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tl;dr: Women aren't living "the female lifestyle." Trans women (and men, and non-binary trans persons) aren't "living a lifestyle" by being who they are, either.

Content note: Transphobia, religious abuse, and Final Fantasy III and VII spoilers. Edited slightly in response to [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith's comment and [personal profile] sophie's feedback.

Are you a boy or a girl?

A picture of the character select screen from Pokémon.

Poor Professor Oak. His memory just hasn't been the same since the accident.

Everyone gets told the answer to this question when they're little. But sometimes, the answer they're given is wrong.

As many as 1 in 100 people are born intersex, meaning their bodies aren't strictly male or female and may have both sets of sexual characteristics. This isn't a pleasant thing to be, in sex-obsessed North American society. You might get mutilated by doctors when you're still an infant, to try to make you look more like a boy or a girl. You might grow up feeling uncomfortably different from everyone else, and never be told why, because even your parents thought it was shameful. And if an intimate partner finds out that you're different, they might tell everyone you're a "trap," reducing you to your genitals and making you out to be some kind of freak.

Because North American society is obsessed with sex, and tries to define everyone by their genders, parents of intersex children usually feel pressured to choose a "true" sex to raise their child as, even when their doctors have no idea what their child's "true" sex is and may as well settle it using a coin flip.

A picture of \*Mute, from Analogue: A Hate Story, incredulously asking the player if something really happened to someone else.

Geez, *Mute, show a little respect.

Sometimes, an intersex child grows up and realizes their parents called "heads" when they should've called "tails" (or just let the coin lay on its side). Sometimes, they don't even know their parents made the call. They just know they don't fit in the box they've been put in, and it's making them miserable.

Sometimes, a person feels this way even when they aren't visibly intersex, and there is no outward indication that they are anything other than their assigned gender. The only sign that things are wrong is that person's misery and feeling of not-right-ness, which psychologists call gender dysphoria and the people who go through it call "being trans."

"I am confused about my gender"

This is a common stereotype, about what it means to be trans. But while the process of self-discovery that trans people go through starts with being confused, that's usually not where it ends. By the time someone comes out as transgender (i.e. announces it to their friends and/or loved ones), they feel confident that their actual gender is not the one that they were assigned by the doctors at birth. Whether they now consider themselves to be "male," "female," "both depending on my mood," "none of the above," or even simply "I don't know yet."

They may not have figured everything out yet, and it can sound confusing to hear them discuss it when you don't know what the words mean and have never met someone like them (at least not and knew that you had). But just because you're confused about what gender somebody else is, that doesn't mean that they are, or that you know better than they do how they should feel about what they see in the mirror.

Finding out what you are

The first step can be as simple as finding out "transgender" is a thing, and immediately knowing "that's me." Other times, it takes years of soul-searching and introspection, during which time you might legitimately be confused. The reason that you are confused, though, is because you were told to expect one thing (feeling like your assigned gender is natural) and encountered another instead.

The answer isn't to double down on the thing that you know isn't right (i.e. acting out your assigned gender's role), in the hopes that this will somehow make dysphoria go away. If anything, that just makes it worse. The answer is to try something different, and see if it makes you feel better. Whether it's trying on another gender's clothing, playing a character of another gender in an online video game (where no one can see what you look like "IRL"), or even "transitioning" genders through medical and/or cosmetic treatments.

For a thing that supposedly comes naturally, being a man sure takes lots of work. Click here if you can't see the video.

Unfortunately, trans people -- as opposed to women of Chinese legend -- can't just transition in a Disney montage. It takes time, money, and effort, both to undergo treatments like hormone therapy and to ... well, basically learn everything that a person of your actual gender is normally taught from birth, in a very short time.

Worse, trans people are especially vulnerable during this time, because they might be visibly (or audibly) "between genders," which is just about the worst thing a person can be in sex-obsessed North American society. On top of that, they have to face the reactions of their family, friends, and acquaintances, which can range from "I love you no matter what" to "pack up your things and get out."

In many American states, it is completely legal to terminate someone's employment or kick them out of their rented home because of their gender identity. (This may mean that you could fire someone for being cisgender, or "not trans." But I don't know for sure because I'm not a lawyer, and there isn't a cisgender rights lobby because as far as I know no one has ever done that.)

In many places there's no social stigma for treating trans persons like crap. Some religions actively mandate it. Doctors and police may be hostile, and even emergency medical technicians may refuse treatment. There are few protections of any kind for trans persons specifically, which may be part of the reason their suicide and mortality rates are so high.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance, held each year on November 20, memorializes the lives of trans persons lost to violence. This, if anything, is what characterizes the "transgender lifestyle," especially for trans women of colour: Living your life in fear.

