Something strange is happening. I’ve been so happy with my transition, my body, my appearance, how I move through the social world. In fact, I have not really been thinking much about my transition much at all lately. And then, bam, it hits me. I might want to go off testosterone or greatly lessen my dose.
Looking back, I can see that this may have been building for a while now. Really, it’s a matter of learning more about my identification as I have transitioned. And in fact, it’s something like a return to my original plan: transition until my voice drops and my face becomes more masculine, then go off T or reduce my dose. I never felt like I needed a typically male body, and I was never certain that I wanted to look like a cis man my age; I went on T because it was intolerable to be seen as female.
I know that I wrote recently about feeling unequivocally male, but now that I’ve had some time to get accustomed to being seen as a cis man, I’m wondering if I really feel simply “male.” What I’m realizing is that while it’s very comfortable for me to pass and to interact with people as a man, I feel that being seen as a cis man only allows people to know part of the story. Increasingly this part of the story feels false. I don’t have any regrets, because it would be more false to be seen as a female, but I’m starting to wonder once again whether there might be a third option for me.
I mentioned that a couple things have been leading to this realization. One is that I am increasingly disenchanted with gay male culture. I am disappointed with how apolitical, consumerist, classist, misogynistic, and racist mainstream gay male culture is. I identified strongly with gay male effeminacy, abjection, and faggotry, but these forms of queer maleness are precisely what one does not see much of in mainstream gay male culture, which idolizes hard muscles, hard penises, and masculinity. I am behind the times, yearning for the fairies of the 1920s. Contemporary gay male culture is not my cup of tea. Mainstream lesbian culture, of course, is not exactly my cup of tea either. But I think most lesbian coming-out stories at least involve some element of critiquing or rejecting female gender roles and rebelling against sexism, particularly as it plays itself out in heterosexual culture or in lesbophobia. It is difficult to be a lesbian without developing some basic critique of sexism and some rudimentary feminist consciousness; and often, this is tied, in lesbian culture, to a an orientation toward social justice, accessible events and spaces, celebrating diverse bodies and critiquing the culture of youth and beauty, and attempting to live in a more environmentally sound manner. Of course, such tendencies can produce an annoying and in its own way, apolitical “granola” culture, but at least they manifest some rudimentary form of social consciousness.
Being away from lesbianism and lesbian culture for a time has allowed me to appreciate certain things about it, and to realize that, to a certain extent, it has shaped who I am now. This must be why I have never, in my adult life, felt truly intimate with a cis male. The ones who have become my closest friends, the ones I’ve fallen deeply in love with have been female-assigned or female. Now I’m not saying that there’s no escaping gender socialization. Certain trans men I would never feel close to either, perhaps because they really are more cis identified and have taken little or nothing from lesbian culture. Certain trans women, I am sure, I could also feel close to. But experience intense intimacy with a cis man – I’m not sure that I ever will.
I went on an Ok Cupid date last weekend with a gay cis man. We were sitting over dinner having getting-to-know you conversation, and he ended up recounting to me his late-blooming “gay adolescence,” which consisted of him going to clubs and bathouses, getting really drunk, and spending lots of money trying to get male strippers to take off their g-strings. After this brief blow-out, he settled into an absolutely normal gay adulthood. This didn’t resemble my coming out in the slightest, and it isn’t just because I was trans and he wasn’t. There I was, someone who he presumed was a cis male as well and who he probably expected to have had a very similar period of gay adolescence. I really had nothing to tell him. This was the moment when it really clicked for me, that I was not really that similar to gay cis men – but it took me being accepted as one of them before I could have this revelation.
Now that I know more about gay male culture, I am starting to feel that my outer appearance really doesn’t tell an important part of my story. By knowing I am a gay man, people really don’t know all that much about me (I thought that would actually let them know a lot about me). As part of my disillusionment with gay male culture, I am starting to feel less satisfied with appearing to be simply a gay male.
I have a crush on a butch academic right now and have been having long political and personal conversations with my butch Pops as well. The concurrence of these two intimacies is making me think more about my connection to butch as something that I would like to render visible. Really, I feel extremely close to certain butches. They are my people, although we obviously have important and significant differences of gender expression, identification, and sexuality. For me, in spite of these significant differences, the experience of female-assigned gender strangeness, and the kind of feminist critique and fighting spirit that engenders, is enough to make us comrades.
Before I transitioned, I was plagued by the desire to prove the ways in which I was different from lesbians and from butches; now I want to emphasize our similarities. I’m not being wishy-washy here. I think I’m just moving farther along the path of attempting to communicate who I am – what my gender is and what my affiliations are – through my body. Before, when I looked like a butch, it was important to disidentify with butches and to emphasize the ways in which I was really a gay man. Now that I look like a gay man, it is becoming important to me once again to affiliate with female-assigned queers, ideally via my body.
And the fact is, I don’t think that I particularly need the biological markers of maleness – rougher skin, hair on my stomach, veiny arms, a thicker neck, an aggressive sex drive. I don’t need to look and feel as dudely as I do, and in fact, I might feel more like me if I didn’t. What I do need is to look in away that broadly evokes non-femaleness. All I really ever wanted was to be read as a trans man, not a cis man, and not a lesbian. And I think that if I went off T now, that’s what would happen. My body would become slimmer and smoother and my features more delicate, but my new male jawline and deep voice would remain, and I would clearly be a trans man. This, I think, is the most accurate and most truthful option for me. A visible third gender – clearly not female, but not conventionally male either. Someone who you would refer to as “he,” but that is nevertheless different from cis men. An elvin genderqueer boy perhaps.
Of course, the actual process of going off T is scary. How will I feel as my muscles melt away, as my face changes, as my body loses its hair, as my hips grow more pronounced? Will my gender dysphoria return? How will I manage getting periods again and suffering from PMS? Will I begin to feel more emotionally like a woman? Will I sometimes not pass? Will people look at me strangely? Will I confuse people once again?
These are all scary thoughts. I may not, in fact, succeed at going off T. I think that I might start with simply lowering my dose for a several months and then decide where to go from there. But I hope that being on T and passing as cis has given me a certain insight that will prove permanent, and that, in the future, I will not need the crutch of testosterone in order to feel male. Now, after all, I know that, in certain ways, I am not male. Perhaps, in the future, I will be able to embrace confusing people, not being treated as a cis male, and being visibly gender strange because actually, that’s exactly who I am.
I hope that, after I detransition, I will be transformed enough to not look female, to not look like a butch, and to not look like a lesbian. But I want butches and lesbian to be able to see that I am trans and not cis. I just want a slight separation from butches, so that our similarities across difference will be visible without me appearing to be a butch. Likewise, I still want to look like a beautiful gay boy. Just not the same type of gay boy as cis men. A recognizably different and unique version of gay masculinity, with a different gender history. This, I think, would be perfect for me. To be visibly neither one nor the other, sharing similarities with both and able to relate to both across a tiny, but significant visible gap of difference.