My Gender Shifts

Posted: January 22, 2009 in Uncategorized

I have been gender shifting for six months now. I use the word shifting rather than transitioning. Transition implies a single shift between two known states. Male to Female or Female to Male. I find myself undergoing a series of shifts out into unknown territory. For periods my imagined destination has been feminine man, genderqueer, transgender, trans, trans-girl, tranny dyke, MTF, femme-boy and most recently queer. It has been a nomadic journey. I have settled for moments in different gender identities and moved on again. Each of these gender labels evoke a constellation of reactions in other social actors. Here follow a few notes about my experience with each of them: 1) Feminine Male. I started with this label. It filled me with anxiety to tell friends that I identify more as feminine than masculine. It seems tame from where I stand now but it was immensely edgy for me. It often led to the question “Are you going to get surgery?” The narrative of “a girl trapped in a boy’s body” which I refer to as the Transexual narrative haunted these conversations. It is interesting that the medical narrative of transexuality was evoked so easily. I explained that I was not interested in surgery and people became less anxious. It is interesting that no alternative sissy boy or femmeboy narrative was at hand. 2) Genderqueer was a step further for me. It was safe for me. It did not evoke the transexual narrative. It was abstract though. Many of the social actors I interacted with did not have an association. I did not find this useful because of its obscurity. 3) I tried the label transgender. That did not work how I wanted. It originally was a radical term which said “I am not part of your gender binary.” Now activists use it as an umbrella term for all gender rebels. Many many actors confuse it with transexual. Most people I have talked to in the LGBT community do not share my definition. The image of males undergoing SRS (sexual reassignment surgery) is apparently so vivid that even a nuanced term like transgender gets pulled into its orbit. 4) ‘Trans’ is useful with the ‘cool kids.’ It is a shortening of transgender which has become street slang. It is evocative for the insiders and identifies me as a fellow insider. Some people assumed a transition to female and others did not. The flexibility of term allows me a lot of wiggle room. I have not used it recently, but I probably will in the future. 5) ‘Trans-girl’ is an interesting one. It definitely marshals the transexual narrative. It allows me to organize a queer space with those who accept the narrative. If I say ‘I am really a girl.’ It gives you the opportunity to shift your idea of me. To treat me as a girl-friend rather than a boy-friend. That has sometimes led to powerful effects. It has opened up very queer spaces for me. It allows groups of women to treat me as ‘one of the girls’ which is my most cherished social identity. It also led to conflict. Some people reject the claim of girl-hood and the transexual narrative. Lesbian-feminism in particular seems to dispute the claims of trans-girls to authentic womanhood. By allying myself with the Transexual narrative I gain a lot of allies like social services, a broad group of (straight) liberal-humanists and the queer, trans subcultures. I must also deal with broad groups that reject this claim, potentially with violence. I also found that in the period when I identified and dressed as a trans-girl, I was pulled into the orbit of the transexual narrative. The trans-girl identity evokes such resistence and potential violence I began to invest desire in the mirage of ‘passing’ as a woman and the fashion and medical technologies associated with the transexual narrative. In Deleuzian terms, Woman was the site of reterritorialization. 6) ‘Tranny Dyke’ is an edgier version of trans-girl. Both words have been retaken and are used as terms of pride. Tranny is an insider word. It is provocative. It says “I cross-dress and fuck you if you do not like it.” It does not evoke the transexual narrative. For me it refers to the awful medical term transvestism, but strips it of its pathology. Dyke has also been retaken. In San Francisco it is used to as a self identification for younger girls who reject the mainstream lesbian movement. Most dykes I have met also identify with the term queer. I no longer identify as dyke or lesbian. I learned painfully that many (most?) lesbians do not subscribe to the transexual narrative. They do not extend trans-girls the privileges of womanhood, most importantly gender solidarity, the right to be in womyn’s spaces and the status of t-girls as dykes or lesbians and thus legitimate dating partners. It was a surprising development to me that mainstream straights, especially women, were very willing to treat me as girl, but the queer girls who I felt the most kinship with kept me at a distance and did not easily accept my gender claims. There seemed to be more acceptance of trans-girls by lesbians to the extent that they embodied the transexual narrative. Does she dress fulltime as femme? Does she go by she? Has she had her facial hair removed? Hormones? Surgery. In a Latourian sense, each of these ‘moves’ can be made to reinforce her disputed gender claim to womanhood. I felt for a time that I needed to follow these steps, to ‘prove’ my gender claims. I realized though that the steps were not bringing me closer to acceptance by dykes as a dyke. It was a painful recognition that this imagined sanctuary did not exist, but it was a good realization and has allowed me to continue my gender shifts. 7) I have used MTF interchangeably with trans-girl. It means Male-to-Female Transexual. It strongly evokes the medical Transexual narrative and seems like a discursive move to add medical legitimacy to gender claims. It also makes a strong division between MTF’s and FTM’s. I see it a lot when one or the other group is being excluded from a social space. It is used for the gendering of the transgender movement. If gendering is on the order, I prefer the terms transgirl and transguy because they seem more human. 8) I started playing with the gender Femme-Boy recently. Femme refers for me to a constructed social gender of femininity rather than to the biological sex of woman. It comunicates my identification with femininity without evoking the gender claims of womanhood and thus the transexual narrative. Boy further distances me from the transexual narrative and the claim of womanhood. It was an edgy step for me. I was afraid to be swept back into malehood, to be perceived by other actors as Man. Instead it has been empowering. I dress queer enough that I do not fit traditional gender categories. I feel like actors give me the as much tolerance as before. I feel freed from the ‘goal’ of womanhood. I no longer ask other actors to ignore my boyness. Now I am boy AND Femme. 9) ‘Queer’ is a powerful term. I like it because it is inclusive of all outsiders. It makes no reference to gender or sexual orientation, and provides a huge amount of space and flexibility to play with. When queer is used as a synonym for LGBT it loses its power, part of which is the fact that queer movement is open to straight queers, though I wonder how many of them know this.

  1. jamieroyce says:

    I love your last few lines. It reminds me of my friends thesis project where she is interviewing LGBTQIAP … and asking about their use of the queer, in what context do they use it and what it means to them.

    I added you to my blogroll at

  2. Jasper Gregory says:

    Wow! my first blogroll. I will definitely check out your blog and try to figure out how to use my blogroll.
    Your friends research sounds interesting. The identification queer is interesting. I hope we can use it to unite. All of these gender and sexuality divisions seem very counterproductive.

  3. Iona says:

    Jasper, this is lovely! I am so moved to read your words…so insightful and eloquent. and I love the term – FemmeBoy 🙂

  4. Jasper Gregory says:

    Great to hear from you. I am glad you enjoyed my personal taxonomy of gender. It was a long piece I was not sure how many readers would make it through.

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