Beyond the Binary: Question Four

June 11, 2013 § 18 Comments

Tuesday’s question – panel bios here.

 

 

Question Four (again, two linked questions):

How do you view NB identities (starting, of course, with your own) in terms of trans* – are you trans*? Do you think all NB people are necessarily trans*?

 

                                                            AND

To what extent do you feel “pushed” out by the binary trans community?


 

 

GrrlAlex: I’m quite happy for transgender to include genderqueer non-binary, for my part I use both and I will also describe myself as a non-op transsexual.  Indeed, I’d argue that we need transgender to include non-binary since ‘trans’ has the implication of ‘crossing’/’across’ and NB identities are effectively ‘crossing’ current gender norms.  In addition, the journey to full post-op transsexualism may well have included a period of gender fluidity, gender queering, androgynous non-binary identities and we might consider that some who identify as transsexual may not be able to access surgery and hormones so I’m keen to promote inclusivity and avoid seperatism and hierarchies.

I am aware of a certain amount of exclusion and or of being mis-understood and disregarded by some within the classic transsexual community and I’m told I offend others who suggest I’m ‘not trying hard enough to ‘pass’.  I’m reminded of the Monty Python sketch ‘The People’s Front of Judea’ which neatly summarises some of realities of trans politics.  I hold there is a value in the notion of inclusivity, of respecting diversity within the trans umbrella and allowing all to feel included and welcome.

 

 

Hel: I consider myself to be trans, in that I think it’s a word which is useful to describe my relationship with my assigned gender and my body. I use the word “trans” in the broad sense, as used by people like Leslie Feinberg and Stephen Whittle.  (I was going to quote Feinberg, but seriously, just go read Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue – it’s amazing, and talks at length abou how the ‘trans’ movement can and should include a vast range of people who don’t conform to the gender expectations placed on them at birth. So here’s a shortish Whittle quote: “A trans identity is now accessible almost anywhere, to anyone who does not feel comfortable in the gender role they were  attributed to at birth, or has a gender identity at odds with the labels “man” or “woman” credited to them by formal authorities,” Foreword to The Transgender Studies Reader)

So – in the broad sense that Feinberg and Whittle use it, I think that anyone who identifies/experiences themself as non-binary should be welcome to identify as trans (or trans*!). And I think that if someone does identify as being in some way beyond, outside of, or other than the categories of male and female, then to automatically consider them as “not trans” or “not trans enough” is cisnormativity in action (recommended reading: Natalie Reed’s The Null HypotheCis). But when it comes to identitarian terms, the individual in question has the final say – whether they want to use the word “trans” about themself, or the word “cis”, or describe themself as being neither cis nor trans, that’s up to them rather than anybody else.

I find the idea of a “binary trans community” a little odd. As per what CN says in their piece about the term “non-binary”, I find it odd to describe any one person as “binary” when I understand gender as pluralistic. But to answer your question – while I’ve encountered a few trans people who don’t see identities other than ‘male’ and ‘female’ as valid, they have been (in my experience) vastly outnumbered by those who do.

 

 

Jennie: As noted above, I’ve had people describe me as a cis intersex person, and that’s fine, but I think the issue of others’ perceptions ultimately means that my life experience has more in common with that of most trans people. I’ve experienced acute dysphoria, I’ve contemplated changing my body (and, indeed, I did so, if you count hard exercise), I’ve received plenty of prejudice (including occasional violence) for not fitting into my assigned gender, etc. Given this, I’m not willing to take any shit from binary trans people who may think I’ve had it easy. Furthermore, at least some of them have the option of disappearing into the gender they identify as and being accepted by society. I’ll never fit in, no matter what I do. The only way I can seem to do so is by allowing people to make assumptions about me which are intensely uncomfortable.

