Saturday, January 30, 2010

Butch AND Trans?

Okay, I am realizing that use of labels is becoming outdated for me. They don't quite capture all the variation that exists in the way of identity and gender, nor adequately express those differences and complexities. However, given that we have labels, and those labels carry with them significant histories and cultural discourse around what gender looks like, acts like, feels like, and how it interacts in relationship to people and things - I feel it is necessary to propose a grey area with those terms we often see as in opposition to, or in competition with one another.

Let's look at this for a moment. There has been a huge cultural discourse around Butch and Transmasculine/FtM identities and their meanings within lesbian and queer communities. These conversations have largely been unspoken in public settings due to some tensions and hostilities around validating and affirming these identities. The discussions seem to mostly be around Transmasculine/Transsexual women-loving identities, as a point of comparison to Butch as a noun. We may no longer talk openly about it, but many of us are still working out for ourselves what the relationship of Butch and Trans means. Do either identities or subject positions somehow threaten one another? I am going to say, the relationship is more complex than this.

I wager there is space to conceive of Butch and Transmasculine/FtM identities as co-ocurring, or coalescing. I'm simply going to speak from my own experience here... but I don't view the categories of Butch and Trans as entirely separate entities as applied to my own identity. And, I fully support the space occupied by those that don't similarly identify, and instead strictly hold space as either Butch or Trans.

I have spent many years trying to reconcile the two master identities (obviously there are different varieties of Butch and Trans) and have come to the conclusion that there is a fluid space within me which exists, and is not easily captured or contained within either identity separately. I share aspects of both Butch, and Transmasculine/FtM identities... and others as well: puppy, sissyboi, fagbutch, trannybutch, butchboidyke, to name a few. I do not feel like a woman-loving woman, lesbian, queer girl, or even simply as a Butch of any sort. I really do not feel at home with an understanding of myself as woman, period. Yet, I do occupy a space within what is seen as a female body. So, there are overlaps in experience of that female body for sure, with those who identify as Butch or Trans, in comparison to how those who identify as women perceive their bodies.

I understand what it is like to have breasts and a period, for example. Yet, my relationship to those experiences is much different from many, if not most women, straight or queer identified. I do not view my physiological processes as inherently womanly or feminine. Nor, do I see my identity as dependent on these processes. Having a period or breasts, does not somehow make me a woman - just as not having breasts or a period does not. My gender stands alone, and influences my experience of these bodily processes, however the meaning imposed on my parts by outside society increases the discomfort and disembodiment of my gender and the connection to my body.

Although I acknowledge the limitations of the terms feminine and masculine, the closest idea of what I most identify with as far as flavours of identity and internal concept goes, is something of the effeminate male or effeminate masculine position. This position produces a much different experience of my bodily processes - processes which have largely been removed from me and institutionalized as one way of being - than someone who identifies strictly as female or woman.

This is one example of the relationship of my intangible gender to my physical being. In order to look at this grey zone more fully, it is necessary to examine this relationship closer. Having breasts and a period (as a mild example) is something I often feel uncomfortable associating with, because of the transcription of those aspects of my body as female and necessarily feminine. It is this reification of my parts and processes by outside forces that I am uncomfortable with most, and the lack of space for any other relationship or understanding of them outside of myself and radical circles. And yet, there is a physical element of discomfort outside of this proscription of space within my own body, and the narrowing by others of the possibilities of how to relate to my body in the flavour and manner that is most comfortable to me.

For me, it is simply uncomfortable to experience a period, and to have breasts. It is especially uncomfortable when one is a highly athletic being, and likes to move around. It is particularly uncomfortable, when I would love to experience the freedom of my chest muscles by themselves, without the bonus of additional anything, and to feel the strength of those muscles unencumbered by extra tissue, which I will never actually use for feeding small humans. I believe both those who identify as Butch and Transmasculine can relate to this discomfort (and some, may not). In fact, I would go so far as to say that my breast tissue interferes with my body's fully maximal capability for gaining musculature and definition - by way of inhibiting my sensory relationship with my chest muscles, and their growth while working out. Anyone who body builds would be familiar with this sensation and the relationship to motivation and training results.

These are some elements of the physical embodiment of gender and examples of how the embodiment of Butch and Trans identities may share overlap. It is hard to separate the physicality of someone and the relationship to their physical presentation from the interaction with one's psychic gender, given the social processes involved in delegitimizing those relationships. There are many ways in which the body, as a site of reification of the idea of a gender binary by dominant societal notions, shapes the comfort of one's gender identity - and subsequently, the steps one takes to craft one's appearance and make choices around presentation that resists this hegemony, thus creating space for alternative identities.

Insofar as the experience of my masculinity within my sexualized body is uncomfortable to me, I believe I share the experience of Butch and Trans. Further than this, I do not occupy a strict congruent relationship to either identity. I do not wish to be perceived solely as a masculine, female, lesbian, nor a transsexual masculine male. Both have social consequences that I am not comfortable with, and which translate into different perceptions and understandings of me by outside parties that do not actually account for my own unique identity.

In adding my voice to claiming a space for Butch and Trans as a grey area of identity (along with others who feel similarly), I hope to not further conflate or add to the antagonism between these identities. My hope is to open the door for alternative dialogue that affirms those who fall somewhere in between.

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