Tag Archives: body modification

GUEST POST: Die Cis Scum

This is for TDoR.

Die cis scum.

It’s not ironic. It’s not cute. It is a threat.

How many people are murdered because they are cis? How many people are denied employment, housing, health services, turned away from shelters, refused aid, and are subjected to constant ridicule and abuse because they are cis?

If you are cis, do my tattoo and jacket make you feel uncomfortable? I can only hope so.

Right now, when I see a cis person in public, I worry. I tense and hold my breath and get ready to sprint away. You frighten me. This fear is entirely justified. I’ve already been sent to the hospital for the crime of walking down the sidewalk towards my home while visibly gender variant. I fully expect to be attacked again, severely. (The less severe attacks, the screams and threats and disapproval and hatred and thrust elbows and shoves, these are the givens. These are part of the cost I know I will be forced to pay if I wish to leave my house.)

Die cis scum. It is hostile. It’s aggression, on my part. It is a whisper of personal agency. When the cissexism and transphobia of this culture crush in, overwhelming and unstoppable, these three words are how I push back.

Would that I could push harder.

-A beloved friend who wishes to remain anonymous

ETA: I, Asher Bauer, did not write this post but I did personally give my friend the tattoo shown above, by hand, using a sewing needle and tattoo ink, and I support this message 100 percent.


They say gender is between your ears, and sex is between your legs.

But your gender is not all in your head. It is interactive. It exists within you and outside of you, around you, in the world. After all, if gender could exist comfortably purely as self-knowledge, why would anybody need to transition?

Gender can be felt throughout your entire body. In fact it probably reaches out beyond the boundaries of your body into your wardrobe and the clutter in your room. You leave bits and pieces of your gender everywhere as you move through the world.

And sex is not between the legs. It is never in just one place. It is genitals, it is chromosomes, it is hormones, it is body hair, it is the fucking pitch of your voice. They always tell us that it’s one thing, but then as soon as we get close, they move it.

Talk to a cis person about sex and notice that they’ll almost always define your sex in terms of what you don’t have. That surgery you didn’t get, or the fact that you needed that surgery in the first place. The stubble you forgot to shave, or the beard that you can’t grow yet. What your voice sounds like now, or the fact that it used to sound like something else. Chromosomes you haven’t had tested. Structures in your brain that you will never get a look at.

Sex, in other words, is a moving goal post. It is everywhere and nowhere. It is not between your legs. If it is anywhere in your body then it’s that spot in the middle of your back which you can’t quite reach to scratch. They will always try to put it wherever you cannot get it, and no place else.


The Gender Bill Of Rights

Here’s something I’m working on. I thought maybe you lovely people would have some feedback, and be able to remind me if I am forgetting anything. I’m not interested in scaling this back or making it more “realistic,” only in making it more radical and comprehensive. I’m also interested in wording it in ways that emphasize the ways in which this would actually benefit everyone, including cis men and women, heterosexuals, and others who might generally feel alienated from discussion of transgender liberation.

(I also know there are also a few gender bill of rights type documents floating around out there already. I felt moved to make my own.)

THE GENDER BILL OF RIGHTS

These rights are inalienable, mandatory, and to be taken seriously at all times. This is a model of gender that is fully individual, consensual, voluntary, and free from state intervention. This model of gender has been designed not to oppress anyone and in fact has been designed to benefit all who are affected by gender in this society (that is to say, everyone), including men, women, non-binary people, agender people, cis people, trans people, intersex and non-intersex people, hetero, queer, and asexual people. We are a long way from adopting this model, and to do so would take time. But doing so can ultimately only benefit us all.

