that’s me in the corner, losing my religion: on transfundamentalism

part one: an introduction and some discussion on religion itself
i had one of those revelations yesterday when leaving a comment on the always-excellent Natalie Reed’s blog, which is hosted on freethought blogs, a site for atheist/skeptic blogs. now, i’m certainly skeptic yet religious, one of those balancing games which is typical in my life…i often believe that religion is meant as a blueprint for us to be good to each other but that it shouldn’t be absolute or considered part of someone’s social or moral character. i hate the degree to which religion has been used to hurt others, justify killing, etc…these are part and parcel of fundamentalism, the especially heinous end of religious practice where people put the concerns of the religion as interpreted by a few above the concerns of other human beings. this is where zealotry, holy war, and hatred come from.

i understand that you might have a different view of religion than i do. i consider it something that, like alcohol, can be good or evil but when it’s evil it often becomes linked to stupidity and violence. i know that many people have very strongly held beliefs about religion being what defines them or what they consider the scourge of the universe and i suggest you consider i come from neither position and that be respected. i was raised fundamentalist Christian, and tried to stick to that fundamentalism through and after transition as back when i dealt with it (though they’ve since changed their mind) they didn’t care if i just married a man and adopted 9000 little white children. of course, it turned out that i’m gay and that quickly put me at odds with the church in question and i was administratively removed for reasons strongly connected to my homosexuality.

part two: cis people force the creation of trans orthodoxy
it’s pretty simple: the demands of cis people for compliance from trans people, especially trans women, are what leads to the toxic orthodoxies that permeate the trans community. i’m not saying that trans people who do bad things are blameless, but i am saying that in behaving the way they do, they’re merely submitting to what cis people want us to do and demand from us. in other words, they’re doing the work of the kyriarchy, consciously or unconsciously. i want to remind y’all that while we should consciously resist kyriarchy, i do understand that people sometimes have trouble unlearning kyriarchical values, especially when they get in the position of enforcer for a smaller community and thus believe that this is how they’re supposed to act rather than question and destroy things which in turn oppresses them. in other words, the enforcer believes that their actions and their enforcing defends them from the kyriarchy when it merely holds kyriarchy’s rage in abeyance.  in other words, your complicity will not protect you on a permanent basis.

part three: like fundamentalists, subscribers to trans orthodoxies use code words 
if you grew up in a fundamentalist religion, or were familiar with one by contact, you know that there’s a lot of coded words used to express an opinion about a person which might not have the same meaning to someone outside that religion. an example of this comes from the religion i was raised in, something i used to be called…a lot: a sweet spirit, which is a nice way of saying that a girl is charming but slow and not particularly beautiful in the heteronormative manner that said religion encourages. a similar one is what people are considered to have: free agency, which we are assumed to be required to follow in order to remain in the good graces of this church, but also to remind us that the ability to make choices is fraught with risk and responsibility.

similarly, the “trans community” uses lots of code words. we talk about stealth, which originally meant a trans person who doesn’t have to mention their transness as part of their everyday life. this is a very privileged position and i will allocute to that i do occupy a position of my transness not being a daily issue…all my documentation matches me in gender and name and it’s not a daily issue in terms of gender presentation. the problem is that stealth has become a value judgment, often hooked up in heteronormative/cisnormative beauty standards, mandatory heterosexuality, and gender-normative presentation (femme for girls, butch for boys) and used as a weapon. like free agency it’s more about satisfying leaders than being your own person. for the record: i don’t care how you choose to live your life, just remember that the term stealth is deprecated because it’s got all this baggage attached to it.  similarly, there’s a number of terms trans women use to refer to the alleged masculinity of other trans women, and i know trans men i know who have complained of similar terms in their line…but that’s not my place…and then there’s how badly we treat genderqueers generally, which is sad.  anyways, i’d rather not give any of those terms any air time. these feel a lot like sweet spirit, because they’re designed to keep a person on a specific chain. they’re often directed at outliers who don’t fit for one reason or another…a trans woman who wears pants or presents as butch, or a trans guy who’s a total dandy (seriously, how can anyone not love a dandy?) and as a result the normative structure of these orthodoxies attacks these people, often for who they are.

