Socialization and Narratives

Socialization is the name for a training process in which the subject is taught their place in the world and how to get along within it. I had to socialize my dog. Now she knows not to run over to children and sniff them enthusiastically and not to panic when a loud motorcycle goes by and to stay quiet and inconspicuous at cafés. She’s a good dog.
We also do this to kids. The effects on kids is a bit more subtle than the effects on dogs. My dog has internalized her training to the point where I don’t need to pay too much attention to her, I can trust that she’s doing the right thing. I’ve given her a bunch of commands and corrections and now she just knows the drill. But I don’t think she puts these in a lager context of categorization. She doesn’t think about how there might be different sets of rules for people and dogs, she just knows what she’s supposed to do. This is a fundamental difference between dogs and people, I think.
Because when people are getting socialized, a big part of it is teaching the categories. This is how girls sit properly. This is how boys sit properly. You are a girl. He is a boy. You sit like this. He sits like that. And that’s how we learn manners, by which I mean limitations. And since girls are generally given more limitations than boys, we call that “female socialization,” something which can be considered extremely important in gender theory.
Everybody learns that girls have more limitations. There’s a question as to how it’s internalized. If you believe yourself not to be a girl, this will be something that applies to other people. If you believe yourself to be a girl, then you lower your expectations and diminish your horizons. This sucks, by the way. We should get rid of it.
It’s also very external, though. Even if you know in your heart that you’re meant to go do boy things and these rules were not made for you, if other people see you as a girl, then you’re going to run into limitations. When patriarchy tells you that you can’t possibly succeed in math or technology (because you’re a girl), they don’t both to first find out if you really ID as a girl, they just say you suck.
When patriarchy gives encouragement to the schemes and dreams of boys, they don’t bother trying to figure out which girls might turn out to be boys, they just tell everyone they think is a girl to dream smaller.
When patriarchy constructs gender as a binary of winner/loser, good/bad, male/female (to paraphrase Helène Cixous), they don’t excuse people who don’t fit on their assigned side. Hell, they batter them down harder. Butch girls and women actually face increased sexism, not decreased, according to study data. And oh my god, do femme boys face abuse.
This was my childhood experience of being perceived as female: being told that I’m weaker and more feminine and therefore less. So I tried harder, which, alas, did not help.
This is not why I’m transitioning. This is why I held off for so many years. If all of femininity is weakness and limitation, then obviously, I must not really be trans, I must just want to escape smaller horizons. That’s what I told myself.
It occurred to me a few days ago that there’s got to be more to it than that. If that’s all there is to womanhood, why would anybody do it? Mtfs fight to be women. Compared to the population of cisgender women, there aren’t very many ftms. There must be something positive about womanhood. Cisgender women must find something fulfilling in it or they would quit. Socialization is subtle and powerful, but it’s not magic.
And I remember Sara telling me how she was confused by my wanting to be a boy because it’s so great to be a girl. Huh. Really? So I posted a question on the internets. What’s so great about it? There must be something good. I drew strength from solidarity with other dykes and women (well, the women who weren’t normative at me). But that’s not very much positive in the face of a whole lot of negative. What did I miss?
It’s a tough question, but I got answers. Many of them were about solidarity and talked about relationships, but not specific to the gender of the subject, only the object. But some, like “not shaving or shaving one’s legs skipping the make-up or wearing it wearing jeans or a skirt or nothing at all” all hint at a freedom to optionally express femininity. And “breasts” which indicates a physical state of secondary sex characteristics. And, I’m going to guess that the major positives are these: socially allowable femininity and a body that conforms to your identity. Which is logical. What else could it possibly be?
This femininity is socially allowable because it’s inhabited by female bodies. Feminine men face even more reprimand then masculine women. And of course, there’s the body – which is what transition changes. The mind stays the same. And this is part of what makes my friends’ sense of loss confusing. Because we profess to care more about what’s in people’s minds than their body. And we do, probably. So it’s losing somebody from your team who is going to play for a different team.
But even the body isn’t all that changed. Small differences in muscles and weight. Hair growing. Squarer chin. Lower voice. It’s all very subtle. A UK glossy magazine was trying to do a story on ftms, including me, but it’s going to die, I think. The editor wants before and after shots – something dramatic. But there’s nothing to give her. I was masculine before and I’m masculine now. But there’s a narrative she wants to confirm: one of a rigid binary. It can’t possible be safe and easy to slip across a porous border to inhabit a more livable side. Transition must be medically dangerous and a last resort, preceded by uncontrollable sobbing. Changes must be dramatic and reinforce the idea of a high fence.
But the real story is so much more subtle. One of my friends, who is sad about this told me that I had been the most androgynous person she’d ever met. But in the present, I’m just masculine and male and not androgynous at all. I haven’t changed. Only these subtle tings with square jaws,muscles and vocal pitch have changed. I was never androgynous. My body was suffused with social baggage. It whispered lies about me. The only thing androgynous was my deafness to it’s imperatives. I’m tall and slender. There’s some irony that women are conditioned to long for what I had and didn’t want. Skinny limbs. Long eyelashes. My grandmother always said I could have been a model. All I would have needed was a whole new personality.
It’s easier now, when I look in the mirror and the image reflected back at me doesn’t call me a liar. I’ve always been masculine, but now it’s easier to inhabit and embody. I don’t have to fight for my identity and the superficial tokens to represent it, like hair and clothes. I don’t have to fight the social message me body transmits. I don’t have to compensate and hide. All of this and some facial hair too. It feels like everything has changed. But on the other hand, it feels like nothing has changed. On a real level, nothing has. I write music. I go to school. I walk my dog. My life is the same except that it’s not.
When I was a youth, I asked the scout leader if I could join the Cub Scouts. I know they didn’t have any girls, but the boy scout activities seemed more like what I was looking for than did the girl scouts. The scout leader laughed. When I was a couple years older, my church youth group sent two representatives to ask if girls could be altar servers. The priest laughed at them and they came back and shared the news with the rest of us. When I was 14, I asked the football coach if I could try out for the team. It seemed like fun and I knew that girls could sometimes be kickers or in other non-tackled positions. He laughed.
And now I’m a part of this group that spent so much time laughing at me. I don’t know how much I internalized female socialization. I was always convinced that these limitations should not apply to me because I didn’t want them. But they did limit me. I got hairdryers for gifts when my brother got tools.
I’m going the end of next month to something called ETC in Amsterdam. It’s a gathering for women and gender minorities. I feel kind of awkward about going to be in a women’s space, even as I insist that I’m basically unchanged from when I went last year. I think the point of these kinds of spaces is solidarity. Everybody there has been on the losing side of Cixous’ binary. We’ve all all been perceived as the other. The non-man, non-default, alien – the losing side of the binary. That’s what we’re combatting and that experience itself is what qualifies people for membership. To me it seems obvious that these kinds of spaces would be open to transgender people.
If I don’t feel like I fit in, well, there’s the dramatic change that the glossy magazine wants and the loss for my old friends grieve and part of the awesomeness of being girl slipped away. And maybe then I’ll see that the binary is as hard to cross as they say. But I think it will be ok. I don’t want to dream smaller.