  1. You have a right to have your gender treated as valid, equal and real.
  2. You have a right to be referred with proper forms of address, including pronouns, honorifics, correct names, and appropriate gender descriptors.
  3. You have a right to change how you feel about, talk about, relate to and wish others to relate to your gender, or indeed to change your gender itself, in any way, at any time.
  4. You have a right to not have a gender.
  5. You have a right to privacy about your gender or lack thereof.
  6. No one’s gender should ever be assumed. No one should ever be assumed to have a gender.
  7. You have a right to full control over your gender beginning at birth. No surgical alterations should be made on unconsenting infants in order to fit them into a certain paradigm of gender. Gendered names, pronouns, and descriptors should never be used until children can decide for themselves how they wish to be known to the world.
  8. Education should be unbiased towards any gender or lack of gender. Children of school age have a right to role models of any or no gender.
  9. You have a right to be attracted to anybody of any gender or lack of gender, and to carry on sexual or romantic relationships with any number of consenting individuals regardless of gender.
  10. You have a right to engage in any consensual sex act, regardless of your gender.
  11. You have a right to say no at any time to anyone, regardless of your or their gender.
  12. You have a right to raise children, regardless of your gender.
  13. You have a right to access contraception, permanent birth control, and abortion as needed, regardless of your gender.
  14. You have a right to express any emotion that you feel, regardless of your gender.
  15. You have a right to dress and present yourself in any way that you desire, regardless of your gender.
  16. You have a right to total control over your own body and sole authority in making decisions about it.
  17. The state of your body should not be considered a factor in the validity of your gender. Levels of hormones or number of surgeries that you may or may not have undergone should have no influence on how your gender is viewed by others.
  18. You have a right to employment and fair wages, regardless of your gender.
  19. You have a right to housing, regardless of your gender.
  20. You have a right to education, regardless of your gender.
  21. You have a right to healthcare, regardless of your gender, including the right to vital psychological and medical services which may relate to your gender, including hormone therapy and transgender surgeries of any kind. Access to these necessary services should be unabridged.
  22. No one’s gender should ever be pathologized.
  23. You have a right to relieve yourself in public bathrooms which are safe, private, and desegregated.
  24. You have a right to expect that the state, if a state there must be, shall not interfere with, demand information about, or mistreat you on the basis of your gender. You should not be identified to the state or to others by information about your gender. There should be no need for gender markers on any form of legal identification.
  25. No organization, governmental or otherwise, has the right to demand information about your gender. Medical professionals need only know details about their patient’s anatomy, and appropriate polite forms of address to be used with their patients, including correct names, pronouns and honorifics, nothing more.
  26. To the legal system, if a legal system there must be, your gender should be immaterial. You should not be placed in solitary confinement based on your gender. You should not be placed in segregated facilities of any kind based on your gender. You should have a fair trial, regardless of your gender. You have a right to a jury of your peers, i.e. transgender people have a right to not be judged by cisgender people who may be viciously biased against us.

School Sucks

Dear Readers,

I am sorry to have to do this to you. I really try to maintain a biweekly posting schedule, but this can be difficult when I’ve got work and school to contend with. School is the main culprit this time. I have two essays about, of all things, gender, due next week. So because I do not have a column ready, and in the spirit of academic stress, I would like to share a piece by a dear friend that I have been wanting to post here for awhile.

Zoe blogs about disability stuff over at Illusion Of Competence. But she’s also a kick-ass cis ally. She wrote this paper awhile back in response to the rampant transmisogyny in her feminist theory class. It provides a good quick-and-dirty criticism of much of what is wrong with ciscentric feminism. If the style is a bit academic for you, well, FEEL MY PAIN. This is the kind of thing I will be spending my weekend cranking out.

Without further ado, I present:


Locating Trans Women’s Experience in the Feminist Analysis of the Body

Academics, shrinks, and feminist theorists have traveled through our lives and problems like tourists on a junket. Picnicking on our identities like flies at a free lunch, they have selected the tastiest tidbits with which to illustrate a problem or push a book. The fact that we are a community under fire, a people at risk, is irrelevant to them. They pursue Science and Theory, and what they produce by mining our lives is neither addressed to us nor recycled within our community… Our performance of gender is invariably a site of contest, a problem which – if we could but bring enough hi-octane academic power to bear – might be “solved,” (Wilchins, 63).

