After reading and commenting on SCB’s recent post, I thought it was time for an update. I haven’t been writing that much, because I’m pretty satisfied with things, and decisions about whether to stay on T and if so at what dose or whether to get chest surgery or not are therefore leisurely and not urgent. But reading SCB reminded me of how important it is to have the voices of non-binary identified trans folk who have transitioned to some degree and are happy with their choice out there, when the dominant transsexual narrative continues to block people whose narratives don’t exactly conform from feeling like they have the right to transition. FYI, I believe that there are many people who do fit the dominant transsexual narrative, and that their comfort, safety, and access to medical care and appropriate legal documents should absolutely be a priority. However, I am becoming increasingly aware of the inadvertent harm it does to have their narrative be the only publicly legitimate, and often the only accessible narrative out there.
So on to my update. I have not gone off T, as I thought I might, mainly because I really like my body and sex drive on T, I don’t want to get full on PMS and periods, and I don’t really want to stop passing as male, even sometimes. I wouldn’t mind a more androgynous face, but I also am getting increasingly used to and comfortable with the face I have. So I’ve gone on what for me is about a half dose – an amount which I believe will allow me to stabilize at where I am while slowing or (ideally) stopping further changes. Sometimes, I think the changes just happen so rapidly that it’s good to pause and just get used to how one looks and functions in the world.
During my last post, I was feeling a bit uncomfortable with being read as a cis man in most spaces. I am not out to my students as trans this semester, and at times (when talking about trans issues, for instance, or about female masculinity) this felt dishonest or strange. But now, I have grown more comfortable with it, and I feel that my personal life is none of my students’ business. This is partly just me getting used to teaching – I no longer even find it necessary to let my students know that I am gay or queer identified, though I think they’d have to be pretty stupid to not pick it up from the way I look or how I discuss things is class. If they choose to see me as a straight cis man, though, that’s their decision.
Sometimes, of course, in super cisgender and heteronormative spaces, I feel uncomfortable being read as cis, but then again, I would be uncomfortable regardless of my presentation in such spaces. It is strange to be witness to transphobia and to sexism (because I’m assumed to be a cis man) in a way that was less likely to happen when I appeared to be a gender nonconforming female. I get righteously pissed off on these occasions just as I would before, but feel as if I’m not permitted to speak from a place of personal injury. This is difficult sometimes, but there’s a way in which intervening on transphobia or sexism as someone presumed to be a cis male can, sadly, be more effective than it would be for someone who is either female or is known to be trans. I am aware now, that when I call out or explain transphobia or sexism to someone, I am not seen as just “an angry feminist (woman)” or “a man-hating lesbian” or “an angry transsexual,” but as a judicious, clear-headed, remarkably empathetic (cis) man. On the one hand, this has positive effects, as I can make my critiques heard more easily than I could before, and I can get people who might have otherwise dismissed me to swallow what I am saying. On the other hand, I am benefiting from the belief that (cis) men are disinterested, objective, and logical when they express feminist positions, whereas feminist women are irrational, hateful, and resentful when I do this. It is uncomfortable, but in every case, I have felt that it would be MORE uncomfortable were they to know that I was trans, since generally, I see such people as the enemy and would not want to make myself vulnerable to them.
At these moments, it is very clear to me that, though I do identify as male, I identify as trans male, not cis male, and I do not feel like I am “just one of” the (cis) guys. Sometimes, this worries me and makes me wonder if I really had the “right” to transition in the first place. But in any case, I don’t feel any more comfortable with or a part of groups of cis women. I really am, I suppose, a third gender, and I feel most at ease with genderqueers, butches, and other trans people.
Increasingly, though, I am comfortable with my position as someone who appears to be a gay cis male but who identifies as trans (with friends) and (somewhat secretly) as third gender. For me, I suppose, every social position would be a compromise position, there is no way to to appear 100% of the time as what I identify as, and even if there were one, it would often feel uncomfortable and dangerous to occupy this position (which, again, is why I find trans men who never go on T to be brave and alluring). Nor am I even one of those trans men who regularly outs himself with groups of sympathetic cis people. Even with cis friends who know that I’m trans, I prefer for my transness to subtend things without ever really being brought to the surface. Of course, with my inner circle, I speak openly about being trans.
One thing that amazes me when I think about it is how much T changes people’s perceptions of you and thus, your perceptions of yourself. I suppose that I’m one of the lucky ones in that I began passing consistently very soon after starting T, in spite of the fact that I was androgynous rather than butch beforehand. I know people far more masculine than I who still don’t pass consistently as male 2 years or more after starting T. Which goes to show that passing is not a matter of how masculine you are but simply of body and facial shape. Interestingly, my body did not really change that much. I just “filled out” a bit in the torso to look the way I feel I was “supposed” to look. It was more a natural maturation than anything else. My face changed subtly as well, but in the face, subtle changes make a huge difference. It is the facial changes that took me from androgynous to male in the eyes of others and of myself. Lastly, it is a great relief now to hear a resonant, warm bass when I speak. It sounds authoritative and mature (gender stereotyping again), and increasingly, I feel authoritative and mature. The best part is that I no longer feel disconnected from the sounds I make during sex, as they are the sounds of an aroused man rather than a woman. Interestingly, I think that my vocal changes have healed my relationship to sex as much or even more than my bodily changes.
