Apr 30

A Story in Progress

Thank you so, SO much to everyone who followed this blog, came to my presentation today, or even just talked trans stuff with me in the past. You all inspired this final work, and I couldn’t have made it without you. I don’t often say or think this, but I’m really proud of this work and of myself for completing it. Anyway, without further ado, here’s my final project: Transcription: A Biography in Progress

And with that, I’ll sign off from this last post. This isn’t the end, though; my story is a work in progress. I hope I’ll get to co-write it with all of you.

Mar 31

“Reclaiming Our Femininity”

Yes, I haven’t posted in a while (excluding my weekly #PtDMIiMP). The radio silence is partially because the end of the quarter is always busy, so Dr. T and I haven’t had a meeting on the short story collection yet. However, it’s also partially because I’ve been writing more than I’ve been reading. As a final project for this IS, I want to make a short collection of poems and thought-streams on what being transgender means to me. I’m not ready to post any of that yet, but I can post this (thanks to my groupmates for letting me make our work public). Here’s “Reclaiming Our Femininity,” a spoken word poem written and performed by me, Davi S-G, and Eleanor R for Dr. Garrett’s AP Poetry class:

 

 

Davi: Rosie the Riveter, RuPaul, and Laverne Cox walk into a bar.

Kiran: Is this a joke?

Davi: For some people

Eleanor: But we all know that Rosie is only there to accompany her husband —

women don’t drink —

Kiran: And RuPaul and Laverne are only there to get a little tipsy before they work the streets

 

Davi: Because feminine means to have no

freedom in,

Kiran: Expectations of our bodies and souls since before conception

Eleanor: Because feminine

was never in

As if, just by existing,

I already wasn’t good enough here.

 

Together: I wasn’t good enough here

Eleanor: I play sports here,

Run like the wind

I go unnoticed

Because somehow the only thing I need to succeed

Isn’t work ethic

Isn’t talent

Together: It’s being not feminine

Eleanor: You see, femininity is at odds with power

These days.

Our bodies, our dignity

perverted by desires

 

Encouraged since childhood

I can’t describe the feeling

Of my femininity being torn at

Like talons sinking into my flesh

When I’m forced to choose

between beauty and self-acceptance

There should be no in-between

 

Together: I wasn’t good enough

Davi: See my wigs are just an extension of my skin,

my thoughts curl out in ringlets,

You already know that shit’s getting whipped

Eleanor and Kiran: Better pin that in girl

Davi: Boy

Kiran: other

Eleanor: Girl

Davi: Boy

Kiran: Other?

Davi: Bobby pins go through my hair

into my scalp like

reminders

Reminders of who I am,

this hair is not mine,

My identity has to be pinned, secured, glued down

so that I can be real

Cause when it flies off they will see that I am actually

a man

I don’t know when I end and where the wig starts

As a man, where do I end

Or rather,

Together: where do you end me

Davi: Because being feminine doesn’t make me less of a man

But being a man doesn’t make me less of a fem

Together: I wasn’t enough

Kiran: Because 5’2” is below all of the averages

Together: And I’m intimidated by tall guys

Kiran: As if being short makes me less of a man

Instead of just less man.

Apparently cis guys walk wider

Feet straddling an invisible line

Careful not to cross it

Are you afraid of me,

Davi and Kiran: How my simultaneous maleness and femininity

challenges your identity?

Kiran: I will forge my iron heart under the knife’s blade,

Liquid courage in a syringe

To make you think my identity is injected, not inherent

So I won’t forget what I failed to inherit.

I’m a self-made man

Cut parts of myself away

‘til I fit this self-imposed box

of toxic masculinity.

Though I’ll never be man enough for you

Because I wasn’t born this way

 

Together: I wasn’t

Davi: A paradoxical relationship

I see straight men slap each other’s asses

Eleanor and Kiran: No homo bro

Davi: But my eyes alone are daggers that tear apart your masculinity

Don’t have to look far to be a fag

Together: Eyes too open, skin too tight

Kiran: In this body, in this world,

Nothing ever feels quite right

Eleanor: Crying on homecoming night

After playing my heart out on the field

Only to head to the late game

And realize that the main female attraction

Is on the sideline.

Together: shirtless.

Eleanor: While the boys play in the bright lights

 

Together: I…

Because my femininity is a weapon

But one used against me

I…

Kiran: Limp wrists like limp bodies

Eleanor: Hair is supposed to be pulled

Davi: The closet is a real place.

