I want to make one thing quite clear, first and foremost, cos some recent circumstances may suggest otherwise to friends: This has been a process I’ve been articulating in my own head for going on two years.
Sometimes, gender changes.
The typical trans narrative of gender being static and immutable is not true for everyone. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that when gender changes, it is a choice – just like the late-in-life lesbians didn’t suddenly wake up one day in their 50s and go “Yep, did everything else on my list, time to go eat some snatch!” Nor were they necessarily closeted; just at some point, they fell in love with a woman, and they didn’t feel bisexual, it just was a thing that happened.
I have some friends on the TS/TG/GQ spectra who are eschewing framing gender as “identity” or that So-and-So “identifies as [gender]”, because they are of the opinion that this makes it seem less real. Unfortunately, that’s not true, but at the same time, I like those friends enough that I’m not going to get in their faces about this gross misuse of language. Identity is about who we present to the world, and how that relates to our lived experiences. It’s as real as anything else about us.
Identity is our experiences of ourselves and how we relate that to ourselves and how we attempt to relate that to the world. Sometimes, those we interact with are wrong about our own identities, but we can never truly be wrong about how it is we identify, nor are others wrong about their identities. It’s the Aristippus paradox — one may not fully understand every external factor that played a part in an experience, but we are never inherently wrong about that experience. Our identity is the truest way that the plays out. Sure, we’re free to closet ourselves, or lie to others out of convenience or self-preservation, but we know how we’re experiencing this, and of that, we cannot be wrong. We may not necessarily articulate that very well, but we’re never wrong to ourselves about who we know we are; identity is the truest form of experience we have.
That said, the idea that identity is always static and immutable is patently false. For most of the 1970s, Freddie Mercury was and thus identified as bisexual, but by the early 1980s, this had changed, and he began identifying himself as gay, and unless one subscribes to the notion that sexual orientation is static and immutable, there is no reason to question that change in his identity as being anything but a reflection of the person he became. Even the Kinsey reports made it perfectly clear, dozens of times in the text, that the “Kinsey scale” is a) only intended to reflect experiences, and b) most people, if not everyone, will move along the scale at various points in their lives, that staying at one point on the scale for one’s entire life is exceptionally rare, and maintaining a lifelong experience at either pole on the scale is even rarer.
While true that experience is not identity, experience may reflect identity. If it’s accepted that experiences will change, given a life of enough opportunities, why is it hard for so many to accept that identities may, as well, change if given a life of sufficient experiences? I hypothesise that while the “born this way” narrative has been a helpful political tool for GBLT groups, it’s also a narrative that ostensibly erases the experiences of many, and identity itself is another kind of experience. If we are, indeed, born this way, then it begs the question that those of us who do may, indeed, have been born to change, as well.
Now, while sexuality is not gender, that does not mean that gender is always immune to change. Just because gender identity either stays relatively static, or moves along a very small segment of the spectrum during most people’s lives, does not mean that everyone has that experience. When, in 2013, Richard O’Brien came out as one of non-binary gender, he described his experience of gender to the BBC as being somewhere in a continuum / sliding-scale model between Man and Woman, and placed himself at about 70% Man and 30% Woman. While the sliding-scale model does, indeed, have its flaws when applied universally, in this instance it works for the explanation, so let me proceed:
Let’s arbitrarily divvy up a sliding-scale of gender the way that O’Brien’s 70/30 model suggests; and just for the sake of simplicity, let’s put Male genders at the “over 50” numbers. Let’s say that most people are actually somewhere between the 10 and 90 points, even if it’s mostly those who are in the vicinity of 45 and 55 who are most likely to identify as something other than Man or Woman. Many women will probably slide between, say, 25 and 40 in their lifetimes and still consider themselves women, which is fine. Now, many people who are sliding between 35 and 60, even those who are DFAB, may consider themselves something else that is neither Man nor Woman, even if they arguably experience some overlap with women ho spend years in the vicinity of 40. Neither person is wrong about their experiences of gender, but it is just as true to say that no matter where they currently are positioned on the scale, their gender simply is what it is until it isn’t; maybe it always will be, but sometimes, that may change.
For about thirty years, it was true that my identity was “male”, though clearly I was a fan of androgyny, and that was a big part of how I expressed myself, especially when going out. I’d often get off on the fact that my gender was anyone’s guess, even if I knew it was, at least at the time, male.
…but for about the last two years, I’ve been inching more toward the dead middle of the greyscale between “male” and “female” genders, to the point where it’s generally accurate to say that my gender is “whatever I’m vibing today or in a given situation”. About a month ago, at the club, someone in the outside queue called me a lady and, given the situation, it did not feel inaccurate any more than being called “sir” at the post office earlier that day, so I didn’t “correct” him. There was nothing to correct. Not only was i dressed High Femme that day (and most days out at the club, recently), but I didn’t have any real opinion on my gender that day, so I was OK with whatever people were picking up on.
By circumstances of birth, I’m definitely on the FTM spectrum, but mentally, and in day-to-day activities, I’m simultaneously either or both. I feel I’ve got a constant minimum of 10% Man, even at my highest femme appearances. Even when I’m in the immediate vicinity of a person who, otherwise, is the only person who makes me feel like a pretty girl for the only time ever in my life. Now, i don’t know what it means to be a woman, as i consider that a wholly different gender that i have never belonged to. “Girl”, I understand, at least in the contexts I see it described by non-binary people coming from an otherwise “Male gendered” starting point or dominance. It doesn’t feel like a character I’m playing because it either seems expected of me or for my own amusement; it feels like a real aspect of myself awakened — but that’s another story for another time.