More than One Way to Make a Grrl

I was talking to a trans friend about my experience so far with the gender clinic in the Netherlands. I was bemoaning the frustrating inconsistencies, for example, I have to be referred to their endocrinologist before I can be signed off on, to prove I’ve been on HRT for a year. I’ve been on it for two and a half years! There are myriad of these vexing little catches. They would be acceptable, to a degree, if I was actually going through this process from the beginning and following their sequence. I am not! I’ve moved here from abroad. This process means that instead of just referring me to an endo at the beginning, something I need and want because I am essentially controlling my own HRT at the moment, I need to finish the process first (but I need to have been going to an endo to do that?). Going to the endo first would eliminate the extra wait time at the end of the process, for the confirmation, and more importantly, make sure that I am not in any danger of, I don’t know, taking the wrong drugs in the wrong doses. This is one of the smaller issues I have with the process, but at that moment, it was the one I was frustrated with.

My friend helpfully took this down a darker path as I complained about the inflexibility of the system. She and I are both 33; her comment was something to the effect that the system is inflexible to make “older” tansitioners suffer. Our outcomes are less likely to result in desirable cis normative results — I am paraphrasing a little here. She then proceeded to outline a dark eugenics which invalidates us from a biopolitical standpoint of regulating trans people and extending acceptance only to those who will pass, have typical girlhoods, and fit into society easily: i.e. early transitioners. This line of thinking would normally be cold comfort, but it accords with my own thoughts on the matter. What stuck with me was her description of girlhood; I’ve always struggled to understand my previous state of being, the one proceeding trans womanhood (we sometimes call this the egg-mode).

We all view our incubation states differently, and for many gender non-conforming trans youths, they legitimately have girlhoods in the traditional sense, and some older trans girls who were always very femme do as well (see Laverne Cox’s defence of her lack of male privilege as a child against Adichie). Unfortunately, history being history, I wasn’t begotten from my mother’s dam in a climate conducive to such conditions. But still, I never felt like a boy. Perhaps my friend did; other’s certainly thought I was male, albeit often a gay boy (an error on their part). While I cannot speak for my friend, for myself, I’ve always felt alienated by my gender and body, the former on a more tangible level, while the latter, the soma, more indirectly: I missed not getting a period at 13, tucked as a kid, and had a strong urge to take female hormones before I ever understood what HRT was. These are not characteristics of a boy. And yet, others viewed me as a boy, and gender is relational, so I do not want to say that my somewhat gendered inclinations made me a girl, but I also don’t think they unproblematically made me a boy either.

Thus, I propose that I was something else, one of the antecedents of womanhood without necessarily being a girl. While some people — probably more than just some — will balk at this idea, I encourage them to remember there is no universal definition of womanhood. If you think this, you cannot be a feminist after about 1980-something. If you’re not a feminist, then quite frankly your opinions don’t matter to me. If we arrive at different teleological points of womanhood, then it suggests that we should be able to take different paths to those different teloi — not that there is a telos of gender or soma, we are always, all of us, undergoing physical and psychic transformations and regenerations. I, therefore, contend that I did not go through a boyhood, but rather some alternative route of development that “ended” in womanhood. And yes, there is that issue of male privilege. But, we don’t all experience privilege the same, and certain privileges can mutate. You will have to take my word that this privilege was not a straightforward boon, at least not to my mental health. Which is not to say that I didn’t have this privilege, but it certainly wasn’t unproblematic. A lifetime of mental health issues attests to the chaos my identity wrought within me.

If grrlhood 2.0 exists, and I think it does, it’s certainly not being celebrated. I fear that it too is preyed upon by sinister biopolitics, cast to the side for slow death, abjection, and disregard. But then us grrls have always been survivors. It just sucks that in order to get services we are put through a system that basically stress tests us to the point where suicide and death are a likely outcome. And yet, we continue to exist.

I am a trans doing her PhD in gender/critical theory.