Objectivity & Authenticity: “(Fe)male bodied” / “(Fe)male identified” (Language Politics)
July 31, 2009
Recently I’ve heard a lot of trans people using the phrases “male bodied” and “male identified”, and been kind of thrown.
Most of the problems with “(fe)male bodied” would be pretty apparent from my post about “biological”, but I think that it’s worth discussing here specifically in its contrast to “(fe)male identified,” and “(wo)man identified.”
The problem with ____-identified is that it’s not just _____; what the hell is the point of saying “woman-identified-woman” unless a)you mean a political lesbian (the original meaning of the term) or b)not all women are “woman-identified” or not all who identify as women really are?
This is, I suspect, the exact opposite of what those who use the phrase intend to be conveying–which is, to be clear that they are legitimating the person’s identity, not using “male” and “female” coercively. But its use, like “gender identity” (“we can’t discriminate against trans women because, unlike other men, they have this weird internal identity as women that’s legally protected” as opposed to ‘the right to define one’s own gender is federally protected, and one cannot discriminate on the basis of the reasons underlying that definition’) reserves the unmodified term for other use, rather than using the unmodified term and clarifying if need be (for example, for advertising a woman-only space, ‘questioning the legitimacy of any participant’s womanhood and all other acts of gender policing are unacceptable in this space.’).
“(Fe)male bodied,” on the other hand, is used supposedly as a means of talking about a person without making a judgment on hir identity. But there are two problems: who does “male bodied” refer to, and how do we know?
It’s not always clear, when someone says “male bodied,” whether or not they mean to include me. As I wrote in Biological, it makes no sense to refer to me as “male bodied,” because
1)I identify & define my body as female
2)while some characteristics of my body would be read male under a coercive, “objective” scientific lens, others (e.g. hormone levels; softness, dryness, and depth of skin; breasts; fat distribution, the smell of my sweat) are pretty clearly female.
What “(fe)male bodied” does is try to avoid the messiness of respecting our identities and categorizing us solely that way and find an “objective” way of talking about people that you can use just by looking at them or by knowing their histories. But this Cartesian mind-body dualism is bunk–my body is still my body, and defining it was male or female is still defining me as male or female, and my body is not this thing that exists wholly separate from my mind, that cannot know or feel things or from which my sense of self can be divorced. My sex and my body are my self determination, don’t try to pry in with the crowbar of coercive language.
Part two is that not only do some people use the term to classify me as “male bodied” and others use it to classify me as “female bodied”–but that there’s a reason for this ambiguity. This “objective” “neutral” “real” body that they want to jump to just isn’t there. Some people mean chromosomes, some mean presence or absence of a penis (cunts don’t count y’all), some people mean hormone levels and how your body appears socially, some people just aren’t thinking about trans and intersex people’s bodies. But the assumption of using the phrase is that people will have half a clue of who you mean, which positions all bodies as belonging to pre-acknowledged sexed categories unambiguously and objectively. Regardless of what categories persons are placed in and how transphobic that placement is, by “empowering” the listener to do the placing, the term nullifies self-definition of sex/embodiment, and undermines resistance to the binary medical model for being trans.
So while I fully support all people speaking of their bodies as male and/or female (and/or other possibilities), don’t use “(fe)male bodied” as a category of people (based on body parts) as opposed to an individual’s self definition–even if you’re trans.
My body is my identity, my identity is my body. Don’t try to separate them, I went to a lot of effort to help them learn to play nice with each other.