I’m finding it unusually difficult to write something for MF 3. Since the last two issues, (well I’ll try sum it up in a brief sentence!) my biological family have found out that I am transgender. They googled me and found ‘Masculine Femininities’, read it and partly freaked out with all the personal information and their discovery. I have felt exposed, which I guess is to be expected. I mean I wasn’t hiding anything or at least not well at all, leaving traces of myself around like dirty laundry, as they say.
So for this issue I started off writing something less personal and more objective, in order to protect myself, about the in’s and outs of perceptions of masculinity and femininity in the world around me, but I found it difficult not to mention certain personal accounts and experiences and relate it to something tangible. It’s just not my style but most of all I felt silenced… as well as bored to death, as if falling asleep in my own gender theory lecture. Not good, no!
That would be the exact opposite of what this zine is about so I immediately stopped and pressed the delete button. Well nearly, I didn’t scrap it all but I started again with a different attitude and those wise words that a good friend had recently reminded me of, by the great Audre Lord – ‘when we speak/we are afraid our words will not be heard/nor welcomed/but when we are silent/we are still afraid. So it is better to speak/remembering/we were never meant to survive.’
Yes, this is what this zine is about, hearing those voices that are often silenced. The first 2 issues have received such amazingly positive feedback that I felt I owed it to you and this 3rd issue. No pressure (ha).
So this is an ode to all those who should never be suffocated, forgotten or pushed out of the way, into the corner, stuck in closets or told to shut up and that what they have to say or do is not important. My love for you is strong and infinite….
My fellow femmes: Lola, Candi (Lola misses you), Ana Bolica (for amazing courage and strength)
Apphia Mythologist (for simply just understanding the things I say or think)
F-Crew (you know who you are, for keeping me (in)sane and for loads of hurting laughs)
Roh (even though you are no longer in this world you are still in this heart)
and last but not least my bio/logical families and all the readers of the first 2 issues, who have taken the time and effort to read this. This is for you…
‘We shall not be silenced or live in fear’
Please note Blogs have been taken from the internet. Some permission was gained in use of blogs but others have not. Bloggers are therefore not necessarily associated with Masculine Femininities as a publication but are examples of voices, ideas and discussions that I wanted to showcase.
An ode to Lola by Misster Scratch
….So dirty laundry makes me think of clothes and closets. Clothes to cover up gendered bodies and closets to hide them in. Except that if it’s a femme’s closet, Misster Scratch is no doubt in there looking for pretty dresses for Lola. In fact, Misster Scratch is now beyond femme partners and friend’s closets and has started his own wardrobe!
So am I or aren’t I in the closet?
I mean Misster Scratch is often in there looking for Lola. Does that mean that even though Misster Scratch spends a lot of time in closets he isn’t actually in the closet but that Lola, even though she spends most of her time escaping out of the closet, is in fact in one?! *
*Just so you know I’m speaking about these identities consciously in the third person as they are parts of myself. The danger in speaking about them or even showing them is that you may get accused of ‘multiple personality disorder’ (as I have been) which is why I actually suppressed Lola for a long time as I thought it was shameful and wrong and would only explore my femininity through my partners and only in secret i.e. in the closet which was my inspiration for writing this. However as we know well if you suppress something it WILL surface and manifest…. sooner or later!
So who is this Lola anyway?
I don’t think I’ve really asked myself that question or actually felt the need to. I try to refrain from the constant regurgitations of explanations, to mainly cis gendered people, and well it didn’t seem important to ask myself. I mean Lola is an impulse born purely out of desire and instinct. Do we always have to question ourselves? Regardless of that, I have been asked the following questions:
Is Lola a she or a he?
Why am I only Lola part time and not full time?
Am I still Scratch when I am Lola and vice versa?
Is Lola a better femme that Misster Scratch?
Why do Lola and Misster Scratch have different names when they are the same person?
Does Lola have different desires to Misster Scratch?
Why do I feel the need to be Lola?
Is Lola or Scratch a FTM or MTF?
I’m sure the list is familiar to some of you and well it goes on and on…
I’m not set to answer all those questions but what I can say is that Lola is in fact an alter ego of Misster Scratch’s. She is equal to him but doesn’t surface quite as much but generally has much more fun and is much more liberated. Y’see even though I feel essentially ‘male’ and ‘masculine’ I don’t always feel very free being that way. I probably am a bad transgender person for saying that. I have found the male world to be so harsh and alien, unless I surround myself with genderqueers, femmes or sissies, but then you also get the threat of being beaten up or attacked for that.
This year I have been attacked a few times by various males thinking I’m either a batty boy or equivalent straight young male and on their radar. I have also been targeted by police whilst in masculine Scratch mode (I was read as male of colour and in these situations I didn’t know whether it was safer to be read as male, female or transgender and of course not being able to change anything about the colour of my skin). But I have never been attacked as Lola, though I have been sexually harassed. I do notice that people will try to get away with crossing boundaries much more with Lola than they will with Scratch like being patronising and invading physical personal space and thinking if they give you something you will give them sex in return (the usual shit I was glad to escape from and have to see other femmes constantly put up with, though of course there are also many positive responses to being femme). Still, Lola doesn’t seem to be as vulnerable as Scratch, I guess this obviously has a lot to do with my perception of femininity as ‘strength’ and masculinity as ‘weakness’ and so what I put out there is what I get in return, right? That’s all fine of course until someone else (and their own perceptions) come into play and complicates things further. Lola it seems can hold onto her identity much better than Misster Scratch can. Does that make her stronger than scratch or is it just safer for Lola to stand up for herself? When she does it she is ‘feisty’ and ‘in control’ but when Scratch tries he is viewed as a trouble maker, aggressive, violent and very likely security will be called. If for some reason scratch does show his femininity (in a male expression or presentation) there is a risk he will be abused and/or beaten up for it, but Lola will not, for showing her femininity. So it’s safer to be Lola in some ways and obviously not in others? It’s true I have learnt what I can do and get away with as Misster Scratch and Lola respectively and what I can’t. So for now I need both identities, does that mean if it was more acceptable to transgress gender boundaries that I wouldn’t need to be Lola at all? But then would I have to choose between Lola and Scratch? I hope not. It still seems so hard to transgress these boundaries and categories. I’ve discovered that you can call yourself whatever cool label you want on the queer scene but it doesn’t always mean that that will be your reality. What you perceive of yourself will not always be read by others in the same way, but that goes for everyone right, just with differing levels of violence?
Y’see Misster Scratch is a combination of masculinity and femininity but he struggles as a trans-guy to express the later for many obvious and not obvious reasons such as rejection of femininity growing up when it was imposed on him by males and females alike. As well as due to a struggling desire of achieving authenticity as a transgender guy in order to be taken seriously in a world where being male generally means being big built/macho/strong/tough/masculine/having a deep voice/being hairy and having to clutch a tight grip on hormones to achieve it if you were not biologically born into this heritage. Or is it because of failing as a femme in (an ethnic) culture of extreme femininity with very successful femme role models that I did and didn’t relate to? I understood and admired our heritage which inspired me, but not its limitations or the pressure to measure up. I didn’t want to dress up or be who I was for a man or society. I didn’t even desire straight heterosexual men who instead in my teenage years I teased, led on and then dropped at my disposal. Yes I used them for my own gain to learn about my own masculinity since I was attracted to their male energy but not in the way I was supposed to. Rather, I wanted a gay relationship with gay men, a straight relationship with straight or bi women and later learnt to have queer relationships with whomever! Back then though, essentially I wanted to be femme for myself and on my own terms which didn’t seem possible and so I just buried that part of me for years and focused on my masculinity which seemed safer to express and more of whom I was, yet whilst still surrounding myself with femmes and feminists who were my ultimate adult role models after my boyhood with mainly boys.
Years have passed and now Lola is everything that Scratch wants to be and because she is more anonymous she often has more freedom to explore her femininity, on her own terms and not those ideals imposed on her from childhood, the media and so on. Quite simply Scratch was feeling stifled as a trans guy and so Lola was born out of that. Kind of like a transvestite coming out story I guess, but with a difference…
Lola embodies a ‘fuck you’ to all femme standards she has never conformed to, including imposed western ones and those unsaid rules within queer and butch-femme communities, yet embracing the standards she does feel connected to. Playing with a performative persona that can do just what she likes with her femininity. She also plays on people’s exoticisation of bodies of colour by embodying her ethnic ancestry, purging the younger scratch who had to ward off countless white men when he was perceived as a ‘young brown exotic subservient female’. Lola is a real life experiment, a vessel for liberation, summoning the Goddess of Kali before she puts on her eyelashes of destruction and lipstick of vengeance and gets ready to take on the white world she lives in. She will now quite happily put on that sari or salwar kameez that her mother would force onto her and claim the South Asian identity that she has been stripped off for being trans and queer, that is rightfully hers. Her bindi and Misster Scratch’s nose ring come together as visible symbols of heritage because she is sick of being asked if she is Italian or Spanish or insert any other white euro centric culture in the white dominated scenes she finds herself in.
So if I don’t answer your questions it is because I don’t relate to them. These are the answers I have to give. It seems I am having to answer for a lot these days and losing people I care about in the process.
I recently explained my gender identity to my aunt and she recounted a story to me from when I was 14 that I’ve heard before but she obviously thought I had forgotten or not seen the insight involved. We were on a packed train in France. I was sitting on my mother’s lap and the lady next to us interrupted us to ask how old I was. I was extremely shy and awkward as a child and so my mother answered on my behalf. The lady then announced that she was from a famous modelling agency and gave me her business card and instructed me to get in touch in a year’s time. This story had been recounted several times over the course of my growing up. It is supposed to confirm some normality in my gender when I was an obvious ambiguous child and considered a tomboy. It validates conformity of being female and living up to that title simply because I could and questions why I have chosen not to. It enacts and provides reassurance that others opinions about my body matter more than my own. It suggests that being viewed as exotic was to be embraced and not rejected in light of facing a lot of racism when I was growing up because of the country and dominant culture that I had been displaced to. But there was never any question about whether I wanted or cared about being a model, or about being female or about what kind of femininity I wanted to express or whether other people’s perceptions could be questioned or in fact were questionable.
My brother said recently, when he discovered I was transgender and wanted to be regarded as male, that it couldn’t be true as I had ‘always been femme’. This is his own perception of my forced and reluctant femininity whilst ignoring and denying the masculinity he bonded with as a child, but regardless, the simple ‘fact’ being that to him femme = female and masculine = male. Am I the only one who doesn’t get this? I didn’t explain it to him. The thing is I know a lot of people think this. There is a common trans dialogue of authenticity being judged by how you behaved and expressed gender as a child corresponding to your chosen gender identity as an adult. God forbid you were a drop dead gorgeous femme read as conforming female even if you did/didn’t feel that way and then want to become a man! (Or insert other variations of course). We don’t want people changing gender willy nilly! This will be viewed as confusion or a mistake instead of/vs. being true to yourself. I mean how often have we lied to doctors to get what we want from them in our ‘transitions’ and can we really trust their prescriptive dosages of hormonal medications when they want us to transition as quickly as possible from one gender to another to avoid any of the shameful in-between phases. I mean some of us want it to be quick but some of us would also like to explore the in between phases or are happy being gender queer, ambiguous and fluid or want to experiment with hormonal intake and our gender expressions. And we do, but we have to sell ourselves out, lie and are still treated as minors and not allowed to express our gender on our own terms even though we are adults we must seek other people’s permissions and validations. Is this the trans heritage we gain? Can we ascend from this designated path?
I swallow my aunt’s story and tell myself at least my family haven’t disowned me like some of my other friends. That they are trying to confront their ignorance and fears and for that I am also trying to be true to myself, to be myself, to allow it, even if others will not. Even if it is unsafe and violent to do so because I can’t really do anything else as I don’t know how and it wouldn’t feel right and I wouldn’t be alive that way either. They ask me where I am heading or want to be in my gender expression and they require a straightforward answer. Truth is that I am so many things and want so much and there isn’t one. I know that I don’t want my choices to come from fear or having to always think about safety. My aunt asks ‘but what do you want’ as opposed to the negative. Truth is that what I do want seems too idealistic and out of reach and that is simply to just be myself without any negative consequences, without having to think about every move I make, every outfit I wear, whether I’m carrying relevant documents and identification or protection, whether I will get work, or whether I will make it safe to my next destination or not.
For now Lola has to think about less of those things than Misster Scratch. She is my one way of surviving and challenging this oppressive world whilst still having some much needed fun.
So to all those questions that I have been asked I do want to say one more thing. I am one and all… all for one and one for all.
by Elisha Lim
/ˈmætʃ.əʊ//ˈmɑː.tʃoʊ/ informal mainly disapproving
behaving forcefully or showing no emotion in a way traditionally thought to be typical of a man
He’s too macho to admit he was hurt when his girlfriend left him.
I can’t stand macho men.
Slang Exhibiting stereotypical or exaggerated feminine traits. Used especially of lesbians and gay men.
1. Slang One who is femme.
2. Informal A woman or girl.
1.pertaining to a woman or girl: feminine beauty; feminine dress.
2.having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, as sensitivity or gentleness.
I got a tattoo a few days ago. It reads Macho at the top of my right arm. It has splashes of ink.
A sailor’s arm. Maybe a few ladies a girl in every port will come and complement it, one arm performing the word.
I am not sure any more of who I am. Years of S&M practice, a theatre degree and countless Genet books later, things dissolve so much easier than they used to. I sometimes long for the time of being an angry bisexual riot girrrl offering endless rants to my long string of lovers and drunk fucks at the end of parties. Or even the less distant days of being a queer top squatter femme dyke. I used to fit into categories so well, explain them at length, explain what they meant to me what they should mean to others why we all need them. Sanctimonious bitch, but relatively safe. Any deviance from the alternative could be squeezed out of the little boxes as long as I could argue at myself how in the end of the day the boxes were what mattered, and my energy spent on fitting into them.
And I used to hate it when people said ‘ I’m queer, shouldn’t that be enough’.
I’m queer. But that’s not enough.
I definitely am femme. But that’s not enough.
At lesbian bars, a lady.
At university, a tomboy.
At the gym, a gym queen (I’m many things but not a rabbit).
At a gay bar, a fag hag.
My mother’s daughter, lusting after academia.
My father’s daughter, endlessly baking cake.
My teenage friend’s friend, drug fuck up.
The list goes on.
I am a macho, it’s worse since I go to the gym.
I feel I can’t even theorise my gender at all anymore, even less my sexuality, just describes that it feels like waves pushing me about a bit blank it’s all words or a nice ass perhaps sometimes the pain of the treadmill replaces my libido and it’ s been better to me than all my lovers. I have dissolved.
I lost a lot of weight last year. People always used to comment about my breasts, but I always hated them. Having had many trans-men partners I felt I was probably less entitled to hating my tits because I seemed quite happy to be Id-ed as female outside of that factor. I still am, but something happened. I got really skinny. People thought I was a boy sometimes and definitely thought I was 16 (I’m 27 but 1m57). I stopped having my period I had had extremely regularly from the age of 10. Slowly the mirror was showing me a sort of imagined neutral self, and I relished the genderless figures I inevitably played in various ‘official’ performances. Relishing being un-placeable. Whether adding lipstick or putting on jeans, I felt I was adding, not emphasising. And no more breasts. I felt I was entirely choosing to be femme, that it had nothing to do with curves, that every mascara stroke and pair of high heels was a choice I was making rather than the warped image reflected by my lovers and friends. God to not hear: Your tits look great in this, ever again.
I am female, I suppose.
I am femme.
I am a feminist of sorts.
But I am not a woman.
That is what it comes down to.
I enjoy carrying theatre sets in vinyl heels, stronger than some male friends. I enjoy extremely complex cooking, ‘show cooking’. I enjoy having bitches and being the bitch, sometimes. I like being vulgar and loud. I won an arm wrestle against a tall clown the other day. He was sitting on a chair, I was squatting on thin air. I’m slightly ashamed that my cock is still hard from that victory, his surprised face at the small blonde that beat him.
And now I remember. I was a tomboy until the age of thirteen. A lot of it had to do with finances and lice, as my rough games and scratchy head resulted in torn tights and time my mother was not willing to spend combing her screeching daughter. So it was jeans and short hair, running and climbing, but also a very limited skill at skipping rope and an extremely violent manner. Boys wouldn’t play with me because I was stronger than them, ironically the tallest and biggest of my age group for years.
I had a fascination for all thing perceived as feminine: make-up, dresses-weddings for god’s sake- but every time I toyed around with these, it felt like exactly that, toying, performing or adding on beautiful shiny things and delicate demeanour to my rough and aggressive person. It was never a chore or a violation to dress in skirts, attempt heels, even plucking eyebrows for a laugh, I do not think I believed I was a boy, but it always felt a bit like a rehearsal for some possible imagined future or alternative self. The wardrobe was my costume cupboard. But then no one had told me about what breasts and period might entail. Suddenly I stopped playing the princess as I was made a woman. Secondary Sexual Characteristics. Arrived too soon and took the fun out of acting.
There is no end to this reflection. The mirror distorts and loses me, my body has betrayed me countless times, words kill and die. And so, for the while being, macho-femme/inist (and western European mongrel, but that’s another story, maybe, maybe) doesn’t seem enough but it will do, my only possible temporary concession.
With much love and respect to MF, Scratch, cakes, performance running and performance playing, all things shiny and all things heavy.
 These are all from various online dictionary definitions. Trawling through various online sources, I feel I need to add that I was shocked to discover that whilst mavcho, quite unsuprisingly came up in all its performative chracteristics, many online dictionaries still equate femininity with femaleness. Maybe I’m naïve.
So this year one important media focus and interesting debate online has been about Caster Semenya, the South African Athlete who has been subjected to horrific tests in order to discover a gender outcome. I have chosen the following blogs as I feel that they have highlighted and dosumented the story well as well as giving uncommon emotional accounts and I feel generally do justice to the discussion. It has been incredibly difficult o decide which blogs and ideas to include in this discussion as far as the Caster Semenya ‘issue’ has been claimed by many which in itself is problematic since people of colour and non conforming bodies are quite often claimed, disected, scrutinised and taken apart by usually white ‘academics’ or ‘professionals’ who often do not relate to the bodies they discuss or represent.
One example being a medical professional, Alice Dreger, stating . “And the science actually tells us sex is messy. Or as I like to say, ‘Humans like categories neat, but nature is a slob.’ ”
Another being the New York Times offensive misrepresentation of the Bantu speaking people in an article about Caster Semenya for which they submitted this apology:
Correction: August 28, 2009
An article last Friday about Caster Semenya, the 18-year-old runner from South Africa whose victory in the 800-meter race at the track and field world championships generated controversy over concerns about her sex, referred incorrectly to people in South Africa whose sex characteristics have been studied because of the prevalence of hermaphroditism among them. They are Bantu-speaking people — not “Bantus,” a term considered offensive because it was used by those in power during apartheid in reference to black people.
