“Bisexual Banter” Episode 3: Trans/Bi

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This project was lots of fun to film and I’m really happy with how it’s turning out.

“Cis” is a very specific thing, and “trans” is all the rest of it. Gender is infinite.

Here we talk about the fragility of straightness and how gender is flimsy and doesn’t hold up very well to interrogation:


Episode 1: Non-Monogamy

Episode 2: Identity

 

An Ill-Conceived Case for the Nordic Model (or, The guardian is Whorephobic Trash)

[Image description: a pair of bronze feet with red painted toenails on one inch heels with red bottoms, with no distinction between the feet and the heels]

Content note: sex work, whorephobia

The guardian recently published an incoherent editorial titled, “The Guardian view on criminal policy: sex, money and the long arm of the law” which suggests that the recent legislation passed in fRance which criminalizes sex workers’ clients “could help reduce harm”. The majority of the short piece is spent recognizing that criminalizing any aspect of sex work leaves sex workers vulnerable to less safe working conditions, and that organized sex workers’ groups instead campaign for decriminalization, but it ends with this paragraph:

The great difficulty, however, is that it leaves the sex industry intact. And in all paid-for sex there is, arguably, an inherently exploitative dimension. Even if there is nominally consent, in most cases, if not all, this will be a choice that women make out of desperation, rather than anything positive. The social and economic circumstances in which a woman sees sex work as the best available option represents, in itself, an environment of coercion. Criminalising not the women involved but their clients – particularly when, as in the French proposal, it is accompanied by a properly funded programme to help sex workers into more secure jobs – may be the least-bad answer, in both moral and practical terms.

Apparently the Nordic model—which the guardian acknowledges harms sex workers— is the “least-bad” option because decrim “leaves the sex industry intact”. As if criminalizing sex work will kill the industry, as if the sex industry is inherently more exploitative then other gendered labor, as if no one has actively chosen to do sex work because it’s more empowering for them than, say, underpaid janitorial work; as if women & femmes don’t have transactional sex all the time and formally demanding cash for time & services isn’t subverting the patriarchy which usually demands that labor for free; as if the sex industry must be (could be) destroyed at all costs, even the safety of the sex workers they claim to want to rescue.

Non-coercive sex work is no more exploitative than any other labor. If you want to end exploitation: end capitalism. Close wage gaps & open the borders, and give migrants the right to work legally. Raise the minimum wage and lower the rent. Give us all Universal Basic Income.

If you want to help sex workers: listen to them. Making sex work more dangerous by criminalizing any part of it will not kill the sex industry, it will just hurt the workers—they still need to work and will continue to do so even in bad conditions unless you remove the necessity for earning money to survive. Stop trying to “save” women from the sex industry while ignoring what they’re collectively fighting for.

Review of Travis Alabanza’s “Stories Of A Queer Brown Muddy Kid” for Beyond The Binary

[Image description: Travis, a black trans femme, wearing black lipstick, a black headscarf, black shirt and chunky gold chain, sits in a bookshop facing camera with a stoic expression. Photo by Alexander Lijka]

Beyond The Binary asked me to review “Stories Of A Queer Brown Muddy Kid” by Travis Alabanza. It was their final performance of the intense, funny, moving autobiography of queer black life in London, and I’d already seen it twice before. The piece is all about, and for, queer black femmes, so I was reluctant to take on the task as a white boy(ish), but I gave it my best.

Acutely aware of racialized violence in the queer scene, Travis scornfully highlighted colonialism in sexual relationships, their role as “his bucket to empty his microaggressions” and a “brown fetish of the week”. “I’m not your black boy top”, they insisted, but then, “Why do I still need him?” Their vulnerability about intimacy, about simultaneously recognizing abuse but longing for your abuser(s), was bold and affecting.

tl;dr I absolutely loved it, Travis is amazing, give them all your money.

“Gendered Antagonisms” in the Occupied Times

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Content note: mentions of transphobia, transmisogyny, and gendered violence

I’m very happy that my latest angry trans rant has been published (online and In Print) by the Occupied Times. The OT is a collectively run broadsheet with a solid history of publishing critical, anti-capitalist writing, and while they always produce great material, I’m glad to see a little more about gender/queer stuff on their pages, even if it meant contributing myself:

Fuck respectability politics. Trans people don’t need to conform to cisnormative standards of beauty to be worthy, to be sexy, to be human. This only serves to create a hierarchy of “acceptable” gender expressions and modes of transness – ones which fit the gender binary.

