Cultivating an Identity

Lindsay Ellis recently released a video about manufacturing authenticity on YouTube. I’d like to think a lot of her points don’t really apply to my blog, but the more I think about it the more wrong that initial assumption might be. I am very much manufacturing an identity for myself, and doing so for my personal gains, however small those gains might be. I have a Patreon, that I’m spending more money on other creators than I’m making myself. I have Google Adsense running, that has net me a grand total of $23.73 since the start of my account as of writing this post.  So while I might not be successful marketing myself as an internet personality, I’m still manufacturing a version of myself to be sold online.

But who is this person that I’m creating? Is it really that different than the person I am in real life? Who even is the person that I am in real life?

Honestly, that is a question I’ve been asking myself for a very long time now, but especially since I came out as transgender. As much as I want to be able to say that I haven’t changed since starting hormones, it’s patently untrue. I’ve changed a lot, in many subtle and not so subtle ways. Just as I’m creating a personality online, I’m doing the same in real life. Now that I am out, and living my life as my authentic self, I have to figure out who that authentic self really is. I have to ask myself what aspects of my personality were attempts at being masculine, and what aspects of my personality are truly genuine. I have to discover what aspects of myself I was suppressing, as well as what aspects of myself are new and never before seen.

While I’ve been working on this post, ContraPoints came out with a new video called The Aesthetic. While the subject is quite different, there are similarities, she talks about how gender is as much performative as it is an identity. In the video she has an imaginary argument with herself over which is better, to be yourself and ignore what society says about you, or to conform to a societal expectations of gender. It’s a real struggle that I think most transgender people deal with. Just as much of my masculinity prior to coming out was performative in order to fit in, I can’t help but wonder what parts of my identity as it is now are performative in order to fit into my new role as a woman.

It is taking time for me to discover who I am as a woman, and I constantly have to wonder if my femininity is a caricature of what society has taught me that women are like. What parts of my wanting to pass as a woman are that societal pressure and what parts are me wanting to live as my authentic self?

This gets even more difficult online, because the general assumption is that you’re male, unless you have a very effeminate online handle, which I don’t. I did recently change my online handle to go along with my transition, but it’s still pretty gender neutral. A little over a year after my transition, with everything about me changing, it felt strange to hold onto the online handle I came up with in my teenage years.

I didn’t change my handle much. Just from FrozenSolid to FrozenPeach. Similarly to how I talk about in my Death of a Name post, It takes that history with me, while also bringing the transitioned me along with it. For some reason, at least to me, the new handle feels more feminine, without being outwardly so. Changing it felt new and refreshing, it felt like it better emphasizes the person that I am now, compared to the person that I was when I was 14.

Similarly to changing my handle, I started this blog to help find out and express these feelings of finding my new identity. Three years ago if you told me that I’d be blogging about my life and my experiences, and that people beyond my immediate friends would be reading it, I’d have told you that you were crazy. It’s not the blogging that’s new and unique though. Even as a teenager I had a LiveJournal that got my depressive, emotional, confused self into trouble. I cringe thinking back on some of the posts I made before I fully understood social justice. There was so much that I didn’t understand back then, both about myself and about the world. Now here I am nearly two decades later blogging for a much bigger audience, and about a subject that I never would have thought I could talk about in public.

I try to give my readers an authentic view of myself and my life, but with every post I find myself asking how much I want to share, and what is safe to share. I’ve hurt people with the things that I’ve written. Not intentionally, of course, but some sides to my stories come off better than others. I try to be cognisant of this, but I’m not always successful. After all, I can only truly give my own side of the story, and my own opinions and thoughts and feelings. All of this contributes to the identity I’m creating for myself.

Online I wear a lot of different hats, and the more I put on, the more I realize that my real life identity and my online identity have been forever linked. Truthfully this was something I realized long ago, but as my transition progressed it became more and more real. I am no longer the invincible straight white male that blends in with every other straight white male on the internet. I’m an outspoken transgender woman, that finds herself wading neck deep in online discourse.

I’ve so far been very lucky that nothing I’ve posted, written, or done online has drawn the ire of the greater internet. Somewhere deep down I know that this won’t always be the case. I look at those who came before me, and it honestly scares me, but for some reason not enough to stop writing.

That’s just me though. I have control over my own identity, and what I allow others to see about myself. The greater LGBT community doesn’t have that same control, and by throwing myself into the greater internet, I start to lose some of that control as well. I’m no longer blogging just about myself and my own experiences. I am allowing myself to be a spokesperson for that greater community, which is honestly the part that scares me the most. The experiences that I write about are my own, but the reactions to these posts reveal that they resonate with many others. I can’t help but ask myself if I am making a positive example of that very community that I find myself a part of.

