You know, lately, I’ve been getting very good at answering cis people’s questions — at least, for the most part.
“Why are you doing this?” Because body dissonance leaves me no other choice. It’s either transition or suicide.
“Why should I call you ‘she’ if I know you as ‘he?'” Because it’s polite, and because I am not willing to talk to you at all if you don’t. Your choice.
“Why would a man want to cut his dick off?” I don’t know. I don’t understand men. Why don’t you ask one of them?
“How can you say you’re a woman?” That’s easy. Given my social context, my experiences in my body, my understanding of myself and my excellent responses to transition treatment so far, “woman” is the gender category that makes the most sense for me (in fact, it’s the only one that makes sense for me).
“Did you always feel this way?” Uhh.
Crap. I don’t know how to answer that one.
I mean, I know what I’m supposed to say. I’m supposed to say yes. After all, the usual narrative is that we knew our true selves from a very young age, and we were driven to transition literally as soon as we had the means to do so. We cling to this narrative because it could “legitimize” our genders in the eyes of essentialists, and because, up until now, a lot of “LGBT” political messaging has revolved around the idea that queerness is “not a choice” and that we were “born this way.”
Is this entirely honest, though? I realize that it may be for some people, and I don’t want to erase their stories at all. But I do know that, for me at least, the reality was a little more complicated, a little less neat and tidy. And since my transition is largely about honesty and integrity, shouldn’t I also be honest about my past?
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately, which is why Natalie Reed’s latest post resonates with me so much:
In telling and retelling those stories of our childhood, clinging to and exaggerating those “legitimizing” moments that are no more likely to be the memories of a trans woman than of a cis man, we rewrite ourselves, and distort our own memories. We build a childhood we never had. The heartbreaking part, though, is that we end up sacrificing what our histories really were, the actual complexity and multifaceted nature of our narratives, in order to allow ourselves to feel valid within what is ultimately a cissexist, patriarchal, invalidating conception of what is required to be “legitimately” one gender or another. We don’t just rewrite our own histories in order to find a sense of comfort. We also allow the cissexist narrative of gender to rewrite all of us, collectively, and erase the actual complex (and perhaps beautiful) story of human gender itself, participate in and become complicit with that rewritten conception of what we are and the larger cis-patriarchal structures it supports… and punish those who remember.
Lately, I’m realizing the degree to which I’ve done this, contributed to this. We all have, to some degree; the pressure to “correctly” narratize our lives is immense. For some of us, it’s even been necessary. Up until very recently, any trans person whose life didn’t follow the cis-prescribed narrative could be denied transition treatment; and even now, those of us who have access to it face the very real possibility of having it blocked or revoked based on a misconception of who we are and what transsexuality is. This leads to one of most bitter ironies of transition: in order to get the help we need to live honest lives, we often have to lie. And in doing so, we perpetuate the lies that cis people tell about us to invalidate us, to deny us our very selves.
I’m tired of that.
When did I first “know?” I can’t pinpoint a particular time frame; for me, it was more a growing awareness than a sudden realization. I knew I was uncomfortable with my genitals, and I knew that I felt kind of out-of-place as a “boy,” but I didn’t really know how to interpret these things, or what they “meant” for me. To my recollection, I didn’t actually think to use the phrase “I am a girl” (or even, “I want to be a girl”) until I was ten years old or so. (Under the old SoC rubric, this would have meant that I was a “secondary transsexual”, as opposed to a “primary transsexual” who was considered to be “truly” trans. I’m so glad they dropped those BS classifications.) Even then, I fought it really fucking hard, first by doubling down on biological essentialism, then by diving into some of the more destructive aspects of Western masculinity, and finally by throwing myself into an “intensive discipleship program” at my local church. It wasn’t until 2002(ish) that I finally started truly embracing my female identity, and it took me many more years to work up the courage (or, rather, desperation) to begin my transition.
That’s (an extremely abridged version of) my trans history. And you know what? I really think I’m starting to be okay with that. Oh, sure, I wish I’d started sooner, and I also wish I hadn’t felt so driven to deny what was happening to me. But the story above is true (at least as far as I remember it), and it does not make me even slightly less trans, or less of a woman.
I really want to explore my history some more. I feel as if it’s been stolen from me. Even if I was the one who erased it, I erased it due to social coercion and fear that telling my story truthfully would cause me to lose the acceptance and help that I needed. I’ve taken back my selfhood and my right to self-definition; now, it’s time to take back my past.