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Born which way?
March 12, 2013 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Natalie Reed, who often writes about gender politics and social justice, calls out "born this way" (especially in a gender/trans* context) as its own form of gender essentialism:
“Gender identity” is still gender-essentialism. It’s just a gender-essentialism where we get to continue thinking men are men, and women are women, and these are inherent parts of who you are, but we also get to ignore the uncomfortable demand of DEFINING “man” and “woman” and what we mean by that, and thereby dodge the uncomfortable fact that any such definition within any essentialist framework necessarily invalidates, undermines, insults or excludes at least some trans or intersex people. It’s a way to go right on believing that our womanhood, or our manhood, or whatever “gender identity” we have, is an immutable and intrinsic quality of ourselves, and thereby maintain the comforting belief that it’s concrete and stable and unassailable, but without having to deal with any of the difficult implications of that, without having to interrogate our definitions, without having to worry about what we mean, and without having to really think about gender beyond the generally received notions. It’s a way to be transgender but still think of our genders the way cis people do.
posted by divabat (87 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
"It’s a way to be transgender but still think of our genders the way cis people do."

Why how richly ironic, that the writer would imply that all "cis" people think in exactly the same way. Guess she is excused from "interrogating" her own assumptions!
posted by parrot_person at 12:48 PM on March 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


I have this theory that goes that left-wing criticism is fractal. You can examine a work or a theory at any level of magnification and see someone arguing that it is oppressive, or not revolutionary enough. (Cue all the hate "Davos feminism" has attracted, as much as I'm inclined to side with the marxist analysis of Lean In).

Not to cast myself as a bio-essentialist, or any other claim that might mark me as regressive or unenlightened but to my mind the most striking claim against the notion that gender is entirely socially constructed has precisely been watching friends of mine transition - to go through all this effort and trouble and live-shortening procedures just to *conform*.

"Born this way" is just a commercial exploitation of an out-group's desire to be seen as normative. If it makes people feel better about themselves while dancing and getting drunk I find it difficult to take this kind of recursive-fault-finding too seriously.

Some people seem to dislike all normative positions - which is not in of itself entirely disagreeable - but I've always been discomforted by its implied dismissal of the experiences of the large-to-vast majority of people.
posted by pmv at 12:54 PM on March 12, 2013 [47 favorites]


I think I get the point here, but isn't she deliberately avoiding the idea that many transpeople actually WANT to be part of the "essentialist framework" because they really DO feel as if they should be another gender? I'm glad someone's speaking up for the happy pansexual philosophers, but since when does being trans obligate someone to be in a big tent with people who are genderqueer?
posted by StrikeTheViol at 1:00 PM on March 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


Umm... so I used to give trans 101 talks. They were actually broader than that, but it was in the Bay Area and you didn't have to do a whole lot of gay 101, so we'd end up spending most of our time talking about trans stuff. Guess what was on the list? 'Gender is fluid.' Right there after 'Sexuality is fluid.'

It's when this concept is too difficult that we resort to talking about gender identity as if it's fixed in the womb. Just like we talk as if sexual orientation is fixed in the womb. Even though we know that this doesn't match everyone's experience.
posted by hoyland at 1:01 PM on March 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


In fact, she talks about the 'genderbread person' exercise ('gender gumby', 'the four line exercise', etc.). Part of the lead in to that is talking about gender being fluid.
posted by hoyland at 1:03 PM on March 12, 2013


the most striking claim against the notion that gender is entirely socially constructed has precisely been watching friends of mine transition - to go through all this effort and trouble and live-shortening procedures just to *conform*.

But they're transitioning within a culture, yes? They're attempting to conform to what they feel their correct gender is according to how it's presented in their culture. Cues for masculinity and femininity are not identical across cultures or history.
posted by rtha at 1:04 PM on March 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


pmv, do you call out all of your friends who conform to gender norms, or just the trans ones who try to?

And honestly, I don't think we have to worry about the experiences of the large-to-vast majority of people being dismissed at this stage of the game.

I don't entirely agree with everything Natalie has written here (and it sounds like she wouldn't have a year ago either), but I respect her thoughts and try to give them a certain amount of consideration because so much of the rest of her oeuvre rings true.
posted by Corinth at 1:04 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Being danceable and making people happy will probably alway beat being a chore to read and positing esoteric reasons to be unhappy.
posted by Artw at 1:05 PM on March 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm glad someone's speaking up for the happy pansexual philosophers, but since when does being trans obligate someone to be in a big tent with people who are genderqueer?

Both groups are suggesting that it isn't purely physical and you get to pick your own gender identity on a continuum of conventional gender identities or indeed none.
posted by jaduncan at 1:05 PM on March 12, 2013


I like what she has to say about gender dysphoria. "I do not fit in this conceptual box. I was not born this way." That can be true even if there is no socially constructed identity that fits your lived experience.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:05 PM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think one thing that's easy to take away from this is that a lot of our language and concepts are designed specifically so that people less invested in understanding what being transgender means can grok as much as possible with as little effort as possible, and it's worth investigating how much truth we're trading away in the bargain. Is this another instance where the deal we make with the system is unhealthy in the long run, or does this work alright for now by laying a foundation we can build on as people allow us more mindspace?
posted by Corinth at 1:10 PM on March 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm kind of baffled by this, actually, and don't really have the time to think about it right now. I don't think I understand her at all. For example, this bit:
What if I did choose to be a trans woman? What if I refused to play along with social demands that I justify this, and the only explanations I offered was that this makes me feel happier, more secure and confident, more comfortable with how I dress and present myself and more comfortable in my body, and that it makes sex more pleasurable and fun for me? Is that not reason enough? And who the fuck are cis people to say it isn’t, and that I need to provide a better explanation?
Maybe we move in really different worlds, but that is how I hear people talk about their genders. Not exclusively, but most of the time. To the point that I'm thinking "Well, duh, isn't that what you say anyway?" instead of viewing this idea as radical. I guess I'm totally missing the point.
posted by hoyland at 1:13 PM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was not able to get through this whole article, but from what I did read, I think I agreed with. I don't think there's a thing inside of people that determines who they are or what they are. In fact, I don't believe that people *are* anything, other than themselves. By starting from the idea that everyone is something, we put the categories of that something on a pedestal; refusing to give equal respect to people who won't fit up there.

