I may shut the world out, but this does not make it go away

In “Boys of the Lex,” Gayle Salamon discusses the ways in which gender and gender expression are perceived. Salamon states, “To offer the category of real gender in an attempt to discipline what are perceived as the excesses of theoretical gender is to domesticate gender as it is lived and to deny its considerable complexity, which often outpaces our language to describe it.” (72) In other words, gender is both internal and external, and usually the social is inextricably linked to the personal.

This chapter is an attempt by Salamon to discuss the difficulties of labeling gender a ‘social construct’ while simultaneously showing that it is. Salamon quotes Jason Cromwell: “’If gender were only important in social situations, then transpeople would not know that their gender is different than what societies dictate they should be according to their bodies.’” (80) The idea of gender as a social construct that is only relevant when other people are present does not take into account what happens when we are alone. We do not stop presenting when no one else is around. Some of us may act differently under public scrutiny than we do at home, but this does not mean we become nothing.

One of Salamon’s and other trans* theorists’ problem with gender as construction is the fact that it only allows for men and women. Gender is not thought of in terms of language, because it is seen as a personal, political, or social decision. But without looking toward language, we can only ever have two allowable modes of gender expression. Queer communities across the globe have been attempting to gain recognition for third gender pronouns such as sie and hir, but generally speaking they have not been taken up. When Sweden attempted to add the gender neutral “hen” to its online dictionary, not even the official print dictionary, it was lambasted as “feminist activists who want to destroy our language.”

Salamon says in this chapter, “A reading of gender…that focuses exclusively on the agency of the individual misses this entire matrix of power in which gender takes shape.” (80) Individuals choose in which way they express themselves and their gender, but this expression happens in conjunction with the society surrounding them and the very language with which it is expressed.

-Caitlyn Smallwood

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Framing Transsexuality in Iran

I was really taken aback from the videos presented on Transsexuals in Iran as well as Afsaneh Najmabadi’s “Verdicts of Science, Rulings of Faith: Transgender/Sexuality in Contemporary Iran.” What struck me most was the way in which people in Iran choose to undergo the surgery. So far, our focus has been on transsexuals in the U.S. In the U.S., people choose to undergo surgery for a variety of reasons. Also, not all people who consider themselves transgender choose to have surgery, take hormones, or they may have only some work done. Furthermore, changing one’s sex does not necessarily mean they will also choose to be heterosexual. 

In Iran, however, things are much different when it comes to transsexuality. There are laws put into place forbidding any kind of homosexuality because of their religion. The government has gone so far as killing anyone who is homosexual. They do, however, allow people to be transsexual. They claim it is a “mental illness,” and their religion does not discuss it. Due to these laws put in place, many people living in Iran undergo surgery only so they can live as someone who is heterosexual. As Najmabadi explains, “For legal and medical authorities in Iran, sex-change is explicitly framed as the cure for a diseased abnormality, and on occasion it is proposed as a religio-legally sanctioned option for heteronormalizing people with same-sex desire and practices,” (4).  It is used as a way of getting around the system in order to not only survive in Iran, but to live the way they want to live. This of course, creates a load of problems for those who don’t actually want to change their sex, but do so anyway.

My main concern for all of the surgeries occurring in Iran (Iran having the second most surgeries in the world), is the fact that the way Westerners look at the issue. Unless people learn about transsexuals in Iran, they are going to frame it in a positive way, instead of understanding that most of these people don’t actual desire to have these surgeries. One article I found discusses Iran allowing its first transsexual marriage: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/11/iran-transexual-marriage 

This article tells the story of a woman who desired to marry a transman.  Her father was against the marriage because of how he used to be a woman. However, the court allowed the marriage because he was not legally a man, making the marriage legal. The way this article is written, it is as if Iran is developing into a more accepting “westernized” country. This reminded me of what we discussed in class last week in terms of how we tend to frame other countries based on Western ideas. This article reinforces the idea that non-Western countries are “behind” the West and it ignores the underlying problems that are occurring for transsexuals in Iran. By only focusing on these positive ideas of transsexual surgery being available and the legalization of transsexuals to marry, it pushes aside the hatred that is happening for homosexuals in Iran, which is the real problem.

