Hump Day Perversity Blogging

Oooookay.

Back when Little Light wrote that post about sacrificing virgins to Harry Benjamin, or whatever it was, she and I had this exchange in comments to the follow-up, after it fell apart for a long stretch.

I said:

What is a diplomatic way of turning aside the “…And I’ve always wondered something–why is it that you have to transition anyway? Isn’t it really about [misconception]?” It happens over and over again, on the Alas threads especially. I don’t know if it’s conscious, but it makes for some defensive, circular conversations.

And she said:

I’ve been trying and trying to figure that one out, lately. I was kind of hoping you had an answer. It seems like the very first and most lasting derail in every one of these discussions.

Indeed. My post was not about whether or not transpeople should transition, or whether or not it makes any sense for them to identify with any gender other than the one handed to them at birth. Nor was it about the impact that this decision from that community might have on the cohesion of feminist arguments. Little Light’s original post and follow-up, so far as I can tell, weren’t precisely about that either. And yet, my post and hers have become a place for this debate to be resolved:

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?

(I left a response to it. Now I’m not so sure I want to handle this situation that way.)

I find this discussion kind of obnoxious, since it tends to interfere with discussions that are infinitely more interesting to me and which actually require responses from actual transpeople. I increasingly doubt that this one does. I am also, of course, implicated in it–my right to identify as anything at all is as suspect as that of the transsexuals Kim questions. And, of course, I’m not sure whether or not I can safely process my own thoughts and take questions at the same time.

So I thought maybe I’d turn the tables.

Transpeople! How do you feel about this kind of sidebar to trans-related discussions? Do you enjoy participating in it? Does it piss you off or make you uncomfortable? Does it seem to you to be worthwhile either for the sake of the answers or to clarify your own thoughts on the matter? Would you like to set some limits on it here in future? Would you like, perhaps, to devote this or another thread to it? Do you have any thoughts on how best to resolve it?

Thank you for your time!

Author: has written 462 posts for this blog.

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60 Responses

  1. Holly
    Holly March 28, 2007 at 5:42 pm |

    I am totally annoyed by this kind of sidebar. There are about a dozen different varieties. They never fail to come up, especially on more well-trafficked discussions. They often cause discussions to go off of the rails, back into territory that a lot of us have had to cover over, and over, and over again.

    At the same time, do I want Kim to just not ask that question and go away? Not really. I want Kim to get good answers to that question. I just wish there was a really nice, smart non-trans person who would say “hey Kim, let’s go over here and have a coffee, and I’ll try to answer some of your basic questions about these things.” I hope that doesn’t sound patronizing or something, I don’t mean to single out or disparage Kim. But I think a lot of us who do question-answering duty get burnt out, grow short on patience, we’re implicated emotionally by these questions in a lot of ways, we have to divorce ourselves from the emotional ramifications and sometimes I feel like I’m answering like a robot. Or worse, an angry, impatient robot.

    These are complex questions with complex answers, maybe more than could be handled by a simple FAQ. I think they have to be answered through discussion. I just wish we didn’t have to do it over, and over, and over again. I kind of hope that eventually, collectively, we’ll have had those talks enough times that knowledge and ideas will spread more organically and from more points.

  2. Holly
    Holly March 28, 2007 at 5:47 pm |

    I also think it’s amusing how you and I have kind of opposite response styles, piny. You have “answer with one or two sharp, incisive questions that point out problems in what someone said.” I have “answer with a semi-stream-of-consciousness ramble that tries to address half of what someone said and then meanders off into other ideas.”

    It’s like good cop, bad cop! Except more like uh… succinct cop, blabbering cop…

  3. Artemis
    Artemis March 28, 2007 at 6:07 pm |

    If someone wants to understand why I transitioned, I will take the time to explain and discuss. If they just want to explain that they disagree, I won’t bother. The arguments and statements made by your correspondent indicate a person who has her position and isn’t going to change it. You can’t have a productive discussion with someone who thinks that being a “man in a dress’ would be a satisfactory resolution to an MTF transsexual’s situation, and since I don’t see banging my head into a brick wall to be a productive form of exercise, I wouldn’t try. Life is too short for that crap.

  4. Anatolia
    Anatolia March 28, 2007 at 7:02 pm |

    As a non-transperson, this sort of “logic” from the correspondant is irritating.

    I am a woman and have no desire to be a man, but I don’t have any psychological “urge” to bleed and cramp. I don’t have an urge to be pregnant, in fact, pregnancy is repulsive to me. I also have no urge to give birth. Neither physical or psychological. I’m 37, and I know several women like me mostly my age and older. This doesn’t make us men, so I have no idea what the correspondent is on about, but it’s annoying.

