Not the Person I Thought I Was; Nor the Body

One Student's picture

I’m not the person anyone thought I was. I’m not the person I thought I was. I’m not any kind of person anyone has thought of before, perhaps. An internal shift, wholly mental, frightening and thrilling. The ground beneath my feet was moving, but it was all safely metaphorical.

 

Livejournal entry of 11:26pm 09/10/2007

 

I very quietly freaked out when I saw a preview of a show about transsexuals in America at the beginning of freshman year - I happened to be wearing a skirt, and I really wanted to get *out* of the skirt. And now I'm plowing through readings on trans/intersex issues in recent American history and googling all kinds of things, and I'm very quietly freaking out again. And I don't know why. My hypothesis is because I lack a vocabulary to describe my own gender identity, and this sort of thing gets it all stirred up. I suppose the best term is genderqueer, but ... I guess I don't know what I mean by that.

Thinking about actually posting this - even f[riends-]locked - reminds me of how I felt when I first started coming out (two years now) as ... not-straight. Yeah, I don't like to pin myself down. And I fucking hate dichotomies. And I like ambiguities and complexities and in-betweens and neither-one-nor-the-others and difficult-to-defines: intellectually and personally. Well, that's how I like construct my self; I really do think of myself as a Libra.

I need to find places to talk about this, people to talk about this with.

Feeling better for writing about it, even if I don't post this.

I'm not transsexual. I don't feel like my body is wrong, or that ... I mean, I don't think of myself as a woman, and I don't like the word woman, but I certainly don't think of myself as a man, either. If it's a stand-and-be-counted situation, I'm a woman. I hate checking off the 'female' box on forms, and unless it's something official I'll often check off the 'male' box ... out of irritation, for kicks, to make up for all the times I have to check off 'female'. Which is what I am. But. And, I mean, I just - I really am confused, heh. But I lack models. Not transsexual. Not butch, though not femme. Not androgynous in appearance, if only because of my short statue and slight build. The way I dress can be ... boyish, I suppose. I may admire my appearance when I dress up, but I don't feel comfortable, it's not my style, or something. I ... don't want to be seen as ... 'girl', 'woman' ??? and how much of that is social anxiety joined with the knowledge of how women are seen, the way I evaluate my behavior, my tone of voice, to see if I'm being girly, godforbid. I seem to remember when I was younger, I equated femininity with weakness. But this was also when I didn't like blonds because of the Nazis. I do despise certain speech habits which are characteristically female, I do despise feminine lack of confidence, or I'm impatient with it ... but I think I feel the same when it's a male as when it's a female, difficult to say, since I've spent so much time in near-single-sex environments. I set high standards for myself; is one of my standards to be not-feminine? To, in fact, be masculine in ... how I communicate? How much is it about communication, and how much of it is about my body? I want to be judged for what I say, not for my appearance. How much of that is social anxiety? No, social anxiety is not behind my desire to be judged for what I say. And I don't want to be judged as feminine for what I say, I don't want what I say to be feminine, I don't want ... It's more negatives, than positives. I'm neither this nor that, I don't want that, I don't want to be seen this way, labeled like that. I can't seem to carve out a space with what I want. I am more comfortable desiring people who are androgynous than desiring that I be androgynous. And how much of that is social anxiety? How much of that is not wanting to be stared at? I feel ... self-centered for going on like this, like I'm looking for another way to be different, to be outside. But I felt this way about having a queer sexual orientation, as well. Still haven't found a satisfactory term for *that* either, heh, closest I've come is saying that sex and gender aren't my first criteria (blue eyes LOL). Possibly my problem is that I didn't realize that I'm a postmodernist first and foremost, and that's only half a joke. Just like putting 'postmodern' as my religion in my facebook profile earlier today is only kind of a joke.
The Crying of Lot 49 was a kind of revelation, and everything that has contributed to my postmodern perspective (please don't ask me to articulate what I mean by that just yet) has felt like that, and why do I have to put these in JudeoChristian terms? Or maybe I'm just a sophomoric intellectual much taken with a bit of theory. (Judaism is receding. Memory. I'm finding new things to be.) A post-modern sexuality and a post-modern gender identity. That's ... actually the closest to clarity I've come so far. I'm not going across categories, trans-ing, I'm trying to make some room in between the ones that exist, even the new ones. I suppose. For me, it's not so much the personal and the political (I never grok that phrase) as the personal and the intellectual. If I can't be an academic, I don't know what I'll do with myself. Looking back at the beginning of this paragraph, I was confused because I was thinking about my body, and body and gender identity are not the same thing. My body is a related issue, though. Look how much I talked about presentation, about how I seem to others. A post-modern body? That's stickier.

