The Personal Politics of SRS

I’m afraid I have to collapse the wave function on the whole Schroedinger’s Genitals thing I had going for awhile: I’ve not had lower surgery.

Hopefully, that won’t encourage any creepy love-letters (yes, something I’ve actually dealt with. More than once).

The reason I’m mentioning that very personal, and very uncomfortable-to-mention, information is that it’s important for the context in which I’ve been navigating a lot of complex issues lately. A few weeks ago, I was contacted very unexpectedly and out-of-blue-ishly by the people who handle the assessment process for those in the Vancouver/Victoria area of British Columbia who are pursuing vaginoplasty (aka SRS, GCS, lower surgery, bottom surgery, etc.), and they were asking to set up an appointment for the in-person interview part of the assessment. [Read more...]

The Eunuch, The Rapist, The Whore And The Child Who Simply Knew

(trigger warning for transphobic slurs)

A few days ago I woke up to read an almost hilariously transphobic article on tv.com reviewing a recent episode of the HBO (or Showtime or AMC or whatever… one of those channels adored by critics and people who shop at Whole Foods) series Sons of Anarchy that prominently featured a transsexual (or transvestite? Or drag queen? It really wasn’t very clear) character in a comedic tilt. The review was painful, shocking and strangely distancing in just how overt and aggressive the transphobia therein was. The writer had absolutely no compunctions about addressing the character almost exclusively by slurs (“shemale” was even in the title), and made no effort whatsoever to conceal just how hilarious and zany and wacky and kinky he found the very concept of a trans woman.

This was mostly just the usual kind of depressing bigotry and ignorance I find whenever I engage our culture, but shortly later there was something that occurred to me I found interesting, and allowed me an opportunity to reexamine some mistaken assumptions I’d made about the way trans women’s sexuality is policed, erased or subjugated in cis-patriarchy. Mistaken assumptions about the basic roles we’re forced into in cis perceptions. The character was being simultaneously positioned within both the “tranny rapist” AND “tranny whore” roles. And she wasn’t simply being swapped from one of those pre-packaged concepts to another, but occupying both in the same liminal space.

What interested me about this was how I’d previously regarded the various roles we occupy (analogous to the “maddonna”/”whore”/”virgin” dynamic forced onto women) as being discrete concepts. Discrete means by which a given trans character or archetype is constructed, and discretely simplified, fantasy identities projected onto the complexity of actual trans human beings. That was a mistake. [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...]

Disgusting

Dear Sir,

You probably don’t remember me. There’s a reason for that, and it’s basically about power. Not, like, “oh, dude, you’re so powerful!”, but just the sort of basic, day to day power-differentials that exist, between all of us, in accordance with things completely beyond our control, that have nothing whatsoever really to do with us. Despite the extreme reaction you had to my momentary presence (or would you think “intrusion”?) in your day, and the fact that without this reaction I likely wouldn’t have noticed you at all, you had a lot more power to affect me than I ever had to affect you, no matter how expressive your response.

I was walking down West Broadway earlier this week, I think near the corner of Blenheim, on my way back home from running some errand or other. Although given who and what I am I never quite have the luxury of feeling unguarded, I wasn’t really feeling especially apprehensive about my surroundings, this being mid-afternoon in Kits on a sunny day, and there’s only so much attention a person can maintain in being prepared for harassment. You were walking towards me in the typical lazily-confident stride of entitled young men like yourself that seems precisely calibrated to say “I don’t give a fuck” but mostly just says “I really desperately give a fuck about giving the impression that I don’t give a fuck”, and were dressed in the typical shapeless t-shirt-and-cargo-shorts uniform that suggests exactly the same.

We were passing on the sidewalk, and you presumably read me for trans. You sneered, spat at me in contempt, and then after passing by and not having to deal with anything uncomfortable like “eye contact” or whatever, shouted a single word, twice, with increased volume and emphasis the second time.

That word was “disgusting”. [Read more...]

