philosofunk

what if the worlds/were a series of steps/what if the steps/joined back at the margin


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Caitlyn Jenner’s Freak Show

Into episode four of “I Am Cait”, Caitlyn’s transgender identity is becoming more developed, but she is still hyper aware of what she calls the “freak factor” in her new life. In a conversation with Kate Borenstein, one of the most influential transwomen in America and author of Gender Outlaw, Cait asks “How do you get over the freak factor?” to which Borenstien answers “Owning the freak factor with heart”. Cait and Borenstein mindfully discuss how there will always be some segment of the population who views transpeople as “freaks” and as such feels that they are lesser humans than cis gendered people. For Caitlyn, this is intensified since her journey as a transwoman is being actively exploited by the paparazzi. To cis gendered people who feel transfolks are “freaks”, there is little understanding of how sex and gender are different and sometimes unrelated, and there is active fear about the transidentity and what it means for the person’s worldview. To understand that the gender binary is false is to unlearn something that was presented as true for much of one’s life. Cait asks Borenstein “How do you get over the freak factor” to which she replies “Owning the freak show with heart”. Essentially, Borenstein tells Cait, there is nothing a transperson can do about the people who feel they are a freak, their minds are closed and their perspective is too harsh to listen. However, one can relish in their freakishness and make it part of their identity, to understand it, to own it. This is a monumental task for transpeople, and requires the support of allies.

Borenstein clarifies what she thinks an ally is versus what is generally thought of as an ally. To most people, they assume that they are trans allied if they are accepting of the trans identity. For Borenstein, this does not meet the burden of an ally by simply being supportive. Active support is helpful, but action yields more results. An ally must be a person who responds to the needs of transpeople, as she says ally means “you ask me what I need, I tell you, and you tell me how much you can actually supply”. She then goes on to give the example that she may need an ally to act as a body guard in a crowd that she needs to get through. Why would Borenstein need an ally in a crowd of people? This is because transbodies are viewed as public property due to the freak factor. The twentieth century was awash with “freak shows” which treated people with abnormalities as exploitable commodities that the public had a right to access. All the humanity for these exploited people in the freak shows was lost, they were simply an exhibit to ponder. A transperson may not feel comfortable in a crowd because of how their bodies have been treated by cis people, as if they are an exotic specimen to be inspected by touching or being asked inappropriate questions. Cis people who feel transpeople are “freaks” are also curious about transbodies and trans lives. They will often become preoccupied with the transperson’s genitalia and their private sexual lives and sexual orientation. To be made into a freak is to have one’s personal space invaded and colonized. Allies must work in congruence with transpeople as to how best assess their most active needs and lessen the amount that the freak show factor has on them.

As Caitlyn’s family found out in episode one, Caitlyn is the same person as she was when she was Bruce, she just has a new identity to work into. Transpeople are still humans, their change of gender is akin to changing one’s clothes in terms of affecting the essence of a person. Clothing relects a peson’s thoughts about their identity, and chosing the proper gender is the way for transpeople to express to their satisfaction their identities. Obviously, the person will change with a transition, but the core of them remains intact. The freak factor takes this away and asserts that a person is the summation of their ability to be “normal” and any deviancy from normalization is paramount to betraying what is natural and what is right. Borenstein reminds Cait that the beginning of a transition is like a second adolescence, a time when people are very vulnerable to bullying and the outside opinion of the world. Acting as a true ally requires cis people to fight the notion that a person is a freak simply for transitioning genders and actively challenge real cis gendered people when they make transphobic comments.

While this episode positively and successfully gave cis people information about how to be an ally, as is a goal of Cait with this show, it also revealed the extent of the privilege Cait has as a rich trans person living in Los Angeles. There are several support groups and resources mentioned in the show for transpeople in Los Angeles, which makes sense as it is a large city in California and the center of the entertainment industry. However, these resources and support groups often do not exist for transpeople living in areas like the South or the Midwest whose populations may not be as comfortable with the idea of transpeople. Cait has professionals come to the house who specialize in trans issues to help support her through her transition, another thing many transpeople do not have access to due to location and the culture of where they live. This is an issue the show has yet to address or acknowledge in a significant way. There was a nod in the first episode by Cait to her privileged nature, however, the show overall has failed to note how privileged Cait is actively over other transpeople. It is sometimes a frustrating feature of the show because few things about Cait’s life are humble, and it would be constructive to see Cait humble herself and acknowledge with active mindfulness that the support she receives is a privilege that few are able to get.

