Author: has written 462 posts for this blog.

Return to: Homepage | Blog Index

98 Responses

  1. Nita
    Nita March 28, 2007 at 1:05 pm |

    I don’t know that ANYONE is particularly seen as one gender or another in actuality. I think it’s more like certain constitutive elements of personality, identity, etc., are classified as “male” or “female” exclusively (i.e. arbitrarily), and people have different proportions of all of these. I think people have a desire to create a kind of either/or gender as a way to create a meaningful explanation for our (mostly) either/or anatomy, but mostly i think people accept the idea of a kind of trans-gender in all of us. I guess the difference between trans folk and non-trans folk is that most people, whatever fuzziness of gender they may feel, sort of tacitly accept the label “female” or “male” and find ways to less directly challenge the duality of those identities, to avoid being pinned down to certain behavior sets while still agreeing to be pinned down in concept. Maybe that’s an overly rosy picture of how most people view each other, but maybe not.

  2. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne March 28, 2007 at 1:57 pm |

    I do think that for most people, most of the time, they feel that their genitals and indicators of sex fit them. There are times when I’m impatient with my breasts (D-cups thanks to my Italian ancestors) or annoyed with the mechanics of menstruation, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt that those things weren’t “me.” I’ve struggled against the constructions of gender that have been put on us by society, but I’ve never felt that I was the wrong sex.

    There is, I think, a difference between gender and sex. Gender is societal; sex is (for most people, most of the time) an innate feeling. I can’t explain how I know that I am female — I just know.

    I almost wonder if you might want to do some reading about intersexed people. Many of them have terrible stories about unwanted surgery that was done on them as children to force them to conform physically to a particular sex, so you may not feel that you fit in. Some of them feel strongly that they are a specific sex, but a lot of them don’t feel that they are located in one sex or the other.

    You are, unfortunately, in territory that is unexplored and unimagined in this culture. I don’t envy you your journey, but I think it’s an important one.

  3. Holly
    Holly March 28, 2007 at 2:27 pm |

    Practically speaking, I think piny is quite right. People do quite particularly categorize other people they run into as men or women, and that process, which pretty much everyone does based on what they see, hear, etc, can have very significant consequences. If not, there wouldn’t be any basis for sexism to operate on.

    I think what you were trying to say, Nita, is that most people kind of get at some level, consciously or otherwise, that nobody is “100% male” or “100% female” when it comes to gender. But that doesn’t prevent most or all of us from doing a lot of automatic psychological categorization of people into one side of the line or the other… or prevent some people, institutions, etc. from punishing people who can’t easily be categorized. And this goes even for people in queer/trans communities who are used to having lots of trans people around — I think part of Piny’s post speaks to this. Most people can’t just flip switches in their head with the greatest of ease, especially when you break standardized narratives that they’re relying on.

    When you’re not allowed to exist in the way that you just do, as a matter of fact, happen to exist… it becomes really hard to keep track of your own existence.

    I often feel like a little pachinko ball, falling onto people’s perceptions, and then bouncing one way or the other off the little triangular divider, into the left slot or the right slot, based on a bunch of fairly random stuff. Bouncers at bars almost always perceive me as female. Cab drivers very often perceive me as male. I have yet to totally figure out why although I have some guesses. And truth be told, I don’t want to have a totally unambiguous gender, I feel like it would be toxic to me. Not just the expectations, but even expressing myself in some highly-gendered way, for more than a momentary performance, feels not only false to me but like I’m subordinating myself to something oppressive and alien.

    I could drop the ball in the right side of the pachinko machine, or the left… heck I could drop it so far to one side that it would never go anywhere but one of the slots. And I know people who express their gender like that, and respect that. But personally, I have to drop it in the middle. Then, this is the tricky part… Piny is right. There is no middle ground to live on, no third choice, no option other than people going “what the hell is that!?” It’s a sharp slope where you’re going to fall one way or the other. If you can’t easily be shunted one way or the other, people are going to keep staring, and staring, and staring at you. And THEN they get intrusive. It’s like a horrific real-world parody of those god-awful “Pat” skits from SNL.

    Personally I feel like most of my energy around my gender presentation goes towards making this scenario happen: the ball drops in the middle. It hits the triangle, and there’s a little pockmark there that most of the time, makes it fall one direction. For me, that’s towards “female” because even though I don’t want to go out of my way to force a “strong interpretation” of female gender, I’m more comfortable with that direction. I identify, personally and politically, as a woman, among other things. Also, I tried the guy thing for a number of years, as an alternate solution to androgyny, and didn’t like it.

    I get depressed when I think about some parts of my childhood, when I was protected enough by various people that it didn’t matter that strangers were confused about what gender I was. So I just didn’t care, and it was funny. At first. Until I realized there were consequences. Later on, I got the shit kicked out of me for not having my gender in order.

    Piny, I think you are a super-Piny. That means you get your own powers. Use them for good — or heck, this is not a comic book. Use them for whatever you want!

  4. pigeon
    pigeon March 28, 2007 at 2:29 pm |

    i don’t much to say, except that i’m really glad that you’re writing about this and that i can read about it. everytime i think i start to get a hold on what gender is and how it works or some other nonesense, someone brings in a new experience and i get to remember that i don’t have to be able to organize and explain everything and i get to keep learning.

    so, yeah. thank you for writing.

  5. Kim
    Kim March 28, 2007 at 2:46 pm |

    Gender is societal; sex is (for most people, most of the time) an innate feeling. I can’t explain how I know that I am female — I just know.

    I’ve been reading… I’ve Netflixed “Transgeneration”… and I still can’t help but feel like we’re going somewhere very dangerous with the assertion that sex is something one can feel.

    I don’t want to feel opposed to transpeople. In fact, if someone wants to identify as another gender, I’d never be so rude as to refuse to refer to them in which ever mode they preferred. But I’d be lying if I said that I had reconciled the whole thing with the idea that women should have equal rights because we’re human and indistinguishable from men, with the exception of parts of us that contribute to our ability to reproduce.

    If there IS some underlying difference, what does that mean? And is it ever really something that can be bridged? Why is it enough for a biological man to grow breasts, have his penis flipped into an approximation of a vagina, and take some estrogen? Women also menstruate for a good part of their lives: does a man who wants to be a woman feel an urge to cramp and bleed once a month? To feel the flutter of ovulation? Does he feel a need to be pregnant? To give birth? These are all things that only females can do and no amount of surgery can enable a male to, so I can’t help but feel that it’s largely a cosmetic change, in deference to the binary system. Why can’t he be a man in a dress?

  6. Kim
    Kim March 28, 2007 at 2:47 pm |

    Gender is societal; sex is (for most people, most of the time) an innate feeling. I can’t explain how I know that I am female — I just know.

    I’ve been reading… I’ve Netflixed “Transgeneration”… and I still can’t help but feel like we’re going somewhere very dangerous with the assertion that sex is something one can feel.

    I don’t want to feel opposed to transpeople. In fact, if someone wants to identify as another gender, I’d never be so rude as to refuse to refer to them in which ever mode they preferred. But I’d be lying if I said that I had reconciled the whole thing with the idea that women should have equal rights because we’re human and indistinguishable from men, with the exception of parts of us that contribute to our ability to reproduce.

    If there IS some underlying difference, what does that mean? And is it ever really something that can be bridged? Why is it enough for a biological man to grow breasts, have his penis flipped into an approximation of a vagina, and take some estrogen? Women also menstruate for a good part of their lives: does a man who wants to be a woman feel an urge to cramp and bleed once a month? To feel the flutter of ovulation? Does he feel a need to be pregnant? To give birth? These are all things that only females can do and no amount of surgery can enable a male to, so I can’t help but feel that it’s largely a cosmetic change, in deference to the binary system. Why can’t he be a man in a dress?

  7. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne March 28, 2007 at 3:02 pm |

    If there IS some underlying difference, what does that mean? And is it ever really something that can be bridged?

    First off, I have to say … I have absolutely no idea what the answer is.

    But I do think that “gender” and “sex” frequently get elided and referred to as the same thing, when they are not. They are related, but NOT the same. You can choose a particular gender identity but not have any desire to actually change your sex. I believe that relatively few transsexuals undergo the final surgery to alter their genitals, but I could be (and probably am) completely wrong about that.

    I think that gender is fluid and ever-changing in its definition. Even a basic anthropology textbook shows that the gender roles and skills that men and women are thought to “naturally” have vary greatly from one culture to the next. Gender is so heavily influenced by thousands and thousands of years of culture that we will have a very difficult — if not impossible — time figuring out what characteristics can be attributed to one’s sex, and what are gender constructions built by our culture(s).

    So I guess my answer is: I don’t think that the underlying difference, if any, means anything at all.

  8. twf
    twf March 28, 2007 at 3:36 pm |

    One of the biggest indicators, to me, that patriarchy exists and that sexism is real, is the amount of discomfort people, including myself, feel, when it isn’t obvious what gender somebody is. Presented with someone who doesn’t fit neatly in one of the two mutually-exclusive categories, most people will expend an awful lot of energy trying to figure out which gender to assign. And the only reason I can think of that this makes us so uncomfortable, is that we don’t know how to behave. We don’t know where the other person sits, in relation to ourselves, in the hierarchy of society.

    I’m trying to get over this learned behaviour. But the discomfort is so strong I know that the hierarchy is strongly ingrained.

  9. Boadicea
    Boadicea March 28, 2007 at 3:49 pm |

    Kim says:

    If there IS some underlying difference, what does that mean? And is it ever really something that can be bridged? Why is it enough for a biological man to grow breasts, have his penis flipped into an approximation of a vagina, and take some estrogen? Women also menstruate for a good part of their lives: does a man who wants to be a woman feel an urge to cramp and bleed once a month? To feel the flutter of ovulation? Does he feel a need to be pregnant? To give birth? These are all things that only females can do and no amount of surgery can enable a male to, so I can’t help but feel that it’s largely a cosmetic change, in deference to the binary system. Why can’t he be a man in a dress?

