Archive for August, 2009


That breakfast sammich looks pretty good…

A commenter on Womanist Musingsarticle about This Is Why You’re Fat had the following to say:

“The idea that fat = extremely unhealthy eating is just wrong, and far to prevalent. It promotes the fatphobic myths that all fat people are unhealthy, that being fat is a “choice” and a personal failing, not to mention that there’s something inherently wrong with being fat.”

Sounds oddly familiar. Hmm…

Inherently, no. Yes, there are health risks associated with being overweight (sleep apnea comes readily to mind, although I’m sure there are more). And sure, some people could have prevented their weight gain. But, geh. Replace ‘fat’ in that quote with ‘gay’ or ‘trans’ or ‘poor’ … I heard something about once, that all oppressed people should band together and make it stop (the lot of us together will outnumber TEH MAN!). There’s a common uniting thread somewhere

Society is ridiculous. I was 5’6″ and 143lb in high school and that was apparently 20lb overweight. I’m still 5’6″ and probably weigh less now — because it’s fat instead of muscle (since I’m no longer in martial arts classes three and four times a week). Ironically, I am now likely less ‘healthy’ than I was when I was ‘overweight’. LOLmodernmedicine. I can’t even imagine what the doctor would have said if I was AUGH GAWD 165.

On a lighter note, this is freakin adorable. <3. Also, this.


Things to think about

This post is about “tranny” and the reclaiming thereof. I have tended to use it quite blithely and with great frequency, but I’ve recently found some more things to think about. I may or may not have changed my mind by the end of this post, depending on how the argument with myself goes. I will be attempting to make this as coherent and politically correct as possible in the interest of minimizing the triggeryness (I’ve been told I’m blunt-to-rudely curt in internet communication, so if I slip up I apologize).

I was recently linked by a friend to Kate Bornstein’s blog post about “tranny,” which got me thinking about stuff. Well, ok, more like it got me fired up and self-righteous, and I thought of a great many snide remarks to post to Twitter. Most of them did not make it through the snarkfilter, fortunately.

I’ve been peripherally aware of the controversy within the trans community about this term since an event called “Trans 101” at the University. A nice young transman was explaining derogatory terms for transpeople, “tranny” among them. It went something like this:

NYT: “Tranny is a derogatory word cis people use to describe trans people. So we shouldn’t use it.”
Me: “What about people who are trying to reclaim it? I mean, I call myself a tranny, and only use it for other people if they’ve said they’re ok with it.”
NYT: “I used to use it that way too, actually. But then a beautiful scary trans woman explain to me that we [i.e. trans men] can’t use it because it’s been mostly used against trans women.”
Me: “What about trans men who’ve experienced it as an insult, and are turning around and reclaiming it?”
NYT: “Um… I dunno.”

I ended up leaving earlyish (as in, skipping the usual socializing afterward) because I felt that I had better things to do with my evening than listen to someone tell me how to experience my identity, without even being about to explain WHY I should do things their way. This is less a knock against the argument against reclaiming “tranny” (which I have now found some incredibly insightful and well defined rants on) and more against NYT’s lacking debate skills. I would have sat and talked about it with him, but it was clear he either couldn’t or didn’t want to argue the point. Also the “beautiful scary trans woman” comment kind of put me off, like stereotypes do. Since he wasn’t able/willing to explain it any further, I made the mistake of assuming that this was as far as the argument could go, and went about my merry way using “tranny” as frequently as possible and just waiting for someone to call me on it.

(Compound this with my being a but of a misogynist in general: I tend to get along better with men and androgynous folk, than with women. I don’t understand how women think, and I’ve never had the opportunity to really find out because there seem to be very few women (cis or trans) that I can spend that much time around and not want to stab their eyes out. I jokingly blame this on an allergy to estrogen, but I’m sure it goes deeper than than that. The same friend who linked me to Bornstein’s blog has called me out on this, so I’m going to be doing some mulling it over for the next little while. But, if you see that cropping up in this particular argument, feel free to point it out, so I know where to take a closer look at my own opinions.)

So, here we go. The Argument Against Reclaiming “Tranny” as a Term of Identity, taken point by point against my opinion.

