Archive for February, 2009

Yet another trans 101, in which Helen tells cis people What’s What

February 28, 2009

tg_black-on_pink_100x107It’s a sad-but-true fact that, almost without exception, every single online conversation that I have, which includes even one cis person, is invariably dragged back to the same starting point: trans 101.

And while we – trans people – get bogged down in these frankly tedious tutorials, our lives – our real lives, our experiences, our hopes and dreams – our existences – are, as a consequence, marginalised, tokenised and always subject to question (if we’re lucky), or erased and made invisible (if we’re not).

Endlessly having to deal with cis people’s demands to explain and justify ourselves is an energy-suck and a humungous time-waster. Because cis people can wander off thinking how fascinating the insights they’ve gained are, or how they’ve proved to themselves that their pet theories are right – and still don’t make the connection between those things, and how we still have to live our lives in their world. And the first thing we ask ourselves, after you’ve all gone on your merry way is why we always have to give these trans 101 lessons to you.

There’s actually a very convincing and well-established argument for not engaging with you at all: it’s not the job of the oppressed minority to educate our oppressors – and yes, you do oppress us. Sometimes these back-to-basics questions are deliberately thrown into a conversation as a way of derailing or recentering it; the aim being to paralyse discussion and thereby shut it down. Sometimes the oppressions are more subtle, unintentional, even. Either way, the net effect of having to interact with cis people at such a fundamental level is, as one of my friends has perceptively remarked, like death by a thousand papercuts.

Face it, it’s not that difficult to type ‘trans 101’ into your favourite search engine and follow a few of the links that come up. And there are any number of excellent books out there – you could do worse than start with Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl. Or read some of the posts we make on our blogs, or follow the links in our blogrolls.

At least then, when you do come back to us, your questions might have a focus. “Tell me about transgender” is one of the worst things you could ever ask; I can feel my heart sink just typing it out – and you do it Every. Single. Time.

Then you wonder why we get cross with you, why we always seem angry?

But I’ve also heard your counter-argument: “But Helen, the best way for us to learn is for you to tell us, then we hear it first-hand and we get it right”. And despite the pitfalls in your argument, I do actually have some empathy for it. (The pitfalls are (a) it’s a big, big subject which can’t be summed up in a handy pocket-sized soundbite and (b) I don’t speak for, or represent, all trans people). I also know that you always have “just one more question” – and that’s where it starts to become the will-sapping vortex that is behind your demand that trans people educate you.

Periodically, it seems that one or other trans woman thinks that maybe if she put together a trans 101, then she can just refer the questioning cis person to it. It might stick in our throats that we’re doing your grunt work, but we figure that in the long run, the time and effort we put into writing a dedicated piece will pay off – you get your basic information and we hope that we get to have the conversations about the subjects that are of more interest. It never actually works out like that, of course, but we persist, in the faint hope that one day

So welcome to Yet another trans 101, in which Helen tells cis people What’s What.

It’s not a definitive piece, by any stretch of the imagination – other trans people may or may not agree with my views and opinions, but that’s okay, we each have our own takes on what it means to be trans in a cis person’s world. Neither is it a very structured piece; things loop back into (and out of) other things, they overlap, they intersect, and it’s the antithesis of my usual, more linear style of writing. It doesn’t reach a particular conclusion: that’s not its purpose.

One point I want to make very clear is this: my identity is not up for negotiation. I’m a trans woman (my current definition of the term is in my recent post of the same name – link here) and it really doesn’t matter whether any cis person can or can’t deal with that, whether you accept me as the person I am or not: it’s who I am. So please, spare me the indignant lectures about why/how I can’t possibly exist, or how being trans is an affront to your cherished academic and theoretical ideals of what gender is, or isn’t. Those things are interesting to discuss, sure – but I’m here, now; I’m a real flesh-and-blood human being, just like you. And, just like you, I don’t have to validate my existence to anyone.


I often use the words trans (short for transsexual) – my definition of the term is in my earlier post trans woman (link here) – and cis, short for cissexual. At its simplest, I use the word ‘cis’ to mean ‘not trans’ – but it’s a little more complex than that. As my transition has progressed, I’ve become very aware of the privileges and oppressions around being a trans woman. And a preoccupation of mine is the privileges that cis people have, that are denied to trans people, apparently by virtue of our mere existence.

