The Elephant in the Room: Your Questions About My Gender and Transition, Answered

cheeeeeese

Photography by dana at the outlaws photo project

[The photo features the author, Sam Dylan Finch, standing near a lake. He is a white, androgynous person with dark-rimmed glasses and a colorful, knitted sweater. He is smiling and looking off toward something in the distance.]
  

IMPORTANT NOTE (2/1/2016): I answered these questions over a year ago now. Time sure does fly! My sense of my own gender is constantly shifting. The answers here may no longer reflect how I describe or perceive my identity. Check out this updated version to read my most recent answers to these questions!

 

I write a lot about my identity as transgender. And thus far, it has created some thoughtful, interesting dialogue around gender and transitioning.

However, there was never much of a “coming out” to my readers. To this day, I receive a lot of questions about how I identify, what it means, and how I arrived where I am now. These are great questions! And leaving them unanswered has, at times, felt like an elephant in the room.

So today I wanted to pause and take a moment to answer some frequently asked questions about my gender and my transition. Hopefully this helps readers better understand my perspective and my journey as I write more about trans issues in the future.

It’s important to know that you aren’t entitled to any information about someone’s transition, body, or gender identity. Remember that other trans people may not be comfortable answering the questions that I have chosen to answer here.

Ready? Let’s go! Here are some of your questions:
    

What is your gender? What pronouns do you use?

I identify as transmasculine and genderqueer (defined below, don’t fret!). You can also describe me as androgynous.

My pronouns are he/him/his.

 

What does genderqueer mean to you?

Genderqueer most commonly refers to a person who does not identify as strictly man or woman, but rather, identifies as both, neither, or some combination.

At my core, I am an androgynous person; I don’t feel that I fit in any kind of gender box. I’m not a man, and I’m not a woman.

I use the word “genderqueer” to describe my gender identity.

   

What does transmasculine mean to you?

If we imagine a spectrum of sorts, I express my gender in a more masculine way than I do a feminine way. Masculinity and femininity are subjective terms that describe the way that we “perform” gender, and can be useful markers in helping us figure out our own sense of gender.

A person of any gender can take on qualities or an appearance that is more closely associated with masculinity or femininity.

While I don’t identify as a man, I still express my gender in a way that is considered more masculine, thus I use the word “transmasculine” instead of “trans man.”

I typically use the word transmasculine to describe my gender expression.

 

What is the difference between gender identity and gender expression?

Gender identity refers to someone’s sense of themselves, their subjective experience of their own gender. Simply put, it’s what’s on the inside. It’s who we know ourselves to be.

Gender expression refers to how someone performs or presents gender. This is what we see on the outside. It’s our costume, our performance, our exterior – and it may or may not reflect something about our identity.

On the inside, at my core, I am an androgynous, genderqueer person. On the outside, I express my gender in a more masculine way through my choice of clothing, haircuts, and body modifications.

 

So how can someone be “non-binary”? I thought there were only two genders.

Actually, the idea that there are only two genders is pretty flawed and outdated.

Many cultures in our world recognize more than two genders. The idea of binary gender, or two genders that are contingent upon anatomy, is a pretty Western phenomenon.

Even anatomy itself is not binary, as is the case with intersex people. Sex characteristics are variant and diverse, and the lines between “male” and “female” are very blurry and arbitrarily assigned.

The point is, there could really be as many genders as there are people, depending on how you look at it. The idea that there are only two is something we as a society uphold, but that doesn’t mean it is an objective fact – just a cultural phenomenon.

As it turns out, many people like myself experience their gender outside of those parameters, which is evidence that perhaps this binary system isn’t so perfect after all. The binary system leaves a lot to be desired.

I love this video over at Sexplanations about gender that I think is helpful if you’re interested in this topic.

 

How did you know you were transgender?

I realized after a while that I dressed and behaved in ways that were “feminine” because I gained social approval that way. People complimented me when I wore a dress. Folks fawned over my stylish makeup and shoes. I performed femininity because everywhere I turned, I was given praise for being “good” at femininity.

When I took a gender studies class in college, this performance began to unravel. I realized how much of what I was doing was because I craved the affirmation I received when I was the woman I was expected to be. I realized how I’d been inundated with so many expectations and ideals – the expectation to be beautiful, to be thin, to be soft, to be curvaceous, to be… a woman, whatever that meant.

