Tag Archives: trans women

There I Go Again, Thinking I Have a Basic Right to Exist in Society

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There is a shockingly large contingent of Americans who believe that trans women should not have access to women-only spaces like bathrooms, locker rooms, shelters, prisons, women’s centers, lesbian spaces, festivals, etc. I will call this contingent the Birthers, because they usually say things like only females who had “female” checked off on their original birth certificate can have access to women-only spaces, which would prevent trans women from using the bathroom they feel in their best judgment is most appropriate for them.

Ironically, Birthers usually place a very high value on the idea of freedom yet deny trans women the freedom to be themselves. Birthers are gatekeepers, they want to restrict access to life-saving medical treatment such as puberty blockers, hormone replacement surgery, and surgical treatments. They want to absolutely reduce the numbers of children and adults transitioning, socially or medically. For these people, the only acceptable solution to the “trans problem” is a form of conversation therapy, an attempt to mind fuck trans people into submitting to the fate of their non-consensual birth assignment. The fundamental goal of the Birthers is to eradicate the desire for transition, the possibility of transition, and the pragmatics of transition. Part of the strategy for inflicting this on trans people is by  using propaganda to overly emphasize how gender and thus appropriate social access to gendered facilities is determined by your so-called “innate biological essence”. This is often described by Birthers as a “fact” or “reality” that trans people are somehow “delusional” about. But trans people are not delusional. The difference between the body dysmorphic person and the gender dysphoric person is that the dysmorphic person misperceives the nature of their own body, giving it physical properties that don’t exist. The gender dysphoric person, in contrast, knows full well the reality of their body, that knowledge is usually the basis for medically transitioning and a source of the dysphoria itself.

The Birthers are so quick to point to “middle school biology” to solidify their argument but as Dan Dennett once wisely said “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science – there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.” The question of whether gender is different from sex is not a question that can be answered purely with science – it is a deeply philosophical question resting on complex questions of personal identity and gender as a performative, socially-embedded, experiential and subjective phenomenom. As Simone de Beauvoir famously said, “One is not born, but rather, becomes a woman.”

Upwards of 60% of trans people say they avoid public bathrooms. Without access to public bathroom facilities trans people are actually at risk of damaging their bladders by being compelled to hold their bladders for too long for fear of using either the men’s room or the women’s room.  Either option presents real dangers and for many trans people the reality is that they don’t use public restrooms at all. If they walk out of a movie, rather than waiting in line, they might just hold it until they get home. This is just one basic illustration of the way in which Birthers want to see trans folks eradicated from society. They want us to accept our birth assignments as absolute biological destiny and would, if possible, totally restrict the small little daily freedoms that allow trans people to exist in a public society of citizens.

But here’s the problem: Birthers will never understand the trans experience. They are not trans and have no concept of what it really means to have an incongruity with your gender. They can’t even fathom it. And if they do attempt to get their heads around it, they often just deny that its fundamental basis is true and go on to insist that the morphological shape of genitals we had as babies determines entirely and forever the very complicated phenomenon of our genders and how we fit into society. Talk about reductionist. Talk about rigid, stale, conservative, anti-freedom, anti-justice. They have no appreciation of the arguments in favor of thinking that gender can come apart from physiological properties. Ironically, most Birthers think that consciousness and the soul can come apart from biology but not gender for some reason, though gender is of course both a deeply social and deeply subjective phenomenon.

The Birthers are fundamentally just hypocrites hiding behind the social force of tradition. They value religious liberty, but not the liberty of trans people to make decisions about their healthcare, or about which bathroom they should use. Birthers justify this restriction of freedom by referencing the hypothetical possibility that a male person could abuse this freedom in order to harm girls and women. But it’s not like there’s a lock on the bathroom door. A cis male can walk in at anytime and there is no magic barrier blocking him from entering the bathroom and assaulting a woman or girl.

Bathroom bills are terrible solutions to a nonexistent problem. There might be a handful of problematic cases existing out there somewhere. With a population of 7.1 billion humans, with trans people accounting for, very roughly ~1 of the population, that makes 71 million trans people across the globe. Out of 71 million trans people it seems statistically likely for there to be at least *some* bad apples. But let me emphasize there is no empirical evidence showing trans women commit crimes at a higher rate than cis women. I repeat. No evidence. All there is is that one misinterpreted Swedish study but the author of the study said herself that nothing about the study suggests that your average trans woman who has transitioned circa 2017 is at any greater risk of being a criminal.

