Sex Reassignment: More Like Algebra or Carolyn Keene? (Body Hatred, Part Two)

23 02 2011

The word “hatred” has a certain buzziness these days, a quality that tends to get it sent into battle from both sides of everything. In one of many examples, Prop 8 protests gave us “Stop the H8,” a response in part to a small, tasteless movement of picketers who have been insisting for a while that “God Hates Fags.”

Hatred, in other contexts, might have meant merely the opposite of adoration. Here, though, the message is not that God loves heteros the way I love oranges and hates homos the way I hate pickled cabbage. It is not that God feels like His tongue shrivels up and His skin crawls when He walks into a room where He can smell a homosexual (as is the case with me and pickled cabbage). “Hate” does not mean “harbor strong dislike for” in our current moment. Hatred is not an emotion, but a political stance.

Neo-conservative picketers are by no stretch of the imagination the only people using the word “hate,” either. They are a convenient example, but the truth is, hatred has become something like a culturally sanctioned way of expressing feeling. We hate our bodies (even though we sort of know we shouldn’t). We hate celebrities and politicians. We hate frat boys and/or reality TV shows and/or pharmaceutical companies.

The truth is, it’s almost always easier to feel angry than to feel even momentarily powerless. It is easier to say, “I hate my high school,” than to say, “I couldn’t make the people there respect me.” It’s easier to say, “The Bible says God hates gay people,” than to say, “My belief system does not account for these people I don’t understand.” Easier to say, “I hate this vagina,” than to say, “I am deeply uncomfortable with the way people touch me sexually and I don’t know any way of having sex with this body part that would be less uncomfortable.”

It’s a big problem. Lately, I’ve really been grappling with the way self-hatred still defines so much of how we think of trans people, both within and without the community. Hate the old body, love the new, right? Or in some cases, hate the old body, hate the new one less.

Part of the problem is, transition is not the replacement of the old body with a new body. You can’t just lop off body x and sew on body y. Or, if you’ll allow the math pun, body xx with body xy (or vice versa). If that were the case, transition would look like this:

The problem is not that we feel we need to change our bodies. Change everything you want to, I say. Throw a q or a 7 or a question mark into that equation, for goodness sake. The problem is staring down the narrow corridor of that equals sign.

All the surgeries, the parentheticals, the additions and subtractions—they can’t and shouldn’t be strung together and expected to produce some average, normal, unremarkable, standard maleness (or femaleness, as the case may be). There isn’t an average, normal, unremarkable, standard maleness. Throw out the term on the other side of that equals sign. There’s nothing there, just the same fantastic, troubled, strong, pinkish-tan in my case, human body that walked down the equals sign tunnel in the first place.

So, as promised, I must conclude that sex reassignment (and, by extension, gender itself) is less like algebra and much more like Carolyn Keene. A singular name for a disparate grouping of bodies and psyches and creativities.  A convenient fiction, which nonetheless has very real material effects in the world. And it’s only by enjoying each Nancy Drew novel in its own right that you can really love Nancy Drew—none of those books can be strung together to add up to any larger story arc. The point is, I love Nancy Drew, not because she’s on her way to some definitive, 56-book-long Answer. I love her because at any given moment in any given book, she is Nancy Drew.

Childhood nostalgias aside, I really do think we lose something when we rely on hatred to explain ourselves. So, queers and allies, let’s try to change the terrain between hatred and anti-hatred. Our struggle doesn’t have to be a struggle on those terms; it doesn’t have to be a struggle to get the Them to stop h8ing the Us. Speak out against discriminatory practices like Prop 8, certainly, but push it farther—let’s push ourselves to write novels, to take photos, to write history textbooks. Resist hatred by coming up with different ways of talking about feeling, different stories about why a person might want to add a (p + 2b) to their x2.

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15 responses

24 02 2011
maddox

Very thoughtful post – it has provoked some mulling over of my own, but it probably warrants more than a sentence or two here.

Quite impressed with your equation by the way… And because a) I don’t know who Carolyn Keene is and b) I studied math, and c) right now I’m wearing the geekiest math shirt ever, I will therefore disagree with you and conclude that everything can be explained with algebra (although I do appreciate poetic analogies as well.)

24 02 2011
James

I would love to hear your thoughts as they develop. I should perhaps note that I think we can all agree that body hatred is very real for many, many trans people–I could never and will never dispute or belittle that fact. I want to talk about, though, where that hatred comes from and how we as a community can define ourselves outside the rubric of hatred/not hatred.

Also, I’ve wanted that shirt FOREVER– I’m so jealous. I think it raises a good point: question marks on the other side of the equals sign, as opposed to anything predictable.

24 02 2011
And on the Third Day…. « Neutrois Nonsense

[…] night I read an interesting blog post over at Jamie/James’ blog, which has stirred up much discussion in my head. One part particularly stood out: The truth is, […]

24 02 2011
Gillis

as always, your post is beautiful, eloquent, thought-provoking.

and i will never get over how funny “p+2b” is.

24 02 2011
James

Thank you so much for reading, Gillis!

I bet together we could convince the world to replace the word “dick” with the phrase “p+2b”. I think this would be especially enjoyable in the realm of dirty talk.

24 02 2011
Nicki

The truth is, it’s almost always easier to feel angry than to feel even momentarily powerless. It is easier to say, “I hate my high school,” than to say, “I couldn’t make the people there respect me.”

This is good fucking stuff.

25 02 2011
James

Thanks, Nicki! I’m really flattered and happy that you think so. It’s a thought I’ve been struggling to articulate for a long time.

24 02 2011
Mike

I tried to explain the equation to my mother (I was literally rolling on the floor laughing and she wanted to know why) and she didn’t understand it. I thought this was hilarious, and very well put.

25 02 2011
James

I’m so glad you thought so! I tweaked that equation forever–at one point I somehow ended up with three different “b” variables.

28 02 2011
maddox

Ha, I finally got the equation. I was too drugged to do math properly. Can we do a change of base on the eigenvectors?

1 03 2011
James

As long as we don’t use an orthonormal basis.

19 03 2011
Translating Hate: The Binary « Neutrois Nonsense

[…] Translating Hate: The Binary Posted: March 19, 2011 | Author: maddox | Filed under: Discussion, LGBT, Neutrois, Queer | Tags: gender binary, hate, transgender | Leave a comment » I hate people who say “fuck the binary.” At least those who express it in that specific way, or that specific phrase, in general. Let’s translate that hate. […]

4 04 2011
Translating Hate: Questions « Neutrois Nonsense

[…] here, you’ll notice I’ve started a series called Translating Hate. To paraphrase (from James, the instigator of this): The truth is, it’s almost always easier to feel angry than to feel even momentarily powerless. […]

6 04 2011
maddox

Can you please write another brilliant blog post so I can stop linking to this one?

8 04 2011
James

Aw. Yeah, I’ve been trying so hard to write something, ANYTHING, the past few weeks. I promise to try more! (and also thanks for the encouragement–that actually does help).

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