Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Poster Child of Gender Dissonance

Because I'm feeling a little emotionally vulnerable due to medication withdrawal, I'll risk a topic I usually consign to the proverbial recesses of my mind. My bisexuality is only one aspect of my identity, mostly processed and put aside, but gender identity is still quite tender, not entirely resolved as yet. I have to thank feminists of my own generation for their hard work in publicizing transgender topics and raising their voices for the sake of fairness. They allowed me to find myself in the midst of tremendous confusion and self-loathing. For a long time I thought of myself as hopelessly eccentric, unable to achieve normality for reasons I could not understand.  

Today I feel stretched, my notion of acceptable physical self expanded beyond previous boundaries. I found a website yesterday that showed real, authentic transgender pornography. Maybe it's not that odd that valuable lessons can be learned from visual representations of sexual contact. One particular site focused almost exclusively on transwomen. I looked on with a combination of fascination and a very guilty arousal. Though I established for myself a while back that transition was not what I needed, the video I viewed allowed me to recognize what I would have become if I did.

I'll say this. It seems like a tremendous amount of work, especially for someone like me who presents in such a masculine fashion. Due to borderline high blood pressure, I have an EKG done every six months at the cardiologist. In order to get the electrodes to stick to my chest, a certain portion of my chest hair must be shaved first. When I was in college, I often frequented drag shows at the local gay bay. I saw the diligent work done by each performer to remove body hair and pass for female, knowing how time consuming it would be for me. What we might call high femme (traditionally feminine) cisgender women think nothing of taking hours to make themselves up immaculately, and to an extent the same was true here. 

Some time ago, I hooked up with a man I met at a club. I hope you don't mind, he said, but I do wear panties. I knew his own shame and I remember I even smiled at his honesty. I took great relish in informing him that I did the same thing myself. He relaxed, instantly. I'm a movie buff, and it saddens me to see how many pejorative references there are in films to men wearing women's underwear, scornful language reducing them to emasculated sissies, not fit to be called men. For reasons like these, I never have felt comfortable identifying as male, though I know I do present as such based on how I was socialized and how I looked upon exiting the womb.

With the anecdote I've just mentioned, I have to say that the experience we had together was sexually underwhelming. Even so, recognizing that I was not alone meant more to me. The two of us had an informative and comforting conversation afterwards that I never expected to have with any other person. Gay sex is another target of male homophobia, the basic concept being that being penetrated in any form is only for women. Men shame each other in certain ways and I've learned, also from feminists, that women gender police themselves in many other ways. 

The only thing that bothers me about transgender issues as currently presented is that they are rather limited in scope. I'm comfortable among white, well-educated, middle class people like myself, but this is very much the status quo. I have to say I wonder about the transwoman or transman who has no clue what terms like gender non-conforming or gender dissonance even mean. They may not realize that surgery is an option, provided they can afford it. They may not have a comforting set of vocabulary words at their disposal. And if they are of a racial minority or religious minority, they may incorrectly assume that they're the only transgender person of color or of faith out there.

I bet not all of the readers of this post understand the complexities present here. It has to start somewhere, but knowledge must eventually reach marginalized people. Sometimes this happens in a very natural, organic sort of way, but sometimes exclusionary attitudes are never challenged. Sins of omission characterize most people who seek to do good but fall short. Sins of commission, by contrast, are often those of intolerance, but they are easier to identify and attack. Let us always challenge ourselves to be better allies, so that enlightenment is not only for the well-informed, privileged, and highly educated.

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