So, getting late. Should get to bed soon. I'm not going to finish the reading, but I've been producing a little piece of genderfuck history, which should make up for it.

I don't feel comfortable posting this, but I will anyway. This is the sound of me laughing in a stone ear. I guess. I just can't stop second-guessing myself, can I?

I'm glad I wrote this. Probably (that was a joke. Maybe. And once I start, I can't stop, can I? Don't answer that).

Crikey, I do and do not want to see comments to this thing. ohsweetmotherofgod

 

Then it spread out from my head to my whole body. My body is not the body of the person who I am. My body is not … right for me. It belongs to someone who never existed. It has been mine, and living in it has shaped me, but it is not me.

 

Livejournal entry, 01:41pm 19/10/2007

What's getting to me is that I'm feeling a little distressed by my body. Before my attitude toward it was like, 'It's my body, and it's a nice body and ... yeah' and it turns out that the 'yeah' stands for 'but it's not quite ... something'. I don't know exactly what that ... something is, well, ok I kind of do I just don't really want to say it for some reason. Gah. Maybe I'm more transgender (by which I mean someone who identifies more as a man than as a woman) than I thought. But I don't want to be a man any more than I want to be a woman. But whatever I am, my anatomy isn't ... quite ... whatever. I don't want to be FtM, I don't want to transition. Ohgod. I like being an invisible minority damnit. And I wouldn't pass as a man, damnit, because I'm short and small-boned, and I don't want to be a man anyway which means that I ... want my body to be queer or something, I don't even know.

[...] I don't want to be a woman or a man. I don't even know any more. Ohlord have I got my work cut out for me. I don't want to be like this.This is not something I am taking joy in; it won't be private, I will be visibly, well ... freakish. I don't want to be visible, I want to be heard.

[...]

I don't know what the fuck I am. And my body, I don't know, I just don't know, I don't want to, I don't know ...

 

So this is what I’ve been writing. This is my raw experience in words. That’s my self, written as a necessity. How do I start on the ethnography?

 

Perhaps here is a point of entry: What bothers me about changing my presentation is that then my gender identity is no longer solely personal/intellectual (for me, the two seem to be very nearly one and the same), but PUBLIC. (And perhaps my discomfort is just the social anxiety talking. But even if my disease is not me, I would not be me without the disease, so.) A genderqueer gender identity, fine. A queer body? A post-modern body? What the hell does that mean? (And what will people think when they see me?) This is not an easy project, and not an easy project to be made relatively public. I wrote those two LJ entries out of necessity, but I posted them for the sake of my principles (I didn’t know I was that principled). And I am posting them here not because this feels like a safe or comfortable space. It is not. It is far less safe than my LJ, even though I have seen many of your faces. I am posting this here because I am not a coward and because I have a certain intellectual boldness and because outing myself and talking about myself is the best way I know of to counteract the gender constructions which fit me so poorly. Something like that anyway.

 

So, when I talked with Anne last Friday, I/we decided that I would write an autoethnography, using Cixous and Stryker as models. An ethnography of gender and gender identities and all that through my own experience.

Ok, ethnography. Ethnography, ethnography, ethnography.

 

First grade, gym class, a hot day. A couple of the boys take their shirts off. I want to, too, because it’s hot. One of my male classmates tells me that girls can’t take their shirts off. I still remember this as a humiliating experience. I remember the … worried? looks on the faces of a couple male classmates and the male teacher. Even though our chests all looked the same at that age …

 

Is that ethnography? But I can’t think how to do that for a whole long piece.

 

The body, the post-modern body. What is the modern body, then? What is it that I am and what is it that I am not?

 

I’ve run dry. I’m upset and confused.

 

Bodies. Bodies, bodies, bodies. An ethnography of bodies.

This is as far as I can go right now. I’m still trying to find language, never mind processing it into an autoethnography.

