The Woman in the Mirror

Mirrors are just glass. We are more than that, but just as fragile.

There’s a woman in my mirror.

She’s been there all my life.

Staring back at me, in spite

Of what others may have seen.

She has suffered, like me. She is

Me after all, never have we

Not shared circumstances.

 

She is a “TERF”, a woman scorned

Who lacks empathy for the man

She sees in her space, whose

Presence threatens her life, preventing her

From safety

freedom of mobility,

and opportunity

To live and seek happiness. To feel

Safe.

 

He is a threat to everything she

Longs to be. His presence

Dominates her. Screaming at

Him in rage, she takes the wooden brush

From the counter-top below.

Pulling back her arm, she weaponizes

It, hurling it at his grotesque

Face. The mirror shatters, leaving

Behind nothing but dysphoria.

Roots: Gatekeeping

An exploration of gatekeeping practices in the trans community.

Every group of people has its gatekeepers.

In some groups, gatekeeping is necessary. For instance, we would never trust our political leaders if they were people who simply stepped up and walked into their positions. We accept them (or at least deal with them) because we gatekeep them through our political processes. Voting, or political gatekeeping, enables us to choose candidates at least somewhat democratically.

Gatekeeping in the trans community is also necessary, but for very different reasons. But what are the gates being kept, and whose place is it to keep them?

Often, members of the trans community choose to take this responsibility on themselves and position themselves as the gatekeeper. Such people are often labeled “TruScum”, “bigot”, or “TERF” given the exclusionary nature of such practices, and it is commonly correct to apply these terms to them, but I’ve been called all of the above and worse myself for maintaining that gates should be kept at all.

In my view, it isn’t our place as members of the trans community to keep the gates of our community policed. That right belongs to the medical and psychological practitioners who take us on as patients and work with us toward diagnosis and treatment. Our engagement with them is deeply important to ensure our mental and physical health as we move toward transition and undergo treatment. These individuals are the only ones who should be granted the power to police our gates. As members of the trans community, our role should be at most to constructively criticize those who avoid the gates and help them access proper care.

I’ve mentioned diagnosis above, only in that it is commonly part of our trajectory through the process. Personally, I don’t believe diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria / Gender Incongruence should be required to access treatment, though I would support a mental health evaluation as part of the requirement, provided we could be granted guaranteed access to it, no matter our social or financial circumstances.

Processes and care channels for transition vary by location. When I first transitioned, 3 months of therapy was required leading up to diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria. Once diagnosed, I was recommended on to a doctor who physically examined me and informed me on the medication for my treatment. At any point in this process, anyone can legally change their name, as I did at the very beginning. However, when it came to my gender marker, a surgical requirement barred me from legal recognition as female. For many years, this was detrimental to my well being. I’m a pre-operative transwoman, meaning that I’ve not yet had sex reassignment / gender affirmation surgery. It’s a procedure I desperately need, but have been unable to have due to health and financial complications preventing me from it. It’s something I can get one day, but there’s a long road toward it ahead of me still.

Thankfully, my state changed the law to accommodate people like myself. Now, the way it works is that the onus for gatekeeping is removed from surgical procedure and instead is placed on the medical professionals monitoring our hormone treatments. I approve of this system because it encourages us toward proper care channels without being too much of a burden; also because medical professionals are in the best position to make the judgement call as to whether or not we should be legally recognized and being that they must stick their necks out on our behalf keeps them accountable and serious in the endeavor.

Engagement with a system like this is good for both us and for society. My state has not once to my knowledge seen an incident of abuse of our systems. And given the availability and affordability of care here, even the most underprivileged are rarely unduly burdened by the ways our gates are kept. It is fair, balanced, and promotes safety and security for everyone.

Self-ID has become a big topic around the world, recently, with the UK debating implementation of the policy and other countries, such as parts of the US, Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Portugal, and a few others have already done so. For the uninitiated, self-ID effectively overrides systems like the legitimizing pathway to legal recognition in my state, in favor of legal recognition on the basis of self-declaration alone. Meaning, one could change their gender marker on their birth certificates/government ID at will.

It’s argued that self-ID will benefit poor/underprivileged trans people by removing the burdens of requiring engagement with established care channels like the ones I’ve been through. I have so many issues with this, it’s hard to decide where to begin. There is great potential for abuse of these laws and rights conflicts over sex-based rights that radical feminists have been rallying against. I won’t touch deeply on these concerns and will let those feminists speak for themselves. My main concerns are self-ID’s trans-centric effects.

First of all, it would remove the layer of accountability I described that currently exists between doctors and patients in my state. With this layer of accountability removed, doctors will have less incentive to provide us with the highest possible quality of care. This could allow professionals to let other conditions presenting as dysphoria (i.e. schizophrenia, psychosis, PTSD) or comorbid conditions to slip through the gates unaddressed. It would also detract from the process of legitimization earned via our caregivers’ gatekeeping, making society at large less stable and secure. Stability and security are ensured in our current systems via this gatekeeping by the accountability of medical professionals, who ascertain that we ourselves are stable, secure, and dedicated to transition.

