October 3, 2013 § 10 Comments
I’ve said before that I don’t usually write in the first flush of anger – I prefer to let it simmer down and reduce into something luscious and thick and punchy. But right now I am very, very angry – and it’s not new, but it’s been stoked up fresh today, and there’s nothing for it but to write it down.
I am so sick and tired of trans bodies being seen through the lens of cissexism, in all its forms, that I could break something – many things. Two news items today that managed to tick every box in the othering, the judging, of trans bodies and the individuals who inhabit them. First, a seemingly well-intentioned but still infuriating piece in The Advocate – My Attraction to Trans People is not a Fetish – a claim I would have taken more seriously if the author hadn’t used such fetishistic terms for trans people, nor recycled so many of the usual tropes about trans bodies. The second – a heartbreaking story about a Belgian trans man who applied for and received euthanasia – titillatingly retold by news agency after news agency. Here’s a typical example – ‘failed’ surgery (‘botched’ has frequently been used) – and nothing to contradict the tragic claim from an abused and depressed man that he was ‘a monster’.
Ask yourself – the last time you read about trans bodies in a piece written by a cis person, did it contain any of these assertions/hints as to these beliefs? Or have you encountered them in everyday life – because god knows it happens to me all the time:
- That trans bodies are ‘mutilated’ cis bodies – even when it’s couched in the politest of terms. Both as a threat/plea against physical transition (“but you’re so lovely as you are/it would be such a waste”) and as an attack against those who’ve been through all kinds of medical transition. I’m not going to write out the things frequently said about trans genitals – they’re just too hateful to be on this blog.
- That trans bodies are ‘failed’ cis bodies – ‘well done old boy, but not quite cricket’. Poor old things. Not quite up to scratch. Done their best. Best you can hope for. What a shame.
- That trans bodies are so different…so sexy…so exotic. Yes. All trans bodies. Because we’re all alike, and we all have a mixture of differently societally gendered bodily attributes (but only in a way attractive to cis people! otherwise fail!) which make us special and exciting. Even if you ‘can’t tell by looking’ we give off a magical aura that no cis person has.
- That trans bodies are so different…and terrifying…and help, dystopian nightmare! Franken-something and something-bot. Freaks! All of us! Run away!
Not all cis people do this, not by a long shot. And it’s not that I don’t want a person attracted to me to also be attracted to my body – for better or worse it’s the one I’m stuck with – I’d done my best with it and I want to be desired and found beautiful as much as the next person.
But my body is not a metaphor or entry into a crypto-category of fetish object. No other person has the right to write over it, or depersonalize it – try to dissect it or approach it in a way that negates the intellect that drives it. It’s not a prop, or a bogeyman, or a sex toy – I will not have read back to me what a cis person does or does not find acceptable about the physical embodiment of my self, regardless of the actual self in question.
There are cis people who steal our bodies away from ourselves – through gatekeeping, through cultural pressure, through ‘humour’ and abuse and pity and scorn. We need to take them back.
June 1, 2012 § 1 Comment
What really sticks with me, each time I read the excuses trotted out by the people making or condoning this kind of ‘comedy’ (I’m going to run out of quotation marks), is the way in which trans people don’t seem to exist to them beyond a punchline. That because, for so long, they’ve relegated us to the roles of ‘sad mannish tranny’, ‘deceptively enticing she-male’ and ‘creepy cross-dressing pervert’ there’s no longer any mental space left to fit in the actual reality of who we are. It’s dehumanising in the extreme. It makes you wonder – do they realise that they meet trans people on a regular basis? Do they know that we come in every shape/size/flavour, pursue every kind of career, live wide and varied and different lives? Do they really think that those vile stereotypes they trot out in the name of comedy are true, and that’s all there is to us – or do they know better and don’t care, because we don’t deserve that basic acknowledgement of equality?
There’s a famous saying of Bion’s that gets stuck in my head every time this situation arises: “Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest.”
May 28, 2012 § 13 Comments
Sometimes I feel like an exceedingly weak person, that I couldn’t just suppress who I actually am and further my career by pretending to be a cis woman.
Fucked up, isn’t it, the way cissexism turns us upside down?
May 22, 2012 § 11 Comments
And by ‘funny’ I mean, well…upsetting, perplexing, frustrating, ridiculous. I’ve touched on it a little before.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the androgyny – and certainly because of the whiteness and thinness and non-visable disabilities – I know that I’m often considered beautiful by mainstream standards of beauty. I don’t know it so much in myself (thanks, terrible, terrible bullying) – but I know it from what others tell me.
