Conceptualizing Transcentrism within Oppression
Dyssonant Expressions & Antonia Elle D’orsay
Greetings and Salutations!
Once again, we return to the task of setting down the joys and trials and tribulations of a semester of hard freaking work for people in order that they might gain something of a grasp on the issues around Transcentrism.
Today we are going to talk about several concepts one will find in the wilds of the internet that all center around the concepts of how trans people are discriminated against. Think of this as a massive refresher course in anti-oppression ideas.
Specifically, we are going to take a long, hard look at the following things as they pertain to Transness: Transcentrism, Structure, Agency, Interplay, Description, Affinity Politics, Identity, Situational Membership, Ciscentric Bargains, Privilege, Social Constructions, Sex, Gender, Sex Identity, Gender identity, Gender Roles, Gender Expressions, Gendered Behaviors, Stigma, Shame, and Ostracism, the Rule of Screwing, Legality of Presence, Triggers, Aversion, Anxiety, and Animus, The Other,
If you’ve read anything on those topics in the past, you’ll know the gist, but you won’t have seen the ways they all work together in the system that Transcentrism opposes.
As a note, you won’t see feminism in that list. This is because Transcentrism is not feminism. Feminism is a ciscentric concept, built by, for, and about Cis people. Transfeminism seeks to bridge the gap. Transcentrism is what it is trying to build a bridge from.
This is closer to what people expected, but not quite as easy and simple as they might like. It is a compendium of important concepts, in a format that explains them, but it isn’t meant for a layman, necessarily, and it does require you to think outside the box that many people think in.
And that box is the first thing we will talk about.
The first thing that we need to look at in order to really be able to look at things is that the systems and tools and forces that we, as trans people, are engaged with on a daily basis are designed by, for, and with forethought for cis people. That is, people who are something other than Trans, Inter, and whatever the other two things are.
That last line often bothers people a little — they toss it aside and don’t really dwell on it, so I’ll get to that shortly. Because it matters more than people realize to the overall argument — even though the when it matters is a question.
Those systems, tools, forces, and related paraphernalia are all created without thought for trans people. And they are the powers by which the world around is drawn, defined, shaped, governed, acted, and enabled. All of it is there without thought for us, and that’s a very big deal that people don’t always fully grasp or understand, in part because we live in a period, right now, where there is a lot of change going on that is of benefit to us.
This massive coalition of powers, forces, and related experiences and ideas is called Ciscentrism. It focuses on, centers as normal, functions to serve, and exists to maintain the world for the benefit of cis people. An element of Ciscentrism is called ciscentric — and it is everywhere.
Socialism? Ciscentric. Capitalism? Ciscentric. Anarchy? Ciscentric. All of them, ideas and concepts that were created and initiated without he understanding the trans people exist, and without any active or enduring thought that they should be considered as a part of that idea. The Constitution of the United States is ciscentric. The ideas within it are, as well.
Now, being ciscentric does not mean that an idea or concept is bad. Which I would normally not speak to but I’ve noticed a lot of people these days who leap to the particular conclusion that simply because it is ciscentric it is bad. That’s a logical fallacy of the genetic type — and misses the point.
Here is an example of what I mean. Civil Rights is a concept and ideal that is ciscentric. It is not, though, a bad thing. The goal of Transcentrism is to re-examine all those ideas, concepts, efforts, and creations of cis folk and see how it is that they can be made to be not ciscentric.
Indeed, the goal of Transcentrism is to make them Trans centric — to normalize the existence of trans people within the cultural systems and to prepare the way for those who come along with and after trans people in the fight and struggle for recognition, liberty, and participation.
To achieve that goal, however, one must be aware of this incredibly broad reaching set of forces, and one must also be knowledgeable in what it is that must be done to make something transcentric. Which is what we are starting to do here.
Ciscentrism, then, is very much like Patriarchy, or Racism, or heterosexual dominance. It controls and shapes and determines the narratives of what is commonplace, what is acceptable, what is, in the world around us. It is, then, the very Structure against which we, as trans people, struggle and strive to exert our own personal Agency, and that, more than anything else, is why it is so important that we recognize it for what it is.
To find a solution that works, the first thing one must do is identify a problem. You must find out what that problem is, you must understand that problem, and then you must craft a solution that gives that problem the swift kick in the parts that it deserves.
For people of color, that problem is Whiteness. For women, that problem is Patriarchy. For the poor it is the accumulation of wealth among 5% of the population, and so on and so forth. We aren’t here to examine those particulars, those axes of oppression within the matrix of domination.
We are here to examine just one of them.
What all of this means, however, in terms of the sociopolitical context, is that Transcentrism is an extremely radical concept — it seeks to make fundamental changes to the way that society operates and the way that people think and behave and act. It does not seek to dominate that society, nor is it so closely targeted that it seeks to deny other people from participating in that very social system.
As a radical effort, its ultimate goal is to remove the need for itself, really. Because once the changes are made, it won’t be radical any longer. So a key part of Transcentrism is that it seeks to go from radical to mainstream.
Cis, Trans, Inter, and those two other things
Earlier, I mentioned the above.
As a matter of habit, I work from a very strange point of view compared to many of my peers. I approach everything with the fundamental understanding that there are five “sides” to everything. It is a very deeply ingrained habit of mine, with a very real purpose. It enables me to avoid falling into certain common traps; most notably, the trap of binaries or duality that is common within Western Cultures.
Many people think of Trans & Cis as a binary — the night and day (forgetting the dusk and dawn), the black and white (forgetting the colors in between), the us versus them (forgetting those neutral or unaware) of this struggle, and it is fundamental to Transcentrism that we not do that.
A few years ago, I applied a rough version of this to the questions of what else is there. In current sexological theory, there are generally groups of four: A, B, neither A nor B, and both a and B.
That is how we get sexual orientation, just as a start. It is a way and a means of classifying, of drawing the lines to better enable understanding the picture that one is looking at, to come to a way of understanding it without leaving out something.
In the case of Trans people, I’ve generally drawn lines around four clusters that show up when one does any sort of really detailed and good studies on the different kinds of trans people. These clusters are trans women, trans men, both, and neither. It is a structure that mirrors the current existence of many, and I use the phrasing brothers, sisters, and siblings for the specific purpose of making sure that I note the existence of those who are both and neither.
That doesn’t fully embrace all of the possibilities, though. There are other clusters, and there are a lot of people who are outside that realm.
Some of them are Intersex. While they, like the Trans population, struggle with a sense of self and a need to become part of the larger whole, it isn’t my role or my goal here to decide what a good system for them is — although I also see a large chunk of possibility for the presence of Intergender persons that is active right now, and they are often struggling for recognition and awareness within the trans community and under that term.
Just as history shows that T and L And B all split away from the G to stand on their own, we will see that same effect happening within the T itself, and one can identify the precursors for such even now if you look for them.
I have no idea what they will be called. I’ve used various terms for them, but the term isn’t as important as the goal of leaving the “space” open for them. I know that there will be Trans and Cis. There will also likely be Inter (indeed, the basis for such is there and has been since the 90′s, but they just got hit with a massive backlash themselves). There are going to be at least two others.
Not knowing what they are doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It just means we don’t know what they are — just as we didn’t know what X-rays were at one time. Or that there was this thing called the higgs-boson.
This is important, though, especially right now in the efforts pertaining to Transcentrism, that we don’t get caught up in the ciscentric thinking that predicates a binary, that says it is a Cis or Trans world, that one can be only one or the other. Aside from working to limit the ideas and efforts of others to come in the future, it is a false premise and should be avoided in terms of thinking as it creates that black and white problem that ultimately serves to benefit the Ciscentric forces we are struggling with.
Cisness is the state of awareness or condition in society of someone who does conform in a majority of aspects to the way their society or culture sees them as behaving and living in relation to their culture’s social construction of physiological sex, usually due to a harmony between their physical sex and one or both of their social sex aspect of self-awareness and/or internal sex aspect of self-awareness. It exists as a fundamental part of awareness of self, and it is, itself, an awareness, without which, there is no self-awareness.
Transness is the state of awareness or condition in society of someone who does not conform in a majority of aspects to the way their society or culture sees them as behaving and living in relation to their culture’s social construction of physiological sex, usually due to a variance between their physical sex and one or both of their social sex aspect of self-awareness and/or internal sex aspect of self-awareness. It exists as a fundamental part of awareness of self, and it is, itself, an awareness, without which, there is no self-awareness.
Transness & Cisness Examination
Before I post the definition of Trans, I want to take a moment and examine those previous two concepts.
In both cases, because the structure of Transness is malleable, and because there are, as I noted, other possibilities, both of those are subject to refinement as we gain broader understanding of those alternatives.
Also, there is a really key set of concepts here that I deal with in those definitions. The first is cultural awareness, and a determination to not enforce or invoke ethnocentric concepts into the definition, in order to provide for a broader base that enables a wider understanding of the possible differences within such. There is no direct correlation, for example, between winkte, fa’afafine, and travesti, and none of them match the colloquial understanding of trans people in the US.
When I say this, I mean it. There is more than a little racism that drives much of the social constructions we deal with, and especially those that date back to some pretty basic elements in the pre-civil rights era. For example, the descriptions and ideas in Harry Benjamin’s work are entirely based in a deeply ethnocentric, Western Cultural milieu worldview that effectively erases many of the possible permutations (and, therefore, reduces our full understanding of things).
For thousands of years, different ethnic systems existed (and many still exist or are being revitalized following the colonization of their cultures) that defined and structured sex differently from the way we do it in the US (social construction), and there are even broader ways of doing so than we currently use. This is why it is, at the very least, ethnocentric to argue that sex is real because biology, as Elizabeth Hungerford does, and, ultimately, in many ways, it is incredibly racist — not because people intend it to be so, but because they fail to look outside their own narrow worldview.
The next thing to note is that the definitions employed utilize the concept of Self Awareness. Self-awareness is that peculiar thing where we begin to understand that we, as individuals, exist, distinct from others. The most common way of describing this is the mirror: we have self-awareness when we can recognize that the reflection in the mirror is *us*.
Ethnocentricity is a major issue within the sciences, as a whole, as they have long been dominated by Western idealizations (and driven by historic colonial devastation), and often it remains unexamined. Even within WPATH, there are issues that many people, such as my friend Dr. Sam Winter, who are working very hard to stop from erasing indigenous and Eastern cultural concepts that affect these very central ideas.
A major part of the goal of the definitions of Transness and Cisness you see above is to strip the culturally limiting concepts down to their bare bones, and refocus the understanding away from external measures to the ones that are actually at the heart of the question, and to avoid those ethnocentric traps that reduce the description’s value in an academic and scientific manner.
