QUEER VOICES

This Incredible Trans Woman Is Challenging The Way We Think About Gender

"I present as female but people don't have to work too hard to see the male history."

Alex Drummond is a 51-year-old transgender woman who works as a psychotherapist and photographer in Wales.

Drummoud recently began making waves on an international level due to her articulate, scholarly understanding of transgender identity, as well as one significant physical trait -- a fully, bushy, beautiful beard.

While mainstream understandings of transgender identity still tend to  often rely on binary notions of male/female, Drummond seeks to queer the idea of gender through both her physical appearance and her day to day life and existence.

The Huffington Post chatted with Drummond this week about her thoughts surrounding this important moment in time for transgender individuals, as well as her own journey to living as her authentic self.

The Huffington Post: What are your thoughts about this specific moment in history for queer and trans individuals?
Alex Drummond: We are at an exciting time -- a new era that might finally offer equality of the sexes.  A new generation of Trans* identities are emerging, broadening the bandwidth of gender and creating new ways of being. Historically, we saw everything as a binary of male or female and made assumptions about how male or female should look and behave. But the latest neuroscience is showing brains really do have a 'gender' orientation and that brains sit on a spectrum of traits/interests which, yes, society has labelled as male or female but in truth it's more complex. Gentials do not determine gender, brain-orientation does. To clarify, the brain determines gender identity but society creates the rules that constrain people, and importantly, that gender isn't an either/or binary but a spectrum. 

With your own personal experiences in mind, what is it about human diversity that you most want people to understand ?
When our understanding of ourselves is limited to what parents and teachers tell us, how are we to know that gay identities are ok, that trans* identities exist? Growing up, I knew only that I was told I was a boy (but the other boys didn't think so and bullied me for being too girly), and for my part I found more affinity with the girls -- but it got me bullied. I tried my best to fit in but despite my best efforts somehow never quite pulled it off. As an adult I did my best to suppress the female side but lived with a constant inner struggle. Only in my forties did I discover "transgender" and finally something I'd wrestled with for 40 years suddenly made sense; that it really was possible to feel more identified as female than male, that not all transsexuals start as gay and not all transsexuals have surgery. For a long time equality law and medicine set a very fixed way to be a "proper transsexual" and, for me, surgery and hormones could be risky. However, since the 2010 Equality Act, non-medicalized transition is now a protected characteristic. This makes a big difference.

As the social and political climate changes for trans people in the West, what do you hope the future looks like for trans and gender nonconforming individuals?
Until recently, the only stories that got told about "being transsexual" were the sensationalized "Trucker Dave Becomes Diana" and the articles invariably took a mocking tone, with unflattering photos and a freak-show subtext. We never got the stories of people living happily and successfully post-transition, so it was hard to know it was possible. And we virtually never saw a story about a "woman transitioning to become a man."

But with the Internet there has been a democratizing of knowledge -- people can publish and share content and young people can connect with others who validate their experiences. And now (due in no small part to the work of Trans Media Watch) the mass media is finally getting its house in order, presenting more respectful pieces about trans* people. As people see what is possible, more will come out and we'll become more familiar with the ordinariness of gender difference and diversity.

You've discussed how having a full beard as a trans woman "queers gender." Can you elaborate on this?
The beard is an accident, as it happens. In working through my process of transition, I took a cautious stage by stage approach and the beard was a legacy of a period in my thirties when I tried to "butch up." A lot of trans women can feel anxious about being read as "male historied" so, in a way, the beard deliberately deconstructs the anxiety -- I present as female but people don't have to work too hard to see the male history. At an activism level, it makes the idea that gender is more complex than merely man-or-woman very visual: hence the term "genderfuck." Importantly, there is nothing in the equality act that says a woman can't have a beard!

There is no universal trans experience. But, to you, what does it mean to be trans?
Trans*, as an identity, has allowed me to find a more congruent way of being, a way of finding myself and allowing the female self to be shown to others. Its been very liberating. I hope to be part of a movement that advances trans* rights and makes it easier and safer for young people, especially, to come out earlier to live their lives without the shame and stigma our generation have battled with. 

Drummond wrote a book titled Grrl Alex: A Personal Journey to a Transgender Identity. Head here for more information.

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