    Speaking as a woman, born as a woman, and never having seen myself as other than a woman, I think you’re defining femaleness as little narrowly. A post-menopausal woman does not “cramp and bleed” monthly any more. Does that mean she is no longer a woman? I personally have never felt the desire or need to be pregnant (ew) or to give birth (yuck). I don’t feel any less “womanly” for it. Does this lack mean I am not a woman? What about women who, due to cancer or other health conditions, have to have mastectomies, hysterectomies, or their external genitalia removed? Does this mean they are no longer women?

    If I understand it correctly, transgendered people see themselves as the sex opposite of their bodies. *In their minds*, a man sees himself as female, a woman as male. Their bodies don’t match this image, and the cognitive dissonance can lead to self-destructive behaviors such as alcoholism. This is why they choose surgery – they need to have their bodies match the image in their minds.

    I guess it would be similar to women who have breast augmentation, tummy tucks, buttock lifts, or liposuction. Their bodies don’t match the image they have of themselves in their minds. If a woman with naturally A-cup breasts has surgery in order to have C-cup breasts, does this make her MORE of a woman? If a woman has breast reduction surgery, is she LESS of a woman?

    BTW, a “man in a dress” is a cross-dresser. He is almost always heterosexual, likes to have sex with women, but also enjoys wearing women’s clothing. This is nowhere near being transgendered, which is why he can’t be a “man in a dress.” Once the dress goes on, he sees himself physically as he sees himself in his head – as a woman.

    Who knew something that seems as fundamental as gender could be so complicated?

  10. Em
    Em March 28, 2007 at 3:50 pm |

    If there IS some underlying difference, what does that mean? And is it ever really something that can be bridged? Why is it enough for a biological man to grow breasts, have his penis flipped into an approximation of a vagina, and take some estrogen? Women also menstruate for a good part of their lives: does a man who wants to be a woman feel an urge to cramp and bleed once a month? To feel the flutter of ovulation? Does he feel a need to be pregnant? To give birth? These are all things that only females can do and no amount of surgery can enable a male to, so I can’t help but feel that it’s largely a cosmetic change, in deference to the binary system. Why can’t he be a man in a dress?

    Speaking from the other side, I know trans men who feel an acute loss at any number of biological functions that they either cannot perform or can only do in a limited fashion, such as penetration, ejaculation, fathering a child. I can only imagine that many trans women feel the same way about some female biological functions and that this sort of dysphoria requires a lifetime of management. It does not, however, mean that trans men should be satisfied with being butch women, or that they are butch women after transition. They are men. Trans women are women.

    You seem to challenging the right of trans people to exist as transitioned individuals identifying as their transitioned sex, and you’re basing sex purely on the ability to undergo reproductive functions. In fact, there’s 7 biological categories of sex, and chromosomes, hormones, and genitalia are only three of them. To say that b/c a trans woman does not fit all 7 and is thus underneath it all really just a man in a dress is to say, conversely, that a person assigned female at birth who doesn’t fulfill all 7 categories (by having a hidden intersex condition, for example) is also really just a man in a dress. Or an it in a dress, for as piny said, it’s attitudes like the one you’re expressing that others everyone ambiguous out of existence.

  11. Boadicea
    Boadicea March 28, 2007 at 3:52 pm |

    twf says:

    One of the biggest indicators, to me, that patriarchy exists and that sexism is real, is the amount of discomfort people, including myself, feel, when it isn’t obvious what gender somebody is. Presented with someone who doesn’t fit neatly in one of the two mutually-exclusive categories, most people will expend an awful lot of energy trying to figure out which gender to assign. And the only reason I can think of that this makes us so uncomfortable, is that we don’t know how to behave. We don’t know where the other person sits, in relation to ourselves, in the hierarchy of society.

    Perhaps much of the discomfort comes from the language. Gender-specific nouns and pronouns (she, he, him, her, his, hers, etc.) don’t leave a lot of room for someone who is neither or both. And it is considered very rude (if not actually bigotted) to refer to a person as “it”.

    Perhaps the discomfort will diminish if words can be coined which are appropriate for a person without necessarily including gender.

  12. twf
    twf March 28, 2007 at 4:06 pm |

    Boadicea,

    I think language is a part of it, and certainly the language we use has an impact on our behaviour. But when presented with an androgynous person, face-to-face, I don’t think it’s all about the pronouns. I don’t need to describe this person to others, I don’t need to talk about this person, what I need is to interact, right here, right now. And gender is so coded into our social patterns that many of us become lost without gender cues. We don’t consciously think, for instance, is this person my social inferior or my superior, how much should I smile, what should my body language be, how far do I stand from them, what kind of tone of voice do I use, but the obvious distress so many people have when presented with ambiguity shows that we do base much of our interaction on gender, along with other social cues.

  13. Boadicea
    Boadicea March 28, 2007 at 4:11 pm |

    Well, I do think pronouns are part of it, twf. You may not be using said pronouns to the androgynous person’s face, but you are to yourself. “Does she like me? How powerful is he? He’s got money – look how she’s dressed” These may not be conscious thoughts, but they are there, and I think provide the base for the questions you postulated (what should my body language be [we present ourselves differently to men or women]), etc.

    I think we’re on the same page, just different paragraphs. :)

  14. Kim
    Kim March 28, 2007 at 4:46 pm |

    You seem to challenging the right of trans people to exist as transitioned individuals identifying as their transitioned sex…

    I’m not saying that transpeople shouldn’t be allowed to transition: I don’t have any interest in restricting the freedom of other adults. I’m just wondering whether they want to transition because of societal pressure: to make their bodies fit what they feel is a personality that would be better tolerated in an opposite sex body. The same way I question when perfectly healthy women with perfectly lovely chests get breast implants “for themselves.”

    Speaking as a woman, born as a woman, and never having seen myself as other than a woman, I think you’re defining femaleness as little narrowly. A post-menopausal woman does not “cramp and bleed” monthly any more. Does that mean she is no longer a woman? I personally have never felt the desire or need to be pregnant (ew) or to give birth (yuck). I don’t feel any less “womanly” for it.

    So then what makes a woman? I see myself as a woman because those– uterus, etc — are the parts I have. If you look like a man, but FEEL like a woman, you can never have those parts, only the illusion of them. So… what are you really achieving?

    And what does that say about men and women? If my “soul” or being is somehow inherently female, rather than simply human, that just sounds like another way for men to say that I’m less. Which, honestly, is probably at the heart of what annoys me about the topic. Feminism has been trying to hammer in the point that men and women are the same at their core, and this feels like a blow against that idea.

    Because if we’re different, one of us ends up being considered better… and guess who that won’t be? It makes me feel as though this is the direction things will go in, and women will just ALWAYS be on the bottom.

  15. Holly
    Holly March 28, 2007 at 5:05 pm |

    I’m just wondering whether they want to transition because of societal pressure: to make their bodies fit what they feel is a personality that would be better tolerated in an opposite sex body.

    You can just ask trans people this, and while it’s difficult to really introspect and question/investigate your own motivations with anything approaching absolute certainty, it’s not like trans people are less reliable on this subject than anyone else — unfortunately, we’re usually treated like we are, like we’re rife with false consciousness and hidden drives that we can’t be trusted to talk about. (Not saying you suggested this.) Anyway, the answer to your question is “it’s much more than that” or “generally speaking, no.” Some people might answer yes, I’m sure.

    There’s a huge amount of pressure in society at large (as opposed to particular subcultures, which is another conversation entirely) that opposes trans people exercising any kind of choice over our bodies when it comes to gender/sex characteristics. Definitely a lot more than there is for women who consider having breast implants, since “sexy women are supposed to have big breasts,” right? Trans people have to work against a whole lot of prejudice, and often through a tangled gauntlet of personal feelings, thinking about how social pressures are playing in, family, friends, work, etc. in order to make these decisions (not to mention often get institutional stamps of approval) about our bodies. That’s where the breast implant comparison falls short.

    And then piny, whose post started this discussion, came back the other way, something that’s not tolerated in a lot of trans communities, either. I hope that imagery gives some impression of why I think it’s a noble and impressive thing to struggle for your gender, wherever it ends up being.

    So then what makes a woman? I see myself as a woman because those– uterus, etc — are the parts I have. If you look like a man, but FEEL like a woman, you can never have those parts, only the illusion of them. So… what are you really achieving?

    What you’re saying here is a whole other sort of problem for feminism — you’re reducing “woman” to a collection of body parts. Which is not that much different than what objectifying, dehumanizing portrayals of women do — women are wombs (anti-abortion), women are tits and asses (exploitative sex imagery), women are certain health or medical needs (pharma industry, etc.) How is reducing people to their bodies better than reducing them to some abstract “soul?” It seems worse to me. Even if everyone agreed that “souls” are not inherently gendered (and I think a lot of religious teachings might agree, which doesn’t necessarily lend credence) it is hard to get away from the differences in people’s bodies. As long as we have power structures that exploit and oppress based on sex differences, they have plenty of material already to work with: human bodies. We shouldn’t be playing into that by supporting more biological essentialism.

    However, I don’t think you need to essentialize any of this in order to recognize that it makes sense for some people to change their gender expression, change their bodies, etc. We live in systems of sex and gender — some of this stuff comes inscribed on our bodies, some of it is determined by society. Feminism teaches us that a lot of the societal stuff is arbitrary bullshit, and that nobody should HAVE to pay attention to it or follow it.

    Well, bodies are not necessarily exempt from that either, even though we associate them with the natural, “mother nature’s” province beyond the human ken. People’s brains connect to their bodies in all sorts of weird ways; we don’t necessarily understand why or how this is happening. But some people do have the experience, it’s quite a real thing, of gender dysphoria with their bodies. And it can’t just be explained away as “well, society must have caused that by giving you all sorts of messed up messages about gender.”

    Social institutions and conventions based on gender are restrictive and oppressive to many, many people. (To pretty much all women, for instance.) Sometimes gender coercion hurts or kills people, in many different ways. We need to support people’s efforts to struggle against coercion and to find ways to survive within these systems, which we will certainly not eradicate in our lifetime or our children’s lifetimes. And often survival within gender coercion means moving yourself to a different place within the system, a different ledge you can cling to, a perch to leverage and resist from. Is that enough justification?