part four: like fundamentalist religion, trans orthodoxies know many sects and factions
fundamentalists come in many stripes, faiths, and versions of common faiths. in short, there’s a lot of different kinds of religious fundamentalism. similarly, there’s a lot of different kinds of trans orthodoxy which work to exclude. there’s my old friends the Harry Benjamin Syndrome types…they probably don’t need an introduction since they fit a very specific and narrow mindset where they have decided that they and only they are somehow diseased in a way that causes them to need hormones to cure this disease…i mean, folks, isn’t that called BEING TRANS? basically, to be an HBSer, you have to be a femme, white, able-bodied, middle-class-or-better trans woman…the question is open if you have to be heterosexual or not, it seems controversial amongst that mindset. HBSers often claim people who don’t identify with them (they *love* laying claim to Lynn Conway) and it feels like invariably they pass judgment and find almost every trans woman wanting. we call this toxic girl hate where i come from. (i dunno, and none of my trans guy friends know, if there’s a male equivalent to or version of HBSer. if there is, gentlemen, please accept my most sincere apologies.

there’s the True Transsexuals, who used to go by “classical transsexuals” (you’re into Stravinsky? omg me too!) who claim that transsexualism is a “birth defect” and that they transition for identity reasons completely unrelated to sexual orientation. of course, they also then insist that you must be heterosexual…also, last i checked this screams shrilly over the fact that many trans women have identity issues and don’t merely transition because of sexual orientation…but why do they care if someone does? i’m not listening to a pile of homophobes whine about internalized transphobia. again, you have to be femme, able-bodied, and probably in a relationship with a guy beforehand for the True Transsexual ideal to apply, and…you know what, folks? i just don’t even know. the amount of judging the True Transsexuals do is pretty close to obsessive and i often wonder, much like the HBSers, how anyone lives up to their standards. also don’t ever tell these folks they’re under the “transgender umbrella” or you’ll deal with lashing out the likes of which makes me think of some scenes from Aliens. the True Transsexual is only found in trans woman form, and they often say horrible things about trans guys that led to trans men being excluded from trans spacer and being forced to form their own groups…the True Transsexual mindset dismisses trans men altogether, which is so gross i could say “gross” 144 times.

there’s the support group mindset, a situation like the one locally where there is absolute control of resources and social space for trans people. the situation in my city is by no means unique, but it makes it a very hard place to be a trans person who doesn’t conform with an ultra-femme, able-bodied, moneyed, white ideal. are you noticing a theme here? generally in a support group there are certain distinctive features that make it a lot like an independent “nondenominational” fundamentalist church: obsession with collecting “mandatory donations”, a small flock of trans women who get to pass judgment on newcomers, strictly enforced standards of gendered dress, and, of course, some random person who’s in charge because they decided they’re important. this is the facilitator, whose ability to set the tone of a meeting and decide who should be treated with respect and without…they come awfully close to a preacher, don’t they? anyways, the flock is kept manageable and the support group itself uses its vast power over resources to make sure you have to come to their trough if you want to be trans or work without knowing where it’s safe to go. the support group mindset often only develops in places where support groups hold a lot of power and keep all their information close to the vest, where, in other words, the support group becomes a gatekeeper for trans people. in places where information is shared more freely and there is less resource scarcity, a support group sucking isn’t quite as severe a problem, yet the support group mentality seems not to form. it’s so ironic that it’s like a black fly in your chardonnay…in other words, not ironic at all, just Deeply Problematic.

finally, there’s idol worship, which many trans people vest on folks like Kate Bornstein, Dean $pade, and various others…remember when Riki Wilchins was en vogue? idol worship is bad because it comes with uncritical thought towards the fucked-up things these people stand for, from $pade’s consistent degendering of trans women of color who he speaks over and his generally shitty attitude towards trans women in general (though he seems to consider a few tokens to be okay…kinda like a country club that takes five Black members to go with 995 white ones and thus claim they’re not racist) to Bornstein’s self-appointment as “aunt” to all the trans community and consistent use of her own narrative as typical of all trans people, a tactic which talks over trans men in general and a lot of trans women and genderqueers who aren’t like her at all!  idols can be malignant and self-serving ($pade) or well-intentioned but ultimately harmful (Bornstein), but their true believers cannot be dissuaded in a manner which matches that of religious zealotry.  you can make your point over and over, but it’s like dealing with a missionary who sits next to you on the bus, because they will not be dissuaded by facts, logic, or pointing out the hypocrisy of these people.  if we are to flourish as trans people, we have to stop the idol worship…even if we had (and deserve) better idols than $pade and Bornstein, idol worship still sucks.

