Pondering ‘Transition’ for Non-Binary Gender Identities

I’m working on this idea, a definition of transition that is inclusive of non-binary gender identities.  I want to hear from you, my wonderfully wise readers, what you think.

For you, does talk about ‘transition’ automatically call up thoughts about surgery, hormone therapy, name changes and legal paperwork?  Does it come loaded with the assumption that a person is choosing to claim a gender identity of either male or female?

For those of us who do not identify within the binary gender system, what does transitioning mean?  I think it could mean working toward physical, social, emotional integration that centers us and helps us be more present in our bodies and our lives.  I’ve already gotten some feedback indicating that people are gonna question the idea of applying ‘transition’ to any group other than MTF and FTM people.  But is ‘transition’ a unit of work that they all complete, in the same fashion?  No, it isn’t.  Some who identify as FTM or MTF have had some kind of surgery, many have not.  Some do hormones, some do not.  Some haven’t gone through the legal hoops to change their names and gender on driver’s licenses and other paperwork.  So ‘transition’ is many things.

Why can’t I see the changes I’ve been through in the past 5 years as a transition?  I flatly reject the notion that ‘transition’ is solely owned by a subset of gender rebels who stay within the gender binary, and that may get me into some arguments.  So be it, I’m up for a good lively conversation about all of this.

I’m curious how this strikes you, what your thoughts are, so please join the conversation.  What do you think?

This content is published under the Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license.

This entry was posted in butch/trans/genderqueer, exploring gender, gender, gender non-conforming, transgender and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Pondering ‘Transition’ for Non-Binary Gender Identities

  1. ZS says:

    I don’t like to use the word transition to describe my increasing comfort with my non-binary gender identity. Transition is specifically what I have decided to not do, after over a decade of uncertainty. Yes, I changed my name legally 8 years ago, and came out to everyone in my life as trans about 9 years ago, but my life since then has been explaining my male name on a body that reads as very female, coming out to more people as sort of gender…interesting, and re-coming out to the important people as not someone who was planning to transition, and not caring anymore about pronouns after caring a lot for a long time. Those activities aren’t the transition that people think of when they think of transition trans-people. If it has to be anything, it’s de-transitioning from the transitioning I did earlier on. To me, though, it’s just my life. Transitioning suggests a beginning and an end, that at some point I will have either transitioned or detransitioned, and I don’t think either is true.
    For other people who don’t identify as a binary gender and who do decide to take steps to match their bodies or social experiences to their sense of themselves, could that be transition? Maybe. But to what is it a transition? Moreover, what is gained from calling it a transition, and what is lost? What is gained is of course recognition of the important mental, emotional, and other kinds of work that you have done. However, what is lost is the particularity of your experience. To think of someone as transitioned, to me, is not just about the gains you make towards another body or presentation, but also about what you are transitioning away from. Just from what I see online, I see you as a rare example of someone who has managed to keep feet/hands/body parts in multiple identity camps, and so to use a fairly loaded word that to most people signifies a binary doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
    I’d love to read more of your thoughts on this.

    Mmmmmm, well put, Z, well put.. and yes, ‘transition’ is a very loaded word when it comes in contact with ‘gender’. It has become THE word describing a complex set of choices made by people who are taking steps to reconcile their physical bodies with their gender identity of male or female. And yes, because of this common use, it has become a term describing the move from one gender endpoint to another. So it’s become wedded to the binary, and to that transitional experience.

    Obviously, anyone could use the word ‘transition’, however, without some explanation, the particular meaning for that person might get lost in assumptions made by those listening. Maybe we need other words, either instead of or in addition to, transition. A friend and fellow genderqueer suggested using the words ‘inclusion’ and ‘integration’. No conclusions yet, just a lot of thoughts about whether it feels more correct to say I’m integrating or I’m transitioning or I’m transforming or I’m ….- some other verb -. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Z — K

  2. MN says:

    I think that you are right, there needs to be a verb for this neverending process of choices that are physical, emotional, social, and spiritual but deeply non-binary. For me, integrating works well as that word – it means that I am working on all of these areas of myself, and that I do not have a destination other than, hopefully, a little more wholeness.

    Whether or not the word transition works in that way is hard to tell- it leads to so many assumptions. But it also rings true in a lot of ways, and makes the claim that this, too, is a legitimate way to be trans.

    Thank you for joining the conversation. I’ve been really thinking about which verb, or verbs, might be a better fit and I’ll have another post to add to our conversation soon, I think. I will admit I have a thing about assumptions, that I like to expose them and root them out, whether they originate in me or outside of me. I’m going to try to resist the temptation to push on the assumptions about the word ‘transition’ because my real goal is to find language for us to use in talking about our experiences. These sometimes overlap with the experiences of trans people of binary gender, sometimes not. I’d like to be able to recognize the similarities and the differences and tell our stories — our stories need to be told, they are just as important and relevant as the others being told and if we don’t tell them, they will be lost, and we can’t dare lost them because we are a vital part of the gender reassessment revolution.

    I do like ‘integration’. There is definitely some of that going on, and I agree that this is about being whole, in the individual way that suits each of us. I really appreciate the great feedback I’m getting. Thanks again, MN. — K

  3. maddox says:

    First, I am so glad to see other knowledgable people discussing this! I am doing a workshop on just this topic at various trans conferences in the summer: http://neutrois.me/2012/04/19/non-binary-transition-workshop/

    As a quick summary, I’ve mapped out transition to include Mental/Emotional, Social, Physical, and Legal, each set includes lots of subsections, and it can encompass any aspect to varying degrees. Along with what ZS said above, transition is treated as “change” or “journey” – it’s not necessarily getting from gender A to gender B, but to someplace you are comfortable living as you, perhaps a constant evolution, perhaps a one-time thing. Among the main points is that every person’s transition path is absolutely unique.

    In preparing this workshop, I’ve pretty much ended up with a book. After the conferences are over I will have time to collect my thoughts and experiences and compile some sort of useful summary.

    Wow, this is awesome, and if you need reviewers or readers, please consider me. The only conference I’m going to this year will be Gender Odyssey, any chance that’s one you’re going to be at? I’m also glad to see that this is not just some odd thought in my brain, but something people are, and have been, talking about. Oh, and I just looked at the page you linked to above, and you are going to be at G.O. so let’s definitely make plans to meet. Was the workshop accepted at G.O.? I’m getting excited about this topic, because it feels like the timing is right, for me personally and for us as a community. Thanks for letting us know about your work – K

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *