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March 12, 2019 4:37 PM   Subscribe

What are some good readings/narratives/perspectives on folks who move from identifying as a binary trans woman to a nonbinary trans woman?

I’ve long been aware (e.g. from a few Internet acquaintances) that many folks walk the path from trans woman to nonbinary woman or femme or another nonbinary identity. And I’ve kind of kept an eye on that possibility for myself, as a woman who has wavered in she/her-ness on and off. But it wasn’t until I recovered from surgery part two last spring, and realized that I had finally finished all of the bodily, medical, physical goals of my transition that I felt that sense of ohhhh, this intuitively makes sense to me. And yet, the language still feels so clumsy to me! So I thought I’d reach out for help (I’ve also had many talks with friends in the past year, but as most of my irl trans friends are binary identified, it’s been more sympathy than empathy. Which is fine, but still figuring this out!)

The way I feel at this point is that, hey, if I had been assigned female at birth with this body, I would have strayed into this androgynous lazy femme/futch nonbinary space naturally as I expressed myself. Instead, I had to go through all of these medical and social and blah blah hoops to get to step 0, but now I’d maybe like to go through that straying process. But while I like thinking of myself independently in these terms, when I think about strangers hearing “they/them” and mentally fitting me into a masculine framework, I feel really panicky and sad. To claim this nonbinary trans woman identity is to risk this feeling of loss and vulnerability and threat that, to some extent, she/her protects me from (as somebody who has been super fortunate to move through society generally unhassled the last few years, at least in terms of passing/violence stuff). I remember what maximum visibility was like. It’s not easy to take action that could, in some way, bring me back to that.

I also feel like there is some cultural disconnect between nonbinary femme expressions and maybe how I would express nonbinaryness? I am pretty minimally invested in femme aesthetics for myself (though I love when friends rock their femmeness!) I like wearing button ups and simple/no makeup, long hair, no jewelry — practical with some queer androgyny perhaps. I’ve had a long enough and complex enough relationship with femmeness to know better than worry about any one particular accent or aesthetic — but I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m feeling like as a trans woman and not a cis woman, I’m finding something about this identity harder to access or put into words maybe.

Any help, guidance, words of wisdom? It’s pretty silly all told, but I keep coming back to this “should I start using they/them and she/her?” question and then losing my nerve and then coming back to it again. For me, this usually means that something is important, but I haven’t found the right way to put it into action yet. Thank you.
posted by elephantsvanish to Human Relations (7 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Some books that offer very different perspectives, but that might be helpful in thinking through these things: Sissy by Jacob Tobia and Testo Junkie by Paul B. Preciado.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 5:08 PM on March 12, 2019

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posted by nikaspark at 8:03 PM on March 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you haven’t read about Rebecca Sugar coming out as a non-binary woman last year, maybe it would help. She still uses she/her pronouns while being non-binary. So, you can do whatever exploring you want and not pressure yourself to switch up pronouns if it makes you sad to think about people slotting you incorrectly because of them. (Quick article link, there are far better sources for you to delve into if this seems like a possibly fruitful path of contemplation for you.)
posted by stoneweaver at 11:41 PM on March 12, 2019

Good luck with all this! I know a few people who've taken a similar route, I hope you can connect with some good material.

I like Kate Bornstein and Riki Anne Wilchins' writing in this area, from a few years back. Bornstein's work (including 'Gender Outlaw') still gets discussed, but I think Wilchins less so, which is a shame.

Wilchins' 'Read My Lips' is a collection of her essays from 1997, a combination of personal reflection, jokes and postmodern theory. 'A Fascism of Meaning', 'Imaginary Bodies, Imagining Minds' and 'Interview with a Menace' may be the most on-topic pieces for you.
Then Wilchins edited 'Genderqueer' with Joan Nestle and Clare Howell - it starts with four more essays by Wilchins and then a collection of personal pieces by other authors.

These are from 20 years ago, so may feel dated, but I find it pretty reassuring that this stuff has been discussed for 20 years. And Wilchins' work in particular has bits which are really fresh and challenging. (They're also keen on turn-of-the-century queer theory but hopefully not to the point of being inaccessible.)
posted by Socksmith at 4:09 AM on March 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm a nonbinary transmasc person, my partner is a nonbinary trans woman.

Can you start with one small thing that feels correct to your gender, and focus for now on how it feels? This could be something like one person you trust using "they" pronouns with you, an article of clothing, a sex act, a song, a phrase, whatever.

Gender stuff feels so overwhelming because, as you surely know from your transition, it has implications that touch on every part of your life, and it's so much work. Sometimes it's easier to just figure out one thing that works, and focus on that. And sometimes that can help tell you what you need, or what feels most urgent, or what's not actually a big deal, putting aside for now what the larger implications might be, or what changes it might require down the road. Or maybe a few small changes will make things feel all right.
posted by ITheCosmos at 4:20 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

these are fantastic answers, even by typically very helpful MeFi standards. thank you so much!

I like the idea of just putting specific things into action to start, and exploring various reads. (it's fascinating how this is both quite similar to and totally distinct from Early Coming Out Days...)

Just put on the Rebecca Sugar 1A interview! Also, perhaps unsurprising: Stevonnie has long been a total nonbinary role model for me. They are the best.
posted by elephantsvanish at 6:14 AM on March 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm a little behind on her podcast (and as far as I know she is still using female pronouns, hopefully I'm not misgendering her here), but Callie Wright of Queersplaining (formerly the Gaytheist Manifesto, a LGBT atheist-focused podcast) is a trans woman who has been moving towards a nonbinary identity... I did listen to this episode a while back where she talks about this. Her spouse Ari is also trans and nonbinary, and they have a discussion about gender in the explicit context of surgeries/transitions and so on. Callie does talk about gender in other podcast episodes as well, and frequently, but that one seems like it is exactly what you were looking for.
posted by possibilityleft at 6:16 AM on March 13, 2019

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