How do you know you’re not transgender?

Transgender folks spend a lot of time explaining our identities to other people, and a lot more time being asked to explain how we knew we were trans. But, for myself and my trans friends I’ve talked about this with, we’re baffled by the idea of knowing that the gender you were assigned at birth matches, at least closely enough, the gender you identify as. To experience gender in this way baffles us just as much as I imagine transgender experience confuses cisgender folks.

I was talking about this with my friend Finn who gave me the idea for this post. It used to be that the question, “How do you know you’re not gay?” was a sarcastic retort. Now, a lot (though certainly not all) of straight kids can actually answer this question. I’d love to move to a place where the same is true with gender.

So I’m asking cisgender folks, that is people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth: how do you know you’re not trans?

Here’s why I think it’s a question that needs asking: everyone should get the chance to figure out their own gender identity on their own terms. Right now this important process is something folks go through because we have to, because our experience of gender doesn’t match up with what our culture is telling us. But everyone should be presented the opportunity to explore, experiment with, and claim their own gender identity.

To start out the conversation I asked some friends, including Feministing writers, to share their answers. You can read their thoughts below. Thanks so much to everyone who shared their own experiences of gender. Please share your own thoughts in the comments.

I was told I was a girl in all sorts of little ways–subtle and not so subtle–since the time I was a tiny human, of course. Even if my super feminist family, I remember lots of differentiation between my big brother and I. Our personalities fell along traditional gender stereotypes–he was rambunctious and outspoken, while I was shy and demure. But I think that the first time I really knew I was cisgendered, as a more personal knowing, was when I was in middle school and I felt so connected to my developing female body and all that it meant in the world, quite suddenly, to be a woman. I knew, then and there, that my biology and my identity were female–for better and worse.

-Courtney

You asked how I know I’m not trans. The short answer is…I don’t. The long[er] answer is that because of the discrimination I’ve seen trans people face throughout my lifetime, and because of the privilege afforded to cis-gendered people that I’ve directly benefited from, cis-gendered has become a sort of “neutral default” identity for me- the “easy” choice, something to stray from only if I somehow felt I had to [which I haven't felt thus far]. I don’t feel I ever chose to identify as a cis-gendered female, rather, it feels like it was taught to me and ingrained in me and I would have to actively feel uncomfortable and unsatisfied with it on a daily basis to be inspired to rebel against that and identify as anything else. So as someone who hasn’t actively and consciously thought a lot about my gender identity [yet], I end up “picking” the one that I was assigned at birth by default. I get the sense this is the experience of a lot of cis-gendered people. But the fact that I don’t feel like I ever got to consciously choose- that’s fucking sad, man. It’s a level of myself I’m not in touch with, and it’s just one of the ways that transphobia, gender binaries, and strict unyielding gender norms oppress us all, not just trans-identified people.

-Lori

I was born physically male, and I identify as male. The issue of my gender identity is generally not something that I’ve had to debate with myself. I feel like my insides match my outsides, and I have no conflicting feelings when I see or experience my body. It feels as it should. When I go out into the world, I don’t feel like I’m wearing a mask, or that I’m being misrepresented by my physical form. I like the shape of my body. I like my beard. If anything, the one thing that tells me my physical gender and my gender identity are well aligned is that I don’t have to think about it. Sure, there are some traits regarding my body that I feel uncomfortable about. I have scoliosis, and a bit of a potbelly due to 7 months of working a sedentary desk job. But being a boy is generally something that just comes naturally.

-Patrick

I’ve actually thought about my gender identity quite a bit. I identify as high, high femme. When I think about how I know I am queer and how I know I am femme, I cannot give some solidly intellectual answer. It is my gut and my heart and my soul. It is how I interact with lovers, friends, and the world at large. It is where I derive my power. I am female and feminine to my core, I just happen to be born in a body that matches.

-Rebecca aka Professor Foxy

I identify as femme, but not high femme, more like kinda butch femme. I have a lot of testosterone which is why I have a deep voice and I grow a lot of facial hair, which I think is partially ethnic/racial, but also because I have a lot of testosterone. It is something I have only recently come to terms with, and sometimes I grow out my facial hair and I enjoy playing with it, but just like my leg hair, I get rid of it, generally if I have a hot date, relying ultimately on what my perceived/privileged gender is. I am also generally drawn to women with more testosterone and men with less, at least sexually.

I have often felt that maybe my gender doesn’t match the body I was born in, but really depending on the time in my life, and I have vacillated from being butch to super duper femme and then settling back to who I am now, which is a femme with some masculine tendencies…especially with regard to my sexuality. I benefit from cis-privilege but I have also had people be shocked and surprised to find out that I am more “tomboyish,” like I hid it from them and sprung it on them (from behind, HAR HAR), but you know what I mean! And being a person of color and a big girl I have never felt like I lived up to white standards of beauty, and after working to shed off the pain of internalized racism and fat hate, I came to a place where I had to accept who I am for who I am. Being femme almost helped me come to terms with being beautiful on my own terms since I knew I was always living outside of societies dictates of normative beauty for women. *queue* koombayah *queue*

-Samhita

It’s definitely never been a question for me – beyond what I think is perfectly normal discussion with myself “How do I know if I’m gay? Maybe I am?” (which I realize is a different question but I think it’s ok if I use that as an example of my own self-examination as that’s the closest I ever came to thinking of anything like being trans)

Maybe I’m just ‘a follower’ but I think I always looked forward to being a ‘man’. Couldn’t wait to grow body hair of any type – to finally be a guy and not a kid. Of course I think it’s “normal” (yes, tricky wording, don’t forget that I think questioning/trans/homosexual feelings are “normal” for children too) to grow up modeling after societal norms, and I don’t think I was overly influenced by them. I was given freedom to express my inner self – no matter how it came out. My mother always would talk about my future “wife, or husband, or maybe you won’t even want to marry anyone”. But I quite comfortably gravitated towards heterosexual male.

When I learned about intersex, and how common it was for doctors to just choose one sex/gender and go with it, I briefly wondered if maybe that had happened to me, but I think that was more about the paranoia that comes with self individualization that comes with all growing up. I also used to wonder if I was an alien or a robot and everyone else was a human, or if I was the only human in a big alien or robot experiment to see how I react to life scenarios that they would make happen.

-Slim

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49 Comments

  1. Comrade Kevin
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I don’t, frankly. The traditional gender binary has always felt constraining and completely unfit for me. I never felt like a man, but always sort of justified my assigned gender by explaining myself as “atypical male”. Female often felt more comfortable, but again there are lots of questions unanswered. My gender identity was driven in part by living with a father and in a part of the country that had a very specific, very old school conception of masculinity. Thus, I never really felt a part of it and gravitated towards female company and femininity, which made much more sense to me.
    But while that might have increased my feelings of isolation, I have never felt that one gender defines me in totality. When I was in college, I embraced a queer, even trans identity to a degree that I do not now. If I had less to lose these days I probably still would. Maybe I’m taking the path of least resistance, but life is often full of compromises, and to some degree I headed back for the closet.
    But in my past I wore women’s clothing for a time (I must really trust you all to be this honest) and for the first time I engaged in same-sex relationships, both sexually and romantically. It wasn’t until I ran across the paths of activists in more liberal parts of the country that I found words to assign to me: genderqueer, genderfuck, bisexual. I know all the limitations of labels, but to apply these to myself felt so comforting. You mean I’m not the only person who feels like this!