Feminists have often used the experience of transgender individuals in their theory – to prove a point, to explore an issue, or even to point out an interesting case, a fascinating specimen of humanity. This essay will attempt to do the opposite – not to use trans people as an accessory to theory, but to show how their experiences are relevant to already-existing feminist concepts and critiques. This essay will demonstrate that trans women have a place in feminist discourse, focusing on feminist theory surrounding the body – particularly the “ideal” female body and the medicalization of identity.


The construction of society’s “ideal woman” has long been problematized by feminist thought, which points out how this concept is used to marginalize women with nonstandard or “non-ideal” bodies. Nancy Mairs writes:

I’ve spent most of my life (together with probably at least 95 percent of the female population of the United States) suffering from the shame of falling short of an unattainable standard. The ideal woman of my generation [had] blond hair pulled up into a bouncing ponytail. Wide blue eyes, a turned-up nose with maybe a scattering of golden freckles across it, a small mouth with full lips over straight white teeth. Her breasts were large but well harnessed high on her chest; her tiny waist flared to hips just large enough to give the crinolines of her circle skirt a starting push… (Mairs, 87)

Why not add, to this list of traits that our society requires of the ideal woman, two X chromosomes, a vagina, breasts, ovaries, a high voice? Trans women are marginalized for their lack of idealized feminine traits as are disabled women, women of color, older women, fat women, and others whose bodies are not accepted by society. Mairs writes that, as a wheelchair user, she is “not, by their standards, quite a person anymore,” (Mairs, 89). This dehumanization is something that trans women face every day, when they are regarded as freaks or as fascinating case studies rather than simply as women, as people. Many feminist writers have expressed their frustration at the fact that in our society, privileged groups are the arbiters of womanhood and personhood. A key tenet of feminism is that this should not be so. It should not be left to men to decide what a woman is – but neither should it be left to cisgender people. Refusal to accept trans women as women (or for that matter, insistence on regarding trans men as women) is just another iteration of society’s policing of women’s bodies.


The exclusion of trans women from womanhood is part of a cultural view that feminism has long opposed: that biology is destiny, that an individual’s personality and societal role are defined by hir genetic characteristics. A woman must possess two X chromosomes, and these chromosomes must dictate and limit every facet of her life. These arguments are inseparable, and both of them externalize control of women’s identity. Susan Bordo writes that the medical model of an identity or condition “requires the exorcising of all pre-modern notions that the body might obey a spiritual, emotional, or associational rather than a purely mechanical logic,” (Bordo, 66). This concept – that the body’s meaning is static, unchangeable, already written – is at work in the argument that biology is destiny.


The medical model is another topic that often comes up in feminist discourse surrounding the body. Many feminists have written about medical models of disability or eating disorders. They have discussed  the way that medical models can pathologize women and subject them to a doctor-knows-best mentality even when it comes to their own bodies and experiences. Susan Bordo writes: “Since the seventeenth century, science has ‘owned’ the study of the body and its disorders. This proprietorship requires that the body’s meanings be utterly transparent and accessible to the qualified specialist (aided by the appropriate methodology and technology) and utterly opaque to the patient herself,” (Bordo, 66). This is absolutely the case in the treatment of gender-variant individuals. In order to be “officially” transgender or gender-nonconforming, an individual must be diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, sometimes by doctors with only the narrowest idea of what makes a “true” transsexual. The simple requirement that Gender Identity Disorder be diagnosed prioritizes the doctor’s interpretation of the patient’s body over the patient’s, and assumes that the meaning of the patient’s experiences is “utterly opaque to the patient herself.” It also makes (often cisgender) medical professionals the guardians of transgender identity, conferring upon them the power to weed out “true” transsexuals from “false” ones. Doctors can then dole out or withhold hormone treatments and Sexual Reassignment Surgery accordingly (Spade).


