Last month, I had the pleasure of traveling to Paris and Dublin with one of my nearest and dearest friends. Both of us are non-op non-binary trans* people, with me identifying as a White trans*femme person and zir identifying as a Black trans*masculine person. Also of significant note for this particular post is that we both have queer sexualities. The roaming specificities of these sexual subjectivities are more complex than the simple moniker of "queer" may lead one to assume. However, it also seems a bit out of the purview of this post—and somewhat tangential—to go into all the nuances. For the purposes of this post then, let’s just go with the fact that we ain’t straight.
Our first full day in Paris, we decided to walk from our hotel, nestled in the premiere arrondissement, up to Sacré Cœur. Sacré Cœur is a very famous, and very old, church in the neighborhood of Montmartre, and was built on a hill that overlooks all of Paris. Montmartre is a quiet neighborhood that, as a friend we saw days later told us, has become a space mostly populated by African migrants. As we approached Sacré Cœur, my friend and I found ourselves in the middle of a bustling tourist economy. There was an outdoor restaurant, artists painting in the streets (Montmartre has long had a strong arts-based community), and there were many people moving around. During our trip, my friend and I had two specific experiences I want to share in some detail. These experiences, when juxtaposed with our experience of being in Sacré Cœur (there is a quick self-guided tour you can take that takes you around the main floor and worship space of the church), will provide the basis of two interconnected concepts I have been playing around with lately, namely the process of being transgendered and culturally cripped. Alright, so on with the stories!
Before getting to the front of Sacré Cœur, my friend and I encountered two disabled women of color who were holding clipboards. I was unsure if they were French nationals (another detail that will be important later), but it quickly became clear they did not speak. Upon further interaction with them, my friend and I learned they were d/Deaf and non-verbal, and were seeking donations for a center for people with similar disabilities. As my friend and I began to fill out the information on their clipboards and provide some donations for them, others around us (i.e., able-bodied French nationals, not tourists—again, important detail for later) came and interrupted our interactions with these women. One White person began cursing at the woman I was interacting with, telling her to stop "scamming me," and that she was a bad person (my kind and kosher editing so we can keep this all PG) for "doing what she was doing." Another White couple came up and shooed the two women away from my friend and I, telling them to go away and to stop preying on tourists. The interactions between the White French citizens and the women were violent in that they included shouting, hand gestures (not pleasant ones), and an overall distain for these women’s humanity. These interactions, then, positioned these women as fraudulent, as devious, as deceptive, as fake, and, moreso, as unworthy of an exchange (or more apt, the giving) of money. No material goods were exchanged for the money we gave these women, but the transaction was policed. Furthermore, the policing was quite violent, and was supported through the logic of “protection” for my friend and me, or more likely, our money, as if this was the most precious of things.
Moreover, it is my perception that a sense of nationalism pervaded the violent interruption of the exchange of capital with between my friend and I and the two women with whom we were interacting. What I mean by this is that even if the women were themselves French nationals, the compulsory able-bodiedness (McRuer, 2006) of the able-bodied French citizens who intervened situated them as outsiders. Put another way, these women were recast as “other” as a result of their disabilities, and as a result, a sense of nationalism (“This doesn’t/I will not allow this to happen in my country”) was an underlying current in the disruption itself. This takes on a unique shift when thinking through the second story, which I detail below.
Experience in Sacré Cœur
After this experience, my friend and I made our way to the church. We decided to go in, and what I encountered confused me, in particular as it related to the situation we had just encountered. At many times throughout the self-guided tour, there were stations prompting guests to donate money (1€ or 2€ depending) to lights candles. These stations required one to drop coins into a large receptacle, which meant that we literally heard transactions of money being made throughout our time in the church (this despite being told we needed to be quiet due to mass being performed). Not only could we hear these transactions, but there were also no material goods being given for one’s donation, as one lit the candle and left it in the church. Rather than these transactions being policed, though, as happened outside with the disabled women we encountered, they were tacitly encouraged by the very hearing of constant donations being made. These donations, and the clink-clink-clinking of them seemed to hail us to give, as it became a normalized practice in a way that the abjection and abnormality of the women who we encountered outside Sacré Cœur marked them as unworthy of engaging in a transaction. Shoot, we were even barred from interacting with them through the violent interruptions of White French citizens (supposedly on our behalf, although I question this and do think there is a solid read that it was all a bit patronizing).
