(I wrote this privately a few months ago and have decided to share it now.)
I retweeted kraken_syllabub:
“Just saw that @NetflixUK has Boys Don’t Cry under “lesbian films” fml *exhausted*”
My comment was: “This phenomenon is why it took til my thirties for me to realise that I was trans.”
This had such a strong effect on my teenage experience that I can’t imagine where I would have been (or when) if the world had been set up differently. ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ came out in 1999, when I was twenty, at university. I read about it in Diva, described unambiguously as a lesbian film. Every time I read or watched someone who felt like a man or a boy and had to deal with that in a female-coded body, I was told that that was butch dyke experience. Idgie Threadgoode (in the book of Fried Green Tomatoes) is a butch dyke; Stephen Gordon in The Well of Loneliness is a butch dyke; Leslie Feinberg was a butch dyke; in the short fiction I found, P. Califia and others with similar self-descriptions and presentations were butch dykes.
Some of the real-life people came out as trans later on; some of the fictional and fictionalised characters have been re-examined and some position themselves or are claimed as ‘maybe’s in more than one category – and gender identity and sexuality are complicated and interlinked and did I say complicated? But the fact that I never heard any of these figures described as even maybe-trans, as anything but butch dykes, meant that I had no other box to put myself in.
There was one trans man on TV when I was in my late teens – Stephen Whittle, seeming like a nice chap but not like a role model for me at all, because our lives and experiences were so different.
Of course, I was a weird butch lesbian because I persisted in being attracted to men and having relationships with them as well as with women, but that didn’t (and doesn’t) feel incompatible to me. I was a butch dyke (who happened to be bi), because people who carried around buckets of sadness at not being seen as boys or men were butch dykes. (I was aware of butch dykes who were happy being women too; they were not the ones I identified with and I didn’t think about them a lot.)
In some ways it’s not a problem that I only came across genderqueerness as a concept at the end of my twenties, and through it broader understandings of the possibilities of trans masculinity, and ultimately an understanding of myself as trans… because I wasn’t utterly miserable that whole time. I wasn’t in a well of loneliness. I was generally accepted as myself in my boys’ clubs and my girls’ clubs, and my times of discomfort were mostly around trying to be a girl in the girls’ club rather than an exception to the rule. And I am butch; I’m just definitely not a dyke.
I am so much happier, though, now that I have the vocabulary to explain who I am, and know the granular options for a transition that’s me rather than a set menu, and can ask to be seen and acknowledged not as a slightly-off version of other things but as a real and true me.