Language around trans, how it works, how it doesn't…

[This is Charles] In the long running previous thread on that started out with Amp’s rebuttal of anti-trans arguments, I suggested opening a new thread to refocus and to make the loading time shorter (425 posts and rising, phew!). A huge issue in that thread was the problems of how to talk about trans issues (transitioning, transgender, transexuality, cisgender, …), so I think it might be good to look at how the language works around all this, and what is wrong with the language we use.

I’m going to be lazy, and not do the work I should pulling quotes from the previous thread. Instead, I am going to just post the last comment from the previous thread, as it seems like a good starting point (I hope this is okay with everyone):

BritGirlSF writes:

nexyjo and littlelight – I’d love to hear more from both of you about how you feel about how the language we all use at the moment frames the issues, how it works for you and how it doesn’t. For example, nexyjo said something about not feeling like a woman post-transition even though many other MTF trans people do. How would you define your current gender identity? Or are you not defining it because we don’t seem to have any words that really fit?
I’m not sure if that made sense, I’ll try to clarify if it didn’t. That’s the point I was trying to make earlier, really – our ability to have this conversation is hampered by not having the linguistic tools we need.

This entry posted in Gender and the Body, Transsexual and Transgender related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

137 Responses to Language around trans, how it works, how it doesn't…

  1. 101
    Q Grrl says:

    Eh, the thing with ATF was in my 30’s actually. 33 I think. I still looked like an underage male.

  2. 102
    Les says:

    I came really close to cancelling this post because this thread has all the feel of so many other trans threads “You can’t say anything that hurts my feelings!”

    I totally know how you feel. I mean, black people are the same way. You try telling them to change the way they describe their experiences and suddenly you’re some sort of “racist.” What’s with disempowered minorities anyway?

  3. 103
    belledame222 says:

    Q Grrl–okay.

    Well, where I’m coming from is, I’m gay, but present as quite femmey; I “pass,” you might say. It’s just who I am. Always have been. But I do connect the TG thing to being gay as well; in, I suspect, a different way than you relate them. The way I relate is, it’s really frustrating when -other people- try to define you (general you) and tell you who you are and who you can’t be and basically just -use- you for their own political purposes. I find. And I expect that’s equally true for people who are not coming from my own experience.

    What I am understanding wrt some feminists’ objection to …being transgendered? other people being transgendered? various transgendered peoples’ self-definition(s)? is, subtly or overtly (more overtly elsewhere, but i do feel like i’ve been picking it up in these recent Alas threads, is that they seem to feel that they, the TG and especially TS people, are–somehow–redefining “womanhood” when they lay claim to it themselves.

    I…just don’t get this. I’m beginning to get -maybe- an inkling of an idea of how that might seem more fraught, personally, if calling myself a “woman” had been challenged as much as it seems to have done for say you, Q Grrl. otoh, i’ve also seen fairly conventionally presenting “feminine” women (though they swear they reject such categories, i’ve seen them physically; no one’s telling them to get out of the ladies’ room, okay) making the same arguments. That it’s somehow a threat to…well? “Women born women.” And to feminism, and to the whole project.

    I don’t get it. I really don’t.

    And, too, I suspect at this point I, too, am arguing with people who aren’t here right now, and composites of various arguments i’ve been in in the past, and that is frustating all around.

    but, so I’m wondering, Q Grrl, if whether you personally are objecting to “cisgendered” because you don’t -feel- “cisgendered” as other people here seem to be defining it; in other words, that what’s being taken away from you isn’t so much your identity as a woman as your life experience of having your own gender questioned; like, “you haven’t suffered like I’ve suffered.” Am I sort of circling the airport, here?

  4. 104
    belledame222 says:

    …IOW, that “cisgendered” seems to be being used as “gender congruent with one’s birth sex” (as opposed to “transgendered”). and you’re saying you’re NOT that (gender congruent with your birth sex), and you aren’t “trangendered” either, and that that is annoying you, because you feel erased?

  5. 105
    belledame222 says:

    “gender congruent with one’s birth sex as mainstream society defines/sees it,” i meant, there.

  6. 106
    Les says:

    Ok, can somebody please explain to me, perhaps slowly and small pieces what objection anybody has to the word “cisgender”? I am completely mystified and may require a long explanation, perhaps repeating several points in different ways.

    Is it a problem of binary oppositions? I mean, I don’t think anybody is trying to say that all cisgender people experience gender in the same way, just that their gender variance is within certain (fuzzy) bounds.

    Or is it a problem of inclusion? Trans* can refer to a wide variety of experiences from people who get SRS to folks who cross dress to many other types of gender variance. It’s easy. If you say you’re trans, then you are.

    Is it the fuzziness of the bounds? All categories have fuzzy boundaries and are inherently artificial. This doesn’t throw the categories into question, it just reminds us that they aren’t ‘natural’ but rather are tools used by people to describe things. (_Women, Fire and Dangerous Things_ is an excellent book about categorization theory.)

