the place of personal narratives
March 6, 2016
Since this came up in a response to another post, I want to talk a little bit about personal narratives and their function within communities and society as a whole. My interlocutor asks, ‘how can you say that there is no ~male~ and ~female~ socialization when some trans men and women will say that they experienced it?’. Essentially, “some trans women talk about being male socialized as part of their personal narrative’.
The only reason why someone thinks this is a reasonable challenge to my claim is via taking one of teh Discourse’s principles a few steps too far. Within teh Discourse it is pretty standard that people’s individual, lived experiences are – at a minimum – just as important as ‘objective’ reality. Now, depending on a person’s ontological and metaphysical commitments, they may or may not believe in the existence of any ‘objective’ reality (ie, ‘external world’).
I can’t really help people who think like that. Its a perfectly valid worldview and one that’s pretty common. Its postmodernism. Its linguistic determinsim. Etc.
But this isn’t a part of my worldview. I do, in actual fact, think that there exists an external world that is knowable. As in, there is some kind of objective reality out there. And that we are able to acquire knowledge of this external reality. Knowledge that, by virtue of being true in the external world, is true in all contexts – regardless of individual beliefs or our subjective experience of the world.
Now, bc I’m well aware of all the criticisms of ‘objectivity’ as a perspective individual humans are capable of holding, I do think that subjective, personal experiences of the world also hold truth. That they are important. And that any given indivudal attempting to assert that their subjective perspective is actually objective is deeply mistaken. And is usually an asshole.
However… Given that I believe in an external world, its also the case that I don’t think that subjective experiences override the truths of that world.
What I’m saying here: just because one trans women claims to have been male socialized neither makes their claim true nor, especially, makes it generalizable.
This is honestly one of the… most dangerous parts of this particular aspect of teh Discourse. Because personal, subjective experience has been emphasized as a way to counter the harms from certain groups trying to push their ~objective~ experiences on the rest of us, people have taken it too far (at least in my worldview).
In our current discourse there is very little room to tell someone that while you respect their subjective experience, they are simply wrong. I pretty much never say anything to the trans women I encounter who talk about their ‘male’ socialization. Because that’s their narrative and they are entitled to it. However, my willingness to simply let them frame and conceptualize their experiences however they want, doesn’t actually imply that I think they are right.
Indeed, they are wrong. There is no such thing as ‘male socialization’. Thus, despite what an individual trans woman might say about her experiences, she still was not, in reality, socialized as a male. Because this isn’t actually how socialization or the world works.
Much the same way that the subjective experience of some humans of world being flat did not, in actual fact, mean that the world was flat. They were wrong. Just as we are constantly wrong since I know I certainly do not experience the world as a spherical type of object. It looks and feels flat (okay there are hills and stuff but you know what I mean).
Similarly, some people I know think they are trans because (the christian) god made them that way. I personally do not believe in that god so I think they are wrong. But I do not go around telling anyone that because how someone conceptualizes their own experience isn’t my business. I don’t care. I do care, however, when those same people tell me that I am the way I am because god made me this way.
So I don’t care that some trans women think they were socialized as males. They’re wrong. I’m not going to bother going around telling individuals that they are wrong unless they try and tell me that I was socialized as male. Then? We have a problem.
Both problems arise when people attempt to generalize from a sample size of one (eg, their own personal experience). A personal, subjective experience of the world is just that: personal. It is important and it matters but it is still applicable to one and only one person.