  2. Heather Aurelia
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I would have to say that I am genderqueer or bigendered. I am neither feminine nor masculine but both. I used to consider myself bisexual now I like to consider myself a queer. I am in a heterosexual relationship with a male but I am not attracted to any other person of the opposite sex; I am only attracted to other women. I liked to wear men’s and women’s clothing sometimes at the same time. I have both a high pitch voice reserved for phone calls and politeness and a low, deep (but female) voice reserved for seriousness and casual talking.
    I know I am not transgender because I still identify as feminine. However, I do enjoy being masculine at some point of my life.

  3. Icy Bear
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Personally, I’ve always felt very uncomfortable being a woman. I’ve been in a few situations where the question about how we know our own gender identity came up, and both cis and trans people would always talk about how they just “felt” the gender they were. These discussions made me very alienated because I have certainly never “felt” like a woman – I wish desperately sometimes that I was not. I don’t particularly want to be a man either (although sometimes I think I would), I just don’t really know what I want to be. Exploring my gender identity more seriously would take money and energy, though, and I don’t have either of those right now, so I continue to be a cis woman because it is the easiest path.

  4. Courtney
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this super interesting post Jos and the opportunity to reflect on my gender identity in a way I never have.

  5. SarahSimone
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I think this is such a great question. When people fit into the default “normal” category, they tend not to question it or examine what it means, and I think that’s a big part of where prejudices come from. And it’s completely true that I have an articulate answer for “how do I know I’m not gay?” but have never considered asking myself “how do I know I’m not trans?” Right off the top of my head all I can say is that I’ve always felt like a girl. Or, to be more accurate, I’ve always felt at home within a lot of the social constructions of femininity. But then I realize that I’m identifying with some essentialist ideas about being a woman, ideas which, as a feminist, I actively question on an almost daily basis.
    So even though I know that I’m cisgender, I’m definitely putting some consideration into how I know. Thanks for such a thought provoking post!

  6. pedestrian
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    I learned that I am cisgendered after I accepted that I am gay. In the ultraconservative pocket of America where I grew up, you were either a gender-conforming heterosexual or you were a pervert. It is the same binary belief that once allowed gay men to be convicted (without other evidence) of the rape of female minors, and today compels some bigots to protest the employment of transgendered teachers.
    When I allowed myself to accept that I am gay, I found that I am still the same person that I have always been. I didn’t suddenly want to start wearing dresses. I wasn’t driven to increasingly dangerous or self-destructive behaviors. In fact, I became more stable, more happy, more secure in my masculinity. I stopped throwing all of my energy into keeping my true identity from emerging, and started asking what that identity is. Once I discovered how liberating it is to keep that door open, I wanted the same happiness for everyone. What if I had come to identify as female? Well, what is so bad about being female?
    I doubt that anyone would fear the gender expression of others, unless they felt personally threatened by their own gender identity. So many people feel forced to act a certain way, then enforce those rules on others to legitimize their own suffering. I know that it isn’t all about what cisgendered people need, but maybe if more cisgendered people allowed themselves to express their true gender and sexuality, they wouldn’t be so afraid of people who are transgender.

  7. Murray
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    I’m afraid I have to echo some of the other posts on here, that while I’ve thought on this question before, my reason for not exploring the possibility of being trans has as much to do with laziness/fear-of-stigma as it does with being unsure.
    That said, I certainly don’t feel I fit in as a “man,” the gender, and I’m not a huge fan of the genitalia either, but it’s functional. I’m not particularly interested for myself in the ways to present as female, however, so I’m more or less content to stay male but not necessarily man. This is why in recent months I’ve been coming to realize that I may in fact be genderqueer, but most likely not trans. At least not trans enough to feel the need to transition. Wait… trans can be a spectrum too, right?

  8. Mashow
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Growing up, I always wished I had been born a boy. I had very little in common with girls in the schoolyard, and I always wanted to play with the boys, but because I appeared female, I was rejected. So I stopped trying to make friends. I began to resent and hate men while disparaging everything considered feminine.
    Although I felt that life would have been easier if I had been born a boy, I never even thought about changing myself physically to become a man, as I always felt (perhaps a little naively) that my identity was divorced from my physical shell.
    Now I feel that my rejection of the feminine and resentment of men was somewhat sexist, and I’ve come to accept (but not like) that I will always be seen as woman no matter what I do. I decided to, as much as possible, reject the concept of gender. Part of that rejection of gender meant cultivating a balance of stereotypically feminine and masculine characteristics, in order to off balance people.
    Basically, I wish people didn’t judge me based on my physical characteristics, and above all, I hate that people have so many prejudgments about me based on my female form. I would rather not have a gender at all.

  9. Lilith Luffles
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    I know I’m cis because I’m so femme… I love dressing up in women’s clothing and trying new ways of looking what I consider to be cool. I may not fit in with traditional beauty norms (I wear bold eye makeup and hate any other kind of makeup) and I do not care to dress exactly like women are supposed to (I wear skirts and dresses but they are on the alternative/punk/gothic side) it’s still feminine. My issues with fitting in don’t deal so much with gender as they do what is considered “normal” for anyone.
    And aside from presentation, I fit in very snuggly in the middle doing things both men and women do in regards to thinking and communicating, but I still identify as female. Just because I’m supposed to communicate or think one way does not mean that I’m not really a woman. I love being femme and being able to be emotional and caring but I love to kick my boyfriends ass at video games and feel a sense of failure when I lose at something I want to win.
    I wish we could get to a point where we could be like “What is your sex? And what is your gender?” and not think the two should be related and the only people who would need to know sex are doctors and other officials and whoever you tell.

  10. Wombat
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this post! This captures so much of the internal conversations/introspection I’ve been having with myself over the last few weeks. In short, I don’t know that I’m not transgender; I’ve just always taken it for granted that I am a woman (the gender I was born) because that’s what I’ve been told by family, friends and social dialogue since as long as I can remember.
    I’ve certainly looked long and hard at my sexuality and come to the conclusion that I identify as queer (although I do have the privilege of having ‘settled down’ with a man, so it’s not like I have to discuss or defend my personal choices or point of view to anyone I don’t choose to share them with).
    It’s only very recently that I’ve thought to question my gender in the same way I found natural to question my sexuality.
    I guess that my answer is that I’m a cis-woman because that’s all I know how/what to be and I have no discontent with it now that I’ve examined the issue.
    I really appreciate this post since it gives me a way to open dialogue with ‘open-minded’ friends and colleagues when they say dismissive things about transgender folks in a way they wouldn’t ever think of about queer folks (it always bothers me, I just didn’t have a good way of framing the assumptions/privilege displayed with those comments until now).

