RE: Cis

A transwoman’s critique of the trans/cis social hierarchy.

Consider this an open letter to the trans community.

The intent of this is not to dictate anyone’s speech, only to open discussion of the ethics surrounding cultural adoptions of what we will be calling the trans/cis social hierarchy.

What is meant by the trans/cis social hierarchy is the recognition of (including common usage of the binary linguistic terms and special social considerations) trans and cis to designate two different types of women and two different types of men in society.

First, a bit of history on the term “cis”. In its original coinage by German sexologist Volkmar Sigusch, the full term was “cissexual” not “cisgender” and it was cissexual that was adopted culturally initially to describe not, “a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex” but simply a person who is not transsexual, meaning someone who has not been diagnosed with transsexualism nor transitioned.

Basically, cis in the “cissexual” sense meant “not transsexual,” and came with no baggage about identity.

Today, with the shift from transsexual to transgender, cissexual has also shifted to cisgender. But with it, something sneaky happened which I’ve already introduced to you. The understanding of what it means to be cis (and what it means to be trans) shifted. It broadened, from simply meaning “not transsexual” to meaning, “a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex” as transgender came to mean, “a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex”.

This is where things started getting queer.

I mean this literally as well as figuratively, as these understandings of cisgender and transgender people came from the academic field of Queer Theory. This definition of cisgender was coined by sociologist Kristen Schilt, who recently published a book called Other, Please Specify: Queer Methods in Sociology.

Anyone who knows me would tell you I’m not a fan of Queer Theory. It’s a field that gave rise to a dangerous breed of postmodern thinking, in which all of our structures are broken down. I find it useful, as deconstructing our social conceptions is certainly important, but the point to that should be improvement. If we knock down a building in the world, isn’t it usually to build something better in its place? The same is true of our social constructions.

Most postmodernists don’t seem to have much care for the rebuilding process. They’ve always been more interested in knocking everything down. Lovely as it is that they’ve done that for us, we’re now moving into a new period where we must consider how we will rebuild better structures, and the ideas postermodernism is offering, particularly in the case of the trans/cis social hierarchy, are not, in my opinion, useful or sustainable.

Had we maintained the original understanding of trans/cis, I think that very biological dichotomy would have been very useful and very much sustainable, but the queer theorist conceptualization of cisgender simply is not. When put under most any degree of scrutiny in reality, the concept breaks down. See for instance Mimi Marinucci’s work or Hida Viloria of Intersex Campaign for Equality’s critiques.

Or, simply listen to the experiences of people around you. The adverse reactions people have to being forced to use the label are easily justified, as truly not everyone has what we might consider an internal sense of gender identity.

It is my personal belief that gender identity is something that is forged as a survival mechanism by those who need it. It’s how we survive the confusion, bewilderment, detachment, of occupying bodies which, we are told, are supposed to function biologically and socially in ways we are repulsed by, leaving us in a terrifying state of dysfunction, distress, and disassociation. We instead, associate with our survival mechanisms and find some brief moments of function and peace.

Having lived through that, it isn’t hard for me to see how I became my survival mechanism. Transitioning allowed me to actualize it and bring my body and identity in line. The thing is though, most people have this experience to some degree. No one’s identity is perfectly aligned with their birth sex. Most, however can live with that without any radical changes. It’s quite different for trans people, obviously.

Somewhere in that mess of somatic and psychological distress and dysfunction I’ve described above, we might find an arbitrary line to draw between what is “cis” and not cis based on one’s personal ability to cope with being a man/woman, but that line is impossibly difficult to define and/or agree upon. It’s a very slippery concept, as most postmodern ideas are. It doesn’t stick to anything in reality very well.

What does stick in reality, however, is the sense that cis began with, before it evolved to its postmodern form, as simply meaning “not transsexual” but this usage actually functions as a threat to the trans/cis social hierarchy that many social justice activists desire.

