Some of my cis-woman friends are incredibly affirming of my femininity, and i can’t say i don’t appreciate this. Gender affirmations are few and far between, and i deeply appreciate the support in my life. But i’ve had a few interesting situations occur that have caused me to interrogate the nature of said affirmation. One friend told me “Oh, you’re not a tranny,” after i had identified myself as such. Upon reading a piece of mine in which i referred to myself as a “critter,” another friend similarly stated, “You’re not a critter.”
While i appreciate the intent, which is doubtless one of wishing to make me appreciate the fact that my womanhood is valid, and the attempt at helping me to cultivate my self-esteem, these types of comments limit my capacity to self-identify. Their attempts to respect (their understanding of) my identity have the opposite effect of rendering important components of my identity invisible. My identity is rejected in favor of what their conception of my identity should be.
In both of the above cases, and others, people attempt to insist upon my having a binary identity. It seems that the first case stemmed from an unwillingness to acknowledge the capacity of transness itself to have value. i am not a cis-woman. i never have been, and i never will be. i am proud of my transness, it gives me strength and power and insight.
To render this invisible is further privilege cis identities. Cis identities are normative, expected, cast as that from which one can deviate. This deviation is then understood by society in myriad ways; these various understandings are often problematic and minimizing. To impose that a binary identity, a “now the other gender” identity, is the best means to respect someone who self-identifies otherwise is problematic in the same ways that refusing to respect a binary trans-person’s identity is.
Most self-identified allies would immediately recognize the need to respect someone’s shift from male to female or female to male. And these shifts, obviously, should be respected. But to assume that these narratives are universal and are the way to respect all trans and queerly gendered folk follows the same logic structure that assumes that an at birth gender assignment is somehow more legitimate or real than any other gender identity or expression.
The second instance seems to have stemmed from an incapacity to internalize my identity as a queer creature. This one is admittedly more difficult; i even find it more difficult to describe than my understanding of empowerment in transness. That said, this understanding of self is as, if not more, central to my identity.
Despite the fact that i do often identify as a woman, i also identify as something other, something beyond man or woman. This identification is not even one of “between” genders; and here there’s at least something of a template within certain communities.
To deny my conception of self as a creature delegitimizes another aspect of my gendered sense of self. This is an expression of solidarity with non-human creatures who are not confined to a social gender in the way that we, as humans, are taught to be. This solidarity is not, however, a political one. My claim to creatureness is not an act of defense; it’s more of a method of understanding.
This is not to say that other beings don’t have gender. They may. There’s potential evidence for it, although that would be imperialistically imposing our social construct on another species. But that’s not the point here. The point is that my creatureness represents my understanding of my own capacity to construct my gender in different and fluid ways. My creatureness allows me to respond to my environment, my community, myself.
In both of the above cases, the purpose of affirmative solidarity is defeated in the attempt. In trying to respect my identity, my identity is rejected in favor of their conception of what my identity should be or can be.
Now, in both cases, i appreciate my friends’ attempts to help me deconstruct internalized transphobia. And i do think this is what they intended to do. What’s more, i have internalized transphobia that leads to self-violent thoughts. This, i think, is a perfectly understandable response to being trans in an incredibly transphobic environment. And, when i say things that actually are transphobic about myself, i really do appreciate the help of folks who care about me in checking said statements.
However, my empowerment in my transness and my understanding of my own creature status are not ramifications of my internalization of transphobia. i think a better way to handle this would be to simply ask for clarification. In the context of a respectful conversation about gender i would not be offended by a question like, “Why do call yourself a tranny?” or “What do you mean when you call yourself a critter?” Shifting from assumptive support toward dynamic openness would truly help our society as a whole to push forward an understanding of, and respect for, gender variance.