Who Names Me?

(UPDATE — UPDATE II — UPDATE III– UPDATE IV — UPDATE V)

I have just read Autumn’s first post on terminology. Much of what she writes, certainly her references to various Stylebooks, I quite agree with.

The references to appropriate attribution of pronouns is one of some interest. In recent months, I’ve been taking an introduction to social work and social welfare at Carleton University in Ottawa in preparation for a change in my life. In this course, I’ve found a welcoming and supportive environment but with one peculiar glitch.

I’ve been invited to be interviewed–not the first time at Carleton–by another mature student in the class for the Carleton Radio Station, CKCU–when the broadcast date is finalized, I will post. Yet, once when we spoke he declared some confusion as to how he should refer to me.

Now, I present in as feminine a manner as I can–I work at it. There is no ambiguity. My friend, though, felt my voice, being not as high in pitch as, say, a teenage girl–pretty much the majority of our class–meant I wished to be addressed as male.

There is some history to this.

In the first months in the course–a large first year lecture–I contributed many comments; I continue to do so. The purpose of taking this course is to have an academic reference for my application to the Carleton School of Social Work; I’m quite happy to say the lecturer was delighted to provide a very nice reference for me.

However, in the fall, one student emailed her with concern there was some–possibly widespread–comments, jokes, silence by other students at my expense. My voice, even as I noticed in that hall, in those seats, might have been lower than I might have preferred. Nevertheless this, as the instructor agreed, is harassment in the definition of Carleton’s Education Equity Statement–including its additions to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s categories, which don’t formally include gender identity. Carleton has formally included gender identity–and also political affiliation.

I, as all participants in that class, have an absolute right to a supportive and affirming learning environment.

The instructor made a statement to the class regarding respect in the class, adding to her previous statement about respect for visitors. I never noticed what the concerned student emailed about–though I appreciate her concern–and since the instructor’s comment I have received nothing but respect, even–though this was present before–an admiration for my commentary.

My experience at Carleton has been almost overwhelming and I look forward with great anticipation to attending full time in the fall. Yes, I’m quite out there–as I am most places.

No, I haven’t forgotten Autumn’s post.

I have written a number of documents in connection with my course and application which I will post soon. These writing exercises have helped clarify my thoughts; I look forward to the next several years to continue this process.

I’ve been thinking about Namaste’s term erasure and Shelley’s term repudiation.

When I transitioned and came into the “community(ies)” in Ottawa, and to some degree across Canada and North America, the first idea thrust upon me was Namaste’s. In Egale Canada and Canadians for Equal Marriage, in Pink Triangle Services, organizations I’ve been part of, I found her term a good description of my everyday life.

Egale’s notion of inconvenient, divisive and ultimately unnecessary is illuminated by erasure.

More recently, however, I needed to find a foundation for both of these–and I just happened to stumble across Shelley’s book and his notion of repudiation.This illuminates for me the ground of Namaste’s term and Egale Canada’s explicit practice.

Now, what does this have to do with the use of transgender as the umbrella term for both transgender and transsexual people?

In the recent TDOR, our events in Ottawa were, as they have been for five years–as in Toronto–termed “Trans Day of Remembrance.” In a Canadian trans email list, a continentally prominent–almost as prominent as a trans person can be, more so than I, for example–posted the Canadian list of events, changing our term, though keeping the Toronto term intact.

I raised concern regarding this.

Subsequently, our event was removed from the list Ethan St. Pierre keeps–but not the Toronto events, all three of them. After an exchange of email with Ethan, he explained he had been informed listing the Ottawa event would disrespect it, even though our usage has always been transgender and transsexual people, or transsexual and transgender people–and this has been the case for five years and listing had never before disrespected our event, nor been cause to erase it.

Subsequently, this continentally prominent trans person admitted to being Ethan’s informer. Frankly, I believe this imposition of another’s views upon our community, both in the Canadian list and Ethan’s list, to be grossly inappropriate, colonizing, marginalizing and repudiating.

I’m happy to accept other’s self-identification.

I’m happy to have Gender Mosaic here in Ottawa–one of Canada’s oldest transgender support organizations–describe itself as transgender. Trying to be part of Gender Mosaic has always been problematic for transsexual people. We created Gender Quest group at Pink Triangle Services to address the void in Ottawa for services to transitioning persons–in particular transsexual persons–who have no home in a transgender organization.

I believe this notion of home/community to be very important.

In reading for my course, I have rediscovered Alfred Adler and how he speaks quite directly to this void I’ve always felt in my own life and alluded to in my last post.

Gemeinshaftsgeful
, community feeling/social feeling, is one of a class of notions Adler describes as “regulatory ideals,” notions so powerful for us they act upon us as if they were real–they act as telos, goals of our lives.

I’m getting back to Autumn’s post–really–and recent controversy on the TGV list.

I feel no home in anything described as transgender. I find it quite difficult to speak of the needs which are at the core of my advocacy–medical, social and legal–in such a context where for transgender people these needs are of lesser concern.

I believe there is a profound category error at work here that simply compounds the erasure and repudiation of transsexual people. I believe this category error marginalizes the central concerns of transsexual people–even as Namaste has also argued. This is very close to the core of my criticism of Egale Canada’s past and present marginalization of transsexual people.

So, my usage has always been transgender and transsexual people or transsexual and transgender people. This is the usage of Bill Siksay, the Member of Parliament, who has been leading the parliamentary struggle to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code of Canada to include gender identity and gender expression.

In the organizing for the 2008 TDOR in Ottawa all the other organizers were from Gender Mosaic. They wanted to revert to the more common usage, “Transgender Day of Remembrance.” I argued against it. I suggested using “Transgender-Transsexual Day of Remembrance;” the others were, at one point, willing to use “Trans-Transgender Day of Remembrance.” All I can say, this erasure and repudiation of transsexual people is/was completely unacceptable.

But the question raises itself, why is it always appropriate to so casually erase and repudiate transsexual people?

Why is this category error so normalized?

Do we shame and embarrass not only gay and lesbian people but also transgender people?

