I can’t count how many times trans men have complained of being “invisible,” or where they (or, admittedly, transphobic cis women) justified paying more or exclusive attention to trans men’s issues because of their “lack of visibility,” or implied that my “visibility” as a trans woman was a form of privilege.

But “(in)visibility” is an incoherent idea. One is not simply “visible” or “invisible” like Harry Potter putting on his cloak–invisibility cloaks don’t exist, some people can see you even if you are wearing one, and one is always standing on the other side of a wall/behind a tree relative to someone, and the near side of the wall/in front of the tree relative to someone else. What “invisibility” universally fails to ask is: to whom is one visible, and why? Under what circumstances, and in what light? Am I visible to the friend looking out hir window for a houseguest, through the binoculars of a peeping tom, or within the crosshairs of a sniper rifle? The concept “invisibility” implies that these things are all linearly correlated, so that as my chances of being harassed on the street go up, so do my chances of finding a partner who will know about and be sensitive to my issues and be a fierce advocate for me, and the fact that trans men don’t get murdered at anything approaching the same rate as trans women, drag queens, and crossdressers is something that will change as they get more spots on Oprah.*


These things are only weakly correlated:

  • Trans women are the targets of the large majority (though by no means all) of cis feminist transphobia, and almost all pathologizing/objectifying/fetishizing/misgendering/transphobic/non-feminist sociological, psychological, sexological, and anthropological research, while trans men and (conflatedly) FAAB genderqueers get the bulk of positive, sympathetic (though not necessarily trans-positive) feminist research (MAAB genderqueers, in this scheme, are subsumed into drag queens/crossdressers/trans women).

  • Trans women have the overwhelming edge on number of autobiographies–the surviving ones, for some weird reason, are all (with two mid-90’s trans-woman-bashing-smash-the-gender-binary exceptions) of the disempowered, desexualized, pity-me medical model variety, despite empowered trans woman writers of the period like Susan Stryker, Sandy Stone, and Angela Douglass (who did, in fact, write an unpublished autobiography) and several (also problematic) pornographic autobiographies no longer extant (see Joanne Meyerowitz, How Sex Changed, 198-202)–but trans men’s books have, on the whole, taken a much more empowered line, with sexuality discussed on their own terms in a non fetishizing way. As Serano writes in Whipping Girl, these were the only stories of trans women’s lives that were allowed to be told. (Some might say better something problematic than nothing, and while there’s limited truth to that up until sometime in the 1990s, there’s no room for argument in 2009.)

  • And though with Serano’s book there is a public and empowered voice for white trans women’s issues, and films such as Still Black attempt to broadcast the admittedly under-publicized lives, voices, and issues of trans men of color, our women of color’s self-advocacy has never or almost never been amplified by publishing or filmmaking institutions–yet trans women of color are all over self-published media (the blogosphere)–and murder reports and fetishizing/exploitative media articles, that almost universally omit their voices and ideas. (see my 2008 post about this phenomenon.) The closest thing to an exception would be Paris is Burning–and if you’ve read Butler and Prosser on the subject, you’ll likely agree that it’s not really an exception (though it is a highly enjoyable film).

To oversimplify: trans women are visible: as a sexual threat, as sex objects, as objects of derision and hate, and as objects of pity. Trans men are visible: as potential partners, as activists and revolutionaries, as an “invisible” group that deserves your advocacy, and (recently) as parents. The Thomas Beatie case is the exception that proves the rule–the unusually degrading media treatment that drew totally justified anger and analysis happened only in response to his pregnancy and open defiance of cisnormativity and transphobic eugenics, where that kind of media coverage is par for the course for trans women regardless of what they do, and doesn’t get that kind of attention, analysis, and anger simply because it is so common. And, you know, because fewer people and institutions care. That many trans men victim-blamed Beatie for this coverage and were angry about this making them “look bad” represents a tacit understanding that “visibility” isn’t inherently good or bad, but only good or bad relative to specific circumstances and situations.

