Mistaken identity: How a cis queer identity obscured my trans womanhood

Across the web, various trans-hostile blogs and other outlets have claimed that there is a “reparative therapy” aspect to transness, contending that gender-nonconforming cisgender gays and lesbians are being encouraged to become gender-conforming straight trans men and women. From the outset, this is wholly unsupported by the demographic evidence – a majority or near-majority of trans people identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or otherwise queer, and typically, only a minority identify as heterosexual. As a form of “reparative therapy”, this would be one of the least effective methods of producing a heterosexual outcome.

Often, such claims also rely on the unsound assumption that, for instance, trans men are “really” just butch cis lesbians who have somehow been poached from the lesbian community. In fact, that community has no claim to them – because they are trans men, not cis women. Rather, their public existence as trans men was likely artificially suppressed in years past due to the widespread unavailability of transness as an acceptable option that was discussed openly.

Increasing awareness of the complexities of the experience of being transgender means increased opportunities to recognize a better and more suitable self-concept, identity, and model for understanding who one is. To invalidate their gender means selectively applying greater scrutiny to their current declaration of their gender than to their past declaration of their gender. If a person has used a cis queer identity as a stepping stone on the path to a better understanding of who they are, this does not mean that their later discovery of their trans identity is invalid. This also conflates gender expression with gender identity – having a more masculine-appearing gender expression does not therefore entail having a male gender identity. For instance, butch lesbian trans women exist – are they then driven to “become men”? Clearly this is not the case.

For me, the initial assumption of a queer cis male identity was incorrect. This was how I understood myself as a male-assigned individual who was heavily drawn to expressing a great deal of femininity – the only cultural trope I understood at the time was that of the effeminate gay man. And so, because I was quite overtly feminine, I assumed I must be a gay man.

This led not only to a mistaken gender identity for me, but also a mistaken sexual identity. Because I believed that my femininity meant I must like men, I spent years being confused at why I couldn’t feel comfortable relating to men, or find them arousing in the same way that I was attracted to women. Being attached to this identity led me to discount my attraction to women as something not worth considering – something anomalous but insignificant. I brushed that reality aside because it conflicted with the label I had wrongly imposed upon myself. For me, being trans isn’t a state of gender confusion – being cis was.

When I finally transitioned, it only further emphasized and clarified this. Being in a state of untreated gender dysphoria meant being so estranged from my body, from my feelings, from reality itself, that there was no way I could be comfortable being intimate with anyone, men or women. And within a gay male identity, none of it felt right – because having to view myself in a male role in a sexual context, gay or straight, just wasn’t right for me.

After four years of estrogen, I’m more in touch with my body, my attractions, and my emotions than ever before. I’m able to be truly sensual for the first time, so much more present during sex, and so much closer to my partners as a result. This is what it feels like to find the right answer to who I am and who I love: I’ve never felt more true to myself than I do as a lesbian woman. The denial of my trans womanhood only got in the way of finding joy in this most transcendent human experience. It got in the way of my self-fulfillment and my ability to exist comfortably within myself. It got in the way of living my life. Being trans, being a woman, removed these obstructions and made me truly myself at last.

About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.

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4 Responses to Mistaken identity: How a cis queer identity obscured my trans womanhood

  1. LisaM says:

    Yep, nailed it. Lot of gay men out there who are really transgender (I know at least two) but they are trapped, like their heterosexual peers, into their life, their acceptance as being gay, careers, friendships, relationships and so on. And their fear of consequences stops them.

  2. Kat says:

    This is beautiful, and very similar to how I feel as a cis lesbian who spent many years mistakenly identifying as bi. Sex with men was never gonna work. The new feelings of confidence, embodiment, internal peace and (oh yes) sexual enjoyment–pretty swell aren’t they?

    Cheers!

    • “Sex with men was never gonna work.”

      I agree entirely, only it is me who is the putative cis-M in the hetero-normative dyad.

      I used to be coerced into thinking “I can’t be trans! I am not “homosexual!” — and so we got squirreled into “transvestic fetishism” and now “autogynephilia.” The diagnostic basis for “autogynephilia” is “erotic target error.” The problem with “autogynephilia” as a “pathology” is diagnostic target error.

      Labels define and determine. Social constructions define and determine. The current determinative definitions seem to mandate “if not cis-M, then trans-F.”

      I prefer Judith Butler’s paradigm: “hetero-normative dyad” — the polar reaches of cis-M and cis-F where one of each forms a couple and they live in suburban houses, drive mini-vans, and their progeny play a lot of soccer. Butler asserts that we need to free ourselves from such dyadic determinism. “Nibble around the edges of the dogmatic paradigm.”

      Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie” (1982): “I just wish Dorothy were prettier. She deserves that.” Well, hell — I wish I were prettier. Cis-F tell me that as a “guy” I am fairly attractive. I can’t work that into being a pretty woman, as much as I would like being a pretty woman.

      Fundamentally, and fundamentals are why we are here, fundamentally I have transcended into being “trans-whatever” . . . Sexually attracted to cis-F women.

      Since I’m nearly 70 yrs old, sexuality does not play a huge role in my life. We don’t do sex with other people. I enjoy women, and they enjoy me. Sexuality is not a part of the social intercourse.

      Bottom line in all this: “Sex with men was never gonna work.” — I don’t work as a “guy” and I don’t work as a “girl.” I have, in the past couple years of serious reading, liberated myself from the dogmatic dyad.

      “I’m trans-whatever.” Nibbling around the edges of the dyad. Presentation-wise others call me “sir” — but of late somewhat provisionally.

      Mostly my personal growth has afforded me a personal identity where the lines get soft and indistinct. We present somewhere in the middle. This because the middle is where I identify: not male, not female.

      I am trans.

      And we’re happier with all the presentation and identity options the trans paradigm affords me.

  3. Ana Alise says:

    I also agree that a lot of gay men are trans women in hiding!

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