Something struck me last week when I was doing my Trans Sex Ed presentation for ASPECC. In order to make sure everyone was on the same page I had to start by making sure the word “transgender” was clear. Ultimately I think this is one area that could turn into an entire presentation itself, because the more I thought about it the more I realized this was a topic that could run deep.
I’ll illustrate with some other identity labels of mine: atheist. I mean, that’s a given on a freethought network, right? But I also live in this progressive little urban bubble where people are largely indifferent to religion. My coworkers, my boss, my previous landlord. Nobody cared. If I had been “outed” as an atheist, I think fuck all would have happened. People would’ve shrugged and moved on. People have shrugged and moved on.
In terms of importance or relevance to me, personally, that makes my relationship with atheism weak at best. I don’t often do posts about the epistemology of the Christian god, mostly because I consider the matter settled, and so do enough people in my life that it’s just not an important question anymore. So I mean, sure, I’m an atheist. And yes, I’ll accept that label because it’s accurate. But no, it isn’t the sort of thing that actually gets the people around me to respond differently, so its relevance is negligible, as long as I do my homework and steer clear of traveling to, say, Iran.
Being trans, on the other hand. Well, every asshole on the internet has a strong opinion. No PhD in gender variance, mind, or even a passing attempt to actually read the research they claim supports their position, but hot-damn does being transgender carry a significant gravity to it, drawing in dickheads and assholes in orbit like some kind of black hole hurdling through a solar system. If were talking about labels in terms of their importance to other people, then hells yes, “transgender” is a heavy and influential label indeed.
So I arrive to a different use of labels altogether, one that doesn’t involve describing my relationship with myself, but one that describes the world’s relationship to me. Framed like that, it contextualizes things like how my personal, morally neutral choices such as my clothing or grooming is suddenly subject to public debate on whether I’m reinforcing feminine stereotypes or just doing the trans thing for attention. Now it makes sense to take up the label transgender, not because I may or may not want to grow my hair long, but because a choice of such minimal relevance to other people’s lives is somehow granted importance through some invasive and kindy creepy entitlement to know every detail about my body. An entitlement that is present because of the world’s relationship with being “transgender.”
If I lived in a post transphobia society, I imagine I would feel about my gender identity the same way I do about my religious identity: Meh. Something to be acknowledged and make a few changes to make things comfy, but not the sort of sordid public spectacle that it is now.
The only reason trans issues ranks so highly is because of the damage these hamfisted attempts at policy writing cause, ensuing upon discovery of our existence. That’s a relationship I don’t want denied, how I’m some kind of walking-talking time-bomb for all the comfortable assumptions people make about gender. I may not particularly care about being trans, personally, but I think you’d have an incomplete picture of what it’s like as a cis person to be a trans person if you didn’t comprehend how much mutually contradictory bullshit we’re put through.
Thus, even if you personally don’t have a strong relationship with your gender identity–which is only natural, because nobody reacts to it–you could accept cisgender as a label for those circumstances and that relationship, the same way I accept the label atheist despite living in a peaceful bubble of religious irrelevance. It’s not any kind of commentary on you. It’s more of a commentary on your circumstances. Less of an identity unto itself and more taking stock on the relational behaviour of those around you. How, for instance, nobody has asked you about your genitals, or what your “real name” is. Or, perhaps the most salient to our current political climate, sex-segregated spaces are a no-brainer for you where they reliably get a trans person to start sweating under the collar.
This sidesteps the entire issue of trying to communicate what you do or do not feel, not that the people dismissing gender dysphoria as “just” feelings are the sorts of good-faith commentators who’d actually listen to my alternative (hey, there’s another relationship to describe between trans people and our environments: We’re “just” feeling a certain way, but you? You’re taken for-granted). I don’t have to share any kind of deeply personal struggle with my body. In fact, I can point out that the curiosity for said struggle perhaps better defines my existence as a trans woman than does the struggle itself!
Food for thought. What do you think?