  16. Holly
    Holly March 28, 2007 at 5:10 pm |

    Speaking of pronouns and using language to find options that aren’t either/or… did anyone read this entry on Big Queer Blog by Pauline Park:

    S/he’s Not Heavy, Zie’s My Non-Gendered Sibling: Why Gender-Neutral Pronouns Don’t Work for Me

    This is a trans woman arguing against gender-neutral pronouns for reasons that frankly, don’t make any sense to me. But it’s another example of pressure to “get off the fence” — more then just talking about why she doesn’t prefer them for herself, Park seems to be actually claiming that it’s more revolutionary to claim “fully gendered” pronouns. My pachinko-ball fine-tuning is apparently less than radical. Obviously I am less than satisfied with this, but since gender-neutral pronouns came up and I just read this, I was wondering what others think.

  17. Feministe » Hump Day Perversity Blogging

    [...]
    3.28.2007

    Hump Day Perversity Blogging
    Posted by piny @ 5:13 pm

    Oooookay. Back when Little Light wrote that post about sacri [...]

  18. Sara
    Sara March 28, 2007 at 5:27 pm |

    The idea of “feeling” gender or sex seems really strange to me. I kind of feel like I’ve lived a pretty un-gendered life, as things go, and I would have no idea where to begin to describe what was womanly or manly that wasn’t connected to physical traits and social experiences. “Woman” is a description of what I am, and hinges on the phenotype I ended up with, but I feel like it’s just a name for the phenomenon of walking around with these organs and not a constituent part of what I am. Mess around with my genetics or my organs or the way I fit into society, and I’d be different, yeah, but that should be obvious anyway. I think of it kind of the way I conceive of classification of animals into species – it’s something we’ve imposed on the world around us as a means of understanding and sorting differences. The hard-and-fast rule that two animals of the same species can reproduce together and animals of different species cannot has its exceptions. We do our best to cram the natural world into the spaces we’ve set up for thinking about it, and sometimes the fit isn’t so good, but that’s really our problem, not the platypus’. I’m personally fine with having an imperfect definition of species, since we’ve gotten so much use of it. piny here attests to the fact that our imperfect system of gender classification really is inadeuate, however, so it’s time to change our thinking, because I’m not about to ask that people change their nature and physicality just to suit the inadequate system we use for thinking about differences amongst people.

  19. Holly
    Holly March 28, 2007 at 5:36 pm |

    If the idea of “feeling” your gender or sex seems strange, then chances are you are lucky enough to not have felt any deep-seated dissonance of the sort that you can’t even partially shrug off as foisted on you by society. That’s something to be thankful for. It’s kind of like… do any of us know what it’s like to have a body that works differently, in terms of its mobility, or its ability to see things clearly, until we actually experience a change in our mobility or sight? No, we have no idea. We take our experiences in those matters for granted.

    As for the “more revolutionary” thing, piny I think you’re right. And I would be nodding much more emphatically if Park were writing about, say, institutional attempts to force trans people to use a “third restroom.” That’s an example of power being used to keep trans people segregated (usually because we’re going to disturb someone) and shove us into some category of “other” in the either/or setup. However, I don’t think pronouns are another example of this — I’ve never seen an example of some non-trans, non-gender-different person or institution saying, “hey we can’t call you people he or she, so let’s make up a new pronoun!” When right-wing radio talk-show hosts do this, they just use the pronoun “it” as an insult, which is not what this gender-neutral pronoun discussion is about.

    As far as I’ve ever seen, options and ideas for new gender-neutral pronouns (ze, hir, they, using your name, using no pronouns, etc) are created by people and communities that need these pronouns because the standard he/she sets just don’t work for some people. It’s an adaptation to a system that excludes, not something imposed by the system. So that’s where I don’t get what Park is talking about — the comments on her entry kind of say much the same thing, in various ways.

  20. brynn
    brynn March 28, 2007 at 5:51 pm |

    Effective gender is consensus-based

    That is brilliantly stated!

    As a trans-man, I actually see gender-identity as two-fold: one is your public identity, which is, as you say, consensus based. It’s the way other people perceive you and interact with you based on their assumption that you are either male or female. And it’s always one or the other, as modern western society does not allow for any other category. (The “proper” and acceptable behaviour for males or females, however, varies over time and from culture to culture, leading a person to justifiably wonder what, if any, aspect of gender-roles are biologically determined.)

    Then there’s the second aspect of gender-identity, which is in your own head and heart. It’s the sense you yourself have of being a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, or something else altogether. This sense of self exists independently of any interaction with another person, it’s what you feel when you’re all by yourself, and it can be in direct contradiction to the way others perceive you and interact with you. Moreover, it generally persists, no matter how other people interact with you. Although a person can be driven to suppress it, to the point of forgetting it, in order to survive.

    So, I was born female, but I never felt like a girl. Nor did I feel “born into the wrong body,” because there was so much I liked about my body (especially before I developed breasts). I liked my eyes, my muscles, my ability to run easily, my strength, my quick intelligence. I didn’t even mind my genitals, although as I grew older and realised that the presence of a penis or the lack of one was how everyone else determined gender, I increasingly felt that my genitals were problematic.

    What I felt most strongly, although I could not articulate it until I transitioned in my 40′s, was that everyone in society must be delusional to believe that something as complex as gender-identity could be determined by something as simple as a penis. I still very strongly believe this. Our society’s ideas regarding gender are far too simplistic to encompass the diversity that is nature. And, don’t forget, we humans are “of nature” too.

    If society offered more than the two categories, man or woman, I might have seen no need “to transition.” In my private life, to my friends and lovers, I am not simply a “man” but a “trans-man,” to better encompass the complexity of my history and my identity. But society doesn’t recognise a category, “trans-man.” So given that I must chose one of only two choices, I am much happier, much more comfortable, relaxed and fulfilled, living publicly and interacting with society as a man, than I ever was as a woman.

    To muddy the waters further, I’ll end with this: I totally believe men and women are much more alike than we are different. We are all human beings, so how different can we really be from one another? As much variation exists within one gender as exists across gender lines, especially when you consider the extremes—butchest women and most effeminate men.

    Moreover, I was and remain a staunch, militant feminist. So why did I feel it necessary to risk everything to transition? That’s the hardest question to answer, but all I can say is I looked into my heart, and the prospect of living the rest of my life in society as a guy filled me with such mad joy and felt like what I was always meant to be, while the prospect of living as a woman felt quite simply, impossible.

  21. Sara
    Sara March 28, 2007 at 6:01 pm |

    Holly, I didn’t mean to dismiss transsexuality and transsexual experiences – of which, you’re right, I know next to nothing. I was speaking more to the problem of using gender definitions prescriptively rather than descriptively. (I group sex definitions in here, too – there are phenotypic differences in males and females, but we get to draw the line for who is categorized as which sex.) A transwoman may feel uncomfortable in the body with which she was born, she may feel like her body should match what is considered “woman” – that’s a reality with which I’m not going to argue, or claim any better characterization that what I know can produce. What I’m questioning is the idea of there being some womanly spark that’s fired in a person, rather than there being a person who feels x y and z, and can be described as a transwoman or a woman or really, whatever she wants. Maybe this just comes from my concept of the self as a synergistic more-than-the-sum-of-your-parts that is nevertheless contingent on the parts.

    Also, Holly, I don’t want to drag this thread too far down the road that piny’s been down so many times before (and didn’t really write about to begin with), so if you’d like to email me, please do at saraeanderson (at) g mail (dot) com.

  22. Nezua Limón Xolagrafik-Jonez
    Nezua Limón Xolagrafik-Jonez March 28, 2007 at 7:13 pm |

    very interesting thoughts. thanks for stirring things up.

  23. Erin M
    Erin M March 28, 2007 at 7:36 pm |

    Women also menstruate for a good part of their lives: does a man who wants to be a woman feel an urge to cramp and bleed once a month? To feel the flutter of ovulation? Does he feel a need to be pregnant? To give birth?

    For me, in a word: yes.

    Why can’t he be a man in a dress?

    Because I don’t want to be a man in a dress. I did a lot of soul-searching with the knowledge that modern medicine could only take me so far, and you know what, half a loaf is still better than none.

    Besides, I have to earn a living somehow, and I’d like it to be work I find fulfilling, and there aren’t too many jobs hiring “men in dresses” that fit my criteria. It’s going along to get along. I don’t like it, but it’s the world I have to deal with.

  24. sophonisba
    sophonisba March 28, 2007 at 8:14 pm |

    Sara:

    What I’m questioning is the idea of there being some womanly spark that’s fired in a person, rather than there being a person who feels x y and z, and can be described as a transwoman or a woman or really, whatever she wants. Maybe this just comes from my concept of the self as a synergistic more-than-the-sum-of-your-parts that is nevertheless contingent on the parts.

    Mnemosyne:

    There are times when I’m impatient with my breasts (D-cups thanks to my Italian ancestors) or annoyed with the mechanics of menstruation, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt that those things weren’t “me.” I’ve struggled against the constructions of gender that have been put on us by society, but I’ve never felt that I was the wrong sex.

    Could we maybe, possibly, entertain the notion that one of the ways in which people are not all the same is in our degree of attachment to a gender?

    I’ve heard statements like Mnemosyne’s a lot, usually in the context of trying to explain to non-trans people how it feels to be trans, and it’s profoundly alienating (i.e. “You’ve never questioned that you’re really a woman, right?” “You’ve never felt like your breasts are wrong and shouldn’t be there, right?”– um, wrong.) and I know that many many women don’t feel this instinctual attachment to physical woman-ness at all. I’d be so much happier without my breasts and ass; they aren’t me, they’ve got nothing to do with me (And yes, this is different from run-of-the womanly bodily self-hating, which I am also familiar with.)

    But I’m not trans.

    And I’ve never felt like a man, or an androgyne (as opposed to wishing I were.) But I don’t feel like a woman in some ineffable spiritual sense — I am one, that’s all. No womanly spark here, thanks; being a woman through accident of birth is good enough for me, and it’s also all I’ve got. Certainly all I want.

    So, there are people like Mnemosyne who feel a powerful identification with their birthsex and trans people who feel an equally powerful identification with a sex they ought to be, all on one side.

    And then there are people like me, who don’t, on the other. We exist too. I don’t feel anything wrong with my being a woman, but there sure isn’t anything cosmically right about it, either. Why can’t we accept that the answer to “Do we naturally and inevitably have a powerful identification with one gender/sex or other” is, some of us do, and some of us don’t?

