Transparency and Dignity: The Struggles of the Intimate Relations Specific to Trans*folk

Falling in Love with Chris and Greg serves as an excellent aid to close the semester in both tone and content.  A relatively short series of events, chronicled awkwardly but striving for self-awareness—it is almost a farcical mirror of gender studies itself.  More importantly, I find that the series’s focus on the relationship between a cisgendered man and a transman confines the plotlines of most episodes, and they wouldn’t be the same any other way.  The conversations that the characters have, contingent on Chris’s trans* identity (Episode 2, “Road Trip TV Special!”’s conversations about marital loopholes and reproductive opportunities) highlight the differences between trans*folk and people of other queer identities, and the discomfort that can cloud the personal identity and integrity of the trans* person.

In focusing on issues that highlight the corporeal challenges that trans* individuals face in their growing relationships with others, I found a few rather opinionated but well-meant articles about taking the T out of the LGBT acronym for the better of all queer-identified folk (one here: http://thenewgay.net/2011/02/trans-rights-idealism-vs-realism.html), but they did not seem to get at the core of what specifically creates bodily conflict inherent in that seems to address these issues candidly was OUT Magazine’s article devoted to trans*men and their problems with relating to people who tend to objectify and misunderstand their embodiment.  The first subject of the article, Hunter, laments, “After we have sex a lot of guys are like, ‘I really like your setup.’ They’re trying to be complimentary, but either way they lose. On the one hand, I want them to be OK with my equipment, but on the other hand, I don’t want them to be — because I’m not OK with it” (OUT 1).  The article points to bodily integrity as intrinsic in a trans* individual’s life, and demonstrates via first-person narrative that this particular pursuit is misunderstood by cisgendered individuals of any sexual orientation.  Even the article, though, iterates “the Trans 101 discussion” (OUT 1) to its readers, though—the exact patronizing about which the aforementioned Hunter has mixed feelings.  The author explains,

“[…] these guys aren’t really women. They were born female, yes, but they now live their lives as men. FTMs (female-to-male transsexuals). Tranny boys. Trans men. But also gay men, just like any gay men — yet with one small difference (no, not that difference — I’m referring to their second X chromosome in place of the Y that determines an infant’s sex at birth to be male)” (OUT 1).

Gay publication (apparently not quite trans* enough to give a less ‘recap’-like explanation for its article’s subjects) OUT Magazine’s focus on the specific trials of intimate relations for trans* individuals reflects the dilemma for the character Chris of the Falling in Love… series.  His anatomy is scrutinized multiple times in the first, second, fourth, and fifth installments by his partner, Greg, who outwardly “others” his partner on the basis of his genitals, and, in the fourth installment, a bit on his gender presentation.  The fact that their intimate relationship remains uncompromised—with the exceptions, of course, being their episodic follies and pursuits of understanding—is a humorous tribute to the trans*man’s struggle for bodily integrity.

OUT article:
http://www.out.com/entertainment/2008/03/16/trans-fags

          – Marie Kosakowski

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“Trans 100” list and “Batgirl #19”

Due to the fact that there are no assigned readings for this week I decided to scour the web and enlist my roommates in helping me find a topic to write about for my blog post. Thankfully it all paid off! My wonderful roommate and best friend sent me to two websites this past weekend regarding the “Trans 100” list and the new “Batgirl #19” issue which just came out last week.

First, I’ll talk about the list which  “recognizes the work of 100 transgender individuals, both pioneers and emerging voices, who are working to break down stereotypes and show the true diversity of the transgender community.” This list is filled with fantastic people! They are doing great things for the trans community as well as society as a whole. What is even more amazing is my roommate’s cousin Jaan Williams was selected as one of the “Trans 100”! Jaan is a transman, activist, and “a program manager at the Victory Fund and Institute who runs the organization’s Victory Congressional Internship and assists with the Presidential Appointments Project.” (As a side note, Jaan married his long time love Pri at the beginning of March <3) It thrills me to know someone who is making such a difference!! Things like this restore my faith in humanity and the hope that more people could come to understand the immense amount of ignorance surrounding non-normative lifestyles. 

