Eater of Trees

Posts Tagged ‘trans

Okay most of this has been said before I think, but still, I got irritated by someone identifying as an ally being terrible recently, so! Large analytic post.  If you know why self-identified allies are often a problem, this probably isn’t anything new.

tl;dr: Being an ally means encouraging people to call you out more, not less.

Cis feminists will often expect to be treated as heroic “allies” for mentioning trans people in passing occasionally, while not doing anything to reassess their conceptions of gender and gender oppression, and like, they expect to be criticized less when they fuck up because “they’re on your side!”

And it’s actually not just cisfeminism, it’s more or less every sort of ally ever.

This seems to be very blatantly coming from a place where the only type of real oppression is the most violent overt harm, and maybe erasure, but from this perspective erasure is “nobody ever mentions you in passing ever” not “every narrative in society is constructed with the assumption that you are not possible”.

It all ultimately comes from the desire, common amongst privileged people, to use marginalized people for their own personal glory.  Your only worth is to make them seem like an awesome person for saving you.  Except they aren’t actually saving you, and they don’t want to actually put any effort into helping you.

And basically, this is just another way to marginalize you, objectify you, and force you out of the discourse.  People who say things like this are basically the enemy.  And when they say “attack the real enemy!” this is a blatant attempt to divert your energy from helping yourself into helping them.  You can be sure that these people never will consider diverting their energy into helping you; and once their oppressions have fallen, they’re more then happy to assume a new place in the status quo.

But this leads to a strange sort of twisted logic where allies think that because they’ve given some ground, they should be less a target of criticism.  This only makes the slightest bit of sense if your primary goal is to keep the status quo as intact as possible.  And moreover, it actually is entirely the opposite of what you’d think an ally should be.

See, a recurring part of a marginalized person’s life is being constantly bombarded by oppressive ideas.  Nobody has the energy to call these all out, or even to acknowledge them.  Especially when nearly everyone will respond hostilely to such attempts.

See, the person who’s an ally, in the actual sense that that word means, not in the “self aggrandizing privileged person who uses your struggles to make themselves look better”, would be someone who, when they do something fucked up, would be willing to listen to you if you explain how.

Like I will critique the actions of my close friends far more often then people I don’t know, because with my established relationship with my close friends, its far more likely that they’ll listen and productive discussion will ensue.

See, nobody is going to ever be not oppressive.  That just doesn’t happen.  There’s too many sorts of oppression.  Oppression is too ingrained in everything.  And oppressed people don’t all agree on everything.  And these things may be contradictory in their needs*. It may be possible to fix things in the future more or less, but now? Nope.

This doesn’t mean oppression is okay, which is why being open to listening is so important.  If you can’t be perfect, it becomes especially important to fix the and be aware of the damage that’s done.

But by saying you’re an ally, you’re saying you want to change things.  And that starts by reconceptualizing how you see the world.  Which starts by listening to marginalized people and acknowledging how the systems that are in place do not help them, and creating an environment in which they can openly discuss these things.

Basically, by saying you’re an ally, you’re saying “You should call me out more.  You’re saying, “rather then rolling your eyes and moving on when I hurt you, you should tell me, because I’m willing to be different from most privileged people, and actually listen.”

And if you try to insist that because you’re “on the same side” as us that we shouldn’t discuss our marginalization around you, you’re not on our side in the slightest.

*Like with pronouns, to be fully accepting of genders we basically need to allow people to make their pronouns whatever they want, but my learning disabilities mean, that like names, I’m really really bad at attaching those to people, which would be best served by having a small finite list of pronouns. …I definitely think the former is the better choice, assuming people actually acknowledge that people’s memories are not unlimited and there are good genderless options to fall back on if you’re memory is full of holes.  But basically, these marginalizations are entirely contradictory in what would best serve them.

Or like, the way my autism works I tend to use elaborate and sometimes weirdly precise language, and… oh hey that can be super inaccessible sometimes.  But on the other hand people insisting I should talk like normal people and not describe my emotions as “transient psychotic dysphoria” when “sad” would work is a very significant part of my oppression (both for the autism and the transient psychotic dysphoria, which… isn’t actually the same as being sad, though the meanings of the terms overlap)

But yeah, the gist of this is a lot of the ways to counter oppressions overlap and so simple solutions aren’t actually possible. Which makes openness to discussion all the more important.