– Miranda Fencl

I think we can all recognize David Cauldwall’s “Psychopathia Transexualis” as a highly problematic piece. His argument is laden with contradictions, generalizations, and misgendered pronouns, and does little to provide accurate insight into the lived realities of trans experience.

Cauldwell introduces his weak argument with the broad assumption that: “one is mentally unhealthy and because of this the person desires to live as a member of the opposite sex” (The Transgender Studies Reader, 41). In order to support these kinds of sweeping generalizations Cauldwell spends most of the essay referring to one FTM, Earl. Cauldwell states: “I shall call the subject Earl. This is not her name this name, like her own, is frequently borne by members of both sexes” (41).

Cauldwell considers Earl, and presumably other transpeople, as “members of both sexes,” yet his application of feminine pronouns implies that he still sees Earl as female. Cauldwell even acknowledges how Earl “resented being referred to as ‘her and she’” (43), yet willfully continues to reference said terms.

Cauldwell recounts how: “[s]he [Earl] had been immensely happy when, in a restaurant (in male attire of terrible taste) she had been referred to, or addressed as ‘Sir’” (43).

Although Cauldwell would probably assume that it is typical for trans individuals to strive for this type of misgendering, the following tumblr demonstrates how every reaction to being misgendered varies from case to case:

 http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/misgender

The notion that transpeople instinctively celebrate this type of public misgendering is challenged in Dean Spade’s “Resisting Medicine, Re/Modeling Gender.” Spade recounts: “I’m supposed to be wholly joyous when I get called ‘sir’ or ‘boy.’ How could I ever have such an uncomplicated relationship to that moment?” (Spade, 22). Spade raises what should be an apparent question, and recognizes how in reality there is no universal trans reaction to being misgendered.

-Bianca Hasten

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.

http://thelinknewspaper.ca/blogs/entry/4008

 

Kathleen Hennessy

What Makes You Who You Are?

Harry Benjamin, in his article, Transsexualism and Transvestim as Psycho-Somatic and Somato-Psychic Syndromes, explains his viewpoints on the concept of transsexual and transvestite. He shares the symptoms, differences, and possible cures to these two “disorders.”

What really struck me the most with this article was the way in which he went about distinguishing transsexualism from tranvestism. He describes transvestism as “a form of fetishism,” (Benjamin, 46). He further establishes it as a simple way of living by dressing as the opposite sex to feel accepted in society. On the other hand, Benjamin describes transsexualism as “a different problem and a much greater one…it denotes the intense and often obsessive desire to change the entire sexual status including the anatomical structure,” (Benjamin, 46). The main differentiating factor between tranvestism and transsexualism is that one acts in the role of the opposite sex, but the other wants to actually become the opposite sex.

Describing transsexualism and tranvestism in these ways is very problematic. Throughout the article he continues to promote transvestism over transsexualism as if one is better than the other and more acceptable. He strongly emphasizes how “surgical conversion” and the “disgust” of one’s organs is a main feature of transsexualism. This difference in the way they view their bodies seems to be Benjamin’s reasoning as for why one is not as bad as the other. However, this made me think: is there actually any person out there completely satisfy with the way their body looks? No. We all have our own personal issues with our bodies and are never truly happy with them. We are constantly doing things to alter the way we look whether it’s working out and eating a certain way, wearing makeup, or having some kind of surgical procedure. Wanting to change your body shouldn’t be something looked down upon, especially when everyone does it whether they consider themselves a transsexual or not.

