August 27, 2009
I can’t count how many times trans men have complained of being “invisible,” or where they (or, admittedly, transphobic cis women) justified paying more or exclusive attention to trans men’s issues because of their “lack of visibility,” or implied that my “visibility” as a trans woman was a form of privilege.
But “(in)visibility” is an incoherent idea. One is not simply “visible” or “invisible” like Harry Potter putting on his cloak–invisibility cloaks don’t exist, some people can see you even if you are wearing one, and one is always standing on the other side of a wall/behind a tree relative to someone, and the near side of the wall/in front of the tree relative to someone else. What “invisibility” universally fails to ask is: to whom is one visible, and why? Under what circumstances, and in what light? Am I visible to the friend looking out hir window for a houseguest, through the binoculars of a peeping tom, or within the crosshairs of a sniper rifle? The concept “invisibility” implies that these things are all linearly correlated, so that as my chances of being harassed on the street go up, so do my chances of finding a partner who will know about and be sensitive to my issues and be a fierce advocate for me, and the fact that trans men don’t get murdered at anything approaching the same rate as trans women, drag queens, and crossdressers is something that will change as they get more spots on Oprah.*
These things are only weakly correlated:
Trans women are the targets of the large majority (though by no means all) of cis feminist transphobia, and almost all pathologizing/objectifying/fetishizing/misgendering/transphobic/non-feminist sociological, psychological, sexological, and anthropological research, while trans men and (conflatedly) FAAB genderqueers get the bulk of positive, sympathetic (though not necessarily trans-positive) feminist research (MAAB genderqueers, in this scheme, are subsumed into drag queens/crossdressers/trans women).
Trans women have the overwhelming edge on number of autobiographies–the surviving ones, for some weird reason, are all (with two mid-90’s trans-woman-bashing-smash-the-gender-binary exceptions) of the disempowered, desexualized, pity-me medical model variety, despite empowered trans woman writers of the period like Susan Stryker, Sandy Stone, and Angela Douglass (who did, in fact, write an unpublished autobiography) and several (also problematic) pornographic autobiographies no longer extant (see Joanne Meyerowitz, How Sex Changed, 198-202)–but trans men’s books have, on the whole, taken a much more empowered line, with sexuality discussed on their own terms in a non fetishizing way. As Serano writes in Whipping Girl, these were the only stories of trans women’s lives that were allowed to be told. (Some might say better something problematic than nothing, and while there’s limited truth to that up until sometime in the 1990s, there’s no room for argument in 2009.)
And though with Serano’s book there is a public and empowered voice for white trans women’s issues, and films such as Still Black attempt to broadcast the admittedly under-publicized lives, voices, and issues of trans men of color, our women of color’s self-advocacy has never or almost never been amplified by publishing or filmmaking institutions–yet trans women of color are all over self-published media (the blogosphere)–and murder reports and fetishizing/exploitative media articles, that almost universally omit their voices and ideas. (see my 2008 post about this phenomenon.) The closest thing to an exception would be Paris is Burning–and if you’ve read Butler and Prosser on the subject, you’ll likely agree that it’s not really an exception (though it is a highly enjoyable film).
To oversimplify: trans women are visible: as a sexual threat, as sex objects, as objects of derision and hate, and as objects of pity. Trans men are visible: as potential partners, as activists and revolutionaries, as an “invisible” group that deserves your advocacy, and (recently) as parents. The Thomas Beatie case is the exception that proves the rule–the unusually degrading media treatment that drew totally justified anger and analysis happened only in response to his pregnancy and open defiance of cisnormativity and transphobic eugenics, where that kind of media coverage is par for the course for trans women regardless of what they do, and doesn’t get that kind of attention, analysis, and anger simply because it is so common. And, you know, because fewer people and institutions care. That many trans men victim-blamed Beatie for this coverage and were angry about this making them “look bad” represents a tacit understanding that “visibility” isn’t inherently good or bad, but only good or bad relative to specific circumstances and situations.
Let’s dump “visibility”–and start thinking about to whom, as what, under what circumstances, when, why, to what end, and at what cost.
*(A bit of a tangent: Related is the idea that trans men pass better either a)because people don’t think about trans men or b)because testosterone is powerful, manly, and dominant while estrogen is submissive and weak, rather than being related to a)the ways in which masculinity is seen as natural and femininity as artificial and suspect (see Whipping Girl) and b)male as default (see Kessler and McKenna, Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach chapter 6 “Toward a Theory of Gender, also anthologized in The Transgender Studies Reader, Stryker and Whittle, eds. See the overlay study in particular, which talks about how “male” gender cues count *much* more strongly toward gender attribution than “female” gender cues.)
EDIT 3:20 AM– General Note: For about half an hour after a post is first published, I’m revising it, generally without “edit” notations. I always intend it to be done before it’s published, but it never is/HTML doesn’t work out the way it’s supposed to, etc. The substance stays the same, (this time it was trying to get the spaces in between the bullet pointed paragraphs plus “to oversimplify”) but if you’re wondering “did something just change?” …it might have. After half an hour, though, I generally include a note. and my half hour’s up.
July 31, 2009
Recently I’ve heard a lot of trans people using the phrases “male bodied” and “male identified”, and been kind of thrown.
Most of the problems with “(fe)male bodied” would be pretty apparent from my post about “biological”, but I think that it’s worth discussing here specifically in its contrast to “(fe)male identified,” and “(wo)man identified.”
The problem with ____-identified is that it’s not just _____; what the hell is the point of saying “woman-identified-woman” unless a)you mean a political lesbian (the original meaning of the term) or b)not all women are “woman-identified” or not all who identify as women really are?
