trans discourse

I have lots of updates to make about the tortures of finishing a dissertation (can I get an amen?), and the joys of parenting a one-year-old (I know I can get one for this!), and the pleasures of reconnecting (dates and renewed communication) with your love after the first year of co-parenting, so stay tuned for all of that. But J and I have been talking a lot lately about gender, and – partly inspired by this post over at Love Invents Us, and the fact that, like Yogi’s mama, I’ve also been reading T Cooper’s Real Man Adventures* – I thought I’d reach out here to see what this community has to say about the big ole’ off-limits topic of transitioning.

I want to say out the gate that none of my thoughts about transitioning are absolute. I don’t believe that I’m the best one to make decisions for anyone other than myself and, for now, Bram. I think there are lots and lots of reasons that women transition to become men (which is what I’ll talk about here; I won’t discuss MTF women), and I would hate it if I implied that those reasons are all unsound. This version of happiness – the one I’ve carved out for myself – wouldn’t work for most people, and I wouldn’t expect it to. I give my money (limited though it is) to organizations that spend most of theirs fighting for trans rights, and I feel plenty good about doing that. I know that we have trans readers, and even if it were any of my business (which it’s not), I would absolutely, unequivocally support them. Support and respect them.

In truth, my concerns about transitioning are less about transitioning at all, and more about the way we respond to it in contemporary American culture. I get worried whenever something, anything, becomes off limits in terms of critical discourse. When you can’t ask questions about its implications, its consequences, its motivations without being shut down, or accused of being hostile, or accused of being phobic, or accused of being unpatriotic (whatever the specifics). I get worried when we’re not supposed to talk about something, when we’re just supposed to maintain silent agreement or else. And I think that’s happened around the fairly sizable new wave of transmen.* And I find this especially worrisome because it means that we’re not supposed to ask questions about a choice that lots and lots of people are making even though that choice means the life-long injection of synthetic hormones and the surgical alternation of bodies. In my opinion, the seriousness of these steps calls not for silence, but for a robust conversation. And we’re the ones to have it because, frankly, these are our people we’re talking about. Or they start out that way. The only other people who are going to talk about this are actually transphobic. They are bigots. So for fuck’s sake, let’s don’t let them dominate the conversation.

As for my thoughts, they come from an admittedly biased place. Though it took me some time to narrow it down, I am deeply and profoundly attracted to masculine women. My wife is the single sexiest thing I’ve ever seen, and that’s no lie. My wife in tailored men’s pants and a tie? Well, you don’t need to know about this. ;) J. Halberstam. Judith Butler. But to be fair, I’m plenty attracted to transmen too. Read: my still abiding crush on T Cooper. I don’t find him as sexy now as I once did, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t there. And though I can’t imagine she’d ever make this choice, if J decided to transition again in the future (has she written here before about the two years she spent as a man?), nothing about her draw for me would change. I love female masculinity, but trans masculinity will do.

I’m just a little concerned right now to see us subscribe so unquestioningly to the intense medicalization of identity. And when I say “unquestioningly,” I don’t mean individual transmen because I’m sure they’ve questioned plenty; I mean us at large. When we’re finally talking about the media-driven body image issues that bring women (and men) to the brink of starvation, or under the knife, or just to sustained self-loathing, I worry about sending a whole new category of people there too. Moreover, if J did decide to transition again, I would worry about the health risks of T. I mean, we try not to take aspirin when we get headaches, you know? So, I worry.

I also wonder about the message of still working so damn hard to fit within the binary gender system. I mean, there’s a lot of pleasure to be had in issuing a resounding fuck off to the notion of being either a woman or a man. A mama or a papa. A girly-girl or macho. Truly: why the hell haven’t we picked at least one non-gendered pronoun and made it stick? I remember reading Sandra Bem’s research on gender, and how she discovered that we’re healthiest, psychologically-speaking, when we possess LOTS of both stereotypically female AND stereotypically male characteristics. That we’re UNHEALTHY if we possess neither (if we’re sort of ungendered), but that we’re also not doing so hot if we manifest one to the exclusion of the other. I am for sure on one side. I love most of the stereotypical “girl” stuff: red lipstick, and empathy, and Downton Abbey. :) And J is in lots of ways intensely masculine. Still, I’d say there are areas of overlap, and I’d say those areas are important to us. My worry about transitioning is that in order to pass, transmen have to exaggerate one set to the exclusion of the other. Otherwise they might be found out. Otherwise they might be in danger of hateful bigots. But if they’re exaggerating and suppressing, that’s not so authentic either, right? That worries me.