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What Transgenderism Is Part 2

In my last post, “What Transgenderism Is” I mistakenly stated that it is not viewed as a mental illness. It is called “Gender Identity Disorder” because it is viewed as a disruption of functional life, thus it is a disorder and classified in the DSM-5. I am unsure if I object to this classification. On one hand, if transgender individuals are classified as a mental ill, then they are afforded certain unique protections under the law. This could be positive for the transgender community. At the same time, it is questionable as to whether being transgender is actually a disorder, or if the greater nonacceptance society has bestowed on transgender individuals is the reason for the disruption and possible dysfunction in their lives.


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What Transgenderism Is

Today I was surfing Reddit.com when I found an excellent thread called “ELI5 [explain like I’m 5]: How are transgendered individuals different from other dissociative disorders?”. Oh boy, I thought, there is so much ignorance in that one small statement. I am a person who has a hard time remembering that ignorance  does not always equate meanness or small mindedness, it just means a person doesn’t understand certain concepts or lacks all the facts or hasn’t done the research to properly articulate a point on a certain subject. I am ignorant to certain topics, such as car mechanics, but that does not mean I am not intelligent. So, I had to take a minute to remember that just because this person severely lacked an understanding of mental illness and gender identity does not mean that they are being intentionally malicious. They started the question like this:

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So this person is familiar with certain mental health terms but has a poor understanding of what they mean or how they are applicable in the real world. This was important for me to note, because “the more I think about it. The more it makes zero logical sense” was an indicator to me that this person doesn’t really think about things outside their own perspective, and is hopefully operating on a smartphone because their grammar is horrific. From point one, it is important to remember that a solipsistic perspective is one that has incredible difficulty imagining the other side.

It is important to note that transgenderism is not a mental illness. Body dysmorphic disorder has nothing to do with transgenderism, dissociative identity disorder does not either. Body dysmorphic disorder is when a person obsesses over perceived flaws with their body. This is different from being transgender because having the social and physical identity of the wrong gender is not a perceived flaw, it is an identity expression that exists on a larger scale than is widely accepted by heternormative society. For transgendered individuals, something isn’t incorrectly perceived, there really is something wrong with the discrepancy between the identity they had accumulated versus the identity they feel comfortable with. People with body dysmorphic disorder often have the perception that they have fat where there is none, for example, something which has little to nothing to do with identity. Dissociative identity disorder is when a person has more than one personality states, which means they can become confused, withdrawn, or apathetic to their surroundings when they are in an altered state, that being the other personality. It is not like what Hollywood has typically portrayed the illness as, a person with a bunch of wild personalities going crazy. It is more likely that a person experiencing an episode of disassociation would become markedly different in attitude, rather than a sudden bout of ranting and raving. Certainly, a transgendered individual can have both these illnesses but neither is the cause of being transgendered.

A redditor (user or Reddit.com) more or less explained this point:

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Unfortunately, this did not fully clarify the point for the inquisitor:

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It is important to look at the number of “points” this received because it is indicative of how cis-gendered people view this issue. On reddit.com a member can up-vote something if it adds to the discussion, or down-vote something if it does not add value to the discussion. Sometimes dumber things can get up-voted depending on the relevancy to the reddit.com culture. This post got up-voted 52 times, meaning at least fifty-two people shared similar sentiments. This is a medium up-vote, its not hundreds and certainly not thousands like some posts get, but its enough to indicate that this is a shared feeling among cis-gendered people enough to not get down-voted like it would in queer circles or academic circles.

It is also important to read the last paragraph thoroughly. The poster says “it really bothers me that people are taking their own lives when they are such great people”, so this person is admitting that they feel no malice against transgendered folk, and that they just really do not understand what transgendered people are going through. Since there is no way to listen to tone on internet posts, so the last sentence can either seem condescending or genuinely confused depending on the reader’s internal reading voice.

