“What are you?”
Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I am a trans man…..sort of. I do not entirely identify with man and trans is more of a description for me than man ever has been. I am non-binary, but that is just as vague as saying I have some sort of gender, but I’m not quite sure what it is, no matter how true that is. I am not confused as to who I am, I know that part quite well, but what I am is quite a bit trickier.
Imagine someone handing you a color swatch. They are painting their house and need to figure out how to describe the type of color. They want your help. You look at the swatch. The swatch is purple…kind of. It’s not exactly purple but, that is the closest word you know to describe it. It is clearly not green, orange, or red. However, purple is not quite the correct term. Purple-ish? Not exactly quite right either. You know what the color is not, but you can only describe certain qualities of the color, not the color itself.
Thus, for me, man is the closest I can get to my identity in the current word pool I am allowed and know. However, it is not entirely correct, thus I use non-binary, however, even then, it is imperfect.
I know the things that I am not. Female, woman, or masculine, just to name a few. To some extent, I even know the things that I am such as feminine, non-binary, short, loud… and so on. How do these play into my gender though? Feminine is not a gender. It is an expression, a style, a way of moving through the world. It is an extension and not a core. Non-binary, as previously said, is broad and ambiguous. It can mean a number of varying things, from agender, to genderfluid, to genderqueer.
Genderqueer. I am certainly queer of gender, just as I am queer in sexuality, but what does that mean? More broad categories, and ambiguity, but with a more political turn. Yet when I search for genderqueer, looking for others like myself, I often turn up empty. More androgynous masculinity. A lack of femininity. More bowties and suspenders than high heels and glitter. Not for me. I do not see myself here.
I experience the same issues in trans male spaces and identities. Masculinity, and the pushing of femininity out, even more so than in genderqueer. Man. Masculine. Macho. Manning up. The only thing often in common here for me is hair and beards, but never accenting make-up or bright colors. Again, I do not see myself here. This place is not for me. So I move on.
This is not to the fault of the identities, per say. Femmephobia exists across all spectrums of gender and their underlying communities. Feminine genderqueer folk and feminine trans men exist, the numbers are small and they do not drive the face and heart of these identity groups. I long for somewhere where I can look at the representation of the groups, the simplification, and see myself in some way. This mirror does not exist with these groups for me.
While feminine is an extension, and not the core, it is still attached and it is still vital, at least to me. And while trans is an extremely important part of my identity and my life, I cannot claim the label trans feminine as it is reserved for non-binary CAM (coercively assigned male) people. The term given to me by others for this situation is trans masculine, another label I wholly reject as a term to describe myself.
Maybe language has simply not caught up for people like me. I am not the only one caught in this predicament either. Language simply has not expanded to encompass the complexity that is gender and the range of unique identities it has to offer. Of course, language is not my only gender issue.
The more I tend to think about my gender and what exactly it is, the more questions arise and the more things I need answered. As with the color analogy, male is the closest term I can get, but it is definitely not correct. Non-binary only scratches the surface for the deeper questions and concerns that create part of my gender.
I look at what it means to be male in the society I live in, and do not see myself. While I understand that this is a very binary way of thinking, it goes deeper than that. As many can attribute they simply feel a kinship with a certain identity, something that rings true, that has never been entirely true for me and the identity of a man. While I use the identity of male/man, it’s like a pair of pants that fit great on your ass, but are way too big in the waist. It just doesn’t fit perfectly on a fundamental level. This is where the word non-binary comes into play for me, it is like a belt. It holds the pants on me better, making them fit better, in lieu of a pair of pants that actually fit.
However, this confusion and this sense of wandering, unsure of where one fits, is often seen as a negative. As Kate Bornstein says, one of the only things about someone not expected to change from birth is gender. We are expected to be so steadfast in this identity that it is assumed at birth, written down, and considered unchangeable. Many states and countries refuse to change this information, regardless of whether or not it is correct. Any confusion on this nature is seen as a negative, something that shows we are inauthentic and fake.
Humanity is complex and humanity is varied. Even among a singular identity, people reach across a wide variety of experiences, presentations, and so forth. We often talk about gender as a spectrum, when it is more like a color wheel, ranging across many different possibilities, some varied by one degree and others as different as red and yellow. Despite this, we are expected to be seen as unconfused, focused from the minute we are born, despite receiving different messages from different groups, trying to sort out the white noise from the true tones.
For some, they can do this more easily, cutting through life a knife. For others, we’ve been handed a wire and told to saw. Sorting and cutting out the unnecessary tones and information is hard and complex. What if that piece we placed over there really goes over here? How about this piece? It IS confusing and yet we are expected to snap our fingers and bam! everything is figured out.
We do not grow up in a void, all alone, floating with nothing but our pure selves. From the moment we are born we are influenced by not just our culture in this day and age, but the cultures of others. We are influenced by society, our family, our friends, and the media. We are bombarded, we are educated, and we learn. We ingrain the ideas of our society, whether they apply to us or not. We take notice of how others are treated. We learn. We grow. These messages become blurred, confused, distorted when they meet with us, especially if they conflict with ourselves.
Despite this, we are expected to understand from a young age, when our brains are yet not fully formed, who we are. While this may be true for some, it is not true for all. We are varied. We are complex. Confusion in this confusing world is to be expected. It does not mean inauthenticity, it means exploration, it means learning, and it means evolving, growing. Confusion is not a negative, but something to be expected for some of us. Confusion is natural in this ever expanding world, where culture and self, clash. It may never end and that is ok.
“So…What are you?”
I’m not too sure yet. I’m working on it.