The LGBT community also has to cultivate an identity. It’s been doing so since they very beginning LGBT social movements. Each community within the LGBT umbrella has its own identity, and I would argue in a way is still finding that identity, and it fascinates me how those identities have changed throughout history.

While a lot people would say that the LGBT community’s identity started with the Stonewall riots, the Wikipedia article dates LGBT acceptance being fought for as early as 1749. It seems to have started with the arguments that homosexuality was not at all unnatural. Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplify’d by Thomas Cannon is credited as the first english language defense of homosexuality. This became more common in the 1870s, but the identities of those would would defend homosexuality were largely kept secret.

I think the reason that many consider the LGBT identity to have started around the Stonewall riots was largely because the LGBT community became way more public and open about who they were. They radicalized, and began to fight for their beliefs and acceptance. The public’s view of the identity of the community therefore became one of riots and defiance. Which, to be fair, was the identity of a lot of groups during the late 60s.

Then the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s happened, and that public identity changed again. It’s hard to say what changed the identity more, the epidemic itself and therefore the public opinion creating this fear of disease, or the fact that it forced younger activists to begin taking the forefront of the LGBT rights movements. Both were obviously a factor, but radicalism again became the forefront of the LGBT identity. Queer became the new word for the community, fighting against the normalization of the terms gay and lesbian.

The 2000s brought a new shift to the LGBT identity. It was no longer important to be accepted and acknowledged, but instead equal rights became the goal, particularly that of marriage equality. For marriage equality to be accepted, the LGBT identity arguably had to change. It could no longer be radicalized, but instead toned down and made more friendly. Especially in the United States, to win the fight for marriage equality, the LGBT community had to be about love and family. It had to be, for the lack of a better term, normalized.

In an article titled How Gay Marriage Won in the U.S. Supreme Court, Andrew Sullivan states that “The more we get married, the more normal we seem. And the more normal we seem, the more human we seem, the more our equality seems obviously important.” To win in the supreme court, becoming “normal” was a necessity. People had to be able to see the LGBT community as just like themselves.

The transgender community, specifically, is currently fighting the same battle. In order for as basic of a right to use the bathroom we choose might be, we still have to fight the public’s notion that transgender people are sexual deviants and predators. Statistically, the percentage of transgender adults to children is nearly identical. In a study published by The Williams Institute of UCLA School of Law they estimate that 0.6% of adults are transgender, while 0.7% of children are transgender. Because these numbers are so similar the population of transgender people roughly mirrors that of non transgender people. This means that 90% of the transgender population are adults, and 10% of the transgender population are children. So why is it shows like National Geographic’s Gender Revolution largely talk about transgender children and teens? Because children can’t be seen as sexual deviants.

This is one of the reasons why the new show Lost in Transition interests me. While I haven’t seen it myself, at least not as of writing, it deviates from the transgender children angle that most media tends to focus on. Instead it tackles the story of four married couples, one of whom is going through transition. Even though it’s still focusing on a “safe” and “family friendly” view of transgender people, at least it is talking about a larger population. Of course I’m sure the typical reality TV exaggerated drama is included as well, but honestly if shows like this help bring transgender issues to the mainstream it’s hard to argue against them.

More representation of the transgender community in the media is a good thing, and varied representation is even better. We need the stories of transgender children struggling through their childhood just as much as we need the stories of adults struggling through their marriage. But we need stories of young adults struggling through college, and the elderly finally coming to terms with their identities.

Of course my own story as a 34 year old divorcee isn’t all that unique, nor is it particularly safe and family friendly. I suppose I’ve kept this blog largely PG, but I can’t promise that will always be the case. Does that mean I should fade into the dark, and hide my voice for the betterment of the transgender community? Or is my open and honest depiction of my transition an overall net positive?

Regardless of the answers to those questions, I can’t simply hide who I am. I will always be my parents’ daughter, my siblings’ sister, the outspoken liberal coworker, the transgender blogger, the open source developer, the video game player, and the board game player. All different facets to the same identity, but not all of which are reliant on the fact that I am transgender. My being transgender colors each of those identities in a unique way, but I would like to think that I as a person transcend my transgender identity.

One Reply to “Cultivating an Identity”

  1. Another great post, and very relatable & familiar. I know one of the things that came up early on in therapy for me was me saying I was going through an identity crisis, or even saying I felt like I didn’t really have an identity at all. I still feel that way all the time, worried that I haven’t developed enough personal identity and define myself too much by my hobbies, and those feelings definitely interact with my gender questioning in awkward & uncomfortable ways. So thanks for writing it, it definitely helps to read.

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