by Zami Tinashe
On November 5, 2015, I did something I never wanted to do: check male on a legal document. It may seem odd that someone like me, a Transmasculine, “cis-male passing”, Transgender person would state that they never wanted to check male on a legal document, but it’s true.
I began my physical transition from being “female” passing/ presenting in March 2010, and although I preferred masculine pronouns and wore clothing that would generally be prescribed to someone who identified as male, this does not mean that I no longer identified as female, but more that I was embracing another side of my femaleness/gender: my Transmasculinity. My transition was not a result of no longer identifying as female, nor did it stem from the narrative that I felt uncomfortable in my body. In fact, I actually loved the body I was in, but knew that it was supposed to look differently than it did. Testosterone was the most accessible method for me to create that. I recognize that some who know me and my history may find it strange that I state that I loved my body and still felt the need to go through several forms of physical transition. But the changes I have made physically are not a result of hating my body, but creating one that feels like it honors and supports the Transmasculine female, encompassing who I am.
If I had to put a label on my gender, I would say that I feel more like a Third Gender, that embraces both femininity and masculinity. So why did I check male when that is not how I identify, and throughout my transition process, I have maintained completing all of my legal documents under female? Because for the first time since my transition process and name change, I will be traveling out of the country. I was recently accepted into a fellowship program and part of my program requires that I travel outside of the United States, which means getting a passport with my legal name and gender identity. But for someone like me, simply getting a passport that reflects my gender identity is more complicated. My gender identity is Transgender or a Transmasculine Female, or Third Gender, none of which are choices on the passport documentation. I don’t identify solely as male or female, but because others perceive me to be a “cisgender man,” that is how I navigate the world and what my passport documentation must say in order for me to safely travel abroad.
To travel as a Transgender person, whose paperwork and documentation does not reflect their physical appearance, can lead to harassment, a delay in returning to the United States, violence, and for far too many of us, death. Although I did not want to change my documentation, I know that in order for me to have a higher chance of not experiencing these things, I needed my passport, and soon my drivers license, to say male. Although I know that checking a box on a piece of paper doesn’t take away who I am, I seem to feel as though I am grieving another piece of my identity.
Since my transition process, I have been struggling with people’s need to put me in their binary box of male or female. When I say that I prefer masculine pronouns but identify as female, Third Gender, or Transmasculine, I am told that I am a man and should stop trying to escape my privilege, or people automatically use feminine pronouns regardless of my preference. The more I pass as “male,” the more my female identity is ignored, and I am told that I can’t “claim” the female identity because of my use of masculine pronouns and the fact that people only perceive my male presence. My female identity is ignored and the female who I still identify and connect with, has become invisible. My preference of masculine pronouns, for many people, translates to me identifying as a man.
The notion that someone who would go through hormone therapy and have surgery, but not identify as the opposite gender, seems to be one that many people do not grasp or they feel extremely challenged by it. I identify with men and maleness, but not as a man or a male. I identify as transmasculine and masculine of center and also as a female, who prefers masculine pronouns. I identify with and embrace both my femininity and masculinity, and just because one seems to be more visible in my current gender journey, it doesn’t mean that it is valued more than the other. The idea that masculinity is not synonymous with maleness seems to create a level of confusion (and at times anger) for people, because it does not fit within the binary rhetoric which keeps things such as misogyny, patriarchy, and misandry intact. Rhetoric that says that femininity and masculinity are oppositional to one another, as opposed to different sides of the same coin, upholds the oppressiveness of gender roles, stereotypes, and injustices that lead to the senseless violence and murders of so many of our Transgender Women of Color, as well as the rape and brutalization of Transmasculine bodies.
As I continue to prepare for my quickly approaching trip outside of this country, I can’t help but continue my grieving process around a piece of my identity that is silenced and invisible due to how society has taught us to see people’s physical appearance and categorize us into one of two categories. I look forward to a day that allows people to identify with the gender that truly reflects who they are, and for us not to have to compromise or hide pieces of ourselves due to safety or others inability to think outside of the box.