The second encounter outside of Sacré Cœur was with two Black men from The Gambia, who made us bracelets from money. This encounter, different from the experiences we had in the church and with the women, had the effect of gendering and sexualizing both my friend and I in that were re/cast as cisgender and, as a result, heterosexual (I have termed the grafting of sublimation of gender onto sexuality "compulsory heterogenderism," building off of the work of Adrienne Rich and Judith Butler). In other words, I was seen (and called into existence in that space and time) as a cisgender—and thus heterosexual—man who was then presumed to be coupled with my friend, who was seen (and called into existence in that space and time) as a cisgender—and thus heterosexual—"African woman" (here is a case where the logics of racialization and diaspora differ across political borders). In this sense, then, both my friend and I were transgendered, or made to feel (and ultimately made to be abject as a trans* person. This act of being transgendered, then, did not—nor should it ever—require the actor to actually know my or any trans* person's gender. In fact, the process of not-knowing-but-yet-assuming, and the assuming of normative practices/modes of gender (and through the phenomenon of compulsory heterogenderism, the presumption of one's sexuality in place of one's presumably invisible gender), speaks to the peculiar insidiousness of being transgendered.
In this way, then, being transgendered is not an identity or a bodily state of being, but is a relational process by which one is made to feel abject, made to feel distanced from their own subjectivities as a trans* person. The process of transgendering, then, is a process of misrecognition and misidentification. It is placed onto trans* people as a form of dismissive violence, a casual violence that feels anything but casual for the trans* person being transgendered. The insistence on one's abjection, of one's being not who one says one is, or of one's gender being naturalized as natural (i.e., conforming to binary notions of being) is a forceful rupture that is experienced by the trans* subject, tearing at the seams where one's identity/experience of trans*ness meets how one is read (and, as a result, undone) as not-trans*. To be transgendered, then, is a form of violence as it suggests one is not who one says one is, but yet another, in the form of a deceptive, false, fake, fraudulent person. And if history is any indicator, that sense of fraudulence, regardless of its not being grounded in any truth whatsoever, has literally been used as the legal defense for the murder of trans* people (people call it "trans* panic," and it is still used in a number of states as a "reasonable" defense for the "justified" killing of trans* people).
Here, then, there is a connection between being transgendered and having a crip subjectivity. That is, being transgendered is a process of forced abjection in a similar way that being re/un/made crip is a process of abjection. To be made crip and to be transgendered are relational processes housed under the same discourse of disjuncture, fraudulence, and state-sanctioned, supported, and relationally-encouraged violence. It is a form of violent mis/re/identification that stems from others' presumptions that, at the end of the day, there is an affirmative response on behalf of the cripped and the transgendered subjects to the question, "But wouldn't you just rather be like the rest of us" (here I am recalling McRuer's line of thinking in elucidating compulsory able-bodiedness in his book Crip Theory)?
And so these subjective experiences are brought together and connected through their abjection and non-normativity, and through the cultural and relational labor of others marking that abjection (regardless of the visibility of said gender/disability transgressions). Thus, trans* and crip people are culturally cripped, or are made (and remade) as abject subjects, despite our insistence to the contrary (which those who (are able to) practice resilience may be want to do). We are deemed abnormal in our own flesh because of the very unnaturalness of our desiring trans*/crip futures (here I am calling on Alison Kafer's work in Feminist Queer Crip). And, through the violent illogic that one must always be normal (Warner, 1999), must always desire to be normal, or that the way one's body shows up is a direct, verbatim script for one's own understanding of their gender and/or disability (reifying the hegemony of visibility as the only/desired form of being "authentically" trans* and/or crip), one is torn between their subjective reality of themselves and those of others; who/how one knows themselves and not being "trans* and/or crip enough;" what a trans* and/or crip identity is; and a trans* and/or crip subjectivity that may evoke a feeling of marginality despite differential experiences of access and/or historical oppression.
To be culturally cripped, then, is to be re/un/done through the illogic of hegemonic and normalizing understandings of trans*ness and/or cripness. It is to be acted upon in a way that dismisses and refuses one's understanding of oneself, all the while (re)enforcing hegemonic notions of visibility, able-bodiedness, and the heterosexual matrix. To be transgendered is a form of being culturally cripped, but not the only form. It is to be re/made abject, despite one's dis/avowal of that status previous to the violence. In this sense, being crip and/or trans* is not synonymous with abjection, but how one is re/made through the process of cultural cripping is. It is the act which infuses the presumed lack of being trans* and/or crip with naturalness, goodness, and/or desire. Instead of proliferating desires, the actor forecloses possibilities (sometimes quite violently) and suggests that to desire anything but normativity is no desire at all; it is a sorry state, and one that should be (violently) corrected. It is unthinkable. So unthinkable, in fact, that it is/cannot be thought even (as in, one's trans* and/or crip identities cannot even be thought into existence, as was the case with in the aforementioned second encounter outside of Sacré Cœur. These identities are beyond thinking, beyond comprehension, beyond a presumption that this may be the case, that one may desire a crip and/or trans* future.
And so, from these two encounters, the intertwined phenomena of cultural cripping and being transgendered as connected, yet distinct violent processes begin to form.
