|||| Patience Newbury
On Reddit, after Erica’s debut piece was filed, a trans woman felt aggrieved by having to read that a girl in her mid-teens had transitioned with EEI during the pre-WWW 1990s, at an age before she herself could. I called foul on this because, quite bluntly, every trans narrative is valid, and no less valid than any other. She had no authority to deny Erica or anyone else of their trans narrative on any grounds.
Eventually, we learnt the trans woman making this grievance was not someone who voiced themselves well into their last cisnormative corridor as we expected. I made this error because the internalized trans misogyny and internalized cissexism this woman was spewing was very boilerplate to much of I’ve heard over more than half my own life from many trans women who did not get to assert their transition during one of the first three cisnormative corridors.
It was only after a little more reading before I realized this fury toward Erica was coming from a 20-year-old who first tried to say something at 13 but was denied by her parents until the third cisnormative corridor. She eventually grasped what I was trying to say. I had affirmed her trauma, but what I said to her sank in. Her response was a hope that more people might read what I was trying to tell her. While I expressed my doubt about this, I will at least try to pass it along on the Cisnormativity blog.
For those without time to read below the fold: cis people don’t want us to ever transition, no matter the corridor. Cis people stand back and watch as a faceless assailant — the endogenous endocrine system — brutalizes during first puberty the bodies of trans children who never offered consent to permit that violence to ever happen to them. It is a violence whose physical scars stay visible for the rest of their lives (and whose psychic scars remain hidden). Cis people, when they can see them, use those scars to stigmatize trans people. Cis people are complicit in allowing a violent attack to happen when they ignore a trans person’s voiced assertion to transition, especially when they are still a minor. This is why Alex Kaminsky’s heavily publicized narrative is so horrifying to watch in real time. It is akin to idly reporting on a public raping as ordered by a quote-unquote justice system. It is horrifying because it is a trauma (and even barbarism) so many trans people have survived (and so many more have not).
But please, read below the fold.
The 20-year-old, ameliabee, wrote:
Part of me wants to crucify this blogger because she actively makes a point of referring to age at transition and valuing those who transitioned sooner moreso than those who transitioned later in their lives. It’s like hearing poor white trash complain about their state of affairs and then engage in racist banter. Explain to me how you’re any more valid for transitioning at thirteen or so when you had access and a tolerant family versus me transitioning at twenty and going through a battery of mental disorders associated with not being able to transition until then?
Every older trans woman I’ve met has been really cool about sharing stuff as long as I was willing to listen to their stories, but I’m white, shapely, and able-bodied.
I respond, referring to another comment which Cisnormativity contributor Tim (catamorphism), had made in questioning ameliabee:
Sorry, but like catamorphism, I know this woman’s narrative. I was the proofing editor for the piece.
All I will say up-front is this: every narrative is valid. She is no less valid because of it. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. But you’re hearing an experience which is unfamiliar to your own. That experience comes with a few circumstances which virtually no one of her age cohort has ever dealt with — not even me (we’re pretty close in age, but she came out during the second cisnormative corridor; me the third). And the people transitioning in 2012 at the same age she did? They won’t know these experiences, either. It’s a very isolating feeling. I have listened to her narrative for a long time. This was really her first time to finally speak to what she’s known.
The least you could do is give her space to speak without berating her experiences or how it has shaped where she is now..
To this person, these things definitely happened. What I hear from you, by contrast, is someone who is more obsessed with the age at which she voiced herself as trans than what that placement in a time when it was next to unheard of. Because of this, it has produced a tangle of slammed doors because no one believes it to be possible. And yet, it was. It’s the only thing she knows because she’s lived it.
And yes, your assumptions about her experiences are unfair, out of line, and surprisingly dismissive. And I share that both as editor for the blog and as her friend and confidant. I wouldn’t have vetted a piece if it was somehow out of line.
Later, ameliabee responded again to Tim, still angry and not on board with his argument that her attack on Erica’s narrative was unwarranted:
It’s more a matter of things of that nature need a trigger warning. This goes far beyond ‘feeling bad’.
