Twenty-One questions on trans issues answered

April 25, 2013 § 11 Comments

The master blog! We’ve spent the past month answering common questions on trans issues – some 101, some a little further along – and it’s been an interesting ride. Many thanks to the panel, and everyone who contributed in the comments – and if you know anyone who might find it helpful, do pass it along.

 

 

The lovely  panel

 

 

Natacha Kennedy

Natacha Kennedy has known she was a girl since a very young age, having the wrong gender written on her birth certificate. A former primary school teacher she now lectures at Goldsmiths College and her main research interest is trans children. In addition she is an activist who campaigns for trans rights, is co-chair of Camden LGBT Forum, a member of LGBT Labour executive and helps organise the London transgender Day of Remembrance. She is married, lives in North London, speaks several languages, loves Japanese food, travelling, photography and shoes.

 

 

Maeve

I’m Maeve, the cis female partner of a trans man. I’ve been with my partner for almost three years. He is active in the world of trans activism, both at grassroots and as a professional researcher, and I have been involved in some of his work. I have also been part of a regular group that meets in Edinburgh called “Me and T”; for partners, friends and family members of trans people. I recently trained as a peer supporter for people thinking about or just starting transition.

 

 

Roz Kaveney

I’m a queer lesbian trans woman in my 60s making a living in the arts. I knew I was trans from my middle teens and made contact with trans street workers then. I put decisions on hold until after university planning to transition when I did graduate work. In the event, I was persuaded not to by feminist and gay liberationist friends and had a breakdown in my mid-20s. I transitioned around the age of 30 and had some medical problems – nonetheless I lived pretty happily ever after.

 

 

Naith Payton

I’m a 24 year old writer, comedian and filmmaker. I’m a trans man who made a very gentle, casual transition that took many years in different aspects of my life. I have gone as far as I feel I want to in my transition right now, but I may change my mind in future. I’ve done plenty of trans activism, talked about being trans on stage (which is terrifying but incredibly rewarding), and I run a blog on sex, relationships, and feminism which uses my trans experience to inform a lot of my writing.

 

 

  1. 101 Recommendations
  2. “Why do we have to label people?”
  3. “How can you respect your body if you take hormones/have surgery?”
  4. “Will taking hormones change your sexual orientation?”
  5. “When’s the right time to start transitioning?”
  6. “What common insensitivities do you encounter, being trans?”
  7. “Where do cis people fit in the fight for trans equality?”
  8. “Why are people trans, and what does it really mean?”
  9. “Do trans people ever feel comfortable in their bodies?”
  10. “Why do you have to call me ‘cis’?”
  11. “Which trans books should I read?”
  12. “Is trans* the preferred term?”
  13. “What’s the best way of dealing with accidental misgendering?” 
  14. “When should trans people disclose?”
  15. “How is being trans different from a delusion stemming from a mental health condition?”
  16. “Is there a generational divide in the trans community?”
  17. “Does it undermine a trans man’s identity for a lesbian to say ‘I like butches and trans men’?”
  18. “What kinds of meaning are attached to ‘transgender’ and ‘transsexual’?”
  19. “Should I speak up if someone misgenders a trans friend?”
  20. “Should cis people let trans people do the talking on trans issues?”
  21. “Is there a nonbinary manifesto?”

Question Twenty-One: Is there a nonbinary manifesto?

April 23, 2013 § 5 Comments

The last question of the series! I’ll be putting together a master blog post later today – and see below for further developments along the same theme. Panel bios here – and an enormous thanks to them all – drinks are owed. And thank you to everyone who left a comment – the more viewpoints are presented the more helpful it is.

 

 

Question Twenty-One

This a question about the importance of using language that doesn’t erase nonbinary people. The idea that orientation labels like straight, gay and (especially) bi are problematic in this regard comes up in queer conversation a lot. (It’s probably important to note here that these conversations often erase the existence of nonbinary straights, gays and bis.) What do nonbinary people want from their allies on this topic? Is there a nonbinary manifesto?