Self-ID would also enable transfolk to self-medicate indefinitely. Many are not aware, but it is possible to purchase hormones via black markets and medically transition without the involvement of medical professionals at all. I find this concept of indefinite self-medication highly dangerous for trans people. Hormone replacement therapy is not idiot-proof, and without proper monitoring of hormone levels and dosages, one can develop liver disease, cardiovascular diseases such as DVT, etc., it is excessively easy to destroy your body if you don’t know what you’re doing. Self-ID seems to encourage this behavior. Another worry I have that springs forth from this line of thinking is that self-ID might lead to lowering in the demand for proper care, as indefinite self-medication becomes more feasible.

If demand for proper care channels decreases, incentive to improve those care channels will also decline. This should be the opposite of our goals. Poor/underprivileged trans people’s main issue comes from inaffordability and inaccessibility of proper care. If we are to solve that problem and meet their unanswered demand, we need incentives to increase the breadth of availability of care and design systems to help individuals in need with accessing and affording them. This is the true solution to this problem that our governments are ignoring. Self-ID is just a bone they are throwing to us in hopes we will be satisfied and ignore the actual problem.

The actual problem is far bigger than just poor/underprivileged trans people and no one seems to want to talk about that in this debate. Poor/underprivileged people die every day due to inability to access and/or afford proper care. The trans community is just a tiny fraction of the population who suffers from this social injustice.

Many trans people like myself who have been through these processes and find value in our current systems have begun to speak out against self-ID. This conflict is at the peak of trends in certain spheres of trans activism that have culminated with the splitting of our community.

On one side, we have the new wave of activists pushing a very identity-based narrative that effectively calls for rejection of the idea there is a biological underpinning to what trans people are and that instead, gender is entirely about one’s internal sense of identity. This side would tell you that anyone who wants to be trans is, and that transition is a choice.

On the other side, we have those who understand being trans is a condition with a biological underpinning that one is born with that brings with it undeniable biological imperatives. This side would tell you that only those who are diagnosed with the condition are actually trans and that we are born this way.

The truth is likely somewhere between the two.

It’s difficult to say exactly where, but unless we address this growing divide in discourse with one another, I feel as though this is going to rip the trans community apart.

Personally, my views align more with the thinking we are born with a condition. However, I think that it’s a condition that exists on a wide spectrum, as all human conditions do. It manifests in different ways in different bodies. Biological imperatives may vary from trans person to trans person. Most of us suffer from a full body dysphoria, that drives us to binary transitions. Others suffer from partial body dysphoria, and may only need to transition to certain degrees such as in the case of some non-binary trans people and some non-op binary trans people. Others still experience social dysphoria, which is born primarily of the distress of existing as a man/woman in society. And let’s not forget the group that claims to have no dysphoria at all.

I think that when transfolk say they don’t have dysphoria, they mean many different things, but very few of those is actually, “I am perfectly comfortable living with my birth sex.” More often than not, such people actually do have the same condition but maybe have lived life in such a way that they’ve avoided suffering from dysphoria or perhaps they *do* experience it but genuinely don’t experience it the same way as others, or simply don’t understand it in the same way others do.

You’ll find in this internal debate that there are a great many opinions within the trans community on what constitutes a trans person. Some will say that we should blindly accept everyone. Others would say we should maintain restrictive criteria to use in judging who to accept and who to reject. Both sides make good points.

On one hand, if we accept everyone on blind faith, we open the door to those who will use that to manipulate us. There are MANY bad people out there who appropriate either trans identities or trans activism for personal/political/financial gain. With no barriers protecting ourselves from them, we are susceptible to subversion by such people. We are forced to accept them as fellow trans people/allies without questioning their motives.

On the other hand, the need for gatekeeping in our community is obvious, given the pitfalls of the aforementioned view.

Earlier in this article, I already gave my opinions on who the gatekeepers are and where/how the gates should be kept, by accountable psychological and medical professional evaluation. The remainder of this article is going to examine why community-driven gatekeeping attempts fail spectacularly.

In order to become a gatekeeper of the trans community, one first needs criteria by which to judge other trans people.

Typical criteria involves things such as sexuality, age of transition, ability to pass, operation status/desire, personal history, etc.

The criteria for a TrueTranswoman™ will commonly look something like this:

  • Androphillic, exclusively attracted to males
  • Medically transitioned before the age of 25
  • Passes as a woman organically
  • Has had sex reassignment surgery or a clear need for SRS
  • Gender non-conforming/feminine prior to transition
  • Gender conforming and highly feminine post-transition
  • Dysphoria began in childhood and persisted through adulthood
  • Never had children

If one doesn’t meet this criteria, they are labeled as “pseudo-transsexual” or “transtrender” and shunned by some who follow this criteria.

