Zinnia Jones On Choosing To Identify As Transgendered

Zinnia is deeply illuminating and clarifying (as always) in this must-see video (or its must-read transcript, for those without the 15 minutes to watch) in which she discusses the element of choice in her transgenderism and answers the question of why those like her should opt for transgenderism rather than simply deny the validity of gender categories altogether.

Here is a key portion where she explains both the ways that her experience of transgenderism differs from standard narratives and the valuable element of choice in her particular decision to identify as trans:

My mistake was that I thought being trans entailed a specific cluster of features: being constantly uncomfortable with one’s body, seeking medical treatment, and receiving some sort of diagnosis. Obviously, none of this is actually a requirement to be trans, but I felt that my personal experience wasn’t sufficiently similar to other trans people I knew, and I didn’t want to be seen as speaking for trans people. I just didn’t think I was qualified. While I had no problem with people thinking I was trans, I leaned toward other descriptions, such as genderqueer.

Luckily, a very good friend of mine helped to clarify things. She told me how she thought she was bisexual for quite a long time, because she found sex with men to be tolerable rather than something that made her want to vomit, which she believed would be the natural consequence of gay people trying to have straight sex. But when she realized that sex with women was vastly more enjoyable for her, and that she pursued women and avoided having sex with men no matter how “tolerable” the experience was, she came to understand that being a lesbian was the most appropriate sexual identity for her.

This was more applicable to me than I knew at the time. But once it sank in, I recognized that I don’t need to have intense, unbearable gender dysphoria in order to be trans. I just need to prefer living as a woman over living as a man. Being uncomfortable in my body isn’t a requirement. Being more comfortable as a woman is all it takes. The old shoes don’t have to be such a poor fit – the new ones just have to fit me much better. And regardless of whatever grey areas there might be at the margins of how we define “transgender”, when you’re living as a woman, going by a woman’s name, dating a lesbian, and don’t want to live as a man despite being assigned male, the fact of being trans is pretty much inescapable.

In retrospect, I can see that there were plenty of choices available to me throughout all of this. Could I have chosen not to present as a woman, not to take a female name, and not to go by female pronouns? Yes. I could have chosen not to do any of this, at any step of the way. Would I have survived if I had chosen differently? In all likelihood, yes, but I doubt I would have truly thrived. Because of the choices I made, the world that’s opened up to me is better than anything that came before. And knowing what I know now, I would never choose to go back.

But ultimately, this wasn’t something that thrust itself upon me. When did I “know”? Not until I bothered asking that question, and got a real answer. Not until I actually tried this on, and found out it fit really well. This didn’t seek me out. I went looking for something, and this is what I came back with.

And against those who want to say that instead of people transitioning because they feel ill-fit for their assigned gender they should just deny the validity of gender expectations altogether:

relaxing gender norms only helps us from this one direction, and those who propose this solution don’t seem to have much interest in ensuring that my womanhood is not negated by a certain presentation. These are not the options they want to give me. Instead, their attitude seems to be more along the lines of, “now you can be a man instead of transitioning, because society will accept a man like you!” And while that’s fantastic for any men who happen to be like me, I’m not a man, and I don’t want to be. If I just wanted to be that kind of man, I would have stopped there – but I didn’t. And that’s not up to them.

This is the key point they appear to have glossed over. To suggest that I would revert to a male presentation and identity given the chance is to misunderstand the meaning of gender identity on the most fundamental level. Even in such a society, I would still choose to be a woman, and offering a solution where I’m expected to live as a man is no more acceptable than telling a cisgender man, “hey, you should go ahead and be a woman now, since people won’t mind how manly you are!” But that man is not a woman. And this woman is not a man.

Furthermore, the assumption that someone must have chosen to transition because society is more accepting of transgender women than feminine men would be laughable, if the ignorance it exhibited wasn’t so insulting. Being a gender other than the one you were assigned is something that the world barely understands, let alone accepts. If feminine men are largely rejected, and trans women are seen not as women but just extremely feminine men, what makes them think transitioning is about finding acceptance from society? This aspect of their solution is largely irrelevant to trans people anyway. We’re already unwilling to give up who we are in the face of significant social opposition. Reducing that opposition would do nothing to change our minds, because there would be even less of a reason not to be who we truly are.