 

 

Natacha: As someone who basically identifies within the binary, it is difficult for me to say, but there is a lot of erasing of binary identities by our very language as you have shown. IMO it would be better if we started the words “Gynephillic”, “Androphillic” and “Biphillic”, which described the sexual preference rather than the gender of the individual, thus straight men and lesbian women would both be described as “gynephillic”.

 

 

Roz: Too many flavours of non-binary for this question to be answerable, I fear. Again, context…Accept there is a problem and we probably all get it a bit wrong. Humility is a good idea.

 

 

CN: I must admit that I’m rather tickled by this question – being someone who many would count as ‘non-binary’ when I have real problems with that word, and the demarcation it connotes. I do find the words ‘straight’, ‘gay’, ‘bi’ rather confusing when it comes to acknowledging more than two sexes and genders – if I’m gay then am I only attracted to people who have the same gender as me? But if I acknowledge that all genders are unique then…? I know that some people specifically use the word ‘pansexual’ as opposed to ‘bisexual’ to make sure that all genders/sexes are included – and other people include all sexes/genders in the word ‘bisexual’, because it’s used so often that it’s a useful term to expand upon. As always, I think it starts with asking people which terms they feel are most correct and comfortable and going from there. I’m afraid that the older I get, the more I like to give facetious answers to the ‘so how would you describe your sexuality’ question – ‘dusty from neglect’ and ‘picky’ are the current favourites.

As to a ‘nonbinary manifesto’? For me, part of dismantling the notion that there are only two fixed options for gender and sex also means challenging the notion that there are only a few fixed options for attraction and desire – I don’t believe that sexual orientation and gender identity are distant categories that don’t inform each other. But there are plenty of people who would disagree.

On a slightly more helpful note – as this series seems to have gone down well, and following some requests – I’ll be doing the same kind of thing with a panel of thoughtful, knowledgable people answering questions on genderqueer/androgynous/neutrois/bigender/beyond the binary style issues. Updates to follow – watch this space.

Question Twenty: Should cis people let trans people do the talking on trans issues?

April 22, 2013 § 2 Comments

The penultimate question! I might do a post on coffee after this series, just to lighten the mood. Panel bios here.

 

 

Question Twenty

This is such a helpful thing to be doing…I’ve been an lgbtq* officer and I still worry that what I say is going to offend!
 When cis people engage in debate on Trans issues, eg. on Burchill or on the Gender Recognition Act, do most Trans people feel that we’re supporting or would they rather we shut up and promote Trans people themselves doing the talking? I often feel, when speaking up, some people may be irritated a cis-person is doing the talking.


 

 

Natacha: IMO trans people need allies. Sometimes cisgender allies get it wrong but in general most of us are happy to correct you privately and gently and respectfully. We can’t expect everyone to know everything. For example, a trans friend was about to use the phrase “gender-Variant” in a speech, I corrected her by email ( it should be “gender non-conforming”) and she took that on board and used it in her speech. If trans people react in a shouty way to mistakes then it is they who are doing us a disservice. Listen and learn, most of us want to get our message out there and are very appreciative of cisgender people’s support. It is a fact of life that some do not always get it right, but please do not let that stop you. If you support us we will support you.

 

 

Roz: As with so many of these questions, play it by ear. You are aware of the problem with making it about you being Big Ally – again, do the non-verbal ‘should I take this?’

 

 

Naith: For the most part I think things like this should be lead by trans people – there are plenty of cis allies with great things to say, but in the case of the trans equality fight, cis ally’s main job should be promoting trans speakers.

