How Do You Know What it’s Like to Be…? (Gender Analysis 08)

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Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. As trans people, we’re often asked how we would know what it’s like to be our gender. Trans women are expected to explain how we know what it’s like to be a woman; trans men are asked how they know that they’re men. At first glance, this might seem like a simple enough question: what is it about our experiences that aligns with womanhood or manhood? But this line of inquiry, innocent as it may be, runs parallel to scrutiny and invalidation. And when you break this question down, it doesn’t really make any sense.

 

What purpose does this question serve?

When someone asks us this question, what kind of answers are they looking for? What are they intending to do with these answers? Is it possible to give a right answer? This approach of interrogation tinged with doubt and judgment seems to show up pretty often.

In the last episode, I explained how the commonplace usage of fixed biological reference points to define trans people as forever “female” or “male” is inconsistent to the point of being unjustifiable. Afterward, I was often asked, “so what does it mean to be a woman?”, or “what makes someone a man?” The problem, as you might have gathered from the previous video, is that this is complicated. There isn’t an easy checklist that you can go through to verify someone’s gender. And more importantly, why even try? When you ask these questions, are you going to use our answers to fight for us, or as an excuse not to?

It turns out that many are looking for exactly that excuse. When trans children come out as girls or boys, they’re often met with the most bizarre objections – from conservatives who lazily retort, ‘oh, well some kids want to be firetrucks when they grow up’, and so-called ethicists who blather about children who like to pretend to be train engines. Now, if you’re aware that half the human population isn’t firetrucks, being a woman isn’t really like being a freight train, and children have examples of boys and girls all around them, the analogy kind of falls apart. But I guess not all cis people can wrap their heads around that.

On the other end, when trans people come out in adulthood, they’re told things like “how would she know what it’s like to be a woman after living as a man for 65 years?” The elegance of this argument is that it can be wielded against any of us at any time. If we come out at 50, or 20, or 5, we can be told that we lack that experience of living as our gender. But that’s the very point of transitioning: we want to acquire that experience and immerse ourselves in it for the remainder of our lives. And when you refuse to treat trans people as their gender, you’re denying them the very experience you’re demanding from them.

It’s a self-fulfilling bigotry.

 

How trans people experience ourselves

There’s a substantial gap between the typical cis approach to questioning trans people’s genders, and the process by which we as trans people come to recognize and actualize our genders. I can’t speak for others, but when I started to understand my gender, I never once asked myself, “how do I know I’m a woman? What does it mean to be a woman?” All of that was too abstract and disconnected to help me figure out who I am in any practical way.

Implicitly, these questions refer to cis women, treating them as a definitive standard of womanhood. I wouldn’t know what it’s like to be a cis woman – not in totality – because I’m not one, and I never will be. I can share experiences with them, just as any of us can share experiences with anyone else. But when those who position themselves as the judges of our genders don’t have a complete sense of our experiences, and are never really clear on the degree of similarity they expect from us, this is just a recipe for arbitrarily dismissing and invalidating who we are. They don’t quite know what the must-have criterion for womanhood actually is – they’re just set on believing we don’t have it.

It would be foolish to assume that my chosen affiliation with womanhood was based on my ability to meet that confrontational standard, whatever it may be. That doesn’t help us. Here’s what does: I didn’t have to know what it felt like to be a woman in some general, global sense. I only had to know what it felt like to be me. Declaring myself, presenting myself, and being recognized as a woman felt right, where doing the same as a man never did. Being a woman made me feel more comfortable, more confident, more ambitious, and more willing to see my life as worth living. Being a man made me anxious, depressed, hopeless, and lacking any reason to live. I know I’m a woman in the same way I know that I want to be alive.

 

Will the real gender please stand up?

So, how would we know what it’s like to be a cis person? How about this: How would cis people know what it’s like to be us? If we’re going to start using supposed personal familiarity with others’ experiences to authenticate or invalidate their gender, this can easily be turned on its head.

Who knows more about their gender, what it is, and how it works than someone who had to build theirs from the ground up in the face of ongoing assault and then defend it on all fronts from those who try to take it away? Who knows more about what it’s like to have a gender than somebody who spent years searching far and wide until they found what was right for them, and cherishes it more than anything?