…well they aren’t the same thing, they’re hyponyms* of a broader category and we’re generally mostly just concerned about the broader category; forcing sex and gender to be different things serves to marginalize trans people by forcing gender onto their body parts.

And doing so usually involves copious ignoring of facts, because everyone who decides my sex must be male apparently sees a penis and stops; they don’t bother to notice that because of hormones I have breasts, and body odor and skin texture that’s within the norm for women, and because of lasers my hair coverage is again, normative for women.

This isn’t to say that a woman who doesn’t have those traits body is still not female, of course.  Just that very frequently the idea that sex is what’s in your pants serves to completely ignore everything outside of said pants, which, actually makes it relatively clear how objective said fact really is.  But even if your body entirely conforms to the general societal expectations of men’s bodies, you can still call your body female; and telling someone who does so that their body is male is very much cissexism.

And I do want to be clear that people may not necessarily identify their sex as the same as their gender.  I’m not entirely sure at this point whether I do or not, myself.  Respect people’s identities and don’t take this to mean you can yell at people who call themselves “male-bodied.” (Calling other people who don’t identify that way things like that? Yeah yelling may be appropriate) The point is, however, people can identify both their sex and gender however they want and the actual gendering of specific classes of body parts is a socially constructed convention and IT IS COMPLETE BULLSHIT and HIGHLY OPPRESSIVE TO TRANS PEOPLE.)

*it occurs to me “hyponym” may not be a well known word.  It’s like… there’s a broader category that the words that are hyponyms belong to (eg. “chair” is a hyponym of “furniture”; “furniture” is a hypernym of “chair”)

(Crossposted from tumblr)

(Of psychiatric issues, that is)

It’s like…

By opposing self diagnosis you are telling people that they cannot understand themselves without outside help.  You’re opposing self-determination.  Like… How the fuck do any activist type people think that’s remotely okay?

And that’s not even getting into how fucked up psychiatric institutions can be.  I cringe every time I see people being like “YOU NEED TO SEE A PSYCHIATRIST BECAUSE YOU’RE WEIRD!”

Just because like… given my experiences that seems like it’s telling people to go subject themselves to abuse.

It also seems like it’s an attempt to stop people with brains outside the norm from forming communities.  Like: “Oh you shouldn’t associate with that community even though you have a LOT in common with them because you’re not really one of them”  Ooo ooo also: “Self diagnosis never helps anyone” because apparently being able to know that there are other people like you and that you can talk to them about how to cope with this stuff is unhelpful. YOU KNOW.

It’s creepy as fuck.  Like creepy in the same way demanding trans people have gatekeepery therapists and then insisting that they assimilate post-transition is creepy.  Because it’s pretty much exactly the same thing.  “Pass yourself off as exactly like everyone else because otherwise PRIVILEGED PEOPLE MIGHT BE UNCOMFORTABLE!  And for the love of god don’t form communities that would mean you might be able to discover that we have no fucking clue what we’re talking about and we’re systematically treating you like shit!”


And additional WordPress bonus commentary:

  • Self-diagnosis is not the same as self-medication; the latter actually is dangerous.  The former is not particularly.  Many psychiatric issues are not mental illness (say, autism) and there isn’t really any obvious way to medicate and “cure” is of questionable desirability.
  • Doctors are not infallible.  Psychiatric institutions are often seriously fucked up and coercive and dehumanizing.  Insisting that they aren’t all is derailing.  And insisting that there is danger in self misdiagnosis while ignoring the rather significant danger in professional misdiagnosis is really fucked up.
  • There is a huge difference between informed self-diagnosis and hypochondria (“Oh no I’m occasionally energetic I must have bipolar!”) or appropriation (“I put a lot of effort into sorting my music lol I’m so OCD”) and the best response to either of those is not to tell a person they can’t possibly have the condition in question, but to educate them on what the conditions actually are; as, for example, I do put a lot of  effort into organizing my music and this is a manifestation of my OCD, but it is hardly the only symptom, and the “can’t wash dishes without panic attacks” and “looking at raw meat can make me gag” symptoms are the ones that really disrupt my life.
  • In the US at least, professional diagnosis can be extremely expensive and in rural locations there may not be any nearby resources to provide it.  Going to a doctor actually requires a lot of privilege here.
  • Biases and stereotypes significantly effect who gets diagnosed with what.  Autism is significantly underdiagnosed in women, for example.  And because my depression was less dramatic than my brother’s, nobody noticed it until I was failing out of college.

