Genitalia & Gender: Separate, but equal?

The concept of “matching” the mind and body through surgical and hormonal procedures has brought a focus to genitalia and the body stretching far beyond sexual pleasure and “complete” embodiment, allowing for the medicalization and manipulation of trans bodies.  Being that the extreme division of sex and gender is constantly projected onto the transsexual community complicates the common idea of normalcy,  transsexualism has been called upon as yet another “correction” to make, yet another, disenfranchised group of people.  In order to prevent this “anomaly” from confusing the lives of those surrounding, the demand of congruency between sex and gender has been strongly bedded in the medical discourse in order to prove one’s gender functionality and navigation in society.   To be seen as a trans person within the confines of society, one must desperately seek medical care.  The result being a diagnostic heading for the medical field to trace and define, without the true concerns and variability among patients.  The medical community’s interference in the realm of transsexuality polices which people have right to claim themselves as trans individuals, and, thus, has created a category of trans that only allows for those willing to permanently change their bodies and undergo invasive genital surgery.

As each author alludes to in our readings for this week, the need to stretch beyond our understandings of gender as either male or female is imperative.  For transfeminism, as well as trans theory and feminism separately, the idea of “passing” or gender “fulfillment” is stifling to all seeking asylum within these communities.  This point became very clear for me as I read “The Empire Strikes Back.”  As Stone states, “As clinicians and transsexuals continue to face off across the diagnostic battlefield…the transsexuals for whom gender identity is something different from and perhaps irrelevant to physical genitalia are occulted by those for whom the power of the medical/psychological establishments, and their ability to act as gatekeepers for cultural norms, is the final authority for what counts as a culturally intelligible body” (232).

Though for some trans individuals sex reassignment surgery is invaluable to existence and medical influences on the body have allowed for life improvements, it is essential to understand the ramifications of having such a great emphasis on the genitals.  Recognizing the issues of western embodiment, idealization, and access to surgery in regards to racial marginalization and colonization is vital to understanding the progression of trans narrative and recent trans activism.  The ability to acknowledge the body as a consequence of social pressures and deep-rooted idealism allows us to move beyond materiality and develop a new way of seeing.  It is necessity to escape the strong grip that the genitals hold on not only the trans community seeking to assume western ideals, but our general understandings of what constitutes trans identity.

In this sense, transfeminism offers a way to combat the medicalized understanding of gender identity and the common trans narrative that only feeds back into a capitalistic system.  As also pointed out by Koyama and Salamon, rethinking motivations, representations, and even the way we speak about trans bodies and the constant measurement of ability to function as viable parts of socialization, could perhaps eradicate the forces working against inclusion and the understanding of trans bodies as an important feminist issue.

With issues such as this coming under critique and analysis, the blogosphere can become an important source for celebration of variation.  Genderfork.com along with its companion Tumblr site (http://genderfork.tumblr.com/) are among several outlets for young people to submit and support images and text that shows pride in gender ambiguity and allows viewers to rethink the ways in which we identify and name one another.  Moving towards images such as these and away from idealistic female forms provides us with yet another way to consider transfeminism.

-Elizabeth Nash

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Raymond: A Proponent of Myths

Most of us would probably agree that Janice Raymond is crazy.  To put it pretty bluntly, and not to oversimplify the issue, but it is probably true!  Her radicalism makes her crazy.  Most can often see two sides to every issue – I consider myself a pretty open-minded person, as I can usually understand the dissenting opinion to my own pretty well, even if I don’t agree with it.  I can even understand crazy at times.  There are some points that Raymond tries to argue that I can honestly actually understand where she is getting them from, but for the most part really, anybody who reads this chapter can probably see that her reality is a little off from everybody else’s.  Her radicalism is just so extreme and it is shocking and a little hard to understand how she had such a loud voice and influence in society.  I would argue that it is probably her radicalism that gives her a sort of… charisma.  But besides that, we need to talk about, what I consider, her dysfunctional schema of the way the world is supposed to be run.

After reading her article and thinking about it, I was reminded of a video from a youtuber, Laci Green, that covers pretty elementary ideas concerning gender and society that we discuss in Gender Studies classes that Raymond most certainly would not agree with.  Oftentimes, people share a general similar idea of the way the world works, with details being nitpicked at times and disagreements developing that way.  But for the most part, usually people can agree on general ideas.  I feel that it is these basic and pretty general ideas and beliefs that she does not share that leads to her radicalism.

In her video, Laci talks about “three myths” that she says need to be debunked.  Here is the link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sHBAVjahp8&list=UUJm5yR1KFcysl_0I3x-iReg

Myth #1:  There are two rigid genders.

