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More Than Bodies

There’s a lot that’s frustrating about the way the discourse on transgenderism and transsexuality is framed in our deeply cisnormative culture. So much that it sometimes feels impossible to ever really get through it. I often feel neck deep in this, all these little problems, misconceptions, ways of structuring the conversation, unsubstantiated and unexamined assumptions, foundations of positioning not-quite-so-unbiased perspectives as “objective”, “neutral”, “common sense”, the “natural” jump-off point for chatting about who and what and why we are and mean.

And I can’t possibly cover it all. Lord knows I’ve been trying, but I can’t. There’s just too much to unpack. Is GID really a disorder? A disorder of what? Before / after pictures. “Real” names. “Passing” (and what, “failing”?). Detransitions. Regret. Gatekeeping. Autonomy. The endless questions. The questions as the assertion of the power dynamic. The Other. The self-consciousness. Self-consciousness as an extension of oppression. Morphological privileges. “Male” bodies and “female” bodies, cells, tissues (bullshit).”Fascinating”. “Disgusting”. “Special”. “Unnatural”. Is biology destiny? Is neurobiology destiny? Is destiny biology? Born this way! Social constructs! Stochastic gendering! “Objective” genders? “Biological realities”? “Appropriation”? “Invasion”? “Comfort levels”? “Labels”? “Buying into stereotypes”? Self-definition. Erasure. Ridicule. Violence. One in twelve. One in eight. One in five, one in five. 44%, 96%, 0.3%. Who is feminism “for”? Second wave, third wave, fourth wave. Bois and grrls. Please Select Sex: M/F. Is being trans an identity, a condition, a burden, a blessing? Cissexism, cisnormativity, cissupremacy. “But, like, how do you know?” Our “responsibilities”! Our sexualities! Our sexual responsibilities! Our “faith” in gender. Our “rebellion” from gender. Our “sins” and “arrogance” and “delusion” and “self-hatred” and whatever you need to think to not think about us. Our marking as “trans”, ever transitional, ever in movement, across, never at home. Exiles.

Almost every day I pick something (or two things) from the list, and do my best to work through it, get to its bones, figure out what’s going on there and what it suggests and what could be suggested instead. But every now and then… what and who am I doing this for? Why?

Am I just complaining? Am I just a cog in that discourse? In building so much of what I do on responding to the ways the discourse has been framed, am I just part of that framework? Have I ever done anything to frame it for myself?

In participating (even through critical response) in what transgenderism, and therefore trans people, are reduced to, by having this reactive relationship to what is externally claimed as the “important” facets of trans identities, trans lives, trans people, have I reduced myself to that external definition?

Am I anything more than a trans blogger? “Trans blogger” here meaning what everyone else thinks my transiness means? Do I represent anything beyond that? And what does my being trans even mean to me?

Does any of it help?

One of the key issues in the conceptual framing of trans people (and experiences and identities and so on) is the reduction to our bodies. What is virtually always given primacy when discussing the “transsexual phenomenon” is hormones, surgeries, genitals, breasts, and so on. It’s presented as an inherently physical, fleshy, and often sexual thing. This framework often engages in a further reduction of our bodies, our sex, to our genitals, or those aspects of our bodies that are otherwise explicitly sexualized (breasts, for instance).

What everyone wants to know is not who we are or how we feel or what we’re experiencing, what we think, what we know, what they want to know is all about the ever-so-fascinating physical processes by which a man / woman can be “transformed” into a woman / man. That’s the story, that’s what sells the newspapers and documentaries and interviews. Everything else is boring. The cis viewer awaits the juicy details of discarded testicles, inverted penile tissue, transplanted sections of colon, breast growth, nipple sensitivity, fancy zappy lasers.  “Wow! It looks so real!”, “Wow! It’s really functional?” … and the before / after pictures. Always the before / after pictures, reinforcing the marvel of this physical change (without commentary on emotional processes, social processes, what did not change, or what always was). Reinforcing the sense of artifice (like the putting on make-up, plucking-eyebrows, over-the-shoulder-into-the-mirror shot). “Wow! Looks like a totally different person! What a great job the doctors did!”

(always the marvel of medical science, and admiration of medical accomplishment, the doctors, never the marvel of the human being hirself, as hirself)

Watch these documentaries closely, and you’ll notice a conspicuous absence: any mention of hopes, aspirations, worries, dreams, fears, goals, issues or identities beyond our bodies (or, at best, beyond our gender). As though who a transsexual person is begins and ends with our physical transitions. As though transition, or more specifically our genitals, is our entire raison d’etre. Once we’ve had SRS, that’s it. Exit stage left, happily ever after.

Even in the case of media discussing trans people notable for something other than being trans, the narrative eventually comes back around to that, to the body. Always ultimately reduced to a physical specimen / creation, a marvel of modern medicine. “Wow! They can even create transsexual musicians now?!”

