finding the right kind of visibility

Early this year, my partner and I were having drinks with one of their co-workers when he made a comment I no longer remember in context that ended with “…but not someone you want to stick your penis in, right?”  Two thoughts hit me at once: He thinks I have a penis and this is the only person I know who doesn’t know I’m trans.  And it was true – there wasn’t anyone I knew socially or among my co-workers who wasn’t aware of my history, whether it was because they had known me before I transitioned, were close enough that I was open about it with them, or (as in the case of several of my co-workers to whom I had never explicitly come out) had been informed by someone else.

After our move to San Francisco this summer, though, I found myself in a very different situation.  I have a few friends here who know I’m trans, but I haven’t made it a point to tell people as I meet them.  It’s not my intention to hide this part of myself, but I’m just not used to being in a situation where I have to explicitly come out as trans in order for folks to know.  Now that it’s something I have to specifically tell other people, I haven’t quite figured out the best way to do it.  In addition, I realize that there’s a difference between wanting to be stealth and instantly telling everyone I meet; there’s no reason I have to come out to everyone I know.
I think my decision not to come out at work at this point makes sense; I have a feeling that at least one of my bosses would ask me the same kind of inappropriate questions that I used to get from some former co-workers.  I don’t think anyone would care in a way that would endanger my job, but aside from one new hire it doesn’t seem like anyone I work with is particularly trans-savvy (although, of course, I could be mistaken).  I don’t know that I want to use up my mental energy at work on being Mr. Trans 101.

Still, though, it’s weird to think that I’m being read so consistently as a cis man.  That’s not what I am!  I’d love to find some sort of balance in my presentation that doesn’t stop people from seeing me as some sort of guy but maybe confuses them a little bit.  I do this a bit already: I’m much more comfortable wearing clothes like my pink Unity Conference 2009 t-shirt (it even has a unicorn on it) than I used to be, plus I tend to wear large and ornate earrings in my largest stretched lobes a lot of the time.  I have an expressive speaking voice and use lots of big, wavy hand motions when I talk, and I don’t police my voice as much as I used to so it tends to get higher when I’m excited.  I love talking about my favorite things, which happen to be pretty non-manly: baking, crafting, and cute animals.

Somehow, and I wonder if this is in part because I now live in a city with such a huge gay population, all this seems to do is make people assume I’m Extremely Gay.  I’m mostly ok with folks thinking I’m gay, although it gets weird when they then assume my partner is a man even though I specifically never use gendered pronouns for them, and if someone asks I will always correct them and say I’m queer.  After all, I am a guy who is attracted (although not exclusively!) to other guys, and if someone is going to make an incorrect assumption about me there are much worse ones for them to make.

So I’ve been trying to figure out what else I can do that might push folks closer to the vast Confusion Zone in regards to my gender presentation.  I’m vaguely considering nail polish, which is kind of hilarious because it’s the sort of thing I was so glad to escape years ago, and when a friend suggested eyeliner this week I didn’t automatically dismiss it.  Makeup and I were never friends, but now that there’s no expectation for me to wear it, I’m halfway tempted.  I have no idea how to use eyeliner without stabbing myself in the eyeball, though.
I am pretty excited about what happened over Thanksgiving – the same friend asked if she could dye my hair, so now it’s a bright purple that looks pretty great and not at all manly, if you ask me.  Maybe that’ll help a bit?

The exciting thing here is that I’m so comfortable with my body and my presentation that I feel free to play around with it in a way that I never could before.  It was such Serious Business to make sure everyone was using the right pronouns and trying to think about speaking low enough on the phone and things like that, and now I can feel a bit more light-hearted about my gender presentation.
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3 Responses to finding the right kind of visibility

  1. Luke says:

    I have to admit, I’m envious of your newfound ability to play around with your gender more. (Of course, I realize it is also very frustrating to be read as cisgender all of the time… part of the reason why I haven’t transitioned is because I don’t think I could deal with that.) As I’ve been becoming more confident in who I am, and figuring out who/what that is, I’ve also become more frustrated by the fact that in order to be read even close to how I want to be, I am limited as to how I can present my gender. I like a lot of stereotypically “gay man” styles, but on me, they just make me more likely to be read as a woman. So I find myself both limited by what a woman is supposed to be — since this is what causes a lot of the derision towards me in public spaces — and limited by what a man is supposed to be, if I want to be read as masculine. And meanwhile, I wish I wasn’t thinking about what other people think at all! But it does matter to me how people refer to me in my daily life. Sigh. Miss you.

    • Sigh. It’s so tough to fight that internal battle of “what feels comfortable to me” vs. “what will make other people react to me in a way I’m comfortable with.” And then there’s the additional problem that gendered cues seem to be interpreted in widely different ways by different people – do you ever go out feeling “yes, I look so masculine, this is great!” and then have a dozen people call you ma’am in the first few hours of your day? I know I had those days all the time and it really did a number on my ability to feel confident in my gender presentation.

      As an aside – I actually did wear dark grey nail polish for a dance party a friend was throwing in December and kept it on for about two weeks. It was pretty crazy – I’d look at my hands and think OH GOD WHAT AM I DOING – but I got semi-used to it after a while and felt proud of myself for pushing that boundary a bit.
      The fact that most people seem to read me as cis is very very strange for me, and not something I’m crazy about. But hopefully if I keep gently pushing at my presentation I can find somewhere that works for me and helps other people see me in a way I like.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! <3

  2. Late as usual, here. 1. Makeup n Mo: makeup always costume because Mo always complete as is. I know one other person (ish) to whom this applies. 2. Penis. heh. heheheheh. I hate that my kiddo has to leave the house because today, for the first time, he laughed riotously when I said penis, clapping his hands over his mouth like I’d joke/blasphemed. I send the little buster to the leftistest pre-school in the metroplex, and he still comes home snotting almond milk about penis. 2a. One day, I will turn into a huge, avenging birth canal at work cos apparently, all it takes for everyone to ignore important, chosen path of “The Moms” is not sharing schmoopy pics. Show no 3×5 kid wallets, and suddenly, all males are like, “*spit* Pussy, blah blah blah blah pussy, a$s, blah blah *spit* b*tch a$s pussy . . . b*tch,” cos obv I’m like the Cool Girl manifesto from that NYT bestseller shitshow cos The Moms with no wallet evidence mustn’t be too attached to her offspring. 3. Dunno how recent your Twitter av is, but you look wonderful these days. Sort of aloof and cocky, in a good way, your face seems. I have a transwoman gf here in Dallas who is obsessed with the trappings of female gender stereotype, and wakes up in makeup after, dunno, ten, fifteen years of public, social femininity. I remember and will forever the first time I saw you, just a bit red in the face and almost freckled, with your red [redacted]-holding-balloons shirt, and you look EXfuckingACTLY the same. Nothing on your face says that your self is different; your face just says that your self is what you want. Loves. xoxo

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