[COLUMN] The Gender Binary: Thank you!

22 September 2016

By Nadika

This article is part of a series of GenderIT columns. Four columnists, 2 in English and 2 in Spanish, will open up topics and themes that we want to learn more about. Nadika looks at how writing and creating things online has helped herself and other trans people; Sonia Randhawa from Malaysia is writing about the links between climate change and gender justice. In Spanish, Evelin Heidel from Argentina will share her experiences in gender, technology, programming and access; and Angelica Contreras from Mexico will write about young women and their lives immersed in technology.

Pencil drawing by Living Smile Vidya, theatre actress and activist based in Chennai

This is a thank you note. It is also a statement of purpose.

Let’s start, not in media res, but at the beginning.

I have been ‘online’- in as many senses of the word as is possible – since 1997-98. I created my first webmail account then, and within two days of it, created another one, for the ‘other’ me. And then two more, for good measure, to act as a sink for all the sites, services I needed to use and the resultant junk and spam that I knew was going to come.

I created my first webmail account then, and within two days of it, created another one, for the ‘other’ me.

I learnt HTML, and later CSS, to create my own pages on Angelfire, Geocities, Hypermart, and their ilk, which morphed, in the 2000s, to Livejournal, Pyra Lab’s Blogger, Blog-City and later my own domain and a Moveable Type blog. I’ve been on Yahoo Chat, IRC, ICQ, MSN Messenger, Google Chat, talking to people, building friendships and networks online with people I’ve never met in the “real” world.

I’ve also been on the other Internet. The one which is seen only through carefully and strategically placed cubicles in Internet parlours; just out of sight of the café manager, and most of the other customers looking to print their hall-tickets for the next competitive exams. The internet whose day begins when most other people’s day ends. Of one 50kb JPG file which enticed us with interlaced strips of unclothed human flesh, so we wouldn’t mind the two hours and change needed to download it over a 14.4 baud modem.

Being online, being online and actively creating, doing, saved me. The amateur web pages I created, stealing code from other sites, and then changing them to suit my needs; learning code and making mistakes; creating “fake” profiles and “true” profiles to use in chatroom after chatroom; taking photos and talking about taking photos; staying up late at night to surf porn and imagine a life where I could be the person I was seeing on the screen, and then writing the erotica where indeed, I am the glamourous woman who is happy to be photographed nude for the pleasure of others; writing, writing – all of these absorbed the depression that was just beneath the surface, channeling my frustration and pain out and away from me.

The amateur web pages I created, stealing code from other sites, and then changing them to suit my needs; learning code and making mistakes; creating “fake” profiles and “true” profiles to use in chatroom after chatroom …

As internet technologies and tools changed, developed and died out to be replaced by slicker versions of the same, I too have changed and developed.

From believing that my ‘other’ side was a shameful secret, a product of that other internet and therefore to be only let out in the dark, at night, I’ve come to believe that the ‘other’ me is also me, and we both deserve to have our voices heard in clear daylight.

And so I say thanks to the internet. I say thanks for letting me survive my childhood and the conditioning.

And so I say thanks to the internet. I say thanks for letting me survive my childhood and the conditioning.

I say this because of one word. Impostor. The word Impostor keeps coming up every time a trans woman writes about herself. It is there, just below the surface, despite all the estrogen and progesterone, under all the skin-colour foundation and pink lipstick and shiny earrings. It is behind the pads on our breast, cushioning the tender nipples. The feeling, and the word – impostor. It is there when we attempt to occupy women-only spaces, and it is there when we cast away all the outer appearances, cross-dress in approved clothing in order to present ourselves the way the world sees us. We are impostors when we try to be us, and when we try to be what you think we are.

And this – Impostor – is a word that has been thrust in our faces, by people who are not us. By the world of medicine that thinks we are a psychiatric condition run amok in the world, and by researchers who believe in the teachings of mythical creatures more than their own work. By people who fight for gender equality as long as the gender is one of their own, and by people who have no firm principles but just hankering for a good brawl.

Impostor – is a word that has been thrust in our faces, by people who are not us.

We hang our heads and mumble our apologies every time we hear the word, and we go away, swearing to try and fit in – one way or the other. We curl up and die, blood and muscles and flesh and aspiration trying to say no, we are not posing, we are merely trying to be. And because the “real” world – the one where we have to put on trousers and shirts and a designer stubble in order to earn a living – will not allow us our defence, we turn to the “other” world – the internet.

It was easy. The early internet allowed you to be whoever you wanted to be. In a place where everyone was playing at being someone else, no one could be an impostor.

Much has been written about self-publishing on the internet and how it helped unearth voices and narratives that would never have been heard otherwise. This is particularly true of trans persons. A quick run through of the resumes and bios of trans persons – trans men, trans women, gender non-conforming people – will consistently reveal a deep and intimate connection with internet, and with writing. There is a Latin phrase – Cacoethes Scribendi – an overwhelming desire, an insatiable need to write. Because the “real” world denies us our voices, we are forced to scream silently into our own blogs and journals, our own pages. An audience, usually, of one. Ourselves.

Because the “real” world denies us our voices, we are forced to scream silently into our own blogs and journals, our own pages.

Believing our needs are perversions, we hid ourselves, but the need for community overcame the fear of exposure, and one by one we started to talk to and find ourselves in other #GirlsLikeUs.

In an interview, Torrey Peters talks about the honesty inherent in trans people writing about themselves. The writer has to dig deeper to find insights, truths, that resonate with the readers, especially when the audience you write for are on a journey similar to yours, and when the trials and the triumphs are the same for each member of the community.

Which is why, all the blogs and journals, the essays and coming out letters, all of the facebook and twitter statuses, all the personal narratives and all of the suicide notes I’ve read, by trans women, is one big screaming NO against the word Impostor. A scream that says, This is MY Truth.

All the personal narratives and all of the suicide notes I’ve read, by trans women, is one big screaming NO against the word Impostor.

And that’s one more reason to say thanks!

In the next few weeks, I hope to cover the various ways in which trans women in particular, and transgender persons in general, have used computers and technology in their own ways to tell their own truths. I will cover the blogs and journals we create, the tumblr accounts and twitter profiles we maintain, the porn we produce and the porn we consume, the causes we support and the beliefs we hold true.

Thank you!

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