Editor’s Note: While Dirty Nerdy is well known for her Justified Ginger Rage, Dori has been observed occasionally flying into a Justified Tranny Rage. Especially when some asshole tries to cis-splain down to her about how to be an activist for her own rights. May we present a JTR of “Engaging the T” by Andrew Sullivan
There are few topics I feel nervous to write about on this blog, as you might have surmised over the years. But one of them is the question of transgender people. It’s a fascinating topic, but remains so completely fraught and riddled with p.c. neurosis that no writer wants to unleash the hounds of furious, touchy trans activism.
Translation: “I’m a fearless man who is unafraid to offer my manly opinions. But those damn trans activists are scary. Good thing I’m in a position of privilege where I can speculate about their movement and motivations without actually engaging with any of them personally. After all, it’s not like I’m at risk of being a victim of cissexism or misogyny. So of course I’m in a position to tell trans people how to progress their own movement.”
And that’s the first thing to note here, I’d say. Any minority – especially a tiny one like gays or transgender people – has, at some point, to explain itself to the big, wide world. That’s not entirely fair but it’s unavoidable if you want a change in attitudes or an increase in understanding. And my view is that there is no need to be defensive about it.
You want to be educated? Lucky for you we live in the internet age and you literally have answers right at your fingertips. Here, let me help you with that. We’re past the point of educating, we’re taking a more active roll. And some cis people find that frightening. Criticism of cissexism and transantagonism from the trans community is not “being defensive”, that’s just calling out oppression and trying to make it stop.
Most people are just completely ignorant, and have never met or engaged a trans person, and so their misconceptions and misunderstandings are inevitable and not self-evidently a matter of bigotry or prejudice. I think we should be understanding of this, as open as we can be, and answer the kinds of questions some might feel inappropriate or offensive. That’s the basis for dialogue, empathy and progress.
How are cis people ever going to unlearn cissexist bullshit unless trans people call it out? Intent might be a factor in how I address something problematic, but it will not magically make transantagonist language and attitudes acceptable.
But this has not, alas, been the way in which the transgender movement has largely sought to engage the wider world (with some exceptions). Kevin Williamson notes how Laverne Cox, appearing as a trans person on the cover of Time, nonetheless refused to answer a question about whether she had had her genitals reassigned as too “invasive.” Sorry, Laverne. But if you’re out there explaining yourself, you’ve gotta explain all of it.
No. No. No. NO. NO! A trans woman merely existing does not justify your invasive questions about her body. By this logic, Katie Couric should be able to question every cis male actor about his dick size. After all, why be open about any aspect of your identity unless you’re willing to explain every objectifying and invasive detail about your body? If you really want to fucking know how transitioning works, I can remind you about the internet again.
And the elaborate and neurotic fixation on language – will writing “transgender” rather than “transgendered” reveal my inner bigot? – is now so neurotic even RuPaul has been cast aside as politically incorrect.
Yes, writing transgendered rather than transgender, when it is clear you have been informed as to why that’s problematic, does reveal your inner bigot. Also, RuPaul is a gay cis man. Why on earth should he be immune from being called a cissexist asshole by trans women? Oh, or are you about to continue revealing your ignorance?
The insistence that the question of transgender people is essentially the same as that of gay people – when they are quite clearly distinct populations with very different challenges – is also why we have the umbrella term “LGBT”.
Goddamn, that is a poorly constructed sentence. But I guess your readers might mistake your inability to clearly express an idea with “good writing”. Luckily, Dirty Nerdy tried to translate it for me. Basically you’re making the common GGGG argument that trans people are “too different” to warrant inclusion in the queer community. Perhaps even implying that our inclusion does more harm than good for the GGGG movement.
Except, you know, we kind of kick-started the modern queer rights movement. You see, even back then we were not in the same position to assimilate into “straight culture” in the way white affluent cis gay men can. So we started a fucking riot. A riot that went on to benefit the queer community at large. Tell me again how trans women being too radical hurts a movement?
And so Kevin Williamson is not wrong, I think, to note the way in which politics has eclipsed the English language here and that language itself has become enmeshed in a rigid ideology:
“The obsession with policing language on the theory that language mystically shapes reality is itself ancient — see the Old Testament — and sympathetic magic proceeds along similar lines, using imitation and related techniques as a means of controlling reality.”
Yo, imma quote a known cissexist to support my claim. But I’m totes not a transphobe.
But Williamson is just as wrong in his brutal, even callous, denunciation of transgender people as acting out “delusions”. And he’s wrong not because he politically incorrect, but because he’s empirically off-base. He too is creating his own reality.
See, totes not a transphobe! Even though I’m saying trans activists are equally terrible to someone who engages in the type of dehumanization that results in the murder of trans people every year.
