Combatting “Combatting Ignorance” Part 3 (of 4): Cis Denial, Self-Knowledge, and Sexist Epistemology
February 24, 2010
This is the third in a
three four part series. See the first and second posts. I’ll link to the fourth here once it’s up.
My three part series just became a four part series, as I realized the issues raised in part two weren’t fully addressed, and raised other issues.
My primary contention in part two was that cis people know a lot more about trans people, our identities, and how we should be referred to than they think they do. I frame the significance of this point primarily in terms of accountability–that cis people who have enough privilege to not be in danger of being labeled systemically ignorant (a thread from part one) are let off the hook far too easily.
But there’s another point of significance for that same data: if cis people don’t know how much they know, could we call that lack of knowledge ignorance? What kinds of lack of knowledge count as ignorance (and what don’t), and what aspects of transphobia get erased as a consequence? What else do cis people not know that doesn’t count under the logic of ignorance?
The kind of lack of knowledge I’m alluding to in part two is not a lack of knowledge about trans people, our lives, our experiences, our issues, or the proper terminology–knowledge cis people have far more of than they’re willing to admit–but a lack of self knowledge.
Framed this way–as cis people’s inability to understand the way that they themselves think–part two brings a whole host of “ignorances” into view.
For me, the most infamous example of cis people failing to understand the way they themselves think is in the realm of what constitutes sex. If you ask a cis person to define what “biological” sex is, nine times out of ten they’ll cite genitalia or chromosomes. But this doesn’t conform to their actual behavior in daily life, at all. If cis people *actually* believed this, they’d be unable to tell what sex someone was unless they undressed or had a blood test. Quite the contrary, even transphobic, coercive sex attribution in everyday life is based on readily identifiable criteria completely different from those most frequently cited by cis people–namely, a person’s voice and face; body contours having a much smaller (but still appreciable) role.
Kessler and McKenna are invaluable here:
Physical genitals belong only to physical (genderless) bodies and consequently are not part of the social world. Attributed genitals are constructed out of our ways of envisioning gender and always exist in everyday interactions. Males have cultural penises and females have no cultural penises, even cardboard drawings wearing plastic pants. How else are we to understand the participants in the overlay study who claimed that the way to change a clothed male figure into a female was to “remove the penis,” or the child who sees a picture of a person in a suit and tie and says: “It’s a man because he has a pee-pee.”
Furthermore, in their overlay study, in which male and female gender cues are added to otherwise gender neutral drawings of bodies (e.g. penis/vagina, body and/or facial hair, breasts/flat chest, wide/narrow hips, and hair length) K&M found that while the presence of a penis created near consensus in terms of gender attribution (96%), the presence of a vagina did not–more than one third of the naked figures with vaginas were seen as male by study participants (151). Yet I think you’d have a hard time finding a cis person who was aware of thinking that penis = male, but vagina != female. (This also has obvious implications for the different stakes that trans men and women have in getting naked; see 152.)
So, my point is, you have a bunch of cis people walking around attributing gender to other people and completely unaware of the process by which they actually do so, instead living in a fable that serves little purpose other than to undermine trans people’s understandings of ourselves as male, female, or otherwise. While cissexualist definitions of sex conveniently justify the oppression of trans people, they have remarkably poor descriptive power.
To take it to a (strange) personal anecdote, this summer in New York I was harassed by this guy yelling “that is a MAN” at me, at the top of his lungs. He seemed to be trying to impress his friends, but–interestingly–he got more disapproval than praise from them, and the way the situation played out several of them decided I was cis. That night or the following evening–I can’t remember which–the same guy rode a small bicycle up to me and the person I was visiting, and continued to harass me, though with less certainty. My friend talked back to him for me, and in the ensuing interchange, he was too distracted by the tasks of riding a bicycle and responding to her challenges to use the wrong pronoun–he used “her,” at the same time that he was calling me a man.
This also plays into another way that cis people fail to understand themselves–the belief that as soon as a trans person is read, the reader will then treat that person as a member of hir birth sex. This is perhaps most apparent in sexualized harassment of trans women–no one would come up to me and grab my breasts if he was actually treating me as a man, but this has happened to me on multiple occasions, including once where a straight cis guy then managed to use male pronouns about me and hit on me. Tranny-alert.com’s sexualizing, objectifying discourse was directed at trans women for a reason. J Michael Bailey refers to trans women as men, yet sexualizes and objectifies us. Gender clinicians that have no respect for our identities will still dissect our presentation, appearance, and attractiveness in excruciating detail–and not do the same thing to trans men. While the fact that trans men’s incomes increase only very slightly as a result of transition is often explained as trans men being treated as women (and trans women having economic privilege), in the context of trans women’s incomes dropping by a third at transition, one has to consider it a matter of intersectionality and the interactions between trans status and male/female gender/sex, where we are treated as the sex we present as.
There is a level of cisnormativity below which one’s presentation as a woman or man becomes unrecognizable, and one is treated as one’s birth sex, albeit a potentially gender variant one. But what I see in my own life as someone who’s sufficiently cisnormative to be recognizable is that when I’m read or outed, sexism against me intensifies, instead of being ameliorated.
So why have so many cis feminists written books that depend for their coherence on the notion that they treat trans women as men?
My last example here is the listing of “sex” on drivers’ licenses and other forms of identification. If you asked the DMV why that category was on your DL, or the State Department why it was on your passport, I’m pretty sure you’d just get blank stares, and almost positive that they would position the policy as having nothing to do with trans people, that its unfortunate consequences for trans people are necessary but completely accidental. My guess is that there, and particularly among cis (or even trans!) laypeople, the common assumption would be that the use was driven by complete ignorance of the existence of trans people.
But consider why identification exists–to prevent people from impersonating someone else, faking an identity–and the links to transphobia become immediately obvious. The sex designation on ID wouldn’t exist if those giving the ID didn’t think it was important to prevent fraudulent claims to maleness or femaleness, a concern which is only relevant if they think that there are people who will attempt to fraudulently claim sexed identities–trans people. Now, granted, it also makes sense in the context of fearing someone crossdressing only for the purpose of committing a crime and not because of any internal sense of hir gender, but even that acknowledges that the *actual* reason for this practice is to protect against a trans and/or gender transgressive menace. I find it highly doubtful that many cis people would understand that as the motivation behind their drivers’ licenses having a “sex” category. In fact, the practice of including a sex on ID is justified by the supposed naturalness and immutability of sex–that is, the non-existence of the same trans people that the practice is designed to “protect” cissexuality from. In the process of producing government identification, trans people are first raised as a spectre to be warded against, and then immediately erased and denied.