    (I hate to bring this up as a possibility . . .) Is it a refusal to examine privilege? People who identify with gender norms have an easier time with gender issues than trans people. Hypothetically, saying that you wish you had been misidentified as male (for example) is like saying you wish you had an eating disorder. Unless you’re trying to say you’re also trans, then I’m afraid you are speaking from a lack of experience. Men do have privilege in patriarchy, but it’s also a privilege to be perceived as you perceive yourself. Comparing which is better is like comparing sex and class or sex and race. These comparing *isms contests go around in circles and never seem to go anywhere except to piss off people who fit in multiple categories.

    There exists something called “passing privilege” which is when a person convincingly comes across as normative within a particular category. People who can pass as men have certain privileges over people who pass for women. It’s important to remember that not all MTFs successfully passed for men. Those who did were denying a fundamental part of their identity.

    Our hypothetical protagonist, who wishes she could also pass for male and deny a fundamental part of her identity does have agency in this regard. She could falsely claim that she was ftm. Usually, hormones are enough to pass. She could transition until she passed for male. If she choses not to, then it seems an implicit recognition that passing as your self-identified gender is more valuable than access to male privilege.

    So anyway, back to the point, what’s the problem with having a term that means that living as your chosen gender happens to mean living as the gender you were identified at from birth? I’m confused.

  7. 107
    belledame222 says:

    >like, “you haven’t suffered like I’ve suffered.”

    …i meant, maybe that’s how you’re hearing certain transgendered folks’ arguments. if that’s overstepping, feel free to ignore; i was extrapolating from vaguely parallel experiences which probably aren’t relevant here, as such.

  8. 108
    Holly says:

    Or is it a problem of inclusion? Trans* can refer to a wide variety of experiences from people who get SRS to folks who cross dress to many other types of gender variance. It’s easy. If you say you’re trans, then you are.

    I think it actually might be a problem of over-inclusion. Trans* or transgender refers to a lot of different things besides just experiences not fitting in with gendered systems. It’s associated with various political efforts by various groups. Personally I think that stuff should be considered separately, since no way is there any single or even globbed-together politic or ethic that unites all people with “trans experiences.” But the associations are there, and I can understand why some people object to the word being applied them. Some people might say that Q Grrl is transgender, based on her experiences. But throwing her into that category against her will would erase her own agency, political choices, and way of seeing things.

    I have other friends (Jack of Angry Brown Butch is one) who identify as transgender butches and as women (and were assigned female at birth). It is a large word, but not one that should just be plastered on everyone; if people have objections they should be heard and heeded, and there may be alternatives. One that I’ve seen people use is “gender non-conforming,” maybe just as a less loaded alternative that doesn’t say anything inherently about transitioning, or subscribing to a certain view of the world, signing up for particular political causes, etc. But then, I also don’t think “trans” in general should imply subscribing to a certain view of the world.

  9. 109
    FurryCatHerder says:


    I asked that my words not be used in this thread. I sincerely wish you’d honored my request.

    If Charles wishes to delete this post, so be it.

    The comment of mine you quoted had nothing to do with telling The Tranz how to act, or even that they should or shouldn’t be offended. It has everything to do with theoretical work being hard. It can be very emotionally difficult to be up against theories that challenge everything one knows about themself, or in the case of feminists and feminist theory, everything they know about feminism.

    It isn’t enough that trans people (By the way, I don’t mention this because I don’t think it’s relevant, and I do think it’s a form of special pleading when The Tranz talk about being part of The Tranz, but I changed sex about 10 years ago. All of the “You can’t understand!!!” is very painful for me to read because I do understand. I simply don’t agree with that person because thanks to some really great women, some of them radical feminists, and others being garden variety “feminists” who don’t use fancy labels, I have a different understanding of my own life that is VERY empowering and actually makes a lot more sense than anything I ever learned from The Tranz) are offended when people — and I admire the hell out of Q Grrl — say that whatever it is they are doing isn’t all that “transgressive” or “feminist” or whatever. Feminists on the other side of the argument become offended when people such as myself time and again tell them that there is no monolithic “Male Socialization”. They continually deny that they aren’t experts on being raised from boyhood to manhood, but instead keep using “Feminist Analysis” to figure out what boys do or don’t do, or are taught, or whatever.

    Radical Feminism really doesn’t have a framework for dealing with non-gender-normative males, and I think their handling of non-gender-normative females is sloppy and lazy. The best the radical feminist brigade can come up with is this “failed male” thing, but “failed males” are still some kind of “male” and still get thought of as having “male socialization” by them. The socialization received by feminine males, and I’m speaking from first hand experience here, is just horrible. I scare people in real life when I talk about growing up. I show them scars on my body and a lot of them gasp. Feminine boys are BRUTALIZED. I play a game called “My life as a mirror” — what was my life like in the years prior to transition that I’ve lived since.” What I can say is that the 11 years since I took my first estrogen pill are a permanent vacation in Disney Land compared to the 11 years prior, which was more like Dante’s Inferno. Something is wrong with how Radical Feminism understands transsexuality and feminine male socialization if being a 40-something year old transsexual woman is that much incredibly better than being a 20-something presumed-to-be-a-big-fag guy. Of course, now I’lll be accused of playing “You haven’t suffered like I’ve suffered!”, when I’m not at all about that, I’m just saying, until radical feminists find a way to integrate being beaten, raped and shot at into their concept of “normal male socialization”, I’m going to find their analysis of “male socialization” pretty damned inaccurate.