I’ve always said that “woman” was a label I was given, but never a label that I chose. When I started to understand the ways that “woman” didn’t fit or make me happy, I learned about what “transgender” meant. And I owed it to myself to explore if that could be true for me.

This was back in 2010.

Around the same time, I saw a character on television that was androgynous, and I fell in love with the idea of “becoming” that. Though I didn’t have the words “transmasculine” or “genderqueer” yet, I started to wonder if I would be happier as an androgynous person. It had never occurred to me to try it until I saw someone else living it.

Over the course of the last five years, I’ve transitioned toward queerness and androgyny. I cut off my hair, began binding my breasts, changed my name, got some tattoos, opted for new pronouns, acquired some prosthetics, and began living full-time as genderqueer.

Most importantly, I stopped allowing gendered expectations and roles to colonize my mind. Instead of seeking the approval of others by conforming to my assigned gender, I carved out my own vision for who I wanted to become. And it has been incredibly rewarding, exciting, and fulfilling.

 

When did you come out, and what were the reactions you received?

I’ve had mixed reactions. Some friends were supportive – a great many of them, in fact – but some were resistant or hesitant.

I came out to my mother only recently, and she seemed unsurprised. I’m fairly sure neither of my parents were surprised for various reasons. I’m still in the process of coming out to most of my family, but I’m taking it at my own pace.

    

Does your family know about your writing?

They do, and they’re supportive. However, I’ve set the boundary that we don’t discuss my articles unless I bring them up. This takes the pressure off of me – I can write honestly without worrying about what they will say.

 

How has your transition been so far?

Beautiful. Heart-wrenching. Confusing. Worthwhile. Painful. Inspiring. And exactly what I needed.

 

Are you taking testosterone? Do you plan to?

I am not sure if I want to transition hormonally. It’s not a decision I feel ready to make. I am comfortable saying that I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know where my transition will take me. I am taking my time. It’s not a race.

 

So what’s in your pants? And will that change?

That’s not really anyone’s business.

    

Have you always known that you were transgender?

I didn’t. I didn’t have any clue until my late teens. Being trans is different for everyone, and we don’t all share the typical narrative of “I was born into the wrong body and I knew it from the time I was a toddler.” There’s nothing wrong with that narrative, but it sometimes overshadows the realities of many other trans folks who don’t figure things out until later in life.

For me, being trans was like… this sounds silly, but kind of like cooking? I tried new gender expressions until I found something that I loved. I tasted femininity, and masculinity, and androgyny, and I mixed things together until I found the perfect recipe for my happiness. I didn’t know what I was missing before, but now, I can’t imagine my life without my transition.

I think it’s possible that I might have gone on living my life as a cisgender woman if I hadn’t gone to college, and maybe I would have been okay. But it would never have compared to the happiness I found when I transitioned. It doesn’t matter if I figured this out at age 4 or age 18 – it’s still who I am, regardless of how soon or in what ways I arrived at that truth.

 

If you aren’t a man or a woman, what is your sexual orientation?

I think “pansexual” is the closest approximation I have. I’m attracted to all sorts of people, and gender is not a deciding factor for whether or not I’ll date someone.

    

What has been the hardest part of being trans?

Being hated by complete and total strangers simply because I don’t conform to their idea of what I should look like. The constant fear that I’ll be attacked or harassed for looking “too queer.” And the constant anxiety that I’ll be rejected by people I love because they don’t understand or don’t approve of who I’ve become.

Maybe even more difficult than that is grappling with internalized transphobia – these really pervasive, negative attitudes about trans folks that really impact the way that I perceive and treat myself. It’s insidious, it’s hard to describe, but it’s present and something that I’m still working to undo, even now.

    

Did I answer all of your questions!?

If you have other questions that aren’t answered here, feel free to [respectfully] ask them in the comments below! I will do my best to answer as many as I can.

 

Sam Dylan Finch is a freelance writer and queer activist, currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, a queer and feminist perspective on current events and politics. His Twitter can be found, unsurprisingly, at @samdylanfinch.

