Gender is not my identity, neither is my work, my family nor my possessions. I believe the things I create identify me.
Who I am and what I am is an amalgamation of different experiences, biology and education. I use those to navigate my way through this world and create lasting works that define my identity. These works of life help me to communicate who I am to the outside world.
Communicating with another human being is one of the most dangerous and fulfilling things we attempt. The meager tools that we have at our disposal are crude and clumsy. Lack of communication has led to the greatest wars, bloodshed, and destruction in human history. Also, the success of sharing concepts have created the greatest works of love and human achievement.
I state all this to try as best I can to describe why many people who don’t experience sex dysphoria have a hard time understanding our communication. It is not a problem of the listener nor the speaker. It is the lack of proper tools. At best, we can only come to a point where we can trust the both sides coming from a place truthfulness and faith in the other person.
Although a trans man can certainly have a rich boyhood, he will still be at a loss trying to relate his experiences to other AFAB (Assigned Female At Birth) friends. There is not a real frame of reference. Many try and fail to compare the childhood of trans men and butch women, but that is not even going to come close to having shared touch points.
Similarly, the lived girlhood of trans women and non-trans women share many commonalities. Including forced gender roles and gender policing. The assertion of these common experiences is either not believed or completely ignored.
This leaves us with a very difficult task of trying to connect on a human level. This frustrating and clumsy process will lead to tempers flared and feelings tweaked. I believe the reason is the lack of communication tools to facilitate that connection. No matter how hard we try, I believe that we will never be able to completely communicate our most inner knowledge to another human being.
What then are we left with? How do we connect with others and share our experiences and motivations? What is that tool?
I believe it starts with the act of sharing the externals. These externals are the choices, actions and expressions we do in everyday life. These externals are then used as common touch points with others who have similar choices, actions and expressions. From these touch points people are able to form relationships based on these commonalities.
It can be a simple as, “I really like the doll with the blue dress I got for my birthday. What do you think?” Or, “I like to play football, do you want to play too?” Depending on the answers to these initial questions, a link can be created between humans.
Similar interactions with others will then form groups, clichés and classes. Further, rightly or wrongly, as these common touch points are reconfirmed and rejected, social stereotypes will be created in the individual and “in” group thinking. This process is part of the socialization process that every human is channeled through. All this from externals expressing our internal thoughts and motivations.
An example of the internal expressed in the external can be seen in the selection of playmates. Many girls do not choose most boys as playmates not because boys are “icky,” but mainly because boys and girls do not have common internal preferences in activities. Whether these internal preferences are forced on people, innate or a combination of both, is not the point. The point is that the internal preferences are expressed externally as a communication tool to the outside world.
That example can be extended to areas of choice in toys, clothing and behaviors. Again, whether these choices are forced, innate or a combination of the two, is not the point. It is the combination of these choices that make up an individual’s identity, and part of that identity is how a given individual relates to the internal knowledge of the sex of their body.
For the majority of people, this works out great and they never need to rethink or examine most of their internal processes. For some, however, this process hasn’t worked out so well. This is true for small and large internalized items and the need to externalize those preferences has caused confusions for both the person trying to communicate and the people they are trying to communicate with.
As a woman with a transsexual history, the only tools that I’ve had available to me is to share my preferences in choice of toys, clothing and behaviors to others. These attempts mostly in the pre-transition days created stress for all involved because in their experiences, I didn’t fit into the stereotype they expected for me.
These clumsy tools for expression have been used to berate myself and others for their belief that we are “reinforcing the gender binary.” I say that this is not the case; and, just because only the external expression can be seen by others, this doesn’t mean that it is only a fleeting preference.
Looking at others through your own externalized tool does not give you special skills into another person’s inner knowledge. All you can really do is try to project your own explanation onto the other individual’s expressions, and many times those come up lacking.
As my final thought, when a person is expressing themselves as best they can with clumsy tools that you do not fathom, please remember that you also have the same clumsy tools at your disposal. Trust people to know themselves and they will trust you to know yourself (Wow, that sounds very familiar).
My identity is not just my gender. My identity is everything that makes up who I am, who I’ve been and who I will be.