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Mar. 20th, 2017

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Many folks in the transgender community speak or write about having a sort of schematic diagram in the brain, one that told them that despite the morphological body they were born with, they were SUPPOSED to have a different sex of parts. Trans feminist author Julia Serano (Whipping Girl) is one good example.

Note that no reference is being made to the complex bucket of personality attributes, priorities, behaviors and behavioral nuances, tastes, expressions, or any of the rest of the nonphysical characteristics that tend to be thought of as part of gender.

In fact, if we agree that gender and sex are not one and the same, this phenomenon isn't even about gender. And it isn't about society, or, if it is, it is limited to wanting to be perceived as the correct sex based on how one is able to present when visiting the nude beach. Or in one's bedroom, to one's partner.

I don't have that. I have never felt anything akin to a wiring diagram in my brain that insisted I was supposed to have female parts. That experience is utterly foreign to me.



I think most folks, when they think of transgender people, picture someone like Caitlin Jenner or Chaz Bono, someone who was born one sex but who at some point came to realize they were trans, and they began dressing and presenting as that other sex and they obtained sexual reassignment surgery and hormonal treatments, and now they dress as and behave as the new sex to which they transitioned.

It is not unreasonable for them to do so. The various online and in-person transgender communities and support groups not only contain many such people, they also tend to be places where the people in attendance also think of transgender people in those terms.

But let's backtrack to the schematic-diagram thing. Let's split apart some concepts. Picture someone totally masculine in all the traditional ways, and attracted to feminine women, an extremely conventional kind of guy. Except that Joan isn't a guy. Joan says this male body is just wrong. It has the wrong parts. So she is transitioning to female, at which point she will be a very masculine person with conventionally male interests, but female, and she will live her life as a lesbian.

I haven't met Joan (she's a hypothetical person) but I've described her and had people reassure me that there are indeed such people.

Joan might have a difficult time explaining her situation to the support group. People in the support group often conflate gender and sex as much as mainstream people out on the sidewalk. People describe themselves as children and say things like "I always knew I was female" There's a reason for this: medical interventions for transgender people are expensive, and some people are not convinced of the merits of what medical science is able to do for them. And the transgender community surely does not want to reject people who are planning to transition but haven't the resources to do so yet, or to make such people feel relegated to second-class trans citizens. Besides that, there's an understandable resentment at being treated like sideshow spectacles and asked to lower their pants, verbally or literally, and show folks the merchandise.

But Joan would be facing special barriers in addition to the ones that trans people in general face. Dealing with the gatekeeper-doctors, no picnic for any trans person trying to get cleared for medical treatments, would be a nightmare. (They tend to want all male-to-female transitioners to be utter Barbie dolls and they are inclined to question the psychological readiness of any transitioner who seems to still express the traits of their birth-sex). It might be difficult for Joan to explain her situation to the group as something a bit different from the hassles experienced by other transitioning women.

And think about the current "transgender people in bathrooms" issue. Joan's experience of that is going to be markedly different from that of trans people who adopt and embrace a lot of signature items to convey their target identity. A post-transition Joan would face the same hostilities and challenges as any other extremely butch dyke. How does she explain to other trans women how her issues are not entirely identical to their own?

Intersex people also find it frustrating sometimes to discuss gender and body. "What's inside my underwear does *NOT* define my gender", asserts an intersex friend and ally whom I met on the boards. He isn't opposed to trans people being able to get the surgeries that they seek, but often finds the trans community oblivious and unaware of how unwanted surgeries imposed on intersex people without their consent are regarded by intersex people. "I am a man. That is my gender. A medical doctor decided I should be female and wanted to remove offending parts of me to produce a female. I am not a freak show and I don't have to display my genital configuration in order to prove my gender."

I identify as a gender invert, myself. I tell people I'm a girl, or woman. What makes me a gender invert is that my body is male. What's within my clothing doesn't define my gender either. On the other hand, neither is it wrong and in need of fixing. Just like my intersex friend, I have no wish to modify my morphology to fit other people's notions of what bodyparts ought to accompany my gender identity.

You'd perhaps think, with so many of us on the same page as far as "what I have between my legs is not the same thing as my gender", that we'd see eye to eye on how to talk about these things in ways that don't insult or negate each other's experience. I suppose trying to insist that "sex", and the sex terms "male" and "female", ought to be reserved for physical body and that "gender", and gender identity terms such as "man" and "woman" and "boy" and "girl" and so forth, apply to the other, nonphysiological, factors, isn't going to get me anywhere. Not with so many in the transgender community using the terms differently.

It would make things easier if that "schematic diagram" thing inside the head had its own term. Julia Serano uses the term "subconscious sex".

Perhaps the best way to describe how my subconscious sex feels to me is to say that it seems as if, on some level, my brain expects my body to be female...

I am sure that some people will object to me referring to this aspect of my person as a subconscious "sex" rather than "gender.". I prefer "sex" because I have experienced it as being rather exclusively about my physical sex, and because for me this subconscious desire to be female has existed independently of the social phenomena commonly associated with the word "gender".


— Julia Serano, Whipping Girl pgs 80, 82

If we could go with that extra terminology, transgender people could express that (for example) their subconscious sex identity is female, their born sex was male, their gender is girl or woman. My intersex colleague could say he is a man, that doctors wanted to perform unwanted surgery because he was born intersex and they wanted to make him biologically female. And I could say I am a girl or woman whose biological sex is male.


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