I am not my ideal. I struggle with accepting lifestyles that were shunned during my childhood. It's a growth process on my part, something to look forward to. But, I imagine a future where the categories we slice people into are completely arbitrary in a different way than they are now - handedness, height, foot arches, unibrows... who knows what else! In that future, thinkers and assholes will be just as fractally divisive about the right or wrong way to treat somebody who calls themselves a turtle soul, as they are now about gender identity, like pmv says.

but, I don't ever see a future where people truly understand and accept that identity is not inherent; that definitions do not exist outside of language; that people just are.
posted by rebent at 1:15 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think one thing that's easy to take away from this is that a lot of our language and concepts are designed specifically so that people less invested in understanding what being transgender means can grok as much as possible with as little effort as possible, and it's worth investigating how much truth we're trading away in the bargain.

Who is the we? Can language be 'designed specifically' or merely agreed on through some kind of evolutionary accord? What kind of 'truth' might be be tradeable? There seem to be an awful lot of assumptions, some of them exclusory, at work in this one sentence.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:19 PM on March 12, 2013


hoyland, I personally have relied on structures I'm not fully convinced of for the sake of making coming out easier on me and the people I'm talking to. I've said things like, I have always been a woman and omitted discussion of agender/genderqueer people. I've used the gender identity framework to imply that there is something basic and natural I share with cis women, and I use this to lend myself legitimacy that I don't always feel justified in grabbing. I have clung to the current thought that this was caused by hormone timings in the womb because it's simply tiring to have an extensive discussion about but who cares if it wasn't with everyone I need to tell. How much of this is true and how much of it is concession, and why? I'm not sure (and it doesn't matter all that much in the course of living my life, because I yam how I yam either way), but I'm interested to read other people's takes on it.

tigrefacile, the "we" in my sentence was trans people.
posted by Corinth at 1:22 PM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Am I the only one who found this blog difficult to read? For example:

"There’s the obvious binary, bio-essentialist view, where most or all observed behavioural differences between men and women are “evolved”, and the definition of the terms “man” and “woman” is based on a simplistic “biological” distinction (penises and motive gametes and XY = male, vaginas and ova and XX = female, and everything else is either a disorder, or simply “cosmetic” and not “biological” or ‘scientific”), but a gender-essentialism is any theoretical framework that ultimately boils down to saying men are men and manhood is an inherent, essential quality of such people, and women are women and womhood is an inherent, essential quality of that category of people, and there are other kinds of gender-essentialisms."

It seems like the goal of the sentence was to define gender essentialism as any model that boils down to inherent gender identifiers, but then adds that "and there are other kinds of gender-essentialisms." Either than qualifier means there are forms of gender-essentialism that don't fit that definition, or maybe that's a vestigial bit left over from a previous draft of the sentence and doesn't belong there at all.
posted by justkevin at 1:26 PM on March 12, 2013


Guess she is excused from "interrogating" her own assumptions!

I'm not even halfway through TFA and she seems to indeed be interrogating her own assumptions, so this seems a little unfairly reductive.
posted by clavicle at 1:27 PM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Corinth, I don't call anyone out. I'm mostly utterly fascinated by it.

I falls so completely outside of how I experience my own identity that it's weird and strange and different to then see them move firmly in the opposite direction instead of continuing to occupy any middle range of gender expression as expressed in the literature.

The key theme, from what I've read online and from my tiny (two) sample size plus many more gay people is precisely a lack of choice. They are what they are, whatever that is, and they just want to live their lives without it being a big deal.
posted by pmv at 1:30 PM on March 12, 2013


The most charitable reading of "Born this way" would be that we are all born with the seeds of the people we become, be that cismale, cisfemale, trans male, transfemale or super amorphous and unwilling ti specify and everyone should just back up and let each other do that.

The least charitable would be that we are all born fully clothed adults and than Ms. Gaga has a severe problems understanding the whole "baby" concept.
posted by Artw at 1:30 PM on March 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


Metafilter: positing esoteric reasons to be unhappy
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:31 PM on March 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


pmv, why are you surprised that your trans friends might fall towards one of the traditional ends of the spectrum rather than in the middle? Or rather, if you're comfortable with your end of the spectrum and its trappings, you already seem to understand that some people simply wind up there. I don't think trans people have any more responsibility to challenge the norms beyond their natural inclinations than cis people do. Something so mundane shouldn't be fascinating just because a trans person does it!
posted by Corinth at 1:35 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Isn't this article taking things a bit to the extreme? I mean, I know that this exists very much in the realm of theory, and that's a bit of the problem for me. I get, accept and appreciate the idea that gender is a very plastic thing. But to define it as so fully constructed to the point where there are absolutely no consistent features outside a given social context seems as unnecessarily extreme as some of her essentialist strawpeople, whereby gender exists as a set of absolutely fixed points in space.

Surely there are some inborn elements of gender? I think it's as impossible to prove the validity of either extreme. I mean, we all know that there is something called testosterone, and it has a tendency to influence behavior in certain ways. The problem with theory is that it lends itself to absolutes; even, in this case, in its supposed demolition of absolutes. Perhaps the fact that I'm not a gender theorist causes me to miss subtle or implied caveats here. It seems difficult to fit the notion of fuzzy tendencies into a theoretical framework like this; correct me if I'm misunderstanding things here.
posted by Edgewise at 1:42 PM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


The article is very interesting. I think it might have been helpful to put the deconstruction of gender dysphoria at the beginning, because that seems (to me) to be what her problematization of gender identity is based on. I have often wondered, actually, how useful gender dysphoria really is as a descriptive term for the subjective experience of trans people, and this essay painstakingly explores its limitations and their consequences. Thanks for posting, divabat, this was both very thought-provoking and very informative.
posted by clockzero at 1:51 PM on March 12, 2013


Not sure i can follow the logic of someone who claims not to understand the lesson at the heart of "you can't have your cake and eat it too"
posted by billyfleetwood at 2:01 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


It’s a way to be transgender but still think of our genders the way cis people do.

That's the key point of Natalie Reed's argument isn't it, the idea that instead of embracing the fluidity and freedom of possibility you instead define your gender identity as a trans person in the same fixed way as a cis person like me, who really has never had to think about his gender, do. So you define yourself as male to female trans, or female to male and ignore all other possibilities, therefore rejecting the reality of what you are or worse, helping enforce an essentialist worldview on others?
posted by MartinWisse at 2:01 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Both groups are suggesting that it isn't purely physical and you get to pick your own gender identity on a continuum of conventional gender identities or indeed none.