Let’s Ditch Having Legal Sexes

Why does the government legally assign me a sex? What’s it used for? As far as I can tell, it’s only used to discriminate against me. It says I can’t go into certain toilets. (Yes, right now, I break the law every time I use a public restroom and I could theoretically be arrested.) It says I can’t marry my girlfriend. (Unfortunately, she says the same thing, but that’s beside the point.) I can’t see any advantages to assigning people a legal sex. It adds a false veneer of legality to anti-queer discrimination, and that’s it.
Of course, certain forms of discrimination actually are illegal, and rightly so, but this designator is not required to advance complaints against discrimination. In fact, it hinders them by narrowing the focus of laws. Religious discrimination is illegal in the United States. The government does not ask every citizen to officially file their religion. One does not need to file paperwork with the government (nor pass a psychiatric evaluation) in order to change churches or forego them altogether. And, correspondingly, the laws regarding religious discrimination spread in all directions. A Christian can be penalized for creating a hostile work environment for a Jew and vice versa.
Some European governments do require their citizens to file their religion. These countries are not secular. Many of them have current major problems with official, legal discrimination against religious minorities. Historically, France used to collect such information, even as they changed to becoming officially secular. This data turned out to be very useful to to the Vichy government and therefore was a great help to the Nazis. France no longer collects such information, even anonymized.
So legally assigning people religions has never been used to advance greater rights than they would otherwise have. But, oh boy, has it been used to advance oppression.
In the US, citizens no longer have a legal race. Of course, there are situations where race is used for legal determinations, such as for affirmative action programs. Most racial minorities are not so-called “invisible minorities.” So, for the most part, the lack of a specific legal definition doesn’t really matter. Somebody looks black, they say they are on their college applications and they face racial profiling while driving their car in certain neighborhoods. The lack of a legal race registration does not change their experience. Nor does it hinder nor advance their ability to sue for redress when they face discrimination.
There are situations where somebody might not look like their listed race. Somebody has black parents but is extremely light skinned. They still qualify for affirmative action because their family faced discrimination and this trickles down to the current generation. Their family has less money now because of redlining 50 years ago. They land they lost to a lynching party 70 years ago is still lost.
When US states collected information on race, this light skinned black person would be breaking the law if they used certain bathrooms. Of it they married a person of a different legal race. Now they’re an invisible minority. They can ID how they’d like and their children can ID how they’d like. They can seek redress for past wrongs through affirmative action programs or they can not. Having a legal race would not advance their freedom, but historically, it’s been used to hinder it.
And now we have legal sexes. It makes it illegal to use certain bathrooms. It prevents us from marrying certain people. It helps me how?? It creates stupid situations where courts attempt to determine if it’s still sexual harassment if both parties are legally male. It creates situations where sex discrimination is ok and legal if the victim is presenting as a different sex then their legally assigned one. It impedes full participation and equal rights for all because it legally privileges cisgender people. Yet, it gives them no additional protections, by which I mean they would lose no rights if we got rid of it. Heck, most people’s lives wouldn’t change at all. Except for transgender people, male victims of sexual harassment and abuse and everybody else who gets told that their problems don’t matter and that they shouldn’t exist. And loving same sex couples. The gay marriage fight would evaporate. So let’s get rid of those letters on our drivers licences and ID cards. If somebody needs to report us missing, they can still describe us as white males, black females, etc, and we still have the right to lay claims to those terms. But we can marry whomever we want. Wouldn’t that be better?

Crossing Borders

The first time that I realized that I was consistently passing was the San Francisco airport. It’s an odd thing to realize at an airport. I further realized that it meant if I had to go, I had to go to the men’s room. I start rationing fluid intake at that point. I’ve used men’s rooms before, but not such high traffic ones. It would be just my luck, the first time out, to end up next to Larry Craig, who got busted in an airport. Right.
In general, it was really, really weird. I was walking around the non-secure parts of the airport, holding hands with Nicole and straight people smiled at us. Later, a straight, older woman acted flirty with me. Nobody treated me like a criminal. I forgot to take off my hat before going through the metal detector. The TSA guy asked if he could see my hat. I apologized for having forgotten it. He said it was ok and just peered inside it. Later, when a TSA person checked out my synthesizer, she apologized for the inconvenience. Either SFO has changed for the better recently, or TSA agents treat white guys with a lot of respect.

