By Kris Littlesun
I am going to talk about something I think about a lot, and especially recently as I’ve been reading a few anti-trans blogs and articles* (mainly because I like the mental exercise it gives me, and to understand why people think the way that they do).
The main argument against people transitioning, from a certain kind of feminist point of view, seems to be that gender is socially constructed – that when female bodied people talk about “feeling male” that what they really mean is that they are more comfortable with the male social role than the female (and also that they have been taught to hate their female body by a misogynistic culture). They claim that the problem is the limitations of the social roles of gender – that if these roles were broken down then people would be happy being in whatever social role they fitted into best and not feel the need to change their body or to identify as a gender different to the one assigned to them at birth.
I have heard many people talk about their gender identity and try to explain it, whether they be trans, cis, or gender fluid in various ways. Something I’ve noticed is that people tend to use the language of masculine/feminine, by which I mean society’s ideas about how men and women should act. Things like “I like wearing dresses/suits/etc, I always played with cars/dolls/etc”. But these things really have very little to do with feeling male or female (or whatever); they are about style and behaviour. Someone can feel more comfortable in a dress and yet still feel very much male and vice versa. I’ve also known trans women who feel like butch lesbians and trans men who consider themselves to be transvestites because they enjoy wearing women’s clothes.
I have a very strong feeling of being male, despite being born with a female body. I don’t feel particularly masculine, and those who know me know that I don’t act in a way that is typically masculine at all. So what does it mean to feel male? This is something that I actually find quite baffling myself. The idea that there is a core part of my identity which somehow fits into the binary gender structure which I don’t really believe in is one that is a bit of a stumbling block for me.
So I can’t help feeling there must be something more going on here. Something that is beyond language, something of the spirit. It might not be a very fashionable idea to have in this queer world of gender deconstruction, to talk about our spirits being gendered, or about us having some sort of gendered essence. In fact it’s something that goes against what I want to believe about gender. However it’s the only way I’ve found that can describe how I feel.
At Queer Pagan Camp this year I ran a workshop that involved a shamanic journey to meet your gender identity (this idea initially came from a humorous misreading of the forthcoming attractions board where the name of two workshops were mixed together). I ran this to try and find a new way to talk about gender that wasn’t based on these culturally defined ideas of masculine and feminine. I feel that the shamanic language of metaphor and symbology has the potential to give us answers to these issues, that by connecting directly with both Spirit and our own personal spirit we may be able to find a way to communicate about gender on another level, one that isn’t held in by binary thinking and biological determinism and also that doesn’t rely on culturally defined ideas of presentation style and behaviour.
The workshop had varying levels of success, some people seemed to have very profound experiences while for others I got the feeling they felt it was a bit of a waste of time. I certainly feel that we only dipped our toe into a vast sea of confusion and possibility with this workshop, and that there could be much more work done by many people on this (I personally was unable to join with the journey as I was holding the space – I’m sure I’ll try it myself sometime though!).
I think for me the main reason I’m drawn to looking into these issues is to understand what makes people trans – or more to the point what makes me trans. I have felt for a long time that I chose to be born trans, that I volunteered for this particular role that I find myself in now. I think that it could also be possible that, rather than there being a set “spirit gender” (for want of a better term), there may be some of us who simply come into this world more likely to be trans, or gender queer, as a reaction to the rigid gender structures that exist in our culture. We are fed into the world to shake things up, to challenge perceptions, to stop people getting complacent. To show people that the map is not the territory and that we can change the map at any time.
But, as I say, these thoughts are very much a work in progress.
*I was initially going to post a link to one blog in particular, but I decided against it because a) I don’t want to give her more publicity than she deserves and b) I don’t want her to find this blog through the link and give people on here abuse