The X Utopia

Warning: This post contains opinions which may be offensive to some readers. It is the authors intention to develop debate and inquiry not offend or ostracise transgendered people from the feminist sphere. Any transgendered feminists who would like to respond would be very, very welcome, please email us at info@feminaust.org

I have a problem with transgender.

Not transgendered people or transgender activism like the push to have it removed from the DSM as as mental health problem but the actual thing in and of itself.

As a feminist, one of my big, long term political aims is what I like to call the X Utopia. A world in which gender does not exist. Where sex organs can define exactly how you have sex (as in physically) and determine your potential to become pregnant, but play no other part in your life, your ambitions, your ability to get a job, the way you are treated when you are at school etc. Where pink and blue are just colours and skirts and trousers just clothes. This is my X Utopia and transgender is getting in its theoretical/philosophical way.

Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh, maybe I am just struggling with how to engage with the people with whom I should share the greatest affinity when it comes to this struggle but yet find myself at odds with them. See in my understanding, by “being” transgendered, you are buying into what gender is. Ungendered is something I can understand, an anarchist refusal to accept that the gender you were assigned at birth and most importantly the way it is constructed in society and the expectations that construction puts on an individual, that I can understand. But choosing to live as the other gender in your clothing, actions, manner etc feels to me like a conservative acceptance that gender exists, instead of the refusal to be defined that I dream of.

Transex and intersex I do understand. To me that is about a deep seated physical need to be and do something that your body is unable to do (either through birth or intervention by medical “professionals”). To me that is a sexual and physical desire, at its base level the desire to penetrate or be penetrated, that makes total sense to me. It fits with the call from trans people not to always be lumped with homosexual issues, that they are not one and the same, that trans people are not always gay but sometimes they are and sometimes their desires change with their physical changes. This is all stuff I can understand and get behind.

Now to make this clear and to out my own personal privilege, I am a gender conforming lesbian woman. I have long hair, I often wear skirts and dresses and pretty shoes, I often wear make up and paint my nails and wax my legs. So I am a far cry from anything remotely resembling qualified to talk about this issue with authority. But as a feminist, striving to be allowed to do all those things above while also not shaving my arm pits and relishing my luscious pit curls, being physical and strong and building great big rippling guns (year of the arms), wearing a suit and tie to work one day and a party dress the next I feel somewhat undermined by a fellow movement to which I am both strongly aligned and yet challenged and confused by.

As a social activist I refuse to denounce or deny the importance of trans issues, in fact, they really do lie at the heart of feminism as they bring into focus a discussion of gender and power that is important for feminism. But I’m trying to be brave and ask the world to help me understand them better. When a little boy says he really wants to be a little girl, he is saying he likes dresses, and pink and playing with dolls and baking cupcakes (massive generalisation alert!). And yet these are all the things that I as a feminist am trying to deny ARE the realm of only girls. So is that transgendered dreaming or is it just life?! And if we are to move forward in the goal of the X Utopia then are we better off supporting that little boy from a transgender perspective or an X perspective?

I don’t have the answer and would really appreciate your views, particularly if you do identify as transgendered and would like to educate me, or at least tell me what I’m missing.

I have one small theory, which is based in my own experience that I’m going to float with you for your approval dear readers.

I am a feminist community worker, so I spend my professional time working almost exclusively with young women on various issues including gender, relationships, sexuality, leadership, power and influence etc. By only working with young women am I buying into the exact same gender thing? And if so, does that mean I am working with the system in trying to break it or am I accepting the system? When I use the greeting “Hello Ladies” as my standard am I recognising and celebrating that women are occupying my space or am I buying into gender and gendered pronouns?

How do I reconcile a desire for the X Utopia with a need to strengthen young women’s voices at the expense of young men’s? Are my actions the same as trans activists looking for recognition and acceptance of the fallacy of gender assignment at birth? But doing so within the gendered society which we currently have?

Help! I would appreciate your inputs dear readers!

Image taken from PhotoComiX‘s photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons Licence

This entry was posted in Original comment/article by MsElouise. Bookmark the permalink.

About MsElouise

MsElouise is a community programs worker and feminist from Melbourne Australia. She likes to travel, write, rant and make people feel uncomfortable about their assumptions. She hopes to one day be remembered for changing the world just a little bit. Right now she does this by proving that teenage girls are a higher order of beings.

13 thoughts on “The X Utopia

  1. I think where you’re running into trouble is that you’re not starting off by looking at transness on the terms of trans people. Like, you know how the major problem with anthropology has been white people coming in and examining non-white cultures on the basis of their own cultural attitudes and assumptions? Well, referring to someone who ‘wants to be’ a girl as a boy, as he, is one of those things. Also, as we know, being a girl isn’t about liking dresses, pink, dolls, or cupcakes – there are heaps of cis boys who like those things, too – and being a trans girl doesn’t necessarily entail wanting feminine things. It involves being a girl, and wanting to be acknowledged as one.