The key word here is “some” because not every trans person who follows this TrueTrans™  ideology follows this same criteria.

If you ask anyone following this ideology what their criteria is, they might give the above set, or offer something similar with slight variance. Where might you think the difference between their criteria comes from?

If you guessed “themselves” you are correct.

TrueTrans™ people design the criteria used for their own merit-based gatekeeping systems just right to include themselves. If someone transitioned at 28, they might say 30, instead of 25 is the age limit. If they are gynephillic, meaning exclusively attracted to females, they might nix the sexuality requirement entirely. If they were not gender non-conforming pre-transition or are still non-conforming post-transition, they might abstain from that criteria. And so on, with ever-moving goalposts.

Underlying TrueTrans™ ideology, there seems to also invariably exist another layer intended to police trans people based entirely on behavioral mechanisms and like-mindedness. Any time a trans person might advocate something a TrueTrans™ person disagrees with, or behaves in such a way that doesn’t conform to “proper” trans behavior, these will also be used as demerits.

Earn enough demerits based on any given criteria, and you are not TrueTrans™. You are a psuedo-transsexual. A transtrender. Part of some #transcult incursion against true transsexuals.

As I hope is already apparent, TrueTrans™ ideology is flawed.

The inevitable end to this way of thinking, is that the beholder of TrueTrans™ ideology is the only true transsexual. If you dig deeply enough into each and every one of us, you will invariably find criteria by which to exclude us all.

I believe that the majority of those who adopt TrueTrans™ ideology have a pathological need for validation that is satisfied by the ideology. This need can come from many sources, but most commonly it seems to be adopted by individuals who live isolated lives and struggle against oppressive forces that degrade their sense of agency, or control over themselves as they exist in their reality.

By posturing themselves as a true transsexual and disparaging others who don’t fit their criteria, they receive a dose of self-validation. After disparaging another trans person, they might experience a sense of euphoria, or garner some sense of control over agency. But, these feelings are only temporary, and they always need another fix.

To be fair to those who do follow TrueTrans™ ideology, not all of them are this deranged. Many do follow this way of thinking with purity of intent. They intend their actions as a gatekeeper to have a positive effect over the trans community and society at large, but so often their methods and/or motives are terribly flawed.

So, what do you think? Which way of thinking is better? TrueTrans™ ideology, or blindly accepting all people claiming to be trans legitimately are?

There isn’t a good answer to this question as far as I can tell other than recognizing that gatekeeping, while important to the trans community and society at large, is not our place. That onus is, and should remain, on the professionals who work with us in transitionary care channels. If an individual has not engaged with those care channels, they should be criticized, but constructively, in ways that might help direct them toward or assist them with accessing proper care. If an individual has engaged with those care channels but you still believe they aren’t TrueTrans™, then recognize that they are not your enemy. They are victims. Victims of a professional who should be held accountable for not providing them with proper care.

Roving around through trans communities in TrueTrans™ attack packs to assault and harass trans people who don’t fit one set of TrueTrans™ criteria or another does no one any good. For every actual fake such groups might successfully exclude from the community, they hurt two more who are genuine.

This is obviously a deeply complex and nuanced issue. I am aware that my views have flaws too, but as far as I can tell, they are the best way forward. As always though, I am open-minded and eager to hear my readers’ opinions.

If you have any thoughts, especially with regard to how we should handle this issue moving forward, I would appreciate if you shared them in the comments below.

Thank you! ❤

Roots: Bogeymen

Know all your enemies.

We know who our enemies are.

Let’s talk about bogeymen.

In mythology, bogeymen are known to be imaginary evil spirits and are commonly depicted frightening children. They are the beast in your closet. The monster under your bed.

In reality, for many, they are everywhere.

We create them. We call others them.

They are social constructs.

In his 1919 novel Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson writes:

“At his desk the writer worked for an hour. In the end he wrote a book which he called “The Book of the Grotesque.” It was never published, but I saw it once and it made an indelible impression on my mind. The book had one central thought that is very strange and has always remained with me. By remembering it I have been able to understand many people and things that I was never able to understand before.The thought was involved but a simple statement of it would be something like this:
That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful.
The old man had listed hundreds of the truths in his book. I will not try to tell you of all of them. There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and of profligacy, of carelessness and abandon.
Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful.
And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.
It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.”

These grotesques Anderson describes are, in essence, what I understand to be bogeymen manifesting in reality. They are released into the world via our own perceptions, by embracing the false notion that we are capable of perceiving truth and claiming it as our own.

When one embraces such truths as their truth and uses them to build a monolithic representations of groups of people, bogeymen are born.

Racists fear bogeymen of other races. Sexists fear bogeymen of other sexes. Homophobes and transphobes fear LGBT bogeymen. Conservatives fear liberal bogeymen. Liberals fear conservative bogeymen. Xenophobes fear immigrant bogeymen. These are direct manifestations of our tribal psyches.

