My first meditation on this can be found here.
Since writing that previous post, I’ve learned more about the desire to see the asterisk after “trans” disappear. And I get it. But I still disagree.
For one, the main argument seems to be that the asterisk was put in place to distance AFAB trans* people from trans women, and that “trans” means everything that “trans*” is suppose to mean. Now, don’t get me wrong. I would love to see trans women inform the vast majority of the discourse and activism out there (they already constitute most of the latter as it is already). I want Janet Mock and Laverne Cox and Cece McDonald to be the face of the transgender community. I want them and people like them to direct the conversations that it has and heavily influence where it goes next.
But at the end of the day, I have as much in common with them as I do cis people. Doesn’t that mean something? Moreover, how is it that they are allowed to dictate how I identify? Trans sans * is not something I have ever been interested in calling myself. It feels just as wrong and uncomfortable as would calling myself cis. Do not tell me to use that word if that is how I feel about it. They says “trans*” degenders and desexualizes. That’s interesting because I want to be degendered and desexualized. As someone firmly on the ace and aro spectrums, I cannot identify with a term so fundamentally intertwined with sex and romance and very particular narratives about what embodiment is and what it means.
And in that way, “trans*” is still an insufficient term, but it’s currently the best I’ve come across. It’s certainly better than “trans”. Trans people already preemptively hate me for being “‘”trans-abled”"” (basically a word that people who are suspicious of BIID sufferers made up). They aren’t even remotely equipped to understand that my BIID, my out of body experiences, my fucked up body map, all have influenced my gender identity and orientation.
For two, “trans” implies that the problems that fall under its jurisdiction can inevitably be fixed with either enough surgery, enough medication, enough clothes and makeup, enough love, enough sex, or enough activism. For me, none of that is true. There is literally nothing I can do that will fix this, that will make me feel balanced within myself. There exists no ideal body for me to attain, whether possible or the stuff of fantasy. All the trans women and AMAB trans* people that I’ve interacted with have a really, really hard time grasping this. Some are outright hostile. And the rest, as I mentioned above, are preemptively hostile because I exist to them only in theory. And theoretically, I’m a transmysoginistic appropriative scumbag.
And last but not least, trans sans * creates a dichotomy: either you’re trans or you’re cis, end of. I’ve been seeing this sort of rhetoric bandied about on tumblr a lot more recently, and it’s kind of upsetting to me to be honest. Again, trans* is insufficient also, but at least it hints at a hope of there being more than a binary out there. And that is really, really important to some of us.
Basically all of what aces and aros have to say about relationships have to do with the personal. “Relationships don’t work just one way”, “you’re not broken for wanting to be alone”, “stop centering sexual-romantic relationships”. Those topics and issues are all well and good and deserve to be talked about, no doubt. But hardly anyone goes deeper.
Why are sexual-romantic relationships at the top of the ladder? Why are some of us seen as sad and pathetic (or possibly dangerous, even) for being fine with growing old alone? Where do these conceptions come from?
To put it frankly, they come from marriage as a means of providing safety nets and welfare. These are things that the government should be providing, but have instead historically placed that burden on the nuclear family to generate for those within it. “Dying alone” is such a sob story here because we treat our elderly like shit. Senior care facilities are hellholes run and staffed by the apathetic and abusive. Senior citizens account for an enormous number of those in poverty, those who are unemployed/on welfare, or without adequate healthcare. Those are the things that being married is supposed to help fix. So fuck you if you don’t want to get married.
This is why being a single mother is so much worse than being a single father. As a man, you are generally conceived as being the source of those benefits that your nuclear family would otherwise receive: your wife and 2.5 kids.
The problem comes down to the definition of family in this country, as Martha Fineman pretty well illustrates in her book The Autonomy Myth. We need to de-center marriage altogether, no matter what the hell the people in those marriages actually feel toward each other personally. Family, and all the benefits imparted to those therein, needs to be able to constitute a wide variety of relationships. Two siblings and an elderly parent. Two romantic partners and a disabled cousin. Elderly parents, a sibling, and their combined children. Three romantic partners and their adopted child. Two long-cohabiting friends.
If we stopped relying on the nuclear family to be the sole supplier of financial security, health benefits and so on, then we could make room for a nearly limitless array of relationship clusters to be both economically and socially meaningful.
