“It puzzles me how many people still believe ‘friendship’ or at least bonhomie conducted in cyberspace isn’t a valuable form of social contact, but, say, being thrown together at an NCT group, or in halls of residence, or because your desks at work face on to each other, is. Or that anodyne small talk with a neighbour is ‘genuine social stimulation,’ whereas chatting over Twitter with someone 6,000 miles away who loves Top Gun and Jefferson Airplane as much as you do is just lonely, dysfunctional nerds clashing in cyberspace. This, to my mind, is idiotic. It’s time for us all to come out of the closet about our secret internet chums.”— Grace Dent, How to Leave Twitter (via pitcherplant)
Often times when I call people white, I get a chorus of “I’m not white! I’m Italian and a quarter Cherokee!” or “I’m not white! I’m Irish, British, Scottish, and a little Spanish.” I don’t identity police, so if you want to identify based on your heritage rather than your…
As a trans male, I see a lot of trans 101’s that are pretty lacking in the ways of actually breaking down constructed notions of sex and gender. I’ve run a number of them myself, some more successful than others. I like to think I’ve learned from my mistakes along the way, so here’s the latest version:
Let’s start at the beginning:
You’re born. The doctor takes a glance at your genitalia and ascribes you to one of the two binary sexes: female or male. This is your assigned birth sex. Or maybe the doctor looks at your genitalia and is shocked to learn your body hasn’t formed in either of those two ways. The determination is made that you are intersex. Then, generally, surgery is performed on the unconsenting infant to render hir body more socially acceptable, usually sacrificing reproductive function and pleasure. (After that, then you get an assigned birth sex of…female or male, depending on what they were able to make you look like.)
Then your family takes you home to raise you. Based on your assigned birth sex, they teach you either that you’re a girl or that you’re a boy. They teach you how your gender (girl/boy) is “supposed” to act, dress, speak, etc. You have now been indoctrinated into the gender binary, a social construct of sex and gender that contends that there are 2 sexes (female and male), which directly correspond to 2 genders (woman and man), which are both immutable and non-voluntary and entirely beyond our control.
You’ve been taught wrong.
Now let’s stop and back this thing up. Errybody get on the bus, because we’re going to fucking school. (Hi, my name is Cal, and I’ll be your driver.)
The first mistake comes from the fine world of science and medicine. Genital configuration doesn’t even come close to accounting for all of the physical aspects of a person’s sex, let alone other factors (we’ll get to those in a second). There are a lot of variables involved in baby-making. There are a lot more karyotypes than just XX and XY (XXO, XXY, etc.). Plus, even those first two don’t always link in ironclad ways with sexual development. Statistics indicate that 1 in every 20,000 people assigned male actually have two X chromosomes. (That’s right, I said assigned; we’re not even talking trans men here yet.) Every kariotype has this bi-potential, the ability to produce a “typical-looking” male or female. Beyond genetics, there’s also hormones and reproductive ability to account for, which also vary widely and don’t always link up in expected ways. The most recent statistics I can find state that 1.7% of all births in the U.S. are intersex. 1.7 probably sounds like a pretty small number, but it is not. In IRL presentations, this is the part where I ask everyone in the room to raise their hand if they can recall, at some point in their life, having seen a person who was albino. Usually everyone in the room puts up their hand. If I asked them to recall if they knew anyone who was intersex, I imagine most of those hands would drop back down. But actually there are nearly 300 intersex people for every one who’s albino.
TL;DR: The sex binary doesn’t work. There are way more than two types of body, and they’re not “flukes”.
Now, in a typical trans 101, there’d probably be a segment around here about how “sex is between the legs, and gender is between the ears,” but that is frankly just not true. We use sex as a way of linking physical attributes (bodies) to social ones (gender roles), making sex as much a social construct as gender is. And clearly our conventional notions of sex fail to account for a LOT of people. Which leads us to the more important part of what sex is:
Self-identified sex. This is the sex which you know yourself to be regardless of your genitals, karyotype, hormones, secondary sex characteristics, or reproductive ability. As far as I’m concerned, this is the only sex that matters, because it is the only accurate way of making a determination about what someone is. I cringe when I hear people use the terms “male-bodied” and “female-bodied” a LOT for this reason; a “male body” is any body that is occupied by someone who is/identifies as male. I’ve also seen people use phrases like “self-identified women welcome!” in a lax effort to try to include trans people. I don’t know why so many people seem to think that self-identifying is just for trans folk; it’s not. Everyone self-identifies. (Yes, you too.)
