(This began as a short addition to my earlier post, A most poor credulous monster, but it’s grown a little bit beyond a brief paragraph into something which is now more of a ‘Part Two’ than a ‘Later edit’).
On further reflection, although the problem relates to my sense of (gender) identity, and although I identify as a woman, there’s still an unspoken ‘but…’ at the end of the assertion.
“I identify as a woman but…”
And that’s where I’m running out of words. There really isn’t the vocabulary for this part of this human’s condition. The best way I can describe (not explain) it is to use the example of street harassment. On experiencing some sort of verbal hate speech, usually a personal remark, I’ve noticed that it’s not uncommon for a cissexual (= ‘non-trans’) woman to respond with a few choice words to the effect of ‘go away’. There’s an underlying self-confidence that she is a woman, so any stranger who questions or denigrates that aspect of her existence is just an idiot.
But if that same man makes the same remark to me, I’m immediately vulnerable because I know that I have spent most of my life living as a man, and am still adjusting to having a body which matches my brain’s expectations. In other words, I have a ‘trans history’, for want of a better term. Evidently, I’m still experiencing a noticeable amount of gender dissonance. It’s hard to know what to do about it – or even if anything can be done, but I believe it’s where my present sense of social alienation has its origin.
I keep thinking of Lisa’s comment – “my identity is not subject to a vote“ – and there’s the same self-confidence that I mentioned above. I only wish I could find something similar…
The cynic in me wonders if it’s all about labels: it seems to be a part of human nature to label everyone (and everything) – and if it’s so inevitable, then maybe I need to find my own labels and (pardon the pun) stick with them. Grow into them, grow with them. Perhaps then I would feel okay about using just ‘woman’ as a descriptor, instead of my current ‘trans woman’. Yes, it’s a reasonably accurate label, and it does let others know that I’m not a cissexual (= ‘non-trans’) woman – but why do I feel the need to do that? It’s oddly deferential. There’s obviously an insecurity in there somewhere – but that just takes me full circle, back to acknowledging that I’m still experiencing gender dissonance.
But perhaps that’s no surprise, really: I never expected to come round in the hospital recovery room and find myself thinking, “Well, that’s it, that’s my transition completed, all done and dusted”. I always knew it was going to be a long process – somewhere in the back of my mind I think I’d even accepted that I might spend the rest of my life ‘becoming a woman’. A work in progress, maybe – but a monster?…
If I could stop beating myself up about my perceived failings, then I might remember just how long my journey has been in what is, comparatively, a very short space of time. I’ve come a long way, even though it doesn’t really feel like it, and even though I still have a long way to go. But it’s not even two years since my attempted suicide; it’s only a little over eighteen months since I was diagnosed as being transsexual – and in that time I’ve transitioned (more or less) socially, legally and medically – and even my SRS was less than a year ago. In some ways, I suppose that I’m still adapting – at the very least, I’ve a lifetime’s baggage as ‘him’ to leave behind.
Evidently my ‘sense of self’ still needs a lot of work. This page makes interesting reading, insofar as it goes. I don’t know who the author is, or what hir credentials are (I just ran a search for ‘sense of self’) – but it makes a certain amount of sense. And even though it’s supposedly written from the point of view of women, it’s a little surprising to see how much overlap there is with my own experience of life as a man.
Cultural feminists will probably tell me that my identity problem would be solved if I just created some sort of hybrid gender, instead of reinforcing the existing patriarchal gender binary and appropriating/colonising their space(s). Unfortunately, their essentialist subtext (“once a man, always a man”), and the unhelpful way they deliver it, results in my seeing them as part of the problem, not part of the solution. To quote Lisa again, “trans is only a problem because other people who are not trans make it a problem”. This is compounded by the insistence of those ‘other people who are not trans’ that it’s the responsibility of trans people to solve this problem which the non-trans people have identified. It’s possible that this conundrum may well be accentuating my own troubled state of mind.
As regards creating a hybrid gender label for myself, although I admit it has a certain appeal, there are two immediate problems. First, I would still be marginalised, the difference being that, presumably, I would get to choose which margins. And second, we only have to look at the firestorm which rained down on Thomas Beatie to see that any redefinition of the gender binary is going to meet intense resistance from almost every quarter. And I’m just not that strong.
Finally: the other point which my previous post (partly) addressed was the question of ‘transgender rage’ – which I still don’t feel. Perhaps it’s too soon in my readjustment/healing process, or maybe I’m internalising it. The intense sense of isolation, of ‘not belonging’, is still there but it makes me sad, not angry. For good or bad, my life has turned out the way it has, and my aim now must be to find a sense of being part of – humanity? – existence? – and to try not to feel so detached from everything. There is no point in raging at who I am.
Maybe it’s not even about rage. As I write this, I’m recalling a session last year with my gender counsellor, in which she said that a period of grieving is an important part of transitioning. As you move into your ‘new’ self, of necessity you leave behind many things from the life you knew. And although you may be focused on the new life which is coming into being, at some point you need to come to terms with those aspects of your past life which you leave behind. I believed that I had done that, but maybe I need to think about it again, to travel that road again, if only to double-check.
Yes, I know – nobody said this would be easy…
©2008 Helen G