Monthly Archives: June 2013

What a queer couple . . .

My gorgeous, awesome, amazing civil partner, someone I always secretly knew was a man, has finally announced it to the world. We have been on a bizarrely parallel trajectory, and finally in the last year, individually and together, we have worked out a lot of stuff about ourselves.

So I can stop freaking out about the fact that for the five years we’ve been together, I’ve often used the pronoun “he” in my head when thinking about my partner. I can quit wondering about the weird and unusual ways gender plays out in our relationship. But what makes him more of a man than me, well that’s a puzzle. Because I’m the one with the classic trans* back story, and yet I (currently) have no strong desire to transition. I feel as if I’ve been happily assimilated into a woman’s world – I may be the fox in the sheep-fold, but I like it here, and I’ve worked hard to adapt. In a way, I’m the one that’s already transitioned, MTF.

I don’t have the dysphoria my partner does, but I keep wanting to vie with him about my own manhood – “I like DIY and rock music, you watch foreign films, sing like Julie Andrews and cry at the drop of a hat – what makes you the man?” But you can overthink these things, because if you knew my partner, I mean really knew him, then his gender is obvious. And it has nothing to do with clothes or behaviour or even how he felt as a child. This is him, right now. His reality. Only really narrow minds would say they know better or deny him his identity. Nor does his story have to map onto some classic trans* narrative. He’s a man, that’s it. He’s a man because he knows he is, and he’s a man because I know he is. And how well he ever passes or how “manly” strangers judge him to be has absolutely nothing to do with his identity. Neither do any warped, essentialist theories about how the biology of vagina ownership is your ultimate destiny.

My partner agonises about it all – what if he had been born in another century, he wouldn’t have been able to make this choice, the choice to medically transition. Well, if he’d been born 200 years ago in Europe he would have bound and passed, it’s that simple. There’s no way he would have ever lived as a woman. If he’d been born among First Nation peoples any time in the last 1000 years he would have been celebrated as two-spirit and folks would have embraced exactly who he is without a problem. In this century, living as a lesbian was a comfortable in-between, but it was still living as a woman, still an identity based on sexual orientation rather than gender. And the dysphoria just doesn’t go away. It causes too much pain.

The other agony is being a “traitor to the sisterhood”. One transphobic feminist narrative is that trans* men are trying to appropriate male privilege, but it’s a delusional idea – being trans* is such a spectacular loss of privilege that the losses would massively outweigh the gains if the “choice” was purely an academic one. But it’s not really choice at all; it’s destiny. It’s about finding a way to live authentically in the world, that’s all. Passionate as we both are about feminism, it cannot dictate such a personal trajectory.

And besides, understanding and embracing the infinite variation of trans* stories is what will help us really nail our understanding of gender. We need people like my partner to be strong, to be out, loud and proud, so that we can learn a little bit more about how gender really works. And we need them to stay within feminism, because it’s incredibly important that we all work together on figuring this stuff out. We’re in the dark ages, and trans* folks have the torches – let’s stop blowing them out and just see where they’re heading.

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Being trans* in the lesbian community

Since coming out as genderqueer, I can’t tell you how many of my friends have told me that they, too have gender issues, issues that are entirely separate from their sexuality. Lesbian friends, not all of them remotely butch, have admitted they never felt like a woman. Straight but “gay-looking” friends have opened my closed mind to the fact that it was a gender issue, not a sexuality issue, I was picking up in them.

Fellow dykes, when you walk down the street and see a straight woman who “doesn’t know she’s a dyke” what you’re seeing may be their gender, not their sexuality. Time to open our minds – gender and sexuality are two entirely different things; that’s why femmes exist.

So why does the lesbian community lock gender issues so firmly in the closet?

For me, the message came through at my first ever lesbian event; I made good friends with a trans* woman and then we found out she wasn’t welcome; the event had a “women born women only” policy. I soon learned that many women’s spaces are trans* excluding. Even when they’re nominally inclusive, the amount of hostility to trans* women from a vocal minority in the community makes them feel completely unwelcome.

My friend wasn’t an activist. She was quiet and shy, like most of my trans* friends. She didn’t know about the policy, because it wasn’t advertised. She was a woman who liked women; she thought the event was for her. When she found out, she didn’t kick up a fuss, she just left, devastated and bewildered. Most of the people there didn’t agree with the policy, but they didn’t fight it either. Everyone just carried on enjoying themselves in a trans* free space, like white South Africans who didn’t really agree with apartheid but were still more comfortable sunning themselves on white-only beaches and not having to deal with people who are different.

There’s this whole bullshit, garbled theory to justify trans* exclusion, based on “if we say it’s not real, we’re right and all these people with all this complex, unique experience – well, they’re wrong.” Oh, and science is wrong too. And if we never talk to those people or allow them into our events or conversations, then we never have to examine whether our ideas really hold water (hint: they don’t).

If you want to get really technical, the “trans-critical” theories are a bizarre mash-up of a) the post-modern ideas of Judith Butler (who is trans* accepting, intersectional and inclusive, as it happens) and b) some essentialist ideas about sex and biology being destiny. So far, so not very radical. A simplistic and essentialist model of binary, biological sex trumping all other considerations becomes the clumsy crayon with which we’re expected to draw our identities, (and police other people’s).

But I understand their fear, because I feel it too. Opening your mind to trans* issues shakes the foundations of everything we believe about sex and gender; however radical we may think we are, really wrapping our head around the multiverse of trans* identities is one giant leap beyond anything non-intersectional feminism has to say. But as Judith Butler puts it:

“the feminist framework that takes the structural domination of women as the starting point from which all other analyses of gender must proceed imperils its own viability by refusing to countenance the various ways that gender emerges as a political issue, bearing a specific set of social and physical risks.   . . .That feminism has always countered violence against women, sexual and nonsexual, ought to serve as a basis for alliance with those other movements since phobic violence against bodies is part of what joins anti-homophobic, antiracist, feminist, trans, and intersex activism.” Judith Butler, Undoing Gender, p.9

In simpler words, (because Butler’s words are never simple) ignoring gender variance as a real thing and ignoring the inherent risks and oppressions connected to any kind of gender variance, is likely to undermine feminism (and reinforce patriarchy). So Trans* exclusion is brilliantly doing patriarchy’s work for it, assisting in the oppression and marginalisation of gender non-conforming individuals.

For me, I quickly learned to keep my own gender issues under wraps, but I’m fed up now of cutting off bits of myself in order to conform to one group or another. I hereby resign from the binary and the either/or in all its manifestations. And I still belong here.