2010-05-17 09:16 am
Entry tags:

On acknowledging history

I'm going to stop apologizing for missing days. This is my project, and I'm learning what I am and am not capable of regarding writing, and that's more important than meeting an arbitrary (if self-imposed) goal.

I've been mulling over a post about the use of FTM (female-to-male) and MTF (male-to-female) to describe trans people. Essentially, the author's argument is that these terms emphasize a trans person's assigned gender to the detriment of their self-defined gender.

I see that. I do think that, as a whole, cis-dominated culture places a premium on always noting a trans person's so-called "original gender". Which, come on!. That's bullshit.

However, I cannot stop seeing this post as saying that trans people should not talk positively about or acknowledge our lives when we lived as our assigned gender. I know that reading is not actually textual for that post, and I don't think the author would agree with the previous sentence. But I can't stop seeing that.

I resisted transition for a long time (well, a long time in teenager-time, three years) because I was happy. I had a great life with great friends and a great school and a great job.* And trans people, pre-transition, cannot have those things or be happy. And that message wasn't just sold to me by cis people, but by trans people too, partially under the guise of "not trans enough" and partially under the guise of "well, you'll lose all of those wonderful things if you do transition".**

And you know what, some of those good experiences that I had before I transitioned came as a result of living as a girl/woman or are only explicable by acknowledging that I was living as a girl/woman. Or have pictures of me smiling happily on an Italian hillside, dressed in a tank top that makes it abundantly clear that I once had breasts.

And now with the exception of some of my awesome friends, I can't talk about that history. Not with cis people, because I fear them latching on to my assigned gender as more valid that the one I now present. Not with trans people, because I fear them saying that those experiences invalidate my trans experience or saying that my willingness to discuss my early life positively reinforces the idea that our assigned genders are "real"/that if we just tried harder we could be happy in our assigned gender.

* Yes, I realize that I was phenomenally lucky. Yes, I realize that many of those things came because of the large amount of privilege I carry.

** I've since met trans people who didn't do this. But damn if it didn't take me a long time to find them.
2010-05-13 03:13 pm

Slightly late to the start line...on class privilege and transition!

I got sick earlier this week, so I'm a bit late to the start line. But hey, I run this place, so it's OK!

I mentioned in my last post my inability to get started because I don't have complete and polished thoughts about some of the things I'm thinking about, and this post right here? Will be Example A.

Struggles with class privilege )
2009-08-12 02:40 pm
Entry tags:

Controversial (?) things about language

First, three stories I have told about myself:

A: "My gender's has always pretty much been the same. What we think of as gendered behaviour in Western culture—the clothes we wear, the things we play with as kids, our relationship types and styles, etc—have been fairly constant through my life, with some exceptions around puberty. But, hey, puberty. Furthermore, my parents tried to free me from what I should expect in terms of gender roles, and modeled non-traditional gender roles for me. I'm lucky to have grown up with family and friends who didn't make a fuss about what my gender looked like. Anyway, I don't really feel a change to my gender post-transition."

B: "As someone who has moved through this world perceived as both male and female, I feel like I am intimately aware of the different pressures and expectations placed on men and women. The way in which men's bodies are treated as more private is particularly interesting and enraging."

C: "I've never been one to hew close to gender expectations. I've always loved trains; I am a knitter and a baker; I enjoy having emotionally close friendships; I think mucking about with tools is great fun; I love things that are beautiful and soft; I love to watch things explode. I mean, why limit yourself to the pastimes and pleasures of one socially acceptable gender?"

All of these stories are fully true. All of these stories contain only part of the truth.

I am beginning to loathe the word 'transgender' and its antonym, 'cisgender'. Or rather, I am beginning to loathe the use of those words. On their own, they're pretty unremarkable: one purportedly describes people whose gender is not in accordance with the one assigned to them at birth and the other describes people whose gender is in accordance. Also in this nexus of incipient loathing are 'genderqueer' and 'binary-identified'.*

They make me uncomfortable because I do not feel I can claim any of them as my own. If I had to choose, you know, gun-to-the-head-implausible-scenario, I'd probably choose 'cisgender' and/or 'binary-identified'. They are probably the least in conflict with my perception of myself—but they are still in conflict. Mostly because I think other people, being told the stories above might select 'transgender' and/or 'binary-identified' for me.

Now, I should say that this isn't one of those conflicts that keep me up at night, as due to the many, many privileges I am accorded, it's actually not something I have to think about a whole lot. Most of the time, I just do my thing and people see me and think: "man". Or sometimes, "weird dude...oh, he's a nerd, that's all right."**

Nevertheless, I find the whole thing a shifting mess when I wish to talk about or describe my gender in this framework—and part of the reason I don't think on it a whole lot is that I'm not sure if there is a resolution without revamping the framework, and that's work that I neither feel qualified to undertake, nor to which I have the copious free brain cycles to donate.

And finally, I find this all exhausting because I am also aware that there are assumptions that come along with 'cisgender' and 'transgender': if I were to state in comments on some blog post that "As someone who is cisgender, blah blah blah", the assumption would also be that I am cissexual***, which, you know, I'm not. Similarly (though a bit less so) if I referenced myself as 'transgender'.

So, in conclusion, basically all I want is the mess of categorizing my gender to stop being such a squishy bog. I want there to be more options in our framework. Perhaps the first step is removing the oppositionalism from transgender and cisgender? Does this ruin their meanings? Must we break everything down?

* I do not loathe people who do claim these words for themselves, as that's rude, insensitive, and toxic. Plus, that's a LOT of people to loathe. Nor do I begrudge them their identities. I just, you know, want one of my own.

