Question: An attack.

A reader asks…

How can I make people understand that my transition is not an attack on their gender identities?

Please post your response in the comments below.

» Ask Genderfork «

Posted by on February 5th, 2011 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 25 comments »

25 Responses to “Question: An attack.”

  1. Samson

    I’m slightly hesitant to share here because I don’t want to be offensive. But the idea of transition is uncomfortable to me because it feels like it reinforces the gender binary, which is something I mostly live outside of. I personally feel like I’d be more comfortable if the binary-loving public-at-large perceived me as male (rather than female), because the characteristics they’d attribute to me are probably closer to who I actually am. But, to me, that’s reinforcing the notion that who I am, how I dress and behave, how I relate to others (which are all pretty stereotypically “male”)–that those things are incompatible with a female body.

    That’s not what I want to be working toward, in the world. In my wildest dreams I want people’s assigned-at-birth sex to be totally inconsequential–I’m not saying I want to be perceived as a masculine but female-bodied person, I’m saying I want my sex to be as inconsequential to others as my eye color. But I understand that that’s not how the real world works, and I know that there’s a very real possibility that I’ll be transitioning one day too, for the sake of being comfortable with the way I’m perceived.

    So that’s totally not an answer to your question, sorry. But I guess that’s why some people might consider it an attack, which you probably already know. I personally don’t see it as an attack; I’m not into telling people that what they need to do to feel comfortable is wrong. My point of view is just a point of view and I’m not going to go imposing it on people.


    Tommy replied:

    “But the idea of transition is uncomfortable to me because it feels like it reinforces the gender binary, which is something I mostly live outside of.”

    I’m not going to attack you or anything :) I just want to clarify that, for me, transitioning is all about my body, not about my gender.

    My gender is not the problem…my body is.
    I’m actually rather genderqueer myself and I don’t believe in a gender binary (heck, sometimes I have an hard time figuring out the usefulness of gender anyway), but I know for sure that I need a male body and I need other people to view my body as male.

    I’ve had a part of my life (one or two years) when I tried to force myself into the male stereotype because people around me (expecially my parents) insisted that I wasn’t “masculine enough” to transition, and I hated it.

    I don’t want to be “a man”, I just want to be *myself*. And being myself includes both qualities and tastes that are seen as “feminine” together with other ones that are seen as “masculine” by society. But for me, they aren’t masculine or feminine, they are just “mine”.

    And I know that some trans people seem to be “overdoing it”, but maybe they are simply *extremely* feminine/masculine, or maybe they are actually rather insecure and afraid to be seen as “less valid” if they don’t reflect the gender that they are “expected” to portray. I know this happened to me for awhile, so I’m sure it has happened to other people as well.

    Sometimes when you try to crawl out from a box that feels unconfortable and doesn’t fit you, you only end up forcing yourself in another box that’s just as unconfortable and unfitting :(


    Samson replied:

    Here I am forgetting that I’m writing from a weird perspective again–and really, a genderqueer and transgender experience, but not a transsexual experience, so maybe I shouldn’t be talking at all, here.

    My body, my sexual anatomy, has become pretty meaningless to me in terms of gender. I know it’s technically biologically female, but I relate to it in a way that is very non-gendered. And I’m mostly comfortable in it like that; I may tweak my appearance for the sake of coming across as more androgynous to others, but I don’t need to change it for my own comfort (in fact, it looks pretty androgynous to my own eyes). So for me, “transition” is almost entirely a social question–it’s a question of how others see me. If others were to see my flamboyant queer self in a male body as opposed to the one I’ve got, they’d probably be seeing me “right.” But I shouldn’t have to change myself to make them see me the right way, right? My body’s not a problem for me–it’s a problem for others.

    So for me, coming from that perspective–I see people transition and I get all frustrated and arm-wavy about how they’re reinforcing society’s notions of the gender binary and blah blah blah. I sometimes forget that there are big questions of sexual anatomy and body comfort for other people. Mea culpa.

