Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Hello, an apology & compulsory genderqueerness

hi everyone,

Just wanted to chime in and say "hello" for the first time. While I have not met most of you personally, I am familiar with the work that many of you done in the past, and I feel honored to have the chance to discuss trans issues with all of you! BTW, if you're not sure of who I am, you can find out more about me at my website JuliaSerano.com.

Also since Jenny Boylan is on this group, I wanted to take this opportunity to apologize to her for something that I wrote in an article for Bitch Magazine back in 2004. The article was called Skirt Chasers: Why the Media Depicts the Trans Revolution in Skirts and Heels. In it, I brought up your appearance on Oprah as an example of how even serious media discussions about trans-ness often include superfluous shots trans women putting on make-up, heels, etc. (I'm referring here to the clips they used in the show's intro). During the editing process, I was asked if I wanted to make a comment about the book; apparently there had been discussion amongst Bitch readers and staff over whether your book adequately challenged people's ideas of gender enough. At the time, I was buying into the pernicious and prevalent ideology that trans people should challenge the gender binary at all times. And while I enjoyed reading your book and could relate with a lot of your experiences, at their request I added my thoughts about it not sufficiently challenging audience's assumptions about gender. A lot of this was based solely on the fact that you transitioned to woman rather than to genderqueer (as folks like Bornstein, Feinberg & Wilchins (who I idolized at the time) had).

In the year that followed, I came to very much regret that comment for several reasons. First, it's dumb. Any person who changes their physical and/or lived gender certainly challenges mainstream ideas about gender. Second, in doing research for my book, I went back and actually read all of those yucky lesbian-feminist critiques of transsexuality, and came to realize that this notion that trans people should strive to constantly shatter conventional gender categories rather than identifying as women or men (what I've started somewhat jokingly referring to as "compulsory genderqueerness") has its roots back then. It's a blatant double standard: Non-trans feminists and queers are not questioned when they identify simply as women and men, but trans folks are.

Anyway, I apologize for what I wrote back then. Since then, that article has appeared in several places (including as a chapter in my book) without that ridiculous comment. Also, since few of you know me, I should add the following disclaimers so that my views aren't misinterpreted:

1) I very much respect genderqueerness (even though I no longer identify that way) - my only issue is with people who view that as inherently more evolved than identifying within the binary.

2) My post may lead some to think that I believe that Bitch Magazine has messed up trans politics. That is not the case, they are great allies. I've talked to them about the comment after the fact, and they agree with me that in retrospect we should have left that out.

That's it for now - will post more soon...
-julia

3 comments:

helen_boyd said...

Hey, this is getting interesting.

I think sometimes people are more comfortable with trans people being non-binary as it can also mean that they don't have to grant them "woman-ness" or "man-ness" as a result.

Basically it short cuts a lot of difficult questions for gender-aware cisgender types like myself (& i assume the folks at Bitch). Much easier. You might even say facile. ;)

trickster108 said...

The subject of deconstructing gender and sexual steroptypes is one that really intrigues me. I recently read Jason Cromwell's article "Queering the Binary" and his statement "Transpeople and people with nonheterosexual identities queer the Western binaries of body equals sex equals gender equals identity as well as the binary of heterosexual and homosexual". I found this analysis to be right on the mark as far as how I, as a transwoman, blur the lines regarding all those preconceptions. I find that it is often the case that transpeople find themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Gatekeeper professionals often demand that we fit into easily constructed gender roles in order that they may give us the "GID" diagnosis. The polar opposite are those who feel we, as trangender individuals, perpetuate gender stereotypes as we pursue our transition.

The reality usually lies somewhere in between. We are just expressing ourselves and our individuality thru the medium of gender and however that manifests should be deemed "acceptable" equally by gatekeepers and gender warriors. As the Outback Steakhouse advertisement goes..."no rules, just right". If we choose to live in the world as manly men, girly girls, or anything in between...why should that threaten anyone's self image or understanding of gender?

Diversity means just that...variety, multifacetedness, infinite possibilities. I daresay that we would find a somewhat different path and manner of presentation between each and every transitioning transgender person. The same goes for the so called straight community...this is not a monolithic world .

I guess the problem stems from the phenomenon of "labeling" which, I have often written, is a vestige of living in a patriarchal world and is a reflection of the male domination of our understanding of gender. Recall the '60's when men first started wearing their hair long. The most common response was "I can't tell if it's a boy or a girl". The mindset of those who might have expressed this sentiment is a world in which labels, nomenclature and the scientific method have acquired godlike status. Ambiguity, ambivalence and mystery are eschewed, as is the blurring of gender lines. That is why we, as trans people, wreak havoc upon their system. That is why we are seeing a deconstruction of that system. My suggestion is that we not jump out of the frying pan and create another construct for gender. Let the binary system fall into disrepair and let us not replace it with anything else other than an acceptance that diversity, regardless of expression or manifestation, is how we view gender and sexuality.

just my two bits...

robbi cohn
trickster108

Lena Dahlstom said...

Even though your apology was aimed at Jennifer, I just wanted to say thanks.

Maybe it's a San Francisco thing, but lately I've been feeling a bit caught between being "too queer" and "not queer enough."

OTOH, with shaved body hair, painted toenails and brows plucked a bit too much even for a metrosexual, I'm hardly a "standard-issue" hetro guy material any more. But OTOH, as a crossdresser... OMG, I'm reinforcing the binary and portraying femme versions of women.

I actually felt a bit uncomfortable at last year's Trans March. Not from being out. Not from the reaction of the public. But from the reception by some in the community that I'm supposed to be a part of. Maybe it was my imagination, but I swear I got more than a few looks of scorn from some of the other folks there for looking rather "ordinary."

I'm reminded of Bill Vaughan quip that: "If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it’s another nonconformist who doesn’t conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity."

The irony being that I identify as gender fluid -- to paraphrase Norma Desmond: "I am big, it's the gender roles that got small." And who's ultimately more unsettling to the status quo: the self-conscious "other" who can be labeled as such and dismissed, or the "one of us" who turns out to be one of "those people" too?