Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Transitive Thoughts: Uncut

This is the long version of the Huffington Post article in it's complete, unedited form:

Over the course of this past weeks, I have experienced more profound doubt about my gender transition than at any other time since I earnestly began my journey last December. As the anniversary approaches, I cannot help but notice the gradual yet significant decline in social acceptance, which appears to correlate with becoming visibly further feminized. As anyone who takes the path of transition is painfully aware, there are many obstacles to overcome on the way to acceptance. Family, friends, and co-workers are the front lines in the battle for authenticity and can often make or break the transgender individual.

Perceptions of invalidation (e.g., certain telling facial expressions, length and nature of others' eye contact, nonverbal body language, misgendering), however small, build a composite picture of how society tends to view and react to you. Patterns of biases, sensitivities, and preoccupations become strikingly apparent. It is the culmination of experiencing isolated social slights, viewing inaccurate and unflattering media representations, and learning of the constant violence perpetrated against other transgender individuals that makes it seem as though the whole of society is actively attempting to prevent you from being - and being seen and accepted as - anything other than a member of your gender designated at birth. Others' willful denial of your personal truth and constant questioning of your authentic emotions and intentions communicates a deep disapproval that ostrasizes, exhausts, and disheartens.

Misgendering a trans woman, especially after having heard her referred to as a woman or having heard the correct female pronouns used in reference to her or by the individual herself, is frequently a deliberate act. This act is meant to communicate to us "I know what you REALLY are," and serves to invalidate us by denying our autonomous perspective. Intentional misgendering says "This is a game" (as opposed to the reality of our life experience), "I have the power" (as opposed to honoring an individual's power to define themselves) and "I am not playing by your rules" (because I have dismissed them as unworthy, unacceptable, or inauthentic). When someone decides to call someone presenting as female a "man" or someone with male presentation a "woman," it is a deliberate attempt to demean that person, “othering” them and exposing their identity and personhood as "invalid."

Recently, I have been experiencing difficulties from transitioning in the workplace, issues that are repeatedly experienced by all but a very small minority of those of us who transition in-situ whilst remaining with our pre-transition employer

Some of the abuse comes from a lack of understanding. Some of it comes from religious background. To some I am a freak, to others I am the devil. This reflects the experience of the majority of the transgender community.

In addition to facing what is becoming a hostile work environment, last week I was misgendered and questioned over which single-occupancy restroom I used while visiting a local bar. Due to the immense pressure to conform to social expectations and the desire to rid myself of the daily alienation I had been feeling, a few dreadful, nagging question crossed my mind demanding to be addressed: If “gender identity cannot and should not be changed” (The National Center for Lesbian Rights, 2014), and conscious change in physical presentation and appearance is the only possible way to liberate oneself from these degrading social harms, would my life be any better if I temporarily detransitioned to try and stabilize my current situation? In other words, if the act of transitioning coincides with the increase in social rejection and job insecurity I have been struggling through, can I neutralize the cause and experience a reprieve from those negative effects? While I had decided long ago that suppressing my sense of self was no longer an option, as recent events unfolded, they called into question whether I can truly accomplish what I seek in my transition.

To equip myself with the knowledge necessary for answering this question about detransition honestly and realistically, I committed myself to extensive introspection and research.

Speaking from first-person perspective, I have always been a girl. I have always walked with a natural sway. I have always communicated using my hands. My facial expressions, demeanour and mannerisms have been commented on by others throughout my life. I was also always assumed to have been gay even though I had never found all but a handful of extremely feminine men attractive and exclusively dated women. My body was modified by testosterone to make me fit the male role that was decided for me at birth, and my transition was to completely undo those effects. A truly lofty goal that with hindsight potentially set me up for failure, or at best, my recent doubts. The same desire to become thinner, more feminine than I already was, and dare I say, pretty. The same desire that so many refer to as "passing" in the community. This destructive need to feel that we will somehow match the feminine ideal, or for my trans brothers, the masculine ideal, is something that we must conquer in addition to seeking to aleviate the external pressures.

