Okay, I have a bone to pick and I can think of no better place to do it than here. If you use the word “lifestyle” to describe what a transgender person experiences and how they express their gender, you are absolutely, 100% without a doubt, a transphobe.
I know the word transphobe gets thrown around a lot and sometimes I think it’s used incorrectly in contexts where people are legitimately just lacking understanding and not actually phobic, but this time I use the word with every ounce of my being.
Let’s get some context. I’ve been posting about the Minnesota high school sports league voting to allow transgender teens to play on their gender-identified sports teams but despite the policy passing, the battle with the closed-minded transphobes and bigots rages on in the public arena. People unwilling to accept what’s happened are all kinds of flustered, and in their anger about what they are seeing and how it conflicts with what they believe to be true (see cognitive dissonance http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance ) they have taken to raging on the local news network’s coverage page. Among these comments have been MANY instances where people have referred to being transgender as a lifestyle.
Now, to the truly privileged people of our society (those at the top of the pyramid of social power with their “perfect” male or female genders) this word might seem innocuous enough but it’s really a decoy word laden with misinformation and phobia. By calling the transgender experience a “lifestyle” instead of acknowledging it as a legitimate identity and/or a genetic/biological experience, one is completely marginalizing the transgender person. (Marginalize = “to put or keep (someone) in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or group”). By suggesting that the very real experience a person is having with gender dysphoria (a medical term agreed upon by doctors and mental health professionals) is just a choice, you essentially strip that person of any claimed right to equal treatment and delegitimize their desire for rehabilitation (transition, usually).
That’s like saying depression is a choice, or schizophrenia is a choice, or Alzheimer’s is a choice. If a person came up to someone with Alzheimer’s and said “So you think just because your suffering from deteriorating mental functionality that I have to acknowledge your medical condition and will have to treat you differently? Not likely,” everyone who heard this person would be horrified. I know I’m using an extreme example but let’s compare that extreme example to something someone actually said to me:
“Sure [Emma].So you think cramming YOUR lifestyle down my throat and shoving it into my face will make me feel differently about you. Not likely. So how am I supposed to explain to my 16 year old daughter that it's ok for a 16 year old boy to shower with her? Just not right. Sorry.” (Bold and underlined added by me for emphasis)
Let’s review: First we should understand that the person who offered this was a white, evidently heterosexual female (she’s married to a man so I’m assuming, although you never know) with at least one child. On the pyramid of social power this woman ranks pretty high up (white, hetero, somewhat educated, married, able to reproduce) which automatically puts her in a comfortably privileged position. From her privileged station in life she felt comfortable enough to suggest that me being transgender was a lifestyle (notice the marginalization, she really wants me to know that she has the social power status here) and suggests that I was trying to cram that lifestyle down her throat (victim blaming, another common occurrence among the privileged. The underprivileged person is blamed for their own marginalized status and is seen as a threat when they demand freedom from that discrimination). She continues on by suggesting that even if marginalized people like me do become more present in the public eye (the thing I suggested was a good thing preceding this comment) that we will not be able to change the status quo (again, she is trying to make sure I understand how powerless she thinks I should be). From this point she poses me with a question that she knows has no rational answer, because the very question she is asking is based on an illogical assumption (something she’d never admit, nor should she have to in her superior social standing as a true gendered, white, hetero, fertile, married, educated female, right? She might as well have asked, how are you going to land on the moon with a rocket made out of cheese?). Obviously you don’t explain to your daughter that she has to shower with a boy (although I have to wonder how many showers she’s taken with her husband or other males, but apples and oranges, I guess) because the policy isn’t referring to boys and girls showering. It’s referring to transgender athletes playing on sports teams. Showers aren’t even the issue, and unless something drastic has changed since I was in high school, students almost NEVER shower at the school after practice. They did what me and all the other student athletes at my school did; they put on their clothes from the day which were already dirty and just went home where they could shower in private.
