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Enforcing context, and the silencing of marginalized voices

October 23, 2012

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and my personal experience with it. I’d even started a piece on BDD for this blog, but ultimately scrapped it. I found myself unable to write about how this serious and debilitating issue impacts my life, not because I was uncomfortable with the subject, but rather because of the thousand caveats and disclaimers that writing about a trans life for a mostly cis audience requires. It seemed to me highly improbable that my experience as a person with a body who has BDD would not be overwhelmed by cissexual contextualizing of me as a trans person with a trans body who has GID.

Cis-dominated cultures by nature seek to make the experience of trans women monolithic, while also making one’s transness their singular defining characteristic. This allows the validity of trans women as women to be challenged, and ultimately erased: As long as the ‘trans’ part of ‘trans woman’ is amplified and focused on, the ‘woman’ part is easily dismissed or forgotten. This usually manifests as cis fascination with transness as the root and cause of all experiences for trans women. I rarely engage in discussions of issues such as childhood sexual abuse with cis therapists and others, because in my experience they will then contextualize my transness in relation to having been abused (which erases the validity of my gender – I am not a woman, I am a traumatized man). Similarly, discussions of sexual harassment against trans women can easily be dismissed by cis people as being issues of transphobic harassment, and something significantly different from the real sexual harassment cis women face, regardless of whether the harasser knew the woman was trans or not.

This unchallenged cisnormative thinking has a profound impact on the ability of trans women (and trans people in general) to receive important health services cis people might take for granted. I’ve talked with many trans folks about their experiences with therapy and inevitably the discussion comes around to cis therapists and whether or not they ‘get it.’ The desire to discuss relevant issues becomes secondary to wondering whether or not the counselor will fixate on the client being trans. In many cases, and after many negative experiences, trans people give up ever discussing some issues in a typical therapeutic context, at least with a cis therapist.

As I write this piece I am aware of how my energies as a trans woman are being subverted to address issues of cisnormativity instead of discussing issues important to me, personally. That is how systems erase individuals, and how marginalized voices are silenced.

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