Day Two at #MTHF16

Today started off with a lot of international material. Kevin went off to see the paper on trans people in Japan (and discovered that the Japanese language didn’t have gendered pronouns until they started translating English and German texts and had to invent words to make the distinction).

I listened to a presentation by an Indian trans activist, and was very impressed by the government policies in Tamil Nadu. Sadly the rest of India is not so progressive. The speaker made the important distinction between something being culturally accepted and being socially acceptable. Hijra are part of India culture and have been for at least 2000 years, but that doesn’t mean that they are not despised. What is an open question (which I hope one day I can find an Indian historian to help shine some light on) is how much the position of hijra in modern Indian society is a result of European colonialism.

I also got to hear a really great presentation by two trans guys who live in The Yukon. They are dealing with very small communities, which has its drawbacks, but also a significant degree of community support that you don’t get in a big city. I discovered that for First Nations people the word “religion” carries connotations of European colonialism. When speaking of their own beliefs they always use the term “spiritual” rather than “religious”. (To a European, of course, the word “spiritualism” means something very different.)

The next session was given over entirely to a project being done in Calgary on the subject of Magnus Hirschfeld and his relationship to Harry Benjamin and Alfred Kinsey. The scholarship involved is impressive, but when doing work like this there is a serious danger of getting caught up in the narrative created by your subjects. Hirschfeld and Benjamin may well have believed that they were discovering a new phenomenon in human sexuality and had to invent ways of understanding it, but we as historians can’t buy into that idea, or the ways in which they chose to understand transness. My thanks here to the Two Spirit person who chose to challenge the panel on this, and in particular their use of the word “transgenderism”. It is true that the term is commonly used by medical people, but it is also used by TERFs to imply that being trans is a political philosophy that one can chose to reject the validity of.

On the subject of political philosophy, it is an unfortunate fact that in any gathering of trans people you are likely to find someone with entrenched views as to the right way to be trans, and who will push that narrative at the expense of any other. Trans communities are incredibly diverse (a fact which apparently deeply frustrated the arch taxonomist, Kinsey) and it is vitally important that we respect each other. This afternoon there was a presentation from someone who clearly felt that the only way to establish the validity of their own life was to belittle and ridicule other trans people. Not to mention mocking other people’s culture along the way. There is an awful lot wrong with the way that the medical profession has dealt with trans people in the past, and it is absolutely wrong to force everyone into one stereotype of being trans. You don’t have to make that point by making it seem like all people who fit that stereotype in some way are moronic dupes whose feelings about themselves are some sort of false consciousness.

Anyway, I have better things to do with my life that sit around being mocked and insulted. I have Kevin here, and a beautiful part of the world to explore. We found a place called Fisherman’s Wharf, watched the harbor seals perform for the tourists, and ate fish.

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