I become he – not just a question of pronouns

I become he ~ Stubborn Dog

I am feeling more confident in my masculinity. It’s not a new thing for me after all and if I had a tenner for every time I had passed as a guy in my life I would be laughing. But now I have made the decision to transition and accept and honour the bigendered trans-man I am, the question of what pronouns to use with me is zooming into the foreground of my life – and your’s too if you know me personally. It’s into the practical nitty-gritty stuff of me as he not she, me as him not her, me as male.

But what’s in a word? Take a moment to reflect how much pronouns and gender references are all around us, shaping how we see the world and how we see ourselves and each other. From the moment we are labelled girl, boy or intersex at birth, the adults and other children in our worlds begin to reinforce what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in terms of feeling, thinking and behaving according to our gender as if it is somehow inextricably linked to the shape of our sexual organs.

Language is so powerful and rich in meaning in it’s simplicity sometimes. A whole heap of pyschological, social and cultural assumptions are triggered by using a single word to define a person – are they she or he?

I’ve had to ask myself a lot of questions in recent weeks. I’ve had very good friends ask me those very same questions. Where does my decision to transition leave my understanding about the social construction of gender? How does it affect my feminist identity? The second question is easier than the first in that I still regard myself as a feminist. It’s possible that some feminists may believe that I forgo any right to identify as such in becoming a man. But I’ve always respected guys who have really tried to take on board feminist values and attitudes and who have challenged their own prejudices, while still being strong in their own sense of self and comfortable with their masculinity. I guess that’s the sort of man I want to be.

The first question, about social construction theories of gender, is more complex. I say more complex because I feel I have so much to write about this, and the relationship between social constructionism and social constructivist theories of learning (different things), theories of self and personal identity blah di blah di blah….

That’s the problem right now. I could be in danger of intellectualising this too much and escaping too much in my head. I would love to develop these ideas in the future. Yes, I’m sure there’s another book in there somewhere! But now is not the time for that. Now is all about me experiencing my transitioning in a real felt sense. Those of you who are familiar with counselling-speak might connect with this. Right now my gender in a felt sense is a combination of a middle-aged guy who is carrying some excess weight and needs to focus on getting in shape so he can make the most of the rest of his life, and a late pubescent young man who just can’t wait to ‘become a man’.

I am feeling a lot of joy right now. I have started shaving my face and while until I’m on the testosterone I won’t need to shave much, the ritual is symbolic and I am enjoying the practice. My self-confidence is visibly growing and I am doing in the world again. I have a clear idea of how to combine my work with young offenders (I’ll be dropping to part-time) with actually completing at last my diploma in theraputic counselling, while developing some workshop and learning opportunities to freelance with as an income top-up. Who knows? Maybe my writing will get spotted and I’ll make a bit extra with that too. I saw a very good friend last week who said that she could see me following this through and doing it as a man, while she couldn’t see me doing it as a woman. It feels like people who I am close to can sense the different air of self-belief around me now and I can honestly say that I genuinely feel that inside now.

That’s not to say there are not other feelings around for me. I still feel, if not more so now, a deep visceral animal pain from a potentially fatal body wound that needs to heal – that’s my chest and I haven’t got even close to surgery yet! I feel an anxiety about comparisons with other men – will I be accepted? I feel an increasing impatience with waiting to be able to take testosterone. I have my first initial screening appointment tomorrow with my local secondary care adult mental health service. I’m hoping to have more of a realistic time-frame after this appointment.

But the majority of my feelings are so positive right now, and I’m thinking and doing more positively too. I feel a joy in the anticipation of becoming fully me as a bigendered trans-man, post-puberty and adult male. I feel the joy of being in love with Rubi, who really is the woman of my dreams and who communicates with me on every level – perfectly imperfectly my darling – we rock! I feel an enormous sense of security and safety with my family and with friends and colleagues and I am blown away with the open hearts and genuine connections I am finding with those around me.

In this week’s New Scientist (5 Dec 2009)http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20427370.500-how-our-brains-build-social-worlds.html there is a a greatly thought-provoking article by Andreas Roepstorff, Chris Frith and Uta Frith about how our brains build social worlds. People who know me know I can witter on about mirror neurons and other fabulously interesting things about our  brains. But this article made me think about why it is so important for people to try and remember to use he, him, male when referring to me. It reflects back to me my felt sense of maleness and our mirror neurons will be busy hard-wiring my different gender into each others’ brains, making easier with every practice, just like learning any new skill.

Of course I don’t want to jump on anyone who makes mistakes when referring to me in this new way. I don’t want to make people feel bad. But people are asking me now how I want to be referred to and it’s only fair that I say now is the time to say he or him when you need to. Tell me if you find certain situations difficult or more challenging than most. It’s a learning process for you and me both!


About Sam Feeney

I am a counsellor, trainer and LGBTQI community activist. I write about my journey through life as a someone who lives and breathes gender and sexual difference and who cares passionately about creating powerful and sustainable radical social and political change.
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