Eating our own

I have spent the past few weeks struggling to get this post completed. It has been difficult for me to form my thoughts and feelings into words when dealing with such emotionally charged issues.  I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about the infighting I have seen within the trans community. I know that every community has to deal with some infighting. We are, after all, only human and no matter what the topic, people are going to have strong feelings about their opinions. But in the trans community there seems to be an inordinate amount of eating our own.

It is often said that those who are abused are at greater risk to become abusers themselves. So what happens when the lowest group on the social ladder is marginalized and abused? There isn’t anyone else on whom to take out our anger, so we fracture our community into further sub-classes and abuse each other.

One of the starkest dividing lines is between those who are pre-op and those who are post-op, as if it’s the surgery that makes a person a man or a woman. This is in reference to the surgical procedures known as Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS) or Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS). The surgery is a physical correction needed for some transsexuals to align the body with a gender already present in the brain. But these surgeries are not necessary for every trans person. There are some whose body dysphoria is so great that it is difficult for them to function in a body that does not match what their brain expects. I fall into this category, so surgery for me is necessary. But I know others for whom SRS/GRS surgeries are not necessary to feel comfortable with their body.  There are still others who need surgeries but cannot get them due to cost factors or medical complications that make the surgeries impossible. This is one of the reasons that requiring SRS/GRS in order to obtain corrected legal ID documents or anti-discrimination protections is such a harmful practice. It would exclude a great number of people who are unable to get these surgeries due to a lack of medical/financial resources or contraindications for surgery. It would also force those who are comfortable enough with their bodies into invasive and unnecessary surgeries that actually have the potential to increase their body dysphoria.

There are those who are afraid that if we allow surgeries, then surgery will become mandatory for every person. On the other side there are those who are afraid that if we do not make surgeries mandatory, then surgeries will be considered optional and will become harder to get for those who need them. This black and white, all or nothing, fundamentalist-type thinking only works to divide us and will guarantee that none of us will get what we need. There IS a middle ground, and it is the same approach that ought to be used for every other medical decision made in every medical facility all over the world. A doctor treating a patient tailors the care of that patient based on the needs of the individual. Every individual is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all treatment in standard health care. We should not be advocating for such treatment in trans care either.

While the dividing line on surgery is an issue that brings up a lot of heated discussions within the trans community, there is another dividing line that often does not get discussed. It is the dividing line on “passing.” I really hate the term “passing.” To me, it implies a deception to “pass” myself off as something I am not. I am transitioning to become my true self, not to deceive others into believing some false identity. If anything, I “passed” perfectly well as a woman, even though that is not who I am or who I have ever been. I recently read an incredible article on this subject on the Transadvocate’s website. The article is titled On “Passing” written by Dr Cary Gabriel Costello. I highly recommend it. One of the things he talks about is how the push to “pass” is driven by cissexism. Here is a quote from the article that I want to elaborate on further.

“To think of a trans man as a “fake” man is the essence of cissexism. This is why every time I listen to one of the many people I’ve met who are afraid to transition cry, “I can’t—I’ll never be able to pass as a man/woman,” I sigh, because I know that the real battle they face is not their bodily structure, but their internalized cissexism, which tells them they don’t have the right to claim their true gender identities because their bodies trump their inner truth. Cissexism holds that appearance is all, and that trans people who don’t conform to binary sex ideals are fakes, freaks who deserve to be mocked and harassed. As if cis men never looked down at their bodies to find themselves short, or sporting moobs, or sparsely haired. As if cis women were never tall or flat-chested or strong. As if people were never born intersex, like me.”

Trans people are held up to an impossible standard by a cissexist, transphobic world. We are placed in the impossible situation such that if we do not conform to every stereotype of our affirmed gender after transition, we are decried as “fake” for not looking and acting like “real” men or women. Yet at the same time, if we do conform to gender stereotypes we are decried as “fake” for looking and acting like stereotypes. It’s the perfect catch 22. But the sad part is that the trans community has those within it who would use these kinds of arguments against other trans people. In a desperate attempt for some small measure of legitimacy in the eyes of the greater society, they have adopted the language of their oppressors to use against those whom they view as “less than” or “freaks.”

Those with more privilege tend to distance themselves from those with less. Those with “passing” privileges tend to distance themselves from those who can’t “pass.” We draw arbitrary lines in the sand in an attempt to categorize who is worthy of certain labels or legal protections and who isn’t. But while we are busy arguing and nit picking amongst ourselves over who is “true” or “authentic,” those who oppress us not only do not see our differences, they don’t care. They don’t care how you identify or what surgeries you’ve had. They don’t care if you can “pass” because if they ever find out you are trans (or a “person with a medical history” if you don’t identify as any type of trans), your “passing” privilege goes out the window.  To them, we are all the same. We are all deviants. We are all freaks. At least until one of them actually gets to know a trans person and sees how we are not so very different than they are after all. We are humans trying to find our way in this world. We were just given a few extra obstacles to overcome. Once that acceptance begins to grow, we are no longer seen as a label, but as a person and potentially a friend.  As each person better recognizes the common humanity in another, our differences no longer have to divide us.

