Fresh Shaved

I got my haircut yesterday, which means this holiday will be the first holiday that I go home with a fresh fade. Usually I purposely let myself get shaggy for a few months before I see my folks. I’m making efforts to not change or cover up who I am to my family. I need to trust in their love and acceptance of me.

Going home is always a pretty fair mix of good and awkward. There’s a lot of love to go around in my family, but there’s also a lot that they just don’t “get.” Just a few days ago I got a text from my dad that’s had me kind of spinning out since. He wrote me a quick message about a news article he had read, and how he thought I would find it interesting. I clicked the link against my better judgement and found myself on a pop science article discussing the idea that trans* individuals do not have male or female brains, but distinct “trans” brains.
My dad has a habit of sending me articles that he wants to talk about in person before we see each other. Usually this is relatively benign, maybe politics at the worst. A couple years ago we had a substantial argument over Mother’s Day when he tried to convince me that there was no good reason for gay people to get married (essentially telling me that marriage is solely for the protection and support of children…). I have not broached any sexuality-related topics with him since then and I don’t feel like I will want to this coming week, either. I especially don’t want to talk to him about brain sex when he was the one who introduced me to Dr. Fine and her work. I’m confused and feel betrayed, and I really don’t want to talk about it. I don’t know where all of this “oh trans people have special brains!” support is coming from when his lack of support (from the standpoint of science and reality) was such a strong indicator to me that I was doing the wrong thing while I was transitioning.

Honestly, sometimes I get really, really tired of carving out space to hold my experiences within “female.” I get tired of coming out constantly about being a woman. I am exhausted from watching my peers transition and from squelching my immediate pangs of jealousy. I’m tired of being the “female exception,” tired of feeling like the whole world is insinuating that I am not like the other girls when I am busting my ass to find connection and common ground with other women. I want to just live and exist in a world where my place within female reality is just a given, where I do not stand out so intensely. I truly and honestly do not think that I am such an anomaly.
I just want to go back into the woods, it’s like I’ve forgotten how to exist out here.

Learned Behaviors

I drop my voice into a lower register when I want to be taken seriously.

Sometimes this is conscious decision, such as when I am in the company of males who are attempting to speak over me and I decide to assert myself, or with folks who I know will not take me as seriously if my voice is pitched higher, regardless of the words that come out of my mouth.
Sometimes it’s completely unconscious, which happens when I am the only woman in a group of men. This still happens unconsciously because it’s a learned behavior that is ingrained very, very deeply within myself as part of my experience with passing as male. When I am anxious, I have even less recognition of it happening, but I know it still happens. I realize it afterwards and feel angry for having this uncontrolled reaction.
These days, when I notice this behavior in the company of women I try to catch myself and speak in what is truly a more physically comfortable voice, more in my mid-range. I remind myself gently that I will not be misunderstood in this context, that my words will not carry less weight because of the pitch of my voice. It is still sometimes hard to hear this mid-range voice when I know that I am consciously affecting it, because if I am consciously thinking of my voice I think of it in the lower register, and this causes dissonance no matter how physically comfortable that mid-range voice is. More social conditioning, I suppose, left over from transition.
When this happens in the company of men, then I do not waver. In the company of men, my defenses stay up, and my defense mechanisms on hair triggers. Lowering my voice is one of my stronger tactics against males assuming I’m inferior, and trust me, it works. I am received much differently with men depending on what my voice sounds like. I know which tools I have in my personal arsenal for dealing with the patriarchy very well.

I think a lot about this. I still feel a lot of comfort in letting my voice rumble low in my chest, even though this rumble is a result of my stint on testosterone. It’s one of those permanent changes that helps me remain feeling at home in this body. I know that this comfort is deeply socially conditioned, because I now have what feels like a lifetime behind me of my words holding more weight when they’re spoken in a lower voice. Everywhere we turn, society conditions us to take deeper voices more seriously. There is no logical, biological, or functional reason for me to find comfort in a lowered voice outside of patriarchy. I gain social currency in the patriarchy when I utilize this privilege of a lower voice that I afforded to myself through exogenous hormones – by no virtue of anything innate to my person.
Dropping my voice is one of those performative masculinity traits that I have an incredibly hard time removing myself from. At this point, I think I can say that I have distanced myself from using this patriarchal tactic when I am in the company of other women, or at the very least when I am in the company of other Lesbians. I think it’s a learned behavior that should certainly be critiqued, and every day I’m looking for ways to move my life towards a place where I’ll never again have the social impetus to utilize this behavior. In the meantime, I have to get along in the patriarchy, like we all do. I utilize those tools I have, and between the constant internal battles about the way I utilize them I attempt to be gentle and remind myself that we all do things worthy of critique, but that help us get by. None of us are radical without flaw, but when I think about who I am and the way I carry myself when I am among Lesbians who do not judge, I know that that is both the most radical and most natural version of myself that I am personally capable of and I strive to move closer to that mode of expression of true self comfort full-time every single day.