What does it mean that cis people are that clueless about the motivations of their own actions, the motivations of the institutions to which they belong or on which they depend? Isn’t it kind of troubling to think of cis people as being fundamentally not-self-aware, or to think that trans people might better understand what a cis person is thinking than that cis person hirself?
This is a kind of ignorance that I find deeply unsettling, yet it’s not legible as ignorance, because it’s fundamentally about self-knowledge. And here’s where we get to sexist epistemology: the kinds of knowledge that to lack is called “ignorance” are more likely to be coded masculine–terminology, politics, etc–and are all public sphere, whereas cis people’s lack of knowledge coded feminine and private sphere–self-knowledge–is not. Thus, “ignorance”‘s epistemology–theory of knowledge–values masculine knowledge over feminine knowledge.
Self-knowledge cannot be taught in trans 101 workshops, nor can one ever completely deny accountability for a lack of it. It’s a much more arduous process to obtain self knowledge than to learn the “right terminology,” and the process is fundamentally one that has to be self-driven. In some ways, this understanding of what knowledge cis people lack is deeply dispiriting–while it takes the onus off trans people to educate cis people, it also implies that much of what cis people need to learn we *can’t* teach them or pressure them to learn, that they can only learn through a painful process of introspection few are motivated enough to attempt, and which it’s incredibly difficult (impossible?) to hold individuals accountable for whether or not they do. It’s also dispiriting in that if ending transphobia depends on skills that are devalued as feminine and are deliberately undermined by capitalism and advertising, it makes the project that much more daunting.
But I think it’s the reality we have to live with, and strategize in.
Part 4: Transphobia as Authoritative Knowledge Claims
This is the first in a
three four part series. The second is here and the third here. When the fourth is posted and written, I’ll link it here.
But what does it mean that this–“ending ‘ignorance'”–is our battle cry?
“Ignorance” calls up two images. The first image is of homophobia and transphobia, hate, bigotry, etc.–the one intentionally referenced by HRC, NGLTF, GLAAD, et al. OK. But what about the other image, or other part of the image, raised by the word–of the uneducated, elderly, rural or working class, poor, people of color or (to use the busted, racist and classist logic of the image) “white trash,” Fox-News watching Red-staters or people from the “third world” who need to be “civilized” (to, again, use the logic of the image).
Huh. What about that?
These are, of course, the people hegemonic liberal discourse teaches us to assume are homophobic, transphobic, racist, etc.–not health insurance executives, doctors, therapists, the police, Women’s Studies PhD’s, queer theorists, anthropologists, biologists, journalists, cis LGB folks, or (to be US-centric) policy wonks writing the REAL ID act, the FDA, the Social Security Administration, the State Department (in charge of passports), etc. Not the people with a lot of knowledge, education, and power. That is to say, not the people in charge, not the “good people,” not, oh say, you.
I’ll be honest–the people who transphobically harass me on the street are, by an overwhelming margin, young cis black men culturally pre-defined as “ignorant”. I’m not making that up, I can give you numbers if I have to. But the people who’ve harassed me at work, the people who’ve trans bashed me, and the people who’ve groped me (because I’m trans and female, not those who presume I’m cis) are all white (and cis) to a person–not all male, not all straight, of varied educational, class, and regional backgrounds, but all white (and that’s not representative of the demographics where I’ve worked). Any number of people from my educational institution have said highly transphobic shit to me or in my hearing–that is, all highly educated, socially pre-defined as knowledgeable, generally middle/upper class–and who does that is not strongly distributed by race, age, or whether they’re prof or student.** But the people who make the decisions and form the arguments that fuck with my life the most have a disproportionate amount of privilege, education, and power.
Targeting the ones that get culturally pre-defined as “ignorant” might be tempting, because their offenses are frequently the most highly visible, and (relatedly) least culturally sanctioned, but it’s those culturally pre-defined as “knowledgeable” that do me the most damage, and thus, through a privilege+power rubric, are most transphobic. Who’s worse, the most “ignorant” “redneck” (supposedly) embodying every awful anti-rural stereotype, or J Michael Bailey, who has a PhD and sits in the halls of knowledge?
So when we construe transphobia as about “ignorance,” not only have we engaged with classism, racism, and colonialism, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot and let the worst offenders off the hook.
Part 2: How Could You Have Known? –You Already Did.
Part 3: Cis Denial, Self-Knowledge, and Sexist Epistemology
Part 4: Transphobia as Authoritative Knowledge Claims
*Interestingly, NCTE seems to mostly eschew the use of this word–a google site search turned up only 5 results, compared to 94 for HRC, 96 for NGLTF, and 46 from GLAAD. Good for them.
**My program is so overwhelmingly female that an accounting by gender is impossible; the majority of the comments come from (cis) women, but that’s who’s in the program.
EDIT 2-24-10 to account for addition of a fourth part to series.
August 27, 2009
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.
July 16, 2009
I cannot stand it when people make me choose between their white and someone else’s black
But when they tell me it’s all shades of gray,
I see red.
I do not live in the demilitarized zone between male and female—
that place is armed to the teeth
and I have chosen sides.
I am not between, I am Other, I am deserter,
And for that they will hunt me to the ends of the earth,
They will ask me if I practiced sounding like a woman and yell that I am a MAN,
As if saying it would make it true,
As if these combat boots would ever march for them,
As if they didn’t know that.
I speak “shibboleth,” fording the river of our tears and our blood,
But when you outstretch your welcoming arms, will they have bayonets?
Will you assuage the guilt of stabbing my sisters by treating my wounds
Or by casting me out?
When we expose your prejudice, when we won’t shut up,
will you plant your guns in our hands?
will you make believe we threatened you with our flesh?
as you did to Diana Courvant and the women who didn’t actually shower at Michfest?
Will you do it on the same day you pull a knife on my friend for being on the land
and tell her you can’t control yourself?
Or will it be the day you watch me trapped against the wall
and punched in the face?
Will you reproach your friend for getting in the middle of a fight,
while you look on?
Will you praise the words of those you saw “not see it happen”
And ignore my rescuers and advocates, those who were there?