Unfortunately, I cannot retrieve the original article but this is one post that critically referred to it:
“The Bantu, a group of indigenous South African people, often are hermaphrodites but they do not always have obvious male genitalia, said Dr. Maria New, an endocrinologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.”
“The Bantu” are a language community spread across sub-Saharan Africa, the predominant language group in most sub-Saharan countries. In each, they are divided into distinct sub-groups often called “tribes.” (Thank you for not following that lead, by the way.) In South Africa, there are nine recognized “Bantu” groups – recognized to the extent that their languages are among South Africa’s eleven official languages.
I’m not sure “the Bantu” could be called “a group of indigenous South African people” in any meaningful, accurate sense. Meaningful and accurate are probably of interest to news editors.
A second point has to do with “often.” The Bantu are often hermaphrodites? How often? Perhaps a note on comparison with other [ahem] “groups” would be in order.
To be honest, it sounds an awful lot like 19th century fears/fantasies about African sexual prowess/deviance. Colonials fantasized about oversized genitals, exposed breasts, oversexed and/or rapacious men, enslaved or dominant women, desexed men… It’s a bit disturbing to have the doctor resurrect this casually and have the paper of record publish it uncommented upon.
The following blogs i have chosen stand out from the rest of what I have seen on the internet
The Caster Semenya case: sports and sexuality
20 September 2009
Eighteen-year-old South African athlete Caster Semenya has done nothing wrong. Yet she has been accused of deceiving the world about her gender. There is nothing wrong with Semenya’s body. Yet her body has been paraded in front of the world by the mass media as if she were a sideshow freak.
Semenya is a talented athlete. Yet her career is at stake.
Semenya won the 800 metres in the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships on August 19. She was accused by the international media of having won the race due to her unfair disadvantage of “really” being a man.
Semenya, like many other female athletes, has been subjected to sexist judgement of what a female body is supposed to look like.
Semenya is an intersex woman. But intersex women are not the only women who have been subjected to such scrutiny. The accusation of looking “too masculine” has always been used to degrade female athletes, including Martina Navratilova. For years the media focused on her highly developed biceps.
Semenya was subjected to invasive “gender tests” (actually testing biological sex, not gender). The test results were leaked to the international mass media. Australia’s Daily Telegraph was the first to run the story, revealing Semenya has internal testes and no womb. This may or may not be true.
If it is true, it is a discovery that would prompt any 18 year-old to do some profound soul searching about their identity, their relationship to their body, and their relationship with the world.
Ideally this soul searching would be done in the person’s own time, in their own way.
Yet for Semenya there was no question of privacy. The most intimate details of her body were revealed to the world in lurid headlines in the international mass media: “Semenya has male sex organs” (September 11 Sydney Daily Telegraph) “a woman… and a man!” (September 10 NYDailynews.com) “Is SHE a he?” (August 19 Melbourne Herald Sun).
Semenya is now traumatised and has gone into hiding. She is not the first athlete to have had this experience.
In 2006, Indian athlete Santhi Soundarajan was found to be intersex. She was stripped of her gold medal and publicly ostracised. The discovery ended her sports career and she attempted suicide.
An intersex person is somebody with male and female biological characteristics. There are many different ways this can happen.
A person with XY chromosomes can be insensitive to testosterone (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or AIS). Different clusters of cells in the same person’s body can have differences in their biological sex (known as mosaicism).
A person can have XXY chromosomes rather than the typical XY or XX. There is nothing abnormal about this. It is all part of the natural variation in humans. Yet there is no clear cut dividing line between who is intersex and who is not. All of us have both “male” and “female” characteristics.
All males had female bodies once in the womb. Testosterone is supposed to be the “male hormone” and estrogen is supposed to be the “female hormone”, but all human beings produce both.
The dominant understanding of biological sex in our society is that all human beings are either male or female: there is nothing in between. The existence of intersex people exposes the falsity of this very crude notion. It shows that biological sex is a continuum.
The binary understanding of gender is certainly not universal across different cultures. Outside the West, many of the world’s people have a much more compassionate, sophisticated and realistic view.
The Bugis people in Indonesia recognise five distinct genders. They see intersex people, or “Bissu”, as a legitimate third sex. Rather than being vilified, Bissu are revered as priests. They are understood to be a combination of the other four genders, and are therefore able to mediate between them in sacred ritual.
Should intersex people be barred from sport?
It has been argued that intersex people have an unfair advantage over women in sport because they have male physical characteristics, such as a higher testosterone level. Yet such male physical characteristics have a cultural significance that is not necessarily the same as their actual effect on the body.
People with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome often have a higher level of testosterone than non-AIS women. People with the syndrome do not develop fully fledged male bodies because their bodies respond to testosterone poorly. Their bodies produce more testosterone to compensate for the body’s poor response to it.
The AIS Support Group in Victoria says it is possible that Semenya has AIS (if the leaks to the media about her body are true). So even if Semenya’s testosterone level is three times that of non-intersex women, it does not necessarily give her an unfair advantage.
But more importantly, “maleness” is not the ultimate advantage in sport. Other factors, such as the athlete’s nutritional level, training, muscle strength and length of their legs have much more impact on sporting prowess.
Perhaps it would be more realistic to stop segregating athletes according to gender at all. Perhaps athletes should be graded according to these factors instead, as weight lifters are divided according to body weight.
There should be an end to sex testing in sport. It is a discriminatory practice used to bar intersex people from competing, and it is meaningless when there is no natural, clear cut dividing line between male and female. Many athletic organisations have some understanding of this already.
Intersex athletes are not necessarily barred from competing — only if they are found to have an unfair advantage. According to its website, the IAAF isn’t due to decide on Semenya’s case until November. In the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, eight women with Y chromosomes were allowed to compete in women’s events, said a September 9 article on the Science of Sport website.
Intersex rights, queer rights and feminism
Many “experts” have been interviewed during the mainstream media’s frenzied response to the leaks about Semenya. What’s missing are the perspectives of intersex people themselves.
In most of the world, gays and lesbians have not yet won full legal equality. In the First World, we have come far enough that our main battle now is for the right to marry.
Queers have already won many other basic civil rights: the right to work; the decriminalisation of gay sex; and the right not to be chemically castrated on the basis of a classification of our sexuality as an illness.
Intersex people, meanwhile — as well as having to fight for the right to marry — still come up against archaic laws and barbaric medical practices that belong in medieval times. Perhaps worst of all, they come up against society’s ignorance.
The gay and lesbian struggle sets a precedent for other sexual and gender minorities. Inspired by this historical example, intersex people in the US began politically organising in the mid 1990s in the Intersex Society of North America (now defunct).
Previously isolated intersex people found each other over the internet and developed support networks, which became politicised over the issue of intersex genital mutilation.
It is still a standard practice in the United States and Australia that if a baby is born with a penis deemed too short by the doctor, or a clitoris deemed too long, it is amputated. A US group calling itself “Hermaphrodites with Attitude” formed to campaign against this barbaric practice. They picketed hospitals and medical conferences.
Intersex activists have not yet won an end to this genital mutilation. But there have been some positive outcomes from their campaign. Opinion about the practice is now divided in the medical community.
The campaign for equal marriage rights is today mobilising more people than any other queer rights campaign. Legislation discriminating against same-sex couples having the right to marry also commonly discriminates against intersex people.
Most intersex people identify either as male or female. Intersex people who are legally identified as male or female can marry the opposite sex. Yet a minority of intersex people do not identify as male or as female but as androgynous. These people, as well as intersex people who are same-sex attracted, are denied the right to marry by legislation that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
The campaign for equal marriage rights is commonly seen as a “gay marriage” campaign, yet we could do a lot more to embrace the concerns of intersex people. This would strengthen the unity of the campaign, and could increase the political confidence of intersex people.
In Australia, the next round of rallies for equal marriage rights will be on November 28. Organising committees should encourage intersex activists to speak. Other speakers should also be conscious to address intersex issues, including Semenya’s story.
The ostracism of Semenya doesn’t just affect intersex people. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people are affected too. Semenya’s ostracism reinforces the rigid notion of binary gender, a notion that excludes all of us. In Australia, we have a particular responsibility to defend Semenya because it was the Australian media that led the world in ostracising her.
This is also a feminist issue. The incredible scrutiny under which women athletes perform, the media commentary about their supposed “masculine” bodies, and the pressure put on them to assert their “femininity” — by say, posing nude in men’s magazine’s — has nothing to do with their strength as athletes. It is related to society’s commodification and sexualisation of women’s bodies, and its unwillingness to recognise diversity.
Friday, September 18, 2009
This is an outpouring of love for Caster Semenya. Wrong is not her name. What is wrong is the way she has been treated in global media. As three queer women, we have struggled with our own relationship to the feminine as it has been constructed in mainstream society. As a black woman set adrift in a sea of whiteness, it was hard to see myself as beautiful. My curves and skin color made me unattractive in my world. As a white, feminine woman who is also intersex, I have struggled hard to come to peace with my body. Doctors and the world around me have told me I am defective or have denied my existence entirely. As a disabled Korean adoptee, I grew up as an outsider, rarely seeing people who moved like me or reflected me in my community or in the media. I was constantly told that my body was something that needed to be “fixed;” that it was “wrong;” and that it, that I, was “undesirable.” We engage with each other as comrades, three queer women uniquely shaped by our lived identities and experiences. We were the odd ones out, queered by our bodies, but later we claimed our queerness with fierce intention and pride. Now we choose our difference, embrace what sets us a part from a constrictive mainstream. It is for these reasons that we feel a deep kinship with Caster Semneya. Her story unfolded internationally without her consent and knowledge. We write to right wrongs done to someone whose only crime was daring to be all that she is.
My quirky black girl heart is breaking for Caster Semenya, the South African runner who has lived her life as an athletic woman until the IAAF decided she was just too good to be all female and did some probing to find the “truth.” Now she’s in hiding and on suicide watch, her genitalia, sexual organs and hormone levels the subject of a global discussion and dissection before she’s had a chance to make sense of it all. Did I mention she’s 18? Unfortunately, this is nothing new in the world of sports, women’s lives destroyed because their remarkable performances caste doubt on their femininity. “Real” women aren’t that fast, that strong, that masculine.
Black women have long been portrayed as masculine and inappropriately feminine in popular media with athletes particularly targeted for their muscles and physical prowess. Earlier this year Sarah Gronert, a white tennis player, was being harassed by other coaches and players because she was believed to be intersex. Calls were made for her to be removed from competition but no such action occurred. “There is no girl who can hit serves like that, not even Venus Williams,” said the coach of one of her rivals. Black women are (barely) women but Gronert, though described as “beautiful” in more than one article, surpasses the limit. Too much, Too good. Note: Gronert is ranked No. 306 in the world.
And everyone (I guess now including me) feels the need to add their two cents to the fray. An article I read wanted to claim Semenya in the realm of queer and trans identity and even went so far as to say that the comparison made by the South African Government between Semenya and Sarah Baartman was simply a nationalistic one. A more apropos comparison, the author opined, would be Billy Tipton, a female born singer who lived his life as a man until he was discovered in death. Billy was “outed” by medics who were attempting to save his life which is not at all like Semenya, an 18 year old girl who was outed not as trans but as a “hermaphrodite” to the whole world. An intersectional lens is needed. Pieces of Semenya’s story need not be parsed out for the advancement of singular movements.
The feigned concern for Semenya on behalf of the IAAF is perhaps the most disturbing. After performing tests, lying about what they were for and then leaking the results, they revealed that they hadn’t yet gotten in touch with her. They aren’t ready to discuss the findings though they were published in papers around the world. This is after an initial professed need for urgency because there are “risks” associate with her “condition.” The audacity to test Semenya after accepting the South African certification for her to compete is indicative of the racist and imperialist ideology of the organization. The IAAF had to check on the SA sports authorities as if they were incapable of making that determination. The paternalism of the IAAF’s concern must be pointed out as they claimed to be acting in Semenya’s best interest.
And doesn’t all of this call professional sports practices into question? Why do we persist in validating a two sex binary and a gender dichotomy when we are repeatedly reminded that these divisions are limiting and not reflective of natural human diversity? What does it mean that the word “hermaphrodite” can be used in news articles as a legitimate term in 2009?! How is it possible within the context of the supposed proliferation of women’s studies that more people aren’t aware that the sex binary does not accurately reflect the diversity of human bodies? How does a common human variation become a freakish spectacle for the world to consume, again and again?
Our refusal to accept the biological reality of more than two sexes and more than two genders has driven someone to (possibly) contemplate ending their own life. Why won’t we let Caster Semenya be great? It’s time to look within ourselves and see how our own beliefs and behaviors support the myth of a two gender, two sex world. I feel like if I had been doing my job or my discipline had, this wouldn’t have happened. That people around the world would understand that it is not as simple as male and female, not as easy as man and woman.
I want to call on communities not to repeat the IAAF’s mistreatment of Semenya by partitioning her story and using her to make claims for your particular group. Black people have called out the racism and some of the sexism that is swirling in the press but still use offensive ableist language that is indicative of a certain distancing from female masculinity and a subtle homophobia. More than one group has taken up her story as a new Raison d’être for the cause of gender and sexuality. The way she has been treated in the media and by the IAAF is racist, sexist, queerphobic, ableist, imperialistic, all at the same time. May this incident be the impetus to ensure that this never happens again and a rallying cry for intersectionality in our movements so that everyone acts with the understanding that their humanity is linked with someone else’s.
When news first leaked allegedly confirming that Caster Semenya is intersex, my stomach dropped. I began to brace myself for the onslaught of offensive ignorant media and blog coverage and it didn’t take long to appear. In fact, within the hour that the story broke, I received an email from a CBS producer calling Semenya a “hermaphrodite” and requesting my presence on their live morning news show as I “have the same condition.” The word “hermaphrodite” (which is inaccurate, misleading, and offensive) was used in most of the articles I have read and immediately the inappropriate speculation about Semenya’s body, hormones, and chromosomes began.
Intersex is a set of medical diagnoses that feature “congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system.” Intersex people are born with chromosomes, external genitalia, and/or internal reproductive systems that are not considered “standard” for either male (penis, testes, XY chromosomes) or female (ovaries, vagina, uterus, XX chromosomes). Intersex is a fairly common occurrence. It is estimated that 1 in 2000 babies are born obviously intersex. That number does not include the large number of people who are diagnosed as intersex later in life (myself, and perhaps Semenya included.) Intersex people’s bodies have historically been, and continue to be, viewed as “social emergencies” by doctors. When discovered at birth in most Western countries, unnecessary cosmetic surgery is performed on the majority of intersex babies to force them to conform to either male or female aesthetic binary standards. These surgeries often require multiple follow-up repair surgeries and are ridden with complications. Obviously, an infant can not consent to having surgery, and adult intersex people are often haunted by a lifetime of these unnecessary procedures that rob them of their sexual sensations and have long term affects on their ability to feel present and safe in their bodies.
When an intersex diagnosis is made later in life, surgery is often pushed as a necessary and expected solution. The idea of a person whose body does not fit the narrow standard for male or female is unthinkable and unacceptable under the current medical and social model.
Multiple public genital examinations are standard for most intersex people in doctor’s offices and medical schools. Pictures of naked intersex children and adults fill medical text books and journals with a black bar across the individual’s face in a weak attempt to preserve their anonymity. Many intersex people struggle with severe post traumatic stress from these public genital displays, multiple surgeries, and genital exams. When a person is either open about being intersex or is outed, as appears to be Semenya’s case, our bodies are again put on a type of public display. People seem to think they have the right to see pictures of our bodies, ask intimate details about our genitals, how we have sex, etc. People feel they have the right to have speculative conversations about intersex people’s bodies in a way few other groups ever experience. It is no one’s business what Semenya’s genitals looks like, what her gonadal tissue consists of, what her chromosomal make-up is, or how much testosterone her body produces. My website, which features my writing and information on intersex, has always gotten the majority of hits via people searching for pictures of intersex people’s genitals. I wrote a blog some time back addressing the problems with this “curiosity.” Before the Semenya’s story broke, I got between 40 and 50 hits a day. Since then, my hits spiked to over 500 a day and haven’t dropped much lower since. With very few exceptions nearly every single search sending people to my site was for pictures of intersex people’s bodies and specifically, their genitals. The fact that people think they have a right to access the bodies of Semenya and other intersex people is the direct result of many years of historic exploitation and medical abuse of intersex people.
Intersex people exist and have existed for as long as humans have. Intersex is a natural variation in sex. Despite what most of us are taught, sex is not a binary (and neither is gender!) Binary sex segregation has always caused problems for many of us who do not easily fit into one of two boxes. Semenya is as much a woman as any non-intersex woman is. One’s gender identity isn’t contingent on what is in their pants or what their chromosomal make-up is. The IAAF has no right to penalize anyone for being intersex. The fact that it is still acceptable to put individuals through these types of “gender” tests, is disgusting. Further, the fact that they did not go to great lengths to preserve her safety and privacy during this matter is absolutely sickening and unforgivable.
I was 15 when I found out that I had been born with an intersex body. I was initially misdiagnosed, given an unnecessary and painful surgery, underwent multiple genital exams with multiple doctors and other medical staff and students, and was told that my body was unacceptable, freakish, and in immediate need of correction. This experience was incredibly traumatic and shaming for me. This was NOT due to being born with a body that doesn’t fit what is deemed “normal” for a girl or a woman, but was a result of being told that my body was “wrong” and needed to be fixed. It was due to doctors medicalizing this variance in my body and treating it as if it were a true medical emergency. On the larger scale, my shame was a result of living in a world that refuses to accept the fact that sex is a social construction that exists (and always has existed) outside of the binary. I had lived the 15 previous years perfectly happy in my body. Fortunately for me, I discovered the intersex movement 3 years post-diagnosis and was able to finally work through the shame and embarrassment I had felt. I was able to get angry at the system that told me I was a freak, a mutation, an accident, defective, and unacceptable. Through this, I began to learn to accept and love my body again. I was lucky enough to escape surgery and have learned to not only love the body I was born with, but feel pride in it.
With all of the attention Semenya’s story has received, one can’t ignore the impact of race and white supremacy on how the situation has been handled not only by the IAAF, but by the international media, and individuals discussing it around the world. White and western ideas of gender most certainly had an impact on the way Semenya has been treated and the reasons her sex was called into question in the first place. Gender standards of how a man or a woman should look and act are based on white/western standards of beauty and gender roles. Women of color who deviate from white/western ideals of how women should look and act often have their gender and femininity called into question. Further, white supremacy has historically created a sense of entitlement in white people to the bodies of people of color. White people feel entitled to gawk at, interrogate, and investigate the bodies of black people. Not surprisingly, many comparisons have been made between Caster and South African slave Saartjie Baartman who was known as the Hottentot Venus in the early 1800s. Baartman’s body was literally paraded around Britain during her life and even after her death for the eyes of white Europeans.