  25. preying mantis
    preying mantis March 28, 2007 at 8:20 pm |

    “And what does that say about men and women? If my “soul” or being is somehow inherently female, rather than simply human, that just sounds like another way for men to say that I’m less.”
    That seems like something of an internalized thing, though. There’s that old thing about differences between gender being ultimately less than differences between individuals. We’re humans. Humans have gender, after a fashion. This gender does not somehow make us superior or inferior to one another, or even somehow inherently different or alien to one another. It’s when we start piling attributes, virtues, and vices onto gender all willy nilly that problems start.

    Other people have pointed out that you’re not your uterus, you’re not your labia, you’re not your ovaries. You wouldn’t stop thinking of yourself as a woman if your clitoris was “too big” or your breasts were lost to cancer or you went through menopause. I’d like to go a little further, though.

    I know I’m a woman. I close my eyes and think of myself and I am a woman. I do not need a mirror or a chromosome test or monthly bleeding to tell me this. Is it because I have a “feminine soul” or whatever you want to call it? In a sense, I suppose. There is something that says “You are a woman,” and would continue to say this even if I somehow sprouted a penis overnight. In the sense that “You are a woman” == “You behave this way and want these things,” absolutely not. I’m an aggressive person, but I am still a woman. I have absolutely no personal inclination to nurture children, but I am still a woman. I’m not a great fan of pink as a color, but I am still a woman. And so forth. I don’t need a gender stereotype checklist to figure out what I am.

    But the thing is that knowing that you’re a woman without needing something physical and concrete doesn’t somehow translate into you being this mysterious Other for men to point at and say “Ah! Different!,” given that you’re more likely to find common ground with a group selected on the basis of interest or ideology than you are with a group selected on the basis of gender.

  26. shannon
    shannon March 28, 2007 at 8:54 pm |

    Only slightly related: I think *everyone* is full of hidden drives, desires,etc not just transpeople. I just have an obsession with psychology that’s all.

  27. Em
    Em March 28, 2007 at 9:12 pm |

    And what does that say about men and women? If my “soul” or being is somehow inherently female, rather than simply human, that just sounds like another way for men to say that I’m less. Which, honestly, is probably at the heart of what annoys me about the topic. Feminism has been trying to hammer in the point that men and women are the same at their core, and this feels like a blow against that idea.

    Nita, if the soul is the same, the body a person desires to wrap it in shouldn’t matter. That’s about as feminist as it gets.

  28. sophonisba
    sophonisba March 28, 2007 at 9:17 pm |

    I know I’m a woman. I close my eyes and think of myself and I am a woman. I do not need a mirror or a chromosome test or monthly bleeding to tell me this. Is it because I have a “feminine soul” or whatever you want to call it? In a sense, I suppose. There is something that says “You are a woman,” and would continue to say this even if I somehow sprouted a penis overnight.

    again — this is your experience and it’s a valid one as well as a fairly common one, and I don’t question it, but I don’t see anywhere in your post an acknowledgement of the fact that lots of cisgendered women don’t feel like that.

  29. Sara
    Sara March 28, 2007 at 9:27 pm |

    sophonisba, I think the answer to why I can’t just accept (or, more accurately, understand, and I can accept that I won’t understand everyone) that some people feel their gender more than others is that as feminists, we’ve all had a lot of experience seeing artifacts of gender demonstrated as societal constructs. Wanting to bear children isn’t universal amongst women, etc. It could be that I’m (in some ways) so gender-deaf that I don’t know what to look for, but from where I sit, I don’t know what actual human truth beyond experience someone identifies with when they identify with their gender.

  30. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne March 28, 2007 at 9:31 pm |

    And then there are people like me, who don’t, on the other. We exist too. I don’t feel anything wrong with my being a woman, but there sure isn’t anything cosmically right about it, either. Why can’t we accept that the answer to “Do we naturally and inevitably have a powerful identification with one gender/sex or other” is, some of us do, and some of us don’t?

    So, just checking — if you woke up tomorrow and discovered that you would be living your life as a man from that point forward (the “penis overnight” thing), you wouldn’t find it strange in the least and would just continue on with your day?

    I have to admit, I’m someone who’s pretty disconnected from her body on a day-to-day basis, but I would find it very odd to be told one day, “From now on, you’re a man.”

  31. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne March 28, 2007 at 9:33 pm |

    Oh, and just to tease out one little point:

    “Do we naturally and inevitably have a powerful identification with one gender/sex or other”

    My contention is that you can powerfully identify with both a sex and a gender, and that those identifications can be opposite. I think it’s perfectly legitimate for someone to live their life publicly as a particular gender without having to physically change their sex.

  32. Em
    Em March 28, 2007 at 9:44 pm |

    Legitimate, yes. Ridiculously fucking difficult, very yes.

  33. mk
    mk March 28, 2007 at 9:46 pm |

    piny, I’m really surprised that no one else has said this yet-

    That post was stunningly, heart-wrenchingly beautiful. I particularly enjoy the idea of being read as a mixed signal, but I don’t have anything more meaningful to say at the moment.

    I’m still mulling over a post on a similar topic- thanks for your inspiration.

    (Seriously. So fucking beautiful.)

  34. preying mantis
    preying mantis March 28, 2007 at 10:10 pm |

    “again — this is your experience and it’s a valid one as well as a fairly common one, and I don’t question it, but I don’t see anywhere in your post an acknowledgement of the fact that lots of cisgendered women don’t feel like that.”

    I don’t know how much of that whole not feeling like that thing is internalized culural misogyny, though. If a culture goes out of its way to make you feel defective or less than a full woman because you don’t want kids, or because you’re overweight, or because your breasts aren’t big enough, or because you like playing sports, or because you like girls and not boys, or because of any number of artificially-generated and imposed criteria, it can be very difficult not to internalize it. It can be very difficult not to look at yourself as less or feel that you are lacking because you don’t measure up to their standards.

    The question’s a little bit moot, though. I’m not trying to put my experience forth as some sort of unadulterated and absolute truth; I know it’s very difficult to get into someone else’s head and try to understand precisely where they’re coming from. What I am trying to do is point out to Kim that even if you do assume the female/male/androgynous identification is an unalterable and reproductive-organ-independent thing–if you assume it’s hardwired in utero or in some metaphysical fashion or in another biological way that we don’t fully understand yet–it does not immediately give justification to a claim of superiority on the part of one or another gender, or that some random differences artificially assigned to one gender are somehow inherent and immutable in spite of many unargued members of that gender not possessing them.

    It doesn’t undermine feminism to think that a transwoman is just as much a woman as a biowoman, even if medical science cannot currently give her the ability to ovulate, conceive, gestate, give birth, etc. One’s reproductive organs are not the alpha and omega of being a woman any more than having human DNA is the alpha and omega of being a person.

  35. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne March 28, 2007 at 10:16 pm |

    Legitimate, yes. Ridiculously fucking difficult, very yes.

    Sorry, I thought that it goes without saying that it’s incredibly difficult and carries very, very high risks of assault and death. I was kinda trying to stay away from Gwen Araujo and Brandon Teena and going more towards the Chevalier d’Eon to keep things light.

  36. shannon
    shannon March 28, 2007 at 10:28 pm |

    The sad part is that if I turned into a man, I’d be like cool! Except for it’d be weird to give up the possible multiple orgasms.

  37. Nomie
    Nomie March 28, 2007 at 10:32 pm |

    Echoing mk – this is a really amazingly written post, and I keep reading and re-reading it.

    Also, I think the Feministe store should totally have “SUPER TRANSSEXUAL” t-shirts.

  38. Z. M. Davis
    Z. M. Davis March 28, 2007 at 11:14 pm |

    Sara wrote:

    I think the answer to why I can’t just accept (or, more accurately, understand, and I can accept that I won’t understand everyone) that some people feel their gender more than others is that as feminists, we’ve all had a lot of experience seeing artifacts of gender demonstrated as societal constructs.

    But can’t something be both socially constructed, and genuinely felt? If I had been raised in a totally different environment, I wouldn’t value the things I do, but that hypothetical doesn’t mean I don’t actually value the things I do. The infinitude of hypothetical alternate Z. M. Davises sharing my genome but existing in different environments are best thought of as different people.

    That said, I get where you’re coming from, Sara—I too don’t understand what it would mean to feel female or male, seperate from making the observation that one is of the sex female or male; if consciousness is inherently sexed, it can’t be to any very great extent—not so you’d notice.

    Perhaps people like us can be said to have a gender identity of “little to none.”

  39. sophonisba
    sophonisba March 28, 2007 at 11:43 pm |

    So, just checking — if you woke up tomorrow and discovered that you would be living your life as a man from that point forward (the “penis overnight” thing), you wouldn’t find it strange in the least and would just continue on with your day?

    Um, no. Likewise, if I woke up tomorrow in Germany and discovered my US passport had mysteriously been revoked, I would freak the fuck out. Wouldn’t you? My first question would be, how did I get here without noticing? Nothing to do with whether I could learn to be at home in Germany or in a male body. My answer to that is, yes, I think I could.

    I’ve been a woman for several decades. Ever since I was born, in fact. That leaves its mark. Like I said, I am one, no getting around it.

    What I am saying, though, is that I am a woman like I am an American. Exactly like that: because I was born here, because I’ve lived here all my life, and because every year I stay here it gets a little bit more entrenched.

    There are things I dislike about being a woman, like there are things I hate about being American — and I could emigrate to Germany if I wanted it bad enough, sure. I could renounce my US citizenship. I can read German pretty well as it is, but I’ll always do it slower, and I’ll always have an accent and think of things in English first. And even though Europe appeals to me in many ways, I’d never stop being homesick, because habit gets into your blood.

    But there’s nothing intrinsically or spiritually “American” about how I feel that would be there even if I hadn’t lived here all my life. My sex is like my nationality. I do have an allegiance, I do have an identification, I do live here. I am completely acculturated. It’s entirely real, it would be hard as hell to change — in may ways impossible — and it’s also all situational.

    Being a woman is like that for me. Clear?

    And I am not for a second claiming that being a woman is like that for you.