Will you be “shocked!” that gay men, that white men, would do this to me?
Will you reproach my anger at black men’s harassment while disbelieving white men’s fists?
When HRC lobbies for transphobic discrimination,
Will you still tell us to focus on the people who do real violence?
When I, passing, duck behind my bike from a black woman swinging her shoe at my head
Will you still insist that violence against oppressors is righteous?
Will you, the white anti-racist in a white neighborhood in a white city
quote statistics and tell me it was a fluke?
Or will you insist that everything is shades of gray, that it’s complicated,
And ask what if my body, my presence, my existence was triggering for [real] survivors?
Will you ever see our blood, our tears, our scars?
Will you ever see our lips, our blush?
Will you ever see the blood on your own hands?
Will you ever see the wounds from your righteous, “friendly” fire?
Because until then,
I’ll be seeing red.
May 8, 2009
Last time around, not having read The Man Who Would Be Queen except for exerpts/quotes, I wrote about how the two type/Blanchard-Bailey-Lawrence (BBL) theory is misogynistic/regulates female sexuality. I stand by everything I wrote there, but I’m pissed at how much discussions of the book hinge only on the autogynephilia part, and neglect the ridiculous racism/classism of the “homosexual transsexual” (by which we mean straight trans women) section.
Seriously, it’s so bad it’s hard to even talk about. But, among other things, he says [straight] trans women are mostly [W]OC with below average IQ, and are trans (rather than being gay boys) because they come from lower-class non-white broken households and don’t have enough ambition or family support to ‘defeminize,’ and there are more Latina trans [women] because of machismo.
I SHIT YOU NOT.
He’s yet to come out and say that black/Latin@ and lower-class people are bad parents and should have their kids taken away from them, but he does seem to think that 20% MOC in his gay boy sample is a perfectly standard percentage for Chicago residents, whereas 60% TWOC needs remarking on.
As of the 2000 census,…The racial makeup of the city was 41.97% White, 36.77% Black, 4.35% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 0.36% Native American, 13.58% from other races, and 2.92% from two or more races. 26.02% of the population were Hispanic of any race. 21.72% of the population was foreign born; of this, 56.29% came from Latin America, 23.13% from Europe, 17.96% from Asia and 2.62% from other parts of the world. The 2007 community survey for the U.S. Census showed little variation
Alma has also noticed, as I have, the large number of Latina transsexuals. In Chicago, there are several bars that cater to Latina transsexuals. About 60 percent of the homosexual transsexuals [sic] and drag queens we studied were Latina or black. The proportion of nonwhite subjects in our studies of ordinary gay men [sic] is typically only about 20 percent. …Another transsexual, remarking on the same phenomenon, attributed it to ethnic gender roles: “My culture is very macho and intolerant of female behavior in men. It is easier just to become a woman.”
J Michael Bailey, The Man Who Would Be Queen, 183-4.
(It might be argued that he’s not endorsing the claim about machismo, because the next line starts “I am not sure of about the validity of all of Alma’s observations, much less her theories”–but it wasn’t Alma who made that statement, thus the statement isn’t disavowed by the disclaimer, which constitutes tacit endorsement.)
Ken Zucker…tried to predict which boys with [GID] would still have the disorder when they become adolescents. Adolescents with GID are much rarer and presumably much closer to being transsexual. Zucker found several predictors of adolescent GID: lower IQ, lower social class, immigrant status, non-intact family, and childhood behavior problems unrelated to [GID].[‘Coz IQ tests are totally unproblematic.]
They [straight trans women] are outcasts as children because of their extreme femininity. They mostly come from poor, broken families, and family rejection is common.
A feminine boy from a middle-class or upper-middle-class family (such as Danny’s) has more motivation to “hang in there” until he normalizes his gender role behavior, because he has a good chance at a conventionally successful future. Defeminization might also require more ambition and family support than some homosexual transsexuals possess.
Their customers, of course, are not gay men. They are either unwary straight men or men looking for she-males.) This kind of prostitution is dangerous, especially for transsexuals, whose customers sometimes do not know what they are… The rate of HIV infection among transsexual streetwalkers is very hight, partly due to the high rate of intravenous drug use. [while injection HRT is the same as recreational IV drugs for HIV risk, the implication is pretty offensive.]
their taste in clothing is much more expensive than their income allows… In female impersonator shows, transsexuals often wear designer gowns, which are widely believed (by other transsexuals) to have been acquired via the five-fingered discount. [yep, it’s totally that those irresponsible black/Latina/poor people just want to live beyond their means, not an occupational expenditure…]
April 23, 2009
I am *so* glad that the jury understood that killing trans women is wrong, that killing individual trans women to threaten/do violence to the entire community is wrong, is *worse* than a non-bias murder, not more-acceptable.
That it took the jury only two hours makes my relief even greater. For once, it wasn’t (that) hard for people to acknowledge that we deserve to live our lives–that Angie Zapata deserved to live her life–to refute the message that crime was intended to send. In that this action holds Andrade in-some-way-accountable, in that it affirms Angie’s humanity after it had been so brutally stripped from her, and after the defense attorneys continued to deny it to her–I am clichéing with joy over the ruling. To be honest I didn’t really have that much faith in cis humanity. Well done.
What I’m iffy about is the repetition that this is “justice.” That ‘punishment’ and ‘retribution’ posthumously help Angie Zapata.
In the framework of the criminal legal system–and that’s the only framework we’ve got right now–this is ‘best’ outcome we can get, this is what “justice” is, what “justice” for Angie Zapata is. But I can’t help but have misgivings about a “solution” that supports the PIC (prison industrial complex), that rallies support among trans and queer people for an institution that routinely victimizes us, an institution we should be critiquing and finding alternatives for.
I mean, think if one of the components of his sentence was to have to apologize in person, individually, to all of her family, all of her friends, and (not individually, but a large number of small groups) the whole community affected state-/nation-/world-wide, and have to listen to everything they/we have to say. What if one of the components of his sentence was to help erect a building that would be a center for trans people, or to toil at making a monument for her–rather than building Wal-Mart’s (that victimize the poor, and trans folks are disproportionately poor), operating a call center for the GOP (ditto), and making military supplies (supporting the military’s trans exclusion, hypermasculinity-which-breeds-trans-misogyny, sexism, rape, violence, killing untold numbers of brown people all over the world, and supporting US imperialism)? What if we had a vision of justice that didn’t include getting excited about raping people you think ‘deserve’ it? A vision that doesn’t support the very institutionalized violence that victimizes trans people–particularly but not only trans women, particularly but not only of color?
