“What’s this trans thing?”

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Rui isn’t pleased with the way this question is posed. Learn how to talk and behave, please.  Treat others as the human beings they are.

20th November is Transgender Remembrance Day. 24 hours dedicated to victims of transphobic violence. I think this is a good opportunity to explain some things about the term and to dispel certain misconceptions I’ve encountered ever since my partner came out and I or she disclosed her identity to others, even inside the LGB community.

38392770> “He must be confused. Won’t he confuse you, too?”

She isn’t confused. She knows best for herself and she’ll find out steadily what she wants to do with her body. Of course, there’s nothing shameful with self exploration, that’s why the Q in LGBTQ stands not only for Queer but also for Questioning. But once a person says “I’m trans” it means they’ve reached a decision and that’s not something they did overnight but the result of a long, thoughtful and honest process.

As for the second part of the statement, it’s needless to say that being a trans isn’t contagious. Of course, the partner of a person in transition might find themselves contemplating anew their sexual orientation -namely, “am I still sexually attracted to my partner now that their gender expression and, perhaps, body might change?”. That doesn’t have to be interpreted along the lines of “oh poor you, you have it so tough because of that weirdo”. When your partner wants new things in your life, you talk it over and you either decline or compromise. It’s the same process.

> “He’s unsure of his gender and that influenced you (in saying you’re bisexual).”

Imagine that your whole life you were served pasta and liked it, but then it so happened that you got to another restaurant and you were served rice. After trying it, you realized that you liked it too. Does that mean you were influenced by the new chef? No. It simply means you were given another option and you found it equally tasteful. Sex is very similar to eating. I enjoy sour things but hate bitter ones for no particular reason. It’s just the way it is and it isn’t something that has to be painted negatively. It’s insulting to suggest I was ‘brainwashed’. Am I not a person of my own? For those who know me it should be clear that I’ve got my own worldview and style and have never been the type of person who followed the latest fad just to belong in.

> “Was he influenced from someone? Like all these people coming out as transsexuals.” or “Is it a trend?”

Gender identity manifests when the child is around 4 years old. It may take a bit longer for some people to comprehend what’s going on and come to terms with it. Therefore it’s not a matter of “being led astray” since most trans individuals know that they aren’t what others perceive them to be. It surely helps that there are trans celebrities who create awareness campaigns. Since gender is such an important aspect of each and every one of us, education through multiple venues facilitates self-identification and makes life easier. What’s wrong with this?

“This came out of the blue. (= I have a hard time believing you. /You’re lying./ It’s a whim.)”

Just because such a revelation appears to come out of nowhere that doesn’t make it less real. People are complex human beings who have secrets, who may be in denial for a long time or even feel uncertain about the images and thoughts on their mind. That was the case with Neko-chi who, from a young age, fantasized herself as a girl yet was very hesitant to identify as trans because her personality and external factors complicated the situation. On top of that she hadn’t been in a steady loving, free relationship that’d help her explore such a possibility.

It’s a bit like being a mangaka under cover, using a nickname and all. The fact that others don’t know you aren’t a mangaka doesn’t cancel the fact that you are one.

tumblr_mwzjx7wtDF1qggcr5o1_r1_500> “Won’t he want men now?” / “He likes women despite being trans?” / “He had slept with other men and he enjoyed being passive, that’s why he says he’s a woman now?”

Sexual and gender identity are two different things. The former is about whom you want to dig and turns you on big time, the latter is about how you’d see yourself if the mirror reflected your brain. There’s absolutely no contradiction in a lesbian transwoman or a gay transman. Although a boy’s desire to sleep with men may lead him to wish he had been born as the opposite sex, that doesn’t mean he is or feels any less of a man.

Another example: a bottom homosexual is in no way a woman. He’s a man. Being bottom doesn’t equate being a ‘sissy’ or getting it up in the ass -see tribaddism, mutual masturbation and fellatio. Some gay men may perform drag. There were trans women in the past, when we didn’t have this elaborate terminology, that didn’t experience their transness separately from their sexual orientation  (I’ve written an article on the subject here). But in no way is this the rule for everyone. Zinnia Jones has conned a very appropriate term for such assumptions: “Gender Axis of Evil“.

