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
February 6, 2010
This is the second in a
three four part series. The first is available here and the third here. I’ll link to the fourth once it’s up.
So, last time I talked about the ways that using the concept of “ignorance” furthers racism, classism, colonialism, etc, and misdirects us away from the bigger issues. This time, I want to talk more about how the discourse of ignorance serves to let people off the hook once their transphobia has been called out.
Last time, we established that some people are culturally pre-defined (stereotyped) as ignorant, and others as knowledgeable. For those labeled “ignorant” with a broad brush, it’s a moral failing, a character flaw, a mark of deficiency, and a legitimation to dominate them–“backwards,” “illiterate,” “primitive,” “brutish,” “hillbilly,” “uncivilized,” etc. For them, then, using the concept of “ignorance” doesn’t get them off the hook, doesn’t forgive their actions, doesn’t make them seem OK, just bigoted. If their transphobia is rooted in “ignorance,” it becomes simply one more justification for marginalizing them.
However, for those defined as knowers and those one is otherwise unwilling to dismiss (e.g. family)–those who have no risk of being demonized as “ignorant and stupid”–the story is very different. Can you imagine the following being written about some “hick” who harassed you the other day, or the teenager who said “that’s a dude” about me last weekend?
…If I’m right, that’s an example of transignorance: The assumption that despite my statements, I am female because that’s what they always thought; and that therefore, I should feel the same toward my body as they do about theirs. Consider the ratio of folks whose sex and gender do/not match and it’s a reasonable assumption, just incorrect.
So while ignorance as a systemic trait is despicable, ignorance-in-this-one-area is A-OK, because it’s non-essential knowledge, knowledge you *couldn’t possibly expect everyone to have already, or find on their own*.
Obviously, this ties into it’s-your-job-to-educate-us. Which brings me to the absurd example that drove me to finally write these posts that have been bouncing around in my brain since before I even started this blog. As y’all may remember, I’m in a Women’s and Gender Studies graduate program. This term, I’ve related trans issues, and/or being trans, to the issues at hand almost every week. The very first week of class, I mentioned how I hated the discourse of non-binary gender that goes “man, woman, transgender” instead of “man/woman, cis/trans.” I was talking to a classmate about something outside of class, and when I mentioned something that said I was trans, she said “I thought you were a woman!”
Her justification? That she “didn’t know the discourse.” She told me that she was offended that I characterized her words as transphobic, because she wasn’t phobic, just didn’t know the lingo. She just didn’t know!
In an unrelated incident, I’d been working at [retail establishment] for five or six months. A co-worker in another department had gotten my pronoun right all this time, seen other people get my pronoun right all this time, and thought nothing of using “she” until, after five months he found out I was trans and called me “he” to a customer. When I confronted him? He ‘didn’t know what I wanted to be called.’ Riiiiiiight.
They both knew. And they both had the tools to find out, if they really didn’t know, if they’d wanted to. But see, once you’re in the position to not be labeled ignorant, “not knowing” trans things is perfectly innocent. It’s totally optional, because any hurt you inflict in the mean time a)isn’t important, and b)will be washed away by the magic of intent. Except it’s not innocent. I would actually go further than Queen Emily when she says
It’s actually the power to know and not care.
There’s a widespread trope that trans people are super rare and new, that most people have never heard of us and thus can’t know what to say. And of course, “[y]ou can’t blame people for not knowing about something that they might never have encountered.” But here’s the thing: they have.
I don’t care that you’ve never met a trans person before, I don’t care that you’ve never had a women’s studies course before, I don’t care that you’ve never had a trans 101–you can find out what we want to be called from the worst transphobic screeds and jokes. Making fun of trans people is a widespread cultural trope, it’s not something you’ve never heard of: (warning, transphobia abounds in this section. Skip past the quotes if you need to.)
Yes, there we go again, cis people making fun of the dumbed-down explanation we made for them as though it was the depth of our thought. “Woman trapped in a man’s body,” hur hur hur.
But you know what? You know that person who says that (to use language I *hate*) “identifies” as a woman. And you know that invalidating someone’s self-concept isn’t nice.
Even Paul Scott knows what we want to be called, and knows that he’s invalidating our identities–and even from him, you can figure it out:
…He said his mandate would be in place even for those who had completely undergone sex reassignment surgeries.
“That’s who you are. You can have cosmetic surgery or reassignment surgery but you are still that gender,” he said.