The importance of diagnosis is common to any medical model. Unlike social models, medical models curtail discussion of the cultural or political aspects of an identity or condition. The medical model of neurodiversity, for example, has separate diagnoses, treatments, and expectations of  “low-functioning autistics,” “high-functioning autistics,” and “Aspergers’ sufferers.” These distinctions keep neurotypicals in control of the discourse surrounding neurodiversity. A common catch-22 used to dismiss the concerns of autistic self-advocates is to invalidate their perspectives because they must not be “real autistics” – “real autistics” cannot speak for themselves. The medicalization of eating disorders has a similar consequence: Susan Bordo writes about medical professionals’ attempts “to distinguish between anorexia and ‘anorexic-like behavior,’ ‘true anorectics’ and ‘me, too, anorectics,’ ‘bulimic thinking’ and normal female ‘weight-preoccupation,’” (Bordo, 65). Bordo argues that these imposed distinctions are often used to prevent discussion of the cultural causes of eating disorders, and to justify our culture’s “female ‘weight-preoccupation’” by distinguishing it from disordered behavior.

The medical model of transgender and transsexualism functions in a similar way. Doctors often use blatant gender stereotypes as diagnostic tools. Dean Spade’s essay “Mutilating Gender” deals largely with his frustration with this aspect of the medical sector. Spade seeks both to have a mastectomy and to retain his own gender identity, which is more fluid and ambiguous than doctors consider proper for a transsexual man. “In order to obtain the medical intervention I am seeking,” Spade writes, “I need to prove my membership in the category ‘transsexual’ – prove that I have GID – to the proper authorities. Unfortunately, stating my true objectives is not convincing them,” (Spade, 326). Trans women are subjected to the same stereotyping and gender policing when they seek diagnosis and treatment. Spade notes that one doctor “diagnosed male-to-female transsexuals by bullying them: ‘The ‘girls’ cry, the gays get aggressive,’” (Spade, 326). These requirements – that trans people have binary gender identities, that trans women not be aggressive – are only a few on a long list of “diagnostic criteria” that trans people often encounter. Some treatment programs have considered that to be transsexual, an individual must be heterosexual as well – transitioning will then “save” these patients from perceived homosexuality. The diagnostic criteria for Gender Identity Disorder in children rely only on gender stereotypes and conventional ideas of gender-appropriate behavior (Spade, 320).


These diagnostic requirements spring from medical professionals’ determination to “create” only the most gender-appropriate men and women. Just as the medical model of disability limits our understanding of variation in the human mind, and the medical model of eating disorders curtails discussion of the cultural anxieties surrounding weight, the medical model of transgender reinforces gender stereotypes that harm us all. In feminist discussions of the way that medical models pathologize and restrict women, the experience of transgender women should not be ignored.


Why is it important to  include trans women in feminist discourse? Because they are already there. Trans women are oppressed by the same societal forces and attitudes which oppress all women – the construction of the ideal woman, the medicalization of identity, workplace sexism and employment discrimination, victim-blaming in cases of rape, assault, and murder. This oppression is aggravated by the fact that trans women belong to another marginalized group, as is the case for women of color, disabled women, working-class women, et cetera. According to bell hooks, feminism is a movement to end sexist oppression – not just the sexist oppression of white women, or of rich women, or of cisgender women, but sexist oppression in all its forms. Until cisgender feminists include trans women in their discussions and critiques, they will not be advocating feminism – they will simply be advocating for themselves.

Works Cited

Bordo, Susan. “Whose Body is This?” Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995. 45-69.

Mairs, Nancy. Carnal Acts. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.

Spade, Dean. “Mutilating Gender.” The Transgender Studies Reader. Florence, Kentucky: Routledge, 2006.

Wilchins, Riki Anne. Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender. Ann Arbor: Firebrand Books, 1997.