Several bloggers have put together very useful and informative cis privilege checklists, and I’d really recommend you go and look at the following links. You do need to understand how cis privilege works; like most privileges, it’s given to you regardless of whether or not you want it, and whether or not you’re even aware of it. And your cis privilege does affect the way you treat trans people, believe me.

I should also add that, while they’re useful as a kind of shorthand, it’s my experience that any privilege checklist is by definition not telling the full story. There are nuances and subtleties which do not easily lend themselves to categorisation. But it’s a start, and you really need to give cis privilege a lot of thought; in particular, you need to watch how your cis privilege affects trans people when you interact with us.

  • Cis Privilege Checklist: From the Taking Up Too Much Space blog, this is a very comprehensive checklist.
  • The Cisgender Privilege Checklist: This one’s from The Transgender Boards and is also useful, although I’m not especially comfortable with the word ‘cisgender’. I’ll come back to that in a minute.
  • Trans Bingo Card: Although not a checklist per se, I think it fits in here very well. It lists many of the common questions and statements thrown at us by cis people who clearly haven’t examined their privilege. A lot of these things are actually deeply hurtful, more so when the cis person using the them neither intends to (nor is aware of) the upset these kind of remarks cause. Hence the apparently snarky tone – but when you’ve heard these things for the millionth time, then snark is often our best, and sometimes only, form of self-protection.


Okay. Cissexual vs cisgender. I need to come at this from a bit of an angle, so bear with me. The literal meaning of ‘trans’ is ‘across’, so it could be said that ‘transsexual’ means ‘crossing from one sex to another’. That definition works for me. Likewise, you might say that ‘transgender’ means ‘crossing from one gender to another’. That definition doesn’t work for me; by which I mean that I have always perceived myself as being female, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed through my transition. My sex may have changed but my gender hasn’t.

This is actually another sticking point in understanding trans people; there is a tendency to use ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ synonymously. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, there’s a world of difference – although it’s kind of hard to explain sometimes. There are a couple of truisms relating to this which, although they don’t tell the full story, are a useful way of getting some small insight. First, it’s sometimes said that ‘sex is what’s between a person’s legs, but gender is what’s between their ears’. Alternatively, you might try ‘sex is who I go to bed with, but gender is who I go to bed as.

Coming back to cissexual vs cisgender, this distinction is why, when I use the term ‘cis’, I mean ‘cissexual’, not ‘cisgender’.

And it should also be pointed out that none of these expressions is a slur on a cis person’s cis-ness. They’re just a useful reminder of a generally overlooked/concealed power imbalance in the relations between us.


I want to talk about the ‘gender is a construct’ meme at this point. This handy-dandy cliche is generally attributed to Simone de Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex – this translation is from Wikiquote:

On ne naît pas femme: on le devient.
(One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman)

I believe a more useful view is this, from Stephen Whittle’s essay Where did we go wrong? Feminism and trans theory – two teams on the same side?

…I do not care whether I was ‘born this way’ or ‘became this way’. […] Whatever made me, I am, and I can no longer say who the ‘I’ is, except through a descriptive process…

Unfortunately, de Beauvoir’s idea is one of the usual underpinnings of the common, and too-frequent, attacks made on trans women by some cis women feminists, that as gender is socially constructed, a cis man can never be a ‘real’ woman because he wasn’t born female-bodied.

There are two fundamental flaws in this assertion. First, the conflation of constructivism and essentialism, which seems invariably to be ignored or denied by those who practise transphobic hate speech. Which would be risible if it wasn’t for the vitriolic way it’s thrown at us, without even a hint of awareness of the inherent contradictions of the two opposing views.

The second problem – and it’s a form of oppression that’s as vicious as it’s subtle – is the rejection of the trans woman’s perception of herself as being gendered female, not male, and certainly not cis. I never was male, just male-bodied. This is also where cis privilege starts to play out: the cis women who generally expound the hardline constructivist/essentialist view have the luxury of being of a gender that matches their sexed bodies. Their cis privilege renders it impossible for them to realise or accept the gender dissonance which, to me, is at the heart of the experience of being trans. Which would be bearable if we simply agreed to disagree and go our separate ways. But they are unable or unwilling to do that because their entire belief system is founded on this dogma; to admit otherwise would require a – pardon the pun – radical rethinking of their particular brand of feminism. Which, apparently, they are not prepared to do.

