Feminists taught me to throw out the gender binary, but neither beast nor fowl, those who move beyond the gender binary have a difficult road in a binary world.
Do you want to know the truth? I feel deeply male, yet I'd never want to be just a man. I am deeply proud of being assigned and raised female yet prefer not to be referred to as "she." Like I was taught by the ardent lesbian separatists of the late '70s, I like to think there are more than two choices. Male? Female? Not enough.
Unfortunately, the promise of a world with more than two choices hasn't materialized quite as dreamed in the last 35 years. Approximately 20 years ago I was introduced to the new term "transgender." Here was a word that had hopes of uniting the many different flavors of gender-variant people: drag queens, transsexuals, stone butches, cross dressers, and more. It had a second meaning too: It was supposed to indicate those people whose inner compass for their true gender came to rest somewhere other than the two check boxes of "male" or "female." Both? Neither? No need to limit yourself anymore.
While my own inner feeling of gender has remained remarkably constant over the decades, the words I use to describe it have changed with the times. After I heard the word "transgender," I found myself drawn to it. Two decades later, it's still my choice.
But in the world of transgender role models, transsexuals -- those people who do feel comfortable with the two check boxes on the birth certificate, just not the one mistakenly checked at their birth -- seemed to dominate the landscape. What about those of us who felt most comfortable outside that binary?
In 2000 I had lunch with Leslie Feinberg; here was a lesbian who preferred female pronouns yet was unabashedly transgender and masculine. I asked her how she carved out a place in a world of transsexuals. She said that's why transgender people like her and me needed to speak up, to be visible and proud of being beyond the binary.
Leslie emboldened me; I publicly claimed being transgender. I started giving presentations on trans health at conferences that year. A dozen years later, I still do. I've given cultural competency trainings from end to end in this country. Every single time I stand up with raw honesty and use myself as one example of the variety of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. For years I described myself as being on the 90-yard line in a football field between the "female" and "male" goalposts -- mostly male, but female too. Then I laughed as a friend reminded me that I clearly hadn't watched football in a while; there's no 90-yard line. What can I say? Organized sports weren't where I found my role models.
What I didn't realize was how lonely the space in the middle would stay. People usually assume I'm a transsexual. Trans women seem to call me "she" oddly often. Gay men keep holding physical doors open for me but can sometimes leave metaphorical ones demonstrably closed. The reactions of some of my lesbian feminist friends were a particular surprise; it became clear that I was fully accepted in any level of masculinity -- as long as I used female pronouns.
Pronouns are hard. We don't have any great ones that move beyond that binary. What falls closest to the complex reality that is my everyday life today? "He." If you caught me 20 years ago, in pretty much the same reality? "She." Like fashions, the hemlines of my pronouns have changed with the times.
I found comfort in history. There had always been people like me, drag queens or people like my older friend Keetz. Keetz was always in a suit or even tails if she could find any excuse; she told stories of the '60s and how they needed to wear three pieces of clothing matching their birth certificate or risk arrest. She was thrilled when her breasts were finally removed, urging me with pride to feel her new pecs. With Keetz I felt kinship despite the "lesbian" vs. "transgender" identity labels that split us across generations. Unfortunately the landscape of gender has always been complicated; her top surgery was actually a double mastectomy. She died of breast cancer soon after.
Unlike in Keetz's time, now we can choose more options for how we mark our gender in this world. My driver's license lists me as male, my passport as female -- and I don't fear arrest for either. But while I have more external choices, the internal ones seem to have shrunk.
Those feminists who taught me to move beyond the binary? I hear some of them whispering. One said outright, "Shouldn't you turn in your girl card now that you go by 'he'?", as if the "s" before "he" was the only thing holding me back from a world of privilege and wonder. Yes, in moving up the sexist social scale, I absolutely do get more privilege at times, as does anyone who ever slides by as straight. But when the word "transgender" walks in the room with me, I don't get the privilege of that binary; it seems so odd to have to explain that to the ones who taught me.
Ultimately, to live as trans is to come to a point of solidarity with those who struggle in the same way. It's no accident that many of the feminists I respect the most these days are transsexual and transgender women, women who unwittingly become magnets for all the sharp shards of sexism lying around in the streets. Many of my trans sisters attract daily slings and arrows from sexism, to a degree that beggars the imagination.
The lesbian separatists of my youth taught me the potential of moving beyond the binary. The trans women of my adulthood taught me the cold knife of reality when you are denied the safety of that binary. It remains chilly out here, but I have seen too much to go back; I am more committed than ever to being boldly and proudly transgender-identified. That is my feminism. That is my masculinity.
So what's my final answer? (E) All of the above.