2.29.2012

Semantic Scribbling

I have been working on a document at work that basically is the sexual education curriculum for the entire province and I've had the opportunity to do a little behind the scenes education on the topic of gender identity. There is a LOT of information available about transgender identity disorder, transgender "lifestyle", gender expression and what have you. Unfortunately not all of it is accurate or applicable or relevant or correct  for that matter. Much like that age old game of telephone someone somewhere screws up the message and that error is copied and carried over again and again until it somehow becomes fact.

I was impressed by the clients willingness to learn and include the correct information even though I think there is a little further to go I was pleasantly surprised by the reception to my suggestions on how to improve the content. Lucky for some trans kid out there now or in the future who will actually be able to get his or her hands on the correct information.

I was a little surprised by the misconceptions and misunderstandings contained in what has been a thoroughly researched document and I wonder if it is not unlike the era not so long ago when HIV and AIDS "education" was still full of misinformation and speculation as we learned more and more about the disease and its pathology. I suppose the same holds true for notions of gender and in some respects sexual orientation since when discussing these two things together things seem to get muddier instead of clearer.

When I had my intake meeting at the psychiatrist to confirm a GID diagnosis, I was given a package that described in detail variations of gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. I quickly came to understand that gender and sexual orientation are tied to physical markers of male and female biology. The problem lies in the fact that presentation of a thing doesn't necessarily make it that thing. OK what the hell am I talking about: the use of the words heterosexual or homosexual to describe a transgender person's sexual orientation is inadequate because it only serves to bring attention once more to their body in relation to their desire.

If a married MTF person decides to transition (assuming her cisgender wife stays with her) her sexual orientation does not change. She is still attracted to her wife just as she was when she had to exist in the body of a man. Once she transitions and is read as female by others  however she will be labelled a lesbian and "suddenly" become a homosexual. Do you see how ridiculous this is? Not to mention that somehow her partner has now also become a lesbian by this definition.

Let's make this even more complicated. A cisgendered butch lesbian is out an a date with her cisgender femme partner. To many people they will both appear to be straight but again this is based entirely on the perspective of the viewer, not on the reality of the sexual orientation of either woman.

I'm not suggesting there aren't other sexualities just that these particular terms: homosexual, gay, lesbian and straight tie the idea of sexual orientation to the body and as we all know we are more than just a body. Pansexual, bisexual, omnisexual, whatever other terms all work equally as well to eliminate the body from orientation.

Trying to explain the nuances of gay and straight and how they relate or don't relate to gender identity makes things difficult yes. There is a simple solution that finally made it off the dispute page and onto Wikipedia. The words are androphilic and gynephilic. Androphilic describes a person who is attracted to men. Gynephilic describes a person who is attracted to women. Neither word implies a biological sex, or gender identity. What exactly is a homosexual transgender? without modifying it with a word like "man" or "female" those two words together don't really tell you anything.

My androphilic trans friend who is currently going through his transition is becoming visibly queer. This doesn't make him gay it makes him appear gay to others– his sexual orientation hasn't changed because he cut his hair short and changed his name, nor because he started hormones. He only appears gay because of how his body is perceived.

I'm pretty sure I have now outed myself to the entire office having had the educational gender discussion pretty much in front of the entire art department but honestly I feel ok about that. It felt good to be able to educate a few people and have them be receptive to actually learning. I know how lost I felt (and still do sometimes) without anyone around to talk to and I can't imagine what that might be like for a teenager. Finally getting my confidence back makes me think I might like to have a little more active participation in teaching people about gender identity.

This isn't difficult. It's not theoretical physics. WE can educate ourselves and our peers so that we can hang onto all the identities out there who just don't fit neatly into little boxes. I'm a gynephilic kinda guy who still identifies as queer....figure that one out! So just like learning to program a VCR (back in the day), or how to use a Mac, we CAN do it. It just takes a little effort.

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