This is, I suspect, the exact opposite of what those who use the phrase intend to be conveying–which is, to be clear that they are legitimating the person’s identity, not using “male” and “female” coercively. But its use, like “gender identity” (“we can’t discriminate against trans women because, unlike other men, they have this weird internal identity as women that’s legally protected” as opposed to ‘the right to define one’s own gender is federally protected, and one cannot discriminate on the basis of the reasons underlying that definition’) reserves the unmodified term for other use, rather than using the unmodified term and clarifying if need be (for example, for advertising a woman-only space, ‘questioning the legitimacy of any participant’s womanhood and all other acts of gender policing are unacceptable in this space.’).
“(Fe)male bodied,” on the other hand, is used supposedly as a means of talking about a person without making a judgment on hir identity. But there are two problems: who does “male bodied” refer to, and how do we know?
It’s not always clear, when someone says “male bodied,” whether or not they mean to include me. As I wrote in Biological, it makes no sense to refer to me as “male bodied,” because
1)I identify & define my body as female
2)while some characteristics of my body would be read male under a coercive, “objective” scientific lens, others (e.g. hormone levels; softness, dryness, and depth of skin; breasts; fat distribution, the smell of my sweat) are pretty clearly female.
What “(fe)male bodied” does is try to avoid the messiness of respecting our identities and categorizing us solely that way and find an “objective” way of talking about people that you can use just by looking at them or by knowing their histories. But this Cartesian mind-body dualism is bunk–my body is still my body, and defining it was male or female is still defining me as male or female, and my body is not this thing that exists wholly separate from my mind, that cannot know or feel things or from which my sense of self can be divorced. My sex and my body are my self determination, don’t try to pry in with the crowbar of coercive language.
Part two is that not only do some people use the term to classify me as “male bodied” and others use it to classify me as “female bodied”–but that there’s a reason for this ambiguity. This “objective” “neutral” “real” body that they want to jump to just isn’t there. Some people mean chromosomes, some mean presence or absence of a penis (cunts don’t count y’all), some people mean hormone levels and how your body appears socially, some people just aren’t thinking about trans and intersex people’s bodies. But the assumption of using the phrase is that people will have half a clue of who you mean, which positions all bodies as belonging to pre-acknowledged sexed categories unambiguously and objectively. Regardless of what categories persons are placed in and how transphobic that placement is, by “empowering” the listener to do the placing, the term nullifies self-definition of sex/embodiment, and undermines resistance to the binary medical model for being trans.
So while I fully support all people speaking of their bodies as male and/or female (and/or other possibilities), don’t use “(fe)male bodied” as a category of people (based on body parts) as opposed to an individual’s self definition–even if you’re trans.
My body is my identity, my identity is my body. Don’t try to separate them, I went to a lot of effort to help them learn to play nice with each other.
May 8, 2009
Last time around, not having read The Man Who Would Be Queen except for exerpts/quotes, I wrote about how the two type/Blanchard-Bailey-Lawrence (BBL) theory is misogynistic/regulates female sexuality. I stand by everything I wrote there, but I’m pissed at how much discussions of the book hinge only on the autogynephilia part, and neglect the ridiculous racism/classism of the “homosexual transsexual” (by which we mean straight trans women) section.
Seriously, it’s so bad it’s hard to even talk about. But, among other things, he says [straight] trans women are mostly [W]OC with below average IQ, and are trans (rather than being gay boys) because they come from lower-class non-white broken households and don’t have enough ambition or family support to ‘defeminize,’ and there are more Latina trans [women] because of machismo.
I SHIT YOU NOT.
He’s yet to come out and say that black/Latin@ and lower-class people are bad parents and should have their kids taken away from them, but he does seem to think that 20% MOC in his gay boy sample is a perfectly standard percentage for Chicago residents, whereas 60% TWOC needs remarking on.
As of the 2000 census,…The racial makeup of the city was 41.97% White, 36.77% Black, 4.35% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 0.36% Native American, 13.58% from other races, and 2.92% from two or more races. 26.02% of the population were Hispanic of any race. 21.72% of the population was foreign born; of this, 56.29% came from Latin America, 23.13% from Europe, 17.96% from Asia and 2.62% from other parts of the world. The 2007 community survey for the U.S. Census showed little variation
Alma has also noticed, as I have, the large number of Latina transsexuals. In Chicago, there are several bars that cater to Latina transsexuals. About 60 percent of the homosexual transsexuals [sic] and drag queens we studied were Latina or black. The proportion of nonwhite subjects in our studies of ordinary gay men [sic] is typically only about 20 percent. …Another transsexual, remarking on the same phenomenon, attributed it to ethnic gender roles: “My culture is very macho and intolerant of female behavior in men. It is easier just to become a woman.”
J Michael Bailey, The Man Who Would Be Queen, 183-4.
(It might be argued that he’s not endorsing the claim about machismo, because the next line starts “I am not sure of about the validity of all of Alma’s observations, much less her theories”–but it wasn’t Alma who made that statement, thus the statement isn’t disavowed by the disclaimer, which constitutes tacit endorsement.)
Ken Zucker…tried to predict which boys with [GID] would still have the disorder when they become adolescents. Adolescents with GID are much rarer and presumably much closer to being transsexual. Zucker found several predictors of adolescent GID: lower IQ, lower social class, immigrant status, non-intact family, and childhood behavior problems unrelated to [GID].[‘Coz IQ tests are totally unproblematic.]
They [straight trans women] are outcasts as children because of their extreme femininity. They mostly come from poor, broken families, and family rejection is common.
A feminine boy from a middle-class or upper-middle-class family (such as Danny’s) has more motivation to “hang in there” until he normalizes his gender role behavior, because he has a good chance at a conventionally successful future. Defeminization might also require more ambition and family support than some homosexual transsexuals possess.
