17 January, 2015

Exploring Transphobia: The Meoskop Edition

I'm transphobic. I'm absolutely fine with genderqueer and non binary, but then my biases kick in. As a strong believer in the examined life I'm not one for hiding the less attractive aspects of my psyche from view. On the whole, however, I don't speak much on the topic. I recognize that the existence of the individual is not the problem, transphobia is. So when @FangirlJeanne showed me Thiago Antonucci's #genero #gender collection I found it very thought provoking. Before I go any further with this post I want to make something extremely clear. I am not speaking for anyone but myself. Nothing I say in this post in any way represents the beliefs of Love In The Margins. This is not an invitation to hate speech. Comments (if any) should remain centered on transphobia and transphobic thinking. Parts of this may be painful to the reader. I invite you to consider that possibility and leave the post unread if necessary.

Antonucci's collection resonated with me. It explores how we use visual cues to classify an individual's gender. By selecting conventionally attractive, primarily light skinned, able and attractive models Antonucci doesn't ask the viewer to do more than the minimum, which may or may not be his intent. When an individual is nude, I have no reaction to conflicting non-verbal signals of gender. Stripped from social presentation, I no longer have a negative reaction to a gender designation that conflicts with one assigned by chromosomes. I have never shared the common transphobic obsession with genitals. If someone is or is not surgically altered is almost irrelevant to me. (I say almost for reasons I will address later.) My personal transphobia appears to arise not from the actual physical body of a person but from their social representation.

Part of my feminism has been rejecting narrow definitions of gender presentation. While I am not able to present as androgynous, I support androgyny, as well as a person self representing anywhere on the continuum from femme to butch that they wish, male or female. As a child of the 60's, I'm from the Free to Be (You And Me) generation, complete with tomboys and glam rock. Watching children's toys divided into "His" and "Hers" has been demoralizing at best. I've seen how gender constraints negatively affect not only myself, but also my children. If asked to participate in the freedom of every individual to visually present themselves in any manner they wish, my support is instant and deep. So why does the pronoun / birth certificate step form an impenetrable hurdle? Transphobia.

As a young girl I read Tanith Lee's Biting The Sun and strongly identified with the protagonist. (Don't believe the link, it's not the first time the novellas have been combined.) The quest to rectify the emptiness of their self results in the protagonist abandoning their culture entirely, recognizing the whole society is toxic. I have never felt misgendered. I am not my body, I am myself. Living an authentic life means wearing the style of clothing I choose to. It means applying or not applying cosmetic enhancements as I find pleasing. It means being able to pursue the interests and professions I desire. I want to have those freedoms and I want everyone else to have them as well. I want long haired men and short haired women and everything in-between. Guyliner, eyeliner, soap and nothing else, all of it works. People should be free to use their birth names, a chosen name, or a combination of both. The self should be represented in whatever manner feels authentic.

A large component of my transphobia is believing that MTF is represented as wearing cosmetics and dresses and nylons and heels and well maintained nails. FTM is suddenly in flannel and growing a beard and weightlifting. If you are these things, then you are this gender. If you are this gender then you are these things. This is a woman. This is a man. I unconditionally reject that. A friend of a friend self identifies as lesbian because her husband identifies as MTF. I find this completely irrational. A person biologically identified as female in a relationship with another person biologically identified as male is heterosexual (or bisexual, of course). I find myself unable to make the leap from self-identification erasing traditional gay identity into it expanding and supporting broader queer identities. Being able to change the gender designation on a birth certificates renders biological gender determination meaningless. Biological gender is not so easily cast aside. Which brings us to the cisgender obsession with surgery.

I oppose most cosmetic surgery. I'm not suggesting we outlaw it. People are free to make medical choices for themselves.  I regret the deaths of individuals like Donda West in the pursuit of personal satisfaction with their body. I feel our narrow standards of beauty and gender presentation contribute to deaths and damages the health many. There are situations where cosmetic surgery is necessary or desirable. There are situations where it's harmful. I see narrow representations of gender as contributing to societal pressures to conform to specific presentation. In the case of gender reassignment, there are additional health risks. Having survived hormone related cancer twice, I can't support life long hormone therapy as appropriate. Having had life extending surgeries that have increased my risk of bone fractures and heart disease while removing my ability to achieve orgasm, I don't support similar elective surgery. My transphobia is also rooted in society profiting from the quest of the individual to actualize their external expression of self through surgical means. Parents offering puberty suppressing medication or pre-puberty surgeries to their children seems as abusive to me as not doing so seems to a non-transphobic person. To support gender reassignment surgery seems like an endorsement of violence. 

I don't know what the answer is. I can acknowledge my transphobia. I can continue to explore and have discussions or remain silent where appropriate. I can continue to support the rights of everyone to self express as they are comfortable. I can't, at this time, eradicate my transphobia. I can't reassign the personal meaning of lesbian or gay or male or female outside of their conventional use. I am unlikely to personally identify as cisgendered or adopt neutral pronouns like Ze, Zir and Hir. I can continue to support the right of the individual in front of me to self identify themselves and their gender without conflict from me, an uninvolved third party. I wish we had a different system of gender classification. I wish the societal pressure for narrow expression was eradicated, making the lines between biological imperative and externally applied pressures clearer. I want all of our kids to feel confident in their bodies without fear, without surgical alteration, be it their nose, their breasts, their weight, or their labias. I thank @FanGirlJeanne and Thiago Antonucci for pushing me to continue examination of my transphobia, even as I apologize to those who my words may harm.

tl;dr - I'm totally transphobic but my issues are mine and I try not to make them yours.

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