Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Transgender

Two posts in a day. Procrastination much?

He’s Pregnant. You’re Speechless.

I hate it.

I really hate the majority of articles that I read about transgender and transsexual individuals. Perhaps I am overly sensitive. Perhaps I listen to the rants of my transgender and genderqueer friends.

but, WHO THE HELL F-ING CARES?

Seriously! the state of one's body is really only important to that person, and whomever that person chooses to share that information with. Just because someone is a "man who is pregnant" doesnt mean that the "public" should comment on their body. Im sick of reading "oh, thats really a woman." NO, it is not.

Gender is such a socially constructed concept. and, the vast majority of us have been socially developed into a gender that happens to match the squishy bits that we have. It doesnt have to be like that. Someone is no less of a man because he has a vagina, and someone is not less of a woman because she happens to have a penis. Gender is social, gender is how someone appears.

*you* as the general public do not get to comment on the state of someone elses body. You can comment on your own (though, see the previous Fat Talk Post about how we talk to our bodies.) You might even be able to comment on a partners. But, the random stranger on the street, no matter how "weird" or "off the wall" or "whatever non stereotypical thing they have," you dont get to comment.

Accept people as they are, let individuals self identify, stretch your imagination, and let it go.

2 comments:

Azzurra said...

Thanks for posting the NYT article. I think it was informative and far less biased then you saw it as.
I think I'm going to respectfully disagree with you. The crux of the disagreement is that I think that people have the right to say stupid and hurtful things. It may be rude, it may be unfortunate, but they still have the right to say them.

I might also add that Mr. Beatie seems to have invited some of these comments upon himself. If I understand correctly, Mr. Beatie went out of his way to become a public figure. He wrote for The Advocate, appeared on Oprah, and appears to have a book deal in the works. He probably had his altruistic reasons for stepping into the media spotlight as well. For example, hey may have wanted to bring attention to the fact that he was denied basic health care due to his trans status during his pregnancy, or he may have wanted to start a national conversation about people who are trans in general and pregnant & trans in particular.

Once someone enters into the public sphere, then that invites certain questions to be asked. And, I would argue, such asking (although rude) is actually healthy. Cognitive dissonance models tell us that when a person's values are challenged, she is going to have negative responses. Those negative responses could manifest in a variety of ways. One of them, obviously, is going to be disbelief and rejection: "this person is not a man, this person is pregnant, and hence, must be a woman" is certainly the easiest way to resolve the cognitive dissonance, though not the one I would want her to choose. After repeated exposure to the notion of people who are trans (with pregnant people who are trans obviously being a subset of that), individuals are then able to change their point of view to accommodate a wider view of gender, which is the ultimate goal. The fact that the cognitive dissonance is displaying itself in words and not in violence is a huge step in the right direction, as far as I’m concerned.

Now, I am going to agree with you wholeheartedly that those sorts of outbursts are rude. But they may, beside being rude, be healthy and necessary in order to have a national conversation about some topics that are important and vital to changing our consciousness about these things.

I want fairness and equality for people who are trans. To me, that means that if Angelina Jolie's pregnancy can be a topic of public discussion, then Mr. Beatie's can be. He's invited it, he's asked for it, and he's more than welcome to the learning experiences (some more difficult than others) that the people in the national dialog are going to have about it.

Now, one of the points that came up in our chat about this issue is that Mr. Beatie's coming out about his pregnancy led bigoted idiots to ask some people who are trans and not Mr. Beatie some really stupid questions. That's unfortunate, it really is. But, I think the better way to see those stupid questions is as "this is a person who is suffering from cognitive dissonance, doesn't know what is a polite question in this context, and is trying to get more information from the one person whom they view as an expert, namely, the only person who is trans they know." I’ve certainly asked my share of stupid questions of at least one friend who is trans. And she was patient with me, and answered them, and I’m a better person for it. She could have also told me that it was none of my business had she so decided.

(Funny story, as a slight aside. The first time I saw her after she had her surgery, she came to my house to pick me up because we were going to have dinner and have a tête-à-tête. Because I’m Italian, and hence perennially running late, I was in the shower when she showed up, and I answered the door in a towel. The second thing she said to me was “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” which I thought was shocking, considering it would have never dawned on me to ask her to show me her genitals. But, I guess she must have had quite a few people asking her about it, and that was one quick way of making me empathize with her. Among the overly personal questions I asked her: whether she enjoyed sex more now that she had the surgery, and what sex tips she would give men who have sex with women having experienced both sides of the equation.)

Bottom line: if you’re trans, and people know you are, you automatically become the expert on these things. People are going to ask you stupid and annoying questions: you can personally choose to become an agent for change, or you can be the bigger person and politely tell the questioner that’s not a polite question. For people in the national media to be asking questions like “where did the sperm come from?” of Mr Beatie makes sense. For that curiosity to turn to (and I hope he won’t mind me calling him this) our mutual friend whether he has a penis is rude. But, if he’s the only trans person they know, it makes sense that he would be the one that gets asked.

I think it would be fair to draw an analogy between being trans and having a non-het orientation. I can remember very distinctively the first time that I was introduced to the notion of two men having sex. I think I was about twelve or so, and I was confused as to how that would work anatomically to be pleasurable. I got introduced rather quickly to the notion of a prostate. Lacking one myself, I’m not sure I quite grok what it’s like having one, but I think I get the general picture. I’m sure that people who were out as gay twenty years ago got asked all sorts of inappropriate personal questions about their personal lives. I think if you’re trans in this day and age, you just have to accept that’s going to be part of your plight if people know that your birth sex and your current gender may not have a one-to-one correlation. You can either accept it, or move somewhere new and keep your birth sex a secret from the general population.

You are absolutely 100% right that asking people you don't know well about their genitals or how they have sex is rude. I make a point with to talk my students about trans identity every chance I get. I try to stress two things to them: (a) you *always* refer to the person as the assumed gender pronoun. The word 'it' should never enter into your vocabulary when referring to a person; and (b) if you wouldn't normally comment on a person's genitals, then that rule should hold equally for a person who is trans. (My personal rule is, if I would ask someone whether she has a genital piercing, I can ask about whether she’s had lower surgery.)

I guess some of it is, I empathize with the people saying the stupid things. I mean, I am a well-educated person who thinks about these things a lot, and I still say stupid things. I can think of one instance where I not only presumed that one of my colleagues was heterosexual, but also married with children ... and I did so in front of two of his students to boot. Should I have known better? Absolutely. I lecture against hetero-centrism, try to queer my classroom as much as I can, and I’m co-sponsoring a public viewing of Boys Don’t Cry at my college. And I was still capable of doing something that stupid. How can I expect people who are (a) on their first go-around on these topics (b) have had less exposure and (c) are far less educated than I am to handle these things better than I do?

I guess what I’ve been trying to say in this long reply is, “never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity," or, in this case, ignorance.

Issa said...

Thomas Beatie's story has been very interesting to me and has led to me trying to sort through some of my own thoughts about trans people. I disagree that he is a "random stranger off the street" for whom some might think it inappropriate for me to make certain comments on. At least in a limited sense, this man has chosen himself as a public figure.

I just tried to write the rest of my very complicated thoughts about this, and I keep getting lost. I just don't think I can explore it in an essay. It has to be a dialog where there can be questions and trailing down different paths.

So, delete. I give up.

You coming to After Burn?