  11. dilemma
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Not to threadjack, because I’m not cis, but even as a trans woman I have some cis-type thoughts. I do vaguely remember I was like at four or five, before I had masculinity enforced on me.
    I remember that I never stopped to think about gender one way or another. I liked the same shows and had the same friends, male and female. But when my kindergarten classmates and I would pretend to be the Thundercats out on the playground, I would be one of the female characters. So did the other girls I played with. It seemed so completely not-a-big-deal that I was honestly confused when people tried to get me to be something I wasn’t. And the really silly part was that all I had to do to get them to stop yelling at me was to pretend to be a different fictional character. That was it. Pure and simple.
    The forced lying about my gender came a little later. That was probably about the time I started to fantasize about what it would be like to not be treated like a boy. And the body stuff didn’t matter much until the first puberty.
    It seems as silly, in retrospect, as it would to suddenly take a child whose subconscious gender matches their body, and force them to cross-dress and identify as something they weren’t. So to answer the OP’s question, how did I know I was cisgender? Until the gender enforcement kicks in, we’re all cisgender. Or a lot of us are, anyway. Some people’s experiences are probably different from mine, but for me, I had to be told that I was trans. All I knew that I was a girl. Other people decided that made me this thing called “trans” because I had a different body and was told to lie about who I was.

  12. Mollie
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    I do know that I am not cis, but how do I know that I’m not trans? I suppose you could say I don’t have that innate *feeling* about being “born in the wrong body” or treated/raised inherently female when I should be treated/raised as a male would be… I am utterly fed up with the gender binary (and I’m only 18. How much more do I have to put up with?)

  13. Kessei
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    What does the term “gender identity” mean on an individual level, other than the gender which is assigned you? I think I must be missing something here.
    Gender is not innate. Gender is performance, and it’s a product of socialization.
    It isn’t about whether I prefer to cook or do woodworking, or whether I’m comfortable with wearing skirts and high heels (I’m not, FWIW). I hate the trappings of femininity, and I consider most of them to be methods of oppression. However, gender is far more than any outward markers – it’s insidious and, I think, largely unavoidable. Gender is modes of thinking, modes of reaction, imposed fears, imposed values, methods of speech, power dynamics, and ways of movement. And for most women, yes, it includes discomfort with our bodies and genitalia which we have to train ourselves out of, because we are taught to be uncomfortable with our bodies from childhood.
    Gender is the fundamental means by which we are sex-classed and conditioned into that class. But gender is not innate. It is imposed. We know that gender is construct because genders aren’t realistic definitions of people – they only fit because we stereotype and socialize people to fit them.
    How can I possibly “figure out” my gender identity when gender is, at best, a descriptor of how someone has been brainwashed into believing that the traits “empathic” and “talkative” and “skittish” and “uses hands to emote” have something to do with having a vagina?
    That doesn’t make any sense.

  14. Toongrrl
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Gosh Jos, that’s a big question….well I’ve been half happy to be a girl and not so thrilled over it since I was a kid. My Little Ponies, pink, dresses, and Josie and the Pussycats was the shit! But I couldn’t stand how my parents always wanted me to act “like a little lady” and also that girls had to always be sweet and cheerful. I knew I found girls more attractive than boys since I was little, like Samitha, I have body hair (I am a Meditteranean and Mexican mix) and I have muscular calves, whereas the rest is mostly childish curves. Wow…Jos…you are so enlightening and provocative (brain matter)

  15. sage
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    I see gender as a societal construct and so it is within the social definitions of “man” and “woman” that I identify more with the woman side. At the same time, I do realize gender is a spectrum, and there are some more masculine traits that I do see in myself or that I would like to possess.
    If I truly think about it, it is hard to determine how I know that I’m a cis woman. I am certain that many of my feminine attributes are simply a result of socialization and upbringing. On the other hand, I do “feel” like a woman, in the gut sense that Professor Foxy mentioned in her response.
    I feel a sense of commonality and connection with fellow women, be they cis or trans. I have always felt more comfortable with women and seen men as “other”. This may be socialization, but it is a huge part of what makes me identify as a woman.
    Last but not least (and this was not always the case), I love my female body and feel like it does a wonderful job representing me.

  16. Anonymous
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    This is a *really* important question, given all the pressure we face in the world to conform to a gender norm. I’ve never enjoyed this. I worte a post about my cis identity here. Essentially, I believe without any doubt that gender dissonance is absolutely real and something you feel deep within you no matter what people say or do to make you change. Or not. Gender congruence (being cis) is feeling that your parts are where they are meant to be, but that the world around you is pushing you to do all kinds of things you don’t want to do, whatever parts you have.

  17. Lisa
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    I’m incredibly comfortable in my body, which is a female body. However, I do have a problem with gender and don’t identify with the gender my parents have forced on me since I was a kid. I don’t know if I would identify as genderqueer or genderfuck or something. I don’t really identify with a gender (which has been driving facebook nuts, it keeps asking me what my gender is). I never liked having to fill out “female” for gender since I wouldn’t consider my gender female or male for that matter. My sex is female, so I have no problem filling that out on a questionnaire. So how do I know I’m not trans? I’m incredibly comfortable in my female body. Sure there are things I want to change but I can’t get away from the cultures message of “I’m not good enough” but I don’t think anyone can. Do I know what my gender identity is? Well not really but do I have to conform to what is socially constructed for what I should identify with? I don’t think so.

  18. Anonymous
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    This is a *really* important question, given all the pressure we face in the world to conform to a gender norm. I’ve never enjoyed this. However, I’ve always felt my cunt and my breasts were supposed to be there, even if I hate the pain I get during my period. It’s always been other people who wondered “what” I was. Because of this, I wrote a post about my cis identity here. Essentially, I believe without any doubt that gender dissonance is absolutely real and something you feel deep within you no matter what people say or do to make you change. Or not. Gender congruence (being cis) is feeling that you have the parts meant for you, whether or not the world around you is pushing you to do all kinds of things you don’t want to do, whatever parts you have.

  19. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always felt comfortable being a man who was born into a biologically male body. There are some aspects of masculinity that I don’t like, and some I feel inadequate at – but there is a hell of a lot about being male that I really really really flat out enjoy.
    I’ve never in any way felt feminine or had any desire whatsoever to be female. This is in part because that is not my gender identity, and in part because it’s just so damned difficult to be female; there are so many “rules” that govern their appearance and behavior, and they have to take so much shit (from society, from males and from other females) and they are expected to take that shit with a smile on their face and never show rage – I just couldn’t pull that off.