 

 

CN: I genuinely feel that it depends on the situation. It’s certainly never appropriate for a cis person to come wading in with a ‘I can be objective here when you can’t – here’s what’s REALLY going on’. But one of the most touching articles on the Burchill mess came from a cis person explaining why everyone should care about trans issues. Personally, I believe that we need a multiplicity of voices raised on this issue (as on many others) – so long as cis people aren’t talking over trans people, or denying them a time/opportunity to talk, then I’d like to hear what they have to say. 

Question Nineteen: should I speak up if someone misgenders a trans friend?

April 19, 2013 § 1 Comment

Only three more questions left – panel bios here.

 

 

Question Nineeten

As always, this will be dependent on individual circumstances, but I’d really like to hear some opinions on this scenario:
 If I, as an ally, am with a trans friend, and another person misgenders my trans friend, should I correct the other person, or should I wait for my trans friend to do it? Is it presumptuous or supportive for me to speak up?


 

 

Naith: I always used to like it if a friend corrected someone else on my behalf, since I was often too nervous to do it myself. However it’s going to come down to personal preference and it’s best to ask your friend what they’d prefer.

 

 

Roz: There are no rules and I am not Miss Manners…Maybe look at your friend and go ‘I’ve got this’ in a vaguely interrogatory way?

 

 

Natacha: If that happened to me, I would be very happy for you to do so, but not in every situation. In a meeting at work I would prefer that the content of the meeting were discussed and got through as quickly and efficiently as possible without worrying about that. Unless the misgendering were deliberate.

 

 

CN: I think it depends on how well someone knows me, and how well they can read the situation/what I need? If I’m in a certain work environment, or worried that it might turn into a whole bunch of hassle that I’m not in the mood to deal with, then I try to ignore misgendering, and hope that a friend would follow my lead. However, there are plenty of situations where it’s helpful for a friend to take the initiative and correct someone: when I don’t have the energy, when I’m really ground-down, at work where I’m worried about ‘making a fuss’ but still upset about being misgendered, with new groups of people who know my friend but not me – it means a lot to know that someone has my back like that. I’d say that it’s best to talk it through with your friend beforehand and decide on what’s most comfortable and useful for you both. 

Question Eighteen: What kinds of meanings are attached to ‘transgender’ and ‘transsexual’?

April 19, 2013 § 18 Comments

I haven’t gone to bed yet so, by insomnia time, this still counts as today – time for another question. Panel bios here.

 

 

Question Eighteen

I’d like to hear some different opinions on the meanings of the terms “transgender” and “transsexual”. With an awareness of them being cultural labels as well as linguistic ones, I still find it difficult to pin them down. I *thought* gender was in the head, and sex was in the body, and “trans” meant changing that. However, if one was born with a sex (body) that didn’t match gender (head) how is the gender changing at all? Does transgender rather mean * perceived* gender is changing/has changed? Are the terms in fact synonymous and I am looking too etymologically at them rather than semantically? If a person wears the label transgender or transsexual, is there something specific that they are trying to tell me about themselves that I am missing, because I have difficulty distinguishing the meanings of the words? I have discussed this with my partner (who wears the label transsexual herself) and we both just get more and more confused the more we discuss it. Some more opinions would be very helpful. Also, I have recently heard the term “of trans history” a few times, and wondered if this has yet another meaning. Is it all just a matter of preference?


 

 

Maeve: The STA guidebook has a good discussion of these terms:

http://scottishtrans.org/Uploads/Resources/sta_gender_identity_introductory_guide.pdf

 

 

 

Roz: Pretty much – you seem to be getting it.

 

 

 

Natacha: The answer to this depends on who you talk to. I know a number of transwomen who have not had surgery (and do not intend to) but still describe themselves as transsexual. However there are those who would say that they are not real transsexual women. These people tend to consider that only those who are fully post-operative, who live in stealth, who pass as the other gender and who are heterosexual in their new gender, are actually allowed to call themselves transsexual people. ON the other hand I know some people who are post-operative but who describe themselves as “transgender” or “genderqueer” rather than transsexual people. This may be one of the reasons some people have started to use the word “trans”.

