Hey everyone, I’m about to say something very political about issues relating to gender identity. If you don’t want to read it, I understand, but before you decide to skip I’d like to ask you to consider this:
I understand that people come on to tumblr because they deal with all sorts of issues in the real world ranging from poverty to systemic discrimination to the vicious cycle created by the interaction of poverty and systemic discrimination, and some come to tumblr specifically to air out those issues with other like-minded people, but others come to tumblr to escape that and instead to think about nerd shit and/or pretty subs in ballgags. To an extent I feel this myself, I occasionally talk about social issues on this blog but I don’t make them the focus because mostly I wanna think about other things. And if you really don’t wanna read posts like this, I understand, you need to focus on self-care.
But if you’re at all willing, I’d like to ask you to stay and read this, and if you’re cis, even if you’re a little uncomfortable reading about heavy social issues on tumblr, I’d like to ask you, not demand, just politely ask you, to work through that discomfort right now because what I’m about to say is important for cis people to know. This won’t be very long, and after it’s done you can, and should, go back to distracting yourself from the horrible, awful social issues you’re dealing with yourself in this corrupt, wildly unequal crapshoot of a society, and if you really don’t wanna see it, I’ve tagged it so you can block it. But again, please don’t unless you really feel you need to.
Okay, here we go
I don’t generally like to try and make things an oppression olympics or go “this marginalized group is more oppressed than this marginalized group”, we’re all suffering together. But the inescapable fact is no matter what I’d like to do, the benefits of the last few decades of gains in LGBT rights have been primarily felt by cis gay and lesbian people. Everyone else has been falling behind them, especially trans/nb people, and of course extra especially trans/nb people of color. Why does our society have so much trouble with trans rights? I think there’s a few reasons, but I’d like to highlight one in particular:
Unlike many marginalized groups in and out of the LGBT community, cis society fundamentally does not understand, on a very basic level, what we actually are. Even the most tolerant, well meaning, well-intentioned cis people, who understand in an abstract way that we are the genders we identify as and try to treat us that way, don’t get some fairly basic things about us, in a way that affects how they go about trying to support us. And to some degree, there are things you’ll never really understand without being trans, but there are still some very basic things cis people can understand, and do understand when trans people have the time and patience to explain to them, but otherwise are completely unaware of. I’m gonna tell you all those things, so if you wanna signal boost this, please reblog it:
First of all, you need to understand that gender is at its very base, a social construct. No more, no less. It has no meaning other than what we as a society assign it. It’s not about sex. Sex itself does not follow the binary idea of gender we have. Some people are born with XY chromosomes but completely feminine bodies. Some people are intersex and their genitals and larger bodies do not fully fit into either conventional sex category, like they have a clit and a pair of partially developed testicles, or breasts and a penis, etc. some people have hormone imbalances caused at birth or by accidents later in life. If gender was about sex, there would be dozens of genders, and the fact that intersex people are still labeled at birth as either male or female should tell you without a shadow of doubt that gender as society defines it isn’t about your body, it’s about what gender your doctor and parents decided you were when you were born. And don’t try to bring non-human life into this, there are animals with no sexes at all, animals that are all one sex and reproduce by cloning, animals who change sex when there aren’t enough breeding options, animals who change sex based on the weather, and more, crazier shit.
And furthermore, most of what we associate with gender has not a goddamn thing to do with sex. What colors are girly. What job positions are masculine. Whether real men show their emotions and show vulnerability. How men and women dress and are expected to cultivate their bodies. And many smaller, subtler things, some so small they’re impossible to consciously notice or define, but are always there.
This is what gender is, and every culture, era, religion, and society has defined it differently. When high heels were invented it was a form of men’s fashion. Men all over the world wear skirts. Women are seen as emotional and temperamental in some countries, and cold and stoic in others. Some cultures like ours have 2 genders. Some have many, the peoples of the First Nation for example. Gender is a construct with no inherent meaning, this is a basic fact of psychology, sociology, biology, philosophy and logic. If you disagree with this indisputable fact, you are wrong. Totally and completely, and you’d be able to see that if you could see beyond your indoctrination with western dogma. I don’t care about your high school level understanding of biology, or your westernized interpretation of a non-western holy book only considered holy by a select fraction of the human population. (And for the record I’m religious and this is not meant to denigrate the role of religion in your life or make fun of religious believers, but you have to realize how much of your understanding of religion comes from cultural practice and not genuine spirituality. And if you’re reading this and you’re not religious, that’s also cool and other people’s religious beliefs should not be allowed to determine your gender identity for you). Gender is a human invention made to try and impose order on a chaotic world even where no such order actually exists.
Now, you may be asking then, if gender is simply a construct, then why does gender identity matter at all, and what does it mean for someone like me to say they identify as a woman? Well, that’s an understandable question, but the short answer is social constructs may be fake but they still hold power. Money is a social construct, it’s only worth what we agree it to mean, but that doesn’t mean poverty is meaningless. If you don’t have the money, then societal norms and constructed rules will make you suffer for it. And gender is the same. Societal norms like gender are deeply ingrained into the psyche of everyone living in a society, and they cannot be just ignored. Human beings need validation from other people and from society, and when we feel at odds with the gender construct society has given us and the things that come with it, that causes dysphoria.
