Posts Tagged ‘FtF’

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Trans Girl with a Lesson Plan II

13 May, 2016
Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a trans woman trying to teach in a public high school? If so, read on and learn about my day.
     It started before I got in the building. The principal meet me outside and said that (we’ll call him) “K’s” guardian “isn’t going to let his grade stand. They’re gonna fight this.” I told him, “K has missed 29 days of school and was tardy 42 times on the days he was present. HIs grade is a 48% and he needs a 73% to pass.” The principal said, “I know, and I’ve got you 100%, but they’re gonna fight it.” So, a lovely opening to my day, but that’s not all that will happen.
     Because the seniors are no longer required to come to school, I have been substituting for other teachers. I start the day off with a teacher’s credit recovery class. I’m not in there for thirty seconds when the first of the kids comes in. He takes one look at me and says, “Oh, hell no. I’m not sittin’ in no room with an it.” They walked out and the three students behind him followed suit. In the end, I had one student in the classroom.
     Halfway through this first period, I get called down to the guidance office to talk to a student about his grades. Oh, surprise, it’s K. I explained to him exactly what I told the principal and tell him the choices he made during the school year have lead him to a point of no return. There is no recovery for fourth quarter. He will have to do summer school. Then I’m sent to sub another class.
     Twenty-minutes later I get called in to meet with a different student and his mother. When the mother enters the room she looks at me, winces, and averts her eyes. I’ve seen this before, you can’t be a trans woman and not recoginise this look. She is so disturbed or offended by what she sees when she looks at me that she cannot bring herself to look at me. My HR person had the same reaction when I came out at work; after that he never looked directly at me again. So, we all stand up to shake mom’s hand. I offer my hand and she will not shake it. I’m standing there like a dope with my hand out, as everyone looks at us feeling awkward, but not near as awkward as I felt or even awkward enough to justify not saying something about this situation. She slowly take a deep breath, holds it, loosely places her hand in mine for about two seconds, then wipes it off on her jeans while expelling her held breath so she doesn’t catch whatever disease I have. She avoids looking at me the whole time, even when I was speaking to her directly. Oh, and it is my fault her whole family is coming to see her son not graduate.
     Then it’s K again. We have to call his mom to talk about his grade. It’s a conference call with the principal and vice principal included. Mom doesn’t acknowledge my presence except to ask what work I will give him so he can graduate. I explain everything all over again. She refuses to acknowledge what I have said. I explain about the summer school program. She says, “I hope you won’t be teaching it.” That’s all I get out of her the whole meeting.
     Then it’s back to my room for thirty minutes. Five of which are taken up by K emailing me pleading me to give him some work that will raise his 48 to a 73. The next twenty-five are taken up by a student who was part of the group I sponsored. He spent his time trying to guilt trip, whine, threaten, and cry his way out of the 60% he earned. Mind you, he’s still graduating because he earned 90+ over the required percentage for the year. When that fails he tells me, “I’m disappointed in you You think that you fight for equality but you don’t. If you can’t see I’m a good kid and deserve a better grade then you don’t stand for equality.” I told him the conversation was over and he had to leave. He sat there arguing for ten minutes, refusing to leave the room, despite my asking and telling him to leave no less than seven times. He finally left when I went to page security to the room. He left saying, “I’m gonna pray for you because you need it. God bless you and thank you for the service you rendered.” I locked my door so he couldn’t come back.
     Then I dealt with another email from K. This one tells me he will be homeless if I don’t change his grade and I will have personally ruined his future.
     Now it is fourth period. I have had no lunch and no planning (which is supposed to be third period.) Instead, I go to a science classroom to sub for a ninth grade teacher. It is acknowledged by the administrator that this is a very poorly behaved class. He used the words “out of control,” Why he thought I was a good fit for that is beyond me. It takes ten minutes to get them out of the hall and seated. I have to shut and lock the door because there is a different group of ninth graders in the hall mocking the “man in the dress.” They begin banging on the door. The students ignore me, ignore the instructions, ignore the school rules, and ingnore everything except their phones. Well, all except one student, who we will call “H.” H gets on his FaceTime and begins telling a student at another school that some “he-she is supposed to be watching us.” H then tries to let the students from the hallway into the classroom. I stand in front of the door and block him. He says, “Hey, SIR, I wanna let them in.” I stand there and say nothing. He goes to sit back down saying “He looked like he wants to knock my ass.” I call for the administrator; when he arrives he takes over the class and tells me to write the boy up. I do, but I also realise that nothing will actually be done about it.
     Then it’s back to my room. I answer one more email from K who tells me I should have been telling him everyday that he was failing because the failed papers, failed tests, failed grades in the system, and the failed grades on his progress report weren’t enough to for him to know that he was failing.
     The phone rings. It’s the credit recovery teacher letting me know I’ll be teaching the seniors who failed . . . starting Monday . . . for the next month.
     I turn off the lights, curl into my desk chair, and hide in the dark for the next fifty minutes. Hoping no one else will call or knock before I can leave for the day.
That is what it is like to be a trans woman teaching in the public education system.
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On Socialisation