It is my understanding that experiences of this type are quite common among non-binary trans people. I do find, though, that the binary trans community is more accepting and inclusive now than it has been in the past. I find it interesting that this has happened at the same time that LGBTI communities more generally have become more accepting of diversity. My suspicion is that it becomes easier to reach out to others as one reaches a more comfortable social position oneself, having experienced intolerance. As, in general, binary trans people no longer have to use all their energy just to cope with the social pressures they face, they can afford to be more generous – and the reality is that this is often what it takes, even if one might argue that everybody has a moral obligation to be inclusive regardless of personal circumstances.

 

 

Nat: I define as transgender, I also have a transsexual medical history (including a past diagnosis of transsexualism) and I would presently describe myself as a trans person.

My understanding of the wildcard form ‘trans*’ is that it was intended to be the very widest most inclusive form of transgender, encompassing all those who transgress, transcend or move between societal concepts of gender, including all gender variant and nonconforming people. As such, yes, all nonbinary people can be counted as trans* as can a large number of people who wouldn’t see themselves as transgender or would even find the suggestion offensive.


Whether nonbinary people would identify as trans (or trans*) is a different matter. It’s quite common for nonbinary identified people to be uncomfortable with the label ‘trans’ and not feel ‘trans enough’ to use it. Trans and transgender are often (problematically) defined in terms of concepts such as gender dysphoria or transition that may not map well to the experiences of some nonbinary people. Nonbinary people may find themselves pushed into the liminal space between transgender and cisgender or feeling that they qualify as both transgender and cisgender in different ways.

I often find myself feeling alienated and erased by parts of the binary trans community, this especially seems to occur when the community is under attack and defining the boundaries in defence. However I always seem to have some degree of inclusion within those boundaries due to having undergone hormone therapies and surgery. My trans status has effectively been legitimised by the medical gatekeepers. Even if I don’t identify or present within the binary, I have my diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria (and older diagnoses of ‘GID’ and even ‘Primary Transsexualism’). Other nonbinary people who can’t access such treatment, or for whom there is no need for medical transitions may feel even more alienated and pushed out of the ‘trans’ identity.

On the other hand, while I’m afforded some of the markers of trans identity, the Gender Recognition Act didn’t recognise my gender and the Equality Act doesn’t include me within the protected class. So it seems clear that many of the protections the trans community has won in the UK were not designed to include those like me.

 

 

CN: I think this totally depends upon which definition of ‘trans’ a person is using. I prefer the broadest possible usage, and a usage which applies to experiences and acts/behaviour but not necessarily something as nebulous and personal as ‘identity’ (I’ll come back to that in a personal capacity). If you’ll forgive me for a long list of ‘trans-‘ words, I do think that anything which transgresses, transcends, translates, transposes, transliterates ideas of sex and gender can be considered as trans. Under this definition, ways of being and ways of seeing the self that can’t be described neatly or at all by ‘woman’ or ‘man’ would be trans – but in a way which not only destabilises traditional ideas of sex and gender, but has the potential to disrupt our common use of the words ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ themselves. Someone could be genderqueer and yet be treated by the world around them as though the were cis – and, yet, so could someone who would describe themselves as a ‘classic transsexual’ who doesn’t feel the need to inform everyone of their transition. I still think that the words ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ are useful at the moment to help to name and combat oppression and inequality, but I would welcome anything that helps move us towards a future where we don’t need those terms anymore.

For myself – I’m happy using a combination of words: transsexual, androgynous, transgender, genderqueer – and, yet, I don’t know how much I would say that any of them are my ‘identity’, such as it is. This was something I found very confusing as a teenager, struggling to work out what I felt about my body and my place in society – I knew that I felt wrong in my body, and wished it was more like bodies traditionally considered male – and I absolutely hated any gendered expectations made of me, or anyone else – but reportage of trans experiences with phrases such as ‘I always knew I was a boy’, or ‘I just felt more female than male’ made me more confused and unsure of my place. I know it’s somewhat cliché, but I felt, and still feel, that I can’t know what it is to ‘feel like a man’ or ‘feel like a woman’, or even ‘to feel genderqueer’ – I can only know what it feels to be myself. Once I stopped worrying about which ‘identity’ I was meant to fit myself into, and instead began to use words that described my experiences of moving through the world (complete with my critique of that journey), things got a lot easier.

