How Do I Know If I’m Trans?

This is not the final post. – N

“How do I know if I’m trans?”

This is, by far, the most common question I’ve gotten over the last year and a half, since I began blogging. I’ve gotten it in comments, e-mails, on Facebook, over twitter…sometimes even on dates with ostensibly cis men (which is annoying as fuck, by the way. I don’t go on dates for the sake of offering people free therapy and transgender life-coaching)… it’s a hard question. I want to help. I wish I could. Sometimes I try.

It’s so individual in nature, though. Everyone has their own reasoning and own denials, own sequence of events that have led to this point and rgwie own reasons for being scared and having doubts (despite how universal fear and doubt is to being confronted with this. Like, some of those fears and doubts are pretty consistent across everyone questioning this, but everyone’s got their own individual fears and doubts too). And in terms of the person asking that question, those individual experiences and even the unique context of where they’re at (emotionally, interpersonally, psychologically) when they ask it: Everyone wants or needs to hear a different thing, and it’s not uncommon for people to get SERIOUSLY pissed if you don’t say what they approached you to hear.

And more often than not, they’re not really looking for an answer to guide them, a response on which they’ll base their actions or reassess their thinking. Most of the time, they’re looking for affirmation of a very specific answer they’ve already decided upon, and just want to hear it from someone else they perceive as having some kind of authority (how anyone has that perception about someone as messed up as me is totally beyond me, though). Most of the time within that latter set of “most of the time”, if they don’t get that affirmation they wanted, they get kinda upset.

Especially if they’ve decided that, for some reason, they can’t make this choice and you remind them that they can. No matter how supportive you try to be about that, it’s still throwing their fears and conflict back in their face (which is not to say that reassuring denial is a better option).

Sometimes, though, the question is earnest. They’re scared. They’re in doubt. It’s a huge and terrifying thing to confront, with all kinds of implications, and they can’t cope with that on their own. They want or need someone who seems to know what they’re doing, or has at least been there, to let them know it’s okay, or help them figure this out, or help guide them towards the answer that’s right for them.

Of course they want guidance and help. No one wants to face something so terrifying and huge on their own. When you’re scared, sometimes you reach out for a hand to hold. That’s not cowardly, it’s just human (which is part of why I hate when people talk about how “brave” transitioning is… you have no idea how scared most of us are or were, and talking about this imaginary courage just erases and invalidates the fear we felt, rewrites our own stories… it makes the people who ARE still scared feel that much less secure in themselves, and it gives them more reason to doubt themselves and their feelings or choices despite how completely understandable it is to be afraid when facing this, no matter how “sure” you are).

So the question got asked, the comment got posted, and the e-mail or private message arrived in my inbox, over and over again:

“How do I know if I’m trans?”

I’m sorry, but the short answer is:

You don’t.

The long answer, though… [Read more...]

Born This Way (Reprise): The New Essentialism

Okay… this is long…

So let’s start with me making some, perhaps entirely groundless, assumptions that we’re already on the same page about some stuff.

Like how the debate between a bio-essentialist “evolved behaviours” view of gender and sex, and the social-constructivist “blank slate” view of gender and sex, is a harmful false dichotomy, that presents a lose-lose choice for anyone who needs or wants actual, lived transgender experiences, in all their diversity, actually accounted for in whatever theoretical framework of gender and sex they sign on for. Or at least wants them accounted for without a lot of bizarre mental gymnastics and convoluted, flimsy theories.

Okay. Agree? Cool.

And how there’s more than one kind of gender-essentialism. There’s the obvious binary, bio-essentialist view, where most or all observed behavioural differences between men and women are “evolved”, and the definition of the terms “man” and “woman” is based on a simplistic “biological” distinction (penises and motive gametes and XY = male, vaginas and ova and XX = female, and everything else is either a disorder, or simply “cosmetic” and not “biological” or ‘scientific”), but a gender-essentialism is any theoretical framework that ultimately boils down to saying men are men and manhood is an inherent, essential quality of such people, and women are women and womhood is an inherent, essential quality of that category of people, and there are other kinds of gender-essentialisms.

For instance, you can have an essentialist version of the “social construct” view. And this actually pops up a lot in some of the justifications some cis feminists provide for trans-exclusionist policies or attitudes. This is where you state that socialization is the root cause of maleness or femaleness, but it nonetheless defines you, and “man” or “woman” is still an inherent, essential quality of the person, that isn’t fluid or contextual, and cannot be transcended or complicated. In this view, if you were raised and socialized as a man, that is what you are, and what you always will be, all other considerations not being relevant.

There are also theological or spiritual essentialisms, like where an Abrahamic God ordered the world into a division of gender and sex, ordains certain roles and behaviours for those sexes, and being a man or a woman is an immutable aspect of yourself that was God’s will, and any beliefs, identities or behaviours contradicting this divine order are simply mortal folly. Or where men and women are respectively two different aspects of a cosmic “balance” of complimentary “energies”, fitting into a cosmic order of other “opposites” like sun and moon, reason and emotion, order and chaos, light and darkness, aggression and passivity, science and art, Apollo and Diana, etc. Or where men and women exude male or female “energies” or “auras”, and only one or the other is capable of performing certain kinds of magic.

And lots of other gender-essentialisms. Gender-essentialism isn’t just an overly rigid, biological view in which gender is a behavioural consequence of (binary, dimorphic) sex. Gender-essentialism is any view based on the idea that being a “man” or a “woman” is an innate, inherent, essential trait of a person. Gender-essentialism needn’t even be necessarily binary.

Okay. Agree? Cool!

