My Rebuttal, or, the 5 Most Hurtful Things I’ve Heard Since Coming Out
NOTE: This is a transgender-related entry. If you are confused by any of the terms used here, check out Ronen’s Trans Glossary.
ALSO NOTE: This entry addresses points of transphobia, cissexism and homophobia which some may find unsettling or triggering.
Why hello, blogsphere. I seem to have disappeared from you for a full two months. I’ve been a busy bee, and I’ve also been sucked back into the weird, weird world of LJ RP, which has been dominating a large part of my brain space. I’ve also been reading a lot of Cracked articles, which probably became obvious at the title of this post.
The other day, I found my gender dysphoria flaring up in a big way, and I felt compelled to finally address the most hurtful of the questions and accusations put to me when I have tried to come out as trans. Where better to do it than here? (“Where better? Why, to the asker’s/accuser’s face,” you might say, and I’m getting to that. I promise. But I do hope that writing this will help give me the courage to try and do so, as well as educate others out there on the internet.)
So without further ado: my rebuttal.
“Why Don’t You Just Know?”
One of the first times I came out to someone, I made the error of phrasing it like so: “I think I’m transgender.”
Their response was, “I don’t see how you can just ‘think’ something like that. Shouldn’t you know?”
Well… yes and no. First of all, I had phrased it that way, partially, to “soften the blow,” to introduce the idea less like a brick to the face and more like a gentle lob with a pillow. Because I’d realized that a lot of people don’t necessarily expect or want to hear that someone close to them is trans. There’s a lot of stigma and anxiety attached to it. So yes, I was trying to make it a little easier for them. This was probably a mistake.
Secondly, I myself still had a lot of doubt and anxiety going on. Many trans people wait until they are one hundred percent without a doubt certain before they go talking about it to anyone at all. Others, like me, don’t. One of the ways I work through my issues is by talking about them. It is not easy or comfortable for me to process everything internally; I often need a friend or significant other or family member or therapist to bounce my thoughts off of. So yes, at that point I “thought” I was trans, because there was still a lot of questioning and self-analysis involved.
Even if one knows deep down, it can be difficult to admit it, even to oneself. I am not straight, but it took me until my mid-twenties to finally recognize and accept it. I also distinctly remember, as a teenager, being told by an adult I trusted and deeply respected that bisexuals were living in denial and should just make up their minds. Is it any wonder I’ve had such trouble coming to terms with my queerness? Is it any wonder that I might “think” I am trans, rather than just accepting it and owning it right away?
“You’re Only Doing This For Political Reasons.”
In this case, my accuser was asserting that I didn’t have any real personal stake in this. That I was only identifying as trans in order to be edgy or make a political point.
This is one of the toughest to counter-argue because it can be so difficult to know where the line is. To borrow a phrase from feminism, the personal is political. It’s extremely difficult to talk about being trans without bringing politics or activism into it. It’s straight-out impossible to talk about being trans without bringing gender politics into it. A great deal of coming-out conversations devolve into political discussions. It just happens.
But if I were only in it for the politics, there would be no reason for me to align myself with the identity. I could be an ally, go to rallies, hand out pamphlets, work for a non-profit. You don’t have to be trans to support trans causes. And… this is just a personal point here: I’m really not that political of a person. I have my opinions, sure, but I’ve never been all that interested in activism. I’ve even tried to be more interested in order to feel like I’m “contributing something to the cause,” but it hasn’t worked yet. I get disinterested real fast and go back to my gaming and being a general geek. Still, when I get into the trans conversation with anyone, it will inevitably become political, because it can’t not. I am not identifying as trans in order to be political. My trans identity is forcing me to be political.
“You’re Only Doing This to Be Cool.”
I must admit, hearing this accusation made me angry. The person involved was (not in so many words, but basically) accusing me of being a poser. They were saying that I only wanted to be thought of as trans because I was attracted to the lifestyle, that I wanted to hang out with and be accepted by people I thought of as cool.
Here is the truth: No person exists in a vacuum. The only way to achieve this would be to live in a bunker, receive all your necessities via delivery, never read/watch/listen to any books, newspapers, television shows, movies, commercials, or music, never participate in a religion, never go on the internet, and never interact with another human being. As long as anyone has exposure to culture, they are going to be affected by it. I am not claiming to be immune to this.
However, the fact that I am influenced by the media and those around me does not erase my own personal desires and decisions from the equation. Humans are complex animals. We are neither totally free spirits nor mindless sheep. We may feel the desire to be part of a herd, but what is it that attracts us to that particular herd in the first place? There must be some personal, individual feeling of connection, or we wouldn’t be trying to fit in – and if we do try to fit in somewhere we don’t, either we wind up supremely unhappy or our efforts fizzle out (see also: my efforts at being an activist). No one defines their true identity by shooting darts at a board.
“But You ACT Like A Woman!”
This argument has been used to explain why I can’t possibly be trans. My behavior matches up with that of a woman, therefore I must be one.
Gendered behavior and gendered traits are largely in the eyes of the beholder. They are also self-fulfilling prophecies. Studies have shown time and time again that people will act differently around and ascribe different adjectives to an infant or toddler depending on what sex they are told the child is. That link there is a PDF, and a rather long one at that, so have some quotes:
Although the infants did not differ on any objective measures, girls were rated as littler, softer, finer featured, and more inattentive than boys.
Parents responded more positively to girls than boys when the toddlers played with dolls, and more critically to girls than boys when the toddlers engaged in large motor activity.
Biologically based sex differences are inconsistent (Birns, 1976) or nonexistent (Lewis & Weinraub, 1979) in early infancy, and yet parents treat boys and girls differently during this time period.
That anyone could be presented with this information and still believe that gendered behavior is 100% “natural” and ingrained boggles my mind, but many do. It’s that vacuum assumption again, the idea that a person ends up the way they are because that’s just the way they are. That it’s all nature, that nurture had nothing to do with it. And to suggest to a person that they might be guilty of gender stereotyping? Perish the thought! They are immune. They exist in a vacuum too, you see.
But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it. If you’ve got the time, there’s a handy source that will help you run this experiment on your own.
An example of this not relating to infants – I wish I had a source for this, but it is only something my therapist told me – there is an interesting phenomenon that occurs when a person, say, a trans man, goes through hormonal transition. The behavior that used to make him appear more masculine or “tomboyish” when he was being read as female, suddenly become the things that make him appear feminine or “girly” once hormones help him to be read as male. The exact same behavior.
In addition, “But You Act Like A Woman” is the same argument used by homophobes when they insist that a stereotypically-presenting gay man is not a “real man.” Step back and think. Would you use that same argument on someone who wasn’t trans, to insist that their gender wasn’t valid?
The little sibling of “But You ACT Like A Woman!” is “But You Played With Girls’ Toys as a Child!” Yes… I did. Lots of children do. Including many little boys, if you give them the chance and don’t treat “girls’ things” as something to be derided and avoided. As the news media took much delight in reporting last year, there are indeed young boys who like to dress up as princesses and have no confusion about their gender identity, thanks. They’re boys who are princesses and there’s no problem with that. Or there shouldn’t be. The toys one played with as a child has no more bearing on one’s gender than the activities one engages in, or whether one asks more questions than makes declarative statements, or how one crosses one’s legs.
“I Just Don’t See It.”
I suppose this could be the cousin of “But You ACT Like A Woman!” Those who present this argument want you to know that they are trying, they really are. They just can’t stop thinking about you in the way they believe your gender ought to be defined.
This can be one of the most hurtful things to hear. Whatever their intentions, the person is erasing my identity and substituting what they think I should be. So it’s here that I have to be the most blunt: it’s not your decision to make. It does not matter whether you “see” it or not. If you respect me, if you love me, if you believe I know myself enough to decide what and how to call myself, you will see that it is not up to you.
I so wish I had the courage to believe this with every fiber of my being, to own myself one hundred percent and never back down in the face of anyone’s perceptions. But those perceptions and accusations hurt. Every one of the above has come from someone that I love, and every one implies that I am not intelligent enough or self-aware enough or trans enough to be trans. I have not yet had the backbone to stand up to my accusers face-to-face and present my counter-arguments. I hope, however, that this will be the start.