“I need an undershirt that says ‘HI, I’M GENDERQUEER,’ and any moment I need to, I can tear off my shirt, Superman-style, to let people know.”
by Erica Stratton
For this month’s episode of Gender Heroes I interviewed Samson, who blogs at The Felt Fedora. Samson, who identifies as a genderqueer trans* androgyne, has written many amazing posts about navigating dysphoria and how they want their breasts to be seen as squishy, awesome, comfy elbows, but I was most drawn to their honesty about how they’ve chosen not to be out about their queer identity. In this interview, we talk about hiding in plain sight, “penance” for not being out, and queer hormones.
Genderfork: Many of the people I’ve profiled so far have been very “out”, but for various reasons you’ve chosen not to be. I hoped you could tell me a little bit about what went into that decision.
Samson: Hm, well. A lot of it was a practical decision: I’m a teacher of young children who lives in the South, and “people in general” are not really keen about trans* people teaching their kids. Also, I tend to be a fairly private person, and I’m not “visibly trans*,” per se. I probably read a little funny to other people–I’m AFAB [Assigned Female At Birth], and I don’t read butch, exactly, but probably a sort of “manly woman.” Anyway, being “out” would sort of require me to make a statement about my gender, and I’m not really keen to attract attention/curiosity/misperceptions to myself that way.
Genderfork: So are you out to people in other aspects of your life?
Samson: Oh, definitely to my close friends. They don’t all 100% understand it, but for the most part they’re really great about it.
Genderfork: So your gender presentation is based on how much privacy you need?
Samson: Well, I present largely the way I would like to. It’s just that my gender presentation frequently reads as female to other people. It’s a weird push-pull thing. For other people to read me as trans*, or genderqueer, or queer at all, I have to push my presentation as far toward male as I can–which, some days, is how I happen to get dressed in the mornings. But other days, I feel like wearing more femme things, and without going out of my way to find some gender marker to tweak or change, I just get read as female.
It’s frustrating. I want to wear whatever I want, but I also want people to read me as “queer,” and some days I can’t have both. Some friends at a support group joked that I needed an undershirt that says “HI, I’M GENDERQUEER,” and that at any moment I needed to, I could tear off my shirt, Superman-style, to let people know.
Genderfork: You mentioned in one of your posts that you were on hormones at one point, but decided to stop because looking more “male” was also giving you dysphoria.
Samson: Oh! My hormones are a funny story.
Genderfork: They seem to be very complicated.
Samson: Hee. Yes. I’ve never “been on T.” When left to my own devices, though, my hormones are female-typical, with a heaping spoonful of androgens added in. For years… four years, I think? I was on birth control to keep the androgens down. And I finally sorta rebelled against that, stopped the birth control, got a new doctor, and said I wanted absolutely no more estrogen. He agreed not to treat the hormone imbalance, so now I’m having some changes (facial hair, voice drop) related to having those androgens back in my system.
It’s basically a dream. Like, if I could have any hormones, this is what I’d have.
Genderfork: So your hormones are queer as well as your gender?
Samson: Yes! I am just incredibly super queer all around. :D
Genderfork: Super Queer! *plays superman theme*
Samson: Oh, there’s a comic for this…
Genderfork: You really do need that shirt :P
Samson: I have a barely-controllable urge to run around with my arms stuck out Superman-style now.
Genderfork: So, did you go into teaching knowing you’d have to be stealth about your identity?
Samson: Yeah, I figured. There are no employment protections in my state, so I couldn’t even be out as bi and be sure of keeping my job. There have been some teachers fired in my state possibly for being gay; the school apparently cooked up some other reasons for letting them go. Before, it felt like this mind-crushing dichotomy between my queer (“real”) life and my work life, when I was working at a high school.
Genderfork: What made it less mind-crushing?
