When I was in high school I learned about the difference between sex and gender. I was lucky to even have that much education at the time, where I lived, but what we learned was rather basic. Sex is your body and your chromosomes; gender is your identity. This simple definition assumes that gender is a relatively simple, coherent thing. It’s the idea that’s behind “real life experience,” the idea that assumes trans people fit into a fairly narrow range of expressions and traits based on gender identity. Of course, we don’t.
Being female doesn’t mean that you’re feminine, nor does being male mean that you’re masculine. Perhaps this would be easier for some people. People do like to be able to identify and name gender. I’ve said before that my gender is more about how I’m read or named than how I experience myself. My gender comes out of how I’m perceived. When I disclose that I’m trans, I sometimes am asked, based on my femme appearance, whether I’m a trans woman or a trans man who hasn’t yet transitioned. When I explain that I’m genderqueer, I’ve been asked a couple of times what sex I was assumed to be at birth. I no longer am willing to respond to that question, because it’s so irrelevant.
Asher Bauer wrote a post a while back that I need to find where he explained that he’s not transmasculine. As a femme transman, “masculine” is not part of his gender as he experiences it. I think this would confuse a lot of people, but it makes sense to me. Coming into femme has been the biggest part of my transition, and my history isn’t relevant to that. Whether I was assumed male or female at birth rarely matters; what does matter is the kinds of privilege I have based on how I’m perceived. In spaces where I don’t mention my transness, I’m usually perceived as female because of how I look, which gives me a certain privilege. I also have a lot of privilege because I’m white and college educated, and a whole host of other things. I don’t want to appropriate anyone else’s experience, and I want to recognize that it is a privileged thing to be able to experience gender in the way I do.
One thing I don’t have, paraphrasing from my friend Stephen, is legible identity privilege. My gender is never going to be very obvious, and no one is ever going to see me walking down the street and think “oh, cool, a non-binary trans femme!” I’m also not sure how many other non-binary trans femmes are out there, and whether there’s enough similarity in our experiences to form community and camraderie around that. But I’m very grateful to the trans men and women in my life who do offer that community and camraderie, and who accept that my gender is not something that is visible, though my femme-ness–and through that, my transness–is.