We are constantly bombarded with the idea that we must appear to be as close as possible to the feminine or masculine ideal laid out in fashion magazines, the media, T.V., and the movies. For a As trans women, we generally expect ourselves to be thin, pretty, have large breasts and small yet noticeable curves. Trans men generally expect themselves to be buff, muscular, and tall. We must seek to free ourselves from the burden of destructive perfectionism. We must come to accept that just as there are many different shapes and sizes of cisgender individuals, there will be many different shapes and sizes of transgender individuals. The fashion ideal kills some cisgender women, just as it kills some transgender women. Bodily dysphoria is not just a transgender issue, it's also an issue that affects society as a whole. Unfortunately, the effect on our community, one that suffers greatly the crippling effects of dysphoria, is markedly greater.

It has become apparent to me that we need to come to terms with what is physically attainable, and what is not. We need to stop modeling ourselves on the cisgender ideal. While I have the utmost respect for Laverne Cox, Carmen Carrera, and all other transgender women who fit the media model of beauty that the vast majority of us will never attain, we need to stop comparing ourselves to them. Instead, we need compare ourselves to where we were before we started transitioning, and where we are now. We need to embrace those positive changes that occur in our minds, and to our bodies - to love and accept what we have and who we are, rather than try to model ourselves on others or compare ourselves to how others look. No matter how dysphoric, how masculine you might feel that you look, there are cisgender women who are far more masculine and far less closely represent the normative image of attractiveness. The majority of us will not be fashion models, we will not develop the perfect figure, and we won't be accepted by people outside our community until we start to accept ourselves. Self-acceptance breeds confidence, and confidence is what's needed to help change opinion around us.

DISCLAIMER:

The identities of those who detransition do not delegitimize the identities of trans people.
Universalizing the individual experience of detransition is a fallacious tactic which, when employed, is a detriment to all transgender people who deserve social validation of their identities.
Attempting to universalize any experience is inherently oppressive. This includes the emotional response of regret as well as the physical act of detransitioning. (Detransition And Trans* Regret).

There are many reasons why a trans person would not be logistically able to alter their external appearance through medical transition, including but not limited to the financial burden of transitioning, the threat transitioning might pose to their current employment situation or living arrangement, as well as a myriad of other equally valid personal reasons. In addition, ability and practicality aside, some trans* people simply do not feel that medical transition is a step necessary for reaching their goals, finding happiness, and gracing the world with their authentic selves.  Still, many trans people, especially those with a binary trans identity, have the desire to alter their presentation in some way so that it more closely aligns with their gender identity.

Gender Advocacy Training & Education (GATE) conducted the “2011 Transition Survey,” a study meant to examine “the impacts of medically‐assisted transition (the process of changing one’s outward gender presentation with hormones and/or surgery to better align with one’s gender identity) on the lives of 448 transgender people” (Close, 2011, p.1). The sample included a diverse sample of individuals who identified as “men, women, or a non-binary gender (something other than exclusively man or woman)” (Close, 2011, p.1). As depicted in the following graph of rates of post-transition satisfaction, this study found that of those who transitioned, 94% of trans* people reported that their quality of life improved, 96% reported that that their sense of well-being improved, and approximately 90% said that their overall personality improved (Close, 2011).

Including the participants who had undergone both hormone therapy and gender confirmation surgery (GCS), the overall transition satisfaction rate never dipped lower than 90%. Clearly this study supports the assertion that, for the large majority of people who choose and are able to undergo medical transition, the increase in the alignment between their external appearance and their gender identity as a result result  is markedly more favorable and significantly more affirming than their experience prior. Despite the evidence illustrating that the overwhelming majority of transitioners experience substantial if not complete satisfaction, I was still amazed to learn that approximately 1% of transgender men and women who transition do ultimately decide to follow through with detransitioning, and do so for exactly for the same reasons I contemplated it myself: self-acceptance, acceptance in the workplace, acceptance by friends and family, and acceptance by society as a whole.

However, this is far from the whole story.