In other words, society is telling us we’re one thing, our brain is telling us that we’re something else. Something that doesn’t fit with the societal idea of the gender we’ve been assigned. That causes us to have a hard time being confident in our own identity, and a hard time trusting our own reality, and the brain starts to wonder if it’s somehow wrong about itself. Thus, it becomes difficult to retain our sense of self. The only antidote is to find a different societally constructed identity, or an identity that specifically rejects those societal constructs, and identify with that. And we can’t just identify with that to ourselves, we need other people to validate that identity. We need other people to treat us as the gender identity we see ourselves as, because society is fundamentally not fulfilling our need for validation, and we need the people around us to substitute for that.
That’s why some of us get surgery and hormone treatments. It’s not actually because our body is “male” or “female”, it’s because that body reminds us of the identity society has assigned us that we don’t want. Our own bodies cause us dysphoria, and that can lead to crippling panic attacks and dissociation from reality, and that’s why some of us need HRT and surgery. I don’t need it, I’m comfortable in the body I have and it doesn’t remind me society expects me to be a man, and many trans people don’t need to change their bodies for their comfort, but many do, and that’s why.
That’s also why we bring up being transgender so much, we need validation from other people and constant reminders that they see us as the people who we know ourselves to be, because again, society is not fulfilling our basic needs for validation. It’s the same reason insecure people constantly need attention and validation, they’ve been starved of it, but much, much worse. It’s not just about the fact that we won’t be silent about our oppression, although that is another reason, and it sure as hell isn’t because we “want to be special”, it’s because we have unmet psychological needs that make it difficult to find the energy to get out of bed each day and make some trans people contemplate suicide.
So, in summary, to be trans is to find an identity, based on the social constructs we’re stuck living with, that represents us better than the social constructs we were arbitrarily assigned before we could choose for ourselves. I am not a woman because I have some inherent womanliness to me, there is no such thing as inherent womanliness, but the social construct of womanhood suits me much better than the social construct of manhood and there is no better or more concrete way to define gender than what we personally feel comfortable with, for reasons I stated earlier, thus, I identify as a woman.
And that does NOT mean being trans is a choice, the fact that I was given an identity by society that doesn’t match how I’ve naturally developed to see myself is not my choice, and it’s not like I have other alternatives on how to deal with it. Don’t let TERFs and religious nuts with no understanding of psychology tell you otherwise, there IS ABSOLUTELY NO ALTERNATIVE WAY FOR A TRANS PERSON TO FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH THEMSELVES OTHER THAN IDENTIFYING WITH THE GENDER IDENTITY THEY FEEL MOST AT HOME WITH AND OTHER PEOPLE VALIDATING THAT IDENTITY. NONE. NADA. ZIP. Anyone who tells you otherwise wants to eradicate trans people. I’m not exaggerating or lying, that is what people who argue otherwise want with absolutely no exceptions. Me identifying as a woman is not a choice, it is finding the only way I can be happy with myself and have the strength to get through the day, and accepting that. It’s not a choice if there are no other alternatives.
And on that note, when your trans friends need constant validation of their identities and need you to just not argue with them and roll with what makes them comfortable? DO THAT. I don’t care if it feels like you’re discussing the same subject a lot. Your mild inconvenience does not outweigh their need for basic emotional support through one of the most difficult situations it’s possible for a human being to be in. And I guarantee you willingly mildly inconvenience yourself for the sake of friends all the time in circumstances that aren’t about gender identity. Why is this different? Just accept that they’re being constantly starved of validation through no fault of their own and give them as much validation as you can. If you think that trans people talking about their identities is a burden to you, either you don’t fully understand what they’re going through, or you’re just a bad friend.
This may also explain some things you may be wondering about why some trans people don’t make an effort to act or dress in the way we traditionally think of when it comes to the gender they identity as, and what it means to be nonbinary, and how one can be a nonbinary lesbian when lesbianism generally means “women being into women” and nonbinary people don’t identify as women: it’s because these are not actually hard rules, just vague social constructs we’re finding a way to be comfortable in. I have a beard, and I still go by a “male-sounding” name, and I dress very masculinely, and still identify as a woman, because number one, there are cis woman who do all these things too, cis women can have facial hair, masculine sounding names, and butch styles of dress, and you never question it in the same way, and number two, my name, facial hair, and style of dress are not the things about the social construct of maleness that makes me uncomfortable so I’d rather just stop identifying as male but keep them. Likewise, a nonbinary person can’t identify with the social constructs of maleness or femaleness and thus identities as something else that they feel better about. And since gender is a social construct, lesbianism itself is too, and one that has developed over the years quite independently from womanhood with its own culture and it’s own expectations, so some people identify with the social construct of lesbianism, but not the social construct of womanhood, thus they’re nonbinary lesbians. It’s all about finding the way to identity and express yourself that matches who you feel you really are, and none of these terms have exact meanings, so they mean for you whatever helps you be comfortable with your own identity.
So with all that in mind, my closing note is this: things like this are very basic aspects of what it means to be trans, and if you can’t understand them, you cannot truly understand what we are and what it means to respect us. Please, read this, make sure you understand it, and then spread the word. People understanding this more broadly will do a world of good for all of us trans and nb people.
An excellent, insightful read.