Defining Gender In Sport

Given that the dreaded Olympics have once again cast their dark cloud over us, raining fire and nationalism as the rivers run red with the blood of those who blaspheme the sanctity of LOCOG, I thought the timing was right to have a bit of a discussion about the issue of how gender and sex are determined and defined in relation to sports, and the segregation of athletes into female or male competitions. [Read more...]

Novaries

There is a lot of me that genuinely cherishes who and what I am.

Often I find myself drawn back to the same, basic, long since tiresome and boring question… would I trade my life for a different one? Am I happy with the life I’ve been given? Am I okay with having been trans? Is that something I’d exchange for getting to have had the life of a cis woman?

The question is boring, yeah. It must have been asked uncountable times by now, even in this precise iteration, but beyond that, it’s a question that we all ask ourselves, over and over again, of the circumstances that have shaped who we are. We all have our burdens, or aspects of our histories that have shaped us in more obvious ways than others, and we all come back to the idea of whether this is something we’re simply living with and accepting because we have no choice, or something that we accept on a deeper level, something we can learn to love, all its hurt included. Probably because in so doing we can learn to love ourselves, the way genuine love embraces imperfection, understands it as inseparable from whatever makes someone… them. [Read more...]

Kind Of A Drag

Several weeks ago I became a bit mixed up in what had a lot of potential to become a hugely embarrassing misstep on the part of CFI Ontario in their efforts to present a queer-friendly image through participation in Toronto’s pride parade. As has been written about elsewhere, such as by Zinnia Jones, CFI Ontario had the plan of marching in drag as participants in the parade.

The initial proposal for this plan explicitly, and quite insultingly, presented the idea as being supportive of the trans community, an act of solidarity against transphobia, by asking cisgender CFI members and volunteers to “step outside their comfort zones”. After the initial wave of outrage reached CFI Ontario, their first response was to simply remove any reference to trans advocacy from their proposal, which had the unfortunate effect of suggesting the trans-positive message was never really genuine in the first place, and had simply been tacked on for the sake of publicity after the fact of someone, somewhere deciding that dressing up in drag would be fun. They also issued a rather patronizing notpology in which a whole lot of cissplaining was offered to teach us trans people what drag is really all about and how we ought to feel about it.

After a lot of discussion, however, an altogether positive result was reached in which the plan was scrapped and some much more genuine apologies were offered. Although clearly a great deal of work still needs to be done in terms of hetero/cis allies being more prepared to talk and, more importantly, listen to the queer communities on whose behalf they position themselves speaking and acting, it’s a nice change of pace to have been involved in actions that ultimately prevented something hurtful and insulting from occurring, rather than having to explain these things in the wake of their consequences, with the much more abstracted goal of someone maybe learning something from it, or perhaps achieving another millimeter of collective movement in what one hopes is the right direction.

However, this does end up illuminating some icky creepy things crawling around in the blind spots many cis people have in regards to what drag is, what it isn’t, and how it does and does not relate to the broader range of transgender identities. Even drag’s inclusion under the concept of transgenderism is not something I, personally, feel completely comfortable with, but do have to reluctantly accept in order for my current working definition to be consistent. At least it’s necessary in order to avoid  some really thorny territory about what is or isn’t not a significant variance from expectations about gender.

(I do kinda feel like revising my working definition, though) [Read more...]

The Exceptionalization Of CeCe McDonald

Until recently, my feelings about CeCe McDonald, the young trans woman of colour who was violently attacked in Minnesota by a group of men (at least one of whom was a neo-nazi) shouting racist and transphobic slurs, charged with murder for defending herself, and ultimately convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 4 years in a men’s prison, had been primarily governed merely by sympathy and empathy (albeit very strong). I absolutely respected her reaction to the attack, the refusal to submit to being a victim. But truthfully, those kinds of situations occur very quickly, are not really governed by coordinated thought, and none of us really know how we’ll react until we’re actually living it. Also, I would understand, and refuse to judge, any trans woman who had the opposite response, such as surrendering to the attack. We are presented very frequently with representations of ourselves as victims, to such an extent that we often end up thinking of it as basically an inevitability… to such an extent that should we be attacked, our response could very easily and understandably be simply resignation and the desire to get it over with. Trans women of colour in particular live under the burden of the victim-narrative, being hardly represented or reflected in our culture at all outside of that status.