Together: Closed doors like closed minds.

I…

Eleanor: Your assumptions ring clear like silence

Together: Feminity is submission

Davi and Kiran: Because her body belongs to a man

Eleanor: But their bodies do not belong with men

Together: I…

Eleanor: Some say it’s tradition so it’s not sexist

Kiran: But inherited oppression is still

Davi: oppression is still

Together: Here with us today

I…

Kiran: We perpetuate the problem

Davi: We suffer because of the problem

Eleanor: But we’re the solution to the problem

 

Together: I am good enough here

Eleanor: Run like the wind

Through these shadowless walkways

Crash through glass ceilings

 

Together: I am good enough

Davi: If man is the measure of all things

Let’s throw away our rulers

The only inches are the steps we take forwards

Centimeters become sensitivity

 

Together: I am enough

Kiran: I am more than this box of masculinity can contain

So I’ll break down these walls,

I’ll open Pandora’s box

And make “complexity,”

“Nonconformity”

My middle name

 

Davi: Because feminine means to make

freedom in,

Kiran: Acceptance of the bodies and souls we’ve created

Eleanor: Because feminine

Is what we live in

 

Davi: Let’s rebuild these expectations from the ground up

Kiran: Let Rosie the Riveter do as she pleases,

Eleanor: Crash through glass ceilings.

Eleanor: Let RuPaul work his way,

Davi: Sashay the hatred away.

Davi: Let Laverne Cox live her truth,

Kiran: Her existence living proof that-

Eleanor: Femininity is powerful

Kiran: And complexity is no mistake.

Davi: So if man is the measure of all things

Together: Let’s raise the bar.

 

Mar 24

Lee Mokobe – What It Feels Like to Be Transgender

Yes, I forgot to post yesterday. I’m really good at this, I know.

Anyway, after reading Cameron Awkward-Rich (meh) and a story about an Asian-American trans woman from The Collection (of short stories on trans identities…again, mostly meh), I’m kinda stuck on intersectionality. A person’s race, sexuality, and religion can drastically change their experience with their gender identity, and I think this poem kind of speaks to that. Also, his writing is just really powerful, and I’m glad such a mainstream source has a poem like this.

 

 

Mar 18

Alok – “trans/generation”

So, WordPress was down last night, so I couldn’t post what is turning into the only consistent piece of content on this blog. I wouldn’t just deny you all of this **~high-quality~** content, though, so here’s my  #PtDMIiMP from yesterday.

(Also, WordPress didn’t send out an email for my last #PtDMIiMP, so if you want to hear a really fun + really trans song, click here. If you missed my most recent #Post-DiscussionPost and want to see that dumpster fire, click here. Alright, back to Alok.)

The work Dr. T and I are reading right now is a book of poetry called Sympathetic Little Monster (more on that later this week, but spoiler alert: less than impressed). I picked this work because I thought it would give us a more intersectional lens onto transgender representation, specifically on the intersection between gender identity and race. If you know me, you know this is important to me because I’m transgender and Indian-American, and these two identities definitely affect each other in some interesting ways. I think a lot of the conflict I have with my parents about my gender stems from their upbringing in a rural, traditional, somewhat restrictive Indian culture. I don’t even know if my grandparents know that I’m trans. I haven’t seen them since I came out.

Alok is probably one of my favorite (and most recently discovered) poets because I love how they are able to so beautifully and incisively capture the experiences I’m still struggling to come to terms with. Seeing myself in their work and being able to process my experiences through the framework of someone who has gotten through a very similar situation makes me believe that there’s space for me out there. Even if there isn’t, with representations of people like Alok, I know I won’t be alone in making a space for myself.

See their full poem here: Alok, “TRANS/GENERATION”

See an excerpt below:

I come out to my grandmother when I am 18.

There are no photos to document this event because

In my culture coming out is not a moment, 

It is a smile smudged on a photograph, you must understand,

It is an ocean swallowing us back.

It is all of our portraits weeping.

It is a family unraveling at the seams.

It’s not so much that we never talk about it again,

It’s more that the silence speaks for us

You see in my culture we have learned that

there is no difference between ‘silence’ and ‘violence’

We inherit both from our men.