My heart goes out to Semenya. I can’t imagine how it would feel to find out that you are intersex from reports that were leaked into the international media. I have struggled heavily over the past week with whether it is even appropriate for activists like me to discuss the situation at all. For one, it is still speculation (Semenya’s intersex status has not been confirmed at this point); two, if it is to be discussed, Semenya is the only person who has a right to disclose such information; and three, when I was diagnosed, I didn’t want to discuss it with my closest friends and family, let alone with strangers (no matter how well intentioned). That said, it *has* been leaked and people are discussing it, and doing so in inaccurate, hurtful, and dehumanizing ways. I think it is especially important to have intersex voices speaking out in support of Semenya and against the oppressive systems that try to force intersex people into boxes and binaries that simply do not fit and never will, no matter how much shaming and surgery occurs. I hate that this successful and talented young woman has been thrust into the spotlight essentially erasing the reason we all know her name in the first place (she is a talented athlete, remember?) I hate that despite the work of the intersex movement, the majority of the world still doesn’t get it. Intersex people are your friends, neighbors, and co-workers. We have feelings, hobbies, and talents. We are not theoretical, sensational, or mythical. The stuff you say and write affects real people! I can only hope that Semenya has the support she needs to take care of herself and get through this. I hope that she can rely on the strength that is apparent in her quote to You Magazine “I see it all as a joke, it doesn’t upset me,” she says. “God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I’m proud of myself.”
First, a breath. For this moment, this historical moment, this moment of existence, as precious and fleeting as all moments are. For hope, even at the edge of despair. For love. For loving ourselves and each other, fiercely, even when the world tells us not to.
How do I write out my thoughts about what is happening to Caster Semenya, an 18 year old gold medal winning South African athlete who was recently out-ed to the world as intersex by the IAAF? How do I write about my rage, my pain and my fears in a way that makes sense? How do I write something that can convey how dehumanizing, violating, disturbing, offensive and heart-breakingly saddening it all is? How do we talk about trauma, as we race to try and understand all the different things that are happening simultaneously and feeding off one another? How do we acknowledge that there is a human being at the center of all of this, whose life’s work is on the line?
As someone whose body has been and is still seen as public property, to be commented on by strangers giving unsolicited advice or asking intrusive questions, to be starred at and made fun of, I fight daily to claim my body. Growing up as a disabled child, I went from doctors to brace makers from surgery to surgery to physical therapy to doctors. I ached for people who looked like me, people who moved like me; people who could tell me that my body was beautiful the way it was and no surgery would ever make me able-bodied, just as sure as no surgery would ever make me white. The idea of trying to make a brace that went from my heel to my hip that could be “hidden” beneath my clothes “so boys wouldn’t detect it,” was at once an attempt to make me more desirable by making me seem less disabled and an assumption about who should desire me and who I should desire. It wouldn’t make me more of a girl or a woman, something I never really completely understood or felt like. Women were the people who wore high heels, ran, were desired by and desired men; they got married and had kids and I never saw anyone who moved like me who was married or had kids on TV.
I see what is happening to Caster Semenya and so much of it is rooted in how we think about bodies and what gets considered to be a “normal” body. So much of it it rooted in ableism, a system that oppresses disabled people, privileges non-disabled people and maintains able-bodied supremacy. Ableism tells us how bodies should function, move, smell, sound, and look; including male and female bodies, black, brown and white bodies, queer bodies–all bodies.
What happens to Caster Semenya is connected to and impacts all women of color. After all, women of color’s genders (and bodies) are always under surveillance. Caster Semenya is not the first and she will not be the last. Santhi Soundarajan, an Indian athlete, also lost her 2006 Asian Games silver medal for failing a gender test and also found out the results of her gender test from newspaper and television reports. The twisting and wringing of individual women of color’s gender (in the U.S. and globally) reinforces the violent racist gender stereotypes about all women of color and leaves us all hung out to dry.
As disability justice activists, we must connect how ableism gets leveraged in service of heteronormativity, in service of white supremacy, in service of misogyny. Ableism gets used all the time to divide us and we must fight it at every turn. How do we begin to understand that it was Caster’s extraordinary able-bodied and gender-non-conforming abilities that threatened ableist notions of gendered bodies and propelled the exposure of her gender through the use of a medical “gender test” to expose her sex. This is not just about defining what a “woman” is, it is also about defining what a “normal body” is and what “able-bodied” is and what it is not; it is about defining what “intersex” is and what it’s not.
We must understand how the medical industrial complex and science are being used to profit off of our bodies and medicalize our genders, our abilities, and render, in this case, an 18 year old intersex South African black woman a spectacle for the world to stare at, gawk at, and examine—at her expense. We must see how this spectacle is connected to the spectacle made of disabled bodies everyday behind closed doors, in sterile white rooms, under florescent lights, in homes, at family dinners, birthday parties, a trip to the mall, to the park, down the street.
As reproductive justice activists, we must challenge the notion that women are only as valuable as our wombs and the children we are expected to produce. We must challenge definitions of “woman” and “reproduction” that exclude intersex people and work to create a movement and framework that integrates an intersex analysis in to our work.
Where are the radical women of color feminists, building homes with fierce intersex poets, forging alliances with trans and gender queer immigrant gardeners, eating dinner with queer disabled dancers, making music with southern artists? Where are our voices, bringing an intersectional, multi-issue, multi-lived politic and analysis to all of this—amidst the white media frenzy, gender binary enforcers, medical experts, athletic officials and government heads? We need more than just a gender analysis, or a nationalist racial analysis. These are opportunities to speak across the lines and tiny definitions of ourselves that keep us self-righteous, isolated and apart.
Our voices are crucial because people who reflect Caster Semenya and reflect us are listening and learning what it means to have extraordinary bodies.
To close, we want to invite everyone reading to look within themselves and ask yourself how do you know what gender you are? How do you know what sex you are? How does your race, nationality, ability, class, etc. impact how you experience your gender and your body? What are the messages you receive about your body and how it should be? Where or who did those messages come from? Ask these questions of your friends and family. Read. Learn. Open yourself up to a discussion you may not have had before this moment. Stop saying hermaphrodite! Everything in society that we think of as static is something we created and we don’t have to support ideologies that aren’t useful to us. We can create a world where all bodies, where all people, are celebrated, loved, and cherished.
We are not wrong. She is not wrong. Wrong is not our name.
Match Points? September 14, 2009
By Jack Halberstam
In the 1980’s I remember watching John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors and other bad boys of tennis throw their racquets around, yell at referees, jump up and down in anger on the court and generally vent like spoiled schoolboys about a missed shot or a lost point. McEnroe’s favorite cry of disappointment – “You cannot be serious!” – even became a popular catchphrase. People thought of this behavior as “passion,” as evidence that white male American players in particular were invested in the game, and on-court outbursts stood as proof of a kind of emotionality that made the player “human” as opposed to the robotic coldness of a Scandinavian player like Bjorn Borg or the explosiveness of an Eastern European player like Ilie Nastase. Last night when Serena Williams was called for a foot fault at 5-6 and 15-30 in the second set, when she was already down a set, she turned to the line judge and directed a few choice words of disbelief her way. Later Serena Williams commented at a press conference that she had almost never been called for a foot fault in her whole career, let alone at such a crucial point in a match at the US Open. After Serena’s outburst, the line judge, an Asian American woman, approached the chair umpire and complained that she felt threatened by Serena! The big wigs were called onto the court and Serena was given a point penalty that, at match point, gave Kim Clijsters the match. This was a terrible call, a terrible moment for women’s tennis and more evidence of a double standard in sports around male and female behavior and in relation to what is perceived as racially specific conduct.
As Tavia Nyong’o commented in his superb blog on Caster Semenya: “World-class female athletes have long made people anxious, particularly gorgeously muscle-bound black ones.” What was true for Semenya might be true for Williams – the public and the media has no neutral language with which to describe and explain the extraordinary performances of Black female athletes. Black female athletic performances that are, literally, beyond the pale have tended to solicit suspicion and disdain while white female athleticism, especially when it is packaged in a Playboy ready form, receives acclaim and respect. It is no secret that the Williams sisters in tennis have had a love-hate relationship with the media and the public, nor that Serena in particular has been berated for her “masculine” physique. In fact, in February 2009, The Huffington Post ran an interesting op-ed on the omission of the Williams sisters from the 2009 Australian Open’s “list of the 10 most Beautiful Women” in the tournament. The list was topped by Jelena Jankovic and included more than one blond Russian. The absence of Venus and Serena from this list spoke volumes about the misplaced emphasis in women’s sports, and women’s tennis in particular, on appearance over performance but it also implicitly referenced the lurking charge of “lesbianism” or “gender transgression” that hangs over many a performance of female athletic excellence. The recent case of Caster Semenya is just the latest in the long history of gender confusion in relation to women’s sports and Serena Williams’ outburst illuminates the treacherous path walked by female athletes who compete at the highest level, blow away the competition and refuse to or simply cannot conform to normative standards of female beauty.
Again, as Tavia noted in his analysis of the freak show attitudes provoked by Semenya’s extraordinary athleticism, virtuosity is both compelling and confusing to people. Many, many athletes who win at the highest level of competition also have some unique physical attribute, what NYT sports writer Maurice Chittenden calls a “freakish advantage” (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article555183.ece). In an article from 2005 on top athletes and their physical oddities, he notes that Michael Phelps, the US swimming champion, has outsized feet that work like flippers; the same was true of Ian Thorpe. David Beckham has “bandy legs” that help him to put curves into his kicks; Lance Armstrong has very low lactic acid levels so his legs can keep going and going. And so on. Sports champions are often, literally, freaks of nature, so why we would stumble over the spectacle of a woman with a six pack but not a man with size 17 feet? Obviously, the boundaries for female athletic virtuosity must not leave the domain of acceptable femininity where femininity is too often defined in opposition to athleticism, activity and aggression.
So while the female body draws negative attention for athleticism that tips into muscular masculinity, behavior and conduct for female athletes is also judged according to a different set of rules. When Serena Williams cited John McEnroe and his antics as an influence for her own on court passions, McEnroe quickly distanced himself from her and suggested that she had crossed lines he would never have even approached. In fact, almost any kind of showy behavior by athletes of color draws negative attention while almost any kind of bad behavior from white athletes is thought of as “spirited.” When Justine Henin showed terrible sportsmanship at the French Open in 2003 by not backing up Serena Williams’ complaint about an obvious missed call, the French crowd began to boo Williams instead of Henin and Williams became so unnerved that she went on to lose the final set after having led 4-2. The headlines after Serena’s defeat and the hideous display of group racism within the crowd, crowed about the end of Serena Williams’ unbeaten run. When a Williams sister wins easily, it is called “boring”; when she fights hard, she is labeled erratic; when Venus or Serena question a call, they are charged with petulance but when they are don’t, they are pegged as indifferent to the sport.
Tennis has often been cast as the sport of ladies and gentlemen. It is implicitly a class bound activity that favors the kids who grew up with tennis courts in the backyard and expensive coaches. Much has indeed been made of the humble beginnings of the Williams sisters who spent the first years of their life in Compton, LA before moving to Florida and training with other teen tennis stars. Implicit in all of the coverage of the Williams’ family—including their mother Oracen and their father Richard—is that somehow, the Williams just don’t behave properly in the dignified world of tennis. When Venus won Wimbledon in 2000, her father danced in the stands shouting: “Straight out of Compton!” When Venus started a clothing line, it was seen as a distraction from tennis; in general, Venus and Serena’s outfits on court have been seen as unbecoming to the game and they are both characterized as excessive, too much, more spectacle than tennis.
Just to put the focus on Serena Williams’ behavior in perspective, imagine a discussion about Roger Federer’s effeminacy in relation to his designer sports wear or his tendency to cry when he loses. Imagine a real interrogation into the fist-pumping behavior of all kinds of white American tennis players who leave their sportsmanship in the locker room and resort to “mission accomplished” tactics while crushing opponents who have often learned to play tennis in far less rarefied and privileged circumstances. In fact, the most recent fist-pumping, great white hope for US women’s tennis, Melanie Oudin, a nineteen year-old blond pony tailer, has been discussed as a “Cinderella” figure, as someone who will single-handedly rescue US women’s tennis! This Cinderella story consigns Venus and Serena to the role of the “ugly sisters” and promises a new queen, a palatable tennis princess and a return to tennis whites.
The F word : Misster Scratch
I have many words, but they do not belong to me. I have many identities but I do not belong to them. Somehow I’d like to be able to communicate how I feel and who I am, using both, just as everyone else in this zine has done. I’ll go first and get it over and one with.
One of my favourite words is the F word.
In the last few weeks I have unwillingly come off testosterone. At the same time I have been consciously and willingly feminising, though I still consider myself masculine, that hasn’t changed. Coincidently, I have been told, amongst various things I dislike, that I am not ‘man enough’ both directly, and in directly from strangers and those I am close to.
These things aren’t related, it’s just the way things happen sometimes. I have been unwell, wanting to express my newly arisen un-closeted femmeness but having difficulties with people’s expectations. Maybe they are related? Things are connected, whether it’s conscious or not. Right?
It’s got me thinking about who I am and where I come from? (the dreaded question I absolutely dislike others asking me, which I frequently get asked by curious people needing to know what the colour of my skin corresponds to rather than who I really am and y’know that goes for all those gender questions too).
I want to think about my conscious and subconscious choices. I blame my therapist, of course. But still I’m thinking…
Who would I have been if I had had a father and not just a mother growing up?
If I had known my father and some decent male role models would I still be such a feminine boy?
What if I hadn’t had been abused and lived in a women’s only refuge, would I be more of a straight macho guy instead of the sissy femme?
Or are all these questions something that transphobic wider society asks me? The world I try not to live in but sometime find I have to connect to. These questions reek of sexist assumptions perpetuated by the media, that our non conforming gender identities are a problem of our past and are problematic. Nevertheless, they still they preoccupy me since my past wasn’t very rose tinted. They are the same questions that my non trans brother asks himself too. Funny that. I question my masculinity and so does he.
I didn’t know my father after I was 12, but don’t even remember him after age 8 since I blocked a lot of him out. I didn’t really know him anyway. I do know he was the macho, rough and tough intellectual type, from my mother’s limited stories and photos I’ve caught a glimpse of, but not much more. My mother I know better. She was the pin up 70’s femme babe that men lusted after, also very intelligent and ambitious…Hollywood, Bollywood, she would’ve conquered them all but no, she settled with my abusive father instead.
So where does that leave me? I do not identify as, or live up to either…though at times, if I’m honest and think hard enough about it, I embody them both, without even knowing them fully, hardly.
Now the more male I look and become, the more I don’t know who I am, since I look more like my father, than my mother or my brother, who I did grow up with. I do not always recognise myself. The inside and outside do not always match either. I keep telling myself it should be the other way round? Shouldn’t I be getting closer to who I really am, like all the other tranny boys seem to be? Like they say it happens? It’s not the same for everyone. I wish it was like that, sometimes, but this year I have finally accepted it is not that way for me and so have decided to not ‘fully transition’ into someone who I will probably dislike and couldn’t face in the mirror. I do not want to look like my abuser.
These days I’m being confused as being an MTF instead of a FTM. I like it as it relates to me better sometimes and it’s refreshing to not be so caught up in a male identity. I mean does it really even matter which way I’m transitioning when I don’t really feel I’m going in any specific direction and feel as feminine as I do masculine (despite hormones). Yes the F word.
Is this making any sense?
I’m masculine but I’m also feminine. I’m a Transvestite who likes to wear mostly women’s but also sometimes men’s clothes. I’m transgender with transsexual tendencies as I don’t really wish to live in my given body and want some masculinising changes to it since it is predominantly female, which doesn’t fit who I am well enough. I often fantasise that I was born with a male body (I feel it if I don’t look in the mirror and when I have sexual intimacy) but I know I would still be feminine even if I was born into a male body. But on the same hand I don’t want to change too much of my female body either, with surgery I mean. Though I do like taking testosterone, I love how it makes me feel but it doesn’t make me who I am (I’ve realised that now I have stopped, after being on a mild form for a year which did make quite a few considerable changes!). Hormones make the outside world change its perception of you and that really helps passing and people taking you seriously when you become accustomed to being undermined. But that is not why I took them. They made me feel elated, much more stable and much more secure with myself which is what I mainly enjoyed. Some people don’t understand me coming off and on them again since they think you shouldn’t play with them but I like to experiment. I feel that is healthy for me.
Really I don’t want to be a man or a woman, my father or my mother. I don’t think I ever could be a ‘real man’ or ‘man enough’ or for that matter a ‘woman’ or especially a ‘lady’, but I do think of myself as both male and femme. The only time I prefer to be considered solely male or female is when I’m using the bathroom. The only time I wanted to be genderless or gender free is when it comes to ID or filling in forms and job applications. The only time I wanted to be completely male was when I was about to have sex with a heterosexual female person who thought I was one, but I’ve never wanted to be female, that’s the only thing I’m ever certain of. But maybe that will change? Who knows? Does that make me less trans or less of a feminist? I disagree.
Is this still making sense?
I’m not confused; I’m just a different kind of a guy. A trans guy, not a woman. Someone who is concerned with women’s and tran’s rights, who actually likes to be feminine and be around other femmes, regardless of their gender and regardless of the activity. Who likes make up and dressing up, getting dirty and sweaty, especially when it’s well paid, as well as releasing my aggression, tension and desire with sport , exercise and the occasional sexual practice. These are all gender expressions to me. Who said femmes are not versatile and are boring?! Why then are we so often ignored or dismissed?
People are always confused though, asking me if I am a girl or a boy after they have looked me up and down like I’m not even there. People call me ‘he’, ‘boss’, ‘geezer’, (rarely) ‘sir’ a fair bit but sometimes they call me ‘she’ or a ‘girl’ not because that is what they see but what they have been socialised to believe, since in mainstream society we have to be either male or female. They don’t see either in me, or both and so they have to make a quick judgement. The stressed, pained look in their confused faces is enough for me to be able shrug it off with amusement, but sometimes it becomes abusive and that is when I want to kill the world, or worse kill myself, since abuse is not something I have been able to shrug off from childhood to adulthood. But I would never kill myself for recognition and doubt I would get any that way.
When they have plucked up the courage to ask me what gender I am I tell them ‘it doesn’t matter to me’. It’s obvious that they are not happy with that answer as it clearly seems to matter to them. What they really want to know about trans people is what we do in the bedroom, what we look like under our clothes. That often seems to define who we are as trans people, who we are as femmes…‘urgh, but what do you do in bed?…’ Well if I tell them how much I love femme cock and love to beg ‘please’ when it is offered, that when I’m with boys I lust over their bodies wishing mine was like theirs, touching them all over or wherever they let me like a good obedient boy. That I want to be their boy, their femme, their anything and everything in that moment of desire. That I like to watch the daddies with their boys so I can get hard with envy, that I willingly like to be hurt by my lover…well then I’m likely to get a fist in my face, or spat on. That just isn’t the correct answer. In fact it’s downright disgusting.