I attempted suicide multiple times at that age because I couldn’t. I outed myself to my parents and was swiftly forced to repress who I was. There’s taking abuse and pressure at that age, and then there’s being told to conform immediately or be out on the street in the rural deep south as visibly trans.
So yeah, it is privilege, and they have a responsibility to check it every they post about their experiences.
My response to her, effectively forked along two thoughts, first started to confront her as an appeal to sympathy:
Look, a lot of us were in that placement, ok? First puberty on a trans person’s body — for many trans people — is an [sic] serious act of violence for which there is no direct perpetrator (who has a face). The perp is EEI. And like you and unnumbered others, suicide was turned to as a remedy. Some completed; some did not.
It is really not fair to shut someone down, though, because of her circumstances permitting a mid-teens transition in her second cisnormative corridor (remember: cis people don’t want us to transition in any of their cisnormative corridors). By that extension, is it safe to reason that you also feel similar resentment and embitterment to the 11-year-old kids and the 7-year-old kids who are transitioning in 2012?
If so, then that is your problem for which you need to find a way to come to peace. Lashing at Erica is not it. Seriously not it. It’s sunk cost to wonder what could have been in your own life if only. And I’m sure we’ve all done this in our lives at some point. But we can only move forward and respect each other’s experiences, not shut them down or blame the victim for the way she’s been treated when she’s braved facing the very trans people she knows resent her symbolically and even viscerally.
Don’t unleash your bitterness on someone you resent. If you knew what it took to get her to transition then, then I think it would be an understatement to say that you’d be unable to find adequate words or even the sympathy deep enough to come to terms with her experiences.
tl;dr: if we as a community are going to heal, then we have to respect every narrative we hear as valid and learn from that narrative what we can, because cis people surely aren’t going to do it for us. You do you.
It was by accepting that I was still young enough to pull this off that I didn’t kill myself almost a year ago. It’s not worth it to reexamine a decision so crucial to where I am today, and I really don’t want to bring those skeletons out of the closet.
I don’t resent those who get to transition so early. It’s the reminder that I never had that chance that I resent.
Edit: Seriously, that is an extremely dark place for me and I will need years to get over it. Like, I’ll probably be post-op before I’m 100% at ease, okay?
2nd Edit: It’s really not fair for you or anyone else to drudge up those memories, got it? I’m only able to function on a daily basis by not looking back, and I don’t need reminders.
After reminding ameliabee that she could have stopped reading Erica’s narrative of her own volition, I shared with her the following mini-narrative and summary of what we’re up against as trans people:
Just remember that you cannot hold these cisnormative corridors against a trans person as a blame or failure/success of their character. You have to hold the blame against the cis very people who force you, me, and other trans people to vanish or die. Trans people are not the people you need to be judging or fighting right now. It’s cis people. We didn’t opt to be trans, but it’s nothing we can undo either. It’s not a failing. It just is.
[And if you could only understand how not-easy it was for me to write that — how many years and how much anger, frustration, and resentment which informed those words — then perhaps the gravity of what I said might actually mean something. I don't want to fight you.]
Until I read your comment history, I was all but certain that you were appreciably older than me, bitter for having transitioned only in your last cisnormative corridor and taking out your anger on another woman. For the record, I came out at 18, began transition at 19, started EEI around 20, and am now 38. When I asked Erica how old she was, turns out she’s only a handful of years younger than me. This means we transitioned during the same years. Her narrative is different than mine; mine involved smuggling hormones across international boundaries as the only way I could assert agency over my body before the alternative: returning to trying to complete suicide once again, just as I’d tried and failed at 13 before shutting down for five years. It’s also why I was institutionalized at 13: my parents had figured it out. Six days transpired between them figuring it out and having me admitted to an adolescent ward for almost two months. Never mind the clinical depression for which I’d been diagnosed at age 9 and a half, which was no doubt informed in part by my articulation of gender being “abnormal” for a boy and by the acute violences I experienced at home and at school. Still, Erica’s experiences — those I know, at least — make my narrative seem a hundredth less horrid than hers.
