Tuesday, January 22, 2008

All About Choice

I learned from Helen Boyd's blog (en)gender that today is Blog-For-Choice Day. Which is very timely for me because of an incident that happened this weekend. I was with my partner at Bluestockings buying coffee and books when i decided to also buy posters with which to decorate my new cubicle. I had picked out posters from the Celebrate People's History Collective of Sylvia Rivera and ADAPT when I noticed a poster for Jane, the undergound women-run network of abortion providers in Chicago during the late '6os. I really wanted to get the Jane poster, too. It seemed fitting to me that I should have posters up about what we choose for our bodies. These choices aren't all ours, and some of us have more control over others whether that control comes through our race, class position, educational background, ability to communicate in verbal English, or geographic area. But we all need to have the choice about how our bodies get treated by medical, legal, and educational systems.

So I bought all three posters, which of course is nothing more than a consumer choice and an empowerment of capitalism...but it felt good for me to be a Transgender Advocate at a gay civil-rights organization and to have posters in support of the many choices we make for our bodies up on my cubicle walls. There's a common thread in transgender narratives recorded by therapists and other medical professionals that we are "trapped in the wrong body" and that we would give anything to have been born "normal". For some people, that's true. For some people that would be true even if their lives were not the terrifying ordeals they can become when daily facing transphobic employers, friends, and potential lovers. This divide often causes fights in the transgender community, but I do believe that there is nothing wrong or anti-trans when someone who has changed their body to fit their perception of it refuses to call themselves transgender or transsexual. That is a survival choice that must be respected and understood, likewise these men and women should not disrespect the choices of transgender and gender non-conforming people who love and celebrate their bodies.

For other people, the desire to be "normal" is more entwined with the transphobic, sexist, and classist organization of Western Medicine, educational systems, and employment practices that keep us away from the hormones, surgeries, and legal rights that we desire. We think that if we had been born with a deeper voice, breasts, no breasts, no adam's apple etc that we would not now have to face institutions that continually tell us that we do not matter, that we have mental disabilities, that we are confused and misguided. Facing this kind of oppression and invisibility we struggle to celebrate ourselves and, when feeling low, may perhaps wish for the "normality" we know does not exist.

One of the largest struggles I have right now as a Transgender Advocate is trying to speak towards and recognize the voices of gender non-conforming people. As someone who claimed a "genderqueer" identity for a long time I remember the struggle of trying to find genderqueer voices in the range of emerging transsexual and transgender voices. There are not many resources out there for genderqueer, gender deviant, and gender non-conforming peoples. So what does this have to do about choice? I left a pro-choice lobbying organization years ago as I was coming out because I was confused by what I was doing there. Issues of reproductive rights primarily have to do with cissexual women having sex (consensual or otherwise) with cissexual men regardless of how either party identifies sexually. This focus makes sense, it's the largest population needing control over reproductive rights. But there are other assumptions in that population...that the women are all white and able-bodied. That both parties identify as heterosexual or straight, are young and middle-class. Those assumptions don't make sense and I felt myself drifting away from any organization that saw the issue of "choice" in terms of whiteness, middle-class identity, youth, ability, and heterosexuality. Which is why I find that writing about genderqueer identity is writing about choice. Because beyond the choice of when, how, and if we are going to reproduce we also need to have control over who touches our bodies and how. Who decides the right medicines and procedures, who is allowed to love, touch, medicate and assign our bodies identities. Looking at choice holistically allows for more voices and more possibilities.

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