Their customers, of course, are not gay men. They are either unwary straight men or men looking for she-males.) This kind of prostitution is dangerous, especially for transsexuals, whose customers sometimes do not know what they are… The rate of HIV infection among transsexual streetwalkers is very hight, partly due to the high rate of intravenous drug use. [while injection HRT is the same as recreational IV drugs for HIV risk, the implication is pretty offensive.]
their taste in clothing is much more expensive than their income allows… In female impersonator shows, transsexuals often wear designer gowns, which are widely believed (by other transsexuals) to have been acquired via the five-fingered discount. [yep, it’s totally that those irresponsible black/Latina/poor people just want to live beyond their means, not an occupational expenditure…]
As with my post about the Standards of Care, I find myself not wanting to wade into the fray about Bailey/Blanchard/Lawrence or ‘autogynephilia’. It’s petty, it’s the same damn thing everybody’s always talking about, we all go around in circles and fume and we don’t go anywhere.
Part of my reluctance comes from the fact that so much of the response against it has been couched in sex-negative terms that end up as apology for cissexual supremacy and gender coercion. Why the hell should we care *why* people transition? If it makes you happier, *go do it*. Controlling your own body and sex and gender isn’t a privilege granted to the worthy or the people who’ve got the “right reasons”, it’s a fundamental right. Really, if we say that sexual motivations for things aren’t bad or invalid, then why is the two-type theory a problem? (Note: that link? Super problematic.)
I’m also aware that it, as a theory, had a huge negative impact on my mental health for a long time, and that that it is used to justify the Standards of Care, their attendant abuse, and the denial of basic medical care, and insurance coverage of such through the guise of gatekeeping, which is itself through the guise of ‘making the right diagnosis,’ and that Bailey’s two-type theory even contributed to a young woman getting kicked out of her parents’ house at transition. But y’all already know that it’s pernicious.
How do we talk about the two-type theory in a way that doesn’t succumb to its terms? The argument demands we either accept medicalization and gender coercion in this case, or sex-negativity and the validity of gender coercion in other circumstances. We have to challenge the frame–as the sex-positive argument attempts to do. But the sex-positive argument (that sexual motivations are ok) fails to address the underlying misogyny of the theory, which is so fundamental to why it continues to hold power over us–and moreover, how the two-type theory is part of an attack on female sexual subjectivity (trans or cis).
So, let’s define our terms. I’m mostly focusing on “autogynephilia” in this post, rather than the “classic transsexual”/”homosexual transsexual”-by-which-we-mean-straight-trans-women, because in the theory, though straight trans women are pathologized, they are positioned as more ‘real’ and legit than queer ones:
The mantra of some male-to-female transsexuals is that they are simply “women trapped in men’s bodies.” This assertion has some truth for homosexual transsexuals, who are extremely and recognizably feminine (and like most women, attracted to men), but for autogynephilic transsexuals it is not true in any meaningful sense.
It’s important to note that, according to Bailey et al, “male” bisexuality does not exist, and “women” are inherently bisexual. Really, I’m not making this up, you can really be that stupid and get published. Moreover, according to the two-type theory, trans women are men, and thus inherently “gay” or “straight” (see prev. link). (God, the quotation marks hurt my ears, but not using them hurts more) Their contention is that ‘autogynephilic’ transsexuals will have sex/one night stands with men to confirm their identities as women, but not because they’re really attracted to them. The two-type theory depends on this, because otherwise one could do things a different way around–e.g. transition partially out of autogynephilia and partially to have sex with [cis] men. It’s necessary to hold the two concepts apart.
There’s so much I have to come back and critique, but I need to get all my terms out first. Sorry.
Madeline H. Wyndzen has a good essay describing some tensions (‘slippages’ if you’re being a pretentious philosopher) in the definition of “autogynephilia”. On the one hand, Ray Blanchard defines it as “a man’s [sic] paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself [sic] as a woman.” Wyndzen calls this definition “autogynephilia as a phenomenon,” in contrast to “autogynephilia as a theoretical construct” (a phrase she’s misusing, but whatev):
“Autogynephilia” can be thought of as a “theoretical construct”, which is just a fancy way of saying it’s an “idea that has meaning from its role in an overarching model of how something works.” In this case, the theory is Blanchard’s mis-directed sex-drive model of transsexuality. According to Blanchard there are two ‘legitimate’ sex drives: heterosexuality and homosexuality. A deviance in each causes gender dysphoria, and in extreme cases ultimately causes transsexuality. The deviant form of heterosexuality is called “autogynephilia.”
… J. Michael Bailey not only endorses Ray Blanchard’s theory, but he takes it to an extreme of simplicity. Whereas Blanchard’s model suggests the following three step sequence:
Mis-Directed Heterosexuality (Autogynephilia) -> Gender Dysphoria -> Transsexuality
Bailey suggests only the following two steps:
Mis-Directed Heterosexuality (Autogynephilia) -> Transsexuality
Bailey ignores how uncomfortable we feel being perceived as members of our biological sex (i.e., gender dysphoria). Instead, he turns all of our gendered feelings into something directly caused by (if not simply equivalent to) our sexuality.
Basically, the difference is this: in def’n #1, ‘autogynephilia’ is a bad kind of sexual desire and in #2 it’s the more pathological one of two kinds of sexual desire that cause transsexuality. The problem here is that Bailey et al try to prove #2 simply by asserting the existence of #1–as Wyndzen quotes Bailey:
Even if autogynephilic transsexuals exist, aren’t they rare?
No. Every indication is that autogynephilia is a common motivation for male-to-female transsexualism.