Why is the ideology, even among those who, by almost any definition are transsexual people, to impose their views on those who do not accept them–often allying themselves with those who have no interest in our struggles and everyday/night lives?

I have no concern whatsoever in people identifying themselves in any way they wish–I respect this. I simply ask to be granted the same privilege.

Failing that, I ask for the adoption of an open usage that doesn’t erase and repudiate me.

References

King. R. A. & Shelley, C. A. (2008). Community feeling and social interest: Adlerian parallels, synergy and differences with the field of community psychology [PDF Format]. J. Community Appl. Soc. Psychol., 18: 96–107.

Namaste, V. (2000). Invisible lives: The erasure of transsexual and transgendered people. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Namaste, V. (2005). Sex change, social change: Reflections on identity, institutions, and imperialism. Toronto: Women’s Press.

Shelley, C. A. (2008). Transpeople: Repudiation, trauma, healing. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press.

UPDATE: Ethan St. Pierre is quite correct in comments. And in a piece on “naming,” no less. My apologies. I have corrected his name in the text.

UPDATE II: It is difficult to know where to start on comments.

Those who accuse me of being a separatist for wanting an open usage seem to be glued to words rather than actions–even actions through words. I have long advocated for transgender and transsexual people, gender identity and gender expression. I have argued, publicly, against those who would throw gender expression overboard explicitly in terms of not duplicating the removal of T from GLB.

One post seems to dismiss the need for a specific group for transitioning persons. Do transitioning persons not deserve the same support as those who do not?

I guess my commentaries discussing the need for the largest coalition possible were not read. In a coalition, among transgender and transsexual people, with gay, lesbian and bisexual people, just to start, all parts must be clearly identified, their needs and goals explicit, so that–unlike the identity politics of Egale Canada, for example–one identity will not marginalize all others.

There seems to be the same distaste for the word transsexual in comments as during discussions for TDOR 2008.

There seems to be a great fear just to say the word transsexual will do some irreparable harm to someone’s identity–the very identity politics Egale Canada practises. We are diverse and yet the intense desire is to homogenize us into one term, one identity, one life–this is the definition of identity politics.

Name calling does not advance the struggle for the provision of and access to health and social services, legal status or human rights.

It is precisely these actions that alienate, that foreclose the possibility of coalition as opposed to identity politics.

Naming is one of the most important things we do in the world, this is why open usage is so important.

There is no single name–and to insist upon one is to marginalize all those who do not fit. I would have thought all those who have been erased and repudiated by the ideology of inconvenient, divisive and ultimately unnecessary would understand this.

UPDATE III: In the legislation proposed by Bill Siksay there is no trace of identities, embodied in the words transgender and transsexual (Bill uses the same terminology as I do, transgender and transsexual people); legislative language uses categoriesgender identity and gender expression.

There will always be a dynamic tension between identities and categories.

All of us, as marginalized people, require naming, hence the “alphabet soup” so dispised, particularly by some gay people–who just happen to always have their identity named.

For the rest of us it is just too inconvenient and divisive for our identities to be mentioned. So we must.

I believe the inevitable multiplication of identities must always be respected–this is the foundation for any coalition which must also be based on anti-oppression principles.

At the same time, there must be a way of making sense of it all–this is the role of categories and their place in legislative language.

Agencies that begin to make the small steps from the time when they all were gay, abandon the multiplication of identities that grew almost out of control for categories.

Pink Triangle Services in Ottawa no longer itemizes the identities in its Mandate–gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, two spirit and queer–but includes categories–issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

These categories include us all.

This step is a long time coming and only a first step in the direction of clarifying the thinking we must do to move forward.

It is, clearly, the hardest step.

UPDATE IV: Shannon poses an interesting question in comments.

A first thought: Transsexual people, certainly transsexual women, are not particularly transgressive, unlike, well Genderqueer, especially Genderfucker and transsexual men.

Even transsexual men in their gender/sex support stereotypical gender/sex roles. Namaste refers to this, as she refers to the stereotypical roles transsexual women support. She makes the strong argument that transsexual people are only heard if they present their lives through the prism of gay/lesbian concerns.

Namaste marshals these as part of her argument that transsexual people, as opposed to transgender people–which include gay/lesbian people–diverge from the goals of gay/lesbian people.

Namaste’s roster of trans opinion leaders who are heard are Leslie Fineberg, Kate Bornstein, Riki Ann Wilkins and the theorist, Judith Butler. But, she argues, where are the transsexual people who support traditional roles.

We can add Julia Serano to this line of argument. Serano has explicitly asserted there is not only a disconnect but a complete reversal between our “connumity(ies)” and the larger society.

In our “community(ies)” those on the F2M spectrum are lauded as transgressive, a high value, particularly in communities, like those valued by Capital Xtra, of sexual freedon–what some have called liberationist.

In society at large, Serano has pointed out those on the M2F spectrum are a cause celebre, objectified and hypersexualized.

In our “community(ies)” femininity, even femaleness, is not valued. It is even worse than that–these values are erased and repudiated–especially if presented by male-bodied persons. The entire M2F spectrum, transgender and transsexual.

Serano’s point is trans women are spectacle in society at large. More even that cissexual/cisgender women because we have given up male privilege.

Society at large does not find it at all out of the ordinary everyone wants to be male/masculine. This is what a masulinist/mysognous/sexist society is all about.

Namaste, less directly, seems to make the same point.

The last step in this argument hinges on the historical predominance of M2F in discussions about trans/transsexuality/transgenderism. This is itself a function of what might be called the Serano reversal.

I often ask at this point: Who would want to be a woman?

UPDATE V: Appearances can be deceiving.

The only topic of conversation in comments, now that Shannon has retired, is gender, gender, gender.

When we are born, what the doctor presiding declares is not a gender, but sex. His (historically a “he”) made this judgement not on the colour of the blanket or the baby’s hairstyle or makeup, but on the baby’s physiology–on primary sexual characteristics.

One may wish to say this is only gender, but that requires a rather sophisticated theoretical structure, built upon the work of Judith Butler.

