First of all, I am a total geek. I really like astronomy and astrophysics. More importantly, I like to look into roots of words, especially words that I use to identify myself. One of the more common and important words for my identification, for explaining my identification, is the prefix (and for me, a stand-alone word) trans. Also, this entry was inspired by tonight’s KinkOnTap discussion.
Trans- Across; on the other side; beyond. (prefix)
Now I’m going to go through these a bit out of order, but each one has a place in the word trans with how I use it. So, as a brief outline, “on the other side” to “across” and ending with “beyond.”
Trans, as it is commonly used with as the words transgender or transsexual, is some kind of “on the other side.” There is a binary opposition created, male and female, and the commonly understood concept of transgender/sexual means that a person’s body is one on side, and their gender is on the other side. This version is a problem with a solution, align the body to the mind. The binary opposition implied in this meaning has had many people I know/have known very up in arms, refusing “trans” as a self-identity, because they did not agree with the binary implied within it.
Another common interpretation of the word/prefix trans is the definition of “across.” This version could imply a binary, from one location to another, but it is less about a binary than about a journey. For me, this makes some sense, especially for those individuals who chose transition, and are in that process. I am moving, I am journeying, experiencing puberty, and investigating other methods of altering my physical body. I am moving across conventional notions of gender, and I am doing it fabulously.
Yet, one of the linguistically more common uses of the prefix trans happens to be my favorite definition and use of it as a word. Trans meaning “beyond.” An example of this version is the word translunar, meaning beyond the orbit of the moon. (Yes, I like astronomical photos and analogies.)
If we are looking at the word trans as meaning beyond, that opens up a whole new set of possibilities. Transgender means beyond gender, which to me is a fabulous statement of my own identity. It can become a word that no longer implies an inherent dualism of moving from point A to point B, of the division between point A and B, but rather with beyond it can incorporate nondual ideas concurrent with the already present dualistic interpretation. It can actually be a word that encompasses the varied parts of this community.
But looking at the word trans by itself, and applying the definition of “beyond” to it leaves a very good question open. Beyond what? It is an open ended question; beyond convention, beyond gender, beyond assumption, beyond definition, my definition becomes a journey to move beyond. I love this, the idea of constant improvement, striving for something better, that is the most intrinsic part of my own self. So, yes. I love the word trans. I identify with the word trans, because I have never found another word quite as adept at challenging myself to forever grow, strive, improve, and generally work on myself as a human being.
Beyond what? My answer is this: Beyond the status quo. Beyond now, beyond current, beyond stagnation, beyond labels, beyond words, beyond failure, beyond intolerance, beyond money, beyond authority, beyond limitation, beyond breaks, beyond insecurity…
It isn’t a word with a final destination to me. I don’t want a destination, I’ll stick with the journey.
Even if it is my definition, that does not mean it is anyone else’s. Once, I got very angry at a person for whole heartedly rejecting the word “transgender” on the grounds that it was too binary, and therefore offensive to hirself… but ze used that argument not just to say do not use the term transgender for hir, but for anyone. That made me very angry. I am happy to use the language people prefer in identifying theirselves. I am not okay with someone potentially preventing other people from using personally identifying language because that one person would take offense. Identify how you will, but do not use your identity to police how other people identify.
Using one’s own identity to police how other people identify… why does that sound familiar? Oh wait, because it happens all the time. People use their own identity and the privilege it affords them to declare what is and is not acceptable from others. I expect this, after years of being told how offensive I am, how incorrect, how wrong my processes, interests, and gender are I have grown to expect policing. But identity policing, gender policing in fact, from someone withing a supposedly radical gender community? It shocked me. Hopefully, it shocked me awake to the realization that the self label of radical or open minded mean nothing next to the reality of imposition of privilege and policing. I felt betrayed, but I learned.
So I should add another word onto that list of “Beyond what?” Beyond policing.
No offensive intended to any police officer by the image of this post.
I decided to write a few on what my specific takes on theoretical aspects of well, my identity and other such things I care about. Here is the first. You’d think that sex and gender would be basic concepts, oh wait, not so much. Feel free to disagree, very strongly disagree in fact.
Transgender, transsexual, this community(ies) calls itself many names, and are called many more by outsiders. I get faggot from cars a lot, get dyke on occasion, get called freak, friend, brother, sister, her, him, they, it… And all of it is because of sex and gender. To interrelated concepts that the GBLTQQAI-etc communities can’t seem to figure out. People will often talk about sex as biological, a combination of genetics and both primary and secondary physical characteristics (from testes to breasts to facial hair.) Meanwhile gender is something else. Some combination of identity, presentation, social construction, and whatever else the person is talking loops in there under the title of ‘gender.’ I don’t buy that division.
