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Why is this so important to me? That’s what my close friend D asked me today, as we sat around at Denny’s discussing my gender-things, and it’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot too.

Earlier in the day, we had had a texting-conversation wherein I told him that I wish I was invisible so I could wear and look like whatever I wanted to, without worrying about what people thought of me. He replied that I could always be myself around him, and invited me to wear whatever my gender issues desired. So instead of my usual half-assed attempts at attractiveness, I wore cargo shorts and a tie-dye t-shirt and a sports bra and skate shoes and a chain wallet. He asked me if that was what I’d dress like if no one could see me, and I replied, “Pretty much, but plus a cape.” Sitting in our booth, I had explained to him the two-spirit thing (which I was delighted to find he had already learned about in anthropology class), and why sports bras are so confining that they are freeing, and why I’d rather be inside of someone than have someone inside of me.

He took the logical position and asked why I label myself when I can just be myself instead. Why do I worry about making my outside match my inside, when outsides don’t really matter at all? All great questions, D, and all very logical. But somehow this isn’t logical. It’s not a matter of stone cold fact, or checking symptoms off a checklist, or a Freudian misunderstanding of what it means to be a woman. It’s somehow more visceral than that. And even as a writer, I am at a loss for words.

I feel like the people around me think I’ve been on a kick, or going through a phase. I can see why that might be. I wouldn’t say I obsess (readers might disagree?), but there have been a lot of changes around here. I’ve been coming out of the closet to people. In addition to my favorite hat, I bought a sports bra today (!!!), and I’m thinking about getting a pixie cut (although I have a round face and I’d totally look like JBiebs). And yeah, I wasn’t always visibly butch. I never wore makeup or really gave a shit about looking pretty, but I also did do the bare minimum to stop my mom nagging me about my self-respect, and therefore I ended up looking and acting female. I am not changing– it’s really more like I’m discovering this whole part of myself that was always there, but I tried to ignore.

D, I’ve coughed up a great metaphor that might help you, as a cisgender heterosexual macho man, motorcycle and ladies and five o’clock shadow and all, understand why this is so important to me.

Imagine waking up one day in a new body, in a new house with a new family. Once you get over the confusion, you have to deal with your new life. You still know you’re D, you think of yourself as D and remember what you did as D, but for some reason everyone keeps calling you Martin. You try to tell people you’re not Martin, but they laugh because he’s apparently a big joker. Or else you continue to act like the Martin that everyone says you are, trying to forget your life as D, and wonder if you’re clinically insane. If you could be alone all day, it wouldn’t be a problem– you’d just be living your life in a new body, no big deal. But you are forced to laugh with your friends about things you don’t remember. You’re forced to pretend to your stranger-wife that you like the same things in bed that Martin did. But no matter what, no one around you will ever see you as D again and there is nothing you can do about it. That’s a good approximation of what it’s like when everyone knows you as female, and you are helpless to convince them otherwise.

I have wondered myself if it’s a phase, if I’m just trying to be special, or if I’m just confused, but deep down I know it’s not any of those things because I’m afraid. Only important things really scare you. I’m afraid that getting a pixie cut will make me look like JBiebs. I’m afraid to go to the mall and buy boxer shorts. I’m afraid that the people close to me won’t understand. That my mother will still try to make me wear a dress on Easter. I’m afraid people won’t take me seriously (which is even worse). That they will dismiss me. That they will think I’m a poser because I don’t want surgery. That sexual partners will inadvertently remind me again and again of my inescapable body-trap. That they will think I’m trying to be something I’m not. That they will try to remind me of all the feminine stuff I know I do. I’m worried I won’t be attractive to men anymore. I’m afraid that J will think I’m copying his transgender former lover F, just because I have a major crush on him (really a question of cause and effect, here). I’m afraid this is a slippery slope into a lonely life because men love women and women love men and I am neither, so who will love me? That is what I’m afraid of most. It doesn’t matter how illogical it is. It’s fucking terrifying. But now that I’ve unleashed this idea, I really can’t pretend I never thought it. I can’t go back.

But maybe I’m getting somewhere. To comfort me after our conversation, D gave me a hug and said, “Just be yourself, chica. I mean, chico. Whoever you are today. I’ll be here for you no matter what.” I hugged him back hard.