Guest Blogger

"Yes" to the reality of transgender

Filed By Guest Blogger | December 11, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Transgender & Intersex
Tags: drag kings, drag queens, gender identity, identity, politics, ronald gold, transgender, transsexualism

Editors' note: Suzanne Clayton lives outside of Washington D.C. and is active in the local transgender community. Since 2007, she blogs about her experience transitioning from male to female.

suzanne.jpgTransgender: not a disease, but a normal variation on the human condition that most certainly exists.

What is transgender? It's more than just drag performers and transsexuals. It includes a wide range of people, including gender queer and crossdressers. Then again, maybe there's really no such thing as gender at all? Don't believe me? Well, follow this argument for a moment, and let's see where we come out:

What does it mean to be a man or a woman? It's certainly not just about genitalia, is it? If a man loses his penis in a motorcycle accident, is he not still a man? So then it must be about personality. But there is no such thing as male or female personality. We can state as much categorically, and put it in boldface to make it even more convincing, as if we've thought it through and there's no more room for discussion: Personality is not a function of gender. Okay, so if it can only be about genitalia or personality and it's not about genitalia or personality, then there is just no such thing as men or women. Q.E.D.

Did you agree with this logic? Then you agree with Ronald Gold's argument and then of course there is no such thing as transgender (you cannot be "trans" something that does not exist in the first place). We can go on to just assume that these people are confused to think that their bodies and minds are out of sync, gender-wise.

Or we could take a tiny step back and realize that maybe we made a mistake somewhere in our logic. Gender most certainly exists. We don't have to fully understand what it means to be a man or a woman to know that most of us strongly identify internally as one gender or the other. Some boys may like to do "girl things" and some girls may like to do "boy things." There are fuzzy lines between male and female. Gender identity, sexual preference, and male/female appearance are not on a binary scale. Still, I think most people have no trouble reconciling this with the notion that they identify internally as "male" or "female" and that that feeling goes beyond their physical form and what they like and do not like to do (and whom they like to do it with).

It is a nice feeling to know that your external presentation matches up with your internal gender identity. I know this, because I have worked very hard to make mine line up, having been born with a male physiology while having strong feelings since at least age 4 or 5 that I wanted to be a girl. I never felt "trapped" in the "wrong body". I have my body. It's the one I was born with, and I'm no more trapped in it than anyone else is in theirs. Maybe it developed differently than I'd have liked, to the point where I always felt like something was wrong with me, but I felt reasonably at ease blending in with male society. And society accepted me readily and completely as a male for 37 years.

Still, no matter how easy it was for me to pass myself off as a man (and I was very convincing), my desires to be female never went away. At some point, I realized they never would, and at a much later point, I realized that I would never be satisfied living out my life as a man. So even though I knew it would be extraordinarily difficult, I worked to change my external self to live as the woman I had to be. And it wasn't about kissing men or having men hold doors open for me. And it wasn't about having a vagina instead of a penis. And maybe I don't really understand everything about what made me feel the way I did, but I'm quite sure I'm a lot happier living the way I am now.

Some people might think I'm deluded. Some people might disagree with my choices to have my body surgically altered to be more in line with what is generally accepted as "female". Some people probably don't consider me to be female at all (but only if they know I'm transsexual, which they generally don't unless I tell them). Maybe they have a point, but I don't really care, because I'm living the way I want to be, and this works for me.

I am a transgender woman. Believe me, I exist.


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stephanie vomact stephanie vomact | December 11, 2009 2:41 PM

It amazes me ,and I find it appalling ,that in this day and age that some people would want to argue that:

  • You do not exist
  • Your feelings are invalid
  • Your personal identity is (apparently, from the position of "Speaking from Authority",where there are no if's ands or buts) controlled by them.

Now, I could understand those attitudes more easily if they came from someone that considered themselves a fundamentalist believer,and that
their beliefs were ordained by the god with no vowels in his name.

