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.
November 10, 2008
My jumping off point here is a conversation I took part in at Camp Trans 2007. I had, up until that point, been using the word “tranny” in its “reclaimed” sense, as a gender neutral signifier for trans people, with a connotation of rebellion, genderqueerness, and radical/”radical” politics. Specifically, my usage of it identified me with the subversivist, gender variant, queer/anarchist/punk scene in the West Bank & Seward neighborhoods in Minneapolis, and nationally with figures like Dean Spade, Leslie Fienberg, Patrick Califia–an identification that I used as a means of separating myself from what I perceived as a binary, medically-oriented, conservative, suburban, middle-aged, middle class, white trans women’s community, and such figures as Jennifer Finney Boylan and…well, I didn’t really know of any, other than an abstracted concatenation of the various other trans woman autobiography writers, and some horrid medical model contributions in anthologies and websites written in pink. Oh, dear god, pink? In a cursive font?
What I’m trying to make clear here is that rather than uniting the trans community under one banner (as it pretended to do), my and others’ “positive” use had just as much place in subversivism and trans misogyny as it did in “reclamation.” My political positioning, tied to my use of the term, was rooted in self-loathing. OMG pink indeed. I had even used it over other trans people’s–trans women’s–objections, and it was precisely through the intersection of subversivism and trans misogyny that I was able to do it–by constructing her as conservative, backward-, medical- & binary-thinking, I was able to push aside any concern about the specificities this term and pin her objection on a lack of understanding the concept of reclamation. In short, anyone–no, any woman–who wasn’t on board didn’t need to be listened to because they–she–could be immediately positioned as having bad politics. (A couple examples of this construction, not specifically about “tranny”: Califia’s treatment of Renee Richards in Sex Changes, as well as his selection of texts to analyze, large portions of Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw and a few parts of Wilchins’s Read My Lips, Sandy Stone’s “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto,” “It’s a Long Way to the Top: Hierarchies of Legitimacy in Trans Communities,” by Alaina Hardie in Trans/Forming Feminisms: Transfeminist Voices Speak Out (the book I love to hate on), Koyama’s “The Unspoken Racism of the Trans Inclusion Debate” & “The Transfeminist Manifesto,” (the “interchanges” she lists on her website are bad too.) and “The Story So Far,” Thaniel Chase in Bisexuality and Transgenderism: InterSEXions of the Others (Journal of Bisexuality, volume 3, n 3-4)) It’s worth noting that a lot of these pieces are by trans women, criticizing and denouncing other trans women. Some of these pieces, notably Hardie’s and Chase’s, construct trans women specifically in relation to trans men–that is, as inferior, politically as well as by gender. And these are just the articles by trans people–all the writing on the happily-now-defunct Questioning Transgender makes this construction as well.
This construction is powerful enough to override overwhelming evidence. First, obviously there’s the erasure of radical trans woman activists around the US (e.g. Diana Courvant, Michelle O’Brien, Angela Douglas as well as Wilchins, Bornstein, and Stone themselves; plus the discursive alienation of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson; none of this is counting the post Whipping Girl explosion), but I’m not going to go into that. When I’ve tried to tell non- trans woman* queer punks that I’m not already personal friends with to not to use “tranny” or “chicks with dicks”, they have frequently cast me into the position of politically-clueless-gender-binary-trans-woman and told me that I just didn’t understand the idea of language reclamation. In one case, I was dressed in genderfuck, gave both my names** with the instruction to alternate, said my pronoun was ‘ze,’ was publicly identifying as trans and as not-a-woman-trans-or-not, and was at a workshop on the intersections of kink and radical politics. It had to have taken five minutes or more to convince him that I wasn’t politically incompetent, and that I wasn’t just afraid of nonbinary gender and trying to pretend I wasn’t trans anymore, just a woman–that isn’t counting the making and discussing my point part. Seriously. The other time I remember well was after I had led chants in the Dyke March with Bash Back, and marched in the Radical Cheerleaders in protest of the Pride March. This person had called me her new best friend/favorite person, or somesuch, then not but a week later was treating me like I was clueless, stupid, kinkphobic, and sex-negative when I asked that she stop using “chicks with dicks” in one of the radical cheerleaders’ chants. She said specifically that she would use it, and the radical cheerleaders would continue to perform it, with no attention or consideration paid to my objections. There were no people I could identify as trans women there–a fact which they will certainly interpret as our conservatism, as opposed to their trans misogyny/subversivism.