What kind of “justice” furthers the very violence it attempts to punish?
EDIT: Also, WTF is this, Lurleen & Mirelle? …Thank you to the rest of the commenters for not taking the derail bait, (I mean, really, how bald can you really be about it?) but I think I’d’ve moderated that out.
EDIT #2: Apparently this was a person’s signature rather than the comment itself; my WTF was about suddenly-making-it-about-marriage.
As with my post about the Standards of Care, I find myself not wanting to wade into the fray about Bailey/Blanchard/Lawrence or ‘autogynephilia’. It’s petty, it’s the same damn thing everybody’s always talking about, we all go around in circles and fume and we don’t go anywhere.
Part of my reluctance comes from the fact that so much of the response against it has been couched in sex-negative terms that end up as apology for cissexual supremacy and gender coercion. Why the hell should we care *why* people transition? If it makes you happier, *go do it*. Controlling your own body and sex and gender isn’t a privilege granted to the worthy or the people who’ve got the “right reasons”, it’s a fundamental right. Really, if we say that sexual motivations for things aren’t bad or invalid, then why is the two-type theory a problem? (Note: that link? Super problematic.)
I’m also aware that it, as a theory, had a huge negative impact on my mental health for a long time, and that that it is used to justify the Standards of Care, their attendant abuse, and the denial of basic medical care, and insurance coverage of such through the guise of gatekeeping, which is itself through the guise of ‘making the right diagnosis,’ and that Bailey’s two-type theory even contributed to a young woman getting kicked out of her parents’ house at transition. But y’all already know that it’s pernicious.
How do we talk about the two-type theory in a way that doesn’t succumb to its terms? The argument demands we either accept medicalization and gender coercion in this case, or sex-negativity and the validity of gender coercion in other circumstances. We have to challenge the frame–as the sex-positive argument attempts to do. But the sex-positive argument (that sexual motivations are ok) fails to address the underlying misogyny of the theory, which is so fundamental to why it continues to hold power over us–and moreover, how the two-type theory is part of an attack on female sexual subjectivity (trans or cis).
So, let’s define our terms. I’m mostly focusing on “autogynephilia” in this post, rather than the “classic transsexual”/”homosexual transsexual”-by-which-we-mean-straight-trans-women, because in the theory, though straight trans women are pathologized, they are positioned as more ‘real’ and legit than queer ones:
The mantra of some male-to-female transsexuals is that they are simply “women trapped in men’s bodies.” This assertion has some truth for homosexual transsexuals, who are extremely and recognizably feminine (and like most women, attracted to men), but for autogynephilic transsexuals it is not true in any meaningful sense.
It’s important to note that, according to Bailey et al, “male” bisexuality does not exist, and “women” are inherently bisexual. Really, I’m not making this up, you can really be that stupid and get published. Moreover, according to the two-type theory, trans women are men, and thus inherently “gay” or “straight” (see prev. link). (God, the quotation marks hurt my ears, but not using them hurts more) Their contention is that ‘autogynephilic’ transsexuals will have sex/one night stands with men to confirm their identities as women, but not because they’re really attracted to them. The two-type theory depends on this, because otherwise one could do things a different way around–e.g. transition partially out of autogynephilia and partially to have sex with [cis] men. It’s necessary to hold the two concepts apart.
There’s so much I have to come back and critique, but I need to get all my terms out first. Sorry.
Madeline H. Wyndzen has a good essay describing some tensions (‘slippages’ if you’re being a pretentious philosopher) in the definition of “autogynephilia”. On the one hand, Ray Blanchard defines it as “a man’s [sic] paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself [sic] as a woman.” Wyndzen calls this definition “autogynephilia as a phenomenon,” in contrast to “autogynephilia as a theoretical construct” (a phrase she’s misusing, but whatev):
“Autogynephilia” can be thought of as a “theoretical construct”, which is just a fancy way of saying it’s an “idea that has meaning from its role in an overarching model of how something works.” In this case, the theory is Blanchard’s mis-directed sex-drive model of transsexuality. According to Blanchard there are two ‘legitimate’ sex drives: heterosexuality and homosexuality. A deviance in each causes gender dysphoria, and in extreme cases ultimately causes transsexuality. The deviant form of heterosexuality is called “autogynephilia.”
… J. Michael Bailey not only endorses Ray Blanchard’s theory, but he takes it to an extreme of simplicity. Whereas Blanchard’s model suggests the following three step sequence:
Mis-Directed Heterosexuality (Autogynephilia) -> Gender Dysphoria -> Transsexuality
Bailey suggests only the following two steps:
Mis-Directed Heterosexuality (Autogynephilia) -> Transsexuality
Bailey ignores how uncomfortable we feel being perceived as members of our biological sex (i.e., gender dysphoria). Instead, he turns all of our gendered feelings into something directly caused by (if not simply equivalent to) our sexuality.
Basically, the difference is this: in def’n #1, ‘autogynephilia’ is a bad kind of sexual desire and in #2 it’s the more pathological one of two kinds of sexual desire that cause transsexuality. The problem here is that Bailey et al try to prove #2 simply by asserting the existence of #1–as Wyndzen quotes Bailey:
Even if autogynephilic transsexuals exist, aren’t they rare?
No. Every indication is that autogynephilia is a common motivation for male-to-female transsexualism.
In a recent review by Anne Lawrence of 11 studies with requisite data, the median percentage of transsexuals who acknowledged a history of sexual arousal to cross-dressing (a hallmark sign of autogynephilia) was 37%. In her large survey of SRS patients of Dr. Toby Meltzer, Lawrence found that 86% of respondents had had at least occasional autogynephilic arousal …
[EDIT ADDITION 9:30pm]–Note that there’s no attempt to check and see the rates of such arousal in other gender categories, e.g. cis men, cis women, trans men. He’s not even bothering to argue that “autogynephilia” is more common in trans women than others (or that “autogynephilic” fantasies are distinct from fantasies that cis women have)–only that it exists. I’d respond that correlation doesn’t imply causation, but he doesn’t even establish correlation.
So, according to both Blanchard and Bailey, autogynephilia’s a paraphilia. What’s a paraphilia?
