Changing Cissexist Language About Bodies

2012/08/31

This is something of a polishing-up of a response to an ask post on my tumblr from months ago. Nonetheless, it merited being brought here.

The question was about how to talk about biological/anatomical differences that are sex/gender-correlated without being cissexist in talking about them. The answer to that delves back into the idea of Saying What You Mean. With that, I’ll just present my old writing here, with commentary:

Let’s start at the beginning. We don’t have categories of “male” and “female” that we’re trying to make less cissexist; instead we’re going to look at where these categories come from. For background, read these two Less Wrong articles:Disguised Queries and Neural Categories. Maybe take the next one in the series, too. I’ll wait here while you do.

Ok. Done? So, let’s wipe away the categories of male and female. Instead we have people with a wide range of traits. Many of these traits are on a one-dimensional spectrum (for that trait alone), and have a bimodal distribution where the ends are favored greatly over the middle. This is actually just like the example in Disguised Queries, except that we aren’t trying to sort people, people can be hurt, and oppressive structures exist for people, but not presumably for the things in Disguised Queries.

Again, I want to emphasize that although the distribution is bimodal, there are still people who are part of neither peak in the distribution. Sometimes lots of people, and sometimes in several distinct groups (there is not always a single “the middle”). Sex and gender are not a line, or even a plane. They’re an n-space, and “male” and “female” aren’t the only important points to it.

Moving forward an article to Neural Categories: Cissexism sets up a network of the second type (with many input/output nodes all connected to a central node); sex or gender is put in the center, while other traits (facial hair, face shape, body shape, voice pitch, height, and less obviously visible traits like genital configuration, gamete type, chromosomes etc.) are placed around the edges.

Often people put a connection between genital configuration (or even original genital configuration if they’re really cissexist) and sex strong enough to drown out all the others.

Being anti-cissexist would mean using a network of the first type (nodes being connected, with no central hub). Sex and gender are open to self-definitions, and those self-definitions are input nodes, which, like everything else, have correlations and connections. But, also, remember that these correlations aren’t 100% even for cis people, and that trans people may have body parts that don’t match the textbook model even before beginning to physically transition.

It needs to be emphasized that the person’s actual sex and gender identities are the most important ones, socially. They are the ones that tell you what pronouns and what gender words to use for the person. They are not minor facets; they color every aspect of the person’s existence. A mostly-closeted trans woman, and a cis man, for instance, are going to have dramatically different experiences and relations to even the same aspects of society, even the same treatment. Likewise for nonbinary people (and nonbinariness is not a monolith. Two nonbinary people of different genders may relate to the gendered aspects of the same situation in as different ways as a cis person and a closeted trans person of the same assignment)

Also, it’s important to note that psychological traits and behaviors are a part of this too. Gender identity is itself psychological. Behaviors, like feminine/masculine mannerisms, a preference for “women’s”/”men’s” clothes, hairstyle, and so on, culturally contingent as they are (they might be better taken as tendencies to recognize oneself in and learn behavior from men or women), are also a part of this. Excluding mental/psychological things from your definition of sex is Cartesian bullshit (not to say that anything about actual mental ability that people claim is correlated with sex, whether to empathize or to do math, isn’t fraught with sexism and evopsych).

Again: Statements about mental ability, statements about ability to empathize, or ability to do math, or whatever, that hinge on gender are more connected to sexist stereotypes and socialization than accurate neurological and psychological correlations.

So, the best way to talk about it is to figure out what specifically you mean, and say that. “A/n sperm/ovum-producing reproductive system” might be a better term for that part of the appropriate genitalia (or better yet, a small/large gamete-producing reproductive system), instead of referring to a male (or female) reproductive system. “A body with typical response to high testosterone levels” is better than “a male body” when talking about, say, body hair.

Advertisements

A Rant

2012/07/31

As of this writing, my Trans Health as it Should Be post on tumblr has 279 notes. Most of them have been positive, but one point from it has been, shall I say, rather controversial.

This point has been that women’s primary care clinics, when welcoming trans people, should welcome trans women before welcoming trans men. That when only able to add one group of trans people’s hormone replacements to the services the clinic offers, that estrogen-based HRT be prioritized above testosterone-based.

I am angered. I am irate. I am filled with righteous fury.

Because, not only are trans men (these criticisms generally come from trans men, with one cis man pulling the standard cis bullshit. They’re also pretty much always from people as white as I am. This is white men’s bullshit) continuing to demand that women’s space be open to them, in a way that all too often lets it claim to be trans-inclusive (or worse, “Women and Trans”) while actively excluding trans women and other non-cis DMAB people who need those services, they are also, again, demanding that trans women be last in line for any practical resource. Even places set to provide medical care to women are being asked to provide medical care no woman needs before they provide medical care to trans women.

