[personal profile] cheshire recently brought my attention to the concept of 'consensual gender'. i like this concept. Overwhelmingly, in Western societies, gender is forced upon us: not only in the sense that heteronormative paradigms expect us to accept it as a primary categorisation of the world and its attributes, but also in the sense that we are assigned a gender before we are able to actively consent to the label, assumptions and expectations that are attached to us thereby. Further, challenging the label - or indeed, the entire labelling process - is Not Allowed, because in heteronormative understandings, gender == sex == one's primary sexual characteristics (which come in only two forms). Claiming that one's gender is not in fact the one claimed to correspond to one's primary sexual characteristics clearly demonstrates that one has lost touch with True Reality and needs to be forced back there. "Gender Identity Disorder" is not a physiological disorder, where something is wrong with our bodies; it's a psychiatric disorder, where something is wrong with our minds. Attempts must be made to examine the minds of trans people in detail and discover whether our minds can be 'fixed' before consideration will be given to the possibility of changing our bodies. "Our bodies"? No, our bodies are not ours. They belong to cisgendered society, to cisgendered psychology: our bodies, their choice. It has to be that way, because people who have lost touch with reality as we trans people have are not capable of making the right choices, are not capable of giving consent.

This isn't right. This isn't ethical. Our bodies, our choice. Gender should be consensual.
In reading and talking about trans issues in recent times, something that's become of increasing interest and concern to me are the personal histories of trans people and how we relate to them. In particular, i'm interested, and in some cases concerned, by the possibility that many of us feel forced to rewrite our histories to varying extents in order to please society in general and gatekeepers specifically. i'm further concerned that at least some trans people seem to think that their narrative is the only 'real' trans narrative, that people whose life histories don't match that narrative are not 'really' trans.

Describing personal histories and experiences that match diagnostic criteria, whether those histories and experiences re accurate or not, in order to have access to the medical treatments we need, is a long-standing strategy amongst trans people. Politically we are caught in a bind: trans people are often aware of the highly problematic diagnostic critera for such things as GID, but often feel that we have no choice but to ensure we meet them in order to move our lives forward. In doing so, however, we inadvertently provide further support to the notion that those diagnostic criteria are in fact appropriate. On the other hand, there are some trans people who agree with the diagnostic criteria, and decry those who of us who do not neatly fit them as "not really trans".

The DSM-IV criteria for GID actually recognises that GID can appear in childhood, adolescence or adulthood; and the DSM-IV notes that:
[t]he onset of cross-gender interests and activities is usually between ages 2 and 4 years, and some parents report that their child has always had cross-gender interests. Only a very small number of children with Gender Identity Disorder will continue to have symptoms that meet criteria for Gender Identity Disorder in later adolescence or adulthood.
Those whose GID does continue through to later adolescence or adulthood are those who have the "i always just knew" narrative. This is a very attractive narrative for many trans people, because it suggests that our sense of identity has more of a biological and less of an environmental / social basis, such that it is often not considered by non-trans people to be as amenable to being 'fixed'

Myself, i certainly can't say that i "just knew" from the age of (say) 5 that i was a woman. i certainly knew that i was gender variant, particularly once i began going to primary school in rural Victoria at age 8, where my lack of interest in outdoor, physical, and/or rough-and-tumble activity got me labelled as a girl and a sissy. i imagine the fact that i'm bigendered didn't help; nor did the fact that, as someone who has identified as a feminist since her early teens, i dutifully tried following the common feminist notion that i was merely a 'feminine' male. It wasn't until my late 20s, after a huge amount of introspection and wrestling with such thoughts, that i came to the conclusion that i was a woman. (And even then, i couldn't bring myself to actually say it, as it seemed so absurd on the face of it.) It was then at least a year or two after that before someone on IRC asked me if i was a trans woman, and that i truly began to think of myself as such. Despite not having an "always just knew" history, though, the psychiatrist i saw agreed that i should go on estrogen.