Cedar gives a nice summary of most of the argument, so I’ll be pulling most of the salient points from that. For the full sense of zir meaning, and not just quotes taken somewhat out of context, read the actual post (should be linked in pingbacks as well as above). Some of the points are from other places or generic stuff that has filtered into my brain.

…the “gender neutral” “reclaimed” version of “tranny” … doesn’t hit the most common theme running throughout its use against cis women–doing femininity badly. It doesn’t even come close.

i. Transmen ARE “doing femininity wrong” by REFUSING TO DO IT. On purpose. And we like it. Since my ID’s all say F, I “should” be wearing skirts, having boyfriends, and being alternately sexually available to men / not a whore (depending on whom you ask) in order to be feminine. By refusing to do this, I am being “not feminine enough;” by willingly calling myself a tranny and not having a problem with it I am calling that femininity standard into question. There’s unfortunately a counterpart to this: a masculinity standard among transmen. It seems some are uncomfortable with transmen who perform femme drag, which I suppose puts me a bit closer to the original (Australian) use of the term than previously. I deliberately use it as a subversive term against gender binaries and stereotypes.
ii. The usual argument against “tranny”-as-unfeminine seems to be “Real trans women don’t look like that.” (See the comments section… “I’m a transsexual woman and typically don’t wear much makeup – and have certainly never touched blue shimmer shadow in my life, or blue matte shadow for that matter.”) …who is ‘that,’ exactly? flamboyant drag queens? people who like ‘trashy’ makeup? Why don’t we want to look like “them”? Are they “less trans” than those who “pass” or who dress modestly? There’s a subtle looksism in the response as well, methinks. It doesn’t reclaim the idea of un-femininity to point out how well some of us ascribe to certain types of it. It’d be more effective, in the case above, to ask “What’s wrong with looking like a tranny?” because that would get at the heart of the problematic standard, rather than dancing around with “What do ‘real’ transfolk look like.”

Used to regulate female sexuality, on both sides of the prude / slut dichotomy

The example used in the post is one about sexual assault and preferences on type of sex as an indicator of who’s really got a surprise in their pants, which… isn’t really illustrative of that point? I doubt whether any grown-ups really believe that “all women who won’t sleep with them at the drop of a hat are really trannies” crap anyway and it seems more like “Directions on how to be an asshole and never get laid” to me. Which, if someone stands up for their right to determine their amount and type of sexual activity and is called a tranny for it? I’d consider it a backhanded compliment. I’m a big fan of those not because of the intent behind them, but because it makes immature people’s brains explode when you give them the opposite of what they were expecting. It becomes negative reinforcement: they want people to get insulted, people don’t get insulted, they learn that it doesn’t work and stop doing it. And those who own their sex lives or lack thereof keep on doing things their own way. Self-respect is ultimately sexier than availability, and I’m reasonably sure most grown-ups would agree with me. I can’t, of course, speak for spoiled immature fratboys, since I generally avoid them.

For trans men, there’s some work on claiming being sexually desirable, but much of this work explicitly excludes trans women.

Because we’re different demographics. For the most part, we appeal to a different sexual orientation than do trans women (not that there isn’t overlap, mind. I sure do love me some pansexuals). I’m not saying we don’t share a community, any less than I think we share a community with lesbians and gays and bisexuals and asexuals and kinkies and anyone who’s variant in terms of sexuality or gender. I just think that in some *specific* cases, our interests differ. (Kinda like how straight kinky folk have the right to get married but are still part of the queer community, and how GLB folk can be open about their sexual orientation but are still allied with closet kinksters.) This was peripherally mentioned in the post titled “Buck Angel” but I can go into more detail now, yay.
I think everyone in the gender*, trans*, *queer community does their own reclaiming, in a very personal and very private and sometimes internal way, on being sexually desirable. Having a partner can help sometimes. And because I’m a trans man and not a trans woman, because I’m pre-op and not post-op, because I like dick and not pussy, yes. That does exclude a lot of people. Being uncomfortable with my body as it currently is doesn’t help, so… no gendertastic orgies for me, thanks. JNMK.
Could there be a shared movement of non-normative sexualities/bodies/identities/genders/whathaveyou being sexually desirable? Certainly, if only we could get past the argument over what to call it. I’m on the fence whether there’s discrimination in the idea of “minority-specific space” such as a “Trans Men Only Sex Talk” meeting. Having not been to such a meeting, I think it has about an equal chance of both providing safe space for people to talk and causing schisms between “segments” of the community.
Reading over this segment it looks like I’m on one side in theory, and on the other in practice. There’s a line somewhere between “sexuality activism” and “sexual activity;” I’m just not quite sure where it is.

