Beyond the Binary: Question Four
June 11, 2013 § 19 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*?
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.