  5. Nomie
    Nomie March 28, 2007 at 7:17 pm |

    Conversely, if “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”…

    …then why does it matter what gender a person chooses to identify as? Why can’t it be a choice between two equal roles/ideas, instead of a choice to move to a “better” or “worse” side?

    Also, I don’t think I’ve ever felt “the flutter of ovulation,” and I like to think that what makes me a woman is far, far more than my bleeding meatsack of a body.

  6. Erin M
    Erin M March 28, 2007 at 7:46 pm |

    I chose to respond, but honestly I feel like that line of questioning is indicative of a person that simply doesn’t get it and isn’t yet ready to get it. (Never mind my feelings about using Transamerica as a crash course on Transwomen 101. Yipe!) There are questions asked, but I don’t feel any empathy behind them, more like a “Why can’t you rebel in a way that suits me?”

    I think a Trans 101 website, like the recent Feminism 101, would be a less stressful way to deal with it for all concerned. Of course it would be difficult because trans is about each person’s life, not a sociological or academic field of study and activism. What I mean is, maybe there is a “trans theory”, but it probably doesn’t look anything like, nor have the organization of, a feminist theory.

  7. Karen Bachman
    Karen Bachman March 28, 2007 at 7:46 pm |

    Some of this discussion is really hard to follow. All I can say is transition is the proscess of over comming the time spent traped in one body & being told over & over that this is who you are even though you truly feel that it can’t posibly be so. There is ample medical evidence to support the “this is not a choice” position, as in I didn’t chose my sexual orientation either..Reproductive discussions have no bearing on Gender Identity. Gender Identity is not “I identify as a Dem. or Rep.” it’s who you are in you soul. Karen Bachman Vice-chair Colorado Stonewall Democrats, Co-chair Transgender Caucus

  8. PhoenixRising
    PhoenixRising March 28, 2007 at 8:00 pm |

    I’m not a trans person, I’m a dyke frequently taken for a man by strangers. I mention this not for my Androgyny Gold Star, as I don’t accept any notion of gender as performance that puts me on a continuum with trans men, but because I think my perspectives on gender as expression can contribute another view to some dialogues on trans issues.

    And if you want to set some posts as trans-only, hey, your house, your rules. If you want to post a set of beliefs that commenters must subscribe to in order to comment on particular posts, again, your house.

    However, if this isn’t a place where any interrogation, even from a feminist perspective, of the belief that trans people’s exercising their choice to select a gender impacts (some of) the rest of us in ways both practical and theoretical, that limits the conversation in ways that will make it less interesting, I think.

    Can you filter certain phrases, I’m thinking particularly of ‘man in a dress’, as needing further scrutiny?

  9. Michelle
    Michelle March 28, 2007 at 8:10 pm |

    The debate itself is of some interest, but it tends to break down into three basic lines of argument:

    1) The “ewww – I don’t understand it at all” crowd.

    2) The “gender essentialist” argument which tends to argue that transgender – and in particular transitioning transsexuals – are driven by some persistent, but unknowable instinct. (I mean “unknowable” in the external sense – the transsexual knows!)

    3) The “gender as construct” (essentially invoking Judith Butler’s arguments that gender is fundamentally performative)

    Those that argue from a constructionist perspective tend to wonder aloud about why a transsexual feels this need to transition, and are often quite limited in their ability to comprehend a “it just is” kind of reasoning often articulated by those who are transitioning.

    A friend of mine has been drawing me into a lot of the conversations in a course she is taking on gender and sexuality that is focusing heavily on Butler’s “Undoing Gender” essays. (Generally, where transpeople are concerned, Butler gets it quite wrong – in my view)

    The intriguing bit is that when you apply Butler’s theories to transpeople, she comes off sounding rather like the “ex-gay” types do – essentially arguing that transpeople are merely making a socially questionable choice.

    In general, I tend to find the “pseudo-Butler” arguments to be amazingly insulting to my own experiences, as they tend to discount the reality of individual narrative as an important aspect of understanding cross-gender identification, and instead focus on the “knowability” of transsexual identity. (But then, I also accuse Lacan – whom Butler builds on extensively of being a mildly remodelled Freud whose models of identity are deeply flawed)

    I found in interesting that your “counterpoint” writer suddenly devolved to the biology of being female, and confusing that with the social role of woman. In doing so, she reverted to a combination of “gender is biology” and “gender is construct” without even noticing that she had done so.