My transformation story

My birth certificate says that I'm male, and up until my late teenage years I thought I was okay with that. It helps that boys get cooler toys to play with.

Silly girl. Can't she see the Atari XL isn't pink? Click here if you can't see the video.

Even when I was little, though, I was fascinated with stories of transformation, like in myth and in young adult fantasy. I remember reading a story about a girl who was transported back in time and was suddenly living her ancestor's life, with her clothes changing to match. And I imagined going through the same thing, including becoming a girl. It just seemed really neat.

I picked female characters in video games, when they were portrayed as equally competent. I liked Samus from the Metroid series, and Blaze from Streets of Rage II. When Digimon Tamers debuted on TV, I became a Renamon fangirl, and bought mediocre PlayStation games just so I could play as her. I also wrote self-insert fanfic (which I never published) starring me as a tamer and her as my Digimon partner.

Of course, my self-insert was female.

A picture of an anthropomorphic fox with stylized yin-yang designs on her fur.

Admit it: Renamon is way cooler than you are.

Later on, "Erin Fox" kept showing up in the tabletop RPGs I GMed, from Star Wars to Dungeons and Dragons, as a helpful non-player character. I tried to make a male self-insert, but kept killing them off or sidelining them because I just wasn't all that invested in them.

It didn't help that I was raised Mormon. So in between being asked by my adult male bishop, one-on-one behind closed doors, about my sexuality, I was bombarded with messages about how women are "God's crowning creation." While "the natural man is an enemy to God" and I was a dirty good-for-nothing, if I didn't completely stop masturbating and thinking about sex at all, go on a two-year proselyting mission to convert more people to Mormonism, and get a high-paying job so I could support a wife and twelve kids.

Obviously, this isn't the message that most Mormon men get. If anything, their self-flagellating rhetoric about how they'd be starving, naked, and on fire without their wives, is a means of overcompensating for how Mormon culture treats women as inferior.

The last man to speak on motherhood was Brother Rick Dalmonico, 23, a new father. “Sometimes when I come home and my wife is nursing our newborn, the spirit is so strong that I feel it would be irreverent to interrupt them,” he confessed. “So I just usually go in the other room and watch football. I wouldn’t want to interfere with something as sacred as precious motherhood.”

-- From "The Sugar Beet," a parody Mormon newsletter

In my case, though, it hurt because I was a woman. I didn't just dislike the insulting male stereotype they presented me with; I hated having to be male to begin with. I wasn't just ashamed of the "sacred parts" of my body, after being taught to feel bad for having sexual feelings. I was disgusted by them, so much so that I could barely admit I was morbidly fascinated with these bizarre alien things.

I didn't want to have them. I didn't want to sound like this, I didn't want to be shaped like this, I didn't want to hear jokes about "testosterone poisoning" causing car accidents and feel ashamed for having it.

If I'd had the choice, I would have picked "female"

But Mormons believe you consented to live the life you have, in the "pre-existence." So I told myself it was my burden to bear, an act of self-sacrifice so that through marriage, I could complete a person who was born female.

My Mormon parents mostly supported me through my deconversion, which occurred after I realized gay people have feelings too and "the church" is making life Hell for them. My mother of origin only cried in front of me once, and my father of origin only called me "stupid" once or twice, at least where I could hear him. He went on about the "cloud of darkness" that I brought into their home, when I visited. But it was because I was afraid that my brothers would stab me to death, like one had basically threatened to, not because I was playing Final Fantasy III.

When I came out as transgender, it was a different story. He cut off contact with me completely, right before Christmas, except to do something stupid and hateful that made life much harder and more expensive for me. I tried to reach out to my other family members, but my mother of origin made it clear that everything about my life that they disapproved of (which was seemingly just about everything) was off-limits for discussion. Meanwhile, one of my brothers broke radio silence long enough to express his disgust at me, and to compare me to a violent criminal just for doing what amounted to growing my hair long and changing my name.

Clearly, Sephiroth's REAL crime was not getting a haircut. Click here if you can't see the video.

The point of the above story isn't to shame my family of origin, or to open myself up to amateur psychoanalysis by people who want to know the real reason I'm trans. It's to give an idea of what the life of a transgender person is like. And I said "life" and not "lifestyle," because the latter is used as a slur. It depersonalizes those that it's used against, and reduces whole people to what's in between their legs and what they choose to do in bed.

