December 11, 2010

In which I talk about some terms

[In addition to all of our awesome visible and identifying columnists, we also have some awesome anonymous columnists that for one reason or another must use a pseudonym not their full name (and pseudopic?). Details on anonymous columnists here.]

Well, I'm absolutely exhausted by finals already, how about you? I've been trying to write a complicated, personal post about how I related to the female persona that I still live as much of the time, but, um, it's complicated! And personal! And I am absolutely exhausted by finals already! So instead, I thought I'd take a moment to define the way that I use some trans-related vocabulary, and open the post up to questions again, since there seemed to be a lot of interest in that last time.

So, here's how I use these words:

Cisgendered: basically, not transgendered. Your gender identity matches up with your genitals without assistance.

Passing: This can be a problematic concept. To say that a transman is able to "pass for" a man would suggest that he isn't a man, which is just blatantly transphobic. So, I tend to think of it as passing for a cisgendered man. In practical terms it's pretty much the same-- the idea is that people don't know you're trans-- but I find "passing for cis" much less problematic.

Closeted: Because I am a transman, I am closeted when I tell people I'm a woman. Being in the closet means lying.

Out: Because I am a transman, I am out when I tell people I'm a transman. Being out means telling the truth.

Stealth: Because I am a transman, I am stealth when I tell people I'm a man. Being stealth also means telling the truth. I kind of don't like the word stealth, because it sounds a little pejorative but I don't think it's necessary at all to tell people you're trans once you've transitioned. I have a problem with being closeted, because I have a problem with lying, but being stealth is totally different. Trans lurkers out there: do you know any terms for this that are less judgmental-sounding?

And now you know enough to learn something new about me: I am out as much as possible because I don't pass for cis well enough to be stealth, and I hate the closet!

I hereby open the comments section up to any and all questions once more. Also, if you want to ask me something personally (or if you're in any way gender-non-conforming and just want to hang out!!) please feel free to email me at lawrenceevalyn at gmail dot com. I'd love to hear from you!


  1. So Lawrence. I have a pretty personal question for you. I know that the term "transgender" incorporates several types of identities - those that identity as bigender, genderqueer, third-gender, others who may identity as something else on the gender spectrum - but it seems to me that you identity more as a man, and less with these other terms (correct me if I'm wrong). So if that's the case, how do you see yourself transitioning? Is it just in the sense that you want to "transition" to your friends (i.e., get them used to the concept that you aren't Lavinia and that Lavinia's not real), or do you plan on partaking in more biological transitioning processes? Thanks Lawrence for sharing all of these things with us; I'm loving this chance to get to know about this "T" identity that's largely isolated even from the larger LGB community - hopefully this is changing!

  2. ...and I am taking a study break to reply to this! =) I'm completely exhausted by finals as well. yay for the end of the semester in ~1 week!

    I think this is an absolutely fascinating topic-and the way you put it, "passing" (as a cisgendered man) is so interesting to me. Because on the one hand, no one wants to be transphobic, (so you don't want to say they're "passing as man", gah, bad!) but on the other hand, is visibility important and a driving force to be out as trans and attempt not to pass as cisgendered? I'm not sure! What do you think? What has been your personal choice? I would think that like finals, it would be exhausting to always assert that you're not cis-gendered. But then again-maybe not? I know for me it's actually more exhausting to pass as straight cause I feel like I'm lying.

    That must be a really interesting thing to decide on, and while I can't personally comment on that experience, I imagine it's a monumental decision. I'd be curious for your subsequent thoughts if you're up for procrastinating some more! =)

  3. anonymous - I definitely identify primarily as a man, partly because I do have a lot of interest in medical transition. (The terms I chose to define kind of reveal this bias, but I try to stick to things that ring true to my own experience, and I just don't know what kind of terminology would be personally important to folks in the genderqueer area of things.)

    Testosterone comes first, chronologically. I'm excited to have my voice change, and to have my pathetic, patchy leg hair fill in a little. What I really want, though, is a mastectomy. I'm very impatient to get rid of the boobs. I find metoidioplasty and phalloplasty to be fairly unsatisfying options, so I may or may not go for one to those. (Probably metoidio; I'm not going to pass for cis in a sexual situation anyway, so I may as well have fun.) It's a long way in the future-- it takes years to get through the bureaucratic process, and I only realised I was trans 10 months ago. Also, medical transition is expensive, so I am probably going to wait until I move to Canada before I do anything major. As a Canadian citizen, all my transition expenses are covered by the government.

    Megan - There are definitely trans activists who think it's important to be out rather than stealth, to improve visibility. Mike Penner/ Christine Daniels actually took that stance - but I kind of think that's part of the reason Christine felt the need to detransition and eventually commit suicide; it's an awful lot of stress.

    Luckily, you can choose to be out on a person-by-person basis. Right now, like I said, I'm out because it's my best option, but once I've started on T I'm hoping to be able to pass as cis sometimes - when that happens, I'll probably be stealth where I need to be, while still being out where I can, because I have kind of an activist personality.

    However, I'm not sure being out would be necessary in a utopic world. I mean, I can't picture a world in which gay people are simultaneously accepted and invisible. If you can't hold hands with your sweetie in public, you're not accepted. But I don't think visibility is as key to trans acceptance. There's no public situation where the state of my genitals is relevant. So, trans acceptance requires protection for people who are in the middle of transition, and a culture where if you choose to out yourself, it's no big deal (genitals do become relevant in private situations. If You Know What I Mean.) but I'm not convinced that, after transition, anybody really needs to know. Obviously, the priorities are different for genderqueer folks - but I really can't speak to that experience. For me, I'd prefer that people be able to accept me as a man, without caring how I came to be one.

  4. Just a quick note on leg hair-- I started growing mine out a year ago now, and it's literally the greatest thing ever. I don't know what it is about having it all grown out, but it's a great feeling. I definitely got a lot of hate and criticism from a variety of folks for awhile...usually during the summer when I wore shorts. Do you grow your armpit hair too? My pit hair is probably the most wonderful feeling ever.

    I know it sounds stupid. Especially to folks who don't have a good relationship with body hair. I just love it.

  5. Oh, I looove having my leg hair grown out. And yes, I grow my armpit hair too. My armpit hair is great, all long and thick, but I've always had fine, blonde, patchy leg hair. I really wish it was fuller. I've been growing both on and off since I was 15, even when I was high femme. I always considered femme to be something I put on, not something I was, so I refused to change my body to be more femme. I just let my hair show even with cute sundresses, and oddly I have never once had anyone say anything to me.

    However, I am not allowed to show body hair at home. Usually I just cover up by wearing pants and sleeves, but this summer I waxed my legs to gain admission to the ballet. It was worth it but my hair still hasn't grown back properly and I miss it. Because leg hair is awesome.