The Toast’s previous coverage of trans* issues can be found here.
I’m not comfortable with the word ‘transgendered’. That might potentially make you think I am a self-hating transgendered person, but that is not the case; I don’t hate transgendered people at all, and I only hate myself some of the time for things completely unrelated to my condition. I just don’t like using the word, because it’s a word that comes with with a history and expectations and a sense of identity attached. When I do use it in reference to myself I usually tend to do so in a strictly medical sense – scientific and sterile and describing a condition I happen to have and will always have in some sense, that I am being treated for. That the condition happens to be transgenderism instead of say, diabetes or alopecia seems kind of irrelevant.
When I first came out I did use the word as part of my identity however, and I did it constantly – even when I was passing! I was proud of my diagnosis, and for finally having gotten it after years of misery and pathos. I was proud to be transgendered. But slowly, as I lived longer and longer as Molly it began to feel strange. When I thought about transgendered people, myself, I thought about genderqueer people, and the faux-outrage of Jezebel’s hysterical white female readership over every trans issue I’ve never experienced, and all of the support groups and forums I’d never been to and had no interest in. I thought about the million-million documentaries that have arisen out of the muck just as I started to come out, and how they present transgendered people who have a million-million problems in their personal and professional lives, and how my life has been easy as hell. And more and more I began to think, if those are transgendered people, I’m not transgendered. I felt more like an otherwise normal person who happens to have the wrong plumbing than any of these trans people presented to me by the media and medical professionals.
It’s fair to say I’ve had a relatively easy, quick transition, to date. I saw my first psychologist in December 2012 and was living full-time by the end of July 2013. I’ve had exactly one and a half shitty experiences with bigots in that entire time, and have passed like, 99% of the time all the time for a long time (you can tell by the pronouns.) My family have been supportive, on both sides, since day dot, my work has been super great, and my friends have gone out of their way to accommodate me, even as early as when I still dressed male. Everything has been pretty fucking breezy. But the message I’ve been given by the media is that a transgendered person is a person who fights against adversity and is beat down again and again and only experiences hard-fought victories, not easy ones like I seemed to. There was elevated suicide risk, and bashings and even murder involved. And when I would tell people I was transgendered, they would apply then those texts to me.
“Oh you’re so brave!” they’d tell me. “It must be so hard! And you look so good! It must be so much work!”
But I was none of those things, not now, and not then. It’s not bravery to pass almost all of the time, and it’s certainly not hard to interact with the world when passing. I was just a girl with a condition. To think of me as anything more than that seemed insulting to the transgendered people who did have just shit after shit piled onto their plate. Eventually without quite realising it, I stopped saying using the word when referring to myself completely.
I’d be having a discussion about my transition, and not once refer to myself as transgendered. A male friend I hadn’t seen in forever would be giving me the Penis Talk (it is the talk where they first try to convince me to keep, then bemoan the eventual loss of my apparently magnificent penis) and I wouldn’t say it out loud once. My Mum, a minor celebrity in Australia, at one point put a post on her Facebook page about me becoming a woman and how I am transgendered and blah blah blah and the hundreds of declarations of my bravery and strength from her followers made me feel embarrassed. That’s what the word ‘transgendered’ made those people think of, and like, none of it was true about me. I felt like a fraud, even though I hadn’t written the post at all.
Eventually it clicked with me what I was doing and feeling when my talking to my eyebrow lady. I had been making same vague reference to ‘girls like me’ and as she doesn’t make much (any) distinction between trans girls and normal girls to begin with, she didn’t understand to what I was implying. If I’m talking about an issue specifically related to being transgendered with her during my tri-weekly torture sessions, I’ve really gotta spell it out for her. And I found myself struggling to find the words until I realised…
Hold on. There is a fucking word for this. Why am I not using it.
So I said it, out loud, for the first time in what must have been a long time and that little bit of guilt and discomfort and unease washed over me and I realised instantly why I hadn’t said it in recent memory. But now that I was aware of my avoidance of the word, I kind of became frantic trying to understand why I was avoiding the word. I wrote page after useless page trying to unpack it, and make it make sense to me. I tried to talk to some straight friends about it, and they just didn’t understand my discomfort one iota (or attempt to). It was my gay friend who made it all make sense to me, somehow.
For background, my gay friend is a woman who gets hung up on language, and meaning and intention, until it drives me fucking mental, but what this means is that she doesn’t really find a lot of the words (and attached identities and scenes) generated by and for the LGBT community representative of who she is, and isn’t content to use them when they’re not accurate. To simplify for people she will often call herself ‘mostly gay’, because though she has had, and enjoyed, relationships with men before, she largely prefers women, to the point that ‘bisexual’ would be less than a truth…but not purely enough that declaring herself ‘just gay’ would be any more correct. She is the same woman who spent years trying to find a word to describe her internal feelings about her own gender because the word ‘genderqueer’ is politicised and also, most importantly, Not Quite Correct for her situation.
She is a woman who understands not fitting into an L G B or T mold.
Over our chats she kind of un-muddied the waters for me, and eventually I realised I had stopped using (and identifying with) the word transgendered for the same reason I stopped trying to fit my sexuality into a box (“I like boys and I like girls.” “So you’re bisexual?” “No.”), and the same reason my friend refused to be labeled genderqueer when it didn’t quite fit – what transgendered meant to other people, wasn’t what it meant to me, and, over time, I had gotten to a place where I (subconsciously, at first) refused to be classified by a set of circumstances and assumptions that did not apply to me at all. I didn’t identify with the scene, and I didn’t identify with the struggles and shared history of so many transgendered people that the word brought to people’s minds. It wasn’t me, and it wasn’t what I wanted transgendered to mean when I said it, so I guess I had just stopped saying. In fact, I didn’t know what ‘being transgendered’ meant to me at all anymore.
And I’m still not sure. The way I use it has become increasingly inconsistent; sometimes I use it to describe what is strictly a medical issue, and sometimes I use it to describe who or what I am and proceed to feel weird about it for the rest of the day, and sometimes I don’t use it at all, when even by my own very loosely defined standards it would be totally appropriate. About the only thing I do know is that my relationship with the word is complicated and conflicted and hard to define personally and even harder to explain to anyone else without sounding like a jerk.
English is stupid.
Molly is a nightmare made flesh in service to eldritch horrors from beyond the stars. She likes online shopping, doting on her cat and posting to her blog.