Our Bodies and Lives: Transphobic Trauma, Transsexual Healing

Following up on how cissexuals dominate and exploit transsexuals' bodies and lives, in her book Aftershock, pattrice jones furthers the vegetarian-ecofeminist cissexist and tranphobic attacks by claiming, "Nowadays, more and more young women – having learned what happens to young girls in today's world – are literally turning themselves into men to protect themselves from violence." Following up in the notes section of her book, jones goes on to say, "Once very rare, female-to-male sex changes have become so common that there's a slang term for those who have gone through the process: FTM."

Yes, violence against women exists and is a persistent problem in our society. But transsexual men do not get sex changes to avoid violence against women any more than trans women transition so that we can experience violence against women. What's disturbing is that in a book that purports to be "Confronting Trauma in a Violent World, a Guide for Activists and Their Allies," jones is in fact perpetuating the cissexism and transphobia that is a significant source of trauma in the lives of many transsexuals.

In effect, jones is saying that transsexuals, specifically transsexual men, don't really exist – or at least they shouldn't exist. To jones, trans men are merely traumatized "young women," as opposed to men. Never mind that there are plenty of FTMs who are middle-aged or older at the time they transition.

jones further seeks to deny and invalidate the lived reality of transsexuals by calling the abbreviation FTM "slang." Given her earlier assault on trans men's existence, there is no question of her intention to use "slang" as a disparagement. This is as offensive as saying that "lesbian" is slang for heterosexual women who think they are attracted to women or that "butch" is slang for women with penis envy.

It's troubling to think that because jones has taught college courses in psychology, some might be misled to believe that there is some merit to these claims. Or that it might be assumed that since jones identifies as a queer and lesbian activist that she can be trusted as an ally to trans people. However, far from being based on any healing practice or allyship with trans people, jones' statements are firmly rooted in a cissexism that denies the lives and intrinsic worth of transsexuals.

jones' Cissexist Impositions

For jones, transsexual men exist only as an effect of violence against women. This assumes that FTMs suffer from some form of internalized sexism or misogyny. That is, jones is imposing her own cissexist standards on the lives of transsexuals, which in turn invalidates trans men's own knowledge and lived reality of why they obtain trans health care.

Transsexuals get sex changes to create congruency within our own bodies and lives. If it were in fact true that trans men are merely attempting to protect themselves from violence against women, then some form of intervention other than a sex change would be an effective means of healing. In other words, there would be some way of inducing transsexuals to conform to jones' cissexual construct and eliminating FTMs, which jones apparently construes as some sort of trauma-induced delusion. Yet there is absolutely no evidence of this. For instance, no sessions of therapeutic talking cure or anti-sexist consciousness raising have, can, or will successfully cause a female-to-male transsexual who desires a sex change to heal by conform to jones' cissexaul standards.

This is because FTMs are not "young women" seeking an escape into manhood as a means of protecting themselves from violence against women. For one thing, jones simply ignores the interpersonal, institutional, and systematic violence that targets trans men. Even more glaring, jones ignores the intense and socially sanctioned interpersonal, institutional, and systematic violence that targets trans women. If FTMs were seeking sex changes in order to protect themselves from violence against women, then it would be absurd for MTFs to seek sex changes that would, and do, make us targets of both violence against women and violence against transsexuals.

Trauma Caused by Aftershock

The poignant reality is that cissexism and transphobia results in trauma, fear, and violence that can and does inhibit many transsexuals from obtaining transition-related health care. A sex change is a form of health care that significantly contributes to our health and well-being. However, many transsexuals stay closeted and go without care because they have internalized the very sort of cissexism and transphobia that jones is encouraging. This can be particularly true for some trans men who come from a lesbian-feminist community.

Recall that some trans men get sex changes late in life. This is possible if an FTM has internalized the cissexist ideology that trans men only get sex changes because they are seeking self-protection from violence against women. In this case it's understandable that such a person might seek to repress his transness and sublimate his desire for a sex change by becoming part of a lesbian-feminist community, possibly even establishing a career in opposing violence against women. (In fact, the trans man who was a women's studies major or lesbian-separatist is a bit of a chiché.) However, this sort of internalized cissexism – while perhaps directed towards a laudable cause – doesn't really bring healing for a transsexual person. Which means a trans man who seek to repress his transness by becoming hyper-woman identified might end up building his own cage by embedding himself in a community that is hostile to transsexuals.

