Posts Tagged ‘labels’

Question MarkToday we have two letters about identity that I thought went together quite well. So here goes:

A reader writes: “I consider myself transgender – I was born female, but feel very much that the concept of ‘womanhood’ does not apply to me in the slightest. I’ve always pursued more male interests and likings – everything from activities to clothes – even when I was too young to realize what I was doing. ‘Man’ best describes what I am when think of myself.

“In looking through different websites, there is no end of material about how to medically transition, and some information about how to ‘pass’ and live life as the opposite gender without having surgery.

“Though I wish that I had been born a male, I’m not too jazzed about having my fairly-well-working body operated on, or, for that matter, transitioning to living as a guy at all. I express myself with my choice of attire (think butch lesbian or gay guy). Are there other trans people who don’t medically and socially transition, and are there any resources that I’m missing? What’s the likelihood that other trans people will decide that I’m not really transgender, and are they correct?”

There are always some trans people who will decide that you are not trans. Whether they are correct or not depends on what definition they are using for “trans” or “transgender” – there are still quite a few out there. But the term “transgender” has morphed in meaning since I transitioned fifteen years ago.

I also know quite a few people who identify as trans*, which also seems to have different definitions, depending on who you talk to. But some of the people I know who identify as trans asterisk, which is how they verbalize the term, also see themselves as genderqueer or as simply not fitting into the mainstream gender binary. Others simply use it to express the fact that there are many different types of trans people.

I have one friend (who uses the plural pronoun “they”) who primarily identifies as genderqueer, but they also identify as trans*, and they say that this is their way of connecting with and being a part of the larger trans community, but separating themselves in the sense that they have no plans to transition, either medically or socially. They feel like they are on the fringe of what they consider to be the more “mainstream” transgender and transsexual community.

So everyone’s got his/her/hir/their own way of identifying, and I think that there are many people who identify as trans, trans*, or transgender who have no intention of transitioning in any way. Your identity is your own. (more…)


Read Full Post »

Question MarkA reader writes: “Asking this question on behalf of all the questioning folks out there: If you’re comfortable sharing, what all have you identified as on your gender journey? And what times (if any) were particularly tough/confusing?”

Questioning gender can be very difficult, although it’s not as hard, I would think, as it was way back when, when there was just one model or “blueprint” to choose from, and everyone was expected to go down a prescribed path – if they fit the established criteria.

At least now, there are different options and alternatives available, and information is out there for almost everyone in almost every situation. But that comes with its own set of problems.

I can’t say that I personally was ever questioning my gender – at least not in the sense that we talk about it today – because I was sure for over forty years that I was a girl/woman. I didn’t think that was what I was supposed to be, but I thought that was the way it was and that there was nothing I could do about it. I didn’t know that there was anyone else like me, and I didn’t know that what I was experiencing had a label and was an actual identified “thing.”

Once I discovered that, there was again very little questioning involved, because I knew what I was going to do – transition and live as a man. I would say that my questioning came in after I started transition and found that I wasn’t really fitting what I considered to be the “standard man” mode. That’s when, thanks to my therapist, I adopted the permanent label of trans man, and I have not changed that since.

So my gender identity went from girl to woman to man (for a very brief time) to trans man. And that is where it has stayed. And the most confusing time for me was as I said above – when I didn’t really feel like I fit as a “man,” and I wasn’t sure what that meant or where I could go from there.

But I had a lot of models to look at, because I knew, when I found out what “transgender” was, that I would transition, I had learned to use the Internet by then, and I was able to see lots of guys who might have identified as men or who might have identified as trans men, but who were out and visible and who I could relate to. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Question MarkA reader writes: “I’ve recently started to question my gender. I’m trying out using one letter (like an initial) as my name and as my pronoun, instead of ‘him’ and ‘he.’ I first thought I was just gay, but I’m starting to think that I’m gender queer.

“How does someone live a gender fluid life? And at the moment, as I’m a man who is attracted to men, how would a gender transition affect my sexuality?”

While true gender fluidity is not my area of expertise, I know quite a few people who identify as genderqueer and/or as gender fluid. However, having friends who identify as such is not the same as being there myself, so I hope that we will hear from genderqueer and gender fluid readers.

I think that living as gender fluid can be done successfully. The people I know who are gender fluid are, for the most part, very happy and comfortable in their lives and in their identity. Any battles they face are with a culture that insists that they be one thing or the other and is not comfortable with ambiguity or uncertainty (and I have to be very clear here that it is the culture that is problematic, because the people I know who are gender fluid don’t feel ambiguous or uncertain – they know who they are).

Again, I’m not an expert on living a gender fluid life. I can offer some suggestions, and then ask readers to bring in their expertise. Here are my thoughts:

> Be who you are. Choose the clothing, hairstyle, and other gender expressions that are comfortable for you. Don’t be afraid to shop in the “men’s department” and the “women’s department” in stores. Use the mannerisms and vocal inflections that come naturally to you.

If you’re not sure what is natural for you because the people around you have certain expectations about who you are based on what they already know of you, go somewhere new and different – even for a weekend – and see how you act and who you are in unfamiliar circumstances around people who don’t know you. It might sound like a cliché, but let your “true self” emerge. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Question MarkA reader writes: “Is it normal to feel transgender but not really have body dysphoria?

“I never told anyone I wanted to be a boy as a child, and indeed, never knew what a penis was until I was at least nine or ten. When looking at my female body parts, I sort of just mentally block them out. Can people psychologically deal with their transgendered state in different ways?”

