Tuesday, December 12, 2006

flesh and blood

A little piece of community parlance that's recently been getting very much under my skin is the term "bio-" as a prefix, as in the term "bio-boy" to distinguish non-trans men from the trans folks. I know it's common usage, along with "genetic girl" and other (often alliterative) such terminology, but it really annoys me, similarly to the way that I'd be annoyed if someone said "Wow, Eli, you look like a real guy now that you've got such bushy sideburns!" Invalidating and hurtful, right? I am a real guy. I am real.

Likewise, I'm a 'biological' guy, too...I've got a body, and everything that goes with it, and to distinguish me from other men by calling some of them 'bio' makes me feel a bit like a freak, and I don't need it. All of our identities and bodies are medicalized anyway...where do you think the lines come from the demarcate men from women? They're not as firm as everyone would have you believe, and I know that all masculinities are constructed, so I don't need to feel like mine is a cyborg variety and others have the "real" deal when that privileges non-trans men in a way that I'm at all comfortable with.

I'm not saying that lines cannot be drawn- I'm not asking anyone to turn a blind eye to the differences between my experience and that of a non-trans man, or to try to pretend that we're the same, when we're not, and I wouldn't want to be.

I'm fine with terminology like trans and non-trans, and I quite like (no doubt because of the neat chemistry allusion) transgender and cisgender, like the cis and trans bits of molecules that align in different ways to create different substances. And I'm pretty okay with xx-guy and xy-guy, though I think dividing us up by our chromosomes can be an odd thing when most folks have never had their chromosomes tested. I assume that I'm xx, but I really don't know, for sure.

I just don't like the use of bio-guy because it sets up a dichotomy that posits me as non-biological, so not-real, not-alive. I am very much alive.

Likewise, a frustration with folks who admire trans folks and feel the need to preface the compliment with their non-trans status, as though in a misguided attempt to make it a better compliment. I'm thinking in particular of various online communities (of which I may or may not be a member *ahem*) that exist essentially as vanity exercises, like ftmundressed or what have you, wherein transguys post pictures of themselves (in this particular instance, in various states of undress) and then other folks can comment appreciatively.

While I'm under no illusions as to the self-aggrandizement and ego-boosting that these communities are essentially centered around, I do think they provide a couple of useful purposes. I don't know if I can speak for all transfolks, but I have to say that there's a lot of negative self-image shit that has come along with being trans for me, much of it bound up very specifically in my body. Pretty much the only self-esteem issues I've ever had have been explicitly connected to being trans, and so a little ego-boosting now and again can be a good, soul-nurturing endeavor. Level the playing field, a bit, you know? Some positive feedback to combat all the negative stuff that is generated internally and also fed through society's representation of transness.

Also, it's a great thing to see other trans guys looking happy and health and sexy- it's a great way to get a good idea of the breadth of transmasculinity, and the possibilities and options of transition, and get some reassurance that being trans doesn't equal unhappy, ugly, unsexy, busted. From a research-into-transition options perspective, it's nice to see what T or surgery or whatnot has done for other guys, to make my own process less mysterious/daunting.

And it's just a great all-around reclaim our bodies as sexy and positive instead of varying degrees of uninhabitable, which seems to be the party line that most trans folks start at.

Although it's worth noting that there is a whole other set of issues that I am trying hard not to develop around being part of such a community- namely, feelings of inadequacy with regards to being "trans enough", or having had the right kind of surgery, or whether my sideburns are coming in as quickly or thickly as the next guy, etc. It's a little ironic, perhaps to come away with more and/or new insecurities from a group that theoretically is for the good of my self-esteem, but there are moments (his scars are less noticeable than mine! he's got such awesome abs! he's so well-endowed!). Usually, though, such moments are few and far between, and the body-positiveness of such places shines through in a great way...particularly because the feedback is almost always enthusiastic, plentiful and very positive.

Which leads me nicely back to the place where I started off on this whole thing in the first place, which is the annoyance that flares up when a non-trans commenter gives feedback along the lines of "Wow, you're so hot! I'm a gay bio-guy, and I'd totally jump you in a second!"

I'm sure said commenter meant well, but what I hear is "i'm surprised, because despite the fact that I've been led to believe that trans guys are really just unattractive mannish women, you look enough like my idea of what a real man is supposed to look like that even I, an actual man who's usually attracted to other actual men, am attracted to you! because I can pretend that you're really a man!"

which is, y'know, probably just me being too sensitive, but also...c'mon. can't you just say he's hot, and leave your own gender out of it?
these thoughts are leading me to other thoughts, which maybe I'll have time to return to in the future- some about discussions I've been vaguely party to about people variously known as 'transsensual' or (ick ick ick) 'tranny chasers.' As first reaction is that there's nothing wrong with my trans status making me more attractive to someone, but I have no interest in my transness being the sole reason that someone wants to date aka fetishize me. But certainly it's a topic that could use a lot more inquiry.

Also, while I'm chattering away about bodies and vanity and self-esteem, have I mentioned lately how happy I am with my physical self? I mean, now that I've gotten the big stuff taken care of, I've got time to notice/whine about the little things, like my acne, that are annoying or make me feel unattractive. But I want to put it out there that I feel awesome about myself and my body these days. I haven't had a body-based freak out in months (if you don't count the Evil Nipple-Tweaking Milkmaid incident from Halloween), and for the first time in my life I consistently take stock of myself and am pleased with what I find. I look good, and I think I look good, and that feels...well...pretty good.


Anonymous said...

do you think that your dislike for "bio-" phrasing has grown since you've become to look more physically masculine?

Eli said...

hey anon-

no, actually, I've always pretty much disliked the phrase, though there was a point when I didn't really understand the implications and so wasn't quite as offended- back before I knew much about being trans, or what it meant to me.

But perhaps looking more traditionally masculine has made me more aware and uncomfortable of the term, since I'm more likely to be mistaken for non-trans and more aware of the privilege that grants me.

On the other hand, before I was physically transitioning, the term was more upsetting because it reinforced the feedback I was getting all the time that I wasn't man enough because I didn't look right...that's what upsets me the most about it, I think. Being deliberately delineated as NOT a bio-guy just makes me feel like I'm being told that I'm not a real guy, not a living guy, a guy who's trying to live. That's hard to deal with when I was already struggling with having a body that didn't feel masculine like I wanted it to, (and didn't pass muster as masculine with the rest of the world, either!)

kirsten said...

hey, we went to the rock at the same time but never spoke, if i remember correctly. but i read your blogs from time to time and am always impressed with how you express yourself.

anyway, i just wanted to say i'm really happy that you're proud of your body...you should be. i am a great lover of the male chest...to me it represents comfort and security...sortof the gentler, paternal side of masculinity. it's a beautiful part of the body, and i'm glad you're feeling good inside yours.

Eli said...

hey Kirsten- thanks for the lovely comment! Were you a year or two ahead of me at the Rock? I can't see your blogger profile, so I'm trying to place you in my memory...