CW: Transantagonism, Binarism, Racism, Violence, Suicide, Surgery, Truscum, etc
Trans and polynary (non-binary) people are not a new phenomena, we’re not strange, we’re not deviants, we’re not a product of “western decadence” and we’re not disordered. This is actually news to many people, especially within the “western world”. And yet almost every society touched by eurocentrism has laws, systems and whole institutions in place to subject us to a unique inhumane treatment which holds our humanity hostage lest we submit fully to seeing ourselves as defective, ill and disordered.
How We Got Here
Different societies of different people in different times and different places on this our shared home planet have had widely differing ideas about how gender works, how many genders are there, who could have what gender and how people of different genders relate to each other. This diversity began to shrink rapidly with the advent of european colonization. You know, the “age of discovery”, where we white people were astonished that the people living all over the globe are a little different to us and have failed to name and document their homelands in european languages. Coincidentally it overlaps with the “age of enlightenment” (also called “age of reason”, because why stop at one cynically misleading name for it?). You know, the one where we developed new rationalizations for colonialism, simply coopted every critical thinker and researcher in the history of ever under the european concept of “science”, and decided that anything that didn’t fit our narrow ideals was inferior and probably ill, disordered or deformed.
All that trouble started about one and a half millennium earlier, when christianity adopted the gender ideology of ancient greece. Ancient greece, in case you didn’t know, was absolutely obsessed with binaries, and as they were not only staunchly patriarchical, but also viewed the androtypical (what the system considers “male”) body as superior in about every aspect and would have probably done away with everyone else if they didn’t need someone to bear their children. Ancient greece was not representative of how people around the globe, or even just within “europe” viewed gender either. So it’s no coincidence that christianity lost five of the seven genders known to early Judaism, from which it sprung. It deliberately dropped them in favor of the binary system of ancient greece. The following bloody triumph of christianity over the european peninsula wiped out anyone who publicly disagreed and so europe forgot (among many other things) that the world of gender wasn’t actually all that bleak and limited.
Split In Two: How Clinging To Binary Terms Harms Us All
CW: gendered violence, sexism, abuse, exorsexism
By the time we invented “science” to support our colonialist ideology that binary view of gender was already so entrenched that few dared to even question it at all. But a lie is always afraid of being found out and so we also created Binarism, the genocidal erasure of all gender systems in the people we conquered, as dissent is punishable. So if anything reached the public, it was about the “primitive” and obviously unnatural gender relations these people had. In europe, meanwhile, anything that we would count towards being trans today was framed in terms of homosexuality, which is why you find basically nothing about trans people in historical texts. And with the advent of psychiatry and eugenics, things were about to become even worse.
The effects of binarism are still alive today, making trans and polynary BBIPOC (Black, Brown, Indigenous People Of Color) the most vulnerable, persecuted, murdered and (sexually) exploited trans and polynary people worldwide. The illegalization and pathologization of queer people in general is often even tied to development aid to poorer countries, which are in their majority former victims of european colonization. This mostly concerns christian aid programs, but even federal aid by the US government is often tied to such conditions.
The idea of treating people like lifestock and “breeding” them into a superior form goes back to the ancient greeks, too, namely to Plato. You know, *the* Plato on which all of “western philosophy” is based. If you consider what kind of person he was and how, among other horrible things, he really thought slavery was a good idea, it doesn’t come as quite as much of a surprise to you how we turned out in the end. The colonialist culture of eurocentrism picked up on that concept and run with it. At lightspeed. Progress in unraveling the mysteries of biology and inheritance were immediately viewed through this lens and it led to a widespread pathologization of about everything that did not fit the eugenicist ideals of europe and its colonies. Something that amuses me personally is that the Germanic tribes, which for a long time were considered the most pure white people to descend from by race science, were everything but binary in their gender.
The effect this had on trans people is that our perception changed somewhat from unchristian criminals to mentally ill, disabled and disordered people with unnatural cravings and disturbing identity delusions. We were still identified as homosexual, though. The treatments reached untold levels of cruelty and inhumanity. Healing them or at least eradicate them was the motto. At any cost. As long as it was us who payed the price. Even in the most generous framing of trans people, we were still only ever seen as suffering from delusions and ill development that made us think we don’t match the supposed truth of our bodies.
It was not until the arrival of Magnus Hirschfeld, later with his Institut für Sexualwissenschaften (sexology institute), that we even got our own name under the eurocentric hegemonic thought. He coined the term “trans” in “transvestite” and “transsexualism” from which we get transgender and transsexual today. The latter is sadly primarily a mistake made in translation, as Hirschfeld spoke of “(ger.) Transsexualismus”, which does not refer to sexuality. So the translation as “transsexuality”, which would correspond to the german “Transsexualität”, and “transsexual” were very misleading and placed being trans with the sexualities, further adding to the stigma for trans peoeple as being sexual deviants and predators.
