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