6 dimensions to my gender confusion

“Gender confusion?”  I hear you ask.  “But I thought you’d worked out that you’re a trans woman?”

Well, I think it’s important to be honest and I’d be lying if I said that I never doubted or questioned and that my feelings about gender were always straightforward.  I think in many ways we’re all a bit confused about gender.  And I wanted to share the complicated thoughts I’ve had today about my feelings with regards to gender.

I’ve managed to break down those thoughts and feelings into six different things.  Firstly there is what I like to call the big, horrible thing.  It’s not necessarily anything to do with gender as such but it is something that has contributed to my pain and been a driving force behind my desire to question my gender identity.  Then there are the three things that are definitely related to gender identity and that make a certain course of action (gender transition) seem like a sensible option for me.  Then there’s the fun matter of clothing and make up, which is of course gender expression and not necessarily indicative of gender identity.  Finally there is the matter of what-I-think-I-am, which although it is often lifted up as the be-all and end-all of gender identity is I believe a little bit philosophically problematic, as words and  concepts are always tied up with beliefs and philosophies (what you think those words mean) and so may not be as revealing as we’d like to believe.

Let’s look at the big horrible thing first.  I have certain needs and desires with regards to sex and romance.  I am primarily attracted to women and it is women that I need and desire these things from.  Yet if I identify as a guy I would be forced to call these needs and desires “role reversal”.  For most of my life, including when I identified as a guy, I wanted, needed, desired to be in the conventionally female role and for my female sexual partners to adopt the conventionally male role.  This undoubtedly makes being a man very painful and difficult but it is not necessarily indicative of gender identity.  However it has shaped my life with a lot of pain.

I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough about this matter.  I’ve realised that whether I identify as a guy, a woman or somewhere in between that nevertheless these needs of mine are something I cannot help (they are how I’m wired) and that they are totally ok.  Yes, it sucks to be physically male and attracted to women but desire the women in your life to take the lead, initiate sex, be strong and protective, sweep you off your feet, ravish you, penetrate you etc.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a woman (although you could conceivably make some point about mating instincts and biology if you wanted).  But whether a person who feels this way is a man, a woman, in between or neither it should be seen as totally ok to be that way.  So in interest of healing I need to remind myself of that.  I can’t help it and it’s ok.  And yes, we should challenge stupid gender roles that attempt to constrict people’s life options and make them feel they are wrong for desiring what they desire.  I hope to still be able to challenge the idea that men have to be a certain way, should be a certain way in their romantic and sexual relationships.  I can still rage against how much this particular thing sucks for those born male.  And I will.

But there are three things that probably do indicate that I’m a trans woman and certainly indicate that gender transition is right for me.  Those three things are: preferences for gendered words and pronouns, feelings about my body and what I can only call “self image”.

I’ve discovered in recent months that on the rare occasion when people gender me as female that it feels comfortable, right and honouring to be referred to in those ways.  Well meaning friends call me “missus” or “madam” sometimes.  I was referred to as “that lady over there” once in a cafe.  People use “she” and “her” pronouns of me on occasion.  I’ve been called “Ms Kim”.  This always feels right, whether I’m dressed male or female.  On the opposite side, terms such as “man”, “fella”, “sir”, “dude” and even “mate” and “he” tend to grate on me.  Some of them always have, even way back when I identified roughly as a “guy” (for some reason the word guy doesn’t bother me as much).  You could make the point that the reason some words feel better than others is to do with whatever associations and ideas you attach to those words, so that it doesn’t actually indicate anything about your gender but only what you think about your gender.  That certainly seems accurate as far as it goes.  But if a person prefers to be referred to as a woman then it definitely seems like the best course of action for that person to legally and socially transition to being a woman.  It’s straight forward really; pure pragmatism.  If that’s the issue then this is the solution.  It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic.

Then there is the complex matter of how I feel about my own body.  I’ve also only truly discovered these feelings in recent years.  But if I’m honest many of these feelings go back to my youth, to puberty and my teens.  I just didn’t consciously accept it, I argued it away and suppressed it.  One thing I’ve never had a particular problem with is my genitals.  Yes I don’t like to use them as nature intends in the bedroom but I’ve always been fond of masturbating and of having them touched, sucked, played with by partners.  When it comes to genitals though I have discovered the opposite matter.  I envy pussy.  When I include having a pussy in my sexual fantasies, wow it is sexual dynamite.  To feel someone inside me, to have a sexually sensitive hole to be penetrated in, whether with dildos, fingers or a sexy big toe, that sounds like heaven.  Anal is so uncomfortable and icky really.  Ok, with plenty of lube and the right person it could be ok.  But to be penetrated in a way that feels like when my genitals are being stimulated.  Wow, I want that.  I want that so badly!

