Monday, August 18, 2008

"Why can't you just . . ."

I can't find it now, but a couple years ago I came across a blog by a transwoman who remarked that people were always asking her why she couldn't just be a "sensitive New Age guy." These days, they said, it's acceptable for a man to stretch the boundaries of masculinity a little. Maybe you're just effeminate. How do you know you're a woman?

Jan Morris got very similar questions, fifty years ago:
Could it not be, they sometimes asked, that I was merely a transvestite. . . . Alternatively, was I sure that I was not just a suppressed homosexual, like so many others? Nobody would blame me nowadays, surely, if I let my hair down a bit--'wear something a bit gayer, you know, let your true personality emerge, don't hide it!' --Conundrum
There is no answer to the question. How do you know? Why can't you just? You do know, and you can't. Questions like that are the last act of desperation. "Please try to be something other than what you are, because this is making me uncomfortable."

I have the impression that when you come out to someone (as homosexual or transgendered) they immediately make it all about them. It's not about you anymore. It's about what they think homosexuality or transgender is, or about their complete ignorance . . . definitely about their fears.

I actually felt like this took the pressure off me. I had no desire to say, "Stop it! This is about me!" because I already know what I am. I've been through all the shock and fear and denial. Maybe coming out really is about the other person (the comee, as opposed to the comer?) because it's their turn to deal with it now.

How do I know I'm transgendered? Because I've tried not to be, for years, and it just doesn't work. I've tried to compromise and I can't do it anymore. That is what defines the transgendered person. The moment in which we say "I can't do this anymore." We all come to it by different paths, but the moment arrives, and then everything has changed.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Coming Out Letter

Email from my mother, April 27, 2008:
Noticed in your blog about [a novel by] Emma Bull that you say androgyny is one of your favorite things. Wonder if you could elaborate on that.

I have believed for a long time that gender should not be considered such a defining human characteristic. . . . So, are [your stepfather] and I so unalike in some ways because he was raised in a society that made a strong definition of the male and female roles? We like many similar things, but he thinks women are more emotional than men, and let their emotions run their lives more than men do . . . he has made me wonder whether that is a real difference between men and women.
My response:

I don't think that women are more emotional than men. Definitely not. But I think they have been trained to show their emotions and rely on their emotions more than men do. Actually I think there are very few differences between women and men, but society exaggerates their differences (with things like "pink for girls and blue for boys") and makes up differences where none exist (stereotypes such as "women can't do math" or "men don't know how to take care of children.")

Some people seem to think that gender differences are very important. Personally I think the things we all have in common are more important. We all have emotions, for example, even if we're trained to express them differently. I don't think anyone pretends that men don't have emotions. They're just not supposed to show it. I can't believe that's a good thing.

You asked about androgyny. This is something that I have thought about a lot, but it's still difficult for me to put into words. If men and women are more alike than they are different (which is what I believe) then in a sense we're all androgynous. But I've also come to believe that there's more to it than that. I don't think that dividing people up into "male" and "female" accounts for everyone.

Have you heard anybody talk about the difference between sex and gender? Sex is your biological sex -- what you've got between your legs, basically. Gender has more to do with your personality, and also with the "gender roles" that society creates. A lot of that gender role stuff has nothing to do with a person's sex. Like pink for girls and blue for boys: what does that have to do with a person's genitals? Absolutely nothing. Or the belief that women can't do this, that and the other thing, because they're female. That's bullshit (as my stepfather would say.)

So, our society has some pretty twisted ideas about gender. Feminism has addressed a lot of that. But I've also come to believe that "male" and "female" are not the only two genders. There have been (perhaps still are) cultures that recognized more than two genders. And my gender is not female. My gender is androgynous.

It's hard to say that I am something that doesn't exist in our society. Or rather it does exist -- I'm not the only one - but it is not recognized. For a long time I didn't know, I didn't have the words, or I didn't want to know. And it's scary. But I'm living at a moment in history when people are coming out and questioning gender. And I get to be one of those people.

I'm sure that you've been wondering about why I changed my name (and this is why.) Like I said, I didn't have the words to talk about it with. I'm still trying to find them. But there you are. There's some words.

She came to visit me about a month later, and we spent literally a whole day talking about sex, and gender, and why I think I'm androgynous. It was a good conversation, and a difficult one. I'd finally reached the point where I was able to put some of this into words. And right then I started wanting to put more of it into words - to create a whole blog on the subject. I do move slowly. But here's the blog.