 

 

I don’t really want to post this, any of this. But what else am I supposed to do? There’s this assignment … and I’d be lying if I did something else for the final project, because then I would be telling myself and everyone else that there is something more important to me (as a feminist, as a scholar) than THIS right now. As a feminist, as a scholar, to grapple with bodies …

And having written this, how can I not post it? I'm not going to hide or run away. But ohlord, it certainly is making my anxiety act up.

Comments

Ann Dixon's picture

discernment by negatives

You said, It's more negatives, than positives. I'm neither this nor that, I don't want that, I don't want to be seen this way, labeled like that. I can't seem to carve out a space with what I want.

But: isn't that how we make sense of ourselves and the world from 2 years old on up? Discerning ourselves and our world by what we are not in relation to it.

I see the process of identity building as a painting metaphor, where the culture is a canvas and the paint is our public representation of ourselves. If we "look" too much like our culture, those things are invisible to ourselves and (possibly) others. For example, if I am white and live in a culture which is white-centric, I probably will not list "white" as one of my identities if asked to describe myself - there is not enough differentiation between self and the culture.

Even if we live in the same geographic space, we won't all agree that the canvas/culture looks the same. For example, some people in the United States regard the canvas/culture as "a Christian nation," and others regard it as "a pluralistic nation." Our public representation of ourselves looks different from/to these two perspectives.

And how this relates to you and who you are? You are the painter, and you get to paint the picture.  You may even get to choose the canvas you work on, though it's hard to re-construct that - as I believe Susan Stryker continues to do. Re-construction of the culture/canvas is the single most instructive thing/activity for me from the people who choose the borderlands - that they don't just paint themselves in opposition to the canvas they are given by a culture, but they also paint themselves on a canvas they find better suited to themselves.

I have tried to be a canvas creator myself in my life, and it is hard, but it gets easier by middle age. You are experiencing and helping co-create (for which, thank you) one of the important aspects of my canvas, Serendip, which is a radically different place than other websites, as you might have noticed. It values difference and questioning, whereas it doesn't seem like that is a normative value in our culture, quite the opposite.

Create the culture/canvas that you need and you will be happy.

Ann '83

Anne Dalke's picture

the postmodern body

Jessy—
So: brave.

Pretty hard on llauher, though, for not being as courageous as you. Let’s all let each other say what we can, as we are able, to claim our identity @ the pace that works for each of us, without setting guidelines for one another, holding others to the standards we set for ourselves?

Okay, so I think my job here is to help you with the ethnography part of your autoethnographic work. My thought, about how to do this, is to suggest some other reading, some things that might strike a chord/ring a bell/help you see a way beyond yourself, a way to use yourself, your experiences, your confusions, to illuminate something….

both beyond and including Self. So, there are things like Peter McLaren’s “Schooling the Postmodern Body,” in Giroux’s Postmodernism, Feminism, and Cultural Politics; or Elizabeth Mixa’s meditation on wellness and the postmodern body. I mention these as ways of inviting you to think of the social implications—like wellness training, or schooling—of conceptualizing our bodies—not just yours, all of ours—as postmodern.

Then there’s the sci-fi option.

Reading the intro to Kindred this week, I came across a reminder of one of Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree’s most famous stories, “The Women Men Don’t See “ (abt. a mother and daughter leaving on an exterterrestrial ship, rather than remain unnoticed/unvalued on earth; ‘tis all about estrangement and alienation). Butler talks here, too, about how limited scifi writers have been in thinking about here-at-home human variation, failing to offer a rich-enough plurality of human images. Great on the extraterrestrials; thin in imagining the terrestrials. So try that on for size.

Prodded by smigliori's note, I would suggest you look also @ a comic eli drew for the Gender & Science course last semester; it's called "The Story of an X." Maybe you want to try something more visual, or also visual?

The other thing that strikes me in your narrative—besides the “fact” that you are “a postmodernist first and foremost”--is that you are an intellectual, wanting to be judged for what you say, wanting to be heard, and always second-guessing yourself. I hear in what you say echoes of Sor Juana’s compulsions--"Nothing could I see without reflecting upon it, nothing could I hear without pondering it, even to the most minute, material things" (73), she said; and "...not even my sleep has been free of this ceaseless movement of my imagination. Rather, my mind operates in sleep still more freely and unobstructedly, ordering with greater clarity and ease the events it has preserved from the day" (77). Can you do something with that? The alienation of self from self, in the ceaseless second-guessing activity of the always-thinking mind? Sor Juana, too, refused to be made "extraordinary" and "other"….

