Dissociative identity does bizarre things to me. I learned to craft identities on the fly to please my abusers. To gain traits they wanted while hiding ones they didn’t. That habit continues to this day. It’s a reflex. And it reacts not just to individuals, but to grander pressures as well. It really exposes how socialization affected me growing up. My brain performs amazing gymnastic maneuvers in order to please others.
Here’s an example. Often, when I present femininely, or when the parts of me that are most strongly female are up front? I forget the nerdy things I know. Whoosh, gone. Especially when around men. It’s aggravating. Reflexive internalized misogyny. It’s like I can feel my IQ drop. At times I have literally forgotten how to operate electronics. Even though I’ve fucking programmed games before. I actually have to work to remind myself, I can be intelligent and female at the same time. I don’t have to perform, especially not for men. It’s safe to be female and smart.
This is both a function of socialization, and a function of transmisogyny. That double-standard trans women are held to, where if we show “feminine” traits we’re labeled as fakes and therefore men, and if we show “masculine” traits they are used as proof we’re really men. It’s a double-bind. (Pun not intended.) “Real girls” don’t program computers or play videogames. So I was told as a child, by cis men and cis women.
Thank god for the friends I have now! It was such a breath of fresh air to find other women–trans and cis–who are nerds. But it’s still an uphill battle. Sometimes the only way I can get my intelligence back is to let a boy alter front. And in queer spaces I feel pressure to present in a more masculine, “gender-radical” way, instead of femme.
I still regularly present more masculinely than I would naturally, because when I dress femininely I feel like I am taken less seriously. In every space—be it straight or queer. And because of internalized misogyny, I even take myself less seriously. But when I butch it up (or even andro it up) I am wearing drag. I am not being me.
This is why I chose the name Amy Dentata, short for Amygdala Dentata. It takes a very nerdy piece of knowledge (neuroscience, specifically the function of the amygdala as a fear modulator) and shortens it into a feminine name. It’s like a mnemonic to remember I don’t have to give in to socialization or transmisogynist pressure. I don’t have to “butch it up” to be smart.
Social pressure has ingrained a gender to many other traits of ours. This has caused tremendous conflicts. For example, I am strongly attracted to women. As a child, I labeled these attractions “boy feelings” because I was raised in a straight-laced culture. When I forced myself to believe I was really a boy, that was one piece of evidence I kept using as “proof”.
When I began transition, I expected new feelings to arise, an attraction to women that felt fundamentally different. But that new feeling never arose. Those “boy feelings” aren’t boy feelings at all. They are how I feel around women I’m attracted to. I have to work hard to allow those feelings to surface, and it takes work to not fall back into the protector “boy” alter. And I keep expecting cis women to force-masculinize me and erase me, like cis women did pre-transition. Especially the ones I’m attracted to. So again, I have to remind myself, I don’t have to butch it up to be attracted to other women.
Nowadays, whenever I’m surrounded by cis women I find attractive? I’m triggered as fuck. Cis women scare the shit out of me. The femmier they are the worse it gets. They feel dangerous. Threatening. It’s like my sense of self is eroded just by making eye contact with them. They smile at me and my brain fills in the blanks with all the ungendering thoughts they must be having about me. “Oh, it thinks it’s a woman. How quaint.” It’s like I can feel every aspect of their bodies that hasn’t been disfigured by testosterone attacking my body and telling me it isn’t good enough, isn’t feminine enough, isn’t pretty enough, isn’t real enough.
This is part of why I find the “safe space” arguments so infuriating. Even in a “safe space” meant for all women, if I’m surrounded by cis women? Especially femme cis women? I will not feel safe. I will need trans people, nerdy cis women, even cis men present to ease the panic. And even then, I still feel the pressure to butch it up.