In a recent review by Anne Lawrence of 11 studies with requisite data, the median percentage of transsexuals who acknowledged a history of sexual arousal to cross-dressing (a hallmark sign of autogynephilia) was 37%. In her large survey of SRS patients of Dr. Toby Meltzer, Lawrence found that 86% of respondents had had at least occasional autogynephilic arousal …
[EDIT ADDITION 9:30pm]–Note that there’s no attempt to check and see the rates of such arousal in other gender categories, e.g. cis men, cis women, trans men. He’s not even bothering to argue that “autogynephilia” is more common in trans women than others (or that “autogynephilic” fantasies are distinct from fantasies that cis women have)–only that it exists. I’d respond that correlation doesn’t imply causation, but he doesn’t even establish correlation.
So, according to both Blanchard and Bailey, autogynephilia’s a paraphilia. What’s a paraphilia?
Paraphilias are defined by DSM-IV-TR as sexual disorders characterized by “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors generally involving (1) nonhuman objects, (2) the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner, or (3) children or other nonconsenting persons that occur over a period of 6 months” (Criterion A), which “cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” (Criterion B). DSM-IV-TR describes 8 specific disorders of this type (exhibitionism, fetishism, frotteurism, pedophilia, sexual masochism, sexual sadism, voyeurism, and transvestic fetishism) along with a ninth residual category, paraphilia not otherwise specified (NOS). (link)(emphasis mine)
This is where I hit paydirt.
So, getting sexual pleasure out of the idea I’m female. How is this a paraphilia? The nonconsenting/not-of-age criterion is out. So either 1)a woman is a nonhuman object, or 2)being female & sexual = suffering and humiliation. Blanchard defines 4 “types” of autogynephilia (what the hell is it with these people and their categorizations? Numerology?)
but noted that “All four types of autogynephilia tend to occur in combination with other types rather than alone.” 
- Transvestic autogynephilia: arousal to the act or fantasy of wearing women’s clothing
- Behavioral autogynephilia: arousal to the act or fantasy of doing something regarded as feminine
- Physiologic autogynephilia: arousal to fantasies of female-specific body functions
- Anatomic autogynephilia: arousal to the fantasy of having a woman’s body, or parts of one.
The first could go either way–whether you’re talking about the clothing or the wearing of such. The second isn’t about an object, so my only option is to conclude that it’s paraphilic because doing feminine things is suffering and humiliation. The third can *kind of* go either way, but mostly seems like female-body-as-object, and the fourth seems pretty clear: female body parts are non-human objects.
Basically: labeling “autogynephilia” paraphilic and pathological depends on the objectification and subordination of women. There’s really not a way around it.
The two-type theory tries to account for bi/pan/queer trans women by claiming that when we have sex with men, the
“effective erotic stimulus in these interactions, however, is not the male physique of the partner, as it is in true homosexual attraction, but rather the thought of being a woman, which is symbolized in the fantasy of being penetrated by a man. For these persons, the male sexual partner serves…to intensify the fantasy of being a woman.”(link)
I’m a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer nerd. I fantasize about having sex with Angel, I’m really not ashamed of this fact, he’s fucking hot and his relationship with Buffy, no matter how fucked up, has a lot of emotional/sexual charge. But what I want to know is–why should anyone care about whether I’m fantasizing about Angel fucking me or fantasizing about the sensations my body would experience in that encounter? Isn’t it kind of a duh thing for being-Buffy to be an integral part of a fantasy made hot not only by Angel’s body but by their relationship? (She’s the protagonist–the viewer is supposed to envision hirself as Buffy, and if the person doing the fantasizing isn’t a cis woman, then that envisioning is a ‘fantasy of being a woman’.*) Furthermore, who in the hell decided these were discrete categories, ones that one had either one or the other of, not only within a single fantasy, but over a lifetime? Moreover, what do these categories represent?
Part of what makes BTVS so rad is that it does a good job articulating [white] [able] [cis] [thin] female sexuality/sexual subjectivity–and a sexual fantasy is a fundamentally selfish thing, fundamentally a matter of sexual agency and desire. It exists for your own pleasure, not for anyone else’s (though of course it can be acted upon to bring someone else pleasure). So for true sexual subjectivity, one has to be able to be as self-centered as one pleases in a fantasy. But what the two-type theory does is say that some fantasies–those that cater to [cis] men’s desires and center/glorify cis male bodies–are legit, and other fantasies–those that are irreducibly about female desire and embodiment and sexual subjectivity, those that derive pleasure from one’s own body, those that don’t center cis men–are pathologized. If your fantasy centers deriving pleasure from your cunt–whether or not your bits are currently recognized as such–then it’s fucked up, and if it centers a cis male body deriving pleasure from your cunt, it’s legit.
To be incredibly blunt–according to the two-type theory, female genitals are a hole for a man to stick a dick into, not a source of pleasure. “Real” women aren’t focused on getting off or getting laid, they’re pleasing men and cementing relationships. Have we heard this somewhere before?
‘Autoandrophilia’ isn’t a paraphilia not because it doesn’t happen, but because (according to teh Patriarchy) being male isn’t suffering or humiliation, and a penis isn’t a non-human object–one should derive pleasure from it. If an ‘autoandrophilic transsexual’ were to have sex with a woman to confirm his maleness, rather than out of attraction to her, it would be ok in the medicalized discourse–because using and objectifying women is what he’s supposed to do–his having sex for his own purposes isn’t seen as problematic. Not only is male sexual subjectivity perfectly licit, but it’s still licit when it crosses over into oppressive behavior.
