Now that BlogTV has shut down, Heather and I have to find another home for our live shows. Tonight at 10:30 PM Eastern time, we’ll be trying out Justin.tv. There may be bugs that we have to work out. The show may not start on time. There may be an inconsistent user experience or inconvenient ads. We may even discover dealbreakers that cause us to throw up our hands and quit the entire venture until we find a better place. But we’re hoping it all works out and that everyone has a good time, as is usual for these shows. Please feel free to join us for this experiment, and we’ll all try to make the best of it.
Mar 30 2013
Mar 30 2013
A recent story in Slate looked inside the community of “gaybros” on Reddit.com, a group of masculine-identified gay men who feel that they’ve been somewhat estranged from the wider LGBT community because of their masculinity. Columnist Bryan Lowder met with the gay bros, learning about their typical interests – sports, video games, grilling, the military, and so forth – and exploring the difficulties they’ve sometimes faced in relating to other gay men and dealing with cultural stereotypes of what it means to be a gay man.
This certainly isn’t a new phenomenon – practically every segment of the LGBT community faces its own challenges, even from within. Masculine gay men are seen as traitors who are trying to gain approval by mimicking straight people. Feminine gay men are called fairies and accused of putting on an act and making the community look bad. Butch lesbians are attacked for their masculinity and treated as unattractive, while femme lesbians are often invisible. Bisexuals are considered indecisive, untrustworthy, or secretly gay. And trans people are treated as freaks and told that they’re a special interest group that shouldn’t have anything to do with gays, lesbians or bisexuals. If you’re looking to have your queer identity demeaned and invalidated, there’s often no better place to go than the queer community itself.
That said, while there may be valid concerns here, the article seemed to promote the idea of a conflict without doing much to back it up. When you get into the substance of it, the notion of intra-community attacks on gay bros starts to look like more of a matter of perceptions than reality. And when the issue is one of men supposedly being marginalized for their masculine identities and interests, it’s easy to see why there might be just a little exaggeration involved.
This became especially obvious toward the end of the piece, when the community ethos of the gay bros was explained by contrasting it with that of the LGBT section of Reddit:
Of a piece with the brotherly vibe of Gaybros is the need to develop, as a site rule puts it, a “thick skin and sense of humor” toward contentious interactions, which crop up fairly often on threads about touchy issues like open relationships. Like “shooting the shit,” demanding a thick skin can at first sound like something a homophobic coach might yell at you for being upset by bullies, but it also has a socially useful function. Gaybros exists by nature and design outside the super-politically correct, college-bubble rhetoric that largely defines the terms of these discussions today (just check out the absurdly arcane ground-rules for r/LGBT to see what I mean). In this, it provides a so-called “safe space” for novice gay men who do not yet know the “right” words to explore their new identities and engage with their newfound community without fear of tar and feathers for not intuiting the difference between two-spirit and intersex.
This was especially interesting to read, because my partner Heather and I are in charge of the LGBT section, along with some very awesome volunteers. We launched it a few years ago because Reddit lacked a dedicated space for queer issues, and it’s currently the largest LGBT-related community on Reddit, with over 66,000 users. So we were a bit surprised to see the LGBT section described in this way, and we’re pretty sure our own community isn’t quite like how it was portrayed here.
In fact, for most of its history, the LGBT section had no rules at all, and it operated on the general principles now adopted by the gay bros: “We don’t remove posts of unpopular opinion, but try not to be a dick.” For a while at the beginning, this worked pretty well. The community regulated itself, dealt with trouble as it cropped up, and mostly kept itself in check. And then this stopped working so well. Eventually, the LGBT section grew to a point where this was no longer feasible. There were a lot of really transphobic posts going around, and it was discouraging trans people from participating in the community. When people started seriously claiming that 7-year-old transgender Girl Scouts were going to rape the other scouts, we realized this just wasn’t working out.
That was when we chose to enforce some pretty simple rules that you might expect to see in any LGBT community: don’t insult gay people, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, HIV-positive people, women, or racial minorities. These are the guidelines that Bryan Lowder described as “super-politically correct, college-bubble rhetoric” and “absurdly arcane ground-rules”. Personally, I’m not sure what’s so challenging about being expected to respect LGBT people in the LGBT section. But since many people do seem to have trouble with this concept, Heather took the time to explain what this means in terms of how to conduct yourself, using easy language and concrete examples. For instance:
- Don’t come in here and tell all gay or bi or trans people how “annoying” or “unattractive” you think they are.
