Monday, July 30, 2007

A parallel....

I hope this post doesn't seem too "70s" but it's been on my mind this weekend. I honestly never thought I would have to seriously think about identity politics again. Been there. Done that. I thought we'd all moved beyond it.

On Thursday, I mentioned that I am openly accepting of all identities. Whether someone considers him- or herself to be gay, male, female, transgendered or a glass of orange juice has never mattered to me.

I just accept it at face value.

It is that person's perception of self. Enough said. It is not my job to judge the authenticity of someone else's perception of self, although I can certainly look at the behavior versus the words.

On Saturday, I spent quite a long time on the phone with a person who identifies as transsexual. Male to female. As the conversation progressed and she became more comfortable with me, the attitude of male privilege came through so clearly that I was almost leveled by it. Seriously! The use of language, the innuendo, the flirting, the reduction of me to a set of body parts for her use.

It took everything I had to continue being polite. I really wanted to challenge it. The truth is that I was seething inside. I was angry. Instead, I chose to steer the conversation elsewhere, to keep in mind that the purpose of our contact is to practice the language. That is the agreement.

Of course that is only one individual. I've known and talked with other transsexuals who never once uttered a word that objectified women or displayed typical male attitudes toward women.

This case though was a bit glaring.

When it comes to transgenderism, I've tried to remember that there is a parallel in my own life. Over the past several years, my identity has changed radically, too.

I've chosen to live my life as a Thai person. That is reflected in my customs, my habits, my attitudes, my culture and my worldview.

Okay. Before you click away, I have a point. Stick with me a minute. :)

I chose to live my life that way but there is no way I will ever truly understand what it is like to be ethnically Thai and there is no way I will ever understand what it is like to grow up Thai.

It will never be a part of my life history. No matter what. I can have plastic surgery, change my skin tone, speak the language, live among Thai people in that country. I will still never have that understanding. (Nor do I have any interest in altering my body in any way. I'm just saying.... )

The privilege I have experienced as a white person who grew up in affluence can't be erased by a choice or decision. It is ingrained at some level. While I can be careful to recognize it and correct my thinking, it will always be there lurking in the background like a hidden script.

I think this is the essence of the debate over transgenderism. Can we simply choose to change all the perceptions we grew up with, the background scripts?

I'm not sure. At this point.

Still mulling it over.


Just as a note: I hope I've been clear that all opinions are welcome here whether you disagree with me or agree. Feel free to be "anonymous". I'm sometimes concerned that people will hold back on their real thoughts.

Not here. Please. Not in this space.



blooming desertpea said...

I think you DO have a point.

We once considered emigrating to Australia. We had lived there for 3 years and we liked the way of life Down Under. Yet, I spoke against it because no matter how much effort I'd put in in being one of them, I would never succeed: I did grow up there, didn't have the same nursery rhymes sung to me (in fact, a lot of them sound silly to me) or would I ever understand their jokes? - I felt that if I'd emigrate, I would do ok but I would cut some of my childhood roots which would never grow back ...

So, I can imagine that it is similar for a transsexual. If a trans has grown up as a male, there would always be some male traces in her personality - the childhood roots!

Julie Pippert said...

That is a good point.

From here: I have always felt a person out of place. This is not a "oh woe is me, I'm so different, nobody understands" melodrama. Matter of fact. I was born into a culture that wasn't terribly accepting or tolerant of my personality or personhood. I think this has allowed me to be able, as you put it, to accept at face value another's perception of self. But, it also means, there is, no matter where I go, a disconnect due to the ingrained where I came from---like you describe wrt your experience of "going Thai" (and I say that with respect, trying to find way to express it).

So yes, this is why I agree with your point.

And yet, as you say, and as I agree, there is a spectrum of assimilation, people who seem to ease into it more fully.

I think we can challenge the perceptions we grew up with. I think we can change. But I don't think we can shed it, like some skin.

I keep saying think because there is a margin here.

I haven't see it all yet LOL. So I remain unsure.

liv said...

Not that you're not always honest, but this post really rang true. I really appreciate your candor, particularly in the first few paragraphs.

slouching mom said...

I guess I think there's no escaping the imprint of our childhoods.


