Engaging The T, Ctd

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A reader revives a recent thread with a fascinating personal story:

If you choose to use any of this, please scrub my name from it.  I am a transgendered woman who has, in fact, committed the unpardonable sin of transitioning and then, largely, being done with the whole thing.  The vast majority of people in my personal life have no idea, and almost no one in my professional life does. Now that’s because I pass very well, which is both a matter of luck and a matter of will. It was luck because I didn’t shoot up to an inconvenient height, nor were my hands or feet inconveniently large, but it was will because I tried to just be an ordinary woman of my generation (born in the late 1960s).

In the last decade or so, I have seen transgender activism take on the idea that gender is “constructed” and that the “medicalization” of being trans is a horrible thing.  It seems short-sighted in the extreme – at least for those of us who have a difference of opinion between our self-image and our secondary sexual characteristics.  I say that because just as Medicare and other providers are finally starting to cover SRS (sex reassignment surgery) and hormone treatments, the activists are trying to make the case that none of that is necessary.   It has taken activists two decades and more to get us to this place, and just as we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, they are trying to not just pull the rope up, but burn it.

Why? Because some transgender people are not able to pass and/or some transgender people have a hard time finding work (whether because of passing issues or unwillingness to conform, even the least bit, with the kinds of behavior necessary to secure a well-paying job).

I agree, mostly, with your assessment that those of us who are minorities may be in the uncomfortable position of having to educate people and answer questions because we may be the first person someone outside our little social category may have had significant interaction with. It isn’t really fair, but better to learn it from someone within the group than to persist in ignorance or, worse yet, to learn it from someone hostile to the group.  I do part company with you on the issue of genitalia, however.  That is a really intrusive question and one that I think is reasonable for me to divulge to anyone I am dating, any medical professional, any mental health professional and to select friends. It isn’t for public consumption, however.

You wrote this:

The transgender desire not to be trans-gender but to be one gender physically and mentally is actually quite an affront to queer theorists for whom all gender and sex are social constructions. Many of these people want testosterone and estrogen and surgery to end their divided selves. And it doesn’t get more crudely biological and not-social than that. Which means that there are also divisions within the trans world between those who might be able to pass completely as another gender, after reassignment surgery, and those whose visual ambiguity or androgyny will remain.

Here is where I really have parted company with what has become of the trans-movement in the last decade or so.  When I transitioned in the early 1990s, the idea was to move through being transgendered and into just being a woman (or a man, for my FTM brothers). Now, it seems the point is to be neither a man nor a woman.  What’s more, well-adjusted and socially successful transgendered people like myself are a profound threat to the activist and academic portions of the movement because we violate the narrative.

As a black transgendered woman, the narrative is that I have found it difficult if not impossible to find work that pays me more than a pittance. What’s more, I am supposed to have spent some time as a prostitute. As a transgendered woman, the narrative is that I am socially shunned and ostracized and only other transgendered people or “allies” will have anything to do with me.

None of that has applied to me, and it has not applied to me in a very visible fashion.  I have not worked with someone who knew I was trans since the mid-nineties, when I told a boss that I was trans because I knew that I was going to need surgery and thus need to take some extended time off. Since my boss at the time was a lesbian, I thought it was a good risk.  To give you an idea of how well I pass, when I told her she was fine, but the next day a couple of my coworkers, who were also gay and whom I had told first to see how our boss would react, said I needed to clarify some things for her.  She actually had thought I was moving in the opposite direction (FTM instead of MTF) and was worried because, as she put it, “I just can’t see a femme like her as a boy”.  We all had a really good laugh about that.

This was while I was working at a large software company in the San Francisco Bay Area. Does that sound like rejection and ostracism? It doesn’t to me, and I didn’t experience it that way. It remains, to this day, one of my favorite memories from the time in my life where transitioning was still something I was doing and not something I had done.

One other thing you get right is that, in fact, from the point of view of the queer theorists and the activists who follow them, wanting hormones and surgery is a profoundly conservative impulse as defined by the theorists and activists.  Like marriage equality it does cede some realities that in a certain (politically) correct light be seen as conservative. In the latter case of marriage equality, it absolute cedes the conservative idea that marriage is a stabilizing force in the lives of individuals and communities. In the former case it concedes the “gender binary,” at least in as much as it doesn’t try to construe being transgendered as a third, fourth or twelfth gender and instead cedes that for the vast majority of people male and female more or less accurately.

One of the results of this has been that transwomen like myself have largely stepped back from the community and do not mentor people newly in transition.  It is not that I don’t want to; it’s that I don’t think I have anything to offer. Rather, it is that what I have to offer puts me at odds with a lot of the trans community – at least that portion of it involved in conceiving “theory”. I am very pragmatic in my approach to transition. Questions I think a trans person needs to ask and find answers to are:

1) Am I going to stay in a field that I started as my birth gender or am I going to find a new career?  (For me, I started young enough that I didn’t have a career, so I got into one because of the need for regular money in sums above and beyond sustenance levels and regular, reliable health insurance coverage)

1a) If the former, what do I do with my work history?

1b) If the latter, what kind of jobs can I find where I will make enough to actually be able to do this?

2) How am I going to broach this subject with my friends and family?

3) How do I do this?

These are no longer questions to ask, according to queer theorists.

I applaud your courage in taking on this topic.  You are going to be flamed for it as sure as there will be men in Speedos at Gay Pride parades in a couple of weekends.

Another reader circles back to the beginning of the thread:

Kevin Williamson’s essay may be over the top in its callousness, but I have to say, I read a lot of lefty sites/news outlets, and the focus on “the T question” sort of takes me aback. Why so much focus for what may be, as you note, as little as 0.1 of the population? Why is this the premier civil rights question of our lifetime, as trans folks might have it?

Worse than this is the impulse, which you address, among trans activists to essentially burn down the existing societal framework due to its inherent oppressiveness and replace it with something new – something that people like myself, a married suburban father who bears no ill will toward the transgendered community – will be required to accept.

For example, the use of the term “cisgendered.” We’re now supposed to use this at all times, you realize; I’m supposed to refer to myself as “cisgendered,” as a rhetorical means of leveling the playing field. The 99 percent or 99.9 percent must now adopt the rhetorical demands of the trans activists lest we reveal ourselves to be utterly hateful.

But you know what? I don’t use the term “cisgendered” and I will not use the term “cisgendered.” I think the term itself and the supposed logic behind it are ridiculous. Do your own thing; live your own life, and I will insist that however you choose to do so, you are accorded the same legal rights and privileges that every other American possesses. But when that’s not good enough – when my refusal to think of myself as “cisgendered” or use the term marks me as a bigot – I’m off the bus.

Update from a reader:

Your reader is claiming that an unknown group of straw trans-men and women are forcing him to use the term “cisgendered” to describe himself. To which I say, what planet do you live on??  “Cisgender” is an academic term adopted by some in the trans community to describe those who do, in fact, associate with the gender of their birth. Why your reader is so incensed that trans folks call him “cisgender” is beyond me. Why he thinks he’s now required to call himself that is a question for the ages. I have seen no movement, even among the most nutjob of activists, to force the term “cisgender” on the American citizenry.

Your reader, in short, is no bigot, but sounds like my parents did in 2006: “We support you, but why do you have to call it marriage?” (I’m thankful to report they were fully on the marriage bandwagon within five years after that.)

(Photo: The bedroom door of a Dish reader’s 15-year-old daughter)