Tuesday, May 6, 2008

why being outed sucks, or, please respect my own body knowledge and experience thank you very much

Today I was outed for the first time in a really long time. I mean, I suppose I get "outed" in different ways all the time, people read me as queer, or people mention that I like girls. And that's fine and all. I've just never been outed as a trans person before and really, it was kind of nerve wracking and frustrating on several levels.

One of the placements I interviewed with for LVC called up one of my references asking about "Dylan." Now, it could've been worse. The person he called was luckily the adviser for the lgbta group here. However, she still was not aware that I am trans, and that I am going by Dylan. So I got a voice message from her during class asking me to stop by her office because she had an LVC question. I go by, and she asks me about it, I tell her that yes, I'm planning on transitioning. She proceeds to express shock and disappointment that I would give up being a woman, talking about how I am such a strong woman, that part of the reason she wants me to nanny for Rex is so that he has an example of a "strong, beautiful woman" around. *sigh* I explain to her that I've struggled with this for a long time, and that I am extraordinarily unhappy in my body. She suggested that I wait a few years after college to "find my voice" and that once I get away from "small minded Lutherans" I'll feel more comfortable being a woman, and that women go through cycles and transformations. She also made some comments about trust, and how I won't be trusted as easily as a man. *sigh*

I know she means well, and I know she was saying these things because she does care about me. But honestly I'm a little hurt and a little offended. I know that I am unhappy in my body, and that it's not about having low self-esteem, or wanting privilege. My identity is part of my bodily, lived experience, which is valid and a truth. The fact that I am trans doesn't change my queerness, my politics, my feminism, my activism, or who I am as a person. In particular I wanted to emphasize to her that my feminism is not implicit in having female secondary sex characteristics. I am still perfectly capable of transitioning and being feminist. Yes, I know that being read as a man in society will come with privilege. For me, I'm reading it as more subversive. I am not transitioning for the bonus perks of manhood. Transition can be seen as revealing how little there is between men and women. As I mentioned when I wrote about Max Valerio, transsexuality reveals the tenuous nature of the line between woman and man.

The whole situation reminded me of reading about bodies in Eli Clare's "Exile and Pride." In particular, his discussion of bodies, and how bodies can be home. I understand Eli when he says "home starts here in my body, in all that lies embedded beneath my skin," when he talks about how our culture and class and background are all aspects of our bodies as home. My body was home in my childhood, I felt comfortable and safe in my body. It was at puberty that my body turned on my, and started changing and that was when my body ceased to be completely home. Even today, I fight with my body as home. I know my parts of my body as home, I've learned that directing my frustration at my body itself isn't effective and is detrimental to my health.

I would be remiss if I didn't admit that the mere fact that I will be able to afford transition has class implications. I am white and upper/middle class, and educated. I don't know what it feels like to grow up in a rural community, in a working class community. The fact that I will be able to make my body home, to make my body that bridge, is evidence of my class standing, and I will need to deal with that.

My interaction with the pride adviser was frustrating because I didn't know how to explain to her that I want to be fully home in my body again. I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and not feel a disconnect between my image of who I am in my head. In the end, I wish I could explain to her that I will finally feel at home in my body when I can take hormones and have surgery, and that it has nothing to do with wanting to not be a woman, or wanting male privilege.

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