Posts tagged: identity

Being a Research Subject – Questions for people researching trans identity

By , October 19, 2013 6:35 pm

I regularly receive inquires from cis students and researchers writing papers about trans identity and experience. Some of these inquiries come from friends-of-friends, some come from students at institutions where I’ve presented workshops or performances, and some come through this blog or As long as the inquiries are polite and respectful, I don’t have a problem with it. I generally offer feedback or suggestions and, if it seems appropriate, share their request for subjects on Facebook or this blog. I’ve been interviewed for student newspapers, dissertations on Jewish trans women, artistic projects on non-normative gender expression, and more.

Obviously, not everyone is going to have the same comfort level I do. That’s totally fine; to me, these interviews and conversations are part of the artistic and educational work I’m doing as an activist. I want competent voices speaking on trans identities, and no one is more qualified to tell my story than I am. If my voice helps create a better body of research, then I’m happy to contribute.

However, I’m starting to rethink my informal policy of talking to just about anyone. Like much of my work, speaking with journalists and researchers wasn’t something I set out to do; it grew organically out of other projects. But a recent influx of interview requests have made me rethink this open-door policy. After a lot of reflection, I’ve come up with a new set of guidelines. From now on, I will be declining to speak with anyone conducting research who cannot first answer the following questions to my satisfaction:

  1. How were trans people involved in the creation of this research project?
  2. How will trans people be involved in reviewing your conclusions?
  3. How will you ensure this research accurately captures the racial and class diversity in the trans community?
  4. How do you imagine this research will improve the lives of trans people?

Continue reading 'Being a Research Subject – Questions for people researching trans identity'»

The Venn Diagram of Identity

By , March 13, 2013 8:47 pm

I live at the center of a Venn diagram – circles overlapping circles, the logical relations between a finite collection of sets. Each set a community, and each community overlapping to a greater or lesser extent. This set for theater (with a sub-set for Piven), that one for the queer community, this set for high school friends, that set for college friends, this set for A, that set for B, this set for 1, that set for 2. Overlapping circles and ellipses and shapes indescribable. A puzzle: Piven and theater overlap, Piven and queer do not. Queer and theater overlap, theater and family do not. Place all sets in such a way that they describe their relations; at the center of all sets lies me; the hub and nexus of my various communities.

Not the nexus in a self-centered way – I don’t believe I’m the driving force behind these communities. Rather, I describe myself as the nexus in that we are each at the center of our own lives. I can only describe my communities, that is to say “The communities in which I am involved,” as they relate to myself. But if I am the nexus of my life, the nucleus of my cellular makeup, what is contained within the greater structure? Why do I find it difficult to connect to a larger communal body? Continue reading 'The Venn Diagram of Identity'»

Sex, sexuality, and surgery

By , December 12, 2011 1:34 pm

No one looks like they're enjoying this situation, to be honest

In Which A Question Is Asked

What does it mean to be a sexual trans person? A sexual trans woman?

Sidenote: I’m looking for my copy of Fucking Trans Women, an awesome e-zine available at I know I bought and downloaded it, but am having trouble finding it. I emailed the site owners, tho, and hopefully they’ll be willing to send me another copy. At the very worst, I can spare another $5 for their great project.

Back on topic, I think being trans and sexual is tough for me (gonna try to use ‘I’ statements in this post, and not make generalizations) in part due to the huge variety of mixed messages I’ve received over the last 27 years. I’m sure I’m missing some categories, but here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Messages about male sexuality, even though I didn’t identify as male
  • Messages about female sexuality, which I picked up even though I wasn’t yet presenting as female
  • Messages about heterosexual sexuality, mainly from when I was presenting as a straight male
  • Messages about queer sexuality, both before and after I came out
  • Messages about specifically lesbian sexuality, again from both before and after I came out
  • And last-but-never-least, messages about specifically trans sexuality, limited primarily to ‘chicks with dicks’ and ‘she-male’ porn

Continue reading 'Sex, sexuality, and surgery'»

Race identity

By , November 29, 2011 1:52 pm

Not the kind of race I mean

I was recently having a conversation with a number of artistic peers, discussing the impact of our personal and community histories on our art and artistic process. I don’t remember who the question was raised by, but the group consisted of a mix of racial/ethnic/gender/sexual identities, making for good conversation.