Frankly, I am more than a little bit bothered, that people who claim to be Gay or Lesbian, can make sweeping statements about the lack of legitimacy of others lives, histories,thoughts feelings and desires.

The first person that ever tried to denounce me ,in public, in of all places 5th grade class,was a (proto)gay boy. When he learned that some of the girls in class whispered about him,he pointed (to me) and loudly said: "He wears GIRLS clothes, look! Right now".

Personally, I thought it was jealousy.

Well said, Suzanne. Sound logic, as opposed to flawed logic, and a good explanation of the subtleties of being trans.

Brilliant and brave piece, thank you!

Believe me when I say that being a masculine woman was just not going to make me happy. I pushed the boundaries of "woman" past the point Gold suggested we should, and if I hadn't made the decision to transition, I don't think I'd be around right now. Not only was Gold's opinion piece full of leaps in logic, devoid of other theorists who've done a better job analyzing gender identity, and chock full of contradictions, but it was plainly hurtful.
I'm so glad you exist, Suzanne. I'm glad we trans folk have made it through our journeys when even are closest allies question our motives or lives. Thank you for your words.

california panda | December 11, 2009 7:11 PM

Bingo Suzanne,

I may not know what makes my gender what it is but I do know that I know at a very deep and personal level what gender I truly am. I think we all do and that's what makes Mr Gold's denial of my reality so gallingly ignorant and patronizing.

Valerie

I'm not at all sold Suzanne, could you use that fuzzy logic again?

All widget are sprockets but not all sprockets are widgets?

I mean your argument seems like a radio ad for Netflix
" What is the sum of all existence?"
" Spastic colon"

I wish this sort of love mongering would be banned from public forums.

Well done Suzanne.
and thank you for posting this.

Maura

good stuff, I myself could have written the last 4 paragraphs, sounds like my story.

rikki mordhorst | December 12, 2009 4:07 AM

Thanks for saying what I have been feeling!

Excellent article, if, as always, it seems, we have to go back to trans-101 for all the people who just don't seem to get it. Anyway, I try to follow this one fundamental tenet:

A person knows themselves better than anyone else does:

I know if my knee hurts better than my doctor does, better than my personal trainer, better than my friend who's a runner. I know my gender better than my doctor does, better than any psychologist they might want to put between me and drugs, and any self-appointed activist who finds my identity inconvenient to their constructed dichotomy.

That pretty much sums it up for me.

As someone who is both bisexual and transgender, I've heard my share of claims that my feelings don't exist. Many such claims come from people who call upon their own perceptions without having done a shred of research. Such claims often come from people who have never had to question their own sexuality or gender identity, and they assume these matters come easily to everyone.

I would respond to the post that started this controversy, but it looks like it's been removed. A world in which we were all free to play with Barbies and basketballs as we so chose sounds wonderful, but it wouldn't stop me from feeling female. Transgender isn't a response to socially enforced gender stereotypes - in fact, those stereotypes cause us harm.

I came late to the yes/no trans debate that happened this week of finals at my university, but I wanted to thank you, Suzanne, for your eloquent response, and I wanted to add mine to the show of hands indicating that TG people are real.

Suzanne well done!

If I could add this observation:

I have personally and academically struggled to find a constructive way to address the "reality" of being transgender in a predominantly cisgender society. I struggle not because I am unable to summon the words, but rather because the words seem to consistently fail to connect with audiences that do not live this peculiar existence. I recently spoke to a group the graduate students in clinical social work at Arizona State University about the experiential nature of being transgender/transsexual in society today and the question of privilege came up.

It’s inevitable that privilege should come up in this discussion because this class full of accomplished scholars struggled, from amidst their vantage point of cisgender privilege, to wrap their minds around how I could feel so profoundly alienated within my own body and wish to repair that fundamental mismatch between conscious mind and physical embodiment. From that evolved, a thoughtful and nuanced discussion building toward a more complete understanding of cisgender assumption and cisgender privilege:

To wit ,, cisgender assumption (vis-à-vis the transgender experience) can be defined as:

The assumption that other people experience their intrinsic and subconscious sense of gender identity in the same way you experience yours . . .