We know that our gender makes things so much better for us that losing everything else is still worth it. And we know that going without our gender is so unacceptable that nothing else could make it worth it. Cis people have never had to make these difficult choices just to keep their hard-won gender. They may never even have had to contemplate the possibility. But we have – and we know what it’s like. So what if we hold the keys to the one true gender, and you’ll never know?

I’m Zinnia Jones. Thanks for watching, and tune in next time for more Gender Analysis.


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Stop Calling Trans Women “Male” (Gender Analysis 07)

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Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. Calling trans women “male” is like the background noise of transphobia. It comes from many directions, and it’s pretty much constant. On one level, it’s a lazy invalidation of who and what we are, offered up by armchair biology fans who insist that trans women are always and forever “male”. On another, it’s unwittingly perpetuated rhetoric by people trying to provide 101-level explanations of what it means to be transgender while unaware that they may be causing even more confusion. And, of course, it’s overtly weaponized as a rallying cry of those looking to keep our genders from being recognized and protected under the law.

But this concept of physical sex as permanent and inescapable is actually incomplete, inaccurate, and irrelevant. Are trans women really “male” in any way that matters? I don’t think so. [Read more…]

Lux has started testosterone!

10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_nHey all! I started taking testosterone almost a month ago, and I decided to record the first self-administered injection I did. I’m not providing a transcription for this since there isn’t much continuous speaking, but I hope you enjoy watching me flounder.

TW for needles and stabbing.

 

Support Stephanie’s legal defense

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Stephanie Guttormson is the Operations Director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. She’s advised secular advocacy groups on trans issues, she debunks pseudoscience on her YouTube channel, and she’s a good friend. And now, she needs our help.

Recently, a lawsuit was filed against Stephanie by a so-called faith healer, Adam Miller, after she pointed out that his claims of faith healing are completely unsupportable. I mean, it’s faith healing. Seriously, does anyone actually think that does anything? Miller wants her video removed from YouTube, but his allegations of “copyright infringement” and “defamation” are extremely unlikely to hold up. This is just another frivolous lawsuit intended to harass critics and silence debate.

Open critique of religious claims is not something that can be considered disposable in a free society. And this takes on even greater importance when “faith-based” treatment is being offered as a substitute for actual medical care. This is like pharmacies that stock homeopathic products next to real medicine: bad enough on its own, but imagine if they sued anyone who pointed out why this is so irresponsible.

Stephanie has a legal defense fund set up at gofundme.com/srglegalfund. I hope that people will do what they can to support her defense. Stephanie is far from the only one debunking bad science and bad arguments on YouTube – harassment and silencing of skeptics is something that affects all of us. Support Stephanie. Screw faith healers.

Bathroom Bills: Dehumanization and Control (Gender Analysis 06)

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Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. Ever since I transitioned, I’ve noticed something interesting: a lot of cis people really seem to care about where I go to the bathroom. Over the past few months, lawmakers in several states have proposed bills to ban people from using restrooms and other facilities that don’t match their sex assigned at birth. Practically speaking, this would have the effect of forcing trans women to use men’s restrooms and trans men to use women’s restrooms or face fines, jail time, or more.

This is an issue that’s been around forever and it makes life incredibly difficult for us. We’re painted as a threat to a cis population that in reality poses more of a threat to us. This much larger and more institutionally powerful group now seeks to enshrine their bathroom policing into law. And they’ve presented this as if it’s an actual controversy with genuine issues to be debated.

Well, it’s not.  [Read more…]

Messages I wish my mom had actually taught me

10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_nContent notes for abuse, ableist slurs, misogynist slurs, beauty standards, drug use, mental illness

My mother considered herself a feminist. (She’s not dead, I just don’t talk to her any more and she might as well be.) She was also bipolar and had a difficult time communicating things in a way that made sense, even though she was intelligent and thoughtful about a lot of things.

Looking back on my childhood, I realize that there were messages she sort of tried to teach me, but didn’t effectively teach me at all. To me, it just looked like more things fitting into her patterns of erratic behavior, but now I understand why she behaved the way she did about me wanting to shave my legs and wear makeup, and why she didn’t mind walking around the house naked after a shower. A lot of my opinions were (unbeknownst to me) influenced by popular culture, so I looked down on her for some of it.