part five: apologetics and heretics 
i brought up true believers in the last paragraph, so perhaps we should move on to the issue of apologetics. if you’re not familiar with the Christian version of  “apologetic”, it means someone who defends the faith and also attempts to expose flaws in other faiths or people who choose to eschew religion altogether. trans apologetics defend their version of what it’s like to be trans against other trans people, ensuring that the brunt of their hatred is thrust at other trans people, rather than poking holes in the kyriarchy and its problems. the most egregious trans apologetics are people who know that the support group, their idol, etc. is Deeply Problematic but they defend it because they want to stay in the good graces of the group or hope that maybe their idol will toss them some favor someday. they’re often scared to stand up to the power structure for fear the power structure might cast them out and declare them lesser, too, even in private, out of fear that expressing any dissent even quietly will somehow get back to the powers that be. a lot of fundamentalist apologetics often are frightened of their own church and how they will be seen by God, even if that religious worldview does not provide for an omniscient God, so these behaviors go pretty much hand-in-hand. i remember someone apologizing profusely for how messed up the local support group was who became very afraid that i might tell *anyone* that she said that…of course later her conscience caught up with her and she decided to basically label me a heretic in public while apologizing again for doing the same privately but reminding me that she “had to.”

heretics, oh, heretics. i think the problem that people miss is that we are all, in some way, heretics. in some way, every human being is somehow imperfect by someone’s test. writing off the concerns of a trans woman excluded from a space as her being “bitter and angry” is basically stamping her a heretic. similarly, telling a trans guy that he shouldn’t complain that a support group is like 98% not guys is doing the same, and also really Not Okay to do…imagine how it feels to be one outlier in a room of 50 people? the labeling of people as heretics is part of how the trans orthodoxy works to actively keep the orthodoxy sacrosanct. it’s much like how fundamentalist sects toss people out…call them unbelievers, call them heretics, but most of all, remind them of their place and make them go away until such a time as they are willing to conform to the orthodoxy. of course, i remember being a gay kid in a church with no room for gay kids…there is no way i could fit the orthodoxy. i am not going to wake up tomorrow white, able-bodied, or possessed of money…there is no way i can fit these orthodoxies. it feels exactly the same…here is this group of people, and the rules say you’re not allowed, erica. erica the heretic, it even kind of has a ring to it.

part six, and conclusion: transfundamentalism
the “trans community” as we know it is not a community at all. it’s a patchwork where sometimes you luck out and sometimes you don’t, and certain voices, bodies, and experiences are kept out at all costs if you don’t luck out. transition too young or too old? nope. transition outside the trans-industrial complex? heretic. butch trans woman? call her “it”, that’ll learn her! (yes this actually happened to me) trans guy who doesn’t want surgery? police his life choices. trans woman who doesn’t want surgery? claim they’re not really transsexual!  genderqueer? (insert like the 9500 ways the community fails genderqueers here). when the community goes to its worst four poles, detailed above, the tactics used by these orthodoxies are indistinguishable from fundamentalist religious practice and thus constitute transfundamentalism, an ugly package of leaders, followers, and apologetics which ultimately seek to tear other trans people apart as part of what looks like a holy war rather than question why they’re obeying these commands and demonizing their trans brothers, sisters, and siblings for some illusory concept of safety and inclusion.

transfundamentalism inherently defends and upholds the kyriarchy, because that’s all it is. to be free as people who are oppressed, as trans people are, we must overturn the kyriarchy. if you’re a transfundamentalist, examine why obedience to a power structure matters more to you than your fellow human beings, as that’s exactly what fundamentalism is. it establishes that there are “these people” and “those people” rather than to focus on how we are all connected. if you’re friends with transfundamentalists, encourage them to question the power structures they uphold, work for, and support through work or money. remind them that idol worship doesn’t do a damn thing about the struggle for freedom. if you’re neither, know the signs of transfundamentalism and watch out for them pervading your support groups, social spaces, classrooms, and homes. remember that resisting transfundamentalism can be a daily struggle.

to be free, equal, and respected, we must smash transfundamentalism.