Birth names and op status are essential details, of course. Because it’s SO relevant to the story of someone opening a bakery on West Broadway, or developing a new, more efficient system of collating paper. Imagine if all human beings were similarly reduced to their bodies and genders when being discussed or interviewed:

“Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who was born with a 46 XY karyotype, identifies as male, and has two functional testes, is speaking this weekend in Renton, WA”

“So, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, do you have any plans for your vagina this year?”

The trouble here is that in these reductions being so consistently applied, this is what “trans” has ultimately come to mean to most people. Unless one has a direct and personal experience with transsexuality, this is all that is conceptually available. Not only for cis people, but much more importantly for trans people who are still in the process of questioning and self-acceptance. For them, trans ends up looking like nothing but a sequence of medical interventions, hurdles to clear, a potentially doomed effort towards “passability”, and a whole bunch of endless suffering against which one must be soooooo brave, and not much else.

The reduction of “trans” to bodies, to gender, to cast aside everything else that can and does define a trans life, our joys and sorrows and identities and negotiations and complexities, erases almost everything else about us, and presents an image that being transsexual is all a transsexual person can ever really be. At best, you may be a trans person with a mildly interesting little something to follow that all-consuming adjective (and that’s only if you’re lucky enough to avoid it being your noun). “Transsexual musician”, “transsexual baker”, “transsexual paper collation engineer”, “transsexual writer”, “transsexual feminist”, “transsexual skeptic”, “transsexual blogger”.

And to immerse oneself into that narrative, to go ahead and just be a trans blogger, to go about being a trans blogger by commenting on exactly what everyone has either explicitly or implicitly prodded you into commenting upon, well…

What good does that do?

What’s desperately needed is the message that being trans can mean more than one thing. It can mean more than bodies, more than gender. It can mean more than the physical processes of transition or the social, legal, cultural and political struggles imposed upon us. Its meaning can be (and always is!) individual. And it requires no sacrifice of the other facets of one’s identity whatsoever …except those facets you WANT to sacrifice.

See, we’re NOT just our bodies. That’s not what any of this is ultimately about, or ever has been, as much as it may set the stage. It’s not a vanity, or an obsessive attachment to worldly matters of the flesh. Our bodies are not the extent of our dreams and goals, and in fact we’ve made it quite clear we’re not going to let them get in the way at all. We’ve been through hell and back to claim agency over those bodies, to not allow them to define us, or have a deterministic relationship to our identity. I didn’t fight as hard as I did to prove my masculinized body doesn’t dictate who I am only to end up allowing my transgendered body to do so. Transition is about self-determination. It’s a process of learning that between you and the little highly-specialized bits of goopy endocrine meat that secrete hormones for you, you’re the one in charge. Gender is not the boss of me! I’ll be exactly who I am and nothing but exactly who I am!

And transsexuality isn’t the boss of you either.

We can and do and should apply that self-determination and confidence elsewhere. Trans narratives, histories and accomplishments, though often erased, though our most public figures are typically public mostly in being marketable to cis interests along the same old same old physical lines (“Wow! I didn’t know they could look just like us!”, “Wow! She should TOTALLY be allowed to be ogled by us in a beauty pageant! Just look at her gams!”), exist all the same. Wendy Carlos, Leslie Feinberg, Sandy Stone, Patrick Califia, Maddie Blaustein, Rachel Pollack, Lynn Conway, Julia Serano, Bethany Black, Bear Bergman, Vandy Beth Glenn, Namoli Bernett, Mina Kaputo, Mark Angelo Cummings, Drew DeVeaux, Gwen Haworth, Sarah Brown… yeah, I know I’ve made these lists before. But they need to be asserted. The message needs to be clear, and easily accessible, that transition is not a reduction of identity, or of what your life and aspirations can be. It’s an expansion.

But where does that leave participation in the discourse itself?

We can’t leave the discourse surrounding transgenderism to continue to be dominated by cis voices, as was the case for decades. But in walking in and playing along with the established frameworks, is one only lending yet another presence of a trans person who’s only trans, nothing but trans? Another iteration on the theme that that’s all we get to be? Does it offer a real presence and voice, or does it just re-enact our reduction?

Is it possible to establish trans cultures and discourses and concepts of ourselves wholly outside the frames that have been set up? Is it possible to really be culturally present while at the same time choosing for ourselves what to talk about, how to explore ourselves and our meanings? Can we create new narratives of transiness, beyond our bodies and the “fascinating” points in which people are invested and at the same time remain visible, remain an actual part of the overall culture?

Can we give trans voices a viable (and not self-defeatingly insular) space to talk about trans things without being reduced to other people’s ideas of it, without losing the capacity to articulate the breadth of who we can be?

Or is the best we can do fighting to stack a few extra adjectives onto our little descriptor?

Fuck, I don’t know.