- Don’t question people’s identities.
- Don’t tell people they’re “hurting the movement” because of who they are.
- Don’t tell people not to be offended by slurs that have been used against them for their entire lives.
- Be willing to listen when someone explains why something you said was wrong or offensive.
- If you’re going to say something that may be insulting, include a warning first.
- Oh, and: Please don’t suggest that trans women are going to use their penises to rape everyone around them.
We understand that some of these particular examples of common sense may not be obvious at first, and that’s why we’ve pointed them out explicitly. Certainly no one should need a college degree to understand why you shouldn’t come to the LGBT section just to call gay people “faggots”, or tell someone their queerness is hindering progress, or act like trans people are all rapists.
Managing a diverse LGBT community is different from managing a community of gay bros. Their section is one-third the size of ours. It’s also populated by individuals who largely share the same identity, gender, orientation, interests, and sometimes troubled relationship to the larger queer community. And there’s nothing wrong with that – they’ve established a community that serves their own purposes.
But in the LGBT section, we have distinctly different needs, because we’re managing a space populated by gay people, bi people, trans people, men and women, masculine people, feminine people, and people with all sorts of different politics and concerns. In this situation, where the intra-community conflicts of LGBT people have the opportunity to play out on a daily basis, telling everyone to “have a thick skin” and “try not to be a dick” just isn’t enough. We would know – we tried that. I don’t think this misplaced comparison of the gay bros to the LGBT section is helping either of us.
And I especially don’t think that treating LGBT people’s identities as inaccessible, laughably radical, “college-bubble” nonsense is respectful to anyone. I’m sure it’s really easy to find some funny-looking words like “intersex” and “two-spirit”, and hold them up as an example of “political correctness” gone mad. Those college liberals sure are living in a fantasy world, aren’t they? “Intersex”, “two-spirit”, who has the time to learn about all these things?
These concepts and identities are portrayed as the domain of quibbling academics, incomprehensible and inconsequential to the lives of everyday people. I find that very interesting, because when people are calling someone a “hermaphrodite” or a “tranny” or a “he-she” or a “shemale”, I’m pretty sure they know exactly what they’re talking about. This isn’t ivory-tower pedantry, it’s prime time on Comedy Central.
Maybe this just didn’t occur to Bryan Lowder, but these terms refer to actual people. Of course, when you’re not one of them, you have the luxury of never needing to know what any of this means. You have the option to dismiss this as so much academic gender-studies blather, so it might seem like an unnecessary burden when anyone expects you to learn about this. It’s just not relevant to your life.
But here’s the thing: I don’t have that option. You get to walk away from this – I don’t. I’m the one who has to deal with it when people suddenly fail to understand that I’m a woman, or forget what words to use when someone is a woman. Meanwhile, you have your quote-unquote “safe space” that’s not safe for anyone whose identity isn’t part of a 4th-grade vocab lesson.
I mean, that is pretty much how privilege works, right? Oh, sorry – college word! Let me spell it out for you: You get to have an attack of pronoun amnesia, and I get to be called a man. Gay bros are important enough to have a reporter go bar-hopping with them and cover their struggle to be accepted as masculine men, but no one has the time to Google the word “intersex” or learn why they shouldn’t call me a “trap”.
You know what I don’t have time for? People who can’t be bothered to learn about anything outside the sphere of their immediate existence. When you’ve had to figure out just who the hell you really are, like I have, it’s difficult to be patient when someone acts like reading a paragraph is the hardest thing in the world. And after we’ve taken the time to help people understand how they can be respectful in our community, I’m really not impressed when a major publication would actually try to hold that against us. Maybe flaunting your ignorance is something to be proud of, inside your politically-incorrect idiot bubble. But out here, it just makes you look ignorant.
Mar 23 2013
When I was first invited to Freethought Blogs last year, there were a lot of reasons to be excited. I couldn’t believe that I’d be blogging alongside Greta, PZ, Ian, Jen, Ed, and everyone else here – as well as JT, Dan, Chris, and the others who have now moved elsewhere. Getting to join a community that I already admired immensely was, and still is, something I’m very proud of.