  10. Holly
    Holly March 28, 2007 at 8:23 pm |

    I don’t think Piny suggested this or future threads as being trans-only or certain-beliefs-only. It was more of an invitation to talk about how to deal with something that nearly always happens whenever there is any discussion of trans issues here: the topic drifts rapidly into some sort of justification of trans people themselves, usually not in a harsh or overt “you have no right to exist!” way but very frequently in more of a “don’t we need to talk about the fundamental problems with this trans thing?” It kind of feels like an attempt to pull the rug out from underneath other discussions of trans stuff.

    And sure, I’m in favor of having conversations like that. I just wish they didn’t have to barge into every other conversation. “This trans thing” is part and parcel of a lot of people’s lives around here, and there are other questions to address — how do we deal? how do we survive? how do we respond to the media, to state-sanctioned violence against us? how do we get health care? how do we even get counted so that we can exist as a statistic that can be put in a study to get some funding to save some people’s lives?

    These things are hard to talk about when people are tugging at the corners of the rug we’re standing on, wondering whether to whisk it out and examine it suspiciously. It takes a lot of “hey actually, yeah… let’s take a break here and explain once again that yes, this is a complicated rug. It has some weird patches, some places that we don’t understand what’s going on in the pattern, some mysteries, but believe me, we’ve gone over this before. The rug is not going to set your house on fire or eat the other carpets here. We’re not nailing it to the floorboard, although sometimes it’s tempting when everyone’s trying to whisk it out.”

    And yeah, like any rug you ought to take it out and beat all the crap out if it and maybe shampoo it once in a while. Lord knows there’s enough crap in how trans people are expected to act and think and behave, from within “trans communities” as well. There are all sorts of problems. But there are still other ways of having THAT discussion too, in ways that aren’t like “hey, I heard you guys are standing on that rug again, can I see it, there’s something fishy about it?” and in some cases “yeah, I thought so, gimme that rug!”

    Did I beat the rug metaphor to death yet? I didn’t say anything about carpet cleaners or hardwood floors yet.

    So yeah, for instance, I do think there are a lot of social pressures on trans people. They happen at great big social levels and local community levels and sometimes between two people. They don’t all go in one direction. There are a lot of different stories from a lot of different people’s lives. If you listen to even a handful of them, it becomes pretty clear that you can’t make many blanket statements about how trans people’s motivations intersect with social pressures. But it’s still worth having a conversation — a real, nuanced one — about what those complex intersections are, what happens at them, how things could be better and different in the future.

    I think phrases like “man in a dress” are just incendiary and don’t contribute much of anything, but that was one small part of what Sara was saying and since I generally prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt, I assume she didn’t mean it in its frequently-used derogatory sense.

  11. PhoenixRising
    PhoenixRising March 28, 2007 at 8:23 pm |

    Which part? The assertion that it’s setting a limit, or the suggestion that looking at how trans people affect the culture of gender from a feminist perspective isn’t (always and only) an exercise is stupidity?

    Basic and fundamental are similar concepts that differ in an important way. While I appreciate that the nature of the questions raised in the last thread were basic rather than fundamental, it’s a big decision to fence off the blog from anyone who disagrees with the fundamentals as you see them. It’s a decision that implies you’ve got all the answers you need, and that may be an accurate statement of your position.

    Again, your house, your rules, and I’m not defending anyone who is being disagreeable, just pointing out that I think a different caliber of stick might be called for.

  12. shannon
    shannon March 28, 2007 at 8:31 pm |

    I think the transonly is OK, because it’s good to let people have boundaries on their space. I have some sort of odd feeling, like there should be a pool for us muddly cisgender people without clues and a pool for the people with some sense about it and never the twain shall meet?

  13. PhoenixRising
    PhoenixRising March 28, 2007 at 8:37 pm |

    the topic drifts rapidly into some sort of justification of trans people themselves, usually not in a harsh or overt “you have no right to exist!” way but very frequently in more of a “don’t we need to talk about the fundamental problems with this trans thing?” It kind of feels like an attempt to pull the rug out from underneath other discussions of trans stuff.

    Okay, that was the lengthier and more articulate cop coming to bust up trouble…thank you.

    That was exactly what I was circling around. On one hand, it’s really exhausting to have everything reduced to the fundamentals where it’s not welcome. OTOH, I get tired of being an asshat by intruding when I didn’t know I was in a space where I’m not welcome. (Unlike this post where I’m consciously and assertively being an asshat by intruding, hoping that it will be understood as an attempt to protect the coherence of one of the best places around to juggle ideas on gender issues including trans issues).

