Subject: No, No, Not Like Them
Date: Sun 07 Jun 1998 - 16:44:05 BST
I just read a bit by a transgendered female where s/he laid our priorities in
transition. The number one goal was to make sure that everything was done by
feminist principles, and that she not ever be like them, those oppressive men.
This is not unlike transgendred males who, while they like to dress up, think
that women are illogical so they never want to think like them.
Is this a useful goal, to decide what you are not rather than deciding what
To me, heterosexist gendering is simple, a kind of aversion therapy: Don't do
anything that might be associated with the "wrong" gender or you will be
stigmatized and humilated about it. It's based on negative identity
definition, which is why we can define girls as not boys and boys as not
When we first are gendered (and for TG people, that first gendering doesn't
take all that well) it's not a thoughtful process. Gendering is a slippery
slope where without even realizing it we end up immersed in a gender type,
usually not conciously evaluating if any of the behaviors we take on are good
or bad, but just going with the flow, lead by our new drives and peer
After this immersion we tend to need to come up for air, to catch a breath and
start evaluatiing which of these behaviors we want to keep and which we need
For many transgendered people, though, immersion is terrifying. Rather than
saying "I'll dive in the pool, find out what works and then sort it out
later," they try to judge everything before they try it, to accept
possibilites with a critical eye. It's like choosing not to try broccoli
because it looks bad, rather than trying it and then deciding. They keep
their guard up, live with a big filter, not giving things a chance. They use
old judgements to keep them from trying new things, seeing things in a new
"The hardest part about gaining any new idea is sweeping out the false idea
occupying that niche. As long as that niche is occupied, evidence and proof
and logical demonstration get nowhere. But once the niche is emptied of the
wrong idea that has been filling it - once you can honestly say, "I don't
know," then it becomes possible to get at the truth."
Robert A. Heinlein
To me, as I have immersed in making the choices of different positions, I have
learned that to understand the internal logic, I have to open myself to new
truths. The rules are the rules for a reason, and they make sense, even if
you can change them. Like a builder who doesn't put air vents in a home to
cut heat wastage, finding later that he has moisture damage, or a baker who
doesn't put baking powder in a cake because she doesn't believe in chemicals,
finding an inedbile mass, knowing the rules is a prerquiste to effectively
breaking the rules and finding new ways to build or bake.
In my view, the people who are most successful at constructing a good and
powerful life beyond arbitrary gender constraints are the ones who don't worry
so much about what they cannot do, who they do not want to be, and simply
focuus on who they are, who they can be. These people take the position,
learn what they need to learn and then judge if what they have learned suits
them or not, not coming with prejudice about what they don't want to be
Iif you spend all your time worrying if you are too much like a man, fir
example, because if you are then you will be just like the enemy, you have no
time left to just figure out who you are. The people I see who really make it
work are the people who just find what works for them, who pick a role and do
it well, without worrying if they are crossing some sort of line.
I see lots of TG people who like to bash genders, to take a supreior position,
as if they know what is wrong with other people before walking a mile in their
Transpeople need to understand that life is not an either/or, friend/foe
situation, rather it's about just being gracious, elegant, mature and
integrated. That means coming from a positive place, "this is who I am"
rather than a negative place "I may be masculine, but am not like one of those
I once suggested that a good exercise at one of these trans conferences would
be to have people explain who they are without using the word not. Rather
than saying "I am not homosexual" or "I am not a woman" they would have to
talk about who they are, define themselves by what they embraced in their
lives, what they are immersed in, rather than what they reject, who they see
This negative identity definition is really a scary thing to me. Oppositions
are what create polaraities, and polarities are what create wars. For
transpeople, who embody the ambiguous and contradictory nature of mixed
aspects, polarities are what erase us, tear apart our hearts. We are them and
they are us and we are all together.
In my view, the goal of transpeople is to speak of "continuous common
humanity" as Anne Bolin describes the anthropological record of trans. We can
only do that when we don't create barriers and boundaries to immersion,
prejudging what is good or bad, but rather dive in and find the connections,
the linking threads.
I am not suggesting that we give up critical analysis of the things we immerse
in, any more than I would suggest builders should not find better ways to
build houses or bakers should find better ways to bake cakes. I do suggest,
however, that knowing and understanding things in a positive way, with
compassion and real openness, is what allows us to understand how the pieces
fit together, and how they can be fitted in new ways that serve common goals
in a better way.
It's real easy to stand outside of something and say what is wrong with it,
like some transpeople try to do with men and women. It's harder to go inside
and understand it, to make structural changes that satisfy the needs and
create more freedom, less demands.
I know many men, women, lesbians, gay men, who feel that transgender is
uncomfortable because it challenges beliefs and choices that they value. They
see transgender as an attack on who they are, what they cherish and the work
that they want to do. These are people who are gendered and are proud of the
balance they work for everyday, innovating and creating their gender role in a
postive way so that they move beyond arbitrary limits while still expressing
how they fit, their role in the dance of the culture.
Negative identity definition, working hard not to be like someone or another,
whoever that is -- business leaders, white people, politicans, men -- is
always a judgement against someone, against someone who you have never
embraced or understood.
For myself, I can't afford to do that, because I realize that those people are
all like me -- nothing human is foreign to me. I prefer to not worry of my
choices are too much like a homosexual or a preacher, rather to only be
concerned if they fit me, if they are useful, if they help me become all I am
in the world.
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