Hi lovelies, Shiv here again. I’ll start with a brief aside: thanks for the supportive messages regarding my last post! Y’all barely know me and you’re offering me those nice messages. It was small, but meant a lot. 🙂
Without further ado:
Transition Reactions is my series of essays covering the way people respond to my gender transition. It will generally speak exclusively of my experiences as a trans woman but will also inevitably intersect with my various other axes of life. This is not a data intensive series (those will come later) and mostly only speaks to my particular experience.
Content Notice — cissexism
One of the more bewildering reactions I’ve had when attempting to educate people on transgender specific terminology is anger: Why do you need all these extra words? I would think the answer is self evident–“because the existing terminology is not adequate”–but that’s not the question that’s really being asked. What they’re actually saying is, why don’t you just accept the way I’m treating you? Why do you have to be offended by everything? Why should I have to change to accommodate you?
I was invited to attend an erotic massage class as a masseuse. The class was marketed as being “for women,” but the demo was performed on an AFAB cis woman. Here we were learning to manipulate AFAB genitalia–something I do not have–and while I was enjoying the material itself very thoroughly, I couldn’t help but sink on the inside. “Women do this, women do that” coupled with a clitoris, vulva and vagina. What of the women who don’t do that, or that, because they weren’t AFAB?
The instructor, who apparently valued my opinion, asked me for feedback and I told them honestly: I loved learning the material, (I’m sure my AFAB partners will too), but it was categorically excluding me because I do not have AFAB genitals. I told them I couldn’t attend their next class for men because I wouldn’t be able to stomach having them point at a penis and testes and go “men do this men do that.” It was clearly designed to be taught to cisgender people for whom genitals and gender are interchangeable. It was, albeit unintentionally, gender essentialist.
Naturally, the instructor accused me of tilting at windmills. Not their words, but that was the crux of their response.
Yes, the great irony in cis defensiveness: “That word makes a lot of presumptions and it makes me uncomfortable. This word is more accurate” turns into “OMG WHY ARE YOU MAKING AN ENEMY OF ME I LIKE YOU.” Like throwing a temper tantrum over the observation that you can’t solve a jigsaw puzzle with spare marbles, I’m somehow the villain for pointing out an oversight: the vocabulary of that class did not reflect my reality.
So, I don’t accept their treatment of me because it makes me feel gross; I’m not offended, I’m just observing that the material is not meant for trans folk; they didn’t have to change to accommodate me, but if they wanted me at their next class, they would have to call it a class for AMAB folk and not “men”–and as this was deemed unacceptable after some unnecessary “I AM YOUR FRIEND!!” shouting, I did not attend their next class. Or remain their friend.
C’est la vie.
Why would I prefer a phrase like AMAB for an erotic massage class in which I am ostensibly welcome? To get you up to speed: AMAB means “assigned male at birth.” It has a sister term, AFAB, assigned female at birth. I prefer the use of these terms because they can describe my reality perfectly. No one asked me if I wanted to be male, I never selected it, it was a property prescribed to me based off an educated guess on my genitals. The only reason 8 year-old me would say I was a boy was because no one fucking told me I had another option. And now that I have contextualized my experience, I will absolutely reject all further attempts to associate me with maleness. It is not unfair to say that others gave me the property by using the term AMAB, but it absolutely is unfair to disregard my opinion of that designation by saying I am “male” or that I am served by an erotic massage class for “women” where no attempt to describe my anatomy–the subject of the eroticism in a massage–is made.
But wait, there’s more! You can also describe cis people this way! Fucking radical!
Yes, we all receive a gender assignment at birth based on what our genitals look like. That’s not a particularly contentious statement, or at least it shouldn’t be. I’d be totally stoked if cis folk started describing themselves as AMAB and AFAB too, because then it would normalize discussions of gender variance by putting trans folk on an equal playing field. Would us trans folk be different? Yes. Uncommon? Sure. But not abnormal such that the existing language breaks when attempting to describe us. And it has the bonus of also putting intersex people on that same level playing field.
You don’t have to care about using these more specific descriptors–it’s a free country, after all. But you don’t get to freely conflate gender and anatomy for 3 hours and be indignant when trans folk decline to attend your class because they don’t meet that description. We do it all the time, because most cis folk fuck this sort of thing up. If you actually give a shit about serving the needs of trans folk, then you’re going to have to learn that our realities are not captured by the status-quo of language, and your word choices have an influence over whether we feel validated or erased by your presence. And when presented with a choice as to whether or not we want to subject ourselves to that kind of treatment, you can’t be surprised if we say “no thanks” every now and then. We get it everywhere else we go, sometimes we need a break.
(I’m legit tempted to start a genderqueer erotic massage workshop as a result of this experience)