Real Self, Identity and X-Men
Over the weekend, Thrack and I watched the X-Men prequel, First Class again. I have no hesitation in saying it’s significantly better than any of the previous X-Men trilogy (and the less said about the abysmal spin off Wolverine movie the better). But I was thinking about a favorite moment in the second film with Magneto and young mutant Pyro.
Magneto: What’s your name?
Magneto: What’s your real name, John?
And I think I’ve finally figured out why I like that bit so much: as with so much of X-Men as an allegory for minorities, it speaks to trans people and how their real names are their real names and not their assigned names. It subtly backs up the idea that they have the right to define a happy whole identity that is who they are, and not to be denied by those who demand to know about their former names or genitals.
It reminds me of something Natalie Reed wrote about some things about being trans that are awesome:
I know that my body and my identity are my own.
Being trans is definitely not something anyone makes easy for you. It’s something you have to fight tooth and nail for. ‘They’ do everything in their power to deprive us of the ability to define our genders for ourselves, and to make our own decisions about our bodies. I can certainly say that although abortion is perhaps one of the feminist issues that has the least direct impact on my own personal life, the concept of being in possession and determination of your own body, and how disgusting it is to see people try to take that away from you, is something I know very intimately.
But the thing is, at this point, it would be really difficult for anyone to ever take this away from me. And with every step forward one makes in transition, it becomes more and more difficult for anyone to ever undo your decision. It claims your body as definitively your body. It’s no longer the body that just happened to be assigned to you, it is the body you chose.
A lot like tattoos or piercings, it’s a beautifully empowering thing to begin being able to see your body as an expression and extension of yourself rather than the chance congruence of fate and genes and whatever you’ve been eating. It becomes symbolic of your life and your decisions, of your self-determination and identity. Your narrative, power, confidence, struggle, and possession of your own life become written into its contours and shape. It ends up being so much more than just a vessel.
When I used to look at myself naked I always felt heartbroken, defeated, hopeless and deeply sad. Now I can look at myself and feel proud of who I am and what I’ve made of myself. Proud of having claimed this little collection of flesh and muscle and bones and blood and stuff as my own to be what I want it to be, proud to have defined it rather than letting it define me.
And ultimately I know that nobody else but me is ultimately in possession of it, or the identity I use it to express. If they were, my body would not be what it is.