Our Own Reflections

I dipped my toes into self-promotional social media for the first time a couple years ago with my Instagram account. My purpose at the outset was two-fold. 1) I wanted to be part of the “vegan strength revolution” and be a living example of strength without animal products. I no longer am very invested in furthering this ideal even though I still eat plant-based, don’t buy leather, live a “vegan lifestyle” etc because I find the framing to generally be really problematic, and yeah, elitist. 2) I was trying to fill the void of female representation that felt like “me.” I didn’t look around and see other lesbians talking about relating to their bodies in the way that I related to my body. I didn’t see other women that had bodies like mine that weren’t adorned and decorated in typical body-building, “performatively feminine” style.
Instagram helped me both find reflections of the representation that I so desperately needed to see as well as helped me begin to find a community of women who need and value this same type of representation. I had always had hunches that although I wasn’t seeing representation of my body feelings, that those women were out there and that the more of us that put ourselves out there, the easier it would be to connect. I felt like I could not sit on my hands and wait to see this representation – I had to take it upon myself to begin to build this if this is what I needed.

And I really, really desperately needed it. I was barely holding my head above water in the tide of queer culture insisting that any body that looked like the body that felt right to me had some aspect of “maleness.” I needed to find other squared off, muscular, tough dykes. If they were bodybuilders, I needed to see them outside of their posing suits, I needed to see them in ripped up t-shirts and shorts sweating under a 225lb squat and more concerned with performance with aesthetics as a sidenote – not the “prettied up” version.
I needed it so badly that I started building it brick by brick every single day. I posted when I didn’t want to. I posted when I didn’t feel good. I posted when typing the words “female” or “woman” still felt like a strain and made me second guess every association other folks would have with me… But I needed to associate myself, and my body, and my experience with being female. I set aside what other folks might think as much as I could, and pushed through telling myself that the women who needed this representation would come. We would find each other. I would keep putting myself out there til I found connection.

I did find a lot of connection through Instagram. After I had been talking about finding comfort in your body in a vague sense for awhile, I opened up about being detransitioned. I started talking about how I still deal with dysphoria and about how I struggle with seeing reflections of the way I relate to my body from the perspective of maintaining female reality. The response I got from other women telling me how deeply my thoughts resonated with them blew me away. It made me realize that my gut feelings of there being more of us than I could see was absolutely true. There were lots of women who could relate to what I was feeling, but none or exceedingly few of us were speaking up. I decided to find a platform to start speaking up more, a platform more conducive to text and sharing and spreading discussion.
I embarked on my second social media endeavor and re-created a tumblr account, something I had sworn to myself up and down that I would never do again.

When I started blogging on tumblr, my goals had moved away from spreading awareness of the possibilities of building muscle with plants (although I still talk about it very infrequently) and more exclusively towards finding connection with other women who experienced life and their bodies similarly to me. By this point I had realized that I also needed community of women who experienced attraction similarly to the way that I do, now. I needed to connect with women invested in non-performance who were attracted to women also invested in not performing. I had started reading Lesbian Feminism and realized there was long herstory for this attraction, a strong community of Dyke lovin Dykes, all committed to non-performance of gender.
Now, I do take some space from these 70’s ideals, in that I think that there is room for a materialist definition of butch and femme and that this definition can be used as a way to further explain specific nuances of different dyke experiences. In very stripped down terms, we can think of butch as a lesbian who will be assumed lesbian no matter what she does when solo, and femme as a lesbian who will be assumed heterosexual no matter what she does when solo. It is not always easy to discern what it is about a woman that makes her automatically read as a lesbian no matter what or automatically read as a straight woman no matter what, but it is impossible to deny that this experience does exist out in the world. There are also, of course, many dykes who read differently in different situations. I think it is possible to have a completely dyke experience of focusing on utility and practicality while also having this material experience of being femme or butch. I do not think the two are mutually exclusive, and I know this is a departure from the 70’s lesbian feminist framework that I am coming from. My goal stretched to finding these dykes who were committed to utility and practicality and connecting with them regardless of whether our experiences could be modified with butch, or femme, or neither.

We certainly found each other. I met dykes and made friends and connections in ways I never have before in my life. We bonded over shared respect for material reality and really critical analysis, while still being gentle and understanding with each other. Holding each other. It felt really unreal until a bunch of us met up in those Michigan woods.
What I’ve been seeing now is a pattern of women beginning to drop some aspects of performative femininity after seeing this modeled at Fest, and these women are speaking up about how this has been healing for them personally. I want to hold these women and their stories so close, because I understand this healing very well. I came to my own version of this healing largely through letting myself drop my self-enforced “attractions” to “performative femininity,” rather than dropping the performance myself (although I have certainly dropped perfomatively masculine modes of expression from my life, I have never really engaged in much of anything in the performative femininity realm), but I think the aspects of feeling healed are very closely entwined.
I want to take a moment to recognize that when I say “performative femininity” this means literally only those things which are  not innate, but which are “performed” (this all applies to “performative masculinity” as well, but I will not dip far into that in this post – another, soon, I promise). I do not mean being nurturing, gentle, or caring. I do not mean having long hair because it is practical for an individual woman to do so. I do not mean wearing whatever clothing is truly the most useful and practical for an individual woman to wear. For me, I find myself being attracted to a woman who embraces the same practical, utility-based lifestyle and expression that feels comfortable for myself. Letting myself recognize this has been instrumental in my personal healing and feeling like I am as true of a woman as any other woman.