19 June, 2013

From the article “Follow up re: “I date women and trans men” by JOS:

”Cisnormativity, essentialism, & socialization “I’m also baffled by the assumption that trans women were all successfully socialized as normative dudes. Obviously, there is no universal trans experience. In my experience, the socialization failed at every turn. Because I was never a man – that was sort of how my body was understood by default (even the shape of my body got policed) because our culture’s understanding of bodies is cisnormative. But I’ve always been a girl who got forcibly put into the boy box. I tried really hard to fit for 22 years, and I failed miserably. My failure was policed with verbal, emotional, and physical violence.”

My personal thoughts on this run parallel to JOS’s. I don’t understand the argument that all trans women were socialised male. I can’t say that there weren’t trans women who were (there are as many ways of being trans* as there are trans* people), but I know my own socialisation was more female than male. Though society wanted to put me in a box with others assigned male at birth, I did not take to that socialisation. The fact my uncles not only allowed but also encouraged my cousins to inform them when I was acting in a non-cis male manner and approved of beating me when I failed to act appropriately male is proof that the male socialisation did not adhere to me. The beatings I took from my “peers” at school for my failure to perform masculinity and the teachers who turned a blind eye to this abuse is further proof that male socialisation was not successful in me.

This lack of male socialisation, however, does not imply full female socialisation. As someone assigned male at birth I was excluded from female society and socialisation. As a result, the female socialisation I received was what I could learn through observation or through the media. Thus, my socialisation taught me to be meek, submissive, and always put everyone else’s (especially men’s) needs before my own (how else could I go thirty years hiding who I am, if not to keep everyone else happy?). I was not, however, a recipient of a female socialisation that taught me how to protect myself, believe in myself, or embrace my femininity as part of who I was. My feminity was never acknowledged as natural, real, or beautiful.

So, I ended up with a hodge-podge socialisation that told me it was my place to be submissive and pleasing and that others (particularly men) had the right to physically and emotionally abuse me when I failed to meet their standards of acceptability. A socialisation that taught me I was disgusting, corrupted, and of no value. These are the messages I internalised and these are the messages I need to incorporate or move beyond as I develop from a frightened girl who has normalised her abuse into a woman who can move through the world with poise and confidence. Does this sound like male socialisation to you?

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Trans* Theology: On Trans* Individuals, Inclusion, and Christianity

3 January, 2013

One of the most vexing questions for trans* and cis Christians is how God views trans* individuals. Both inclusionists and fundamentalists turn to the Bible for support, however, the passages that support inclusion are rarely addressed in sermons or in the media. Below you will find the passages that argue for inclusion and the interpretations that support inclusion not just by trans* individuals or local churches but also by entire denominations.

Key Verses:

So God created humanity in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created humanity; male and female God created them. — Genesis 1:27

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. — Galatians 3:28

Let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’ For thus says YAHWEH: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off.’ — Isaiah 56:3-5

For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it. — Matthew 19:21

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture [Isaiah 56:3-5] he told him the good news of Jesus. And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. — Acts 8:35-38

A Note on Language:

When the various books of the Bible were written across the cultural and temporal timespan they cover, there was not a word for transsexual or transgender. The word eunuch, however, included three categories, only one of which was what we understand as a modern day eunuch. The other categories included under this umbrella-term were men who chose celibacy and birth-assigned males who dressed and lived as women (in other words, trans* individuals).

A Note on Formatting:

Anything directly quoted will appear in italics and any commentary from me will be in plain-face.