And that brings me to one of my biggest concerns with the trans/cis social hierarchy. It empowers a very unstable form of activism.

By building the trans/cis social hierarchy, we build a binary social construct. Historically, binary social constructs have been abused for power, as there is a power relationship inherent to every binary construct. Terms constructed in binaries like up, good, white, cis, man, etc. take on a kind of privileged priority in our thinking, while their opposites, terms like down, bad, black, trans, woman, etc. take on oppressing negatives.

This is how we’re meant to think of the trans/cis social hierarchy, and personally I find it terribly ugly. My life as a trans person has been difficult, but by no means are what might be called cis people my oppressors. Not being trans really doesn’t guarantee you any amazing privileges. The idea of that being true is just as false as any other truth people likely to proclaim about other binary oppositions. Thinking in binary terms isn’t very useful or sustainable in our evermore complex world. This is something that I thought, before they started constructing binary oppositions like the trans/cis social hierarchy, that postmodernists and I had an accord on. Apparently not!

Activists take this concept and set the world ablaze with it, not even realizing what they’re playing with. They simply don’t understand the false power relationship, nor the instability underlying it, and it creates endless chaos in our discourse, with everyone coming in to conversations having a completely different idea of what it means to be either trans or cis and butting heads seeing one another as enemies, privileged and oppressor. What an awful way to see one another, it’s no wonder we started moving away from this dangerous kind of thinking in the 1950s.

Yet here we are in 2019, still playing games with binary oppositions and using them to draw false representations of reality. Most trans people don’t seem to know the history of this, nor how liberating it was for women and people of color when society started to deconstruct the binary oppositions that defined manhood and womanhood, blackness and whiteness, etc.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The most dangerous bit to passing ships, sure, but there’s so much more happening beneath the surface in our discourse.

There’s this idea “trans women are men!” that sparked the retort, “trans women are women!” that echoes forth from the trans/cis social hierarchy and is having deeply damaging effects on the social efficacy of trans rights movements.

The entire above debate is dependent on the existence of the trans/cis social hierarchy, which is used in its linguistic form as a wedge to deny the very difference it sets out to describe in the first place.

In truth, if one is to accept the trans/cis social hierarchy and say “trans women are women,” the implied phrase is actually a bit longer than that, it’s “trans women are women and cis women are women” and the truth, which the hierarchy allows us to falsely deny with linguistic trickery by simply not speaking the full phrase, is that there are massive differences between the two, or at least there’s meant to be. As we’ve discussed, that really depends entirely on your understanding of what is trans and what is cis, some ideas of which make sense in reality, and many of which do not.

I’ve seen “trans women are women” used to deny so many differences, so much nuance, and the attitude among activists appears to be that anyone who disagrees in any capacity is a TERF/bigot, no matter how justified their reasons might be. Many, for instance might believe the truth is a bit more complex than the trans/cis social hierarchy allows for and are critical of it, instead taking a position more like, “trans women are trans women and cis women are cis women and there are massive differences between the two.”

Some might go a step further and reject the trans/cis social hierarchy and say what’s meant by the above more concisely, “transwomen are transwomen and women are women” and in all instances, we mean the same thing. All except, of course for the ones still insisting “trans women are women” and hurling around all manner of unjustified accusations, you know, the very same sort who would call any of the above a TERF/bigot.

Another problematic way this social hierarchy manifests is in historicity. If a historian is discussing the persecution of women during the many witch hunts throughout history, should they be called a TERF bigot if they don’t specify “cis women”? I certainly don’t think so, but I have seen this and I have seen trans-inclusive historians taking this exact approach to avoid it. It just seems rather unnecessary to me to rewrite history for the sake trans-inclusion rather than simply acknowledging that in historical terms, women most certainly are simply women, which is the term women have found both persecution and liberation through. It is justifiably important to them in a great many ways it is not to trans people, and those who deny it to them, insisting it all be erased and replaced with “cis women” are wrong to do so and I can easily understand how they’re interpreted as bullies.