  20. VeriteBlesse
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    I’m a cis-woman. This might sound strange or offensive, but this is what I think: I know I’m not transgendered because I define my gender by my sex. I think that gender differences are largely socially constructed, so to say that any behavior or feelings are inherently “male” or “female” is ridiculous; I get a little offended when people explain their gender identity with statements like “Oh I never liked make up like the other girls, I liked sports” or whatever because who GIVES a shit, that’s meaningless (I’m not saying all trans people do this, but I’ve seen it). It’s turning a personal preference or quirk into gender essentialism.
    The ideas that “girls are like this inside” and “boys are like this inside” are a huge source of sexism in the world and need to be abolished altogether. If I had a male body but was still the same person inside, I’d identify as a cis-man, because I don’t think souls/hearts/minds or whatever can really be male or female, only bodies can. I think that claiming a trans identity seems like a statement that there IS such a thing as a male or female soul/mind/personality and that really bothers me. I am actually tired of the idea of gender altogether and don’t see how it’s useful. I don’t even really understand what it means to be male or female gendered. I’d like a world where someone is a man or a woman as defined by their body but that only matters at doctor visits and has no social implications and makes no limitations on how they choose to look or act. The idea of male and female social identities should be abolished.
    I can understand someone being more at home with a socially determined gender role other than the one that goes with your body, and I can understand feeling more at home in a body that matches your perceived gender. But frankly transgenderism seems ironically gender-essentialist to me. I am trying to educate myself about it and be understanding and supportive, because I know I have a lot to learn on the subject and I’m sure a lot of people here are going to disagree with me.

  21. konkonsn
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    I totally get you. Whenever I think about what gender I am, I think, “I’m me.” And then I feel stupid because that’s the sort of answer I feel like a six year old would give…but it’s true.
    I get so confused on the issue of gender in relation to cisgender and genderqueer isues. It’s feminism. We say, “Ok, here’s what you have biologically. But fuck it. Men can cry and women can play basketball, and that doesn’t make them less biologically correct.”
    I have lady parts, and I do things that can be categorized as masculine and feminine. I feel equally sexy in a ballgown or tuxedo (though for admittedly different reasons). I prefer to play healers in video games (which is feminized by the gaming community because it’s considered group oriented) and I hold up my own in an argument.
    So am I cisgender because women are allowed to do all these things, and I have a vagina? Do I need to project masculine vibes to be genderqueer?
    I really like the two spirit term used by Aboriginals, but that term is highly dependent on a certain culture, and I don’t feel right appropriating it as a white American. I guess I could use androgyny or undifferentiated as per the Bem Sex-Role Inventory (which I haven’t taken, so I’m not sure if I’m high both or low both), though both those terms have backgrounds that make them problematic. Physically you can tell I’m a woman even if I wear men’s clothing (I like my boobs too much to let them be hidden).
    And I hate the term bixsexual because then people assume I’m into males and females when I really only like masculine/andro women and feminine men. I feel like I only like one thing, not two different things, it’s just that one thing (a certain type of gender) is present in two body types.
    So…I think I’m saying what a lot of people in this thread are saying, which is that gender isn’t so rigid anymore that we’re starting to even lose the meaning of cisgender and all these neat definitions of sexual and gender orientation.

  22. AndrewL
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    For me, questioning my gender identity was wrapped up in a larger period of self-interrogation that had to do with my understanding of privilege. As a gay man, I was aware that my performance of gender was already different from the patriarchal norm–not that gay men don’t participate in patriarchy, of course.
    It was when I started to be really cognitive about how my identity has been and is formed by a series of privileges–as a white person, a male, a member of the middle class, a queer person, an able-bodied person–that I really started to deconstruct my own gender identity. I’ve never given much credence to traditional masculinity–mostly because my attraction to men and my slender body have made a pretense of butchness laughable at best. So, for me, when I first embraced feminism, it only seemed natural to openly reject my gender identity and claim the label of gender queer. What I was rejecting, of course, was traditional gender models, not my bodily sex assignment. It was, I suppose, an attempt to reclaim my male body from the traditional performance of masculinity.
    That’s all the long way of saying that I knew I wasn’t trans when I understood that I could love and embrace my male body without accepting the manhood which patriarchal culture invests it with.

  23. everybodyever
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    It’s interesting, actually, for me to recall that from a very young age, I was aware that my gender could be mutable – that some little girls felt like they should have been born boys and wished they were, that I could be just one. As a child I asked myself seriously: Did I feel like a proper girl? Did I feel like I should be a boy?
    And maybe it was my nascent feminism, but my question was always: What does a girl feel like? What does a boy? What’s the difference?
    I’ve never felt particularly attached to any gender. I don’t feel like I present or perform any particular one, except maybe by chance. I don’t feel female or male, feminine or masculine – aren’t both effectively the same? – because I bristle at the ideas of femaleness and maleness, femininity and masculinity, as structural systems. In a way I think I always have – even as a kid, before I knew to explain it as a function of feminism. Now, my feminism provides my major incentive for gender identity: I call myself a woman mostly in solidarity, because I know that I have – thanks to my own disinterest, laziness, circumstance, birth certificate, appearance and upbringing – always been one.
    When I choose clothes, I pick out those I think flatter my (thin, feminine, small-busted-and-hipped) figure and appeal to my sense of style (simple, 60s mod-ish); when I put makeup on my (unfeminine, androgynous) face, I try to mask pimples and emphasize my eyes; I keep my hair platinum blonde and very short. I neither dread nor sentimentalize menstruation. I enjoy children but have no immediate parental impulse. I’m introverted but assertive; I don’t demur from things like confrontations with mechanics or conversations with men, which may be why I’m bad at catching on when men are trying to pick me up. I do not consciously flirt with anybody, and I attract and intimidate admirers of all genders.
    But overall? I know I’m not trans because, well, when it actually comes time for me to think about my gender identity, I realize that it doesn’t really matter to me. Maybe that means my cis privilege proves my cis gender.

  24. ShyFoxie
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    I know I’m cis because everything just feels like it fits. My mind and my body comfortably match up somehow, and who I am and identify as seems to agree with what my physical body is. It doesn’t matter what I wear, what I do or whether someone mistakes me for a guy (I used to be a bit of a tomboy, and it confused a few older people). I know that I possess a female mind, and also that it currently resides within a female body.
    I’m not sure how else to explain it.

  25. sophia b
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    Great idea for a post!
    I’ve had a few ideas about this sloshing round in my head for awhile but felt too ignorant to start a discussion.
    I’ve always done some things that are considered masculine, when i was a kid i also did quite a few things that are considered feminine. None of this really upset me much except sometimes the boys were mean not to let a girl play with them.
    As i grew up I dropped a lot of the feminine stuff, the things that mattered most to me were considered masculine. I spent a few years as a teenager hating myself for being female. Once or twice i thought about how medical stuff could change my body to look male, but medical stuff creeps me out anyway and I figured it would probably come with a lot of difficulties. Mostly I wanted to start all again being born male.
    Partly due to discovering feminism I came to stop hating that I was female. Part of the thing is a lot of the stuff that was making me unhappy was intellectual persuits that feminists wouldn’t classify as masculine or feminine anyway.
    Now I’m in the position of this is the path of least resistance and I’m happy enough with it. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable when I have dress femme for certain events. Also i’m straight and I get caught by the fact that I want to attract men and part of the way to do that a lot of the time is by acting somewhat femme.
    The truth is I don’t really know what people mean when they talk about feeling male or female (this doesn’t mean I think others feelings are invalid, just that I don’t understand them). I like my body cause it can do cool dance moves, or it feels nice, or causes great sensations during sex. I don’t feel out of place in it. But i don’t think I’d feel any different about a male body. To me I don’t identify as one or both, but closer (probably not completely but close-ish) to neither.

