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There I Go Again, Thinking I Have a Basic Right to Exist in Society

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There is a shockingly large contingent of Americans who believe that trans women should not have access to women-only spaces like bathrooms, locker rooms, shelters, prisons, women’s centers, lesbian spaces, festivals, etc. I will call this contingent the Birthers, because they usually say things like only females who had “female” checked off on their original birth certificate can have access to women-only spaces, which would prevent trans women from using the bathroom they feel in their best judgment is most appropriate for them.

Ironically, Birthers usually place a very high value on the idea of freedom yet deny trans women the freedom to be themselves. Birthers are gatekeepers, they want to restrict access to life-saving medical treatment such as puberty blockers, hormone replacement surgery, and surgical treatments. They want to absolutely reduce the numbers of children and adults transitioning, socially or medically. For these people, the only acceptable solution to the “trans problem” is a form of conversation therapy, an attempt to mind fuck trans people into submitting to the fate of their non-consensual birth assignment. The fundamental goal of the Birthers is to eradicate the desire for transition, the possibility of transition, and the pragmatics of transition. Part of the strategy for inflicting this on trans people is by  using propaganda to overly emphasize how gender and thus appropriate social access to gendered facilities is determined by your so-called “innate biological essence”. This is often described by Birthers as a “fact” or “reality” that trans people are somehow “delusional” about. But trans people are not delusional. The difference between the body dysmorphic person and the gender dysphoric person is that the dysmorphic person misperceives the nature of their own body, giving it physical properties that don’t exist. The gender dysphoric person, in contrast, knows full well the reality of their body, that knowledge is usually the basis for medically transitioning and a source of the dysphoria itself.

The Birthers are so quick to point to “middle school biology” to solidify their argument but as Dan Dennett once wisely said “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science – there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.” The question of whether gender is different from sex is not a question that can be answered purely with science – it is a deeply philosophical question resting on complex questions of personal identity and gender as a performative, socially-embedded, experiential and subjective phenomenom. As Simone de Beauvoir famously said, “One is not born, but rather, becomes a woman.”

Upwards of 60% of trans people say they avoid public bathrooms. Without access to public bathroom facilities trans people are actually at risk of damaging their bladders by being compelled to hold their bladders for too long for fear of using either the men’s room or the women’s room.  Either option presents real dangers and for many trans people the reality is that they don’t use public restrooms at all. If they walk out of a movie, rather than waiting in line, they might just hold it until they get home. This is just one basic illustration of the way in which Birthers want to see trans folks eradicated from society. They want us to accept our birth assignments as absolute biological destiny and would, if possible, totally restrict the small little daily freedoms that allow trans people to exist in a public society of citizens.

But here’s the problem: Birthers will never understand the trans experience. They are not trans and have no concept of what it really means to have an incongruity with your gender. They can’t even fathom it. And if they do attempt to get their heads around it, they often just deny that its fundamental basis is true and go on to insist that the morphological shape of genitals we had as babies determines entirely and forever the very complicated phenomenon of our genders and how we fit into society. Talk about reductionist. Talk about rigid, stale, conservative, anti-freedom, anti-justice. They have no appreciation of the arguments in favor of thinking that gender can come apart from physiological properties. Ironically, most Birthers think that consciousness and the soul can come apart from biology but not gender for some reason, though gender is of course both a deeply social and deeply subjective phenomenon.

The Birthers are fundamentally just hypocrites hiding behind the social force of tradition. They value religious liberty, but not the liberty of trans people to make decisions about their healthcare, or about which bathroom they should use. Birthers justify this restriction of freedom by referencing the hypothetical possibility that a male person could abuse this freedom in order to harm girls and women. But it’s not like there’s a lock on the bathroom door. A cis male can walk in at anytime and there is no magic barrier blocking him from entering the bathroom and assaulting a woman or girl.