But what I do know is that not one of us needs allow that tiny, closed, limited idea others have of what transgenderism or transsexuality is to be internalized. None of us need to let what other people think a trans person is determine how we think of and define ourselves. None of us needs to let what we mean to others dictate what we mean to ourselves. None of us need to limit our aspirations to what they’ll ask us about. None of us need to let ourselves be convinced we’re really just a medically altered body, or that that is the only thing about us that’s interesting, important or significant. None of us need to believe that just because our accomplishments are ignored that they don’t count, or that just because our heroes are invisible that they weren’t there, or that just because so few options, roles and identities are explicitly presented to us that we can’t carve out our own.

Carving out our own identities is what we do best. It’s what we’ve always done. And honestly, that, not exogenous hormones or genital surgeries, is what makes us what we are… being able to choose an option that wasn’t made clear. Being able to create entirely new options. Forcing open locked doors, and breaking through flimsy, false partition walls.We can walk through the garden of forking paths with a chainsaw.

Whether you see yourself, and your dreams and desires, reflected in the conversation, know that more importantly, you and your dreams and desires exist in this world. We may often feel invisible, alone and like we don’t count, but that doesn’t necessarily make it so. No matter how they discuss us, or what they leave out, we are free to exist as we choose.

And we don’t need to wait for them to ask the right questions before providing our answers.

Comments

  1. Pteryxx says

    Not sure if relevant, but recently Racialicious covered Neil deGrasse Tyson as Crush of the Week, and included this interview video in which he describes realizing that he *was* helping by following his dream to become a scientist, instead of a pillar-of-the-black-community-yadda-yadda like he was told he should.

    http://www.racialicious.com/2012/04/06/racialicious-crush-of-the-week-dr-neil-degrasse-tyson/

    I guess sacrificing one’s own identity for the sake of some single aspect of identity just… sort of misses the point.

    • Sinéad says

      That video is great! I have so much love for Neil.

      I am white. I went to school to become a Physicist/Astronomer because of Carl Sagan. He was my idol. I look at Neil deGrasse Tyson as someone who is such an inspiration, both for his personality and his race. I love Brian Greene, Brian Cox, Michio Kaku, etc, but none of them really fire me up with the passn that NdGT does. He makes me wish I had gone on to get my PhD. I still consider myself an astronomer/astrophysicist, though I don’t paid to do it, or have an active research lab.

      I’ll say it again, I love Neil deGrasse Tyson!!!

  2. Anders says

    Have you become typecast? Would we be gravely disappointed if you wrote about a piece of science (for instance) – not from a gender, or a trans, or an ex-addict’s perspective but just from a nerdy “That is so COOL!” perspective? Or wrote about your beloved* Vancouver and why you love it so much? Just a citizen who lives and loves there. We haven’t seen a “Why I love x” in a while.

    A childhood memory that’s significant, not for your trans aspect but for some other aspect? You took poetry, right? Anything you want to share? Either who your favorite poet is, or (risky!) publish a poem of your own.

    In case we’re talking about the non-physical side of being trans, or addict, or Canadian or whatever else aspect of your identity we’re talking about I’d love to hear about it. For instance, how much of the work of transitioning have you done when you enter the doctor’s office? How much is accepting your trans identity, reading about it, picking up the courage to get an appointment, etc.? Learning the social cues, learning the voice, getting new clothes, learning to apply make-up (for trans women)? And other things I surely have forgotten. (Technically a question that can’t be answered, since the process has no end but y’know).

    I don’t know if you’re typecast. I wouldn’t have anything against that kind of posts once in a while – they add a spice to what is otherwise a somewhat heavy and hard-to-digest dish. Not lightness, but variation. But I’m not the only person reading this blog.

    But there’s only one way to find out. Write a few such posts and see what happens. No one else can tell you off, can they? The blog is yours to experiment with, right?

    I would also like to point out, discreetly, that you have in your possession two documents pertaining to a project about getting cis people to understand the non-physical nature of being trans better. Just a discreet reminder. :)

    *unless you spoke of your beloved Vancouver in a sarcastic way in which case I’d like to hear about those opinions as well.

    • says

      I second this notion. You have a unique ability to bring awareness and not just to trans issues but skeptical issues and women’s issues as well. You get to choose how to project your voice in a particular day. You have shown to me and perhaps other readers that your voice has a significant range that is pleasing to my ears. So pleasing in fact if you chose to write fan fiction about Dr. Who (a show I don’t watch btw) I would probably give it a few reads to see if I liked that octave as well. I guarantee some of your readers would enjoy it even if I didn’t and you would pick up some new readers who skimming your archives would be like “Whoa, cool trans girl who writes fan fiction about Dr. Who” “I could totally relate to trans people in a way I couldn’t before because of this.” Yeah, Yeah I know that people don’t think about it that much but about what is going on under the surface, changing the way they view inclusiveness.

      What I am saying is write what you want to write, sing what you want to sing, be what you want to be. Ok, cheesy I know.