Now onto “Batgirl #19″…which even without mentioning the new transgender aspect of the comic, is GREAT. Who doesn’t like a superhero who has a paralyzing accident, heals, then continues to kick ass?? Outside of the awesomeness of Batgirl, there is a new twist to the comic which has come at a great time given current news and events (part of which being the “Trans 100” list). According to the Q&A with the writer of the comic, “Comics have, of course, always been incredibly LGBTQ-friendly, and there are many major gay characters, but Alysia will be the first (reality based) transgender character in a mainstream comic.” Alysia is Barbara Gordon’s (Batgirl) roommate in the series. When asked about the treatment and acceptance of LGBTQ characters in comics, Gail Simone (the writer) said, “I actually feel like we have a ways to go. There’ve been some wonderful steps forward lately, even in mainstream comics like “Batwoman” and “Runaways,” all of whom have LGBTQ characters in starring roles. But it wasn’t that long ago that any mention of sexuality was outright forbidden in mainstream comics at all. We have some catching up to do. But there’s a large LGBTQ readership in comics, the audience is hugely diverse. It’s wonderful. Our common language is nerdhood. I love that. We may come from different continents, but dammit, we can recite the Green Lantern Oath! It’s pretty great to see LGBTQ characters being accepted widely, it shows that this stuff is way, way overdue.”

I have to agree with Simone, this stuff is extremely overdue! I’m just as excited, if not more, about Alysia’s background and story coming into the series as I am about the “Trans 100” list. I feel like these are huge steps forward especially with so much hate and ignorance being spewed daily. We need more positive non-normative stories and happenings like these to be published and widely spread! So please read and share these links with your friends, heck even read the comic! People need to know the great things going on in the world and the media!

http://www.gaypolitics.com/2013/04/09/victory-staffer-on-inaugural-trans-100-list/

http://www.newnownext.com/batgirl-exclusive-writer-gail-simone-talks-new-transgender-character/04/2013/

-Jocelyn Crizer

Erratic Femininity

The chapter of Gayle Salamon’s essay in Assuming A Body entitled “Boys of The Lex: Transgender and Social Construction” discusses a concept Salamon coins homoerratic, which she defines as “a libidinal economy of sameness whose participants nevertheless wander or stray from their customary or expected courses in unpredictable and surprising ways and whose energy depends on the very unfixablilty of those erotic identifications and exchanges” (Salamon, 71). In other words, homoerraticism refers to the ability for different individuals to consciously occupy a sense of sameness that, within it, houses specific types of deviations and fluid interpretations of that sameness.

I would argue that this concept, one of homoerratics, could be applied to the gamut of ways of enacting femininity as well. Femininity, in its essence, denotes a sense of sameness under the banner of an interpretation of what it means to be woman. However, just as Salamon notes that “homoerotic is an unhelpfully flat adjective that cannot quite keep up with libidinous and identificatory refractions,” I would argue that femininity is often misused, and ill defined in its traditional and most common usage (71). I would, then, call for a term that does what homoerraticism attempts to do and does quite well, but would instead describe a sort of “unfixability” in the multiplicity of the possible interpretations of femininity.

Perhaps erratic femininity could come to stand in the place of the traditional term femininity. Based on this argument, then, I suppose an erratic masculinity must be put into place, as well as an erratic androgyny and perhaps general erratic gender subjectivity. To me, Salamon’s term homoerratic has simply opened the floodgates and rendered a knew image of sameness under specific identities and subjectivities.

-Sally Stempler

Passing in a Binary World

                I had no idea the extent of the exclusion place on non-conforming individuals until just before I decided to talk about non-binary gender’s invisibility for my trans* history project. In my Critical Approaches to Literature class, we were discussing Foucault, Bordo, and Butler. As a mind immersed in Gender Studies ways of thinking it was frustrating to see people totally missing the point. I could walk away and cool off after class… until we read a six-page segment of Butler’s Gender Trouble. The discussion of the reading disavowed so much of my identity with so little effort that I could not think straight by the end of the day. When I declared my trans* history project concept I was fighting tears, it got me so riled up.

                Since then, I have noticed it everywhere. I am currently watching a friend struggle with trying to enforce ‘they’ pronouns with very little success. A trans man got accommodations to live on an all-male floor, but is too scared to venture into the bathroom and is greeted by a bulletin board titled ‘Manliness March’ stating all the ways to get the girl of your dreams. When a comment was written on the board about all of the assumptions it is making about sexuality, the comment was ripped down. The same trans man is being shunned by his suitemate (another trans man) because his suitemate is passable and wants to assimilate into the normative world of gender. I’m not hating on that desire, it’s incredibly understandable. However, it sucks that the less passable trans* individuals are left out in the cold while the passably normative cis and trans individuals fit into their comfortable, gendered blue and pink boxes and don’t think twice about how their gender assumptions might hurt someone.

                Then two gender inclusive floors are proposed in Collins and progress is being made. But the floor that is supposed to be completely supportive is cancelled and the only option left has gender-segregated bathrooms. This would, once again, be fine for the gender conforming and passable individuals, but for the genderqueer or non-passing trans* individual it takes the bathroom dilemma that is fought against every day and brings it into the more intimate dorm setting where it is absolutely unavoidable. Speaking of bathrooms, how incredibly embarrassing to be caught between the two when people at large can so obviously tell where they belong. Then the same people who can so easily decide where they go push you out of the bathroom with curses about how you belong in the other one when you honestly thought you were complying to the norm by entering .

                Then I read Gayle Salamon’s work and I see it littered everywhere throughout her examples with trans individuals and their experiences being explained with “he or she” as if those were the only two options a person could strive for (75, 83). And on page 84, it is suggested by Hausman that transgender individuals who have not, or choose not to, transition are merely pre-transsexuals who haven’t quite gotten there yet for personal or financial reasons.

                It just goes to show how deep society’s construction of gender is ingrained more than it is taught through everyday actions and assumptions. Without fail people will misgender my friends and me without batting an eyelash because to them, gender is not an issue in social interactions.

                Well, gender isn’t an issue until it’s your issue. Then you can’t get away from it. 

Here’s a piece of poetry by Andrea Gibson about the pressures faced in trying to conform to a binary that doesn’t always fit. Enjoy.

-Skyler Powell

Falling in Love with Chris and Greg

Falling in Love with Chris and Greg is by far my favorite thing that I have come across in this class.  The series addresses many of the issues that we have talked about in class.  What makes this series different from the other documentaries and readings is that it is done in a humorous manner. 

I think that their use of humor allows them to explore these issues in a different way than some of the other materials that we have come across.  I think that their series encourages viewers to think about things that they might not normally think about because the issues are presented in an accessible way.  Chris and Greg are both very likeable, despite their flaws.  Greg’s disastrous date with Steve was funny.  When he told Chris about how well it went, it made me think of all of the times I have exaggerated having fun to my friends, and on Facebook.  It made me laugh, and it also made me think about how the series touched on some of the ideas we have talked about in class. 

One of my favorite parts of the series was the episode “Food” where Greg talks about all of his insecurities over his body, completely oblivious to the fact that Chris has his own set of insecurities over his body.  Chris vents to his therapist about Greg’s insensitivity.  The therapist does not really seem to understand his frustrations, and only seems to make things worse. 

The series as a whole explores queer relationships.  The first episode clearly lays out that this couple does not fit into heteronormative ideals of monogamy.  They come back to this idea in their election PSA where they talk about their unconventional form of monogamy.  I found a slightly different take on queer relationships from a 2011 issue of the Village Voice:

http://blogs.villagevoice.com/afterdark/2011/03/the_hazards_of_dating_while_transgender.php

This piece has a much more serious tone, and it brings up some slightly different issues.  Falling in Love with Chris and Greg does not really bring up the issue of meeting new people, since the two are already in a relationship, even though their relationship does not fit into normative ideas about dating and monogamy.  The only time Greg really talks in detail about the dynamics of dating a transman is when he is on that train wreck of a date with Steve.  This conversation is presented in a funny rather than serious manner.  It addresses similar issues to the article, but in a very different way. 

