susan stryker

Monster” is derived from the Latin noun monstrum, “divine portent,” itself formed on the root of the verb monere, “to warn.” It came to refer to living things of anomalous shape or structure, or to fabulous creatures like the sphinx who were composed of strikingly incongruous parts, because the ancients considered the appearance of such beings to be a sign of some impending supernatural event. Monsters, like angels, functioned as messengers and heralds of the extraordinary. They served to announce impending revelation, saying, in effect, “Pay attention; something of profound importance is happening.
—  My Words to Victor Frankenstein: by Susan Stryker
‘Monster’ is derived from the Latin noun monstrum, 'divine portent,’ itself formed on the root of the verb monere, 'to warn.’ It came to refer to living things of anomalous shape or structure, or to fabulous creatures like the sphinx who were composed of strikingly incongruous parts, because the ancients considered the appearance of such beings to be a sign of some impending supernatural event. Monsters, like angels, functioned as messengers and heralds of the extraordinary. They served to announce impending revelation, saying, in effect, 'Pay attention; something of profound importance is happening.’
—  Susan Stryker, from ‘My Words to Victor Frankenstein’
Monster” is derived from the Latin noun monstrum, “divine portent,” itself formed on the root of the verb monere, “to warn.” It came to refer to living things of anomalous shape or structure, or to fabulous creatures like the sphinx who were composed of strikingly incongruous parts, because the ancients considered the appearance of such beings to be a sign of some impending supernatural event. Monsters, like angels, functioned as messengers and heralds of the extraordinary. They served to announce impending revelation, saying, in effect, “Pay attention; something of profound importance is happening.
—  My Words to Victor Frankenstein by Susan Stryker
[F]rom the beginning, the category ‘transgender’ represented a resistance to medicalization, to pathologization, and to the many mechanisms whereby the administrative state and its associated medico-legal-psychiatric institutions sought to contain and delimit the socially disruptive potentials of sex/gender atypicality, incongruence, and nonnormativity.
—  Susan Stryker and Paisley Currah, Introduction to TSQ 1.1-2 (5)
Analyses: Transgender Slam Poetry

As well as written poetry, it is important to look at spoken word, or slam poetry, because it allows trans authors to convey their poetry in an even more tangible way. Having an audience present works to reify the ideals of community and solidarity. Underlining unity is powerful, both within the trans community and for the purpose of coalition building, moving toward support that goes beyond the art world.


In the introduction to the Transgender Studies Reader, “(De)Subjugated Knowledges,” Susan Stryker discusses the language of gender and the ways in which material determinism permeates Western culture. She states, “The relationship between bodily sex, gender role, and subjective gender identity are imagined to be strictly, mechanically, mimetic – a real thing and its reflections” (Stryker 9). Transgender studies challenges this idea, focusing on social construction through language and cultural narratives.

All three of these poems interact with this idea of sex, gender roles, and gender as it is experienced being lumped together. Such a fabrication leads to the assumption of other individuals’ gender identities, as the person doing the assuming attempts to make sense of an expression that does not fit their binary philosophy.

“How to Love Your Body in 10 Easy Steps” by Ollie Schminkey

It is immediately clear in the first few lines that this poem grapples with mental health, as Schminkey’s first step involves unhealthy eating habits: “eating less will make you feel as if you have control.” They also talk about binding in unhealthy ways in order to “trick yourself into feeling complete.” Without societal acceptance and the supposed stability of the gender binary, the search for control of the self and self-image can manifest in potentially dangerous ways.

Schminkey describes the impact of rejection, “Man, woman, whatever./You are the whatever.” Outside of the binary, people are essentially dehumanized and labeled deviant. This creates a hostile environment where dysphoria may take its root. The poem continues, “Do not call it what it is/do not call it transgender/do not say dysphoria/just say depression, no qualifier” (Schminkey). Calling it dysphoria is to recognize a problem stemming from society and normative standards of gender expression, beauty, and so on. With this poem, however, Schminkey calls attention both to the condition of dysphoria and to its silencing.

“Ritual” by Muggs Fogarty

Fogarty talks about material determinism extensively in this poem. “What parts of you are heavy with fluid?/which direction do your shirt buttons button?/where do your glands swell?” These lines refer to the ways society writes gender on bodies without asking, only concerned with fitting physical appearance into socially constructed category. They use repetition to signify the numerous instances they have been asked for their name assigned at birth, as if the listener hears their poetry and continues to ask, looking for “gender lies,” some trace of inauthentic expression (Fogarty).

