What the hell am I? Genderqueer, ftm, crazy??
March 12, 2006 5:36 PM   Subscribe

I've been happily (well, to various degrees) living my life as a lesbian (mostly of the soft-butch/butch) variety for many years. I think I might be genderqueer. Now what?

I'm in my 30s and I've cultivated a large group of lesbian, dyke and butch/femme friends (and yes, there is a difference). I'm afraid to take the next step. I'm not even sure what the next step would be.

Am I genderqueer, am I in the infancy of an ftm transition? I just don't know.

I have a girlfriend, with whom I plan on discussing this (possibly even tonight), but I'm not even sure where I'm headed. I don't want to lose her, but am 90% sure that I will. Over the last year+ I've become much more promiscuous in general (prior to said girlfriend), but I've also found myself interested in men. Of course it isn't as simple as me thinking I'm straight or bi. When I think about sex with men I'm thinking about it in terms of me with a strap on, etc.

I'm not comfortably talking to my friends about this at this point, because here too, I feel like I'm going to find myself losing people. Traditionally, the lesbians I know and have know have not been particularly welcoming of "other" and I'm fearful that this might carry over.

What are the chances that any MeFites have gone through this or know someone who has? Thoughts? Advice? Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My university office at is near the GLBT center - it happens to be run by an FTM who (though I don't know him well) is a friendly and approachable guy. Were you one of my students or colleagues I'd suggest you talk with him.

Perhaps there is a similar resource near you?

As a straight guy, I can't offer much more advice than that. But I thought I'd pass on something my parents and Sesame Street taught me (I'm sure you've heard it before too): friends who don't accept you for you you are, aren't really friends. Anyone you "lose" probably wasn't worth keeping in the first place.
posted by aladfar at 6:03 PM on March 12, 2006

No real advice, but here are some links I googled:




And at the risk of sounding ignorant or insulting perhaps you're making it too complex for yourself? Based on your post, you seem to have been living or associating with very finely described personality roles. Have you perhaps lost your living withing such shades or do you feel that YOU have somehow define yourself in one of the 256 shades of grey?

Try cultivating a wider circle of friends while you explore these questions about yourself.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:15 PM on March 12, 2006

Oh yeah, I second aladfar's thoughts about "friends"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:16 PM on March 12, 2006

Anonymous, if you want personal anecdotes, contact me. I added an email address in my profile just for this.
posted by digitalis at 6:35 PM on March 12, 2006

General information (although this isn't advice, and won't help with your situation): I've found that very, very few people keep identifying as genderqueer for many years. In general FtM communities are incredibly warm, welcoming and supportive, but the peer pressure (sometimes unintentional) is incredible. I used to recommend the sphere (genderqueer) mailing list to people, but it appears to have been completely overtaken by spam, after existing for years. I don't know what happened to it.

Lesbians in general are more accepting of FtMs than MtFs, but yeah, some women won't be able to deal with it. You will probably lose some friends if you pursue this. You may also lose your lover, and it may not be her choice actually, but yours. A lot of FtMs I know started out as genderqueer and then transitioned into gay men. Some of those eventually moved back into being bisexual, but as you can imagine, this isn't exactly the usual lesbian dynamic. That doesn't mean that you would *necessarily* lose your lover of course. Good luck with your talk tonight.

By the way, I'm close to your age, so if you'd like to talk personally, my offer of email still stands.
posted by digitalis at 6:43 PM on March 12, 2006

It's a little hard to answer "what the hell are you" when you haven't really explained what's changed in your life to make you start questioning your gender ID. Is it that you want to express your masculinity more openly than being soft butch allows? Does the idea of going beyond gender binaries appeal to you? Or you just feel that your current ID isn't really "you" anymore?

I ask because from reading your question, you mostly just seem to be experiencing a shift in your sexual self-perception... You haven't said any obvious giveaways like "I feel that living as a man would be a better reflection of my true self" or "Gee, gender binaries really suck & who says I can only be male or female?" - you just seem to be considering a change in who you want to sleep with, and the role you adopt when you're sleeping with them.

Anyway, I always found LiveJournal had the most answers whenever I was trying to sort out my own gender ID - speaking as a now somewhat closeted mostly gay ftm, who's gone through butch, bi-femme, & straight girl "phases." (E.g. 356 communities interested in "genderqueer")
posted by hgws at 6:45 PM on March 12, 2006

I've found that very, very few people keep identifying as genderqueer for many years.