Within the descriptions are a few concepts that people may not fully grasp off hand, as they are not described in a manner that people are familiar with. The terminology shift is necessary in the view of Transcentrism because existing terminology is overly ciscentric, especially in colloquial and layman use, while also being readily misunderstood by them.
When concepts are readily misunderstood, it becomes necessary to reduce them to a level that is more readily grasped by those who are looking at them from outside them, and so that’s what the above definitions do.
The concept described most commonly as “Gender Identity” in colloquial use is summed up above as “ their social sex aspect of self-awareness and/or internal sex aspect of self-awareness”. A close inspection will note that this is actually two distinct concepts, and one of the reasons that this stuff is so easily misunderstood.
The second concept, Sex Identity, is really the second half of the above description. Roughly translated, the whole thing means that a Trans person is aware that they are a woman, man, both, or neither, at the same core level as they are aware of themselves as a person, distinct from other people.
Some people would prefer to argue that what this is suggesting is that there is a “brain sex” — and yet, that’s not what this is describing. It is describing a sense of self-awareness — which, while decidedly part of the brain’s physiology, is really part of the existential notion that one exists, and therefore is not part of that argument, nor even related directly to biological systems (though many studies indicate such, I’m not going to reference such as biological essentialism of that sort is somewhat contrary to existential systems such as Transcentrism).
What that means, as well, is that this description has nothing whatsoever to do with biology, and, therefore arguments about biology aren’t valid when contradicting it. It would be akin to saying that the United States army shouldn’t exist because of broccoli.
This description also places the entire ideation process behind transness firmly within the cultural milieu, and therefore subject to social and psycho-social forces and changes. Since so long as there are people, there will be variance in the ways that people ascribe things to persons on the basis of their physical sex, there will always be trans people.
That is, even if one were to successfully “abolish gender”, there would still be trans people, because the culture would still ascribe aspects to persons on the basis of their physical sex. Which is also telling, since the social aspects ascribed to physical sex have a very specific sociological name applied to them.
The downside, to many, is that in order to identify a particular trans person within a particular culture, you have to have a grasp of how that culture does things — which as a sociologist I don’t have a problem with.
The simplest way to look at the above descriptions — which is, inherently, an oversimplification, and therefore faulty if taken as face value — is to say that Trans people are folks who think they aren’t what other people think they are.
Which, when tied to historical efforts to describe it, really matches the trapped in the body story — but, again, this is an oversimplification of something more complicated, and so while the statement works (which is why so many trans people nod to it, even if they are not, such as myself, trapped in our bodies), it is a kindergarten level explanation compared to a collegiate level.
The astute will notice that I haven’t exactly used the idea of “identity” in any of the above stuff. There is no reference to people who identify as trans or people who identify as Cis. What you identify as is irrelevant in the entire scheme of Transcentric thought, since the notion of identity itself is a ciscentric concept and limiting thereby.
This is, perhaps, the biggest change in the way that Transcentrism approaches transness within the politico-social area: it does not argue on the basis of a self-professed identity, and instead relies on a function of self-awareness: it places I am before I belong.
In doing so, it removes the onus from the Trans person to identify themselves to others, and places the onus on Cis people (as the dominant social group) to find their own ways to do so. This is a fundamental shift, and a key one.
Identity in this case is a sense of self, and the avoidance of the term allows the discussion to avoid being sidetracked into discussions about identity politics, since one’s self awareness is not subject to such.
What is subject to such is the “membership” in an Affinity group, which is the term within Transcentrism for the sociopolitical collective efforts of a particular oppressed population.
Social Affinity is that sense of belonging to something larger than yourself. It is where the concepts of inclusive and exclusive come into play, and is the theater in which many of the arguments relating to trans people take place.
Some trans people do not feel that they have a membership in a particular social affinity group that has anything to do with Transness. They might be more closely aligned with, for example, the Affinity Group of Radical Feminists, or even the affinity Group of Asian Pacific-Islanders.
This is important because Affinity Groups are voluntary social structures. Often, people derive a sense of collective identity from their membership in that affinity group, and as a result a Movement is created that will adopt certain common needs and agitate for them.
Trans separatists are one example of such an Affinity Group. So are Transgender Activists, and Trans Activists, and so forth and so on. The LGBT is a combined Affinity group, made up of several of them, facing similar or common issues.
And this is a key aspect of Affinity Groups they are founded on commonality, first and foremost, Affinity groups do not exist based on that which separates them, though not because some people haven’t tried to do so (Groucho Marx).
Affinity Groups, which are tied together by commonality, often engage in efforts to improve things in their culture. This is called “identity politics” in the real world. This is Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, Gay Rights, Undocumented Immigrant Rights, and, yes, Trans Rights (among many, many, many others).
I use the term affinity Groups in order to highlight the nature of these groups: they are based in Affinity.
Affinity is a fascinating concept, in and of itself, but essentially it is people who have something in common, and the particular way of seeing things that I’m really intent on examining is the notion of intentional family. People often refer to the LGBT community as their family. There are cries of Brother! and Sister! in other movements, and we in the US do not use that term without cause.
Those “in-law’s” that people are always talking about? Those are people who become related through Affinity. Legally speaking, even.
In sociology, Affinity exists among those who have are kindred of spirit. A Kindred is a very, very Anglo-Saxon term, core to English. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase Kith and Kin used before. A kindred is someone of the Clan, the Tribe, larger and broader than the blood and bone relatives. Kith are your neighbors, the people you live around (and don’t always get along with) — it is your village, essentially. And Kin, well, kin are those to whom you are related according to the way you heritage is tracked within your culture. In the US, that’s still, predominantly, through the paternal side of things.
So by using the term Affinity, I get a much more accurate description of what we are dealing with than I would if I used the term “Identity”, and more importantly, I get right to the heart of the reason that it is an Affinity group — that is, what it is that binds them together, all without getting into the messiness of “Identity”.
Here’s why this is important. A person can Identify with many things, but ultimately, if they identify as something, they have a linguistic limiting of themselves that takes place, and they shift the nature of the conversation from what they are about to what they are.
Identities are reducible, always, to one. Identity is predicated on what makes one *different*, then, not what one has in *common* with others. It can be reduced: I identify as X, except I don’t identify with people who are X but also Z, and I don’t identify with people who are X but also poorer than I, and I don’t identify with people who have a lighter skin tone than I, because we all know they have it easier, and I don’t…”
Identity should not, really, be reducible beyond 1. I live by this, ever since I came to this realization several years ago. I do not identify as trans, as a woman, as any of the usual things people see or say or think or utter.
I identify as one thing and one thing only, and that one thing manages to capture *everything* that is different, that is singular, that unique about me in one fell swoop: I identify as Antonia Elle D’orsay, occasionally Ellie, usually Toni, Ms. D’orsay, and assorted other odds and ends.
There is no other identity that manages to capture the wholeness and the singularity of me, as a person, and anything I might choose to say I identify *as* would mean taking away from the rest of all that is me in order to focus on that one thing.
So I Identify as just that. But I am a member of many different affinity groups. I identify with them, not as them. Saying I am a sociologist is not the same as saying I identify as a sociologist (if it was, then they would have the same meaning, semantically, and they don’t, which is why you have to say it differently).
This is also important because it highlights the nature of what is, most often, a fractious group of people, especially in something like the Trans community. Families, as many of us know all too well, do not always get along. They do not always pull together. They do not always consist of people who think the same and dream the same and live the same. Siblings fight, cousins mock, Aunts thrill with stories, grandparents embarrass the hell out of everyone.
But they are still families. And families have red headed step children and black sheep, as well.
Affinity is a far better descriptor than Identity, but it also has a couple of others benefits that have to do with history and arguing with other people.
The history part is this, in brief: LGBT people have a long, sordid history of being thrown out of their homes and forced into places that no one would go and then cut off. This history is a history of being told that you are not part of our family, of cutting the bonds of kinship, of denying them those very rights, those very benefits, those very basic ties.
Marriage is an example of this. Marriage *creates* family. It creates it in law, it creates in society, it creates it in direct, substantial, measurable terms. People have fought tooth and nail, bitterly, for nearly 20 directly and decades before that, to deny and stop that from happening.
The social subtext, then, is to deny us access to being a family, having a family, creating a family. That is, in the end, the core goal, and here’s why: Family is the most basic building block of society. When you have family, you are able to build society, then.
If you were wanting to get rid of someone, would you give them the ability to create a society that could ultimately combat your own?
So again, Affinity is more effective.
Reap what you sow
The last one here is that when arguing with people who are opposed to trans people, they will often use arguments that center around identity, and they will intentionally conflate the notions of personal identity and social identity, and do so in a manner that allows them to attack you on two levels instead of one.
They, however, are not familiar with the concepts of Affinity, nor the ways it serves the arguments in favor of transness. They recognize, even if they don’t understand why, that identity is a reductive, that it is based on what is different, instead of what is in common.
That makes it easier to attack. But affinity, based on what is in common, means they have to argue from the basis of commonality, and if their policy is one of exclusion, they cannot effectively do so.
Brief: if you look for difference, you will see it. If you look for commonality, you will see it. If you think in those terms, those terms will dictate what you look for.
Description allows people the ability to look at an issue in more ways than just those found personally, and prevents one from being overly reductionist because it requires accuracy and a focus on commonality.
The description of transness, above, deals in the concept of what it means to be a trans person, and also serves to describe the nature of what it is that makes a trans person such. Some will argue that it is, perhaps, too vague, too loose, and yet, it passes every major test and function that I’ve come across or that other’s I’ve known have attempted to use in identifying what it is that make s atrans person such, without blocking out anyone.
This is important to note, because to people who are not trans, that description doesn’t deal in any of the things they expect it to deal in. It doesn’t involve clothing, it doesn’t involve the toys you play with as a child, it has nothing to do with what you enjoy or how you behave in terms of your gender. It doesn’t speak to sexual orientation, and it makes clear a division between people who are trans and people who are not trans – be they cis people or something else.
It gets to the heart of the matter, then, the core principles, and allows the discussion about what is and is not a trans person to take shape around things that really have a lot to do with the existence of trans people, as opposed to being side tracked or devalued through the use of those other elements that may be related to being trans, but that do not, themselves, define a trans person.
This is one of the most common mistakes that many people make – they assume that being a trans person is about the clothing they wear or the social sex roles (the gender roles) they make an effort to occupy or are driven into by pervasive institutions and systems of thought.
You see this as the primary format of presentation in the media. The focus on the clothing, the make up, the application of sexist standards with an underlying sense of scandal and impropriety. Late last year, I presented a simple series of comments and highlighted them with links to demonstrate how deep this goes by highlighting the way that commonly used image resources, employed by magazines and media industry professionals (Getty Images, Shutterstock, and similar) and comparing them using simple search terms to results gleaned by Google Images. The findings, which to this day are still holding, demonstrate the lurid ways in which trans people are portrayed, often under the guise of being humor or artistic, despite getting that humorous or artistic value from the negative way in which the wider and broader systems portray Trans people.