    (Good grief, do I make any sense at all? I’m really not out to tell anybody they shouldn’t be transitioning.)


    Tommy replied:

    Don’t worry, I think maybe I sounded like I was scolding you or something, but I wasn’t :P I just wanted to clarify the “gender” thing from my point of view.

    Jessica replied:

    “you only end up forcing yourself in another box that’s just as uncomfortable and unfitting” I went through that and I so have that shirt!
    Now I could, I suppose present as either a man or as a woman, but if I did that – if I intentionally picked one, it would be as much of a lie as if I picked another one. So, I present more or less unisex and most people who see me assume I am male and most who hear me (or see my name first) think the opposite. More power to them.
    In warm weather I prefer wearing dresses and skirts (there’s nothing that hurts quite like wearing shorts and sticking to the vinyl clad chair), but I tend not to, because it makes people mean to me. I find other people’s gender assumptions to be an inconvenience.
    I want to get on with the rest of my life.


    Samson replied:

    “I find other people’s gender assumptions to be an inconvenience.
    I want to get on with the rest of my life.”


    Lia replied:

    “the idea of transition is uncomfortable to me because it feels like it reinforces the gender binary”

    On the other hand, we should accept other people’s narratives, even if they contradict ours. Feeling threatened by the ‘binary’ is similar to feeling threatened by trans people : we fear other people’s narratives because they contradict ours.

    It can be difficult (for me at least!) but accepting a multitude of potentially contradictory narratives is key to accepting each other.


  2. Chance

    I feel like my transition has forced me to make more of a stand on gender than I’d wanted to. But the more people push me, I am forced to admit
    “I do not like being female, I do not feel, act or think like one, I am male.”

    As someone who is outside the binary, I hate having to be so black and white about it, but it is the only way to present a transition to cis-gendered conservative people.

    Just because I am “male” does not mean I am That Male. Even when you are outside the norm, people will still try to categorize you to the best of their abilities. Personally, I don’t think like they are feeling attacked as much as they are simply frustrated at having to force their minds to operate on a level that isn’t so black and white.


  3. Jessica

    People have an emotional investment in their personal identities (yes, even cisgendered people) and some cisgendered people have grappled with the same issues we have accepted, but which they have rejected. When we show them someone who is happy having chosen differently, it is like we’re criticizing them for the choices they made. It can be a reason for fresh self-doubt. We don’t mean it that way, but if you are insecure about your gender identity, any question can seem like an attack.

    It’s like being a heterosexual versus being a confident heterosexual. If you are at ease in your heterosexuality then no homosexual is a threat to you. If you are insecure, you may be afraid of becoming something you don’t want to recognize yourself to be. They’re not afraid of you, they are afraid of the truth about themselves and prefer ignorance to knowledge.

    A. Recognize the insecurities in other people and be kind in your presentation and if they seem to persistently misunderstand who you are, let them have their little dream world… it doesn’t really matter. Someday they may be in a place where they can open up and grow. When that is to be is not your responsibility.

    B. Many people, especially the theists, seem to have tests they run people through. If you pass, you’re people and if not, then you’re non-human refuse.

    For people like this, you have to do unto them as they do unto you – just write them off. They’re so massively defended against the truth that there is nothing you can do. Don’t give them excuses to manifest their hate at the heresy you represent in their hegemony.


  4. Andrea

    to be honest, i dont think thats your job. be careful about how you take it on!


  5. Clare

    In the end – its their problem not yours. Some people are always gonna have a problem with difference. Best thing is to surround yourself with like-minded peeps and campaign for acceptance as an issue of social importance, i would have thought – good luck!!


  6. Echo

    Are you assuming that everyone who transitions is 100% Male or female and nothing else?
    Personally, I identify as androgyne/genderqueer while leaning to the feminine side. I am totally uncomfortable with the male parts I was born with and therefore have been transitioning for the end result of bottom surgery (AFAIK there isn’t a third genitalia option). I still have a fair amount of masculine facial features I more than likely won’t do anything to change, the years of hormone therapy have pretty resulted in epitome of androgyny looking back at me in the mirror (and in the confused looks of other students I see on a daily basis). My therapist also happens to be open-minded enough to understand and support all of this. (This part saddens me since she isn’t taking any new patients and will be retiring in a few years.)