“Tranny” is mostly used against trans women, and therefore can’t be reclaimed by trans men / FAAB genderqueers.

So there’s work for trans women on reclaiming “tranny,” but it seems to explicitly exclude trans men 😉
In a way, I understand. I’ve been called a lot of things and I can deal with most of them; some of them like tranny or queer I’m totally ok with and yes, it is subversive to use them, deliberately so. Sticks and stones. The one word that I absolutely cannot stand, however, is “it”. I would be a little skeeved at first by someone using it, and if it was directed at me I would probably get in someone’s face about it. I looked androgynous in high school and someone at the dojo I worked at decided it would be a good idea to start calling me ‘it.’ When no one else seemed to care, I took matters into my own hands (read: fists). “It” is comparable to “tranny” in ways “queer” and “fag” aren’t, apart from their shared semi-reclaimed status: “it” calls something genderless and therefore less than; it refers to doing femininity wrong (but can easily also be used to call someone doing masculinity wrong) and even worse than “tranny,” “it” can be cleverly concealed in innocent language and will never be purged from the English language. However, there are people who identify their gender as ‘none’ and prefer ‘it’ as a pronoun. I thought about applying this to myself at one point, but was too uncomfortable because that was and still is a triggering term for me. But, if that’s the way they want to identify? I’m not going to take it from them. Common courtesy dictates that they not refer to others in that manner, which is how I restrict my use of “tranny”. It has been used against me, personally, as a gender-negative insult, therefore I have a right, personally, to use it in its reclaimed sense to refer to myself and my gender.

What does this idea of “tranny” do to this idea that we are cis straight men’s sexual objects, to do with as they please and then throw away?

i. I call myself a tranny and refuse to be treated as a sex object. The word needs to be used in order to call the concept into question, otherwise they both just kind of sit there making hate-babies. “Yes, I am a tranny. No, that does not allow you to treat me with any less respect, or as anything less than fully human.”

ii. The main idea behind this part of the argument seems to be that man-tranny-porn is made by trans men for trans men and is therefore universally good for trans men, and wom-tranny-porn is made by heterocis men for other heterocis men and is therefore universally bad for trans women. The thing is, until it ‘catches on’ in the greater pornosphere, ANY niche porn is going to be produced in a “for us, by us” manner. Lots of straight cis men pay for porn. Lots of straight cis men (apparently) like seeing breasts and a penis on the same person. Porn producers notice the trend, dot dot dot profit. Until trans men catch on as the next big thing to fuck/be fucked by (considering that trans women seem to be more visible and have been so for much longer than trans men) we’re a niche market.
My main problem (and it may be a knee-jerk reaction) is that this begins to smack of the ‘all porn is bad’ / ‘sex work is universally evil’ argument, by making generalizations about the experience of the people involved and what it does to the consumer. Are there statements from trans porn stars that “this objectified me in such and such a way?” Or statements from viewers of “the only trans women I’ve seen are in porn, therefore all trans women must do porn.” I find it mind-boggling that someone would think that, but people surprise me every day. I’m sure there’s ample anecdotal evidence on both sides.
But, this is a complaint about porn in general: all people in it are assumed to be a. representative of their demographic (i.e. all black men have large penises, because the one black penis I’ve seen was in a porno and it was large) and b. freely sexually available. And we’re pretty hung up about porn to begin with. So, I think it’s less specifically relevant to the “tranny” debate and speaks more to how our society thinks about sex work and pornography, and how we construct stereotypes out of it. There are movements reclaiming sex work and pornography as a legitimate and non-“icky” profession both in real life and in pop culture (Inara from Firefly comes to mind).

What does this idea of “tranny” do about the conception of us as a sexual threat, as ritually impure and literally untouchable?