 

 

 

CN: ‘more and more confused the more we discuss it’ – I think that just about covers it! I haven’t found the same meaning twice whenever I’ve asked/looked for answers – I think that there seems to be a broad consensus on some terms, but with many (sometimes very loud) dissenting voices. My understanding of ‘transgender’ as a broad umbrella term is based on the fact that we’re not only assigned a sex at birth – we’re assigned a gender role based on that sex. So someone, like myself, assigned ‘female’ at birth is also assigned ‘girl’ and, later, ‘woman’. Even if I were to understand myself as always having had been a boy and, later, a man, and change my body to be what’s typically considered male, I would still have had to transgress the cultural/social gender role I was assigned, not just navigate the changes to my body. Even someone with a childhood as free from gender stereotyping at home as mine luckily was would still have to deal with school systems, legal paperwork, the reactions of strangers etc. So I do think that transgender can be a useful word – though, as previously stated, I’m not a huge fan of using adjectives to categorise ‘identity’, as such.

Growing up, I always thought that ‘transsexual’ only applied to people who’d transitioned from male to female, or vice versa. I think it actually has a broader application than that, which I’ve seen more and more, which is to signpost bodily dysphoria – I would certainly use both the words ‘transsexual’ and ‘genderqueer’ to describe myself. Though there are still many people who would only apply it to those who are either men or women, but not neither/both/a combination. 

Coming back to the idea of trans as an adjective vs. trans as an identity – as far as I know, ‘of trans history’ is used when someone wants to make it clear that transitioning is something that happened in their lives, but that they don’t actively identify ‘as trans’. A debate on what it actually means to ‘identify as trans’ or not is a can of worms too enormous to open here – but maybe for a future post. I would say that ‘trans’ is the safest option, and to ask which terms each individual finds the most comfortable/correct. 

Question Seventeen: Does it undermine a trans man’s identity for a lesbian to say ‘I like butches and trans men’?

April 17, 2013 § 28 Comments

Another contentious one – and so early in the morning! Panel bios here.

 

Question Seventeen

I really appreciate this post, because I want to be the best trans ally I can be. I’ve always understood that as a cis woman, it was my responsibility to read & educate myself on trans issues & not expect the trans people around me to educate me. And I think this does have some merit, because cis people should treat trans people just like anyone else, & ask them the usual “what do you do” questions, not intrusive “what surgery have you had” or “how do you have sex” intrusive questions, which some of my straight cis-friends have actually asked my trans friends. 
My question is, does it undermine the gender identity of a trans person if for example, a lesbian says “I like butches & trans men”. Or are we all just queers who feel attracted to human beings?? Hope that makes sense, thanks xx


 

 

 

Naith: This is a very interesting question. As a trans man, I’ve always gone with the rule that I would never date or hook up with someone who wouldn’t do the same with a cis man. I would find it very uncomfortable to be with a lesbian or straight man, since I would be constantly worrying that wouldn’t see me as a man, or a special kind of man that isn’t the same as a cis man. Some people manage it, but I never could. And I do find it irritating when people say they’re attracted to “women and trans men” – it feels like they’re treating trans men like a special category of men who aren’t quite men, who are almost like women. And I hate that.

 

 

Roz: Treat people as people, let anyone trans tell you what they feel like telling you. Or not.

 

 

Natacha: If I were a trans man I think I would be very upset by that sort of remark but I can’t speak for trans men. I do know that there are a lot of straight cisgender men out there who enjoy anal sex but do not fancy men. This is why there is a demand for pre-operative trans women as sex workers. I think the first part of your statement actually answers the question. We just want to be treated as anyone else. Eg in some cases we appear female and have vaginas, in other cases we appear female and have ladysticks. In both cases we are still women.

I think some trans people however would not like the idea that they are queer. This represents coercive queering which is not appropriate for all trans people.