But the madness doesn’t end there, let’s look at another example:
“I am sorry that you wear a dress......and I am sorry that you represent about .000001 percent of the world......and I am sorry that someone once told you that your lifestyle is ok.....and I am sorry that Minnesota has become a LGBT sese pool....a State run by the liberal slugs in the Cities...that dictate to the other 95% of the State.....So Mrs. Robert what is next? Beasiatly? Or how about phedopilia? They have "Human Rights" as well? At what point does moralty concern you? I DO NOT force my religious and moratiy views down your throat....what gives you the right to shove your godless views down mine?” (bold and underlined added for emphasis)
Let’s review Mr. Price’s comment. First let’s begin by understanding that Mr. Price is an educated white male who is patriotic and loves “manly” things like motorcycles and guns. He begins his comment by mocking the idea of a man (in his view) wearing a dress, which is amusing to me because I have never worn a dress (I did have an amazing black sequin skirt once upon a time, but my dress wearing days are still ahead of me). I believe this dress wearing comment is Mr. Price’s attempt to show me how much of a true gendered man he is as well as an attempt to firmly show my social status compared to him (penis + dress = bottom of the pyramid of social power). He proceeds to remind me how few of us transgender people there are so that I realize how marginalized I should feel (although .000001 percent is an exaggeration). He then directly marginalizes me by suggesting that my very real gender dysphoria is a choice and that it’s a bad choice at that. He mixes in some generalized discontent with the political system of our state (a projection of his fears and angers about other issues being channeled onto me, because as a marginalized person it’s okay for him to use my issue as his punching bag, right?). He then poses some more of those illogical questions to which there can be no rational answer by equating transgenderism to bestiality and pedophilia (I’m guessing since his spelling is atrocious). Both of those things are easy to find distasteful and neither one should be openly accepted on a societal level for obvious reasons, but by equating them to transgenderism he further marginalizes me and people like me. How could we possibly matter or be important or be treated with equality since we are practically fucking cows and molesting children, right? (seriously, this guy is just disgusting). He finishes off with the same old victim blaming, suggesting that my victimization is deserved and that to ask for equality is a godless affront to him and the establishment. He suggests that he doesn’t force his religious and moral views down my throat but fails to see that this is exactly what he’s doing. He is not only doing it directly to me but is suggesting that an institutionalized change that contradicts his religious and moral views is leading to a LGBT cesspool (which he has no idea to spell. For those who don’t know cesspool is defined as “a disgusting or corrupt place”). He doesn’t want me to force my views on him but is pissed off that his views aren't the law of the land anymore, the hypocrisy is staggering isn’t it?
Now, I want it to be clear that I’m not listing these examples because I’m angry at these people or because I want anyone to feel discouraged by small minded people like this. I’m listing these and analyzing them so that you too can see them for exactly what they are, a self-inflated reinforcement of the pyramid scheme of social power. The thing about the pyramid of social power is this: if you don’t buy into the system, it cannot control you. Part of being a Gender Outlaw (again, thank you Kate Bornstein for this term) is no longer playing by the rules. If you refuse to accept that being a hetero, white, educated, fertile, true gendered male or female gives you more power in a social interaction then you strip away the very power that these people are trying to use to subjugate you.
Let me make that more clear. The people in these examples believe that they have power over me and people like me because they are playing by the social rules and those social rules say they are higher up on the pyramid of power than we are. The nature of rules, however, is that they do not function if people stop following them. This is usually where the gender police come crashing through the skylight as they repel down from their helicopters to make sure we are conforming to the “true” genders, but here is the thing they don’t know: their guns are filled with blanks. The truth is, there is no such thing as a true gender. Absolutely no one is a true male or a true female, because neither of those things exist. If you’re willing to tumble further down the rabbit hole with me you’d find that there is no such thing as gender at all. Being transgender means that we have moved beyond gender and are experiencing life from a place of pure individual identity that can express itself in infinite ways.
Yes, I will be making a transition to the female sex, but that’s because I want to express an individual identity in a fashion that most resembles what people call female. I may say that I am female on the inside, but that’s just a symbolic representation of who and what I truly I am. I am a limitless individual with unique desires, hopes, and dreams that just happen to fall mostly along the socially accepted line of female.
Please do not mistake what I am suggesting to say that you aren’t transgender or that your desire to be the opposite gender, both genders, or no gender isn’t legitimate. It absolutely is legitimate. What I’m suggesting is that you stop playing the social pyramid game. Stop thinking of yourself as one or the other (or both, or none) and start seeing yourself merely as an individual with certain preferences of expression that may or may not vary from one situation to another. If you have a penis and want to wear a dress, then do it and forget about what Mr. Price up there thinks. He’s still playing by the rules that say he can’t wear a dress and because of that he is missing out on a wonderful experience that you get to have. He will never get to explore the vast and infinite expressions of individuality available to a person who transcends gender. He will never get to feel the excitement of getting his mascara and eyeliner just right, or how sexy he can be while wearing a skirt and heels. He will never get to experience the freedom that comes when the limitations are cast aside and a socially frowned upon desire is fulfilled.
It’s the wild west out there folks, and we outlaws run the show, so let’s show them what we are made of! Let’s break their “rules” and start living true to our desires! Let’s be proud of who we are and be sexy while we are at it!
With much love,