but what if i don’t want to be deceptive or pathetic?

so i’ve read maybe half of Whipping Girl, as school and life have precluded much pleasure reading and are both likely to do so for the foreseeable future. however, something that Julia Serano had to say was very noticeable for me: trans women as portrayed in the media are divided into two possibilities: the pathetic transsexual or the deceptive transsexual.  so what happens to those of who don’t fit these narratives? well, it seems pretty likely that we’ll be told we don’t belong, since we’re not playing by these proscribed and unquestioned rules. this helps keep those of us who are neither in isolation. i know Ms. Serano meant these tropes to be about media depictions of trans women, but they seem to actually translate into how we see ourselves in the real world. there are two very specific models which must be followed in trans space, and running afoul of these seems to mean that you won’t be allowed. why do we enforce these tropes ourselves? well, i think it’s because we don’t have anything better and because the people who end up in charge think they’re wonderful. i feel like the narratives that the community enforces only allow for these two possibilities and nothing else, and this is perhaps at the heart of the sense of not belonging that many of have in trans space and also helps keep us in separate camps so we can’t unite, organize, and speak truth to power.

i think a lot of trans women choose to follow the pathetic transsexual narrative because it lets you ascribe everything bad that happens to pervasive transphobia (and don’t get me wrong, transphobia is pervasive) and lets you blame your being miserable on being transsexual. big honking disclaimer: if this is the path you choose, that is okay. i understand swallowing a narrative to fit in and the problem is the narrative, the problem is not you. i just wish maybe you’d have more faith in yourself and your awesometude, okay? plus, by being pathetic you don’t challenge any of the people who have decided that they get to decide who is and isn’t allowed in trans space, and you thus establish yourself as a subject of their rule. and, listen, we’re all subjects to something now and then…the higher mind, Dancing with the “Stars”, Joss Whedon, you name it. of course, the problem is that a lot of people who fall into thinking they’re “pathetic” just aren’t. they fall into this because they see the archetype and they’re so programmed to be afraid of this archetype that they end up getting a case of negative-target fixation.

i get that the position as a cog in the machine is comfortable because i occupy this position in my daily life as a servant-class worker. just like my position as a worker bee puts me at the mercy of the queen bee, the position of choosing to be pathetic (even though you’re probably actually not) puts one in a position where the queen bees get to do things like provide creepy  “passing tips”, tell you everything that’s ‘wrong’ with you, and display disrespect to you for being trans, disrespect they wouldn’t dare show to a cis woman. allying yourself with the “pathetic” class keeps you from representing a threat to very easily threatened closed-minded people, like gatekeepers.  you deserve better, but i totally get and accept why you don’t rise up, though i’m hoping in the back of my mind you can be talked into it sooner or later. no trans woman is actually pathetic, okay? seriously, i mean it. if i could give you an appropriate fistbump or hug (i’m good with either) right now, i would. in fact, statistics point to a strong likelihood that you’re actually awesome and are indeed that when no social or medical gatekeepers are watching. 

and then there’s the deceptive transsexual, the creation of a world that just assumes people are cis. the deceptive transsexual has been framed harder than any woman since Eve and she doesn’t really deserve this title. technically, by the definition of the trope, i am a “deceptive transsexual”. i am quiet and shy about my trans identity in my daily life, because it changes how people see me, and because of this and a general lack of social privilege, i have to be quiet about being trans as a condition of survival. i’m not as pretty as the trope requires, but i’ve been told that my childlike demeanor and persona probably pushes me into the trope anyways. (think of Eli from Let the Right One In, except i don’t kill people, live in Sweden, or melt when entering a house unbidden) i hate this trope because it’s strictly a creation of cis people and their cis expectations of what a body is supposed to be made of. i hate this trope because it grates on me in situations where i really should be able to disclose and outside factors mean i can’t, so i have to lie and deal with how guilty that makes me feel. i’ve talked about it before, but to get through the transition gauntlet in the early 90s, i had to lie through my teeth. i like the boys! of course i want to be a princess! i think being a girl is awesome! sure, i used to play with dolls!

