Air Quotes

When I started transitioning 11 years ago, my goal was to be able to wear a suit and tie without irony.  The irony is that now I rarely wear a suit and tie. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ll know I’m more of a Carhartt/Dickies kind of guy.

In the beginning, my needs were modest – almost embarrassing in their naivete and physical appearance-focused nature.  Flat chest, facial hair, deep voice.  As if that was all there was to being a man. As if that would open a door that I could walk through unscathed. I wasn’t prepared for the space between female and male or how no matter what phase of my transition I was in, my status would forever be qualified by invisible air quotes.

If you’re gay and live in a state that still discriminates against you, you’ll recognize the air quotes. You’re “married” to your “spouse.”  If you’re black you’ll probably recognize the air quotes surrounding words like “diverse.”  If you were born a woman, you have already internalized the air quotes around “powerful” and “competent.”

I was not prepared for the air quotes around “person.”

When I was admitted to the hospital after an emergency surgery, my attending nurse came to me in the late evening between my opiate induced naps, leaned on the end of my bed and asked, “Do you prefer to be called He, She or It?” I decided that I had to be nice to her because I was alone in my room (they couldn’t put me in a room with a man or a woman) and she was the person who would come (or not) if I pushed the button on the fob tied to the handrail. My face no doubt resembled the look my bulldog gives when he needs to pee and I’m the only one with opposable thumbs to work the door knob.  Compliant, hopeful, grateful for any scrap of dignity. Part of me wished I had a recording device so I could use it to retell the terrifying tale to sympathetic friends. Part of me planned my emergency escape from the hospital if things got too weird.  Part of me (larger than I’d care to admit) just wanted her to like me.

It’s that part – the part that wants to be loved, who hates it when people are mad at me, who cannot abide much conflict at all – that steered most of those early years.  I kept making myself smaller so that I wouldn’t be the cause of any friction. If I’m honest, that part steers me much of the time now, except for I’m better at it because I’ve discovered that most of the time, the person you’re dealing with isn’t very concerned with you at all.  They are so wrapped up in their own insecurities, fears and loneliness that they are posing for you just as much as you feel pressured to pose for them.

In the years since then, I’ve learned to be gracious without begging, to forgive slights without consenting to them, to be grateful while demanding respect.  Being trans in the world has changed, too. Even since I injected my first dose of testosterone, the climate surrounding gender difference has warmed. In many cases, trans people feel freer to buck the whole notion of having a gender at all.  It’s very exciting.  Even Facebook has now included dozens of options under the gender question in your profile.  You can pretty much customize as much and as often as you want.  The whole notion of trans and gender is deconstructed.  Screw the “please like me” impulse – we can thumb our noses at all the air quotes around “man” and “woman” as if we’re not enough of either to be human.  I should be elated!

And I am.

So why haven’t I jumped at the chance to claim my transness on the mother of all social networks? Good question.  And one I’ve been asking myself all day, even after being interviewed about it.

I’ve never hidden my trans status.  In fact, I disclosed it much to my therapist’s chagrin during a group workshop (that had nothing to do with gender) because I had some sort of neurotic impulse to be honest at all cost, even if it derailed the purpose of the session.

I’ve written blog posts, essays, letters and even Facebook posts about being trans.  I went to Washington D.C. and disclosed my status as a transman in a meeting with high-ranking officials at the Department of Health and Human Services for god’s sake. I’m not closeted.

And yet.

I’ve grown attached to my male gender.  It’s mine and no one else’s. I’m a man the only way I can be, which is different than anyone else in the world can be a man. It fits me like my Rural King hat fits me.

The door I thought would be so easily traversed represented the most difficult journey I’ve ever started, and I am no where near, even over a decade later, finished transitioning. As I write this I know I’ll never be finished. 

The truth is that none of us emerge from our lives unscathed. We grow into the people we become – and then grow again. The truth is that transition is not only a  human experience.  It’s the only human experience.

So I’m free to be the person I am.  I have a right to select the term that fits.  So, I’m male.

I also reserve the right to change my mind.


4 thoughts on “Air Quotes

  1. Jay, I love reading your writing – you articulate feelings in a way that no one else can. It’s amazing how you speak the things that many people feel every day, but are too afraid to express or too un-self-aware to realize. Thank you for being you.

    • Pam’s right.
      I would also like to point out that you are in a very special place to be able to choose your gender. The best blessing is that you recognize it and so can appreciate it. I’m blessed in that I am one of the few people who have the opportunity to use the word ‘spouses’, plural.
      So… welcome to the minority group?

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