    See? What’s the point? If I say “I think that transsexuality is socially constructed based on rigid beliefs about gender”, I’ll catch it from The Tranz, and if I say “Patriarchy tries to kill boys who can’t conform, and no one has an obligation to be your martyr”, I’ll catch it from the RadFems. Why bother? Much easier for me to just be this femme dyke that most people think is straight and a lot of straight guys my age would like to bed.

    What I can say about “cisgender”, and I know the man who coined the term and was “around” when he did, is that it really does assume to much. First, it divides the world into “transgender” and … “cisgender”. There are a lot of people, and especially a lot of feminist women, who utter reject the concept of “transgender”, but by appearances and the Transgender Standard of Existence, are “trangender”. Q Grrl is a great example of that, as are some former lovers of mine (I have a thing for tomboys and butch women). Many of my ex-girlfriends are women who pass for men fairly easily. They don’t think of themselves as “transgender”, and all but one of them have said they would never, ever consider changing sex. Even the one who talked about changing sex wouldn’t ever do it — she just has this fantasy about being a six year old boy and running around shooting cap guns at whatever. But “transgender” wants to suck them into it’s swirl and make them also be “transgender”. They aren’t — they are just women living women’s lives.

  10. 110
    Q Grrl says:

    but, so I’m wondering, Q Grrl, if whether you personally are objecting to “cisgendered” because you don’t -feel- “cisgendered” as other people here seem to be defining it; in other words, that what’s being taken away from you isn’t so much your identity as a woman as your life experience of having your own gender questioned

    Whoa. I’ve never thought about that. I mean, I have ontological reasons for not thinking “cisgendered” is a valid term, but damn, I never looked at the more personal aspects. Maybe it has been a subliminal defensiveness.

  11. 111
    Myca says:

    God-DAMN this is a good discussion.

    I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who’s taking part in it, because I feel like I’m learning a hell of a lot.

    Really, thank you all so much.

    Okay . . . back to listening.

  12. 112
    Mandolin says:

    “I’m wondering, Q Grrl, if whether you personally are objecting to “cisgendered” because you don’t -feel- “cisgendered” as other people here seem to be defining it; in other words, that what’s being taken away from you isn’t so much your identity as a woman as your life experience of having your own gender questioned ”

    FWIW, that’s what I was trying to get at when I suggested some other terminology to get at the experiences of people who don’t identify as trans- but whose experiences aren’t really cis- either.

  13. 113
    Nick Kiddle says:

    why wouldn’t the opposite of transexual be cisexual rather than cisgender?

    It would, but I think this discussion is mostly using transgender rather than transsexual. The problem with transsexual is that it’s a medicalized term that doesn’t include all trans-identified people: I for example am not (at least according to my most recent psychiatrist’s report) transsexual, but I am transgender.

  14. 114
    Holly says:

    Re: what Mandolin just said, that is also what I was trying to get at when I said:

    Or maybe it’s our language that is turning things into binaries (does every person have to be either “trans” or “cis”? that would certainly be screwed up) when they don’t have to be. I blame Latin. And brains.

    We shouldn’t be subscribing to a worldview where everyone is either “trans” or “cis” and there is no room for anything else, any more than we should be doing that with “man” or “woman.” I don’t think a lot of the people on this thread who are comfortable with “cisgendered” for themselves were thinking that way. But this IS very much a problem with language and the human tendency to categorize… and some of our tendencies, as outsiders, to resist what feels like getting shoved into a category.

  15. 115
    nexyjo says:

    using “cisgender” as a polar opposite to “transgender”, in my mind, is just as troublesome as using “man” as a polar opposite to “woman”. biological entities are funny that way – the diversity of life refuses to be easily categorized into two clean and distinct groups. yet, human beings seem to gravitate toward binaries, perhaps because it allows us to better understand our world.

    otoh, how is a better understanding of the world achieved by separating the world into binaries, when those binaries are inherently false?

  16. 116
    little light says:

    I just want to delurk for a second, on the way between stuff I’m doing today, and say, well:
    Thanks, Q Grrl. In both of the conversations here, whatever our disagreements, I really appreciate what you’re bringing to the table here, and it’s good for me to read.

  17. 117
    Q Grrl says:

    Just swinging by on my way out the door (yay weekend!). I didn’t get a chance to respond today, and I really need to.

    Belladame, damnit, you threw a wicked curve ball my way. I must drink a wee drop of Glenfiddich and ponder, and then ponder some more.

    Little light: thanks. That means a lot to me.

  18. 118
    Charles S says:

    Must get work done…

    This is an impressive discussion, and I want to thank everyone who has been participating.