Most of the issue focuses on race, colonialism, and their intersections with capitalism and identity today—and it’s great. The OT is free at several radical bookshops etc around London, but they also need donations so get to it.

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[Image description: my hand, white with dark painted nails, lovingly caressing my article in the print issue of the OT]

“The End Of The Rainbow” BFI short film

[Image description: A white trans masc boy with dark hair wearing a blue shirt with rolled-up sleeves, an orange tie, and orange lipstick holds a blue marker and draws something (unseen) on a large white sheet of paper]

Last month I was interviewed by some young filmmakers in the BFI Film Academy Documentary Residential program, and the result is pretty excellent.

The other interviewees, Jamie and Addison, are lovely and articulate. It’s hard not to notice that we all sport a similar look, but not all non-binary people look like me and Addison—the three of us operate in the same, very tight, community of trans/queerness in London, so we have a similar aesthetic. Not all non-binary people are afab, and white, and masculine, and wear button-up shirts.

Addison gave my favorite quote:

I don’t normally tell cis people that I’m a non-binary trans man because they go, ‘What does that mean’, so I tend to just stick to ‘trans man’ or ‘non-binary’ so I don’t blow their tiny minds.

Excepting qualms with dodgy terminology in the intro (“born with a male body”; “biologically female but lives as a man”) I think they did a fantastic job; it’s very encouraging to see young people creating art, and taking an interest in gender and amplifying non-binary narratives.

Cis Fragility

[Image description: Macro shot of snowflake (color altered to cyan) on wool (pink and deep purple)]

This article was rejected by the trans publication which commissioned it because it’s “too alienating for cis people”. The irony of coddling a cis audience by protecting them from an antagonistic piece on cis fragility, in a publication which alleges to be focused on trans experiences, is not lost on me.

To be perfectly clear: I am not interested in toning down my writing to make it palatable for cis readers. I don’t write for cis people.


Cis people exist in a social environment which validates their genders and reinforces a gender binary which corresponds to their lived experiences, giving them relative privilege to trans people. Cis people therefore have a low tolerance for that which challenges their gender identities and their conceptions of gender more broadly. Cis fragility (drawing on white fragility in critical race theory) is rooted in a desire to restore and reproduce cisnormativity. It is a combination of lack of stamina in interrogating their conceptualizations of gender, as well as a resistance to challenging those conceptions.

The very idea of trans people challenges the cisnormative notion of gender: gender is not easily defined by genitals or a falsely dimorphic understanding of “biology”. Non-binary trans people further challenge cisnormativity simply by existing and refusing to define their genders in cisnormative terms.

 

When cis people encounter challenges to their conception of a binary gender, they often react with defensiveness, forcing trans people to do the emotional labor of comforting the cis person in addition to educating them and explaining basic concepts about gender or divulging personal experience to satiate cis curiosity and confusion. This derails conversations about trans experiences with oppression and devolves them into assuages of cis guilt and potential violence. The too-familiar “I’m sorry I misgendered you, singular ‘they’ is hard for me”, centers cis difficulty in remembering a new name or pronoun over the discomfort and disrespect toward the trans person they misgendered. This is an attempt to redirect social resources (time, attention, emotional labor), prioritizing cisness over transness.

Cis fragility is so delicate that cis people seek to reaffirm their genders in every step of their lives: everything from clothing to beverages to occupations are gender coded. This serves the interests not only of cisnormativity, but patriarchy and heteronormativity in an extremely boring but ubiquitous triple threat. Cis gender expressions are not named such: women wear feminine clothing, men perform masculinity, and these behaviors go unnoticed and unexamined until there is deviance from them, as though these norms are “natural” rather than dynamic and constantly redefined and reproduced.

Trans identities are not afforded the level of complexity that cis ones are assumed to have. Trans people are presumed to be constantly shaped and defined by their transness as though it is the primary, if not singular, aspect of their selves; but cis people are just people. Because they occupy an identity of “normalcy” it is not considered an identity at all, and they presume that they have an objective perspective on gender uncolored by their own experiences of it.