So let’s not beat around the bush– if you are a staunch advocate for the de-hierarchicalization of personal relationships, then you need to be a proponent of abolishing marriage as it currently functions; we need to get rid of this idea that the “best” and “most important relationship” is the one that is economically productive; as in, results in a child (labor, future caretaking security) or legal benefits (tax breaks, healthcare, inheritance rights). That is the only way to put real power into the hands of GSRM folks. That is the only way our relationships will be counted as meaningful. It is the only way that we can break the hold that fertile-cis-hetero-sexual-romantic relationships have on our society.
It’s not a matter of what kind of love you have for who or whether or not you want to have sex. This literally needs to be more about the legal ramifications of being asexual or aromantic (or poly, or nonbinary, or whatever) in the adult world and how you are expected to fit into the machine.
So when I said that I wasn’t offended yesterday, I thought about it some more and decided that it was a lie.
I am offended and frustrated. I am because of this:
If the RSBRH makes you happy in your life [...] fine. I won’t be associating with you on a personal level or emotionally engaging with you (that’s pretty much why all romantic-sexual people are blacklisted in my book, as potential Friends), but I won’t think you’re a terrible human being either. I might see you as my political enemy because you stand in the way of the relationships and love that I desire–for myself and for others like me–by perpetuating the RSBRH norm, but I won’t have anything personal against you.
This? This is fucked up and completely lacking in anything even remotely resembling intersectional thinking. This is selfish, privileged horseshit parading around as the enlightened yet downtrodden “little guy”.
This is the white feminist telling the black woman to not take her husband’s last name, the Latina to stop having so many kids and aspiring to domesticity. This is the white suburban anarchist completely ignoring the impact marriage equality has for immigrants (specifically brown immigrants) while screaming about how assimilationist it is. This is the vegan giving more of a shit about the rights of livestock and honeybees than the undocumented laborers that pick their fucking kale (and who will pay through the nose for dandelion greens while turning around and treating it as a pest in their own yards).
Good, I don’t want to know you personally either, because you sound like you’ve got your head so far up your colorblind, Free Love 2.0 ass that you can’t even begin to see how this is problematic. Not even that, but you’re preemptively cutting off everyone who might disagree with you for any reason.
I’m happy that this is a fringe movement.
There’s been some posts about it very recently about this in the part of the ace-osphere that I pay attention to. I’m particularly brain-foggy right now so I didn’t understand half of what I read, but a few things made sense to me, namely this, from The Thinking Asexual:
So, yeah, the RSBRH isn’t problematic in itself, unless you want to look at the overall failure rate of romantic-sexual relationships and loneliness and crappy “friendships” and estranged biological family relationships and conclude that maybe more people would be happy if they did their relationships differently.
And I realized that this may or may not be the root of just how skeeved I am by the concept of relationship anarchy (aside from it feeling coercive as all hell: “no, you need to pay attention to ME and love ME just as much as everyone you’ve ever so much as spoken to, and if you don’t then you’re a terrible friend”): this seems to me to be a really fucking white-American perspective to have. The crux of the issue, to me, lies in the assumption that chosen relationships are the only real relationships you will ever have.
Which means people from more traditional cultures and POC and the like who are often accused of being ass-backwards for putting family relationships at the fore, or making them just as important as any of their other relationships, are kind of left out of the picture here… and have technically been doing “relationship anarchy” since forever, minus the casual sex and polyamory and shit. Because wow, we are so backwards for wanting marriage and monogamy too. (Not exactly the same at all, but a lot of the criticism of white feminism’s stance on black women’s personal relationships are similar to those I feel are relevant to the way Latin@ have to navigate love and sex and family. Namely, fuck off white feminism. You are not relevant here. Same goes for you, white ace/aro politics.)
This is literally one of the most racially and ethnically deaf/bland concepts I’ve seen get propped up by the ace community so far. It’s not even offensive… it’s just laughably boring and irrelevant to me and my experience being an ace and aro-spectrum Latin@.
Ace community, you need to up your intersectionality game like whoa.
ETA: Do I think that non-normative relationships are inherently problematic? No. Do I think that relationship anarchy as a politic is inherently problematic? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. It’s not my job to make it relevant to the non-white, the non-Euro-American. I do think it’s flawed right now, in the form I most often see it. To me, it’s in its middle-class white suburban anarchist kid phase. It’s got some growing up to do. There are a lot of poly and ace/aro POC and culturally non-white people out there. All I know is that I don’t see any of them writing about this (and I’ve done some looking).
I don’t really know where to put these thoughts; they could have gone over on my religious blog as well, but for some reason I decided that this was just slightly more relevant. I guess I could make it more relevant to this one with a little extra thought.
