The great revelation of 2011: not every child is cisgender, and not every child has a cissexual body.
Stop the presses. Or something.
It should be qualified somewhat: this was the biggest revelation of 2011 to a cisnormative audience and to cis people individually. For trans people who have (with gruelling patience) watched all of this cis fascination over trans children suddenly entering the cisnormative consciousness, one superlative of all superlatives emerged: this was the biggest non-story of our trans lives.
As trans people, we’ve been shrewdly aware of this knowledge for generations. For many, that knowledge is pretty clear throughout our entire conscious lives. For others, it lingers, nudges, and prods in the background until something — a particular event or an epiphany — forces us to confront and affirm it.
For trans people, perhaps the only noteworthy step forward about 2011 was knowing that cis people — who have collectively upheld this cisnormative social order in which we all find ourselves — have begun to recognize our life-long realities as plausible, if not entirely probable. It’s a small concession by cis people — not some great leap forward.
“But what about the children?”
There has long been resistance against children who try to come out as trans — or more precisely, resistance against listening to a young trans person who voices that they’re a girl or a boy in spite of how they were (coercively) assigned at birth.
This resistance, however, is becoming more publicly discussed. We are seeing the emergence of a new variation on an old, cissexist theme: “No, it’s not a good time for you to transition. This is going to be so hard on us. Oh won’t you wait or reconsider this choice for us normal people?”
With this sentiment now being openly directed at trans people during their childhood — now that trans children have been magically made “real” within the cisnormative imagination — it is finally possible now to reveal to cis people plainly that saying, “Maybe you shouldn’t transition right now,” to a trans person is a message which does occur at every age and at every turn.
Their subtext is plain and unambiguous to nearly every trans person: “Maybe you should never transition.”
The new violence: obstructing transition
To deny, disallow, or obstruct a trans person’s transition from the moment they articulate their readiness for it is a cisnormative denial of trans people at its most raw, foundational level: we are somehow fabricated; we are even more deluded; and we couldn’t possibly be authentic — regardless of how old or young we are.
Now that this denial can be seen occurring at any point during a trans person’s life — whether they’re ready to transition at age 4 or age 44 — it is also an act of wilful violence against a trans person to deny them their agency to speak for themselves and to deny them from transitioning without repercussion on their own terms.
To deny that agency serves positively no benefit to a trans person. It merely impresses a cis person’s own denial of a trans person onto that trans person, forcing the latter to serve a cissexist penance to the former’s cisnormative-informed whims — that is, to be cis is the only “normal” a person can ever be.
This penance is why trans people so assiduously attempt to end their lives. It is why so many of those manage to complete their transition from life to death.
This cisnormative violence toward trans people has to stop.
This imperative to forestall transitioning is delivered by cis people who maintain that a trans child’s transition — much like any trans person’s transition — is a problem to be suppressed and averted at every expense.
At the other end, a trans person who transitions after their body has matured and aged becomes the undesired social benchmark of what everyone wants to avoid. That is, trans people want to avoid waiting twenty, thirty, or more years, while cis people don’t want their (conditionally) loved ones to ever end up becoming that social signifier.
What then happens is a conditional rationalization voiced by cis people toward trans people which remains constant, but varies on the age when a trans person voices themselves as a trans person.
There are several variations on this overarching theme for obstructing a trans person’s agency to transition.
Each variation is dependent on which corridor of one’s life a trans person finds themselves once they are ready to assert their agency over their future and over their body. These corridors are developed from a cisnormative world view on when a body should develop and how a person should be socialized. These corridors are not necessarily the choosing of trans people, but trans people are nevertheless bound to those terms when cis people direct them on what they should not be doing for themselves.
“Corridor” — while impressing the idea that time is somehow synonymous with space (yes, there is spacetime, but let’s keep it simple) — offers a useful metaphor to visualize the one-way directionality of growing older and how messages directed at someone are discrete and distinct based on how old other people believe them to be.
For trans children, often under the age of 10, to now be publicly berated and to be told that their coming out and transition as children is abominable — the Girl Scouts in Louisiana comes to mind, as does a certain washroom case in Maine — it is now possible to recognize that there are four discrete corridors of cisnormative resistance toward trans people’s readiness to transition.
- First corridor, pre-adolescence: “You don’t know any better. You’re too young to understand”;
- Second corridor, during adolescence: “It’s a confusing time. Wait until after puberty’s done”;
- Third corridor, late development: “You should wait until you’re totally sure. You’ll never pass”; and
- Final corridor, maturation: “You’re having a mid-life crisis. What about your kids, spouse, and career?”