Of course the idea that it is unjust to put trans women and others with our same needs last in line for every single thing in existence becomes controversial when we point out that we’re behind people who don’t even belong in that line.

Of course trans men think they deserve more access to primary care services directed to women than we do. Because those services are awesome.

It’s these clinics that are often leaders in adopting informed consent standards for providing hormone treatments, after all. And the post never even said that trans men, as men, should be excluded. It said that trans women, as women, should have priority access to resources set aside for women over trans men. The kind of respectful care that these clinics provide should be standard for everyone, especially for trans people, with our unique medical needs and relationship to the medical establishment. Right now, though, the access standard is that women’s resources are bending over backwards to include trans men, often to the exclusion of trans women.

The status quo is that, when these great resources exist, they are granted to men before women even when their mission was to serve women at their creation.

When I personally reread that post, I felt I fell into the Appeaser mode too much in it. But even that is not enough. Because no amount of stating that trans men deserve to have access to respectful care for all of their medical needs, both those they share with others of their anatomy and transition-related things, will appease them from saying that anywhere should put women first.

I could wear the letters off the keys on my keyboard (the E has already gone before I started writing this. It can be done!) advocating for trans men’s access to hormones on informed consent. I even derailed this rant to put a paragraph in stating that. But it will not be enough. It will never be enough. Nothing will ever be enough, because I am directly saying that trans women should ever not be last in line for any. single. thing.

Because trans women are always last in line.


Apologies

2012/07/31

I thought I had a post mostly-written earlier this month that I was going to finish for this month’s minimum of one post, but I lost it. I’ll try to have a thing or two copied over from Tumblr by the end of tonight.


Trans Health, Women’s Health, and Inclusion

2012/06/30

Considering the recent discussion prompted by FWHC’s Trans Health Initiative (this article gives a good summary of the issues and historical context), how “trans inclusive” at a women’s health center means inclusion for trans men, means the provision of care no woman needs for trans men, and does not mean that trans women are welcome (usually we are not), it is necessary to examine how things should be.

In our cisnormative society, certain body parts are associated with women, and others with men. In our patriarchal society, men dominate spaces where they are welcomed at the expense of women’s comfort and, at times, safety. In our patriarchal society, health care for men is prioritized and normalized over health care for women. The feminist response to this has involved the creation of women’s clinics and health centers, which provide medical care specifically for women in an anti-misogynist safe space.

Because of cisnormativity and the history of feminism actively creating cis-only women’s spaces (whether by the creation of new spaces or the expulsion of trans women from existing inclusive spaces), these clinics are created to only serve cis women. Because of feminism’s cissexism, and history of turning a blind eye to the male privilege possessed by trans men, such spaces have not only welcomed trans men, but changed themselves to accommodate trans men (de-gendering themselves while still excluding trans women and training people in providing care for trans men, including care no woman needs).

Including trans men in a women’s space, of any kind, while excluding trans women, is an act of transmisogyny. De-gendering a women’s space while keeping it DFAB-only, is an act of transmisogyny. Claiming a women’s space is “trans-inclusive”, as these places do, while excluding women who are known to be trans, is an act of transmisogyny.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Lie the Patriarchy Told

2012/05/24

Patriarchy lies.

Patriarchy lies about the means by which it operates.

This seems obvious enough. No system of oppression is ever fully truthful about its means. Patriarchy in particular lies to claim that it values women, it lies when it claims that things coded as “women’s work” are not degraded, it lies as it feeds women myths about rape. Among many other things.

One particular patriarchal lie is hyper-relevant to trans people. This is the lie that “woman” and “man”, “female” and “male”, the oppressed and oppressor classes for sexism, are defined by . . . well, whatever is convenient for those in power to claim they are defined by at the moment, but in a way that consistently denies that trans people are who and what we say we are. Having a penis or having a vagina is a popular one. So are assumed chromosomes based on a person’s birth designation. I say “assumed” because most invocations of this to insist that someone is or is not a man or woman do not involve anyone calling for a karyotype. I’ve never been karyotyped but people are happy to insist I am XY.

