(c) B. Scherer 2014
Paper given at the conference Fear and Loathing: Phobia in Literature and Culture, University of Kent, 9-10 May 2014.
Paginated version at: academia.edu
Professor Bee Scherer, PhD
Chair in Comparative Religion, Gender and Sexuality
Canterbury Christ Church University
I approach theorizing, inhabiting and performing trans-bodies through the metaphorical discourse developed by the Religionist Thomas Tweed in his seminal book Crossings and Dwellings: A Theory of Religion. (Tweed 2006). In this work, Tweed rightly criticises “a presupposition […] all share – even the constructivist’s theory building and the critical theorists’ power analysis – that the theorist and the theorized are static.” (p.8)
I see all identitarian expressions and facets, not just religions, as being “about finding a place and moving across” (p.59) The usage of spatial metaphors aims to avoid “esssentializing” identities “as static, isolated, and immutable substances” (p.60). I approach identities as anthroposcapes (cf. p.61 sacroscape). With this term I would like to describe what Tweed calls “confluences of organic-cultural flows that … make homes and cross boundaries.” (p.54) Identity subject, object and process are never static, but always in flux; crossing and dwelling, spatially and temporally through the life itineraries through the anthroposcape, the landscape of our embodied experiences.
For Tweed dwelling involves mapping, building, and inhabiting. (p, 81); crossings can be terrestrial, corporeal, and/or cosmic (p. 123-4). In my reading dwelling is the performance of identitarian stability and belonging; crossing the performance of identitarian openness, liminality and transiency.
The trans-identities corporeal crossings leave clear markings in the anthroposcape of embodied limits not unlike the markings in the transition of the seasons and the life cycle. Yet unlike rites of passages, these transformative scars, ridges, valleys and rifts in the anthroposcape tend to provoke abjection in the socioscape: The experience of embodied genderqueerness and transgenderism through dwelling and crossing is co-shaped by the experience of transphobia. Hence any identitarian performance is mediated by the societal limitations which lacks the identitarian grammar and lexicon to locate trans-anthroposcapes.
For trans* people, far from the fallacies of any static, essentialist ontology, where, then, can there be being or shall I say in Heideggerian term Dasein ‘being-in-time’ , ‘being-there’? Heidegger’s Dasein is, among others, marked as the ability to be; the potential to authenticity and emergence-into-the-presence. Adducing Buddhist views on Human identity, I maintain that during the continuous biographical journey of dwellings and crossing, it is this Heideggerian authenticity of performance of lack – lack of essence, which forms the beauty of our flawed anthroposcape rather than any alleged realisation of an ontological, perfect core. Trans*-Dasein dwells in and crosses phobia-scapes generated through gender-normativity, cis-genderism. Is trans*-being necessarily performed behind hegemonic cis-normative and transphobic structures and policing of the anthroposcapes? Or dare trans*-Dasein leave transphobia behind?
Let’s first face the facts in form of statistics: The findings of the US National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS 2011) and the EU LGBT survey (EU 2013), supplemented by Irish (TENI 2013), Scottish (TMHS 2012) and Massachusetts (MDPD 2009) surveys, paint similar pictures in relationship to transphobic experience, homelessness, mental health and suicidality. Suicide attempts were surveyed at between 31% (MDPD 2009) and 41% (NTDS 2011); self-harm at 44% (TENI 2013) suicidal thoughts at 70-80% (TENI 2013).
Direct environmental rejection (such family, school, work etc.) were significant factors in the prevalence of suicide attempts (60-70%) (NTEDS 2011).
In addition, in Ireland 60-75% report negative experiences within the health system (TENI 2013).
There is clear Indication that Trans* people also have the highest rate of IPV (violence from intimate partners), with over twice the rate for cis people (34.9%) (MDTP 2009).
According to the TMHS (2012) more than the half of trans* people experience problems with work; a fifth of trans people experience work and employment related discrimination (20% NTDS 2011; 19% TMHS 2012); losing their job because of their status (26%) (NTDS 2011); or not getting a job (29%) (NTDS 2011 and EU 2013). Consequently, the US poverty finding that trans* people are four times more likely to live below the poverty line of USD 10,000/year (NTDS 2011) is not surprising.
So it is safe to say that the majority of trans* people experience discrimination and harassment on a daily basis in most places.
First, allow me to outline my cultural understanding of transphobia in its relationship to gender normativities by boldly daring to declare that sexism and homophobia do not really exist. At least not independently. Homo- and bi-phobia and sexism/gender stereotypical normativity oppression simply do not exist as independent and separate forms of phobias and oppressions. They are expressions of what I want to call aphallophobia – the fear too loose (phallic, in Lacan’s terms) power which drive hegemonic masculinity and heteropatrichary.