I don’t think that the “reclaimed” sense of “tranny” can truly be isolated from that context of trans misogyny & subversivism within queer, trans, and punk communities, at least not for me, and I find it almost as offensive as the original. It’s still a signifier of non- trans woman/cis supremacy–just this time it’s non- trans woman queers, as opposed to cis men.
The conversation I mentioned at the beginning of this post was about how “tranny” has, as a derogatory and/or ungendering term, referred primarily-to-exclusively to trans women, yet the people doing the reclaiming were predominantly trans men and FAAB genderqueers. As Tobi writes over at No Designation,
The issue of reclaiming the term is further complicated, though. You see, while I have been discussing the impact the term has had on trans people, the reality is that it is trans women who have most directly targeted by it. Trans men have been comparably invisible is the sex and porn industries, and the trans men porn that exists today is almost exclusively produced by trans men. Yet a significant portion, arguably a majority, of the effort to reclaim the term has been made by trans men. Usually by trans men who are not familiar with the negative history of the term, let alone having been subjected to it’s sting themselves.
It is difficult to know what to think about that gender breakdown. When I run into a group of trans men who frequently use the term, I am not sure whether to thank them for creating community use of a new and positive meaning behind the term, or to criticize them for their insensitivity and lack of awareness of how the term might hold a lot of trauma for those of us who have been the direct targets of its use.
The people most affected by the term are not the people leading the charge, and in fact they frequently oppose it. Given that language reclamation is supposed to be about getting agency and self determination back from the broader culture, demanding the right to define oneself rather than be defined by others, I find this “reclamation” profoundly counter-productive, alienating, and oppressive. Furthermore, it’s part of keeping trans women out of “radical” spaces, by demanding they accept the use of a slur against them. Obviously, much of I’m talking about here is really about a trans misogynistic culture pervasive in these spaces–but I find a rejection of the word is a good entry point for education.
One might say that I’m reclaiming not-saying-tranny. I’m reclaiming being a trans woman*** through rejecting “tranny”, by rejecting “tranny” I can expose the trans misogyny inherent in its use and endemic in these spaces, and I can throw the characterization of un-radical right back in their faces, making them look at their own trans misogyny–their own bad politics. Because that stereotype is about them, not about us.
I think it’s important to look at some more of the derogatory contexts it’s used in, and more about the specificity of language reclamation through camp. But that’s going to have to wait for a second post.
*That is, people who are not trans women, rather than women who aren’t trans.
**Cedar is one, the other I don’t use on the blogosphere.
*** This is me formally coming out as a woman, again. Still use ze/hir for me until further notice, though.
November 3, 2008
“A [woman’s] penis is a weapon. A sword. A knife. Dominance and sexism incarnate.”
Yes–a weapon against her. A weapon threatening her life, a weapon demanding her submission to both male and cissexual supremacy. Rather than symbolizing her power over [cis] women, it symbolizes her powerlessness within a transphobic/gender coercive society, the patriarchal order’s unjust demands on her person.
When her penis symbolizes maleness-as-violence it symbolizes the violence of making her male. The violence done to her at birth, classified then mutilitated against her will, the violence enacted to put her back in that classification–her penis symbolizes her vulnerability to violence, discrimination, rape, and murder.
Before transition, her penis, symbolizing patriarchial violence and sexism, symbolizes her body as dangerous and unsafe, threatening to women–including her. It symbolizes the isolation she faces as someone unable to be with her own kind, that she & her emotions and her inner truth are inferior because they don’t match up to the prescribed ideal…her penis symbolizes her Otherness, her danger to others and to herself, her inability to access community and support, her toxicity to the people she loves, the impossibility of ever joining the real and the human on her terms–it Others her not only through difference but also as a threat. It tells her to feel shame & self-loathing because she is threat and violence, the very violence enacted upon her–that is, her own body symbolizes her as the criminal causing her victimization, her own body tells her she is not merely ‘asking for it’ but doing it herself. And by supposedly symbolizing her invulnerability, it is the cited reason she should be left vulnerable to the very violence that organ makes her vulnerable to–it is both the reason to attack and the reason that attack is unimportant. Her penis symbolizes her lack of importance, her lack of humanity, symbolizes the justness of the violence done to her–rather than symbolizing her worth and superiority, her penis symbolizes her worthlessness and inferiority. Her penis symbolizes not pleasure or power but pain and powerlessness. Her penis is trauma, not because of anything inherent but because of trans misogyny.