Let me try to make myself more clear. Natalie could write her bio beginning "Nathan/Natalie is a pangender transbeing. Sie is...", but she chooses not to. Is her choice only a function of social construction, or would she call herself (hirself?) something else when free of the shackles of essentialism? I would suppose the point is moot. The existence of gender dysphoria is not some positive proof that I, a cis male, would identify as a transgender woman if it weren't for any socially enforced gender norms, for example, or that some transpeople shouldn't have reassignment surgery because it represses the others that choose not to, by reinforcing the status quo. (This kind of "embrace your Other-ness because it's your duty to subvert the oppression of the people I'm lumping you in with!" irks me greatly wherever I see it, whether here, or in disability discourse, where I have personal experience.)
posted by StrikeTheViol at 2:04 PM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


While it's true that what "male" and "female" mean is, in part, culturally determined, I don't think that we can discount the "innate" aspects of gender identity. If not, we could force Coy Mathis to use the boys' room, and David Reimer would have been hunky-dory living as a female.
posted by dhens at 2:05 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the article is based on a fundamental confusion about what the "born this way" claim entails. The author seems to think that pointing out that there are many elements of gender expression (long hair, wearing dresses, what have you) which are obviously highly culturally variable and cannot possibly be genetically (or congenitally) "hardwired" is somehow a devastating blow to any claim for some kind of biological underpinning for trans people's gender identities. But that claim really doesn't hold up to much scrutiny. It's perfectly possible for the bundle of elements we toss into the "male gender" bin and the "female gender" bin to be heavily culturally malleable while the choice for "which bin do I want to opt for" can still be heavily biologically pre-programmed. (I say "possible": I have no idea if it actually is or not.)

This strikes me as simply one of those areas where we just do not know enough to warrant the table-thumping certainty with which people love to deliver their judgments on this subject. People have lots of theories and they're more interested in maintaining those theories at all costs than in subjecting them to any rigorous real-world testing. In the meantime, though, surely the least we can do if someone tells us that their subjective experience of their gender identity (cis or trans) is that it was pretty hardwired from the get-go is to accept that we don't yet have any strong reason to doubt that account. And that "but that doesn't sit nicely with my personal pet theory" is not a strong reason.
posted by yoink at 2:09 PM on March 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


This was a very interesting article, though at times it did give me flashbacks to reading Derrida in college (well, essays that tried to explain Derrida, anyway).

To zoom in a bit on the crux, and perhaps to play the devil's advocate, a bit, fairly late in the essay she says this:

Social constructs, culturally conditioned experiences, and shit that’s in your head are STILL REAL THINGS.

But I can change my mind about shit that's in my head. I can choose, or I can learn, to think differently. If feeling or thinking one way about something makes me unhappy and unhealthy, it is generally treated as a sickness about which I need to change my mind: Anorexia, for example. I think I'm fat when I'm not. A form of body dysmorphia, it is often called, which should be treated --- is treated, sometimes successfully though often with great difficulty --- by getting the patient to see themselves differently, act differently. Anorexia is a disease which is highly culturally contextual, a behaviour induced by the particular pressures on some members of a society. But a disease nonetheless. Or at least it is so deemed, in this time and place.

In the essay, that sentence is immediately followed by this one:

And the facts of transphobia, the intense personal need for “transition”, and how sex/gender-related medical intervention makes a significant improvement in people’s quality of life, are fucking clear as day as REAL THINGS

Oh? But so what? If gender is all in the mind, if it is merely a choice I'm making because it enhances my own personal happiness, why should it be free from criticism, shielded from other's disgust, any more than the choice to drive a Hummer or wear white bucks? Those are merely choices, choices that express the willful embrace of a certain image we desire to project in society. But because they are choices they are not held sacrosanct. If gender just a choice and not an identity, then reassigment's just a nose job below the belt.

I'm being a provocatuer, of course. But is seems to me that looking at gender in the way she does --- like some kind of quantum electron fuzz of possibility which is only resolved in the mind of the observer --- she's irrevocably yielding the political ground that could propel society to the greater acceptance of trans people. Somewhere in all that complicated theory is a very dangerous proposition...
posted by Diablevert at 2:20 PM on March 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Diablevert: she's pretty much making the same argument as you, questioning why having something be a choice must invalidate it.

I really resonated with this because my lifetime of experience across cultures showed me that *what constitutes gender * is so inconsistent that I have a hard time accepting anything as innate (as someone said upthread, we just *are*). And right now I'm at the realisation that how I identify myself *doesn't matter*; people are going to read whatever they want onto me. I'm genderfluid, not by choice but by circumstance - and as someone firmly on the "social construct" end of things, it's the only honest description of my gender semiotic.
posted by divabat at 2:36 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The take-away I get from this is that whatever you feel you are, it's okay. Label it something, don't label it something, label it anything, nothing, everything. It's a feeling. Go with it.
posted by roboton666 at 2:45 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm usually very wary of "what are we really?" questions, because so often the questions are posed by cis people who aim to deconstruct trans identities without doing the same for cis identities. I find the whole "why?" question totally fascinating, of course, but when it's a cis person asking why I'm trans, it's really hard not to start feeling defensive. It's even hard to discuss the question with trans folks in public space, because it seems cis folks will so often get the wrong messages from the discussion.

I'm also very skeptical about the "born this way" argument, for much the same reasons that Reed posits: saying "it's not my fault I'm like this!" is still saying "that I'm like this is someone or something's fault". It's still allowing that there is a fault. Trying to find a different scapegoat (genetics, hormones in utero, whatever) still implies that there's something wrong with being trans(/queer/lesbian/etc.).

Thus, I'm intrigued and delighted that Reed is asking the "why?" question in this way. And I think she's asking it very well. (She seems to be arguing primarily against Julia Serano's subconscious sex here, and as that was one of the concepts that bugged me about Whipping Girl, it's nice to see this counterpoint.) I'm not sure I agree with her conclusions -- I feel like there still might be something innate to it -- but I like the questions she's asking.
posted by jiawen at 2:46 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why how richly ironic, that the writer would imply that all "cis" people think in exactly the same way. Guess she is excused from "interrogating" her own assumptions!
Really? "Richly ironic"?

You know, if you about it enough to post a snarky dismissal based on one sentence from the pullquote on the front page, you ought to care enough to actually click the freaking link, read it, and come up with a substantive position.
posted by kavasa at 2:51 PM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


The "born this way" argument, when applied either to gender or sexuality, allows people to still condemn others for their choices, while pitying them for what they were born with.

It has led directly to those horrible "therapies" which try to "cure" people of Teh Gay. I suppose that's a marginal improvement on simply murdering or arresting them.

