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Romancing the Ghost in the Shell
A Celebration of Trans Cyborg Bodies
Would you call the Mona Lisa unnatural? How about Michelangelo’s David? Romeo and Juliet? Of course not. The idea of criticizing these things as unnatural is absurd.
Let’s step beyond art, then. Take some wheat and a bucket of peanuts and go make a peanut butter sandwich.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
What’s the problem?
A lot of people sneer at the so-called artificial, and raise up up “natural” things over them. It’s everywhere, really, and the act of raising the “natural” over the “artificial” is fundamentally hypocritical. Artificiality is probably the one universal trait that human existence in every possible context not only relies on, but actively and continually creates, whether we’re talking about the things we eat–every banana you’ve ever eaten is a genetically modified clone–the medicines we take to stay healthy, the beds we sleep on, the clothes we wear, even the language we speak.
Every singly one of those things were created by us to make our lives better.
Why, exactly, is that a bad thing?
Julia Serano has argued for a long time about the basic transmisogyny–that is, when sexism and transphobia team up–of the sneering dismissal of trans lives as artificial, and she’s right. Wander on over to /r/changemyview some time and hunt up a post about trans bodies. It won’t be hard; there’s a new one most days, and at least one a week. Poke your nose into the comments and you’ll have cis man after cis man crowing about how they would never want to touch a neovagina simply because “it’s not natural.” Cis women sneering at a neopenis because “it’s not natural.” Never mind, of course, the many other magnificent options for genital configurations that modern medicine can provide.
I think the very best example of all this is the exaltation of the “natural” breast, even in trans circles, over augmented breasts when two hundred thousand American women get a breast augmentation every single year. And transfems? Around 4,000 of those. Two percent. I’ve lost track of the number of transfeminine people I’ve met who ache for full, large bosoms but refuse to consider surgery because “it’s not natural” when scores of cis women every single year go in for the exact procedure we not only deny ourselves, but which is increasingly covered by insurance as medically necessary!
So many of us choose to live with our dysphoria rather than consider surgery that would bring us joy, because we think the surgery itself would somehow degrade us.
There are few things more misogynistic than the very labeling of these procedures, which both cis and trans women get: fake boobs. Many feminists have wrung their hands over and over, wondering whether you even can be feminist if you get a boob job. Meanwhile, cis women who have breast reductions are celebrated for becoming less physically feminine. Never mind that lesbians have boob jobs too. Never mind that asexual women have boob jobs too. Never mind that the very idea of femininity itself being an artificial deviation from normal existence has been oh-so-rightly lambasted in Whipping Girl and by many others.
The hypocrisy of “feminists” celebrating the scapegoating of femininity and enforcing patriarchal preferences for unaugmented breasts is mind-boggling. Fake. As if in obtaining a breast augmentation you would have to–even that you could–be sacrificing your authenticity, your fundamental self to the dehumanization of the male gaze. I’m sorry, but us female gays have a word or two to say about how absurd that idea is.
There is nothing more human than taking something natural and making it better.
There is nothing more feminist than choosing, for yourself, the life you want to live and the body you want to live it in.
I am a lesbian. I am demisexual. And I want, and am getting, what can really only be described as huge, augmented boobs. Yes, because my dysphoria shouts at me that that’s what’s right for me—but, more importantly, because they bring me joy.
Me. Not my partner. Not society, which will look down its nose at me for going as large as I’m going. Certainly not men.
The Shell for the Ghost
The general idea of bodies made from a melding of the biological and nonbiological is called cyborg theory, and it’s an important part of a larger exploration of transhumanism, or how human beings move beyond and above our biological constraints. A cyborg body can be as simple as LASIK eye surgery, or a continuous insulin pump, or be as fantastical as brain-machine interface that lets someone control a prosthetic arm. Cyborg theory has become central to disability advocates, because it gives disabled people a way to participate fully, freely, and without prejudice in modern society.
Trans people build cyborg bodies for ourselves with each dose of hormones we take, with each gender-affirming procedure we complete. Hair is lasered away or grown, body fat is redistributed, breasts are enhanced or removed, and sometimes genital origami is performed—all to make our bodies more our selves, whatever that means to each of us. For so, so long, we have been made to be ashamed of this glorious transformation, where cis bodies were held over us as an ideal of how we should have been.
As if trans bodies and trans people were some sort of second-rate, discount-bin, K-mart blue light special edition of our genders.
Fuck. That. Noise.
Disability studies have begun to champion trans bodies as sterling examples of cyborg bodies, and they’re right, but I think we can and should go a step farther. Disability theories of the cyborg are almost all about assimilation to mainstream culture and society, about surviving.
What about thriving?
Transition is about, ultimately, trans people willing a way of being into existence. Trans existence is a celebration of choice and self-determination over the failings of rude biology. And cyborg trans bodies should be celebrated as triumphs of joy and will and happiness over the world.
You might be wondering: am I saying that augmented breasts are better than unaugmented breasts? That a neopenis or neovagina are better than a natal penis or vagina? That a vagina-preserving phalloplasty, a nullification, a scrotectomy, are better than natal cis genitals? That a face which has been reshaped with facial feminization or masculinization surgery is better than one which hasn’t? That “fake tits” are better that “natural” ones?
You’re goddamn right I am.
By self-actualizing, by imposing our will upon something as central to our existence as our own bodies, we make those bodies a living celebration of the most fundamentally human and feminist acts a person is physically capable of making. Our bodies are better because the act of changing them to better suit us is what makes them better.
I choose to be me. I have made—I will continue to make–my body into something better for me than it is right now. I will continue to do so. My body is a monument to the triumph of my will, and I will never, ever not celebrate that.