Tag Archives: binary

What ARE You?: Confusion in a Confusing World

“What are you?”

Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I am a trans man…..sort of. I do not entirely identify with man and trans is more of a description for me than man ever has been. I am non-binary, but that is just as vague as saying I have some sort of gender, but I’m not quite sure what it is, no matter how true that is. I am not confused as to who I am, I know that part quite well, but what I am is quite a bit trickier.

Imagine someone handing you a color swatch. They are painting their house and need to figure out how to describe the type of color. They want your help. You look at the swatch. The swatch is purple…kind of. It’s not exactly purple but, that is the closest word you know to describe it. It is clearly not green, orange, or red. However, purple is not quite the correct term. Purple-ish? Not exactly quite right either. You know what the color is not, but you can only describe certain qualities of the color, not the color itself.

Thus, for me, man is the closest I can get to my identity in the current word pool I am allowed and know. However, it is not entirely correct, thus I use non-binary, however, even then, it is imperfect.

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Trans Masculine/Feminine: The Recreated Binary

I can only speak on the term trans masculine and how it erases CAF (coercively assigned female) trans people like myself. Thus, the majority of this piece will focus on those erasive and binary aspects of the general usage of the term trans masculine.

 

I do not feel safe in trans masculine/trans male spaces. Despite identifying in some ways as a trans guy (my identity is complicated), I know these spaces are not for me. I am not masculine. I am what I consider to be high femme. I prefer feminine clothing and dress. I embrace my feminine characteristics such as my speech patterns, movement, and hand gestures. I’d be considered camp and flamboyant by gay male standards of femininity. My personal style is more close to drag queens than it is to other trans men. I am not trans masculine.

Trans masculine spaces, in an attempt to be inclusive of people like me, have shut people like me and many others out. They tie the ideas that to be trans and have been CAF, one must also be masculine. These spaces are overwhelming dominated by masculinity, as the name implies, to the point that feminine people like me are pushed out. Our identities and ‘transness’ questioned not only by the terminology but by the members as a whole.

They continue the binary and cissexist notion that to be trans, if one is CAF, one must be masculine in some way. They tie maleness to masculinity, often in excess. Even the non-binary aspects, are tied to maleness as masculinity is tied to that idea in society. If we wish to escape the binaries of society, we need to unravel that connection. We need to remove masculinity from male, femininity from female. Another discussion for another time.

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Dysphoria Not Required

There is this running idea that what ties trans people together is their dysphoria, their mutual disdain for certain parts of their bodies (which is usually assumed to be genitals). Yet, there are trans people who exist without any pain caused by their bodies. They love their bodies. They embrace them. Are they trans then? Of course they are. Trans is not about dysphoria. This is a common misconception, even in the trans community. Trans is about identifying as something other than what was assumed at your birth.

The origins of this idea, date back to when being trans was first medicalized. They needed a set of definitions in order to treat trans people. Among the need for dysphoria, was also the need for trans women to be feminine and heterosexual. Trans men were to be masculine as well as heterosexual. If a trans person was not straight, their identities were considered to be fetish (for trans women), or just confused straight women with penis envy (for trans men). Non-binary people did not exist, nor did queer binary people, according to the old standards. Definitions and standards created by cis people.

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Personal, Political, Intimate

There is something very intimate about knowing your body. There are certain things you just learn over the course of time that no one else can ever know, like how much room your body takes up (no matter your size), the feeling of others eyes on you, how you navigate the world and spaces you inhabit. There is a lot of talk about how the personal is political, but I feel, the personal is also intimately political. Whenever we talk about our bodies and our lives, we open ourselves up.

When you are trans*, and you speak of your history and your body, a peculiar thing happens. You can feel them, the eyes slowly undressing you, as if trying to verify your story. The sudden scrutiny as if looking for whatever small misstep you or your body may make to ‘give you away’. When we talk about ourselves, everything becomes deeply intimate. When we dare open our mouths, our lives become a spectacle, a display, for people to examine, to probe, to dissect.

The moment we announce our trans* status, we seem to be stripped of our privacy and our consent. Everything becomes intimate. People lose their decency and we lose ours because we are expected to have none. We are expected to allow strangers to undress us with their eyes and their words, answer questions about our genitals, probe into our most intimate histories and details, all without even a dinner and a show first. We are expected to stop whatever we are doing at a moments notice and strip ourselves bare.

How does this turn the personal is political into the personal is politically intimate?

