Monday, August 15, 2011

Infighting, Part 2: Internalized Transphobia

These are things that trans people say about each other.  I believe they are all examples of internalized transphobia:
  1. I hate cross-dressers. 
  2. We need to conform to society's gender rules. 
  3. My closet is better than your closet. 
  4. In order to prove that you're trans, you have to suffer. 
  5. I'm not trans anymore (but I have to keep coming back to the trans community in order to announce how much I don't belong to the trans community.) 
  6. Everyone should do what I did. 
  7. Take the T out of LGBT. 
To go into detail:
1. I hate cross-dressers. At first I didn't understand why some trans people feel this way.  I've  never cross-dressed.  What's the big deal?  Then I realized that the stereotype of the cross-dresser is what all trans people fear.  Someone who is "confused" about their gender.  Someone who likes to wear the clothing of the opposite sex for perverse reasons. Someone who can't handle being a real man  - or a real woman.  (It does seem to be male-to-female cross-dressers who attract the most hatred.  Quite possibly this is because our modern society allows women to wear pants.)  By the way, I want to make it clear that I'm referring to stereotypes here.  I don't know much about cross-dressers, but I don't intend any insult to them.

This is why it's insulting to call a transgender person a cross-dresser:  not because there's anything wrong with cross-dressing, but because it denies our gender identity.  A cross-dresser wears the clothes of the other gender. Transgender people wear clothes which are appropriate for their gender.  Personally, I support people's right to wear whatever clothes they want.

2. We need to conform to society's gender rules. This one still baffles me.  Trans people by definition are not conforming to society's gender rules, because the number one rule is, you're assigned a gender at birth, that's your gender and you can't change it. Generally what people mean when they say this is that you have to be either a man or a woman, none of that in-between stuff.  I've even seen people claim that the goal of the genderqueer movement is to destroy society (just like the feminist and same-sex marriage movements.)  That's very interesting.  I think  it's closely tied into #3.

3. My closet is better than your closet.  To speak in very broad terms, trans people fall into one of two closets; or to put it another way, they have two ways of passing for cis.  (For those who don't know, "cis" or "cisgendered" is the opposite of "trans.")  People who have completed their medical transition are usually indistinguishable from cis people. Many of them want to live "stealth," as it's called - meaning that no one knows they were born transsexual.  On the other end of the spectrum are people who don't seek medical treatment and often have the option of passing for their socially-assigned gender.  Then there are trans people who can't pass at all, for whatever reason, but right now I'm discussing the closet.

The closet.  Oy.  Does anybody really like the closet?  Do people who live stealth think of themselves as living in the closet?  Often it seems like they don't.  They say, "I'm a real woman (or a real man), that's it, end of story."  Then, if they're playing the "my closet is better than your closet" card, they complain about people who don't seek medical treatment, who haven't gone all the way, because they're "just pretending" and they can go back to being cis any time they want.  Or else they complain about the people who can't pass for cis, the obvious ones, the ones who make trans people look bad.  Why do they have to flaunt it?

The reason we stay in the closet is because there are times when it's either necessary or convenient to not attract attention.  And in fact I don't begrudge anyone a necessary closet. It would be nice if we could all be out all the time - but this is the real world.  All the same, I don't believe that anyone who intends to spend the rest of their life in the closet has the right to criticize anyone else's choices.

4. In order to prove that you're trans, you have to suffer. This one, I think, relates most closely to my earlier post. First there's the idea that you have to prove you're trans.  This mostly applies to people who seek medical treatment - there's a Standard of Care to which you have to conform.  I have never gone through this process myself, but I've heard stories.  It also relates back to item #2 - as I understand it, the SOC is based on an outdated model of appropriate gender behavior.  You can't just be trans, you have to bake cookies or repair cars or whatever the "correct" behavior for your gender is.  Also, traditionally the doctors wanted you to be either asexual or heterosexual before transition - homosexual activity would disqualify you - and  heterosexual after transition.  The fact that this requires a complete switch in object choice does not seem to bother them.  The goal is to create healthy, well-adjusted members of society.  Queers need not apply.

That kind of thing is horribly invasive.  Allegedly it's to prevent people who aren't really trans from embarking on irreversible medical procedures which they will later regret.  I guess some kind of evaluation is necessary.  I haven't thought it through.  But I do know that in a sense it affects all of us, whether we get involved with the medical community or not.  We aren't just being asked to prove that we're trans.  In many cases we have to prove that "trans" is really a thing.  First you have to say, "it's possible to be trans and it's not a mental illness."  Then you have to say, "And I'm trans."  Then you have to answer all the questions about "What is this trans thing anyway?"  And usually you have to answer them multiple times. Society is ignorant and prejudiced.  That's not our fault.

I also know that there's a certain prejudice against people who might not "really" be trans. But so what?  Are there people out there who say they're trans when they're really not? I believe that there are.  The same way there are people who say they're gay when they're really bisexual, people who say they're bisexual when they're really straight, people who say they're straight when they're really gay.  People who say they're cis when they're really trans.  People naturally experiment with their sexuality and their gender. Plus in a society like ours, which has such unreasonable expectations, it's understandable to me that people would be confused about their gender.  Oh, I like to bake cookies, does that mean I'm a girl?  Oh, I'm attracted to girls, so I must really be a guy.

