a list post:
Is trans about rejecting the gender assigned to us, or is it about claiming the gender we know ourselves to be?
Is trans about casting off the shackles of expectation & responsibility placed on us, or is it about creating new expectations and responsibilities that more match our nature?
Is trans about concealing our history & biology, or is trans about revealing our essence and our power?
If trans is about rejecting gender, then the claim that there is no real difference between men and women is sensible.
The problem with that claim, it seems to me, is that the vast majority of transpeople revel in the symbols & language of gender. Few of us try to nullify ourselves, becoming like Julia Sweeny’s “It’s Pat” (or her friend Chris). Instead, we celebrate gender, even when we mix what might appear to be contradictory gender symbols in genderfuck.
For those who are firmly fixed in a gender role, like being a “heterosexual crossdresser” or a gay man, then, yes, their experience of trans may well be just casting off manhood on a Saturday night, with no intention of claiming womanhood.
For those who don’t want to slip out of role, like people born female who do not want to be seen as an oppressor, as a man, then yes, their experience of trans may well just be claiming masculine gender symbols with no intention of claiming manhood.
Still, these people who don’t want to claim use the rich symbology, the rich language of gender to express how they are not simply man or not simply woman in this moment.
Kate Bornstein said “I was man, I was not-man, I was woman, I am not-woman.” This is her journey, claiming then rejecting, knowing that it is impossible to be not-man unless you were man, impossible to be not-woman unless you were woman. You can’t push against something unless that something exists, so we need gender to have transgender. Many have tried to find language out of gender, language that doesn’t start with the need for a definition of gender to express what we call transgender, but I am not aware of any who have succeeded in this quest.
For the language of gender to be potent, there have to be differences between gender roles, be that between man and woman in a bifurcated heterosexist culture, or between a range of roles in a more organic culture. And those roles have to come with expectations and obligations to the tribe in order to be part of the circle.
I like gender and gender differences, because I think they allow us to find and fill our potential as unique humans, both in being able to claim them and to reject them to express and claim who we are in the world.
I’m glad to see people going to Deborah Tannen and others to understand how gender differences can be seen in this culture. That was an important part of my development too, as I moved through rejecting manhood, to claiming womanhood, and then to moving beyond that too.
But this is my question for you: Is your trans expression about rejecting who they told you you had to be, about saying “No! I’m not like that!” or is it about claiming who you do know yourself to be, about saying “Yes. This is who I am”?
My answer to that question has changed over my two and a half decades of exposure, of being more and more out, but asking myself that question has always been key.