My studies here have really been opening up my mind to new ideas about gender and sexuality, and considering the fact that I’m fairly liberal-minded, that’s really saying something. And although I already knew the fundamental ideas of gender and sexuality studies before coming here, I’ve been surprised by the amount of class material that has yet again pushed me to re-envision how I conceptualize these two attributes.
For example: while I already understood that gender is a social construct—that society raises us as masculine or feminine according to our genitalia and that gender is an active representation of ourselves, whether that means fitting the social norms or subverting them—I had never thought of sex as a social construct as well. “It’s something biological, intrinsic,” I had always thought, until one of my professors here, Dora Barrancos, demonstrated the arbitrary nature of the construction of language by saying, “Un volcán no sabe que es un volcán,” or: “A volcano doesn’t know it’s a volcano.” That is to say, the only way I know I’m a man is because I was always directed to the men’s bathroom from preschool onward. I never questioned that these divisions were anything but absolutely justified because everyone always used them and it’s already hard enough to fit in during childhood. Disagreement is not an option.
And yes, “men” share certain biological traits and “women” others, but there is also a grand diversity within all “men” and within all “women.” Society could have been divided by height, or hair color, or favorite color, but instead the early civilizations went with genitalia, and their languages followed suit. Yet as is evidenced by the sheer existence of the intersex population, even these categories are insufficient. Some people have vaginas, some people have penises, some people are in between, but most importantly, they’re all people.
But unfortunately society isn’t structured so progressively. From birth (or even before), social structures assign our sex and reinforce the corresponding gender. “People with penises are men; thus they will wear blue and play sports and be masculine. They will be strong and make decisions and lead the way.” While I do have a penis, and like to wear blue, and occasionally will pick up a ball or a racket—though I prefer slamming some poems any day—I do not consider myself very masculine. I do consider myself strong, though not so much in the physical sense, and my decision-making ability is quite lacking; I prefer to weigh all possible options before taking a single step forward: selecting which birthday dessert I will bake for a loved one requires a full afternoon.
And lately I’ve been remembering little details from my childhood in which I first learned to suppress some of my tendencies that already teetered too precariously on the feminine side: in second grade, to start, when Mrs. Clark asked us all what our favorite animals were, and I said “pony,” although it wasn’t really true, but because it represented me somehow, instead of repeating me like she had for every other student, Mrs. Clark responded “horse,” and wrote it on the board; or in third grade or so, when I decided my favorite color would be hot pink, but saying this was short-lived, for I soon learned that saying “light red,” while not exactly the same, would stop them from looking at me like that; or in fourth or fifth grade, when Nick Jackson bullied me on the bus ride home relentlessly one afternoon, telling me that the world would be divided into men on one side and women on the other, and that while he would be with all the women to live out all the sexual fetishes and fantasies of which a first grader could dream, I would be stuck with the men, and I cried endlessly when I got home, perhaps because I already knew that he was right, or perhaps because I didn’t really belong with them after all.
And now I understand that as far as intrinsic goes, my penis has a lot less to do with it than the fact that I cross my legs when I sit, and like pearls, for enacting the alternatives would be to lie. I am neither a man nor a woman, I realized, because what are they but limiting inventions anyway?
As far as my gender is concerned, I am more feminine than I am masculine. The first time I dressed in full drag (albeit for a play) I accessed a depth of humanity within me that had been until then untouched. And from there—above my strappy black high heels and beneath my platinum blonde curls—I felt more beautiful than I had in the previous twenty years of my life.
This entire discussion of gender and sexuality/self-psychoanalysis has brought me to the discovery that I am transgender in the literal sense of the word: gender, in reference to the diverse spectrum whose endpoints land at “masculine” and at “feminine”; and trans, meaning “across,” meaning “beyond,” meaning a journey has been made and isn’t this side beautiful.
But let me be clear: first, as I am choosing to dismiss the binary of man and woman, to describe myself as a woman trapped in a man’s body—as is sometimes used to describe an identity such as mine—would be disingenuous. I am a person. Furthermore, the body I have is the body I was given, and I have no intentions of medically altering its appearance through hormones or through surgery. More than anything—and this rule, I have been learning as a result of my experiences in Argentina, applies to a great many contexts in life—the only thing needed to make a change in our lives, be it great or not, is the mind. I am reinventing my own self-image to match what I have always felt inside through a process of conceiving anew, and I humbly ask all of you to join in that process with me.
This conception manifests itself in a variety of ways, some of which I do not yet know or with which I am not yet comfortable. It is a process.
But here are some things you can expect:
- I will be dressing more femininely, even more so than before. I have found that clothes do an incredible job of representing my self-image. Thus, since my self-image is becoming more feminine, so too will my wardrobe.
- I will wear makeup more often. I have genetically awful bags under my eyes and considering the average amount of sleep I get, especially during school, this will be a favor to everyone.
- I will shave frequently.
- I will not restrain myself as I did before (to a certain degree, though it’s lessened in recent years) in outwardly behaving how I internally am. This means physicality, vocality.
The last two require all of your help, for which again I humbly ask.
- Pronouns. Feminine pronouns describe me more accurately than masculine or gender-neutral ones. Please refer to me as “she,” as “her.” Certain gendered words still feel too off to the side, however: I am more my parents’ “child” than I would be their “daughter” and my brother’s “sibling” than his “sister.” If I should find myself in a relationship again anytime soon, I suppose I will become a “partner,” a “significant other,” a “personfriend.” But the “she” remains.
Politically—for being transgender in the literal sense of the word comes with its own set of politics, as does being “gay” or “white” or “male”—I aim to amplify our understanding of sex and gender rather than simply “switch sides”. As a result of what I believe to be true about these categories, I have a moral obligation to take my own small stand in opposition to a society that persecutes its own members for fault of being honest. Like the pioneers before who inspired me—without knowing but simply by living truthfully—I hope that my own small stand will inspire others to truthfully live as they were naturally made: whatever that may look like. For me, I am not 100% feminine and thus am not comfortable using exclusively feminine language. I am navigating the intricacies of my gender identity and figuring out how best to linguistically depict that within the constraints of a binary language. Your patience is appreciated.
I do want to reiterate, however, that the principal cause for making these changes is my own personal happiness—that I may live as I was created—and the politics are natural consequences of my publicly doing so. I am finally embracing the part of myself which has produced feelings of shame, inadequacy, and unworthiness for over two decades, but it feels as though I am fording a tsunami; as though I am transferring from the D to the E line on a Buenos Aires Monday morning, descending the staircase into the subway station against the thousands of people emerging, and wanting desperately to just be on the train already.
It’s silly that I should be so incredibly terrified to publish this letter as a result of only adding an s to the beginning of a two-letter word, but that’s just evidence of the totalitarian nature of linguistic and social structures. And I am terrified—I know some of you will not understand or accept this but I am comforted by the knowledge that some of you already have, and will.
- I am abandoning the name Benj. It has served me well for ten years; it was what made me distinct from the world of Ben’s and made me feel like I had something of my own to offer. Now, however, either Benj has grown too masculine, or perhaps it always was and I’ve only just discovered the gulf between the name and the person that I naturally am. I expect this change will produce fewer issues with introductions anyway.
“What is it? Bench? Binge?”
No. It’s bea.