I have 3 blood families. One for my father’s side, and two for my mother’s. Her parents split up when she was very young, and her father went off to start a new family afterward. My grandmother had dozens of drug-fueled affairs and never settled down again. But I’ve got my grandfather’s extended family on that side, as well as my grandmother’s. My mom was estranged to her dad’s family for most of her young life, and I don’t think that I started interacting with them until I was an older adolescent. They always seemed like such a happy, whole family. Two sons and two daughters, my grandpa was married to his second wife until he died.
He died a few years ago, 4 months before I got married. His wife and kids still haven’t met my husband yet. They don’t reply to messages inviting them out to dinner, and never really have. But we visit every time we’re invited. We’ve been there for weddings, funerals, birthdays, holidays, football games, card games.
My mom continues to make the effort, because she doesn’t have too many people that she can consider herself close to. No siblings, no partner, one kid, and a whole slew of aunts, uncles, and cousins on her mother’s side that are almost as messed up as her mother is. She needs to continue making the effort.
But they don’t even want to grab beers and pizza with us and meet the love of my life. It’s tough to admit, especially since there’s no bad blood, no harsh words ever exchanged… but that hurts. A lot. My own half aunts and uncles can’t set aside an evening to do that; not once in 2 years and counting. And to have this be the only complaint I have with them? Pretty much one of the worst complaints you can have. And it feels so wrong to acknowledge this and also acknowledge how nice and hospitable and welcoming they are when we visit. But it’s as if, as soon as we leave, we don’t exist. We suddenly get treated as if we’re strangers, our texts ignored as though they were going to a wrong number.
I’m not really sure if I have the energy to keep reaching out to them on their terms, and have it fall apart as soon as we ask the smallest thing of them?
Sure, my grandmother’s side is messed up, but at least they always seem eager to welcome new people into the fold. When they aren’t rubbing dimes together or working 12-hour shifts, they’re always happy to grab beers, let alone return calls and answer texts.
I’ve been thinking hard about names for a month or two now. Thinking about changing my last name when I go to change my given names at some point in the future to truly mark the moment of my transition. I don’t want to keep my father’s name. There’s too much there that is just plain horrifying. Stuff that weighs me down like lead but isn’t my history to reconcile and make amends for. Relatives that I never got to meet are dead because of that legacy. I don’t want the name associated with it.
I don’t want my mother’s maiden name either. So I thought about my grandfather’s name. I thought about it a lot, actually, and was so close to being sold on it… and then this hit me. Trying to get in touch with them the past few weeks to schedule something for the holidays has proven to be futile. We don’t even live that far apart–half an hour at the most. To me, it seems clear that they have no room for us in their family. And I don’t want their name if that’s what it means to me now.
I have the “paraphilia” tag tracked on my wordpress dash. Not a lot shows up there, and even less often are they of interest. But I feel like its important to keep some kind of tabs on how people talk about folks like me.
So today I stumble upon someone’s term paper for their Abnormal Psych class, which happens to concern itself with why BDSM is healthy and paraphilia is ickybad. Seeing as how I am both in a D/s relationship and am a paraphile, I click the link, hoping for the… well, not really hoping for anything seeing as how the title of the paper is BDSM: Perception versus Reality – Distinguishing Between Healthy Practitioners and Paraphilia.
First off, that is one hideously constructed dichotomy there. Seriously? The opposite of ‘healthy kink’ is ‘paraphilia’? Of course, the student in question frames her understanding of what paraphilia is completely around this made-up “lack of consent” criteria. I’ve done quite a bit of research on fetishism and paraphilia, and absolutely no definition I have ever run into even mentions consent in the context of a necessary feature.
(Nevermind that the citation is from the fucking DSM itself, which should be the end of the conversation, but to emphasize just how ridiculous this ‘lack of consent’ and ‘criminality’ thing is, I’ll keep going.)
From Psychology Today:
A paraphilia is a condition in which a person’s sexual arousal and gratification depend on fantasizing about and engaging in sexual behavior that is atypical and extreme. A paraphilia can revolve around a particular object (children, animals, underwear) or around a particular act (inflicting pain, exposing oneself). Most paraphilias are far more common in men than in women. The focus of a paraphilia is usually very specific and unchanging.
