So Garland Grey--whom every week I realize I am truly fortunate to be writing with over on Tiger Beatdown--wrote an interesting post about exploring just what the heck gender is supposed to mean, for him and for how the world looks at him, which you ought to go and read, and not just because the ads pay on the pageview. I think a lot of us who have grown up queer have faced a lot of the same situations he did.

Especially trans people. I want to bring your attention to this passage:

"There are a lot of places where The Swish is detrimental. Family reunions, where members of my extended family ask if I have a girlfriend, and I bite my tongue, remembering that I want some of their stuff when they die. Public spaces. The hardware store I started working in as an overnight stocker in college! Before every shift I’d stand in front of a mirror, preparing to perform my appointed gender. I had the supremely bizarre experience of sitting in a room and listening to straight men talk about gay men without knowing that one had infiltrated their midst. At lunch I would hide in the display tubs and have long conversations with Myles, who never liked to talk to me at work, especially the break room. When he said “I love you” to me when I was around other people, I would reply, “that sounds about right.” I tried to explain that he should hear that as “I love you too” but he didn’t like it."

If you are trans, and maybe especially if you've been other kinds of trans before/instead of transitioning, you know how this works. Because the fear of being found out runs pretty damn deep in the trans experience, at least for certain types of trans folks, at certain times.

I will give you an example, for I am a kind and generous transfeminist. Back in the days when I--and a reasonable number of other people--called myself a crossdresser, and hung out in crossdressing circles with other crossdressers, talk often turned to ways and days when it would be possible to crossdress safely in public. (That we worried so much about the "safe" part of it reveals something interesting about the peculiar way The Closet manifests itself as part of the whole phenomenon of crossdressing--but that will wait for a future post. Which, if I don't get around to it, you are welcome to write.) And of course the subject of Halloween would always come up. Halloween is often called the Crossdresser's Holiday, even by crossdressers themselves; it was seen as the day you could dress up however you wanted and still have the perfect excuse. And yet, whenever talk turned this way--with excitement or amusement or that peculiar unrequited yearning I saw a lot amongst my crossdressing sistern (I project a lot), there was almost always a warning, or a worry, or a fear--a fear of being "too good" at it, the it being dressing like a woman. There was a worry that if you did do too well, if you betrayed little things like being able to walk in high heels, or doing your makeup too well, people might--might suspect that you did those things on days that were not Halloween.

Probably those fears were overstated, because to be honest, how many people even observe those things when you're not dressed up like Barbie for the office costume party? But the fear was real, and I think it shows how hard the boundaries of gender are policed even by those who live on the border; I can't tell you how many crossdressing fashion tips I read that would help you preserve your everyday male appearance but still look like a woman on Fridays, from tips to putting on acrylic tips to using clear mascara to make your eyebrows look thinner. (Okay, I still do that one, but mostly because I am lazy.)

Of course, it's really hard to shake that fear, even after transition; there are probably not many trans women in the world who never worry about whether or not people will suss out their assigned birth gender. But I think that what Garland is talking about, and what I and the other crossdressers experienced, was something different: a different kind of masquerade (obligatory my-gender-is-not-a-bloody-performance-that-way-message here, of course), because we weren't trying to be what we were(or at least wanted to be), but what we were not. And that made it hard, and anxious.

But it was even more confusing, because as Garland observes, it wasn't a simple case of there being nothing of ourselves in the roles we clung to. The hell of it was, there was, and trying to disown those things because we wanted to embrace something else was never as easy as people would make it out to be. Trapped between gender codes, is it any wonder that we flailed around, hoping we wouldn't have to do it all on our own? Is it any wonder that oscillating back and forth seemed easier than forging a completely new way to be, even if it confused the hell out of us?

I don't know. I look back nowadays on those days as if I was a Diane Fossey amongst the dudes--fascinated, disturbed, repelled, thumping my chest in order to fit in, to keep them from finding me out. To keep me safe when I was all alone.

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