These are why description is often seen as risky – we are, after all, an oppressed class with very little effective power when it comes to changing those representations and little to no value in the larger structural systems (such as advertising and image management industries) to change those representations. This is also why efforts such as The Trans 100 are so important and function in no small part to actively change that representation – and that’s just one example; efforts in Washington DC and Boston have been incredibly powerful in terms of the effect on the Cis community, which is the target demographic primarily, with the ability to reach people who often do not see representations of themselves in the media otherwise being a useful secondary effect.
Description then, is very powerful as a tool for the purpose of making clear distinctions and ensuring that the focus is on the facts, instead of the opinion, and allows one to see ways around many of the arguments, as I’ve been pointing out steadily.
The description for Transness above shows that nearly every major way of looking at trans people is flawed, because it always comes from a ciscentric, externally based concept instead of looking at what it really is, which is a deeply internalized, core aspect of the person we see in the mirror.
Description is, then, a key point of capacity building – that nebulous seeming buzzword right now that basically means allowing everyone who has ever felt like a freak or a weirdo because of someone else to get behind you and support you like some real life version of Revenge of the Nerds.
One factor that affects this goal of capacity building is the concept of situational membership. This often drives many of the underlying arguments people use around the lives of trans people, on both sides.
Some might note that often used, more colloquial models for transness are “too broad” and include people like gay men and lesbians, or even just women who wear pants or men with long hair. Many of the arguments used against legal efforts around transness rely on these same vague ideas, making it seem like transness is just a phase, a fad, or a strange fetish or paraphilia.
These arguments often turn people against the needs of trans people that these legal efforts are addressing. This happens within the gay community, where on more than a few occasions people have said that trans people are really just confused gay men who are deeply homophobic, or that such efforts will mean that a person can be one sex today and another sex tomorrow, or that people will pretend to be a trans person just to engage in illegal activities.
This is because they use inaccurate descriptions, as well as a form of oppressive argument that places the responsibility for Cis people on Trans people (the same tactic is used against people of color, as well, as is often seen in discussion over affirmative action).
Situational membership is when a person who is not a member of a group appears to be such because of the situation in which they find themselves. An excellent example if drag performers, who come in a wide and incredibly diverse variety. There are straight men and straight women who perform in drag (both as men and as women), there are cis men and women who do it, trans men and women who do it, and of course, gay and lesbian men and women who do it. Drag is often not fully understood, and because of the various efforts involved, people readily confuse drag performance with being trans. Drag is performance, however, just like acting is performance, and in the same way that people often confuse traits of a character played by an actor with the real actor, people do the same thing with Drag performers.
Because of this misunderstanding of what drag is and even who all is involved in drag, drag performers are often placed as members of the Trans community, even when they are not. Even drag performers sometimes do so – often in a sense of solidarity. Since some trans people are drag performers, it can be confusing to people who feel that perhaps they need to have those clear cut lines between things, and have a hard time realizing that drag is so complex an issue.
Situational membership happens when you find yourself, seemingly unwillingly, thrust into a group with which you otherwise might not feel you have much in common.
Bisexual people often experience this in both the gay and lesbian communities, as well as the straight community — entirely based on who they happen to be with. And, as a result of the underlying animosities there, they are often attacked on both sides for it, in subtle and invidious ways.
Trans folk, such as transsexuals, can find that different people’s perceptions of their gender affect how they are seen in terms of sexual orientation. They might for example, be called a faggot; or perhaps when they seek to marry they are told they aren’t really their particular sex, but instead a different one.
The common element through all of this is the nature of how people – predominantly cis people, but really anyone dealing with ciscentric thoughts and ideas about what trans people – perceive other individuals, and never with the person themselves. This means that inevitably the issue is one of assumption, and more likely than not is going to involve stigma at some level.
Relationship to Sexual Orientation
IT should be noted that Transness has no direct relationship to sexual orientation.
There is one aspect of transness that does have an effect on the trans people. It is difficult to effectively and properly know your sexual orientation for many people until after they have started the process of transition – the shifting from one point to another.
Another way to express this is that it is hard to know what your sexual orientation is without knowing what your sex is, as sexual orientation (which is currently ciscentric in structure, and does not account for trans people) is a relative concept that requires knowing yours as well as the other person’s sex and or gender.
I use sex and or gender as one of the important things to remember about sexual orientation is that it is not focused on the genitals. Individual preferences for a particular arrangement may be present, but the focus – especially as outlined in the concepts of sexual orientation, as we understand it at this time – is on the social sex of the individual, as that’s what we are initially attracted to in a person and what opens up the possibility for sexual intercourse.
Structure & Agency
So we’ve noted so far that there are these people called trans people, and they are banded together in an affinity group, and they have a long and sordid history of basically not being well liked because the system around them is created for, by, of, and about Cis people, and leaves them with less than the short end of the stick.
But what is that system? How do we talk about that system of Ciscentrism in relation to other forces that shape our overall culture and that ultimately feed into this strange thing that we will cover in the future called the Web of Domination these days, but that I still like to think of as the Matrix of Oppression (it’s a movie thing. A movie by a trans person thing. Which reminds me: you do realize that the Matrix is a somewhat transcentric movie that features no visible trans people, right? Subversive…)
In the study of such things, we call that collection of forces, institutions, and ideas that exist in the world Structure. Government is Structure. Law is Structure. Language is Structure. Economics is Structure.
The things you think you know about the world itself is Structure.
To steal a rather wonderful description of it: From a child’s verbal description of a snowflake, to the detailed scientific analysis of the properties of magnetic fields, the concept of structure is now often an essential foundation of nearly every mode of inquiry and discovery in science, philosophy, and art.
To take the earlier metaphor I used parenthetically, Structure is The Matrix. It is invisible to us for the most part, and is composed of billions of lines of code that take the shape of people, who operate and enable and power that very system (what you thought eh battery metaphor was just there for s&g’s?).
Because structure is everywhere and omnipresent, it has tremendous influence on our behaviors, our ways of thinking, our ways of seeing things and determining what is good or bad, right or wrong, a problem or a solution. Structure is The Box, awaiting an action, anticipating a reaction, defining our proactions.
When people say they don’t want to be confined by labels or trapped in some Box, what they mean is that Structure is limiting them, and that is, basically, the purpose of Structure. Structure is what keeps us from killing each other enough that we are on course to have 10 billion people on the planet.
In fictional situations, there is often a cause for conflict — the power of the Gods versus the concept of free will. The ability of the protagonist to make choices and decisions that shapes the outcome of the story without the input or effect of the Gods themselves — and more often than not, in spite of them and what they do.
What opposes structure, though, is what matters.
Agency is the degree of free will we have, and the way in which we use that free will to make a decision, think a thought, or take an action.
When people talk about transition not being a choice, they mean that the force of Structure is telling them they should die, but the power of Agency is telling them to make a change.
Structure is incredibly powerful. Structure is incredibly influential, and structure dictates the choices we can make in many ways.
In feminist discourse, a classic example is the choice of a woman who decides to stay at home and raise children while the husband goes off and provides for the family. Structure says that this is the ideal, it posits this concept as the “best”, and other possible solutions as “lesser” and even sorts them out by degree until the bottom of the rung is a single, unmarried woman who works in a powerful position.
When Structure is being incredibly powerful, that choice may be the only one allowed, socially. Structure may influence people to decide that work other than that is beyond the capability of women, and because structure informs and shapes the way we see it and the way we think about it, it also means the arguments that support if are going to be strong and reinforcing of the idea.
Agency says that the individual woman gets to make up her mind and do so. That she can choose from whatever the various possibilities are and do what she wants to do. Yet often this power is denied her by the particular structures of her culture. Perhaps she is denied schooling which helps one to make wise and informed choices, as well as to even be aware that there are other things she could do.
If you cannot see it, then you likely cannot think it. Imagination is even limited by structure.
In feminism, the structure that significantly hinders the ability of women to enact their own Agency over their lives is called Patriarchy.
In Transcentrism, that Structure is called Ciscentrism.
Go along nearly any major issue of oppression — an axis, if you will — and you will find that the system that works to oppress has a name, and that overall those many systems, when taken together, create the Structure that governs people.
The give and take between Structure and Agency are fairly constant, and always happening. The entire notion of Civil Rights — of freedoms and liberties, is a way of enshrining in Structure a concept that says it should to answer to the needs of Agency.
And in so doing, they highlighted the nature of the things we call structure and agency today enough that, about three hundred years later, we started really understanding it better.
This conflict between Agency and Structure is called Interplay. There are all manner of mathematical equations and algorithms and concepts and more that deal with the way that people engage in that interplay — game theory, for example, has been extremely useful in examining the way that an individual’s Interplay between structure and agency happens in certain circumstances.
Marketing is built around this whole schema as well, and those people who get into the higher order posts (I’m guessing the 300′s) will find that I have a particular way of looking at marketing and seeing how it is a powerful tool that needs to be put to better use, and how those currently in power are aware of that and seek to minimize it.
But for now, let’s just look at Structure.
As noted earlier, nearly all our understanding of the world, thus far, has come about from people looking at what is, effectively, the mean. That space where there is actually a curve, on the bell curve. The hump, if you will: the most common, most typical, most every day, most ordinary, most broadly found, easiest to identify, the low hanging fruit, the mundane, the mediocre.
When we started looking at the margins, we started seeing other things. We started realizing that we sorta screwed up here or there, and we shifted — but those shifts rarely made it into the overall culture, and instead stayed in the realm of the abstract for most people.
When people talk about Normal, that’s what Structure creates. It creates that sense of commonality (note the link there between normal and affinity groups), that way of everyone being all part of the same thing, and not being all that different from each other.
That is structure in action. And ultimately, that’s what Transcentrism seeks to change — radically, by placing trans people into the conversation as a matter of course and regularity. To ensure that they are part of the math that says this was built by, for, about, and with people in mind in a social system that thinks it has, when it has not.
Ciscentrism is the collective Structure that has arisen over centuries as Cis persons have developed all of their various cultures and systems of power and influence in a manner that benefits these Cis people at the expense of Trans people. When combined with prejudice, this becomes Cissexism and Transphobia, which are used as the tools by which trans people are oppressed and their lives rendered meaningless and contradictory to established norms. It is a structure that exerts the power and influence gained over centuries into a coercive force that dictates to persons within a given culture how they are to behave, act, and live their lives with an eye to maintaining the oppression they exert over those who do not meet the strict rules for people.
Those strict rules can humorously summed up in a little thing I call the rule of screwing.
The Rule Of Screwing
You know those moments when someone freaks out because you are a woman, or gay, or a lesbian, or bisexual, or trans and they just seem to go all nuts and say some of the most amazingly stupid things?
