Saturday, September 4, 2010

I ought to be whipped!

Mr. Laplain let me open one of my birthday presents early, since I've been so whiny and difficult of late.  Tantrums!  They're not just for toddlers anymore!  Anyway, it was a book.  One I haven't been able to put down since.

Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano has been on my must read/must have list for a couple of years now.  She's one of several important Trans authors where I've read alot ABOUT her work but not nearly enough of what she has written herself.  She was the very first person I learned of to begin using the terms Cissexual, Cissexism.  Unfortunately, I did not immerse myself in the opportunity to learn exactly what she meant at that time... I simply accepted the common shorthand definition for those words to mean "Not Transsexual"  and "The type of oppression perpetrated by non-trans people against trans people).  

I'd read a few snippets of essays she had written here and there and found them empowering in context, but still I never actually sat and tried to take everything in she had to say nor apply it to my own experience of being trans.  After all, I've never tried to go anywhere near Michigan, let alone the Michigan Womyn's Music Fesitival and still to this day can't fully understand why so many transwomen have assigned so much political import to this Cissexist event. Not to mention Racist and Classist. (I have Cis lesbian friends of color.. I've heard things...). 

Of course,  I've never experienced being excluded from lesbian only spaces either, and I've tended to view the J Michael Bailey/Alice Dreger flap as a strictly academic upheaval.  These were all community struggles I fervently supported in spirit, but didn't really feel the effects of in my daily life one way or another.

So... MAN do I ever feel late to the party!!  WHIPPING GIRL should be required reading for everyone.  EVERYONE.  It is not without it's flaws, but it is to date the most straightforward and accessible explanation of the dynamics of discrimination and prejudice trans people face in society I've seen.

I can only  wonder... what if  we'd had this book back when I was just getting started some 20 years ago?  So many things I know I would never have done or said, stupid things because I was so busy trying to cater to the expectations of a cissexist society. So many  LGBT panels I sat on, not knowing wtf I was saying, just so glad somebody was willing to take me seriously as a transsexual, if not as a woman.    But then immediately feeling duped and exploited everytime someone in the audience or even on the PANEL would ask me incredibly personal details about my breasts, my figure, my makeup, my hair  right in front of everyone as if it were perfectly natural to do so.  Or ask me to go into detail about exactly when I "knew" what made me so sure, and at what age I started wearing my mother's clothes :

(ME: Umm... well actually, I never wore my mother's clothes.   My mother worked in a hospital. She wore scrubs and labcoats. She only wore makeup for special occasions. She only wore dresses and skirts once in a blue moon. Honestly, I think women who wear dresses all the time are kinda weird...  Like.. why...

[keep in mind, i was a teenager, so saying things like "No I'm not weird YOU'RE weird" was my idea of being 'progressive']

GUY AT CONFERENCE:  OOOooh.... did you have an older sister or other female relative you'd wear their clothes then?  You look so comfortable and natural at it.

ME:  A natural at what..? Wearing this t-shirt and jeans? 

GUY:  No no no you know what I mean.. you look very feminine.  I mean it as a compliment!!  You are very good at makeup. 

ME:  But ...I'm not wearing any makeup. 

THEM:  You're not?? Well now I really AM impressed!!....

 and so on...)

So many boneheaded words and phrases I used to use because I didn't have the tools to describe myself with anything other than cissexist terms.  Like how I used to say GG, or genetic girl to explain the difference between cissexual and transsexual females.    Even as I realized the vast majority of people never have their genes tested,  nor do chromosomes factor into our decision to use certain pronouns or whether to address someone as Mr. Miss or Ms.....

But I digress.  That was then.  This is now.  Right now I'm reading WHIPPING GIRL and I know I'm laughably tardy to the party, considering the crowd most likely to be reading this post, but if for some foolish reason you haven't read it yet either, RUN and do it as soon as you can.   Especially if you are CIS and wish to be able to speak somewhat intelligently about trans people's lives and the challenges we transfolk face just finding respectful language to articulate our very existence to you.

This post does not count as the long awaited post I've been promising in early entries.... That one's happening either later tonight or tomorrow, no worries.

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