We trans people have a particular breed of bogeyman that we call “TERF”.

TERF, as I’ve written about in a similar article stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. TERFs are perceived to be a real, organized extremist group of anti-trans activists. They seek to erase access to medical care and expunge accommodations granted to us by our societies for our safety and protection. But not everyone with questions and concerns over trans people or movements in trans activism is such a bogeyman. The TERF label is often applied to avoid difficult discussion and what might otherwise be reasonable discourse.

Anti-trans activists, and primarily TERFs, have their own bogeyman. They call it the transcult. The transcult is perceived to be a real, organized extremist group of pro-trans activists. They are misogynists who seek to harm women and erase them from society. They prioritize the needs of trans people and punch sideways (never upward) in their activism, at primarily vulnerable groups of women with reasonable concerns over our movements. But not every ally to trans people is such a bogeyman. The transcult label is often applied to avoid difficult discussion and what might otherwise be reasonable discourse.

I have a long history of speaking out against activists calling people TERFs and/or pushing any other divisive or inciteful rhetoric. It’s important to label the problem. It’s important to identify the group and those who do belong to it. It’s not appropriate to employ the term as an aspersion against individuals.

In my own activism and advocacy, I seek out those who have questions and concerns over us. I engage in difficult discussions with them and through them, work to build bridges to common ground where we can constructively address the issues they have. I’ve had so many wonderful conversations with such people and I find that once we clear the air of toxicity, it is excessively easy to do so.

But clearing the air of toxicity is no easy task in our current political environment. There’s simply too many bogeymen running around. The air is so toxic that it affects the perceptions of those I engage in discourse with. They pre-conceive that I am a member of the transcult. That I am a sexist. A rapist. A narcissist. Deluded. Mentally ill. Misogynistic. All qualities ascribed to the transcult bogeyman.

I’m used to it. I’ve been breathing the toxic air of our politics for a very long time now. It doesn’t skew my perceptions anymore. Where so many others seem to see bogeymen running amok, keeping the world constantly on fire, I see people with differing philosophies, doing what they can to put those fires out.

There’s my take, now you might be asking yourself, “So what?”

So we need to expunge trans activism of bogeymen.

If you are a non-trans ally in activism who makes a habit of not engaging with others in good faith and instead just call them names, label them with aspersions, or stir hateful or inciteful rhetoric into the discourse, your voice is no longer welcome as far as I am concerned.

Try to see this from my perspective as a trans person who works to build bridges with those who hate us. For every bridge I build, you burn two more. Your rhetoric adds nothing of value to the discourse, and when taken out of context is used to socially construct the transcult bogeyman I am mistaken for every day of my life. I’m forced to live with the consequences of your actions every waking moment. You are not.

By no means is this to say that our allies don’t have my support. They do. Many are wonderful and nothing but constructive. The sort I take issue with are destructive. They detour us from engaging in difficult and important conversations, spewing toxicity into the air that does nothing but create more bogeymen.

If you aren’t convinced, look at it this way:

If a TERF is attacking you, pushing divisive & hateful rhetoric, they are making themself look like a fool and fueling the fires against their own cause. I don’t care what they say. I say let it be. Let their hate speak for itself. Don’t retaliate with backlash. Any time you reach a point where you can no longer engage in good faith, simply don’t. Let it stand, block/mute them, and move on with your life. Don’t sink to their level.

The moment you lash back is the moment bogeymen are born. Any venom you spew back at them can and will be taken out of context to fuel the fires of hatred against us and your attacks only strengthen their resolve, further cementing the idea of the transcult bogeyman into their brains. It adds nothing whatsoever of value to the discourse. All it does is make us look bad.

In our activism and advocacy, we need to get back to the heart of the matter. We need to overcome this tribal mentality and stop demonizing the other tribes. Instead, we should be uplifting and celebrating our own tribe, while using positivity to engage in good faith with other tribes, and showing them all the good we have to offer the world.

There’s so much we need to do. So much work that needs done. So many trans people living in pain, distress, poverty, isolation, etc. and all the reductive, divisive, inciteful, hateful rhetoric coming from our side of the discourse is only distracting us from meeting those ends.

Please consider the impacts of your activism on the big picture and to borrow a metaphor from one of our most well known detractors, clean your room.

Roots: Passing

What is “passing” exactly?

Most people have at least a vague concept of what passing means in reference to trans people. If you ask one of us, we’ll describe a myriad of meanings, as passing means something different to each of us based on our personal experiences with the act.

If you listen to many of our stories, a common theme will most certainly emerge that looks something like this:

Passing is a euphoric refuge from a dysphoric experience in a transphobic world.

It allows us to let our guard down and enjoy simply being ourselves, fully equipped with the privilege of being interpreted as cissexual when we are in fact transsexual, which allows us freedom of societal mobility and safety from the forces that would disparage us if we were recognized as trans.

