Note: This is an experience piece, not an academic piece. I am not rehearsed in trans* rhetoric and I haven’t had the guidance that many people have been lucky to receive or have had longer to seek out. At this stage the language I use is instinctive for me, especially when I am still reading. As a result, I am sure that I occasionally describe my experiences in a way that is unsatisfactory for many. I apologise if this is the case. If it isn’t too much trouble, please call me out and I will attempt to adjust.
I’m a black, disabled, queer, working class, non-binary person who has an attachment to the femaleness with which I was born but can’t abide the language that surrounds it. I know that for many people – those who buy into the false gender binary and even those in trans* communities – this does not make sense.
I know also that many people will see this as a statement of internalised misogyny or self-hate. I know, too, that this sense that is rooted deep in my chest and my mind is in fact none of those things.
For the most part, I adore my body – my cunt, the curve of my hips and the arch in my lower back -but I don’t believe that they embody womanhood. To most in the outside world, these physical attributes will certainly signify my femaleness, and to some extent I would agree: they signify, in the context of their totality, that I was assigned female at birth (FAAB).
Yet some days I awake and I am not certain that I am a woman. I know that I appear that way, and I know that I am a sister/mother-figure to many.
I absolutely identify with women’s issues and I always have, since the way that others experience my gender means that I am categorised as a woman. Perhaps more confusingly for those who do not recognise the complexities of gender, I also identify with the fact that my appearance is that of a cis woman, although from the age of thirteen I have been uncomfortable with my breasts and dreamed of having them removed. Nonetheless, I experience a cis woman’s privilege in that I do not experience the direct impact of transphobia and transmisogyny in my day to day life.
But I do not feel, deep within me, that my actual gender is aligned with these outward gender experiences. To this end, I would describe myself as gender queer or gender fluid.
Fundamentally, I do not believe that the language used to describe me ought to contain she/her/Miss/Ms/Mrs, and my heart palpitates and my breath goes short when I hear them used in my direction or about me. I stumble over words, my thought process is blurred, and if someone genders me while I am speaking I lose my track of my sentence.
The pronouns or descriptors make me feel miserable. I am a human being. I happen to have a body, I happen to dress a particular way, but I feel that this should have no bearing on the language that people use to describe me. My gender is not embedded in the clothing I choose to wear. When I wear shoes, they are my shoes, not ‘men’s shoes’. When I wear a dress, it is a piece of clothing I wear, not ‘women’s wear’.
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I mentioned earlier ‘the femaleness with which I was born’. What do I mean by that?
This is a blurry phrase, but I am using language in a way that I feel comfortable. I distinguish femaleness from womanhood. In my (I stress ‘my’ here) vocabulary, I think of wide usage of the term ‘female’ as misleading, because I use it to describe my body rather than my state of mind. Note that not every trans* person experiences this or feels this way, and indeed for many trans* people who experience a fairly binary gender identification, what I have just said could not be further from the truth.
In the non-virtual world, I have only ever properly told a single person about my gender experience, and he is a trans* bloke with the patience to hear me about my gender struggle. (I think of it as a struggle because I cannot safely voice it rather than it being a struggle in and of itself). When I once mentioned how uncomfortable I felt to a dear friend, she told me that this was a ‘new’ thing, as though I was part of a fad, and that she had no problem with female pronouns because she was ‘happy being a woman’.
It is a bizarre state of affairs, so simple and so complex, and I know that for many people who might appreciate my statements, there are many more cis and trans* people alike who would scorn me for my feelings.
I have some understanding of why. I have the appearance of a cis woman and I am in a long term, monoamorous relationship with a cis male. Since I have outwardly lived as what many people would describe as a woman (and I have in the past described myself this way) and I veer not towards a male-identified sense of my gender, but a neutral sense, it might seem all too easy for me to continue living as I have and do live.
When I think about the pronouns that people use to describe me, I feel disappointment and hurt. Mostly it just feels wrong. But as a Black person from a British-Caribbean family, there is no sense in which it would be safe for me to voice my feelings regarding the language that surrounds people’s verbal enforcement of my perceived gender. I would be laughed at, prayed over and ultimately ignored. Gender and sexuality are particularly difficult to navigate and express in many Caribbean communities, diaspora or otherwise, due to prevailing religious teachings (among many other things). I haven’t the time or the reading to unpack this, but from a lifetime of experience (and the laws regarding sexuality and gender in many islands) I know this to be true.
I know, too, that such a request to many of my friends and family of other origins would fare little better. I have heard appalling comments from family and friends regarding friends’ trans* status or coming outs in regards to their gender. I know that the same ignorance demonstrated by said family and friends would fall upon me, if not worse.
When I imagine the scorn and the backlash I wince, and at present it is too painful for me to hope to ask them to respect my gender identity. It is particularly painful when I am only vaguely coming to terms with it myself and I often feel confused and isolated.
I have not even allowed myself to ask it of my partner, because he is accustomed to a particular way of viewing me, and I am painfully aware of the fact that it would cause him so much hassle to respect the pronouns with which I feel most comfortable. He had enough trouble referring to me as his ‘partner’ rather than ‘girlfriend’ – this, I feel, would be too much.
I have sensed, too, that it is as if my position as a feminist traps me, in many people’s eyes, into the need to advocate a sense of pride about my perceived womanhood – a sense of identity which in me is terribly fragile, like wafer paper. It exists only in as much as it is all I have ever been known as. I remember clearly from the time I mentioned my gender to a friend that her tone was accusatory, as if I had given voice to a terrible betrayal.
I make small steps every day. I speak among the friends I feel most comfortable with about gender issues, and I gingerly test the waters without mentioning my own gender identity. Sometimes it is on the tip of my tongue but I stifle it, and it almost chokes me.
I ask questions, I read, and I have written this in the hope that it will be read by others. Whether they find it helpful, or confusing, or angering, I hope that this will make them think.
I dream of one day raising children neutrally until they have the language to express where they feel that they fit in the spectrum. It would give them the freedom they have to be themselves – a freedom many of us feel unsafe to grasp in a world that can so often be judgmental and prescriptive.
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This piece was submitted anonymously.
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