Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sometimes, There's More to Consider Than Just Gender

Grace Annam, recently wrote a post ("It's not something I would do, but...") about her observations about interactions with others now that she has started the public transition process as a woman who is transgender. There were some aspects of her analyses that I'm not so sure about.

I can think of a lot of situations where it might be really bad idea to presume that the “I certainly support you in making this choice for yourself. It’s not something I would do, but...” response was a way of expressing the idea that transitioning is bizarre or incomprehensible. If I heard a friend who is transgender respond to someone with “Well, of course not. You’re cisgender” I’d be really, really disappointed for several reasons.

First of all, the comment assumes that the person is cisgender. After all, just as the person didn't know that my loved one is transgender, my loved one who is transgender may not be aware of the fact that the person they’re speaking to isn't cisgender. I can imagine that being mis-gendered by anyone can be incredibly hurtful, especially for those who are gender nonconformant. I’m cisgender, so I don’t know whether it feels the same. However, the idea of being mis-gendered by someone who is transgender makes me think about how awful and sickening it is to me when other mixed-race/mixed-ethnicity folks make assertions about what race they've decided that I belong to or when others within the queer community make assumptive assertions about my orientation.

Secondly, I’d be really upset about the “Well, of course not. You’re cisgender.” response because I feel like it betrays a certain lack of understanding about intersectionality. There are lots of other privilege issues involved in why a person could decide that transitioning certainly isn't anything they’d do.

I had a best friend in middle school. She came out to everyone. I totally supported her choice to do that, but it certainly wasn't something that I’d do and it had everything to do with privilege. As a person of color living in a white-dominated society, I already had my racial identity working against me. It’s damned hard to get a job when you’re competing against white people and most of the folks doing the hiring are white. My friend didn't have to worry about that. When you’re a black woman of color your femininity and womanhood is automatically denied. We are already seen as hypersexual or asexual and, as such, completely acceptable targets for sexualized violence. Now, couple that with being an “out” lesbian, with all of the stereotypes that go along with it, and see how long it takes before you are sexually assaulted. My friend didn't have to deal with that combination and never would.

I've known folks who will likely never transition to living as the gender that they are. I wish they lived in a world where they could, but they don’t. They can support those who do transition while recognizing that they wouldn't/won’t do it. It doesn't mean they’re cisgender or otherwise privileged relative to those who do transition. We don’t all pay the same cost for bucking the system. Some people just can’t afford to do it.

There’s also some real ablism in this post, but I think that might be best explained in a different comment.

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