Transgender = Narcissistic: The Ultimate Social Irony

I was struck during the reading of David Cauldwell’s “Psychopathia Transexualis” and Harry Benjamin’s “Transsexualism and Transvestism as Psycho-Somatic and Somato-Psychic Syndromes” by the connection made by both authors between the phenomenon of transgender (termed by the authors as “transsexualism,” “transvestism” or “psychopathis transexualis”) and narcissism.  Explicitly, Dr. Cauldwell writes, “[A transsexual subject] was narcissistic and reveled in just seeing and feeling herself (as much when alone as otherwise) in the role of a male,” (43).  Dr. Benjamin too writes, “The libido as far as sex activities are concerned is usually low [in transsexualists] and seems to be completely occupied with the sex conversion idea, indicating the close relationship to narcissism,” (47).  It is obvious that the medical establishment has attempted for many years to pathologize trans people and their desires for gender intervention, and part of that work has been to construe trans people as generally mentally ill and disorder-ridden.   However, it feels to me like a particularly ironic and painful stab on the part of the medical establishment to call trans people narcissistic; not only are trans people considered disturbed for desiring to embody or perform gender differently, but they are considered narcissistic for enjoying a desired embodiment or performance.

Looking for a more technical description of narcissism (and not having the current DSM on hand), I found a site which quotes the DSM IV-TR’s entry for “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”:

http://behavenet.com/narcissistic-personality-disorder.

Included upon the list of nine symptomatic characteristics are “(2) preoccupied with fantasies of …beauty,” and “(5) a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of …automatic compliance with his or her expectations.” As quoted above, Cauldwell and Benjamin both discuss their subjects’ sexual fascination with or fantasies about their own embodiment in explicit relation to narcissism- characteristics which seem to align with the second symptom given by the DSM.  Beyond this, Benjamin writes, “More than anything else the psychogenetic transvestite wants to see a change in the existing restrictive laws… He [italics in original] does not want to be changed, but wants society’s attitude toward him to change, again revealing narcissistic tendencies,” (49).  While this sentiment might appear ridiculous when applied to an oppressed minority group, it supports a diagnosis of narcissism: #5 a sense of entitlement.

While the doctors appear to have gone to lengths to flesh out their diagnosis of trans people as mentally ill, calling a minority group narcissistic for demanding their own acknowledgement is like calling a starving person gluttonous for requesting something to eat.  Self-fascination is not egotistical when one’s body or identity is new and changed- and anyway, self-gender is sexualized for everybody!  Asking for society to change is not selfish when one belongs to an institutionally oppressed population.  Trans people are narcissistic in the same way that any person who has ever wrenched back their self-determination from an oppressive establishment is narcissistic.  This situation is the ultimate addition of insult to injury:  first trans persons are called mentally ill for wishing to transition, then they are treated to discrimination and prejudice from the medical, legal, and employment institutions, and finally they are called doubly mentally ill for noticing and objecting to their patholigization and persecution. While not the most serious of the problems produced by transphobia, medical professionals calling trans persons narcissistic constitutes an historically humor-less irony.

By Rosalind Rini

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Who You Calling Boy?

Patrick Califia, in his article, Manliness discusses his own ideals of what it means to be a man after transitioning from female to male at the age of 45. Spending the majority of his life as a woman but identifying as a man, he expresses the ways in which he has come to define masculinity.

According to Patrick, his own concept of masculinity is much different than the one in which society has come to know. Even now, Patrick expresses his concern of being a “man.” He explains, “My gender dysphoria has had more to do with feeling that there is something wrong when other people perceived or treated me as if I were a girl. Not wanting to be female, but not having much enthusiasm for the only other option our society offers.” (Califia, 435). He goes on to discuss his relationship with the idea of maleness and the ways in which he had grown up in a way that made him oppose anything that had to do with masculinity. He explains how he almost feels like a “stranger” to either category of man or woman.

