THE DICHOTOMY OF BEING TRANS*Gender Identity vs. Gender Expression


By Paul L. Grace-Neal

I am a newly medically transitioning Trans* man. I began transitioning with Testosterone in March 2016. Although several physical changes have occurred, such as deepening of my voice, the beginnings of facial hair, and the reshaping of my face, I still don’t “pass” as a man. My expression is mainly masculine but in memory of my mother I do not deny my feminine aspects. Therefore, I consider myself a “soft male”, hardly dominant or aggressive. Because I have just begun transitioning medically, I get mis-gendered a lot. I use male pronouns, he/him/his but too many times, others call me she. I haven’t been “she” for six years. I consider myself to be ALL male and man and I present myself accordingly in ties and men’s suits. This is my identity.

Incidentally, I use the asterisk when referring to the Transgender community for two reasons. 1. I do not wish to address the question of surgery. Typically, Transgender individuals either have had or desire to have surgery. When discussing my journey, I do not discuss my surgical desires. It is very personal to me. Also, within the Trans* community, questions of the sort are considered taboo. 2. I see myself as part of a greater Transgender community than simply Trans* men and women. Using the asterisk invites people of all gender variations.

Trans* men and women are a part of an umbrella of gender variations. Among this umbrella are Transgender, Transsexual, Gender Non-Conforming, Gender variant, Drag Kings, Drag Queens, Gender Fluid to name a few. Each component of this umbrella identifies and expresses themselves in a specific way unique to them. No two Trans* Men expresses or identifies in the same way. A friend told me that “they” identify as a medical man because “they” have surgically transitioned. Although “they” are under the Trans* umbrella “they” do not fully identify as I do, a Trans* man.

Often times, however, in the Trans* community, one’s gender expression does not match society’s standard of how a “typical” man or woman should look. Some men wear make up and skirts and some women wear men’s suits. I say, to each his or her own. Gender identity is how one identifies as male/man, female/woman or somewhere within the continuum. Gender expression relates to how one dresses, acts, and overall present themselves as a male or female. Typically, men sit with their legs slightly more spread than women, walk parallel as opposed to women walking in a straight line with one foot in front of the other slightly turned out like female models. Historically, men have been protectors and providers of women, and women have been subservient to men, nurturing and caring for them through food, housekeeping and unconditional “loving”. Culturally, men are seen as more assertive or aggressive than women. In fact, many within the LGBT community would see Dominant women (often called butch or doms is akin to the presentation of Trans* yet they do not identify as men, rather embrace womanhood.
Recently, these expectations and responsibilities have been challenged by modern society. Now, some men are “house dads” and some women are the bread winners of the family. Some women know more about cars and are mechanics. Some men love to cook. A ill-fated downside to this is that some Trans* men and women are forced to suppress their true identity, likes, dreams, interests, and expressions because of their environment. A man may present in a men’s suit and tie but biologically have female physical characteristics. On the reverse, a woman may present in make up, a dress and stiletto heels and possess male physical characteristics. Some call this being closeted but unfortunately in many environments, some are forced to deny their true selves to avoid bullying, violence, and isolation, excommunication, and ultimately death. Whatever the environmental or cultural influences, transitioning and transformation impact the whole being.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is in memory of those who lost the opportunity to live honestly as God created them. Now is the time for Trans* men and women, their significant others, their families, friends, allies, activists, and advocates to unite in an effort to dispel the myths and promote the beauty of being Trans*. In 2017, I will begin my life’s calling reach this goal. I am forming a fellowship/ministry to address the very issues outlined in this article.
GENDERation, “A Fellowship that seeks to be a supportive entity toward the Trans* community and their allies” is organized much like the twelve step recovery groups. Mainly peer led, our goals center around educating, and advocating for the rights of Trans* individuals and helping others to understand and accept the journeys of Trans* individuals, and those who love and support them in their journeys. Hopefully, this fellowship will help Trans* individuals and others be able to exhibit their identities and expressions boldly and unapologetically. Whether they chose to wear a dress or suit… a scarf or tie… a button down shirt or blouse, Trans* men and women are Trans* because they say so. They name themselves individually. There is no mold that we can use to shape our identities and modes of expression. The concept of my identity and expression that I had six years ago when I began psychologically transitioning is very different than how I present myself today.
The more I continue in my transition physically, emotionally and Spiritually, the more I become cognizant of the endless possibilities available to me. Our identities and expressions become fluid as we transform. No one has the right and should not have the will to enforce their values on anyone and hence halter our process. This intolerance and hatred can have undue havoc to a Trans* individual. Some have self-harmed themselves or attempted/committed suicide over the negative criticism of unknowledgeable or resistant people. The internal coming out/coming of age of a Trans* man or woman is difficult enough without the unwarranted attitudes of non-supporters.
I suspect the opportunities for the Trans* community to be respected, accepted, and receive health, and other critical services may diminish with the recent turn of events in our political arena. As a new intolerant Chief of Staff assumes office, there is an uneasiness that some may be unable to obtain needed resources to obtain legal documents with their new name and gender, seek medical services particular to Trans* individuals, and be able to fully convey their gender identities and expressions. It is challenging enough to muster up the courage to be in the light of public scrutiny to possibly revert back to stealth living, ultimately sacrificing self while living a lie to gratify society, many of which one will never personally interact.

This is what it is like to live as Trans* with the opportunities for transformation or lack thereof. Sometimes I feel apart of community. At other times, I feel like an island of one. With the increase of suicide in the Trans* community, it is unfathomable of the pain that others can inflict upon one who is simply trying to live comfortably. I began transitioning when I stopped worrying what others thought of me and started appreciating what I felt or thought. I simply wanted to be me in every way. I hated not being concerned with others’ feelings, however, when their feelings demolished my sense of worth and value, I had to walk away. For the sake of my sanity, I had no other choice. Now I am able to affirm and present my gender identity and expression to society boldly and unapologetically as a Trans* man in every way.


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