Bathroom bills are terrible solutions to a nonexistent problem. There might be a handful of problematic cases existing out there somewhere. With a population of 7.1 billion humans, with trans people accounting for, very roughly ~1 of the population, that makes 71 million trans people across the globe. Out of 71 million trans people it seems statistically likely for there to be at least *some* bad apples. But let me emphasize there is no empirical evidence showing trans women commit crimes at a higher rate than cis women. I repeat. No evidence. All there is is that one misinterpreted Swedish study but the author of the study said herself that nothing about the study suggests that your average trans woman who has transitioned circa 2017 is at any greater risk of being a criminal.

Bathroom bills are not created from the data. They are created from the ideological premise that, as Janice Raymond, the famous “radical feminist” who wrote that trans women are all rapists said, transgenderism must be morally mandated out of existence. Notice how this fits in line with many religious organizations such as the Roman Catholic church, who have said that trans people represent a grave threat to the moral order of society as dictated by the natural law of God. When your feminism aligns perfectly with what the Pope says about trans people being akin to “nuclear weapons” – then I think you need to reconsider your feminism.

Trans people have inalienable rights. We have a right to exist in society how we see fit according to our deepest vision of how we want our lives to go so long as we respect the autonomy of other people as well and think about the happiness of others.

 

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Trans porn, trans women, and the fetishization of “tgurls”

Screen-shot-2014-04-07-at-6.21.12-PM-640x426.png(Bailey Jay)

Content warning: this post contains mentions of trans slurs and descriptions of transphobic violence.

Porn featuring pre-op/non-op trans women has always been popular among straight men and continues to be widely popular. I specifically mention the terms “pre-op/non-op” because that’s the only kind of trans woman that seems to be popular with straight men. Everyone knows, if you wanna be a trans porn star, you better keep your dick.

The fetishization of women with penises is at the very heart of why trans porn is so popular. But why? Why are straight men (and there are female trans chasers too) so obsessed with trans women who have penises? How could it be that many straight men would not date, love, or marry a trans woman but he will jerk off to her on the internet? If you want to see the fetishization of trans women happen in real time it’s easy, just go to craiglist’s “m4t” section and read and weep. Straight men will fuck us, but not love us. All they care about is that we are “passable”, not that we are strong, determined, beautiful women.

They don’t really see us as females, they see us as a third sex. We are never simply women, or even trans women, but rather trannies, tgirls, gurls, tgirls, transsexuals, TS, TS gurls, shemales, ladyboys, chicks with dicks,etc. TERFs third-sex us as well, calling us male-to-trans, MtTs.

What’s the one glaring difference between cis porn and trans porn? The genitals are different. That’s all it is. But why do straight men consume so much porn featuring women with not-commonly-seen genitals? I hesitate to wager a speculative hypothesis: novelty and taboo are dominant factors. For straight men used to having sex with cis women and watching  porn of cis women, trans women represent something they see as “exotic”. Trans women make up roughly 1% of the population. Many Americans don’t personally know any trans people. Perhaps they have heard of Caitlyn Jenner. But you bet they’re watching trans porn. Our rarity makes us anomalies to the cis world, strange creatures who are Othered so strongly that we become a separate metaphysical category: the tgirl.

When you combine the novelty factor with the social stigma against trans bodies it creates a taboo whereby trans porn becomes “dirty”, “naughty”, or otherwise scandalous. This why straight male celebrities who get “caught” dating tran women often end up in media scandals and their masculinity is challenged. It’s why so many straight men might hook up with trans women but not bring them to thanksgiving dinner. The taboo nature of trans people, and especially trans women, fuels the fetishization against trans women. When straight men consume too much cis porn they become bored and the taboo nature of trans porn leads to it’s long-time, overwhelming popularity among straight cis men.

Why does this matter? Why am I talking about this? Because let me give you a scenario, a scenario that is drawn from real life. A straight cis male is horny, watching trans porn. He gets so horny that he wants to find a trans sex worker to fulfill his fantasy. He goes on craigslist and finds someone. He has sex with her, cums, and then has a sudden feeling of disgust (stemming from the taboo), feels his heterosexuality and manhood are threatened because he just slept with a non-cis woman and possibly got off on her having a dick. He gets enraged and defensive, “panics”, and then brutally murders the trans woman for having the audacity to be herself. I am not making up this scenario at all. It is straight up pulled from real life, often involving trans women of color. Sadly, this so-called “panic defense” is admissible in court as an excuse for murder in most states.

