Blogger Periphereality has caused a bit of (presumably unintended) stir with his post here about his ideas on the limits for the parameters of transgendered definitions. That is, his argument concerns the liability, or fairness, for a transgendered person to label themselves with the gender of their preference. I am butchering his argument and so I will stop paraphrasing him now. I do ask if you go to his blog, that you respect his right to free speech and take special note of his disclaimer, at the very top of his post:
“Before reading, please note that as a philosophy student it is my job to logically and objectively look at both sides of two arguments. My opinion doesn’t supersede science, so much as discuss the value or worth of science. Also, I do not wish to offend or sound insensitive, and if you feel as though I am, please stop reading for I don’t wish to offend. You need to understand that this blog isn’t written and posted on a transgender support group – the context is not the same. If you aren’t comfortable with that, then please accept my apologies and move on.”
I found this post linked on Kira Moore‘s blog, where she also responds to Perpih’s post. Kira’s response is touching, and sincere, and I find it deeply moving to read a post about such intimate and well, primal, pain. I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the validity or problematic features of Periph’s post. I also don’t want to address what a MTF or FTM individual may or may not say in response to Periph’s post. As I don’t classify myself as strictly FTM, I find it unfair and misleading to attempt to be a voice for that community. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am finding myself these days somewhere on the boarder between man and woman, and thus trans is the label I claim. So I will speak from a transgendered perspective.
This post topic, actually, has been on my mind since before Peripherality’s post was brought to my attention, the idea of claiming male or female status without having been socialized as male or female throughout our lives. I never felt that I could claim being male not because I didn’t have the right to, or because of some invisible patriarchal hand oppressing my true gender identity. Nor did I feel ashamed or ill-equipped to claim male because I didn’t “always feel” that I was male. Because, of course, I have always “felt” male. But really, what the hell does that mean when I have never been treated as a male? I was socialized as female, grew up with the same standards of beauty and misogynistic oppression afforded all the other little vagina-havers. I got my period (even though I detested it), I grew female breasts (even though I am removing them next month), and have been referred to with female pronouns my entire life. Of course I didn’t like it, but I have had a decidedly female history. So how do I know what it means to “feel male?”
I am okay with this history. I am working toward the human I want to be, in the form I believe best represents my psychic identity. I find my evolving gender presentation is just one facet of my identity, and because its changes are visible and tangible, essentially corporeal, it is a kind of change I can watch happen. The capacities of aspects of my identity that are just as important to me as my ability to express gender (empathy, compassion, insight, wisdom) change over time and I can’t (noticeably) experience that change. It happens too slowly, and in a largely invisible way.
For example, in my twenties, I remember being more concerned about being funny than being kind. I was great at parties but I was cruel to my friends, and I am not proud of that. I know I am a much kinder person now because over these years I have come to the realization that kindness is important to me, and have daily, at a near glacial pace, worked to be more kind (I am still just as funny, but in different ways. ;)) and so I know I am a different person. But I can’t point to my history and say, “there, see it there, and there, those are examples of me changing” because human emotional maturity happens over a lifetime, not under a scalpel. I can of course point to historical examples of me behaving differently than ways I behaved in the past, but those moments are illustrative of the results of change, not the act of change itself.
Am I troubled that I will never be “a real boy?” That at the genetic level, I will always be female? No, it doesn’t bother me in the least. Because for me, I am very happy to claim the transgendered label. I want it to be known that I have never felt the benefit nor the burden of being a biological man. And I want it to be known I know what it means to withstand the oppression of being raised female. I want to be recognized as having lived a transgendered life. I want all the respect towing that hard line bestows, because that is the life I am living everyday, no matter how much I sometimes might wish things were different [read: easier on my gender preference]. Do I wish the gender binary wasn’t so suffocating? Probably. But I also don’t know what it means to live outside a system that has always been in place. Go ask the fish how the ocean temperature feels and he won’t know what water is.
I don’t judge anyone who feels they were assigned the wrong gender*, whether they have known since birth or since yesterday. But I also know I want human suffering to be alleviated through more tolerance and equality no matter the minority status you might claim. And I’m not going to get that equality through assimilation into a severely broken system. I want equality for transgendered individuals? Then I have to stand up and fight for transgendered individuals. And for me, part of that fight is identifying as transgendered. For others, part of that fight is claiming their rightful gender as they see fit, and that sometimes means assimilating into the broader culture via “passing**” as their preferred gender.
I am not only the sum of my parts, I am the sum of my biological parts and my personal experiences. I am a work in progress. I am a living creature and that’s what we do, we change and change and change and we only stop changing when we die. And even then our parts, our molecules and DNA and scars and hormones convert into food for the earth, and I take great comfort in that. I take pride in it too: I want to be good to myself, and to others, and I want to be nourishment for this place in which I have experienced so much love and joy and wonder and heartbreak.
Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli
*I want to reassure my transgendered brothers and sister who identify themselves as male or female, that this is not an attack on their identity or desires or most deeply held convictions. This is my attempt to clarify, for myself, my place in the gender spectrum. I believe my thoughts on this topic have no bearing on your own experience or identity, not should anything I write serve to alienate you in any way. My deepest apologies if I have offended any of you. Of course, as always I welcome your comments.
**”Passing” sounds so sneaky to this ear, and it is obviously NOT what those who “pass” intend to do, to “pull the wool” over anyone’s eyes. J.C. Prime has a good post on passing, or rather, “being read as” a gender other than the one assigned at birth. I think his post complicates the issue at hand here wonderfully.