For those who don’t know, “cis gender” and “cis sexual” is basically defined as the opposite of trans gender and trans sexual, i.e. “cis” people are those who do not desire to medically/surgically/hormonally change their bodies to appear more like the opposite sex than they are (though not all trans people want or do medically/surgically/hormonally change their bodies, but still identify as trans and the sex they more align with spiritually/emotionally/mentally). Whether trans people physically change their bodies or not, it all creates a shitload of social, legal and political complications within the small, rigid bounds of the colonist culture.
Once upon a time I had a lesbian friend who I dearly loved. We got so close over the years that I considered her family. I experienced her as quite butch with that masculine energy thing going on — whatever “it” was (whether we call “it” gender, energy, essence, or whatever), I thought she wore it well and worked it well, just because it was the thoughtful, sensitive, lovable, loyal, intelligent, hilarious, unique, creative HER (all caps to emphasize her essence, not her sex or gender).
I recall one of the few, if only, conversations that we had years back about sex and gender and I said to her that I thought she was butch. She cringed. That was basically the end of that convo. We weren’t political and never really talked about sex or gender or queerness or the politics around any of it; we were just two young queer/lesbian women living life, enjoying eachothers’ company, having relationships, etc. We carried on and life went on. Sometime later and for some unrelated, immature and complicated reasons, our close friendship ruptured and we parted ways.
Fast forward several years. My friend is now a trans guy and we’ve reconnected. I couldn’t be more thrilled for this reconnection and new beginning and I embrace the new friendship we’ve embarked on now that we’re both older and wiser. I intend to do everything on my end to protect and nurture our friendship so that we never rupture again, because life is too short and good people too few and far between.
My friend and I have grown much more socially conscious and “political” over the years that we were apart, which kinda complicates things IF we go down the colonist path and rabbit hole surrounding sex and gender politics. As it stands now, we don’t much talk about it; the only trans topic we really talk about is his personal experience with transition, which is private and not for this blog. I love my friend to pieces, and I have a few other trans guy friends who I love as people and who I don’t talk about sex/gender politics much with, which is where I mostly stand on the personal end of things. I love these people for who they are and how they are, far beyond and outside of their bodies and pronouns and how they feel and how I experience them, even though all of these things exist in our relationships.
But then “the political” enters the equation, and shit gets complicated…at least when looking at and dealing with it in the colonist culture.
I hear, think and read SO much about sex, gender and the vicious sex and gender wars happening online and in the social and legal world between people in general, and feminists (radical and otherwise) and trans activists. I’ve started writing several different articles about the different issues and published a few, but I’ve said and published much less than what goes on in my head and heart. How it usually goes for me is that I’ll write fervently on the subject, read it over, then think to myself, What did I just write and what does it matter? The whole thing is just too messy and fucked up. And then I delete or draft the article, because the personal is more important to me than the political. But then the political gets loud. And I read articles that tell me what I should be thinking, feeling and saying when it comes to sex, gender and trans people. So then I write some more. I think this is the first comprehensive article I’m writing on the subject.
It’s normal not to have to have a hard and fast, black or white position on some issues, because life is so much deeper and more complex than the euro-western colonist culture’s rigidity, restrictions, knee-jerk reactions, surface solutions, and overall obsessive need to categorize and control every aspect of life. So this article reflects how I see things right now, and I’ll build on or change it if/when the time comes. I appreciate and welcome Respectful feedback and dialogue on any of this because I really am trying to figure things out, and the more voices I hear, the more my perspective expands, and hopefully yours does too.
What I’m Actually Saying When I Misgender/Miss-the-Gender of Someone
Queer feminist (and presumably trans) activist Sam Dylan Finch wrote this article about what he perceives is being said by people who don’t use trans people’s preferred pronouns. This is how I feel about it:
When someone states their preferred pronouns (he, she, hir, ze/zir, they, etc.), they are asking me to change the way I think about and experience them, as well as the language I use, in order to make them feel more comfortable. Right from the start this request is imbalanced in power and respect. I will explain why.
I usually do use my trans friends’ preferred pronouns to be nice, to make them happy, and to not contribute to any violence-inciting shit from others if we’re out in public, because I get that. It isn’t that big a deal to me and a small price to pay to make my trans friends happy, which is what I want at the end of the day, for them to be happy. But what about me? Don’t relationships require ALL parties to be happy? When relating with people, shouldn’t we be doing our best to respect eachother?
From my perspective, it feels psychologically oppressive to be told what I can and can’t say, think and feel about people, trans or not, friends or not. Many trans activists will declare and try to “educate” me on how what I’m saying is “transphobic” or that my “cis privilege” is blinding me, as though I haven’t thought and re-thought and re-re-thought this many times over many years. This article by Plastic Girl and this one by Miranda Yardley are good explanations by trans women, about the non-sense of cis privilege and transphobia. Feminist blogger glosswatch wrote an interesting and insightful article (with a great comments section) about her disembodied/dysphoric relationship with her female body, which SO many “cis” females experience. An excerpt:
Has anyone who has been assigned female at birth ever been enabled to “operate without conflict or correction”? Don’t most cis women spend their whole lives trying to “become women”? I see this very much in the context of beauty ideals (amongst other things). Cis women do not get handed womanhood on a plate. On the contrary, most of us never escape the feeling of having failed.
We spend our waking hours trying to conform, trying to manage personhood, trying not to take up too much space. We have ourselves sliced and inflated, we starve ourselves, paint ourselves, rip out our body hair, binge, vomit, cry at the sight of our ugly thighs and flabby stomachs. We live our lives on hold, waiting to blossom, then watch ourselves become invisible as we age. We do all this without even noticing, let alone protesting. Our dissatisfaction with our bodies in relation to how womanhood is perceived is viewed as our problem alone.
I quite liked what a commenter named sehaf said in response to this article:
Dissenting from gender and not living up to it are two different things and the former does attract a lot of extra shit for the person doing it. I should know, as a varyingly butch lesbian. That’s not to say that gender isn’t oppressive of all women, but it certainly isn’t oppressive in the same way and to the same degree for everyone. Some actually do have it worse. [I very much agree, and instead of spiraling down into a convo about who has it worse – which is usually the case when you dare point out the simple fact of life that some people DO have it worse than others (see my article on this here, especially what Sebastian says in the comments section) – what I would like to focus on is how to make life BETTER for everyone.]
I prefer to talk about ‘shitty bargains’ because a lot of the ‘privileges’ which women enjoy are highly conditional in a way that is stressful to navigate. [..] I’m not denying that all women have it tough and I have a cis female body so I know that doesn’t always feel like the smooth ride it apparently is compared to being trans*. Nonetheless, it probably is a smoother ride.
What I’m not getting from people like Sam, is RESPECT for my experience of them. It’s as though how I experience trans people doesn’t matter, or it does so long as it aligns with what they want me to see/feel about them, or else it’s “wrong” (as though our experience of people can ever be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ — it’s just a thing that is). This is not me being “transphobic” or talking through a “cis-privileged” lens; what we have happening, at the core, is an issue with boundaries and control (or power and an attempt to power-over). People like Sam are overstepping boundaries and trying to control my own thoughts and feelings about him and other trans people – this is what power-over-ing looks like. How is it even possible in any authentic way to make someone experience you in X, Y or Z way? Nobody can or should try to control how we experience other people. I personally find it fascinating the range of ways people experience me, from masculine to feminine to a blend of both. Who am I to say or try to shape how others experience and perceive me? I am only responsible for knowing who I am and being who I am, and figuring out who feels safe to connect with and who doesn’t, while respecting who they are without me imposing any expectations on them, and vice versa.
What power-sharing and respecting looks like, is to give eachother space to be ourselves and experience eachother naturally, as it comes, and as we all do before someone tries to control or puppeteer this process.
