What’s on my mind? I think I’m really struck right now by how inadequate language is for making sense of what I’m going through whilst transitioning from a male to a female body, from my pretend-male persona to my familiar-but-unfamiliar female persona.
I want to write about sexual orientation – and as I write that, it seems odd to me that I’ve never come across the phrase “gender orientation”, which actually would seem to me to be quite a useful turn of phrase. But I digress (it’s bloody hard not to, since all this seems so inextricably intertwined).
I’m thinking about the whole issue of identity a lot at the moment – partly because I’m about to spend a long weekend with over 400 of my fellow ordained Buddhists, almost none of whom have seen me since I began to transition over a year ago. So I’m partly mulling over identity in relation to “gender identity”, and what that phrase might mean to a Buddhist (to this Buddhist, anyway). But I’m also thinking about it because I’m having a strong experience of changing, shifting, flowing, from one state towards another, and another, and another – in relation to my sense of my gender, but also my sense of sexual orientation, whatever that is. Let’s see.
I’ve already written quite a lot here about the nebulous sense of gender identity I’m experiencing: am I a tomboy woman, or am I something more androgynous than that, and who gets to decide what any of those terms mean anyway? I’m very conscious of the twin pulls – towards having a sense of identity I can lean on and say “look, I’m this“, but also the opposite tug towards being free of a fixed and rigid sense of me, and the enjoyment of watching the shifting around happen. But it’s also frightening not having an “official me” to declare, it’s frightening being in this in-between state where I’ve left behind my ersatz male identity, but haven’t yet fully taken on (and can’t yet take on) my female identity.
Being fixed, being fluid – both of those are both scary and seductive. How we laughed…
Anyway, on my mind particularly today is sexuality. This is going to get personal, I hope I’m prepared for that! As I’ve mentioned before, around the time I began to transition, I’d come to the conclusion that I was best described as polysexual (or bisexual, for people who are watching in black-and-white). Let’s for the sake of simplicity go with bisexual, because I’m going to be writing about men and women and my response to them. So I identified as a bisexual man. But then I had this extraordinary week where it was like my sexual identity and sexuality shut down and rebooted. And when I came out at the other side of that, it was clear to me that I was no longer a bi man, but a bi woman. What this means in practical terms is that I’m experiencing attraction towards men and women as the woman I now am, and these attractions are very different in quality from how they were before.
This, and the whole “identity” thing, are on my mind today because I’ve lately been telling people I’m a dyke, as it’s easy shorthand for “woman who’s not feminine and likes women”. But in order to get my own head around this sense of me as being okay, I’ve been ignoring my attraction to men. Well, I stopped being able to do that yesterday. I went perfume shopping, and had a very pleasant and intense interaction with a gentle male shop assistant, who sprayed perfumes on my wrists, and then put his hands over them to warm up the perfume. I found myself getting nervous and awkward with him, and assumed it was because he was coming on a bit strong trying to sell me stuff. But today, it’s obvious to me that I fancy him. Obvious in an “I keep thinking about him and me and horizontalness…” kind of way.
Nothing wrong with that, really. Except I’m finding it very unsettling. Partly just because being attracted to someone always makes me feel vulnerable anyway (who doesn’t?) Partly because being attracted to men as a woman is a new experience for me, and I’m not sure how to respond to it yet.
But the hilarious part of this is that it reminds me of back in my 20’s, when I first really admitted to myself I was bi (and trans too, though that got buried again bloody fast), but then submerged it beneath identifying as Gay Man™ simply so I could have a tribe to join – there was no bi tribe back then, that’s for sure. And here I am, doing the same thing again, only this time I’m identifying as a dyke because I want to be accepted by the women I most want to hang out with.
Actually, my experience of women is that lesbians are more accepting of bi women than gay men are of bi men, on the whole. But I’m just reflecting on how strong the whole “label” urge is. It feels so much more urgent than it really is, given that people are generally more accepting of sexuality-vagueness than I expect them to be. I wish the same were true of gender-vagueness – it seems to really freak a lot of people out to be unsure of “what I am”.
A small detour: an acquaintance on a trans forum I frequent said recently that she didn’t like the term gender outlaw (coined by Kate Bornstein) since outlaws are unlawful – preferring instead to call herself a gender dissident – I like it! So I wanted to give it a little airspace here :). Okay, back we go…
We Buddhists talk a good No-Self. We love to go on about transcending a fixed sense of identity. But being in the middle of all this shifting about, and transitioning, and in-between-ness, and watching my urge to set, and my urge to flow, is really eye-opening. I didn’t choose this as my practice, but it necessarily is my practice, because it’s what’s actually happening, and that’s the core of practice – to respond to what’s actually happening right now. And to assume it won’t be the same from moment to moment. And to respond with compassion to my longing for it to be the same – so long as it’s on my terms, of course. I know transitioning won’t make me happy, because that’s not how things work. That’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because I’m deeply compelled to have my outer and inner self match better, and resisting that all these years has made me ill and unhappy, and has led to me making other people unhappy too. So I need to stop pretending to be a man, I need to change my body… and then see what happens next…
I don’t know what to do with all this, I just wanted to lay it out there and have a good grin at how serious it all seems.
Oh, and I’m going back to the perfume shop tomorrow, but that’s another story.