Am I still trans, regardless of how I choose to describe myself? I get this online and in real life. People who are familiar with transition as a concept have a hard time understanding how someone could look butch with a visible history of medical transition and still acknowledge herself as a woman. On the other hand, those with less awareness of transition accept pretty readily that I’m an unusual-looking woman, whether they like it or not. Anyway… when these more socially aware coworkers or friends ask me if I’m transitioning to become a man, this is generally a question intended to be sensitive and considerate. I reiterate what I’ve generally already stated pretty clearly: I’m a woman. Then they tell me about each individual trans person they’ve met and I nod politely. This interaction sometimes happens more than once with the same person.
Online, it tends to be less a question and more an accusation- i.e., “such a repressed trans man lol”, etc. This comes off as a reflexive dismissal that a woman could ever look like me, or live my life. Interestingly enough, online this tends to come from people who would generally tell you that trans people are exactly the gender they identify as. I guess that self-determination ends when you start telling people you’re not trans anymore.
With both people in town and strangers online, it seems like my identification with my femaleness is mainly in question because of how I look. If I made efforts to hide the physical evidence of my history of transition, or my disinterest in assimilating with mainstream cultural expectations of womanhood, I’m pretty sure I’d hear this specific dismissal less often. Not that my descriptions of my own life would get more respect if this was the case- they so wouldn’t. But I think the strategy for proving my voice doesn’t matter might shift.
“You were never trans” attempts to exclude me from my own experiences with transition. “You’re still trans” attempts to exclude me from my sex. People who feel threatened by the perspectives of detransitioned women often seem to make strategic choices about how to attack an individual woman’s credibility in a given situation. It’s all very political 😉
Accusing a butch lesbian of wanting to be something other than a woman is a statement with a lot of baggage. Historical accounts include anecdotes of homophobes saying really similar shit, decades and decades ago. Then, like now, it demonstrated the speaker’s narrow ideas about how women should behave and cast any variation as pathological.
And just to be clear: I don’t want to be a man (or a nonbinary person!), not anymore, because I no longer hate being a woman. I used to, largely because I equated my own femaleness with the beliefs others expressed about what womanhood meant, beliefs I internalized in complex ways that are difficult to untangle. I saw women abused by men, over and over, and I blamed my own body for the way men’s actions harmed me. I believed transition would resolve the intense disconnect/hatred for my own sex and general dysfunctionality I felt. I thought I looked and acted the way I did because I was a man, and being mistaken for a dyke was humiliating.
That’s not the case now. Now, I understand my complicated feelings towards my physical self as an understandable reaction to living in a fucked up world, and I place the blame where it belongs: with men. I tried transition and saw that it did not fix me, because my body was never the problem. I still have really intense, challenging feelings about being female because I still live in a fucked up world and have a brain impacted by past trauma. I can handle those feelings by talking it out with other women, reading about others who have been through similar stuff, exercising, spending time with animals, connecting with nature, meditating, journaling, or using other tools. I see the way I have always preferred to dress and act not as an expression of an innately not-woman identity, but as an aspect of how I, personally, responded to the enormous pressure put on women to look some specific way or another; I see it as part of my innately female self. I am no longer ashamed to have my similarities with other lesbians, including other butch lesbians, recognized.
I value my connections to the trans community; I will always be visually identifiable as someone who once understood myself as a part of it. I will continue to encounter people who don’t believe me when I say I’m not trans. That doesn’t make me any less a woman. What happened to me happens to women. I know, because I’m a woman, and it happened to me.
These are conclusions I came to about my own life as a result of applying feminist consciousness raising principles in interactions with other women with a history of transition. They are just as organic as the conclusions I came to about my own life when I applied what I had learned through transgender community, if not more so- there’s a much wider diversity of opinions in my current circles than my old ones, and an awful lot less policing of each other.
I was encouraged by transgender community to be open to changes in how I understood my relationship with gender when I went from not knowing I was trans, because I’d never heard of it, to knowing I was trans, because the new information I had changed how I understood my feelings about my body and social role. The same people who strongly encourage that type of questioning are often the ones who are outraged by women like me, who continue to question, and who eventually find some ideas that work better for us than a lot of trans ideology did.