So… the framework of “gender identity”, where the quality of being a man or a woman is based on subjective experience of your body and sex, subjective experience of gender roles, and how you identify within them, is the best approach, and totally better than all these other frameworks, right?

Agree? Actually… not okay. Not cool. [Read more...]

The Radical History Of Transgenderism

Nearing her death in 2002, Sylvia Rivera, no less outspoken and uncompromising in her old age, expressed a wish to see the current generation of queer activism “destroy” the Human Rights Campaign, which she had come to regard as highly emblematic of the kind of exploitation and backstabbing of trans people by the wider queer community that she had experienced and fought against her whole life (such as jumping on stage to condemn Jean O’Leary’s hateful comments about the trans women and drag queens in the audience at a Stonewall rally in 1973, pointing out how the event they were supposedly commemorating was largely the actions of trans women and drag queens).

Rivera had been on the very front lines of the Gay Lib movement, and queer-rights activism, from the very beginning. And over and over again, she saw herself and other trans women used, exploited, dismissed, whisked out of the public eye whenever it was necessary to keep up appearances, and erased, with our rights being repeatedly used as bargaining chips to be compromised on behalf of less “extreme” requests of the queer community. The life and activism of Sylvia Rivera paints an intensely tragic (and damning) portrait of this history of betrayal. She gave herself utterly to the cause of queer rights, only to be silenced and pushed aside whenever the discussion turned to her own liberation.

And one of the organizations she saw as being unforgivably complicit in that history of betrayal was the HRC. [Read more...]

Bizarro World

“If the catacombs were good enough for the early Christians, then I can survive Obama’s America”

An increasingly common narrative amongst the contemporary American evangelical movement is that of the persecuted Christians. Good men and women whose religious rights are increasingly trampled by a dominant secular, atheist, liberal majority who are trying to bend and subvert their beliefs to their amoral godlessness. The questions of gay marriage or birth control or abortion aren’t matters of protecting the human rights of those with same-sex attractions or the reproductive rights of women, but instead an instance of violating the religious rights of Christians, one of which is apparently the “right” to impose one’s own moral doctrine on everyone else, and to force one’s particular religious ethics into public space and law. [Read more...]

“I Always Knew”

It often strikes me that one of the most central means by which transgender identity, and the whole transgender mythos, as it exists for our culture, is held together is through narrative, “our stories”. The very concept itself seems hinged in a narrative progression, a story told in miniature even through the terms we use: “Male to female”, “female to male”, “assigned male at birth”, etc. Even the prefix trans, in defining us, places us forever in the action, the crossing. What we are being defined by a story of how we became… or, as the terms would have it, how we’re becoming, locked forever in the story arc, the transition, the transgression… male to female. [Read more...]

F–k Anti-Science

Last week was a really, really rough week. Worse than usual, even. Scary terrible things happening, and very suddenly and unexpectedly, as is usually the case with scary terrible things. Lots of complex and intense feelings I didn’t know how to handle. Lots of memories of really awful things that happened to me in the past deciding they’re not keen on being ignored right now. Lots of stuff that had been building up all Spring kind of arriving at a bit of tipping point into badness. And the terrifying realization that having spent almost my entire adult life as an addict means I never actually learned how to deal with rough patches like this. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, or how to get through this, or how to cope. Just kind of have to make it up as I go along.

On Tuesday I met up with my BFF at the comic book store, and we went to sit in the nearby park for a bit and talk. She noticed that my knuckles looked rather red, and asked if I’d been punching the wall or something. I hadn’t, but it kind of occurred to me that I totally did find a punching bag of sorts that morning on the internets in the form of a nice argument against someone promoting dodgy anti-science attitudes of the lefty-academic, post-structuralist vein. The idea that science is this nasty “Western” imperialist concept that pretend it knows everything and thinks it’s the One True Path and disrespects other “ways of knowing” and tries to colonize everyone’s minds and get us all to fit into some particular Western conceptual framework and blah blah blah.

I got a tad more aggressive than usual.

I’m not sure, however, that aggression is an inappropriate response to these attitudes. [Read more...]

Blogathon: 20th Hour

I’m kinda maybe possibly sorta running out of ideas of things to write about.

Or at least things I can write about with a highly limited time-frame and a brain that is rapidly losing its ability to function.

What is it with superpowers and the colour green, anyway? Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Green Hornet, Green Goblin, Jade, The Hulk, She-Hulk, The Riddler, Beast Boy, Martian Manhunter, The Scorpion, The Lizard, etc.

Like, I know is green is like, a totally sweet colour and all, but this is a little weird.

It’s sort of like the weird tendency for mutants to be blue.

Anyway…

There’s one interesting connection between the whole trans thing and the skeptic thing that I don’t think I ever quite took a chance to talk about, and that’s how being trans can teach a lot about intellectual humility. [Read more...]

Blogathon: 12th Hour

Well, here we are at the halfway mark, and I’m afraid I’ve begun to develop a headache. A quite nasty one, too.

Also, it looks like we haven’t pushed much further towards our goal today in donations. Come on, guys. We should AT LEAST be able to break the $90,000 mark this evening! If you’ve been following along with my blogathon but haven’t tried donated at least a wee bit to the SSA, I’m sad to inform you that this “no skateboarding” sign is very, very disappointed in you:

[Read more...]

…What The F@#k?

Our sexual orientations are innate. We’re all just born that way. None of us really have any choice in what kinds of bodies we are and aren’t attracted to. It’s just the way we are. Personal preference. You can’t change what your sexual desires are, they’re just a part of who you are. And if you criticize how those desires manifest, or what we say about them, you’re clearly a bigot.

So the dominant narrative goes anyway. [Read more...]