Unknowingly Challenging the Binary from the Beginning: One Trans Woman’s Story

lgbtq+ peopleDeja Nicole Greenlaw at a former Pride celebration circa 2012.
Photo: TRT Archives

By: Deja Nicole Greenlaw*/TRT Columnist— 

Back in the early 2000s, when I first came into the trans community and began going to trans support groups and trans events, I was thrilled—I had finally found my people! I had run into some snags though along the way within the trans community and with medical professionals. You see, back in the early 2000s, anyone who had any gender issues was placed in one of two boxes. Either you were a cross dresser or you went full time and took hormones and had surgeries. There really was no in between groups, you were either one or the other.

I didn’t really fit into either group. I wasn’t really a man who liked to crossdress and although I took hormones, I had no desire to have any gender-related surgeries such as genital surgery, breast augmentation, or facial feminization. I simply identified as a female who didn’t want the surgeries. This excluded me from the “full time living as female” group. I did, however, want to live full time as female, so this excluded me from the cross dressing group. I just didn’t fit neatly into either group. I was breaking the “trans rules” and many of my trans friends didn’t know how to classify me.

At the time, I was seeing a therapist who once read me the six categories of gender disorientation established by Doctor Harry Benjamin, the noted pioneer doctor who specialized in gender identity issues. After my therapist read all six categories to me, I told her that I didn’t fit into any of the six categories. She agreed with me. I then said that the categories must not be complete and therefore must not be totally right. My therapist didn’t know what to do with me. I was different from other transgender people, but it really didn’t bother me. I just went ahead following the beat of my own drum and I transitioned to female without any surgeries. I did partake in hormone therapy to feminize and de-masculinize my body, but I never pursued any surgeries. The surgeries just weren’t on my radar. I was just different from everyone else.

It wasn’t until this past October when I was part of a trans outreach panel at one of the local universities that I realized what was going on with me from the beginning. There were three of us trans folk on the panel. Besides myself, there was also a trans man and a non-binary person on the panel. As I was telling the class about my early days and how I didn’t fit into any of the Harry Benjamin categories and how I had expressed differing views with many folks in the transgender community and with my doctors and therapists, the non-binary person thanked me. That was the turning point. I knew that I was challenging the system but it was when the non-binary person thanked me that I realized that I also had been unknowingly helping to pave the way for the inclusion of non-binary people in the transgender community. Although I identified as female and not as non-binary, I was, in fact, also challenging the “trans rules” of the binary back then. Now the pieces of the puzzle fit!

Yes, I had been challenging the Harry Benjamin categories and the binary since my early days. I didn’t know why the surgeries weren’t so important to me as they are to many others, but they just weren’t. All I needed to do was take hormones and transition to living full time as female. That was good enough for me. I had no idea that by doing so that I was also helping to open the doors of understanding for non-binary people. By trying to find myself back then, I was actually challenging the concept of the binary, but I didn’t know it. My non-binary friend on that panel in October helped me realize that point when they thanked me. I now return the thanks to them for making me think and help me understand.

It took me all these years before I finally got my moment of clarity!

*Deja Nicole Greenlaw is a trans woman who has 3 grown children and is retired from 3M. She can be contacted at dejavudeja@sbcglobal.net.

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