Trans and culture

Some people are gay. Get over it, as they say. More precisely, some people are same-sex attracted, and “gay” is a useful cultural response to that, a way of containing and explaining the various effects same sex attraction has on people.

Strip away the culture from trans, and what is left? People from widely different cultures live as the opposite sex. Hijras are hijras, Femminielli are femminielli, presenting as women but not seen as women. Elagabalus proclaimed herself “Empress” of Rome, rather than Emperor, a rare example of a transitioned woman with the power to insist. People squabble over instances of those found to be female-bodied after careers as soldiers or physicians- were they transitioning from identity, or were they women choosing that way to survive in a man’s world? Hijra have penis and testicles removed, and so do many modern European trans women.

What is the common factor underlying all these cultural responses? Whether people, either gay or straight, are promiscuous or prefer long term partnerships depends partly on circumstances; I read in the eighties writers disgusted by gay people who said they were promiscuous, and that was disgusting, but also immature and unserious and a sign that homosexuality was pathological, yet I am aware of life-partnerships from before 1967, the date of partial decriminalisation in England. So too trans responses may depend on circumstances. If transgenderists in the old sense, living full time presenting female but not using hormones or surgery, were seen by anyone as “women” I doubt they would object.

If trans women had surgery because they thought it made them women, or made others believe they were women, or believe that they had some medical condition which was properly treated by surgery and therefore they lost the stigma of a sexual pervert, that would mean surgery arose from circumstances, was a cultural response rather than a part of the underlying phenomenon. If the advantage you obtain from the operation is wholly symbolic, it is still an advantage; but society might be better if we could be accepted without having to be mutilated.

There is not only the phenomenon of trans, and cultural expressions of it, but reactions to it and cultural expressions of that. Some say it is a delusion, harmful to the sufferer and to other people who are affected by the sufferer’s actions, and some say it is part of ordinary human diversity. Decent people indulge arachnophobes, taking care to check whether there are spiders and getting rid of any, rather than telling them to pull themselves together.

I say there is a phenomenon of feminine or effeminate men, who do not fit the masculine stereotype, who transition because they fit the feminine stereotype better. If that is the case, the belief in onesself being a woman would come from shame at not fitting masculinity, then seeing the cultural expression of transition. Aha! An answer! The concept of transition arising from gender dysphoria does not require there to be just two genders, and everyone is either one or the other, only that the person transitioning believes that. So the concept of non-binary or gender queer will subvert traditional transition: I do not fit masculinity, but I can find some other way of being, rather than pretend to be a woman.

As people debate these questions, their motivations affect their answers. Are they trying to subvert rigid gender roles by supporting transition, or to protect people from mutilation by preventing it? Do they see trans folk as a threat? Do they seek our best interests, or seek to use us for some other campaign? Are they phobic about us, letting disgust and fear run riot because they imagine it is rational and reasonable, or are they objective?

In the world without Patriarchy, would anyone transition?

4 thoughts on “Trans and culture

  1. morning claire. you are just like me .i talk about things MOST WOULD NOT.because they are so very effecting
    masterbating you talked about.how very important .so well done .you are Amazing .JUST LIKE I AM.
    what age was you when you started cross-dressing .did you have any bullying .girlfriends ,how did you
    cope with puberty /sex education //sexuality .when did you ware your first bra .how did it feel .PLEASE NOT I
    AM NOT BEING FUNNY .WHAT YOU SAY WILL HELP OTHERS WHO GET YOUR BLOG
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  2. I love how you question, and express your thoughts. The 1950’s and 60’s when I was a youth in SoCal were quite repressive culturally. To be queer, or faggot was a fate worse than death. My Father may have been gay, to this day I don’t know for certain. I have carried the weight of shame for most of six decades. Only the past eight years or so, I have been able to accept my feelings of who I am. Not that I’ve acquired the ability to show my transness, but that I ceased beating myself up. Society needs enlightenment, education, thoughtful discussion of these matters in order to develop more acceptance of the transgender community. Sadly it seems the blind ignorance is growing instead.

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    • We were mostly closeted. Then we came out, and the forces of reaction come out against us. And there are accepting people; but over here on The Guardian, yesterday, the comment thread had a great deal of vitriol about trans people, and the Guardian is a left-liberal paper.

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