Of those who do detransition, the vast majority regret that decision. Anti-LGBT websites repetitively and disproportionately publicize stories featuring a handful of people who claim that they truly regret transitioning. The number of people who actually do seem to have regrets do so not based on alterations of their personal identities or the absence of a need to present as their true gender, however. The regret these individuals feel stems from the reactions they receive from society. The disdain of and exclusion from those to whom they are closest - and for whom the acceptance of their authentic selves matters most - is so deeply affecting that it causes them to regret the painful interactions and damaged relationships. An unfortunate reality of being transgender is the very high likelihood of facing disapproval, ridicule, and exclusion within some of one's most intimate, meaningful relationships. Spouses, partners, children, parents,friends, schools, neighbors, or church leaders may not support the desperate need to transition because it is a path they are unwilling to understand or condone. Misgendering, disownment, aversion, and violence are not behaviors that are relegated to unnamed bigoted strangers. None of those who vocally express their displeasure will take into account the unique wishes, beliefs, feelings or needs of the other person.

Being misgendered or harassed is not about the choice to transition. These behaviors are about some people’s unwillingness to respect others’ decisions even when they have very little if any effect on them personally. Intentional misgendering as a form of harassment says nothing whatsoever about one's overt appearance, progress, attractiveness, or personhood. Sadly, although the burden of responsibility for experiencing and expressing this prejudice should be that of the perpetrator, the trans people who are victimized by these actions must deal with the resulting interpersonal and institutional discrimination, often with very little consideration from those in positions of power capable of alleviating these outcomes.

One of the most public accounts of detransition is the story of L.A. Times sportswriter Christine Daniels. In 2007 they publicly announced their trans identity. Approximately a year later, Christine Daniels detransitioned, reassuming the name Mike Penner. Within two years of their initial decision to transition, Mike Penner committed suicide. Christine worked in the same office as their wife, who had expressed her wish to avoid contact with Christine and subsequently initiated a very painful divorce. In addition to having experienced this difficult loss in their personal life, Christine’s sportswriting career made them a public figure in L.A., where they were known as a visibly trans woman and received many criticisms regarding their looks. The decision to detransition was apparently based on a desire to reunite with their wife, which,despite Christine following through with this decision,did not ultimately happen.

Although she did not fully detransition, the now infamous Renée Richards is an example of someone who was not satisfied with their decision to undergo GCS (gender confirmation surgery) and voiced regrets about the process of transitioning more generally. Various accounts from those who knew Renée as well as a few of her public statements in interviews indicate that her regret was due to the negative effects transitioning had on her life and the lives of her family members. Richards has since been wary of the effectiveness of the transitioning process and in opposition to surgical procedures more specifically. Although she continues to warn fans against transition when they request her advice, according to various news outlets, she has assumed the role of Bruce Jenner’s transition coach .

Richards is quoted as saying:

"It's not something for somebody in their 40s to do, someone who's had a life as a man, - - - If you're 18 or 20 and never had the kind of (advantages) I had, and you're oriented in that direction, sure, go ahead and make right what nature didn't. But if you're a 45-year-old man and you're an airline pilot and you have an ex-wife and three adolescent kids, you better get on Thorazine or Zoloft or Prozac or get locked up or do whatever it takes to keep you from being allowed to do something like this.''
- Renée Richards, The Associated Press, February 1999.

I finally had to acknowledge and accept the fact that I will continue to struggle with social ills like transphobia and transmisogyny for the rest of my life and that calling a “time-out” from the negative repercussions of social prejudice is not a realistic option. It became clear that suppressing myself after working so hard on coming to terms with who I am would be to the detriment of my mental and emotional health. detransitioning would perpetuate the very preexisting dangers which caused me to investigate and ultimately pursue transition with steadfast conviction approximately one year ago. Regardless of whether or not stalling the progress I have been making with my transition would alleviate some of the external dangers I have been facing, doing so wouldonly alter others' perceptions of my presentation, not erase my identity. Halting the logistical process of paperwork, hormones, and presentation would not assuage my undeniable yearning for society's perception of me to be congruent with my perception of myself. As Brynn Tannehill stated in her keynote speech at the 2014 TransPride National Convention, “...establishing our realness, and gaining acceptance of who we are doesn’t start with convincing other people we are real […] The difference between tolerance and acceptance is our spiritual survival. Even more specifically, though, our goal is acceptance of our identities, both internal, and external.”This overwhelming need for both ourselves and others to accept and validate our true gender identities is what makes detransition a non-option for me because in choosing external approval, I would necessarily be sacrificing my sense of self.