Let’s dump “visibility”–and start thinking about to whom, as what, under what circumstances, when, why, to what end, and at what cost.

*(A bit of a tangent: Related is the idea that trans men pass better either a)because people don’t think about trans men or b)because testosterone is powerful, manly, and dominant while estrogen is submissive and weak, rather than being related to a)the ways in which masculinity is seen as natural and femininity as artificial and suspect (see Whipping Girl) and b)male as default (see Kessler and McKenna, Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach chapter 6 “Toward a Theory of Gender, also anthologized in The Transgender Studies Reader, Stryker and Whittle, eds. See the overlay study in particular, which talks about how “male” gender cues count *much* more strongly toward gender attribution than “female” gender cues.)

EDIT 3:20 AM– General Note: For about half an hour after a post is first published, I’m revising it, generally without “edit” notations. I always intend it to be done before it’s published, but it never is/HTML doesn’t work out the way it’s supposed to, etc. The substance stays the same, (this time it was trying to get the spaces in between the bullet pointed paragraphs plus “to oversimplify”) but if you’re wondering “did something just change?” …it might have. After half an hour, though, I generally include a note. and my half hour’s up.


August 14, 2009

I know I’m a bit late to the party, but there’s this meme going around that “cis” is an insult and we shouldn’t use it.

I think it’s high time we admitted it: “Cis” IS an insult.

That’s right. Because by calling you cis, we’re calling you no better than a fucking tranny*, and THAT, my friends, is one of the worst insults we’ve got in US culture. We’re calling you no more real than us, and we’re not real. We’re calling you no more a woman than us, that you deserve no more respect than us, and in your eyes, that means tranny-alert.com, that means Ann Coulter jokes, that means it’s fine for the general public to post videos of your genitals all over the internet with big purple arrows and random fetishizing speculations, and fire you unless you show us photos of your genitals. It’s saying you can’t apply makeup. It’s insulting your penis size and your manhood. It’s saying that the only difference between us is that you think you’re better than us.

Hell yeah, it’s an insult. Well, that is, so long as you’re unwilling to give up on cis supremacy.

*Obviously, I mean this in the un-reclaimed, insulting sense of the word.

(Also, I’d like to note, that the OP claims that PHB commenters and bloggers would all stop calling trans people trans if we asked them to. I call BULLSHIT, there’s no way they would honor that, they’d make jokes about how ludicrous this request was.)

In response to Objectivity & Authenticity, my post about (fe)male bodied/identified, there was a lot of “yes you’re so right! Thank you!” and a lot of “Well, what do I use instead????”, not infrequently from the same people.

“What do I use instead” frustrates the hell out of me, and is the reason I try (not always succeeding) and writing my language posts on topics rather than terms. If you look at the Language Politics main page you’ll have an idea of what I was hoping to get to. Most of the time I hear this objection, it’s worse than it was here, but even so I was still pretty upset by it.

What you use instead? YOU DON’T.

You say what you mean. Which is never “fe/male bodied,” “bio[ ]boy,” or “GG,” almost never “XX chromosomed” or “born male” and only rarely “person with a penis/vulva”. As mentioned in both Objectivity and Authenticity AND Biological (please read before commenting if you haven’t already *cough* Jasper *cough*), using these terms (with some exceptions) represents a reluctance to give up an entitlement granted by cissexual supremacy–a categorization scheme that makes naming others easy and objecting to that naming impossible. This entitlement is granted to everyone, cis and trans alike–it’s just that trans and genderqueer people have more incentive to get it out of their heads than cissexual-cisgender people do, and we each have incentives to get different parts of it out. And you know? It’s seductive. It makes your life simpler and easier and your sentences shorter. And it’s violent.

