Not Your Mom’s Trans 101 - Asher

There are girls who have penises, boys with vulva and transphobes without teeth

There is a huge problem with the way that people are taught about gender in this society. Children are indoctrinated early to believe that there are two sexes, corresponding with two genders, which are both immutable and non-voluntary and completely beyond our control. This worldview is called the gender binary, and it has no room in it for us.

Trying to teach a new perspective to the victims of this extremely aggressive brainwashing can be daunting. In fact, the task can seem downright impossible. The temptation, therefore, is to “dumb things down” for the benefit of a cisgender audience. This situation has given rise to a set of oversimplifications collectively known as “Trans 101.” These rather absurd tropes, such as “blank trapped in a blank’s body” cause confusion among even well-meaning cis folks, feed internalized transphobia among us trans people, and provide endless straw-man fodder for transphobic ‘radical feminists,’ entitled cisgender academics, and other bigots.

Near the beginning of my transition, I myself taught “Trans 101” this way. Because I didn’t know any better. Because I had been taught to think of myself in terms of these same useless tropes, as an “FTM,” as a “female man,” as somebody who was “changing sexes.” Eventually, through a lot of intense discussions and a lot of tough love from people who were more knowledgeable, more radical, and more politically sophisticated than myself, I came to see things very differently.

I haven’t tried to teach Trans 101 since extracting my head from my rectum. But I think the time has come for me to tackle the problem of explaining and defining what it means to be transgender without resorting to cissexist language. It strikes me as I contemplate this task that Trans 101 is generally not only dumbed-down, but also declawed. There are truths that I must speak here that are incredibly threatening to a cissupremacist worldview, that attack its very foundations. But I for one am willing to do that. I am not here to make cis people comfortable or to reassure them that they are still the center of the gendered universe. In fact, I am totally fine with doing the opposite.

Without further ado, let’s begin.

Gender Assigned at Birth

Let’s start at the beginning. 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 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. We do not see the random gender scripts we were given by society as relevant to us. We know that there is a different way, a way of autonomy, self-creation, and self-definition, and that this is the way we must follow, because we can never be happy with the parameters that have been mandated for our behavior and our bodies.

The Binary

All cis people and many trans people are binary-identified. Given the options of “man” or “woman,” we who are binary-identified are able to be comfortable with one, even if it is the opposite of what we were assigned. For example, 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. They cannot be categorized as “either/or.” These people may use terms for themselves like genderqueer, androgynous, agender, or neutrois. They often use gender-neutral pronouns such as “ze/hir/hirs” or “they/them/their/theirs.” They can be both male and female, or none of the above, multi-gender, genderless, or something else completely.

In typical trans 101 discussions, right now I would probably be explaining to you that “gender is a spectrum” and drawing a cute little line graph labeled “m” at one end and “f” at the other. But this would be fallacious, as well as total bullshit. Gender is not a line, it is a huge three-dimensional space too big to be bounded by the concepts of “male” and “female.” Being trans is not always about falling “in between” binary genders, and as often as not, it’s about being something too expansive for those ideas to have meaning at all.

Self Identification

The language of self-identification is often used to describe trans people. “George identifies as a man.” “I respect Judy’s identification as a woman.” “Chris just told me that ze identifies as ‘genderqueer.’ Oh dear, that pronoun is going to take some getting used to.” An organization I know, in an effort to be trans friendly, as posted little signs on their bathroom doors, underneath the “MENS” and “WOMENS” signs that we know so well, saying “Self-identified men welcome” and “Self-identified women welcome” and “please be respectful of diversity.”

This co-opting of the language of self-identification is not only condescending, it completely missed the point.

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 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. Anybody who answers the question of “are you a man?” or “are you a woman?” with “yes” has just self-identified.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “but what about bodies? What about genitals? What about chromosomes? What about hormones? What about SEX? Doesn’t that have any bearing on gender?”

Be patient, my darlings. I’ll get to that in just a moment.

Bodies

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.

Sex is no more an immutable binary than is gender. There are intersex people who are born with non-binary genitalia, as I have already mentioned. There are people with hormonal anomalies. In fact, hormone levels vary wildly within the categories of cis male and cis female. Chromosomes, too, vary. If you thought “XX” and “XY” were the only two possible combinations, you have some serious googling to do. In addition to variations like XXY, XXYY, or X, sometimes cis people find out that they are genetically the “opposite” of what they though they were– that is, a ‘typical’ cis man can be XX, a ‘normal’ cis woman can be XY.

