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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