i’m terrified of dolls,  i’m actually pretty okay with being a girl but it just *is*, it’s not an “awesome” or not thing, i dress like a boy, and reparative therapy and worse couldn’t get me to like the boys, other than David Bowie (*swoon*), and none of these things had anything to do with my validity as a girl, but it did instill into my head that “Erica, you are a bad and deceptive person.” i used to leave my therapy appointments and on the way to the G bus back into Hartford, be tearing off every stupid frill i needed to wear to impress this stupid “gender therapist” in his posh office in Glastonbury, half the time ducking into the bathroom at Bruegger’s to shed whatever horrible getup i was wearing. i learned to hate myself for being trans on the forays to this “gender therapist”.  every ribbon in my hair, which he constantly bitched was “too short for a girl”, was a little bit more i died inside. every time i wore makeup to comply, i felt like i was betraying myself a little more.

we have to be “deceptive” to survive in many cases because  every trans woman is somehow going to end up “deceptive” under these rules. there’s this hilarious narrative that a post-transition trans woman who has had genital surgery can “fool” even her gynecologist. now, admittedly i’ve done a lot of amateur study of female genitalia, but there’s this thing that a surgically constructed/reconstructed vagina lacks that most vaginas have hanging out up top: this thing called a cervix. you know, the Republican Party has a really messed up interest in shoving an ultrasound wand up against it but they make sure your insurer doesn’t have to pay to keep it healthy otherwise? yeah, that. so, um, if your gynecologist can’t tell you have no cervix, chances are you have a really shitty gynecologist and should go find a new one. the same goes for that you can just go see any doctor for hormones since the magic power of the vulva will somehow fix this. me and my vulva are extremely disappointed that, guess what, this one’s bullshit too. these tales are fantasies, the trans female equivalent of old wives’ tales, except old wives’ tales often have a nugget of truth in them where these fictions are just that. before or after transition, if you want safe medical access, you have to go to a doctor who is willing to treat trans women, and given that this information is heavily gate kept and embargoed here, it’s a sign that once again the slingers of these old transwoman’s tales are the ones who retain control…you must come, be judged by us, and either adjudged compliant enough or good enough. now, i know i’m always going to be both in their eyes, so why bother with the rigged game?

we tell these stories and enforce these tropes because we’re basing our existence on the approval of cis people…we try to make ourselves harmless and invisible and enforce these tropes on each other because we believe that if we play by the rules imposed on us for long enough that maybe we’ll get thrown some table scraps. the problem is thus twofold: 1)compliance ain’t working, and 2)this steamrolls the identity of a lot of trans people, especially trans women, when there’s a mandatory compliance test. this compliance test is bad enough when cis gatekeepers do it but when it’s used as a test by other trans people, especially other trans women, it’s unacceptable.

this post got longer than i expected, so check back tomorrow (I HAVE BECOME ONE OF THOSE BLOGGERS, MUAHAHAHAHAHA) for more about the twofold problem above, as well as why maybe cis people don’t really want us to constantly seek their approval, too…

so, defenders of the cisarchy, both inside and outside the community,  let me close with the wisdom of Ani DiFranco again, because this is really how i feel about a lot of things in life:

no I don’t prefer obscurity
but I’m an idealistic girl
and I wouldn’t work for you
no matter what you paid
and I may not be able
to change the whole fucking world
but I could be the million
that you never made

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5 Responses to “but what if i don’t want to be deceptive or pathetic?”

