I’ve started reading a collection called You’ve Changed: Sex Reassignment and Personal Identity, edited by Laurie J. Shrage. I really enjoyed the first essay, “Sex/Gender Transitions and Life-Changing Aspirations” by Christine Overall. In this piece Overall critiques two metaphors/understandings of transition and offers a third understanding. The understandings that she critiques posit a “core” or “true” identity/essence/person. She is able to articulate this critique without erasing or rejecting the understandings that trans people have about themselves
The two metaphors she critiques are:
-The “true” person is the sex and gender assigned at birth. Transition, then, is the “donning of a mask.”
– The “true” person is hidden and then revealed through transition.
The first metaphor/understanding is forwarded by people like Janice Raymond. It argues that the person transitioning is either deluded or duplicitous. Boo. Hiss. This theory is, of course, a load of crap.
The second metaphor/understanding can have negative political implications because it asserts an essential gender. “Gender change becomes impossible” (15).
Overall proposes an alternative understanding or metaphor: “Sex/gender transistion is best understood, I suggest, by analogy to other life-changing and life-enhancing aspirations for personal transformation and self-realization” (19). She continues, “Some goals and aspirations are deeply felt and of central value to particular individuals, and it is those goals and aspirations that provide the dominant drivers of the individuals” (19).
What I like most about this idea and Overall’s article is the assertion that nontrans people also engage in sex/gender projects but their projects are “derived from their original sex/gender assignment” rather than a “project that resists the original sex/gender assignment” (21).
I find this critique of the “core self” to be much more useful than the theory proposed by Gayle Salamon in Assuming a Body because it takes seriously the experiences of trans people, brings attention to the sex/gender projects of nontrans people, and has clear political implications.