So.  Being trans in our culture means that you have to constantly explain yourself, which comes across as "proving" yourself, and it's an unpleasant experience.  Being trans in our culture means that you run the risk of losing your job, your apartment, your kids, your access to medical care, and your life.  Yes, being trans in our culture means that you have to suffer.  But it shouldn't be that way.

Sometimes I get the impression that some trans people think, "I've suffered so much and legal recognition is my reward.  If you haven't run the gauntlet then you don't qualify as trans. "  No.  That's not how it works.  Trans people deserve human rights because we are human beings.  No other reason.  Moreover, I don't want anyone to have to suffer because they're trans.  Maybe someday, when we're old, we can tell the young people, "Back in my day it was really hard. You don't know how lucky you are."  I hope that day will come.

5. I'm not trans anymore (but I can't stay away from the trans community.)  I  had to mention this in my earlier post, because I'm just completely amazed at the people who keep coming back to the trans community in order to announce that they're not part of the trans community.  They want everyone to know they're not trans.  But guess what?  They can't tell their friends and co-workers that they're not trans, because no cis person ever goes around saying "I'm not trans."  They can't tell anyone how much they fear being mistaken for a cross-dresser, because . . . well, you know.  They're not trans.  Okay.  But they're not cis either.

I do feel a tiny bit of sympathy.  I'm not sure how I fit into the trans community either.  But my sympathy vanishes when I read Internet comments such as "I'm not trans anymore so I don't care about trans people's rights."

6. Everyone should do what I did.  This is the problem that we all have.  One of the things I realized after coming out as trans is that I really do have to respect other people's choices, even when they're different from mine.  I don't respect rudeness and "these rights are for me but not for you."  But even though I spent this whole blog post complaining, I really do want to be open-minded.

7. Take the T out of LGBT.  GLBT.  GL(B)t.   LGBTIQQAAA.  Call it what you will.  A lot of people don't want the "T" in there.  Some of them are homosexuals who don't want to ally themselves with trans people. Or they don't want to be taken for drag queens, I'm a little unsure.  Some of them are transsexuals who don't want to be associated with the gay community. Or they don't want to be taken for drag queens, I'm a little unsure.

If you're trans but you don't identify as homosexual, that's fine.  It's perfectly okay to be straight.  A heterosexual transsexual alliance would be a great thing.  Personally, I knew I was queer long before I knew I was trans, so the LGBT alliance makes perfect sense to me.  Furthermore, I believe that it's a good idea to take allies wherever you find them - assuming they can bring themselves to associate with perverts like you.

Now, here's a story that demonstrates why we need to stick together. Remember George Rekers?  The anti-gay activist who hired a rent boy to carry his luggage on a trip to Europe?  Earlier in his illustrious career, he made a living by performing aversion therapy on children:
"Well, I was becoming a little concerned, I guess, when he was playing with dolls and stuff," [Kirk's mother] said. "Playing with the girls' toys, and probably picking up little effeminate, well, like stroking the hair, the long hair and stuff. It just bothered me that maybe he was picking up maybe too many feminine traits."
At home, the punishment for feminine behavior would become more severe. The therapists instructed Kirk's parents to use poker chips as a system of rewards and punishments.

According to Rekers' case study, blue chips were given for masculine behavior and would bring rewards, such as candy. But the red chips, given for effeminate behavior, resulted in "physical punishment by spanking from the father."

The family said the spankings were severe. [Kirk's sister] remembers "lots of belt incidents." She escaped the screaming by going to her bed to "lay in the room with my pillow on my head." Later, she would go to Kirk's bedroom and "lay down and hug him and we would just lay there, and the thing that I remember is that he never even showed anger. He was just numb."

During one particularly harsh punishment, their mother recalls, her husband "spanked" Kirk "so hard that he had welts up and down his back and on his buttocks."

She remembers her son Mark saying, "Cry harder, and he won't hit so hard." She says, "Today, it would be abuse."

Sometimes Mark would try to protect his brother, to make his beatings less severe.

"I took some of the red chips and I put them on my side," said Mark, as tears came to his eyes. But he said the beatings were still frequent.

The number of stacked red chips became a telltale sign about the level of tension in the house. When he returned home each day, Mark often looked for the chips in their easily visible location between the living room and the kitchen.

"You looked and were like, 'What's the chip count today? What happened? What changed? How bad is it going to be?' And it was always bad. There was whipping every Friday night. There was no way out of it."
The thing is, that even though Kirk was being punished for feminine behavior, everyone - Rekers and his family - seems to have thought that they were curing him of homosexuality.  After Kirk committed suicide, his sister said "he was gay."  Nonetheless, he wasn't being punished for homosexual acts.  He was being punished for gender-nonconformity.  As long as those two things are confused in people's minds, then LGBT people have the same enemies.

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