Recently, Facebook quietly rolled out a feature that allows its users to choose their gender between 50 different options *google it*. I already changed mine. Some of my facebook friends did so too, and thus began expressing themselves via a simple switch.
Besides changing your preferred gender, you can also choose a different pronoun, even a non-gendered option like ‘they’. While this change can go unnoticed, it represents a welcome advance for a community that thrives silently, even if already out of the closet. This has brought about an interesting discussion, and some pretty nasty infighting too, which on the other hand, still opens the discussion on some relevant issues. The thing is, URL life poses a real possibility to lead more than one life simultaneously. This is apparent perhaps primarily since the advent of chat rooms, which later evolved into dating sites, where humans can look for hookups and be open, via an alter-ego, about their sexual proclivities (for starters).
Since the beginnings of facebook, it created for many people the possibility to come out in an understated, non-personal, and semi-public manner. You had the option, in your about section, under ‘interested in’, to choose between men, women or both. It is important to note, on the act of coming out, that this is one that must constantly be performed. It is always possible, in a heteronormative society, to be assimilated. We are constantly confronted by homophobia, and, for us ‘out’ individuals, each of these instances calls for action, and a choice always presents itself between shame (i.e. a quiet acceptance of the homophobic attack, which it always is even when not ‘directed’ toward us) or ‘pride’ (which is really just a refusal to take this shame). For these instances of perfect assimilation, the word ‘passing’ is used in the community to describe them. ‘Pass’ as what? as an heterosexual, cis individual (one whose physical appearance corresponds linearily with their gender, identity, sexual orientation, demeanor, etc). On facebook, this passing requires nothing more than choosing a gender-conforming profile picture, toning down your personality on written interactions and self-presentation and choosing the opposite sex in the ‘interested in’ section of your profile.
But just as it facilitates passing, it also facilitates the opposite. For most people, it is still very hard to understand what being ‘trans’ means. Part of this confusion stems from the fact that the prefix belongs to two different communities at the same time: transgendered and transexual individuals. The differences between them are not very clear, too. There is even another word that creats confusion: ‘Queer’. This term, appropriated from the language of bigots, serves as an umbrella term for anything that is not cis. And thus, it undermines the belief sustaining the need for these definitions. It is a critique against essentialism; the belief that things, or in this case people, can be defined and should, as there must be something essentially different to each identity, and equal among all of the same ‘kind’. Queer is a term that implies identifying oneself with a refusal to accept all the rules handed down to us by society about how we should be, act, express ourselves, or fuck. Even str8 people can choose to be queer, if they do not support the present state of things.
Back to the word ‘trans’ (which also could be applied to transvestites): Given that the prefix could mean three different identities, that are not umbrella terms like ‘queer’, a lot of defining ensues, with the requisite exertion of power and authority, even within the LGBTTTIQQA community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transexual, transexual, intersexual, queer, questioning and asexual). On my facebook feed, I have witnessed some of these pretty nasty fights. One, for example, had to do with the perceived discrepancy between the gender one person chose on facebook, and their profile picture. You see, the trans community is one of the most ostracized. Thus, for someone who thinks of themselves as trans, to have someone who, in their opinion, is ‘passing’, call themselves ‘trans’, can be interpreted as offensive.
Part of the problem that leads to the perception of this offense is how omnipresent trolling is, in URL life, or irony, one of its most common tools. What some people forget, even in ‘the community,’ is that identity can only be defined by oneself. We go through stages in our self-understanding, we change (which is also something acknowledged by the word ‘queer’, as it presents, being an umbrella term, the freedom to consider ourselves in constant flux, fluid, undefined) and it is always us who must think about who we are. It has nothing to do with how we look. I, as a queer person (or genderqueer), also consider myself transgendered, but not exclusively. Being trans does not always require sex reassignment surgery. Some of us can’t afford it, or know that it wouldn’t necessarily satisfy our dissatisfactions with the physical world and our physicality. It is so that URL life can provide an actual possibility to have a say in who we are to others, what we are, and how we present ourselves. Don’t get it? Fine. We each did it for ourselves.
(Daniel G. Lozano, from NUEVAS TETAS)