In that her penis symbolizes male supremacy, it symbolizes her inferiority as a woman, as someone who wants to be a woman. Her penis is made to symbolize her insanity, her instability, hysteria, and weakness. Her penis symbolizes her forced receptivity to social control by a cis male order, symbolizes her lack of control over her own body and its sexuality–the control wrested from her.
it symbolizes her objectification
her fetishiziation, her inhumanity, cis male control over her sexuality
–and through the Standards of Care it symbolizes cis male authority, dominance, and control over her body
it symbolizes institutional abuse and violence
it symbolizes infantilization and lack of authority; it symbolizes her as so dangerous she needs protection from herself.
it symbolizes the necessity to protect her–from herself, from her danger to herself and others
Her body symbolizes patriarchial violence–against her. That everpresent symbol cannot be erased or ignored except by surgery, it is inescapable, that trauma is re-presented every day, sometimes at the level of consciousness, sometimes not.
Her penis symbolizes Patriarchy, it symbolizes her inability to remove Patriarchy from her body and her life, it symbolizes her subordination, misogyny, it symbolizes her inability to escape subordination and misogyny, it symbolizes the naturalness of her subordination and the justness of misogyny against her.
Her penis is symbolized as ugly and incongrous, her penis symbolizes her as freak and outcast. She is taught shame and self-loathing over both the genitals she has and the ones she wants.
Just as it symbolizes her forced receptivity, it symbolizes her inability to receive, to receive love and pleasure and support,
it symbolizes normative masculinity’s emotional numbness
it symbolizes her Otherness, the impenetrability and incomprehensibility of her emotions
it symbolizes her sexlessness,
her alienation from biology and reproduction,
her alienation from the Real
it symbolizes her alienation from truth and meaning
her “phallus” reflects her unintelligibility, her meaninglessness
her isolation from meaning, representation, knowledge
–her phallus represents her lack of the Phallus
it symbolizes the demand that she be hard and unyielding
and by contrast her longing to open and release; it symbolizes the impossibility of being fully open with others
it symbolizes the trauma that makes her unable to feel
it symbolizes her unreliability, her manipulation, her insanity, and her deception
it symbolizes her truth as deception
it symbolizes her oppression as truth and as Truth.
“dick” and “prick” and “schmuck” to her symbolize only violence, there is not the support given to cis men of their penises as good and natural, as creating life not just destroying it
they symbolize her body’s inherent shamefulness
they make her body an object of contempt
her body becomes ans argument for her dismissal, her irrelevance, her ejection and exclusion
it symbolizes her forced isolation
as “unemotional” and “unfeeling”
as a threat held at bay
as unnatural and inhuman
–in short, as monster.
EDIT 7-27-2009/RE-EDITED 1-27-2010:: This piece got linked to at Susan’s place, and without the context of the rest of this blog, almost all of the commenters misinterpreted what I mean by “symbolize.”
Hint: remember the phrase, “not because of anything inherent but because of trans misogyny.” As in, I wouldn’t characterize this as satire, though irony… kind of fits. There is an irony I’m pointing out, and I’m not actually this much of an essentialist…
October 15, 2008
When I read Whipping Girl, I didn’t think that “transwoman” (without the space) was insulting/ungendering/whatever, but she’d asked for folks to stop, to put a space in between and make it two words, and so I did.
Now, I’m amazed that I *ever* thought it was ok.
There are two basic problems.
1)Asymmetry and [cis] as unspecified default
The first problem lies primarily in the asymmetry in usage of “trans(wo)man” and “cis(wo)man”–the fact that whenever women who are transsexual are being spoken of, that ‘trans’ must always be specified even when it might seem clear from context–whereas in speaking of women who are cissexual, there’s no need to say ‘cis’ unless we are talking in a trans context–even if we specifically mean cis women. …That is to say, were we to accept the one-word terminology, there would be “transwomen” who are almost always referred to as “transwomen”, but “ciswomen” are generally referred to as “women” and occasionally as “ciswomen”.