In terms of my personal experiences with the ‘binary trans community’ – fairly good, on the whole, but I will add that I came to trans community events etc. quite late – many years after I’d come out, and only after I’d made the changes in my appearance that made me feel more comfortable in my own skin. Plus the events I go to are mostly full of fairly political, open-minded people who embrace gender plurality, so there would be no reason why they wouldn’t be welcoming. It’s one of the joys of living in a major city – if you search hard enough you might well find people who’ll accept you on your own terms.

 

§ 18 Responses to Beyond the Binary: Question Four

  • Roz Kaveney says:

    Nat, the failure of the Equalities Act to include non-binary people is one of its many scandals. When there was a series of meetings between the trans community and the EHRC about problems with the bill as it then stood, it was one of the major concerns we raised and which the EHRC people dismissed out of hand. If you want to know how bad it was, suffice it to say that the EHRC people argued that non-binary trans people would mostly be perceived as binary-trans and protected by the law on account of that misapprehension. We raised issues of respect, and the fact that that was simply incorrect, and they more or less shrugged. That, and their dismissal of issues around trans parenthood as likely to be used against the Bill by the Daily Mail, are the reason I eventually stopped going to those meetings.

    I’m sorry the non-binary trans community got screwed, but some of us more or less binary types did try to protect your rights. As to why no one non-binary got asked to those meetings, I really can’t speak to that because I do not know the answer.

  • How do you view NB identities (starting, of course, with your own) in terms of trans* – are you trans*? Do you think all NB people are necessarily trans*?

    AND

    To what extent do you feel “pushed” out by the binary trans community

    I am trans*. I am non-binary. I try to be part of all communities, and thus do not affiliate myself exclusively with any community. I choose this because in life, I prefer to remain independent, free from labels or boxes.

    Thus, I am not really part of the trans* or NB community, or trans as a whole. Have I tried to join and felt pushed out? Yes. But not specifically by the NB section of the trans community. But then I rarely try and join a group. It is too depressing, that feeling of trying to break in to a tightly knit clique that only trusts those that are like itself, that agrees with its own particular views. Remaining independent is far easier. More, I make connections with individuals, regardless of their affiliation, and if they happen to be a member of a community, then so be it. And if I happen to get along with one of their friends who is also in a community, so be it.

    Once I have made connections with one person who is a member of a community, then further connections with their friends who are also within that community, then I might consider myself a member. I think that’s how it works.
    i have felt pushed out by members of the gay and lesbian communities (mainly through negative media spiel in Diva magazine), because I chose binary as a bisexual. However once I progressed to unity, independence, I have had fewer problems, maybe because I don’t feel I need others to validate my existence and my identity – I choose my own labels although I like the terms that are being developed, and I like to use them. They’re a great reference point.

    Do I think all NB people are necessarily trans*? No. Because people in new age communities or Native American shamans or whatever might not have heard of the term trans* and therefore not choose it. It is up to others what label they choose though, I don’t want to prescribe.

  • Cel says:

    I think it’s vital that us all sharing “trans” doesn’t conceal specific oppressions.

    I’ve faced specific transmisogyny from a group of genderqueer people, including the trope that all trans women are “dirty” and that we’re “freaks”. It was then claimed that that person couldn’t be bigoted (and was “objective”) as they are trans too.

    So I have issues around appropriation of the word when talking about oppression.

    • cnlester says:

      I think you’re absolutely right that we shouldn’t ignore or deliberately gloss over how different people are oppressed in different ways – transmisogyny is a deadly problem that needs serious work put in to bring it to an end.

      I think it’s also fair to talk about oppressions that, for example, genderqueer people face – I know that I’ve suffered some very nasty discrimination in the workplace, in education and in social spaces, and that I’m not alone in that regard.