Choice should not be subject to persecution or stigma; it should not require justification from anyone. There is always choice involved, with direct consequences upon the person's quality of life.

There are many nuances between "I am a man trapped in a woman's body and I have to transition because it's torture not to" and "I think living as a woman part of the time would suit me more than living as a man all of the time" and I don't think it is acceptable to give leeway to the first while condemning the second.

I think it's accurate to say that our feelings and self-modeling paradigms may be influenced by genetics, epigenetics, body chemistry, culture, upbringing, and many other factors. What we do with them is a matter of choice, where some choices may lead to significantly higher quality of life, and denying those choices may lead to suicide.
posted by Foosnark at 2:55 PM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


The "born this way" argument, when applied either to gender or sexuality, allows people to still condemn others for their choices, while pitying them for what they were born with.

It has led directly to those horrible "therapies" which try to "cure" people of Teh Gay. I suppose that's a marginal improvement on simply murdering or arresting them.


Actually, the prominent processes by which various groups claim to be able to change sexual orientation are mostly based on a nurture theory of homosexuality, specifically that boys with distant fathers who are too close with their mothers and who have certain life experiences such as being bad at sports or teased by their peers end up desiring other males sexually because they crave male acceptance and a surrogate masculinity. They would emphatically deny that sexuality in inborn.
posted by prefpara at 3:21 PM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


There are many nuances between "I am a man trapped in a woman's body and I have to transition because it's torture not to" and "I think living as a woman part of the time would suit me more than living as a man all of the time" and I don't think it is acceptable to give leeway to the first while condemning the second.

Well sure, but I can't really imagine what real-world group this comment (or much of the linked article) is aimed at. Who are these trans-positive people who believe in the "born this way" argument AND who also want to condemn someone who says "no, I wasn't born this way, it's just the way I happen to want to be"? So far as I can see the only people who are thoroughly convinced both that transgender people chose to "be that way" and who want to condemn them for it are the religious conservatives and other culture warriors who thunder at them from their various pulpits. There's no inherent contradiction in believing that some (possibly even most) trans people are "born that way" AND believing that everyone is free to choose to express their gender in any damn way they want and I would imagine that almost everyone who falls into the former camp also falls into the latter.

I think it's accurate to say that our feelings and self-modeling paradigms may be influenced by genetics, epigenetics, body chemistry, culture, upbringing, and many other factors. What we do with them is a matter of choice, where some choices may lead to significantly higher quality of life, and denying those choices may lead to suicide.

Yes. On the other hand I think if someone tells me "The choice as to whether I live my life this way or that way is a completely arbitrary one that I make with utter freedom as the whim wafts me...but if anyone tries to stop me doing it that way I'll kill myself" I have to feel that they haven't quite thought through their position.
posted by yoink at 3:21 PM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


The reason this all seems so complicated is that it really isn't, but both the born that way and conscious-choice camps are completely misunderstanding where sexual desire and self-identification come from.

If we look to nature there is exactly one example available to us of an animal's species identification and mate preference being clearly formed, and that is precocial birds like geese which very obviously imprint on something they see in an "aha!" moment which is permanent and irreversible once it happens. Human imprinting is obviously more complicated; there is no need for it to be as sudden and complete because there is no danger of getting lost if we don't follow Mom around. Our process seems to involve both a primary phase before we are realy conscious around the age of two and a secondary sharpening phase at puberty. Some people can identify the source imagery which formed their triggers. The secondary phase seems to particularly include the part where most of us form a sexual aversion to the subtypes of our own species with which we up to then most closely self-identify.

Of course other than the fact that we form triggers linked to something, what the something is mostly happens by accident and out of conscious awareness. Evolution doesn't care that it doesn't "work" perfectly as long as enough of us form triggers that encourage us to keep the species repopulated. And of course sometimes it's not humans, or not the male/female axis of human subdivision, that seizes our attention.

And modern societies pile a lot of cruft imagery and ritual onto the whole sexual divide, which of course becomes reflected in our fetishes. The last few thousand years have completely altered the timing and nature of images that children are presented with to imprint on compared to what we would experience as tribal hunter-gatherers.

But if we regard heteronormativity as simply the most common fetish, and fetish triggers as being universal, somewhat randomly chosen from our experiences at ages 2 and 13, and irreversible once formed, everything pretty neatly explains itself and the need to write hand-wringing essays asking why kind of evaporates. Or at least, once I traced my incipient fascination with BDSM to the power trip my control freak parents had on from my earliest days, it did for me.
posted by localroger at 3:45 PM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Diablevert: she's pretty much making the same argument as you, questioning why having something be a choice must invalidate it.

To be honest, I'm not certain of my own opinion on this matter. I'm still rolling this around in my head.

Like, say we decide that it's a choice. But that's fine. As long as you're not hurting other people, then it's your body and your expression and your internal subjective experience of dysmorphia and your choice as how to live in a world that brings you peace and lets you resolve those issues. Your choice.

If that's the metric --- so long as you're not hurting anybody else, you're free to do what you like --- we let the anorexics starve, do we not?

But we don't do that. We say they are unhappy and the choices they are making aren't really choices at all but symptoms of disease from which they can be cured. Their brains are broke. Their choices are wrong. And they need to fix them, and we need to help them fix them, in order for them to truly be happy. And we can. They can be cured.

That's what I meant when I was saying Dee's argument has dangerous consequences. By claiming trans-ness as an identity, you can shield it from political attack as ideology and medical diagnosis as a disease. A choice can be wrong. All kinds of choices are wrong, and we're all free to judge other people for their choices.

Choices can be wrong. Being cannot be wrong. We recoil from this idea. At least in America, all the legal and social progress we've made in the past century or so has been by widening the category of "protected classes." The things you cannot be discriminated against for are things that are intrinsic to you, an irreducible part of your identity. If trans-ness is wilful ideological choice, why should it protected more so than other choices? I mean, I'm painting with a broad brush here. There are certain things which are choices and are yet protected under various laws. But I do think the fulcrum of most successful civil rights movements has been "you cannot hate me for what I am."

Having said all that, I don't know whether I think Dee's wrong, about gender not being a essential, intrinsic trait but rather a series of choices, a wilful expression of individuality. I think she makes a lot of sense in that regard. But I don't know that it necessarily follows that if these are choices, that outsiders are obliged to respect them. I despise Neo-Nazis; I find their chosen political philosophy abhorrent. And because they chose it, I don't see any problem with despising them for it.
posted by Diablevert at 4:12 PM on March 12, 2013




"Something so mundane shouldn't be fascinating just because a trans person does it!"

