Being Visibly Queer

darn-butchI was visibly queer before I was conscious of being queer. Back then, I was one of those kids you could spot a mile away and say “She’s going to be a lesbian when she grows up.” Now, you’d probably say “That kid is going to transition as soon as they can.” I’ve never been able to hide it. I never tried to look “normal”.

I didn’t know that I was trying to manage my dysphoria, I just knew that I wanted to look like a boy. I knew that every compromise hurt.

All through elementary school I wore dresses to school because it was “the law”. I wore the least feminine dress possible, but a dress is a dress, even if it is olive drab. Putting a dress on felt like a punishment for waking up. I swore that when I grew up I wouldn’t get married, have kids, or ever wear a dress.

I said I was a tomboy, and that I didn’t mind being a girl. I claimed that I wanted to wear boy’s clothing and sneakers because they were comfortable and practical. I didn’t tell anyone that I wanted to be a boy, or that I was a boy. No one wanted to hear the truth, even though it was obvious.

I repeated versions of that lie right through my adolescence and into adulthood. The olive drab dress gave way to jeans and a flannel shirt. When I came out, I liked that I was visibly, recognizably, butch. What was once a problem was now a solution. I went from being an outcast to being part of a community.

Then I got my first professional job and had to find something to wear to work. I never got used to wearing women’s clothes for work, no matter how man-tailored the cut. I expected to find a fashion solution I could live with, but I didn’t.

There was no official dress code, but only a couple of managers wore jeans in the office. The ones who did were men. Every morning I had trouble getting myself dressed and out the door. I hated wearing office drag. I started wearing jeans to work. I could tell my boss wasn’t happy about it, but he didn’t say anything directly to me. There is no queer way to dress for success.

dandy-butchFor me, being visibly queer is different from looking androgynous. Androgynous seems smooth, slender, and glossy. Flowing, elegant, socially acceptable, and almost pretty. I can’t pull that off. Queer seems more in your face. Androgynous can get dressed up and go to the Oscars. Queers protest outside the Oscars. Queers stick together.

I don’t own a pair of nice slacks. I don’t own a jacket or a suit (or a top hat). I have nothing appropriate to wear to a wedding or a funeral. I stopped going anywhere that I can’t go in jeans. I’m self-limiting.

There is no eloquent way to phrase the next thought, so I will phrase it awkwardly: I don’t know why I keep my female secondary sex characteristics when I don’t want to be seen as female. Are they what queers me? Would I still be queer if I took testosterone?

This is the odd and awkward place I am in. It is a queer place, a butch place, a gender non-conforming place, an eccentric place, and an idiosyncratic place. I don’t know if it is the place I want to end up at. Everything I’ve done so far in my transition has made me feel a little queerer, a little more masculine, and a lot more like myself. I don’t know if I want to shift from being visibly queer to being a visible man.

Notes: One of the first books I read when I started to read transgender books was Jamison Green’s “Becoming a Visible Man“. It is also the book that convinced me that I probably didn’t want to follow the “standard” social and medical transition path. I had to keep reading to find a viable path.

This five minute video, What Does It Mean To Be Queer?, came out just in time for this post. Shon doesn’t actually answer the question, but I like the other questions that Shon throws into the mix.

30 thoughts on “Being Visibly Queer

  1. macetera

    I love being physically queer. I used to be visibly queer, but those days are sadly over since starting T. But, like you, I still have all the female plumbing and don’t intend to have any surgeries. I also will likely never have a beard thanks to genetics, and to me that is positive. I’m a man in the streets, a dyke in the sheets, and a butch year round, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is helpful to make a distinction between being physically queer (top surgery yes, bottom no) and being visibly queer (masculine gender expression, predominantly female secondary sex characteristics). Everything doesn’t need to match if you are comfortable. I’m still not sure what I really want to see (I don’t want to see a dorky, middle aged, balding, white guy). My genetics run towards very hairy and balding – when I was 7 years old I really wanted chest hair just like my Dad’s (think of Bearskin rug). Yay.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I agree, but I wore black jeans to the last funeral I went to and I kind of wished I had an alternative. Not a problem with anyone who knows me well, but I was the only person over 18 not wearing “real” clothes.
      I hope I don’t get invited to any more weddings….they are just another form of extortion.