The next stage of their attack – and attack is the time-honoured best form of defence, after all – is generally to repeat a variation of the hate speech of Janice Raymond as iterated in her transphobic screed The Transsexual Empire: the making of the she-male:

I contend that the problem with transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence.

The problem with that contention is that – despite her protestation that she was ‘merely’ advocating legal limitations on changing sex – the only possible way to implement it, as I see it, would result in the complete eradication of trans people. Genocide, not to put to fine a point on it.


This might be an appropriate moment to say a little about the language around trans oppression.

Time and again, I have witnessed, and experienced, a variety of verbal attacks by cis women feminists and it has become very easy to fathom the nature of these attacks by considering – from a trans perspective – some of the race-related examples set out by the Unapologetic Mexican in the Wite-Magik Attax section of his Glosario resource pages.

It seems to me that cis privilege and white privilege manifest themselves in very similar ways (this is not to say that one is worse than the other). As an oppressed group, trans women need a language to describe our oppression. UM’s Glosario gives trans women some language that’s based on race, but is applicable to being trans.

For example, it’s illuminating to re-read Nezua’s definition of Wite-Magik Attax through the lens of being trans:

A predictable series of non-arguments that attempt to denigrate, negate, or invalidate ideas, feelings, or experience as related by a [trans] person. These attacks take many forms, and while each person making the attack thinks their (dys)logic to be unerring, they echo timeless and faulty cognitive patterns. These Wite-Magik Attax invariably escalate in intensity, however, the longer the [trans] person attempts to assert their reality.


Somewhere around this point, we usually get sucked into another timeworn argument which states that trans women are reinforcing gender stereotypes by transitioning to a female binary spectrum identity. The short answer is that very few of us, trans or cis, are entirely gender neutral in our existence – as demonstrated by the insistence of some cis women radical feminists on simultaneously denying trans women access to their sacred ‘wymyn-born wymyn only’ spaces, at the same time as they tell us there is either no such thing as gender, or that it can be learned like the lines of a play. As I mentioned earlier, their logic is fatally flawed: if there’s no such thing as gender, or it can be dismantled as easily as it can be constructed, then why is there any need for ‘wymyn-born wymyn only’ spaces?

The fact is that there is a substantial body of medical and scientific evidence which shows quite clearly that gender is not something we make up, either as a result of suffering a ‘mental disorder’ (as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines us), or for sexual gratification (fetishism, autogynephilia), or for any of the other ludicrous and offensive reasons that uninformed people like to believe. There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s a definite neurological element to the condition of transsexualism. It’s likely to have existed in the human race for a very, very long time, and is unlikely to disappear overnight.

Transsexual people are here, we’re real, and I for one would appreciate it if cis people would show us the same respect, concern and compassion that they expect trans people to show them. And on that note, I think I’ll bring this post to a close. There are questions I’ve not answered, topics I’ve not covered, but it’s such a huge subject it’s as difficult to know where to stop as it is to start.

In closing, for anyone seeking answers that this post hasn’t provided, I’d recommend following some of the links I provide in the sidebar of this blog, under the subheading Trans 101 (Hey Lord, don’t ask me questions)

Love Letter To Japan

February 25, 2009

The Bird And The Bee – Love Letter To Japan

Wonderful. Really.

Apolitical Intellectuals

February 24, 2009

One day
the apolitical
of my country
will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people.

They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
like a sweet fire
small and alone.

No one will ask them
about their dress,
their long siestas
after lunch,
no one will want to know
about their sterile combats
with “the idea
of the nothing”
no one will care about
their higher financial learning.

They won’t be questioned
on Greek mythology,
or regarding their self-disgust
when someone within them
begins to die
the coward’s death.

They’ll be asked nothing
about their absurd
born in the shadow
of the total lie.

On that day
the simple men will come.

Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens
and worked for them,
and they’ll ask:

“What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out of them?”

Apolitical intellectuals
of my sweet country,
you will not be able to answer.

