talking about trans* folks

lotsa people define “a trans* person” as someone whose sex and gender (or their body and mind/soul) don’t match.  i see where this comes from.  if we say THESE genitals are male and THOSE genitals are female and if  we realize that we aren’t defined by our genitals, it stands to reason that gender (our internal selves) and bodies (mainly our genitals/sex) are two different things that may or may not coincide.

i declare shenanigans on this notion.  yes, it’s true for lotsa trans* people; if you tell me your gender and your body don’t match up (whether or not you want/need them to match up)—i believe you.  you are the ONLY authority on your gender and your body and i totally respect that.  but when you define trans*-ness as a misalignment between gender and body, you erase people like me.

and how am i?  i’ve said it before all over internet land; my gender defines my sex and names my body.  my pussy is nonbinary; it belongs (really belongs) to a nonbinary trans* person.  my tits are nonbinary (even though i fight with them and may get top surgery).  my body DOES coincide with my gender; they’re both nonbinary.  yet i’m still trans*.

i love the simpler, more inclusive definition of “a trans* person”: someone who was designated the wrong gender at birth.  like, the doctor (or someone) said “it’s a girl/boy!” and they were wrong.  not “born in the wrong body,” which is true of many but not ALL trans* people.  not “someone whose sex and gender don’t match” (again, true of some but not all trans* people).  just someone who was designated the wrong gender at birth (including people who feel they used to be the gender they were designated at birth, but have since experienced a change in gender).

basically, a trans* person is anyone who says they’re trans*.  no questions asked.

how do you define “a trans* person?”

24 responses to “talking about trans* folks

  1. I’ve been defining a trans* person as “a person whose gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth”, which is really pretty similar to your definition.

  2. Reblogged this on This Mongrel Land and commented:
    a post by Mx. Punk doing a great job advancing the narrative of how we define a trans* person.

  3. Well said.

    This isn’t an objection to your point, but more an anecdote. I find that when trying to explain these things to cis individuals it’s easier to ease them into the idea of non-binary genders. So I have to admit I’ve been guilty of not being fully inclusive.

    I suppose that doesn’t make it any better but it’s hard trying to explain myself to people who are already heavily steeped in heteronormative thinking by throwing the entire spectrum of personal identity at them. They already associate specific organs with specific genders so when I’ve tried to explain this to people in the past they get hung up on and start trying to dismantle what I’m trying to tell them as a way to avoid addressing my personal experience.

    If you wouldn’t mind sharing I’m betting your experience could shed some light on this matter for me. Any advise?

  4. hmmmm…i actually have a lot of success with explaining trans*ness to cis people using this definition. i start by telling them that gender is your inner sense of your self as a woman, a man, both, neither, etc. and that this inner sense is far more important that bodies. then i tell them that if the doctor (or whoever) said “it’s a girl/boy!” and they were wrong, you’re trans*.

    not everyone gets it, but i look at it as laying down some awesome groundwork for future trans* folks to build on. i like to think that if this person’s kid, say, comes out as trans* next year, this person will have a vague idea of what that means. they’ll be like, “oh, yeah! i met that cool trans* person last year and i think i kinda get it!” ya know?

    it’s hard, though. explaining nonbinary gender to cis folks often doesn’t go well. but the more people who talk about it, the more “legit” it will seem (people sometimes think i’m just a speshul snowflake or a joker or something). so talk about it! please?

    anyway. all we can do is fucking try. cuz grues will be grues.

  5. I do! Talk about it that is. I promise. I just often try to start from my own experience as a trans* woman and then once they grasp that discuss non-binary genders, I’m just not always given the chance to get there, and when I start there it quite often confuses the grues.

    I think though I’m going to make a concerted effort to begin with the fully inclusive explanation and then explain my experiences. I’ve just had better luck in the past giving people something to relate to (my experiences) before getting into more complicated discussions.

    I’m sometimes afraid trans* people are going to have to register themselves as dangerous weapons like the mutants in the X-Men comics because we blow people’s minds so often.

    I dunno about you but I’m getting tired of pulling little chunks of brain tissue and skull fragments out of my clothing.

  6. “…I’m just not always given the chance to get there, and when I start there it quite often confuses the grues.”

    true! i think it’s good to talk about it when we can, but i’d be a fucking liar if i claimed to have never let people misgender me (i still do, occasionally) or to have never just told people my pronouns without elaborating on my gender. cuz sometimes, that’s about all i can do.

    so, yeah, i hear ya. take care of bia, please! cuz she’s just lovely! <3 and really, if you feel like going into nonbinary gender might fuck shit up for you– just do what you think you need to do, cat.

    lulz. yes, we explode minds just by existing. fuck those folks, anyway, right? XD also, i fucking love brain-chunks. mmmm-mmmmm! <3

  7. For me My definitions are as follows, and I know that there are no standard definitions.
    Trans*: Transgender, Transsexual, or Cross Dresser
    Transgender: someone who’s gender identity does not match their gender assigned at birth. This includes both binary and non binary identified people.
    Transsexual: A binary identified transgender person
    My definitions page on my blog: http://callmeem.wordpress.com/definitions/
    I think every blog that deals with trans* issues needs a definitions page.