    It’s helpful when blogs define their space in clearly articulated ways, like “This post is open to trans-accepting comments only” with a link to Trans 101 and to your definition of trans-accepting. It’s also an enormous amount of work for the blogger, and that’s why it’s a serious question about whether you find it worth doing. So you can roll and smoke your straw, Piny.

    And that’s what keeps the intertubes interesting, the opportunity to exchange views with folks whose experiences and perspectives differ. That, and the Cheet-os. (My wife is calling. ‘Are you done playing with your imaginary friends, dear?’)

  14. little light
    little light March 28, 2007 at 8:56 pm |

    PhoenixRising, I see your point, but–since Holly’s already covered the rug end of the metaphor pool–try this, though I’m a little leery of just bringing it up on account of one of the other common red herrings:

    Let’s say you hang out in the Radical Women of Color end of the feminist blogosphere. (Hey, y’all! I can see my blog from here!) And let’s say you feel free to walk into any discussion–on racism in general, on a personal experience of being treated a particular way in the store on account of race, of governmental policy regarding immigrant women, etc., a family story–and say, “Well, could you explain to me this race thing?” or even, if you want the liberal-arts-college gold star, “Now, I’ve always heard that race is a social construct. If that’s so, what do you think they were really acting on, anyway? I mean, we’re going to keep having racist societies if we keep identifying on racial lines. Explain to me why you’re still invested in the concept of race as a category.” and so on.

    Every single discussion. It doesn’t matter whether the discussion was about the concept of race in the abstract. It doesn’t matter whether the conversation as about something else entirely–like relationships to grandparents. It doesn’t matter whether or not a healthy discussion has already arisen about childbirth. This is someone who openly claims a race! Maybe on the front page of her blog! And blogs about it! So you should feel free to drop in and insist on having those questions addressed, right? Even though a quick glance through the archives or hanging in the area for a month will tell you this happened before, right? What, do they not want you to understand? Is it just that their theories don’t hold water, and they can’t defend them? I mean, you’re trying to get it, right? Why is everyone getting so defensive? Maybe they’re just trying to limit discussion. Maybe they want to make rules where nobody can talk about this at all. Jerks.

    Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

    “So, I was thinking about how my mixed-race identity and my transgender experience overlap, and this got me on the subject of political organization around liminal–”
    “Are you sure you’re not just a man in a dress?”
    “I was talking to my grandmother the other day, and in her generation, lots of stuff was considered differerently. I’d like to compare ’40s attitudes about–”
    “Can you prove it? Why not? Well, don’t you like wearing dresses? What’s your definition of ‘femininity’? Is there a such thing?”
    “So this extremely troublesome thing happened in the news. Actually, someone was murdered. I’d like to organize and distribute information on this event so we can–”
    “Is there a such thing as gender, anyway? How can you feel it? Well, my experience is different. Let me tell you about it. Can you define ‘personhood’ while you’re at it? I read a book one time that said it’s…”
    “Okay, well, actually, there was this nuanced discussion of–”
    “What, don’t you want me here? I’m just trying to learn. I guess you don’t like having real, challenging discussions.”
    “Ah, hell.”

    …piny, maybe I’ve submitted my answer to your question.

  15. little light
    little light March 28, 2007 at 9:06 pm |

    I should point out, too, that most of us–taking into account this dynamic–feel obligated to drop whatever we’re doing and do Trans 101 anyway, because we’re let’s face it. We’re hurting for support. We need everyone we can get, and it just seems like such a little thing, in each instance, to put down the thing going on and say, “okay. So here’s the basic deal. Here’s my 101 spiel.” It’s ultimately a huge derail, and then you lose what work you were doing, and often that person walks away still a skeptic, and after sixty times it’s just an exhausting dynamic.
    It’s just–for a lot of those people, the stakes are really theoretical. Even well-intentioned, they’re “This is theory I want to iron out my position on” or “Hey, I love having a feminist discussion with challenging, different viewpoints in it” or “What a fiddly, disruptive notion. Let’s go round and round on it until I feel more comfortable advocating/decrying it.”

    For us, they’re not. They’re profoundly emotional; they’re lifelong struggles; they’re frequently life and death. When a trans woman is murdered in a hate crime, my first impulse isn’t to talk about the moral calculus of the act or even how best to organize to prevent repeat occurrences, though those, hopefully, come along eventually. The first response is hurt, sadness, and visceral fear at the reminder of how the world works right now. And the last thing I want to do, in that moment, is explain patiently and at length to someone the theoretical justifications, footnoted, for why neither she nor I are men in dresses.