This is why the fetishization of trans women is so dangerous. It fuels violence against trans women by men who have been so poisoned by the stigma in society against trans people, especially trans women, that they want to fuck us or be fucked by us yet are so disgusted by us that they will kill us afterwards. Or maybe they will skip the sex and just kill us for being who we are. Or beat the shit out of us until we are an inch from death. It happens. all the time. all across the world. 

So next time you internally Other a trans woman, remember, your attitude of fetishization and objectification of her body is indirectly fueling the exploitation of trans bodies and the brutal violence against those bodies. Your fetish is dripping with blood.

But don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being attracted to trans bodies. I get it, trust me: trans people are beautiful and our bodies are special and wonderful as well. The problem is not finding trans women attractive. It’s the automatic mental operation of putting us into the metaphysical category of an Other, an automatic third sex option ticked off, why it’s so common for straight men to only call us gurls because they want to highlight how we are so different from cis girls, a whole other creature: a tranny. mtf. tgurl.

There is nothing wrong with third sex/gender, or thinking that you are third sex/gender. I actually prefer to think of myself as third gender. It’s what I feel most comfortable with. But I would never say that all other trans people are third gender, because many feel they are firmly within the gender binary and I respect that. It’s the way in which we are thrown into the third sex/gender category without our explicit consent. It’s the way our bodies are seen as exotic and other worldly, like a living breathing sex doll with “unique features”. This widespread attitude is dangerous and fuels much of the transphobic violence against trans women.

If we are going to put an end to transphobic violence and the dangerous fetishization of trans bodies, we need to, as a society, become more accepting of trans people, especially trans women, as normal members of society, not deviants or perverts. We need to end the Jerry Springer-esque “freak show” phenomenon that fuels the stigma against us. We need to end medical gatekeeping. We need to stop the myth that trans women who like women are autogynephilic predators and the falsehood that trans women who like men are just hyper-gay. We need for more people to get to know us on a personal level, to see that we are people like everyone else, with hopes, fears, and a desire to be safe, loved, and respected. But most of all, we need cis people, especially cis straight males, to do their own work of educating themselves about the dangers of cis normativity, cis sexism, and toxic masculinity.

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Why Internalized Transphobia is the Hardest Battle

Am I a man? Or a woman? Or something else? Internalized transphobia is what happens when trans people unconsciously buy into the belief that, e.g., trans women are really deep down men and trans men are really deep down women. That biology will never change. That biology is destiny – gender is immutable. Often internalized transphobia is based on the toxic idea of cis-normative “Passing”. The idea is that the more you pass as cis then the more of a woman or man you are. We see ourselves in the mirror and see our assigned sex and the darkest thoughts enter our minds. “You’re just a man. What are you doing”. Or we meet a trans women who doesn’t pass perfectly and we can’t help but think “You’re still a man” – I admit I’ve had thoughts like this – I think we all have. Although I don’t have hard evidence I believe EVERYONE who has met a non-passing trans woman has had these thoughts. Even trans people. Trans people are not immune to transphobia. We live it and breath it just like everyone else. You look at someone, they have “masculine” features, and you think “boy”. But our minds like to ignore that many cis women have “masculine” features too. Oh but you might say even the most masculine cis women still is within the “norms” of cis-standards whereas non-passing trans women are “extreme” examples of masculinity. But this is internalized transphobia. It doesn’t matter if even the trans women before you is the tallest women you know. That is no license to assume she must be a man “deep down” because she is extreme on one or two traits. If a trans woman does not pass as cis female we have to fight against our own internal biases to see them as 100% women. We have to have grace for those trans women who have not had the time or opportunity to learn everything about acting/socializing like cis women. Furthermore, and most important, we must divorce ourselves from the idea that cis women define the standard by which socialization must be codified.