Trans people are also expected to be “ambassadors” of transness. Cis people feel entitled to trans people’s time in educating them and indulging their invasive questioning without considering that the trans person they’re interrogating might not have an academic interest in gender. Trans people are presumed to know all about all things trans and to accurately represent all other trans people, which is both impossible and exhausting. While trans people experience transphobia and cissexism on a regular basis, they may not have the vocabulary or framework to analyze their experiences at the systemic level. This contributes to creating or leaning on existing hierarchies of palatable transness fit for anti-critical cis consumption in order to survive an interaction unscathed, even if it means sacrificing other, “more deviant” expressions of transness to do so.

cis tears
[Image description: author smiling a toothy grin, about to drink from a mug labelled “CIS TEARS”] — Part of a balanced breakfast
Cis people who pride themselves on being “progressive” might learn correct terms and make efforts to use the right pronouns, but will still be unlikely to confront cissexism and transphobia as it manifests in their lives. They will congratulate themselves for asking the pronouns of a “visibly” non-binary person (whatever that means), but refuse to examine why their gender identity needed clarification when those of the apparently-cis people around them didn’t. Or perhaps they’ll never assume anyone’s pronouns, but they also won’t intervene in street harassment and violence directed at gender non-conforming femmes. Privilege deflects the responsibility of accountability. There is no neutrality in issues of oppression, only complacency and antagonism.

The burden of interrupting cissexism and transphobia belongs with cis people, but trans people have already proven that we are more than capable of disrupting the power structures which oppress us whether cis people are interested in helping or not. There is power in challenging cis fragility. There is power in protesting cisnormativity by refusing to center cis experiences or use cis frames of reference. There is also power in survival, which is often opposed to confronting cisnormativity. Transness is antagonistic by nature; it is enough just to be.

Gender Nihilism: An Anti-Manifesto

[Image description: Macro shot of grainy film of colors without shape: dark greens, blues, and grays]

This text was found in a queer social event at The Field café in South London in late 2015. It is presumed to be written in 2015. The author is uncredited in the print version I found, but is credited as tumblr user “genderkills” here (this url is now owned by a different user and the original link is broken). I’m reprinting it and distributing it online because I believe it deserves a wider audience. Minor copy edits were made by myself, February 2016.

 

Introduction

We are at an impasse. The current politics of trans liberation has staked its claims on a redemptive understanding of identity. Whether through a doctor or psychologist’s diagnosis, or through a personal self affirmation in the form of a social utterance, we have come to believe that there is some internal truth to gender that we must divine.

An endless set of positive political projects have marked the road we currently travel; an infinite set of pronouns, pride flags, and labels. The current movement within trans politics has sought to try to broaden gender categories, in the hope that we can alleviate their harm. This is naive.

Judith Butler refers to gender as, “the apparatus by which the production and normalization of masculine and feminine take place along with the interstitial forms of hormonal, chromosomal, psychic, and performative that gender assumes”. If the current liberal politics of our trans comrades and siblings are rooted in trying to expand the social dimensions created by this apparatus, our work is a demand to see it burned to the ground.

We are radicals who have had enough with attempts to salvage gender. We do not believe we can make it work for us. We look at the transmisogyny we have faced in our own lives, the gendered violence that our comrades, both trans and cis have faced, and we realize that the apparatus itself makes such violence inevitable. We have had enough.

We are not looking to create a better system, for we are not interested in positive politics at all. All we demand in the present is a relentless attack on gender and the modes of social meaning and intelligibility it creates.

At the core of this Gender Nihilism lies several principles that will be explored in detail here: Antihumanism as foundation and cornerstone, gender abolition as a demand, and radical negativity as method.

Antihumanism

Antihumanism is a cornerstone which holds gender nihilist analysis together. It is the point from which we begin to understand our present situation; it is crucial. By antihumanism, we mean a rejection of essentialism. There is no essential human. There is no human nature. There is no transcendent self. To be a subject is not to share in common a metaphysical state of being (ontology) with other subjects.

The self, the subject, is a product of power. The “I” in “I am a man” or “I am a woman” is not an “I” which transcends those statements. Those statements do not reveal a truth about the “I”, rather they constitute the “I”. Man and Woman do not exist as labels for certain metaphysical or essential categories of being, they are rather discursive, social, and linguistic symbols which are historically contingent. They evolve and change over time; their implications have always been determined by power.

Who we are, the very core of our being, might not be found in the categorical realm of being at all. The self is a convergence of power and discourses. Every word you use to de ne yourself, every category of identity within which you find yourself placed, is the result of a historical development of power. Gender, race, sexuality, and every other normative category is not referencing a truth about the body of the subject or about the soul of the subject. These categories construct the subject and the self. There is no static self, no consistent “I”, no history transcending subject. We can only refer to a self with the language given to us, and that language has radically fluctuated throughout history, and continues to fluctuate in our day to day life.

We are nothing but the convergence of many different discourses and languages which are utterly beyond our control, yet we experience the sensation of agency. We navigate these discourses, occasionally subverting, always surviving. The ability to navigate does not indicate a metaphysical self which acts upon a sense of agency, it only indicates that there is symbolic and discursive looseness surrounding our constitution.

We see gender as a specific set of discourses embodied in medicine, psychiatry, the social sciences, religion, and our daily interactions with others. We do not see gender as a feature of our “true selves”, but as a whole order of meaning and intelligibility which we find ourselves operating in. We do not look at gender as a thing which a stable self can be said to possess. On the contrary we say that gender is done and participated in, and that this doing is a creative act by which the self is constructed and given social signi cance and meaning.

Our radicalism cannot stop here, we further state that historical evidence can be provided to show that gender operates in such a manner. The work of many decolonial feminists has demonstrated the ways that western gender categories were violently forced onto indigenous societies, and how this required a complete linguistic and discursive shift. Colonialism produced new gender categories, and with them new violent means of reinforcing a certain set of gendered norms. The visual and cultural aspects of masculinity and femininity have changed over the centuries. There is no static gender.

There is a practical component to all of this. The question of humanism vs antihumanism is the question upon which the debate between liberal feminism and nihilist gender abolitionism will be based.

The liberal feminist says “I am a woman” and by that means that they are spiritually, ontologically, metaphysically, genetically, or any other modes of “essentially” a woman.

The gender nihilist says “I am a woman” and means that they are located within a certain position in a matrix of power which constitutes them as such.

The liberal feminist is not aware of the ways power creates gender, and thus clings to gender as a means of legitimizing themselves in the eyes of power. They rely on trying to use various systems of knowledge (genetic sciences, metaphysical claims about the soul, kantian ontology) in order to prove to power that they can operate within it.

The gender nihilist, the gender abolitionist, looks at the system of gender itself and see’s the violence at its core. We say no to a positive embrace of gender. We want to see it gone. We know appealing to the current formulations of power is always a liberal trap. We refuse to legitimize ourselves.

Antihumanism does not deny the lived experience of many of our trans siblings who have had an experience of gender since a young age. Rather we acknowledge that such an experience of gender was always already determined through the terms of power. We look to our own childhood experiences. We see that even in the transgressive statement of “We are women” wherein we deny the category power has imposed onto our bodies, we speak the language of gender. We reference an idea of “woman” which does not exist within us as a stable truth, but references the discourses by which we are constituted.

Thus we a rm that there is no true self that can be divined prior to discourse, prior to encounters with others, prior to the mediation of the symbolic. We are products of power, what are we to do?

We end our exploration of antihumanism with a return to the words of Butler:

“My agency does not consist in denying this condition of my constitution. If I have any agency, it is opened up by the fact that I am constituted by a social world I never chose. That my agency is riven with paradox does not mean it is impossible. It means only that paradox is the condition of its possibility.”

Gender Abolition

If we accept that gender is not to be found within ourselves as a transcendent truth, but rather exists outside us in the realm of discourse, what are we to strive for? To say gender is discursive is to say that gender occurs not as a metaphysical truth within the subject, but occurs as a means of mediating social interaction. Gender is a frame, a subset of language, and set of symbols and signs, communicated between us, constructing us and being reconstructed by us constantly.

Thus the apparatus of gender operates cyclically; as we are constituted through it, so too do our daily actions, rituals, norms, and performances reconstitute it. It is this realization which allows for a movement against the cycle itself to manifest. Such a movement must understand the deeply penetrative and pervasive nature of the apparatus. Normalization has an insidious way of naturalizing, accounting for, and subsuming resistance.