There are some times when what you really mean is “person with a penis.” If you’re giving a workshop about CBT (link NSFW), that’s what you mean. It matters somewhat whether the bottom is a cis man, trans man, or trans woman, but realistically, you’re talking about manipulating tissue–bodies–NOT how those bodies are socially positioned or perceived–which is almost always what we’re REALLY talking about. You’re talking about a very specific part of the body, NOT the body as a whole, and that body may be cis, trans, and/or intersex; male, female, and/or other. However, in the vast majority of cases, centering the discussion on trans people’s genitals is a)objectifying and gross, b)reinscribing/strengthening the dominant transphobic categorization scheme, and c)not actually what you mean.

Language use is a practice, not a you-figured-it-out-now-you’re-done, and with this issue, you have to work at inspecting your own thoughts to see where transphobia’s invaded and how to fix it. So, I’m going to go through someone else’s thoughts-as-written-in-a-comment and go through the process with you. Even though I’m responding to some people individually, I hope that the larger point is illuminated through these examples, and the reason this is a post, not a comment, is clear. Here’s part of one comment:

I ID as (male) genderqueer. Testosterone has marked my body for everyone to see. Those markers are the reason why I am harassed and policed when I express femininity. My body marks me as ‘other’ in Queer and Trans spaces where 95% of the people were born with vaginas. The markers make me an ‘unsuitable’ dating partner for queer girls. Testosterone markers makes MTF discrimination so much more intense than for FTMs. These markers make crossdressing for me life threatening compared to a butch or a boi.
So in order to make this discrimination visible and to be able to talk about it and change it, I am searching for a word which indicates a testosterone-marked body. (emphasis mine)

You said it, Jasper, all I had to do was bold it–your body appears/is perceived as male, cissexually male even. Because everything you say here is about how you’re perceived, how you’re socially positioned based on how you look. You might want to say that you’re read as male. It’s not clear whether you identify your own body as male, but if you do, then that counts for some things, though if you want to distinguish your body from trans male bodies then you’ll have to call it cis male. It also sounds like you want to talk about how you’re socially positioned by others independent of how you look or identify–“generally read as” “generally treated as” “consistently positioned as” etc all work– because they’re what you mean.

What I italicized, though, is not only seriously gross and transphobic, not only having well-publicized and easily articulated less offensive alternatives (female assigned at birth/FAAB)–it’s also not what you mean. Even apart from the “have you conducted a survey?” aspect (a problem which FAAB shares), whether or not a percentage of people are “born with” a vagina isn’t the issue, the issue is that the (or a) presumed rule of belonging is ‘that you’re someone we would call (or would still call) a woman if weren’t being so hip-and-trans-friendly.’ What I mean to say here is that it’s NOT the attendees–who may or may not fit the body categories you ascribe to them–but about attitudes, presumptions, vibes, unspoken rules, legitimacy, etc. It sounds like what you mean is that only FAAB people are constructed as legitimate participants/the dominant construction of legitimate participants is that they are FAAB, or that to be seen as belonging, you have to enable and tolerate being perceived as a cis woman. (Because trans men have been known to avoid some of these spaces for these reasons, and trans women have been known to go stealth) But not being there OR in your head, I don’t know exactly what it is that you mean–which is another reason you should say what you mean and not use shorthand.

One part of “saying what you mean” is unpacking all the different things one might mean by “female bodied”, some of which are legit but not under that phrase, and others not:
b)having a vulva
c)having a [real] vulva
d)being perceived/read as/passing as/appearing female (e.g. on the street)
e)looking cisnormatively female / being able to pass as a cis woman (under x circumstances or under all circumstances)
f)living as a woman outside of queer settings
g)living as a woman as far as the State is concerned
h)when (not if, when) you absolutely have to choose “male” or “female”, choosing female.
i)[really a woman]
j)having the possibility of getting pregnant

None of those things map exactly onto identity OR onto each other, but in cis culture, these are all the same thing, and supposedly they’re all about bodies, which the majority aren’t.