What is even more disquieting is that in years past, there have even been some trans people who get rankled by the very idea that a trans person might transition prior to a certain, but arbitrary milestone of physical age. Their push to intercede and interrupt a trans person’s transition is driven by slightly different motives. Some of these obstructions even occur, tacitly so, at a social and even institutional level — such as at support group gatherings or in developing policies affecting trans people.
The core product, however, remains much the same: some trans people who transitioned during the last corridor of their life have not wanted younger trans people to transition during any of the earlier corridors which they themselves have already passed. Mercifully, this obstructiveness isn’t unanimous by any means, but it is informed heavily by internalized cissexism.
Whether out of a deep-seated jealousy or by a sense of resentment that another trans person — one who transitioned during one of these preceding corridors — might actually end up being invisible, transparent, or placed as cis in a cisnormative world is to remind themselves of their own barriers to transition when they were originally ready to transition (and the barriers they face now to avoid being singled out in a cisnormative social order as a known trans person).
Many couldn’t, though, because institutional-social resistance, as well as the threat and promise of retribution, was far greater — especially so during times when (and places where) to be trans meant to be “homosexual”, not trans, and where “being homosexual” meant being committed, condemned, or killed.
Overview of the four corridors
For now, here’s a short overview for each corridor, coupled with the kinds of messages of cisnormative resistance a trans person often hears when coming out within these.
First corridor. The first corridor of resistance is directed at trans people who voice their readiness to transition before the overture of their first (and hopefully on their terms, only) puberty. The cissexism directed toward these trans people is driven by an idea that young people are incapable of reaching core decisions about their personhood. Paradoxically, one’s sense of self as a girl or boy is not only keen, but also probably one of the earliest certainties for most people — often before socialization with other kids really gets underway in pre-K or kindergarten.
Second corridor. The second corridor of resistance occurs during adolescence. It’s important here to distinguish adolescence from puberty, since the former indicates the body’s physical age, while the latter indicates internal changes to the body based on one’s endocrine system. Puberty can happen at different times, and for many trans people, it happens twice. The cissexism directed toward these trans people is motivated by a myth that adolescence begets confusion — when, if anything, it’s the time when people start to firmly emerge into their own as young adults. It is also when morphological changes in one’s body, with respect to sexual dimorphism, are at their most dynamic.
Third corridor. The third corridor of resistance occurs after adolescence, but during a time of plasticity between childhood and adulthood — transitionally between first puberty’s development and body maturation. Cissexism towards trans people voicing themselves whilst in this corridor is driven by a belief that to transition at this time should be put off until they’re truly, utterly, deeply sure. This is often coupled with a vague caveat that transitioning whilst in this corridor will certainly result in everyone (cis) seeing that they are visibly trans; that they will be unloved and undesirable; that they will suffer; and that they will be transitioning “too late” to avert the fourth corridor.
Final corridor. The final corridor of resistance is the corridor in which many trans people of every age worry they could become: maturation — that is, once the body begins to decline with aging, after growth and development have ended. Trans people who transition in this corridor confront the most vocal resistance from cis people because their social linkages with the cisnormative world have become complex and interwoven.
At the same time, the standards of care for trans people, founded and maintained by cis people (as well as some trans people), have facilitated to reduce the impediments to transition during this corridor — relatively so to preceding corridors. The cissexist logic behind this is, “Well, if you’re still sure about this, despite so much working against you, then sure. We’ve got the solution for you, but you’ll have to pony up.”
The cissexism directed toward these trans people is driven by a premise that, for trans women, they’re “really just men” (because their body may reveal its long history of endocrine masculinization), while for trans men, they’re really just the “butchest of the butch dykes” (because their body doesn’t reveal a long history of endocrine masculinization). Both are invalidating.
Further, entire cissexist theories on trans people’s lives tend to dwell and obsess over trans people who transition during this final corridor — sometimes at the subtractive expense of ignoring the very existence of every trans person who voiced themselves and did transition during one of those preceding cisnormative corridors.
Each of these corridors will be reviewed in detail over the next few essay instalments. Afterwards, how these have interplayed with one another and how they have shaped contemporary trans politics will also be explored.
[ed. note: the phrase “with respect to sexual dimorphism,” in describing the second corridor, added Jan 16th. On description of first corridor, “first… puberty” replaces “first… adolescence”, amended Jan 23rd.]