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by Barb Greve

delivered at UUA Chapel, Boston, MA
February 3, 1998

"Are you going to change your name?" He asked.

"No." I responded.

"I admire your courage."

I knew he meant it as a compliment, but I was having a hard time accepting it as such until a friend of mine reminded me that sometimes, courage is born of necessity. That is certainly the case here. Courage is probably the last word I would have used to describe my actions.

My decision to ask people to use masculine pronouns in reference to me comes from a feeling of need. I need to be honest about my whole self and am not willing to put part of me aside to make others feel comfortable. I do realize this will challenge and scare a lot of people.

As a friend so aptly wrote: "I have to admit, I felt kind of unsettled by this news when I was thinking about it last night. I thought about it a lot, actually. The conclusion I came to is that it feels this way because it's kind of scary. I mean, before, your transgenderism seemed like a totally internal thing. Now, you're challenging the rest of us to completely change our mindset, to step outside our safe boxes and see the world in a way that is completely different than what is as ingrained in us as responding to our own names. And that's scary ... you bet it's scary."

I think the most frustrating part for me, and probably the scariest for you, is that I can't clearly explain the "why." I can tell you this change feels right and for me, this is enough. I fear that by my using masculine pronouns and keeping the name Barb I will confuse the issue for you and make life harder for others who identify as transgender. I know human instinct is to try to group like people together, but like so much of life, two people who appear to be alike on the outside may in fact be entirely different. For this reason I want to clearly say that I am only speaking about my experience and no one else's. I've found the most comfortable combination I can imagine for myself but there are many people, transgender or not, that will make other choices.

I choose to keep the name Barb because it has great significance to me. I was named "Barbara" because my adoptive mother had always wanted the name for herself. The meaning used in our family is "stranger in a foreign land." As an adoptee, I can't think of any name with a more appropriate meaning. While I have tailored the original name to fit my personality, I still consider it a precious gift from my parents.

My father asked me if I was intentionally trying to confuse people by keeping my name but using masculine pronouns. The simple answer is no. But, I came to the realization that in order for me to be comfortable with myself, I may need to confuse others. Many people have asked me why I can't just identify as a butch woman since that is what I am...really.

When I was younger I thought I was really a boy and some mistake had been made with my body. After all, I shared interests with most of the boys I knew. We lived by the same code of conduct (be as tough as you can be, never share your feelings, be good at sports, join the military after high school -- you get the idea). But this theory didn't feel fully comfortable.

When I hit puberty in junior high I discovered I was attracted to girls. One day a girl in my class called me a lesbian. I went home from school that day and looked the word lesbian up in the dictionary to discover it meant "women who love women." I then decided this must be who I am. After all, I had the same type of body that other girls in my class had, so I must have just gotten confused somewhere along the way.

I came out publicly as a lesbian in college. My friends encouraged me to join women-only meetings. They thought I would get more out of being in women-only space. I tried hard to find my place during those years. I surrounded myself with all types of women, many who were working to redefine women's roles in the world. Yet, the more I hung out with them, the less I felt we had anything in common -- other than our attraction to women.

I've since learned that gender is not as simple as biological sex (which, thanks to modern medicine, can be altered); nor can we simplify and limit gender's definition to social constructs. I believe gender to be a combination between biology and social roles. We all choose to express our gender in different ways. Our styles of dress, how we show emotions, what hobbies we let others know we enjoy, whom we hang out with are just some of the ways we express our gender. For some people this means limiting how they are in the world, for others it means challenging stereotypes.

I struggled with my gender expression for years. I wanted more than anything to blend in and fit a stereotype. My only problem was I couldn't find one. I looked to the men in my life to be my role models. I accepted their standards of behavior as my own. As I grew older, I discovered some of the limitations I had put on my behavior were uncomfortable. I then began to look to the women in my life for help. But I ran into the same types of problems. I realized that I wasn't comfortable expressing my gender as either one.

Most people think gender expression is the same as gender identity, but for me it isn't. My understanding of my gender identity is the same today as it was twenty years ago. The differences between then and now are the words I use to describe myself and the way I express my identity. As a child I never heard the word "transgender." No one ever told me that it was ok to identify as something other than male or female. Alone, I struggled with how to describe what I knew inside was a truth: I was not going to grow up to be either a man or a woman. I had already spent many years trying to make myself into one or the other and had been unsuccessful.

Frequently, I'm lumped into the transgender category of Female-To-Male. Unfortunately when this happens, there is an assumption that says I must be a Female transitioning to Male (regardless of decisions around surgery). While my biology and appearance may lead folks to this assumption, they are totally disregarding my person, as well as the spiritual journey I am on.

Our need to dichotomize gender sacrifices the real life experience of people like myself. Rather than trust us to identify our own gender, society tries to force us into one of two. For me to do this would mean denying a large part of who I am.

My journey is not about transitioning into one of the two "acceptable" genders. My journey is not about making some great political statement. Rather, my journey is about becoming a whole person. It is about being the best person I can learn to be.

This is what leads me to live as a transgender guy named Barb.

©1998 Barb Greve.  Provided as a part of TransFaith on-line with permission from the author.


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