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My Oscillating Body

Our Editor, Björksten, expresses their relationship to trans identity through words and film.

Since starting hormones nearly nine months ago, I have deeply considered my relationship with the word “transgender.” The prefix “trans” is typically used to mean “across” or “through” which is why I—a nonbinary person—struggle to truly relate to the word. I do not view gender as a linear spectrum; it isn’t something tangible that exists in a vacuum and can be navigated in a traditional, definite way using haircuts or clothes. Gender, to me, is an abstract sense of the relationship between the way someone wants to present themself to themself and the world, and the way the world receives them. And this relationship is not concrete or stagnant.

Gender has nothing to do with sex, so I think that the common belief that all non-cis people feel “misaligned” from their bodies and all cis people feel aligned is a misconception. Many may identify with this concept of this body-identity relationship, but I do not. Ink Davidson, a nonbinary grad student, made a post on their Instagram about the way that our society encourages gendering bodies—cis and trans alike:

View this post on Instagram

A starting point to understanding trans identities is often to separate sex and gender into two distinct categories. This is often described as sex (male, female, intersex) being different than gender (cis, trans, non-binary, 2 spirit, etc). This is an important step for many people who view gender to be essentially equal to what is between our legs. While I agree that biological characteristics and gender identity aren’t the same thing – sometimes they align, and sometimes they don’t – I do think this idea fails us in that “alignment” is often reserved only for cis folks, and trans identities are attempted to be captured through ideas of misalignment: that our sex and gender do not “match up” and that this is what makes us trans. This experience is certainly common for many trans people, but the very real and transcendent existence of trans people who feel otherwise shows us that this concept is inadequate to capture all of us and who we are. — I think what would be more effective, rather than separating sex and gender into distinct concepts that either have a fraught relationship or not, would actually be to stop gendering sex characteristics themselves. I know this may be a difficult concept to wrap your head around, but biological sex is NOT inherently gendered. Our body parts are NOT gendered. It is our own identities and perceptions and the society we live in that genders (or de-gender if you will) our bodies. — What I feel in opposition to is the gender I was assigned based on my sex, not to my sex itself. I do not feel misaligned with it. I was not born in the wrong body, I was born into wrong perceptions of what my gender was. This is a huge privilege that I hold as a trans person – and this does not make me any less trans. All of this is because I have come to understand that my sex and body parts are not female. They are all a part of my genderless being that carries me through this world. My entirety is genderless, nothing is exempt from this. — Image description in alt text and comments. #theythem #nonbinary #agender #genderless

A post shared by ink (@inkdavidson) on

This does, however, pose some questions about the actual definition of transness. If there is nothing inherently masculine about a penis, what is gender dysphoria? Dysphoria is typically described as an uncomfortable or painful mental conflict between someone’s gender identity and their physical body or the way society receives them, and it is usually viewed as a natural, psychological disorder. But I would argue that rather than being purely biological, dysphoria is the result of the complete immersion into a society that misinterprets the relationship between sex and gender.

Personally, my own dysphoria is a testament to how badly society shaped my understanding of my body and identity. Society influenced me to believe that I could never be treated in a way that was exempt of gender because my body was that of a girl’s and would always be. In recent years, I have been actively trying to reteach myself to understand my body and identity in a way that is free of these harmful misconceptions about my own gender. I’ve found that the most liberated and euphoric way for me to live is without gender altogether. And while gender has nothing to do with my physical body, I’ve found that treating my dysphoria is most effective using hormones because changing physical parts of myself aids in the evolution of rearranging the gender that society taught me to subconsciously attach to these parts. For the better part of this year, I have been medically transitioning, but this does not change the fact that I aim to exist in a genderless place rather than moving “across” one binary gender to another.

I am not moving across gender; I am rejecting gender. This leads me to my main quandary: does a rejection of the gender binary come with a rejection of transness?

Sometimes, I find myself using the more broadly accepted term “trans”to explain myself to some cis and trans-binary people because I am insecure that society will perceive “nonbinary” as a “snowflake” or “trans-trender.” Somehow, binary transness has always felt like it would be an easier, more legitimate identity. This is because so many gender non-conforming people have been told that our dysphoria is what makes us truly trans—that we must weaponize the severity of our dysphoria to defend ourselves. The people that accuse us of transitioning simply for attention or suggest it would just be easier for us to simply “love ourselves” view trans-binary dysphoria as a more legitimate justification for transitioning. I, as a nonbinary person, feel I have less ammunition in this defense of non-cis identities and therefore often find myself pressured into exaggerating my experience with dysphoria.

