On The Tyranny Of Narrative(s) And Representation(s)

This is a post by a genderqueer menace that goes into detail about (among other things) how transmisogyny and patriarchy affect which narratives become the dominant ones and why, amongst non-binary/genderqueer people, those are often the narratives of DFAB people. It also contains a really awesome critique of androcentrism amongst non-binary/genderqueer DFAB people.

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I recently read the NY Magazine article on agender/neutrois identity (it conflates the two in the article; while there is overlap, not all agender people identify as neutrois, and not all neutrois people identify as agender) and, like most articles on trans* identities written by cisnormative society, I’ve learned not to expect much. At least the article got pronouns right; I winced at “born female” bits and assumption that all binary gender transgender people follow the “born in the wrong body” narrative. But there were more obvious, gaping problems I had with the article, which are, incidentally, problems I have with representation within the trans* and genderqueer communities.

For starters, all the agender people they interviewed for the article were designated female at birth. There wasn’t a single DMAB agender person mentioned in the article, and I know DMAB agender people exist. This is incredibly problematic, especially given how many positive representations of DFAB trans* and genderqueer people there are versus DMAB trans* and genderqueer people.

While it’s true that all sorts of media has a sick fascination with DMAB trans* and genderqueer people, rarely are these representations positive. Most of them are odiously transmisogynistic and make mockeries out of the real lives of DMAB trans* and genderqueer people. The reason is this: society finds it less “weird” and suspect when people it assumes are women/girls “leave” womanhood/girlhood because being a woman is literally the worst thing in patriarchy. For a person society assumes is a man/boy to “leave” manhood/boyhood… well, that’s unacceptable and not understandable for the patriarchy because being a man/boy is seen as inherently superior to being a woman/girl (of course, the same is true for masculinity and femininity, but it’s important to decouple masculinity from men and femininity from women, because non-women can be feminine and non-men can be masculine, and this is particularly important to remember for trans* and genderqueer people).

Since I mentioned all the mentioned ones being DFAB, I’d also like to point out the agender people they mentioned by name all came from lesbian communities. This is annoying on so many different levels. For one, it implicitly buys into the notion that all trans* people “came from” gay and lesbian communities before they transitioned, whether it means to or not. It does little to decouple gender identity from sexual orientation when so many people already assume that DMAB trans* people are gay men in denial transitioning to be straight, and that DFAB trans* people are lesbian in denial transitioned to be straight. In these narratives, it’s incomprehensible that a DMAB trans* person could desire women and that a DFAB trans* person could desire men (and even more so that they could be attracted to multiple genders!  Sexuality, how does it work?). So, what about DFAB agender people who have never identified with the term “lesbian?” Why is this narrative of DFAB trans* people coming from the lesbian community so fucking privileged?

It annoys me so much because, well, I’m agender, transgender, and genderqueer and I have never identified as a lesbian. I came out as bisexual when I was 13 and have had sex with men (and a woman too). Lots. And. Lots. of sex with men. Before I transitioned, and after I began too. I feel silly that I have to even emphasize that, but apparently, I do. To loosely quote Stephen Ira, it’s like DFAB trans*and genderqueer people who desire men (and other non-women and women in addition to non-women) sprout fully formed from Judith Butler’s head. Our existence before Lou Sullivan (who is known because he was a gay trans man, not because he was an important HIV/AIDS activist or anything) has been utterly erased, and honestly, with all the representations that focus on DFAB trans* and genderqueer people who solely desire women and/or came from the lesbian community, I want to strangle cis people who perpetuate this in articles and the trans* and genderqueer people who perpetuate this by emphasizing those fucking narratives.

Aaaannnd like most articles about transness, it had to emphasize bodies. It’s absolutely true that bodies are an important part of many trans* and genderqueer experiences. After all, many of us have dysphoria or dissonance surrounding our bodies and medically transitioning changes the body. The mind/body split is an irritating one. While the article did discuss some of their experiences being agender, it heavily emphasized gender expression and transitioning: being embodied. I get it, we can do weird shit with our bodies, but we’re not inherently more embodied than cis people. Can we talk about our experiences that don’t involve the body? Please? It wouldn’t be so problematic if all we were to cis people were monstrous bodies formed by Frankenstein, ignoring that we’re more than a fucking body and hellooo we’re a mind and spirit too (if we’re still on the monster comparison here, Frankenstein’s monster was smart. He taught itself how to read, write, and speak. Yeah. But he’s mostly remembered for being a “monster.” Go figure.).