But here are my definitions:
Sex– the/an action; Sex as in sexuality. My prefered definition of sex is two or more people, one or more orgasms and/or penetration; however, many different people have their own. Having been in lesbian/dyke communities for a while the question of ‘what is sex’ lead me in the direction of the above.
Gender– the system, or another way to put it in my mind is “everything else.” This system includes the self-identification, expression, societal implications and the physical manifestations. In other words this includes what I think I am, as well as my body, how I was born, but also its current state.
“It’s important to keep gender and sex separated as, respectively, system and function” -Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaw p. 31
That book made a huge impact on my life, but one of the most drastic was my thinking on sex and gender. System/function, two interrelated but distinct things. I spent all of high school honours biology having to go through “system/function” again and again with my teacher. When there it is, in a book I pick up on gender my freshman year of college. Wait, so if gender is a system, and sex is a function, does that mean the physical/biological aspects we often term ‘sex’ are actually gender?
And my brain went pop.
Function, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is “The action for which a person or thing is particularly fitted or employed… An assigned duty or activity.” Most importantly, both are activities, both are actions. Function means action. If sex is an action, then one’s physiological aspects changes the how of the sex, but not the what. A penis, a vagina, breasts, testes, how you see yourself, your interest, your desire, kinks, fetishes, sensitivities… all of these affect how one as sex, but none ARE sex, when defining sex as a function. They are what effects that function most directly, the systems of the function. Ok, so sex is a function. Big deal, there are sexual acts, activities, and for some people, even duties (what sexual acts/activities/etc are, I’ll leave undefined for until another day.) But what struck me was that if it is a function, and gender is the system, the implication was that sex was not at all a system, just a function.
Just a function, as in the physiological characteristics we so often refer to as sex are not sex but gender because gender is the system and sex is the function… the act. Biological aspects, (such as the most commonly referenced penis/lack of penis dichotomy) are a part of gender. So that gender is identification, expression, physical characteristics… everything that isn’t the function of sexual action is the system, including the physical characteristics.
Which means there is not just two genders, duh. Nor 4 genders (namely male, female, male to female, and female to male,) as hell just the physical systems have far more variations, from genetic variation (XX, XY, XXY, X, Y, and XXX among others,) to differences between chromosomes and bodies (either for someone born intersex or say taking hormones and altering their body.) But then add on the additional variations of identification, as well as presentation… There are far more than just a spectrum of identities.
The way I see gender is like a multidimensional universe, of a non-euclidean origin (yes, I am that big of a geek.) There are clumps of similarly identified people, scattered about, but all sorts of places in between that some people are. There more potential genders than there are people… but in those spaces between the clumps there are random individuals, and smaller clumps.
That is my image. Clumps of similar identifications gathered around each other, with interconnecting identities along the way, and the possibility for things in between, be it up, down, side to side, or any other which way.
Moreover, gender is not only fluid, it is guaranteed to change. If nothing else, as a person grows up, their gender changes much as their physical body changes. Similarly, as I go through transition, as my voice drops I grow facial hair, as my scent changes and what I desire alters with the influx of different hormones, so does part of my gender. That is not to say what I am in this moment is worth anything less, rather it is worth all the more because it is going to change, it is a moment and thus must be cherished because it will be lost. (Ok, cheesy maybe, but that is what I think.) People are not meant to simply “be,” not stay, not just stagnate and remain unchanging. Rather, individuals should constantly become. This theory is actually from Nietzsche, that the constant transience of striving for betterment is that becoming, that individuals should not stagnate. Regardless of the asshole interpretations of Nietzsche, and some of his not as good ideas, those always struck me…
Gender is a form of that becoming. It does not stay the same by this set of definitions, nor should it. Sex is powerful, fun, hot; sex is depressing, uplifting, humiliating; sex is a ton of things but all of them are actions. Sex is a function, not a system. The system that effect it, however, are complex and often incredibly fucked up. Which I’ll save for another time… The systems of gender, from physical to cultural, from class to identification, are not actions.
“…The point is there’s more to sex (the act) than gender (one classification of identity.)” -Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaw p. 30
Thank you Auntie Kate.
I managed to accidently get tested for HIV. I was sitting in my three-month appointment, and we were going over my blood tests, and we were talking about STIs. He asked when the last time I was tested for HIV, I said high school, and he basically said at some point soon I should get tested again, but since I’m so low risk (sleeping predominantly with women) that I didn’t need to worry about it. “Oh, nevermind. You’re HIV negative. Apparently I had you tested.”
Well, thanks? I mean, good to know, but next time let me know a little more obviously, okay?