  40. exangelena
    exangelena March 28, 2007 at 11:44 pm |

    Mnemosyne – although I don’t think Gallup tracks this stuff, most intersexed people identify within the gender binary as men or women – many intersexed people are perfectly comfortable adopting either a male or female gender identity and are not seeking a genderless society or to label themselves as a member of a third gender class. People may agree or disagree with their politics/philosophy, but I think that it should be stated for the record, especially since there’s a history of intersexed people being horribly misrepresented.

  41. Rachel
    Rachel March 28, 2007 at 11:48 pm |

    piny, I’m really glad you’re back and writing. wow. Good stuff. Hard, but very very good.

  42. sophonisba
    sophonisba March 28, 2007 at 11:52 pm |

    I don’t know how much of that whole not feeling like that thing is internalized culural misogyny, though. If a culture goes out of its way to make you feel defective or less than a full woman because you don’t want kids, or because you’re overweight, or because your breasts aren’t big enough, or because you like playing sports, or because you like girls and not boys, or because of any number of artificially-generated and imposed criteria, it can be very difficult not to internalize it. It can be very difficult not to look at yourself as less or feel that you are lacking because you don’t measure up to their standards.

    Um, begging your pardon, and I do realize this is a general statement and not aimed straight at me, but I do not feel defective or less than a full woman, thank you. This is kind of the opposite of how I feel and what I’ve said.

    If your body says you’re a woman and you don’t object, you’re a woman. If your brain says you’re a woman and that matters to you, sure, you’re a woman too. All I’m saying is plenty of us who fall strictly into column A find that to be totally sufficient for our sex-identification purposes.

    I am being more inclusive in my woman-definition, not less. You DO NOT have to close your eyes and feel any inscrutable female-ness in your being to be a woman.

  43. Ledasmom
    Ledasmom March 29, 2007 at 6:05 am |

    So, just checking — if you woke up tomorrow and discovered that you would be living your life as a man from that point forward (the “penis overnight” thing), you wouldn’t find it strange in the least and would just continue on with your day?

    Speaking just for myself, it would be strange – in the sense that it’s not something that happens in this reality – but not strange in the sense of feeling wrong, I think. I mean, accepting with no fuss at all that one was now a man would tend to be hindered by a complete lack of comprehension in those surrounding one; there wouldn’t necessarily be an internal wrongness, but a whole lot of external hassle.

  44. exangelena
    exangelena March 29, 2007 at 9:33 am |

    Hmmm … it seems that the argument boils down to whether gender is a constructed social category or a psychological state.
    (Apologies if I’ve misrepresented anyone)

  45. Holly
    Holly March 29, 2007 at 11:10 am |

    Adding onto what Ledasmom said — in addition to “lack of comprehension in those surrounding one” if a woman were to suddenly wake up as a man, I think there are other kinds of “external hassle” that you might run into as well. For instance, suddenly everyone treats you very differently — male privilege, they perceive you as having a different level of threat, the responses to that range from fear to violence, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, right? It’s definitely external to you, but there would be some degree of psychological dissonance if it’s not something you’ve ever experienced before (and some women have, in various ways).

    On top of that, nothing’s been said about how your brain is adapting to this new body — apparently it’s still your consciousness because your memory of who you are is intact, but now your brain is being flooded with a different set of mind-altering chemicals. Even if you don’t buy into silly stereotypes about hormones (and I don’t) there are definitely all sorts of effects throughout many systems of your body. Plus there’s proprioception to worry about — how your brain knows that your body is taking up space and moving, and that might be different too, depending on what your new body looks like.

    I’m just pointing this out because this is all stuff that many trans people struggle through, that makes everything a little more difficult than just waking up and being like “whoa weird, I’m a guy!” even if that’s what you really, really want and identify with. It’s not easy for trans people either.

    For the record, I’m trans and I definitely do not have any innate, way-deep-underlying-everything sense of myself as being female, no “womanly spark,” and I’m not the only one. (Maybe nexy will post on this?) The way I feel about gender is much closer to what Sara writes:

    What I’m questioning is the idea of there being some womanly spark that’s fired in a person, rather than there being a person who feels x y and z, and can be described as a transwoman or a woman or really, whatever she wants. Maybe this just comes from my concept of the self as a synergistic more-than-the-sum-of-your-parts that is nevertheless contingent on the parts.

    I definitely feel x, y, z, w, v, u, t, s, q, and r that are all related to gender somehow. (I could go into detail about any number of things here, if anyone really wants to know.) And for a bunch of those feelings, a long time ago I thought, wow something is just REALLY not working out here in terms of how I’m relating to gender, my body, the position I’m in, all sorts of stuff. So I did something about it, to improve my life. For me, these letters don’t line up in a neat bundle. For other people they do. Maybe if all of these multifarious aspects of gender ARE easily bundled for some people, they begin to look more like a single “womanly spark,” because they’re aligned with a pre-existing notion of what a “woman” is. Personally, I have trouble with those pre-existing, tending-towards-monolith notions, which is maybe why my mental model is fractured into parts, like Sara says.

  46. Boadicea
    Boadicea March 29, 2007 at 11:57 am |

    Kim says:

    And what does that say about men and women? If my “soul” or being is somehow inherently female, rather than simply human, that just sounds like another way for men to say that I’m less. Which, honestly, is probably at the heart of what annoys me about the topic. Feminism has been trying to hammer in the point that men and women are the same at their core, and this feels like a blow against that idea.

    (preparing for being flamed) Frankly, I don’t *want* to be the “same” as a man – then I’d *be* a man. What I want is to be EQUAL to a man in all the ways that really count: owning property, right to marry/divorce as I choose, right to vote, equal pay for equal work, etc. etc.

    Because if we’re different, one of us ends up being considered better… and guess who that won’t be? It makes me feel as though this is the direction things will go in, and women will just ALWAYS be on the bottom.

    Now this I *don’t* believe. Biology is not destiny. It doesn’t have to be this way if we don’t *let* it be this way. It won’t be easy to achieve, but things worth having never are.

  47. Kim
    Kim March 29, 2007 at 12:43 pm |

    Agh! Damn offline life: I missed tons of stuff!

    OK.

    Would you accept transwomen as women if their transition included eventually obtaining a uterus?

    And what’s illusory here?

    The illusory part is that– as I understand it — transwomen have a “vagina” that is basically intentional scar tissue. It’s not “hooked up” to a cervix/uterus. It doesn’t lubricate. It needs to be kept from closing up. It’s illusory in the same sense as my hair weave is: it looks as though it’s growing out of my scalp, but it’s not. And no matter how long I live and use weaves, I wll always be a nappy-headed, raven-haired person masquerading as a silky brunette.

    It’s not JUST the presence of a uterus, etc. Women who have hysterectomies are still women. They’ve just had an illness. The mark of a woman, to me, is a person who was BORN with a uterus and such.

    I’m not saying people should not be allowed GRS if it will help them. Just that I don’t think it really makes them another sex.

  48. Kim
    Kim March 29, 2007 at 1:15 pm |

    And, again, would you? If a transwoman could get a uterus, would she be a woman to you?

    No. I would refer to her in the feminine, if that’s what she wanted, but she wouldn’t really be a woman to me, in the same sense that I am a woman. I just think you get one shot at your sex.

    I think, however, that this is a bad analogy. A transwoman can certainly feel her vagina; it is a part of her body. It does grow out of her.

    A penis grew out of her. The penis as been inverted to resemble a vagina. Maybe a better analogy is chemical hair straightening. My kinks grow out and chemicals straighten them. It’s my hair, growing out of me, but I’m still a nappy-headed person. My roots need to be treated as they grow in, in order to maintain the illusion (analagous to the dilator).

  49. Kim
    Kim March 29, 2007 at 2:06 pm |

    Yes, but why? First you say that it doesn’t count because it’s not a total physiological match; now you say it doesn’t count because, well, no substitutions.

    Because I was born female, I grew into a woman. A person born male may only grow into a man. He can have cosmetic surgery and take hormones, but he’s still a man. I simply don’t believe you can cross over. You are what you are in the nursery. Forever.

    Gender-wise, maybe you can play a bit. In the documentary series I am watching, everyone is pre-op. One transman looks like a woman. No matter what he does, he will probably ALWAYS look like a woman in mens’ clothing. If gender is performance– which I think it is — then how valuable is a performance that no one believes? What does that accomplish?

    Another person– a transwoman — looks like a woman. It’s an effective performance… a good illusion… but that is still a man performing a traditionally female way of being.

    Dilation is primarily something that transwomen use in the immediate aftermath of surgery, while the tissues are all still healing and changing.

    Again, this is based on second-hand info… but I read that it was a lifelong thing, in at least one case. Maybe it’s the same as piercings: my mom has to keep earrings in her lobes to keep her holes from closing, but I can go for ages without them and the holes won’t seal up.

  50. Kim
    Kim March 29, 2007 at 2:07 pm |

    P.S.: I can’t comment again til tonight, at the earliest.

  51. little light
    little light March 29, 2007 at 2:19 pm |

    You are what you are in the nursery. Forever.

    That’s funny. I’m not an infant any more.

  52. mythago
    mythago March 29, 2007 at 3:10 pm |

    Having known a few transfolk post-transition, I have to say that anyone who thinks (say) an MTF would look like “a man in a dress” is speaking from complete ignorance, and probably substituting their mental image of a drag queen. Every. single. person. I know who has transitioned looked more real after their transition.

    I remember a friend of mine, after introducing me to R. (who was MTF) asking me “Can you picture R. as a guy?” No, I couldn’t, and it wasn’t because of the wonders of surgery. R was a woman. Same with L., who I knew as an unhappy woman and later as a happy man. I doubt many people meeting L. for the first time would have a clue he was previously female.

    Listening to Kim is like listening to the homophobes who insist they can ALWAYS spot a queer.

  53. Z. M. Davis
    Z. M. Davis March 29, 2007 at 4:38 pm |

    I think I understand where Kim is coming from. Being (for example) a transwoman isn’t exactly the same as being a woman-born-woman, at least in the sense that a sufficiently rigorous medical examination will be able to reveal whether a person is one or the other. The present dispute, then, can be seen as one over definitions of terms. Kim contends that the category women should be reserved for women-born-women; others have a more liberal interpretation of women.

