Tag Archives: gender conformity

Passing Lies

While trans theorists such as Jack Halberstam, Sandy Stone and Kate Bornstein argue that the notion of passing is singularly unhelpful, idealising gender ambiguity assumes one has the luxury to take on the gender order. The ability to exist in an ambiguously gendered state in a tenuous one at best, more often it is simply an impossibility. ‘Choosing to pass,’ then, needs to be considered in the context that trans ontologies elicit homicidal rage. Desires for invisibility need to be disentangled from affirmations of gendered power asymmetry; that is, transexual desires for the ordinary should not be misconstrued as reinforcing normativity.

you-cannot-pass

Ftm bodies overwhelmingly present either bodily ‘incongruity’ or ambiguity, or bare physical marks of (re)construction,(unlike mtf transexed bodies on which reconstructions are able to be rendered invisible, ftm transexed bodies remain visibly scarred). We are punished or rewarded according to our adhesion to social expectations, especially of gender, and the social penalties for ambiguous, androgynous or ‘incoherent’ gender presentation and performativity tend to be rude or insidious at best, torturous or homicidal at worst. It remains apparent that those of us who are most visibly different encounter discrimination, hostility and violence. Cultural pressures to conform to gendered expectations become internalised and naturalised, creating anxieties about gender ambiguity from ‘everywhere and nowhere’. This occurs through socially organised gender policing in science, law, religion, education systems, art, pornography and economics.

To ftms especially, misrecognition remains powerfully affective in choices about ‘passing’. For the most part ftm ontologies remain unrecognisable to others and this misrecognition presents a(nother) form of oppression. In order to be recognised as men we rely on body modifications via hormone use and/or sex reassignment surgery, and/or enacting socially legible ‘masculine’ behaviour. The ability to relax ‘hypermasculine behaviour’ and still be read as male corresponds to male appearance (‘passing’): what it means to be a man really hinges on just one thing: being (read as) bodily male. In this way, ftm body modifications can allow for breaking hegemonic gender ideals; we can be effeminate feminine men.

As social theorist Michael Warner suggests in his book The Trouble With Normal, ‘nearly everyone, it seems, wants to be normal. And who can blame them, if the alternative is being abnormal, or deviant, or not being one of the rest of us? Put in those terms, there doesn’t seem to be a choice at all.‘ Passing isn’t a lie. Suggesting that it is erases us from being, as though we must be identifiable from nontrans people. Passing is a survival technique. And as I’ve said before: we need to survive.

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The Fucking Phallus

When I fucked chicks as a dyke, I wasn’t into foreign phallic objects. But when I started stuffing one in my pants and feeling not disconnected from it, I started wanting to fuck in different ways. The chronology here is dubious. Which came first I can’t tell you. But things change. And it’s not often easy (or possibly helpful) to know why. But things change fast. 

The fact is, the ftm surgeries currently available aren’t that great. Top surgery invariably leaves visible scars and the craftsmanship involved in phalloplasty – construction of a penis – is desperately inadequate. (And biological reasoning just doesn’t cut it. Hearts and hands are transplanted: the penis is not such a complex organ.) These are hard (and expensive) body modifications. And the results don’t pass. Whether or not this is a desirable outcome is up to each guy, but the fact is, we don’t have the choice: there isn’t the opportunity for transmen to pass in all the ways it is for transwomen. This is only the beginning. All too often ftm and mtf experiences are conflated as ‘transsexuality’. There is a gender difference here (which crosses over as we do).

My (lesbian) feminist upbringing taught me to loathe the penis and its bearers. And I did. It also taught me to love the body I have. Which I also did. But is wanting to change that body in some way anti-feminist? 

The impossibility of female phallic power has been challenged explicitly by photographer Catherine Opie in her series Being and Having: a collection of brightly coloured portraits of female-bodied masculine folk who gaze (back) at the viewer with an intensity of strength and integrity that refuses to be objectified. The subversive potential of such a work and its implications is explicated by Judith Butler in Bodies That Matter: “the simultaneous acts of deprivileging the phallus and removing it from the normative heterosexual form of exchange, and recirculating and reprivileging it between women [sic – female bodies] deploys the phallus to break the signifying chain in which it conventionally operates”. That is, the enactment of the female phallus rips down the structure it is supposed to represent (patriarchy and male power). 

There is a long history of hostility and animosity between those who change their bodies and those who think such action reinforces (sexist) notions of gender conformity. Woman-identified and transboi feminists are too often quick to defend their respective positions without considering the broader political ramifications. This makes sense: our bodies are on the line and the personal is (still) political. But we can (and need to) coalesce in finding the subversive potential of transformation. We desperately need Transboi feminist ontologies and politics of the body to be theorised. 

Butler continues: “Consider that “having” the phallus can be symbolized by an arm, a tongue, a hand (or two), a knee, a thigh, a pelvic bone, an array of purposefully instrumentalized body-like things.” I think many other tranny bois and transmen do. We don’t have much of a choice but to re-contextualise and re-configure what we have into what we want it to be/mean.

Keep dreaming, 

Max xx

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