This is a lie, though. Patriarchy is fully happy dishing up anything it means to serve to women to me, and to other trans women, regardless of our genital status. When I spend half of my train ride home from a protest worried if the man who has struck up an unwanted conversation is going to touch me (especially in a way that reveals that I am trans), I am oppressed by sexism. When men think they can speak over me on topics I am an expert on (like, ironically, my relation to Feminist theory as a trans woman), I face sexism. Patriarchy sees me as a woman because Patriarchy sees me through the eyes of everyone around me who carries it. Others can tell their own stories of facing sexism, which we all have.

As a woman, my inability to bear children does not define me; to phrase this differently, my inability to bear children has not spared me the ravages of patriarchy. Cis men treat me as a woman, with all the negativity that implies. My lack of a uterus does not insulate me from that. The meaning of “woman” in our society is not synonymous with the meaning of “womb.”

– Quinnae Moongazer

Bolding added

So the cissexist straight cis guys in my life who “still see me as a guy” (based on their own words to others or me)…

  • Interrupt me constantly
  • Degrade me with misogynist jokes
  • Ignore my opinions
  • Shame every sexual thing I do
  • Treat me as though I’m less capable of anything
  • Steal my ideas
  • Act condescending as shit
  • Victim blame me
  • Objectify me
  • Sometimes even sexually assault me

They just don’t want to have consensual sex with or date me while they’re willing to with cis girls, nor do they wanna use my name or use the correct pronouns.

– Kinsey Hope

This goes even further. While we are (sometimes and sometimes not) shielded from many aspects of sexism by disguising ourselves as men or boys, or by convincing ourselves that we are, even then we are only shielded from some aspects. As women and girls who are disguising ourselves, every little bit of an ambient atmosphere of misogyny is as much an attack against us as it is against every other woman. Even before I recognized myself, I still felt (although I didn’t know why) misogyny as an attack on me. And, again, I am not alone or even unusual in this.

Returning to the original point, trans women are viewed as women by the Patriarchy, and oppressed by sexism as women, even as it lies and claims we are men. That claim is, indeed, part of oppression of trans people. As part of the complex of ideas that makes up the ideology of Patriarchy is the belief that our genders can be defined for us, that they can be reduced to our “biological sex” (remind me to rewrite the post I wrote on the construction of that last year because that post is fucking awful), itself a part of this oppression.

That claim, that genitals or the chromosomes one is assumed to have had based on their designation at birth determine one’s status as a man or a woman (and that those are the only two options), or the kind of fertility someone has (or would be speculated to have based on their birth designation), is oppressive to trans people. It is made to deny our reality. It is made to push us back into a box where we do not exist. It is made to deny that we suffer the oppression we do.

It is a lie that justifies violence done to us (the brunt of which is borne by Black and Latina trans women). It is a lie that calls us deceptive, and so it is a lie that projects itself onto us, a lie that tears us down for our honesty. It is a lie that needs to be destroyed. It is a lie that has been bought hook, line, and sinker by certain schools of feminism.

It is a lie that Patriarchy told, and so it is a lie that to believe it is to subscribe to Patriarchy.


Facade-Keeping

2012/05/01

This post is for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012

Facade-keeping.

That has been my highest priority for so long, and it was only when it was about to break that I even realized it was.

For the benefit of anyone who’s new, I’ll situate myself before I begin. I’m autistic, and I am a trans woman, which are both things I have kept facades about. I’m also white and USian (citizen living in the country), which are important and relevant privileges to my experience keeping facades.

In a recent post, I talked about how I had burned out twice in as many years, the first time minorly and the more recent time very heavily. I also touched on the role of facade-keeping, and how both made the burnouts look a lot more sudden than they are. So, I’m going to talk more about the role facade-keeping has played in my life and the influence it has had, but before I can do that I’m going to have to define what I mean by it.

What I mean by “facade-keeping” goes a bit beyond what I’ve seen other autistics refer to as “passing” (for allistic), and beyond merely remaining closeted and pretending (before I came out) to be a cis man. It’s also where I pretended to have many fewer difficulties than I actually had in other things, lest I look “weird” for being challenged. It’s where I, even when I couldn’t be productive (which was often, toward the end) always tried to look like I was being productive.

This meant sitting at work, hiding my computer screen as I did something that didn’t cost my energy, ready to tab over to some work-related reading (scientific journal articles, usually) that I didn’t have the energy to read straight through. Or sometimes at all. It meant sitting late at work, guilting myself over not having been productive. It meant hiding my stims. Or not stimming, which actually made things a lot more obvious (hellooooo sleeping in class).

