More Appeals to Normativity? I give up.

            When cis-normative gay communities dump all gender transgressions onto the word “trans,” some trans communities themselves are resistant to pick up the queer pieces of their identities.  The inherent issue with the creation of an umbrella term so vast it covers all gender transgressive experience is that not every gender-transgressive person who self-identifies under this umbrella can possibly have the same experience as the next gender non-conforming human.  So when trans individuals seeking medical resources shove themselves into gender-normative boxes to cater to medical gatekeepers, they sacrifice the visibility and even viability of those who call themselves “trans” but refuse to let go of the incoherencies of their queer gender identities.

            Picking apart those who identify with the traditional trans narrative as wanted by medical gatekeepers is not, however, what I’m after with this post.  Anyone who identifies as trans should be able to identify with any narrative of their choosing.  This becomes complicated when we have a messy umbrella term defined by the mere presence of gender non-conformity and when medical gatekeepers dictate a one-sided trans experience that alienates those who do not identify under those strict guidelines, forces trans-identified individuals seeking medical resources to adopt narratives they may not necessarily identify with, and shoves those who do identify with the traditional narrative onto a pedestal of normativity that they may or may not desire.

            I’m going to focus here on trans masculine-leaning genderqueer humans because I have more personal experience with this kind of alienation from trans spaces.  Dean Spade describes this phenomenon very well.  If trans masculine-identified individuals have to appeal to a normative “I was a man born in a female body” narrative to get medical resources, then “the most ‘successful’ FTMs [resemble] khaki-clad frat boy clones” (Spade 28).  While this is an exaggeration, the point is that the “perfect” FTM seeks a normative (macho, hetero, misogynist, etc.) masculinity acceptable within mainstream society.  Where does that leave the rest of us genderqueers who identify as feminine or queer in terms of sexuality or feminist?  With nowhere to go.

            I know what this is like.  I don’t belong in cis-normative gay spaces because I’m not cis, and I don’t belong in trans masculine spaces because I’m not “trans enough.”  There are no resources for me within either community because either my gender transgressions throw me under this trans umbrella term, or because the normative focus in trans masculine spheres is transition so much that I cannot just exist in those spaces without being pushed to be gendered male or try T. 

            Here are a few examples.  I have a very complicated relationship with pronouns.  I abhor them.  I feel awkward when I am gendered as he and she, so for those who don’t acknowledge the existence of gender-neutral pronouns, I won’t ever feel like they’re getting it right.  I don’t feel “wholly joyous when I get called ‘sir’ or ‘boy’” (Spade 22) because I have this enormously complicated relationship with pronouns in general and with my own fluctuating gender performance in that moment.  How can I ever fit into trans masculine circles if I don’t have a deep desire for male pronouns or experience the same giddiness as most normative trans guys do when they are gendered male?

            I’m on the Indy Boyz listserv, an email list of those who identify as trans or trans masculine-leaning genderqueer in Indiana/Indianapolis area.  Almost every email that comes across my laptop echoes the same things over and over again.  Focus: transition.  One specific email I came across the other day came from a trans guy who just came out to himself after years of internal struggle.  It certainly surprised me when he spelled out a huge list of all of the things he hoped to accomplish (coming out immediately to his family, changing his name, starting T, saving for top surgery, finding a plastic surgeon, and finally having top surgery) just after he came out to himself. 

             While I acknowledge the validity of his experience, I wonder if the transition image of trans guys on the internet (which is usually the only accessible image of trans guys on the internet) influenced this guy’s immediate decision to act and pursue transition.  And if that is the case, why did he so easily conform to this transition image?  I believe it’s because genderqueer expression is policed out of normative trans masculine circles.  Medical gatekeepers have such strict guidelines for access to resources that trans guys themselves feel so compelled to police the gender expression of other trans guys or trans masculine-identified humans.

              The pressure to conform to this transition model within trans masculine circles is astounding.  Not only will other trans guys look at you sideways if you perform gender in ways that aren’t “man enough,” but some will also outright tell you that you are not “trans enough” to exist in a community for gender non-conforming people.  So gender non-conforming humans get kicked out of a gender non-conforming space because the normative trans guys are the new gender police.  Beautiful.  Just when I thought I had a community to go to where I could express my gender transgressions freely (because isn’t that what the umbrealla term trans is supposed to signify?), I am rejected because I’m not “trans enough,” and now I have no community with which to share stories.  If I can’t fit in with cis-normative gay communities, and if I can’t fit in with narrative-normative trans communities, I begin to ask the question “why bother?” (Spade 28).

