This is the piece I read at the Olympia Arts Perspective Reception for their show, Variables, Week 3: X + Y. Much thanks to Lindsey Tunkl for organizing the event and inviting me to read.
There are days when I feel like I’ve wandered into the Bermuda Triangle of Gender Awareness: so much of who I am doesn’t show up on anyone’s radar. Most people probably look at me and see a middle-aged butch dyke, a female body dressed in men’s clothing and a haircut that was copied from the boy’s section of a department store catalog.
They’d be partially right, but they’d also be missing a large part of who I really am.
Have You Seen Me?
The face on my personal milk carton is the face of a man, who looks enough like me to be my fraternal twin. He’s spent a lot of time adrift in the Triangle, unseen, undetected, invisible to anyone without special equipment. You need to put on your gender-variant-detector glasses to see both of me.
What would those glasses show, if you could find some at the local hobby shop or sportsman’s store? Maybe you’d see what I see when I look inside: a tree with two trunks, united by a common base and root structure. You’d see that they grew together in the early years, then pulled apart, putting some space between them. As you looked up the tree, you’d see the trunks came close at various times, intertwining and growing together for years before diverging again.
My gender is not blended or homogeneous, it’s a duality. In a way, I am a man living from inside a woman’s body. On the other hand, I’m also a transmasculine woman living alongside a man, in the same body. I am genderqueer, I’m not male or female, I’m male and female. My two selves are roommates, sort of, or maybe fraternal twins who never physically separated.
I’m not either or
I don’t fit into check boxes
Even though it’s not inaccurate to see me as female and to expect me to use the women’s restroom and respond to female labels, it is an incomplete recognition. And though I’d like to be recognized as male more often, I’m not interested in surgically or hormonally changing my body to be more obviously male. That would be a rejection of my female side and I have no interest in leaving her homeless.
I don’t dislike my body, even though it only represents a part of who I am. There are ways I can highlight my masculine gender — the boyish haircuts, the packy in my briefs, clothes found in the men’s department. I’m proud to have carried and given birth to my eldest daughter. I’m proud to succeed in an industry where men are still predominant, though that success sometimes feels a bit artificial since I know I’m partly powered by my male identity. I don’t mind working with what I was given, even though this body is at odds with who I am at times.
I struggle when filling out forms that require me to state my gender in either/or terms. No matter which box I check, I’m not being entirely truthful. The fact that no one would question me checking ‘female’ because of my physical construction doesn’t make me feel better about the lie. If I can, I avoid checking either box, though most online forms make that selection mandatory. Restrooms are sometimes an issue, too. Some days I’m living more through my male identity and have stopped myself inches from the men’s room door when I realize that no matter how male Kyle is, this body would cause problems for us if we were enter.
I’ve been asked why I use terms from the gender binary if I’m genderqueer. My answer is two fold. First, it’s still easier to discuss gender using the existing terms because that’s what most people will understand, and I’m very interested in extending the conversation beyond people who’ve studied gender. Second, I’m ecstatic to finally be open about my male identity and not hiding in the closet all the time. For me it’s a victory to say that I’m male as well as female.
I don’t know where this dual nature will take me. It’s challenging to be of two minds, two genders, two sets of desires and ways of seeing the world. There are rare moments when I feel blended, less distinct, like maybe there’s a third identity beginning to coalesce. Will I someday be a single tree trunk, my identities merging together into something new?
I don’t know where this journey will take me, I’ve been surprised so many times, it seems silly to attempt a prediction. But I’ll be bold and make one: the tree will keep growing and the view from the top will be awesome.
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