Monday, December 01, 2008
The Gender Power Shift
TransGriot Note: I was invited by Renee at Womanist Musings to write this guest post for her blog.
I had a long and wonderful conversation with her over the weekend getting to know her and getting an 'ejumacation' about life north of the border for peeps of color.
So take a moment to wander over there to check it out and some of Renee's other writings on her quality blog, or just scroll down to read it.
When you transition from one gender role to another, you do more than just swap bodies and sometimes genitalia. You are also picking up all the cultural and societal expectations and baggage associated with that gender role as well.
Race and class also enter into this mix as well in terms of the differing reactions we have in terms of transition for white male to female transwomen and male to female transwomen of color.
One of the things I noted when I first transitioned back in 1994 was how much White transwomen lamented transitioning. I was the lone African-American along with a Latina in my gender group at the time, and she and I discussed in our conversations how so many of the discussions for some of them centered on laments about how much money they lost after they transitioned, pining for the executive jobs they held, or how shocked they were about how nasty and virulent the discrimination they were facing for the first time in their lives was..
It was my first exposure to The Gender Power Shift.
Basically, in Western societal structures, it’s all about the White male. Even if they have a PhD, a GED or no degree, they grow up with a sense of entitlement based on their skin color that makes them feel as though they are superior to anyone, much less a mere person of color.
And as I have stated for over a decade, the GLBT community is a microcosm of society at large. Whatever problems and ‘isms’ are prevalent in the parent society are manifested in our little subset of it.
Some carry those attitudes into transition feeling that they’ll have their new gender role, the cash and the power to go with it. They get a rude awakening from their former brothers in arms, which see them as delusional for willingly stepping down from the role as a White male and angry because in their eyes it’s one less white male to help procreate and keep whites in the majority population against the surging tide of rising minority birth rates and immigration.
To punish them for their ‘crime’ of voluntarily stepping down from the white male club, they get busted them down to white women power levels and face heightened levels of discrimination to keep them there.
Now, at the bottom of the societal power structure is the Black male. They’ve been told their whole lives by the parent society they’ll never amount to nothing, they’re predisposed to criminal activity…well, you get the drift. So when a Black male transitions, the parent society doesn’t care as much, but the end result is that it’s a power upgrade for that individual.
Black society is matriarchal based and power is shared somewhat equally between males and females. So when a Black male transitions, while we’re seen as less of a threat to the white power structure than we were as males, it’s conversely a step up in terms of power and prestige because of our new gender role.
In addition to that, being a Black woman is liberating to the person that chafed at being stuck in the Black male gender role. They get the benefits of no longer being considered a ‘menace to society’ with the corresponding improvements in quality of life. So to them, transition becomes a step up in class and power levels and it’s reflected in their perceptions of it.
The reactions of biowomen to transwomen are also different based on race and class. White transwomen are battling the burden of getting whacked with the anti-transgender feminist backlash instigated by Janice Raymond and Germaine Greer in the 70’s and 80’s and their radical feminist disciples. They are seen as interlopers in women’s spaces still seeking to wield WMP despite being in female bodies.
The reaction of Black biowomen to their transsisters is totally different. Black women have had their own bruising battles with those same Raymond-Greer radical feminists, and for the most part reject their philosophy. They are womanists, and reject the demonization of transgender women as espoused by the radical feminists.
As long as Black transwomen immerse themselves in and take seriously the role of Black womanhood, we are down with the goals of uplifting the race and advancing the causes of all women, we are accepted for the most part as women by the biowomen in the Black femininity club.
In addition, Black transwomen because of lack of capital, not only have extended transitions, they tend to focus more on perfecting the inner femininity first before they get to the point of dealing with surgical issues. That helps us hone the social skill we need to smooth our acceptance into the ranks by some Black biowomen.
White transwomen, who tend to start with more capital, blitz through the transition process, get SRS, then focus on the internal femininity issues. Their progress is also retarded by the resentment that some White biowomen have toward White transwomen as well for various reasons.
And in case you’re wondering, White transmen have noted their increased societal power gain after they transitioned, and Black transmen have noted the increased negative perceptions of them post transition as well.
So yes, race and class affect transition in many ways, and the Gender Power Shift is only one small example of it.