Archive for the ‘cisnormativity’ Category
This video is a Transfix production, etc:
I am unable to properly transcribe this (and my verbal working memory has tested as abominably low, so now it’s even scientifically proven), but I would appreciate if someone else could.
Transcription (without indicators as to who said which, unfortunately, via Reddit):
You know, for my new year’s resolution, I was thinking about only using Zee and Zir. Doesn’t that sound just so much more inclusive?
I could tell, it’s the voice.
They… is not a pronoun.
Sorry, sorry… I keep getting your pronouns wrong. It’s just really hard for me.
You know, I don’t really identify as cis, and it makes me feel really marginalized when you call me that.
Oh my god, I love Ru Paul’s Drag Race! You should totally be on that!
So what do you think of this Chaz Bono? I think it’s great that you guys have, like, a role model.
So what’s your real name?
You are so brave.
No no, your real word.
Look, I know a lot of drag queens, and they all use that word.
Don’t worry, once gay marriage is legalized, people are going to stop discriminating against you too.
So have you had the surgery yet?
Has she had the surgery yet?
Has he had the surgery?
Has she had the surgery yet?
(Wanders into her bedroom when changing) Oh my god, you really can’t tell!
Eric, what are you doing in my house?? (Slams door)
If you want to pass…
You know, you transgenders are so inspiring.
You know, I’m just really happy you’re finally going to be one or the other.
My cousin’s best friend is gay, so, I totally get it.
Who do you have sex with?
I didn’t even know you were gay!
Hey, did you hear about John?
I read Middlesex, and I cried, like, bawled.
Why would you want to do something like that.
I look like such a tranny today… you know what I mean.
I’ll call you she when you get the surgery.
Cis? What does that mean?!
Oh, I’ve known him since he was Melissa.
Have they had the surgery?
Has she had the surgery yet?
Did she have the surgery?
(All together) Have you had the surgery yet?
Hello all. As shown by my recent important post on ponies, I am still vaguely alive. Hurrah me. Ok, so as my title might suggest: I am not entirely sure that transness exists as a particular identity mode all the time. That’s kind of an odd statement I realise, so let me unpack it a bit.
Tobi Hill-Meyer has proposed what I think is the only really plausible and useful definition of transness which presumes that trans people are as real and authentic as cis, which is: a trans person is someone whose sex/gender is not universally recognised as valid. Other definitions premised on a transition “from” one sex to another unwittingly reify cis sexes as static and homogenous sets of physical and emotional characteristics and behaviours. This premise of binary sexes is both inaccurate – point to almost any characteristic and there’s exceptions which are not considered trans – and arbitrary, repressing the diversity of human sex and gender morphologies, histories and behaviours.
That it exists in the first place is, I think, an effect of the ideological power of cis narratives to construct “truth” in its own image (and of trans relative powerlessness). There are in a cissexist and transphobic society only two real, authentic, legimate sexes; that is, men and women (and they only ever cis). Everyone else is really their assigned sex, forever and ever amen. And any time you hear the word “really,” you are hearing an ontological argument about essence and truth. Platonic essences, a story just about as old as humanity, and one that lives on despite its thorough philosophical rebuttal over the years.
For those of us who live and are correctly gendered as part of the binary at least some of the time as the other sex as the one we were assigned, we are almost entirely gendered correctly on the assumption that we are not known to be trans. To be known to be trans is in a cissexist world is to no longer be considered wholly and only the sex/gender you live as – it is an invalidation of the present in favour of an imagined, inaccurate cis origin story. For non-binaries, this occurs almost constantly, because there are few spaces where non-binaries are accepted as real, true sexes and/or genders.
