Tag Archives: labels

The Dissonance of Referring To Myself As Ms.

pink-pronounsLast week my boss asked if I was willing to extend my part-time consulting contract for one more year. He very nicely told me how grateful he was that I had come back to work in the subway schedules department, and how I had provided invaluable assistance to the staff by trouble shooting their software problems  (the important, but unofficial, part of my old job). After I agreed to one more year, he told me that he was very busy and asked me to write the memorandum to request that the state Board of Ethics grant me another waiver so that I could continue working.

In theory, writing the memo was no big deal. One paragraph stating why they hired me back in the first place, the second paragraph with a flowery description of what I’ve done for the department, the third paragraph outlining what they expect me to do in the next year (oversee the installation of a new proprietary software program), and the fourth paragraph closing with why it is important that the contract be extended. Standard bureaucratic drivel.

When I was in charge of the department, I wrote a hundred similar memo’s to HR to hire and promote managers. The memos were slightly formal and stilted.

I got hung up on the first sentence. The one that started with “The purpose of this memorandum is to request that Ms. Jamie Ray’s Contingent Temporary Employee contract be extended for an additional year.” Four paragraphs of writing about myself in the third person with Ms. and she used collectively eleven times. It was a strong and convincing memo, but it sounded off-key to me. I’m not that person any longer. I don’t think of myself as she or her or Ms. Continue reading

What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

The correct answer to this question was a mother and a wife. The second best answer was a doctor, a lawyer, or a rocket scientist (or more realistically a nurse, a librarian, or a teacher). I knew not to answer a baseball player, a fireman, or a cowboy.

I didn’t know what happened to kids like me, but I wasn’t ever going to be a wife and a mother. To be safe, I said I wanted to be a lawyer (we watched Perry Mason on TV). Then I read The Fountainhead in high school and decided to become an architect. It was all based on image, not innate skill. I didn’t question why all my role models were men.

Highway engineer in Nebraska, 1960.

Highway engineer in Nebraska, 1960.

I enrolled in an architecture program but I was no Howard Roark. I was too sloppy to pass the introductory drafting class. I transferred to civil engineering because it had a promising job board. I pictured myself on a construction site wearing Carhartt canvas pants and Red Wing boots. I aced my classes. I also came out as butch. It was the first identity that I could identify with. It seemed natural, as if it had been waiting for me all along.

The term butch only came into usage in the 1940’s. Regardless of the label, the religious, legal, medical, and psychiatric authorities have pathologized, criminalized, and demonized people like me since they realized we existed. I say people like me, because even though we’ve been around forever, the words used to describe us keep evolving. The bigotry seems to stay the same.  Continue reading

Sticks and Stones

A couple of posts ago, I referred to myself, in my youth, as a stone butch. This created a controversy. Everyone has their own ideas about what a stone butch is. All negative. And they didn’t include me. Butch, no argument, but not stone. That is because I am, and aways have been, a big softy. A big hugger, a big kisser, and a big cuddler. I’m sweet and I’m considerate. With humans and with dogs. I just don’t like taking my clothes off or having my “girl” parts fiddled with.

No seat at the gender tableStone butch sounds hard and immovable. Stone butch sounds cold and rough. It isn’t. I’m not made out of bedrock. I am a butch with contradictions. I am a butch with limits. Some labels are too hard, some labels are too soft, and none of them feels just right. Not even the little bear’s. Continue reading

Labels and Authenticity Do Not Mix

Once a butch always a butch

Anna P. 1922, Germany

When I was a five I was a tomboy. At night, I wished to wake up in the morning and be a boy. This is not unusual. It is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Some girls feel this way. Some girls feel this way so much and for so long that they manage to become someone other than a teenage girl. Someone other than an adult woman. I knew what I was not. I’ve had a difficult time accepting what I am and figuring out what to call myself. Labels and authenticity do not mix.

In Kindergarten, I wouldn’t play house unless I could be the daddy. I refused to play with baby dolls, or toy kitchens, or plastic vegetables. Instead, I stuck to blocks, books, puzzles, and stuffed animals. I knew what I was doing. I grew up to be a gender non-conforming Civil Engineer who reads a lot, does Ken-Ken, and plays with my dog.

In second grade I developed my long term strategy. The school librarian asked me why I was only taking out boy’s books. I shrugged my shoulders. I hadn’t realized it was obvious. I started taking out twice as many books. For every two boy’s books I took out two girl’s books. Even Steven. The librarian left me alone. I only read the boy’s books. Adults paid attention, but it was superficial. I could be a boy under the radar. I had to be a little less blatant and claim it didn’t mean anything.

I didn’t have crushes on David Cassidy or Bobby Sherman. I didn’t wear flavored lip gloss or paint my nails. I could avoid a lot of girly things by claiming they were stupid or boring. I had more important things to do (like develop crushes on every female teacher I ever had). I kept reading.

I was a boyish and asexual teenager. Never dated. Never shaved my legs or under my arms. If anyone asked why I told them it was an unnatural and barbaric modern custom. I fell in love with Stella, broke-up with Stella, and came out as a butch lesbian at 17. I didn’t masturbate until I was over the age of consent; I had to read a book with diagrams to figure out what to do. I kept reading.

I knew that I was hiding my desire to be a boy, but being a butch lesbian offered community and the prospect of being in a relationship with a woman. Being butch was as close as I could get to expressing my desire to be a boy. I knew I had a woman’s body, but I also knew I desperately longed to be a boy. This is my butch experience. This is my transgender experience.

Transgender is a wildcard. It changes the game. It offers up a lot of options, some of which I am choosing (see this post on pronouns and this post on name change). The changes I am making (and not making) do not make me any more or any less transgender. My experience is that I couldn’t stop wanting to be a boy, and I couldn’t get used to being a woman. I am incorrigibly gender non-conforming. I’m still not sure what to call myself (butch, queer, genderqueer, bigender, trans*, transgender) even though I know who I am. Even though I knew exactly who I was when I was five.

Note: The picture of Anna P. is in the public domain. She was photographed by Magnus Hirschfeld in 1922 for his book Sexual Intermediates.