    • Yellow Thursday says

      Thirded. I have learned so much from your writing. I can’t say I “understand” what it means to be trans, because that wouldn’t be fair. But I think it’s fair to say I understand a little better than I did before I started reading your blog.

      • Michael says

        +1

        I notice more now, like Brendan O’Neill’s blog post today on the Daily Telegraph. In the past I might have let his comments wash over me and, maybe, even nodded along on occasion. Now I find that I am genuinely saddened by the attitudes displayed.

        I’m not sure I should link to it because it won’t do your head any good to be repeatedly bashed on your keyboard…

      • jg29a says

        Me too.

        For what it’s worth, I’ve come to think of you as a sociology blogger, sometimes maddeningly wrong but always with some well-expressed insight that makes me reflect about people (of which, yes, I am one) in a new way. Trans issues are mainly what you know and care about, of course, but you use them to struggle with broader questions in a sort of refreshingly curious way. I don’t think you need random “fangirl” posts in order to avoid being pigeonholed.

  3. says

    I am always been on the look out for literature that includes marginalized groups of people in the characters (especially the main character) but where the aspect of marginalization was not a primary plot point of the story.

    We see this a lot with race and gender where a woman or a black person can be a hero without the the theme being about how the struggle of a woman in this role or the struggle of a black person in this role. We still don’t see much of it in mainstream literature with regards to homosexuals. If a homosexual is a primary character there will certainly be elements to the plot centered around bullying. We almost never see it with transgender. It is hard to even find a transgender character who is represented in literature and if they are the whole book is about their gender, about what makes them “different than cis.” The intentions are good for the most part and I think those sorts of books play a role in making people aware of the struggle. I still think books that show trans people just being people doing normal boring people things (i.e. managing to pay bills and be friends and go on dates and even fucking tie their shoes without it being about stigma) will do a lot to help cis people realize the commonalities we all share.

    I may have rambled a bit here and gone off topic some. I just think it takes presence, all sorts of visible presence, to help tear down the walls blinding us to our privilege.

    • says

      Yep. Will Smith is about the only black actor who can play characters who weren’t specifically conceived to be black and most other minority groups don’t even get one person like this.

      • says

        I would argue Lenny Kravitz did a fine job in The Hunger Games but that was the first movie role I have seen him in. BTW I fucking loved Will Smith in Six Degrees of Separation. Some of the best acting ever on screen period.

        • Karellen says

          Definitely.

          Notably in The Shawshank Redemption, where his character “Red” was originally named (definitely in the book, maybe in the first draft of the screenplay) because of his red/ginger hair. Therefore pale white guy of celtic extraction. Once Morgan got the role, they kept the character name, but added dialogue “Why do they call you Red? Because I’m Irish I guess” to provide a rationale.

          • Chirico says

            Yeah, I’ve heard about that. Having never read the original story, it’s really hard for me to imagine the character as anyone other than Morgan Freeman.

        • says

          Without a doubt. He does bring total life to the character of Red in Shawshank. The chemistry between him and Robbins is fantastic. Man this will turn into a derail fast if we keep talking about great movies.

    • daenyx says

      I identify with this so hard it hurts. I’m always looking, and never seem to find it. (Guess I’ll just have to write my own, in my hypothetical future when I’ve got my academic career more or less in place and actually have time to breathe.)

      • says

        Please please write your own. Literature is a big part of making people identify with minority groups. It helps them empathize as well as live vicariously through the characters. The more inclusive we can make literature (especially YA literature) the better our world will be.

    • Dalillama says

      I’m not sure if fantasy counts as mainstream literature for your purposes, but I did recently read a novel where one of the protagonists was a trans woman. The Bone Palace, by Amanda Downum. It’s the second in a series, but the character in question doesn’t directly appear in the first one. While there is some plot significance to her gender regarding the fact that pregnancy is not a possibility for her, it’s not the major focus of the story, which is about magic and political intrigue.

      • says

        Adding her to my wishlist. Any chance if you know if the content is suitable for young adults (middle through high school)? Either way is ok but I would like to know in case I need to recommend it before I read it.

        • Dalillama says

          It’s something I’d have read when I was in high school, and probably middle school as well, but my parents were a good deal more permissive about my reading material than most. Although I do not have any children of my own, I would have no problem with my hypothetical middle to high school aged child reading it, but I expect that a significant number of parents might take issue with it. There are 1-2 scenes involving sex, I can’t recall how explicit. So, it will vary.

          • says

            Thank you. That helps me know what general age range it may be accepted in. High schools should be no problem and discretion may be needed for some middle school aged children. I will try to read it fairly soon and perhaps do a book review over the series eventually.

  4. Sinéad says

    One thing that irks me is when people discuss the biological side of this discussion. Basically, how many people have actually had the karyotye tested? We all assume by phenotype to genotype. I know no one in real life who has actually had their genes tested. Oh the irony if some transphobic radfem were to discover she was in fact XY CAIS male.

