Reflections on Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going
June 15, 2014
My contribution to Trans Bodies, Trans Selves
June 14, 2014
Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, a comprehensive resource by and for trans people, just released this week. Edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth, this 672-page volume was written by over 200 trans contributors in the spirit of Our Bodies, Ourselves. First published in 1971, Our Bodies, Ourselves challenged the medical establishment and “put women’s health in a radically new political and social context.” When I read it in the early 1980’s, I was struck by the candid information about women’s bodies, and the tools it provided for women to advocate for respectful care. It was truly groundbreaking and continued to have great relevance for women for many years, as they navigated male-dominated health care systems.
In much the same way that Our Bodies, Ourselves provided resources for women to take charge of their health and lives, Trans Bodies, Trans Selves provides authoritative information in an empowered and respectful way. It is an accessible, trans-affirming resource on issues of race, religion, sexuality, disability, social and medical transition, children, parenting, terminology, arts and culture, legal issues, employment, health, and politics, among other issues. Though written by and for trans people, this book has relevance for providers, educators, family members, and anyone seeking to develop their cultural competency on trans issues.
Here’s an excerpt of my piece, entitled “Reveling in our Authenticity,” which speaks to the intersection between trans experience and mixed heritage experience:
"Like many trans folks, many people of mixed heritage are not easily defined or fathomed. People who are mixed are assessed on their facial features, body type, skin tone, cultural knowledge and mannerisms, values, language, communities, and loyalties. And not just from white folks, but from every direction. There’s an authenticity check, just making sure you are who you say you are.
"Ah, authenticity. That beautiful thing that we as trans people continually strive for. The right to not just live, but to unquestionably revel, in our own unique authenticity, even when that expression makes people uncomfortable, curious, and confused. Our masculinity and femininity is measured for realness content. Our ability to be perceived as the gender we identify with is evaluated. We are resisted even when we assert our true selves repeatedly.
"As trans people, we have experienced the world in different shoes, different realities, different bathrooms. We speak a different language, about T and getting clocked and transfeminism[i]. We use gender-transgressive pronouns and in-house words. We’ve stepped beyond the expectations of our families, communities, and societies. Many of us know what it’s like to live as both female and male at different times in our lives, or at the same time. Some of us are perceived in different ways from moment to moment. Some of us are perceived as clearly one gender or the other, yet locate ourselves in the gender galaxy beyond, whether in the present or past. And even if our identity or presentation is not ambiguous, our truths, and those of our loved ones, are layered. It may be something we are keenly aware of every minute of the day, or it may fade from our daily thoughts, but these complexities are there, behind our eyes and under our skin.
"That, to me, is where trans experience and mixed heritage experience intersect: the ambiguities and complexities, the layers of cultural experience that don’t meet the eye, and the difficulties that people have acknowledging and accepting them. It’s the opportunity to put a unique lens on the world, to see the views that others don’t have eyes for. It’s a cross-cultural experience, an adventure outside of easy categorizations. It’s more than one reality at the same time, code-switching into different languages and norms of behavior, cranking up the brightness and color. And it’s the confidence and courage to defy exclusion and revel in our bold authenticity."
[i] The letter “T” is commonly used as an abbreviation for testosterone. “Getting clocked” describes the experience of not being perceived as the gender one presents, i.e. being perceived as the sex one was assigned at birth, or as transgender. “Transfeminism” describes the integration of transgender and feminist discourses, including the concepts that “biology is not destiny,” and that people should not be confined by sex and gender norms.