    Your second comment is good enough that you can stay in this thread for now, but your first comment was way out of line. Even if FCH was an active participant in this thread, it would still have been out of line. This is a hard enough discussion with out the addition of free snark.


    I really liked your response to Les.

  19. 119
    belledame222 says:

    Glad to be a part of this.

    and thank you, to Q Grrl as well as FCH.

    i’ve come into this with my own preconceptions and hasty generalizations and too many arguments from elsewhere conflated into what’s on the screen now, too, i realize.

  20. 120
    belledame222 says:

    in a way, this strikes me as sort of roughly parallel to, you know, “queer” versus “gay,” (and SGL and some others): the various arguments about essentialism versus uh whatever the other term is, constructivism?? that can’t be it. anyway, alla that;

    and this -has- been a great discussion.

    i think maybe a lot of the hostility and confusion -here,- you know, is that…

    well so like this here has been a very I want to say “high-context” conversation (term from playwriting days, means i guess roughly what some feminists mean when they say “advanced feminism,” except i hate that term, speaking of language; means “the people talking already share a lot of assumptions and experiences, enough so that the really basic shit doesn’t have to be spelled out because it’s taken for granted.”)

    but it’s coming in the greater context of, like, there are and have been all these discussions where there’s been some really appallingly ignorant and bigoted shit flung about, and not nearly enough to counter it in the greater ‘sphere, on the whole, much beyond “well THAT’S wrong, at least” once it’s gotten to you know that level of total noxiousness. but beyond that…

    so, yeah.

    like to go back to my parallel, which would also be more my own point of entry, frame of reference, okay: say we’re having this high-context discussion about the subtler points of queer theor(ies) and how it does or doesn’t work for various people in the “room,”

    but first of all, not everyone knows who everyone is, and people are snarly and defensive because they’ve just come off a bunch of encounters–possibly including some right in that very same room–where some yahoo has been all like, “Well! I just don’t agree with that lifestyle!” or even “I don’t care what those disgusting perverts do, just keep it away from me” and maybe an ex-gay or so, or someone who -knew- an ex-gay and is sharing the good news: “you know, you don’t HAVE to live that lifestyle of darkness, I know, cause…”

    …if you see what i’m saying.

    anyway, i think this is getting into meta-meta-meta at this point, so i’ll stop here, and: yeah. That. (goes back to read more)

  21. 121
    belledame222 says:

    >See? What’s the point? If I say “I think that transsexuality is socially constructed based on rigid beliefs about gender”, I’ll catch it from The Tranz, and if I say “Patriarchy tries to kill boys who can’t conform, and no one has an obligation to be your martyr”, I’ll catch it from the RadFems. Why bother? Much easier for me to just be this femme dyke that most people think is straight and a lot of straight guys my age would like to bed.>

    I see.

    so, tell me: did “queer” also not work for you? or do you only see that in terms of defined sexual -desire,- not so much gender identity? or are there other objections? I know that i have heard a number of radical feminists object to “queer theory” (the ones i am thinking of at the moment have been decidedly unsophisticated at best about what queer theory really is, but i’m sure they are not the only representatives of this POV); and I know a lot of other people object to the word, whether or not they engage deeply with the Talmudic subtleties of the academic theories, for various other reasons as well (some POC i understand perhaps see it as too white-centered; some lesbians and other women feel it’s become shorthand for “gay men;” some people like to be more specific; some older generation gays and lesbians simply find the personal associations too painful).

    personally i tend to think of that term as a handy umbrella for “not normatively gendered and/or sexually oriented/expressive in this our heteropatriarchalbinarygendered world,” but y’know, i do try to call other people what -they- want to be called, as much as possible (it is harder when speaking in generalities than to the individual, obviously).

  22. 122
    Les says:


    I responded to your comment before I read that you asked not to be replied to. But I’m glad I did. Thank you for your reply. I agree with everything you say. I’m sorry I didn’t understand the context of your earlier statements.

  23. 123
    Les says:

    Binary oppositions (often) do indeed suck and there are often people left out of them. However, this is an issue with categorization in general. I think that categorization is still valid for purposes of reasoning and argument, but it’s imperative that those using them remember that they’re constructed. I like to think of categories in terms of poles or attractors. Most of a population is centered around two (or three or N) attractors, but there are outlying populations that aren’t near the poles. We can still talk about the populations near the poles, but we have to remember that the people farther away from them still exist and still have valid experiences.

    This is related to why I love the word “queer.” It’s a great way to talk about people lurking away from the poles of normative heterosexuality and leaves those folks free of the categories and poles within nonheteronormative spaces.

    I think a very important thing for all categories including genders, trans*, queer, etc is to remember that people have agency and can self-identify. If people want to put themselves under a label, that can be very empowering. But forcing somebody into a category is suck. (There are privilege-related exceptions to this, but in general …)

  24. 124
    FurryCatHerder says:


    “Queer” would never work for me. I”m a white-picket-fence kinda gal. In some parts of the country, my picture is on every half-gallon container of vanilla ice cream.

