A comment on my recent post, “The Maternal Return”:
I’m a trans woman. Some of the things you’ve been saying in the last few blog posts really sound like things a trans woman would say, shortly before admitting she’s trans. Things I would have said. In particular, I absolutely would have said that I feel more aversion/refusal to be a man than desire to be a woman. Many others to whom I’ve gotten close enough to talk honestly about this stuff would say the same.
Transition ended up being the correct thing for me to do. It very well could be for you. When I was thinking like this, almost manically introspective, the thing I needed to do was to perform femininity, and to see how it felt.
I have routinely entertained this possibility — on the blog and in private. I’m still not sure if this is right for me.
I’m particularly aware of recent research into the overrepresentation of adopted people in gender dysmorphia clinics. A report from 2017 for the journal Transgender Health proffers the following observations:
[T]he postnatal environment appears to be important for gender development. Factors such as the social relationship between a young child and their caregiver, parental expectations, and societal norms likely influence development of the child’s gender identity. We must consider whether genetics, prenatal hormonal milieu, or the process of being adopted could result in higher degrees of gender dysphoria when considering this study’s results.
Finding little concrete evidence for the influence of prenatal factors, the article continues:
[P]ostnatal factors could provide more plausible explanations. For example, adoptive parents may be more open to allowing their child to explore gender nonconforming behaviors than biological parents.
Not true in my case.
Additionally, adopted children have a unique experience of identity formation, which differs from nonadopted children.
This most certainly rings true.
Adoptive identity narratives have shown that adopted adolescents actively reflect on the meaning of adoption in creation of their self-theory.
And well beyond, as the last few days of blogging have surely shown.
Perhaps adopted adolescents actively constructing their self-theories are more likely to critically assess other aspects of their identities, such as their gender identities, leading to increased presentation with gender dysphoria.
This is all quite clinical, of course. I prefer the point made (albeit rarely) by others who are both trans and adopted. “Adoption is a trans issue”, writes Nia Clark. “This National Adoption Month, it’s important to consider how LGBTQ people can make all the difference for these youth: as advocates, as prospective parents, as professionals and as a community that knows every child deserves a loving home.” Her emphasis here is on the kinds of life queer people can provide to displaced children. But what about the overlap of being trans and adopted herself? Is adoption innately queer, for the ways it circumvents the “straight” processes of the nuclear family? Does that mean that adoptees are themselves tangentially trans? I don’t know how to have that conversation. I’m not entirely sure it’s even valid.
There are nonetheless a few conversations I have had recently, with queer friends in particular, who feel less protective over their communal relations, arguing that queerness is not restricted to sexual orientation but can also be a kind of politics, that queerness can encompass a multitude of identities that go against prescribed norms. They say this in hushed tones, knowing that others in their community feel quite strongly the other way. This knowledge makes me feel reluctant to affirm any of this. I don’t know how to actualise that observation in a way that works for me. But it is also not just for me. If I were able to affirm this properly, express it outwardly, look how I feel, I wonder if it would uncomplicate my desire for connection with others. I’m reminded of a tweet I saw a few months ago:
the “I’m a guy who likes girls but it’s always felt queer idk why” to “OHHHH” pipeline
I am somewhere in between here, perhaps. I have not yet accepted my “OHHHH” moment, and as a result, I do not feel like I can yet fully immerse myself in the queer communities I have otherwise always felt at home in. (Obligatory link to this old post where I went deep into all of this stuff.) Perhaps that is because I feel adoption is a key factor here. Recently, I have been downplaying the innateness of my own queerness. A friend recently offered the olive branch of identifying that I am, at the very least, “queer-adjacent”.
I present as a man, and I do dislike that fact. At the same time, I am trying to become more actively comfortable in my own skin. I’ve been buying a lot of clothes recently. I’ve been wearing a lot of colour. I’ve been losing a lot of weight. Friends have been so wonderfully encouraging. I feel sexy, and then I wonder what exactly to do with that feeling. Shaking off the long-term uniform of constantly wearing black, as a way to hide myself, I’ve discovered a new joy in looking good, and then feeling good as a result. If I feel sexy, sexy how? If this is felt internally, how is it projected externally? Is it a kind of femininity or masculinity? I don’t know if it’s either. I’m not entirely sure how I am perceived, and that feels like a major obstacle to my own sense of self-awareness.