Furthermore, focusing on another woman’s body is insufficient–that desire may or may not be licit, but according to the two-type theory that means your sexual desires as a whole are pathological and bad. Only devoting all your energy to men is acceptable. Erotic attraction to women implies–is synonymous with–self-centered desire (which apparently only men are supposed to have). This categorization/equivalence again positions women as objects to be taken and used, legitimating (actual) men treating female partners as means and not as ends. It assumes that women aren’t even capable of eliciting–let alone worth–service, sexual devotion, or an other-centered desire to please. It’s telling that while Janice Raymond and other cissexualist-feminists (who think of [cis] women as valuable sexual partners that everyone’s trying to get into bed with) assume that queer trans women transition in order to “gain access to women,” the concept of a trans woman transitioning out of desire for dykes (in a non girl-on-girl-pr0n kind of way) never occurs to the authors of this two-type schema. Men–particularly cis straight men–are valuable sexual partners one might transition in order to have access to, whereas lesbians are pretty worthless–my fantasies about Willow and Tara couldn’t possibly have the same motivational force as my fantasies about Angel or Riley or Spike. (We also have a devaluing of homosexuality going on here, such that while someone might transition ‘to be straight’ they’d never transition ‘to be queer’)* And while my assumed motivation for fantasizing about being Willow or Tara and having sex with the other–to confirm my own femaleness–is unremarkable and assumed in the BBL typology (why else would I be fantasizing about them?), ‘using’ men for such confirmation (objectifying them) is unacceptable and pathological. (I’m not endorsing this possibility, just talking about the implications of their blind spot.) A real woman’s purpose is to serve men, subordinate and objectified.
Female sexual subjectivity? Not allowed. By making a focus on one’s own body & sex illegitimate, the two-type theory seeks to control and subjugate all women’s sexuality. Focusing this pathologizing discourse on trans women–who cis people are very willing to believe are pathological–allows misogynistic social scientists to get these ideas circulating in public discourse without triggering feminist response or critique, allows them to get people to internalize sexist beliefs without necessarily even being aware they’re doing it. We as a community cannot afford to address autogynephilia solely as a transphobic (and sex-negative) theory, because its power and its goals are rooted in misogyny.
ETA: a number of small edits about 9:30pm on 3/31, both content and syntax. Significant additions are marked with a * or an  lead off to a paragraph.
February 28, 2009
So, what’s one of the first things out of people’s mouth’s about trans people? We’re so rare, no one’s ever met us before, etc. The psychiatric community has, for the most part, invested heavily in this idea that we’re incredibly rare.
To wit, the most recent “official” statistics to come out about prevalence of transsexual folks were: 1/11,900 [folks assigned male at birth] and 1/30,400 [folks assigned female at birth]. Lynn Conway critiques the study and not only finds it to be off by a factor of 10 or more, but that the numbers are being used disingenuously.
I want to engage in a much less rigorous exercise. I would think that a public high school in a small city, in a county-wide system where private schooling is rare, would constitute a comparatively random sampling of the population. I happened to grow up in such a school! We had about 500 people per class year at the start of freshman year, dwindling to 400 by graduation. In my year, there was actually a trans man who came out while still in school, and unfortunately ended up having to drop out because of transphobia. I ran into him later, and he mentioned two guys who were in school at the same time we were, but had only later transitioned. On the internets, I ran into an aquaintance of mine from high school, a year or two older than me, who was in transition, though she’s still having to live as a guy for legal reasons. AND, my sister’s ex, younger than me, also attended our high school during my tenure there. So, that leaves us with three boys and three girls out of 7 class years. (500*7)/6=1 out of 583–that I know of. If my class year were representative, that would mean 1/250–that I know of. Notably, Lynn Conway’s estimates (for trans women) are 1/250-1/500. (I seriously did not plan this conjuncture. And, actually, Conway’s numbers predict fewer people to have actually transitioned than that, but whatever.)
I’m not in good communication with people from high school. It’s entirely possible that double, triple, even ten times that number have transitioned already, and I’ve heard nothing of it. Furthermore, the age range we’re talking about here is 23-29. The likelihood that someone who will eventually transition has already done so isn’t anywhere in the vicinity of 100%, whatever that likelihood is. So, if my high school were representative of the US, then 1/583 is almost certainly lower than reality. Furthermore, my high school is in North Carolina–while it was known to be a comparatively queer friendly high school for North Carolina, I’d wager that disproportionately many attendees are/were repressing their transness.
How many trans folks would these “official” numbers predict?
(.51/30,400 + .49/11,900)*7*500=0.203 According to the APA, there shouldn’t have been any of us there, one of us is bucking the curve–let alone six. Hell, according to their math, there shouldn’t have been that many in the county, of which we were less than 10%.
The ratio: 6/0.203=29.6
So, my lower bound is 29.6 times higher than their estimate–not their lower bound, their estimate.
30 times, y’all.
(the use of three significant digits is actually kind of a jab at the people Conway is critiquing.)
This isn’t a rigorous test, at all. AT ALL. We’re talking seriously small numbers here. But while I don’t know statistics well enough to know the potential for this result to be caused by chance, and probably queer kids did disproportionately head to my high school, but by no means did everyone who applied get in… come on. Off by a factor of 3, yeah whatever, off by a factor of 30? When there are numerous reasons to think that my number is too low? It doesn’t make any sense.
(There’s also the matter of there not being 3 times as many girls as boys, hmm, wait, maybe their figure is caused by trans misogynistic pathologizing! no wai!)
Conway gives a lot of other examples as to why this is number is bonkers, go read it if you like, but bewarned that she uses “male” to refer to trans women and female to refer to men (that is, she uses them to mean MAAB/FAAB), that she’s way fucked up about trans folks who don’t get SRS even though she includes them/us, uses MTF/FTM as if they were completely unproblematic terms, and doesn’t gloss why her data on trans male transitions is scanty (which is at least in part about the data not being there because these things mostly get studied because of trans misogyny, but also likely her having some blinders on.).
So, one has to wonder: why? They’re scientists, they’re not stupid. They might be blinded by cissexual supremacy, they might have ulterior motives, but it needs explaining. Conway does some of that, but I want to take it to a higher level of analysis(or abstraction if you want to be negative about it).
