Field Notes in/On Transition
Everyone presumes things about other people, events, places, times. We all think we know what these things are. We presume that because some people act a certain way, everyone like them also acts that way. No really almost everyone does this. But thoughtful people are able to see past cultural biases, propaganda and hatred , sometimes even love, and gain the insight that we don’t ‘know’ everything we presume to. Look at the news, how large groups are demonized for the acts of a few, constantly, it’s exhausting.
One of the biggest arguments used to erase or silence Trans folks, especially Trans Women, is this presumption that you hear from TERFy types like Germaine Greer and the even more angry terf-y slash religious people...that Trans Women presume to know what it means to be a woman. That because we don’t have the shared history (or herstory) that cis gendered women do, we are somehow being presumptuous to think we can just start being women.
Le Sigh... is my go to answer to this. No, I don’t know, nor will I ever know what it is like to grow up as a cis girl/woman. I do know however very intimately what it is like to grow up as a trans girl/woman who would have faced a whole lot of hell acknowledging this in the 1970’s had she not pretended to be anything other than the cis boy everyone presumed she was.
I definitely know what it is like to be teased and bullied by kids and adults of all genders and orientations for not being masculine enough, for the androgyny that my chubby boy-boobs brought me. I had a lot of girl friends in Junior High who were teased/ogled mercilessly for having done the natural thing of developing breasts. I just got the teasing part, not so much the ogling, though just as many threats of violence. I know what it is like to have old men creep on me, that is not something that only cis girls go through. I know the weird dilemma of having your very straight male friends stare at your boobs while talking to you like you are one of them.
I know what it is like to from the age of 4 or 5 years old to know (not feel, but ‘know) that who I thought I am or was is thought by seemingly everyone to be wrong, perverted, evil, the worst thing you could possibly be. Someone seemingly born a ‘boy,’ but inside is not a boy, but a girl. Another thing that folks go on and on about is our ‘male privilege that we enjoyed’ growing up. Hmmm. Enjoyed? Not so much.
Everything about being a hetero cis male feels alien to me, not just shameful, but alien, as if I wasn’t really allowed to be a part of the male experience. I tried to be in my life, a cis heterosexual male, and a cis homosexual male... neither thing was right for me, because of the male part as much as the sexual preference part. Which is moot, because I don’t have a ‘preference’. Privilege is not earned, it is just there, and I definitely benefitted from people perceiving me as male, I am certain, (just as certain as i am that i have lost this privilege, being a Trans woman) as anyone who appears to be male in the world does. All cultures honour the male above all else. I am sure that I also benefitted quite a bit, and still do from white privilege. I acknowledge and try to be thoughtful about my faux male past and my white privilege. How people treat you does not necessarily or have to reflect who you are.
Let me tell you something else that you shouldn’t presume to know about me: how I perceived myself growing up, was not even as a girl, it was as someone who would forever be denied the opportunity to be the girl that she really was. Not ‘felt like,’ but was. A lot of people presume to tell you how you ‘feel, or felt’ about something. Again, what the ? Most of my young life I hadn’t even heard of Trans-anything. I grew up in the 70’s, Transgender was not even a word yet, let alone a life choice. My first exposure to trans-anything was through salacious National Enquirer and Penthouse forum letters. None of those mostly fake takes on being trans had anything to do with how I felt about who I was. Not in the least, so how could I be one of those people. There must be other answers. So I chose to see myself as more 'not boy,' than 'really a girl.' I still had to perform ‘boy’. But one of the real privileges of ‘boy’ is that is minimal work involved in that performance. My body chemistry, except for the man boobs did most of the work, and I dressed like a typical nerdy teen, not very interested (in public) about anyone’s fashion. Being a boy isn’t that difficult. You get a lot of free passes, performance wise, but it’s still a performance, often, even for the straightest cis men. I was lucky enough to be accepted without having to do all the macho things around me that other ‘boys’ did.
There is always in this ‘I know your narrative, trans person,’ diatribes..."you think that putting on a dress and some makeup, and performing a cliched misogynist femininity makes you a woman."
Again, Le Sigh. I do not think this. not even occasionally. I think that women, Trans or non, like men, should be free to express as much or as little femininity as they desire.
But for many Trans Folk, in order to get hormones, and eventually surgery most trans women (and trans men vice versa) are basically forced by the medical system to perform femininity in the most mainstream cliched manner possible, just to qualify. Trans women are policed into a femininity often that seems outdated and not ‘feminist enough.’ And if they don’t perform this way, doctors, and shrinks who gate keep being trans can arbitrarily decide to tell them they aren’t trans enough. (less a problem where I live, these days thankfully) This is one thing that I agree with Janice Raymond on, that the gatekeeping for trans folks (men, women, and those in the spectrum) is regressive and often follows a cliched outdated model of ‘womanhood.’ Maybe if the people in the medical industry (and it is an industry) listened to Trans Folks, they would find out that these outmoded performances feel just as wrong to most of us, as they do to the people criticizing us for doing something that we aren’t given a choice about. Want estrogen? put on these frills and be as feminine as possible. Le Sigh.
I read an article today, that talked about how the trans narrative, in mainstream media is never written, or spoken by actual trans people, just cis folks who tell us what we think, and who we are. We have lots of voice in non mainstream media online, I think. But as far as the big sources, it’s almost always non trans folks getting the last word, and to be fair some of those non trans folks seem to be on our side, as far as acknowledging our existence, but almost all of them are too busy speaking for us to really hear us. This is not how to be an ally, speaking for someone who has a voice if only you would listen. Your empathy is not more important than my voice.
I have grieved over 40 years that I am not a cis girl or woman. When I started transitioning finally in 2012, I stopped grieving, mostly, this fact. I still have bad days, sometimes my life long dream of being surrounded by cis women, and trans women who accept me in their world, as equal and one is mooted by a sense of shame, and lack of confidence that my true self has finally risen past all the shame, guilt and fear of constantly feeling like a fake boy, fake man, fake girl, fake woman. If you live a lifetime of pretending to be the gender you appear to be, it can sometimes be difficult to accept being accepted. Being a cis boy/man felt alien to me, and I have no idea what it feels like to be a cis girl/woman. I do know what it feels like to be a trans girl/woman. It mostly sucked and sucks. But it is who I am, it doesn’t just ‘feel right,’ it is right.
I am not sure why people assume or presume that Trans folks have the same inner lives that non Trans folks do. You can no more know my inner world, than I can yours. So please people give up on that line of erasure. You don’t know that I had the inner life of a (cis or trans) boy, because I didn’t. I also didn’t have the inner life of a cis girl, I had and still do have the inner life of a trans girl. I have no presumption that I can be cis gendered, so stop telling me that I do.