...but not like that.

I just got back from an extended vacation/conference. I am apparently no longer able to take vacation without also going to a conference, but that's not the point of this post.

I noticed, at the conference that I was hanging out with a couple of different groups of people: grad students on my experiment, professors from my university, other random people I know. And I noticed that while I was hanging out with different groups, I was noticeably and appreciably shifting my gender presentation—at least within the allowed boundaries of masculinity for physicists. For example, when hanging out with the grad students on my experiment, I gravitated towards a beer-soccer version. (World Cup, WOOOOOO! USA! USA!) When with the profs, I tended towards a less...loud...aspect of gender performance, and more towards a competence-sophisticated version of masculinity.

Now both of these (and all the other masculinities I perform(ed)) are not inaccurate representations of my gender. I do love soccer. I do love beer. I do love long lunchtime discussions of experiments. But it was extra apparent to me that I was specifically manipulating aspects of my personality to fit those I was with, and that manipulation felt particularly gendered to me during this conference.

I'm not really sure what to make of this, other than it feels a lot like my ambivalence about what my gender actually means to me, as I talked about in this post on the cisgender/transgender distinction. Which is to say that 20-some years into my life, fiveish years into transition, and I still have no clue how to define my gender, despite being perfectly clear that medical transition has been exactly the right thing for me.
First, three stories I have told about myself:

A: "My gender's has always pretty much been the same. What we think of as gendered behaviour in Western culture—the clothes we wear, the things we play with as kids, our relationship types and styles, etc—have been fairly constant through my life, with some exceptions around puberty. But, hey, puberty. Furthermore, my parents tried to free me from what I should expect in terms of gender roles, and modeled non-traditional gender roles for me. I'm lucky to have grown up with family and friends who didn't make a fuss about what my gender looked like. Anyway, I don't really feel a change to my gender post-transition."

B: "As someone who has moved through this world perceived as both male and female, I feel like I am intimately aware of the different pressures and expectations placed on men and women. The way in which men's bodies are treated as more private is particularly interesting and enraging."

C: "I've never been one to hew close to gender expectations. I've always loved trains; I am a knitter and a baker; I enjoy having emotionally close friendships; I think mucking about with tools is great fun; I love things that are beautiful and soft; I love to watch things explode. I mean, why limit yourself to the pastimes and pleasures of one socially acceptable gender?"

All of these stories are fully true. All of these stories contain only part of the truth.

I am beginning to loathe the word 'transgender' and its antonym, 'cisgender'. Or rather, I am beginning to loathe the use of those words. On their own, they're pretty unremarkable: one purportedly describes people whose gender is not in accordance with the one assigned to them at birth and the other describes people whose gender is in accordance. Also in this nexus of incipient loathing are 'genderqueer' and 'binary-identified'.*

They make me uncomfortable because I do not feel I can claim any of them as my own. If I had to choose, you know, gun-to-the-head-implausible-scenario, I'd probably choose 'cisgender' and/or 'binary-identified'. They are probably the least in conflict with my perception of myself—but they are still in conflict. Mostly because I think other people, being told the stories above might select 'transgender' and/or 'binary-identified' for me.

Now, I should say that this isn't one of those conflicts that keep me up at night, as due to the many, many privileges I am accorded, it's actually not something I have to think about a whole lot. Most of the time, I just do my thing and people see me and think: "man". Or sometimes, "weird dude...oh, he's a nerd, that's all right."**

Nevertheless, I find the whole thing a shifting mess when I wish to talk about or describe my gender in this framework—and part of the reason I don't think on it a whole lot is that I'm not sure if there is a resolution without revamping the framework, and that's work that I neither feel qualified to undertake, nor to which I have the copious free brain cycles to donate.

And finally, I find this all exhausting because I am also aware that there are assumptions that come along with 'cisgender' and 'transgender': if I were to state in comments on some blog post that "As someone who is cisgender, blah blah blah", the assumption would also be that I am cissexual***, which, you know, I'm not. Similarly (though a bit less so) if I referenced myself as 'transgender'.

So, in conclusion, basically all I want is the mess of categorizing my gender to stop being such a squishy bog. I want there to be more options in our framework. Perhaps the first step is removing the oppositionalism from transgender and cisgender? Does this ruin their meanings? Must we break everything down?

* I do not loathe people who do claim these words for themselves, as that's rude, insensitive, and toxic. Plus, that's a LOT of people to loathe. Nor do I begrudge them their identities. I just, you know, want one of my own.