My grandmother only starts painting in her late 70s,

When I watch her make art I realize this the first time

she has ever used her hands to make something for herself.

Eventually pen and paper turn into brush and canvass

turn into paintings scattered across the house like protest signs

turns into the person she sacrificed for ‘woman’

turns into the “what if”

turns into the “too late”

This evening my grandmother calls me the biggest disappointment in her life.

I recognize this is not my own gender oppression, it is hers:

You see, I come from a long legacy of women punished by men

Who continue to push the man inside of me.

How good it feels for the hurt to hurt someone else.

I understand.

In my culture

transgender is not an identity

It is a tactic of survival.

It is a way of escaping from the men who control our hands to do their work for them

It is the journey that all of us take to reclaim our bodies from the genders that stole them from us.

It is my grandmother’s paintings.

It is the first time in her life that her worth is not evaluated by a meal or a man

It is me doing this for myself

It is the first time in my life that I am making something out of all of the rage that surrounds us

So I refuse to call her transphobic

I will not blame her for her own violence

Instead, I will join her in not smiling in this photograph

And there is solidarity in this silence,

And there is resistance in this refusal to pretend

that we are something we are not.

Mar 14

Projecting Backwards: A Transgender Terminology Timeline

Finally, after…what? A couple months? An entire quarter? Way too long procrastinating?…I’ve finally finished my trans terminology timeline! Click here to see the infographic I made (condensed), or click here to see my research (uncondensed).

And now, to justify all the time I spent on that (most of it on making the infographic pretty and then failing to embed it on this page…thanks, WordPress…) , I’m going to do another super long post! Here’s a thought-stream in 4 parts.

Part 1: On The Timeline

If, in looking at the timeline, you’re interested in seeing some social context for these terms, click here to see a timeline of trans-related events from the New York Times.

If, in looking at the timeline, you’re wondering why many of the terms seem to focus on masculine people AFAB, well…I don’t know. Most of it was probably personal bias – as a trans guy, I’m prone to look for other potential trans guys, even during research. Some of it may have been legitimate – maybe there were more masculine females  historically. However, I suspect that a lot of it actually stems from an interesting linguistic bias. People who were AMAB and expressed themselves femininely were often lumped into words used to refer to gay men (e.g. “pansy,” “sissy,” etc.). Additionally, many trans women were drag queens, but not all drag queens were trans. However, many people who were AFAB and expressed themselves masculinely had their own labels. Though many of these labels also referred to gay women, there was a greater distinction between masculine lesbians and feminine lesbians, which makes identifying examples of the former and speculating about their gender easier. I think femininity in people AMAB is seen as an implication of sexuality, whereas masculinity in people AFAB is seen as an implication of gender. I also think masculinity and femininity are gauged in different ways, so each sex is allowed a certain amount of “deviation” before they are labeled “deviant.” I don’t know. The more I try to describe this, the less sense it makes. Gender is confusing, man. :P

If, in looking at the timeline, the label “trans*” catches your eye, here’s the little discussion I’ve been wanting to have on that. (Pro tip: the asterisk is silent! No “transterisks” or “transasdfghjkl,” please. :P)  Here’s an article I really like on the history of the term “trans*” and the controversy surrounding it. Another argument I’ve heard against the asterisk is that, in adding it to be more inclusive of nonbinary and fluid identities, it actually makes the term “trans” (no asterisk) exclusionary, which was never the intention/implication. I, personally, think that the intention to accept nonbinary identities is valid, but adding a symbol to the end of a label doesn’t really do that much. That said, I do think it makes it easier for nonbinary people to identify people who explicitly accept them, but it doesn’t make it easier to identify people who explicitly don’t accept them. I don’t know. I’m not a nonbinary person. I, personally, don’t use the asterisk, but I think it’s an important term to acknowledge, even if just to know how to pronounce it.