Not Your Mom’s Trans 101

There is a huge problem with the way that people are taught about gender in this society. Children are indoctrinated early to believe that there are two sexes, corresponding with two genders, which are both immutable and non-voluntary and completely beyond our control. This worldview is called the gender binary, and it has no room in it for us.

Trying to teach a new perspective to the victims of this extremely aggressive brainwashing can be daunting. In fact, the task can seem downright impossible. The temptation, therefore, is to “dumb things down” for the benefit of a cisgender audience. This situation has given rise to a set of oversimplifications collectively known as “Trans 101.” These rather absurd tropes, such as “blank trapped in a blank’s body” cause confusion among even well-meaning cis folks, feed internalized transphobia among us trans people, and  provide endless straw-man fodder for transphobic ‘radical feminists,’ entitled cisgender academics, and other bigots.

Near the beginning of my transition, I myself taught “Trans 101” this way. Because I didn’t know any better. Because I had been taught to think of myself in terms of these same useless tropes, as an “FTM,” as a “female man,” as somebody who was “changing sexes.” Eventually, through a lot of intense discussions and a lot of tough love from people who were more knowledgeable, more radical, and more politically sophisticated than myself, I came to see things very differently.

I haven’t tried to teach Trans 101 since extracting my head from my rectum. But I think the time has come for me to tackle the problem of explaining and defining what it means to be transgender without resorting to cissexist language. It strikes me as I contemplate this task that Trans 101 is generally not only dumbed-down, but also declawed. There are truths that I must speak here that are incredibly threatening to a cissupremacist worldview, that attack its very foundations. But I for one am willing to do that. I am not here to make cis people comfortable or to reassure them that they are still the center of the gendered universe. In fact, I am totally fine with doing the opposite.

Without further ado, let’s begin.

GENDER ASSIGNED AT BIRTH

Let’s start at the beginning. A baby is born. The doctor says “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl” based on the appearance of the child’s genitals. If the genitalia cannot be easily categorized according to binary standards– that is, if the child is intersex– the doctor makes a decision. Surgery is then generally performed on the unconsenting infant to render its body more socially acceptable.

Whether the baby is intersex or not, the child is then raised as whatever arbitrary gender the doctor saw fit to assign.

“Cisgender” is the term for people who have no issue with the gender that they were assigned at birth. For whatever reason, they are able to live somewhat comfortably within the gender in which they have been cast. No one really knows why so many people are capable of fitting into such arbitrary categories.

Transgender people cannot accept our assigned genders. We know ourselves to be something different than what we were told to be. We do not see the random gender scripts we were given by society as relevant to us. We know that there is a different way, a way of autonomy, self-creation, and self-definition, and that this is the way we must follow, because we can never be happy with the parameters that have been mandated for our behavior and our bodies.

THE BINARY

All cis people and many trans people are binary-identified. Given the options of “man” or “woman,” we who are binary-identified are able to be comfortable with one, even if it is the opposite of what we were assigned. For example, I am a man who was assigned to live as a woman, therefore I am a trans man. My father is a man who was assigned to live as a man, therefore he is a cis man. Both of us are binary identified, both men, even though he is cis and I am trans.

It is a mystery why so many people are comfortable being categorized in just one of two ways. Just as nobody knows why there are so many cis people, nobody knows why there are so many binary identified folks.

But there are many trans people who are neither male nor female. They cannot be categorized as “either/or.” These people may use terms for themselves like genderqueer, androgynous, agender, or neutrois. They often use gender-neutral pronouns such as “ze/hir/hirs” or “they/them/their/theirs.” They can be both male and female, or none of the above, multi-gender, genderless, or something else completely.

