Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Born as" is cissexist BS, Rant 1

A brief but sincere plea.

People, cis people, trans people, non-trans people of all stripes.  PLEASE stop saying "born as" when referring to the name one's parents gave at birth.  Even if it's your OWN name.

Saying things like "Jane Laplain, who was born Guy Butcherson Laplain III in the 1970's, now lives in the pacific northwest blah blah"    is fundamentally cissexist.

WHy?  The construction of the phrase erases the entire process of choosing and assigning a name to the newborn person, and privileges this very deliberate social decision made by parents/guardians as something that just "happened" naturally as a consequence of birth.  As if I slid out of the womb with a nametag on my lapel.  Um NO.

Nobody is BORN with a particular name.  That name is given.  Assigned. Decided. Imposed by others.  This is not to say that this is an essentially bad thing to do.  It is to say that the name one is given at birth is no less artificial, and no more authentic than the name one chooses for one's self later on in life.  The original name on one's birth certificate does not deserve greater deference.  In fact when it comes to the name one chooses for one's self, in the spirit of self-identification, so called "birthnames" should hold much LESS clout.   Who knows you better?  Somebody who decided your entire identity after knowing you all of a few hours when you were completely unable to communicate your personality and wishes?  Or... yourSELF after a decade or so of living every single day as yourSELF?  Hrmmmm... i wonder....

I was named "Junior" after I was born by the way.  And I didn't have any name at all for 3 whole  days after my birth.  Chiefly  because my mother had had an allergic reaction to her epidural and almost died, so there was that drama to deal with first.  But basically it went like this.  My dad wanted to name me Adrien Etiens, which was a family name.  My mother, fearing that was WAY too girly and foo-foo sounding for her American SON (she was SO afraid to have a daughter, so relieved to find out she hadn't, this is another long story), wanted to name me something like Stonewall Jackson or King Rocco or something way over the top butch.

For months during the pregnancy, or so I was told, my parents-to-be went back and forth on names, arguing violently and nearly splitting up a couple of times. But after nearly dropping dead in the delivery room, mother finally settled for just naming me Junior,  ending the argument on "neutral" ground.

Either name would have likely dramatically impacted my social experiences growing up, particularly given my hardwired trans nature.  I probably wouldn't have all minded being known as an Adrien, so much. I definitely DID mind being known as a Junior, but I probably lucked out not being a Rocco or something uber masculine like that. 

I digress.  Names are not "born" they are given.  Given by persons who, however loving their intentions, definitely have their own vision and own agenda for the new person they are giving a life to.   This needs to be acknowledged in this culture.  It hardly ever is except when the name given flies in the face of mainstream tastes.   (For example, the common public criticism of African-American parents who give their children African-American "sounding" names... or whenever a baby name chosen is considered too "quirky" or offbeat.  Then suddenly THESE parents are being reckless and not considering the impact on the child's future.  But only under these circumstances do we question the motives of the parents.. otherwise, naming your kid a conventional sounding name is perfectly "normal" and without ulterior motive...)

At any rate  I wish cis people and trans people alike would stop using "born as" when discussing trans people's histories,  as it only elevates the name given at birth to the level of an  "objective truth" which cannot be questioned.  And as a result casts the self-chosen name as less authentic, less "real."   BS, I SAY.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Making Excuses, Part 2: The Otherside of Intersectionality

Due to declining health, I've been unable to keep up a regular pace with this blog.  Alack and Alas. 

I've been unable to keep up even an adequate pace with my normal routine, consisting only of going to work, and coming home.  Now I'm facing making a big decision about leaving my fabulously well paying job for something far less demanding (and less well paying). 

I have an interview for one such job tomorrow morning.  I'm upset that I don't think I'll be feeling any better for it.  Hopefully I won't have to look the way I feel.  My goal is to at least not look like a dying aquatic mammal. That's been my impression every time I've gone to the mirror in the last two months. Yeah yeah, I know ---  internalized fat hatred, disableism.... bite me.  Just for the moment.  My ability to sustain this household is on the line here and I'm going to muster every last privilege I can to continue doing so.  :p

Which brings me to one of the many post topics I'd started and never finished.  The Otherside of Intersectionality, the one far less discussed in anti-oppression blogs, is the intersection of privileges.  This matrix of social advantages is used by all, not merely to maintain our own (always) precarious status in the hierarchy of bodies/identities/lives... but in order to avoid descending (perpetually) therein. 

The intersection of privileges is why we have the phenomenon of Co-Dependent Bigotry, and of Kyriarchy, it is why we have LGBT Conservatives who insist that being gay is only a small, merely incidental piece of their lives and that national security and taxation matters MUCH More,  it is why we have an a Western LGBT movement that by and large erases anyone who is not a gay white upper class male.

The intersection of privileges is why we have black people who support the Tea Party, why some immigrants who came to the USA as children would violently enforce border patrol against illegal immigrants, why transsexual women with tremendous amounts of passing privilege, and access to resources for surgery would viciously oppose public association with any and all trans people who do not.   

I point these things out not in judgment, but in acknowledgement of my own similar response in certain situations.   All of the examples above represent different strategies for survival in a hostile environment.  It would be one thing if the consequence of losing privilege was simply not having that privilege.  But its not.  The consequence of losing privilege is an increase in personal suffering.  It's why discussion about privilege is so difficult to begin with.  To be accused of having privilege feels like an accusation that one has not struggled to be where on is.  

The fact is, EVERYBODY is constantly struggling to maintain and/or advance their own position in the hierarchy.  Because doing so results in LESS suffering.  And suffering SUCKS.  Consequently there is no single body in the hierarchy of bodies that does NOT suffer to exist.  Even the whitest, richest, cis-est, straightest, most able-bodied christian man is struggling and suffering to exist.  The main question for those who resist oppression  is not "who has it hardest or easiest?"    But  "at whose expense is one group's own suffering made less?"

Even tho it is in our longterm best interests to resist the oppression of the least advantaged of our own targeted group, we often choose instead to maximize our social advantages over our disadvantages, whether its our ability to "pass" for mainstream members of the dominant group, or class status or financial resources, or the personal approval of a select few powerful dominants, we use any and all of these to counterbalance our own vulnerability as members of the targeted group... and we do it at the expense of the "least" of that group each time.

But identifying the problem is only one part of it.  I can say all of the above, but tomorrow I'm still going to do my best to "pass" for a cis, non-disabled middle class woman who appears thinner than she actually is.  I'm still going to try to neutralize the reality of my blackness by possibly straightening my hair, thus amping up the overall "racially-diluting" effect of my light skin.   Thus sending a subliminal message to my would be employers that I may be black but I'm one of the "okay" ones.

I'm going to do all of this so I can continue to support myself and my Significant Other in the lifestyle we've become accustomed.  But really I'm doing it because if I don't,  I and my S.O. may very well end up on the street in a few months without any kind of job, right along with the "least" of our brothers.  You dig?

So what is the REAL solution to all of the above?  And tell me a solution I can achieve in my lifetime.  You'll forgive me for not being willing to dedicate my own life as well as the lifetimes of my (hypothetical) children and grandchildren for a better world that may never happen 100 years from now, especially when a worse world definitely will happen 100 days from now if I don't all that I just said I would.