The Queer Issue
When I was a kid, I would lie in bed awake at night and dream. I would think about what kind of woman I'd marry, the children I would father, what I would grow up to look like, and what kind of man I'd become. The more detailed the dream, I thought, the more likely it would become reality. If I could only wish it all clearly, I could have it. But then morning would arrive and my dreams would be shattered--by the reality of the female body I woke up in. I would get up, go to school, and envy the boys whose lives would take the paths I wished mine could take.
Growing up trans filled me with a never-ending envy. I envied boys running around shirtless in summer, whizzing standing up, playing shirts-and-skins basketball, being told they could accomplish anything, not being expected to do housecleaning or cooking. And I envied their hard muscles and narrow hips. As I entered my teen years, I envied my peers their easy laughter, their increasing height, the deepening of their voices, the emergence of facial and body hair, the way girls looked at them and flirted and teased. I envied the men I saw around me even more, for their solidness, their masculinity, the rumble of their voices, their beards and body hair, their sexuality. I wished I could have those things.
And I envied their cocks--something they had that I couldn't grow no matter how hard I wished. And I envied their chests, which lacked the one absolute marker of my sex: breasts.
In my later teen years, I found that I could live pretty successfully as a dyke. My envy of men eased as I discovered that my masculinity-in-female-form was attractive to some women. I could move through parts of the world with some degree of acceptance, even if others were closed to me. There were people who valued that gender expression, and it buoyed me for a time.
But it was never enough.
The envy remained, simmering below the surface. Whenever I was around men, especially gay leathermen with their hyper-masculinity, the envy became palpable. I hated them for being everything I knew myself to be but thought I could never attain, and I loved them for being the embodiment of my true self.
Envy is defined as a feeling of ill will or resentment toward another for having something that you do not. Envy would seem to be a fairly active and angry emotion, but for many it is passive and sad. Envy can lead to depression: You feel as though you can never achieve that which you desire, and you despair. For some trans folks I know, that envy has led to self-mutilation, destructive behavior, and even suicide. Others took their envy and sublimated their emotions, becoming the best they could be in the body they were given. Superachievers. But no matter how depressed you become, or how much you sublimate, the envy keeps creeping up, until you look at it squarely and make a decision to do something about it.
When I was in my early 30s, the envy crept up on me again. And just when I reached the point where I couldn't ignore it anymore, I discovered that what I once thought impossible was, in fact, possible. I could live as the man I knew myself to be.
I immediately started taking steps to alter my physical self. Through hormones and surgery, I become the man I am today. For FTMs (female-to-male transsexuals), one of the greatest gifts of human physiology is that testosterone is a fast-acting catalyst. Results are relatively quick and permanent. As my body changed, the envy I had of non-trans men began to fall away, little by little. No longer did I yearn for their masculinity; I embodied it. No longer did I ache to have facial and body hair; I grew it. Once my breasts were removed, I had that masculine chest I craved. At the beginning of my transition, I was sure I would seek genital surgery to add a cock, but over time that changed too.
During my second year of transition, I suddenly realized I no longer envied non-trans men for their cocks. As I grew in my manhood, the absence of that particular piece of equipment became a non-issue. What many consider to be the singular defining characteristic of manliness, I came to realize, does not make one a man at all. It became unnecessary to spend the money and time to have an imperfect reproduction of the real deal added to my body. Talking with other transmen, it became clear that others were having similar revelations and were celebrating what they did have--transman bodies with transman cocks. Different from non-trans, but no better and--more importantly--no worse.
Do I still envy non-trans men? Sometimes. The thing I envy the most these days is height. I wish I were taller.
But even when you think you've laid envy to rest, it has a way of rearing up again. I've been experiencing envy in new forms lately: trans-on-trans envy, and dyke-on-trans envy. With the increasing visibility of trans folk, and more specifically, transmen, some butch dykes envy the steps that trans men have taken in claiming their bodies and their masculinity. It's not about dykes wanting to be men or wanting to transition (though some may), but rather about envying transmen for the peace they've found with their bodies and for the safety that comes with invisibility.
Being a butch dyke can be a bit like drawing a target on your chest. And being butch often comes with a discomfort about one's body and the way that the world, and one's lovers, interact with it. Dykes will often speak of transmen "mutilating" their bodies by having their breasts removed, but in one-on-one conversations they reveal their own desires to be rid of their breasts (cosmic irony: the biggest, baddest butches and FTMs seem to be burdened with the largest breasts). Or they will give voice to the cry of betraying the sisterhood--negating the feminist stance of "my body, my choices"--yet these very same butches will swear they don't understand women, especially the femmes they are dating.
Transmen in relationships with femme women (many of whom are queer-identified) also inspire envy in butches. They envy us our ability to pass in the world for straight--even if we don't identify as such--and envy our relative invisibility in the het world. We can walk down the street with our partners with nary an odd glance, much less the verbal slurs hurled at obvious dyke couples.
Increased trans visibility has caused some envy within trans communities themselves. Most of the envy comes from those new to their own transitions, most especially when they live in that space where they are not yet unambiguously male yet somehow are no longer unambiguously female. When transmen new to their masculinity look upon me and others I know, I sometimes see envy in their eyes. We no longer inhabit that place where people look and wonder, "Is that a man or a woman?" They envy those of us who have lived as men long enough to be completely accepted as men by everyone around us. Many a tranny believes the world will not grant them love or sex after transition, so those of us in relationships are envied for the love and lust that we have in our lives.
I envied, I envy still, and I am envied. The circle completes itself.