The series Transition Road is a sort of journal of my inward and outward transition from female to male. It's sometimes intended as a personal reflection, sometimes I need to rant, and sometimes I just want to bring some (subjective) clarity into the rainbow fog that is trans* and genderqueerness. Other diaries in this series are:
Before we begin: I ask that any comments you wish to make be respectful to transfolk. Each of us transpeople has a different experience of being trans*, so I can only speak for myself about my trans* experience. But what I can say for all of my trans* brothers and sisters is that we are human beings first and foremost, and deserving of respect whether you understand and agree with us or not. We are not who anyone might think our chromosomes or our bodies dictate - we are who we say we are, and each of us decides or discovers that for themselves.
Trans* touches on some very basic anxieties and fears - my own included. I needed a long time to not be afraid of my own transness. Sometimes it still scares the shit out of me. But I deal with it in a way that doesn't hurt anybody.
Sadly, all too often people let their fear control their attitudes, opinions and actions. As a result LGBTQ folk, and especially those who are gender nonconforming, have to fear for their rights, their jobs, their safety and even their lives.
Please follow me over the squiggle into the anti-gender-gravity-chamber to the discussion of today's question "What makes trans* scary - the gender, the genitalia or the freedom?"
This diary was inspired by a comment in a diary about hacking. The commenter astutely pointed out that people are afraid of hackers because they cross boundaries that most people wouldn't consider crossing. My immediate association was with transgender folk crossing the gender boundary, and the fear and loathing that instills in many.
Most of us know that fear is at the root of much of the active and passive transphobia in the world - that's a no-brainer if you know what phobia means. In common usage we associate transphobia and homophobia with hatred, vitriol and aggression more than with fear (or at least I do). But we know that fear is usually the source of that hatred.
The words "transgender" and "transsexual" contain three semantic bits that deserve consideration here. "Trans" seems pretty straightforward, and I've never encountered any confusion about what it means and connotes. It is a latin prefix that means across, beyond, on or to the other side.
"Gender" and "Sex" are not so clear for many. The World Health Organization explains it like this:
What do we mean by "sex" and "gender"?
Sometimes it is hard to understand exactly what is meant by the term "gender", and how it differs from the closely related term "sex".
"Sex" refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.
"Gender" refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.
To put it another way:
"Male" and "female" are sex categories, while "masculine" and "feminine" are gender categories.
Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly.
Some examples of sex characteristics :
Women menstruate while men do not
Men have testicles while women do not
Women have developed breasts that are usually capable of lactating, while men have not
Men generally have more massive bones than women
Some examples of gender characteristics :
In the United States (and most other countries), women earn significantly less money than men for similar work
In Viet Nam, many more men than women smoke, as female smoking has not traditionally been considered appropriate
In Saudi Arabia men are allowed to drive cars while women are not
In most of the world, women do more housework than men
So where's the scary part?
Is "gender" the semantic bit that inspires so much fear and hatred? One can certainly argue that gender differences are frightening and upsetting, even infuriating. The WHO gives three great examples for differences based on gender that make my blood boil: income inequality, access to transportation inequality, and housework inequality. I suppose people of female gender have reason to fear and hate people of male gender in many societies because of the gender-based oppression. Just as people of female sex have reason to fear for their reproductive health. But the problem there is the oppression, and not the existence of differences between men and women in attributes that are not physically manifested or directly connected to reproduction.
Is "sex" (male or female) in and of itself frightening? The existence of two sexes is a fact of our biology and how we reproduce, and with the exception of intersex folks, everybody has a sex. There are unfortunately no shortage of people who are afraid of reproduction and sexuality, but since a sex is something everyone (except intersex) has, having a sex is not in and of itself a threat. Obviously when considering reproductive rights it becomes clear that many consider the female sex and female sexuality to be dangerous. "Sex" is of course a scary word for many Americans because of the connection to sexuality. There is certainly a good deal of irrational demonization and fearmongering about transfolk based on the fact that a trans* person might bring genitalia into a restroom that usually doesn't get brought into that restroom and somehow endanger the children of America.
But simply the fact of having physical characteristics associated with either a male or female part in reproduction can not be what makes trans* so scary.
So that leaves us with "trans" - across, beyond, on or to the other side.
"Trans" doesn't scare people when it's the Atlantic that is being crossed. Some may fear, but nobody really hates a transatlantic flight. "Trans" doesn't inspire confusion or disgust when it's part of the verbs "translate" or "transliterate", even when the language being translated to or the alphabet being transliterated to is unfamiliar. "Trans" is not even scary when referring to an intransigent opposition, though it may be infuriating.
"Trans-" by itself, the crossing itself, is not inherently frightening. It's the boundary that we transfolk cross that makes people uncomfortable or even afraid. In our very complicated world gender (how you identify) and biological sex (what your chromosomes and genitals reflect) are usually categories that give security and a strong sense of identification. They are some of the earliest aspects of identity that children develop. Many take gender and biological sex for granted the way we take gravity for granted - and many consider them to be as immutable as gravity.
I often felt the female sex and gender role I was born into it to be a tiny, dark prison cell. When I finally realized that my gender is what's inside of me and not what people expect of me, it was like a shutter was opened and the sun shone in for the first time. As my journey continued and I discovered that I could even escape the prison that is my female body, it was like I was able to walk outside for the first time in my life.
I am not yet that far on my Transition Road. But I have found the freedom to take this road, and I am traveling the spectrum and crossing the border of gender and sex. I am changing what many consider immutable, and challenging their subjective(!!!) realities. I believe this freedom that I have found is what truly frightens people, because it turns upside-down the "God-given" order of things that they cling to in lieu of taking responsibility and thinking for themselves.
Sat Jul 30, 2011 at 8:27 AM PT: Thanks to Robyn for posting and to all the positive commentors for commenting. Also thanks to the allies who have our backs and don't tolerate transphobic comments. I'm off to work the TransMan table at Christopher Street Day here in Frankfurt.
Peace, and ...Legalize Trans*!