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

A New Look On Sex and Gender

Up until recent years, trans people have been misunderstood and often discriminated against for their life choices to live as the opposite sex assigned to them at birth. When first studied, transsexualism was characterized as “gender dysphoria syndrome” in the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. In order to gain approval for a trans person to get a sex change, one had to lie and abide by characteristics associated to gender discourses. In doing so, trans people had to fib their way into getting surgeries. This of course is extremely problematic. In the articles by Sandy Stone and Emi Koyama, I wish to acknowledge the problems transsexuals face in terms of cultural acceptance. With Stone and Koyama both addressing the need for equality and understanding of trans people, I find their points valid in the push towards a better understanding of gender studies.

In Stone’s “The Empire Strikes Back” she responds to Raymond’s provocative article we as a class read last week. Her references to trans biographies points out that all accounts have fit the description of “passing.” As defined, passing means “to live successfully in the gender of choice, to be accepted as a ‘natural’ member of that gender. Passing means the denial of mixture.” (Stone, 231). This, meaning that a trans person erases his/her previous life experiences from memory and focuses only on living as the other desired sex. Stone points out that this “forecloses the possibility of a life grounded in the intertextual possibilities of the transsexual body” (Stone, 231).

As we are all well aware by now, having knowledge from previous gender studies classes, gender and sex are two separate concepts that attribute to a person’s being. When this division was discovered during second-wave feminism, gender was seen as something socially constructed whereas sex was biological. But in Koyama’s article, “The Transfeminist Manifesto” she points out that transfeminism brought about the idea that both gender and sex are socially constructed. “Transfeminism” when defined is “primarily a movement by and for trans women who view their liberation to be intrinsically linked to the liberation of all women and beyond” (Koyama). This focuses that transfeminism brought about has finally given trans and intersex folks the voice they have strived for. Sex is not looked at as “predetermined” anymore. This saves trans people from the assumption that they were born with a “biological error” when it comes to their sex organs. With a greater understanding of this and in turn acceptance, transfeminists will push forward the idea that all women of all types have total control over their body and how they want to treat it and be viewed.

I was searching more on the web for other peoples thoughts on transfeminism, I came across this tumblr page: http://whoneedstransfeminism.tumblr.com/. In it, various people give their reasons as to why this movement is important. I always like reading what the public has to say, and for the most part these entries are positive. Most entries point out the inequality and how transfeminism can help stop it. I believe this source is important because it shows how accepting the public can be on this topic. It shows that our culture may be more understanding than expected. Though many of these entries come from personal experience, the public display is a push towards educating others.

Colleen Griffin

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Koyama, I’m glad you finally reread your “Manifesto”

In all honesty, I was extremely excited when I first read the title of Emi Koyama’s piece. I thought, “Hell yes! Something I can congratulate and praise!” Then I read it. Although I was not disappointed by Koyama entirely, I was not as impressed as I had hoped to be. Throughout the Manifesto, she makes an average effort to attend to those who are not transwomen, but mostly she uses them as add-ons, merely to lengthen her argument. Koyama addresses sexism, homophobia, abuse, medical issues, and even body image; yet she fails to make just as strong arguments for the “others” as she promises early in the introduction. And yes, I realize she speaks to this lack of inclusion in the Postscript, but c’mon!

Apart from the disgust I feel, I have to admit there were a few sections I absolutely loved, and others I wish I could have deleted and never read again…

“The suggestion that trans women are inherently more privileged than other women is as ignorant as claiming that gay male couples are more privileged than heterosexual couples because both parents have male privilege.”

First, I appreciate this sentence because whoever is that ignorant (either claim) is a fool. Second, this is one of many failed attempts Koyama makes to provide the necessary support for her highly inclusive claims.

“Transfeminism views any method of assigning sex to be socially and politically constructed, and advocates a social arrangement where one is free to assign her or his own sex (or non-sex, for that matter).”

I was just confused by this sentence. I understand she was trying to say that any person should have the right to choose. However, it comes off as suggesting a newborn has a say in what happens when she/he is born.

“…trans people are much more vulnerable to attack because they are often more visible than gays. Homophobic terrorists do not look into people’s bedrooms when they go out to hunt gays; they look for gendered cues that do not match the perceived sex of their prey, effectively targeting those who are visibly gender-deviant.”

First, the visibility of trans people vs the visibility of gay people is not measurable. Second, how does she know what “homophobic terrorists” do? I am sure there is plenty of evidence to suggest gay people have been abused, arrested, terrorized, etc. because someone happened to look in their bedroom window or barge into their home (i.e. Bowers v. Hardwick). Third, she is suggesting that all gay people (non-trans folk more broadly) are gender conforming, and thus never the victims of attacks based on gender deviance. I don’t know about everyone else, but I (a non-trans person) was under attack many times in my younger years for not being as gender conforming as my peers would have preferred.

Now, if my take on Koyama’s Manifesto was not your cup-o-tea, I’ve found some other blogs which may interest you. (Note: I neither agree nor disagree with any and/or all of these blogs. I am merely providing further opinions.)

http://transcolumbia.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/the-transfeminist-manifesto/

http://jenrogue.wordpress.com/2009/06/22/strengthening-anarchisms-gender-analysis/

http://writingforstrangers.com/writing/non-fictionopinion/trans-exclusion-and-the-feminist-movement/

– Jocelyn Crizer