Thursday, September 4, 2014

Fascination/Disgust

by Giselle Renarde

I won't say who (because it really doesn't matter), but one time I mentioned online that my girlfriend is trans and a fellow author was absolutely FASCINATED. She said, "Oooh that's so interesting! I've never had the honour of meeting a trans person, but I've always wanted to."  Not the first time I've encountered that reaction, but it's one that always leaves me feeling a little uneasy. And I'll tell you why:

The whole world's got a Madonna/Whore complex when it comes to the trans population. I don't know what the deal is, but it's like there are two categories trans people get dumped into:
  1. "Eww! Gross! Disgusting perverts! Keep them away from me!"
  2. "Wow, they're so special and spiritual and fascinating and inhabit a higher plane of existence than us mere mortals."
Okay, obviously I'm vastly oversimplifying and usually when I discuss touchy subjects I get a lot of angry communications, so I've been pretty quiet lately because it really sucks to bare your soul to the internet and then get shit all over, but oh well. I think this is pretty important, so here it is.

People are people.

I won't even touch on the "Eww" reaction because if you're reading this I'm sure you realize that being grossed out by trans people is  really really super-duper transphobic. If you carry this reaction inside you (even buried deep deep down), that's something you should probably look at.

But what's so wrong with the flip side? What's so bad about being like, "Wow every person in population X is totally awesome. They're all THE BEST!!!"?

Well, because positive stereotyping is actually pretty dehumanizing. When I hear someone being either fascinated or disgusted by an entire population, all I can think is like... that's  A LOT of people you're grouping together right there. A lot of different people. It's not like every member of the trans population is exactly the same person. Being fascinated or disgusted just sort of reveals the speaker as having little/no experience with that population.

Which isn't news, I guess. I mean, look at the quote I started with. The author was telling me straight out that she'd never met anyone who was trans (to the best of her knowledge, I'll add). But the most telling part of that quote was the word "honour." It implies a kind of otherizing fascination that emphasizes difference. "Those people are not like us."

Now, I don't want it to come across like I'm saying there's no commonality within the trans population. Obviously there is an aspect of shared experience for those who are raised one gender and and have lived any portion of their lives with another gender identity.

But ultimately trans people are just people who are trans. Some may feel a degree spirituality or yin/yang-ness in relation to their transness, but everybody's different that way.

So, is it an honour to meet someone who's trans? Well, sure, I guess--in the same cosmic sense that it's an honour to meet anyone (Namaste means "the divine in me greets the divine in you." I know I act like a jaded old bastard sometimes, but I do believe there's divinity in everyone.) But it's no more so an honour to meet a transgender person than it is to meet a cisgender person... unless we're talking about someone famous like Janet Mock, because OMG wouldn't you just DIE? She is so cool. But I'm sure she would laugh at me for gushing and be like, "I'm just a person too."

I feel like I'm doing a really crappy job of articulating my point,but it is three in the morning and I totally just derailed myself by mentioning Janet Mock, so maybe I'll say if you're stuck inside a fascination/disgust feedback loop, read her book Redefining Realness.

And, just for Lisabet, I'll mention that I have a new book of lesbian erotica out. It's called What Do Lesbians Do In Bed? And, yes, it includes a few stories with trans characters.I write what I know.

12 comments:

  1. I'm not making excuses for the individual in question, but I can understand the fascination. Some of it is just plain curiosity.

    And thanks for the book recommendation ;^) - great title! Is the book available anywhere except from Amazon? Because a) I don't like Amazon and b) Amazon tells me I can't do Kindle downloads from here in Asia anyway!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was about to say they have it at my library, but I was talking about Janet Mock's book. That's available everywhere. Did you mean mine? Here are some other links for mine:
      All Romance Ebooks: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-whatdolesbiansdoinbed21sapphicstories-1611070-166.html
      Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/what-do-lesbians-do-in-bed-21-sapphic-stories
      iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id912402943
      BN: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/what-do-lesbians-do-in-bed-21-sapphic-stories-giselle-renarde/1120198147?ean=2940046257960&itm=1&usri=2940046257960

      Delete
  2. Your point is perfectly cogent, Giselle.

    I will say that I think people sometimes say things like that as a way of trying to demonstrate supportiveness. "I know some people are bigoted about this! I'm the opposite! See how un-bigoted I am!" If that's what's going on, I guess it's well intentioned (not that I'm excusing it). In such a case I suppose the person might not really mean what the words imply at face value (i.e., all that's meant is "I want to be supportive," and it comes out badly); but if it really does reflect the "othering" attitude you describe, then I agree that there's something wrong with it—as you note, even positive stereotyping is not the most enlightened attitude (though obviously it's better than bigotry, and perhaps it's a "stage" some people have to go through on their journey out of bigotry into enlightenment?).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I think you're right in all this. It's kind of going all the way in the other end of the spectrum to show support. I still wanted to call attention to the awkwardness/otherizing of the phrasing.

      Delete
    2. As well you should! And, hey, if you ever have the opportunity to educate one of these people directly, there's probably even a decent chance he or she will be receptive to learning, given the good intentions.

      Delete
  3. People have to say *something*. It's hard to predict what our reaction will be in any unexpected moment. If we're used to being around trans folks, it'll come off easier. And what Giselle says about generalizations of any group is likely to be off-base when it comes to a particular individual.

    Living in or near San Francisco for most of my life, I've had occasion to know quite a few transsexuals, including a friend I've known for 40 years who's going through the M to F process right now. My only comment is that those people seem to be some of the most deeply unhappy people I know. That may not be PC, and logical thought processes tell me that's a generalization, but it is my experience. My typical reaction is sorrow and embarrassment for all these folks have had to go through, just to get on with life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, there's a pretty high rate of depression and suicide (and hate crime murder, for that matter) in the trans population. Doesn't help that the media/people in general still think it's okay to use derogatory terminology referentially and that trans people end up being the butt of so many jokes because who else is left to pick on these days? And that stems from this misguided belief that trans people aren't real people. Ahhh... see? I tied my comment back into my post. High five, Giselle!

      Delete
  4. If I'd been thinking, I also would have mentioned that there's a new book from Oxford University Press called "Trans Bodies, Trans Selves" and the blurb begins: There is no one way to be transgender.

    I did share an anecdote in the book... which means I've been published by Oxford University Press... in case you were wondering what degree of awesomeness I've achieved.

    Sorry... another Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00KQK8ZNS?ie=UTF8&camp=213733&creative=393177&creativeASIN=B00KQK8ZNS&linkCode=shr&tag=dondes-20&linkId=NADAGUVFZOVU2DIP&refRID=1P413654JTPJ9Z2JYDKR

    ReplyDelete
  5. Watch Lady Valor CNN tonight at 9pm - a Navy Seal for twenty years decides to make a lefe change - fascinating!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks so much for this post and the book recommendations. I'm enough of a nerd that I think it's super-awesome you were published by OUP.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'm tremendously impressed by your Oxford U P publication, too. And very happy that in the bio for your new book on the Amazon page, my Wild Girls, Wild Nights is listed as one of your credentials.

    ReplyDelete