by Angus "Andrea" Grieve-Smith

Some of us don’t transition

In the past I’ve done verbal hygiene on the words “transgender” and “coming out,” and now I feel like I need to do some on the word “transition.” I have always thought of transition as meaning that someone takes on a new identity, with a new name and a new presentation, and a new gender marker to go with it. Almost twenty years ago I decided not to transition, meaning that even though I regularly feel gender dysphoria (a discomfort with living as a man) and transgender desire (a desire to live as a woman), I examined my options and concluded that I wanted to continue living as a man most of the time. Back then it seemed pretty clear to everyone what transition was, and I chose not to do it.

Maybe I'm transitioning to a new Centauri identity...
Maybe I’m transitioning to a new Centauri identity…
Once in a while when I tell people I’m transgender and out but not transitioning, I get a puzzled reaction about the “not transitioning.” The first time I recall was about ten years ago from Reid Vanderburgh, but I’ve heard it from several other people since. The general idea is that everyone’s idea of “transition” is personal. I can just decide that for me “transition” means not changing much of anything, so then I must have transitioned!

I guess this line of thinking is meant in a nice way, but there are a few things that bother me about it. The first is that it undermines its own claims to respect my definitions. In this view, I can have any definition of transition I want, as long as I transitioned. I am not allowed to define transition in such a way that I – or any trans person – have the option to not do it.

The second problem is that it erases very real prototype effects. Maybe Vanderburgh and friends will respect my personal definition of “transition,” but they have no power to compel anyone else to. Even if people do accept the idea, that means that nobody knows what I mean by “transition” until I tell them.

As I understand it, they think that I can talk about “my transition” and everyone will keep an open mind and not make any assumptions about what it entails. But that’s really not how anyone’s mind works. We always have an image for any category. If I mention “my dog,” you’re probably going to imagine a common breed like a yellow Lab or a German Shepherd, or maybe a pit bull or a Maltese if you know city dogs. If I then tell you I have a great Dane or a Bassett hound or a Chihuahua you might not be surprised, but you won’t envision one until I tell you, because they’re not prototypical dogs.

Similarly, if I mention “my transition,” you’re going to envision hormones, surgery and a name and document change, because that’s the common transition image. There are so many people doing it who are so vocal about it, that me saying, “I shave my legs more often now” is not going to budge the needle.

Finally, there’s a message I want to send: that you can be trans and lead a relatively happy life without hormones or surgery, and without significantly changing your gender presentation, name, pronouns or legal documentation. For me, the easiest way to say that is “I’m trans, and I decided long ago not to transition.” Take that away, and it makes it that much harder for me to say what I want to say.

The bottom line is that people have images, schemas in their heads for every category. That’s the way the mind works, and saying, “everyone has their own definition” doesn’t make it so. There are some things you can legislate about language, but you can’t legislate prototypes out of existence.

Short Skirt/Long Jacket

Short Skirt Long Jacket
a mind like a diamond knows what’s best
shoes that cut eyes that burn like cigarettes
playing with her jewelry the right allocations
putting up her hair fast and thorough and sharp as a tack
fingernails that shine like justice touring the facilities
a voice that is dark like tinted glass picking up slack
stays up late gets up early
a car with a cupholder armrest a car that will get her there
Kitty Karen
MG white Chrysler LeBaron
Hey! Ho!
uninterrupted prosperity
uses a machete to cut through red tape
smooth liquidation
good dividends

More or less…

Anticipation and gratification

I’ve gone out in public presenting as a woman a few times this summer, which gave me the opportunity to examine my feelings around those types of experiences. One observation is that what I’ve been calling “gender fog” has at least three distinct phases to it: the anticipation of a significant gender event, the event itself and the reaction to the event. I’ve never experienced one phase without the others, but the feelings I feel in each phase are somewhat different.

20140927_192035

The anticipation phase is the most uncomfortable for me. I experience intense excitement, insomnia and difficulty concentrating on anything other than the upcoming event. I find myself planning and rehearsing and rehashing all the details: what I’ll wear, where I’ll go, who I’ll see, and so forth. On the day of the event, I may have shaky hands and low appetite.

