Sunday, December 23, 2007

Reflections on Trans Identity

I'm finally finished (for the semester)! Very happy to have some time to myself.

Okay, today's topic:

So, this time of the year has suddenly become even more heavenly for me. Why? Because it's nonstop football and even as much basketball as I can take (for some reason, basketball doesn't interest me nearly as much as college football and certainly the NFL and NBA don't, but I at least watch my school's college basketball team when they're on TV). Well, I was watching a game, and one of the commentators looked "odd" to me. Like...I couldn't tell what his or her sex was. Now, I know firsthand that sports is a sexist and "manly"-oriented world. So, I couldn't believe that they would have a female commentator (i.e. a female commentator the WHOLE GAME and not just intermittently during the game as she's down on the field annoying players and coaches...or perhaps they think of them as eye candy and, thus, not annoying...), and I most certainly couldn't believe that they'd have a TRANS commentator. I've never heard a female commentator an entire game since I've become a fan of sports, and I'd never heard of a transsexual person in sports.

So, I grabbed my lap top and did some research. As far as I can tell, the female commentator really was a female--although she looked like what we associate with transgendered and transsexual people, i.e. men in women's clothing and wigs, and women in men's clothing with short hair--and she even sounded like what many of us associate with trans individuals, i.e. a woman whose voice wasn't exactly feminine. Yet, during my search, I did come across a trans sports commentator. Now, I've been a fan of college football, at least, all year and I still missed this story...probably because I didn't watch Sportscenter and read sports news the way I do now earlier this year when this story broke. Still, this transsexual woman looks more like a "real" woman than the commentator I saw on TV did.

Anyway, finding this out got me thinking. I wrote months ago in my blog that sometimes I sit and think about my relationship to sex and gender. As I was finding stories about Christine Daniels, I would look at any available comments from the public. Some people thought it was great, but a lot of people used words like "sick" and "disgusting." I don't see what's sick or disgusting. And that sentence was my immediate thought...followed by "why not?" Why don't I think something that most people do, even some gays and lesbians and people who are perfectly fine with gays and lesbians? I'm not sure I can say that I've never thought anything was wrong with it. I don't really clearly remember thinking anything about it until I started thinking about what my own gender really is, which I think is key.

In other words, while men and women surely think about their relationship to sex, they never really think about their relationship to gender or question their gender. I think this is due a lot to the fact that many people don't know the difference between sex and gender. "Sex" means sex, i.e. the act, to people. But, put in simplest terms, "sex" really is what we tend to think of as a dual option, i.e. you're either a male or a female (which is not entirely true). While it's become more possible to change sex, sex tends to be pretty static without an operation. Gender is a lot more variable. In fact, I would say that terms many people apply to different queers, such as "butch" and "femme," are terms indicating someone's gender...I don't know what other people would say. Anyway, these things, never being a question or much of a thought to people until they're older (as opposed to homosexuality, i.e. you don't hear "Does your mama know you're a tranny" jokes at elementary school cafeterias), more people feel extremely strongly that there's only man and woman and that something is really wrong with "changing" one's sex and/or gender.

I believe what a lot of people would say about gender and gender roles, i.e. that it's socialized. However, for some people, socialization just doesn't work, and that's an important difference. In some sense, I have never completely accepted that I am a woman, i.e. I couldn't be socialized to fit general ideas about who women are and what they like. It amazes me that so many people make sweeping generalizations about what "all" women like, act like or are looking for, but then I realize that it goes back to socialization and a lack of realization. So I've gotten messages forever about what I'm supposed to be like, but it really just hasn't mattered...not that I don't have prejudices about gender variations, because I do. I don't understand "feminine" fact, they irritate the hell out of me. If a man doesn't like football, he's simply not worth a damn to me because we don't have much else to talk about, especially if they are [feminine] gay men (because I don't know anything about things like musical theatre and fashion, nor do I have any desire to). And I think that women are supposed to "look like women," i.e. long hair or feminine styles at the very least. But just as with my racial prejudices, I have to remind myself of some things, like not all women completely identify with those ideals or would even look right with long hair. As far as the football thing...hmm, can't help that one.