In typical trans 101 discussions, right now I would probably be explaining to you that “gender is a spectrum” and drawing a cute little line graph labeled “m” at one end and “f” at the other. But this would be fallacious, as well as total bullshit. Gender is not a line, it is a huge three-dimensional space too big to be bounded by the concepts of “male” and “female.” Being trans is not always about falling “in between” binary genders, and as often as not, it’s about being something too expansive for those ideas to have meaning at all.

SELF IDENTIFICATION

The language of self-identification is often used to describe trans people. “George identifies as a man.” “I respect Judy’s identification as a woman.” “Chris just told me that ze identifies as ‘genderqueer.’ Oh dear, that pronoun is going to take some getting used to.” An organization I know, in an effort to be trans friendly, as posted little signs on their bathroom doors, underneath the “MENS” and “WOMENS” signs that we know so well, saying “Self-identified men welcome” and “Self-identified women welcome” and “please be respectful of diversity.”

This co-opting of the language of self-identification is not only condescending, it completely missed the point.

Cis people seem to think that self-identification is only for trans folks. They don’t have to “identify” as men and women– they just ARE! Their gender isn’t “self-identified,” it’s “self-evident!”

What they fail to understand is that self identification is the only meaningful way to determine gender. Any other method is wholly dependent upon what that doctor said way back when we were still wrinkly, writhing, screaming newborn messes, completely unformed as individuals and without any identity at all to speak of, too bloody and scrunchy-faced to even be called cute. The fact is that cis people self-identify too– they just happen to agree with what the doctor said all those years ago. Anybody who answers the question of “are you a man?” or “are you a woman?” with “yes” has just self-identified.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “but what about bodies? What about genitals? What about chromosomes? What about hormones? What about SEX? Doesn’t that have any bearing on gender?”

Be patient, my darlings. I’ll get to that in just a moment.

BODIES

Almost every Trans 101 will contain the truism “Sex is between your legs, gender is between your ears.”

Gag.

Or they may say “Sex is physical, gender is socially constructed.”

This simply isn’t true.

Sex is no more an immutable binary than is gender. There are intersex people who are born with non-binary genitalia, as I have already mentioned. There are people with hormonal anomalies. In fact, hormone levels vary wildly within the categories of cis male and cis female. Chromosomes, too, vary. If you thought “XX” and “XY” were the only two possible combinations, you have some serious googling to do. In addition to variations like XXY, XXYY, or X, sometimes cis people find out that they are genetically the “opposite” of what they though they were– that is, a ‘typical’ cis man can be XX, a ‘normal’ cis woman can be XY.

The fact is that the concept of binary sex is based on the fallacious idea that multiple sex characteristics are immutable and must always go together, when in fact many of them can be changed, many erased, and many appear independently in different combinations. “Female” in sex binary terms means having breasts, having a vagina, having a womb, not having a lot of body hair, having a high-pitched voice, having lots of estrogen, having a period, having XX chromosomes. “Male” means having a penis, not having breasts, producing sperm, having body hair, having a deep voice, having lots of testosterone, having XY chromosomes. Yet it is possible to isolate, alter, and remove many of these traits. Many of these traits do not always appear together, and before puberty and after menopause, many of them do not apply.

And what about women who get hysterectomies? Or who have had mastectomies for reasons related to breast cancer? Are they not women?

What about a soldier whose dick gets blown off by a mine? Is he not a man?

The fallacies of binding identity to bodies, which are fragile, changeable things, subject to injury, mutilation, maiming, decay and ultimate destruction, should by now be clear.

Sex is as much a social construct as gender, as much subject to self identification, and besides all that, quite easy to modify. Surgical and hormonal techniques are only becoming more sophisticated. If there ever was a need to consider biology destiny, that time is surely past.

The entire concept of “sex” is simply a way of attaching something social– gender– to bodies. This being the case, I believe the most sensible way to look at the question of sex now is this: a male body is a body belonging to a male– that is, someone who identifies as male. A female body is a body belonging to a female– that is, someone who identifies as female. Genderqueer bodies belong to folks who are genderqueer, androgynous bodies belong to androgynes, and so forth, and so on.

