Saturday, July 4, 2015

7-4-2015 Entry: Being Defined by Others Under the Transgender Mystique.

Hello my friends! I hope the 4th of July is treating my American readers well and that no one has blown off any fingers due to pyro-mania. My neighbors are definitely a bit obsessed with explosions, it seems, and it’s not limited to just the 4th of July. The last few weeks have been littered with random explosions that have only furthered my dog’s fears that the world is surely coming to an end.

But jesting aside, I come to you today to discuss another development in my thesis of the transgender mystique. In our previous discussion I talked about how the transgender mystique prompts a phenomena of having to be explained (see: http://transadvent.blogspot.com/2015/06/6-25-2015-entry-phenomena-of-having-to.html ). This time, however, we are going to discuss how the transgender mystique allows deligitimization to be socially permissible, especially when it comes to family or anyone who claims to know you.
As I outlined previously, the transgender mystique says that there are only two normal genders (penis-wielding male and vagina-containing female) and anything that does not conform to those two normal gender identities immediately becomes different or other. This otherness, thereby begins to define and to dictate what the otherness is, can be, and can’t be. Instead of the otherness permitting the individual to determine and self-identify what they are or aren’t, the otherness does the determining for the individual. The individual, who inherently becomes nothing more than other, then immediately assumes a disempowered state of social standing and becomes imprisoned by their other status.
This other status to which I am referring manifests in many different ways and has the potential to impact every single interaction with another person the other individual has. This is especially true when it comes to that other person’s extended family, immediate family such as parents/siblings, and friends/peers (basically, anyone who claims to know the individual on a personal level).
When the transgender individual is living their life in accordance to the gender expectations of those that claim to know them, the transgender mystique dictates that they are worthy of social power and self-determination of identity because they are still adhering to the normal gender options. They can claim to be a writer, a painter, scientist, a republican, a democrat, a humanitarian, a Christian, a (insert whatever label fits besides gender labels) and no one will really challenge them or their right to make that self-determination. More often than not, people will simply accept the self-determined label at face value or with minimal resistance because they (whether they are aware of it or not) accept the individual’s assertion of social power. They accept the assertion because the self-determining individual is operating within the acceptable bounds of the gender binary. This is subject to change, of course, depending on many social attributes of the individual (race, age, sex, etc.) and those with whom they interact with.
A parent or family member may reject a self-determined label if it contradicts too heavily with known attributes of the individual, due to previous contrary experiences with them, or some other form of social power disparity (i.e. Uncle Frank rejects the label that John is an artist because he knows that all John paints are city walls with spray paint , aka “graffiti.” Uncle Frank asserts a “rule abiding” prejudice against the “rule breaking” nephew’s self-determined label and thereby delegitimizes it).
The transgender mystique tells us that when a person chooses to live outside the normal gender expectations and they become different or other that their social power to assert a self-determined label vanishes, or at least diminishes. Along with saying that their self-determination is no longer considered valid, it also says that it is permissible for those that know the transgender individual to delegitimize their self-appointed label in favor of an outsider-appointed label. Their otherness inherently strips them of the right to self-determine or to reject outsider-appointed labels because they are no longer playing by the social conventions of gender identity.
This, with regards to family and friends, oftentimes manifests in a simple unwillingness of the family member to accept the transgender individual’s new, non-conforming, identity. They can do this by doing one of the following in this non-exhaustive list:
1. Choose to continue to call the individual by assigned gender pronouns (he/him, she/her)
2. Refuse to call the individual by their new chosen/legally changed name instead of their birth name.
3. Refuse to acknowledge that they are anything but their assigned gender by verbally or non-verbally asserting that they are still a man/woman or boy/girl.
4. Try to punish the individual for their perceived indiscretion either with abusive words, physical harm, forced conversion therapy, or social sabotage.
5. Shun the individual by cutting off ties altogether until the transgender individual repents/changes their mind. This can go so far as to throw an underage child/teenager out of the house and force them to become homeless.

