Pasupatidasi's Blog

thoughts, poetry, life as it is…

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rites of passing vs rights of personhood

there are alot of words that have specific meaning to those who are transgender. like ‘passing’ and ‘disclosure’. i dislike both of these words. as the parent of a transgender daughter, and the long time friend to a couple of transwomen, the import and impact of these words is clear to me.

passing means being judged to be ‘feminine’ enough in appearance to have some modicum of acceptance as female. unfortunately, this ‘modicum’ is not the same as real acceptance as a woman, but only a grudging allowance that one looks ‘good enough’ to be deemed feminine.

the rites of passing for transgender women are very detailed. there must be a ‘feminine’ voice, no visible ‘adam’s apple’, a feminine walk and poise, make-up and clothing. in addition, in order to be thought ‘passing’ validation must be awarded by the cis-gender, male-dominated societal norms that dictate and oppress cis-gender women as well.

the rituals and necessities to achieve ‘feminine appearance’ are time-consuming and expensive. as every cis-woman knows, in order to be deemed ‘feminine’ the body must be ridded of hair, smooth as a pre-pubescent girl. one must attend to details such as applying mascara and lipstick, and learn to negotiate one’s surroundings in shoes that are uncomfortable and unhealthy, while donning ‘appropriate’ gender-specific attire. i wont go into all the particulars of poise and composure here, as i presume that my readers are familiar with western patriarchal paradigms for acceptible female behaviour and appearance.

for transgender women all these rituals must be accomplished without the slightest error in order to be judged by others as ‘passing’. and then, should a girl be particularly good at ‘passing’, she had better also be very good at knowing the unwritten rules about disclosure, lest she be deemed ‘deceitful’ or blamed for her own attack or rape. in other words ‘passing’ results in responsibility to ‘disclose’. but not ‘passing’ is unacceptable…it’s a trap either way.

as a cis-woman, despite my unconventional appearance, my non-traditional way of dressing, my habit of neither shaving my body hair nor applying make-up, i ‘pass’. there’s no judgment of my personhood as a woman, although it may be decided that i’m not ‘feminine’. a transgender woman who affected a similar self-expression would not be considered ‘passing’, would be denied personhood on her terms and not accepted as a woman.

the terms masculine and feminine are by-products of a binary mindset. they are the result of a long history of patriarchal values imposed upon society. they say much about what the dominant culture thinks of women and their place in relation to men but do little to define actual persons. they are masks given each to wear dependent upon one’s genital presentation at birth. terms such as these are meant to put us each in our place, in much the same way that other assignations lock one into their proper ‘class’ or race.

where in all of this can the ‘rights of personhood’ be found? how can it be that in the 21st century society is fraught with ways by which it can deny self-definition and self-determination to its members? how can we begin to extend rights of personhood when there is so much of judgment and reluctance to accept what is deemed as ‘strange’ or ‘other than’.

the vice-president recently made comments that subject of ‘transgender rights’ is the civil rights issue of today. no doubt this is true, because whereas lgbt rights movements have made many gains for the other folk represented by the letters of that acronym, the T folk continue to struggle for the most basic rights of personhood.

i have no answers.

my daughter doesn’t seem to be anymore interested in wearing make-up or jewelry than am i. she doesn’t like to wear frilly attire, isn’t afraid of spiders and wants to marry a woman someday. i would like to imagine a world wherein she wont be denied her right to personhood simply because she rejects (as do i) the parameters of what it means to be feminine, a world wherein ‘rites of passing’ are inconsequential to her being accepted as the girl she’s always been.

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i almost wish i cared

yesterday, while speaking to my mom, she disclosed to me that one of my sisters who hasn’t been speaking to me for the past few years would like to be able to sit down and talk with me. my mom thought this was great progress. then she disclosed to me that the reason patsy hadn’t been able to tolerate my presence wasn’t that i had called children’s protect services about the boyfriend who had been abusing her grandchildren. but because she wasn’t ‘comfortable’ with the way i am raising zeeona.

i’ve known for quite some time that it was patsy, my own sister, who had sent child protective services to my house. one of the two calls that they’d been sent to investigate concerning my support of zeeona’s right to be the girl she is inside.

i didn’t hold it against patsy, even tho my brother thom, who revealed this to me mistakenly thinking that i already knew, believed that she did it as a way to get back at me for turning in the abusive boyfriend, (a guy who is currently serving time for endangering those same grandchildren…not because of my phone call or the investigation by child protective services, but because he kidnapped them from daycare and informed their mother, patsy’s daughter, that he wouldn’t bring them back until he got $500 dollars.)

i was quite surprised that it was the offense of supporting zee that was behind patsy’s attitude toward me. but i told my mom that i would be happy to get together and talk with her. maybe educating her about transgender issues would make her less uncomfortable with our decisions.

imagine my surprise when my mom, who this year finally bought ‘girl’ appropriate toys and clothes for zeeona, countered that suggestion saying that she was herself still unaccepting of transgender issues, even after having learned more about them from me. that no matter how much information i can bring to her she doesn’t think she’ll ever be ‘comfortable’ with zeeona living as a girl.

well, excuuuuuuuuuuuse me!

i almost wish i cared!

i almost wish i cared that they are so uncomfortable with my decision to alleviate the pain my child had been in, with my having educated myself so that i could understand what she was going through. with the fact that i care enough about her and love her enough to do what i can to spare her years of future pain and frustration by believing her and supporting her today!