I feel like Sam and others like him are telling me how to perceive him in my own mind and language, which is an attempt to erase my actual experience of him. I may experience Sam as having strong feminine energy or butch lesbian energy or a different kind of masculine energy or something else altogether; whatever infinite possibilities that exist when I share space with and experience someone, and which I probably cannot articulate, nor is it something that is even articulate-able, and it’s not for anybody to control or manipulate.
Preferred pronouns, whether they’re ‘proper’ or not, is a cluster fuck of an issue unto itself because the colonist culture and English language is so restrictive and limited, so I won’t say much about it here other than to say that it’s asking a lot for people to use “proper” pronouns. I wrote a separate post about this issue here.
The Dis-empowering Nature of the Question “Do I Pass?”
The more I see and hear trans people ask “Do I Pass?”, the more concerned I get.
Homophobia and gender hysteria is a european value that found its way into some Indigenous cultures only after initial european invasion and during it.” — Shea Sandy
I think at the core, asking “Do I Pass?” is giving up one’s power. It is asking other people (sometimes strangers, or others who don’t know or care much about us), if we look the way we are intending to look, whether it be feminine or masculine or thin or fat or sexy or cat-like, or whatever. Every single person experiences us differently, and we experience every single person out there differently. Some people “pass” “better” than others, that’s just how it is, and it’s what we get when we reject/minimize/kill off one part of our identity and try to construct/enhance/create another, rather than accepting and respecting all our inner and outer parts and pieces, such as the two-spirit identity within Indigenous cultures (and which is called something different depending on the Nation, but same general idea of Acceptance of, and deep Respect for all parts of Nature).
Do I pass….Why do we care so much what other people think of our outer appearance? And why are we asking strangers about it? Why are we so quick to just hand over our power to other people who can (and often do) so easily trample, spit and shit on it?
The idea of “passing” is a complicated one that many intelligent trans and genderqueer people have analyzed to death. At its core is deception. Whether one is “passing” or not, there is an element of deceit. In the genocidal colonist culture, deceit is the name of the game across the board, from politics to economics to the education system, and so on, so why would sex and gender be much different? You’re fucked if you try to pass and then are “found out” by some sexist or homophobe, and you’re fucked if you don’t try to pass and tell people you’re trans in that you’re kind of a sitting duck for sexists and homophobes. It’s a lose-lose because it’s all taking place within the extremely oppressive colonist culture with few if any real choices and freedoms to just Be.
You know the saying “what you think of me is none of my business?” On the one hand, I feel that we should care to a certain extent what others think of us, like when it comes to our words or behaviors hurting others, in which case how would we know to change whatever hurtful thing we say or do if the people we hurt don’t tell us?
On the other hand, the idea of other people’s perceptions of us being none of our business speaks to the inner power we all have and toss away when we depend on others’ perceptions of us in order to feel good about ourselves.
Balance, balance, balance.
Here are a few insightful comments from trans and other gender non-conformist people that I’ve come across throughout my (ongoing) learning journey (most of which I’ve come across on dirt’s blog):
Anonymous commenter 1:
Half the time I think butches are just women who have a higher testosterone level than the average female, so they are masculinized. Big fuckin deal. You can make it into a culture if you like, but we are all just people in the end.
Anonymous commenter 2:
I’m far too busy in my every day life to worry about whether or not women see me as a woman, or whether or not the rest of the world does. I liberated myself with surgery and cross gender hormones. Myself, me. It wasn’t a statement on gender, or an assault on homosexuality — it was how I was able to grow and function and participate in a world I would have otherwise left early. It’s a very personal and singular thing, being transgender. A selfish thing even. I guess that there is an expectation that the world plays along with the fantasy, even when on the other hand, I completely understand when it doesn’t.
I think it’s difficult for others that have gone through a similar, but not the SAME struggle to understand the liberation. Being transgender is not about pink and blue and skirts and pants. It’s about the dysfunction in the brain that prevents a person from being able to functional normally. Whether or not surgery and hormones is the de-facto treatment, I can’t say. It worked for me after so many other things did not. It’s definitely not for everyone, and there are regrets that I have about the surgery sometimes. I have fears about what horrible cancer I might contract from taking estrogen pills every day. I know that I’ve basically guaranteed a shorter lifespan and have opened myself up to all sorts of medical issues I might never have experienced had I not gone through with it. However, I take on those risks to feel as I do now — loved, happy, successful. Alive.
