Most trans people who are older than thirty have considered themselves to be in more than one category of gender minority over their lifetime. I’ve talked a lot about the common path from not being in any trans category to cross-dresser to transitioned trans woman. I’ve observed other paths: from non-trans to nonbinary to transitioned trans man. Sometimes people move from trans woman or trans man to nonbinary, or to non-trans.
Some of these people would argue that they never changed: they were always the same category, but their understanding of themselves changed. I would say that I’ve changed relatively little, and my understanding of myself has been fairly stable; it’s the categories that other people apply to me that have changed.
I’m not the only trans person who’s seen the categories shift around us. The kinds of people we called “transsexuals” when I was in college were later called MTFs, transgender women, then transwomen, and now trans women, sometimes even “women of transgender experience.”
Categorizing people is notoriously difficult, because each one of us is a complex system of complex systems. One way to get some clarity is to go beyond categories for people and talk about feelings, beliefs and actions. I feel gender dysphoria, transgender desire and gender fog. I don’t have a strong belief about what gender I belong to. I’ve only modified my body in minor ways. Part of the time I choose my gender presentation to convey that I want to be seen as a woman; the rest of the time I try to convey that I want to be seen as a man.
When I was a teenager, someone who did what I did was called a transvestite. That was replaced by cross-dresser, and now there are people who believe that cross-dressers no longer exist. This is in part due to the common pattern that trans people who come out of the closet have tended to transition. The result is that most of the trans people who don’t transition are still in the closet.
For a while, there were a lot of people who didn’t know where to put me in their taxonomies. I have the same set of feelings as any other trans people, but I don’t share most of the same beliefs. I didn’t take any actions to transition, and I don’t want to.
When nonbinary identities became more common, I looked into them. I share beliefs with some non-binary people, in that I don’t think I belong to one gender or another independent of my cultural assignment and comfort levels. But my actions differ from those of many nonbinary people; in terms of gender expression I’m one of the most binary people you’ll meet!
After a few years of feeling isolated and neglected, I believe I have the millennial generation to thank for giving me and my transgender actions a new conceptual home. I’m genderfluid! Sometimes I’m one gender, sometimes I’m another.
There’s a fair amount of variation within the category of genderfluid people. Some actually have a belief in their own gender that fluctuates over time, while my skepticism about my own gender is fairly constant. “Fluid” is also not a great way to capture my gender expression, which again is very binary. I generally will stick with the same gender expression for at least a day, with no intermediate stages, at least not any that I share with people outside my family. So my gender expression fluctuates, but between the two binary poles.
Since I’ve talked about genderfluid beliefs and actions, it’s worth mentioning that feelings about gender fluctuate for everyone, trans and non-trans. Most people experience some feelings of gender dysphoria and transgender desire over the course of their lives. All trans people have times when our feelings are less intense, and times when they’re more intense, and times when we feel transgender desire but not gender dysphoria, or vice versa, and the intensity of gender fog varies over time. So in terms of feeling, we’re all genderfluid.
The best part is that when I tell people that I’m genderfluid, they don’t give me the kinds of baffled stares that I’ve gotten when I’ve identified myself as a transvestite over the past fifteen years or so. They have a sense of what to expect, even if they may not know why. After all, I’m not sure I know why. I’m not sure which millennials I have to thank for this, but I’m grateful!
I love hearing about how the terms we use in the queer community have evolved over time (needless to say, I’m geeking out over your linguist meets queer terminology blog! 😀 ). The other day I came across a 90’s Trans magazine discussing queer themes in Star Trek: TNG. That’s when it hit me how much the language has changed in a relatively short timeframe
The Magazine I’m referring to is here btw: https://archive.org/details/transgendertapes7619unse/mode/2up# Besides my deep love of Star Trek, it’s also amazing seeing such supportive messaging in all its 90’s stylistical realness.
Wow, thanks for that link. It’s a great illustration of how much the language has changed over the past 25 years. That was already 15-20 years after I first encountered transgender concepts, and the language had changed in that time too. The language that my parents learned for those concepts in the 1950s and 60s was different again!
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