A vulture of silence
will eat your gut.

Your own misery
will pick at your soul.

And you will be mute in your shame.

(Apolitical Intellectuals by Otto Rene Castillo – via

single word meme

February 22, 2009

Windsor Station 21 February 2009Found at Caroline’s LJ.

I’m not usually a big fan of meme-ology but the terseness of this appeals :)

USING ONLY ONE WORD! It’s not as easy as you might think! Copy and change the answers to suit you and pass it on. It’s really hard to only use one word answers.

1. Where is your cell phone? kitchen
2. Your significant other? none
3. Your hair? tangled
4. Your mother? manchester
5. Your father? manchester
6. Your favorite thing? internet
7. Your dream last night? forgotten
8. Your favorite drink? coffee
9. Your dream/goal? several
10. What room you are in? bed
11. Your hobby? none
12. Your fear? health
13. Regrets? some
14. Where were you last night? here
16. Muffins? blueberry
17. Wish list item? girlfriend
18. Where you grew up? buckinghamshire
19. Last thing you did? drank
20. What are you wearing? knickers
21. Your TV? off
22. Your pets? none
23. Friends? online
24. Your life? privileged
25. Your mood? lonely
26. Missing someone? yes
27. Car? no
28. Something you’re not wearing? clothes
29. Your favorite store? apple
30. Your favorite color? pink
33. When is the last time you laughed? yesterday
34. Last time you cried? yesterday
35. Who will resend this? unknown
36. One place that you go to over and over? work
37. One person who emails me regularly? emmy
38. My favorite place to eat? home
39. Why you participated in this survey? distraction
40. What are you doing tonight? sleeping

Al-Fatiha Survey of LGBTIQQ Muslims

February 21, 2009

al-fatiha header


Welcome to Al-Fatiha’s historic survey of Muslims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and questioning or exploring their gender identity and/or sexual orientation (LGBTIQQ), including Muslims who use other cultural and ethnic terms to refer to their own experience.

This survey is for Muslims of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and Muslims of all beliefs and practices, including observant Muslims, cultural Muslims, and those who are secular.

This is the first survey of its kind. The results of this survey will tell us all about our community, our experiences and our concerns. The results will guide Al-Fatiha’s educational and advocacy work on behalf of LGBTIQQ Muslims, and will be shared with the entire community.

All survey responses are ANONYMOUS and CONFIDENTIAL so you can feel comfortable answering all the questions honestly and openly. You may skip questions you do not wish to answer; however, we encourage you to answer the survey as completely as possible.

The more information you provide, the more useful the survey results will be to the entire community. Your experiences and perspectives are important! Be counted!

Al-Fatiha Board of Directors

Click to begin the survey


(Curtsey to Summer for the heads up)

Love and Anger

February 21, 2009

Kate Bush – Love and Anger

It lay buried here. It lay deep inside me.
It’s so deep I don’t think that I can speak about it.
It could take me all of my life,
But it would only take a moment to

Tell you what I’m feeling,
But I don’t know if I’m ready yet.
You come walking into this room
Like you’re walking into my arms.
What would I do without you?

Take away the love and the anger,
And a little piece of hope holding us together.
Looking for a moment that’ll never happen,
Living in the gap between past and future.
Take away the stone and the timber,
And a little piece of rope won’t hold it together.

If you can’t tell your sister,
If you can’t tell a priest,
‘Cause it’s so deep you don’t think that you can speak about it
To anyone,
Can you tell it to your heart?
Can you find it in your heart

To let go of these feelings
Like a bell to a Southerly wind?
We could be like two strings beating,
Speaking in sympathy…
What would we do without you?
Two strings speak in sympathy.

Take away the love and the anger,
And a little piece of hope holding us together.
Looking for a moment that’ll never happen,
Living in the gap between past and future.
Take away the stone and the timber,
And a little piece of rope won’t hold it together.

We’re building a house of the future together.
(What would we do without you?)

Well, if it’s so deep you don’t think that you can speak about it,
Just remember to reach out and touch the past and the future.
Well, if it’s so deep you don’t think you can speak about it,
Don’t ever think that you can’t change the past and the future.
You might not, not think so now,
But just you wait and see–someone will come to help you.