Paraphilias are defined by DSM-IV-TR as sexual disorders characterized by “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors generally involving (1) nonhuman objects, (2) the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner, or (3) children or other nonconsenting persons that occur over a period of 6 months” (Criterion A), which “cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” (Criterion B). DSM-IV-TR describes 8 specific disorders of this type (exhibitionism, fetishism, frotteurism, pedophilia, sexual masochism, sexual sadism, voyeurism, and transvestic fetishism) along with a ninth residual category, paraphilia not otherwise specified (NOS). (link)(emphasis mine)
This is where I hit paydirt.
So, getting sexual pleasure out of the idea I’m female. How is this a paraphilia? The nonconsenting/not-of-age criterion is out. So either 1)a woman is a nonhuman object, or 2)being female & sexual = suffering and humiliation. Blanchard defines 4 “types” of autogynephilia (what the hell is it with these people and their categorizations? Numerology?)
but noted that “All four types of autogynephilia tend to occur in combination with other types rather than alone.” 
- Transvestic autogynephilia: arousal to the act or fantasy of wearing women’s clothing
- Behavioral autogynephilia: arousal to the act or fantasy of doing something regarded as feminine
- Physiologic autogynephilia: arousal to fantasies of female-specific body functions
- Anatomic autogynephilia: arousal to the fantasy of having a woman’s body, or parts of one.
The first could go either way–whether you’re talking about the clothing or the wearing of such. The second isn’t about an object, so my only option is to conclude that it’s paraphilic because doing feminine things is suffering and humiliation. The third can *kind of* go either way, but mostly seems like female-body-as-object, and the fourth seems pretty clear: female body parts are non-human objects.
Basically: labeling “autogynephilia” paraphilic and pathological depends on the objectification and subordination of women. There’s really not a way around it.
The two-type theory tries to account for bi/pan/queer trans women by claiming that when we have sex with men, the
“effective erotic stimulus in these interactions, however, is not the male physique of the partner, as it is in true homosexual attraction, but rather the thought of being a woman, which is symbolized in the fantasy of being penetrated by a man. For these persons, the male sexual partner serves…to intensify the fantasy of being a woman.”(link)
I’m a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer nerd. I fantasize about having sex with Angel, I’m really not ashamed of this fact, he’s fucking hot and his relationship with Buffy, no matter how fucked up, has a lot of emotional/sexual charge. But what I want to know is–why should anyone care about whether I’m fantasizing about Angel fucking me or fantasizing about the sensations my body would experience in that encounter? Isn’t it kind of a duh thing for being-Buffy to be an integral part of a fantasy made hot not only by Angel’s body but by their relationship? (She’s the protagonist–the viewer is supposed to envision hirself as Buffy, and if the person doing the fantasizing isn’t a cis woman, then that envisioning is a ‘fantasy of being a woman’.*) Furthermore, who in the hell decided these were discrete categories, ones that one had either one or the other of, not only within a single fantasy, but over a lifetime? Moreover, what do these categories represent?
Part of what makes BTVS so rad is that it does a good job articulating [white] [able] [cis] [thin] female sexuality/sexual subjectivity–and a sexual fantasy is a fundamentally selfish thing, fundamentally a matter of sexual agency and desire. It exists for your own pleasure, not for anyone else’s (though of course it can be acted upon to bring someone else pleasure). So for true sexual subjectivity, one has to be able to be as self-centered as one pleases in a fantasy. But what the two-type theory does is say that some fantasies–those that cater to [cis] men’s desires and center/glorify cis male bodies–are legit, and other fantasies–those that are irreducibly about female desire and embodiment and sexual subjectivity, those that derive pleasure from one’s own body, those that don’t center cis men–are pathologized. If your fantasy centers deriving pleasure from your cunt–whether or not your bits are currently recognized as such–then it’s fucked up, and if it centers a cis male body deriving pleasure from your cunt, it’s legit.
To be incredibly blunt–according to the two-type theory, female genitals are a hole for a man to stick a dick into, not a source of pleasure. “Real” women aren’t focused on getting off or getting laid, they’re pleasing men and cementing relationships. Have we heard this somewhere before?
‘Autoandrophilia’ isn’t a paraphilia not because it doesn’t happen, but because (according to teh Patriarchy) being male isn’t suffering or humiliation, and a penis isn’t a non-human object–one should derive pleasure from it. If an ‘autoandrophilic transsexual’ were to have sex with a woman to confirm his maleness, rather than out of attraction to her, it would be ok in the medicalized discourse–because using and objectifying women is what he’s supposed to do–his having sex for his own purposes isn’t seen as problematic. Not only is male sexual subjectivity perfectly licit, but it’s still licit when it crosses over into oppressive behavior.
Furthermore, focusing on another woman’s body is insufficient–that desire may or may not be licit, but according to the two-type theory that means your sexual desires as a whole are pathological and bad. Only devoting all your energy to men is acceptable. Erotic attraction to women implies–is synonymous with–self-centered desire (which apparently only men are supposed to have). This categorization/equivalence again positions women as objects to be taken and used, legitimating (actual) men treating female partners as means and not as ends. It assumes that women aren’t even capable of eliciting–let alone worth–service, sexual devotion, or an other-centered desire to please. It’s telling that while Janice Raymond and other cissexualist-feminists (who think of [cis] women as valuable sexual partners that everyone’s trying to get into bed with) assume that queer trans women transition in order to “gain access to women,” the concept of a trans woman transitioning out of desire for dykes (in a non girl-on-girl-pr0n kind of way) never occurs to the authors of this two-type schema. Men–particularly cis straight men–are valuable sexual partners one might transition in order to have access to, whereas lesbians are pretty worthless–my fantasies about Willow and Tara couldn’t possibly have the same motivational force as my fantasies about Angel or Riley or Spike. (We also have a devaluing of homosexuality going on here, such that while someone might transition ‘to be straight’ they’d never transition ‘to be queer’)* And while my assumed motivation for fantasizing about being Willow or Tara and having sex with the other–to confirm my own femaleness–is unremarkable and assumed in the BBL typology (why else would I be fantasizing about them?), ‘using’ men for such confirmation (objectifying them) is unacceptable and pathological. (I’m not endorsing this possibility, just talking about the implications of their blind spot.) A real woman’s purpose is to serve men, subordinate and objectified.
