I’ve been advised by a friend that it’s a strain to be anything other than a whole person.
That is, in a way, the point of this blog. No more cordoning-off of the various parts of my life, this is where I aim to inhabit them all: vaguely-established activist, burgeoning poet and fiction-writer, life-long geek, aspiring academic, committed feminist, proud queer, and so on. And yet I’ve been walking a rather awkward line for some time, and I’m tired of doing so. Rather than try to keep a lid on this any longer – and given what I’m doing in public life anyway – I think it’s easier just to say things outright, here and now.
I’m the Trans Rep on the NUS Women’s Committee, and I have been since 2011. I requested that official documents refer to me only by my initials, and as such, have been doing this job with a certain level of ‘incognito’ status that has been increasingly frustrating to maintain. The (apparently) contentious nature of this position being held by a female-assigned individual who identifies both as a woman and as trans has, ultimately, strengthened the campaign’s policy on trans inclusion.
Since then, however, I’ve become increasingly vocal about trans issues under my own name. If you look at this blog, you’ll see that I’m presenting workshops and academic papers about trans and genderqueer identities, that I’m writing on trans issues and trans representation, that I’m performing poetry at trans and queer events – that I am already very publicly aligned with a movement that treats the broad spectrum of trans identities with legitimacy and respect. I’m also speaking in my Trans Rep capacity on a panel at the upcoming NUS LGBT Conference, and am shortly to begin an internship working for Trans Media Action – both will, one way or another, probably involve an awful lot of social media. With all of that on the table, I feel I have reached a tipping-point: I can’t believe there are many people who would respect me as a cis ally doing this sort of work, but turn against me to discover that ‘trans’ is also a word I use to describe myself. And perhaps more to the point, I don’t really want those people in my life.
I consider myself a woman in that it’s a term which more-or-less describes the gender role in which I live, the upbringing and socialisation I have experienced, the types of gendered oppression I face under patriarchy, and – inasmuch as one can use terms like ‘man’ or ‘woman’ to describe bodies in any sort of meaningful sense – the body which I inhabit.
I consider myself trans in that it’s a term which more-or-less describes my complex relationship with my body and with my gender presentation. Were I asked to use a more specific word, I’d go with genderqueer.
That is an accurate description of how things are for me right now – as with any other identity label, I use them descriptively rather than prescriptively. And that is about as much information as I feel like I owe the world at large right now.
Writing this blog entry for the public domain was surprisingly hard, given that I’ve been a vocal trans advocate for many years now and that I’ll often discuss my personal investment in this when in the rather more intimate context of my poetry readings or workshops. But I’m sure that for every friend or acquaintance reading this for whom it’s very old news indeed, there are a number of others scratching their heads. I am – honestly – not wanting anything out of this except to relinquish the sense of being constantly on my guard whenever I write publicly under my own name. The cat is out of the bag, and can now run off chasing leaves if it would like.
I would appreciate it if anyone who might want to get in touch to ask questions would take a moment or two to consider their tone, and perhaps see if those questions can be answered by reading that which is already out there. Below are a few (by no means comprehensive!) recommendations for starting points: I may add more later.
– A (still-running) series of questions from cis readers, answered at CN Lester’s blog by a panel of trans people and beginning with a list of 101 recommendations.
– Jack/Judith Halberstam (who has occupied and critically examined the ground between ‘butch’ and ‘trans’ for years) on pronouns.
– CN Lester again, with a tonne of amazing links: on ‘academic’ and ‘authentic’ understandings of oneself not being incompatible; on how appearance does not constitute identity; on dyadic terms being counterproductive; and since I’m linking to CN in a ridiculous frenzy already, you might as well read this one too. (And I’d also like to publicly thank CN: without their support, I wouldn’t be posting this today.)
– Brit Mandelo on navigating the space of ‘genderqueer’, and political identification as a woman. [Content note: instance of body-essentialist language; note added 29/03/13 14:40 after request in comments.]