Saturday, December 22, 2007

Trans Politic, Trans Police

This is my response to a post someone made re: my recent appearance on a radio show discussing how families can best support a transgender family member. I like the way it turned out...thought I'd share it here.

The original post is intact, including spelling and punctuation. To listen to the original radio broadcast this post refers to, click on this link:

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Thank you for listening to the interview, your thoughtful comments and for sharing your sense of self-identity with regards to gender identity and sexual orientation. Please see below for my response to some of the points you raised.

"--- In, 'R' wrote:

Some thoughts as to what I thought as I heard the show.
Curious, why the constant use of the term transgender for everyone else?"

The reason for the use of the umbrella term "transgender" is that it is commonly utilized to address a wide-range of gender identity expression. My goal (and the point of the show) was not to define or represent a segment of the gender non-conforming population, but rather to reach out to families of individuals (particularly children) who may find themselves at many different points on the gender continuum.

I had, roughly, 15 minutes max to introduce myself, talk about the work my organization does with children and youth and then, somehow, couch it all within the framework of the show's topic. Transgender is an inclusive term that aptly describes the vast majority of our potential audience, particularly children & youth.

"Myself that's not a term which I in anyway use as part of my identity other then the fact I am lesbian therefore transgressing what society considers "normal" gender behaovour. But just because of being transex or transexual it does not make me or those friends of mine, TG."

It is my opinion that terminology is out there for people to use. My use of the word transgender in the advocacy work I do in no way implies a requirement that you identify with that word.

In order to not get bogged down in the ever-shifting sands of "PC" verbiage, I use transgender to reference people who have a gender identity that is, in some way or other, inconsistent with their assigned birth gender. That gender identity may, or may not, also be in conflict with their anatomy.

I use the term "cisgender" to reference people whose gender identity is congruent with their assigned birth gender and anatomy. I do my very best to not use words like "normal" in regards to anyone because it is simply a synonym for "conformity".

I support you in your stance that another person's use of the word "transgender" does not make you or your friends, per se, transgender.

"I was also kind of surprised to hear your talk on the typical idea of boy or girl type toys, ie barbie and GI Joe and trucks. To me the message there should have been toys are toys and both can enjoy playing with either."

I completely agree with you about toys themselves not having an innate assigned gender. And of course, I agree that children (and adults) should be allowed to choose, play with and enjoy any toy they desire. That being said, the focus of my participation on the show was to communicate with people who may have children who are gender non-conforming in some way, not to elucidate my personal beliefs regarding non-gendered toy selection. We agree on the point, but we simply disagree on what is a proper forum to discuss the point.

"For me barbies were not a huge thing in my life, same with others I know. I would have been more like a tomboy in that sense along with my child hood friend."

"Yes some kids who are trans may enjoy barbies others trucks but just the same other male listed children who are not transexual also enjoy barbies."

Nor were Barbie's a major component of my childhood. I neither longed for one, nor spent much time thinking about them. I draw no particular conclusions from that observation other than it was simply my personal experience.

On the other hand, the vast majority of female identified gender non-conforming children (age 5 & up) that we have worked with do show a distinct interest in traditionally feminine toys & objects (Barbie & Bratz dolls, Little Mermaid, jewelry, make-up, etc.) The opposite is true of male identified gender non-conforming children we have worked with.

The reality of the situation, from our perspective, is that children who are visibly gender transgressive in their interests get noticed more than children who are not. And the degree to which they get noticed is directly correlated to the societal double-standard regarding gender expression.

As you self-described, a "tomboyish" 8-year old will not set off that many alarm signals, because we allow female assigned children far more leeway in their gender expression than we do male assigned children. And tomboyish behavior in a male assigned, female-identified child will appear to others as, well...gender normative to some extent.

This is one reason why many transmen first identify as lesbian, rather than trans. Their "tomboyish-ness", while somewhat transgressive, falls within the range of tolerated female gender expression...albeit on the "more masculine, probably going to be a lesbian" side of that barbed-wire fence. Gender transgression in birth assigned boys however, is a far more anarchic act. It gets noticed immediately and is subjected to exponentially more negative cultural and familial blow-back.

My goal in doing the interview was not to express my own wide-ranging opinions on gender identity oppression, gender identity suppression, terminological misappropriation, post-op transsexual identity vs. pre-op/non-op gender expression, lesbians (as opposed to dykes, femmes, butches, queers, genderqueers, etc.), trans-dykes, trannyfags or any of the myriad other boutique identities we all encounter and embrace for ourselves. Each of those subjects (and more) are certainly worthy of their own forum and deserve to be explored in depth.

At the end of the interview, my goal was simply to have been a voice of support to parents, family, friends and allies of transgender and gender non-conforming people, particularly children and youth. To have given them something to think about with regards to loving each other and to have opened a door perhaps to families who are just now recognizing the struggle their child may be facing with regards to their gender identity.

I love having gender 201, 301, 401 and up discussions and theoretical exchanges. This radio show, in my opinion, was not the place for that discussion.

"Just my two cents


Your thoughts are worth far more than that. Thank you for them, and for providing the catalyst for me to respond. Have a rewarding and wonderful New Year.


Jenn Burleton
Executive Director
TransActive Education & Advocacy

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