The answer to both your questions is yes, but it depends on how you define “transgender.” Transgender is not a diagnosis – it is a label applied to a condition, personal identity, and/or group, depending on who is doing the defining. However, it is sometimes linked with the diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder (GID).

If you are speaking of the actual diagnosis of GID, there are some specific criteria that go with that diagnosis, although therapists today are much more flexible with regard to those criteria, knowing that not everyone fits into the little charts offered by the DSM.

When we look at the DSM, or even certain books that have been written to describe our “condition,” we are given a set of criteria that we are then expected to “match up” with our own situation. For some people, this can be incredibly affirming and relieving – “Yes, this is me, 100 percent, exactly, finally it all makes sense!” For other people, it can be very confusing – “That’s not like me and that’s not like me, so what’s my problem? Do I not qualify as trans, even though I feel this way?”

In the very beginning, when I was just discovering that I was not the only one in the world who had this odd “condition,” I was told to read a book called True Selves. At the time, it was almost the trans bible. Literally everyone I met in the community had read it. And it was helpful – but there was a lot in there that had nothing to do with me and that I couldn’t relate to.

I was also told to read Stone Butch Blues. At the time, it was almost the trans man bible. And it was a great book, and Leslie Feinberg is one of my earliest role models/idols, but it had nothing to do with me. I couldn’t relate to it. It wasn’t my life.

So I think that there are a couple of pitfalls to avoid for people questioning their gender identity or their identity as trans (or even the possibility of a GID diagnosis). Those pitfalls are: 1) taking specific sets of criteria too seriously, and 2) not taking specific sets of criteria seriously enough. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Question MarkA reader writes: “I was a participant at the 100th Bay-to-Breakers race, where, among many other naked people, I saw a person with distinctly feminine breasts and a distinctly masculine penis.

“I must admit, in a brief, surprised stupor, that I looked for slightly longer than I would normally look at a naked man, yet shorter than I would at a naked woman.

“This person noticed my discomfort and proceeded to dance, when I simply turned away without further comment. I am a straight male with no axes to grind, but the encounter continues to make me uncomfortable. I realize it was a somewhat ‘Carnivale’ atmosphere, so I didn’t judge.

“My questions are: Did I likely offend someone who was simply making a sexual overture, and what should I have done more tactfully? I’ve been approached by both gay men and hetero women without any qualms or lasting discomfort, but this was a first and my brain just didn’t know how to process it.”

First of all, welcome to my blog, straight non-trans man! Please come back, and tell your friends.

Second, there are two potential offense triggers here, and some people won’t agree with me, but I don’t think that either one is particularly offensive.

The first is looking for “slightly longer than I would normally look.” It’s possible that the individual took this as an offense and decided to dance for you not in an attempt to hit on you, but as a way of flipping you off for staring. However, in this situation, your “looking slightly longer” is, in my opinion, a normal reaction. (more…)

Read Full Post »

PoliceTwo situations have recently come to my attention. At first glance, they appear to be completely different scenarios – opposites, in fact. But upon closer inspection, we can see that they are almost identical.

Scenario 1: Several straight, traditionally masculine trans men gang up on some non-traditional gay and queer trans guys, telling them that they are not “legitimate” trans men, that they are not correctly expressing their gender, that their sexual orientation is wrong, and that they would look and act a certain way if they were “real” men. Meet the old gender police.

Scenario 2: Several non-traditional gay and queer trans guys, along with some genderqueer people, gang up on some straight, traditionally masculine trans men, telling them that they are wrong to identify as men, that they are wrong to use male pronouns, that they are not radical or queer enough, and that they are reinforcing the patriarchal binary gender system.

This isn’t West Side Story, and these scenarios didn’t happen on the street. They happened in structured settings intended for trans people – trans spaces – which, ideally, should be safe for everyone, but which often have a tendency to be safe for only a limited few.

And while these may seem like totally different situations, they are one and the same. They both reflect those who sit in judgment of others based on gender identity and expression – the old and new gender police, within our own community. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Question MarkA reader writes: “In a comment, you wrote about gender norms: ‘I also believe that, no matter how much we relax (the binary gender system) or expand it (or even if we eliminate it), the medical need for transition will remain. People who need to transition need to transition, regardless of the gender system in place. The elimination or expansion of the binary gender system would serve to reduce or eliminate the stress and discrimination that trans people experience, but I don’t think it would eliminate the need to transition.’

“I would like to hear more about your thoughts on this and the reasons why you think so. How would trans issues look in some sort of gender-diverse/free utopia?”

The comment that the reader refers to above was my response to another comment on the post “I Don’t Regret Seeing ‘Regretters.” There are people who believe that, if gender norms were relaxed or eliminated, there would be no need for any trans person to correct his or her physical body. I believe that such a system might reduce some people’s need to go through a physical transition, but I don’t believe that it would eliminate such a need for all trans people.

I am, of course, looking at everything through the lens of a Western, binary gender system. That is the system into which I was socialized, and although I can acknowledge, and even favor, other systems, I will probably never be able to look at things with complete objectivity.

It’s interesting that this question comes along now, because in “Writing Your Gender,” the class I teach at Metropolitan State College of Denver, we have been discussing that very thing – if a society recognizes more than two genders, and if genders did not correspond so strictly with the physical body, would anyone be compelled to change his or her body based on gender identity? (more…)

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »