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Better Trans 101

December 22, 2010
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I don’t know what all my readers know, but I tend to assume that many of the cis readers here have a basic familiarity with Trans 101 concepts.  Perhaps like me, some of the cis readers — and maybe even some trans folks — have gotten the sort of standard 101 version, and found from interacting with actual trans folks that it is really inadequate: so oversimplified as to be wrong.  The right thing to do in those circumstances is to do our own homework, and instead of spouting what we think we know, shut up and listen when people’s experiences don’t match the official text.  I don’t have a right to demand that anyone rewrite the 101 so it’s easier for me to educate myself.
But it sure makes things easier when somebody takes it on himself to do that without being asked!  Asher Bauer, who wrote for Carnal Nation until its untimely and perhaps temporary end, has his own blog now, and has gone ahead and written the new, not wildly oversimplified Trans 101.  It is, in fact, Not Your Mom’s Trans 101.  Here’s a few samples:

A baby is born. The doctor says “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl” based on the appearance of the child’s genitals. If the genitalia cannot be easily categorized according to binary standards– that is, if the child is intersex– the doctor makes a decision. Surgery is then generally performed on the unconsenting infant to render its body more socially acceptable.

Whether the baby is intersex or not, the child is then raised as whatever arbitrary gender the doctor saw fit to assign.

“Cisgender” is the term for people who have no issue with the gender that they were assigned at birth. For whatever reason, they are able to live somewhat comfortably within the gender role in which they have been cast. No one really knows why so many people are capable of fitting into such arbitrary categories.

Transgender people cannot accept our assigned genders. We know ourselves to be something different than what we were told to be.

***

I am a man who was assigned to live as a woman, therefore I am a trans man. My father is a man who was assigned to live as a man, therefore he is a cis man. Both of us are binary identified, both men, even though he is cis and I am trans.

It is a mystery why so many people are comfortable being categorized in just one of two ways. Just as nobody knows why there are so many cis people, nobody knows why there are so many binary identified folks.

But there are many trans people who are neither male nor female.

***

Cis people seem to think that self-identification is only for trans folks. They don’t have to “identify” as men and women– they just ARE! Their gender isn’t “self-identified,” it’s “self-evident!”

What they fail to understand is that self identification is the only meaningful way to determine gender. Any other method is wholly dependent upon what that doctor said way back when we were still red, wrinkly, writhing, screaming newborn messes, completely unformed as individuals and without any identity at all to speak of, too bloody and scrunchy-faced to even be called cute. The fact is that cis people self-identify too– they just happen to agree with what the doctor said all those years ago.

***

Almost every Trans 101 will contain the truism “Sex is between your legs, gender is between your ears.”

Gag.

Or they may say “Sex is physical, gender is socially constructed.”

This simply isn’t true.

If that doesn’t convince you to read the whole thing, nothing else I say will.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2010 12:25 pm

    I was so happy to see that post go up. It’s a much better resource for me to send to folks than any other trans 101 articles I’ve come across.

    I especially like the line, near the end, that reads “That means getting our goddamn pronouns right and not expecting a cookie for it. ” In fact, that entire paragraph is spot-on.

  2. January 4, 2011 1:41 pm

    Call me humbled. I enjoy learning and relearning. :-) Thank you.

  3. Schala permalink
    January 16, 2011 8:35 pm

    ““Cisgender” is the term for people who have no issue with the gender that they were assigned at birth. For whatever reason, they are able to live somewhat comfortably within the gender role in which they have been cast. No one really knows why so many people are capable of fitting into such arbitrary categories.

    Transgender people cannot accept our assigned genders. We know ourselves to be something different than what we were told to be.”

    Nitpick maybe, but this is the usage for transsexual people.

    Laypeople will often confuse the two (transgender and transsexual) and assume that the former is the same as the latter. Someone who can write a good trans 101 should know better I guess.

    Cissexual is the opposite of transsexual, and is someone who accepts their body configuration (regardless of gender roles, gender expression etc).

    Cisgender is the opposite of transgender, and can mean someone who eschews typical role and gender expression expected of them, without going the medical way of using hormones and/or surgery, and they usually either identify as the sex they were assigned at birth, as neither or both (genderqueer can be both transgender and transsexual, androgyne is more likely to be just transgender – because why the hassle of lifelong hormones if the body isn’t the problem?).

    I’m tired of having to say to various people and sundry that transsexual people don’t transition because they want to wear make-up, dresses, or because they like pink, coo at babies or feel ‘maternal’ in front of one.

    You transition because the body configuration causes distress high enough for you to consider ending your life, and/or severely limits your potential as an individual by wrongly identifying you.

    I’m a trans woman, I identify as a female first, a woman second (it comes with the first anyways, to most), but that doesn’t mean I’m super comfortable with feminine gender roles or expected expression. I pick and choose what suits me, and if it’s contradiction with the dominant paradigm, too bad.

    I rarely wear make-up, do like skirts but only certain types, wear my hair down all the time, even if very long. I think some things are worth doing, some are fun doing, and some I don’t do because they’d feel forced (and not genuine). For sure, I correspond more to normal feminine gender role (in both appearance and more obvious tastes), but I wouldn’t have transitioned simply for that. Killing my liver in 30 years because of pills, cutting off 75%+ of my dating pool, and welcoming discrimination against me…wouldn’t be worth it.

    If someday we have a instant, painless, not costly, reversible sex change technique, then it might be worth it to some to transition because of gender roles alone or even just to have fun temporarily.

  4. Schala permalink
    January 16, 2011 8:47 pm

    ““Cissexism” can be defined as the system of oppression which considers cis people superior to trans people. Cissexism is believing that it is “natural” to be cis, that being trans is aberrant.”

    One thing that’s funny about this. Some radical feminists have had their panties in a knot over being called cis, saying it erases their femaleness…the way say being white erases my heterosexuality…(see the absurdity? the 2nd statement is mine).

    And some are vehement denialists that cissexism and cissexual privilege exists at all, including Julian Real (which I had the pleasure to discuss at length about trans stuff in December – he selectively posted my stuff at the end, I’m Sara on Blogger).

    He can’t get it in his mind that trans people would be disadvantaged systemically (on the cis/trans axis) over women who are disadvantaged on the sex axis. He’s also not the only one, but probably the only one who actually made some attempt at discussion with a dissenting opinion.

  5. January 2, 2012 4:50 pm

    Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having trouble locating it but, I’d like to send you an email. I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it expand over time.

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