An essay about girlfaggotry (Bianca James)

My friend asked me to write an essay for a guide about coming out in Japan (we’re I’ve lived for the past few years) and I was reluctant at first since I was worried about being misunderstood, as I have been so many times…But then I said FUCK IT. So here is my essay about coming out as a girl fag. I’m sure there’s stuff in it that may offend some people, just because writing about sex and gender is fraught with peril, but bear in mind that nothing in this easy is intended to be inflammatory, except for the comment about my ex-girlfriend who hopefully will never read this. Please don’t post this elsewhere without permission. Thanks!

All names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The summer of 2002, I was living at home, scraping by working two days a week at a corrupt temp agency, and in a hugely dysfunctional love triangle with a guy and a girl. No, I wasn’t one of those bisexuals who had to be involved with both a man and a woman to feel sexually fulfilled, but Lucy was an acquaintance who had made it clear pretty early on that if I wanted to date her lover, I had to date her too. When the reality that I just wasn’t sexually attracted to Lucy reared it’s ugly head, things took a turn for the worse. “Maybe you’re not really into girls,” she said nastily when I broke up with her. Or maybe I just wasn’t into a clingy, insecure girls who collected sexual partners as a way of bolstering their fragile egos.

But then again, it wasn’t like I had a really great track record with lesbian relationships: my first love, an ex speed addict who dumped me so she could take a different girl to prom. Losing my dyke virginity to a woman who said as we were cuddling on her porch: “You shouldn’t have come home with me. For all you know, I could be an axe murderer!” The bulk of my lesbian sex experience consisted of drunken hook-ups with experimental straight girls. Ten years after coming out as bisexual, I was starting to question my sexuality a second time. It seemed so much easier with men, even if it was a challenge convince my boyfriends to let me fuck them up the ass. Maybe Lucy was right after all, maybe I wasn’t as into girls as I thought I was.

And then, like the proverbial knight in shining armor, the JET program called one afternoon and offered me a way out. I’d spent three months on their waiting list, and I had never anticipated that fateful phone call- “can you come to Japan in two weeks?” They didn’t even know where the placement was yet, but I didn’t care. I went shopping for a business suit that afternoon, lured in by the prospect of a regular paycheck and a fresh, drama-free start on life.

When I traded in spiked jewelry and fishnet stockings for pantyhose and pearls (though in reality it was only a month before I started wearing flip flops and jeans to my relatively lax CIR job), there was something else I prepared to relinquish, at least for a while: my queer identity. Having witnessed the well-sequestered and gender-segregated Japanese queer scene in Tokyo during my year long stint as a student at Waseda, I had no illusions of Japan as a queer mecca. Yukio Mishima and Homoerotic rockstars were the exception, not the standard. And I knew that for signing up for JET, I was basically signing myself up for a year or more of heterosexuality-by-default, especially I wound up in the inaka. And after my disastrous relationship with Lucy, I was okay with it.

In my own defense, I was never one of those happy go lucky fashion bisexuals who turn it on or off at the drop of a hat. I was a loud and proud activist for ten years, waving my blue-and-pink triangle flag in the faces of those purist gays who dared accuse me of “straddling the rainbow dildo fence” (as one insensitive gay acquaintance had referred to bisexuality in a poem). I was a devote employee of my college’s Queer Center for two years, raising money to bring Patrick Califia to talk about transgendered activism to a room full of privileged college kids. I had made out with girls AND guys to the hip-hop stylings of Rainbow Flavored Sound System at the annual Fencesitters Ball, I had suffered a weird asymmetrical sunburn after marching in a corset and angel wings with the Anything That Moves contingent of the SF Pride Parade.