At this point it becomes tempting to embrace a certain liberal politics of expansion. Countless theorists and activists have laid stake to the claim that our experience of transgender embodiment might be able to pose a threat to the process of normalization that is gender. We have heard the suggestion that non-binary identity, trans identity, and queer identity might be able to create a subversion of gender. This cannot be the case.

In staking our claim on identity labels of non-binary, we find ourselves again caught back in the realm of gender. To take on identity in a rejection of the gender binary is still to accept the binary as a point of reference. In the resistance to it, one only reconstructs the normative status of the binary. Norms have already accounted for dissent; they lay the frameworks and languages through which dissent can be expressed. It is not merely that our verbal dissent occurs in the language of gender, but that the actions we take to subvert gender in dress and affect are themselves only subversive through their reference to the norm.

If an identity politics of non-binary genders cannot liberate us, it is also true that a queer or trans identity politics o ers us no hope. Both fall into the same trap of referencing the norm by trying to “do” gender differently. The very basis of such politics is grounded in the logic of identity, which is itself a product of modern and contemporary discourses of power. As we have already determined, there is no stable identity which we can reference. Thus any appeal to a revolutionary or emancipatory identity is only an appeal to certain discourses. In this case, that discourse is gender.

This is not to say that those who identify as trans, queer, or non- binary are at fault for gender. This is the mistake of the traditional radical feminist approach. We repudiate such claims, as they merely attack those most hurt by gender. Even if deviation from the norm is always accounted for and neutralized, it sure as hell is still punished. The queer, the trans, the non-binary body is still the site of massive violence. Our siblings and comrades still are murdered all around us, still live in poverty, still live in the shadows. We do not denounce them, for that would be to denounce ourselves. Instead we call for an honest discussion about the limits of our politics and a demand for a new way forward.

With this attitude at the forefront, it is not merely certain formulations of identity politics which we seek to combat, but the need for identity altogether. Our claim is that the ever-expanding list of personal pronouns, the growing and ever more nuanced labels for various expressions of sexuality and gender, and the attempt to construct new identity categories more broadly is not worth the effort.

If we have shown that identity is not a truth but a social and discursive construction, we can then realize that the creation of these new identities is not the sudden discovery of previously unknown lived experience, but rather the creation of new terms upon which we can be constituted. All we do when we expand gender categories is to create new more nuanced channels through which power can operate. We do not liberate ourselves, we entrap ourselves in countless and even more nuanced and powerful norms, each one a new chain.

This terminology is not hyperbolic; the violence of gender cannot be overestimated. Each trans woman murdered, each intersex infant coercively operated on, each queer kid thrown onto the streets is a victim of gender. The deviance from the norm is always punished. Even though gender has accounted for deviation, it is placed within a hierarchy of unacceptability where it is punished as such. Expansions of norms is an expansion of deviance; it is an expansion of ways we can fall outside a discursive ideal. In nite gender identities create in nite new spaces of deviation which will be violently punished. Gender must punish deviance, thus gender must go.

And thus we arrive at the need for the abolition of gender. If all of our attempts at positive projects of expansion have fallen short and only ensnared us in a new set of traps, then there must be another approach. That the expansion of gender has failed, does not imply that contraction would serve our purposes. Such an impulse is purely reactionary and must be done away with.

The reactionary radical feminist sees gender abolition as such a contraction. For them, we must abolish gender so that sex (the physical characteristics of the body) can be a stable material basis upon which we can be grouped. We reject this whole-heartedly. Sex itself is grounded in discursive groupings, given an authority through medicine, and violently imposed onto the bodies of intersex individuals. We decry this violence.

No, a return to a simpler and smaller understanding of gender (even if supposedly a material conception) will not do. It is the very normative grouping of bodies in the first place which we push back against. Neither contraction nor expansion will save us. Our only path is that of destruction.

Radical Negativity

At the heart of our gender abolition is a negativity. We seek not to abolish gender so that a true self can be returned to; there is no such self. It is not as though the abolition of gender will free us to exist as true or genuine selves, freed from certain norms. Such a conclusion would be at odds with the entirety of our antihumanist claims. And thus we must take a leap into the void.

A moment of lucid clarity is required here. If what we are is a product of discourses of power, and we seek to abolish and destroy those discourses, we are taking the greatest risk possible. We are diving into an unknown. The very terms, symbols, ideas, and realities by which we have been shaped and created will burn in ames, and we cannot know or predict what we will be when we come out the other side.