I want a daddy so bad but it’s something so unfamiliar and scares me, so I just watch instead. I used to be ashamed about this all until I found the queer scene. It’s ok to be perverted I discovered…for a while at least, but again I still haven’t been able to break away from people’s expectations of my gender and sexuality, anywhere I go.
I have found there are norms everywhere and even in the feminist, queer and trans community. There are still dominant norms just different ones.
I’m sick of people telling me who and what I should be and what I should and shouldn’t do with my body and my life. In these communities I’ve generally been ignored and rendered invisible being a trans male identified femme. It’s not something to talk about, people don’t and well people there also seem very confused. When I do talk about it and then race as well, well…is it hot in here? Do you need a drink? I really need to go to the bathroom, great to catch up with you but I gotta run…everyone just seems to want to leave! or nod silently if I’m lucky enough.
It’s hard being a minority, hard to have enough self esteem to keep going sometimes, hard to feel good about myself without relying on the attention of others. It becomes all about how other people view you and how much value they place on you since they are always telling you. I often feel like public property, like I’m being owned. I want to break free from this, to reclaim my own worth and identity in a world that despises brown people, femininity and freaks, let alone a brown feminine freak.
Since being out as a femme, people who once ‘tranny chased’ me are embarrassed they ever did, or run away when I mention the F word! When people hear femme and don’t see a bio female or a gay man they run away or laugh like it’s a joke I’m making. It used to be easier when I was in the closet about it. Then it was cute and endearing. I’d wear sexy dresses and underwear in secret and when they would find out about it it would turn them on. Now I think I hear the tumble weeds if I hear anything at all. Oh, but surely silence is still better than ‘you’re not man enough or ‘if you were a gay man id fuck you’, ‘you’re too feminine to be trans’, or ‘you’re obviously not really trans, it’s just a phase’.
Ok so this must be making some sense to someone, hopefully, or am alone in this all?
Maybe I’m just in the wrong place and the wrong time? Or maybe it’s just that everybody else is?
I know that when I read ‘Masculine Femininities’ I feel so much better. Honestly. I hope that you do too.
Notes of a Faggy Butch
What I see when I look in the mirror; a body and face that have appeared differently over the past year, my hair cut in shorter accenting jaw-line and ears, my focus on my broad shoulders and collarbone. I feel as if I have peeled away a layer in that time, or a mist that sat over myself- I appear to myself more acute, more polished and present. I never felt that I had to give up or leave any part of myself behind; I never felt that this discovering or uncovering of masculinity was in anyway in conflict with my femininity- it was more like an addition, something that came to the fore-ground, but the female did not disappear, rather the whole become rounded out, whereas a purely feminine identity had always seemed a little jarring and incomplete
Much of the importance of the “faggy boi” phenomenon which I have seen and heard blossom over that time has been that it has allowed an experimentation, in terms of body image and sexuality, with a new aesthetic; it has been sexy and self-affirming to discover the beauty of masculinity, to recognise it as expressed by myself but also as by all genders.
Identifying as “faggy” and trying on the idea of being a “faggy butch” (with all the contradiction that that seems to entail) has for me held a more overtly political meaning as well. My whole life I have experienced the kind of masculinity that seems to predominate in our culture as a source of intimidation and oppression. I come from a background of domestic violence and attempted sexual assault. I am thus always wary of emulating a kind of “macho” masculinity- I have spent far too much of my life deconstructing that masculinity to wish to perpetuate it. As I was growing up I found instead the antidote to this machismo in men who were kind and respectful of women, who went out of their way to acknowledge women even in contexts where this meant to go against the grain. In a queer context, a lot of these have been feminist gay men, and it’s been sweet to be a fag hag in a whole new way- being a “faggy butch” has felt like a way of paying homage to a part of queer culture that I didn’t feel I was allowed into before, and revelling in its joys which were secretly mine all along, like Erasure, purple and silver colour schemes, glitter, silk ties, shaved heads and eye-liner. Being a “faggy butch” has basically allowed me to embrace a future with a strong vein of masculinity running through it without compelling me to sacrifice my female and feminist past, as this would be an impossible decision to make.
It has been difficult at times. The first difficulty is in the wider reaction from some feminists. In the past I have been involved in a domestic violence help-line and domestic violence therapy project which were both women only spaces. I’m not sure if the people would be so comfortable with me working there now. If it should so happen that I was to decide that I wanted to transition, where would this then leave me in relation to my feminism? As we have also seen recently in controversies over trans-people being allowed on the Reclaim the Night March, are we to understand it that as we get closer and closer to a trans-identity we are to cut ourselves off from out feminism? What do these feminists think then happens to that part of trans-men’s histories, especially for those who have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault as women? Or their political consciousness, for that matter? That they dissolve into thin air? Too often feminist beliefs become just one other sacrifice of transition, and one that it has been difficult to negotiate as there is a need not to attack feminism as one of our allies in the face of the greater enemy of Patriarchy, but we need to think about the gravity of what we are doing here, which is denying people the right to a feminist political identification and representation, and the right to domestic violence and sexual assault services– thing that would be considered monstrous by feminists in any other context. Feminists need to consider that as a longer established discourse and as a larger minority, they hold a certain privilege in relation to trans, particularly in being the voice that defines who is a woman and who is a feminist, and that this should not be abused.
The second difficulty is in the reaction from some of my queer- femme friends. There seems to be a very specific expectation about what a butch is or should be
“ uggh, you don’t shave your legs, I can’t believe it. I’m shocked. I would never do that” would have ten years ago been the kind of standard gym changing room abuse, the revelation that would be used as hard evidence that you were a dyke. Interesting then that, minus the don’t, this is exactly what queer friends reaction to my shaved legs has been. Sometimes it feels like its more about fitting into what has become a queer convention, rather than developing the self-confidence to be who you feel good as. What would our feminist elders say?
EXCERPTS FROM MY LIFE AS A TRANS FEMME MALE
By Debra Kate
I am a trans femme male. I have known since childhood that I was probably a boy, definitely not a girl. Despite my affinity for certain elements of female attire, I was far more interested in spitting and wrestling, which for some strange reason the girls were not into. It became apparent to me fairly early on that I was going to have to ditch the dresses to get the kind of action I was looking for. It wasn’t until I came into contact with out gay men as a teenager, that I encountered a femininity which I could relate to. I learned most of my “feminine” mannerisms from fags.
The thing is, I’m attracted to masculinity, which for a large portion of my life meant – heterosexual non-trans males. And those are exactly the kind of guys who bring out my own masculinity in full force. There were plenty of disagreements over my boyish attire and inability to be a proper girlfriend, but I always knew that my girl clothes were not meant for them. I was a closet drag queen for years.
I always felt queer, but didn’t feel like I was allowed, as a “woman” who was attracted to guys, to “appropriate” that title. In Boston, I had been hanging around with a mixed crowd, queer & straight, so it wasn’t really an issue most of the time anyway; I just jumped into bed with someone if the mood was right. Straight girls were a special treat for my fragile tranny ego, because they liked boys. I never felt like a lesbian during those experiences, which further convinced me that I was not allowed to identify as queer.
KEMBRA PFAHLER – VOLUPTUOUS INSPIRATION
A big influence on my coming to terms with who I am was definitely Kembra Pfahler, the lead singer of the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. I met her after she performed a solo show in Boston. She was incredible! She was wearing a cheap lounge singer gown and one of her amazing self-styled fright wigs, and her skin was painted a different color. She did a number where she had these ropes tied around her ankles, which were attached to a pair of men’s shoes. When she walked, they dragged behind her, following her like a mysterious, invisible stalker. To escape the dangerous shoes, she ran into the audience, which was comprised mostly of male rock fans. They didn’t know what to make of her. She was ducking under tables and hiding among their feet. I was an instant fan. When I moved to New York, I started doing backstage work for the band.
Kembra was the first person that I ever heard refer to a biological female as a drag queen. She was talking about Theo, the lead singer of the Lunachicks, and eventually she started calling me one too. I ended up moving back to Boston, but I’d take the Greyhound bus down to New York for the big Karen Black shows and stay at her place. When she’d leave the flat to go out, I’d be all butch, but when she came home, I’d be cleaning her kitchen buck naked except for one of her boas, some glitter lipstick and my white patent leather boots. There wasn’t one time that I saw her that she didn’t call me a “closet case” and encourage me to take my hidden fashion sense out into the streets for the world to see. She took me to the Black Lips Performance Cult’s production of “Vagina”, which changed my life. From that night on, I knew what I was meant to do. It took me a few years, but once I uprooted myself and landed in a new country, I put those dreams into motion.
When I hit Germany, a lot of things began to change for me. In Boston, I had been in the music scene, but in Berlin, I headed straight for the drag shows, which, back then, showcased almost exclusively performers who were born with penises.
I heard that Wigstöckel, the big annual show, was coming up. I wanted to help out, but everyone I asked gave me the brush off. Gérôme Castell was the only one who would tell me when the setup was happening. When I showed up, she made sure that I got a task. I was allowed to paint the backdrop white. I was ecstatic.
I had been going to Café Transler shows in outfits made out of whatever I had on hand to fit the theme of the evening. For the “Depression” show, I made a wig-hat with hair that could be ripped off in a fit of anguish and then reattached via velcro for another round of theatrics. Another night, I showed up in an angel costume which I had scrapped together from an old raincoat, toilet paper and tape. I think that’s what sealed my fate. I got asked to join the troupe.
The amazing thing about Café Transler was that, despite what was going on at that time in the scene, the troupe was 100% supportive of all forms of gender expression. They were willing to look outside of the box and accept a bio girl into the fold. Later on, we added a bio king. One of our mottos was “For all genders of the world”. Another motto was “Too stupid for the stage? There’s no such thing!”
Even though we no longer perform together, Café Transler remains my family. With them, I felt the first true freedom to be myself. One time, the theme of our show was “Abschied ist ein bischen wie sterben” – Parting is a bit like dying. So, I had an MTF sexual reassignment procedure on stage. My “sex change” consisted of substituting a tiara for a captain’s hat and removing the bulge in my tights. My “stuffer” was a baby bottle and a rolled up dead fox, which once upon a time could have been clipped onto a fine lady’s collar to make her look fashionable and sleek. By the time I was pulling it out of my pants, it was mangy and moth bitten, and when it unrolled for the audience, hair flew out in all directions. I do believe that was the biggest laugh that I’ve ever gotten on stage and one of my happiest performance moments.
I can not speak for all Tunten, but my experience with Berlin Tunten is that they are similar to queens, but with an important distinction. Tunte is viewed as a form of trans identity which often has political implications. A Tunte usually uses the female pronoun. She is not, however, a transwoman, unless she also identifies as such. When I took my birth name as my Tunte name, I made a political statement that I was born a Tunte, not a girl. It is my public name, the name under which I perform and make art, and is the name that I use as a trans activist. I keep my male name, the one that I’ve known inside of me since I was young, for special occasions. I want to be recognized as a trans person and as a Tunte, and I want that recognition regardless of my physical form and pronouns.
ART & ACTIVISM
When it comes to my drag aesthetic, I have always been very influenced by ideas about how women are supposed to look. I want to stretch those ideas out like taffy and fold them back in on themselves. If a woman is supposed to wear makeup to look feminine, then shouldn’t applying more makeup make her look more feminine? If wearing lingerie makes you pretty for your man, then piling on extra layers of lingerie should be a sure fire way to achieve devastating beauty! At what point does the liberal application of femininity tip one over to the dark side of “Dude, that’s not a chick. That’s a guy!” Because that’s the world that I want to live in! My favorite look is a cross between a doll and a birthday cupcake, between a child’s drawing of an animal and a clown. Those paintings of crying children with huge eyes get me hot as well.
My photography started as a way to document my life. The images which I was seeing were not representative of what I was experiencing. They were either shots of stage shows taken from the audience or portraits of queens posing for the camera. There was so much more going on behind the scenes. On top of that, because I was in queer spaces, it was assumed that I was a lesbian and not a “real Tunte”. For this reason, I often found myself looking at a stack of photographs from a show that I’d performed in, and not seeing a single image of myself.
At some point, there was a big exhibit of photos of the Berlin drag scene. Everyone from my drag troupe was on the wall but me. There were rows and rows of Tunten and a bio king. So, basically, the “real” homos, all born with the appropriate genitalia for the pursuit of gender fucking. I got pissed off. That’s when I kicked it into gear with my own photography. I was sick of dealing with other peoples definitions of drag, which invariably didn’t include me. I wanted to show the world what I saw through my trans eyes.
I make my photos for two audiences. Most importantly, I do it for those of us who are in them. So that we can see ourselves and have evidence of our own truth. So that when we’re gone, we are not forgotten. I also want to show the rest of the world that drag performers are people who also happen to do drag. That king hanging out backstage might be making the exact same expression as your uncle when he’s got something on his mind, and that queen has the look that your little sister gets when she’s about to make trouble. I want viewers to feel a connection to my photos on that level, one human relating to another.
The desire to connect people and foster communication is a constant running throughout all aspects of my life. One of my great passions is trans networking. I remember how it felt when I thought that I was the only one experiencing the things that I was going through. It doesn’t have to be that way. We are everywhere, and we now have the internet in our box of tools. We no longer have to live in isolation.
Despite being a lifelong flamer (albeit often closeted), I never actually felt femme until I was in my late 30’s. After the traumatic loss of my favorite sweatshirt, I had some sort of hormonal change, and everything shifted. I started having hot flashes. My period got lighter, my muscles got bigger and I smelled different. About 5 months into it, I was walking with a friend of mine, a trans guy, and he asked me if he could carry my bag for me. It was like being hit by lightning. It ran straight through my body, and I couldn’t speak. In my mind, I saw myself handing it over to him, but when I finally managed to move my lips, I said, “No, I can carry my own bag!”
After that, it was hell for a while. That’s for sure. A large part of my youth was spent trying to fit in with the other boys. As transmen started to come out of the woodwork, I found myself finally able to have the kind of camaraderie which I had always yearned for but only witnessed from the outside. It was also becoming clear to me that transitioning could, in fact, finally become a reality for me. Then BANG! I felt Femme! The transguys were triggering that effect in me, and after that it started to happen when I was around the kings. As soon as I’d get near them, I’d go all girly, but I didn’t know how to be feminine in that way. I often found myself tongue tied, which was a shock for a motor mouth like myself. When I was with non-trans boys and men, my masculinity often went into high gear. I wanted to wrestle with them and have guy bonding adventures. I had no girl training. I only knew how to be a trashy fag with my gay friends.
Some years earlier, I had been cornered by a transman at a trans event where I was performing. He was relentless in insisting that because I was not presenting as a man, I was a woman, and therefore the event was not for me. That memory haunted me for years, and as I dreamed about handsome transmen arriving at my door bearing flowers, I became increasingly terrified that I would lose my chance to finally become a member of the illusive boy posse, that I would become irrevocably invisible as a trans person. Whenever I started to feel femme, I tried to shut it down. But by that point, there was no turning back. My world was full of hot transmen and kings, and I wanted them all to think that I was pretty. I started having crazy mood swings. I was switching from masculine to femme and back again, sometimes in the space of a minute. I’d get really angry and want to smash things, like when I was a teenager. Then I’d get weepy. This would happen sometimes up to 30 times a day. I began to get sharp pains shooting up from the area of my kidneys. They would strike suddenly, at any time of day or night. The pain was excruciating. It got so bad that I literally felt like I was being ripped in half, straight down the middle.
Eventually it became apparent that a number of the transmen that I knew were coming out as gay, and things settled down for me. Their support and acceptance has made a world of difference in my life. I finally have other queers with whom I can talk openly about my past, without getting that evil eye, the look that conveys a dreaded judgement, “You don’t belong in this queer space!”, “You are not trans!” or the worse sin of all, “Hetero!”
I want to be seen as a whole person and not as a series of labels assigned to me based on whatever facet of my personality someone happens to notice and latch onto. I have often found myself frustrated by people’s misinterpretations of me, most maddeningly within queer and trans spaces. Theoretically, that is exactly where we should be able to express our gender without dealing with the kind of shit that gets shoved down our throat out in the rest of the world. The insistence on the part of others that I am a woman, and the need by some to label me a lesbian, strips me of that option. It makes me invisible as a trans person. So too does insisting that I transition to the point of passing as a “real man”. I am a real man, just not the kind that everyone is used to. I know how to work a wig, a push up, and a whole palette of face paints. I can wrestle you to the ground and look drop dead gorgeous doing it!
There have been many times when I have avoided calling myself a man, because of my ambivalence about the culture of maleness. As a boy, it was a lot of fun, but as an adult, it’s not a world which I necessarily want to be immersed in. Although I am not a woman, I think that it would be wonderful to become one when I am older, a fabulous finale for a life of transition. Boy, Tunte, femme man, grande dame and who knows what else in between. All of those are, were, and will be, me.
Here is something which I’ve been thinking about lately, which is the difference in how the terms femme and butch are used among queer men and women and how that has affected my view of myself:
I come from a gay male background. For years, I heard the terms butch and femme being used to describe gay men without ever realizing that there was a whole butch/femme culture which involved women. My own feelings of butchness at that time were in relation to other gay males around me. On many occasions, I was the butchest in a crowd of flamers, and I reveled in the chance to let my masculinity shine. It is only in my recent history that I have finally heard from folks steeped in butch/femme dyke culture what, in their eyes, constitutes a butch. Under those guidelines, it would seem that despite how I had felt among my gay male friends, I did not qualify as a real butch.
I wonder if my current feelings of femmeness are also in question due to my trans male status. My maleness is always there inside of me. It does not cease to exist when I dress up pretty. No matter how feminine I may feel, at some point, my masculinity always rears it’s head again. Under such circumstances, am I actually allowed to refer to myself as femme? Will I face censure? Perhaps there are degrees of femmeness, and the curvacious figure which was the bane of my boyhood will this time tip the scales in my favor, allowing me to slip under the wire and register as an entry level femme or as a breezy femme-lite.
I have begun to tell my lover stories. In the hot breath time where sleepiness turns to lust in my darkening bedroom I begin to tell him stories about the things I would like to do, the things that I want and know from the heat radiating from him that he wants too.
I am learning a new version of myself in these stories.
His trans body has always had a cock that I can sense, feel and sometimes touch. A hardness I have never questioned. Now my body is reinventing itself in the night. In the fiction that falls from my lips fully formed, my body is as fluid as my lover’s. We both fuck and are fucked. My femme, female body grows hard and long and fills him up in the most natural and instinctive way. In the night I hear words coming out of my mouth, see images rising in my mind that don’t scare me or puzzle me or even surprise me but in the morning I am curious about how they got there, where they came from.