From The Free Dictionary:
Any of a group of psychosexual disorders characterized by sexual fantasies, feelings, or activities involving a nonhuman object, a nonconsenting partner such as a child, or pain or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner. Also calledsexual deviation.
a pattern of recurring sexually arousing mental imagery or behavior that involves unusual and especially socially unacceptable sexual practices (as sadism or pedophilia)
Paraphilias are problems with controlling impulses that are characterized by recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors involving unusual objects, activities, or situations not considered sexually arousing to others.
Paraphilia (in Greekpara παρά = beside and -philia φιλία = friendship, having the meaning of love) is a biomedical term used to describe sexual arousal to objects, situations, or individuals that are not part of normative stimulation and that may cause distress or serious problems for the paraphiliac or persons associated with him or her.
I hope you get the hint.
At the end of the day, a paraphilia is an orientation like any other. How one chooses to act on it is what makes it good or bad. Tell me the fuck how a latex fetish is criminal and has no care for consent? Or a foot fetish? Or a fart fetish? Or, like mine, a giant fetish?
Oh no, I might watch Evangelion without the characters’ consent. Or ask my husband to treat me like I’m a third his size without his consent. Shit, got me there.
A lot of asexuals have kinks, fetishes, and for all intents and purposes be considered paraphiles (by the DSM definition, sans the “sexual” framing). No studies have been conducted on this “”"phenomenon”"” before, and I wager it will be some time before we become interesting enough for it. And then be subsequently dehumanized in the same way as the paper in question does to sexual paraphiles. (Not to mention that assuming all paraphilia is sex-based is objectifying in it’s own grossly simplistic way.)
I guess there’s only so much that I can expect from someone studying kink and paraphilia without, apparently, being kinky or paraphilic themselves. It just kind of makes my skin crawl a little.
Right, and then there was this proposed diagnosis that the same blogger wrote about, which, as a neuro-atypical and asexual person, I find pretty damn offensive:
Nonsexual Personality Disorder
The last response paper of the semester for Abnormal Psychology, the question was a toughy:
Suggest a possible additional personality disorder that could be added to DSM -V and list the criteria for diagnosing it. How would the addition of your personality disorder benefit to the field of psychopathology?
Personality disorders (PD) are distinct from other types of psychiatric disorders because the symptoms are an abnormal or maladaptive expression of traits. Personality traits are enduring patters of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and the way in which one lives in that environment. Because personality traits are rather stable once formed, PDs are difficult to treat and require a great deal of cognitive restructuring and skills-based training.
PDs are broken down into three clusters, including odd/eccentric, dramatic/erratic, and anxious/fearful; from here, there are 10 subtypes. Given the richly diverse array of people in the world, it seems there are other classifications that could be named. Some PDs have similarities, including hypersexuality and/or inappropriate sexual behavior, but none name an utter absence of sexual desire or behavior. There are some disorders, depression for example, that cause a lack of sexual appetite, but it seems like there are people who experience something more lasting. I propose Nonsexual Personality Disorder; the diagnostic criteria are as follows:
A. A marked inability to experience sexual attraction, beginning in early adulthood and indicated by 5 or more:
° Inability to interpret sexual signals
° Uncomfortable in intimate situations with a partner
° Avoidance of situations in which sexual activity may occur
° Lack of attraction to the opposite or same sex
° Complete lack of sexual thoughts
° Touch aversion
° Inability to experience romantic relationships
° Social isolation
° Inability to become sexually aroused
B. Does not occur as a result of sexual dysfunction or medical disorder.
It would manifest as something similar to schizoid PD, in which the individual is rather socially detached. However, unlike schizoid PD, this person would take enjoyment in other types of close relationships, such as with family or platonic friends. Additionally, they would not exhibit flattened affect, excepting in sexual situations. In this dimension, this individual does not possess the skills to understand or interpret social cues. A person may develop this due to either a predisposition to a schizotypal-like PD, lack or disregulation of hormones, or a lack of physical contact in childhood.
This is in contrast to individuals who list their sexual identity as asexual. For an asexual person, the thought of sex simply doesn’t occur as it does for others. For instance, a person may have romantic relationships, they may even get married, but sexual activity is never a motivation nor a desire. There are some who engage in sexual activity for procreation, or to please their partner, but for the most part asexuals have no need. Note, asexual individuals are capable of romantic relationships, and at times even sexual arousal, persons with nonsexual PD are not.