When referring to binding their breasts, Fogarty declares, “I was so afraid others would notice their absence, especially if they had never noticed mine.” This makes more powerful the message the poet is delivering, that bodies are more valued than the minds, expressions, and identities that they hold. Especially in reference to the commodification and objectification of women, this poem is relevant to trans studies in its critique of society’s attention to the presence or absence of certain anatomical characteristics in determining gender judgments.

“A Letter to the Girl I Used to Be” by Ethan Smith

In this poem, Smith reconciles the memory of himself and his dreams growing up with the reality of his current life and the ways in which those dreams have shifted. He begins by addressing his former self – using his name given at birth. This serves as a way to separate himself wholly from the person he was before transitioning. He speaks of memories told to him by his father which he does not remember, but moves on to discuss family, which complicates the narrative of the poem. As he describes beginning hormone therapy, Smith expresses, “I thought about your children, how I wanted them too.” His desire for children is separate from his gender expression, yet the way that bodies are looked upon by society produces a dissonance, dysphoria. In order for his body to fit within norms for his experienced gender, he no longer retains the ability to produce life, something that had been precious to him. In saying this, Smith removes trans bodies from a pathologized and objectified space and focuses on a future oriented one, where trans-identified people express the desire for new families of their own. He validates that struggle and represents narratives different from the fight for recognition in one’s current family, which is usually the only family related issue discussed in such a context.

At the end of the poem, after telling of his former struggles with mental health – “In therapy you said you wouldn’t make it to twenty-one. You were right” – and coming to terms with his gender expression, Smith provides an optimistic viewpoint. He affirms there was and still is a place for the memory of himself growing up, ending with “P.S. I never hated you” (Smith).


Sources

Fogarty, Muggs. “Ritual.” YouTube. Button Poetry, 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 03 Apr.
       2017.

Schminkey, Ollie. “How to Love Your Body in 10 Easy Steps.” YouTube. Button
       Poetry, 21 July 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.

Smith, Ethan. “A Letter to the Girl I Used to Be.” YouTube. Button Poetry, 16
       May 2014. Web.  03 Apr. 2017.

Stryker, Susan. “(De)Subjugated Knowledges: An Introduction to Transgender
       Studies.”The Transgender Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006.
       1-17.

As historically new possibilities for gender self-perception and expression emerge, as states reevaluate and sometime alter their practices of administering gender, as biomedical technologies blur customary boundaries between men and women and transform our mode of reproduction, as bodies and environments collapse into one another across newly technologized refigurations of subjects and objects, transgender studies appears an increasingly vital way of making sense of the world we live in and of the directions in which contemporary changes are trending.
—  Susan Stryker and Paisley Currah, Introduction to TSQ 1.1-2 (5)
I offer you this warning: the Nature you bedevil me with is a lie. Do not trust it to protect you from what I represent…You are as constructed as me; the same anarchic Womb has birthed us both. I call upon you to investigate your nature as I have been compelled to confront mine…Heed my words, and you may well discover the seams and sutures in yourself.
—  Susan Stryker, My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage
Transgender rage is a queer fury, an emotional response to conditions
in which it becomes imperative to take up, for the sake of one’s own continued survival as a subject, a set of practices that precipitates one’s exclusion from a naturalized order of existence that seeks to maintain itself as the only possible basis for being a subject.
—  Susan Stryker || “My Words to Victor Frankenstein”
If this is your path, as it is mine, let me offer whatever solace you may find in this monstrous benediction: May you discover the enlivening power of darkness within yourself. May it nourish your rage. May your rage inform your actions, and your actions transform you as you struggle to transform your world.
—  Susan Stryker
Naming differences from dominant configurations of modern Eurocentric categories of sex, gender, sexuality, embodiment, and identity in different cultures or contexts, assigning meaning or moral weight to such difference, and exploiting that difference according to the developmental logic of commercial and territorial expansion, of colonialism and capitalism, has been a central feature of Western societies for half a millenium.
—  Susan Stryker and Paisley Currah, Introduction to TSQ 1.1-2 (7-8)
The biological body, which is typically assumed to be a single organically unified natural object characterized by one and only one of two available sex statuses, is demonstrably no such thing. The so-called ‘sex of the body’ is an interpretative fiction.
—  Susan Stryke
The attribution of monstrosity remains a palpable characteristic of most lesbian and gay representations of transsexuality, displaying in unnerving detail the anxious, fearful underside of the current cultural fascination with transgenderism. Because transsexuality more than any other transgender practice or identity represents the prospect of destabilizing the foundational presupposition of fixed genders upon which a politics of personal identity depends, people who have invested their aspiration for social justice in identitarian movements say things about us out of sheer panic that, if said of other minorities, would see print only in the most hate-riddled, white supremacist, Christian fascist rags…When such beings as these tell me I war with nature, I find no more reason to mourn my opposition to them — or to the order they claim to represent — than Frankenstein’s monster felt in its enmity to the human race. I do not fall from the grace of their company — I roar gleefully away from it like a Harley-straddling, dildo-packing leatherdyke from hell.
— 

