It is impossible to talk about gender these days without using specific terminology designed to liberate those of us that have been marginalised by a normative binary gender regime. As much as I benefit from the space of liberation that has been created, this new language is itself a kind of new regime under whose nouns all narratives rally for legitimacy, and inevitably succumb to its tropes.
I’m searching desperately to unearth for you the paradigm in which I experienced gender before all those words came to our rescue. I am searching for language that was untweetable and unpostable. I am not from the “LGBT” generation that could social media the hell out of every “micro-aggression” from the school bathroom in real time. When we got home and when asked, we said that everything was fine, school was fine, PE was fine, the field trip was fine. Telling on people was not something done. When we were ganged up on, publicly mocked, tripped and pushed, there was no one to like our angry status, to leave notes on our Tumblr or to express solidarity and outrage in the comment section of our YouTube channel.
I could not hide from my despised body in my despised body.
There was no other world for us to go. I could not hide from my despised body in my despised body. I could not leave it at home, out of reach from the bullies at school. It had to go everywhere with me. Some mouth had to say present when my name was called, some hand had to fill in the blanks in biology exams. The most I could do was slouch to hide my non-existent breasts or wear ambiguously fitting clothes that insinuated their negative space. During and between class, I curbed my body language to avoid the sniper scope of bullies as much as possible. Sit away from them. Sit behind them. Sit in the corner. Don’t answer even if you know the answer. I tried so hard to concentrate through my terror. During recess and lunch breaks I hid my despised body in the library or unlit corridors or abandoned classrooms, all of which I had mapped out.
I never imagined I would grow up to be a woman. All through grade school, I drew pictures of surfer dudes with six packs and crew cuts. Their chests and torsos looked like grown up, improved versions of mine. At night I dreamt of running faster, kicking the ball harder. During the day I did pushups and examined my bulging biceps for progress. In a sex segregated lunch mess hall full of hundreds of children, I ate on the boys’ side and only ever heard a sore word about it from the adult lunch aide. And so when it came time to pass puberty and undergo that non-consensual sex change that every tomboy must in junior high, my body miraculously managed to decline the offer. But instead of welcoming me into their club like they used to, the boys suddenly despised me. All the rules had changed over summer break between middle school and junior high. They didn’t want to play with me anymore. They wanted to fantasize about me. My freakish “unfeminine” body unsettled them. My presence in masculine territory threatened and unhinged their own. My refusal to burst into curves and menstruate confounded them to the point of contempt.
I wish I could tell you I stood up for my “transgender” body, but I didn’t. I was ashamed and alone.
I wish I could tell you I stood up for my “transgender” body, but I didn’t. I was ashamed and alone. It was war. My body stood for who I was and who I had always been and I abandoned it. Desperate under the omnipresent adolescent pressure to not stand out, I begged and cajoled it to conform, but it refused. My younger sister got her period before I did. I was collapsing.
My “transgender” story is the exact opposite of what most transgender kids describe about their adolescent body defying their soul: my body was true and my soul was elsewhere. Perhaps that is why I am somewhat sceptical of the language that now exists: because I have never found the words to describe what I lived. The animal of the body, with all its superior intelligence and integrity, remains helplessly mute.
I finally did hit puberty at the end of high school and into college I grew suddenly curvaceous and popular socially. But then a funny thing happened. After a few years of enjoying that privilege, I began to miss my transgender body and the war began again, this time with my new “gender conforming” body. I wanted my flat chested, athletic, “masculine” body back. I abandoned the flowery dresses and silver earrings and went back to the men’s section at clothes shops. My body had been right and it had held out as long as it could.
I am an interloper in both bathrooms. That’s the definition of my gender.
The response is still hostile. I recently went to a conference in Dubai and was accosted every time I went to the women’s bathroom by self appointed gender police, to the point where I was near a breakdown and could barely work. I began to use the women’s bathroom at the furthest reaches of the hotel, only to be chastised by my boss for “taking such long breaks.” Just like in school, I began to create a map of the places where I would least likely have my gender called into public questioning and ridicule. I would have used the men’s bathroom, but I was afraid of the physical violence, or threat of it, that men are capable of and that they have shown me since junior high and high school as a punishment for trespassing. I am an interloper in both bathrooms. That’s the definition of my gender.
“You’ve already shared a bathroom with a trans person. You were fine.” Tweeted by @cameronesposito.
This article was previously published in the FRAME LIFE issue Documenting Gender, which can be downloaded here.