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Because I Choose It

The most common understanding of transgender people which actually bears some resemblance to reality is that we felt we had the incorrect body from a very young age, we experience significant and debilitating distress because of our physical sex, and we need to transition in order to avoid serious long-term consequences to our well-being. For some trans people, this is certainly true: the pain of gender dysphoria can be so severe that without the necessary treatment, it can lead to depression, self-harm, drug abuse, and even suicide. And during their childhood, many trans people did have a sense that they were really the opposite sex to the one they were assigned at birth.

It’s completely understandable that many people would explain being trans in this way: as an inborn characteristic, not a matter of choice, and a cause of perpetual suffering that can only be alleviated by transitioning. For plenty of us, this really is the case, and the claim that we had no choice in this is a strong rebuttal to the people who believe we’re only trans so that we can rape people in restrooms, confuse everyone’s children and destroy the fabric of society. It’s a way of making it clear that this is a real condition, in a world that largely refuses to recognize it. But this general model of what it’s like to be trans isn’t entirely reflective of what every trans person experiences. These various elements aren’t always present in trans people’s lives in the same combination and to the same degree. It’s not always a burning red arrow of constant agony pointing you directly to another gender. I spent a long time doubting that I could really be trans, because for me, it wasn’t like this at all. And I’ve had a lot of choices about it, too.

For most of my childhood, I didn’t feel like I had a meaningful identity of any kind, gender or otherwise. Sure, I could look back and dig up any early signs of who I am today, like how I was the only boy in the local tap-dancing group when I was 4, or how I happily volunteered when our school needed someone in the 6th grade to dress as a girl and run through the gym during an assembly, or how I dreaded growing hair on my legs. But these experiences could be shared by plenty of cis people as well, and they don’t necessarily mean anything. At the time, they didn’t mean much to me at all in terms of how I viewed my gender, and I definitely didn’t “always know” I was trans. As a kid, my identity was defined by one word: “smart”.

That’s what the adults decided I was from an early age, and this was the lens through which they and the other kids always viewed me. It was solidified and made especially visible as the centerpiece of my identity when I was placed in classes two grades ahead. This effectively made being “smart” the most important thing about me, the first thing anyone would notice, and an unavoidable topic of conversation. My life was defined almost exclusively by academic obligations that I was expected to meet simply because I was able. The questions of who I was, what I wanted to do, or who I wanted to be never seemed relevant. The idea that this was up to me rarely even entered my mind. That was for other people to decide, as always.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why the situation deteriorated so badly when it turned out I wasn’t that smart after all. Everyone’s expectations had been crushed, and I felt utterly lost. I had never developed a sense of myself beyond someone whose job it was to do schoolwork, and after I dropped out of school at 14, I ended up spending years doing nothing simply because I had no idea what to do with myself. It took me that long just to get to a point where I could envision myself as someone who could have a genuine identity, let alone define it for myself. When I was finally ready, I started doing videos, and this is who eventually emerged.

Those who have been following my channel probably know that I wasn’t always like this. It took me some time, and a schedule of 3 or 4 videos a day, before I got a feeling for what I was actually doing. It wasn’t long after this that I began developing a certain presentation for myself. I started dressing up to make a distinctive image for my channel, but I kept doing it because it looked good, it felt right, and it worked well for me. Over time, as my sense of style evolved, it stopped being something that stood out for its contrast with who I was – because I wasn’t the same person I was when I started. At some point, this wasn’t “dressing up” anymore. It was just wearing clothes.

But despite finding this a more comfortable presentation, growing my hair out, taking a woman’s name and being okay with either set of pronouns, it took me a long time to realize that I might actually be trans. I’m sure some people are surprised I could be so oblivious, given that my videos over the past four years are literally a timeline of unwitting transitioning. My mistake was that I thought being trans entailed a specific cluster of features: being constantly uncomfortable with one’s body, seeking medical treatment, and receiving some sort of diagnosis. Obviously, none of this is actually a requirement to be trans, but I felt that my personal experience wasn’t sufficiently similar to other trans people I knew, and I didn’t want to be seen as speaking for trans people. I just didn’t think I was qualified. While I had no problem with people thinking I was trans, I leaned toward other descriptions, such as genderqueer.

Luckily, a very good friend of mine helped to clarify things. She told me how she thought she was bisexual for quite a long time, because she found sex with men to be tolerable rather than something that made her want to vomit, which she believed would be the natural consequence of gay people trying to have straight sex. But when she realized that sex with women was vastly more enjoyable for her, and that she pursued women and avoided having sex with men no matter how “tolerable” the experience was, she came to understand that being a lesbian was the most appropriate sexual identity for her.

This was more applicable to me than I knew at the time. But once it sank in, I recognized that I don’t need to have intense, unbearable gender dysphoria in order to be trans. I just need to prefer living as a woman over living as a man. Being uncomfortable in my body isn’t a requirement. Being more comfortable as a woman is all it takes. The old shoes don’t have to be such a poor fit – the new ones just have to fit me much better. And regardless of whatever grey areas there might be at the margins of how we define “transgender”, when you’re living as a woman, going by a woman’s name, dating a lesbian, and don’t want to live as a man despite being assigned male, the fact of being trans is pretty much inescapable.

In retrospect, I can see that there were plenty of choices available to me throughout all of this. Could I have chosen not to present as a woman, not to take a female name, and not to go by female pronouns? Yes. I could have chosen not to do any of this, at any step of the way. Would I have survived if I had chosen differently? In all likelihood, yes, but I doubt I would have truly thrived. Because of the choices I made, the world that’s opened up to me is better than anything that came before. And knowing what I know now, I would never choose to go back.

But ultimately, this wasn’t something that thrust itself upon me. When did I “know”? Not until I bothered asking that question, and got a real answer. Not until I actually tried this on, and found out it fit really well. This didn’t seek me out. I went looking for something, and this is what I came back with.

There’s a certain idea of some prevalence that dismisses our choices and fails to grasp the personal importance and value of our hard-won identities. This is the belief that people transition because society’s gender norms are excessively restrictive, and if the rigidity and narrowness of these gender roles were relaxed, there would be no need for anyone to be trans. This has been a recurring theme in some strains of radical feminist thought. In The Transsexual Empire, Janice Raymond writes:

Defining and treating transsexualism as a medical problem prevents the person experiencing so-called gender dissatisfaction from seeing it in a gender-challenging or feminist framework. Persons who think they are of the opposite sex are therefore not encouraged to see this desire as emanating from the social constraints of masculine and feminine role-defined behavior.

Drawing a parallel between being transgender and a hypothetical black person wishing to become white, she says, “it is their society, not their skin, that needs changing.” She later adds:

A society that encourages identity and role conformity based on biological sex will naturally turn to sex-conversion surgery rather than accept what it sees as a threatened obliteration of these roles.

In an article from 2004, Sheila Jeffreys says:

Feminists like myself envisage a time beyond gender when there is no correct way to behave according to body shape. In such a world, it would not be possible to conceive of a gender identity clinic. The idea of GID is a living fossil – that is, an idea from the time when there was considered to be a correct behaviour for particular body types.

Julie Bindel endorses this sentiment in a number of articles, saying:

In a world where equality between men and women was reality, transsexualism would not exist. [...] We live in a society that, on the whole, respects the human rights of others. Accepting a situation where the surgeon’s knife and lifelong hormonal treatment are replacing the acceptance of difference is a scandal.