Listen around you. Even in the trans community, neither men nor women are ever free of the ‘trans-‘ prefix / adjective, except when it’s being spoken by someone who is intentionally making hir speech jarring. It’s like you always have to keep reminding everyone–she’s not a [real] woman, she’s trans. Try referring to us as men and women, and leave out the trans part. If you feel weird, uncomfortable, or like you’re communicating something other than what you mean, that’s internalized cissexualist bullshit, because we are every bit as much ‘men’ and ‘women’ as cis folks are–unless we define ourselves as otherwise gendered. When someone calls a specific person a ‘man,’ hir audience can safely impute ‘cis’–because if the speaker was not positioning that man as cissexual, ze would be sure to specify ‘trans.’ Practically the only time I’ve really ever heard a trans woman referred to by ‘woman’ standing alone from ‘trans’ is in the sentence ‘trans women are women.’ In contrast, trans women are referred to as trans[ ]people/folks/etc all the time.
At first blush, this doesn’t seem any different than the problem of unspecified whiteness, temporarily-able-bodied-ness, straightness, etc. It’s important to evaluate whether one’s claim is about “women” as a whole, or specifically cis ones or trans ones, to be intentional about including/omitting information about a person or group’s cis/trans status, self-reflective about why it’s relevant or irrelevant, and to use language to undermine cis*-as-default.
But at another level, it’s not.
2)The Gender Quaternary and “Trans” as “not really”
Combining “trans”/”cis” and “(wo)man” into one word create a 4-gender system: ‘transmen’/[cis]’men’/’transwomen’/[cis]’women’–as opposed to the two binaries of gender “man”/”woman” and gender status “cis”/”trans”.
(yes, I’m aware that both quaternary and binary are fucked up & there are other options, I take said other options, I’m 1)talking about a discourse that does this so my commentary kind of has to, and 2)the point I’m driving at here is mostly relevant to the right of equal claim to binary categories.)
Within the quaternary, women who are trans can never share a category with who are not–and since, in our society, cis women’s womanhood is the gold standard, trans women’s womanhood is always lesser in this scheme. Whereas, in the interlocking binary, you can have two women of different gender statuses–gender statuses which are no more (or less) relevant/formative/foundational/essential to that (wo)man’s (wo)manhood than her/his race, age, hair color, etc.
I don’t know how well I’ve explained it. But start putting the space in, decide to follow it, and it’ll pop out at you.
So put a fucking space in–and do it in your speech too.
Sorry everyone for my absence–it’ll be a couple more days before I’m really “back, ” but I thought I’d give y’all update by editing a piece I wrote in April (before this blog was created
September 30, 2008
(so, this might seem weird, but in addition to its actual content, this post is laying the groundwork for an analysis of the silence surrounding the recent anti-muslim terror attack in Ohio (see also. h/t to Cheshire Bitten. More of the groundwork will be done in a post to follow.)
How often do you see trans women of color speaking in their own voices? On the blogosphere (that is, user created media), there are quite a few: Holly, Tobi, Little Light, Mia Nikasimo, and Monica Roberts, who in turn highlights the voices of Marisa Richmond and Claudia Charriez, as well as (to a lesser degree of self determination) Isis Tsunami, Bulent Ersoy, Leang Sothea.
In non-blogosphere media (that is, media filtered through an organization), there are any number on the Being T documentary (whose names I don’t know)(h/t Monica), and the deceased Marsha P Johnson (who is rarely shown speaking for herself, almost always reduced to ‘activist and murder victim’) and Sylvia Rivera. Seriously.
In Chicago, one friend of mine is a labor organizer, and acquaintances of mine work at the Broadway Youth Center, and Howard Brown. In Minneapolis I met and briefly worked with women from The African American AIDS Task Force, The Indigenous People’s Task Force, District 202, and All Gender Health.
I make this long, long list not because it’s exhaustive (it’s not, please comment if I forgot you), but in order to make it painfully obvious that there are lots and lots of trans women of color speaking, saying and doing important shit.
And if you’re white and that’s what you think of when you hear “trans woman of color” (etc), I’ll eat my shoes. My hat, too. Hell, if you could name 5 accomplishments by trans women of color I’ll be impressed. But not because they aren’t accomplishing them. Because they’re not being reported.