Nevertheless, there is such pressure on trans people to 'prove' (as if we should have to!) that our gender identities are real that we can also feel pressure to fit the "always just knew" narrative. And the pressure doesn't always come from cisgendered people: there are some in the trans communities who have fairly rigid notions of who is and who is not a 'real' trans person1, and use the "always just knew" narrative as a form of demonstrating how they're more trans than the rest of us. Thus, we become conscious that not fitting the "always just knew" narrative will often be taken as implying that there was a stage when we were basically happy with our birth-assigned gender and that there's no good reason why we can't feel that way again.

(A related issue is the fact that many trans people feel uncomfortable talking about their pre-transition life, particularly when it involves things that imply, directly or indirectly, that they were once read as a cisgendered individual of their birth-assigned gender. It's understandable, as unfortunately many people use such knowledge against us in transphobic ways. For example, many people take the knowledge of one's given, rather than chosen, name, remark "Oh, so your real name is John?", then begin to refer to us by that so-called 'real' name. Surely it can't be healthy, though, for us to be unable to talk about large swathes of our lives because of such transphobia?)

A problem with this emphasis on the "always just knew" narrative, however, is that it can often erase very pertinent life experiences. Some trans women, for example, seem to take what for me is the very odd position that since they always felt they were women, they never received male privilege. Er, what? One of the aspects of privilege is that one often receives it even if one doesn't specifically ask for it. If you've ever been read as male, it's far more likely than not that you've received male privilege. Another odd claim along these lines is that trans guys, being men, are completely mired in male privilege, ignoring the possibility that they've had many many years of being read as women and thus being on the receiving end of misogyny and sexism in general. These ideas over-simplify the complexity of trans people's life experiences, often in a damaging way. If someone has identified as a dyke for the last 20 years, for example, and has strong links to the dyke community, should that person be immediately disconnected from the dyke community once they begin transitioning to living as a guy?

Dean Spade's essay Mutilating Gender discusses how the medical notion of 'transsexualism' has been constructed as a way of creating a normative context for certain forms of gender variance whilst nevertheless ignoring, or at best marginalising, others. i feel it's important to not let ourselves be restricted, or restrict others, by naïve, ignorant or prejudicial notions of transness created by cisgendered people; many of us may need to appeal to those notions in order to get the treatment we need, but that doesn't also mean we should simply take those notions on board in toto in such a way that we disfigure, deny or erase the variety of trans people's histories and experiences.

1. Of course, they themselves just happen to fit those notions, à la "the only moral abortion is my abortion". :-P
i've just written a post on [livejournal.com profile] trans_jews regarding coming to acknowledge the possibility of identifying as trans (in my specific case, a trans woman), and the possibility of identifying as Jewish.

Edited 2013-02-05

In case the trans_news LJ community disappears, and that post gets deleted, i reproduce it here:

Hi all,

i'm a bit nervous about posting this, as i'm not sure what sort of response i'll get . . . . i hope it's at least a thoughtful, and not flamey, one. :-)

i was born into a technically Anglican household, but one that was not at all observant. For many years i strongly identified as an atheist, but several years ago began to move in a consciously spiritual direction. (i still defend atheism against the ludicrous claims levelled against it, however, e.g. that atheists inherently lack morals or ethics.) Eventually i've settled on self-identifying as a Judeo-Satanist witch. A typical response to that is "Zuh??", so i'll explain. :-)

i identify as a 'witch' due to the fact that i practice 'magic' by working to develop "the art of changing consciousness at will". i identify as a Satanist not in the e.g. LaVeyian sense, but in the sense that i regard the Adversary as an aspect of the Divine which constantly challenges us and tests us in a way that gives us insight as to whether we're on the correct path or not (as in the story of Balaam and his ass). And i modify all that with 'Judeo' because although i'm not halachically Jewish - even in the Progressive /
Reform / Liberal senses, let alone more conservative senses - i am nevertheless finding myself increasingly immersing myself in Jewish spiritual thought, which influences my beliefs and practices. Indeed, preferentially, i would identify as Jewish.