A quote posted in honour of International Transgender Day of Remembrance

Susan Stryker, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Transforming Transgender Rage” (1994)

2

Monument for the Excluded
Conceptualizing the performative power of transgender rage

2016 Camille Auer

“I live daily with the consequences of medicine’s definition of my identity as an emotional disorder. Through the filter of this official pathologization, the sounds that come out of my mouth can be summarily dismissed as the confused ranting of a diseased mind.”

“Like the monster, the longer I live in these conditions, the more rage I harbor. Rage colors me as it presses
in through the pores of my skin, soaking in until it becomes the blood that courses through my beating
heart. It is a rage bred by the necessity of existing in external circumstances that work against my survival.
But there is yet another rage within.” (1)

A broken television is at the beginning of this intervention into the medical realm of transgender bureaucracy. An intact television is where we start from, to find its transformation to brokenness, and its rebirth as another identical television in the exact same spot. For a person who wouldn’t know what happened in between, there would be just a continuous existence of a television without the disruption of it being broken and replaced. For the broken television, there is no future as a coherent whole, there is only destruction and disassemblage. But the illusion of the undisrupted existence of the television in the fourth floor waiting room of building Z3 of Tampere University Central Hospital remains intact to anyone who hasn’t witnessed or heard of the happenings of february 11th 2015.

A spontaneous act of outrage can be a powerful opposition to structural power and violence. It can destabilize the hierarchy of decision-making and give its perpetrator their subjectivity back. This is what happened to me when i was faced with the pathologization of my identity.

Long story short, i had subjected myself to the investigation of the transgender authorities of finland, namely the Gender Identity Research Institute (this is my english name for it, i don’t care what its official name is in english) at the Tampere University Central Hospital, one of two places in finland that have the legal right to administer gender affirming medical care for transgender individuals. I was already ordering hormones online and taking care of my transition like any good transgender person would, but in order to get legal recognition and your passport’s gender marker changed, you need to undergo the official process of cross-disciplinary research by a nurse, a social worker, a psychologist and a psychiatrist that can take from six months to a few years.

Since being referred to them, i had waited for my first appointment for six months, then met a nurse twice in intervals of a couple months, then after a few months a social worker, another month or two till i met the psychologist, another month till i met her again, another two months till i met the psychiatrist and one more month till meeting her again and then a few months before my final meeting with all of them where my destiny would unfold to me. Through all this time i had no idea what was going to be their decision. And they make decisions about wether someone is transgender or not. They say it themselves: they have no way of knowing the gender experience of another person. So they concentrate on their patient’s psychological well being to determine wether the person is capable of going through the demanding process of medical gender affirmation.

Needless to say, withholding information about the most important decision in a person’s life, a decision the person has no part in making, constitutes an act of psychological violence. Withholding medical care from a person who might die without it constitutes structural violence.

Based on the Rorschach test i had taken in one of my meetings with the psychologist, she made the assumption that i had an unconscious sexual trauma. I hadn’t said anything that would suggest anything like that. She was directly trying to offer me a false memory. She said that i was sexually perverted, because i had seen a lot of vaginas in the inkblots. I told her that if you pour ink on paper and fold the paper, you most likely get a shape that at least in some parts looks like a vagina, that it was purely technical. She insisted i was hyper sexual even after i told her i wasn’t interested in sex. On top of everything she said i probably have borderline personality disorder, a serious mental illness i later learned should only be diagnosed together with the patient when it helps the patient. For me, it made me paranoid. I started seeing everything i do as symptoms of the disorder rather than my own actions. I also had to go through the possibility of childhood sexual trauma, which seems extremely unlikely.

So because of my alleged mental illness, i was denied recognition as a transgender person. And with that came the denial of legal recognition and public health care.

I kicked in the flatscreen TV in the waiting room.

They made me pay for it.

A crowd funding was organized and it was payed for collectively.

