Trans as an identity vs Trans as a trait

Why did I choose to name my domain site “transphilosopher” instead of just “philosopher” or my name, Rachel Williams? I have self-consciously adopted the language of identity and embraced my transness as a central feature of my personhood (I even have a trans tattoo on my ankle). But not all trans folks feel this way. Some either want to downplay their trans identity as much as possible or go “deep stealth” and not acknowledge it at all. Post-transition, many trans people identity as cis because they see themselves as “normal” members of their gender just like cis people. Some just see their trans identity as a private medical issue that is the business of no one.

So why have I taken up the mantle of being both a philosopher and trans as a central feature of my online presence? This is a question I’ve asked myself many times since I started blogging under the name “transphilosopher” about 1.5 years ago. First and foremost, I do see my trans identity as central to who I am. It is not just an incidental feature of my personhood – it defines my everyday existence and structures my thoughts, desires, and beliefs in a profound way. Second, I want to raise more awareness in order to remove the stigma that comes along with openly identifying as trans. The more people get exposure to trans people the more society will begin to see us as full-fledged human beings instead of second-class citizens and the butt of jokes. Writing about gender issues as a trans philosopher also gives people advance notice that my writing is informed by my trans status – I can’t help but see the world through a lens that has been shaped by my transition.

I think another reason why I have adopted “transphilosopher” as my online persona is that I am self-consciously taking advantage of the “trendiness” of trans culture in mainstream media. Take for example H&M’s recent featuring of Hari Nef (a trans model) in a new advertising campaign. The mainstream media and the corporate world are starting to cash in on the explosion of trans awareness over the past few years. Intersectional feminism as a marketing strategy is also taking advantage of trans people to sell products (see the Absolut vodka ad featuring a trans woman named “Darla”). It’s a cash cow. It sells because trans identities are still seen as “exotic”. And perhaps they are in a way – I mean, how many people experience a gender transition? It’s a relatively rare phenomenon (1% of the population). Will it always be seen as taboo? Hard to say. But the rarity of gender transition will probably always make it something that is deemed “curious”. This is especially true of male-to-female transition which is very much considered “strange” for the same reason it’s considered highly taboo for assigned male at birth people to express any kind of femininity. Trans culture also sells because allies like to pat themselves on the back for even knowing a trans person or – gasp – being decent when it comes to the right pronouns. Oh – how progressive you are for reaching the bare minimum of decency!

So my identity as philosopher who is trans is self-consciously taking advantage of these recent trends to hopefully bring greater attention to my writing than if I was just going “stealth” with my online presence. Some trans folks might feel uncomfortable with this kind of selfish exploitation but after all isn’t it my choice on how to express myself? Don’t get me wrong – I don’t necessarily always love being trans. It’s not all roses and candy. It can be difficult. Dysphoria sucks. Being gender ambiguous sucks. Being misgendered sucks. These things happen on a daily basis on my life. Even 1.5 years in transition and 13 months into hormone therapy trans-thoughts still occupy my mind, though of course not as much as they did when I was first getting started. Like most trans people I am hyper aware of gender differences and the extent to which gendering happens in everyday life. But I’ve learned to embrace who I am, to even take pride in my identity. In my view, trans people just posting a seflie to FB is a radical act – showing the world that trans is beautiful no matter what. We are beautiful. We are here. We’re not going away.


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