I can't believe this is still being debated.
14 April 2011
What is it that makes a person a trans woman?
I have some difficulty answering this question, in light of the debate going on over Kinsey Hope’s refusal to post pictures of a person who describes herself as a Female to Male to Female trans woman at Fuck Yeah Cute Trans Chicks. That is, this person was assigned female at birth, at some point transitioned to male, and then transitioned again, a process which some people would describe as “de-transitioning”, to female. I say I have difficulty with answering it, not because I am having difficulty forming an opinion on the matter, but because I know that voicing my opinion on this matter is likely to cause a great deal of consternation, and to cause some people to form mistaken impressions of my beliefs and my character.
By my own definition, a trans person is someone who desires to move, has moved, or is moving their gender identity, appearance, expression, or behavior from one point on the gender continuum to another. It’s a very simple definition, and covers just about everyone, regardless of where you started, or where you’ve gone in the meanwhile.
However, underlying this definition is the assumption that the transition is genuine, and permanent. We do not generally refer to people who believe at some point in their lives that they are transsexual or transgender, but then change their minds about that fact, as transgender or transsexual. We refer to these people as simply having been wrong about what they thought they wanted.
It is self-evident that someone who has traveled any distance at all along the gender continuum has some experience of having done so, but it does not mean that they have the experience of a person who undertakes such a move with the understanding that they are truly fulfilling a genuine need to permanently resolve a conflict, whether between their psychology and physiology, or between their perception of themselves and the perception of them held by others.
We do not exist in a world where the sex of a transsexual person’s body can be completely changed so as to make one’s body identical to a cissexual person’s body. We have never had this technology, and while it may become possible to do so at some distant point in the future if humanity manages to survive that long, we certainly do not have it in the present day. I find it difficult in the extreme to acknowledge the validity of having transitioned from female to male, and then describing a further transition from male back to the original female as an experience that is remotely similar to my own transition from male to female.
This is not an argument over socialization. I will not draw distinctions between women due to how they were treated by others. I think that socialization arguments are ultimately flawed arguments, just as flawed as the essentialist arguments that state that the presence of primary sexual reproductive gross anatomy of one type or another determines one’s gender in a failproof manner, and that both of these types of arguments are nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to divide gendered people against each other. No person’s experience of their gender is universal, and a person who was indoctrinated into one gender does not necessarily belong to that gender solely as a result of that indoctrination.
There is, however, a different essentialist argument that is being made and confirmed by science. The more we understand about transsexuality, the more it becomes clear that transsexual people are, in fact, born this way, for what ever reason, by whatever mechanism, and that this is a natural variation of humanity. Some people just end up with neurology that doesn’t match their physiology, and for those of us who cannot resolve this conflict well enough to live our lives to our satisfaction because of this transition our bodies to the extent that modern science will allow, because no psychological therapy ever devised has ever been shown to be effective, while physical transition is shown to have an effectiveness in the high-90’s percentile.
A person who is transsexual generally transitions through whatever means they are able to acquire and to whatever extent they can afford because they simply cannot bear to function to a satisfactory capacity while being perceived by themselves or others as a gender which they know themselves not to be. Transition is not, like the criticisms from the radical feminist community of trans people often state, a suit of clothes, to be put on or discarded at will.
If we recognize gender “choice” as authentic gender identity, then the validity of the very existence of transsexual/transgender people is in question, and we reify the notion that all gender is merely a construction of sociology, an attitude which has already been proven conclusively false by a preponderance of scientific findings.
Given the state of the science, I find it impossible to conclude that a person born with anatomy that we recognize as female, who has a gender identity that one must agree is quite likely firmly female, given that the individual has experience of having lived as both female and male, is in fact a transsexual woman. As a result, I believe that this person has no place in spaces which are dedicated to the needs of those who transition from male to female.
Having said the above, I will further state that I believe that Kinsey should relent and publish the picture at Fuck Yeah Cute Trans Chicks.
I say this, because I am no omnipotent Goddess to be Final Arbiter of What Is and What Is Not. I may be entirely wrong about everything I just said, and because that is always the Truth, and because the person in question may authentically perceive herself as a trans woman no matter what I think of the idea or of her, I say, “Bring it, Sister!”
In the end, I think it hardly likely that there’s suddenly going to be a flood of FtMtF women overrunning us all…there’s few enough people who ever even consider that they are or might be transsexual or transgender that I feel fairly confident that we need not fear such a thing, so the question I have to ask myself is, “Where is the harm?”
The only answer I can generate to that question is that some trans women may feel threatened or marginalized in some fashion by the placement of a FtMtF person on the same level as themselves. They may have good reason to feel that way, but I think that to err on the side of compassion for this individual is a sound decision, and I would urge us all to remain open to new ideas, and to love as we also wish to be loved.
In Solidarity and Squalor…XOXO, Gemma