Birth Assignment and Being Seen
- Some discussions a couple of months ago on Tumblr and Twitter challenging the emphasis on birth assignment in discussion of trans experience
- Philly Trans Health being super bro-y, and my own experience of feeling really terrible about myself at a trans conference that’s supposed to be about affirmation
- I’ve personally been getting “Sir”-ed a lot lately, and have been experiencing more intense dysphoria than usual.
In recent years, I’ve pretty much stopped referencing my birth assignment, except in private with close friends. What medical transition steps I have or have not taken are basically none of your g-damned business. Sometimes I’m not 100% sure about this, because there are some spheres where birth assignment could potentially matter (what I feel dysphoric about is sometimes related, and also the fact that trans women are far more likely than men to experience violence and other negative outcomes of being trans probably also applies in some cases to AMAB genderqueer folks—the recent discussions by Merritt Kopas, Tobi Hill-Meyer, and others around how “gender weirdness” is policed when AMAB are particularly chilling). But generally speaking, it’s often possible to talk about trans experience while focusing on actual gender, rather than birth assignment, and often better to do so.
What I find interesting is that as a non-binary femme trans person, I default to taking “Sir” as a compliment. I then feel kind of unsettled about it, but gendering me male, as a person who presents femme, is pretty much the only mainstream way to acknowledge my queerness in public—and being acknowledged as queer in public is very important to me. While “Sir” and masculine language doesn’t fit me at all, when I’m presenting femme, I have a sense that it acknowledges at least some difference, however backwards that is.
I’m aware that most people in mainstream society read me as a woman, because I have a visibly curvy chest. A lot of folks read me as a cis woman, since cis is default. Some folks read me as a trans woman, particularly once I mention that I’m trans—even when I say that I’m non-binary, folks who are only familiar with binary trans identities slot that into “trans woman,” because I’m saying that I’m trans and presenting femme. Even folks who get the concept of genderqueer sometimes seem to be reaching to slot me into either AFAB and transmasculine or AMAB and transfeminine. But from where I stand, this isn’t necessary, and watching their wheels turn is rather isolating and uncomfortable. The obsession with what “direction” someone transitions in feels irrelevant to my personal experiences.
For me, being trans and queer and femme are all very important to my gender. Masculinity isn’t something that factors in at all, but I have this odd kneejerk positive reaction to being read as masculine because I don’t know any other way to find acknowledgement in the mainstream world. I suppose in a binary-assuming world, I could feel good about being read as femme and “she”-ed, but the queer part of femme is far too important for me. Fortunately, the alternative is to seek out more and more queer community, and I am pretty darned queer saturated. It means a lot to me when other queer femmes and queers of all sorts of presentations see me for who I am. I’m very interested in building further queer femme community in the DC area so that my gender can be affirmed in a space that doesn’t require all this twisted logic. But I’m also sort of rolling my eyes at myself, because in some ways, those “sir”s do feel strangely good.