I’m also a little concerned about the degree to which this is sometimes (maybe?) a furtherance of sexism. In the passage Yogi’s mama is talking about in her post, Cooper (the character?) says: “the word lesbian? I have never and would never use that term in reference to myself. Never. In fact, I’m probably one of the most lesbophobic people on the planet, probably because of my won fucked-up issues of not wanting to be assumed to be one. I got no beef with lesbians; I’m just not one. I’ve never seen even one episode of the The L Word. Never been to the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, don’t know who Dinah Shore is, and coertainly never donned a thumb ring or ear cuff” (15-16). Sigh. Maybe it’s just me, but does this read as sexist to you? And do you think it’s unique to T Cooper? It feels to me like transitioning is, to some degree, a rejection of the vestiges of femaleness that one can’t shake with the right clothes, or haircut, or body carriage. And of course that’s okay: we are entitled to reject femaleness if it’s not our thing. But is there any point at which that rejection might be said to be reflective of the sexism that we seem intent on maintaining in this culture? And if so, if it’s just still better to be a man, isn’t that a conversation worth having? Because here’s the thing: that’s a way out of fighting for gay rights. If our masculine women all become men, we can get legally married. And have benefits. But does that make us straight? And by doing it, are we saying that straight is best?

Question: If J transitioned, would that make me straight? And if a choice she made made me straight, doesn’t that mean that none of this (straight, gay, man, woman) is quite really real anyway?  And if it’s not quite really real, shouldn’t we be having lots and lots of conversations about what it means?

I don’t know. I have questions, but no answers. What I do have, though, is a true and abiding love for queer people, so I care about this choice, to which so many queer people are turning. I respect anyone who struggles to find themselves amidst all of the voices that try to distract us. I’ll call anyone whatever they want me to. For the most part, I’ll even think of them however they want me to. I love my masculine wife, and I’d love her if she were my masculine husband. Still, I’m glad she’s my masculine wife. I love that she’s chivalrous towards me. T Cooper’s wife says that being with him makes her feel more like a woman than she’s ever felt before, and I get that because that’s what J has done for me. But I also love that my masculine wife breastfeeds our children, and that she does it in ties, no less. I love the contradictions, the assumptions she upends, the offhand way she dismisses what is expected of her in favor of what feels authentically right. Had she gone through with her plan to transition all those years back, she wouldn’t have given birth to our perfect son. That’s unimaginable to me, though it could have happened. I mean, how could she have known how important her female body would come to be for her family? I hate it when people call her a “lady,” because she’s not that, but she isn’t a man either. I’m glad we’re sending the message to our son that gender categories need to be exploded. Now. And I worry about sending the message that they should be adhered to, which feels like a part of transitioning.

I also worry about our resistance to the simple, difficult fact that we are only able to have this human experience because we live in these human bodies. That, though these bodies are flawed, though they fail us, they are our only ways into life. I don’t know what it’s like to be born in a body that doesn’t reflect my gender. But I do know what it’s like to feel deeply, devastatingly let down by my body. Letting go of the narrative of pregnancy and childbirth – which was for so long deeply embedded in my beliefs about what it is to be a woman – has been crushing and painful, but it’s also been profoundly beautiful and formative: a matter of surrendering to my basic humanity, which is, in the end, vulnerable and exposed and disappointing. Which is something.short.of.what.I.want.but.so.much.more.than.I.have.a.right.to.ask.for. I could fight to fulfill the thing that I expected of my body, to bring my body to meet the standards I hold for it. But would I risk losing something of my basic humanity if I could just fix the ways I feel let down? Is there something to be gained from meeting my body where it is instead? I don’t mean these questions rhetorically; I really mean them. Are we purely blessed by our ability to overcome so many of our perceived weaknesses, or is there something meaningful in just not doing that sometimes?

I ran across this line in a Stacey Waite poem this morning: “I will not be the kind of boy who can not bear the memory of her body.” Is there something in this?

