Tl;dr Expression is complicated, especially when we are conditioned to judge ourselves based on society’s expectations for trans people. I’m slowly learning not to care.
So I decided to do this whole Carnival thing, even though I’ve never done it before (despite admiring and following the Asexual Agenda‘s beautiful Carnival for years). So, this is fun! I’ve been kind of stuck in a rut recently, so trying a new format (even if it is just me writing a blog post based on a prompt), is a good nudge out of the rut.
Sooooo…expression. This is something I’ve written a lot about in terms of presentation and perception and what it means to be a FAAB feminine nonbinary person. It’s a neverending cycle of frustrations with others and myself – why can’t other people see me as trans? Why can’t I just look more trans? Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.
And it becomes that much more heightened when you go on stage, because then everybody is looking at you.
The thing is, I’ve kind of given up on caring what cis people think. The smart ones, the ones I prefer to surround myself with, see me as trans. The decent ones that I don’t really feel like risking our relationship with (ie. Bosses, coworkers, doctors, you know…) see me as a woman because I haven’t bothered to tell them anything else, but they’re generally decent about me being me. The clueless ones see me as a woman even after I’ve told them I’m nonbinary. Such is life surrounded by cis people.
The thing that hurts is when trans people see me as cis.
It doesn’t usually come as someone going “nope, you’re cis”, it usually comes in how trans people talk about transness – when “gender nonconforming” is equated with trans, leaving no room for those of us who may appear “gender conforming”, when we claim that the ideal of a nonbinary identity is for a cis person to not know whether we are a boy or a girl, when we continue to fall into the myth that there is a “nonbinary” form of expression…
We spend so much time saying you can never know a person’s gender and yet, we still regurgitate this myth of androgyny and confusion of gender expression that it becomes a form of judgement. Hell, I find myself judging. I can be sitting there in a skirt and heels and judge the person sat right next to me wearing the same thing for not being trans enough. I have to bite my tongue and remind myself that they are probably thinking the exact same thing about me, that I am thinking the exact same thing about me, and if I can’t even accept my identity, how the hell can I expect others to?
I’m not saying this to put a flashing neon sign over my head marking me as “transphobic”, I’m saying this because I think it’s important to understand that, no matter what is being said in the trans community, our greater Western society is still conditioning us to expect certain expressions from trans people. I have been conditioned to expect trans people to look a certain way. When we don’t, I am conditioned to question our transness, even myself. The person doing the most harm to me is myself.
A better way to put that: Society has taught me to hurt myself because I don’t fit the mould it wants me to be.
(Side reminder: Androgyny is safe for cis people. It means they know who we are. When nonbinary people can be anything, from androgyny to hyper masculine to hyper feminine to anything else we can imagine, that’s terrifying for cis people because suddenly the trans person could be anywhere. )
Unlearning that bullshit takes a lot of time and energy. It’s work. That’s all. Hard, difficult, frustrating work.
But now, I’ve taken to flaunting my femininity. It’s an age-old queer tradition – take the thing that people judge about you and flaunt it in their faces. Make it so they can’t ignore you, make it so there is absolutely no way it’s a mysterious elephant in the room. If I enter a queer space, and especially if I’m entering a trans space, I go all out – heels, skirt, sometimes even make up (to be fair, I hate make up and am lazy as shit).
Here’s the thing: I know when a trans person looks at me and doesn’t see me as trans. I also know that that means they’re not the kind of person I want to spend time with and there are plenty of other trans people who do see me as trans.
If someone can’t see what I’m telling them, that’s their problem, not mine. My femininity is my power. My expression is not my gender, not by a long shot, but it makes me feel good and I love it and so I will keep expressing the way I am.
And, you know what? My expression and gender don’t need to have anything to do with each other unless I want them to.
So, at the end of the day, no matter how frustrating and painful it can get, I know it’s not my problem and that, as long as I feel good, am not hurting anyone else, and stand in solidarity with all other trans people, I’m good, expression be damned.