Regardless, I’m finally up to a full dose of testosterone. The changes will come faster, my period should stop. I can become the adult I’ve always wanted to be, a strange conglomeration of truth and lie. For me, passing in all its problems is the reality. Because the person I want to come is someone who passes, who seems to be another able-bodied, white, straight, secular male. Not because I want to occupy the space of white men in American society, but because the body that is most me seems to be all those things, but I am so much more. People who look at me don’t see my ADHD, they will not see that I was raised as a girl who was good in math, who played sports, that tomboy was the first identity I ever embraced. They won’t see the history of activism, the kinky desires, if they see my desires they will probably see me dating women, as that is who I tend to go for. I will pass, and here it is the term passing, because I will pass for something I am not. I am white, but not a man. But the ability to pass as a man will be power I have, and something I can use in radical ways.
There are spaces where only women are allowed. Some, are only “women born women,” excluding transwomen. Some explicitly make sure to include transwomen, and some even include transmen. Basically some of these spaces boil down to less a woman’s space and more “No Cis-males allowed.” Which in and of itself is incredibly problematic, but what is worse is that those spaces are still needed. Those spaces really boil down to spaces of no “male privilege” (which doesn’t address the other forms of privilege there, surrounding race, class, abledness, age, etc.) because there is an extent to which banning cis-men is the only way people see that it is possible to create such a space. But many people hold male privilege, not just men, and not all men hold male privilege. Until those lines are more blurred there really is no way to distinguish though. That is one of those assumptions that I really seek to help upset. Just… so much to do. Because I’m one of those people who isn’t content to just let things be, because “the status is not quo” I need to do something with my changing positionality of power. As time goes on, and I pass more, I need to start learning how to function as a(n apparent) guy, and a straight one no less. Well, I read very gay… so maybe I won’t have to jump that hurdle just yet.
Last night, a friend I haven’t seen in a month asked if I was sick, had a sore throat. “No…” And then we realized, my voice is finally changing that much. C commented that she noticed in the voicemail I left that my voice was lower. I’ve been noticing as I (attempt and fail to) sing. It is really great, but it is definitely strange to listen to myself.
Every time I go and read through BDSM articles, I end up thinking far more profoundly about my life than almost any other source. Gandhi does not have that effect on me anymore, nor does Foucault, Nietzsche, Marx, Spivak, Berkman, Plato, and so many other “names” to drop, and leave in the dust. As interesting and engaging as I find (non-BDSM) theory, as much as it was the focus of my studies and my thoughts, it has ceased to have any profound impact on my life. Yet, Bornstein still causes me to reexamine the way i carry myself. Internet articles, lectures, etc. can show me new meanings of respect, and the need/uselessness of structures in life. It’s unclear to me if its irony or simply the sad truth of contemporary philosophy that the everyday, down-to-earth writings of radicals of sexual or trans communities have farther reaching impacts on my life than any high theorist. Sure, it helps me examine myself and find new thoughts and ponderings about desire, want, and need. That is expected. It is more suprising that it refocuses my entire belief systems, reprioritizes what should be where, and is far more productive, and healthier, and more deeply thought-provoking. “Defining the BDSM Lifestyle…” causes far more profound thought than “The Republic.” “A Dominant’s Creed” teaches me more about justice than Plato, Aristotle, Mill, Kant, and many others.
The notions of negotiation from BDSM culture have saved quite a few of my friendships, as have my greater awareness of control and power dynamics.
I sat through a really interesting discussion at the Festish Fair Flea on transitioning when not identifying as either of the two genders of societal norms. One of the most important comments was the need to find new masculine role models, new men to respect, because of the problems with so many role models in our society. The presenters compared it to being a teenager. It struck me, and the first people I thought of as my role models were not traditional men, and all of them were in the BDSM world. Moreover, they thought about how masculinity and masculine privilege genuinely affects the people they care about. What does it mean for me, especially me on T, to dom with a female girl sub? Or even more basic, what does it mean for me to speak up in a room, for me to take space, or give it? As one presenter brought up, if a woman touches a man, it is “never” an issue of consent, because obviously a man ALWAYS consents, because what man isn’t fine with the touch of a woman, or craving it? He told a story about asking a woman not to touch him, because he did not consent to it, and she was shocked. Yet, he could not touch women that way… after he transitioned. Since that talk, I’ve been hyper aware of my touch, or lack there of, with reference to my friends. To me, this is a new negotiation to navigate. The way I can both speak up with respect for others while being conscious of the male privilege I cannot avoid while on T, can be greatly assisted by ways in which a dom can respect a sub. Rather than attempt to pretend there isn’t a differential, I’m aware of the fact that more masculine me will have a very different set of potential interactions. I need to be aware, be respectful.
And that is the thing. BDSM theory, gender theory… can give me role models for that respect, of ways to interact with people in non-fucked up ways. But not always the bits found in books. Not Butler, or Foucault. But in articles at random websites, blogs, from workshops, discussions… Yeah, there are a lot of fucked up people in these radical communities as well (I mean, it’s a community, thus there will be assholes,) but there are some amazing thoughts as well.