    It’s just–can’t that happen another time? Like, when it’s the topic at hand?

  16. Em
    Em March 28, 2007 at 9:38 pm |

    I’m over it. I’m tired of it. I don’t have much else to say and I regret it every time I find myself once again trying to justify my existence to someone who thinks that experiencing ‘the flutter of ovulation’ is what makes me a woman and Holly not, just b/c they feel it makes them one.

  17. Em
    Em March 28, 2007 at 9:40 pm |

    I’m over it. I’m tired of it. I don’t have much else to say and I regret it every time I find myself once again trying to justify my existence to someone who thinks that experiencing ‘the flutter of ovulation’ is what makes me a woman and Holly not, just b/c they feel it makes them one.

  18. Em
    Em March 28, 2007 at 9:42 pm |

    Sorry for the double post.

  19. PhoenixRising
    PhoenixRising March 28, 2007 at 9:42 pm |

    It’s just–for a lot of those people, the stakes are really theoretical. Even well-intentioned, they’re “This is theory I want to iron out my position on” or “Hey, I love having a feminist discussion with challenging, different viewpoints in it” or “What a fiddly, disruptive notion. Let’s go round and round on it until I feel more comfortable advocating/decrying it.”

    You know, it’s not that different from another minority status I’m more knowledgable about. (Or any other minority status, I would guess.) In that sometimes I have issues that I only want to hear from other adoptive white parents of children of color about…despite how interesting your perspective as a POC may be, you’re not in my shoes or even my kid’s shoes, and while I need active support from a community of POC to be an adequate parent, I’m selective about where I take that support from and I don’t want every discussion about my challenges to become questions about my choices years ago to become a member of this minority. So I think it’s accurate to say, I feel ya.

    Which is exactly why the label, “this post is for trans-aware only” and a willingness to enforce are a lot of work. Because it’s not about kicking out the asshats, it’s about setting limits for friends and potential supporters, who you can’t afford to alienate but who have the capacity to derail f-ing ANYTHING.

    But that is an enormous amount of work and it’s perfectly understandable to respond to that dynamic by saying, as Piny may be (I’m not certain), Well, that’s too much trouble so I want to set ground rules that make the blog trans-aware only.

    I think that’s what I would do, as I certainly participate a lot more actively in the couple of blog and IRL communities that focus on my particular issues as an AP and actively police those who question the fundamentals of my status.

    I was pointing out that, for the whole of the blog, that would be a loss for a lot of us who want to participate in the threads that are more theoretical or open to practical input from outside (but in some way adjacent to) your particular minority status. Which is not suggesting that it’s not Piny’s right to do, your right to ask for, or in any way unreasonable.

  20. Raincitygirl
    Raincitygirl March 28, 2007 at 9:45 pm |

    Just to go off on a tangent regarding word usage, I don’t know that “trans-accepting” is the right word. I think you can have a respectful, safe, place for discussion even if you don’t have agreement on the basics and/or fundamentals, providing every participant is willing to provide it. I mean, I think right-wing conservative Christians are by and large an embarrassment to our shared faith, but if I’m engaged in a civil discussion with one of them, I’ll avoid terms like wingnut, “Christian”, fundie crackpots, etc. Because not helpful terms in the context of a dialogue in which we’re trying to mutually understand each other. Conversely I would expect the other person to avoid phrases like moonbat, cafeteria Christian, so-called Christian, etc. And if they didn’t, I would conclude that they weren’t really interested in dialogue after all.

    And I’d say that the primary onus there is on the newcomer and/or the person who doesn’t know much about the subject. Because they’re the one coming into a new community that isn’t run by or for them. Which isn’t to say people already in that community shouldn’t also behave respectfully, but it’s not uncommon for newbies to blunder in, spouting their oh-so-original questions (as alluded to by Little Light just above), and then take offense when existing community members ask them to do their own research and then come back into the discussion. Obviously it should be stated politely, but their blog, their rules.

    And in all honesty, I virtually never read the FAQ or commenting policies when I discover and first comment on a new blog. Sheer absent-mindedness, not malice. However, if my absent-mindedness and lack of knowledge on the subject cause me to break the blog’s etiquette and/or accidentally ask one of those oh-so-original questions, I have to take my lumps if I’m called on it.