My intuition is that I am perceived as being masculine. I am beardy, broad-shouldered, tall. I quite clearly have a man’s thirty-year-old body. But inside, I feel differently and always have. More recently I’ve been describing the sporty ambiguity of my childhood: a figure skater trapped in a rugby player’s body. Does this indeterminacy lead to a desire to gender transition? I don’t know. The biggest obstacle, which feels innately silly, is that I love having a beard. I think I look good with a beard. Is that confirmation of social norms around being AMAB? Is it a comfort blanket? What about the rest of me? How does the rest of my body and the clothes I wear conform to or challenge the assumptions made in response to this facial adornment?
“When I was thinking like this, almost manically introspective, the thing I needed to do was to perform femininity, and to see how it felt.” I’m performing something right now. It hasn’t taken shape yet. I feel non-binary, at the very least, but have yet to affirm this verbally, feeling all too aware of the ridicule “he/theys” often face. I feel like I need to look the part before I can go beyond that. And I’m actively trying to figure that out right now.
A few weeks ago, in finishing off my second book, which reads in hindsight like yet another collection of things someone pre-trans would say, I read Sara Ahmed’s book Queer Phenomenology. It begins with an intriguing exploration of what it means to be “orientated”. To be orientated, she offers, perhaps means that
We know what to do to get to this place or that place. To be orientated is also to be turned towards certain objects, those that help us to find our way. These are the objects we recognize, so that when we face them we know which way we are facing. They might be landmarks or other familiar signs that give us our anchoring points. They gather on the ground, and they create a ground upon which we can gather. And yet, objects gather quite differently, creating different grounds. What difference does it makes “what” we are oriented towards?
I think that may be the problem at present. I feel wholly disorientated with no landmarks to move towards. Those I do have and oddly cherish, perhaps like my beard, feel distinctly like they orient me in the wrong direction.
Ahmed continues that, in the book, she hopes to
offer an approach to how bodies take shape through tending towards objects that are reachable, that are available within the bodily horizon. Such an approach is informed by my engagement with phenomenology, though it is not “properly” phenomenological; and, indeed, I suspect that a queer phenomenology might rather enjoy this failure to be proper.
Clarifying why she feels it is worthwhile to draw on this ill-fitting framework nonetheless, he adds:
Phenomenology can offer a resource for queer studies insofar as it emphasizes the importance of lived experience, the intentionality of consciousness, the significance of nearness or what is ready-to-hand, and the role of repeated and habitual actions in shaping bodies and worlds.
I feel some of these things. My lived experience does feel important, as does the intentionality of consciousness, and whether I am part of a queer community or not, queerness does feel so significantly near to me. I am orientated towards it, but I feel like it is not orientated towards me. I am on the outside, one foot in and one foot out. Perhaps I am just afraid. Ahmed writes: “The attribution of feeling toward an object (I feel afraid because you are fearsome) moves the subject away from the object, creating distance through the registering of proximity as a threat.” What am I more afraid of? Queerness or straightness? Which fills me with more trepidation? At present, they feel equally distant from me. “Emotions involve such affective forms of (re)orientation.” Which way to turn? Is it really a choice I can actualise for myself? Has the choice already been made for me? “Importantly, even what is kept at a distance must still be proximate enough if it is to make or leave an impression.”
I’m writing this second post of the day to kill time before I head out for the weekly Incursions walk, which I have been documenting on the blog when I have the opportunity to attend. At the start of each walk, introductions are made. We play an “ice breaker” game, giving our name, our pronouns, and answering what is often a humorous and disarming question. Every week I have felt a discomfort as I respond: “Hi, I’m Matt; he/him…” I wonder today if I can make that announcement and say “they/them” instead. But as ever, the embarrassment of not looking the part overwhelms and I deny myself the verbalisation. It feels like an indeterminate response. It might change from week to week. Maybe that’s fine. And maybe that’s also what pronouns are for — not so much a marker of identity but a point of orientation. I’m heading there. I’ll see how I feel when I arrive.