Er, I should explain this. I mean most people who identify as genderqueer eventually move to one side or another, either towards male or female, whether that means transitioning or going back to something that is suddenly one day more comfortable.
posted by digitalis at 6:48 PM on March 12, 2006

I would spend a bunch more time reading, and talking to other gender-variant people, and exploring your own sense of gender (possibly with the aid of a transgender-experienced and compassionate counselor) -- before you even think about having a "coming out" talk with your girlfriend or your friends.

In my book at least, and I think as defined in Wikipedia, "genderqueer" is a very broad and multi-dimensional spectrum -- one that you've actually already been on for a while. To me, someone who identifies as butch already is genderqueer to some degree.

In other words, although you've just had a big epiphany, in another sense you haven't changed at all -- you're just finding new language to describe your internal and social experience.

It sounds like you already know that questioning your gender is not a linear process that necessarily culminates in transition, hormones, sexual reassignment surgery, etc. Lots of people I know are masculine-identified, socialize with dykes, like to strap it on, and are entirely happy with their female bodies. You get to decide the combination of self-identification, social role, community involvement, sexual orientation, hormonal balance and physical morphology that feels comfortable for you. And you don't have to -- and can't -- decide all that right now.

Please, for your gf's sake, wait until some of your inner ferment has settled and you have a clearer idea of your path before you spring all this on her. It can be tough for a lesbian-identified woman to hear that she is partnered with somebody who feels like a guy inside. You need to be clear enough and secure enough in your developing identity to be able to give her emotional support -- not just require it from her.

As for the social rejection stuff -- I don't know your social milieu, but I do notice that lesbians sometimes have a harder time dealing with gender diversity than women who identify as dykes. Look around for social groups and events that are explicitly trans-friendly or that are frequented by other transfolk of various flavors. And remember that you may be projecting some of that "fear of other" onto the women in your circle. The fact is that it's 2006, and even the lesbian dinosaurs are having to deal with trans reality (hell, half of the ones in my town seem to be transitioning!)

It's fine. You're fine. Keep breathing. Keep walking.
posted by ottereroticist at 6:49 PM on March 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

You really need to talk to a therapist. Because you're confused and troubled, I mean, not because you're genderqueer. It may take some searching to find a therapist who's truly understanding about queer and trans issues, but talking the matter over with her or him will be of much more help to you than advice from AskMe. And for the gods' sakes, don't take any drastic measures (hormones, etcetera) until you've discussed your feelings with a professional. Good luck.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:49 AM on March 13, 2006

I don't see anything in your post that suggests why you might think you're anything other than a lesbian. On the other hand, I do see considerable evidence that you come at sexuality in a very "straight" way. You suggest, for instance, that somehow identifying as genderqueer or even possibly nascent ftm transition is somehow the "next step" from being a lesbian, as if there's some finite spectrum of gender identity from f to m and that not fitting precisely in a slot is a problem to be solved or fixed.

There are certainly people in the world for whom it may BE an accurate description of their views on gender issues, but those people (whether straight, lesbian, whatever) are certainly not queer. Queer people know that "what AM I" is an impossible question that presupposes a single, unchanging identity, gender definition, and sexual preference.

You may simply be learning that there are as many "straights" as in close-minded people in the glbt community as in the so called "straight" community, and they're the ones giving you this moment of doubt. Deal with those prejudices and a lot of this might solve itself.
posted by mikel at 4:20 AM on March 13, 2006

Very personal story, but that seems to be what you are asking for. I can only speak from the outside, as my closest friend identifies as (at least something resembling) genderqueer and has done so for the last ten years or so. D started out with a name change (from female to androgynous though male leaning) and then over time decided to have top surgery. However, D's never taken hormones and doesn't seem inclined to start. When pressed D expresses a preference for people using the male pronoun to refer to him but will still respond to the female.

Therapists at the gender clinic in D's city were not terribly helpful as they tended to to rely on the Benjamin standards of care. D didn't follow these "rules" and I've never seen him so upset as after those so-called therapy sessions. He saved up the money and paid for top surgery himself, about 5 years ago.