    • Rasmus says

      What I’ve gotten from reading radfem blogs is that they think of a woman as a person who has experienced female disprivilege since age 0 and has not ever had a penis, or at least hasn’t had a penis when she was old enough to have fun with it.

      They don’t all phrase it like that, but I think they’re all thinking that approximately.

      The XX/XY-stuff is just their technobabble.

      • Sinéad says

        Because all people born with vaginas experience the same lives?

        No, the matter is that they claim that there is ONLY sex, biological males and females, which is prima fascia false.

        Then, there’s the existential objective argument, basically, they can only make the claim that we are only defined how others perceive us. Here again is a failure, No True Scotsman.

        Honestly, their arguments are only operable under their limited conditions, moving the goalposts. They don’t believe there is such a thing as “gender identity” and all their arguments are about “gender roles” as social constructs.

        Poor and rich are social constructs. Rich people who become poor are not denied a place in a soup line because of their previous plentiful pantries.

        Race is a social construct, and anyone who would argue that it doesn’t have real consequences is full of bs.

        An able bodied person can become disabled.

        The social implications of being diagnosed as male or female or as having Down Syndrome in utero are very real consequences.

        Do we tell deaf people who get cochlear implants that their just being deluded by societal pressures of what is an able body?

        Seriously, why are trans people the special case for these haters? If you hate, you have no logic, that’s all I gotta say.

        • Sinéad says

          Let me clarify, I stand for the freedom of all people to articulate their gender identity and sexuality.

          I believe trans people who wish to seek surgeries should have access to those surgeries.

          I believe cis male crossdressers should be able to live lives without fear and deserve a chance for love as anyone else, and traditional gender roles are indeed harmful.

          For myself, I have never fit into wholly masculine or feminine behaviors, and wish I could just not have to have a legal gender to be safe. I wish I could be non op and happy. I wish I didn’t have to take hormones that might kill me by DVT, organ failure, or cancer.

          But I will never have the freedom to live in Utopia, and that means dealing with the reality of the lives of people who are suffering. And that is what those people would deny me, they would throw me to the wolves without a weapon or shield.

      • Sinéad says

        Intersexed bodies should not be appropriated to justify trans gender. When they are convergent, that is fine, but since my argument is that almost all essentialist arguments are founded on factors that are not anything but assumptions based on phenotypes.

        • says

          My point was just to agree with you: the radfems not only don’t know their own chromosomes, they don’t even know what chromosomes trans people may have. It’s hardly the most major problem with their arguments, and isn’t something I would use as grounds for deconstructing them, because I recognize that basing all “explode the gender binary” arguments on intersex people would be…insensitive to say the least. The important take-home message is that “biological sex” really means something like “development as directed by hormones and how the cells interpret them”.

          But I got confused, because I don’t know current “intersex” (wrong word?) people’s politics and issues and words well, and maybe I was referencing to people who are intersex rather than trans, or people who count (themselves?) as both.

    • Kels says

      I actually have, and it came out as a very orthodox 46,XY. Does that make me male? Hell, no. For me at least, the important part is who I am as a person, as an artist, and as a woman, the biology of it all is just mechanical detail.

      • Sinéad says

        And even if there were a way to diagnose your gender identity from an fMRI scan of your brain, I would still defend your existential subjective identity.

        • Dalillama says

          I would be inclined to say that the only way we would have of validating such a scan would be if it produced results conforming to an individual’s existential subjective identity. Of course that also makes it a rather pointless exercise, but still.

    • amhovgaard says

      Some of the people who don’t fit the typical XY/male or XX/female genotype/phenotype pattern have developmental problems, and are tested because of that. Otherwise they usually find out when they fail to become pregnant as expected. So, if they have never tried to become pregnant, they might very well not be aware of their genotype.

  5. Nikki H says

    This is one of the best articles I have read in a long time. As a Post-op Transwoman, I have so many times asked those same questions. I’m so grateful that someone was able to articulate those questions and concerns so well.
    I truly think the goal of transition is to move beyond being defined as a Trans person but to just be defined as a person who happens to be Trans.
    Bravo for an excellent article!

  6. says

    “But what I do know is that not one of us needs allow that tiny, closed, limited idea others have of what transgenderism or transsexuality is to be internalized. None of us need to let what other people think a trans person is determine how we think of and define ourselves. None of us needs to let what we mean to others dictate what we mean to ourselves. None of us need to limit our aspirations to what they’ll ask us about. None of us need to let ourselves be convinced we’re really just a medically altered body, or that that is the only thing about us that’s interesting, important or significant. None of us need to believe that just because our accomplishments are ignored that they don’t count, or that just because our heroes are invisible that they weren’t there, or that just because so few options, roles and identities are explicitly presented to us that we can’t carve out our own.”