    Kim, you’ve stated that you’re willing to refer to a transwoman by feminine pronouns, if that’s what she wants (comment 52). This is of course sensible and just. But—having gone that far, I wonder: why not include transwomen as a subset of the category women, for the same reasons? You’ve said that a transwoman wouldn’t to you be a woman “in the same sense” that you are (comment 52, again). Well, sure. With that qualifying phrase sufficiently emphasized and interpreted, I wonder if there would still be any disagreement here—a transwoman is not a woman in the same sense that you are; that is, it is possible to tell the difference (between trans and nontrans women), though not at a glance. But it seems rude and improper to say that a transwoman is not really a woman, full stop.

    What purpose does the exclusion serve?—I don’t think there’s really a risk of people getting confused about the biological facts of the matter if transwomen are considered to be really women, albeit not women-born-women.

    Of course all of the above goes for transmen as well.

  54. Raincitygirl
    Raincitygirl March 29, 2007 at 5:02 pm |

    Piny, I only just read this post. In light of it, some of what I said in the other trans issues post is regrettable. My apologies for the pronouns. It wasn’t meant to devalue your experience or decision, it was just general out of the loop-ness.

  55. subgrrl8
    subgrrl8 March 30, 2007 at 2:25 am |

    a very interesting and compelling post, on a personal and abstract level.

    it brings to mind my own questions about the either/or sexual and gender boundaries in our society, and how my own nonchalance (99% of the time) about gender performance has pegged me as somewhat androgynous to others. what makes one a woman/man? what makes one female/male? the rules within society and that Other that defines You change.

    whereas, inside, i just always feel like me, i always just feel like a human. just… a human. i get treated like a woman in an unfeminist society, and i rail against the unfairness of it- because i’m a human, just like any defined man.

    i think shaping our context to include for humans with no apparent dichotomous gender identity would certainly help. i hope we can make that space, in our communities of real and ideology. so that, piny, you can be a human without having to choose or identify as an either/or.

  56. nexyjo
    nexyjo March 30, 2007 at 1:40 pm |

    Being (for example) a transwoman isn’t exactly the same as being a woman-born-woman, at least in the sense that a sufficiently rigorous medical examination will be able to reveal whether a person is one or the other.

    not always. see, “a sufficiently rigorous medical examination will be able to reveal” that a person is neither one or the other. the mysterious diversity of life includes people who fit perfectly into either “male” or “female” medcial definitions, and people who do not fit into “male” or “female”. some of these people consider themselves transmen, some others consider themselves transwomen, and even others don’t consider themselves male or female or trans. are these people also denied a sex or gender, simply because they were “neither” in the nursery?

    i’m sorry to report that the medical facts show us that “male” and “female” are not the only two options, even from birth.

    The illusory part is that– as I understand it — transwomen have a “vagina” that is basically intentional scar tissue. It’s not “hooked up” to a cervix/uterus. It doesn’t lubricate. It needs to be kept from closing up.

    for the record, i had bottom surgery just about 5 years ago. and i refer to my genitals as a vagina, not a “vagina”. i have scar tissue on parts of my body from cuts and other traumas – my vagina feels quite different from the scar tissue on the other parts of my body. it feels different to my touch, and it feels different when these parts are touched. if my vagina is “basically intentional scar tissue”, then it is very different from all the other scar tissue on my body. so something about my vagina is fundimentally different compared to all the other scar tissue i have. based on this, i’d have to disagree with your understanding.

    further, my vagina does, in fact, lubricate. naturally. when i have sex with my husband, i never have to use any sort of artifical lubricant, unlike many “women-born-women” i know. and based on my own experience before i had surgery, and engaged in intimate relations with women, and on my husband’s and previous male lover’s reports, my vagina works the same way as far as intercourse is concerned, as a vagina that people are born with.

    my vagina, at this stage, does need to be kept from “closing up”. i dilate twice a week, and will most probibly need to do so for the rest of my life. on the other hand, i know many trans women who have stopped dilating after a few months or years, and no longer have to. i imagine that it depends on ones body, and on the age one is when one undergoes the surgery.

    Another person– a transwoman — looks like a woman. It’s an effective performance… a good illusion… but that is still a man performing a traditionally female way of being.

    interesting. so are you suggesting that men and women, when they each act “naturally”, are not “performing”, and that men and women naturally act different from each other? are there specific acts that are essentially male and essentially female?

  57. Kim
    Kim March 30, 2007 at 2:11 pm |

    K. Fighting a bit of a cold (damn you, climate changes!), so instead of quoting and such, here’s my final comment here:

    I think that men and women are their respective sexes because of a natural set of characteristics present at birth. The end. I think people are trying to complicate a very simple fact. It has nothing to do with how one styles their hair, what kind of clothing one wears, how one behaves, etc. It’s like my hair analogy from earlier: you get one shot at being, say, a natural blonde. If it doesn’t happen at birth, the closest you can get is being a peroxide blonde.

    The reason I’m so resistant to the idea of being a [sex] in the [opposite sex's] body is that I don’t believe that it makes a difference. I don’t believe I have a female spark. (And I don’t believe that anyone has a soul, much less a soul with a pre-determined sex.)

    I don’t claim to be able to spot all transgendered people. (Apparently, I can’t even pick out a lesbian, even when she’s actually hitting on me.) I don’t care to: if you want to perform as the opposite sex, that’s your personal choice. However, I think to take your personal feeling and try to turn it into an ideology– one that divides the sexes on the basis of some intangible and inherent difference — is erroneous and potentially harmful. I really don’t see it as being any different than when the fundies try to force everyone’s kid to pray in school, based on their own unfounded belief.

    I don’t see GRS as being a step in the right direction. I just don’t. I think it’s a pretty huge kowtow to the patriarchy (not that I don’t do things in my personal life that are less than revolutionary). I mean, if I were say that because I have always felt uncomfortable in my racial group, and have related more easily to whites, I am going to get bleached and surgically altered to look less black, people would freak out. Because we’re trying to uphold the ideology that there’s no such thing as race, and everyone is equal and not limited to certain ways of being due to the color of their skin or bend of their hair. The differences are cultural and socioeconomic.

    But.. even if I DID go all Michael Jackson, I’d STILL be (as he still is) a person of direct African descent. Just as no amount of surgery and hormone injections will ever change a man or a woman from what they are.

    Really, it’s a small difference of opinion, when it comes down to it. I think the surgery should be available to anyone who wants it and if you ask me to call you “Mister” I will do so, because it’s the polite thing to do. I just don’t think it should be legal to change your sex, because it’s physically impossible, and sets a dangerous precedent.

  58. Kim
    Kim March 30, 2007 at 2:16 pm |

    P.S.: Hit the send button too fast. I wanted to thank Piny and others for their input, whether or not we agree on every point. The level of conversation and civility has been remarkable.

  59. nexyjo
    nexyjo March 30, 2007 at 3:09 pm |

    I just don’t think it should be legal to change your sex, because it’s physically impossible, and sets a dangerous precedent.

    dangerous in what way?

  60. Lesley Plum
    Lesley Plum March 30, 2007 at 3:36 pm |

    What do you do with women who have AIS, Kim? They are karotypically male (as they have XY chromosomes), but phenotypically they are female. The condition causes them to develop female secondary sex characteristics, but they have no uteruses. Are they not women? They are born looking like women. They wouldn’t necessarily know they aren’t karotypically XX until menstruation should have onset but doesn’t, unless someone karotyped them earlier for some reason. On what basis are you going to legally classify them as male? Do they spend 12-15 years of their lives legally classified as female, but then have to be legally classified as male once the syndrome is diagnosed? Do we start karotyping all female infants just to be sure? And what if the syndrome is diagnosed at birth? What then? Should we legally classify them as male, even though everyone will react to them as female?

    Ultimately, why does karotype matter? If you really think it doesn’t make a difference, as you claim, then why the issue with legal classifications? Phenotype can be altered. Karotype cannot. But the world reacts to phenotype. Not karotype. You’re hanging everything on karotype, and that just doesn’t work in the real world. Are you going to set up one standard for women with AIS that allows them to be legally classified as female, but another for transgendered individuals? If so, why? The karotype discrepancy still remains.

  61. Z. M. Davis
    Z. M. Davis March 30, 2007 at 4:07 pm |

    nexyjo wrote:

    not always. see, “a sufficiently rigorous medical examination will be able to reveal” that a person is neither one or the other. [...] are these people also denied a sex or gender, simply because they were “neither” in the nursery?

    i’m sorry to report that the medical facts show us that “male” and “female” are not the only two options, even from birth.

    Well—yes. I’m already aware that intersex conditions exist. I wrote that “a sufficiently rigorous medical examination will be able to reveal whether a person is [a ciswoman] or [a transwoman]“, but I think it should be clear enough from context that I don’t believe those are the only two possibilities for a person. (After all, one can be, for example, a cisman!) Perhaps to be perfectly rigorous, I might have instead said “one or the other, or someone who doesn’t fit into either category.” But I believe this to be besides the point I was making in my comment 59.

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “people [being] “denied a sex or gender.” Given that I, like many others in this thread, reject the existence of a socially meaningful inner “spark” of femininity or masculinity, it could be said that I would deny everyone a gender.

    But I don’t think that’s what you meant.

    Kim wrote:

    I don’t see GRS as being a step in the right direction.

    Isn’t it, though? Transsexuals are people who choose to become something other than what patriarchical society, and biology, dictate that they must be. People who keep their bodies in a natural state but defy traditional gender roles are choosing to become something other than what patriarhcal society, and biology, dictate that they must be.

    It’s the same struggle, isn’t it? The transperson and the against-type cisperson are both seeking radical self-determination—so why not support radical self-determination whereëver it comes up, even if you find a particular form distasteful? Identifying as genderqueer is revolutionary than transitioning, but there’s no imperative to be as revolutionary as possible. The revolution is merely a means to better living.

    Really, Kim, who are cispeople like us to complain about dangerous precedents?

  62. Z. M. Davis
    Z. M. Davis March 30, 2007 at 4:22 pm |

    CORRECTION– In my comment 68, I should have wrote, “Identifying as genderqueer is more revolutionary than transitioning [...]”

    POSTSCRIPT– I concur with the sentiment voiced in Kim’s comment 65. Three cheers for civility.

