THE Gynocratic Art Gallery

value the brain & cut the priviledge

May 2017 – Reid Lodge

 

Making it (Im)Personal: Gender Puritanism and Overwriting Identity

 

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This image appears in a number of places unattributed. The GAG obtained it here: http://sjwiki.org/wiki/Social_construct#.WQc4VInytE4 

As trans people become more visible in the media and gain traction on acceptance and participation in a variety of social spaces, sometimes it seems that the backlash against us has increased proportionally. Last Saturday morning I woke to an article in the CBC about a how Morgane Oger, a trans woman running for the NDP in BC, had been targeted by a flyer campaign attempting to discredit her as a candidate simply because she is trans (x). The flyers distributed in Oger’s riding do not address any aspect of her platform, but attempt to send constituents into a fearful frenzy over “the promotion and growth of homosexuality and transvestitism in British Columbia and how it’s obscuring the immutable truth about our God-given gender.”

While Oger works to address actual political issues, she faces a smear campaign targeted at an aspect of her identity that harms no one, and that in fact gives her a unique perspective on life in her community (check out her Twitter page to learn more about how she is making history as the BCNDP’s first openly trans candidate: x). Unfortunately, it is not just religious extremists who share this point of view – radical feminist groups are starting to team up with religious and conservative groups to wage social and political war against trans people seeking things like basic access to public facilities, human rights protections, or healthcare and social services (x). Their fears lie not with any real proof that trans people are dangerous, but in catastrophic visions of trans people polluting a perfect representation of womanhood (either by being a “female” who doesn’t identify as a woman, or by being a “male” who does).

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 10.10.04 AMMorgane Oger,BC NDP candidate for Vancouver - False Creek.

As someone who has done a fair amount of work on policy relating to trans people in New Brunswick, and who actually met Oger at the 2015 CPATH conference in Halifax, I immediately was filled with empathetic anger while reading through the article (to the point where I had to put my phone down and go distract myself for over an hour to process my thoughts).  I have come to expect similar targeted responses on public platforms from social conservatives and trans-exclusionary radical feminists, regardless of what I am discussing, that completely bypass the issue at hand and cut straight to extremely personal ad hominem attacks. I can’t count how many times in the past few years I have entered a discussion on sex or gender identity trying to offer my thoughts as someone who has experienced both sides of the gender binary and been told in various ways that my ideas are invalid not because they fail logically, but because the other party, who place themselves in the morally-superior role of what I call the Gender Identity Police, does not consider my experiences to be “real” or consider me to be truly human. Inherent in their disgust or denial is the assumption that because I identify as trans there is something I am trying to “conceal,” either about myself or the world around me, and that they have a duty to reveal this fatal flaw to the world. Before addressing any of the ideas I actually put forth, these people latch on to my identity and attempt to explain to me how the life I have lived for the past 26 years and the identity I currently hold are nefarious fabrications.

These arguments always seem to come down to assumptions about my body – I am told that either my body is not really what I think it is, or that I have “mutilated” my body in some way in order to convince people I am something I’m not. I am told over and over again that my gender identity “problem” lies in my inability to love my body and/or in my hatred of women.

I will be completely frank here and admit that there have absolutely been times that I have attempted to conceal aspects of myself, especially when it came to my relationship with my body or with my gender. I went years struggling with depression, anxiety, self-harm, disordered eating, and alcoholism because I felt like if anyone found out what I really was, or how I really felt, I would be left with nothing. In my experience, it is only through accepting myself as a trans person and exploring what that means that I have learned to love my body and gained a greater appreciation for bodies in general, in all their forms.

