May 22, 2013

When The Doubts Creep In

Life lately has been all about marking time. The divorce is underway; I’ve settled into the apartment and friends and family have stopped offering condolences when they see me. During the week, my job keeps me busy during the day and my kids leep me busy most evenings. On Sundays I get to be myself all day long. It’s the new routine of my life, and it is becoming … well, routine.

This past weekend, though, I had to devote my Sunday to more pressing matters: my fourteen-year-old Saturn needed new wheel bearings. I commute 35 miles to work each day,and have a teaching schedule that makes getting to a mechanic difficult; so whenever possible, I have to make these sorts of repairs myself. Luckily, my soon-to-be-ex-father-in-law (a) is a certified mechanic, and (b) has the most pimped out garage I’ve ever seen. So I gave up my Sunday skirt for some grubbies, kissed my neatly shaped nails goodbye, and got all grease monkey.

No doubt, fixing a car is something that feels extremely manly. It’s dirty and it’s mechanical and it requires a significant amount of upper body strength at times. It’s also something that attracts other men; what began as just me and my father-in-law soon became me, my father-in-law, Kevin who lives nearby, and his stepson.

The snap ring, it turned out, was rusted to the steering knuckle; but hey, doesn’t Uncle Jim have a machine press? So Uncle Jim got involved. And when the press didn’t work, there was the metal saw, and then the hammer, and then the blowtorch. It was a symphony for men — metal pounding metal, sawblades screaming into steel, the persistent churn of the air compressor in the background.

By the end of the day blackness covered my hands, crawled up my forearms, and spotted my face; I stank of sweat and engine; and my grubbies had gotten even grubbier. I stood in the bathroom with a bottle of dish detergent, scrubbing at the grease, and happened to glance in the mirror.

You’re kidding yourself, right? I mean, seriously? Just look at yourself.  

I’d spent the day not thinking about being transgender. I’d slipped, as I so easily do, in to Him mode, just one of the guys. It’s disappointing how effortlessly I can still lose myself in the role even when my heart isn’t into it. And faced with the man in the mirror — large, bearded, greasy, manly — doubts began to creep in.

You’re not a woman. You’re not even close. You couldn’t pass for female if your life depended on it.

It was hard to muster a counterargument to my own mental skepticism. Body image has been an issue with me for a long time, even before I came out to myself as transgendered. Heck, I still wore a beard because, the last time I had shaved it, I was so discouraged by the face underneath that it didn’t seem worth the effort to keep shaving. A woman? Me? It was, to quote Vizzini, “Inconceivable!”

And then I thought about how others must see me when they find out about my transgender status. My father-in-law, for example. He knows. What must he have thought of me, watching me fight with rusted brake pins and lug a steering knuckle across the neighborhood? “He thinks he’s a woman? Ha!”

I’d like to say that I just shook it off, but that would be a lie. It wasn’t until much later, after I’d gotten back to the apartment and taken a proper shower, that the mental funk of the afternoon began to wash away. Even now, several days later, with some of the grease still clinging to the unreachable crevices of my fingerprints, I’m reminded of how absurd this whole journey must seem to those around me. I can’t deny how I feel, but am I making the right choices? Am I pursuing the right course? Is it a fool’s errand or a mental defect?

It’s hard, when the doubts creep in, uninvited and unwelcome, but undeniable all the same.

No Comments

    • A woman can be whatever she wants to be. The point of the story was not that “women can’t be mechanics.”

      It is a common social trope, though, that car repair is a traditionally “manly” thing. I’d be willing to bet that a survey of the field would show that it’s highly male-dominated. In fact, I don’t have to bet; Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers confirm it (1.2% women in 2010, the latest numbers available, which is down from 1.8% in 2009).

  • Damn the stereotypes! The last thing women need to hear is that they shouldn’t do this or that thing because it’s what women don’t do. I know this is your blog and your space, so I’m trying to be respectful, but this attitude is not helping. Women hear enough of “you can’t be a _____ because you’re a woman,” or “If you do _______, you’re not a real woman.” That needs to end.

    • I appreciate you sharing your point of view, and I don’t disagree with you. But again, I think you’re missing the point of the story. It may be that you’re not familiar with the psychology of gender dysphoria.

      For a transgenderer person, especially one on the MtF side of the spectrum, gender dysphoria is framed in part by social conditioning. The man who is transitioning into a woman has often spent years or even decades “trying to be a man,” usually by engaging in activities that are viewed as “manly” (joining the army, fixing cars, fathering children, etc.). When they finally “come out,” they tend to reject all the things that society views as “manly” and instead embrace anything society views as “girly.” It’s the phase of the process that sometimes has 40-year-olds dressing like they’re 20-year-old pinup models. It’s not a feminist thing or a misogynist thing; it’s a psychological thing.

      Most of the transwomen I know, once they make the transition and return to the reality of daily life, return to doing the things that they enjoyed before the transition. It no longer matters if that activity is car repair, or fencing, or mixed martial arts, or whatever. As they become more comfortable with themselves, they stop being so worried about “masculine” and “feminine.” [However, many transwomen do maintain a more “feminine” side than a ciswoman might, as they feel the need to compensate for mannish builds, voices, etc.] Many of them even become active feminists.

      • I have to really, REALLY disagree with you that it’s not misogynistic. It reinforces the attitudes that have limited women for millennia, so it is about as misogynistic as an attitude can get. I am rather familiar with GID and related issues because my ex-husband is transgender. I’ve given these things a lot of thought. I just reached a different conclusion.

  • I can understand your feelings. Who are you fooling when you can’t even fool yourself, right? Despite all you’ve done, you had a “moment” in the mirror. I think we all have our moments, though, especially when we have so much depending on others’ acceptance of who we truly are. Go put on a dress! =P

  • Once I figured out I was a tomboy, everything just made sense. I get the point of the dysphoria, but people are going to judge you, for being teams no matter what you do. Do what you like, as long as it makes you happy.

    If nothing else, if Janet Reno can pass – anyone can. 🙂

  • Your post seems pretty clear to me, but this stuff is really hard to explain. I used to call myself on the carpet all the time because I’d be “putting the guy back on”; called it my façade, to get through a situation. I would hate myself for it.
    You are finding a real ‘you’ and it might take a long time, especially when you are doing those things most associated with your old life, a time when you had to hide feminine inclinations and overcompensated at everything.
    If you get pleasure out of accomplishing something mechanical, then don’t twist yourself into knots Ali. Be the real you and find a way to protect those pretty hands while you do it! 🙂

    All the Best,

    • A facade — that’s a great way to put it. Especially when I’m at work, it feels like I’m putting on a guise, one that lets me do my job better (but not happier).

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