“And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night”
I was down at the City Museum yesterday, sketching Jurassic fossils for a project I’ve got on the go. Then for a bit of light relief, I drew my favourite thing in the palaeontology section, a giant Irish deer. As I sat there drawing, the sounds of the school parties that wandered around the museum morphed gently into the sounds of a Pleistocene savannah. In my imagination, anyway. I’ve not actually heard what life in the Pleistocene sounds like.
It was quite restful, anyway. There weren’t any sabre-toothed tigers or hyaenas around at the time, which is handy when you’re concentrating on a drawing. Just the distant whinnying of tarpans, the occasional grunt of a woolly rhino, the belch of an elk. The Pleistocene is a good place to hang out for a while, and the carbon footprint scarcely troubles the grass.
Back home again, I resumed my subversive activities on the internet. I’m part of a worldwide conspiracy to turn everyone transsexual, or something. It’s a living. Just don’t tell anyone, OK?-the Daily Mail would have a field day if they found out.
It does take it out of you, posing as an aspiring illustrator and occasional bicycle mechanic, while you’re actually engaged in a ruthless Conspiracy To Overthrow Western Civilisation. And it’s not made any easier by the lack of cohesion and agreement among my fellow conspirators. Sometimes, in fact, it can all get a bit tribal.
Let’s see; this last week I’ve been witnessing the ‘more transsexual than you’ folk kicking off about people whom they consider to be the Wrong Sort Of Transsexual. This sort of thing is always going on somewhere, among some folk. It comes down to drawing lines in the sand. And the line in the sand has always got the person who draws it on the ‘right’ side. Here, for instance, is someone’s critique of Mikki Nicholson, the Scrabble champion about whom we wrote last week. It’s sad that someone can so readily disrespect someone else’s identity, even down to misgendering them, especially when such a response comes from within a group of people whom one might have hoped had an insight into that sort of thing. (edit: here is an even more vicious example that’s just cropped up, in a ‘there’s something wrong on the internet’ sort of way)
The trouble is, it seems to me, that the models we use for describing gender identities can be simplistic and imperfect. And in a world where the sands have a disconcerting tendency to shift, it can be tempting to hold on to a model to avoid sinking and being lost. Some people want to differentiate between their transsexual identities and transgender ones, insisting that they are fundamentally different entities and resenting what they see as appropriation of ‘their’ space by imposters. All of which is remarkably similar to the response of female gender essentialists to female transsexual identities.
So there’s that going on, and then there’s the hoo-ha about the use of the term ‘tranny’. Over on Village Voice, for instance, a gay man writes that he likes using the term and wonders what the fuss is. This seems quite a common attitude among at least some gay men. I recall Queerty talking about my ‘tranny ways’ a couple of years ago, referring to the behaviour on my part that provoked harassment and violence from my co-workers. I’m not sure what they meant by ‘tranny ways’. Presumably by that they weren’t thinking of what I actually do (you know. Get up. Think. Work. Live. Normal stuff). I guess that gays of a certain type encounter drag queens at the night clubs they all hang out at, and assume that they now know what transgender is all about; something performative, frou-frou, and kinda kinky. But I’m only guessing. Theirs is a different world from mine, and for all I know they may actually all sit around playing dominos. Gay ways, eh?
Closer to home, Kate Bornstein has written about hir ownership of the word ‘tranny’, and giving hir context…
Years earlier, when I went through my gender change from male to female, I glided through life under the commonly accepted assumption: I was finally a real woman! That worked for me until I ran into a group of politically smart lesbians who told me that I wasn’t allowed to co-opt the word “woman.” Woman was not a family word that included me. My answer to this exclusion was to call myself a gender outlaw: I wasn’t a man, I wasn’t a woman. By calling myself a gender outlaw, I had unknowingly reclaimed the right to name myself outside the language generated by the bipolar gender system.
This is an identity that works for Kate, and as Kate is a well-known figure, there is always the chance that zie appears to be giving permission to outsiders to describe us in the same terms too. After a fine piece of writing by Quinnae Moongazer, Kate decided that zie would stop using the word ‘tranny’. And then zie changed hir mind
Far away from the killing fields of Blogistan, back home in my leafy suburb, the only times I hear ‘tranny’ are when it is being used to attack, disrespect and trivialise. So I’ll continue not to use it. Because it’s not nice.
This week saw the funeral of Sonia Burgess, a human rights lawyer who was also transsexual. Initial press reports of her death, under a train at King’s Cross, dwelt mildly salaciously upon her gender identity. Then, when she had been identified, the Daily Mail published prurient allegations about her private life. I won’t link to them because I don’t want to drum up traffic for their website. I will suggest that this is the sort of vile nonsense you get when trans people are marginalised and ‘othered’.
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.
Today is Transgender Day Of Remembrance, remembering trans victims of murder. There’ve been 179 in the last year.