Last night at the gym I was watching the ponytails on the treadmills bounce and the mouths at the weigh machines grunt. Those people doing cardio are girls, I thought, because they are wearing pink and reading Cosmo and are not interested in building muscle–they just want to be thin. And those people lifting weights are guys, because they are wearing basketball shorts and listening to metal on their iPods and want to bulk up. Boys want to take up space, girls want to get out of the way. Most girls are sheepish when lifting weights and most guys are embarrassed to get on an elliptical machine. So what am I, on the treadmill, looking forward to my weight routine? What do I call myself?
I have never liked the term lesbian. I think I dislike it for the same reasons other gay women do: it’s etymologically confusing and sonically displeasing. I used to call myself a dyke, and some of me still is. Dyke sounds tough for a girl and I like the reclaiming aspect of its presence in the gay lexicon. But that some of me bit, some of me is a dyke?, that is confusing to most people. It’s one thing to recognize that of course, the large majority of people on the planet don’t fit into one neat gender box: few of us are inhabiting the completely masculine or completely feminine hue on the grey scale of gender identity. So we do some rounding, right? We round up to girl, or round back to boy. We dress the part. We pick up the social cues, we play the role. But it is different when the defining markers of that rounded gender are missing: I am a girl with no tits. A boy with no pecker. I am ok with this. Many others are not.
So I must be trans, then, right? But I don’t want to take T, and don’t want bottom surgery, and like both pronouns. I don’t feel trans enough to claim the word trans as my box I round to. I’m right on that dyke/trans borderline. After surgery, I think I will be more willing to accept the trans label, but it’s all about outward justification. I do feel trans in my head, I mean, I’m mostly a boy with a little dash of girl, but the girl part dominates according to society, because I was born female-bodied, so society does the rounding for me: they round me up to girl while in my head, and for my whole life, I have been rounding myself to boy. But as a girl with no tits, more people will accept that I am rounding to trans, more people will feel I am justified in my claim. What I have to work on is realizing I don’t need their justification to validate my own identity. And I never have: did the female pronouns ever stop me from all the boy behavior I was displaying? Of course not. I didn’t wait for an invitation into the boys club; I picked up the football and joined in anyway.
Let’s take it for a test drive: I am trans.
I am trans.
I’m trans. That feels pretty good…
Or am I genderqueer? There is something too fashionable about the word genderqueer for me. It sounds like a term made for the kids, for individuals hipper than I am. It sounds exuberant and neon, thick framed and cool. Genderqueer reminds me of American Apparel models. And although it technically applies, I don’t like how it feels in my mouth; it’s just too trendy. It’s the same problem with different reasons that I have with the word lesbian. In both instances the terms have cultural implications I’m not willing to accept as part of my identity: one feels too old for me, the other too young. And here I am back at rounding myself to trans. But after considering the alternatives, I feel better about it, feel more suited for it.
Yes, I’m trans.
Maybe I’m queer?
Queer has a good feel to it because it doesn’t pin down too much, but is honest and fair: my orientation and identity are left of center, period. I find myself getting a bit defensive about this because I lack the privilege of not having to defend my identity at all: oh no, I’m a minority all over again! Where did this brand new closet door come from? Oh, I see, it’s the same one I’ve been carrying around since that wishing well incident. I like queer because it feels non-confrontational and true. But it is still lacking something. In getting top surgery, in changing my name and taking both pronouns, there is something inherently political in all that, and so maybe queer isn’t charged enough for my identity. Maybe queer doesn’t claim enough, doesn’t identify enough of what about me is different. And so queer, it turns out, doesn’t feel queer enough for me.
Fuck it, I’m trans.
“Fuck it” as in, I am through trying to make my existence more acceptable for everyone else, not “fuck it” as in I give up. When I stand up for myself, when I allow myself to be myself, I am trans. And in that motion of letting go and just being I have found myself: I’m trans because I am defiant, strong, capable, and resilient. I’m trans because my body does not fit into any box. I’m trans because I am in-between gender identities and I am at home there. When I stop trying to dissect and analyze my body, when I stop trying to box myself in for the sake of identification to others, when I let my emotions and thoughts and good nature out for use and display, in essence, when I am being myself, I am trans.
Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli