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Presenting -but not identifying- as male

May 13, 2011

When I started transitioning socially, I felt hesitant because I didn’t fully identify as a male/man. So I went slowly, only taking steps when absolutely necessary: first I chose a neutral name, then a male one, then I switched pronouns with different groups of people… By two years ago, I was living as male in small parts of my life (extracurricular classes where I was perceived as a cis boy, interactions with strangers).

Fast forward to the present: I still don’t identify as male1 , but I’m perceived as one in all areas of my life. It can be odd to be read as cis and straight, and I do occasionally feel like parts of my identity are being erased; but it feels comfortable enough, and it’s much more fitting than passing as female.

I’m coming to accept that presenting as a binary gender doesn’t mean that I have to identify as one; likewise, my identity –or lack thereof– doesn’t force me to constantly live outside the binary (close friends do know that I’m neither here nor there). They’re two different parts of my gender that don’t have to “align” one way or the other, just like gender expression and gender identity and the body can combine in a myriad of ways. For me, it helps to remember that many people –for many reasons– choose to present differently from how they identify:

  • trans people who don’t want to transition, or transition in parts of their lives
  • genderqueer people who live within the binary
  • in history, “passing women”2  —FAAB people who lived publicly as men– some of which lived/identified as women in their private circles.

I think it’s important, though, to acknowledge that how I identify –though important– is a rather abstract notion. I am being perceived as male, with all the privileges that it entails, and rejecting maleness is no excuse to deny it.

Since starting university two months ago, I’ve been living as male in my daily life to a further extent than ever before (and as a cis male to boot — I’m not disclosing my trans status for now). I’m curious to see how it feels in the long run, and whether I find a malehood that’s a closer fit for me. I’m pleased to announce, though, that I feel more at home with myself than ever before, socially and physically, so these gender explorations aren’t so urgent; they’re less about discomfort than about learning who I am as a person. Which, at 19, isn’t such an odd thing to do.

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1 Actually, I suspect that I don’t have a deep-seated gender identity at all. I do feel strongly about certain gendered aspects like pronouns, names, and –in Spanish– word endings, but I don’t feel like those things coalesce into one steady identity. I’m still exploring this, though.

2passing woman – chiefly used in the historical sense to refer to a non-transgendered woman living as a man in order to have access to careers and lifestyles only available to men at that time. Some historical figures who would today be more accurately called FTM transsexuals or transsexual men are sometimes referred to as passing women. “ — definition from the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Of course, it’s hard to know how they identified and why they lived that way; the term probably lumps together wildly differently life-stories. Also, we shouldn’t force today’s categories onto the past.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. gunk permalink
    May 13, 2011 11:59 pm

    I can really understand where you’re coming from here, although I’m closer to where you were two years ago, rather than where you are now: I am out as trans to all of my friends, family, university classmates, and workmates (who are also good friends), and I’ve been on testosterone for a month now (as of today, yay!). With close friends and my partner, I feel like I have the time and energy to explain my genderqueer identity, the fact that I choose to label myself as “boy”, but not as man; that I will always put the qualified trans on my male identity – I am trans-male, and there’s an important distinction in my personal identity there; and that I use gender-neutral pronouns.

    At uni and with other friends/acquaintances, with my family, and at work, I go by “he”. I’m not at a point where I’m being perceived as male by anyone, except for strangers on the other side of the street, fleetingly – I refuse to hide the femininity that I am growing slowly more comfortable with, and the androgyny that feels so good; and I haven’t had enough testosterone-related changes yet to be read as male by the general public. Still, in these groups, I insist upon a male identity, and correct people on pronouns, play only male parts in my theatre classes, and use male toilets when it is safe to do so (such as in the green room of the theatre where we rehearse when it’s only my class in there). I don’t identify as a man, as I have said, but where it is safest and most comfortable to present as though I do, this is the choice I make. I’m not sure if it’s a choice I will continue to make forever, but it feels right for me at the moment, and I don’t think there’s any shame in choosing that. I think I’ll be keeping in mind your comment about privilege to think about in future, when people’s perceptions of me begin to shift, as I agree that it’s important too.

    I’m so happy to hear that your journey is going well thus far!

  2. May 17, 2011 5:35 pm

    This entire post!!!!! Makes me so happy. I feel similarly.

  3. June 23, 2011 1:56 pm

    I long for new content

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