Media visibility for trans women of color (scanty as it is) goes to 1)objectifying portrayals of sex workers, and 2)murder/hate crime victims. The white trans community seems to have replicated this pattern–while Becoming a Black Man1 and Still Black may have achieved some popularity, and Whipping Girl has spread like wildfire, almost all of what I see reported in transnews and on the blogosphere at large that covers TWOC is focused almost exclusively on their victimhood, and the commentary limited to that & dissection of the fetishization.
Of the top twenty hits googling “trans woman of color”, only two were definitively not about that person being a victim (or survivor) of racist trans misogynistic physical violence, one of which was a comment by Little Light in response to transphobic hate speech included in the 59th Carnival of Feminists; 7 of the first 10 results for “trans women of color” are about transphobic violence (though one does have a positive unrelated story), and the other three are about Isis and Lavergne on reality TV. By contrast, not one of the first 10 for “trans women” focuses on physical violence, and only three out of ten for “trans woman”. Neither “trans man of color” nor “trans men of color” turned up any results obviously violence related (though the “Becoming a Black Man does relate to violence, it’s not in such an objectifying way.).
Say it with me now: trans women of color are not objects. They are not (only) victims. They are not the people you can push the pity party onto when you’re tired of dealing with it yourself and want to be seen acting to change shit. Yes, they are at vastly greater risk of violence than the rest of us trans folks–and just because you bring that up when transphobic/trans misogynistic violence is being talked about does not make you a “good ally“. Their deaths do not define their existence. Yes, many are sex workers because of economic marginalization–and this does not define their lives. They are more than points in a power struggle between multiple groups of white trans activists and cis feminists.
As Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha writes in “The Femme Shark Manifesto”:
FEMMES ARE LEADERS IN TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS/ DEFENDING OUR QUEER AND TRANS OF COLOR COMMUNITIES.
WE USED OUR STILETTOS AS WEAPONS AT STONEWALL
WE WERE THE TRANS[ ]WOMEN WHO FOUGHT BACK AT THE COMPTON CAFETERIA
WE’RE THE GIRLS WHO STARE DOWN ASSHOLES STARING AT OUR LOVERS AND FRIENDS ON THE SUBWAY….
WE REMEMBER OUR DEAD- SAKIA GUNN, GWEN ARAUJO, AND MANY OTHER QUEER AND TRANS POC WHO DIED BECAUSE OF RACIST, HOMO/TRANSPHOBIC VIOLENCE. NOT AS A POLITICAL STATEMENT BUT AS WOMEN WE LOVED IN REAL LIFE WOMEN WHO COULD’VE BEEN US OR OUR LOVES.(link) (note–this piece is about queer femmes of color, not specifically trans ones. And you should read it.)
1: A rather (trans) misogynistic article at that–it does include trans women’s voices, but only as a means to further oppress them/erase their voices and further the subtextual point ‘black men have it worse than black women’. See also my performance piece, So Shut Up.
September 26, 2008
It does something to you, growing up trans in this world, coming out, transitioning. It does something to you, knowing you are worth less.
When you decide, if you decide, to take hormones, to have surgery, to medically transition, you have to accept that your life is worth less because you are trans. You have to accept that in our society, you are not worth a couple weeks of a researcher’s time, an office, and a couple hundred rats.
You have to accept that you will never receive safe medical care again. There are no studies, there is no research. There will be no research. There is a federal ban on funding research. No one knows your risk of cancer, no one knows if there are better options, no one has scientific evidence of jack shit. No one knows the long term effects of trans HRT, let alone how your body reacts with other drugs. Let alone the changes you will experience that aren’t on the map for cis people, that aren’t about them, that are specifically trans. You are not worth even the laxest of FDA approval standards, at least not to the government. Not to medicine. Not even to WPATH. Not even they advocate, protest, denounce, even they are complicit. You are not worth a single class in medical school. You are not worth a single day in medical school. You are not worth any formal training. At all. You are not worth being treated by someone properly trained.
I know, these are false. This is only culture. But you have to accept it nonetheless. You have no choice, if you want to access medicine.
You have to accept not merely the risk, but the certainty of institutional violence against you as a cost of transition. If you want to transition, you must accept abuse. You must accept coercion. These days, you can purchase hormones from overseas, but you still must accept that if the US government finds your purchases it will steal them. You must accept that if it does this you risk health consequences.