From that erroneous assumption, you experience no impediment and feel no censure to projecting your cisgenderism upon others . . .

Finally, assuming that, because you do not experience gender dissonance that it doesn’t exist. However, if you concede that it does, from your point of view the only reasonable explanation for it must be psychopathology.

Once they stepped out of their old paradigm, they were better able to approach (some more empathically than others) an objective understanding of cisgender privilege. Thus the understanding that:

The notion that cisgender attributes are generally and uncritically assumed to be “natural” and thus “normal.”

Further, that if an individual’s lived experience is not appropriately defined by “gender normative” models, then that experience is deemed invalid, “unnatural” and “abnormal.”

Assuming that the male/female gender binary provides an accurate and comprehensive model of gender identity.

It was a productive discussion that I hope left a few future clinical social workers with a better understanding than they arrived with that evening. To conclude I shared with them my lived experience of having transitioned gender. The sublime reality of being “whole” is an experience that transcends and indeed frustrates labels like “male or female-identified.” If I were to speculate, it may be that the elusive feeling of wholeness and completeness is what, standing at the door between male and female, eludes many in seeking to understand our motivations as transpeople for undertaking gender transition in the first place.

I described it to the students this way:

Perhaps my brain now “sees” clearly, what it has always expected to see, a congruently “female” form complete with a complex sensory system that perceives the world, and is in turn perceived by the world, in fundamental harmony with an innately “female” spirit. Are various aspects of my physical embodiment essentially prosthetics? Certainly, yet in the primitive, ancient places of the brain where innateness resides – it is sufficient and there is a measure of peace . . . at last.

To conclude, I left them with this suggestion:

Respect the expressed identities and lived experiences of other individuals – resist the temptation to overlay your assumptions upon them.

Check your own privilege and challenge the notion that there is some terrible hidden cost to you for failing to uphold a raft of socially and morally suspect assumptions about other human beings.

In short – get used to asking yourself the honest question – What’s it to me?

And . . . be willing to live with the answer.

Beautiful, Renee. Thank you for sharing this with us here, and thank you for doing the incredibly important work of educating those who may, someday, be in the role of attempting to guide someone who is struggling with her/his gender identity and expression and, sadly, acting as gatekeeper to accessing the medical interventions we need to find that place of wholeness and congruence.

I, too, am a trans woman. I, too, exist. And I will fight to my last breath to insist on respect for my (and your and everyone else's) right to exist and to define my (you and their) own identity(ies).

Reading your post helped me to realize something about Mr. Gold's article and the fear, confusion and lack of understanding that lead many people to discount the truth of my experience as a trans person.

I've spent the last 14 years since I moved to Arizona trying to understand why I have been so profoundly unhappy through most of my life. A major part of that exploration involved intense spiritual study and various workshops that helped me get beyond the unconscious barriers in my mind to a deeper understanding of who I am and the nature and source of fear. During that process, I came to the realization of a very simple truth: just because I don't understand something, didn't or don't experience it myself, and/or can't explain why something is the way it is, doesn't mean it's not real and isn't deserving of respect and honor. As countless others before me have noted, people fear what they don't understand, but there's no reason for that. We are each unique souls in this universe with our own experiences and expressions of who we are. For me that is something to be celebrated and to immerse ourselves in to experience, if only vicariously, the incredible beauty and diversity of this universe. I don't understand gay men like Mr. Gold at any kind of deep level, although I can see that, like everyone else, we share a desire to live lives of peace, dignity and respect. That's all I need to acknowledge his right to exist in this universe. All I ask is that he and others like him grant the same right, whether they like or understand me or not.