Another layer of my struggle with this identity is my medical transition. A friend of mine once mentioned that while they do identify as gender non-conforming and prefer gender-neutral pronouns, they do not feel trans in the typical sense of the word. They were assigned female at birth, present to others as femme, and have not medically “transitioned” in any way (nor do they plan to). To them, their transition was more of an internal identity struggle. While they are gender non-conforming, the term “trans” never technically fit. So does that mean that I—someone whose assigned gender at birth and presentation do not align and who has gone to great lengths to medically transition—fit the “trans” label? I suppose some may argue that an AFAB (assigned female at birth) person taking “masculinizing” hormones is actively moving “across” the gender spectrum and thus counts as trans, but I have never viewed my medical and physical “transition” this way. For me, the use of “masculinizing” hormones and binding has always been very closely and similarly related to my use of skirts and makeup. And this is not because these rigidly gendered devices cancel each other out to create some sort of chaotic androgyny, but because they are all tools of expression that help the world view me in my most authentic way.

Taking testosterone does not make me trans-masculine because I value my estrogen too. And saying that is scary for me because in the trans community, admitting that you like any part of your assigned birth gender feels like telling everyone you’re a fraud and your dysphoria is not legitimate. But I want to show that while my dysphoria is real, it doesn’t always appear in ways that are necessarily logical or easy to explain, and it certainly does not dictate my identity. Dysphoria doesn’t always have to make sense, and I do not owe anyone—cis or trans or anyone else—an explanation of or justification for it. 

Being nonbinary is, for me, like standing in the ocean and feeling the push and pull of the currents—knowing I am weak and small and at the mercy of the waves but being okay with that. Knowing if I lay back and let the water carry me, I could go somewhere that is not here—but is not necessarily linearly away from “here,” either. My body is not a stagnant piece of marble that I must chip away at through the use of hormones and makeup and haircuts, desperately trying to sculpt some “ideal self” that was buried inside all along. 

Instead, I find new hair on my tummy and feel disgusted because I was taught that people assigned female at birth are not supposed to have hair there. Then I touch it and find it soft and inviting. I look down at my naked hips while I sit and am intrigued at the softness that I so love in others and can perhaps learn to love in myself. Then I stand up and see those same hips from a different angle, in the mirror, and realize that my shoulders will always be broader than these tiny hips that can’t even keep pants up. There is no “ideal self” despite what society may tell us about the “ideal man body” and “ideal woman body.” Applying those standards to one’s body may breed a lot of dysphoria for some people because those ideals are unattainable. Society has given me only a vague stereotype of nonbinary being the pinnacle of androgyny that I am still fighting against. I aspire to only act based on what I can feel my body needs without enforcing unrealistic standards onto it.

The waves of the way I perceive myself are in constant motion; I will undoubtedly end up far away from my starting point, but if I stop trying to make sense of all this and instead simply exist in this moment I will achieve some serenity. Maybe the movement, the distance that I willingly allow the waves to carry me makes me “trans”—I don’t know. But I think that if they let themselves, most people would feel a similar indubitable dynamism about their bodies and expression—not just in gender but in weight and shape and hair and fashion—and perhaps it’s okay to lie back and let the seemingly terrifying oscillation of our bodies carry us to unknown places. I think that there is freedom and holiness in trusting your body and giving it exactly what it’s asking for unquestionably.

Resources

For those struggling with their gender identity, the most useful resource I can offer you other than my own words is the book Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. You can find a full PDF of hir impactful story here: 

Additional References

Davidson, Ink. (@inkdavidson). “A starting point to understanding trans identities is often…” Instagram, 11 September 2019 posted, https://www.instagram.com/p/B2SFe3XjGG2/.

Björksten

Björksten

Björksten (they/them) is an anthropology and film double major at American University. You can find their films at https://bjorksten.pb.studio/ and their instagram at @bee.york.sten

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