Poststructuralism and trans

Transition makes sense if there is a “real me”, a feminine being with feminine characteristics, ideally really a woman but if that becomes unbelievable at least a personality which fits the ideal of femininity better than the ideal of masculinity. This fits with the experience of trying to conform to masculinity but eventually admitting this was impossible and freeing myself to be feminine; always finding expressing myself female much pleasanter than presenting male, until presenting male became unbearable. If there are no innate characteristics seen as feminine, then I can only explain it by sexual addiction, associating cross-dressing with arousal so dressing to be aroused. But now, I cannot imagine presenting male, though I am rarely if ever aroused by my clothes or presentation.

An Enlightenment Human, thought to be a coherent, stable consciousness with agency, autonomy and rationality, producing language and meaning, gave way to a Modernist idea of an authentic self. Poststructuralism says the self is fluid, fleeting, fragmented, continually formed and reformed by social construction, produced by language and systems of meaning or understanding, and determined by historical, economic and cultural contexts. So says Sylvia Morgan, who appears to accept that Poststructuralist view. I don’t know how it could be demonstrated, any more than nature v nurture. Even if her subjects’ understandings of themselves changed, that might simply mean that they had developed a better understanding, shedding self-concept conventions and better seeing the real personality.

Morgan discusses feminist theory and uses the word patriarchy in explaining it, but it is not clear whether she believes that theory. Elsewhere in her thesis, she discloses 10/28 participants were raised by parents forty or more years older than they are (like me) and most regarded the dominant parent in their family as being their mother (like me). I set myself to write about her explanation of poststructuralist theory, but keep getting distracted by details like that. I might see the submissive male as “feminine”. I only came to see my father as submissive after I had surgery- that is, my understanding changed; but that does not mean the dynamics I was understanding changed.

So I consider the theory of poststructuralism unproven, but interesting enough for me to seek to understand it, which I start by blogging about Dr Morgan’s thesis.

We construct identities and self-understanding through performance. Also I think through others’ understandings- if enough people tell me I am not a woman, I have to take refuge in the idea that I am a transwoman. It is a way of having a sense of self. We exist within society, and use symbols to communicate or demonstrate we belong to particular groups. We desperately need to belong, in order to survive. Morgan describes trans women learning to present as more feminine, for example by consciously making our faces more emotionally expressive, while trans men practice being inscrutable- personally, I still resent how expressive my face is of my emotions, so that others might read them before I am conscious of them.

Pierre Bourdieu produced the concept of habitus, a way of behaving which fitted your background, how people like you behave with others. It could be understood in terms of class, as he was socially mobile from working class to the heights of academe he developed a cleft habitus, different modes of being with parents and with peers. My friend, daughter of a coal miner and a junior lecturer, was in an association of working class academics, whose residual working class presentation might prevent them advancing as far as their talents might justify; many British people speak with the Queen’s English, but revert to a regional accent when they return to their home region. Morgan’s idea that trans folk retain the habitus of their gendered upbringing, unable entirely to fit the gender we choose to express, applies differently to different trans folk. Some, she admits, pass in stealth. I only know the working class origins of some friends because they tell me of them. That some people manage to pass as upper middle class, or as women, does not mean that it is easy.

Dr Morgan writes, Foucault’s revelation was that, rather than being a natural innate human property, sexuality is actually a constructed category of experience and knowledge, with historical and social origins. His focus was on the role of institutions and discourses in the production and functioning of sexuality in society (although he did not totally rule out a biological dimension). Foucault’s work exposed how knowledge claims are simultaneously claims to power – they are inseparable. The question to be asked is: what is at stake in the production of knowledge? Why are certain categories constructed? Whose interests are served? Much as Foucault’s investigations into sexuality revealed constructed categories of knowledge rather than discovered identities, this analysis can also be applied to gender categories. Sexuality and gender become inscribed onto individuals as a function of their practices, and classification and the creation of identities serves the development of regimes of power.

Well. There is biphobia, and possibly most people’s bi attractions are suppressed by rigorous propaganda for Straightness. Then the few people who are solely same-sex attracted are shoehorned into cultural constructs- camp, gay, bear, etc. Elagabalus, the Roman Emperor who proclaimed herself Empress, was not a “trans woman” like I am, she came from a different culture, but she may have had a “biological dimension” which I share. That said, transsexual women’s support groups rigorously enforced the necessity for GRS, and possibly we have it due to our cultural understanding rather than anything biological. A woman with a penis makes no sense.

Or, we have some biological reality, but how we can express it is constrained by the culture.

Madness and liberation

We live in a balance between desire and perceived possibility, conventionality and authenticity, “consumed by either fire or fire”. Trans folk, further from “Normal” than most, live this most intensely: for “Normal” means death for everyone, but most quickly for us.

I have been reading A Very Short Introduction to Michel Foucault by Gary Gutting. Because the ideas in it intersect so closely with my own concerns, I bring my own understanding of issues to it. It talks of Samuel Tuke, Quaker founder of The Retreat in York and pioneer of the treatment of mental illness. Where before, the mad were consigned to Bedlam where gawkers paid to laugh at them, or allowed to exist in their home villages, objects of charity, Tuke (according to that book quoting Foucault) made the madman (sic) feel morally responsible for everything in him that may disturb morality and society, and must hold no-one but himself responsible. When the madman attends a tea-party and pretends to be normal, Tuke sees this as humanitarian, and Foucault (through the prisms of Gutting then of me) sees it as imprison[ment] in a moral world.

Being mad myself-

well of course! Wanting gonads, uteruses, breasts, facial hair, bits of the skull, etc removed is ridiculous! Seeing myself as female, while the only evidence that I am female is my own conviction makes no sense! It is clearly, objectively, damaging, and it is only because British society has collectively said “Oh, OK, then, if that’s what you want go ahead” that four thousand of us have been given Gender Recognition Certificates and more are living “in role”. Possibly, the Emperor has no clothes…

Being mad, myself, I could not bear imprisonment in a moral world which rejected my madness. I am Abigail. Having had those bits removed, I am freed to be my beautiful, wonderful self, loving, empathising, entertaining, living. It makes no sense. It is mad. But somehow it goes together. I cannot be this person, presenting male. Why Not? asks the sane, rational person, and I have no sane, rational answer.

Having no knowledge of it at all, obsessive-compulsive disorder seems to me to be a necessary escape from reality. I start counting the bricks in that wall with the need to make the total a multiple of six, or twelve, or twenty-four, and get absorbed, and forget all the shit. I get my pleasure- It Works!- or desired pain- no, that’s an odd number, a prime number, count again-

an assertion of my right to work no more than I can bear, in the only way I could (if I presented with OCD).

Hearing voices- well, what do they say? How do I respond? Possibly, the solution might not be only, take them away.

Because when it is obvious that the sun goes round the Earth, the assertion otherwise is mad. The new paradigm which will be obvious, tomorrow, today is mad.

Because groping towards the beauty and wonder that is me, free, started with the decision that the most important thing in my life was transition. VR Anticipation