That’s the unfortunate state of things for transfolk. We lead a quite frankly terrifying existence which is very often dependent on passing. We are forced into strict gender conformity, the likes of which I haven’t seen imposed since the 1950s. If we stray from it, we risk losing our ability to pass, which can have devastating consequences for us. This goes for transmen and transwomen alike, though the box women are expected to fit into is decisively smaller and more restrictive than that of men.

Our critics might tell us that we are reinforcing an oppressive system by adhering to these standards and attempting to pass, but what needs to be understood is that it’s something we tend toward in order to survive within said system. It’s the same for all people, trans or not. We all tend to adhere to our prescribed standards in order to survive in our societal systems around the world. Challenging them, for most any of us, can be dangerous. We could lose our livelihood. Our social support structures could collapse. Our families and friends could abandon us.

Why? Just because we’ve decided to dress differently or live our lives in a way more appealing to us?

Why do we put so much importance on these prescribed standards in our existences? I’m not going to claim to have any answers. This question is far bigger than me, but I do think it’s an important question to ask. At the very least, I think we all need to examine the qualities of these standards and be willing to challenge them in our daily lives, especially where they intersect with freedom of mobility and equality of opportunity.

Passing should not be a prerequisite to our freedoms, rights, or privileges. We should all be allowed to express ourselves, free from disparagement for methods of expression we might find suitable to ourselves in our embodied lives.

What if we could live in a world free from transphobia, where being trans weren’t something we need to hide?

My particular corner of the world has been kind to me. I’ve not encountered much, if any transphobia in my life. I pass well and am lucky to live in a largely trans-friendly community. I’m out in all aspects of my life. My family knows. Everyone I’m friends with knows. My coworkers know. It’s become something I feel comfortable with being and sharing with others in my life.

It wasn’t always that way for me though.

I was born in Mike Pence’s hometown. If you know anything at all about the man, understand that his hometown is very much like him. The majority are conservative, Christian, and love America. The sort of people who listen to country music. Radio stations blared Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless America” every Independence Day. Nice folks, mostly.

But they don’t tend to like change.

Transitioning there was terrifying. Between circumstances where I lived and deep concerns over how my family would react, I didn’t come out much until I was 28 when I finally allowed myself to begin Hormone Replacement Therapy. Only my most trusted friends and partners knew I intended to transition.

To my surprise, everyone in my life accepted me, and living as a trans woman was easy because I passed well. I can only imagine how different my life might have been if I hadn’t been able to. It’s granted me so much privilege.

I had the privilege to allow the fact I am trans to disappear and live free from fear of the kind of discrimination transfolk face every day.

And I did.

For around 5 years, only those I had known prior to transition actually knew I was trans. In my day to day life, I was interpreted in the same way as every other woman. When I started the job that led me to my current career, I never came out. No one I worked with knew for several years. We’ll come back to this later.

Being a woman of course came with its own pitfalls and perils. I’ve been a survivor of a constant stream of misogyny, sexual assault, manipulation, discrimination, etc. I’ve been terribly unlucky.

But at least I wasn’t seen as trans for most of it.

Passing was never not important in my mind.

Even when I’d speak out as a trans woman in real life or on social media, I would insist I was a woman and engage in completely pointless arguments with others over it.

“Trans women are men,” cried anti-trans activists.

“Trans women are women,” we cried back, as the phrase became my mantra.

My invocations of this mantra were less a response to the assertion I was a man, and more a desperate effort to pass on a completely different level.

Being trans didn’t matter much to my real life. As I said, in my daily life I was just a woman. And I wanted it to not matter in any context. I wanted the fact I am trans to disappear into the fact I was read as a woman. I rejected my own complex reality as a trans woman and instead opted to erase the idea the word “trans” carried any meaning that I saw as potentially invalidating my womanhood. It was a point I was completely unwilling to capitulate. It was as important to me as passing itself.

I would make arguments such as, “Trans women and tall women are both women,” as if “tall” carried a similar meaning to “trans”.

But in the case of both trans women and tall women, tall women are still tall, and trans women are still trans. Being trans is as inescapable for me as being tall might be for a tall woman.

Trans, I realized, was something I could never not be, rage against my own biology and societal resistance to the idea as I might.

The inevitable conclusion for me was acceptance that trans women, are in fact, trans women. Once I accepted this truth, doorways opened for me that allowed me to see and appreciate the truly complex reality of my embodied life. The truth was simultaneously beautiful and terribly ugly. I’ve become so much more sensitive to the concerns of others when my complex reality intersects and interplays with their own.

Some of my trans friends and allies have expressed concern for me over my change in attitude, but I can assure everyone my head has never been more clear. As I’ve explained, it’s been a long road for me coming to acceptance of myself as a trans woman, and it feels wonderful to take pride in the fact I am exactly what I am.

My co-workers all know now that I’m trans, and the context under which I came out to them is very much part of my journey toward this newfound level of self-acceptance.