One Student's picture

It's paying off. See my

It's paying off.

See my response to her.

*sigh* Not helping, I'm afraid. I want to blog about it, but that's what I always do, and that might be alright, but ... writing the self, autoethnography ... I don't know what they mean right now.

Maybe ... to site myself as a postmodern body within the stream/chain/tradition of both theory and body.

I don't even know what that means.

I have plenty of things to say, I just need to think about how I'm going to say them. Gender is my subject, but the larger problem and project is how to write as a feminist, how to write outside the patriarchy.

Traditional academic writing provides a structure. Blogging* lets me writing what's on my mind (a letter, a journal entry, a broadcast). I'm getting between those two genres, or trying to. I'm trying to invent a new genre? Lois Gould used the fairy tale genre, Stryker riffed off the Gothic. Cixous is the most original, unless she is endebted to a tradition I'm not aware of.

Between traditional academic writing and blogging ... The online communities I'm involved in are very queer, in a variety of ways ... Academic writing is 'masculine' and straight and heteronormative ...

Ha, why did I even start talking about bodies?! My presentation comes in second to my headspace and to the words I choose and the words that are used. So. I'm trying to find/make a space between male/man and female/woman (and I do need to think about how bodies come into it, I do ...) and I'm doing that by trying to find a genre between the white male heteronormative genre and a queer genre that is more female than male (I thought I didn't like gendering).

So. So so so. I'm finding the next step difficult. I've been circling and circling around this the whole time.

... and I think I'm going to circle some more.

By the way, I won't have any of the reading done for tomorrow. Just this once.

smigliori's picture

Wow. I want to say that I'm

Wow. I want to say that I'm really impressed at your ability to put your thoughts into words, even as you seem to claim that you're incapable of putting these mental processes into words. I'm finding myself incapable of even writing in the first person, much less exposing my own inner turmoil. I feel our topics may have largely the same connection - I hate the categories "man" and "woman" and the necessity to pick one. (Instead of finding new categories though, I want to completely obliterate these methods of categorization altogether- blame it on my violent (are those masculine or feminine?) tendencies.) Yours just seems so much more...personal. It challenges me to really get down to the truth of my confusion, and engage with the issues head on, instead of carefully obfuscating them behind mounds of research and meticulously selected words.

I do have one suggestion though - have you tried reading X: A Fabulous Child's Story by Lois Gould? It was in Ms. in 1972, but you can also find it here: http://www.trans-man.org/baby_x.html

It might not give you any answers, but I think you'll at least find it interesting. It's also not very long, so you shouldn't feel like you've wasted too much if you don't find it helpful.

One Student's picture

Thank you : ) for the

Thank you : ) for the compliment and for your whole response.

My secret is practice. I've been journal-writing since at least middle school, I participated in high-traffic mailing lists in high school, I've been blogging intensely for the past year, and I've written tons of academic papers. Also, I really really really can't just keep thoughts in my head. Really can't. It's a coping method.

I *want* to eradicate categories; I just don't think it's possible (I'm very Foucaultian, at least for now). So I'm learning to delight in breaking the old categories, working outside dichotomies, adding on and on and on until there almost aren't categories. Like cutting the corners off a square, and then cutting the corners off the resulting octagon, and so on until it looks like a circle. But you can't make a real circle that way.

My approach *is* very personal. Does that make it better? Academia needs more of the personal, but it must be properly applied (Kauffman; Stryker, too), and there is still a need for distanced analysis. I think. One thing I'm trying to work out is what kind of knowledge each approach produces, what are their weak points and strong points.

I think it's damn useful to get to know the theory, what other people have been saying. I know that at some point soon I'm going to dive into that. It's up to you to decide But based on some of the conversations I've had on livejournal and with friends, well, I'm finding that a inter/personal approach at ths point is leading to much more intellectual and personal knowledge-growth than if I were just reading theory and traditional academic work.

But if you decide to get more personal, now or later, this might help you: the thing with this kind of personal approach is to not try to have the answer as you write, but to think out loud.