Part 2: On The Evolution of Transgender Identities

Transgender and gender-nonconforming people have existed forever, but the language we use to identify and describe trans people (at least in Western cultures) has only recently entered the mainstream. Though this IS focuses on Western literature (and thereby Western terms and cultures), I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention non-Western (especially indigenous) cultures’ acceptance of non-conforming gender identities. Many of these cultures integrated these identities into their understanding of gender and spirituality, and there’s something elegant in the simplicity of that integration. These individuals were given a level of freedom and honor, and the terms they used to describe non-conforming identities were broad and few…

…Which brings me to the modern debate on what I’ll call “Tumblr identities.” Today, we have tons of terms to describe trans identities, and most of them are frequently used and defended as necessary categories that help people get the services and support they need (think of the difference between binary trans people and nonbinary or genderqueer people). However, at a certain point, these terms get so specific that their tangible goal is unclear. You may have seen the absurdly long lists of labels on Tumblr that describe everything from nonbinary identities to genderfluidity to…”a gender which shares qualities with outer space or has the aesthetic of space, stars, nebulas”…yep. I’ll admit, even though I try to keep an open mind and accept whatever terms a person uses to describe this internal understanding of self, I have trouble coming to terms with the caelgender label (that last one). But then I have to think, didn’t I do that too? For a while, I identified as genderflux and quoigender because that’s honestly how I interpreted my identity. If my level of dysphoria and my demeanor changed depending on the situation, how could my gender not be fluid? If gender is a social construct, how could I have an internal gender? I don’t think these questions highlight my younger self’s misunderstanding; I think they give me a lens into our current position in the evolution of trans identities. Gender used to be primarily about presentation and one’s role in society. If you defied the role you were expected to inhabit at birth, there had to be some way of interpreting the new role you took. Now, gender is becoming more about an internal sense of self and how that affects how we move about our world. I have dysphoria, and my internal identity is pulled towards a more masculine understanding of myself, so I’m trans, and I’d ideally like to transition in various ways to make my existence in our gendered society easier. However, this evolution has prompted many, mostly of the younger generation, to think about what gender identity actually is. What do you find when you look inside yourself? How do you name something you’ve never seen before? How do you describe color to the blind? All of these “Tumblr identities” attempt to describe the personal experience of an individual within their own framework. The goal isn’t to transition necessarily, nor is it to find a large community of people with the same identity. The goal is to seek understanding, to be seen, in the vast and sometimes vacant space of new discovery.

Part 3: On The Vernacular of Stone Butch Blues

Now, the timeline was fun to make an all, but my goal in doing so was to contextualize works like Stone Butch Blues…which it didn’t really do, but it did give me a chance to look at terminology vs. vernacular. See, the timeline focuses mostly on terms I found in academic journals, which use more scholarly terminology. Stone Butch Blues, in its more down-to-earth writing and dialogue, uses more vernacular (and its existence as a sort of, if I may co-opt a word from Audre Lorde, biomythography also means it can use more vernacular). For example, the words “bulldagger” and “he-she” never show up on my timeline, but they’re words Jess uses to describe herself among masculine lesbians. Even without the terminology to distinguish between sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, she says of he-shes, “they’re not butches,” and some he-shes can fall in love with men (91). Here, even without the terminology of “invert” or “transgender,” Jess finds a way to separate lesbians and gender-nonconforming people through her vernacular. Jess is also eloquently able to distinguish between binary transgender identities and her own genderqueer identity. In discussing the word transsexual (which was used more casually than the medical term it is today), she says “I don’t feel like a man trapped in a woman’s body. I just feel trapped” (171). While I personally disagree with this understanding of the binary transgender identity, I admire Jess’s ability to separate her masculinity from maleness. I also admire her very progressive understanding of nonbinary identities, especially when she says, “Who was I now—woman or man? That question could never be answered as long as those were the only choices; it could never be answered if it had to be asked” (241). This basically summarizes genderqueer identities, even though the term “genderqueer” was coined in the ’90s. Feinberg published Stone Butch Blues in the ’90s, too, but its story takes place mostly in the ’60s and ’70s (think Stonewall riots and STAR house). It’s often regarded as one of the first “trans novels”, and for it to recognize, even without words, both binary and nonbinary trans identities kind of just blows my mind.

Part 4: On Forever Falling Backwards, or Projecting Our Identities Onto Past Individuals

How do we know if people who didn’t have the language to describe themselves as trans actually would have identified as transgender today? That’s the question I ask and am asked whenever I discuss historical representations of trans people, and it’s a valid one. Here’s a blog post I really like that summarizes the issue well, and I think I agree with the author. We can’t really know whether certain historical figures identified as trans, which is why I think we should have a broader understanding of gender identity and presentation to fit the particular time period, but I also think it’s valuable to speculate. Trans people have existed for all of history, with or without a label, and finding documentation of people who identified and lived as trans people do today solidifies our existence. Having a history means you’re not alone and who you are is not new or fabricated. It gives us proof of our identities to fall back on, role models to look back to. It cements in time the identities that are currently being questioned in politics and erased from textbooks, and it validates both the lives of trans people today and the lives of gender-nonconforming people in history. Knowing where we’ve come from shows us just how far we can go.

