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Elliot Long

By Elliot Long
Elliot Long is a radical queer vegan who hails from the outskirts of Wichita, KS. He holds a Bachelor of Music from Ohio University and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from the University of Southern Maine. In addition to radical politics, Elliot is passionate about biking, public transportation, educating himself and others, and delicious vegan food.
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wo years ago, with no clear end goal in sight, I began physically altering my body with testosterone to masculinize my physical appearance. Even now, I still don't know what to call this land that I inhabit. I wouldn't necessarily call myself a “man,” though that is usually how people now perceive me. The vocabulary to describe living in a gender outside of the strict binary male and female genders is limited, relatively new, and still constantly evolving.  Even when I attempt to describe my current identity, what comes out eventually contradicts itself and runs in circles. However, being referred to with male pronouns and a male name make me flinch less than going by female pronouns and a female name, so I usually put myself into the male category when forced to make a choice.

Let me explain a little about myself. I have – at various points in my life – passed as a woman, a man, and sometimes as gender ambiguous. Now, I struggle to settle into an identity, and I find myself drifting somewhere between transman and genderqueer. I resist describing myself as having had a “sex change,” as that implies a clearly defined process for changing from one defined sex to another. I hesitate to even refer to what I have experienced as a “transition” unless I am referring to it as something that is still on-going. I started to transition in 2005 when I changed my name, started going by male pronouns, and began binding my chest flat. A few months later, I started injecting myself with testosterone. To date, I haven't undergone any surgeries – “top” or “bottom” – to alter my body.

As a transgender person, people often ask me, “What made you decide to start transitioning?” and “How did you know?” I am always at a loss of how to respond. Truth be told, even I don't know what my motivations were. I did know that I was unhappy with being female, and I had been living as fairly gender ambiguous for years. Living as a woman left me feeling like a fraud, and I imagined that there may be a better existence for me on the other side of the fence. Mostly, though, I was curious about the other possibilities.  What would it be like to live as a man, to have a deeper voice, a new name, a completely flat chest, testosterone coursing through my veins? What would it be like to be an effeminate man as opposed to a masculine woman?

Over two years later, the same questions about my motivations continue to plague me. In particular, I struggled to reconcile my decision to not be a woman with my feminist beliefs. Once I began passing as a man, new questions emerged. I want to live in a way that makes me comfortable with myself, but I can't help but feel that passing as a non-transgendered man erases my past as a woman, leaving me feeling just as frustrated and feeling just as false. Finding a place where my identity and my physical self reach a common ground has been a struggle, and it is something that I am still working toward. This essay will follow that ongoing struggle to unite  my politics, my identity, and my physical self into a “me” with whom I feel comfortable.


Becoming a Transfeminist

Prior to coming out as transgender, I was an outspoken radical dyke in my small Midwestern college town of Athens, Ohio. I became active in radical queer politics at Ohio University by staging protests, organizing events, planning and participating in street theater, and generally working for change. I marched in the hotly contested “women-only” Take Back the Night march, attended performances of The Vagina Monologues, served as the treasurer for several years of the aptly named “Swarm of Dykes” student organization, and participated in women-centric feminist events. Yet, despite my presence on campus as an out-and-proud dyke, I was internally struggling with my identity. I had been questioning my identity for years, but I lacked the vocabulary and exposure to ideas to know what I was questioning. Until that point, I had assumed that I was unhappy with the kind of woman that I was presenting. I flipped through several phases, one after the other, trying to find an identity and gender presentation that fit me. I went from a clueless nerdy girl to a goth to a hippie girl to a butch/androgynous dyke. As I continued to move further along the butch spectrum, I realized that even that didn't really fit. Eventually, I came to realize that my depression wasn't about what kind of woman I was; my depression was coming from being a woman in the first place.

As an outspoken feminist, I didn't know how to explain to my peers or myself that I wanted to explore a male gender identity. As a young girl, I understood feminism to mean that I could do everything that boys could do. I could be strong and fiercely intellectual. I would refuse to be meek and docile, and one day, I would serve as a strong female role model for young girls. When I began considering changing my gender, I found myself confronting many of the arguments posed by the radical lesbian separatists against female-to-male transsexuals. Even though I didn't know of Janice Raymond (who in 1979 claimed transwomen “rape women's bodies” and accused transmen of being traitors and “'the lost women' to other women”) with the specific kind of separatist thinking she epitomized, the same kinds of thoughts and questions were crossing my mind when I was a young college student. If I was no longer presenting myself as a woman, would I be a “traitor” to the feminist cause? Did I want to be a man because I craved male privilege? Or, more to the point, was I just tired of appearing gender ambiguous and constantly being harassed by strangers and looking for a way out? According to radical lesbian separatists, I was supposed to take pride in my woman-specific differences, whether they were hardwired genetically or socialized culturally. However, try as I might, I could do nothing of the sort... (continue reading)

