French activist Lalla Kowska Régnier on trans issues and queer politics. This interview was published in 2014 in the French magazine Les mots sont importants.
Lalla Kowska Régnier was an AIDS activist in the early 90s, then worked for industrial entertainment. For the last ten years, she has sought to unravel the political and social issues with which she is confronted with her transsexed body. We wanted to meet with her in the fall of 2012, concerning Existrans, the Parisian "march of transfolks and their allies” whose slogan Papers if I want, when I want prevented some transsexed people from participating.
“The social body is a deployment of technical and symbolic systems based on the functions of the animal body. The human being unites the two, the one cannot be separated from the other. It is the necessary coupling of an animal body – and in this case I prefer to say the medial body, because it is not just technical and symbolic, it is also inevitably ecological; so eco-techno-symbolic. And so it is this, the medial body coupled with the animal body, that makes a human being. And the medial body is necessarily collective.” Augustin Berque (1)
“Communism is connection inasmuch as the community is nothing but relations. If communities are closed, it is so that they can open up to differential exchanges outside of the community. Because there is the possibility of thinking 'outside' the community, whereas there is nothing but an 'inside' when thinking within the system. This outside, we call communism. (...)
These spaces of heterotopia, they are spaces where we take care of healing relations, because they allow us to carry on. Uncertain promises of heterogenous realization.” Collective for Intervention (2)
“Basically, however, no life has a name. The self-conscious Nobody in us – who acquires names and identities only through its social birth – remains the living source of freedom. The living Nobody, in spite of the horror of socialization, remembers the energetic paradises beneath the personalities. Its life soil is the mentally alert body, which we should call not nobody but yesbody...” Peter Sloterdijk (3)
Hello Lalla Kowska, you were very surprised by the slogan of the Existrans march this past fall 2012, “Papers if I want, when I want.” Can you explain why?
Bonjour. Yes, this slogan, in addition to dismissing the struggles of undocumented folks, is extremely awkward for all those men and women who live precarious lives, socially, emotionally, in matters of health and wellbeing; a precariousness that results from the marginality in which trans people are forced to exist while they wait for changes to be made to their civil status. Considering this secondary citizenship drives some people to suicide, I found it strange that it should be made into one of the political dildos of a queer community that itself excludes trans people.
Drawwing a borderline parallel, it's as if slaves, fighting for their liberation, suddenly asked their tormentors, in the name of the liberators' principles, to leave them the option of remaining shackled. What is sad is that no one could find the energy necessary to oppose this slogan. While for me, I had finally exacted my change in civil status, this choice of slogan was completely incomprehensible.
“Exacted” your change in civil status?
Yes, because getting it done was a true relief. Suddenly, in extracting myself from the precariousness created by having misaligned identity papers, many possibilities reappeared.
Having my name and social sex finally recognized for what they are, that of a woman born a boy, was an intense joy but was also destabilizing, because I had to learn to no longer reckon with this nonsense, a bit like someone being released from prison, finding themselves disarmed outside their cell walls, knowing I would have to confront, or at least believe in, these new horizons.
The “if I want” aspect of the slogan reveals a deeply feigned ignorance of the humiliation felt and the exhausting use of personal energy and resources needed every time we are asked to prove our identity.
But at the same time we can read it as a movement towards tackling new struggles, no?
I don't know if the struggles are new, but in any case we now have the opportunity to redefine them. What is the purpose of Existrans? Is it a march to prioritize the needs of transpeople, or rather a march for queer visibility – replacing events such as The Bent Walk (La Marche des TorduEs, a radical queer anti-corporate gay pride march), for example?
If it may seem groundbreaking to fight for the right to have papers or not – which is not the same as demanding papers for everyone or for no one – it cannot be done on the backs of transpeople who need to be able to change their civil status when they feel that it's necessary for themselves. Even if things are moving forward, the issue is far from settled because the arbitrary nature with which judges lay down their decisions continues to frequently have devastating effects on our lives.
What exactly do you mean by queer people?
I think your question illustrates one of the limitations of the queer movement in francophone settings. The need to explain the different meanings that the word has in English: its derogatory nature, the reclamation and re-operationalization of this derogatory nature made by those whom it would target, and the breadth of its usage in Anglosaxon culture as a tool of deconstruction; this demonstrates that it is a highly sophisticated tool whose usage is reserved to a few privileged political and cultural spheres, and this leads us to question the power and usefulness it has here.
I would say that in a white, European framework (4), it defines people who, in contesting the man/woman gender binary, prolong the (necessary) refutation of sexual identity essentialism, by ascribing to a social intersexualization, neither man nor woman. They may for example, identify as trans, but refuse any surgery or hormone therapy, claiming that these are alienating tools of the normative binary. These queers are thus able to ignore the body so as to promote an interplay between people free from the fleshy aspects of social relations, all in the name of the LGBT(Q/etc) movement.