And in Woman Hating, Andrea Dworkin recognized the importance of transitioning and supported access to medical care for trans people, but concluded that:

…community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it. Either the transsexual will be able to expand his/her sexuality into a fluid androgyny, or, as roles disappear, the phenomenon of transsexuality will disappear and that energy will be transformed into new modes of sexual identity and behavior.

The same idea has often appeared, perhaps independently, among people who would otherwise have little interest in feminism, let alone the works of Raymond, Jeffreys and Dworkin. Many of its adherents seem to think that this is a way of helping us – and to some degree, it certainly could – but this isn’t exactly the kind of help we’re looking for. While the abolition of gender policing is a worthwhile goal in its own right, and there are indeed various ways that this could make life easier for trans people, it does not follow that this would make being transgender wholly obsolete.

Yes, I’d like it if the TSA agents didn’t give me odd looks every time I go through their strip search X-ray machine. Yes, it would be nice if my voice wasn’t taken as indicative of me being “really a man” every time I’m out in public. And yes, I’d love the option to keep my hair short and my legs unshaven if I choose, without it marking me as a man rather than a woman with short hair or unshaven legs.

But relaxing gender norms only helps us from this one direction, and those who propose this solution don’t seem to have much interest in ensuring that my womanhood is not negated by a certain presentation. These are not the options they want to give me. Instead, their attitude seems to be more along the lines of, “now you can be a man instead of transitioning, because society will accept a man like you!” And while that’s fantastic for any men who happen to be like me, I’m not a man, and I don’t want to be. If I just wanted to be that kind of man, I would have stopped there – but I didn’t. And that’s not up to them.

This is the key point they appear to have glossed over. To suggest that I would revert to a male presentation and identity given the chance is to misunderstand the meaning of gender identity on the most fundamental level. Even in such a society, I would still choose to be a woman, and offering a solution where I’m expected to live as a man is no more acceptable than telling a cisgender man, “hey, you should go ahead and be a woman now, since people won’t mind how manly you are!” But that man is not a woman. And this woman is not a man.

Furthermore, the assumption that someone must have chosen to transition because society is more accepting of transgender women than feminine men would be laughable, if the ignorance it exhibited wasn’t so insulting. Being a gender other than the one you were assigned is something that the world barely understands, let alone accepts. If feminine men are largely rejected, and trans women are seen not as women but just extremely feminine men, what makes them think transitioning is about finding acceptance from society? This aspect of their solution is largely irrelevant to trans people anyway. We’re already unwilling to give up who we are in the face of significant social opposition. Reducing that opposition would do nothing to change our minds, because there would be even less of a reason not to be who we truly are.

But do they actually want to reduce society’s opposition to trans people? For all of their talk of taking apart restrictive gender roles, it’s suspicious that they feel the need to offer a solution other than simply accepting us as who we are. If they wish to enlarge the sphere of manhood until I’m comfortably situated within its walls, then why can’t the sphere of womanhood be expanded to encompass me as well? Why would they want to stop right before recognizing trans people and our identities as genuine? If this is part of “radical” feminism, then clearly it’s not radical enough. As is, advocates of this approach insist on denying who we are and giving us anything but what we’re actually looking for. I’m not a woman because I couldn’t be a man. I could. But I’m a woman, because I choose to be a woman. And that’s all the reason anyone should need.

Comments

  1. says

    Cannot cheer loudly enough in response to this post. I am SO PAST “born this way” vs “lifestyle choice”. I am SO PAST caring whether gender is from the inside-out or from the outside-in. Can I see signs of being non-binary genderqueer from early childhood? Hell yes I can. Did I make a lot of choices that weren’t necessarily do-or-die? Oh yeah. Should either matter as far as people accepting the legitimacy of who I am? Not on my life.

    • says

      This. So much this.

      I think it is important to keep in mind that debating whether people are born some way or choose to become some way, it cedes ground to the whole premise that there is something wrong in being that way. We got to stop that.

      • says

        Absolutely. Whether it be an intrinsic or extrinsic property, we should not assume that being trans, or gay, or whatever is in any way lesser than being cis, or straight, or whatever. Everyone is equally valuable, whatever they are, and whether they were born or chose to be that way should not come into it.

  2. jeffcarr says

    Thanks for posting this ZJ. I find the argument that sexual identity isn’t a choice, while sometimes an effective and true argument, to be largely irrelevant and ultimately a poor position. The question is what is best for you as a person, and as you said, what allows you to thrive.

  3. Beany says

    I still have trouble understanding binary gender roles to begin with. I’ve never felt like a man or a woman and I’m not entirely sure what it means to be either. While I obviously don’t agree with “now you can be a man because there are no gender roles!”, it’s not because it’s denying your actual gender. Rather, if there was no gender roles, I don’t understand what ‘being a man’ actually means (besides having XY chromosones and other exclusive biological traits – also, more sexes exist than just XX and XY, and what do those have to do with our identity anyway?). Why can’t we just be people?

    • baal says

      My wife reminds me verbally from time to time that my lack of concern regarding societal constructs of gender are very atypical. I’m infinitely more concerned about other features of a person like civility and whether or not someone carries a ton of contradictory and conflicting ideas in their head.

      That said, I feel like a male and I’ve never had anyone doubt my cis-gendered masculinity. I lift weights, keep shortish hair styles and used to do a ton of martial arts. I also do dishes, laundry, cooking, have my wife drive the car and pay for pedicures (for me) from time to time (mostly because they feel great and I like to have someone else do the me-maintenance).

      btw, could WordPress’s or Microsoft’s auto spell check feature please support the terms related to gender? I think they are common enough to not be jargon. I keep doubting that I spelled “cis-gendered” right since it has red squiggles in the drafting window.

      • says

        That spell-checking is done by the browser. Most browsers have an option to add words to the built-in dictionary. Typically you just right-click whatever it is and “add to dictionary” or equivalent.

        They really ought to be in the common dictionary shipped by default, though. There are quite a few words in the 21st century which are arguably not a matter of jargon anymore but are absent. Likewise, there are many ancient, archaic, or rarely used words that are missing as well.

    • says

      gender roles are distinct from gender identity, imo. i’m not a non-binary trans* person because binary gender roles don’t fit me– i’m a non-binary trans* person because binary gender identities don’t fit me.

      “why can’t we just be people?”

      well, we are people. in my experience, most people (all people?) like to label/identify ourselves. i think labels/identities help us understand ourselves and find other people who have experiences similar to our own. i think they help us build communities tell our stories. really, even “people” is a label; labels are everywhere and that’s a good thing, imo.

      even if gender roles and stereotypes vanish (and they should!), i think we’ll still group ourselves according to our common experiences. i think we’ll probably still experience “feeling” like women/men/non-binary folk even if society doesn’t treat us differently based on our (perceived) genders.

      honestly, this is something i’ve been struggling with for months. this ^ is what i’ve come up with (and zinnia solidified it for me. thanks, zinnia!).

    • Anna says

      Gender roles have little to nothing to do with gender identity. My sense of physical self is as a woman (I am a transwoman) it has very little to do with roles other than expectations placed upon me by society to live as the gender I know that I am.

      • Daniel says

        That’s fine but I think the question is (and this is what I’m trying to understand myself) is that without gender roles what do you actually mean when you say you are a woman?

