Archives for posts with tag: Julia Serano

I am so thrilled to see Paris Lees top the Independent Pink List 2013 … and Jackie Green also in the top ten at number 8. This is exactly what we need … young possibility models (the term inspirational American actress, Laverne Cox prefers to role model).

The doyenne of UK trans activism, Christine Burns, pointed out recently that the older generation of out trans people were by necessity focussed on challenging the law in order to gain basic human rights. In the UK now … though sadly there’s a long way to go in much of the rest of the world … the focus has moved on towards effecting change in social attitudes. Paris and Jackie epitomise the way a new generation have been enabled by Christine and her contemporaries to emerge from under that smothering cloud of institutional discrimination and to demand the same respect as everybody else in an equal  society … in Laverne’s words, to live out their dreams publicly.

This to me is THE change which trans kids and teenagers, growing up now, and crucially their families need to see. I don’t think we can overestimate the importance of demonstrating to the parents of trans and gender non-coforming kids that … not only can their children be safe … but the door is now open for them to go on and lead fulfilling, indeed enviable lives.

I was particularly struck by a passage in a recent blog by trans activist and author Julia Serano on Transadvocate entitled Considering trans and Queer Appropriation. For me this sums up the assumption Paris, Jackie and other young volunteers have been working on with the All About Trans project:

The more highly stigmatized a group is, the less likely it is that the dominant/majority group will even attempt to appropriate aspects of their identity or culture, as doing so will only lead to them becoming tainted by said stigma. However, if the marginalized/minority group becomes more accepted over time, there will be less of a social price to pay for associating oneself with that group. Thus, as acceptance of the group increases, so do the chances that others will engage in non-EED (erasure, exploitation, and denigration) appropriation.

Paris and Jackie are smart, bright, admirable human beings who are not only living out their dreams but who enrich the lives of everybody they meet … by which I mean everybody … not just trans people (though maybe not the bigots who are on the wrong side of history). They don’t suffer bigotry and will complain when necessary but primarily the focus of their existence is positive … breaking down barriers and I’d go so far to suggest, winning over large numbers of people who want to know them, to associate with the trans ‘group’, even to appropriate a part of our magic.

There’s others on the list who are on the same path … for example Raphael Francis Fox and Lewis Hancox whose inspirational film company Lucky Tooth Productions is starting to attract attention … also musician and inspirational blogger CN Lester. None of them could be leading the lives they are without the work of previous generations of trans activists. There’s plenty to do yet before things are perfect but these are  not just the buds. They are the blooms of a new trans generation. I think it’s hugely appropriate that this year the Pink List celebrates this. There’s a place for handing out medals for long service but, as in any field, the winners of such medals are seldom heard of very far outside their own trade association or field of activity. Paris, Jackie and their generation are already making waves in the wider world and I am in no doubt that we are going to hear so much more from them.

Some are mentioned in the Pink List some are allies but, if I could make my own list of those who are doing the most to encourage the the next generation of trans kids, it would certainly include …
Mermaids (particularly chair, Susie Green, Jackie’s Mum),
Jay Stewart of Gendered Intelligence,
Sue Sanders and Tony Fenwick of Schools Out
Natacha Kennedy, who is dramatically changing perceptions with her papers such as:  Transgender Children: more than just a theoretical challenge

and the best allies ever Nathalie McDermott and Alana Avery of On Road Media whose innovative work with young trans volunteers on All About Trans is truly breaking the mould.

In her Op-Ed: Transgender Dinosaurs and the Rise of the Genderqueers, Riki Wilchins writes:

… in 10 years, the entire experience we understand today as constituting transgender—along with the political advocacy, support groups, literature, theory and books that have come to define it since transgender burst from its closet in the early 1990s to become part of the LGB-and-now-T movement—all that may be vanishing right in front of us. Our memories, our accomplishments, our political movement, will all seem to only be historic. Feeling transgender will not so much become more acceptable, as gayness is now doing, but logically impossible.

I hope she’s right because all the advocacy, support groups, literature, theory and books she describes occurred as a reaction to cisgenderism, defined by Y.Gavrial Ansara as: “the discriminatory ideology that delegitimises people’s own designations of their genders?”. Transgender as a state can only seem less while cisgenderism is embraced by society as being more … just as a particular race can only be perceived as less when another race is embraced as more … ditto gay/straight … female /male … disabled/abled etc. etc..

I think it is unfortunate that Riki takes as her starting point an idealised ‘lovely 13-year-old girl’ and then seems to fall victim to her own cisgender expectation by suggesting “She didn’t cross gender lines or even rub up against them.” At first sight the experience of children on blockers may appear straightforward but evidence from the children and families themselves suggests otherwise. Even with committed parental support there is still a social transition … for the parents too. There is a period of ‘sexlessness’ when their peers’ hormones are raging. There is the dilemma of concealment or not in adulthood. Danger may still accompany openness.

Intersex people seem often to suggest that the most difficult aspect is the concealment and the secrecy concerning their body sex which is so often imposed upon them from childhood. Concealment and secrecy have long gone hand in hand with being trans for the very good reason that opprobrium and danger may well accompany openness. A very large percentage of the ‘diagnosis’ which the American Psychiatric Association DSM has now formally labelled ‘Gender Dysphoria’ is clearly a direct reaction to ideological cisgenderism in society to the extent … as Riki acknowledges of herself … that it frequently forces us to compromise our own identities.

So perhaps the better question is not will transsexuality go the way of the dinos, but rather, are we entering a new age of “Born This Way” public genderqueerness that very much exists alongside it?”

Maybe there is a paradox in Riki’s conclusion which we should embrace. But I do not believe now is the time for us to be looking to define or justify new identities in reaction to cisgenderist expectation. It is for the rest of society (including the APA) to truly embrace diversity and equality and accept us whoever/however we are.

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

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