Posts Tagged ‘Gender’

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Exilic Theology

30 December, 2017

A new study has shown that of the 100 largest churches in America 7 have a person of colour as their pastor, 1 has a woman as their pastor, and 0 are LGBTQ-affirming. A faith that once offered hospitality and hope to the disenfranchised and minoritised outsider has become the arm of the white, straight, cisgender man. We have seen this approach to faith before and we have seen how it ends:


Enslaved by monarchical theology in Egypt,

an exodus restored freedom to the oppressed.


Ruled by monarchical theology in a divided kingdom,

an exile restored commitment to the poor, the widow, and the orphan.


Dominated by monarchical theology under Rome, a pacifist Messiah ate and drank with tax collectors and sex workers and brought them salvation.


The church must abandon supremacist theology

or face a new exodus.


The church must abandon patriarchal theology

or face a new exile.


The church must listen to the messianic voices of and among the LGBTQ community

or they will lose the way to salvation.

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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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Caitlín

7 April, 2016
On Monday, 1 August, 1977 a baby girl named Caitlín was born to two loving parents. They were told to raise her as a boy. No one understood that she was a girl. Her parents did a good job of raising her and gave her many moments of joy, but that joy was interspersed among gorges of self-hate, fear, and confusion about why God or the Universe would make people think she was a boy. Life was always stressful and there was a weight of pain and responsibility for other people’s happiness and welfare always dragging her below the surface.
Eventually, this all became too much. Her health declined and she came very close to her body just shutting down on her. She decided to save herself and become herself. Her parents still loved her, but she lost almost everything in the process. Much of her family, nearly every friend, her wife, her economic security, her safety leaving the house, and she was ex-communicated from her church. Her job was openly hostile and they put her in as many horrible situations as they could because they could not fire her. She almost broke.
Piece by piece, over many years, she began to rebuild her life. She deepened the few remaining friendship she had, she built new friendships, she eventually found someone who could love her for who she was. Work, however, continued to be a place of violence and abuse that whittled away at her heart, though she developed a few friendships that could provide her with safety when she most needed it. The administration, many staff, many students, and even parents were actively against her and continue to be so. They do their best to hurt her and they are trying to get her removed. Her greatest fear is that they will eventually succeed or that they will finally break her.
I am Caitlín and this is my life.
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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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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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Humour and Transmisogyny (a Caitlin on post)

23 May, 2012

Getting out of bed this morning and stretching my kinked back [the joys of sofa beds] sent a run of cracks and pops up my spine and into my brain where they dislodged an old joke the boys told in high school:

Why do women yawn in the morning?

They don’t have any balls to scratch!

I grimaced remembering this joke and not because after hearing it for the first time I made sure to yawn in the mornings. Rather, I recoiled from realising how problematic jokes like this are and how representative they are of American culture. This joke is both cissexist and transmisogynistic and it disturbs me how early on our culture indoctrinates children.

Cissexism

The joke promotes trans erasure by assuming all women have vaginas and all men have penises. By validating this limited understanding of gender it disregards the existence and experiences of thousands of trans* people. It is true that some trans* individuals undergo sex reassignment surgery (SRS) but this is not the majority of us. Most trans* individuals either cannot afford or do not want SRS (non-op trans*). These identities are often erased (read: invalidated and ignored) by the cis public because they are not binary normative. The “official” trans* life story is recognise who they are by age five, live in fear and isolation until their mid-forties, have a mid-life crisis, and “mutilate” genitals. Cis people like this version because it affirms the binary, makes for delicious gossip, and can be used to invalidate trans* identity (“You aren’t a real woman/man. Just look at everything you had to do to become one.”) The cost of these surgeries, however, is enormous; a trans* person is looking at $17,000 dollars or more depending on whether you are just looking for the plumbing or if you want the electricity to work too. If the price tag alone is not prohibitive, and for most it is, add these facts in: there are only a handful of surgeons qualified and willing to perform these surgeries and almost no insurance provider will cover them.

The trans* individual is left to pay for this surgery on their own. A hard enough task for anyone, but made all the more difficult by the additional road blocks society puts in front of trans* people, with psychological and employment discrimination being the worst. Trans* psychology is considered deviant and trans* people are required to go through years of expensive psychotherapy before they can even be considered a candidate for HRT and SRS. Also, trans* people (particularly trans women and of them most particularly trans women of colour) face legal employment discrimination in all but seven states. Not only is it okay to not hire someone because of their trans* status, but employers can also fire them if they come out as trans* while in the company’s employ. Many educated trans* people have menial jobs or are forced into sex work because no other industry will hire them (again particularly true for trans women of colour). Of the trans women who are not outright fired, the majority of them take a pay cut which drops their salaries to below what the average woman of colour makes, on the grounds the employer is just honouring the person’s gender “choice.” So, how do you save up for the surgery if you do not have enough to pay rent without roommates?

