Tranifesto Asks: Is It a Choice? So What?

Trans man Matt Kailey recently posted this timely and well-reasoned piece on his Tranifesto blog: “It’s Time to Lose ‘I Didn’t Choose’ (to be Transgender)”. Kailey writes that he gets tired of hearing GLBT folks defend themselves against social prejudice by saying “I didn’t choose to be this way”, as if their orientation or gender expression were some kind of disability. If being straight or gender-conforming feels preferable, that’s because of stigma and discrimination, not because there’s anything wrong with being different.

…Being trans, in and of itself, is not a curse. Neither is being gay or lesbian. It’s the society and the culture that decides whether such things are negative, positive, or neutral. If, as in some cultures, we were revered as powerful, knowledgeable, spiritual, and blessed human beings, would we wish that we weren’t trans? If our family was proud, if we were deemed as special — or even if we were just treated matter-of-factly — would we wish that we weren’t trans?

The “I didn’t choose to be this way” argument paints us as victims. It paints us as tragic figures with an external locus of control — life has done something to us. We have no control over it or over ourselves. We have no “choice.”

I understand the purpose of the argument, because, truly, none of us did choose to be transgender (or gay, lesbian, or bisexual). No one chooses to be straight or non-trans, either. But you don’t hear straight, non-trans people arguing that they didn’t choose to be that way. They don’t need this argument, because they have the power. We don’t. That power makes their particular existence the “right” way to be. We feel as though we have to make the “no choice” argument in order for those in power to accept us, to grant us our rights, and to quit killing us.

But I think there are better arguments — arguments about equality and dignity and human rights — that give us a stronger position and make us stronger as people. To say, “It wasn’t my choice” is to say, “I wouldn’t be this way if I could help it” — which is to say, “This is a bad way to be.”

But is it such a terrible way to be, or is it only terrible because of the way we are looked at and treated by society? Why is straight better? Why is non-trans better? We have been brainwashed into believing that this is so, and we have been brainwashed into believing that we are “less than,” so we have to come up with an argument that excuses our deficiency — and that argument is: “I didn’t choose.”

We come to the table as victims, we sit at the table as victims, and then we wonder why we have no power. It doesn’t matter whether I chose to be this way or not — what matters is that, by virtue of being a human being, I deserve the same rights as everyone else.

Read the follow-up post here. Excerpt:

…please remember that I am not saying that sexual orientation or gender identity is a choice. It’s not. What I am saying is that, in my opinion, the “I didn’t choose” argument causes us to relinquish our power. The “no choice” argument says that we are deficient — but it’s not our fault. It says that there are other ways to be that are better — but we can’t be them, because we are “like this.” It hands the power over to those with more “desirable” characteristics — characteristics that we are supposed to want … if we had the choice. And it diminishes the concept that all human beings are worthy, simply by virtue of being human. Some are not more equal than others.

If we say it enough, we might convince ourselves (and others) that nobody would choose to be us — not even us. And honestly, if given the choice, I would choose to be me.

I say “Amen!” to Tranifesto, because I believe that racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and all other forms of prejudice arise from our unthinking acceptance of arbitrary value judgments about the differences between us. Transgender rights may seem like an obscure and low-priority fight to some people. But actually we have a lot to learn from people who occupy a liminal space. They are living proof of the unreality of the boundaries that oppress us.

One comment on “Tranifesto Asks: Is It a Choice? So What?

  1. Joan Gelfand says:

    Jendi: Congrats on your Iowa fiction prize – that is fantastic! Joan

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