I sympathize and empathize with CeCe. I feel very genuine sadness and anger in regards to what happened to her. But recent statements from her to her supporters have allowed my feelings to grow from simply understanding the tragedy of her circumstances, and feeling an emotional connection to them, to deep admiration. CeCe isn’t simply a victim of shitty circumstances and a broken, racist, cissexist culture and legal system. She’s more than that. CeCe is a badass, and far more intelligent, selfless and politically savvy than the blogosphere really gave her credit for.

Personally, I feel the need to accept accountability for how my own fucked-up racial biases played into the distorted narrative we built around her. In retrospect, I can’t help but feel saddened and a bit disgusted by how few of CeCe’s own words and perspectives were included in the discourse surrounding her. The same old awful stories play out over and over again, even where we most ought to know better. [Read more...]

Fourth Wave: Part Four

One of the most lovely aspects of the internet, one of those that has most consistently lived up to the somewhat utopian visions the medium’s emergence promised, has been its capacity to offer a highly democratic, highly populist form of media, information exchange, communication and community.

In a recent “tranchat” (a twitter-based discussion that occurs each Sunday), the topic came up of the tension in feminism between theory or academia, and “real life” issues, everyday praxis, the street level experiences that feminism suggests the capacity to speak to, of, about. It occurred to me, though, that this tension seems much less prevalent and noticeable concerning trans-feminism. Trans-feminism has, thus far, not been a product of academia, nor is it even really practiced there… at least not in any form even remotely resembling the trans-feminism which I’m involved in and accustomed to. Trans voices are not exactly welcomed and embraced within academia, and the experiences of trans people in that milieu, students and faculty alike, are markedly different than those expressing or embodying other queer identities (totes not in a good way, either). Rather than us being the speakers in academia, we are the objects of study. Rather than theorists, we’re something the theorists struggle to explain.

Like other activist movements built from minorities (or ideological minorities) that had previously been scattered, isolated from one another in circumstantial diaspora, with very little access to information, community, publication, media, connection or infrastructure with which to organize, trans-feminism has been overwhelmingly a product of the internet. The internet in general has had an immense influence on trans people and our capacity to even exist, turning what had once been something often impossibly remote and difficult to understand, with intense limitations on who could or could not access the resources to make into a reality, into something that is far far more of a genuine, tangible possibility for those who need it. But beyond simply making our lives so much more livable, and our needs so much more attainable, and our identities and experiences so much more comprehensible, it is has also given us the capacity to find one another, communicate, and organize.

This was the spirit and media in which trans-feminism was born… isolated individuals who had been intensely marginalized from the dominant media and narratives reaching out to one another through the means that were available. It has not been something handed down from “community leaders” to “the people”, but instead something that emerged collectively. In this sense, it feels like those theory / praxis, academia / “real life” tensions aren’t as important for us. Or at least, that we have the opportunity to avoid them becoming important or meaningful. If we do this right, those tensions shouldn’t have to exist, shouldn’t have to feel at all relevant or worth talking about. If we do this right, we will always be a discourse that emerged from and between the people it speaks of, not ever having to position academics, theorists, experts or leaders to speak on our behalf. It’s a pretty awesome thing. [Read more...]

Blogathon: 23rd Hour

 

Almost there…

Just a little bit longer…

Hang on, Natalie. Imagine how much sweeter your terrible, cheap, back-pain-inducing mattress will feel if you make it.

And then sleep ’til Monday. Wake up and then PARTY FOREVER BECAUSE EVERYTHING WILL ALWAYS BE GOOD FROM THAT POINT ON WITH NOTHING BAD EVER AGAIN.

I think I might be just about all used up in terms of things to talk about, or things I’m actually capable of talking about in my present state.

I wish there was some kind of grand, awesome, sweeping, thematically-unifying thing I could think of to write here, to somehow tie it all together, but I’m sorry, I just don’t have that. I barely even remember what exactly I’ve written about.

There’s a not insignificant chance I’ll want to just delete it all when I finally wake up. [Read more...]