The result of these changes is that people see, without the slightest degree of doubt, a man when they look at me, and I see a man as well. Whereas before, I constantly worried about whether this or that faggy gesture, way of sitting or standing, or vocal intonation came across as female (and sometimes a gesture or vocal intonation would make my feel dysphorically female), leading me to police my gestures, now I comfortably engage in the faggiest of gestures whenever I feel so inclined. It makes me feel hot, not female, and moreover feels like the appropriate way for me to interact with women – showing them that they can have certain interactions with me that they couldn’t with a straight man – with men – showing them that I am a potential sexual object for them – and with butches – flirting with them and letting them know that I bow before their greater masculinity. Whereas these gestures and vocal intonations used to be a subtle bane on my existence, now they fit me like a fine linen suit. This, more than anything, is how I know that transitioning was the right decision for me.
The other odd effect is that being on T makes me feel like I am maturing and growing up, since the masculinity my body portrays now looks and sounds older than the one it portrayed before. Again, it seems oppressive that certain physical characteristics should read as more mature, or that one can feel more mature due to being on T, but that is my experience. It’s true that part of why I transitioned is because, as a professor in my 30s, I was beginning to feel really age-dissonant (more so even than gender-dissonant). I love that the space of non-transitioning trans-boihood exists, and I enjoyed that space and found it enabling for a while, but now, this body better fits where I’m at in my life. On the other hand, I’m afraid of aging too rapidly. I’m not ready to (and may never be ready to) look like a 32-year old cis man. Appearing much younger than my age has become a way of expressing my identification as third gender, not cis, of being visible as trans to queer people in the know, and of expressing my disidentification with cis men. I think that what it also shows is my goal was never to have a cis male body. Like SCB, I wanted to transition in order to look like a trans man, not a cis man. I have gone on a lower dose of T to preserve the youthful transness that I have now.
The final effect of being on T and passing as cis is that I feel perfectly happy with my body as it is. Whereas before, I would have looked at this body and wanted to get chest surgery and to eliminate the still visible (when naked) curve of my hips, now I look at it and feel perfectly happy. Clothed and lightly bound, it looks like a cis body. Naked, it looks like a trans body, a bit surprising, but still hot, and I like that. I really have zero body dysphoria now (though I think it would be great to have a cis penis for sex). I don’t even want to get chest surgery anymore, because my chest expresses my trans maleness (though I would never go unbound, as some trans men do to out themselves as trans). It’s funny, I glanced at the image at the top of my blog today and noticed how much I really do look like it now. I have arrived.
You know, it’s odd. Sometimes I wonder if I could have continued without going on T and think that this would have been possible. The problem was not that I had such intense gender dysphoria. It was that living as a male pronouned person in the body I had before was really uncomfortable to me. Being mis-pronouned, having to “prove” my maleness, and wondering whether others found my maleness believable was not my cup of tea. And living as a female, even a butch female, really did not fit the way I felt anymore, since the butches I know accept being Ma’amed and interpellated as women and even “ladies.” I think it’s cool that certain butches (like my Pops) really do occupy this in-between space and really are sometimes Ma’am and sometimes Sir, sometimes mom and sometimes pops, sometimes she and sometimes he, but I knew that I wanted to be only one of those.
So that’s that. I transitioned for atypical reasons, perhaps, but I now live in the world with a far greater comfort and ease. I have a debonair, pretty, and cultured masculinity. I like fine whiskeys and exquisite colognes, and am looking for an ascot. I am an angry feminist, an angry trans person, and an angry queer. I don’t identify as cis or feel totally at ease with cis people, male and female. I am a traitor to the male sex. I have sex with gay cis men (mostly) and don’t feel that they should have a problem with my body. I am more comfortable being assumed to be cis than not in public. Yet I do not come across as a typical man. I call my butch lesbian mentor Pops and sir and he, and I recognize and get both her masculinity and her comfort functioning in the world as a woman. T has allowed me to experience and to claim my right to be a man and to explore exactly the type of non-normative man that I want to be. Sometimes, just sitting around or lying down or standing up, I take a moment to feel to immense sense of comfort and confidence I have in my body. I don’t have to worry about whether it’s male or female, whether it is coming across as male or female in that moment, whether I need to do something different to make it look or feel more male. It just is. And it is a man’s body.