For Williamson, it seems, you can only have one sex and it is dictated by your genitals. End of story. Naturally, he doesn’t address the question of what biological sex is when you are born with indeterminate genitals that are not self-evidently male or female. The intersex are a small minority – from 0.1 to 1.7 percent, depending on your definition – but in a country of 300 million, that adds up. And the experience of those people – especially those have been genitally mutilated to appear as one sex, while feeling themselves to be the other – is a vital part of understanding what gender and sex are.
Kevin may not like this – but it’s complicated.
Not only have I produced a straw transphobe for me to fight in order to illustrate my totally-not-transantagonist attitudes, but I’m going to disprove his reliance on biological determinism by…relying on biological determinism. And implying that the trans community and the intersex community are interchangeable. See, I’m you’re ally!
We can see crucial differences between male and female brains, for example, and they do not always correspond to male and female genitals. Since by far the most important sexual organ is the brain, the possibilities of ambiguity are legion. And this is not a matter of pomo language games.
Wow, you found a way to endorse biological determinism as a justification for trans identities (Pro tip: We don’t need your justifications. We already exist.), but you also managed to be racist with maybe a hint of classism (since you’re implying that language can only be changed by some members of society and not others). I’m just gonna let you keep digging this hole you seem so intent on.
The experience of a conflict between self-understood gender and assigned gender is real, and a source of great anguish. That human anguish is what we should seek to mitigate, it seems to me, rather than compound as Williamson does.
Oh yes, please cisplain to me what it’s like to experience gender dysphoria. And how language that reduces me and my trans sisters into a punchline is by no means harmful.
And as J. Brian Lowder notes, the insistence of many transgendered people on the need to permanently reconcile their physical bodies with their mental states is in some ways a rather conservative impulse. There’s a reason that Iran’s theocrats allow for sex-change operations but not gay relationships.
Oh look, quoting more cis men instead of the actual intended targets of trans slurs: trans women. I guess it was too hard to find out what our opinions are about it, even though we’re somehow hurting the movement by being too vocal.
The transgender desire not to be trans-gender but to be one gender physically and mentally is actually quite an affront to queer theorists for whom all gender and sex are social constructions. Many of these people want testosterone and estrogen and surgery to end their divided selves. And it doesn’t get more crudely biological and not-social than that.
I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. Come closer. Cloooooser.
YOU CAN BE A GENDER MINORITY AND A SEXUAL MINORITY! AT THE SAME TIME!!!!
I know that might shock you, but trust me, I’m a trans, poly, bi woman. You’d probably say that’s too confusing for the straight mainstream. Good thing I don’t really give a fuck about the straight mainstream. Which is strange, because I’m a trans woman who is perceived by everyone as a cis woman, which according to you means I shouldn’t even be concerned about the queer community.
Which means that there are also divisions within the trans world between those who might be able to pass completely as another gender, after reassignment surgery, and those whose visual ambiguity or androgyny will remain. Lowder quotes a trans artist thus:
If you don’t wish to own [tranny] or any other word used to describe you other than “male” or “female” then I hope you are privileged enough to have been born with an appearance that will allow you to disappear into the passing world or that you or your generous, supportive family are able to afford the procedures which will make it possible for you to pass within the gender binary system you are catering your demands to. If you’re capable of doing that then GO ON AND DISAPPEAR INTO THE PASSING WORLD!
Oh good, you have at least listened to trans people enough to know that this is a complicated issue within our own community. Just like other slurs that hurt members of oppressed minorities, variations of “Reclaim” vs. “Abolish” attitudes toward the word tranny can be found all throughout our community. And that’s okay because IT’S OUR FUCKING COMMUNITY! Tranny is a slur targeted toward trans people. Even though I was called a faggot growing up, that slur is targeted toward gay men, neither of which describe me. So the slur doesn’t hurt me the same way that it hurts a gay man. Which is why I don’t go around calling people a faggot and then telling gay men to “get over it”.
This is the perennial question of a minority’s anxiety about sell-outs – whether it be expressed in the fights over how light-skinned some African-Americans are or how “masculine” gay men are or how feminine lesbians appear. In other words, this is a very complicated and sensitive area. But if we are to make progress in understanding – and Williamson’s piece shows how far we have yet to go – we have to let go of these insecurities and defensiveness and accept that no question about the transgendered is too dumb or too bigoted to answer.
Is the transgender movement mature enough to accept this and move forward? I guess we’ll soon find out.
I’m mature enough to tell you to go fuck yourself, because nobody invited you to this discussion. If tranny is “just a word”, then why are you and other gay men putting up such a fight over it? I don’t think it has anything to do with your freeze peach or teaching trans people to have a “thicker skin”. No, I think why so many cis gay men are so committed to being able to use a transphobic slur is because they’re upset that trans people are no longer happy sitting on the sidelines and waiting for the rest of the queer community to fight for our rights. Yes, we are your siblings in this queer family but for too long we have been treated like the un-wanted step-child and we’re tired of it. So get over it and deal with it.