The Impossible Human

This is sort of an adjunct to the previous post on respect: similar theme, slightly different take.

n.b.: All quotes are from Undoing Gender by Judith Butler, pages 30 & 31

Coming out as trans guarantees one a loss of status as a viable person. By virtue of coming out, we become something ‘unreal’ or ‘impossible’ – because for us to be ‘real’ – in a human sense – chalenges what it means to be human:

…to be called unreal and to have that call, as it were, institutionalized as a form of differential treatment, is to become the other against whom (or against which) the human is made. It is the inhuman, the beyond the human, the less than human, the border that secures the human in its ostensible reality.

We are forced to continually explain ourselves, to engage in insane conversations, debates and negotiations because we have become ‘fundamentally unintelligible’:

To find that you are fundamentally unintelligible (indeed, that the laws of culture and of language find you to be an impossibility) is to find that you have not yet achieved access to the human, to find yourself speaking only and always as if you were human, but with a sense that you are not, to find that your language is hollow, that no recognition is forthcoming because the norms by which recognition takes place are not in your favor.

There is no frame of reference for us, no example, no recognized viable ‘trans-human’ to give us legitimacy. The only examples we have are ourselves – and the norms governing reality do not permit us to be real – despite the fact that Trans is as old as society itself.

The genders I have in mind have been in existance for a long time, but they have not been admitted into the terms that govern reality. So it is a question of developing within law, psychiatry, social and literary theory a new legitimating lexicon for the gender complexity that we have been living for a long time.

It comes down to the fact that there is no ‘legitimating lexicon’ for Trans – no coloquial way for others to interact with us with respect to our Transness. It becomes impossible for us to be accepted as ‘real’ – to be recognized as ‘human’. Because the “norms of recognition function to produce and to deproduce the notion of the human,” and “because the norms by which recognition takes place are not in (our) favor,” we are rendered as something ‘not human’ – we are ‘other’ to those who would interact with us – we are rendered as unrecognizable.

If we are not recognizable, then it is not possible to persist in one’s own being, and we are not possible beings; we have been foreclosed from possibility.

Coming out as trans forecloses us from possibility. We are a challenge to the reality of others – a challenge which most prefer not to accept. By not accepting, they confirm and assert their reality as human at the expense of our possibility.

And until such time as our possibility becomes a part of the norms governing reality, we will forever have to defend and debate that possibility.

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  1. […] 2007, I posted The Impossible Human, where I discussed a bit how transpeople continually are forced to assert the reality of their […]

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