It should be noted that I am certainly not the first person to make connections between trans* and disability identities. However, this is still contentious ground for many. Although there are deep connections through activism and epistemological understandings, and ontological realities, there remains some hesitation by some folks about seeing the two identities as "the same" or even as similar. In fact, some scholars continue to promote ableist rhetoric by calling on the reality that gender transgressions are still codified as a part of the DSM, and thus make one "mentally ill," suggesting that disability is something to be avoided at all costs. While I as a trans* person do not personally consider myself to have a disability, this stems mostly from my being able to navigate my world in a way that is free from the historical and political implications/realities of compulsory able-bodiedness. This being said, there are ways in which I am cripped, as an overarching umbrella phenomenon under which being transgendered is nestled (in my estimation). I am made to be abject, unnatural, and as a result, am made to confront the question I stated above, namely that at the end of the day, don't I want to be just like the rest of us (with the "us" signifying all the non-crip/non-trans* people)? So while I am cripped through being transgendered, I do not need to (and do not) identify as crip, as my doing so (in my estimation) means to face, confront, and feel the press of historical legacies of compulsory able-bodiedness. This, however, should not be read to mean I am distancing myself from crip identities, subjectivities, or activism. Indeed, I experience crip subjectivities despite my not having a crip identity, and I consider any activism I am involved in to necessitate the refusal of systemic able-bodiedness.
In going back to the second story, my companion pointed out two very interesting elements that are worthy of note here. The first is the connection between being transgendered and capitalism. Specifically, the Gambian men had to sexualitize and gender us in order to engage us in an exchange of capital. In other words, their approaching us and talking to us was based on their transgendering us as a cisgender, heterosexual couple. This was not the case with the two women we encountered when first arriving in Montmartre, which brings me to the second salient point: men have a right to access capital, whereas women do not. The women we encountered were dismissed and disabused of engaging with my companion and I with violence, whereas no one attempted to intervene on our behalf with the Gambian men. The notion that men have a right to attempt to access capital speaks to the intersections of patriarchy and capitalism/consumerism. For example, the men may not have been perceived as abject or outsiders due to their being men, and thus, they may have been perceived as worthy of an exchange of capital in a way that the women were not due to systemic patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism. Of course, these were two particular events, but they do suggest a trace of the interconnected nature of race, gender, sex, sexuality, disability, nationality, and capital in some disturbing ways – ways in which I (and my friend, onlookers, and those who did (not) intervene) was/were complicit.
Furthermore, it seems important to mention that the interruption of the flow of capital when my friend and I were interacting with the d/Deaf women (who I perceived to be White, but am not 100% confident of their racial identity) occurred by White people. The sense that White people can do what they want when they want, including in this case interrupting people and having the authority to violently dismiss people who they deem to be other/less than/abject/disposable, seems to me to be inherently tied to Whiteness, specifically notions of White dominance and White supremacy. Indeed, the fact that I myself did not even think about this until I was called in by my friend who I went on the trip with further reinforces how Whiteness not only acts as a norm socioculturally, but my own Whiteness, and the way I have been socialized to view Whiteness as the norm despite my working hard to resist this socialization and interrogate and unlearn my own White dominance acted as a barrier to my recognizing how Whiteness operated in this context. Thus, identities (including Whiteness) not only mediated the situations as they played out in real time, but also influenced (in many divergent ways) the meanings made after the fact. This suggests to me that identities continue to have lasting impressions on current moments, even after they fade into our memories; especially in terms of how, for me, my White identity made me willfully ignorant of how the notion of Whiteness as property (channeling Cheryl Harris' work here) mediated the way the French nationals interacted with the d/Deaf women and with my friend and I as well as how I interacted with everyone throughout these experiences and remembered (or didn't remember them) in the ensuing weeks.
As with everything else, this notion is a work in progress, and as such, is incomplete and subject to revision(s). There are also lots of other things these notions raise for me, and for those who I have been talking to about these concepts as of late. However, my hope is to use personal experiences as a way to illuminate the ways in which crip and trans* identities and subjectivities are experienced along similar, albeit not the same, lines and may even evoke similar affects. I am also hoping to put several ideas and thoughts together that have been bumping around my head, and that I have been talking with a couple people about over the past several months.
 Before you assume I am ignorant, I’ll just address it here: yes, I know the term transgendered is pejorative, and no, I usually do not use it in relation to trans* people (myself or others). However, there is something important about the relational process by which one is transgendered (by others) that I am trying to comment on. So bear with me until I share my piece. If after that you still think I am for shit, then let’s talk…but the turning of the adjective (trans*) into a verb (transgendered) is an important conceptual and linguistic turn that I want to focus on here.
This blog is a space where I engage with ideas, concepts, and research that seeks to increase life chances for trans* people.