Hi Patheos. I’m Dori Mooneyham, a trans-feminist butch lesbian writer, a queer youth counselor, and an infrequent public speaker on queer rights issues.
When I was first approached to write a guest article I wanted to do something light. A brief introduction of who I am interspersed with some Trans 101 stuff. Maybe I would write about the Wrong Body Narrative the media creates about trans women and explain why it’s so over-simplified it’s wrong. Maybe I would describe the relationship tropes surrounding trans women and our romantic/sexual partners. Maybe something about how trans women’s socialization as children is an entirely different beast from cis boys’ or cis girls’ socialization.
And there’s still a good chance I will write those articles. Maybe even publish them here. I have half-finished drafts and once I get a bug to write something it will usually get finished. But to be perfectly honest, before we can have any of those discussions I’m going to need to focus completely on the introduction first. Because in order to speak on issues as a trans woman in any sort of official capacity, I first need you to understand the process of how I got here.
Transitions are kind of a Big Deal for trans women. When we come out, almost everyone is shocked and doesn’t know what to do. We turn into new people and experience new things and get excited about how we’re finally being our True Selves in the world for the first time.
And then we do it again. Or, at least I did. Multiple times. That’s the funny thing no one really warns you about when you first transition. It’s a never-ending process of self-discovery and re-inventing who you are as you figure things out over time. And that sounds great, but the truth is it’s actually kind of exhausting.
I’ve identified as a straight boy, a queer boy, a trans girl, a straight woman, a poly bisexual woman, and a kinky butch lesbian at various points in my life. I’ve hit every major letter of the queer alphabet and every time after a Big Dramatic Coming Out, I said to myself “This time it’s real. This time I finally know who I am and what I’m about,” as I rise from my own ashes like a Phoenix.
But the truth is that I’ve been wrong every time. I couldn’t even attempt to have sex as a “straight boy.” As a “gay boy” I was too focused on being fabulously femme to realize I was nothing like any gay man I knew. When I first came out as trans I lied and hyper-performed femininity and said I was a straight woman, because that seemed easiest and expected of me. My first boyfriend made me feel comfortable enough with myself for me to admit I liked women, so I figured I was bisexual. He made me so comfortable that I slept with women for the first time while also getting engaged and planning a life with him. Then he helped me get The Surgery, and I suddenly realized how much my dysphoria had been controlling my identity and behavior once it finally went away. He was such a mensch he even ended up pulling me out of the Lesbian Closet, despite it destroying our comfortable planned lives. And once that happened I realized I actually liked being seen as a masculine woman, which was a shock as someone who had been running as far from masculinity as possible.
But there was no denying I was a tomboy. A butch. A bull dyke. A full-on flannel-flying-and-combat-boots-wearing Lesbian. This latest transition of mine has been going on for a little over a year, and even though every time I change my labels I get closer to The Truth, I’m still scared sometimes something else will come along and knock my narrative out of orbit again. Because transitions are difficult and exhausting. Not just for us, but for our loved ones as well. Because they have to transition with us or lose us. Which is why each successive transition comes with its own casualties. People become impatient and tired of the Big Dramatic Coming Outs and eventually start to get exasperated rather than excited. And the secret you’re not supposed to admit to yourself is even you kind of roll your eyes after awhile. “Again?” you think, “Really?“
I say all of this is part of being a queer trans woman because I have no idea what it’s like to be a straight cis woman or man or anything else for that matter. Do they have their own versions of Big Dramatic Coming Out moments? Do they reveal The Truth to themselves time and time again, only to realize they have to revise and retry? I don’t know. My instincts say they probably do, but it’s also probably entirely different. The closest non-queer analogy I have would be my transitions from Christian to Atheist.
As a child, church was always a part of my life but mostly an inconvenience that involved uncomfortable clothes and sitting still for too long. When I got older and internalized all the toxic messages about queer people and trans women, I externalized that through Conservative Christianity and nearly destroyed myself in the process by conceptualizing self-hating rituals and thoughts in a socially acceptable way. As a high school student I ended up being exposed to a couple rabbis who helped me get rid of the concepts of afterlife, including Hell, which had always terrified me. Once that was out the door, I dabbled in paganism and the other major religions for a while, but never really believed any of it was real and stopped caring for a while.
Then I came out and went to college. And I was suddenly filled with rage at the messages I’d absorbed in church. So angry I wanted to smash religion apart and steal all the power it holds in this country. So I joined the Secular Student Alliance, which quickly became my backdoor into queer activism wrapped up as atheist activism. I went to rallies, spoke at conventions, produced a podcast, met a lot of cool people and also a lot of gross people. Eventually I got tired of trying to separate the two and kind of fell away from the Atheist Movement. Now I call myself a Godless Witch half the time because rituals are how I cope with a lot of things and it’s also fun to freak people out who take me seriously.
Figuring out who I was felt like being handed a bag of random puzzle pieces from a garage sale without a box, and trying to figure out what the hell you’re putting together as you go along. You start out with the edge pieces and slowly work your way to the middle while trying to deduce whether all of these pieces even go to the same puzzle. Except you never know if you’re finished or not. You don’t actually wind up with a completed puzzle you can see and verify because there’s always missing pieces and odd pieces that fit, but not exactly right.
Like all quests for The Truth, be they religious or philosophical or personal, there probably is no final destination. Only the journey. Sometimes you love it. Sometimes you hate it. Sometimes you just get tired of it. But it persistently demands to be known. So what do you say we sit down at a card table and try to figure out this puzzle together? Just don’t get angry if it turns out we have to start over again.
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