As a transgender person currently living in central PA, it is not an exaggeration to say that I sometimes feel disenfranchised. Having been denied housing on my college campus was enough of a kick in the face that I sort of had the feeling that things were hopeless. I can’t imagine why, but there remains some animosity perhaps left over from the 80’s, or maybe because people are still reading Janice Raymond’s Transsexual Empire, but I think there still needs to be healing between feminists and trans activists.
It is a conflict that I still see today, and I have been having trouble explaining it. As a trans person I feel the consequences of patriarchy in a way that I always thought would have most other feminists would appreciate and would affirm what we’ve all been saying for years. We should make natural allies. I think feminism today has made tremendous strides towards being more trans-inclusive, and reading the posts on this and many other blogs has done nothing but confirm this.
However, I think there is still more healing that needs to be done, especially after a legacy of brilliant feminist scholars who deliberately shut the door of inclusion in the face of their trans family. A point of contention that I think needs to be addressed is the argument about essence. I think there has been an unfortunate history of trans rhetoric where we have been tempted to explain our experiences away as being ‘trapped in the wrong body’. This is not to imply that there are valid reasons for this characteristic. I think this rhetoric has come about as a result of a political structure that requires an essentialist and permanent explanation for minority gender experiences. But if we are ‘trapped in the wrong body’, does that mean that gender cannot be a social construction? Is there something about the male body that requires a male mind or the female body that requires a female mind? Or to push it even farther, why are we still talking about minds and bodies like Descartes?
Someone once told me: “you don’t ever hear about a white person born into a black body because with racism, we know that it is our society and not our skin that is the problem.” I pondered this statement wondering if my gender identity could be reasoned out of me. I think perhaps the way that we’ve been framing our identities helps contribute to the essentialism that is ultimately oppressing us. As though we have to define our bodies by the expectations of those who know nothing of gender.
The truth…or at least my truth… is that the problem with trans folks is their society, not their bodies. I obviously don’t speak for all trans people, but I have to admit that I am just fine with my body as it is! It’s the way that everyone else is giving my body labels and ascribing it expectations that don’t fit it that I have more of a problem with. I’m not on hormones because I think it will make me more of a woman, am I am on hormones because of everyone else. So that they won’t reject me when I try to use the restroom, or use the wrong pronouns with me, so that they see me for whom I am. My struggles are the fault of a society and a western epistemology that characterizes gender as a fixed essence, not my own. And as soon as I (and hopefully other trans folks and feminists alike) stop making it about bodies and more about society, we will continually hurt ourselves with our own words.