Tuesday, August 25, 2009

“It” Is For Objects, Not People!

Recently I engaged in a private debate with representatives of international GLBTIQ advocacy groups online. Actually it started out as a call to action, to launch protests to affirm opposition to transphobia and the pathologicization of transsexuality - then one of them launched into a scathing criticism of trans people who wanted to have transgender classification removed from the coming DSM-V manual.

Presumably she would prefer transsexuals to continue to be classified as mentally ill - as they are deemed currently by world health professional groupings. Presumably she likes the stigma attached to being transgender and the rigmarole involved in getting the goodwill of the "gate-keepers" who hold the keys to their future happiness, assuming of course that they jump through all the hoops and barrels like good little freaks should.

This person, supposedly a director of a group involved in transgender education, proceeded to state that "any transsexual person" wanting to abolish this current system "clearly does not speak for the community" - and then pointedly referred to trans people as "he/she/it".
"He/she/it" - "IT" ??? Excuse me? Did I read that right?
This person just called transsexual people "it"? The email address title of the writer said "Transgender Education"?? Needless to say, I could not believe my eyes.

Let me get this straight (no pun intended) - a transgender activist just referred to transsexual people as "it". I wonder if this person is in the right line of work for a start? I shouldn't have to tell you how insulting and transphobic that is - being in "transgender education", this person should already know!

I can remember the many times I as a transsexual have been called that hateful derogatory term in real life - "it". Are you a boy or a girl? No, you're neither - so you must be an "it" - come here, "it". Where's Tina? "It's" over there. Grr.

One expects a degree of hate mail and hate speech coming from the bigots we encounter in the run of daily activism - especially when standing up to bigots attacking the civil rights of the pink community and trying their level best to demolish all vestiges of humanity we have. Some revel in their discovery that I am trans and like to reveal their discovery online, as if it was some closely guarded secret - and then delight in trying to strip me of my dignity and to attempt to discredit me in that way. Of course this fails, but the hurt is in the attempt - and the sting is in that qualifying term - "it". Being referred as such by a fellow human rights advocate is a special kind of betrayal.

Until now I have personally never encountered any transsexual person online or otherwise who prefers to be addressed as "it". In fact, the only people I have ever encountered who use such a form of address towards another human being, are bigots and conservatives who are ignorant of and insensitive to transgender issues - and who do not even view us as human beings - and who intend to make this feeling crystal clear. Even an intersex person who technically may not fall within either male or female pronouns should be offended by such a description. It is simply not acceptable to address people as "it" - why, we do not even call those oppressing us that!

Being a transsexual woman myself I find this highly offensive and can only wonder what sort of person would like to be called "it" like an inanimate - or inhuman object.

"It" is for objects, not people.

Until now I had never met anyone who prefers to be referred to as "it". Except for this one person who apparently likes to be called "it". So - you like to be called "it", do you?


I am sure you know what kind of people like to call people like us "it"?

Word of this gets around and pretty soon ALL of us get called "it" and it becomes "acceptable" because some of us have no better judgment and don't realize the implications. After a while we wonder why society views us like talking cattle, talking their way into the abattoir.

It is dehumanizing to all of us, because when they think of YOU as "it", they think of US as "it".

This is obviously contrary to the spirit of the civil rights movement. At least, it is to the one I signed up for. If we start calling our own people "it" like the bigots do, I should quit human rights advocacy and take up farming cats instead. At least cat's don't mind being called "it" (a habit I detest too), as long as they get a fish shaped treat and a friendly scratch behind the ears.

Our biggest problem today - especially in South Africa is that the people and groups who work for the pink community and civil rights either do not - or cannot co-operate or work together. Our opponents clearly do not have that problem. They are united by their ideologies or religious prejudice, but they are united. We seem to still be arguing about who we are and who is a so-called "HBS" and who is a "true transsexual" and who doesn't want to be associated with who.

Our opponents are all about EXclusivity - we are about INclusivity. Or at least, I thought we were.
It's quite simple, if we can't stand together then we're doomed.

When there are calls to protest a lack of gay rights there doesn't seem to be an issue of when where or how - it just happens. It seems that when there is a call to tackle trans rights then conveniently we're just not "gay enough". Even from as far away as SA we see the hypocrisy and antagonism of groups such as Stonewall UK which refuses to include trans rights with gay rights advocacy, even though they cover much of the same ground.

I am humbled and honored when I see gay rights activists taking up the cause of transgender people - they are living the principle of "an injury to one is an injury to all" - and if we as a community want to make a bright future for ourselves, then this is what we must do.

Firstly, as human rights advocates, we serve the pink community, we speak for them, we defend them, we also guide them. What we do or choose to do - or choose to use in our work, be it good or bad, influences them positively or negatively and lays the ground for the future of our community.

Secondly, If we as transgender or gay rights advocates offend our supporters, they won't be our supporters for long. And if we were to resort to the same misogyny that bigots indulge in using against us against our own community, then they would be quite right to doubt us. And no matter how you look at it, being called "it" is an insult to the dignity of any person - whether they like being called "it" or not.

I hope you can see that this line of thinking if followed to its logical conclusion - is a dangerous one leading to the dehumanization of intersex and trans people - and ultimately the whole pink community.

Ms X, are you a transsexual? If so then may I ask what is the point of changing gender if you don't like being called "he" or "she"? To some degree the gender binary, as troublesome as it may be, is still applicable in our personal lives. If you are not transsexual then are you what they call genderqueer perhaps? In either case, most people I know - and certainly any transsexual I know, would take exception to being addressed as "it" - including myself.

In either case we seem to be stepping on each others toes on this subject - what may suit transsexuals may not suit genderqueer people or gay people and vice versa. There are alternatives in some languages to using "he", "she" or "it" to address people. Some languages have no word for masculine or feminine. In many it is like in English - but even so there are alternatives such as "hir", "himme" and "ze". I dislike the social implications of the gender binary myself. I too detest it when people call me "he" instead of "she" - but let somebody call me "it" to my face and they had better hope their life insurance is up to date. In the same way people take offense if somebody calls them "homosexual" instead of "gay", perhaps as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, misogyny is in the ears of the hearer - or "object"?

I will leave you with that thought.


If you would like to know more about Christina Engela and her writing, please feel free to browse her website.

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