Sadness is my boychick (or girlchick)
by Queen Emily
Title remixed from Lykke Li…
I know how the story is supposed to go, for a trans woman. It’s supposed to go from unbearable pain pre-transition to happiness post, a journey that culminates with SRS1. This is the triumphant narrative the psychiatric/medical gatekeepers want, as proof of their success, and it’s a story we tell cis people in general to justify bodily interventions cissexists still find disturbing and fake at best and horrifying mutilation at worst. We’re supposed to be happy enough to live as a woman, to have the right body, to be accorded the minimal respect of a name and a pronoun (if not exactly full equality). And even trans positive discourses demand a certain positivity to address ciscentric narratives that value cis bodies more than trans, that objectify us as objects of mingled disgust and desire and utterly conflate femaleness with cis femaleness.
These are all true enough, but they’re incomplete. The pain Lisa talks about in the above Questioning Transphobia link continues to linger after transition. When it comes to trans people and reproduction, the predominant motifs continue to be assigned sex. In Western Australia, my home state, the government has been fighting through the courts for two years for the right to neatly align trans men’s sterility with their access to male legal sex documents (trans women’s sterility, however, which occurs permanently after approximately six months on estrogen, counts for precisely fuck all in gaining our access to the correct docs). Cis feminists have incorporated trans rights into pro-choice activism predominantly through the awareness of trans men and female-assigned genderqueers’ potential pregnancies. But these are all primarily concerned with assigned sex capabilities, treating trans populations as tacitly, implicitly, as “really” our assigned sexes.
Arch transphobe Germaine Greer has long had a riff where she declaims that no trans woman would possibly menstruate or get pregnant if it were physically possible. As Germaine appears to have never met a trans woman (her “research” wouldn’t deign to actually consult the population she so boldly declaims about), let me just say: it’s total bollocks. It fucking hurts that I can’t get pregnant.
This isn’t simply about being a parent. It is quite possible that my partner and I could have children one day — if her doctor says it’s safe with her disabilities we could go through IVF in Australia, and there’s surrogacy and adoption too (not that these are unproblematic by any means, just that there’s a possibility we could find an ethical solution). It’s not just about not having children — though it is undoubtedly part of it. And it’s not just about how society can use childlessness against women in general, or the links between homophobia and reproduction (ie the line of reasoning that says gay marriages aren’t “real” because there’s no potential of “natural” childbearing), or even how infertility has been specifically used against trans women (“sterile fucktoys” is one particularly charming epithet I’ve encountered from radfems).
But that doesn’t quite get at the pain I’m describing. When I say hurts, I don’t mean metaphorically. I feel this inability of my body in my body, feel the wordless dull ache in my stomach, inside where my uterus should be, between my legs. It’s there in the strain of muscles, the odd twitch. Between them, my cousins have had three babies (all female-assigned) in the last few years, and my sister and her partner are gearing up some of their own. Sometimes it’s hard to be around, because I am envious, and there’s no cultural space for me to say so without it reinforcing my own supposed inferiority as a trans woman.2
Without fail, I clutch a hand to my tummy when I see them, to feel that pain, but also to feel the could-have-been, the should-have-been. I can’t explain why it’s there, any more than I explain the feeling-not-feeling sensation of my body before hormones. It doesn’t make sense, because it is sense. So what I’m saying is there’s a history and a geography of loss and inability written into my sense of my lived body. It doesn’t overwhelm me, but it’s there when I’m alone as much as the times someone close to me has a child. It just is, and I expect it may well always be in some form.
The thing is, if there’s loss, then there must be mourning too; if you have grief, then you’re already grieving. Freud changed his mind several times on when mourning is accomplished. At first he thought that mourning is completed when a new love object is found, when devotion has been transferred to another love object. And it’s true — love helps you heal from pain. Seeing my friends and family happy with their pregnancies and their children, babysitting those children, is a joy.
But it is nevertheless bittersweet. Emotions don’t cancel or replace each other, as Freud imagined early on. Later he suggested that mourning finishes in incorporation, when you’ve incorporated the lost loved object into yourself. In her wonderful book Precarious Life, Judith Butler suggests that mourning is “when one accepts that by the loss one undergoes one will be changed, possibly for ever.” Mourning is accomplished by transformation, a transformation that “cannot be charted or planned in advance,” because one can never truly know who one is or will be.
And this, to come full circle to my title, is where I’m at. Sadness, loss, grief, are a part of me, incorporated into my sense of myself, my body, my family, in contradictory and ambivalent ways. Sadness is my child, and that’s ok.