Female sexual subjectivity? Not allowed. By making a focus on one’s own body & sex illegitimate, the two-type theory seeks to control and subjugate all women’s sexuality. Focusing this pathologizing discourse on trans women–who cis people are very willing to believe are pathological–allows misogynistic social scientists to get these ideas circulating in public discourse without triggering feminist response or critique, allows them to get people to internalize sexist beliefs without necessarily even being aware they’re doing it. We as a community cannot afford to address autogynephilia solely as a transphobic (and sex-negative) theory, because its power and its goals are rooted in misogyny.
ETA: a number of small edits about 9:30pm on 3/31, both content and syntax. Significant additions are marked with a * or an  lead off to a paragraph.
February 28, 2009
So, what’s one of the first things out of people’s mouth’s about trans people? We’re so rare, no one’s ever met us before, etc. The psychiatric community has, for the most part, invested heavily in this idea that we’re incredibly rare.
To wit, the most recent “official” statistics to come out about prevalence of transsexual folks were: 1/11,900 [folks assigned male at birth] and 1/30,400 [folks assigned female at birth]. Lynn Conway critiques the study and not only finds it to be off by a factor of 10 or more, but that the numbers are being used disingenuously.
I want to engage in a much less rigorous exercise. I would think that a public high school in a small city, in a county-wide system where private schooling is rare, would constitute a comparatively random sampling of the population. I happened to grow up in such a school! We had about 500 people per class year at the start of freshman year, dwindling to 400 by graduation. In my year, there was actually a trans man who came out while still in school, and unfortunately ended up having to drop out because of transphobia. I ran into him later, and he mentioned two guys who were in school at the same time we were, but had only later transitioned. On the internets, I ran into an aquaintance of mine from high school, a year or two older than me, who was in transition, though she’s still having to live as a guy for legal reasons. AND, my sister’s ex, younger than me, also attended our high school during my tenure there. So, that leaves us with three boys and three girls out of 7 class years. (500*7)/6=1 out of 583–that I know of. If my class year were representative, that would mean 1/250–that I know of. Notably, Lynn Conway’s estimates (for trans women) are 1/250-1/500. (I seriously did not plan this conjuncture. And, actually, Conway’s numbers predict fewer people to have actually transitioned than that, but whatever.)
I’m not in good communication with people from high school. It’s entirely possible that double, triple, even ten times that number have transitioned already, and I’ve heard nothing of it. Furthermore, the age range we’re talking about here is 23-29. The likelihood that someone who will eventually transition has already done so isn’t anywhere in the vicinity of 100%, whatever that likelihood is. So, if my high school were representative of the US, then 1/583 is almost certainly lower than reality. Furthermore, my high school is in North Carolina–while it was known to be a comparatively queer friendly high school for North Carolina, I’d wager that disproportionately many attendees are/were repressing their transness.
How many trans folks would these “official” numbers predict?
(.51/30,400 + .49/11,900)*7*500=0.203 According to the APA, there shouldn’t have been any of us there, one of us is bucking the curve–let alone six. Hell, according to their math, there shouldn’t have been that many in the county, of which we were less than 10%.
The ratio: 6/0.203=29.6
So, my lower bound is 29.6 times higher than their estimate–not their lower bound, their estimate.
30 times, y’all.
(the use of three significant digits is actually kind of a jab at the people Conway is critiquing.)
This isn’t a rigorous test, at all. AT ALL. We’re talking seriously small numbers here. But while I don’t know statistics well enough to know the potential for this result to be caused by chance, and probably queer kids did disproportionately head to my high school, but by no means did everyone who applied get in… come on. Off by a factor of 3, yeah whatever, off by a factor of 30? When there are numerous reasons to think that my number is too low? It doesn’t make any sense.
(There’s also the matter of there not being 3 times as many girls as boys, hmm, wait, maybe their figure is caused by trans misogynistic pathologizing! no wai!)
Conway gives a lot of other examples as to why this is number is bonkers, go read it if you like, but bewarned that she uses “male” to refer to trans women and female to refer to men (that is, she uses them to mean MAAB/FAAB), that she’s way fucked up about trans folks who don’t get SRS even though she includes them/us, uses MTF/FTM as if they were completely unproblematic terms, and doesn’t gloss why her data on trans male transitions is scanty (which is at least in part about the data not being there because these things mostly get studied because of trans misogyny, but also likely her having some blinders on.).
So, one has to wonder: why? They’re scientists, they’re not stupid. They might be blinded by cissexual supremacy, they might have ulterior motives, but it needs explaining. Conway does some of that, but I want to take it to a higher level of analysis(or abstraction if you want to be negative about it).
Perhaps most importantly, it is the strong self-interest of psychiatrists to have their patients believe that transsexualism is incredibly rare, for then takes years of expensive counseling for the psychiatrist to be convinced that a patient is a “true transsexual” who needs SRS. Psychiatrists can reinforce a very “conservative, non-permissive” approach to treating transsexualism IF they can continue to assure society that “true transsexualism is incredibly rare”, and that most people who seek “sex changes” are mentally ill and in need of “shrinking” by psychiatrists to cure them of their “delusions”.
She also argues that the idea that TSness is 2-6 times less common than muscular dystrophy, rather than 10 times as common, & twice as common as MS, justifies the medical community ignoring it. I’m uncomfortable with the pathologizing of transsexuality, but it is true that transphobia (directly, and also indirectly, through capitalism) is really the only reason so little research that’s actually beneficial to us is being done–numbers like that cut right through the ‘oh but there are too few and you could never find them or do a rigorous double blind study’ routine.
BUT, both the chronic illness argument, and the quote she’s critiquing, AND any biologically-determinative argument about the cause of transsexuality (which is not the same as arguing that there are biological factors influencing one’s self-determination) justify ignoring the existence of trans people when we theorize reality.
All children in the US are forced into a gender and sex designation without their consent–some even before birth. It’s required by the US government. Almost all, but not all (yay!) parents compound this, sending their kid the message that ze *is* a girl or that ze *is* a boy & there are no other possibilities, that it’s not something they get to choose or change, and on top of that comes with intense coercive gender role training. Parents frequently don’t have much choice in the matter–go look at the children’s toys at your local Mega Death Mart–how many *aren’t* very strongly gendered? how many books for kids don’t train them into sexism? And schools? Good luck marching to the beat of your own gendered drummer.
