CHAPTER 8: Trans Culture
The last theme grouping that arose from community discussions in this research study was Trans Culture. Here were coded all trans community traits painted as neither challenge nor strength, but nonetheless described as characteristic of local communities. Subthemes in this group were:
There are trans-specific communication tools: Etiquette, language, concepts, and humour.
Etiquette came up from the start of both groups when members introduced themselves by declaring or writing the names and pronouns they use. One Edmonton participant discussed ways in which community members accommodate and respect one another. She gave the example of “not outing people in inappropriate times.”
Trans language and concepts.
Throughout both the Calgary and Edmonton focus groups many trans-specific and queer-specific words and concepts arose in the conversation. These are listed but not defined here, as language, group members agreed, quickly evolves in and across trans communities. The trans-specific words and concepts that came up in The TCS Project groups included identity words like [gender] identity, gender retirement/gender failure, genderqueer, nonbinary, trans masculine/men, and of course cis/cisgender and trans/transgender. Other concepts related to social/medical gender transition were: Name changes, document changes, old/dead/birth names, sex versus gender, the gender spectrum, gender expression (including drag, cross-dressing, gender presentation), body/gender dysphoria, passing as cisgender, being stealth, being out, and sexual reassignment surgery. Some language around Extra-Community and Intra-Community Challenges related to the concepts of being seen in queer spaces as a trans traitor, gender policing over what is “trans enough,” trans exceptionalism (see #10 in Social Discourses below), and conflict with cisgender society over having gender neutral washrooms. Some concepts also related to trans cultural space. For example, one member noted that community members might refer to one another as trans siblings. Queer-specific words used were: LGBT+, sexuality, queer, and pansexual.
Trans humour arose in various ways, from “how many puns can you make out of ‘trans’,” to joking about the differences between trans and cis people, and even making light of challenges trans people face. For example, the Edmonton group laughed when one participant was talking about inaccessible knowledge and said:
“[I was] being like hey do you know about Canadian stuff? No? Okay um sweet.”
Name as many trans words/concepts as you can without looking back in this e-book! How many did you come up with?
There are dominant narratives, attitudes, beliefs, expectations, and ideologies guiding or impacting trans people.
One Calgary participant described the differences in cultural fabric between cisgender and transgender society.
“You’re taking yourself out of. . . the heterosexual, the regular mainstream world that used to be normal. And now you’re coming into the trans community.”
The dominant social narratives that were referred to or directly talked about in The TCS Project are listed below. These are paraphrased or directly quoted. When a discourse only came up in one group, the focus group location is given in boxed brackets [like so]. Discourses fell naturally into two categories: Within-community discourses and Without-community discourses. Within-community discourses were about trans people and interactions inside the community. Without-community discourses had to do with how participants viewed the relationships between trans and cis society. You might notice that certain discourses conflict, and so related to the idea that there are Divided Ideologies within trans groups (see Chapter 6).
- Trans people and communities are natural human phenomena.
- Trans people have their own cultural spaces and norms. Trans people should claim appropriate trans spaces.
- Trans people should support one another.
- Some people believe there is a threshold or standard for being trans. Otherwise, one is “not trans enough.”
- Some people believe that being “cis-passing” should be shunned. Cisnormativity may be unwelcome.
- Others believe trans people should fit into a gender binary of male/female, that “you have to be stealth, you have to dress a certain way.” Diversity may be unwelcome.
- There is no one way to be trans, regardless of someone’s body, gender expression, or choice to transition. “No matter what box you want to put yourself into, there’s going to be a spectrum.”
- Being trans makes life harder. “It’s not only just getting fired. It’s also you’re trans. So. . . it hits you so much harder.”
- Trans people may fear for their safety “but at the same time almost the anxieties exceed what actually is going on.”
- Trans exceptionalism occurs when trans people claim space in any gendered space, regardless of their personal gender. For example, “trans men co-opting women’s space.” [Calgary]
- Some trans people believe it is not their job to educate cisgender people. [Calgary]
- Trans masculine groups in the past were harder to find than trans feminine groups. [Edmonton]
- In the past trans people may have focused more on stealth and passing (see Chapter 4). Now the focus has shifted to gender diversity and inclusivity. [Edmonton]
- The trans community is “stronger than you think.” [Edmonton]
- A trans inclusive society or ally speaks through their behaviours.
- Cisgender people hold misunderstandings of trans issues; they “understand computers better than they understand trans people.” They may conflate trans and queer issues.
- Cisgender people may not believe trans experience is real. They may believe it can be “fluid and can be molded to be something else.”
- In cisgender society, trans issues are a hot topic at the moment. They’re “THE thing.”
- Cisgender people paint trans experience as dismal.
- Some cisgender people may fetishize or tokenize trans people, or in general be untrustworthy as allies.
- Queer spaces and people should already be accepting of trans people.
Social discourses can be difficult to suss out because they are the presumed values and attitudes that dictate social norms. In Chapter 6, I challenged you to choose some of your big rocks, or the major values and needs that are priorities in your life. Do you think any of your big rocks impact how you interact with [other] trans people?
Specific trans cultures differ across groups and mediums of communication.
Both Calgary and Edmonton participants said that culture and attitudes could vary across different trans groups. Some brought up the differences between online and offline groups. Some also brought up differences in subgroups within the trans community sorted by age (in Edmonton) and gender (in both cities). An example of differing culture was given by one Calgary participant, who said they found online communities to be more inclusive whereas they found “the communities in person are the exact opposite for that.” About online forums as well, one Edmonton participant stated:
“I think that [online communication has] changed sort of the way communities meet.”
You tell me.
At the beginning of this book I gave a definition of transgender for us to be able to move forward with a shared understanding of how I’m using that term. But as the subthemes in this chapter might suggest, not everyone would agree with that definition. Some people say trans is an umbrella term for gender diversity, others say it has a narrower meaning. How do you use the terms trans and transgender?
Interactional styles in the community often take the shape of mentorship, with mentors and mentees inhabiting different roles.
Both groups described a cycle community members may go through. Though this was not painted as the experience of every trans person, participants from both Edmonton and Calgary said it was common.
“They tend to. . . come in, grab knowledge, hang out for a bit, and then tend to do their own thing. And then after that period of doing their own thing has sort of played out for a while, they’re willing to come back and mentor.” –Calgary participant
Participants in both groups conversed over which attitudes and traits each of them expected in their community mentors. These expectations related heavily to the Social Discourses above. Some participants described the impact their own mentors had had on their lives. One Edmonton member said her mentor was a “resource that was for me everything.” Another said:
“If I didn’t have people in my life that have been like, out and transitioning and stuff, I probably wouldn’t be out.”
Our major comic book and movie industries are lacking in trans heroes. If you were to make up a trans superhero, what qualities and powers would they have?
Trans-centred events have an importance, impact, and function for the community.
Participants discussed the impacts of social events on themselves and on their communities. These included trans-specific events like Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) and Trans Day of Celebration. They also included events broader in scope but still centred in part on trans people, such as cross-dressing socials, drag events, and an LGBT+ youth camp. A member of the Calgary group expressed appreciation for the diversity of options.
“[TDOR is] just too depressing. . . But Trans Day of Celebration. I’d be all over that.”
One Calgary participant described how needed these resources were.
“Things like [youth camp] and the trans clinic are things that the people that I know could really use them.”
If you were planning an event for the trans community, what considerations would you make to keep it inclusive, accessible, interesting, and welcoming to all trans peoples?