And yet, something was off. I felt it every time I went to a queer event and used gender neutral pronouns when talking about my boyfriend. I was out to all of my straight friends about being bi, but I still felt closeted within the queer community. What the hell was wrong with me? I felt SO QUEER, but I liked boys. No, the problem wasn’t that I liked boys, but the fact that I liked boys so much that I wanted to be one. In the eyes of most people, to be queer and female meant being a dyke, or a bi-dyke at the very least. The reality was, I didn’t want to be a dyke at all.

I wanted to be a gay man.

I adored gay men. It wasn’t enough to be a fag hag, I wanted to BE a gay man, and I adopted the term “faggette” to describe my skewed sexuality. I identified with gay men more than I had ever identified with lesbians: (brace yourself for massive potentially offensive generalizations, here) gay men had sex with who they wanted, when they wanted, without folk music and hours of processing emotional issues getting in the way. Gay men smelled good, were well groomed, intelligent, preferred shopping and interior decorating to Michigan’s Womyn Festival and potlucks. I realized that my queer identity had sprung less from an attraction to gay women and more from an attraction to gay men. It all made sense in a historical context: all of my boyfriends had been lanky, long haired bookish types. I remember confessing to my first bisexual boyfriend that I felt attracted to men in a way that a man would, not in a straight-female way. I had a subscription to XY- a magazine for teenage fags in highschool, and even submitted a picture of myself in male drag in the hopes that I could pass and be selected for their reader’s photos page (it didn’t get picked- I made an ugly boy). But there was still one major issue- no matter how much I dug gay men, I was biologically female, very much so, and I had my doubts that gender re-assignment surgery would solve my problems. As much as I envied male bodies, I wasn’t uncomfortable with being a girl. I could always try being straight, but the fact of the matter is most straight men are scared by girls who hide strap-ons under their mini-skirts, and straight men, with their beer and football and privilege didn’t turn me on.

Enough of that segue. How does this all relate to Japan?

Moving to Japan was in some ways an escapist strategy for dealing with my gender angst, but there were benefits as well. I was lucky enough to be placed in a metropolitan area that seemed to $200 hair cuts and excellent fashion sense. And the best part was, they liked girls! (In theory, anyway). Could it be that I could buck the system, get my cake and eat it too?

Unfortunately, this divine scheme was flawed on multiple levels. One, these metrosexuals had an extremely limited shelf life. By the age of 25, most of them had gotten sucked into a life of cheap polyester suits, overtime and alcoholism as salaryman drones at Japanese companies, which was not really so sexy. Two, most of these men accustomed to 90 pound Japanese girls who hide their teeth when they giggle, and were scared of loudmouth big butt foreign women. Three, although these boys cultivated the an appealing androgynous façade, most of them still had straight boy personalities indoctrinated with sexist bullshit and expected their girlfriends to make them tea and take the passive role during sex, which put a damper on my fantasies.

I indulged in occasional short term flings with Japanese men, but mostly I was single. I spent a lot of time alone, thinking. I wrote a book where the protagonist was an 18 year old androgyne who considered himself to be heterosexual, even though his only sexual experience had been with another male. The book focused on his friendship, and later romance, with his best friend, who was a lesbian. This character represented both my alter-ego and my masculine ideal. My intention had been to create a queer version of boy-meets-girl scenario.

I had been isolated from any kind of queer scene for almost two years when I attended the Stonewall Japan meeting as a Tokyo Orientation Assistant in 2004. I was surprised by how good it felt to be surrounded by the queer community again. As the only woman who knew her way around Shinjuku’s Nichome gay ghetto, I volunteered to take the female newbies to Kinswomyn, Tokyo’s most famous lesbian bar. And then my anxiety kicked. Surrounded by certified Grade-A lesbians who bragged about how they had “never touched a dick in their life”, I felt very insecure all of a sudden. Not only had a touched dozens of dicks, I had dick-envy! It didn’t matter that I had dated girls in the past- I felt horribly out of place in the lesbian scene, not a true dyke, not the token straight girl, but something else together. My gender dysphoria was forced into the spotlight again. If the gay bars in Shinjuku barred entrance to female bodied people, where the hell did I belong anyway?

