08 January 2012

That's How I Am Now

I was just like I am now.  The only difference is, I was a guy then.

Sometimes I think that's what I'll answer if anyone else asks what I was like when I was the "before" photo.  During the first couple of years of my new life, people would ask to see a photo of me from before my transition.  Sometimes I would show an old passport; according to one person, I looked like a terrorist in it.  Other times, I'd show my "Hemingway" photo, in which I sat in a writerly pose at my desk.  And then there was my "Amish" photo, in which I stood in front of a stone farmhouse.

No matter which photo I showed, people said I looked angry or simply unhappy.  That perception is accurate, mostly.   I didn't show the photos I mentioned to highlight that fact, or anything else: I just don't have a lot of photos of myself, particularly from the time before my transition.  I didn't destroy or discard any old ones:  I merely managed to keep myself from being photographed very often.  And I think I made one self-portrait, which I call my "Death Row" photo.

The thing is, I was just as much of a woman in that photo--in which I had close-cropped hair and a beard, and sat clutching the arms of a chair--as I have ever been.  Around that time, in fact, a woman with whom I'd been going to movies and restaurants said "no" when I expressed my wish to make our friendship into something else.  "You're too much like a woman," she said.  "You think the world is all about feelings and refinements.  That's what I like about hanging out with you.  But in that kind of relationship, I want a man."

Perhaps the particulars of what she said were not quite right. But she got the most important part right:  Emotionally and spiritually--as well as intellectually--I have always been female.  Even buying a pair of corduroy pants and flannel shirt--let alone a bike jersey-- became an emotional, esthetic experience for me:  I wanted colors and patterns or designs that not only looked good, but felt right to me.  I was the same way (and still am) with my bicycles, even when I was beating more "macho" guys in races.  It wasn't enough for something to fill a function or to look right:  They also had to feel right to me.

Now, in some ways--including some of the worst ones--I was both a stereotypical male and female.  I was able to navigate through strange cities in countries where I could barely, if at all, speak the language.  On the other hand, I couldn't do math worth a damn.  I can fix nearly anything on a bicycle, and I can fix some small appliances, but I never learned how to fix cars, planes, air conditioners or televisions, and I learned how to use a computer only when I absolutely had to.  I always felt that the only way to relate to people was emotionally; yet it was the very reason I withdrew and lived much of my life alone.

I think that everything I've said in the previous paragraph still holds true, if in different degrees and different ways from before.  But now that I am living as a woman, and my body mostly conforms to my gender identity, I feel complete, whole, in ways that I never did before.  That means I'm happier, if not necessarily more cheerful.  Flipper's trainer says the dolphin's smile is deceptive, especially if she is in captivity.  Cats don't smile, but you know when they are happy.  Sometimes I feel like I've become a cat!

Anyway, now that I've written what you've just read, something else makes sense to me:  why I have so little interest in Gender Studies or any other academic area ostensibly related to questions of gender identity and sexuality.  Even when they're practiced by people who aren't cisgendered and heterosexual, they seem simplistic at best and trivial at worst.  That's the reason why, inwardly, I winced the other day when a new fellow-faculty member said, "Well, you know, gender is performative" and all of those other things they say in graduate seminars.


Freya said...

If I hear "gender is performative" one more time I think that I will throw up.

Justine Valinotti said...

Freya: Hello! I feel the same way. It's almost reason enough not to delve further into Gender Studies.

The Heterodox Homosexual said...

Thank the IPU that none of my degrees are in anything with "studies" in its name.