    Samson replied:

    That’s what I had in mind when I wrote that, since a lot of my personal experience with transitioning folks has been, “I’m 100% rejecting my assigned gender and transitioning to present as 100% its opposite”–thank you for reminding me that is not always the case. Come to think of it, I’ve gone through something like a transition too, although nothing involving surgery or hormones, so I generally don’t think to apply that word to my experience.


    Jessica replied:

    So many transsexual folks like to characterize people who “don’t go all the way” (e.g. genderqueer, asexual etc) as play acting with regard to gender… The attitude seems to be, “if you were real you’d feel the way I did and make the same choices I did.”
    Well, I am not playing at anything. I have experimented with many things. I have found what fits and what does not, in many cases, and I am making my own choices. I am glad that your choices worked for you. They would not work for me.


    Echo replied:

    Ugh I’ve seen that… “trans-er than thou” competitions on discussion boards. Or the type who are so superficial that to them you’re not trans unless you’re 110% female, wear dresses, heels and like 10kg of makeup all the time. I’ve had the hair-pulling-out pleasure of meeting someone in person who was such a piece of shit she criticized me for not being super-femme and outright said wearing dresses and putting on makeup is what makes people feminine (other than the reality in which it, MAYBE makes people LOOK more feminine, she wouldn’t even acknowledge that.) Fortunately there’s a form of divine retribution in all this, she doesn’t pass in any way, will not without like $50K+ of facial surgery and lost her good paying job for being a total idiot.

    Jessica replied:

    The notion of a third genitalia set is intriguing. What would you have? Hmmm. A bottle opener? How about something you could inflate and rest your aching feet on at the end of the day? How about something that could easily convert to be complimentary to either the male or female genitalia, depending on your partner, sexual mood, or wish to cooperate?


    Samson replied:

    I think the genitalia that some assigned-female-at-birth folks have after a few years of testosterone is an intriguing combination that I might like to have myself.

    But shapeshifting genitalia? That would be awesome. I mean, I know a lot of cis people, even, who’d like to try that out.

    Echo, I wish I could borrow your therapist and that she weren’t retiring… I’m female-bodied, androgyne/genderqueer, leaning to the masculine side (am I like your evil opposite-twin or something?), and sometimes I think the last of the discomfort I have with my body would be alleviated by a little testosterone.


    Tommy replied:

    “But shapeshifting genitalia? That would be awesome. I mean, I know a lot of cis people, even, who’d like to try that out.”

    When the surgery for this comes out, sign me in :D

    I totally want to shapeshift my lower parts into crazy stuff. Like, tentacles and other stuff.

    Or something like an organic detachable penis (like in that song!), which you can put whenever and wherever you want XD (and maybe even put multiples on, lol!)

    ian c. replied:

    fantasy genitalia? I would totally go for tanuki testicles. a) they bring you money luck, b) they can inflate & you can use them as a battle weapon, c) they will occasionally trip you up, but d) you’re a mischievous & clever creature anyway so you accept all life’s vagaries with equal amounts of smilin’ and plottin’ !!!


    Anonymous replied:

    As an intersex person, I’m going to respectfully disagree with what you’re saying about the not being a “third genitalia option.” I’ve had that very thing basically forced on me since birth, without my choice…

    Now do I want a different set? I don’t really care. It’s not what’s between my legs that makes people see me differently, it’s the ovotestes I have, and the lucky genetics I also have that give me a very feminine appearance in shape. I just look like a masculinised female, which I wouldn’t mind if I actually identified that way. Which I don’t.


    Tommy replied:

    I think that Echo meant that you can’t choose to have bottom surgery to create a “third genitalia option”, not that intersex people don’t exist.

    AFAIK, Male to Intersex or Female to Intersex isn’t considered an option yet in surgery.


