Monday, June 4, 2018

Can Cissexuality Be Treated? MLA 2018, part three

This is the third part of a series wherein I share my notes on the panels I attended at January's convention of the Modern Language Association. Here is part one. Here is part two

90: Trans Studies and Disability Studies had maybe thirty people in attendance. Cass Adair began by saying he was struck by the overlap in trans and crip chronologies. Six years ago he was diagnosed as a “chronic transsexual,” a wonderful oxymoron in which one term implies stasis and the other implies change. “Chronic,” Kafer notes, signals both temporality and disability: temporality is tightly bound with both the medical and experiential accounts of disability. Now, it is impossible to access medical services if you don’t confess to having always been trans. Transphobic and transpositive discourses both disavow the acute transsexual! All transsexualism must always-already be chronic. In the discourse Adair will call Transchronic One, birth-assigned sex is immutable: “God doesn’t make mistakes.” In the attempted corrective, Transchronic Two, we have the Born This Way schema. Gender identity is fixed and permanent. So that fits the diagnostic criterion of duration.

But if transness can be cured through medical intervention, then it is acute. How do you categorize someone “with a transsexual history”? Medical intervention into “gender dysphoria,” as the Post-Transsexual Manifesto observes, produces trans people who have been programmed to disappear, negating the idea that a trans person is something you can be in time.

The themes of the lesbian hipster ex-druggie transsexual roadtrip novel Nevada include the dichotomy between being “done” with transition and still being trans: it takes on the problems of the cissexist and the anticissexist discourses. Hormonetime is a trans crip temporality. The contrast between Maria and Piranha highlights questions of class and ability. Maria has a wild and kooky road trip; Piranha doesn’t have the option of bottom surgery, thanks to her poverty and chronic pain. Transness gets stuck or accelerates in time based on one’s access to capital.

Elizabeth Skwiot began her talk on actively making trans and disability studies visible by talking about passing. Most work on passing addresses race. But (vide Butler’s 1999 preface to Gender Trouble) we should recognize their difference. There are four ways theories of racial passing are inadequate when applied to gender. At this point, I had to go to the bathroom. I hope the rest of Skwiot’s talk addressed when and how “passing” is valorized in the trans world and how disabled people are stuck between imperatives to pass and imperatives to disclose. But all I learned is that very few male scholars seem to know how to flush. Push the button on the toilet, guys!

When I returned, Luke Kurdyashov was wrapping up their talk on Autistic Gender Nonconformity: Navigating Narratives of Pathology. They had interviewed a number of trans autistic people and autistic advocates whose experiences serve as a rebuttal of the Expert Wisdom that use autism to pathologize trans identities or vice versa. Nearly all had found the discovery that they were autistic to be liberating; most perceived some relationship between their autism and their transness, connecting their autistic perspectives on social norms with their nonconformist understanding of gender. Autistic experiences and understandings of gender can be empowering and transformative.

Moderator Cindy Wu asked Cass, “What is chronic cisgenderism? And does it also need medical intervention?” Cass replied that chronic cisgenderism is also “God doesn’t make mistakes”; but in fact, the way we gender people varies over a lifetime. An audience member suggested that “chronic cisgenderism” acknowledges that cisgenderism could cause a subject pain. Another opined that Women’s Studies is very good at asking about the violent enforcement of, and suffering caused by, gender normativity. A third audience member asked about the confusion of identities, of categories of people with categories of feelings, saying that gender dysphoria is widespread and nobody is cis, really: everybody’s unhappy with gender, often chronically, whether or not they address it by changing category. Cass replied that NB’s in his audience have remarked that they identify as acute transsexuals, and that reveals problems in our ideas of identity: what of identities without duration or identities that people claim for themselves without the imprimatur of another person or outside criteria.

Add caption
An audience member asked about chronicity as pain and its relevance to noncompliant patients, people who skip their hormones: denial of the situation makes it more central—you never feel more diabetic than when you skip your insulin. The social model does not account for pain or embodied experience. Cass responded that Maria gets “teenage pleasure from fuckin’ up her life” in Nevada: there’s a Fight Club logic there, of feelin’ pain to feel real. Another question was asked about Bad Kinds of Transinclusivity and also about sliding erasure, or covering—the trope of saying “We’re not that.” Luke pointed out that ABA developed as part of the Feminine Boy Project at UCLA. Rekers and Lovass developed both, but somehow only Rekers was condemned for his project of curing homosexuality: Lovass someone got off. Luke made a connection to how the TERFs and the Christians say “Those transsexuals are recruiting our Vulnerable Autistic Children!”

A questioner with mental disability asked about the severe gatekeeping that occurs when a trans person has any psychological issues. The panel replied, yeah, there’s a lot of “We should treat the real problem and then they won’t be trans anymore.” A questioner asked about the guy who said “You cannot be trans if you’re gay” and whose AIDS gave him credibility to talk about such issues. The panel’s reply considered how the Wrong Kind of Transsexual is associated with trade, AIDS, and/or other unsavory practices—is not homonormative. Addressing the questioner with mental disability, Cass said, you learn that have to answer questions about whether you’re suicidal with “I am suffering a lot, but not suicidal.” Because being in enough pain to be suicidal proves your dysphoria but takes away your right to consent! That’s the right answer in other settings too—at universities, for example, where if you’re suicidal they’ll expel you.

No comments: