Saturday, December 02, 2006

Transmania

Wow, seems like everywhere you look these days, trans folks are in the New York Times! Seems like there was a slew of articles a little while ago, about birth certificate changes, and my friend Ray being profiled...and I remember back in August or some such, there was a Sunday Styles article called "When Jane Becomes Jack" or something similar, and then now today there's this article, about young children with non-normative gender identity.

I'm delighted and pleased to hear that parents are being supportive of their children- I'm all in favor of supporting gender diversity. It's also making me think about myself and the gender of my childhood. I certainly felt supported throughout my upbringing (thanks mom!) as a very boyish child- I wore dresses sometimes without much fuss, I think, but I also had my hair cropped very short for most of my life. Until middle school, when I went with the flow for a while and tried to "be" a "girl" by growing out my hair and wearing more form fitting clothes, etc.

Makes me realize a couple of things, though- for one, I didn't have a very strong gender identity when I was a kid. I knew I liked to be the knight and not the princess, but I didn't have strong "I'm a boy!" or even "I'm not a girl!" feelings until my teen years. (Which I speak of so distantly, but were not in fact so very long ago!) I guess, like my sexuality, I just didn't think about it much until it became an issue. It never occured to me to argue with the world, which told me I was a girl, in part because being a girlchild wasn't very oppressive for me- I still felt like I could do whatever I wanted, wear my hair short, be the knight, etc.

Any feelings of difference I had separating myself from my peers felt like they were due at least as much to my intelligence and nerdiness as to any sort of gender issues...though I certainly did get my share of "are you a boy or a girl?" on the playground.

Someone posted on an online forum recently something along the lines of his slow discovery, as he has more and more experience with public manhood, that his female history and experience as a "girl" was very unlike the experience most girls and women have. That really resonates with me.

I don't claim a lifelong masculine identity because the fact is, I wasn't proclaiming my maleness from childhood. I was very boyish, and something that's helped my family, I think, has been being able to reflect on my childhood and think about "what a little boy" I was.

The way I see it, I was a kid (and in my world, that meant being pretty genderless, though as far as it goes, I was a boyish kid) and then I was a dyke, and then I was (and still am) a queer guy. I started thinking about my gender pretty much as soon as I started thinking about my sexuality, though not so publicly. I realized I liked girls pretty suddenly at about age 12, and it was one of those things where I had a realization, and then the more I thought about it, the more it seemed reasonable. I like girls. Awesome. I must be gay!

With my gender, it was very similar- just took a lot longer and was a lot harder, in no small part because being trans is in a lot of ways a lot more complicated than being queer. At least for me, being gay was something I could readily latch onto. No sweat. Being trans was something enormous and mysterious that I had to wrestle with for a long time to really figure out and go forward with.

Someone else wrote on that same online FTM forum about feeling like their old self had died, was gone. And I know a lot of families have feelings of grief, feelings of losing their sons/daughters who become these new, differently gendered people. I don't feel like any part of me has died, though- but nor do I feel like I'm "still the same person inside!" as the opposite line of thinking often goes.

Who the hell is the same person at 21 that they are at 13? That's when I started thinking about my gender. I feel like I've grown up, I've discovered thing about myself, and I'm expressing myself more clearly and honestly. I don't feel like I'm a new person, just a changed one.

This post is meandering, I'm not sure where. Childhood! Neither the same nor new on the inside! I had a childhood, not a girlhood or a boyhood!

Since this isn't a particularly unified line of reasoning, I guess I'll go back to the article one more time, to Kenneth Zuckerman's assertion that most kids grow out of their non-normative gender behaviors and identities. (Just a throwaway- I saw him speak once, with Judith Butler. It was a validating moment for me, genderwise, as I realized that I wanted to think like her and look like him, and so this was probably a good decision after all.)

I'm not sure what to make of that. I don't think it's necessarily a good thing for kids to grow out of non-normative gender behaviors. If anything, I grew into mine. So is the moral to take away that not all gender nonconforming children are/will be transgender adults? I'd like to think that more gender nonconforming children might be a good thing, regardless of any potential trans futures. Children with strong gender identities (normative or otherwise) should be supported in them, and children (like me) who are just carrying on being themselves (normatively gendered or otherwise!) without much thought about it should be supported, as well. The future should not be seen as absolute, either way...we should recognize that gender identities are flexible and fluid and certainly aren't fixed by childhood.

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