My lover and I are dancing a dance that takes us far away from each other to dance our own steps while we hear our own melodies (occasionally we look at each other and think… but weren’t we just dancing the same steps?), and then our steps take us to a point where we meet. I hold out my hand to be twirled, step close with my cheek against his, his arm settles around my waist and we are back in the dance. We’ve been dancing these steps over and over, moving away from each other, losing steps, miscounting time… then finding each other again to keep going, making less mistakes (we hope) on this turn around the floor.
Each time I find myself dancing on my own I feel further and further away from my old self. I am struggling to understand where the different segments of my life fit together, wondering who I am meant to be now.
I am not trans. I am not straight. I am a woman (with a multitude of ‘women’s problems’ that keep me in my place).
I have been straight (until I was 13).
I have been bisexual (until I was 16).
I have been a lesbian identified woman who sleeps with and falls in love with men (until I was 20).
I have been a lesbian who toyed with ‘dyke’ and ‘queer’ and was sad that no one seemed to read her right because her clothes, hair, face was wrong (sometimes I am still her).
I was a lesbian in Birkenstocks with a girlfriend in dungarees and motorbike leathers who prayed for civil partnerships to be legalised so that if her partner became ill, as she would, hospitals would be able to give me access to her bedside.
I was an ‘old fashioned’ lesbian who had a librarian fetish and a slowly focussing queerness.
I am queer.
Two years ago I began thinking about the term ‘femme’ and where a girl in a tweed skirt, good underwear and battered Converse might fit into that.
I am a ‘middle of the road femme’. My feet remaining resolutely lesbian in sensible shoes that hide seamed stockings and red nail varnish.
At the time my lover and I began the long process of texts and smiles from across the room that led us to the ambiguous but solid place we are now, I knew that he used both pronouns and I went with ‘she’ so that I could have an uncomplicated crush. We came across each other in spaces I had begun to think of as ‘women’s space’ and for a long time there had been no men in my world. My mind told me I liked this person therefore they must be a she. Along the way it became clear this was wrong and I stopped using female or mixed pronouns.
One day he sent me a message that asked outright – do you only fancy girls? Or do you fancy trans people too? Something like that. I didn’t hesitate when I replied but I’ve thought a lot about it since (not my answer, just how my desires could have changed without my noticing). The longer I knew the boy who would be my lover the more apparent it was that I could not see him as a woman. I began to feel uncomfortable when other people mixed his pronouns.
I began too, to feel really shaky in my own longstanding lesbian/queer-who-fancies-women identity. It wasn’t hard to let go of, it is quite clearly not who I am anymore. But then it is not hard to see what I are not. It is just hard to know who I am now. It shouldn’t really matter but for me words are important.
Do I make a new category up? Am I like those femme girls who you might see on the arm of a passing FTM? Will I be part of a binary gendered couple? Is that queer? Will I become even more invisible as a queer? Am I transsensual? Do I have femme cock? On occasion it seems I do.
My lover is not a straightforward boy. We have a history of partly shared experiences, heritage and politics. Our language shares the same sprinkle of other tongues and we understand each other outside of this community, this city, this country. In our own definitions of the word, we are both femme. His body, in my eyes, to my touch, in my desire, is not the body of a woman. Mine is. In my stories our bodies do what we want them to do regardless of the boundaries set by our shared biology. We run fingers over each other, feeling out the differences. We hold our arms up to the light and marvel at being next to someone who is exactly the same colour, in the same skin. We are the same and not.
It takes guts to be a whore
Interview with MsTizo
I was recently interviewed for some academic project on sex work migration, managed by yet another white privileged-everything gay boy who thinks sex work is sooo cutting edge and queer. I had various problems with the project, not least because it follows the classic hierarchy of knowledge production: white middle-class male academic, white female interviewer who is also a sex worker and therefore knows how to find folks and make them talk, and a brown retired sex worker who gets to bare hir soul and give them all hir experiences and theories for free, to run off with. To be precise, I did get 50 quid out of it, and a free lunch, which is something, and to be honest, the most anyone has offered me since transitioning. A political whore, I’ll stay true to the principle that sex should be paid and knowledge free – and have got hold of the transcript in order to share it with you here.
Can you tell us about your childhood?
My father was an engineer, my mother a secretary. She had moved to Spain from the Philippines. I was born in Spain.
Can you tell us about the area you grew up in?
I grew up in a white working-class area, post industrial, urban but quite narrow minded. People knew each other, it was quite close knit and people were talking a lot, there was a lot of gossip, about people who were different. My parents were quite concerned about fitting in, and us behaving sexually was part of that, because we already different, being an interracial family and so on. They always worried about the neighbours talking, and that shaped how they dealt with our sexuality. Not sticking out and not confirming to those stereotypes that people had about the Philippines, that everyone is a whore basically.
Can you tell me about your life at school?
I liked school and I was also bored by it. I did quite well … I did very well, better than the white kids. I remember feeling very different at school being the brown kid, being the queer kid, even though I wasn’t out. Not fitting in with the boys and the girls, and how they related to each other, feeling alienated by that.
What did you do after school? Do you feel being a woman/man/ethnic group/other identity (gender, ethnic…) had anything to do with how your life went at that time?
I trained as a secretary. It was like a continuation of school… both were these very heteronormative place where girls and boys are produced, and are produced to be heterosexual and very feminine or masculine. Going through that as someone who doesn’t fit into gives you a certain perspective on heteronormativity and the way that, say, femininity is sexualised and commercialised (like having to smile at customers’ or bosses’ jokes for free). So if you don’t fit into that you end up having a more laidback approach to presenting gender and sexuality in general. As a female-assigned person you’re expected to perform femininity on top of doing your job, but you’re actually paid less for it than your male-assigned colleagues. So you might as well get paid more for it – which is what the sex industry offers.
Why did you migrate to the UK?
I came here aged 25 as a student migrant. I wanted to spend time in London, it was an exciting big city, and the cool place to be for young people at the time. I had EU citizenship privileges and I wanted to improve my English. I was curious about exploring another place.
How about your family? Did they agree with your decision to leave?
They were happy, they thought my English would improve, I’d get a good degree, and meet nice people.
How did you imagine this country before getting here? Was it different from what you imagined?
I thought it would be much more multi-cultural than it was, that’s how Britain advertises itself. I was surprised that there is actually so much racism, so much discrimination.
Can you tell me about your working life before migration?
I was a secretary. It was safe and boring.
Can you tell me about your working life after migration?
First I did call centre jobs and then translations, while also studying full-time. And then a friend of mine kept talking about the work she was doing in the sex industry and kept saying ‘It would be really easy for you, you’d be good at it, as you have a lot of sex any way.’ And another friend at the same time was having the same thoughts. Both of us knew a lot of people in the sex worker rights movement, so it was easy to find out information on the legal situation, how to get started, the risks, where to advertise, how to deal with clients etc.
What did your friend mean by that (that you’d be good at it)?
I think she meant that my view of sex is very matter of fact. I don’t see sex as something that belongs in marriage, or in loving relationships. It can mean all kinds of things, both positive and negative, and it can be less worthwhile and more worthwhile, and the things that make it worthwhile can be all sorts – including money. And at the time I was on the BDSM scene and playing a lot with white male submissives, and sometimes asking myself afterwards ‘What did I get out of that?’ It wasn’t that the scenes were particularly bad, just that they weren’t very satisfying, and one person always seemed to get more out of it than the other, and that was often the white man, because he felt more entitled to getting pleasure, and had no qualms in asking for it, by virtue of his race and gender.
That was not-for-profit..
(Both laugh) Exactly. So I thought, might as well charge for it and go pro.
Were you able to get a job according to your educational qualifications, work experiences and expectations?
Yes, but there is a lot of discrimination – racism, sexism, transphobia. So compared to my white non-trans male colleagues, the kind of work that I can find tends to be more boring, less independent, less well-paid, and much less secure.
Has your migration legal status influenced your experience of work in the UK?
No. I’ve got most of the privileges a British passport holder would have.
What kind of jobs have you done in the sex industry? How did you find them?
I started advertising independently and also joined an agency. The agency person was actually really nice and gave me the most thorough work induction I’ve ever got. Telling me about various types of work, how much you can charge, what’s the risks, challenging my fears. For example, I was quite nervous around vanilla and subbing, and she just says ‘You should try everything. This is my experience, and it’s mostly been good.’
But I wasn’t very popular with the clients. At the escorting agency, I never got booked, and I think it’s partly because I’m quite androgynous, and the only person who ever tried to book me was a woman. But the independent advertising was OK. There wasn’t a lot of work and we didn’t really know how to advertise, but the few jobs that we did get were really good. We advertised on alt.com as a butch/femme ‘lesbian’ sub/dom couple and the clients were genuine submissives who really wanted to enjoy themselves and have a good time.
The work itself I really enjoyed. I guess if I could I would change the conditions. For example, because I’m trans, I would prefer to have the option to also work presenting masculine. But I wouldn’t advertise myself as FTM because I know from friends that you get more violence. And most FTMs who work as sex workers pass as female.
Why were you nervous about vanilla at first?
Because it’s closer to what you grow up thinking of as ‘prostitution’. I probably had a lot of the traditional feminist concerns about being fucked for money, letting someone enter inside your body. It’s both an actual physical thing of having something large inside your body, that’s more difficult to keep control of, both physically and emotionally. It’s also more difficult to reconcile with my gender identity as someone who is male-identified. And the fact that it’s much closer, at least in appearance, to the kind of heterosexual sex that our feminist mothers have warned us about (laughs). Which can also be a turn-on, of course.
I actually ended up having quite good experiences of vanilla. It was an older colleague who sad to me, ‘If you get tired, just tell them “Oh honey, I’d like to feel your weight on me.”’ (Both laugh.) Vanilla sex work is less demanding, it’s less physically and emotionally draining, you don’t need to input so much. Pro-domming can be exhausting, you have to give a lot.
How does sex work compare with other sectors you worked in here in the UK? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
It pays much better, you get to work with other sexual outlaws, the hours are better and more flexible. But there’s not a lot of job security, you never know how much money’s gonna come in…. And it’s very stigmatised, especially if you’re Filipino, which is a big problem.
Was there any particular reason for you to work in the sex industry?
I guess as a queer person I’ve thought a lot about sexuality and the way people react to sex. What kinds of situations, where it’s appropriate or inappropriate to do certain things with your body. So I’m naturally curious about the inappropriate things, so that’s one of the things that attracted me to having a go at being a sex worker. And also the emotional things about being a sex worker, the language about ‘selling yourself’, which I actually associate more with straight work. With sex work, you get more out of it, and as someone who enjoys performing, I consented to performing this very feminine presentation, and I got paid for it rather well, that was very clear to me.
I like sex work as it’s less alienated than other jobs, it’s a service and you interact with the person who’s paying you directly. You do something and the person moans, or smiles, or moves, or has an orgasm. The positive effects of what you put in appear very directly on their body, in their face.
The classic textbook examples from the sex worker rights movement would be waitressing or being a flight attendant – the emotional labour that is unpaid, that you’re naturally expected to be able to do, by virtue of your gender or race. In straight jobs there’s this assumption that you’re identical to the presentation that you give, that the service you offer is a natural outflow of your body. With sex work, on the other hand, it’s clear it’s a performance, every sex worker knows that. So it’s less like selling yourself, you keep yourself separate, you deliver a performance as a service, and you get remunerated for it.
What else do you like about working in the sex industry?
I’ve already mentioned having colleagues who are also queer and having lots of good fun with that femme work partner. We hadn’t been sexual before, and it was really interesting to be in that situation with her. And the clients were genuine submissives, so it was like a real scene. I also worked in a flat for a while, that belonged to an older colleague who acted as a mentor and was really sweet and sensitive, sitting me down before each session: ‘So this is what he’s into, you could either take this role or that (in the ‘lesbian threesome’), what would you be more comfortable doing?’ And checking in with me afterwards, if everything had gone ok, if anything could be improved about our communication. Working in the flat was fun, the receptionist was this bisexual woman who had chosen to work there because she liked working with other queer and kinky people. Our clients were nice, too, they were genuinely appreciative
What don’t you like about working in the sex industry?
The stereotyping and the hierarchies of attractiveness. I don’t present feminine, I’m a person of colour, I don’t conform to this slim, tall, big bosomed, blonde, Barbie-look stereotype so that automatically means it’s harder to find work. And I stopped working when I transitioned. One of the reasons I don’t work now is because of the sense of risk.
Did you have any bad experience at work?
I don’t feel there’s a market for FTMs post transition in the sex industry. Because of the heteronormative ways that desire is structured and marketed. I also feel I haven’t had a lot of support from sex worker rights activists. They’re all talk about diversity and so on, but when you actually turn to them and ask for support as a trans sex worker, their faces go blank. They’re not interested. I like a lot of the activism, and support, but it also seems very limited. Like the argument that sex work is liberating. It may be, if you’ve always been treated like a good girl or boy, and wanna rebel against that. But if you’ve grown up with the assumption that you or your mom or everyone else in your community is a whore, it’s a different story.
I didn’t really have any bad experiences at work. I had one client who underpaid me by ten pounds but the money was actually the most I ever got, £290 (rather than £300 for 1.5 hours. I think I wasn’t quite what he had in mind, a friend had hooked us up who’s very blond and femme. He kept telling me how he wished he was in Eastern Europe, as the girls are so cheap you can just get another one if you don’t like the one who’s walked through your door. Half of the time I was there he was actually online looking for the next girl. He was just unappreciative, disrespectful. What probably bugs me most is that I tried very hard to give him a good time, but he refused.
What are the advantages of working in the sex industry when compared to other jobs?
The money was much better. It was cash in hand. It was flexible. I could do my other free-lance work, which happened to be in the same area where my colleague was working. It was easy: she’d SMS me ‘Are you free today?,’ and I’d pop by for an hour and walk away with money. I also like the idea of working outside the capitalist economy, I know there’s different takes on regulating sex work through taxation, but I actually liked the fact I was making a living without financing the war, for example. You also get to interact with people in a way you wouldn’t normally. I wouldn’t normally have sex with those kinds of people, older, middle-class, straight white guys, very different from my lovers. It kind of creates empathy with the rest of humanity, seeing how the other half live. (Laughs)
What are the disadvantages?
Not being able to present my gender the way I would like, or being very limited in it. Being treated like a girl. Which can have a naughty aspect to it as well, but if you’re automatically expected to do it, it can be boring at the very least.
What do you think about current debates on trafficking and exploitation? Do they match with your own experience of working in the UK sex industry?
I migrated under very privileged circumstances, with an EU passport, and even though I have Filipino heritage, which is one of the countries associated with trafficking, I’m mixed race and second generation, so I’ve evaded the racist immigration laws that create a lot of the circumstances that allow exploitation, that allow brothel owners or clients to exploit you, and make it difficult to call the police if you get abuse. The trafficking debates definitely make things worse by giving policy makers an excuse to make it even harder to come into the country and do your work, and report abusive people if necessary.
How could the situation be improved?
Get rid of racist immigration laws, get rid of measures and laws that criminalise workers or our clients and other people working in the sex industry.
Do you identify as a sex worker? If not, how do you identify (woman, migrant, man, gay man, transgendered, student, tourist, adventurer, artist, not relevant, etc.)? Why?
Yes I identify as a sex worker, increasingly, and as most of these categories [those listed above – gesturing at interview sheet on the table].
What do you do in your time outside of work? Where do you go? Who with?
I hang out on the BDSM scene with my friends. Most of my friends know about my work. If I wasn’t out to them I would have to censor myself and my experiences, and the views I hold as a result of them. And also I like challenging people’s views and want to support friends who want to explore similar things. I’m kind of split on the coming out question. The other day a transboy wrote me an email saying he’d like to do sex work and that someone had told him I’d done sex work. I was glad he’d found out so I could pass on expertise, the same way it had been passed on to me. At the same time, I also got upset because no-one has a right to out me as sex worker. I should keep ownership of my sexuality, and be able to choose exactly who I wish to discuss this chapter of my life with. You have no idea how much shit I’d get for this information to spread, how few of us there are, and how high the stakes are for a Filipino FTM who’s taken this risk. It’s not just a question of being a bit naughty and rebellious, the way it is for a lot of white queers.
Do your family know about your job in the sex industry?
I’m not out to my family. Having to deal with that racism, the view that everyone from the Philippines is a sex worker, and a diasporic community which is quite conservative, partly as a result of sexual imperialism and war, I wouldn’t want to do that to them either.
How about your partner?
All my partners know. Funnily enough most of the people I meet these days have had a go at it themselves. I couldn’t be with someone unless they knew and were ok with it, and I couldn’t respect someone who wasn’t OK with it. It’s about politics and how they regard female-assigned people of colour who claim sexual agency. It takes guts to be a whore, and if you wanna be close to me, you better respect that! (Laughs)
To T or not to T by Robin
Masculine Femininity finding my space on the gender/sexuality spectrum…according to some we all start out as straight bio-sex corresponding to gender type people… then somewhere along the road the binary got fucked up and I evolved into a queer gender fucker. I know where I prefer to be. But even within this sense of openness and possibility of finding a true sense of identity I find struggles and hurdles to overcome adventures to encounter people to meet and identities to try on.
I used to think I was a lesbian, before that I thought I was attracted to ‘people’ or possibly asexual, before that I just assumed I was a straight woman/girl. A girl who didn’t have periods. A girl who was freaked out by the way her body was changing so starved herself and over exercised to try and achieve the body she wanted. A girl who felt this immense uncomfortableness with her body that made her stomach seize up. A girl who differed from boys in some ways but seemed to get along with them better. But supposedly girls and boys having close friendships is supposed to mean something… there is always the hanging question of ‘will this develop into something more?’
Coming back to the straight world after having a ‘lesbian’ experience and beginning to explore that identity was interesting, suddenly I became aware of this cultural framework within which I was operating; the sense of a cultural construction of gendered and sexual identities. I definitely felt passion for the guy I was with but somehow it just didn’t seem right for me. Not as a heterosexual or bi woman. I don’t feel I am, or was ever, a ‘woman’. I feel an immediate guilt when saying this, as if saying I’m not a woman means I’m not a feminist, I am a feminist, I absolutely support feminine and female identified people, neither of these meaning you are necessarily born into a female body.
I then tried being a femme, largely because of my attraction to this transguy and my assumption that he would be attracted to an opposing gender expression. This didn’t work. As: – 1. I didn’t take into account the dominant/submissive/switch aspect of the sexuality spectrum and so didn’t communicate to him my thoughts on this and 2. As I relaxed with him and felt he was attracted to the inside of me rather than a performative identity I relaxed and began to express a more masculine identity.
Then I began to see a pattern in this conflict with my gender expression and thought it was to do with me not having periods. Then I realised really I really didn’t want to have them and really took no interest in being a grrrl. I preferred to be a boi but I was definitely attracted to male identified people and didn’t understand how this was supposed to work?
