Tuesday, April 29, 2014

On People, Polarization, Panopticons, and #ComplexFeelingsAboutActivism

[note added January, 2017: This essay now appears as a chapter in my third book Outspoken: A Decade of Transgender Activism and Trans Feminism]

I suppose that this is the third installment of a blog-post trilogy that I have unexpectedly written, and which (in different ways) touch on overlapping subjects and sentiments. For those interested, here is the first post and here is the second post...

Over the last month or two, I have had numerous conversations amongst trans woman friends, and quite a few inquiries from other trans-identified and trans-aware folks, about the rather high profile “kerfuffle” (as the excellent Roz Kaveney referred to it in a recent tweet) that has taken place within trans female/feminine spectrum circles recently. I rather vaguely allude to the situation in my recent blogpost a few thoughts on drag, trans women, and subversivism. Other folks have written about it, but my personal favorite synopsis thus far is Jen Richards's recent piece. As with any kerfuffle, I wouldn't be surprised if the principal actors at the center of this story disagree with certain aspects of this particular review. But Richards explores many of the issues regarding community, difference, and consensus (or the lack thereof) that have been on my mind lately. The thing that I appreciate most about the piece is that Richards puts herself into the shoes of others, not to be presumptive or to replace their viewpoints with her own, but rather to try to understand where they are coming from. It was a refreshing change of pace from the this-camp-is-evil/oppressive/censoring/humorless/hurtful versus this-camp-is-righteous/oppressed/human/less-pretentious/more-like-you-dear-readers dichotomy that has formed the backbone of most descriptions of this kerfuffle thus far.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Personal History of the “T-word” (and some more general reflections on language and activism)

[note added January, 2017: This essay now appears as a chapter in my third book Outspoken: A Decade of Transgender Activism and Trans Feminism]

Important disclaimer: This is but one trans woman’s take on what has become a highly controversial term. I have penned it in the (perhaps implausible) hope of fostering more nuanced and historically situated dialogue about the word, and about language more generally. This piece is primarily intended for other trans folks, and for that reason, I have posted it on my blog rather than a more heavily trafficked or broader LGBTQ-themed website. People who are not trans-identified are free to read this, of course, but please realize that this is a personal blog, and not a space intended to serve as a platform for you to voice your opinions about the word—I suggest that you go elsewhere to do that if you are so inclined. Anyone who presumes that I am advocating for the continual usage of the word, or who cites this essay as evidence that they have “permission” to use said word, has clearly misread this piece and/or are blatantly misrepresenting my views. The vast majority of this essay was written in 2013, and it should not in any way be interpreted as me “taking a side” in any recent peripheral debates that have taken place within trans female/feminine spectrum communities lately. This is a substantial piece (with notes, it is over 10,000 words!), so I encourage readers to refrain from judgments until they have read the entire thing, as this piece may take some unexpected turns. Finally, some trans people find the word that I will be discussing to be very upsetting, so they should take this as a trigger warning that I will be using the “T-word” (sans abbreviations, hyphens, and asterisks) throughout this piece.

Language evolves. Words that were once commonplace now come off as anachronistic. And words that once had good or neutral connotations are now seen as problematic or politically incorrect, and vice versa. It happens all the time. But within my own lifetime, I can’t think of a single word that has undergone such a quick and dramatic shift as the word “tranny” has, particularly with regards to how it is used within transgender spectrum communities.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

a few thoughts on drag, trans women, and subversivism

For decades (and still to this day), radical feminists have argued that drag is an inherently conservative phenomenon in that it reinforces the patriarchy. Twenty years ago, queer theorists retorted that drag was inherently subversive, in that it deconstructed binary notions of gender. Interestingly, what both of these very different feminist camps shared was a belief that transsexuality was inherently conservative, assimilationist, and reinforced the gender system.

I just thought that this was worth pointing out in the wake of arguments that have been playing out on the Internets lately between some trans women who suggest that trans women who don't appreciate drag are conservative and assimilationist, and other trans women who suggest that drag (and the trans women who appreciate it) is conservative and assimilationist. I am not linking to any pieces here, as this post is not intended to be a "call out" of individuals. Rather, I feel the need to point out the subversivist nature of these arguments, and how they happen over and over again in feminist, queer, and progressive circles.