by: M. Quinn Stifler
I used to believe I could never live exactly as I wanted. As I was coming into myself around the age of 11, I fantasized about molding my body like a paper doll, making my then female figure androgynous. I drew pictures of this person with a beautiful, boyish chest, furry all around, but not necessarily altering the reality of his lower half. And I looked at those drawings and knew they could never be reality. Living as a genderqueer person was dangerous, according to everything I read in 2002. Living as genderqueer was not possible, the FTMs and MTFs of YouTube told me.
On January 21, 2011, six years after a grueling battle of identities, I started hormone replacement therapy, first by using Testim testosterone gel, then switching to testosterone injections a few months later. In retrospect, T never seemed like a possibility to me, either. Over the course of my high school years, I brought up the dreaded topic of gender about once a year, and it always ended in tears from both my mum and me. But over my magical Freshman year of college winter break—you know, that point when your normie parents have missed you for three whole months and decide to maybe treat your decisions with more sincerity—that’s when things changed. After positive reactions from my family about my desire to actually be proactive in my transition, to start taking hormones, I felt overcome with freedom. I felt, for the first time, that I had autonomy over my body. This, in turn, started a long process of internalized thinking about my transgender identity, which would soon be perceived as cisgender and male.
I remember just a few days before my initial appointment; I was sitting in my friend Tracey’s car talking to her about the social changes that come with transitioning. I expressed to her my fears about being around women at night, and no longer being a “safe presence” on the train or the street. I didn’t want to gain male privilege, but it was something I had no concept of, in all honesty. I didn’t think my worries went much further beyond having to be conscious of my social presence.
Over this past summer, testosterone began to noticeably change my physicality, first through my voice, then through the shape of my body, and quickly through body hair. I was also fortunate enough to get top surgery in June, something that I had dreamed and drew and wrote about for so long. By the time I returned to college in September, I was sitting in my classes, surrounded by new peers, and I was being read as (cisgender) male. Though I expected it as I kept up with the exciting changes that I received socially through the summer, I was shocked at how differently I was treated in the classroom as a male, as opposed to how I perceived my social standing to be when read as a “gay female.”
Going on T has been the most amazing and confusing and frightening thing I’ve probably ever done for myself. Mostly, I’m just glad to see myself in the mirror and feel confident. I love seeing pictures of myself now; I no longer feel hesitant to talk, or ask questions, or even meet new people. However, identities take up at least two spaces at all times: there’s how you see yourself, and how others perceive you. I am incredibly uncomfortable being read as a cisgender male. First of all, as a whole-heartedly queer person, I am frustrated with the visible erasure of my queer identity. Secondly, I feel just as uncomfortable socially being grouped with males as I did with females, but that was something I could not know until experiencing it first hand in the patriarchic society we live in. (That is, also to say, that the patriarchy is one of the most key reasons why being read as male is uncomfortable to me.)
I’m still trying to understand how I seem to society. It’s often so vastly different than how I see myself, or how I attempt to present, that I no longer have a concept of what exactly I’m made out to be by those who interact with me. I feel socially dysphoric with my gender presentation. The difference between the dysphoria I felt most of my life and these new feelings is physical versus social. Sometimes, I think it’s oddly appropriative that I’m claiming dysphoria for my new male privilege. However, I’m not sure if my transgender identity was coercive—if I began identifying as a transboy just because I knew it wasn’t an option to identify as genderqueer.
Each day this fall, I have thought about the masculine pronouns assigned to me, how they used to be feminine, and why strangers made that switch. I think about male culture, and how if it’s not macho, it’s bro-tastic (AKA macho of the 2000s). I think about the binary system in which we are all placed every day of our lives, hundreds of times over. And I don’t like it. Coming to terms with my genderqueer identity confirms the fact that I can and will not ever give up on smashing the gender binary and every last assumption about what men and women (only) can and cannot do. Though I was once afraid of what I wanted to be, or that I would grow into something that conformed to that system of thinking, I am now more at home in my skin than I have ever felt.
M. Quinn Stifler studies English and Women’s/Gender Studies with a minor in LGBTQ Studies at DePaul University. Stifler has published poetry and short fiction in a number of local Michigan journals as well as his own zines, frequently reads pieces to whatever trees are around, and performs with All the Writers I Know (come see on November 2nd). He is interested in radical politics, queer everythings, folk punk, word play, and aesthetically pleasing living spaces. E-mail him anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.