          • Daniel says

            Thanks, though I understand the difference between gender identity and gender expression. But what I mean is that, without clearly defined differences between the identities of men and women, what does it mean to identify as a man? Or to identify as a woman? When you identify as a man, what definition of man are you using? And the same for women.

          • says

            Why, oh why, did they not have this when I was a younger human?
            Information like this would have saved me 15 years of confusion, frustration, and identity issues.
            Thank you for sharing this.

  4. jamessweet says

    So I’ve been thinking a lot about how people construct their own personal narratives… By that I mean, the framing of the story, the way you tell the story. A story is not just a sequence of facts, and there’s any number of narratives that could be imposed over the same series of facts, none of them necessarily more “true” than any of the others.

    I decided a few weeks ago I needed to quit drinking indefinitely. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to resume drinking in moderation at some point in the future, but I’m uncertain of that, and in any case the time is certainly not now.

    I’ve known I needed to deal with this for quite some time, but one of the things that has put me off is that there is this whole traditional addiction narrative, a sort of “AA theology” if you will, that absolutely permeates our culture. Despite the fact that a lot of the facts in my life line up with a lot of the facts in the conventional addiction narrative, that narrative itself just doesn’t work for me, I don’t identify with it, I don’t see myself in it. It just feels all wrong any time I try it on.

    Luckily, there is an SOS group nearby, and I’ve been going to that, and I just can’t say enough good things about this group as opposed to AA. It’s not just that it’s appropriately de-godified… there is just so much less rigidity, so much less dogma in general. I feel like this is a place where I can go and get support without having to fit into some narrow little story that has been carved out about how this is all supposed to go down, some pre-written narrative that I am expected to wedge my life into no matter how ill-fitting I might find it.

    I don’t mean to compare being trans to having an alcohol dependency, of course! But I felt some reflection of what I am going through in your story, in that there are all these people saying, “It’s like this, this is how you are going to experience it, this is how your story is going to sound, and if your story doesn’t sound like that then you aren’t an X/you aren’t ready to do Y/etc.” The fact that there is a conventional story that works for a lot of people, that doesn’t necessarily say anything about my story, about what my journey is going to be.

    • michael scottmonje jr says

      I see what your point is, and I agree, only my personal realization about framing/cultural narratives is neither addiction nor transgender issues, but autism. Depending on who you ask, I was a child prodigy, PDD-NOS (subclinical), classic autism w/ high IQ that mitigated the language issues, or Asperger’s. All of these labels were correct in their way, but none quite fit. I identify now with the “autistic” label, and I’m glad there will be some collapsing of the label in the next iteration of the DSM, but it will not undo the fact that, like Zinnia, I had no sense of myself as a child, no sense of choice until I was a teenager, and many years of slow adaptation until I learned to frame my own story.

      Like your post above, this is not to compare our issues qualitatively, but to point out how labels/frames can affect the way we view our own experiences.

      • Tigger_the_Wing says

        I understand this. As a child I ‘knew’ I was a boy, but when I voiced my hopes I was told in no uncertain terms that I was a girl and would grow up to be a woman. I was disappointed by puberty (as my actual body grew even further from my mind’s body-map), though as someone who is also autistic (but was never told that I was; all those trips to doctors were never explained to me), I got used to being told I was wrong regarding just about everything! I just sort-of accepted as a life-lesson that I would always be mistaken about myself, and other people would know better, whenever I had ‘wrong’ thoughts.

        Three things freed me to be myself. Learning about being on the spectrum when I was in my forties settled 50% of my feelings about my identity; realising I am an atheist a couple of years ago removed the Catholic guilt that had been a constant burden; and recently unlocking the last door that I had refused to peek behind since puberty gave me the other 50% of my identity.

        I’ve now given up trying to fit my brain into the box society would like it to occupy. I can now accept that I will never be neurotypical and never be a woman, regardless of how I appear to other people; and thanks to people like Zinnia, Natalie and many other online acquaintances and friends, I now know that I don’t even have to try any more.

        I cannot thank all the supportive people enough. The black dog, which followed me for decades, has vanished. I have been ‘coming out’ to meatspace people, friends and family, who so far have all been supportive, even the ones I wasn’t sure about (but that may be in large part because I have avoided saying anything to the ones who almost certainly wouldn’t be supportive).

        I am so used to female pronouns I don’t object in the least to their usage; on the other hand, I’ve never minded being addressed as a man either (which has happened several times in my life without any effort on my part. Oh, and I went to an all-girls’ school where I was nicknamed ‘Ken’).

        Zinnia, you are so right when you say every trans* person has our own story, our own relationship with who we are and our own way to reconcile ourselves with our bodies and everyone we interact with. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to decide who you are. There are also not enough labels in the world to define each human exactly; but by providing a wider variety of boxes we hope to find at least one that is a less uncomfortable fit than the gender binary.

        How do I identify? To my husband I am lover and life partner. To my family I’m mum or granny, sister or daughter. To people who really want to know where I fit in the narrow definitions currently available I say I’m a gay guy in the body of a woman.

        To myself, I’m just me.

  5. says

    As always, well articulated and awesome!

    I just wish that certain people who don’t agree would watch and actually consider changing their minds. It makes me sad that these intelligent and concise statements about being trans largely are projected into the accepting trans community, and allies to that community.

    • says

      Well, I think ZJ has plenty of fans who wouldn’t care about trans allyship on their own, but learn from her videos. Also I’ve already used this article as a resource for a friend who wants to learn something about trans allyship as part of gender equality.

      Hey ZJ (is it better to call you Zinnia or Rachel or something else?), I love this article. First because of an insight I hadn’t had: expecting to be “born this way” confuses queer people who want to be 100% certain we’re not choosing our identities. I was too busy worrying about how “born this way” arguments get us concessions of pity rather than respect; forgot the psychological implications it had on me, for example, exactly the same as ZJ’s friend.

      Second, because of going straight to the historical sources of wrongheaded feminist ideas about eradicating gender. Though seriously, Janice Raymond’s book, we hates it.

      Third, because the last points about how people who want to expand conceptions of gender might shouldn’t trip over the point of allowing people to determine their own sexes.

  6. says

    Thank you so much for this post, ZJ! So few people get that both sexual orientation and gender identity are deeply personal journeys that don’t necessarily fit the rigid/stereotyped narratives often portrayed in media/pop culture. It’s easy to forget that the processes of discovering sexual orientation and gender identity happen within the context of INDIVIDUAL lives. The only way we can help others understand this is by telling our own stories.

  7. Nurse Ingrid says

    This post is beautifully written and really resonates with me. Because I’m bisexual, I never experienced the early childhood feelings that I was “different”. I did like boys, so it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that I also liked girls. Like your friend, I thought people were queer because they found opposite sex encounters intolerable.

    And I am also heartily sick of the “it’s not a choice” rhetoric from the pro-LGBT side. Since when is that how we decide who is deserving of basic human rights? Can you imagine anyone arguing that it should be OK to discriminate on the basis of religious belief, because that’s “just a lifestyle choice”? Human behavior is complex and multifactorial anyway, and the answer to the question “nature or nurture?” is almost always going to be “an interaction of both.”

    Besides, it makes being queer or transgendered sound so pitiful. We can’t help it, we have to be this way, so you should feel sorry for us, and give us some civil rights, please. Screw that. I am happy and proud just the way I am, I don’t care at all whether or not I was “born this way,” and I would jolly well choose it all over again if I could.