When Eric Anderson writes that “homophobia … has been central to the production of orthodox masculinity” (Anderson 2009, p. 7) he is right, yet it is really aphallophobia that drives the production of hegemonic masculinity. Sexism and homophobia are intricately linked (Anderson 2009, p. 38; Pharr 1997, referring to Valdes, Koppelman, Sedgwick, Law and MacKinnon). Yet, distilled, what they express, is really aphallophobia as transphobia, fear of the instability of gender binary power privileges.
Underlying is the simplification of the human gender lexicon into binaries (as if anthroposcapes were computer animations of 0s and 1s); following the hierarchisation of the binarism resulting into male privilege and a perpetually competitive understanding of a constantly contested masculinity (having the phallus, as Lacan says) as ontologically full human being vs. the deficient complement to maleness, the conquerable female (being the phallus).
The vulnerability or fragility of masculinity has long been observed as a prime source of laddish bravado, testerone-y violence and also homophobia. As Kimmel (1994) demonstrates, once masculinity is seen as more powerful than femininity it has become more fragile; hence it is constantly threatened and has to be re-achieved and re-enacted, never simply ‘being-there’, achieving neither dwelling nor Dasein.
Trans-dasein is Dasein behind the screens of fragile masculinity and heteropatriarchy. Trans symbols the loss (MtF) or usurpation (FtM) of the phallus – or the subversive, anarchic indifference/uncertainty to phallic status (genderqueerness/androgyneity).
Trans is the nucleonic threat to orthodox masculinity, triggering its innate instability and need to constantly reassert itself.
Trans invades heterophallic dynamoscapes as an ontological threat.
The feminist project of dismantling patriarchy, then, has to be intrinsically trans-inclusive (despite the many feminist transphobic outbursts, from Mary Daly to Germaine Greer and the emergence of TERF – trans-exclusive radical feminism).
Hegemonic masculinity / herteropatriarchy is benefitting from the fragmentation and ideological egotism of its oppressed other by homonormativity and TERF Feminist transphobia.
Behind and beyond Transphobia, Dasein can be experienced as crossing, which embodies binary defiance (‘corporeal’), acknowledges intersectionality (‘terrestrial’) and transideologically allies itself (‘cosmic’).
Dwelling is achieved by disrupting heteropartiarchy through queering space (‘mapping’), celebrating the messy wealth of identitarian possibilities (‘building’), and inhabiting aphallic anthroposcapes (‘inhabiting’).
Anderson, E 2009. Inclusive Masculinity. London: Routledge.
EU 2013. EU LGBT survey: European Union lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender survey. Results at a glance by FRA – European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/eu-lgbt-survey-results-at-a-glance_en.pdf , accessed 8 May 2014.
Kimmel, M 1994. Masculinity as homophobia: Fear, shame, and silence in the construction of gender identity. In H. Brod and M. Kaufman (eds.), Research on Men and Masculinities Series: Theorizing masculinities. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 119-142.
MDPB 2009. The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Persons in Massachusetts: A survey of health issues comparing LGBT persons with their heterosexual and non‐transgender counterparts. Prepared by Stewart Landers, S and Gilsanz, P. Massachusetts Department of Public Health, July 2009. http://www.masstpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/DPH-2009-lgbt-health-report.pdf , accessed 8 May 2014.
NTDS 2011. Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey by Grant, JM; Mottet, LA; Justin Tanis, J; with Harrison, JJ; Herman, JL and Keisling, M. Washington: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf , accessed 8 May 2014.
Pharr, S 1997. Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism. Berkeley: Chardon Press. Tweed, T 2006. Crossings and Dwellings: A Theory of Religion. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.
Rosky, C 2013. To be male: homophobia, sexism, and the production of ‘Masculine’ Boys. In M. Albertson Finemann and M. Thomson (eds.), Exploring Masculinities. Aldershot: Ashgate, 285-310.
TENI 2013. Trans Mental Health and Wellbeing in Ireland by McNeil, J, Bailey, L, Ellis, S and Regan, M. Dublin: Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), http://www.atlanticphilanthropies.org/sites/default/files/uploads/teni-speaking-from-the-margins-report.PDF , accessed 8 May 2014.
TMHS 2012. Trans Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing Study 2012 by McNeil, J, Bailey, L, Ellis, S and Regan, M. Scottish Transgender Alliance et.al., http://www.gires.org.uk/assets/Medpro-Assets/trans_mh_study.pdf , accessed 8 May 2014.