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What are some anarchist perspectives on transexuality?

+5 votes
I can't find much information on this. What I can is just that the state oppresses trans people so it should be abolished, but most people who mess with trans people aren't in the government and the government isn't the reason they do that. But not to stress the oppression issue, what I want to know is what anarchist ideas would say about transexuality itself?

edit: ingrate - I am particularly interested in the body-modification aspect, which is why I phrased it in this way, but I am open to perspectives on transgender and genderqueer. The more broadly the question is interpreted the better, I'd say.
asked Dec 1, 2011 by anonymous
edited Dec 4, 2011
Do you want responses strictly about transexuality or do you want to perspectives on transgender and genderqueer as well? I ask because while my answer would be similar, there might be some slight nuances to it depending.
by which I by no means mean to be shitty, just trying to avoid writing something irrelevant.
Anarchists oppose not just the state (and capital), but also authority generally. Authority is exercised not just in formal social positions (such as government officials, police, bosses, and on) but also in informal social relations. There is some institutional promotion of anti-trans prejudice from religions, but oppression of trans people is generally informal. Anti-trans oppression is reprehensible to any consistent anarchist, whatever their opinion of trans people & practice.
i wouldn't say that all anarchists oppose authority in general. the famous quote about the shoe-maker, after all (people do/should have authority in their field of experience).  also, some people can appropriately have authority for limited amounts of time or in specific circumstances (someone who is not afraid of blood might take charge of an accident scene, for example).
i would argue that authority per se is not the problem, but that static authority could be. when authority doesn't flow between people, but is frozen (or reified, for those who like that sort of language).
of course i agree with the point you're making, that relationships are part of the problem of the State.
but finally, i disagree that "oppression of trans people is generally informal". because you seem to be positing that formal and institutional are linked - and trans oppression is deeply institutionalized - including doctors mutilating children to fit them into Proper Bodies, the non-recognition of intersexed bodies in general, etc.
Kropotkin distinguished between legitimate & illegitimate authority, the "legitimate" referring to the kind of authority that an expert has in their respective field. I'm not crazy about the terminology, but i think it's a helpful distinction for @'s to be able to articulate. *note to self*

"authority per se is not the problem, but that static authority could be."
Intriguing thought.

In terms of formal stuff, i tried to find anti-trans laws when i replied to this question, but couldn't find any. Surely there have to be some somewhere in this crazy world. There are ways in which formal institutions can engender informal oppression. For example, according to Angela Davis trans people are over-represented in prisons. I don't know if these are helpful distinctions (formal/informal, institutional/extra-insitutional). It would be great to hear the perspective of a trans @ on this question.
Anti-trans laws: There have been and are some explicit ones. The Stonewall Inn was raided on the night of the riots (as it had been many other occasions) under the pretense of a law banning dressing in clothing inappropriate to one's gender. The cops arrested drag kings and queens and generally left the more "straight-looking" queers alone. So while the state's offensive was against queer space generally, in this general offensive what's targeted was and is transgender behavior. The over-representation of trans people in prison is not informal oppression. While some of it can accounted for by a higher level of criminal practice itself resulting from multiple factors, the personal bias of judges and juries in the legal system, and other factors, let's consider the law itself. An argument could easily be made that all of the legal system's gender-categorizing, gender-tracking, gender-segregating law is anti-trans. For example, because ID records gender, trans people are more likely to have bad encounters with cops. (One might argue there are trans people who are already visible as such, and this is true, but actually people have a remarkable ability to assign a gender to someone they're originally confused by and go with that, never reading anyone as trans.) I could go on, but hopefully the line is clear enough.

I think what the question of 'anti-trans law' comes down to (and this may end up tangentially addressing an aspect of the original question) is less about specific prohibitions on gender expression and more about the confrontation between the state's need for order, for individuals to be categorized into two basic easily-identified and clearly-delineated genders, etc, and the impossibility of that order seen in the different forms of chaos that blossom regardless.
Thanks for the thorough response. This deserves to be an answer unto itself.
I appreciate the compliment, but I'm still pondering how to address the question of physical sex change and draw out the deep tensions I see there. (For example, there was a conflict a few years back over a poster Crimethinc made in which they referred to certain forms of body modification as mutilation; this sweeping judgment, coming from champions of free individual expression, was criticized as anti-trans and anti-freedom. Not to mention that as punks they're applying a double standard as they're totally cool with some forms of body mod! I think their apology fell back on "conformist body mod = bad, non-conformist body mod = good." But in spite how some anarchists might view trans people, many of them change their bodies to conform more than to rebel. Body modification obviously raises some deep issues for people, and I want to take that seriously if/when I respond.)
I recently discovered this trans critical theorist: http://www.deanspade.net/ . He has quite a bit to say about the oppression of the legal system toward trans folks. He works as a legal academic, but his analysis of the state is pretty radical.
I think he's an anarchist.