  8. Nepenthe says

    Instead, their attitude seems to be more along the lines of, “now you can be a man instead of transitioning, because society will accept a man like you!” And while that’s fantastic for any men who happen to be like me, I’m not a man, and I don’t want to be.

    I don’t think this is what Jeffreys and Dworkin are saying, at least here. I think they’re conflating physical sex and gender. The idea is not that you wouldn’t transition, because you could just be a man, but that the very categories “man” and “woman” would have no meaning. In such a world, being transgender would be inconceivable, if only because gender is inconceivable. Of course, they don’t make much sense focusing on transsexuality, since even in a world with no concept of gender, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that some people would be transsexual.

  9. Chris says

    Thank you so much for posting this. The experience you are describing is almost exactly the same as what I have been finding about my own gender identity. Reading this has cleared up so much for me. I cannot thank you enough.

    • says

      Me too, exactly. It’s one of the major fears I have going to a therapist. The fact that I’m not constantly sobbing every time I get aroused, and that I still (reluctantly) enjoy myself has never really lent itself to the common trans narrative you hear. It scares me to think I’ll go sit in an office and be told “you’re not trans enough, come back when you’ve got serious problems.”

      Alot of it is simply the fact that I’ve closeted my trans identity since I was 13, and only came out to myself two years ago. Live through puberty accepting you’ll never actually be able to transition and it kind of softens the blow when you’re older.

      I narrow it down to this: if I weren’t able to transition later, I wouldn’t be devastated. I wouldn’t be happy, I wouldn’t be fulfilled, I wouldn’t be me, but I could live without any major difficulties.

  10. Maryxus says

    This is an interesting argument, and while I agree 100% with what she says, I’m worried that anti-equality bigots would jump on it as a way to weaken and discredit arguments for LGBT equality.

    Zinnia argues that while it’s certainly true for many trans-people that their physical gender causes them painful distress, it’s also possible to choose the opposite gender if it fits better. In her case, she didn’t really think she was trans because she could have just as easily lived as a man, but through her experiences she found that being a woman resonated much more truly.

    Honestly, I can see the same being true for and homosexuality. For most of us, myself included, the choice you make regarding homosexuality isn’t a choice to BE homosexual so much as a choice to accept that you ARE homosexual. For someone who could technically be bisexual, however, the choice may actually be a matter of which option they feel more excited for. If you were a man who’s sexually attracted to both men and women, but you only found yourself truly excited for sex with men, then why not identify as gay? As Zinnia puts it, “the old shoes don’t have to be such a poor fit – the new ones just have to fit [the person] much better.” And if another sexuality that fits better comes along, why shouldn’t a person identify with that?

    It speaks to something that’s always bothered me about the argument of choice and sexuality. While I know that for many of us, straight or gay, it isn’t a choice, why would it even be a problem if it was? I know that the legal answer is that the lack of choice, at least for the majority of our minority, is implicit in recognizing the LGBT community as a “suspect class”, but beyond the legal ramifications, there’s a stigma in our society (on both sides of the fence) about the idea of choosing which sexuality to identify with. From the side of heterosexual bigots, it seems that they argue that to choose to be homosexual if you could be heterosexual (or transgender if you could be your born gender) means that you’re mentally ill/deficient, and oddly enough, the argument seems to be mostly the same from the LGBT side, only with a touch of what seems to be jealousy.

    It seems to me that so long as one’s choices don’t hurt themselves or others, and all parties involved are fully aware of the ramifications of the decision and are consensual about them, there should be no reason that any choice of gender, sexuality, religion (forcing one’s ideas on another would constitute harm on them, under this standard), relationship, or even race should be a negative thing.

    • brenda says

      “I’m worried that anti-equality bigots would jump on it as a way to weaken and discredit arguments for LGBT equality.”

      I don’t see how. Our freedom of religion is not threatened or in question because people freely choose what to believe. “I choose to believe it” is all the justification anyone needs to give for the exercise of their freedom of religion. “Because I choose to” is also the only justification any trans-folk or gay man or woman should need to give as well.

      • Maryxus says

        It should be, yes, but the sad reality is that anti-equality bigots jump on the word choice, especially the religious ones, because if it’s a choice then our arguments are invalid to them (“Well, you’re just choosing to sin, then.”). This shouldn’t be a problem, but they’ll parley that into legal and political battles, and it sets the movement back every time they find something major enough to latch on to.

        Anyway, I did cover a bit more on “choice” as I went along in my post o_o

  11. Mym says

    May I ask about your view on hormones for yourself? I wonder how they do or don’t fit into this narrative, and how that compares to my own experience…

      • Mym says

        That’s kind of what I was wondering… had you started, did you think you would? I basically eased myself into the decision, carefully at first to see if they were ‘right’ – I knew about the ‘neutral’ and ‘female’ aspects of my gender (to oversimplify), but didn’t know if there was a ‘male’ part because I was forced to be that all the time.

        Also I wanted to be able to keep wearing the same BDUs I always had, without being read as a guy.

      • sc_43598d7a9185fb7de53e94601c54059d says

        I’ll tell U what my experience is with hormones: I used to go down to Mexico and buy the strongest Premarin (2.5mg), it was a kind of love/hate thing: loved that it made me feel feminine but hated the war going on inside my body . . . went to Thailand and after the surgery I had a lot of sex (before I was a virgin), now I don’t take estrogen anymore and am celibate . . . to me, sex is a waste of time. A lot of that feeling comes from more serious things to do, kind of like Maslow’s hierarchy of higher needs. Was a virgin by choice . . . never felt right about it.

  12. says

    Thanks for this article, it echoes some thoughts that have been bouncing around my head for a while. The previously-standard clinical trans narrative just lacks so much agency, and that fact stopped me from feeling free to do as I wanted for so long.

    Part of that is that transitioning, for many of the classic views, is framed as something bad. A failed outcome, for people who just “can’t” live with the gender they were assigned, in a cisnormative world where being the gender you were assigned is axiomatically better. If those are your axioms, then clearly the only reason you’d transition is because you “must”, not because you want to.

    When I change my body in gendered ways, I like to think of those changes in terms of body modification — not so different from a tattoo or piercing. I know a lot of trans people prefer not to see how they change their bodies in that light and prefer a more “medical correction” frame. Which is fine for them, but I do tend to resent it when other people speak categorically that all such changes are medical corrections.

  13. brenda says

    “community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality”

    As others correctly point out this is false. It is false because it is based on a false understanding of human nature. Reality is not socially constructed.

    “If they wish to enlarge the sphere of manhood until I’m comfortably situated within its walls, then why can’t the sphere of womanhood be expanded to encompass me as well? Why would they want to stop right before recognizing trans people and our identities as genuine?”

    For the same reason people get upset when any other scientific fact goes contrary to their desires, because they don’t want to. During the 70′s people framed the struggle for civil rights, feminist or others, as being also against a certain conception of science as “hard”, patriarchal, unbending, rigid, uncaring, “the no of the father”.

    People got lost in post modernist clap-trap. Many still are.

  14. Brad says

    The smart-identity really resonated with me. I’ve been floundering for four years after dropping out of college, and continue to have the same lack of idea what I want to do with my life that I did five years ago. I’m very interested in more detail of this part of your experience.

    (…) point where I could envision myself as someone who could have a genuine identity, let alone define it for myself.

  15. jascollins says

    Zinnia, the clarity of your thinking is, as always, in a class by itself. I love you, and love your work.

