Friday, December 11, 2009

On the edge of the fray

Lately I've been sort of blog-weary and have avoided some of the things going on in the news and in the blogosphere. But it's basically impossible to remain silent about this nonsense, so here we go.

Yesterday Ronald Gold published this article on Bilerico that can't really be described as anything other than hateful toward trans people. In it he basically dismisses the lived experience of transgendered and transsexual people, and suggests that they're just girls who want to play with boy toys and boys who want to play with girl toys. More or less. Many insightful and powerful things have been said in response, both in the comments on that post and in other places. Here are a few that I would recommend:
Jillian Weiss
Questioning Transphobia

The thing is, Gold's view - or a slight variation of it - is incredibly common. Teaching classes that cover gender issues can be a sobering experience in this regard. I don't have any official statistics, but I'm sure a substantial chunk of the American public has this kind of view on the transgender and transsexual experience. And this is puzzling to me, given the reality of living as a trans person in our culture. For one thing, think about all that goes into transitioning: the social pressure and judgment and ostracism and potential for losing relationships and jobs and social acceptance. It's preposterous to think of anyone putting themselves through this flippantly or based on some simple urge to dress a certain way.

Secondly, look at the stats that characterize the trans experience. Depression and suicide are prevalent in the trans community. And why wouldn't they be? This is a normal response to being pressured to live in a box that doesn't fit. This is a normal response to facing the daily disapproval of peers and loved ones, to being viewed as less-than, deviant, dangerous, perverted. I've always thought that the rates of depression and suicidal thoughts among a demographic tell you a lot about how we value that group, what kind of treatment they receive, and how they've been taught to view themselves. If it were as simple as Gold suggests, it would be something that trans individuals could just let go of and move on with their lives - an irritation that they could nevertheless live with. But even a casual observer who knows little of the political and cultural framework can see that this is most definitely not the case. If nothing else, these deep and lasting issues belie Gold's words in an obvious and straightforward way.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is about making sense, or choosing the most plausible view. It's more about political agendas and historical tensions and theoretical clashes. The tragedy is that what's at stake is the lives of real people, and for some reason, realizing that seems to be impossible for someone like Gold.

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