Perhaps most importantly, it is the strong self-interest of psychiatrists to have their patients believe that transsexualism is incredibly rare, for then takes years of expensive counseling for the psychiatrist to be convinced that a patient is a “true transsexual” who needs SRS. Psychiatrists can reinforce a very “conservative, non-permissive” approach to treating transsexualism IF they can continue to assure society that “true transsexualism is incredibly rare”, and that most people who seek “sex changes” are mentally ill and in need of “shrinking” by psychiatrists to cure them of their “delusions”.
She also argues that the idea that TSness is 2-6 times less common than muscular dystrophy, rather than 10 times as common, & twice as common as MS, justifies the medical community ignoring it. I’m uncomfortable with the pathologizing of transsexuality, but it is true that transphobia (directly, and also indirectly, through capitalism) is really the only reason so little research that’s actually beneficial to us is being done–numbers like that cut right through the ‘oh but there are too few and you could never find them or do a rigorous double blind study’ routine.
BUT, both the chronic illness argument, and the quote she’s critiquing, AND any biologically-determinative argument about the cause of transsexuality (which is not the same as arguing that there are biological factors influencing one’s self-determination) justify ignoring the existence of trans people when we theorize reality.
All children in the US are forced into a gender and sex designation without their consent–some even before birth. It’s required by the US government. Almost all, but not all (yay!) parents compound this, sending their kid the message that ze *is* a girl or that ze *is* a boy & there are no other possibilities, that it’s not something they get to choose or change, and on top of that comes with intense coercive gender role training. Parents frequently don’t have much choice in the matter–go look at the children’s toys at your local Mega Death Mart–how many *aren’t* very strongly gendered? how many books for kids don’t train them into sexism? And schools? Good luck marching to the beat of your own gendered drummer.
Those of us who are trans can remember some of this pretty intensely as trauma, but the dominant discourse has been to say that that trauma is something about us–when, in fact, that trauma is only caused by being coerced into a sex we didn’t want to be in. And, yes, that word choice is very intentional. Running with the metaphor for a moment, let’s take a yes means yes approach, an explicit verbal consent approach to sex/gender, and let the damn kids choose it themselves. Looking at it this way, we can understand that cissexualizing infants is wrong, and potentially traumatic even to those who grow up not contesting that assignment. The absence of “no” is not consent.
Without that most basic form of gender coercion, the others (e.g. gender roles, The Gender BinaryTM) lose one of their most potent methods of cultural reproduction (that is, passing their social code from one generation to the next). Without that basic form of gender coercion, people will still use medical technologies to alter their bodies in gendered ways, but the separation between those that are “valid” and “real” versus those that are “invalid” and “fake,” the distinction between cis and trans, disappears. Without it, one might still have a dissonant reaction to one’s genitals/physical characteristics, but the difference is that it would be ‘incorrect’ or ‘unexpected’ rather than ‘wrong’–perhaps a source of confusion, but not shame, guilt, inferiority, or falseness.
Anyways, the point is, if the potential for a kid to say ‘no’ is so tiny as to be inconsequential, it’s easy to erase the coercion that happens to the kids who don’t say no. It justifies the ongoing violence and exclusion. It justifies theories of humanity/gender/whatever and social policies/politics that depend on our nonexistence for their coherence. It justifies policies and actions that “aren’t about us” and “aren’t transphobic” when it’s “just a coincidence” that they have disastrous effects on us. It justifies cis people not taking the time to educate themselves about transphobia and their concomitant expectation that their ignorance be treated as innocent/natural, it justifies the absence of trans people from spaces we might benefit from without institutional transphobia, it justifies our absence in decision-making-processes that affect us. It naturalizes evidence of our systematic economic marginalization. It justifies the continued practice of cis people claiming power within the trans community, and
barring trans people from claiming power trans people’s lack of power within cis communities. It justifies lack of resources. It justifies single-gender bathrooms, prisons, etc, and the policing of such. It justifies well-we-should-have-our-rights-NOW,stop-trans-jacking, etc etc
I really need to write a post about how last year’s ENDA debacle serves to justify the “inclusive” bill, which in fact enshrines certain kinds of anti-trans-discrimination as normal and good, not discrimination.
There seems to be a comparatively large number of books written around the subject of gay and lesbian relationships but we could find nothing about transsexuality. It occurs that this is an area which perhaps should be given more attention by authors and publishers, given that it’s not uncommon for trans children to know at quite an early age that they have a degree of gender dissonance.
OK, I say, this is a good point, but I think it’s missing something–the analogy is flawed. But! My POV was (kind of) expressed in a cited post:
There was a time I naively assumed that I wouldn’t have to worry about sexism in my child’s books until at least story books, maybe not even until chapter books. Surely board books, written to start reading to infants so young they only understand the rhythm and rhyme of the words, would be immune!
That naivete lasted until maybe five minutes after the Boychick got his first book.
The truth is even board books, even modern board books, are rife with sexism, heterosexism, racism, and of course, what’s a good word, cisgenderism? (One can’t even call it transphobia, for it’s more the complete lack of acknowledgment that gender isn’t always obvious, simple, and binary. Transphobia might be a step up.)
I disagree with the terminology question–refusal to incorporate the fact of our existence in one’s actions in the world is one of the most deadly forms of transphobia:
When these corporations do justify their denial of basic medical care to trans people, one rationalization comes up repeatedly: the U.S. Federal Food and Drug Administration has not given approval for the use of any medications for transgender body modification. The Federal government does not supervise, regulate, approve or acknowledge the use of hormones to alter the gendered characteristics of one’s body. The FDA has never acknowledged, I believe, that trans people even exist.