These do indeed become the foundation for gender signs as the baby grows into a man or a women–gender–though the foundation may remain, apparently, male or female–sex.

If it were all about gender, there might be little need for hormone replacement, certainly no need for surgery. Or the kind of concerns mentioned in Ethan’s last post–maybe for a man and male person these concerns are superficial, certainly a gender characteristic. I cannot describe them in a way satisfactory to one who does not value them.

We could just work for a society in which there is no gender binary. This is precisely what Namaste discusses and points out the very incomprehension transgender have for these concerns of transsexual people.

At base there is a category error which subsumes “sex-changing” transsexual people into “gender-changing” transgender people. On the surfance it appears that all transsexual people are doing is what transgender people are doing, changing their gender.

This may well be the basis for the repudiation and erasure of transsexual people so evident in this and other discussions. Historically, we can look to Judith Butler for, on the one hand, opening up space for “gender-changing” transgender people on the one hand, but closing down space for “sex-changing” transsexual people on the other.

The very tragic life of David Reimer, which I will discuss in my next commentary, illustrates issues at the core of this vigorous debate–and butler’s perspective: the persistence of gender identity–a term which I do not like for obvious reasons, but keep for some of the same pragmatic reasons champions of transgender do: it is not accurate, but everyone understands it.

Has this attitude historically not been the foundation for much misery?

For those who will not accept what Serano calls subconscious sex then nothing Shannon or I have said, clearly, makes any sense.

More than that it threatens their identity politics, world-view and lives, not to mention linguistic habits that are as challenging to change as male/masculine speech habits.

I am loath to resort to biological arguments, especially with those who I would seek to form the coalitions Shannon and I have been at great pains to describe, but, we know the incidence of physical intersex is about 1:2000 births.

Why then is it so hard to accept there is, as Lynn Conway points out, an incidence of  “strong TG feelings” 1:200, “intense TS feelings” 1:500, “TG transitioners (w/o SRS)” 1:1000, and “TS transitioners (w SRS)” 1:2500?

In the arguments presented in comments–except for Shannon’s–I find lurking a justification for excluding those who seek medical intervention, particularly surgery. If we accept the lives and struggles of those who do not need to do what Shannon and I, among many, many others have done, why is there so much resistance to accepting our lives and struggles? As they are?

Is there some shame and embarrassment that marginalizes us from those who should be the first to join in coalition?

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23 Responses to Who Names Me?

  1. Yes and not getting a person’s name correct can be just as disrespectful, you would think.

  2. Mercedes says:

    Subsequently, this continentally prominent trans person admitted to being Ethan’s informer.

    “Continentally prominent?” I doubt it. I don’t seriously think I have any power to impose views, nor would I want to. I rather enjoy diversity, and would rather not squelch it.

    I’ve already clarified this, and heard nothing further about it since November.

    It was in fact you who first got angry and said that listing your event as a “Transgender” day of Remembrance, as opposed to “trans,” disrespected it (not listing it period — if that’s where the discrepancy resides and if I had any hand in confusing the issue, I apologize). I hadn’t realized that you were making any distinction, I had simply copied and pasted events listings from where I’d found them, and I believe I’d found yours from another Canadian list. My email to Ethan was made because he had your event similarly listed on one of his pages, again possibly unaware of the distinction. I had not requested (nor suggested) that he remove it entirely.

    That said, I find it bizarre that I’m accused of attempting to erase transsexual peoples, when that’s how I identify myself, and what I write about and advocate for most. That is, until the familiar don’t-associate-us-with-transgender argument comes up. And you’ll have to excuse me, but after two unexpectedly vicious years of that battle (mostly as a result of 2-4 people) and having people attempt to out me to my employer, attempt to sabotage my working relationship with my GID therapist, spread a whole bunch of history that’s no one else’s business around Edmonton and then in more recent months around the Internet, declare online that in order to respect transsexuals I should never use the term for myself again and instead use “autogynephile” or “fetishist,” and a whole lot of other angering history, I get a little impatient about that subject anymore.

    Certainly, there are sizeable differences between sub-communities. That’s why it makes sense to have seperate meetings. But there are points when gender identity and gender expression — and all the people who run afoul of expectations on those bases — need to come together (i.e. TDoR). Frankly, I don’t care what an umbrella term might be, as long as we can come together once in awhile, in support of each other. The point I keep raising, and seems to get a stunningly vindictive response at times, is that the don’t-associate-us-with-transgender outcry is erasure of another sort. I don’t see how finding common ground in a “transgender community” necessarily erases or repudiates transsexual persons, provided we retain the commitment to fight for TS needs and promote TS awareness. I don’t see how abandoning the gender expression part in order to “look out for ourselves” is any different from the GLB dumping the T.

    Now, if I’ve put words in your mouth with any of the above, I apologize. However, I’ve heard so many varied things from the argument for “seperatism” (essentially) that I can’t even keep some of the players straight anymore (HBS, TS-Si, “classic” transsexualism, trans-only). I know that within that argument, reasoning and opinion vary greatly, and I’ve been able to find common ground with a great many who’ve put forward the argument, although I probably won’t ever agree with the original premise. But I’ve also been blindsided by the few who make up the extreme and absurd element enough times that the argument just exasperates me. I respect you and what you do, I’m just not sure how far you’re aiming to take the argument. Or perhaps even how you’re defining “transgender.”

    Even so, rifts like this aren’t going to help the situation in Canada. I don’t need to remind you that we’re barely on the radar here, and that Egale still hasn’t actively (publically, I mean) demonstrated a change from their historical behaviour, no matter how much anyone challenges them to (and if they did, I’m still not convinced that stepping back and letting them handle it would be a wise course of action anyway, especially when any trans voices in that equation are still subject to leadership veto). We need some form of advocacy on a national level (I’ll pre-emptively say that I know I’m not the person to lead it, although I am prepared to support it, so I don’t say that with selfish ambitions) and it won’t happen as long as we’re isolated individuals allowing rifts to divide us.