Bathroom bills are not created from the data. They are created from the ideological premise that, as Janice Raymond, the famous “radical feminist” who wrote that trans women are all rapists said, transgenderism must be morally mandated out of existence. Notice how this fits in line with many religious organizations such as the Roman Catholic church, who have said that trans people represent a grave threat to the moral order of society as dictated by the natural law of God. When your feminism aligns perfectly with what the Pope says about trans people being akin to “nuclear weapons” – then I think you need to reconsider your feminism.

Trans people have inalienable rights. We have a right to exist in society how we see fit according to our deepest vision of how we want our lives to go so long as we respect the autonomy of other people as well and think about the happiness of others.

 

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Filed under Gender studies, Trans life, Trans studies, Uncategorized

Why Internalized Transphobia is the Hardest Battle

Am I a man? Or a woman? Or something else? Internalized transphobia is what happens when trans people unconsciously buy into the belief that, e.g., trans women are really deep down men and trans men are really deep down women. That biology will never change. That biology is destiny – gender is immutable. Often internalized transphobia is based on the toxic idea of cis-normative “Passing”. The idea is that the more you pass as cis then the more of a woman or man you are. We see ourselves in the mirror and see our assigned sex and the darkest thoughts enter our minds. “You’re just a man. What are you doing”. Or we meet a trans women who doesn’t pass perfectly and we can’t help but think “You’re still a man” – I admit I’ve had thoughts like this – I think we all have. Although I don’t have hard evidence I believe EVERYONE who has met a non-passing trans woman has had these thoughts. Even trans people. Trans people are not immune to transphobia. We live it and breath it just like everyone else. You look at someone, they have “masculine” features, and you think “boy”. But our minds like to ignore that many cis women have “masculine” features too. Oh but you might say even the most masculine cis women still is within the “norms” of cis-standards whereas non-passing trans women are “extreme” examples of masculinity. But this is internalized transphobia. It doesn’t matter if even the trans women before you is the tallest women you know. That is no license to assume she must be a man “deep down” because she is extreme on one or two traits. If a trans woman does not pass as cis female we have to fight against our own internal biases to see them as 100% women. We have to have grace for those trans women who have not had the time or opportunity to learn everything about acting/socializing like cis women. Furthermore, and most important, we must divorce ourselves from the idea that cis women define the standard by which socialization must be codified.

Personally, I don’t care if people think im 100%woman. But that’s just me. I’d be fine with like 70-80% woman. My self identity is not based on rigid binary concepts. I don’t even really identity as a woman simpliciter as in your “average everyday woman”. I see myself as a special kind of woman. A rare kind of woman. A woman that you just don’t meet everyday. But we must be careful. Because just because I’m rare that does not make me less of a woman. We need to reject the idea that the ONLY women are those women who embody cis-normativity 100%. If someone is read as 51% women we need to make room for these being full-fledged members of the category or women. We need to expand the concept of womanhood to make space for trans women who fall into the margins of binary stealth cis-passing normativity. Some trans women are butch, have no interest in passing as cis, and yet are fully comfortable in their own womanhood. Women come in all shapes and sizes. I know this idea is hard to swallow. Many people want to keep things easy were there are only two boxes for gender/gender presentation and everything is neat and tidy and correspondent with biology. But newsflash: biology is messy. Humans are messy. Gender is messy. This isn’t your biology 101 textbook about farm animals. Gender defies easy categorization. This is part of what makes the human experience so interesting. We are generally much more fluid than people believe. The line between men and women is rather thin actually and the boundary is porous.