I specify the white framework because it seems to me that the use of the word queer by French non-white people is more fluid: rather than becoming just another branch of LGBT that would continue to focus first and foremost on relationships of power, this usage attempts to affirm other identities that fall outside of those offered by normative heterosexuality, the very heterocracy imposed by white settlers that is now perpetuated by the heterohomonormativity (homonationalism being but one facet) in which some LGBT representatives and white queers participate.
But isn't that a good thing, self-determination and people defining themselves?
Obviously I would like to say yes.
Yes, obviously, because self-determination is crucial for transsexed people faced with the malicious and disempowering protocols (from both sides) of hospitals and public services: to be entitled to define ourselves and have access to hormonal and surgical care without being at the mercy of doctors who will make the decision for us. But that is not exactly the same thing as a bioperson(5) who chooses to undertake a strategy of sexed/gendered self-determination with the goal of disrupting the sex binary.
Obviously I think a butch lesbian has good reason to refuse to be indentified as a women, preferring to explore various latitudes outside of the sexist machinery by identifying as trans, but this risks simultaneously impoverishing the breadth of lesbian experience and feeding into the absolutely preposterous idea that being trans is a choice. I also understand how an FtM may not wish to identify with 'man-ness', but this means foregoing dialogue with biomen (and not just the gay ones) who are questioning the constraints of imposed masculinity; men who in measuring the extent of their privilege are confronted with the political effects of the heterohomocracy.
No, unfortunately, in mixed spaces, self-determination allows far too many biopeople to legitimate the erasure of trans dialogue (how many times have I been treated as an Ayatollah?) under the pretext that these people have chosen to define themselves as trans as a political statement. It's very frustrating. And it seems to me an extremely advantageous position, to be able to simply extricate oneself from the social matter through which one's body and its relationship with others is constituted, while we have to deal with who we are in and alongside our material environments. Queer politics can be interesting, but too often they wind up mired in indulgent identity politics that anesthetize, if not the class struggle, at least the struggle of living conditions(6). But I must admit that these days I am much less virulent on this matter than I was a few months ago, because I have since found work that has made me less angry with those who work to pass as trans while it is being trans that puts me in a precarious position.
Where do you think it comes from, this queer affinity for trans?
One could date it back to the emergence of gender theory studies on the other side of the Atlantic, and how the word genre in French took on the meaning of gender as it's used in the English language. I wonder if this translation has been hasty because it seemed so obvious. I think that in our haste, we fabricated a syllepsis or a trope that won't be without consequence for feminist politics, trans politics, and more generally everywhere that questions of social sex relations are raised.
That's a quite ambitious proposition.
Yes, and I am conscience enough of where I stand to know that it cannot be taken but carefully. However, I do not think it futile to continue. Especially since I am simply suggesting that we take a moment to ask ourselves if we were not mistaken in trying to force English gender to coincide with French genre, when these two ideas do not cover precisely the same territory. Perhaps it's a bit like a child trying to force a round peg into a square hole.
It's a game of shapes.
And so one of the greatest contributions of those queer and feminist theories that coincided with the emergence of the trans and intersex movements has been in peeling back the layers of individual sex and gender, hitherto held up as 'natural and normal', and revealing them as an unstable three-story scaffolding, or perhaps as a three-cushion billiard table, or a three-piece game of Lego.
First, the birth sex, the genital sex. It's male, female, or intersex. Then the social sex, it's man, woman, or intersex. It's the sex with which we identify within and are identified as by the collective. And then gender, which is cultural, and is either masculine, feminine, or intergendered.
Three categories which function a bit like the gifts of the three fairies in Sleeping Beauty, all operating relatively autonomously, which isn't to say that they do not or cannot interact with each other. I can elaborate on these examples a bit of you like.
In English, gender is both male or female as well as the social role of man or woman or even - although rarely - gender identity: masculinity and femininity.
To the question – what is your gender? (8)– we can easily reply male or female, for example. This all-encompassing capacity of gender in English allowed for the emergence of transgender categories (as well as genderqueer, genderfucker, etc.). A female to male transition, for example, becomes part of a transgender identity; the three categories of genital sex, social sex, and gender are all one in English.
In French, which one must remember is a gendered and sexist language, genre – which is also a linguistic marker, enjoying additional significance around notions of style, of cultural type (9) – does not align so easily with either of the other two categories; it in fact distinguishes itself quite strongly from the social sex of man or woman, and the biological sex of male or female is almost exclusively used to describe animals.
