It feels a bit disingenuous to bring this up today, in a way (it being TDoR), but I’m increasingly bothered by pressure from within the trans community for anyone non-binary to label themselves as trans. Over and over, I see this Statement Of Certainty that “all non-binary people are trans/come under the trans umbrella”.

Why are people so obsessed with this idea?

For a start, it seems to stem from the assumption that there’s an Absolute Definition of the trans label in the first place. This is not the case. As with pretty much any identity label, it means different things to different people. For some it’s more about incongruity with the gender and/or sex they were presumed to be at birth; for some it’s tied up more with transition (a term which itself means very different things to different people); for some it’s tied up more with dysphoria, and so on.

And because of this diversity of meaning and significance, whichever way you use the term, you’re likely to exclude some people, or in this case include some against their will. My working definition of trans is therefore “anyone who identifies as trans – ask them what they they mean by it if you want to know more, because opinions and experiences differ.”

Personally, I identify as trans because to me it suggests transition – but I don’t mean transition in the assumed sense of clearly defined start and end points, and I don’t mean it in relation to gender at all (since I’m genderless, mine has never been a “gender transition”), but merely a sense of being on some kind of journey in relation to what most of society seems to think of as gender/sex. I’ve been through a physical transition which involved both surgery and hormones, and my body is still adapting to that. But my psyche is also still adapting, and my sense of self is fluid and constantly changing/changed in response to the changes that have already taken place. So I don’t know that I’ll ever feel like no longer calling myself trans. For me it’s also a statement of positive visibility, to help others feel less alone.

But I know many non-binary people who do not identify as trans at all, and I strongly support their right not to have others police their identity or use/non-use of labels, including trans. It’s simply exhausting fielding other people’s insistence that we’re all trans – folk need to accept that their personal definitions are not universal.

I reserve particular impatience for being told “trans means your gender doesn’t match what you were assigned at birth” by people who know they’re deliberately including people in that “definition” who do not have a gender. Just stop it. I’m happy if gender makes sense of your own experience, but it’s just a model. Leave us out of it. I’m also fed up with people insisting that trans means “not cis”. There are many people – genderqueer, genderless, gender-nonconforming, intersex – who are not cis but who are not trans either, and don’t wish to be labelled as such against their wills.


Asterisk Not Obelisk

2001 obelisk at sunrise
I’d like to share an interesting example of trans social histories and the subjective nature of “stories” that I participated in a few days ago, after posting something on Facebook.

I came out as trans nearly 5 years ago now, and I joined a big online trans forum (which I ended up as a mod on for a while, until the forum infighting made me run for cover – but that’s another story).

There was a nasty phenomenon going on all of the time that I was there, of (mainly) trans women who’d had, or intended to have, surgery thinking of themselves as the “TrueTrans™” people, and making a distinction between being transsexual (which they thought of as “really trans”) and transgender (which they treated as “the lower classes”).

In response to that hierarchical nonsense, the label trans* (with an asterisk) started being used by people, who meant by it specifically “trans+whatever (-gender, -sexual, whatever, none) is simply trans and simply valid – nobody gets to police anyone else’s identity or labels anyway, but surgery is no yardstick of the validity of someone’s transness.” So having been a part of that movement, I associate trans* with equality as well as inclusivity.

Meanwhile, it turns out that in other trans circles and communities, trans* got coined too, but with several different and competing meanings and intents, all of which were different from the meaning/intent we were using. And now there’s been a strong backlash against using trans*, because for many people it has apparently come to represent the exact opposite of what it meant to us. To those people, it means “trans people are the TrueTrans™ people, and everyone else is merely trans*” – or/and it’s come to mean somehow that the voices of white, entitled transmasculine people are heard at the expense of everyone else (this is what I’m being told, anyway).

So I innocently used the phrase “supporting trans* young people” in a post the other day, and got strafed by someone for whom this is a slur. We sort of discussed the matter, I did some reading up (this, and this, and by way of balance this), and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m no longer going to use I still can’t decide whether I’m going to stop using the asterisk, since though it means something really positive to me and a load of people, there are another load of people out there who feel very disenfranchised by it.

Actually, I’d be very content for trans to become the default term, if it meant we moved on from transgender/transsexual (and that godsawful “transgendered” that people use sometimes) altogether (and all together). Shortening of terms is a good sign of cultural assimilation, according to sociolinguistics.

I’m also fascinated by how each group of us had no idea that trans* meant anything different to other people from what we were used to it meaning, and how easy it is to assume that “my/our story” must be the “true story”.

End of ramble.

Edited to add: An interesting thought just struck me: to those of us with a computing background, the asterisk very much symbolises inclusivity, as it means “anything at all can go here” – whereas for non-computery folk and/or academics, the asterisk perhaps implies “not important enough to include in the main text, but worthy of a footnote”. I’d never even considered the possible differences in asterisk-affect.

