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She Used To Be a Man You Know

ShiftIf you ever want to annoy a trans woman and watch her go all arson two on you, go ahead and refer to her past as, “when you were a man”. I can virtually guarantee that that if you do (and last sentence aside, I really don’t recommend it), you are going to walk away shaking your head and muttering, “Fuck… gotta remember never to do that again.” Yeah, trans people are a little sensitive on that whole “used to be” business. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

Before I launch in, all trans people are well aware of what gender we represented ourselves as prior to transition. We were treated as such, all our documentation corroborated this, and we generally made all the right moves to represent proudly until the whole house of cards came tumbling down. We hardly ever come across an old picture where we are standing proud in a military uniform, wearing a spiffy tux, or holding our infant child with the hospital lights gleaming off our bald pates, where we say, “Wait a minute…who the hell is that?” We continue to hold on to little pieces of our pasts, like our Boy Scout ‘Ethics’ merit badge we had to doctor all that paperwork and forge a few signatures to earn, or the garters we slipped off the leg of our prom date while green with envy.

It’s true; some of us tend to disavow these things, even with photographic evidence, even though they really for sure happened. Some mitigate the past by referring to their old name as a different person, and even going so far as to call their past identity a walking lie. I try not to do this because looking at say, 2001 me, I can feel me looking back from the past with an imploring, “I’m really trying here you know” look. That’s just not right. I might be a little embarrassed by past me in a beard and cascade of chest hair bursting through my shirt, but I did something about all that, so it’s cool. C-ya old me, and wouldn’t want to be ya. We’ll just hope ‘The Big Crunch’ doesn’t happen and I don’t have to live this in reverse because that would just be moldy bananas.

Since we are all on the same page that we used to live life in the other gender, you know, the whole reason for this transition business, why the hissy fit when someone brings it up? There are a few things going on here to be quite honest. On a very visceral level based on the thought process that morphed ‘sex change’ into ‘gender confirmation’, many trans have difficulty with the idea that even though they didn’t look right, and may not still for that matter, it doesn’t change that they have always felt they were their post transition gender, even if they managed to forget about it for years at a time. There is a world of difference between appearing male and actually being male; the former a role and the latter innate identity.

One of the foundations of this is the understanding that even coming to this realization, the overpowering necessity to do something about it, and an honest life led hereafter, we know that some mystical transubstantiation did not actually occur. Transition, at its very best, is hormonal, cosmetic, and behavioral in nature. It brings us into alignment, as close as possible anyway, with our inner gender identities, but it’s not the same as the Blue Fairy turning us from a wooden marionette to a living, breathing girl. The danger the “used to be” statements presents is that it’s far too easy to tack on “and still really are”. Trans people hate that.

Groups opposed to trans seem to enjoy making this case that essentially leaves transsexuals as some kind of super cross-dressers. Doing this implies license to treat us legally and socially as oddly behaving males. All the enormous efforts undertaken then to live as an authentic and honest life as possible and at every conceivable expense can then be framed as being ‘batshit crazy’, because seriously, why on earth would dudes want to do any of this? It’s a stance that reeks of genetic exclusivity, basely solely on a strand that in terms of gender, codes for genitalia differentiation and gamete formation. It’s hanging a hat on a very general genetic statement along the lines of, “individuals with these genes indicate a potential or predisposition for male identity”. I’m very sure that people with a genetic predisposition for, let’s say diabetes, would not care for social or legal ramifications tied to this, even if they exhibited several of the warning signs. Predisposed to male identity is not the same as having it.

Feeling forced into a choice of being categorized always and forever male or female, trans people are very clear, no matter what symptoms manifested in the past. Many or most of us have always felt this way anyway and simply covered up any outward sign of it, so it feels honest to say that I may have lived as a male in the past, but no longer do. What matters is now, and we ask not to have that confused by what was or what appeared to be.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

9 responses »

  1. I (and many others) have a lot to learn about transgender issues – I appreciate this very informative, honest and eloquently written post!

  2. “The danger the “used to be” statements presents is that it’s far too easy to tack on “and still really are”. Trans people hate that.” …Of course they do, who wouldn’t?