Certain bodies, I should say. Usually white, able, non-queer or at least appearing non-queer, thin, attractive bodies if we’re talking the positive ones.

And now let’s go into wider issues involving the trans*/genderqueer community that surround hegemony.

I’m sick and tired of hegemonic masculinity being emphasized in DFAB trans* and genderqueer people. It’s not also intentional, and not always explicit. It’s possible to accidentally fall into hegemonic masculinity when you’re trying to be genderless, gender neutral, or androgynous in appearance. After all, masculinity is an assumed default; femininity is coded as the more “gendered” gender expression, even though masculinity is just as “gendered,” simply because femininity is a “deviation.” Of course, it’s possible to be masculine and feminine at the same time, but if we’re talking about hegemony here, the possibility is pretty adamantly rejected. When someone aiming for “gender neutrality” etc is wearing only men’s clothes, forgoing makeup and staying away from colors coded as feminine, I can’t help side eye that just a little. Of course, clothing isn’t everything; how you wear clothing can also make a world of difference. And gender expression isn’t strictly reductive to clothing. Again, when one eschews the feminine but doesn’t mind taking up the masculine and this is socially rewarded, I side eye this, especially when this version of gender neutrality/androgyny/what have you is taken up as the way to be agender and/or genderqueer (which the article kinda implied by focusing on gender neutral agender people, and not ones, say, who might feel like wearing skirts and makeup and whatever). I, for one, know gender expression doesn’t have to have anything to do with gender identity, and for me, it really doesn’t.

And that’s not even getting started on the rampant sexism, heterosexism, misogyny, and transmisogyny various hegemonically masculine DFAB trans* and genderqueer people spew. Anyone who thinks DFAB trans* and genderqueer people are magically less dramatical, cliquey, snarky, mean, and policing of gender, sexuality, and otherwise than DMAB trans* and genderqueer people, not only are you a huge transmisogynist shit, you are so fucking wrong and you don’t even know how wrong you are. From my experiences in DFAB trans* and genderqueer spaces (which, in practice, tend to be trans men-only spaces and will alienate genderqueer people by calling them “trenderqueer” and “hipster lesbian” [but sometimes tolerate trans masculine people because certain forms of masculinity are kewl]), they are gender policing, sexuality policing, and sexist as shit (if I had a dollar for every fucking trans man who whines about not being able to use the t-word and insists they have the right to use it because their lives are soooooooooooo terrible I could pay for my goddamn name change). Sure, there are exceptions, but those spaces tend to be… well, mixed, or trans feminist in nature.

Why is there such a goddamn emphasis on certain types of masculinity?! This emphasis is even worse when you factor race into it. White DFAB trans* and genderqueer people get to be femme and gender radical and androgynous and pretty, but it’s much harder to find POC DFAB trans* and genderqueer representations that have a non-masculine and/or non-butch gender expression, especially black DFAB trans* and genderqueer represenations (they exist, but good luck finding them represented in many representations made by fucking trans* and genderqueer people whether it be a panel at a convention, interviews, etc.). And then you get even more of that fucking annoying “came from a lesbian community” narrative emphasis. Good luck finding an entire community of POC DFAB trans* and/or genderqueer people who are gender non-conforming and queer. I’m sure they exist somewhere, but by and large DFAB spaces are white, hegemoically masculine, and heterosexual as fuck.

The other exception seems to be with DFAB trans* and genderqueer people who are chubby, fat, curvy, large, etc. I suspect there are a number of reasons for this. For one, it’s harder to bind if your chest is large or you’re on the larger side (even harder if both). Many DFAB trans* and genderqueer people that either/or have large chests or are a large size have to contend with not binding and accept that reality when there is a huge emphasis on binding if you’re DFAB. I suspect this is a large factor of the greater variety of gender expressions I see in DFAB trans* and genderqueer people who fall outside the ideal body size; accepting not being able to bind may mean embracing non-masculine aspects of the self until one can afford chest surgery if they want it. Then again, it could be something else entirely. I’m pretty privileged in this area because I’m relatively svelte, so I’ll stop speculating, but it is an interesting observation.