Common Biologically Essentialist Language
CW: Discussion of Transantagonism / Biological Essentialism / bio-essentialism
The misunderstanding/mistranslation could not be effectively cleared up, mostly because the Nazis burned all of Hirschfeld’s work in one of their biggest book burnings. Hirschfeld, who had already emigrated, died two years later. Just how much the Nazis hated trans people is rarely talked about. Since Hirschfelds work was unparalleled in the world they could, in one fell swoop, stop the whole movement for the liberation of trans people. The paragraph they boosted from misdemeanor to felony for this, §175, was not even overturned after the war. Rather, the Allied occupation supported the post-war governments decision to keep the paragraph and even helped in its execution in the meantime. In the Soviet occupation zone the paragraph existed until 1957. It wasn’t until 1994 that the paragraph was finally struck from the laws of now reuinted germany.
In collaboration with the Nazis, the post-war society of the “western world”, had effectively erased trans people once more and had no intention of picking up on any of the work of Hirschfeld. Yeah, being ignorant of trans people is literally Nazi heritage. The names stuck, but the perspective of “science” just reverted back to what it was since the 19th century.
Power Of Definition
The schizoid nature of the terms now in use, which were superficially those coined by Hirschfeld, but whose innards were entirely the inhumane pathologization of the earlier centuries, then lead to psychiatry and the medical sciences targeting trans people specifically, rather than treating them as just being afflicted of another form of homosexuality.
Now being considered an illness to be treated improved surgical and medical options for trans people and also opened up legal options, but it came at such a high price that we’re still paying it off today. The age of Transmedicalism has dawned.
While in some parts of the world regulations are eased and even polynary genders legally recognized, the situation is still dire and even the worst of options are not available everywhere in the world today.
The path to having your legal name and gender changed and accessing hormone therapy and associated surgery is one of first admitting to being ill or disordered in a specific way. You are not a full and equal person, you are a person with a disordered identity and the “help” you get is because you are pathological. You have to perform suffering for doctors and judges, because the underlying definition for your “condition” is one of suffering in “the wrong body”. Doctors and judges who are all cis people, most of them even cis men, and can not just not relate to your experience, they also have the full authority to determine whether you are *really* suffering. And to make matters even worse all that is done primarily on a binary model. Polynary people live in a hell of their own.
Transitioning While Nonbinary
Many people have asked the question, how can you transition if you're not male or female? What are you transitioning…
Research into trans people happens through the same cis gaze. It is investigated as an abnormal development and receives a level of scrutiny that cis people cannot imagine and would never have to endure.
Trans and polynary people born into this post-war world were not just denied and affirming identities and a language that recognizes them as healthy human beings, they had to find their identities within a medical language that pathologized them and their existence through and through and would not hear them as experts on their own experience. The only alternative for the post war generations of trans and polynary people to this kind of medical language is the language of fetishization and pornography, which was just as dehumanizing and controlled by the cis gaze as everything else.
Writing these sentences is so easy that I fear that those who do not already experience it will not comprehend just what kind of utterly crushing and dehumanizing effect this has and how I’m sick to my stomach thinking of just how much hegemonic power stands behind a system that doesn’t care if we live or die.
So if you’re reading this a white/cis person, take a break to reflect on it. Just try to imagine living in our shoes for a while. The faces, words and fists of so many people who would greet *you* friendly in the streets coming down on us every single day, all backed up by a violent system that has their back in everything but the most extreme circumstances, imagine them coming down on you instead.
Obviously that’s not just true for white trans people, so you should consider people affected by racism and other forms of oppression as well, not just as an afterthought.
Don’t stop until you feel sick and want to curl up in a corner. Then imagine this as your daily experience. If you are not feeling like you’re dying inside, you are not doing it right.
Heck, even our suicide statistics are seen as proof of just how sick unwell we are due to our “condition”, not due to the treatment we receive.
We are not even remotely in control of our own narrative or identities, while cis people feel all too comfortable treating our existence as something to debate and deny. A history of oppressing us for over a thousand years has made them confident in their arbitrary beliefs about gender and biology.
Science Is Not Our Friend
While science and medicine like to portray themselves as progressive and certain developments do support our cause it all depends on giving science and medicine the power of definition over who we are. Science and medicine see us through the cis gaze as the other that needs to have a genetic or otherwise biological “cause”. Again no similar treatment for cis people, who don’t need to have a “cause” for their existence and validity.
So while science and medicine are opening up to come forward and say that its definitely more complicated than “two genders defined by genitals”, building our validity on science and medicine is overlooking that they, for all their claims, are not being objective, rational or impartial about it, but have transmedicalism as a foundational element in all of it.
The Arbitrariness Of Sex As A Biological Concept
CW: Cissexism, Binarism, Biological Essentialism, Colonialism, Ra*e, Murder, Slavery
And take a moment to ponder what we’re opening ourselves up to by giving science and medicine the authority to declare us valid or invalid. What if they find the “trans gene”? Or the specific hormonal cocktail that one has to receive in-utero to “become trans”? What if they identify a region in your brain that marks you as “actually trans”? What if you’re trans, but your body tells on you and the science men say nay? They are tracking potential candidates for each of those points already.