Mar 10

Coyote Grace – “Daughterson”

Last year in my gender studies class, we watched this documentary called Real Boy about this trans guy’s medical transition and changing “family.” It’s a good film – would recommend. Anyway, Joe Stevens is a sort of mentor for the boy in the movie, and he’s also part of Coyote Grace, hence this #PtDMIiMP. Also, it’s spring break. Let’s have some fun with this.

Lyrics here (see if you can spot all the inside jokes): https://coyotegrace.com/lyrics-daughterson

 

Mar 03

Kevin Kantor and Sienna Burnett – “Phases”

Alright, I’m technically lying again when I say this is a poem that didn’t make it into my POI because it’s in there, but I have to remove it because it comes from an unauthorized source, so we’re good…well, this post is. Me? Less so.

Anyway, this poem is more about being gay than being trans, but a lot of the ideas still apply. It also made me think about this book that I discovered really early in my gender journey (like, before I’d even realized I was trans). According to Wikipedia (super reliable, I know), it’s the first young adult novel to feature a transgender character, which makes it fit right into this independent study. But the novel? Published in 2004. Three years after I was born. 36 lunar cycles. 288 phases. We’ve come so far in such a short amount of time, yet it still took eons to get us here.

 

 

Mar 01

Transcribing the Indescribable: A Thought-Stream in Three Parts

Just a warning: this post is particularly long, meandering, and incoherent. (Yes, I am prefacing, Dr. T. Fight me.) Proceed at your own discretion. 

Part one: Stone Butch Blues

Yesterday, Dr. T and I met to talk about Stone Butch Blues, which I finished reading this week. (More to come on that, as I hope to do some sort of culminating project with it, but we’ll see.) Suffice it to say that this book got to me in a way I can’t entirely explain. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Jess (the main character) is complex in so many ways, not least in terms of her gender. (Spoiler warning for the rest of this paragraph)

Jess explicitly identifies as a woman, but she uses language that would suggest otherwise. She calls herself a “he-she” and, despite going by she/her pronouns and saying she’s “not a man,” associates more with masculinity than femininity. Personally, I’d say she’d identify as genderqueer today, but that language wasn’t as prevalent when Feinberg was writing the book as it is today. But even with that label, I think Jess would struggle to fit in any box. She conforms to hegemonic, sometimes toxic, ideals of masculinity, but she uses overt presentations of maleness for survival. I’d say her masculinity is innate but her maleness is not. Here, I’d like to differentiate the two terms thusly: masculinity is the expression of a mindset or actions that conform more to socially understood expectations of “men,” whereas maleness is the identity, whether internal or external, of being of a man. All men are male, but not all men are masculine (and not all people who express masculinity are male). These are my own (admittedly less-than-well-researched) definitions, but I recognize that even they have shortcomings. For example, what does it mean to have “maleness” or “femaleness”? Is it purely internal and self-recognized? If so, can there ever be a standard definition? When raised in a society with a gender binary, how can one have “nonbinary-ness” or “genderqueer-ness”? Linguistic determinism suggests that we can only think in the words that we have, so are we left to keep making up words for our individual experiences? Or does the identity follow the term, people expanding their understanding until all the space in our language is filled? As you can tell, I always have more questions than I can answer. My theory is that I loved Stone Butch Blues so much because, while inspiring these questions subconsciously, it quieted them by providing an experience rather than an idea. It had answers with no questions. But, as always, that left me with a final question: if experiences can exist without labels, if answers can exist without questions, who is theory really for? Does it really answer any questions, or does it just create them?