The acronym 'FtM' is best interpreted as female to male, but is always translated as de femme à homme (woman to man) and not de femelle à male (female to male). As such we see the very French process of masking biological sex in favour of social sex, which itself tends more and more to be absorbed by genre as it is translated from gender, even though in the case of an FtM transition neither femininity nor masculinity is invoked.
The trouble is not just with gender.
So the syllepsis consists of this double confusion, which equates the issue of gender with that of social sex, and of transgender people with transgender approaches in French?
Absolutely. It seems to me that transsexed people mainly modulate between the boundaries of anatomical sex and social sex, while queer and transgendered people play with those between social sex and gender identity.
Now, I find that by way of this hasty translation, even the most materialist of feminists obscure social sex with gender, and in doing so maintain a coercive system; one that is certainly less severe but no less effective. Always with this sticking point: the body, this social flesh that no one dreams of dematerializing or reverting back to a debased and shameful animalism.
So for you the current challenge is to redefine these three categories?
Yes, I truly believe that if we wish to advance feminist and trans politics, we must take the time to grapple with these questions. And we must recognize that being trans here [in France] is not the same as being trans in North America or Thailand or Haiti or India, in North Africa, etc. Just as being a man or women here is not the same as being a man or woman elsewhere.
Today, when we say 'feminine' or 'masculine', we must be aware that we are not only describing the cultural baggage held by women and men.
Today, when we say 'man' or 'woman', we must know that this does not necessarily imply a penis or a vagina.
Today, we must reinvest in the French categories of 'female' and 'male' as viable categories for humans, not just animals.
We must stop saying 'gender' when we actually want to describe social sex relations. In the same vein, we must stop approaching the trans political agenda through gender identity but rather through social sex identity.
And we must not doubt that transgender concepts concern biopeople at least as much as they do transsexed people.
The subtle gendering of the French language allows us to say things like “my (male) penis, as it (he) is that of a woman, is a more or less feminine organ”, or that “the (female) pussy of my boyfriend of very male". (10)
So is that why you identify as a cisgendered trans female?
Yes. For my demonstration and from my experience, I would like to relay back to myself what my imagination – my consciousness – can say about my body – my unconscious.
I was born male because I had a penis. I was a fairly effeminate child who dreamt of being a little girl and who would put on dresses at the slightest opportunity (not that this is exclusive to transsexuality). I was therefore a transgender bioboy.
Once puberty started, I was able to sprinkle my little life with sexual and loving desire for men. I was a young homosexual cisgendered bio man. Now I could have stayed effeminate and become a queen, but retreating into that closet, I learned to be masculine inasmuch and in proportion to how much I renounced becoming a girl (11).
Today I am a women, socially and on my papers (judged as such by the powers of the French Judiciary – and therein lies one privileges enjoyed by biopeople: not having to prove oneself in court in order to be validated – they need simply be born) and I am certified feminine by the claims and witnesses of society, but with a penis in my panties. And I still love men.
So you are a heterosexual cisgendered trans woman?
Note that I could have been a butch trans woman. Then I would be a transgendered trans woman. And if my desire had shifted towards women as well, I would be bisexual. Or, if exclusively to women, I would be a lesbian (femme or butch depending on my gender presentation).
It's the whirlwind of life.
The whirlwind of life, it's the fatal beauty of Maleficent, the fourth fairy in Sleeping Beauty!
So according to you, transgender identities cannot be assimilated into transsexed experience?
Yes, I believe so. Transgendered identity, fluidity, is not solely the prerogative of trans people's journeys, any more than it is of gays or lesbians. The philosopher Faysal Guellil Riad, for example, explains very well how much Oum Khalsoum is trans in his gender (12). Culture abounds with transgendered figures. Madonna, for example, is frankly quite intergendered.
Yes, I know some people raise a brow when I talk about Madonna. But I think she's a mystical mob of disillusionment and drive, ironic and giving, and most of all, a powerful intergender model. Do you remember when, thirty years ago, she claimed she was a fag trapped in a woman's body? You saw the body she had built herself in thirty years?
And I have met transgendered biomen, for example Rafaïel, with whom I worked in a bar and whose femininity inspired me, or like that of the transvestite dancer François Chaignaud, or the performer La Bourette.
Was your transition also a learning phase?
Yes. Especially those first months, when we observe how others read us, hoping to see some sign of recognition in their gaze, while they are trying to decipher exactly what kind of strange bird you are. I learned to stop investing much meaning in those looks, because the meanings could be endless. I opened my eyes wide to different bodies and energies, and located a place for my own. I saw that there were enough men with slight mannerisms or lilting voices, enough women with wide shoulders and hair on their breasts, to recognize that there was also a place for my hormoning body.
And quite quickly I noticed that once their gendered accessories were removed, people's movements and bodily gestures appeared rather more intersexual than distinct. What jumped before my eyes was the instability of masculinity and femininity, and I understood that gender really doesn't make much sense despite being invested with so much.