Surgery and hormone therapy are expensive, so not being legally (and hence scientifically) recognized, does limit your options. The fact that trans people have generally low employment rates due to both discrimination (especially for trans women) and our overall bad mental health means we often cannot afford the care we need.
Trans Judas And The Pretenders
So while we’re just not reaching a state where affirmative trans and polynary narratives are becoming widely available within our communities that offer a liberatory alternative to the the transmedicalist narratives of the system, there are still some among us who would rather that didn’t happen.
If you followed me so far, you might be able to image how someone growing up in the post-war societies might have internalized all those dehumanizing narratives from being forced to build your own identity and idea of self with the words of a society that rather you did not exist in the first place. The further you go back, the more important absolute submission to the vocabulary and definition was a matter of life and death — or at least a life of endless suffering have been. The AIDS epidemic robbed us of the majority of trans elders we could have today to look up to and be our guidance, with trans and polynary BBIPOC being hit the worst again. Especially the white ones that were left often preferred assimilation under horrible conditions to standing out more than necessary.
And while these mindsets are about to become a minority overall, the further affirmative and liberatory trans narratives spread, there are still those among us that think we should just accept societies power of definition over us and roll with it. That’s not necessarily their conscious reasoning. To them this is an issue of unruly and unregulated trans people not putting in enough effort to appease the cis society that holds power over them giving trans people a “bad name”. This kind of toxic subculture is called “truscum” interchangeably with “transmedicalist”. It’s them that, besides cis people, push hardest to keep gender and body dysphoria as requirements to be recognized as trans.
- Gender dysphoria is the feeling of the gender people see you as not matching the gender you determine yourself to be or generally feeling unwell of how you are perceived in terms of your gender or the lack thereof.
- Body dysphoria is feeling like your body is not right for one reason or another. They are not interchangeable, they can come as a combination or individually, not just for trans people, but cis people as well (see bonus at the end).
They are really fond of the term “transsexual”, which is widely considered to be derogatory and a slur now and the irony of the terms origin might be lost on them. Hirschfeld had a simple requirement to decide who is trans and who is not: When people say they’re trans, they are trans. With Hirschfeld’s help and support easy and accessible ways to change your legal name and gender were not too far from being official law. Ooops.
And while I personally have been at the receiving end of toxicity and harassment from truscum and as much as that makes me dislike the individuals, I fully recognize it as something that was done to them, done to us. When you lack a good framework to find yourself, you might end up in something that is widely accept but harmful to the core. A tragedy splitting our already fractured and vulnerable community even further. And it’s not even like they have much to win here. No matter how well you play by the rules of your oppressor, they will dump and potentially destroy you when they get bored of you or when you become uncomfortable for them. And even in the best of cases they’re betraying their siblings for the scraps of validity that come with being seen as mentally ill and a mistake of nature.
Explained: Normativity And Othering
Social and economic power structures that become predominant are often called hegemonies (singular: hegemony). The most…
It is quite clear to me that the control of our narrative has to be returned to us and that there can not be a satisfying solution that leaves the control over our lives in the hands of people that do not have to bear the consequences of the rules they make for us. Self-determination for all is the only humane solution. Science, medicine and state power should not be the ones to decide what gender you are. And every budding trans ally should not just support us in thought, but also in action. Call out your friends and educate yourself so you can echo us rightly.
And if anything, the discomfort trans and polynary people might feel with their bodies should make them *more normal* to cis people than the other way around.
Bonus: Transhumanism And Some Numbers I Find Fascinating
It didn’t quite fit anywhere else, but when it comes to trans validity and access to surgery and hormone therapy the most common concerns raised (echoing the systems conditions) are about whether or not we’re making informed decisions and willing and able to live with the consequences. Besides being incredibly infantilizing and patronizing, it also hides an entirely different discussion behind sheer transantagonism. We’re living in times where our technological and medical advances allow us to interfere with our bodies natural function to a degree like never before in history. We have access down to the level of our own genetic code. And the moral debate that comes with it is almost entirely smothered by gatekeeping trans and non-binary people from having the same access to it as cis people.
And there’s no easier way to showcase how this popular narrative does not at all reflect the reality of things: Numbers. Net worth, to be precise. The net worth of the cosmetic surgery industry. It is almost exclusively used by cis people unsatisfied with how well their bodies correspond to their arbitrary and gendered expectations, even though no one would call that gender dysphoria, right? Right?… Well I do. Anyway. The number is about $20 Billion for 2015. Projected to reach upwards of $40 Billion by 2025. The general cosmetic industry, which is arguably used primarily by cis people to better appeal to their arbitrary cis ideals is at $532 Billion for 2019. So … eh, who again doesn’t feel quite right in their own bodies and gender?