-Zhaleh Breen

Pondering the Phenomenological Reduction

Gayle Salamon’s article “Boys of the Lex: Transgender and Social Construction” made quite a few extremely compelling points.  Among them are some great defenses of social constructionism, some astute theorizing about embodiment, and a fascinating summary of Husserl’s practice of “phenomenological reduction.”  I’d like to just mention a few things that interested me pertaining to the first two subjects, and then I’d like to spend the bulk of my post pondering this practice of Husserl’s. 

            In this chapter of her book Assuming the Body, Salamon deftly rebukes the critiques advanced by some Trans Studies scholars against the theories of social construction, which have historically been championed by scholars of Queer Theory.  Answering the general critique that social constructionist conceptions of gender do not resonate with the reality of gender as it is lived, embodied and experienced, Salamon writes: “What we feel about our bodies is just as ‘constructed’ as what we think about them… What social construction offers is a way to understand how that felt sense arises, in all its historical and cultural variations, with all its urgency and immediacy,” (77).  What we think and feel about our bodies and our genders is completely real, but this realness does not preclude the social construction of these thoughts and feelings. 

            Considering the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Salamon writes, “The phenomenological body presents itself as simply there, as unproblematically available to me.  Yet this simple givenness is a fiction… Anything I might do with my body… acquires legibility only in the context of all my body’s previous actions,” (78).  She considers how, although people may experience of their bodies as simply material and solely located in the present, even this sense obscures the reality that bodies have histories of actions, states, etc which inform the meaning of present actions, states, etc. 

            In Salamon’s summary, Husserl makes a

“call to establish certainty about existence.  This certainty can be achieved through what he termed the phenomenological reduction or epoche, an attitude toward the world that consists of suspending judgments about it, a bracketing off of what we know to determine how that knowledge comes about and to guarantee a correspondence between our knowledge of objects and those objects themselves,” (89).

 

Acknowledging that different individuals’ experiences or perceptions of objects are necessarily varied, and that one’s own perception and experience of the world cannot be assumed to be shared by others, Salamon conceptualizes reality (reality of objects, reality of gender, reality of life and the world): “A real object is a ‘complex of all its possible appearances,’ containing within it the possibility of its own being for and from the perspective of any individual person. In this sense, what constitutes something as real is… a horizon of possibility, an openness to all the different experiences that it represents to any given person,” (91).  Interestingly, because of the impossibility of objectivity- or of knowledge which is not rooted to some specific perspective- “reality” must be understood as a composite of diverse experiences and perceptions. 

            “Transgender” is often understood to function as the “umbrella-like” categorical title which encompasses individuals manifesting various configurations of non-normative sex/gender/sexuality matchings.  These configurations are fundamentally diverse, and a quick look at a typical version of the “transgender umbrella” at http://www.pflagphoenix.org/images/umbrella_transgender.jpg reveals the intense multiplicity attending the engagement of this term.  Additionally, as is argued throughout Salamon’s piece regarding the Boys of the Lex calendar, even when only manifestations within a single “sub-genre” of transgender identity are considered, variety of expression and diversity of ascribed meaning abound.  Thus, utilizing the phenomenological reductionist version of reality, the sub-category “butch lesbian” and the category “transgender” derive their realness from the “horizon of possibilities” which exists for their enactment and embodiment by, and perceived meaning for, various individuals. 

 

By Roz Rini

Chris and Greg: Children??

Falling in Love with Chris and Greg was not at all what I was expecting, yet amazingly entertaining and kind of awkward which made it even more entertaining. The couple covers everything from body and hormone issues to relationships to marriage and children. By far my favorite episode was Road Trip TV Special! where they travel from California to Death Valley to Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, and back. Their discussion about why they should or should not get married because of the “loophole,” and Greg’s freak out over Chris being able to have a baby or not was mind boggling.

