Micha Cardenas is an artist/theorist and a PhD student in Media Arts and Practice at the University of Southern California. Her recent publications include Trans Desire/Affective Cyborgs, with Barbara Fornssler, from Atropos Press, “I am Transreal,” in Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation from Seal Press, “Becoming Dragon: A Transversal Technology Study,” in Code Drift from CTheory and “virus.circus.mem,” with Elle Mehrmand in the Speculative Exhibition Catalog. You can follow her on Twitter at @michacardenas or on her website, http://transreal.org. Here, Micha discusses the significance of the forthcoming book Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, to which she is a contributor.
"Our Bodies, Ourselves" Original Cover (from www.amazon.com)
Women marching, hands in the air holding a protest sign reading “Women Unite,” are the images on the original cover of the book Our Bodies, Ourselves. I first saw this cover in Los Angeles-based artist Joanne Mitchell’s artwork, “Our Bodies, Ourselves – the book I mean,” in a show we were both in at the I-5 gallery. Her work visualized the changes in the book across decades of its publication. The original book was a ‘zine published in 1970 by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective as a radical gesture of empowering women to learn about the care of their own bodies. Throughout the years, this original cover image shrank, was moved off to the side, and was eventually replaced with an image representing a diversity of races, ethnicities and ages, smiling, reflecting a different set of priorities and strategies including addressing the historical exclusion of women of color from earlier feminist movements.
I recall this shift now as I think of the importance of the historic publication Trans Bodies, Trans Selves (TBTS). I do so not to criticize the choices made in the evolution of the historic work from which TBTS takes its inspiration, but to recall the radical spirit that initially inspired Our Bodies, Ourselves. In the video portion of Mitchell’s artwork, many women speak of the deep significance of Our Bodies, Ourselves to their own lives, sense of empowerment and relationships to their bodies. I am deeply inspired by this possibility for TBTS, to move the state of transgender health care forward, to provide a meaningful anthology of writing on transgender health care that will be widely accessible and provide people with a trustworthy source of information.
The first time I saw an endocrinologist, in San Diego, the first words the doctor said to me were, “You probably know more about this than me.” At the time, I understood the doctor’s gesture as a transphobic way to distance himself from my situation, as well as an admission – he went on to say he had only ever had one other transgender patient. Today, I also understand his statement as an honest one that indicates the state of transgender health care. First, authoritative knowledge is difficult to come by, as medical records still often only indicate male or female, and thus, few statistics on transgender people exist. Second, medical companies do little to no testing of their products for transgender applications, meaning that many medications transgender people commonly use were actually developed for other purposes, such as to treat menopause. Third, we cannot discount the power of horizontal knowledge production and online community building in the transgender community, as people often share their personal stories online. This often fills the gap left by healthcare professionals, but without the certainty that such anecdotal knowledge is medically sound.
Today, I am happy to say that the number of trans doctors treating trans people is increasing. I now regularly see a trans woman doctor who has extensive experience treating a broad range of trans people for my hormone treatment. Going to her has literally changed my life so much, for the better. She is also a contributor to TBTS, another reason I am so honored and proud to participate in this project. Still, as I work towards getting surgery, I fully acknowledge that my path of seeing doctors and taking hormones is my decision, and there are as many ways of being a healthy, happy trans person as there are people. I hope that TBTS can help people make their decisions about health care more safely and lead to a stronger, more joyful, more autonomous community of people who choose to step outside of the gender borders they were assigned at birth. While unity may not be our goal, I imagine that many of us would love to see the broad societal changes that the feminist movement has effected throughout the world take place in a similar way for trans people.
Trans Bodies, Trans Selves is one small part of the network of movements working to achieve that change. This book will exist in a network of resources already available to transgender people, from YouTube videos, to loving supportive partners and allies, to local clinics, to online PDF libraries, to numerous online forums.