The fact is that the concept of binary sex is based on the fallacious idea that multiple sex characteristics are immutable and must always go together, when in fact many of them can be changed, many erased, and many appear independently in different combinations. “Female” in sex binary terms means having breasts, having a vagina, having a womb, not having a lot of body hair, having a high-pitched voice, having lots of estrogen, having a period, having XX chromosomes. “Male” means having a penis, not having breasts, producing sperm, having body hair, having a deep voice, having lots of testosterone, having XY chromosomes. Yet it is possible to isolate, alter, and remove many of these traits. Many of these traits do not always appear together, and before puberty and after menopause, many of them do not apply.

And what about women who get hysterectomies? Or who have had mastectomies for reasons related to breast cancer? Are they not women?

What about a soldier whose dick gets blown off by a mine? Is he not a man?

The fallacies of binding identity to bodies, which are fragile, changeable things, subject to injury, mutilation, maiming, decay and ultimate destruction, should by now be clear.

Sex is as much a social construct as gender, as much subject to self identification, and besides all that, quite easy to modify. Surgical and hormonal techniques are only becoming more sophisticated. If there ever was a need to consider biology destiny, that time is surely past.

The entire concept of “sex” is simply a way of attaching something social– gender– to bodies. This being the case, I believe the most sensible way to look at the question of sex now is this: a male body is a body belonging to a male– that is, someone who identifies as male. A female body is a body belonging to a female– that is, someone who identifies as female. Genderqueer bodies belong to folks who are genderqueer, androgynous bodies belong to androgynes, and so forth, and so on.

This is why I question the value of phrases like “man in a woman’s body” or “male to female.” Who is to say we ever were the “opposite sex?” Personally I will never again describe myself as “born female.” I was born a trans male and my years of confusion were due to being forcefully and repeatedly told that I was something else. This body is not a woman’s. It is mine. Neither am I trapped in it.

None of what I say here is to minimize the necessity of surgery. Many trans people do experience body dysphoria. Many of us do seek hormones, surgery, and other body modifications. But the point is that, while such modifications may be necessary for our peace of mind, they are not necessary to make us “real men” or “real women” or “real” whatevers. We’re plenty real right now, thank you.

Oppression

This brings us, I think, the most important topic of all, and the topic which is most commonly left out of any Trans 101: transphobia and cissexism and how to avoid them.

“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. Cissexism is holding the genders of trans people to more intense scrutiny than the genders of cis people. Cissexism is defining beauty and attractiveness based on how cis people look. Cissexism is prioritizing cis people’s comfort over trans people’s ability to survive. Cissexism is believing that cis people have more right to have jobs, go to school, date and have sex, make decisions about their bodies, wear the clothes they want, or use public restrooms than trans people do.

Transphobia is irrational fear and hatred of trans people. Transphobia is Silence Of The Lambs. Transphobia is referring to transgender surgery as self-mutilation. Transphobia is believing that trans people habitually “trick” or “fool” others into having sex with us. Transphobia is believing that we are out to rob you of your hetero-or-homosexuality. Transphobia is trans people being stared at, insulted, harassed, attacked, beaten, raped, and murdered for simply existing.

If you want to be a good ally, you need to start taking cissexism and transphobia seriously right now. That means getting our goddamn pronouns right and not expecting a cookie for it. That means learning our names. That means not asking invasive questions or telling us how well we “pass.” (Passing generally means “looking cis.” Not all of us want to look like you, thank you very much.) That means deleting the words “tranny” and “shemale” from your vocabulary. That means understanding the immense privilege you have in your legally recognized, socially approved, medically assigned gender.

That means realizing that this is just the beginning. and that you have a lot to learn. That means realizing that it would be intrusive and importunate to ask the nearest trans person to explain it all to you, as if they didn’t have better things to do. That means hitting the internet and doing all that you can to educate yourself. And once you’ve done all that, maybe you can call yourself an ally, that is, if you’re still genuinely willing to join us in the hard work of making the world a less shitty place to be trans.

This will be a work in progress. I expect to receive a lot of commentary on this piece. I expect that it will be edited and possibly revised almost beyond recognition. I am OK with that. As always, there is more work to do. Trans 101 is a huge deal. Revising the way that it is discussed and taught is not a task for just one person. It’s something the entire community must take on.

This is only a first step. But I still hope we learned something today.

Comments

arf
Jul 2 2012 01:38

'Noone knows' why so many people are cis, feminists tried to explain it with misguided gender-as-oppression rhetoric, but gender is not socially constructed, and sex is not defined by biology.