How do you mean?
It gives meaning to bodies. It informs but does not define. Masculine and feminine are floating fluids, that we may or may not have, and which, most of the time, behave irregularly. In any case, masculinity is not limited to men and femininity is not limited to women. And so I got confirmation of what I had felt up until then, that to transition did not mean liberating myself from the order of masculine sex and gender by adopting that of femininity, but rather letting go of the whole masculine/feminine matter to arrive at my own 'woman-ness' by learning the patience required of transitioning. It was a moment of reaching a first horizon and leaving behind my exile.
It has been others who have described me into femininity. Especially when I was gathering testimony for my application to change my civil status, many attested to my femininity. I had the impression of being naturalized as feminine at the same time as I was being accorded my new name, the 'F' [of being female], and the '2' [of my new female social security number (13)].
In any case, maybe I was feminine, but what mattered was to be me.
So you think that social gender relations are not the same as social sex relations?
We can certainly consider it. I feel there are specific tensions caused by having a non-normative gender display which are present within the same category of social sex. Ask fags – or even just sensitive boys – amongst men. Or look at the fate of butch women in women's magazines (femininity education magazines would be more accurate).
That said, it should also be noted that if we do not want to be in denial about the asymmetry of our heterohomopatriarchal societies, an effeminate boy will always find spaces where he will be valued as such, whereas a masculine woman will elicit nothing but disdain, disdain fed by a certain queer discourse.
So tell me, how then do you distinguish the trans experience?
That's like asking a scientist to explain the secrets of the composition of dark matter! A difficult task, but here's what I will hazard to say:
I will repeat that being trans has nothing to do with gender. At least no more so than for cispeople. There are a lot of masculine transwomen and effeminate transmen.
As mentioned above, the transsexed dynamic is mainly articulated around social sex, that is to say the way in which our body, as a marker, receptor, and emitter of social relations, resonates from within to others. This bringing into the flesh of the social sex that we didn't have at birth – with the help of technologies like hormones, surgery, and cosmetic medicine – reiterates how bodies exhibiting 'man-ness' or 'woman-ness' are always inscribed in social relations, relations of power, desire, and strength. I think that transfolks illustrate this necessity of having one's body recognized as an intelligible 'man-being' or a 'woman-being' by the collective. And in this collective, intimacy is recreated and desire is managed.
And so perhaps we do invest the man/woman distinction with a sense of utopia, ecstatically, by injecting something of a heterogenous equality into a sort of double helix dance with the self and with others.
For me it remains a sort of conductive actualization, a condition that is pressing, obligatory. Transitioning is one of these moments where the human being no longer has the means to voluntarily tame their body, where they let their body act within the very heart of life, that place where meetings between people and natures pulsate. I also think that our bodies make decisions, the rest figures in another realm, that of the imagination, of psychiatrists and hospital teams and queer theor-istas, always and forever wanting to send us back to being sick or abnormal rather than acknowledging our existence.
Because it occurs in slow motion, we produce a magnifying effect on those cogs that, in biopeople, appear innate. And that we let our bodies undecide for themselves, probably tells us something about animality as a scorned part of the construction of human beings.
Finally, it seems to me that our transitions entail a sort of kamikaze duel, whereby the little theatre is, alongside our genealogies, inside ourselves, reinforced with a scenario and spectators. We don't decide anything; at whatever age we do it, it's just the coming into the flesh of our singular heterotopic existince.
If I am following correctly, you are saying that there is no link between transsexuals and transvestites?
No, that's not exactly what I'm saying. But I think that here again we're getting ahead of ourselves when we try to maintain a trans/trav continuum at all costs.
First off, I think that the world of transvestitism is vast enough to merit attention on its own without recourse to transsexed experience. There are a multitude of ways to live transvestitism, with or without some connection to sexual fantasy, with or without making a political statement, be it playful, private or public, collective or isolated.
And yes, there are transvestites who are then led to transition, and so draw together some common ground for the duration of the transition.
But I want to insist that transsexuals can also be transvestites and do drag – gluing on a few moustache whiskers or putting on a wig, for example.
We also have to mention how some transvestites are complicit with a libidinous heterohomosexism where we can be, as straight trans women, both witnesses and involuntary participants, for example on porn sites that label you as 'trans/trav'. Imagine the consequences for men that visit these sites, on both their fantasies and on our love lives (14).
However, I think that herein lies another place of commonality with transvestites, one to be explored: the geography of desire inhabited by those very boys who are the most inclined towards a hyper-virile model (from cops to brutes).
But I think we benefit from being disentangled form one another.
But at the same time, in South America there is a strong community of transsexuals, transgenders, and transvestites, no?
