Culturally Influenced Narratives

I found Dean Spade’s “Resisting Medicine, Remodeling Gender” to be highly informative and empowering. So much so that I forwarded the link to a friend of mine who has been the victim of workplace discrimination and public discrimination due to her transitioning in the last few years. Spade’s recommendations for deregulating gender would help so many people including my friend. She would be able to dress, speak, act, etc. in any way she chooses without being lawfully ridiculed for her choices which do no harm to others. She would also not be required to continually repeat a self-narrative which matched every detail a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist is looking for in order to be considered for “treatment.” Spade’s recollection of trying to receive top surgery, and not meeting the requirements because of the “intellectualized” narrative he gave was disturbing to me. I mean, geesh, at least he was being honest! Not everyone goes through life in the exact same way, so why would every person who wants to have surgeries associated with transition have gone through his/her life the same way?

This point moves me to my favorite part of Spade’s piece when he writes about GID and children (not) performing gender transgressions because of cultural influences. Spade writes, “But gender behavior is learned, and children are not born with some innate sense that girls should wear dresses and boys shouldn’t like anything pink. So how can a desire to transgress an assigned gender category be read outside of cultural meaning? Such a standard naturalizes and depoliticizes gender and gender role distress. It creates a fictional transsexual who just knows in hir gut what man is and what woman is, and knows that sie is trapped in the wrong body” (p. 25). I believe Spade put the issue perfectly. How, indeed, can a person know deep down what men and women are outside of cultural understandings? Is it not common knowledge that the terms man and woman, and what each is (expected) to wear are not innate? Thinking about the way children are influenced to know what a man is, what a woman is, and what is expected of each in terms of actions, apparel, general performance, I began looking at my collection of children’s films. I realized that each of the animated classics (especially) and newbies had something to say about gender and sexuality roles. Each film presents models for children to follow and obey without them even realizing what is happening. These animated films provide the building blocks for understanding the ways in which society is desperate for people to not transgress the norms of gender performance.

Below is a link to a thesis paper written by Jonathan Tye Decker at Auburn University in 2010. In this paper, Decker analyzes and studies the “The Portrayal of Gender in the Feature-LengthFilms of Pixar Animation Studios.” Decker, and those he cites, note that children’s programs including animated films have always portrayed men and women in ways as to coincide with norms.

With children’s films being produced in such a manner is it not obvious how the narratives could not all be the same? Those children who grow up being told over and over again what is expected of them as members of their assigned genders and sexes are not necessarily going to fall into the category of always knowing they were “different.” They may or may not have had the big realizations and traumas which doctors so often look for in order to okay operations. They may be like Dean Spade and realize that the medicalization of gender is completely ridiculous. They may not fit within any mold because they are unique human beings with unique experiences!

-Jocelyn Crizer


Issues With Medicalization and the Trans-Narrative

The medicalization of trans- identities is a problem and that’s putting it lightly. In order for a trans-person or someone who is gender variant to receive medical treatment, one has to undergo the ordeal of having to validate their identity to everyone else in order to “make sure” that this is what the person really wants. While this may be well intentioned, this is actually very harmful to many people. Not only is it harmful to those who do not identify within the binary gendered system or do not have the stereotypical “I’ve always felt this way” narrative, it is harmful for those who do have those experiences.

What the medical community has decided is that an identity is a medical disorder. While that has changed with the advent of DSM-V with the removal of GID (gender identity disorder), this still hasn’t changed the medical practices. Since the medical practices still haven’t changed, being transgender is still, for all intents and purposes, considered a disorder. Not only is this inaccurate (because how someone identifies should never be considered a disorder), it is damaging to those who have had to be inflicted with this label. Sure, a trans-person might not think that there’s anything wrong with how they identify, but the fact that is that they have to agree to labeled with a disorder in order to better express their identity.

As stated in Spade’s essay, one has to have some sort of medical intervention in order to have any legal documents changed that would change your name or your gender maker. This is problematic in that not everyone who wants to legally change their name or their gender marker wants to medically transition. Putting that aside, even if one wants to medically transition one has to constantly talk about their experience as a trans-person. One might not even be a trans-person, but if they want medical treatment they better act like one otherwise they aren’t going to be getting any help. This means that a person who does not follow the “typical trans-narrative” has to either ignore integral parts of their identity or flat out lie in order to receive treatment. And most of the time the people they lying to are the people they’re supposed to be the most honest with – their doctors and their therapists.  Trans-people and gender variant people should not have to mold their identities in order to better fit a predetermined narrative and the medical community should not ask them to do so.

This blog discusses how the trans-narrative hurts on a more personal level. One quote in particular struck me -“it hurts me that THE NARRATIVE is so pervasive, not just because it hurts me in itself, but because it hurts me to know i am hurting others by not even remotely fitting it.” The fact that this person feels bad for being who they are is very sad to me. As someone who felt the need to work the trans-narrative into my own personal narrative in order to transition, I think that something really needs to change within the medical community. People are people and they shouldn’t be made to feel bad for experiencing life in their own unique way. The medical community needs to acknowledge this and change how they give treatment to trans-people and gender variant individuals. 

– Kris Krumb