The excitement may taper off as the event begins, particularly if what I’m doing is not all that exciting in itself. But the feelings of satisfaction and gratification may grow, even if my feet are hurting or strange men are making me uncomfortable.

After the event, I tend to feel a certain satisfaction. I feel particularly gratified if the event goes well, but usually I feel some gratification even if the event wasn’t particularly satisfying. I often replay the event in my mind, focusing on the most gratifying details: who said what, who did what, what looked good on me in the mirror.

In this gratification period I also find myself thinking about future events: what else would be fun to do? If I see a pretty woman on the street, I may compare myself with her, and feel a desire to be out there on the street looking just as pretty as her. If I bought new clothes, I usually try them on at home and think about when I could wear them in the future.

The gratification period is also when I think most about how “easy” the event was (often because I’ve filtered out the difficult parts in my memory) and how much fun (often because I’ve filtered out any unpleasant parts). I find myself thinking about the possibility of spending longer periods as a woman, or doing it more often. If it begins while I’m still presenting as a woman, that’s the time when I may do something unwise, like the time I went home to the South Bronx without changing first.

I’ve toyed with the idea of separating the notion of “gender fog” into two feelings: anticipation and gratification. At this point I’m leaning towards simply talking about them as two distinct phases in the gender fog process, but I might change my mind about this.

Bigender dysphoria

Gender dysphoria, a feeling of discomfort with life in a particular gender, is the usual psychological justification given for transition: hormones, surgery, name changes, gender marker changes and gender presentation changes. In the standard transgender narrative, this feeling is presented as evidence of a mismatch between the gender that a person is currently living in and their gender identity, meaning the gender they believe themselves to be.

Trans dogma typically goes further, asserting that gender identity beliefs are indications of a person’s “true gender,” or the gender of their “authentic self.” This is usually supported with scientific studies claiming to show innate “brain sex” differences. Transition is presented as the only way to relieve gender dysphoria, and dysphoria as evidence that a transition will be successful and satisfactory.

There are a number of problems with this line of reasoning. The scientific studies are often cherry-picked from preliminary, inconclusive or overreaching research. Many people feel dysphoria without having any gender identity belief, mismatched or not. Many people with dysphoria are not satisfied with transition, and many people who are quite happy with transition show no dysphoria beforehand.

One of the biggest difficulties with the idea that dysphoria means transition is that many people are dysphoric to both (or all) genders. They’re not happy being men or women, and sometimes they’re unhappy with other genders, whether they’re non-Western ones like kathoey or recent creations like neutrois. I personally feel at least as uncomfortable with my experiences a woman as I do with my experiences as a man.

Some people react to this bigender dysphoria with more of the same essentialism: people who are dysphoric to both genders must have an authentic self with a dual gender identity, they say. If the prescription for dysphoria to one gender is transition to the other, then the prescription for bigender dysphoria must be to transition away from both, to an agender presentation. Others say that we should transition to an androgynous presentation incorporating both genders, or a fluid one where we live day to day in whichever gender bothers us the least.

The difficulty with these transition-based approaches is that frequently people need to experience a life in a gender before they know for sure how it will make them feel. That means that someone (like myself, for example) may know for years that we are dysphoric to masculinity before we discover that we are also dysphoric to femininity. A significant number of people have gotten major body modifications before they figured it out.

If we are uncomfortable with all genders, though, it raises the possibility that what we are uncomfortable with is not gender at all, but something else in life, like the pressure to conform, or some constant in our own lives, like a bad economy or an oppressive family. There may be other ways to deal with these problems, or they may be things that we have to accept. For some, there is even the possibility that they are trapped with no good options.

The bottom line is that any approach that offers only one solution, transition, is going to fail anyone with bigender dysphoria, and that anyone who feels dysphoria to one gender should give careful and thorough consideration to the possibility that they are dysphoric toward other genders as well.

Sunk costs and the non-transitioner

I’ve talked in the past about my choice to deal with my transgender feelings by coming out of the closet but not transitioning. There are several challenges to this approach, and tonight I want to talk about the challenge of sunk costs.