This is why I question the value of phrases like “man in a woman’s body” or “male to female.” Who is to say we ever were the “opposite sex?” Personally I will never again describe myself as “born female.” I was born a trans male and my years of confusion were due to being forcefully and repeatedly told that I was something else. This body is not a woman’s. It is mine. Neither am I trapped in it.

None of what I say here is to minimize the necessity of surgery. Many trans people do experience body dysphoria. Many of us do seek hormones, surgery, and other body modifications. But the point is that, while such modifications may be necessary for our peace of mind, they are not necessary to make us “real men” or “real women” or “real” whatevers. We’re plenty real right now, thank you.

OPPRESSION

This brings us, I think, the most important topic of all, and the topic which is most commonly left out of any Trans 101: transphobia and cissexism and how to avoid them.

“Cissexism” can be defined as the system of oppression which considers cis people superior to trans people. Cissexism is believing that it is “natural” to be cis, that being trans is aberrant. Cissexism is holding the genders of trans people to more intense scrutiny than the genders of cis people. Cissexism is defining beauty and attractiveness based on how cis people look. Cissexism is prioritizing cis people’s comfort over trans people’s ability to survive. Cissexism is believing that cis people have more right to have jobs, go to school, date and have sex, make decisions about their bodies, wear the clothes they want, or use public restrooms than trans people do.

Transphobia is irrational fear and hatred of trans people. Transphobia is Silence Of The Lambs. Transphobia is referring to transgender surgery as self-mutilation. Transphobia is believing that trans people habitually “trick” or “fool” others into having sex with us. Transphobia is believing that we are out to rob you of your hetero-or-homosexuality. Transphobia is trans people being stared at, insulted, harassed, attacked, beaten, raped, and murdered for simply existing.

If you want to be a good ally, you need to start taking cissexism and transphobia seriously right now. That means getting our goddamn pronouns right and not expecting a cookie for it. That means learning our names. That means not asking invasive questions or telling us how well we “pass.” (Passing generally means “looking cis.” Not all of us want to look like you, thank you very much.) That means deleting the words “tranny” and “shemale” from your vocabulary. That means understanding the immense privilege you have in your legally recognized, socially approved, medically assigned gender.

That means realizing that this is just the beginning. and that you have a lot to learn. That means realizing that it would be intrusive and importunate to ask the nearest trans person to explain it all to you, as if they didn’t have better things to do. That means hitting the internet and doing all that you can to educate yourself. And once you’ve done all that, maybe you can call yourself an ally, that is, if you’re still genuinely willing to join us in the hard work of making the world a less shitty place to be trans.

This will be a work in progress. I expect to receive a lot of commentary on this piece. I expect that it will be edited and possibly revised almost beyond recognition. I am OK with that. As always, there is more work to do. Trans 101 is a huge deal. Revising the way that it is discussed and taught is not a task for just one person. It’s something the entire community must take on.

This is only a first step. But I still hope we learned something today.


Frankengender

Happy Halloween, dear readers. To celebrate the spookiness of the season, I would like to talk about transphobia, with emphasis on the “phobia” part. Prepare to be disturbed.

Transphobia is commonly defined as “irrational fear and hatred of transgender people.” As a member of an oppressed and misunderstood class, I can easily accept that many people hate us, though I don’t very well understand why. It’s much harder for me to swallow that the bigots who I fear might actually be afraid of me. Seriously, I don’t see what’s so scary about trans people. We are just human beings at a disadvantage in society, more likely to be victims of violence than to commit it. Yet we have been constructed as vicious aberrations, by everything from horror flicks like Silence Of The Lambs to self-styled radical feminists.

Yep, that’s right. Feminists. As it turns out, a certain number of people who identify as such are only interested in rights for women who happen to be cis. Germaine Greer, Sheila Jeffreys, and Mary Daly are often cited examples of transphobic feminists. Daly is particularly noted for comparing trans people to Frankenstein’s monster. All three have accused trans women of being “parodies” of womanhood and of “mutilating” their bodies through surgery.