Under this regime, then, it seems to me that “transness” is not something that I personally experience all of the time, or is something that any binary person necessarily experiences all the time (and there is scope for non-binary accepting spaces to broaden out this same pattern for non-binary folks, though it remains in the extreme minority right now). I experience “transness” only in the moment of transphobia – and in the psychic legacy of fear of that appearing again. And if we ask when we are “trans” in this sense, we might also ask to whom. Because I don’t identify as a trans woman, and I don’t “identify” as a woman. I simply am a woman, but in this society because of my sex assignment at birth that means I am considered trans whether I like it or not.
One thing that I think many of us do is act diffidently, implicitly accepting a subordinate symbolic position as simulations, copies of cis originals. How often do allies tack an obligatory “trans” before man or woman even when it’s not required? How often are the links from this blog – primarily written by a group of feminist-identified or friendly women – filed under GLBT but never feminism? These and a million other actions construct a cis centre and a trans margin.
I want to know: When are we real? Where are we real? For whom? Why are we not considered real, when we are not? What would we need to change materially and culturally to become considered real as we are?
What we currently have is an intellectual failure, a failure to truly include the totality of human sex and gender expression in our cultural imaginary, a failure to truly consider trans men as men, trans women as women, and non-binaries as whatever particular sex-gender they live their lives as. There would be no need for “trans” to mark our invalidation then, because we would have already been included in the definitions of “real” from the start. Because we’re not copies.
Toronto couple Kathy Witterick and David Stocker did the usual thing that any parents do when their new child is born, they sent out an email notice noting their new baby’s vital statistics and eye color. But what they did differently was to leave short, simple statement about their baby, named Storm.
“We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime (a more progressive place? …”
Essentially what Witterick and Stoker have decided is to not assume that Storm is cisgender and to leave it to Storm to figure out whom zie is for zimself in the spirit of self determination and autonomy, free of coercive gender stereotyping.
As explained in their own words their choice was as simple as that.
On May 21st, 2011 the family was featured in The Toronto Star in a story about their decision not to coercively gender Storm. In the proceeding days the story was quickly picked up by other news outlets. Men’s Health, local Fox news affiliates, Human Events, and even The Times of India re-posted the story on their websites.
Predictably, the backlash against this act not in compliance with coercive gendering came to a head and Internet Shitstorm Machine sprang to life.
As one can imagine in our cis-centric society, the family has received an enormous amount of criticism and little praise for their parenting choices. They have been accused of making their baby in to a “social experiment”, of “borderline child abuse”, and “being amoral hippies” in commentary from a multitude of sources. This fire storm of controversy and personal accusation have all come in the name of the “the good of the baby”.
But it’s hard for me to believe that any of this criticism can be counted on as being intellectually honest or in the best interest of Storm. Storm and zir’s parents are experiencing what trans people are well used to, namely, they’re receiving criticism that is not about Strom at all. Instead, Storm and zir parents are being used by cis people as foils for their own personal conflicts, confusion and stereotypes about gender and gender relations.
Both Storm and trans people are treated as kind of an abstract concept that cis people can project their own conflicts, fears and anxieties upon. But in either case, it’s not about Storm or trans people; it’s about cisgender people’s anxieties and keeping cis -supremacy in order.
As for the criticisms and “concerns”, let’s go through the three most prevalent objections I’ve seen.
1. “This will confuse the baby and damage zim”
This argument is obviously flawed in the fact that it assumes that Storm will grow up to be cis or have a binary gender identity/expression, which of course is not to be taken for granted. It also assumes that coercively raising a child as male or female as people usually do is inherently “natural” and doesn’t do damage to people when it fact it can have the opposite effect, as borne out by the lived experiences of both cis and trans people. What Storm’s parents are doing is the opposite of coercion, they’re letting Storm to figure out zir own gender for zirself. How could allowing a child a carefully considered range of freedom be damaging?
2. “This is social experiment with a political agenda.”
Again we see the effects of cis-centric thinking at work here. The truth is that I’m an experiment, you’re an experiment and we’re all experiments of a cis-supremacist and misogynistic society. Saying this ignores that children are influenced by gender stereotypes and depictions of gendered behavior dozens, perhaps hundreds of times a day. People only notice this when someone refuses to conform to these stereotypes or decides not to teach them to their children, as Storm’s parents are doing.