So here's the thing that's recently occured to me: i see parallels between coming to acknowledge the possibility of identifying as trans (in my specific case, a trans woman), and the possibility of identifying as Jewish. In both cases, there is an inner sense that is difficult to explain to anyone else that "this is who i am"; in both cases, there are many who would say that i'm not really trans or Jewish because i haven't gone through some sort of 'official' conversion process (i.e. SRS or giyur); and even were i go to through the 'conversion', there would still be many who would, on various grounds, claim that i'm not really trans, a woman or Jewish enough.

i've actually considered formal conversion to Judaism - the strands of Judaism i feel closest to are, primarily, Renewal and secondarily, Reform (which has given me the impression of being slightly more progressive than our equivalent here in Australia, Progressive Judaism). i suspect, however, that i would be unable to find people willing to support my conversion, particularly given that i'm not intending to lie about the 'Satanist witch' bit, even though i do genuinely think that my beliefs are coherent and defensible within a Jewish context (to the extent that, say, Reform beliefs are coherent and defensible). And part of me feels like i shouldn't need to formally convert anyway, because - even though many would say that i'm the embodiment of chillul hashem in my approach to Judaism and the way in which i'm increasingly taking on Jewish spiritual practices - i tend to feel that in the end, HaShem will be my judge. Finally, given that i'm bigendered - i.e. identify as both female and male - i'm not sure how any putative conversion process would work, given that it's typically rather gendered. :-)

So there it is. Thoughts, comments, anyone?
A couple of links, the first courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] cheshire_bitten:

  A lovely story about pronouns

and the second courtesy of Haaretz:

  Virginia synagogue doubles as mosque for Ramadan

There was recently a hooha on the Trans-Academics Google group about the use of Gender-Neutral Pronouns. An ardent assimilationist on the list decried their use, claiming that it is wrong to ask people to use them, that those who make such requests are disrespecting society by trying to force these "made-up words" on others1, and that thinking that one can change society is patently absurd. Oddly, many list members - myself included - expressed slight concerns with all this. :-P

There's acceptance and there's acceptance: there's acceptance that there are certain aspects to society that "just are" and that we shouldn't expect to change (e.g. we shouldn't hope to see widespread use of GNPs where appropriate, we shouldn't hope that Muslims and Jews might coexist peacefully), and then there's acceptance of diversity and the possibility that people can change how they view others. i choose the latter over the former.

1. Because no words in any language are made-up - they've always existed in some wonderful platonic realm. :-P
Question to news media: Why are so many of you omitting to mention that, in his recent comments, the Pope not only lambasted homosexuality, but transness also?
Pope Benedict XVI has said that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.
i recently made a post to the Trans-Academics Google group which included a discussion about labels, the relevant excerpt of which i reproduce here:
i wanted to discuss the notion that "[u]ltimately it's only a label". i'm afraid i must disagree. Labels - in the form of nouns and pronouns, for example - seem to be an integral part of human communication; and we use those labels to convey certain properties of an object. Thus, although some people claim that we should dispense with labels altogether, i feel this is problematic for at least two reasons:

* The ability to reject labels such that other people do not label one requires a certain amount of privilege. Many - perhaps even most? - non-heteronormative people do not have the luxury of being in communities in which they can say "Don't label me" and people respond with "Oh, okay, you defy teh categorisations, no worries". Instead, non-conforming people tend to be given labels of deviancy, whether we like it or not.

* Even if its possible to move towards a society where such labels are no longer used, it's important to acknowledge that those labels have been, and continue to be used, as designators of those are discriminated against, harrassed and/or oppressed. To me, simply demanding that we move past labels, such that (for example) no distinction is made between cisgendered and transgendered people, is to suggest that we should just dismiss the fact that cisgendered people /have/ benefited, and continue to benefit, from cis privilege in a way that trans people haven't and don't. Thus, i feel that it's inappropriate to suggest that we move to a linguistic level playing field when the playing field of daily experience is definitely /not/ level for many people.