I, myself, have very recently experienced the phenomena of socially permissible delegitimization when I last spoke with my mother. She, in no uncertain terms, informed me that she couldn’t and wouldn’t call me Emma. There was no discussion, no opportunity for me to encourage the change or to explain why I wanted her to call me Emma, she just matter-of-factly told me that she would not do it, and she felt very validated in her decision. I know that this validation in her decision came from the transgender mystique’s permissibility of delegitimizing anyone who contradicts gender norms.
Because I was refusing to conform to my assigned gender and the expectations that went with it, I inherently revoked my social power to self-identify in my mother’s mind (whether she was aware of it or not). Because I was non-conforming, I was no longer permitted to assert an identity, but instead was subject to an identity determined and thrust upon me by someone (her) who knew me. If I, as Robert instead of Emma, had asserted to my mother that I was a writer, or that I was a Christian, or any number of things, she would have most likely just accepted my self-determined label, but because my self-determined label was contradictory to social conventions in the discourse of gender identity, I suddenly no longer had the social power to self-identify. In the vacuum of my missing social power (again, in my mother’s mind) she had no choice but to step in and tell me how I was going to be defined from her perceived place of higher social power (she, in her mind, was further up the pyramid of social power because she was not only cisgender, and older than me, but because she was my parent).
But why? What gives my mother, or my bratty cousin for that matter, the right or at least the perceived right to determine who I am for me? Why does my contradiction to the social conventions of gender identity dictate that my otherness gives normalness the power to define me? What is it about this imprisoning state of social delegitimization that gives my family members the belief that they know me better than I know me?
While the transgender mystique around this particular subject has faded somewhat over the last handful of years with the advent of transgender visibility and acceptance, this phenomena is still quite pervasive in western culture. We see it day in and day out when transphobic people go out into public (physical or virtual) and make comments about transgender individuals not actually being the gender they identify as. But why? Why is this permissibility of delegitimization so pervasive?
I suspect that this phenomenon is pervasive because the transgender mystique dictates that anyone who contradicts social conventions of gender identity has revoked their right to self-determine. By becoming different or other transgender individuals are no longer permitted to define who they are, but are immediately subject to definition by their otherness as outlined by the transgender protest (adopting another term from the Feminine Mystique). The transgender protest basically says that in order to preserve the sanctity of normalness in cisgender values, expectations, and definitions, the transgender must continue to be given other status, and part of being other, is not having the same  or equal social power. The protest says that because the transgender individual is part of a minority and is seen as choosing to contradict what’s normal, the transgender individual must become disempowered. That’s just the way things are supposed to be.
We see, yet again, a similarity to the feminine mystique. In the 1940’s, 50’s, and early 60’s the feminine protest arose, whereby masculinity asserted that in order for femininity to exist at all, it must not become too masculine. In other words, women were not supposed to become like men, otherwise what would be the point of a divide between the sexes? A divide between the sexes was the way things were supposed to be. If women were encouraged to take on masculine traits and become self-sufficient individuals with aspirations and careers outside of the home and family, then the whole system would be undermined and would eventually lead to a catastrophic collapse. The feminine mystique and the feminine protest failed to question the very assumptions of a divide between the sexes being necessary, much as the transgender mystique and transgender protest fail to question why a gender binary is necessary. All of them just presumed that their base assumptions were the way things were supposed to be.
The gender norms and thereby the transgender mystique have never questioned the necessity of a gender binary, they simply go about enforcing social conventions, expectations, and power disparities as if that’s the way things are supposed to be. Boys and girls are separated from the earliest of ages and taught that they are different from one another and what their assigned gender means. They are never told that there might be a different way to go or that other gender identities exist. Just like the women under the feminine mystique were inundated with every kind of social authority telling them that they were women, and were therefor lesser than men, our transgender children today are told that they must be normal and be one or the other genders (and absolutely the gender they were assigned as). Just like women under the feminine mystique were deterred at every turn from pursuing a self-sufficient life with aspirations and careers outside of the home, transgender individuals are deterred at every turn from contradicting gender binary norms. Conform, or suffer the consequences is what we are (and feminine mystique women were) told.
 I, as a transgender individual, am subject to people who presume to know me believing they have the right to define who I am and that they have the right to reject my self-determined label of transwoman because I do not conform. The consequence of my non-conformity is supposed to be that I don’t have the social power or standing to make a difference in the world. By revoking my gender binary (and especially male) card, I’m told that I cannot participate as an equal, but that I must henceforth become a lesser. I am a deviant, an aberration, and sometimes even a perversion depending on who you ask, so I must therefore become lesser than a cisgender person. As lesser, I must accept my mother’s unwillingness to call me by my real name. As a lesser I must accept people who presume to know me determining that I am male, regardless of the way I feel, think or identify. As a lesser, I must bow the knee to the assumption that there are only supposed to be two genders, and those two genders are determined by genitalia.
I, however, reject the entire premise. Like a staunch career woman in the 1950’s who stood up to the feminine mystique and all its attempts to force her to conform to a presumed gender expectation, I stand up to the transgender mystique’s attempts to say that it is okay for cisgender privilege to delegitimize my gender identity. I refuse to accept that my mother, my cousin, or anyone who presumes to know me has the right to determine that I’m male when I know better. I reject the entire idea that there is even a gender binary or that it is, god forbid, the way things are supposed to be.
I am not lesser, and neither are any of you. No one reading this blog right now is lesser than anyone else, regardless of what society tries to tell you. Let’s stand up to this permissibility of delegitimaztion by no longer allowing it to have power over us. If you have someone in your life that tries to tell you that you aren’t who you say you are, go to them and tell them to either get on board or fuck right the hell off. The next time I talk to my mother and she calls me Robert or tells me that she refuses to call me Emma, I’m going to call her out on her BS. I’m not going to sit idly by or only somewhat protest while she presumes it’s okay to determine who I am for me. That’s not her place, that’s mine. I am, who I say I am (and so are you).

-Emma

No comments:

Post a Comment