Socialization can come in good and bad forms. For example many kids today are socialized in to racist ideology and behavior. Yet we don’t talk about the evils of that kind of socialization because it would challenge white supremacy prevalent in American society. And in this case, we don’t hear about objections over gender socialization until people are giving their children the free will in a challenge to cis-supremacy.
And our normative gender relations and stereotyping have an enormous political agenda, namely in defending patriarchy, heterosexism and cis-supremacy to the bitter end.
3. “The child will be bullied and harmed by others”
This is about the only argument I’ve seen that actually could honestly have concern for Storm’s welfare as a top priority. But the logic is still broken, it puts the onus on an individual who somehow different to avoid being abused on compromising their integrity at their own expense. The logic privileges that “fact” that bullies will bully over the safety of the abused and that the parents are “asking for trouble”.
Of course Storm could be bullied for not being assigned a gender at birth. But that’s far down the road and as zir’s parents point out, people could bully zim for other reasons. Bullies don’t need a reason to bully. Storm’s parents acknowledge this danger in the story and seem to be on alert for anyone who might marginalize Storm. In the end the problems with bullies are bullies, not Storm or how zir’s parents raise zim.
Though the ugly face of cis-supremacy has revealed itself with its usual speed in this episode, we need to support and honor the parenting choices of Storm’s parents. To overcome cis-supremacy we need to support parenting choices that offer the most constructive forms of freedom and flexibility to our children in order to enjoy their life to the fullest extent possible.
The saddest fact about Storm’s and zir’s parent’s story is that they simply cannot win in the cis-supremacist Catch-22. If Storm grows up to be cisgender/cissexual and of a binary gender expression people will then hail that as an example of the triumph of gender essentialism. If Storm grows up to have a non-binary identity or is transsexual, then the parents will be further demonized and denounced for somehow “brainwashing” or “damaging” Storm.
And this is what you get for non-compliance with society’s ultimate cis-supremacist agenda.
By way of an update on my previous post about two trans men in Western Australia who won the right to change the sex marker on their birth certificates without having had hysterectomies, a decision which was then overturned by the state Attorney-General, ABC News today reports that the men will now appeal against the Attorney-General’s decision in the High Court:
The state’s Attorney General appealed against the decision, arguing it could mean a person could be legally male but still bear children.
The Court of Appeal said fertility would not prevent them being considered men but they were precluded because they did not have male genitals.
One of the appellants, who can be identified only as AH, says he’s not happy with the court’s decision.
“It seems to be this cosmetic assessment, how do people physically present in the world.”
“The two judges who’ve upheld the State’s appeal have decided that your external, physical presentation (including your genitals) is incredibly important to whether you’re male or female.”
AH says the decision means the only way for transgenders to be considered male is genital surgery which can cost up to $100,000.
“It’s surgery that has a pretty poor surgical result for a huge amount of money and a big chunk of your life missing,” he said.
“Very expensive, very dangerous and not actually available in Australia so they’ve come up with a decision that sets the bar so high that I’m not sure that any trans-men in Australia are actually able to achieve it.”
“The reality is that it’s just not feasible.”
Meanwhile, the Attorney General, Christian Porter, continues to hold to an astonishingly unenlightened essentialist justification for his decision: he says that a person cannot be considered male if they have functioning internal and external female reproductive organs.
For AH, though, it’s an administrative nightmare – “I end up with this really mixed-bag of documentation.“:
“Some of my documents, such as my passport, say that I’m male. My birth certificate currently says I’m female. I suspect that if myself and another man turned up to get married, the response would be “no, no, no, you can’t do that.”
“It just creates all of these bizarre inconsistencies and you end up spending half your life in court or in conciliation meetings or mediation meetings trying to decide whether for the purposes of this particular activity or this particular document, am I male or female?”
