own parents.

  8. Faggot Boi says:

    Hi Hunter, thanks for the interesting and thoughtful reply. I think the parallels you mention – not being male-identified forever, learning about our gender through our sexual development, and feeling discomfort with female masculinity – are significant enough regardless of our differences. It seems that the main difference might be that I was really invested in transitioning for reasons of social as well as erotic recognition, whereas it sounds like for you, erotic recognition is the main reason. As for sexual orientation… I think mine is more fluid than my identification would warrant. In fact, rereading this post has made me realize that it’s time for an update, as I have transitioned to a position that was different from the one I intended to reach. In terms of talking to parents and friends – I took the easier path and simply told my mom that I was transgender and that I identified and was living as a man. Later, she asked me about girlfriends and I told her that I was dating gay men. She asked why they would be with me if they were gay. And I told her that they were attracted to men, and I was a man. When she asked for more details on how I came to the decision, I told her that I had been identifying as a “boy” for a few years. So I gave her some information, and didn’t pretend that I had identified as a boy from age 3, but I definitely didn’t share the complexities of identification with her. I decided that it was better if I allowed most people to fold me into the dominant trans narrative to the greatest degree possible so that they would accept me and treat me as genuinely male. This might not be the path for you, though, depending on your degree of closeness with family, how educated they are about queer/trans issues, and how comfortable you are with perhaps not being seen as truly male. (Even though I don’t identify as %100 male, I still don’t want people to treat address me publicly as trans or as continuous with female.

  9. Faggot Boi says:

    Also, I’ve come to think differently about the sex that some trans men have with feminine women. In the past, I believed that if they were men, these relationships must be heterosexual. Now, I see that, while this may sometimes be the case, in other cases, because of how people identify, how they have sex, and how they behave together, these relationships can be queer. I’ve realized this in part because I am sometimes attracted to feminine women, though I haven’t acted on it yet, and I am certainly attracted to trans men, genderqueers, butches, and sometimes trans women. So a part of me thinks that I should just let go of sexual identity and realize that, whoever I’m with, it will be queer by virtue of my queer gender, embodiment, and sexual practices.

    Also, I LOVE your term, “transeffeminate”!

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