Then there is body hair, facial hair, body shape, chest, weird little things like the muscles on my arms or how narrow my waist is.  I’ve had complicated feelings about all of that all my life.  I hate my body hair.  I’ve started to hate my facial hair too.  My chest looks wrong, my body shape is wrong, I should have more delicate arms and wider hips.  I do want a body that has that hourglass shape.  Even a large woman’s shape, where the majority of the fat is on the chest and the hips/bum would be preferable to my fat male shape.  Small or moderate sized breasts would definitely be preferable to my flat male chest.  My boobs look best to me when I’m hot so  that the nipples swell and the boobs look a bit flabby.  That’s when I look at them and say “ooh, I’ve got boobies”.  Then they go all flat, the nipples shrink and I just don’t find them as attractive.

It seems clear to me, in that exact same pragmatic way, that these are things I could change with hormones.  My facial hair I could change with electrolysis or laser hair treatment.  I already remove my body hair regularly with an electric razor.  Simple really, if that is the problem then this is the solution.  HRT for me.

But the core of the issue when it comes to gender identity is what I call “self image”.  Who do you see yourself in?  What set of human beings do you feel the most kinship with?  Who are your role models?  What do you want to see when you look in the mirror?

The truth is that I am more likely to see myself in women than in men.  Even men who crossdress or wear make up, I might see that they deal with similar issues to me but I’m aware on some level that I’m not like them.  Of course I can see myself in trans women sometimes but I almost always feel like I’m on some kind of wavelength with cis women.  I feel the most “kinship” with women.  I don’t know a better way of putting that.  It’s an odd feeling to truly explain to someone but it is what it is I guess.  Consequently the people I want to look up to and emulate are often women, with the occasional feminine man (eg. Eddie Izzard) or geeky character (the Doctor or Peter Parker/Spiderman).

And what do I want to see in the mirror?  An attractive young woman.  Ok, I’m neither slim nor young anymore.  But a lot of larger, middle aged people get that.  But I do think it is relevant when considering gender identity that I really do want to see a young, attractive woman in the mirror.  Not a young, slim man (like I used to be) but a young, attractive woman.  Quite possibly  I have always desired that.  Maybe I just didn’t fully realise it when I was young because I was suppressing the desire or something.  And it’s not just about clothing and make up.  I want my face to look like a woman’s face, my body to look like a woman’s body.  I want to see a young, attractive woman in the mirror.  And I mean that in every sense.

But what about clothing and make up?  Well, obviously that is to do with gender expression and doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about gender identity.  People crossdress after all.  I’m actually fairly androgynous in style.  I don’t wear dresses, tights or high heels.  I wear jeans and t-shirts, boots or trainers.  But I like to wear boots or trainers marketed at women.  I like to adorn my appearance with necklaces.  I like to wear nail varnish, eye make up, lipstick.  I like to wear my hair long.  I like to wear knickers and even socks that are marketed at women.  I even like to wear women’s deoderant (it smells much nicer than men’s).

Some of these manifested in my teenage and young adult years, such as playing with lipstick and nail varnish.  The desire to wear make up has never really gone away and the more I have opened my mind up to wearing “women’s” clothes in recent years the happier and happier it has made me.  It may be gender expression, it may not indicate what gender I am but it has been an important way for me to feel more happy and joyous and to keep the constant pang of misery at bay.  For that reason long may it continue.

Finally I want to look at the matter of what gender you think you are.  This is lifted up as the absolute decider on gender identity.  You are what you identify as.  If you think you’re a woman, you’re a woman.  If you think you’re a man, you’re a man.  If you think you are neither or in between or both then you are non binary.

But I have a problem with this.  Words, concepts, labels – these are very dependent on how we interpret them.  It sort of begs the question really.  What you think you are very much depends on what you think those words and concepts mean.  In other words it is to do with what your personal philosophy about gender is.

This isn’t good enough.  When I “thought” I was a man was I really any different to how I am now?  If I think I’m non binary sometimes but think I’m a woman sometimes does it really mean that my gender changes?  Or is it more likely that a person can be confused or closeted about things?