Phobias are real things that impact the lives of many people.  Bigotry and oppressive forces are also a thing that impacts the lives of many people. But they’re not the same thing.  At all.

Specifically phobias are when something or other produces an extremely strong unpleasant emotional reaction, mostly fear or panic.  You see a bee, and you completely freeze up and can’t move because the bee is going to hurt you (even though, logically, you know that’s unlikely and if it did the pain would be annoying and not serious)

Phobias are not generally taken very seriously.  This is a recurring problem; wherein people will try to expose you to your phobia for a variety of reasons, possibly because they think you need exposure therapy and have decided to skip the informed consent stage.  Or possibly because they find it funny, or any variety of reasons.  All of which are extremely ableist; at best trying to “help” you in a way that denies your agency, at worst outright abuse.

And further, people will often treat people with phobias very condescendingly.  Insisting that you should just magically get over it or that your emotional reaction is a sign of weakness or any other variety of derogatory treatment for it.  People will completely disregard the needs of their readers, and, for example, illustrate their writing with pictures of blood or insects in ways that make it hard to avoid said pictures; assuming that their readers emotional safety is just a concern to be casually tossed aside.  (Further ignoring the fact, of course, that if you trigger your readers, they are unlikely to remain your readers.)

The thing is, the suffix “-phobia” is used for two completely different things.

One thing is phobias; which are a mental process that is rather disruptive and tends to preclude clear thinking.  The other is bigotry.  Bigotry is hate.  It’s treating people as less than human.  It’s systematically denying people basic rights and disrupting their lives.

But it’s not a phobia.

Calling it one gives reasonability to the panic defense; when someone claims that they just panicked because the victim of a hate crime was different and that made them commit said crime.  Because phobias do result in an inability to think clearly, although they don’t usually result in violence so much as hiding.  Further calling bigotry a phobia serves to make oppressors sympathetic.  After all, their bigotry is just an out of control emotional reaction.  It says that they are the ones who are suffering, not the people who they are oppressing.

Using “-phobia” to discuss bigotry shames phobias as well.  Telling people that their emotional reactions are as bad as forces that systematically dehumanize and kill people on a regular basis prevents people from being able to discuss their reactions without being read as terrible people.  It prevents people from being able to deal with their phobias in useful ways, whether by avoiding them or by attempting to find treatment for them.  It encourages people to hurt themselves by entering painful situations and ignoring the pain, because the pain is seen as a manifestation of their own personal failures.  Using “-phobia” for bigotry is an example of bigotry and is definitely oppressive.

This becomes especially a problem because occasionally oppression and phobias overlap.  If you spend your life shamed for expressing a personality trait or because of your mind, and are constantly harassed and demeaned because of something about you, and see people around you who exhibit said trait be harassed and treated as jokes or disguisting or terrible people, you can quickly develop a phobia of said trait.

But then, when you have that reaction, everyone around you uses the words to describe your reaction to describe the people who hate you.  Who’s oppression has caused this reaction in the first place.  You have panic attacks when you try to transition because you’ve been bombarded by messages that trans people are terrible and freaks.  Only then, you can’t talk about it.  You can’t say “Oh hey I have a phobia of being trans” because transphobia isn’t anxiety about stepping outside of prescribed gender roles, it’s oppression of people who do that.  Calling oppression of trans people transphobia is likely to be oppressive to trans people.