    I’ve said before, that I’m willing to work with anyone who is trying to advance the needs of the transgender (used as an umbrella term) community and the needs within it (obviously including TS issues), and yes, that would include Egale and the trans-supportive people within Egale — although I would not be inclined to make Egale the primary focus of what I do, because of the history and the potential for hamstringing from above (I also doubt very much that they’d ask). If a national organization formed to advocate for the rights of transsexuals only, it would be likewise: I would do what I could to assist the organization, but it would not be a sole focus. I can put aside the disagreement that much, but I ultimately oppose leaving anyone behind, be they trans sex workers, people of colour… or anyone who identifies as “transgender” — just as much as I oppose any erasure of transsexuals.

    I’m also realizing that I’m the minority, and that many TS people today are just as eager to recommit the sins of the past if it will secure rights today, as people of yesterday were to do them to us. It’s no secret that I don’t write much anymore. I’m tired of fights over labels within our own community(ies), tired of people wanting to break associations (sometimes showing contempt for each other in the process — again, I’m not saying you’re doing this, but it’s what I see fairly often in this debate), and while I never pretend to speak for everyone, I’m tired of being told that in order to respect others’ identities and views, I must be silent.

    This is not meant as a rebuke to you personally and I’m not interested in slinging knives from my own blog, because the point isn’t to engage in a war of backstabbing. This thing is resolveable, even if we have to agree to disagree on it. But there’s a challenge to the community(ies): can we find common ground on which we’re all willing to meet and resolve things like this?

    The offer is there: let’s sort this out, clarify it, fix it or put it behind us. Or, I can walk away if that’s preferable.

  3. aki says:

    I think there are still more then enough mutual things left to do that it is not yet time to start carving up our community into even more singular special interests. Sure, TG folks may not be as interested in getting srs covered as TS folks are… but that doesn’t mean they don’t care.

    fact is, we need allies more then we need division. Things that help TG folk, ALWAYS help TS folk by extension… but the reverse is not always true. Employment protection based on gender identity (a “tg issue”) will protect ts folks by extension. However simply getting protection for those who have/want surgery will do nothing for TG folks, and require TS folks to once again “prove” our TS-ness to others. I’ve yet to be in a “transsexual (only) support group” that hasn’t been right full of elitist jerks constantly demanding that new members jump through as many hoops as the Clarke puts out just to prove that they are “really transsexual”/”trans enough” for their little clique. If you want a transsexual-only movement, how do you propose to have members prove their TS-ness without being just as bad as the Clarke?

    I am a transsexual woman, but I will NEVER support a transsexual only event, group, or mandate. I went through enough “prove you’re tranny enough” when I went for surgery, and the utterly humiliating process of getting my birth cert / other ID changed. I did not like having to prove to them that I was trans enough to be considered a woman and I sure will not do so to my own community.

    Please take your HBS elsewhere.

  4. Ethan Kincaid says:

    I’m sorry to hear of your marginalization. Being swept under the rug at TDOR was not the right thing for anyone to do. However, I think some confusion occurred and I confess I didn’t understand your post until after I read it over a couple of times.

    I will tell you about my confusion, and perhaps you will understand it. You see, I understand the definition of the word “transgender” to mean going from living as (however uncomfortably) the gender you were arbitrarily assigned at birth to living as another gender (or a succession of genders) that you feel more comfortable in. Because this definition is so broad and all-encompassing, it’s not a bad thing that it is used as an umbrella term for a variety of gender and sexual identities and presentations.

    It is my understanding that all transsexual people are transgendered. Not all transgendered people are transsexual. Some are two-spirited, some non-gendered, some third-gendered, and the list goes on. I can understand your feelings of exclusion if you yourself do not identify as “gender-fluid” like these folks, but their identities are no less real, worthy of respect, and in need of legal protection, than yours. It’s okay not to feel part of the two-spirit community if you’re not two-spirited, just like you shouldn’t feel left-out at a gay bar if you’re straight.

    Now, I’m a transgendered, transsexual, pansexual, polyamorous man. To which of these communities do I most owe my allegiance? Isn’t that a ridiculous question?

    Naturally, you should feel free to start your own support group for surgery-oriented trans-folk. That is, those who are planning on surgery, are between surgeries, or have had surgery. However, it would be a comparatively small group and might not get funding. That’s part of why all these little sub-groups get together under the umbrella of transgenderism. Here, we can be large enough to be seen and heard, and we can help each other. Your inclusion in the transgendered community is important for advocacy and protection. Yes our community is widely varied, but isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that what the rainbow stands for? Together, we can help the world see that differences are not scary and it’s okay to accept and love us.

    Please don’t let yourself slide into being the kind of person who says to the world “yes I’m different but at least I’m not as weird as those third gendered people over there who refuse to have their genitals cut up and made RIGHT!” In your struggle for identity and recognition, please don’t become an oppressor.

  5. Shannon Blatt says:

    Man, this is fucking depressing. Over and over, the same trite responses and pre-canned, utterly predictable knee-jerk objections get offered in response to what is actually a sophisticated argument in favour of and in support of diversity, solidarity, coalition. And those predictable, politically illiterate responses misprepresent the arguments put forward by Jessica and accuse her of falling into a camp of elitists like those HBS shitbags, which is a school of though that Jessica, in the years I’ve read her writings and worked with her, has NEVER advocated and I cannot imagine her EVER advocating, any more than I ever would support the HBS line, or any of its vile offspring, nor use terms like “primary”, “secondary”, “classic” or what have you. Jessica has not made those arguments to my knowledge. So why the fcuk is she being accused of it in knee-jerk fashion? I feel I can post this from a place of solid experience, because when, back in the old Egale Trans e-list days, I used to advocate for “trans solidarity” by arguing, in part, that communities like those who identify as transsexual or as crossdressers or as shemales etc. should not be erased and de-named and repudiated, and that transsexual is NOT a dirty word, and that coercive assignment of umbrella identities (rather than cohesive work towards establishing umbrella grounds in law) was the way towards progress and a real substantive public education project – there was one person all over my ass in objection: JESSICA! LOL. Her thinking has evolved and become more sophisticated, and I hope other peoples’ will too. Conflation is erasure, not the building of solidarity. Conflation sells all trans people short.