my mother is fully aware of the fact that when zee first told me that she was really a girl, that i was alarmed and concerned. that i took her to an endocrinologist to see if maybe an imbalance of hormones could be to blame. that i’d had the pediatrician schedule an ultrasound of zee’s abdomen to see if she had ovaries too, was intersex. she knows that i tried convincing zee that she could still play with ‘girl’ things and dress however she wanted, even if society says boys can’t do these things. my mother knows that zeeona was so upset upon learning that the spare parts wouldn’t just ‘fall off’ one day that she tried to eliminate them herself, that she begged me to do it for her, that she’d cursed god for the mistake and expressed suicidal intents as a means to be ‘born again in the right body’. my mother knows all of this. she also knows that it took me three years to really hear what zeeona was saying and allow her to live as the girl she is.

yet, despite this…despite all the information i’ve shared with her in trying to help her accept us, she’s still uncomfortable!
and fully understands why my sister can’t bear even to inhabit the same space as us!

they’re uncomfortable?

zeeona is wearing a body that is the wrong one, she will have to undergo surgeries to become who she is, take hormones the rest of her life. she will be more likely than almost any other group to be assaulted, prejudiced against, discriminated against and in general relegated to the periphery of society. jobs, housing, even just a loving relationship with someone will all come harder to her because of how ‘uncomfortable’ people are with transgender people.

i tried pointing all this out to my mom. but she just said that no matter what i say, no matter what science, doctors or even oprah might say about it, she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to accept this. to which i say, “yes, but you’re not even able to accept that i like to sleep with women”

“that’s right” she said…in a tone that let me know that the only way she could overlook this fault in me was by not having to think about it. so shut up.

but how can she not think about the fact that zeeona is transgender when she sees her in dresses, with her beautiful long brown hair trailing behind her as she runs and plays. how can she not think about it when i keep insisting on the female pronoun those times when she uses ‘he’ to refer to my daughter.

so, yesterday i found out that i’m not really ‘acceptable’ either…just easier to take because there’s at present no “girlfriend” in my life to make it clear who i am.

well, i will probably still try to educate and inform those close to me, and even the larger world outside the family. but as to whether or not they’re ‘comfortable’?

i almost wish i cared!

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it gets better…i hope!

sometimes i’m not sure how much about ‘life as it is’ today i should share with zeeona.

i rarely talk about the really scary stuff, like rape, hate-crimes, wife beatings.

but today she brought up the subject of bullying. perhaps because she had recently had an experience with it during the very brief installment at a private school. (the boy had teased her because she’s a girl. irony?)

(i wrote about it in this blog but can’t remember what i entitled the piece.)

she wondered why people bully. in attempting to answer the question, since i really can’t imagine a good reason for the behaviour, i suggested that when people are younger they sometimes don’t know how to act. maybe they don’t like their selves so they try to make others feel bad about their selves too…misery loves company.

zee then said, “well, at least grown-ups don’t bully.”

then looked to me for agreement on the statement, which unfortunately i couldn’t in all honesty provide.

instead, i went on to say that sometimes grown-ups do bully. like men bully or tease women. it hadn’t occurred to me that we were about to get into a talk about gender inequality. but i’ve recently been re-reading ‘whipping girl’ (a great book, by the way! definitely look it up. amazon has it) so i began to launch into the facts surrounding this concept. (deftly leaving out things like rape and sexual harassment that the notion of men bullying women had evoked in my mind)

only half a diatribe into the semi-rant i began to notice the look of disillusion wash over zeeona’s features.

she said “well, then that makes me wish i were male”

i must have had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look on my face and i was nearly speechless for half a second, before i said: “well, you could do that.”

she looked at me helplessly and said “how?!”

now, zeeona is not ignorant of the fact that she will have to take hormones, and have surgery to prevent her body from becoming ‘a man’s body’. her question had nothing to do with how she could be male physically. because she knows that as far as her external form is concerned it already is.

but, you see, she’s as much a girl as i am. and even if i woke up tomorrow with male genitalia, it wouldn’t change a thing as far as my identity is concerned. it is the same with zee.

she moved quickly onto “do grown men tease and bully other men?” to which i answered, that they do and it is often through this behaviour that they bond or develop relationships with one another.

then we were on to discussing other areas of what my philosophy professor at university would call “man’s inhumanity to man”.

as i reflected on this conversation throughout the day, i began to understand just how much a girl she is!

my initial shock when she said the thing about ‘being male’ was short-lived. i didn’t respond as did to try to unseat her from her female identity, but i admit that if she’d have taken that opportunity to ‘come out of the phase’ i would’ve been fine with switching gears right then and there to allow her to try on that male persona: the one she’d never worn, even while being seen and treated as a little cute boy.

this knee-jerk reaction has less to do with her identity, or my acceptance of her than it does the fears that linger deep in my psyche of the ugly parts of the real world. those parts that allow transphobic folk to bully, assault or murder transwomen. (it’s rarer to find such attacks against transmen: see also “whipping girl”)

so we come again to the kinds of question that all parents face: how much about ‘life as it is’ should we share with our children?

perhaps i’m part optimist after all, because one reason i’m loathe to bring up some of the things i fear with regard to zeeona’s tomorrows is that i hope that world will also ‘grow up’. that tendencies to fear and harm those who are ‘other-than’ will begin to fall away and a more fair societal paradigm rise instead.

every day i come across evidence that today’s attitudes and ideals are in a state of flux with respect to transgender people. on the one hand, not a day goes by when there isn’t an article in the news (i get mine from the internet, twitter, and various websites) about some horrendous thing being done to a woman simply because she is transgender or transsexual.

at the same time there are many high-profile transgender people helping to bring about awareness regarding trans issues, (in poland a transgender person and open homosexual were recently elected into two of the highest political positions in the land,) and ever increasing news bites about new legislation made to protect transgender folk against hate crimes and discrimination.

so, it maybe that it’s okay not to share with zeeona today’s version of ‘life as it is’. because maybe, the cliche going around these days is true. maybe in tomorrow’s world, ‘it gets better’.