Why did I buy this lip gloss?
Why did I buy this lip gloss?
For those of us who choose transition, that transition quickly becomes the most important part of life. It affects almost every facet of how they interact with other people, every minute of their waking lives. It can affect their bodies in dramatic ways. It requires a huge investment of time, money and effort in mental preparation, practice, counseling, medical expenses, clothes, accessories, cosmetics and legal and government fees.

People who transition see those resources being put to constant use, and often can point to specific milestones towards a goal of being seen as “completely a woman” or “completely a man” (problematic goals, to be sure, but many people have them). Whether it’s a transition announcement, a hormone letter, a gender marker change, a gender presentation change, these milestones can serve as confirmation that the resources haven’t been wasted.

Sometimes we forget that those of us who don’t transition have significant costs as well. Many of us spend a lot of time practicing speech and body language, and a lot of money on counseling, soft body mods, clothes, accessories and cosmetics. But we only see that time, money and energy put to use when we do present as our target gender, and if we don’t transition that may not be very often.

In some ways I envy transitioners those milestones and those feelings of accomplishment. Since I decided not to live as a woman, being “completely a woman” or being seen as such is not a goal for me. In fact, I have no real long-term goal for my transgender activities, other than keeping my transgender feelings within a tolerable range. I have had short-term goals, like developing a passable voice or learning how to cover my beard shadow with makeup, but if I ever feel I have accomplished one of these goals, I find myself wondering what the point was. Why spend all that time practicing a voice that I use once or twice a month? Why spend all that time on makeup skills, and all that money on makeup and instruction, for something I don’t do that often?

This is what I call the feeling of sunk costs, and one effect of this feeling is a desire to put those resources to use. It makes us want to go out more often, to show off that makeup, that voice, to reassure ourselves that we weren’t spending the time and money for nothing.

How I deal with gender fog

A friend of mine showed a friend of hers my previous post on gender fog, and it got me thinking that it’s time to write a blog post about dealing with gender fog. As you can see from my previous post, it’s not like I’ve mastered the thing: it still can give me insomnia for days. But I have developed some coping mechanisms that I find useful, and maybe they’ll help you too.

To recap: Gender fog is a feeling that some transgender people get leading up to, during and sometimes shortly after, a significant gender event. What makes an event significant is highly subjective and personal, and dependent on the situation. Between the time when the event is planned and when it happens, I experience an intense excitement, often so intense that it interferes with my sleep. During that time I find myself planning and visualizing and rehashing every minute detail of the event, no matter how mundane, and often have difficulty concentrating on anything else (like work, friends or family). If I share my focus with friends or family, no matter how tolerant, they tend to complain that I show little interest in them or their needs. I sometimes lose my perspective on my own life and make decisions that I later regret. So what do I do to keep this from getting out of control?

  • I give myself breaks. Gender fog is very stressful, and in my experience it impairs my judgment. I need time when I’m not going through it, to relax and clear my head. In my experience it gradually subsides over the following week. After ten days it’s completely gone. I want at least ten gender-fog-free days, so I try to have these significant gender events at least a month apart.

