The Struggle for Transgender and Genderqueer Legitimacy

As someone who identifies as genderqueer, I find I struggle most for legitimacy. Not just within society, but within myself. I analyze the way I feel to a large degree, and it still all seems so bizarre sometimes. The last big hurdle we face towards achieving full equality may well be that of gender identity. Those who subvert gender, be it in the form of male or female, are still often consigned to the freak show, though I would argue that biological men who show elements of femininity are shown in the first act. We can handle masculine women much easier than feminine men.

Though I know I am not alone in the way that I feel, I suppose the most profound skeptic of all is me. I’ve yet to fully convince myself that I belong and my feelings are wholly justified. But I should probably point out that I’ve made much progress. Viewing deliberately androgynous behavior, dress, and conduct is far less of a jolt to the system than it once was. Now I can appreciate the beauty and even the sensuousness of gender bending, when before all I felt was discomfort. I wish I had the courage and bravery of others, and have said so on many prior occasions. And as I say that, I know I’m likely being too hard on myself yet again.

What else do I need to do to prove myself in my own eyes? What emotional, intellectual, or educational progress must I achieve? I do wonder sometimes if this same quandary was also the case for certain gay men and women a generation or so ago. Did this degree of questioning and seeking legitimacy go into their decisions of whether to stay closeted or leave the closet behind? Did they say, I know what I know about myself, and I certainly see similarities between myself in others, but I’m not sure whether or not these feelings are real. I’m not sure I quite fit with that which I observe. It’s not so much denial as it is owning an identity which frequently promises pain and misunderstanding.

And I do also recognize this analogy may not be an exact match. People who fall somewhere under the transgender umbrella find that their identities are often used for shock value. This was true too with gay men and gay women in popular culture, but the point of their very presence was largely that of homophobic comic relief. With transgender and genderqueer individuals, the house of horrors concept is the most definitive slander for entertainment’s sake. They are still seen by many as the definition of perversity, or at best ghoulish curiosities. And so long as they are viewed as such, reluctance, fear, and doubt will be the stumbling blocks of many who resist identification, despite overwhelming proof that their feelings are very real.

The question I suppose I’m really asking myself is, Am I okay? It is one thing to see oneself in someone else, but another thing entirely to apply one’s observations to the self. On one level, I know well that I am who I am, and I know also that I don’t need a uniform or a motif to be authentic. Yet, even so, these insecurities still persist. The problem, as well as the strength, of gender is that it is so very broad and complex. That complexity is freeing in a way, but gender is so convoluted a notion that we can barely understand even a fraction of the concept. Some of my reluctance is not being able to understand in totality. One may not see dramatic, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt physical proof that I am genderqueer, but it is nonetheless there. I know what I feel, and I wouldn’t write about it unless I didn’t also seek to come to terms with who I was. And still I seek to hear something deep inside myself that says, Yes, you are okay. The way you feel is completely genuine. You aren’t the only person who has ever felt this way.

Here’s the good news. Even in the time I’ve been alive, I’ve seen homosexuality normalized to a degree that simply didn’t exist even ten years ago. What is unfortunate is that normalization of anything is a slow process that one can really only observe looking backward into time. Progress is a series of small steps made by courageous individuals. I know that the same degree of acceptance will eventually be true for transgender and genderqueer people. But until it is, I have decided that I will to write about myself through forums like this. The shame-producing stigma that keeps me asking frequent questions of myself will someday lessen. It will even lessen to the point that I need no longer demand proof of myself. Nothing will make me feel better than to own this, to own all of me. But, I believe I ought also to inform those who cling to and keep to the shadows out of shame that they, too, can walk in the light of self-acceptance and self-approval. It is not only for myself that I am honest with what I feel, it is also for those now asking these very same questions of themselves.

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  • nazza

    Wow! I’m flattered.

    I just wish I could correct some of the typos. :-)

    • Vanessa

      What typos? ; ) Feel free to shoot me an email if you want any edits.

  • Matt

    The struggle for acceptance (from oneself and others) is a common theme. Gender expression is perhaps similar to the struggles for people with a non-normative sexual orientation, but it is something that Western society is even slower to respond constructively analyze.

    I’ve got this random thought in my head with reading this piece, so I’m just going to toss it out:

    Something pivotal for the acceptance of gay/lesbians is the emphasis on people’s “nature” rather than “the acts.” Sex among same-sex partners is not something that heterosexuals can’t fully relate to, and people who tend to fear that which they don’t understand would get angry. However, discussing orientations creates a chain from person –> orientation –> act, which I think makes it easier for people to understand the acts at the end — each step along the chain is easier to take. [I wonder what impact the term "bisexuals," which may sound closer to an act, be having on that subgroup.]

    Expression (or to the point here, “expression through the nebulous prism of gender”) is a term perhaps more related to an “act” than “nature.” Granted, expression is less deliberate as far as “acts” go, but what a lot of people may be missing is that there are natural reasons/inclinations for acting this way. Person –> inclinations/feelings –> expressions. Genderqueer may be decently tied to “inclinations/feelings.” Any sort of ramblings about “choice” regarding people who are genderqueer and/or gay/lesbian/etc and/or whatever else then become a matter of whether people choose to accept or deny who they are (with accepting/denying potentially being context-specific).

    As for you in particular, you are justified in using discretion with how “open” you are. You should be in touch with your personal level of comfort and your circumstances and act accordingly. You do have allies at this site, and we can exchange information and provide certain types of support, but distance certainly means that most of us can’t just join you for a public gathering where you can just be yourself (or at least moreso courtesy of another person backing you up).

    “Viewing deliberately androgynous behavior, dress, and conduct is far less of a jolt to the system than it once was.”

    Not to make it about your quote in particular, but the word choice here can give a misleading impression to someone who does not understand where you are coming from. I believe you want to deliberately engage in whatever behaviors/dress/conduct you want to do, even knowing that some of them happen to not conform with gender. I do not believe you want to engage in these behaviors/dress/conduct for the sake of being androgynous. Or maybe you do. I just get the sense that either could be true from the way you worded your sentence. The former is probably a more sympathetic case, but either reason is enough to have the right, so believe/say what fits your feelings.