The attempt to neutralize gender stereotypes between men and women has ironically given rise to a proliferation of gender identities. The gender spectrum, as it is viewed in progressive circles, assumes gender to be entirely sociocultural, occasionally whimsical, and inherently complex. How do these assumptions relate to the transgender experience?
Thanks to the efforts of trans activists, the transgender movement is now mainstream, and being steered towards the political arena. Laws are being created or amended to ensure rights for all, no matter their gender identity.
Meanwhile, social media mobs are dividing people into camps based on whether they believe gender is binary or not. But what about those in the trans community who believe in the gender binary? Is it possible for a trans person to be transphobic? Zee reminds us that she hasn’t been comfortable with her biological sex ever since she can remember.
Here’s an excerpt from her email.
I’ve always felt like a girl, in the deepest part of my being. I struggled through my childhood and teen years in a conservative community, where I was relentlessly harassed for being effeminate.
As a child, I did everything I could to conform to society’s idea of a boy. It didn’t work. In my teen years, I did everything I could to fit in with the girls. That didn’t work either.
I left home to pursue gender studies in a university on the West Coast. Although my peers were more accepting, it was hard to make friends because of my ever-present gender dysphoria. I began dressing up in feminine attire and became more acquainted with the painful rituals of stereotypical female beauty, like stilettos and waxing, which I thoroughly enjoy, by the way. I visited gay clubs, looking for affirmation. But the gay clubs weren’t for me. I was attracted to men, but looked like a male in drag.
I’ve always been attracted to men. But I’ll never date a trans man. I can’t stand the idea of having sex with a trans person. My dislike of trans people has come about only in the last few years. It’s irrational, and I want to process it by talking about it. I know the transgender community will feel betrayed if I reveal this publicly. So, I keep my mouth shut.
UnHerd, thanks in advance for keeping an open mind. I need to let off some steam, and know you won’t judge me.
Zee waltzed into our studio a week later. She has a gentle, deep voice, juxtaposed with an intensely focused gaze, and exudes a quiet confidence. She’s the tallest person who’s ever visited our studio!
Zee spoke to Zara Reid from UnHerd.
Hey Zee, we’re honored to meet you. We’ve had several trans people over at our studio, and each one has presented unique representations of the community, although there’s some overlap. We’re looking forward to getting to know you.
Thanks, Zara. It’s not easy for me to be here. Could you please refer to me as a woman, and not a trans person?
Of course. I’ll be careful, although I may slip up. Feel free to correct me.
I appreciate it.
I love what you’re wearing, by the way. It’s edgy yet luxuriously feminine. Do you feel women are constantly pressured to look and present a certain way? Or do we have far more leeway when it comes to expression in fashion?
It’s a good question. I think many women pressurize themselves to look a certain way, and are often looking for validation from magazines, blogs and the fashion police. Guys have it way easier. They care less about what’s trending, in my opinion. But it’s so much fun to dress up! I love the ritual of getting ready for a night out.
What are your views on gender expression? Do nonconforming people have it easier today than two decades ago?
People are definitely more accommodating of varied gender expressions than before. Kids in my hometown get bullied less because people have become sensitized. As a child, my coping mechanism was to hide my girliness so I wouldn’t get teased. I kept this up until I joined university. Thankfully, I’ve never feared for my life or been assaulted for my gender expression.
That’s not saying much. No one should have to fear physical violence for expressing themselves creatively. Unfortunately, people can be quite cruel when the status quo is challenged.
I’ll tell you one thing. Ever since I’ve started moving around with confidence, I’m less sensitive to what people are saying in the street. When you own your identity and who you are, people eventually come around. When you stop looking at the world through the lens of gender dysphoria, it becomes a safer place.
Notes to your younger self?
Yes. Very important notes. It’s not just me or trans people who are awkward about their bodies. Ask any teenager. I wish they’d validate who they are. It saves so much time and energy when you’re confident of your inner strength and beauty. Having said that, I wish I had a support system as a teenager. It would have definitely made things easier.