I was not suspicious or threatening or criminal or degenerate. I was a pillar of society. I was . . . I don’t even have words. I wasn’t even dressed that nicely. Being middle class white guy is really different than being a middle class dyke.
Fortunately, as soon as I got to England, I resumed criminal status, by nature of being a foreigner. Or maybe it was the ‘F’ on my passport. Who knows. I thought I was being all smart, as I put my landing card in my passport next to the page with the student visa. In any other country that I’ve travelled to, a visa gets you a stamp right away. And it seemed to be going that way when the border guard scanned my passport through the computer. “Why were you denied entry in November?” he asked. Shit. “Because I didn’t have that student visa yet.” He told me to wait and I did for about an hour. Then he came back and asked me again and I repeated my answer. “Doesn’t the computer tell you?” I asked. “Yes, but it says medication was found on you and maybe you were returned because you were sick.”
The whole brouhaha where I had to get a doctor to let me take my zoloft last time. . .. Augh. Jetlag makes me feel like shit and I didn’t want to have Zoloft withdrawl at the same time, so I had to jump through a bunch of hoops to be allowed to take it. And now it’s in my permanent record. And of course, I felt a slight wave of panic. If they searched my backpack this time, they’d find a collection of hypodermic needles. Augh. I imagined the exchange. Was I planning on coming to England to get free medical care? Yes. But damn it, I’m a postgrad student and postgrads are fucking people and people have fucking medical problems. I’m not some kind of fucking money-bearing robot here to stimulate your fucking economy and get nothing in return.
Anyway, I was admitted, obviously. Later I saw a news story saying that immigrants seeking citizenship would have to “earn” their rights by taking a test to prove that they were worthy. What the fuck? First of all, rights aren’t “earned.” The whole point of rights is that they’re not earned. You have rights by nature of being alive, by being a human, not because you somehow earned it. The whole concept of “rights” is meaningless unless they’re bestowed intrinsically.
Secondly, I’d have to take a test to prove that I’m as good as the fucking Brits? Why do they think people want citizenship? Do they think immigrants are just hopeless anglophiles enthralled with every stuffy, tawdry aspect of British culture? Do they just wish we were? Of course, the reason they want us to pass a test to prove that we’re maybe (never) as good as them is because they hate us. They know we don’t worship them and wish we did. I’m not opposed to tests for immigrants gaining citizenship. I’m against the presumption of unworthiness. I’m against the presumption of criminality and guilt. I’m against being treated as a suspect every time I try to come into the country. If I wanted citizenship, it would be to avoid harassment and to make bureaucratic processes simpler and so I could vote. So I could come and go with my benign prescriptions without having to disclose my mental health issues to a fucking cop every time I try to cross the border of this tiny country.
So to prove my Britishness, I plan to get so fucking pissed that I fall into a canal and then have drunken, sloppy sex with an 18 year old and regret it the next day. Then, I’m going to riot after a football match. Um, and I don’t know. I don’t want to be treated like a criminal, but I don’t know what to do with the straight, white, male privilege that Americans were suddenly foisting on me. I was anticipating the actions of the border guard during my whole trip. In North America, I thought, “Any second and they’ll read me and I’ll go back to being a dyke. These aren’t bad people. I mean, it’s not just the TSA agents. It’s the guy the other day at REI. It’s everybody. They’re good people, or at least as good as anybody.”
I don’t get it. I don’t get why Nicole has always been invisible when standing next to me. I don’t get why even women and POC are immediately ready to treat a white guy like he’s special. Why don’t they treat everybody that way? Of course, I knew that sexism and queerphobia existed. I mean, I’m 32 years old and have been read as a dyke for a long time. But SFO was astounding. White guys: you have no fucking idea. Dress in drag for a day for comparison.

Book Review: Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam

I just finished reading Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam. This book explores masculinity as embodied by women. She notes that most studies of masculinity talk exclusively about men – often specifically about white, middle class men, as if they have sole claim to masculinity. Halberstam notes that this is extremely incomplete. She focuses her study on dykes, inverts and other queers, making the dubious claim that straight female masculinity is more tolerated. I think she just wanted to focus on lesbians because she is one, and that’s fine, but I wish she hadn’t justified her focus by pretending that manly straight women don’t face many of the same oppressions that manly dykes do.
She starts, in her introduction, talking about public bathrooms. She had me right there. She talked about having security called on her several times when she tried to pee in airports on some trip. Man, I thought I got bathroom grief, but I’ve never gotten security called.
Much later in the book, she talked some about FTMs and specifically about the Butch / FTM “Border Wars.” I don’t know if she coined that term, but it’s one I’ve seen other places and I think her writings on the topic have been influential. Alas, as of this book, which is now ten years old, I think she furthers misunderstandings more than clears them up.
The so-called border war has to do with suspicion and mistrust which can exist between butch dykes and FTMs. Some dykes fel threatened and or betrayed when folks they know as dykes decide to transition. Maintaining a butch dyke identity is often difficult, given the invisibility in popular culture. Every other butch dyke that disappears can make this seem more difficult. Butch dykes can also resent the privilege that (white) FTMs acquire and may get pissed off by media articles which appear to favorably contrast FTMs to lesbians. On the other side, many FTMs are eager to establish themselves as male and don’t want to be seen as a butch dyke and thus take some efforts to distinguish themselves. Many FTMs get annoyed when they perceive butch dykes as refusing to accept them as men.
Halberstam’s chapter on this is somewhat undermined because she doesn’t really address the issue of passing. Passing, in this case, means being taken for male and can happen to both butch dykes and to FTMs. She notes in the introduction that passing can be life or death for people using the men’s room and indeed, even acknowledges elsewhere that some butches need to pass to survive. More than survival, though, passing is directly integral to the identity of some FTMs. They need to embody their masculinity as men. Failure to pass, for them, can mean psychic harm in addition to physical. So when Halberstam makes hay about a FTM passing guide which specifically addresses how to avoid being taken for a butch woman, she is failing to account how extremely important it is for some FTMs to pass. Not wanting to be perceived as a butch woman doesn’t necessarily indicate hostility, just a need to pass and not to be taken for any kind of woman.
Halberstam questions whether FTMs would also want to avoid being mistaken for a Republican or for a gay man and notes the conservative style of dress recommended. Many FTMs actually do worry about being taken for a gay man – they don’t want a second look. They don’t want to stand out. They don’t want to take on additional risk when visiting the men’s room or walking down the street or just trying to live. Some FTMs are homophobic. Some are just very aware of the risk of violence which can surround them. Some are gay.
Being trans can include a lot of worry – about passing, about violence, about coming out, etc. Some FTMs retreat to misogyny to underline the differences between themselves and women, but most (I hope) do not. The FTMs that are “jumping ship” from being butch also tend to try to maintain ties to the dyke community. Maybe that’s just a San Francisco Bay Area thing.
Finally, most FTMs that worry about passing are either no-ho or haven’t yet started hormones or have started very recently (or are stealth in a conservative area and have reason to be concerned for their safety). They’re a part of the trans community, but not the biggest part and don’t yet feel secure in their transition.
Halberstam goes on from passing guides to an unfortunate article in The New Yorker in which Amy Bloom interviews some trans men and finds out *gasp* that they’re men. Halberstam points out a few phrases from the article which positively compare FTMs to butch dykes and seems to conclude that the mainstream press is more ok with FTMs. I think this conclusion is largely in error. The mere existence of the article speaks to a discomfort with FTMs. Why would an investigative journalist need to do field research to discover that men are, indeed, men? Halbertsam writes, “Would Bloom, in a smilar article on butch lesbians, comment so approvingly on their masculinity?” (p. 157) Given how Bloom feels the need to point out that one of her interview subjects – a man – eats “like a man” (ibid), I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison. Bloom is condescending in the extreme. Halbertsam quotes a longer passage from Bloom:

I expected to find psychologically disturbed, male-identified women so filled with self-loathing that it had even spilled into their physical selves, leading them to self-mutilating, self-punishing surgery. Maybe I would meet some very butch lesbians, in ties and jackets and chest binders, who could not, would not accept their female bodies. I didn’t meet these people. I met men. (p. 158)

Before I go on to Halberstam’s response to such drivel, I want to take a moment to give a big “fuck you” to Bloom. What is she saying here? ‘Oh my gosh, they actually passed! Passing is everything! I thought I’d see a man in a dress woman in a binder and be forced to deny his identity, but I’ve decided that these individuals actually might deserve to have their identities accepted by ME. And I certainly am the gateway for normativity and passing!’ Fuck you Bloom.
Halberstam is justifiably pissed at that passage. She writes, “What a relief for Bloom that she was spared interaction with those self-hating masculine women and graced instead by the dignified presence of men!” and goes on to note that many FTMs ID as straight, which Bloom approves of. But while Halberstam catches the queerphobia and butch phobia, she seems to miss the transphobia. Bloom’s article there is hardly tans-positive but just notes what should already be obvious: some FTMs pass.
Unfortunately, a lot of this chapter is about MTFs and their narratives which are assumed to mirror the narratives of FTMs. This book is from 1998, so I think this more speaks to a lack of published material by and about FTMs more than a real assertion by Halberstam that the cases are mirror. I’m going to look into whether she has published more recently on the topic. That chapter talked largely about a previous essay on the topic and what she had learned from that, so while she sometimes misses things, she seems eager to learn and I imagine that the problems I’ve noted have certainly been addressed in the last 10 years.
Part of what was most fascinating for me about this book is the way labels have shifted over time. Inverts would not have IDed with lesbians. Butches of the 1950’s were excluded from the definition of ‘lesbian’ that was current through the 1970’s – 1980’s. (Indeed, being butch was still controversial when I came out). FTM is emerging as a new label. People like me, with more ambiguos/ complicated views on their own gender would have been excluded from transitioning until recently. Past FTMs have IDed as “men.” The idea that “trans” would form a more permanent part of a label is new and is being picked up by trasgender or genderqueer IDed persons.
There used to be the idea of a passing woman. That’s a woman who looked like a man and passed for one. I don’t know how different a passing woman is than a genderqueer ftm, but I can say that the label “passing woman” has always made me nervous. I like the label “dyke.” Not ‘lesbian,’ which for a while was specifically defined to exclude me and not ‘woman’ passing or no. What does that make me? A transdyke? A FTM/dyke? It makes me feel better to have a label, I think. It also makes me feel better to be able to place myself within a history. I don’t want to reject the label ‘dyke,’ as I’ve been attached to it for so long. When I watch a movie like Go Fish, I’m watching something that impacted my life. Dyke culture has shaped me, formed me. I felt at home in it and I feel at home in it. At the same time, I really like taking T. I like what it’s doing to my body. I like how I feel to see myself in the mirror, looking gradually more manly. And I really like that I don’t need to choose. There might be some sort of border war going on, but I like being parked right in the middle of it and I have no intention of moving.
(This post is also a test of the Flock web browser blog functions)Blogged with Flock

Pronouns: A Fast Introduction

The problem: English lacks a commonly used gender-neutral personal pronoun. Also, sometimes people switch pronouns.

There used to be a singular “they” for unknown individuals. Shakespeare used it. It’s making a comeback, but it’s imperfect as it’s never used to refer to a person that you know. There are a punch of proposed gender neutral pronouns (GNP), including Spivak and my favorites: ze and hir: “Ze laughed. I called hir. Hir head hurts. I am hirs. Ze feeds hirself.” Of course, the way to get things into common usage is to use them.
Ok, so what about people who change pronouns? Obviously, the solution is to refer to them the way they wish. If you don’t know what you’re supposed to use, go with a GNP.
Then, there are temporal issues. I know some folks who have transitioned. Some I only knew afterwards, but know stories about them that are from before. I usually tell those stories with the pronoun that I’ve always used. “When she was a boy, she went to math camp.” Then, there are folks I knew before they came out. I use the pronouns that matched them at the time of the story. “She was a Mills student then, but now he’s at UCLA.” If I’m talking about a public figure or writing academically, I’ll use the current pronoun. “Wendy Carlos was still known as ‘Walter’ when she released Switched on Bach.” I can’t imagine a situation where using the most recent pronoun would be in error.
For myself, I prefer male or gender-neutral pronouns. Since I haven’t really changed appearance much, I think it would be unfair for me to get annoyed when old friends refer to me as ‘she.’ Mostly, it doesn’t bother me, but sometimes it’s like fingernails on chalkboard. I feel so much more comfortable with being ‘he’ or ‘ze’ that my tolerance of ‘she’ is declining. I mean, imagine if everyone referred to you for a day by the wrong pronoun. That would be really weird and uncomfortable, right?