In general we all agreed that our various personal and community histories – of religion, race, ethnicity, language, geography, class, sexuality, gender, and so on and on and on and on – played a factor in how we approached creating art. While it was a great conversation, and fodder for more discussion, I’m less interested in that than in something which happened after.

During the conversation, I said, “It’s been interesting going from presenting as part of a strong, privileged group – white, heterosexual, male – to an oppressed group: queer, trans, female.  I try to both be conscious of and artistically honor that oppression while being aware of the privilege I still do posses.”

Then, while giving someone a ride home – who identifies as black, female, lesbian – she turned to me and said, “Your comment really surprised me, since I don’t think of you as white.”


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Identity and Perspective

By , September 16, 2010 1:49 pm

Women Born Transsexual had a post a few weeks ago titled A Matter of Semantics: The Difference Between “Identifying as” and “Identifying with.” The post was prompted by a question seen on Facebook asking if readers identified as male, female, or transgender.

The post is interesting to me for a few reasons. First, Suzan begins by saying…

I’m an old fashioned lefty.  I’m not something because I identify as that thing.  Claiming to identify as without being seems to me to be an odd construct that doesn’t fall much in line with my existentialist line of thinking.

I am not a woman because I identify as a woman. I am a woman even though I was assigned male at birth because of having been born with something that the best term for still seems to be “transsexualism”.  I had sex reassignment surgery that made me female.

It’s an interesting question, to be sure. Perhaps the interesting question, when it comes to identity politics: when does someone become part of a certain group? (Race, religion, gender, ethnicity, whatever.) Is it a declarative process? “I identify as X, therefor I am X.” Or is it a tautological of identity? “I am X because I am X.”

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Vector Identity Theory

By , May 25, 2010 9:21 pm

Hi all! This guest post is from Violet, a regular commenter at The Thang Blog and all-around awesome gal. Enjoy!

Hi. I’m Violet. Rebecca has been kind enough to let me have some of her blog space for a guest post, and let me dip my toe carefully into the world of writing for a wider internet audience. Identity-wise, I am a twenty-something white currently-abled trans-female-spectrum genderqueer and sexuality-queer tomboy geek engineer. Except to the extent I’m not. But this post is about identity labels, so bear with me. Rebecca has previously posted about identity labels as keywords here, which I think is awesome, and I wanted to add another different (and geeky) way of looking at them to the discussion. This post is adapted from something I wrote more personally last year.

By “identity labels”, what I mean are nouns and adjectives that you use to describe people — “woman”, “man”, “goth”, “punk”, “masculine”, “feminine”, “trans”, “queer”. These things are useful for communication. Labels can function as a shorthand to tell people about what your life is like. They allow people with attributes in common to find each other and compare notes. I use them a lot.

The problem is that they’re wrong. Or, rather, not quite right. Any time you have an identity, it comes with a pile of stereotyped behaviors that any given claimant of the identity might or might not share, and it tends to reduce the perception of the claimant down to those stereotypes. Oops. (Rebecca, in her keyword post, also got into the possible confining nature of labels imposed by others.)

Now for the geeking out. Don’t worry — if you don’t speak math, I’ll give an example in pictures below.

I often view labels as vectors in some huge or infinite-dimensional vector space. Given a set of labels — say, {male, female} or {straight, queer} or {gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, questioning, ally} or whatever — finding out how you identify is a process akin to estimating the projection of your personal self-vector onto the subspace covered by the basis of labels in the set. Of course, that basis is never orthonormal; that would be too clean. It’s not orthogonal or normal at all. It’s just a mess of huge-dimensional vectors that you have to try to match yourself up against, throwing away all those components of yourself that aren’t in directions available to you in that basis. Worse, the self-vector is a function of time. The way you project on to a certain set of labels changes over the course of your life, sometimes even non-continuously. Even the identity labels change over time. Does being a goth mean the same thing now as it did fifteen years ago?

For an example of how my thinking about labels works, people sometimes ask me “are you male or female?” What they mean is usually something like this:

Continue reading 'Vector Identity Theory'»

“Transgenders” versus “Transgender people”

By , November 12, 2009 2:32 pm

I was reading an article recently – well written and respectful – about transgender issues, and couldn’t help but notice the use of transgender as “transgenders” (as a noun) rather than “transgender people” (as an adjective).