Yet another is in our social organizations, consider for instance sports, on the topic of sports inclusion, simply insisting “trans women are women” is simply not a sufficient solution to the problem. The same is true in many ways people seek to socially include us among women. It manifests in so many different ways, from discussions on frisking, medical services, shelter services, aesthetician services, prison services, certain clubs/bars/events/groups, etc. etc. inclusion is a deeply complicated matter in all of these areas and more, and simply shouting “trans women are women” is never going to resolve them. We must take a more nuanced approach.

Those who don’t would do well to look at the trans/cis social hierarchy through a critical lens and consider the unjust impacts their abuses of it are causing. Truly, if they cared about trans people half as much as they proclaim to, I would think that they would, because what they are doing is demonstrably detrimental to advancement of trans rights. I’d bend over backward thanking them if they would simply acknowledge this and move forward with that understanding, but most are too locked up in tribal fantasies and working to score points for their teams to take notice. It’s such a sad state of affairs.

In protest to all of this, I’ve outright rejected the trans/cis social hierarchy. My views align with the idea transwomen are transwomen and women are women. We do not need this useless and unsustainable social hierarchy, and I’ve become convinced that this one is better.

There is no binary relationship between the two. There is, perhaps between transwomen and transmen a binary relationship, but that relationship is only observable in terms of physical essence, as is the relationship between men and women in this framework. I think also that there is room for a fifth category, for those who exist outside the bounds of the other four.

For me, this is a very comfortable way to think about my own existence. As a transwoman, I can orient myself in my complex reality and describe my unique experiences much more easily, making it much more amenable in social situations.

For some reason, many trans people have an adverse reaction to the idea of thinking of themselves as a transwoman/transman. It was the same for me at a point. I had linked myself to a woman’s perception of the world. The idea that I perceived the world as a woman and was perceived to be one by the world was everything to me. When that idea was challenged, it was painful to me, because I had attached so much of my self-worth to that perspective inwardly and outwardly. It had become part of who I am, and I didn’t want to let it go.

Eventually however, I realized that the pain was coming from having chained myself to that perspective in the first place. It was a false idea I’d latched on to that was only bringing me misery. I remember telling people about my womanhood, saying things like “It’s the one thing I’ll never let anyone take away from me,” but once I broke that chain and realized how freeing it was for me, my life drastically improved. No longer was I desperately clinging to a concept that was whipping me along through life, but I could instead step back and re-orient myself in my complex world, armed with a better method of perceiving it, which I can draw on at will. Transwoman is a far more comfortable cognitive link to reality for me, that comes with little to no dissonance.

It’s simply what I am, a male-to-female transsexual rather than what I, as a failed experiment in manhood was desperately trying to be, a woman. There’s an important distinction there. Being a transwoman is a task I feel up to, being either a man or a woman is one I’ve come to recognize is impossible for me. Perhaps, some trans people might argue that simply makes me non-binary, and that’s an idea I’m open to. I’ve been discussing this recently with other trans people, but it doesn’t seem right to me.

I think the truth is simply that I adhere to a different philosophy, one that values, celebrates, and respects difference over similarity, and thus this view of the realities of trans people appeals to me.

I can understand why it might not appeal to other trans people, and that’s why I’ve reiterated again and again that this is just my own personal opinion and all that I intend with this piece is to open a doorway to discussions over what might be better ways to construct our understandings of one another. I’m simply making the case for mine and I welcome everyone to make the case for theirs. I’ll be looking forward to any further discussion this might inspire.

Thank you,

L

Naught Knowing

Well, what do you know?