What we think is shaped by how we interpret the world and the subject of gender.  It cannot then be a reliable or accurate way of deciding what your gender identity is.

For what it’s worth I often have a detached feeling towards this philosophical level of gender identity.  Do I really have a strong sense of myself as a woman?  No, not really.  But then I certainly don’t have any kind of sense, strong or otherwise, of myself as a man.

When pressed on this matter I will claim that I don’t feel especially gendered on the inside.  I feel kind of genderless.  What do I think I am really?  I think I am a human mind of no particular gender that has been forced into a world that makes a big, big deal about all this gender stuff and bombards me with it every day so that it makes me feel like screaming at the insanity of it all.  For that reason I have often identified as genderless, agender, non binary or genderqueer in the past.  But is this an accurate picture of my gender identity or just a reflection of my personal philosophy about gender?  I have a Buddhist kind of detachment from words and labels sometimes and I feel like saying (in the style of the 10th doctor) “wibbly wobbly, gendery wendery”.  But does that really say anything at all about what gender I really am?  Isn’t it a reflection of what I feel and think about the subject of gender, a stance on the matter, rather than any kind of objective truth about my gender identity?  If a person thinks they are a man or a woman on the basis of their genitals, does that necessarily mean that they are a man or a woman on the inside?  What if I swallowed radical feminist ideology whole and started saying I’m a feminine man because a man is an adult human being with a penis and testicles?  Would that really change who I am or just mean that I had been convinced of the philosophy that genitals=gender?

I think what people are trying to refer to when they speak of an “internal sense of gender” or a “feeling” or a “knowing” of what gender you are, is that “self image” I spoke of.  It’s a weird sense of kinship or otherness with regards to one gender or the other, a tendency to see yourself in one gender or the other and a desire to see a person of a certain physical gender when you look at yourself in the mirror.  It connects very strongly with how you feel about your own body.  Perhaps it even connects with what words and pronouns you prefer or what sexual and romantic instincts reside in the wiring of your brain.  Who knows?  What I do know is that I am transgender because there are real issues and problems I have and the only real solutions to them is to transition socially, legally and with hormones.  There’ll always be a slight tendency towards a kind of non binary philosophy about gender though.  Maybe on some level I will always be slightly non binary too.

I was thinking of a term for this, something that can refer accurately to being philosophically non binary but pragmatically a trans woman and I came up with the word “femqueer”.  I like it actually.  I like it a lot.

The problem is that a lot of people focus too much on words and labels.  But I feel a Buddhist kind of detachment is helpful when it comes to these largely external and illusionary things.  The radical feminists are probably right that a lot of our problems about gender stem from the faulty concepts and ideas that society tries to bombard us with all the time.  It can be nice to be called by the right words, words that seem to honour you for some reason.  But it’s not words or concepts that mean I need to transition.  It’s more pragmatic than that.

I feel more woman than man, and I need to transition to feel comfortable.  But there’ll always be part of me that when I feel confused or exasperated by the subject of gender will want to wave my hand dismissively and say “wibbly wobbly, gendery wendery”.

New Language for Sexual Orientation?

Lesbian identified radical feminists often verbally attack transgender women who identify as lesbian, even claiming that the female partners of trans women aren’t really lesbian either.  Men who are primarily attracted to pre-op or non-op trans women because they have a preference for penis but also a preference for feminine appearance are often criticised and labelled “tranny chasers”, with even the trans women they are attracted to worrying that such men are “creepy fetishists”.

The intersection between gender identity and sexual orientation seems to be a minefield of controversy and confusion and with the growing numbers of people identifying as having a non-binary gender identity there is also another problem with the terms we use to identify sexual orientation.  If the matter being communicated is whether I am attracted to men, women, both or neither then what exactly does my own gender have to do with anything?

I know that the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities are very important resources of support and community for people.  I certainly don’t wish to undermine or invalidate anyone’s struggle or need for a community.  But I do think that maybe it’s time we looked at the way that we talk about and think about sexual orientation and try to invent some new terms to describe it.

The point of  identity labels, or any words for that matter, is to communicate information in as concise and clear a way as possible.  It is becoming painfully obvious that the old labels of gay and straight, and maybe even bisexual, are woefully inadequate in doing so.  They over simplify  a complicated matter because if gender is complicated then so is sexual orientation.

