As I sit on my bed after a day’s work, I stare blankly into this fake piece of paper on my computer screen. How in the hell do I invite people into finding my identity, my reality, and myself in one article? And how do I do it without sounding preachy, condescending, or confusing? Well, here it goes.
My queer and trans journey was not typical. Sure, I had fantasies as a young kid of learning how to use an Easy Bake oven and sometimes playing with my sister’s Barbies, but I loved my three-wheeler and playing for hours at a time with Lego’s. After trying out all the sports my parents could think of, I found myself having fun performing jazz and musical theatre. At first, I tried so hard to fit in with the popular kids in middle and high school, but always resigned myself to a very few close male friends who liked being weird and listening to stuff like Frank Zappa.
I grew out a beard, wore flare jeans, aviator sunglasses, and went to one of the hippiest public universities in North Carolina (where I grew up during my teen years). I was pretty happy being a dude, a quirky, straight one at that, until college.
After hooking up with a boy, my first roommate in the dorms, I found that I had always been into cute, skinny, middle-of-the-road, not-too-masculine-or-feminine guys. My first big boycrush was Julian Casablancas of the Strokes. Hubba, hubba!
I became politically conscious and active in progressive, grassroots movements. I organized against the Iraq war, identified as a socialist and feminist, and strove to be a good ally to women, LGBTQ folks, and people of color. I questioned my ideas, my goal of becoming a history professor, my desires, my sexuality, and started playing more with gender.
Then I found myself turning from bisexual, to pansexual, and finally to the label-as-an-anti-label: queer. I was still strongly attracted to cisgender¹ women, but was fervent about making my orientation known to others. My girlfriend and I would go out to bars and hit on other people as a polyamorous couple, sometimes of our genders, but really with whomever we felt attracted to. I then found sex-positive feminism and queer porn, and it finally shattered my old binary ideas of sex, gender, and orientation.
See, ever since one of my friends snuck over porn to my house in fifth grade and I saw a “chicks with dicks” ad, I thought trans women were ultra-feminine, fake, silicone-implanted she-male’s. I had really messed up ideas about who they were and what they did. It’s plain to see that so many other Americans still have those same views—just look at popular movies and TV shows.
It was only when I dated my first boyfriend (all others had been hook-ups), when I became so passionate with transgenderism. He is a trans guy, and we are still close friends—in fact I would call him my chosen brother. It blew my mind to be so attracted to a gender rebel, someone who reclaimed his body from his assigned birth. I was so gay for him. (Aw, shoot. I still am!)
As I became more and more exposed to positive representations of queer bodies and orientations, they sunk to the deepest level of my core. I saw beautiful transfeminine bodies online, in radical feminist pornography by Tobi Hill-Meyer and Courtney Trouble, and I said to myself, this is what I’ve always felt. I can be futch, soft butch, a little femme here and there, and that’s me. And I don’t need to prove that I’m this or that to anyone. I will make a beautiful woman and a beautiful dyke.
But now, I come to new problems and unwanted “privileges” of asserting myself as a queer trans dyke. From different spaces I inhabit, some safe, others not so safe, and most in between, it’s proved a difficult challenge.
At my workplace, I presented as male² when I started my job in 2009, and have transitioned through hormone replacement therapy for the past nine months, still at the same job. I know old habits die hard, but treating someone like their womanhood doesn’t exist is really shitty, and I have to go through it almost every day there.
Now, I have some cool managers, a couple cool co-workers, and several people who may or may not know about my transgender status. Or maybe they’ve all seen my chest grow? Whatever. The point is, I still suffer from trans invisibility at work, because I wear t-shirts, no bra (usually), jeans, hardly any make-up, and generally just act like my weird, semi-butchy self. This is my unwanted “male” privilege.
My battles for correcting people’s misgendering of me are painful, awkward, and tiring. I stand in front of male workers who make the most sexist and stupid jokes while I feel powerless over the half a dozen or so who laugh along, sometimes including other cisgender women. To them, I’m still one of the guys, and if I complain (as I have before) I’m called “P.C.” and overly sensitive. I’ve come to learn and cope with people’s assumptions by smiling and telling myself that it’s only a job.
Outside I face a different set of challenges. If I don’t look femme enough, I’m not a trans woman—much less a woman. I get weird looks from passerbies. Sometimes I’m read as a “soft dyke” woman, sometimes as an effeminate man. Despite how open I feel my neighborhood is, sometimes I feel in danger walking down the street.
“Passing” is not my problem—or it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be anyone’s problem. It shouldn’t exist. If I’m read as a cisgender woman, I’m subject to sexism and possible violence; if I’m read as a transgender woman, I’m subject to transphobia, sexism, and possible violence.
Too many times trans women will focus on the very minutia of what makes someone look like a cisgender woman. Usually that means dressing femme, or high femme, and deemphasizing any masculine traits: any residual facial hair, jawbones, big shoulders, and so on. And yes, I’ve been through the same routine. It seems every night before I go out to a fun event I ask my partner if she can see my “beard.” Sometimes it’s in earnest, other times it’s just a way to smile about my transgenderness.
But this is not supposed to be a sob story, nor a primer for critical transgender theory. These are simply my own experiences. I would much rather do without pity, especially from my sisters: lesbians, dykes, butches, femmes, and trans women of all shades. We’ve all gone through our aches of queer non-conformity and know there is celebration around the corner.
A special community of queer resisters, of lovers and friends, celebrate me. I go out to queer dance parties and am welcomed, hit on, kissed on, grinded up against to sweaty, sweaty gay music. I come home to a beautiful femme woman who snuggles, eats Doritos, and drinks crappy beer with me. My love.
With resistance comes love, and I am pleased to say my life is a beautiful struggle.
- Cisgender means someone that agrees with their given gender and sex at birth. It is the opposite of transgender.
- It is more correct to say that one “presented as” their assigned at birth gender than to say this or that person was once a man/woman. Transpeople have always been their identified gender. Just because a person was born and coerced into a specific gender that was based on their sex/biological parts, doesn’t mean they’ve always felt that way. Personally, I’ve always felt like a “soft” butch trans woman.
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Dee is a transgender woman, queer dyke, and political activist who lives in the Andersonville neighborhood. She has worked at Early to Bed as a sex educator, and is a writer who performs at All the Writers I Know, a monthly queer literary event. She loves movement-building and organizing for civil liberties, accessible education, queer liberation, and against U.S. wars. One day she hopes to bring home a hairless cat to live with her and her girlfriend.