My Words To Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix — Performing Transgender Rage

February 21, 2009

[…] how to harness the intense emotions emanating from transsexual experience — especially rage — and mobilize them into effective political actions.


The transsexual body is an unnatural body. It is the product of medical science. It is a technological construction. It is flesh torn apart and sewn together again in a shape other than that in which it was born. In these circumstances, I find a deep affinity between myself as a transsexual woman and the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Like the monster, I am too often perceived as less than fully human due to the means of my embodiment; like the monster’s as well, my exclusion from human community fuels a deep and abiding rage in me that I, like the monster, direct against the conditions in which I must struggle to exist.


Transsexual monstrosity, however, along with its affect, transgender rage, can never claim quite so secure a means of resistance because of the inability of language to represent the transgendered subject’s movement over time between stably gendered positions in a linguistic structure.


Upon learning its history and experiencing the rejection of all to whom it reached out for companionship, the creature’s life takes a dark turn. “My feelings were those of rage and revenge,” the monster declares. “I, like the arch-fiend, bore a hell within me”.


Like the monster, the longer I live in these conditions, the more rage I harbor. Rage colors me as it presses in through the pores of my skin, soaking in until it becomes the blood that courses through my beating heart. It is a rage bred by the necessity of existing in external circumstances that work against my survival. But there is yet another rage within.


A formal disjunction seems particularly appropriate at this moment because the affect I seek to examine critically, what I’ve termed “transgender rage,” emerges from the interstices of discursive practices and at the collapse of generic categories. The rage itself is generated by the subject’s situation in a field governed by the unstable but indissoluble relationship between language and materiality, a situation in which language organizes and brings into signification matter that simultaneously eludes definitive representation and demands its own perpetual rearticulation in symbolic terms. Within this dynamic field the subject must constantly police the boundary constructed by its own founding in order to maintain the fictions of “inside” and “outside” against a regime of signification/materialization whose intrinsic instability produces the rupture of subjective boundaries as one of its regular features. The affect of rage as I seek to define it is located at the margin of subjectivity and the limit of signification. It originates in recognition of the fact that the “outsideness” of a materiality that perpetually violates the foreclosure of subjective space within a symbolic order is also necessarily “inside” the subject as grounds for the materialization of its body and the formation of its bodily ego.

This primary rage becomes specifically transgender rage when the inability to foreclose the subject occurs through a failure to satisfy norms of gendered embodiment. Transgender rage is the subjective experience of being compelled to transgress what Judith Butler has referred to as the highly gendered regulatory schemata that determine the viability of bodies, of being compelled to enter a “domain of abjected bodies, a field of deformation” that in its unlivability encompasses and constitutes the realm of legitimate subjectivity. Transgender rage is a queer fury, an emotional response to conditions in which it becomes imperative to take up, for the sake of one’s own continued survival as a subject, a set of practices that precipitates one’s exclusion from a naturalized order of existence that seeks to maintain itself as the only possible basis for being a subject. However, by mobilizing gendered identities and rendering them provisional, open to strategic development and occupation, this rage enables the establishment of subjects in new modes, regulated by different codes of intelligibility. Transgender rage furnishes a means for disidentification with compulsorily assigned subject positions. It makes the transition from one gendered subject position to another possible by using the impossibility of complete subjective foreclosure to organize an outside force as an inside drive, and vice versa. Through the operation of rage, the stigma itself becomes the source of transformative power.


If this is your path, as it is mine, let me offer whatever solace you may find in this monstrous benediction: May you discover the enlivening power of darkness within yourself. May it nourish your rage. May your rage inform your actions, and your actions transform you as you struggle to transform your world.

From My Words To Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix — Performing Transgender Rage by Susan Stryker
(link to full text)


February 20, 2009

I’ve had some interesting discussions on the back of examining trans rage; sadly, even in the talks with the more enlightened people, we inevitably end up back at base camp; going over the same old ground, the tedious trans 101 stuff.

And, with the best will in the world, I just don’t have the heart for another turn on that particular fairground roundabout. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.

I’m writing this in a peculiarly deflated mood; if my rage was a sharp knife, its edge now feels distinctly blunted.

