I have never spoken about this publicly, but beginning at the age of 17 and lingering into my early twenties I questioned my gender identity. We had fewer options back then, even the transgender narrative was binary, and eventually I realized I was (a little to my chagrin) hopelessly cisgender male. I am a fixer and a mansplainer and I try to be better every day. Mostly I fail.
When I was a freshman in college I wrote a poem about my fantasy alter-ego, the one who had helped me survive being a less than macho art-fag in a an early 80s small town blue collar high school. In love with boys I didn't realize I was in love with, crushing on girls who made me feel comfortable and safe.
My Name Is Rachel
My name is Rachel and I deal with feelings.
Though they may not separate us completely
From animals they do make us so uniquely
And between the realms of euphoria and pain
they possess the power to split a mind and
shatter a soul,
unbridled, their passions corrupt and destroy.
I stand in their path and manipulate their
My name is Rachel.
I have a friend and he is in love,
he is in pain.
Summoned by the tempest which has engulfed him,
I have come to help.
They are close, he and teh other,
but never closer than the boundaries allow.
Their love can never be, for the other is
trapped by society's web,
he can never accept the love of a brother,
only the love of a she.
So for my friend I will love the other.
I will take my friend's passion and give it
i will share my body as only I can,
as my friend wishes he only could.
And for that moment we will exist as one,
tandem souls sharing heart and flesh.
Then I will depart
My purpose fulfilled.
I am Rachel and I am one of many.
OK, I was also fascinated by multiple personality disorder, still am, but that isn't what this is about.
What is Rachel saying? She is saying that her friend is a dude in love with another dude. Her friend is a gay boy in love with a straight boy, and wouldn't it just fix everything if that gay boy could be all the things that straight boy liked but also a girl? This is the logic of a 1980's adolescent closet case, who grew up idolizing Jodie Foster and Tatum O'Neal because tomboys were so much better at being boys than he was, and then got to doff their baseball caps and suddenly transform from objects of admiration into objects of desire. Thereby making all of the difficult conflicting feelings and urges her audience's problem. This is not a nuanced feminist perspective. It sees none of the struggle or danger inherent in being female in this society or any society. This is the magical thinking of a boy in love with boys who knows no other way for boys to love him. This is the magical thinking of a boy who saw tomboys in the media as more successfully tough and sporty, and therefore masculine, than he was. He also wanted to be pretty. And, so he dreamed.
I knew about transsexuals. I loved Phil Donahue, and as it turned out the first transsexual I met was in my great-grandmother's kitchen when her former minister came to visit on Thanksgiving. The dialogue back then was all about gender dysphoria. Were you in "the right body" or the "wrong body". I wasn't in the wrong body, I was pretty sure of that, I was in the wrong society.
The more I learned about feminism, sexism, homophobia and its roots in misogyny the more I realized that my personal crisis was about who I was expected to be. The more I learned about feminism, sexism, and internalized homophobia the more I realized this particular crisis (and oh I've had many) wasn't about who I was. We didn't have the word back then, but I was a cisgender male. Sometimes problematically so and for that I am not at all proud. But, just because that is where I landed that does not mean that there was not in my life a very real period of struggle and self-discovery. We are all on a journey. I don't know and it's not my business where any one person's road leads, but I hope we can all give each other the room to travel freely. Today is a future the 80s could not have imagined and there's still so much future yet to come, and that, my friends, is a wonderful and exciting thing.