  6. Shannon Blatt says:

    corrigendum:

    “…coercive assignment of umbrella identities (rather than cohesive work towards establishing umbrella grounds in law) was the way towards progress and a real substantive public education project”

    should have read:

    “…coercive assignment of umbrella identities (rather than cohesive work towards establishing umbrella grounds in law) was NOT the way towards progress and a real substantive public education project”

  7. Shannon Blatt says:

    I really think there is a disconnect here, where the claiming or reclaiming of an identity is being confused with the idea of asserting that people of that identity should be accorded greater rights, greater equality, or greater or better services etc. I myself, and I believe Jessica, are arguing in support of the former, and are vociferously opposed to the latter. I would never support a “transsexual support clinic”. I would support a “transition support clinic”, i.e. available to anyone who needs medical services, support etc. in whatever sort of gender-related transition they happen to be making. Yet at the same time, if someone wanted to start a peer-support group for people of shared experience, and call it a support group for transsexual people or people of TS experience or something like that – I have no issue with that. I have zero time or willingness to accept anything but self-identification as the basis for someone. If a group called itself a TS support group and then started excluding people who self-ID as TS on criteria the group is establishing or referencing – then I say fuck that group, it’s not a TS support group, it’s a little control club. And in my experience of attending one or even two such little clubs (as I found them to be after time), any such little club might be a group full of lots of annoying assholes. BUT the principle of transsexual identifying people being entitled to organize along the basis of that closely shared experience and identity is one that I feel forced to defend.

    So here’s a question: why is not only OK, but actively celebrated (I celebrate it anyway), for a group to identify as GENDERQUEER and to “break away” from the umbrella of “transgender” and to create its own support group (arguably exclusive of transsexual persons and all non-GQ trans identities) – BUT it’s a heinous act of elitist, balkanizing, fracturing division for someone to do the same for TRAN(S)SEXUAL persons? What is the difference in *principle*? I get that often TS-specific groupings are just covers for little clubs that oppress people who self-ID as TS, but that is really a separate issue…an issue of people appropriating the term TS, defining it at their own whim and then oppressively policing its boundaries to keep out “undesirables.” That is bullshit. But it’s not really of any direct relevance to the issue of whether TS identity is worthy of being treated as a dirty word and a destructive concept. That…is bullshit too.

  8. Ethan Kincaid says:

    Whoa take it easy there. An umbrella term is just a shorter way to refer to several groups of people who have something in common. I mean, that’s like someone calling me a man and then having me scream: “I’m a BISEXUAL man! Gawd! Stop discounting my identity!”

    We just say transgendered because it’s shorter. The GLBTTTIQQ-lmnop acronym is getting ridiculously long as it is. Nobody yells at me for referring to the Rainbow Community to avoid stumbling over my own tongue, and no one ought to yell at me for saying that grouping us gender variant people under “transgendered” is a useful term.

  9. aki says:

    Shannon, you’re good at big words, but conflation is not at the issue of my point…

    Transgender is an umbrella term, talking about including transsexual with it is appropriate as one is a subset of the other.

    you yourself have said many times that you are disgusted by the way the trans(gender) community has failed to come together to get anything done… have you not once thought that crap like this is the exact reason why? Sounds like a case of the Me First and the Gimme Gimme’s… We are NOT a big community, we likely never will be, if we are going to constantly divide up based on something as arbitrary as what we want done with our genitals we will never get anywhere.

    Sorry, but for us (collective “us” there) to have any hope of getting anything done, we need to stand together and look out for each other. Every “them” people make, either by HBS bullpoop, or by saying “sorry, you’re not welcome in our support group”, you cut down our chances.

    UPDATE: just hit refresh to see if there were any other posts, saw your second (well, third). I see no difference what-so-ever between a GQ group being elitist and splitting away from, and shunning TG people, and TS people splitting away from, and shunning TG people. If someone feels they should be part of a group, and that they can get something good from it, and they are not preventing others from getting their thing… what does the label really matter?

    At the end of the day, we all want equal rights, protection from discrimination and harassment, and the same chances as everyone else to live happily and healthily… why should we not use language, both in our laws and our own community, that ensures that everyone gets a piece of that?

    If protection for “transgender people” covers transsexuals, pre-ops, post-ops, non-ops for medical reasons, non-ops for personal reasons, bigenders, two spirited, non-genders, third genders, cross dressers, part time folks, full time folks, and likely a dozen other subsets I’ve forgotten about right now…. why not just use the term “transgender people”? rather then make sure that each and every group is mentioned by name and risk missing one?

    it’s that “risk missing one” part that gets me when people start talking about fighting for the rights of JUST one part. They can win and everyone else is still just as screwed.

  10. Ethan Kincaid says:

    “So here’s a question: why is not only OK, but actively celebrated (I celebrate it anyway), for a group to identify as GENDERQUEER and to “break away” from the umbrella of “transgender” and to create its own support group”

    As I understand it, genderqueer folks are still transgendered in the sense that they have transitioned, or are in the process of transitioning into a different gender. (Living as a different gender, I’m not saying that they weren’t born that way by any stretch.) I understand that sometimes folks might want to distance themselves from the “transgender community” because of stereotypes they have in their heads about what exactly a transgendered person is. I have nothing at all against anyone who wants to define or re-define themselves, but they have to understand that they’re still a sub-set of a larger group. I have not, to this day, met a genderqueer person who does not, after some thought sometimes, consider themselves transgendered.

    I don’t even think that this is an issue of transsexual people being marginalized because I frankly don’t see any transgendered groups excluding or erasing us. I mean, frig, I run one! I think it’s just this one case of someone feeling slighted and thinking the whole transgender community behaves in an exclusive manner. That’s not fair either.

