Friday, August 23, 2013

Gender is an Approximation for Everyone

We were probably long overdue for a national discussion about transgender and transsexuals. The Manning case and conviction have opened the door for the first in a series of subsequent dialogues. Much as has been the case with other marginalized groups, news stories and the media will now continue to bring this matter up on a consistent basis. As a country, we'll add this to our current culture war debates about same-sex marriage, racism, and gender inequality. Among activists and especially among those under 35, transgender literacy is extremely important. Many older Americans have yet to really begin to wrap their minds around the topic.

My understanding of this matter began auspiciously enough. The religious group of which I was then a member held annual conferences for young adults. At that time in my life, I was barely out of my teens and had been reared in a conservative state. My parents were moderates, politically speaking, and had little to no identification or sympathy with the sort of hard Left activist culture to which I was now exposed. That is to say, I was entirely lost, much as if I'd been in a foreign country and did not speak the native language.  

I had no clue about what any of the terminology meant, though it was intriguing enough. Even in my ignorance, I didn't feel threatened by the transwoman sitting next to me in workshops and activities. She was the gathering's token transperson and educated more by her presence than any bullet point handout in an anti-oppression workshop. I can admit now that I saw her in the beginning as a man in a dress, but I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut about first impressions.

Back then, I had vague notions of what transgender really meant. Like many, my opinion was largely informed by The Kinks' song "Lola".
I pushed her away. I walked to the door.
I fell to the floor. I got down on my knees.
I looked at her, and she at me.
Well that's the way that I want it to stay.
And I always want it to be that way for my Lola.

Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls.
It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world,
Except for Lola.

Well I left home just a week before,
And I've never ever kissed a woman before,
But Lola smiled and took me by the hand,
And said, "Little boy, gonna make you a man."
Well I'm not the world's most masculine man,
But I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man,
And so is Lola.
Granted, it's not the worst start towards greater comprehension a person can take, but the lyrics treat transsexuals as freaks of nature. Transgender for the sake of sensationalism and spectacle is a common phenomenon, one that current events might slowly be erasing. Getting everyone on the same page takes a while. Eliminating hurtful, pejorative terms like "tranny" is a particularly pressing concern.  

And there's more. Some years ago, I was privy to the struggles of a former relationship partner who opted to transition from female to male. He meticulously, methodically documented every step along the way to a captive internet audience of several thousand people. Regularly posted YouTube videos showed the progression of testosterone and his blog shared feelings and impressions on a daily basis. I observed how essential transition was to him and how motivated he was to follow it through to the end. Prior to surgery and hormone therapy, he'd worked diligently to save up the money for the necessary procedures and expenses.

At times, I wish I had been born female. It should be said that I most certainly don't romanticize the notion. I know the societal limitations historically placed upon women and recognize that I benefit from being born male. This could well be the envy of that queer men possess, an identity crisis of a sort. Is this why some of us imagine ourselves as drag queens or as our favorite female celebrity? Everyone I talk to seems to have a different answer. Maybe it's not important to know completely, though I must admit that knowing I am not alone with these feelings has been comforting.

With time, I came to the conclusion that the envy I felt was not substantial enough for me to want to undergo transition. I'm not unhappy being a man, but neither am I satisfied. The only term that truly fits me is genderqueer. As I apply it to myself, it means that I don't fit neatly into the male or the female box. If we were all entirely honest with each other, we'd know that gender is, at best, an approximation.

Each of us has a masculine side and a feminine side. Whether either is a result of biology or socialization is difficult to sort out. Here is present a nebulous, grey area not yet fully understood. Much has been the case with other aspects of the LGBT spectrum, transgender awareness is proceeding at warp speed. When I first heard about transmen and transwomen, it was almost an academic curiosity, one found only among unapologetic liberals of a certain age range. Ten years later, I marvel at where we are today. I feel confident and optimistic about the future in a way I did not earlier in my life.

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