Our Perpetual Transitions

Pemwrez2009's picture

So,I’m going to try something new. I’m going to write for myself. I’m going torant, and lift a little belly,if I may. I’m going to be insecure, I’m going to speak to my own personaltestimony, sorry Linda. Warning, this might get a little crazy.

 

As individuals, we are always strugglingto find and define.  So, we sit andsit. We wait. We question and re-question ourselves. In our own distinct mindswe regress into the children we once were, in some cases rather, the child westill are—even if they are the lives we wish to forget. It's human nature forthe neurons to run a frenzy within the walls of our body. In a world of blackand white, it often becomes too hard to acknowledge yourself standing somewherein a shade of gray. Then again, should it be easy? I look at her…or should Isay him, staggering somewhere between life and death. Perhaps, superimposed ina state of existing and not existing. He is staggering—staggering somewhere inthe middle. We all are. Fluidity maybe, or perhaps just a stage oftransition.  How can we placereality and base a system of oppressive norms around it, when nothing remainsas a constant? So, we fight for more exposure and representation in politics,in society. We try to find the niches that we need to survive, people we canrelate to—we self segregate, and in doing so, we limit ourselves to theknowledge and exposure to other people, and ideas that are different from ourown.

            Forthose of us who have been coined in an “other” category, there is a constantstruggle to “just be”. If I am transgendered, can I ever just be? If I am afeminist, do I have to explain what that means? When so many people areunderexposed and ignorant, we are expected to become the educators. When we areconstantly educating and having to explain ourselves, you begin to feel likeyou lose yourself in what you are teaching and limit what you could beexperiencing.

            Thestruggles between the transgendered and the feminist identity are similar. Certainfeminists argue that in order to establish a feminist identity you must makepublic your feminist ideals and educate others on the blue prints of feminism.Well, just as there is no single definition for a feminist identity, there isno single definition of a transgender identity.

            Insetting the tone for this project, I want to explore the intersections betweenfeminism and obligation and how these ideas relate to transgender / transsexualbodies by engaging different authors we have read this term with my ownthoughts. If we are marginalized, does this make us responsible for theeducation to larger groups of people on the issues that have oppressed us? Thetransgender struggle parallels the feminist struggle, as they are bothidentities that penetrate the private, public and political spheres. There is astruggle to maintain our private identities when there are external pressuresto speak up and be vocal about our beliefs and identities.

            Myfeminist struggle internally, matches my transgender struggle externally. Eventhough my fight to reconcile my trans identity is very much so internalized andpersonal, many of my insecurities manifest themselves visibly on the outside.At the very beginning of Susan Stryker’s My Words To Victor FrankensteinAbove the Village of Chamounix—Performing Transgender Rage, she says:

“The transsexual body is anunnatural body. It is the product of medical science. It is a technologicalconstruction. It is flesh torn apart and sewn together again in a shape otherthan that in which it was born. In these circumstances, I find a deep affinitybetween myself as a transsexual woman and the monster in Mary Shelley'sFrankenstein. Like the monster, I am too often perceived as less than fullyhuman due to the means of my embodiment; like the monster's as well, myexclusion from human community fuels a deep and abiding rage in me that I, likethe monster, direct against the conditions in which I must struggle to exist.”[1]

            ThoughI have not completed or begun any surgical or hormonal transition yet, for me,the pre-operative transgender body is, and is interpreted to be just asmonstrous. In talking with people about my trans-identity, I am constantlyquestioned and ridiculed. It seems that before I ever engage deeply inconversation with regards to being transgendered, I have to explain and/or evenjustify myself as a human first. Yes, I do deserve equal rights, security andprotection by the law. Somehow, this is easily forgotten and lost in thescientific and psychoanalytic jargon that is used to explain my “condition”which strip us of our experiences and limit us to a medical phenomenon. MyGender Dysphoria causes me to wear two compression shirts daily, made from afirm plastic material, in addition I wear a fake silicone packer in between mylegs, it gives me the illusion more than anyone else that I could be, what Isometimes wish, biologically, I could have been. When I have surgery, hopefullythis coming winter, I will have permanent scars across my chest andreconstructed nipples. What I won’t have is, sensation. A sacrifice I amwilling to make.