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      1. Lesboi

        Have you given men’s khakis a try? I wear them quite a bit for dressier occasions and feel quite comfortable in them. They pair up nicely with a button up shirt and a sport coat.

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      2. Jamie Ray Post author

        I’ve worn men’s khakis to work (with a turtleneck in winter or a buttondown) and they were OK, but it was when I still had serious dysphoria and before I lost weight.
        I’d be willing to try it again (I have the shirts). Sounds like a trip to The Gap or JCrew (followed by a trip to the tailor since my inseam is a 28). Thanks for the suggestion.

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      3. Elisabeth

        I got a nice pair of khakis from Peter Manning which I found through the Modest Man blog which I read about on this blog. 28 inch inseams readily available.

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      4. Jamie Ray Post author

        I’ve bought shirts from them (I have a shirt fetish the way some people have shoe fetishes, but I haven’t bought pants). Added to the list, thanks.

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  2. Lesboi

    This is a conundrum. I don’t know what a low dose of T would do since everyone is different but for me it didn’t change my face that much, but a full dose certainly has. I look much more male now than I did two years ago, even to myself. Some days I’m not sure I like it but, admittedly, there are other factors in what I’m not liking about my face these days that are not T related, so it’s unfair to blame all of it on the T. I understand your desire to stay visibly queer and I think that is very important to you. More important than looking more masculine, it seems. Maybe if you could get down to the nitty gritty of why you’re even considering T..what it offers that you want and why do you want it you might be able to work this out for yourself. You don’t have to take hormones to be trans. I know you know that, but thought I’d throw that out. Just as body parts don’t define gender, hormones don’t make you more or less trans (or butch for that matter!). You can look any way you want and ID how you feel works best for you no matter what anyone else says or thinks. I’m finally settling into an identity as a Transmasculine Butch and that somehow feels like a comfortable place for me. I don’t think I’m visibly queer though. Most people see “man” now when they see me. After top surgery I think anyone who would still peg me as a butch woman will not see that anymore..maybe I’m wrong, but that’s my feeling about it anyway. You just have to do what feels best for you and makes you happiest no matter what anyone else thinks or perceives about you.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is a conundrum wrapped up in an enigma. I think it boils down to some distinction I make between allowing myself to be as masculine as I want/feel I am, and “becoming a man”. I’m not sure I want your average stranger to think I’m some short cis guy – but I sure want them to stop calling me Ma’am, or backtracking after calling me Sir. Transmasculine Butch sounds very accurate for me too.

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      1. Lesboi

        That was sort of the tipping point for me. In my community if I wanted to stop being called ma’am I had to push towards looking male. I don’t want to be a short middle aged guy either but I’ll take it over being a short middle aged woman any day of the week. I’m middle aged so there’s nothing I can do about that but push on. The other tipping point was that I couldn’t see myself being an old woman. Old man, yes. Neither is sexy but that ship sailed a long time ago for me anyway.

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  3. halitentwo

    I am wrestling with this enigma myself (as you know). I feel like I use words like *androgynous* and *queer* because they are more palatable to others. But they are not necessarily what I have ever felt inside. Inside I have always felt male. But I’ve been too ashamed to own that. Those are just my two cents. Thanks for writing Jamie

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I never felt androgynous either – I’m too short and stubby – and I wanted to slough off the feminine part. I liked queer as soon as I heard it because of the refusal to conform to heterosexual or gender norms. I see myself as boy/male too, but when I look at straight white guys in their 50’s I feel a total disconnect. Most of my men friends are gay (I don’t see that in my future), and the straight ones are nice, but I can’t picture myself in their place.

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      1. genderneutral

        It is unfortunate that these remain the only two options. I realize this applies to gender as much as sexuality. And the “look”. I am doing my best to remain true to who I feel myself to be inside and not worry too much about others perceptions. but it would be nice if more peoples perceptions could broaden to include the non-stereo-typical; I do not feel stereotypically anything and never really have. T has helped me feel better in my body. But ultimately it is about being true to ourselves and not worrying too much about others perceptions.

