Is transgender just a denial of gender expectations? Is it just an attempt to deny the power, reality and substance of gender?
Is the goal of transgender to destroy gender by removing any limits or expectations on what a man can do, what a woman can do? Do we just want to have males be able to claim whatever they want, females be able to claim whatever they want?
That assertion is certainly trendy in many areas. I know lots of people who were assigned female at birth who claim manhood while also claiming lesbian status, lots of people who were assigned male who claim trans status while still wanting to identify as straight men or gay men.
There is a rejection in these circles of people who have some interest in assimilating into conventional gender roles, and a veneration of “genderqueer” expression.
It makes sense that the trans-identified communities identify their role as the denial of gender, as the most prominent and long-term spokespeople for these communities are those who have not chosen to assimilate or for whom assimilation is not a choice.
Transpeople who have some desire of assimilation end up staying away from spaces where gender is denied. We do this simply because we don’t want our gender to be denied.
In the end, denying gender denies the possibility of gender crossing. Denying gender just lets the heterosexist duality of defining people by their birth genitalia expand, demanding that genitals always define gender forever, and the best anyone can do is expand their assigned gender role so that they don’t feel limited by it.
Be a man and wear a dress! Be a woman and claim manhood! It’s all about transgender!
It’s this kind of thinking that let the creators of “Southern Comfort: The Musical” let their synthetic version of Robert Eads tell a young transman that having a phalloplasty is wrong and inauthentic. In their world, his genitals would always define him, and the best he could open up gender roles to claim his authenticity. That’s not a belief that the Robert Eads I knew would ever impose.
That’s the lesson of Janice Raymond and the rest of “The Transsexual Empire: The Making Of The She-Male” crew, that if men didn’t like their gender roles, they shouldn’t colonize the roles of women, they should open up the roles of manhood. It’s the lesson of the women’s studies professor who rejected the idea of taking the sex identifier off driver’s licences until all sex based oppression had ended.
And damnit, it’s not the transgender movement, the queer ideas, that I signed up for.
I love gender. I think gender is a vital part of how we communicate our training, our essence and our role in the world. I need a rich and potent system of gender symbols in the world to express myself.
What I hate is compulsory gender, the idea that somehow, for all your life, your gender is defined by your birth genitals. I hate the idea that you cannot change your gender, that birth reproductive sex is everything.
I wrote about this at the end of my political period in The Guy-In-A-Dress Line. Can people actually cross gender lines and assume new gender roles, or is the best they can do be some kind of crossdresser?
I know why people love the simple binary of heterosexist duality, defining people by their birth genitals. I also know why that simple binary oppresses us, even if it is opened up to provide a wider range of behaviour inside of those sex divisions.
Denying gender crossing may seem to some to be a kind of extension of denying gender controls, but in the end, to me, it is just reinforcing of heterosexist compulsory gendering.
When it feels like people who claim to be my allies in the interlocking communities around trans are enforcing those boundaries and expectations by denying others the possibility of gender crossing, of taking on a gender role they know to fit them, and instead demanding that birth genitals define them forever, well then it feels like they are the oppressor.
I have no problem with people who want to maintain their own birth sex linked identities; that is their choice. I do have a big problem with people who want to maintain their own belief structure by assigning identities to others — identity politics — and thereby denying them their own self knowledge and their own possibilities of transformation.
If your denying gender, for whatever reason, means you deny gender to others who need to cross gender, refusing to let them gender themselves, then you are part of the problem, at least to me.
The essence of queerness is giving other people the power of individual choice by not imposing your own choices, desires, beliefs and expectations onto them. Just because they make choices you would never make for yourself doesn’t mean you get to ignore and erase their choices to maintain your own beliefs without challenge.
If I am trapped into a gender because of my birth genital status, and there is no hope of me ever moving across gender, then I am stuck and I am oppressed.
I know that there are many who identify themselves as transgender who would tell me that only a fool could think of crossing gender. Whatever the reason they need to stay grounded in gender, for desire, for family, for political reasons, or whatever else, they want to impose their gender denial onto me, want to pigeonhole and trap me into their world based on a heterosexist duality of essentialness assigned at birth.
But to me, that’s exactly what transgender was designed to transcend. Trans is about acknowledging the primacy of hearts and roles over compulsory separations based on biology. Trans is about the embrace of the individual, even when those desires conflict with binary assumptions.
Deny your own gender as much as you like. Deny gender limits in your life as much as you like.
But when you feel the need to deny the gender of another person because you believe that their gender expression is less enlightened or less holy than your own, then you deny the essence of queerness.
And that breaks my heart.