Personally, I kind of like the idea that my very existence threatens people’s ideas about sex. But, I know some people want to just fit in and I can respect that. I call myself and allow other people to call me a tranny. The thought process on their end, hopefully, is something like “Trannies are icky! But [Trannysaurus] is a tranny! But [Trannysaurus] isn’t icky! But he has the freaky tranny sex! But the Captain wouldn’t sex someone who was (too) icky! … headsplosions!” And then people rethink their views and are a bit more considerate to the next transperson they meet, and that transperson will be able to go about their business with fewer awkward moments because someone knew the polite way to ask about pronouns. Unfortunately I am only one rather small transman and can’t possibly educate the entire world, so there’s going to be SOMEONE left out there who’s ignorant about and squicked by transfolk, no matter what. Just like there’s still people squicked by homosexuals, and people squicked by foot fetishists, and people squicked by, I dunno, heterosexual monogamous vanilla homemakers. Doesn’t mean any of the above are going to stop existing, or having sex, or being human.

It’s not just because we’re “freaks” (a concept it does reclaim, to its credit). The ‘reclaimed’ version, situated in anti-assimilationism, rejects the idea that we should have to be “real” men or women, which is good, and important, and a valuable thing to reclaim out of this word. But it leaves women open to trans panic, and by not specifically taking on hatred of femininity, it fails to serve us there, either-–we’re still ‘fake’, because our femininity is still suspect, and our masculinity is “real” because masculinity is always real.

(Snark: Well, if they read that one article, people should no longer have any reason to be surprised when their partner turns out to be trans… that defense won’t hold up in court once they’ve dug up your internet records.) One solution (on our end) is to not be stealth, letting people know our “situation” before getting involved, not only out of consideration for cismonoganillafolks’ right to their sexual orientation but for our own personal safety. I very nearly ran into something akin to trans panic with the Captain: he was under the impression that I had a penis when we first hooked up, and had he gotten the tranny surprise physically that night instead of verbally two weeks later things might have ended very poorly. Not because he’s heterophobic, not because he’s transphobic, not because he’s not comfortable enough with his sexuality to say “Whoa, I didn’t expect that to be there. I’m not sure ‘bisexual’ includes transguys.” But, simply, because people don’t like surprises in the pants. This is not to justify trans panic. This is to say it will happen without fail if people who know they have a surprise in the pants choose not to communicate important details like what plumbing they have and how it works to potential partners, before jumping in the sack. Which is where “tranny” or another word of your choice comes in, as a conversation starter. And, yes, that does put it all on our shoulders. But you know what they say: You want something done right, do it yourself. In the future I’d rather be proactive about my gender and get rejected right off, than assume everyone else understands my gendershorthand language and end up dumped or worse.
Here’s where I change my mind like I warned you about. I agree that it can’t be used as a term of community other than being an insult many of us have faced. Because some people do want to be stealth, and being part of a ‘tranny’ community outs them by association. Just like being an ally of the LGB community gets you the homostigma, admitting that gender can be questioned calls one’s own gender into question. Outing, even if it’s not true, is not ok. But what word is there that can be used for a trans community the doesn’t do that? And if someone’s not interested in being part of an out trans community because they’re not out, what right do they have to criticize our choice of language, especially if we make no claim to speak for them?
I think the solution here is a revision not of the terms ‘masculinity’ or ‘femininity’ but of the word ‘real’. Something that’s built, constructed, created, developed later in life, in opposition to biology, upbringing, society, what-have-you — is as real as something you’re ‘born with’. I.E., a deliberately learned femininity/masculinity is as real as one that was absorbed unconsciously. The fact that people know my ‘gender history,’ so to speak, does not make my current identified gender any less valid or real. It does not matter that I once identified as a woman, or as bigender; or that I wear drag; or that I have PIV sex with a cismale person; or that I am a snuggleslut, or that I like sex, or that I am “betraying my yonic power (DDog)” by planning on hormones and surgery. And I call myself a tranny because none of that SHOULD matter.

The thing about words is, they only have the power we give to them. And this in itself is a sufficient argument for reclaiming “tranny:” by not actively reclaiming it, we’re (trans*folk) allowing a word to continue to be used as a gender-negative insult. People aren’t going to stop saying “tranny” on their own; many of them aren’t going to stop when called out on it. I know plenty of people who use “gay” as a pejorative; that doesn’t mean I’m deleting it from my identity. With work mostly on our end, one day it will hopefully be an ok word again.

