When I decided to change my name to Max, and come out publicly as transgender, I had basically no idea what was going on-- it's hard for me, at this point, to even clearly remember the path of how I got to where I am now. You may notice that I've cut off my luxurious curly hair, or that I've started dressing more masculine, or that most people are now using 'he' pronouns when referring to me. These are all choices I feel ambivalent about, and I refuse to pretend that I am more certain about this entire process than I am. One of the most alarming observations I've made about the general transgender community is the enormous pressure we put on ourselves (as well as receive from others) to be sure about a particular label for our gender identity. I've just finished my senior project, a 45 page account of my childhood experiences from a specifically queer lens; I came out of that process realizing I didn't like the idea of myself as just a woman, that so much of my pain and suffering as a kid came from trying to live up to the expectations of womanhood. I'm equal parts embarrassed and excited to stand up in front of a room of my smartest peers with all my hair cut off and a new name, probably looking like the epitome of 'existential crisis' in response to a critical examination of my past. Anyone who makes that observation when I speak at SUURA, you are not wrong.
I'm a little embarrassed, too, of my very public declaration of a transgender identity-- not that I don't feel it applies, in the 'umbrella' sense of the term, but that I claimed the identity when I had such a surface level understanding of what being transgender means. By no means do I now have a 'deep understanding' of what it means to be transgender, because I can only try to understand what being transgender means FOR ME. I have absolutely no insight into anyone's gender identity except my own, and the insight I have into my own is patchy and wobbly at best. I now feel the need to add to some of the ideas I put out there before, in attempt to clarify where I'm at with all of this. I sense that this post will be similarly well read as my last one, due to the influx of really dumb questions and comments I started receiving as soon as I changed my name.
Where do I start?
First, I'd like to direct anyone who has the time and drive to learn more about the complexities of gender to brilliant trans-feminist blogger Natalie Reed. She has been the most influential writer in helping me negotiate what I want from the great big world of gender. Check out "How do I know I'm trans?" or "The Null HypotheCis" first, then go from there.
Reed expertly points out in the former essay that, when it comes to being transgender, you don't know; instead, you decide to assert a gender, based on your feelings and desires. I claimed the label 'lesbian' because I have consistently been attracted to women, without ever really feeling attracted to men. I fit the bill pretty neatly. However, when it comes to gender, my experience has been wholly ambiguous; I have navigated it for most of my life with no resources about innovative ways to think about gender, and have managed to express my gender within the confines of the "you are a girl" mentality. I tend to feel more comfortable/motherfucking suave in men's clothing, but I also think I look pretty in dresses (though I am inclined toward them significantly less often). I definitely loved having long hair, though I always saw it as androgynous and even masculine at times. Now, I have short hair, which I also like, though I am not a fan of putting effort into my appearance and now need to take several minutes before I go outside to make sure I don't look like something that fell out of a cat's mouth.
I decided to come out as transgender because I knew 'cisgender woman' was not the term. But all of this focus on what gender identity I should use has completely distracted me from why I wanted to come out as transgender in the first place: to become more in touch with my body. For whatever reason, I have always had a weird relationship to my body. I feel physically awkward almost all the time, for no apparent reason. I have severe social anxiety and a general aversion to going outside. I feel intense anger when I look at my face in pictures. It occurred to me that some of these issues may have roots in a complicated relationship to my gender; I had to admit to myself I had not really thought about my own gender and, most importantly, had not tried any new approaches to my gender to see if a change in that realm could help. My weird relationship to my body is deeply rooted, so it could make sense, if that weirdness were related to feeling pressure to live as a girl.
I chose the term transgender because I somehow see myself as an adult male... but confusingly, I also like the idea of my feminine body up against another feminine body in bed. I want to be the boyfriend, the husband, the dad, but I still catch myself wondering if I'll like if my next partner only calls me 'handsome' instead of 'pretty.' I really miss my long hair, but I love the thought that my short hair communicates masculinity to others, in a way I couldn't before (the reaction to my hair so far has been overwhelmingly positive, which I'm not really sure what to make of, other than to be really, really stoked). Part of me misses wearing girls clothes, but since I started going by Max I can't even stand to try on a bra or a thong, which I used to wear regularly; even before I cut my hair, I started binding everyday and wearing boxers. Now that I've cut my hair, I have the constant and overwhelming urge to appear much more masculine, particularly in my face (could this be the root of the self-loathing picture problem? Stay tuned!), as well as the chest region... but it never bothered me that I didn't look masculine before-- did I always care about this and just refused to engage with the idea I could seek more agency in relation to my body, or am I responding weirdly to the pressure to pick one side of the binary and stay there? It's exhausting sometimes, answering people's questions and buying XL boy's clothing and putting a bunch of shit in my hair so that I don't look like a fuzzball, but I do feel fucking cool walking around the city and fully asserting that I am a dude, that I am a transgender dude if that's what I say I am. The idea of living as a trans guy makes me feel happy as often as it makes me feel tired and scared. Is that what I want? Would I be just as happy growing my hair back out, and living as Max, an androgynous or genderqueer person who will most often be read as 'girl'? How much does this matter to me? Is the fact that both options seem valid in their own ways exclude me from qualifying as transgender? If it does, what kind of label am I supposed to claim as my own?
Q: So are you a trans guy? Are you genderqueer? Are you a dude? A girl?
A: I'm Max.
For now, I want and need the freedom to experiment with my gender. In attempt to return the focus to how I relate to my body, and how I relate to all of you, please do call me Max. Just Max is good.
I wrote the previous blog post because I knew I wanted to change my name, and I wanted to tell my story so others wouldn't do it for me. I wanted the people in my life to understand why this name change was important. I hope you'll continue to be patient with my process and not freak out in response to realizing that gender is not innate, but self-determining. My gender is not fixed, and my process of determining may not be linear. So, uh. Hold onto your hats, I guess.