  • I try not to do anything too special. I get so excited doing the same thing every month or so – going out for a walk and a little shopping, generally – that meeting up with a friend is a big deal. As I said above, what makes something a big deal is going to be different for every person and every circumstance. But compounding new things (“This is the first time I’ve gone out in three months, and I’ve got a new coat, and I’m meeting a friend, and we’re doing karaoke”) seems to make the gender fog worse.
  • I set goals and limits ahead of time. These may not be set in stone forever, but if I can say, “I’m going to go to the bar and have two drinks and then go home,” or “I’m going to spend no more than a hundred dollars on clothes,” it helps to keep things in perspective.
  • I try not to deny myself. Setting limits is good, but in my experience, one of the worst things for gender fog is the feeling that I’ve been restraining myself and keeping myself from doing whatever it might be. When I finally get a chance to do that thing, it releases my inner toddler, who does the thing as long and hard as she can. So I try to find a way to keep that kid happy.
  • I try not to plan too far in advance. The longer the time between the decision and the event, the longer the fog lasts. A major mistake this past time was deciding on Saturday that I would be going out the following Thursday. In the past, if I decided just a day in advance that meant only one sleepless night. If I can swing it, a spontaneous same-day decision is ideal.
  • I warn my loved ones. When I tell my wife I’m planning to go out, she knows that there will be a while when I’ll be distracted, and a time when I will be self-centered. She knows not to take anything too seriously at that point. It’s only fair.
  • I’m prepared to back out. In the past I’ve changed my plans because I realized that things were getting too intense. I went out by myself instead of with friends, or I wore something a bit less sexy and revealing, or lower heels. Sometimes I just cancelled the thing altogether, or went in guy mode, and went out later when I could do it at shorter notice. My friends have always been cool with it.
  • I’m aware of the gender fog. I’ve been through this before, and I know that my judgment is not at its best. As Slartibartfast said, “Do not agree to buy anything at this point.” I do, in fact, buy things, but I try to stay within my preset spending limit, and I generally succeed. I try to never, ever, take major risks, or make any major irreversible life decisions while in the fog. Sometimes I just tell myself, “Oh, I’ll decide that next week,” and then I usually wind up saying, “What was I thinking?”

So those are some of the things I do to deal with gender fog. I’d be interested to hear what your experiences with gender fog are, and if you’ve come up with any strategies that I didn’t mention here!

Gender fog feeds dysphoria

I had a really tough bout of gender fog this past week, and I have two thoughts from it. One quick thought is that it really makes a difference how far in advance I plan an event. In this case I decided to go out to the Queens Pride House transgender support group presenting as a woman. I decided almost a week in advance, which meant a week of insomnia and distraction.

Photo: Pauline Park
Photo: Pauline Park
The second thought is more complex: it’s that gender fog leads to gender dysphoria. Over the past week I spent a significant chunk of my waking hours, and a lot of the time I was supposed to be sleeping, thinking over and over again about what I was going to wear, what I wasn’t going to where, what the weather would be, when I was going to change, who I might run into, who might be at the support group, what they might say, what they might not say, trying on outfits, practicing my voice, and so on.

I don’t want to suggest I was worried about any of those things. I mean, you always want to think about safety, but it was care, not worry. The rest of it was excitement, the way I feel the night before a trip to Europe.

As I was having those thoughts, getting dressed and putting on my makeup, I had a lot of opportunities to think about the obstacles and challenges. If I had a smaller belly I could wear this dress. If I had narrower shoulders I could wear that dress. If I had spent more time wearing pumps or sandals in the sun I wouldn’t have those tan lines. If I didn’t have so much facial hair I wouldn’t have to wear all this makeup. If I got my ears pierced I could wear a wider variety of earrings.

I also felt a bit annoyed about all the time and energy I put into one night. If I went out again I would have to do the makeup and clothes, but I wouldn’t have to shave. I would be able to get more of my time and money’s worth for all the clothes and makeup and voice practice I’ve done.

And every once in a while I got annoyed with my facial hair, with my big arms, my crotch bulge, my deep voice, my tan lines, my belly, my narrow hips. I thought how much easier it would be if I had real breasts, and years of socialization as a woman.

In other words, I had gender dysphoria – discomfort with the masculine gender role that I live in most of the time, and body dysphoria – discomfort with the male aspects of my body – caused by the gender fog. Caused by my feelings and thoughts about this outing. Caused by my decision to take this outing, by my own plans. I increased my dysphoria through my own actions.

Of course, I think about all the people I know who have transitioned. They’ve told me that even though some obstacles (shaving, bulges, tan lines) go away, others remain, and new ones appear. Family problems, job problems, discrimination, safety. In the light of transition, things that had never bothered them before take on new significance.

All things that I took into account nineteen years ago when I decided not to transition. It was a good decision and I don’t see myself changing it.

But if I did this more often, I’m not so sure I would hold to my decision. If I never let the gender fog subside: if as soon as one event was over I had another one planned a week or so later, if as soon as I got used to one trans activity I pushed the envelope, if I spent every day and night thinking about trans stuff and how much more I could do, I think it would get too much.