Considering that these arguments are based on the faulty assumptions that a) trans women all have “hyper-feminine” presentations (they don’t), b) they can’t ‘pass’ as cis (many can), and c) medically supervised surgery is equivalent to self mutilation, I feel safe stating these objections are not rational. I think what really scares and squicks these people is transgender surgery. After a couple of years of being out as trans, this doesn’t really surprise me. Cis people are alternately titillated and horrified by what they imagine we do with our bodies. They see us as medical miracles (man becomes pregnant!), grotesque freaks, or bizarre objects of desire (see “shemale porn”).

I think cis people are freaked out by trans surgeries because they fear our power to alter aspects of our bodies which they take for granted in their own. They see us as violators of “natural” physical and reproductive roles. A man bearing a child or a woman having a “penis” (whether she calls it that or not!) is seen by cis folks as a dramatic reversal of The Way Things Are; when for a trans person it might be just a fact of life.

This fear of trans people and our ability to shape our own bodies seems to be ancient. Demons like Baphomet are frequently depicted with transgender characteristics (to say nothing of their trans-species qualities). In the Greek myth of Hermaphroditus, a cis man is merged, against his will, with a female nymph, causing him to become physically androgynous. This story illustrates how cis people fear to undergo the transformations that many of us undertake voluntarily.

Sometimes this fear of transgender body modification includes the conviction that we will resort to mutilating cis bodies. Silence Of The Lambs is a perfect illustration of this trope. Instead of pursuing conventional transgender surgery, “Buffalo Bill” skins cis females to make hirself a “woman suit.” Buffalo Bill, of course, was based on a real trans person, Ed Gein, the same killer who served as inspiration for Norman Bates in Psycho. Although obviously it’s not good to stereotype trans people as murderers, I think the narrative of Buffalo Bill has something even uglier going on under the surface. Buffalo Bill’s mutilation of cis bodies represents the idea that all bodies are “cis bodies,” that trans people don’t have the right to alter the “natural” forms of cis “male” and cis “female.” When Germaine Greer asserts that “All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact,” i.e. by simply existing, this is what she means. When people like Alix Dobkin accuse transgender men of mutilating “women’s bodies,” this is what they mean. Isn’t that unbelievable? Even though I am a man, and my body is self-evidently mine, somehow, transphobes would tell me, it belongs to a “woman,” it is a “woman’s body,” and not mine to alter– and in fact, that altering it is an act of violence and misogyny. Yet nobody seems to be able to tell me who this hypothetical woman is. She definitely never lived at this address.

In many cultures trickster gods such as Loki have assumed gender-bending forms, often in order to seduce somebody. This, too, exposes another cis fear– that we will “trick” them into having sex with us, thus “sullying” their heterosexuality (or homosexuality, for that matter). This is another way that cis people think we can harm them by our very existence– because what if they should find some of us attractive? (The horror!) I have to wonder why the prospect of feeling attraction for, having sex with, or falling in love with a transgender person is so terrifying. Apparently, our sexualities are just that dangerous and threatening, so much so that cis people who experience attraction to trans folks have felt justified in murdering us, and courts have accepted their “trans panic” defenses without blinking.

Now that’s scary.

It’s scary that trans people are victimized in public bathrooms. It’s scary that we face sometimes insurmountable obstacles in obtaining jobs or basic medical care. It’s scary that so many of us are homeless or marginally housed. It’s scary that so many of us are doing survival sex work, and that so many cops feel absolutely justified harassing random trans women on suspicion that they are working. It’s scary that there is so much hatred propagated against us in the media, and so much violence facing us in the world.

Transphobia is scary, not transgender people. So happy fucking Halloween.

I think I’ll go as Germaine Greer.


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