Ah, the perfect occasion to restate that I do not for a second believe in any kind of universality, and certainly not that my point of view has any universal character. I am a little witch who draws her faith from the realm of the pluriverse. I am also wary of all forms of Orientalism and of the authoritative arguments that “over there, it's more real”, which prevents us from thinking in the here and the now.
But you have a point. It's a particularly marginalized community, one also present in our cities, among immigrants and undocumented people who therefore face incessant police violence, and for whom sex work is often the only available means of supporting themselves. In order to satisfy clients' demands (to be actively penetrated), and so for economic reasons, there is a real distrust of hormones (and with reason, according to my experience). They feminize their bodies using silicone injections that are as dangerous as they are brilliant. Many of these people define themselves as transvestites or even as gay. I think that it is in the absence of hormone therapy that maybe one must understand this masculine resolution.
Do you want to expand upon that?
I just meant to say that hormone therapy is not exactly the same things as wearing clothes, because it also modifies one's genito-libidinous alchemy. For non-operative transsexual women – at least for me and some of my girlfriends – erection, excitement, erogenous zones, ejaculation and orgasm shift in distinct ways once they are no longer under the command of testosterone. And I can attest that with hormones the most common and consistent request from clients of trans sex workers (a strong erection, ability to penetrate, and guaranteed ejaculation) become very difficult to satisfy.
I'm not saying that this new pleasure/desire layout is what makes me a woman, but perhaps it is the fear of such mechanics that explains in part why communities of sex workers are more likely to identify with transvestites and gays.
So do you think about what resources we could offer to those who feel the need to take hormones, knowing that this could cause their sex work revenues to dry up?
To add a few words regarding steroid hormones – which, in my opinion, work like the fetishes that Xavier Papaïs (15) speaks about, objects/subjects working inside and outside to model a viable organic intra/inter/subjectivity – their effects are numerous, from the corpus callosum in the brain to the skeleton, passing through the liver and arteries, with, each time, a different effect upon each receptive organism. Did you know, for instance, that since I started my hormone therapy I've grown a centimetre? (16)
In any case, I am not entirely sure I have a link with transvestites, and it wouldn't be stronger than that which I have with a hyper feminine non-trans woman, for example. And I also have the impression that it is complicated to want to maintain this link when at the same time we denounce the humiliation entailed by the “Real-Life Tests” imposed by abusive doctors. It is a link that in some ways perpetuates the pathologizing categories of the 19th century. Like “LGBT”, actually.
LGBT remains a problem for you, then?
The focus on marriage for all and the socialist government's renunciations to respond to the specific needs of lesbians illustrates this fatally.
But in addition to that, “all together, we white bio guys, we said we would speak on your behalf so be nice and shut up”, LGBT perpetuates pathologizing categories, integrates and neutralizes differences rather than facilitating their validation.
I will not belabour the underlying fallacy that would have us believe that trans is a sexual orientation, nor upon its corollary, the invisibilization of hetero trans people, nor upon the insistence of a “core” sexuality as implied by “LGBT”. That all feeds into the transphobia of bios, queers, homos, and heteros (17).
It is interesting to note that those who formulated the welcomed criticisms against homonationalism and gayism (18) adapted so well to "LGBT". That at least allows us to bring the realm of critical discourse up to date.
Also interesting is the incapacity of certain minorities to admit that they may have access to privileged spaces: how a gay man will deny his male privilege, how an indigenous hetero ciswoman will not admit to her heterosexual privilege. It's the same scenario that we know so well among white feminists. Everyone is convinced that being segregated over here means they don't experience certain privileges over there.
And then there is another pitfall of “LGBT”, that it would have us believe that each of them: the Ls, the Gs, the Bs, and the Ts, are treated equally to one another, as if within this 'community' there was no sexism, no lesbophobia, no bi or transphobia. No racism or classism, as if all “LGBT” were feminists or as if lesbians could not be.
But you know, the rigid limitations of “LGBT” are increasingly revealing themselves, which – in the painful disillusionment experienced by some – is rather promising (19).
Don't you risk creating tension?
No, or only with those who think I am trying to break their toys whenever I express my opinion. But the truth is that I also want to play, and I am just suggesting we redefine the rules of the game more precisely.
And I also think it would be nice to admit something quite simple: the power of the subversive is not to go support those trans people who want nothing more than to live a mundane life, an abnormal mundanity, sure, but who just wish to be recognized and respected for who they are, men and women with a particular trajectory. No, subversion is the purview of the gender fuckers, cross dressers, and genderqueers, etc. I do not understand queers' insistence and interest in being recognized as trans, to the point that they bring their struggles into our spaces of resistance.
In reality it is neither cool nor subversive to be trans, and it doesn't need to be complicated, it's just a misborntune, a powerful one, that requires a little care.
