Politicizing the Trans* Experience

Last fall, I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark and went to a discussion featuring a transsexual male named Warren.  He began by retelling his story of transitioning, accounting moments of depression and anger that ensued from his pre-operative body.  His personal narrative was painfully honest and focused largely around the tension he felt with trying to be actively perceived as male without appearing to follow traditional male gender roles because society thinks he should.  In other words, Warren believes the performance of gender comes with a checklist, stating one should do “x” in order to be perceived as “y.”  Because Warren challenges the traditional gender binary, his gender performance has been under high scrutiny especially during his transition.  People assume his decision to wear male clothing or lift weights is because he is trying to be seen as a man (and these are activities men do).  Warren, however, argues he does these things because he prefers a more masculine style of clothing and enjoys working out.  He said that if he ever decided to live his life as a woman, he would continue to wear men’s clothing because it’s what he likes.  Thus, Warren has to struggle every day with the blurry line between being seen as doing something to portray one’s gender and doing something to portray one’s freedom of choice.

I decided today to research Warren, since I knew he had an active YouTube presence.  With over 76 amazing videos (all describing his own trans* experience), I chose to look at one called “Trans* Stories on YouTube.”  Similar to the Serano text, he talks about how media projects a singular trans* story which often makes them the bud of jokes. Additionally, Warren discusses how documentaries about trans* folk are seldom ever created by transsexuals or transgender people. The trans* experience then becomes told by cisgender people… and then becomes watched by other cisgender people.  Therefore, a real trans* experience is hard to come by in popular culture, but YouTube acts as an outlet for transpeople to share their stories.  While the fact that YouTube creates communities and connects strangers is not new, I think what’s interesting is its potential to create a large enough social movement for the demedicalization of “gender dysphoria disorder” or the singular trans* experience. In order to remove the medical definitions associated with trans* folk, I feel like a strong leader(s) that has the power to politicize a social movement that challenges high powered groups, like medical professions or major institutions, is key. Is YouTube this leader?  Are the YouTube stars, like Warren, the ones with the potential power to move a collective group?  Or is it a combination of YouTube’s global power to reach people on a large-scale and the people’s individual power to be heard on a small, communal scale that make a successful demedicalization possible? I think it will be fascinating to watch (through the lense of Youtube) the political movement surrounding the trans* community unfold.

Check out his video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKz6AQLEBFE&list=UUlUX18JHqW2-_UEpwxyZhuA&index=12

-Anna Sekine


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

Born This Way

The Dean Spade reading warns of the ease with which we all come to take the “born this way” narrative of transsexual people as truth. Spade is transgender hirself and has endured many of the “necessary” medical interventions beforehand. Sie often enjoyed screwing with peoples preconceived notions of transsexual people ALWAYS knowing that they were different. Spade wants readers to know that transitioning, and all gender at that, is not so easily defined nor medically curable or assignable. Spade cites the symptoms for Gender Identity Disorders (GID) as ambiguous and unclear. Boys have to “particularly” enjoy playing house and girls must display a desire for “rough and tumble” play (Spade pg. 24). Something as simple as seeing the requirements it takes to be a “true transsexual” can help a person see just how inane having medically defined genders can be. There are an unbelievable amount of ways a person can identify and yet our society tries to pigeon hole everyone into a label that fits with our society that feels the need to narrowly define everything.

I found an article by a transsexual, Oliver Leon, in an independent newspaper. It starts out a little slow so if you decide to check it out keep reading. Leon explains if forced to chose an identity he would chose a female to male transsexual but that it is much more complex than that. Both Leon and Spade point out that no one can live up to medicine’s idea of a true transsexual because a person cannot pass at all hours of the day. Society needs to stop seeing only two genders with a few deviants and open up to the idea of a spectrum of possibilities where no one is wrong and no one is right. We are all much more complex than the opportunities we are afforded.



Kathleen Hennessy

In a constant state of transition

Reading the personal accounts of Green and Califa in addition to Serano’s definition of trans-misogyny allows us to consider a wide variety of trans* experience and embodiment.  The narrative heard over and other of a pre-transition, debilitating lifestyle, a transitioning period (including hormones, surgical procedures, and/or the practice of gendered social habits), and, lastly, living the rest of one’s life in the seemingly “correct” body, forces onlookers to see trans* embodiment as a temporary point in life.  In this way, a person inhabits one type of body, transitions, and inhabits another body.  With this, the common expectation is drawn that trans* experience includes is the erasure of one’s “previous” being.  This not only creates a horrific reality for those unable to “pass” and fully function in society as either male or female due to economic status, bodily limitations, and surgical willingness, but also creates a nearly impossible way of life for those seeking the trans* category as a life-long process and identification.

According to Julia Serano, trans* women are particularly vulnerable to social ridicule and misogynistic behavior.  This is not something that Green and Califa discuss in their accounts to maleness, but they do point out the issue of androgyny the discomfort that genderqueer individuals bring when moving through social spaces.  That is to say, whether one seeks masculine or feminine recognition, they are forced to decide between passing fully as a male or fully as a female in order to avoid social injustices and constant misgendering.  As Green and Califa both attest, they have a unique and specialized understanding of life that comes having experienced several different forms of being.  However, in each phase of their lives, Green and Califa have been trans* beings and this allows for yet another unique position.  So why is there such a force to renounce one’s trans*ness and adopt a fully male or female mode of living?  The reality of disappearing into a world of “maleness” or “femaleness” rather than a world of trans*ness is that important issues like trans-misogyny fall away with the erasure of life previous to and during transition.

Tranarchism, a term I am sure many of you are familiar with, is a term used to describe the radical sociopolitical movement that calls for gender anarchy.  One of several sites promoting current trans* topics of controversy and, specifically, trans-feminine matters is Tranarchism.com/.  Though highly controversial due to its main contributor, Asher Bauer, the blog has become a popular resource for news, opinion, and upcoming events.  With popular posts like “Not Your Mom’s Trans 101” and “Anarchy 101,” with site offers unusual perspective for those seeking to learn more about the tranarchism movement and what it means to abandon one’s conflicting, yet powerful, identities.

-Elizabeth Nash