AH goes on to point out another crucial aspect of this confusion: he says that without legal recognition, transgender people are not protected by anti-discrimination laws.
“If, for example, my employer found out that I had a trans-history, and my employer decided that they didn’t like the fact of my trans-history and they wanted to fire me, they could and that would be legal, I don’t have any protection.”
AH and his fellow appellant are confident that the appeal will succeed because of the inconsistencies of the state’s arguments:
“We’ve now had two rulings, from the State Administrative Tribunal and the Supreme Court saying that the issues of hysterectomies and fertility shouldn’t be an issue, so that, I think, has been pretty conclusively put to bed.”
“Now there’s this issue of whether trans-men should have to have surgery on their genitals.”
“It seems to me a bit farcical to have a law that is supposedly able to help people to amend their documentation, but that actually is impossible for anyone to meet.”
Further to Queen Emily’s post last November about two trans men in Western Australia who won the right to change the sex marker on their birth certificates without having had hysterectomies, it seems that their battle isn’t over yet. Via ABC News:
However, the state Attorney-General appealed the decision, arguing it could have unforseen effects on WA law because it would mean a person could be legally male and yet still bear children.
Now in a majority decision, the Court of Appeal upheld the Attorney-General’s challenge, ruling that because the two people still had all the reproductive characteristics of a woman, they would not be identified according to community standards as members of the male gender.
How is this not biological determinism – essentialism – being enshrined in law? The Court of Appeal seems to be using one of the oldest tropes against these two men despite the medical profession’s recognition half-a-century or more ago that sex and gender are different (if related) things.
To my mind, the fundamental, underlying issue is the social/cultural pressure on each and every one of us to conform to binary “norms” of sex and gender which are used as big sticks with which to beat anyone who falls outside of those narrow and inaccurate categories. Fixing that problem, though, requires a paradigm shift in attitudes of mainstream society and until/unless that happens, then I fear these injustices, these breaches of human rights, will continue unchecked and uncontrolled.
I wrote this elsewhere as part of a conversation, in response to a question about trans men and male privilege. Specifically, in response to someone suggesting that trans men do not receive male privilege because they are apparently socialized as girls and trained to be women. With that in mind, a lot of this is really an answer to those comments.
Also, I’m throwing in a link to little light’s Fair and an article on sexism and trans people relating to Dr. Joan Roughgarden’s and Dr. Ben Barres’ experiences with transition, male privilege, and sexism.
The question of socialization is one of those topics where we all start debating how many trans people can dance on the head of a pin, and focusing onsocialization as if we’re all programmed like little computers while we’re growing up, as if gendered socialization is launched at us like laser-guided missiles and CAFAB children receive only socialization aimed at girls and CAMAB children receive only socialization aimed at boys, and all us trans people are just like cis people who share our CASAB until the day we start transition.
This is not only not true, it’s simply not relevant. You might as well argue that god implanted instructions in your brain on gender.
First of all, I would argue that the nature of socialization changes over time. For example, I doubt a two year old is being socialized in supporting rape culture. I suspect most of their socialization involves toilet training, playing, watching children’s shows. Sure, you can argue it’s there in the culture, and it is. But it’s something that CAMAB and CAFAB children both receive. The only difference is whether or not children perceive themselves as the target of the attitudesbehind this socialization. After all, men don’t exactly hold an exclusive patent on victim-blaming women for rape or domestic violence, right?
We’re all socialized into a sexist culture. We’re all taught that being a man means X and being a woman means Y. There is no outside for any of us.Women, just as men, are socialized to be sexist.
The talk about what this socialization means, however, always positions children (and eventually tweens, and then teenagers) as passive receptors who never react to that socialization. We don’t even talk about whether children who receive these messages perceive themselves as the target, the instigator, or both. We don’t talk about what these messages mean to trans children who may not perceive themselves as having a gender at all, or perceive themselves as having a gender that differs from their CASAB.
