by: Brynn West
Trans*. It rolls off my tongue so easy now. It just sounds natural now. It’s a part of who I am: a trans woman, a trans feminist, a trans queer. This word, that is now so simple for me to identify with, has become a way of encapsulating so many of my experiences, journeys, and discoveries. It sounds freeing and a bit romantic, and in many ways it is just that. However, It was not always like that.
In fact, I only came to the term trans* to describe my gender and social being after a long and indirect journey through other terms. Transness holds a much older meaning for me in my personal history. How I ended up where I am now is complicated, circumstantial, and all together odd. Than again, what important things in our lives aren’t like that?
My first meaningful and painfully personal encounter with transness was though a term not many outside the science fiction/speculative fiction community know: Transhumanism.
For those of not acquainted, Transhumanism is shorthand for a philosophical and scientific movement that believes it is incumbent upon humanity to use technological advancement to overcome human limitations and suffering. Much of it involves radically altering the human condition by surpassing the trappings of the biological body. Those are the parts that appealed to me growing up scared and confused.
Its themes have been a staple of science and speculative fiction for as long as the genera has existed particularly in cyberpunk, a narrative style and ethos I was closely engaged with in my adolescence. It has taken many forms such as, cybernetic human computer interfacing (Neuromancer), Nanotech bodies (The foglets in Transmetropolitan), or complete consciousness copying (a fantastic example), just to name a few.
I was drawn to the ideas captured within these stories, TV, and movies. Through them we could all be the makers of our own destiny. I was seduced by a utopia, not a single a utopia for all but one of individual design and expression. Something which was attainable through the practical pursuit of overcoming our fragile human forms and means of subsistence. It could thereby take us away from away from dominating systems of capitalism, resource exploration, and ultimately away from antiquated social constrains and norms.
Growing up I was so very uncomfortable with my body but I had no real language to describe it outside of looking to these stories for some kind of meaning. I felt like my body was this mostly useless hunk of flesh and bone only (clumsily) propelled by my mind. It was not me, it was something other than me and I just didn’t care much for it. Replace it with metal or plastic? Sure. Something durable, lasting, safe.
It was because of this that transhumanism appealed to me in my confusing adolescence and gave me something to hold on to:
Escape. Freedom. Autonomy.
I not only poured over fantastical stories but also current technological advancements. I read up on the latest theories of when the technological singularity would hit. I panicked and cried when it was said to be impossible. There would be no way out. Cryogenic storage perhaps? I felt desperate and alone. I focused that anxious energy into obsessing over current technological developments. I read step-by-step stories of people performing surgery on themselves in their bathrooms and installing RFID chips in their hands. Anything.
I didn’t want to be human, I wanted to be more than that.
Through transhumanism I was able to express my discomfort and desire in ways that made sense for me. I was privileged, middle class, and had ubiquitous access to technology from a young age. I was desperately hopeful and dreamed of an egalitarian future full of wonder. I like to think I’ve grown a lot since those wide-eyed and naive days. Still it was/is a part of my life and allowed me to work out my gender issues in some way, indirect and sideways as it may have been. I will always be thankful for that.
How transhumanism got me to trans* is not as clear as someone might expect. The images of trans people visible to me growing up (especially for trans feminine people), did not speak to me. Trans women were hyper feminine, assumed straight, and were simply sex objects. That or they were much older than me and thus hard to identity with because of that seemingly insurmountable age gap. These misperceptions kept me from identifying in any way as transgender. It just meant being trapped into another stuffy social role. Another box, another cage.
Enter (gender)QUEER stage left.
Genderqueer is closer to transhuman in my own mental map and personal development than it is to transgender. When I first heard the term genderqueer it seemed so full of radical social possibility. It allowed for a level of social resignification that I was seeking (even if I did not know thats what I was seeking). It was challenging and appealed to me in the same way transhumanism did.
Thus it was the eventual combination of those two, the practical reality of physical change and transition with the breaking down of rigid gender binaries, that brought me back to transgender, now deconstructed and adorned with a fetching asterisk.
I am, in the end, all of these pieces of my history mashed together and turned into something that works for me.
If that’s not queer, I don’t know what is.
Brynn “Cassie” West is a citizen of the internet and queer about town. She is a long time organizer for Genderqueer Chicago as well as the T-friendly Bathroom Project. They also founded the photoblog MTFButches.tumblr.com, dedicated to making visible butch trans* women. Ey is a reporter for Chicago Phoenix covering queer news and events. Come this fall ze will be pursuing a PhD in political theory. Brynn has also run out of preferred pronouns to use for this bio.