Truly, I’d love your thoughts. Please keep them kind, though. Breaking Into Blossom has only ever been a space of compassionate community. I very much want to keep it that way.

* Do you have a friend who would go to a reading of one of your favorite writers, and get copies of their books that you teach with signed for you, and buy you their new book, and get it signed too while they’re at it? Because we do. And as T Cooper himself notes in his inscription to us in said book, that is one “nice-ass friend.”

** Does anyone have figures for this? Recent studies as to the percentages of lesbians who are now choosing to transition? I know it’s growing, but I don’t know how much.

Post-publication edit: There are already great comments here, which I’m SO thrilled to see. I would love for this to become a thriving conversation: so many of you have insights to offer. Please especially check out the the comment from Maybe a New Leaf, whose author speaks eloquently from the position of a trans guy. And thanks to all of you who trust this space enough to share. 

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24 thoughts on “trans discourse

  1. What an inspiring post. I only speak from personal experience here. Myself, I identify as genderqueer. I am female but I have many masculine characteristics and sometimes identify as more male. Not in the sense of just dressing more typically male, but more intellectually male, more the feeling of being male. I have thought a lot about those who transition and I can’t imagine feeling the other gender all the time; it’s confusing enough for me to feel it some of the time.

    To be honest, I am still trying to accept my genderqueer status. I WANT to be interested in all the girly things, but the fact of the matter is I am not. I think I want to be interested in those things because I am currently female and I so badly want to fit in with social preconceptions of gender. I want to be ‘normal’, either one or the other, and not being that way has caused me a lot of inner strife.

    Then there is the question you asked – if she transitioned would that make you straight. Would that feel like a lie of your true nature? Even though you would still be attracted to and love him/her? I worry that in my more male times that A does not find me as attractive. She has recently identified herself as gay (even though she has been with me for a while), and I worry that in those more male times that she is no longer attracted to me because it doesn’t match her feelings. She is attracted to and wants to be with females – if I am male, even partially, then how can she want to be with me.

    I hold a lot of insecurities about my gender, and about my sexual orientation. Having just identified myself as gay as well, that is renouncing my bisexual status as I thought I was (sidenote: I was attracted to males because I wanted to fit in again with societies “norms”, I now realize that they were not attractions to their gender, just strong friendships with their personalities that I mistook for love). I have not accepted my sexual orientation and still fight it on a daily basis – but I am learning to love me – all of me, whatever I am.

    Sorry for the rant and for not answering any of your questions.

    • Thank you so much, Lindsay, for trusting us all with the honesty of this comment. So much. Gender and sexuality are such complicated things, and coming out (again and again, in new ways) can be profoundly overwhelming. Please feel free to reach out more, if it feels safe. I know this community could help. And in terms of your gender queer status: rock the fuck on! Though I understand that not everyone sees it this way, from where I’m sitting, there’s just nothing sexier. And there’s for sure nothing sexier than a person who is confident and sure of him or herself. I trust that you’ll find your way to that kind of confidence.

    • Totally! That’s not my experience, but I think that’s awesome, and I’d love to hear how that has informed your sense of your own sexuality.

  2. I know you are writing here about larger questions, but I can only add thoughts from my own experience. I’ve certainly asked myself all of these questions. I think most trans and gender nonconforming people have, no matter what medical steps they decide to take (or not take).

    If only I had a dollar for every time I looked at a butch woman (admittedly knowing nothing of her internal identity) and thought “Well, she’s just amazing, and look, she’s perfectly fine. Why can’t I be like that? Why can’t I be fine?” or for all the times I thought “This is the body I got. I really should be OK. I just need to try harder. I can get this.” And I did get something out of trying harder (a really awesome kid, for one thing). But at some point, “trying harder” stopped cutting it, and was hurting far more than it was helping. Living a life in which I get to take up residence in my body again (after decades of absence), is a lot more important than what my individual path might mean on a broader societal scale.

    And for the record, I’m perfectly happy to buck gender norms. I have my whole life, I just can’t do it as a woman anymore. I’d much rather be a man who is a sensitive and caring parent, cries at sappy movies, and hopefully owns up to any privilege that comes my way once I make it through this gauntlet intact.