  26. Kurumi & Cheese
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    I’ve always felt like a feminine man in a female body. On the one hand, I’ve never felt very female. I always got along with my brother’s friends better than he did and didn’t identify with my female peers. I’m not maternal at all, not nurturing, don’t like to take care of people …
    But I’m also not really masculine either. Appearance-wise, I look like a pretty female. If I were to change my sex physically, I would still want to dress like this. So while I don’t feel female at all, I like the gender presentation of female.
    I don’t like the violence directed at women, but at the same time I’m sure I would get beaten up if I were a guy dressing in women’s clothes. I guess I just feel it’s a lose-lose situation. I don’t fit in any part of the gender binary. In tests I took for courses in psychology and whatnot, I always tested in the 50/50 androgynous area. I guess I’m just kind of essentially genderless. Look female, feel male, but not He-Man kind of male. More like if She-ra was a man.
    Yes. That about sums up my feeling about my gender. A male She-ra.

  27. Fish
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    I don’t feel particularly feminine or masculine, I’m just me. I have trouble relating to either sex entirely, and I think the way other women are typically addressed, perceived, and represented by most people makes them hard for me to relate to. Likewise, the way that many women choose to portray themselves in style or attitude is equally confounding to me.
    That being said, my personality has always been thoughtful, socially aware, and empathetic, all typically female traits. In that respect I would say I am cisgender. However, from infancy I have demonstrated vastly superior visual-spatial abilities, which is largely considered a “male” trait in the scientific community. I constantly have to remind myself that I am not a statistic, in this regard at least.
    Where popular culture is concerned, I despise chick flicks and “girly” drinks, and I feel pretty neutral about chocolate as well. I am not a particularly chatty person either. I subscribe to most aspects of female vanity, but I’ve kept my hairy armpits because I like the way they look. I am heterosexual and, despite my feminism, find that I enjoy sexual submission, a stereotypically female trait.
    In short, my issues with being female are cultural, not biological. I feel like I am smarter and more complex than society gives me credit for, and I’m sure many cisgender women can relate to me on this one. I don’t feel especially female, but I have feminine traits and so my form suits me well enough.

  28. smallcatastrophes
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    I think about this question a lot. I honestly do not know whether I am trans.
    I don’t identify strongly with my assigned gender (female). I don’t get any kind of instinctual “that’s me!” feeling when someone says the word “woman” or “female.”
    I like male bodies. I am both attracted to and envious of them. I wear men’s clothes sometimes, and I wear sports bras to make my breasts look smaller (they’re already small anyway). I have personality traits that are traditionally considered “masculine.”
    The easiest way for me to attract men is to present as traditionally feminine. It is much harder to attract men as a masculine female-bodied person. I feel like I have to choose between being who I want to be and dating who I want to date. :/

  29. kitewithfish
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Cis-gendered bisexual woman here!
    When I was little (maybe 7, but I’m not sure), my dad took me to his barber to get a haircut pretty regularly. For about a year, I was feeling rebellious and got a buzz-cut.
    With the new short haircut, a lot of kids meeting me at camp for the first time assumed I was a boy. More than once, when I told them my name, they said “That’s a girl’s name!” and my response was, “Well, duh, I’m a girl.”
    So I guess that’s how I know I’m not trans. The idea of being mistaken for a boy was just wrong- my gut reaction even as a child was, how dumb could those people be to think that I was male? It didn’t feel like me, even if I wasn’t behaving in a socially-defined “girly” manner- I was still a girl, in my head.
    As you might guess, I was raised with some pretty feminist parents, so though they modeled gender-roles really clearly in their relationship with each other somewhat “traditionally,” there was no expectation on that I would do the same in my relationships (presumably with men.)
    Now that I’m in a relationship with a straight cisgendered European man, the assumed gender roles thing does come up, sometimes in ways I don’t expect. He opens doors for me, helps me put on my jacket, and won’t let me carry heavy objects if he can help it, but he also loves to cook and cares a lot about his appearance and offers wardrobe advice that I would ordinarily seek from a female friend. I find myself sometimes enjoying the “chivalry” thing (I’m special! He wants to take care of me! I don’t have to do some chore that I don’t like) and sometimes being annoyed at it (I’m an adult human! I’m supposed to be able to take care of myself!).

  30. timberwraith
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I’m a trans woman. It dawned on me a few years back, that I know what it feels like to be cissexual (non-transsexual) because before ages 11 to 13, I felt totally at ease with my body. Before the onset of those years, I didn’t have that internal sense of “my body needs to be female” that drives transsexuals toward physical transition.
    It’s kind of strange to realize that I know what much of the populace experiences in this regard, but they have little understanding of my experiences.
    As far as the experience of personal gender expression vs. societal gender expectations go—which I might add, is a separate dimension of experience from feeling compelled to assume a particular body shape—I didn’t fit cultural gender expectations as a boy and currently, I don’t quite fit them as a woman. Not surprisingly, I think that society’s notions surrounding gender are 99.999 percent shite.

  31. giggleyandodd
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    this is such a great post! my experience was somewhat different. growing up i ran alongside the boys, and i chose to do it in a dress. having male and female siblings it allowed me to go back and forth, and i did not have a sense of the existence of gender.
    however, when i was around 10 i suffered a concussion to the brain and my gender identity changed in about a week. i went from being a free-spirited child to being a stereo-typical ‘girly-girl’. this has always been a factor in my thinkings about gender. i understand the theoretical standpoint behind gender as being a sociocultural construction, but i feel gender is a part of you biologically as well.

  32. Posted April 29, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    I think a lot of these comments get right to the heart of why I, as a female bodied, female identified person spent much of my adolescence wishing desperately to be a boy. The fact is, it’s so much easier to be male bodied and male identified than it is to be a woman.
    When I was young, I didn’t like myself. I hated my body, I thought I was ugly, I didn’t feel pretty in dresses, I just felt weird. All the “female” parts of my life felt awkward. I think, though, the biggest reason I wanted to be a boy is because I thought that was the only way to get close to them. I knew I was heterosexual from the time I was in elementary school, but I didn’t look like all the pretty girls and I didn’t feel like the kind of girl guys were supposed to be attracted to, so I tried to be more like a boy to get them to like me.
    As this progressed into puberty, and I hated my body even more and felt pressure to be thin, to be pretty, to have the right clothes and say the right thing and basically, connect with my femininity, I immediately rejected it because in my mind – being a girl was hard fucking work and boys had it easy. They didn’t have to care about how they looked or what they weighed, or what they smelled like or being…human. Where as girls were expected to care about and express all those things if they wanted to be attractive.
    I like playing with gender because it gives me permission to define what beauty means to me and how I experience it. It allows me to shrug off a lot of baggage from a lifetime of indoctrination into the “female” identity. I don’t identify as trans because I really enjoy being a woman, and ultimately, I don’t feel like a boy inside, but more often than not, I find myself wishing for a blank slate.

