“One challenge with transmen,” I told the GenderQueer (GQ) activist and the academic on Monday, “is that they can easily be invisible, so they like to woodwork, as James Green says, to blend into the woodwork.”
They looked at each other askance, sharing a moment again agreeing on how stupid I was.
“Not the transmen I know,” the GQ sniffed.
Yeah. I believe that.
For most people, there are very few benefits involved in identifying as transgender. If you identify as a gay man, you get to sleep with other gay men. If you identify as a lesbian, you can talk about your partner and your life openly.
But you don’t really get to have any desire benefits from identifying as trans.
That means, of course, the only people who identify as trans tend to be those who have to identify that way because their trans is visible anyway.
That means that the only time people identify as as trans is when their trans is visible anyway, like crossdressers who keep their mouth shut when not showing trans.
So, by definition, the visible transpeople are visible. The GQ activist is right: the transmen s/he knows are out and visible.
But does that mean that there aren’t a population of transmen who do want to assimilate, who do want to blend into the woodwork?
No, it just means that the GQ doesn’t engage this population. In fact, many of them may give a wide berth when they see the GQ coming, just because they don’t want to engage that visible and activist side of trans, the genderqueer part.
I know that I am out as transgender. I am out because my body won’t easily assimilate, and I am out because I need my voice to speak of my experience, my history.
But if I could have assimilated as just another woman in the world, one whose history and biology weren’t so queer? If I could have chosen where I wanted to make my stand on individuality, rather than having it thrust upon me?
Well, yeah. That seems like a quite appealing notion.
There were/are a huge swath of women who worked hard to enforce this dream of dissappearing. They called themselves “Transsexual Separatists” and their key demand was simple: They didn’t want to be included in the transgender idea. To themselves, they were not crossing gender boundaries, rather they were born women who had a birth defect they fixed and were now perfectly female and woman. They had made the blood sacrifice at the altar of Dr Biber, and they now deserved to be assimilated, for any difference to be erased.
Transsexual separatists were furious at the transgender movement for co-opting and colonizing their own truth. They are NOT gender variant, they are gender normative, and any person who stands up and makes statements about transpeople must NOT include them. Ever.
Differential diagnosis was their grail, the magic of deciding who was a true transsexual and who was not. True transsexuals had no choice about genital reconstruction, for example. And true transsexuals always called genital reconstruction surgery “sexual reassignment surgery,” SRS, because they wanted to honour the magic of it, and not the detail that it could never change chromosomes or most secondary sexual characteristics.
Vehement transsexual separatists were always the one who found it hard to assimilate even after their surgery and wanted someone to blame for that failure. They blamed people who refused to agree with them that surgery was a cure, those who demanded that biology and history did count even after that. They didn’t get their magic, and those who didn’t believe it in must be the ones who stole it.
The most vehement transsexual separatists, though, were the ones who believed in the magic of “the blood sacrifice” as New Women’s Conference (NWC) doctrine called it, but for some reason, could not get surgery for themselves, due to costs or health issues. These bitter people had to work even harder to enforce the magic by silencing those who might ever challenge it, often learning to slam anyone who would offer a transgender viewpoint that might marginally include them.
To do this, they needed their own creation myth, and the most common one was an assertion of intersexuality, an assertion impossible to prove or disprove without agreement. On Monday night, the academic said that they were sick of intersexual people wanting to hold themselves as separate from trans people. I do understand a difference, if only because there is a major difference in the life experience of someone who has been identified as different from birth and who had to deal with the feelings of their family and the experience of going though puberty and adolescence with a hidden challenge.
In the end, I agreed with the academic: “I’m trans, but not bad trans like them,” is a mark of the profound stigma that still surrounds trans in the world. To support people who make choices that we would never make for ourselves, especially if the world sees their choices as reflecting on us, well, that is the damn hard part of being trans. I don’t want to be obligated to defend everyone else who identifies or might be identified as trans, but in the end, I know that if I want them to support me, I need to support them, at least up to the boundaries of mutual consent.
The problem, though, is that even when we think we are being open and out and supportive, the limits of our own choices are haunting.
That’s why, when I talked about woodworking transmen, I was dismissed on Monday night. To these very out transpeople, the choice to assimilate was just wrong, and not one that the people they hung out with would ever make. How could I be so stupid as to believe that transmen would ever make that choice?
I believe that because I have been through the wars and have deliberately tried to engage and embrace as many trans narratives as I can find. I have written from the viewpoint of others, so I understand how their belief system works, how it has to work. I honour not just crossing boundaries but also respecting them, not just working to standing out but also working to fit in.
I have felt people dismiss me because my experience and view doesn’t agree with theirs. It’s the oldest trick in the world, the attempt to erase challenge rather than engage it, the attempt to defend personal reality rather than to find common ground.
And when I get that crap from people who are demanding that I accept their position while failing to engage mine, well, I just don’t like it.