On Visibility

I have always been invisible.  For most of my life I presented as a somewhat feminine tomboy: long hair generally pulled back in a ponytail, no makeup, tee-shirts and jeans, but somewhat fitted ones.  When I was 14 I came out as bisexual, and then later as queer.  No one took me seriously, after all, I kept dating men and I looked and acted basically like a girl, although maybe a slightly odd one.  Despite (actually partially because of) the fact that the area where I grew up had a fairly large lesbian and transmasculine population, it never occurred to me that it was possible to be trans and also be gay and somewhat effeminate.

For over a decade, I felt out of place and isolated from the queer community.  I was afraid that I was appropriating queer identity.  Even though I knew with unshakable certainty that I belonged, nobody could see why - including me.  I desperately wished that I could just be attracted to women, so much of me would make sense that way, but my female crushes remained few and far between (and usually very butch).  I kept up the feminine aspects of my appearance, even the parts that made me incredibly uncomfortable, at least in part because I knew that it made me more attractive to most men (and butches for that matter). 

Now, finally, I’m visibly queer.  I have short hair, I bind my chest, and I look androgynous enough that most people feel the need to take a second look when I walk by.  People often stare at me when I walk into the room; sometimes they yell things at me when they drive past me on the street.  Inevitably, almost 99% of the time, what people see when they look at me is a lesbian.  When my boyfriend and I go out to the gay bar, people tell me how sweet it is that we’re “such good friends.”  Straight guys want to bond with me about ladies and dating, and women who used to treat me with vague distrust now check me out at parties.  People try to justify my relationship with my boyfriend by focusing on our genitals; I’m just a lesbian who stayed with her partner when he transitioned, or maybe we’re both just attracted to “(cis) women and transmen (no space).”  Either way we’re welcome in the lesbian and transmasculine community that I was never a part of - it’s okay because the only cocks in our bed are made of plastic and anyway I’m not on T.  I’m oh so cool and trendy now that I have short hair and my boyfriend has a vagina.  So interestingly enough, I’m still invisible, just in a different way. 

But here’s the thing: not all of my femininity was just for show.  I liked pretty clothes and shoes, even though I never felt comfortable wearing them.  I liked flirting outrageously with attractive men, and being coy sometimes.  I liked flowing fabric and dancing with my hips.  I still do like these things, and I’m well on my way to becoming an amazing drag queen someday.  I also know that if I had been assigned male at birth it would not have been nearly as acceptable for me to explore the feminine aspects of myself.  My stoicism and rationality still would have been valued.  My father still would have taught me to shoot and light a campfire, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have indulged my childhood desire to play fairies quite as much.  I’m still not sure how he’s going to handle the idea that instead of a mostly straight tomboy daughter he has a very gay flamboyant son (although he still might take it better than my mom, who always wants to bond about being womyn).

My point is this: I’m not butch.  I never have been, and I’m pretty sure I never will be.  I knew when I made the decision to begin transitioning socially (which isn’t a phrase I’ve ever actually used, although I guess it’s accurate) exactly what the repercussions of that decision would be.  I knew what I was giving up.  If I decide to pursue a medical transition in the future, and I very well might, I’ll still be obviously queer. Odds are I’ll be queer in a way that is seen as more deviant and transgressive than my current presentation.  No amount of fur or muscle will ever hide my limp wrists or the way I swish when I walk, and if (or when) I’m consistently read as male I’ll only be more comfortable with my effeminacy as a result. 

I’d rather be a blatantly flamboyant queen than spend my life lying to myself and everyone else.  I know what it feels like to sacrifice honesty for safety, I did it for a very long time, and I have no interest in ever repeating that experience.  Honestly though, the prospect scares me sometimes. The consequences for men, or people who are perceived as men, who transgress societies expectations of gender are often much more brutally violent than those faced be people who are perceived to be female, as any scan of news stories will show. 

Look, I understand the desire to prove yourself, to show off your radical queer self, especially if you feel like you aren’t being seen.  I’ve been there, I get it; but there’s nothing noble about unnecessary martyrdom and suffering.  If you can get to a place where you feel comfortable in your skin and you blend into society sometimes, do it.  Just remember that if you can fit in people are more likely to listen to what you have to say and take it seriously, even in queer communities.  So I would really love it if less visibly queer folks, including my “straight-acting” gay friends and my fellow trans people who are lucky enough to be able to transition away from visibility, instead of into it, could just be a bit more mindful. 

Don’t assume you know everything there is to know about oppression, other people’s experiences are just as valid as yours. Please don’t devalue femininity, no matter who’s expressing it.  Don’t devalue bodies, even if they’re not necessarily the kind you usually find attractive. For better or worse you often get to be the spokespeople for our communities, please try to do us justice.

  1. sickelgaita reblogged this from nonfictionalgender and added:
    This is a good post and contains several points that I need to keep in mind.
  2. nonfictionalgender posted this
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