Panda-pup has a fantastic explanation for sparkreason:

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It is a calm, comprehensive rebuttal. Transgendered individuals do not enter into altered states nor do they imagine things about their body to be true that are not. They soberly have understood something about the discrepancy between biological sex and socialized gender, and that they are not personally part of the heternormative gender binary that has been traditionally presented as normal. In fact, there are many genders and gender expressions like there are sexualities and sexual expression. For example, a person can be hetero-romantic and bisexual, or homo-romantic and pansexual. A person can have a penis and be a woman, this is a difficult thing for some people to understand because we have been taught to believe that biological sex and gender are the exact same thing. To live as a woman or to live as a man is definitely a lifestyle choice, they are not the same type of life. Obviously being human we have things in common, but there are clear differences in the identity of a woman versus the identity of a man, including masculine women and feminine men. To be genderqueer, or a clear combination of masculine and feminine qualities, or androgynous, or a clear ambiguity of masculine and feminine qualities, is also a clear lifestyle and identity choice. To be cis-gendered is for your biological sex to match your prescribed gender, which is what the majority of people are. However, there is logical and reasonable explanations to having a transgender or gender fluid identity.


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The Politick of Bruce Jenner’s Transgenderism

Over the past few years, the tabloid media have been speculating about Bruce Jenner’s gender identity, sometimes as an affront to the dignity of Jenner and his transgender brothers and sisters. Now, Bruce Jenner has revealed that he is indeed in transition, and very happy about it, thank you. This is significant for the place in time this announcement is being made for the transgender/intersex movement, and also for the celebrity culture Jenner is a firmly part of within a variety of avenues. Jenner is an Olympian, married into the Kardashian fame family. His part within the American celebrity fabric is extremely unique as an athlete and member of the Kardashian family. While we do not have noble royalty in America, we do have celebrity royalty, and if the Kardashians were a political family, they would be the Bush Dynasty (obviously, Kim would be George, pretty but dumb, just smart enough to prop up and snap photos of while being quietly steered by questionable forces, in this case Kris and Dick Cheney). If there was a family tree of his celebrity family demonstrating the power his clan claims, it would look like this: kardashian fame Bruce is placed very strategically within this family tree. In this hypothetical model, he is Jay-Z’s brother’s father-in-law, and Blue Ivy would be his granddaughter’s cousin. Kylie Jenner, his daughter, is hot shit within the teen sphere at the moment. A model dating a rapper, she lives the fantasy life of an American teen: young, rich, on television, and part of a fame dynasty. My theory is that if Kylie Jenner can accept her father for being a  transgendered woman, that will make transgender folks seem a little more normalized for the American teen because of how much of a hot fuss Kylie is. The younger a person is exposed to something as socialized normal, the easier it is for them to believe it is a normal part of life. Since there are many people with transgendered or gender queer parents who are young but do not know anyone else with a trans or gender queer parent, Kylie Jenner’s family can be an example of trans people being viewed as more normal. It is easier to accept something if a person can look to another person’s story and see themselves in it. Kim Kardashian’s role within Bruce’s transition is also important. As the Queen of Superficiality, she has made a career on essentially publicly whoring. Appearances are very important, but she has also exposed her celebrity behind the scenes, letting people in on the secret that celebrity lives are fantastical products of entire teams of persons. Her image is crafted, but she has done something strange and let us watch the production of the craft. If Kim Kardashian can be publicly supportive of Bruce, that would be highly positive for the progress of the making intersexed, transgendered, and gender queer people viewed as socially normal. The royal court is always a spectacle.


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I’m a Queerist, and That’s Not a “Thing” (Yet!)

I *love* the1janitor on Youtube.com. He’s a social commentator known for witty remarks and wise insights. I think he is hilarious as a human and a cute dude. Often entertaining, he provides solid observations into things people might get too excited about to otherwise be articulate about. On this video, he talks about how the gender binary “isn’t a thing”.

“____ is not a thing” is a figure of speech coined by millenials, people of my generation, to illustrate the point that a commonly thought of phenemeon does not exist, and is sometimes asked as a question like “I got to Binghamton University the bearcats are our mascot. Are bearcats a thing?” (Yes they are!) Contrary to popular belief, the gender binary, or the thought that there are only two sexes, those being male and female, is not really a thing.

WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT is often a reaction to this assertion. Maybe not as much in 2014, now that Facebook gives the option to define one’s gender beyond “male” or “female”, and that the non-heterosexual social movement of the early millennia has had such success.