5 Answers

+2 votes
i believe the range would go from not caring about someone's sexuality (as in, an individual's sexuality is irrelevant to anarchy) to celebrating people's autonomy to define themselves. there could be nuances depending on what kind of trans one is talking about (primitivist anarchists could have something to say about the furthest out there ideas about transhumanism -cf martine rothblatt, etc), or the question of relying on the medical establishment/technology to define ourselves, but those would be in reference to more specific situations.
answered Dec 2, 2011 by dot (50,460 points)
+1 vote
If you don't support someones decision to have SRS, are you really an anarchist, or are you another person imposing moral authority?

If when talking about "conforming to gender roles" you scrutinize trans people and not cis people, are you really an anarchist, or just another shitbag who blames trans people for the problems of society?

If when you talk about "body modification" you focus on SRS and not plastic surgury, braces, make up, hair cutting, fingernail cutting, body building, pilates, dieting, steriods, tattoos, hormonal birth control, vasectomy, piercings, acne cream, shaving, tanning, bleaching, etc., are you really an anarchist, or are you just another person trying to present the cis body as natural and the trans body as a monster?
answered Jan 9, 2012 by Taigarun (1,760 points)
I'm not apologizing because I am sorry about what I am saying.  I am apologizing because from all of our past (and current) interactions, it is probably hard for you to understand that I appreciate you.

Thanks for calling me interesting, this is the first discussion I can recall that we have had about trans stuff. (obviously something I give a shit about)

My point in the nation-state comparison is that if you travel to the border, you will be surprised to find that it does not exist.  It is only an active-social-human project that keeps the border in existence in a material form.  If power, through the human social, stopped enforcing the border, it would cease to exist.  Not just the wall, but the idea of a border would vanish from our imagination.

Trans must be defined by cis because it is an oppositional identity.  Anything outside of cis is trans, so the definition of what trans is hinges on what is constructed as cis.
The cis constructs itself through the building of a moral code.  Those who follow it are cis, those who don't are trans.  This border can change any time cis people say, "we are better than those trans people because we don't do X."  Then a part of the definition of trans people is "people who do X."

What is the border between cis and trans?  at what point do you cross over from one to the other?  How do you think such a border was created?  Do you think this is where the line has always been drawn?  Is the way we conceptualize the two territories now the same way people conceptualized them when the border was different?

p.s.  I would love to have conversations with you about the definition of gender and nature... maybe those other questions could be de-prioritized?
I do like this conflictual style of interaction.  I really do.

"Isn't your point (that people are people) refuting your point (that trans people transgress and cis people don't)? don't people transgress? what makes some transgressions significant, and other transgressions a hobby?"

the transgression is against an imaginary boundary, so, except for the world of oppression it brings down on you, it seems as significant to me as cutting your hair or any other "modification" that does not transgress the social boundary of cis morallity.

This boundary (cis morality) was created by cis people and is defined by cis people.

There are many different social boundaries (that can be seen as moral boundaries) that a person could transgress to change from a respectable person into a monstrosity, other, or underserving thing.

Some of them we call trans people, some of them we call criminals, various racial slurs, white trash, faggot, bitch, slut, terrorist, crazy, and so on.

Depending on the social boundary in question, you might only be able to fall out of grace, or you might be able to move back and forth.  (think of the difference between a "rehabilitated" criminal, and the old adage, "You suck a dick once, you're a faggot the rest of your life.")
And in some boundaries, some people start out of grace and have no hope of that ever changing.

Did I address your question about significant vs. hobby?  I'm not sure if I fully understood what you meant.
don't worry. i get that you're engaged (yay). no "sorry" necessary.
i get (and like) the analogy of states and persons (as far as it goes), but the idea of not talking or thinking critically about immigration as a way to attack the idea of questioning gendered body modificiation, uh no. yes, those who talk about "immigration" do it from a place of (what, privilege? entitlement? power? all of these words are suspect now - why do you think that is?), as do most people who talk about trans folks. as do most people who talk about women, and race, and every other fucking thing. discourse is dominated by stupid fucking bullshit. that's the world we live in. it seems far more pointed (i'm using that word a lot. hmmmm) to just actively change the terrain so that we can have closer to the conversations we want to have. which will of course include checking the people we're talking to, to make sure that we're all aware that yes, we're still assuming things, and we don't know if we trust each other, and english is still a fucked up language, etc.
so, good job of reminding us of that?

as for transgressions and hobbies - i'm still sorting it out, but there's something swimming around in here about being defined by the outside vs the inside (false dichotomy!) and accepting the definitions, paradigms, and explanations given us by people who hate us.

[this little tiny boxes for writing fucking suck. jeez.]
now i have to go and work on this book. stop distracting me! <whines>
Just because I am upset about it (white people talking about 'the immigration problem' or cis people talking about trans people) doesn't necessarily mean that it shouldn't happen.

I hate anti-oppression theory because it leaves us with a huge blank when it comes to taking action, but some of what it teaches is helpful for doing an analysis of power in a certain situation (if you start with the understanding that the world is a messy place, and you are willing to take certain risks, and you are prepared to know what risks you are taking).