**A post for another time: "how men who run in nerd circles both opt-out and opt-in to hegemonic masculinity and how, as a result, society both shames and third-genders them"

***Note that this is the first time in this post I've referenced 'cissexual' or 'transsexual'. I reference myself as transsexual without any problems, as I am, indeed someone who wants to/has changed my primary and/or secondary sex characteristics from those I was born with.
I spent some time trying out names for this place, mainly while I was sitting around waiting for code to compile or run. I wanted something that reflected my love of physics and something about gender/trans identity. I finally settled on "twostatesystem" because the two state system is something that is incredibly important in both physics and gender in Euro-derived cultures*. And yet, in both cases, the two state system is at best an approximation and at worst a lie.

A two state system in physics is one in which the Hamiltonian (a construct which describes the dynamics of the system, including the energy of the system) gives rise to two different energy levels. This is one of the few systems in quantum physics that can be solved exactly and gives us insight into many problems in physics, including (and notable for me), oscillation between two neutrino flavors. Using the two state system approach, an incredible amount of progress was made in understanding neutrinos and their oscillatory behavior. Nevertheless, the complete picture of the neutrino sector is not a two state system. It's a three (or possibly more!) state system with more complicated (and interesting) dynamics.

I feel much the same about the binary system of gender we experience in Euro-derived cultures. We divide ourselves up into two states, men and women, and analyze so much of our experience through the lens of that two state system that we forget that it's at best an approximation. Cultural analysis by feminists and other people interested in gender has done well under this approximation. We cannot understand the full impact of gender on ourselves and our culture by clinging to these two states, even as we recognize that sometimes, yeah, we can use that lens.

Furthermore, I think that one of the most important things I've learned from studying physics is that it is absolutely vital to know the boundaries of where your approximation is valid—after all, as one of my undergraduate professors once said, "Well, we're physicists. When confronted with an intractable problem, we only do one thing: approximate." I think that you can replace "physicists" in that sentence with "people" and it still contains a whole lot of truth. But, I don't think that as a community of gender thinkers, we've learned how to understand those boundaries of approximation yet. I think we're still struggling to understand, and failing in a whole lot of cases. And it's a whole lot more risky to approximate with human lives; if your assumptions exclude people of color, that causes way more suffering than if your assumptions exclude a fourth neutrino species.

I don't know yet if understanding and being explicit about underlying assumptions and boundaries of approximations will result in progress (for some unspecified definition of progress) . I only know that it feels right and necessary, coming out of my academic tradition, and that it's something I would like to see a whole lot more of. Now, if only I knew how to do it.

*a better term, I feel, than "Western". I'm talking here about cultures where the primary historical influence is Europe. This is not to say, of course, that what I'm saying applies in whole to ALL those cultures, nor that it doesn't apply to non-Euro-derived cultures. But my lived expertise is in dominant US culture and parts of European culture, so that's what I'll talk about.
Probably not.

However, I've noticed a dearth of blogs by a) trans men b) trans scientists c) physicists anywhere in the BTGL* community. Being all three, and "be the change", blah blah blah, here I am.

So, who am I?

I am a graduate student in physics, studying neutrinos and dark matter at a major American university. I'm interested in the matter of the universe that takes up quite a bit of the energy budget of the universe, but is invisible to us thus far. I am also an experimentalist, which means that I'm doing actual experiments—I go out with actual objects and look at actual signals. Together, these things mean that I spend the vast majority of my time measuring zero, debugging my software, and trying to figure out where my light leaks are.

I am also a trans man. I spent the first 22-ish years of my life living as a woman in America; I now live as a man. Beyond that, I'm unwilling to divulge details of my gender and sex, even in the relative anonymity of the internet.

I do not think these two facts of my life are necessarily related or should be related, but they, in some ways, are. First of all, physics (and especially my university) has a gender problem, and I'm interested in the way my experience interacts with that problem. Less talked about is the fact that I know very, very few physicists that id as LBGQ. I'm also interested in the interaction there, though as a straight guy, I may have less to say about that. So, I'm hoping to post about the interaction between the scientific establishment and gender and sexuality.

However, I also want to post about things that are one or the other, interesting new results, trans issues in general, gender issues in general, and so on. My aim is to have one major post a week, with other small posts to supplement that. We'll see how it goes.

*I have problems with this terminology and grouping. Nevertheless...hardly anyone.



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