But the battle with internalized transphobia is to accept this not just at an intellectual level but at a deeper, unconscious, core level. It’s one thing for liberal cis allies to use the right pronouns and treat us on the surface as women. But internalized transphobia deals with those secret thoughts you never share with anyone. It’s that twinge of uncomfort around non-passing trans women. And yes I am focusing on non-passing trans women because non-passing trans men often lead to less unconscious anxiety because they’re simply read as butch lesbians for which there is a socially acceptable category. But there is no acceptable social category for non-passing trans women. We are the fringe. But you know? Confidence is key. Hold your head up high. Be confident in your body language. Have a deep voice? Fuck it? Don’t pass perfectly? Fuck it. I am proud to fly my freak flag. I know not every one is comfortable with that language but for me non-conformity and living outside of society’s shit is a good way to cope with my internalized transphobia and dysphoria. Sure, I still care about passing. I still present femme. But I’m no longer obsessed with my voice. I’ve come to accept my voice. It’s mine. It will probably always be deep. It will always probably bring about occasional dysphoria. But that’s fine. Everyone has something they don’t like about themselves. Cis people also don’t like many parts of themselves. All we can do is work to better ourselves. To be good people.

At the end of the day the war against internalized transphobia can probably never be won. We might win a few battles but the war itself is a on-going lifelong struggle to accept ourselves. And to accept others. To divorce gender from biology. From appearance. From presentation. We will never live in a genderless world but we can live in a world where people internally fight hard to see trans people as their true genders no matter their appearance.

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Filed under feminism, Gender studies, Trans life, Trans studies, Uncategorized

TERFs, Essentialism, and Normality

Gender critical radical feminists (henceforth GCers) believe that trans women are not women. They believe we are essentially male because of our biology. They divide the world into female and male – ignoring intersex people as “anomalies”.  They argue that the only way to be a woman is to be female. But what does it mean to be female? GCers often use the definition that females are those creatures that produce eggs and can get pregnant. Trans women do not produce eggs and cannot get pregnant from sperm (though uterus transplants now make it possible for trans women to have a womb), thus trans women are not female and thus not women.

But you might retort: not all cis females can get pregnant. Many are infertile. Does this mean these cis females are not female? Not women? Here’s where things get tricky. GCers fall back on a “normality” clause such that the infertile cis females belong to a class of beings where, if things go “normally” in development, they will be able to get pregnant. Thus females are those beings who “normally” can get pregnant. GCers then argue that this class of beings is globally oppressed on the basis of their biological sex (which normally can get pregnant). If you are of the class that normally can get pregnant then you are oppressed in virtue of belonging to that class.

But going down this route is philosophically dangerous. The crux of the issue is defining the notion of “normal”. Who gets to decide what’s normal and what’s abornmal? If you say that male and females are “normal” and intersex people/trans/infertile people are “abnormal” – how is that judgment made? GCers might try to rely on statistical normality i.e. go by what the “majority” of cases indicate. Trans/intersex people make up probably like ~1-2% of the total human population. And so we are “abnormal” in this respect. But why should we rely on a statistical definition of normality? After all it’s perfectly consistent to say instead that it’s “normal” for intersex people to be born – they are just rare. Because rarity does not automatically equate to “abnormal” – for the same reason that rare biological traits are not necessarily always pathological. The problem is that normality judgments cannot just be read off of nature so easily – there is almost always an element of human subjectivity in trying to define what is to count as “normal”.

There’s an analogous debate happening about vegetative state patients. Are they people? If we define personhood in terms of consciousness then vegetative state patients are not persons. But we could also say veg state patients belong to the class of humans where it is “normal” to have consciousness and that anyone who belongs to that class is a person. See how dangerous “normality” arguments are? They reflect a kind of magical thinking whereby you have a linking property that connects reality to the ideal world of what’s “normal”. But vegetative state patients are NOT persons if we define personhood not in terms of normality but in terms of the actual reality of their mental state. The same thing happens in the abortion debate. Pro-lifers says that even if fetuses do not have consciousness they belong to the class of beings that, if things go normally, will eventually turn into persons with consciousness. But the reality is that fetuses are not persons: they are clumps of cells with no consciousness.

Similarly, the reality of some cis females not being able to get pregnant cries out for a new definition of womanhood that does not rely on the magical thinking of normality. It doesn’t matter if “normally” women can get pregnant because in reality some woman do not have any biological capacity to reproduce and yet they are 100% women just the same. So why not say the same thing for trans women? Trans women cannot get pregnant and yet they are women. The problem with normality arguments is that they are essentialist, trying to find the singular “essence” of womanhood and pinning that down on one category, namely, biological sex. But we know that in reality biological sex is complicated by intersex/trans people – biological reality is not easily cleaved into two categories (male and female) unless you are willing to write off a huge segment of the population as “abnormal” even though there’s nothing physically wrong with them in the sense of being more likely to die.