Visit his official website: www.samdylanfinch.com

32 thoughts on “The Elephant in the Room: Your Questions About My Gender and Transition, Answered

    • Sam Dylan Finch says:

      Hey, thanks for your question! 🙂

      The first time I came out and expressed a desire to transition, my partner at the time completely rejected the idea. He was unsupportive, and I became afraid of transitioning. I thought that it was more important to keep him as my SO than to explore my gender. This delayed my transition. Had I moved forward, it definitely would’ve changed the definitions of our relationship and we would’ve had to discuss those things. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve broke things off with him sooner and been honest with myself about what I needed.

      After I broke things off with that person, I found the courage to start transitioning. I then met my current partner (and fiance!) who, coincidentally, is also transgender. This partner, Ray, helped me through my transition immensely. It never changed how we defined the relationship because we were both genderqueer from the start. We always called each other “partners” and described our relationship as “queer.”

      Liked by 2 people

  1. DeeScribes says:

    I’m sure many who are questioning will find this useful and honest post helpful. I’m glad you were brave enough to put all of this out here. You’re right -not everyone will feel comfortable being this open but your work can serve as information for those who are questioning or coming out and need information to share with friends or family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam Dylan Finch says:

      Ahh, thank you! I really do hope it’s helpful! I was surprised when I saw folks sharing it as a resource on social media, because I didn’t imagine it would be useful for anyone but the community on this blog. But I’m glad it’s useful in more ways than anticipated. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. oncewild says:

    This is really great! I especially relate to the ‘Have you always known…’ question.
    Also, that’s a great tip about families and writing – I’ve often thought about this, and how to approach them reading my stuff but me staying true to myself. Thanks 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam Dylan Finch says:

      I’m glad it resonated with you! 😀

      And yes, I have found the best approach is to not talk about what I’m writing with family unless I’m the one bringing it up. That way, the conversations happen on my own terms when I’m ready to have them. It frees me up to be authentic without worrying about being confronted or questioned.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Amrita Shenoy says:

    Thanks for this 😀 I used to get confused while reading some your previous articles because some of the words were, I believe , LGBT jargons. I was going to send you an email regarding this..but I am glad you yourself wrote an article for this. I don’t think I have any more doubts. For once, I know who trans people/ queers/gays/lesbians really are. They are human beings . May goodness prevail.
    Cheers.
    Amrita ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam Dylan Finch says:

      Yes! Score! This was my exact hunch when I wrote this Q&A. I’ll be sure to link this article in future articles, so folks who aren’t familiar with the terminology can refer back to this piece. Never hesitate to let me know if I get too wordy. And absolutely, human through and through. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • thesilverdoe91 says:

        If you’re a woman, and you don’t feel comfortable being feminine, then why not just be a non-feminine woman? Or even a “masculine” woman? Why change your identification entirely? Especially if it puts you in harms way?

        Personally, I’m a woman and I’ve never been too feminine myself. I’ve been described as others as being “too masculine” sometimes, but I don’t take it to heart because I understand that gender roles are socially constructed. Thus, I choose to act however I want, without labels. I don’t need labels to know how I am. I am however, a woman, because my genitalia marks me as such. I do not think there should be any difference between a man and a woman. But at the same time I do not understand why transgender people want to “change genders” if gender is just an abstract, socially constructed thing. Why not stay a woman, and just choose to express yourself however you want? Why not be a woman who wears her hair short, and oversized sweaters and likes dating women?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sam Dylan Finch says:

        Because I’m not a woman. And your genitalia is not what makes you a woman — your self-identification is what makes you a woman. Gender and genitals are not synonymous.

        You’re telling me that you are operating “without labels,” and yet woman IS a label.

        For me, woman is a label that does not encompass who I am, how I feel about my body, how I express myself, or how I want to be perceived. Why would I identify as a woman when I’m not a woman?

        This is like going up to a man and saying, “It’s all socially constructed anyway. Why not just identify as a woman?”

        You’re asking someone of a totally different gender to identify as something that they intrinsically are not.

        “Why not stay a woman” suggests that I was a woman to begin with. I am not a woman, was never a woman. Please be mindful of the fact that you’re misgendering me right now, in my own space. That’s not okay.

