Friday, August 28, 2015

A personal history with trans issues

Since I'm resolving, as a cis person, to talk about transgender issues more often, I wish to explain the personal trajectory that lead to my current perspective.

I first started identifying as queer in 2009.  More specifically, I'm gay gray-A, meaning that I'm on the boundaries between asexual and gay.  Back then, I was nominally accepting of trans people, but I didn't think about them that much. And the reality is that in this society, transphobia and ignorance are so pervasive that if you haven't thought about it you are almost certainly the holder of many problematic views and behaviors.

But I would say I was eager to learn, and here enters the asexual influence.   Asexuals were a small group that hardly anyone in the queer student groups understood or spoke of.  Transgender people were in the same boat.  Clearly we should be friends.

Essential commentators

I didn't actually have a personal friend who was trans until 2010.  We were both affiliated with queer-themed housing and were outcasts of sorts from the main cliques (which consisted of gay men and straight women, naturally).  We ended up talking a lot about trans issues, often so she could vent about things that other people in the house were saying.

This was of course very eye-opening.  But the most eye-opening stuff I learned was not trans 101, but learning about the turbulence of trans politics.  The very first thing I learned about were trans-exclusive feminists.  And then the real kicker was learning about transphobia among trans people.  The overall impression I had was of a bunch of people on a boat that's been hit with a missile.  As it sinks, everyone shouts over whose fault it was and then tries to throw each other off the boat.

That isn't what you'd think of as an ideal introduction to a subject.  But I tend to think inter- and intra-community conflict is intriguing and hashes out a lot of details that would otherwise go undeveloped.  And sometimes skipping to the advanced issues makes the basic issues seem all the more obvious and urgent.

Since then, I've found trans writers to be essential commentators.  I don't mean to treat trans people like magical social justice wizards, but over the years I happened to like a lot of social justice critics who were trans activists.  I don't know if I could really pin down the emotional reasons why.  I would say... progressive movements are absolutely essential to trans people, but trans people also tend to have a healthy degree of cynicism about the same movements.  I also need those progressive movements, and need that cynicism.

Non-binary aces

Most of the trans writers I'm thinking of are trans women.  But my central image of a trans person is someone who is non-binary.  Because being in the ace community, non-binary people are everywhere.  There are more non-binary people than there are men.

A few anecdotes might establish that non-binary people weren't simply present, but taking important roles.  Back in 2011, I wrote a short history of the Livejournal asexuality community.  That history was based on an interview I had with the founder, Nat Titman; Nat is non-binary.  They're like the dark knight of asexuality.  They played a very important role, but dropped out of public view for many years, partially out of concern that people would confuse asexuality with gender.

Also in 2011, I conducted an interview (not available online) with Charlie, one of the figures in the Transyada community. The Transyadas were a big deal in 2011.  They started out as a massive thread on the AVEN forums, but later decamped and moved to the Transyada forums.  Note the reason they decamped was because they were dissatisfied with the amount of transphobia on AVEN, so that's a hint while non-binary people have always been around, ace communities haven't always been friendly to them.

Aside from that, I've had many colleagues, cobloggers, copanelists, interviewees, and friends who were non-binary.

That said, I've never made any concerted effort to learn about non-binary issues.  What I know about non-binary people is mostly from osmosis over the years.  I understand pronouns, and much of the vocabulary, but that's very much on a different level from being able to blog about it extensively.

On blog focus

When you have a personal blog, your choice of topics is a very personal decision, and one that I don't need to defend.  But I'll briefly comment on why I haven't blogged much about trans issues in the past despite considering them important.

The basic reason is that I mostly use this blog to share original thoughts.  When it comes to trans issues, the most appropriate thing is not to share my original thoughts, but to amplify trans voices.  And I don't have very much power to amplify so what's the point?

I feel the same way about Black Lives Matter.  It's a very important movement but also I don't know what to say about it.  When I comment on an issue, I tend to complicate things and add nuance.  But do I really need to bring any nuance to the issue of police being violently racist?  That strikes me as straightforward.

But now I want to talk more about trans issues. Following my usual blogging style, that means adding nuance.  But I'm keenly aware that as a cis person, my ability to add nuance is limited, and I will ultimately make mistakes.  I hope I have enough trans readers around that they'll poke me if I say something wrong.


-Trans issues are important to me, and I also find trans women activists to be great social critics in general.
-In my experience with the ace community, I interact with a lot of non-binary people, but I don't necessarily understand their issues in great depth.
-As I begin to comment more on trans issues, I try to be aware of the limitations in my cis perspective.