I 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.
For 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.