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  • This is a story I re-discovered while organising files on my computer. I wrote it last year, just before embarking on the biggest creative challenge of my life: NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I decided to write a memoir about my experiences as a gender diverse person. A 50,000 word novel in one month. This short story was a test to see if I could write such a novel and to uncover the purpose of writing about my life, so I could hold true to that intention.

    * * *

    I've devoted so much time to thinking about gender over the last few years that it seems almost a step back to be writing an entire novel about it. My fear is that it's almost a cliché for a trans person to tell their story: the Transgender Memoir is its own genre. Yet I know that every transgender narrative is important because no two experiences are the same; no two lived experiences of any person are the same. However, certain trends seem to be present in many of the trans narratives I see in books, newspapers, films, television and other storytelling platforms showcasing both fictional and real-life trans people. What I'm talking about is the white, middle class, medicalised narrative: person goes from gender A to gender B without causing too much disturbance to society's most sacred institution – the gender binary.

    Let's first acknowledge that identifying as a man or a woman, regardless of your trans, intersex or cis status, doesn't mean that you're not challenging the gender binary. This is less about identity than it is about the process of nurturing diversity in every way possible: through our beliefs, our behaviours, our relationships, our creative and spiritual practices, our commitment to making possible what was previously thought of as impossible. Within what I see as the established social understanding of the trans narrative there are plot lines, characters and divergent themes that are yet to be explored. If your story fits, more or less, into the medicalised narrative, I'm not saying it shouldn't be told – what I'm saying is: let's tell all the stories.

    My story doesn't follow the medical transition narrative arc because I never transitioned, at least not with hormones or surgeries. My story is about learning to live happily in my own gender-freaky body and express my indeterminate gender identity. In a world obsessed with and defined by the binary, this takes courage. To live as your true self, no matter what your life experience, is a courageous act. To be courageous you must be able to show your vulnerability. This is what I want to share with you.

    Every day, in some small or large way, I feel like an outsider because of who I am and how I look. Sometimes I'm projecting my insecurities, other times people do or say things, consciously or unconsciously, that tell me where they see me in society: as Other. There are lots of ways that I benefit from my privilege as a white, middle class person. There's also no denying that society wishes I didn't exist. For the first few years that I lived as an openly transgender person I felt enraged by this. When people stared at me it felt like social murder: 'how dare they reject me – I'm still human!' Every experience in public had potential to be shaming, uncomfortable, confusing, confrontational. There was no way to turn off the constant analysis of how well I was performing maleness and whether people around me were providing approval or withholding recognition. Being misgendered could send me into a spiral of self-doubt, anger and fear. It wasn't a pleasant time to be in public spaces, so I shrank the spheres of my life until they fit into the circumference of a few kilometres around my house: King Street and Enmore Road in queer-friendly Newtown; the queer community venue called the Red Rattler; Camperdown Memorial Rest Park; the anarchist space; the food co-op; and a number of Inner West sharehouses. I was living in The Bubble.

    There I stayed for two whole years. These days when I wonder why I'm not a little further along with my life plans, savings, creative projects and other long-term planning endeavours, it takes me a while to remember that I spent a few years transfiguring my gender. I did other things too: I finished university, made zines, wrote songs, travelled, organised as part of a community collective of trans and other sex &/or gender diverse people and built up an entirely new social network. But everything I did at that time came back to gender, because every social interaction is shaped by gender norms, every institution of society has gender norms embedded into its structure, and so many of our ways of thinking are constricted by these basic ideas about gender that we've been taught since we were children – very small children. I'd wager that trans people know better than anyone how quickly children develop tools for reading and questioning gender. If the parents of inquisitive children ever gave me a chance to answer the ubiquitous kid's question, 'Mummy is that a boy or a girl?' I would tell them: I'm not a boy or a girl, and you don't have to be one either.

    What I still don't understand is why there's no space for gender diverse people in my society. Intellectually I can understand it: Christianity and capitalism both have high stakes in the two-gender model. Many cultures, past and present, have defined roles for third gender people. In lieu of a culturally-appropriate role for myself as a white person living outside of the gender binary in modern Western society, I have to think of new ways to make my existence possible. Spiritually, I can't understand why there is such a small crawl space for people like me. Surely we can offer unique insights on life: what it means to be human; the value of personal integrity and dedication to freedom and expression; the importance of being loved and accepted by others and yourself; and the compassion and empathy for human suffering that is gained through struggle. Maybe the value of those things is being eroded by the current climate: the pursuit of wealth at all costs, the ongoing destruction of the environment, greedy wars, the growth of the prison-industrial complex, the enforced servitude of poverty. Maybe people are no longer interested in gaining perspective when the outlook for humanity is so grim.

    I think now, more than ever, the world needs people who show us that there are other ways of living.

    At this point in my life I'm a lot less interested in passing as a particular gender than I used to be. Being stared at still sucks but somewhere along the line I gained confidence. I know very well how people react to me: if it's a stranger on the street it manifests as a certain type of energy directed my way. I can feel it even when I can't see the person staring. Disbelief mixed with horror, or just a question mark. These days that kind of stare can still be off-putting, but for the most part I don't take it on: I might find it amusing, or assert my autonomy as a person, not an object, by continually gazing back. Sometimes there's hate, disgust. That's harder to deal with because I don't think I ever look at anyone that way. Maybe I shoot those looks at the cops, at a person who is violent towards someone else, or car drivers who bully me on my bicycle. Even then, it's more the institution that the police are part of than the actual person in the cop uniform, it's the action rather than the person committing it. When a person looks at me in disgust, I regret that they can't look at me and feel love, because even when they look at me that way, I can still recognise that somewhere in that person is love. I tell myself that their eyes must gaze with love upon some other person in their life, and this means they have the capacity to love me too.

    I want to write this story, these stories, because I've had this interesting life experience of realising that I needed to live in a different gender, trying to live in that gender, realising that the new gender didn't fit right, and arriving here at this place where I can have both beard and breasts, to be viewed sometimes as female and other times as male, to not really know if I'm man or woman, both, neither or something else entirely, and to feel pretty damn good about it. What I've learned on this journey is that love is key. Loving yourself and loving those around you, and being able to pass through rage after its energy has helped you fight for your life, emerging on the other side of the passageway to forgiveness.
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