  7. Janegirl

    I know I don’t buy into hegemonic masculinity. I don’t particularly like machismo. I am definitely certain I don’t want people to see me that way, but I am not quite so certain as to whether I feel that it is OK for anyone to be that way. I am generally for people having multidimensional personalities and that means that guys need to have more emotions than happy and angry.

    Yeah I see myself as female, feel more comfortable hanging out with females and want others to see me that way. No I do not merely express myself as female because I want to mess with people’s heads. It’s because I am female. I would be happier if they were a bit more circumspect about gender pronouncements.

    In terms of challenges to my gender identity I would prefer that others would perceive me as I perceive myself. Still, I do not waste my energy correcting every random stranger. My friends, especially close ones get the talk when they aren’t understanding on their own. Others I’m happy when they get it right and shrug it off when they don’t.


  8. Ashtur

    I think it’s important to make a distinction between identity as a political choice, and identity as an inborn sense of self.

    Identity as a political choice is about activism, about a deliberate choice to live in a way that puts pressure on society to change. It’s often a choice people make when their inner sense of themselves is something that genuinely can’t fit inside the norm – but not always. And even when it is, there is an element of conscious choice in the decision to be loud-and-proud about yourself, and to immerse yourself in a community that validates your views.

    Transition is purely about the individual. It’s about being happy in your life and happy in your body. It takes everyone time to understand who they are and how they can be happy; trans people have that much longer and more convoluted a journey to that place, because there is no road map in a society as binary as this one to guide people towards understanding their gender better.

    Ironically, that often means that trans people do end up moving in queer activist circles, because if anyone’s got something like a road map to gender it’s the radical queers. In groups like that there’s a big assumption that identity is political for everyone – some theorists make a point of confusing the two kinds of identity, because it pushes people to be political in their choice of lifestyle. So when you’re in a group like this and you realise you need to transition, people don’t understand that it’s about your happiness, and react as if you’re making a deliberate choice to betray what the group stands for.

    So I think the best way to get it across to people that you’re not attacking them is to explain that this is purely about you being OK with who you are. That you understand the need for activism, and that you support the cause, but you, personally, need to do this to be happy in yourself.


    uisce replied:

    THIS. I’v been thinking about a response to this question and came back to the site to post it, and lo and behold, someone already said exactly what I was thinking! I’ll just add a few thoughts of my own.

    As has already been mentioned up-thread, a very large proportion of people have emotional investment in their gender identity. When interacting with the faction of the queer community that takes a more political view of gender politics, as Ashtur pointed out, it CAN sometimes feel like one’s GI is being questioned, disparaged, or threatened – especially if it happens to fall on the more binary sside. For example, bio women – both queer and non-queer – who present in a “feminine” way, or even who don’t actively present as “masculine” ARE often viewed disparagingly by parts of the GI-as-political-activism faction. For these women, it can be disheartening to hear from their community “We are all about accepting differences in GI – just not yours.”


  9. Anonymous

    Honestly? You can’t. It’s their own problem, and the sooner you can personally not take on others’ problems, the better off you’ll be. This goes for everyone, but I see more of it among gender-variant folks.

    It’s understandable; I’ve dealt with myself. But you’ll ALWAYS meet people who will have problems with what you are. The key question here isn’t, “How can I make people understand that my transition is not an attack on their gender identities?” It’s “How can I personally respect my own boundaries and realise I ONLY have the right and ability to control my OWN reactions/feelings/emotions/etc.?”


Leave a Reply

Can I show your picture? If you have a Gravatar associated with this email address, it will be displayed as your photo. If not, I'll just put a picture of a fork next to your comment. Everybody likes forks.

Be nice. Judgmental comments will be quietly deleted and blacklisted. There's plenty of room for those elsewhere on the web.

For legal reasons, you must be age 13 or older to post a comment on Genderfork.

You can use some HTML tags for formatting, e.g. <em>...</em> for emphasis (italics) or <strong>...</strong> for strong emphasis (bold) or <a href="http://(url)">...</a> for links.

Back to top