We all struggle under the weight of labels, even the self-imposed ones. Labels are a way for us to feel connected to a community. For us, to say, “Hey, I’m one of you.” We use labels to be seen or understood. Labels are often not for us, but instead are an outstretched hand to the world. Many of us might start using a label as a way of self-expression or self-understanding, but then it morphs into a limited identity.
The last few months I’ve found calling myself a transgender man more and more difficult. Before using the label “transgender,” I struggled with calling myself a lesbian and preferred the term queer. I rarely called myself transgender when I emerged as “Leo.” I only started using the term transgender man when my history was erased by a move from my hometown to the east coast. Everyone only knew Leo. They had no idea of my feminine connection. My socialization as a woman. My identity felt disjointed and my childhood was gone.
What does the label transgender do for me? I use the term transgender because I don’t want my history to be erased. I use transgender so someone that isn’t queer can understand my journey with one simple word. But it’s not enough. I’m feeling very trapped by it. It’s a word that accommodates the gendered world. Transgender implies that I was one thing and now I’m another. But for me, I have simply been. Just as you have been you but not always the same you that you are today. I have been me, different versions of me.
A label often creates tension with our daily performance. If I say I’m a transgender man, it means each day I wake up and my performance of gender is expected to be within the masculine realm. If I decide, to say, wear a dress or makeup, that creates a conflict between my spoken label and my gender performance. It is expected that I will perform in the role I’ve designated myself to be. For most of you, you were given your label at birth, and you’ve performed within that role. I’m sure there are times when you’ve felt the constraints of the label in your performance. Someone saying you can’t do x, y or z because of the gender label you were assigned at birth.
I worry about leaving the label transgender off of anything because there is an ease in being understood. I worry about how will I market myself as a writer. A gender writer? A queer writer? I’ve been using the slogan “Roaring femininity and tender masculinity” as my identity. But, can a slogan be an identity?
Personally, I feel like I’m an interpretative dancer with the rhythm of life as my only constraint. Yet, I got assigned the role of fucking Hamlet. The words are already written and the marks are already laid down. I’m scrambling around the stage to hit my light. My label is ruining my performance.