A recent publication by Greek magazine LiFO clearly shows that on our backs and around gender, strategic games of liberties are to be played.
“I have a hard time making my mind take place…” begins the poem Body & Isn’t by Bruce Covey. Indeed, it is hard for the mind to take place when it reads the column “Mikropragmata” (“Trivial Things”) by Aris Dimokides in LiFO of 18/7/2013.1 It is hard for two reasons. On the one hand, it is hard because the column starts with four “terrorist” photographs of women lying on the street, the faces of whom are not fully covered. On the other hand, it is hard because it is very difficult for the mind to conceive which perverse biopolitical (suppressive) authority legalises the “Newspeak”: “we will arrest transgender individuals so as to improve the image of the city.”
Don’t let me be misunderstood, from an aesthetic point of view, we all enjoy a beautiful city. Even if we don’t all have in mind Plato’s Kallipolis, or the Ring of Gyges, to start chattering about the ideal polis. At the same time we can imagine a picturesque city, with its parks and fountains, its neoclassical buildings and statues, with the historical value of its monuments and the nurturing of its future generations. And if we are to slightly broaden the topic of our discussion, we can imagine a city with values, showing respect. Respect towards people’s rights. Respect, understanding and communication between the citizens. Respect and honour. Honour towards the merits of justice, of ethics, of education, of equality, of politics, of democracy and freedom.
I am, then, wondering what harm transgender people can do to all these principles. Or is it that in all these years of absence from the maternal land, all our transgender brothers and sisters have rebelled against humanitarian logics and started bashing immigrants, going after them with bats and globs…? Or is it that all transgender individuals have been united in two gigantic trans robots, the reinvented, fictional villains: Trans-cepticons, hurling twelve-centimeter high heels and STPs at the Parliament, in Syntagma square, as it eventually struck them that it is anti-democratic for the Greek Parliament to be full of cisgender people… Or then, is it possible that the trans sisterhood envisaged a struggle against the dictatorship of the cisetariat?! I don’t know, I am just making assumptions and examining diverse scenarios.
Among various other thinkable scenarios, I would also like to consider a last one. This interpretation has a doubtful future and we have an even more doubtful future within it. Nevertheless, I will give it a shot. When we talk about transphobic violence, what we have in mind is the commission of a crime out of hatred incited by the gender identity of the victim. By reading, therefore, the press release of 19th July 2013, by the Greek Transgendered Support Association (GTSA) with the subject “it is the duty of every democratic citizen to unequivocally condemn and take action for the racial pogrom that the trans people in Thessaloniki have to suffer”, I would like to put forward three main points that require direct social and legal (re)action.
To begin with, through the GTSA, we learn that as of the 30th May trans people in Thessaloniki are persecuted and prosecuted by governmental authorities on the basis of their gender identity. This is clearly different from saying that a group of citizens have inveighed against transgender citizens, because what we have here is the state. A state whose duty is to protect the citizens, on the contrary, here seems to be taking decisions towards the criminalisation of specific groups of citizens. Citizens that must be protected (regardless of personal preferences or taste). That brings us to the second point and second issue. Given the clear visibility and targeting of citizens on the basis of their gender (where are the feminists when one needs them?), it is a justifiable query to ask: what exactly is happening in Greece when it comes to the provision of medical services towards transgender people in order to improve their quality of life? And by this I mean the people who are targeted as visibly trans people; do they have medical support from the state so that it is ensured that they are visibly and socially accepted as women/men/queergender/transgender etc. as they themselves wish? If not, why?
Drawing on the thought of Judith Butler to decide how fair and just a society is, it is not enough to look into how a given society treats its citizens, nor is it enough to see how this society is constituted.2 What mainly constitutes an indicative point, according to Butler, is the consequential evidence that comes after decisions on how specific people (women, men, citizens) are recognised indeed as equal persons, citizens. Who are the people that are silenced and who are those who are praised and eulogised? Who are those who are praised in order to take the leading role and who are those who are pushed aside? Who are the people who are going to be screened through normative screening processes as “proper” social subjects and who are going to be rejected? On the basis of whether on the bodies of these citizens the state can recognise obvious marks of gender, class and political placing. Marks, which will be found to be productive for the function of the social machine, will be promoted and celebrated. And other bodily marks — imprints on skin — that position individuals between illness and deviance, between penal and medical control. These lives will be medicalised, stigmatised and criminalised. They will, thus, be unlivable lives, because they fall out of the narrow limits of the recognisability of gender categories or of one’s personhood.