That’s the long story short. That’s not only my personal history, it’s also the history of many transgender people before and after me, who failed to present themselves as mentally and emotionally stable enough. Who failed to present them as trans enough in front of a jury consisting wholly of transphobic cisgender professionals that have the job of upholding the heterosexual matrix. Maybe they didn’t kick in a TV, but i’m sure they experienced the same frustration, rage and disappointment of being faced with absolute bureaucratic power that denies their existence.

I was applauded for my act of spontaneous rebellion. Many transgender peers said they wished more people would vandalize the Institute.

The western history of transgenderism is a history of exclusion, pathologization, invisibility, ridicule, incarceration and violence. Continuing today. That is the history dealt to us from the outside, from the cisgender community, from the heteropatriarchal knowledge machine, the media, the education system, religion and plain old familial values. But that’s the history of how we’re seen, it is not a history of our own. We have our own history, and it’s a history of fierce resilience in front of what seems like an impossible adversary: the whole world. As Susan Stryker writes in My Words to Victor Frankenstein, we are at war with nature itself. Nevertheless, our existence and our identities are real.

For the people whose TV i broke, it was only further proof of my mental disorder. For me, it was an act of reclaiming my subjectivity after being robbed of it. They decided i didn’t deserve my identity, a decision that should have been mine to make, so i decided they didn’t deserve their TV. Even-steven, motherfuckers.

Mentally ill women have been denied their subjectivity all through history. Transgender people have been denied their subjectivity. I took mine back in an act of vengeance. They claimed it was violent, but i say it was vandalism. You can only be violent toward animals, including humans.

A year after the incidence i returned to the place to rename it. I saw the new television, slightly tilted to one side. Perhaps someone had tried to break it, or perhaps it was just poorly attached to the wall. I posted a sign next to the television, renaming it as Monument for the Excluded.

A week later i receive a phone call from the Institute. It’s the psychiatrist i had to see there. She is sorry she has to make the call, explains that she was assigned to make the call and couldn’t refuse. Some people at the Institute have perceived my sign as a security threat. The psychiatrist doesn’t agree with that. I find it amusing and also i’m rather flattered that my art is a security threat to a violent state organization. But the phone call goes on and we talk about what happened a year before. I tell her to tell the psychologist how unprofessional she had been in offering me a false memory and suggesting a major mental illness based on two meetings and a rorschach test. To my surprise, she agrees and promises to tell my greetings to the psychologist. We go on to discuss my situation, she promises to send me instructions on getting all the information they have written about me and also encourages me to start the process again.

notes:

1. Stryker, Susan. 1994. My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage

The transsexual body is an unnatural body. It is the product of medical science. It is a technological construction. It is flesh torn apart and sewn together again in a shape other than that in which it was born. In these circumstances, I find a deep affinity between myself as a transsexual woman and the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Like the monster, I am too often perceived as less than fully human due to the means of my embodiment; like the monster’s as well, my exclusion from human community fuels a deep and abiding rage in me that I, like the monster, direct against the conditions in which I must struggle to exist.

…You [the reader] are as constructed as me; the same anarchic Womb has birthed us both. I call upon you to investigate your nature as I have been compelled to confront mine. I challenge you to risk abjection and flourish as well as have I. Heed my words, and you may well discover the seams and sutures in yourself.

—  Susan Stryker, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage”

anonymous asked:

For pride month, I always see a lot of emphasis on Stonewall, since the first pride celebration stemmed in honor of the events there. I just thought it would be good to mention and possibly see if you could create a post about the Compton Cafeteria riots that occur prior to Stonewall. It's a huge part of trans/NB history that always seemed to be forgotten/ undermined by Stonewall. There's a documentary by Susan Stryker and the LGBT Archives that has great witness accounts and info sources. 👍🏼

Yes! It often gets overlooked that Stonewall was not the first rebellion of people defying expectations of gender and sexuality. In fact, uprisings like Compton’s Cafeteria, Cooper Donuts, and Black Cat Tavern riots all came years before Stonewall. It’s so important that we know our history during times when our movement is being whitewashed and erased. We have always been here and aren’t going anywhere. 

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay to mould me man? Did I solicit thee from darkness to promote me?
—  From Milton’s, Paradise Lost, as quoted in Shelley’s is Frankenstein, as quoted in Susan Stryker’s, My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage

I think all feminists (radfems and libfems) should read “The Transgender Studies Reader” Edited by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle. Radfems will be surprised to see how much they will agree with trans studies founders and libfems will see how much misogyny and capitalism have poisoned trans and feminist activism.