It's often fascinating to see an adult make conscious choices of identity and presentation, especially when you've never thought of them as choices.
posted by klangklangston at 4:33 PM on March 12, 2013


I'm about two thirds of the way through the essay, and it really seems like there are a lot of things being posited in there that need actual science, not philosophy, to resolve. Likewise, something being forgotten is that edge cases don't necessarily invalidate categories — The Battle of Agincourt was fought between the English and French, even though there were Welsh there.

If your project requires maximally descriptive and inclusive terms, you'll likely run up against the limits of language and have to read more Wittgenstein in penance.
posted by klangklangston at 4:38 PM on March 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


In several feminist/queer theory classes I was in there was a lot of critique of the "born this way" ideology towards homosexuality as well. I think it has even more traction right now for gay people than transgender, the idea that you're born with some innate gayness. And I think it's important for gay/trans people to speak up and critique it since it is so popular at the moment.

I think it's part of a very essentialist moment in GLBT rights - a moment that perhaps we need to grab in order to move towards greater equality. But I think it's so much more important in the long run to focus efforts on the fact that it doesn't matter whether people are born or choose to be gay, straight, trans,- they deserve tolerance and equality no matter what.

But it's a box I'm very wary of being in or inhabiting long-term, myself.
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:47 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's also worth noting that this comes out of Queer Theory, which is a different (overlapping) discipline that's often confused with LGBT studies. It's a different conceptual framework.
posted by klangklangston at 4:51 PM on March 12, 2013


Artw's link there might be triggering for trans people. It certainly made me feel pretty awful. Not innately transphobic, but it describes a lot of transphobic phenomena that a lot of us might not want to be reminded of.
posted by jiawen at 5:02 PM on March 12, 2013


For a long time there's been this abiding narrative among humans that there is a pristine state of Being against which we are all judged, and in that narrative transgender people are among the least desirable. Gay rights movements often operate in that space because its easier to address others in a majority-held POV, but I think it's becoming increasingly obvious this isn't sustainable.

The next step is not to make transgender acceptable within this arbitrary paradigm but rather to smash the very notion itself and accept all people for who they say they are.
posted by Doleful Creature at 5:27 PM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Re: Civil Rights underpinned on the belief that "you cannot hate me for what I am." and that somehow the choice argument might accidentally undermine the civil rights efforts...

It's a choice, but for me specifically It's the choice to be what I am and face the world as "different", or be what I am not and continue to keep everyone else comfortable at the expense of my own well-being.

I have a right to make my choice.
posted by roboton666 at 5:53 PM on March 12, 2013


prefpara: "Actually, the prominent processes by which various groups claim to be able to change sexual orientation are mostly based on a nurture theory of homosexuality, specifically that boys with distant fathers who are too close with their mothers and who have certain life experiences such as being bad at sports or teased by their peers end up desiring other males sexually because they crave male acceptance and a surrogate masculinity. They would emphatically deny that sexuality in inborn."

While this is important context to discuss gender politics, being gay is okay not because all gay people are born gay, but because being gay doesn't hurt anyone else. By this measure, it's also irrelevant whether someone is born gay, becomes gay after some years, or is only gay on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
posted by yaymukund at 6:34 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a choice, but for me specifically It's the choice to be what I am and face the world as "different", or be what I am not and continue to keep everyone else comfortable at the expense of my own well-being.

I have a right to make my choice.


Then I think Dee would say you were an essentialist. (I think. She's a pretty smart lady and I hesitate to put words in her mouth.) To say: "I could choose lie, or I could choose to tell the truth," does not change the nature of the truth. The truth exists and is unalterable; you are what you are. You can't change what you are, though you could try to deny it.

Dee seems to me to be rejecting that idea. She's saying: Some of what I am is tendency, some inclination, some influence. But I chose this path. I could have done otherwise. I could have been otherwise. What I am now is what I want to be, not what I can't help being.

I mean, you put it into words like that, doesn't seem too different, the two statements. Feelings are slippery, words more so.

But I think it's important distinction, nonetheless: If one cannot chose to be otherwise, then one cannot be cured. One cannot be argued with. One simply is.
posted by Diablevert at 6:40 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I found the article dense and hard to read, but what I could glean of it reminded me of gay folks who argue against the rights for gay marriage because they don't believe gay people should want to get married. It's an attempt to police any trend towards the conventional, forgetting or dismissing people's desires to not become a warrior for their minority.

I mean, more power to her for following her bliss, but it can get a little 'Wake up, sheeple!' at times.
posted by gadge emeritus at 6:41 PM on March 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Not sure i can follow the logic of someone who claims not to understand the lesson at the heart of "you can't have your cake and eat it too"

Derail: My younger brother has an issue with this saying, too. His argument is: temporality is suggested by the order of the sentence. Therefore, there is nothing at all odd about wanting to have your cake until you choose to eat it. If you really wanted to express the sentiment, you should say "to eat your cake and have it, too." My younger brother likes Lady Gaga, especially "Born This Way," so take that for what it is worth.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:50 PM on March 12, 2013


Choices can be wrong. Being cannot be wrong. We recoil from this idea.

To give the Devil his due, many homophobes (viz. Trent Lott) view homosexuality as being something like alcoholism, which is not really a choice in any meaningful sense, but rather a difficult challenge that one is forced to wrestle with.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:20 PM on March 12, 2013


Well, yes, hence the song.
posted by Artw at 7:23 PM on March 12, 2013


I think the main problem with the essay is that it's poorly structured. She walks back a lot of the absolute claims that she makes initially, which means that it grabs more readers (and MeFi comments) but it takes getting through the whole thing to see, "Oh, hey, you didn't really mean that like that, that's a lot more defensible."

