Masculine Femininities Issue 1
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.