In fact, sex is defined by gender, which is defined by a feeling, and that explains why some women have penises and some men have vaginas and give birth.

Gay trans women (who transphobes might suggest were previously heterosexual men) who have 'ladysticks', (or large 'clits', each woman of course names her own - just dont call it a penis, cos thats triggering and transphobic) must be recognised as always-female lesbians who were coercively-assigned-male-at-birth, and any cis lesbian who doesnt fancy a bit of ladystick needs to reconsider their transphobia or face expulsion from the queer community. 'Breaking through the cotton ceiling' is one of the most serious issues faced by trans women today, hence the need for conferences to devise tactics to tear down the bigots boundaries.

Trans women are also active in online social justice - for example, just this week a liberal feminist blog featured a trans womans article about bigoted cis lesbians who will have sex with other cis lesbians *and* trans men with vaginas who were coercively-assigned-female-at-birth, but who *wont* have sex with cis men (or presumably trans women) because of their cissexist sexuality, which is based on their outdated preferences for certain body types, which probably were chosen as a result of trauma, but which is nevertheless delegitimizing other peoples identities. These days we all know that sexuality should be based on peoples self identified gender, *not* on physical attraction, and its time that lesbians reeducated themselves about this.

So yeh, we all need to work harder at being allies.

Die Cis Scum.
"It’s not ironic. It’s not cute. It is a threat."

PS Be careful not to misgender Asher when discussing its articles - its chosen pronoun is 'it', according to the social justice activists on tumblr.

scottydont
Jul 3 2012 01:01

Can someone please delete the shit comment ^^^^

I'm no big fan of this article and have my own quips with it too, but that comment is just offensive sarcastic shit that in no way belongs here. Even the absolutely unforgivable language aside, it is just an axe-grinding, personal attack with no attempt at serious engagement what-so-ever. It talks rather simplistically and dismissively about a question which is very complicated and IS NOT EVEN DEALT WITH IN THE ARTICLE.

If we could keep the random radscum political teeth-gnashing that has little to no actual content off of libcom (since it infects the rest of the internet to a surprising extent) that would be great.

@arf: don't even bother replying. judging by your presence on these forums you are little better than a mouth piece for a pre-set ideology and so i can pretty confidently say i've already heard everything you are about to say, said better and more clearly by people who are smarter and more well reflected than you could ever hope to be.

arf
Jul 3 2012 11:43

I'm not using any language I haven't found on trans peoples own blogs and websites, people who appear to be popular trans activists too. That was kind of my point.

I was astounded by how disconnected from reality the above post was when I first read it, maybe a year ago, and its not improved with age.

Asher has recently been involved in some abuse allegations, and he (ill say he because tranarchism describes him as he, though his mates on tumblr I know would consider this a crime of misgendering) has been writing about how his politics have been impaired by an abusive relationship:

"[his abusers] Pressured me, and everyone else who knew them, to agree 100 percent with their crappy politics, and became verbally abusive and sometimes physically threatening whenever there was even slight disagreement"

I'm not sure if the above article was written while all that was going on, but it seems likely. There's a bit near the beginning which alarms me, given the situation:

Quote:
through a lot of intense discussions and a lot of tough love from people who were more knowledgeable, more radical, and more politically sophisticated than myself, I came to see things very differently.

He has indicated that he is still going through a healing process from those relationships, so it might be interesting to see how his ideas develop as he does that.

But the above article is a mess, and trans politics update really fast, so don't slag me off for keeping up, paying attention, or sarcastically employing the language actually being used to point out that all might not be fluffy.

arf
Jul 3 2012 12:00

As for 'personal attack', that's not true, I didn't do that. You, however, did. I sarcastically responded to it, sure, but I didn't try to censor it or the politics around it - I brought in more, even gave a link to a much newer piece that has come out of that activist community. I don't agree with this set of politics, I think its illogical, entitled, conformist, abusive, damaging, and many less pleasant things. But I don't think the articles should be censored, I think the opposite - they need far more critical consideration than a thousand cookie-seeking social network 'likes' are giving them.

But you want a sarcastic comment censored because you don't like the way it was phrased? Who is being ridiculous here?

I'm not calling anyone scum or implying that they are intellectually or morally inferior. You might want to deal with your own hang ups there, rather than projecting them my way.

Shorty
Jul 3 2012 16:15

...

arf
Jul 3 2012 16:47

Did you delete that or did someone else? I know Im sarcy but seriously, theres a whole load of political thought and activism going on round the stuff in this article - might be good to give that a critical eye, examine whats positive and negative, whats true and whats false, what is actually happening, instead of having a go at me? Unless its off limits?

