Contemplations on queerness, transness, and other Otherness.

Friday, March 9, 2012

i used to be a boy: challenging trans-normativity

       i was walking down the street with some queer folk i know. The wind on my back was cleansing, and made me feel as if i was being lifted into another world. We were laughing together while telling each other queer bar stories. i’ll make sure to post the whole story later, because it’s worth telling, but that story is not this story.

       The point is, i started telling a story about how made out with a boy on the dance floor of a straight bar. One of the important bits of this story is that i was a boy at the time… it created conflict. This is storytelling people, conflict is supposedly important. What’s more important though, is that’s just the story, that’s how it went down. i mean, i fudge a bit. Again, its storytelling, but the truth of what happened is that i was a boy making out with a boy at a bar that doesn’t condone any sort of faggotry and conflict ensued.

       That’s as far as the story got though, unfortunately. My friend, upon hearing me say “i was a boy at the time,” decided to intervene.

       “You were being read as a boy anyway,” she said.

       “No,” i defended, “i was a boy once. There was a time when that was true.”

      Thankfully, upon correction, she accepted this as being true. But i was reminded how much society wants to hear a trans-narrative it’s heard before, one that it knows how to process and respond to, one that’s been iterated time and time again. Even large segments of the trans community want this story to be reiterated by other trans folk. We can circle back around to this later, but basically there are some components of trans-normativity that are expected in trans stories, some of which are listed:
  • That a person has known about hir transness throughout their entire conscious life.
  • That a person experiences hir gender as being polarized from that which they were assigned at birth.
  • That a person, before transitioning, is merely hiding; that hir negotiation of hir assigned gender is somehow false.
  • That a person’s sense of hir gender is stable, unchanging.
  • That a person must be dysphoric about aspects of hir body that aren’t seen by binary accepting folks as congruent with their self-identified gender.
  • That a person will naturally seek medical alterations to hir body.
  • That a person’s transness must be a site of pain and sadness.
       This list really could go on for days, but i’ll stop here for now. The difficulty here is that that’s not my story. Some of those things are sometimes true, or partly true, or forcibly and retrospectively true, but literally none are always, absolutely true.

       Any time i tell a story that doesn’t match some of these components of trans-normativity i am met with disbelief or correction. People seem unable to accept my stories as true. Sometimes i read this as people actually being incapable because the hegemonic story has become so normalized. Other times i read this as folks being well-intentioned, albeit misguided allies trying to help me edit internalized transphobia out of my storytelling.

       The truth of the matter is there was a time that i both lived as, and identified as a boy. There were periods before this when i wasn’t sure of my gender, or was sure of having another gender. There were, obviously, periods after that period when i didn’t identify as a boy. And there were, admittedly, at least two distinct periods when i didn’t identify as a boy but lived as one.

       These are all different stories for different days; the point here is that i was once a boy. i have a lot of history there, some of which i absolutely cherish. Out of respect for myself, i own that and fiercely challenge any attempt made to assimilate my experience. My past is a part of my present; it’s a path that brought me to this now. It’s a path that i’m very much still on. To disavow that past would feel like lying to myself, lying to others.

       i don’t feel the need to reevaluate my past to fit with my current conception of self. Perhaps this is because i acknowledge that my current self is fluid. i am also very, very out. Because of that, i like to think that even if i weren’t as fluid as i currently am that I wouldn’t feel the need to selectively edit the past to ignore my transness. It’s too central to who i am now to hide like that.

       i also tend to think that by telling stories that don’t adhere to a trans-normative narrative i can work to, in a small but hopefully profound way, work to decenter that narrative and create more room for more narratives. Being true to my story is both being true to myself and true to my conception of the world i want to live in; one in which all stories are accepted on their own merit, without social preconceptions of what they mean and how they should be told.

       i want to acknowledge that there are concerns here. If a person was invested in living stealth, or in a situation where they were concerned about safety, or if that was their story, or whatever, maybe it would make sense to edit their history. i try not to judge other people’s decisions on stuff like this. i just know that for me, i was a boy. i’m not now, but i was.