As far as not identifying, I should know better. In fact, being the kind of "woman" that I am is the reason why feminine men and I don't mix. We don't have anything in common. More stereotypical women seem to love feminine gay men, and I think the similarities between them are a huge reason why. But, for me, I've always been good at things that guys are usually good at, and I've always been more interested in "guy stuff" and hanging out with guys. I realize a lot of women are like this, including a lot of queer women. But, although I realize I'm not trans, I still feel a very strong disconnection from femininity and always have. One of my problems with feminine men is not that they aren't living up to standards of masculinity, but that I have a very strong anti-feminine sentiment, i.e. I detest most feminine things and characteristics. Consequently, I feel that I'm the best of both worlds, and I prefer women as friends and romantically who fit that description, as well, and tend to look at more stereotypical women with disdain.

Similarly, I don't understand transitioning from a male to a female, although I do believe the desire is beyond his control. For one thing, I don't understand being born a male with feminine interests. For another, I don't understand giving up the privilege of being male. But, to be sure and clear--I could never see myself trying to pass as a male in any way, and when I say "best of both worlds" I'm signaling that I think some very good feminine qualities do exist. It's just that, in my experience, the majority of stereotypically feminine women and men lack most, if not all, of those good qualities. Or, perhaps put another way, there are stereotypical qualities that aren't used in a good way, such as sensitivity and emotion, in many women. As the stereotype goes, women are too sensitive and emotional. And it's true, but in law school I have met more women than ever before who are sensitive and emotional but to a perfect degree. It's the middle ground of men not thinking about people's feelings at all or demonstrating that they care and women not being overly wrapped up in how they feel or being too mushy/clingy.

Another example is, I think it's natural for a lot of people to care about how they look, but sometimes it's too much...sometimes, you care too much, go too far, take too long, spend too much money, are bitchy about how other people look, let it affect your self-esteem and so on. There's nothing wrong, in my mind, with women who look very feminine and try to--quite the contrary, although it's just not totally right for me. Again, there's a middle ground to be had. The fact that ideas about what I'm supposed to be have always been put out there and I've always subconsciously rejected those ideas because I've never felt they fit me, although I could never know the experience for sure since I'm not trans, I think gives me a little bit better understanding of trans people.

Ultimately, there's nothing sick or disgusting, or even just wrong, about being who you are, even if people can't understand it. I also don't think there's anything "brave" or that much "difficult"--and similar sentiments--about being who you are, which some people commented in relation to Daniels. To me, it's harder to actively try and be someone else, and it's not as if you can change certain things about you--you don't have much of a choice but to be it. I can't help but be black, a female or queer, so I don't think people who are any of these things are brave (and the experiences can be difficult, but simply being isn't. Similarly, announcements concerning identity might be difficult, but I just don't think they're they don't have to be brave or difficult). But they're also not sick or disgusting, as being trans is no more of a choice than race and sex are, although revealing you are is more of a choice.

Although I say this, I've mentioned several things I don't understand in relation to sex and gender. But one of the things I stop to remind myself--and think other people should, too--is that those are things that don't work for me but work perfectly well for others. They're not for my personality or body, but they are for other people's. In other words, I could never have a short haircut or a TV show on which I "help" other people's fashion sense by, I feel, criticizing them and trying to tell them how they "should" dress or decorate their house. Sometimes, it's best to shrug off things you don't understand, or try to learn more about them, rather than deny they exist or respond horribly. That's probably the most useful thing I've learned throughout law school, and it didn't even have anything to do with the curriculum. I guess I can even accept that some men don't love football, but that's something I wish even women would love because it's hard having good female friends who don't want to talk incessantly (or even at all) about my favorite team.

But like I said about the best of both worlds, hey--my two biggest obsessions are probably college football and Celine Dion (which, most men I know who love Celine are gay...but, unfortunately, not really younger guys like the ones at my university...though they do like a lot of female singers, which is also what I tend to like...though not necessarily the same ones). It doesn't get more opposite-worlds than that.