Edwer Thissell (ng_moonmoth) wrote,
Edwer Thissell

Comment on "Trans gressions"

I wanted to comment further on an article and subsequent commentary in ysabetwordsmith's "Trans gressions" post. By the time I finished, I had something more than twice as large as an LJ comment accepts, so I'm posting over here and linking to it.

This post is contextually in response to the linked comment, so "you" outside quoted passages refers to ysabetwordsmith.

You said: >> Well, the article was obviously fractious. <<

To the author's credit, she's at least talking with transgender people, and presenting their viewpoints. The thing is, she wound up attempting to characterize a number of controversial topics in ways that disregard or completely deny the range of opinions regarding the topic. For example, the article states: >> To be gender-critical is to doubt the belief, which its critics call “genderism,” that gender is some sort of irreducible essence, wholly distinct from biological sex or socialization. <<, but the opinions presented in support of that definition smack more of denying the personal component of gender identity. This becomes problematic because it is a separatist view, rather than inclusive.

Here's an excellent counterpoint by a (trans genderqueer) author. Also, Julia Serano's theory of holistic gender was driven by her observation that any attempt to define gender without acknowledging the contributions of personal, social, and morphological factors does not come anywhere close to describing the variety of people's lived gender experiences.

At the end of it all, Goldberg is filtering the viewpoints through her own biases, emphasizing those that match while disparaging or dismissing those that don't. And, as you point out (>> talk about it in less snotty ways that don't involve trying to rip your rights out of someone else's <<), this does not advance the discourse.

There's also more emphasis in the article than I care for on one's score in the Oppression Olympics. One example from the article: >> Radical feminists believe women are a subordinate social class, oppressed due to their biology, and that there’s nothing innate about femininity. << This article does an excellent job explaining why the existence of transgender people threatens those whose stature is founded on sexism, either as oppressor or as oppressed, and how that damages transgender narratives.

And another article by Julia Serano does a good job of explaining why many people who might be presumed to be allies of trans women actually turn out to be less than helpful. A relevant quote: >> For years, trans women have effectively had no voice in MWMF. During that time, many cissexual women and trans masculine attendees have tried to advocate on our behalf inside the festival. While their intensions (sic) may have been sincere, the fact that they entered into a space that excludes trans women, and that they claimed to speak for us (despite not having had a trans female/feminine life experience themselves), their actions further contributed to the erasure of our voices and perspectives. << [MWMF is the late Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.]

From the Goldberg article: >> "It is empirically unreasonable to expect that someone who has been socialized male, has undergone a male puberty, is in all sense of the word anatomically male, can simply say, ‘I’m now a woman,’ and have the world recalibrate all of its autonomic algorithms about sex and gender and say, ‘Yes, you’re a woman,’ ” says Aoife Assumpta Hart, a 41-year-old trans woman with a Ph.D. in gender and psychoanalysis who blogs at Gender Apostates. "Reality doesn’t work that way.” <<

Hart is correct. It doesn't work that way. But it doesn't work the way the article suggests it does, either. I didn't save the link for this one, so I'm paraphrasing, but a trans woman describing her pre-transition life deftly undermines a key component of Hart's hypothesis: >> I didn't experience it as a man. I experienced it as a woman who was presumed to be a man, and was treated like a man. <<

Related to this was something I came across this past weekend. The point that struck me most, and is most relevant to the topic, is:

>> Trans women:
1. are not cis women...and that's okay.
2. are women, and that's a fact. <<

So much of the confrontation, exclusion, and pain trans people face can be attributed to disregard of either, or both, of those points. And this leads to something I don't see nearly enough of: acknowledgement that it's only for a very few that transition can provide an escape from being targeted in any of these, or more harmful, ways. The most likely outcome is that one can change what one is being targeted for to something that may be easier to handle -- and that may only be possible if one elects to measure oneself against constraints that can be a tighter fit than the constraints transition was supposed to allow escape from.

What you said about different transition paths -- >> the thing is, everyone has a body but not everyone identifies with it to the same degree. A person with a very concrete, literalist view of gender can have a very different trans experience that someone with a constructionist, fluid view -- and that means they may benefit from different therapies. << -- applies well here.

Also, it's not just identification with one's body. Someone for whom community is more important to their well-being than it is to me (I'm perfectly happy if my relationship with a community is more like being recognized as "one of us"; the increased admiration and attention being regarded as an exemplary member often brings does very little for me, and can be stressful) will probably seek a more convincing physical transition than will suffice for me.

You mentioned that >> ... one of the risks is going through transition and being disappointed that it's not enough.

This is the only time I've seen someone else writing about it. <<

*checks my growing collection of links relevant to my own transition*

Interestingly, I didn't find much that said transition wasn't enough. Disappointment showed up in a few things (here's an example), but more that the outcome wasn't ideal, with recognition, and often satisfaction, that it was much better than the pre-transition state -- which, far too often, was "transition or death". In other words, "daiyenu", and the recognition that one's transition is what one makes of it, are valuable mindsets.

As for ourselves, where you said: >> I'm not interested in a physical transition because it wouldn't make me feel any better <<

My own view of gender amounts to "somebody who's supposed to know looks at your crotch and forecasts your interests, behavior and goals on that basis, leading to an attempt to culturally indoctrinate you in that direction." Which puts it on roughly as sound a theoretical basis as phrenology. And is a significant reason why any physical transition I decide to pursue will be something that helps me assert the individual nature of my gender identity.

Later, you mentioned: >> [Other people's] opinions don't change who I am any more than does this pale-human-girl-shaped meatsuit. <<

Sounds like we share a very strong sense of personal identity. My own problem is much less with the body I inhabit than it is with the way I am perceived because of the body. Cultural change can improve this, even in the absence of any physical alteration. But an appropriate physical change may aid in the process. The big catch is that requiring someone to actually *think* about something a stereotype allows one to avoid thinking about is something lots of folks would rather not do, in varying degrees. I can't help that, any more than you can help how people think of you and your desires.

you: >> If you're going to avoid pitfalls like "I thought this would fix me but it didn't" then you need either a great deal of private soul-searching or some good therapy, or a combination of both. <<

I've been doing both. I'm pretty clear on my transition options and what I can expect from them. Outside of environments where gender awareness is the norm, the lack of recognition of nonbinary genders means that (to borrow a thought from lb_lee over on DW) I (and you) will almost always be misgendered. I'm working on building up enough life experience to be able to make an informed decision about what I might want to consider in order to lessen my odds of being hurtfully misgendered.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have the resources (time and money) to do this. Your thoughts, and the comments on LJ and DW, can be a big help for those who do not.
Tags: gender, gender theory, transition

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