In the weeks following the dyke bar disaster, I began to wonder if maybe I really was trans. I was about least likely to be voted “future female to male transsexual” by the highschool year book (that honor went to the first girl I ever kissed, whose since had chest surgery and changed hir name to Bob). I mean come on, I was so femme that I could be mistake for a drag queen on a good night out, with my fake eyelashes, platinum blonde hair and neon pink lipstick…Wait a minute- maybe I AM a drag queen? I feel a Victor Victoria complex coming on…

I worried that I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I came out as a femme FTM. Even if a felt like a guy at times, I felt like a girly guy, not a butch guy. Most of the MTFs I met cultivated big muscles and facial hair in order to look as butch as possible. The men I was most attracted to wore skirts and eyeliner, so why couldn’t I? And there was the fact that even if I did change my gender, there was no guarantee I would be accepted in the gay male community as a male equal.

I tried talking about my gender dysphoria to a few of my friends, and often came away feeling more confused. I had a hard time explaining to anyone how I felt because even I didn’t understand it. My gender identity was as nuanced and surreal as a Dali painting, and there was no clear cut label to explain how I felt. I felt tremendously vulnerable and insecure after one straight female friend callously asked me “Why does this even matter?” and a dyke friend suggested that my desire to be male was based on stereotypical notions of what it meant to be a gay man. This sort of response only added to me feeling of being excluded and misunderstood.

But fortunately, I had friends who did understand. Interesting enough, my gay male friends were sometimes the only ones to hear me out and offer a positive response. One of my best friends back home, a butch bisexual boi-dyke, had become engaged a bi guy who also identified as a male bodied butch lesbian. He had been thrown out of what was supposed to be a “trans-friendly” women’s event because he appeared “too male”. Gay men in the castro would flirt with her “wifedaddy” (as she called him) in front of her, assuming she was a dyke, and make catty remarks when she asserted herself as his partner. It shocked me how the queer community, which had been founded through the bonds of common oppression, would be so quick to exclude those who could not conform to such a narrowly defined label of queer.

My friend back home defined herself as “Gender fluid”, a term that implied the freedom to express both male and female traits without being locked into one or the other. Another friend taught me “FTX” as an alternative to “FTM”, X representing a non-gendered identity. I felt more comfortable having an option that allowed me to identify as both male and female, instead of being forced to pick one and conform to a set of socially-defined standards.

During my last year on JET, I was fortunate enough to meet someone who enabled me to feel comfortable in my gender identity in a way I had never felt before. Simon was a friend of a friend visiting from San Francisco. We shared a hotel room in Tokyo and spent most of the night talking. I was compelled when Simon told me that he was primarily attracted to lesbians and identified with lesbians more than gay or straight men, as a “guy dyke”, even though he didn’t consider himself to be an mtf transsexual. For the first time I had met someone who understood how I felt without me stumbled over hours of awkward explanations. He told me a livejournal community for women like me, who identified not as oft-maligned fag hags, but as “girl fags”, or “faggettes” (as I had often referred to myself). Learning that I was not alone was the first step to accepting myself. Part of the pain of coming out as a woman with a gay male identity was the reality that gay men were not an actual romantic prospect. But I realized there was an entire of spectrum of men between the rigid definitions gay and straight- metrosexuals, dutch boys, genderqueers, bi guys, transmen, and guy dykes, men who were interested in queer flavored “boy-girl” relationships.

There would always be people who wouldn’t understand and criticise me for my choices, but there would also be people who would understand, accept and identify with me, and that’s all that mattered. It made all the difference for me to know that there was a community somewhere that would accept me as I was instead of shoehorning me into a label that didn’t fit. As strange as it was to live in the (relatively) hetero-centric Japanese society for three years, my self-imposed exile forced me to take a step back society’s rules, listen to my own personal truth, and learn to be comfortable in my unconventional queer identity.”