I realise the very slight relative privilege I have in this as a transsexual male (even a transvestive one), and most (though certainly not all) of the people I’ve noticed doing this in the last twenty years have been trans female or otherwise on the MTF spectrum, but it’s something I feel needs to be said:
Stop appropriating other cultures’ traditions of gender-variance.
This isn’t just a matter of white trans women calling themselves “hijra” when they are not even converts to Hinduism. Nor is this just a matter of white trans men calling themselves “Two Spirits” because they went to a sham sweatlodge at Burning Man.
This is also a matter about re-writing deities and Their ancient priesthood traditions to suit your modern agenda.
While it may be easy to work out one’s pet theories onto ancient traditions, the fact of the matter is, no-one alive today is really a part of those pre-Christian cultures, not even Western pagans and polytheists who can, at best, approximate this in a merely semi-removed subculture. We aren’t talking to these people to judge whether or not our experiences are close enough to claim we’re part of the same tradition. Just because ancient, pre-Christian Greece is different enough from modern Greece that it may seem easy to argue that the cultures are two different things doesn’t make the culture up for grabs to appropriate and repurpose for our own agendas.
The second we arbitrarily give a pass to the appropriation of one culture, for whatever reason, we open the floodgates.
After all, many Lakota are Christians, now, and their traditional culture infamously suppressed, so does that make their Two Spirit traditions up for grabs? I mean, if you want to get technical, “two spirit” probably isn’t even a real thing, you know? It’s just the English-language umbrella term that encompasses a wide variety of gender-variant roles amongst dozens of Indigenous American tribes, right?
If you can argue that ancient gallai are up for grabs to appropriate and re-write their traditions and mythos for your own agenda, then why?
Broken traditions are up for grabs? I think you’ll get some side-eye from MANY groups of indigenous people who’ve had to reclaim and relearn their traditions from historic record. Hell, why not just tell the Cornish speakers of the world that their traditional language is up to redefine and appropriate because linguists insist that it’s a broken tradition when it’s not, really —take it from someone whose grandfather’s native language was a pidgin of English and Kernewek.
This is why polytheism without engaging the native cultures of our pantheons on some meaningful level is problematic, at its very best, and unfortunately, the slippery-slope, in this instance, is not a fallacy — it’s a legitimate grievance I have with other transgender people, especially in polytheist and pagan communities. By assuming it’s OK to appropriate from cultures that we’re not a part of, for any reason, we’re sending out a signal that we think it’s OK, and that any other indigenous culture is up for grabs, next, at our whims.
But hey, I get it —this helps you feel like you’re a part of something ancient, and therefore like it gives you and your gender/s an air of legitimacy, so it’s all good, right?
Yeah, it doesn’t work that way.
While true that trans people have always existed, we have to look at the root for what that even means:
“Trans”, Latin for “on the other side of” or, to be more specific, on the side away from Rome, which in ancient Roman times, Rome was the default of all that was “good” and “civilized”. At its root, to be transgender is to live a gendered experience away from what mainstream society would consider the default.
That’s all we have evidence of, prior the suppression of gender-variance by Christianity — “trans people” whose experience of gender was away from the default experience of their gender assignment. We have little real evidence of ancient people who were at all like the modern notion of trans women and trans men, and that which does exist was written by outsiders to the experience (even the case of Emperor Elagabalus needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as the only claim that he sought a surgeon who could transform his body into a woman’s was written after he’d died, and by one of his staunchest critics, meaning there’s just as much likelihood, if not more, that it was a political smear).
The biological etiology of trans people is irrelevant. Not only do we lack any cadavers to afford us the most compelling evidences, the arguments from HBSers and their ilk to stress the importance of finding what they’d consider “biological legitimacy” ignore a very basic fact of medical biology: There is never just one potential cause for a condition. While there were certainly trans people whose biologies bore many of the same traits as many trans people, today, we simply cannot say how many shared those biological traits, nor can we say how many chose, say, the path of the gallae in lieu of modern medical technology and how many others simply chose a different path.
It’s nigh impossible to make an accurate comparison of modern trans people to ancient gender-variant paths. To even plant a suggestion that the two pages in history are making the same statements is absurdly appropriative, because the first page only survives in a few small fragments.
I find it highly telling that pretty much every trans person, trans woman or otherwise, I’ve seen make this appropriative claims to traditions it is impossible for them to be a part of, is white or white-passing. It’s not at all uncommon for white people to see a thing that they have no right to, and claim it as something they can use for their own purposes. Maybe they’re even doing what they feel is “sufficient research”, but then again, so are a lot of white people who are running illegitimate sweat lodges. You can’t research your way into a tradition — you are only initiated into them by another!
By appropriating ancient traditions for a socio-political agenda, one sets a bad precedent, and sends out a strong message to indigenous people: You’re next. Maybe not today, tomorrow, next week, or next year, but rest assured, you’re next. As soon as I decide I haven’t heard much about your people are doing with your traditions of gender variance, I will arbitrarily decide how much is “enough research” to appropriate your traditions, so you’re next.
Please think about this.
— Ruadhán Jarman-McElroy
PS: I was really disappointed to see such an appropriative person is writing here, because since last I checked, the core team of Gods & Radicals are very much against such a thing as racism, but I’ve also noted that another recent piece there was little more than a thesis against modernity which, as per Rhyd’s controversial page (and pretty much the same words from Amy Hale and likewise parroted by other fans of hers) is one of the checkpoints for fascist vulnerabilities (if not outright fascism). I guess I’m saying that I’m no longer sure what purpose G&R is serving, as we see post after post from Rhyd (on G&R, his personal blog, and on FaceBook) and others in the core staff about the relationship between overt racism and the actions of racist society that those with racial privilege, even without overtly racist beliefs, are at risk of committing, and Capitalism — but this is given a pass, unchecked, when they’re a staff writer. We also see similar, in post after post, about how Fascism is a byproduct of Capitalism, and these warning signs of fascist potential need to be addressed and scrutinized — but this, too, is given a pass, when the writer is working for G&R. I mean, I like Rhyd, as a person, but I’m getting increasingly confused about what his vision for this webzine even is.