A little bit over a year ago, another co-worker of mine who works in a different area came out and transitioned. One night, co-workers in my area were talking about her and saying some very transphobic things.

It wasn’t easy, but as one co-worker was beginning to talk about his experiences with the one trans person he’s known in his life who rubbed him the wrong way, I interrupted and told him he in fact, knows two. His stunned silence spoke volumes.

I’ve come out in similar contexts to others I work with, and every time it has had overwhelmingly positive effects. Transphobia, at its heart, is a fear of change. People get used to people as they are, and then when they transition, it’s like that person they’ve known dies and something strange and new replaces them.

What my co-workers have realized about their own transphobia is exactly that. I’ve asked several, “Having known me as a woman for years, would it be equally as difficult for you to accept me if I detransitioned and became a man as it is for you to accept transitioning people you know?” The answer has been, “Yes.” in every instance.

My coming out and proudly telling others that I was, in fact, a trans woman completely washed away any transphobia that my co-workers might have held in their hearts.

One day, I would like to see all of society overcome transphobia.

Where visibly trans people and passing trans people can live with the same freedom of mobility and equality of opportunity.

Where trans women can be trans women and trans men can be trans men and live in relative peace with ourselves as such.

Where our lives, be they trans lives or not, no longer depend on passing.

RE: RuPaul and the Participation of Women in Drag Race

An exploration of the recent controversy behind RuPaul’s commentary on bio queen and transgender women’s participation in RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Last week, RuPaul told The Guardian, “Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture. So for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.”

In this statement, it is made clear that what are sometimes referred to as “faux queens” or “bio queens” are not welcome to participate in RuPaul’s Drag Race.

In a followup question, Decca Aitkenhead of The Guardian asked, “So how can a transgender woman be a drag queen?”

To which RuPaul responded, “Mmmm. It’s an interesting area. Peppermint didn’t get breast implants until after she left our show; she was identifying as a woman, but she hadn’t really transitioned.”

Decca continued, “Would you accept a contestant who had? ”

“Probably not. You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body. It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing. We’ve had some girls who’ve had some injections in the face and maybe a little bit in the butt here and there, but they haven’t transitioned.”

In a followup tweet which has sparked a great deal of outrage, RuPaul tweeted:

Before I speak to this topic, let me just go ahead and deplatform myself immediately in establishing that I am an outsider to queen culture.

Queen culture is something I have always avoided association with because I have never liked having who I am conflated with what I (and many others) have perceived as a male-exclusive form of artistic expression.

My life as a trans woman is not art nor entertainment for anyone.

I do not want to be on display. In fact, I want the opposite. I want to be myself and live a normal life free from the distress of being forced to live the life of a gender that I am not.

That distinction isn’t easy for many people to make. Just yesterday, an anti-trans activist compared me with Divine, who is best known for their role in John Waters’s Pink Flamingos.

We are not the same.

Avoiding that conflation has led me to avoid appreciation of the expression of the drag artform. I recognize myself as an outsider to this culture and approach my criticism to it as such.

As would be the case with any form of artistic expression, I feel that biologic sex should not matter in the expression of the form. Exclusion of women from queen expression strikes me as similar to excluding women from forms of artistic expression such as writing, painting, music, acting, comedy, etc.

One might say that women have the option to participate in king culture and to create caricatures of men to put on display on their own art, but it’s really not the same, and bio queens very much do exist. As I have come to understand drag, it is more about the expression of extreme femininity in queen culture and extreme masculinity in king culture. It is less about biology and more about the portrayal of a caricature. As such, I do not see why it would be problematic for anyone, in spite of sex or gender, to express themselves as a queen/king or participate in a competition such as RuPaul’s Drag Race.

In a piece by Kashmira Gander of The Independent in which Kashmira, a female at birth, explored the concept of women’s participation in queen culture by, herself, undergoing transformation into expression of the form as a caricature known as Trashmira, Kashmira wrote, “But a question remained. How can a woman be a drag queen, when a drag queen is a man dressed as a woman? This issue has divided the drag community – with bio, or “faux”, queens defending their right to perform alongside their male counterparts. The answer comes down to the fact that drag is about more than just a man wearing a dress, but about questioning gender stereotypes and the norms we are expected to conform to – norms that can stifle us all – all while putting on a blinding show.”

This attitude has brought me to view the artistic intent of drag in an entirely different light. If attitudes like this were more embraced toward queen culture and women were openly welcomed to participate in drag competitions, I would personally begin to find queen culture far more appealing.

Many have been outraged by RuPaul’s exclusionary statements regarding trans women in particular. Initially, I was not offended because I viewed queen culture through the frame that it was a male-only form of expression, as RuPaul himself appears to believe. But I then began to think about how sexist that sounded, a “male-only form of expression” and I began to consider that perhaps it may be time to re-evaluate our perceptions of queen and king culture. The issue here seems to me to be less about trans-exclusion and more about female exclusion.