If those who are not trans are able to support us as individuals, I think we owe it to ourselves and the rest of the trans community to support each other as individuals, each with unique needs and challenges. We are defined by our own declarations of who we are, not by a set of medical procedures. It’s time for each one of us to take a long look at ourselves in the mirror and admit our own bigotry and prejudice towards those whom we see as “other.” Then take time to get to know someone from a different side of  the dividing lines. Take time to understand their decisions of identity and their fears of erasure. Explain to them your own. Find some common ground and then start to work together towards a better world for us all. How can we expect the rest of the world to listen and accept us if we can’t even do that for each other?

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11 responses to “Eating our own”

  1. Jeanne Bowyer says :

    Awesome post!! So true and so eloquently written. Hopefully a lot of people will read your words, slow down a bit and think. 🙂

  2. Jeanette Raymer says :

    Like your writings. Yours and ftmark’s thoughts and observations have helped me to understand better.As a mum I have a lot to learn and understand, but I am getting there 🙂 How is your mum now? I would love to know, if you wish to share this, here or privately.
    Very best wishes for your future. Lemontree

    • abeardedgnome says :

      Hi,

      Thanks for reading! My mom still struggles at times, but she sees how much happier I am now. She is supportive of me doing what I need to do for myself, but she still worries about how others will see this change. She does not have a support group of friends to help her. She has one friend who has a gay child, but does not have anyone who could relate to having a trans child and I think that makes it much harder for her. I have one aunt who knows about my transition, but my mom has been concerned about others in the family finding out. I fear that she feels it will reflect poorly on her in the eyes of others, as if it is her fault that I am trans. I am fairly certain she knows that it is not her fault and this was not caused by anything she did or did not do in raising me, but it is all too easy for others who know nothing about trans to consider it a parenting flaw to have a trans child. Educating others can often be a long difficult process when a person has firmly engrained beliefs.

      This has also been difficult for me since I really want to be open with everyone about who I am, but yet I don’t want to put my mom in an uncomfortable position with her friends and others in the family. At this point I don’t know how it will all work itself out. Now that I am living in another country, I am not going to see much of the extended family, so there is no pressing need for any of them to know about my transition yet. I am hopeful that some day this will all be easier for both of us

  3. Jeanette Raymer says :

    Hi again, I can relate to all of this but do have a few lovely people around me, with whom I can have an uncomplicated chat. And I read and reflect on what what is said and written about the realities of the trans position and feel we (including his dad) are getting there. I believe that my son is fortunate in that all of the people that matter know the situation and have been supportive and loving. I think that this is mostly because I am upfront and open.
    If your mum would like an e-pal please give her my email address. Check with ftmark if you like, to be sure who I am.
    Hopefully it will become easier for you, and she, soon and you will be able to make the most of your life. Very best wishes. Lemontree

  4. purplefrog26 says :

    You have a sexy brain. 🙂 I see this sort of infighting in many of the communities I am in. It is so hard to spend your time and energy fighting for acceptance then have to fight the same issues within your group.

    Re:surgery conflict- Why does it matter to anyone else what someone does to their own body? If the person is completely educated about the consequences of their decision, what right do I have to say anything about it? And that is not without a great deal of angst on my part because I think we as a society are far too surgery/quick fix prone and would stop most of them if I could i.e. weight loss, cosmetic….

    • abeardedgnome says :

      I need to check my spam trap more often. Why wordpress thought this was spam is beyond me though.

      It is very difficult to have to spend so much time and energy fighting with those who should be able to understand. It may sound odd, but I completely agree that we are a society that are too quick to go the surgical route to try to fix ourselves. Surgery is not always the answer and I am a strong believer that surgery should only be used as the last resort. This is where the black and white thinking of all surgery or no surgery ends up harming everyone. There is no universal experience for any group of people and the trans community is no exception. There are some who absolutely need surgeries in order to comfortably inhabit their bodies. There are some who would do perfectly well living in their bodies without surgery if there were greater social acceptance and consideration of basic needs for those who are gender non conforming.

  5. Leigh Roberts Duquette says :

    Jaime, I really hope that this is hitting a very large audience. Is there a publication you could post this in. All of your writings are heartfelt and insightful to anyone who cares to understand or try to understand. My hope is that a large audience is privy to this writing. xo

    • abeardedgnome says :

      Unfortunately, I do not have a wider audience for my writing at this time. You are welcome to forward links to my blog, though. Most of the traffic to my blog comes there from my posts on Facebook.

  6. Lisa Soderlund says :

    Jaime,

    I just want to say I admire you very much for posting your thoughts and truths here so eloquently. I’m glad to know you. Your words show clearly how comfortable you are to be you, and that makes people feel safe being themselves around you as well. I look forward to reading more.

    • abeardedgnome says :

      Thank you Lisa. I admit that it has felt a bit strange knowing that people from high school have read my blog. I look back and hardly recognize who I was back then. I have changed so much that sometimes I feel like a completely different person now. It has been a very long and difficult road to finding myself and figuring out how to be comfortable with who I am. It has been worth the struggle to get here. I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long. Thanks for reading.

  7. Lisa Soderlund says :

    (I forgot to click the notify me of follow-up comments via email, and wanted to have that so I’m commenting again…)

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