The root problem underlying much of  the controversy about sexual attraction with regards to transgender individuals is that gender identity and sexual attraction aren’t really on the same page.  This isn’t a result of society but actually just a particularly tricky result of biology.

Gender identity can conflict with biological sex in some individuals, and it’s not really anything to do with outward appearance or social stereotypes.  Biology is not just about anatomy, it also includes instinctive behaviours.  And guess where those behaviours are contained?  That’s right – in the brain.  Plus brains also have a way  of telling us what our bodies should be like.  This is why you know where your arm is, even when you’re not looking at it, and also why amputees get phantom limb syndrome.  Transgender individuals have a brain that is telling them they should be physiologically the opposite sex to what their bodies really are.  It’s a kind of glitch of nature.

That gender identity can be completely within the person’s own mind though.  A trans woman does not have to be feminine or behave according to female stereotypes, and pre-transition she will not even be physiologically female either.  Ok, so her instinctive behaviours will leak through, making her seem to be a little unusual for a man and causing her much grief and personal distress living as a man.  But nevertheless gender identity is a different thing to gender expression or to biological sex, so her identity might be somewhat invisible to those potentially attracted to her.

But do you see where I’m going with this?  People are not sexually attracted to gender identity as such, they are sexually attracted to gender expression (outward appearance), sexual anatomy or a mixture of both.  Some people prefer penises, some people prefer vaginas and some people don’t mind what someone has between their legs.  Some people can only ever be attracted to feminine presenting people, some people can only ever be attracted to masculine presenting people, while other people don’t much mind either way.

All of this means that the language we currently use to describe sexual orientation is actually overly simplistic and not sufficient for capturing the true complexity of the situation.

For example I am what I might be tempted to call femsexual or femmesexual.  Despite some very rare exceptions I am generally only sexually aroused by feminine looking people or at least androgynous looking people.  Meanwhile I don’t really care whether they have a penis or a vagina.  I can have fun with both.  This might seem simple.  When I was a guy I was straight.  Now that I’m transgender I should identify as a lesbian.  But that apparent simplicity is deceiving.  I can be sexually aroused by a crossdressing man for example and almost never attracted to the most butch looking women.  It’s not gender identity that affects my sexual arousal, it’s gender expression.

Other people have a preference for sexual anatomy and can be totally flexible about outward appearance.  And although I don’t in any way condone the anti-trans rantings of certain radical feminists I do understand some of the frustration they express that their sexual preferences are being silenced in the midst of the admirable and well-meaning attempts to validate transgender identities.

Maybe it’s time to rethink how we refer to sexual orientation then.  Unfortunately I fail to come up with attractive sounding and easy to use language however.  Femmesexual (or femsexual) sounds reasonably nice.  But Mascusexual just sounds weird and awkward.  Phallosexual might sound kind of cool, if a little vulgar, but Vulvasexual doesn’t really sound very nice for some reason.  Stringing them together also sounds clunky and awkward.  There was a time in my life where I was one of those people primarily attracted to pre-op or non-op trans women and I could’ve described my sexuality as Femphallosexual.  But it’s awkward and long winded to describe things that way and those compound words sound kind of ugly.

Perhaps there’s no need for referring to every aspect of sexuality in a single phrase.  You could refer to each matter individually.  No one feels the need to add whether they are submissive, dominant, vanilla or switch to their sexual orientation labels after all.  You could say “I’m submissive and I’m gay” for example.  So why not say something like “I’m submissive, femsexual and also phallosexual”?

Perhaps someone with more expertise about language could come up with better sounding terms than the ones I have suggested above.  But I really do think we need to think about this.  Words are supposed to aid communication.  It doesn’t help if the terms we use tend to confuse more often than clarify.

Or of course we could do what people are already doing and use the old language while also understanding that people can mean different things by the words gay, lesbian or straight depending on whether it is physical anatomy or gender expression that is the defining factor for desire and arousal.  I really wish the trans-hating radfems would at least take that on board and that my girlfriend has as much right to call herself a lesbian as they do.  And for that matter, so do I.

No I really am genderqueer

It finally dawned on me what gender identity means.  I’m not kidding, I literally have been confused about what the term means all of my adult life.  I know what biological sex is.  I know what gender expression is.  I know what sexist stereotypes and gender roles are.  But gender identity?  What is that?

People say it is what gender you feel you are, or some mysterious kind of “knowing” what your gender is.  Or people say it is an “internal” gender, or your mental gender.  Or sometimes just what you happen to call yourself.