In this regard trans men have it a bit easier than trans women. Note I said a bit this is not a dismissal of the prejudice and difficulties trans men experience, but it is easier for trans men to be read as their gender than trans women. Because of this and because of the more dramatic secondary sex characteristics trans men gain from hormone replacement therapy (HRT) they do not spend as much on transitioning as trans women do and can save money for surgery faster. [It is important to add at this juncture that not all trans* individuals chose to go on HRT. It is a personal decision and some do not feel it is a necessary step in their journey.] Many, if not most, trans* women require a number of additional procedures to be consistently read as female and to increase their safety while in public. These procedures are not cheap. The primary one is electrolysis. Electrolysis averages at $100 an hour and by the time I have completed this treatment I will have logged three hundred (300) hours under the electrified tweezers. In total, it will cost me $30,000 to have the hair burned off my face. Other procedures that a trans woman might need are facial feminisation surgery (FFS), trachea shave, breast implants (for those whose breast growth is not significantly affected by the HRT), and wigs/hair plugs/forehead reduction. It is possible for her to have to spend over $100,000 on procedures all before considering saving for SRS. Further, the more of these procedures she needs the easier it is to out her and for employers to discriminate against her.

When examined from a trans* perspective it is easy to see why any suggestion that all women have vaginas and all men have penises comes across as offensive and invalidating.

Transmisogyny

On another level, this joke is damning toward trans women. It is an example of transmisogyny. Misogyny is, basic Psych 101, a hatred or extreme prejudice against women; transmisogyny is the intersection of transphobia and misogyny experienced by trans women and is often linked with effemimania [cf. Julia Serano, Whipping Girl] Examples of transmisogyny are constantly in the news and it is the driving force behind the beatings and murders of trans women. CoCo Williams, Paige Clay, and Brandi Williams were all murdered in a three-week period of April 2012. CeCe McDonald is being held for trial after she defend herself against a savage beating that lacerated her face, for which she was denied appropriate and timely medical services by the Hennipen County Police, all because she is a trans woman of colour.

This joke is transmisogynistic because of its use of oppositional sexism, traditional sexism, and the implication that women with male bodied characteristics are not women. Oppositional sexism is defined by Serano as, “the belief that female and male are rigid, mutually exclusive categories.” If one is male there can be no feminine qualities associated with him and if one is female there can be no masculine qualities associated with her. Serano defines traditional sexism as, “the belief that maleness and masculinity are superior to femaleness and femininity.” In other words, men are naturally superior to women by the very nature of being male. The punchline of the joke is rooted in oppositional sexism: men have penises and women do not. [As explained in the section above this is not always the case.] The traditional sexism is inherent in the telling of the joke, men are superior to women in that they have a penises.

The punchline is mired in the oppositional idea that to be male is to possess and to be female is to lack; in other words, men are complete human beings and women are incomplete or inferior human beings. Genitals are often what this type of thinking comes down to. This type of logic is also used to define superior men over and against lesser men. The larger the dangly bit between his legs are the more masculine he is, the smaller the less masculine and less deserving of respect. Now, consider how the smaller male is not considered feminine but as lacking appropriate levels of masculinity, which means to possess a penis of any size is an immediate invalidation of all other feminine characteristics and is an erasure of trans feminine identity. The reverse, however, is not held true. The absence of a penis does not negate masculine qualities in women and trans men. Instead they are said to have a honourary set.” This bestowed on them due to emotional or secondary sex characteristics that are perceived as masculine and they trump the perceived female characteristic of a vagina. The sexism in this is loaded into our use of language. To “have balls” is a positive thing, a sign of courage and strength, whereas to be a “pussy” is a character flaw indicating weakness and over emotionality. Feminists have made combating this attitude, that male characteristics are superior and invalidate inferior female identity, a priority in the feminist movement.

The attitude is so ingrained in our culture that women will often use it against other women. If a woman shows an aptitude in sports, interest in sex, or enjoyment of gaming and comic books she is expressing stereotypically male behaviour and other women will use it as a justification to erase her identity as a “real” woman. This attitude has been taken to the extreme by radical feminists as a means of invalidating trans women’s identities. “Women born women living as women” is used to deny trans women access to appropriate medical care and female only spaces. If you allow a trans woman into a women’s shelter the theoretical presence of a penis is enough to potentially trigger a “real” woman’s fear of men. Despite the fact trans women are more likely to be beaten simply for being women and their cases are often ignored by the police is not enough to overcome the stigma of having male bodied genitalia. Trans women are often denied access to female restrooms and changing rooms because the theoretical presence of a penis means they will rape the first “real” woman they see. And the theoretical presence of a penis is used as an argument for the barring of trans women from events such as the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and RadFem 2012. By denying trans women access to these conferences they invalidate trans* identity and create an echo chamber in which only their biased thinking is expressed, amplifying itself in the absence of opposing viewpoints.