First, it’s hilarious that Chris referred to his own vagina as a “loophole”. Second, both of their reasons behind wanting to get married made absolutely no sense to me. This may have been because I actually didn’t understand their arguments, but I’m thinking it’s actually because I couldn’t understand their fast bickering over the issue. And lastly, I had never before had the thought cross my mind that a transman could have a baby if he still had the reproductive organs of a female. I mean, you would think this is something to ponder, but never had I even considered it.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed watching Greg eat many twinkies and go on what seemed to be a crazed sugar high, I have to think about what he was really questioning. I should preface this by saying I have very little knowledge about what extensive effects large quantities of testosterone have on the body. But say a transman who is taking testosterone is having penile/vaginal intercourse with a man, would he be able to get pregnant? And if he did, what kind of effects would the “mother’s” body chemistry have on the child? Or would this not be possible because the testosterone lowers the previous levels of estrogen and progesterone and therefore no eggs are released and there is no menstruation? These are interesting things to think about. 

And here is a link to the ridiculous sideshow news craze that surrounded Thomas Beatie back in 2008, when he attracted media attention from EVERYWHERE for being the “first pregnant transman”. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/22/fashion/22pregnant.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

I had totally forgotten about this story until I typed “transman pregnant” into Google. According to the article, yes a transman can become pregnant, but only after ceasing testosterone injections. I know that news sources are not always entirely credible, but I’m willing to go with the NY TImes on this one and assume they are correct. However, if any of you are like me, you’ve still got to be wondering “What if…?”

-Jocelyn Crizer

Disaster Date

Let’s talk about everything you’re not supposed to talk about on a first date. Debt, politics, your sex life, current partners, etc.  Falling in Love with Chris and Greg hit almost all of these “no-nos” in the first episode O Canada!  Although it portrayed a disastrous first date, it did touch on some interesting topics.  The concept of an open relationship is the biggest conflict of the mini series.  Chris wants one, Greg doesn’t, but agrees to try dating other people. He obviously fails in impressing his date, who he insults on several occasions. The episode is a bit offensive to Canadians (although if you watch “How I Met Your Mother you’ll see similar Canadian jokes.) (an example of that here à http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lom3hxVCZt1qg3ut7o1_500.png )

 

http://shine.yahoo.com/love-sex/10-things-not-to-say-on-a-first-date-285893.html

Here’s a list of things to not say on a first date, which let’s face it, Greg does a pretty good job of fucking up.  Now, I get that it’s supposed to be funny, and it is if not embarrassing, but let’s not forget that Greg was iffy on the whole dating outside of his primary relationship in the first place.  He wanted to stay at home and bake pies.  It was Chris who talked him in to going on this disaster date in the first place.  He wanted some sort of validation of Greg’s love for him by Greg expressing that love to others.

With Greg’s indifference to the date in the first place, one might be forced to consider that he may have personally sabotaged the date.  He might have been so uncomfortable with the idea of being with someone other than his partner that he purposefully fucked up.  Or maybe not.  Maybe he’s just that awkward. 

Greg isn’t comfortable with the idea of an open relationship.  He obviously loves Chris and doesn’t understand why Chris would want outside sexual partners because he (Greg) doesn’t want to be with anyone other than Chris.  The concept of an open relationship is a bit difficult for a lot of people in our society to wrap their minds around because it goes against societal norms of monogamy.

http://soniq.org/soniq/13103/9-essential-open-relationship-rules-to-know-%E2%80%A6

Here is a list of “Open Relationship Rules” that are floating around on a lot of websites.  Obviously rules would vary from each particular relationship, but it’s important to think about these “rules” in relationship to the Chris and Greg’s relationship to see how it fits in to this ideal. 

 

I think this episode raises a lot of important questions about “normality” (What is normal for Greg?) and relationship dynamics. 

