Saturday, September 13, 2008

How Clueless I Am (Part 1)

Some trans people say, "I always knew I was trans, I always knew I was really a girl/boy." I am not one of those people. I didn't have a clue. Or rather, I didn't have a label. I grew up in a household without strict gender roles, and I wonder if that's why I didn't have a label. If everyone had been constantly saying to me, "girls act like this, boys act like that" and "stop acting like X, act like Y," would I have deduced, "I act like an X, therefore I am an X"? Maybe so. Not that I regret my lack of exposure to gender indoctrination -- not in the slightest. But I do regret, in a way, not having a label. Not having a gender to call my own.

When I try to remember my earliest conceptions of gender, my gender in particular, I feel afraid. I definitely got the sense from somewhere that . . . not just that my gender was wrong, but that thinking about it was wrong. I don't recall receiving many criticisms of my behavior (my gender presentation, to use the more technical term.) What scares me is the idea of putting it into words. Of thinking, "I am . . ." or saying "I am . . ." My gender identity. Because, as I said, there was no word for it.

As a teenager, I came across Christine Jorgenson's autobiography and was fascinated by it. But I didn't wholly identify with her. For example, I found her insistence that she was absolutely positively not gay to be confusing and off-putting1. In other words, the "transsexual narrative" is not mine. I don't feel like I'm in the wrong body, and at this time I don't want to change my body2. When I encountered it in books, it couldn't explain my feelings. And unfortunately, when I encountered it in person I couldn't identify with it either.

When I was (technically) an adult, one of my closest friends came out to me as transgendered, and my response was, "You can be anything you want, but you cannot be a woman." I wish now that I had had a larger vocabulary for gender issues. What I meant was, "You are not and can never be biologically female." And I was assuming, the way everybody in this culture assumes, that sex and gender are exactly the same thing.

My own gender, the unspoken thing . . .

1 Re-reading it now, what strikes me is the remark that sex reassignment surgery is not for everyone. Personally, I don't want surgery, and I can believe that it's not appropriate in all cases. But I do wonder about people who want surgery and are found "unsuitable." Who makes that decision, and why? If you want it, shouldn't that be enough to qualify you?

2 In my opinion, the fault is not in my body, but in my culture, for being unaware that there are more than two genders.

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