Site Reference 1 (Presbyterian, Reformed):

http://www.whosoever.org/v2Issue2/starchild.html

This Biblical commentary on Isaiah 56:4, Matthew 19:21, and Acts 8:35-38 (along with other passages) specifically addresses the idea of trans* individuals in a context of Christianity and explains why the Presbyterian, Reformed church feels their inclusion by the Church is part of God’s plan.

Important Passages:

 

  1. We see this new inclusion and celebration in the unfolding of Salvation History in Acts. Before the marvelous stories of the enfolding of the Samaritans and of the Gentiles into the Church we have the wonderful little story of the Ethiopian Eunuch. It is interesting that when he meets Philip, the Eunuch, most likely a Jew who probably knew that Deuteronomy excluded him from the covenant, was reading the prophet Isaiah, which envisions the inclusion of eunuchs. Unlike Peter, who needed a vision from heaven to cross the boundary of including Gentiles, Philip needed no prodding to know that the Spirit was calling him to include eunuchs in the Kingdom of God. Philip proclaims the Good News, the eunuch believes and is received into the family of faith immediately by Baptism. Thus the first boundary that was broken down in our Baptism in Christ was not one of religious differences or race, but one of unusual gender conditions.

 

  1. Sin, of course, does enter the story and it wrecks havoc with this mutual enjoyment. But the story of our redemption is a story of returning us to our original blessings. The goal of the Christian life is not for us to feel alienated from our True Selves, from one another, from all creation, and from God, but instead to be restored to a state of connection and the original sense of “rightness”. Transsexuals, in seeing that the relationship between their persons and their bodies is incongruent and in seeking to create a congruency where one didn’t exist before, are in a real sense fulfilling the mandate of Genesis is [sic – *in] a way that people without Gender Issues are not capable of doing. Transssexuals are people who are able to continue the task of creation and to take up the task of subduing the earth to make it fruitful within their own bodies. In a real sense, then, Transsexuals have a direct and powerful connection to the creation as creatures made in the image of God, for this connection is within their own beings!

 

  1. If God calls us to be farmers, shop-keepers, house-wives, lawyers, craftsmen, pastors, laborers, or whatever, God expects us to find fulfillment in that calling. If something stands in the way of that inner fulfillment and satisfaction, it stands in the way of our ability to serve God and God’s world well in our calling. A sense of Vocation would drive us to remove whatever barriers make it difficult for us to fulfill our calling. If Gender Dysphoria keeps one from being who they truly are and fitting into the reality around them, then it keeps them from serving God to the best of their ability. Vocation then demands that the individual do whatever they can to change this Gender Dysphoria. We now know that the body’s gender can be changed to fit the mind’s gender, but the opposite cannot be done. [emphasis added]

 

  1. So these two Reformed doctrines, Creation and Vocation, not only support people with unusual gender conditions having a freedom within the Church to change their outward gender, but in a sense they teach us that such folk are actually engaged in a sacred and holy task when they undertake such a difficult passage. Rather than attempt to see this passage as something shameful and guilty, we must see it as children of God taking seriously God’s creation of them as creatures who are made in the image of God being therefore co-creators with God and see it as children of God taking seriously God’s calling of them to ruthlessly remove any hindrances to their being whom God desires them to be so they may serve God to their fullest.


Site Reference 2 (Transsexual Road Map > Spirtuality):

http://www.tsroadmap.com/mental/spirit.html

Written by trans women for trans women, this section of the Road Map explains how trans* individuals have an accepted place within Christianity.

Important Passages:

 

  1. See the section Passages from Scripture for a commentary on Deuteronomy 22:5. Read it in its entirety as it is too logical, contextual, and supportable to paraphrase.

 

  1. Isaiah 56:4-5

In contradiction to the rules against eunuchs in Deuteronomy stands this passage from Isaiah:

“For thus says the Lord: to the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths [sic], who choose the things that please me and hold fast to my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument better than sons and daughters, I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”

“Shall not be cut off??” Who says the Bible doesn’t have much humor! That’s a pretty bad pun! This passage is especially useful for transsexuals, since it appears in the Old Testament along with the Deuteronomy passage.