Fighting bigotry with bigotry isn’t just helping one group at the expense of another, it’s hurting the group you’re trying to help, and makes their oppressors sympathetic. This is, understandably, problematic.

Further, there are relatively reasonable replacements for many common “-phobia” terms, that often serve better to explain what the oppressive forces are.  For example, cissexism much more clearly encompasses all the manifestations of oppression and erasure of transness, not merely the overt violence.

Monosexism, cissexism, and heterosexism are all words that much more clearly discuss how erasure and normativizing one group at the expense of others is a problematic element of society.

(In addition, replacing “phobia” with “-hate” or “-bigotry” can serve to allow discussion of specifically more overt violence, or in cases where there isn’t such an obvious replacement term.)

[Crossposted from here]

Okay how is it that we internalized this idea that ‘offensiveness’ is the problem?

Because I mean seriously, when people make, say, jokes about how trans people are not really their gender and such, the problem isn’t offensiveness. It’s oppressiveness.  You’re not offending someone. YOU’RE HURTING THEM.

Equating being oppressed with being offended is a way to derail the conversation and draw attention away from the fact that oppressive actions are hurting people.

Plus it is so subjective, it’s not like there are dozens of men who are offended by the prospect of women standing up to them, or homophobic fucks who’re offended by seeing gay people show affection, or cissexist asshats who’re offended that you’re not comforming to your patriarchal box.

Offensiveness is comparing me to a slime mold. Kind of maybe painful but not really problematic.  Oppressiveness is mocking me because my gender doesn’t match the one I was coercively assigned, or insisting that should be shut away because of nonneurotypicalness. THIS IS THE SHIT THAT RUINS PEOPLES LIVES.

Something I have heard a lot, often from well meaning people: “Gender is social, sex is biological.” Okay I’ll give you that (mostly).  But then it turns into something like “So your gender can be whatever you want, your sex is the biology, and fixed.”  or even “Your sex is what your genitalia are” (or less often, your genes).  And that is completely bullshit.

Sex is not just genitalia.  That’s something that’s really obvious when you put a couple seconds of thought into.  Genitalia are one part of your body that is pretty much inevitably covered all the time.  Which is to say, for most people you will probably never see their genitalia, unless you’re a doctor or someone who has a specific reason to interact with them en masse.

Ergo, whenever you decide the sex (or gender) of a person, you’re not deciding it based on their genitalia.  Unless they’re an infant who’s just been born, then that’s pretty much the only sexual characteristic you can see.  For that matter, that’s pretty much the case until puberty.  Hence why coercively assigned birth genders are based on that.

And genes are even less important.  Certainly they decide quite a bit about how you develop, but you don’t see them.  A lot of people have probably never seen their genes.  Whether you have one or two X chromosomes is pretty much irrelevant to your interactions with people, except indirectly through how that manifests sexual characteristics.

(I can be pretty certain I have one X chromosome due to the genetics of colorblindness–my maternal grandfather was also color blind and my mom wasn’t, and nobody on my dad’s side of the family was, which is pretty much a situation that’s only possible if you’re genetically male.  But beyond that, I’ve never seen any direct evidence either way as to what my genes are.)

Thus you cannot reduce sex to either genitalia or genetics, as in practice neither are traits used to determine what it is in interactions with people.  But it isn’t just that.  Sex is not one single unambigous trait, it is composed of a large collection of different characteristics (mostly biological, but the line between sociology and biology can get really thin sometimes.)  And these traits are not always unambiguous–intersex people exist for a reason–nor do they necessarily all correspond.  It is entirely possible to have some traits of one sex and some of another.  For example it’s not too hard for trans women to have both breasts and male genitalia, which are both really strongly associated with their respective sexes, but with both it becomes rather hard to rely on either to dictate sex.

(You can, of course, declare people with ambiguous sexual characteristics to be one or the other sex, which you generally can and should do by asking them what they prefer to be.  What you can’t do is reduce their sex to one trait without consulting them on it, especially when other traits directly contradict the one you’re trying to reduce them to.)