This is why we must embrace an attitude of radical negativity. All the previous attempts at positive and expansionist gender politics have failed us. We must cease to presume a knowledge of what liberation or emancipation might look like, for those ideas are themselves grounded upon an idea of the self which cannot stand up to scrutiny; it is an idea which for the longest time has been used to limit our horizons. Only pure rejection, the move away from any sort of knowable or intelligible future can allow us the possibility for a future at all.

While this risk is a powerful one, it is necessary. Yet in plunging into the unknown, we enter the waters of unintelligibility. These waters are not without their dangers; and there is a real possibility for a radical loss of self. The very terms by which we recognize each other may be dissolved. But there is no other way out of this dilemma. We are daily being attacked by a process of normalization that codes us as deviant. If we do not lose ourselves in the movement of negativity, we will be destroyed by the status quo. We have only one option, risks be damned.

This powerfully captures the predicament that we are in at this moment. While the risk of embracing negativity is high, we know the alternative will destroy us. If we lose ourselves in the process, we have merely suffered the same fate we would have otherwise. Thus it is with reckless abandon that we refuse to postulate about what a future might hold, and what we might be within that future. A rejection of meaning, a rejection of known possibility, a rejection of being itself. Nihilism. That is our stance and method.

Relentless critique of positive gender politics is thus a starting point, but one which must occur cautiously. For if we are to criticize their own normative underpinnings in favor of an alternative, we only fall prey once again to the neutralizing power of normalization. Thus we answer the demand for a clearly stated alternative and for a program of actions to be taken with a resolute “no”. The days of manifestos and platforms are over. The negation of all things, ourselves included, is the only means through which we will ever be able to gain anything.

 

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The unnoticed need for masculine spaces

[Image description: Arnold Schwarzenegger as a young body-builder posing and flexing against an abstract cyan and forest green background]

Gendered spaces are everywhere. In our patriarchal society masculinity is “default”, and lots of spaces are already masculine-only. These spaces are cesspools of machoism and competition. Because masculinity is fragile, it constantly needs re-upping: men must regularly reassert their masculinity to prove it to their peers.

That’s not what I’m advocating—I’m advocating explicitly masculine-only spaces where men and mascs reflect on their masculinity, their relationship to [their] gender, their privilege/s, and their relationships to femmes and femininity: an anti-gentleman’s club. Men need a space (temporary or permanent) to critically examine gender amongst themselves, so women and femmes don’t need to constantly debunk the “female privilege” of having creepy men buy them drinks at the bar.

Because masculinity is default and femininity is Other, masculinity only needs to define itself against that which it isn’t. Whereas femininity has stand-alone characteristics, masculinity only has any meaning when it’s compared to it’s “opposite”: masculinity is “strong” (not weak like femininity), “rational” (not irrational), “capable” (not incapable). All of these dichotomies are rooted in misogyny, and men are obviously not more strong, rational, or capable than women. Femininity, though, has defining characteristics which don’t have reference to masculinity: emotional awareness/articulation, creative communication, and sensitivity (to others, to social environments, to the self).

Perhaps some characteristics of masculinity which are its alone are: fragile, repressed, and completely nebulous. Then again, gender more broadly is nebulous too; without misogyny and patriarchy (or reductive arguments about “biological sex”), what is gender? A humble attempt at definition:

Gender is an identity, a set of cultural archetypes/roles, and an aesthetic. It is not tied to bodies or pronouns or names, though these things are assigned gender. It is self-determined and dynamic and fluid. It is context-dependent and does not exist in a vacuum.

Last month I went to a men-only discussion on gender and masculinity in London. It was the first such event that I had ever seen or heard of. There were six men there, including me (someone who has an uneasy relationship with my identity as a “man”, but this discussion was quite binary).

I was amazed at how basic it was, and how gingerly these men were examining their masculinity. Is it about sex? Their role within their romantic relationships? Their clothes? Their gestures and the way they take up public space? There was a fearful but strong desire, common to most of them, to be seen as sexual objects; to relinquish the “obligations” of sexual agency. I pointed out that their envy of women’s constant objectification was misplaced, that women are not selectively lusted after by people they choose but are always under public scrutiny with the threat of violence for not graciously accepting sexual harassment. The men conceded, but their desire to be “feminine” (as they misunderstood it) remained. These men desperately wanted permission to be passive, and to stop posturing for other men.

