You find it bewildering that as a femme-identifying person, I refer to myself as male. You find it appalling and maybe even transphobic when I explain that what I mean when I say I'm "male" is that I was born with a set of physical equipment that, in our culture, has historically been designated "male", although many other people (perhaps including you) may have this same set of bodily components and call those physical structures something other than "male".
You say "Why can't you just call it a penis? A penis isn't male. It's just a penis! Girls can have a penis. Boys can have a vulva".
Well, yeah, I know girls can have a penis. I'm a girl and I've got one. Are we both cool and totally down with the notion that having a penis doesn't define our gender? Can we please have a little moment of peace and solidarity and not be quick to hate on each other for using language a bit differently, and for coming at this situation from different angles?
You identify as transgender. I don't. That means you're a part of a subculture, a community; and you folks, collectively, you got your own way of expressing things, and you also got your own history. Let's talk about the history thing for a sec.
I'm 61; forty years ago, when I was 21 and first coming out, trans people explained the situation to the larger surrounding culture like this: trans people realized at some point in their life that their gender was the gender typically found in the other type of body, and so they'd ideally get hormones and surgery and transition, so that their body would match their gender. And what they said they wanted from the surrounding world was to be accepted as a normal and ordinary person of that gender and that sex. And most trans people wanted to "pass" — they didn't want to receive social acceptance only from a handful of people who heard their life story and learned about transsexuals and all that, but instead they wanted to look and otherwise present in such a way that strangers who didn't know them would just automatically treat them as the gender that they were.
Fast forward to the more-or-less present era. Trans activists interact with lots of transgender people who can't afford hormones and surgery even if they want them, and lots of people who are blocked from having access to the medical interventions they want because doctors and insurance companies are playing gatekeeper. They also interact with a lot of transgender people who don't want the whole package of medical options for a variety of reasons. There's a risk of significant loss of sensation and function when doctors rearrange biological tissue, and there are systemic repercussions to hormones with risk factors and so on and so forth.
Well, it's really fundamentally a human rights issue that the body you inhabit should not detract from the legitimacy of your gender identity. So the social message changed, to become a lot more inclusive. You were valid as a trans person (woman or man) whether you passed or did not pass, and, in fact, fuck "pass". Identities are what are valid; your body doesn't matter! And they didn't use "male" and "female" to refer to bodily architecture because that can imply to some trans people that they've got the wrong body for their gender identity.
I apologize if I've misrepresented the transgender movement and its history in that short summary. I'm writing from the outside. I try to learn and listen but if I've distorted things, I'm sorry, but I hope I mostly got it right.
I'm not trans. I heard the 40-years-ago version of what trans was, gave it some thought, decided nope, that's not me. It's something else. I haven't been a part of your community these 40 years.
So I've got a different history, with different understandings and stuff. I'm hoping you'll be compassionate and interested in a story that's different from yours, so you can see how I got to my viewpoint, ok?
I came out in 1980 as a sissy. A person in a male body whose personality and behavior were a mismatch for what's expected of male people, but a good match for the expectations for female people. I did not want to be perceived as an ordinary typical female person any more than I wanted to be perceived as an ordinary male person. I wanted to be perceived as what I'd been harassed about and accused of all my life: an effeminate sissy girlish male person. The world apparently thought I should be ashamed of that, but I was proud of it. And I was finally angry about it and ready to take a stand. To be in your face about it. Yeah, I'm male, and I'm one of the girls. Get used to it. Deal.
My attitude is that until the world nods in agreement that yeah, male girls exist and no, it's not a damn affliction or an embarrassment, a failure to be sufficiently manly... until then, there's always going to be this notion that if you're perceived and recognized as a male-bodied person, you'll be regarded as less of a man than a masculine man and less of a woman than a physically female-structured person who has boobs and vag and all that.
Not only don't I want to pass, I want to "anti-pass". I want, as I said, to be up in people's face about the lack of correspondence between my body and my gender identity. You've got a male girl here. Flying pride flags about it, no less, got that?
So... you don't use "male" to refer to physical stuff like testicles and penis. You basically use "male" to mean the same thing as "man" and "boy" and so on. I, on the other hand, do use it to mean the physical stuff. My attitude is we've already got plenty of gender words ("man", "boy", "masculine", "feminine", "guy", "dude", "gal", etc), and the word "male" is historically about the raw physical architecture (including other species and also things like hose couplings and electrical plugs), so why can't we keep that word for sex and use existing gender words for gender? This isn't about invalidating anybody's gender identity, it's really not. Yeesh, do I sound like J. K. fucking Rowling here? Seriously?
You ask "Well, why can't you just call it a penis, why do you have to say male?". I say "I want a goddam adjective. An already-recognized adjective to describe me as a person-with-penis-and-associated-bits. I don't want to use a long klunky phrase like 'person with a penis and testicles and adam's apple and absence of a vulva and clitoris and breasts, person who happens to be dyadic or endosex as opposed to intersex and most likely has XY chromosomes and doesn't have a period and has spermatotrophic hormone and a vas deferens'".
If I don't specify that when I say "male" I'm talking about my plumbing and not my personality and inclinations, people often assume I'm saying I have a "male side and a female side", like genderfluid or bigender people. Which isn't it at all. I'm no less feminine than you are. I'm not less male than a rooster. I'm not in-between, either sexually (as intersex people may consider themselves to be) or genderwise. I'm solidly male and utterly feminine.
I'm talking about mine. MY parts. I'm not calling your parts male. I'm calling my parts male.
Not everybody is either male or female, just as not everybody who is male is a man and not everybody who is female is a woman. But the fact that sex isn't binary doesn't mean sex doesn't exist. By the way, intersex people can't talk about being intersex — and distinguish intersex from being nonbinary or intergender or genderfluid or whatever — if they can't talk about bodies and why their atypical body has marked them as different and marginalized them. Most of the intersex activists I know really want to distinguish sex from gender. Because otherwise they get erased.
In a similar way, I can't do the political activity of getting in people's face about being a male girl if I can't say "male girl" and can't talk about the body that caused my girlness to be perceived as something wrong and in need of fixing, or as reason to provoke dismissive contempt.
I personally identify as genderqueer and, more specifically, as a gender invert. I'm a speaker, a blogger, and an author. I just got a book published (and BTW you should read it if you have any appetite for coming-of-age / coming-out stories). I'm not going to go away or shut up.
Does this help?
You're secluded in quarantine, and all the performances and events have been cancelled, so it's a good time to read a book!
My book, GenderQueer: A Story From a Different Closet, has been published by Sunstone Press. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and ebook, and as ebook only from Apple, Kobo, and directly from Sunstone Press themselves.
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