Queer Trans-Boi Fag Dyke who is, as far as I know, a Switch into Grrrls, Femme Tops, Sub-Bois and Trans-Bears and finds femmy guys and hairy guys hott but is not sure how that is supposed to work? How’s that for a sexual identity? I don’t reckon there’s a box I could tick? And no, this isn’t about being ‘outside of the box’; it’s not to do with my parents, or my hormonal state, although maybe it is? But I feel at the end of the day it’s about finding a sexual and everyday identity I can live with and feel intense feelings within.
I am still not sure if taking hormones might be the right path. It just seems so artificial. I feel I should be able to ‘be’ without chemical intervention, but can you still identify as a faggy boi? Do I still have to tick the F on forms? And what if I want to be with bio-guys, or other trans-guys, will they see me as a guy unless I take hormones?
I have a big crush on this musician.. my friend and I call him Fitty Mc Fit.. we’ve both talked about how when we look at him we can’t quite understand the attraction? Is it wow you’re music is amazing! Is it wow he’s hott I wish I looked like him. Is it wow he’s hott I’d like to be with him? And which gendered desire is that stemming from? Me as a man or female?
I keep dreaming about this gay guy at work. I dream he’s my boyfriend. We’re running late, dashing for the tube in Berlin. He’s ahead of me and as I follow I become aware I’m not who I want to be in this situation. I’m not biologically male. I’m going to let him down. I feel like turning back.. maybe he won’t notice I’ve left.. but he grabs my hand and pulls me on to the tube as the doors close.
Would I feel happier in my body if I did transition, as right now I really don’t like my chest and really want more upper body strength and less weight distributed to my hips, and I’m experiencing a lot of beard and body hair envy. I feel distanced from my body, as though it isn’t mine, I think it’s a coping mechanism I developed to try and get over my anorexia, that if I stepped out of seeing my body as mine I could cope with it having a female shape.. but after recovering, in a way by doing this, my body has continued to become more and more female. I never used to have a chest or hips and my arms where so thin they kinda looked muscular to me, and my legs were strong from cycling, I felt proud of my thick muscular hairy calves. I do, now, have periods as my family insisted that this was, most likely, the centre of my gender disphoria, not having this thing that is supposed to make you a woman. This was also why I had to distance myself from my body, so I didn’t hate it, so I could put on weight to reach this goal of something that would make me feel okay about being living in a female body. I even feel distanced from my voice.. that when I speak it’s not my voice that comes out, as though I am mediated through another. I find I am jealous of deep, husky voices willing mine to sound more like that… to have the feeling in your throat, the reverberation and friction of a deep husky voice.
Is this distance from my body gender disphoria or body dismorphia?
Do I prefer to wear boy’s clothes because they are more functional and don’t constantly make you aware of your body shape? Is the reason I can’t wear girl’s clothes because of gender disphoria or body dismorphia?
Although I am seeing a few people they are aware of this distance I have from my body when we are intimate. They are sensitive to it and check in to make sure I’m expressing my boundaries and limits. This honesty and openness allows me to trust them and push my boundaries further. I know everyone has issues to do with their body and it’s important to discuss what makes each of us feel comfortable.
I did go on T for a short time but stopped, partly due to not being sure and being scared of being stuck in a body I felt was even less mine and partly due to an email my godmother sent my mum.. which my mum then emailed me. She expressed her opinion that I was doing this (transitioning or generally having gender issues) to try and get attention and that the name I had chosen being slightly like my mum’s ex-boyfriend’s son was no co-incidence. I never even thought of this when deciding on a name. I just liked the name because it was gender neutral. She also said, which I think I found the most hurtful, that if I transitioned I’d loose all the qualities my friends and family love about me. Wouldn’t I still be me but happier in my body? I know obviously not just female identified people have issues about their bodies.. male identified people do too. I’m sure to adopt those insecurities.
I am really finding people who identify as male super attractive at the mo but I can’t quite understand how that would work sexually- probably different with every person, as sex usually is! Where does the desire come from? Is it from my suppressed desire as a female bodied person of being with a man and is this desire coming from my re-awoken female hormones? Therefore would it change if I took T? Or is it my desire to be a gay male identified person. Is the desire for a bio-boy or for male characteristics and is therefore for bio and trans guys? Or would it totally not work with bio-boys? And am I wrong for making a distinction in terms of reading my attractions to men?
Is this a permanent identity or is it a stop on the gender and sexuality exploration train?
Would I regret transitioning?
What abuse may I face?
Am I more likely to be assaulted?
Will I ever not feel nervous about going to the toilet or changing in front of other people?
My mum has expressed her worries about the danger I may be in by transitioning.
But as my lover would say: –
‘Aren’t the abusers the problem that needs to be addressed not the transperson…?’
Although I identify as a switch, I love being a sub. Will I ever feel comfortable being with a bio-guy as a sub or is that too binary? Will I ever trust a bio-guy that much? I guess trust is a big issue. I love femmes and I don’t think I’ll ever stop being attracted to them, but will I ever have a ‘successful’ relationship with a straight bio-woman identified woman? Last time I dated a trans-woman I was grappling with the fact she seemed way more of a woman than I was.. I guess I’ve dealt with that one now!
Will I feel comfortable in all male places?
Will I ever not feel intimidated in a football crowd?
Will I ever be able to go to the toilet without standing for 5 minutes between the doors trying to decide which door I should pick this time?
What about the childhood male conditioning I have missed? Will the other boys/men notice? I don’t think a bio-boy can get through childhood without playing football? What if people ask me about my childhood? Will I be stealth? Isn’t that letting down the trans-side?
Will people stare at my scars if I have my top off?
Will I feel like myself or will T make me loose a part of myself?
Is this just a story for this part of my life?
Will I get over it?
Will I feel guilty when I’m topping for being a man?
Will I ever feel comfortable topping a woman-identified woman?
Will I feel like my voice is mine when it breaks?
Will anyone ever love the heart of me and respect my gender identity?
Will my work mates think I’m a freak as I transition alongside them?
Will I get fat on T?
Will I ever loose this eating disorder in either compulsion eating or abstinence and excessive exercise as a form of punishment and euphoria?
Will I ever not have digestive complaints?
Will I ever not feel like I’ve let someone down?
Will my Dad’s voice of authority ever stop or not annoy me?
Will I ever feel satisfied with my body/life choices?
A few months post- T, for the time being, I’m not sure what I want from the folks around me. When I tell them that my hormone regimen has reverted to the somatic supply, I’m often met with a careful pause. Okay, or I see, or Good for you feel loving and appropriate. So why am I still hungry?
I think back to these conversations , remember the previous hormonal transition. As my body changed certain friends, and usually not the very close ones, would comment on the changes they saw and heard in me. Compared to the indignities of being told all the ways I wasn’t passing, or having to fight relentlessly for one tiny little pronoun, I welcomed the more benign commentary that felt incredulously like acceptance to me.
Is it the gaps, the vague and silent cross-overs between respect, acceptance and tolerance that are bothering me? I remember people asking me, how are you feeling, what happens next, holding the changes in my flesh in a certain amount of fascination. It’s not the spectacle that I miss – the things that felt important to other folks weren’t the things that felt important to me – but there was a stock-taking in the world around me, an acknowledgement that something significant was going on.
I hate to use psychoanalytic language, but projection is the best word I know to describe what I’m doing here, in part at least, to my generous and sweet friends who surround me. This is the heart of things these days, for me:
I knocked on my own door and waited for Ruth to answer it. She wiped her hands on a cloth and led me into my bedroom. “Close your eyes,” she urged. “Remember you told me I could do anything I wanted to it?” I smiled and nodded. “OK, open your eyes.” I looked around and then up at the ceiling – there it was.
I sat down on my bed and fell back to look at the ceiling. Ruth had painted it velvety black with pinpoints of constellations I recognized. The darkness softened to light around the edges. I could see the outline of trees against the sky.
Ruth lay down next to me. “Do you like it?”
“It’s just incredible. I can’t believe you’ve given me the sky to sleep under. But I can’t tell if it’s dawn or dusk you’ve painted.”
She smiled up at the ceiling. “It’s neither. It’s both. Does that unnerve you?”
I nodded slowly. “Yeah, in a funny way it does.”
“I figured that,” she said. “It’s the place inside of me I have to accept. I thought it might be what you need to deal with, too.”
I sighed. “I really do have trouble not being able to figure out if what you’ve painted is about to be day or about to be night.”
Ruth rolled toward me and rested her hand on my chest. “It’s not going to be day or night, Jess. It’s always going to be that moment of infinite possibility that connects them.”
The most amazing thing to me about my hormonal transition (when I started taking T), the thing that felt like hope, and an emergent validity, was the brand new experience of legibility. I’m not used to making sense to the people around me. I was starved for readability and suddenly, people were saying to me, I know what boy is, I know what it means for you to become one. I know what trans is, I’m trans too. Come here, do this with me. All the wading between constrictions of embodiment, all the confusion and pain at being a raced and gendered outsider, all the shame about not being able to use my body in the ways expected of me, clarified under the aegis of the word transgender. Temporarily. I’m a boy, I’m a sissy boy, I’m a queer boy, I’m a transguy, I’m a transman, transsexual, transgender, trans person, trans* person, FTM, MTM, MTX, FTX, queer!,human, fake-human, guy, man, never female, once girl,lived as a woman, part female have been joyful, important , true things to say.
At some point, something started to ache and shift in the palms of my hands, a muscle anxiety, the desire to grasp something already (jealously, brutally) stolen from me by nobody I know personally. (I think I know where to point, but that’s another story for another zine.) Before, the thing that made me feel seen, really known, was the acknowledgement, the joy in the amazing, warm people I met who said, I know that you’re changing. They said, I know what boy is, and I know what it is to have a “female body”. Good for you. Not everyone, of course. Not most people. But I found the spaces in which I could surround myself carefully.
I knew they “knew” boy, man better than I could. I held that knowledge, that difference silently, respectfully, in the back of my thoughts with my arms around a new friend on a barstool, love ricocheting gently between our eyes. Now I know that I hardly believe in this thing for myself, that the claustrophobia I had felt was the way that gender has used itself against me. Internal, unbounded, invisible me who got claustrophobic again with the strictures and assumptions of apparent masculinity. It didn’t feel as terrible as girl had by any means. Always I’ll retain this he liberation from 23 years of enforced normality, naturalness, inevitable she. Nothing, I’ve thought, inevitable about knowing me.
I had a transition buddy. I’d whisper it to him, back then, over the telephone, at 2, 3, 4 in the morning, 8, 9, 10 at night. If the world was different I wouldn’t have transitioned at all. If the world was different, I wouldn’t care what people called me. I guess I make a really bad transsexual. A kind of bogus transgendered person. I know there are loads of people whose acceptance would waver dramatically if I said this out loud. I’m only saying this to you, you know. –You and I are different, he said gently.
So I guess I’m hungry again for the abrasive commentary. The loving risk taken by a new friend. I remember her precisely. Lost her email address. She was one person among many, but her alcohol effusiveness is one of the safest things I’ve ever known. I suppose I’m hungry to be simplified again. To be told: you fit in my world. I know what you’re doing. I’ve heard of others like you. I’m pleased to recognize in your path a path that’s unusual and honorable. Life’s short. Be happy. I panic when I don’t hear these things from the mouths of non-trans friends, the way I did once, the way I used to. Now, when I’m saying, administered hormones gave me a false visibility that didn’t suit me, I’m as hungry for legibility as I’ve ever been. Can’t help but remember that murky place I knew in primary, secondary school where there was no joy of recognition for years, sometimes, in the faces of anyone around me. Less easy to understand now; more visibly what I “am”. Changing, different, repeatedly. Trying to shake off a violent set of seizures of my body is a life’s work just as every grin, cautious smile and greeting on the street reassures a deep pain and stirs an old gratitude inside of me.
 Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues: A Novel. Los Angeles: Alyson Publications, 1993. Pp.269-270
This is not strictly a zine; it is an important gender minority document. I am not a theorist or an academic, just passionate about this subject and wanted to say something…so I guess it is both.
(If you find the intro difficult to read or boring please just skip to the main contributions, they are really worthwhile and much sexier but please read it all if you can or maybe just come back to it!).
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my identity and about being visible as a masculine feminine Trans person of colour, a different kind of a male. Different to the normative heterosexist types but also different to most of the Trans males I meet in my community, support groups and events. I have been reading some texts on the subject: ‘Sons of the movement: FtM’s Risking Incoherence on a Post-Queer Cultural Landscape’ by Jean Bobby Noble, Nobody Passes by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and also Judith Halberstam’s ‘Female Masculinity’. I have been facilitating body image workshops (with Jin Haritaworn, who features in this zine) specifically dealing with being proud of expressing identity/ies, I have created a queer comic ‘The Incredibly Qweer Adventours of SpYkeGrrl and MissTer ScraTch’ with Spike Spondike and I even belong to a ‘boy band’ troupe ‘D’Artagnan and the three musclequeers’ exploring gender. But mainly I have been hanging out with fellow MFTs (Masculine Feminine Trannies) and other gender outlaws; bonding, laughing and crying, discussing and debating, expressing and creating and doing what we do best, in practice, not in theory.
Jean Bobby Noble asks an important question; ‘Are all selves commensurate with and reducible to the bodies; categories; pronouns?’ and makes another important statement that ‘Gender should be more powerful when it refuses categorisation at all’. And yet those of us in gender minorities get left out, unseen, rendered invisible and unimportant, at worst a joke.
So, as a masculine Trans person who feels feminine; who am I? Male or female? (This is what I get asked a lot directly or indirectly) or, which pronoun do I use? I get ‘she-d’ a lot and very often get confused as a female masculine person, the kind Judith Halberstam has made famous. But I am NOT. I use capitals not because I dislike the above or want to be disassociated from this but more because I want to be recognised for whom I really am; essentially masculine and yet feminine. So, if I say I am ‘masculine’ and then add ‘feminine’ so it reads ‘masculine feminine’ (whether I feel masculine and feminine at the same time or at different times, this is essentially how I feel and identify) how can that make sense to people? Any indicator of being feminine usually renders you female, especially if you were born with a female body, whether you wanted it or not. Even more complicated is to be happy with the female body you were given but consider yourself male (or not want/choose full transitional surgery for whatever reasons). So how can we as masculine feminine people exist and be recognised? A simple answer is to say we just do. It is only recently that I have begun to hang out in certain communities (as a non academic trans person (of colour) taking testosterone!) and have started to present myself in my masculine feminine identity (see drawing at the end for an example of this if you are intrigued) and have attracted the attention of other similar identified people (as well as others!). Gender Minority Project Outreach!
However, as a non super human (unfortunately) I do understand some of the confusion. As the second quote above indicates, gender categorisation can be problematic as well as limiting. To state that we (I use ‘we’ as a collective as there are more than one of us in this zine) are male (though not all of us are necessarily solely male identified) gives us a false impression of holding power by privilege. By becoming male/masculine through transitioning from a biological or socialised female, ‘crossing over the divide’, many people would say we are now living a kind of privilege and thus betraying feminism/ists, but some males have more power than others and obviously some are feminists. White middle/upper class males possess this privilege more than males of colour or of working classes, heterosexual more than queer, biological more than Trans. Thus in the first instance can we be fully ‘manned’ by identifying as male? Because we were once (if only biologically) female and were not born with this power privilege? Or because we can‘t be both male and feminist? As Jean Bobby Noble questions, ‘If we live and socialise in feminist, lesbian, queer circles. If we work against white supremacy, capitalism. What if we want to be fully ‘manned’ and still stand up for all those?’
More confusion: as Trans males who transition with hormones, we physically experience male puberty regardless of whatever actual age we are, so do we remain boys instead of becoming men when we have already been adults? When do we finally become men, if we want to? Do we even need/have to take hormones and have surgery in the first place in order to be recognised as male? Can we still be (or become) feminine or do we have to give that up or pretend we are not, be ashamed and fight it? Or can we be accepted? Even better, can we be proud and celebrate that? It is true that FTMs, according to Noble, ‘not only have to directly engage the men around them but also embrace the boys within them’ but can we embrace our femininity where it exists also? (Some cultures do encourage femininity in all genders more than others, for example in my Indian culture.) Do we have to strictly measure up to being male? Do we have to continually struggle between being a boy or a man? Do we have to struggle at all? There are many different ways of being masculine and many different types to transition into so why are there still stereotypes of what it is to be male and female even in the Queer/Trans communities that exist? How can we break away from and change those norms? Can we raise awareness about claiming both masculine and feminine identities, or even go beyond that? Or does that place us somewhere else; make us ‘queer’ and ‘androgynous’ and non-trans, even when we have transitioned (physically, mentally or psychologically)? These are gender bending, blurred or non-gendered identities that some of us may prefer but others of us may prefer to have those gender identities, but just not be limited by them; having our cake if you will.
‘What I seek as trans man is radical modulation and categorical indeterminacy rather than categorical privilege’ says Noble and I would have to agree. I retain my femininity as a male, because I lived in a women’s only refuge as a child, because I am a feminist fighter for women’s (as well as Tran’s peoples) rights (not just as a male ally but because I had to experience this first hand), because I like to wear make-up, paint my nails and cross dress. Does that make me an inadequate male? Inadequately feminine? Less Trans? More qweer? It is true I am out to ‘pervert, challenge, deform’ the concept of gender but still choose to call myself masculine and feminine at the same time (albeit with a lot of blank looks, disgust and when I am lucky love and respect). I don’t feel I have to be one or the other or that I cannot be male if I am feminine and must be female if so. That just doesn’t make sense to me.
I would like to reconceptualise what it means to be masculine. For a male to discuss his gender means he has already failed at being male because he should just be male without question. Masculinity to Noble is merely ‘a set of signifiers, discourses, media images and scripts’. William Pollack’s ‘Real Boys’ refers to a ‘boy code: A set of codes to ensure perception of heterosexual, hard, impenetrable manhood through guises that distinguish him from females and homosexuals. It prohibits boys from feeling emotions to avoid being read as feminine’. So as Noble states ‘masculinity and the male body is not reducible to each other, but is articulated through each other’ The same could be said about femininity if as Simone de Beauvoir states in ‘the second sex’ that ‘woman is made and not born’. So are all men and women male and female impersonators respectively? Most of us it seems, whatever gender we are, struggle with performing and ‘passing’. Proving our manhood usually means not being feminine and being male enough or being female as strictly feminine and non-masculine. I believe that as male identified people, whether Trans, FtMs, or other, we can find power by ‘feigning indifference’ instead of by ‘cultimating proximity/identify/similarity’ this is contrary to what Judith Halberstam has claimed most Trans men do.
We as individuals can celebrate our (non)gender, but how can we gain the love and respect from those we love and respect and have to live with, in our communities? How can we get them to acknowledge and give us credibility? How can we make that happen when we are all ignorant in some way but to different extents and to different things?
This is exactly why I decided to, with the help of others, make this zine. It is a voice and tool for those of us who most often do not fit in and yet want to be seen, heard, talked about and the rest. There is a lot more to say but for now these are some of our stories about what it means to be masculine feminine, Trans or something else, in our meaningful eyes, our sexy shoes and in our crazy worlds.