27 thoughts on “that’s me in the corner, losing my religion: on transfundamentalism

  1. Pingback: trans people, oppressive institutions, and Stockholm syndrome | inchoaterica

  2. You missed one really toxic thing. I hope it’s just because you never ran into one. There is the support group that is run by a therapist who provides this nice social space and charges big bucks for his or her therapy. Sometimes these therapists try to be the ultimate gatekeepers. I’ve heard of them writing surgeons and the like to stop them from helping people that try to go around them.

    • oooh, YEAH. thank you, MT, for pointing that out.

      actually i know someone who went through that kind of situation and i didn’t think of it myself when i was writing, but you have a point…a good point, no less, the best kind there is!

      i’ve had very positive therapist interactions, and very negative therapist interactions. for the most part, i’ve been very lucky with therapists so i haven’t had much of this BS…i had one “gender therapist” who was extremely troublesome during my days of jumping through gatekeeper hoops, but other than that i’ve had great luck with a few exceptions. they’ve also been the kind of therapist who only wanted enough of my money to pay the bills, not the “make big bucks” kind. i think my last one was $30 per 50-minute hour, which is ridiculously cheap, though i imagine she billed people with insurance pretty hardcore.

      maybe i’ll invite that friend to write a guest post. thanks again for your input and i always like knowing what i missed. it helps me aim better in the future! :D

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  11. thank you v much for writing this. that analogy works strikingly well…

    this shit hits damn close to home for me…

    but seriously, how is it possible for anyone to not like a dandy???

  12. Just wanted to say that, yes, there is at least ONE male representative of the Harry Benjamin Syndrome crowd, as confirmed by my interaction with him on (where else?) the comments section on Youtube. This guy showered me with pearls of wisdom such as “we can’t just change sex! People are not shelfish!” and basically said that genderqueer people or anyone who doesn’t know they’re a man/woman since childhood has mental issues….unlike him and his folks of the HBS crowd, who are True Transexuals With a Disease. I stopped talking to him cause I’m cis and I think it’s not my place to reprehend people for clinging to whatever ideal they think it makes them more palatable to the cisnormative world. As much as he made my blood boil in behalf of my trans and genderqueer friends, I’m not in his shoes and I don’t know what he went trough to cause so much internalized cissexism and transphobia.

    I’d also like to talk about a problematic trend that I’ve seen pointed out by more than one trans woman here in Brazil: a tendency of CAMAB female-identified people who are upper class to mostly self-identiy as “crossdressers”. That term here usually indicates a cis man who likes to dress up in what’s considered “women’s” clothes, but has no desire to change his body and it’s mostly or at least partially fine with living as a man most of the time. But there are a lot of upper-class CAMAB people self-identifying as CD who feel female 24/7, and some of them want to change/do change their bodies (including genital surgery) to better express their female identity. A lot of people think they label themselves CD to distance themselves from the word “trans” or, god forbid, “travesti” (a word mostly used by/for trans women who are poor and have penises, specially if they’re sex workers).

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  20. I find it interesting that you comment on the prevalence of HBS and True Transsexual trans women over trans men in this post, where on Tumblr where I do most of my blogging I find it’s the complete opposite (I don’t have much experience outside of the internet since I’m from a pretty small city). There’s a whole army of HBS and True Transsexual trans men over there whereas I hardly see it happening with the trans women I follow (although of course that could just be because I’m more heavily involved in one side of the community than the other). Trust me, there are plenty of fundamentalist trans men out there too, sadly enough.

    • Hey. Reid.

      Actually I got a bit of an awakening here, too. Most of the trans guys I know I know from college and they’re not generally the judgmental sort, but oh lord did I get an earful about how gents get it, and how it’s different.

      Part of this is that the way the removal works is different (and if someone wants to write about that at length I will happily link them, promote it, etc!!!), part of it is that medical resources aren’t hoarded the same way but instead through shaming, and part of it is that I just don’t see this because guys like that want to be cut off frothed queer world and I’m a queer girl who generally is considered to be cis in queer circles…so that’s outside my purview.

      Thanks for weighing in and I do agree tumblr has been eye-opening for me (even if I feel about 12 years too old to be on tumblr, lol…I figure I’m racking up crone points early) about how pervasive transfundamentalism is generally.

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