First Date, Intimacy and Identity

Your contradictions make you.

Art by Kyla Ifurung

First Date

I get closer, I feel you, your skin is even softer than it looks, you move delicately but walk with strength. You’re shorter than me but I hold tightly onto your arm and feel small, I smile warmly, head tilted up into the cold rain.

I get closer, I feel you, your hands are soft and strong, I feel cold metal when I kiss your warm lips and taste cigarettes in your sweetness.

Your contradictions make you, I can’t place you, I’d never want to.

Intimacy and Identity

Have you ever woken up beside a beautiful girl? Have you kissed her and felt her patchy stubble, her legs tangled in yours, her dick pressed against your thigh? Have you smiled, groggy with love at the intimacy of it all? In this closeness I have known a person better than I ever thought possible – I have loved someone in their wholeness, and through them I have loved myself in my incompleteness.

Since transitioning I have, by no intention of my own, only been with other trans people. I could dismiss this by saying we just have something in common, but it is so much more than that. The simple existence of a trans person presupposes a beautiful strength and a sadness. An overcoming of seemingly insurmountable pressures, the sadness of surviving an unnameable incongruence and strength in the righteous anger at what was taken, hidden, or marked with shame.

I spent two decades feeling ashamed of who I was and who I dreamed of being. In the arms of another trans person, in their lustful or affectionate gaze, in exploring their body with nothing but adoration, in seeing the scars of testosterone and finding beauty in them, I love them and I find nothing lacking. Maybe that means I can love myself, and can accept what I feel I lack.

In that same intimacy I came to find the fragility of gender and sexuality, the frayed edges. Beyond times when I’ve neatly packaged my transition for friends and family, I haven’t identified as a woman. I thought that maybe one day I’d wake up and have grown into an essential “womanhood”, into a confidence of self. That day still hasn’t come, and I still have no stable sense of my own gender identity. Out of a fear of this state I found myself searching for a rock-solid core, a gendered essence, something I could hold up as the root of my gender identity, the cause of my behaviours and my gendered presentation. But there is no core to find – you cannot find the essential woman, and you cannot be the essential woman. There is nothing but a facade, a decorative covering pulled back to reveal an empty pedestal. But where does this leave me, in what direction do I move now? If my gender is not within me, then where is it?

For me, this confusion left me wandering until I met Sam. We started talking Christmas morning, and met up just after New Year’s. She picked me up from the station and I kissed her like I’d promised to. I had been medically transitioning for two months –  really, I’d only been alive for two months. We stared out at the sea and I felt her body. Both of us out in public wishing we could be invisible to everyone if not for the gaze of the other. She took me home, we put on a movie and didn’t watch it, and I felt a body like mine for the first time.

In the way she walked, the way she shyly asked to hold my hand, in the way she spoke and the way she held herself, in the ways she was strong and the ways she was vulnerable, I saw womanhood. An impossible womanhood, fought for and won. Self-defined and strong I saw not an essential womanhood but a personal and proud one. A womanhood that made perfect sense and was perfectly unique. Her gender was her own because she lived it, and I felt it through all of her.

A common drive, distinct but inseparable from gender, is to find a pure sexuality, to know who you’re attracted to and to draw clean lines. But again this effort begins to fracture. In contrast to finding a clearer picture of gender in closeness, my understanding of my sexuality began to bend when I met my Ax. Standing at the intersecting edges of gender and sexuality I had to ask; “Who is a lesbian without an essential gender to drive essentially gendered attraction?”

Ax is agender. We met in Melbourne on a beautiful date to see improvised experimental music, where I was tall and fem and it was an androgyne in camos. We spent the rest of my week there with each other constantly. I’d only once before fallen so hard and so fast. We are both ambiguously gendered lesbians. Neither identity negated the other, and instead they grew together, one into the other in twisted vines of attraction and presentation. And twisted together, Ax and I made perfect sense of it all in ways no academic text can explain.

There’s no essentially sexed or sexual core, there’s just us, there’s who we are, and there’s who we commune with. Identities mark the ground on which we gather and show solidarity, but they ultimately are an undoing of individuality in the interest of some greater communal “doing”. This tension is the defining one of queer politics and can be felt most acutely by those living and loving in these boundaries of gender and sexuality. I have been made and unmade by my identities, I have learnt who I was and forgotten who I was in the arms of lovers, and I have appreciated every second of this instability. I only hope that more people, especially more cisgendered and heterosexual people, can learn to embrace the rough edges and unsafe territories that mark the places where we grow and learn.

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