For example, I have seen several cis women assume that trans girls as children and teenagers interacted with images of the beauty ideal (models on magazine covers, for example) just like cis boys do, and don’t realize that this ideal really does have an impact on us and on our self-image, and that combined with body/gender dysphoria is one of the many reasons we can be suicidal. I know multiple trans women who pre-transition developed eating disorders in hopes of developing a more female appearance.
Socialization is not privilege. It is a way that privilege is perpetuated. Privilege is based on many things, most of those being how you are perceived and how other people treat you. Trans men who are passed as cis receive male privilege. Many trans men who do not always pass as cis receive male privilege depending on the situation and context.
Similarly, trans women during or post-transition who are passed as cis do not receive male privilege. But, trans women who are read as trans also do not receive male privilege, generally under any context. Being a trans woman is not culturally supported because being a woman is not culturally supported in the same way that being a man is culturally supported, and it seems like in many (but not all) contexts, trans men are given a pass on things that trans women are not, often times explicitly. I have heard Adam Carolla say this explicitly on Lovelines more than once, years ago. I have heard cis feminists (radical feminists and otherwise) make harsh characterizations of trans women and more forgiving characterizations of trans men even while being transphobic to both. I have heard trans men say things like this.
I am not trying to argue here that trans men have it good forever and always and trans women have it bad forever and always, but what I am saying is that there is not only privilege in being a man, whether trans or cis, but that there is privilege in being seen as reaching toward manhood (per cis perspectives) as compared to being seen as reaching toward womanhood (again per cis perspectives) and socialization is not the central factor either way.
I want to add to this that we don’t really discuss day to day pressures toward gender conformity and cisnormativity, toward having the right narratives, toward matching cis people’s standards of what men and women should be like, and how this affects us every day.
Power – in this case sexism, heterosexism, cissexism – normalizes through constant enforcement and women – cis and trans – are always failing at femininity. For trans women, this perceived failure has harsher (cissexist) consequences and higher enforced standards. Trans women who are too feminine are derided for trying too hard and thus really being men. Trans women who are not feminine enough or even masculine are derided for not trying hard enough and thus really being men. Trans women who are lesbian are derided for failing at womanhood, because the expectation is women are attracted to men.
Psychiatrists give us dress codes and standards of behavior. We have to give them the stories they want to hear – cisnormative, heteronormative narratives that establish our genders as static. Many times, we have to actually meet a dress code just to have our transness treated. Trans women are disciplined in modes of dress, behavior, and orientation just as any cis woman, and the penalties can be anything from violence to denial of necessary medical care to being constantly and maliciously degendered or misgendered. When we’re passed as cis the best we get is sexism and judged by the standards of the male gaze. It doesn’t matter whether or not we’re behaving with whatever “male socialization” or “male entitlement” is supposed to be, we’re not being granted any male privilege. We’re either women, or we’re genderless things and failing at both womanhood and manhood.
And you know, when you’re dealing with that every day? It’s going to affect you. I took four years of high school drama, and in that time I learned how to speak up and project my voice, and basically make myself heard – this was something that I completely sucked at until my first drama teacher made a point of teaching me how to do this. My first year out of high school, I lived with another trans woman who attacked me ceaselessly for “speaking too loud,” and I lost every bit of that for years. It barely took a full month before I was always speaking quietly again.You can’t underestimate the impact of daily sexism or male privilege and what that does to your socialization no matter what your age. And this happens to all adult women, we’re policed daily on being women, told how to behave, how to dress, how to talk. Everybody does this – men and women both do it to women. This happens on every level. It’s pervasive.
Socially and culturally, men are supported as men. Women are not supported as women. Yes, there is gender policing aimed at men, but there’s also stuff like Old Spice Guy, which praises and only gently mocks hypermasculinity*. But look at Axe commercials. Look at action movies. At television shows of all kinds. Look at magazines. Look at everything.