I could see my dysphoria increasing, and my desire to be a woman growing with it. I could see myself getting my ears pierced, getting my hair removed, insisting on changing at home. And then I could see myself going out more often, pushing the envelope harder. The fog itself was pretty unpleasant; combine it with enough dysphoria and transition looks like a big improvement.

And that’s why, when some of my friends from the support group asked, “Will we see Andrea again soon?” I had to tell them they probably wouldn’t. They’ll definitely see me (they’re a great group of people, and their support is a huge help to me) but probably not in a dress. That was way too much gender fog – and too much dysphoria. I made my decision nineteen years ago, and I’m not going to put myself in a position to revisit it.

A Sundress for Sisyphus

m4s0n501

I was glad I had the day off Friday, so I could go shopping as a girl before hanging out at the Seedy Eye. I spent a lot of time on my makeup, and it paid off: only one “sir” and four “ma’am”s. I found a nice full skirt that balanced out my shoulders, and decided to wear it to the bar to show off.

As I was relaxing with Eddie and Kyle and Lisa over my first beer, the door swung open wide and a man barreled in, with several shopping bags. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with collar-length salt-and-pepper hair and a long shaggy beard, wearing what looked like they might once have been elegant silk robes, but they were dusty and torn. He waved at Gina and squeezed himself and his shopping bags into the bathroom.

“New gal?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s right, you don’t usually come on Fridays. That’s Sissy,” said Lisa.

“Let me guess, she’s going to come out in some frilly little-girl dress with petticoats?”

“What? Oh, yeah, that’s what I thought too when I heard that name.”

“Like the other Sissy who comes on Thursdays,” said Kyle.

“But no, she says she’s had that name for a very long time. Isn’t she going by a different name now, Eddie?”

“Yeah, um… Anna, I think.” He stared at my legs. “So, Traci, new skirt?”

Eventually the door opened and she came out. She had shaved and done a pretty good job with the makeup, but if you ask me the sundress she had on drew too much attention to her big muscular arms. Eddie got up and bought her a beer, and they came back and sat with us. Anna settled wearily on a barstool and smiled at me.

“Hi, I’m Anastasia, Ana for short. I’ve been coming here for a year, but I haven’t seen you.” She had an elegant European accent of some kind, maybe Spanish or Slavic.

“Hi Ana, I’m Traci. I usually come on Saturdays, but I got the day off today, and I bought this new skirt!” I stood up and gave it a twirl. Eddie and Kyle and Lisa clapped politely.

“Very nice, it balances your shoulders. And your nail polish matches.”

“I had some time before this place opened, and I liked the skirt so much I stopped in Walgreen’s and picked up this nail polish.” I dug it out of my purse and waved it around. “Plum pomegranate.”

“Plum pomegranate!” Ana made a face. “So are you transitioning?”

“Me, nope. I just do this on weekends. Blow off steam.”

“Your wife lets you walk around with plum pomegranate nail polish?”

“Nah, I’m going to wipe it off before I go home. She doesn’t mind a little residue.”

“Very accommodating.”

“She’s the best.” I looked down at my hands. “This time I got it on smoothly in two coats. Only got a little on this pinky.”

“Very good.” She looked me up and down. “So tell me something, Traci. If you are only out for three hours, why put on nail polish at all?”

“Good question. Sometimes I don’t feel like putting on nail polish. But it’s good practice.”

“Good practice, yes. But if you are not transitioning, why are you practicing how to put on nail polish?”

“Hm. Well, it will probably come in handy for SuperFemmeCon in August.”

“Are you planning to spend the whole time en femme at SuperFemmeCon?”

“I hope so, if I can get the lady to give the okay. Why do you ask?”

“Because everyone who goes to SuperFemmeCon tells me they go, spend the whole time en femme, and at the end of the weekend they feel tremendously let down and wish they could transition. Why go, if you will feel horrible afterwards?”

“Why go? I take it you’ve never gone?”

