Friday, March 27, 2015

On Gender Policing in Trans Communities: transitioning is not weakness

note: after writing this I realized that I was deeply inspired by and bascially restating a lot of what Julia Serano has to say about Gender Artifactualism in her book Excluded here's a crash course in that.

It's very common in transgender and nonbinary communities for folks to applaud each other for choosing not to medically transition or not to wear binders or heels or whatever else. Usually it's just the standard “Good job doing that soul searching.” and “I'm glad you found a choice best reflects you.” This sort of encouragement is wonderful. It's a big part of why trans people (and other marginalized individuals) seek community. It's tough for us as trans folks to find this sort of encouragement in the world at large. And it can feel especially tough for nonbinary trans folks who have ostensibly zero out role models in the greater public eye and must seek validation almost exclusively through community. There is excruciatingly small public awareness about what it means to be transgender and specifically nonbianry.* So the encouragement we give each other is necessary.

Unfortunately, sometimes the support sought or given becomes politicized in a way that's problematic or even exclusive. When such choices are described with the language like “fight against gendered expectations” it casts those who do choose to undergo more physical and medical changes as somehow “giving in” to society. It can also call into question the identity of the trans individual's nonbinary-ness, implying that there are rules and standards to being nonbinary that exclude folks who take HRT or get gender affirming surgery. Worst of all, it shoves a political value onto trans folks's personal care choices and tells them they are weak, shallow, or backward for adopting particular traits. We're already heavily and mercilessly politicized by the cis world. Can we not politicize each other this way?

My choice to refrain from chemically or medically altering my body to better express my gender doesn't make me morally superior to trans people that do choose to treat their dysphoria with medical and chemical procedures. Not taking HRT doesn't make me more stalwart than those who do. Not getting surgery doesn't mean I respect my body more. And I'd appreciate it if people (trans and nonbinary included) would stop telling me these actions means more than I say they do.

For myself and for other trans individuals, I view being transgender as a complex condition of life for which there are medical and non-medical treatments available. Deciding to take HRT and or have gender affirming surgery is no different than deciding to take anti-depressants or getting a mastectomy in the face of highly probable breast cancer. These are serious health choices, ones that aren't usually made in direct reaction to a discrete risk to one's immediate health or well being but made after careful consideration of lived experience and potential outcomes. These are decisions made in hopes of shifting the way someone balances the conditions of their life. It's a complicated self care process.

Let me break it down for you with a hypothetical:
Say your best friend has bipolar. If she decides to explore life without meds after years on Zyprexa you don't tell her that she's fighting the good fight against society's expectations of sanity and those evil drug companies. You say “that choice must have been a tough one.” and ask her what you can do to help accommodate this change in her life. If it doesn't work out for her and she chooses to go back on meds you wouldn't see her actions as “giving in” to Big Pharma. You don't assume her choice was about your politics or your identity. Because that would make you an egocentric jerk. Instead you recognize that her choice was about her own self care. You'd see it as her choice to manage the conditions of her life (regardless that her choice is different than the ones you make to manage the conditions of your own life).

The way we sort out and express our needs and desires is unique, part of what makes us individuals. And it should be respected. This is clear to me as a poet and a person with conflicting desires. Sometimes I hate that gender even exists, so yeah, I do sometimes dream about a world without it. But those dreams are mine, they aren't fit to be mapped onto the desires of other trans and nonbinary individuals or groups. My desires for a world without gender are not more politically pure or correct than the desire I to have a huge dick. My occasional desire for a less round body as well as those for a less gendered world do deserve to be expressed, but not at the expense of other's choices for expression and self care. These desires do not deserve to be seen as intrinsically appropriate for other trans and non-binary people. Like any member of a marginalized group, my desires and doubts aren't representative.

Being skeptical of medical transition steps is currently my personal choice. But it will never be a symbol for my politics. And as much I want to meet people whose experiences mirror my own,  I work not to project my personal skepticism of medical transition onto others. Because it's not my business to decide how others best manage their personal and unique experience of being transgender. It's not yours either.

*In popular culture there's been a fantastic surge in representation of binary trans folks  in the last 5-10 years (particularly for trans women). I have a suspicion that some of the exclusionary distancing language used by nonbinary folks comes from the pain of being erased or simply not recognized at all by the limited portrait of transgender lives currently seen in pop culture. I can see refusals to conform to those binary narratives as politically important to the nonbinary community, but I don't think they belongs in the language we use to support each other's self care choice. It certainly shouldn't come at the expense of others. There is not a scarcity of acceptance and recognition. We don't need to steal/win it away from our siblings.