But the most prestigious part of it for me, the one thing I was happiest about, was that I would be writing on the same site as Natalie Reed.
Before I joined up, I had already been following Natalie’s work for months, on FTB and elsewhere. At the time, there were a lot of changes going on in my life: I’d moved across the country on a permanent basis, I was out on my own for the first time, I had a partner and kids to care for… and I was still working out all of this gender-related stuff.
I thought I was done with all of that, and that my gender situation was stable, but it really wasn’t. Back then, I usually didn’t cover many trans-specific issues, because I didn’t feel qualified – I wasn’t even sure if I was “really trans”, and I didn’t want to risk speaking as a member of a group that I might not really be a part of.
I might not have been comfortable writing about all that – but Natalie was. And reading her work was what helped me reach a point where I could start to make sense of myself and figure out what I really wanted for my life. Her writings are of the sort where, when I read them, I can only say: why didn’t I think of that? And that’s the one quality that, to me, marks someone’s work as extraordinarily valuable and insightful. It fills in the deficiencies in my own comprehension. It does something beyond what I was capable of on my own. Even now, I often find myself re-reading her archives just to remember what it was like to feel all those little moments where something popped right into place, and I learned something new about feminism, about gender roles and social expectations, about what being trans could mean. And this was the intellectual development I needed to fuel my personal development.
Without Natalie’s help, I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t be who I am now, or where I am now. There have been times when I went to her directly for advice, because I didn’t know who else I could ask about certain things. When I realized that I needed to make some decisions about what I wanted to do with my whole gender thing, she was the first one I asked about the questions that had slowly begun to eat at me. When I had to choose whether to start going through “official channels” for this, seeing therapists and doctors and making serious medical changes, she gave me the information that reassured me. When I was scared of either future – dreading what I knew would happen to me if I didn’t do it, and uncertain of what might happen if I did – she made me realize that this could be done. She helped me feel, truly and deeply, that it would be okay.
Natalie is the reason I have my new name. I once asked her whether potentially hostile therapists would take issue with my choice of an odd name like Zinnia, and if I should go with something more average (of course, she told me that nobody should force me to make a choice like that). Just as an example, I contrasted it with a name that I picked out on the spot from the popular ones when I was born. It wasn’t meant to mean anything – but for some reason, it stuck with me. And a few days later, I was Lauren. It wasn’t any sort of compromise of my identity, just another thing that happened to pop right into place. I’ve never looked back.
Natalie’s posts are something that I’ve always looked forward to, and I’m really going to miss her blog. I’m sure countless others will, too. I’ve rarely seen anyone pour themselves into such important work for such a long time, and for the benefit of so many of us out there who desperately needed to hear what she’s saying. Her work has changed lives, mine included. But at the same time, I’m so happy that she’s pursuing what’s best for her – which is exactly what she’s always taught me to do. There are very, very few people I would consider role models, and she’s one of them.
Thank you, Natalie. Thank you.
Mar 22 2013
Mar 21 2013
It was exactly three months ago that Richard Littlejohn published a piece in the Daily Mail viciously attacking Lucy Meadows, a primary school teacher in Britain. Littlejohn targeted Meadows because she’s transgender and had chosen to remain in her job as a teacher after beginning to present as a woman – this was the entire basis for his outrageous, unprovoked assault on her identity, her career, and her very life. It was vile and hateful in all the ways we’ve come to expect from a publication that, like much of the press these days, treats trans women as alternately ridiculous or a threat to society. It was quite literally intolerant of everything that Lucy Meadows was.
So it came as a surprise today that the Daily Mail has completely removed any mention of Meadows from Littlejohn’s column. What happened? Did they suffer a sudden attack of morality, three months later? No. Their decision was based on something much darker than conscience.
Lucy Meadows killed herself this week.
Three months ago, Richard Littlejohn chose to single her out, a woman who had done absolutely nothing wrong, and tear her life apart in one of Britain’s biggest papers. Richard Littlejohn chose to refer to her as “he”, and include only photos of her from before she had begun to live openly as a woman. He called her existence “devastating” to the children under her care:
But has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.