This idea of what it truly means to be a man or a woman made me think about what other people think of this concept of “masculinity.” That’s when I found this blog: http://theorizingmasculinity.blogspot.com/

This blog explores the many concepts of masculinity. Many people post all sorts of thoughts, ideas, videos, and other articles all relating to what it must mean to be a man in today’s society. Topics include female masculinity, concepts of masculinity in the media, domestic violence, and all kinds of ideas of what it means to be a particular gender. What struck me most about the blog was the vast array of masculinity being discussed. Some had to do with sexuality, some with violence, some with more feminized versions of masculinity, and some even had to do with the types of food men are supposed to eat to be more “manly.”

Going back to Califia’s article, his own experience of transitioning into a man was extremely complex as well. His father had extremely stereotypical standards of what being a man means which initially drew him away from becoming a man. Califia shares his experience of who he identifies as today as almost a combination of his life experience as others identifying him as a woman as well as his desire to be seen as man today. He also expresses his positive experiences of his father’s masculinity in his life as well.

This blog shares many negative, yet also many positive images of masculinity as well. This just shows that the concept of gender is much more complex than most people imagine. We are all different beings and we all grow up and learn about who we want to be in different ways. There is no actual true “masculine” just like there is no actual true “feminine.” Therefore, using labels to describe ones identify is not enough. Instead, it is important to focus on our own histories to explain who we are. 

Miranda Fencl

Trans* Enough

“One of Stone’s goals in critiquing previous representations of transsexualism was to encourage new forms of self-expression capable of revealing the deep and powerful ways we all construct a sense of self in reference to our particular form of embodiment” -Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle

Sandy Stone’s essay, The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto, functions as an exceptionally effective rebuttal to Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire in that, rather than attempt to disavow Raymond’s arguments on her own terms (which we’ve discussed in class as being inescapably problematic), Stone lays out a new framework for future theory, thought, and commentary on studies pertaining to, about, and by trans* individuals.

I find manifestos to be unusually complex. By definition, manifestos speak on the intentions and politics of a specific group of individuals and are written by one or a sum of those individuals themselves. They’re inherently exclusive by nature. In its disruption and reimagining of trans* norms, Stone’s Manifesto, however, allows not only for broader definitions and variations of trans* embodiment, but is laden with theory applicable to ample forms of gender defiance and of personalized sex/gender/sexuality configurations.

In her Manifesto, Stone first lays a framework for reconfiguration, stating, “[i]n the case of the transsexual, the varieties of performative gender, seen against a culturally intelligible gendered body which is itself a medically constituted textual violence, generate new and unpredictable dissonances which implicate entire spectra of desire” (Stone, 231). In other words, the spectrum of dissonances and disruptions trans* people create in their embodiments has the potential to produce new discourses regarding what it means to be trans*.

This theoretical framework of Stone’s drew my thoughts away from her incomparably concise Manifesto and unto a movement of sorts, contemporaneously permeating social media outlets YouTube and Tumblr among others. “Trans* Enough,” combats the believed abstractions that all trans* individuals feel as thought they were born in “the wrong body,” that they wish to transition completely (top surgery, bottom surgery, hormone therapy etc…), and that there is a specific way to be trans* as dictated by not only popular culture and medicine, but the trans* community itself. These ideals coincide with Stone’s demand for “a deeper analytical language for transsexual theory,” one with “ambiguities and polyvocalities” ( Stone, 231). Stone’s voice seems to be infused into the Tumblr posts and YouTube videos that proudly claim trans* identity as something that does not necessarily need to be “readable” or easily defined.

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As someone who does not identify as trans*, I still feel completely drawn to Stone’s theories of “ambiguities and polyvocalities,” as well as her stance on “passing” as denying mixture and variation (Stone, 231). With so many outlets (political, cultural and otherwise), dictating what it means to iterate identity (gay, straight, trans*, queer, cis) the “right way,” embracing “mixing” and blurring as a sort of rebellion seems to be (for me, anyway) the more revolutionary thing to do. While Stone’s Manifesto speaks to and of trans* people first and foremost, I find it speaks to all individuals who embrace variation and non-normative representations of identity.