So my preferred strategy is to accept the existence of labels per se, and instead contest which labels heteronormative ideology deems to be 'appropriate' / 'sensible' and 'inappropriate' / 'nonsensical'. This is, in practice, what many people in the trans communities do: we are often told that we're not 'really' men or not 'really' women, and we typically dispute such claims stridently.
The so-called 'leaders' of Australia's queer communities spend a lot of time publicly fretting about same-sex couples not being granted the same privileges as differing couples, but seem to care a lot less about those for whom such concerns would be relatively good worries to have: "Bullying 'pushing homosexual students to suicide'". i've ranted about this topic previously; i so wish that the queer communities' priorities weren't so driven by middle-class, middle-aged, cisgendered white men . . . .

And further to my complaints about assimilationism in the linked-to post, assimilationist blaming of supposedly 'fake' trans people for society's diversityphobic treatment of 'real' trans people, as i've just read on the Trans-Academics Google Group, makes flexibeast sad. :-((
[livejournal.com profile] foibey has written an interesting critique of the representation of the main character in the film Transamerica.
Dear host of a certain entertainment venue,

i and my partners have, over the course of several years, both regularly attended your venue and recommended it to others. After the events of last Saturday night however, we will no longer be doing either, and you have only yourself to blame.

  1. You referred to a former partner of your husband's as "a Jewish bitch". Yes, she sounds like an unpleasant person. No, using Jewishness as an insult is not acceptable. Strike one.

  2. You said that poly parents and carers of young children are wrecking those children's minds and lives, using the same sort of language used when people claim that single parents or same-sex parents are bad for children. This is also not acceptable. Strike two.

  3. You proclaimed that i am not a woman whilst i still have a cock. In doing so, you provided two things: a) an example of the size of your ignorance when it comes to issues of sex, gender, hormones, in utero development and so on; and b) strike three.

  4. Bonus strike: You insisted on calling me by the name i was given at birth, rather than my chosen and legal name. Oddly enough, i find this to be incredibly disrespectful.

The fact that you were drunk whilst saying these things is no excuse. But i am glad you got drunk, because the alcohol loosened your inhibitions enough for you to show your true colours. From now on, i'll be actively avoiding, and recommending other people avoid, a business and environment run by someone who is such an ignorant bigot.
i was recently pondering why, even though i identify as bigendered, most of my writings and interactions online involve me writing as a woman. After some thought, the main reasons i've thus far come up with are:
  • i was raised male. i spent years trying to squeeze myself into the male box, telling myself, as a good pro-feminist male, that i was merely a man with many traditionally 'feminine' characteristics. So it's unsurprising that, after decades of all that, i should want to place more emphasis on living and experiencing life as a woman.

  • Living in a dichotomously gendered society, and not having, so to speak, "gone all the way" to identifying solely as a woman, and given my distaste for the notion that i have to visually 'pass' as a woman, in heteronormative company, to be a woman, it's relatively easy for people to read me as a male, increasingly prominent breasts aside. So again, it's no surprise that i would want to counter that by emphasising my womanhood.

  • Every day, i regularly encounter attitudes and behaviours that are male-biased at best and offensively sexist at worst. And i encounter them far more often than i encounter attitudes and behaviours that are prejudiced against men. i'm thus more often driven to write about things that affect me as a woman than things that affect me as a man.

  • Although many people assume that being bigendered means one is female and male in equal parts - just as people assume that being bisexual means being equally attracted to both women and men - the reality is that i identify more as a woman than as a man, which is one of the reasons i'm completely comfortable with people using female pronouns to describe me if they find the gender-neutral pronouns too clumsy / awkward / difficult.

Perhaps there are others; if so, i'll add them to this list as i think of them.
i'm bigendered - both female and male - which, in a sense, i regard as being a gender in itself. Since i feel there are more than two genders, i identify as polysexual. But how does being bigendered affect the sexual orientation of people attracted to me, if at all? To give an example: if a woman who identifies as a dyke entered into a sexual and emotional relationship with me, do you feel it still makes sense for her to identify as a dyke?

What do people think?

[ Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] trans_sex_talk and [livejournal.com profile] postqueer. ]
Someone on the Trans-Academics Google group has just posted about an NPR show this week which included the following:
[Dr. Ken] Zucker says the homosexuality metaphor [for transgenderism] is wrong. He proposes another metaphor: racial identity disorder.