      I hope that we could support each other without trying to erase the specifics of our struggles.

    • cnlester says:

      And, on a personal level – I’m so sorry. Those people sound absolutely vile.

  • misswonderly says:

    Gavi Ansara defines cisgenderism as ‘“the discriminatory ideology that delegitimises people’s own designations of their genders?” I’d agree with this but I’d go further and suggest that people only feel obliged to designate their own genders … whether ‘trans’, ‘cis’, ‘male’, ‘female’ … as a result of cisgenderism. It is difficult to function in our current society without designating one’s gender. The only subjectively important thing to me is to feel comfortable in my gender presentation. I would define ‘trans’ purely in opposition to cisgenderism … anybody who is made to feel uncomfortable in their subjectively comfortable gender presentation.

  • Dragon says:

    Hmm. So what I’m trying to negotiate for myself is to what extent one can be both “genderqueer” and “woman” – would those categories negate one another?

    I’m asking because I’ve increasingly felt a need for another word to complicate “woman” as an identity for myself. Is “woman” big enough to encompass my occasional expressions of androgyny? Is “genderqueer” big enough to encompass my femininity? I don’t feel trans* and don’t want to appropriate someone else’s label if I’m not welcome to it. But yet some aspects of my gender are very much queer.

    • cnlester says:

      Well, I can only give you my personal opinion – much as I would LIKE to be head of a nefarious International Genderqueer League… 😉

      For myself, I think that all words can contain multiple meanings – even ones that challenge each other – and that we don’t need to find a single word to describe our gendered selves if two words, or three words etc. would do a better job and would feel more comfortable. I know many people who’d use both ‘woman’ and ‘genderqueer’ to describe themselves, and understand that each word enriches the other. If they did negate each other, wouldn’t that be interesting and valuable too?

      I think it’s right and admirable that we don’t steal words we don’t truly have an understanding of and a grounding in to describe ourselves – it’s downright stupid, quite apart from being rude (reading a few books wouldn’t give me the background and training necessary to call myself an Inuit shaman, for example) – but I don’t think that that applies to common descriptives in common usage that might well prove useful to a person. Again, I can only speak for myself, but I don’t feel that ‘genderqueer’ is a closed term, especially as it’s a term with a specific element of change and challenge encoded within itself.

    • womandrogyne says:

      This is why I ended up coming up with the label Womandrogyne for myself. I personally don’t see any problem with being female, non-binary, genderqueer and trans – they all fit me,not varying degrees. I’m in the later stages of an MTF transition, but when it’s finished (whenever *that* is), I will still be a very, very genderqueer Womandrogyne, who identifies as non-binary – I’ll just be doing it with te right anatomy, for a change.
      I want to add to the “are non-binary people trans?” discussion that not all non-binary people are interested in considering themselves trans, and for different reasons. For example, someone who achieves a non-binary equilibrium in their life, presentation and anatomy and therefore experiences no gender dysphoria might see no reason to describe themselves as trans in the sense of “transitioning”. For some people, trans is an identity, and for others, it’s just something that’s happening to them until it’s finished. And I think either position is perfectly valid. It’s too easy to unconsciously assume that non-binary people are “unfinished”.

    • sharon says:

      I describe myself as a genderqueer woman:
      ‘Woman’ for reasons similar to those described by Brit Mandelo here: http://britmandelo.livejournal.com/770765.html – because of the position in which society puts me; because of how I’m treated on the basis of how others see me.
      ‘Genderqueer’ because I’m definitely not uncomplicatedly a woman; because now and for much of my life I don’t feel similar to the other (many) patterns of womanhood I encounter; because I feel not-feminine; because the people I recognise as reflections of myself are in an area that’s not entirely ‘man’ but not ‘woman’ either (this list of reasons could go on for ages).

      So in some ways it sounds to me like I’m coming at those labels from a different angle from you, but maybe it’s helpful to know about a variety of people who are using both labels?

