T Girl in a Queer World

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #105, Spring 2004.

by Melissa Clark

Okay, so I?ve read the biographies,
the autobiographies, the novels, and the revelatory nonfiction pieces that define what we are. They tell us that gender and sexual orientation are not necessarily the same thing; in fact, they go way out of their way to emphasize exactly that point. The problem, then, is not in defining
our gender or how we feel the need to express it, but rather how expressing our gender impacts the rest of our lives. For example, I?m a transsexual woman, male-to-female, and I?ve heard a box full of theories on why it is I ?chose? to transition. They range from, ?Didn?t you just want to be with a man?? to ?You did this to embarrass us? (?us? being my family
of origin, from whom I have not heard
a word in nearly a year). The answer to each of those is ?No!??but that hardly addresses the clouded notion of why transpeople do what we do. The National Enquirer?s ?Inquiring minds want to know? motto may be a bit overrated,
but in this case, perhaps it?s exactly what needs to be addressed to simply answer the question.
Without sounding like every other attempt to describe one?s own situation, my journey began with the difficult attempt to understand why, if I was
sexually attracted to women, I felt the need to express myself as a woman. When I finally reached the point in my life where I thought I needed to figure that one out or lose what little sanity
I had, I was already struggling with my marriage. Why not? My wife had expected to marry a male and was accustomed to male behavior and simply couldn?t understand why I was so different from her expectations. Neither could I, but I had no idea what to expect from a male, either. There were things ?guys did.? I tried to do those things, enjoy those things, but often felt as baffled as Nathan Lane and Robin Williams did in the scene from ?Birdcage,? when they were trying to discuss the Dolphins. Yet I understood and actually appreciated the concept of sports. It was the other parts of being a guy and the enjoyment of white male privilege that confused me?for I?d always been a feminist, even before I
fully realized why being a feminist made survival sense to me personally, as well
as good sense to women in general.
I went to school, as the golfers say, regarding my gender identity. I joined a gender support group and observed
the other members. They said they were crossdressers, and that''s what I thought
I must have been. I tried, even as my marriage was slipping away, to hold on to the masculinity that was supposed to be a part of the crossdressing. What I couldn?t grasp, however, was the concept of being a guy who occasionally wore a dress. I felt there was a legitimate part of me that emerged only when I was able to dress. Gradually, however, I found the need to dress less a need than a sometime expression of my inner person.

As my self-confidence grew, I found myself dressing on non-meeting nights and showing up at support group meetings dressed in masculine street clothes. None of this peculiar behavior had any effect on my self-perception, nor did the warnings that the lesbians would not
like us were we to go as a group into a gay bar after the meeting. From the beginning, I found the women were receptive in conversations and a bit
curious. I suspect they sensed, as I did,
an intuitive connection and secure feeling in conversing. As time passed, more women became comfortable with my peculiar situation.

This was not the crossdresser?s mantra, ?best of both worlds? (and
really, for whom would it be the best of both worlds?), where they claim to be feminine enough to be ?lesbian? in their sexual encounters, yet masculine enough for their wives to be satisfied by a man. This was the extension of gender identity from my perception of me to others? perception of me. When questioned by a
gay man as to why, if I was attracted to women, I was not simply a straight
guy, I responded that in that case, why wasn?t he simply a straight woman? After some thought, he apologized for having initially missed my point. Not bad, from a gay man?s perspective! The flip side of his perception is the stereotypical straight world?s perception of male-to-female transsexuals as gay males who want to
be with men but are afraid to admit it. This doesn?t really apply to transsexuals, either, because their self-perception puts an entirely different perspective on their sexual orientation, even when pre-op. The only male-to-females who can truly be called gay are those of us who, even while we are leaving our masculine roots behind, are still attracted to women.

The point of this, of course, is not
so much how one perceives oneself, but how, once one has embarked upon the road of self-identification, others either accept or reject their gender identity. Crossdressing makes such a reality extremely difficult because it allows the male crossdresser no real time for her feminine persona to develop. In my
own situation, the necessity of living
and working every day in transition brought about a sink-or-swim situation that was the best thing to happen to me. Fellow workers knew me only as the woman they met the first day at my new job site. My voice was throaty, but they heard what they saw, rather than the still developing feminine voice. Even now, when I go to a LGBT event, the gay men read me with little difficulty. Ironically,
I think that?s because they base so many of their observations on stereotypes. By that, I mean they eliminate the obvious drag queens and the butch dykes, and look me over, figuring if I?m not a straight woman, I must be a transsexual. The lesbian friends I?ve made have had more difficulty in clocking me. One woman, a customer where I work, who
is herself a lesbian, told me, ?I just knew you were family.? I smiled and nodded that it was true. If she only knew how true, or how difficult the journey was to become family!
Finally, when the woman I?m currently seeing met me, she saw me as a woman she wanted to meet and know. I felt the same way about her?something I don?t do with just anyone. When we had an initial long talk, she asked me if I was as open about being transsexual with everyone as I?d been with her. I told her no, that I brought it up only with those I expected to be with for some time, that
I didn?t want to create a difficult situation later in the relationship. It had no impact on the relationship we?ve built, primarily because we?ve built it on honesty and understanding of ourselves and each other.

My point in this article is although one doesn?t need to look to others for verification, others will look to that
person to find their inner verification.
If a person can express their true inner self to others, others will see it, understand it, and accept it. If the expression
is perceived by others as some sort of act, there will be trouble. Use common sense in how you present yourself to others.
No one shops for groceries in an evening gown, goes for a walk alone in the middle of the night, or wears more makeup than Bozo the Clown to go out in the afternoon, unless they expect an opposing reaction?neither transwomen nor genetic women. Unless a transperson is an incurable narcissist, there should be consideration of a partner and close friends before embarking on something outrageous. This is why gender identity, although not the same as sexual orientation, is intertwined with it. We must emerge from our minority role into larger worlds, even if they are still minority existences. It?s why I?ve been perceived in my feminine image in a straight world, and have also been able to be a T-girl in
a queer world.

Melissa Clark writes and performs music
and writes a column for OutWords. She is
past president of the Syracuse gender
group EON, and is a member of the
speaker?s bureau of SAGE Upstate.
She tries to squeeze a 40-hour work
week into her remaining time.