Archive for September, 2012

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Escapism (a Caitlin On … post)

24 September, 2012

Sundays are by tradition a day to relax. Trade your heels for a ratty pair of sneakers, put your hair up in a ponytail, and bum around in a pair of sweats. On Saturday you ran your errands and on Monday you go back to work but now, for a lovely twenty-four hours, you are responsibility free. Some people chose to spend that time in worship, others with family, and still others at the local gym getting buff and hot or at least checking out those who are. Ultimately people are opting to hide from the every day by engaging themself in activity that leaves weekly stressors behind and engages them in the now. For me that now-centred activity is movies. Old or new, A-list or B-cheese, black and white, Technicolor, or digital doesn’t matter; just give me a plot and a character to root for. It’s my escape, my chance to leave my world behind and slip into someone else’s. So it came as quite a shock this last Sunday when the exciting suspense/horror film I was watching thrust me back into my world.

A friend and I went to see House at the End of the Street. This was a four star suspense piece; the writers set complications and clues up in advance, revealed back story at key moments, and provided several throw your popcorn everywhere scares. I cannot in any way fault the writing. On near equal level were the actors. Lawrence and Shue were excellent and Thieroit was very James Dean (they even allude to Dean in one scene). But the big suspense-filled twist is what knocked me head first down the basement stairs landing me with an abrupt crash back into my world.

Those of you who do not wish to have the end of the film revealed should stop reading now. If you don’t plan on seeing this flicker, don’t mind spoilers, or are just painfully curious, feel free to read on.

I’m not joking; I’m going to give away the end.

… Shh! Spoilers …

The film’s final twist hit me in the spot I use films to escape from: my dysphoria. (I’m serious this your last chance to stop before I give aways the big reveal.) When Josh was little, he was damaged in a way that plays on the Norman Bates motif. He witnessed his sister’s accidental death and, after druggie dad buries her in the woods, crack-addled mom, in a new twist on forced feminisation, declares Josh is Carrie Anne and forces him to live as her for ten years before he, inevitably, murders his parents. This reveal did not so much knock me out of the movie’s world as it did merge it with my own and raised two major issues for me.

The first is the essential nature of transsexualism, that is dysphoria, living your life as one person while knowing you are someone else. I imagine this plot twist would be particularly triggering for trans men. The distressing image of a little boy in a dress pleading “I’m not Carrie Anne” will resonate with the darker natures of their pasts and dysphoria. As a trans woman, I also found the scene dysphoria triggering, as I recalled moments from my past that, though reversed, were equally damaging.

The second is how feminisation of the masculine is depicted as an act of insanity. Now, it cannot be argued that what mom did was sane or rational, clearly she was broken by crack and grief, but the use of this forced feminisation as the back story for the demonisation of Josh was difficult for me to see. In part because Josh was victim to a process that runs an uncomfortable parallel to fantasies from my past. A lot of trans people don’t talk about the gender swap fantasies they had while growing up; they are uniquely personal and can often be a source of shame or a hinderance to the process of transition. In fact, I know almost nothing of the swap fantasies of trans men; this is not a belittling of trans male struggles but a recognition that these struggles are so personal there is a reluctance to discuss them, even with those who would be likely to understand. I know more about trans feminine swap fantasies because I had them and because brave authoresses (like Bornstein, Serrano, Boylan, and Connelly) have written about theirs. It seems the scenario painted by the writers of House at the End of the Street is typical of the male to female swap fantasy, that is, the feminisation is almost always forced. This is not because we don’t want to transition but because the social stigma of someone perceived as male acting female is so great that we cannot admit, even in our fantasies, that this is something we want. In the fantasy the feminisation is forced because it frees our minds of having to accept responsibility for what we are feeling and we can enjoy the result without the guilt of acknowledging we are rejecting the “gift” of masculinity. The film’s demonisation of feminisation gives its fatal thrust in Josh’s last scene where, locked in his padded room, he accepts he is Carrie Anne.