And why does there seem to be a trope that us transitioning genderqueers only partially transition with hormones, or that we only get surgeries? Why does it seem so weird that some of us want to take hormones all our lives AND get surgeries to deal with body parts that shouldn’t be there or should be there? I get that it’s important to show that partial transitioning is a thing. I don’t get why our options in representation have to be either no transitioning or only partial transitioning. Whether I have a beard, a deep voice, a flat chest, and a penis (speaking theoretically here; I only have one of those things and I’m working on another, mostly because I can’t afford razors) has absolutely no goddamn bearing on whether or not I’m genderqueer. The amount of hormones I take has no bearing on whether or not I’m genderqueer. The amount of surgeries I get and the kinds I get has no bearing on whether or not I’m genderqueer. Dictating that falls into, well, gender binarism and cissexism by insisting I have to have these parts to be non-binary and genderqueer and can’t have those, which is a crock of shit, and sounds, well, exactly like the discourse of cissexism that insists boys have penises and girls have vaginas  (and you can’t have both or neither either, but that’s getting into dyadism) and birth designation of gender is the Law and Science and fuck you for arguing with it.

It’s not that any of these things are bad to be. It is simply that those ways of being genderqueer and/or non-binary are way, way privileged and those of us that don’t fit that are often put in a position where we’re made to feel like we have to be those things, or put in position where we have to be those things. And that’s bullshit.

You won’t really ever see me identifying as “DFAB.” I mean, yeah, I’m dfab (to my knowledge). But it’s not so much as an identity one actively identifies with as a description. The idea that being designated or assigned or coercively assigned a gender at birth can be an important, defining identity in and of itself blows my fucking mind and not in a good way. To me it doesn’t really make any sense. It’s Psyduck as fuck. And honestly, a lot of times DFAB/FAAB/AFAB/whatever version you use pride comes off as WBW 2.0, especially given the transmisogyny issues in DFAB space. Great! You had an F on your birth certificate! Why is that something to be inexplicably proud of? I don’t really see DMAB trans* people being proud of being DMAB and identifying as DMAB in quite same way. I’m sure someone could explain it to me, but for now, I’m filing it under “Suspect [and Psyduck] as Fuck.”

These are some of the reasons why I’m slowly falling out of favor of using DFAB/DMAB or any marker of what people’s birth certificates say as far as sex, especially with non-binary and/or genderqueer individuals. While it is important to acknowledge that DFAB trans* and/or genderqueer individuals tend to be more privileged over DMAB trans* and/or genderqueer individuals because of transmisogyny, DFAB/DMAB quickly falls into the pit of assuming that all DFAB people have the same upbringing, experiences, etc. and vice versa. In other words, it falls into the fallacy of assuming a universal DFABhood and a universal DMABhood (kind of like mainstream second wave feminism tended to assume a universal womanhood). It also falls back into gender binarism, which most non-binaries and genderqueers wants to get away from.

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2 thoughts on “On The Tyranny Of Narrative(s) And Representation(s)

  1. i’m gonna be honest here and just say that i think “dmab/dfab” are really fucking important. like, dfab isn’t part of my identity in any way and not i’m proud of it, but i don’t see how refusing to call myself dfab is anything but privilege-denying. for reasons described in this otherwise wicked-clever post.

    “…DFAB/DMAB quickly falls into the pit of assuming that all DFAB people have the same upbringing, experiences, etc…”

    yes, it totally can. that’s a pitfall we have to look out for. still, society definitely treats us differently if it thinks we’re dfab than it does if it thinks we’re dmab. privilege/oppression dynamics, right?

    otherwise, i totally enjoyed this post.

    Reply
  2. yeah, you’re spot on with that critique. acknowledging the privilege we have/don’t have based on the way society perceives us is really important, even if it doesn’t reflect our identities.

    Reply

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