He said that Meadows’ students needed to be “protected” from her by their school:
It should be protecting pupils from some of the more, er, challenging realities of adult life, not forcing them down their throats.
He called her a threat to their innocence:
These are primary school children, for heaven’s sake. Most them still believe in Father Christmas. Let them enjoy their childhood. They will lose their innocence soon enough.
He attacked her very name:
Why should they be forced to deal with the news that a male teacher they have always known as Mr Upton will henceforth be a woman called Miss Meadows? Anyway, why not Miss Upton?
And he told her to “disappear” and move out of town:
It would have been easy for him to disappear quietly at Christmas, have the operation and then return to work as ‘Miss Meadows’ at another school on the other side of town in September. No-one would have been any the wiser.
Well, she’s disappeared now. Lucy Meadows is dead. Are you happy with yourselves, Daily Mail? Are you proud that you used your platform as a national publication to rip open the life of an innocent woman and put her deeply personal struggles on display for an audience of millions? Are you satisfied now that you’ve “exposed” a woman who wanted nothing more than to teach the students she knew and cared for? Did you ever think about how it would feel to be Lucy Meadows at the moment when your paper chose to label her as forever “male” and a threat to her own students? Obviously that didn’t deter you from publishing this disgusting, horrible column in the first place. So why bother hiding your deeds now?
What’s one life next to the opportunity for yet another vacuous, melodramatic headline about transsexuals?
Mar 16 2013
Heather and I will be having a live show on BlogTV tonight at 10:00 PM Eastern time. For those who haven’t heard already, BlogTV will be shutting down in a couple weeks, and we’re currently looking for alternatives that are suitable to our usual content and accommodating to our regular viewers. We’re open to any ideas you might have. For now, just go to http://www.blogtv.com/people/zjemptv at 10 PM tonight to hang out with us. See you there!
Mar 13 2013
As trans people, most of us understand the temptation to look back on our earlier life and seek out signs of incipient transness. It can help people feel that, in some sense, they always were the person they are now. This need isn’t just something from within – sometimes it’s not from within at all – but also socially mediated.
Society has trended toward being ever-so-slightly more understanding (in the typical shallow, ignorant way that wider society tends to offer such “understanding”) of LGB people, and trans people, if it’s believed that our queerness or our gender is an innate feature that’s present in us from birth or childhood. From before we became older and capable of thinking about things for ourselves, from before we became able to make the conscious choice of such an “alternative lifestyle”. Positing the theory of involuntary childhood awareness rules out the theory of adult choice.
So, there are a lot of incentives flying around – from ourselves, and from our society – to construct some narrative of our lives where there were always the little clues and hints, even if we didn’t pick up on it at the time. Obviously this isn’t a harmless thing – the converse of “my transness is valid because there were always signs” is “because there weren’t always signs, your transness isn’t valid”. I see questioning people being ensnared by this on a regular basis, and it can often hinder their decision of whether to transition.
In response to this, a lot of us – myself included – do our best to debunk any perceived relevance of this “always knew” requirement. We try to help people understand that whether they always had some awareness of this, or not, it’s immaterial to how they feel now – and that this doesn’t need to be about anything more than whether they want to transition, or not. We point out that the reality of someone’s transness has absolutely nothing to do with whether they “always knew”, and that plenty of trans people with no such early awareness are still just as trans.
I think this is really awesome, really important work. It’s an in-the-trenches battle to help individual people find the will and the strength and the confidence to actualize themselves in a way that, in today’s world, is still pretty damn revolutionary. Please, let’s keep doing that.
That being said, I’m starting to think that my understanding of this has been somewhat incomplete. Not necessarily wrong, but also not as fully developed as it could be.
I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of pointing out that mining our pasts for evidence of early transness is more or less a big bundle of fallacies and cognitive biases. In the cases where such early signs are present, it can be confirmation bias: specific events are picked out that could be somehow connected to the future recognition of yourself as trans, but other events that could just as well be taken as indicative of cisness – events which are probably much more common – are usually ignored. And in the cases where someone doubts they could be trans, it’s disconfirmation bias: they choose to focus only on specific things that are thought to preclude them from being trans.
