A gender traitor

As I’ve said once or twice, Jude Doyle is one of the most insightful people writing about being trans today. This piece, about writer’s block, erasure and being “a gender traitor”, is particularly good even though much of the subject matter is horrible people doing horrible things.

One of the reasons I love Jude’s writing so much is that he frequently articulates things I’ve been trying and failing to. There’s a really good example of that in this piece:

If you don’t speak, someone will speak for you. Trans people may rip ourselves apart or drive ourselves mad trying to communicate our existence in some well-reasoned and responsible way, but cis people have no such compunctions. Cis people never stop talking about trans people, because they never have to; cis people can just make shit up, and someone will pay to publish it, pretty much every time…

Trans people, historically, have a difficult relationship with first-hand testimony. Until very recently, we could only transition by convincing medical professionals we were “really” trans, and we did this by making sure to tell the only story our doctors wanted to hear… This isn’t every trans person’s story. This isn’t any trans person’s story. This is a cis story, created by cis people, and every trans person I’ve ever met has some detail of their biography that contradicts the narrative. Yet instead of concluding that their story is wrong, gatekeepers conclude that trans people are wrong — unless we fit the absolute most stereotypical idea of our gender, in every way, we’re imagining things.

This, this, so much this.

A very good example of this is the “born in the wrong body” trope, which was something handed down to us through cisgender people’s media – and which we’ll sometimes use ourselves to try and help cisgender people understand what it’s like to be trans in the simplest, most easily understood terms. It works in much the way that telling little Johnny that Spot has gone to the farm is designed to help children cope with death.

There’s a name for this kind of simplification: the lie-to-children. Wikipedia: “Educators who employ lies-to-children do not intend to deceive, but instead seek to ‘meet the child/pupil/student where they are’, in order to facilitate initial comprehension, which they build upon over time as the learner’s intellectual capacity expands.” When we take centuries of experiences and compress them into just five words, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

There is, of course, a meme about it.

Two images, one of greek philosophers captioned "talking about gender with trans people" and one of a small child being spoken to by a parent or carer marked "talking to cis people about gender".

And yet all too often this helpful act, this attempt to meet people where they are, is thrown back in our faces as a gotcha, a “HA! NOBODY can be born in the wrong body!” The lie-to-children is met with childlike resistance because all too often we’re trying to help people who don’t want to be helped, who don’t want to listen, who don’t or won’t understand that the simplification isn’t for our benefit. It’s for theirs.