If you have surgeries, you have to accept paying thousands of dollars for what cis people have to begin with. You have to accept paying for it all yourself, unfunded by the same cis people who will demand that you take part in funding the same procedures for them. You have to accept that you are shouldering a larger economic burden than those who make twice as much as you do. You have to accept shouldering economic burdens for the very same people who discriminate against you, paying for research you are legally prohibited from benefiting from.
You have to accept that from here on out, you are never safe. You have to accept exchanging internal misery for violence, discrimination, and abuse. You have to accept that the chances you will be murdered go up 16 fold.
You have to accept that you are accepting the risks of violence, discrimination, death, and abuse. You have to accept that you are accepting medical risk that would be illegal for any other population. You have to accept that you are accepting the risk that you will not only be killed for who you are, but that that killing will not even be considered murder. You have to accept, when you transition, that you are taking steps that will disqualify you from many of the most basic safety nets our government provides, and that you pay for in taxes. You have to accept, when you transition, that the actions you take may legalize sexually assaulting you, IPV against you, raping you, harassing you, etc etc, and cause you to lose many of the resources available for dealing with them. You have to accept a world in which your life is worth less than a cis woman’s comfort–and you have to accept entering that world on your own two feet. Whether or not it’s a “choice” to be trans, you have to accept that every pill you take, every patch you wear, every shot you inject is a choice to remain in this world of violence and hate.
You have to accept transitioning anyway. You have to accept leaving yourself vulnerable to all of that. You have to accept taking immense risks to gain some of what cis people have from birth, what they have handed to them. You have to accept that you are not turning back, that your own actions expose you to this risk, no matter how little your fault it is–but if you do turn back, you have to accept that you are throwing your emotional health in a wastebasket and lighting it on fire.
You have to accept betraying yourself. One way or another.
No, it is not your fault. No, the violence, discrimination, hate, etc etc is not your fault, you are not “bringing it on yourself,”–the government is, transphobes in the street and in the West Bank University of Minnesota Office Building and in every office building are, transphobic feminists and CLGB folks are. They are solely responsible, and they are reprehensible for it. But you have to accept risk. You have to accept unacceptable risk. You are in a building lit on fire by arson, and you have to accept that there is an exit you are not taking.
There is something that being trans does to you. Something that transitioning does to you.
Today someone asked me–I don’t remember what it was. Why I took some risk. Why I lane split on my bicycle, why I run red lights. And the only thing I could think of is “I’m trans.” Why I bike in bad weather in the winter–my excuse is that public transit is expensive and a site of harassment, but again I can’t get past ‘but I’m trans’. Of course I do that. Someone lectured me about taking herbs that hadn’t had vigorous scientific studies done on them, that no one really knew if they were safe, if they did what they were said to do, if they had unknown terrible side effects. All I could think of is, “but I’m trans.” Someone implored me not to wear my heart on my sleeve, to leave myself vulnerable to people who will attack me and hurt me, and all I can think is “but I’m trans.” People tell me not to get a tattoo unless I’ve meditated on it for a year and been completely certain, since it was permanent, but I think “but I’m trans. What are you talking about?” People lecture me on my BPA water bottle, on this health risk and that health risk, on what we don’t know about food risks, and I think ‘great for you, but I’m trans.’ People wonder why I go out alone at night, when I feel vulnerable to violence, powerless to defend myself, and they chalk it up to trans woman male privilege, but I know that’s not how being trans affects it. People wonder why I bottom intensely with a new person, and I think, are you kidding me? I should be concerned about that when I’m in a community space? Why did you spit at him when he had you trapped against the wall? Why did you kick the car’s bumper?
No, the reason I take risks has nothing to do with male socialization. I take risks because I’m used to it. I take my life into my hands and it’s nothing special, really. I take risks because I know that it’s ok for me to die in my society, and I can’t help internalizing some of that. I take physical risks to preserve my psychological health because it’s all I have. I take risks because I know I don’t matter. I take risks because what’s one more risk given all I already have? I take risks because I really don’t know how long I’m going to live, or what beast is staring at me from thirty years away. I take risks because I know that in ten years my life, my very existence, could be illegal. I take risks because I’m already surviving a risk that others quake at. I take risks because risk has lost its meaning.