Instead of seeing that gender, gender expression, and sexual orientation are separate variables, all of these distinct features are collapsed into a single position on a single axis. Because a shift in one of these features is seen to shift the rest along with it, this means using one aspect of a person to deny, redefine, or reclassify their other aspects.

You could take some time to read a bit about the genderbread person [*] to clarify these notions in your head.

> “A man having sex with a (pre-op) transwoman is gay, right?”

No. Or it actually depends. No one’s current partner is a sure indication of their sexual identity, the same way the absence of a partner doesn’t point to asexuality. A man may have slept only with cis men (=non-trans) and then be in a stable relationship with a transwoman -does this make him bi or straight? If we go by the book they are a straight couple (a man and a woman), but this can be a tricky thing to say, since the queerness quality is out of the picture and I’m not sure this is a good thing. There’s also pansexuality that is the attraction to all genders (male, female, genderqueer) but unless the person at question doesn’t label himself as such, we can’t and shouldn’t assume anything.

I find it important to point out to the fact that the terms ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ involve the gender of the person who feels the attraction, which isn’t of interest when we speak of sexual orientation as I said above. Therefore the terms ‘androphile’ (andras=man and phileo=love) and gynephile (gyne=woman) are quite useful despite being a bit obscure.

> “Does this mean he likes girly things now?”/ “Yeah, he was too timid for a boy.”/ “No one is born with a personality […] If someone had no personality, they wouldn’t care what sex they are born in.”

Personality and tastes are totally different horses than gender identity. Just because there’s a tendency to see other people stereotypically, it doesn’t mean that this is the correct worldview. Not all girls like playing with dolls and surely not all girls are timid. The same goes with boys. Trans women might want to present themeselves more ‘femininely’ (long hair, make up, earrings, bracelets, skirts etc) but that’s not a prerequisite. If they’ve liked mecha their whole life or prefer sporty clothes, these don’t make them less of women.

As for the personality part, it’s good to look up the definition: “The combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character” says Oxford dictionaries. APA says that “personality refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.” Yes, personality is shaped by your environment, but researches on identical twins tend to highlight all the more the influence of genes. Even if an introvert child learns to socialize, the enjoyment it receives from such an activity remains minimum. Just because my partner wants to live her life as a woman, her character won’t change. Much like adjectives like tall, short, fat or thin are not personality adjectives because they describe a person’s physical appearance (they answer the question “What does s/he look like?”) trans describes gender -nothing more nothing less.

> “So he thinks he’s a woman. Let’s say I think I’m an elephant, am I though?”

Don’t, just please don’t. Whoever has thought of saying such thing should know they sound like an idiot. Tumblr denizens might have heard of otherkins and trans-ethnic people, who are people who probably aren’t that sane and the parallels drawn to the trans state are degrading the least. If you want to give sound arguments, then this isn’t one. You can check the Your Logical Fallacy Is website and see that this falls almost under the “slippery slop” and I’d argue there are “appeal to nature” and “personal incredulity” fragments in this train of thought.

Trans people aren’t delusional, they aren’t trying to be special snowflakes or attract attention many times even at the cost of their lives and the casual bullying. Jillian Keenan wrote an article on Slate gathering all the up to date scientific knowledge showing there’s something going on in the brain of trans people and rightly pointing out that genitals are only one part of what constitutes sex; hormones, chromosomes and brain areas are also sex. And transgenderism is definitely not something new. If you look at this wonderful interactive map you’ll see miscellaneous similar examples of gender non conforming cases across time and cultures from two spirits to hijras. Once you get used to the idea, it won’t seem that ‘absurd’ or ‘ridiculous’.