"Suppose you were a clinician and a 4-year-old black kid came into your office and said he wanted to be white. Would you go with that? ... I don't think we would," Zucker says.

If a black kid walked into a therapist's office saying he was really white, the goal of pretty much any therapist out there would be to make him try to feel more comfortable being black. They would assume his mistaken beliefs were the product of a dysfunctional environment -- a dysfunctional family or a dysfunctional cultural environment that led him or her to engage in this wrongheaded and dangerous fantasy.
i've heard this argument before, most memorably from a 'pro-feminist' male trying to discredit my trans identity, and in particular the notion that i'm a woman.

The problem with the argument is that skin colour is overwhelmingly genetically based, such that it's highly unlikely to be significantly modified during the course of development in the womb, or at any time after birth (without surgery). However, the way our brain, nervous system and endocrine system develops is another matter. Is it so difficult to consider the possibility that those of us who are trans have gone through a developmental process which has left some aspects of our body 'sexed' differently to other aspects? (In my own particular case, my physical health has improved since i've been taking estrogen, leading me to speculate as to whether my system effectively previously suffered from an estrogen deficiency.)

But guess what? This Ken Zucker - along with J. Michael Bailey, who believes his 'studies' demonstrate that bisexuality doesn't exist in men, only in women1 - is on the board to revise the DSM.


1. Not that any heterosexual male fantasies are involved in this theory. :-P


2008-03-12 18:21
i've started to get really down of late about my facial hair - at least, the non-lower-lip-goatee portion of it. Being bigendered, i assumed that i would just be able to accept it as an unpleasant, but bearable, side-effect of being partly male. In recent times, though, i feel really disgusting and ugly on those days when i'm not clean-shaven: when i'm clean-shaven, i look in the mirror and think "Hey, you're not bad looking :-)"; when i'm not, i don't want to look in the mirror. The obvious solution is to simply shave every day, but unfortunately my skin simply can't handle that, and my hair doesn't grow enough in a day for me to do so anyway. So at best, i can shave my face once every four days or so, and in the meantime, i feel gross.

This probably sounds stupid, or pathetic, or both, but it's becoming an increasingly heavy psychological burden. And laser-based hair removal is way out of my price range. i don't know what to do.
Found via [livejournal.com profile] postqueer:

"It is very easy to kill a transperson"
i have to say something which is probably un-PC for a trans person to say:

i don't enjoy dressing up. i don't find it 'fun'. When i have to do it, it's usually more a necessary evil than anything else.

In fact, i resent the very notion that i have to 'pass' by looking a certain way in order to 'prove' i'm a woman. i'm a woman regardless of what i wear or how i do my hair. i'm a woman regardless of how i walk or sit. i'm a woman regardless of the fact that i have a cock that i love and am planning to keep, thank you very much. Isn't a woman more than her genitals?

Moreover, i'm trans regardless of the above. i'm trans regardless of the fact that i'm not an extrovert or ambivert but an introvert. (Note to those who think 'introverted' is synonymous with 'shy': you're wrong. Please read the preceding link to learn what introversion actually involves.) i'm trans regardless of whether i go to extrovert-oriented trans social events. And i'm trans regardless of what you think about me being bi-gendered, regardless of whether you think i'm "really" a cis male hiding behind cis privilege, or whether you think i'm merely reinforcing the gender dichotomy, or whether you think i'm "not radical enough".

A bi-gendered trans woman is who i am. Not looking the 'right' way or not attending the 'right' events or not having the 'right' identity doesn't change that.

[ Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] tranny_rage ]
Earlier today i had an interesting discussion with someone about what constitutes 'transness'. The person in question was assigned 'male' at birth, but would rather not be assigned a gender at all; and if a gender had to be assigned to em, would prefer 'female'. Personally, i think it would be entirely reasonable for this person to identify as trans if ey wanted to (and i certainly think that it would be odd if ey identified as cisgendered!), regardless of the fact that ey isn't taking hormones, wearing dresses to work1, etc. And there's no way i think ey identifying as trans is at all problematic in the way that i feel it's problematic for, say, a trans man, who identifies unambiguously as male, to identify as a lesbian, as discussed in this post by [livejournal.com profile] foibey.