It isn’t just a trans thing, these are common aspects of any kind of motivated thinking – the kind of thinking that people do when they already know what they want to believe, and are just searching for whatever evidence will prop it up, rather than evaluating the evidence first and basing their beliefs on that. It’s incredibly common and people do it all the time. You do it all the time, I do it all the time, our families and friends do it all the time. It can be hard to force yourself to be consciously aware that you’re doing this, and compensate for it.
So I’ve often explained to people that these childhood hints are actually irrelevant by pointing out that it’s entirely possible for cis people to have also had early experiences where they imagined themselves as another gender, or “crossdressed”, or enjoyed the thought of having a differently-sexed body – and that people who’ve had these experiences could still just grow up to be cis anyway. I tended toward thinking that this retroactive interpretation was inherently flawed, because some future understanding of oneself as cis or as trans can’t touch the past and alter the substance of what those particular gender-questioning events actually were at the time.
I’m not sure I entirely agree with that anymore. Yeah, at the time, those little possible trans-hints might be something, or they might be nothing – it can sometimes be hard for us to tell, even in our own lives. Was that really a trans-related thing, or just something a lot of people do, or question themselves about, as they grow up? When we’re young, and still developing, and we don’t yet understand what gender identity is all about, these little events can be ambiguous and hard to interpret.
But when someone does turn out to be trans, I’m not so certain that these “maybe, maybe not” events can or should be dismissed with “well, it’s just as possible for someone to experience all of that and still be cis” – even if it’s in the process of a well-intentioned deconstruction of the “always knew” requirement. Yes, when it’s not yet known whether someone is cis or trans, these things could be significant, or just meaningless. When it is known that they’re trans, however, maybe this does allow for reinterpreting past events.
Let’s use the example of, say, any other medical condition ever. Suppose someone occasionally runs a fever, or wakes up sweating at night, or has itching all over their body. Individually, these things might just be nothing. And sure, someone might just have these things sometimes, without anything ever coming of it. But if, 6 to 12 months later, they’re diagnosed with a form of lymphoma, those past symptoms would have to be reinterpreted in light of this as indeed being symptoms of that condition. The same goes for any cluster of symptoms, and any eventual diagnosis that happens to explain them.
When I think about it that way, I find it harder to justify to myself that being trans should be treated any differently. From the perspective of retroactive interpretation of possible evidence, that is – I don’t want anyone to think that I’m comparing being trans to a disease, it’s just a roughly analogous situation used as an example. One could just as well use observed anomalies in physics, and whether these eventually require the development of some entirely new theory (you’re not actually a man/woman, you’re a woman/man/non-binary), or just the tweaking of existing theories (you’re just a cis person who had some neat interests).
This all occurred to me recently when I was recreationally doing a bit of that usual mining of the past - not to validate my transness, but just out of curiosity. Did I have any of that ambiguous sort of evidence? I think so.
There were the things I had remembered before, some of the sort that absolutely needs to be prefaced with the acknowledgement that none of this is inherently feminine: getting my ears pierced (apparently people consider getting both of them done to be different from just one), picking out purple glasses because I liked the color, spending days tweaking the palette of my old website to be a perfect balance of all pinks without hurting anyone’s eyes, choosing to join a tap-dancing group when I was 3 or 4 (I was the only boy there), being vaguely uncomfortable when my mom corrected me when I referred to my figure rather than my “physique” (her word).
Things like choosing to be the one to dress as a woman for what some event planner apparently envisioned as a fun crowd-pleasing gimmick for a 6th grade school assembly, and happily running around the gym in front of everyone with a wig on my head and balloons stuffed into the front of my shirt. Or being so reluctant to let anyone see my body in high school locker rooms that I would only change in a stall.
Like I said, these could just as well be the experiences of someone who grows up to be cis. That’s entirely possible – but it’s not what happened.
The one thing I recently recalled that made me reevaluate my stance was the memory of being 10 or 11, sitting alone in my bedroom for at least an hour, closing my eyes, and doing nothing but focusing on imagining in as much detail as possible what it would feel like to have a vulva. Again, cis people might do that, too. But the more I thought about it, the more irrelevant that point seemed to be. Now that I’m trans, just what the hell is ambiguous about something like that?