**A post for another time: "how men who run in nerd circles both opt-out and opt-in to hegemonic masculinity and how, as a result, society both shames and third-genders them"

***Note that this is the first time in this post I've referenced 'cissexual' or 'transsexual'. I reference myself as transsexual without any problems, as I am, indeed someone who wants to/has changed my primary and/or secondary sex characteristics from those I was born with.
2009-06-25 03:20 pm

Hey, guess what, trans men are men!

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I think it's important enough that I'll comment on it. Because it pissed me off, and it hurt me, me personally.

The butch blogger, Sinclair Sexsmith, decided to do something about the fact that all lists of Top X Hot Women focused on women who tended to the dominant cultural feminine definition of "hot". So sie created the Top 100 Hot Butches*. Now, this is a project that I wholeheartedly appreciate, and certainly I enjoyed some of the eye candy (ahem, Rachel Maddow!).


The initial inclusion of trans men on that list was inappropriate and wrong. Flat-out wrong. It denies trans men our reality and furthers the idea that we're "just" butch women. And it denies butch women their ability to be recognized as women, not as "wannabe" men.

I won't deny that the boundaries between butches and trans men isn't blurry. Many, but certainly not all/majority, come in through the lesbian community as butches or related identities, self-included. And some small fraction of trans men hold on to "butch" as a remembrance of that community. (Icky, to me, but not over my line into unacceptable.) This blurriness is ok, and I'm even mostly ok with including trans men that include butch as one of their identities.

But it is incredibly disrespectful to include men who do not have a claim on butch simply because they are trans.

Fortunately, Sinclair has apologized and removed the trans men from the list. And this is one of the main reasons I wanted to post about this, because I feel that this is a really good example of someone on the internet fucking up, realizing sie fucked up, apologizing, and taking action. The apology feels genuine, and explicates how the realization of being wrong came about. Furthermore, the apology is accompanied with action to rectify the mistake. The only thing left on the checklist "not doing it again", and I think it's a little soon to evaluate that one.

So, in short, I'm really disappointed in the original list, as it really felt like a "this? again?" moment, but I'm impressed with the moves to fix the mistake.

*I do also have problems with this nomenclature in that not all "butchish" women identify as butch, but "Top 100 Hot Female People of Non-Feminine Gender Presentation" doesn't have much snap.
2009-06-03 07:08 am

The Gender Gap in Math...

...is nearly gone, at least in the US, so says a new study. (Abstract linked, full article behind a pay wall, summary blog post)

In short, the study finds that boys and girls score the same on math standardized exams through graduation from high school, and that they are taking calculus classes at the same rate. The study then goes on to test the hypothesis that the averages are the same, but that men have a larger standard deviation, and so there are more math geniuses that are men, and finds that, while there are more men than women above the 95th and 99th percentile, that ratio has changed with time and with culture of origin, indicating that this is likely a culturally derived factor.

I find this to jive strongly with my experience. I work in physics, a STEM field with a poor reputation for gender equality, and currently at an institution that is below average, even for our field, even while it is a top-ranked department.

As both a graduate student and as an undergraduate student, I earned a reputation among my peers for being at the top of my class. But I noticed a marked difference between undergrad (when I lived as a woman) and grad (when I live as a man) in how my peers treated that reputation. As a grad student, it was treated matter-of-fact: someone's got to be at the top, eh, it's him. As an undergrad, it was treated as a bit of a challenge to the boys in my class. Not all of them, but some.

I will say, with some relief, that this isn't true for my research groups. I talk more, and have more responsibility now, but I attribute that to being a grad student, rather than an undergrad. I'm supposed to have more responsibility. I think part of the reason for this is that I've worked in two extremely female-friendly groups. My current group has 50% female professors, which is unheard of in my field. My undergrad group was 75% female grad students. With numbers like those, you don't get anywhere if you don't respect and listen to the contributions of women.

All of which is to say that both the numbers and my personal experience uphold the idea that it is cultural factors holding women back from numerical equivalency in STEM fields, both cultural ideas about what women can do and "lifestyle factors" (the ever-popular euphemism for, "hey, some people want to have kids and a life AND do science").

Now, this isn't a new thought for a trans man to have; Ben Barres has advocated this view for a long time. But I feel that it's worth repeating, because while the plural of anecdote isn't data, we're far enough apart in academic careers and fields that I'm adding more perspective.
2009-05-22 07:07 pm

Introduction, or does the world need another blog?

Probably not.

However, I've noticed a dearth of blogs by a) trans men b) trans scientists c) physicists anywhere in the BTGL* community. Being all three, and "be the change", blah blah blah, here I am.

So, who am I?

I am a graduate student in physics, studying neutrinos and dark matter at a major American university. I'm interested in the matter of the universe that takes up quite a bit of the energy budget of the universe, but is invisible to us thus far. I am also an experimentalist, which means that I'm doing actual experiments—I go out with actual objects and look at actual signals. Together, these things mean that I spend the vast majority of my time measuring zero, debugging my software, and trying to figure out where my light leaks are.

I am also a trans man. I spent the first 22-ish years of my life living as a woman in America; I now live as a man. Beyond that, I'm unwilling to divulge details of my gender and sex, even in the relative anonymity of the internet.

I do not think these two facts of my life are necessarily related or should be related, but they, in some ways, are. First of all, physics (and especially my university) has a gender problem, and I'm interested in the way my experience interacts with that problem. Less talked about is the fact that I know very, very few physicists that id as LBGQ. I'm also interested in the interaction there, though as a straight guy, I may have less to say about that. So, I'm hoping to post about the interaction between the scientific establishment and gender and sexuality.

However, I also want to post about things that are one or the other, interesting new results, trans issues in general, gender issues in general, and so on. My aim is to have one major post a week, with other small posts to supplement that. We'll see how it goes.

*I have problems with this terminology and grouping. Nevertheless...hardly anyone.