Shorty
Jul 3 2012 17:18

I edited it because I realised I don't have time to engage at the moment and my post was also a little sarcastic. I actually find these topics/this topic really interesting and would have liked to. Though I would suggest looking at the more like this links too.

arf
Jul 3 2012 21:07

Did you post from your phone? There aren't any links?

scottydont
Jul 3 2012 23:07

Once again, I agree with you. I think this article is flawed also. Namely becasue:

1: it backhandedly gives an incredible weight to biology in a way that seems very poorly thought through.

2: in its haste to argue for a trans politics that attacks cis-sexism, it totally overlooks power hierarchies between those gendered men and those gendered women.

3: it fails to deal with gender and sex, or sexuality, as historically specific power constructs that produce distinct classes or castes of people in any way at all.

all these seem like a duh to me. it is about ten steps above most "radikewl" queer stuff though, to be honest...

That said, where I'm from we actually critique peoples politics instead of just being a sarcastic internet trolls who repeat every tired radfem one liners ad nauseum.

Also when called out on this, you just responded by repeatedly implying that there is a real critique without actually ever stating what it is. So would you enlighten us as to WHY you think the politcs of this article are so fucked, then maybe we can have a discussion about it. (jesus this is like dealing with children...)

Also, once again, the article you linked deals with a specific issue not even brought up in the original article here and not written by the same person.

Lets review:

Asher wrote:

Quote:
Transphobia is irrational fear and hatred of trans people. Transphobia is Silence Of The Lambs. Transphobia is referring to transgender surgery as self-mutilation. Transphobia is believing that trans people habitually “trick” or “fool” others into having sex with us. Transphobia is believing that we are out to rob you of your hetero-or-homosexuality. Transphobia is trans people being stared at, insulted, harassed, attacked, beaten, raped, and murdered for simply existing.

If you want to be a good ally, you need to start taking cissexism and transphobia seriously right now. That means getting our goddamn pronouns right and not expecting a cookie for it. That means learning our names. That means not asking invasive questions or telling us how well we “pass.” (Passing generally means “looking cis.” Not all of us want to look like you, thank you very much.) That means deleting the words “tranny” and “shemale” from your vocabulary. That means understanding the immense privilege you have in your legally recognized, socially approved, medically assigned gender.

And you replied to this by randomly bringing up an argument about lesbians being forced to have sex with "teh secret menz dressed as teh ladies" (HORROR!). Cool story bro. I fail to see the direct relevance to the piece here. IF you wanna talk about the "cotton ceiling" shit then start a thread or post an article, don't just blather about it on every random pro-trans article on a site that is sorely lacking in them already...

As for your "politics" being "censored": maybe if you actually engaged politically this would be a concern, but as far as I'm concerned your just a transphobe internet troll, who has read enough pages of Janice Raymond to build yourself an little ideological sand castle (of course I assume you haven't actually finished reading it, you really should though, its so important to read...)

As for implying that you are somehow intellectually or morally inferior all I can say is this: I have come across your posts here many times (I am mostly a lurker here to be honest) and I find then uniquely unenlightening and worthless. Just personal opinion I guess...

Also, while were at it: implying that someone only held the opinion that they held because they were being abused...? I'm speechless. Classy move, bro, classy move.

Fuck off.

arf
Jul 4 2012 10:14

I haven't read Janice Raymond at all. I do read trans sites and blogs, including Ashers. I'm not implying he held an opinion because he was abused. He's just stuck Die Cis Scum on his jacket so I assume he hasn't changed his position much, if at all.

But when someone says themselves that their politics have been hugely damaged by abuse, and says their whole community was affected by it, then the writings coming from that place during that period need to be considered with that in mind. It would be neglectful not to acknowledge it as a factor even in a background way. You can't just pretend its not happening because its inconvenient. This isn't me being mean and dismissive because of his personal life, this is about a political culture, that the above piece came out of.

Heres the flatmate of the alleged abusers:
"What happened over the course of time was that I swallowed their vile, hyperdestructive worldview, but hard.. I became unwilling and unable to contradict them"
"Their identity and privilege politics meant figuring themselves as the most oppressed at all times, no matter how bizarre, upside-down-and-backwards - or simply vague - their justification had to be."
"Their politics were formed almost entirely around their own oppressions and needs.. They expressed no solidarity with broader groups of oppressed people, and carried immense hostility towards others."
"They did deep hurt to my politics, but I think the healing process is actually leaving me improved. "

Another involved person:
"I started to feel really confused about my own radical politics"
" I also once saw her make a giant stink online about how identities can be oppressive. Her particular argument was that people who identify as lesbian or straight or whatever should change their identities if they date people who are nonbinary or not the gender they’re generally attracted to because otherwise their identity erases the identity of their partner. She especially attacked lesbians who dated nonbinary people or trans men."