    Trans people present as much of a “threat” to breaking down the gender binary as cis people do: I was assigned female at birth, and still identify as a woman, which is conforming to the binary, right? Also, not all trans people identify with binary genders, that is, not everyone transitions from male to female or vice versa.

    Anyway, there’s no reason to feel undermined by a group of people who are following their hearts, just like you are. Trans people aren’t buying into anything other than that.

    I think maybe you’d find Whipping Girl helpful. It’s a book by Julia Serano, who is trans and a feminist, and it’s a good starting point for this stuff.

  2. I can see what the intention is here, but at the beginning of the article, you make a rather major mistake that unfortunately seems quite common-correlating gender identity (what gender you are) with gender roles (the ‘laws’ that the kyriarchy have set for those who identify with the binary genders) and gender expression (the sorts of clothes and actions worn/taken by somebody, and whether they’re considered ‘masculine’, ‘feminine’ or ‘androgynous).

    The idea of the X Utopia is fundamentally flawed, as it treats all of those concepts as being one and the same. They aren’t. Gender identity is an inborn thing. Some people believe in brain sex theories, the idea that one’s brain structure decides one’s gender identity. I don’t personally agree with these theories (I believe in a lot of possible identities that couldn’t be covered under ‘brain sex’), but I know for a fact that gender identity is virtually completely inborn. (Note the ‘virtually’. One’s PERCEPTION of their gender identity can change over time, but the actual identity itself can’t. See: children who appear to be cis (non-trans), but later identify as trans.)

    Trans people don’t ‘choose’ to live in the ‘opposite’ gender. Actually, talking of the ‘opposite’ and ‘other’ gender is a massive mistake in and of itself. I presume you’ve heard of the idea of the gender binary. What the gender binary is is that it’s the socially instilled belief that there are only two genders, these genders cannot be transcended, and there are certain roles that people in those two genders must hold up. This is incredibly inaccurate! There are so many genders, and they’re all so interconnected, that somebody who attempted to list them all would probably go insane. As proven by the existence of trans people, one can change the gender that they’re seen as (though not the gender that they are-see above, ‘gender identity is virtually completely inborn’). And, of course, gender roles are possibly the least accurate thing ever. My goal is to dispose of the gender binary, and to allow people of all gender identities to live freely without discrimination or barriers to living as the gender that they wish to. I’m guessing that’s what the idea behind the X Utopia actually is, though not expressed properly.

    The child that you describe isn’t a little boy. She’s a little girl. She should be permitted to live as the gender that she is truly a member of-the female gender. This might involve her wearing dresses and frills and dating boys and having her hair long. This also might involve her wearing ‘men’s clothing’ and dating girls and having her hair short. By saying that she’s a little girl, she’s not saying she’s somebody who wants to wear pink and high heels. She’s saying she’s a little girl. That’s it. It implies nothing else. However, it also means that because of the body she’s in, she’s probably (PROBABLY) quite dysphoric and should get some kind of medical help-hormone blockers and the like. Assuming, of course, she wants to go down that path-she might be quite happy just living as female in her day-to-day life without requiring medical intervention to prevent her from going through a probably-nervewracking male puberty and making it harder for her to pass (be seen as female) in later life.

    Also, the term ‘transgendered’ is generally seen as slightly offensive-‘trans’ and ‘transsexual’ are preferred, the former moreso.

    • Thanks for this response. It has answered some of my questions but I guess my experience of speaking to trans individuals, my friends, activists and people I work with professionally doesn’t align so well with the academic concepts you’re articulating so well here. I guess my problem is that many of the people I encounter DO subscribe to the gender binary. The spectrum is something I totally comprehend and advocate for. My issue, however badly articulated, is the activists whose platform is based on the binary and being allowed the right to transition from one to the other openly, actively and without discrimination. Which I support on an individual level (freedom of expression) but less so from a activist perspective (the public conversation about gender). Either way, this is something I need to do more learning on. Although I would add something that my lecturer on trans and intersex once said to me; cis people have gender, queer people have gender identity. So I’ve since tried to steer away from that language to something more…somewhere in between.

  3. I was so offended by your post that I wrote a whole tirade… But really, the responder above me said it better and more kindly. I really do suggest you do more learning, because your post is one of the most ignorant and demeaning and erasing posts I’ve read by a feminist.

    • Please feel free to send me the tirade to post. I am well and truly aware of my ignorance and am interested in understanding this issue better through conversation. In my heart as an activist I cannot but automatically support the work of other activists so it confuses and upsets me that I understand this one so little.
      I would welcome your response to my confusion.

      • Well, I’ve taken a few deep breaths since then (also didn’t save what I wrote). MsElouise, if I can, I will write you something (I have a life situation that might get in the way, but I’ll try). I don’t think it was right of me to put down what seems to be honest inquiry, just because I didn’t like parts of it, and we all come down our different paths, and have different experiences, and grow in our knowledge and understanding differently… I didn’t show you tolerance or solidarity, both of which I truly believe in, and I’m sorry for that. So… friends? I’ll see what I can do.