  25. 125
    solvent says:

    If I might delurk and make a quick observation …

    The problem that Q Grrl seems to have with ‘trans politics’* – that the experiences and oppression of gender-variant people who do not identify as trans, or who only partially or problematically ID as trans, are sometimes erased by trans politics – is, I agree, a problem. But I don’t at all see this as a problem with ‘trans politics’ in specific – it’s a problem with identity politics as a whole. When an anti-oppression movement is based around a single identity or a small set of identities – here, trans/transgender/transsexual identity – I’d argue that it usually ends up alienating and hurting people who don’t identify in that way but face identical/similar/related oppressions.

    I’m a somewhat girly pre-testosterone FtM transperson, and I’ve been called both ‘dyke’ and ‘faggot’ plenty of times in my 18 and a half years worth of life, and I do not doubt I will be called both again. I am neither a butch lesbian nor a femme gay man, but my gender oppressions are intimately bound up with those of people from both groups – among many others – and I must, for my sake and their’s, reject identity-based activism or theorizing which impedes solidarity, coalition-building, and empathy with them. My oppression is certainly different from people who are dykes and/or fags – but my oppression also differs from other effeminate transboys who frequently-but-by-no-means-always pass (some of whom are also dykes and/or fags), because all oppressions are intersectional, so even people who would name their genders in a way similar to the way I do, do not share my exact background and thus are not oppressed in exactly the same way as I am.

    *I don’t know that Q Grrl used this exact term, but using ‘trans’ by itself as a noun bothers me.

  26. 126
    Q Grrl says:

    Well, the weekend didn’t clarify things; it only muddied the waters. I’m going to start with belladame’s and Holly’s statements and then, against all my fears of using anecdotal stories to prove theory, I’m going to tell my story. Or at least my story of gender.

    so, to begin, belladame gets the ball rolling:

    so I’m wondering, Q Grrl, if whether you personally are objecting to “cisgendered” because you don’t -feel- “cisgendered” as other people here seem to be defining it; in other words, that what’s being taken away from you isn’t so much your identity as a woman as your life experience of having your own gender questioned;

    And then Holly aptly notes:

    Some people might say that Q Grrl is transgender, based on her experiences. But throwing her into that category against her will would erase her own agency, political choices, and way of seeing things.

    So, both of these statements really sat me back down on my ass — only because I’ve been glossing over them for a long time, and I’ve been assuming they weren’t relevant. But I think I’ve been wrong. So, I’ll tell my story, in the hopes that it brings clarity, if not to others, than at least to myself.

    The day I was born was the first instance. My mother, through the years, loves to remind me of this day, the first, when the medical resident took me, newborn and newly cleaned, from the nurse and brought me over to my mom, saying, “Well Mrs. Ellett, you have a *fine* baby boy!” Almost immediately afterwards, her more experienced and less excitable OB/Gyn said “that’s not a boy; that’s a girl!”

    My mother’s laughing(but kindly) retort after each telling of this story has always been: “Oh, Suzy! You’ve been confused ever since.”

    Fortunately, by the time I was 12 or so, I could firmly retort: “no, I’m not confused. Just everyone else is.”

    But is was the major running theme of my childhood. At 3 or 4, I was riding my tricycle down the block with my brother who was then 6 or 7. Some smart-ass neighbor kid called out, “Hey, you should have been the boy and Andrew the girl!” Because of course, my brother was not masculine, did not like the boy things, and I was and did. The smart ass kid had a point. That was a small awakening at a tender age.

    The next slightly larger awakening I had was when I was six. It was the early 70’s, summer time, and I was riding my bike without a shirt on. I had no problem with this, but an older neighborhood boy did. He grabbed my handle bars, making me stop abruptly, and demanded to know if I was a boy or a girl. I paused for a milisecond. I knew I was shirtless. I knew I had shoulder lenght hair. I knew if I said “girl” I would get the ever-loving shit knocked out of me. So, calm as can be, easy-peasy-pie, I looked him square on and said “I’m a boy.” He left me alone, but his memory was long. Years later, in junior high, he had dropped back a grade and our paths crossed in a major way. He dubbed me “Man-girl”, a name that stuck for two years. The emphasis being on “man”, not “boy”, with all the courseness and bruteness that “man” represents to young adolescents on the cusp of puberty. He spat on my bicycle seat every day for a year – and he still itched to beat me up. Fortunately, I avoided that.

    Other instances were less frightening, more amusing. There were the girls on thier bikes giggling at me as I delivered my newspapers (age 11) – when I asked them what they were lauging at they said: “hee, hee! You look like a girl!!” There were the many luxurious summer days spent riding BMX bikes with my crew, building tracks and jumps in the woods, and then the never avoidable moment of male bonding, when the track was complete and all the guys got together to piss at the same time, in a tightly bunched group, into a communal hole in the ground. They would invite me, having forgotten during our work and play together, that I was a girl. I appreciated the invite though. There was the new kid on the block who saw me fall on my bike’s top tube, and him eagerly commiserating with me that I’d just “racked my balls”. After regaining my composure, I quibbled “I don’t have balls.” Fifteen minutes later he and I were screaming at each other across the cul-de-sac, him *insisting* that I had balls, me insisting that, indeed, I did not. I’m still not sure I convinced him.

