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The importance of telling our stories, part 2

September 22, 2009

In my last post, I touched on a point about the lack of contemporary personal narratives by trans women for trans women, and how that was a symptom of a cis-dominant culture which gained by refusing us identities beyond those they supplied. This unceasing assault against our most basic access to self-identification has served to erase generations of stories of trans women and replace them with a cis-enforced and cis-beneficial debate. I have been transitioned something over fifteen years now, and the argument hasn’t changed. Sure, cis is replacing non-trans, and some of the theory has shifted in response to bigger cultural movements, but ultimately I could not date a post on the Michfest boards if I didn’t know when it was written and there were no other clear identifiers of date (how much enthusiasm the poster has for Ferron as some kind of lesbian atomic isotope decay maybe?). 1996, 2001, 2009 – the arguments are the same, and the hatred of trans women is a constant.

During my fleeting career writing for cis-LGB media I presented an editor with an idea for a story on essentially this topic, but was told it was probably too academic. Considering my inch or two of column would be alongside phone ads with photos of white gay men holding their cocks I could see her point, but I still felt the irony of having a cis person telling me no to my story idea on how cis people enforce trans identities. My thesis now remains as it did then: Stick figures and straw men in dresses are the easiest target for transmisogynists, and as long as we ignore that and try to fight a different fight, we’ll be stuck. Cissexist media has almost completely dominated trans women’s narratives into a handful of caricatures, and transmisogynist anti-inclusion cis-feminists don’t extend us much beyond that. Their hatred and fear influence cis people who would otherwise think themselves progressive and supportive of trans women, because there are no other portrayals of identity which they can counter to the haters’ version. I have seen the dynamic of “arm’s length inclusion” because of this, the peripheral inclusion of a trans woman or two in a community, who nonetheless rarely seems to date or take any central part in activities. Like person of colour tokenism, this trans woman tokenism allows people’s conscious need to think of themselves as progressive to mask their subconscious ickiness at our presence.

A side note: I am always aware, when writing about trans women, of the dangers of being coerced into oppositional stances with other trans women. The good tran/bad tran model is designed to shame us into shaming those like us, and I have made it my personal goal to divest from that as much as I can (which is still hard, having grown up in the transmisognyist culture I did). This extends to taking the position that any trans woman’s self-identification is hers alone, and I will not criticize her for taking it. I will criticize some ideas, sure, but not the people holding them. That is the goal of a cis-dominant society, and I do not want to be a tool to achieve that. So, for the purposes of this essay, and as the general brand of trans identity empowerment I’m dishing out, I want to be clear that above all I believe in the self-determination of trans women, even when I do not agree with them as individuals. I have fallen into that trap of cis-serving essentialism before, and all it did was make me feel less of a person.

Denying us our stories as individuals further serves cissexism by keeping us apart. You’re far less likely to scream your point at someone if you know them: The heightened emotions of some discussions within the trans community reflect to me not an internal struggle about trans identity, but are rather a distraction to maintain focus solely on cis dominance (even the HBSers are trying to enforce a transphobic, cis-supremacist model of gender). The positions we’re left defending inevitably are defined by the cissexist debate we’ve been forced into.

I think next time I’ll write down a few thoughts about trans autobiographies as consumables in a cisgender marketplace.

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