Disowning LabelsPosted: November 25, 2011
[UPDATE: You can find an expanded version of this article in my chapbook, Bite.]
As I struggle to find the language to describe myself, my identity passes through phases. When I first began transition, I called myself an MtF. That label now makes me cringe with all its inherent essentialism and binarism. After gaining the confidence and support to stand apart from cis appeasement, I disowned that label and identified as a trans woman. Lately, however, I see the failings in that label as well. What options do I have left? Will I ever find an accurate identity?
To simplify things, I look back at where it all started: my childhood. I always knew my body was supposed to have a vagina. That’s the root of it, really. I knew this before any socialization kicked in. (Thanks to my history of abuse, I have experienced flashbacks and body memories that go as far back as the crib.) Growing up, I was taught that having a vagina equates to the binary identity of “girl/woman”. So I adopted that identity without even knowing I was adopting anything.
The label fit well. I like a lot of things women are expected to like. I feel more at home around women than around men. Many tropes attached to the labels “woman” and “feminine” just feel right. I get excited at the idea of becoming pregnant, and depressed when I’m reminded it will never happen.
Those parts of me haven’t changed. But the label of “woman” has become meaningless over the years as I explore my identity and accept all aspects of who I am—including the aspects that don’t fit that label. I no longer feel the need to defend myself against cissupremacist invalidation, and as a result, the label of “woman” doesn’t hold the importance in my life it once did. I could redefine “womanhood” to fit my specific identity, while pretending it to be a general-purpose label that applies to others just as well. But I’d rather just be done with the whole thing.
I briefly thought “female non-gendered” would be an accurate label. But then I had to ask myself, “What does ‘female’ even mean?” I know these categories are constructed and that sex is composed of many factors, none of which are binary. So can I honestly claim the label of “female” either?
It goes back to what I do know. I know I’m supposed to have a vagina (and, in an ideal world, a uterus). I know there are things involving that anatomy which feel right (sex & childbearing). I know parts of my body upset me when they masculinized. I know there are many things associated with femininity that I love, and some I don’t. But I don’t feel like I have an identity anymore. This is terrifying. But I’m not so sure it’s a bad thing. I just don’t know where to go from here.
In the meantime I continue to use labels like trans woman and FNG. They’re labels most other people in my community understand without explanation. However, they’re a compromise, like every identity I’ve ever held. I kind of just want to be a person.