    Thank you. It’s nice to be reminded of this … that I don’t always have to be a trans father, a trans telecom engineer, a trans vlogger, a trans forum admin, a trans romantic partner … I am also just a father, a telecom engineer, a vlogger (btdubs, I SO hate vlogging as a term), a forum admin, a romantic partner … who, oh by the way, is also transgender, and no that doesn’t actually give you, Mr. CisPerson, any actual knowledge about my history or my body.

  7. says

    For what it’s worth, I followed your blog because of other things you wrote about (from a trans feminist perspective which is awesome), not trans-ness specifically. Many of your posts on trans-ness have clarified a lot for me so far, but probably my favorites are about drug policies and other areas of skepticism.

  8. Timid Atheist says

    Thank you for reminding me that people are people who can do amazing things and should never have to have their orientation, sex, gender or ethnicity come into play. I’m still doing my best to decolonize my brain, which is why I read what you write and do my best to listen to what you’re saying and take it to heart. Realizing my curiosity was a slap in the face to others gave me a huge wake up call and your writing continues to make me realize that I’m still no where near perfect when it comes to things like this. I’m doing my best, so thank you for being a blogger and willing to share what you know and experience.

  9. Anders says

    If they ever talk about the penis as being necessary and sufficient for male-dom, you can hit them with this (i.e. says that a transwoman who has undergone HRT and orchiectomy but not SRS is male). There was a teenager in Germany who tried Angel’s Trumpet a couple of years ago. Don’t do this. He wandered out into the garden, took a pair of hedge clippers and cut of his dick and his tongue. An ambulance was swiftly there and they managed to save… him?

    How can the person they bring in be a him if ze lacks the almighty sex-determining penis?

    This is absurd. His gender didn’t change for a couple of hours and then change back again. Thus we can say that something is wrong with the penis=man hypothesis.

    There are even creepier thought experiments that we can dream up if we want to, and I will be happy to oblige if someone wants to hear them. But I think this one is interesting to begin with, especially since this was a real event.

  10. Erin W says

    Carving out our own identities is what we do best. It’s what we’ve always done. And honestly, that, not exogenous hormones or genital surgeries, is what makes us what we are… being able to choose an option that wasn’t made clear. Being able to create entirely new options. Forcing open locked doors, and breaking through flimsy, false partition walls.We can walk through the garden of forking paths with a chainsaw.

    I want to get this blown up, make it into a poster and hang it on my goddamn wall. Thank you for giving me the anthem of my life.

    I joke that my purpose is to transcend every arbitrary characteristic that was assumed of me when I was born. They assigned me male, but I’m not. I was raised Christian, but I’m not. And I was born in the USA, but want to die a citizen of somewhere else. Heck, even my accent isn’t one that would be expected of someone that grew up in the Mid-Atlantic US. Long story not terribly short, I’ve been breaking down walls all my life, but I think I like the garden metaphor even more. Someone fetch me my chainsaw!

    • Anders says

      And I was born in the USA, but want to die a citizen of somewhere else.

      Sweden is nice and awesome people are always welcome. And if you come to Gothenburg I’ll even buy you a beer.

    • Sinéad says

      I, too, am trans continental. I am a European born in the body of an US-American, but I want to live in the Southern Hemisphere and look at different stars.

      I am a trans hemispherical astronomer, and I’m apprpriating your constellations!

  11. daenyx says

    Brilliant post, and I think your point about involving ourselves in this sort of discourse is applicable to… well, probably all lower-status groups, or at least all that I am familiar with.

    I get asked (by men) why I “reduce” my identity to Feminist by engaging voraciously in dialogues on gender and sexism. It upsets me when I hear it, because there’s so much else that I am and my feminism (as well as my parallel and intertwined interest in other social justice-related issues) is, in essence, my war to be allowed to be all those other things. To be seen as those other things. And yet, in fighting the war, I lose it. It sounds very much like your trans advocacy works the same way.

    But what else can we do? Hope that some other part of us manages to reach out beyond the marginalized parts of our identities to leave a bit of a scratch, a tiny impression upon the world, and that it will someday be honored by some condescending line about how “even though she was a _____ and spent her life fighting an uphill battle against _____, she managed this other thing, too” ?

    If we fight the war, we lose it, but if we refuse to fight, everyone loses it.

  12. northstargirl says

    “Does any of it help?”

    You bet it helps. You help me think about things I tried to put on a shelf when my transition was done (whatever that’s supposed to mean). You say a lot of things I wish I could say, but couldn’t say anywhere as well. You push me to think about other things I hadn’t considered, and even when I disagree with you I admire how you construct an argument and am thankful you challenge me.

    You are also helping me become a little more fearless, and a little more willing to take pride in the simple fact that I actually did this and thus now live a happy life on my own terms. I even found myself quoting you yesterday during a conversation!