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rei said:

Thank you sincerely for writing this Elliot. There needs to be more voices, louder voices, describing the lived experiences of gender diversity. I identify as genderqueer (hey that comes up as a typo!) but struggled with my own identity politics for years before finding a community who understood and embraced the importance of screwing with the gender binary. Before I met these people I didn't have the words to articulate who or what I was, I really just didn't know.

Because I think education and choice and just plain old exposure to new ideas are so important I'm working on developing a drama based sex ed program for youth centred around roleplay and improv and drag and all kinds of fun stuff to create a platform to discuss sex and bodies and relationships, and of course, gender. Your essay gave me a new injection of energy towards that end and I will borrow your reference list for some more of the same!

Again, thank you.

Posted at: October 30, 2008 8:58 AM

genderkid said:

Thanks for making me rethink transition. When I first read this, I wasn't sure about altering my body; I was afraid I'd become totally "male", something I didn't want to be.

You --and the other FTMs in this anthology-- succeeded in showing all the shades of color within the category "man".

Posted at: December 3, 2008 8:34 AM

Felix Garnet said:

Thank you so much, Elliot, for taking the time and trouble to write this. Your experience resonates with my own and I'm pleased to read some of my own ideas so clearly expressed! The very best in your journey, Felix. :-)

Posted at: February 6, 2009 9:53 PM

Sara said:

Hey I'm a male to female, I can't say I identify as a transsexual or anything, but it's certainly -part- of my identity. I confuse people as it is being a trans 'lesbian' in a relationship with a transwoman who has opted out of transitioning. I find that while I eventually want MtF surgery, I'm exploring my sexuality, I'm burdened with the stigma of being a "shemale" or some kind of sex object, and I find it hinders me in my own exploration of myself. I have, due to my preoperative state, a unique sexuality, that I, for the moment would like to embrace. Sometimes I feel like embracing that sexuality, leads me into becoming closer to the stereotype associated with transgendered women. Anyways I hope my comment is not too vulgar, I stumbled across this page by chance, and it helped me clarify my own thoughts.

Posted at: February 27, 2009 7:08 AM

Paige said:

Just LOVE this. I've been on T and transitioning to 'I know not where' for some months. This is exactly what I've been searching for in terms of peer support for really stepping outside of the binary. Thank you. Thank you. I feel as though I'm not alone in this decision to transition into myself, rather than some concept of myself.

Posted at: April 4, 2009 6:48 AM

Mr. Understanding said:

You're an excellent writer, Elliot.

I'm a gay man (funny how we all feel the need to identify ourselves when commenting on writings about identity) and I admit I have a difficult time understanding well transgender issues. Part of this comes from my difficulty with labels in general; the other from a genuine ignorance of the emotional and intellectual mechanics involved. While I was often taken for being a girl (until I was about 14), I didn't embrace the mix up as you eventually did. I think it drove me into a place where I don't like to think of people in terms of sex or gender. I use neutral pronouns as often as possible -- I often say "person" instead of man or woman -- and it puts me kind of at odds with the idea of working so hard to embrace a gender identity. I suppose I simply wish they weren't there to begin with. :)

But thanks for bringing me at least a little closer to understanding.

Posted at: April 14, 2009 10:11 PM

Anonymous said:

Who were your childhood heroes, Elliot--more women or more men?

I am desperately searching for answers, myself. But there's an answer I want more than any other. I want to be a man, and I can't articulate why (which is weird, 'cause I'm a wordy guy) but so much in my past, in my family and friends, even in my own is blocking me. But the more they block me the more desperately I want it. I wish some sci-fi machine existed that would transform you body and brain. Because some important part of me is male, maybe the central part, yet I know I don't fit the benjamin standards. I watched Sailor Moon after G-force and Birdman went off the air. But Somehow I just want to be truly, wholly a man. I always wanted to be the male hero. I have a lot of issues with how soft and round my body is. BTW, anyone know how to convince a therapist to give you testosterone?

Mom doesn't want to go there. She wants her daughter back, she treats me like an invading do I convince her that I suppressed half my person to be her little girl?

Sorry, needed to vent. I feel so angry at being feminized. I've learned to cry far too much.

Posted at: July 14, 2009 10:47 PM