Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tokenized: Colonization, Gender and the Self

We do not form our identities in a vacuum. Instead, they come from the latest in historical progressions (and transgressions).

There are, broadly, two kinds of transition – the “right” kind and the “wrong” kind. Trans folk are obviously not capable making decisions about our lives and our bodies the way that other people are. Therefore we must submit to the decisions of institutions and professionals. That is, if you are privileged enough to be able to afford those services. If not, well, you can only be the “wrong” kind.

At each step some medical or psychological authority must certify that you are the “right” kind of trans person. But what does that certification really entail? In a word, conformity. In another, colonization.

While presentation is a key part of this standard, it is really more about the relationship between past experiences and current identity.

There must be demonstrable evidence of suffering, and more importantly, that you have successfully scrubbed away your gendered past. If you are able to sufficiently demonstrate that you have conformed to the expectations of who you should be, then there is a reward – something that takes you one step closer to feeling ok about your body.

Still, there is an interesting interaction between these institutional and personal desires, between colonizing yourself and being colonized. There is a base assumption of what it means to be masculine or feminine, and how that plays out in everyday life.

When I first started to explore my own sense of gender, I struggled with what it meant to be feminine. I had internalized a lot of the cultural messages pertaining to women. Was I required to wear make up? How about skirts and dresses? Did I have to like men? Before long I began to discipline myself in both my femininity and my masculinity. I was in a constant state of shame, either for failing at the impossible standards of femininity, or thinking that I was betraying the masculinity that I had been born into.

Eventually I was able to gain access to the institutions of approval. Initially, they were concerned about how I wore both of the genders. They were hesitant to give me the certification of conformity. So I worked harder at being the woman they thought I should be. Still, I was not the woman that I wanted to be but rather the woman that society said I should be.

Now the struggle is opposite. I am expected to deny that my first twenty odd years of life even existed. Life begins at transition.

A lot of that denial has to do with safety. Or the fact that some people cannot be counted one to respect my identity once they know my past. Instead they impose their own conceptions who they think I should be, always forcing me into identities I do not claim.

At the other end of the spectrum, it doesn’t matter whether or not I follow the rules laid down by culture, politics, or any other system because I have already broken the cardinal rule – you do not cross the gender line. It is rare to have a day that where I don’t feel as if the strange swirl of my gender identity is being beaten out of me. Every where I look, the general consensus is that I do not fit. Something as simple as proving who I am can become an arduous task, depending on who is looking at the id. I have been fired from jobs (if I could even get them at all) for violating that one rule. Going to see a doctor, even one of the aforementioned professionals, means often being humiliated and maybe even degraded. At the very least, it means not being understood.

Even fellow queers take part, telling me that they know better who, and what, I am. And more importantly, that I do not fit within their world view.

These colonists are always trying to drive those of us who exist in ambiguity out of the space that is rightfully ours, because our very presence can represent a challenge to the very idea that gender difference is so entirely vast and immutable.

There is no such thing as “post-colonial.” We are always left to deal with the destruction and internalized ideology. Instead resistance can only mean identifying the physical, psychological, and emotional scars in order to know the terrain. They cannot, and should not, be forgotten or erased but rather accepted and embraced as the starting point toward self worth.

via The New Gay

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