Monday, June 20, 2011

A Different Angle on The "Trans" Debate

There's a debate that's been going around the blogosphere for a while now. I've opted out of the conversation for a while. I was of course busy recovering from surgery and my blog has generally been more about my journey and less about politics. That being said, I thought I'd add my two cents today.

First you should know up front that I don't care to argue. Yes I have strong opinions but whenever an argument ensues, I try to back down and fade into the wall, for the most part. I'll even often jump in to settle an argument between friends....or stay neutral when hearing someone's side to a story. I've always seen myself as sort of a peacemaker.

The debate I'm speaking of is a difference of opinion for defining the labels transsexual and transgender. When I started my transition I understood that transgender was an umbrella term and I didn't quite understand why some people took issue with being under that umbrella. A couple months ago, I read some more descriptive definitions for Transsexualism vs. Transgenderism and they made a little more sense to me.

The way they were defined was that a transsexual individual was someone who felt a very binary gender but was not born with the matching sex that went along with society's idea of that gender. On the flip side, a transgender individual did not necessarily feel one gender or the other all of the time....but feels the need to express themselves in more of a spectrum without actually altering their sex.

While these definitions make total sense to me, I put myself on the other side of the argument and I can understand why those who may not be seeking a surgical fix may have problems with it. I'm sure there are plenty of transsexual individuals out there who don't want to have surgery for reasons like lack of financing or lack of surgical functionality, etc. Just because someone doesn't seek surgery does that invalidate their binary gender even if they weren't born with the right sex? I wouldn't think so.

That aside, I think the primary concern by all of the people arguing for keeping transgender as an umbrella label is that they feel because they are not as understood as transsexual individuals, then they will not receive the same rights. It seems to come down to that issue mostly: rights.

Just a quick note about where I feel I fall in this spectrum of labels. I feel like I was born female with the body of a male mistakenly. After many years of trying to conform to that body and finally realizing there was another way, I took the steps to transition my body to match my sense of self, at least as much as science and medicine would allow me to. I feel I always had a female gender but now have at least what is closer to a female sex. It has made me a much more 'open' person. The mantra I find myself repeating to everyone is: "Just because you don't understand how somebody feels, it does not mean their view is any less right or valid. Everyone is different and the only way to fully understand them is to walk in their shoes." Given this and the definitions as I understand them, I consider myself a transsexual woman.

Now, given all of this, my opinion is simply this: These are all labels. Whether you are transsexual, transgender, crossdresser, genderqueer, or even if you don't find any of these labels fitting still deserve rights. We all fall under the label of : Human Being and should be treated as such and be allowed to express ourselves.

And as for worry over grouping transgender and transsexual people under one umbrella delaying civil rights, yes it will make things more difficult. I agree that it's possible that civil rights may very well more easily be accomplished for binary transsexual people separately. While society is still not quite ready for the gender continuum, they can at least partially understand the gender binary switched. But should we as transsexual people leave our transgender brothers and sisters behind because we can? No way! We already complain about the LGB community leaving us out, why would we do the same, dividing ourselves further?

I've been personally asked before how I would feel about a male coworker coming to work dressed in a dress and with a beard and hairy legs. Do I find the thought of that comfortable? Not really. Should that person not be allowed to do so? No, I don't believe so. It will definitely be a change and something I would have to get used to though.

In history, I'm sure many racist white people were uncomfortable with African-American people receiving rights at first and that many men felt very uncomfortable with women entering the workplace and the like. It's only natural for us to gravitate towards what we are used to and away from what we don't understand.

Yes this will be difficult for society and it will definitely take time to get used to some of the changes in expressing individuality. But the discomfort that needs to be worked through is merely based on tradition and should in no way be elevated to an importance such that it squashes out how others feel they need to express their unique individuality.

Just another opinion voiced by a post-op transsexual female human being.


Jen said...

As another post op transsexual female, who is also a human being I have to agree with you completely. There was a time when I first started my transition that I would have felt much more comfortable if I had some of those basic rights that most of the rest of our society enjoys. While I can't relate to many people who fall under the umbrella, I do know what it's like to be different, and to fear loosing my job, my home, my family, or even my life because of those differences. I could never in good conscience demand rights for myself while simultaneously ignoring all the other people who've been labeled different just because I can't relate to them. At the end of the day, labels don't really mean anything in regards to how I live day to day. I'm just one small piece of the puzzle in a culture war that has only just begun to see the light of day...

Petra Bellejambes said...

I think, dear Debra, that there are always some sharp elbows and a little friction at the head of any parade of change. This was true in Suffragette movements, true in classic American Civil Rights movements, and true today amongst our own various and splintered Gender Identify (TG, TS, GQ, CD and etc...) tribes.

It seems as though people younger than the vanguard movement, people surely following in your path and mine can be trusted to be more relaxed and more open then their elders.

The language we use to describe ourselves, include some, and exclude others will be less important to them. Thye will be too busy finding new frontiers of Being Human to conquer, with a whole new set of umbrella sharing arguments and endless debates about nomenclature, meaning and belonging.

And there will be more things that unite, and fewer that divide us all. I hope that doesn't seem too naive, but honestly, history teaches us to be hopeful, yes?

Love this post, and very much admire your whole life.


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