I need to go to sleep, hope this all made sense and worked.

So, in the comments of my February post You Call Those Statistics?, Clarisse raised the point that numbers shouldn’t be the issue, no-one-deserves-to-be-oppressed should be the issue:

the argument to dismantle gender expectations, cis privilege, et cetera should not be based on numbers/percentages of transpeople. I know that’s not necessarily what you’re saying, but I wanted to point it out — and to make a note that I think is just generally so important and worth repeating, viz: basing any argument against oppression on how many people are affected by that oppression means moving away from the central point (which should be “no one deserves to be oppressed”) and towards an unproductive numbers game.

Totally randomly, I noticed a post I’d bookmarked back in April that gets more to the point of one reason statistics and numbers matter, In Tough Economic Times, Transphobia Will Get Alberta Out of Debt.

Uppity Brown Woman quotes xtra.ca for the gist of the issue:

The Alberta government delisted funding for gender reassignment surgery this week, and trans activists are quickly organizing to push for the program’s reinstatement.

In Tuesday’s budget, the province announced it was cutting the GRS program to save $700,000 a year. Alberta plans to spend $12.9 billion on healthcare in 2009, according to figures released this week. The GRS program funded surgeries for between 10 and 20 people a year.

Since the program apparently only funds 10-20 surgeries per year, and given that $700,000 /10 = $70,000, or /20 =$35,000 which is just ever-so-slightly more than SRS really costs (17,000 CAD with Brassard, last I heard), I’m assuming that it covers hormones and counseling as well as is just being talked about as surgery ‘coz that’s what cis people understand. Can anyone confirm or deny this?

So, $700,000 sounds like a lot of money, right? I mean out of 12.9 billion that’s gotta be a chunk, right?
700k/12.9b = 0.00005426, or 0.005% of the budget. This is where statistics come in.

If trans people are 1 out of every 500 people, then it seems like 1/500th of the budget for healthcare is certainly not *more* than we deserve, likely less; similarly, if we’re 1 in 11,900 or 1 in 30,400 or 2 in (11,900+30,400). If the program covers hormones and counseling, and all forms of trans related bottom surgery, then it should be a pretty substantial percentage of our healthcare costs, regardless of whether or not it also includes FFS/top surgery/BA/electrolysis/binders/prostheses/etc.

12.9 billion CAD / 500 = 25.8 million CAD.
700,000 / 25,800,000 = 0.027, or 3 percent of our 1/500th of the budget.

I think it’d be pretty reasonable to say that SRS, and in particular hormones, counseling, and SRS combined, are worth 3% of the healthcare dollars allotted to the trans community. (Remember, those of you that are young and able/not-chronically-ill, that the amount spent per person per year goes up drastically with age, so that while hormones & counseling might be drastically more than what you and your temporarily-able-bodied 20-something friends spend on non-trans-related medical care, it’s a small fraction of what the average 70 year old spends. Those of us with disabilities or non-trans-related chronic illnesses will probably find 3% somewhat less shocking. This is in no way to minimize the huge burden of those already-economically-marginalized paying-out-of-pocket-as-if-uninsured-whether-or-not-you-are for care, which generally increases the cost by a factor of 5-10.)

.51/30,400 + .49/11,900 = 21,335
12.9 billion CAD / 21,000 = 614,285.
700,000/610,000 = 1.147, or 110% of the budget that would be reserved for our population if our healthcare needs were 100% average.

Now, our healthcare needs ARE above average, and that’s OK, and if these figures were correct (which they’re not, duh) it still wouldn’t justify “delisting” the services as if we were taking everyone’s money and running with it. However, I think the difference between denying us 3% of what’s due to the average person and denying us 110% should be pretty clear; with bad statistics, aided by the “10-20 surgeries per year”, this seems like an exorbitant amount of money to spend per person, but with better stats, it shows the action for what it is–throwing our life vests overboard on a ship in danger of sinking “to save weight.”