'Labels belong on cans'

‘Passing’ and labels (or what do you call yourself?)

During transition, you’ll hear many different identity-labels like ‘transgender’ or ‘transsexual’, ‘straight’, ‘gay’, ‘queer’, ‘fluid’ and also many others describing your sexuality (who you are intimately attracted to). You’ll also hear a range of identity-labels like ‘transgender’, ‘transman’, ‘genderqueer’ or ‘ftm’ to describe your gender.

While you’re in transition, it can be useful to resist the temptation to tie yourself to any particular identity-label. Jack Powell, co-founder of FTM Australia, often says “Labels belong on cans”. You don’t need to have a label. We are much more than a label – so cut yourself some slack. Allow some time to pass while you get more comfortable in your skin and work out what label describes you.

This website tries to offer information about transition without using identity-labels. Instead we focus on the tools of transition (hormones, surgeries and legal actions). Using identity-labels always ends up including some people and excluding others. Anyone who transitions will apply the tools of transition to his own life in the way it suits him.

Identity labels (like transgender, ftm, transman etc) continually evolve in the social environment and different people interpret them in different ways at different times. The meaning of these identity-labels also change over time. If you depend on a label (or a set-of-labels) to describe yourself, it can result in feeling like a bit of a trap.

No one demands you choose a space, an identity or even a sexuality. If you really want a label, many people use their name – I’m Sean or I’m Chris – until they have progressed a few years down the track. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself time and space to develop. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ term or label. Your true self will emerge as you develop in transition.

Transitioning is a moving-picture. It will bring about so many changes in your life, in your friendships, in your family, in your workplace and your whole understanding of who you are and what you thought you were about, in ways you might not expect or believe is possible.

‘Passing’

This can be a term to mean finally looking like your true self. In this case looking like the boy or man you know yourself to be. It is one of the most important aspects of transition.

The term ‘passing’ remains controversial as some people take it to mean you are trying to‘pass’ yourself off as something you’re not, rather than being ‘read’ as the man you really are. If you start hormone treatment, changes to your physical appearance will be largely out of your control. Many changes happen soon after starting treatment, sometimes it can take a few years or more. It all depends on how your body uses testosterone and your genetic makeup and/or your ethnic background.

While hormone replacement therapy (testosterone) will change you physically, you might wonder how you ‘learn’ things other men seem to take for granted? You lean this the same way any other boy learns it – through observation. Study how other men behave and interact. Ask yourself “What kind of man do I want to be after transition?” Think of men you admire and try to emulate them. After a while you will start to embody the behaviour and values of your role models.

Eventually there comes a time when you realise your physical body has caught up with your mind and ‘passing’ isn’t the issue it once was. The day will come when you realise there is no confusion or doubt in the minds of other people regarding your sex. In fact, you will probably find it hard to remember what the angst was all about.

‘Passing’ is as much about confidence as it is about physical appearance. You might feel self-conscious for a while. The truth is, there are men born with the male ‘tackle’ and XY chromosomes who feel they ‘fall short’ in some way and wonder if are they are ‘man enough’ in many different ordinary situations. Take heart.  You’re not so different from the average Aussie bloke.

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