    As far as stats, I don’t think there are any. I’ve looked some, and we don’t even count lesbians very well, let alone trans people. I also offer that some of the “increase” we see on an individual basis can be a view based on our own aging — that is, as time goes on, inevitably, some of our peers reach the limit of what they can handle, so any one individual, especially a queer individual, is likely to see an increase over their own lifetime. That said, I also think there is likely a real increase based on (somewhat) improved access to care, I just don’t see it as a problem. In general, I think people do a good job of making choices about their own lives, in this regard, and most others.

    As far as my wife’s identity — that is a mystery to me. I’m just glad she likes me better now…

    • Oh my word, I can’t thank you enough for these thoughts. I was so deeply, deeply, deeply hoping you would share insights, but this is even more than I expected. This, especially coming from you, is wonderful: “And for the record, I’m perfectly happy to buck gender norms. I have my whole life, I just can’t do it as a woman anymore. I’d much rather be a man who is a sensitive and caring parent, cries at sappy movies, and hopefully owns up to any privilege that comes my way once I make it through this gauntlet intact.” Yes. Yes. And of course that’s true for you. And that’s why you’re such a wonderful model for how to do this with integrity. I worry because I suspect your ability to maintain this much authenticity might be a product of how well you understood yourself heading into transition? But yes. I love the idea of exploding gender stereotypes from whichever side feels more possible. And I’ve seen photos of your awesome kids, so I know you can back this up. :) Anyway, thank you. It’s good to hear your (strong, sure) voice here.

  3. I have nothing to add (except, perhaps, my appreciation of Stacey Waite — have you read the interview with her on Pilot Light?), but I appreciate getting to learn from the conversation you’ve opened up.

    • I have not, but I will. And welcome, Laura. Don’t you think everyone on this thread should come sit in on one of your classes this term? ;)

  4. As always a fascinating post that reminds us (or at least me) that just because most is our daylight hours are wrapped up in te lives of our kids, we can and should continue to explore ourselves. Both my wife and I are quite feminine, not in a feme stereotype or girly-girl way, but in a typical ‘straight’ girl way. Which is to say, we are less like our ‘sporty’ or butch/feme lesbian friends and actually closer in personality to our straight female friends (who seem to have both female and male traits without concern). Both my wife and i identify as lesbians, but are continuously mistaken for straight. This never really bothers me as I don’t see myself conforming to any of the lesbian stereotypes. Maybe my ‘type’ is completely oit of the closet straigt girl lesbian type :) I don’t know how much of my comfort with this is due to the fact that I came out with very little fan fair in high school and have always lived in cities where being gay was considered very normal, if not trendy. Sometime I think if this were not the case, I could have been bi or even (maybe???) straight…

    Thanks, as always for an insightful post that forces is to think about ourselves as sexual beings and not just parents :)

    • This comment made me smile so much. Yes, it is a struggle, but such a worthy one: remembering to see ourselves as sexual beings. Being a year in has helped with that around these parts. ;) And this: “completely oit of the closet straigt girl lesbian type” made me smile. When we lived in the south, it was pretty much clear who was gay and who wasn’t. Even here, it’s anybody’s guess. And how fucking lovely.

  5. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to write my ideas and I know they are going to be somewhat disjointed and probably won’t come across quite as intended. I much prefer oral dialogue where there can be a back and forth with additional explanations and clarifications and reevaluations, that said I feel compelled to respond to this. I hope that anyone who takes the time to read understands my intent even if my words are not the best words that could have been chosen.

    I’ve never identified as trans, nor been in love with a trans person, so I cannot speak from either of those perspectives. It is, however, a topic which I’ve given a probably more-than-average amount of thought to, particularly since one of my oldest and very dear friends “came out” as trans several years ago. My thoughts are strongly influenced from my discussions with him, though I recognize that his feelings and experiences are certainly not every trans person’s feelings and experiences and that my thoughts and interpretations may not be directly reflective of his. i.e. I speak for myself, at this time, and not for any other person.

    First, I do not think that it is particularly important that I understand my friend’s, or any other trans person’s “reasons” for identifying as such. Just as I don’t feel that it is important that people understand my “reasons” for identifying as a lesbian (which I am not even 100% certain is the best word to describe my sexual orientation, though it works well for the relationship that I am in and plan to be in indefinitely, so it is the word I am most likely to use). I am sure that there are a plethora of reasons that people may identify as trans. Whether because of biology or experiences or *whatever*, it is not my place, nor anyone else’s, to judge ones reasons for feeling the way they do about who they are. That said, I don’t think trying to understand is a bad thing. I think listening to people speak about what they feel makes them who they are is incredibly fascinating (probably one of the reasons I studied psychology is school) and that really listening promotes understanding, and often acceptance.

    I wonder how many FTM men would feel the need to transition if our society were more accepting of gender variations. I strongly feel that there is no one way to be a woman (or man). Strong, stoic, “masculine” women are lovely. As are gentle, sensitive, “feminine” men. I think it’s a failure of our society that “gentle” and “sensitive” aren’t words typically associated with the word masculine and that “strong” and “stoic” aren’t typically seen as being feminine traits. Why? The same holds true for appearances. Why must women who decide to wear their hair short, or dress in or button up shirts and ties, or put big clunky motorcycle boots on their feet seen as being less womanly? If these variations were more acceptable would there be fewer people identifying as trans? I don’t know. My understanding is that identifying as trans goes beyond having traits that are typically seen as belonging to the other, but maybe that does not hold true for everyone. Maybe having those traits is reason enough to make some people feel like they do not belong in the body to which they were born, while for others it runs deeper than that, say on a more molecular/chemical level. I don’t believe either person should be considered “more” trans.

    You asked a question about when our girlfriends and wives become transmen, and whether that makes us straight. It really goes to show how limiting our language is, doesn’t it? My feeling is that perhaps the best chosen word to describe someone in this situation would be “queer”, however, like I said above, it really is an individual’s choice to pick the words that they feel best describe themselves.

    A question for J, though I know she can only speak to her own experiences, but I’ve often wondered if transpeople mourn the loss of their “other” self. In her years as a man, did J ever miss being a woman? Now that she identifies as a woman, does she ever miss being a man or does she feel she’s found the balance that allows her to carry both of these selves? Speaking to male privilege (which I don’t feel is truly a privilege in all cases), I also wonder about the differences she’s noticed (or not) in the way she was treated as both a man and a woman. I’d be interested in hearing her thoughts.

    Finally, Jen and I have been blessed with two beautiful children. One born into a boy-body and one born into a girl-body. My wish for them is that they are always comfortable being themselves, whoever those people turn out to be. I hope that they are comfortable being themselves in the beautiful bodies that they were born into and that I feel are perfect in every way. I would probably feel some sense of loss and sadness if they felt they had to change their bodies to have others see them as they see themselves. I would certainly worry for any obstacles they would face as a result of such. However, if they ever did feel that way I like to think I would be wholly supportive. I know from my friend that transitioning (surgery + hormones) has made him a more stable, happy person. I’ve said to him that I do not need to be able to relate or even understand to love him. I love him because he is HIM. I expect I would feel the same way, but probably 100 times more so, with my own children.

    I have to go now because my girl-bodied-child needs to be fed and I have the good fortune of being able to feed her with the strong, soft body that while I haven’t always been completely satisfied with, has always felt reflective of who I am gender-wise.

    P.S. My trans friend named himself Lee, as “li” is the non-gendered Chinese (sorry I can’t be more specific than that) pronoun. I agree that we need one of those in English. I’ve posted about him on my blog before, but you might like looking at some of his writing at work at his website: http://leehicks.weebly.com

    • I’m so glad you wrote, and I second pretty much everything you say here. I too would rather change the world to fit these babies than see them change to fit it, though I know that’s more likely in the end. Anyway, if there weren’t seven hours (plus customs) between us, I’d show up tomorrow so we could just talk about all of this over coffee. Or tea. Or while you’re attached to that beautiful girl-bodied-child. :)

  6. I’ve given a lot of thought to these kinds of questions over the past few years – particularly when I was living in Chicago and was a part of a vibrant and diverse lesbian community. I saw many formerly butch lesbians transition in the 7 years I lived and loved in Chicago. I also had the pleasure of speaking with Halberstam when he came to Chicago’s LGBT film festival to speak on a panel after the screening of a film (The Gendercator) that had been banned at LGBT film festivals across the country that year as transphobic (http://www.crossdressers.com/forums/showthread.php?59794-Is-Lesbian-Director-s-Movie-Anti-Trans-Anti-FtM).

