Monday, June 26, 2006

from whence?

Received shot # 6 on Friday, while the nurse was telling me about this show she saw on Oprah about transgender twins. I didn't get a chance to see it, but my boss was telling me about it, too. Sounded interesting! Being a trans twin myself, I think twins are a particularly interesting lens through which to observe transness, and try to think about why I'm trans. My sister and I are not identical, but we were raised in essentially the same environment- as close as you can get, anyway. Yet she's a straight cisgender girl and I'm a queer transgender did that happen? Chalk one up for nature rather than nurture. At the same time, what about the identical twins, where one of the pair is trans and one isn't? Oughtn't that be an argument for nurture rather than nature?

I've never really cared to delve too far into questions of "Why"- it makes me a little bit uncomfortable, I think. For all that I'm on very solid ground these days, it still feels dangerous and uneasy to interrogate too intensely the tender parts of my trans identity, and one of those tender bits is definitely the origin question. But what I can say off the top of my head is that I think it's a combination nature/nurture thing. I've read and listened to too much queer theory and gender theory to not be certain that gender is a social construction. But (and maybe I really am destined to be hopelessly structuralist. or was it essentialist? now I can't even remember what she called me.) I can't help feeling like that construction has its foundation in some sort of biology.

There are too many social phenomena that are gendered masculine that have biological/chemical roots (as I'm learning first hand with my better living through masculinizing hormones chemistry experiment) for me to feel comfortable or confident about not claiming some allegiance to the "nature" side of the debate. That entire run-on sentence basically means that I've read enough theory to feel guilty about hanging on to my inclinations to feel that I was "born this way" but not enough to be able to capably critique either side of the debate. Like when I was talking with someone about Halberstam's book "Female Masculinity" and how I have the sense that it's problematic to try to establish an entirely new or separate manifestation of masculinity that isn't male, because at some point we're just going to be creating new vocabulary for the same reference points. But I haven't read enough of that book (it's on my mom's bookshelf in Portland...maybe while I'm recovering from surgery?) or any others on the topic to be able to back that sentiment up.

Help a fellow out, folks. I need more people to break it down for me- I do better when someone (professors, friends, fellow students) explains theory to me than when I read it right from the source, because I don't have quite the tolerance for the academic lexicon that some of y'all seem to. Sometimes I need the Buterlian perspective just given to me straight up, because I'm not always so successful at wading through her words myself. Though I do acknowledge that there's no substitution for primary source material. Ain't nothin' like the real thing, baby!


KB said...

I obsess over this nature/nurture thing a lot too. I've read quite a bit of cultural theory, and I've also read some hard science to balance it out. I prefer not to read the fluffy US News and World Report-esque features ("OMG boys and girls are so different!") because the studies they're based on are usually flawed or misrepresented.

I haven't really come to any solid conclusions after all of this. One thing I have realized is that culture is far, far more powerful than we give it credit for. It literally shapes your brain and body and chemistry, in both obvious and subtle ways. The effects of a person's unique experiences are so far-reaching (in their bodies as well as personalities) that any influence from nature is very difficult to trace.

Which is not to say it's not there. Genetics is also very powerful and subtle in the ways that it works. Basically my conclusion here is that there isn't really a duality of nature/nurture, any more than there is of body/mind (as you sort of commented on recently, with irritability and T). I see them as being impossible to untangle, and I've actually stopped asking the question of "why." Because really, who knows? It's just the way things are.

Which is not very comforting to anyone except me, probably! I like not having to worry about it. I've been focusing on how to change the stuff I don't like. One doesn't really need to know the "why" to get to the "where next." You seem to have figured that out.

lunatopaz said...

you know, this nature/nurture thing is fascinating, really. i've been dealing with it my whole life with the birth mother v. adopted mother traits. and people say it's "obvious," but it isn't. i don't just look like ruth, i also look like jill. and i don't just gesticulate like jill, i also move like ruth. my physicality affects my manifestations, and my manifestations affect my physicality. or something.

i'm not sure it's valid to say that you and your twin were raised in identical environments, because you were raised with your three-minute-older twin, and she was raised with you. you know? but at the same time, it's very valid to say that. and amen to chemistry being a POWERFUL force.

so mostly, i'm just fascinated with nature/nurture. my father's been talking it my whole life, and your post and then this kb's comment just reminded me of all that i think about it.

Julian's Mom said...

Can't help you out with theory, but I believe in nature AND nurture. There's no discounting the impact of socialization, environment, and culture, but I can also say as someone who knows you that you have a decidedly "male" brain (in the biological sense of the term male). What does your mom say about this, being the one who raised you and your sister?

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