Recently on Tumblr there have been a lot of people arguing about whether or not being transgender is a medical condition or an identity, and whether or not it is legitimate for people to identify as “FtM” or “MtF” instead of as simply “male” or “female.” This sort of conversation is fascinating to me, partially because it’s so new in the Tumblr and Youtube trans* communities. I don’t know what prompted this change in the way we discuss identity, but the FtM tag on Tumblr is crowded with these sorts of arguments and it has been driving a huge rift in the community. I think this is unfortunate for obvious reasons, because infighting generally sucks, but also because I think both groups have a lot to learn from each other but refuse to do so because of ideological differences. The identity policing going on, however, is ridiculous (at least in my opinion). Anyway, I thought I’d add my two cents to the conversation and write about what I think about gender identity.
A lot of people who view being transgender as a birth defect or medical condition wonder why other people with their same condition don’t view it the same way. The way I see it, this isn’t an usual situation at all. There are people who view deafness and Autism as parts of their identities instead of or in addition to medical conditions or birth defects and those who do not. People define their situations and identities differently, and that’s perfectly fair and doesn’t need to invalidate other people’s world views. With trans* people, though, I think an added layer of complexity comes from the fact that the vast majority of people have limited exposure to information about gender identity and so there is a fight to make sure that the information that does reach the masses represents all of us appropriately. Of course, that’s virtually impossible. In fact, I would go so far as to say it isn’t really worth worrying about except in regards to how the media portrays us. A couple of kids on Tumblr playing around with their gender isn’t really going to change the way society perceives trans* people (although it may affect the way a couple of individuals view us), nor will the gender and identity policing of a couple of blogs affect things in a major way. People aren’t basing their opinions on transgender people from these people, they’re basing it on what they see on TV. So, I think the people who are concerned about “transtrenders” are really putting their energy into something kind of pointless. Of course it can be frustrating if you have wanted to physically transition since you were very young and experience intense dysphoria but are unable to transition or are having difficulty with it and see people who are less sure about their gender identity or who claim not to experience dysphoria appear to have easier access to testosterone or top surgery. However, there are probably greater fights to be had than trying to shoot these individuals down (for instance, fighting the system that makes it difficult for people who need to transition from accessing affordable means to do so).
Anyway, a lot of these individuals ask, “how can someone identify as trans or FtM instead of just male?” This question, as I’ve seen it, has always been directed toward trans* guys instead of trans* women for some reason. Gender variance aside, there are a lot of reasons why someone would identify this way. For me, it all boils down to personal history and experience. As someone who is moving toward living stealth, I certainly don’t think it is disingenuous to tell someone that I am male without any sort of qualifiers. In fact, that is how I normally live my life now. Identifying as FtM or trans*, as far as I see it, doesn’t disqualify me from also identifying or living as “just male.” The FtM part comes partially from my identification with the community and my acknowledgement of my history. Although I don’t see my gender identity as necessarily a medical condition (although I do think that it has physical components that may qualify it as such), I also don’t see how identifying as both FtM/trans* and male contradict that worldview. After all, aren’t there breast cancer survivors who get extremely involved in the survivor community and adopt their physical/medical condition as a part of their conceptions of themselves? Identifying as a breast cancer survivor doesn’t invalidate the fact that breast cancer is a real, physical condition. Similarly, I think acknowledging that fact that I came into my male body in a unique way doesn’t necessarily need to be a statement on the cause of transsexuality, GID, or whatever you want to call trans*ness. Even if you view being transgender as a disability, there are plenty of people out there with disabilities who celebrate and embrace their conditions (and, of course, those who don’t). Seeing being transgender as a part of one’s identity or trying to find something positive in it isn’t mutually exclusive with seeing it as a medical condition or something with a physical or genetic basis. I really can’t say that enough.
There’s infighting in almost any group of people, particularly groups of people whose shared identification is built on something as diverse as gender identity. I certainly don’t expect everyone to ever all just get along. It is frustrating, though, that from what I’ve observed on Tumblr the groups that are infighting never foster any kind of meaningful dialog. As much as I am a huge believer in the power of language, I think that Tumblr sometimes gets too caught up on call-outs and ends up alienating certain groups of people (often people who lack exposure to social justice terminology and communities because of location, lack of education, or other forces outside of their control). Although these call-outs seem effective in the short-term, I think they create animosity and division while also not really educating the people who made the mistake in the first place. I understand the argument that intention doesn’t matter, only the damage that was done, and that it isn’t always someone’s place to educate others on their privilege. However, I think that we are losing a real opportunity when we attack otherwise well-intentioned individuals (and I think there’s a difference between calling someone out in a constructive way and trying to tear them down). On the other hand, I think that those out there who are bent on identity policing and name calling are also tearing down potential lines of communication. Like I said, this is really unfortunate. I understand a lot of the pain, confusion, and anger coming from both sides. In many ways, I feel I straddle the divide. I’m trying to live an ordinary life as male, but I’m also very in touch with the trans* community and accepting of people who don’t want to live a life within the gender binary. I’ve also been someone who could’ve been labeled as a “transtrender,” back when I was figuring out my gender identity, but obviously it wasn’t a trend for me because here I am.