    What I worry about these “break away” groups, yes even TS folks who don’t like being called TG, is that they’re being marginalized… by themselves. I’ve seen people get on with the “I’m not this and I’m not that and you’re not getting it right and my identity’s not the same as your identity and how dare you compare me to yourself…” that they end up backing themselves into a corner where they are the only person in their own group. Yes I understand that everyone’s an individual but this behaviour is self-destructive.

  11. Shannon Blatt says:

    I’ve used the umbrella term ‘trans’ throughout my posts. Nothing I have said is about “dividing” up a community or about anyone shunning anyone. and I don’t think Jessica is doing those things either. You are projecting that onto us. I’ve acknowledged that there are people out there who want to do those oppressive, exclusive things, and I’ve agreed clearly it is a terrible thing. My point, and I think Jessica’s, is about respecting how people self-identity, and respecting and helping to identify and meet their particular needs.

    I fully appreciate that for some purposes we need an umbrella term, and given the historical baggage associated with the word transgender(ed) (ie. it being a reaction *against* and in its origins an expressly *transsexual-phobic* attempt *by TG people* to separate TG people *from* icky/crazy transsexual people (read up on that if you don’t believe me)) – I prefer to use the word ‘trans’ when an umbrella is needed, though even that umbrella is now inadequate, because it fails to include (or it forcibly colonizes genderqueer folks, like Ethan just did above.)

    Why should a word that potentially misrepresents who I am in terms of my relation to gender as a transsexual person, and which has a troubled, socially-violent history viz a viz TS people, be accepted by me when it is assigned to me against my will? Sorry…I resist that oppression, and I believe I do it without oppressing anyone else and without breaking from solidarity with everyone else. I defy anyone to demonstrate that I am anything but a strong supporter of cohesive coalition of equally respected and empowered and united trans, genderqueer and “gender variant” etc. etc. ABCDEFG…etc. people. As an umbrella, trans doesn’t get my back up in the same way transgendered does, but it still colonizes and forcibly conscripts gendequeer folks. The solution is not to say “STFU and get in line.”

    Anyway..bottom line is that your arguments don’t seem to be responsive to what is actually being said. you seem to be responding to someone else’s arguments, and I’m not sure what to make of that, but I’m not going to worry myself over it unduly.

  12. Shannon Blatt says:

    Re: your update IV Jessica, I had meant to answer my own question: the answer lies in the notion of transgressivist oppression that is identified by Julia Serano, with some trans-misogyny as the medium in which it all occurs. But you elaborated upon it much more completely and helpfully.

  13. Shannon Blatt says:

    I just want to share a bit more to help people (including myself, I guess) where I’m coming from. We’re each the product of our experiences, and that can be a significant thing in shaping who we are, what we do and..what we say in places like this, on topics like this one.

    So..for starters, I used to be a very strong advocate of using the word transgender, and when a “transsexual” movement began emerging in Ontario in the early 2000s (call it 2003), I did in fact make every single one of the arguments that people are making here, against people who insist that they be identified as who and what they identify as (in this case, transsexual.)

    It was experience that changed my mind, and reflection upon experiences. My evolution into becoming a defender of peoples’ right to proudly assert their transsexual identities (as long as it wasn’t/isn’t done at the expense of other trans identities or other gender identities, a la HBS crap) was not motivated by a desire to separate away from anyone..but rather a desire to move towards spaces/places where I could get the support and respect that I deserved and demanded.

    Here are two examples:

    Before coming out, my first attempt at contact with the “transgender community” or “trans community” was with the smaller of what were at that time, the only two TG support structures in Ottawa. That initial contact set me back 2 full years in my progress, because the self-identified “heterosexual crossdresser”/TG person who ran the thing told me in our first ten minutes of meeting that I would “never be able to transition” because of having “too much brow bossing.” What horseshit, no? But I knew nothing, was vulnerable, depressed, messed up, and so I just turtled, more frightened than ever.

    Two years later or so, I had reached my breaking point and was getting my transition under way (bossing be damned), and I wanted to make connection with our community. So, I hooked into the larger of the two “transgender support groups” in Ottawa. I had a much better experience, though the group was dominated by self-IDd “heterosexual crossdressers”, they were generally nice people and that was good enough at first. But after a few months, I began to understand the subtle messaging that was being transmitted to me, and it eventually became very UNsubtle, in the form of a piece in their newsletter, which described (or analogized) SRS to “self-mutilation.” Sound familiar? yeah..in a “TG support” group no less. There was actually a lot of negativity towards full out gender transition, and a lot of transsexual-phobia. And nobody actually had the kind of information I was looking for, relating to transition, various trans surgeries, etc. It was BS, so I bolted.

    I ended up then at the local TS support group, still looking for good information and some support and friendship. I got the information and met a few nice people, but then, again, it became clear that it was really just another control scene, where there were ‘types’ of TS folks, and right and wrong ways to transition, be a woman, etc. etc. More oppressive, prescriptive crap.

    So…here I am today. I know who I am, and I know what I believe in, and I believe in liberty, freedom, respect and the responsibility to provide those things to my fellow travellers, whatever path they may be travelling.

    Finally, I want to express an apology for some inflammatory choices of words in my earlier posts which could be taken as personal insults/attacks. they weren’t meant as such. But I’m just a bit cranky a.t.m., after a nasty experience at a family funeral this weekend, where it seems my parents and I are in a fresh rupture of our relationship, which I thought was very much on the mend after a five year estrangement at their behest. so, I guess I’m a bit sensitive about the issue of being respected for exactly who the hell I am. not excusing my words/deeds, but just explaining them as best I can. And with that, I’m going to go “poof” and vanish from this online debate scene. There’s actual *work* to do, right? 😀

  14. Ethan Kincaid says:

    I’m not really concerned with what “transgender”, the word, meant historically any more than I would insist that “gay” still means joyous. Regarding my “forcible colonization” of genderqueer people, and thanks for making me sound like a bacterial infection, I don’t think that’s so.

    I already explained what “transgender” inherently means. Why should I claim to know this? Well, I’m a linguist. At least that’s what it says on my university degree. But, because you missed it, I’ll explain again.