The clear implication? That we disagree. There’s no other way this makes any sense. And as Zoe Brain notes in the comments on this article (scroll down)
Because he’s not just ignorant. It’s not that he hasn’t been told about intersex conditions. Comments have been made on his blog by biologists and medics – which he’s deleted so they don’t get seen. E-mails from scientists and educators on this area have been sent. He ignores them. He just needs a scapegoat to demonise, and this group is perfect for the job.
Or take this transphobic blog post:
Two decades ago, Chastity Bono, the daughter of Sonny and Cher, announced to the world that she was a lesbian. … But last week, she announced that she was no longer a lesbian, but a man and would undergo surgery to change her female parts to male parts.
…Apparently, Chastity’s gender confusion has confused her and now she realizes that she has been living a lie. She wasn’t really a lesbian, but a Sonny trapped in a Cher’s body. So, after a little plastic surgery, a shave, and a haircut, Chastity will no longer be Chastity the lesbian, but Chaz the artificial man. The gender “experts” tell us it is perfectly normal and that anyone who would question it is not normal but hateful, judgmental, and intolerant.
Could it be any more clear what Chaz wants to be called? Could it be any more clear that Richman, like Scott, is familiar with “the lingo”? And if right-wingers like these know what we want to be called, and if even five minutes listening to them will tell you what we want to be called, then you knew, too.
You may not know the ontology behind our claims to reality, you may not know what the word “ontology” means, you may not know our critique of the sex/gender distinction or of biology. But you know how we see ourselves, you know that implying we’re not really women/men is offensive, and thus that claiming to be more real (in any of the myriad ways that cis people do this) is offensive.1 At some point, almost all of you made a conscious choice to disrespect us. Misgendering and ungendering1 transsexual folks has nothing to do with terminology, and everything to do with expressing contempt towards us and superiority over us–no matter how strongly one denies it.
Since you’ve seen us ridiculed and objectified all over the place, and there’s easy internet access, you’ve had the prompt to go check on how to be respectful, and the means to do so. And clearly, my readers, you have chosen to do so, but I suspect that most of you, like me, and like the country at large, had a long history of acting dismissive and superior before you did so.
Trans education so often focuses on glossaries and definitions. A lot of cis people are hungry to know the right language, but they want it not because they don’t actually know the terms or couldn’t look them up quickly and painlessly, but because they want to be able to pass themselves off as not transphobic without doing any of the soul searching that would reveal their transphobia to them. They want to look not-transphobic, whether because it has social value or because it makes them feel better about themselves, or maybe even because they don’t want to hurt people/to be tolerant, but they have no desire to decenter themselves, lose their ontological privilege, and eradicate transphobia inside themselves and in society.
Framing the issue as ignorance has allowed cis people to ask for more glossaries, more definitions, more trans 101–and to silence challenge and accountability. It’s played along with privileged cis people’s delusions of innocence, it’s let them get away with their history of complicity, at the same time that it has justified their sense of superiority over other oppressed groups. It’s kept up the demand to “tell our stories,” and tell them depoliticized, it’s heaped cis people’s work onto trans people. And it condones cis people’s ongoing transphobic acts, even when they clearly knew better.
It’s time for a new frame.
Part 3: Cis Denial, Self-Knowledge, and Sexist Epistemology
Part 4: Transphobia as Authoritative Knowledge Claims
1: edit 3:30 CST.
EDIT 2-24-10 to account for addition of a fourth part to series.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
April 9, 2009
The next time someone tries to start a discussion about whether transness is morally acceptable, I will ask:
Is it logically possible for you to choose to live in a world where choosing your own gender is universal law? (whether or not you’d actually choose to live in that world)
Yes, it is. Therefore, choosing your own gender is morally acceptable. 😛
I’ll even give you a more suitable-to-transphobic-logic maxim to formulate the categorical imperative: is it logically possible for you to choose to live in a world where transitioning is universal law? (whether or not you’d actually choose to live there)
Yes, it is. Hell, I kind of wish we lived in that world. Think about how many wars would be averted! Plus, so much less transphobia, homophobia, sexism… and we wouldn’t have jerkfaces like George Bush! Therefore, transitioning: morally acceptable.
Let’s try the other formulation of the categorical imperative:
Does transitioning treat anyone solely as a means to an end rather than simultaneously an end in hirself? No. Does choosing your own gender? Nope. Morally acceptable. We’re good.
Yeah, I know, Kant’s not so popular with feminists, anti-racists, and radicals, whatever.