 

-Jalyn Phifer

I may shut the world out, but this does not make it go away

In “Boys of the Lex,” Gayle Salamon discusses the ways in which gender and gender expression are perceived. Salamon states, “To offer the category of real gender in an attempt to discipline what are perceived as the excesses of theoretical gender is to domesticate gender as it is lived and to deny its considerable complexity, which often outpaces our language to describe it.” (72) In other words, gender is both internal and external, and usually the social is inextricably linked to the personal.

This chapter is an attempt by Salamon to discuss the difficulties of labeling gender a ‘social construct’ while simultaneously showing that it is. Salamon quotes Jason Cromwell: “’If gender were only important in social situations, then transpeople would not know that their gender is different than what societies dictate they should be according to their bodies.’” (80) The idea of gender as a social construct that is only relevant when other people are present does not take into account what happens when we are alone. We do not stop presenting when no one else is around. Some of us may act differently under public scrutiny than we do at home, but this does not mean we become nothing.

One of Salamon’s and other trans* theorists’ problem with gender as construction is the fact that it only allows for men and women. Gender is not thought of in terms of language, because it is seen as a personal, political, or social decision. But without looking toward language, we can only ever have two allowable modes of gender expression. Queer communities across the globe have been attempting to gain recognition for third gender pronouns such as sie and hir, but generally speaking they have not been taken up. When Sweden attempted to add the gender neutral “hen” to its online dictionary, not even the official print dictionary, it was lambasted as “feminist activists who want to destroy our language.”

Salamon says in this chapter, “A reading of gender…that focuses exclusively on the agency of the individual misses this entire matrix of power in which gender takes shape.” (80) Individuals choose in which way they express themselves and their gender, but this expression happens in conjunction with the society surrounding them and the very language with which it is expressed.

-Caitlyn Smallwood

Transsexuality in Iran

Throughout this class we have covered how trans-identities inform other aspects of the self through politics, privilege, and a few other ways. One thing that we haven’t discussed is the how the matter of faith often intersects with trans-identities. This week is the first time that faith (or to be more precise, religion) has been worked into a trans-narrative.  I personally find this fascinating, as most people are under the impression that most religions are against any form of trans-expression, even though that might be entirely accurate.

In Be Like Others, we see how religion intersects with trans-identities in positive, negative, and fairly neutral ways. The documentary takes place in Iran, an Islamic state, meaning that the majority of its laws come directly from the Quran. Since there is no religious restriction on corrective surgery, the Iranian government, medical professionals, and many trans* individuals have interpreted that as the Quran being okay with medically transitioning. This has worked itself into the legal realm in Iran, where the government will pay up to half the cost of the surgery for those who need and will change their birth certificate accordingly.

While this is all well and good, there are some seriously problematic issues in this practice, primarily when regarding people who do not wish to medically transition. In Iran, if trans-folk are approved for SRS then they must undergo treatment as soon as possible. There is no other option. Trans-folk cannot opt out of surgery nor can they openly identify as genderqueer or a non-binary gender. Doing so not only opens them up for harassment, but also legal action because they might be considered a homosexual, which is illegal in Iran. In short, while the medicalization process has done some good for some trans-folk in Iran, the fact that there is a lack of choice in the transition process is extremely problematic. It is great that trans-folk will not have legal action taken against them for how they identify (unlike the rest of the Iranian LGB community), the fact that their identification is treated as a disorder that must be cursed is asinine.

A simple example of why this policy is problematic is this story. The gist of this article is that SRS are often performed haphazardly and that the mental health of trans-folk both before and after SRS seldom goes addressed. A lot of trans-folk experience a great amount of trauma do to poor treatment from their surgeons and therapists. There are many cases of sexual harassment and assault wherein therapists coerce their patients into having sex with them or their surgeons rape them because they know that it is likely that no one will listen to them.

It’s all very interesting how such a religious government can be okay with performing SRS surgeries, yet still have so many issues when dealing with these individuals. What seems like an open-minded interpretation of religious law has turned into yet another measure for the government to exercise control over it’s people. Trans-folk do not have control over their bodies, their identification, or their future in Iran – the government does.

– Kris Krumb