Saturday, March 6, 2010

With friends like these...

"Allies actually further the erasure of trans people in queer communities by only admitting to a related relationship, an abstract, and not a real and inherent one." - gudbuy t'jane

About a year back I was on a forum, and the issue of trans came up, and someone made a post talking about men and makeup/treatments/whatevers. I was genuinely confused about whether they were talking about trans men, cis men, or trans women. It could have applied to any of them. So I politely (no, really) explained that I didn't understand what the person meant and asked, if they were talking about trans women, to use the correct gendered terms.

The reply? Something along the lines of "I support you so I get to call you whatever I want".

I sincerely hope this person is in a vast minority, but I somehow doubt it (*waves to the genuinely supportive cis people out there* You guys rock! This post isn't about you!). If you aren't sure what's so bad about this, I'll try to explain.

First of all- it implies that you can be supportive while intentionally misgendering. If it's done out of confusion or misunderstanding, and is corrected when informed that it's insulting to misgender people- that's one thing. But if you're at the point of being able to say you understand trans* issues enough to be supportive, you should at least know the basics. The core concept is that "Regardless of the body we were born in we are the gender we know ourselves to be". And, yes, the gender v. sex terms confuse even me, but man/woman(neutrois/androgyne) are simple enough. What sex a trans woman is might be confusing, especially if she's started transitioning. Is it okay to use 'male' for non/pre-op trans men because that refers to sex? But gender is basic- regardless of what sex she is, a trans woman is a woman.

Correctly gendering someone is a huge bit of difference between accepting and not. Calling a male-to-female a (trans) woman expresses that you acknowledge her womanhood despite the birth defect. Calling her a (trans) man expresses that you're ignoring who she knows herself to be and instead are focusing on what society incorrectly labeled her as and are erasing her experiences. It suggests that she isn't really a woman, and that she's a man no matter what she does. It adds to the idea that trans people are faking or pretending or otherwise trying to trick poor 'normal' people and villainizes them.

Second- we don't owe anyone anything. We certainly don't owe this person anything! This person clearly doesn't accept us. What they're really saying is "I tolerate you freaks, so for putting up with you I get to treat you how I want". And even if they had correctly gendered trans women and were good and polite and respectful, we still wouldn't owe them for it. It would be appropriate to be patient with any mistakes they made later (note- patient, not bending over and taking it, patiently explaining) if they're clearly trying to be respectful, but I think that's true of everyone who isn't obviously being a complete jerk.

Acceptance is not, should not, can not be a bargaining chip. The very suggestion of "because I accept you, you owe me" is problematic. It suggests that accepting us is such a huge favor, a giant sacrifice, that we owe them for making it. I couldn't say to a cisgendered person "I accept what you identify as gender-wise. You owe me for that." If I tried, they'd laugh in my face! The idea that we owe someone for accepting us only makes it clear that they see us as the 'other', as less acceptable, and that accepting us is a favor that they go out of their way to do rather than the way things should be naturally. There's nothing wrong with who we are- that isn't how it should be.

This person is (or thinks they are) throwing us a bone, and for that bone they expect us to roll over and take whatever they deal out. They don't even care that the bone is now a brittle thing, all the marrow has already been sucked out and no dog on the planet would touch it. And even if it were the juiciest bone ever, that isn't how it works. Or it shouldn't be.

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