We may have been raised to, for example, fight by yelling.

Our first instinct may still be to fight by yelling.

But we can successfully suppress that instinct and not yell.

We cannot, however, lose the instinct altogether.


Cecilieaux said...

Identity politics are not 70s, not so long as identity is used to put down and keep down -- and it is.

Anonymous said...

Is this transsexual woman gay? Or are you saying she spent so much of her life as a man that the "attitude of male privilege" was instilled? That is a fascinating observation, because it runs counter to my intuitive understanding that a male who would go through the process of changing sexes would not identify that way.

I read a short article in, I believe, Newsweek a few months ago on this subject. One family had a boy in PRESCHOOL who wanted to wear dresses and be called a girls name. The parents went along with this, to the extent that they found a school that would allow him to use the girls lav. I did not agree with the decision those parents made, mostly because even very young kids have strong wills and whims. But now, you've made me re-think it... if this little boy truly is headed toward transgenderism, the sooner he becomes a she the better.

Not that I know more than a teaspoonful about the subject. Pure opinion.

MsLittlePea said...

I think it is possible. But not for everyone. It depends on the individual's willingness to do a lot of inner work and a huge commitment to being honest with one's self. Some people have an easier way with self-change than others. I would think that your transsexual friend would be more sympathetic to certain things since she now lives as a woman. She might not even realize she still carries that attitude around.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I agree that at least vestiges of our upbringing remain, much as we may try to separate ourselves from them, and can surface when we least expect them.

Now and then, I realize that I have had a thought that I recognized as my mother's voice. Since I am fairly aware, I can quickly debate within myself whether it expresses me, or just my memory of her.

I think your analogy of turning Thai, to the extent possible, and the path of a transsexual being in some ways similar is brilliant.

I am curious (a little) about whether the person you mention is attempting to get sexual with you as a still-active knee-jerk reaction since she used to be a he, or whether now that she is a she, she is gay.

Not that it matters since you're not interested.

One thing I would disagree with, though, is the notion that all men reduce women to body parts. Many do, but not all, thankfully. Some men are as sensitive as we are.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I reread your post, and saw that you didn't say that ALL men reduce women to body parts. I'm sorry I jumped to the wrong conclusion there.

And I do agree that male privilege is prevalent, even in men who don't deliberately or even consciously use it to get ahead. That's the thing, they take it for granted because they've never known anything else.

So it's particularly interesting that a man would choose to become a woman and lose that special ease in getting through life. It sounds as if your new acquaintance would like to have it both ways, though.

Anonymous said...

I was talking to someone last night about a similar topic. How growing up in South Africa we might never know what it feels like to see someone of another color as just a someone.

I find that old beliefs are usually closest to the surface when I am tired or stressed or feel threatened.

At other times I get sucked into conversation and all this stuff, all this shared history becomes nothing because it cannot share the moment. The moment is too full.


Snoskred said...

What you describe here is precisely why cloning people can only ever be limited to DNA.

So much of what makes us the people we are is everything that happens to us from the moment we arrive and take our first breath.

For example - if this transgendered person were cloned, would the clone also be transgendered? Is it genetic, or is it experiences, or a combination of both?

If you had been born in Thailand, to Thai parents and brought up there, perhaps what you'd crave is the American life you now have. Now there's a thought to keep one awake at night..

The thought that has always kept me awake is, what if I had not been born here? What if I were not this fortunate? Would I be a stronger person, would I push myself harder? Maybe so.


thailandchani said...

Desertpea, I think that's the essential point. There's a certain amount of programming that goes on when we're children and still vulnerable to it... before we become self-sufficient in our thinking.

For a TS, I can imagine it being very hard to vector out what constitutes "male privilege". They've never had to do it...


Julie, true. I don't think we can shed it like a skin, either. We can change it consciously.. but it will always be there.. and remnants of it will always be there.

And is simply acknowledging that enough? Where does it become the responsibility of the TS to own that.. to make sure it doesn't infect anything or anyone else?

For a TS to truly understand the experience of being a female from birth, she'd have to know what it is like to grow up with a fear of being raped, molested and sexually abused. She would have to understand what it is like to be considered as "less than" within a culture that values white maleness.