    Yeah, it sure does help. Thank you for doing this, Natalie.

  13. says

    “Does any of it help?”

    Speaking for me personally, as someone who’s never known much about trans issues, but was at least aware that I didn’t really know much; having now read your blogs (here and Skepchick) for the past few months, I now know more about trans issues that I ever suspected there was to know.

    And yet I still realize just how much I don’t know or understand.

    So, yes. It helps. :)

  14. geocatherder says

    Natalie, you’ve been a great teacher to me. When you came to FtB I knew next to nothing about transgender people. I still feel that I’m a kindergartener, but you’ve brought me up from below preschool, for which I’m very grateful. I doubt I’m the only reader who feels this way.

    Please blog about anything and everything; I don’t tend to think of you as “that transgender blogger” but as “that blogger who knows a lot first hand about being transgender”. Your writing is interesting, period. Carry on!

  15. Sas says

    You’ve helped me, because reading your words and those of your commenters has helped make me feel less alone. I don’t know any other trans people in RL (or even people that know anything about what I’m going through), so it’s comforting.

  16. Dennis says

    You seem angry. Why? The only time I responded to one of your posts I said ” you are what you think you are”. If I met You in a local bar and you look and act female I am going to treat you as a female. If you hada sex asigment why would it matter? You are a girl, emotionaly and physically.

    I am not interested in the physical manifestations of trasgenderism. I am a scientist and have already been given various descriptions. I am not a voyeer (SP).

    Why am I interested? I really don’t know.so I read your blog and find it interesting and will continue to. I am a white male I think CIS person who lives in Baltimore where a trans- woman was beten in a local McDonalds for going to the bathroom. That sucks!

  17. Vitreous Humour says

    As to whether you’ve made a difference, you’ve definitely expanded my awareness about the particular issues faced by trans women that I would otherwise have overlooked as a FAAB nonbinary person. I consider your blog an invaluable resource and am definitely going to try some of your arguments for times when clueless cis people are bombarding me with invasive questions regarding my gender. Also, the consistent cogency of the prose makes this one of the most enjoyable blogs on FTB.

  18. Azure- says

    Whether or not you are being defined by the subject you wish to define, I am quite grateful for your blog. I’ve been stalking your entries for a few weeks now and the perspective has been mind boggling.

    For context, I’m MtF and had internalized all of those terrible negative evil things that get mentioned here from time to time without ever having realized it.

    Thank you!

  19. Emburii says

    Now I have to rethink my nomenclature again.

    I used to say ‘[gender] who is also trans’ (if that even had to be stated at all) since it takes the stress of it being the prime defining point and makes it more a part of the person rather than their only quality, but got the impression that it could be considered dismissive. It can also be clumsy if I’m talking about more than one person at a time. So I switched back to ‘trans[gender]‘. Which would you suggest? Or prefer, if someone were using that particular construction or concept in a discussion with you?

  20. TBS says

    I have read this, and the comments, several times and don’t know what to say.

    As a cis man, who fell in love with a trans girl. Most of my initial concerns were physical. She politely told me before we became intimate, and I did wonder a bit about details of transition.

    I also agree emotional and social aspects are there.

    And, won’t talk about them. As I just admitted to myself I’m pissed off. Natalie, I am engaged to a trans girl, and sometimes I read your blog to feel better.

    Sometimes R comes home with such an awful story, something I can do nothing about, and it makes me feel awful, powerless.

    Good to know that I dont know the only transexual in the world.

    Tbs

  21. Ora says

    Transsexual ennui. Let’s just coin the term right here, right now. And this post and the following post cover the definition.

    I can’t tell you how much I resonate with this right now… I wish I had something useful or beneficial to say. I guess all I have is “THANKS” for saying it and making me feel a little less alone on this.

    I never let my trans-ness full dominate my life. I’m a creative person with plenty more kinds of uncertain identity going on. In fact my transgenderism is one of the things I have more accurately nailed down in my life. Trying to figure out if I’m supposed to be a fiction writer, non-fiction writer (perhaps less likely), musician, electronic musician, tarot reader, or something else I totally have considered yet… Well that’s what I’m working on.

    But it all goes back to identity. And when we think too hard and intently on identity, well… ennui. Transsexualism gives us plenty of frustrations. Even that entire list just covers the dealing with other peoples’ perceptions issue, which sits among a list of all the other things we deal with for being trans, which sits among an even greater list of things we deal with for all our other identities.

    Umm… I don’t really have a conclusion for this, because I’m as “lost in the woods” as you (and the folks on Serenity) are.

    Thanks for sharing openly and reminding me that I’m not alone. You aren’t either.

    <3
    Ora

  22. Anders says

    I also get the feeling whenever I ask a question that I’m interrupting. I’m the youngest of three brothers and it’s a feeling I’m very familiar with… like they could probably do something much better with their time than talking to me.

    Congratulations, Natalie. You’re my ten year younger big sister.