 

  1. Matthew 19:12

This passage has Jesus speaking directly about eunuchs:

For there are some eunuchs, who were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, who were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Many interpretations of this passage have arisen. Some believe it is a discussion of voluntary celibacy, but the fact that Christ mentions people born that way indicates to me a birth condition. Some have also interpreted this to mean gays, which doesn’t seem out of the question. However, I think the most literal interpretation would include intersexed (born that way) and transsexual persons (made that way). Regardless of interpretation, the main point is that anyone able to receive the Kingdom of Heaven may do so.

 

  1. Mark 9:43-47

[For those who feel the “body augmenting” of transsexuals goes against the idea of your body as “God’s temple” (I Corinthians 5:19).]

This passage has Jesus speaking directly about altering one’s body:

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.

Many interpretations of this passage have arisen as well. While it is rarely taken as a literal exhortation, it does seem to say that your bodily form does not matter, and that altering it will not exclude you from entering heaven.


Site Reference 3 (Episcopal):

http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/episcopal-church-transfigured

This site is a recounting of the Episcopal church’s choice to allow trans* individuals to participate in church life and to also allow their ordination.

 

Important Passages:

  1. [T]he House of Deputies—one of the two Houses in The Episcopal Church’s bicameral system of governance – passed resolutions D019 and D002. D019 garuntees trans* individuals access to the life and governance of the church – so, for instance, it clarifies that transgender people can be Eucharistic ministers, vestry members, retreat attendees or leaders, etc and D002 allows trans* individuals to serve as ordained leaders in the church.
  1. A Deputy from Alabama (yes, that’s right, Ala-Bible-belt-bama) quoted Isaiah 56:4-5 and said: These were a people that formerly had not been allowed access to the assembly.  They had been a people cut off—unwelcome because of what we might refer to as their gender identity and expression—but now they were welcomed.  We must name what God has named.


Site Reference 4 (A Sermon for Transgender Day of Remembrance):

http://www.camposiris.com/a-sermon-for-transgender-day-of-remembrance/

I’ll leave you with this quote from a sermon delivered by Shay, a trans man who is also a pastor. It is taken from the the sermon he gave on his seminary’s first TDoR service during which he addressed Isaiah 56:3-5. I think this sums it all up:

 

Some scholars have said that the eunuch is the closest biblical example we have to modern transpeople [sic]. Whatever the case, eunuchs were outcasts from society. They were denied a place in the holy assembly. They were looked down upon and despised. And yet here God is saying that they will be given a name that is better than sons and daughters. Friends, this is good news to transgender and gender non-conforming people. We know what it means to have names chosen for us that don’t fit, or to be called names that are hurtful. We also know what it means to choose names for ourselves that represent all of who we are. And we honor one another by using those chosen names even when others refuse to.

But to have an everlasting name; one that will not be cut off; this is hope for those of us who feel like outcasts. This monument is hope to those who have been killed and to those who worry they will be forgotten. This passage brings me great comfort: to know that I am a beloved son of God and that God gives me an everlasting name, even if my family rejects me, even if the church doesn’t want me, there is a place for me in God’s eyes. This isn’t just some cheap hope. I don’t offer it as a placebo, to say that we should stop fighting for our place at the table, our place in society and the church. Instead I offer it as a raft in the ocean for when the fight gets too hard. I offer it in response to the fearful hallelujah. I offer it because it’s the best I have to offer. We are beloved children of the Universe and no one can take that away from us. We are beloved children. We are beloved.

 

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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.

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Gender as Personality; Gender as Cultural Perception

19 June, 2012

I have been wondering for a little while (read: thirty plus years) what gender is, how one becomes gendered,whether gender is a social construct or an aspect of physiology, and how someone who is transgressively gendered can move through and interact with a traditionally (perhaps coercively) gendered world?

Part of the difficulty in addressing these questions and with talking about gender is a lack of common language. I think those who are traditionally gendered do not spend much time contemplating their genderedness. Like having two excellent eyes or ten flexing fingers, being traditionally gendered is taken for granted. When you are not traditionally gendered, however, you spend every moment of every day thinking about gender, not just your gender, but everyone’s.

“I wish I could stop thinking about my gender.”
—TotallyAmelia via Tumblr

I am able to remember a time in my life where I was not concerned with this thing called gender, I was four. The idea of gender had not been introduced to me yet. I simply knew my personality and that was all I needed to know. Honestly, I think that is all any of us needs to know. This raises another batch of questions for me. Why do we not interact with others based on their personalities? We do we feel the need to know a person’s gender? How are we determining their gender? Why do we try so hard to determine the gender of androgynous people or, worse, disbelieve those whose identified gender does not match what we perceive it as?

