Dr. Serano’s invalidations


I called it a “persistent, sustained, and uncoordinated gaslighting,” this idea that readily observable bodily characteristics necessarily trumps a person’s experience of those characteristics with concerns to trans rights and gender variance. Julia Serano has typed up one of her lectures on the phenomenon, dubbing it “trans invalidations,” and describes at length the psychological damage these invalidations cause.

Read about it here. A short sample below:

(paragraphs added for readability)

-Shiv


 

This dualism—that if one’s physical sex is “real” and “primary,” then the mind must automatically be “secondary” and “faulty”—implies that anything that a trans person says about their own experience, or about gender more generally, is inherently suspect. It effectively ensures that anything that any cisgender person says about gender or trans people automatically trumps what we have to say about ourselves. In effect, it positions cisgender people as de facto experts on gender variance by virtue of the fact that our minds are supposedly faulty while theirs are not. And in my experience, many cisgender people seem to relish in this supposed expert status.

I cannot tell you how many times that I have interacted with people who know little to nothing about transgenderism, yet who felt entitled to speak down to me or act intellectually superior to me with regards to the subject; people who repeatedly referred to my “gender confusion” in order to emphasize my presumed mental incompetence; people who have insinuated that I must be delusional because I don’t conform to their common sense; people who have dismissed my perspective and experiences on the basis that they are tainted by my supposed mental sickness. To such people, it doesn’t matter that I’ve had unique and enlightening gendered experiences that they have not shared. They don’t care that I have a Ph.D. in biology, or that I’ve written a book, and occasionally give keynote talks about, gender and transgenderism. To them, anything I say is viewed as a mere byproduct of my “mental affliction” and is immediately deemed invalid.

To me, this is the heart of the problem. Words simply cannot convey how intensely frustrating and infuriating it is to be routinely invalidated in this way. Simply talking about it gives me an adrenaline rush. You could call me all sorts of names or profanities, make fun of virtually any other aspect of my body or personality, and it wouldn’t even come close to eliciting the anger and outrage that I feel when somebody dismisses my gender identity or insinuates that my gender-related knowledge and experiences are mere figments of my imagination. There is simply no more effective way of hurting me than trans-invalidating me.

Trans-invalidations based on mental inferiority are especially triggering to me for three reasons: First, they happen to me repeatedly. Second, they play on the profound shame that I felt back when I was a child when I really did believe the cissexist premise that, since the rest of the world was supposedly “normal,” there must be something very wrong with me. Third, those who perpetrate trans-invalidations invariably refuse to acknowledge their own cisgender privilege and how it enables and exacerbates these incidents. After all, while I have had to fight my entire life to have my gender identity be taken seriously, my cisgender detractors simply take theirs for granted. This is the uneven playing field upon which every debate about gender identity and transgender rights plays out. Cisgender people can pretend to have abstract, objective and purely theoretical conversations about whether gender identity exists, or whether trans people should be allowed to transition, because their identities and life choices are never on the line. But for those of us who are trans, such discussions automatically call into question our identities, our autonomy and our mental veracity. They literally put our entire personhood up for debate.

Unfortunately, in this culture and at this point in time, dealing with, and overcoming, trans-invalidations is central to the trans experience. And I would argue that any person who does not understand or acknowledge how injurious these transinvalidations are to us, simply does not understand transgenderism. I’ll repeat that: any person who does not understand or acknowledge how injurious these transinvalidations are to us, simply does not understand transgenderism. Period. I further contend that any medical or mental health provider who is sincerely concerned with the health, happiness and well-being of gender variant people must make challenging and eliminating these trans-invalidations, both within their professional fields and in society at large, a top priority.

Comments

  1. says

    This is semi-unrelated, but… I saw you helping fight the good fight on the Vancouver Dyke March FB page.

    Thanks for that. The TERFs have gotten entirely out of control there.

  2. Siobhan says

    @abbeycadabra

    TERFs: “Make your own space!”

    *trans folk make own space*

    TERFs: “You stole our space!”

  3. says

    Hmmm. I just checked out the Vancouver Dyke March Facebook page… Well, that was bracing.

