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(Cis)sexing the body to transfigure the monster

The image in the header is from a trans-inclusive body-positive underwear modeling shoot. The modeling industry is exploitative and the inclusion of the picture here is intended not as an endorsement of its practices or creation, but to construct a polemic.

CW: Exorsexism, transmisia, dyadism, racism.

Discussion of the body is very common in transcourse [1]. The body has become a site of contention, not because of the dispute over features of the body, but because:

the notion of ‘sex’ made it possible to group together, in an artificial unity, anatomical elements, biological functions, conducts, sensations, and pleasures, and it enabled one to make use of this fictitious unity as a causal principle, an omnipresent meaning: sex was thus able to function as a unique signifier and as a universal signified

Foucault (1979)

This assemblage of features and characteristics into a single causal feature has sowed the seeds of a politic – a politics centered around the primacy of this so-called ‘biological sex’. This politics finds itself in grounds like “Sex Not Gender“, the “LGB Alliance“, and “Woman’s Place UK“. These groups posit that “biological sex” is a uniform causal attribute that affects not only our phenotypic characteristics, but our position in society, in almost a deterministic way. It is because Angel Carlick was female that she was murdered, rather than anything else, to these groups. Aubrey Dameron, on the other hand, has become missing thrice. First, her life was stolen by the colonial genocide the AmeriKKKan state allows to continue, second by her erasure in AmeriKKKan activism to fight against the ongoing genocide, and third by the the white British groups who erase trans women in their quest for women’s liberation. Aubrey Dameron went missing because she is a woman – because she is an indigenous trans woman.

Image result for Aubrey Dameron"

Aubrey Dameron

The politics of the body has a long history, in queer, feminist, trans and radical activism. Feminists have sought to problematize the way that the body is philosophized (Prokhovnik 1999), employed in political discourse (Phipps 2014), conceptualized in science (Oudshoorn 1994; Wilson 2004), and regulated by society and the state (Bordo 1993). Trans, queer and intersex theorists have sought to polemicize against the binarism in mainstream body talk (Carpenter 2018; Lane 2009; Preciado 2014), while others attempt to introduce a discussion of race into sexual difference research (Bloodsworth-Lugo 2007) and radicals seek to abandon static biological thought and instead move towards processual biology (Dupre & Nicholson 2018; Rose 2005). That it has become an active site of contest in transcourse should not be seen as surprising, but as expected given the history of feminist debates over the body and its relationship to society.

One active area of research for feminist theorists is how our bodies become seen as irrevocably “male” or “female”. It is not a necessity that our phenotypic characteristics be organized into pair of complex conglomerations of traits labeled (in the English language) “male” and “female” (Dupre 1986), nor is it a necessity that we define these agglomerations such that they are static or fixed (Heyes 2006). By analyzing the way in which intersex bodies “become” male or female, or how this contingent categorization changes over time, feminists have deconstructed the idea that sex must be binary as a matter of the facts about our bodies (Heller 2019). Indeed, feminists question the idea that our bodies are sexed at all (LaBrada n.d.), outside of the sexing that is necessary for bodies to become intelligible at all (Salih 2002). So to “sex the body” is the manner in which bodies become known as sexed, whether this is through the culturally constituted gender matrix (Butler 1990), or through the medical regulation of bodies (Dreger 2000).

Recent transmisic invocations of “material reality”, “female bod[ies]”, etc are all part of a cissexist and exorsexist attempt to (cis)sex the body – to make it so that the body is inherently cis, deterministically either male or female. No ambiguities, no change, no processes, just a single pair of states: male or female. One is “born male” or “born female”, and this is the underlying causal factor that determines ones physiological traits, determines one position in society, and consequently, whether one ought to be considered a woman or a man and whether one is permitted to speak on certain issues. Hush up trans women, you’ve gotten too uppity with your talk of “rights” – you aren’t allowed to have thoughts on feminism, on the definition of womanhood, on their own experiences! You’re delusional, mistaken. You’ve been indoctrinated into the “trans cult”, where you’ve then become its willing member.