When I buy my finasteride and delestrogen, they come to me, as most medications do, with small neatly-folded inserts outlining their proper use and potential side-effects. These texts are carefully regulated by the FDA. Nowhere in those long texts am I mentioned. They never discuss their use by transgender people, never acknowledge their potentially transformative effects when used with certain bodies, never even acknowledge that anyone under 50 would ever have a reason to take them. Similarly, I am never reflected in the advertisements for these drugs. Their extensive websites or occasional magazine ads have no trace of trans bodies. In the vast, proliferating world of consumer capitalism, trans people just don’t constitute a market niche when it comes to drugs.
I am invisible to my health insurance company, invisible to the FDA, and invisible to the pharmaceutical industries. This invisibility is how these institutions express their transphobia and the hatred of trans bodies. We are not seen. For some, this lack of institutional acknowledgement has dire consequences. Already excluded from the wage economy, many poor trans women in Philadelphia turn to sex work to pay for their hormones. Poverty, police abuse and HIV have taken a severe toll on the lives of trans women in the city. As trans people modifying our bodies, we are using these corporation’s drugs towards unapproved and unacknowledged ends: the gendered rebuilding of our bodies. We pay the bill, and we live with the consequences. For me, choosing to take hormones is the best decision I’ve ever made.
Michelle O’Brien, “Tracing This Body: Transsexuality, Pharmaceuticals, and Capitalism”
But regardless, I’m right there with Arwyn when I say that transphobia is integrated into these books, that it’s part of our culture down to the way infants are taught language, and that that foundationalism (ha!) is true of sexism, racism, homophobia, etc etc., to the point that explicit/bigoted transphobia can even be helpful, in that it acknowledges our potential existence, and only denies that existence a place in our understanding of reality through violence.
When Helen writes I can remember very clearly the day when, aged five, I realised that “something wasn’t right with my body”. But I had neither the language nor the resources to say or do anything about it, I think she elides an even more crucial point–that by the age of five, she had been successfully indoctrinated into believing that her identification as/desire to be/discomfort with ‘not being’ a girl was an affront to symbolic reality. It’s not. Without a preexisting identification of cissexuality with Reality, that wrongness, that lack-of-fit, doesn’t exist. The only thing separating pre-pubescent trans kids from living their genders is the demand that they not do so–not hormones, not height, not anything, physical differences between cis boys and cis girls at that age are practically nil.
Before trans kids can think of themselves as “wrong,” they have to be introduced to the idea that their genders are inauthentic–the separation of cis and trans has to occur, and then the possibility of transsexuality has to be, in psychoanalytic jargon, foreclosed–the incompatible idea is rejected as if it never existed. The very potential for transsexuality would make our theoretical “ground” when writing about sex and anatomy nonexistant. Western culture depends on transphobia to create meaning in the world. I’m not saying that the whole thing would come crumbling down without transphobia, but that concepts we can’t even think currently would have to come in to replace it in order for the whole thing to *not* come crumbling down. Refuting cissexuality-as-reality, cissexuality-as-default is tantamount to refuting positivism/the scientific method/the idea that Truth is or can be objective–which is part of why we have to search for a “cause”–because we need something to help us acknowledge being trans as valid while maintaining that there isn’t anything wholly interior/subjective/qualitative about personhood. I hope you see the problem.
I hope I’m not reading too much Spivak to make sense anymore.
So here I come back to transsexuality-as-an-issue:
Targetting that particular demographic makes good sense, but I wonder if perhaps children themselves should be given access to the tools they need to help them in their own self-identification. To paraphrase Ruth, “I am thinking of something the five-year old Helen could have read that might have helped… but also something that the five-year old Helen would have actually been likely to read rather than have been stuck in a ’specialist’ bookshop like News from Nowhere whilst Helen read Thomas the Tank and the Hobbit”.
On one hand, I want to praise the move toward “trans kids need access to this info, it’s normal, and it’s something five year olds need to have info about and yes are actually capable of understanding.” But on the other hand, if we approach the world from a perspective that cissexuality isn’t “natural,” if we come from the perspective that all gender & sex are self-determination, then there isn’t a book about dealing with being trans–in the background of every children’s book has to be an assumption that kids are uncovering gender for themselves and making what they wish–it may or may not be foregrounded, but the idea that a kid could look at another kid and say “that’s a boy” or that a character could be glossed as a girl in some abiding, permanent, unconditional/absolute/non-tentative way is impossible if we dare to think gender self-determination. In a trans positive world, there are no trans books because there are no cis books–which, currently, are essentially all books.
So, now we come to the drama. The original offending comment:
Don’t you think offering “trans-friendly” books to CHILDREN is a bit like offering pro-plastic-surgery books, or pro-limb-lengthening-surgery books, or gastric-bypass-friendly books to kids? I mean we’re talking about major pharmaceutical dependence, the long-term consequences of which aren’t yet known, and major surgical intervention against what is in actuality healthy flesh. Are none of these trans-advocates concerned at all about children being indoctrinated and influenced to do themselves bodily harm, when they might under less woman-hating circumstances simply be lesbian women or women who otherwise do not adhere to societal gender roles in style or behavior?
So, this whole bodily harm/self-mutilation idea. Mayhem. What does that really signify? What does self mutilation signify?
“major surgical intervention against what is in actuality healthy flesh”–we are changing something from the real, healthy order of things, the natural to the unnatural–that is the essence of self-mutilation. It’s not self mutilation to have, say, an appendectomy or Laparoscopic Anti-Reflux Surgery–even though both involve the removal of healthy tissue–because the tissue in question is irrelevant to our understanding of personhood and reality–whereas in all the cited cases of surgery, one is talking about social characteristics of the body.