Let me put it to you this way: Could you, right now, without checking your pants, birth certificate or karyotype, tell me what sex you are? If you answered yes, congratulations — you’ve just self-identified!!!
Now, if the answer you came up with for that last question matches what was written on your birth certificate, you are cissexual. (“Cis” is a prefix borrowed from chemistry that means “on the same side,” the opposite of “trans,” which means “on the opposite side”.) If the subsequent gender you were raised as also worked out for you, and you feel comfortable with it, then you are also cisgender.
Transgender people identify with a gender other than the one they were reared as, or feel that their assigned gender incompletely or inaccurately describes them. This can include people who are transsexual, as well as people who are genderqueer, gender fluid, agender, or any other non-binary identity. The word “transgender” originally emerged in the 1990’s as a way to describe people whose transition did not involve genital surgery (and therefor weren’t “changing sex”), but it has evolved into a much broader term through two decades of use.
People who are transsexual identify as a sex that is different from the one they were assigned at birth. Transsexual women and men often feel body dysphoria relating to their primary and/or secondary sex characteristics and seek to alleviate this feeling through medical transition (i.e.: hormone therapy and surgeries). Most trans 101’s like to describe this condition with phrases like “a [pick yr gender] trapped in a [different gender]’s body.” YUCK! I am not, never have been, and never will be a man in a woman’s body, or even a man in a female body. I am male, and I’m in my body, so it’s a fucking male body, period. And I’m not fucking trapped in it either.
Now, if you’re a cis man or woman, you can generally go through life without ever having to worry about what the “cis” part of that means. This is not so for trans men/women and non-binary folk. Because we live in a society that is deeply and profoundly cissexist.
Cissexism is the system of oppression that considers cis people superior to and more valuable than trans people. It is the system that teaches you that being cis is “natural” and that people who are trans are deviant. It is holding the genders of trans people to higher scrutiny than those of cis people. It is laws, rules, and institutions prioritizing the comfort of cis people over the needs of trans people (ie.: legal discrimination in jobs and housing, and close to zero trans-inclusive hate crimes laws, or things like trans people being kicked out of gender-segregated homeless shelter because they’re afraid the cis people of that gender will be “uncomfortable”). It is defining beauty and attractiveness based on how cis people look, and using those standards to determine how well a trans person “passes” (AKA: looks cis). It is the belief that cis people have a greater right to employment, housing, health care, public restrooms, and the ability to make decisions about their bodies than trans people do.
All that stuff is fucked. If you would like trans people to consider you their ally (note: cis LGB folks, you’re not automatically considered one just because we sometimes share an acronym), and you don’t fancy yourself to be an oppressive asshat, here are some pro tips/trans etiquette!:
1) …EVER “out” someone or reveal their trans status without his/her/hir express consent. Many post-transition people live “stealth” and never or rarely disclose that information, and many who are not “stealth” still only share that information selectively. To reveal it without direct consent would be a violation of that person’s trust and privacy, and it could put them in danger of losing their job, house, or even their life if your words hit the wrong ears.
2) …Ask questions just to satisfy your curiosity. Especially do not ask questions or make assumptions about a trans person’s genitalia or “operative status”. It is invasive. You, presumably, would not want to discuss your genitals with anyone other than a doctor or sexual partner.
3) …Ask questions like “So, what are you?” if you’re having a hard time ascertaining someone’s gender. Try to pick it up from context, and if you still can’t figure it out, ask (politely and in private, if you can) what their preferred pronoun is. You don’t need their life story; you just need to know what to call them when referring to them in the third person.
4) …Try to compliment us by saying things like, “You look just like a real [gender]!” or, “You pass so well! I never would have known!” Also don’t try to compliment us by making fetishizing statements, such as, “I love trans guys/girls – they’re so hot!” Trans people are not transitioning from F/M to “sex object.” Trans people are as diverse in their bodies and experiences as cis men and women, and statements like this imply that you fail to see us as individuals. And also that you are creeeeeepy.