  23. amhovgaard says

    Reading your blog has made me think about gender in a way I never have before. I still have no idea what a gender identity is, though ;) I get sexuality, I get bodies (not just genitalia, but also all the other ways in which bodies can be more or less typically male or female), and I get social/cultural gender roles. To me, that’s all there is. If you remove all of that, the word “gender” does not refer to anything, and I have no idea what the words “man” or “woman” mean. But the fact that trans people exist means that I must be wrong, there must be something more, even if I don’t understand it or “feel” it.

    • says

      No, if you remove all that, gender identity is the part that’s left. :)

      “Man” and “woman” are concepts of self, that either resonate and “fit”, or don’t.

      • anne mariehovgaard says

        Then I’m really not sure I have one. Or how I’d know if I did. All I can say is that I feel more or less at home in my body, but I’m not all that attached to it ;) In fact, Iain Banks’ Culture, where biology is most definitely not destiny, is my idea of Paradise!

        • says

          Or maybe you have one, but you’ve never had any conflict with which to define it or give it any form or contour, so it just goes taken for granted, fades into the background, and SEEMS invisible, incomprehensible, not really there. Like how a fish would think (or not think) of water.

          If your brain was put in a physically sexless robot body, what gender would you be then? What pronouns would you wish to be referred by?

          • anne mariehovgaard says

            Me-as-robot? No gender – it. I wouldn’t mind that at all, it would be less complicated in many ways. This is difficult to explain – how does it feel not to feel something? But I really, REALLY don’t feel particularly attached to my gender – woman is just a word people use to describe people with the sort of bits I have. I’m not trans, as I’m happy the way I am – but if someone from some terribly advanced culture (the Culture!) turned up on my doorstep and told me I could have an entirely new body; either a perfect-according-to-my-standards female body or an equally perfect male body, I would choose the male one – I wouldn’t even have to think about it. I’d see that as more interesting, an adventure, an opportunity to learn and also to experience society from a different angle.

          • says

            If you REALLY wouldn’t care much about being in a robot body, and wouldn’t continue to describe, identify or articulate yourself as a woman in that situation, and wouldn’t care which pronouns people used, THEN maybe there’s a possibility that your gender identity is simply agendered. But that definitely, definitely doesn’t mean that other people’s experience of gender identity is just an illusion- no more than an asexual’s lack of sexual drives doesn’t make any kind of point about sexual orientation not really existing.

          • anne mariehovgaard says

            :) It’s a bit like you’re asking if my shirt is hot pink or fuchsia (in a strange parallel universe where I would actually wear a pink shirt), when I just happen to be 100 % colorblind… Maybe I’d notice it if my body really did change dramatically, but I’m not likely to get a chance to try that experiment ;)

          • Anders says

            I wonder if the athlete women who take tons of androgens experience gender dysphoria.

    • Caravelle says

      I’m in the same place; the usual response is that cis people are like fish in water, we don’t perceive our gender identity because given it matches our bodies we just assimilate the two. That said I’ve also seen cis people saying they feel very much like their gender, i.e. they do think they have a gender identity.

      An alternate explanation is that there is actually a spectrum of gender identity, and some people just don’t have one or have a weak one. Which might explain why you and I don’t perceive there is such a thing as gender once you take away bodies and society, but that trans people and even some cis people do feel there is something left.

      Or we could just not be seeing the water.

      AFAIK brains are gendered in many ways. I don’t think we know enough about it to understand gender identity, but it does make it easier to conceive of people feeling one gender but having the genitalia of another.

  24. Sarah says

    I think this may be a framing problem. (Mostly the media’s, but not completely.)

    If you frame stuff as “Trans people have the right to be trans” you’ll get reactions like “Oh, I definitely believe they have the right to be trans” or “no they don’t, not exactly, and let me tell you why.” It doesn’t completely go away, no matter how articulately you express that “I AM NOT ASKING YOU TO GIVE ME PERMISSION.” When you talk about trans rights or transphobia, there’s an instinctive reaction that everybody gets, even me, “Hm, she’s making a request. Do I want to grant it or refuse it?”

    It’s the universal problem of identity politics. If you’re black in 1968 and you march with a sign that says “I am a man”, you have a good reason to do that. But when you make your humanity a subject of debate, even to defend it, somebody’s going to think casually, “Well, is he a man or isn’t he? Where do I stand on the Problem of black people?” And some people will think: “Black people: I’m in favor.” or “Black people: I’m opposed.”

    It’s crazy, because it should *never* be a subject of debate whether somebody deserves to be treated like a person. But everything that’s framed as a debate will get debated.

    I think you do the best job I’ve seen so far, among trans people who talk about it, of *not* defending your existence in a way that invites debate over whether you should exist. But there’s a lot of noise out there that’s making the problem worse; even well-meaning people fall into the “Trans People: Pro or Con?” pattern.

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