The importance of the growing audibility of trans voices is first of all that it is leading to greater legal protection for people with varying gender expressions – essential steps towards giving trans people protection from discrimination and abuse. Also, through this process we are learning more and more that ‘male’ and ‘female’ are not adequate terms to describe human gender in the first place. They are not even adequate to describe the experiences of trans gender people themselves. I’ve previously argued that the best hope we have for the liberation of both women and men, and I extend these definitions to both cis and trans groups, is the eradication of patriarchal structures that pen genders into prescribed roles and behaviours. I would argue now that the trans gender community is in the unique position of being able to take the leading baton of this charge out of the hands of feminism, yet still as part of the same team.
Expansion of gender definitions and the dismantlement of assigned gender behaviours is undeniably in the interest of trans gender people, but it lies dauntingly in the need for the trans community to assert its ‘difference’ as fearlessly as the LGB community has. Difference does not mean inferiority or irrelvance, even if it is a minority experience. And who is to say that it truly is minority? Difference can mean the considered, studied, lived experience of divergence from established ‘norms’, and it has only ever been the expression of difference, of divergence, that has changed human thinking.
Laurie Penny, genderqueer author, in her article ‘How To Be A Genderqueer Feminist’ talks about a ‘perfect world’ where she wouldn’t feel the need to call herself genderqueer because it is a world devoid of sexism and gender oppression, and points out the evident absence of such a world. I would argue that ‘perfect’ worlds populated by humans are not created, they are shaped, they’re fought for. The on-going fight for LGB people to live without fear of abuse and discrimination has not made strides through gays, lesbians and bi-sexuals attempting to justify their sexual preferences, or make them palatable to the wider population, it has experienced ‘wins’ by convincing more and more people that difference, divergence from social ‘norms’ is not just a human right, but that difference is actually OK. It’s OK to be different.
The trans gender community, with the help of the genderqueer community, the LGB community and feminists, and even TERF feminists, needs to make this stand as well. We need to take the experience of dysmorphia, of exclusion, of transition, of difference, and we need to own it. Trans gender people need to own their bodies and push for the inclusion of the recognition of their stories as being every bit as fundamental to human experience as cis gender people, and that their divergence from social ‘norms’ gives it a ‘special’ but equal status. Recognizing its difference is the only way to win the fight for its freedom. It may be more comfortable in our imperfect world to cling to the medical, political and societal definitions of what human beings are, but if trans gender people are to live without fear it can only come from challenging and extending the current accommodation of difference in society, through reinventing those definitions. It must come from the far more radical and perilous position of fearlessly identifying as trans gender, and convincing societies to accept that as a legitimate, separate, gender identity with as much right of protection as any other. It is only through gradually breaking down the stigma of difference that we may create our perfect world, where we are no longer gendered, but simply human.
Challenging the stigma surrounding the term is what will bring about the liberation of trans gender people, far more than demanding assimilation into group to which our bodies have already determined we can never fully belong. The former is revolution, the latter is the ever-conservative aim of equality, a mere demand for the same advantages and disadvantages as those whose oppression has already been endorsed by patriarchal structures. People with experience of gender dysmorphia are in the privileged position of being able to see clearer than any other section of society, the limitations and dogma of those structures. Why encourage the dissipation of that crucial knowledge by forcing the victim to conform to the constructions of their oppressor? Why blunt the weapon that can pierce those structures for us all?
In the last few weeks, the un-nuanced remarks of Germaine Greer (unworthy of her far more nuanced achievements in The Female Eunuch and The Whole Woman), have caused more hurt than I think she intended, but ironically, I believe they do provide a starting block for trans liberation. Greer’s life work has centred on dismantling the construction of gender that has put cis-women at a disadvantage throughout history, and it is arguable that an FTM or MTF trans gender person while experiencing their own distinct disadvantages in society, does not have automatic reference to these disadvantages for the duration of their lives. MTF people can overcome those particular disadvantages through their gender reassignment and assimilation to the dubious status of ‘bloke’, whereas MTF people are born into the privileged position of the male even if they bravely relinquish that in their physical transition. As is the case for genderqueer people, we never fit fully into either, because gender binaries are exclusive and ignore our real experience of there being a spectrum of gender expression. Greer, by stating (albeit more crudely) that surgery does not make gender perhaps gives us a public platform upon which we can first of all agree that it doesn’t, since it is just a surgical imagining of gender (designed mostly by men), and that birth assignment of gender does not either. It opens the debate, but it is first a debate that the trans and genderqueer community need to have ourselves. The outrage expressed at Greer’s statement that ‘a lot of women don’t think [MTF people] look like, sound like or behave like women’, we must admit, confirms one of the deep-seated anxieties of trans people, that they cannot ‘pass’ for their reassigned gender, therefore it is not a simple expression of cis-transphobia, it is the affirmation of the trans community’s own fears. We have to own that. We have to accept that re-assignment surgical procedures do not slot us smoothly into the other gender. We have to come to terms that in and of itself, that might be OK. It might be something we can be proud of.
The only way it is not going to matter to society or to trans people how ‘passable’ they are is if trans people first demand it of themselves that it not matter, and then show others that it needn’t matter too. So what if they don’t ‘pass’? So what if we are not considered authentically male or female? Should it mean they are any less entitled to be treated with dignity? Should we not deserve legal protection from abuse and discrimination if they don’t conform to binary definitions and gendered pageantry? By doing away with the need for being considered a ‘passable’ member of the opposite birth sex in order to be accepted, and instead by embracing our trans identity, by being proud of not fitting neatly into male or female categories, by demanding that our beautiful difference be enfranchised into our culture and doing away with the conservative need to be a member of one or other gender just as Germaine Greer’s feminism has encouraged cis-women to break from the shackles of indentured oppression, perhaps then, people can be free. And I mean all people – trans, cis or other.