Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Trans Studies Reader #4: Serano

Yup, there's nothing from Serano in the book. Serano's Whipping Girl was published in 2007.

But it's effect on my reading is rather thorough-going and pervasive.

Firstly, there's the terms. Cissexism, transmisogyny, misgendering - all very pertinent, all very much unavailable when Trans Studies Reader was published.

Then there's the change of attitude. And boy, is there a change! I can tell that this change of attitude has made me realise I can reclaim my past from the cissexist, misgendered, misogynist narrative as it's been told to me, and have it for my own. My life, as the female I was born, forcibly masculinised, boy- male- and man-ified by the society hell-bent on erasing my experience. Oh, the power of words!

"Trans" is an adjective. "Transsexual" is not something I have to identify with - other people can and do use words in some ways I find totally unacceptable, but before Serano I didn't have other options. I did know my experiences couldn't be described in the language I had, so I had to make do with what I had, but that's no longer the case. I can describe myself as cisgender, trans-bodied woman - it just sounds right and correct. It doesn't have the idiotic insistence on me being male - which I, most empathically, am not. It describes me and my relation to other people rather well, and it's not too difficult even for cisgender cisbodied people to understand, once they can wrap their heads around the idea that yes, we humans do misgender people, and that there's no way of knowing that until the affected people say so - and we should stop the hurtful (and stupid) misgendering from that point on, pronto.

Subversivism is another fine addition: whenever I'm seen as subversive because of I've "changed sex" I'm like, "say what?" I haven't changed my sex. I was born female, into a female body - our dear cissexist society just couldn't grok it and promptly assigned me male, and fought me tooth and nail when I wanted the mistake corrected. There's nothing inherently subversive in getting your records and body straight. There's nothing particularly antisubversive about it, either: it's neutral as far as I can see.

Anyway, back to the Transgender Studies Reader - it feels quaint, even, because of this. The language sounds a bit ancient, faintly insulting: ungendering trans women and men is such a common theme that runs through the book, as is giving precendence to birth-assigned sexes and genders - the implied headspace is pretty thoroughly cissexist, apart from certain exceptions (Jacob Hale and Donna Haraway, for example).

I feel a sea change coming. Into something rich and strange, perhaps?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Ideals and realities, BDSM, feminism and "safe"

Well, ideals and realities never live up to each other, do they?

I've been discussing BDSM plus feminism a bit at another place (in Finnish, sorry), and I thought it might be worthwhile to write a bit about ideals, and especially about our (that is, all humans) permanent failure to actually live up to them. Fact is, we can't. Most of the time, we won't, either, and the fail that is us doesn't stop even there - we, in fact, make excuses for our failures, too.

So, not only do we fail at ideals, but we often don't even want to, and when we fail, we try to cover up our tracks, too.

I think this has a number of consequences. It means, firstly, that anything and everything we do, especially stuff that we pronounce to be strongly good, or bad, is probably somewhat suspect. We may well be right in our proclamations, but there's a distinct possibility we're just acting on our own interests, and not in a good way.

Secondly, I think it means we shouldn't be too surprised to find out that humans are fallible. That we make mistakes, sometimes honest, sometimes not - that other people eff up and then proceed to make it look like a tiny, understandable mistake when it in fact is not - is a basic fact about the way life is.

And thirdly - this fallibility is firstly and foremostly about you and me. Look in the mirror first.

I seriously think this applies to everything we do. Feminism, BDSM, Christianity, you name it, we can fuck it up.

I also think there's hope. Many ideals have the seeds of self-criticism built into them - feminism being one fine example. If you start by believing it's important to have a proper look at how gendering and sexing works, and how it benefits some and others not so much, you already have the necessary tools for having a look at your own privilege. You probably have to own up to some privilege yourself, too - and that's precisely what makes you safer to be with, from my point of view.

I feel safer with people who have had, and are having, a hard look at themselves. Sure they're bastards like everyone else, but they know they're bastards, so perhaps they are able to do something about it instead of watching themselves just do stupid, evil things and then excuse themselves with whatever (the old saw was "the Devil made me do it", but substitute Devil with an excuse of your choice). Bastards like me.

This is why I find BDSM not entirely incompatible with feminism. As long as practitioners can own up to their fuckups, take responsibility for them, make amends, recognise their own fallibility in all matters on this earth, and don't blame others for their own abuses of privilege, they're mostly safe people. Just like feminists. Or Christians. Or anyone.