It's almost the very distinction of subversive/normative that bothers you, no?
Well bloody hell, because when you are trans the point is not to be subversive or normative, the point is to be yourself! It's a bit like when I hear people talking about “political passing” (just the word passing, so disgusting, with a racist history) (20), herein a transphobic vision seeking to inject 'truth' where there is life!
Or when we talk about “trans visibility” as opposite the closet where some of us are enclosed. What closet, since we are continually outed with more or less good intentions, or more or less bad intentions? It really shows a deep misunderstanding of our realities. The closet is a place of privileges that were taken away from us!
And frankly, who seeks to be subversive these days? Forgive me, but that's a concern for white, hetero cismen like Eric Zemmour, Brice Couturier, Alain Sorel, or the representatives of the uninhibited right (21).
No, we must do away with these spells of guilt that require us to always have to respond positively to the accusations of biopeople: that we are either insane or revolutionary, models or traitors.
And so precisely what fate do you predict for the nature/culture impasse?
It's a problem for those who wish it to be. But for me, and perhaps it's just because I have faith, I am convinced that this duo is permanently moving, meeting one another and in doing so, actually fabricating one another. It is an encounter that changes and is changed by everything it touches.
I believe that today's political challenges are to point out who perpetuates these binaries, and to what dominant ideological ends they are put.
The challenge is to de-essentialize identities, and resocialize bodies, the flesh.
And so you too, like the queers, contest the gender binary!
Not at all. What I contest is the hierarchy between gender and social sex, not differences, differences which are so fragile that we must constantly work to reassert them. No, I think that challenging 'binarism' implies that the genders are equivalent and that we are spared their asymmetry. No, instead we should bring to life a multitude of differences.
For me, we must resist the calls to order of the tenants of a totalitarian and 'essentialist' regime of what a woman is and what a man is, while also being attentive to those who demonstrate that 'being a man' and 'being a woman' can not but be deconstructed in a universal undifferentiation.
Honestly, if we realize the significance of my change in civil status, that a magistrate judged that my penis was indeed that of a woman. Between the transphobia of [the bioheterosexist right-wing political interest group] “Protest for All” who denounce gender theory and those who want to destroy gender, I don't see anything but the pyre upon which they all want to see me burn.
Once again, the question is not about the norm or subversion, but to admit that it could simply be ordinary.
That which, despite the good intentions or some doctors and judges, is a complicated task, given the abusive protocols put into place by hospital teams and the total absence of support, care, and accompaniment structures organized outside of these public service teams.
So transitioning remains a battlefield?
Oh yes, one of the characteristics of this abusive French public service hospital protocol is to delay our transition as much as possible so as to wash their hands of us. By preventing us from accessing hormone therapy (which I am convinced is the best way to know if someone is indeed experiencing a transsexed dynamic), by seeking at all costs to disempower us rather than applying a simple principle of informed consent, by way of influencing, via a scandalous monopoly, the decisions of judges regarding our civil status or of social security organizations who will decide what supports we receive, and by maintaining an offer of surgical techniques that are still limited to butchery, doctors of public service teams turn our transitions into a single project to which we must dedicate ourselves at the expense of all the other things we need to think about: access to or keeping employment, housing, family relations, emotional and sexual relationships, the elements of life that transitioning disrupts.
As much as the transitioning process needs to be experienced for what it is, a magical moment of self-actualization, precious and abundant, one must also admit that it can not revolutionize the collectivity.
Because we need to fight for who we are, put ourselves in danger and submit to the precarity linked to our journey, we can, once we have carried this out, find ourselves faced with the starkness of life. I think that the doctors of public service protocol are responsible for the suicide of women who, once their vaginoplasty is completed, find themselves in a state of distress, not because they regret it, but because the only thing that now seems possible, in light of this abuse of power, is to end their life. May they rest in peace.
Do you think we must continue to fight for depsychiatrization?
The most recent DSM V shows some progress. We have to keep in mind that up until now, trans identities were classed as an Axis 1 principal mental disorder, that is, as a clinical problem requiring immediate attention and eradication (a bit like if we decided that redheads need to be treated for their freckles), and it is important to remember that, because it shines a light on social service medical practice. It appears that in the DSM V trans issues have moved from Axis 1 and are no longer seen as a mental disorder, exactly, but now fall into a “incongruence of social sex”. This seems to be a good thing, since it opens up space to put an end to the brutality of hospital protocol.
