“This is it,” I think. “I have arrived.”
I’m at a munch, and seated next to a cis gay couple. They’re both older than me, and we’re making small talk: where have you lived, how do you like the community, what’s good to do in town. And then the moment comes – that moment of truth that I both dread and anticipate: the pronouning.
See, for me, it’s a litmus test of personal presentation – one that I take a hundred times a day in casual connections. How do they see me – faggy boy or butch girl? While I am neither, this is a world of enforced binary constructs around gender, and if I must choose the lesser of evils I would much rather be referred to with masculine pronouns than feminine. Usually, with cis gay men, I am read (and dismissed) as a butch girl – probably lesbian. This is profoundly disappointing for me, both because of my failure to pass as male and my instant disqualification as a potentially sexually compatible being. I am not a man; I have inadvertently betrayed myself through some mannerism or way of being that is a holdover from living in a socially imposed gender assignment for the first quarter-century of my life.
This time, however – this time, I passed. One of them referred to me with masculine pronouns and complimented me on my “murse” – a term which I learned meant man purse. (And here I thought it was just a messenger bag for holding my iPad and books! In a particular way, it really was my murse, for I had just picked up my testosterone prescription prior to attending the munch. My passport to manhood – that little vial of hormones – was quietly ensconced in my murse all the while.) Our conversation progressed to proclivities and events, and I couch my speech in generalities. I do this often in the “normative” world – but here, in the queer bubble, that space where we’re supposed to have the ability to be unabashedly our own authentic selves, some part of me feels like I shouldn’t have to.
But I persist in speaking in generalities, enjoying the somewhat novel sensation of being taken as authentically male – my identity assumed as a gay man, the space I most often inhabit in personal identity if not in public. It’s a double bind: I’m taken as authentic, and I am, sort of. But I’m not, not really, because my experience is not that of a person who was assigned male at birth and expressed same-sex affection to other male identified people. I feel like I need to qualify my experience, because I’m enjoying the conversation and the company of these men, but I don’t, because I’m almost certain that as soon as I do, as soon as I somehow qualify my gender or my experience with my trans identity, my status as a gay man with them will be compromised or revoked.
Because I’m a masculine expressing genderqueer queer who was assigned female at birth who prefers gender neutral pronouns (or, failing that, masculine pronouns), I am not authentic enough to exist/play/be in gay male space. And while I am being read the way I want to be read, that is not the whole story, and because of the way my body is – the fact that I have not had access to the ability to have top surgery (yet) and that I like what my body is like below the belt – it is crucial that some of that be disclosed at some point if I want to play the way I like to play with people. So I’m stuck here in this space – conferred the privilege of being one of the in crowd of (cis, white, able-bodied) gay males, and enjoying the space, wanting to be able to exist in the space that I feel like I have the right to belong and revel in being in – but with this great big fucking gaping hole of a caveat screaming to be acknowledged.
And how do you do that without being exoticised or tokenized or otherwise removed from the space which you identify with and have a right to inhabit but which may not recognize your right to do so when you share the fuller scope of your story? What does that look like?