I have come to see gender not as a letter on a driver’s license or even a word on a birth certificate but as a multifaceted spectrum that incorporates physiological and cultural components. The arguments that it is merely a biological classification or that it is strictly a set of cultural norms fail to capture the complexity of the concept. Let’s be honest, if it were as simple as what parts you are born with or which conventions you follow, would I and so many others like me have spent so much of our lives obsessing over our gender, where it came from, and why it doesn’t seem to align with what society expects?

I think a life or a time looks simple when you leave out the details.”
Ursula K. Le Guin,
The Birthday of the World and Other Stories

Gender is a way of thinking about one’s own personality and the personalities of those one interacts with and it satisfies the cultural need to classify those personalities into tidy little packages. It is a philosophy designed to bring order to our world, but like all philosophies it mutates into rigid dogma in the hands of those attempting to maintain power and those who are afraid of anything outside of their individual experience.

Gender as individual personality is, perhaps, the easiest concept for a transgressively gendered person to understand and the hardest for traditionally gendered people to understand. When your personality runs fairly close to what society expects of you in your role as woman, man, girl, or boy, it does not occur to you that the personality you have is expresses your gender, that it is a method of categorising you with like personalities. Instead, the traditionally gendered see gender categories as being the domain of biology, in particular genitals and secondary sex characteristics. But gender is far more complex than that. When I was four and in kindergarten I got a damaging lesson in personality as gender.

It was a week or so into the first quarter of kindergarten and the children were just getting used to each other. Small groups of friends were forming and my instructor must have decided that not all of those groups were appropriately holding up the gender classification system. ‘Today,’ she said (or said something very much like,) ‘we are going to be in groups according to if we are boys or girls.’ We were all fine with this; after all weren’t we already with those like us? ‘Girls on this side and boys on that side.’ I had not really thought about whether I was a girl or a boy, but I knew I liked what the kids on the girls’ side liked and I played with them. The kids on the boys’ side were different from me. They played different games, they were louder, they were rougher (more aggressive), and I did not understand them or why they acted the way they did. Based on the logic of personality and perception I clearly belonged on the girls’ side and moved to join them.

‘Where are you going?’ the teacher asked me. I’m a girl, I told her. And she smiled at me. It was a smile that I would grow too familiar with. It lacked warmth or humour; it was reserved and hid her true emotions, a lot of disapproval and a little disgust. It was a frightening smile that told me not to question anything she said next, not to ever say what I had said again, and, more than anything else, that smile told me to never, ever reveal who I was (what I was) to anyone, ever. ‘No,’ she said. ‘You are boy and belong with the boys. Go to the boy side.’ I did not know what would happen if I didn’t do as she said, and that smile told me I did not want to find out. I shut my moth, crammed my personality into a deep dark corner, and joined the boys. I stayed there for thirty years.

And for thirty years I questioned my personality, I questioned how I was gendered and why my feminine personality did not align with what society classified me as. It never occurred to me to reverse the question, why did society believe I was male in spite of my evidence to the contrary? Everyone from school, to parents, to the mainstream media, to erotic fiction and porn confirmed that body trumped personality, so, clearly, I was broken mentally. I was a freak. And I knew I was freak because my personality was female.

“She gives me that look. And I know I’ll have to pretend to be a little boy from then on.”
Kate Bornstein,
Hidden: A Gender

Far easier for traditionally gendered people to understand is how other people’s personalities reflect their gender. Their personalities allow us to place individuals in the proper gender categories: girl, boy, straight woman, straight man, gay man, lesbian. Determining someone else’s gender category is more difficult than determining our own. For ourselves we ask one question: do I have a penis? If I have a penis then I am a member of the dominate gender, man. If I do not have a penis (because this is a phallocentric culture where a person cannot even use the word vagina in mainstream politics without drawing harsh rebuke), then I am not a man, but a member of the subordinate gender, woman. But with others the odds of our seeing their genitals to determine their gender are quite slim, so we find other ways. Of primary importance are secondary sex characteristics, such as facial hair, voice, and breasts. Of almost equal importance are behavioural cues, or personality. The way a person moves, speaks, and takes up space. What a person enjoys doing, the type of career they pursued, how they pursued it, the kinds of people they hang around. All of these are aspects of personality. As a society we default everyone to a male gender and then change that perception based on how the person’s looks and personality align with it.

