An online space for queer, questioning, lesbian, bi, trans and everything else in between women at Yale

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

IvyQ: Let's start with the similarities

This past weekend I attended my first educational presentation on Trans issues at the First Annual Ivy Q Conference. Before this workshop, my knowledge and understanding of what it means to be trans was practically non-existent. In order to speak about trans issues “we need to start with the similarities”, Allyson Robinson, our speaker and HRC Associate Director of Diversity said. In cold and humbling honesty, before the workshop “I could not understand transgender individuals”; I was respectful of the transgender community, but mostly thought of how I could not wrap my mind around why someone would be transgender. I recognize my ignorance, which is precisely why I am so thankful for this past weekend’s workshop. (If you're interested in seeing it, I can find you the link to the video).

“Would you take this million dollar check... under the sole condition that you undergo a sex reassignment surgery?” No. I wouldn’t. But why? Because I don’t feel myself to be a man, I do not consider myself to be a man, and most likely because all my life I have been socialized to be a woman, were my answers. “As a kid were you ever reprimanded for doing something that only girls/boys were supposed to do?” The audience shared a number of stories of boys playing with Barbies and being called out for it, and of girls not being allowed to be “boyish” after a certain age around adolescence. At birth we are assigned a sex, Allyson said, “it is the only time when it’s acceptable to call a person it.” Sex is more than genitals, it is hormonal, and genetic as well, but let’s be honest, I paraphrase, no one runs DNA tests on a baby, they check to see what? If has a penis! And at birth, right then and there, we impose a sex on a person, a sex that carries a gender and has a whole set of social norms attached to it.

The “Trans 101” that Allyson assumed most of us had had was essentially a portrait of political correctness, of separation, and of otherness. And while I had not had a similar workshop, her explanation still very much portrayed my previous conceptions. In your Trans 101, she said, they defined for you a series of terms: trans man, trans woman, transgender…., then they showed you a series of terms that they recommend you don’t use, then they told you that transgender issues were something separate and completely removed from you…The problem with this approach is that it presents transgender individuals as fundamentally different and separate from you; it makes them the other; and it generates a position of power and of oppression. It is because of those frameworks, she said, that someone on the street can call me it.

There is a spectrum of gender, and there is even a spectrum of sex, although we tend to think of them in terms of a male-female binary. Most of us fall somewhere within it, although some may not feel represented by it. With regards to gender, Allyson argued that there are three components to it: gender identity, how you identify; gender expression, how you express gender; and gender attribution, how others perceive you and whether they consider you male or female. For some people these three components are aligned; for others, such as the boys playing with Barbies, there is a bit of a disconnect between the three; and for others, such as transgender individuals, the gap between the three is much wider. So, the difference is not a fundamental one that separates us, since we all experience these three components of gender; rather, the difference is in the gaps.

The message was a powerful one, a thought-provoking one, and certainly an eye-opening one as well: “Let’s start with the similarities,” so that we don’t alienate each other, and so that we never have a justification to call our brothers and sisters “it”.


Steve said...

This was the highlight of my weekend and I'm so glad you took such diligent notes. Do you know where the video will be posted?

Virtù said...

I'm waiting to hear back from my friend who filmed it, I'll post the link as soon as he gets back to me :)

It's a boi's life... said...

At this point in my life I tread the gap between male and female. Often I exist in a grey area that is slightly uncomfortable for the people I meet. I am never entirely sure what gender people think I am and how they are reacting to me. I look for signs and clues, but often I am as lost as they are. I wish I could stop thinking about my gender. I wish I could wake up tomorrow morning and my constant questioning simply disappear with my dreams from the night before. I wish I could roll over and feel refreshed for the first time in years instead of confronting the perpetual anger I feel. I am soft where I should be hard and short where I should be tall. I squeeze into my saving grace and go to wash the sleepers from my eyes. I see my reflection in the mirror. I think about my face- its slightly angular but feminine jaw. I like that. I think about my pants- that do not fit quite right because I have slight hips that I try to hide under slightly baggy clothing. I think about my voice- strong with the occasional excited lilt. I think about my chest and arms- I feel a sense of pride that they are large and muscular. I realize that I made them that way and I had a hand in changing my body for the better. I shrug my shoulders. Yeah I am different, but maybe different is okay.

Allyson Robinson said...

Wow, you *did* take really good notes!

I'm so glad the workshop was meaningful to you. Thanks for being so open about your preconceptions here and for helping to educate others! You were a really great group -- I had a lot of fun with you that day.

Anonymous said...

Wish I had gone to that workshop!