“No,” said Ana, sadly. “I’ve never gone. I cannot leave the greater New York area.”

“Wow. Old ball and chain really weighing heavily on you.”

Her eyes widened. “What did you say?”

“You know, the metaphor. Your wife, she’s like a ball and chain around your ankle.” I pantomimed dragging around a ball and chain.

“Ah, a metaphor.” She stared bitterly at her wine.

“Yeah. Well, SuperFemmeCon is fun. It’s a welcome change from the same old thing. Who wants to get dressed up in the same old clothes every Saturday night, same makeup, drink the same beers and have the same conversations with the same people?”

“Who, indeed?”

“I mean, doing the same thing over and over again is really boring! A gal needs a sense of progress. Improve the makeup, improve the clothes, take a voice lesson, maybe save up for a little laser.”

“And yet you said you were not transitioning.”

“Nope. Not for me. Uh-uh.”

“So why invest time and money into things that you will use maybe once a week?”

“Well… Maybe if I had laser I would go out more than once a week. Maybe I could swing a Friday every couple of weeks.”

“Would your wife like that? Would she want to spend that money on laser?”

“Well, no. Um…”

Suddenly a voice crackled from Ana’s purse. “Sisyphus, your time is up!” All of a sudden, her beard started to grow. We all just stared, and within thirty seconds it was the length it had been when she came in. She sighed and stood up. “Well, good night, guys.”

“Wait, your name is really Sisyphus?” I cried. “Someone named you after that guy…” She gathered her shopping bags, turned her back on me, and walked into the bathroom. After a few minutes she emerged in her old robes, with her face pretty cleaned up considering, waved sadly and went out into the night.

I looked at Eddie and Kyle and Lisa. “Someone actually named her after the guy who rolled the big rock up the hill forever?”

Lisa looked at me. “Here’s the deal, Traci. Last year, Olympus passed a package of transgender protections and benefits.”

“Olympus. You mean Mount Olympus where the Greek gods live, not the camera company. I think they’re out of business anyway… Never mind.”

“So one of the first to claim benefits was Sisyphus. After all, he was cursed to roll the rock up the hill because he was clever and deceitful. Everyone figured he was faking it.”

“Fucking transtrender,” mumbled Kyle.

“Maybe he was hoping the hormones would make him too weak to handle the rock. But Hermaphroditus looked deep in his soul and found-“

“-that he had the soul of a woman?” I asked.

“No, silly. You know there’s no such thing as the soul of a woman. Souls have no gender. Hermaphroditus found that Sisyphus did not have strong enough dysphoria to qualify for hormones.”

“Okay.”

“But Hermaphroditus did find evidence of mild transgender desire. So Sisyphus was given three hours off every Friday.”

“Just enough time to come in here, shave and have a glass of wine,” said Kyle.

“And then start all over again next week,” said Eddie.

Lisa shook her head. “Poor cursed soul.”

“Yup.” I looked down at my nail polish and my freshly shaved legs. “Poor cursed soul.”

On passing

In various transgender blog posts and articles you’ll come across the idea that it’s okay not to pass, that trans men who don’t pass are still men, and trans women who don’t pass are still women. You’ll even find plenty of arguments that it’s wrong to try to pass, or to use the word “pass,” because it’s connected with racist ideas of “passing for white,” or because it implies that trans people are not the gender they claim to be, reinforcing the “deceiver” stereotype and undermining the essentialist “trans women are women” ideology.

I get where a lot of this is coming from, and I’m sympathetic to it. I agree that the old culture of passing was fraught with misogyny and conformism, and that the “deceiver” stereotype has been part of a system of violent exploitation of trans people. I also agree that some people have a harder time passing than others, and that that doesn’t necessarily make them any less trans. I don’t think it would be the worst thing in the world if trans women were seen by the general public as a special kind of women instead of as “men in dresses.” And people who transition need to do whatever they can to make peace with their new lives.

