I was recently mightily strafed on a genderqueer facebook group for mentioning this, by a gender-politics-fuelled trans man (who has since left the group – because we’re not political enough there, thank goodness).
Although I’ve had little negative response before to describing myself this way (including from trans men), I’ve been thinking since then how I might better explain this – as I did a very poor job at the time, and as I’m sure it won’t be the last time I get asked to explain myself. So I thought I’d write this blog-thing about it, partly to get it straight in my mind, and partly so that in the future, I can just point people here instead of having to trot it out all over again…
Actually, having this impetus to mull things over has meant it’s become a lot clearer in my mind how to explain this (and funnily enough, it was one of the “accusations” levelled at me by the aforementioned strafing trans man that put me onto this, but I’ll come to that later). So…
Imagine (if this isn’t you already) that you were born into a female body. At a certain point in your life, you find yourself facing the fact that “woman” isn’t the right word for what you are. You’re something a lot broader than that, something more androgynous. You do find yourself fascinated by and drawn towards the world of trans men… except that you’re not a man either. After much soul-searching, you realise that what you really want to be, the person you’d feel most yourself being, is somewhere in between these two.
You realise that you’d like to have top surgery, because your breasts don’t make a lot of sense to you, and because they’re the thing that gets you most automatically IDed as a “woman”. But you have no interest in bottom surgery, you pretty much like things as they are, down there – and you’re not really interested in “going all the way” with testosterone either, although it would make you more the shape you feel you should be, because it would do too many other things that don’t fit who you are.
So far, so non-binary FAAB trans* person.
Now imagine that you’re all this – but for some crazy reason, you’re in a man’s body. Then you’d pretty much be me.
So that’s what I mean, when I say that my gender archipelago consists of several islands: woman, androgyne, and something best described as “trans man”. I’m not a man, I never should have been a man, have never really been one, have never wanted to “pass” as one – I just looked more like one for a long time. I’m not a woman either, not solely a woman, I’m something on the way out of womanhood, something androgyne, but still closer to a woman than a man – Womandrogyne.
And the reason why I keep saying “some part of my gender identity could best be described as trans man” is because the only thing that remotely comes close to an experience I can really resonate with is that of some non-binary trans men.
The aforementioned strafing trans man told me in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t make claims to know what I’d feel like if I’d been born in a different body. I call bullshit on that, in no uncertain terms – because that’s what anyone who’s trans* is basically doing – it’s our imagination (by which I absolutely do not mean anything resembling mere fantasy; I mean our capacity to engage empathically with possibility) that tells us that if we were something other than we currently are on the anatomy or sex-identity or gender-expression spectrum, we’d be being ourselves more faithfully, more authentically.
So I state unapologetically for the record that if I’d been born with a female body, I’d be transitioning in some way towards androgyny – and I can state that because that very accurately and honestly describes who I actually am. I just got a weird break on the anatomy front, so I’m having to come at it from a very different angle, but that’s profoundly irrelevant.
If you’re remotely trans yourself, do not try to tell me you have the right to recognise your true self as other than you currently are physically, to imagine how and who you would be if that were not the case, and to aspire to do something about that – and then tell me I don’t have that right, because my sense of self is too far outside your experience.
This is not a quibble about labels. Labels are just vague models of our experience. I’m choosing to wear the label of “like a non-binary trans man” because when non-binary trans men describe their experience in any detail, I recognise myself in their description, in a way that I can’t in any other context.
Let’s be quite clear here: I have never claimed to be a trans man, I do not describe myself as a trans man, I am not a trans man. I am saying that within the stupid limitations of language, that’s the closest approximation I have to a big part of my experience, and I’m sticking with it as a pointer.
[This photo is of a 4 foot high statue of the Bodhisattva Vajrasattva (a Buddhist archetypal being), made by an artist friend called Aloka and loved by me at first sight. For me, this image is the quintessence of androgyny both in art and in spirituality (no, I’m not really sure what that means either, just go with it, I’m being lyrical). It’s an entertaining paradox that I both believe in and don’t believe in gender identity, that it’s both meaningful and meaningless to me – and Vajrasattva embodies that paradox in beauty here.]