Teenage me was a misogynistic little shit. Despite being raised by parents who strongly believed that women could take on any role that men could, I had absorbed a lot of toxic nonsense. For years I believed in the “science” that tells us women are over-emotional and physically weak; I thought vaginas, periods, and birth were disgusting, and I felt that femininity was a plague to be avoided at all costs. I had a bizarre relationship to my own body and identity that I didn’t understand, and I projected that relationship onto other women. It didn’t help that growing up I had never been able to envision myself as an adult woman, and I was never presented with any alternate possibilities to aspire to; it took a radical shift in my worldview to start closing the gap and actually appreciate what being brought up as a girl in a man’s world had taught me. I was very invested in my identity as an “anti-woman” woman until probably my senior year of highschool, when I started becoming more aware of what the implications of those beliefs could be. Despite discovering that in my heart I identified with feminism, I still felt out of place and uncomfortable being referred to as a woman; every time I came across a story by a trans person I found myself both fascinated and very afraid because it would resonate with me so strongly.

One of the first major lessons I learned after coming out as trans was that people are very willing to make assumptions about what being trans means, and about what being a man or a woman means in order to suit their own ideas about gender, no matter what their expertise may be. This was most obvious in my ongoing struggle to access basic transition-related healthcare, but plays itself out again and again in political discussions as well.

My psychiatric assessment for hormone therapy was essentially a test that required me to represent myself as “psychologically male,” performed by a man who admitted to me that he had next to no experience with trans people and who based his decision solely on the DSM-IV criteria (which he had to Google during the appointment ). He seemed more interested in being able to categorize me than actually engaging in a discussion about gender and its complex role in my life, and his struggle to do so is evident in the copy of the evaluation that I later requested from my doctor.

“[Patient] is requesting hormonal treatment to transgender from female to male. Pt meets the criterion for Gender Identity Disorder. She desires to be treated as male, minimizes feminine features such as breast [sic]. She did have past depressive episodes, but they were related to stress of her transgender issues.”

This passage summarized an account of my history taken in an extremely peculiar way, by someone who admitted quite candidly on initially assessing me that he wasn’t sure “which way” I wanted to transition because I appeared so androgynous. Throughout the full assessment, the pronouns he uses to refer to me change, the term “transgender” is used incorrectly and crossed out several times, and sentences are formulated in extremely awkward ways to avoid using pronouns or gendered language. It’s reads as if this psychiatrist, who has spent years of his life working in the field of mental health, lost his ability to understand gender at all when being confronted with a person who didn’t have a typical relationship with it (whatever that means).

Even if I hadn’t already been warned about the strangely bureaucratic and misogynistic nature of the “psychiatric assessment” appointment by a few other trans people, it was clear to me from the outset that in order to access any aspects of medical transition my end-goal needed to be a clear vision of an idealized version of the male gender. By the time I actually jumped through enough hoops and sat on enough NB healthcare waitlists, it had been long enough for me to realize that this wasn’t really what I wanted to aspire to, but in the options available to me there was no allowance for anyone whose life didn’t follow this narrative; in order to access hormones I needed to convince this psychiatrist that I was a REAL man who liked TRUCKS and LOGIC and HOT BABES and would never in a million years consider painting my nails or giving birth or wearing a pretty dress.

Now, when I am dismissed by others based on my trans identity, it is often because they assume that I have fully “bought in” to this restrictive and stereotypical understanding of trans identity, or that I am attempting to write myself out of womanhood because I couldn’t handle being an unfeminine woman. In the early months of my transition, I did spend a brief time attempting to live up to this model trans narrative; it was an easy persona to put on given how invested I had been in distancing myself from anything feminine or womanly for so long as a young person, and it was an easy explanation for most cis people to accept when I was trying to explain my identity to them. Eventually, however, this process of cutting myself off from my history of being raised as a girl began to feel just as artificial as anything else. The standard of adherence to the binary gender model I was holding myself to –  and that trans people in general are expected to emulate in order to access basic healthcare –  are bizarre and ridiculous. I started to think about the way I had been treated as a girl who didn’t live up to other people’s expectations of what girls should be like. I started to recognize elements of femininity in myself that I wanted to explore as my transition progressed. Transitioning still felt right for me, but several years into my transition I found it wasn’t progressing quite in the way I initially expected it would.