At the same time, I also know I need to dig deeper into the subject of trans rage – there are a couple of quotes in the Susan Stryker essay I’d like to put up here; I also found something on intersectionality that I want to look at again.

Just not right now, not tonight.

Pfft. I’m going to bed.

ETA – Saturday morning: I just get really fed up going over the same old stuff, time after time after time. This isn’t to have a go at anyone especially, more that it just seems to be the way of any discussion anywhere about trans issues, we just never seem able to progress beyond square one.

I guess this is just The Way Things Are. Doesn’t make it right, or even wrong, particularly, it’s just how it is.

It just gets me down, is all.

Ho hum.

Right. I have to get organised now. Regular hairdressers appointment this morning out at Windsor – go me and my self-hyper-feminization – but it’s always nice to escape London for a couple of hours. Windsor’s a pretty place when the sun’s out, the girls in the salon are always fun, I’m accepted as I am, no po-mo structuralist analyses of the existence of trans ppl required.

Plus it’s a chance for a spot of retail therapy. Hairdressers and shopping: these are the real big issues, the serious stuff, eh :)


More on ‘gender activism begins with gender rage’

February 19, 2009

tg_black-on_pink_100x107Okay, so I’m going to leave this post a bit open-ended for now – I’ll try and come back to it as I think things through, but I want to start with one particular thing that Kate Bornstein said in comments on my earlier post (Gender activism begins with gender rage):

The process of handling my “gender rage” keeps unravelling as I discover elements of each of the other nine systems of oppression that hold the gender system in place by their insistence that each of *those* systems has the right take on gender.

Kate lists those nine systems of oppression as:

  • class
  • age
  • race
  • gender
  • citizenship
  • looks
  • sexuality
  • religion
  • ability

My initial thoughts were how mind-boggling it is to consider the possible combinations of intersectionality in there – but I’m rubbish at maths so I won’t even try to put a finite number on it. Plus, of course there’s the less frivolous point that I’m more affected by some of those oppressions than others – some do oppress me, of course – but through some, I oppress other people.

If I consider the oppressions which affect me most obviously, then a (probably over-simplified) example might look something like this:

I experience oppression because I’m transsexual. And I experience oppression because I’m a woman. And then I experience a compounding of those two because I’m a transsexual woman. So those two oppressions, although they exist side-by-side, also interact dynamically to create a third.

Yay intersectionality!

However, let me not forget that I also benefit – from privileges around race, class and ability, at the same time that, f’rinstance, ageism and looksism work against me. So it’s quite easy to see how these things interact; but the outcome of that interaction seems to become exponentially more complex the more I think about it.

But this is not to say “Halp! Halp! I’m being oppressed!” like some special little snowflake, because it also occurs that probably almost every one of us is oppressed in some way, just as many benefit from privilege in some way.

And another thing: I find I’m a little wary of this subject because I think there’s a big ol’ hidden trap in there; namely the very real danger of unwittingly building hierarchies of oppression as a venue to host an Oppression Olympics all of my very own. Slippery slope alert…

But most of this is probably just a broadcast from the Department of the Bleedin’ Obvious – and none of which really feels like it’s bringing me any closer to getting a handle on this – well, I’ll steal Kate’s term for now – gender rage, although I may need to rename it ‘trans rage’, or some such (where I’m presently defining ‘trans’ as something like this) – because

And I really don’t want to get into Yet Another Trans 101 – but I do feel I should add that in the binary of sex/gender, I don’t think it’s my gender that’s at the root of this: my gender’s always been female, is pretty much how I see it, rightly or wrongly. Not to say that gender isn’t a construct, mind you. But just because something’s a construct doesn’t make it any less real. Plus, who’s to say that it’s not a mix of construct and neurological elements (and maybe other stuff too)? Hmph. Cue one of my current favourite quotes on the subject:

…I do not care whether I was ‘born this way’ or ‘became this way’. The question of the ‘gay gene’ or the ‘tranny brain’ is a potentially frightening route to another eugenics programme to destroy the brilliance of difference in the world, and the sooner we reject these projects the better. Whatever made me, I am, and I can no longer say who the `I’ is, except through a descriptive process…

(From Where did we go wrong? Feminism and trans theory – two teams on the same side? by Stephen Whittle)

I suppose, mostly, I need to percolate more on how the intersectionality of oppressions might be creating gender rage – sorry, trans rage.