Personally, I don’t care if people think im 100%woman. But that’s just me. I’d be fine with like 70-80% woman. My self identity is not based on rigid binary concepts. I don’t even really identity as a woman simpliciter as in your “average everyday woman”. I see myself as a special kind of woman. A rare kind of woman. A woman that you just don’t meet everyday. But we must be careful. Because just because I’m rare that does not make me less of a woman. We need to reject the idea that the ONLY women are those women who embody cis-normativity 100%. If someone is read as 51% women we need to make room for these being full-fledged members of the category or women. We need to expand the concept of womanhood to make space for trans women who fall into the margins of binary stealth cis-passing normativity. Some trans women are butch, have no interest in passing as cis, and yet are fully comfortable in their own womanhood. Women come in all shapes and sizes. I know this idea is hard to swallow. Many people want to keep things easy were there are only two boxes for gender/gender presentation and everything is neat and tidy and correspondent with biology. But newsflash: biology is messy. Humans are messy. Gender is messy. This isn’t your biology 101 textbook about farm animals. Gender defies easy categorization. This is part of what makes the human experience so interesting. We are generally much more fluid than people believe. The line between men and women is rather thin actually and the boundary is porous.

But the battle with internalized transphobia is to accept this not just at an intellectual level but at a deeper, unconscious, core level. It’s one thing for liberal cis allies to use the right pronouns and treat us on the surface as women. But internalized transphobia deals with those secret thoughts you never share with anyone. It’s that twinge of uncomfort around non-passing trans women. And yes I am focusing on non-passing trans women because non-passing trans men often lead to less unconscious anxiety because they’re simply read as butch lesbians for which there is a socially acceptable category. But there is no acceptable social category for non-passing trans women. We are the fringe. But you know? Confidence is key. Hold your head up high. Be confident in your body language. Have a deep voice? Fuck it? Don’t pass perfectly? Fuck it. I am proud to fly my freak flag. I know not every one is comfortable with that language but for me non-conformity and living outside of society’s shit is a good way to cope with my internalized transphobia and dysphoria. Sure, I still care about passing. I still present femme. But I’m no longer obsessed with my voice. I’ve come to accept my voice. It’s mine. It will probably always be deep. It will always probably bring about occasional dysphoria. But that’s fine. Everyone has something they don’t like about themselves. Cis people also don’t like many parts of themselves. All we can do is work to better ourselves. To be good people.

At the end of the day the war against internalized transphobia can probably never be won. We might win a few battles but the war itself is a on-going lifelong struggle to accept ourselves. And to accept others. To divorce gender from biology. From appearance. From presentation. We will never live in a genderless world but we can live in a world where people internally fight hard to see trans people as their true genders no matter their appearance.

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Trans as an identity vs Trans as a trait

Why did I choose to name my domain site “transphilosopher” instead of just “philosopher” or my name, Rachel Williams? I have self-consciously adopted the language of identity and embraced my transness as a central feature of my personhood (I even have a trans tattoo on my ankle). But not all trans folks feel this way. Some either want to downplay their trans identity as much as possible or go “deep stealth” and not acknowledge it at all. Post-transition, many trans people identity as cis because they see themselves as “normal” members of their gender just like cis people. Some just see their trans identity as a private medical issue that is the business of no one.

So why have I taken up the mantle of being both a philosopher and trans as a central feature of my online presence? This is a question I’ve asked myself many times since I started blogging under the name “transphilosopher” about 1.5 years ago. First and foremost, I do see my trans identity as central to who I am. It is not just an incidental feature of my personhood – it defines my everyday existence and structures my thoughts, desires, and beliefs in a profound way. Second, I want to raise more awareness in order to remove the stigma that comes along with openly identifying as trans. The more people get exposure to trans people the more society will begin to see us as full-fledged human beings instead of second-class citizens and the butt of jokes. Writing about gender issues as a trans philosopher also gives people advance notice that my writing is informed by my trans status – I can’t help but see the world through a lens that has been shaped by my transition.