Reality Check

So the other morning, while I blearily stumbled into the shower, I got just a glimpse of myself in the mirror, looking the same as always. All this stuff I’ve been talking about happening are, um, not really all that evident. Or, rather, they’re present, but in very small quantities.
I replaced my razor blade with a new one, and my miami vice-like roughness went away. So I dug the old one out of the trash. I am such a n00b.
I want to talk about trans guys who don’t pass. This is a topic laden with all sorts of baggage. But, it is true that there is some population of people who go on T, who get various surgeries, who do all kinds of things and yet do not pass. This could happen to me – it’s something I have no control over and, indeed, might not even notice happening. This used to give me pause, but now, really, I can’t complain about looking like a dyke, so if it happens, it happens.
I was reading some crit theory about how body transformations are perceived through the lens of gender. Specifically, it was talking about a reality TV show called the Swan and also about a documentary series about trans youth. These depictions subscribed to a cultural myth that femininity is artifice and masculinity is internal. The women on the the Swan, who underwent extreme plastic surgery, get to look in a mirror only after it’s all over and all exclaim that they’re not themselves. The trans women in the documentary are coached on how to move and act in a more feminine manner. By contrast, the ftms look in the mirror and see what they felt was always lurking there. I AM myself, rather than I am NOT myself. The ftms get no classes in how to move and act like men.
There’s some truth to femininity being artifice – I mean, look at all the props! But masculinity also has that element. Boys are rigorously drilled on how to move and act like men. You run like a girl, you throw like a girl. They undergo training as well. Training that ftms don’t usually get.
And so part of the reason that some ftms don’t pass is because they move and act like dykes. I want to hold on to my dyke roots, but I don’t know how much or in what way. Do I want to try to adopt a more manly affect? Do I move like a dyke now? Do I want to change that?

Moving Quickly

So I went in this morning to see the social worker and she wasn’t gate keeper-y at all. This clinic gives T to anybody who won’t be harmed by it and at a wide variety of doses. “We have lots of genderqueer patients,” she said.
She asked me for a lot of personal background, like where I went to school and if I took drugs and whatnot. She asked about a definition of a man and a definition of a woman. I complained about gender essentialism, and that was ok and, indeed, she agreed when I said the question was “inherently essentialist” and problematic. No “in the wrong body” or other dualist things. It was very low key.
Then, afterwards, she took me down to have about 500 (ok, like 5 – 10) vials of blood removed to be tested for lord knows what. The most critical one (unless I turn out to have somehow picked up an STD, which is supremely (nearly divinely) unlikely) is a cholesterol test. T is a type of cholesterol, so if mine is high, being on T could push it out of hand. Actually, this is probably more of a concern if I move back to France and start feasting on baguettes with butter and cheese again.
I don’t like getting blood drawn. It smarts. Also, I need that blood! I’m totally using it right now! They also took some pee, which I’m much less attached to, but anyway. I should have probably asked more questions, but instead I was marvelling that my appointment with a prescribing doctor is next Tuesday. Holy Smokes!
I’m pretty excited. I came home and went out for a celebratory cup of coffee (it was too early in the day for a drink, also, blood loss would probably make me more easily drunk than normal. (just kidding.)
This is momentous, and (as always for me) I have some worries.
What if my friends stop talking to me or are transphobic / unsupportive? Also, what about my family? What if Nicole’s family gets all upset at her? I mean, I know that a lot of people are transphobic, but normally I think of them as neanderthals who somehow fell through a wormhole into modern times. But some people I care about might turn out to be secret neanderthals.
Also, this is going to change the way I smell. (I will soon reek like a teenage boy, alas. I’ll try to take showers much more often.) What if my dog doesn’t recognize me or dislikes me or something? I wish I could start this with her around so she would know it was still me with a different smell.
Anyway, despite worrying about my friends, family and dog, I was still up and I’m an American, so I decided to go shopping! Err, yeah, I went to REI (an adventure sports store) to look at socks . . . and biking stuff . . . and more biking stuff. I wanted gloves because last time I fell off my bike, my gloves saved my hands from road rash. I don’t have them here and anyway, they’re not warm enough for this time of year. So I was looking at gloves when a guy came up and asked me if I wanted help. I told him I wanted gloves.
“The women’s gloves are on the other side.”
“I don’t wear women’s clothes.”
“Women’s gloves will fit you better.”
“They have little flowers on them.” (Indeed, they do.)
“No, they’re exactly the same as the men’s gloves. Here are some without flowers. Try these on.”
“They fit exactly the same as the men’s gloves offset by one size.”
“See, I told you they were the same!” He seemed to think he had won. This went on for a long while, actually. He took me to another glove department, clearly hoping that I wouldn’t notice that he was handing me all women’s gloves and kept talking about the merits of each one. Then, after having run out of merits, he switched to stories about being in the airforce and how there are no vegans who are true athletes. Eventually, he realized that no matter how much he talked, I wasn’t going to commit to buying a pair of women’s gloves and so he wandered off.
Ok, yeah, so I have mixed feelings. On the one hand soon, I will never have to deal with that kind of crap again. On the other hand, I feel like I’m fleeing the fight against gender essentialism being fought by my brothers and sisters. Like, ‘so long suckers, have fun being kicked out of barber shops! I’m about to pass!’ Except that it’s not like I fought at all. No, I was a good little passive shopper and didn’t tell him to stick it up his ass, and just sort of waited for him to give up. So passive, I didn’t even get angry until later and instead just wondered why my anxiety was acting up. (‘Hm, it is as if my person has just come under attack. I wonder what caused that?’) Like, I’m just so used to it that it didn’t even really register.
Now, I want to go back and kick his ass. But I didn’t. I didn’t resort to violence. I didn’t use my words. I didn’t even absent myself. I bought men’s gloves when he wasn’t looking.
I don’t want to make this a bigger thing than it is. And, you know, I really don’t like to fight. I hate having to get into a fight to get my hair cut or whatever. I know that I should speak up, but sometimes, you know, I just want to buy some damn gloves from a store that hasn’t given me grief in the past. (I did ask him later if he had a men’s shirt in a smaller size, so I guess I made his lack of dissuasion clear. I dunno.) And, also, let’s be clear, the wrong doer in this situation was him, not me & my lack of self-defense.
I don’t know how strongly I’ll be able to conform to a male stereotype anyway, as I like art and dressing well and other suspect activities, so it’s not like I’ll stop being genderqueer or IDing thusly. And while I want to stand in solidarity with my gendervariant, metaphorical siblings, I don’t think that foregoing hormones is a way to do that. I mean, I would never ask that of anybody. If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.
My last main worry on the transition front has to do with me being a special snowflake. I’m rather unusual for a woman, but much more typical for a guy. I go from being tall to being average height. I go from having unexpected interests to encouraged ones. I go from cross dressing to not. I go from lesbian to guy-who-likes-women (I refuse to ID as straight. I just won’t). So yeah, I’m a special snowflake. Except that I don’t think my most interesting traits are tied in with my gender presentation. I’m a composer. I go on long bike trips. I blog. Certainly my experiences of gender inform and influence my entire life (and vice versa) but if I had nothing more going for me than being a tall, female cross dresser, well, that wouldn’t be so much to go on. (I’d still have my looks, but still.) I’m only a slightly less special snowflake. Also, I don’t plan to go stealth, so maybe I’m an even more special snowflake? Again, not so much to go on. My gender is really not the most exciting thing about me.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