Her little segment about boundaries exemplifies this idea.  Although later she complains about people posing the question about gender differences, she encourages the idea herself.  She believes that there is a special feminine energy, as she puts it, which I can understand and I believe does exist, but she feels that, “These women also fail to recognize that accepting transsexuals into the feminist community is only another rather unique variation on the age-old theme of women nurturing men, providing them with a safe haven, and finally giving them our best energies” (137).  She seems to think that “feminine” energy only applies to women, and the idea that biologically born males might understand stereotypically “feminine” feelings or energies is lost to her.

Myth #2:  Sex=gender.

Clearly, Janice Raymond supports this myth as she constantly refers to trans women as “male-to-constructed-female transsexuals,” and talks about them in such a way as if it is a farce and a mere attempt to “infiltrate” and “invade” female spaces.  She also refers to numerous trans women with the pronoun of “he” rather than “she.”  Even though she acknowledges the socialization of gender, she seems to reject the idea that it is much more complicated than she seems to imply and does draw bigoted opinions on how one defines gender.  Which brings me to the last myth discussed in the video.

Myth #3:  Others can define YOUR gender.

On the issue of defining gender, she acknowledges the socialization of it, but also rejects the idea that gender is fluid and that one can choose for oneself.  Her idea of gender is the gender that one is raised being called by others.  In discussing intersexed babies, she says that, “Thus those who are altered shortly after birth have the history of being practically born as male or female and those who are altered later in life have their body surgically conformed to their history.  When and if they do undergo surgical change, they do not become the opposite sex after a long history of functioning and being treated differently.”  While she brings up a good point, as the way one is raised is highly important, but her opinion seems to lie in what one is called throughout childhood, not what one calls oneself based on his or her own experiences or feelings.  Sometimes one is raised as one gender but has much more complex experiences and feelings.

These are all basic ideas and values which we probably all share, but not Janice Raymond, and that is what makes her so crazy!  While calling trans women rapists, she overlooks the fact that trans women are not in fact trying to “steal” the feminine energy, but rather are putting themselves in the position of being treated like second-class citizens.  So instead of continuing the marginalization of trans folk, she might want to consider trying to understand another person’s viewpoint, even if it differs from her own.

-Chrissy Goss

“Pretty fuckin’ presumptuous, ain’t I?”

“Dunno if it matters that I mean well,” “… it’s just that I’ve learned some truths about myself that I have a hunch apply to you.” These are the words of Lou Sullivan and his article A Transvestite Answers a Feminist blew my mind. Maybe it’s because my life intersects with his, or maybe it’s because he has a lot of really awesome, very applicable points in response to the parts of feminism that attempt to be against the trans* population. He and Dorothy make their arguments in colloquial English and aren’t afraid to use offensive words to prove a point. The most interesting part of this article is that it was written when Sullivan identified as a female transvestite, so the article is a rare view of a particular kind of life at a very unique stage of development into being. However, all of these things pale against the fact that his article is solely comprised of notes passed back and forth between two feminist-identified people with slightly different perspectives on life who were challenging each other to think outside of their own heads. Dorothy and Lou exchange an odd form of communication that is both a sister- and a brotherhood simultaneously, while also being a new form of camaraderie foreign to the gendered sphere.

My first introduction to anything trans* was Ash Kulak’s Q-project. It was comprised of interviews asking trans* individuals at IU about their views on the options the University offered them, usually involved with housing arrangements. However, there was a teacher at IU who was interviewed and he said that he does not reveal his trans* identity to his class, especially when teaching on feminism, because it ends up distracting from the message that the class is trying to convey. Coming out to his students would invariably cause them to excuse his viewpoint’s legitimacy because they see him as actually being a girl from that point on. All they can think about is how being trans* works, not the material that he was trying to teach them.

What I want to know is: would this article exist if Sullivan had already transitioned, or even just started that process? Would the conversation have happened if Sullivan was just a self-proclaimed trans-man? The way Dorothy approached the topic of gender and gender roles in society would have been rather different if she had known the full extent of Sullivan’s gender non-normativity. That was why this article in particular blew my mind. It only exists in its beautiful way because two people found each other at just the right time and mood to have an intense conversation that started over nothing and escalated into a discussion of trans* issues and a defense of trans* identities by a feminist, even though Dorothy was not, in all probability, intending her words to be read in that context. The IU teacher did not come out to his students for the sake of teaching something  meaningful to his students. Lou Sullivan did not fully come out to Dorothy until the end of the stream of notes, which allowed a comfortable conversation between co-workers and friends to happen before identities got in the way. 

– Skyler Powell