The Whitney Museum chooses silence in an effort to displace, downplay, and negate valid public outrage regarding their policies, ethics and leadership. By Jamara Wakefield May 17th marked the start of the 79th Whitney Biennial. The Biennial is a contemporary art exhibition, featuring typically young and lesser-known artists, at the Whitney Museum of American Art […]
Our Genders Are More Than Our Bodies: Affirming Trans Identity Beyond Appearance
Being trans is not at all determined by our bodies. Our genders are not determined by our bodies or body parts.
Even as knowledge on trans identities and trans folks becomes more widespread and accessible, a perilous hyperfixation on trans people’s bodies remains.
We are vilified and harassed everyday in our homes, our schools, or in our places of work for how we might look or present. Trans folks are consistently shamed, marginalized, and oppressed under cisheteropatriarchy and through its actors for failing to adhere to colonized, cisgender binaries and gender roles and expectations, especially with regards to our presentation and our bodies.
Trans people are misunderstood and pathologized as having some “deviance” of the body. Even among folks who claim to be trans allies, trans people remain fetishized and objectified as body-objects and nothing more. Trans women and femmes especially are graded and received only through how conforming our bodies are to respectable, colonial, and cis standards of beauty.
We are told even by those who claim to be our friends how they would “never have been able guess/tell”. We are told that our presentations “look so good for a trans girl” or that we are “surprisingly” skillful at navigating and crafting our presentation. As well, armful, overgeneralized assumptions continue regarding trans folks and our bodies, in particular our genitalia or other physical characteristics. And this contributes to the transmisogynistic demonization of trans women and femmes in particular regarding social access, like to public bathrooms. This also maintains a predatory “chaser” culture in which interested potential partners fetishize trans folks on the mere assumption of what body parts we may have.
But in truth, we are more than our bodies. Our genders are more than bodies.
In fact, being trans is not at all determined by our bodies. Our genders are not determined by our bodies or body parts. And our trans identity does not determine what body parts we may have. This pathologized, colonial misunderstanding of gender is simply not true. Regardless of where our genitals or other physical/bodily characteristics fall on the spectrum of human variation, we are peoples of many different genders.
Related: DON’T BE A TERF: TRANSMISOGYNY 101
Someone’s physical features are neither causal nor necessarily indicative of their gender and whatever apparent parts or characteristics someone possesses neither determines nor invalidates the gender they are. There are no “male” genitals. There are no “female” chromosomes. Our body parts/characteristics do not have a gender. We do.
In fact across cultures, across millenia, and across the globe, gender diverse peoples have existed, expressing gender free of these colonial, pathologized constraints on gender that is rooted in cisheteropatriarchy and medicalization brought about by settler-colonialism. In an unbroken legacy and lineage beginning many thousands of years before the advent of Euro-Western colonialism and through the present day, gender was and is understood by many peoples beyond the body and not something exclusively determined by it.
These facts, however, are not an excuse for the medical-industrial complex to deny necessary, often life-saving healthcare to trans folks. Cis folks and the medical-industrial complex should not to ignore the reality and impact of often devastating gender dysphoria, one that many times may require medical transition to alleviate.
This is also not a call or justification for cisgender people to police how trans people articulate or express or understand our own genders. Trans people are heterogeneous and the way we express or narrate our genders are different, are ours, and ours alone.
In fact, much of this really isn’t for cis people at all.
This is for my trans siblings and I.
This is a reminder to our (white) Western, binary trans siblings that our trans liberation cannot leave anyone behind. It is a reminder that our trans liberation cannot come at the expense of other trans and gender diverse peoples who do not have the access to or do not want to present according to conventional, cis binary gender norms.
This is also a love letter of sorts in a world that is unkind to our very being. It’s a love letter to my trans siblings that we are more than our bodies. This is a love letter to my trans siblings that our bodies do not define our gender, that how we look does not define who we are.
This is a love letter to my trans siblings denied access to healthcare procedures by systemic class subjugation, poverty, and white supremacy. This is a love letter to my disabled trans siblings forsaken by a medical-industrial complex whose techniques and procedures do not accommodate or accept us.
This is a love letter to my trans siblings unable to present the way they desire in worry, fear, and under threat of joblessness, homelessness, and violence. This is a love letter to my trans siblings unable to present the way they desire being oppressed by white supremacist capitalism as well. This is a love letter to my trans siblings who don’t wish to present in the way cis people presume they would, under standards of respectable, cis-adjacent presentation at all.
This is a love letter to my trans siblings that your gender is not defined by certain clothes, products, surgeries or other medical procedures to be the gender that you are. Your gender is not defined by presenting a certain way or reach for adjacency to cisness to be “real”.
Your gender is real. And your presentation and your body do not define your gender. You define your gender. And no matter how it is expressed, your gender is valid. Your gender is beautiful. You are valid. You are beautiful.
Featured Image: Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash