Dear Steve: If only it were that easy

Someone called Steve commented on a recent post of mine: Constant misgendering and clothing. Oddly, even though it’s available over here at WordPress, the comment is on the Blogger page. Anyway, here’s what Steve had to say:

“Just a suggestion… to each their own, obviously…

Defining oneself by whatever convenient label comes along ( ‘gay’, ‘straight’, ‘bi’, or even ‘genderqueer’), and using this as a basis of making decisions about how we should dress, or look, or feel about ourselves… might generally be a mistake.

Be who you are… do what you love… wear what you like.

Leave the labels to the haters.”

Steve, you get your own blog post in response to this comment! Your timing is pretty great, as I’ve been having similarly frustrating conversations lately. To be honest, the ignorance behind your statement has upset me. So when I respond and it sounds like I’m angry, it’s because I am.

Now, Steve, I’m going to assume that you’re a cis man, meaning that your genitals were in such a configuration at your birth that they labelled you “M” and you grew up comfortable with your body and at least a decent portion of the gender roles outlined for you. That’s great! I’m glad everything was so straightforward for you. Unfortunately, life is not so simple for all of us.

You seem to have things a little backwards, Steve. You mention defining oneself using labels and then using the label as a means of making choices about how to live. That is fundamentally wrong. For me–and probably many other trans* people–it went the other way around.

I didn’t pick an adjective from a hat on whimsy and then decide to adhere to the rules of that term. That would be incredibly disingenuous and would probably cause many more dysphoria-related problems than it would solve. The fact that you view terms such as ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ as “convenient label[s]” seems to suggest that you understand human sexuality to about the same degree that you understand gender identity. (That is, not very much at all.)

Human beings create categories around our behavior, rather than modifying our behavior to fit into pre-set categories. The reason the terms ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ exist is so we can describe a physiological and psychological phenomenon. We created the terms to describe things that already existed and simply didn’t have language built around them.

So now I’m going to reminisce with you, dear Steve, on my transition from gender-cluelessness to genderqueerity.

It started with knowing that something was wrong. I didn’t know what at first. When I did figure it out, it was pretty sudden. It was around the time in my life that I was ready to start identifying as a “woman” and not merely a “girl.” I recall listening to “I Am Woman” on repeat when it popped up in my RSS feed. It made me cry, for reasons I wasn’t sure about.

Somewhere in the mix, a former friend of mine came out as trans*. That was my introduction to trans* issues. At the time I was subscribed to a website called The Bilerico Project, which further educated me about trans* people and their struggles. It was on Bilerico that I saw an incredibly moving spoken-word performance called “Hir“. It made me cry, deeply. Over and over, I watched it and it hit me in waves. I actually just watched it again for the first time in probably two years and it still takes some effort to keep a lid on it. (I might critique the video later; watching it again I realized I actually do take issue with several aspects of it.)

It became pretty clear what was plaguing me.

You see, it started with knowing something was wrong. And gradually I knew that I wasn’t becoming a woman. Everything about that was just wrong. So I thought I was a trans* man, because when I found out that was a thing, it rang truer than anything. I had never even realized, never even thought that my gender was up for debate or could be different from the body I was born with. Having been raised to think gender was a dichotomy, I took those feelings and determined I was a man.

That went on for a couple days, and then I learned about non-binary people. This felt right. It’s an impossible experience to capture, this whole thing, and it’s really hard to “get” it if you aren’t some form of trans*. Being a woman was deeply wrong. Being a man felt much closer to the mark. Being non-binary is where I actually fit.

And I’d like to point out that I actually paid pretty close attention for a few months to how I was feeling, day by day. I kept a bit of a log on an old LiveJournal. This was me keeping track of how I felt and then making conclusions about my identity. It’s not like I didn’t get that having a gender which wasn’t aligned to my sex is a Big Deal. I didn’t adhere to the label quickly, nor did I do so without care. I also want to point out that I didn’t want to have gender problems. I worried about losing my friends and about my family not understanding me. For a little bit, while I was discovering that I had a gender problem, I acted even more feminine than I would normally. I fiercely wanted to just be a woman, and to be okay with the body I have.

If only it were that easy. I tried, and it didn’t work. I’m happy with my body now because I know that someday I can have a mastectomy, and because I’m comfortable enough with my identity to know that my clothing, actions, and body don’t negate who I am inside.

I do what I love and wear what I like, and part of ‘being who I am’ involves wholly embracing labels which apply to me. Atheist. Pansexual. Whovian. And yes: Genderqueer.

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