  33. Anonymous
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    This is a *really* important question, given all the pressure we face in the world to conform to a gender norm. I’ve never enjoyed this. However, I’ve always felt my cunt and my breasts were supposed to be there, even if I hate the pain I get during my period. It’s always been other people who wondered “what” I was. Essentially, I believe without any doubt that gender dissonance is absolutely real and something you feel deep within you no matter what people say or do to make you change. Or not. Gender congruence (being cis) is feeling that you have the parts meant for you, whether or not the world around you is pushing you to do all kinds of things you don’t want to do, whatever parts you have.

  34. haiku2
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I appear/dress/act like a cisgender female. However, I spend considerable time all day, every day thinking, reading, and talking about my gender and how unhappy I am about it. I think, am I trans? Am I genderqueer? This has gotten me nowhere. I always see people that appear more gender-variant than me, so I say those labels must not apply to me.
    This is a really neat way to rephrase the question … asking “how do I know I am not trans?” I love it.
    So how do I know I’m not transgender? I have a female body, I present in feminine way. Yet I hate that people look at me and think “woman” and all the ideas I imagine in their head of what that means. My personality feels quite masculine to me. Yet I don’t want to present in a masculine way either.
    I just want to be opt-out of gender. I have no idea what that looks like, tho. Is that transgender?
    Sometimes I feel like this must be due to internalized sexism/misogyny that I can’t embrace my female-ness. But then, can’t that be internalized transphobia instead?
    There we go, answering a question with more questions. :)

  35. Dawn.
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Excellent question, Jos. I don’t think many cisgender people think about this. IMO the lack of contemplation denotes that someone is cisgender–they feel no extreme dissonance between their gender identity and their assigned sex so they feel no need to contemplate it.
    I especially relate to Samhita’s response. I am cisgender dyke and a woman of color with a deep voice, “excessive” body hair (I habitually remove all body hair except for my legs), small breasts (A-cups represent!), and a short afro. I am femme but definitely not high-femme; I call it tomboy-femme.
    I have experienced some gender dissonance, but I know there is a big difference between the dissonance I would feel if I were trans and the dissonance I do feel because I don’t exactly fit into the social construction of my assigned and chosen gender. I love genderfucking; I effing love strap-ons and playing the part of “the man” in sexual situations. But I do not want to be a man. I never have. I just want to destroy our extremely narrow and harmful gender norms.
    Regarding Slim’s answer: when I learned about intersex a few years ago, I did consider the possibility that I am intersex. It’s incredibly common and many of the intersex conditions are visually undetectable. The most common condition (according to the Intersex Society of North America) is late onset adrenal hyperplasia and one in 66 individuals has it. That is a fucking LOT of people. It just goes to show how sex really is a spectrum, not a dyad.

  36. caeron
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I find the question is recursive.
    To define yourself as trans/not trans you have to define and accept the gender norms. Which leads to self redefinition which leads back to the social norms which…
    I originally identified as trans as teenager but later decided I was gay. I decided I’d rather reject the gender norms than reject my own body. I think it is better for me, and society as a whole to break gender norms than pick one of the buckets.
    I admit I’d like to have two (or more) bodies that I could switch between like clothes. But lacking that luxury, I’ll accept the imperative of biological birth over the imperative of social construct.

  37. sarahtheterra
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I’ve often wondered why I’m cisgendered. It’s certainly not because I “identify” as being female or somehow “feel” like a female, but because I accept being labeled female without a feeling of conflict. I look superfeminine and am persistently treated as a woman, and I’ve just come to accept that that’s how I come off. I’m not identified with being female, or with my female embodiment. I’m not “proud” to be a woman (I’ve always found that weird). Sometimes I wish I could just throw away all of the baggage of gender and have no gender. But my feeling about being read as a woman is, “eh.” No impulse to change, no feeling of resistance, no sense that things would be better if I were another sex or gender. So, it’s not that my gender identity is consistent with my sex at birth, nor is it that I psychologically feel like a female, it’s just that it doesn’t bother me that people read me as female.

  38. Lydia
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    “It’s feminism. We say, ‘Ok, here’s what you have biologically. But fuck it. Men can cry and women can play basketball, and that doesn’t make them less biologically correct.’”
    This has always been my understanding of feminism too. Which is why the dialogue about gender identity and genderqueer can strike me as kind of confusing sometimes because it often seems to conflate sex with gender. (Please note: This isn’t a criticism, it’s just an observation and I’d be thrilled to hear others’ thoughts on it.) I hear a lot of people saying (including some commenters here) that they knew they weren’t cis or have questioned whether or not they are cis because they don’t fit into the social norms of their assigned gender. Well, technically I don’t either. I am biologically female and, growing up, there were aspects of me that were very stereotypically feminine (I liked dolls and pink, I was sensitive and empathetic, I hated bugs…) but other aspects of me that were more stereopytically masculine (I also liked sci fi/fantasy and building stuff, I was outspoken, assertive and an “alpha” in classroom settings). yet I’ve never identified as androgynous or genderqueer. I have always felt female. And I thought the whole point of feminism was that I could embody all these characteristics and still be a woman. Not less “biologically correct.”
    I think what is known as gender identity is something that is much deeper and more mysterious and really has nothing to do with gender norms. I always knew I was female because my body felt right to me. When I played make-believe games when I was little, even if I was pretending to be an astronaut and not a princess, I was always a girl astronaut. When my body started developing secondary sex characteristics, that felt right to me. As a little girl, I was curious about boys’ bodies, but it was pre-sexual curiosity not a wondering if that’s what I should be curiosity. Boys were always “other.” (in a good way.) This is what makes me a cis woman, not the fact that I like to wear dresses. It’s about an inherent comfort with my own biological sex, not anything to do with how I feel about gender norms.
    Which is why I think the whole term “gender identity” is a little misleading. It seems that gender identity doesn’t actually have that much to do with gender because people can be all over the map as far as their gender characteristics and that is completely unrelated to their sex and sex identity. I have a friend who is a transman who likes to cook and knit and do other “feminine” things and he says that confuses a lot of people because then why didn’t he just “stay a woman?” And “gender”-wise he is more feminine, it’s just that that has nothing to do with how he feels about his sex. I have characteristics of multiple genders, but emphatically only one sex. Female. I probably haven’t explained this very well but I hope it’s somewhat clear.

  39. Lydia
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks. This post explains well of a lot of the confusion about the “gender identity” discussion that I have. I get a person feeling like they are being “born in the wrong body.” It’s not an experience I had because I’m cis, but it makes total sense to me. What I don’t get is “I’m genderqueer because I think the gender binary sucks and I don’t want to conform to one set of gender norms.” Well, I think all that stuff too but it doesn’t make me uncomfortable with being referred to by the pronoun “she” or make me feel like I must not be a woman. So I think what makes a person feel trans or genderqueer can’t really have anything to do with actual “gender.” It’s something else harder to quantify and analyze. This is why “born in the wrong body” and “born in the right body” is a lot easier for me to understand. Because these experiences actually have nothing to do with gender.