      • Thanks Tsipi, I come at this from a genuine place of inquiry and desire to understand better and I strongly believe in the ability of conversation to improve knowledge as much as study so I look forward to your post whenever you find the time to create it. feminaust is not a stranger to debate and sometimes anger and controversy. If you read our about section you will understand that while isBambi and I dominate as voices on this site we welcome and encourage other voices and sometimes those opinions are contrary to what we believe and to what some of our readers believe but we refuse to dictate who and what is or isnt feminist and encourage and embrace debate and discussion.
        I hope to ave many an impassioned debate with you in the future when you’re life situation allows for it.

  4. Hey MsEloise, I have wanted to respond to this post for a while, as I feel like there is so much to say. That’s also stopped me responding as I feel like if I start I might never stop!

    Stealthy has covered some good points.

    Firstly, I guess I’m not quite clear about what your lecturer means. Is it that people who aren’t queer aren’t necessarily aware of their gender identity? I am not sure what this leads to as I guess I think that cisgendered privilege, like other forms of privilege like class, goes unnoticed like the air we breath a lot of the time.

    Just one more comment – I think in this post, especially in the discussion of the imagined trans child, there is some loss of the separation of gender and sex. Girl, like genderqueer or boy, is a gender category that anyone, no matter their body should be able to own, occupy – but there are social and sexual constraints on that. It is not about pink and so on, as much as it might be associated with those things. Gender categories are an empty vessel people get to fill, if you like. Where I think the sex category comes in is that because the child presumably has male genitals, we may deny the legitimacy of their claim to the category ‘girl’. Sex is symbolic, it is powerfully socially constructed. But theoretically speaking, why should the child’s sex signify ‘just life’ rather than girl?

    There’s so much more to say on this but I’ll leave my barely-coherent thoughts there for now.

    • I agree entirely Megan, I too reject the gender binary, that’s the point of my confusion, that many trans activists who I encounter seem to be embracing this binary while my aim is to reject it and as such I find conflict.
      Please write more! We love input from everyone!!!

  5. I’ll be going over some of the same ground in my reply as some of the other (excellent) responses, but I really wanted to reply to some of the points in your post. As I read it you are talking about transgendered people as those who are not changing their physical body to represent their gendered presentation in comparing them to those who are transex or intersex.
    Some trans people may be comfortable with their physicality, but not the societal response to it. Some may not feel any need to align their physical body with their presentation.
    Some may just be waiting to see how surgical and medical methods and techniques develop before undergoing any permanent treatment. Some may want it, but be unable to afford it, be that economically, emotionally or mentally.
    I also have some concerns with your identification of sexual needs relating to gender expression in (what I read as) those people who chose to change their bodies and not just their presentation- where then does this leave those who identify as trans but also as asexual? Without the need- as you write- to ‘penetrate or be penetrated’ does this invalidate this choice?
    It also makes me uncomfortable as, to be blunt, it sounds a lot like some of the old arguments against homosexuality- penetration and being penetrated- it just lacks the spoken gender markers of that argument. Is it inherent that the need for penetration is the need for the surgical creation of ‘female’ genitalia? Because that’s how that particular part reads to me.
    My utopia is not a gender x utopia, but one where people are allowed to present however they want to be perceived. Where people can gender identify as women, as men, as genderless, as somewhere along any kind of scale you can think of but without a societal marker or pressure to conform to that societal marker of that identity.
    I do not want an EQUAL utopia- because individuals are not equal to one another- but I do want an EQUITABLE utopia. But here’s the thing- I don’t get to be unhappy or uncomfortable with the idea that you don’t want my utopia any more than you can get unhappy or uncomfortable with the idea that trans individuals may not want to work towards your utopia- because it might not be theirs. Asking another person to conform to your gender x by not choosing a gendered presentation is not that far away from asking an xy to wear a skirt. It’s about your construction of what is the appropriate presentation of an individual- and not theirs.
    I’ve not commented here before but really felt the need to do so on this post- I’ve read quite a few of your posts and really enjoyed them- which is perhaps why this one felt so much like a slap in the face.

    • “Asking another person to conform to your gender x by not choosing a gendered presentation is not that far away from asking an xy to wear a skirt. It’s about your construction of what is the appropriate presentation of an individual- and not theirs.” – This is possibly the greatest explanation of my confusion that anyone has come up with to date. This is entirely something I can understand and accept. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Sometimes I’m disappointed that my articles tend not to raise debate and while the responses to this article have primarily been negative this has resulted in a great learning experience for me so I can’t help but be pleased.
      Thanks again and I hope you continue to read and enjoy my scattered thoughts.

  6. Pingback: Activist Tsipi Erann responds to MsElouise’s X Utopia | feminaust ~ for australian feminism

  7. Pingback: Welcome to Tuesday! ~ 8th October 2013 | feminaust ~ for australian feminism

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s