For those of you who are not familiar with the term, cisgender means that my gender identity (woman) matches the genitals I was born with. Since I haven’t had any genetic testing done, I cannot vouch for the state of my chromosomes and whether that matches too. As I currently am, the gender I was assigned at birth based on the appearance of my sex organs coincides with the gender I perceive myself to be. However, this was not always true for me. I came to the conclusion that I was a cisgender woman after a lot of thought and soul searching.
Story time! When I was a child I used to believe that I was a little boy trapped inside the skin of a little girl. I remember searching for a zipper down my back and in my hair. I even made my little sister help my look and I yelled when she told me she couldn’t find one. After I figured out that the skin I wore was not a costume, I don’t remember giving it that much thought. I still knew I was really a boy.
Sometime around the sixth grade, it became less and less acceptable to be a tomboy and I became ostracized from my peers. So I tried to be girly. I didn’t wear dresses, but I did talk my parents into buying the jeans with the flower stitching. The low rise ones that were almost too tight. The ones I was convinced would make me cool, because I would be pretty and “sexy”. (I think I will leave unpacking how insane it is for a twelve year old to feel pressured to be sexy for another time.) I’m sure you will be absolutely shocked (appalled and flabbergasted, too) to hear that wearing those jeans did not make me popular.
Then puberty happened and it was terrible. Now, I am fully aware than puberty isn’t really than great of a time for anyone what with everything. But I started to grow boobs and it was not okay. At some point around here I had searched out and found a bunch of webcomics about queer people and I found some that starred some trans people sharing their stories through their art. And I related to them. They expressed so many of the feelings that I felt. I started binding my chest and stealing shirts from my dad’s closet (oh, he hated that). In this sense, I am glad that I was a late bloomer. I stopped binding my chest when it became painful to do so. For a while I stuck with wearing baggy shirts and then I went back to trying to be cute, sexy, and feminine.
In Janet Mock’s autobiography, she wrote about her concern that people would blame her gender identity on the sexual abuse she experienced as a child. I do want to make it absolutely clear that any abuse I experienced did not define my gender identity. However, part of my story involves a life-altering assault and I would be lying if I said that it didn’t have an effect on my gender presentation and identity as a whole person.
Not long after I had started coming to terms with my body and dressing in a sort-of feminine manner but mostly rocking whatever I saw that I liked and wanted to wear, I was sexually assaulted. After that, I began to develop my gender presentation as a weapon. I played up all the culturally “sexy” parts of my body (read as: I wore lots of how-low-can-it-go tops and I-am-one-awkward-step-away-from-an-indecency-charge short skirts).
While I no longer use my sexuality as a weapon against myself or others, it took my a long time to come to accept my body for what it is and to allow myself to present my gender in whatever way I feel most comfortable at the time. I am still known on occasion to rock men’s shirts if that’s what strikes my fancy. However, my identification as a woman also no longer revolves around what precisely my body looks like. My gender identity comes along with a sense of shared experiences with other women. Things like being at a higher risk of sexual violence (hello, rape culture), being undervalued in the workforce (another day, another 73 cents). In fact, I have a post coming soon about what it means to me to be a woman.
The crux of this then is simple: for all the soul searching and misidentification I have had over my years, my current gender identity aligns with my biological sex and so I have all the privilege that come along with that (like strangers not asking me what type of equipment I have under my clothes like it is anybody’s damn business expect mine and the people I’m sleeping with).
To leave this off, I am just going to put here a link to the amazing Laverne Cox talking about trans objectification to Katie Couric in 2014. A last side note, I saw Ms. Cox speak at the University of Alberta with my friend Chloe and Ms. Cox is such a powerful speaker and was very gracious when I asked permission to put my arm around her when she allowed a picture taken together!