Connecting with these women who reflect each other in these different ways has been the one thing that keeps me sharing my experiences on the internet, especially because now I have IRL support from true 70’s lesbian feminists to help guide and hold me and listen to my writing. It’s only through the internet that I’ve been able to find women who are navigating these things at the same time that I am, however. I think there is something very special and important about us finding each other and sharing our personal experiences and healing. At this point I don’t plan on ever stopping talking about it. I have opened up and I can’t close it back down again; these connections are too strong, too powerful and life-giving for me to turn away from them.

A Level Playing Field

I’ve never been into the more obvious trappings of performative femininity. I grew up in a household where the only make up was some blue mascara used exclusively for costume-y fun on special occasions. I never learned how to apply it, partially because my mom didn’t really know herself. I taught myself how to shave my legs and then taught my little sister a few years later because I was more willing than my mother. I remember one time my mom got a make-over and a glamour shot and my father’s distaste for this transformation was palpable even to my very young self. Both of my parents are very logical, practical folks, and neither very consumed with decorations of any kind (on one’s person or in our home, I mean seriously we have entirely blank walls, not even photos hung, and have for my entire life).

As a young butch I tried really hard to get into these performances and decorations. I complimented my girlfriends on their make up when I knew they had spent a long time getting ready for our dates with the intention of looking nice for me. I noticed when they got a new dress or new shoes and I appreciated the fact that they did these things with the hope of enticing or keeping my romantic interest. For a long time I thought there might be something wrong with me that I was most into my girlfriends when they were wearing hoodies and jeans with clean faces, because they dressed up for me, right? They got gussied up in these particular ways for me, and here I was not appreciating it right. I said the appreciative words and tried my best to make sure they felt like their efforts weren’t going unnoticed but at the end of the day it was just words. I didn’t actually like the skimpy dresses or the heels, I just wanted the women I cared for to feel appreciated. Lingerie was super confusing to me.  I went along with these things mostly because I had the idea in my head that these women were fundamentally different from me, you know, they were actual women who actually wanted these things. Women liked these trappings, and my young lesbian upbringing was extremely butch/femme in that there were no “dykes,” you were either butch or femme. There was no room for opting out of performance. Butches didn’t date butches and weren’t exactly women, but kind of an offset category with different rules. If I liked women, it followed that I must like femmes, I should learn to like and appreciate these things that the femmes seemed to like for themselves and to display for the butches.

I was really good at it for awhile. I gussed up in suits and ties and they gussed up in dresses and heels and I spent a lot of my young dyke life getting the validation of looking like the male half of a heterosexual couple. I passed unintentionally when dressed up next to my femme girlfriends for years before I began identifying as a boy.
I could never wait to get to the places where we were just comfortable, where we both relaxed and the differences between us blended more. I lived for weekend mornings starting slow together with sweatpants and coffee and blank slates to understand each other with.  I felt more at home in those times than any other time.

Often, when I discussed past partners with my girlfriends who had experience dating other Butch girls, they would tell me how I was the only Butch (or, later, transman) they had ever dated that didn’t push them further towards performative femininity. I didn’t insist on the strappy dress to complement my slick suit. I didn’t insist on their shaving legs when I certainly wasn’t going to shave my own. I didn’t turn my nose up when they wanted to leave the house in board shorts. They had never or very rarely been told how beautiful they are when they are existing outside of performance for a sexual gaze. It often blew my mind. I don’t think that I am a complete anomaly, of course, but I do recognize that there is a lot of truth when my sisters of any identity or experience talk about being pushed into performative femininity by women who value “performing masculinity” for themselves. There seems to be this idea that one’s “performative masculinity” is more real or authentic when coupled with a woman “performing femininity.”

I’m now at a point where I don’t really find performance, in general of either direction, to be an attractive quality in a partner, and I no longer feel the need to try to force that attraction on myself. I’ve generally come to find that if I think something is an attractive quality for myself to embody, that I find that quality attractive on another person. I can understand and appreciate certain aspects of performance on special occasions, but I love that in my life with my partner right now we actively avoid engaging in any sort of “gendered performance” on a day-to-day basis. We both wear clothing that is comfortable, useful, and practical – and that clothing looks slightly different because we have different bodies and therefore different comfort needs. We divide household tasks purely by aptitude, desire to do them, and availability. There is no consideration for roles when it comes to our relationship, and I feel so happy and comfortable in this space where it really is a constant clean slate for us to build off of. The world will conceive of us as a butch couple, and that’s okay because it’s a useful shorthand descriptor for the way that society understands us, but it’s not a conception that we take with us in terms of how we understand our own relationship. It’s nice to be on a level playing field.