Note: This is a conceptual draft of an essay I wrote. The actual essay is so ladened with new materialism that I don’t even understand it anymore. But this draft is informal and expresses the same basic ideas.
Trans time, that is the timeline upon which our lives unfold, are both delayed and temporally retrograde, a schismatic time simultaneously backward and forward. The medical and transexual autobiography cement this bidirectional temporality. The autobiography is teleological, forward-looking until a moment of selfhood is attained — whatever that looks like. That moment is often tied to medical processes, surgery and hormones. Medically, there is a history of looking backwards and re-writing the trans subject’s own historical narrative. I was born into the “wrong body,” we encourage to write our dysphoria into our earliest childhood memories, or to prepare for that moment when you’re invited to tea with the “ladies” and one’s doll preference or other seminal female memories come up: “What age did you start menstruating?” asked the woman in the polka dot dress pouring the camomile. Similarly in trans autobiography, a genre attached to the clinic, there is a sense of one’s womanhood, or manhood, being granted to the transexual only after that transformational moment granted by the doctor and surgery — this moment is often shown in narrative through the first look in the mirror after “the operation,” or maybe as a farewell to one’s former male self — note the oppositional depiction of gender. The clinical process is full of temporal language, there is going full-time, and times for psychological assessment, waitlists, and recovery times galore. You might ask, how does one go full-time as a prerequisite for getting surgery if you’re not a woman until they cut off your dick and make a hole? Good question.
But in between the backward looking and the waiting for psychiatrists, doctors, pills, a tracheal shave, laser, laser, more laser, electrolysis, a boob job, SRS, years worth of dilating all to become an “authentic woman,” something must happen. Where does the trans self-emerge? Was I always trans? Is Gaga correct, am I born this way? Probably, but the locus of the self seems murky, non-normative, at sites of multiple imbricating experiences in the liminality between past and present. The very prefix trans is prepositional, of being on the other side of something, already moving away from the self that is present and now. In pushing the self to the margins of invented past and forthcoming idealised future, we lose the chimeric self that is now. The patchwork of selves through various experience, mutating gendered embodiments, technological interventions, and discovery. Trans people are not neat linear progressions from a to b, but a mess of zigzags and scribbles. We’re spirographs, just like everyone else, nonlinear.
The emergence the self is opaque. When does a boy become a man, at what moment? We have lots of seemingly arbitrary cultural ideas about this, and from afar there is a stark difference between baby and bearded-hipster man clad in plaid. But if we were to examine each day of that man’s life, would the moment be obvious? Is it at a specific date, when the testis drop — probably not — or at 21? Why do older adults use diminutives for younger ones, calling them by infantilising titles like “son,” to advertise that they are more adult? Is there a single moment where the man emerges from the boy? Probably not. Beyond the cultural tropes of 21, chest-hair, getting laid, beer, or getting a job, he appears at multiple cites across time, slowly, or quickly, differently each time. He emerges in the now, not in an erased and rewritten past while waiting for the future.
So, why do we expect a normalised progression of trans subjectivity to emerge across a smooth spectrum of regularised criteria at a specific future moment? Why doesn’t she/he/they appear now? And who is erased by this metric of self and time? The gender queer subject? The person who does not or cannot transition? Are they to be denied subject recognition? And after all, those of us who do fit into the lines, are we not the exceptions? Are our timelines and experience of temporality not queerer than point a to b? I think so. The subjective I, our gendered and sexed bodies, emerge not only in the future or past, but in the present: not via a set of medical and narrative tropes, but through heterogeneous instances, interventions, developments, mutations, evolutions, failures, regressions, breakdowns, highs, lows, and inter(intra)actions.