According to research done by Kessler and McKenna it takes four female cues to outweigh one male cue. That’s how phallocentric our culture is and why women get sirred far more often than men get ma’amed.

Because our society cannot abide ambiguity we have created this nifty little classification system called gender to tell us who is what and, once we know what they are, how much of our respect they deserve. That is the ultimate purpose of the gender classification system. It is more than just the need for tidy little categories. It is what those categories help us determine, the thing we are most desperate to know, who is above who on the hierarchy. This is why transsexuals and other transgressively gendered people are such a threat to the gender classification system. They are jumping gender categories and changing the amount of power and respect they are entitled to, thus exposing the ridiculousness of the system. My personality is little altered from when I was socially male to my being socially female, but I receive less respect, my opinions are devalued, and I make less money (despite doing the same job). Conversely, I know some female to male transsexuals who have stepped not just into a different socially perceived gender but also more respect, more opportunities, and higher wages. Their personalities have not changed either. Our actual genders have remained consistent, but our perceived genders have changed and we suffer the penalties or reap the benefits according to our new position. Personality as gender exposes cultural perception as gender for the misogynistic system it is.

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The Pro from Dover

27 April, 2012

The alarm went off at six in the morning and I continued to lie there for a few minutes, smiling pleasantly to myself and the black cat, Spooky-Mulder, curled against my side. This was a rare treat for both of us, as my Friday morning alarm is typically set for five. Today, I was not going to work. I would still teach and still interact with students, but none of them would be my students.

I began my transition a year a ago; well just a smidgen, as A.A. Milne would say, over a year ago. And in my transition, my regeneration, I still feel closer to the residents of the 100 Aker Wood than I do a mature and knowledge adult. My world is still centred around the joy and anguish of discovery. Everything is still new, sensations, expectations, introspections, and socialisations. Like the little girl I was and wasn’t, I am in constant awe of a world that is not what it seems and hides a myriad of pleasant and unpleasant surprises. Like all children, I am primarily hedonistic. With so much that is new it is impossible not to be. Yet, on an increasing basis I find myself being pulled from my life as a child of the Wood and into the role of the expert. Like Hawkeye Pierce, I find myself having to answer the question ‘who are you?’ with ‘I am the pro from Dover.’

That is why I got to sleep an extra hour; I am being called upon as the pro, again. In the last eight months I have been on a panel discussing the experience of being part of the Gender and Sexuality Minorities (GSM) community in the field of education, spoken to high school Gay-Staight Alliance (GSA) groups, unofficially found myself a mentor to two young lesbians, and been asked to be the sponsor for a teenage survivors of sexual assault support group. This time I am speaking to a class of Washington, DC high schoolers on the topic of trans and homophobia. ‘I am the pro from Dover.’

I was a tad nervous going in, but nothing compared to the first few times I did this and certainly nothing compared to the nerves of ‘coming out’ to family and friends. It was more the general social anxiety I feel when interacting with any person or group where I am the primary focus and I need to watch for social cues I feel disconnected from. I would feel more at home in the Ancient Library of Alexandria or the TARDIS than I do in professional situations or groups larger than three. I’m just not a socialite. So how did I get in the position I am now? How did I become ‘the pro from Dover’?

I question this. Surely, there are more qualified people with a greater breadth and depth of experience and knowledge than I. There are local trans women whose transition began longer ago, who have experienced more discrimination, who could speak with greater authority. It’s not that I have not experienced these things for I have been the victim of discrimination, bigotry fueled assault, transmisogyny, and phobias, but I do not feel my voice is worthy of being heard, that my experiences are in any way defining or particularly unique. So how did a person of novels and papers get to be the pro from Dover? The only answer I have found is it is my status as a child of the Wood that makes me a desirable speaker. I always enjoy myself and bring my marvelling at life to the conversation. Having the opportunity to express what I have experienced, getting the chance to share thoughts and opinions, spreading the sense of wonder and delight I take from the world, and helping others see the familiar in new and inspiring ways is a source of great joy. And maybe that’s what is required. Maybe it is the embracing of, the relishing in the world and its treasures that makes one ‘the pro from Dover,’ or from anywhere else!