To a lesser extent, it meant hiding my femaleness. Even when I wanted to be able to relax it meant making every effort to not give off the slightest clue that I was a trans woman to people I had not explicitly come out to, or that my femininity strayed beyond “acceptable” bounds. Now that I am “out” and no longer make deliberate efforts to hide that I am a woman, there is a little bit of carryover of this into hiding my transness. Most of hiding that, though, is physical. Hiding my gender was easy, compared to hiding my being autistic, though; I chose what to show and what to hide, and what to hide mostly meant overt signs that I, say, had a name other than the one I was using when someone might look. Hiding my autisticness was way more all-consuming than that.

I can’t say, looking back on my life, when I decided to start keeping these facades. They clearly did not start from my diagnosis, when I was 12. They were already there, even then. They might not have been as strong, but there they were. Was it when I was younger (seven, eight, nine, maybe?) and first heard the words “asperger syndrome” (a label I loathe) applied to me? I think it was even younger. It didn’t have a single start, but was instead the biproduct of years of social shaming to make me shut up. Which, I can call myself lucky for, because at least I didn’t face worse violence.

Going forward through my life, this facade-keeping brought me benefits as well as disadvantages. It shielded me from the worst of other’s ableism, and, most importantly, from my own internalized ableism. I was quite horrible to my fellow autistics in that time, keeping my facade even to myself. Equally, seeing who the “mainstreamed” special ed kids were and looked like (like me), and who wasn’t, and who got respect among my fellow special education students, reinforced my drive to keep my facade. At this point in my life it was driven entirely by internalized ableism.

Facade-keeping got me into and through a bachelor’s degree unaccommodated, even as I developed a political consciousness as a disabled person halfway through. I can’t say if I would do that again were I doing it over, but I can’t say either that any of the accommodations that would have helped me could be given be written out in a formal accommodations document and people be expected to adhere to it. I graduated with maybe two classmates knowing me as an autistic. And fewer than that number in real friends from class.

It was about a semester and a half before I graduated that I hit the first of my burnouts. And here’s where the first negative side of facade-keeping comes in. Burnous surprised me. I was completely surprised by my inability to motivate myself to do the work in front of me. My facade of the diligent, or at least competent, student had hidden what had happened even from me. This scared me. I hid it from everyone else, too, except the people I needed to talk to to leave the program. I cut class rather than attend and not turn in homework that was due. But the burnout itself was “mild” enough that I only needed to drop one of my programs to soldier on. So I did.

Soon after, I found my actual gender. I had hidden from myself so well that even that was locked away. And, like I mentioned, I knew that I had to transition before I burned out on that, too. This was a facade that killed people to keep.

But I had class to press on through, and I kept that up. And then I graduated. And then I pressed on to graduate school. And that’s where things fell apart. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, my priorities had become skewed. They were, first, to maintain my facades, especially about my being disabled (because that was all I knew); second, to accomplish the productive work I was supposed to do as a graduate student, both in class and toward a dissertation. Third, to care for myself. This was a recipe for breakdown.

And it happened. A bunch of things came together all at once. Classes finally passed what I could handle with my barely-developed study skills (until then, I relied mostly on my memory). Work responsibility dramatically increased, and I was expected to be more self-directed in it, which taxed my executive function heavily. My work became based around finicky chemistry that I only half-understood, and I was still expected to get results. All of these together combined into a level of stress where, to keep my facade of competence, I pledged things I couldn’t promise and then did my utmost to do them anyway.

And then, when I finally thought I could relax from one burst of that, I hit my limit. I no longer had the executive function to be a self-motivated worker. So I slumped. And I kept up my facade, and kept trying to make myself make any small amount of progress on my work each day even though each time I did I burned myself out further, and I was stealing the energy I needed to maintain my daily life. And still it was not enough.

In bad times, I could usually keep my classwork up, because I at least had to keep up my facade of that to teachers and classmates. For small things I could cut class if I absolutely needed to. But a thing came that I couldn’t cut, and I didn’t have the energy to do well, or even to develop enough of an understanding of my topic to do well in. And I had to present it. So I did. And then I ran off and cried as soon as I could find a place without people. It was then that I realized what had happened. My facade was the most important thing, from my years of being taught that it was. It had cracked, but only because I had burned myself out so thoroughly that there was nothing left but it.

Were it not for other circumstances, that burnout could have killed me, or put me in the hospital. The level of that burnout could only have been reached by my pretending I wasn’t burned out, by my pretending I had energy, by my pretending I wasn’t disabled. Had I not been keeping my facades, there is no way I would not have headed it off earlier. And now, I’ve come to believe that no benefit the facades give is worth keeping them around a minute longer than is necessary.