38756436_p2 by 真弥

> “You should see other psychologists, too. And another, and another… You can never be sure about such stuff. You grow old and you still learn stuff about yourself.”

This is often said by parents. In spite of the fact that people are on a constant journey of self-discovery, trans individuals know they are who the are and there’s no reason to see numerous psychologists until they find a -probably transphobic- doctor to deny their identity and satisfy their parents’ doubts. As I mentioned earlier, gender is established in early childhood. I understand it may not be easy to change the perception you have established of your child but a good parent is a parent who accepts their child the way he/she is. That includes both sexuality and gender. After all, being trans isn’t equal to being a criminal or an alien. Love means respect, understanding and support after all.

> “No matter what you say he’ll always be male because he was born that way. I don’t have an issue with referring to him as she, but the fact remains.”/ “You can’t misgender someone.”

When I hear such half-hearted answers I’m left bereft of a proper answer and I hate the mixed feeelings that overtake me. On the one hand the person will abide by the proper etiquette, on the one hand the ideas they hold are rejecting the essence of transgenderism. Identity is a very crucial part of everyone’s life and not all identities are objective like age and class. In the case of someone who was born in i.e. Greece and the was raised or immigrated in the USA, whether they feel Greek or American or both depends on the personal sentiments and experiences of that person. No one else has the right to say “No, you’re definitely x”. The same goes for gender, which is a social constract through and through. This is the reason the terms AMAB, assigned male at birth, and AFAB, assigned female at birth, are nowadays preferred by some over the older FtM and MtF, which also confirm the very constricting gender binary.

Chromosomes and genitals, parts of sex as mentioned above, are also socially agreed upon. And by that I mean that society decided to say that a person with a penis or with xy is a man and a person with a vagina or xx is a woman in the same way we assigned the word ‘tree’ to these things that are tall, grow from earth, have many leaves and sometimes bear blossoms and fruits. There’s no particular reason why we didn’t name trees ‘fire’ for instance. Then there are individuals born with sexual characteristics of both sexes. You might consider them as abnormalities since they are the exceptions but human bodies belong to individuals with personalities and rights. Human bodies aren’t like grammar where the exception reaffirms the rule. What constitutes a man and what a woman is a big question which can be answered from multiple perspectives. In the end, individuality and freedom of self-definition/expression are the ultimate values.

> “Uhm, that means he was born in the wrong body. When will he do the surgery?”

I’m fully aware that the phrase “wrong body” is used by many transwomen and -men. Most often it’s used to explain shortly to cis people uninitiated to gender theories people what’s going on. But there is no ‘wrong’ body in the sense of ‘faulty’ body -not necessarily. The trans state isn’t an illness. Trans individuals aren’t ‘broken’ and need ‘fixing’. There’s a sense of discomfort and dissonance between the image trans people have of their true self and how society and perhaps family pressures them to express themselves or views them. This discomfort comes at various degrees and no single trans person’s experience is representative for all. This is recognized now by the APA and thus the term Gender Identity Disorder (GID) is replaced by gender dysphoria and is no longer listed as a mental illness in an effort to remove the stigma associated with the former term.

A trans person might feel that getting a vagina and breasts or penis and breast removal of outmost importance or might not want to go under the scalpel at all. Some only want to take hormones, some others are fine the way they are and might only change their gender expression. All these options are valid and no transwoman is less of a woman or transman less of a man if they don’t desire hormone therapy and/or sex reassignment surgery (the term ‘sex change’ is shunned). These medical treatments can thus be either vital to the psychological health of a person or simply contribute to their happiness and general life quality improvement.

> “Cis sounds like a disease.”

I saw this written in an article by a TERF (=Trans Exclusive Radical Feminist). According to Oxford Dictionaries: “Denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex; not transgender”. There’s nothing derogatory in the term itself. Is there something negative in the word ‘heterosexual’? You might wonder why we need a separate term and not just use ‘non-trans’. Because a. if you are in your right mind you won’t call your daughters ‘non-boys’ – in other words such a categorization is problematic and stigmatizing for trans individuals;  b. cisgender people are a big part of the population, why not have a word for them? Moreover the origins of the term are relatively old going back to 1914.