The problem is that “feeling”, “knowing” and “identity” all suggest that it might be some kind of decision, something you conclude about yourself.

Then the other day the penny finally dropped in my head.  Gender identity is self-image.  It is how you see yourself in terms of gender.  Sounds obvious, right?  But I’ve been getting so confused with all sorts of other questions, and thinking that they were questions about gender identity.

Gender identity is not how you would rather express your gender.  It is not how you would rather other people see you (because that could be for reasons of convenience or social benefit rather than because it’s how you see yourself).  It is not what role you would rather play in sexual and/or romantic situations.

It is simply, truly and only how you see yourself in terms of gender.  It is the truth about yourself that is so obvious that you honestly could not think any other way about yourself.

And that is why it is so hard for people to understand other people’s different experience of gender identity.  Cisgender people see themselves as “obviously” men or women accordingly, and because it matches with what their biological sex is then it is hard for them to be understanding and tolerant towards transgender and genderqueer people.  To them it is “obvious” that their gender matches their physical sex and so they find it hard to disentangle the two.  Trans women and trans men however view themselves as “obviously” the opposite gender to their biological sex.

And I, like so many other genderqueer people view myself as “obviously” not especially male or female.  I do not struggle to disentangle gender identity from biological sex, because I myself know that biological sex does not define a person.  It does not define me.  But because I experience gender as external only, my obvious fact about my own gender identity causes me to become confused about what gender identity is.  Is it gender expression?  Is it gender role?  Is it desired gender role?  Is it desired gender role in sexual and/or romantic situations?  And the answer to all those questions is no.

My gender is not especially male or female.  It is kind of neutral, non-gendered.  I feel exactly as if I was a non-gendered alien who was dropped into a human body and finds it baffling that all this gender stuff should even matter to anybody.

I do have character traits that might be considered feminine.  They feel like an innate and natural part of me. And for this reason it feels good to express myself femininely.  The connection between expressing yourself with clothing and qualities of your personality is obvious.  We often view clothing and appearance this way – as self expression.  But those innate personality traits are not necessarily gendered.  That is the mistake society makes.  Those are stereotypes.  None of that is gender identity.  It is personality – and the expression through appearance and clothing that follows from it.  It is gender expression.

And I do have a strong desire to do something that might be called “role reversal” if I was to refer to myself as a male.  I desire women – but  when it comes to sex or romance then I desire them to take the traditionally male role while I take the traditionally female role.  This is a deep NEED that I have – and it has caused me a lot of anxiety, depression and pain.  I also love women socially, and like to spend time with them, much more so than men, whom I honestly often feel I have little in common with (unless we happen to share an interest, such as rock music or science fiction).  For all those reasons it would probably benefit me immensely to transition socially to being female.

But that is not gender identity either.  Not really.  It is preferences and feelings about gender roles and the social realities that follow from them. It might socially benefit me to be a woman in some ways but that does not make me a woman – just someone who would rather be treated like a woman in some contexts.

My gender identity – the way I honestly and obviously see myself – is non-gendered, gender neutral, genderqueer.  I just desire to express femininely.

So I’ve figured it out without any more doubts or confusions.  And I look back at all the conversations I’ve had with people about me being genderqueer.  And I can see where all the confusion has come from.  Because every time I have stated that I am genderqueer, non-gendered on the inside, androgynous on the inside or whatever other way I have put it – I have been met with disbelief and doubt.

Some people say it is “normal” to be androgynous or non-gendered on the inside.  “Doesn’t everyone have a bit of male and a bit of female on the inside?”  I hear people say.  Or “aren’t we all?” as someone said to me when I said I was androgynous on the inside.

The thing is I don’t care if everyone is genderqueer.  I don’t mind if all the cisgender people take a look at themselves and conclude that they are genderqueer really.  It doesn’t change anything for me.  It changes everything for them.

I suspect that the point of such a comment is “it’s normal to feel that way, so just go back to being a guy and shut up about it”.  Well, no.  I won’t.  Because if it is normal to feel the way I do then the whole world is trapped inside pointless gender norms and you have just given me a mission to try and wake everybody up. So, no it won’t make me shut up and return to the closet.

But I also suspect the truth is that it is not normal to feel the way I do, and most people are comfortable with their gender assigned at birth.  Well, I’m not – and I do feel non-gendered/androgynous inside.