Mr. Gold's fears about how my existence may threaten his world view and his ability to assimilate into straight society is not my problem and I feel no need to help him out of his dilemma. I'm sorry, Mr. Gold, but I will not accept the burden that you have attempted to shift to the shoulders of myself and other trans people. Today, I live free of the smothering weight of fear and shame that I carried most of my life. If you wish to reach that same place of freedom, you, not I, will have to do the difficult, but incredibly rewarding, work to learn why you are so afraid of me and other trans people and how to live without that fear. Good luck!

First off, I'd like to applaud this post. It is much better-written than Mr. Gold's post was, by miles. That said, the topic of both has always intrigued me (which is why I read through Mr. Gold's cringe-worthy post - it was the first published piece I had seen on the topic).

I'd like to say a couple things before I start: One, I'm seventeen years old, and the only prejudice I encounter is that which takes place in the halls of high school, so you'll have to forgive me my inexperience and probably a little naivety (please do, though, point out and explain where any flaws in my thinking are). Two, I don't want to tell anyone else how they should think or identify themselves. I would much rather discuss possibilities about what the concepts of gender and transgenderedness really are.

First, I'd like to question the idea that gender is a spectrum rather than a binary, while biological sex (with an incredibly small number of exceptions) is a binary. Would this not create a significantly larger population of people who feel out of place or incongruent with their bodies, if everyone who falls into the greys between black and white does not match with their body, which will fall at one end of the spectrum or the other? Does the lack of a binary gender scale not suggest that there would be many people who would not be comfortable in the body they were born with, or after transitioning?

On another note, if gender really is merely the result of outdated gender norms in society (and that feeling of incongruence is the result of those stereotypes being deeply ingrained from birth), the question is not "does it exist" but "should it exist". I.E., obviously gender stereotyping should not exist, but if the concept of gender as a whole - the idea that "male" or "female" means anything other than the set of genitalia one was born with - does have its roots in gender stereotyping, should it have to exist?

In short, what I'm trying to say is, should there be a need for a word to describe someone who doesn't fall into the norm? Can't we all just be who we are, and not need to put quite possibly unnecessary labels on who we are? (Am I just clinging to youthful idealism? :P)

To your first point: that's an interesting question, for starters. Internal sense of gender identity can be seen as a spectrum especially if you notice that there are people who do not seem to identify strongly with either binary gender. I don't know a lot of genderqueer people, but I believe them when they say they that they don't feel like males or females, but closer to something in between. So why wouldn't we see many more people with dysphoria over their internal gender? I think that (a) gender is somewhat mutable, having at times been fairly comfortable trying to identify as male and (b) most people are born with a body type and an internal gender identity (really, a brain) that both fall on the same side of these blurred lines. It's not an even distribution along the spectrum. I do belive that there is a significantly larger number of people with gender identity issues than we are aware of as a society, but I do still think that *most* people are most comfortable as one gender or the other, and for the vast majority of those, they are conveniently comfortable with their born physical sex as well.

To your second point, I think you are getting at the article Mr. Gold was intending to write, but his outdated and incendiary views on transpeople got squarely in the way. I think both you and Mr. Gold are striving for a sort of gender-blindness, which is at its heart a nice idea. It's not terribly realistic, but it's a worthy goal. On the one hand, I agree, it would be nice to live in a world where everyone can express themselves without judgment. On the other hand, to achieve this, we might have to give up a lot of what makes us human, by giving up the concept of gender itself. I think perhaps with this, the binary choice is again not the only option. Something in between feels more right to me.

I'm tempted to say something about how you youngsters have it easy these days, but I know that's not true. I do wish we'd have had the internet when I was 17, so that I'd have had someplace I felt I could go to explore my own feelings of gender identity. Anyway, you're asking the questions I wish I had asked at your age. Good luck!

Andrea Davion | December 14, 2009 12:12 PM

Fuck yes lady. Right on! How can someone discount our lives and our feelings unless they have lived our lives?