  16. says

    For me this post hits on an issue that I tried to discuss a little while back on Natalie’s blog, hit a wrong note on in my initial attempt to raise it because I still have a lot of trouble articulating it, and ultimately fled from in confusion because it was too personal for me to try to deal with defending myself to an audience that (given my initial fumbling) appeared to feel that I was cis-splaining rather than having my own non-dominant-culture perspective that I was trying to figure out how to mesh with theirs. I’m very much afraid that the same thing is going to happen here on accounta I’m still very inarticulate about this, but the issue also still bugs me, so I’m going to try again.

    As far as I know (I’ve never had a chromosome test or tried to get pregnant, but other physiological evidence seems to bear it out), I’m XX and female-bodied. When I was little I wanted to be a boy, because it was very clear that all the cool stuff was for boys, but I eventually accepted as a substitute a role as a girl who was “one of the boys”. That turned out to sort of be a way to have my cake and eat it too, by getting to do cool stuff and also being “special” because I was unusual, but it also meant that I had a lot of suppressed discomfort about being a freak, and I was always having to be a bit on my toes to preserve my status. I went through standard female puberty and wasn’t thrilled about it but grudgingly accepted it as unavoidable and unalterable. For a long time I had no interest in dating anyone ever (and because of this I was presumed by some to be lesbian, about which all I can say is that to date I haven’t met a woman for whom I’ve strongly wanted to fight my cultural conditioning) or even having sex (thanks to Catholicism and the larger society for teaching me that women lose their independence and professional credibility if they’re sexual or even romantically partnered!). Then I eventually met a guy who I wanted to spend my life with badly enough that I decided to rethink the “no sex” thing, and we’ve been together for a good long while now. Around the same time that I met him, the demographics of my social groups began to change enough that I wasn’t a weirdo for being smart and female any more, so I didn’t have to be “one of the guys” to get by. I could just be a person, and I found that I liked that a hell of a lot better.

    The thing is, I’ve never had the strong sense of “femininity” or “womanhood” that many people in the larger society seem to think every XX person is supposed to have, and that seems to often be used to make the trans narrative more palatable to cis folks (and that, if I’m understanding you correctly, is even an accurate description of the experiences of *some* trans people). It’s always been more, okay, this is the body I’ve got, these are the assigned social roles for people with such bodies, and this is the way people with such bodies are treated, now what do I do about it? Certainly, a big portion of my experience and my identity has been shaped by the need to respond to others’ perceptions of my body, and certainly the easiest way to summarize that experience in one word is to describe myself as a “woman”. It’s also true that I don’t really feel any burning need to be perceived socially as a “man” (whatever one takes that to mean), or to modify my body in any way to make it better match what I or others consider a male body to be (at least, I don’t have any such desires that I construe in gendered terms — I wouldn’t mind being stronger, more athletic, or less large-breasted, but that’s nothing to do with the fact that those are traits more associated with men). But then, I also don’t feel a need to somehow be more “womanly” either, whatever one might construe that to mean. (I guess I wouldn’t mind being a little slimmer, but not because I worry about how my weight impacts my ability to present as an optimal specimen of my gender.)

    Instead, I just kind of feel like, I’ve spent thirty-some years learning how to operate with the bits I’ve got, and these particular bits should allow me to reproduce when I’m ready and do allow me to mostly enjoy my life right now, and there’s nothing on the “other side”, or even in some kind of vocal identification as genderqueer or ungendered or ??, that’s likely to improve substantially upon what I’ve got right now. So I go forward as a “woman” by default, do pretty much whatever I choose to do with my life without spending too much time worrying about whether it fits with what other people say ought to fall under that label, and fight against the people who tell me that that label should dictate anything really important about how I live.

    I totally respect that, for a variety of reasons, some people feel the need not just to fight what their label is supposed to prescribe for them, but instead to change their label altogether. I’m fully supportive of the struggle to allow people to change their labels and to attain full societal identification with and equal treatment according to whatever label they feel most comfortable with. I’m not trying to say that because I’m willing to shrug and accept my label but want to fight the notion that it implies anything important about me, everyone else has to do the same. But I do feel like there’s some tension here — if we agree that it’s important that people be allowed to change their labels, it’s all too easy to use that to justify the notion that a person’s acceptance of any particular label must necessarily say something important about them. And, conversely, as has been pointed out above, if we agree that the labels don’t necessarily tell us a whole hell of a lot about a person, then it’s all too easy to use that to justify saying that it’s not important to allow people to alter their labels.

    The way I tend to square these two issues with each other is I think similar to what’s being said above — this is ultimately about personal freedom. It doesn’t hurt me in anyway that I can think of if someone who was conceived XY decides that the label ze wants to have applied to hirself is “woman”, whether or not that person chooses to physically or presentationally transition in any way. And, similarly, it shouldn’t hurt that person (or any other “woman”- or “man”- or other-labeled person) if I go about living my life in a not-necessarily-gender-role-conforming way and hate having my gender identity made an issue of to such an extent that I don’t even want to fight the label “woman”. And it doesn’t hurt either of us if somebody else decides ze wants to be labelled “genderqueer” or “ultra-feminine homemaker XX female” or “man who wears dresses” or whatever else ze likes. The goal, I think, ought to be a society that is accepting of and not substantially judgmental about anybody’s choices along these lines, and that doesn’t strongly prescribe any particular choice for anyone based solely on accidents of genetics and development. I’d like to think that this could be a a reasonable way to unify the goals of feminism and trans activism so that we’re all together instead of working at cross-purposes.

    But, I dunno. All I really know here is, I want to get what I want, and I want trans folks to get what they want, and I want other people who call themselves women but have different lifestyle preferences from myself to get what they want, and so on and so forth, all without inadvertently fucking each other over. And I do feel like there’s something about some presentations of the trans rights thing that seems like it could have the potential to fuck me over, so I’m trying to figure out how we can negotiate past that without pigeonholing each other. So I’m sorry for the tealdear and the rambling and the suchlike. I just want to get this sorted out in my head and maybe in the bigger world too, and continuing to try to post about it until I get it right is the only way I know of to do that.

    • says

      Re defending, unsolicited advice: it matters far less what people on the Internet think of you than what everyone learns from each other. When I feel defensive against a comment/post because of privilege, or afraid of what I immediately assume are its implications, I usually read it twice–works really well, because defensiveness and fear make it way harder to understand what someone is really saying. In a context like the other thread, if someone says you are showing cis privilege in your ideas, it probably means you’re being insensitive to trans people. Cis privilege makes one more likely to be insensitive to trans people, that’s the point. You seem to have learned from the discussion anyway; great. (I’m not perfect at following my own advice, in case you were wondering.)

      • says

        … I’m not sure “privilege” is the right narrative, though, when we’re talking about a situation where two different civil rights battles are (at least potentially and/or by some people) being set up to conflict with each other. It seems like talking about this in terms of privilege makes it too easy to slide in the direction of just trying to quantify who has more privilege, and then we do whatever is in the apparent narrow and immediate interests of the designated “less-privileged” group regardless of how that affects the other group. What I think should happen instead is that both groups should try to work together to figure out what legitimate concerns lie behind the others’ complaints, so that they can construct a larger narrative that is about improving the lot of both. An example of this would be how modern feminists have started to more forcefully address the ways in which patriarchy also hurts any man or male-bodied person who doesn’t want to be or can’t be a gender stereotype — it’s not just women (a completely homogenous group which is always less privileged, so we always “win”) vs. men (a completely homogenous group which is always more privileged, so who the fuck cares what happens to them). Men may have things better on average, but there do exist some contexts in which they actually have it worse, and in which feminists can inadvertently join in perpetuating the harm if we’re not careful and thoughtful about the way we argue for feminism.

