Transition and non-binary identities

2 01 2011

S.E. Smith over at This Ain’t Livin’ wrote something that hits very close to home for me (and I’m betting for a lot of people in my social circle):

One very widespread perception about nonbinary people is that we don’t need to transition. Nothing could be further from the truth. While every nonbinary person is different and not all of us need or want to transition, some of us do, and we cannot access support for transitioning without lying and prevaricating; to transition, we need to lie about our gender, because transition for nonbinary people is not recognised. As a result, those of us who want access to medical transition, to hormones and surgery, must pretend that we are binary and must be able to do so effectively enough to be ‘approved’ by the gatekeepers.

In the early stages of my transition, I remember reading very scary accounts by trans people where they were denied letters approving hormone replacement therapy by their psychologists because they weren’t able to demonstrate that they were “woman” or “man” enough to warrant medical transition. I heard of trans sisters who were bluntly told that they weren’t “feminine” because they always wore pants and no make-up and of trans brothers who were denied because they were attracted to men. I also read about all the lines one should feed the therapist to “prove” that they adhered to their chosen gender identity so that they could get their HRT letter. In addition to proving that they conformed to their chosen gender, the idea was also to prove that one was in a horrible amount of distress and needed to be “cured.”

As I discussed here, I got pretty lucky. I found someone who got that I knew who I was and that, even though I didn’t fully identify with the binary, hormonal transition was a legitimate path for me. He’s a great therapist and, when friends around here ask me for a recommendation, I never hesitate to give his name. He never took issue with my bisexuality, my genderqueerness and my attachment to maintaining an element of “female” in my identity, including keeping Nancy as my official middle name.

Now, out in the rest of the world, I have to deal with a lot of clueless people who have never even questioned the gender binary. Back a couple of years before I decided to undergo HRT, I had started discussing my self-perception as being “in between” the binary with a couple of people at the bar after work. The conversations always wound up being very frustrating because, by denying my status as female, they would usually assume that I wanted to be fully male. And when I would eschew elements of “traditional” masculinity as they perceived it, like a love of sports, they would try to pigeonhole me back in the “F” box. “See, you don’t like to do X so you’re not one of the guys, you’re one of the girls.” I was even told, by a female colleague, that I was nothing but a woman to her because of my empathy and caring. Those, she claimed, were essentially female traits and I could not escape my female identity because of them as they were a part of me. When I told her I learned those traits from my dad, she conveniently ignored me. In addition to the disturbing gender stereotypes at work here, there was the issue that they could not even wrap their minds around my claim to a whole other identity that was at the same time a mix of male and female, of “feminine and masculine” and beyond the binary altogether.

A couple of them eventually sort of got it.  Sort of. The irony is that they were the most surprised and distraught by my announcement that I wanted to start taking testosterone and officially transition. One of them felt I was being rash and said that she was sure I had become comfortable with my “in betweenness.” When I said I still was in between, that just threw her for a loop. Why would you want to transition if you’re ok with being in between? I replied that I wanted to be in between but with a mostly male social presentation. I was changing my “social sex,” not my gender. My gender remained unfixed, fluid, malleable and very, very queer.

To her credit, this person eventually accepted it all, at least emotionally. I had a chat with her and when she saw how free and elated I felt just at having made the decision, she looked at me for a moment and said that when someone had that energy about them after a decision, it usually meant it was the right decision.

As for the rest, I think most of them just figured I decided to go for the “M” and, since I mostly see them at work where I don’t express that much about my internal state, it works for them. When discussions come up at the bar and people make assumptions about how I’ll start liking hockey or start making sexist jokes, I correct them and point out that not all men are the same. If someone seems open enough to talk about the complexities of gender, I’ll do more but, for the most part, I stop at the level of debunking assumptions about gender stereotypes.

As for my more intimate gender/queer circle, I meet quite a few genderqueer people who wind up considering HRT and even other medical interventions and who go through the same struggles that I did a long time ago when the seed of the idea of transition was planted in my brain. I remember thinking that transition went against my stance on being gender queer and that it re-enforced gender essentialism. But I also remember waking up and feeling like I *should* feel different in my body. Eventually, I reconciled the ideas of transition and gender queer and I’m quite happy with the turn out. And it’s thrilling for me to see all the permutations and iterations of gender identity and presentation that turn out when gender queers make whatever choices they make, when already transitioned people reconsider their own gender identities and when cis people get in touch with their own gender ambiguity.

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7 responses

2 01 2011
Transition and non-binary identities (via Tboy Jacky) « Above and Beyond Gender

[…] A love it when other people post stuff that says what I want to say way more articulately than I’d be able to say it. While I’m going to spend this year seeing how much change I can cause naturally (how much muscle CAN I build at the gym?) I’m still considering chest reconstruction and surgery and this is pretty much how I feel about it. S.E. Smith over at This Ain't Livin' wrote something that hits very close to home for me (and I'm betting for a lot of people in my social circle): One very widespread perception about nonbinary people is that we don’t need to transition. Nothing could be further from the truth. While every nonbinary person is different and not all of us need or want to transition, some of us do, and we cannot access support for transitioning without lying and pr … Read More […]

2 01 2011
femmeguy

“And when I would eschew elements of “traditional” masculinity as they perceived it, like a love of sports, they would try to pigeonhole me back in the ‘F’ box. ‘See, you don’t like to do X so you’re not one of the guys, you’re one of the girls.'”

As I quote in a recent post of mine: “Some time ago on a forum I use, a trans man complained of someone using his knitting as an excuse to deny that he is a man. ‘And yet,’ a trans woman sighed, ‘people keep calling me a man no matter how much I knit.'”

2 01 2011
Jacky V.

That’s an awesome exampe, thanks Femmeguy!

4 01 2011
Faggot Boi

“I replied that I wanted to be in between but with a mostly male social presentation. I was changing my “social sex,” not my gender. My gender remained unfixed, fluid, malleable and very, very queer.” – This is really well put and, in some ways, reflects how I feel about my transition. Thanks!

4 01 2011
Jacky V.

Thanks Faggot Boi! I find that it’s hard for people who haven’t had to question gender to get that. But to me it’s SO important to recognise all the layers of gender/sex because that is core to my identity.

4 01 2011
Damien

Thanks for another thoughtful post, Jacky.

You know, I used to feel the same way about identifying as genderqueer and not wanting to transitioning physically. Somehow, this changed in the last couple of years, and now I want “the letter” 🙂

The male-female binary is hilarious. I was joking with my cisfemale lover this week-end that some binary-loving people watching us would probably see me (who identifies as FTM) as being “the woman” because I cooked dinner and made dessert, and cleaned and did the dishes, and her as “the man” because she’s athletic, brings in the firewood, builds a fire, drives the car, etc. What a crazy world we live in 😉

Love,

Damien

4 01 2011
Jacky V.

Hahaha, yeah, that is always interesting when we know what people are thinking about us but really, they have NO CLUE LOL. When I go out somewhere with my girlfriend, L, and my son, we chuckle because we know people think she’s the mom and I’m the dad. And before I had my name changed on my cards, we went to the resto one time and I paid with Nancy’s credit card. When the waitress came back, of course she gave the card back to L because she looked way more like a Nancy than I did : )

So…um…you cook and make dessert and your partner hauls firewood eh? Hmmmm. 😀

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