            Maybemy emphasis on how I am misgendered and “she-d” all the time buys into thebinary just as much as anyone—my strong desire and/or need to fit the mold thatI want to fit. That ismy feminism. As YJ said in her post A Reaction to Stryker:

“Allduring class I felt pretty guilty, especially after she began talking abouteveryone’s need to gender (or misgender) her..”[2]

 

            Ifeel bad for other reasons. I feel bad because I want to be able to feel asthough my need to gender myself is not  my own, and issolely external. I am half the reason why I can never just be. I take comfort in my feminism. Itallows me to celebrate the transgender identity that I embody and sometimes Istruggle to maintain my private identity when there are so many externalpressures to speak up and be vocal. I wish it didn’t hurt when people called meshe. Stryker is right:

“…transsexualitymore than any other transgender practice or identity represents the prospect ofdestabilizing the foundational presupposition of fixed genders upon which apolitics of personal identity depends…”[3]

Isee myself as a trans-man, or a boy. Identifying as either a woman or a manimplies a dichotomy between the genders/sexes, that I refuse to subscribe to,despite my own insecurities. My identity is a teaching one. Being transgender,and engaging in a physical transsexual transition, teaches that the body is muchmore fluid—that what we thought was definite can change.

            Transfolk,especially in the trans-masculine spectrum often experience a lot of backlashfrom the feminist community as well as the queer community, and obviously thestraight-conservative population. From the point of view of many queeridentified women, trans-masculine people are very threatening to the queercommunity. There is this notion that transitioning from female to male is arejection of the female. These fears, although understandable must bechallenged. For me, transitioning is not about hating the woman in me. It isabout acknowledging that I have experienced my life as a woman. I have beensocialized as a woman, I have had female experiences, however, woman is not me.Others fear that those of us who have been nurtured by the LGBTQI communitywill forget about “who we once were” once we experience “male privilege” andbecome misogynous individuals who quickly conform to a heteronormativelifestyle and relish in all of the benefits that a straight male would. Thismakes it even more difficult for a trans person to establish a feministidentity.

            Cixous,for example, explains the woman’s call to arms in that she is obligated to bepublic about her feminisms. She insists that women must educate those who havenot been exposed. She makes a good point, if feminists, themselves, are notthere to educate and speak up, who will? However, the argument is adouble-edged sword.

“Ishall speak about women’s writing: about whatit will do. Womenmust write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, fromwhich they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies--for thesame reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Women must put herselfinto the text--as into the world and into history--by her movement. The futuremust no longer be determined by the past. I do not deny that the effects of thepast are still with us. But I refuse to strengthen them by repeating them, toconfer upon them as irremovability the equivalent of destiny, to confuse thebiological and the cultural. (Cixous,Page 875)[4]

 

            Fightingand teaching is only her interpretation of the feminist experience. What aboutthe feminist experience that is about reclaiming ones silence? If Cixous arguesthat “woman must put herself into the text--as into the world and intohistory--by her movement”, isn’t it safe to argue that “her movement” can meanany number of things? If as feminists we are pushing for choice, shouldn’t weacknowledge that a person can choose to contribute to their feminisms in theirown ways? The private can be just as political. Yet, the pressure to educate,because if we don’t, then who will, is an expensive burden to ignore.

            Schweickart,who focuses on Reader-Response Theory and Feminist Criticism   would argue along with Cixousthat feminism is in large part, a platform for changing the world. Sheapproaches this idea, however, by calling to attention the importance offeminist critiques. Though, I do not deny the importance of deconstructinghistorically patriarchal platforms from which females are seen as the other, itis problematic that there is little to no complexity to how Schweickart seesgender and only one way she sees feminism.

“Thefeminist story will have atleast two chapters:one concerned with feminist readings of male texts, and another with feministreadings of female texts. n addition, in this story, gender will have aprominent role as the locus of political struggle. The story will speak of thedifference between men and women, of the way the experience and perspective ofwomen have been systematically and fallaciously assimilated into the genericmasculine, and of the need to correct this error. (Schweickart, Page 39)[5]

 

            Schweickart’sseparatist notions of what a feminist critique can only limit and hinder mydevelopment of feminism as a personal ideal. As a transperson, I can see howthe language around masculinity has dominated all areas of the lives of anyonewho isn’t male-sexed and male-identified, however, the simplicity around herlanguage is completely non-trans-inclusive, and caters only to the struggle offemale-identified-females. It is evident that both Cixous and Schweickartproblematize the male figure. Can I be a feminist according to Cixous and Schweickartif I “switch to the dark side” and become male?

