Thursday, March 26, 2009

Emerging from winter

Time for another picture update, perhaps? I'm a bit fuzzy, pasty and plump after the most recent New England winter, but I couldn't get a good shot of my pot belly without revealing too much! Maybe next time.

I feel as though I haven't changed much in the past year, but perhaps that's just because the changes are happening much more slowly. When I look back at pictures from a year ago, I can see how my beard looks spindlier by comparison, and how my musculature continues to fill out. I'm no longer in my tip-top New York City shape (I forgot until I went back for a visit how much baseline walking is involved in being a Manhattanite!), so my t-given muscles are a little more padded these days, but I don't mind my plumpness, not least because it's an ever more masculine plumpness, spare-tire style. I feel a bit goofy for thinking these thoughts at all, as though I haven't any more pressing concerns than where on my body my adipose layer is thickest, but it's these little things sometimes that add up to the proof of the pudding as to why my transition was necessary.


Oh man, I just had my hackles raised. I read Andrew Sullivan's blog over at the Atlantic, and while some of his conservative politics make me roll my eyes, I generally appreciate his insights; it can be quite refreshing to see the world through a perspective not aligned with one's own. Anyway, there's been a rather casual thread of posts in the past few days (see here and here) about trans athletes, and whether we (specifically trans women, actually) ought to be allowed to compete. Nothing wrong with that, until I read the most recent post.

A reader wrote in to correct something he'd said, and Andrew wrote: "I'm grateful for the info. I'll note merely the tone. If the trans community really does want to help educate, inform and guide public policy, as they should, a little less fury, derision and anger might help. Especially with respect to people generally deeply sympathetic."


One of the most infuriating things in the world, regardless of what issue is actually at stake, is when a self-righteous 'ally' tries to tell a member of a minority group that the group should be quieter, not so loud in their complaints, grateful for what help they get, etc. It's a patronizing position that comes from privilege. Only someone with the luxury of being outside a struggle can say what amounts to "Stop being angry that we're oppressing you!"

It's such a defensive posture, and I'm sick of it.

Come to think of it, it's a very conservative, assimilationist viewpoint, one that I shouldn't be quite so surprised to hear Andrew espousing.

And this post plays right into that same trope of the Angry Transsexual (or Angry Black Man, or Angry Feminist), naturally.

Update: Ha! I wrote to Andrew, and got back the following:
my point proven.
jeez you guys need to lighten up.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


What does it mean when something's transphobic? Like homophobic (the undoubted inspirational term), it means to words or actions or behaviors that are anti-trans- I generally take it to mean something that is unfair, hurtful, offensive or meanspirited, and negatively affects trans people, whether directly or indirectly. Today I read an offhand comment that had been made on a friend's journal, and I felt moved to respond, telling the author that I felt it was transphobic.

She had made a comment along the lines of "many transpeople are often selfish jerks while they transition!" and I had responded with "Hey, that's offensive. People are jerks all the time for all kinds of various reasons, and yet transfolks are the ones who routinely get chastised/written off for being "selfish" and "assholes" while we're trying to navigate an insanely difficult and stressful period of our lives. It's the kind of transphobic double standard that makes me wont to paraphrase Bella Abzug: we'll know we've won when an asshole transperson gets cut neither more nor less slack than an asshole non-trans person."

We talked it out via a few more comment exchanges, and I think I understand her perspective. She was making the point that transition is not a get-out-of-jail free pass, which is an exceedingly legitimate point. It's still not okay to be a selfish jerk, regardless of the 'reason' or stressful factors. I had moments in my early transition when I was self-centered, and I regret them, and I believe I mostly apologized to the people I slighted at the time. Equitable standards work both ways- just as we shouldn't be held to stricter scrutiny of when/why we're being jerks, we don't get to complain that it's not out fault, it's just all this pressure! For instance, the myth that taking testosterone turns one into an angry moody sex-fiend, seemingly held and perpetuated by trans and non trans folks alike. Yes, testosterone has effected significant changes in my emotional stability, the length of my fuse, and my sex drive. It's called self-control. I think going through transition is in many ways a second (or extended, in my case, since I started transition about 19) adolescence, and while we take it for granted that teens are often moody, angsty, and self-centered, we also hold them to reasonable standards of behavior, and recognize that not all teens are such.

Anyway. One of the more interesting bits of the exchange for me was that my conversational partner revealed in her initial response to me that she herself is trans, and hence had no small amount of perspective on the matter. And hey, all of a sudden I was reading her comments in a different light. I still feel like her initial comment was unfair, but her subsequent clarifications calmed me down, and inspired me to re-evaluate.

It was a nice reminder about the importance of context in conversations on tricky, potentially threatening topics. I was probably more defensive than I needed to be about her initial statement, because I've heard too many comments from non-trans folks that, as I commented "managed to both belittle and invalidate the stresses of transition." I went in with hackles up. It's much easier to accept critique of my community from a fellow member of said community, and I wasn't so trepidatious about her perspective. In the end, I was glad I challenged her, because in her explanations, she made several very insightful points that I was glad to have the opportunity to ponder. On the other hand, I still thought her initial comment was unfair, so it just goes to show that everyone can make insensitive statements sometimes, particularly in "in-group" spaces where they have reason to believe that they'll be taken with a grain of salt.
So transphobia (or spontaneous mildly transphobic statements, anyway) can come from unexpected sources! Not just trans folks, but trans allies. In a much more clear-cut instance, I was in a conversation with someone the other day- someone who has dated at least one trans person (to my knowledge), who is not herself trans, but who pushes for gender identity to be included in educational settings about diversity and nondiscrimination, in short, a trans ally- who unexpectedly brought up the subject of an unexpected crush she'd had last year.

"I think he was a bio-boy!" she chirruped almost bashfully.

The flow of conversation moved reasonably quickly, and I didn't say anything at the time, but arrrgh, how that phrase grates on me. As I'm sure I've mentioned her innumerable times, I despise the false dichotomy that it sets up between trans and non-trans men, or, more specifically transsexual and cissexual men. There are so many loaded and moral connotations with the prefix 'bio-' that I cannot tolerate it used in opposition to 'trans-'. Bio sets itself against synthetic, and I am not a fake man.

Yet there are plenty who would disagree, who would tell me to get off my defensive high horse and let go of my conceptions of the word 'fake.' I suspect these are the same folks who gleefully or casually refer to themselves and others as trannies. At any rate, I think the argument goes that transsexual men are NOT the same as cissexual men, so why get so bent out of shape about terminology?

Well, all terminology is not created equal, my friends, and to ignore the power differentials in the words used to describe us is to relinquish a powerful weapon in a fight to end oppression.

Relatedly, I've heard folks say proudly that they are NOT real men, not because they are trans, but because there is no such thing as a "real" man. That's an admirable sentiment, but one that isn't shared by the populace at large, and may not be for an exceedingly long time, if ever. In the mean time, I think groundwork is an important part of the Revolution, and until the notion of "real men" is finally stamped out, I'm certainly not going to let myself be defined outside that circle.