These attitudes, cissexism, transmisogyny, trans* erasure, and oppositional and traditional sexism, are so accepted in our culture that young men can tell jokes rooted in them and no one thinks a thing wrong with it. Until we begin a process of re-educating our youth to identify these thought patterns and disrupt them we will never see a culture where all women, trans* and cis, are accord equal status with men.

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Gender Dysphoria

17 December, 2011

Have you ever looked up the term gender dysphoria? Unless you have it, or are intimately connected to someone who does, I doubt it ever crossed your mind to look the term up. According to the medical and psychiatric community gender dysphoria is discontent with one’s biological sex and/or the gender one was assigned at birth. There are two major flaws with this statement resulting in the definition being such a large downplaying of the emotional chaos those diagnosed with the condition suffer it makes the degree holders look like they are purposefully ignoring the trauma of living with this condition.

The first flaw occurs with the definition’s use of the word discontent. Discontent is a dissatisfaction or restless unhappiness. This makes gender dysphoria sound like a wistful longing for what one would term better circumstances. The use of this word to describe the emotions associated with gender dysphoria is a belittling of the person who suffers it, it erases the magnitude of the condition. I do not experience a vague, discontented feeling with my physical self. I experience loathing, a raw, feral hatred of my physical self, from the size of my hands and feet to my hairline and jaw structure and, more loathed than anything, the penis and scrotum (bear in mind this is my experience with gender dysphoria and should not be considered a blanket assessment of all dysphoria, as with other conditions individuals can suffer dysphoria to lesser and greater degrees). Mere discontent cannot account for this intensity of emotion; it cannot explain why there are days, such as today, where my physical self is so loathsome to me that I cannot leave the house out of shame and disgust and the intense anxiety of having others see me. And I have felt this since the onset of puberty and the corresponding development of secondary sex characteristics. To call this discontent is a serious understatement.

This loathing of the physical is born out of a dissonance between the self-conception produced by the mind and the image reflected in the mirror. Our brains are hardwired to have a metal understanding of the self and produces a mental image of what the body looks like. To understand this, close your eyes and allow your mind to picture your body, that image is your self-conception. It is not a remembering of what you look like, but a mental construct of your physical appearance that enables you to function–to literally move in and interact with the world. None of us has a mental image that fully conforms to the actuality of our bodies, but the majority of people have an image that is close enough to the actual that there is no dissonance between the self-understanding and the actuality. I, and others who suffer gender dysphoria, do not have that genetic privilege. My self-conception is such that how I perceive myself to be and what is reflected back from the mirror are radically different. So radically different that I experience a type of self-perception dissonance. My mind cannot reconcile what it believes I look like with what it sees. On good days this only results in a disconnected, surreal (almost free-floating) feeling, as if the self and the body inhabit near-space but not a shared-space. On bad days this feeling is a near failure to recognize what I see as self, rather it is a complete other. This is dangerous. This is what leads so many gender dysphoric individuals to self-harm. The causing of pain and the letting of blood becomes a physical link that allows them to recognize their body as their body. Other times it results in self-punishing behaviors, either punishing the flesh for failing to conform properly or punishing the mind (alcohol, drugs, or beating oneself about the head) for failing to conceptualize properly. The emotional backlash can range from depression to mania to rage. Discontent is nowhere near an accurate description of these feelings.

The second fundamental flaw in this definition is the term biological sex. They use the term as though biological sex only consisted of genitals and secondary sex characteristics. The brain, however, is a biological component running a variety of physiological processes such as our senses, thoughts, and self-conceptualization. Thus, self-concept is also part of biological sex. Those who have a physical-self and self-concept free of dissonance, may not understand the important distinction between the physical and mental components. If they are aligned, it is difficult to tell that they are not the same. But for those of us who experience dissonance between them it is clear that they are different and thus should be considered separate aspects of biological sex.

I purpose gender dysphoria’s definition be altered to a dissonance between the outer, psychical manifestation of  one’s sex and the mental self-concept of one’s sex that results in a constant mental strain as the person attempts to reconcile two, or more, contradicting perceptions of self. I would even go so far as to suggest dumping the term all together in favor of a more accurate term such as biologist and trans woman Julia Serano’s Gender Dissonance.