In conclusion, it’s philosophically suspect for GCers to try and define womanhood in terms of the biological capacity to get pregnant because it’s essentialist nonsense masquerading as legit science when in reality their arguments are not scientific at all but rather ideological. Their first assumption is that trans women CANNOT be women and then they try to find a definition of womanhood that gives them that conclusion while at the same time arguing they’re doing this in order to fight oppression against cis females. But it’s not a competition. Trans women are also oppressed by patriarchy – often in the exact same way cis women are. Trans women and cis females are thus natural allies and it saddens me that so many don’t understand that. ALL women, trans or otherwise, need to work together and acknowledge our intersecting identities and privileges in order to fight patriarchal oppression.

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Embracing Ambiguity

When I get right down to it I am a mixture, a blend of both the masculine and the feminine. I have long hair but a deep voice, smooth skin but an adam’s apple, breasts but facial hair. I wear makeup while my face is androgynous. I wear women’s clothing while being tall and muscular. I am a contradiction. An anomaly. I challenge people’s expectations everyday. Who is this person before you who looks like a woman but sounds like a man? Why does that woman have a prominent adam’s apple? Why are her arms so muscular and her hands so big? Why is her hairline so high?

Like most trans woman, I often feel like passing is everything. We all strive for more of it. More blendability. More stealth. Less ambiguity. More fitting in. Not violating expectations. Safety. Avoiding being misgendered. Fighting social dysphoria. We all strive for it but few trans women ever get to 100% passability. There’s usually something about us that makes us clockable upon closer inspection. For trans women this is often our voices. In my experience few trans women ever achieve 100% passable voices.

So what do we do? We have to cope somehow. Regardless of whether we pass will still have to go out into the world and buy groceries and run errands. We have to strengthen ourselves to accept reality. To accept that we will like never live up perfectly to the cis-normative standard. Maybe one day I will afford to shave my trachea down. Or maybe I will be able to get professional voice therapy one day. But for now I need to come up with practical coping strategies to deal with the fact that I don’t pass 100% and yet I still have to live my life.

One such coping strategy is to embrace ambiguity as a positive ideal, to embrace the idea of confusing people, of challenging people’s expectations of what it means to be a woman. Or going even further, challenging the notion of what it means to be a person in today’s modern society where gender transition is a real phenomenon. Though I would prefer to be gendered correctly and seen as a normal female person I know this is not going to happen all the time. So how do I cope? I have been trying to develop the attitude of (1) not giving a fuck and (2) embracing my androgyny as a positive trait. Some people are actually attracted to androgyny so I tell myself even if I don’t pass 100% it doesn’t make me less attractive or valid. Some people like mixtures, blends. They enjoy the fact that my body is a contradiction. A field upon which competing elements battle. This knowledge of my body being ideal to some people is a great comfort because when I get into relationship it helps dispel my fear that they’re just going to abandon me for a more attractive cis partner.

Many men are attracted to trans women specifically because of their trans status. In the community these men are called “chasers”. But I have never liked that term because it erases the possibility of a category of people who are specifically attracted to trans people without that attraction being fetishistic, objectifying, or problematic. I call these people “trans amorous”. And it’s not just men. Cis women can be trans attracted as well. But I think women are socialized to be more polite about it whereas men are overly blunt.

My other coping strategy is actually indirect. It’s through relationships and friendships. If I am in a relationship or friendship and that person has only known me as Rachel it really helps battle the dysphoria because I see them unconsciously using “she/her” pronouns because people who know me know those are obviously the most correct pronouns – it’s what is the most natural if you spend time with me. And that’s a good feeling. It says: I see you. I know you. You are valid. Don’t worry about your ambiguity. It’s ok. I like you and see your womanhood as valid. Building up a social circle of people who automatically gender me female has been an important part of my transition. This is why I enjoy hanging out with trans people. They usually have an above-average ability to correctly gender people regardless of what they look like or how they present themselves.

So in a nutshell, my strategy is to embrace ambiguity. To relish in it. Will this strategy completely dispel my dysphoria and social anxiety? No, not really. That’s too much to ask. But it’s a weapon in my arsenal. It’s a useful perspective to keep in mind.

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