And I know that, in the eyes of so many of the cis people who tell me, it utterly repudiates my being trans. And it is funny, that again and again I’m told that I’m beautiful – by people who won’t use ‘they’, and won’t accept that I’m anything but a woman – because I’m beautiful and therefore a woman, and a woman, and therefore beautiful. One aspect of my physical being is highlighted – my face, perhaps, or, again, being white and thin and able-bodied – and the other aspects of my physical being are ignored, dismissed. Easier to disregard the evidence of your own eyes, and only see what you’re comfortable seeing.
What does it say about the way cis society has vilified and othered trans people, that being trans and being beautiful are seen as mutually exclusive?
February 13, 2012 § 12 Comments
Not a long post, nor a particularly sophisticated one – but this is why I cannot stand the mainstream usage of the word “chivalry” to describe certain kinds of behaviour. You know what I’m talking about: doors opened, items carried, chairs pulled out – “it’s not sexist, it’s chivalrous”.
Well. I’ve had this argument a fair few times with friends, mostly with cis men. They can’t understand why I would be so put out by someone wanting to “help” – it’s lovely when people are helpful, surely? So, an illustration.
I have to schlep a pretty heavy electronic piano to and from most of my gigs. It’s awkward and annoying and you can’t carry it for long distances, but it’s my instrument and I’m used to it. I’m also used to helping with harpsichord transport for classical concerts – much heavier and far, far more expensive and delicate. Concert situations, so I’m usually looking (if I say so myself) pretty damn attractive. As such, I’ve had cis men falling over themselves to try to carry my instruments for me, proving how very strong and macho they are in the process. Some have literally pushed me out of a holding position so that they can replace me. Never a question of what they could honestly do to help (open doors, assist with awkward angles, clear people out of the way) but tonnes of “compliments” along the lines of “bit heavy for a pretty little thing like you” – as I may have said before, I’m average height for a man, weigh 11 stone and lift weights for fun. Many a time the man in question has struggled under the weight of said instrument and nearly dropped it – thanks guys, really.
I had an amazing gig in Edinburgh this weekend with Cachin Cachan Cachunga – I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I was also as sick as a dog and as weak as kitten (not choosing, as usual). I was desperate for some help – but, sadly, I was looking less than my best. Deathly pale and glassy-eyed and not my usual charming self. So, did any “chivalrous” cis men step up to offer their services? Of course not. Why would they? There was nothing in it for them.*
Just a brief example. I could give you so many more – as I’m sure could anyone else the world has ever read as female. But I’m just so desperate to call a moratorium on this kind of behaviour. I would consider myself a chivalrous person – because I was brought up to be kind and helpful and think of others. Not because I’m trying to prove my masculinity by infantilising and irritating “women” I find attractive.
And as a final point – never touch a musician’s instrument without asking first. It’s beyond rude.
* Obviously, the folks at the gigs were tremendous – and helpful. Thank you!
November 22, 2011 § 17 Comments
Yet another update: Just bringing this from the comments to the top of the page:
“Hi everyone, as the person who found this/wrote the warning, just to let you know all the stuff I didn’t know when I wrote it: it’s most definitely a hoax, but what is worrying is that this person offered to meet a few of the young people on the website they posted this on. For whatever reasons they want to meet them (and it’s more sinister given that it’s obviously faked), so that’s why I put the warning out there. Please share the message widely but please keep in the part about the University of Leicester not knowing anything about this. The phone number in the ad is their english department. They obviously knew nothing about it but are now aware and are forwarding anyone who calls to Pink Therapy. I emailed the uni in the states yesterday and am awaiting a response.”
Update: Thanks for the responses and reposting – all the UK trans academics and activists I know are trying to unravel this. At the moment it seems like a mash-up of different names and works, with a nasty bent to it – there’s a Dr Susan Collins on the GMC register (graduated University of Manchester in 2006), “Dreaming Gender: Restoration and Transformation” is an article by a Vittorio Lingiardi (Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 2007) – there are no links to the universities mentioned. Whoever this person is, they’ve been trying to contact vulnerable young trans people on UK LGBTQ youth forums, and offering to meet them. University of Leicester is forwarding any callers to Pink Therapy – personally, I feel that, regardless of whether this is a hoax or something more sinister, people in the target group deserve to be warned. Thanks again.
I’ve just been alerted to this by a fellow UK activist – please read and share as widely as you can:
“I just wanted to make you all aware that there’s someone out there offering young trans people the chance to get involved in a conversion therapy study. I have pasted the message this person has posted on Queer Youth Network’s website at the bottom of this message. It apparently comes from a Dr Susan Collins who claims to have links with the University of Leicester (something I’ve checked with them and they’ve denied) I’m currently awaiting a response from Clarkson University in the USA, who they also claim to be working with.