    When we’re born, we get gendered. Right? Right. Everybody gets a he or a she and that’s the way it goes. So let’s say you TRANSITION from a “he” to a “she”. From living as the masculine gender to living as the feminine gender. “transition” and “gender” are smushed conveniently into “transgender” to describe this phenomenon. Stop yelling about genderqueer, I’m getting to it.

    Now let’s say someone goes from “she” to no gender, or prefers to waffle between pronouns depending on their inner feelings at a particular time. That’s a viable option too. They TRANSITION from a gender to no gender, or no fixed gender. Still a transition of gender. Still transgender.

    I’m not forcing anybody into anything. I’m describing semantics. I had my fill of theorists who made up their own terminology as they went along because nobody else’s was good enough. It’s been done to death and it doesn’t make one sound more sophisticated. In fact, it makes people suspect you of spouting hogwash for the purposes of getting attention.

    But don’t bother getting uptight. I was finished as soon as I read this:

    “In our “community(ies)” femininity, even femaleness, is not valued. It is even worse than that–these values are erased and repudiated–especially if presented by male-bodied persons. The entire M2F spectrum, transgender and transsexual.”

    Among other things that I don’t care to quote right now. Most cis-folk have no idea that a person can even transition from female to male. It’s transwomen who get all the face-time with the public whereas transmen often get shoved into the “ultra-dyke” box and forgotten about.

    To make blanket statements such as this about the transgender community shows me a lack of knowledge of said community. To be accused of telling others what manner of critter they are and then told what manner of critter *I* am on the very same page is just vexing. I feel foolish for having wasted my time with this whole discussion.

  15. aki says:

    Shannon, I think you missed his point… by a wide margin.

    “Transgender and Transsexual” is like saying “Students and Grad Students”… it’s confusing and unnecessary… and the last thing we need is to confuse people when we are fighting for basic rights.

    And to Jessica… I’m sorry you got taken off the schedule, but when you contact a person running a transgender list and tell him that your event is not a transgender event… why would you expect to be left on? A specifically transsexual event will be listed on a specifically transsexual schedule, not a more general transgender one. It seems like you want the best of both worlds… you want to reach everyone under the umbrella, but you only want to do the work and get benefits for one subset.

    Bottom line: If you want something to be “just transsexual” expect every other aspect of the transgender community to give it a pass. If you want it to be “Transgender and Transsexual” you are going to confuse people by using two terms when only one is needed. And lastly, if you want to reach the rest of the transgender community, expect to have people there who may not value the same things you do.

    re: update 4 (note, I dont know how to do the fancy quote block here, so I will just use ” “)

    “A first thought: Transsexual people, certainly transsexual women, are not particularly transgressive, unlike, well Genderqueer, especially Genderfucker and transsexual men.”

    wow, generalizations much? I strongly suggest you start hanging around more trans youth of both genders if this is your honest opinion of ts women. For that matter, hang out with more of the older ones too. If all the transwomen you see are of the white-picket-fence variety then you should broaden your horizon before painting us all with the same brush. I’m not aware of how varied your experience is with the trans community in Ottawa, but to say that kind of blanket statement about the “transgressiveness” of transpeople based on their gender… it makes me sad to be honest. We are a lot more varied then that, and you should get to know just how much so before you start trying to speak on our behalf.

    “In our “community(ies)” femininity, even femaleness, is not valued. It is even worse than that–these values are erased and repudiated–especially if presented by male-bodied persons. The entire M2F spectrum, transgender and transsexual.”

    I really don’t know what communities you are in, but I would love to see one that DIDN’T push femininity on transwomen. I moderate several online groups and I have a hard time keeping the “am I woman enough?” crap to a minimum… Am I skinny enough? Does my voice pass well enough? Do I do my make-up well enough? It is all hyper-valuing femininity.

    I have only seen a single MTF environment that even so much as acknowledges ones masculine side exists, let alone honour it.

    Sorry, but I call BS on that… not valued? there are few places where anything BUT it is valued. “Femaleness” is the alter on which far too many transwomen have sacrificed FAR too much of their time, their worries, their very lives on.

    “In our “community(ies)” those on the F2M spectrum are lauded as transgressive, a high value, particularly in communities, like those valued by Capital Xtra, of sexual freedon–what some have called liberationist.”

    that’s more so because CapX is full of sexist men. You say that you hate how we are represented in that rag, then go and use it as an example later on of “our community”?

    “Serano’s point is trans women are spectacle in society at large. More even that cissexual/cisgender women because we have given up male privilege.”

    wait, didn’t you just finish saying that transwomen are LESS transgressive then transmen? Colour me confused, but wouldn’t wanting to give up privilege be seen as MORE transgressive?

    And I just checked to see if there was a new post, and there was:

    You mention having troubles with those communities… did it not occur to you that these places were bad for you, not because they were transgender spaces, but because they were full of jerks? I have a very similar story, except for me it was from transsexuals who told me I could never be transANYTHING because: I didn’t know from the age of 4, I was too tall, I liked sports, I was able to touch my wang without gaging, I wasn’t 100% sure that I wanted surgery 10 minutes after coming out, I still had my friends and family…

    You’re saying that those communities treated you badly because they were TG based? Should I turn around and say that that community treated me bad exclusively because they were TS based? No, they did it because they were jerks. I may have not known so at the time, but I’m a more experienced person now and can separate the two.

    “Those who do not learn the lessons of history, are doomed to repeat it at summer school”

  16. SA-ET says:

    This is an excellent essay Jessica. You have touched on many bees in the proverbial hornets nest.

    The gist of much of the brouhaha is that it is perfectly acceptable for the transgender majority to routinely colonize transsexuals by saying or implying that ”you are one of us”…but the extreme transsexual minority, particularly post operative transsexuals, who attempt to reject this colonization by saying ”no, we are not one of you” instantly leads the transgender to draw their transphobic-HBS loving -separatist-elitist sword and attempt to dice our perspective. If the transgender decided to separate from the transsexuals I doubt if it would be even a brief blip on the blogosphere radar. However, just the mere suggestion from transsexuals that we are not part of the transgender and the planet rocks as though its core is on the verge of imploding. That in itself is indicative of the legitimacy we own…and refuse to relinquish. Someone who is not transsexual can not speak for someone who is, if for no other reason than the don’t know what they don’t know.