She also confuses the idea of "justifiable" or "reasonable" with an absolute — there's some third-hand Foucault behind this is my guess — in that it's entirely justifiable or reasonable to assume that a woman will have a vagina, even if this isn't the case for particulars. But by focusing on that construction, she misses the better point: It is justifiable to make that assumption; it is not ethical to create rules based on the assumption of binary gender that have real costs for those excluded.
posted by klangklangston at 7:36 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have this theory that goes that left-wing criticism is fractal.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNHIFM0Y87c
posted by NedKoppel at 7:39 PM on March 12, 2013


(But then, I've been wrangling with lawyers and flacks today over how to accurately describe something about trans name change requirements that the current law gives as an "optional requirement" — i.e. a requirement that may be waived by a judge, and that the proposed law will essentially switch the default so that it's not required unless ordered by a judge. Ugh. "Optional requirement." Ugh.)
posted by klangklangston at 7:43 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry for this off-topic question, but Diablevert has been talking about a "Dee." The author of this blog post is Natalie Reed. Am I missing something, or are they?
posted by Corinth at 7:58 PM on March 12, 2013


I kind of wonder, as I've seen others do in this thread, whether this distinction between essential trans identity and chosen trans identity is a deal-breaker among people who are either friendly or neutral towards trans rights. What little exposure I've had to people interested in the issue - cis folks I've talked with, as well as a few trans friends (both transsexuals and transgender people) suggests no, not really. And the haters, of course, will find a way to justify their hate.

The only area in which I can see an issue arising is when trans people require special services for which fellow citizens must provide/pay. Paying for transition, for example, could be attacked by critics as cosmetic if it is presented as a choice rather than the natural and necessary result of who one is. I mean, obviously it matters personally to the folks concerned and those who love them, but what other concrete points are there upon which this distinction would matter to society at large? Why should a future society in which trans people are generally accepted (may it come soon) care if it is genetic/"natural" or "chosen"?
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:08 PM on March 12, 2013


In other words, is this distinction just a matter of tactical presentation to opponents/neutral observers of the fight for trans rights, or something that also has potential ramifications for the treatment of trans people in situations where they aren't presented as monstrous or crazy to/by a solid chunk of the population?
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:13 PM on March 12, 2013


So I have a friend who is cis, and who argues that transition should be covered by public health care, because she knows that if she woke up male tomorrow, she'd want her transition back to female to be paid for. She feels that she was born that way.

As for the fractal nature of left-wing criticism - sometimes, it's just tiring. Question concepts, sure, but don't whittle away at things so hard you just rip everything apart. I recently read a wonderful YA novel on a LGBT theme, something which I wish had been around to read when I was in middle-school, and then I found out that someone's written a thesis claiming that it's not progressive enough because of the way it depicts women (or maybe just amorphous misogyny). Well, I'm a woman, and I thought it was a damn fine novel -- and the goodness kids will get reading it well outweigh any flaw the critic sees. Perfection can be the enemy of good.
posted by jb at 8:26 PM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sorry for this off-topic question, but Diablevert has been talking about a "Dee." The author of this blog post is Natalie Reed. Am I missing something, or are they?

Nope, I'm just a dumbass who first started reading the essay on my phone and got the name wrong. I apologize.
posted by Diablevert at 8:35 PM on March 12, 2013


Diablevert: Are you seriously considering trans*-ness as a disease, as something wrong?
posted by divabat at 9:22 PM on March 12, 2013


divabat: that's a pretty bad misreading. As far I can tell it works like this.

1. Being genderfluid/queer/trans is fine by me.
2 But trying to subvert essentialism using the idea of choice in a genderfluid context for all transpeople will backfire,
3 Because it reduces their identity to malleable life choices and no more;
4. Which can easily be pathologized or worse.

Therefore:

5. Deemphasizing gender identity as she does will harm the broader transgender struggle for rights and recognition more than it will help: this essay is effectively friendly fire.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 11:09 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The transgender label as it is applied to a highly fractured group of people experiencing a near-limitless number of variations across the entire meaning, seeming, non-meaning and non-seeming spectrum of gender identity/sexual attraction and gender roles, creates a lot of issues to work through.
There was a time when a trans woman was only accepted as a trans woman if she was sexually attracted to guys. Thankfully for me, those days are past.
Now we have even more diverse people entering the transgender tent and it is hard for us to not step on each others toes, much less figure out how to explain it to someone who has never really had to think about it or live with it.
I think though, if more people would preface "this is what I believe" with the words "for myself" when talking about their gender identity, we could get somewhere. I do not see a productive way to create blanket generalizations and wholesale statements with this stuff. The most general thing I can say is that what transgender "means" is highly subjective to each transperson. Also, if the first thing you think to yourself when pondering what transgender is "l don't get this transgender thing" the next best step is to ask someone who is transgender if they don't mind sharing their experiences, or go searching out transgender information online.
I think Natalie Reed could tone down the generalizing in the article, but I understand the pitch and sentiment of their writing.
posted by roboton666 at 11:13 PM on March 12, 2013


divabat: "Diablevert: Are you seriously considering trans*-ness as a disease, as something wrong?"

divabat, I think you're mis-reading Diablevert's statement, there. "If one cannot chose to be otherwise, then one cannot be cured. One cannot be argued with. One simply is."

As I read it, what they're saying is that one problem with arguing against the idea of being born this* way is that it opens the door on a wide range of ways in which society can argue against supporting something. Society is getting relatively good, comparable to the past, in accepting people and not judging them for things that are completely out of their control -- basically, how they were born. But you'll be hard pressed to say that we should stop people from making judgements on other peoples' choices, and for that reason it may be better for LGBT acceptance aims to focus on showing that it's a state of being that Just Is, rather than one that was "chosen", because if it Just Is then no one can change it to suit their ideas of how sexuality should work. But if it were a choice, then there will be people working to change that choice to fit their worldview.

I'm not trying to put down anyone in this fight, because I'm cis, but to use a non-charged example, it seems to me like the difference between commenting on someone's natural hair color versus a dye. We'd rightfully tell someone to shut the hell up if they said "That person's [natural] hair color looks terrible." Person 1 is an asshole to judge Person 2 on something beyond their ability to control, and society at large will think they're an asshole.

But if they said "I think the color they chose is ugly.", well, whatever. That's an opinion on a choice. Person 1 is free to judge, since it wasn't their choice anyways. Society doesn't care very much if you hold an opinion about someone else's choice. We're free to disagree, and anyways, if it's a choice then maybe they can choose something else so maybe you can argue why you think they should listen to your ideas about how their hair should be done ... etc.

So, errr, anyways, I don't think Diablevert is at all saying trans*-ness is a disease, but rather that society will not tolerate people who try to change someone who was born a certain way. You can't "cure" what someone is. They are what they are, and I think society is making huge advances in accepting that.

But a choice? Well, choices can be changed. And if it can be changed, then maybe it's not real. And ... well, that just doesn't seem like a better or more promising road to go down.