It was clear that since these men had the privilege of ignoring basic concepts about gender, this was the first time they had actively thought about it. When I would interject with, “but women can do that too”, or “biology isn’t dimorphic”, they were receptive but surprised. They’d simply never needed to seriously consider their gender or their masculine privileges before. This was compounded by their whiteness, and their able bodies, and their class privileges. In the same way that white people need to be more vocal about their white privilege (whilst not-speaking over POC, crucially), men and mascs should be actively interrogating their genders and their associated privileges. This will, hopefully, help them empathize with women and femmes.

Men are pitiful and need an explicit invitation to examine their masculinity and gender identity. The need for feminine safe spaces—spaces away from men—is unquestionably greater than the need for masculine-only spaces, but men having an environment to reflect upon their masculinity, rather than just reassert it, is crucial toward fostering masculine gender awareness. Rather than excluding women and femmes, the point of masc-only spaces would be to give men and mascs the opportunity to explore issues of gender which are too basic to have in feminist discussions. This is not the responsibility of women and femmes: this should be a project by and for men. Feminism doesn’t need male allies; but if men want to be a part of the future, they need to get up to speed.

Reflections on Trans Academia panel

Content note: institutional transphobia; Islamophobia; sexual assault mention

 

Details

Tuesday 17 November 2015,  1900–2100
Main Building, City University, London

From the facebook event page: “This panel explores some of the complexities of transgender and academia as they intersect”

Host: Sahra Ray Taylor (she/her)

Panel: Natacha Kennedy (she/her); Charlie Oughton (they); CN Lester (they)

Reflections

Natacha was very professional and a strong speaker despite some sound difficulties at the start. She opened by discussing the fragility of white liberalism, demonstrated by its cries of “censorship” at university students platform-blocking Germaine Greer and other transphobes (while ironically supporting the arrest of Bahar Mustafa for tweeting #killallwhitemen, whose right to free speech was not invoked by her institution). Most of her talk was spent discussing her research on discrediting the alleged comorbidity between autism and gender dysphoria, and her studies of young trans people’s experiences coming out which often take place in the university setting. Trans students, she said, research gender studies as a defense against discursive delegitimization—by necessity we arm ourselves with Butler. Because its the site of so many people’s coming out, the university needs to be a safe/r space for trans people.

Charlie was impassioned and their energy was defined by them saying, “I’m taking a risk, but damnit it needs to be done”. They talked about the importance of not preaching to the choir and bringing the uninitiated in to trans discussions, and making discussions on trans issues comfortable for people who may not know the right vocabulary. They also off-handedly, hypothetically, pitted “hardcore Muslims” against “American lefty queer” students, and noted that we all get offended by something these days (is it Political Correctness Gone Mad?); the “oppression olympics” was also cited. Most of their time was spent discussing how their institution refuses to change their name on institutional documents, and bar them from outing themselves to students. The law is on their side, but it’s not helpful to them if they lose their job in taking legal action. During the Q&A I raised the point that it shouldn’t fall on the trans students/lecturers to provide a “safe space” to discuss and dissuade transphobic opinions, and that it’s extremely empowering for trans people to bluntly shut down transphobic comments and demonstrate that they are unacceptable.

CN apologized at the start for being sick, but they still spoke articulately. They highlighted that transphobia isn’t only external (e.g. Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel), it’s within classrooms and institutions. They gave the example of a professor at CUNY (New York) sexually assaulting a trans student and claiming victimhood because he expected her to be cis; he was fired but has since been appointed at King’s College London and given tenure. Trans academics are apparently obligated to not only be experts in their fields, but to be up to date on trans/gender studies too. They made many other good points, but I failed to note them down because I was too busy vehemently agreeing.

Each of the panelists gave grave examples of transphobia that they had experienced within the academy: difficulty in getting names and pronouns recognized; third, non-binary gender options being unavailable; being the only trans person in LGBT student organizations; and using transphobia as a teaching opportunity. The event ended with an excellent comment from an audience member asking how we can utilize the power of the intersectional trans experiences and bodies in the room to find solutions to academic transphobia, and how to make academia more accessible to those outside of the academy; it was met with some defense, and ultimately unrealized.