The commenter’s presumption is that one can somehow avoid the “subject” of transsexuality entirely, that existing children’s books are not the opening salvos in a war against trans kids. Every single statement she makes about “boys” and “girls,” by assuming that reality is cissexual, are immediately dependent upon a foreclosure of transsexuality. (that is, rejecting it as if it had never existed) That one can be “trans friendly” but not portray it as part of symbolic reality, as “normal”:
guess I was thinking of “trans-friendly” as being more “pro-trans” because that’s the aura it’s taken online. If it were possible to simply portray it, without making it seem like a good thing, or without making it seem like it’s just as normal as being a non-gender-conforming female, intersex, or male person, then, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.
She’s saying–so long as transsexuality is talked about in a way that makes it clear that it’s still up-for-debate, not a-part-of-the-underlying-reality-that-makes-this-discussion-even-possible, and not “normal”–part of the real symbolic order–just a deviation therefrom, an aberration that doesn’t have to be accounted for when we think about the world, it’s ok with her. Her position isn’t even one of wanting to make sure to denounce being trans, because she’s fine if there’s no material out there–she has *no concern* for the “girls” that she’s supposedly advocating for, only for maintaining cissexual dominance over the meaning of reality.
If I need to back that up I’ll need another post–it just gets kinda convoluted. The short version is that she acknowledges that a certain group is suffering distress, but is only interested in making sure they *don’t* get a certain kind of resource, rather than making sure that they do get other resources. Furthermore, her paranoia about even a single children’s book that “pushes drugs and self-mutilation” on kids is demonstrative that she isn’t really worried about how many kids it might cause to transition–because individuals’ cissexuality is much more robust than that, but society’s isn’t.* Society’s myth of universal cissexuality *is* incredibly fragile, and has to be protected at all times–but what has to be done is not to create a stronger foundation (which they never ever do) but to disrupt any other conversation that’s happening. (see my Radical Feminist Troll series, especially parts two and three)
This is why these “discussions” cannot continue to be tolerated in feminist spaces–because the premise is to keep our very reality in check, our existence and validity as people at bay, our lives up for debate. That frame unmakes us, it strips the connection between transsexuality and personhood, its very point is to undo us, making us objects that make funny sounds that seem almost like speech. They demand that all participants ground themselves on earth that doesn’t hold our weight.
Margie’s whole deal with “oh I don’t care what adults do, just don’t indoctrinate the children” is precisely about making sure that no one comes into this world without the cissexuality-as-reality frame. She has no concern for whether people actually “mutilate” themselves, no concern for the welfare even of her putative victim, let alone trans kids–only that that “mutilation” remain aberration, unreal, only that our purchase on reality is too unstable to actually give us the support to go interpreting that reality, challenging the cissexual supremacist one, and have it taken seriously.
“We were talking about the gullibility of young children and whether it’s ethical to exploit that in order to make adult people feel better about their pharmaceutical and surgical choices.”
Arrrgh! No we weren’t! Not sure what conversation you were having but the original post was about trans friendly books for children… and now they’re being exploited? What, you think the kind of books we meant were ones that went like this?
October 20, 2008
It’s a strong word. A frightening word. A word that seems far too terrible, far too extreme for what an especially transphobic journalist or filmmaker advocates–even when you consider the existence of multiple forms of genocide, cultural genocide as well as genocide based in mass murder. That seems far too extreme for describing actions of Dr Zucker, [cis] gay historians, [straight][cis] historians, previous gatekeepers in the medical establishment.
But when Zucker’s method of therapy is to isolate and terrorize, to create PTSD in response to gender-variant behavior in order to stop it, when he says that our way of life is so depraved that it’s preferable for us to end up alcoholic and self-injuring—
when Janice Raymond’s “solution” to transsexuality is to “morally mandate it out of existence“[emphasis mine]
when historians hide every shred of knowledge we have about our cultural ancestors,
when other historians find that knowledge and deliberately erase the gender aspects, appropriating those figures for their own, entirely apart from us–thereby cutting us off from our history and our ancestors,
when gender clinics made silence about our existence a condition for treatment, did everything they could to isolate us, kept us from talking to each other in a common language, kept us from finding each other, only treated those of us who will be in no way distinctively trans in appearance, action, or speech,
when doctors “treating” intersex children not only mutilated their genitals, but deliberately kept the knowledge of their intersexuality from them, taking great pains to ensure that intersex people would not reach out and find each other, their common ground, share their stories–
Amongst all that, how are we to take this:
I chose the title, “Sex change surgery is unnecessary mutilation”. … Are we right to support sex change surgery, and is it right to apply a surgical solution to what I believe is a psychological problem? (link)
But a leading feminist campaigner claims that sex reassignment surgery is based on unscientific ideas – and could be doing more harm than good. (link)
To use Sarah Brown’s words, “her core message [is] that she wants to open a “dialogue” about why trans people shouldn’t be allowed medical transition.” And by nominating her for journalist of the year, Stonewall UK, at minimum, agrees to that ‘dialogue’.
I hope it’s clear that Bindel conflates SRS with medical transition as a whole (because she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, surprise).
So let me translate this one step further:
She wants to wipe transsexual bodies from the face of the earth. She wants to make trans bodies cease to exist.
There’s a word for that.
October 3, 2008
“Typical biological (fe)male”
No. Just, no. Don’t do it.
No really. Don’t. I don’t care if your trans friend uses it. I don’t care if you’re trans. Don’t.
I don’t actually have to explain it. Think for a minute or two. Read a few of my other posts, particularly this one. You have the resources and intellect to figure this one out on your own. Really. I trust you. You can do it.
Don’t click the “more” button if you haven’t already figured it out or at least tried for 5 minutes. The point of what follows isn’t about educating you about why not to say it. That’s stupid. It’s about 1)giving you talking points to explain to other people, and 2)exploring the faulty logic that goes into the usage.
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