From our talks I know that D has sometimes had a hard time felling that he "fits in". Though he does identify as part of a transgendered community and hangs out with some FtMs, issues for D are sometimes different and I know at times he's felt as if he's a bit looked down upon. Having said this though, D is extremely active in all kinds of communities, has a great job that he loves and has never had any trouble getting dates or keeping them. Up until now he's always had relationships with women, but from what I gather there is a definate interest in experimenting with men at some point.

Through all of this I don't think D's lost any friends, straight or queer, though he's certainly lost touch with some people over time. He's also still close to family members. He and the girlfriend he had near the beginning of all this broke up many years ago but are still friends - she kept going to those nasty therapy sessions with him even after they broke up. D's a very open minded, kind, caring person - a good friend. And he's always been very open and patient with the people around him, which helps. I'm embarassed now to admit that when he first told me about the name change, I laughed and thought he was joking. And when he first brought up top surgery with me, I was more than a bit weirded out. But I ended up flying across the country to be with him during and after the surgery, draining the fluid from bulbs for the first few days until he could move a bit more again. Of course as with any good friend it goes both ways - I'll be giving birth in a few weeks and he's planning on flying out afterward to help my partner and me!
posted by Cuke at 7:52 AM on March 13, 2006

I think you definitely need to find someone (or a group of people to talk this over with). Is there a genderqueer/trans group in your area that you can attend? It doesn't matter whether what you are experiencing is similar to the others you choose to talk to - just chewing things over with others is helpful in solidifying one's opinion on oneself.

Most of the genderqueers that I know are quite fluid in their identities. To answer one of your specific queries, as it happens, I know three FTM transgender people who fuck around with guys as well as girls. I've no idea whether this is common.

I'm not surprised that you feel hesitant to talk to your friends. In my experience, any community that self-defines via sexual rules can be a little closed-minded, and this includes lesbians. I don't think this is a particular character flaw - these people are generally pretty broad-minded when it comes to non-sexual-identity-related things, but for obvious reasons, people who don't fit into the sexual/gender rules that define a group are likely to be expelled.

Try and talk things over with some other genderqueers (my email is in my profile if you want to get in touch) and some friends that you know are open-minded when it comes to sexual/gender identity. This will help you explore what, at the moment, feels like your options but, in the future, will become the broad landscape of possibilities.
posted by pollystark at 8:50 AM on March 13, 2006

You might be interested in Heather Corinna's journal at Femmerotic, if you're not already reading it (probably NSFW due to the sidebar photos). After dating women and working as a women's rights advocate for a long time -- in other words, being surrounded by women personally and professionally -- she's dating a man. She's been talking a lot about how that affects her "standing" in the community, her friendships, etc.

Not quite the same as your situation, but it might make you feel a bit less alone.
posted by occhiblu at 9:19 AM on March 13, 2006

I've got anecdotes for you, and perhaps some advice could be extracted:

When I came out at 20, I thought being a lesbian explained everything about my history. I thought of it this way: I had 'known' on some level when I was five. I knew again, quite definitely, at the age of 14, but ran away from it for about five more years. A few years after coming out, I began to think of myself as butch.

Since then, I've discovered or developed a genderqueer identity. Looking back from here, what I knew at age 5 (being 'not like other girls') was all about gender identity, not sexuality. What I knew from 14 to 24 was mostly about sexuality. Since then, it's a mix of the two.

My main feeling about my own gender is ungrounded. Other people seem to have these bedrock certainties that they are one thing or another - not me. I'm now comfortable with this lack of certainty. I'm not thinking about any physical changes. And if I did, they'd involve nutrition and exercise, not hormones and surgery.

But who's to say, in a few years time, that I might not have yet a third interpretation of my life?

About your friends and their reactions: I'm not sure I'd say that people you might lose weren't worth keeping. There are many people who will react badly if they feel that your identity somehow calls their identity into question. Particularly in sexual minority communities, and particularly across different generations. If they've got this narrative about how and why they are the way they are, and someone who they thought of as in the same category changes, they can feel personally attacked. Sure, this isn't rational, and if they'd get over it you could probably remain friends. But it's going to be an issue among any group that faces discrimination and misunderstanding. I prefer to think of it as more than just the fault of various bad individuals.

Email is in profile if you want to talk further.
posted by expialidocious at 12:43 PM on March 13, 2006

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