On Being Transgender – Part II

TransGriot Note: Guest post from Denise Norris and her follow up to the previously published December 5 On Being Transgender one

Labels

While nearly everyone
hates “labels,” they serve a valuable role in social organization.  I
have identified three basic classes of labels.  In order of their value
to a social group they are: Organizing, Defending and Contempt.

We
often label ourselves in an effort to get our needs met. We use labels
to advertise our primary alignment/position within a social structure
and what our needs are as part of that structure.  By advertising our
label, we seek other people of similar alignment and needs to form
voluntary associations.  In Unity there is Strength.  These are
Organizing labels.

The
very act of labeling ourselves implies the automatic creation of the
“not-us” label for outsiders.  We may perceive that some of the not-us
are preventing us from getting our needs met and we label them as an
enemy by using a specific term.  By grouping our perceived enemies under
a label, we can advertise for supporters in the battle for our needs. 
Any Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend.  These are Defensive labels.

Defensive
labels, when taken too far and without the counter-balance of
Organizing labels, can become Contempt labels.  Contempt labels are
often used to define outsiders in such a way as to empower the labeler
at the expense of the labeled.  When we use these labels to acquire a
false sense of empowerment, we do so at the expense of members of the
not-us population.  False empowerment, instead of increasing the
empowerment of the group, only gives the illusion of empowerment by
disparaging the not-us or another group with derogatory defensive labels
without actually increasing the self-esteem or confidence of the
labeler.  We hold members of the labeled group in Contempt.

As
an example of this, I have witnessed Transgender individuals being
called ‘Sissy’ by cisgender bullies.  Does the labeler actually gain
self-esteem when they disparage the transgender?  I think not, they only
gain the false sense of power by having the appearance an increase due
to the lowering of those around them.  Imagine someone standing in the
4ft deep section of the pool.  Are they really any taller if they simply
drain the water out of the pool? Clearly the answer is no.  Seeking to
elevate ourselves at the expense of others is delusional thinking.  Like
snorting a line of cocaine, we only feel better for a short time and
then the realization that we are actually no better off set in, so
rather than actually do something that increases self-esteem and
empowerment, cut another group of people off at the knees.

Transgender is an alignment of interests

Since
repurposing in the 1990s, who exactly is Transgender has become a
social hot potato with everyone pointing in different directions and at
different people. Some Transsexuals will point at crossdressers while
saying “Not us!”  Others will point at themselves and say “Not them!” 
Crossdressers point at the transsexuals and say “Over there.”  Some will
announce “That’s us.”  Cisgender society in the United States points
mainly to transsexuals when they think of Transgender, but in India and
the East, Transgender can even include effeminate gay men (ie Kothi). 
In fact, Transgender was originally intended to be the label used to
describe the sociopolitical alignment of interests between multiple
groups who face discrimination, harassment & violence due to having
non-conforming gender expressions.
 

This
alignment was created because society already grouped us into one
community usually with the derogatory label similar to a
“Man-in-a-Dress” which justified the discrimination, harassment and
violence against us.  The intent was to take away society’s label for us
and replace it with one of our own choosing.  That choice was
eventually to be Transgender.  We are aligned as Transgender because
society defines us as such.  As Transgender, rather than submit to
discrimination, harassment and violence, we fight back on all fronts
including legal, social, political, and cultural by defining ourselves
with our own label.

Who should identify as Transgender?

In 1994, the Charter of The Transexual Menace (http://tinyurl.com/Menace-Charter)
defined “the Gender Community as consisting of anyone who breaks or
challenges the traditional rules governing the behavior of the genders,
be it sartorial, erotic, psychological, physiological or otherwise. “

Nearly
twenty years later, we have a term for “the behavior of the genders, be
it sartorial, erotic, psychological, physiological or otherwise” – we
call them “Gender Expression”.  It was an early attempt to define the
emerging alliance with phrase “Gender Community” representing
Transgender.

Recognizing
the need to enlist sympathizers and supporters in the crusade to fight
discrimination, harassment and violence, the charter also said that “A
person need not be a member of the Gender Community to be a Member of
The Transexual Menace.” This was an early attempt to enlist allies in
the alliance.

At this point, we can modernize the answer of the question “Who should identify as Transgender?” with:

Anyone
who perceives they have been, are being or will be discriminated,
harassed or suffer physical harm because of their gender expression.
 

Before going further, let’s take a moment to explore the significance of Gender Expression as the basis of transgender.

Expressions of Gender

In the RationalWiki, Gender Expression is defined thusly:

 

Gender expression
is the manner in which individuals “perform” their gender roles. That
is to say, an individual may identify as a particular gender, but that
individual may express that gender in various ways.

 

 For
instance, Chuck Norris and Michael Moore are both male, and to the best
of anyone’s knowledge, both unquestionably identify as male. However,
both express this gender far differently from each other, although there
are commonalities between the two. Again, both Norris and Moore express
their gender in a much different way from a drag queen, even though all
three identify as male.

 

 Judith
Butler, in her book Gender Trouble, stated “There is no gender identity
behind the expressions of gender; … identity is performatively
constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results.”
This strongly suggests that what we perceive as gender has little direct
attachment to the deeper gender identity of the individual. Many of our
expressions of gender are culturally based performances, according to
Butler, and while many take these for granted as part of the natural
gender, in fact they are overlaid on gender and not truly connected.

 

 An
example of this cultural difference is the longstanding assumption in
Western culture that males are better at math and hard sciences than the
arts-oriented females. However, in Japan and other Asian countries, the
reverse is assumed to be true.  Neither are based very closely on
actual test results, and are in fact cultural assumptions based on
gender. Individuals may live up to these expectations precisely because
they are part of the expected performance of their gender roles, rather
than anything inherent in gender itself.

