Monday, 7 September 2009

Why academic writing on trans is pretty shite, short version

Has it ever occurred to anyone academic that we just might simply be mistaken about sexes and genders every now and then when we do the initial, forced sexing? Anyone?

(have been browsing Transgender Studies Reader. It's pretty awful reading, to be honest. I'm not sure if I can manage to read it all - the mistakes and the hate reeks so badly. If I was a Roman Catholic I'd perform an exorcism on the book)

I'll write something better when I'm up to it. But yeah, it makes for pretty godawful reading.


  1. Oh crap, I just bought the Transgender Studies Reader. I was under the impression that it would be critiquing transphobic academics, not perpetuating transphobia. Thanks for the heads up, I guess I'll still try to read it at some point, but I'll have to remember to be on my guard.

  2. Well, it's not so much that it's blatantly transphobic - and besides, I would expect such a book to have a wide selection of everything - from Raymond to the most progressive thinkers.

    What disappoints me is that there doesn't seem to be anyone who proceeds from:

    a) sexes and genders are real, even on a biological, physiological level


    b) there are plenty more of both than just two or three, and we're not too good in deciding who is which.

    I don't find it very troubling that we aren't able to accurately determine babies' sexes and genders at birth - what bothers me is the forced, ongoing masculinisation or feminisation that then follows, even when it's pretty plain the forced socialisation does not work, does not fit the child, and is violent to boot.

    Anyway (I hope I'm making sense here - I'll write about this at length when I've the time), my main point is that academic writing on trans issues skirts around the TSity bit, because it's a) a bit too essentialist, as in many trans women and men feel they really are women and men - it's not performative or anything, and b) writing about it would highlight the writer's perhaps still somewhat unreconstructed views on how this sexing-at-birth goes - cis sexes and genders still aren't seen quite as performed of unreal as trans sexes and genders are. I'll dig out examples later - reading that stuff is pretty hard on my emotions.

  3. Eh, I have to add that I don't think the book is bad - it's representative all right - it's just that the way (mostly cis) academics write about the lives of people like me feels really alienating, strange and ultimately disturbing and appropriating - as if my life was free material for cis academics to ponder, with no consequences. Unfortunately, they do have consequences, and it's people like me who have to bear them, not the cis academics.

  4. Thanks for the clarification. I guess I was expecting/hoping there would be more articles by trans academics, or at least by cis academics whose writing didn't feel alienating and appropriating. This is something I ponder with my own writing as well - I do want to write about trans issues on my anti-oppression blog, but fear I'll come up with some cis privileged bullshit. So, I guess I'll need to continue reading and unpacking my privilege.

    Would you say that Anne Fausto-Sterling satisfies both your criteria (a & b)? I noticed that she isn't featured in the Transgender Studies Reader, but I haven't read anything by her yet, just about her.

    I'm looking forward to your comments on the book. :)

  5. I've read Fausto-Sterling's Myths of Gender. It's old by now (1985), and it uses the old nomenclature of females, males, men, and women, which implies, whether one likes it or not, the old binary view of people: they're either men or women, and that's that. She does try to open that up a bit, but she's still relying on a classification that we can actually do, and, well, my experience tells me we can't. We try and try and eff it up again and again.

    The real trouble with men/women, female/male -pairs in my opinion being that those words cannot be used as such if one really means there are more than two - and I personally am not sure of the number: in fact, I think trying to divide sexes and genders into neat boxes will probably prove impossible, and counting the number of those boxes seems a bit pointless to me, too.

    There's some stuff in that book by some trans academics (Sandy Stone and Stephen Whittle at least), but that's hardly the problem - the problem is ciscentrism: most of the arguments in that book start from cissexist assumptions and are therefore rather unable to proceed anywhere much beyond it: it's like trying to argue the case for feminism from a standpoint that men are the better sex. It doesn't matter if the writer's cis or trans - what matters is if the thinking's solid and corresponds to the lived reality we all more-or-less share.