        And, to be clear, I haven’t really substantially changed what I think since that other thread, it’s more that I’m trying to refine my presentation so that it doesn’t hit whatever triggers caused things to go in a “cis privilege vs. trans oppression” direction as opposed to the, “look, I want y’all to get what you want, but I feel like in the process some of you are inadvertently reinforcing this thing that currently hurts me, can we try to figure out a way to work together instead” direction that I had hoped for. It’s also still true that I’m uncomfortable being called “genderqueer” or “androgynous” or anything like that, or even “cis” or “straight” or “female”. I hate the concept of gender as it’s applied to me so much that I ideally would prefer not to have any kind of gender-related or sexual-identity-related label attached to me in any way at all. I just want to talk in terms of things that are objectively and unambiguously in evidence (partly my scientist side coming out) — this is the body I have, these are the chromosomes I have, this the way I’ve decided to dress and the personal presentation style I’ve decided to cultivate, this is the person I’m currently romantically involved with, this is the body that person has and the chromosomes ze has, these are the terms of our involvement, and so on and so forth. I realize that a lot of these terms we use are convenient conversational shorthand for such things, and I admit that I do apply them to myself on a regular basis because of that convenience (with a certain and growing disdain). But they also have so much essentializing baggage that I get very uncomfortable when someone else applies them to me, especially if it seems like the terms are being used specifically in order to fit me into some pre-existing external narrative that I don’t want any part of.

        So, I dunno. My point is, I don’t want to fight with anyone about this. I want to cooperate. I don’t want to tell anyone else that their concerns aren’t valid (and I’ve *never* tried to do that on this issue, no matter how much I may have fumbled at getting that point across), but I don’t want my concerns to be declared invalid either, all because somebody else decided that a particular social role label applies to me whether I want to accept that label or not. I stopped participating in (or even reading) that other discussion because I felt like I’d inadvertently gotten myself into a situation where all I was being seen as was the other, evil and oppressive, side of a binary, rather than as an individual with a very non-mainstream and non-socially-accepted perspective, having my own distinct concerns and my own distinct ways in which society screws me over. And, I’m not gonna lie to you, that made me feel attacked and marginalized in its own special way, and I just couldn’t handle being involved in the conversation any more at that point. So if things changed after that I don’t know because I still can’t bring myself to go back and read the rest of it. I have enough gender-normative folks trying to put their constructs on me that the last thing I need is to get it from those who are also trying to buck the norm, but in a slightly different way.

        Anyway, tealdeer again. :/ “Can’t we just all get along?”

        • says

          Oh, and one more thing — I emphatically am not trying to come over here and blame Natalie and other commenters on her blog for being mean to me (or whatever), or bash them behind their backs. The thing that happened wasn’t that they were evil and persecutory, it was that they have a reasonably well-developed narrative and a small but mutually supportive community, and I’m still struggling to articulate my viewpoint clearly and there’s just me to do it. That was bound to go badly, no matter how many caveats I tried to throw up in my defense, and because it’s such a personal issue for me, having to engage in defense depleted my emotional resolve to continue the discussion pretty rapidly.

          The thing that I liked about this post of Zinnia’s (not trying to contrast Natalie negatively against her, just, this happened to reframe the issue nicely for me) is that it seems to be about opening things up from the “born-this-way-cis” vs. “born-this-way-trans” binary that’s often imposed on the discussion, and perhaps might help create a way for stories like mine to mesh into a larger and mutually supportive struggle for general freedom of self-expression. And that’s at least some reasonable approximation of what I want.

        • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

          I stopped participating in (or even reading) that other discussion because I felt like I’d inadvertently gotten myself into a situation where all I was being seen as was the other, evil and oppressive, side of a binary, rather than as an individual with a very non-mainstream and non-socially-accepted perspective, having my own distinct concerns and my own distinct ways in which society screws me over. And, I’m not gonna lie to you, that made me feel attacked and marginalized in its own special way, and I just couldn’t handle being involved in the conversation any more at that point.

          I know exactly what you mean. :(

          • says

            I’m sure that’s happened to all of us who comment enough. But it’s
            immature, or at least unproductive, to feel attacked just cause anonymous strangers misunderstand you, think you’re being mean, or are telling you your words aren’t well-considered enough.

      • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

        In a context like the other thread, if someone says you are showing cis privilege in your ideas, it probably means you’re being insensitive to trans people.

        Technically, it means there is a “plausible” interpretation of your statements which is insensitive to trans people.

          • John Horstman says

            Hmm, I’d say “insensitive” means not being concerned with the likely and predictable consequences and possible interpretations of your words. If the interpretation is WILDLY different from what was actually stated (I don’t know if it was in the case in question), it’s not really possible to predict and therefore be sensitive to it.

  17. says

    This hits a nerve with me. I totally chose to transition. I didn’t have it thrust upon me. I could probably have gone on living a perfectly productive life without transitioning–I was never depressed, per se, or suicidal or self-abusive, so I didn’t have a burning need to do it for my own safety–but I chose to do it anyway because it was something I wanted for my own happiness. And it was right for me. I’ve thrived since I transitioned. I’m happy. I may have thrived anyway, but I doubt the happiness would have been there.

    Anyway, all different kinds of ways to be trans. There is no monolithic narrative.

    Best.

  18. codobus says

    Thank you for this post, this is similar in so many ways to my life. I always assumed I couldn’t be trans because I didn’t fit into what I saw as “The Way it Always Happens”. Only broke through that reasoning very recently. I’m also another of the ones who were labelled as “smart” and dropped out of college(three separate times) and as of yet, I’ve not been able to figure out a direction my life should head. So, thanks to you and the commenters, making me feel less alone, in many ways (:

    • says

      I can see why the choice narrative can be politically problematic, tho. If it’s just somebody’s *choice* to present in a way that society considers to be mismatched with their chromosomes and/or genitalia, why does the rest of society have an obligation to go way out of their way to figure out how to allow them to edit their ID cards, use restrooms, be housed in prison, and on and on, according to the gender they prefer?

      I think the answers are (1) common decency and (2) maybe a lot of things that we treat as gendered shouldn’t be quite so gendered anyway. But it still does make it emotionally easier for people to just say, “Your choice is your choice and that’s fine, just don’t get any on me.”

      • says

        I’m not saying “don’t get any on me,” I’m saying “be courteous to ALL your fellow travelers and try not to do any unnecessary harm.”

        I, for one, love seeing the rainbow of diversity that is humanity. (Though humanity itself is often disappointing.)

        • says

          Sorry, didn’t mean to imply that *you* were saying that, just that it’s an easy response for people to make so that they don’t have to do any work to change their own and the larger society’s attitudes.

      • John Horstman says

        why does the rest of society have an obligation to go way out of their way to figure out how to allow them to edit their ID cards, use restrooms, be housed in prison, and on and on, according to the gender they prefer

        That objection presupposes that any of those things should have anything to do with gender in the first place. The question isn’t why we should accommodate people switching (biological and/or social) gender, the question is why we should care in the first place. The “going out of our way” part is actually in putting gender on ID cards, dividing restrooms by gender, dividing prisons by gender, and on and on. Simply not doing so is actually LESS of an imposition, as is simply letting people chose how to identify from moment to moment. Even if gender continues to exist as a social phenomenon, I don’t see any reason to legally institutionalize it.