    And this was how it was for me: I had no problems with me being a girl, others really had no problem with me being a girl; it’s just that it was easier for everyone to think of me as a boy. Really, sometimes I think it was just a matter of economy. Hell, even my dad called me “George” for a while because I was so tomboyish. But I was a regular mix-up, if not daily, then at least several times a week, and I got good at not reacting, not responding, letting the person figure out their mistake on their own, or just going along with it. In high school I normalized out a lot more, had long hair, visible boobs, and what not. It was my 20’s that brought the gender spectre back full round.

    After I came out at age 21 (1988), I did all the typical baby-dyke things: I cut my hair, I bought rugby shirts, I had Levi’s 501’s, and work boots. I loved it. I loved the overt masculinity, I loved being able to re-embrace my tomboy nature and to remake it into something sexy and transgressive. Which worked all fine and dandy for the other lesbians, but with which the larger public had much, much trouble. Now I wasn’t a cute six year old. I was 5″7, 155 lbs, muscled, with a crew cut, flannel (yes, folks, flannel!), and the ubiquitous work boots. I chewed tobacco, drank beer like a fish, played pool, and flirted with women. Unknowing men in busy airports would casually follow me into the women’s restrooms, assuming I was a guy, rushing back out with quizzical looks on their faces as I continued on. Old ladies and young girls would scream at me in the very same restrooms, demanding that I leave, insisting that I was in the wrong place. I would recall these events to my friends, telling them of my urge to flash my boobs at these women and girls, but always with the resignation of knowing that even had I flashed them, they would ultimately say “Why, I’ll be damned, that boy has tits!”

    [and for reference, if the link info will work, here’s a photo of me at age 25:

    And it didn’t help either that at about this age, mid 20’s, I started wearing mostly men’s clothing: oxfords, chinos, wingtips, wool blazers, boxer shorts (haven’t gone back to women’s underwear since). I loved it, I loved that I could be masculine – as femininity just didn’t suit me well – it felt false, awkward, and like a lie.

    And so I went about my life pretty content, no longer worried about gender, never really having thought about it per se, but having had to deal with it. I felt comfortable enough with how I presented to the world, and I was confident with it. Until the local transgendered community started growing and asking me rather strange and personal questions.

    At this time, in my early 30’s, I was roommate with Alison Martlew of the lesbian band The Butchies. Those of you who have gone rounds with the MichFest argument and like punk and riotgrrl might be familiar with The Butchies becoming the poster-girls for transphobia for a while for their decision to play MichFest. But the local reality wasn’t about MichFest, it was a lot more intimate and personal. The local queer scene looked up to the band and expected support for the growing presenence of FtM’s in our community. They expected Alison and myself to be just like them: playing at being butch until we figured out that we were trans. Or rather that’s how it felt. Al and I felt ostracized; we felt as if we were expected to transition, to come out again as trans; we felt like others were looking at us as as if we were in denial about our gender and our bodies. And we felt that we couldn’t be loyal to both women centered lesbians and the FtM’s who hung with us. We felt like we were expected to choose. And so we chose to remain as us: visibly butch women (or soft butch) who had no desire to reinvent ourselves for the sake of gender. And boy howdy, that didn’t go over well.

    And to be honest, I really resented it. I resented it for the reasons that belledame and Holly wrote above. I didn’t go through my childhood and 20’s, and the concomittant dance with other people’s confusion, just to have my own queer community start making the same damn assumptions: that it was/is me that is confused, and not them. And simultaneously I was also finding feminist theory that I had not been exposed to before that was, finally, the only thing that resonated with my experience of the outside influential nature of gender. I didn’t accept the local trans kid’s claims that they felt their gender was wrong, that they could change it. Hell, my whole experience of gender had been that it was the perception of the beholder that defined it, all contrary proof otherwise be damned!

    Anyhoo, this is rambling. And I must work. I’m sure I could/should flesh out my reasons for disliking what I see as trans politics, even while I completely understand the urge/need to transition.

  27. 127
    nexyjo says:

    … we felt as if we were expected to transition, to come out again as trans; we felt like others were looking at us as as if we were in denial about our gender and our bodies. And we felt that we couldn’t be loyal to both women centered lesbians and the FtM’s who hung with us. We felt like we were expected to choose.

    i’m wondering if your feelings were in response to a bunch of insensitive asshats who really had no idea what their actions and words would result in, or if these people really represented (or continue to represent) what we have come to call “trans politics”. and i ask this because in the circles i travel, which being comprised of many trans people, i see as part of the trans community, we make it a point to keep transition and identity a personal decision, and encourgae those people who are being themselves in what ever “themselves” may be, to continue to be themselves in any way they feel that it suits them. (sorry for the clumsy wording – i’m having trouble articulating today.)

    certainly, there are trans people who feel *everyone* must fit into existing gender molds, i.e. male or female. but many of us support the idea that gender, as it currently exists in our society is harmful and counterproductive. many of us work to end it, as best we can. so i guess i’m wondering who decides what “trans politics” are, and who gets to decide who determines these politics.

  28. 128
    Q Grrl says:

    Oh, I’m sure they were asshats to some degree; also very young with the lovely aesthetic judgementalism that’s popular with youth.

  29. 129
    Holly says:

    Hey Q Grrl,

    That’s definitely and unfortunately not the first time I have heard a story much like yours. I have good friends who are butch, very much female and who identify as women, who have had shitty experiences where people assume they’re trans, or “going to be trans.” And I have friends who are trans guys who felt pressured in exactly the opposite way, to “stay female” even though ultimately it was a choice of survival for them. Heck I have several friends who were rejected by some parts of the trans-masculine crowd for not being butch enough to be a FTM. None of these is acceptable in my book — nor in the opinion of the people I call friends, family, community, the organizations I work with, etc, that all of these people belong to. So fortunately — for my own sanity, too — there are spaces in the world where these assumptions don’t prevail and where people aren’t constantly trying to stuff you into another, yet smaller, more specific box that you can’t get out of.

    It is sometimes hard to talk about in fiery blog discussions where some people are attacking “trans” as some sort of nebulous, general, and all-encompassing concept, but I do think there are communities and spaces and even “support groups” that try to enforce certain kinds of hegemonic, oppressive ideas about gender on trans people, as well as people who don’t fit into “trans” but who don’t conform to mainstream gender norms either, such as yourself. A lot of people have been hurt by this kind of thing, and it burns me up and hits me really close to home, and I try to speak out against it.

    This is part of why I try to talk about “gender coercion” as a particular type of what people refer to more vaguely as “transphobia.” People insist you have to do something, must be something, because you look a certain way, because they “know” you’re really this gender or that gender, because you have this mark on your birth certificate, because you name is this or that. They try to shove you in a box. Your story is totally full of examples, especially full of ones that point out why “coercion” can go in either direction — boys screaming at you that you must have balls, women upset at you for not looking like you’re supposd to be in the ladies’ room, all the way to your really immature sounding queer scene that acted like it knew better how you felt about your body and gender than you did. It’s all coercive; it doesn’t allow for self-determination, and certainly not for the kind of careful self-determination, taking into consideration all sorts of influences and social pressures and ramifications, that trans people, gender non-conforming people so often need to be able to consider in order to make healthy choices about our lives.

    Years ago people finally started to understand that gay people weren’t “inverted,” gay men actually being “like a woman” and vice versa, just because of love for members of the same sex. Now people are finally starting to hear, on television even, that trans people aren’t necessarily attracted to members of the opposite sex either, even though you often hear “but if you’re attracted to men, why wouldn’t you just stay a woman” and vice versa, even from gay people who ought to know better! The lesson is that these aspects of gender, sexuality, etc aren’t necessarily linked, but a lot of these things seem to be stuck together in people’s heads.

    And like the post about Ugly Betty points out, people are still assuming that gender expression is linked to gender and/or sexuality — feminine people must be “girls” at some level, and attracted to men, or at least to more masculine people. Masculine-looking people must be more man-identified, probably enjoy masculine things. Mainstream culture finally grasps the idea that there are masculine gay guys who prefer other guys; but any masculine woman is still assumed to be gay, or a serious anomaly. And you don’t have to throw a rock far to find these idiotic assumptions in the queer community either, about butches and femmes, about what kind of things you’re supposed to do and people you’re supposed to date. All of this stuff is a straitjacket: if A gendered-thing, then B gendered-thing should accompany it! Sets of interlinked rules. And it’s all coercion.

    I’m kind of off on a tangent now. But my point is — this kind of bullshit is harmful to a lot of people, and what’s more it divides people who shouldn’t be divided. I don’t see why we all shouldn’t be opposing coercive standards of gender in all our communities, whether you’re talking about sexist stereotypes or pressures around being trans or automatic assumptions about whether the butch can fix the car.

  30. 130
    Q Grrl says:

    eh, I’d write more here and respond, but I’m having a little, minor, psychic schism over this right now. Le sigh.

  31. 131
    Susan says:

    People have the right to be accepted for who and what they are, and to have their own statements about themselves credited. This includes gender and sexual preferences, but also includes a lot of other qualities as well.

    However complex political or other situations makes that acceptance in practice, it is in fact a very simple concept. As Q Grrl’s story illustrates.

  32. 132
    nexyjo says:

    I don’t see why we all shouldn’t be opposing coercive standards of gender in all our communities, whether you’re talking about sexist stereotypes or pressures around being trans or automatic assumptions about whether the butch can fix the car.

    that’s really the bottom line, isn’t it. and in many ways, so many people engage in gender coercion, don’t they. and these gender coercionists transcend every group, and we even do it ourselves, if we’re not very, very careful. even some radical feminists could be accused of it, when they say that trans people shouldn’t modify their bodies – that they should be themselves and expand the definition of their own born gender. yet, in a world without gender, or without gender coercion, surgically or chemically modifying ones body wouldn’t be seen as having anything to do with gender, but rather, as a personal choice and as an expression as ones self.

    yeah, i’m all for working together to end gender. problem is, how do we achieve that goal? there’s plenty of analysis that speaks to how destructive gender can be. so what steps can we each take, in our every day lives, that will put an end to it?