Several years ago, I composed an academic paper about the atrocities intersexed and transgendered people have historically faced as a result of the medical institution’s endorsement that the gender binary “is a thing”. Did you know that often, when an intersexed baby is born, that baby does not actually have life threatening condition simply for being intersexed? It is actually better for that baby to grow up and choose what identity they will live under, and receive proper medical care for intersexed persons, not for persons born of normative male/female characteristics. Yet it is the norm that doctors make intersexuality out to be dangerous to the health of the baby to vulnerable parents, convincing them their child has a life threatening condition and that they must choose a sex, either male or female, for that baby right now and then authorize immediate surgery to make the baby “normal”. This can have devastating consequences for intersexed individuals both medically and in their identities as people.

My paper was called “Medical Ethics and the Transgender/Intersexed Communities: A Plea for Understanding and Reconciliation” and focused on how heteronormative gender codes have caused medical ethics to compromise the integrity of legitimate identities of transgendered/intersexed peoples and suggest harmful courses of medical actions. My plea for “reconciliation” in this paper focused on how the vast troves of power the medical community possesses could change the perception that the gender binary is “a thing” and cause recognition that gender and sex identities that run contrary to the male/female binary are legitimate identities. Some people aren’t intersexed nor trans. They decide to be “genderqueer”, or a combination of male/female features and characteristics. They are both male AND female while being neither male nor female. If you have a hard time comprehending juxtapositions or paradoxes, their existence will probably infuriate you. Please try to not let their existence make your head explode, and maybe try to work on your critical thinking skills.

In order to do this paper properly, I had to read a lot of feminist literature. Feminism, by definition, endorses the gender binary. You can try to argue with me about this if you would like, but you will lose (please try, though! I love a good, spirited debate). Historically, feminism has been very hostile in many cases to intersexuals and transgenders. Some of this literature was so hateful that I actually cried while reading it despite the fact that I am neither intersexed nor transgendered. I suppose maybe the tears came from the feeling and knowledge that my former feminist identity was being hatefully ripped to shreds by these really fucking mean women. I could not, in good conscious, continue to be a feminist knowing that this was a large part of the history of the movement. In modern feminism, I have not found this issue to be resolved or even of particular concern to many feminists. People having freedom to choose their identities and express themselves with liberty is a big concern of mine, it is part of my identity, and I had to let the label of “feminist” go.

So I invented something called “Queerism” or being a “Queerist”. In high school I defined as “bisexual” because I knew I liked boys and girls. Then, in college for about a year I labelled as a lesbian, but after awhile started having sexual relationships and then again romantic relationships with men. I could have gone back to the bisexual label, but one of the men I became involved with men was a pre-op transman, or a person born into a female body but who defined as a male and assumed the appearance of a male but had not undergone any surgery to physically alter his body. He did not fit the gender binary. I started to get to know things about the world and have experiences of all the worldly things that are complex and wonderful that make us individuals, and during the course of these worldy experiences that I discovered that sometimes I am attracted to people who do not fit the gender binary. This coincided with the semester I wrote the medical ethics paper on transgendered and intersexed people, so with all this knowledge I took on the queer label, instead of reassuming the bisexual label.

I have since come to know many non-normatively gendered people I have in my life. But many people wouldn’t see my former lover, or my family member, or several other of my friends as beautiful. They would see those people as disturbing, immoral, wrong, something to be destroyed. HBO currently has on demand one of the most heart-wretching documentaries I have ever seen (I’m a huge documentary junkie, I would definitely qualify myself as an authority on documentaries and this one was very well made, as most HBO docs are). It is titled “Valentine Road” about the murder of a teenage genderqueer boy. Non-normative gendered persons are staggeringly more vulnerable to being murder victims, a social fact that is found far less disturbing than it should be. I believe that queerism, as opposed to feminism, is needed as a national discourse because the recognition of genders and sexes other than the male/female binary will literally, quantifiably result in less violence in our society and lead to a more authentic, liberated identity expression that is actually more in align with what is natural, contrary to how we have been conditioned to recognize as true. For some people, a queerist movement is a matter of life or death.

If you think that the gender binary is “not a thing” and that genderqueer, intersexed, and transpeople should be able to live in the world with their full identities not only recognized but viewed as legitimate, then join me, friends, in making Queerism “a thing”.