5) …Assume that all trans people are non-binary or reject the gender binary. A great number of trans people identify with binary roles and labels.
6) …Accuse people who are medically transitioning or are binary-identified of “reifying” or “enforcing” the gender binary. (This happens often in feminist spaces.) You would not accuse a cis person who fit comfortably in their assigned sex of this; to do so to someone whose trans is fucking cissexist and over-scrutinizing.
7) …Expect that all trans people will match your idea(l) of what a Real Man/Woman™ should look or act like. Think about your own gender. Are you like all of the other people who share that identity? Not to mention that many trans people don’t even have any desire to look or act cis.
8) …Make assumptions about how trans people relate to their gender history. Get rid of that notion that all trans men are inherently better feminists than cis men because of their assigned birth sex, and boot the idea that all trans women must’ve experienced male privilege. And stop fucking using accusations of male privilege to silence, shame, and misgender trans women (I’m looking at you, second wavers).
9) …Use the words “tranny,” “shemale,” “ladyboy,” or “he-she,” ever. Even if your other trans friend is cool with it. Please don’t. These words all seek to invalidate the status of trans women as women, have been used to fetishize trans women, and can be very triggering. Consider these words hate speech.
10) …Make assumptions about anyone’s sexual orientation. “Trans” is not a sexual orientation; who you are and who you want to sleep with are two very different things. Trans people, like anyone else, can be gay, straight, bi-, pan-, or asexual.
11) …Use transgender or transsexual as nouns. They are adjectives that modify the way one might experience being a woman, man, etc., just as descriptions of race, class, ability, or orientation are.
1) …Respect every individual’s name and pronouns. Even if that “weird” neutral pronoun is hard for you to remember. Even when they’re not around to hear it. If you slip up, do not make the moment more uncomfortable by drawing attention to it. Just correct yourself and move on.
2) …Apologize, rather than become defensive, if you’ve done/said something that offended someone. Think of it this way: if you accidentally stepped on someone’s foot, and they cried out in pain, would you argue about whether you meant to step on their foot, whether it hurt as much as they claim it did, or whether the step actually happened at all? Or would you apologize and move on?
3) …Think before you ask. It is tiring, and often outright painful, to have to be an “educator” all the time. See if your common sense (or Google) can’t come up with an answer to your question first.
4) …Consider the ways in which you receive privilege by virtue of your being cis. Know that becoming an “ally” doesn’t make that go away, although that is the goal. Be proactive in educating yourself and others and supportive of the trans people in your life.
I’ve been getting a couple questions about trans* and intersexed people where the question askers were getting some terminologies confused. I think this will answer your questions, and it helped with some of mine too!
“One of the proposed “gender-neutral” alternate spelling, seen most often in Spanish-speaking countries, refers to use of the at-sign (@) to replace -o -a or even -e: l@s niñ@s, @s trabalhador@s.
The anarchist circled A is also used in this manner, especially in radical political writing (¡Compañer@s!).
Many people, though, prefer use of the slash (/) as in (el/la candidato/a).”—Gender Neutrality in Spanish and Portuguese.
“Some will read “queer” as synonymous with “gay and lesbian” or “LGBT.” This reading falls short. While those who would fit within the constructions of “L”, “G”, “B”, or “T” could fall within the discursive limits of queer, queer is not a stable area to inhabit. Queer is not merely another identity that can be tacked onto a list of neat social categories, nor the quantitative sum of our identities. Rather, it is the qualitative position of opposition to presentations of stability—an identity that problematizes the manageable limits of identity. Queer is a territory of tension, defined against the dominant narrative of white-hetero-monogamous-patriarchy, but also by an affinity with all who are marginalized, otherized, and oppressed. Queer is the abnormal, the strange, the dangerous. Queer involves our sexuality and our gender, but so much more. It is our desire and fantasies and more still. Queer is the cohesion of everything in conflict with the heterosexual capitalist world. Queer is a total rejection of the regime of the Normal.”—toward the queerest insurrection (via eastofethan)
Attractive anime boys sit around being attractive. Then an attractive genderqueer girl accidentally joins their attractive club for attractive boys. The attractive leader of the club thinks she’s attractive and falls for her.