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.