Sex-obsessed North American society sees those things as more important than anything else about a person. The stories we tell, the things we create, and the causes we choose to devote ourselves to are irrelevant. Just like my 16-year-old self sitting in Priesthood quorum, unable to take my mind off of how many "sausages" were in the room with me, a lot of people see trans folk of whatever kind (but especially trans women it seems) and all they can think of is sex. The kind they don't like.

It's wrong. Please stop.

My transitioning does not hurt, endanger, or threaten anyone. I am not going to turn you gay. I am not going to make your child trans. The only thing my being "out" does is remind you that people like me exist.

If you can't bear to think of that, then maybe I don't want to be in the same world as you, either.

Screenshots from Pokémon Black and White versions and Analogue: A Hate Story.

Well...

Date: 2014-09-23 09:06 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
I think it's more complicated than that. (As if it wasn't complicated enough already.)

>> The only sign that things are wrong is that person's misery and feeling of not-right-ness, which psychologists call gender dysphoria and the people who go through it call "being trans." <<

The primary sign is a feeling that one's gender identity and physique do not match. While all the attention gets paid to people who find this a life-wrecking experience, it is not so for everyone. Sometimes it's just an annoying thing that can't really be fixed, like being too short or having skin the wrong color or being the wrong species or whatever.

>> "I am confused about my gender"

... said no "out" trans person ever. <<

I've heard that plenty of times. Gender can be confusing. It is especially confusing if your body and family say one thing but your internal sense is different, and all the more so if you're not talking about a flip between standard male/female but you are actually some other sex/gender altogether. Which frequently nobody even wants to admit exists. Often this leads to crawling through history and other cultures banging on labels and asking, "Is this it? Is this me?" and throwing things over your shoulder in frustration for a few years before, if you're lucky, you find the right one.

And it's okay to be confused, because bodies and genders and sex are confusing sometimes. The not-okay thing is picking on people about it, because that never helps, and it happens way too much.

Some people are confused. Some people aren't. It doesn't make any of them less who they are. Straight, cisgender people get confused about this stuff too, especially if their idea of manhood or womanhood doesn't exactly match the current standard.

>> But Mormons believe you consented to live the life you have, in the "pre-existence." <<

Plenty of religions believe that people choose some or all of what happens to them. That does not make it suck one bit less while you are in it. It's kind of like seeing a gee-whiz ride at the fair, and whining for an hour until your parents give in and let you ride the damn thing, and then you barf up your cotton candy and realize that just because something LOOKS fun doesn't necessarily mean YOU will enjoy it. And you can't get off until the ride's over.

Plus some religions allow for the fact that people and gods are fallible and make filing errors sometimes, as well as judgement errors.

Some people find themselves more comfortable in another religion than the one they grew up in, and that's okay too. Paganism is a broad group that gets a lot of people like that, partly because some branches consider QUILTBAG folks to be sacred.

>> I am not going to turn you gay. I am not going to make your child trans. The only thing my being "out" does is remind you that people like me exist. <<

The fact that so many allegedly straight, cissexual people think of identity as that fragile runs parallel to findings that the most virulent of them are often secretly other than they claim to be.

>> If you can't bear to think of that, then maybe I don't want to be in the same world as you, either. <<

And that right there is behind the astronomical rate of suicide and murder among transfolk. It's about refusing to let them be in this world, because assholes are in it and won't share. Which is really frustrating to anyone who likes diversity.

Re: Well...

Date: 2014-10-21 07:58 pm (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
>> Thank you for your response, and we're sorry for taking so long to incorporate your feedback. <<

I'm glad I could help.

>> You are correct that it's possible to still be confused about one's gender after coming out as trans; I'm just trying to dispel the stereotype that coming out as trans is a process of becoming *less* sure of oneself (led astray by trans activists recruiting them into our lifestyle!) as opposed to *more* sure. <<

Depends on the stage. The overall trend for someone exploring their sex/gender is to become more aware and confident. The hazard, and the part that unscrupulous people take advantage of, is that it's very easy to open the gate too soon and still be in the seriously confused stage while trying to come out. It can look like something it's really not.

This is why I coach people in Paganism that it's advisable to wait several months to a year while they explore before telling other people. That allows time to gain knowledge and stability before trying to explain a very complex concept to people who usually know nothing about it. If you urgently need to tell people for practical reasons, you can try going sooner, but otherwise it's usually safer and saner to wait a bit.

>> I tried to edit it a little to reflect that, and I am okay with suggestions for how else to do so. <<

Cool.

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