These are the thoughts that intruded on my quiet Sunday movie escape. But, that’s the thing about escaping, eventually you need to return. As much as we say we want to get away from our weekly stressors we cannot help dragging them into our idyllic free time. Worship can leave us feeling we haven’t been doing our best (“forgive me for what I have done and what I have left undone”), our families drive us crazy with their when are you getting married and can you do me a favour questions, seeing McBuff at the gym reminds us why we had to go to the gym to begin with, and a good movie always leads you back into the world you thought you had left behind.

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T*ypical Love Story

16 September, 2012

This is a true love story involving a trans woman and a trans man. It is beautiful.

T*ypical Love Story

No part of this film is mine. All credits and sources are documented within the film.

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Trans* Dignity

15 September, 2012

As a trans woman and resident of the DC area, I am greatly in favour of the DC Office of Human Rights’ campaign to promote trans* awareness and dignity, however, and here is where I will be offending most of you, the campaign photos that have been released all feature attractive, photogenic trans* people with strong “passing privilege.” I am concerned, and I believe legitimately so, that if they do not include average trans* folk, people who don’t “pass,” people who don’t “blend,” and people just starting on their transition the campaign will inadvertently create a standard for being trans* that most trans* people cannot live up to and will result in giving bigots the means to continue justifying discrimination and violence against them.

Further, for trans* people, or members of the GSM community who are out, this can place them in dangerous and life threatening situations. This isn’t a mere poo-pooing of the idea of beauty, but a concern for the safety of those who have no choice but to be out and at risk because the very nature of who they are makes it impossible for them to hide. If the DC Office of Human Rights continues to push the social envelope and includes people from the affected groups I mentioned, I can see this campaign doing a lot of good. If, however, they only present a media consumable version of trans* life and dignity, they will end up doing more harm than good.

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The SRS Question (a Caitlin On … post)

1 September, 2012

I’m standing in the hallway outside my classroom. It’s 7:30 AM and the students are wandering zombies aimlessly shuffling about before first period. Boys are punching one another in their simulated battles for dominance, their “just playin” fights that too often lead to actual fights. Girls are complaining about the people in their lives who are “doin too much.” Couples are clinging to one another—a girl draped across her boyfriend’s arm and shoulder, hallway princesses holding hands, “sweet” boys playing grab-ass with anything that moves. There is no personal space and unwanted attention is chastised with a sharp “Boiii!” or “Whatcha doin, son?” I separate anyone who is getting overly friendly but mostly keep to a policy of non-interference. There is a culture of invasiveness among these children and it’s hierarchy is governed by rules and social patterns that are as foreign to me as deconstructionist literature is to them. I smile. The framework recommends smiling; be in the hallways, greet them with a smile, make them feel welcome and they’ll develop the right attitude toward learning. I don’t believe this, but I don’t have anything better to offer so I go with it. It’s become a habit. I smile all the time now. It has become an ingrained response similar to Dr. Hibbert‘s laugh; it spreads across my face regardless of how appropriate or inappropriate the situation.

While I’m monitoring the hallway, a boy who looks eighteen but is probably fifteen or sixteen stops in front of me. He stares at me and I can almost hear the grinding of his mind’s nefarious machinery. His cocked head and aggressive posture reveals the sinister twist to his thoughts. I smile and brace myself for what is coming.

“Have you, ma’am,” he emphasises the word and let’s it hang in the air a moment, a lot of the students do it as a way of feigning politeness while letting me know they don’t believe what they are saying, “had it, you know?”

Yes. I do know. With his eyes resting on my crotch only the village idiot would miss his meaning, but I smile and play dumb. “I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on, son. You know.”

I stand there cloaked in my smile, my Supergirl cape.

“Have you had it cut off?”

My jaw tightens and I can feel my teeth grinding into one another, but gods be damned if I don’t hold that smile in place. He smiles, too. A wide, moon-faced grin that says he holds power over me and it amuses him to use it.

The eleventh grade administrator stalks down the hallway bellowing, “Let’s go! Clear the hall!”

