There are several fundamental themes that always seem to repeat themselves in trans matters: if the bathroom issue is most insidious, then the battle over language and nomenclature is surely close behind. In his latest book, Dan Brown has drawn attention to the latter.
Although I am neither a freemason nor a Rosicrucian, I will admit to having a lay interest in the history of religions as it relates to the so-called ancient mysteries. Dan Brown has written amply on the subject in his novels “Angels and Demons,” and of course, “The DaVinci Code.” His latest book, “The Lost Symbol,” explores similar subject matter liberally, some would say, but not too far from what my lay reading of the literature would support.
He manages, however, to make a “fine mess of it all” in one particularly inarticulate passage. In his books, Mr. Brown often attests to the accuracy of details within his narratives. Sadly, his use of the word “transgendering” is completely erroneous, poorly investigated and will only feed the fires of those who say he has thoroughly misrepresented the truth. He goes on to compare being transgender to tattooing and alleged bodily mutilations, setting him in rather sad company regarding his ignorance of what it means to be transgender.
The fact of the matter is there is no such thing as “transgendering.” Being transgender is not a process, a person does not “become” trans, they are trans. I often encounter those who insist on using the expression “transgenders,” as though people who express gender diversity are merely things to be described, categorized and pigeonholed. Even the use of the word transgender raises hackles on the necks of some because they feel they are being erroneously tagged. This is not necessarily how they self identify. The shoddy use of language both within and without the trans world is rampant and has become a kind of “prison of our own devise,” that enigmatic Jim Morrison lyric.
As if it isn’t bad enough that we must deal with the problem of incorrect pronoun usage by the media, the invective of neo-fundamentalists and their straw-man arguments used to validate their baseless claims, and the academically shabby allegations of those clinicians who fabricate diagnoses, other verbal expressions keep us trapped in this prison of words. Some are those we use ourselves; some are words used by others. I, too, am not immune to stepping in the proverbial mess. Readers of last month’s column called me on the carpet for, by all appearances, piggybacking trans issues onto those of persons with intersex conditions. I do recognize and differentiate trans issues from intersex issues and I apologize for using less than critical judgment in my choice of words. I’ll explore the subject more next month. The point is that well-intentioned writers need to be attentive, sensitive and must educate themselves. That includes me and Dan Brown. Those who are not well intentioned will get whatever slings and arrows are due them.
We experience life as individuals. Some of those experiences are ones we may share. Others are ours alone. Each person’s experiences help to define how they see themselves and how they see themselves existing in the world. Each individual solely is entitled to decide in both cases. All too often, however, someone other than the individual is doing the defining. The intersection of how we define ourselves and how we define each other is where we encounter problems. Misunderstanding and miscommunication invariably ensue. Use of broad categories by non-trans persons to unduly categorize, label and delimit what it means existentially to be gender diverse is unacceptable. The same goes for persons who, themselves, are gender diverse. Attempts to homogenize the trans experience often serve only to alienate us from each other. The umbrella metaphor is not helpful when used to excess. Remember: attentive, sensitive, educated.
Western civilization’s penchant for binding labels and definitions is a binary legacy of patriarchal thinking which, by itself, has become dogmatic, anachronistic and obsolete. One might suspect from its dominance that this defining bestows some sort innate knowledge. This is seldom the case. As I am sure Dan Brown knows from his study of ancient mysteries, there is much wisdom that draws upon matriarchal consciousness and women’s arts. Is it not possible that well-balanced human beings need a mixture of both patriarchal and matriarchal worldviews?
Clearly, we (myself included) see red when others attempt to pigeon hole our experiences or to, willy-nilly, lump us all into identical categories. Labels, although by all appearance convenient, quite often become traps. They lead others to erroneous conclusions that can be, at best, a nuisance, and, at worst, deprive a person of life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. Yet, is it not conceivable that we lose our way when we pursue a divisive agenda within this group of loosely affiliated individuals who, for one reason or another, have experienced societal dissonance? We have much in common with each other, despite our differences. Overreactions run rampant because we allow ourselves to personalize so much. We need some kind of balance between practical and ideal, perceiver and perception, personal and universal, as well as matriarchal and patriarchal. This might be possible if we could only get past our agendas, which, for whatever reasons, keep us trapped in the prisons of our own devise.
— Comments and corrections can be sent to email@example.com. To contact Robbi Cohn, email firstname.lastname@example.org.