Growing up is learning to know

How to know how to know

The ineffable as the inevitable

True face of God– unconditional

Non-dependent, the free radical

Fractal that implodes on itself

In self-destructive acts of creation

A universe sliding from its side–

A gift for already dying children

Fearing the inevitable ineffable bang

That whimper they’ve always wanted;

Time is the flame, the world is the wick

And it is on fire, burning melting wax

That is you, eternally imploding

Self-destructive fuel for the flame

You always want but can never have

RE: Jason Molina

A tribute to an amazing musician.

How did I live without Songs: Ohia in my life?

Been a bizarre experience of both knowing and not knowing Jason Molina. It’s strange to me that someone was making such beautiful music so close to where I’ve lived, who I never heard until earlier this year. Listening to his music and learning about him was very uplifting, and strangely empowering by the proximity.

But then my heart was crushed when I learned he’d died a few years ago. It was like experiencing a whole life’s relationship with an artist in the space of a week. Suppose we do that all the time really, but it usually just passes right by masked by things like distance, disinterest, and disassociation with death. It’s rare you look it in the face as it passes, but that’s what it feels like I did.

It’s difficult to describe how it all makes me feel. Bit like when I was a child and first met death. Must’ve liked me because it’s followed me ever since. Not in a creepy way, but more like a good friend pushing me on through life who I could appreciate the experience much more for being there. It’s terrifying to turn back and look into its face, but beautiful at the same time. I’ve never been very afraid of it, I could stare all day at my own, it’s others’ that scare me.

His Procession

“And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire.” Deuteronomy 12:3

On this precipice, the eight stairs stare

Up.. Each.. Step.. the procession goes..

Haunted, though this house may be

By lost brothers, sisters, and deities,

Children like us were driven forward

Prodded, our parents and guardians

Drove us upward, by sins never atoned

Knowing that which cannot be known

With fear at our backs, whipping along..

Shaking my hand, a man leads us inside

Through the cellar door we thought

Went.. up.. but took us to the depths

Where we met the Unknown, He

Spoke to us through knowing men

Who showed us the pathway through

Brambles like hell for lying with them

Where those led astray would be trapped

Therein, entwined souls with earthly whims..

Women had done this, they were to blame

Processions of men would put out the flames

Just one way to save them, to put out the sin:

Sacrifice thyself on the Altar of Men.

Thou shalt have no other God before Him

Or so they say, “Him, Our One Truth”

O, Great pronouncer of pronouns,

Savior from our fears, give us your truth

Leaven us so that we leave this cellar fermented

Ready to spread your toxic seed

And in procession, bring you harvest..

Fear of the Unknown’s a rational one,

None such as when fermented by Truth

Like fire and toxin, doubt and pain,

Replace it with Truth, it all goes away

Back behind us, where He always goes

Driving on the procession..

Dark Matter

Misery is an introvert who loves company.

Get up, it’s time to go

Don at dawn that mask you wear

Every morning; though you hate it

Carry it, like the two hundred others in your purse

Worn to be everything to everyone

Shattered selves, though they left you

Broken two hundred times passed

One for the Father, One for the Son,

One for the Mother, though she asked for none

One for the Daughter, who never was

Made to be Woman before she was young

One to the One you never wanted to be

And one-hundred ninety-four you’d rather not see

No one knows what it’s like

Living with all those fractures,

Those frustrating divides,

They just can’t see the weight of it all

Though they get caught up in its gravity

Never knowing the weight of what you wore

Or how it kept them from drifting out into orbit–

Lost, in dark matters, like time, and space,

Where they would see the same voids you found

On the dark side of them all, where you always hide yourself

Hoping they’ll never see what what you’ve seen

Lying, beneath every one.

Roots: Detransitioning

Enough is enough.

First of all, don’t panic, I’m not detransitioning; I’ve just got something to say.

For a long time now, the subject of detransitioning has weighed heavily on me. It started several years ago when I met a detransitioned man who we will call Ken for the purposes of this article. Ken was a former transwoman who had detransitioned several months before I met him. He had been deeply traumatized by the experience and was desperately seeking a pathway to healing.