            Myphysical transition will allow me to present myself in a way that will empowerme. My argument against Cixous and Schweickart takes me back to our discussionabout disability. The female just like the transgendered person are disabled tosome extent in society. We have been “othered” and disenfranchised. In my postcoming from that class’ discussion, I wrote,

To be a woman, is tobe disabled? And to be a disabled woman, is doubly disabling? So, I guess, Istruggled with these "feminist disability politics. I am a diehardfeminist and will be forever, however, I struggle with feminist ideas that seemto neglect a discourse of trust. If a woman has to get a mastectomy, does itmean automatically, that if she wants reconstructive surgery to re form herchest, she is conforming to a pressure to look a certain way for the "malegaze"? Although it seems important to me to always question why someonewants to do something for themselves that involves drastic change, why do wepush so hard on the women who have made certain choices for themselves? Also,isn't passing up on reconstructive surgery a choice as well?”

            Myfeminism is centered around a strong discourse of choice. My choice to empowermyself should not be held against me. Not all feminist agendas are concernedwith celebrating women themselves. I believe that the freedom to choice and thechoices women make, and are able to make is what I believe should becelebrated.

            Genderis something that I hold on to. Not necessarily the idea of being a boy or agirl, but the idea of gender as fluid and socially constructed. I also agreethat the minute anyone says “I am a woman,” or “I am a man” they are buyinginto a socially constructed definition of what it is to be either a man or awoman. I acknowledge that we are all in constant states of transition and thatwe are constantly switching around our foregrounds and backgrounds to betterunderstand ourselves however this is the life of a trans-person and becomeseven that much more vital. Transition and compartmentalization plays atremendous role on the transgender / transsexual body. It is evident on aphysical, personal and intellectual level. Why is the trans communityexperiencing the same intellectual struggle from the queer and feministcommunity, that these groups fought against and continue to struggle withthemselves? Judith Butler, however disagrees. Whether or not these concepts areconstructed, they are irrelevant. These are terms that have been given too muchagency and are now harmful.

“Inthis sense, the argument that the category of ‘sex’ is the instrument or effectof ‘sexism’ or its interpellating moment, that ‘race’ is the instrument andeffect of ‘racism’ or its interpellating moment, that ‘gender’ only exists inthe service of heterosexism, does not entail that we ought never to make use of such terms, as ifsuch terms could only and always reconsolidate the oppressive regimes of powerby which they are spawned. (Judith Butler, Page 247)”[6]

            Howcan we so blindly buy into a system that is so oppressive and limiting?(Another way in which the transgender struggle and feminist struggleintersect.) We are dependent on this discourse of the nature of gender and sex.Yet the transgender or transsexual body attempts to defy these ideas. And, withregards to feminism, we are acknowledging the existence of a category for whichwe must celebrate and fight for in our own ways. In this sense, I am surprisedJudith Butler is known as a feminist when she rejects the concepts and ideaswith which feminism is associated.

            AudreLorde said:

"The master's tools willnever dismantle the master's house"[7]

            Ifwe abide to this system and follow the rules, we are playing into the system wewish to reject. For Butler, this would mean that by admitting that I am agendered being, admits that gender exists. If I believe gender exists, I amholding myself down in this system used to “other” me and oppress me.

            Thisidea of the “other” flows through the veins of the transgender/ transsexualcommunity leaving its bold stigma to remind us of how we will never be acceptedinto any normal category. Spivak addresses the idea of the “other” in that shecomplicates notions of the male and the female. In fact, she problematizes thecreation of any such dichotomy because it can create a space in which one groupis being defined by another group. This often results in the subjugation ofthis group under another because one becomes recognized as “the norm” and theone group becomes “the other”. This is extremely important, in that althoughthere is the male that subjugates the female, both male and female subjugatethe trans-identity.

            Thelanguage around transgender and transsexual individuals is very fragile. Ouridentities have been defined for us medically which makes it that much moredifficult to ever escape our contexts and tell our stories. Feminismexperiences the same hardship as false illusions taint both identities. Theillusion that trans-men are misogynist vs. ideas of the feminist as man-hatingand bra burning. These identities have transitioned just as we do constantly.And I suppose that, just as there is no answer that is definitive of whatfeminism really is,the struggle to “just be” will learn that it is a transition in itself. “Justbeing” right now, is not what it will be at another point in my life.



[1] Stryker,Susan. My Words To VictorFrankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix—Performing Transgender Rage

[2] YJ SerendipPost, A Reaction to Stryker

[3] Stryker,Susan. My Words To VictorFrankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix—Performing Transgender Rage

[4] Cixous,Helene. The Laugh of the Medusa (1976)

[5] Schweickart,Patrocinio. Reading Ourselves: Towards a Feminist Theory of Reading (1986)

[6] Butler, Judith. "Gender is Burning:Questions of Appropriation and Subversion" (1993)

[7] Audre Lorde

 

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