Those of us who are trans can remember some of this pretty intensely as trauma, but the dominant discourse has been to say that that trauma is something about us–when, in fact, that trauma is only caused by being coerced into a sex we didn’t want to be in. And, yes, that word choice is very intentional. Running with the metaphor for a moment, let’s take a yes means yes approach, an explicit verbal consent approach to sex/gender, and let the damn kids choose it themselves. Looking at it this way, we can understand that cissexualizing infants is wrong, and potentially traumatic even to those who grow up not contesting that assignment. The absence of “no” is not consent.
Without that most basic form of gender coercion, the others (e.g. gender roles, The Gender BinaryTM) lose one of their most potent methods of cultural reproduction (that is, passing their social code from one generation to the next). Without that basic form of gender coercion, people will still use medical technologies to alter their bodies in gendered ways, but the separation between those that are “valid” and “real” versus those that are “invalid” and “fake,” the distinction between cis and trans, disappears. Without it, one might still have a dissonant reaction to one’s genitals/physical characteristics, but the difference is that it would be ‘incorrect’ or ‘unexpected’ rather than ‘wrong’–perhaps a source of confusion, but not shame, guilt, inferiority, or falseness.
Anyways, the point is, if the potential for a kid to say ‘no’ is so tiny as to be inconsequential, it’s easy to erase the coercion that happens to the kids who don’t say no. It justifies the ongoing violence and exclusion. It justifies theories of humanity/gender/whatever and social policies/politics that depend on our nonexistence for their coherence. It justifies policies and actions that “aren’t about us” and “aren’t transphobic” when it’s “just a coincidence” that they have disastrous effects on us. It justifies cis people not taking the time to educate themselves about transphobia and their concomitant expectation that their ignorance be treated as innocent/natural, it justifies the absence of trans people from spaces we might benefit from without institutional transphobia, it justifies our absence in decision-making-processes that affect us. It naturalizes evidence of our systematic economic marginalization. It justifies the continued practice of cis people claiming power within the trans community, and
barring trans people from claiming power trans people’s lack of power within cis communities. It justifies lack of resources. It justifies single-gender bathrooms, prisons, etc, and the policing of such. It justifies well-we-should-have-our-rights-NOW,stop-trans-jacking, etc etc
I really need to write a post about how last year’s ENDA debacle serves to justify the “inclusive” bill, which in fact enshrines certain kinds of anti-trans-discrimination as normal and good, not discrimination.
January 8, 2009
I know I’ve been gone a long time, and I promised I’d post more in December. Oops. I suppose that was before the drama that made me go hide, though.
Anyways, here I’m continuing a post I made almost two months ago, “Tranny” and Subversivism: Re-reclaiming “Tranny” (or not) part 1.
In the first post, I mostly talked about the function of the so-called reclaimed usage of “tranny.” In this one I want to talk about the original. Well, not exactly the original–un-reclaimed, yes, but I want to get at the center by looking at the edges.
When you look directly at a slur, used at its intended target, its derogatory meaning isn’t that clear, unless you know it from other contexts. “Faggot” refers to a gay man, the n-word refers to a black person. But “faggot” means a lot more than ‘man attracted to men’–otherwise, it wouldn’t get applied to straight men. It takes concepts associated with a referent, and applies them to a different referent; to be specific, calling a man a fag is more about aberration, effeminacy, affront-to-god, promiscuity, & perversion than about him being “gay” or “bi” or “homosexual” in any objective sense. That is, an epithet becomes an insult by way of the concepts it invokes, not just who it’s about. In this way, “fag” has been reclaimed not by changing the referent, not by it meaning “gay” in some objective, neutral way, but by changing the valuation placed on the concepts–sexually liberated, gender variant, anti-assimilationist, & non-conformist, to use the language we might use.
To translate that into academic jargon:
The history of the term ‘queer is most symptomatic of this. From homophobic epithet designating and reinforcing the other’s social abjection to self-declared maker of community pride, ‘queer’ was reclaimed precisely according to the transformative mechanisms of camp in which what has been devalued in the original becomes overvalued in the repetition.
Prosser, Jay. “Judith Butler: Queer Feminism, Transgender, and the Transubstantiation of Sex,” in Stryker & Whittle, eds. The Transgender Studies Reader. Routledge, 2006. 260. Also in Prosser, Jay. Second Skins: Body Narratives of Transsexuality.
Regardless of what you think about the word “overvalued”, the point is that language reclamation has to take the concepts a term starts with and either directly contradict them, or revalue/reinterpret them in a positive way. Any concepts left unaddressed will just bleed through into the new version. Certainly, it loses its power to heal and protect without that, given that there will still be people using it in its un-reclaimed form, drawing on those derogatory concepts through the word.
So, the question becomes, does the “reclaimed” use of “tranny” do this? If we were to want to *actually* reclaim “tranny”, how would a real reclamation differ from what’s happening now? What concepts would we have to contend with and confront?
Clearly, porn is a big one here. In that context, “tranny” refers to a trans woman, but as someone who isn’t a woman, or isn’t a “real” woman. As someone–or, something–that exists solely for straight cis men’s pleasure. As far as Craigslist is concerned, too. (What, you want a relationship? Sorry, head over to casual encounters, plz) That porn–and discourse that draws on that image of what a trans woman is–is incredibly objectifying and ungendering. And I mean objectifying in the sense of makes-you-feel-like-an-object.
But pr0n isn’t the only context the word is used in, even in its un-“reclaimed” form. Lucy of Catspaw writes:
Michael Seltzman wrote at the Huffington Post a column titled “Sarah Palin Naked” which starts off just as sexist and misogynistic as it sounds. In talking about wanting to have sex with Sarah Palin, because obviously that’s an appropriate thing for political discourse, he offers the following:
My wife is cool with this if I promise to “first wipe off Palin’s tranny makeup.” I married well.
Haha. I’m laughing so hard. A real comedian there, his wife. Transphobia is so funny. Especially when it’s also expressing lookism at the same time. Because I find it hard to believe that she’s complimenting Palin on her gender presentation. Instead, it’s fairly clear she expressing the stereotypical view that transwomen use makeup poorly. She’s calling into question Palin’s womanhood.