That's just the reality of it.. in my opinion.


Liv, thanks. :) Yes. I try to be honest here. When I'm not, it's ignorance rather than intentional deception.


SM, Bingo!


Cecileaux, you're right.


De, yes, essentially that is what I'm saying. I think this person grew up with white male privilege and doesn't recognize where it is present in her current life. It's so ingrained that she doesn't even click into it ~ or know it's there.

There is no way in the world she can understand what it is like to be a woman under the circumstances of male objectification.

Or maybe she wants to be objectified herself?

I agree with you 100% about the preschooler who is already showing those tendencies. The sooner the better before it becomes ingrained.


MsPea, I agree completely. It does take a real commitment to internal work.. and a willing to challenge one's own assumptions.


Susan, I do think it's exactly as you say. Her attempts to be "cute" were offensive to me.. but it was a knee-jerk reaction on her part. I sometimes think it is hard for some men to see women as anything more than objects. We are service objects.

In her case, I see this so strongly.. but it's not my place to confront it really.

But it may come to that if there is ever another conversation like the one that took place Saturday.

As anyone who knows me for very long.. she will know that I don't tolerate that kind of disrespectful objectification. Not from anyone. Ever.


Hel, that's another parallel. Can we ever really get beyond race? I'm not certain.

Here, not all that different than SA, the racism is institutional.

It is in Thailand, also.


Snos, I'm not sure. There are some who speculate that transgenderism comes from a wash of hormones in the brain while the baby is still in the womb. That makes most sense to me.. although I can't prove it by any means. It just makes common sense.

I think it can be *created* perhaps from childhood experiences or trauma.

Now on the other issue, thanks for bringing to the table something I need to make perfectly clear.. as Nixon said. :)

I am not a dilettante. I didn't choose my "Thainess" the way I'd choose a pair of shoes.. or a style of fashion.

It is something so inherent, so deep and so fundamental to the person I am that there is a part of me that actually questions whether it is a true choice.. in the regards that choice would be entirely voluntary.

I would not crave this life here. It is repugnant to me, not just intellectually but on a soulic level.

This isn't something I am doing for fun ~ or adventure. I am not "the White Masai".

In order to understand me at all, there is one thing that is important to "get" above all else: I am khon Thai. I am not playing dress-up. I am not adventure-seeking. I am not substituting one thing for another, just because it feels good.

There is nothing easy about what I am doing.. and it's not even particularly "fun".

I should probably write a post about this.




jen said...

i think we can change our foundation but it's hard, hard work. your post made me want to pose another question:

how do you define living like a thai person? I am curious because I do not really know that answer, and because i wonder how my perception varies from yours. and what elements are removed from not growing up as a thai person?

curiouser still!

thailandchani said...

Jen, that would be an interesting thing to explore, how our perceptions of that differ. I'll put some thoughts together and send them to you off the board. It's a bit too complicated.. and long.. for this space. :)



Emily said...

I've often thought that of my best friend, who converted to Judaism. Nothing more to say than that I agree and you said it just right.

flutter said...

You know what I think is kind of sad? Seems that men get pegged with the bad guy tag so often, and that as women we are so quick overlook our failings as women to harangue the failings of men.

Just a thought that occurred to me, and something that has bugged me culturally. If we want to be all treated as equal, we need to look towards the positive things that we each bring to the table, no? I know this wasn't the point of you post, it's just something that struck me.

QT said...

I agree with others - it is a long hard road to shake off the last of "what we know" - especially something as ingrained as sexuality.

And Chani - while I wish you would have made the trek to Chicago, I remembered your post about group dynamics - I think you would have found it a bit anxiety inducing, to say the least!

meno said...

Hi chani!

Wow, that is fascinating! That those attitudes would persist through such a radical change. But people are still who they are, unless they see who they want to be and actively seek to change.

Of course someone who makes a radical change later in life can NEVER know the experience of growing up in that environment, and vice-versa. Hence our unique perspectives.

Christine said...

i know that you didn't address what was going on and your anger with this person because of your agreement to practice the language. but would you consider bringing it up at some level? so that in the future you are more comfortable and and at ease?

