Posted by kaberett
this is the skin it's in
that is, according to
i'll take off my disguise
the mask you met
'cuz i got something
for you to see
– Ani DiFranco, Shameless
Every day of my life is
a transformative work.
“She”, they call
me, or “What's wrong with your legs?”, they ask, or “We don't
really need to tell the extended family this, do we?”
I was assigned female
at birth. I started binding in 2009. I was diagnosed with
endometriosis in 2010: I'd been symptomatic for six years. In 2011, I
changed my name and started using a walking stick (and that's Ani's
fault – but a story for another time). In 2012, I started using a
One way or another, I
seem to spend an awful lot of my time transitioning: between gender
roles, between modes of apparent ability. As I become more visibly
trans*, as I become more visibly disabled – as I remake myself into
something to live with, rather than something to live through with
gritted teeth – parallels become more and more obvious to me.
That I am using a
walking stick today, and was using my wheelchair yesterday, doesn't
mean I'm “better”: it means that the awkwardness of the chair
outweighed its benefits. That I use feminine pronouns in some
situations instead of my generally preferred neuter ones does not,
for me, mean that I'm not genderqueer; definitely doesn't mean I'm
It just means that
sometimes I get tired: of needing to go an extra half mile to get to
dropped kerbs; of the Victorian prescriptivist arguments over the
epicene pronoun; of needing to remember that car drivers behave
strangely when you are in a chair; of the looks on people's faces at
my long hair, or when I stand up to fetch something from a shelf.
Sometimes it is easier
to wear a mask and play pretend than it is to patrol my borders.
One way or another, I
spend a lot of time performing my identities. In public, in my chair,
I have the choice of being authentically me – of standing, of
lifting my chair up stairs, of not allowing society's assumptions to
disable me further – or I can let the fear keep me sitting, keep me
smiling, keep me asking for help, keep me from slamming on the brakes
whenever anyone touches my chair without permission. I can dutifully
bind every day, facing down the chronic fatigue to make sure laundry
happens when it needs to for that to not be kinda unpleasant... or I
could listen to and respect my body and get misgendered more
In my experience? The
“oh dear it's a wheelchair how do we deal with that” face has an
awful lot in common with the “oh god they're going to demand
gender-neutral markers in the records aren't they” face. The
overbearing concern and the overwriting of my autonomy are common to
both: “Well, if you're sure...”
so I end up performing my identity. I suppose, at least, I'm not
without choice in which role to play: like I say, I can be
exaggeratedly a good crip, a good genderqueer person, and fit
people's expectations; or I can be aggressively and ostentatiously
myself and stare down the world with it.
But neither of those are easy options.
And yet. There is – as ever, as in cliché – a third option. And
that is to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and make a public space
for my private self – to do out loud the work I've been doing
inside my head for years.
I was a field geologist. I was a hiker. Recognising that those
aren't things I can do any more – that I'll likely never do
fieldwork on Mount Erebus, Antarctica
; that it's going to be a
long time before I get up to a 3000m peak under my own steam again,
if it ever happens; that the Hangerer, Austria
is going to remain
on my list of Unfinished Business – is, yes, a loss. Saying goodbye
to my childhood nicknames and to ticking “F” on forms without
compunction wasn't all that much easier, honestly.
did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a
I couldn't keep it up. A major part of fieldwork is knowing when
you're hitting your limits – and how to avoid getting yourself
killed. There is only so hard I can push myself, so far I can go,
before I have to face up to the fact that I need to stop: this far
and no further, or, more often, that far and no further, the line way
out of sight behind me. (And I want to note here that a major part of the trans* experience,
though thankfully not part of my
trans* experience so far, is also how to avoid getting killed.)
Here is what I am learning: how to recognise my boundaries. How to
enforce them. How to treat myself with kindness. When to fight, and
when I'm better off saving the energy for another day.
Have my body's limits – in terms of physical activity; in terms of
tolerating recognition as female – shifted? Yes, they have. But
this is not limitation and it is not weakness: I am listening to
myself, and I am learning myself.
And in that there is strength.
are a work in progress, my body and myself, but I refuse to regard
myself as defective, as a failure, as a cosmic error to be struggled
against and overcome. I'm reframing myself for
myself, and for my audience: this is the only body I get, and for
some things it works marvellously and for others it doesn't, and that
is not a failing.
All it is is variation.