Posts Tagged ‘trans feminine’
Early today i was reading a post about how all trans women’s experiences are female experiences, even ones that happened before social transition. You can find that post at Cis-Critical, not Cisphopic‘s Tumblr page. The permalink is here. This is a point that people miss and a lot of times they miss it due to the incorrect but deeply entrenched idea that trans women are mimicking womanhood and femininity. i know too many people who are quick to agree that since transitioning i have had female experiences who just as quickly write-off pre-transition experiences as male experiences. This is just a rephrasing of the idea that i am a man who decided to become a woman. But i’m not.
i was born female. My brain or neuro-chemistry or psyche or what-have-you has always been female. i have always understood myself to be female and i have been aware of how others did not recognise me as female since i was four years old and reprimanded for lining up with the girls. i have lived my life as a female, but one whose femininity was not taken seriously. i was beaten and emotionally abused by peers and family because they did not see masculinity in me and they decided it should be there. These are not male experiences; these are the experiences of a female who was being conditioned by force and against her will to be male.
So i adapted. i learned to fake masculinity to protect myself. That act was convincing because it had to be, my life literally depended on my ability to hide who i really was, to play a part so flawlessly that no one would know that i was female. But, playing the part does not make me male. Whenever i was alone i expressed my femininity, i gave myself permission to drop the act. For as long as my body shape allowed me, i would wear my mother’s clothes every time i was alone in the house. When i could no longer fit into her clothes i would ride my bicycle (that horrible dark blue bicycle that i was given because the ones i was looking at were too ‘cute’ and not ‘man enough’) to the local Salvation Army thrift store and buy girl’s and women’s clothing that i could fit into. i had to hide it really well, because i knew being caught meant trouble and, depending on who caught me, another beating. Even with those precautions the fear of being caught was so high i would burn the clothes after a week or two, play my role till i couldn’t take it anymore and then start the cycle over again. i took ages in the bath because it was my time to experiment with make-up and nail polish. Sometimes i filled the tub with water but never got in, it was just a cover so i could buy an hour alone to be myself. i am thankful for my acceptance into the drama club in high school because it meant i could stop hiding stuff at home. There i had free access to a huge women’s wardrobe and make-up. Thanks to a brilliant English teacher/drama coach (whom, i suspect, had an inkling of who i really was) i had free access to the wardrobe after school and sometimes during English class. If it hadn’t been for that teacher and that place where i could be myself, i would have have committed suicide before graduating because the pressure of playing male to keep everyone else happy was that destructive to my health and well-being.
None of this is a male experience. And, i know, it is not the typical female experience, but it is a female experience because it was experienced by a female who tried desperately to make everyone else happy. A female who wanted nothing more than to make her Da and Mum and brother happy. So it kills me when people tell me i had male experiences prior to socially transitioning because they are actively erasing my past and ignoring my very real, very traumatic lived experiences.
My brother is a huge culprit in this erasure. He fully supports my right to be who i am now, despite his not really understanding it, but he does not accept that i was female before i announced my intent to transition. He holds to the idea that because i acted like a male around him that, obviously, is who i truly was. He rejects the notion that i was female from birth, that i had learned to hide who i was while he was still an infant, long before he could even be aware of gender differences. i’ve attempted to explain this to him, but i am met with rebukes. He tells me i’m exaggerating or lying. He says things could not have happened that way because no kid that age could ever be aware of those feelings or be clever enough to hide them. my past cannot be allowed to exist as it happened because he is too afraid of loosing what he believes happened; the lie, the act, is real to him and matters more than the truth of my experiences.
And he’s not the only one who does this. Yes, i received certain benefits of male privilege growing up, i cannot nor do i attempt to deny that, but having received those benefits due to other people’s insistence i was male does not alter the fact that i was a female pretending to be male. The existence of some aspects of male privilege (because of elements of my femininity i could not hide i was also excluded from aspects of male privilege) in my past does not negate my lived experience of being a female hiding as a male. i saw my experiences through the eyes of a female; i felt them with the heart of a female. i mourned and hated the existence of that male character because it was not me; it was a show and i loathed having to perform it. i constantly felt fake, on the verge of being discovered. i felt filthy and whoreish selling myself out to keep people happy. i may have draped myself in trappings of masculinity but i did it as a female trying to survive in a male dominated world that hates to the point of violence and murder my type of femininity. Every time someone says i was not female before i socially transitioned they erase my history and my life; they commit and act of psychological violence against me and hold up the patriarchal, sexist culture that forced me to hide who I have always been to begin with.
- Conservative Media’s Distorted View Of Trans Women On Display (lezgetreal.com)
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.
- Lies about transgender people (and how to spot a rubbish journalist) (blogs.independent.co.uk)
- 8 Questions to Avoid Asking Trans* People (cisprivilegecheck.wordpress.com)
- What is Cisprivilege? (cisprivilegecheck.wordpress.com)
Here is the cover to the anthology I am being published in (as: Jennifer-River). You can find more information on the anthology here: http://www.squaresandrebels.com/2012/07/finally-when-we-become-weavers-among.html?m=1