As transwomen, who do we have to justify our choices to?
Whose attacks and questions are so valid that we have to include them in the explanation of self we offer to the world?
For Hari Nef, justifying herself to the women’s studies crowd, the self-professed feminists was worth doing a TEDx talk over
To Ms. Nef, her complying with social expectations about feminine appearance is a survival requirement.
Oh, and, by the way, she likes the choices she makes. She feels they express who she is inside.
Why isn’t the second answer enough?
Why does she feel she needs to defend and justify herself to academics who want paint compliance with gendered expectations as giving in to a heinous system of oppression?
Why does she need to address these people who want to diminish and erase her truth with a mixture of biological existentialism wrapped in the kind of social justice theory which sells separatism as the path to more powerful inclusion?
Why can’t she just be herself, following the path of millions upon millions of women who just ignore the separatist cries as irrelevant to their lives?
There are so many people who feel entitled to demand answers from us, who hold that their beliefs about separation and god-given identity need to be held true and sacred by trans people.
For many decades, it was doctors who were the gatekeepers of trans. In order to change our body with hormones or surgery we had to convince them we were real. It wasn’t good enough to say what we felt or what we wanted, rather we had to “prove” that we could not survive unless we were altered because we were “really always a woman.”
Differential diagnoses were the key in those days, drawing the line between true transsexuals and dilettante crossdressers. This made a key indicator of your deep truth and sincerity how viciously you attacked people in the other group, be they deluded surgery seekers, secret homosexuals, or perverted transgenders.
Today, religious fundamentalists demand that we justify our actions to them. Aren’t we just the bleeding edge of social destruction, sodomites who are leading to a world without moral values where the children will be at risk of abuse by evil and impure factions?
Strong, binary lines rooted in “the binary way that God made humans” need to be primary, defended and vigorously policed, starting with people like us following rules that first respect the beliefs of the devout.
I have spent thirty years trying to understand my relationship with those who would challenge my right to claim my status beyond biological determinism.
I understand the desire to sway those who are grounded in a belief structure that defines our choices as wrong, as politically incorrect, as unenlightened, as morally corrupt, as perverted, as sick, as indulgent, as self-serving, as destructive, as evil.
From where I stand, though, it is questioning those heterosexist, fundamentalist, identity politics group assertions that is required to create the change we need, not just justifying our own choices as pragmatic survival strategies.
I found the need to celebrate queer individuality, even if that celebration cuts us off from those who demand we surrender our voice, our choices, our thoughts and our identity to the will of the group or suffer shame and expulsion.
When we try and play their game, whoev er they are, we lose and they win. We live between the binary, revealing continuous common humanity beyond comforting and illusory walls just by our very existence.
This is the role transpeople have always played in human cultures. We speak for challenging connection over easy separations.
I know why we feel the pressure to justify our choices to people we want to hang with, to groups we need to be a part of. I know why we want to be embraced past binary assertions.
But who do we have to justify our choices to? And who gets to demand we live inside of their limiting expectations? How much does it cost us to fit?
Ms. Nef is gorgeous and powerful in her beauty, and that is mostly the beauty of her mind and heart, not of her body. It doesn’t betray the feminine, it reveals the power of it, the power of the wiggle, the mother, the receptive, the beautiful, the vulnerable.
Transpeople whose bodies aren’t as easily femaled as Ms. Nef know the price. I used Kymberleigh Richards as an example of this person in 1999 and was saddened to see that in 2010, the price came up again. Kym was speaking about LA transit issues on Fox News, but when her status as a transwoman became visible, they immediately decided to erase her, presumably to “quiet the horses.”
(NB, Ms. Richards later thanked me for using her story in a good context.)
Those of us whose bodies don’t allow us to manage cute have a high cost to pay, so we know we don’t have the option of just playing along, finding some words to justify the truth that looks nice on us, and moving on. How do we get people to value our heart and not the way we fit into attractive feminine assumptions fuelled by ubiquitous and pervasive media images?
The call to justify our choices in a context that the people around us already value is completely understandable. It serves our survival in the moment.
But does that justification serve us, people like us, and the world we live in in the bigger picture? Or should we try and find ways to move beyond binary belief to human connection?