 

 http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Gender_expression, Accessed Dec 12, 2011

Everyone
expresses gender even non-expression is an expression.  And the gender
they express does not always represent their core gender identity.  This
is not always obvious to cisgender individuals, but some transgender
individuals often define themselves by their incongruity between their
core gender identity and their predominate gender expression.  “I am a
woman trapped in the body of a man.”  Since cisgender individuals as a
rule don’t have this sort of disharmony between identity and expression, they
tend to judge gender identity solely as a function of their
requirements for acceptable gender expression.  When society sees a
gender expression that falls within their requirements, it is said to be
conforming.  Gender expression outside the accepted cultural values is
non-conforming.

Discrimination,
harassment and violence begin to occur when the gender expression falls
outside the accepted norms for that culture.  The further from the
median expectations the expression falls, the more likely the
non-conforming individual will experience discrimination, harassment and
violence

The Theory of Passing

Actively
seeking to achieve a conforming gender expression is frequently known as
passing or blending within the Transgender alliance.  The term passing
comes from the experience of people of color who had sufficiently
light-skin to pass as a member of the empowered white society.  Many of
us seek to pass as a member of the empowered cisgender society.

The problem with passing is that it can take on obsessive proportions as we try to becomefully cisgender empowered or cis-privileged.  This progression is often driven by the deep frustration of not being able to achieve cis-priv.  The person eventually achieves a state of pseudo-cisgender when
that someone is like cisgender, but not really and they have the
qualities of cisgender and yet at the same time they are not cisgender. 
Pseudo-cisgender to describe a place that approaches cisgender, but can
never really reach it. Sort of like the speed of light – Einstein’s
Theory of Special Relativity says we can get real close to, but never
actually travel at, the speed of light.  My Theory of Passing says the
same goes for cisgender and cis-priv – real close, but never actually
achieve it.

 

Rather
than chase cis-priv, Transgender is about creating empowerment as
ourselves – trans-privilege.  We achieve trans-priv every time we stand
up to discrimination, harassment or violence using legal, political,
cultural, physical, etc… means.  Every win in court, every law passed,
every diversity training done, every pride day marched, we empower
ourselves and others in the Transgender Alliance.

A Voluntary Alliance of People Involuntarily Lumped in the Same Bucket

There
are many different groups within the transgender alliance; most of us
share mutual needs and others have unique needs. It is vital to remember
that while we label ourselves for our unique needs, we freely have
joined together to achieve our mutual needs.  While we label those with
unique needs as Transsexual, Crossdresser, Intersex, etc…, we are bound
together by our mutual needs to stop harassment, discrimination and
violence.

Transgender
is a voluntary alliance of people with non-conforming gender expression
which arose as a reaction to discrimination and harassment/violence
from society at large.  Transgender is also an involuntary community of
people gathered into one category by society – the same society who
frequently sees anyone with a non-conforming gender expression as
queers, faggots, sissies, men-in-dresses, dykes, or perverts.

This
dichotomy puts pressure on the unity of transgender with people who
prefer to stand-alone and outside the alliance.  Society, with its need
to sort and categorize, promptly puts the stand-alone people back into
the alliance, whether the stand-alones like it or not.  Justifiably
resentful of being categorized into a groups they wish to avoid and
knowing full well the futility of trying to convince society of their
apparent-to-them uniqueness, they turn on the Transgender alliance
trying to undermine and destroy it so that they can get their unique
needs met first.

Unfortunately
this pressure creates a fragmentation within the transgender alliance
and people put their unique needs before the mutual needs.  Resolving
the mutual need for protection of non-conforming gender expressions will
resolve 90% of the needs for any one group.  Once this main objective
is accomplished, it becomes simpler to address any remaining unique
needs.

When
I joined the Automobile Association of America, it didn’t make me
change what car I drive or any less transsexual, white, tall,
financially stable, or any other sociopolitical, physical or cultural
attribute.  It did make me more empowered as the AAA fights for the
rights of drivers (and I get free towing).  There are Automobile
Associations in many countries around the world, each addressing local
needs, but the mission remains the same overall.

Suppose
that instead of Transgender, there is the Trans Association of America
(apologies to my trans-siblings in other parts of the world, but stay
with me for the moment) whose membership was anyone who perceives they
have been, are being or will be discriminated, harassed or suffer
physical harm because of their gender expression. 

TAA’s
mission is to provide or fight for legal, educational, political,
social, health, etc. benefits for it’s members in order to stop
discrimination, harassment and violence against non-conforming gender
expression.

Would you join?

This is what Transgender really is after removing the nonsense.

Meeting
discrimination, harassment and violence against non-confirming gender
expression head on and winning that battle will cover 80% or more of the
needs of all the member groups in the Transgender alignment. 
Individuals in our member groups will be able to live openly without
fear.

 

This
is not gradualism, but a realistic assessment of the situation as we
lack the numbers to get all our needs met at the same time. As a
movement, our strength is in our numbers and by forming a voluntary
association of people whose Gender Expression is non-conforming; we
increase the likelihood that our mutual needs – Stopping Discrimination
in Employment, Healthcare, Housing, & Public Accommodations and
Preventing Harassment and Violence against us – will get met.

***

Author’s Note:

This is starting to turn into a lengthy series of mini-essays revolving around the general theme of Being Transgender.  Each
section has to be read holistically with the other sections to get the
entire gestalt of what I am trying to present. For TransGriot readers,
please visit https://transgriot.com/2011/12/on-being-transgender.html for Part I of this series.

I don’t know how many parts are still unwritten but if you want to contribute ideas to my writing, stop by https://www.facebook.com/groups/trans.reboot/ and join in the discussion on Transgender – Rebooted/Reloaded.

-Denise Norris

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