Telling myself that it all could just as well have been nothing now seemed to fall flat in my mind. Even if that’s true, it seemed less and less applicable to me specifically. It began to feel somewhat like the flimsy excuses I was still feeding myself as recently as early 2011, up to the very point that I admitted I was a woman: that it really didn’t mean anything that I named myself Zinnia, or went by “she” pronouns, or presented as a woman all the time and not just online, or had chosen to express my idea of femininity by presenting as a feminine woman rather than a feminine man. But it turned out that this all did mean something.
And maybe the rest of those little things meant something, too.
Those past experiences aren’t the only evidence to be considered here. The fact that I now consider myself trans, and have chosen to transition, is also evidence that needs to be taken into account. Those past experiences may be ambiguous when examined in isolation – but they don’t exist in isolation. And in light of the fact that I am indeed trans, they can start to fit together into a larger picture that might just offer a better and more coherent explanation than the alternative: that I had all of these cross-gender experiences and just so happened to be trans when I grew up, and that there’s no connection there at all.
On a population-wide scale, I’m sure there are plenty of people who had similar experiences to mine and still turned out to be cis. They might be more likely to be trans, but it doesn’t preclude them from being cis. And that’s why it’s inappropriate to treat all those ambiguous youthful experiences as having the power to confirm or disconfirm that someone is trans.
But on a personal level, that means nothing to my life. I’m not a list of percentages. I’m not a pie chart. I’m an individual, and I’m one of the people who turned out to be trans. The probability that someone will be trans given a similar set of gender-related events is… somewhere between 0 and 1. But the probability that I’m trans, given that I’m trans, is 1. The fact is that these were the experiences of someone who ended up being trans. And that’s something I think I have to acknowledge. It’s not confirmation bias, it’s just taking all the evidence into account when developing an understanding of the situation.
I certainly can’t tell anyone else how they should choose to interpret their own experiences, or what those experiences should mean to them. That’s always their business alone, and it always will be. Some people do have these experiences, some people don’t. Some people view them as significant and connected to their transness, some people don’t. Some people always knew, and some people didn’t. Personally, I really don’t think I did. But I am less reluctant to understand and interpret my own past experiences as those of someone who would indeed turn out to be trans – and not someone who was just as likely to be cis.
Because that’s not what happened.
Mar 09 2013
Heather and I will be having a live show on BlogTV tonight at 10:30 PM Eastern time. If you haven’t been to BlogTV before, it’s basically a chatroom attached to a live video stream where people can gather and talk with us. It’s a little wild and a lot of fun. If you’d like to join us, just go to http://www.blogtv.com/people/zjemptv tonight. See you there!
Mar 09 2013
Natalie has a new post up, which you should read in its entirety, but this in particular stood out to me:
One of the immediate issues I have with “gender dysphoria” is that it falls into the very common pattern of people taking a varied range of things and variables and stuff related to gender, sex or sexuality and acting like they’re all one single variable. Sometimes as a binary (“man or woman”), a spectrum (like the Kinsey Scale), or one component of a simplified combinatoric thingy (like the Genderbread Person). And sometimes it’s just one giant stupid spectrum between two poles “I don’t see men and women as binary, really. I see it as, like, a spectrum. You’ve got manly straight men on one end and girly straight women on the other, and then you have gays, lesbians, transsexuals, guys who wear berets, and women who wear jeans, in between” (this, including “guys who wear berets”, was an actual conversation I had when I was 14 with an adult artist from Montreal, a friend of my stepmom’s. It was shortly after I’d tried coming out to my family as trans, and during a time when my body was rather obviously intersexed, so my guess is that she was trying to be supportive and helpful after my stepmom told her I was “struggling with gender” or “confused” or whatever.)
This expresses a problem I’ve had for a long time with spectrum models of gender, sexuality, and so on. “Ranges” of gender with men on one end and women on the other are wholly inadequate, and lead to shallow and wrong understandings of gender. For example, here are just a few instances of the confusion it foments:
- A woman is not defined by being the polar opposite of a man, and a man is not defined by being the polar opposite of a woman, but that’s what this MEN ———————— WOMEN spectrum mistakenly suggests.
- It puts trans people somewhere in the middle of all this. Some trans people aren’t binary-identified, and that’s awesome, but some trans people are binary-identified. And we’re not occupants of some middle ground. We aren’t inexact approximations of women or men, who can only approach, but never reach, womanhood or manhood.
