I admit, I was more than comfortable with the binary in life. Liberal/conservative, religious/atheist, men/women. It’s simpler that way, like Mayberry and the Cleaver household: we think we know where people stand and what is right and wrong without any contemplation or conversation at all. We can all sit at the same table that way.
But the longer I live, the less ‘binary’ life seems, and the less welcome as a point of reference. People are neither all good or all bad; even the author of the (scary!) anonymous autobiography, Confessions of a Sociopath, confirms that she envies the rest of us for our ability to have empathy. People, all people, are neither all-or-nothing, nor are we all-male nor all-female, as anyone’s blood levels of estrogen and testosterone will prove.
Recently a small group of Lesbians (100 or so) launched a petition to announce to the LGBT world that they are leaving the G, B and T, out of protest of the umbrella’s acceptance of the T. WTH? It seems they are a publicly and proudly bigoted, rather than a respectfully questioning, group of Lesbians. As my favorite transactivist, scholar and therapist and Lesbian Arlene Ishtar Lev posted on Facebook to them, “don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”
These 100-plus women are really uncomfortable and threatened by the idea of transgenderism. They must be absolutely panicking over the nuances of gender fluidity. I don’t understand how a group that self-describes a range of sensualities between ‘butch’ and ‘lipstick’ can do so without seeing the narrow objectifications in this practice, and without seeing a need for nuance. These few women seem to need a binary of “in or out” of womanhood. They cannot allow transwomen to endorse their own lived experience as honest and authentic, not disturbed or co-opting or threatening. What is the threat? I have yet to read a good articulation.
But back to gender fluidity and ‘a-gender’concepts of identity.
So yes, the binary was easier on my clients and on me. I find it harder to counsel my teen gender dysphoric clients who are unsure about whether they are truly FTM or more ambiguously a-gender. I can’t dismissively suggest they are just working through internalized transphobia, which we used to see as a natural stage in the coming out process, the same way psychiatry in the 1980s used to tell MtF to relax and simply accept their feminine side. Recalling David Bowie in his sarong at his Bali retreat, I don’t think that expression alone would do it for a gender dysphoric or feminine-gendered natal male. Bowie isn’t a transsexual any more than my MTF clients are just needing to grow their hair out a little.
I have to listen more closely and ask questions that invite more reflection, while providing a calm assurance that they are enough, whoever they are. I have to give ‘homework’ that encourages exploration of simply being and finding out who they are. I have to let go and help them breathe into their current unknowing, until their own knowing makes itself clearer. (I have to help parents take a breath too.) Knowing that ultimately, a space that feels liminal may become ‘home.’
Each person may not reach a state of ‘knowing’ but that is not the goal of life. Living authentically is the goal, and that’s often the hardest to recognize. It’s not reached by reason, but by living. We know it when we feel peace, when we manage an overall balance between anxiety and trust. Hard to do in our culture, and fraught with danger. Until we teach our children well, that is, and let people unfold as they must.