  1. I understand your feelings on this, and I for one don’t fall into either. Occasionally people who know me don’t know, or some just totally miss it the first time, but most people know by the time our friendship grows to Facebook, or any other networking aspect I participate in. I guess I am not pathetic, well because I am pretty happy being trans. I am not sad about it, I don’t look down on my life, though I am self conscious of my body like many women are. I am proud to be trans. But I also don’t lie about it. I don’t tell everyone, but it’s my medical record, it’s my body, and it’s personal to me. As I have said in my blogs, “My body is not public domain, nor my medical history” just because I don’t conform to body norms. I guess in that sense people could see me as “the deceptive transsexual” but it would be a someone forcing that label on me.

    I live in a progressive area, so I am lucky that I don’t have to lie to my therapist, I don’t have to placate anyone to be trans, to get my hormones, and I haven’t had to yet. It’s allowed a high level of honesty about my transition, and protected me from those old dichotomies. Some aspects of my transition, and history are typical but most are not. My behaviors are uniquely androgynous. But to me personally, I’d rather people not gender what I wear, what I do, or what I like. I’d rather it be enough that I say, “Hi, I’m Reneta” and be referred to as I prefer to be as “she, her, miss”. I have blogged about that too, that I am sick of people ascribing gender to my personal expressions that have nothing to do with being a woman. Being a woman is about so much more than make-up, dresses, bikinis, and nail polish.

    The way I describe it is this… I looked up to my mom, because of my gender identity I identified with her and other women. Thus my behaviors are artifacts of my adoration of my mother, and female role models not artifacts of my gender. Even though my gender identity guided those choices, they in and of themselves are genderless the only gain gender in the context of why I chose them. I am a gendered person, and I consider myself to be female identified, androgynous, lesbian, and my own person. I don’t care about the stereotype for women, or for trans people, thus I rail against many of the trans and sexist tropes that float around out there. Those are certainly two big ones, but I know of others like the “Passing Privilege” trope.

    For me, I don’t want to pass as anything, I just want to be me. I hate the divisive nature of “passing”. Like you mentioned in your one post about Natalie Reed’s tweet “Passing = Pretty, Beautiful, et cetera” and “Pretty, Beautiful = Passable”. I have always been the way I am, though to a degree I actually look better as a woman, but that is just what I am. I am a person, not an object and those tropes demean and objectify. I care about being me, being genuine, and I take care of my appearance. I don’t dress up just to go out the door. I throw on a pair of jeans and a tank top and I go get stuff done. I wear what feels comfortable to me, not what is expected of me. Sure I dress up for dates, but I refuse to play by anyone else’s rules or dogmas. Those tropes should all die a horrible death as Natalie Reed said.

    • Reneta — not to detract from your main point, but I’m just gonna point out that Erica lives in a progressive area too, but that doesn’t mean she can get health care there. “Progressive areas” can still be absolutely devoid of health care for trans women who are considered to be “doing it wrong” in multiple ways (e.g. being fat, poor, disabled, of color…), even the same areas of health care providers for trans men and for trans women whose lives are judged to be more proper.

      • That I didn’t know… But that is a good point. I was personally referring more to the climate with in trans spaces, though I am sure that there is some tropes out there, and some things that follow that pattern. But I can see where health care can be problematic there as well. Me personally, I use the VA, and it’s not too bad, but they seriously don’t listen to the patient when it comes to what regimen to use. The just kind of “pigeon hole” you into a treatment plan, and they don’t seem to like to tailor it to the person. Everyone gets the same medicine, and that sucks, but I can’t really afford a personal doctor either.

        I am also disabled, I live off disability so I am poor. But that is really rediculous that the system is slanted like that. But even in the situation of care, referring to my therapist I am treated very fairly. She doesn’t lay any tropes on me for her to prescribe my care. But outside of that it seems to be really difficult. In my transition about the only thing I can afford to do is use my VA benefits and my pension to get by until I can find another way to make money, you know? I have health insurance, but unless I pay a premium I can’t get coverage to afford a doctor outside of the VA, and even if I did hormones are likely not covered.

        It can certainly be frustrating. Thanks for the thought on that though, it helps to understand more.

  2. Wow this is a really really good post, the last line about the table scraps is too true, good job

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