And i, like others, think it is so hard to change our past and what is so deeply ingrained in our heads from birth. yet, in this case in particular, respect and decency and kindness should prevail. objectifying woman is not ok, and making those in our presence angry and uncomfortable because of it is not ok either. so while it may be hard to change a behavior or attitude it doesn't excuse inappropriate behavior. Am i making sense? LOL?

and chani, that last bit at the end of the post--that's why i think you are simply the best! ;-)

Snoskred said...

Actually maybe I put it badly - what I meant was - if you had been born in Thailand and raised there, maybe you would have a desire to be *not* thai, does that make any sense at all?

I know some Australians who long to be Americans. I know some Americans who long to be Australians. Could it be if they were what they long to be, they would long to be the opposite? As in the Australian who longs to be an American, if they had been born and raised in the US, would they then long to be Australian, or even perhaps long to be from an entirely different country? Norway? Italy?

I know you're not playing dress up and I certainly didn't mean to imply that you were. ;) I don't know if I can explain what I mean very well at all?

People in many countries around the world long to be American. I see it here in my own country. They don't really understand what being American means in the same way that an American who lives in the country can understand what that means - they think it is what they see on tv shows.

I don't know what it is like to be American but I do know what it is like to be Australian and I can see why so many people want to be Australian, why so many people choose to come here and seek out a life in this big broad land we call Australia, why they bring their children here in they hope they might have a better life.

I have to run but I might come back to this.. :)


ewe are here said...

Experiences make us who we are. Since we can't change our experiences, I feel like it's swimming upstream to change ingrained, long-practiced behaviour. It can be done... but like someone above said... the instincts often try to take us elsewhere.

And there are some 'differences', like you say, that can never be completely overcome. Over here, I am 'an American' and will always be tagged as such. Some people don't want a whole lot to do with me, no matter how nice and friendly I am, no matter that they see me regularly at the playgrounds. Others, couldn't care less. All ingrained behaviors...all of us.

And Soberbriquette: I read that article, too, and had really mixed feelings about the whole thing. Allowing a small boy to attend schools as a girl is just setting him up for problems with the other children... and yet... and yet... if that's what he wants... and yet... he's a little kid, what is the parents' role in doing what he wants versus what the parents truly believe is best? I don't know the answer to that one.

thailandchani said...

Emily, that conversion process is certainly a challenging one! I have a few acquaintances who have converted to Judaism.. and for a while, they become "hyper-Jews". Maybe it's a natural part of it?

I think I used to be rather obnoxiously "Thai" in the beginning, too. I'd found this wonderful thing and, by gosh, everyone was going to know it! LOL (at me). Now I've settled into it and don't feel the need to proselytize.


Flutter, I agree with your basic premise. Certainly, you're correct. It's just that, at least for me, sometimes I can't get beyond that feeling of being prey. It's my "stuff". I know...

Truthfully, I should try harder though to be kinder where men are concerned.


QT, I agree. It would have been too much for me. Even if I could have afforded it, I would have gone, been overwhelmed and it would take me a month to recover. LOL


Meno, I think some people don't choose to change the more difficult parts. It's hard work, all of this changing business. :)


Christine, you're right. If it happens again, I really do need to address it. Darn that kreng jai anyway! Sometimes something just needs to be said.. and I can say it kindly. :)

Thanks for the compliment. Open communication is really important to me.. and I'm a big girl. I can stand disagreement.


Snos, thanks for clarifying that. One of the things I've had to deal with in this whole process is basically "proving" myself to the Thai people who surround me (in Thailand), to know that I am not just some adventure-seeking dilettante who wants to see how the other half lives.

This is very real to me.. and I put a lot of effort into the work it takes to learn it, to make the changes and live it in my everyday life.

I know there are people in other parts of the world who don't want to be where they are. They should be free to do the same thing I've done.

The only caution I would issue them is to be very clear on what's propaganda.. and what is actual truth.

I had to do that with Thailand, too.


Ewe, this is so very true... most of the time. We can change ingrained behaviors (I liked Slouching Mom's analogy) ~ but it takes commitment and hard self-examination.