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Trans Segment #12: Myth: Trans people artificialize gender, where cis people’s genders are natural, normal, and no need explanation.

November 5, 2012

* Mea culpa, and apologies. Credit should always go where it is due. Much of this post is adapted and paraphrased from Queen Emily’s post about the same subject at Questioning Transphobia

Myth: Trans people artificialize gender, where cis people’s genders are natural, normal, and no need explanation.

Reality: This is such a ridiculous crock, and it usually appears in conjunction with statements like “Gender doesn’t exist, so trans people are trying to make an abstract idea concrete by transitioning.” The implication, therefore, is that trans people are foolishly buying into gender norms and roles.

As opposed to everyone else?

Well, of course not! Cis people are being themselves and doing what comes naturally. It’s just trans people who are putting on a farce.

Oh, please.

This is a common idea in certain branches of theory, but it overlooks something very important. The things trans people do to represent and express our genders are no different from cis people. Our genders are no more “real” (read: innate) and no more “fake” (read: artificial) than anyone else’s. There is no discernible difference between us.

What people overlook is that a social constructionist idea of gender can equally assume that since gender is constructed through the repetition and enforcement of behaviors, which are already gendered, trans people’s genders are socially constructed to the same degree anyone else’s are. This puts us, trans people and cis people, on the same level of performance.

Yes, it could be reasonably said that trans men and trans women are artificializing gender, but this is only because those of us who are binary-identified fit within existing categories. But the same is true of cis people. What compels cis women and cis men to think of and present themselves as such? Why not adopt the roles, identities, and associated expectations of a different gender then if it’s all just artificial? I mean, why should you always stay in one category and not avail yourself of the opportunity to experience something new and different? My guess is that the ultimate motivation, something along the lines of “because I just know and it feels right,” will be identical to trans peoples’.

If gender “doesn’t exist,” then why would one be so interested in fighting the fact that some trans people change it and feel most comfortable with physical transition? If it’s all artificial, then what harm is there in someone exercising that differently from the way you might choose?

If gender “doesn’t exist,” how can people be “traitors” to their gender, as some people accuse trans men of? If gender “doesn’t exist,” then why obsess about trans women rejecting a male role?

If gender “doesn’t exist,” then why fight so fiercely for women-only spaces? What sense does it make to police the boundaries and borders of artificial categories? Wouldn’t it be more logical to advocate for spaces expressly designed to be open to all people? Shouldn’t they reject all gender-segregated spaces since it is supposedly just an abstract and oppressive concept that needs to be smashed?

In reality what happens is that these folks take the approach that “woman” or  “man,” an artificial marker someone else gave you based arbitrarily on your genital status at birth, must be defended because it’s a special birthright and no one should take it away from you. This is notably common in the case of certain kinds of feminist theory, where womanhood is celebrated on one hand and abolition of gender is promoted on the other.

If gender “doesn’t exist,” then perhaps people who claim this should begin to live their lives thusly. Practice what you preach! It would definitely be an exercise in developing more empathy for what trans people experience. While I do notice that some cis people dress more androgynously than most feminine women or masculine men do, it is a rare occasion that I see these same people willingly making themselves so gender non-conforming that they experience the whispering, the staring, the catcalling, the “Is it a man or a woman?” and “What the fuck are you?” comments, the discrimination in all areas, and the particularly harsh brand of violence for being visible in this way. I also don’t see people responding to masculine or feminine names or pronouns with, “Gender is a false binary that must be abolished.” In fact, why DON’T I see more of these folks taking on gender-neutral pronouns and names? After all, gender “doesn’t exist.”

Why is this myth not turned back around on the people using it? If trans people artificialize gender, cis people logically artificialize gender to a greater degree. Being externally assigned to a category, which is supposed to “not really exist” in the first place, and not questioning it and continuing to identify with it are equally artificializing the concept. Benefiting from cis privilege clearly does. The greatest irony, though, is that aggressively policing a category’s alleged boundaries from “infiltration” (usually read: trans women in women-only spaces) or “defection” (usually read: the “butch flight” seen in trans men who formerly identified as lesbians) is doing precisely that: artificializing gender.

This myth also fails to account for trans people who, even if they do transition medically, don’t identify or fit within binary categories. What about genderqueer people? With no model of gender to emulate, what exactly are they materializing? Additionally, it ignores our neurological sexes. People who obsess about my hormonal and surgical status are not able to appreciate that taking T and having surgery *did not change or authenticate* my sense of myself as a male. I felt just as male before transitioning as I did afterward. Lastly, it ignores the government-enforced “reification” imposed on all of us but which has disproportionately difficult effects on trans people. Transitioning puts us in a lot of murky areas legally, and the law most certainly treats gender as though it were real. But let me tell you, I and quite a few people I know would be delighted if there were no sex/gender marker on our birth certificates, Social Security, or driver’s licenses.

Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with gender, or even the existence of binary categories. What I perceive to be wrong with those is the compulsory nature we assign them in society. That is, you HAVE to be this or that. You CAN’T be something else. That’s not okay. The punitive way society polices our genders is not okay. I can imagine a world where this wouldn’t be the case, but it wouldn’t come about from the abolition of gender.

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2 Comments
  1. jayyblock permalink

    Hey man.
    You should probably credit questioning transphobia as a source document for this post. If you google reify gender this post is number 2 right under the QT one.
    Keep up the good work,
    jay.

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