Saturday, December 12, 2009

Now We Are All Trans.

There's a blog, called The Bilerico Project, that I usually enjoy more than the other popular GLBT blogs. It has a more serious tone than, say, Towleroad, which, even when he's reporting on serious topics, is pretty superficial.

Towleroad and JoeMyGod are way too gay for me, but the contributors on Bilerico are all over the map, men and women and trans people of various identities and ideologies (but leaning heavily toward scholars and activists). Nancy Polikoff, my anti-marriage hero, is a regular contributor. I don't agree with every writer, but, because I find myself so often at odds with the "gay agenda," I like that Bilerico gives space to dissidents.

Recently, though, there was a profoundly stupid post, by a brand new contributor, which more or less berated people who identify themselves as trans, dismissed the very idea of transgender. (I would link to the post, but it's been removed.) Just why the post ended up there is -- despite reading three days of apologizing, explaining, defending, condemning, and then firing the guy -- somewhat of a mystery to me. It was just so ignorant and insulting, and on a blog that seems to take some pride in the fact that it includes trans voices and, for that reason, I would guess, has a substantial trans readership.

But it sparked a conversation, and that's good. Apparently, most of the Gs, Ls, and Bs still have a lot to learn about the Ts.

I especially appreciated this post -- a sort of "Trans 101" -- for its directness and simplicity, for giving us an armature to hang the conversation on, a place to start. My comment and the response I got from the person who wrote the post are below:

This is great. I love the work you've done to begin creating a taxonomy.

But I wonder where old-fashioned homos fit in this. You have the category "gender variants" ("not heterosexual: this is you"), which would seem to include all homos, but you shy away from explicitly including them under that label. Am I misreading?

I would like to push your argument further and say that we are all trans. Even the homosexuals whose presentation conforms to their biological gender in every way except their erotic orientation.

It's queer orthodoxy to say that gender identity and erotic orientation are two discrete phenomena. I'm always trying to make the argument that that is not true. As I see it, homosexual orientation, in and of itself, is in some meaningful way the same thing as transexuality. They both transgress expectations of gender appropriate behavior. I.e., if you are male and attracted to other males, you are behaving in a way that is only appropriate to women.

I've struggled a lot in the last several years with what to call myself, because "gay" has come to signal a lifestyle I don't want to be a part of. "Queer" is simultaneously too raw and too academic. Even though the way I look is pretty straightforward gender-appropriate male, can I be trans? Is there anything problematic about me calling myself trans?

Hi golikewater :)

Thank you. The taxonomy is useful only beause it has such a broad structure -- something as varied and colorful as the trans community is not easily given ever narrowing structures.

Where do old fashioned homos fit into this? As you noted, descriptively, they would, by being homosexual (or bisexual) fall into the category of Gender Variants at the least, simply because by loving someone of the same sex, they are not conforming to the standard expectations of gender role for someone of their gender expression and identity.

Wich, I have discovered, tends to really upset a lot of gay folks, because its assumed that such is bad.

It is not a bad thing, however, unless you think variance from the normative expectations is bad.

On a personal level (but not so much professioally yet), I actually do think that all of us are Trans.

I believe that you've seen through a lot of the underlying separation -- gender, being a social strucutre that is separate from gender identity, does indeed incorporate one's sexual orientation. Part of being a gay man is being a man (gender) that likes other men (gender).

In my personal and professional estimation, the only risk in calling yourself trans is that by doing so, you may experience a loss of privilege and therefore experience social stigma that is part of the reason I wrote this piece.

Thank you.

So I think I might start calling myself trans. It is more accurate than gay. I have had a life-long internal dialogue about my gender. I didn't know how to be a boy, couldn't walk like them, couldn't tip my chin to say hello. At home I would put on my mother's makeup and wrap towels around myself and tuck my penis between my legs. Even so, I never had the kinds of feelings many transexuals describe of knowing they were girls (or boys, for FTMs). It was acting, just as much as putting on jeans and carrying my books at my side was acting. I wouldn't have used these words at the time, but when I remember how I felt about myself when I was a kid, and even into early adulthood, I felt genderless. I never exactly felt like a girl, but I certainly didn't feel like a boy. My boyness was a tenuous and fragile puppet show.

The real difference as I've gotten older is that I've realized, maybe, that it's always a puppet show, even for the straight boys, and I have come to feel more comfortable being male, to enjoy pulling the strings. There are things about me that are stereotypically male and there are also things that are as girly as it gets.

Nature, nurture, blah, blah, who knows -- why do we feel the need to scienceify everything in order to believe it's true? -- I very much like being both male and female, being something in between.

1 comment:

ep said...

Steven this is so interesting. I've never shared your dilemma, if that is what it is, but think you have really hit on something very important, even revolutionary (in at least the way "gay" is talked about). Gender vs. sexual preference. It seems so obvious, but it isn't at all. The importance of gender far outweighs the sexual urge, I think. Gender would be at the root of all the confusion and frustration and peer issues, long before sexuality really became important in a person's life. If you don't feel that you fit in - in your own skin, or the images society has everywhere for man or woman, girl or boy...

you need to write more on this (please). Dealing with budding sexuality is awkward and difficult for all, but adding the "I'm not comfortable as a boy, don't walk like them, talk like them..." How much of a "trans's" sexuality might be a pursuit of either others like him or herself, or after that original societal ideal that didn't fit? That actually, sounds a lot like what we all pursue...

Nature vs. nurture. If you're really at odds with your own nature/gender, how can you successfully nurture anything (in yourself)? Is this the awkward teen to the billionth degree? Are some folks wired to not accept what they see in the mirror? You might have to start surfing some more science blogs...