Diversity is a beautiful thing. When people are supported and encouraged, they tend to flourish, in my opinion.
And yet, here I am, a transphobic ex-trans person. A conundrum. Not very supportive, am I?
People are complicated. I know a pro-life advocate who hates children. Another friend supports certain minorities, and dislikes others. I’d love to deconstruct your thoughts on your transphobia.
In my email, I didn’t mention that I’ve had gender reassignment surgery. I was funded by a very rich relative, and haven’t look back despite the trauma of surgery and hormones. I’ve been on hormone replacement therapy for seven years. I have a fully functioning vagina, but it’s been a painful and downright horrid journey to get to where I am. Some of the healing took weeks, and some (points downwards) a few months. I had a great surgeon and she did a phenomenal job, and it’s hard to tell just by stealing a glance. I think many people know about it but don’t say anything out of politeness. I’ve had a lot of struggles after surgery, and will continue to take hormones for the rest of my life. These sacrifices were made so I could feel like a real woman.
I hate to ask. Do you feel the sacrifices have been worth it? The surgery is such a huge step.
I’m not sure if it’s been worth it. But I’m at peace with having done it, if that answers your question. Still, I would ask every single person to reconsider a million times before going down that road. I don’t care what people say; you’re mutilating your body to fit with your mind. I wish I could have adapted my mind to fit my body. But it was impossible. Think long and carefully before you consider surgery or even hormones. It is a painful, destructive process that is only worth it for the brave few. And the follow-up care is a huge investment of time and emotion. I would consider surgery as a last resort. I don’t care if that’s an unpopular opinion.
Have you always considered yourself a woman?
Yes. Before the surgery, I felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body. Now, I feel like a woman in a woman’s body. But of course, I’m still a trans person, whether I like to admit it or not.
And you think trans people aren’t for real, in some way?
Have you ever empathized with their struggles?
For many years, yes. But there’s so much diversity in the community nowadays. You have people who are non-binary, which means so many things that it’s confusing. Is this person androgynous, bigender, pangender, demigender? I can’t keep track anymore. It feels like everyone’s sticking to their own little camps. To the outside world, we may look the same. But we truly aren’t. There’s big divisions in the community, and no one wants to talk about it.
Would you be able to outline some of the groups that disagree with each other in the trans community?
Okay, I’m going to try and lay this out as well as I can:
1. There’s a tiny minority of people like me who’ve undergone gender reassignment surgery. They call it gender confirmation surgery nowadays, which is a bullshit term. Some (not all of us) feel fully male or female after surgery, and want to integrate into mainstream society. I did the surgery because I was tired of being seen as an effeminate man who felt like a woman. I was neither here nor there, so to speak. But now, I feel like a real woman. And that pisses off some of the community members, who feel I’ve sold out, especially after my vaginoplasty. They feel it invalidates their struggles. The multiple surgeries are very expensive, and few can afford them. It can create a rift. I’ve been accused of looking ‘too binary’ by some non-binary persons.
2. There’s an increasing number of people who are taking hormonal treatments. Some of them tend to form cliques because they empathize with the crazy changes that hormones bring, and gradually distance themselves from those who can’t afford or don’t want to take hormones.
3. Non-binary people: They really piss me off. Why can’t they just choose a gender and stick with it? I’m tired of people thinking they can fucking be a man today, a woman tomorrow, and both or none day-after. I went through a horror show to change my physical identity, and they behave like gender is something you can change on a whim. I hate to break it to them, but it doesn’t work that way. I wish they could just introspect and think about what they really want. Some of them say they’re non-binary as a statement against rigid gender stereotypes.
I’m sorry to interrupt, but a growing number of people don’t take offense with a person who wishes to imbibe different genders or be somewhere on the spectrum, if that’s what they want. We’ve had androgynous, asexual people in most societies. Some of those people call themselves non-binary nowadays.
But many of their views are so inconsistent. They say things like “Gender’s between your ears, not between your legs.” But it is between my legs, for me. And why do the people who say this go ahead and use chest binders and take hormone supplements? Isn’t that hypocritical?