  40. Lydia
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Why can’t you just be a cis woman who doesn’t like to conform to gender stereotypes? See, this is what I don’t get about this topic. On the one hand, gender is a social construct and we shouldn’t feel we are slaves to the gender norms of our biological sex. On the other hand, if we don’t conform to the gender norms of our biological sex, that throws our whole identity into flux and we have to question whether or not we are actually supposed to be that sex? Isn’t that being a slave to gender norms, just in a different way?
    Personally, I feel like if I were to say that I am not cis just because I embody characteristics of both stereotypical genders, that would be giving into the idea that women can only be one way.

  41. AMM
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    What does the term “gender identity” mean on an individual level, other than the gender which is assigned you? I think I must be missing something here.
    That’s how I feel. For me, being male means:
    1. Having a male body.
    2. All that crap that everybody tries to tell me I’m supposed to do/be/like/hate because of it, which I go along with to the extent (and only to the extent) that I either wanted to anyway or that doing something different isn’t worth what I’d have to put up with.
    I honestly have no clue what “gender identity” I’m supposed to have beyond that. All I can tell is that there are these things — masculinity and femininity? — which a lot of people seem to agonize over, but I’m not really sure exactly what it is. It’s like they’re talking about a color I can’t see.
    It’s like the discussion of “Chick Cars” on Car Talk: I’m aware that some cars are considered “Chick Cars” and some are considered “Guy Cars,” but I’ve never had a clue as to what makes a car one or the other, nor can I be bothered to keep track of which car is currently considered which.
    I’m not saying I don’t act stereotypically male in some ways; for one thing, I’m sure some of my inclinations match my gender, and I’m also sure I’ve internalized some of the expectations placed on me because I’m male.
    I’ve sometimes wondered how I would feel if I woke up one day in a female body (Greta Samsa, anyone?) It never occurs to me that it might be upsetting to suddenly “be female” (though it would take some getting used to.) After all, I’d presumably be the same person inside. Instead, in my mind, the difficult part would be all the new expectations and the need to learn to act out a different role. I would go from trying to pretend to be a Guy(tm) to trying to pretend to be a Gal(tm). It makes me think of the movie Tootsie.

  42. j7sue2
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    “Gender is not innate. Gender is performance, and it’s a product of socialization.”
    Nice theory, which turns out to be wrong. If gender identity was just socialisation and performance, there wouldn’t be transsexual people. All the socialisation is designed to make one conform to the gender that matches your genitals. I was brainwashed, if you like and learned to perform gender – on pain of punishment – as society demanded. I hated it. Maybe your theory works for cissexual people, but transsexual people get to the point where they just can’t do it any more. At any price.
    FFS I used to be a heterosexual man – now I’m a transsexual lesbian. I knew I’d lose huge amounts of privilege by transitioning, I knew society would make it difficult, I knew it would be painful and risky. But I had no choice.
    Gender identity is not an act, however prettily written your theories might be.

  43. Dena
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm. That’s a tough one. Well, I don’t know that I’m not trans, but what I do know is that I’m comfortable with my gender identity, or rather, my sex–being female. I’m entirely comfortable being a woman, in fact, I love it. However, the gender binary is so damn annoying, so I do what I can to break through that and just be who I am.

  44. electrically
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Acting female is still acting, even if you’re a man. Socialization gives two performed gender options: male or female. If you’re unhappy with one, you switch to the other. Stick to the performance that suits you best.
    I have often hated being female, and all that it entails – even just biologically, I have detested that I even had the appropriate organs. I hated the capability of birth, menstruation, and that sex meant penetration.
    That said I do not identify as male either. They are both rigid definitions and I don’t feel like I fit either of them. I feel like I would have an easier time if I were male, but logically I know this isn’t true (at least on a personal level).
    I don’t think wearing different clothes or changing my hairstyle would change anything about the way I see myself or the way I fit into either category, so I’ve never considered attempting to change my birth gender, or act any differently (because, as I’ve said, they’re both wrong).
    So now I just don’t pay it any mind. I still dislike the extra biological and social hassles that come with being female, but they are separate from my identity. I’m just sort of not-gendered.

  45. Devoted_Toucan
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    Currently, I’d say simply because I don’t feel like I am. Whilst I dislike my appearance in general, I am happy appearing (and identifying) as the gender I was born (female). My breasts and curves, etc, aren’t what makes me feel uncomfortable about myself at the moment.
    However, there was a time when I wasn’t comfortable with the feminine parts of my body, and because of having some qualities and tendencies which are typically thought of as those of a male, I have thought quite a lot about my gender identity in the past. I used to have a (biological) male best friend who I’d hang out with a lot, and I thought of it as our ‘guy/man/boy time’. Our girlfriends at the time would say we were the guys of our ‘group’. When we lost him and they began to ask me to do the things that he used to (e.g. try to fix something), I commented that I was “the man now”, and his ex replied (something like), “You’ve always been more of a man than _____” – insulting to him, I know, but it made me feel rather happy about myself. From thirteen onwards, I was attracted to only females, but I did have male crushes before that. As I got older and thought more about my sexuality and gender identity, I realised that I used to only have crushes on guys I idealised. From having a transgender partner at the moment and hearing more from the trans community, I know now that the ‘crushing on guys you idealise’ is something quite a few transmen go through. I disliked having my breasts throughout most of my teenager years and would make an effort to always make my chest appear flat (thankfully then – and unfortunately now – that wasn’t a problem).
    My partner knows this and more (examples of things that might suggest wanting to be male) about me, and it’s caused him to question me about my identity several times. Never in a pushy way, but he’s wondered if I might also be transgender – that I may either be in denial or that I haven’t realised it yet. If he’d asked me even a couple of years ago, I would’ve been unsure, and definitely have thought I might be. But finally being with a person who I feel sexually and emotionally comfortable with, and ‘getting into’ feminism, helps me feel a lot more comfortable with the feminine aspects of my body. I realised that I didn’t hate my breasts because they were there; I hate(d) them because they’re small. I thought that this meant they weren’t worth being seen; that I should hide them because no one would want them anyway. (I find it funny how sometimes we can think these things, yet not have a problem with – and even be attracted to – someone who has the same aspect/s that we hate about ourselves.) I’d also never received much sexual pleasure from my female body parts – by my hand or anyone else’s – and that changed when I met my current partner. He makes me feel really good about my body, and in turn I feel good about this body being female. I’m considerably more comfortable with taking off my jacket and wearing tighter (but not too tight, haha) t-shirts. And it was partly through him talking about his past experiences and feelings that I realised I’d only fancied men I wanted to be like. But, unlike my partner, I realised that I didn’t want to look like these men; I just wanted to be as kick ass and as sweet as they were (…in movies). Once I’d really developed my love for Horror movies (from the past couple of decades onwards) and seen that there are badass women in movies, too, I felt even more comfortable with identifying as a woman.
    I know that there are several labels out there for people who don’t identify as either cisgendered or transgender, and I’m aware that it’s quite possible I might feel differently about my gender identity and want to identify in another way in time to come. But for now, I’m happy just being a female who has some male characteristics. After all, if we want to stop stereotyping certain ways to girls/females and boys/males, we shouldn’t think someone has to identify as something other than their biological sex when they display behaviours and feelings, etc, that are typically assigned to the other sex. So, I know I’m not trans because I feel female inside at the moment, and I like presenting this way.
    (Maybe I should’ve just typed the previous sentence and left it at that, ha.
    Also, in case anyone’s wondering, I’m – in the words of my partner – “femmish”. I always dress casually in jeans and ‘hippy’ t-shirts, and I’m kind of slim – which is mainly the result of a long-term illness.)
    “I know there is a big difference between the dissonance I would feel if I were trans and the dissonance I do feel because I don’t exactly fit into the social construction of my assigned and chosen gender” – Dawn.
    ^ And I feel the same way.