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Trans 101: Misconceptions

There are a ton of misconceptions, incorrect facts, half-truths, and a myriad of other problematic information about trans people floating around in the media, academics, word of mouth, and so on. In fact, these misconceptions are often perpetuated by mainstream media and academia. For example, Orange is the New Black which is touted to be extremely positive towards its portrayal of trans people with its trans woman character, Sophia, has its problems. Sophia has had bottom surgery and has been on hormones for a while, I will not spoil any of the plot, but the show ends up showing Sophia sprouting chin hairs and experiencing breast shrinkage due to issues accessing hormones in prison. Neither of these actually happen to trans women who have had some form of bottom surgery. However, the show incorrectly shows Sophia experiencing secondary sex characteristics that are typically male due to her lack of hormones. While minor, these types of misinformation plague the trans community and society at large, creating a lot of confusion and misconceptions about trans people, transition, and their lives.

I am going to dispel some of these misconceptions and misinformation throughout this piece. I have split it into three parts:  Identity/Sexuality, Surgery/Transition, and Choices/Binary/Enforcement. There will be things that fit into several or all the categories. I picked the best category I felt for each option.

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A Review of Transmisogyny Embodied: Cathy Brennan

Trigger Warning: Trans*phobia, transmisogyny, cissexism, rape, assault, violence, harassment

On Sunday, October 27th, Cathy Brennan was a guest star on Roseanne Barr and Kathleen Wells’ talk show. This was of course in regards to Brennan’s stance on trans* rights, especially trans women. I decided to take a listen and see what this show was going to be all about, a “know thy enemy” type of deal. I do want to mention that this is my own personal review, feelings, and analysis of the show. I will try to go in chronological order of events as they happen in the show, with commentary woven throughout. I will mention some things out of order as they may tie into the current discussion. This is because Brennan’s thinking is very circular and repetitive due to her simplistic understanding of gender and trans* people.

The show is opened with Barr saying she was away for a meeting with a friend. This meeting was for a conspiracy theory involving the US government using mind control on its citizens as well as enslaving people as spies. Good way to open a show with a guest star who is obsessed with the conspiracy that trans women are forcing lesbians to have sex with them, among other ridiculous claims, but more on that later. I’ll be honest, I did not pay attention much to this section as it was of no interest to the reason I was listening to the show.

After they introduce Brennan, they talk about her history involving her activism with LGBT rights. She includes trans* people in this because at the time the “trans* community was very small” (this was early 2000s) and they were not pushing much for rights. She goes on about how she was active in even passing legislation for trans* non-discrimination policies. This was because she believes that gender and gender stereotypes are damaging and inherently oppressive. Brennan wants for the abolition of gender in its entirety since it is a system of oppression, specifically aimed at women (mainly cis women). Brennan mentions how damaging stereotypes are, yet is a person who holds trans women to gender and sexual stereotypes. Brennan believes that trans women uphold gender stereotypes by simply existing since according to her, all trans women embody female stereotypes and are hyper feminine beings.

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Where Academia Fails: Trans Inclusion/Education

“Transgender people are usually men.” This is how my Crisis Intervention text book started it’s only paragraph on trans* people. Despite the constant use of LGBT or just gay as a general term, they denote one definition and one paragraph to trans* people and perpetuate constant myths and stereotypes. In reality, the number of binary trans* people (thus, the stereotypical MtF and FtM) are equal.  Non-binary trans* people are almost never mentioned and are often referred to as pre-op transgender (or transsexual) people because many texts uphold the idea that all trans* people medically transition.

The paragraph continues to go on referring to trans women with male pronouns and even has scare quotes. “He may then choose to identify himself as a ‘she’ in society and even on legal documents”, is a prime example of this. This plays into the idea that trans* people and their identities are fake, constructed, and for the purpose of deceiving others. The scare quotes denote the fact that this is the incorrect gender of this person. The tone of the sentence is also problematic as it holds an air of holding trans* people as freaks, mentally ill, and so on. Did I mention that this was the textbook for my crisis intervention class?

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Sex is Dead

The sex binary is a form of hierarchy and oppression. Sex, in of itself, are categories made by other people to impose ideas of gender onto a person based on something as simple as their genitals. Penises and vaginas are not inherently gendered. They exist in a state of objectness until the person they are attached to determine what their gender is. Penises are not inherently male and vaginas are not inherently female. This goes against the basic biology 101 that many people are taught, but bear with me.

Sex is much more complicated than just penises and vaginas. Sex is a combination of primary sex characteristics (penises and vaginas), chromosomes, hormones, secondary sex characteristics (breasts, body hair, etc), and several other categories. Basically, sex is not something as simple as penis = male and vagina = female. While this is generally true, this is not always the case.

There are XY cis women who exist, XX cis men, cis men who have vaginas (due to childhood mutilation), and various other forms of intersex people. These people bring light to the outdated idea that sex is based on genitals, just as trans* people do. Trans* people challenge the very notion of the sex binary.

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