    Halberstam made a similar point to that you make here about the problems with shutting down these kinds of discussions before they can happen. I agree with you as well; we need to have conversations around these issues BECAUSE they are hard conversations, not in spite of it.
    Halberstam also said – and this was profound, I thought, and really stuck with me – that this film was not about transpeople and we need to stop approaching it as saying anything about transpeople at all. The film is “about” lesbian anxiety at the “loss” of lesbian gender non-conformity, and THAT is the discussion we need to be having. Where is this anxiety coming from? What, exactly, is the anxiety about? How can we address this anxiety?

    I’m also thinking about what Foucault says about new technologies producing new subjectivities. If we stop thinking about sexual and gender identities as “essences”, then there is no reason that there should be a certain stable percentage of people that are gay (10%?) or trans (?) or whatever. New technologies are actually producing new ways of being in the world; it is not something to mourn because there was never stable sexual or gender identities in the first place. It doesn’t make these new subjectivities less authentic – we are all equally inauthentic ;)

    And for the record, I absolutely believe that transpeople can be misogynistic, lesbophobic, what have you. Butch lesbians can be chauvinists, etc. It’s a problem. But I think that the problem is not with the identities themselves, but with how people feel forced to situate their own vulnerable identities in relation to other identities. Just thinking out loud here…

    Thanks for posting such a thought-provoking topic! <3

    • I re-read your post R, and I wanted to add a couple of things because I was writing earlier on my way to teaching – about butch/femme subcultures, no less! – and some points may have been lost in my haste.

      While I think that critical conversations about the motivations and effects of transitioning absolutely must be allowed on the table (i.e. male/masculine privilege, whether transitioning is inherently conservative – feeding into the status quo, etc.), I also think we need to have a real, honest, and critical conversations about lesbian anxiety around female-to-male transitioning.

      I also think that repressing aspects of our selves in order to “fit” into gender appropriate categories is by no means unique to transpeople. And I think that just as I – through my lived queer femininity – am re-writing hegemonic femininity, it is more than possible than many, many transmen are re-writing masculinity through their lived transmasculinity. It is not, inherently, a conservative move, it is not maybe inherently anything at all. My queer femininity is much more complicated than a simple replication of traditional heterosexual femininity, and so I give transmasculinities the same benefit of the doubt. (Though that accusation has certainly been leveled against the femme time and time again…)

      Whilst I respect and admire (as always) your perspective on your subject position as a non-gestational parent, I have to be honest: now, in retrospect, I would not change anything about my path to parenthood, the path carved out for me as a result of my infertility. However, if given the option at the time to “fix” my body and make it capable of pregnancy, I certainly would have chosen to do so. I don’t think one decision (to fix, or not to fix) is more ethical, more heroic, or more interesting than the other.

      Again, thanks for sparking such interesting conversation.
      xoxo

      • AH!!!!!!! This is exactly the discourse I was hoping for!!!!!!!

        Thank you so much for taking the time to offer not just your insights, but your expertise. This is why there need to be more lines for WGS folks, and fewer joint lines. In my opinion. Even though I’d love a joint line. Oh, irony.

        Anyway, there are about seventy things I want to respond to here, but time is short. Mostly, I read these paragraphs and just think: “yes!” and wish you’d say more. And the lesbian anxiety piece: where can I read about that? Who’s writing about it?

        The only thing I’m not 100% on board with is your take on my idea of not fixing everything. I agree with you that accepting our vulnerabilities/weaknesses/failures is not “more ethical, more heroic, or more interesting than” not doing so. Totally. And I regret having implied that I find heroism in all of that, as really: I feel quite the opposite. My research is so invested in those notions of failure that I get a bit sloppy when describing them. All I meant to ask is what it means to submit to weakness. Not because there’s nobility in doing so, though. Not for any external reason, really. But because there’s something lovely about defeat that we’ve been trained to overlook.

        Anyway, that’s another conversation for another place. I really can’t tell you how thankful I am for your thoughts, though. I hope everyone’s reading these comments, as I only wanted to start the conversation, not to have my momentary take on this dominate. I hope this thread is being taken as a whole.