      I also describe myself as ‘somewhere under the larger trans umbrella’ but not straightforwardly as trans.

      • sharon says:

        Incidentally, I am and have been very upset by being told I’m less genderqueer because I still use the label ‘woman’ as well. Part of my reason for using the label is social lubrication: some of the circles I move in have never heard of people who aren’t men or women, and I don’t have the energy to do all that education as well as having a full-time job, voluntary commitments, community and family connections and keeping myself alive.

        • helgurney says:

          Wow, yeah – nobody should be telling you you’re “less genderqueer” for that! Of all the labels to start policing… *eyeroll* And of course – taking care of yourself and your own survival should certainly come before making a point about your gender. I’m pretty lucky in being in ‘safe’ enough situation to come out as genderqueer – very few personal or professional repercussions yet, but being out and Google-able is still different from having a one-on-one discussion about it with everybody I know…

          • sharon says:

            To be perfectly honest, it’s not even (I think) about survival for me. I think I would spend a _lot_ of time explaining to well-meaning but very confused colleagues and associates, and I don’t have the energy resources at present to do that in addition to the time I spend explaining my weird disability and my weird relationship setup.

            Thanks for supportive comment. 🙂

    • helgurney says:

      I’m agreeing very much with CN, womandrogyne, and sharon here. I absolutely don’t think those categories negate each other, and I’m almost surprised that you’re asking given some of the discussions we’ve had. 🙂 Both/either of those words can be big enough to contain you – words are a beautifully plastic thing, after all. I’ve written a little bit publicly about my identifying under both these terms (http://helgurney.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/transparency-an-inevitable-announcement/) and I was actually going to recommend you the Brit Mandelo post that Sharon has already posted. 🙂 (Also, if you want to chat about this, please do hit me up – I’ve always got time for you!)

  • Jamie Ray says:

    This is an incredible series of Q & A, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series. Thank you for posting, and to Micah at Neutrois Nonsense for mentioning your site. A lot of stuff to think about…

  • cnlester says:

    Thank you everyone – really interesting comments x

  • Jonathan says:

    As a cissexual MTF transvestite, I identify as genderqueer (rather than NB), using GQ in its widest meaning: someone whose gender is “queer” (i.e. non-normative) in some way. As to whether that makes me trans* or not – it does and it doesn’t, depending on context.

    First of all, I’m cis in cissexual terms, in that my body structure (mostly) fits the cultural template for my sex (they’re both male). As for trans in transgender terms: From a cultural perspective I am (and identify as) trans, in that my gender runs culturally contrary to my sex; i.e. it crosses the boundaries of what society regards as valid for my sex. And I’m trans in a political sense too, in that I stand with people whose gender (or sex) crosses (or appears to cross) cultural boundaries. However, I also take the (feminist) position that such gender boundaries are themselves false – and in that case, what actually is trans? How can you cross (trans) a boundary that doesn’t exist? So from that perspective, I’m not trans (nor cis either) – and if I was to apply that universally, I’d have to say no one’s gender is actually trans. Except that’s not something you can say for anyone else. How people understand their own gender is their own business.

    As to feeling “pushed out”: I don’t; at least not because of binary issues – my local trans group (the same as Nat’s) is inclusive. However, it is (currently) predominantly TS – people dealing with transitioning issues and stuff, which don’t apply to me – so I do wonder whether I’m invading other people’s space sometimes. And then there are occasional disparaging remarks about TVs and the local TV group – though whether those make me feel excluded (as a TV) or included (because people feel they can say things to me), I’m not sure. I don’t usually take such remarks personally because my TV identity is non-normative as well. MTF TVs, when expressing that side of their personae, usually try to present as female, whereas (for all sorts of reasons) I choose not to do that. This consequently means I sometimes feel like an outsider in MTF TV space too. On the other hand, the answers to Question(s) 1 (which I asked) certainly made me feel included, so thanks again to everyone for those 🙂

  • […] How do you view NB identities in terms of trans*? Starting with your own? […]

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