I apologize if this essay seems a little off the cuff; ironically, I just learned that March 31st is the International Day of Transgender Visibility, and I felt compelled to write a little something about it, because I think it’s a really good thing to celebrate and educate about.
First of all, if it hasn’t been made abundantly clear: I am transgender.
For me, this means I was born with a vulva, vagina, ovaries and a uterus, and was thusly raised with the concept that I was female; meanwhile, I struggled internally with this “diagnosis” until I later realized that biology is not destiny. The reason many transgender activists have added the “*” to the shorthand “trans*” is because there are many ways the prefix trans (which means “to cross over”) is used by gender variant people: transsexual, transgressive, transcendent, etc. I think these apply to me in one way or another. Indulge me as I share a bit of my gender journey with you. Get a cup of tea, coffee, or a hot toddy (which sounds lovely on this brisk rainy evening) and see this in the context of my “story”. Although these things are true, they are also woven together specifically to make a point.
I often talk about that my mother was not only intuitively convinced that I was male while she was pregnant, but the doctors did some sort of test (she doesn’t remember, and it was a long time ago) to tell her I was male. They had picked out a male name (Sean, which I would have totally loved as a name regardless, but they ended up giving it to my younger brother) and had done the sorts of things you do when expecting a boy. When I was born, it was such a surprise for my parents that my “girl name” was chosen during the first few days of my life, as they poured over baby name books and made lists of names they liked. My first and middle names, including the middle name I kept when I legally changed my name to Del, were the only two they both had on their lists. So even from the moment of birth, the fact that I was female was somewhat of a surprise to the world. I have been strongly tempted, in the last few years, to pursue this medically; to get my DNA tested to see if I am Intersex in some way. I have had doctors posit this as an explanation to some of my issues with menstruation and pregnancy, which is not a typical diagnosis to discuss with a patient, so I’ve done a significant amount of research about Intersex conditions, and sometimes I’ve told people I am Intersex. My mother goes back and forth between telling me I am, and telling me there’s no way I am, so I don’t know if this “test” had told her anything more specific about my gender. I seem to have a functional female reproductive system, as I’ve been pregnant twice, but that’s not necessarily an indication of not being Intersex.
It is important to note that being Intersex does not preclude being trans*. In fact, many Intersex children have their genitals mutilated (because “making a hole is easier than making a pole”) and raised female; only to be tormented with feelings they were raised the wrong gender, and transitioning as adults. There are also cases of Intersex children being raised male, only to transition to female as adults. In my heart, I really wish we could just accept that Intersexuality happens as often as 1 in 100 births, and stop forcing parents and children to choose blue or pink when obviously nature is creating us in many more than two, easily distinguishable, somehow completely opposite, genders. I’m even hesitant to support raising a genitally disambiguous child (that is, one who is born with complete and intact “female” or “male” genitalia) as though their gender is a predetermined, set thing. As more and more parents are accepting their children’s self-determined gender identity, and there are even medical doctors and facilities treating trans* kids with both puberty-blocking medications, as well as administering hormones of the child’s preferred gender so they go through the “right” puberty instead. I just mention my own experiences with both having shades of intimations that I may be Intersex, as well as my own intuitions, as part of my gender journey.
Regardless, I was raised and socialized female. This means that when I showed any interest or aptitude in things that our culture deigns to be “for boys”, my parents diligently reprogrammed me to like “girl things”. I have a strong memory of stealing my brother’s football, as he was barely a toddler and had no interest in the thing, and taking it down the block to play with the neighborhood boys. One of my parents seized it, wrote my brother’s name on it in big letters, and the next time I “borrowed” it I was punished.
Likewise, I was inundated with “girl things”. My mother decided I should be a child model/actress, and that world was very invested in hyper feminization; girls had to be “girly girls”. So my hair was kept in pigtails and I was subjected to a lot of dresses and skirts, which I very much hated and never felt comfortable in.
Even with all this, I never really had the coherent and complete thought that “I was born in the wrong body” or that “I should have been born a boy”. More, I was very confused and depressed that there were these things I wanted to do, be, and wear that were off limits for a reason I couldn’t understand. I have never, nor do I really even now, understand why we gender our children’s experience so emphatically. I once bought a newborn female-sexed child a small flannel shirt and courteroy pants, specifically because I knew their mother was going to be swamped in pink and frills. She balked at first, thinking I had made a mistake. Later, she wrote me to tell me it was her child’s favorite outfit.
As I grew older, the conflict was intensified when I realized that my childhood daydreams of having a wife and raising children wasn’t biologically or socially acceptable. As the sexualization of “girls vs boys” became more clear, I did everything I could to hide from these games. Some of my therapists have posited that I started gaining weight around the onset of puberty specifically because I was afraid of being seen as a “girl” when it came to crushes, dating, and eventually sex; first of all, I obviously have issues with the idea that being fat means that you’re no longer either a girl or a sexual being, but I did spend many a thinking session about whether I was trying to purposefully exclude myself from the proto-sex games of my peers by emphasizing my unattractiveness. In addition to gaining weight, I also did not wear clothes that made me feel attractive or sexual; I hid in oversized tee shirts and baggy pants. This was further complicated by the fact that I was very poor, and did not get a lot of choice when it came to clothing – I got whatever my parents could afford, and often that meant whatever was my size at the local Salvation Army.