How much of the ideas behind it need to be reclaimed before, like queer, it becomes somewhat of an accepted term? “The concepts–sexually liberated, gender variant, anti-assimilationist, non-conformist” behind “fag”-as-insult have only been reclaimed in some circles. Does that mean (by extension of the “concepts as reason for term-as-insult” line of logic) that the concepts behind “tranny” haven’t been and aren’t being reclaimed in trans circles? Or that we’re letting the outside cisworld’s concept biases dictate OUR community language?


Presentation and Identity

There was an adventure on Sunday (the Captain, Fox, and a couple of other people) to which QuietOne brought a friend whom we’ll call Pink. I haven’t hung out with this particular (nutty) group of people for a while, and I’m pretty comfortable around them. I think there was something along the lines of “Just because I have a hormone imbalance that makes me pretty doesn’t mean you get to be jealous!” said by me to Fox. So, I was being rather flamboyant and gregarious. QuietOne was more talkative than usual, and afterward we chatted about a kink community group that she wants to come to, which Pink is apparently interested in as well. Which is nice. More queer/kinky (or at least ally) people on the island is always welcome, not that we’re in any way lacking 😀

Apparently, Pink later mentioned something about me to QuietOne (who passed it on to the Captain, who passed it on to me), about how she was weirded out by me because she “understands trannies and crossdressers and stuff, but most of them at least try to present the gender they’re going for.”

My response was something along these lines: “lolwut? Gods I wish she’d had the gall to say that to my face! No, really. I would actually have been nice about it. To her face, anyway.” I admit I did have a catty moment but it passed quickly. Come to think of it I likely wouldn’t have had a response beyond ‘lolwut?’ if I was feeling nice or ‘none of your damn business’ if I was not feeling nice, if she’d asked it then. It’s probably a good thing cispeople are so awkward about asking questions, because it gives me time to think up clever answers.

What I suspect is going on here is that people (in general, not just Pink) conflate presentation and identity to some extent, at least when it comes to transpeople. It’s ok though, because I used to do it too until quite recently. This is intimately connected with the ideas of gender-construction hierarchy and “stealth.”

Words, words, words:
Presentation: the way someone behaves, the clothes they wear, the language they use, the ways they interact with other people; expression
Identity: someone’s innermost being, their essence, their interior mental self-construction, “the me in my head,” their soul.

In this example, the pertinent component of my identity is “homoflexible female man.” My gender expression, however, apparently reads to Pink as something like “flamboyantly feminine prettyboi genderfuck.” Which is not all that off, actually. It’s the assumption that the two need to match up in order for my gender to be “real” or “valid” that’s the problem. Or, possibly, that she may be perfectly ok with trans people — as long as they squeeze themselves into one of two polar, binary, socially constructed genders, with all the stereotypical trappings that come with that.

Stealth: I had a lot of trouble with this for a while. I would try to convince people I was just another guy, and obsess over binding and manly mannerisms and all that. It was really a lot like being back in the closet, and I spent more time trying to convince people of my gender than actually, y’know, having fun and stuff. A little while back I decided (with some input from the Captain) that it wasn’t worth my time to worry what other people know about me. The next time someone asked “Hey is this true…” my response was a simple “Yes, actually.” And, surprisingly, most people just don’t care. They might not totally grok it, but as long as they know to use the right name and the right pronoun we’re good. It’s just a respect thing, and the vast majority of human beings (that I hang out with, anyway) tend to have at least that. Back to the point… I don’t fit into a binary gender, and I rarely “pass” to other people’s standards. It’s detrimental to my having fun to try and force it, especially since there is no appreciable gain, and I get the same benefits if I just ask for them (and the added benefit of being an educator).

It would be easier to dismiss Pink’s comments with things like “Well of course I’m flamboyant; I’m gay! Of course I’m effeminate; I’m a bottom! Of course I look girly; I’m pre-op!” But no. I’m all about doing things the hard way. I don’t have to express myself a certain way in order for my identity to be valid, i.e. I have the right to be as effeminate as I please, and I don’t have to make excuses for it in order to retain my identity of “man.”

I really hope she does come back, because every ignorant comment is an opportunity to reeducate someone.