Very worrying that they’ve pretty much claimed to offer a cure to transgenderism and “to see the Christ identity restored and embraced” as well as potential funding for surgery.
The university is now investigating so please let me know if you see this anywhere else, and obviously do not respond to it. The number listed is from the University of Leicester’s English department who are aware it’s being used but have no idea why.
“Are you a post-operative female to male transsexual?
Looking for guidance and potential funding for surgery?
Pioneering new research into the advancement of Gender Restoration therapies, psychological and alternative pharmaceutical treatments to unnecessary gender re-assignment might be able to provide you with the answers, and hope in treating your condition.
We are particularly keen to hear from females aged 16 to 25 years old, as a primary group who currently identify as suffering from gender dysphoria disorders (FTM).
The research is independent and funded by a partnership of number of educational medical institutions and private medical bodies. We are hoping to recruit a sample group of between 20 and 30 volunteers who will be fully re-reimbursed for their time and all treatments and out-of-pocket expenses will be reimbursed.
Interested participants in the United States will be monitored at the facilities based at Clarkson University’s Chemistry and Bimolecular Science department,
in the United Kingdom and Europe we are exploring a partnership with the University of Leicester.
If you would like to be part of this ground-breaking study please email Dr Susan Collins – email@example.com – or call (0)116 252 3943
Dr Susan Collins is an award winning advocate of the women’s and transsexual rights movement and contributor to numerous social scientific programs including ‘Dreaming Gender: Restoration and Transformation’. Author of ‘Are You Sure? – Female to Male Surgery, the dangers and what you need to know.’ ‘Gender Restoration’ – To study the biblical foundation of manhood and womanhood and how then to restore them from a state of fallenness to their true image in Christ. ‘Identity Restoration’ – To recognise and renounce unreal identities including confusion in gender and sexual identity. To see the Christ identity restored and embraced.”
November 10, 2011 § 5 Comments
A question I’m asked on a regular basis. And one, according to my mother (hi mum!), that was asked of a trans man on Radio 4 this morning. Sigh. Radio 4. Leaving aside of questions of desire – who we sleep with, who we love (and why do they disregard our desires and loves?) – the symbol is drawn equating a very butch woman with a very effeminate man. Not a “real” man. So, why not be a butch woman? Here is my simple and easy to follow answer – do with it what you will.
The first and most fundamental line of ‘reasoning’ tends to be that I, and those like me, have vaginas. It’s assumed, anyway. God knows we can all tell by a casual glance at a clothed person. So – if the form’s the same, the content must therefore be identical? Close enough, anyway. But, if you’ll allow me to be a little whimsical:
I’m going to give myself the title of Person A. A musician. I’m going to pick a profession at random – a biochemist. Person B. Now, you could put person A in a lab coat and safety goggles, position them next to person B and make them look, to the untrained and lazy eye, like a biochemist. Or vice versa – Person B gets to wear a lovely frock coat, stand in front of an orchestra and sing. Except, of course, they couldn’t. Just as the only thing I could reliable be counted on to do in a lab is drop something valuable and make a horrible mess. The outside trappings don’t determine who the people inside actually are. Only character can do that – and we’re only just on the cusp of working out how that all comes about.
And, to take it further. Put Person A and Person B in matching jeans and shirts. Strangely enough, they’re still totally different people. So why is it so hard to understand that, though you assume that I, Person A, have a vagina, and Person B, our theoretical butch lesbian biochemist, has a vagina – well, that it means, oh, absolutely nothing? It probably means something personal to both Person A and Person B but, to the outside world – what does it tell us? How does it let us understand someone? It’s just not the outside world’s business.
“But Person A,” these people might say (I’m quite enjoying this, can you tell?), “who’s to say that you wouldn’t have been a brilliant biochemist, if you had been supported in the path of biochemistry, instead of seduced into the sordid world of music?” And here’s where I throw up my hands. Who’s to say why anyone is anything at all? I’m a musician because I’ve always been good at it, I’ve always loved it – it makes an intrinsic sense that nothing else comes close to. It doesn’t make me feel “happy” – it makes me whole. Because of always loving it I’ve given it the very best of me, which has only served to strengthen that love. Because of all that work, that devotion, the very nature of my brain has changed to reflect the fact that I’m musician – which it wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t loved it from the very core of me, loved it enough to devote myself to it and bring about that change. If I had been forced to work another job (and I have worked many other jobs) and been stopped from performing it wouldn’t make me good at that other job – it couldn’t make that job my vocation or my identity. Who we are doesn’t work like that. Pour different coloured water into identical glasses and the blue is still blue and the green is still green – even if their containers are the same.
Why do we ask people to justify their gender based on a randomly assigned body, when we wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) ask them to justify their interests, their passions, the rest of what makes them unique?