I eventually realized what a lesbian was, and as I grew into an adult I felt I had to model my presentation and appearance so as to include the “secret clues” that would let other gay women know I was “one of them”. Almost immediately, I was informed that I was a butch, and was encouraged to cut off my long red hair so I would fit in. It wasn’t hard to accept otherwise, as I was still wearing “men’s” or “unisex” clothing more often than not, and this was also during the time when “grunge” was popular. The difference was, there was a way that women wore plaid flannel shirts, cargo jeans, and workboots that did not lose their femininity; whereas once I started cutting my hair short, I was sometimes confused for a young man.
Secretly, I didn’t mind. I had many of my first romantic and sexual experiences with gay men, which looking back makes a ton of sense (since I now identify as a queer man), but then was a road to ruin. I was both having my heart broken over and over again as the gay men found cisgender men to date and left me; and feeding my ego on being the woman that got these avowed homosexuals into bed. It was a push me-pull you that took me many years to break; I tried to only date bisexual men, but it turned out that both men who told me they were “bi” turned out to mean “I only fuck and date girls, but if a cute boy wanted to give me head, I woudn’t say no”.
I knew that transsexuality existed; I dated a trans* woman for over a year and did a lot of accepting and comforting to help them feel more feminine. Oddly and ironically, they ended up breaking up with me because I was too masculine for them. Later I realized it was their internalized jealousy that I had been born the way they deeply wished they had, and felt I was “squandering” it by dressing and acting masculine. I had even read Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaws (and that’s even the same cover as the copy I had), but somehow the idea that someone born and raised female could be a man in some form or function was lost on me. Maybe I was specifically disassociating the information because I didn’t want to admit it was something I wanted or needed? I know that it took meeting an actual transsexual man before I fully understood that it was both possible and not as terrifying as I had once thought.
For almost 15 years, I just decided that I didn’t really have a gender. Or more accurately, I didn’t deal with gender as a concept. I dated men and women (and I say it that was because the majority of my lovers were cisgender), and when I was with a lover I became whatever they wanted from me – either the soft and caring gentleman, or the demure and alluring feminine submissive, or the loud and dominant lover who could as easily fuck you in the ass with their prosthetic cock as take your fist in their vagina. I wore fairly gender neutral clothing, and stayed away from anything that required one to be a “woman” or a “man” to take part. I even ended up being invited to join a traditionally-male singing group, but didn’t accept until I learned there was a cisgender woman joining at the same time.
It all came to a head when the rest of my life did. Loki was clearing away all the things that were distracting me from being able to do and be what He needed me to, and one of them was my unresolved issues with gender and being “female”. I was slow to accept this, as there were parts of my life I knew would be negatively affected if I up and decided I was a man now. I started out by trying on the “genderqueer” label, which also fits in a way, never felt fully true to who I was. I finally met a post-transition transsexual man, which proved to me that not only do they exist, but they live full and happy lives. Many of them are socially accepted, or “pass”, as male without question. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but nothing in life really is.
Then Loki put it all into perspective for me, in the way He does. He very calmly but very firmly informed me:
Del, I need you to be a shapeshifter. I need you to be a guardian of the boundary, the diplomat who can dance between the sexes and facilitate communication and understanding. I need you to be able to be all things to all people. To horse Gods of any gender, to take on archetypes without limitations. In order to do that, I want you to explore masculinity, to find a balance between man and woman, a place where you are both comfortable and useful at the same time. You’re no use to me if the gender thing keeps coming up over and over again.
I decided to stand up, for the smallest inner voice inside of me screaming to be heard and acknowledged. I started by asking my friends and family to use male pronouns and referring words (dude, man, guy, etc) for me. I stopped wearing overtly feminine clothes. I started to explore who I was as a man, in lots of big and little ways. It was as much a mental health thing as it was spiritual; the more I was seen and accepted as masculine, the better I felt about my place in the world.
This year, I am starting male hormones (testosterone). I do not know how ‘far’ I plan to take my hormonal transition; my goal is to find a place where random strangers would not be entirely certain if I am a Ma’am or a Sir. I know you can’t control what effects you get from T, but my hope is that my voice will become more masculine sounding and perhaps some of my facial features. I’d love to have facial hair, but I think that’s a pipe dream, as people in my birth family aren’t very hairy at all.
This decision, to start hormones, is a deep and meaningful part of reclaiming myself after my separation. My STBX was supportive of my gender journey, up until a point. He was just radically uncomfortable with anything that would change me in a way where passing as female would no longer work. He didn’t want to have to tell his parents or coworkers that he was married to a man. He was okay with being married to a masculine female (as that is one of his fantasies, being with butch women), but was not even remotely okay with being with a feminine male. There’s nothing wrong or bad about that at all. We all have preferences and choices we make about our lives, and it’s ragingly common for relationships to end when one partner decides to transition. I’m happy he’s found lovers who better suit him, gender wise, and I’m also happy that I’m now free to explore my masculinity beyond social transition.
This is my story, my choice to become visible and knowable as a transgender person living in suburban America. A shaman and spirit worker, a Lokean shapeshifter, whose gender queerness is as intrinsic to my spiritual self as it is to my physical self. I am a lover and ally to other transgender persons from all over the gender spectrum, and speak my words and teach my classes so they can see their experiences reflected back at them when seeking spiritual or sexual information I have to share. I make sure to challenge people’s perceptions, and language, and inclusivity, to make sure they remember and accept that gender variant people are as sacred as anyone else.