I wrote this post a couple weeks ago but didn’t post it. Why didn’t I post it? Because I thought it would offend people. In particular, I thought it could offend the people in the transgender community, which is something I am reticent to do. I am transgender, after all, and I don’t want to do something to make people like me (and people not completely like me) turn against me. Someday I may need all the support I can find.
But then I realized that no matter what you do, who you are, what you are, someone will be offended. People are offended easily sometimes, other people are hard to offend. Sometimes the tiniest slip-up in word usage can set someone off, depending on the day. But we are not all the same people. Just because I am transgender as other people might be transgender, it doesn’t mean we are all the same. I can have different views than other transgender people.
That’s kind of one of the things that makes it difficult for the transgender community to develop a united front against the forces aligned against us all, but that’s a topic for a different post. Anyways, here’s my thoughts about what was going on with Twitter last month, people being experts on who other people are, and why you really shouldn’t tell allies and potential allies to go off and “google” something.
What is it about the internet that makes people think they’re experts on things they know nothing about? I’m referring here to a pattern I’ve noticed only over the past month, mostly because I’ve been too oblivious to see it before, really.
First, some context. Several weeks ago there was a hashtag on Twitter that was basically trans people talking and supporting each other, sharing stories, all good things. The following weekend there was another hashtag, #Beingtransmeans, and this one was much the same, complete with the same trolls whining about identifying with attack choppers and how mentally ill we trans people are. Most of them were easy enough to ignore, but it was then that I noticed a number of people, non-trans and trans alike, attacking from a different angle. I saw the same kinds of attack on facebook a week ago when a picture was circulating of a trans-man breastfeeding his child.
These people were calling out the fact that if you’re trans, then you are transitioning from male to female or female to male. There is no in between. There is only one or the other.
It’s a sentiment I’m seeing a lot, and one that even some trans people themselves seem to agree with. Certainly, followers of the One True Way to be trans still refute the existence of people like myself, genderfluid or genderqueer or non-binary or the multitude of other transgender identities and labels out there.
It’s strange how these people, particularly the non-transgender ones, believe that they are such experts on the topic of being transgender that they clearly must set the rest of us, the confused ones, on the right path. They’re not transphobic, no not at all. They just know better than the rest of us. If we’re trans, in any use of the word, then we are all gay and all want to get surgery to change the genitalia that we were born with. Thank you, oh genius people, for making me realize that I was wrong all this time, that I’m not trans, I’m just more fabulous than your average man.
I find some of this issue comes from the terminology. We have three words that begins with ‘trans’: Transvestite, Transgender, and Transsexual. Basic definitions, (as I learned them) for those who don’t know, are:
- Transvestite – In general, a crossdresser. No wish to transition into anything more, just enjoys the wearing of the clothing of other genders.
- Transsexual – Generally these are the people who want to transition into the opposite gender. This can include full surgery, no surgery, partial surgery, or anything else this person wants. The point is YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT A CERTAIN WAY.
- Transgender – This is an umbrella term that covers everything above it and everything that falls in between male and female on the amazingly wide gender spectrum. Yes it’s a spectrum, not just two options. Get over it.
So when people speak about trans people, are they talking about transgenders, transvestites, or transsexuals. When talking to the non-trans people most seem to think you’re talking only about transsexuals, and in general saying that all transsexuals want to transition could be considered true. But most of the time when a trans person is talking about being trans, they’re talking about being transgender which includes so much more than just wanting to transition. Not everyone wants to. Some only want to go so far. And still even some who do don’t identify as transsexual. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.
But what is it that gives people the courage to tell trans people who and what they are instead of listening to what we’re saying, what we know ourselves to be? Is it just a matter of not understanding? Could this be solved only by explaining things better? Maybe, but not for everyone. There are so many people still out there that firmly believe that there is only male and female. One or the other. Sure, they have no problem with trans people. A male can become a female and vice-versa, so long as they don’t stay somewhere in between. People are so ingrained in this idea that because there are two separate set of human sexual characteristics (male and female; penis and vagina) that this means there are only two genders. But gender has nothing to do with physical sexual characteristics. Gender identity is in the mind, in the brain. For most, the body and the mind are the same, so there’s no problems. For others, they are polar opposites and only through surgery does the person come to possess the right body, and for most of them that’s enough. For some of those polar opposites this still isn’t enough, but barring any amazing breakthroughs of science in the next century sadly it is not possible to fully, physically become the opposite gender. I’m sorry to say that. And this fact is often used as more fuel against trans people, saying that they’ll never be what they want to be so why bother.
It’s a little sickening. No, it’s a lot sickening.
But I digress.
People love to tell us what we are, who we are, even if they have no idea. I can’t count how many people I’ve had tell me that I was gay, being genderfluid. And I guess, if you want to get technical, it’s true. I mean, if you see me as a man, then I’m straight. See me as a woman (which I hope will be the case in the near future) and you’d call me a lesbian. Probably. The point is, these people feel like because they have a computer in front of their faces they can say whatever they want, whether its true or not. And even the ones who would be willing to be educated, or ask the right questions, are often directed to search Google.
I hate this idea. When you ask a question people tell you to “ask Google”. This is a bad practice. For people who already think they know what they’re talking about, searching Google will only help them find articles and information that upholds their ideas, even if they’re wrong. If they think that all transsexuals regret their transitions, they’ll find the articles that tell of transsexuals disappointed in their transitions and use them as gospel for all trans people. Same for those who believe that it is a mental disorder and needs to be cured with conversion therapy. There are plenty of articles out there that say this is the case.
People who see themselves as allies because they’re supporting our choices to transition are hurting us in the same breath, insisting that we HAVE to transition, that trans people HAVE to pass as their chosen gender. It’s not healthy. It’s not safe. And It’s a mentality that desperately needs to change. And not by telling someone to ask Google. We need to start educating people. We need to start being more open to answering questions, even if you have to do it a hundred times. Attacking those who attack us will get us nowhere.
And for the love of everything Whedon, don’t tell people to “Ask Google.”
PS: By ‘One True Way’, I am referring to the trans people who found a way that things worked for them, then tell other trans people that this is the one and only way to be trans, to be happy, to pass in society. I admire these trans people for the fact that they made it through life to a place where they could finally be the people they want to be, and it’s wonderful for them to help other trans people who want the same thing.
Telling other trans people that they aren’t trans enough because they don’t want to transition, or pass, or whatever, is not helping the trans community. Your way of being trans is not everyone’s way. We are all different. We are all unique. And we don’t all have the same damned path.
And I’m done.