Thanks to all the contributors who got there in the end even though I knew from the beginning that they would contribute something that would be mind blowing!
This Zine is dedicated to Roh, a good friend and fellow gender outlaw, who passed away almost a year ago today. I know they would’ve loved reading this and would’ve written something themselves given the chance. In their words ‘gender schmender’!
If you would like to contribute to further additions to this zine please send anything related to this theme of masculine femininity or other related themes of gender to me at http://www.myspace.com/missterscratch
Destined to be a Drag Queen, my being born in a female body was always going to be problematic…
I knew something was wrong for most of my life but stayed in denial.
I felt that it would be an impossible task convincing others of the truth, that I was a gay man trapped in a woman’s body, especially considering I looked so female and acted so effeminate.
Coming out to my mother was difficult. I thought at least if I had been a masculine child, someone who had hated wearing female clothes, had liked to play with stereotypical male toys… that would give her something to refer back to and think oh yes, that makes sense.
However, au contraire… I was a baby queen… Like a few other biological men who I know I longed for a barbie when I was six and cried when my sister got one first. Going back further I laugh thinking back how I used to always put a tiara on the top of my Christmas list every year and how my parents once made out of cardboard with fake jewels and but I wanted the real thing just like Princess Diana wore!
Growing up my idols were Kylie, Madonna, Brigette Bardot and Marilyn Monroe. The first celebrity I had a crush on was Boy George. I was bullied at school for being different. I figured I was a lesbian in my teens as I dated a girl in school and was technically female myself, but no one ever thought I was gay, I was considered too femme! I hated sports and was always the last to be picked for any team, generally if someone threw a net-ball at me I’d fall over. Hockey was worse, faced with a group of girls flinging a rock hard ball across a freezing cold, muddy pitch and thundering towards my shins, hockey sticks raised menacingly I tended to throw my sick away in horror and race for safety. As for long distance running I looked on that as a special kind of torture, I would be right at the back without fail, way behind the obese kids and the ones with asthma.
I left school to become rich and famous in the middle of my A-levels and found my local gay bar, Dantes Inferno instead. I felt I had finally come home and began a career in alcoholism rather than acting or dancing. I drank in bars which were almost entirely men only and felt I was with my contemporaries at last. I fit in. I had found my niche in the world! Although it was frustrating that people couldn’t see I was really male. I hated being referred to as female. A small blond girl professing to be a gay man was laughable I thought, so I kept it to myself. I knew nothing of what testosterone could do or that other FTM’s existed. I did think of dressing male and cutting my hair short but I looked so female that would really be little help and certainly I would not be taken for male. So I drank more and dressed super femme as I thought it would make people like me and perhaps I could work really hard and try to be a girl. The drag diva in me saw that I really went to town with this new idea… I wore more make up than Jodie Marsh and spent all my time out on the gay scene. My confused parents despaired of my new lifestyle.
When I saw my first drag act I was stunned! She was called “Jezebel” and I knew she was exactly the same as me, a gay man dressing up as an exaggerated version of a woman. I then decided if I bought huge bouffant wigs, sparkly false eyelashes and stiletto platforms I might, just maybe, pass as a drag queen and thereby have people treat me as a gay boy in drag! It was the only way I could imagine passing… Femme drag was born for me then.
I applied my make-up with a trowel, covered myself in glitter and emerged at the WayOut Club and Ted’s Place as “Miss Lola Terry”.
Sadly I spent years bouncing from the gay scene to the drag scene, constantly feeling misunderstood and in pain. Femme drag was no solution, lets face it… I looked like a girl in a wig and even if I did pass I would have to go home and take my wig and clothes off and I would be left in my hated female body. For years now I had only fancied men, but couldn’t stand straight men coming on to me, it made me feel ill that they liked me because they liked my female body. I wanted to be a man with another man. It also made me sad that my friends didn’t know or understand who I really was. Drinking helped me feel less, and then it took over my life.
Years and years passed until I was ready to properly come out to myself and others, to accept myself as trans and come to terms the reality of my situation. I had therapy for years, and had to deal with many other painful issues first. I have now been in AA and sober for nearly four years and that has been a fantastic support as have my parents.
Transitioning was as necessary for me as getting sober. I am so happy that finally the way I look on the outside matches the way I feel on the inside. People know who I am.
Some find it incomprehensible that as a gay man I now do drag. I see it as fulfilling a life long dream! The way I look at it, if I had been born in the correct body I would have grown up as a camp gay boy and done drag; so why shouldn’t I do that now? For me, I do not want to pass as female when I go out in my wigs and head-dresses… Far from it, I felt giddy with gratitude when going out to Trannyshack recently having people point out my hairy legs and commenting on my being so obviously in drag. That makes me feel just as happy as going to work in my office in a suit and having people call me ‘sir’ in restaurants. I am so glad to be in my male body now, love my deeper voice and flat chest I even enjoy shaving. As a gay man being trapped in a woman’s body feels like a nightmare that is finally over. I made the best of it with make-up and big earrings but I can’t tell you how relieved I am now just to be me.
There is no question that I am effeminate, I always have been, but very definitely male. I decided to keep my old femme drag name “Miss Lola” for a drag act I am doing with a friend (bio-male drag queen)… and I finally got my tiara… although this one was £16 from down the road and diamanté… but near enough to my childhood wish!
The hard part about being a femme transman for me was the fear that I was the only one and thereby wouldn’t be accepted or understood. I reached a point in my life where it didn’t matter any more what others thought, personally I just had to be true to myself or die of denial in alcoholism. I was surprised and happy that I received loads of positive support from friends and family when I came out. I’ve since met all kinds of different transmen including others who are gay or bi, some who are femme and some who are very definitely not. I think it’s true that there are as many different types of trans-guys as there are bio-guys. So Vive la difference!
In physical reality I have evolved ..
to a solid state I struggle to maintain fluidity
my mind speedy frontal lobe development
goes stiff n hard
my pineal gland now the size of a pea
shrunken to the enth degree
was once the size of a small plum
in ancient times
so finely tuned to the magnectic field
ancient minds like hologram conciousness
in every space and inbetween
the planets and stars their time keepers were seen
the universe a complete organism
then rene descartes invented the clock
broke the universe into divisions
creating his tick tock
from sunrise to sunset he carved
hours, minutes, seconds into days, weeks and years..
and then this never-ending sound ticking in our ears
we are not solid after all
nothing is solid
not even a clock
the physical reality of gender
is formed in mind
male or female
tick or tock
the pendulum misses its swing
variation out of control
particles and soul
i feminise in my masculinity
to subtle and gentle planes
Energy is matter says einstein and
Matter is conciousness says the Mother
hi! I saw your post on MySpace from q10.
I want to submit to your zine but I’m not really sure what to say. So I’ll make it short. Whether this goes into your zine or not I would love to get a copy of it.
So here goes:
when I was younger, and didn’t know yet that I was queer, I would justify why being a girl was better than being a boy–because I wanted to be a boy and didn’t know it. I mean, I knew it, but I was/am female, and I was taught that I was supposed to be a girl, and act like one. I wanted to be a boy though. the only things I could come up with that were better about having a vagina were that it seemed harder to hurt it (like if someone kicked you in the crotch), and also at that age, it seemed that being a feminine boy would be harder socially.
My real-life introduction to queer culture was hanging out with almost all Trans boys. I thought about being trans myself, but didn’t want to “politicize my body.” a few years later and a lot more educated, I realize that being transgender is not about being political, and also that it doesn’t have anything to do with proving anything to anyone else or trying to educate someone through your choices.
I am female bodied and identify as female most of the time–probably because most of the people in my life still call me “she.” I tell people who ask that they can call me he or she or both. I like to be called both because sometimes I feel masculine and sometimes I feel feminine. But most of the time I feel somewhere in between. I changed my name to “tiger” because it is gender-neutral. I am the kind of person who, although I would like to radicalize the world around me, usually takes the choices that are given to me and takes one of them, instead of creating my own standards and definitions, unfortunately. Some amazing new friends that I made at queeruption 10 showed me that I can identify as whatever I want, and label myself accordingly. I realized that I am a fag and a boi and whatever else I want to be, and that I can play those roles and be my androgynous self any way I want and any time I want.
I don’t know if this is what you are looking for at all. I’m just excited that people are looking at this and talking about it. I bet if I put more thought into it I could have written something better, but it’s a long story that I was trying to make short.
Ok good luck and lots of queer love,
I feel as though I rediscovered my femininity through masculinity–a femboy
masculinity. When I felt my masculinity emerge, I finally began to feel comfortable with my femininity.
I consider myself genderqueer and can have kind of a feminine masculinity. I’m most comfortable with switching gender pronoun usage, since communities I’m around don’t use gender neutral or all-inclusive genderpronouns. For instance, performing as a drag king, members of the troupe refer to each other as he *or* she. This honours, to me: On one hand, referring to “she” who plays on the women’s (American) football team highlights positively, incorporates, and celebrates the usually ignored/monsterized masculine female into our and the larger culture, such as, but referring to the same person as “he” who brought the flyers for the drag show gives credit to his/her masculinity, and the masculine gender of this person in drag and activities leading up to it. A performer before realizing my gender flux gender identity, I’ve found gender performativity to be very real–very corporeal.
I believe the more out we are, the more we can change at least our immediate cultural and personal surroundings. For instance, I’m not that tall. I’ve been asked if I’ve had top surgery, which I have not. Perceptions/assumptions of me before one knows me often discredit me of my adult status, even as a female. There have been days when I was feeling particularly male/masculine and presenting as such and passed, only to be ignored and given no service in public places of business due to perceptions of youth to the point of being underage. Other times, I could not discern with certainty whether the lack of service awarded me was due to this perception that I was too young to be a customer or participant in social/business interactions/transactions, or an aversion to my masculine femininity. While I have been denied service, I accidentally provide a service to the community. Two of my neighbors, hardly if at all acquainted, have requested I buy tights for them. Both of these queer, sometimes dragging/cross-dressing, somewhat bisexual men noticed something about me, inquired had a few sex/sexuality/gender educational conversations with me then sought me out for informal research and confidential exploratory confessionals on their own sexualities and queer expression and gender presenting opportunities–including seeing me as a resource for making a gender bending purchase in public. So I encouraged their gender exploration and steered them towards amping up their respect of the feminine and women as necessary. When another neighbor referred to me as “What is that?” one of the closet crossdressing neighbors informed me he replied, “Don’t say that; she’s probably asking the same thing about you.” While I’m glad he stuck up for me, he also informed the insulter/inquirer of my supposed correct gender. While my female masculinity hit the radar, my dykeboi, or trans-gender, or correct fluid gender was sacrificed to even the crossdressing neighbor’s need for a stable binary gender “underneath.” (He later insisted I was a “girl” because he knew I was a girl.) Reverting to binary sex (though he referred to it in terms of gender) open the range of gender but allowed this neighbor to receive his ticket to exploration from me while maintaining his limited understanding and biases. I haven’t bought him the tights yet. Sometimes the perception/aversion is to the femboy/boi that I am or that I am assumed to be due to my stature: e.g., epitaphs of “fag” have been shouted my way, and I’ve heard butches deliver this word derogatorily to self-identified dykebois. A few years back, if I had to describe my gender, it was “dyke;” this question and answer has now evolved to, if I have to choose one gender, it is “fagdyke.” Other fagdykes, fem tranny boys, fem or soft dykebois lend me an understanding and something to relate to. (So live out, since I do; the
favor is returned and our cultural service is passed along.) Being genderqueer means I am comfortable with my fluctuating or mixture gender, even if you’re not. It means I’m not comfortable being called “girl,” unless my masculinity/maleness is recognized as well—and respected. This comes back to female masculinity, since recognizing my masculinity/maleness recognizes and respects masculinity in a female body or connected with female in some way or at some point in time (previous, for some). Simultaneously separate and very connected, my gender relates to my sexuality. I’ve had butches either ignore or express disgust at my interest, leading me to call myself sometimes a “double ‘mo.” I’ve had young gay men express annoyance that they can’t tell the lesbians apart from gay men. Their inquiring eyes turn my way to the unfamiliar twink at the club at
times. Though I can’t be certain of their thoughts, and prefer a fellow fagdyke so far. My female masculinity is subpar according to some butches, who can’t see to wrap their binary heads (or other body parts or attachments) around my masculine femininity, or what I call my genderqueerity, overall, since it fluctuates. But both are glorious, and anyone who is interested will just find more bang for the genderfuck.
Sabri Clay Sky
Female masculinity, male femininity, feminine masculinity, masculine femininity…?
Scratch: Are your masculine and feminine identities separate or do they correlate with each other?
Jin: I identify as a switch, or a pendulum, and my masculinity and femininity are very related. When I present masculine for a while, my femininity comes back with a vengeance (laughs). I get depressed when I feel stuck in one mode. If I present just masculine for too long, I end up feeling grey, lifeless, like all the colour has been drained from my life. You know how boys grunt and move their bodies very sparsely, their shoulders and hips. This is the most, and the longest I have stayed in predominantly masculine mode. There are times I have to remind myself that I am entitled to express myself, express femininity, to switch and change.
S: Why do you have to remind yourself?
J: Pressure from outside. Even within the trans community. You know how we often talk about standards of authenticity that we internalize and pass on to each other. That you are successfully trans if your masculinity is read as ‘real’ in the street. And then actually being in the street and wanting to pass, even if it’s just from point A to B. And that becomes easier if I tone it down a bit on the make up and the nail polish (laughs). Also getting worried if people now read me as a genderqueer male, this is not something I have a lot of experience with so far. I know how to negotiate the ‘gross lesbian/dyke’ thing but no one’s taught me how to survive the ‘sissy/faggot/batty boy’ thing. Which I worry will be even more vicious, because homophobic and transphobic people are more willing to beat up men, as they don’t deserve chivalry. Then there’s the pressures I put on myself. I guess I look back on longer patches of presenting feminine in my life than many of the FTMs or masculine genderqueers I know (or, to reframe this positively, I have a very broad gender repertoire). I often feel I have to conceal or make up for that past. Part of me sees it as inauthentic, as selling out my transness in order to fit in, find partners, be liked and loved. But that same femininity is now an integral part of myself, because if you do something for a long time it becomes you and it’s something you also need to reclaim and stay truthful to. I realized it makes a big difference presenting feminine as a female than as a male, and vice versa. So while both modes are authentic to my body and my personality, my choices are mapped onto different contexts, where the same presentation could get me either violence or social approval. Like, I miss things like exchanging smiles with shop assistants, which came easily to me when I presented feminine and looked female. People are friendlier again now that I am passing more as male, but for a long time, when I was perceived as a masculine female, that kind of social grease that oils your everyday survival, or passage through space, the friendly small talk on the bus, just wasn’t there. I felt like I had to keep my head down, avoid talking to people, become invisible, hard, cut off from the world.
How about yourself? Do you see yourself as masculine and feminine at the same time? At all times?
S: Sometimes I feel like it’s complicated and like I can’t always put my finger on whether they exist separately or whether they always exist together. And I feel like at different times it’s drawn out of me, my different identities, by different people. I feel like different people will draw out whatever they want out of me. But as for how I see myself, I see them really mingled together. In terms of how I grew up, I never had any sexist ideas about, you know, I played with boys, I was interested in doing boys’ things. I didn’t think that made me a boy, I still had that feminine identity, even though I didn’t claim it at that stage in my life, I do now, reclaim it. I didn’t set those things apart, I wanted to do what I wanted to do, whether that was things considered female or male. And I’ve kind of grown up with that same mentality, of wanting to.. finding it hard to be accepted for that, but allowing myself to be both. And it’s not always equal, but they both come with each other. I felt like partners have wanted me to be more male, or more female, same with society in general. And I obviously understand that’s about confusion. I think that’s hardest to understand for me when it’s people who are close to me. I think there’s a lot of sexism that’s engrained in people.
J: Like in your partners?
S: Yeah, I think people who are closest to me have found it more difficult to deal with. Like when I say I’m femme, I find that partners have felt threatened by that. Or felt that they shouldn’t be attracted by that, when they’re femmes themselves. And for me that seemed odd, because I hadn’t changed the way I behaved, or who I am, it’s just that I’ve told them that that’s what I am. And it’s almost the concept, or the reality of what that means. I think that as I’ve become more male.. I think I’ve struggled to be accepted as male, the male side of me has been harder for people to accept. So I’ve tended to focus more on my male side in my transition, and it’s only now that I feel comfortable with that side of myself, through the taking of hormones, for the most part, that I can allow myself to share femininity with others, but more importantly myself. It’s felt like a coming out in itself (J: The femme coming out). And I’m not so afraid to show it.
J: What kind of reactions have you got from femme partners to your femme identity?
S: I think more recently I’ve been lucky, in terms of subconsciously expressing it, I think I’ve attracted partners who are more open to that, and embracing it. I think it has been difficult for some partners, how they’ve been conditioned to behave towards trans men, trans boys, and there’s a lot of assumptions going along with that, in terms of how you don’t want to be touched, and how you do want to be touched, and it’s a reconditioning.
J: Like you recondition them. (Scratch nods.)
I’d like to say something about the partner thing. Because I used to identify as a femme, as a result of being in a long-term relationship with a butch lesbian whose gender and sexuality is very much about butch/femme. I’m feeling very ambivalent about that phase of my life. Which was most of my 20s. (S nods.) Because on the one hand I loved her, fancied her, wanted to be with her, wanted to be like her, and since she only did femmes that was the only place in her life I could get. I also got a lot out of it, like being treated really well. Which I still associate with butches, this gentlemanly very caring very female way of being with someone. And it was nice to be the pretty one, I like it when people find me pretty and intelligent (laughs), and femmeness provided that for me.
But I have always been a switch, always wanted to also express masculinity … I’m struggling with my ex over this, who is still in my life, because she sees my masculinity as inauthentic, she insists I’m a totally different person now, like I took over that beautiful feminine body (laughs). It’s funny because I remember her saying things like ‘You’re so cute in this picture, you look just like a boy.’ Or with this haircut or that shirt. I would wear her clothes, which she didn’t like, because I would break them in and they no longer fit her. So I felt she saw and even fancied my masculinity, in a butch/femme kind of way. This is painful, because I realize how codependent I have been in my gender identifications. Something I shared with Roh I think (our friend who died). That I felt much more comfortable with other people’s bodies, genders, sexualities than my own. I would happily do femme for this butch, straight girl for that FTM, and faggie SM top for that bicurious boy.
explore in all directions. After trying to fit myself first into a female frame, and then into a transsexual male frame, I have quickly become very genderqueer, multigendered even, where I try not to be too fussed about is this male with a feminine foreground or masculine with a female background. And where I want to reclaim all that instability, incoherence and complexity as authentic parts of my personality. Or as possibilities. That I can choose to explore or not, depending on the constraints I currently face, like holding down a job, getting from point A to B safely, or pulling this or that person.