Knowing the necessity of both transition and social acceptance, I lament that there is no simple fix for the pervading intolerance and hatefulness exhibited by a significant portion of today's society. I believe with conviction that the only way to challenge and ultimately change others' stereotypes, intolerance, and prejudice is by living authentically as an example. The pressure from society to conform to the idea of a gender binary is great. This pressure causes many trans people to live in fear rather than to live authentically, at times feeling as though detransition is the only avenue which might allow themto retain the relationships and abilities that matter most to them in life. The normativity of traditional binary gender roles contributes to the remarkably high suicide rate of transgender people. Institutional and interpersonal discrimination will continue to claim the lives of trans people until the existing social climate undergoes radical change. The transgender community is not large enough or strong enough to do this by ourselves. We need the help of our allies to fight the pervading transphobia and anti-transgender sentiment plaguing the majority of Western society today.

Trans people need your help. In order to promote an accepting and informed public opinion, we need need assistance educating the general public, exposing falsehoods about trans identities, and increasing the visibility of authentic trans narratives in mainstream media. To put it frankly, although there are exceptions, the majority of mainstream “LGBT” organizations have demonstrated their lack of knowledge and preparedness when it comes to acting as authentic allies to transgender people.

While many forms of systematic oppression overlap within the queer and trans communities, the resources and solutions needed to combat transphobia, transmisogyny, and violence against trans POC are not exactly the same resources and solutions that have been made the most prevalent and publicized in the current and ongoing LGB legislative and social agenda. Marriage equality and freedom from discrimination based on sexual preference legislation often negate to speak to the disproportionate level of discrimination and acts of violence against those within the transgender community.

The LGB have repeatedly faltered in their demonstrations of allyship, inclusivity, and compassion. To celebrate our successes together and enjoy the liberation of establishing and maintaining our fundamental human rights together, we have to stand together. None of us is safe and free i this world until we are all safe and free. The first step in actualizing our mutual goals is to make the inclusion of  transgender people in LGB groups and organizations the standard. Taking the time to listen is and will continue to be integral in understanding that the while the social resources and institutional rights that the trans community needs (and of which we are systematically deprived) often overlap with the LGB (marriage equality and adoption rights being two offhand examples), our social standing and therefore the solutions for combating it are certainly not identical to those of the LGB. Empathy for one another should be an effective motivator for individuals to educate themselves so that we can gain real footing in changing some of the external factors that regularly result in the deaths of our friends and chosen family members.

We cannot do this alone. LGB brothers and sisters, we need your help to educate the general public and to help us change public opinion. But first we need to come together. There is a perception within the transgender movement that mainstream LGBT organizations have for many years brushed aside the transgender community. On paper, this does appear to have been the case. However, objectively, one can see that the transgender community shares some of the blame. We have failed to educate the LGB adequately on transgender issues, and have been quick to assign blame when we're not invited to the table. I would like to urge those of you involved in the struggle for human rights to please consider how your organization can help the transgender community catch up in earnest. We have been fighting with you since the very early days of the gay rights movement. Please consider fighting alongside us now, in this our time of need. If you are part of a group with an LGBT focus, please include transgender people in your groups and organizations. I ask that you listen to our needs with open minds and embracing hearts, and allow yourselves to become educated on our commonalities and our differences. 

We have been fighting with you since the very early days of the gay rights movement. Please consider fighting alongside us now, in our time of need. We need your help as much as we need to help ourselves.

In close, I wish to thank Jac Cichocki, on whom I greatly relied for their research skills, their empathy, and their strength. Thank you <3