This last Tuesday was Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day of mourning and protest in memory of folks killed for being transgender. Alas, trans folks are the most likely group to experience hate-based violence. The FBI reports, alas, that hate crimes were up last year, which implies that it was a bad year for trans folks as well.

Part of the reason that hate crimes are so high for trans people is because they are often a more vulnerable group. Queers in general experience economic discrimination. Trans folks get it much much worse. Imagine if you had to lie about your job history. It would be hard to get a good job. A disproportionate number of trans people end up in sex work. Many trans people end up homeless. (50% of MTF transsexuals lose their jobs when they transition.) An economically vulnerable class is also a physically vulnerable class.

What can I do about this?

Ok, so you don’t go around beating anybody up. And you would call the cops or something if you saw it. Good for you. But you can do more.
Trans folks are vulnerable due to non-violent hostility in work environments and other types of discrimination. So don’t discriminate against trans people! If somebody around you does, say something. Something like, “that’s not funny.” Or “I have trans friends and don’t appreciate your saying that.” Or “I think X prefers the opposite pronouns and therefore we should use them.”
Obviously, you should treat trans people with respect. Outing folks is not cool. Making fun of somebody who had unknowing contact with a passing transperson is not cool. Jargon free: If your friend think a person is hot and then finds out the person is trans, don’t make fun of your friend. It is possible to both be trans and hot and that is awesome. Or if your TSA/immigration coworker patted down somebody, don’t make fun of them for that, and especially not where the somebody can hear. (Just sayin’)

no, alas, I didn’t go to the protest

There was one in SF, but I was occupied with related business. Namely, sitting in the waiting room of SF’s gender clinic. The website said to show up at 2:00 for new patient intake. It did not mention that this particular intake is not in the building’s main intake. I should have asked somebody if I was in the right place, but I was too busy feeling extremely daunted. So I waited for nearly 2 hours and then got to talk to a nurse, who asked me questions.
What is your earliest memory of having a gender?
Please leave your answer to that question in a comment before going on reading here. It’s ok, I’ll wait. hmmm hmm hmm hmmm hmmm
So I said something about having to wear a skirt to catholic school. That’s not what she meant. She meant something more like, what’s the earliest memory of you having a concept of the gender that you would come to embody in adulthood? Like, when did you first realize that you were (really, deeply, actually) a girl or boy and what was that experience?
Leave a new comment answering the second question. Take your time. I’ll still be here.
Having been interviewed about such topics multiple times in the Netherlands, you’d think I’d have an answer for these things but I don’t. Geez, I spend my time trying NOT to think about these sorts of questions. I just, I dunno, write music and stuff. Also, I have philosophical issues with the phrase “true self.” And “in the wrong body.” Like, this body got me all the damn way here, so it’s not wrong. What, am I supposed to long for a brain transplant? I AM my body. Dualism is bullshit. I’m tall. I’m somewhat handsome. I can ride a unicycle. That’s not a “wrong body.” It’s just a body that inexplicably refuses to grow a goatee.
And without dualism, you also lose the idea of “true self.” My true self is sitting here on the sofa, typing. My true self drug it’s ass down to san Francisco to wait for hours to answer gatekeeper questions. Ok, sure, there are parts of me that are absolutely non-negotiable. And there are parts that are becoming increasingly stubborn. And this inexplicable lack of goatee ability has some inhibiting impact on my ideal presentation. Part of my problem with the idea of “true self” is that I think it robs me of agency. I decided to drag my ass down to answer annoying questions. I can pick whether I want to do this, or go nuts, or do something else. I construct my own identity by mixing the negotiable with the not, having conversations with myself, others, the world around me. I am my own man. Mine. Created by me. And since I own me, and since me IS my body and since everything I do all the time is changing me, I should get to be in the drivers seat about what I want to do to me and how I want to change over time. Some stuff is going to happen no matter what I think about it (eventually, I will die. Alas). Some stuff, I can effect.
The whole gatekeeper thing annoys me. If I have to ask somebody permission before painting my bicycle, it’s not really my bike. It’s a bike that they control. So if I want to modify my body, and I have to get permission first, then it means that they are in control. My body doesn’t belong to me, then, it belongs to a medical establishment. And as we’re rejecting dualism here, that means ME. I belong to the medical establishment.
that’s crap.
Rather than try to explain this worldview, I got quiet and defensive. I’m NOT in the wrong body! *sigh*
They didn’t chuck me out on my ear, but instead made an appointment for me to see a social worker, a week from T-day. That person can refer me to a doc who can write prescriptions. This is the normal procedure. The nurse insisted that I see one particular social worker. It’s funny that when I was in Holland, they wanted to send me off to transition and thought it was odd that I wanted to discuss it further first and here they seem to want me to discuss it further.
I really suck at lying. I probably suck at truth telling too. I would do terribly on a lie detector test, overthinking everything. This is why I got rejected from England. These concise, tell-em-that-they-want-to-hear answers are not easy for me. Still, I’m considering trying to lie anyway. Rawr! I’m very binary identified! I am incredibly manly! I have been convinced of my manliness from my earliest memory! I have no doubts or concerns whatsoever! My family is entirely supportive!
Jean says that is a whole lot of fabrication . . . enough to make a suit out of. (Only problem is that I’d still be naked afterwards.) I don’t know. Maybe a social worker will tell me how to bring this up with my family. (Or maybe the fam reads my blog. Yikes. Meh.)