    My FTM friend uses the phrase “when I was a female” without hesitation, so I probably wouldn’t have thought how annoying this is to some. Thanks for informing me. 🙂

  3. Pingback: She Used To Be a Man You Know « Ray Africa Consultants

  4. It is the unthinking callousness from people that really bothers usually – because that is their feelings before they think and edit. I completely agree and am not trans-gender.
    Personally I get the ” When you were gay” comment because I am married. Not accurate, gender has always been irrelevant to me and I still find women attractive not men. I just fell in love with the person I belong with, and I couldn’t care less what his gender is.
    People feel the need to categorize everything in the boxed that fit their image of what should be or is. Rarely do things or people actually fit in those little boxes.

  5. My sister has probably had the most difficulty in accepting that the brother she grew up with is gone forever and an older sister has taken his place. Our relationship was strained enough before I came out and I believe that she is still judging the “old me” and still can’t get that I’m not that person anymore. She has basically disowned me and there is nothing I can say to change that. I presume that she has not yet made peace with the “death” of her brother and has virtually “killed” Deanna off in the meantime. She lives on the East coast, while live in NM and I don’t get a chance to see her often anyway, but it hurts knowing that my own sister has virtually killed me off in her mind and has now lost both a brother and a sister.

  6. People like to fit what they experience into the boxes they’ve already created for themselves and gender’s no different. So the “used to be a man” thing is all part of that. When I was the media rep for a lobby group in Western Australia (just barely into my transition) the first test of that I had was a newspaper reporter phoning me on a local case (where the transgender head of the local Wiccan church had been “exposed as a man”) I received the call and with out introduction the voice asked “So why would a man cut their penis off to become a woman?”

    I told the caller that I didn’t know any that had, and that the question was a biased leading one and could we start again, and just who the fuck were they? I think too this is a part of the “You’re different so any question I ask you is valid” assumption, with the only difference being that it wasn’t in a public place.

  7. seriously, why on earth would dudes want to do any of this?
    Michelle, you nailed it.
    13 or so yrs ago, my son’s birth Mom spent a 2 week vacation with me on my sailboat. At the end of the first week, while enjoying a glass of wine in the evening she said,” You know, nothing is different. You move the same, think & speak the same, even your little gestures are the same as they always were. But you look soooo different…and it all fits so much better.”
    “Why do you want…? How long have you been…? etcetera” Duh. most folk just don’t get it. Fortunately for me my 2 sons and the 2 women with whom I spent 20 yrs of my life do get it. I am blessed.

  8. MIchelle, you seem to constantly bring up a lot of interesting, pertinent topics that I wander around mulling, and to which I try to develop a sane and ubiquitous comment, only to have you toss out another of these magnificent blogs. I can’t keep up!

    Where WAS I? Oh. She was a he. I am NOwhere near that point. Currently I have my ex girlfriend and her mother trying to come to terms with my deciding that this is what I want to do with the small portion of whatever life I have left. We are ALL having difficulty with this, not because I am TG, but because they don’t really understand my PERSONAL identity situation. Hell, I’M still working that out. But I need time and space and freedom to explore, and I know now that I have to insist on that from my loved ones. I cannot be pigeonholed or categorized. Just give me room to open my wings up and try to gain altitude. Or is it attitude?

    I am still male. Unfortunately, some things are indelible, without extreme effort to make otherwise. But so many things are easier now. My children know, and accept. My first ex, the mother of my children knows and accepts. My second wife knows and was never comfortable with it and ran off with a “manly man.” My employment situation requires that I continue to work with both of them, but I am blessed with an office area very distant from where they both work. Good luck to them, seriously. I am better off where I am.

    “She used to be a man.” I almost welcome that sort of comment. I don’t know if I’ll see enough days to hear that. I DO know that for now, I am seen as a woman or something approximating that gender, by a lot more people than I would have expected.

  9. feeling way lucky to have virtually no existing photographic evidence of that past life due to storms, floods, fires and what have you… except oddly, that pic of me with my 1st grade class in the 1950’s(!) and sister evelyn standing smiling in the back row. that one i like cos i was so-o-o freakin’ cute! (maybe i shoulda become a nun after all! … speaking of mentors…)

    but the bearded ones, the big boots and flannel shirt ones, the polyester prom suit ones? nah… very glad they’re gone! i probably woulda destroyed them anyway if i still had them.

    as it is, when past life stuff does come up in conversation (and there IS good stuff to remember from back then), and i deign to enter in to that chat, i usually refer to my old self as “what’s-his-name-again?”.


    (michelle, i eagerly look forward to your little essays. they make my day!)


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