The goal of many transgender people in transitioning is to “pass.” That is, to have people, especially strangers, associate them with their true gender without question. Yet in a dichotomous society with a foundation of blue and pink, boys and girls, men and women (which gives rise to widespread transphobia in the first place), there is no room for people like me. There is a clear boundary, a crevasse that splits right down the middle of my forehead. “Are you a man or a woman?” No! Should I be?
Am I too complicated? Too needy? Am I just seeking attention? The reality is that my heart sinks every time somebody calls me “she” or sees me as a woman. Not because I think any less of women—I’m a feminist, through and through—but because that’s not who I am. So I pay good money to bind my double-D’s closer to my ribcage, I take a needle to my skin every week to sharpen my jawline and deepen my voice. Most people still say “she,” but some get confused. I love it. I seize onto it. In their hesitation, they either avoid gendering me, or use “they” to avoid offending me. Yes! Thank you! Someone gets it right!
But it doesn’t make me more confident. If anything, I’m hyper-conscious of my presentation and throat-deep in my discomfort. I try even harder to present myself in this pre-defined manner that will get people to see me as something—anything—other than the incorrect identity tied to the body I was born in. Most people’s default response is: well, if it isn’t “she” then it must be “he.” For a while, I think I’m okay with this. But then, surprise! Gender dysphoria on the other end of the spectrum. Some days I can handle it, but other days I feel like an impostor.
I’m not a man. But that doesn’t make me a woman.
My spine begins to revolt against the continual pressure against my ribcage. My hair starts falling out more and more. I scrutinize my reflection so often that my heart feels raw. The pain convinces me to bind less, even though I hate the sight of them. They’ll be gone soon, anyway. The third time I decide to quit testosterone, I actually do it. For now.
The trouble is, my mask, ill-fitting as it was, has dissolved. People once again call me “she” without question. How can anyone say I’m seeking attention, when the attention I receive makes me sick? All I want is to be seen for who I am.
The French philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, famously said, “You are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience.” Yet the parts that our society deems quintessentially male or female (as if intersex doesn’t exist) are merely features of our imperfect human bodies. We are shoved into boxes based on physical manifestations which we have no control over, and which in fact say next to nothing about who we are. Those of us who are lucky enough to feel comfortable with these labels hide behind them. “I am a man/woman who…” Fill in the blank. They become the forefront of our personal definitions. But people like me, who don’t neatly fit the binary labels, hide from them. Most places—including this building and most others on campus—don’t even have somewhere I can pee without questioning my identity.
I wonder… Do spirits have genders? If so, would they be as black-and-white—or pink-and-blue—as our human society paints them to be? And if not…what are we even doing? Why punish the people who may just be more in tune with their spiritual state?
Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. After all…are you not breathing?
Written by Mica Staus | Photography by Alexandra Zenner