Part two: “To Survive on This Shore”

Last night, I went to photographer Jess T. Dugan’s talk on her project, “To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults” (thanks to Mr. Haynes for telling us about it). I loved this talk, partially because Dugan was an awesome and down-to-earth presenter, but partially because her work got to me in a similar way to Stone Butch Blues. (You can view some examples of her work on her website.) Many of her subjects, including herself, are androgynous. Dugan herself has a very masculine presence, and she’s even gotten top surgery. However, she still uses she/her pronouns and refers often to her female experience, though whether that’s her experience as a person AFAB or as a female-identifying person is unclear. Maybe it’s because of their similar identities, or maybe it’s just the name, but I find a lot of similarities between Dugan’s experiences and Jess’s experience in Stone Butch Blues. I don’t want to draw conclusions on either of their identities, but they both seem to inhabit a gray area that doesn’t always have a name. Also, the fact that Dugan’s project focuses on trans and gender nonconforming people over the age of 50 reminds me again how much can change within a short span of time while remaining much the same. These identities still exist, and while we’ve gained a lot more language to fit the people in that gray area, I don’t think we’ll ever have enough to succinctly or completely describe them. Sure, having labels means that people with similar experiences can find each other, and sure, specific or narrow labels create spaces for people with those very specific identities, but doesn’t everyone have a unique experience? Can’t people still feel alienated from spaces with people who share the same label? What does it really mean to have an identity?

Part three: a biography in progress

I was a hyperfeminine little girl. I refused to wear any bottoms other than skirts (or, more specifically, skorts) for years with no problem other than the fact I was outgrowing them. I fancied myself a bit of a tomboy, but I think that was only because it was considered cool at the time. I had long hair and loved makeup and didn’t even think about what it would be like to be a boy. I was, without question, a girl. 

And then I grew up. More specifically, I hit puberty, and I started experiencing dysphoria before I could name it. Surely all girls are this uncomfortable with their bodies, I thought. Surely it’s fine if this discomfort edges on repulsion at times. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I could name some profession or archetype, but that person never seemed connected to me. I couldn’t force my imagination to create an adult version of myself. I was still a girl, but one who wasn’t sure what that really meant. 

I got my first pair of “boy shorts” in 8th grade. I was terrified someone would notice and ask why. I’d been getting shirts from the boys’ section for years because they were a bit more modest and had more appealing designs (yes, this was during my dreaded Minecraft phase). Getting shorts, though, seemed different. Sure, they were more modest than shorts from the girls’ section, and the material was such that they didn’t hug my body (something I didn’t realize was so uncomfortable until it stopped), but there was no significant reason for me to get them. Once I did, though, I felt a sense of freedom I hadn’t really felt before. It was exhilarating. Euphoric. I wasn’t quite a girl, but I didn’t have the language to describe what I was. 

That summer, I started questioning my gender, and I concluded that I was transmasculine nonbinary genderflux (yes, I did find all those terms online). I felt like I was finally coming into myself, like I was finally starting to recognize myself. I got my first suit. My first chest binder. The euphoria came in bursts as the dysphoria grew in waves. I decided I wouldn’t come out until junior or senior year of high school, and if I decided to medically transition, I would aim for androgyny instead of masculinity or femininity. I was a nonbinary boy, and I had the exact language to describe what I was.

I came out the summer after freshman year and cut my hair that same June. I changed my name and my pronouns at school, a change that would be recognized by law 2 years later. I realized that I was a lot closer to the binary than I initially thought, and I got comfortable with my masculinity. I wanted to medically transition as soon as possible (ideally 3 years ago), and I wanted to go until no one would question whether I was a man or not. I finally saw a future for myself as a man. I started attending conferences and workshops displaying my masculinity openly, talking with other trans people and rejoicing in our shared experience. I was a binary boy, and I thought there was no question about it. 

I’m in my senior year now, I’m starting to question again. I’ve concluded, likely not for the last time, that I’m a binary trans guy. I’m also a feminine guy. I still want to transition until the dysphoria wanes and no one questions if I’m a man. However, I want them to wonder what kind of man I am. Being queer and nonconforming in expression gives me a sort of freedom from the masculine expectations that my dysphoria wants me to follow. The first time I cut my hair was the first time I recognized the man in the mirror. The first time I dyed my hair was the first time I recognized myself in the mirror. I’m the mom-friend and the dad-friend of my friend group. I don’t wish I were born cisgender because being trans is an integral part of my identity. Sometimes I wonder, though, if I were born cis, would my identity need a name, or would I just be a nonconforming kid? Would I able to wear flower crowns and cry openly without wondering if people would think I’m too feminine to be a man? Does my transness necessitate the destruction of my queerness, or does it explain it way? I like calling myself a “trans guy” instead of a “trans man” because “guy” suggests a bit more fluidity or space. In queer spaces, I still love seeing and talking to trans people, but I often find myself an island among them. Whether because of my skin color, my culture, my introversion, my sexuality, my political opinions, my binary identity, my socioeconomic status, or my privilege, I find myself unable to entirely relate to them. I find myself gravitating towards gay white cis men and straight cis women of color instead, and I wonder how I can simultaneously display a label so proudly while not associating with its community. I am a transgender guy, and there will always be questions about my identity, my presentation, my label, and my community for as long as I am me. 