    OK, is it just me or is the phrase “born a man” (or “born a womyn”) simultaneously humorous and cringe-worthy? The though of giving birth to a full-grown, adult-sized human being makes me either laugh at the sheer biological impossibility… or cringe in fear at how utterly painful that would be, if real. Do TERFs have any idea how ridiculous that phrase sounds? They are living caricatures of themselves.

    Plus, the phrase violates basic, second-wave feminism 101. It was a clearly stated notion among second wave feminists that one is neither born a woman nor born a man. One is simply born as a human child. Gender is something one develops as time passes. One becomes women or men as social roles and gendered socialization are dropped upon people and the socially constructed aspects of gender accrue in the psyche.

    Of course, that understanding of gender and gender ID is problematic as it assumes a stable, inviolable cis-constructed gender binary which automatically and fatalistically forms a person’s gender ID according to genital shape, but still, TERFs are violating one of the foundation assumptions of their own variation of feminism. Their verbiage is hypocritical and contradictory. It belies the underlying belief of their own distorted version of radical feminism: in reality, a person’s sexed biology is their immutable destiny. All people are doomed to live out the gender roles and behaviors assigned to them at birth. Why bother organizing political action as feminists if people are doomed to always uphold the constricted roles assigned to them by patriarchy? Society would then be a biologically deterministic prison forever dooming women to a subordinate status. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a self-defeating variation of feminism.

  4. Siobhan says

    @timberwraith

    Why bother organizing political action as feminists if people are doomed to always uphold the constricted roles assigned to them by patriarchy?

    Boop.

    Of course–and I don’t think this is an exaggeration–there is an actual answer: It gives them academic-sounding jargon to say “I hate trans people (esp women)” without having to actually say “I hate trans people.”

  5. says

    From the OP:

    This dualism—that if one’s physical sex is “real” and “primary,” then the mind must automatically be “secondary” and “faulty”—implies that anything that a trans person says about their own experience, or about gender more generally, is inherently suspect. It effectively ensures that anything that any cisgender person says about gender or trans people automatically trumps what we have to say about ourselves. In effect, it positions cisgender people as de facto experts on gender variance by virtue of the fact that our minds are supposedly faulty while theirs are not. And in my experience, many cisgender people seem to relish in this supposed expert status.

    Yeah, I’ve run into people who dismiss my understanding of sex/gender as suspect because I’m a “freak” (in their eyes), I have a “freak’s” experiences, and I’m “delusional” about my own nature of self. I filter out my social contacts pretty well so that out-and-out bigots tend to be excluded, but nevertheless, a few have slipped through from time to time. Mostly those people have been ex-family but I run into others from time to time.

    It was far more difficult to deal with people like this when I was younger. It really hurt. But something has changed since I hit my forties. I’ve just stopped giving a shit about cis people’s malformed opinions of me and their clueless understanding of gender. Honestly, I’ve developed a kind of attitude about it. I’ve lived on multiple sides of the gender divide. I have so much more life experience around these issues than the average cis person and because of that experience, I have a well developed understanding of how gender is constructed and how sex/gender based oppression plays out. Plus, I have university training on the matter, too. Now I just look at stubbornly clueless cis people, roll my eyes, and think, “What the fuck ever. You understand so little of what you’re talking about but you think you’re a living, breathing expert. You have no idea what an ass you look like to me.” I find it far easier to dismiss the assholes as assholes these days.

    Then again, I don’t have the public exposure that Julia Serano has. That’s a tough path to walk down. I don’t envy her.

  6. says

    Siobhan says:

    It gives them academic-sounding jargon to say “I hate trans people (esp women)” without having to actually say “I hate trans people.”

    Yes. Good point. Hatred tends to be rendered more socially acceptable if you can deliver the sentiment via an intellectualized envelope. Witness Sam Harris’ recent packaging of vintage racism via his conversation with Charles Murray. “I’m not prejudiced, I’m just an unbiased observer who’s relating well grounded arguments couched in social science/feminist theory/psychological research/blah-blah-insert-hatred-here-blah!”

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