Another:
"the queer punk scene is absolutely full of abusive people using these and other methods; "
"I hope that many people will find glimpses of themselves in this form of “activism” and learn how it contributes to the active oppression of marginalized groups"
"This is absolutely 100% indicative of many experiences I had while I considered myself a queer punk, that I firmly believe stem from a subculture of violence that relies on willful intersectional ignorance. This is a communal problem that will not be addressed by calling out two serial abusers — there are hundreds of [alleged abusers] and many of them are people who have power and influence in these communities."

Asher:
"The truth is that [alleged abusers] had the entire Bay scared silent."
"NOTE: FAILING TO ENGAGE IN BEHAVIOR NORMALIZED BY [alleged abusers], WHETHER SEXUAL OR POLITICAL, WAS GROUNDS FOR VERBAL PUT-DOWNS OR THREATS OF VIOLENCE."
" In the political group [he moderated] I tolerated behavior from them up to and including death threats against other members, because I was dating them and didn’t want them angry at me. "
"You may notice that for the past several months Tranarchism.com has consisted mainly of events, news alerts, and signal boosts for relevant information. This is because I have not felt comfortable using a platform with hundreds of views a day and over 700 active subscribers for my own voice until I do a lot of work on myself.
The work I have to do on myself is partly motivated by me need to repair my politics in multiple ways, many of which have nothing to do with them."
"The upshot is that right now I am neither morally fit nor mentally prepared to be a public figure. "

Asher is Catamite on tumblr and all of this is linked from there. The whole thing is really disturbing, really grim reading, but this is clearly not just about a couple of personal relationships gone bad. If you're going to put up articles like the above then you need to look not just at the words in the article but at the politics and culture around it.

Several people say they are healing and dealing with what went on. Their political rhetoric doesn't seem altered. They still talk about radscum and all that. So reflection hasn't changed those opinions.

The stuff I sarcastically talked about is absolutely related. Ashers above article is a year old, the one I posted is days old, both came out of the same political activist community, both address transphobia and cissexism. How is it not relevant? The language I used is the language used in the written work coming out of that community, personal and political. If you find it offensive, don't blame me.

arf
Jul 4 2012 10:59

"where I'm from we actually critique peoples politics instead of just being a sarcastic internet trolls"

Is that right, 'scenester'? Let's recap.
..............

"Can someone please delete the shit comment"

"it is just an axe-grinding, personal attack with no attempt at serious engagement what-so-ever"

"random radscum political teeth-gnashing that has little to no actual content"

"don't even bother replying."

"you are little better than a mouth piece for a pre-set ideology and so i can pretty confidently say i've already heard everything you are about to say, said better and more clearly by people who are smarter and more well reflected than you could ever hope to be."

"as far as I'm concerned your just a transphobe internet troll"

"I have come across your posts here many times (I am mostly a lurker here to be honest) and I find then uniquely unenlightening and worthless"

"Fuck off"

............

You've made two posts, nearly all the content of which have been a personal attack aimed at me, not much of a political critique at all, is it?

I started writing something directly addressing the article, but it was getting long, I'm bad at keeping a word count down and the article is just that much of a mess - I was writing about Asher's badly put down stuff instead of the actual politics. It was, as you say, a personal comment on Asher's politics and style, not on the wider context.

So yeh, I decided my point would be better made by sarcastically using that political perspectives own words to write something short. The stuff I wrote is offensive and bollocks, and that was exactly my point. I'm not suggesting that all the politics centred round trans people are bollocks, and I don't believe that either. But the stuff that influenced this, and the linked, piece - I don't know how it can be getting so little criticism (not your sort of insults passing as criticism, tho).

It does help that yes, people who do criticise it are personally attacked as radscum. Including other trans people, including trans activist writers who themselves hate teh 'radscum'. There is no single pro trans politics, and the type that Asher has been involved in is aggressive and cannibalistic.

I haven't commented on a trans thread here for years, I don't think. But I'll happily back out of this one now, and let you get on with it. Insult away, water off a ducks back, 'bro'.

libcom
Jul 4 2012 11:23

Admin: comments temporarily locked. No flaming. Play the ball, not the person.