Feb 24

Perfume Genius – “Wreath”

This one goes out to Dr. T. On my first #PtDMIiMP, he commented this:

“Question we should discuss: what is trans literature? Is it literature BY trans people? ABOUT trans people? With trans CONTENT? Or are there forms/modes of literature that lend themselves to trans expression?”

I think this song (in addition to having a phenomenal video) brings up those same questions. See, I relate to this song a lot because I think it describes some really abstract parts of my trans experience. That said, though Mike Hadreas (Perfume Genius) is gender nonconforming in expression (and identity too, I think), I don’t know if he’d necessarily be labeled trans. So, can this song be interpreted as a piece of trans literature if the author isn’t trans, the song isn’t specifically about being trans, and it is primarily sung instead of written? Basically, does this song belong on this blog? Who’s to say?

Feb 18

Third Time’s a Charm: Gender Identity vs. Performance

Dr. T and I met last Friday to talk about Stone Butch Blues, and because I haven’t finished it yet and I don’t want to give away any spoilers, I won’t be talking about it here. However, I did want to talk about a few questions I had while reading.

 

My first question today: where is the line between butch woman and trans man or the line between drag king and trans man? We’ve talked about this before, how gender can be perceived as both an internal identity and an external performance (if you’re interested in the latter argument, check out Judith Butler, who I don’t entirely agree with, but that’s a post for another time), but I think this idea becomes especially interesting when thinking about gender-nonconforming people or drag kings and queens. For example, we know that drag is a performance, so a man who performs in a drag show and uses she/her pronouns on-stage will likely still identify as a man and use he/him pronouns off-stage. Identity and performance are separate.

 

However, this gets more complicated historically when trans identities weren’t really widely understood or discussed, so gender-nonconforming people (people who might identify as trans today, but again, post for another time) sometimes took refuge in drag. This happens in Stone Butch Blues, where a drag queen is consistently referred to with she/her pronouns both on- and off-stage but is considered gay while in a relationship with a man. Her gender performance is consistently feminine, but her identity (both internal and social) seems to inhabit a not-entirely-binary space. Again, with current terminology, we might say this person was nonbinary or genderqueer or transfeminine or a demigirl, but there just wasn’t such specific language at that point. Also, it gets confusing when comparing this experience with the experience of about butch lesbians, who are the main focus of the book. Many of them are uncomfortable with the more feminine aspects of themselves (to the point where I would describe it as dysphoria), and they present in a very masculine way. However, they use she/her pronouns and seem completely fine being identified as women. Personally, I would probably project and say they’re trans men before the category of “transgender” existed in the mainstream, but that’s assuming that gender and identity always line up.

 

That brings me to my second question for today: what is gender apart from expression? As a somewhat androgynous/gender-nonconforming trans person, I’m inclined to say it’s a combination of who you internally see yourself as and what you present as. Of course, this gets muddled because of cultural definitions and gender roles, but I’d put the emphasis on internal identity. But what does that even mean? If I were raised without a culture (is that even possible??), what would “being a man” mean to me? Would I experience dysphoria, and, if so, what types (physical, social, etc.)? I’ve heard people talk a lot recently about the “end of gender,” which seems to be the deemphasis of traditional gender roles. Without gender roles, will people expand to fill the space of whatever definitions and conventions we have after, like some non-Newtonian fluid? If gender ceases to be a foundation of our understanding of the world, will we even have it?

 

I don’t know. I mean, you can clearly see I don’t know; this post is more question than content. That’s the thing about gender being a social construct — our understanding of it changes based on the society/culture/era you look at.

 

So here are my questions for the week (which people have yet to answer!):

  • How defined is your gender? Do you think about it often, or are you comfortable in the gender you were assigned at birth?
  • How much do you think about your gender performance? Does it influence how you think of your gender identity?

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