        • says

          Oh, I agree with you that it’s not a legitimate objection. I was just saying that it’s one that’s easy for people trained by modern society to lazily make use of if they decide that it’s a “choice” to be transgendered. Getting these things right involves a lot of careful thinking right now, since it’s not the default in our current cultural milieu.

          I’m not saying the “choice” narrative is a bad one. In fact, I think it’s a good one, on accounta it accurately describes at least some people’s experiences,,and it opens up room for a conversation that moves beyond binaries. It’s just that one has to be prepared for a lot of hard explanatory work to get our society to the point of responding to it correctly.

        • says

          Also, I have to note that given the current way our society is, I do think that unfortunately some things have to remain gendered for people’s protection, until other negative aspects of the unbearable genderedness of being have eased off a bit. F’r’xample, at this point in time I’d be pretty uncomfortable about having women’s restrooms removed entirely and having only mixed restrooms available, and, similarly, I’d feel far more unsafe in a mixed-gender prison than in a women-only prison.

          In our current era, women (as a whole) still do have pretty good reasons to feel a sense of threat from men (as a whole), and marking as off-limits to men those spaces in which women are in a particularly vulnerable is a way to protect women’s safety. I can’t really analyze whether men need some protected spaces too, as I don’t have experience living as what our society considers to be a man, but I know the need definitely exists right now for those of us who are identified as women.

          I would like to hope that over time we can slowly dial down the level of gender segregation and the number of safety measures, but I think it’s going to be a long slow battle to do that, and it’s going to have to happen side-by-side with measures which reduce the threats those safety measures are intended to mitigate by reducing the underlying sexism and gender essentialism in society. So I don’t think we can jump to eliminating all gendered things in our society all at once.

          • Tigger_the_Wing says

            Just like racism only began to wane once the machinery that supported racial segregation was dismantled, I am quite sure that it is the degree of gender separation which is itself problematic. It feeds into the notion that ‘men-as-a-whole’ are dangerous when it is, in fact, just a tiny minority who are hiding amongst the decent majority. For instance, public houses didn’t become more dangerous to women when they stopped the segregation – they became safer (and the safest of all are the ones which are ‘family-friendly’).

            Loos are another example. Properly designed public toilets (getting rid of urinals and partial partitions, replacing them with proper walls between stalls and full doors for a start) would be safer for everybody. Particularly children out shopping alone, or with friends or an opposite-sex parent. Currently I know of parents who tell their able-bodied male children to use the disabled-access toilets in shopping centres, because they don’t feel that it is safe for them to use male restrooms and boys over 8 are frowned on in female restrooms (probably because people assume that the gender separation must have a legitimate reason behind it). Generally, disabled-access toilets are stand-alone (not part of a particular restroom) and are a-gendered (useful when one has an opposite-sex carer; that is a big problem when disabled-access loos are within restrooms). One local shopping centre has the entrance to one of its disabled-access toilets half way along the corridor into the gents; I get weird looks when waiting to use it, because the men on their way into and out of their room have to push past my wheelchair if the loo is occupied and I’m having to wait; I wouldn’t get weird looks if all public toilets were universally accessible.

            I think that this unnecessary gender separation is actually contributing to the unsafe atmosphere. Most men are decent, and they are pretty good in my experience at shouting down the plonkers (I spent ten years as a taxi-driver; the things I could tell you… =^_^=) but often only when there is at least one woman present. At the moment, offenders take advantage of the numerous opportunities to isolate potential victims, or they include other men in their “Women, eh? Who can understand them?!” nudge, nudge… monologues when there are (apparently) no women around, giving themselves and their misogynistic attitudes spurious legitimacy (the same way racists operate in apparently homogenous groups). Men in those circumstances can find it very difficult to speak out (they can each feel as if they are the only one in the group who is uncomfortable, and that makes them feel vulnerable – even if all the rest feel the same way as them, they have no way of knowing that the whole group isn’t on the speaker’s side).

            Wating until the overall picture is safer before dismantling gender segregation isn’t going to work if it is the segregation itself which is colouring people’s attitudes. The best places in the world to be a woman or a trans* person etc. are those whose amenities and constructs are already a-gendered; the worst are those that are strictly segregated. Most people will take their behavioural cues from the way their society is constructed; dismantle the walls in the world, and you dismantle the walls in their minds.

  19. says

    There’s a certain idea of some prevalence that dismisses our choices and fails to grasp the personal importance and value of our hard-won identities. This is the belief that people transition because society’s gender norms are excessively restrictive, and if the rigidity and narrowness of these gender roles were relaxed, there would be no need for anyone to be trans.

    I’m not sure about this.

    It’s very difficult to imagine a society in which men and women were truly equal, because we still live in a society in which women and men are still so unequal.

    I used to think that transitioning was somehow cheating: taking the easy way out by changing yourself instead of changing the rest of society. To be clear, I never wished anyone who made the decision to transition any ill; I just thought that it was solving the wrong problem, like digging a drainage ditch in the floor because the roof is leaking. Now, as I have learned more, I realise I was just trying to kid myself out of transitioning, trying to force myself to believe I did not want to — because of course it was exactly what I wanted to do! But I was afraid, and fear makes people act in some strange and possibly counter-productive ways sometimes.

    If a person’s genitalia were paid as little mind as is presently afforded to, say eye colour, and if mechanically-aided reproduction advanced to the stage where any two people could provide a DNA sample for the purpose of creating a baby and this method was more common even among heterosexual couples (it would effectively decouple sex utterly from procreation: perfectly-effective contraceptive methods could be employed, as DNA can be obtained from any cell, not just eggs or sperm. Having a baby would generally require a deliberate act involving the co-operation of third parties), there is no reason that we would not continue to see the multiple combinations of the variables that make up what today we call “gender”; but we probably would not consider certain combinations incongruous as we do today, nor would we attempt to condense so much information into one of two eigenstates and expect this to correlate absolutely with a person’s sexual organs.

    But it’s all so very different from what we have today, that I don’t even think it would be quite the way I am trying to imagine it. And even if we ever do end up in a society without the need for transition, that in no way diminishes its importance right now, for anyone.

    And I can console myself with the thought that if Newtonian mechanics generalises, then by changing myself I am inevitably going to end up changing the rest of society, even if just a very tiny bit …..

  20. John Horstman says

    As a preemptive note to give some context for what I’m writing, in the hopes of aiding in its interpretation as I intend it, I’d like to state that I believe people have a full right to do whatever they want with their own bodies, as long as doing so does not visit harm on others. I also very strongly disagree that noncongruence with normative biological and social gender constructions should in any way be a basis for discrimination, hate, marginalization, or anything else bad. I’m stating this directly because I’ve gotten into discussions about trans issues in which it has become clear that my framework for modeling how gender operates in cultures can be radically different than that to which some trans people subscribe, and that this difference can lead to interpretations of my statements that are radically different than what I intend, because the statements are being interpreted through different frameworks of gender. My framework for gender is not essentialist nor binary. While gender is often constructed as essential and binary (not always, though), these qualities are ascribed just as much as the specific presentational and behavioral factors that constitute the gender. To put it another way – the way gender functions in our particular society is not the only way gender can function, and it’s not how ‘gender’ as an abstracted model for related and similar identity categories across different cultures looks. That is my perspective. On to the post:

    Instead, their attitude seems to be more along the lines of, “now you can be a man instead of transitioning, because society will accept a man like you!”