        Like

      • Sam Dylan Finch says:

        Also, gender is not just an abstract, socially constructed thing. It’s a lived experience and a sense of self that we navigate in light of culture.

        It’s true that race and gender are social constructions — but they operate and function in the real world beyond just being abstract. We experience gender, we experience race.

        Maybe someday we’ll exist in a perfect world where gender is exclusively abstract and will no longer matter. But that is not the world we live in. And until then, when people feel uncomfortable with a gender violently imposed on them from birth, they have every right to transition and self-identify in whatever way makes them more comfortable.

        If I were comfortable being called a woman, don’t you think I would’ve opted for that instead? You’re right about one thing: It’d be a hell of a lot easier.

        Like

      • thesilverdoe91 says:

        I did not mean to insult you in any way. I am simply trying to gain an understanding of the transgender perspective. I’m sorry if I may come off rude to you by something wrong I might say, but know that I am not doing so intentionally.

        I understand there is a difference between sex and gender. Sex is something you are born with (what genitalia you have, just like what hair color you are born with, or the color of your skin.) Gender is something that is socially constructed to assume and generalize what traits and qualities people are expected to have based on their sex, or at least the sex they are born with.

        Woman, as I have come to understand it, was formed as a word meant to reference those with one type of genitalia. As sexist as the word might be, or even the idea to separate people based on genitalia, the whole purpose of this word was meant to distinguish those with one type of genitalia from another. People who have both genitalia parts do not occur as frequently as one or the other, thus the main distinguishing factor is made between the two most commonly sen genitalia types.

        Thus, when you say that you never “felt like a woman” I do not understand what you mean, because as long as you have a vagina, you have the anatomy of what is described in English as a “woman.” How could you not identify with the word if you have the anatomy that it is referring to?

        Once again, I have to remind you I am not saying this in malice, just in an effort to better understand you, especially since I really love your writing, and to gain a better understanding of transgender folk in general. I’ve read up on them, but I’ve never gotten a chance to speak to one myself and I feel like maybe a one on one conversation can help dispel some of the confusion I feel when reading up on this subject. 🙂

        Like

      • Sam Dylan Finch says:

        I know you’re trying to understand and I know you’re saying these things in good faith, but it’s hard because when every single cisgender person asks me to educate them, it is emotionally difficult to do time and time again. So if I come across as being upset, it’s because it is difficult to have to constantly validate your existence to other people.

        But to answer as best as I can: Gender is separate from anatomy. You don’t call yourself a woman just because you have a vagina, do you? If you suddenly woke up with a penis, would you suddenly call yourself a man? Or is your gender something beyond anatomy?

        At the end of the day, I am non-binary because I see myself as not fitting neatly in either box. I see my intuitive sense of my gender, the roles that I take on, the way that I express myself, and the way that I feel about my body as being its own gender that does not mesh with either category.

        And because this binary is socially constructed, I’m not required to pick. I don’t have to pick if I don’t want to. I refuse to squeeze my gender into a box that doesn’t encompass who I am.

        Beyond that, I experience something called gender dysphoria — which I’ve been diagnosed with — which is a very debilitating discomfort, depression, and panic associated with how I feel about being perceived as a woman and how I feel about different sexed parts of my body.

        So basically, when I examine the way that I perceive myself — ie being androgynous — and when I consider how unhappy being perceived as a woman makes me feel, it makes absolute perfect sense to instead name my gender as something else. Because clearly I am mentally relating to myself in a way that is different from a cisgender woman who is comfortable in this role and comfortable in her skin.

        Does that help? I’m doing my best because I know you’re only asking because you genuinely want to understand.

        Like

      • Sam Dylan Finch says:

        You know, this makes me think that maybe I should write a blog entry on what being genderqueer, to me, actually feels like. Because I can see how it would be confusing to folks who have no experience of this.

        Like

      • thesilverdoe91 says:

        If you look up the word “woman” in the dictionary, the definition is “a human being who is a female.” If you look up “female,” you see it is defined as ” person bearing two X chromosomes in the cell nuclei and normally having a vagina, a uterus and ovaries” so I think in the English language, the word “woman” is referring to sex, and is primarily based on anatomy.