This extends to transition. The social scaffolding for female identity that’s supposed to help a trans woman become a woman per social definitions is by design the opposite of support. The process by which you become a woman involves making you abject, teaching you that support is something that women don’t deserve, and this is hard for trans women to defend against because being trans is also wound up in abject status – your success is determined by others’ approval.
Now, while trans men are also policed as men, and have to fulfill the trans narratives and try to “properly” be men, being a man is a valued state. Masculinity (and since men are conflated with masculinity) is valorized and admired over femininity and being a woman. While being trans is, as I said above, an abject status, being a man is supported as a good thing, the best of all available options.
This contrast affects trans men and trans women in different ways. Trans men are given leeway and respect that trans women are not. This happens on a daily basis. If you are given $100 a day for 30 days, would you expect to receive that $100 on day 31, or would you rely on your childhood where money may have been more tight? How about receiving that money for 365 days? Would you expect it on day 366? Are immediate punishment and reward systems overridden by past systems?
It’s not possible to reduce our socialization to our first 18 years, to our first 12 years, to our first two years (as I have recently seen one person try to do). We cannot coherently discuss trans people and male privilege while treating trans people as if we’re cis people, while ignoring our lives during and after transition and focusing strictly on our lives pre-transition. This is cissexism and straight up sexism to try to exclude experiences inconvenient to the assumption that trans women are supposedly really men and trans men are supposedly really women.
Note: CA/S/F/M/AB = Coercively assigned sex/female/male at birth
Note 2: I don’t want anyone to take away from this post that trans men do not experience sexism. They do, most especially pre- and often during transition. There are differences in how misogyny manifests against trans women because the intersection of transphobia and misogyny differs for trans men and trans women.
(vaguely relevant to whines about “censorship” re: Ticked Off Trannies With Knives, but apply as necessary)
Critique is not censorship. Critique is not censorship. Critique is not censorship.
If there’s not a law against it, if there’s not police knocking at the door to take you away, and a big pile of books being burnt, you’re not exactly being censored, are you? Already we’re talking about a selective kind of censorship, nu?
In fact, this argument ignores the ways in which we already have regulating mechanisms for the public sphere. We don’t have ads for porn on network TV, or violence and swearing during children’s timeslots. Characters in primetime sitcoms don’t call each other “cunt” or “fuckhead.” Inappropriate doesn’t mean governmentally censored.
That’s what the rating system does, based on all kinds of regulatory criteria, some conservative and some progressive. It includes both implicitly and explicitly understood guidelines about content being inappropriate because for ideological reasons. It acknowledges that some language can and does demean (sexism, racism, homophobia etc).
But what they don’t include is any measure of acknowledgement that transphobic language is any way harmful. If TOTWK is ejected from that festival, it’s not being “censored,” it is rightly being acknowledged as inappropriate for wider audiences.
You can still sell it on DVD, screen it online, whatever. But you don’t have a right to as wide an audience as you like, because no-one is assured of that. You don’t have the right to every kind of free speech in every kind of venue – especially if the text uses a slur for its title.
So this notion that there’s “art” here and “censorship” over there and they only meet once in awhile when people get up in arms about something is individualist bullshit. It profoundly ignores the ways in which power is always involved as both repressive and productive, both top-down regulatory and engaged in a feedback loop with audiences about what is and what isn’t culturally acceptable. This is a conversation which has included much more than mere free-market Darwinist consumerism, but the input of advertisers, commentators in the media, lawmakers, and yes grass-roots protest.
Trans people haven’t historically been a part of that conversation, but it is time that we are. Cis people are utter rubbish at writing trans characters. And it is time that that changed, too.
A protest is also a form of speech, indeed it is as equally free speech as the work in question. And oh yeah, once more with feeling, say it with me now, critique is not censorship.
