Tl;dr Becoming is a framework for looking at and understanding all transitions without prioritizing one over the other.
A lot of my current artistic work engages with transition narratives, particularly how transition narratives are portrayed in media. This article is a good example of the kind of material I’m working with, I’m basically working with anything that obsesses over specific types of binary trans bodies. These materials both dehumanize the subjects in them, reducing them to their bodies (even while giving them an opportunity to talk about their experiences and gain visibility, I’ve written more on that particular balance here) and erases the existence of trans people who do not follow the described pathways of transition (hi!)
That second consequence, while maybe not as obvious, causes a huge amount of harm (as does the first, it’s just a little clearer). In preparing to write this post, I spent a lot of time looking through reflections on transition by other nonbinary folks. There were two common themes – 1) every nonbinary transition is completely different, there is absolutely no “normal trajectory” that can be pinned down. 2) A lot of nonbinary people feel pressured into Transitioning or following the patterns of transition laid out to them by society and the media.
That first point could become a book. I’m not going there. But that second point is something I have also felt. Quite sharply. It’s a form of legitimation. Nonbinary people are so often treated like “trans lite” or as if our identities were stepping stones on the way to a “real” identity. Transition is a socially acceptable means to make our genders “real”. I think West Anderson describes it perfectly in saying, “It used to stress me out, thinking about having to prove to people that I am transgender and that I am transitioning” (2017).
Trans people have to prove our genders and when we cannot follow a normative transition narrative, we are robbed of the chance to prove an identity that shouldn’t require proof in the first place.
While I would like to look at transition narratives in media and say “cool, but no”, that’s not possible. There are trans people that follow those narratives, and this visibility does positively increase access to transition-related medical care. Just because these particular trans folks currently have greater visibility and are able to prove their gender a teensy tiny bit more easily than me does not mean that I can silence them in my own frantic race to be recognized. Instead of replacing one narrative with another one, we need a framework that allows for every single transition narrative.
I first wrote about becoming in a post looking at how cis people control transition narratives in the media for their own entertainment. To quote myself, “I’m slowly becoming my gender, learning what that means for me, letting it grow as I grow and change.” I have read other nonbinary people describing similar experiences: Anderson explains, “I feel like transitioning isn’t quite the right word for what I do. I reify my gender through these actions and in my actions every day. It isn’t showy, its components change daily, and it will never be finished” (2017) while blogger Micah describes top surgery as a “doorway” to the rest of a gender journey (2016) and Joshua M. Ferguson explains, “my transitioning will evolve in unexpected ways over the course of my life. I am transitioning without an end.” (2017).
Instead of thinking of transition as a journey from point A to point B, I believe we will have more productive conversations about transition if we see it as a process of becoming one’s gender. For some, becoming is a journey from point A to point B, for others it’s a journey that never stops, and for others it’s a journey to point C from halfway between points A and B with a stopover at points Y and Z, and for others it’s simply a journey away from all of these points…
The points aren’t that important, it’s the bit in between, the process, the actual pathway of transition. That is when and how we become our gender. It doesn’t matter if we meet a final destination, just that we become.
Time is a particular fascination in my creation process and I’ve been exploiting it recently in order to create and develop processes of becoming. I like to stretch time, bringing my audience on a journey with me, through a mini version of becoming. For example, in my piece, How dare you., I originally had my dancer take a full minute in silence to walk to the front of the stage. This got lost due to time constraints in the actual production, but that opening alongside the repetitive movement brought my audience into a process or experience while time was both condensed and extended.
Another artistic perspective on becoming goes hand in hand with some of my reflections on “non-human” movement. Becoming is a process of finding the human element, or our honesty. For me, honesty is a key component of my work. It is so easy to lie with movement and, as a trans dancer, I don’t want to do that. I want my audience to see me as honestly as possible. To really, truly find that honesty, so I can be my form of human, I need to become, I need to process and develop what that is for me. And for me, that is a neverending process.
Anderson, West, “Transitioning While Nonbinary”, The Body Is Not An Apology, 2017 <https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/transitioning-while-non-binary/> [5 February 2018]
Bernstein, Jacob, “For Some In Transgender Community, It’S Never Too Late To Make A Change”, New York Times, 2015 <https://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/fashion/for-some-in-transgender-community-its-never-too-late-to-make-a-change.html?referer=http%3A%2F%2Fm.facebook.com%2F> [7 February 2018]
Ferguson, Joshua, “What It Means To Transition When You’re Non-Binary”, Teen Vogue, 2017 <https://www.teenvogue.com/story/non-binary-transitioning> [7 February 2018]
Micah, “Featured Voices: Where Does My Story End?”, Genderqueer.Me, 2016 <https://genderqueer.me/2016/02/29/fv-where-does-my-story-end/> [6 February 2018]