What exactly precludes women from the expression of themselves as queens?

What exactly precludes men from the expression of themselves as kings?

I’m not convinced these questions have valid answers. I can only speak for myself as an outsider who has never appreciated the form. The boundaries we might construct in answering these questions are a detriment to the form. If we can push these boundaries, I know that I personally will become much more interested in these forms of expression because, as is true in most things, diversity brings strength to forms.

Roots: Gender

An exploration into the determination of Gender, Sexuality, and Identity in the eternal quest to know thyself.

“Who knows where a woman begins and ends? Listen mistress, I have roots, I have roots deeper than this island. Deeper than the sea, older than the raising of the lands. I go back into the dark… I go back into the dark! Before the moon I am, what a woman is, a woman of power, a woman’s power, deeper than the roots of trees, deeper than the roots of islands, older than the Making, older than the moon. Who dares ask questions of the dark? Who’ll ask the dark its name?”
– Ursula K. Le Guin, Earthsea

What is Gender anyway?

Isn’t that just another word for Sex?

If you have XY chromosomes, male organs, and produce sperm, you are a man!

If you have XX chromosomes, female organs, and produce ova, you are a woman!

But what gender is God? Or what of His son, Jesus?

The Bible insists the use of these pronouns is so vital in reference to both that it demands we capitalize them.

In my life, I have studied a great deal of Christian theology.

I have never studied the Father nor the Son’s chromosomes.

I have never seen their organs.

Certainly no one has known their sperm.

I know them to be men because it has been expressed to me.

This is Gender.

It can be best understood in three parts:

  1. Gender Identity – The internalization of personal biological and physiological experience and memory of bodily experience of the world.
  2. Gender Expression – The externalization of Gender Identity as it is expressed in one’s intent, actions, and movement through world.
  3. Gender Experience – The third-party experience of Gender Expression and culturally-defined knowledge and expectations of gendered behavior and expression.

Gender exists, as described above, both within and beyond oneself. It is internalized as a part of one’s identity, externalized through expression, and experienced, understood, and interpreted by others.

As in the case of the Christian Father and Son, the genders of a great many people are known to us without any knowledge of anything which makes them up biologically.

In fact, we may well only know the biologies of those whom we are intimate with.

Biology does not dictate gender.

Biology dictates two things:

  1. Reproductive capability.
  2. Disease compatibility.

As any rational human being would agree, men and women are a great deal more than those two reductions. All of the rest of what defines us as men and women, by identity, experience, and expression belongs to the realm of gender.

Gender is certainly not innate to biology, though it is most commonly associated with it, as part of gender identity is the internalization of biological and physiological experience as well as bodily experience of the world.

Like sexuality, gender exists as more of a gradient between two binaries than as the two ends of the binary. More often than not, we are not perfectly heterosexual nor perfectly homosexual, but somewhere in between and it is also common for us to fluidly move through the gradient as we change with the tides of our lives.

We are never perfectly masculine nor perfectly feminine, but a mixture of the two. Each of us carries within us a biological nature consisting of this mixture as well as the ability to nurture either to full potential. Women are as capable of nurturing masculinity as men are capable of nurturing femininity while still living as women and men themselves.

What makes the dysphoric experience unique is not an over-nurturing of or obsession with femininity or masculinity as some transphobes like to believe but as a discomfort and disassociation with one’s own presence which leads to losses in translation to any attempt at expressing either masculinity or femininity in one’s self.

The same discomfort and disassociation experienced by us is experienced by those we interact with and as such, we are unable to impact the world or be interpreted meaningfully by it, leading us to ghost-like existences. The only way for us to become complete human beings is to erase the incongruence in our being via transition or through finding some other way to overcome the incongruence.

Speaking as a trans woman from a traditional Christian/Conservative family who tried everything imaginable to deny herself Hormone Replacement Therapy for fear of rejection by her family, let me tell you, transition is the best option available for those who suffer from gender dysphoria.

I tried everything else.

Of course, not everyone who transitions experiences gender dysphoria. Some who might choose this do not live in the persistent state of incongruence I lived in, but may develop it later in life or realize that they have been living with it without understanding what it was and then choose to transition. The experience is different for everyone, but the end goal is the same, to conform to expression of our self-determined gender identity, allowing us to maintain comfort and strong association with ourselves and our world.

In my opinion, human beings have the right to self-determination and as such, all forms of gender and sexual expression should be celebrated and supported by our communities, so long as they allow for social stability and the safety and consideration of others.

Judith Butler said in a 2014 interview, “No matter whether one feels one’s gendered and sexed reality to be firmly fixed or less so, every person should have the right to determine the legal and linguistic terms of their embodied lives. So whether one wants to be free to live out a “hard-wired” sense of sex or a more fluid sense of gender, is less important than the right to be free to live it out, without discrimination, harassment, injury, pathologization or criminalization – and with full institutional and community support. That is most important in my view.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The truth is that both fixed and fluid senses of self are equally valid and it is pointless for anyone to wrestle with another human being over their right to self-determination. It becomes nothing but a pointless exercise in bigotry over two equally valid experiences of oneself.

