I’m often asked why I call myself female but don’t identify as a woman. I’m also often asked why I say that I have a transmasculine experience, rather than saying that I am a trans person. Sometimes people think that means that my transmasculine experience is somehow not as valid as their transmasculine experience, because they express that they are being trans. Heh, whatever.
I understand identity as alignment with discursively available social groups. As such, it is subject to history and geography, and is always political. When considering whether or not I might identify as a (trans)man, I must recognize that that if I were a man, I would be a white, heterosexual man in this time and place. The group of people with whom I would align myself, in that case, would be the group of people that has done me the most harm and that has done the most harm to my friends. It’s not a club that I’m interested in joining.
However, my gender experience, with regard to childhood, physical dysphoria/dysmorphia, body modifications, social roles, and treatment/discrimination/violence are common among people who do identify as trans men. They are not particularly common among AFAB women or even non-binary people. That’s why I say that I have a transmasculine experience. It’s how I pass through the world.
Nonetheless, I identify as female for two reasons. The first is pragmatic. I use female to designate the body with which I got stuck. I realize that it is controversial to designate bodies as male and female in this way, so I don’t apply it to other people, but it is how I see my own body. I differentiate between female as referring to physiology (to the extent that I am aware of my physiology) and woman as referring to gender, which I consider the socially constructed roles, presentations, experiences, and identities that are more or less common to women after controlling for other social locations/identities. If there were surgeries that could approximate the typical cismale body, I might think differently, but there are not.
The second reason is political. As I said, I believe that identity is always a political alignment, and I don’t want to join the man club. Also, I am very politically invested in women and in feminism. Part of how I signify that commitment is by maintaining a female identity. I am not trying to imply that anyone else should signify their commitment to feminism in that way. It is just my way.
I’m going to disclaim again that I realize my use of these terms and my understanding of identity are not necessarily shared by others. I am not attempting to apply them to others in this way or to critique the ways in which they are commonly understood. I make an effort to not use them in this way, with regard to others. However, I am entitled to use language to describe myself in whatever way I choose. This is what my seemingly contradictory female identity and transmasculine experience mean to me.