Needing to explore this angle, more

Yesterday…I read in seven different books. Yes, seven. I didn’t realize until about 1 AM, how much and for how long, I had read. I had gotten a new e-Reader, and essentially, yesterday was my first day of trying it out.

On the downside, apparently reading a backlit E-Ink display has the same effect on my deep sleep as reading a backlit LCD display. When my eyes got bleary from reading the E-Ink display, however, it took less time to recover my normal vision.

Books I read yesterday:

  • Troubled Water: What’s Wrong with What We Drink, by Seth M. Siegel
  • Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, by Fareed Zakaria
  • The Cornel West Reader, by Cornel West
  • Well-Read Black Girl, by Glory Edim
  • Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, by Rachel Simmons
  • The Trouble With White Women: A Counterhistory of Feminism, by Kyla Schuller

As I compiled this list, I realized that there are a lot of books on here that explicitly have to do with gender and race, and not-so-explicitly, the perspectives of black women — particularly Well-Read Black Girl, and Girl, Woman, Other. The Trouble with White Women: A Counterhistory of Feminism, is also written from this perspective, though I didn’t get heavily into that last text, last night.

Granted that I don’t consider myself a “girl”, and heavily question (if not outright reject) the category of “woman” in application to myself. (If transgender men can exist, that is, the gender placed on us at birth is not necessarily accurate — for anyone. Most people, however, don’t seem pushed to question it.)

I have access to these books. It doesn’t make sense not to read them. I mean, if a person is going to potentially disidentify with something on an ongoing basis (like the concept of womanhood), it would heed them to know what that something is.

The complicated portion of this, for me, comes in as relational: if I myself do not identify as a woman, is it still okay to be attracted to feminine people? Obviously, it’s okay! Or else the entire social apparatus of heterosexuality itself, is morally suspect.

Do you think straight men ask themselves if it’s OK to be attracted to feminine people? The difference between myself and straight men, however, is profound; part of it has to do with the idea many straight men have: that “women” (whomever they consider women, that is) are supposedly the property of straight men. Otherwise, the territorial “protective” behavior I experienced in high school from (apparently insecure) boys essentially guarding female people (from me; like I was a predator — I’m not sure exactly what the threat was), doesn’t make sense.

There have been people — particularly feminists — who have claimed that heterosexuality is morally suspect, and that non-coerced sexual relationships can only take place between equals (i.e. same-sex). I no longer have Radical Feminism: A Documentary Reader, edited by Barbara A. Crow. I first read someone daring to say this, in that anthology. Of course, a lot of the authors in that collection were extremely angry, which I understand. I came to disidentify with womanhood, originally, in order to quell my anger; otherwise, I would have remained very angry — and depressed — all the time, and it would just have gotten worse.

I’m sure that people in the TG/GQ/NB communities would question just why I would listen to Radical Feminists in the first place. There is a long-standing conflict between the Trans* community and Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists. The latter have a tendency to claim 1) that there is no gender, only sex, and 2) that males and females are innately, inherently different (due to biology). This obviously conflicts with the idea that respect for gender identity is paramount and that gender is at least partially a (participatory) social construction — the latter assertions, I don’t think many in the TG/GQ/NB communities would object to.

I purchased the book very cheaply at a Women’s bookstore (no longer in business) before I knew what Radical Feminism was, or realized anything earth-shaking about my own gender. And again, I had access to it, so why not read it?

The major issue that I can see — where it comes to Women’s communities, or Women’s space — is the unspoken assumption that humanity is divided into two camps of men versus women…with no one else. Not even Intersex people (people who are not biologically male or female), let alone Nonbinary people who are neither Intersex nor identify as Trans*.

That may be a bit harsh; I have not been in Women’s spaces for a while, so I don’t know how they’ve evolved over the last decade. What I perceive, however, is a general lack of knowledge about transgender realities. I also find that non-cisgender people (other than transgender women: that is, people who begin life categorized as male, identifying and/or living as women) tend to find their own spaces, at this point, rather than remain an embattled minority in Women’s spaces. I know that pretty much no one will say they share my experience in Women’s groups, whereas within Nonbinary groups, there is widespread sentiment of shared experience. It’s pretty striking.

I read, for example, black women (once girls) talking about seeing themselves in literature written by other black women. (Nota bene: I am of mixed heritage, partially of African-American descent.) I haven’t had that experience; it holds about as much validity for me personally as watching a binary trans* person transition. Maybe less — especially when it comes to trans* women, whom I tend to empathize with moreso than trans* men.

But at a certain point it becomes apparent that I and the person I’m happy for, are not the same person. I’m not a trans* woman. Even if I could do the same thing, which I can’t — I can only transition to an endpoint of (further embodied) androgyny or masculinity — that will not necessarily make me feel the joy that they felt.

On that point: I seem to have morphed in my presentation to the extent that I cannot fully see myself as a, “woman,” anymore. I wouldn’t know, except for videoconferencing. I really don’t know what that’s about, though I do have my own hormonal dysregulation to deal with. Having gotten realistically androgynous — to the point that I can see it — over the past couple of years, though, is a bit…unexpected? I’m pretty sure that a lot of it is mindset, and a lack of willingness to play…

As regards transitioning to male: I’ve been thinking on medical transition for at least 20 years. I know it’s possible, but I also question how many problems for me it will solve, as versus create. My being is illegible in society, meaning that to fully chemically and socially embody myself would be to make myself unavoidably vulnerable to stigma for the rest of my life — or, at least, until society (globally) changes in the direction of greater inclusion. I’d say I wasn’t holding out for it, but I’m not sure if that’s actually true.