Futhermore, Benjamin describes the potential causes when it comes to transvestism and transsexualism. He provides biological, psychological, and environmental explanations for why someone would become this way. In the end, he argues that it must be some sort of combination of all of these factors for someone to become transsexual or a transvestite. When looking for other people’s opinions of what they believe the causes must be I came across this article:

http://blogs.montrealgazette.com/2012/02/14/causes-of-transsexualism-does-it-matter/

Jillian asks us probably the most important question when it comes to transsexualism. In the end, does it really matter what the underlying causes are? She asks people to give their own insight into this question of whether it truly matters. Therefore, this made me think about this question as well.  In the end, no, I don’t think it matters. Every single human being is different in their own way, so why try to figure out why we are the way we are when we should just embrace who we are? I’m curious to know what you all think about this issue as well!

My favorite quote from this online article is the very end where Jillian says, “Remember: hold your heads up high. Be proud of who you are, and thumb your noses (politely, with love) at those who judge and condemn—and pray for them,” (1).

-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

What a Drag!

By: MK Worthington

Janice G. Raymond’s chapter “Sappho by Surgery: The Transsexually Constructed Lesbian-Feminist” is filled with reactionary rhetoric to unsubstantiated ‘facts’ about transsexual women who identify as women– and even as lesbians. Her biggest claim seems to be “As one woman put it: “A man who decides to call himself a woman is not giving up his privilege. He is simply using it in a more insidious way.”” (137) In Raymond’s point of view, transsexual women are in fact men masquerading as women in an attempt control them and gain access to female spaces and privileges they otherwise could not experience.

While this assertion is damning and false for transsexuals, the entertainment industry has frequently cashed in on straight male characters who did just that. Consider Robin Williams’ character in MRS. DOUBFIRE, for example, a man who transforms his outward appearance to that of a woman to gain access to a traditionally female job. Also, in SOME LIKE IT HOT, Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis portray men who disguise themselves as women in order to join an ‘all woman’ big band. Cartoons are full of examples as well. Disney, Warner Brothers, Dreamworks—they all periodically feature characters in drag who use their ‘feminine appearance’ to their advantage in some uncouth way.

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 In the beginning of the chapter she goes so far as to make the claim that: “It is not accidental that most male-to-constructed-female transsexuals who claim to be feminists also claim to be lesbian feminists. In fact, I don’t know of any transsexually constructed feminists who do not also claim to be lesbian.” (132)  In her position as a leader of the ‘lesbian feminist’ movement it makes sense that she wouldn’t personally know any heterosexual transsexual feminists; such individuals would, by definition, belong to broader Women’s Movement. This little detail, however, is not mentioned in her argument.

Later, Raymond goes on to imply her vague and wild arguments are unquestionable truths, and she furthers her argument with the claim: “At this level of analysis, it might seem that what men really envy is women’s biological ability to procreate.” (135) This, just a few short sentences before she contradicts herself by pointing out the idea that overpopulation is fast making women obsolete, their ability to procreate their downfall rather than something men covet.

This line of thought brought to mind scenes from the 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, JUNIOR.

In the film, Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito play a pair of male doctors and scientists who are working on an experimental new drug that would improve the chances of a high-risk pregnancy lasting through term. Right off the bat it is a tale of ‘men’ trying to fix a problem that is exclusive to ‘women.’ Their efforts are blocked by laws and regulations – written by ‘bad men’ – and, in order to circumvent these barriers, our two heroes, two ‘good men’, must use a ‘male’ body to carry out a task exclusively achieved by the ‘female’ body. They, of course, are acting for the good of women. They are taking it upon themselves to improve the lives of heartbroken women the world over. How on earth could anyone be critical of that? (That last was written sarcastically.)

In Junior, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character is anything but feminine. He is quite the opposite actually, the epitome of masculinity, but during the course of his pregnancy he develops a softer side and a distinctive feminine quality. By becoming pregnant, during the course of his pregnancy, Schwarzenegger’s character essentially becomes a ‘female man’- ruled by irrational mood swings and the urge to nurture. To my mind, Raymond’s argument is that ‘female transsexuals’ are the first step leading to this very outcome—men replacing and eliminating women altogether.

But let’s back up a minute. I thought society was ruled by ‘white, heterosexual, males.’ …seriously, why on earth would they want that?

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)