Other people claim that I am “confused” – that I’m taking feminine characteristics I have and am making sexist conclusions that men cannot be that way – and that is what has led me to the conclusion that I am genderqueer.  Well, no.  Those characteristics may have made me confused and caused me to think I was a trans woman.  But I do know the difference between gender expression and gender identity.  I do know that men don’t have to be stereotypical men in order to be men.  You know for many years I was living as an androgynous man and have never felt any desire to be a more “macho” man.  So don’t be so patronising!  I’m not confused – I know men can be feminine, I know that my own desire to be feminine is gender expression and not gender identity – and I also know that my biological sex does not define me and that my mind is actually genderless!

And perhaps worse of all – potential allies often don’t seem to get that genderqueer is a real option and they see my feminine gender expression, hear my words about being genderqueer and conclude that I am a trans woman really.  No wonder I almost thought that myself!  No, expressing femininely and wishing that I could be a woman does not make me a woman.  I do not see myself as a woman.  I do not see myself as a man.  I see myself as a feminine person who ultimately has no gender.

I don’t mind explaining to people who don’t know or understand it.  We all had to have stuff explained to us the first time.  But I don’t like having to JUSTIFY it, I don’t like being disbelieved, I don’t like being told I’m confused, I don’t like being pressured to fit into one box or the other and I don’t like it when all the above causes me to become confused myself.  Please stop it.  I’m genderqueer, androgynous, genderless.  That’s my truth, my self image, my gender identity.  Kindly stop trying to bully and confuse me into believing something else.

Feminine and genderqueer

“Just be yourself”.  This is a common piece of folk wisdom that is frequently repeated.  On the surface it might seem almost inane.

But when I struggle to articulate how I feel about gender to people, when I find myself bombarded with various opinions – whether anti-trans bigotry, bewilderment and confusion, or constant, constant questions, when I find myself constantly buffeted by society’s rules and gender roles, the marketing, the stereotypes and the various different winds of social change – I cannot help but wonder: “just who is this myself that I should aim to be like?”

But who is myself?  It’s an interesting question.  The philosopher in me wants  to  explore every angle to that question, delving into all manner of spiritual, cultural, moral, economic and political dimensions.  But I will stick strictly to the matter of gender for the moment.  Maybe with a tiny bit of sexuality thrown in.

I know this about myself:  I feel more comfortable expressing femininely or androgynously than as masculine.  Although I can feel reasonably comfortable in jeans and t-shirt male mode, I certainly feel a lot more comfortable wearing female footwear, female tops, knickers, make-up, bangles, necklaces etc.  Ok, I don’t usually wear dresses, skirts, tights or high heels.  Part of me even believes that would be “over the top”.  But in all honesty I’ve never tried it and don’t know how I’d feel.  But I’ve seen for myself how much happier I am when I feminize my appearance, even if I do remain a “jeans and t-shirt kind of girl”.  And most people don’t see me as female when I dress that way.  They just see me as an androgynous guy or maybe as a crossdresser or “girly guy”.  That’s fine.  At least no one mistakes me for a male who is happy with his male identity.

But when I dress fully male I know that no one even sees the real me.  And that depresses me.  As does my own reflection.  I don’t want to look male.  I want to look beautifully androgynous or feminine.

So my preferred gender expression is feminine or androgynous.  Can expression also extend to the way I wish to  move through the world – or the kinds of relationships I want from people?  Maybe that is gender role or something.  But in any case, here my preferred gender role/expression is also feminine or androgynous.  Although I am attracted to women for the most part and not at all sexually interested in men unless they are crossdressed or androgynous, I do prefer to play the feminine role in relationships, including sexually.  This has caused me to toy with the idea of viewing myself as a lesbian.  Although whether I could really apply that term to myself depends on whether I view  myself as a woman.  That is an identity question – and I’ll come to that in a moment.

But yes, I despise the roles expected of me in sexual relationships because I am male.  I want to be treated like a lady by a strong, capable woman.  I want to be protected.  I would like to be asked out.  And I would like to be ravaged by an aggressively passionate mate.  Unfortunately those I desire enough to want this attention from happen mostly to be female and so are usually uncomfortable adopting a more conventionally male role.  This is a pathos I’ve had to live with most of my adult life.

But what of my gender identity?  How do I view myself in my own mind?  Do I have a male mind?  Do I have a female mind?  Or is my mind non-gendered, both gendered, inbetween gendered etc?

My understanding is that this issue of gender identity often affects how you feel about pronouns and how you feel about your own physical body.