I first wanted to shave my legs and armpits when I was about 12. She stubbornly refused to let me for about a year, and I never just went and did it because she was abusive and generally I feared what would happen if I went against her directly, even if it had to do with my own body. All she ever said was that I was “too young” and that I “didn’t need to” shave my legs. It was never articulated, but now I think I understand her reasoning. [Read more…]

Planet Fitness and Cis Tears

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The internet has been abuzz over this thing that happened:

[…] a Planet Fitness gym in Midland, Michigan revoked the membership of a woman who complained that the trans woman she was sharing a locker room with looked too much like a man.

Of course, this event has stirred up a bunch of conversation around whether trans people (often trans women) should have access to certain gendered spaces, namely bathrooms and locker rooms. Trans people and allies are basically of the opinion that it’s no big deal to let people pick the bathroom that’s appropriate for them and cis people need to shut the hell up about it. The opposition centers around how it can make (cis) women uncomfortable, and how there’s a chance that (cis) men could dress as women any time they wanted to gain access to these spaces and maybe attack the cis women.

It occurred to me recently that if a cis dude wanted to dress as a woman to enter a gendered restroom, he would have to a) pack the clothes and change into them right before entering the bathroom, risking detection by anyone paying attention, or b) wear the clothes out in public on the way to his dirty deed of peeking or whatever. (Which–if peeking is what you’re worried about–would mean that any cis women attracted to women would also not be allowed in the women’s room. Just saying.) [Read more…]

Trans Passing Tips for Cis People (Gender Analysis 05)

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Did you know that parents tend to see newborn boys as larger and newborn girls as smaller, even when they’re the same size? Welcome to Gender Analysis.

Last time, we talked about how transgender people are affected by the expectation of passing – the idea that we should blend in as if we’re cis people. We discussed how this can force us to become secretive about every part of our lives, how it can keep us from advocating on our own behalf, and how it can isolate us from other trans people.

Now I’d like to examine passing in practice. Most people think of passing as a one-way street, as though the responsibility for passing or not falls solely on trans people. We often see cis people feign helplessness and protest that they just can’t see us as our gender. This serves as an excuse to misgender us.

But we’re not the only variable in this equation. It’s easy to assume that perception is an objective sense – that we all reliably see a person exactly as they are, just like pointing a video camera at them. Yet perception isn’t really like that at all, and this means that there are aspects of “passing” that are completely external to trans people. [Read more…]

Spawn More Trans: Transgender Awareness and Activation (Live at Social Justice Calgary)

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Remarks as prepared for Social Justice Calgary 2015:

Hi, I’m Zinnia Jones. I’ve been publishing my work on YouTube and on Freethought Blogs for several years now, covering secular and LGBT topics. I’m very honored that the University of Calgary Freethinkers have invited me here.

Most recently my focus has been on transgender issues. I’ve been transitioning for a couple years, and I’ve covered this topic like I would pretty much any other aspect of my life — telling the internet everything I think about it. I’ve also done a lot of research on it, because it seemed like no one else could really tell me all the things I wanted to know about going through this. So that’s a gap I’ve felt I should try to fill by sharing what I’ve learned with a wider audience. [Read more…]

Some Advice on “Passing” (Gender Analysis 04)

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Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. The term “passing” is typically used to describe whether or not a trans person is perceived as noticeably trans. For a trans woman, to “pass” is to be seen as a cis woman in everyday life, and vice versa for trans men. Most people tend to assume that passing is or should be a goal for every trans person, and it’s easy to see why. Some of us do find it necessary to look like cis people of our gender, because that’s what it takes to relieve our dysphoria. In other cases, the changes that we need in order to feel comfortable just happen to push us more in the direction of passing. And when people don’t know we’re trans, it can eliminate some of the insecurities that can arise when people do know, like wondering if they really see us as our gender or they’re just humoring us.

More than that, being visibly trans in public can be dangerous. In a study of over 6,000 trans people in the United States, those who were seen as “visually non-conforming” were more likely to be harassed in retail stores, hotels and restaurants, and they were more likely to be attacked when using public accommodations such as restrooms. Practically all of us have faced the fear or the terrifying reality of being heckled by strangers just because of what we look like. Passing isn’t just about aiming to reduce our own dysphoria – it’s also about keeping ourselves safe from everyone else. [Read more…]