It wasn’t so much detransitioning itself that had left Ken with trauma, it was the conditions leading up to and following his detransition that had harmed him. Ken was told by local trans peers that he was “not the right kind of trans” by the TrueTrans™ crowd, primarily because he transitioned after 30. As a person who had endured dysphoria his entire life leading up to transition, Ken knew those accusations were nonsense and kept on battling his dysphoria alone.

Ostracized and isolated, Ken came to the decision that he would be better off in life by detransitioning to reclaim his male identity. Knowing that his dysphoria would return with its full intensity and dreading the moment testosterone would take control of his body again, Ken came out to tell the world, “I am detransitioning,” and then the floodgates opened. Ken endured a torrent of hateful, vitriolic rhetoric from the LGBT community he had once viewed as nothing but friends and allies, who did everything within their power to invalidate Ken and distance themselves from him.

When I met Ken some months later, he was anguished and desperate to have his story heard. So much so that he had become involved with a group of anti-trans activists who had taken him under his wing and who were grooming him to amplify his anger for the community who had disparaged him. His anger was so tangible that I honestly thought he couldn’t possibly be a real trans person, “Must be another sock account,” I assumed wrongly, completely unaware at the time of how nasty that trans/LGBT groups could treat detransitioners.

Thankfully, I realized my mistake before any harm was done, and Ken and I became friends. I keep a regular habit of checking my assumptions, and in this case I’d never been so glad that I did. Through our friendship, he was able to find some small amount of peace that the trans community at large had not afforded him and and not long after, cut his ties with the aforementioned anti-trans activists and set out to live his own life, vowing to avoid drawing any further attention to himself or the injustices that burdened him.

Ken deserves that peace, but I can’t live with injustice like that in the world. His story is not unique. It reflects the experience of almost every detransitioner I’ve since had the pleasure of meeting. Trans people and allies have it in their heads that there are particular types of people who simply are trans, and there are types who are not. Detransitioners are thought to be the types who are not, and excluded from the trans community.

What a bunch of TERFs we have become.

We exclude, ostracize, and hate our own. We treat them like bigots, liars, and enemies.

Selfishly, we fear them, terrified that it might mean we’ll be in their shoes one day. Little could be more transphobic.

Obviously I’m being hyperbolic here as not every trans person/ally reacts this way to detransitioners, but if these assertions turned your stomach, good. They should. That is the point. I am describing everything we should not want to become and I can only hope that it will help instill the desire to be better and call out this kind of trash wherever we see it.

When someone comes out to let the world know they are detransitioning, the response from trans people and allies should invariably be affirmative and supportive. They are embarking on one of the most difficult journeys of their entire lives. It should be no different whatsoever from the reaction to someone coming out as trans to begin with, because detransition is just another one of life’s many transitions, and it’s just as difficult, if not more so than transitioning in the first place. I would dare call it “stunning and brave” but that phrase wore out its welcome in my vocabulary ages ago.

As troublesome as these reactionary attitudes toward detransitioners are on their own, this issue runs far more deeply than them. This strikes directly in the hearts of political correctness and social justice activism. It is politically correct to assume that detransitioners are indeed not trans and the response from social justice activists is to bury their heads in the sand and hope no one notices they exist. Meanwhile, they get little to no social support, there is no one advocating for their rights, research into detransitioning is stifled, and too few seem to actually care that one of the most at-risk groups of people in the world is suffering.

I have no intent to detransition, but if I ever were to, I would so desperately need support and validation from my friends and family. I’d need trained mental and physical health professionals who are fully equipped to help me through the process. I’d need legislation in place to make the legal processes of reclaiming male identity as painless as possible. I’d need support groups, crisis lines, shelters, etc. with resources available for to help me.

And I would get none of it.

It’s time for change; for justice; for the LGBT community and its allies to prune the toxic blooms that are growing out of our prejudice, before it rots us out and leaves us hollow.