 

 

CN: There’s been a fair bit written recently about the inclusion and fetishization of trans men and trans masculine people in lesbian spaces (usually with a side order of excluding trans women) and I would urge you to have a read: Feministing here and here, Lipstick Terrorist here, and my own thoughts here and here. I would absolutely say that someone who calls themselves a lesbian making an exception only for trans men is undermining the validity of a trans man’s gender. It relies upon a stereotypical idea of what trans men are and defines them by the sex they were assigned at birth. As a contrast, I do have a few lesbian friends who occasionally fancy very girly men and, if they were to end up in a relationship with such a guy, would call themselves bisexual – but those men are no more likely to be trans than cis. 

Question Sixteen: Is there a generational divide in the trans community?

April 16, 2013 § 6 Comments

Onwards with the end in sight! Panel bios here.

 

Question Sixteen

Is there much of a generational divide in the trans community? Is there much crossover or not between people who identify as ‘transsexual’ and those who identify as ‘transgender’ or do people use these more as descriptive terms than anything?
 I ask partly out of curiosity, and partly because in a work context it helps me to know what are the most appropriate words to use. Most of the trans people I’m acquainted with are young as well as politically active and I’m interested to know whether older and/or less politically engaged trans people tend to have different perspectives and prefer different terminology

 

 

Natacha: Difficult to say at this stage, and more research is needed, but it is likely that more older transsexuals have been living in “stealth”; that is without anyone around them knowing that they are trans, because that was the normal advice to transsexuals in the 1960, 70s and 80s. Whether this has changed, is difficult to say. What has changed is that, with the introduction of the internet, trans people have been able to work together, help each other, coalesce and take political, cultural and social action to change the world. This is probably why more younger trans people appear to be politically active.

 

 

Roz: I am the wrong person to ask – I get on better with trans people a generation younger than I do with my original peer group. I regard transgender or trans* as occasionally useful umbrellas – though transsexual is my own sense of who I am, with transgender being the broader team I am in solidarity with.

 

 

Naith: There is to an extent – you’ll often find that older trans people tend to be more binary-identified, somewhat more stereotypical in their gender presentation perhaps, and more likely to have transitioned when older. That’s not always the case of course, but it is something I’ve noticed. I think it may have something to do with the fact, in the past, trans people often had to be as binary-identified and stereotypical acting as possible in order to access treatment, and also to do with the fact that non-binary identity was perhaps not as talked about in the past. Non-binary identified trans people will find it easier to come out these days, and to come out younger.

 

 

CN: I think there’s about as much of a generational divide as you would expect to find in any group of people – and, as usual, plenty of people who pay no attention to it/are not affected by it. Certainly, as someone in my late twenties, I’ve seen a gap between my experience and that of people in their late teens/early twenties in terms of information and support networks available online and in real life. However, I do think that a lot of the articles on the depth of the supposed divide (I’m thinking of Riki Wilchins’ piece on ‘Transgender Dinosaurs’) ignore diversity among people of all ages, and the bonds of friendship and solidarity between us. With the proviso that my  knowledge only comes from research and listening, I’m not convinced by the idea that younger people are more likely to look more obviously genderqueer or gender non-normative   than older people, or understand themselves in a less ‘binary’ fashion. Even if we only look at the last 100 years, there’s a wealth of evidence for a whole range of ways of being trans in its broadest sense. Majorie Garber and Leslie Feinberg’s works are a great introduction. Also worth bearing in mind is the sad fact that we don’t have as many older trans people in our community as we should do because of the higher rates of violence against trans people, high rates of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse – and the AIDS epidemic.

     When it comes to terminology I’d say use ‘trans’ as default and then ask politely for any further clarification? I do think that there’s a tendency for online debate about labels and descriptives to spiral into a black hole of despair – that being said, it’s often a job that needs doing. I would certainly say that parts of my life could be described in the crossover between ‘transsexual’ and ‘transgender’ (see post here).

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