Burnout

2012/05/01

[Trigger Warning: Suicidal Ideation]

(Original Publication: April 27, 2012 on tumblr)

I burn out on things in a very, very obviously autistic way.

And, to be honest, this has been probably the dominant feature in my life for almost the past two years.

As background, I pass for allistic very well. It’s not obvious, and I’ve gotten by without formal accommodation and, in the past, preferred that people I knew professionally (from class or work) not know that about me. I am, or was, one of those autistics people might claim can’t really be autistic.

Two years ago, I was an undergraduate, on track (ish) for a double major in the physical science discipline that I just dropped out of graduate school for with a “second” language degree (depending on how you count, it’s anywhere from second to fifth. But I’ve forgotten everything I learned about all the in-between ones, and two of them I didn’t get very far in ever). People who know me will have a good guess as to which language.

Sometime, I think over the summer, I burned out, at least on studying that language. I don’t actually know. I pulled energy from elsewhere and forced myself to work through everything, passed my classes, started up fall classes right when I got back to the states, and pressed on. I don’t think anyone around me noticed. In retrospect, this kinda foreshadowed some later stuff.

A month later, in mid-September, my burnout caught up to me, or maybe I finished burning out. I hit a homework assignment in my language class, and hated it to the point of refusing to do it. So I cut class rather than have to make excuses for not having it. And I started building a class-cutting habit. Only for that one class, though.

I’ve always been good at keeping up the facade. Even when I have nothing else, I have the facade, where I at least can look normal, even if on the inside nothing is working and I’m not accomplishing anything and just spinning my wheels in place.

So I dropped out of the program and withdrew from my class.

It wasn’t for another month that I started to figure out that I was trans. In retrospect, this was entirely obvious. I think it was more realizing that the stuff I’d read about trans people on the internet actually applied to me, and actually applied in more places than the internet. And, with that burnout fresh in my memory, my dominant thought was that, if I was trans, I would have to deal with it. Burning out on being a non-transitioned trans woman, on having people think me male and encouraging them to do so, would probably kill me. So I read, and I read, and I read. And the trans stuff I read resonated with me. And it also kept me safe, gave me an outlet. And, eventually, once I was (for a time) out of my parents’ financial reach, I began to physically transition.

Now, again, I burn out. I want to say this happened a month ago. It started a little longer.

This time it’s more dramatic. I’m in graduate school. My grades are crap, and my research progress is too. I pull energy from everywhere else in my life, first to remain productive at my research and my classes, and then finally to keep up my facade of looking like I am. I date my burnout to an ordinary day when I noticed I needed to do laundry. A week later, I take a mental health day off work and actually manage to do it that night.

Then my facade cracks. I don’t want to go in to how, but I publicly show that I haven’t been nearly as hard at work as I should have been. Then I notice that I’ve been burned out for a month. Or, well, I spend the rest of class stimming with my flash drive, walk out, wander around campus for a while looking for somewhere quiet to cry, find one, cry for a bit, and go to the counseling center, and somewhere during this whole breakdown I realize that I’ve been burned out for a month.

Transitioning may have saved my life here, to be quite honest. Through this breakdown, I had thoughts of wanting to die, which I could reject easily. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted my pain to be seen, to drop the facade that I’m ok. I’m not, no matter how many times since I burned out I said I was. But through all of this, I am proud of my decision to transition, proud of being honest with myself about what I need. And, well, being a girl is actually pretty awesome. So even though I fully had a plan to put myself in the hospital after an attempt (so that I would have an excuse to cut class), I never took any steps to carrying it out. I’m safe now (no suicide risk).

This was my first time being seriously suicidal. It was pretty terrifying.

Then I talk with my advisor. It’s clear that I’m going to need time off, or on light responsibility, because being self-directed with my responsibilities is what burned me out the hardest. It’s not that I’m not passionate about the things that I burned out on, I just burned out on the little things that have to go around it that hold me up so that the work is possible. Things like executive function to put my computer away and get to work. I come in wanting leave, and come out with us both in agreement that it would be better for me to not return to the group. And now I’m no longer adrift. Now I have to make decisions about which direction I want my life to go, and I can’t just do things others set up for me.

The weekend after, though, I came out to my parents, which was a thing I scheduled long before, and now I’m out everywhere. I even have a picture of myself as my profile pic on out!facebook and a coming-out post on closet!facebook. I’m done keeping up the boy facade, even though it was the allistic facade that burned me out.

In as many years (on a calendar that starts in August), I have had two burnouts. This is the cost of hiding my autisticness.