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 21, 2008
With respect to my last post, Battybattybats writes:
But it is worth taking this further, because in much of the world to obtain basic rights and essential services as a transgender person that cis folk always enjoy one must be steralised.
It’s all well and good for those who choose to undergo procedures that render them sterile. Its their right to make that decision for themselves and everyone should support their right to do so. But to mandate it in exchange for basic rights and access to essential services is a human-rights abuse plain and simple.
If there is a genetic cause or factor involved in being Transgender then forced sterilisation is clear and direct biological Genocide.
It is Eugenics!
Transgender people do not automatically lose their reproductive rights! They may choose to waive them but should never be forced to waive them.
Those who do go through treatment that renders them sterile should be able to preserve reproductive material where possible and to use that later in life if they so choose. [though fine in the US, it can disqualify one for government document change elsewhere, notably Japan.–me]
Where there are state-based health systems these should provide for this service for those that are covered by them.(link)
In this context, but without the governmental authority, at least one US medical practitioner, Jamie Feldman, has made a hysterectomy a precondition for testosterone treatments for a trans man married to a cis man. (with WPATH’s approval–she operates out of the same building)
(you might also want to read Antiseptic Stings in reference to this whole mess.)
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.