  8. I think you should make a flag out of your shenanigans picture and keep a mini one on you at all times so that you can wave it around. I think that would be pretty flipping awesome. Hell I would want one, and as always, I love your pictures.

    As for the ways culture addresses trans* folks it can be tough. Sometimes we can even let weird little cultural misnomers slip into our thoughts and conversations when we discuss it. But I like your definition as well as Midori’s. On a personal level, I define a trans* person “as a person whose identity, defining characteristics, or behavior in a gendered way differ from the norms for gender in a society, or are transgressive or independent of social gender roles”. Maybe the implication is subtle, but there is a tendency to codify gender variance in a cisnormative way, and to place value on definable characteristics and pathologies. I hope my other scribblings can illustrate why.

    Not everyone experiences dysphoria and transitions, but most people who experience gender in a way that doesn’t fit within the confines of heteronormative/cisnormative standards or verses their peers inevitably end up expressing it (voluntarily and non-voluntarily). Some do it with transition, hormones, and other medical intervention, some where a button on their lapel. I don’t think there is a right, or wrong way of being trans*. Some people do it just because they like it better, because it feels better, others do it because it’s the “Flaming Red Arrow pointing directly to transition” as blogger Zinnia Jones mentioned. Transition, gender variance, et cetera doesn’t have to be about escaping overwhelming pain (but our culture paints it that way).

    It just has to feel better. For example, a personal can have top surgery or breast reduction (and should be permitted to do so assuming they meet the basic requirements for consent/informed consent) for no other reason than the fact that breasts are physiodynamically awkward, and that they don’t want them. It is as valid as someone having reassignment surgery/chest reconstruction/facial surgery/et cetera because of severe dysphoria. There is a tendency of our culture in the normalization of it’s brand of gender norms to cause a “Social Concern Troll” effect, in which people “prohibit us” from engaging in counter cultural behavior on the basis of “looking out for our best interest”.

    Certainly, we should be against self-harming behaviors, and work to resolve them in ways appropriate to the circumstance and person, but the restrictive tendency of culture is hardly helpful. The trans* community is no stranger to internalizing those mentalities, nor are we as trans* individuals. Culture produces lots of obstacles to trans people understanding themselves, finding the right treatment, and dismantling the constricting gender roles, and especially the cultural dynamics of such. Either way, your definition, or Midori’s, or mine, I feel that they suffice the same end, to avoid the aforementioned pitfalls, and pigeon-holing of identities into boxes. I adore pigeons and protest their being shoved into holes, boxes or otherwise.

    ****Frees the Pigeons in boxes everywhere and flies away into the sky with them dropping a light shower of feathers shed while taking flight.***

  9. @ em: actually, cat, i know a pile of nonbinary transsexuals. in my experience, “transsexual” often refers to trans* people who experience body dysphoria and id as transsexual. interesting!

    “I think every blog that deals with trans* issues needs a definitions page.”

    is that a hint? ;) i need a definitions page? it’s true, i know. i’ve just been lazy, though! it’s a pretty big task to tackle! maybe i’ll just link to other people’s resources…

  10. @ reneta: i’ve heard that definition before, but i’ve also heard many gender nonconforming cis folks object to being classified as trans*. i think the key is self-identification. (i’ll add that to my definition, as well.)

    also, that’d be a fun little flag to have! OTHER PERSON: men and women are so diff–” ME: “shenanigans!” that’d be rad. lulz.

    i need to go to school, now, but i’ll get back to you later. <3 mew!

  11. You are quite right Mx. Punk. And I agree, that definition could be used to categorize atypical cis people as trans. That is the tough bit with finding sound definitions, and why it would just be better if the system that required us to use said labels disappeared in the first place. However, I think sometimes for non-conforming folks, cis or otherwise, the stigma associated with “Trans” is part of the motivating factor.

    There is also a lot of trans people who are abject to such a definition, sometime referring to it as “the T-borg”. But that is an entirely other matter. It’s just a tough matter all together because gender roles change with time, cultures, and microcultures and it may eventually come that making such a distinction would be entirely moot. I think though the biggest issue behind it is the bodily and identity autonomy of people. That is something not served but the limited and ciscentric cultural perception of trans* discourse.