Speaking of my family . . .

My brother is planning on baking a pie for thanksgiving that my mother made. My mother died in 2002. But she was really in to preserving fruit. It broke my heart to throw away the outdated jars of applesauce that she had given me in 2001. she didn’t just put things in jars, but also froze them. My mom was also the pie queen (more so than Lois). When apricots were in season, she sprung into action, making jam, preserves, canned half apricots, frozen apricots and pies. She made so many pies. But instead of baking them, she parked them in the freezer and baked them when needed. My mom left behind a freezer full of frozen pies. And her pies were really fantastic.
I don’t know, but I’m guessing that her last pie probably dates from 2001. That’s a six year old pie. Freezer burn + morbidity all in one package. I’m not sure my mother would want us to honor her memory by eating a six year old pie. I have trepidation regarding the experience, frankly. Aside from all the concerns associated with eating a pie that’s old enough to be in the first grade, I feel that it’s likely that a pall will be cast over the gathering. It will be a pie of mourning.
So at that very opportune moment, I can say, “So I have an appointment with a social worker a week from today . . .”
I’m sure the social worker wouldn’t approve. Also, I wish I was making this whole thing up.


Online Dating

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

  • pissed (3x)
  • torture (2x)
  • queer (1x)

Ok, maybe “pissed” is a (sorta) bad word. And I can see how political discussions involving American application of torture in prisons (at home and abroad. Let’s not forget that prison rape is so tolerated that it’s practically officially sanctioned.) might alarm small children. And everybody else too, I hope. But “queer”? My very self is inappropriate for kids?
I thought this was the 21st century, but, um, yeah. Maybe the perl script thought I was using it as a pejorative term.
Speaking of queerness . . .. Well, somebody was speaking to me of queerness last night. She wanted to talk about gender theory, but was really drunk, as was I. This could have been amusing, but then she wanted to switch clothes with me. At which point it got more stressful. She got a cisgender guy to put on her clothes. Hilarity ensued. I mean, he was kind of funny being all hairy-chested in that frilly shirt. But on the other hand. I mean. Is it automatically funny if somebody is cross dressing? Cuz, yeah, I do it every day.
And many folks wonder why I do it. Is it some sort of political statement? Is it the result of a theoretical position? Do I do it because I am brave and strong?
Let’s be clear: I am neither brave nor strong. If I were brave and strong, my sense of self would be able to withstand any choice of clothing. That it cannot speaks to fragility. I dress the way I do because of an internal imperative. I don’t know why, but I know it’s not negotiable. If I were brave or strong or theoretical or political, switching into frilly clothes on a lark would be nothing more than a lark. The suggestion would not make me want to flee.
And what about other baggage? Pip of Great Expectations writes:

Are there white middle-class butches? If so, where are they? I found Judith/Jack Halberstam’s book, Female Masculinities, particularly disappointing in this regard. It seems that J/J identifies as butch (??). But although she shows how butch history has been ignored by middle-class feminism, she doesn’t admit that being an academic means that working-class butch history doesn’t simply belong to her. She doesn’t use this opportunity to share her own experience of butchness, and instead uses the (often extremely personal) stories of others to illustrate this story. It’s this kind of behaviour that allows white middle class men/women/butches to claim a rich history and identity, while hiding our privilege over others of the same gender (just like white women using pictures of black mothers to symbolise the fertility or spirituality of all women).

