Zinnia Jones On Choosing To Identify As Transgendered

Zinnia Jones On Choosing To Identify As Transgendered July 18, 2012

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.

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