In terms of identification, I have not seen a depiction of anyone like myself in anything I’ve read…with the possible two caveats. The first caveat: Loren Cameron’s Body Alchemy: Transsexual Portraits, and Aaron Devor’s FTM: Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society, which I connected with before knowing of the ideological and political rifts between transgender men and nonbinary female-assigned people. (Granted, I haven’t been in trans* male space for years, either…we have history.) The second caveat: reading the words of neurodiverse nonbinary people. For some reason, I can connect with these accounts much more easily.

No, I don’t know why.

If I lived 50 years ago — if this were 1972 — I could see myself falling into an identification category like, “butch lesbian.” Given a lack of extant concepts to explain myself to myself, I might have settled for that.

Things have progressed a long way since the 1970’s. The knot of gender and sexual orientation — historically confused in the Western world through the outdated psychiatric narrative of gender inversion, the predecessor to gay and lesbian identity at one time (see Female Masculinity by Jack Halberstam) — is being teased apart.

Loving women doesn’t infer anything about one’s gender identity, and having an atypical gender identity and being female, doesn’t mean one is lesbian. I have been in transgender groups where this basic concept is not grasped, however. I don’t even know how many trans* men told me over the years that I was, “just a confused lesbian” (as though they were “more”).

At the time, there was a significant dribble of people from the lesbian community who thought that simply being female and homosexual meant they were somehow men. I wasn’t one of them. I watched them attend one meeting and quickly disappear. I get the frustration at the misunderstanding, but the brush was too broad, and resulted in closet genderqueers in transmasculine support spaces (because there was no other source of good information, at the time).

When you need to know to swap out a needle used to fill a syringe with testosterone, for a finer one to inject yourself with — you aren’t going to find that information outside of trans* male community. The problem I saw was rampant hostility and constant anxiety over who was and wasn’t a, “real man.” Had I not had this experience, I might have tried testosterone by now. But I did have that experience, and it was ugly, and it made me not want to be like the people I encountered in these groups, or have to depend on them for anything.

Unfortunately, also outside of the TG/GQ/NB communities…not everyone seems to be aware of the point we’re at, now. I’m a nonbinary person who is largely attracted to feminine people (including feminine nonbinary people, regardless of how they started), or to people with unusual mixes of gendered traits. I don’t know why.

I largely haven’t acted on my feelings towards other people, for a number of reasons. Growing up in an environment where people were harassed and shamed and laughed at and attacked for supposedly being “gay” (and…how do you recognize a “gay” person who has never dated anyone?), and the lack of help they received — when, for instance, in the early days of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Reagan took a hands-off approach thinking it was a curse from “God” — it sends a message, you know? Then, when you’re a kid and you don’t know who is safe to approach about this — well…that says it all, doesn’t it?

Well…not all. Some of it. The rest of it goes into another post (or story, or book), though I’ll give a quick rundown: The major question for me, as I matured, was how I could ask another person to enter my world, when my world was not safe. This is not a barrier if everyone’s out, however; nor is it a barrier for a person one knows is not cis/het.

The thing is: at least in youth, it’s not all the time possible to know who is safe, as — in my time at least — it was usual to hide. Nor is it possible to know whether the one you love would be safe from others, if they were to be associated with you, and you were already getting harangued for existing. This in itself disrupts early bonding during the years which, it seems, a lot of pair-bonding takes place.

When I spoke about this in therapy at 16, I was told that most people didn’t come to realize their sexual orientation until they were around 35. Of course, when I was 16, we were in the late 1990’s, meaning that the people who were 35 at that time are now in their late 50’s. Things are different for kids now — though I wouldn’t say if they were better or not.

Developmentally speaking, for someone of my era, it would seem about the right time for me to be grappling with this. I’ve spent over half of my life dealing expressly with gender. Far less of that has gone to dealing with anything around the concept of sexual orientation — especially once I realized that, at least in my mind, my not being a woman essentially meant that I could not be lesbian (which I defined as a self-identified woman who loved women; though this is not a restriction everyone puts on themselves, nor is it a restriction I put on anyone else). And my being attracted to TG/GQ/NB people — and not forcing my definitions onto them — meant that I was likely not lesbian.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we yet have any great way to organize ourselves so that people of differing identities and experiences can meet and intermingle, while at the same time excluding those who are hostile. Though, actually: meeting casually, outside of a group, would truly help this. It is notable that many people falling under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella, in my experience, are not the type to utilize a community center, but have their own separate social networks.

There is just a fault shift, here; a discontinuity between prior and more recently-arising methods of identity formation and understanding. Widespread knowledge of nonbinary identity is a recent development, emerging out of the more highly politicized genderqueer identities of the early 2000’s, which in turn…included a lot of people who were alienated from the transgender community (due to politics of inclusion leading to social hostility for some, within those groups).

It would be an oversimplification to leave out the drag (-queen and -king) communities, and the influence of the gay and queer communities. It would also be an oversimplification to leave out the role of the Internet.

The term, “genderqueer,” seems to have arisen as a way to infer that one was queer in the sense of bending gender. Right now I’m having a hard time kicking my way out of that paper bag, in searching for a relevant term for myself. In reality, I’ve been trying not to be political about this, but reclaiming what potential I have for fulfilling loving relationships outside of familial bonds, requires I reclaim this history.

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