I stopped telling administration about these incidents because I know they won’t do anything about them. It’s just kids being kids, they say, don’t let it get to you. The boy knows I won’t say anything. So we both stand there, smiling at each other, until the administrator has shuffled farther down, as much a hallway zombie as the students. Then the boy walks off in the opposite direction.

I could answer the boy with a simple yes … or no … or even that’s none of your business. But that isn’t why he is asking the question. It isn’t why anyone asks the question. And it’s a question I am asked on a fairly regular basis. Not always with such blunt rudeness, but always from the same place of entitlement. Whether it is have you had it cut off, did you have the surgery, did SRS hurt, how much does a vagina cost, does it work, or do you still have a dick the SRS question always comes from the asker’s belief that, as a trans woman, the status of my genitals should be public knowledge. And it isn’t just boys or even kids that ask these questions. For those of us who lack “passing privilege” (a problematic term for which there is not a suitable alternative) and those of us open about our trans* status, it is often one of the first questions we are asked by friends, acquaintances, and people introduced to us. And there are only two reasons for asking it: the asker is trying to invalidate our identity or the asker is sexualising us.

When it comes to gender identity, asking the SRS question is always an attempt to invalidate trans* identity. If an asker intended to validate my identity they would look at my presentation, the social cues I give off or, and this is a radical concept, they would just accept my stated identity. After all, that is exactly what we do for everyone we assume to be cis gender. Further, for me to ask invasive questions about the status of a cis gender person’s genitals would be considered adequate grounds for a sexual harassment suit. We don’t ask women presumed to be cis gender if they have a tilted uterus, or men presumed to be cis gender if both their testicles have descended, as our way of validating their identity because it would be insulting. Thus, the need to ask a trans* person if they have had surgery can only come from a place of insult and disregard, because we understand such “curiosity” to be inappropriate in other situations.

Further, the nature of the question prevents the person being asked from replying in a way that will not result in an invalidating of her identity. [Note: I will use her as example because it is my experience and it is a more common experience for trans women than it is for trans men; as our society makes penises the standard, even cis women are defined by our culture as human beings who do not have a penis versus human beings who have a vagina] If she answers that she has not had SRS, her gender identity is immediately forfeit because, in the game of male, female, neuter, the presence of a penis trumps everything. If she responds that she has undergone SRS, her identity is not validated but becomes the subject of further inquiry and comment. Does it work? How much did it cost? It’s not like you can have babies with it. Do you have phantom penis syndrome? Well, it doesn’t work like a real vagina. Each of these follow-ups is a directed attack with the goal of invalidating her identity. Nor can she decide not to answer the question because her silence becomes an admission that she has not had SRS.

The SRS question is also a sexualising of the trans woman. It takes her out of humanity and reduces her to her parts. The only time a person needs to know if the other person has a vagina or a penis is if there is a mutual decision to have sex. To ask her, do you have a penis, is to tell her that she is good for only one thing: being a receptacle for a penis. Not only is this transmisogynistic, it is also an example of heteronormative bias, traditional sexism, and oppositional sexism. It reveals more about the asker’s biases and motivations than it does about trans* identity.

The argument is often made that when the asker is genuinely interested in having sex with her that the asker is owed an answer. But this argument assumes it is only their interest in having sex that matters. It is narcissistic to reason that because the asker wants to have sex that she, our trans woman, is obliged to be the asker’s sexual object. If she desires a sexual relationship then full disclosure is necessary, however, if she has no interest in sexual relations with the asker, she is under no obligation to answer the question. In the case of the latter to ask her if she has a penis is as inappropriate as asking if she is wearing underwear or if she is menstruating. Society recognises the other two as inappropriate questions and should recognise the first as one, also.

The status of my genitals is no one’s business but my own. If and how I decide to reveal this information is at my discretion. The persistence of the SRS question reveals more about the asker’s personality, their invalidation of my identity, and their tendency to view others as objects for sexual gratification, than it does about who I am and what my journey has been like.