I’ve been getting many questions from friends and family about why I’m transitioning. People’s assumptions range from me wanting to obtain male privilege (as in: “Hey Jacky, when are you going to be a member of the patriarch?”) to me physically transitioning simply so that my gender variance will be accepted. While the former suggestion is simply ludicrous to me and simply warranted a reply that I will always be a feminist, the second assumption hits home quite powerfully since I had to grapple with that very question for years before finally making my decision.
As mentioned in my very first entry on this blog, my feminist and academic background worked as a powerful aversion to transition for several years. Since gender is *mostly* socially and culturally constructed, I thought, I could express any gender that I wanted to regardless of the physical package that I was in. So when I realised that I had been pretending to be of a feminine gender all my life and that this was becoming too painful of a burden and too difficult of a daily charade to pursue, I was adamant that I could simply be me in the body that I was in and that my female body should not prevent me from expressing my own inner self.
However, it took years of awkwardness to unlearn the feminine norms that had been imposed on me and to relax enough to express what I had always felt like expressing through clothing, posture and general disposition. To people around me, it must have looked like I was putting on pretence of masculinity; up until then I had successfully and convincingly fulfilled female social norms complete with docileness, soft-spokenness, skirts and, occasionally, make-up. So people had labelled me as “very feminine” and any claims on my part that I felt like a boy inside were met with sarcasm and incredulity (and it still hurts me like a stab in the heart to remember those days). But as someone on some trans website somewhere wrote (I wish I could find it and give the author proper credit), just because an actor successfully fills a role, it doesn’t meant that they ARE the role. I had so successfully learned and adopted all the subtle norms about femininity in my desperation to not be discovered as some kind of freak or deviant and to be wanted by men and respected by women that I had consciously embodied all the modes of speaking, sitting, standing, walking and interacting that are used as (often) subconscious female cues. And while people read this as “natural” on my part, none of them realised that THAT was the pretence all along – that every little “feminine” gesture was deliberate and thought out – that I spent so much time worried about my physical presentation to avoid being read as what I really was: a non-female (I had no idea what I really was at that time).
Through an intense 3-4 year period during which I consciously trained myself to ignore the voices that had spent a lifetime telling me: “Don’t sit like that! It’s not feminine and people will know!” or other similar things, I gradually developed more and more comfort with my natural way of being. Being a part of the queer community was a significant asset because I could comfortably be me, even when being me was my own unique combination of gendered traits, either male or female. In this span of time, I went from someone who nearly always wore skirts to work and tried to appear as feminine as I could to someone who exclusively wore men’s clothes and who was outspoken about being genderqueer and performing as a drag king.
In 2007, though, when I was finally reaching a space where I felt like I was able to express who I am and therefore confirming to myself all my thoughts, either academic or personal, about gender as a social construct, I still felt discomfort. I spent the year creeping closer and closer to the idea of transitioning, in spite of my intellectual belief that transitioning somehow supported the female-male binary that I had worked so hard to deconstruct in my head. In my view at the time, transsexuals simply jumped from one box to another and therefore maintained the gender norms that permeate western society. My own desire to transitioning called into question my own attempts to find a non-gendered space in my head, something that was neither male nor female, something that went beyond gender. My own identity as consisting of my own unique bundle of traits. Androgyny.
Fortunately, I met more than one trans-identified person who helped me change my view of this. There ARE transsexuals out there who transition physically without actually changing their gender expression. One MTF I met, for example, maintained a genderqueer identity. Others had their own unique gender identity and expression which did not necessarily match the physical appearance that they were presenting.
So I worked through most of the year in a slow but steady approach to the idea of transition. I would spend several weeks convinced that I would do it then wake up one morning with a feeling of drowning and an urgent retreat to the part of my mind that denied any desire to transition. But the periods of conviction were lasting longer and longer as the year went by and the “drowning moments” were getting few and far between. And in moments of extreme lucidity, with the help of what I learned from my self and others, I pieced my reality together.
I had successfully worked to get to a place where I could comfortably express myself regardless of the package that I was in. So, as a female-bodied person, I could successfully express my inner self, including many characteristics that are commonly perceived as masculine. However, I was still left with a physical sensation of needing to be male. Not so that I could express my inner self – that was already done. Simply so that, as described in my post “Body and Gender”, my physical self could match my mental image of myself. I wasn’t betraying myself by wanting to transition, nor was I betraying my values about people being free to express themselves regardless of the body they were in. I figured out that I do not want to transition so that I can express my gender. My gender, whatever that is, is now being expressed constantly. I just want to transition so that I can be comfortable in my skin and feel a sense of cohesiveness. I can’t really think of any other way to describe it other than it being like an itch you can’t scratch. And after years of torment, I feel good about my decision.