One difference for me between this year’s Gender Odyssey conference and last year’s was that I spent a lot less time this year telling the story of my trans narrative. Part of that is due to the workshops I attended, part of that is because I was much more interested in 1) listening to other people’s stories, 2) sharing other aspects of my identity and story, 3) had less need for validation of my journey.
That doesn’t mean my personal narrative wasn’t on my mind. Listening to others — trans people, partners of trans people, professionals who provide services for trans people and their families — I couldn’t help but consider my own story in comparison to theirs.
So, without even trying, I come away with clearer understanding of my journey of discovery. I can see that I have always been trans and genderqueer, and I have also been in denial for most of my life. Denial about being trans, denial about being butch, denial about my true sexual preference, denial about a whole lot of things. Why all the denial? Why, to get along, of course.
When I was very young, I knew myself to be a boy. I didn’t get much support for that truth from my family and my mom was especially interested in enforcing my female identity and forcing femininity (her version) on me. Eventually, I adapted to what seemed to be the norm. Despite nightly requests, god hadn’t granted me the male body I should have been born with, so I gave up hope. I had no knowledge of the terms ‘transgender’ or ‘genderqueer’, or of queerness of any kind at that point in my life. I knew that when I upset my mom, she got mad and that made my life harder. So I adapted by hiding the part of me that seemed so upsetting, that didn’t fit in, that wasn’t OK. And so the denial began.
When I was in high school, a group of people I started hanging out labeled me butch and it felt like my feathers fluffed up from the moment they did. They saw something in me I’d been hiding, though not very well, I guess. I thought I was a tomboy, they saw the butch. My first girlfriend loved my butchness. Affirmation is a strong drug, I felt a sense of homecoming during that period of my life. I allowed myself to be that butch and stop denying it. At least for a while.
Out of high school, I became a part of the lesbian community at college and around town. Feminism was big, butch/femme couples were scorned, being butch was a betrayal to feminist values and a rejection of being female. That’s the message I got. And I could have tried to go on my own, but I wanted the girlfriend I had at the time and the community, so guess what I did? Once again, I lopped off the parts of me didn’t fit and I employed some extreme denial over ever having felt that being butch was a good thing.
That’s how it was for a lot of years. In the early 90s, when I became really, super involved in the Olympia area queer community (after years of being a rocker chick/partier and not being strongly queer identified or political). I identified myself as lesbian and soft butch-ish (I remember feeling so mixed about that label, wanting it but not wanting it). I remember if felt like an act of rebellion to stop thinking of myself as a lesbian and take on Dyke as my label. I watched as some of the butches in my community became trans men. I struggled with what that meant for our community, but mostly what it meant to me, personally. It was simultaneously not about me and about me. Something inside me, which I now know as my male self, my Kyle self, was struggling. That part of me felt pulled so strongly and at the same time I rejected those feelings, I was envious and repulsed at the same time. I was not a man, I was a dyke, a proudly feminist lesbian who rejected the patriarchy and the idea that men and maleness was superior, I believed that a woman could be masculine and still be a woman, that she could do anything a man could do, and maybe better. And I said this to myself over and over and over, trying to keep a lid on that turmoil, trying to keep my thick walls of denial up. I didn’t know then how to reconcile the conflicts. At the time, I was very entrenched in the binary and could only see the choice of remaining female or becoming male.
Going forward another long chunk of years, and some of the walls inside me cracked wide open at the hands of the woman who was my very first girlfriend. She had appreciated and been attracted to the butch in me then, and she was still very attracted to that butch when we reunited 25 years later. Her attraction and evident pleasure brought that butch back out, and more. It was suddenly not only impossible to deny that part of myself, but I couldn’t think of why I would want to deny it. In that heady wash of passion and empowerment, Kyle Jones was born, and this blog was created.
My butch self was easy to re-engage, actually, I was no longer living in the atmosphere that had prompted me to deny and wall off that identity in the first place. My wife was surprised to see such a hard butch emerge at that point in our relationship and that makes sense: when she met me I was a softie, female identified and would deny it if anyone called me butch. For me it felt like coming home.
By the time I met Roxy, I was unapologetically butch. A short hair, once more and forever more. I can’t pinpoint the first time I entertained the notion of being genderqueer, but it was somewhere during the first part of our relationship. I had gained a lot of confidence in myself as a masculine person, and I was becoming more and more aware of non-binary identities, and more comfortable and knowledgeable about transgender identities. I’d never considered transgender an option because I equated it with transitioning. I wish I could remember where I first came across the term ‘genderqueer’ (I’ve been searching through my blog, but we’re talking about 5 years of posts, so I’m still looking). At any rate, it resonated with me, it was like walking out of the fog into bright sunshine and clear blue skies of recognition. There was a word I could embrace, a word that seemed to fit all of me. I didn’t have to lop anything off! That was a new experience and it felt amazing. So I became a genderqueer butch.
By the middle of 2010, I was actively exploring transgender as an identity I could attach to myself in addition to the others. I’d done a lot of reading, asked some naive questions and ruminated obsessively. Conversations with Roxy allowed me a safe space to explore what that identity meant to me, and what it didn’t mean to me. When I came out as transgender in this blog, it felt risky, I was sure someone would challenge me, tell me I couldn’t be transgender and gendequeer at the same time, that I couldn’t be a non-binary trans person. Then we come up to now and I’m walking around Gender Odyssey, comfortable in my skin as a gender non-conforming, gender queer trans. That’s a lot of change in a short amount of time.
The next step I see is more integration. My wife and I are having some very good, sometimes hard, conversations about my gender identity, what it means to our relationship and what it means to her as my partner. Having had the privilege of talking to a lot of partners of trans people, I know that her process will take time, as mine did. I have been frustrated with her for not immediately accepting my truth, but I am more and more able to take a step back and recognize – respect – that she has a process as well and I can’t, and shouldn’t try, to hurry it along. For her this looks like a huge change, a gigantic left turn on my part. She met me in the midst of my denial, she met and fell in love with a fraction of who I really am. She’s probably feeling some betrayal as well, that I am either not being fully truthful now, or I wasn’t when we met. Even after I’d embraced myself as genderqueer, I delayed talking to her about it. I was afraid. It’s the fear many of us have, that when we reveal our full truth to our loved ones, they’ll reject us. I am happy to report that she hasn’t rejected me and that she is fully engaged in this work now. She still says things that are triggering and hard, but we are working through all of it together.
I’ve been trans all my life, but I’ve only recently given myself permission to be all of me, to stop lopping off pieces and denying the Allness that is me. Like many trans people, I wish I’d made this decision sooner, I wish I’d had the strength and courage to embrace my Self earlier, but I didn’t, so this is my new starting point. I’ve been working toward this for a few years now, a long cocoon stage I guess, but it’s time to emerge… maybe not as a butterfly, but as Casey/Kyle, the fully engaged transgenderful, genderqueertastic person I am. No more denying it, no more lopping off bits to make other people happy. It’s time to live my full truth. No more apologizing for it, no more watering it down.
I used to be really impatient about all of this, but now I feel very calm and patient. It helped to be around a lot of really calm, fully realized folks this weekend who talked about their processes, how they got through challenging situations with loved ones and how, even when there were losses, they didn’t regret the journey they’d taken. Above all, I heard about patience and love, with ourselves and those who are in our lives.
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