When I was a child, I believed that I could become a boy by wearing boy’s clothes and acting like a boy. My first attempt to transition was when I was five. I got a short hair cut and I took a new name (I didn’t tell anyone that I changed my name, but I thought of myself as Paul). I refused to wear dresses. I waited for other changes to start happening. I waited for people to notice that I was really a boy.
It was magical thinking. I really believed that if I tried hard enough and wished for it fervently, then something would happen. Then my mother would finally allow me to wear pants to school. Then my teacher would allow me to lineup with the boys.
I refused to accept the obvious because it hurt more than insisting on the imaginary. I kept believing that it was possible, even probable, that I would wake up one day and be boy. While I waited, I lived “as if”.
According to Piaget, the prime ages for magical thinking are between two and seven years old. I started on time, but I missed the cutoff by about 50 years. I am a magical thinker.
My documents all have an F under sex. My gender expression and identity skew masculine. I do not identify as an F anymore (if I ever did other than as a concession to bureaucracy). Nor do I identify as an M.
Radical feminists, right-wing ideologues, and religious zealots believe that I will never be a boy or a man. Once a girl, always a girl. They claim that no matter how much surgery I have, and no matter which hormones I pump through my system, I will always be a woman pretending to be a man. Even if I “pass”, which I am not trying to do, they say I will only be fooling myself.
The simplistic way to differentiate between sex and gender is to say that sex is biological (visible and not so visible genitals, reproductive organs, chromosomes, and hormones) and gender is how a person expresses their sex. From that perspective, sex is universally binary, and gender varies by culture, and over time, while staying aligned with sex (according to either the laws of patriarchal oppression or the laws of nature).
This view ignores the naturally occurring diversity in genitalia, reproductive organs, chromosomes, and hormones. Legal sex (as defined by a birth certificate) is binary, but real bodies are not. I’ve had top surgery and a hysterectomy, but I have not gone on testosterone. My body is neither/nor. I am somewhere in the middle. Legally, in the United States, there is no middle.
In New York, where I live, it was easy for me to legally change my name to Jamie. Today, it would be just as easy for me to change the sex marker on my birth certificate and/or my driver’s license and become legally male. F to M. I am not allowed to leave it blank, or to choose a third or a twenty-sixth alternative. No N for neutral or non-binary. No B for boy or butch. No Q for queer.
When does magical thinking become reality? When society catches up? Why are the bigots so intent on controlling, and commenting on, which bathroom I use?
On some level, I still refuse to accept the obvious. It still comes as a shock to me that many people consider my original genitals to be more important than my gender expression or identity. I didn’t get it when I was five, I don’t get it now, and I probably never will.
Notes: I was glad to find out that CN Lester also is a magical thinker. This short piece from their blog a gentleman and a scholar describes their plea to the universe to set things right.