Complex Personal Narratives

A few weeks ago, I had a guest speaker come into my Constructing Sexuality class.  His name was Daniel, and he was a FTM.  He began telling his personal narrative, describing how he perceived himself as more masculine than other females growing up.  He thought, at first, his “manliness” was caused by hanging out with more males than females.  His parents similarly attributed his masculinity to lack of female friends, and they tried to “socialize” him by enrolling him into female-only sports and activities.  By high school, he had started experimenting with the female gender – growing his hair long and dating men.  Because he felt comfortable around men and held similar interests with them, he said he never had a difficult time finding a boyfriend.  He had one serious relationship during that time and, after it ended, he realized he was more interested in women.  In college, he began exploring trans* issues and identifying as queer.  Then, when he realized he could identity as trans* without transitioning medically, he began adopting a trans* identity.  After college, he started binding his breasts and exclusively wearing men’s clothing.  He began hormones around seven months ago, and he said he was immediately more sexually attracted to men and sexually driven because of the testosterone.

While listening to Daniel’s story, I found it both intriguing and contradictory.  On the one hand, he is challenging traditional gender norms, describing his gender and sexual orientation as fluid, complex entities.  On the other hand, he falls into a Western paradigm crux, discussing how he shared similar “masculine” interests with other men, such as playing video games and watching action movies.  Additionally, he naturalized heterosexuality by attributing the female gender with dating men.  Thus, he ends up reinforcing a binary world, one that separates men and women and normalizes heterosexuality.

In addition, his described situation with testosterone reminds me of Patrick Califa’s story.  Califa described how after taking T, he would have physical sensations that “acquired a piquancy and an immediacy that is both entertaining and occasionally inconvenient” (437).  His desire for instantaneous, casual sex grew rapidly, and he said he suddenly understood sexual differences between the sexes after his intake of T.  Similarly, Daniel describes an intense, sexual urge for men and desire for casual sex.  What’s largely problematic about both accounts is that it presents women as sexless beings (who don’t have desires or impulses!) by attributing sex drive to an increased testosterone level.

This type of narrative is similarly highlighted in PLENTY of articles, especially in this cringe-worthy Men’s Health article called Why You’ve Always Been So Horny.  It “describes” how testosterone affects the body:

“The first [burst of T] produces a male brain: one that’s more interested in objects, actions, and competition. The left (parietal) lobe flourishes in the testosterone bath and helps you visualize objects in three dimensions (good for catching a football or watching a woman cross the street), and it boosts your aptitude in mathematics (that’s how you estimate that she’s about a 34DD).  In addition, testosterone beefs up your hypothalamus, the area of the brain that’s interested in sex. The hypothalamus is twice as large in men as it is in women.”

A part of me wants to believe this is a joke because of its BLATANT sexism but, alas, I honestly think this was printed.  Anyhow… while Daniel and Patrick clearly are complicating and challenging identity categories within their narratives [unlike this terrible, terrible article], I do think their attributions of sex drive to testosterone are perhaps troublesome and even reflect notes of biological essentialism.

http://www.menshealth.com/mhlists/understanding_sex_and_the_brain/Why_You_ve_Always_Been_Horny.php

-Anna Sekine

Neoliberalism.

 

Maybe I’ve heard the word before, but if so, it didn’t make much of an impression the first time around.  Happily for me, Dean Spade’s first chapter in Normal Life changed this for good: now I will forever after have a reaction- and a strong one!- to this word and the phenomenon it describes.  Not that I haven’t previously been made acquainted with the phenomenon; I’m sure each and every one of us in this generation has encountered the hallmarks of neoliberalism in some capacity what with the persistent myth of American meritocracy and post-9/11 governmental xenophobia in our lifetimes.  I must say that I am thankful to a have a word with which to articulate the incredibly complex and slippery socio-political climate I observe around me.  Conceiving of this climate as “a range of interlocking trends in domestic and international politics” (49) makes this slippery complexity significantly more intelligible, making neoliberalism an important analytic lense. 

            I am thankful for Spade’s explication of “neoliberalism” because, while reading, I found myself stumbling across very logical and intelligent explanations for the persistence of oppressions post-Civil Rights Era, for the apparent impotence of social reforms and programs, and for the public’s unproblematic acceptance of political victim-blaming.  As a self-proclaimed feminist and a gender studies major (who unfortunately bartends at a country club), I often find that I am expected to come up with some theory about why feminism is still necessary or how racism could possibly exist after Blacks won the right to vote.  Resisting the impulse to take the persons who pose these questions by both shoulders and shake the silliness (read: privilege) out of them, I usually try to keep my cool and reasonably explain the ways that women or Blacks or people of low-socioeconomic class get disenfranchised by our society.  This is nearly ALWAYS a highly frustrating activity.  I cite the persistent sexual wage gap or the disproportionately low population of Black students in higher education; they blame women’s avoidance of math and the lack of academic ambitions among African Americans.  While these arguments hopefully seem laughable to you and I, unfortunately laughter is not a legitimate response to the available statistics on career choices made by young women primarily outside of mathematical fields (http://www.aacu.org/ocww/volume39_1/feature.cfm?section=1) or the severe underrepresentation of African Americans in higher education (only 18.4% of the total African American population in 2013 had a bachelor’s degree or higher http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/cb13-ff02.html).  Of course, I have previously sought recourse to arguments of gendered or racial socialization to account for social influences on “free” will, but unless I peddle back far enough to take my audience through the boys-in-blue/girls-in-pink narrative, I usually end up getting treated like a victim of paranoid delusions.  I’m not sure I will ever completely ensure my protection against this kind of treatment, but at least neoliberalism has given me a context for understanding why it’s so gorshdarn hard to explain the workings of oppression in our current climate! 

As Spade writes, “Systemic inequality has become increasingly unspeakable and the long-term myth of meritocracy in the United States, coupled with the renewed rhetoric of ‘personal responsibility,’ suggests that those benefiting from the upward distribution are doing so because of their moral fitness, and, respectively, that those on the losing end are blameworthy, lazy, and, of course, s dangerous.” (58). I conclude, neoliberalism creates a space in which institutionalized inequalities are denied and then argued out of existence by programs which claim to have already remedied them, despite the persistence of these inequalities in the lives of individuals.  Then, individuals who are privileged enough to know nothing first-hand about the lived experiences of disenfranchised peoples deny the reality or the severity of “so-called oppressions,” in society and instead blame the choices of individuals for the condition of marginalized communities.  Neoliberal politics are of the sneakiest variety, but once their structural patterns have been identified, as they have been by Spade, it is more possible to recognize and thwart their reiteration of oppressions.

 

By Rosalind Rini

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

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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