body talk I: a rescue mission

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my body.

It may not mean much to say that, because in a way I am constantly thinking about my body. My body is a battleground that I don’t get to stop fighting small wars on, on a daily basis. Even when I’m not thinking about it, I’m hypervigilantly aware of its every detail. What I should probably say is I’ve been thinking a lot about what my body means, and what I want it to mean. I’m increasingly frustrated with the rhetoric we’re given to talk about trans* experiences, because it’s all so limiting. I don’t know how to answer when people ask me how long I’ve felt “trapped in the wrong body”, because that’s not something I’ve ever felt.

To be honest, I don’t even know what “trapped in the wrong body” means. I find myself asking, if I’m supposed to be trapped in the “wrong body”… what body is that?

And it’s a cruel fucking joke, because the punchline is so obvious. The body I’m trapped in belongs to the patriarchy, and the one I’m supposed to aspire to is everyone else’s body–the perfect, binary fitting aggregate. Either way, I don’t get to be my own person, only someone else’s idea of what a person should constitute.

The thing about this kind of rhetoric is that there’s no way for trans* people to adequately explain the complexity of this experience of the body, we lack the requisite phrases to make sense of it to those who haven’t had to re-evaluate every inch of themselves. The words are taken from our mouths and replaced with oversimplified platitudes. Our bodies are taken from us before we can even explore what they mean, we’ve lost before we’ve even started.

In 1992 Susan Stone published The Posttranssexual Manifesto, which concludes with the sentiment: “I could not ask a transsexual for anything more inconceivable than to forgo passing , to be consciously ‘read’, to read oneself aloud—and by this troubling and productive reading, to be to write onself into the discourses by which one has been written.”

As much as I disagree with a lot she says–that the onus is on trans* people to come out to partners, that passing is dishonest–I get what she means about not needing to pass. She comes dangerously close to setting up new standards for honesty/dishonesty that dictate how authentic we view a trans* person as being, but what she says about not needing to conform to the rigid criteria of easily read, “simple” gender. Being trans* is a process, about learning the body and adjusting it to align with a mindset, about learning the body through the violence and the noise, a process of transgressing what is considered normal and coming out the other side a person who feels like a person.

It makes no sense to, having completed that process, simply blend in and implicitly accept the binarist, patriarchal standards that once were the primary source of our oppression, the same standards that continue to oppress others.

I hesitate to speak in absolutes here because that’s part of the problem in Stone’s writing. And I’m in no way saying that no trans* person has ever felt truly trapped in their body, nor that none of us have ever felt “wrong” inside it. It’s a sentiment which has allowed a lot of people to articulate their identities. But what it’s about is about the ability to choose not to articulate ourselves this way.

I realised that I’ve kind of been buying into a heteromasculine patriarchy in the way I’ve been going about transitioning, socially, and presenting gender. It’s become about the ways I can perform masculinity that will allow me to be read without complication, that will put me above others, about the ways I can be a “Capital-M-Man”. It’s standing like a challenge, the way “mate” has crept into my vernacular, the sexist jokes I keep finding myself making “ironically”. Masculinity has become like a competition I’m supposed to win, a series of boxes I’m supposed to be able to check, who cares if I’m throwing others under the bus. A certain type of body I’m meant to fill.

But that kind of body isn’t mine. A body that allows itself to be subsumed into an oppressive system of gender, to blend in and pass not for safety, not for a sense of personal integrity, but for a desire to fit in, isn’t a body with autonomy or control over itself–that’s a body someone else is being allowed to control. Talk about the “wrong body”. It’s ironic that it’s the rhetoric itself which seals the cage.

When I say I’ve been thinking about my body, what I mean is I’ve been thinking about the ways my body can be read. I think, now, I’ve made a conscious decision to allow my body not to be so easily legible, to continue to play with gender, to be in control of my body and my identity and do away with this bullshit about needing to be “freed” from something that has never been locked. To say I’m in the “wrong body” implies that a body can only ever be one thing, but really, bodies are malleable, non-permanent, constantly changing and always imperfect.

My body’s mine. I may not always feel like I belong to it–when my words stick in my throat because I can’t bear to hear the sound of my voice, when I make myself smaller and smaller like I can ignore that I’ve never felt tall enough, when I rub my hands endlessly over and over my too-smooth chin–but it always belongs to me. I can choose how it changes, but I must choose what it represents.

Everyone wants to take ownership of our bodies. We’re only “trapped in the wrong body” if we let ourselves be.

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