For what it’s worth, I was re-reading Susan Stryker’s 1995 essay, My Words To Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix — Performing Transgender Rage (link here) on the Tube this morning (I’m such a a brainiak), and she has some interesting ideas on the subject of ‘transgender rage’; stuff that I definitely need to come back to.

But right now, I have to go and finish my yummy instant soup and get-back-to-work-dammit :)

*cue the sound of small wheels grinding mechanically in Helen’s mind to accompany the symphonic slurping of soup*

Gender activism begins with gender rage

February 17, 2009

Gender OutlawSometimes, it’s not the fist in your belly that gets to you.
Sometimes, it’s when they’re quiet, even polite.
Sometimes, it’s how they look at you day after day that finally gets to you.
If they’re in a crowd, they shift their eyes so their friends can’t tell they’re looking at you.
     Real subtle.
You can read the fear behind the smirk,
The hatred just past the disgust.
You worry it’s your paranoia.
(Confidence, they’ve told you, helps you pass.)
But there’s always one of them who looks at you with longing.
And that scares you the most,
Because if you let that longing into your heart, you have to accept yourself just the way you are.
It’s not only people who intentionally transgress gender who get into trouble. Eventually the gender system lets everyone down. It seems to be rigged that way. Sometimes, even with all the time and effort we put into obeying the rules, we get hurt. We can get badly hurt by being a real man or a real woman.


And this brings up a great deal of anger. […]

We don’t deserve the ridicule, the stares, the fist in our bellies. We are entitled to our anger in response to this oppression: our anger is a message to ourselves that we need to get active and change something in order to survive. So we resist the oppression, the violence – we resist the tendency of the culture to see us as a joke.


Loose canons of activism

One trouble in having only a few of “us”, and a lot of “them”, is that it’s easy to hit out at the wrong “them”. […]

When I’m angry, I don’t have the judgement to select a correct target to hit out against. I do believe that anger is healthy, that it can lead to a recognition of the need for action, but activism itself is best accomplished by level heads who can help steer others’ anger toward correct targets. A correct target is the group that has both the will and the power to oppress you wherever you go. […]

It does hurt, being excluded or even attacked by other oppressed groups, and it makes me feel a shame I thought I’d gotten over a long time ago. It’s not what people say when they exclude me and my people, or how they say it, but rather it’s a very long ache that I don’t believe will stop until there’s a whole lot more room in the world for difference. Sometimes it’s a seemingly insignificant act of exclusion that will tip the scale […]

Something happens, some final bit that lights up the injustice of the gender system, and in that flash, we see that the emperor is wearing no clothes. That this either/or gender system we’ve got is truly oppressing us. That happens, and we snap; we begin to fight.


In this struggle for our freedom of expression there comes a point where the gender system reveals itself to be not only oppressive, but silly. When we see how ridiculous it is, we can truly begin to dismantle it.

From Gender Outlaw: On men, women, and the rest of us by Kate Bornstein


I dunno, Kate. There’s a lot in there that resonates with me. But those last couple of paragraphs? I just don’t know, there’s… something that doesn’t quite… sit right with me, somehow. Yes, the gender system is problematic and both a cause of, and target for, this rage that I feel – but no, I’m not sure that that’s all there is to it. The gender system is, I think, only one part of the puzzle. I’d like to know what you mean by the term ‘gender system’ – what is it? How is it defined, by whom and to what end? Does it exist in isolation? (Does anything?) And if not, what are the other things that relate to it, and how do they all interact?

Y’see, I have this rage in me. It’s a comparatively new thing for me, and it’s unsettling me deeply. I’m trying to figure out where it’s come from, what its significance is. Do I embrace it or reject it? I feel with a solid certainty, but in a way I find hard to articulate, that my being trans is a part of it, a big part. But how? Why? And what, if anything, is to be done about it – does anything even need to be done about it?

It feels like my rage nourishes me at the same time as it devours me…

I need to think about this a lot more, but right now my mind is fizzing and spinning like a firework – and I’m tired, I need to sleep. Maybe things will seem clearer in the morning.

I hope so.