I really like my body at the moment because it’s malleable and can pass as all kinds of things. I can walk into a gay bar and a lesbian and a gay boy will check me out… (laughs) If I’m lucky… I hope. (S: You are lucky.) I can engage with both and can feel part of both these communities.. and the trans community. I do feel queerer than ever these days, and it’s not because I think my way of expressing gender is superior to others – I want to stress that, coz I think there is an assumption that genderqueers are superior to transsexuals. I guess I feel queer because I feel like I am a gender and sexual outlaw in kinship with all these different communities and a bridge between them in a way as well.
S: There’s so many threads that I can totally relate to, even though we’ve had very different pasts, especially with partners. I’ve also felt like a chameleon, that was my way of surviving as I was growing up, in quite a traumatic abusive situation, it was always about surviving, and being the right person in the right moment to the right person. And I think I’ve carried that through with my gender identity. I don’t know how much it directly links in with that, but I’ve noticed looking back on my past relationships it was very easy for me to be a chameleon, to change and shift in different situations with different people. I’ve always honoured their wants and needs, didn’t really think too much about my own. Whilst at the same time I did manage to be myself in my expression. I presented more masculine/male but left how that was interpreted to the other person and I’ve always found people who’ve been attracted to that. So things haven’t been questioned? I always accepted it was positive attention, and so never questioned, the affirmation of who I was and what they found attractive in me. I never really questioned why partners wanted what they wanted from me, I just willingly gave it. And I think that was very destructive. It wasn’t recognizing myself, or honouring myself and who I was.
J: Like by fitting yourself into a butch/femme paradigm (S: Exactly) and losing out on your femininity.
S: Yeah. I always felt shameful about it, something I hid, not very well. Sometimes it was acceptable, sometimes it was not, and that was confusing. And because I always felt more male, I felt that I should veer towards that, and that was my goal. But the femininity was always there. That’s why I found it difficult to relate to other trans men and boys, that I first met. Because I did feel it was always more male-focused. It’s only recently that I’ve met people like me, who feel a combination of masculine and feminine, who still present in a male way. And that’s why I wanted to make this zine.
J: How would you describe your femininity?
S: It’s a good question. (long pause) It’s always been something that I’ve bonded with my femme partners over. And it’s not something I put my finger on ‘This is what makes me feminine.’ But I’ve always liked femme company and really related to that way of being. (J nods.) Even when I was hanging around with boys, I was still hanging around with girls, too, or the sissy boys. When the other boys were saying ‘Don’t hang around with girls, if you’re a boy.’ (J: When you were little?) Yeah.
J: Did they know you were female… born?
S: Yes, but they read me as one of the boys, and I felt like I couldn’t show them certain parts of myself, and I felt those parts were my feminine self. Which were things like dressing up in women’s clothes, wearing makeup and nail polish, cooking… being interested in boys, in a sexual way.
J: (laughs) It’s more like a gay man’s childhood, isn’t it?
S: Hm. Hm. So those things became secretive and appealing. And the first introduction to my femininity as an adult would be to wear my partners’ clothes and feel like a transvestite. (both laugh) But not something I would share with them at first. Or something I would do privately with them once I had confessed. (pause) And yeah, I’ve presented as mainly male in my communities, sometimes when I’ve been brave enough explored my femininity separately. And more recently it’s been something that’s been fused together? And I have tended to find that I get more affirmation when I present more male or more genderqueer. (pause) But actually, femininity is something that I probably enjoy expressing the most, it’s more fun. And probably because it’s something I’ve repressed for so long. Even though being male feels more real to me?
J: Are you still worried now that your maleness will not be seen when you present feminine?
S: Hm, it is something that I still worry about. I feel like currently I pass as genderqueer, so I feel like there’s more options. But I do feel that if I express my femininity that people won’t recognize my maleness. Because people don’t assume that you can be both still. I have had a lot of people tell me that I look very male in my femininity. And I guess it’s something that I’ve never realized people perceive until recently. And I’m presuming it’s because of the hormones. (Jin reminds Scratch of the situation with the makeup, when Scratch bought makeup but was allergic to it and had to be hospitalized, but then decided to wear the same makeup for a photo shoot and later a queer party). It’s funny because I never felt like putting on makeup when I was younger, because my mother forced me to. It was a certain type of makeup, to appeal to men. And on the queer scene now I really enjoy drag and dressing up, and I’ve always enjoyed that side of things, even growing up. The freedom to explore, and not having boundaries. And in terms of meanings that are attached to things as well. Like wearing makeup to attract a man, versus wearing makeup to enjoy yourself. (pause) But I did also have allergies, growing up, to makeup. So I tended not to wear a lot of it. And so people read me as being butch or more masculine, more female-masculine-identified, when I didn’t feel so.
J: I have become much more extreme in expressing femininity since masculinizing my body and adopting a male background presentation. Like the drag-queening photos that you and Debra-Kate took of me. I feel less self-conscious about my body and happier to show off flesh, my legs especially, which is definitely a result of the T, coz it shrinks away those hips (laughs).
I had a lot of dysmorphia and body issues when I was younger. Coming to terms with them and coming out as trans was actually very linked for me. It was only when I stopped messing about with food and trying to lose weight which was also always about trying to become more petite and attractive as a female and shrinking away those muscles. So when I stopped doing that and looked at my body for the first time and gave it that space to look the way it was meant to, without manipulation, I realized that I had a more masculine body, and that was fine. Actually I really liked it and I started going to the gym, and then I started on homeo-T and then on synthetic T, to express that love and exaggerate those features that I had learnt to love. Which is ironic because gender dysphoria is often considered hatred of your body. When I think about these things, like how did I become trans, I have to be careful not to slip into this ‘What caused it?’ pathologizing frame… but I do find it interesting. For example, exploring hyper-femininity seemed like an organic precursor to becoming male. It was only in my early 30s and late 20s that I started experimenting with extreme femininity, and I think that it actually freed up space to swing back, or swing into, extreme masculinity. It’s all about giving yourself permission to gender your body on your own terms.
I also think that sleeping with non-trans men was very important to my trans coming out. On the BDSM scene, I met a lot of male subs who wanted to do gay things with me, had gay rape fantasies, wanted to be fucked… And obviously heterosexual BDSM can be problematic with regard to queer and trans stuff, as it often reduces it to a fantasy or a fetish. But for me it was a really important space, where for the first time I met people who desired my maleness. Which I never found on the queer scene. Because on the queer scene people didn’t fancy me that way, because I wasn’t a classical genderqueer person, wasn’t butch enough. So the BDSM scene was a really important practice ground for me.
You’ve written in your articles about how racism influences your gender explorations. Could you say a bit about that?
S: (Pauses.) I think there is some, I don’t know, how am I gonna put this.. views about my culture in terms of divided gender roles, strict gender codes, sexism…that has meant I have chosen a very genderqueer, non-polar expression I’ve always wanted to prove that that’s not necessarily true. I think for some time I did believe there was some truth in that, from my experience growing up (though I was very lucky and was allowed to be quite free with gender expression) but I resent those fixed assumptions by people who are ignorant about the history and the heritage of my culture. My fixation on femme, I do feel is influenced by the importance of femininity in my culture. (J: Both in boys and girls?) Yeah. It’s something that is idealized. Even though masculinity is something that seems more overtly dominant, I feel that femininity holds more power. But this isn’t really about racism, this is more about dealing with my cultural influences. Um…
J: Do you feel there are different role models in South-Asian cultures that you can aspire to, of feminine males?
S: Yes, I’ve always looked towards androgynous role models, whether within a male or female body. It’s something I’ve seen within my culture, and I feel that’s maybe why I have a different way of expressing my trans identity, and how I choose to transition, that people who weren’t from my cultural background possibly wouldn’t. (pause) I’ve never felt like I’ve identified with being the hyper-masculine… butch, even when I was lesbian-identified, even though I felt male. I’ve sometimes felt like my ideas of what it means to be male are very different from everybody else’s, and thought I was just being strange (both laugh). It’s only when.. when I started having more relationships with male-identified people that I realized that I was right, and there’s so many different ways of being male. Yeah, and that totally like… depends on backgrounds and… yeah, culture and experience.
J: I often meet white FTMs who are into hyper-masculinity, who really aspire to that huge, broad-shouldered, hunky, muscular build. Macho even. I could never look like that. My dad doesn’t look like that (who is shorter than my 5 foot 1, and not much hairier). And I find it problematic as an ideal, though I’m also sometimes attracted to it.
S: I would like to add to that that I’ve always seen being male as problematic. Growing up it was always the males around me who had trouble being man enough, passing… (J: Passing?) Yeah, passing as being a ‘real man’, being man enough. And I suppose in terms of femininity and being female, I always saw around me, people were more comfortable with that, even though they still struggled with standards. So I guess coming into a trans community, I haven’t wanted to seek that out, in terms of what the ideal gender is, or ideal gender norms, to be preoccupied with passing. I think it should be a space where people can be themselves, to come away from that.
To me transition has meant really acknowledging who you are, and being yourself. And I feel like we’re made up, or I am, to talk personally, made up of very different elements, which are always changing. And I never wanna be stuck (J: Definitely.) or struggling.
J: It’s funny how changeability is pathologized, this whole kind of ‘incoherent, unstable, mad, bad’.
S: Or you don’t know what you want. Being unsure, confused. Yeah.
J: When really, why would anyone want to be stuck, like you say, with these extremely narrow ideals of femininity and masculinity, which make people ill and unhappy, give us eating disorders – and men have them, too, like the compulsive exercising at the gym. Being a one-dimensional person who hides most of who they are in order to not get beaten up.
S: Yeah, I also think that a big part of my life is worrying about abuse and violence. I have been a survivor of it, so I’m not so scared of it in some ways, but I know it’s a reality. And I do worry about this, that I spend too much time surviving that, or escaping from that, than actually exploring. All the abuse I get on the street is about being a conflict of genders, and it would be easier sometimes to be either masculine or feminine. But quite honestly, I don’t think anyone can say that they are either. Even these people shouting, you know, even these people who are the abusers.
J: It’s interesting that you say you feel more free as a survivor to explore gender, that it gives you tools for your gender expression. Because the stereotype is that you’re trans because you were abused, that it’s a negative thing, and that being a survivor is a negative thing.
S: Yes. Totally. I think it’s because if you are a survivor you have to focus on what makes you more positive and more healthy, and I’ve never felt more positive than like this, being myself. So I can’t see that it’s a negative result of my abuse. (J: Because even your mum thinks this.) She feels a lot of guilt and shame and a lot of pity, which I really resent. (laughs) Pity for me. Whereas I embrace it. I think that’s more her need for an answer than it is accurate, because she saw who I was growing up, and I’m not that much different. You know. I’ve always been this way.
J: I haven’t really dealt with my family as they are in other countries, so it’s been easy to avoid them. I am grateful to them for encouraging my masculinity.. actually they considered it more dangerous to be feminine. My mum would say don’t wear makeup because people will think you are a ‘Thai prostitute’, and heterosexuality as well was something that was dangerous, that could get you pregnant, or ill, or raped, or people would talk badly about you, and the neighbours already were because we were this strange interracial family. And both my mum and my sister were tomboys when I was growing up. So when my last counselor said, when I told her about difficulties with my mother, she sounds like a bad female role model, I took issue with her. Because I have been raised very freely with regard to expressing androgyny and masculinity.
S: It’s been very similar with my family encouraging my masculinity and tomboyish behaviour.
J: I feel guilty not involving my family more with my transition. I had built quite positive relationships with them before coming out, and I feel like my explorations have brought me further away from them again. I feel ambivalent about taking so much space for my gender, like it’s a luxury that takes me away from the things that really matter, like connecting with human beings who are important to me, and also with communities. I’ve stayed away from Thai diasporic spaces, I’ve stayed away from anti-racist spaces, queer of colour spaces even, because I’m scared I won’t be accepted. Whereas my lesbianism or bisexuality was something I could hide, my gender isn’t. So I can’t just say I’m going to foreground my culture and race today, and downplay the rest, because it’s going to be so visibly in their faces, and they will have to relate to me somehow. Especially at the moment, with the war and the backlash against multiculturalism, and all this crazy racism going on, I sometimes ask myself am I getting my priorities right. Because gender can be such a self-indulgent, self-obsessed thing, that absorbs all your energies, and you forget that the world is still spinning around you. At the same time, it’s unfair to bash ourselves for the intolerance in those places and our fear and avoidance of them.
S: Yeah, all I can say is I’ve been feeling that recently. There’s a lot of awareness recently about trans issues, and sometimes I feel it’s such a focus in my life, and I wish it wasn’t. And I wish people just related to me as me, and not as a gender. At the same time, of course I want them to recognize my gender. It’s finding that line where it has enough importance in your life, but yeah, isn’t my main priority. It’s a shame we have to spend so much time and energy focusing on it, because it has so much stigma to it. We should just really be accepted and understood and able to focus on the rest of our lives.
J: Let’s close on a positive note. I’m interested in who your role models are. What boys do you want to fuck or emulate. Are they the same ones?
S: (laughs) It’s personal! Right now I feel very positive. It’s a new year for a start, and a lot of change has happened recently so I feel so new in myself, and that leaves me open to explore different things. Definitely I want to meet and have more sex with different kinds of people.
J: Any ones in particular?
S: (laughs) I would like to explore, I think I find it interesting what you express when you’re with different people, but not in the same way as in the past, where I gave up my identity, but where I can do that now.. yeah, really presenting that, and how you can have that exchange with someone. And that goes for people who are similar, I would definitely like to explore stuff with more trans people. I think I have had my own fears about that, which relate to my own identity. (J: Around authenticity?) Yeah, exactly. And I have had a lot of one-night stands or affairs, and I would like to experience something more meaningful. I think there is a lot to be learned from other people’s experiences. And that also goes for trying new things and reestablishing communication with my own body, and then how that communicates with somebody else’s body. I’d like to talk about this stuff more with people Sometimes it’s just a fumble, you know, it’s not spoken so much. (J: While you’re having sex?) I think sex is a really healthy way of exploring gender and your identity, and I think in the past it’s been more unhealthy for me. (J: In terms of putting your needs second.) Yeah. And I would like to be braver, to explore my hyper-femininity and to see how far that goes, it’s something that really excites me at the moment. But there is always something holding me back. And I would like to let go of that, let go of those inhibitions once and for all.
J: I also find this an exciting time in my life. I want to explore gay-boy spaces, now that I am starting to pass. Because I don’t know how long I will be on T for, so to make the most of this moment, while I’m in this current body. Because I have been fantasizing about these places for such a long time, especially the sex clubs, but also bars and social spaces where men relate to each other without hatred, that I often associate with masculinity. I want to absorb that flirty camp energy and I think it could make me more whole. I also want to be more creative with the whole gender thing rather than suffering and tragic and feeling sorry for myself, to really enter into community in that way, for example through writing, making comics, and performance.
S: Yeah, creativity has always been my natural outlet as an artist, but many times has felt stifled in this trans world of medicine, surgery and theory. I don’t often feel I can’t convey how I feel about my identity in a more creative way. I worry it will not be considered credible or it will be easy to be misunderstood or easily ignored. I feel I have to make a solid statement in a language that people will easily recognize, which is usually hormones and surgery, and I struggle with that. I guess this is what this zine is about!
How do you feel about being a gender minority in terms of your sexual practice. Do you think it will be easy to connect with people sexually?
J: I think most people who sleep with me will make an exception. Like most gay guys who’d play with me would not have considered playing with a female-bodied person before.
S: And as a (male) feminine identified person, does that complicate things?
J: On Gaydar and Gay Romeo (a German dating website), a lot of the guys say explicitly ‘No sissies’. (S: Wow.) But I sometimes read that and feel stronger in my identity. Because I do identify as a sissy and feel solidarity with sissies, and realize that there is a place for me in that community, even if it’s at the margins. I have to remind myself that I don’t fancy people like that anyway. Who wants to sleep with transphobic people? My friends don’t, whether or not they are trans themselves.
I find a lot of ‘bio-boys’ who are attracted to me are very feminine and more on the trans side of things themselves, which is nice, but I do wonder if I’ll ever sleep with a non-trans man again.
S: I also feel some of the same fears about isolating or marginalizing myself, by standing up for my specific gender identity. There are some groups I have always shut myself away from, such as hetero bio-guys, because I have feared they will not understand me and my identity or at least misread it for their own gain. There are other groups, too, who I fear have misread me, like lesbians, but I am now finding that it’s becoming easier to cross over these boundaries, and I have always found labels limiting, but it is a fine line of doing this and reaching out and compromising yourself. On the queer scene its seems much easier to cross these lines and do as you please with not much stigma, with anything goes, but I sometimes feel trapped within this community also, and worry it can also be limiting in this way. Especially living in London or other cities like Berlin, San Fran or New York, it is easy to exist, but what about if I moved somewhere else, where could I go and be both safe but also stimulated.
J: Yes, I’ve found the London scene very adventurous sexually. It’s a big deal to see bio-boys and girls who are open to having sex with each other, and with trans people. I do remember the biphobia though, when I still identified a bisexual bio-girl, I was the lowest of the low. Now no-one cares what I do sexually, I’m already queer by virtue of my gender!
My desires are very eclectic and broad, so in a way I don’t mind not having a ready-made niche to fit into. I am excited about finding more surprising possibilities that fall off the map and the social scripts we have inherited. I feel more comfortable that way. Because the major reason why I transitioned is that I felt claustrophobic, depressed and stifled by the existing scripts, like butch/femme, heterosexuality or even queerness. I just couldn’t do it anymore. It made me ill. So I have to remind myself of this, when I’m overcome by this sense that ‘There is no place for me and nobody will ever want to fuck me again’. That this is the freed-up space that I have been looking for, that I have fought for. And I intend to savour every inch of it!
On the other hand, if I present feminine for too long, I feel like I become that sex object I am impersonating. I start identifying with the catcalls, the patronizing and belittling (which goes on even in queer, feminist and pro-feminist contexts), and I stop believing that I actually have something to say and deserve to be heard. This is just my particular take at this particular moment in my life – I know there’s a lot of strong kick-ass femmes out there who manage to walk that tight-rope quite happily.
 I also miss the feistiness which used to be part of my presentation. As a female-identified person, I knew how to stand up for myself. I haven’t yet learned this yet as a male-identified person, in a way which does not get me in trouble. This is partly to do with being read as a brown underaged boy, or a short campie man who doesn’t deserve much space or respect.
 My decision to take T was partly a result of my difficulties in passing as trans or genderqueer, and in having my masculinity perceived by other queer people.
 What is feminine and masculine is again relative. In my biography, ‘extreme femininity’ was initially a femininity that was often read as straight, and only then became hyper-feminine drag queening. ‘Extreme masculinity’ means a masculinity that exceeds what is allowable for queer women.
 Of course, the whole idea behind mad pride is that stability and coherence are problematic ideals of mental ‘health’, and that they serve to stifle creativity, non-conformity and rebelliousness.