There is a tendency in human beings, call it a basic tension if you will, to see things as either simple or complex. This tension pops up when we are solving technical computer problems, and when we are trying to figure out which candidate to vote for. We encounter it whenever someone insists that they have been treated unfairly and we are trying to make sense of their story. We take it with us to the movies and either have a pleasant time, or a frustrating one.
So although I could go on at length here, I think that this basic tension exists around the idea of transgender bodies.
Now keep in mind that we are not really talking about people. People, well you can talk to people, have lunch with people, greet people, get to know people, find out about what makes people be the kind of people that they are. People are people and when we get to know them we find out how wonderful, difficult, and multifaceted they can be.
No, this is about bodies, those mute sacks of flesh, physics, and irrational instincts and urges. Bodies are sites of danger and threat, or else they are objects for our desire, or else they are tools for our disposal, or else they are dead weights which get in our way, or else they are assets for our achievements, and bodies have a strange tendency to eclipse people.
Case in point? Consider the visceral reaction that a body, which you consider to be sexually attractive, arouses in you. You have to remind yourself that the body is attached, inextricably so, to a person, and that person might not mind your attention, and they also might hate it. Of course not all of our sexual gazes reduce another to a mere body for our desires, but this is a common enough feeling.
So the issue then becomes: what do I do with the transgender body? Especially what do I do when it comes to properly identifying it and reacting to it?
For some people this issue is simple. They live in a world with one kind of body, the male body, and its counterpart the female body. Of course this simple view does not see the female body as another kind of body, but rather as a sort of not-quite-male body. The male body, after all, is the body of intellect, superior physical strength, and spiritual leadership. It is the body of God, and God shares His Gender with the male. To such people, there can be no transgender bodies. There can only be defective male bodies. Since the female body is already a non-male body then a transgender body is the defective male body or the defective female body. But the male body, however defective, is still the site of strength and still poses a threat to other female bodies, especially to female bodies which, by their very nature, are vulnerable to male power in all of its forms. So to this mindset, transgender bodies are always dangerous because they refuse to fit into and be male bodies or female bodies. They won’t conform, and so are sites of suspicion and fear.
For other people the issue is complex. They live in a world where bodies belong, first and foremost, to people and they try to make sense of how each person has redesigned their own body to operate in the world. They see male bodies, female bodies, trans male bodies, trans female bodies, intersex bodies, male bodies presenting as feminine, female bodies presenting as masculine, and on and on it goes. In fact there is no definite list since the possible combinations and varying expressions depend on numerous factors. Some of those factors include, but are not limited to: personal choices, cultural norms, financial options, racial classifications, religious limitations, legal repercussions, and socially constructed roles which have been more or less enforced throughout a person’s life. Sometimes the numerous options get so dizzyingly complicated that they cry out “Enough!” and demand that people conform their bodies to a list of predefined roles and norms. Yet at its heart, the complex look at trans bodies demands patience and understanding. It demands that you see the person behind the body and that requires relationships. To this mindset the trans body is the site of a personality and that personality invites all of the complex social interactions of which people are capable. There may be danger here, yes, but the danger is found in the person rather than in the body. Bodies hold no danger, it is the persons who might put those bodies to the service of violence who hold the danger.
Yet in all this confusion I would say the final reality is that we combine them both. The simple approach demands that we see bodies and categories, and the complex demands that we see people and personalities. It is easy to be ruled by the simple, and it is impossible to rule the complex. So most of us settle down somewhere in the middle. Except…that most of us secretly hope that world is simple. We want the stories we grew up hearing to be the only true tales. We want the gods we worshiped as children to be true gods and for all others to be false. We want our beliefs validated and vindicated, and we want to be the strong ones. We ultimately want to have our way, but then children always do think the world is simple. The tragedy of mature thinking is that your hatred and fear have no place there. Both of those feelings are filled with too much overconfidence, and with an excessive sense of your own surety.
Do you want the world to be simple? Then pick up your weapon and cut them down, cut down all the tall trees that stand in your way. Do you want the world to be complex? It already is, and all you need to do is drop the knife, the forest is too big for you to fell anyways.