When I read how you were around 20, it was even more disquieting to reflect on the acidity of your remarks throughout this thread (and, quite frankly, in how you superficially judge other trans and cis women in places like /r/TransPassing or /r/amiugly). You reserve a lot of internalized trans misogyny and internalized cissexism there. A lot. I know this because I’ve heard myself say much of the same of others in my own past.
All I can say is this: find a way to work through it, even if it takes another twenty years. Eventually this shit devours you from within. When that happens, it’s not pretty.
Finally, it sinks in for ameliabee:
Seriously, thank you. I needed that, and I’m hoping that lots of other people saw that.
It’s likely they won’t. But it’s something we all need to understand about one another — very, very soon. Because if we don’t, cis people will keep killing us. We will continue disproportionately being the walking wounded. They will not only keep killing us as “tr-ps”, as “deceivers”, as “men in dresses”, as “rapist-by-birth”, as somewhere between dogs and humans, but also in standing back as parents and guardians, whilst clearing the way to let that violent perpetrator of an endogenous endocrine system brutalize our bodies day after day for years, visibly scarring us with the very visible markers cis people like to use to remind us of our inferior place in their world. Cis people don’t see the invisible, psychic scars. Their cruelty is in justifying these ends as a means to protect themselves from us.
p.s., Of the four cisnormative corridors, cis people don’t want us to voice our will to transition through any of them, but they tend to be most “lax” about the last corridor. That’s because the last (not “fourth”) corridor is marked the easiest for cis people to either avoid or revile. They are marked visibly and institutionally through legal identification paperwork and social history amassed (which cannot be erased or undone). That’s why they tend to let trans people in that last corridor slide: the most visible are the least threatening because they are either the most observed, the most cis-compliant, or both. This is no less violent to an Alexis Kaminsky and, quite frankly, even more cruel. Kaminsky, on the other hand, as a known girl from the first cisnormative corridor, horrifies all of us because we all see what’s about to happen to her if no wise-minded cis person with decisive authority steps in very soon and stops the faceless perpetrator from brutalizing her body and her psyche. It’s no less cruel than being forced to watch people standing around in a circle to watch as a rapist rapes a defenceless victim, quietly murmuring their approval for the rapist to carry on.
Confronting omnipresent cisnormativity is going to dredge a lot of pain, and it’s a pain we need to understand before we press forward for our human rights in every one of our respective localities. We as trans people are a kind of diaspora-by-birth. Until this geography, the internet, was made possible, we remained severed from ourselves. That’s how cis medical gatekeepers prescribed it.
When we transitioned, cis gatekeepers forced a doctrine of silence upon us and warned that interaction with other trans people was an affirmation of one’s own failure to “successfully” transition. As cis people, they feared our finding one another and speaking as a unified voice.
Guess what? Now we are. And if you’re a cis person who has had any complicity in holding back a trans person in any way, then yes, you should be afraid. You should be afraid to hear our pain, our rage, our resentment, and how much we hate being made into both inert and toxic at the same time. That’s why confronting this cisnormativity is going to flare up and provoke hard resistance. But we must remember that we — as the many expressions of trans people that we are — are not our enemy.
Not anymore. We must come to internalize and believe this. Our enemy are the cis people who have impeded our autonomy. Our enemy are the cis people who have been complicit in our bodies being violated (by both actual people and by the facelessness of a non-consensual first puberty). Our enemy are the cis people who dehumanize us in their many nuanced ways when they force us into the open — from ungendering, misgendering, demonizing sexually, advocating a mock-horror of our bodies (to evoke a real horror in others), and forcing us to their whims so they can “protect” themselves from us. —PN
[Note: The next major entry on Cisnormativity will be a multi-part narrative, polemic, and even possible manifesto by Monica Maldonado. As another narrative defying cis-gatekeeping canned narratives, I expect her writing to be the most provocative piece this blog has posted. As editor, I hope that it will provoke much more badly-needed discussion amongst us — a discussion which we're finally beginning to have in fits and starts, much as we just saw with Erica's controversial (yet urgently necessary) narrative.]