Is genderqueer (or butch) a stepping stone to transitioning?
I’m a trans guy who used to identify as genderqueer, but for me it was more of a stepping stone because I was afraid to come out all the way (like gays who falsely identify as bi at first). A lot of what you’re saying resonances with my own gender history, so I’m curious where the difference lies, given that I’m someone who continues to be uncomfortable with misogyny and male privilege but still wants very much to be seen and treated as male. Or is *that* the difference?
—ASQ, on Coming Out Genderqueer
It is definitely true that I don’t have investment in being seen and treated as male, but I DO have investment in not being seen or treated exclusively female. There’s a subtle difference there. And sure, maybe that is the difference between me and a trans guy. Definitely a few of my close trans guy friends have a very similar gender history to mine, too, and then at the final step 128 or whatever, mine says, “and that’s why I’m butch!” and theirs says, “and that’s why I’m a guy!” Being seen or treated as male doesn’t feel important to me or my sense of self, at least not currently. I reserve the right to change my mind on that at any point, if and when it shifts, but that’s been true for almost fifteen years now, so I am starting to relax into thinking it will remain true for a while. Butch feels good. Genderqueer feels good. Trans feels good, but mostly as an umbrella descriptor, as a community membership. More trans-asterisk (trans*) than capital-T Trans, but either are okay. (Kind of like how lesbian and dyke are okay, too, almost good, but mostly just adequate, though not quite accurate.)
I have a LOT of thoughts about all of this—especially how I identify, and my own gender journeys—that are way more complicated than the “Coming Out Genderqueer” article above. That article is purposefully distilled, attempting to talk to people who aren’t in any gender worlds. It’s a rough sketch beginning of all of that, at best, and sometimes broken down more simply than I mean to for the sake of accessibility.
Honestly, there’s no way I could answer “if I had been born male would I still be genderqueer” etc etc. I have no idea. For as much as I study gender constantly, I’m not really sure what being born male would have changed. Everything? Nothing? I just don’t know. I have speculations, but it seems unnecessary to entertain to me. And “if we had full gender equality and the boxes of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ were much wider than they currently are, do you think you would still consider yourself genderqueer, or would you then be comfortable being one or the other?” I have no idea. A society which had wider expression of gender than ‘man’ or ‘woman’ wouldn’t be where I live, so how many other things would have to change too? I’m a buddhist, I believe in interdependence—I don’t think we could change one big thing without a whole lot more changing, too.
I’d say that my most important identification is in being in-between, or outside of, a binary system. Would that still be true if I was male? I don’t know—probably. Assuming that I would have roughly the same personality, would still be a writer, would still really love satsuma oranges, would still crave the ocean, would still get stunned looking at the stars, would still find so much joy in swing dancing—assuming all those personality things were still true, then yes, I assume I would still crave being on the outskirts of things, the margins, where the weirdoes live, on the borderlands (to borrow from Anzaldua). I like the view from here. I get a better view, though it disenfranchises me a bit, too. The edges of things, more than anything else, seem to be where I am drawn. Not to one particular thing—masculinity, or genderqueerness, or transness. It isn’t about those things so much as it’s about being on the edge, for me.
And, a part of me is softly hurt by your comment, of yet another person asking me yet again, basically, if or when I am going to transition. Or rather, if butch is a stop over on the train to maleness. Or, if I was male, would I “have to” be genderqueer. I can’t tell you how many dozens (hundreds?) of people—butches trans men femmes, genderqueer agender androgynous queers, all sorts of genders, over the years, friends and lovers and people who talked about me rudely behind my back, so many of them at one point or another said something, either directly or indirectly, about my—and often, EVERY butches’—inevitable transition. I think butches get this all the time.
I think it’s quite a common story for many trans guys to spend some time presenting as butch, or as masculine identified women in some way, or as genderqueer, or as rejecting gender in some way. Like you wrote—(like gays who falsely identify as bi at first). Yes, that is sometimes part of the story. But it doesn’t apply to everybody all the time, and just because it happens sometimes doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who find a butch identity and stay there, people who never transition to male, who never secretly wish for maleness, or to be seen and treated as male.
Folks in the bisexual identity—to continue to borrow your example—get this all the time too, with people around them assuming, at least for quite a while in the beginning, that bi will be a stopover to gay town. Sometimes it is. But sometimes, it isn’t.
So, is genderqueer a political identity for me? Fuck yes it is. Is it an innate identity? Uh I mean how can we know what’s “innate” and what’s learned, especially when it comes to gender? But say, for a minute, that I do know—I would answer, Absolutely yes. Which one is more powerful? Fuck, I have no idea. That’s like asking me to rank my oppressions, or tell you whether I identify as an Alaskan or a writer first. I can’t hierarchize those. It is a radical, political act to reject the two-party binary gender system, and I like radical acts. I get off on ‘em. It also feels like home in my body in a way my body never felt like home when I was dressed up more femininely, and never felt/feels like home when people refer to me by he/him pronouns. They/them and genderqueerness and in-between feels like all kinds of parts of me can be acknowledged—not “the man and the woman,” because for the most part I feel like those don’t even apply. None of the above. But the writer and the Alaskan, the swing dancer and the cockcentric top, the pretty good cook and the freelancer, the stargazer and the reader, the masculinity and the love of ice cream. The traits that I have that are traditionally masculine, the traits that I have that are traditionally feminine, and whatever in between.
I want to be able to pick + choose whichever ones suit me from whatever possible category. And I want others to have that ability, too, should they want it. I think it’s possible.
Also, I’m sorry—I don’t mean to be snappish about this, and I explicitly DID say, go ahead and ask questions. So, thank you for asking. I’m trying to answer honestly as best as I can, and honestly? Part of me is frustrated with that question, and the commonness in the queer worlds. I am heavily invested in butch as an identity all its own, regardless of the other genders or identities that that person carries too. I am invested in butch identity not only politically, not only for other people, but for my own sake. I am invested in my butch identity. Am I going to always be butch? I don’t know. Do I have secret longings to be male that are unrealized? Not currently, from the best that I know about myself, no.
Do I reserve the right to decide otherwise in the future? Fuck yes.
But … I hope, if I do decide I want to transition, to identify as male, to be perceived as male and treated as male, that I will honor the 35+ years (or, I suppose, arguably, the 15+ years, since I was mostly some other figuring-out-puzzling-frustrated version of me until I was about 20) I spent as a female genderqueer trans masculine butch. One of my most touching moments at BUTCH Voices in New York City in 2010 was when someone, during our ritual/keynote, held up a stone and offered: “My commitment to my trans voice is to honor the butch woman I was for 40-some years.” I know that many trans men were never butch, that if they were a masculine-presenting-woman for some length of time it might’ve been part of their transition, part of their path to male, part of survival, the only option they had, or who knows what kind of other things, and perhaps they never fully occupying the claimed identity of butch. And, similarly, some butches are never secretly wishing to be men.
I only speak for myself, but I, for now, am eagerly comfortable and loving the in-between of genderqueer.