Despite the few problems with this discussion I was so happy to go to a trans-led event about trans issues, and sit among a mostly (entirely?) trans audience. and I hope there will be many more. We should not only be visible when we are gender studies scholars, but also when our research has nothing to do with gender because—as should be obvious—our identities and interests are not limited to our transness.

Coming Out Day

Since you already know that I’m trans and queer (and also gay), let’s talk about basic civil rights struggles the LGBTQIA community still faces:

  • Housing and employment discrimination
  • Direct violence at the hands of lovers, family, and strangers
  • “Trans panic” defense
  • Higher incarceration rates and police brutality
  • Access to healthcare (sexual, gender-affirming, and otherwise)
  • Extra barriers to child custody
  • Regular verbal abuse and sexual fetishization
  • But also regular silencing, invisibility, lack of representation, and invalidation

Obviously all of those issues intersect with misogyny, racism, classism, xenophobia, ableism, and other kinds of body shaming and identity policing.

Coming out doesn’t happen once: it’s a calculated cost/benefit analysis you take every time you walk down the street or meet someone new. It’s also a tool to police and create hierarchies among queer identities as though you are obligated to disclose personal information which totally sucks.

Also, in case you didn’t know, the “A” stands for asexual and agender, not ally; and the position of the ally is only there to allow closeted LGBTQIA people a cover when participating; so if you’re cishet you can be an ally, but remember that this isn’t about you.

“Real Life Experience” with trans healthcare in the UK

The wait time for an initial appointment with the Gender Identity Clinic in Charing Cross is about 12 months. In that appointment the doctor is supposed to verify your gender identity and pathologize your personal history, and five months later you’re given another appointment during which they might prescribe you some gender-affirming hormones. That initial appointment only comes after being referred by a psychologist/psychiatrist from your local Community Mental Health Team (CMHT), to whom you must be referred by your GP.

The CMHT in Hackney is dreadfully transphobic (but then, the whole process of referral is inherently transphobic). After being referred by my GP—who stared at my like I was an alien when I told him I’m trans—I waited for 10 weeks to see a psychologist. She didn’t know what the word “transgender” meant, and for the remainder of the evaluation insisted it was a noun. Every question was underpinned by her attempt to find out what traumatic event made me into “a transgender”.

“When did you start living as a boy?” my psychologist asked.

I reiterated—“I am a boy, so I’ve always lived as a boy. What do you mean?”

“When did you stop wearing dresses?”

“Boys can’t wear dresses?”

It was obvious that if I said I were non-binary I would be labeled “confused” and told to come back when I had “decided”.

In the end she referred me, and now I’m waiting to get an appointment at Charing Cross. They say it will be in about 12 months. They’ve been saying that for the past 12 months.

That you need to be referred at all is transphobic. You need multiple medical “experts” to externally verify your gender identity, as if you’re not credible, as if they know more about you than you do.

If you go private, you can self-refer to a gender-specializing clinic—that is, if you have wealth, you can bypass the barriers of the GP referral and the referral from a CMHT. They’ll do their own assessment and prescribe hormones as appropriate like at Charing Cross, but the wait times are only 2 weeks for the initial appointment, and 1 further week of waiting for blood work before you get a prescription. It costs about £725, plus follow-up appointments (£140 each) and prescription refills (£195 for three months’ worth). Sometimes the private clinic prescribes mandatory counseling, which costs £150 for an hour-long session.

After hormones, you must pass the “Real Life Experience” test before being considered for gender-affirming surgeries, whether you use the NHS or go private. You must prove your sincerity, your trans authenticity by overtly expressing the gender identity you claim—in a normative, conservative, girls-wear-pink/boys-don’t-cry sort of way. There is apparently no thought given to the fact that it’s fucking difficult to “live as” (i.e. express) your gender identity without medical treatment; that it’s fucking difficult to pass and insist on your “preferred” pronouns when your body doesn’t conform to normative gender expressions. Without hormones and surgery, you can only go so far in signifying your gender: you can bind your breasts, change your intonation, and hide your curves in baggy clothes but it’s an exhausting daily battle. How can you “live” (read: pass) as your “preferred” gender if no one picks up on the gender cues you’re desperately sending? How can you implicitly assert your gender identify if everyone misgenders you?

Fuck conforming to cis narratives and expectations of gender. Fuck passing.