Jack of Many Trades

Just Somebody Hopelessly In-Between

Originally posted: 2014-01-30

A friend of mine came out as genderqueer and I've been thinking about my own relationship with gender. As a trans man, I've put a lot of thought into how I view myself and how I want the world to see me. At the same time, I'm still largely in the closet at work and don't plan to publicly transition at this job. I spend half my day cross-dressing, essentially.

With as much as I write about opposing forces, you might wonder if this back-and-forth is difficult for me. It's hard because I'm playing someone I'm not, it's hard because I'm faced with daily microaggressions from people who don't know there's a trans man in the room, but on a metaphysical level, no, it's not hard. It's much harder to remember to answer to the right name, actually. I can put on the mask of Who I Am At Work and take on that female self when it's necessary.

And it is necessary. There are different expectations for the way men and women handle themselves, even here in Greater Portlandia. Actions that would be praiseworthy go-getting from a man are aggressive when they come from me. I've made my peace with that, and learned to work with it, but I've never really gotten over it. Some days I honestly feel like a woman. Some days, femininity is a role I put on, somewhere between the bus stop and the office. I'm naturally receptive; people tell me things without meaning to. It's not as useful as it sounds: I'm not good at building rapport, so oftentimes people get freaked out about it after they say it.

This is a kind of liminality, this shapeshifting. I know both sides; I choose how people see me and project what I want to be seen as. Despite the way Western philosophies tend to paint opposing forces as, well, in opposition, they are not inherently at war with each other. The struggle between the two takes place inside my head, and inside the heads of those who don't understand that gender is not the sum of your parts. Being able to shift is a skill that has benefits. I feel better when I can shift freely, when I am choosing the role I play at work. There are skills that you learn when society treats you as a woman that are different than the skills you gain as a man. On good days I can shift back and forth, taking the skills and mindset that will help the most with whatever I'm working on.

People use 太极图, the yin-yang symbol, all the time without thinking about it, but if you look at it, you can see that it's clearly meant to be in motion. One energy is rising, the other descending. Often you see the core of one energy inside the opposing energy. Getting stuck in one side or the other is stagnation. This is where stereotypes come in, from the 50s housewife to the dudebro - stereotypes that harm, by encouraging us to view the opposite force as the other.

It isn't, though. Especially in the case of gender, where "masculine" and "feminine" are almost meaningless as personality descriptions anyway - pushing away parts of yourself because they're not correct for your gender stereotype is not going to make you a better Barbie doll or GI Joe. Jungian psychology talks about the anima or animus, the part of yourself that is the opposite gender. I don't think it's quite that simple, but I do think we each have an other-self that we have to learn to understand.

Though... it's a misnomer to call it an other-self, isn't it? It's still the self.

I think about Surt-Sinmora, about Loki, about the Serpent, about the other jotnar I've met who either switch gender at will or have none to speak of unless they need one. The further away you go, the less gender means anything at all. Learning to understand that, and to embrace the shapeshifting I do on a daily basis, has helped me to keep my sanity.

Gender is real, but it's also not the be-all and end-all society treats it as. It's a part of who you are right now, and a part of whatever work you're doing, but it shouldn't be a prison any more than light or dark, or ice or fire, or any other dichotomy.