Wednesday, February 27, 2008

why so surprised?

So, file this one under "Situations related to my transition in which I try not to be irked and inevitably fail:"

I get annoyed when people react to my physical transition with surprise. When I went to karaoke a few weeks ago and Miss Jackie did a double take because she didn't recognize me with my facial hair, and then asked "Wow, what did you use, Rogaine?"

When I answered in the negative, she replied, astonished "That's from hormones? Wow!" and I was irked. Why are you so surprised? Didn't you expect me to look "like a guy" as my transition progressed? Oh, that's right, I forgot. You still think of me as a boyish girl person, and so you're surprised when you see me with the signs of "real" manhood, like big fluffy muttonchops. Though on second thought, the manliness of fluffy muttonchops might not be universally accepted. But I digress, and facial hair does pretty much signal "man" across the board. So it's irritating to me when people are surprised to find such a blatant 'male' signifier on me, because it says to me that they don't actually expect me to be a guy.

The reason I try not to get irked by such reactions is that inevitably, not all of them are coming from an objectively offensive place.

Some of the surprise comes from people who are surprised at the pace of my transition- fine. I know that not everyone's transition proceeds at the same rate, and mine has been on the faster side of the scale. But you know, not everyone's puberty progresses at the same rate. Are you going to be surprised that some high school boys have sideburns and some have straggly patches? No! Because you know that every guy is dealt a different combination of genetics and testosterone levels and will grow his own facial hair accordingly. So why am I left out of that equation and greeted with surprise?

And of course, some of the surprise isn't really there. I'm sure that sometimes, I'm being overly defensive, and just projecting onto comments made by folks who are merely remarking on an observation of how my appearance has changed. Which it has! It can't be denied- I do look different, and that is due to my transition. Even people who are on totally board with my transition are going to mention it- in fact, it'd be more than passing strange if it wasn't mentioned! What an elephant in the room that would be, if we all just pretended that Everything Is Normal.

A tempting elephant, though, if I'm being honest. The longer it's been since the beginning of my transition, the more frequent the occasional thought that it really would be nice if I hadn't had to deal with all the fuss of this transition- though I couldn't tell you whether I'd prefer that to mean not having a conflict between my gender identity and physical form in the first place, or having had an ordinary ascent into masculinity (descent into hirsuteness!) like any other boy.

But it's a fine line, and it's hard not to hear such comments in the greater context of how other exceedingly similar comments are made: subtly bolstering the idea that my transition is a second-rate, synthetically-aided route to 100% imitation manhood. Because the flip side of being surprised at my facial hair is to expect it, and accept it as normal, which is what I do.

I realize there's a great deal of ground to be trod upon very carefully when throwing words like "normal" around, but I guess what I'm saying is that I undertook this transition specifically in order to set myself on the masculine trajectory of sideburns, belly hair, even-god-forbid-back-hair, and I'm surprised myself and then defensive and irritated when people are surprised at what I've accomplished. I can't help hearing skepticism and invalidation in their surprise, and I have to stop myself from saying "what, you expected Mary Martin as Peter Pan forever?"

Which I would regret the moment it left my mouth, and am now having trouble not deleting from the screen. It is an unkind thing to say on a lot of levels, not least because it smacks of the kind of jockeying for position between different types of trans folks that I've always been dismayed by. I don't want respect for my choices to come at the expense of respect for other people's choices. But I do want my choices to be understood! I put a lot of thought into making them, and then a lot of effort into carrying them out, and it's damn hard not to get defensive when that work is questioned.


Anyway. Speaking of hairy faces, here's the latest incarnation of my 'burns.

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