"So, are you going to transition?"
It's the question I get a lot these days. Although I've been a butch since I came out at 18 (and, arguably, for years before that... see my toddler pictures), it has only been in the past few years that I have gotten that question.
I moved to Massachusetts from the South in 2008 and suddenly I was no longer a butch to queer folks, but instead some variation of transman. Many of the new people I met heard the androgynous nickname I use, which is actually just my last name, and assumed I had either already transitioned or was about to do so.
I want to be clear that I am, as much as an ally can be, incredibly trans supportive. I have lobbied at the state house for trans rights. I know guys who have had transitioned and had gender confirmation surgery and it was the best possible choice for them. I support them and love them and affirm them and honor the fact that they have risked everything to be their authentic selves. However, that doesn't mean that transitioning is the right choice for me.
It shouldn't be that one has to defend their gender, but recently I've been challenged on this by people who feel I should transition, and I feel the need to explain why I choose not to do so.
First and foremost, I am not male. I may have genderqueer tendencies, and I may enjoy playing in the middle of the two binary genders. It may make me masculine, but that is different than being male. The two are not intrinsically linked.
For me transition would be a false claiming of an identity that is not mine. I will admit, I have thought about it. I have processed it, talked with dozens of others, and weighed the pros and cons. I decided that if it felt right I would do it. But, in the end, it didn't. Indeed, for me personally the only reason to transition would be to gain male privilege and greater acceptance. For me, that's the wrong reason to do it and an insult to transmen who transition for other, heroic reasons.
I decided that no one is going to force me out of a female biological body because I do not fit the societal definition of what it means to be sexed female. Instead, I claim this space and my body. I choose, as I do in golf, to "play it as it lies" and to live into my full butchness in this body I was born into. I choose not to change myself for the comfort of others or to make things intellectually easier for them.
But sometimes I feel frustrated. This may sound like sour grapes, but sometimes it feels like butches are the forgotten remnant of the queer community. There are trans pride flags, scholarships, and celebrations. There was even a documentary made about a FTM minister in my denomination. I think all of those things are great. Really great. But, where is the same recognition for butches who also live with non-binary genders every day?
This is not about transmen getting too much. This is about transmen finally starting to get the good things they deserve, and the hope that butches one day will as well.
As a theologian I believe that we are all created by God to be our true selves. So long as someone is being their true self, whether butch, trans, or otherwise, I support them. But as a community we owe it to all of God's children to recognize their struggles and their identity. This is true regardless of whether they have ever stood with a needle to inject hormones or gone under the knife for surgery. If you are doing what you can to be yourself, that in itself is worthy of praise. My hope is one day both identities will be celebrated enthusiastically. But before that we will have to look at our own issues with our discomfort with non-binary gender. It's a long road, and it's one that both cisgender, transgender, and genderqueer folks together are going to have to advocate.