  63. exangelena
    exangelena March 30, 2007 at 7:57 pm |

    nexyjo: “the mysterious diversity of life includes people who fit perfectly into either “male” or “female” medcial definitions, and people who do not fit into “male” or “female”. some of these people consider themselves transmen, some others consider themselves transwomen, and even others don’t consider themselves male or female or trans.”

    I have no stats on this, but intersexed people are probably no more likely to be trans than non-intersexed people (although those rare individuals who are intersexed AND trans have many obstacles to overcome in life). The vast majority identify with the sex they were assigned at birth and struggle to be allowed *within* the gender binary – and not be told that they’re not a “real” man or a “real” woman because of their hormone levels, chromosomes, size/shape of genitalia, etc.
    An individual raised as a boy who has ovotestes and undergoes female puberty, but still identifies as a man is not transgendered. Neither is an individual raised as a girl who finds out that she has XY chromosomes when she fails to menstruate, but continues to identify as a woman.

    Intersex is about biological sex, not about gender or sexuality or sexual orientation. It’s a good argument *against* biological essentialism (that males and females are born with vastly opposite characteristics), but given that most intersexed people uphold the gender binary by identifying as men or women, it’s kind of off-target.

  64. exangelena
    exangelena March 30, 2007 at 7:58 pm |

    Oops. Last sentence should be:
    It’s a good argument *against* biological essentialism (that males and females are born with vastly opposite characteristics), but given that most intersexed people uphold the gender binary by identifying as men or women, it’s kind of off-target to claim their existence up-ends the gender binary.

  65. Holly
    Holly March 30, 2007 at 8:39 pm |

    I think that men and women are their respective sexes because of a natural set of characteristics present at birth. The end. I think people are trying to complicate a very simple fact.

    It’s really great that we have you as a spokesperson to explain the patriarchy’s official stance on sex. Because that’s exactly what this is, a regurgitation of the official policy, the foundation of biological essentialism, of biology is destiny. Which is, in turn, part of the system that upholds sexism, oppression of all women and anyone who’s not a man, and harm of everyone who’s caught up in systems of gender. I don’t see how anyone can make a statement like this so emphatically, and then complain about dangers to feminism from other quarters.

    At first I thought you were asking questions in an open-minded way, Kim, which is why I was happy to try and help answer some questions, even if it was going off the original intention of piny’s post. Since that first post, though, you’ve shown that you’re really most interested in defending your position and not listening to all the experiences and points of view that are being offered, which might end up breaking apart monolithic ideas like the one I quote above. Well, lesson for everyone, I guess — sometimes a derailed thread just happens because of a rock on the track.

  66. Holly
    Holly March 30, 2007 at 8:46 pm |

    A couple other points that jumped out at me:

    a) you can transition and be genderqueer too

    b) a whole lot of people get GRS for reasons far more important to them than trying to fit into society’s standards of what male / female bodies look like. In fact, a lot of people would say that has nothing to do with it at all. It’s pretty arrogant to claim that’s the reason for GRS, and then condemn it, without even asking why

    c) a lot of trans people are also resistant to the idea of a “female spark” or being a [x] in a [y body], and that’s been said on this thread in multiple places. These ideas don’t necessarily have anything to do with being trans. Trans people do not necessarily have an ideology that believes in inherent differences, or divides people naturalistically or spiritually into sexes. Basing your beliefs about sex on people’s “natural set of characteristics” most certainly DOES do that, though, in a much more orthodox and hegemonically supported way.

    d) hey look everyone who’s been reading this blog for more than six months: another favorite derailing dead horse came back, the incredibly problematic “changing gender is like changing race” comparison. Remember the last time that came up? I think it was someone comparing trans people to blackface. Psst. Us people of color, trans and otherwise, are generally not so keen on this comparison either, race is not a tool to swing around for a bad analogy. Stop it.

  67. exangelena
    exangelena March 30, 2007 at 11:44 pm |

    Holly, FWIW, I think that Kim is black.

  68. RachelPhilPa
    RachelPhilPa March 31, 2007 at 12:04 am |

    think that men and women are their respective sexes because of a natural set of characteristics present at birth. The end

    Could we maybe, possibly, entertain the notion that one of the ways in which people are not all the same is in our degree of attachment to a gender?

    I never thought of this. But yes, it does seem reasonable, and while I am attached to my gender, I do know many people who are not. And both ways (and in between) are valid.

    Speaking for myself, and only for myself, my gender identity feels innate – years of physical and verbal abuse from transphobic kids and adults in school, and a couple of decades of trying to live as a man, could not erase this sense of myself. If gender identity were entirely cultural, the culture should have destroyed my identity as female.

  69. RachelPhilPa
    RachelPhilPa March 31, 2007 at 12:07 am |

    Oh my goodness, my comment was totally munged and about two-thirds of it was lost. The second paragraph was supposed to be in a quote-block and about 8 paragraphs disappeared. Too tired to try to reconstruct.

  70. RachelPhilPa
    RachelPhilPa March 31, 2007 at 12:15 am |

    Let’s try this again:

    think that men and women are their respective sexes because of a natural set of characteristics present at birth. The end

    (Already mentioned upthread, but…) Woman born with AIS. XY chromosomes, female body. What are you going to assign her sex based on?

    Man born with male phenotype and male external genitalia, but they were born with persistent Mullerian (sp?) duct syndrome, and so also has a uterus and fallopian tubes. What are you going to assign his sex based on?

    Man born with 5-ARD syndrome. Typically have female or intermediate external genitals, but identify as male. What are you going to assign his sex based on?

    What about someone born with XXY, XXXY, XO chromosomes? What gender are you going to assign them to?

    Why not just trust how they say they identify?

    And why not just trust anyone on how they say they identify, instead of imposing your gender essentialism – which doesn’t work and is false – on everybody else?

    For myself, I am not modifying my body because it will “make me a woman”, or because I’m “trapped in a male body”. I am modifying my body because I need to do so to feel more comfortable in it. And it’s my right, whether you think I will wind up with a vagina or a “vagina”. I plan to enjoy my “mass of scar tissue”.

    Could we maybe, possibly, entertain the notion that one of the ways in which people are not all the same is in our degree of attachment to a gender?

    I never thought of this. But yes, it does seem reasonable, and while I am attached to my gender, I do know many people who are not. And both ways (and in between) are valid.

    Speaking for myself, and only for myself, my gender identity feels innate – years of physical and verbal abuse from transphobic kids and adults in school, and a couple of decades of trying to live as a man, could not erase this sense of myself. If gender identity were entirely cultural, the culture should have destroyed my identity as female.

  71. R. Mildred
    R. Mildred March 31, 2007 at 12:35 am |

    Us people of color, trans and otherwise, are generally not so keen on this comparison either, race is not a tool to swing around for a bad analogy.

    It also makes no sense as a comparison, first of all, the equivalent to blackface would be dragking/queen, not transgenderism (which would be most like skin lightening and micheal jackson’s amazing color fade antics if we absolutely HAD to pick a comparison like that, except transgenderism isn’t caused by an intense self hatred as a result of oppression – otherwise transwomen wouldn’t exist), second of all, in no sense of the word has transgenderism been a way for men to hate on women via the medium of overblown sexist stereotyping.

    Rather, overblown stereotyping masquerading as humor has, and is, thrown AT the transgender (see also “mann coulter”) to opress them, along with the regular sexism and other stuff that they’re walking into, means that not only doesn’t “transwomen are making a mockery of my uterus” work conceptually, but that it then goes on to act as a way to obfuscate and thereby enable transhate and violence directed towards them.

    but given that most intersexed people uphold the gender binary by identifying as men or women

    Yeah but as a result of that sort of thing (you know, that sort of thing, no, that didn’t come out quite right) “man” and “woman”, as identifying concepts, have to be opened to such a rampantly generic and open ended degree that they don’t mean anything really, so to acknowledge them does kinda destroy the narrow definitions that are oppressive.

  72. nexyjo
    nexyjo March 31, 2007 at 2:46 am |

    I have no stats on this, but intersexed people are probably no more likely to be trans than non-intersexed people …The vast majority identify with the sex they were assigned at birth and struggle to be allowed *within* the gender binary…

    i agree that you have no stats on this, and thus, i don’t believe you should be making extrapolations based on your lack of stats.

  73. StacyM
    StacyM March 31, 2007 at 8:01 am |

    You know, transfolk wind up spending a lot of time trying to justify why we exist. We spend a lot time proving that they we are as real and as worthy of respect as cisgender people.

    Enough is enough.

    I do not feel bound by any obligation to prove the full extent of my selfhood to other people. My perspective on this matter can be summarized as follows:

    1) Being queer (trans, gay, bi etc.) is often an indelible characteristic of a person’s persona. It doesn’t go away even when people are screaming that you are miserable freak.

    2) Being queer often has its roots in some set of phenomena that occurred early in a person’s life. (Perhaps in the womb, perhaps later, who knows?) The chain of causality starts so early, that few people have any direct knowledge of what precisely happened.

    3) Regardless of the cause, not being able to act on one’s sexual orientation or gender orientation or bodily orientation causes great distress—to the point of severe depression and self-destructive behavior.

    4) You could apply #1 and #2 to straight** people as well. However, no one gets called a freak for being straight, and until queer people became openly vocal, most people weren’t concerned about why people are attracted to a particular sex or gender. Until transpeople became openly vocal, most people weren’t concerned about what leads a person to say “I am a man” or “I am a woman” or “I am neither.”

    5) Straight** people do not generally experience #3 because their own ways of being receive social sanction as “normalcy.” Hence, they do not have to respond to the question, “Justify your existence!” They do not have to scrabble around for convenient scientific or social theories to justify leading their own lives free from harassment.

    6) The fact that straight** people do not have to worry about numbers 1 through 3 is a sign of socially sanctioned privilege.

    Why I exist shouldn’t matter. I have a right to live my life. I have a right to not have to worry about numbers 1 through 3. Straight people don’t have to. Why should I? I have a right to be who and what makes sense to me—so long as my actions do not harm others.

    So, my life doesn’t fit into your notion of the world? Let me cry you a river.

    That’s my contribution to Trans 101.

    **Here the term straight is used in a way that goes beyond mere sexual orientation. I am using straight to designate those people who fit the general criteria of heteronormalcy (attracted to the “opposite” sex, cisgender, and not gender variant).