    That’s not an accurate representation of the position that gender categories are social constructs that should be done away with. In that framework, you can’t “be a man” either. There is no “man” nor “woman”. There’s just “human”. I have no doubt that you have heard arguments like that (two of your pulled quotes represent them, in fact), but the people making them are bigots who are couching their bigotry in the language of gender deconstruction in an attempt to validate it. In the genderless worldview, it’s simply impossible to transition sex or gender because there are no categories of sex or gender. That view is no more or less anti-trans than it is anti-cis; it’s just anti-gender, full stop.

    To suggest that I would revert to a male presentation and identity given the chance is to misunderstand the meaning of gender identity on the most fundamental level. Even in such a society, I would still choose to be a woman, and offering a solution where I’m expected to live as a man is no more acceptable than telling a cisgender man, “hey, you should go ahead and be a woman now, since people won’t mind how manly you are!” But that man is not a woman. And this woman is not a man.

    Again, you’re either misinterpreting the genderless framework, or the people you’re talking to are misrepresenting it (entirely possible: this is the equivalent of Social Darwinists misrepresenting evolutionary processes to justify their own privilege as ‘natural’ and thus unchangeable or even desirable). It’s still being presented in a framework of binary gender. That’s not the project of gender deconstruction, the project is to dismantle gender completely such that we don’t have concepts like “man” and “woman” any more, at all. The pulled quotes actually conflate the two – a couple of the examples argue for expanded gender roles while maintaining a concept of gender, but a few of them actually argue for dismantling gender entirely. These are radically different ideas. The failure to draw the distinction is exactly what I’m talking about.

    Obviously, the lack of necessity for or impossibility of trans identities doesn’t hold in the extant culture. Trans identities are a perfectly legitimate and understandable response to a culture predicated on a gender binary (as well as one that constructs a concept of “identity” and interprets the relationship of the individual organism to the environment and other organisms through it). In my experience, a lot of the disconnect around this issue is the result of not being careful about either specifying or listening to the distraction drawn between an ideal toward which one is working and strategies for producing gender in the present cultural context. That failure is also on display here. The quotes pulled don’t “[dismiss] our choices and [fail] to grasp the personal importance and value of our hard-won identities.” The quotes aren’t talking about the extant culture or your experiences in it (as far as I can see). They’re saying that in the proposed ideal, trans* categories would vanish, just like cis* categories. There’s no particular reason one can’t BOTH acknowledge the value and power and difficulties of trans experience in the present context and work toward a genderless world in which those struggles would become unnecessary (as would the struggles of presently-cisgendered people who are still gender-nonconforming to various degrees). The idea that proposing a cultural framework in which trans (and cis – one must remember that this applies equally to cis categories) identities would be impossible is a dismissal or denial of trans experiences in the present cultural context mistakenly conflates extant and possible cultural frameworks.

    Another part might be that some (a lot of?) trans persons really, really like prescriptive gender roles; they really like the ones prescribed for bodies not like the ones they were born with/developed. In those cases, the objection to gender deconstruction shares more with cis people advocating normative gender roles/performativities. Trans and cis identities are products of a particular cultural moment that both views the individual organism as a function of ‘identity’ and views gender as a binary construct. Both of these, are cultural constructs; if one wants to support them, one must provide specific reasons that a gendered culture is better than a genderless one in order to argue that we should work to maintain gender as an identity category at all.

    One other possible point of contention I see is a presumption of essentialism. In an essentialist worldview, essentialized qualities are privileged – they’re given greater legitimacy and status than non-essentialized qualities. When an essentialist hears a constructionist say that a quality that’s important to the essentialist is not, in fact, essential, what the essentialist sometimes hears is an assertion that the quality is not important or deserving of recognition. That’s not what the constructionist is saying, because the constructionist is not drawing nor implying a value judgement on the basis of essential characteristics (in which the constructionist doesn’t believe anyway). This is similar to people who think atheists hate god – because they only imagine a world in which a god exists, to deny that existence can only be a way to lash out. If I say gender is a construct and isn’t “real” in the same way the planet is real, I’m not saying it isn’t important, and I’m not saying it doesn’t have very real impacts on people’s lives. I’m saying that the form it takes it dictated by the way it’s been shaped, through culture. It’s like languages – English exists, and it is important to many people and has a profound impact on our lives, but the specific features of it, and its very existence, were all constructed by people, and as such we can (and do) change it over time. English is not essential to the universe nor even to humans (nor is any language, necessarily). It would also cease to exist if there were no people in a way that the planet wouldn’t – it’s in that sense that it isn’t “real” in the same way Earth is real.

    From my perspective, the schism between trans feminists and radical feminists is the result of two groups talking past each other, possibly with people on all sides both poorly representing their own positions and failing to pay attention to what the other side(s) is/are actually saying. I don’t know that it’s equally bad on ‘both sides’ – I find it likely that the cis radical feminists are less sensitive to the trans feminists than the other way around – but having been roundly (verbally) attacked by trans activists on any number of occasions for disagreeing about the way gender functions (and not even in ways that are worse for trans people than for cis people – much of my perspective is, ironically, predicated on the work of Kate Bornstein and based in in Queer Theory), I know this isn’t all coming from one direction. Sadly, marginalization does not inoculate one against ignorance, misinterpretation, stupidity, tribalism, or just plain being an asshole (nor, of course, does privilege).

    I can relate to what Anne C. Hanna is saying above, as well. My interest (and points of contention) lie more along the lines of gender theory, so that’s what I’m focusing on.

  21. Joan says

    Maybe I don’t get the point of the article, but destroying gender roles at all or recucing them to a really marginal role is a good idea. I just don’t see why it does not happen. For me, the whole idea of judging people or putting them into some boxes based on their gender is just silly. I don’t get the point with ‘identity’ either. Why just don’t be yourself instead of thinking of boxes?

  22. Tigger_the_Wing, Back home =^_^= says

    Joan @ 25

    It is so easy just to be yourself, if other people are content with the expression of that self.

    Imagine waking up tomorrow with a different body, and finding that everyone around you expects you to simply stop being the ‘you’ that you have always been, and conform to a new role.

    People get punished in so many ways for just being themselves – unless those selves conform to tight societal expectations.

    Imagine being bullied, day in, day out; by family, by people you think of as friends, and by total strangers, because you aren’t conforming to expectations – and no-one will ever tell you exactly what you are expected to do, because you are just supposed to know, based on what you look like.

    That is how the world works, like it or not; and telling the victims of gender policing that we are ‘thinking in boxes’ just adds another layer of bullying.

    Just because you profess a belief that ‘the whole idea of judging people or putting them into some boxes based on their gender is just silly’ won’t make the whole world change instantly, any more than someone believing that ‘the whole idea of judging people or putting them into some boxes based on their race is just silly’ will suddenly magic racism out of the picture.

    You do see that, don’t you?

    If it is OK for a cis-woman to decide how feminine she wishes to be, then it is OK for a trans* woman, too. And it ought not matter whether someone else thinks it is ‘silly’ to want to express oneself in a certain way. Freedom to be oneself includes freedom to conform to strict gender roles if those happen to feel like a good fit – regardless of the gender role that others wish to foist upon one.

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