Cross posted at Hoyden About Town
Two and a half weeks ago, two trans men from Western Australia won the right to change the sex marker on their birth certificates without their having had hysterectomies. Though this may seem rather minor to the average cis person, the ruling by the Western Australian State Admin Tribunal was an important victory for transsexual and transgender rights in Western Australia, moving document change away from the usual expensive and painful genital surgery. Yesterday, however, the West Australian Attorney General Christian Porter announced that the State would be appealing the decision.
Why, you might ask? What is so important, so pressing, such a grave injustice that the WA Attorney General’s office would use taxpayers money to continue to fight a case they’ve only just recently lost? The scary transsexual men might breed. Of course.
After former West Australian attorney-general Jim McGinty decided to challenge the case in the tribunal, the state will argue that the possibility of pregnancy exists.
“The ability to bear children is plainly not a gender characteristic of a male,” George Tannin SC said in the State’s submission to the appeal.
“The retention of such an ability must necessarily result in the applicant not possessing the gender characteristics of a male.”
That’s right. It’s not whether they currently can bear children – because both are on testosterone and cannot – but the possibility that they might. One day. Maybe. Both men testified that they intended to take testosterone for the rest of their lives, but that apparently doesn’t suffice for the Attorney General’s office. What cannot be abided is the mere thought of a Thomas Beattie, of trans people having power over our own reproductive capacities.
Even the judgment of the tribunal victory for the two men two weeks ago makes clear that the document change was conditional on their infertility:
“Both applicants had undergone bilateral mastectomies and testosterone treatment as a result of which each had undergone extensive physical changes consistent with being male,” the tribunal said in its finding.
” … the tribunal accepted the evidence of each applicant that he intended to continue testosterone treatment for the rest of his life.
“It accepted the medical evidence that each was, and would remain, infertile for as long as he continued testosterone treatment”.
Now, the West Australian rules are inconsistent on this front with regard to trans women—our permanent sterility from estrogen counts for precisely nothing, legally speaking. This would have, I hope, given trans women a lever into another test case with non SRS based criteria. But no, first this case needs to be appealed again.
Also important to note is that this represents one half of heteronormativity—the clear exertions of the State to try to keep trans people from contaminating heterosexual reproduction with our. The other is the fact that trans people who marry pre-SRS cannot change their birth certificate either. The ostensible reason is that with the Federal ban on same-sex marriages, the State would be creating them. However, the Federal government in July suggested it would accept same-sex marriages with one transsexual partner. The point is then, that it is the West Australian State (the Gender Reassignment Board) that is working hardest, trying to “protect” the heterosexual institutions of marriage and childbirth from trans people.
So what if there’s the unlikely event that one or both of these guys has a baby sometime? So what? They and all the rest of us deserve the right to the correct documentation. But I know, I know, I’m living in Magic Fairy Land, where populations don’t need to be sterilised in order to not be put at risk for discrimination and violence. Back in the real world, apparently it does seem like quite a threat to the State.
I want to riff off Cara’s post here, random and unfinished thoughts about female anatomy. My first thought is, like GallingGalla’s, that they are indeed unfinished. I don’t want to give Cara a hard time about it, since she’s careful to point out “these are just a few of my experiences, and so there’s obviously no way they’re universal or complete, and they don’t even begin to address experiences outside of my white, straight, cis perspective.” So, my problem is not with Cara (who posts regularly on trans issues and is in my opinion one cis (that is, not trans) feminist who tries very hard to get it), but rather with the language that we (yes, all of us) largely use to discuss bodies and gender.
Because like almost every discussion about bodies, there’s cis-normative assumptions through-out Cara’s piece and the comment thread. The problem is, the further a trans woman’s body gets away from cis, the more invisible it becomes in these conversations (and the same for trans men with cis male bodies).
So, I’m going to sketch out a few axioms, Eve Sedgwick style.
1. Respecting trans identities means rethinking your assumptions about bodies and gender and what they mean.
Fairly self-explanatory, yes?