  7. While I loved this entire post, I could’ve written the lines copied below myself. There is something wonderful about reading someone else’s thoughts and thinking, “THIS. YES. That’s it exactly!”

    “Though it took me some time to narrow it down, I am deeply and profoundly attracted to masculine women.”

    “there’s a lot of pleasure to be had in issuing a resounding fuck off to the notion of being either a woman or a man. A mama or a papa. A girly-girl or macho.”

    KK and I talk all the time about how much we love our silly little mid-western city. It has been the wonderful home we never expected. That said, we gave up our awesome community of gender questioning intellectual friends in this transition. I thought I might find a new community at the academic institution I serve, but because of my work here I’m not usually seen as the person for these conversations. Ugh. We both miss these conversations tremendously, and I think she misses the community of masculine women (she identifies them as “butch” but I don’t know if they’d give themselves that label) we had when we lived on the east coast. Thank you for returning us to one of our favorite conversations.

    • Thank you, Kate. I very, very often feel that we have similar minds, you and I. And I mourn that space for you, though I know that as the years go on, you’ll carve it out there, even if needs be from stone or from air. Souls will find their way to you, and when they do, they’ll find a wonderful community home.

  8. This is such a timely and fascinating post. I’m feeling so scatterbrained at the moment – I wish I could respond more coherently. My wife and I have many friends who’ve transitioned – partic acquaintances from previous academic communities (coincidence?) And we’ve felt and observed a kind of lesbian anxiety about these transitions – and tried to catch ourselves in our own biases and assumptions (as you always do so well) while honoring the questions. I’ve feared that things like, say, using T are almost trendy in certain communities and that has bothered me. But I also can’t claim to know the real struggle and thought process that leads to transitioning. I have often wished to be a man, but in a ” it’d be easier” way, and have never tried to embody that – oddly, perhaps, I’m fairly feminine externally. And attracted to many expressions of gender.

    Well, not answering q’s here, but appreciating the food for thought and the comment thread…

  9. I love this post, and found myself nodding in agreement several times, which might sound odd, since I am a straight girl married to a straight boy. :-)

    But the funny thing about our state-sanctioned marriage is that we resist the many gender-normed narratives attempting to pigeonhole us into a Eisenhowerish heteronormativity. Some family friends were taking a tour of our house and admiring our separate closets (oh, the luxury). And then, shit got real: they started joking about how they were both my closets, and you could just see the steam coming out of my ears. The Chancellor valiantly admitted that he had twice as many clothes as I do (it’s true) and I was not possibly that demanding (thanks, Love). It’s toxic to assume that because someone identifies as a “man” or a “woman that they will therefore carry all (or any) of the tags we associate with a particular gender.

    Another “fun” anecdote came at our wedding: my uncle had the chutzpah to tell The Chancellor that in marriage, when it came to a fight, he had two choices: he could be right, or he could be happy. What the fuck. What does that say about me that I can only be happy when I am making my partner take on the blame for everything, especially things that I am partially or fully responsible for? I was furious, and again, The Chancellor also rejected that narrative. I think episodes like this are what spurred me to keep my name, frankly. In this very “Christian” environment that my husband and I are steeped in (and sometimes, the love of Jesus is not apparent at all, if you know what I mean…), I wanted to make a statement: I do not embrace all the norms that are associated with being a straight, married, Christian woman. Get to know me for me, don’t make assumptions.

    We are together embracing the things that make us uniquely ourselves, but in ways that enrich our identities as man and woman, to further question these stereotypes. The Chancellor is a damn fine baker and housekeeper, but he also loves rap and hip-hop, tennis, swimming, and dressing in sweaters, ties, fitted pants (not TOO fitted), and shiny shoes. I adore my Jane Austen-related kitsch and TV, but I also am enthralled by Jason Bourne and good action movies, Brit Rock, and NFL Sundays. And we both love a good book, cooking, and *Downton Abbey.* In fact, when taking a poll, we agreed that I was Matthew and he was Mary. So, hey! Apparently, in the DA world, we’re already trans. ;-)

      • Thank you, Bonnie, for this wonderful offering. Oh, gender assumptions. But for the record, I love that you’re in the middle of all of that, disrupting the hell out of it. Wish we could see you two one of these days. <3

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