Often, it’s because, in some way, you just violated The Rule Of Screwing.
Yeah — its a violation of the rule of screwing.
That is, there are two kinds of people in their perspective:
- those who do the screwing
- those who are screwed
They define, in a host of different ways, the screwers as the males, and the screwees as the females.
Anything that allows itself to get screwed is a screwee — and, therefore, female (which has connotations of inferiority).
So, when a man allows himself to get screwed, or a woman fails to allow herself to get screwed, or someone tries to change from a woman to a man or from a man to a woman, they are in violation of the rule of screwing — and they simply can’t handle that breakdown of what they perceive as the “the way things are supposed to be”.
Worse: since they consider it their *right* to screw, suddenly having something that isn’t female by other rules and ways and ideas be screwee, it leads to the suggestions that since they are supposed to screw those things which are screwable, they are supposed to screw these screwee men. That scares the crap out of them, on a sub-conscious level.
Why? Because if they can screw another man, it means that men are screwable, and that would place them in the screwable position as well. Which means they would be women. Which scares them even more, because that would mean that they’d have to give up the privileges of being the screwer.
Its all nice and simple for them until this change to the heteronormative patriarchy raises its head. They can’t deal with it. It becomes a logic bomb in their heads, and, in the end, what we get is a person for whom the most apt description, in light of the rule of screwing, is…
The above, for all the humor that is contained in it, is an oversimplified but still useful way of examining many of the underlying issues that surround a host of issues: heterosexism, Cissexism, and Sexism, and involves the intersecting points of oppression along the axes of Patriarchy, Heteronormativity, and Ciscentrism.
This is a good example because it also shows how the varying aspects of Structure work together to bring to bear multiple forms of oppression, thus making it increasingly difficult for oppressed groups to escape certain restrictions on them, especially when they cross one or more of those lines.
A trans lesbian for example, gets caught up in all three of those, and is generally going to see those three separate axes as a singular thing — that is, her experience of such is going to be of them as one form of constant oppression, and so she is most likely going to have a desire to describe them as a singular element.
Yet doing so is problematic, because it maintains the conflation that is already in place, and is there in service to the greater structure as a whole.
You can add in class, race, economic status, education, ability, and keep going and the issue is still the same.
Here’s an example of what I mean by this.
I am a woman of color who is a trans person and bisexual. I get hit along multiple axes all the time — I experience them as a massive mélange, like a kind of cement that is poured on me with the goal of keeping me in place long enough for it to harden so I can no longer move (and, ultimately, die).
If I didn’t have a transcentric lens and an awareness of other axes of oppression, I might be inclined to call that particular attack transracialbiphobicsexistmisogyny.
Because that’s how I perceive it — as one massive pile of really serious crap.
We see that, already, in the term transmisogyny, which attempts to bridge the separation between patriarchy and Ciscentrism and critique both of them at the same time.
The problem here is that transmisogyny only affects a specific class of trans people — it ignores those how are not trans women of the predominantly binary format. It is a form of sexism (and I would point out that misogyny and sexism are distinct concepts, and that in most cases where I see transmisogyny applied, it is really just plain old sexism, which is really even worse), and it is combined with trans discrimination, and by separating those two things, we start to see that is applies to more than just trans women, and that it is a two pronged attack requiring two separate responses if one is going to effectively deal with it, since Patriarchy is not the major Structure facing trans people; Ciscentrism is.
Indeed, trying to address it as a singularity actually provides more power to the structure, because it has obscured the way it relies on two separate tangents, and this enables it to consistently move the goal posts and derail the conversation and thereby avoid having to face its inherent bias.
Which is not to say that transmisogyny doesn’t have a place. It does. But the place for it is not in a transcentric analysis.
Part of why the other systems are not the major issue for transness is that they are all currently ciscentric systems themselves — feminism is ciscentric. It was created by, for, about, and of cis women. It has grown and adapted, but the core tenets of it are still that way, and although it struggles to achieve a more transcentric point of view and adapt, it is not there yet.
That’s going to take transcentric feminists bridging that gap. The same applies to other systems that often conflate and cooperate in oppression, because they are all opposing a cis created system with cis created concepts in a cis created way.
All of the oppositional efforts, though, must work in tandem, must cooperate — we here the term capacity building a lot, which essentially means that we need to get more people on board with us in order to achieve our collective goals.
That means that Transcentrism needs to have that capability inherently, and recognize potential issues of patriarchy, racism, classism, and so forth within itself. IT needs to reach out into the matrix of oppression and because it crosses all those other lines, it needs to bring them into itself, and make their goals an equal part of its own.
Not doing so means that it will deal with the same issues that other efforts have consistently dealt with. The original law passed to let Black people work in this country was passed in the 1860′s, yet it took another a century later to fix that fact it still wasn’t being done, and there are still decisions and efforts chipping away at it constantly (voting rights laws).
Women have been fighting for equal place since the earliest days of the nation, and they still haven’t achieved equality in pay. They are still denied their right to bodily integrity — just like trans people often are.
So that’s structure, an agency is our own individual ways to step around that structure. That isn’t always readily possible, however…
The Ciscentric Bargain
Sometimes, in an effort to wrestle some small snippet of personal agency and thereby gain a benefit out of the system, we have to make a sort of deal with the devil — a bargain that allows us to wrest that sense of personal power from the system and make whatever living we can out of such.
Trans people are just now, really, finding out they can do this, It is at its earliest stages in terms of the ciscentric bargain, but at the same time, it is a lesson we have learned well in other ways, along different axes.
We make a ciscentric bargain when we speak of passing. When we do our utmost to meet the ciscentric model of beauty and appearance for acceptability. We do it when we speak about going “a little bit stealth” or just not talking about being trans. We do it when we turn tricks on the corners or we fudge a little request for help by switching to male voice with the customer service rep while trying to get something done and say “this is my boyfriend”.
We do it when we are afraid to walk down the street holding hands, or when we look for that single stall restroom and wait for it instead of using the multi-stall one.
This is the sticking area — like that housewife who wants to be such, we open ourselves up to potential criticism for a decision we made of our own will, in order to wrest some sense of happiness out of a situation that is pretty difficult.
Think about that housewife for a moment. She gets hit with issues relating to supporting the structure, and told that her choices are not valid because they only came from structure. Yet she still exercised her agency.
Trans people do the same thing. We do it to separatists, who are arguing for assimilation and erasure. We do it to people who will argue with the ideas I’ve put forth here. We do it to those who detransition and those who are too tied up in a complicated life to start. The underlying accusation is that they aren’t really trans, or they are helping the Structure that we are fighting with.
And here’s the thing about that sort of action — a lesson I had to learn a hard way.
That’s not how you do it.
You do not fight Structure by attacking Agency. The choices a person makes in order to live in a world that oppresses them do not happen in a vacuum, but neither do the forces that affect those choices, and your picking on them isn’t going to make a change in the greater structure, which is the real problem.
You fight structure by attacking structure. When you go after someone’s personal life, you are not attacking structure, you are attacking Agency. Moreover, the only thing that fights agency is Structure — so you are, in that sense, doing the work of structure for them, even if your intent is to actually fight the structure.
To combat systemic issues, speak to the Structure. To combat personal lives, speak to the Agency. If you are fighting oppression and you speak to the Agency to do so, you are, ultimately, doing the work of the Structure.
Intent is not magical.
What you intend to do doesn’t matter. It is what you actually do. The road to hell is paved with only the best of intentions — the genocides of people throughout history were always done with good intentions.
Things like the Ciscentric Bargain, the struggle between your personal effort at Agency, and the collective effort of an affinity group to exercise social agency are part of how one strives to make changes that are meaningful on personal and communal levels. The changes being sought are changes to Structure, which has the power to limit the available options, choices, and decisions available through the reward and punishment cycle, along with such forces as policing, stigma, shame, and ostracism. The back and forth between these forces is called interplay, and interplay can also be summed up as the methodology by which one negotiates the matrix of domination in order to provide personal, social, individual, and collective resources for use against and in spite of the structure that limits them.
This is why it is a revolutionary act just to express yourself if you are positioned within an axis of oppression as the oppressed. This is why people describe these actions as “brave” and “courageous” – they see it as being an act of defiance to the Structure.
One of the more interesting things that happens when one begins this effort, especially since the mid 1970’s, is that people will use the terminology of Identity, and argue that their identity must be respected as a person, and as a member of a class.
This is unwise. Identity systems are reductive and exclusionary – you build identity by what separates you from others. That identity process can be reduced to ever smaller segments, ever narrower concepts, ever more limited and restrictive structures that serve as a way to further refine one’s identity. In the trans community, a few examples of this are “passing”, “the surgery”, “true transsexual”, and policing the concepts until the identified group becomes ever smaller.
This is especially true within oppressed groups, where often individuals, as part o the ciscentric bargain, will seek to utilize various ciscentric arguments as the basis of those ever reductive identity based arguments, and this allows people to to utilize many of the arguments that one sees used against trans people in the first place.
Identity is always reducible to one – and in the end, only one identity can ever possibly capture the wholeness of an individual, and this is why I do not use identity based arguments within my work – saying “I identify as” to anything other than a singular moniker that expressly marks you as an individual is ultimately going to lead you into those paths – even if you put great effort and store into avoiding policing and into avoiding reductive systems because you are starting with a reductive system.
Instead, what I focus on is description.
When discussing LGBT issues, one of the things that often comes up is some individual stating that they are not part of a particular group, and that as a result, they are opposed to the stuff being discussed. An example of this is LGB people who dislike the presence of Trans folk in the mélange, or trans folk of one sort or another who feel that some term or some group does them an injustice. This kind of thinking often serves to create wedge issues when it hits the affinity group level, and works against the actions of those seeking to make changes to the structure in order to improve things for their particular affinity group. It also often results in different affinity groups making purity calls and attacking persons similarly situation (trans men versus trans women, Black versus A/PI, dark versus light), ultimately creating a form of policing within the community that takes energy away from the effort to resist the structure and serves to reinforce it, thus undermining the work as a whole. AN excellent example of this is the collapse of Second wave feminism during the 1980’s as it divided and split into differing approaches and ideas that are often placed at odds with each other.
Part of what underlies the unwillingness on the part of many to deal with situations of dissent there is that there is an almost unspoken requirement to respect an individual’s personal self identity. To avoid being disrespectful of that person’s self identity, people go to great lengths to talk around aspects, or else they become embroiled in a contest where the argument descends into the logical fallacy of arguing the general from a specific or vice versa.
The solution, then, is description – but description is harder, and involves thinking about such issues ina different way, because there are a lot of perceived risks to description and a sense that description is to subject to the whims of other people. This despite the effectiveness of the shift around the nature of marriage equality in changing the focus from identity to description.