Sally Stempler

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

Multiple and Competing Conceptions of Sex/Gender Intersections and Causations

            Within the realm of gender studies, sex and gender are generally understood to be two related but distinct facets of personal identity which contribute both jointly and independently to an individual’s experience in the world.  Expanding to include the larger world, the sex/gender relationship is understood in conflicting ways, and many of these ways imply judgments about how identities are formed and which facets of identity determine an individual’s self expression.  From plain old Biological Essentialism to Emi Koyama’s “Reverse Essentialism” to what I will call Janice Raymond’s “Gender Essentialism,” I’d like to explore the conflicting ways that the interaction of sex and gender gets imagined, while thinking about how these imagined schemas affect the lives of real people. 

            As all who will be reading this blog know already, “biological essentialism” is the theoretical position which takes for granted that biology- in this case sexual anatomy- determines a person’s reality, including their gender identity (and often sexuality as well).  A person who subscribes to biological essentialism would assume that a person’s biological sex would determine her/his gender identity, sexuality, and physical/mental capacities.  This theoretical position is often chosen by those who believe in the naturalness of conventional understandings of gender, and thus within this theoretical perspective a male-bodied person would be assumed to be heterosexual and to have a masculine gender identity. 

            In Emi Koyama’s “Transfeminist Manifesto” she devotes a short segment to what she titles, “Deconstructing the Reverse Essentialism.”  She writes,

“Trans people have often been described as those whose physical sex does not match the gender of their mind or soul. … To say that one has a female mind or soul would mean there are male and female minds that are different from each other in some identifiable way, which in turn may be used to justify discrimination against women.  Essentializing our gender identity can be just as dangerous as resorting to biological essentialism.” (5). 

While it is undeniable that a simple sex/gender separation makes easy work of why some individuals may feel compelled to alter the configuration of their bodies, this cut-and-dried logic essentializes conventional conceptions of masculinity and femininity and roots them in some identifiable terrain other than physical anatomy.  In other words, the heart of what it means to be a man or a woman (which are assumed to be consistent and meaningful categories) resides in an insulated core of gender identity which is acted upon by neither biology nor socialization.  This talk of essentialized understandings of gender remind me of a) Koyama’s discussion of gender clinics’ naturalization of gendered behavioral roles-to the point where would be-MTF trans people would talk about their proclivity for sewing when petitioning for GRS and b) all the news coverage several years ago about the differences between the male and female brains.  Here’s a link to an article from 2008 that I found on a Psychology website on the subject: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/200803/male-brain-vs-female-brain-i-why-do-men-try-figure-out-t-0.  Try not to be too offended by the assumptions that all men treat people like robots and all women talk to inanimate objects- these are only the least harmful of the consequences of essentializing gendered personhood.

            Finally, I’d like to return to the way that Janice Raymond, in our assigned reading last week from her Transsexual Empire, conceives of the relationship between sex and gender.  For the purposes of this blog post, I am calling this “Gender Essentialism,” for lack of a better term, although this schema differs importantly from the one that the brain scientists are arguing for and that Koyama critiques.  In her chapter “Sappho by Surgery,” Raymond writes that true women are necessarily “encumbered by the scars of patriarchy that are unique to a woman’s personal and social history.” (133, Transgender Studies Reader).  Later she asserts that there are important differences between men and women which “may spring… from the total history of existing as a woman in a patriarchal society.” (139, Transgender Studies Reader).  Clearly, she intentionally avoids a logic of biological essentialism by claiming that socialization rather than biology determines a person’s true gender identity; however, this is a less-than-significant move once it is added that she believes gendered socialization is based upon an individual’s sexual biology at birth.  Essentially (no pun intended), biology=socialization=gender identity. 

            Each of these understandings essentializes some aspect of the relationship between sex and gender and ultimately restricts the number of sex/gender combinations existing in real life which are granted (arbitrary) legitimacy.  As Koyama elegantly put it, “Transfeminism believes that we all construct our own gender identities based on what feels genuine, comfortable, and sincere to us as we live and relate to others within given social and cultural constraint,” (5).  As the world holds an incredible diversity of people who exhibit every combination of the numerous human sex, gender and sexuality traits, utilizing any theoretical ideology to attempt to understand sex and gender as teleological is an exercise in futility.  I guess we all must learn to live with the frustrating yet refreshing realization that sex and gender do not occur in reality as neat, readily intelligible and predictable categories of being. 

-Roz Rini

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