That said, it is not politics that can decide to remove transidentities from the psychiatric manuals, but they can actively participate in that fight. Legislation for a more simplified system to change civil status – which entails stoping the humiliation enacted by experts and obligatory unwanted surgeries; allowing us to choose our doctors and surgeons, even foreign ones, for their quality and expertise, without blackmailing us with the threat of non-reimbursement; putting a stop (as Roselyne Bachelot courageously attempted) to the monopoly of SoFECT (the Société Française d'Etudes et de prise en Charge du Transsexualisme, The French Society for the Study and Care of Transsexuality – abusive doctors and hospital teams in the public service facilities); guaranteeing the respectful treatment, in all public service organizations, of trans people waiting for their civil status change (from the post office, to the hospital, from taxes to voting polls); sensitization of doctors; ensuring access to professional development training for trans people who have been excluded from the job market; strengthening the capacity and mission of family planning to support welcoming, counselling, orientation, and health promotion services for all those who are questioning; these are the objectives that associations have been mounting for some time now. And this is exactly what Hollande's Socialist Party refuses to tackle.
Do you believe in a trans community?
No. Or yes, I believe that the trans community is first and foremost composed of those who are beginning or in the process of transitioning.
After that, I think diasporas develop. I especially believe in affinity groups, trans or otherwise, that take shape and then dissolve in light of our respective intersectionalities.
Would you consider your transition complete?
Ah, most certainly yes. I can even say that the end of my transition was marked by a number of stages. My rhinoplasty, for example, or when I realized that a bra was mainly a constraint, and then obviously the procurement of my papers. But there was also an incident when a man, a cute one, slowed down while passing a bus stop I was waiting at in order to hit on me, and I was fed up. In that moment, I told myself that if I never again needed to be desired by guys, even sexy ones, and was also annoyed by how they feel entitled to express their desire under the assumption that I somehow owed it to them by simply being in public, then yes, my transition was complete.
That which never ends is the experience of feeing excluded from the community of citizens. It would be misleading to think that once we receive our civil status papers, we would suddenly be fit for the life of consumption and wages. I can not be a model of social integration as envisioned by capitalist societies. In fact I must admit that deep down I'm not so sure I want to leave behind the registers of madness.
P.S.: This text was originally published in French, firstly an earlier version in March of 2013 on AnnaMedia http://www.annamedia.org/#!echappe-belle/cocm , and then later in March 2014, the above version was published on Les mots sont importants http://lmsi.net/Echappees-belles#nb2
Translated into English by Valérie Webber
(2) In “Communism – a manifesto”, Gayism refers to the process whereby gay men perpetuate male supremacy while simultaneously thinking this is impossible simply by virtue of being gay, that they cannot oppress by virtue of being oppressed. This process of ignorance and exclusion has led some to refer to the LGBT movement as the http://lmsi.net/Les-faux-subversifshttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/25/gender-and-sexual-diversities-gsd-lgbt-label-_n_2758908.html?ir=gay-voices&utm_campaign=022513&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Alert-gay-voices&utm_content=PhotoGGGG movement (coined by Shiri Eisner in her book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, Seal Press, 2013, p.287)http://laviemanifeste.com/archives/5358(3) Critique of Cynical Reason, tran. M. Eldred, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 1987, p.73.
(4) You say you're white? The reprimands were many and from all sides: white people in a frightened panic to see me claim otherwise, indigineous with heterocratic tendencies when I supported same-sex marriage, and mostly LGBT non-whites when I said that Christiane Taubira and the Socialist Party had ultimately led a good pinkwashing campaign. In many places, in many instances, I was reminded that I was white. Which is indisputable. I just add that I am white like the whites told my mother, my grandmother, and ourKabyle ancestors they were, in order to make them believe they were not quite as savage as the rest of the Algerian population and to try and acculturate them through conversion to Christianity during colonization.http://bougnoulosophe.blogspot.fr/2012/02/le-trou-noir-de-la-laicite-francaise-la.html(5)Translator's note: I am aware that the use of the term 'bio' may strike some anglophone readers as unusual, even transphobic or cissexist, because of its tendency in English to indicate notions of 'naturalness'. To clarify, as becomes clear later in the text: the French conceptualization of gender and sex, as Lalla sets it out, is different than in Anglo usage. In English, 'gender' and 'social sex' tend to signify the same thing: that is, one's gender identity/display independent of their 'biological', 'genital', or 'assigned' sex. In French 'gender' is not equivalent to 'social sex': gender relates more to 'style' or 'type' (degrees and forms of masculinity and femininity; see footnote 10 for more) whereas social sex relates more to the gender one conveys/ that is perceived (man, woman, regardless of style). Therefore, while 'cisgender' in English refers to someone who's gender/social sex corresponds with their assigned genital sex, and transgender refers to someone who's gender/social sex differs from their assigned genital sex, in Lalla's interpretation (herself identifying as a cisgender trans woman, which may seem to be a contradiction in English), 'cisgender' refers to a correspondence of gender and social sex (e.g. a normatively feminine woman, regardless of genitals); 'bio' refers to a correspondence of social sex/gender with genital sex. 'Transgender' then refers to one's gender corresponding with something other than one's social sex and/or genital sex. It indicates, in this text, something more akin to Anglo notions of gender fucking: men (those with or without a penis) who are not masculine, women (be they cis or not) who are not feminine. 'Bio' does not suggest that transgender people's bodies or identities are less 'real', 'natural', or 'organic', but rather simply names one possible relationship between these three tiers of sex/gender – gender, social sex, and genital sex.