    More and more transsexuals, such as yourself, who are dissatisfied with an umbrella term we did not ask for, much less feel we don’t belong under are speaking out…and being listened to. I applaud your effort.

  17. Leigh Smith says:

    “transgender and transsexual is like saying students and grad students, confusing and unnecessary” … huh?

    … just another example of how the transgender try to assimilate transsexuals in an effort to gain medical and societal acceptance for what is a lifestyle on the one side and a proven medical condition on the other.

    …it’s all BS folks and it’s all bad for you … George Carlin

  18. Leigh Ann says:

    It sounded like you almost got it and then you give in to the transgenders. I don’t see that we have anything in common, we’re fixing a medical problem they’re endulging a fetish. Grouping us all together doesn’t just erase us it givws people false ideas about us.

    That’s not the impression we want to give people anymore than having non-op alcholic ex-prostituts into sadomasocism speak for us. You can dress a rusted old junker up as a mercedes but its still a junker and thats not how we should be judged.

    Don’t be intimadated.

  19. catkisser says:

    Amazing!…….the blog entry is one quite similar to one I wrote ten or so years ago……coaltions require respect of the identities within the coalition first.

    I gave up on that. The cunning linguist that commented chose to use “gender” in a specific, limited meaning. Me, I’m a historian and theologian so if he gets to limit the meaning of word then I get to tell you the Goddess told me he’s full of it…….

    The identity battles have one point the transgender crowd seems incapable of understanding….women of transsexual history (and the men when they finally join us) are defining themselves and defending that self definition. TGs are patriarchaicly demanding the right to define us…..an act of aggression vs an act of self defense. It’s actually that simple.

    Oh, and mister linguist, “gender”, as used in transgender and the Butlerian deconstructionist crowd refers to a sense of one’s self as male or female or other…..gendered behaviour is something else. If you don’t trans your sense of self as female (or male), you do not “trans” that gender ever. It’s just as consistent as non-trans gender identity.

    And enough with the shots at HBS. Ok, a couple of lunatics took it too far initially but the movement boils down to simply there are those who are born with a neurological form of intersexuality called transsexuality in the days prior to erasure of that term’s meaning (a meaning still defined as such in the ICD-10. It is a medical condition with a cure, transition and surgical correction to the max possible.

  20. Leigh Smith says:

    I have been to Canada a few times. Nice People really. They look just like Americans, sometimes speak a funny way, have the same goals and aspirations most of us Americans do. I would have to wonder why we just don’t give them statehood and call them Americans.

    Funny thing though… they seem to get a bit miffed at that idea … I guess they are just Ameriphobic.

  21. Shannon Blatt says:

    I have to pipe in and make it clear that while identifying as (of) transsexual (experience) and as “trans” for purposes of solidarity/coalition, rather than as transgender, I absolutely reject the poisonous arguments and statements of Leigh Smith and Leigh Ann, above. ugh. And I similarly disavow and reject anyone’s argument that genital status is relevant in any way shape or form, and any bullshit that attacks trans people who struggle with substance issues or who do or have done sex work, and the bullshit about bringing someone’s sexuality into the mix whatsoever, whether it’s their sexual orientation or an enjoyment of bdsm activity. Seriously…WTF? None of those things are relevant and they just reveal the commenters to be toxic individuals who have opted for simplistic, cheap, nasty, low-road politics. It’s no surprise that the idea of “transsexual naming” gets confused with “transsexual separatism” and attracts strong objection, given how very odious the TS separatist arguments are, as seen immediately above.

    Why is it that instead of making the cogent, persuasive, *positive* arguments about the need to avoid erasure of transsexual persons, TS separatists like those who’ve recently posted comments always resort to cheap, shitty attacks on transgender-identifying people? It advances nothing and certainly alienates a lot of TS people, like some who have posted comments here, and like myself.

  22. SA-ET says:

    What specifically do you take issue with, Shannon? Perhaps if you were to quell your own toxicity and refer specifically what has brought on your ire, those individuals could explain.

  23. Leigh Smith says:

    “Why is it that instead of making the cogent, persuasive, *positive* arguments about the need to avoid erasure of transsexual persons, TS separatists like those who’ve recently posted comments always resort to cheap, shitty attacks on transgender-identifying people?”

    LOL .. yep we have tried that too .. read our blog sometime .. http://www.tgnonsense.wordpress.com. .. read catkisser’s blog .. you can’t get more cogent and persuasive than that. Yet for all of that we are shouted down by the transgender and by the gays that support them. We are called transphobic, homophobic, bigots, elitists, seperatists, HBS which we are not, we are banned from posting our points of view on blogs such as Pams ‘autumn sandeen’ blend, even while sandeen spouts that we are all family, we have no opposing or dissenting voice. If we post anything, anywhere that does not fit the “transgender think” we are edited or banned.

    We are mostly a group of very long term women of transsexual history. Many of us, including myself transitioned 20-30 years ago. Thats long before the current transgender mindset came along and accomplished what ? What exactly has all the activism accomplished other than to drag transsexual people through the mud, invited violence, and overseen the reversal of laws and policies from States allowing post operative transsexual women to marry and assume the rights of their target gender ? Are the transgender any better off today with their in your face attitude ? If they are I have yet to see it. They are scorned even by the very organization they claim to be a part of, the GLBT.

    So before you go off thinking that we are all evil doers out to poison the transgender you might want to ask yourself who exactly is poisoning who here. They are in the vast majority, they are the most vocal, and they are affecting my life and the lives of other post ops that want nothing to do with their umbrella, or the GLBT. We just want to be left alone, but they want to drag us kicking and screaming under thier idea of a one size fits all society where our marriages are challenged, and our rights are regressed, and our respect among other women is reduced to being fakers and liers.

    Wake up, the sh*t is getting deeper by the minute.

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