Sunday, March 28, 2004


Searching around the other night for pieces on transgender issues, I found this article from The Village Voice. It's an old article, so apologies for a very late link, but it's interesting and got me thinking about all sorts of things, so I recommend giving it a read.

The writer, Graff, describes the problems she had with understanding people who seek gender reassignment, as she felt that much of what the gay movement had done was to show that there were many nuances of gender - that many people could be genderqueer as well as homoqueer - and that what bodies people had needn't determine the way they feel about their gender. Talking about FTMs in particular, she writers:

'These were butch dykes with full feminist politics who already could sleep with girls and dress like boys. Were they surrendering, late in life, to the idea that gender and sex had to match up?'

In this light, people who seek gender reassignment seem almost reactionary.

But she goes on to describe how she came to realise that it was at least partly just an issue about what body a person feels comfortable with, something I'd not really considered so much before either. Some people simply wake up feeling that they're in the wrong body, every day, feeling as unnatural as a lesbian would trying to date a man.

'From that perspective, medical assistance seems more like a heart transplant than a nose job.'

For me, the article showed up what feels like a stark contradiction in my own thinking - I don't think there are any characteristics which are essentially male or female, but I've still always supported people who argue that they're in the wrong body. This wasn't an enlightened viewpoint - just incoherent. The final line the writer takes is thus quite useful to someone like me.

But of course, I recognise that a lot of people - most people - do believe in inherently male and female characteristics, and this can be used to argue against the position the author takes - whether she likes it or not, for some people it isn't just about body, or even mainly about body; they really just feel everything about them is of the other gender.

For instance, I've often just felt like a fraud when friends have told me that my manner and behaviour is evidence against many assertions people make about women, since I'm not sure how female that manner is. That doesn't mean I'm about to seek hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery, but it does make me wonder how much I took on the anti-essentialist line just for my own convenience.

Perhaps the line to take is simply to say that there really are hundreds of shades of gender, that our gender boundaries are a fraud and just work to screw people over - as both male and female feminists have been arguing for years - but that nevertheless our cultural conditioning is such that we feel ourselves as strongly attached to our gender as to a limb. That is, unless we are transgendered, in which case our gender is just a hideous fancy dress costume which daily smothers our true identities.

I'm not happy with that line, since I think there's something other than cultural conditioning at work. But I can't rationalise that feeling for the moment, so I'll leave it there, for further thought.

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