This would benefit the field by bringing to light a trait that seems to be hiding in plain sight. It’s easy to understand how a person could become frustrated or ostracized by lacking a desire that’s so prominent in adolescence. The possibility that this PD may result from a lack of physical contact in childhood needs confirmation as well; research has shown that there are devastating effects for these children, but can it be classified as a PD? Additionally, those experiencing this issue who do want to have children can have a chance at getting psychological help. If we understood the etiology of their disorder more clearly, better, more effective help could be provided.
Please, someone else who’s smarter than me tackle this and explain why such a DSM entry would be a recipe for fucking disaster.
This is something I gotta get out there, even though I have a relatively small readership still.
Sex identity, as a construct independent of gender identity.
If we are able to acknowledge the separation of sexual attraction, romantic attraction, and so on and so forth, then we really should be doing a better job at minding the difference between sex and gender when we talk about trans* experience. It’s done, but I find most references to this to be lacking, as it seems to be conceived of something to be settled for, rather than acknowledged on its own merits. Most commonly the differentiation is made when talking about pre- and non-op people. In other words, it’s often only used to justify a lack of change.
Over the past few months I’ve taken to identifying as “not bigender, but agender and neutrois at the same time”. And only until a couple of days ago, when I was talking with someone about the intersection of BIID and being trans*, and they brought up the idea of sex identity. “Oh!” I thought. “That’s what that is!”. I then felt like an idiot for not putting one and one together.
Of course I’m not bigender or genderfluid or genderflux or any of that stuff. My gender identity is agender. My sex identity is neutrois.
I remember seeing images from that Marilyn Manson album on the internet someplace (I think I was probably looking up gothy desktop wallpapers) when I was in middle school, a year or two after puberty, and being completely enamored and fascinated. “I want to look like that” briefly flashed through my mind, but, as with many thoughts that flash through the mind, it didn’t offer itself up to much analysis or coherent contemplation. About 4 years later I remember drawing my idea of a hermaphroditic body a few times in a sketchbook: a flat chest and no/internal genitals. I ashamedly thought to myself that it looked like perfection to me and quietly buried the idea, spending the last few years of high school and college trying to embrace the anatomy I was born with by accentuating it. I discovered thongs and corsets and push-up bras. To be taken seriously as an adult, I had to be all the woman I could be. Not being female when it said so on your birth certificate was for the immature and childish. But in the end, it felt like blue walls in a north-facing room: cold and unnatural. I kind of didn’t know where to go from there.
Can’t go home but I can’t stay here.
All the while I never experienced much in the way of marked gender dysphoria. Trans* people who are convinced that their condition is the result of a neurological defect and nothing more, often can’t seem to grasp why anyone would choose to transition if their life didn’t depend on it. No, I don’t hate the sex organs I was born with (well, not all of them…), and I don’t hate the way my genitals look and feel. But they don’t feel wholly real and integrated with the rest of my body. They feel like a prosthesis I was given at birth and have learned to make the most of and sometimes genuinely enjoy. But even though there’s always that subtle feeling of it not being naturally part of you, you still don’t have any concept of what it would be like to be without it. And as we all know, giving up something fake but familiar is hard and not always worth it in the long run. Sometimes the fake thing is serviceable and useful in some critical way. Sometimes the genuine thing is a luxury that you can’t afford. There are all sorts of reasons that one might end up making do with the former and have it be a good decision for them.
I’ve thought about what it might be like to have a penis. And every time I do, I end up coming to the conclusion that it would have to be a small dick–or even better, a micro-penis–in order for me to probably have the same kind of non-dysphoria that I have now. To be able to comfortably distance myself from it in the same way that I can with a vulva.
It’s interesting to me that many agender and genderless people are said to not particularly mind the bod they were born with as no sex is necessarily more appealing than another. But that more neutrois people, who decidedly have a gender, a neutral one, have more of a tendency to seek medical intervention. I don’t know if these things can be backed by statistical evidence, or if it’s anecdote + personal bias about what a certain gender expression would more “logically” result in? Like, it seems like the difference being hinted at by these loose definitions is that one is transgender and the other is transsexual (which, for some reason, is a nasty word to the younger generations of trans* people).
(Another reason I prefer to leave the asterisk in trans*: I’m not, in a strict sense, actually transgender. I’m not a different gender than the one I was assigned at birth. I’m just not any at all. So I’m neither really trans* nor cis, though I call myself trans* as a useful shorthand to mean “not cis”.)
So, in short: there needs to be more pointed discussion of “sex identity” that doesn’t frame it in terms of a more primary “gender identity”. And maybe it’s time to start thinking about the use in reclaiming “transsexual”. Because that’s all some of us consider ourselves.