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.