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Oof! Finally finished this post. Time to unwind.

Further readings/ watchings:

  •  Laverne Cox presents The T word documentary which you can watch on MTV -if you are outside of USA, worry not. Hola is the solution. It features trans individuals -both transwomen and transmen- with a variety of racial backgrounds and ages. I’d suggest listening to the after show talks as well.
  • Follow Zinnia Jones on youtube; I highly recommend her Gender Analysis series and you can support her through patreon for the awesome visually and scientific-based work she puts out.
  • Trans Bodies, Trans Selves is written by transgender for transgender and is a fresh and valuable resource on many areas like health, family, culture and age.
  • On this site you’ll find articles on queer families and of course there’s an entry about being trans and parent.
  • Take a look at Janet Mock’s project, Redifing Realness. Trans individuals share their pictures and stories.
  • Alice Dreger’s TED Talk Is Anatomy Destiny? is worth listening to.
  • Logo TV had a mini tribute to the 5 most influential trans public figures in light of the Day of Remembrance.
  • You might have heard some ridiculous percentages about trans people regrettinf transition. Guess what -they are myths.
  • If I’ve missed a question you could have, APA might answer it.
  • Since this is primarily a blog about animanga/comics/animation, you might want to check my Transgender Manga Masterpost. Look forward to another such post with western (web)comics as focus.
  • I’ve talked additionally about misgendering fictional trans characters and why that matters in my post Queer Troubles.

~.~.~.~.~

Note [*]: While doing a mini research while writing this post I learnt that the widespread version of the gingerbread person is supposedly made by Sam Killerman who was found out to have plagiarized the content for profit. Nevertheless I really like this version, so that’s why I linked to it. The book he’s published is an anthology of his online articles so if you don’t want to support him financially (you’d better not), you can always look up to his free website.

Thanks to my partner and Marina Galanou, president of the transgender association in Greece, who was willing to clarify certain things for me.

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8 thoughts on ““What’s this trans thing?”

  1. Hmm. This has been on my reading list for a little while, but only just got around to it now. Some thoughts:

    I personally feel like the biggest issue with trans-awareness (and many associated issues) is understanding. On an interpersonal level, anyway – things can be murkier when policymakers get involved.

    The point, though, is that people either just don’t have enough empathy, or they choose not to use it. Just because I don’t agree with someone or what they’re doing doesn’t that I have to fight or argue with them, something that seems to be lost on so many people. I’ve encountered this a lot over the past year or so – I will strongly disagree with what someone is saying (or supporting), but I’m able to have intelligent, polite discussion about it with them as opposed to the ugly, bridge-burning spats that so often result from those kinds of situations. In each and every case, the reason for that has been because I understood those people and their beliefs very well. I knew what things we could compromise on, what axioms we would never agree on, and what parts of the issue to give focus. I got a lot from those talks, and I’d like to think I taught some things as well.

    That’s what a lot of trans-people don’t get: understanding. Opponents are too eager to treat them as aberrations, or misguided, or confused. Now maybe they are, maybe they aren’t – but however people think of transgender individuals, they need to remember to treat them as human beings. They get so caught up in trying to help or hurt these people that they forgot to communicate. That’s where I think a lot of this “I know best, you’re wrong, let me come up with all these (tenuous) reasons why” attitude comes from.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is this: You can agree or disagree with anyone – that’s your prerogative. But understand where people are coming from when you talk to them, so you end up with a discussion and not a spat. You might learn something.

    I think this post does that pretty well, which is cool; it’s entirely built around informing, from the content to the format to the external sources.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi, guys! Just wanna say that your blog is amazing; you speak about issues that need attention, especially from the otaku culture. As a lesbian Muslim from India, I find that the biggest obstacles in accepting LGBT is culture. In India we have a large number of trans people, amd how the general populace treats them is apalling. We have been making some strides but widespread acceptance is a still long way off. I’m one of the lucky ones as my family accepted my sexuality. My grandmother even gave her blessing to me and my girlfriend!