Pronouns do not bother me too much.  For some reason I prefer “she” or “they” to “he”.  But that might just be a desire for novelty.  After all I’ve been called “he” all my life, and given my other feelings about gender the male pronoun is inevitably connected in my mind to feeling trapped and unhappy.  But I don’t honestly care.  “She” makes me smile, I’m used to “he” and “they” seems respectful to the complexity of the matter.  So I don’t really mind.

So what about my body?  How do I feel about my genitals and chest?  Although I am bothered by my body hair and the masculine appearance of my face (it mostly bothers me when it’s stubbly and anything else can easily be fixed with make-up), those are really cosmetic matters – to do with my preferred gender expression, of wanting to look feminine.  I am actually very comfortable with and “in tune” with my own body.  I don’t mind my flat chest or male genitals.  And from a young age I’ve made sure I look after my body and its needs, including the need to self pleasure.  I enjoy masturbating and have never felt any disconnect from my genitalia.  Well, apart from when someone expects me to penetrate them.  For some reason I just can’t get my head around that.  Some intersect between feeling feminine and being sexually submissive makes it hard for my subconscious to make sense of me performing such a seemingly masculine and dominant act.

But if I woke up tomorrow and magically had a female body, I think I’d really rather like it.  It would take some getting used to.  But I would definitely want to keep it for at least a few weeks.  If I then returned to being male I might feel some disappointment, mostly because I would have to return to a situation where my feminine gender expression would bother other people and so would be hard for me.  But as far as the body itself goes, aside from that annoying body hair I believe I would fit back into it as comfortably as I did before.  I honestly believe that it doesn’t really bother me one way or another whether I am physically male or physically female.  I could be either way, and reasonably content with it.

And all this fits with how I honestly see myself and how I have always seen myself since I was a child.  I do not feel that my mind is especially male or especially female.  I don’t really think like other men and often feel very disconnected from men in society, and feel like I have more in common with women.  But ultimately I do not think that I AM a woman either.  I just like to express femininely.  My “soul”, if you like, seems genderless.

So that’s it.  I’m genderqueer and prefer to express femininely or androgynously.  I just happen to have been born physically male.

My only problem is that it’s hard to explain that to people – and everyone seems to want to believe that I’m either a man or a trans woman – even trying to convince me to “pick a side”.

But I am what I am and from what I can gather, I’ve always felt that way.

I want to be pretty

I love wearing nail varnish, it makes me happy.  Weirdly I can’t stop looking at my nails, how shiny and pretty they look.

And I like the way I look in the mirror when I am wearing make-up.  Eye make-up and lipstick are the best but foundation is important too, even more so because I am male physically and have stubble to cover.

When I wear make-up I find myself pouting and flouncing in front of the mirror.  It is not because of some ridiculous stereotype of how women are.  It’s simply because I love to look pretty.  It is because I have felt trapped in my maleness all my life and looking pretty fits the way I actually am inside.  To see myself looking pretty and feminine – it is such a joy and such a relief.

I hate my hair by the way.  I do not mean the hair on my head.  I mean the hair on my chin, the hair on my legs, the hair on my belly.  Even the hair on my arms bugs me these days.  I shave my face, shave my belly, use hair removal cream on my legs and arms.  But still it grows, relentlessly, as if mocking me in my inescapable maleness.

I would take hormones to better enable my looking feminine and pretty.  But I like to masturbate and worry that hormones would make that pleasant, comforting pastime less enjoyable.  I might be wrong about that – or I might be right.  I do not know.

But femininity fits me better than masculinity.  And I need to look feminine and pretty all the time, even if that is not currently possible for me.  Something dies inside every time  I see myself looking conventionally male in the mirror.  Something cries with joy whenever I look pretty.  I want to look pretty.  I need to look pretty.  It fits who I am inside.

I hate my face

I want a feminine face, a beautiful face.  But years of testosterone and poor hygiene have given me a red and rugged complexion with open pores, and a square, boxy (and these days fat) looking face.

When an attractive young woman takes a selfie on her phone with my face next to hers, I cannot help but see the two faces side by side and say “I hate my face.  I look ugly.”

I am transgender.  I accept that now.  For many years I didn’t.  But then I’m not a “typical” transgender person either.  I do not hate my penis.  And I feel non-gendered inside.

But nevertheless I do want to look feminine.  I hate my masculine face.  I love make-up and want to look pretty.