        Based on this definition, yes, I would consider myself a “man” were I to wake up with a penis instead of a vagina. Quite frankly, I would probably be very happy, because then all the expected traits of the “gender” associated with my “sex” will be obliterated, and I can move about the world in a more freeing way.

        I like to think that the “gender roles” assigned to us (feminine vs. masculine traits) are assigned to us at birth based on our reproductive anatomy. These traits have developed over the history of our culture in order to protect against possible haphazards that may occur due to our reproductive anatomy (women may be sexually exploited by men who will then leave them and not care for the children they later might produce, thus women are told not to be promiscuous and instead dress pretty so as to attract a male suitor who will be married to them and thus sworn to take care of their offspring) however, these precautions are outdated and no longer needed. Thus, the feminist movement asks for their gender roles to be changed, to have a more equal standing, and for men and women to have an equal opportunity to develop whatever traits they wish, and not just the traits that will “best serve their sexual and reproductive anatomy.”

        Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if you look at the language we speak, the term “woman” is meant to describe physical anatomy, not gender. Over the years the two have become so strongly associated that people can no longer tell the difference between the two. That is why people are shocked when you, someone with the anatomy of a woman, are not acting according to your prescribed gender role. That mindset can be changed of course. However, you anatomy makes you a woman, whether you like it or not. I am not saying this to be mean, or to undermine you in any way. I am simply pointing out the lingual truth of the word “woman.”

        I’m glad that you admit that you have some form of body dysphoria, that is usually a notion that is hard for most transgender people to accept. I do not think it is “sinful” or in any way “wrong” to change your sexual anatomy to whatever you want it to be. I just have no idea how someone can deny the physical anatomy that they were born with. If you have a vagina, you are a female, and by definition a woman. If you want to change that, that’s fine. If you don’t want to be treated like a woman is traditionally treated, or live up to the expectations that a woman is traditionally held up to, that’s fine, too. But to deny the physical anatomy of your body seems kind of absurd to me. Once again, I don’t mean to offend you in any way, if I have by accident, it’s only the way things read on the internet! And also, I want to thank you for taking out the time to talk to me, even though I understand it must be very annoying to have to explain this to everyone you talk to! 🙂

        Like

      • Sam Dylan Finch says:

        If you’re looking to the dictionary for social science, you’re doing your research incorrectly. Anthropologists, sociologists, and anyone in the actual field of gender studies (two of which I have degrees in) will tell you that GENDER is not defined by anatomy.

        I would encourage you to do more in-depth research on your own, and to stop, for the love of all that is good, calling me a woman.

        Like

      • Sam Dylan Finch says:

        PS. The dictionary disagrees with you.

        gen·der
        ˈjendər/
        noun
        noun: gender

        1.
        the state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones).

        Like

  4. revgerry says:

    Reblogged this on Open Hearted Musings and commented:
    I just found this great post and thought you may be interested if you read my attempt the other day as a trans-ally to open this topic for discussion and call for compassion and education after I read that Chelsea Manning was going to receive her requested hormone therapy. She did have to SUE to get it, and there are people who are upset about that.
    https://revgerry.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/compassion-for-transexuals/ Many thanks to LQTU for his honesty and openness on being “genbder-queer.” Confused? Read his post. hugs, gerry

    Like

  5. threekidsandi says:

    That is exactly how I cook. I never trust a recipe. I cannot follow them. I always mess about with them until I think I have changed them enough that they ought to turn out better with less effort. Just brilliant, your analogy. Congratulations on your engagement!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. sage r. says:

    hey sam, thank you for sharing. i relate to a lot that you write about- one thing you mentioned is you felt you were imposing on others by asking for your pronouns. a big one for me. it took a lot of courage to come out to people at my lgbt center, and i have to say i’m glad that i’m glad i was able to go in with long hair and my face and my voice, and to just ask. well, not that my gender presentation works for me but i’m glad i realized that for myself. and yeah, in many ways i am so much happier. they call me my name! they don’t call me a girl! sometimes when i feel an ache of disconnectedness related to my embodiment, someone calls me “they”. i just feel so much more… there. thanks for being open about this. nobody is a burden for asking for the right pronouns!

    Liked by 1 person

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