Privilege is a short hand for a concept known better these days as Dominant Class Privilege. It is the antithesis of Stigma, the obverse of it
As such, it is not a visible privilege, and not something granted by some governmental authority. It is not being born to a wealthy family or the lap of luxury in the common sense that we speak about normally when we talk about someone coming from privilege in most uses.
The sort of privilege we are talking about is very loosely related to those things, yet is not that. It is a form of entitlement and immunity to stigma, yet cannot by earned by actions that you take – it is conferred entirely by your existence, and based solely on the ways in which you alike to others who have, to some degree or other, social power as a result of being the dominant class of persons in that cultural milieu. This kind of privilege we are talking about is more formally known as Dominant Privilege, and is an unearned thing. You do not have to do anything to get it, and you receive it whether you want it or not. You benefit from it, by your membership, and it is unseen and unrecognized by you when you have it, unless it is exposed to you in some way, or you lose it.
A good example of this is the grocery store analogy. You go to the same grocery store for five years. Although they change the end caps from time to time, the things you want and that you know how to get are always there, and you can find odds and ends and you can expect that the manager is going to be a person who’s skin is pale, and is a man. Over that same five years, a large ethnic population moves into the area, and they start shopping there, and the grocery store makes rooms on the shelves for the things they want. But the process of doing so means they move things around dramatically, and suddenly that 10 minute shopping trip you were taking takes 45 minutes, because now they’ve moved everything around in the store and it is harder for you to find the things you like, you want, and if you are like most people, you will develop a subtle sense of resentment about it. They have a sense of strangeness about the store that they may or may not notice, but ultimately, many of them will go and find another store.
Now, a lot of people right now are saying, “no, I don’t do that” and yet, most of them do. That sense of strangeness is what happens when your privilege vanishes.
Privilege is not sexism, not racism, not Cissexism or Ciscentrism. Privilege is not discrimination, in and of itself. It can accompany it, and it can underlie it, and it is derived from it in part, but it is very subtle, and is less about those who are in a position of powerlessness and more about those who are in a position of power.
People speak of “dog whistles”: words and statements that are seemingly innocuous, but are intentionally phrased so as to suggest something other than the seeming innocence. A good example of a more blatant dog whistle is the Bathroom Meme “They will allow men into the women’s restroom!” On the surface, this is fairly innocuous. Men go into the women’s room surprisingly often (I walked in on a guy waiting for his daughter yesterday at the groery store and he was far more embarrassed than I was). But the idea that was dog whistled there is that letting men go into bathrooms is dangerous for women. And I *did* indeed feel some concern about having a man in the bathroom there — because as a part of society, I am expected to see men as predatory culturally, and therefore I should fear this man helping his daughter learn how to use the toilet. Not because of what he was doing, but because of what he was and therefore what he represented.
Privilege is like that. It’s subtle, it exists under the awareness level. It is, to an oppressed person, a screaming siren, and to those with privilege — that unearned Dominant Privilege — it is a silent agreement, a tacit understanding, and unspoken agreement that they are not even aware of having made.
System of Privilege
Privilege has three aspects that are fundamentally present:
Innocence: I am not looked to as the cause of problems in a social group.
Worthiness: I am presumed worthy of a social group’s trust and wealth.
Competence: I am expected to be skillful, successful, and autonomous.
All of those are things we all think about ourselves in general. Indeed, all three of those are things that LGBT+ people are fighting to achieve in the social group that is the culture of the United States.
Two really good examples of privilege as it’s been used by gay men against trans people recently include :
I don’t have privilege. This one is an assertion of innocence. When one says this, one is saying that they are not the cause of the problem, when, in fact, it is rather useful at pointing out that they are, in fact, a part of the problem.
I can’t be oppressing you if I’m pro trans. This one deals in the worthiness of the individual. When something like this is said, it is staking a claim to being worthy of that trust and wealth (and, in this case, that wealth is a metaphorical sort, such as information, esteem, knowledge, etc. linking it as well to the question of their own competence). It denies the unearned privilege the writer has not on the basis of the unearned privilege, but on the basis of their unrelated stance. This is similar to the argument “well, I have gay friends and they think you shouldn’t get married too”, or the “I know a lot of trans people and they like that movie.” In both cases, the individual is asserting their privilege — you should listen to them because they are more worthy than you are and they support it by citing people that they know in the oppressed class as evidence that they aren’t part of oppression.
These are, for the most part, trans specific examples of privilege in action, stripped of something important to understand, and that’s context. We’ll get to that in a few moments.
These are examples, as well, of the defensive posture that is taken when people are confronted with their privilege.
Loss Of Privilege
That unearned privilege is very hard to lose. To lose it, you have to suddenly be stripped of your status. You have to affected by some form of stigma that reduces your ability to do this.
Closeted gay folks are often perceived as heterosexual, and as a result gain the unearned privileges of heterosexual privilege. When they come out, they lose that unearned privilege.
There are arguments surrounding the concept of how they gained that privilege in the first place, and readers are free to enter into those in the comments, but I’m not going to go there right now.
One of the most glaring experiences of a trans woman, however, happens frequently enough that’s it’s also a trope — a sort of fully expected and normal experience that’s very, very common. That is the apparent loss of male privilege.
The most subtle form of it is often described as how when they were perceived as men they would be in a meeting and if they spoke, people stopped and listened to them. They gave their attention, and often would even stop what they were doing to allow the person to speak. Then they encounter a similar situation as a woman, and are ignored.
Their ideas — even if it is the same idea they may have expressed when perceived as a man — are suddenly less valuable, and have less merit and are lacking in worthiness.
This is the effect of privilege when it is used: it puts someone in their place. It is, in and of itself, a form of oppression, and people are typically utterly unaware that they are doing so. Even a very supportive and dedicated person working on behalf of a particular oppressed group will do this and not realize it until they have it pointed out to them.
Privilege is Ciscentric
One of the interesting quirks to the notion of Trans people actually having privilege is that it isn’t possible. They can benefit from it, but they cannot actually have it. It resides only so long as they are not known to be trans – which removes them from the group of men in the US culture at present, even if they are trans men. That knowledge changing things is why they don’t have that privilege.
The closest comparative, and one I draw on from personal experience, is the way that light skinned Black people are sometimes conferred temporary benefit to white Privilege. That exchange happens as an error on the part of the broader, dominant culture, and so when it is lost (through the discovery) the penalty for such is often extremely severe, up to and including accusation of “theft”, through fraud, and the infamous trans double bind of “fooling”.
The most common way of demonstrating someone’s privilege in simple and reducible form is via a checklist. This is derived from the short form of the paper cited earlier.
Privilege checklists are often interpreted as being “individual specific”, and as having a uniformity to them. That is, when people see a privilege checklist, they often expect all of those things to apply to them.
This is an incorrect reading and a lack of understanding.
Checklists can apply only partially. A checklist can also have intersections — there are things on a Cis Privilege checklist that can also apply on a Straight Privilege checklist. Those commonalities do not reduce the truth of the particular point, they are simply an intersection.
Just because you as an individual may not have experienced a particular form of privilege used to further your marginalization that does not mean that it is not an actual aspect of privilege.
Conversely, just because a given person does not have a particular privilege described in a list (for example, a cis person looking at a cis privilege list), that does not mean that the particular privilege is not such.
Social constructs are the by-products of people interacting with each other. They are the products of communal creation and understanding of reality around them, and they are based in the notion that things are not universal and based in an understanding of them as having an essential quality that transcends time and space.
Social constructions are the ways in which people collectively participate in the construction of their perceived social reality; the manner by which social phenomena are created, institutionalized, known, and made into tradition by humans.
The social construction of reality is an ongoing, dynamic process that is reproduced by people acting on their interpretations and their knowledge of it. Social constructs must be constantly maintained and re-affirmed in order to persist, and often the tools by which this happens, themselves are part of the way in which that happens.
Social Constructs are how Structure is created, in other words. They are the concepts, ideas, and thoughts that are shared, communicated, and accepted in a way that becomes part of what everyone accepts.
This process also introduces the possibility of change: what “justice” is and what it means shifts from one generation to the next.
Some of the more interesting social constructs that people do not always grasp right off the start are things like law, money and Property ownership. The ideas that someone is a man or a woman, that someone is male or female, are also social constructs. Which means, yes, that Gender and Sex are social constructs.
Transcentrism, being a strongly existentially focused effort, looks at concepts from a constructivist point of view, and does not rely or need to use arguments that are based in physiology or biology to make points. It is, like feminism, a social construct, in and of itself, and is committed to the ultimate goal of not being necessary.
It also seeks to avoid continuing a cycle, and to uplift those around us, because there is only the one division of Cis people – and even that one, if you give it a great deal of thought, is variable. Trans people are everywhere. There is no field of human endeavor that there are not trans people, no subset or segment or class or group that trans people are not involved in. Cis people are among us, we are not among them.
That means that when we see the struggle of women, we must join it. When we see the struggle of people of color, we must join it. When we see the need, and there are trans people, then that is a trans issue and it needs to be transcentric, and we need to look towards the greater benefit of trans people, people outside our selves, because we, as individuals, only gain value through our interaction and efforts on behalf of others.
Other social constructions are as follows.
In grade school biology class, many people are taught the extremely over simplified binary – the one or the other, which in an appropriate way of saying it. The way that binary came about was that in the process of studying biology, initially, the scientists looked only at the mean and discarded results which were not part of that. In other words, they looked only at the central part of the bell curve, and sorta left off the ends as unimportant. They labeled the stuff on the ends – the stuff they didn’t understand very well and didn’t look at closely – aberrant, broken, defective, mutated, and assorted other terms.
If that sounds very much like a ciscentric focus, then you are correct, it is. At the time this was being done, normative patterns were deeply prized, and anything that wasn’t normative was considered as useless and a waste. It also happened a really, really long time ago and has only been getting more narrowly refined over the centuries – by the time what we think of as modern biology came about, the notion of that binary was already firmly entrenched, and questioning it wasn’t really high on a lot of people’s priority list.
The major issue here was taxonomy – how to classify the world of things around us so that we could understand them and develop a way of communicating with each other that would be accurate and lack overt ambiguity.
This is the creation of the social construct known as Sex. It was rarely closely examined until late in the previous century, and what we do know has been passed down in those grade school levels as the minimum amount to know. That is important to realize: the minimum for people to know is pretty much that men have penises and women have vaginas and there are XX and XY chromosomes. That’s the minimum.
This isn’t about the minimum.
To determine the sex of a person is much more complicated than people like to admit when they have spent many years and become very comfortable with the minimum amount to know, since it works in the majority of cases.