I don’t know about claiming the word “butch.” I mean, butch women all have way more gravitas than me. And I’m really scrawny, which is a strike against it. Also, women who are actually, indisputably butch intimidate me no end. But all that aside, what Pip is talking about here is female-bodied masculinity, which is something I think I can claim.
The class baggage surrounding it has been on the periphery of my vision. When I wrote my post about how to cross dress, I stated, “You have two goals when it comes to clothing: 1. Pass, 2. Avoid getting treated like dirt . . .. Therefore, you want to convey not only masculinity, but also . . . social status. Simply put: life is easier if you look rich . . .. Therefore, you want to avoid dressing in a sloppy manner. It will drop your status . . ..” In those ellipses, I was talking about ageism. On the rare occasions that I pass for male, I’m read as a teen boy, which has drawbacks. But when I don’t pass, I’m also treated as a low status person (followed around stores by security, that sort of thing) if I’m dressed in an overly casual fashion. I knew that dressing as a businessman tended to help, but I didn’t quite make the class connection there that Pip does.
Obviously, gender expression and class are not as linked in their incidence as Pip suggests, or I wouldn’t exist. But if people are subconsciously making the connection in their minds, this explains why folks think I’m a thug. Because they’re homophobic, transphobic, classist asshats.
(Be nice to me, or I’ll call you names on my blog.)
Anyway, I think real lesson here is that I shouldn’t try to talk about gender theory when I’m drunk. Or maybe ever. It’s ok when I or people in my general position theorize about my life, but when people from outside do it, well, that’s different. For me, it’s my life, which makes the stakes somewhat different than a casual person who wonders about the meanings of gender statements. I’m not making a statement, I’m just trying to get through my day.

Crossdress for Success: Passing for Ken when you look like Barbie

Clothes Make the Man

You have two goals when it comes to clothing: 1. Pass, 2. Avoid getting treated like dirt. Probably you have a narrow chin and hairless cheeks. If you pass, you look young. Looking young is fine, but going from being read as a 30 year old woman to a 17 year old boy can entail a starting loss of status. Therefore, you want to convey not only masculinity, but also age and social status. Simply put: life is easier if you look rich.

Therefore, you want to avoid dressing in a sloppy manner. It will drop your status AND you’re less likely to pass. You want to wear clothes that are unambiguously masculine. Nothing too gender neutral.
But if you’re on a budjet, aside from hitting sales and “dress for less” type stores, also check out thrift shops.

Shoes & Socks

Men’s shoes. No sneakers unless they’re very masculine. Clunky high tops will make you look like a teen boy. I recommend men’s dress shoes or wing tips, but working boots and the like are also possible. Argyle socks are casual. Black socks are dressy. White socks go with shorts. I wear argyle almost all the time, cuz I think they’re manly.

Pants (Trousers for you Brits)

Avoid gender neutral pants. This means that jeans are risky, but if you can find some that are manly, then go ahead. Get pants that hang on your hips rather than your waist. Men’s pants are baggier in the crotch and a bit baggier in general. Don’t go overly baggy, though. Get something that fits.


Boxers or briefs? Or boxer briefs? It you’re going to pack (fun!), you probably want boxer briefs or just briefs to keep your sock ball or whatever in place.
Also, go for a wife beater or other loose-fitting tank top. It may be possible for you to avoid binding.


Button up, collar, cotton, vertical strips. That’s the general guideline. Men’s shirts have buttons on the right and button holes on the left. You want cotton or some other non-clingy fabric. Vertical stripes are you friend. Plain colors are ok, but not as good. Same with plaid. Avoid horizontal stripes! Vertical stripes make you appear more box-shaped, which is what you want. Also, the tend to have a horizontal section across the back shoulders. This makes your shoulders look broader. This is also what you want.
Tuck you shirt into your hip-hugging pants. Voilà! Your hips disappear! Do a check in the mirror to see whether you want to bind or not.
Get a shirt that actually fits. Men in the US often wear tents that double as shirts. This looks terrible on scrawny guys and on you might look like you’ve raided the closet of your dad or boyfriend. Get slim fit if you have to.

Sweaters, jackets, etc

I suggest blazers. Button the middle button (and maybe the top button) while standing and unbutton them all when sitting. Never button the bottom button. Blazers are manly and they convey some social status, but, of course, they’re not practical for every event. If you need a sweater, get a men’s one that’s not tight. Avoid sweatshirts as they’re too ambiguous.


I want to give a shout-out to the bow tie. I directs eyes upwards to the collar and away from the chest, while neckties do the opposite. However, neckties are also cool.


Hats are very regional. So, what are the dapper men in your area wearing? Look for what guys dressed like you have on their heads. Don’t wear it if women also wear it. Unless it’s winter and you need to wear a ski cap or something. It’s best to avoid suffering for fashion.
I wear a newsboy type cap (‘casquette’ in French) on cool days and a pork pie on warmer days. Brimmed hats are great, because they double as sun block! I also have a tilley hat, but people tell me it looks silly, alas.
If you live in San Francisco, go get whatever Willy Brown is wearing. That man is a sharp dresser, especially when it comes to hats!

Square Hair


Go find a haircutter that’s trustworthy. This often means a gay man. Other people may try to argue with you about your hair, like it’s not on your own damn head. This can be easier if it’s already really short. If you want to loose longer hair, get your friend to give you a terrible haircut first. (Ok, I’ve never tried this, but it might help.)
You want something boxy. Longer on the top. Short on the back and sides, blended high.
Gell it up and out, to add to the squareness. Move hair away from your temples. If you’re brave, you can take a razor to square up your hairline.
Your sideburns should be square as heck. This is key. If you keep them high, they will probably look better. Trim them so they are a bit above where your hair stops growing like head-hair.


That fuzz that you’re so proud of on your cheeks, chin and upper lip is not actually helping you, unless you’re able to grow a real beard. Shave it off. Shave your cheeks, your chin, your upper lip, and under your chin, to a couple of centimeters on your neck. You might want to get the fuzz below your ears too, but careful of nicking yourself. Don’t shave your lips. (Who would do that?)
Use shaving soap and warm water. Shave with the grain and not against it. Don’t do it too often, or your face will hurt. If you just have fuzz, you can do it every 4 days or so. Change the blade after 2 or 3 weeks or if your face feels scraped.
Don’t put Rogaine on your face. Don’t put fake hair or stubbly makeup on your face, unless you’re doing a drag stage show. Facial hair comes from hormones and that’s it.

Now let’s look at you

My, aren’t you a dapper young fellow!