I really appreciate this trans woman’s honesty. I feel for her and feel much compassion around her sexual/gender dysphoria being so deep that only radical, painful and risky medical intervention helps alleviate it, though never wholly, as she said she sometimes regrets doing it. I know trans men bound to wheelchairs and dependent on catheters due to botched genital “re-assignment” surgeries. Medical
intervention colonization of bodies to alleviate spiritual/emotional/mental pain is not much different than cutters and the emotional release they temporarily achieve when cutting their bodies. I get that it’s easier (in some ways) to change one’s body than it is to change our culture, and if it makes you happy, great. To me though, it’s a sad thing, the kind of risks people take in order to be happy, and the kind of ignorance rampant in and underlying the colonist culture which is responsible for creating all sorts of dysphorias and disembodiments in the first place, which play out in so many ways. I understand why this trans woman’s feels “liberation” from sex surgery and hormones. I just don’t think true freedom and liberation can or should come with such a radical, risky, unnatural and painful price.
But I’m not here to dick-tate (ha!) what people should or shouldn’t do to their bodies. I’m just commenting on my experience of the whole thing since I have trans people in my life and will probably connect with more in the future, and all of this ‘stuff’ is always there, but so hard to talk about because most of it is emotional, spiritual stuff that the colonist culture doesn’t have, no matter how many fancy-worded “theories” it creates in its poor attempt to tackle these sacred realms of being human. The colonist culture is hellbent on destroying the emotional and spiritual, so of course it is unable to teach us how to healthily and respectfully navigate, let alone reconcile any matters of the Heart and Spirit. The colonist culture’s medical and mental health industries are for the most part, just tools to assist in its control, manipulation, and ultimate destruction of Nature and Life. Unless/Until we DEcolonize and return to Indigenous living and being, the way ALL our ancestors lived before the genocidal “civilization” project began.
Anonymous commenter 3:
What is happening really is that many girls [and boys] who experience dysphoria now have someone to go to for help unfortunately, it happens, that the help is terribly misinformed, due to its ignorant adherance to gender norms. I wouldn’t say this whole trans-trending thing is malicious. Its just devastatingly ignorant. Also, realize, that the people who are most defensive about the trans disorder are the trans people themselves. We need more education on the afflictions of “gender non-conforming” individuals. We need healthier and more diverse treatment options for sufferers of dysphoria. Don’t bash them they are people who need help.
Anonymous commenter 4:
I don’t think a “core” or a “self” actually has a gender in the way that most people think about gender. I know how I feel, but I would never talk about it in terms of clothing or toys. If you’d like to quantify what part of me is a “woman”, I’ll listen. You should share what meaning that is supposed to have for you, me, or anyone else in the world. Chromosomes don’t dictate how a person relates to the world or who they are. Chromosomes don’t talk through me as some kind of “self”.
Last but not least, one of my favorite comments I’ve EVER read about the trans issue:
This entire transsexual issue seems like a real first-world problem when you truly consider the European genocide of the original inhabitants of this land. Our continued mistreatment, treachery, lies, and abuse of native sovereignty is our greatest shame and it undercuts all subsequent moralizing and pontification by *any* marginalized group made of primarily white people of European descent. At least it should put it in perspective. Focusing on the transsexual issue while ignoring the larger issue of the stolen land we live upon so gaily, land our people plunder and then claim to be victims of persecution can only be chalked up to some large scale emotional disembodiment caused by an inability to face what we have done. Meanwhile, the original inhabitants of this land are relegated to the most barren soil, dying of alcoholism, with no access to fresh food or good nutrition. We split their families apart, raped their women, beat and killed them for speaking their own language, forced them into Christianity, made treaties and then broke them to steal land that had proven profitable later.
