Monday, April 1, 2013

The "Wrong Body" Narrative

Last week "The Takeaway" had a segment on transgender youth that, while brief, was one of the better coverages of trans folk I've heard in a while.  The first segment was on the Boston Children's Hospital's gender clinic and Dr. Spack.  Now Dr. Spack isn't perfect, but to give credit where credit is due, I think he's done far more good than harm for trans folk.  (If only Dr. Zucker could take a lesson or two from him.)  The segment on Tyler Ford, the Glee Project's first transgender contestant, was fantastic.  Not because of the news program itself.  Truth be told, many of the questions they asked Tyler were fairly typical, but I enjoyed that Tyler found a way to turn the questions around in a effective way.  When the host said something about being born in the wrong body, he said he wasn't a big fan of that narrative and that his body will always be his own.

The "I'm a woman/man trapped in a man's/woman's body" line is old and perhaps even damaging.  While I can understand it's effectiveness as an easier way to communicate what gender dysphoria feels like to cis people, I think it does more harm than good for a number of reasons.  When I started to come to terms with who I was and "came out" to myself, I quickly resented the "wrong body" narrative because it implied that I should hate my body.  And apart from the gendered differences and weight issues, I didn't hate my body.  My body had seen me through a lot in my life and I wouldn't completely ditch it even if that was an option.  One of my first radical rejections of transgender narratives (right after deciding to keep my birth name) was when I said, "I am not a woman trapped in a man's body.  My body is already a woman's body, because I am a woman and this is my body.  There are certain birth defects I want to correct, but my body is not responsible for my unhappiness.  Just because my body might not currently fit with people's notions about what a woman's body looks like does not mean I should hate my body." 

Trans Girl Diaries is awsome and hilarious.  Go check it out.

Body blaming is not unique to trans people either.  There are plenty of things we can all do to change our physical appearance, but we don't get a "new body".  If you lose a lot of weight or have a baby, you might look thinner but you still have stretch marks.  If you live long enough, you might look the same, but have lines or wrinkles.  Even if you have SRS, your genitals aren't swapped with a different set, they're rearranged in a more appropriate configuration.  Your genitals might look different, but it's still the same skin and nerve endings you were born with.  No matter what, your body is with you from the beginning to the end.  Some people might find that notion depressing, especially in regards to being trans, but I think it can be a beautiful thing.  I like to think of my body as a permanent record of my life.  One of my cheeks is puffy because I was pulled out with forceps when I was born.  I got these stretch marks on my breasts when I went from a B cup to a D cup in one year.  This scar on my right knee is from a gnarly fall I had on my bike.  My right ankle is weak because of a roller derby injury.  My right arm is slightly bigger than the left one because I broke it when I was 9.  I have the very faint beginnings of laugh lines because when I laugh, I laugh deeply.  If you point to any "imperfection" in my body, I guarantee you it has a story to tell.  And the same will hold true with my future surgery scars.  Oh, these scars around my labia?  That's just a reminder of how hard I had to fight to get what I deserve.  And that sometimes you need to share and ask for help to make your dreams come true.  (By the way, have I mentioned my SRS donation site lately?)

The "wrong body" narrative implies that male bodies and female bodies must all look a certain way, or they're wrong.  Are people who diet just skinny people trapped in fat bodies?  Are women who use makeup just pretty people trapped in ugly bodies?  Where does it end?  Is it so much more complicated to say that the way our bodies were perceived pre-transition was extremely discomforting?  That being socialized as male/female because of our bodies made us question our sanity?  Maybe instead of implying that trans people are broken and need to be fixed, we should have a more thoughtful conversation about how sex, gender, and society all interact with everyone's lives and how we trans bodies point out some of the problems with the way society categorizes people.  Maybe instead of talking about "passing" and "going stealth", we should talk about cissexual privileges and assumptions, and why we assume people are or are not cis and why we treat people differently based on how their gender expression is perceived.  Maybe instead of saying trans women were "born in a man's body", we should talk about how we create gender scripts based on genitalia at birth and how that causes us to socialize gender into infants before they can even talk.

The moral of the story?  Gender norms suck.

But I'm happy that we're finally reaching a point where trans people are rejecting the "wrong body" narrative.  That we're starting to question cissexist views about trans people and create our own language, our own views of who we are and what our existence means.  We've started to reject the "what will (cis) people think?" fear and responded with, "who the hell cares?"  We still have a long way to go.  Violence is still a very real threat in the lives of trans people, especially women, but the more we do to promote the radical notion that trans people are people, the safer the world will be for everyone.  Because, let's face it, when it comes to gender we are all square pegs trying to fit into round holes.  It's just that some of us have sanded off our edges a little more than others.

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