Like LGBTTQQ people who come from certain fundamental religious communities, pre-transition FTMs with connections to transphobic feminist communities are understandably afraid of losing friends, family members, lovers, and/or careers if they transition from female to male. Being trapped by compulsory cissexual norms that deny and invalidate one's experience as a transsexual – as jones is promoting – is itself a source of persistent trauma and self-hatred. It's in the day-to-day lived experience of transsexuals that we see the violent and painful effects of invalidation that comes from the imposition of cissexism on our bodies and lives. These practical effects are where we vividly find the violent results of the sort of cissexism being fostered by people like jones.

That is, rather than confronting trauma in a violent world, jones' cissexist assumptions about transsexuals perpetuate a world of transphobic violence that results in trauma for transsexuals. As a transsexual woman, I find jones' assumptions about transsexuals personally and politically oppressive. And as the lover, friend and ally of transsexual men I cannot for an instant take seriously jones' self-promotion as someone who is interested in healing trauma and promoting social change.

Transgender Day of Remembrance today

Drat! If only Aftershock had come out sooner! Then I could have just taken a self-defense class instead of going the whole transsexual route. If only I had known!

But at least this explains why you transitioned -- you weren't getting enough opportunities to practice Aikido in real life!

Of course this is really no laughing matter. Looking at FTMs in the absence of considering MTFs lead to jones' fanciful conclusion. If jones wants to talk about violence against women, let's talk about violence against women -- in particular, violence against trans women. Today is the Eleventh Inernational Transgender Day of Remembrance, created to "memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice."

Just in the last month or so, four trans people have been killed:

Of course, the people being memorialized are not just trans, they are almost all women, women of color and/or sex workers, factors that contributed as much or more to their deaths.

And yesterday I received this email:
"Yesterday afternoon, two African-American transgender women were attacked by 10 to 16 youth in a Manhattan area around 4.30pm. You would think that it could never happen, but unfortunately, one of the women's face received several punches. While the women were shopping the youth followed them teasing and calling them unbelievable names which not not suit their persona. I am asking kindly, please keep both women in your prayers. p.s. the patrolling officers saw it as a joke AND did not take any reports." Thankfully, these women successfully fought off their attackers.

Hopefully it's clear how upsetting it is to hear someone claim that transsexual people transition in order to escape violence. Such statements erase the violence to which trans people are actually subjected.

In the DC Trans Coalition's statement on the Day of Remembrance, they point out, "Our communities are faced with violence all of the time – and it is not only the kind that comes from bigots who follow us on the street. It can also come from the threat of homelessness and job loss, disproportional rates of poverty and HIV infection, bullying in schools, or denial of access to health care or public facilities like restrooms."

Make no mistake, rhetoric like jones' directly contributes to such violence.

Re: Our Bodies and Lives: Transphobic Trauma, Transsexual ...

Thank you for this post. I found those statements in Aftershock to be really horrible as well (& yeah, the idea of transition to avoid violence? Aside from the incredible amount of violence trans people face, that's just... well. Obviously different trans people have different experiences, but... that idea seems so removed from what I've heard my trans friends say & what I've read, &... if this was really a big motivation for people, surely it would show up in other places than this text?).

Re: Our Bodies and Lives: Transphobic Trauma, Transsexual ...

I agree with you, Ida. I can imagine jones having looked at 2 or 3 cases, some of which have been biased and saying her argument is supported by a case study, in the way university professors tend to do. Most of what is published by academics is unreliable, biased, peer-reviewed by a circle of acquaintances and often only serve to advance their own agenda.

However to the masses, it may seem credible and serve to enforce stereotypes or myths. Supposing she has done research on 1 or 2 exceptional cases which she then generalized, she would be guilty of a strong bias. Perhaps a specialised medical practitioner having read what she says would be more likely to refuse surgery to a pre-op who has suffered sexual abuse in the past. I doubt I am being offensive if I purport that sexual violence on a pre-op transsexual could be worse than the same on women, there is an additional element of violation having to do with body integrity. If there is a theory out there saying something similar, perhaps women feel threatened and obliged to attack transpeople.

They couldn't really argue the same myth if they had to include FTNs as well in the debate. But neutrois-wannabes are not even considered as part of the debate by FTMs (or MTFs alike). In my experience, identifying as intersex in the wrong body bears absolutely no validity in the eyes of the medical community at present.

P.S. I have trouble comprehending the acronym you use, LGBTTQQ - no I?