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Trans identities in a historical context

April 11, 2009

When I was 14 I read about transsexuality on the internet. I was very gender-confused at the time, but I didn’t identify with those stories at all — I didn’t want to be a man. Eventually I settled into a lesbian identity. Some people are lesbians because of the girls, I was a lesbian because of the gender possibilities: lesbians could have female bodies, yet be as masculine as they wished.  Now I know that not all masculine females are lesbians or even women; heck, I’m not even that masculine. But it was the only identity that made sense to me back then.

I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t read about the concepts of trans-gender and genderqueer. Would I eventually have identified as transsexual? Would I have continued to be a butch female? Could I have been happy in one of those identities? I’m more than satisfied with my queer trans identity; but would I be happier identifying as something that hasn’t been invented yet?

I’m curious about the people who invented terms like transgender and genderqueer; how they managed to put a finger on their not-yet-named identity and name it. That must require a tremendous amount of creativity and self-awareness, and the ability to read an identity as yet illegible to other people.

I’m not done thinking about trans identities in their social context. For instance, I’ve been wondering about “passing women”: females who were perceived as male by everyone except for friends and lovers. They existed in the US in the early twentieth century. I wonder why that concept disappeared: was it because of picture IDs, which made it harder to hide their legal gender? Did those people even identify as “women”?

I read Transgender Warriors by Les Feinberg a few months ago, but it left with a lot of questions; plus, I’d like to know more about the history of trans identities right here in Argentina (most of what I learned I’ve picked up from magazines and talking to trans people).

This post by Tboy Jacky somewhat relates to the topic, in my opinion: he writes beautifully about how transition isn’t an absolutely necessity to some people, but the best path among the many available. Thanks for describing this so eloquently, Jacky!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2009 1:35 pm

    I never really got gender or sexual orientation. I never made the tiniest bit of sense to me.
    I think my lack of compassion for people who have problems with it is not so much down to my being securely female and heterosexual, as being totally oblivious to the whole idea of any of that.

    I never really wanted a sexual relationship. I’m only 22 so maybe oneday… but not so far. And its not like I have never felt lust, just that, when I did… I always delt with it myself *ahem* and I never had an image of a person in mind when I did.

    And as for being a girl, meh, I like girly things, but not exclusively, I certainly wouldn’t define myself by them. I believe in gender roles for socio-political reasons which it would take a long time to explain. But as a person I don’t relate and I don’t give a crap.

    But I honestly cannot understand how someone can be so unhappy about having a particular body. There is loads of stuff I don’t like about being a girl, but …it’s the cards life dealt me. I don’t particularly like being short either, or having an annoying brother. And being my brothers sibling and my height are as much a part of me as my femaleness. But I’d never have one of those leg extending operations to make me taller, or kill my brother.

    I just cannot get my head around the concept.

  2. genderkid permalink*
    April 11, 2009 3:29 pm


    That’s an interesting subject. Sometimes I wish I were a little taller, too, but my height doesn’t bug me enough to bother trying to be change it.

    I could live with my female body, but I would be much happier if I tweaked it a bit; and I absolutely know that I am happier living as a boy than as a girl. In my life, gender transition is totally worth the effort.

    If being taller made you that much happier, I would say go for it! Life is too short to waste on being discontent.

    Oh, and I would appreciate hearing the sociopolitical reasons which make you believe in gender roles, if you don’t mind explaining them. I keep wondering why in the world we have such a gender system!


  3. April 11, 2009 6:59 pm

    Well, on the first point. I am of the opinion the answer to discontent is to change ones mind rather than changing ones circumstances. Most of the time anyway.

    What socio-political reasons cause me to believe in gender roles. A major one is that I think it is very difficult to change tradition without incurring unintended consequences. I can’t help but notice that when career women became accepted it ruined it for women who wanted to stay at home because it made it effectively an economic necessity for both parents to work. And even though I hate the idea of being a housewife it does seem to me like children do need the concentrated attention of a parent, someone has to do it and for obvious biological reasons (women lactate being a major one, men, not so much) women have advantages in the looking after children arena.
    But actually I hate the whole post-industrial system (that is since industrial revolution, not post-industrial in an “after industries decline” kind of sense). I think in some ways the reason women left the home is because industry took over all the stimulating stuff that used to go on inside the home.
    Also protestantism is a factor because in destroying the monastic system it took away a whole other arena for women who didn’t want to be wife and mother.

    But I guess a lot of it is just my conservative suspiciousness of change.

    Another reason is religious. Gender is a religious metaphor in some ways. People don’t fit that though, real women and real men are not like the religious metaphor maleness and femaleness is representative of… but somehow there is a connection, which in a post-gender society would be lost.

  4. April 11, 2009 7:00 pm

    I sounded curt in the first paragraph there. Be assured I was more telling myself than trying to tell you.

    • genderkid permalink*
      April 13, 2009 9:37 pm

      It seems like we don’t agree at all, but I appreciate your taking the time to explain your point of view. And thanks for being polite about it! I wish everyone were so civil about vocalizing their disagreement; it’s nice to understand the arguments for binary gender, even if I reject all of them myself.

      • April 13, 2009 10:36 pm

        I think the most important thing to remember whenever disagreeing with anyone is that we are all human. No-one sets out to have wrong opinions, and its a fair bet we all think we are right for what seem to us like valid, good reasons.

        Of course we all think we are right, and we think our opinions matter or we’d focus on something else instead. But as individuals none of us is really in a position to know better than the other, science can’t help us with such complex things as human society, human society is made up of humans who’s brains and genetic codes themselves are too complex for us to have deciphered them yet, society is a whole other order of complexity layered on top of that, culture adds in so much that has affective importance for us. We’re fools if we think we know.

        But fools can enjoy a good conversation, even a good disagreement over fine port and a pipe once and a while can’t they?

      • April 13, 2009 10:37 pm

        see now that is one reason to be a man… women smoking pipes… just seems wrong somehow.

        But the fine tuned sense of aesthetics that tells me so is a rather feminine trait no?

        Pipes rock!

  5. April 13, 2009 2:55 am

    although I’d like to respond to the current discussion I dont have time right now…
    but what I will say about the actual blog is that I think it is really interesting the way that vocabulary plays into how we identify…
    I was talking to my aunt a while back as I was changing my name about the reasons that she changed her name to a male name and it seems as though she did it out of many of the same feelings that I have and choose to fuel into identifying as FTQ… She also told me that she was in some ways torn that she never had the opportunity to play with the concepts of genderqueer and trans but also is glad that her life turned out the way it did.

    As far as I am concerned I would consider her genderqueer even if she doesnt choose those terms for herself because she never had that vocabulary

    anyway, like I said it can be really interesting to look at how we play around with language in the ways that we identify

  6. April 14, 2009 9:48 am

    I admit I have a hard time placing my transness in a historical context.

    When I was living in Argentina, I didn’t identify as trans. I have only come into my transness within a totally different culture, Irish culture and to a large extent Anglophone culture in general. So my lived experience runs separate from my historical background.

    I really want to know more about the history of trans people in Argentina. But being where I am, I find this next to impossible.

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