Contemplations on queerness, transness, and other Otherness.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

why i transitioned twice, and never transitioned at all.

       The word "transition" is a loaded gun. Six chambers of connotation and stereotype. Each time it's uttered there's a sure-fire game of Russian roulette in which i'm left to suffer the assumptions that lay between the ears of the listener. Unfortunately, i don't have better language for this concept and find myself using the word frequently. This is especially difficult for me because my transition has not followed any sort of socially recognized template. In many ways, i've transitioned twice. In other ways, i'm still transitioning. In others still, i have never and will never transition.

       i knew for a long time that i would need to transition at some point. i knew it in my heart and in my bones. Deeper than deep. This was the kind of knowledge that in other contexts is often referred to as faith. It was simply a matter of when; a question of motivation and resources.

       When i was about twenty-one i decided it was time. i got into therapy and started seeking hormones. i do want to pause here to state that hormones and therapy are by no means necessary to a trans identity — i don't want to reify that all too common misinformation. These were, however, elements of my personal process. i also shifted my outward appearance.
i got really queer. i grew out specific bits of my mohawk and tied a pony-tail in back and put a glittery barrette in front. i got really tight jeans and a grungy purse. i did gaudy makeup and shaved off my mutton chops. i changed my voice and swished.

       i got read differently. i had presented as queer before, but it was more of a punk-rock faggot sort of thing. So this was new. It was the first time i'd heard a little kid ask their parent if i was a boy or a girl. It was the first time i heard people say, "What was that?" when i passed by. Stares changed. Their energy shifted.

       i didn't know how to handle any of this. i thought that i would be ok. i'd been read as a freak before, but i had been able to dissociate. People being weird about my counter-culture presentation actually felt gratifying, while their adverse reactions to this honest gender presentation felt so deeply personal. All of my gender theory and general bad-ass attitude wasn't enough, but i held on tight.

       And then came the violence. i don't want to draw too hard a line here because words and looks can absolutely be violent, but here i mean physical, hate crime violence. The first few instances were relatively tame. Something thrown from a moving car along with a shouted slur, that sort of thing. And i pretended that these were isolated incidents, echoes of a high school oppression that was already fading into the haze of memory. i pretended it was random until it happened again and again.

       i grew vigilant, withdrawn, scared. But i remained determined... until i drove through St. Louis. The details of the incident aren't crucial here, but suffice to say that i would not be here right now had a stranger not put their body on the line for me.

       So i retreated. i decided i didn't have the strength or the energy to transition then. i started wearing a grizzly beard and flannel and hit. i hid from myself. i hid from others. i tried to be a man.

       And it worked, for a couple of years. But, these things have a tendency to resurface. Eventually, i shaved my face. Then i shaved my legs. i changed my name, started hormones, started actively becoming. i am now a lot further along and it's been longer than the previous time. It hasn't been easier, i've just been more ready, more fierce. i'm less silent when people say things and i have developed some, admittedly not fool proof, strategies for self-defense.

       But in the process of my second transition i uncovered something unexpected. i don't identify as a woman in the way i once did. i sometimes use that word, but it is almost always modified by the prefix "trans" or "queer." And, most often, i identify as something else entirely. Still a trans femme, but with a non-binary understanding of gender.
The word "transition" seems to elicit this image of crossing from one binary location to the other. i draw this conclusion from people's assumptions about my identity, or when they say things like, "You're just a woman to me."

       I'm not just a woman. i once longed to just be a woman. i don't long anymore. i'm in the gender i want to be in — right now at least. What's more, i'm committed to my own fluidity, my continual transition. So, if transitioning means being just a woman, i haven't transitioned. If transitioning means having to renounce my queerness, my Otherness, my transness itself, to achieve some binary that doesn't even feel right, then i don't want to ever transition.

       It's really just people's incapacity to broaden their understanding of what transition means that's the issue here. Most people seem to be incapable or unwilling to acknowledge any experience that they can't fit inside of a per-constructed box, and i just can't do that.