Contemplations on queerness, transness, and other Otherness.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

shifting nouns, shifting ground

       Nouns are as complicated for me as pronouns. My relationship to identity monikers is both a site of confusion and a site of growth. When i decided to transition this time around, i thought of myself as a woman.

       My identity fell upon binary lines. i didn’t even really feel all that connected to the idea of being a trans woman. i was simply a woman, and began taking steps to align my body and presentation with that reality. This was a process that was simultaneously liberating and hindering.

       i grew my hair out, awkwardly at first. i started taking estrogen. i learned to sew fabulous dresses and wore them everywhere. i shaved my body hair. i wanted to be perceived as a woman, period. This never really happened.

       Some folks in my life saw me this way, but these folks were particularly gender conscious and were committed to allowing me to define myself. For them i am incredibly grateful. i was given some space for becoming. i was empowered by knowing that there were folks who took my word about who and what i was.

       But, most of society was not that gracious to me. Most of the time when i was out in the world i was not read as a woman. My partner at the time used language that divided me from other women, language that rings in my ears to this day. Gendered spaces were scary and sometimes prohibitive. i tried to hide other vectors of my identity that may interrupt other people’s ability to see me as a woman. When i looked in the mirror i did not see a face or a body that matched the socially constructed category of woman, and was filled with sadness and self-loathing. i was kept away from the category of womanhood.

       It was painful. i wanted my identity to be accepted without question. But it wasn’t. Questions from the outside transformed into poison in my heart. i became jealous of cis people that were comfortable in their genders.

       Somehow, and for this i consider myself truly blessed, i was able to recognize that this jealousy was only doing a disservice to me and that normative femininity felt like poison. i stood alone and looked in the mirror for hours. i’d started to transition in hopes of being able to recognize myself in the mirror. i still couldn’t.

       Tears streamed from my eyes, screams welled in my throat, my teeth grit. i reached for the nearest pair of scissors. i cut the sides of my hair short. i wanted to reclaim my identity as a punk, i wanted to feel comfortable. i thought this would make it even less likely for folks to see me as a woman, and it did.

       But in that moment, womanhood started to matter less to me. i was able to embrace myself as a trans woman. i didn’t need perfect makeup and tiny shoulders. My exclusion from the category of woman allowed me to truly be a trans woman. For me this moment was crucial.

       i was different than other folks and that was ok. Scratch that, it became beautiful. This difference was a point of resistance, a locus of self-creation in the face of culture’s attempts to normalize and assimilate. i began to redefine femininity on my own terms; i unearthed a femininity that did not feel to me like poison.

       Eventually, and because of this, i stopped describing myself as a trans woman altogether. The word felt odd to me, heavy, awkward, inhibiting. i began to use the term trans feminine to speak to a sense of directionality instead of a location. Again, i was blessed by my recognition that my gender was a shifting and flowing thing.

       Acknowledging this directionality as a sign that my gender did not exist in a void, essential independently of social forces, i looked at my gendered relationship to the world. i reflected on my values and my ideas for a role.

       i found the word femme. Femme for me means compassion, care, resilience, sureness of self, and a deep capacity to love in the face of all obstacles. Femme took the place that woman used to occupy. Only this word felt, and still feels, whole to me. Femme is comfortable. Femme is home.

       But this was not the end of my journey. Although i was a femme, i was still trans. But the recognition that for me femme and woman were separate allowed me to embrace a non-binary gender. i learned to embrace trans*, as a category that rendered my shift from my birth assigned gender visible without locking me into a normative conception of what transness should mean.

       This process of growth and change cultivated a capacity for growth and change. i learned to see myself as both a “she” and an “it.” i began to love the term creature, and still sparkle every time someone refers to me as such.

       i embraced the fact that i was a faggot. i felt it deep in my bones. This epithet that was hurled at me so often was true. i similarly came to embrace myself as a tranny. These points of reclamation were a breaking point at which i was able to perceive myself as beautiful and valuable in the face of normative claims that i am not.

       The term genderqueer was already something i’d been using to describe my non-binary identity, but it just recently began to feel like home too. This has been partly due to the blessing of knowing several other beautiful folks who claim that word, and seeing parallels to my own identity. They have helped me to grow and to become, yet again.

       i recently shaved off my dreadlocks out of a desire to disarm a problematic and racialized hairstyle (more on this later, i promise). i was initially incredibly concerned that people would perceive me more as male when i had short hair. But i had to disarm anyway, that was more important to me than holding onto a gender presentation.

       As the hair fell from the back of my head and the ever present tug on my scalp gave way, i began to feel air on my neck. i was immediately reminded of how comfortable short hair felt in boyhood, how much i liked rubbing a freshly shaved head and feeling clean and fresh. i was left with bangs and long bits on the side that make my hair look femme in front and boyishly cute in back.

       i looked in the mirror and not only recognized myself, i recognized my constant flux, the beauty in that flux, and the beginning of yet another catalyzation of gendered shift taking place. It took me a few hours to place exactly why this was, and then another word sprang to the fore of my brain: genderfuck. Again, this is a word that is rooted in resistance and challenge to normativity and strength in self-definition.

       i still want my identity to be accepted without question because, although it’s complex and fluid, it’s still valid. i am still the final say of who and what i am, even though i recognize that my gender is reflexive and interacts with the world around me. In this ongoing gender journey i will still question myself, and allow myself to change. i will collect and reject and redefine nouns, because that process allows me to grow and become.