Beyond Trans 101

Okay, so you can find many examples of Trans 101 resources but very few that *beyond* the basics. So here is some straight up 201 shit from a talk/discussion group that the collective did.

1. What is Intersectionality?

  • Intersectionality: is a more holistic approach to anti-oppressive politics. It recognizes that I, for example, am both queer and a PoC. And that I am both of these things all of the time and at the same time.
  • What this means is that a person’s different sites of oppression don’t exist in isolation and they influence each other.
  • It also means that there can be a compounding effect. For example, in the recent US National Transgender Discrimination Survery they found that Black trans people had an unemployment rate of 26%. Compare this with the unemployment rate of Black people of about 16% or the US national unemployement rate for all people of 9%.
  • What intersectionality doesn’t mean is the oppression olympics. This isn’t about who is oppressed more than others but about how any person can be navigative multiple sites of oppression and privilege that shift and change depending on context.
  • It is about recognizing that all our experiences are unique to ourselves, about seeing ourselves as whole human beings.

2. Gender as a social construct depends on the society (aka. the imperialism behind the trans and cis distinction).

  • We learned in 101 that gender and sex are social constructions, one thing many fail to consider is that the social construction depends on the society.
  • Some of you might be thinking, “Oh, right, of course there are cultural variations in social constructions of gender,” however, this point goes beyond a simple attempt to recognize the gorgeous diversity in the world.
  • Unfortunately, some people, in trying to address this diversity, veer off into the dangerous territory of cultural appropriation.
  • One great, and local example, is the trans community’s engagement with the Two-Spirit identity. This identity is often included under the trans umbrella.
  • But should it be? Including it under the trans umbrella gives the appearance that this identity is only about gender (and it is my understanding that there is more to it than that).
  • This isn’t to say that a Two-Spirited person couldn’t identify as trans, should they desire to. But it does mean that a Two-Spirited person is not necessarily trans.
  • You’ll notice this identity exists outside of the trans/cis binary.

3. Gender socialization (and myths associated with it)

  • One common theme in the trans narrative is, what us comic book geeks like to call, an ‘origin story.’
  • Often this involves tracing your history back and noting that, “When I was five, I totally liked to play with Barbies!” (which is actually true of myself).
  • You see the same theme in queer narratives.
  • This also highlights why this can be a problem: if the same activity can be seen to be indicative of either queerness or gender non-conformity, isn’t it actually indicative of neither?
  • This isn’t to say that playing with Barbie (or not) doesn’t mean anything. It does, but what it means to an individual must wait for that individual to grow up and articulate the meaning for themselves.
  • Another important point is to be cautious about gender socialization in general.
  • Many of these stories frame children as blanks slates onto which culture inscribes its normative values and roles.
  • However, this entirely erases the agency and personhood of children, who also participate in creating the very culture that is socializing.

4. Relationships to feminism (esp. 2nd wave and/or radical feminism)

  • While this isn’t intended to be feminism 101, does everyone know the difference between second and third wave feminism?
  • 2nd wave feminism arose in the 70s and 80s. More importantly, it gave rise to the radical feminist and/or lesbian seperatist movements.
  • While there are many different ways to critique 2nd wave feminism, we are mostly concerned here with their conception of gender.
  • 2nd Wave feminism tends to have an essentialist notion of gender, which means that they will often reduce gender identity and expression to bodies.
  • This attitude can be seen in the continuing struggle for trans women to be accepted in spaces like Mitch Fest, which simultaneously bars trans women from participating while allowing trans men to.
  • Ultimately, failing to recognize and respect the identities of both.
  • 3rd wave feminism is somewhat better but still suffers from a general lack of diversity and a weak commitment to intersectionality.
  • If you look at the mainstream feminist blogs, like Feministe, Feministing, Jezebel, etc. most of them never have trans content nor trans contributors.
  • Feminism has done a lot for certain groups of women. And it can definitely do more. One thing to keep in mind, as you engage with feminist groups, is to always look at how they are defining ‘woman.’ It will tell you all you need to know about their commitment to inclusion and diversity.

5. Trans infantilization—transition as “adolescence”

  • One part of the narrative of transition you often hear is that transitioning is like going through a second puberty.
  • While this is intended, partially, to refer to fluctuating levels of hormones and bodily changes often associated with puberty, this can also lead to the infantilization of trans people.
  • I actually have heard trans people describe transitioning as being like adolescence or a second puberty.
  • Which is obviously fine. People can and should tell their stories in whatever way makes the most sense to them.
  • But we always need to be cautious about treating any group of marginalized people as a monolith.
  • If trans person X thinks transitioning is like a second adolescence it does not mean trans person Y feels the same way.
  • I will add that even if a person feels like their transition is a second adolescence, it does not mean that they are actually a teenager (unless they are a teen).
  • This narrative should never be taken as a sign to assume a parental or other power differentiated role with that person (unless this is what they want from you).

6. Non-binary vs. Binary identities within trans umbrellas:  A battle over terms

  • In the 101 section we already noted some of the controversies surrounding the use of ‘trans’ as an umbrella term, which became even more complicated in discussing non-Western terms for alternative or different gender identity or expressions.
  • In this case the problem is with the way that the trans label or umbrella is often cis-centric, or binaryist.
  • Most discussions about transitioning only really discuss and refer to transitioning from one binary gender to another, not leaving much room to discuss moving from a coercively assigned binary identity to a gender queer identity (for example).
  • This causes some non-binary identified people to reject a trans identification.
  • And, in the case of agender people, this seems quite right.
  • Nonetheless, some of this conflict deals with privilege, since having a binary identity, trans or not does privilege you.
  • In the case of trans people, it usually means that the person will have passing privilege.

7. Romantic and sexual viability

  • The message of this part is to let all trans and gender non-conforming people know that you are beautiful.
  • While the media likes to portray trans people as not only ugly and desirable, but as monstrous, this is most certainly not true.
  • Most especially it is not just true that a trans person is more attractive based on their ability to pass as a binary identity.
  • How do we know that trans people are monstrous and unattractive? How many of you have seen Ace Ventura: Pet Detective? The Crying Game? M. Butterfly? The recent episode of the Misfits? Glee? Boys Don’t Cry?
  • Each one of the movies/shows I just mentioned portrays, usually a trans woman, as monstrous. The plots centre around a trans person ‘tricking’ a cis person and the resulting horror and shock once this duplicity is discovered.
  • This problem is compounded if a trans person has other intersecting sites of oppression.
  • For example, I’m not sure if every one has read about the professor who published an article saying that Black women are, objectively, the most unattractive people. Compound how Black women already struggle to be considered beautiful (or as women at all) with media portrayals of trans women.
  • So, with all this negative media images, I just wanna say one more time: trans people are beautiful. You are not monstrous. You are not ugly. End of story.

8. Internalized cissexism

  • Last on our 201 agenda, is internalized cissexism.
  • This is especially timely after the previous point. All these media images and tropes feed into our perceptions of our identities.
  • What this means is that we start to internalize these cissexist and trans-hating messages.
  • This is a problem for people, as individuals, because it can impact your self-esteem, as well as just causing a lack of confidence.
  • However, there is a more insidious impact from internalizing cissexism and trans-hate.
  • It impacts how we treat each other. It leads to things like the trans sexual separatist movement.
  • It causes us to turn from each other and to turn on each other. It creates fissures and divides in the community.
  • It prevents us from supporting and loving each other.
  • And, ultimately, helps our oppressors keep oppressing us.

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