    Like

    • Thanks a lot! We try our best to cover such topics as we indeed find them very important.

      I’m really happy for you 😀 It’s great your family backs you up! I wish you all the best!

      I can only hope that my partner’s family will accept her, too. I hear everyday the f-word in my house, so I don’t have any expectations.

      Like

      • No idea. I use the same email, but maybe I’m using a slightly different name sometimes? (Capitalizations, or dash vs. underscore)
        Wiping my own computer’s history and cookies shouldn’t affect wordpress’s records of my comments, but that’s the only other thing I can think of.

        Like

  3. I really like the first picture! 😀

    I don’t particularly like the word “trans” because it is somewhat incomplete. What do you mean by “trans”? It can be trans-sexual, trans-gender, trans-vestite, etc. These are very different things, and can be misleading if the context is not clear enough. The same thing goes for “cis”.

    As for what term should be used for “non-trans- “, it really depends on the context. For example, if you are talking about trans-gender people and want to say something about everyone else, non-trans-gender makes perfect sense. Cis-gender may not because, depending on your definition, it may or may not include all people who are non-trans-gender. In other words, Oxford offers the least ambiguous suggestion. What you’ll use in your communication will depend on your context and your audience.

    Speaking of sexuality, most trans-gender people I know are lesbian trans-women.

    ahahahaha I love that https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/ website! Thank you for mentioning it! Now instead of explaining things, I’ll just link that website for people who try to argue! 😀

    Oh wow! That map is beautiful! I love it! That is so interesting to see all this diversity! 😀 The Asia region is surprisingly empty though. There must be some manifestations. Perhaps, they are not documented or not expressed due to politics. My cultural anthropology professor was one of the experts on gender and even written some articles in encyclopedias. I recall learning about various non-binary genders in different cultures. I might still have some of those books somewhere!

    I agree that one certainly has to visit a psychologist to discuss their feelings. It becomes especially important during the transition period. However, as you point out, there is a point where you know exactly what you want and who you are. Nevertheless, it might be a good idea to see a counselor / psychologist should things become somewhat dark. This applies to everyone of course, but it is especially important for trans-gender people http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/AFSP-Williams-Suicide-Report-Final.pdf

    It must have taken a long time for you to write this article! Thank you for taking the time! Although I agree with all your points and know most of the things you are talking about, I still learned something new! Yay! 😀

    Like

    • Thanks for the long comment!
      Trans like that is used though a lot (search tumblr) and probably has to do with the fact that transgender is already used as an umbrella term for all (transsexuals, transvestites etc) though the term transsexual has fallen from favour and I see it used usually from sources and people who don’t know much about gender and lgbtq issues. But you are right that it can lead to confusion and there are discussions that the umbrella is misleading since different groups have generally different experiences and troubles (see how that drag queens don’t have to fear every day for their lives like transgender/transsexuals).

      As a result the borders of the word cis may not be as concrete but I’ve seen it mostly used by the oxford definition. For instance, drag queens are considered cis from many or at least genderqueer.

      Glad that you like the fallacies site and the gender map. Since I’m no anthropologist I have no idea about the Asia region, but it could be there are taboos. I’m interested in learning more about your professor.

      Transwomen are mostly visibly due to misogyny and how vulnerable is masculinity. The reason many transwomen are in lesbian relationships (though they may be bi not just lesbians) has to do with the fact that women are usually more open-minded and don’t feel that much pressure by society to prove their feminity as men do (see how tomboys are generally more accepted than girly boys). That said my partner is bi but leans more towards men – I was the exception.

      I was referring to the case when the trans person already visits a psychologist but the parents don’t like the truth and want to hear only what they want.

      It took me 3 days! But it was worth it. I hope it spreads and has the has the success of the Transgender Manga Post.

      Like

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