This diversity of opinion over the nature of sex and gender would have great potential for societal and cultural growth if we could only allow one another to flourish rather than bringing decay to the quality of one another’s lives over petty disagreements with methods of self-determination.

There are also sexualities and genders which exist outside the constraints of their respective binaries also and I don’t mean for such people to be an afterthought in my thinking on gender, but it’s just not something I can speak to as I am very comfortable in my positioning within both binaries and I have never experienced the world outside of it.

I would encourage anyone with thoughts related to non-binary gender experience or the experience of gender determination which may differ from my views to express those thoughts to me in the comments below. Thank you!

Roots: Dysphoria

A description of dysphoria itself and clarifications on the nature of Gender Dysphoria.

Before this series continues, I should slow down to bring meaning to terms some might not be familiar with.

Dysphoria is human incongruence.

It is a divide between all of the elements which come together to make one human.

Mind

Spirit

Body

I find it best that an understanding be established that dysphoria can be understood by it’s opposite, euphoria, which many are more familiar with, and would understand to be represented as the three elements shown above in congruence.

Mind

Spirit

Body

To experience euphoria is to be right with yourself and comfortable with your own presence in the world. Mind, body, and spirit unite and you are able to focus these into your presence, which gives meaningful impact to your movements and actions in the world. In this state of congruence, you feel the most like yourself.

To experience dysphoria is to be wrong with yourself and uncomfortable with your own presence in the world. Mind, body, and spirit disjoin and you are unable to focus your presence into any sort of meaningful impact to your movements or actions in the world. In this state of incongruence, you feel the least like yourself.

In states of euphoria, you are a complete human being.

In states of dysphoria, you are a ghost.

Everyone experiences moments of dysphoria and euphoria, but typically these moments are brief.

Gender Dysphoria, as my condition is known in psychology is the persistent state of incongruence brought on by a separation between the body and the mind. A great many studies in other fields have also confirmed, as most any of us would tell you ourselves, that this incongruence exists in us biologically and is experienced by us physiologically, socially, and psychologically.

This is just who we are.

Of course, science doesn’t really consider seriously the element of spirit, but I believe it is worth including as it is something nearly everyone believes exists in some form or another.

Call it what you will:

Soul. Heart. Essence, Core. Spirit. Nature. Psyche.

Or anything else you might fill with its meaning.

It drives us. It exists within us and moves beyond us through our many forms of expression and the impacts our lives leave upon the world.

It will exist long after our physical bits have turned to dust, even if it is only within the memories of those whose lives we’ve touched.

Normally, spirit would act as the glue which bonds the mind and body together in congruence, but in dysphoric states, it cannot attach to either and instead drifts between the two.

It is this part of ourselves that suffers the most from dysphoria.

This little light of mine,

I’m gonna let it shine.

No you aren’t, dysphoria is going to snuff it out.

I wish someone had told me this when they taught me that song.

The incongruence brought on by Gender Dysphoria can be dealt with via treatment to either the brain or the body. Neither is wrong, they simply are the way they are. Unfortunately for us, being as they are leads to a great deal of distress if untreated.

Strategies for coping with the distress are not very effective, nor are any other approaches which focus entirely on the mind/brain. Conversion therapy does not work. Nor do any medications which target the brain and/or chemical balance.

Trust me on this.

I’m from Mike Pence’s hometown.

It and all of my family/friends/co-workers were every bit as traditional/Christian/Conservative as you might expect. Fear of rejection by so many people who were important to me kept me from pursuing body-based treatment for far too long. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself not to worry and to follow through with it as soon as possible.

I would give anything to have those lost years of my life back, but what’s done is done.

The fact of the matter is that hormone replacement therapy is the best method of ending the incongruence of gender dysphoria.

Dysphoria can be brought on in a number of ways, gender-based dysphoria being only one of a diverse bag of possibilities. Most transgender people also experience “Biological Dysphoria” (though as far as I know, this distinction is not made in psychology) which extends beyond the experience of gender and into our biologies, driving many of us to seek out sex reassignment/confirmation surgeries, though in most of our cases, this type of dysphoria never dissipates because wrapped up in this type of dysphoria is our reproductive systems, which no currently available technology can repair.

Though my own lack of reproductive system does bring me dysphoric distress, it is not burdensome. At least not any more burdensome than it is to any other woman who might wish to bring children into the world, but lacks the ability to do so. It does not leave me locked in a state of distress, but rather brings me situational distress, typically only in sexual situations.

In spite of the biological dysphoria which will always be with me, I no longer suffer or am burdened by dysphoria otherwise. My incongruence has ended and I now live a normal life with a mix of euphoric and dysphoric states, though more commonly I know the former than the latter.