It does not work in all cases, however. As Eric Vilain pointed out over a decade ago, there are a great many ways of determining sex. All of them vary and all of them serve a particular purpose or goal. So long as we seek out a singular way of identifying between the two sexes, we will always tend to have some variation and some failure to include everyone.
There are 7 factors that apply.
- Primary sex Characteristics
- Secondary Sex Characteristics
- Internal Sex Awareness
- Social Sex Awareness
In general, the manner in which one determines a person’s sex is through a majority of those five things to establish a person as physiologically male or female, and the particulars of that majority are what counts.
So if a person has the genitals of a male, the secondary sex characteristics of a female, the gonads of a male, the hormones of a female, and the chromosomes of a male, they would be male physiologically – but the balance still remains with the Internal sex awareness and the social sex awareness, and if those two are female, then the person is a female, but if they are male then the person is a male, and if they are both or neither, well, that gets more effective.
Surgery and medicine can change these aspects as well, and alter them. Removal of the gonads and genitals, and shifting the hormonal basis of the person is often used, routinely, to do just that. This is called changing the sex of someone. The combined series of medical treatments is called a sex change, while different collections of procedures have different terms and trans people can’t even agree on what it going to be called.
Social Sex is the more accurate term for the concept that most people just call Gender.
There is a reason to use it beyond accuracy, however: people readily and easily conflate sex and gender, and this is especially true when dealing with people who are ciscentric and hostile towards transcentric thought and ideas. By using the term social sex (which takes a few more letters and a space bar hit), it is possible to push the discourse into the proper view, and it also highlights the nature of the division between gender and sex in a way that laymen can grasp, as well as reducing the ambiguity of terminology that using the term gender brings.
Social Sex is not a singular thing. It is a mélange of elements and pieces and parts and it is deeply embedded into the culture it is part of. Social Sex varies from culture to culture, and there are no universal aspects of Social Sex.
Social Sex is tied not merely to language, but also to deep aspects that govern the way relationships are allowed to form in a culture — stuff from friendships to marriage, Social Sex affects it all. A phrase often used by many is that Family is the building block of society. It’s true, too. The building block of Family is kinship — marriage and the ties that create family; relationships developed between people and governed by social rules of interaction.
The building blocks of the rules that govern those relationships are grounded in a culture’s Social Sex. It lies at a part so deep in a culture that a change to it truly does change the culture itself in a markedly dramatic way.
That depth is why sexism is so hard to root out and so pervasive on our thoughts, and why language is tied into the concept, and it even affects the very *idea* of sexual orientation at a level that no one really saw when Kinsey was doing his report.
Most people experience Social Sex as a singularity because it can be difficult to see it otherwise unless you are, in some way, different in your way of dealing with Social Sex than is readily apparent in your culture.
Social Sex is always social. It is always a matter of how other people see you. This is because Social Sex is what you have when you do not see the flesh – sex is two naked bodies on a table, Social Sex is everything else. Social Sex is not about male or female, it is about man or woman, boy or girl.
These three factors all work together, depending on each other and enforcing each other, and its a very strong, very basic level of understanding. Our Social Sex Identity informs our ability to see the difference between what clothing is ours and which clothing goes to the opposite sex. Our Social Sex Expression informs which clothing we choose and how we show the world we are fertile or a good potential partner. Our Social Sex Role is reliant on the other two for our choices in cultural occupation and involvement according to the rules of our particular society.
Those rules can vary. What is masculine in one culture can be feminine in another. Those rules are often unspoken, but we learn them from the time we are born and begin to understand the world around us until we die — as just as a culture evolves and changes, so do the roles and the manners of expression.
Hence the idea that Social Sex is “not real” — it is an intangible thing that cannot be touched, cannot be seen. It’s like emotions — they are there, and now that we know the words for them, we can label them and identify them and describe them to others, but there’s nothing there — they are aether. Yet it is very real, and very much a presence in one’s every day life. You are using Social Sex every single time you talk about being a man or a woman or male or female or boy or girl— you cannot avoid using Social Sex when saying that, and each time you do so, you support and further the cultural process. It is, then, a recursive power structure.
Judith Butler called it performative, using a particular word that strikes people often as strange, but it has nothing to do with performing — there is no putting on a act, and that is not what the word meant when she used it. As anyone with a decent grounding in the social sciences will tell you, the terminology we use has to be specific, and it has to have a very specific meaning. Butler approached things from a basis of speech acts. What she means when she says performative is not an act of performance, like a person on a stage. She is referring to a Performative utterance (or performative) which are defined in the speech acts theory (part of the philosophy of language) as sentences which are not only passively describing a given reality, but they are changing the social reality they are describing. Now, if that’s a little hard for you to wrap your head around, that’s ok – just be aware and note that it has nothing to do with performing in the sense of an act of performance like a person on a stage, it has more to do with how what we say shapes the way it is perceived. One rather simple and weak example of this is the difference between “like a woman” and “am a woman”. They have two very different meanings, but people often colloquially interpret them the same without realizing the differences because of the metacontext that surrounds them (or people “get what you mean”).
All of these concepts are well known, thoroughly understood, and tested both in real world formats and in logical exercises. They are as much a theory as gravity or light are such. Each of them is a distinct part, and when speaking of Social Sex, it is important to remember that you cannot confuse or conflate them or you will inevitably reify Social Sex as a system within a culture.
One of the things people often do not realize is that Social Sex is not limited to a pair, to a binary. Nor is sex. In both cases, cultures have had many different Social Sexes — and many today can have as many as 9 different Social Sexes and 6 different sexes. In order to avoid racism and/or ethnocentrism, it is important to recognize that when one states a particular number of Social Sexes and/or sexes, you have to be clear about the cultural basis in which you are making that assertion. Otherwise, you may be presuming that western ideals of what are men and women are more valid or more real than other ideals — usually without any evidence and despite western science pointing out that there are more sexes and Social Sexes than just two consistently for well over 15 years now — in no small part because of greater understanding within these areas of things like ethnocentrism and the testing that has revealed such flaws.
Social Sex is based on assumptions and presumptions made about a person’s physical sex, and governs the ways in which a person’s socially determined physical sex is dealt with in society at large.
Social Sex Awareness
Then we have Social Sex Awareness, which is about how we inherently expect others to see us in relation to the roles and expression we have. It is more accurately referred to as your social sex self-awareness, and is a part of the idea that tells you that you exist — the ability you have to recognize that you exist as a physical being, to recognize yourself in a mirror, and so forth. It is different from Sex Identity in that it deals mostly in how we see ourselves as being seen by others, and this is why many people often think of trans people as being all about Social Sex roles (they aren’t, but when you try to explain a part of your self-awareness to others, it often tends to rely on such things). While there are studies that have to do with where this is located in the brain, the simple fact of the matter is that it is a function of mind, and it is inherent in all people. It can be tested, revealed, and those tests and revelations can be reliably duplicated and have been for well over 50 years. We also know that it is not a function of how one is raised or acculturated, again through decades of testing within the scientific method, including controls (some of them horrific).
Social Sex Roles
Social Sex Roles are what we call Femininity and Masculinity. They deal in how we expect persons of a particular sex to behave or act within our culture. The three billion ways to be a man, and the three billion ways to be a woman, and all the stuff related to sexism lies here. Social sex roles are a set of social and behavioral norms that are structurally designated as appropriate for either a man or a woman in a social or interpersonal relationship based on their social sex.
Social Sex Expressions
Social Sex Expression is how people present themselves to the wider world, not always in line with their Social Sex role. It has to do with primarily “superficial” stuff — dress and body decoration — that affect things like attraction and courtship. Expressions are the tools by which we convey to others, who cannot see our physical anatomy, that we fit into this particular box for a given physical sex.
Social Sex Behaviors
Social Sex Behaviors are all the little things that social sex influences that are outside the realm of the usual and the commonplace – the indirect effects, so to speak. Inheritance is part of this, kinship is part of this, lineage is part of this, even names are part of this. These behaviors are basic elements, often focused around interpersonal relationships and the interplay between Social Sex Roles and Social Sex Expressions. Male privilege is an excellent example of a Social Sex Behavior.
Internal Sex Awareness
This is the simple concept of knowing that you are male or female or both or none or some combination or variant therein. It is part of you knowing that you exist. This is what most people mean when they talk about “gender identity” – I am a woman or I am a man kind of stuff. It is your self-knowledge of yourself. It differs from social sex awareness by being how you think about you, as opposed to how other people are meant to think about you. It is how we see ourselves in terms of male or female. It is our personal understanding of that concept, void of any external influence. It is not something taught to us — people have had accidents that strip their bodies of any way to sex them, and they still know, even if that stripping happened at a point too soon for them have a knowledge of it. It is not founded in the flesh we can see, it is part of the sense of ourselves that we know.
For many trans people – in particular, the binary sorts – their internal sex awareness and social sex awareness are matched – that is, they are in sync with each other. For many others, however, these are not in sync.
Belonging & the Human Need for Connection
Once we understand the mechanics of the way that trans people are oppressed – the basic core ideas, we can begin to look at the major issue that affects trans people’s lives: a lack of human connection.
Trans people, in the US specifically but in consultation with people all over the world I have found it to continue, are, once they reach adulthood, deeply, deeply harmed people. The process of acculturation that was created and established for Cis people has a profound impact on their ways of seeing themselves, and seeing their lives, and the constant, unending reminders through the power of Social Sex behaviors and unintended micro-aggressions has resulted in a state that is best described as isolative, withdrawn, self-harming, and defensive.
The term I personally prefer to use for adults is Survivors of childhood neglect.
One of the things that is true of nearly every person on the planet – those who it is not true of are people for whom empathy and compassion are not possible – is a need for connection, for relationships, for a sense of belonging. This is the major motivator behind every social effort ever undertaken, the reason that the concept of human rights is so stunningly novel in comparison to the 6,000 years of recorded (and 10,000 years of unrecorded before that) history before it.
Trans people, because they are considered external to normal, because they are labeled as Other and set aside, because they experience a constant and unending pressure to be something they are not, are often denied that simple sense of connection and belonging as a direct result of the ways that Structure operates.
Every time a child that is a transchild is called a boy when they are a girl, or a girl when they are a boy, or ether of those things when they are neither or both, it piles up in their minds, starting most commonly between the ages of 3 and 5 – sometimes earlier, sometimes later – and it acts as a way of telling them what they are, and then we get into the rules and the encouragements and the mixed messages that they are inevitably going to receive when they are supposed to be one thing and yet they are another and they hear and receive and *yearn* for the right one while being punished for it.
Every cartoon, every television show, every child’s book, every time they have to wear clothing, every time a favored family member or family friend comes by. Children, by and large, want to please their parents, and will do what they must to become the thing their parents encourage them to become, even while secretly wanting something else, something more, and the way I describe it most often is that it is like mosquito bites.