In conclusion, as for the third point of this issue, I will draw again on Michel Foucault, as in my text of 2009 about Homophobic Violence. This time I would like us to consider Foucault’s acceptance of Kant’s affirmation that Enlightenment is the man’s way out of her/his immaturity.3 By “immaturity” here a certain state of will is implied that makes us accept (or indeed reject) someone else’s authority/power to lead us in areas where the use of reason is called for.
For instance, we are in a state of “immaturity” when a book takes the place of our critical thinking, or when a political or a spiritual leader takes the place of our conscience or even when a doctor decides that we should follow a crash diet if we are to avoid appearing on the beach in a diving-suit. In any case, since the Enlightenment the modification has taken place of the pre-existing relation linking will, authority, and the use of reason. As a result woman/man (trans, cis, “left”, “right”, left-handed, right-handed etc.) becomes responsible for the joint attendance, though, with personal responsibility on things that she/he personally accomplishes. Under the instruction aude sapere: “dare to know”, “have the courage, the audacity, to know”, which functions as a heraldic device, individuals become elements as well as agents of a single process. They can accept the extent to which they participate in this process and become its voluntary protagonists. They can, however, be oblivious, too. They can think of another simple and neat stereotype of what it means to be trans, to be cisgender, to have a gender, to “do/undo/redo” a gender, to perform your assigned gender, to accept to some extent your assigned gender or to freely express what you wish other citizens to recognise as your gender or to reject the spectrum of gender categories etc. and they can whistle unconcerned in the best of times or with hatred in the worst.
With the recent publication of LiFO, what is clearly indicated is that on our backs and around gender, strategic games of liberties are to be played. Our relationships with other people, with ourselves, now, are redefined within a regime of stabilised transphobic violence. Violence against women. Violence against men. Violence against gender. I won’t refer here to the legal actions that could and ought to be taken. These will comprise the material for another publication. What I would like us to consider here is how the criminalisation of gender identity, regardless of our faith or distrust in Enlightenment, requires hard work on our limits and struggle from all of us. As Foucault would urge us, this hard work is inherent and gives shape to our desire, to our impatience for freedom. Our gender is unbreakably bonded to our freedom. Our gender is our freedom.
P. S. Bouklis, PhD in Law, London School of Economics.
- LiFO ‘What Exactly is Happening with Trans Women in Thessaloniki’ (‘Τι ακριβώς σημβαίνει με τις τρανς στη Θεσσαλονίκη;’) 18/07/2013 http://www.lifo.gr/team/bitsandpieces/39982?utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed. Indicatively, see also the following newspaper articles in Greek: Proto Thema (Πρώτο Θέμα) ‘Series of Arrests Prior to the Thessaloniki Pride According to Trans’ (‘Μπαράζ προσαγωγών ενόψει του Thessaloniki Pride καταγγέλουν οι τράνς’) 04/06/2013 http://www.protothema.gr/greece/article/283640/mparaz-prosagogon-enopsei-toy-thessaloniki-pride-kataggeloyn-oi-trans/, To Vima (Το Βήμα) ‘Thessaloniki Arrested Lawyer Because She Defended a Transsexual’ (‘Θεσσαλονίκη Στο κρατητήριο δικηγόρος, επειδή υπερασπίστηκε τρανσέξουαλ’) 06/06/2013 [http://www.tovima.gr/society/article/?aid=516619). ↩
- Judith Butler “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality” in J Butler Undoing Gender, ΝΥ & London: Routledge, 2004, 57 – 71 ↩
- Michel Foucault “What is Enlightenment?” (“Qu’est-ce que les Lumières?”), in P. Rabinow (ed)., The Foucault Reader, NY: Pantheon Books, 1984, 32 – 50. ↩