2. Genitals do not of themselves determine gender
A penis is not inherently male, a vagina is not inherently female. If she has one, a trans women’s penis is female. Similarly, if he has one, a trans man’s vagina is male. Therefore, “female genitals” do not automatically exclude a penis, and automatically include a vagina. An analogy would be the changing fortunes of the word “marriage”–where “marriage” once implicitly and only referred to heterosexual relationships (as it continue to in many parts of the world), with the introduction of gay marriage in some areas this is no longer strictly the case. So it is with “male genitals” and “female genitals”–an overwhelming majority does indeed have one kind, but this does not apriori exclude the alternate configurations of some trans people.
“Male” and “female” are broader, fuzzy concepts that include all kinds of things – including genitals, body shape, skin depth, facial hair and body hair, hair softness, fat distribution, voice pitch, chromosomes, the social experience of being treated as your sex, and so on. Many of these are presumed rather than known–is there a genital check for day-to-day life? How many people do you know who’ve had a karotype to check to make sure they are indeed XX or XY? It is ridiculous to suggest that genitals are necessarily only and solely determinative of gender, when many trans people share so many of these as to go un-noticed in their day-to-day lives. Clearly, “male” and “female” precede any given genital/body configuration and therefore must include the totality of body expressions in those groups
But this is not merely a linguistic concern about what “male” and “female” mean. The equations penis = male, vagina = female are codified into law, determining a whole host of things from access to shelters to housing in prison. This is the cause of much oppression of trans people, because cissexist meanings have material social effects. For instance, if a trans woman has a penis in Australia (and indeed most parts of the world) she will be housed in a men’s prison, the wrong prison–and put at a high risk of rape and assault.
To summarise: the idea that genitals mean only “male” or “female” (depending) is a social and linguistic convention based on the number of people possessing them (trans people with mismatched presentations and genitals are after all a tiny minority). It is not however something inherent in flesh itself, and to insist entirely upon those meanings as solely determinative of sex is to expose trans people to violence and discrimination.
3. The meanings of “female” “male” and “genderqueer” are not reducible to bodies, but are not un-related, and we cannot know in advance how they intersect.
The meanings that trans people make from our bodies can be related to our bodies, but nevertheless stand apart from them. I know cis people often feel this way, and but this is not necessarily so. A person may feel that their genitals, breast or hormone status etc determine their sex, but they may not. In other words, identifications exist outside of genital status, desire for surgery etc, and they should be respected right now. Neither are the meanings reducible to appearance, passability-as-cis or hormone status, though they may be experienced that way.
4. Desiring a trans person is not inherently different from desiring a cis person, though it might be
What I mean by that is, the whole foundation of the “trans panic” defence is that having sex with a woman with a penis makes the cis male killer gay (and therefore it is only natural that the man kill the trans woman in question). No, it makes them straight (or bisexual if they also fancy men). And trans men are not kinder, softer men. If you conceptualise desired genders as binary (gay/straight/bisexual), desiring someone genderqueer identified may (or may not) problematise your orientation.
5. Trans ways of having sex may correspond with their cissexual counterparts, but they may not.
There’s a lot shame about trans people and what we do with our genitals. Classically, the diagnosis for gender dysphoria meant that if you masturbated or had sex before genital surgery, you were not trans. The theory goes, that trans people must be so cut off from our genitals that we can’t bear to use them unless after surgery. So besides, the originating gender dissonance, people had to manage their responses to gatekeepers that were always on the lookout for “signs” of an originary cissexuality.
Needless to say, this is bullshit. Some people might, and some people might not, but if we haven’t had surgery, the ways we have sex still do not ungender us—eg when a trans men is penetrated, he is not magically a woman.
Ok, so like Cara’s post, it’s still kinda work in progress which I might modify, if you have thoughts or I bollocks anything up.
ETA: Cheers to the radical “feminists” linking this post, selectively (mis)quoting and willfully misinterpreting my post as some kind of postmodernist free-for-all about genitals, divorced from institutional and social context. Your intellectual dishonesty and rubbish reading comprehension are, as always, appreciated.