* for any value of "this", I imagine
posted by barnacles at 11:17 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


StrikeTheViol: "divabat: that's a pretty bad misreading. As far I can tell it works like this. ...Therefore:
5. Deemphasizing gender identity as she does will harm the broader transgender struggle for rights and recognition more than it will help: this essay is effectively friendly fire.
"

Augh, I should have waited instead of rambling on!! StrikeTheViol said what I tried to say, and said it better and more concisely. Well put, StrikeTheViol.
posted by barnacles at 11:18 PM on March 12, 2013


This article is not friendly fire, it's inside baseball.
posted by roboton666 at 11:28 PM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm also very skeptical about the "born this way" argument, for much the same reasons that Reed posits: saying "it's not my fault I'm like this!" is still saying "that I'm like this is someone or something's fault".

Yeah, but, isn't the Lady Gaga "Born this Way" a celebration of differences, a fuck you statement against everybody who would criticise her or the people she sings about for doing what they do and being what they are? It's not so much "I can't help it, I was born this way" as "piss off, I do what I want and I am what I am".

It's an attempt to police any trend towards the conventional

Yeah, I got a bit of that feeling as well, wrapped up in layers of theory. Of necessity, if nothing else, trans culture, like gay or lesbian culture, had to be politicial and radical to claim space for itself, but as awareness and acceptance of trans people grows this radicalness will be lost as it's no longer needed and many people just want to live their life, not all that interested in theory or radical politics.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:16 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


My god, why is this so long. I do agree with the author; "Born this way" is a problematic argument, because it is really an emotional appeal masquerading as a logical or rational one. It exhibits the same kind of epistemological gap that appears in rhetoric such as "Homosexuality is unnatural." It may be effective for building a movement, but in the long run it is unclean thinking. This is all obvious to me as a gay guy, and I have made my peace with it. I don't see much need to react strongly against the author's idea.
posted by polymodus at 1:33 AM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wasn't primarily referring to Lady Gaga.
posted by jiawen at 4:52 AM on March 13, 2013


But a choice? Well, choices can be changed. And if it can be changed, then maybe it's not real. And ... well, that just doesn't seem like a better or more promising road to go down.

Indeed. I have been part of an institution-wide diversity group for a while, and in one meeting another member loudly asserted that race and gender "counted" because they couldn't be changed but religion "didn't count" because you could chose to change that And this was a person who was reasonably friendly to the idea of protected classes. So I am a little wary of pushing "choice" as a major driver of gender identity, because it could have really bad consequences.

I think part of the problem is that "choice" has a bunch of different meanings (or at least shades of meanings) -- sort of like "theory" in a science sense and in a popular understanding sense. For most of the general public "choice" is just some trivial decision -- do I prefer Wendy's or Burger King -- where as in serious contemplation of sexual identity/desire "choice" is more the outcome of self-examination and exploration. When the terms get conflated, we end up with the sense that anyone could wake up tomorrow and decide to be a different gender or be attracted to a different kind of person, etc. Which is fairly obviously not true for most people (although some people do reach surprising epiphanies). In some ways this reminds me of the arguments over predestination and salvation by Grace that were so fractious during the Reformation -- are people born sinful or saved? Do they become that way? Can they be influenced in one direction or the other? Barring some clear scientific proof of biological determinism, it's always going to be a subject for debate.

Anyway, if we are going to talk about "choice," I think it's wise to consider how science's failure to use words in their generally-accepted way has played into the hands of creationists and climate change-deniers....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:47 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't believe that people *are* anything, other than themselves. By starting from the idea that everyone is something, we put the categories of that something on a pedestal; refusing to give equal respect to people who won't fit up there ... I don't ever see a future where people truly understand and accept that identity is not inherent; that definitions do not exist outside of language; that people just are.

Since some of us already do do that, the future you're dubious about is already here, though it is indeed quite difficult to find others willing to share it; most people do seem to prefer organising their world views in categories rather than with attributes.
posted by flabdablet at 7:42 AM on March 13, 2013


"I don't see much need to react strongly against the author's idea."

One reason to criticize is that the author assumes that because her gender identity is fluid and non-binary, that means that all people experience their gender identity that way and that's the preferable, theory-supported mode. That's not true, even for a lot of trans folks, and there's a big subtext of "You're doing trans wrong" that's uncomfortable.
posted by klangklangston at 9:32 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Barring some clear scientific proof of biological determinism, it's always going to be a subject for debate."

Heh. It's awkward too, in philosophy, because I still haven't seen a convincing argument against determinism/lack of free will.

(I tend to believe and comport myself as if I believe in free will, but I can't prove it at all. Absent free will, the "choice" versus "born this way" dichotomy is so much angels on the head of a pin.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:35 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


One reason to criticize is that the author assumes that because her gender identity is fluid and non-binary, that means that all people experience their gender identity that way and that's the preferable, theory-supported mode.

Well a lot of the LGBTQ/allies community assume their experience and framework is universal enough to call people not like them "cis" suggesting that their is some binary "gender" that those people have and "agree" with. Attempting to foist what appears to be a very culturally-influenced conceptual framework onto everyone else seems to open the floor up for some debate.

I don't consider myself cis-gendered anymore than I consider myself cis-raced. If other people find a conflict between their physical characteristics, personal presentation and way they're perceived within a culture to be in conflict to the point where they want to alter their body or identity, that's their deal. The rest of us can discuss this whole situation without just accepting "the one true" conceptual framework for it, though.
posted by crayz at 9:47 AM on March 13, 2013


most people do seem to prefer organising their world views in categories rather than with attributes.

So, to put it into more familiar terms, we'd be better off using tags and not folders? That's a fun way to think of it, and that's pretty much what we try to do when insisting that people use trans as an adjective rather than a noun (and similar).

crayz, I think that rejecting the term cis because you don't feel cis, and conflating gender with race, and saying they can alter their bodies if they want to, but that's "their deal" (implication: you might not participate in that deal by denying pronouns etc.), and creating a group of "the rest of us" - well, the language and phrases you're using are the language and phrases of people who tend not to accept LGBT people as they are. You probably didn't mean it that way, but I figured I'd let you know so you don't wind up in heated discussion somewhere down the line and wonder why.
posted by Corinth at 10:07 AM on March 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Well a lot of the LGBTQ/allies community assume their experience and framework is universal enough to call people not like them "cis" suggesting that their is some binary "gender" that those people have and "agree" with. Attempting to foist what appears to be a very culturally-influenced conceptual framework onto everyone else seems to open the floor up for some debate."