Down the same alley, we have a cis woman describing her five worst mistakes with makeup in a post called “The Nights I Looked Like a Tranny; My 5 Biggest Makeup Regrets. What’s even better? When a trans woman calls her out and tells her not to use “tranny”, another cis woman jumps in with the you-don’t-understand trope mentioned last time, using the fact that some trans people think the word tranny is ok to excuse blatant trans misogyny:
I also know transgendered people who DON’T take offense to it. As distasteful as it might be to you, it’s become a part of slang like “retarded,” or “gay.” Preaching really won’t change anything, because although it’s understood that the word might be deemed offensive by SOME, when used in certain contexts it’s clearly not meant to be negative.
Clearly not meant to be negative. Really.
Calling a cis woman trans is a pretty wide-ranging insult, turns out. Apparently, being transsexual means being ugly, slutty/a sex worker, and a bad dancer: “The only thing that’s certain is that Britney looked kinda Tranny, danced slower than the other dancers, and didn’t wear much. “That ain’t no comeback,” commented one friend of Jewcy. Well said.” See here also.
Another trait that get you labeled ‘tranny’ or trans (particularly with the s-word): being too aggressive/assertive– (Ann Coulter comes to mind, and Debbie Schlussel uses the s-word this way against WNBA players (in addition to appearance stuff discussed below).
But this is the article that takes the cake. (warning: potentially rage/depression inducing.) Apparently both Alyson Hannigan and Sarah Michelle Gellar–Willow and Buffy, respectively, if you’re getting rusty with your Joss Whedon fandom–are trans. I wish. There’s also the usual trans-women-can’t-walk-in-high-heels/are over-dramatic bullshit. But what’s worse? Resisting sexual assault? You’re trans. Like anal sex? You’re trans.
If you reach for “her” you-know-what and “she” snatches your hand away, it’s probably because “her” package isn’t what you’d expect a lady to have “down there.” If they prefer backdoor sex after a bit of fellatio, as Sarah Michelle Gellar reportedly does, that’s another tip that your “girlfriend” might be a boyfriend.
Trans misogynistic stigma–which the article uses “tranny” to invoke (in reference to Hannigan)–is used to regulate female sexuality, on both sides of the prude/slut dichotomy. Later, the article claims that trans women are obsessed with hard cock & sex-right-now, again regulating (cis and trans) female sexuality. It’s also central to regulating appearance–your breasts can’t be too big or too small, your shoulders too wide, your feet too big, etc. (Hey trans misogynistic cis womyn: what’s that about how no one is free while others are oppressed?) The article abounds with speculation about which cis female celebs are “really” trans, so you can be sure not to sleep with one of us, zomg. Again, tranny = filthy perversion you can’t even touch–“If all else fails, tell “her” that “she” looks like your Uncle Marty or ask “her” if “she” forgot to shave. Tell “her” this even if “her” skin is the smoothest, sleekest, most satiny epidermis you’ve ever laid eyes (but never hands!) on, and “her” complexion puts even Marilyn Monroe’s to shame. “She” may scratch your eyes out, but, otherwise, “she’s” sure to leave you the hell alone.”
So, from all these references that aren’t really about trans women, we can gather the following picture of what “tranny” is supposed to represent: sexually polluted, perverted/slutty/sex-obsessed/promiscuous, ugly, bitchy, really-male, exist only for sex, fake, doing femininity wrong/badly/not feminine enough/hyperfeminine.
What, pray tell, does the “gender neutral” “reclaimed” version of “tranny” do to reclaim or reject these concepts? It gets some of them, ok. But it doesn’t hit the most common theme running throughout its use against cis women–doing femininity badly. It doesn’t even come close. For trans men, there’s some work on claiming being sexually desirable, but much of this work explicitly excludes trans women. What does this idea of “tranny” do to this idea that we are cis straight men’s sexual objects, to do with as they please and then throw away? What does this idea of “tranny” do about the conception of us as a sexual threat, as ritually impure and literally untouchable? It’s not just because we’re “freaks” (a concept it does reclaim, to its credit). The ‘reclaimed’ version, situated in anti-assimilationism, rejects the idea that we should have to be “real” men or women, which is good, and important, and a valuable thing to reclaim out of this word. But it leaves women open to trans panic, and by not specifically taking on hatred of femininity, it fails to serve us there, either–we’re still ‘fake’, because our femininity is still suspect, and our masculinity is “real” because masculinity is always real.
The “reclaimed” version of “tranny” only deals with transphobia as it affects trans men and FAAB genderqueers, and leaves the rest of us out in the cold. Many of the pejorative meanings laden in the first version of the term are still there, lurking, and when we hear the “reclaimed” version, we still hear those meanings because no one’s bothered to purge them. We’re still subject to those meanings, and we either have to kill the word or adopt it as a shield.
If you want to reclaim “tranny”–and I think that’s a valid position for trans female and/or feminine spectrum people to take–you have to contend with how the word actually acts, not just as a generic trans signifier. So if you try to reclaim “tranny” from its current “reclaimers” as well as the dominant culture, do it right this time. And tell me how you want to use it to reclaim it this way.
November 18, 2008
Three trans women [of color] have been killed (presumably by hate violence) in the two weeks since the election. That’s three too many–any is too many–but our sisters are dying at rates much faster than we normally see.
Cross burnings. Schoolchildren chanting “Assassinate Obama.” Black figures hung from nooses. Racial epithets scrawled on homes and cars.
Incidents around the country referring to President-elect Barack Obama are dampening the postelection glow of racial progress and harmony, highlighting the stubborn racism that remains in America.
From California to Maine, police have documented a range of alleged crimes, from vandalism and vague threats to at least one physical attack. Insults and taunts have been delivered by adults, college students and second-graders.
There have been “hundreds” of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.
There’s been a hell of a lot more than one physical attack.
White trans people, cis people of color, white cis people: being trans does not strip you of other identities and oppressions. When white trans people forget about the racial dimensions of transphobic–trans misogynistic– violence, we lose perspective on why they’re happening and what to do about it. For our survival as a community those of us who are white need to join ranks against violence with people of color (cis and trans), and start remembering racism at the Day of Remembrance and all year round. We need to speak out against the increase in racist violence, because racism is killing our sisters every bit as much as trans misogyny is. We need to remember their deaths, because they’re an attack on all of us.
And white cis people, get your act together. HRC, NGLTF, I’m looking at you. How many emails have you sent out in outrage about our people dying–about the police refusing to investigate? Hell, white trans guys, you too. (“I’m not tied to the case at all and therefore really don’t have that much interest … to do all the research.”)
EDIT: Some problematic language fixed. edited again 11-20.