"...there is more to being trans than theory."
October 29, 2019 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Gwen Benaway [link includes blurred nude pic], an Anishinaabe and Métis trans woman poet and essayist, wins the Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry for her third collection of poems, Holy Wild (Amazon, Powell's). Her essays are bracing for their honesty in engaging with the trans experience--discussing GCS and how some trans women and others view it, or how domestic, emotional abuse has lingering effects even as one heals, and she's spoken on the intersection of her identity as a trans woman and an Indigenous woman.

Benaway has also recently been in the news for protesting the recent decision by the Toronto Public Library to platform a transphobic speaker (her experience and its complex* follow-up can be referenced at @gwenbenaway).

* This thread is written by her friend Kai Cheng Thom, an Asian trans woman writer. Previously
posted by anem0ne (11 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
I picked this book up when it first came out and it hit me like a hod of bricks. Very deserved.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:07 PM on October 29, 2019


Uh, can we get a NSFW tag on that first link?
posted by notsnot at 12:48 PM on October 29, 2019


[I assume NSFW for the blurred nude? I added a label for that, can change the wording if OP wants]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:51 PM on October 29, 2019


brave and powerful.
posted by jchgf at 12:54 PM on October 29, 2019


Separate from their Wiindigo drive to dismember my transsexual body, the Queer men I’ve shared intimacies with often replicate heteronormative misogyny in their relations with me and other female bodied subjects. How many conversations with Queer men have I had where fucking a female body is connected to a renewal of their masculinity or an emotional catharsis related to their childhood experiences? How often do they complain about the female bodied subjects in their lives as either wanting too much from them or not giving them enough? More disturbingly, my Queer male lovers often narrate desires of rape, masculine domination, and female subordination as erotic drives. They seek consumption, to be consumed and to consume with equal disregard for the historical, social, and gendered ways their cisgender white Queer bodies are implicated in these acts.

Somehow the blatant misogyny is submerged in their location as a Queer subject. It’s acceptable to have these desires because Queerness, as a theoretical model for consumption, validates them. If the parties are consenting, what harm is there in the sexualized submission of female bodies in order to strengthen a fragile cis masculinity? Except their partners are often marginalized and racialized female bodies, except they engage female bodies and then deny an emotional harm when women question their actions, except this dynamic replicates historic settler rape and subordination of Indigenous, Black, and other racialized bodies. Queerness, in its disappearing of Indigenous and racialized identity, ignores the legacy of colonization and empowers cis men to reenact it under the guise of a transformative desire.


This resonates with me. Sometimes when you read things, they're of the sort that you make a commitment of responsibility to them. Not like buying furniture, where you reason back and forth about having to move it in the future, the cost to replace vs rehome, the option to settle for something not quite perfect because it means you can get what you really want later. More like sitting house for a relative, where everything inside the walls is not yours but you're urged to care. That is to say, there's a lot she writes about that sits with me, and a lot that doesnt, and even some i don't like, but I'm glad to have held it. I can't quite fathom how someone could read about how she's treated as a trans woman in public, and not realize it's exactly how cis women are treated in public. That's always been the strongest argument for me, about "validity" of trans identities, absolutely all other arguments aside, trans women and I are in the same trench of the same war, and neither of us enlisted.

I think a lot of cis people tend to really feel the need to Agree with trans people, trans women in particular, to find value. I think this destination comes from two directions: 1)cis people typically only engage with gender in a theoretical context, and when presented with trans stories they are absorbing information the same way they would while reading a political OpEd about how to best re-invigorate the economy. and, 2)cis people think theres a Right way and a Wrong way to be trans, and, even deeper than that, by reading works by trans authors cis people are offering them the greatest gift they have - their voice. Cis people are reading in order to parrot. If a trans person is the Right kind, the cis person will Agree, and therefore Spread the Word. Cis people secretly believe their voices are more valuable than those of cis people.

I, like a lot of other lesbians I talk to, don't feel home in queerness. The label is both too broad and not encompassing enough. A multi-lane highway that moves too fast and doesn't go to the towns you need to be in. What does that mean, though? Am I, as a white person, still responsible for this? Who is allowed to shuck off the covering of "queer"? Is that entirely dependent on what you put on, instead? I'm pretty solidly placed within lesbianism, and feel the most at home and the most challenged there, a good place for me to be.
posted by FirstMateKate at 1:49 PM on October 29, 2019 [16 favorites]


Thank you.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:14 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


She’s amazing. I’m finding it hard to make a good, succinct comment because there’s an awful lot packed into those essays, and holding it all in my head (and heart) is really difficult.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:12 PM on October 29, 2019


i like seeing what feels like her approaching the same things from different emotional perspectives in different pieces at different points in time on top of the complexity of emotion she's already expressing in any single piece. extremely human.

and i didnt expect to be affected really strongly hearing another trans person talk about a traumatic relationship or realizing that i haven't gotten to hear that before, although her experiences are shaped by transmisogyny (and racism) i don't experience and a lot of cis perspective resources apply for me because a lot of being hurt by someone is the same and is also so individual anyways, but still, what she shares is nourishing (and triggering and heartachey).

also, the cover's cool as hell. i'm glad you posted this.
posted by gaybobbie at 6:53 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


The current approval system for surgery requires you to pretend that you know exactly what you want, but there are very few moments in life without hesitation or doubt. Wanting something you’ve never had, especially with a lack of information or supports around your decision, is a difficult truth to articulate.

This really spoke to me. Julia Serano, in Whipping Girl, talks about the level of performative femininity required to be allowed access to the transition process (in the Us; Benaway is Canadian, but I suspect the process differs mostly in details). Demanding certainty, especially certain kinds of certainty, over such a personal and transformative decision is… a really big ask. Anyway, Benaway really seems to embrace that uncertainty in her essays — layers of feelings, explanations that aren’t excuses, teasing apart different identities which still make up a person — all the while defending her right to withhold what she chooses to withhold, even as she reveals what she chooses to reveal.

She’s an impressive, singular voice.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:41 AM on October 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


I, like a lot of other lesbians I talk to, don't feel home in queerness. The label is both too broad and not encompassing enough. A multi-lane highway that moves too fast and doesn't go to the towns you need to be in. What does that mean, though? Am I, as a white person, still responsible for this? Who is allowed to shuck off the covering of "queer"? Is that entirely dependent on what you put on, instead? I'm pretty solidly placed within lesbianism, and feel the most at home and the most challenged there, a good place for me to be.

i can understand this; for me, i've come to view "Queerness" more as an overarching, almost political identity akin to how i view my "Asian-American"-ness--that is to say, i find both "Queer" and "Asian-American" broad to the point of rendering some important differences invisible to the outsider, but valuable in providing a sort of generic identity interface to those people for whom elucidating the finer details might be more confusing than not. much as how sometimes i'd rather not explain what kind of korean/korean-american i am, and how that interplays within the diasporic community and in the old countries, sometimes it's easier just to say i'm Queer than it is to say "bi binary trans woman" or add even more detail.

"Queer" is a fallback for the lowest reasonable common denominator.
posted by anem0ne at 11:38 AM on October 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


I have no idea how I slept on the award announcement, but thanks so much for sharing this!
posted by northernish at 2:57 PM on October 30, 2019


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