- Conversely, it implies that men who don’t totally adhere to some ultra-masculine manly stereotype in every respect are somehow inching closer to womanhood, and vice versa for women and manhood. That’s not what it means to be a man or a woman, and your gender identity doesn’t depend on to what degree you conform to some opposing stereotypes. (Also, whoa, heterosexuality is not a defining feature of manhood or womanhood. Holy cow.)
More generally, I have the same problems with the “transgender umbrella” concept when it includes “feminine men” and “masculine women” and anyone who isn’t SUPER MANLY MAN and SUPER WOMANLY WOMAN. A cis guy who wears pink or likes Celine Dion doesn’t stop being cis or a guy just because he wears pink or likes Celine Dion. He’s still a cis guy if he identifies as a cis guy. (This also repeats the mistake of designating certain behaviors, attitudes, preferences and so on as inherently “masculine” or “feminine”, when there’s no reason to do so.) Parents of boys who like to dress up as princesses might expect that their son will grow up to be their daughter, but as long as these boys identify themselves as boys, they’re still boys and they’re still cis.
I have a bit of a personal vendetta against the “umbrella” since it was used for a long time to categorize me as being trans, by people who told me “trans is an umbrella term, so you’re trans!” Yeah, maybe under that definition – but this was back when I didn’t identify as anything other than cis and had no intention of transitioning. I didn’t see how just presenting a certain way, or taking a certain name, had to mean that I was no longer cis.
And yes, if the development of my gender and identity had just stopped there, if that was the place I chose to stop and settle down, I’d still feel the same way. I’d still consider myself cis. The reason I stopped being cis, and started being trans, is that I began to identify and understand myself as primarily a woman, and then exclusively a woman.
This didn’t change because I took a female-designated name or wore female-designated clothes. I had already been doing that for years, and it hadn’t made me any less cis. It doesn’t necessarily make anyone any less cis or more trans, if that’s not how they see themselves.
I still have much of the same clothes – and the same makeup kit, and the same online alias – that I’ve had for the past several years. By the time I did begin to see myself as a woman, I had already made a comfortable gender nest out of the kind of self-defined femininity that works for me, but such a nest doesn’t need to have a sign on the outside that says “GIRLS ONLY, BOYS KEEP OUT.” It fit me just fine when I still considered myself cis. If other cis people like the decor, it can fit them just as well, too, without requiring them to be trans.
Particularly, that “Genderbread Person” (and please, let’s never speak of it again) doesn’t actually solve any of these problems. It may have separated gender and sexuality into independent spectrums of gender identity, gender expression, physical sex, and sexual orientation, but the issues presented by a spectrum in this context are not remedied by making more spectrums. Bi people are not a colorful blend of pure concentrated Gay and pure concentrated Straight. Trans people are not some novel and flavorful combination of Essence of Man and Essence of Woman.
There are a lot of troubling social implications arising from the idea that those who fall near the endpoints of all these lines – men and women, gay and straight, masculine and feminine – are the pristine original ingredients, the Coca-Cola and the Sprite, while the rest of us are the graveyard drink that comes from pressing every button on the soda fountain and throwing it all in one cup. The people who come up with these spectrums might think they’re improving on the two-box model of “you’re either in this category, or that category”, but the end result often seems to amount to little more than adding another box: you’re either in the one box, or the other, or you’re the contents of both boxes thrown together and jumbled up a bit.
That’s why every time I hear someone say something like “there’s room in the middle, some guys are feminine”, I’m just like “…lol, no.” Yes, people are diverse and have a variety of gendered features, but that’s not what this is about. While their intention is understandable, the implementation is all wrong. Count me in as not a fan of Giant Stupid Spectrums.
Mar 04 2013
Autostraddle, an online news and culture magazine for queer women, recently solicited submissions by trans women on topics relevant to transness and queerdom. Today, I’m overjoyed to announce that they’ve published their first selection: my story of transitioning and falling in love with Heather. It’s a photo-essay-ish inside look at how I came to understand myself as a woman, and how this is inseparably wrapped up with our life together. I’m a total fangirl for Autostraddle and this is one of the coolest things I could ever hope to accomplish. I hope you enjoy it!