For most people, a really horrible experience with mosquitoes is when you get bitten 50 times. Everyone can stand one or three of them. Mosquitoes are small, and while they can be dangerous, in most cases they are just annoying, and they raise a little welt on the arm and they make you want to itch it. You can always heat a spoon to put on it or “X” it with a finger nail. Twenty of them and you are looking for a way to find shelter or cursing that you didn’t have bug spray and you are moving out of the area already. Often without even really thinking about it – you just get away from wherever they are.
Fifty is a horrible experience by comparison. You can focus on nothing, you are irritable, you are angry, you frown and you scowl and you are always looking for a way out of it.
For Trans people, growing up is like dealing with hundreds of them, every day – if not thousands, based on the number of times gendered messages are given to us in a particular day.
In most cases, after a month of 50 bites a day, people are going to hate going to some place. They are going to do what they can to avoid it, they are going to think ill of that place and even less of mosquitoes. They will, in general, do everything they can to avoid being anywhere near those damned mosquitoes, anywhere, ever again. If they are children, it has a really high likelihood of affecting them for the rest of their lives, shaping their core experiences and ideas about everything around the place where they were bitten, the reasons for having to be there, the way mosquitoes are, and so forth.
Trans people, however, don’t have that capability, because everyone around them, and everything around them, is doing it, and it is constant, ongoing, unending and it lasts for as many years as they resist being themselves.
There is a strong correlation between the outcomes of trans adults and the outcomes of adult survivors of child abuse and neglect. A correlation that is nearly identical – within the margin of error – across all known and remarked outcomes.
Because for trans people, being raised in a ciscentric system is neglect. Time and time again we have seen studies that demonstrate this, duplicated time and time again, establishing that transness is not a factor of nurture.
Nurture, in fact, is historically harmful to them. When the general population’s attempted suicide rate is 1.2% and the trans population has one at 40% to 60% based on multiple surveys done with multiple populations, we know that there is something harmful going on, and no one can ignore that without some sort of willful blindness being involved.
This rate increases as you factor in additional intersections, as well.
This comes from being told, mostly in small, seemingly insignificant ways, that you don’t belong, that you are wrong, that you are bad, not good, undesired, undesirable, unwanted, and, perhaps worst of all, not worthy.
We know what the long term consequences of this kind of constant, unending bombardment of negative messages are. There is a great deal of knowledge on this.
Experiencing child abuse and neglect may lead to adverse physical, cognitive, psychological, behavioural or social consequences in adulthood.
How many trans people do you know are often sick and depressed?
How many trans people do you know react inappropriately to people saying things about them?
Adults with a history of child abuse and neglect are more likely to have physical health problems and chronic pain symptoms. Research indicates that adult survivors of childhood abuse and neglect have more health problems than the general population, including diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, arthritis, headaches, gynecological problems, stroke, hepatitis and heart disease (Felitti et al., 1998; Sachs-Ericsson et al., 2009; Springer, Sheridan, Kuo, & Carnes, 2007). In a review of recent literature, Sachs-Ericsson et al. (2009) found that a majority of studies showed that adult survivors of childhood abuse had more medical problems than non-abused counterparts. Using survey data from over 2,000 middle-aged adults in a longitudinal study in the United States, Springer et al. (2007) found that child physical abuse predicted severe ill health and several medical diagnoses, including heart and liver troubles and high blood pressure. Some researchers suggest that poor health outcomes in adult survivors of child abuse and neglect could be due to the impact early life stress has on the immune system or to the greater propensity for adult survivors to engage in high-risk behaviours (e.g., smoking, alcohol abuse and risky sexual behaviour) (Sachs-Ericsson et al., 2009; Watts-English, Fortson, Gilber, Hooper, & De Bellis, 2006).
This places Trans people in the position of being The Other, and this can start as young as 9, although most trans people will demonstrate some form of active resistance between the ages of 5 and 9.
In Transness 101, I talk at length about the early history of Trans people in the United States, and how concepts and ideations that flowed and worked towards the understanding of transness in the modern sense arose and were developed.
One of the important aspects that it not noted in that segment is that Trans people are often set aside, cast out, moved away. “They are not like us” is the general refrain, and this act of making a group of people are not like others is called othering.
Trans people experience the act of othering frequently – on the macro-social scale, on the micro-social scale, sub-culturally, and in general in their daily lives. The system that surrounds them from their earliest days is a system that doesn’t intend to render them invisible, unseen, or to harm them, but does because it was not structured and did not develop in a manner that considered them worthy of inclusion and broader value.
As a result, Trans people became The Other, a broad concept that applies in all situations of oppression. A society’s definition of the ‘Other’ is part of what defines or even constitutes the society itself (in both a psychological and philosophical sense) and other phenomena and cultural units. It is the way by which societies and groups exclude ‘Others’ whom they want to subordinate or who do not fit into their society. The concept of ‘otherness’ is also integral to the comprehending of a person, as people construct roles for themselves in relation to an ‘other’ as part of a process of reaction that is not necessarily related to stigmatization or condemnation. It often involves the demonization and dehumanization of groups, which further justifies attempts to civilize and exploit these ‘inferior’ others.
So Transness in the form of an affinity group, arises as a direct response to the othering of Trans people, and the goal of Transcentrism is to equalize the situation by showing how Ciscentrism is Othering and is, from the perspective of Trans people, Other.
Othering as we use it is ultimately derived from Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex, where she showed that women were the Other for men, and for trans people, it shows that they do not fit into that dichotomy – others among others, so to speak.
For Trans people, they are The Other to Cis people. They are outside, and as they are a minority in terms of the way that social collateral and systems are structured, they are made to endure or be erased, made to surrender or be destroyed, made to yearn but never have.
Othering sits at the heart of the way that Trans people are treated, and trans people typically (though not exclusively) become aware of that Othering very young.
This is why the work around Trans children is so very important – they can be helped to feel less othered by society at large by allowing them to become the people they are, not the people they should be, or are meant to be.
The reason that so much of the previous material is necessary to collate and make known is because trans people are othered.
In the process of that othering, we are often demonized because we do exist in many fundamental ways at the heart and soul of social systems – we challenge the very core elements that form building blocks within society. We challenge existing conventions, and we defy norms and we are labeled with demonizing terms and described as dangerous, and risky.
For Trans people to make Transcentrism happen, and for them to be free of the oppression and dominance associated with such, they have to think, enact, work, create, inspire, form, organize, speak, and live on the same terms as Cis people. Rather than venting our frustrations and in turn demonize them, we need to declare ourselves on par with Cis people, normative – center our existence and ensure that every structural act and institution includes us as part of the normative order of things.
Luce Irigaray famous compared women to fluid mechanics and men to rigid mechanics (taking the analogy further than I describe here and being criticized for it by two men). I would compare Trans people to Sand, myself – combining the challenging and difficult aspects of fluid mechanics with the directness and ease of rigid mechanics.
But I am not deft with physics, so don’t hold me to it, and look at it more metaphorically or associatively.
And that, perhaps, is the greatest challenge many people have – trans people are difficult for many to grasp because the systems that they are capable of using are to limited, too much a part of the Structure itself, and so what trans people, as The Other, are left with is allegory, metaphor, and association.
Transphobia. It is a word that makes people instantly defensive. It is a word that some people say isn’t “real”, and that other people say is just an excuse to get away with something morally reprehensible.
But what is it?
Most people think that it is one of two things: either fear of trans people or hate of trans people.
This is not wrong, but it is a lot like saying that the Statue of Liberty is a big statue. It doesn’t tell you what it really is.
A lot of people focus on the end of the term — that “phobia” part, and yet they don’t realize what a phobia is. They think of phobia’s as being something like being scared of spiders or heights.
When they don’t think that, they think of it as something like what Westboro Baptist Church does or the lynchings of the Deep South.
Here is what Transphobia is: Anxiety, aversion, and/or animus, singly or in any combination, towards or regarding trans people or trans related things.
Anxiety is that sense of worry, that concern, that uneasiness with something — that feeling that things are just not quite right and that something bad is going to happen.
Anxiety, properly, is not fear — fear is what you feel when the gun is in your face and you know the person holding it has killed and is going to kill again. Anxiety is what you get when you could face fear.
Anxiety is what makes people call anti-discrimination legislation “bathroom bills”. Anxiety is what makes a parent ask “what will the neighbors think?”. Anxiety is what drives the arguments that rely on a slippery slope — if we add trans people into this bill, then it will be harder to pass.
Aversion is a little more direct. Aversion is a disgust, distaste, that feeling when you see a pile of feces on the ground and you want to step around it instead of in it, or when once you do you make that face. Aversion is the “ick factor”, the “throwing up a little”, the “oh my god that’s not a woman, that’s a man!” statements and the way people talk about how bad trans people are. Aversion is Trans critical thinking — often supported by anxiety.
Animus is an intense dislike that is acted on. When you have an intense dislike — a visceral reaction — that’s hate. You can dislike something, and in most cases people who dislike something aren’t going to say anything about it because they don’t like it, why should they put any thought into it. But this kind of dislike is far and away above such. Animus is the Westboro Baptist Church approach, the KKK, the lynching.
Animus is hate. Not the mindless drooling sort of thoughtless hate that people think of. Animus is the rounding up of trans people. Animus is the outing of trans people, Animus is when you say that trans women are men right after you say or just before you say kill all men.
That’s a phobia, and while the descriptions and examples are focused on trans issues, they still apply to any sort of phobia — be it spiders or snakes or the dark.
A phobia doesn’t apply to a particular person, though — you can be all of those things about a specific person. IT comes into play when you get that feeling from a class of people, most of whom you have never met, and you start to act from a position that many in this group of people share those same categories.
One example is big black men. People are afraid of them. Racism is the cause, but it is still a phobia of black people. There is no good reason to be afraid of black men — but a lot of people create all manner of reasons. There may be a reason to be afraid of a particular black man, but if the basis of your fear is that other black men do this so this one will, then you’re not being rational, and you are demonstrating a phobia.
Phobias are failures to exist in reality. Strong phobias affect your entirely life, and interfere with your ability to do things. I happen to have a fear of failure, myself, which might seem really silly and stupid compared to others, and yet it colors every decision I make and every action I take and when I am in the grip of it I am all but useless to the world, and completely useless to myself. It is crippling — and when you are being reduced to a place where you cannot move, it does not matter if that reality is there or not — you still have to deal with what is before you and the issue is that you cannot.
Phobias, in other words, can be destructive to people, an d more importantly, to their lives and the lives of those around them, and to give you an idea of how bad it can be, keep in mind I am going to get crap for writing this post and it is going to trigger all sorts of thoughts of failure in my head.
Which I will deal with using my coping mechanisms. Because those are my problems.
Just as the issues of Transphobia are the problems of the people who have that animus, that anxiety, and/or that aversion to trans people or trans related things.