I have several problems with this line of thinking, however. One major problem is that trans people, particularly those of us on the feminine spectrum, regularly face harassment and discrimination. Passing, particularly superficial passing on the street, can prevent a lot of that. Just last weekend I went out shopping. I think at some point my makeup must have gotten smudged, because I started getting funny looks from people on the street. Nobody said anything, but I imagine that I would have gotten more extreme looks, and maybe comments, if I’d gone out in a dress with no makeup at all on. Passing makes a difference to our safety. It’s fine for people to take calculated risks to show confidence in public, but it’s not fair to expect everyone to do that.

Some of the trans men I’ve talked to say that the safety issue is different for them, although no less important. They don’t get targeted so much for being seen as deceivers, but for being seen as women, and sometimes as lesbians. If they think they pass, they may go to places where they would hesitate to go as women, but where they feel relatively safe as men. Not passing exposes them as women, and thus as potential prey.

Another issue is that for many of us, our presentation is a skill, something we’ve worked at for years, an art or a craft. It takes time and effort to get it right, every time. We deserve to be proud of our work and to be appreciated for it.

Here’s one of my biggest problems with these anti-passing arguments: I didn’t start wearing women’s clothes because I wanted to be a trans woman. I wanted to be a woman. Not just any woman, but a pretty, sexy woman. (Give me a break, I was twelve years old.) I know full well that there are plenty of women who are admired and respected for being smart, thoughtful and caring, but those are things I can do as a guy. What’s the point of being a woman if I can’t be pretty or sexy?

I also know that it’s possible to be seen as a sexy, pretty trans woman. I’m open to that, but it’s not what I want when I feel my trans desire. The desire is to be a woman, and that means the kind of women I envied when I was a teenager: women who were not noticeably trans.

And yes, I know that many other trans women have made peace with the idea of being seen as trans, or not being seen as pretty or sexy. I say good for them, and I say that without sarcasm. But many of them have transitioned, and it makes much more sense to give up on that kind of desire when you’ve decided to live as a woman full-time for the rest of your life. Many of them are also older, and when I get older I will eventually make peace with not being sexy, but not yet.

So yes, it’s great to challenge the deceiver stereotype, and the pressure to pass, and the toxic culture of “passing tips.” But it’s also okay to want to be safe, to be pretty, to be sexy, and to be proud of our work.

We are not rational

We are not rational. And by “we,” I mean people. What made the characters of Spock and Data on Star Trek seem so alien was that they were so much more rational than the human (and Klingon and Betazoid) characters around them. Sheldon Cooper on the Big Bang Theory idolizes Spock, but the best he can mange is to mark out islands of rationality in a sea of feelings, and even these often collapse under their mutual inconsistency, or even their own internal inconsistencies.

IMG_3170Knowing this about people, it is not surprising that transgender people are irrational. What is surprising sometimes is how often we are expected to be rational, and specifically of course how our transgender actions – to present as a different gender than what everyone else is expecting, to modify our bodies – are expected to be rational. Why should we be rational when doctors and lawyers and priests are not rational? When the President of the United States is not rational? Why are so many people – not just our families and friends and doctors, but above all ourselves and other trans people – holding us to a higher standard than everyone else?

There is a rational explanation for this behavior, this irrational insistence on rationality. It comes from gatekeeping. Many of the things we do, like body modification and public displays of gender non-conformity, have the potential to seriously mess up our lives if we don’t take proper precautions. Many of the things we do also pose serious threats to the established power structure. Authority figures have historically allowed these actions only on the condition that we supply a rational explanation for them.

In one important sense the gatekeepers are right. We should take a rational approach to figuring out our lives, to dealing with our transgender feelings. We should consider the options and plan carefully before getting major surgery or putting life-altering substances in our bodies. And that means not making those decisions when we’re in the middle of a gender fog.

The problem is not with being rational, it’s with applying a double standard for rationality. We trans people aren’t the only irrational ones, and we’re not the only ones who get body-modifying surgeries and injections and pills, and who change our names and identities. Everyone should put a lot of thought and care into these decisions. But since there’s no way to legislate thought and care, everyone should be free to make their own choices.

Maybe if we are truly free to be irrational about our major life decisions, we will finally feel able stop pretending that we’re always rational.