That doesn't actually follow. I think you're confused about the terms. "Cis" does not suggest a binary gender that has to be agreed with, at least not in any common usage of those terms, especially "agree." Trans people are not attempting to foist anything on anyone; that's a weird construction.

"I don't consider myself cis-gendered anymore than I consider myself cis-raced."

o_0

So, a little bit of clarification might help you here: "Trans" means, basically, "across." "Cis" means "not across." See: Transalpine Gauls versus Cisalpine Gauls. It's also used in chemistry. That you don't identify with it doesn't really mean anything, because it's a neutral descriptor.

"The rest of us can discuss this whole situation without just accepting "the one true" conceptual framework for it, though."

Yes, there can be multiple, overlapping frameworks for discussion. But that doesn't mean all conceivable frameworks are equally valid.

And honestly, you're coming across as a bit oblivious here.
posted by klangklangston at 10:08 AM on March 13, 2013


"Trans" means, basically, "across." "Cis" means "not across." See: Transalpine Gauls versus Cisalpine Gauls. It's also used in chemistry. That you don't identify with it doesn't really mean anything, because it's a neutral descriptor.

"not across" what, is the part that assumes a specific framework.
posted by crayz at 10:15 AM on March 13, 2013


"not across" what, is the part that assumes a specific framework.

You (presumably) have a gender. It apparently matches that assigned to you at birth. That's the not across bit. Yes, this assumes gender is binary. However, if you're moaning about being called 'cis', you don't get to use other people's experiences to complain that someone is pointing out your privilege by assigning you a label, particularly when that label is totally innocuous. It's not like they're calling you 'shithead' because you're not trans.
posted by hoyland at 10:28 AM on March 13, 2013


"not across" what, is the part that assumes a specific framework.

You don't think we live in a culture with two strongly marked and strongly defined genders that are conventionally mapped onto two respective sexes in a fairly predictable way?

I can (kinda sorta) see the "harumph harumph why do we need this fancy new word" objection to "cisgender" but I can't quite see what you're getting at. Are you suggesting that if you woke up tomorrow with a body that had been magically transformed into the opposite sex that this would pose no challenge whatsoever to your self-identity? Because, essentially, if your response to that situation would be anything else then you're, to that extent, either cis- or trans-gendered, no?
posted by yoink at 10:30 AM on March 13, 2013


Also, I refer you to the previous Meta.
posted by hoyland at 10:30 AM on March 13, 2013


[Comment removed. This really needs to not turn into yet another "prove to me that 'cis-' isn't a bad prefix" rodeo. It's a conversation that's happened a bunch of times on the site previously, feel free to do a site search for "cis" if you want to see some of that, but please let it be in here now.]
posted by cortex at 11:01 AM on March 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Yes, this assumes gender is binary."

It doesn't necessarily. Trans can also imply genderqueer, i.e. across the spectrum of culturally accepted gender roles. "Cis" just assumes that there are commonly accepted gender roles; it doesn't necessarily entail the gender expression to be binary.

(I suppose it could be theoretically possible (though I haven't seen it yet) to have a child be cis-genderqueer if genderqueer is the defined role that they grow up with.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:19 AM on March 13, 2013


I don't think Reed identifies as fluid and non-binary.

If the problem with "choice" is "oh no, people disrespect things that are from *choice*, this will be BAD for ACCEPTANCE"...why is the focus not on "let's get people to respect other people's choices, whatever they are"?! Isn't this the same logic that leads to the abortion rights movement being derided because women are choosing wrong?
posted by divabat at 11:25 AM on March 13, 2013


One reason to criticize is that the author assumes that because her gender identity is fluid and non-binary, that means that all people experience their gender identity that way and that's the preferable, theory-supported mode. That's not true, even for a lot of trans folks, and there's a big subtext of "You're doing trans wrong" that's uncomfortable.

Yeah, she's saying that they're wrong. It's not even a subtext, it's kind of the point of the article. As for why it is wrong, it is (merely) because this is a post-Kinsey world, and not enough people are applying these kinds of new knowledge as a lens to their own "experience". That is why she is (gently) railing against that one motto. Maybe this is an incommensurability thing, but if people to were lay off her and instead listen and think a little, they'll see what is being said isn't a big bad deal, and is all very reasonable.
posted by polymodus at 11:29 AM on March 13, 2013


"I don't think Reed identifies as fluid and non-binary."

Then her criticisms don't make sense. She's essentially criticizing trans folks for reproducing the binary error of cis folks under the rubric of essentialism, and she doesn't seem to go in for any self-criticism there.

"why is the focus not on "let's get people to respect other people's choices, whatever they are"?"

So, as someone who got into an argument with Amberglow way back when for insisting that the choice model of homosexuality should be treated as equally valid and that focusing on innate sexuality could be a canard, part of the problem is that not all choices are legitimately equal, and the further problem is that for a lot of LGBT folks, their subjective experience is one where they had no choice and if they could have chosen to be straight/cis, they would have. I tend to gravitate toward a middle position now, that people should be able to choose to have same-sex relationships/perform or identify as whatever gender they want, while understanding that for many (even most) people, it's not a conscious choice at all. So I don't preclude choice, but I do think that rhetorically, it's not as strong a position to argue from, especially since there are so many people for whom this isn't a choice. (I do think that the "choice" model can be used to advance acceptance for bi folks, but they're in a weird position anyway, with regard to the broader LGBT equality movement.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:45 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


It doesn't necessarily. Trans can also imply genderqueer, i.e. across the spectrum of culturally accepted gender roles. "Cis" just assumes that there are commonly accepted gender roles; it doesn't necessarily entail the gender expression to be binary.

Totally fair point. I was trying to head off the "You can't call me cis because gender isn't binary!!11!!!!' that sounded like it was coming and didn't do a good job.
posted by hoyland at 1:19 PM on March 13, 2013


Well a lot of the LGBTQ/allies community assume their experience and framework is universal enough to call people not like them "cis" suggesting that their is some binary "gender" that those people have and "agree" with. Attempting to foist what appears to be a very culturally-influenced conceptual framework onto everyone else seems to open the floor up for some debate.

We ALL have a culturally-influenced conceptual framework foist upon us - that of gender. 'Cis' and 'trans' don't posit anything about essentialism or the Undeniable Fact of the framework any more than the existence of the concepts of 'male' and 'female' do. Why rail against cis, and not rail against gender itself? Both are expressions of a culturally constructed reality, in which we all live, regardless of the extent to which we choose to participate.
posted by Dysk at 3:52 AM on March 18, 2013


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