The Help and Harm of Loren Cameron

Last night American University’s GLBTA Resource Center hosted photographer Loren Cameron. Loren, or Rex as he prefers to be called, spoke about his most recent work, a collection of photographs of transsexuals in various stages of transition. I have no doubt that the work of Cameron is important and groundbreaking. In his words, he allows people to be seen as they would like to be seen. He sees his work as combating the various negative, harmful, and misguided depictions of his people. He showed the transsexual body unapologetically and beautifully. Powerfully, he stated that there is “no need to justify” his existence as a transsexual person to anyone else. The problem as I see it is that he attempts to justify it. In no way do I mean to question Cameron’s life, instead I will use his lecture to work through ideas of gender, identity, and biology.

What makes a transsexual person? In a world where gender and sexuality are seen as natural (despite a plethora of material written on the contrary), this seems to be the question on most people’s minds. Cameron was right when he stated that he did not have to justify who he is. Justifying one’s existence puts a person in the defensive position against a hostile world. Instead, question the system’s right to demand an account of yourself or the limited narratives that exist within the system. After this proclamation, Cameron back-peddled and stated that he had genetic testing, which proved that he was genetically intersexed. He believes that this is a partial cause for his transsexuality. He makes the argument that gender expression is biological; he makes allusions to humans as animals, unable to control our gendered expressions. To him, transsexual people exist because they were born to be transsexuals. His logic, however, doesn’t make sense; if he is intersexed would he not be between sexes, not the other sex. Intersexed people, according to him, should be classified as disabled at birth. His logic is that discrimination could be fought against if transexuality was seen as biologically caused and therefore legitimate. History has proven this logic wrong; eugenics, and genocide are two clear examples that show biology as a source of justifying oppression, not alleviating it. Also, this could potentially create a hierarchy within the transsexual community between people who are and are not intersexed. If intersexuality is the cause then non-intersexed people could be denied access to transitional procedures. The ramifications of his theory could be detrimental as transsexual people would need to have genetic testing done to prove they are transsexuals.

Cameron followed this theory by discussing how the extreme unrest in his home could have also been the source of his transsexuality. ……….. Wait….What? This logic is pretty scary. Cameron argued that instability and a fractured nuclear family caused his transsexuality. So it’s both biological and nurture based now…., and not any kind of nurture, traumatic nurture. This second statement could be easily used against transsexual people. Anti-trans people could say “If it is caused by trauma then the person needs to be healed, turned into a normally gendered/sexed person, and not allowed to transition.” This could cause more descrimination (if that is even possible) against transsexual people who are determined to see themselves as not damaged, but simply in need of a transition. It could take away the ability to control your body.

Gender, sex, and sexuality are not math equations. They are embedded within the cultural matrix. I doubt we will ever know definitively why it is that we desire what we desire or express our particular gender the way we do. Finding the source should not be the goal. The goal should be to live in a world where such differences do not matter. (I am not embracing a liberal pluralism, a “yay, diversity model”… instead I suggest that changing how cultural institutions position and oppress people is a more important than finding out why we are the way we are.) I have no doubt that Cameron is doing good work. He provides representation and an outlet for a silenced and marginalized group, a space for a discussion of transsexuality to occur. And I do not think his theories are meant to do harm, instead they are attempts to explain himself.

He had it right when he stated that he should not have to justify his existence.  I wish he would have meant it.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The Help and Harm of Loren Cameron

  1. Disclaimer: I did not see this exhibit or hear him speak, so my response is only to your thoughts that resulted from the event – and not to Loren nor the event.

    I think you bring up some really interesting points. I think that focusing on the why is really detrimental to any “outsider’s” cause. Perhaps on a personal level it might SEEM helpful to do so, in order to better understand yourself. But is it just because you grew up in this society that puts you on the outskirts and says you are not normal? Is it because you are a part of this culture so you, too, acknowledge your abnormal-ness and seek justification over acceptance? By asking the question why, you only further the dialogue of norm vs. not with the connotation that not needs explanation and justification.

    I also get wary of looking to biological, psychological, environmental, etc. causes for our individual variances. Obviously, you can find some “explanation” for just about every variance. But people who try to find the gay gene, or the classification of intersex automatically exclude those who vary even slightly (leaving them floating in a nebulous existence somewhere between norm and justified outcast). Isaac is not “technically” gay because his mother was over-bearing and he’s just a little messed up, but John has the genetics for gay so is totally gay, even though he sleeps with women more than half the time. We will never fully understand all the variance; trying to do so only gives us tools for further boxing us and judging each other (positively or negatively – but either way, often unjustly).

    Wait, what? I got sidetracked. The main point I came on here to make is actually something I learned from X-Men. Say we discover the factor “X” that gives us any number of these “abnormal” traits. Call me paranoid, but I immediately get concerned about the search for cures and solutions — the physiological (or psychological or environmental) normalization of people. It’s just creepy.

    • I like how you stated this may seem helpful to people. That people might want an explanation for their situation, but instead of looking from without they look at the within.

  2. Rhonda

    My very first thought? “Yikes!”

    I am, firstly concerned about this biological argument. I get very nervous when this becomes the platform for ANY discussion about the social interactions of humans. It begs for a “simple” “answer” to the “problem.” This is not to say that I completely discount the biological in anything, but the weight that it is given in these situations can be ridiculously overbearing, therefore slanting the discussion in ways which perpetuate stereotypes & binary thinking. Biology does not solely determine social interaction in animals with higher level cognitive skills.

    Secondly, if abuse & mistreatment are an arguments for “cause” of transsexualism, why then are there not more lesbians? Women have, for centuries, suffered at the hands of men in the name of heterosexual domestic bliss. Though it isn’t an entirely specious argument, it cannot be used as a generalized explanation for the existence of intersexed people or transsexualism. Trauma does, often lead to behaviors that are maladaptive. Is Cameron, therefore, arguing that transsexualism is an negative adaptation, developed as a response to maladaptive behavior (which would make it maladaptive)? that would mean that transsexuals make a calculated, SOCIAL choice to take on the roles of the gender with which they have chosen to identify. Wouldn’t that then counter the first argument?

    I find this whole talk problematic. I wish I had been there to hear it. I feel like Scooby Doo, “HUH?”

    • Yes, the logic was circular. It did not make sense at all. I really wish he would have stayed with “I do not have to justify my existence.

      The photography was beautiful, so it was not a complete wash.

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