I think another reason why I have adopted “transphilosopher” as my online persona is that I am self-consciously taking advantage of the “trendiness” of trans culture in mainstream media. Take for example H&M’s recent featuring of Hari Nef (a trans model) in a new advertising campaign. The mainstream media and the corporate world are starting to cash in on the explosion of trans awareness over the past few years. Intersectional feminism as a marketing strategy is also taking advantage of trans people to sell products (see the Absolut vodka ad featuring a trans woman named “Darla”). It’s a cash cow. It sells because trans identities are still seen as “exotic”. And perhaps they are in a way – I mean, how many people experience a gender transition? It’s a relatively rare phenomenon (1% of the population). Will it always be seen as taboo? Hard to say. But the rarity of gender transition will probably always make it something that is deemed “curious”. This is especially true of male-to-female transition which is very much considered “strange” for the same reason it’s considered highly taboo for assigned male at birth people to express any kind of femininity. Trans culture also sells because allies like to pat themselves on the back for even knowing a trans person or – gasp – being decent when it comes to the right pronouns. Oh – how progressive you are for reaching the bare minimum of decency!

So my identity as philosopher who is trans is self-consciously taking advantage of these recent trends to hopefully bring greater attention to my writing than if I was just going “stealth” with my online presence. Some trans folks might feel uncomfortable with this kind of selfish exploitation but after all isn’t it my choice on how to express myself? Don’t get me wrong – I don’t necessarily always love being trans. It’s not all roses and candy. It can be difficult. Dysphoria sucks. Being gender ambiguous sucks. Being misgendered sucks. These things happen on a daily basis on my life. Even 1.5 years in transition and 13 months into hormone therapy trans-thoughts still occupy my mind, though of course not as much as they did when I was first getting started. Like most trans people I am hyper aware of gender differences and the extent to which gendering happens in everyday life. But I’ve learned to embrace who I am, to even take pride in my identity. In my view, trans people just posting a seflie to FB is a radical act – showing the world that trans is beautiful no matter what. We are beautiful. We are here. We’re not going away.

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Dysphoria as a Symptom of Modernity

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Dysphoria is everywhere we look in American society. Take for example the toxic beauty culture of the media promoting images of beautiful models representing unattainable beauty ideals. There are many young women wishing they were skinnier, with bigger breasts, and the right size ass. I would imagine many if not most girls and women in America wish they could change something about their bodies or appearance. Men and boys as well. We live in a fix-it society exemplified in reality tv shows depicting “ugly” people getting a smorgasbord of cosmetic surgeries and then showing the dramatic “before and after” reveal. The plastic surgery industry is a multi-billion growth bonanza – with surgeons making big bucks by not having to deal with insurance – straight up cash please.  But dysphoria is at the core of this phenomenon, a cultural dysphoria we have all internalized due to our exposure to unattainable beauty ideals and constant exposure to the digital altered world where a thick instagram filter hides our imperfections.

There are many flavors and varieties of dysphoria – and it is not just a transgender thing either. It literally just means discomfort about some aspect of your physical body. But dysphoria is probably more associated these days with gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is a special kind of dysphoria that is felt when one is uncomfortable in your body because it either makes you feel like the wrong gender or makes you socially perceived as the wrong gender. Gender dysphoria has been a known phenomenon for decades. Many kinds of treatment are available to gender dysphoric people. Therapy. Hormones. Surgeries. These have all been shown effective life-affirming and life-saving treatments. I wouldn’t necessarily argue these treatments should be seen as “medical” in any way, like fixing a broken truck. They affirm gender. They relieve that pain of looking in the mirror and not seeing yourself as the right gender. People who have never experienced it generally have little ability to know what it’s like. But I don’t want to buy into any system of thought that sees all trans people as these broken creatures in need of fixing with the doctor’s help. Some trans people might think they are broken but I don’t want to generalize to ALL trans people.

Why is dysphoria a symptom of modern society? It’s because dysphoria is a symptom of the hyper-sexualizing/beauty obsessed modern media machine that is Hollywood and American media at large, either in video games or magazines, to the models we see on the walls of every department store. It’s everywhere. When you see perfection everyday it’s hard to not feel like well if I had the money to spare maybe I really would like to have perfect teeth, or bigger breasts, or less wrinkles in my face, or a flat stomach. I would look younger, better, newer, improved.