So we see now that when people are worried about the impact of a law — say, they argue that passing legislation that includes gender identity is somehow magically reducing the practical protections for women — or how hard it is going to be to pass a law (eg, they decide that it might be too hard to pass a law about trans gay people while one for cis gay people might be easier), or they say “I threw up a little in my mouth when I saw that picture of that woman in a really inappropriate dress because to me she looks like a man in a dress”, or they do things like spend a good third of their posts saying how trans women are men and are terrible things, that all of this is, literally, Transphobia.
The same things would apply in a case when it comes to homophobia, or femmephobia, or lesbophobia.
Without anxiety, or aversion, or animus — and it can be just one of them, or it can be a combination of them, in any order, to any degree — there is no transphobia.
And this applies when one generalizes — which means the way to avoid it is to only be that way around a few people, that you know, personally, because you cannot make an informed, rational decision based on teh internet.
Phobias are catching, by the way. IF you don’t believe me, keep in mind that baths were thought to be bad for one’s health in many cultures — and that in some cultures even today, leaving a fan on when you sleep will kill you.
Phobias are catching because people have to justify their phobias — not fears, because remember this isn’t about fear. There is no gun, there is no immediate danger. Phobias are catching because some people can have really horrific experiences that emotionally scar them and damage them and they will project the phobia they develop onto an entire class of people who represent in their mind (irrationally) those who harmed them, and who wants to tell a person who is hurting that they are wrong and shouldn’t do that?
I sure as hell don’t. I’ve been there. Some shit you gotta work through.
So it can spread, and it is an emotional argument, not a rational one, and that’s why they stick around and are so hard to overcome because phobias are emotional.
That doesn’t excuse them, but it does help you to understand them.
There are way to deal with phobias that are extremely successful, but, ultimately, all of them start and only work if the individual with the phobia is interested in changing. Even that gun to the head won’t make them change.
This is important to realize when dealing with people who are doing or saying transphobic things. Unless they want to stop being that way, there is nothing you can say, do, argue, or otherwise enact to make them change.
Nothing. It is absolute.
When you are dealing with a population that is heavily stigmatized in society, though, you are often dealing with a social system that has these rationalizations, these arguments built into it.
That is, the system is transphobic. Systems aren’t emotional. And, as a result, they can be changed. They can be altered. That’s the structure, and you can always attack and argue, and cajole with structure.
Because that system is made of everyone, including you, and if you want to make that change, then you can do it.
One of the tools that is used by people – both intentionally and not so intentionally – is policing of Trans lives and existence.
Policing happens when people from an oppressed class have their actions or behavior scrutinized and criticized in response to their pointing out the oppression they face.
You see this in calls for various forms of “respectability politics” – where the idea is that if you make yourself more respectable then you won’t have to deal with oppression. How you wear your pants, is your underwear visible, are you wearing the right style for the season, how fashionable are you, could you not cuss so much, that’s not very ladylike of you, what about those people that are cis people that might pretend to be like you, what are you going to do about them – these are all examples of policing.
The goal of policing is to derail a discussion away from the ways in which people cause oppression and turn it back on those who are oppressed, making them responsible for the actions of others and being on based on a sense that “you need to keep your own kind in line”. By doing this, the effort to talk about the problems trans people deal with as a result of the Structure hindering them and ignoring them is reduced and made less important or ignored entirely. It is a tool that is used to make sure that trans people never have time or energy or interest in talking about the ways they are oppressed and you will see it everywhere once you start to look for it.
Policing can happen within a group – “true transsexuals” are essentially policing other trans people, and determining who is and who isn’t good enough to be a trans person.
Policing is about making the subject of it fit in in order to achieve a sense of belonging. The problem is that fitting in is not what allows one to belong – it is twisting oneself up like a braid and making yourself into something that you are not in order to meet someone else’s expectations. That’s fitting in – that’s the purpose of policing – to change you for other people.
Belonging is about being accepted for yourself – good, bad and indifferent, the whole of you, not the parts of you, without having to change who you are for any reason.
The messages that trans people are told are often about there being something wrong with them. They also receive messages about how what they are doing is wrong, or about how they are behaving is wrong, and when those messages are combined with the ones they have received all their lives and internalized – taken into themselves – these message serve to reinforce and often mirror the idea that something is wrong with them.
When trans people reach out initially, those first tentative steps they take only with people they trust in ways that they find almost impossible to do with other people, they ask some variant of the question “what is wrong with me” or they state, bluntly, “there is something wrong and I need to fix it” and they are referring to themselves.
This is the power of stigma – an unseen mark that connotes the lack of value and unworthiness of a person.
Social stigma is the extreme disapproval of or discontent with a person or group because of being different in some way, that are perceived, and separate them, from other members of a society. Stigma is then applied to a person, by the greater society, who differs from their cultural norms.
Stigmatized people see others in three distinct ways:
- the stigmatized are those who bear the stigma;
- the normals are those who do not bear the stigma; and
- the wise are those among the normals who are accepted by the stigmatized as “wise” to their condition
- The wise come in two forms:
- Active wise, who speak out to effect change in the stigma; and
- Passive wise, who remain socially silent.
- The wise come in two forms:
Stigmatization involves dehumanization, demonization, threat, policing, aversion, shaming, and sometimes the depersonalization of others into stereotypes. Stigmatizing others can work as self-esteem enhancement, control enhancement, and anxiety buffering, through comparing oneself to less fortunate others, and so increase one’s own subjective sense of well-being and one’s self-esteem.
Consider that for a moment. People actually benefit from the act of stigmatizing others, emotionally. It isn’t rational – but people, by and large, are not rational beings.
Stigma can enter into a person when they live with it for a great deal of time. It becomes a part of the way they think about themselves, about things related to themselves, and become s a part of their goals.
Passing is an example of internalized stigma – it serves within the community to act as a manner by which the stigma experienced by trans people can be avoided through “fitting in” – that is, meeting the expectations and following the rules of the broader culture and oppressive structures.
Being an Ally is often expected to involve being an Active Wise, and when an Active Wise fails to fully understand the nature of the stigmas, or errs in including stigma in their own actions, they are often the targets of ire, which serves to unintentionally convert them into passive wise, when such anger should be seen as a loss of trust and a call and appeal to do better and improve.
I am, unfortunately, not in a place where I can effectively address this issue on my own, so I am going to cheat and simply cut and paste an article.
Being excluded or ostracized is an invisible form of bullying that doesn’t leave bruises, and therefore we often underestimate its impact,” said Kipling D. Williams, a professor of psychological sciences. “Being excluded by high school friends, office colleagues, or even spouses or family members can be excruciating. And because ostracism is experienced in three stages, the life of those painful feelings can be extended for the long term. People and clinicians need to be aware of this so they can avoid depression or other negative experiences.”
When a person is ostracized, the brain’s dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which registers physical pain, also feels this social injury, Williams said. The process of ostracism includes three stages: the initial acts of being ignored or excluded, coping and resignation.
Williams’ research is reported in the current issue of Current Directions in Psychological Sciences. The article was co-authored by Steve A. Nida, associate provost and dean of The Citadel Graduate College and a professor of psychology.
“Being excluded is painful because it threatens fundamental human needs, such as belonging and self-esteem,” Williams said. “Again and again research has found that strong, harmful reactions are possible even when ostracized by a stranger or for a short amount of time.”
More than 5,000 people have participated in studies using a computer game designed by Williams to show how just two or three minutes of ostracism can produce lingering negative feelings.
“How can it be that such a brief experience, even when being ignored and excluded by strangers with whom the individual will never have any face-to-face interaction, can have such a powerful effect?” he said. “The effect is consistent even though individuals’ personalities vary.”
People also vary in how they cope, which is the second stage of ostracism. Coping can mean the person tries to harder be included. For example, some of those who are ostracized may be more likely to engage in behaviors that increase their future inclusion by mimicking, complying, obeying orders, cooperating or expressing attraction.
“They will go to great lengths to enhance their sense of belonging and self-esteem,” Williams said.
If they feel there is little hope for re-inclusion or that they have little control over their lives, they may resort to provocative behavior and even aggression.
“At some point, they stop worrying about being liked, and they just want to be noticed,” Williams said.
However, if a person has been ostracized for a long time, they may not have the ability to continue coping as the pain lingers. Some people may give up, Williams said.
“The third stage is called resignation. This is when people who have been ostracized are less helpful and more aggressive to others in general,” he said. “It also increases anger and sadness, and long-term ostracism can result in alienation, depression, helplessness and feelings of unworthiness.”
Williams is trying to better understand how ostracized individuals may be attracted to extreme groups and what might be the reactions of ostracized groups.
“These groups provide members with a sense of belonging, self-worth and control, but they can fuel narrowness, radicalism and intolerance, and perhaps a propensity toward hostility and violence toward others,” he said. “When a person feels ostracized they feel out of control, and aggressive behavior is one way to restore that control. When these individuals come together in a group there can be negative consequences.”
Williams is a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences in Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences.
That earlier section in bold is important. It is a register of pain to be ostracized – to be tossed out of society. As far as the brain is concerned, you have just been hit upside the head by a two by four.
It is no different an act to employ the tools of shame, and stigma, and policing against a trans person than it is to physically attack them. The outcome may be less visible, but this damage heaped on damage already done by the broader system and society at large.
That is, in the end, why it is so important to have a good, solid grounding in these concepts – and this is just an introduction to them – you should do more research on your own, engage in deeper study and look beyond the superficial, often oversimplified stuff I have presented here.
I hope that you find, or have found, much of this here useful to you in explaining different concepts and that your will not rest after reading this, and instead use this as a springboard from which to learn more and grow more in your understanding of trans lives.
I have written this for the purpose of re-examining many of the core concepts that I have written on and about over the years that Dyssonance.com has been up. It is a constant effort of mine to learn, grow, and deepen the connection I have with, to, and for my brothers, sisters, and siblings.
Too often we allow ourselves to be dragged into internal arguments, baseless fights, micro- and macro-aggressions that ultimately work to undermine the efforts to make changes to the broader systems that oppress us.
Pass this information. Come to understand, learn it, know it, make it part of all the other things you know – seek out those tendrils of connection and those bonds to the things you care about and you enjoy. Then take that to others around you, without rancor, with humor, and help them to learn, to grow, to understand the lives of trans people in ways they almost certainly have never thought about, never given consideration to.
This is the second half of an introductory effort. It is a way of saying to you that there is more out there to learn, to know, to understand, and to grow.
As time goes on, I’ll work on the rest, but for now, this will do as an introduction.
That appears to be it for now.
Tune in next time for Transness 201!
Antonia Elle D’orsay
D’orsay, A. E., 2013, “Transness 102”,
Dyssonance.com, Phoenix, Arizona, Retrieved on
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