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What it means to label yourself as ‘trans-femme’

Having freed herself from the shackles of gender binaries and patriarchal language, author and trans activist Juno Roche now turns her attention to her appearance

I used to be described by people as a 'post operative feminine transgender woman', a very long title as opposed to just saying ‘woman’, but the word 'woman' was being withheld. I was described as a ‘post operative trans woman’ because several years before I had a neo-vagina created from my old genitals (cock and balls). Parts of the cock and balls were used, refashioned and upcycled, to create a vaginal cavity, a clitoris and labia. Historically, people would say that genital realignment surgery made us real and complete. Horribly reductive. Even when we'd had this surgery, we were still rejected as we didn't quite fit the patriarchal model... Still not real enough.

Before I had gender realignment surgery, I fought tooth and nail to be described as a ‘woman’, not as a ‘trans woman’, but just a ‘woman’ and I believed, deep down, that realignment surgery would stop people treating me as 'other'. It didn't. A few years after surgery, I stopped using the title of ‘woman’. I also stopped using the word 'vagina', as it felt inadequate to describe the magic and surgical mastery that actually exists down there between my thighs. It was partly a political decision, but also, truthfully, the words ‘woman’ and ‘vagina’ didn’t fit or work for me anymore. Those words were still connected to patriarchy, and I wanted to cut loose.

I was terrified, though, because I didn't understand who or what I was anymore and what would my dating profile look like? I'd thought that my journey would come to a neat end in the binary space of woman. It felt to others like I was being difficult, why can't you just be called a woman,  friends would ask, why can't you just say it's your vagina? But I'd started to realise, deep inside, that my self-identified label was ‘transgender’ or ‘trans’, and that ‘trans’ as a label really mattered to me, it was the only word that made any sense to me, that and the word ‘femme’, thus my label, ‘trans-femme’, was born. Trans as an endpoint label is new, I'm not making my way to womanhood.

"I'm trying to work out the extent to which I have to perform how I feel internally and dress up my truth so that the gulf in the understanding between me and the world is lessened" – Juno Roche 

Now, in relinquishing any fixed ideas about womanhood, its markers, signifiers and the language surrounding the word 'woman', I feel freer and less tied into existing patriarchal structures. Another reason for giving away these words is that I felt I was constantly having to define myself in relation to the word 'real';  'real woman' and 'real vagina'. But I am left with a slight and nagging dilemma: do I have to perform my dress and appearance to match the way I feel about myself internally so that it is somehow clear to all and fucking sundry that I am not interested in being subsumed into traditional notions of the binary?

Do I have to make it clear from the offset what I identify as, so that I am not forever having to make it clear every time someone says 'woman', every time I step out of my house and people see a woman? Do I have to perform my anti-normativity or is that just window dressing? Do I need to change the way I dress, shop and accessorise to please and to stop having to repeat the phrase, "I know you see woman but I don't feel like a woman or a man."

I have let go of an awful lot of my old 'early days transition' routine, which I saw as being essential to my daily routine of being unquestionably woman and unquestionably feeling safe, when I stepped outside of my front door. The routine of makeup and my hair being blow dried, never drying naturally, of always carrying the signifying handbag, of dressing in a certain way, in order that the world wouldn't question my gender - back then I'd never do androgyny. I have let all of that go apart from mascara (which improves every eye on the planet) but I'm not sure I need to set strict rules else I'm actually inadvertently, upholding as much as I reject.

I'm trying to work out the extent to which I have to perform how I feel internally and dress up my truth so that the gulf in the understanding between me and the world is lessened. I’m living my narrative real-time now, who knows if my presentation will change in accordance to me? I’m reacting in real-time to my personal growth. I keep thinking I should aim for a capsule wardrobe that states 'Juno' before anything else - Judith Butler-esque, but I'm so often derailed in that ambition by my need to shop and shop and shop.

"I'm pretty sure that 'trans' doesn't have a look yet, being almost completely without structural value we still have the freedom to create our personal style outside of normative demands" – Juno Roche

I love clothes and fashion and I'm not sure that my rejection of words and labels is a rejection of the clutter that surrounds the labels, clothes for example. Rather I'm rejecting the structures that don't fit me. Woman doesn't fit but trans does.

I'm pretty sure that 'trans' doesn't have a look yet, being almost completely without structural value we still have the freedom to create our personal style outside of normative demands.

Trans people are currently constantly under attack in the media for not being real, or for pretending to be real, we are accused of deception, of trying to gain access to single sex changing rooms. Attacked for simply 'dressing up' in supposedly hyper feminine or hyper masculine ways to fool the general populace. I'm not running from that, that shit matters, but in my life I want to explore new spaces not continually have to fight for ones that feel outmoded anyway. I want to try and explore what being trans and trans alone means and that feels more transgressive than dressing to please.

I don't perceive my body as being second best, or hope it passes. It does pass for beautifully trans and I love it on its own wonky, stitched terms. One of the issues I have to navigate is, how I question my sense of self and femme-hood in a time when trans people are being denied so much language autonomy and selfhood, how can I explore and reject language that is being held back from us without seeming to confuse the landscape. It's a work in progress, as am I, but I do resolutely believe that if a trans woman wishes to be seen and called woman then it is her right and the same for any trans man. Woman is not a product simply of biology.

"I see myself as transgender because that is my authentic word now but perhaps in time I'll just see myself as femme" – Juno Roche

I'm not doing anything new, I'm not remaking the wheel, or leading a revolution, just simply reconstructing the construction to allow more of us access, unfettered and safe access, and trying out new language to describe me and my experience. I'm pretty sure that nothing on the outside will change, this isn't dress up or dress down to signify to the world that my destination is trans.

This process for me is internal and is about self care and kindness, I don't need to signify that just hold it tight. I see myself as transgender because that is my authentic word now but perhaps in time I'll just see myself as femme, not feminine, not socially constructed, but femme as my lived, joyful experience.