In a recent post to the Trans-Academics group, i wrote that i used the phrase 'trans communities' rather than 'trans community' because
i think it shows an awareness of diversity whilst at the same time recognising that there are commonalities that can bring us together in alliances against transphobia. 'Alliances', too, is an important word for me: it suggests to me individuals and groups with different motivation and goals being willing to work together, at least temporarily, to use strength in numbers to achieve a common goal. Then, too, alliances can help us gain a deeper insight into the lives, needs, and desires of those we work alongside, and perhaps help us to develop a greater sensitivity to how the actions we undertake in our struggles might impact on the struggles of others. i feel the Golden Rule applies here: How can we trans*-identifying people expect other trans*-identifying people to make an effort to respect and understand our identities, experiences and perspectives, if we are not willing to do the same for them?

1. We actually also discussed how, when either of us wear dresses, it's not a sexual thing, but (a) sometimes more comfortable, and (b) an attempt to disrupt any notion that others may have that we're cis males. However, i also noted that i object to the idea that i have to wear dresses / skirts / "women's clothing" in order to 'prove' my womanhood - if it's not regularly expected that cis women have 'prove' their womanhood in such a manner, why should i have to do so?
Today is Transgender Remembrance Day. If you're cisgendered, please take a few moments to ponder how the derisive-through-to-hostile attitudes often exhibited towards us transfolk by many people, both straight and queer, impact on our physical and mental health, and on our lives in general. And if you aren't already doing so, please consider making an effort to learn about our lived experience of our identity and the world, rather than simply assuming you know where we're coming from. We trans folk are a diverse lot, despite popular stereotypes; and i, for one, would appreciate it if you approached us as individuals rather than as a classificatory exercise. Thanks.


2007-10-10 15:17
Recommended reading for those involved in queer activism: a potted history of the strained relations between the US HRC and the US trans community. An excerpt:
The marriage-as-a-priority gays refused to acknowledge that not only did their actions cause the backlash to gay marriage and possible gnerated enough conservative voters at the polls to help propel George W. Bush to a secord term, despite the evidence of dozens of state DOMAs and anti-marriage constitutional amendments, they are in severe denial about it.

Transpeople are also miffed at the lack of HRC concern as to how this backlash specifically affects our lives. Transpeople were never consulted and had no input whatsoever regarding the push for gay marriage, but the religious Right anti-gay marriage laws get interpreted by the courts in such a way that they had the negative affect in some cases of wiping out existing pro-trans marriage and even identity rights.

We're also pissed that the same people who demanded (and still demand) that we accept 'incremental progress' when it comes to trans rights hypocritically have no intention of accepting 'incremental progress' when it comes to legal recognition of same-sex relationships.
Being bi-gendered can make life tricky.

There have been a few occasions recently where i've read about "women-only" events. And every time, being gendered as i am, i have to ask: "Would i be welcome?" i identify as a woman; but there are many people who not only feel that i'm not a woman, but that i'm raping the identity 'woman' (which, iirc, is Germaine Greer's position). So when an event is described as "woman-only", i'm forced to speculate on the politics of the event organisers and whether they'd be hostile towards me attending. And not only the event organisers, but event attendees as well: the organisers might be fine with it, but that's not going to help much if other attendees are hostile towards me.

Now the above is the case for any trans woman. But since i also identify as a man, things become more complicated. One of the "women-only" events that recently came to my attention noted that trans women were welcome - a wonderful policy. Yet i still had to wonder whether or not that meant i could attend, because i'm not only a trans woman, but a trans man as well. As i wrote in an email recently:
Personally, i feel /far/ more at home amongst a group of women (whether cis or trans) than amongst men; but i'm also conscious of the fact that at least some women will feel i'm male enough to make them feel uncomfortable and to warrant my exclusion.
Cisgendered people get many privileges that trans people don't, many of which are described in the non-trans privilege checklist (itself based on the 'white privilege checklist' first described in Peggy McIntosh's influential essay "White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack"). The issue i've discussed here is point 4 in that list.


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