Many identity labels can be used as nouns or adjectives, but others can’t. A hypothetical article that said, “Lesbians polled at the Health Center said XYZ,” wouldn’t raise my eyebrows, nor would “Lesbian women polled at the Health Center said XYZ.” (Other than being a little awkward, since ‘lesbian’ implies ‘woman.’) (But lets not get into that again!)

At the same time, saying, “Blacks polled at the Health Center said XYZ” seems awkward and dated. Using “Jews” or “Italians,” though, doesn’t seem problematic. (I’m picking examples pretty much at random, here.)

What about “transgenders” versus “transgender people”?

Continue reading '“Transgenders” versus “Transgender people”'»

Sexular Reasoning

By , October 18, 2009 3:38 pm

I was having a conversation with a friend last night about sex, and gender identity versus physical body. It got me thinking about how easy it is to get into circular reasoning, especially when it comes to something so emotional and sensitive as all that. The circular reasoning we were talking about goes like this:

  1. I like sex, and being sexual
  2. I identify as a woman
  3. I was assigned “boy” at birth, and still have ‘boy bits’
  4. Women can’t have ‘boy bits’
  5. But I like sex…

(Rinse and repeat…)

Basically, is it OK to enjoy sex, even if your body isn’t what you really want it to be? Or, you have issues using your body in the socially/culturally expected way?

Continue reading 'Sexular Reasoning'»

Identifying as trans

By , November 30, 2008 1:47 pm

There was just a thread over at The Bilerico Project discussing how to answer questions about being GLBTQ. The replies to the post turned to the use of ‘trans’ as an identifier, and thought I’d share what I posted in reply to a question about “the slugfest going on over the use of “transgender.””

My understanding is that there’s a disagreement in the trans community over whether individuals who have transitioned can/should still be labeled as ‘trans.’ (Of necessity, I’m using the term ‘trans community’ to include men and women who do not believe ‘trans’ is an appropriate identifier for themselves.)

Continue reading 'Identifying as trans'»

“But I’m the same person!” “Well, I sure as hell hope not”

By , May 4, 2008 2:50 pm

I just finished reading She’s Not the Man I Married, by Helen Boyd (who blogs at en|Gender). It’s sort of a thinking-out-loud kind of book – it’s not quite a memoir, not quite a book on theory, not quite a manifesto, but with tastes of all of those things, and more. It’s written by the partner of someone who identifies as trans (not transgender or transsexual or transvestite, but specifically trans, which I kind of love) and explores how the author has dealt with that and the conclusions she has come to. I really enjoyed reading it, and am looking forward to making G read it and getting her thoughts on Boyd’s experiences. Obviously, just as no two trans  individuals have the exact same experiences, no two partners of trans individuals would, either. But Boyd is one of the few voices (the only voice?) of trans partners, so I’ll take what I can get. (It also helps that she’s a good writer.)

One of the common refrains throughout the book (paraphrased) “I don’t understand it [being transsexual] but I accept it.” For exapmle, from page 243: “Like a lot of feminists, I’m generally suspicious of what people mean when they say they have ‘a woman’s brain’ or ‘feel like a woman,’ but transsexual people are content after they transition, feel they’ve fixed something, and while I’ll never understand it, I’ve met too many people now who have given up too much to transition to doubt what is going on is legitimate.” I have a huge amount of respect from anyone else who is able to see something outside their own personal experience of the world and not say “No, no one can feel that way because I don’t feel that way.”

That said, one passage from close to the end of the book jumped out at me and I did want to ruminate on it.. From page 251:

The feeling that I am supportive of Betty’s transness only for the sake of the man I met creeps up on my now and again. Betty worries that out of love for him I “put up” with her. If she gets to the point where she has no male left for me to connect t, there is a chance I will wake up one day and realize I am not in love with and feel no loyalty toward her. This is why when a trans person uses that “but I’m the same person” argument, I want to say, “Well, I sure as hell hope not,” because we had better not be dealing with all this crap without its effecting any real change. That’s the point, that the trans person’s change will be enough to make living in the world easier and more comfortable for him, whether that’s done through crossdressing or transition.

Continue reading '“But I’m the same person!” “Well, I sure as hell hope not”'»

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