So, what I’m going for is this:
Pronouns: female or male
Top parts: traditional male
Bottom parts: traditional female
And this makes for some interesting cultural intersections, namely those of the privileges afforded and oppressions determined by my gender.
Likely, and depending on the environment, I will be “mistaken” as either male or female*. But I don’t correct pronouns, I correct attitudes. Meaning, I don’t mind being called either pronoun, but when people see me from behind, call me “sir” then over emphatically apologize when I face them and turn out to be a girl, well, I make sure they understand I like both pronouns. No embarrassing displays of multiple apologies in the grocery aisle are necessary.
Right now I get female pronouns a disporportinate amount of the time, and would prefer more of my “maleness” to come through, and top surgery I think will likely correct some of that for me. The flip side is that it will occasionally confuse the general public. I am neither alarmed by nor concerned with that confusion. For example, I will continue to use the women’s bathroom, and am sure I will get little resistance there: no one makes much eye contact in the bathroom, and last I checked, there are tons of flat chested women in the world. It’s not like I’m going in there with my strap-on at full mast.
Before we get into a discussion of my trans identity and how I navigate the world, a small disclaimer: Of course, the following comments are mostly generalizations, but they are also examples of specific instances I have found myself in over and over again throughout the course of my butch-identifiying life. I am speaking about cultural stereotypes, cultural norms, and how my trans identity works within these pre-existing parameters. I am happy to receive your comments and engage in a discussion about my experiences, but do understand I know not all men are violent, in fact very few of them are, and not all women are weak, and of course very few of them are. But this culture we are in, this media that propagates it, would have us believe these things, would have us reproduce these stereotypes. I am not defending them, of course, I am just responding to them and examining how I have navigated them throughout my life.
Let’s look at the privelages afforded a butch female that a male-IDed person lacks:
-I can make comment on other women’s appearances with general impunity.
-I am not seen as a potential threat. Meaning, if a woman walking alone on a street at night was walking toward me, she would probably not cross the street. If I were a man walking down that same lonely street, she might be moved to cross to the other side.
-Running my mouth (e.g. talking shit in a way that would get a man suspended for making his female co-workers uncomfortable)
-Public displays of weakness (e.g. crying and then getting sympathy when a man would get disgust)
-Public displays of anger (e.g. yelling or using fowl language in a situation where a man likely would be perceived as dangerous)
Yes, I can, for the most part, say whatever I like and see little or no repercussions for those remarks. Unfortunately this is because women are, at a broad cultural level, seen as weak and not taken seriously. I am crass, and loud, and women find it sometimes annoying, sometimes entertaining. In fact, my mouth has gotten me more than one date. Men are not threatened by me (not only am I female bodied, but I am a small one, a daunting 5’4″) and usually they enjoy my foul mouth: it allows them to hear aloud what they (sometimes) think and cannot say without being perceived as threatening.
But what about the gay thing?
Yes, so I can’t get married, and I can be discriminated against, and I am the target of homophobia. But I do live in Massachusetts, not, say, Tennessee, and so I don’t feel particularly discriminated against on a daily basis.
But what about the girl thing?
Yes, I do identify as female, or something close to it, so I don’t get paid as much as my male counterparts, and I am seen as inferior. But again, I don’t feel that discrimination during practical encounters, and have always been female, so if it’s there, and surely it is, then it’s just what I refer to as “life.”
What’s weird is this: in situations when I am perceived as male, I will be receiving some invisible privileges: I will be treated differently, I will be given the benefit of being seen as male, and I will be a white male at that. In situations when I am perceived as female, I will really notice no difference, it’s what I’m used to, but when I am seen as something other, something confusing, as transgender, that is where it will get well, rowdy? Tense? I don’t know, I couldn’t know yet.
I did want to raise the issue now, wanted to lay some foundational groundwork for some new experiences. I want to be able to investigate them when they happen, and so recognizing the potentiality for some interesting interactions, some new privileges and oppressions, is what this post is about.
The thing is that once I have top surgery, I will have to consider how the world is reading my (new) gender, and might have to alter my approach. I might be seen as more male, that is, after all, the point–right? I might have to go a bit easy on the crass comments, might have to, well, girl** it up a bit. I don’t want to appear unduly aggressive and I don’t want to alienate my peers.
I am curious if anyone reading this has some examples of their own status shifting in the public sphere through their gender evolution…
Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli
* Once, at a diner in New Haven, I was called a “boy girl” and that has been, by far, my favorite gender descriptor.
**Be a bit more considerate of other’s feelings and opinions.