    Another thing I note now about my definition, is that it would be better read as “traits that differ from the cultural expectations of gender you grew up in.” Because sometimes unique, culturally separate ways of codifying gender emerge. For example, a regional effect that facilitates behaviors culturally consider feminine in men, or masculine in women which are actually reversed regionally.

    Essentially the term “trans” I used must be used in a microcultural world view otherwise it doesn’t work, and as you mentioned would label as trans people who grew up in a varied cultural frame work and are actually cis. Sociological considerations are quite complex, which is for me at least why I don’t believe in the methodology of the current applications of transgender umbrella terminology in such a mixed culture we exist in.

  12. On a funny side note… I totally want to make you bundles and bundles upon bundles of string. LOL

  13. yay for string!

    “Culture produces lots of obstacles to trans people understanding themselves, finding the right treatment, and dismantling the constricting gender roles…”

    truth. i knew i wasn’t a boy or a girl when i was really little– but i ended up believing society about the gender binary and totally stifling myself for YEARS. even now i’m struggling with the issue of top surgery and i’ve got all this shit tangled up in it. like, am i only valuable if i have tits (not true, i know)? what if i’m just trying to remove a highly visible, sexualized part of my body (i don’t think so)? so, yeah. i know what you mean and fuck society.

  14. @mx. punk
    Thank you, I’ve just updated my definitions page to state that Transsexual: A transgender person who experiences body dysphoria.
    And yes, I think it would help if you had a definitions page, especially since there are no standard definitions.

  15. awesome, cat. and i’ll get some sort of definitions page going. you’re right. i totally need one!

  16. I have my definitions set to display when you hover over the category tags that the top of my blog. I haven’t filled them all out though, but a lot of them.

  17. Pingback: Trans* Narratives in Mainstream Dialogue « This Mongrel Land

  18. Pingback: Opinions, Formulations, and Realizations… « Reneta Xian

  19. So the way I usually explain it to folks…and no claims to this being the simplest or the best way by any stretch. In fact this conversation usually ends up being pretty involved and un-brief.
    We all have all these different things contributing to our ideas of gender/sex/etc. There is gender identity, your internal sense of personal gender. Biological sex, the chromosomal sex you are assigned by the medical community. Gender presentation, how you want to physically appear to others. Societal role, the role you take on in your culture/society. (Pretty sure there are more too, but these are the four basic ones that I start with)

    And the thing is, they all have their own answers. And the answers are not dependent on the others. Like if your answers are: Female, Female, Feminine, Female, and everything feels aligned, then perhaps you feel cisgendered.

    But your answers could also be: Non-binary, Female (under-contest), Masculine, mostly Feminine in a work context/Masculine in a social context. [Those are my answers]

    But when these don’t necessarily agree with one another, then you might feel trans.

    And then I usually try to get them to answer all the questions for themselves. I like making people answer questions…hehe.

    I’ve had several conversations with folks about the definition of being trans before. I usually start by asking them if they consider me trans. Generally, they will say no. And then I ask them if they would consider me cis. And then they look confused and say no. And then they get thoughtful.

    I also really enjoy asking people to share their theories they had about me when we first met. And I think my favorite response I ever got was: “I don’t really know. I just knew you someone I was sexually attracted to.’

    I don’t know…thoughts? Its always an interesting conversation to have with people.

  20. So you are kind of amazing… Incase you were unaware…

  21. @ sonicrhubarb: hmmmm…but what about cats who reject the notion of essential, biological sex? and what about intersex folks? not everyone dfab/dmab has the anatomical configurations you might expect them to have. maybe gender/sex designated at birth would work better than biological sex? <3

    @ mary: aw, shucks! *is totally blushing a little* thanks for the sweet feedback!

  22. I kind of reject biological sex myself. But I do think that all it is, the sex designation you receive. Not something that you necessarily own, or is accurate. But what society designates you as is going to factor into the equation whether it means anything to you or not.
    There’s nothing that says your answer to each questions have to be simple (like my last answer for example). The answer to biological sex could be intersex, both, neither, non-binary, or even fuck you. Any answer is acceptable.
    I guess I usually use the term “biological sex” because that’s the first argument a cis person will have. So I borrow the words, and then explain that even that doesn’t have a simple answer, because even biologically speaking, there is no binary.

  23. yeah, “sex/gender designated at birth” is pretty relevant. still, i get antsy when cats start talking about “biological sex.” i’m always like, “uh, oh. this is where you ask if you can watch me piss, isn’t it?” lulz. i’m pretty scared of the phrase “biological sex.” i’m kinda silly, though.

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