Saturday, March 19, 2016

Hard To Categorize

Q: Are you male or female?
A: Neither of those terms adequately describes my experience.

I've struggled with accepting the label of "transgender" for myself. I feel like sometimes I'm a phony because I don't take hormones (although I suspect I have low testosterone to begin with), or have any desire to undergo surgery. My experience is mainly confined to my head. But I also feel like the stereotypical "transgender experience" is too myopically focused on transitioning. There is - ironically - too much emphasis on being one sex/gender or the other. The transgender person is conceptualized as occupying an unstable between point, in which their sex does not match their gender, and the ultimate goal is to make those two things align. In the end, they will go from being one sex to another, and their feeling of being transgender should, ideally, subside once their body conforms to their mind.

My experience is different. I don't mind remaining transgender. I don't have any strong desire to align my sex with my gender. I do identify mentally with the female gender, and though I have very feminine physical qualities, my anatomy is decidedly male. I also spent the majority of my life thinking I was a normal male. But I'm not. The whole thing about being transgender is that you get into this headspace where you want the rest of the world - which thinks only in black and white, where sex and gender are the same thing - to treat you as the sex/gender of your mind (i.e., gender) instead of your body (i.e., sex). So, for example, you have a penis, but you feel more comfortable using the women's restroom.

In the traditional transgender experience, this makes sense, because the goal is to transition, and eventually align your ("incorrect") sex with your ("correct") gender. Until you do, you're a work in progress, but you'd still prefer to associate with the sex/gender you identify with, and not the one you've been mislabeled as all your life. But how does this change for non-op transgender individuals? I acknowledge that my experience is not female, and that I will probably never be 100% female, because I don't desire to change my sexual anatomy. And even if I did, I'd have an experience that most females don't have - growing up male. I'd also lack an experience that most females have - growing up female.

But on the other hand, it's not fair to describe my experience as being typically male, either. I really don't fit neatly into either category, although I feel a strong pressure to conform to one or the other. Which is tough, you know. How do I identify? If I say I'm female, I feel a pang of guilt because I'm giving people the wrong impression of my anatomy, and they might get pissed off (like the cat-callers do, or the hypothetical other woman in the women's restroom) when they find out. It also doesn't do justice to the fact that I'm attracted to females, but I'm not, in all accuracy, a lesbian (although in some ways - mentally and not physically - I feel like one).

But if, on the other hand, I say I'm male, I'm not only misrepresenting my gender presentation (why would I go out of my way to cause confusion by telling the waiter or sales clerk who thinks that pretty customer in the dress is a girl, unless I wanted to sabotage his attempts to hit on me?), I'm doing an injustice to my gender identity as well. I may not be female, but I don't feel male, either. The truth is, I don't honestly feel comfortable identifying fully with either label, except insofar as we're willing to concede that we're talking solely about gender, and not sexual anatomy - which is not the way that most of the world uses these terms.

So, ultimately, I would be perfectly fine labeling myself as transgender, as long as it's understood that this is instead of, and not in addition to the designation of male or female. Yet, it still doesn't make it easy for me to navigate a world that presumes that sex and gender are one and the same, and that for those rare individuals for which this isn't true, they are only going through a temporary transitional stage before all is made right, and everybody's sex and gender line up once again. But I guess that's the price of being different in a world that thrives on conformity...


  1. I believe there are terms for people who identify as bigender or in between genders and so forth, although that might not help you depending on your needs.

    It's hard to hear something like this and not feel weird, and wonder about biology and nature/nurture and stuff. 'Cause while our experiences are different, they seem too darn similar to be a coincidence.

    I first began to wonder if I was transgender in high school, where I felt markedly more feminine than masculine. As I got older I started to relate more to some aspects of masculinity and today I'd say I'm close to even between the two. But in my head, I certainly consider myself to be a woman. I even have a name, Katrina. Got it from a book. I've been calling myself that for years now.

    Like you, I'm practical about it. I don't claim to have the experiences of a woman and I don't claim to know the truth of womankind, I'm just a person who relates more to the social archetypes of womanhood than of manhood. I'm more woman than man on the inside, but I don't have a problem with being percieved as a man, and I've got a lot of man in me as well, so it's not a big issue. I'm not suffering from gender dysphoria.

    And as far as transgender goes, it's not much an issue either. I've always lived inside my head anyway, the outside doesn't matter to me. It doesn't bother me that I'll never look like a woman. Would I like to have a sex change operation? Absolutely, I would love it. But that's too much money to spend, and it's too much of a headache for my family. It's also kind of a massive frickin' surgery, and I'm afraid to put my body through that stress for what is, for me, an elective surgery, since I'm not suffering from gender dysphoria. It's also, let's be honest, too much of a headache to deal with family & friends, trying to explain to them, and etc.

    But it's hard not to wonder sometimes, what my life would be like, and if I'd feel better about myself if I could look in the mirror and see Katrina.

    I also agree with you that a transgender person is never going to have the experience of growing up a woman. Some people might even consider me transphobic for holding that view, but I don't see how you can avoid it. Transgender people have a unique struggle all their own, it's unlike being male or being female.

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  3. I've identified as bigender at times. I think the problem with a lot of these labels, though, is that we're not dealing with hard definitions. I have a hard enough time figuring out what I am, let alone what labels go along with that. Am I one gender in the wrong body? Am I two genders in one body? Am I one gender at one time, and another at another time? Am I some weird third (or fourth, or fifth) gender? Am I bigender, androgynous, transgender, ambigendrous? I'm me, and if I can't even figure it out, how do I expect other people to understand what I'm going through?

    I think that's why a lot of people have trouble with the whole transgender thing - coupled with the fact that most people comfortably fit into the box of "male or female" without having any direct experience of what it's like not to fit. They want everything to be simple, because for them, it is. If you have a penis, you're male. What's hard to understand about that? But the problem is that it's not that simple. If you're male, you're also not allowed to wear skirts without being criticized and having people make unfounded assumptions about your sexual orientation. You have to behave certain ways in society. This is where gender comes in. And so in a very real way, you can have a penis, and not be male. Yet most people aren't willing to make that leap of logic.

    And then you have people on the other side saying that if you have a penis, you can in no way be female - that that's not fair to females or the female experience or whatever. I really think the solution is to understand that transgender people are unique - not traditionally male or female, but something altogether different. It doesn't make them anything less - in fact, I think it makes them more wonderful, because they have this rare and insightful experience that transcends traditional gender. But I guess most transgender people don't want to be that, either - they just want to be seen as the gender they identify with. Which is why that view might be considered "transphobic" (but I think that is stupid - if anything, transitioning is transphobic).

    I dunno. My view is, why isn't there room for every color of the rainbow in society? Why do we all have to fit into a limited number of molds? There's more than six (or even seven) colors in the rainbow - there's a whole continuous range of wavelengths of light, and a true rainbow is infinitely more beautiful and vibrant than one you draw on paper using only six colors. But I guess that's just another non-mainstream view I have that makes me feel like a different species from the rest of Homo sapiens...