  33. 133
    Minerva says:

    “There are things that are visible from a cross classed experience that are not visible from a uni-classed (Heh fuck “cis-gendered) experience. Feminism needs this. Social constructivist radical feminists (a redundancy) have large insights into but are limited by what is visible to a uni-classed individual.”

    Oooops, one more thing. When I speak of a cross-classed experience, I am explicity not speaking of trans interpretations when I used “crosss-classed”, expressly because trans identity/ideology obscures becoming it’s own framing and set of interpretions which obscure the things that would be of value to feminists.

    In saying this there is an important distinction being made that has already been alluded to here. Reassignment doesn’t necessarily suggest, a trans identity, community, culture, poltitic or idealogy…. at all. I deeply appreciate that distinction having already been made in this thread and recognition of yet another horrendous dimension of trans politics/culture, explicitly they way it attempts to annex people lives.

  34. 134
    FurryCatHerder says:

    nexyjo writes:

    even some radical feminists could be accused of it, when they say that trans people shouldn’t modify their bodies – that they should be themselves and expand the definition of their own born gender. yet, in a world without gender, or without gender coercion, surgically or chemically modifying ones body wouldn’t be seen as having anything to do with gender, but rather, as a personal choice and as an expression as ones self.

    The “gender” of which radical feminists speak isn’t the same “gender” of which Tranz speak. They aren’t even related.

    And given the ways in which radical feminists interrogate and criticize cosmetic body modifications of all forms, I think that believing radical feminists will ever view cosmetic body modification is naive.

  35. 135
    FurryCatHerder says:

    I think the main way in which the language of “trans” doesn’t work is that it places two different concepts in opposition to each other in a way that people who fall victim to each of the two phenomena find difficult to reconcile with each other. I think that if either feminism or transgender/transsex had a different word besides “gender” that the language aspects — basic communication — would be less intractable than it presently is.

    Another way in which language doesn’t work is that both “sides” of the debate have a vested interest in their arguments being more persuasive than the arguments of the other side. The central theme — what is gender, how does it affect us, what can we do about it — of each position stands in opposition to the other’s. The importance of gendered classes within feminist discourse is paramount, but gender as a class structure does not work with many people who view themselves as having a body problem, and not a socially constructed class problem. The importance of gendered bodies, behaviors and modes of self-expression within transgender discourse is likewise paramount, and the belief by those within transgender/transsex communities that these aspects of gender are “real”, does not sit well with many feminists.

    It is clear, to me at least, that “gender” as used by feminists is about the construction and maintenance of hierarchies based on sex, and it’s been my observation that this is a real and valid concern and one worthy of much work. It is equally clear, to me at least, that “gender” as used by transgender/transsex people is about the social enforcement of the rules by which the feminist “gender” is maintained. These two concepts of “gender” are related, but one is a system of oppression and the other is an outcome of the enforcement required to maintain that system of oppression. Without one the other would not exist. Without rules and expectations and system of punishment and reward, there would be no “force” behind gender as a hierarchical structure. And without the hierarchical structure, there would be no need for rules in need of enforcement on the bodies of those who are unwilling or unable to conform.

    The lesser set of problems — meaning, there is a far bigger set of problems having to do with dehumanization, victim-stancing, victim-blaming, etc — arise because the solution to “gender” within a feminist context is the dismantling of those social structures, which is a very long term goal that will likely take several more generations to sort out. To an individual, multi-generation solutions provide little relief, and thus I believe that most people with “gender problems” tend to be a bit more impatient than feminists would prefer and might view “I’m not anyones martyr” as a suitable response, if they are even willing to accept that the problem is one of society and not one of some piece of tissue in the darkest recesses of their brain informing them that their sex is wrong.

    It is this conflict in timelines — eradicating sex-based power structures over the course of many generations versus eradicating ones personal experience of profound discomfort and social rejection over the course of a few months or years time — that seems to breed the most conflict. That sex change works to reposition most who undergo sex change into a class more suitable for themselves is undeniable to someone whose been through the process. Expecting that approach to be given up is extremely unreasonable. Getting feminists to understand this would be a huge accomplishment. That sex change does nothing, and offers nothing, for those affected by sex-based hierarchies for those who would prefer not to undergo the radical changes associated with sex-change is likewise undeniable and expecting women who are affected most by sex-based hierarchies to all change sex and derive the benefits of maleness is absurd. Not that it would necessarily be doomed to failure as it would certainly make figuring out who is “really” a man and entitled to all the perqs that brings much more difficult. I just don’t see the human race surviving the wholesale changing of sex by the entire female population. Getting transgender/transsex people to understand that the messages about “wrongness” are a result of gendered classes existing in the first place would likewise be a huge accomplishment.

    Enforced gender structures are the cause, transgender and transsex are one of the effects.

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