I was lucky by this point to be surrounded by a growing community of trans people who all had their own unique experiences with gender that countered those I had come to expect from cisgender doctors and authors of studies on trans people. I met women who were proud of their beards and men who did not want to lose their hourglass figures. I met people with all different forms of plans for social, medical, and legal transition. I met non-binary and genderqueer people of every description who challenged my understanding of the limits of gendered expression. I met a lot of trans people who had known since childhood that they were trans and just as many who only realized well into adulthood that transitioning was right for them.

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Transgender Flag

When I started to see the huge variety of trans people that existed around me, I started to understand how I fit with the local community. I reconnected with my surroundings and started to feel like there were opportunities open to me to contribute to my community and help make life better for the people around me. I also became increasingly critical of the ways I was taught to think about women, trans people, and many different forms of gender variance (though of course there is always more to learn!).

I think the thing that people fail to recognize when they write off trans people’s experience as solely being delusional or narcissistic is that it’s possible to need  to transition, to love how transitioning makes you feel, to learn to love yourself through transitioning, and to also hate the assumptions about gender and social inequality that surround transition. It’s possible to take hormones and be critical of assumptions that hormones will make a person act a certain way, or that hormones are the solution to everyone’s issues with gender identity. It is possible to advocate for gender confirming surgery and also be critical of the shortfalls of the healthcare system in other areas.

If you look at a trans person as simply an entity consumed by a gender identity “crisis,” it is easy to dismiss them, but actually interacting with them like a human being is different. This has been my experience almost every time I have interacted with a transphobic person in a safe context where they only learned I was trans after getting to know me first. If all you consume is media and studies that focus on trans people as having a gender identity “issue,” it’s easy to forget that they are all around you and have their own unique ways of contributing to your community. When you are angry about the way your government divides your hard-earned tax dollars, it is easy to blame the visibly “weird” in your local community for trying to access basic services that are proven to significantly improve their mental health, while the government throws money away on corporate promises doomed to be broken (Especially when the extent of your interaction with the trans community is through reading stories in the local news, and all the local news is owned by the corporations breaking those promises).

When someone starts talking to me like they’re the Gender Identity Police I now find it amusing to tally how many assumptions they make about me, my body, my identity, and my transition based on the amount of information available to them (and how much basic information about the realities of transitioning they will get wrong). Will I be accused of having undergone “disgusting,” “disfiguring” surgical procedures that don’t actually exist? Will someone present a gross misrepresentation of my identity based on their vague understanding of transness and a few pictures of me on the internet? Will someone attempt to tell me why I transitioned, or patronizingly explain to me that I will never be “genetically male”? Or, my personal favorite, will someone tell me they don’t believe my identity actually exists? I am lucky that I can find humor in this exercise. For trans people in more vulnerable situations, or who don’t have a solid foundation of supportive people around them, these are the kinds of questions that cause lost sleep and a sense of constant uncertainty.

I’ve noticed other trans people having their identities publicly dissected this way as well, and regardless of the gender of the trans person in question, the Gender Identity Police all seem to agree that the problem, in some way, comes down to the trans person not being a “good enough” woman. This could be because the trans person doesn’t identify as a woman, or because they do – it might be because of what they assume that person’s genitals are like or it might be justified by a catastrophic insinuation that all trans people are inherently violent public menaces out to destroy some kind of pure construct of womanhood. After watching them come to this conclusion again and again, all I can think is that it says a lot about what they think a woman can be.

-01 May 2017


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Reid Lodge is a co-chair of the Fredericton Gender Minorities Group, and since 2012 has been an advocate for trans rights and LGBTQ-positive education in New Brunswick. They have been a key player in advocating for access to transition-related healthcare and changes to human rights and vital statistics legislation in NB, and volunteer their time with several local grassroots activist and community support groups. Reid is also a cat dad, glitter enthusiast, and CBC interview survivor.

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