  46. Lydia
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Um, I don’t think that’s what the poster was saying at all. I think these kinds of misunderstandings arise from the fact that people are using the word “gender” to mean two different things. “Gender” to me, as to many, means the social norms associated with one’s sex. It’s the cultural expectations, feelings, interests, attitudes, etc. that are attributed to a person based on whether they are biologically male or female. Others seem to use it mean that more essential feeling of just being male or female, which really doesn’t have to do with anything but “a sense of what feels right.” My understanding is that transsexual people grow up always just feeling that their bodies are wrong, that they do not represent them, that they just “don’t fit” in a sort of mysterious and not wholly explainable way. It’s not about how masculine or feminine they are. You could be a biological man with generally “masculine” interests and feelings and still feel like you are a woman inside. I’ve known transpeople like this.
    And I think that that deep sense of feeling male or female, is something completely separate from gender. And what’s confusing to me and others here (I think) is that there isn’t a distinction being made between the two. A lot of people seem to say stuff like “I feel very comfortable in my body but maybe I’m not actually cis because I don’t conform to this or that behavior that society generally associates with other people that have my kind of body.” I don’t see how such a person is not cis, just a cis person who is trying to do what feminists have wanted people to do for generations, which is to embrace their own individual interests, feelings, and personalities regardless of what interests, feelings, and personalities society tells them they’re supposed to have because of their genitalia. I think this is where the complaint about reinforcing gender essentialism comes from. It’s not directed at people who feel like they were in the wrong body, it’s directed at the idea that if you don’t conform to the gender expectations, that that alone is a cause to question the whether or not you’re cis, as opposed to questioning whether or not society’s expectations are fucked. I mean, what would have happened if Betty Friedan had said “I get bored doing housework and raising kids all day and society tells me that that is what is supposed to fufill a woman. Maybe that means I’m not actually a woman?”

  47. Icy Bear
    Posted April 30, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Please realise that when you casually dismiss the idea that gender is a social construction, you are not just dismissing somebody’s “prettily written” theory. You are essentially saying that entire religious and spiritual systems, many people’s whole way of perceiving the world and understanding what it means to be a person, all that is categorically wrong and can be proven so by your own theories about gender. You are saying that your life experiences have the power to completely invalidate someone else’s.
    There is an odd tendency in a lot of feminist blogs recently to assume that ‘gender is performative’ can only ever be a theory, whereas ‘gender is innate’ is something we can experience first-hand. This is not true. The unrealness of gender (and the rest of life) is something that can very much be experienced. We can only ever begin to address these issues seriously when we see that they are BOTH theories that people experience deeply within them, that define their lives and their whole way of being, and quickly dismissing either one is to invalidate the life experiences of a huge number of people.

  48. Sex Toy James
    Posted April 30, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    I get one thing from my gender that’s not so much a function of society, power, so much power. Carrying around over 200 pounds of burliness with me everywhere does have an effect on my life, and would be really hard to achieve in a feminine body. Maybe it’s affected how I’ve developed by the way that it allows me to interact with society. Being able to stand up for what you want to, and not being easy to push around has to change your outlook. It also has to contribute to being able to flaunt societal standards. I don’t have to constrain my activities and style to society’s narrow definition of masculinity because my doing it folds it into my masculinity. My cool new shiny purple iPhone case, just makes me feel more badass for everyone who challenges my masculinity over it.
    I’m probably very cis-dude, but I can’t entirely rule out butch dyke in a man’s body. I don’t think that the masculine body is key to much of my social and societal power, but it’s a good starting off point, and one can’t dismiss the advantages they had in getting to where they are.
    While I dispute that gender is all societally imposed, I would agree that marking personality traits as masculine or feminine doesn’t seem to make sense. I don’t think that being emotionally open and communicative makes me less masculine, and I don’t think that strong, aggressive, competitive women are less feminine.

  49. Little Sara
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    The ideas that “girls are like this inside” and “boys are like this inside” are a huge source of sexism in the world and need to be abolished altogether. If I had a male body but was still the same person inside, I’d identify as a cis-man, because I don’t think souls/hearts/minds or whatever can really be male or female, only bodies can. I think that claiming a trans identity seems like a statement that there IS such a thing as a male or female soul/mind/personality and that really bothers me. I am actually tired of the idea of gender altogether and don’t see how it’s useful.

    I agree with your first point. Generalizing based on averages is a source of injustice in the world, and should stop. At best such averages should be descriptive, *never* prescriptive.
    I find it hard to believe that souls, hearts and minds don’t have a sex identity, preference, suitability, you name it – and that ONLY the body matters. Or that someone would wake up the next day and instantly adapt and actually like that body, reality be damned.
    If tomorrow I became homeless, I wouldn’t adapt that fast to having little/no food, having to wander to find places to sleep, lacking clothes, smelling bad…it would take a damn long time for me to think of it as ‘routine’, and an even longer time to actually like it and consider that lifestyle (though rarely chosen consciously) my own. Something as big as changing sex overnight ought to take a big more consideration. Sex is everything to many people, men and women alike. First thing we ask as a baby is born is the sex of the baby.
    Feeling at ease in a female body, and at unease in a male body is something I can’t justify with gender roles, gender expression or anything like that. I can justify it with testosterone feeling poisonous, male secondary characteristics feeling like they’re not mine and that they don’t belong, with never identifying as male in terms of situating myself socially, feeling like my given name is an insult, feeling like being called Mr is a way to annoy me (and believe me, when you’ve transitioned for 4 years, being called Mr IS annoying). Feeling that the world is unjust, that everyone is out to annoy or anger me, that I have no chance at happiness in life, that I’m the only human on the planet, and no one could possibly be like me.
    This is what being trans is to me.
    It’s not about make-up, dresses, smiling, being gentle, pink or liking to talk gossip. I don’t care about half of that and am not afraid to show the world that I don’t care.

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