But make-up is scary, daunting for someone who was never raised as a girl; someone who never learnt how to apply make-up as a teenager or a child.  Now I am forty years old and the only make-up I wore as a teenager was the crude, gothic, black and white kind.  Ghostly white face, with black lipstick and black nail varnish.  That was as far as my teenage exploration of make-up went.  Anything more complex was applied to my face by the expert attentions of a female.  I didn’t take notes.

Later in my life I horded lipsticks of different colours.  And almost never wore any of it, except for the occasional secretive act of rebellion against gender norms… furtively, when my wife wasn’t looking.

So my skills are unformed, clumsy, confused.  And it’s all so complicated!  Primer, foundation, concealer, powder, bronzer, blusher… So many names!   What does it all mean?  And then there are the wealth of colours available for eye shadow and lipstick. But how do I know which ones will suit my complexion?

And the old familiar fear.  How can I browse the make-up section of Boots or Superdrug when dressed as and looking like a man?  How can I feel confident enough to take my time and look properly at the products I am buying when I can feel everyone’s eyes looking at me? Should I ask for help from a shop assistant or  make-up artist?  Will they criticise or ridicule me for asking about women’s make-up when I am (to their eyes at least) a man?

But I know I must master this.  I must conquer this obstacle.  I may be androgynous, non-gendered, or inbetween genders in my own mind but that is only one of my truths about gender.  The other truth about my gender, is that I wish to transition socially to being a woman: an androgynous lesbian woman to be precise.

And before I can figure out what I want to wear, or how I want to have my hair, in order to look like the woman I feel I am or could be, I first need to get my face right.  Because that ugly, masculine horror that stares back at me from the mirror is eating away my self-esteem and obscuring my eyes from seeing the real me.  Even when I’m having a good mirror day, when my face looks unusually good looking in my eyes, it still doesn’t look completely right to me.  My face is too male.  It’s a trans thing.  And it’s why, however daunting it might be at forty years of age, I need to learn to do make-up.

Public toilets and my genderqueer mind

I’ve been using public toilets for years.  And I always automatically used the men’s because, well, I’m physically male.

When I was young I never questioned it.  I mean, why would you?  But, you know, I’ve never felt especially male on the inside.  I never felt especially female either.  But as time has gone by, and I’ve become more and more aware of my true experience of gender it has started to grate on me.

I need to pee.  Must I have to gender myself every time I want to do it in public?

And is it me or have shopping centres decided to increase the size of the male and female symbols over the years? Now they are almost life size, so that I cannot pee in public without feeling like the world is screaming gender at me.  As if my genderqueer brain doesn’t struggle enough with having to constantly gender myself.

You see, genderqueer means that I do not feel especially male or female inside my own head.  Gender is an outward thing for me – I just happen to be male.  It doesn’t define me.  So over the years I have developed this funny habit of hesitating, if only mentally, as I assess the daunting prospect of having to assign gender to myself in order to urinate.  “Which one should I use?”  I ask myself.  And it’s a fair question because it’s no longer purely a matter of how I feel in my own mind.

I have started wearing knickers on a regular basis.  It helps me feel that however male I may look on a given day I still have that bit of femininity in an intimate place on my body.  Even if I’m dressed mostly male, I’m never completely masculine in my attire.  It helps me feel whole and healthy, happy and secure.  It’s a trans thing.

But this means that I have an unusual tendency to pee in the cubicles, not the urinals. I’d use the ladies, but if I am dressed mostly male then I fear that would get me into trouble.  Heck, even dressed androgynous (a mixture of masculine and feminine), I fear that using the ladies would get me in trouble.

But this “trouble” is also something I fear if I were to use the urinals in the men’s toilets while wearing a pink pair of knickers.

So I pee in the cubicles of the men’s – like that other type of trans person probably does: the trans man (someone born physically female but identifies as a man)

These are the strange kinds of things that happen to transgender and genderqueer people when it comes to public toilets.  And it is a level of discomfort that I think many non-transgender people do not really appreciate.  Because, honestly, who thinks that hard about as simple a matter as using the toilet?  Answer: trans people do.  Every day!

I pretty much always use the men’s toilets.  It’s more out of habit than anything.  But I do not feel especially male or female in my own mind.  And I even think that in the future I would rather transition to being a woman, at least socially and in appearance.  For those reasons there is one question that haunts me every time I need to pee:  “What toilet should I use again?”