Friday, February 24, 2006

you're the secret I keep

Everywhere I turn, notions of authenticity spring up and won't leave me alone.

In group, we talked a lot about disclosure, and about the necessity (or not) of revealing one's status as trans to other folks, particularly people who had heard about you with masculine referents (he, him, boyfriend) but had never met you, and how much more loaded this question is when you're not passing physically yet (or ever?).

The thing that frustrates me most about this at the moment is feeling like my agency is taken away by my body- in some situations it's not a question of whether or not I should disclose my history (and someone brought up an interesting point that, taken in a medical context, one's medical history is really not anyone's business, and if you wouldn't tell someone that you're diabetic or a hemophiliac, or whatnot, then why would you tell them that you're a transsexual?) and identity. As long as I'm still being read as female, I have to address the apparent (from a layperson's perspective) incongruity of my corporeal self and my name/pronouns. My only choice, and only to a certain extent, is when and how, and that's still quite a complicated decision.

But then again, even now, I do have some agency in the matter, and it's still a complicated decision. To wit:

Thursday night at the bar, there was a fellow who looked at me and said "Now I REALLY wish I liked girls!"

My first instinct, actually, was to want to not take it personally for a moment just so I could challenge his notions. Clearly, he finds me attractive, so why should it matter if I'm a "girl" or not? We're all queers. It's all good if you've got the hots for me and I've got the hots for you, right? And there's something truly hot about fags and dykes together, I think.

Anyway. I didn't go there. Actually, for one minute I truly didn't know what he was talking about- I'm sure I had a confused look on my face. It dawned on me, however, and I kept the confused look on my face while I figured out what to say to him. I wish I'd been smooth ("Don't trouble yourself on my account, chap, I'm on your team!") but instead I just managed to reply with "Well, I'm a man."

There I was again, forcefully asserting my identity, and I can't decide which is worse: feeling like I'm not able to claim my true identity (which, again, is complicated! What after all IS my true identity? Man? Transman? Neither? If only I had the technological knowhow to Wikipedia-ify this journal, and make all of these terms into hyperlinks that connected to other entries where I addressed the myrid issues surrounding them.) or claiming an identity which makes me more comfortable than the default, but still not entirely happy.

Because when I say to him "I'm a man" without any further context, I'm signing myself aboard the Hegemonic Masculinity Steamboat Express. He, like drunk Asian boy the other night, was saying "Oh, you're not fitting into what I think a man is, you're fitting into my dyke mold," and rather than explain things, I'm saying "No, actually, I'm in your premade man mold after all, you're just slightly mistaken." And if I don't contextualize it further, then I make some of my queerness (my transness) and some of my identity invisible. AND I'm worried that I am disrespectful of dykes and butch women by having such an intense and visceral need to distance myself from being part of that group.

[ Ed. note: Cut yourself some slack Eli. it's okay not to want to be mistaken for something you're not.]

In other words, I'm worried that in handling such situations circumspectly, I'm perpetuating the patriarchy. Well, maybe I'm broadening their notions of what a man can look like- short, pencil neck, suspiciously wide-hipped figure- and thereby breaking things down a few patriarchal notions, but still. it worries me.

And also that's where it gets really interesting, I think. I don't want to claim the traditional label of 'man' because I don't like what it stands for. At the same time, I don't want my legitimacy as a man to be questioned. Is this me trying to have my cake and theorize about it, too?

I don't want to be a part of the patriarchy, but I don't want to be read as female, either, and lately, in an effort to at least definitely not be read as female, I've been laying claim to the conventional and hegemonic title of 'male' and that makes me uncomfortable.

And okay, as my internal editor mentioned a few lines back, I know that I have a right to say "No, you're wrong, I'm not a girl" because that's true. But when I follow that up with "I'm a boy" it's uncomfortable because, while that's ALSO true, it's true for me in a different way than it's true for the people who are hearing it, and I feel like I'm simultaneously misrepresenting myself and selling out to the patriarchy.

Though at the same time, even as I feel all of this angst about saying "Actually, I'm a man," I do sometimes want to be able to just say that and have it be okay, have it be enough, not have to overcomplicate the issue by getting into everything. I'd like to lead a life that, if not simple, is at least not any harder than it has to be.

And now, reading back over this, it looks like I've navigated myself squarely in between Scylla & Charybdis, the one being oversimplification and therefore complicity with the patriarchy, and the other being overexplanation, thereby making my life harder.

But until the concept of manhood is broken down and rebuilt into something broader and better, it looks like I'm still going to feel caught out and uncomfortable no matter which route I take.

1 comment:

KB said...

Despite the claims of 2nd wave feminism, man does not equal patriarchy. Man has never equalled patriarchy, and the entire notion of "a patriarchy" is problematic. It's a manifestation of the us-vs-them mindset that was a key feature of 2nd wave (American white middle class straight/lesbian) feminism. The "patriarchy" is a system of power, not a gender, and it interrelates with a bunch of different things, and men are some of my favorite people. This whole you-are-with-us-or-against-us thing is no good.

Ok. Now that we have that out of the way, it seems that what you are worried about is whether you are privileging your identity as a man over your identity as trans. Yes? Personally, I think you should prioritize whichever one makes YOU feel more secure. It's all well and good to think critically about the effect you're having in the world, but I think you're putting too much emphasis on examining the myriad political implications and not enough emphasis on what would make you, personally, yourself, happier. We can't all be battling cultural problems 100% of the time, we'd all fall over from exhaustion.

In conclusion, we have to remember to pick our battles and to put our own happiness first (yes, first). And also, monolithic ideas of anything are no fun and should go away.

good luck and godspeed.
kb