Samson: Well, I now teach young[er] children. And while that feels particularly treacherous as far as parents and administrators finding out about my ID and objecting to me working with young children, I feel a little freer. I feel like I have a chance to influence kids toward tolerance while they’re young, and I think that some of them pick up on my queerness. I hope they do. I hope to leverage that–to let them know it’s OK to be different–both by just being there, and by working it into my curriculum.
Genderfork: So you went into this thinking, “I really like doing this, and I am going to do it even with the risks?”
Samson: Oh yeah. For a long time I thought teaching any younger than college level would be impossible. It was a book that changed my mind, actually: One Teacher in Ten, full of stories from gay and lesbian educators. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows–a lot of tough stories, but all very uplifting. That convinced me I could do it. So it was staying up late in my dorm room, reading this book I’d checked out from the library, that made me reconsider my whole future. And I’m so, so glad I did.
Oh! Also. Having friends at work that I trust enough to be out to has made a HUGE difference. I have two good friends who know most to all of my identity, and it’s made me feel like that part of myself–my queer self–resides and is acknowledged in my workplace too.
Genderfork: It’s starting to sound more like you’re hiding in plain sight than being totally stealth about it.
Samson: Yeah, that’s how I feel too. There are moments when I am stealth, I think… the other day some of my coworkers were trying to set me up with a straight guy. And it was like… there were so many ways in which that wasn’t going to work out! But I didn’t feel comfortable saying anything, nor could I really think of how to phrase it. But really, if I don’t want to talk about my private life, my coworkers don’t really pry. And the kids–I mean, there’s so much you don’t talk about with the kids anyway! They’re so young and developmentally self-centered that I don’t get many questions from them.
Genderfork: So, in a weird way, the same environment that keeps you from being really “out” is also what helps you to stay under the radar?
Samson: Yes! Exactly. It’s so weird.
…I do feel guilty about not being out, though.
Genderfork: It seems odd that you feel guilty about a decision that you seem to have made very deliberately.
Samson: Well, sometimes it feels like a deliberate act of cowardice.
Genderfork: That’s a pretty strong word, cowardice. You seem to be as out as you can be, under the circumstances.
Samson: I blogged about this once… not everyone has to be wildly and loudly out and proud and in-your-face to make a difference. But sometimes I feel like I’m just making excuses. Or that I could be pushing it more than I am. I don’t feel like that as often anymore.
Genderfork: What helped you to feel more at peace with it?
Samson: I think especially because I don’t feel like I’m hiding anymore, per se, but rather hiding in plain sight. I’m not deliberately misleading anyone. And I’m being very actively out in other parts of my life. I guess it kind of makes me feel like I’m making up for it!
Genderfork: I almost feel like you’re talking about a sin. “I’m not out, but I can do penance!”
Samson: Haha! Yes, that’s actually kind of an apt way to put it. I mean, there are lots of people, online and elsewhere, who clamor about how you have no excuses not to be out. …nobody’s said it to my face, but I read it a lot. So they kinda “get to me” in that they get under my skin a bit. Enough that I’m treating it like I’m doing penance for a sin.
I think I might also feel differently about it if I weren’t non-binary. Sometimes I know I don’t have the words to be out among my school coworkers. Like, if I could say I were a trans* man? They’d probably have some frame of reference for that. But to say I’m genderqueer, or an androgyne, or non-binary-aligned trans*? Most of them would have no clue what I meant, and I’d have to do the whole trans* 101 right there.
Genderfork: And the androgyne 101 and the non-binary-aligned 101…
I did an interview recently for a trans research study and the researcher was asking about ID documents (Using/traveling with documents whose gender markers didn’t necessarily match my gender or presentation). And I was thinking, “Well, what the hell would they say to be correct? ‘M’ and ‘F’ are equally wrong”. I feel like he didn’t get what he was looking for, from me… I got my picture retaken to look more androgynous, my license picture, that is.. but I’ve never tried changing my marker, or had people question it.
If I could change it to Q, I would! Or N/A! Because honestly why does it matter?
Genderfork: ‘Cuz society! or patriarchy! Or something.