Dirt will say it’s a female genocide, to compare. Except I am not dead. I still have my body, my land, my money, my rights, my freedom, my resources, my access to health care, housing and food. My people still have their language, their religion, their identity. Too bad our identity is built right on a mass grave. Regardless of our gender presentation, we cannot be whole until we address what we have done. What are your priorities and are they a luxury others can’t afford?
SO.FUCKING.BANG.ON. All this sex/gender lunacy is happening mostly in “developed” nations which are all on stolen Native land, smack dab in the middle of the ongoing colonist genocide against Native people and their ways of life on that land. When Indigenous/Earth Nation ways of life are (re)claimed and (re)connected to, all this insanity (among many other insanities that sprout from the dis-eased colonist culture), will just cease to exist. So much energy going into arguing over theories when it can be directed towards DEcolonization, which begins with the mind, heart and Spirit, and which takes a lifetime to embody in any meaningful way.
What I love about my long-term trans friends who I consider family, is that I met them before they ever transitioned and before we got older and more “political”, so we got to know eachother as humans and friends before any political clusterfucks entered the picture. I saw them transition (minus the best friend I mentioned) and supported them as much as I was able, and still do, and am happy to do so, because that’s what friends do, support eachother.
At the end of the day, what I most value is my human-to-human connection with my trans and non-trans/”cis” friends, which has nothing to do with fucking theories or pronouns or passing, and everything to do with our heart-to-heart, spirit-to-spirit relating and connecting. This is all that matters to me, it’s what I most enjoy about these beautiful people in my life, and it’s what I will privilege and prioritize over “the political” until I die. If the personal is political and my trans friends are hurt by my views, then we have a lot of talking to do to try and understand eachother and maintain, sustain and grow the mutual love and respect we share.
That said, I don’t think Understanding will ever come from within the colonist culture and its understanding of things, which is why at the end of the day, I think feminism got it wrong in saying ‘the personal is political’, because for me, the personal is all there is, while the “political” just complicates shit, creating circles and circles of nothingness** and more and more distance between us.
**I want to give credit where credit is due and not be a stealer or hijacker of brilliant word wizardry: I borrowed the term “circles and circles of nothingness” from my wife who is a musician; she wrote a song about the break up of her first love and the original line in the song is: circles around circles of nothingness, I finally know that’s all there was to this.
I published this article around 1AM on November 20, completely forgetting that it was the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Weird. I don’t need a day to remember the violence and hate inflicted on trans people and all sorts of other people and cultures, in the name of disrespect, fear, judgment, greed, and so on. Every day that I live and breathe in a colonized world, I think about the genocide surrounding me, and that I myself participate in by virtue of my enslavement (the “day job” I have). Violence against trans people is no different to me than violence against every single “other/othered” person in this world, and my heart hurts and cries for them all. We must resist the colonist genocide being waged against the Land, against our bodies, spirits, minds and hearts that plays out in all sorts of ways, from the words we choose, to the hate crimes that happen all around and to us, to the “development projects” raping the land we live and depend on, to how kids’ spirits are broken at home behind closed doors through neglect/abuse/lack of parenting skills/etc., and the list goes on and on and on. Stand up, speak up, connect. When we seriously and actively practice Love, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Humility, Generosity and Wisdom, it is astounding the kind of GOOD we can create for ALL beings.
Today is May 24 and I increasingly feel that this post didn’t fully or clearly express what I feel in my heart and spirit about the whole trans issue. I’ll be adding a new post about this issue soon that is from an Indigenous perspective that makes more sense to me and that more validates, accepts, respects and celebrates the middle sex/gender. All I’ve said in this article is how I feel, but it just doesn’t feel complete. The trans issue is a complicated and messy issue as it is currently being thought of, talked about and played out in the colonist culture, which is a shame because from an Indigenous perspective, it doesn’t have to be. So stay tuned, and stand strong in your real self, for you are perfect and unique as Nature made you, and have something special to offer the world. The more of the real/natural of our inner and outer selves that we RESPECT, accept, integrate (versus disconnect/dissociate/deny/erase) and stand strong and proud in, the more powerful we are! ❤