(6) White appropriation of black cultural experience is a way of getting a bit of the Other... Wherein whatever difference of that Other inhabits is eradicated, via exchange, by a consumer cannibalism that not only displaces the Other but denies the significance of that Others history through a process of decontextualization. » (bell hooks)
(7) It must be said that intersex people are still, from birth, far too often subjected to the arbitration of doctors whose sole preoccupation is to preserve a so-called natural heterosexation and who, sometimes without even consulting the parents, operate on the newborn without giving them any chance to decide for themselves once they are ready whether they wish to be a boy, a girl, or maintain their intersexed identity. It's this same ideologization of 'nature' by scientists that informs our doctors and hospital protocols.
(8) Translator's note: For readers unfamiliar with French: in French, all nouns have a gender, male or female, which is reflected in its pronouns and adjectives. Some of the ways this linguistic gender operates is highly sexist. For example, the male gender is used to convey 'neutral' and always takes precedence over the female gender. If a group of 10 people is composed of 9 women and just one man, the group will still be referred to as 'ils', the male plural third-person pronoun. If a document is intended to address men and women, the male version of a word will almost always be used, as was (and sometimes still is) the case in English, i.e. 'mankind' to refer to all humans.
(9) In French 'gender' is translated as 'genre', but the word 'genre' precedes this usage and has many other meanings. It can mean 'type' or 'category', as in 'ce genre de cinema' (this type of cinema); it can refer to 'style' or 'manner' of a person, as in 'il a un genre bizarre' (he has a strange way about him) or of artistic form and tone, 'le genre oratoire' (the oratory style); in biology it refers to a grouping of entities between the levels of 'species' and 'family'; and finally, in linguistics it refers to the grammatical category of gender. http://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais/genre/36604
(10) Translator's note: The original text, for those who understand French, reads: “Et puis les subtilités genrées du français permettent de dire des choses comme « mon pénis, puisqu’il est celui d’une femme, est un sexe de genre plutôt féminin », ou que « la chatte de mon copain est très mâle ». ”In French, possessive pronouns and subjects are linguistically gendered. 'Mon' indicates the thing possessed is 'male' (linguistically) whereas 'ma' indicates a (linguistically) 'female' object. 'Il' can mean 'it' but is male whereas 'elle' also means (female) it. This allows for more incongruent and fascinating plays on gender than can be expressed using the English language.
(11) But I believe it is more nuanced than this. I was not, me Lalla Kowska, this construction, it was Jean Christian who was, and who did everything he could to maintain it hoisted up as high as possible. And here again one must add that it's possible that I am still a little JC, or that in any case we have some organs in common. Perhaps it would be interesting to interrogate this story by drawing upon the inversion of emigration and immigration, like a sort of “double presence” mirrored against “the double absence” of Abdelmalek Sayad
(13) Translator's note: In France, sex is marked on passports with an F for women (féminin) and an M for men (masculin); Social Security Numbers held by men begin with a 1, those of women with a 2
(14) It is interesting to note that trans women are constructed in the heterobio imagination upon a similar model as black women are within that of white settlers: hot blooded, virile women with a voracious sexual appetite. A triple jackpot for men: guaranteed access to sex without having to inquire about consent whatsoever, and no risk of finding oneself trapped in an undesired paternity, all while protecting the white bio fiction of the loving and devoted wife//mother who waits at home in the city.
(16) So many changes that a queer use of hormones, being playful and occasional, would not be able to capture
(17) If Farida Belghoul has found so much success – including among those who denounce her by explaining that there is no gender theory and by at the same time invisibilizing intersex and trans lives – it is because she says something that is rooted in what bio people perceive: that being trans is first and foremost a mental health problem. Even friendly representations, from Sciamma to Dolan, tell the same story: that we should be content to be able to disguise ourselves.
(18) Gayism refers to the process whereby gay men perpetuate male supremacy while simultaneously thinking this is impossible simply by virtue of being gay, that they cannot oppress by virtue of being oppressed. This process of ignorance and exclusion has led some to refer to the LGBT movement as the GGGG movement (coined by Shiri Eisner in her book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, Seal Press, 2013, p.287)
Published in The Queer Library on 23.03.2016