Thanks for the link; I'll read it when I have time. But the choice of genre is intriguing. Stryker chose Gothic, Lois Gould chose fairy tale (it looks like, from skimming). And I think I'm going for the blog. Though that's kind of keeping me in my comfort zone.

llauher's picture

A Similar Reaction

Let me start with this- I envy your "boldness" and your "principles of honesty and defiance." I have been in awe of you and intimidated by you in the classroom setting and I remain so after reading this proposal (although it seems so trivial to compartmentalize what you've written). And I know it's not fair that I know my topic as well as yours, when you only know your own, but reading your piece made my anxiety act up too. I'm sure that, if you had decided to go the route I did and email your proposal instead of posting it, you would in some way be met with a response similar to the one you posted on my blog. And I can't help but feel it would sting you in the manner your response stung me. I reject your accusation that I am not courageous; that isn't something you could possibly know from what I have to say on this blog, and I fear that reading my proposal would perpetuate your view anyway. This course terrifies me, this forum terrifies me, and you, with your eloquence and quick mind and brilliant analyses, not to mention your confidence in speaking and posting, terrify me. Of course, your critique of my decisions and my character (providing I understand your meaning) does little to alleviate this fear. I will do what I feel is right, and I will find validation in the research and self-searching that went into my proposal. You have complicated this situation further than you meant to, I am sure. My hopes were that, through this paper, I would grow to be brave enough to share what I have to say with the class. Now I don't even feel like I can enter the classroom for fear of a scathing response. While none of this may have been what you expected or hoped for in response to your comment, you've made me want to do exactly what you refuse to do; focus on something else for my project, something that doesn't cause me to dig deep or expose any of my feelings or desires, and run away.

One Student's picture

My response to you wasn't

My response to you wasn't kind, and I regret that. I just wanted to say that, and I'll give you the reply you deserve later. But right now I need to write a paper, even though it's one I really don't want to write.

One Student's picture

Let me start with this:

Let me start with this: thank you* for your response, which was intelligent, thoughtful, mature, and eloquent. And it was honest, which it seems I regard as the chiefest virtue. But so much more balanced and fairer than what I said to you; balance is the virtue that makes honesty a virtue. To put it in other terms, you let the silt sink to the bottom; I didn’t (if there was any silt; maybe it was a grain of sand in my eye).

*That's a sincere thank you, btw. I usually don't grok it when people thank others for their opinions, responses, etc. but I sincerely thank you.

I am frequently terrified, myself, and it’s not just because I suffer from anxiety. Some things are, by nature, frightening. Writing oneself: the terror of exposure. I’m sure that Cixous and Stryker both felt some measure of terror, too. However, in my experience openness usually leads to good things. You might be right to envy my boldness, because the terror usually gives way to some kind of satisfaction. There is a reason that I do it again and again and again. But I have become bold by stages, smaller risks giving way to larger ones (I posted in my livejournal before I posted here, after all). Terror is not the only thing I feel, but anticipation and release (I hate to keep an idea in my head; it’s uncomfortable); I’m a discourse junkie. It does help that I feel certain that a large proportion of what I say has value. But based on your response, I think you would be right to feel that sort of certainty yourself. Which is not to say that you’re obligated to speak.

I was wrong to suggest that you are not courageous. That was a first thought; I knew it was a first thought, and one informed by my being in a bad mood, by my being terrified at what I had just posted. I knew better to wait for a second thought, and I didn’t. That was a mistake.

Another mistake I made, a big one, was to not even try to be understanding and supportive. Again, I know better. I wasn’t even being honest, because I only focused on the critical things I was thinking and those are the only things I wrote.

I don’t know why you’re afraid of a scathing response, harsh critique. My original response was like that, but I don’t think it’s typical. On the other hand, I feared I-don’t-know-what when I posted my first entry on LJ, and I feared it again when I posted my second, despite the supportive comments to the first. And I feared it again when I posted here at Serendip. I suppose I’ve gotten better at distinguishing realistic fears from groundless fears. I hope that this experience as a whole will help you learn to work through the groundless fears.

I think my original response was an experiment in honesty. The result: pure honest is too volatile and is likely to explode in all our faces; it needs to be alloyed with understanding, with ... something.

I’m sorry that I’m posting this so late, and I hope you get a chance to read this before class tomorrow. Also, I don’t actually know who you are – that sounds odd! That is, I don’t know your face – which will make it odd for me, in class.

As a final thought, this is not an exchange which could have taken place in real-time.

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