Non-trans dysphoria feels like a tempting analogy with trans women who get “facial feminization surgery” which is essentially just cosmetic surgery with the intent of reducing masculine features and emphasizing feminine features.  The analogy is that the dysphoria of a cis woman wanting plastic surgery to look presumably more feminine and beautiful is like that of a trans woman wanting plastic surgery to look more feminine. Metaphyscially they seem to be very similar.

But we must be careful with this analogy. Very careful. Because we can make a distinction between healthy and non-healthy kinds of dysphoria, strange as that sounds. What kind of dysphoria would be healthy? First and foremost the kind that can be treated. If the underlying cause is gender based then there are proven treatments that often lead to easing the burden of gender dysphoria, though it might be present at low background levels or intermittent bursts. Second, in cultures that have a recognized social role for gender expansive people the kind of dysphoria present in those populations is not necessarily unhealthy so long as society at large approves transition and has the mechanisms in place to ensure a healthy transition.

On the other hand, the kind of dysphoria that stems from trying to live up to the beauty ideals in media and culture is a lot harder to treat because it’s based on a flawed ideology, an ideology of the body. Of what the body is supposed to be. This is also the root of cis-normativity as well. This kind of dysphoria is hard to treat with technology because the problem actually lies in the culture at large not necessarily in the individual. The media machine that spreads unattainable beauty ideals into every aspect of society is unstoppable and getting worse as our appetite as consumers grows larger. I don’t see it going away anytime soon. This affects everyone but especially young women.

But men have their own unique kind of dysphoria surrounding things like balding and muscles. They see physically perfect super men in Marvel movies and feel inspired to get a super hero body but few ever get to that level, just like most women don’t look like Kim K.

But I think it is these media-driven kinds of dysphoria that are unhealthy and thus different from the healthiness of gender dysphoria, which is rooted in concept- gender – that is absolutely fundamental to our essence as people whereas the beauty ideals of society are not core essential features – we can do without them thank you very much.

Last, and this is important, I don’t want this post to indicate that I mean to judge any particular person for getting cosmetic surgery. I support the autonomy of rational people to make decisions about their bodies as they see fit. And who am I to judge. But surely there are some cosmetic surgeries that cannot be described as healthy. People get talked into more work being done by overly enthusiastic surgeons during consultation.

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Estrogen and breakups = a lot of tears

Yeah, my engagement is over. She fell in love with another woman, a friend of mine actually – I even introduced them to each other. It wasn’t cheating. There was honesty and openness throughout the whole process. We briefly tried to do the poly thing but my now-ex partner and her new love just can’t do poly and want to be exclusive, so that leaves me out of the picture. Shucks. I just moved in a few months ago so I’m stuck wondering what’s gonna happen. I’m not getting kicked out right away but it’s gonna be weird living with my now-ex. It’s been hard. It is hard.

I’m still processing things – crying a good deal. Oscillating between feeling crushed inside and sad vs being icy and cold, closing myself off emotionally to what’s happening before my eyes, literally watching a relationship die. But now I’m calculating future possibilities. A whole new horizon has opened before me as the past 9 months melt away behind me. Old possibilities have died and new ones have opened up. In a weird way I’m excited for the future – the breathless anxiety of not knowing where I’ll be in a year.

Once again after the break-up of a serious relationship (I’m divorced) I am left with a dark cynical view of relationships. I will not jump into things so quickly again. Or I will try not to – the logical side of my mind does not always win against the almighty force of emotion.

On the bright side, during our little poly experiment I met a girl who is quite awesome – I really hope things work out – I really like her. She’s giving me hope that the future won’t be so bleak after all. She’s poly. And kinky. And smart. And successful. And beautiful. And she’s also a huge metal head (like me). So yeah – I hope it works out *crosses fingers*

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Infighting in the Trans Community

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