I guess gender is a complicated issue. I believe it’s a combination of biological and sociocultural factors.
We’re on the same page about that. But I feel hurt when people think it’s only about the biology or only about the culture. Most of my life, I’ve been tormented by people who couldn’t think outside the biology box. They’re the ones who looked at me as an aberration, and made my life a living hell. I didn’t need them to tell me what I knew inside. But they made it their personal business.
And now, on the other end of the spectrum, we have people who insist that gender is purely a sociocultural construct! And then some of them take hormone supplements, and feel and act different because of the hormones. Aren’t hormones a part of biology too? Or is that also sociocultural because we can use artificial hormones to mimic something biological?
If gender was purely sociocultural and I was born a boy, why is it that I’ve felt like a girl ever since I can remember? I was born this way. And it’s complicated. But gender is about biology and culture. They’re intertwined. I fail to understand how people can’t get that.
Don’t most people have masculine and feminine traits within them? Does that mean no one’s cisgender? And why is cisgender used like an insult nowadays? And is cisgender even a thing, in that case? If gender is a spectrum, aren’t we all transgender to some extent?
I’m going to ask you straight up. Why do you think you’re transphobic?
Straight up? Nice one. Laughs. Because I don’t know. Because I don’t want to know. Because I feel like a real woman now, and I’ve worked so hard to get here. And there’s a minority of trans people who are way too flexible with gender, in my opinion.
But most trans people want to identify either as male or female, right? So you don’t take issue with them?
Zara, I am one of them! I don’t have an issue with them. But I want to be with a real man now, because I’m a real woman. I want to be with a man who was born a man, who’s felt like a man since the time he was born. I want to be consumed by the goodness of healthy masculinity, now that I’ve explored the depths of what it means to be truly feminine.
That could be construed as hypocritical if you take issue with ‘real men’ not being attracted to you, on the grounds you were born biologically male.
I won’t take issue. I’m not a hypocrite. But I’m a liar. I don’t tell anyone I’m dating about my surgery or biological sex. I don’t want them to know. I’ve started over, as a woman. I don’t want to be an activist for trans people. I want to get on with my life, as a woman, not a trans woman. Maybe that’s why I’m growing to hate the community so much. They remind me of all the pain in my life – the discrimination and devastation, because I was born in the wrong body. And yes, I feel guilty about hating them.
If it took me three decades to get a shot at happiness, I’m too selfish to let it go. I’ve changed my gender on my passport, and moved to a new state. I have a job and a bunch of girlfriends. I’m trying to date, but it’s terrifying, because I don’t want to talk about my past, or even admit it. And of course, on closer inspection, a smart person will see surgical scars.
If someone finds out about your past, how would you deal with it?
I’ll deal with it when I have to. I don’t know how I’ll handle it, but I won’t handle it well. I’ve built my identity around being a woman.
Did you ever wish we could be done with gender, as a society, once and for all?
I wonder if that’s even possible. Men and women sure are different, and I say this purely from lived experience. It would be nice if more gender nonconforming people were represented in the media and our stories. Sometimes, I wonder if I would have chosen a different path if my gender identity and expression had been supported. Maybe I wouldn't have transitioned.
Any message for our readers?
I think many of us are on the same page. We want a future (and a present) where children and adults have full choice and opportunity to dress as they please, and work and live where they please, without fear of being taunted and assaulted. Most people want to live their lives freely and without interruption. We should respect their choices, be it stay-at-home dad or programmer mom or gender nonconforming person.
Define your own sub-gender if you like, but don’t expect people to go along with it. If they do, that’s great, and they’re nice people. If you can’t deal with people not using your pronouns, get help. You need to get stronger mentally, or else transition physically. The world is cruel, and more so to people who are different. Deal with it, or you’ll suffer for the rest of your life. Because life is not utopian. It's real and messy and painful, especially if you're different from the rest.
But you have a choice to wake up every morning and be honest with yourself, and live an authentic life. And that can be the most liberating feeling in the world.