The discussion in that fb thread continues, and it’s clear that there are as many people who value the asterisk as there are those who cringe at it. Perhaps it’s time for trans[*] – or for a new word.

Trans cred (pff…)

We just can’t help it. The world wants, and many trans women want, us to put a pin in our lives and say: this is when I first knew I was trans (I’m going to stick with using the word trans because transgender/transsexual, it’s a whole battle thing – I prefer transgender myself). And for many, there’s some kind of weird cred/affirmation in it being as early in life as possible, because there are knob-ends out there who think that the only “true” trans person is one who’s known about it since potty-training.

That said (written), here’s my pin :).

I didn’t let myself know consciously that I wanted to transition until I was 23. There’s a good reason for this. The week I realised I wanted to transition was the week I decided I wasn’t going back home after college. Because home wasn’t a safe place (abuse stuff – enough said). I spent 3 weeks feeling really happy for the first time in my life, after I realised this is what I needed to do – then I told my best woman friend, she freaked out (because she was a product of Greenham-Think) and talked me out of it, and there it lay for another 25 years. I’m not blaming her (mostly), I wasn’t ready yet. It was the 80’s, I was still trying to come to terms with being bisexual, AIDS was just happening, and I had (as it turned out) a whole lot of work to do on recovering from abuse before I was ready to accept that I’m actually a woman, and start doing something about the structural anomalies…

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood, and seeing in what ways my transness was sneaking in without anyone noticing (especially me). Mostly, the big clues are in the literature I was reading. There were a whole load of books I read and obsessively re-read all the way through my childhood and teens, and they almost all had gender/transgender themes. The 3 that most stick in my mind are (in reverse order) Triton by Samuel R Delany (a social scifi novel in which the main character gets changed from a man to a woman in around 20 minutes near the end of the story); Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon (in which the Ledom, the people the main character finds himself in the middle of, are all both sexes physically, and don’t do division of gender-roles); and earliest of all, The Marvellous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum (the first of the sequels to The Wizard of Oz, in which the boy Tip, its main character, discovers at the end of the book that he’s actually the Princess Ozma, hidden as a baby by turning him into a boy – and he agrees to being turned back after being reassured he won’t lose all his friends, and becomes a kickarse princess who sorts out the problems in Oz).

And the thing is, I never really wanted to do boy things – but I never really wanted to do girly-girl things either. I never wanted to dress up like a princess or whatever. And in my early time of transition, this bothered me, because it felt like I didn’t have the “cred” – or more significantly, it made me wonder whether I was “really trans”. but the more I’ve felt my way into who I really am, and accepted that I’m the hippy dyke I like to call Womandrogyne, the more obvious it is that things haven’t changed since I was a kid – I’ve always wanted to be who I now am. I always liked bright colours, but I’ve always turned up my nose at girly-girl clothes. Even now, almost all my clothes are women’s clothes (well, shoes are hard when you’re a size 11), but none of them are feminine, I’m your basic tomboy.

It’s a happy thing to look back across your life and see yourself continuous in this way, even though I did a very careful job of hiding my womanhood from anyone who might do me harm, until I was big enough and strong enough to be that vulnerable and take my shields down.

It feels like I’ve spent my whole life “passing” as a man, and now I’m done with “passing – I can just be me, and damn the torpedoes, we don’ need no steenkin’ cred. Here I am – a lot of trans women can’t make head or tail of me (and my lack of interest in being heterofemme) – but lesbians get me straight away.

Let the festivities commence…

It’s like this. I’m 49, and in the middle of a gender transition from male to female. But I’ve been “forced” to coin for myself the term Womandrogyne as a shorthand for saying this: I’m female, but I’ve never been feminine – or masculine, for that matter, unless I’m just a mixture of the two and they cancel each other out, or summat.

People seem to expect that because I’m transitioning, my dearest dream is to look like Liz Taylor or Judith Chalmers – but I’d much rather be Heather Peace (I’d say “Shane from The L Word”, but I’m way, way too old to pull that off). The truth is, I’m just a hippy dyke who happened to get born with the wrong plumbing.

Oh, and something about me transitioning has brought a strong dose of PTSD to the surface – that’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, if you can’t be arsed to google it. (Yes, these maroon things aren’t links, they’re just pretty highlights…)

PTSD – for me, this consists of scary flashbacks (basically like being a child whilst being an adult, and not just in the usual way people do that), and having what I like to call my Inner Meerkat – my fight-flight mechanism that trips for no apparent reason on regular occasions, leaving me with a pulse rate of 100 while I’m lying down reading a book, for example. No, I’m not surprised I’m now single either.

I thought I’d start this blogthing to write about what it’s like to be a trans woman who isn’t feminine, and probably some stuff about dancing with PTSD too. Let’s see if I ever get past the post…