Full transcript.

Also, in case you missed it, last month I interviewed Zinnia Jones in a piece I called “From Transgenderism to Transhumanism”. It was part of my whole day of interviews of atheist friends and internet celebrities to raise money for the Secular Student Alliance.

Your Thoughts?


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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

    Zinnia’s video/post is really excellent, and much needed. The best-known and traditional narrative of severe dysphoria and transitioning to one of two binary genders sometimes, unfortunately, takes over the entirety of “what it is to be trans” in popular understanding (even among some trans people.) But since trans=not cis (or, rather, cis=not trans), there are plenty of other narratives out there — like Zinnia’s, or like those of bigender/agender/genderqueer people.

    For myself, the “born this way” campaign has always been completely offbase. It doesn’t really cover people, like me, who fall in the inbetween sort of places and have choices to make…..who I am, both in gender and sexual orientation, was not inevitable, though where I am now, like for Zinnia, is certainly more desirable and beneficial for me (in the sense of thriving/flourishing) than any other.

    This aspect of their solution is largely irrelevant to trans people anyway. We’re already unwilling to give up who we are in the face of significant social opposition. Reducing that opposition would do nothing to change our minds, because there would be even less of a reason not to be who we truly are.

    This is the key point for me. I’m often told, since I’m AMAB, that if society were more excepting of feminine/androgynous men, then I’d have no need to identify as anything other than male…..but never seem to notice that if there were no societal discouragement I would be that much more likely, it would be that much easier, to identify as whatever I feel I am. Lessening the opposition would make it easier to be who I am, but not change who I am — unlike the opposite, which they seem to think is the case.

  • http://en.gravatar.com/xanthecat Xanthë

    Thanks Daniel for also drawing attention to the interview you conducted with ZJ, which I missed seeing at the time. ZJ’s gradual metamorphosis over a period of years had been one of a number of catalysts that had led me to come out as trans, so I’m beyond pleased for her that she’s also come out. (And her newest post entitled Euphoria is a beautiful rendering of her process of self-discovery as well.)

  • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

    I still think a lot of these labels will fade into obscurity at some point. I’m of the opinion that the LGBTQQIA movement is heavily influenced by the necessity to organize politically. As equality and overall acceptance increases, I don’t know that there will be so much pressure on people to identify one way or another.

    I suppose there will always be some instances where labels come up, but humanity got along for a long time without the labels “heterosexual” and “homosexual,” and since those were introduced in the 19th century, we’ve still only managed to catalog a fraction of the complexity of human sexuality.

    It’s also a little creepy that these labels are not mere distinctions, but tend to originate as function of naming these leanings as a disease. I don’t think such labels will ever sit well with me, but I have no vested interest in telling people how they identify, so whatever, I suppose.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I suppose there will always be some instances where labels come up, but humanity got along for a long time without the labels “heterosexual” and “homosexual,” and since those were introduced in the 19th century, we’ve still only managed to catalog a fraction of the complexity of human sexuality.

      “Humanity got along”? Which humans got along well in what ways when numerous parts of sexual and gender life were either unnamed or outright condemned?

    • John Morales
  • Pen

    The discussions from the transgendered writers here very much highlight the importance of as gender-free an identity as I can persuade the rest of the world to acknowledge to me personally. To borrow Zinnia’s analogy with sexuality – some people really are bisexual, and some really are asexual for that matter.

    Having said that, reading Zinnia (and Nathalie) is very interesting. It’s nice to hear of someone making a transgender change as such a positive choice. I do wonder a bit how financially comfortable you need to be to embrace Zinnia’s suggestion that a preference is all you need.

  • busterggi

    Light weight of me I know but does anyone else think ZJ was the model for the naughty librarian?

  • http://dododreams.blogspot.com/ John Pieret

    Ms. Jones makesw only one mistake … when she says “I wasn’t that smart after all.”