For this movement, we must not only “sex the body” (Fausto-Sterling 2000), but cissex the body as well. The body becomes cis through proclamations like “trans women are biologically male“, as if “male” is something solely biological, rather than generated and generative. The body becomes cis because ovaries are framed as “female”, as trans embodiment becomes logically and politically impossible (Billard 2019). Transition becomes “mutilation“, intersex bodies become “disordered” and sex becomes a permanent, immutable property of an individual (see Lavin 1987). By sexing the body, transmisics cissex the body.

In that same process, they achieve their primary goal, which is to “transfigure the monster”. By this I mean that transmisics are not passionate about spouting “biological reality” and tweeting “trans women are biological males” because they have a deeply held ontological belief about the composition of the body or a particular position in the philosophy of science. They say these things, come to believe these things, to turn trans people into freaks (see Lisa Millbank’s amazing post). The trans body becomes monstrous, a Frankenstein of medical experimentation (Raymond 1994), the active subject of bioethical travesties (Hausman 1995), a disfigured mistake. Our bodies are politically subjected to excessive inquiry, but it is not only trans bodies that are poked and prodded on the internet, but cis and intersex ones too [2]. The (trans) body is (trans)figured into a monster.

Image

The trans body becomes stuck oscillating between two different states. Either present oneself as hyperfeminine to ensure that you ‘pass’, else our hands, skull shape, brow ridges, the way we walk, arms and shoulders ‘give us away’ (Billard 2019), or we must resign ourselves to be feminine men (but not too feminine, lest 0.5% of the population be the causal force preventing gender norms from disappearing). The trans body has come under biopolitical control, from the airport, the prison, the jail, in the ‘maternity‘ ward to the General Register Office, even after death. When transmisics speak of “true sex”, “biological sex” in an attempt to slander trans people, they are exercising the biopower they have accrued.

Sex, sex, sex, sex (yeah)
Sex, sex, sex, sex (la-la-la)
Sex, sex, sex, sex (la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la)
Sex, sex, sex, sex (yeah)

Lest we be unclear in that trans people do not engage in this same sort of body politics. Fatphobia is ever present in queer communities, as is hierarchy based on the racialization of the body. Gatekeepers attempt to force people into transitioning based on their concepts of what transness entails and requires. “True Tr*nnies” hold that trans people who don’t get/want SRS are not “true trans” people and/or that trans women aren’t “true” women until they have a vagina [3].

“Sex” is not merely a neutral aspect of scientific inquiry or “biological reality”, as some right-wingers argue in an tepid attempt to defend the sex binary. It is a political tool used for violence. When the discourse of a “true sex” (Lavin 1987) is brought to the surface, it can easily be revealed that it is the basis for transfemicides and the ongoing gendercide (Bettcher 2007). Trans people deceive the world about our “true sex”, what is really contained within our cells, our chromosomes, their actual meaning. We have lied to the world by looking one way, but being another. This alleged deception extends even when the other participant in an engagement is willing, to the point where conspiracy theories about womb farms arise.

Sex is not neutral. Sex itself is violent. Sex is the violent imposition of ontological categories onto bodies, stamping us to particular social formations. Sex is sexualization, the preparation of bodies for violation [4], the preparation of bodies for heterosexuality  [5], for the reproduction of society [6], and the reproduction of people themselves [7]. Sex is violence.

For there is no sex. There is but sex that is oppressed and sex that oppresses. It is oppression that creates sex and not the contrary

Wittig (1976)

[1] Transcourse here is a portmanteau meant to describe the online (be it Reddit, Twitter or Tumblr) discourse about trans people.

[2] See also here, here, here, here, and here. As well as here, here, and here.

[3] And similarly that trans men aren’t “true” men until they have a penis.

[4] Credit goes to conversations with Twitter user @9BillionTigers for this line of thought.

[5] For an analogous argument, see MacKinnon (1989).

[6] See Guillaumin (1995).

[7] For the best work outlining this argument, see Wittig (1976), (1980).

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