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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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In searching for a way to align my identity with my politics, I happily came up with a very different set of conclusions than those of Janice Raymond. Through my exploration of gender and queer theories, I realized that my thinking about gender was still coming from a very gender binary perspective: male vs. female, men vs. women, oppressor vs. oppressed. I was overlooking all of the different ways to define “man” and “woman,” let alone all of the space outside of and/or in between those two labels. By identifying myself as transgender and moving into a male gender identity, I didn't necessarily have to feed directly into the patriarchal system that I opposed. As Patrick Califia points out, “When transgendered men and women demand their right to define gender for themselves, they are simply taking one of the first lessons of feminism to heart and asking that it be implemented” (Sex Changes 100). By blurring the gender boundaries, I was taking control of my own life instead of letting gender dictate who I could be. Instead of just fighting the oppression of women, I discovered a different kind of feminism: fighting all gender oppression. Through transfeminism and transfeminist theorists, I realized that all gender expressions should be equally valued, regardless of whether they are female, male, both, or neither. If being a woman wasn't working for me, I could take strength in choosing to change that. Leaving behind a female identity wouldn't violate all of my feminist beliefs; in fact, it would embrace them.


Assimilating into an FTM transsexual role

In considering transitioning, I knew from the beginning that there would be many limitations to how far I could go in passing as a normatively gendered man. I would always be 5 foot 4½ inches tall, have a small frame, wider hips than a typical male body, small hands and feet, and a youthful face. Surgical options, should I ever choose to pursue them, would still leave me with large scars and results that, in my opinion, came at too high a cost for a lack of quality and functionality. While I could legally change my name, I knew that my former name would still follow me around on job applications, background checks, and past accomplishments. When I returned to my childhood hometown to visit, I would not be able to escape all of the people I knew pre-transition, let alone my family. It would be extremely difficult – if not impossible – to have my legal sex on my Kansas birth certificate changed. Even if I wanted to do so, I would never be able to fully assimilate myself into a male gender role and appearance.

Also, as a dyke, I was not very butch. I spent my spare time knitting, and I was a classically trained clarinetist. I did not care for sports, and everything I knew about football came from marching band in high school. Cars did not interest me in the slightest. However, I knew plenty of men who had no interest in those things, either. I had no interest in upholding the ridiculous gender standards of being a “man,” just as I had no interest in upholding the standards for being a “woman.” And, as Judith Halberstam points out in Female Masculinity, FTM transsexuality is not just an extension of butchness by a matter of degree; gender identity and expressions of masculinity don't always follow an exact linear relationship (151). Becoming a man was not about butchness for me but something else entirely. I would need to construct my own queer version of masculinity, and as Halberstam states, “Masculinity, of course, is what we make it” (144). Consciously disregarding the pressures to fit into one gender mold or another allowed me to construct a version of queer masculinity with which I could be comfortable.

And, truth be told, the idea of completely assimilating myself into a traditional male appearance and role scared me. I enjoyed the looks of confusion. I didn't want to look “normal” or pass as just another straight middle class white guy. I enjoyed having my radical politics assumed by my appearance, and I was afraid of losing that. I had spent years being harassed by straight white guys, and the last thing I wanted was to be assumed to be one of them.

By assimilation, I am referring to the erasure of all people that don't fit the white, upper-middle class, “we're just like you” mold of mainstream America. People of this mindset are concerned only with solving their own inequalities, often at the expense of others. As a queer transgender person, there are several layers of assimilation with which I must contend. First, there was the pressure to assimilate myself into the role of a “transsexual man.” After I started to pass as a man, there was a pressure to assimilate into a normatively gendered man by changing my behaviors and presentation. And now, as a queer person, there is still the pressure from the gay community to assimilate into the heterosexual mainstream. I will explore each of these later in this essay.

Assimilation should not be overlooked as a minor problem in the system. Queer author and activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore observes:

I can't tell you how many times I've been presented with the argument that fighting assimilation takes away from the 'real' battle, which is fighting anti-gay violence. This false dichotomy hides the fact that assimilation is violence, not just the violence of cultural erasure, but the violence of stepping on anyone more vulnerable than you in order to get ahead. (5)

As Bernstein points out, assimilation is a part of anti-gay violence, only it is directed at those with less power and privilege. Perpetuating this image of “we're just like you” causes the assimilationist gay movement to toss aside issues like “gender identity” in hate crime legislation because they think it will be less likely to pass, disregarding the fact that violence against transgender people occurs at much higher rates than against sexual minorities. Assimilationist politics ignore those queers on the fringes – the genderqueers, the sex workers, queer people of color, the homeless queer youth – and leave them to fend for themselves. They ignore issues of race and class entirely. Inevitably, “assimilation” means “erasure” of every person that does not fit the most narrowly defined and privileged lesbian or gay man. In the end, assimilationists alienate people who could have been their allies and weaken their own movement though their exclusion. Just as transgender issues are often erased from the gay assimilationist agenda, genderqueer identities are often ignored from the transgender – or, more specifically, transsexual – agenda for legal protections and access to medical care... (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