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      2. Jamie Ray Post author

        Right. Internally I’m masculine (I can’t quite call it “male”) and externally I’m presenting masculinly – but without the “male” secondary sex characteristics. Society being what it is, people are confused by it – particularly if they Sir-Ma’am me. Unfortunately, the only way for me to find out if T will make me feel better is if I start it – and am willing to risk the potential consequences.

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  4. Mara Migraineur

    I struggled, in a way I didn’t expect, when we ‘gained’ invisibility when my young daughter transitioned. I had put so much energy into defending her in every single situation (at her request) and suddenly, people were blasé about my reality. I suppose I found my struggle silenced. Then, I remember being introduced to another parent at our elementary school and talking about my trans child and them saying, “Oh, I think I know which one is your kid.” I was surprised – uh, no, no you do not. You are making a really nasty assumption there. Visibility and invisibility – they both have things I cherish and others I dislike, much of which, of course, is a reflection of the society we live in.

    And then there is my daughter – she simply rejects invisibility. It is as if she senses that others would prefer not to be confronted with something that makes them uncomfortable, whereas she is fierce in her belief that she has every right to be who she is and express it just as clearly as anyone else. I suppose she knows she is in a fairly safe place and she can use that to her advantage.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is interesting because it is the difference between voluntary disclosure (every new doctor, new program, and some paperwork) and being seen without having to say anything (at least in my case everyone just assumed I was gay/butch).
      What I dislike about disclosure is the sense of “confession” and the awkwardness of explaining things (like informing the nurse for the EKG that I had top surgery) – whereas the old Queer Nation chant was “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”. I’m glad your daughter is so fierce and undaunted.

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  5. micah

    Beautifully written Jamie.

    A lot of my decisions were based on the “deserted island” test. Until that didn’t cut it anymore, and society’s view of me started to matter. My primary goal for T was to STOP being seen as female by others. But it still has to pass the “do I like what I see in the mirror” test, so it’s all a careful balance.

    I do take pride in being visibly queer, but that visibility bar is dependent on the other person’s preconceptions, which are often surprising in both directions.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I know what you saying. If I could only have complete control over what everyone else thinks and perceives about me…(then I could get Caitlyn Jenner to support Bernie Sanders).

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  6. Mxtrmeike13

    I read “Just Add Hormones,” and while that did nothing to convince me to take hormones (I did that myself in therapy), it did ultimately convince me to get top surgery. I was very sad to hear that he passed away two years ago.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      When I read “Just Add Hormones” I had no idea that there were gay male trans men (duh!). It wasn’t on my gaydar. Matt’s death was a huge loss for our community. Sweet guy.

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  7. anexactinglife

    Isn’t it funny that the word Androgynous has come to be defined only by musicians and models? And that one is expected to be youthful, slim and fashion-conscious in order to be Androgynous? Maybe it is time to take that word back.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Agreed. Somehow we have to break the connection between gender identity and body shape – i.e. that if you are curvy you are female/feminine. So many eating disorders around this issue, many to eliminate curves.

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  8. dudeliketotally

    I don’t like being visibly queer. Check that- I hate it. I’ve spent half of my life wearing men’s clothes and feeling awkward and uncomfortable about how visible that made me, and half my life forcing myself into women’s clothes and feeling torn up inside, unable to just be.

    I hate the way men’s clothes fit on my female body. I tried to express that to a therapist once, and she suggested finding women’s clothes that looked more like men’s clothes. I didn’t have the words to express why that was even worse than wearing clothes that didn’t fit me right.

    I look like a queer woman, and when I watch video or see pictures sometimes I like that person. She seems cool. She seems like a good person to be. But I can’t connect with that person, feel like I really am that person, however hard I try to be. Maybe it’s just that I never really felt comfortable in the queer community, never made queer friends, generally dated first time bi-curious women, alienated all the queer women I came across. Or, maybe the causality ran in the other direction. I don’t think I’ll ever be sure about that.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Sounds like you are headed in the direction you need to go in. It is sad that your therapist couldn’t help you figure out what was going on – or support you in transitioning. I wish that more people in my life would have encouraged me to consider it, and offered to help me figure it out, make appointments, and go with me to them instead of trying to talk me out if.

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