I’ve never really been a political activist until I accepted and addressed my trans experience which has become something of a single issue for me and which this blog has been exclusively about. I’ve tended to keep my professional and social life in a rather separate box which is the way I prefer it for now anyway.
As a previously more or less apolitical and pragmatic person I’ve been amazed since I began proselytising for teh trans at the rigidity of certain people’s ideologies … whether this is religious, political or cisgenderist. I’d always tended to stay clear of the religious and the political because my experience suggested and still does that trying to change people’s beliefs in these areas is unproductive and thankless. The only message I would really wish to convey is that both religious and political ideology become stultifying if they are ever embraced as ‘the only way’’ and I do not believe history is on the side of those who do so. A respect for basic human rights and an open mind make for a happier, more innovative and more efficient society.
In this analysis I think I would more or less agree with Steven Pinker’s as expounded in his book The Better Angels of our Nature . This in itself is a demonstration of quite how pragmatic I am because, in respect of the unexamined cisgenderist ideology he espouses, I view Pinker as being pretty close to the devil 😉
Cisgenderism however is an ideology which I feel must be confronted if future generations of trans people are ever to be allowed to flourish from their earliest childhood. I do not propose any ideology to replace it other than granting all people freedom from the oppression of gender expectation. While making my modest contribution to this mission, what constantly strikes me is how even potential allies with the very best intentions … and I would imagine Stephen Pinker to be one such … find it so hard to get their head around this unless they are offered an alternative ideology. If this is not forthcoming they frequently take it upon themselves to identify the destruction of the binary as the new threateneing ideology and then become upset because they feel themselves under attack.
One common symptom of this is the way the trans experience is often referred to as ‘gender confusion’. I would maintain it is anything but and that it is cisgender inability to embrace diversity in gender which is the source of confusion. I sympathise with this blindness for perhaps poignant reasons. All my life I knew I was trans, then I transitioned and found myself at last able to embrace heteronormativity. I love the binary. It makes my world go round and brings a smile to my face every morning when I awake. I frequently experience a shiver of schadenfreude when I imagine what kind of a blinkered cisgenderist asshole I might have turned out had I not been born trans … yet upon entering the world of trans activism I found myself beset by pesky genderqueer/bigender/androgynous/other people (pace the inestimable CN Lester for this, I hope, fairly inclusive list). At one point I even found myself raging against the venerable Kate Bornstein when I attended a performance she gave because she insisted that I and my partner, as part of her audience, were also part of her ‘neither-a-man-nor-a-woman twibe’. I still feel it’s a mistake to engage with this kind of cis terminology when whether you are a man or a woman is irrelevant to personal wellbeing if you are comfortable in the way you present your gender. I’ve got to say also that I still think back to her performance as having the atmosphere of a revivalist meeting or a radical political rally.
And this is where the error so often lies to my mind. Gender is not political. The only reason for it to become political is to the end of making it not so. And it’s certainly not a religious belief. It’s an experience. My trans experience is different to the experience of others. Mine happens to meld rather nicely into our existing binary culture but when I think back to the years I spent trying to find the courage and resources to move from one side of the binary to the other, I can only see that binary as oppressive when we impose it onto those it does not fit against their will.
I love Susan Stryker’s analogy of gender being a sea we swim in. We all swim differently and we all must learn to swim as best we can … but there is no excuse for pushing others under in our own efforts to stay afloat or for the herd to stampede in blind panic because some people have found themselves drowning if they continue to swim with the same stroke or in the same direction as the majority have always insisted.
I should perhaps make clear, if it is not already so, that there is a world of difference between an individual experience which is cis or trans and espousing a cis (or even a trans) ideology. The best explanation, which I know of concerning Cissexual, cisgender, and cis privilege is Julia Serano’s and can be found here
Y. Gavriel Ansara also writes brilliantly on the subject of cisgender ideology in a number of publications available here