I do not see it as a problem of language in the slightest.  I see it as a problem of perspective.

Let's take a walk through an absurd metaphor:  You are standing in a room with an open narrow doorway.  There is a trans person standing just outside the door.  The door way is narrow enough that you can see their torso, but not their arms.  Just inside the door way (close enough to reach) there is a table filled with food.  When you get hungry, you eat some food, but the trans person never eats.  If you are more observant than most, you understand that the trans person is hungry.

So what do you do?  Do you wonder why they are not eating?  Do you call over other cis people in the room to theorize about why that might be?  Do you ask them why?  Do you offer food?

All of these responses are PROBLEMATIC, but that does not make them all necessarily wrong, or wrong all the time.  With any of the approaches you might be able to temporarily treat the symptom of the problem for one person (hunger), with any of the approaches you might be able to discover the root cause of the problem, and with all of them you might further this persons hurt and trauma.

What you can't see is that on both sides of the door way on the other side of the wall the trans persons arms are chained to the wall.  You can see the person, but you cannot see what they are going through AND they will not tell you BECAUSE you won't believe them.

Can you imagine what happened last time they tried to tell someone about the chains on their arms?  Can you imagine them being told they were a liar, that they wanted attention or a hand-out?  Can you imagine them being mocked by others (innocently) asking them why they are not eating?

There is a reason they didn't tell you their problem just when you walked in the room.  They don't trust you.  They have a reason not to trust you.  They don't think you can fix their problem and you can't.  They know you can treat the symptom, but they don't know if you will even if they ask.

There are no answers to this metaphoric problem.  There are no answers to the real world situation either.  I can tell you that it is helpful to recognize the constraints in your own perspective, and be prepared for the problems that can come from others not being aware.  Awareness itself does nothing to fix the problem, but it can mitigate some of the symptoms.

Part of why I tell you this is because I am trying to illustrate the non-neutrality of critical thinking.  I hope that point came across here.

I type everything into a notepad and then copy and paste it here.  Much easier.  NEXT WEEK, NEXT WEEK!
interesting parable.
i agree with you about the liberalism of a concept of neutrality. this is partly why i didn't challenge you calling me that particular name earlier. (edit: i mean liberal - normally them's would be fightin words)
and i agree that there is no Correct answer, and that more information/knowledge doesn't solve problems that are conceptual/foundational/systemic... (or maybe any problems at all).

so we are up against the limitations of a 101 site, no? which is, interestingly enough, where people meet each other, and get engaged in conversations (if you can call participating in online forums conversation) in which we interact with people who we don't know if we trust (or don't trust).

your parable teaches a lesson that i believe i learned over decades of working around white people and racism.
the lesson about context is one that i got from working on domestic violence - and being in dozens of groups of near-strangers trying to talk to each other about intimate relationships (with all their complexities...)
some kinds of sharing are impossible in some contexts. (i don't say impossible lightly here.) does that mean that we avoid those contexts? or those conversations?
in other words, (among other things) i look forward to being face to face with you again.

i am too stupidly impatient to do the smart thing with the notepad. but i recognize the intelligence of such a practice. (also means you don't lose all your thoughts if you get timed out. i live dangerously.)
+4 votes
Obviously any anarchist worth her salt would say "to each his own."

You're right: although the government (9 times out of 10 read: Republicans) does discriminate against the trans community, many private 'citizens' are also guilty of cruel bigotry.

I would say that rather than passing some law or reformatting a corrupt legal system, vocal support and--if needs be--physical defense by and for LGBT individuals is the best way to handle such abuse.
answered Mar 15, 2012 by MrThisBody (1,610 points)
+1 vote
I didn't read through all the answers because they are quite long so this may have been said already but, I can't speak for anarchist's as a whole obviously, but I can speak for myself. Being an anrcha-feminist and seeing firsthand how Trans folks have been excluded from feminist "safe spaces", I belive that without the gender binary transexuality wouldn't exist-or at lest not near in the same way so therefore as an anarchists, who considers the binary to be among the many oppressive forces in the current capitalist society- that an ideal society with that abolished as well as all other forms of oppression that transexuality would become irrelevant. However currently I am more in the camp of opinions of solidarity with anyone who doesn't fit into what is deemed as "acceptable" by authorities, and wishes to fight back against that. As far as SRS goes, that is a personal choice in my opinion and should be respected. Hope that made sense.
answered Feb 2, 2013 by AngryCunt (1,220 points)
+1 vote
I think Anarchism takes the general view that people are individuals and are valuable as individuals, regardless of gender(be it binary or not) sexuality, race, or what ever else. I think most anarchist's would celebrate a transsexual persons desire to express their own individuality, their desire to express who they were. I personally think that the concept of the gender binary is a form of oppression that society places upon the individual. One has to be either a male or a female(or potentially even male/ female or transsexual) rather than being an individual who is intrinsically unique. You are who you are, you are not necessarily male, female or trans, but you are yourself.
answered Jul 5, 2013 by Anarcho-Goth (740 points)