            I would like to suggest an alternative way of thinking about genderqueer alienation before I start to fizzle down the “I do not want to live on this planet” path.  Gender policing alienates genderqueer expression.  When cis-normative or trans-normative individuals police queer gender expressions directly or indirectly, “they foreclose norm-resistant possibilities” (Spade 28).  Gender policing exists because we have a dichotomous normative versus deviant way of thinking about gender.  When mainstream society throws gender transgressions into an umbrella, they throw us into the “deviant” category and then chastise that category for existing and compare it to their own normative category set up as the false “original” or “normal” gender category. 

            This binary thinking exists to oppress anyone under the deviant umbrella category, and the oppression becomes more severe as one becomes more deviant because the oppression comes from both outside and within those in the umbrella itself who in some way appeal to the normative category.  In these ways, how can the trans community call itself a community when its creation was dictated by those who called us “other” and threw us into a term that cannot possibly encompass all of our queer identities?  Queer identities will always be alienated from “queer-identified” spaces whenever those spaces represent some overarching umbrella of deviance that cannot possibly represent everyone and/or somehow seeks normativity because it is part of a “you versus us” dichotomy.

             My frustration over these issues boiled over when I read Spade’s article.  As a gender non-conforming human, I feel like I ironically cannot fit within any queer space because most “queer” spaces have actually become slightly deviant versions of normative spaces.  I refuse to remain a part of a space that polices my behavior in an attempt to make me more normative.  After reading this article, I wanted to pack up and move away from every person on the planet because I can’t stand the pressure to choose pronouns or justify myself to people (both cis and trans) anymore.  Without the ability to find and access a community of people like me because the queer is alienated from most “queer” spaces, there’s no point in trying to belong to a community that continually tries to change me.  I’d rather separate from everyone than conform and live as at most half of myself.

              Maybe my pessimism has gone on far too long unchecked (I acknowledge the lengthiness and rant-like language of this blog), but until I find queers who can’t put a name to their sexualities or genders or lack of either, I will continue to be frustrated with “queer communities” that try to shove me into normative boxes.  I do not play by your gender rules, and I will not flail around in your normative spaces.  Why bother?

 

This is a link to the trans enough project.  It provides more solid examples of how (mostly) normative trans guys police gender expression.  The problematic part of this project is that it does not have a more diverse range of queer voices.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gukzQ5eLrVc 

 

-Ash Kulak

A Question of Prophets

By MK Worthington

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In Imagining Transgender, David Valentine challenges the notion of adopting historical figures and events as significant examples of “gay” or “transgender” history. The terms “homosexual” and “transgender” are relatively new. Their exact meanings, to a large extent, are still up for debate. Who fits into what category depends on whom you ask– and when you ask. Even within these two terms sub-categories exist and the list is ever growing, making it difficult to sort individuals into the complex system.

Some argue that same-sex attractions and partnerships and gender variances of many sorts have been around for as long as we have recorded history. The evidence is readily available. In fact, there are arguably even examples contained in the Holy Bible! For decades now Gay Rights activists have carefully sifted through history, digging up precious examples of homosexuality from every country and every period of time known to man. And now, with the emergence of Trans-activism, the same search is being made for historical transgender forerunners. The terminology may be new, but the characters that embody these identities have been around since the dawn of time, right?

Perhaps. But at different times and in different societies those relationships and identities (both what we call “homosexual” and “transgender”) have held various names and meanings, they were understood within a different context, and they bore a wide range of consequences quite different from what we see and experience today. And, inevitably, both homosexual and transgender historians lay claim to, and fight over, many of the same ‘heroes’. When analyzing figures that existed in a time before any real distinctions were being made overlaps are bound to occur. And, the truth is, it is impossible to say with absolute certainty that any historical figure would be an appropriate fit into any modern category.

 Is it fair then to look back over history at individuals and recorded instances and retroactively classify them as “homosexual” or “transgender” in nature?

It certainly isn’t a new idea to go back in time and appropriate figures in history as shining examples of a relatively new concept. One of my personal favorite examples of this is the adoption of the Old Testament and its prophets as founders of Christianity. By claiming ties to the ancient record, Christians assert their validity; their God has always been present and powerful…

One particular example of this phenomenon I consider highly notable is the deference given to Moses as portrayed in the Cecil B. DeMille film The Ten Commandments. The story of Moses, a Hebrew slave who is adopted into the Egyptian royal family and raised as a prince– a story of great historical significance within the Jewish faith– is popular among Christians as a defining story of the Christian faith as well. Never mind the fact that Jesus Christ plays no role whatsoever in the tale, the film is aired annually on television as special part of the Easter Sunday programming aimed at Christian viewers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adthgjXEKUc

The Old Testament is considered to be a record of the Word of the Hebrew God, its authors the prophets of that same God. A God Christians also claim, based on an understanding developed centuries later after the coming of Christ…

In both cases there are compelling arguments for assigning modern definitions to historical individuals and events… but more often than not, the arguments against such classifications are just as compelling.

-These have been the thoughts and opinions of MK Worthington (ME)