Further, many sexual characteristics are really not that unambiguous even on their own.  Even breasts come in a variety of sizes on both men and women, and they can blur together.  And traits like body hair, size, voice, and the like vary more between people than they do between sexes.  As such, sex can become ambiguous on cis people, and what traits you reduce sex to is mostly a judgment call.  And certain characteristics that do have a basis in biology (eg regarding women as more “emotional”, or men as being easily aroused) really blur the line between sex and gender.

The fact is, there is no a priori reason to treat sex as either genetics or genitalia.  The decision to attempt to do so is purely a social construct, and in addition, not particularly practical as neither is readily visible.  And other sexually associated characteristics are even less unambiguous.  Furthermore, such ideas are inherently erasing and discriminatory to trans people who can and are attempting to alter their sex and to intersex people, who cannot really be put into even a biological box in the first place.

This is actually a normal characteristic of language.  Most words refer to a really wide variety of things that may be really ambiguous as to whether the word can apply to them as you move away from the core of the semantic space.  (This is also why I really hate the concept of ‘definitions’ because they tend to create these rigid boundaries between semantic fields that don’t actually exist when you actually speak or think.  Though to be fair they can be useful for scientific jargon.)  This is especially important to be aware of as the tendency for words to imply certain traits that may be pretty fuzzy around the edges or are not universal can easily be used to further oppressive systems, often unintentionally and especially when you are unaware of these things.  (For instance the tendency to assume “person” implies “white” and “male” when not otherwise specified tends to lead to unintentional exclusion of POC and women.)

(Disclaimer: I’m not particularly an expert on semantics–I mostly studied it in high school so I could make my own (naturalistic) languages :P–so I may have screwed up something–and I know I simplified it–in that last bit.)

I am, of course, referring to (LG/GL)BT(Q)(Q)(I)(A)(+more).  Or possibly “QUILTBAG” …I’m actually more a fan of that one because it’s amusing and turns it into an acronym, but it still has the same problem as the initialism.  And that is that it doesn’t really do what it’s supposed to do.

My main problem with it is that is frequently gets used (especially when it’s in one of the short forms) to mean LGB.  Which is to say, it gets used specifically to refer to sexuality.  And people who claim to be in favor of LBGT people may actually not be so friendly to trans people.

So the problem is, I can’t really tell when you use that term whether you actually care at all about the people after the first three letters.  Certainly it could mean you care about trans people.  But the prevalence of people concerned about sexuality using the term to refer to specifically to sexuality while the T is in there basically means “LGBT” has lost any useful meaning, at least as far as trans people are concerned.  If you want to say you support trans people, saying you support GLBT rights is not actually going to tell me of anything.

And while there certainly is a large intersection between the two, at least inasmuch as trans people are probably inevitably going to experience homophobia, the issues and concerns between the two groups aren’t exactly the same, either.  I mean, many of my experience with support groups and the like have been nominally LGBT support groups, but with a “sure you’re welcome, we won’t do anything that actually addresses any of your concerns or your life though” sort of slant.

And while we’re on the topic, the usual words for talking about sexuality are pretty cissexist.  The terms are practically meaningless when nonbinary gender comes into play, and when everyone around you sees your gender as something it isn’t it gets really difficult to talk about your sexuality.  And using bisexual as  a synonym for pansexual has got problems, too.  Obviously.  (If you’re using it to say you’re attracted to only two genders, that’s okay.  I mean, I’ve done that.  …though half the reason for that was because, at the time, saying I was gay would’ve implied to most people that I liked men, which isn’t usually true, and saying I was lesbian would raise some more questions. :P)

But really, I don’t like the term much.  It isn’t so much that it’s problematic as that the T has just been coopted to the point that it can’t clearly be used to be inclusive of trans people.  And to be honest, I tend to be just as frustrated at people who don’t use the term, because that makes it pretty clear that you really don’t care about trans people.

The short version of this is, though, just mention trans people.  Separately from the LGB.

(And while we’re at it, intersex people may feel the same way.  I’m not entirely sure how much that overlaps with trans and how much it needs to be considered something completely seperate, because I’m lacking experience there.  Certainly coercively assigning genders is a serious problem to both.)