  74. exangelena
    exangelena March 31, 2007 at 9:50 am |

    Also there has been a fair amount of debate about whether intersex should *join* GLBTQ, so obviously a lot of intersex people don’t consider themselves transgendered and thus already fitting under that umbrella.

  75. nexyjo
    nexyjo March 31, 2007 at 1:07 pm |

    i’m not sure, exangelena, why you’re focusing on this, unless of course, your arguement is that intersex is a “real” condition, while trans are just, well, not.

  76. nexyjo
    nexyjo March 31, 2007 at 1:20 pm |

    hmmm, maybe i should finish my coffee in the morning before i start posting. scratch that last post. what i want to say is that the actual numbers of examples are not as important as the fact that a sufficiently rigorous medical examination will not always be able to reveal that a person is either one or the other. even one example is proof of this. life can’t be separated into the neat little categories we like to create. “male” and “female” as mutually exclusive and all inclusive biological categories are as socially constructed as “man and “woman”.

    and, what stacym said.

  77. exangelena
    exangelena March 31, 2007 at 1:59 pm |

    nexy-
    I’m not arguing that being transgendered is not a real condition. I am arguing that “intersexed” and “transgendered” are separate (although not mutually exclusive) categories. Large polling outfits do not track the intersexed population, but from what I have read, most of them do not identify as transmen, transwomen or genderqueer, but as “man” or “woman”.

    To reiterate an example from above, if an individual is born without a uterus, but is raised for the first 12-15 years of her life as a girl, given a female name, etc., and she continues to identify as a woman, I don’t think that makes her a transwoman. She will not have the same experiences as transwomen: legally changing her sex, telling her friends and family that she would like to go by another pronoun, being at a heightened risk of violence because of her gender presentation (I know that women in general are at risk of being raped or beaten, but I believe the risks are higher for transmen and transwomen) etc, etc.

    And also, while some intersex conditions do result in “feminized” men or “virilized” women, whether through phenotype or chromosomes, many do not. There are XX women who have no uteruses (uteri?) and XY men who have their urethra in an atypical place – those are considered intersex conditions and they certainly have different anatomy from “normal” men and women – but that doesn’t mean that they “look” androgynous or anything.

    And I have heard the theory that we are *all* transgendered in some way, so if that’s the angle you’re taking, then I apologize for misinterpreting you.

  78. nexyjo
    nexyjo March 31, 2007 at 3:26 pm |

    exangelena, we agree that ” “intersexed” and “transgendered” are separate (although not mutually exclusive) categories”. i was only disputing the certainty of determining that everyone can be classified as either male or female through the use of a medical exam. perhaps i was not clear in my original post, and for that i apologize.

  79. exangelena
    exangelena March 31, 2007 at 4:10 pm |

    nexyjo – No need to apologize. It seems pedantic, but maybe we should preface all discussions involving transgender issues with some explanation and terminology differentiating biological sex, gender and masculinity/femininity so we’re all on the same page.
    And yeah, to paraphrase ZM Davis “four cheers for civility” :)

  80. Nick Kiddle
    Nick Kiddle March 31, 2007 at 7:13 pm |

    The thing that amuses me, in a bitter kind of way, is that no medical exam on earth would find the difference between a ciswoman and eg me. Also when people wheel out possession of a functioning uterus as the mark of a woman.

  81. nexyjo
    nexyjo April 1, 2007 at 3:04 am |

    well that’s just it, isn’t it. women are their functioning uterus’ (uteri?) and men are their penis’ (peni?). and the rest of us are just, well, freaks. or something.

  82. Nico
    Nico April 1, 2007 at 5:40 pm |

    The present dispute, then, can be seen as one over definitions of terms. Kim contends that the category women should be reserved for women-born-women; others have a more liberal interpretation of women.

    Yes, some of this is over definitions of terms. Without wanting to misinterpret Kim, I think it might be more meaningful to say she contends that the category woman should be reserved not for women-born-women, but for people-born-female. But to do that is to align woman with female, and man with male — to align gender with sex — to the point of their inseparable conflation.

    I think it’s important to maintain terminological awareness. If we’re going to accept and use a distinction between sex and gender (which I think must inform any progressive feminist and trans analysis, which I believe coincide), then the terms of sex should likewise be differentiated from the terms of gender. It’s never “only semantics” coz semantics is the only thing we’ve got.

    In this sense, there’s no such thing as a ‘women-born-women’, but rather only women-born-female, and women-born-male; men-born-male, and men-born-female: a gender born a sex.

    As soon as we use the ‘this-born-that’ construction, we’re navigating the sex-gender divide, however unacknowledged that may be, since the construction itself emerges from and reflects that divide, and is only meaningful in its light.

    Kim: Feminism has been trying to hammer in the point that men and women are the same at their core, and this feels like a blow against that idea.

    Ya, I can see how it can feel like that. But is it possible that what feels like a blow to that idea, actually confirms it?

    http://i5.photobucket.com/albums/y167/NicoGrrl/NotAllWomen.jpg

  83. Raincitygirl
    Raincitygirl April 1, 2007 at 8:00 pm |

    well that’s just it, isn’t it. women are their functioning uterus’ (uteri?) and men are their penis’ (peni?). and the rest of us are just, well, freaks. or something.

    I guess my good friend who had a hysterectomy because of severe endometriosis is a freak, too.

    And then there’s the man in my choir I met only after he’d transitioned, and didn’t know for months that he was trans. But he still hasn’t had his bottom half surgery (bureaucratic delays). Funny how I’ve known this guy for nearly two years and never had reason to see him naked, thus would be oblivious to his lack of a penis if he hadn’t mentioned it himself.

    You can’t see a uterus, at least not without specialised equipment. And you have to be pretty damn intimate with someone to see their penis. As markers of femininity and masculinity among platonic friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and strangers, they’re pretty useless.

  84. Nico
    Nico April 1, 2007 at 9:29 pm |

    I’m trying to get over this learned behaviour. But the discomfort is so strong I know that the hierarchy is strongly ingrained.

    Maybe the way to get over that learned behavior, is to no longer think of it as a hierarchy. Not easy, admittedly. But perhaps the trick is less getting over it, than getting out from under it.

    Let’s reframe it instead as a set of free-floating attributes, categorized in a range from ‘feminine’ to ‘masculine’, called gender; previously, historically, associated with physical sex, but over time ‘detached’ from the body; now understood as behaviors and modes increasingly available to all, without penalty, irrespective of either physical sex or sexuality.

    This is nothing but the legendary distinction between sex and gender, not as some theoretical toy thing, but as a demonstrable historical fact.

    A lovely vision. Put it in a bottle. Make a million dollars.

    Feminism has often simply announced changes already in progress for which it has taken credit and for which it has been held responsible.

    – Gayle Rubin

  85. forrest
    forrest April 2, 2007 at 3:29 am |

    I think a lot of this comes down to desire. (I can’t claim that this is an original insight, as I think it was brought home to me about 15 years ago when I first read Samuel R Delany’s Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, a semi-utopian science fiction novel which was more about sexuality than gender, but played games with both. Delany had earlier made the point that changing sexes is not magically going to help you figure out who you are in Triton, but that’s something else entirely.) I’m (more or less) cisgendered, heterosexual, and in a stable, long-term relationship, but when I find myself feeling the urge to sort a person of ambiguous sex / gender into a defined category, the urgency seems to come from trying to decide whether I find them hot or not. It’s a semi-conscious process — one I probably learned from my father, in fact, and I’m neither trying to celebrate nor disown it — but it never really stops.

    Lots of introspection has taught me that the answer I eventually come down to isn’t something reducible to any single factor among gender performance, another person’s self-identification or any “essential” connotation of sex. I’ve never been involved with a transwoman, but I know I’ve met transpeople I’ve found attractive. But before I can form that judgment, I have to have figured out where that person fits in. It’s similar to, but different from, the sorting process that hapless, sensitive dudes like me find ourselves going through when we try to decide whether a woman’s lesbian or not. It’s like there’s a part of my head that needs to know whether the other person would be bothered if I found them attractive before I can decide whether I’m attracted to them or not.

    For me this is no big deal — once I’m conscious I’m doing it — but to a lot of people it’s threatening to be attracted to somebody who doesn’t fit their accepted notions of what they’re interested in. An awful lot of people seem to confuse fantasy and desire with sexuality, and when you stir in patriarchy (i.e. when the received “common sense” / imposed dichotomy of gender is threatened), things get ugly pretty fast. The thing that’s so incredibly enraging about so many high-profile acts of violence against transpeople is that trans victims are forced to suffer the consequences of someone else’s inability to reconcile their own desires with their self-image. They feel humiliated by their own desires and turn that around into believing that they were “tricked”, that a conscious act of deception was perpetrated on them, when in fact the transperson they were dealing with was being more honest about who they were, rather than less.

    Because I think desire is so close to the heart of who we are, I think this way of looking at things keeps the attention squarely on the party it needs to be on: the person doing the sorting. Piny, you have the freedom to spend your whole life figuring out who you are. It’s not your responsibility to make anyone else comfortable with your sexual and gendered identity. I have a friend who’s been wobbling back and forth between male and female for the entire time I’ve known him / her, and my only real concern is that s/he understand that I support him / her, while at the same time figuring that at root it’s his / her business, not mine. I mostly just feel lucky that my gender, sex and sexual identity align with American norms as closely as they do, because it’s treacherous enough for me even so.

    If you don’t fit into any neat categories, other people’s inability to file you away is not your problem, it’s theirs. If there weren’t some element of projection involved, why would they even care? I mean, really? Isn’t that one of the fundamental questions of feminism? Why does it matter whether we’re men or women? There are very tightly proscribed domains of human biology where the difference is relevant, but the existence of transpeople should highlight that those domains are even smaller than the population at large is conventionally accustomed to thinking of them as being — or at least more interchangeable.

  86. Sir Benson Mum, Sir « Little Lambs Eat Ivy

    [...] I’ve had this particular idea bouncing around in my head, and then piny’s beautiful post last week inspired me to sit on it a little and at least try t [...]

  87. Holly
    Holly April 2, 2007 at 1:41 pm |

    Well said, forrest. Thanks.

Comments are closed.