    I certainly want Feministe to continue being a safe space for transpeople and trans allies. But I think it is possible to have dialogue with people who disagree on fundamental issues, provided that dialogue is respectful, and everybody defines their terms, and the dialogue does not come about as the result of a thread hijack. I mean, if Piny blogs on a specific trans issue, and a newbie starts asking the oh-so-original questions in comments, he would be entirely justified in telling the newbie to google the subject, read up for him or herself, and then come back. Or if he’s in a really good mood, Piny could point that person towards some archived posts. But neither he nor other regular commenters are obligated to teach someone the basics. A thread like this one is rather different, i’d say, because its entire subject is the basics/fundamentals, as opposed to, say, discrimination against trans people, or the death of Gwen Araujo (and in either such case, no, that is not a Trans Issues 101 post).

    P.S. I think terms like “man in a dress” are needlessly inflammatory. However, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the person who says something like that, provided it’s an honest mistake and isn’t repeated. Because in the context of the original quote, it’s unclear whether it was meant to be hurtful, and possible Kim didn’t realise it’s one of ‘those’ phrases. Obviously, subsequent uses of triggering phrases like that, after someone has been informed of the baggage associated with the term, would be unhelpful. And it’s understandable if some commenters get snappish, because phrases like that can be insulting even if they weren’t intended that way.

  21. Raincitygirl
    Raincitygirl March 28, 2007 at 9:50 pm |

    P.S. #2. There’s a hell of a lot more to being a woman than menstruation. Obviously. Yes, it’s an experience shared by most bio-women, but I would be very uncomfortable with using it in an exclusionary way.

  22. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne March 28, 2007 at 10:10 pm |

    As one of the people who may have (accidentally) contributed to the problems down below, I have to say, a “Transissues 101″ blog would be REALLY helpful. I didn’t even realize the whole pronouns issue existed until Piny alluded to it a couple of times.

  23. shannon
    shannon March 28, 2007 at 10:34 pm |

    I agree, it doesn’t matter to transpeople whether we mean to be mean in our ignorance and laziness, so us dumbasses need to be in a pool of our own while the grown people are talking.

  24. Ook!
    Ook! March 29, 2007 at 1:10 am |

    I think this happens to some degree in most minority-issues threads (little light mentioned the Radical Women of Color, and I’ve seen similar things in the disability issues community), though trans issues, because they’re not as well known, seem to get it worse. The Feminism 101 blog mentioned a while ago here on Feministe is one possible reaction to this sort of thing; if it takes off, perhaps a similar repository of Trans 101 material would be useful, with a link in the relevant posts?

    Not that it should be necessary to explain the basics every single time. The information is already out there; pople who ask these sorts of questions are just not taking the responsibility they should to seek out their own answers on the web or elsewhere. On the other hand, if it reduces the noise level …

  25. nexyjo
    nexyjo March 29, 2007 at 3:12 am |

    jay sennett said it best in a cartoon he posted, one that also appears in his book self-organizing men (pg 87) in which one trans guy says to the other:

    Dude! You can’t tell people you changed your gender ’cause you wanted to. You have to tell them you were born that way. What were you thinking????

    Man, I’m sorry. I guess I missed that orientation.

    from my own perspective, i never “felt” like the dreaded “woman trapped in a man’s body”. i don’t know what that means. jay’s cartoon sums up my own feelings in a way i’d been struggling to do so for years; “i wanted to change gender”.

    so to answer your question, in certain circumstances, i think it is productive to speak about motivations for transition, in part because of the diversity. sometimes i enjoy participating in discussions, sometimes it pisses me off or makes me uncomfortable, sometimes it seems to be worthwhile, but the context would dictate whether or not i’d engage.

    and as to the “man in a dress” thing, well, if certain people want to think of me as a man in a dress (even though i haven’t worn a dress since 9/3/2005 – the day i was married), they can go for it. i’m in the same position as they are in that i can think of them in any way i want, despite any arguments they make to the contrary. that may not lend to a better understanding between our respective communities, but some people, in some areas, simply can not or will not understand that their own perspectives are not the only valid perspectives.

  26. Ataralas
    Ataralas March 29, 2007 at 4:23 am |

    I find the constant intrusion of questioning about the validity of transexperience/trans 101 questions to be the same as the experience of the questioning of the validity/necessity of feminism that occurs. However, there’s no real trans blogosphere (apart from support communities, which are not really the same, though very necessary) in the same way that there’s a feminist blogosphere that provides a safe space to have conversations at a level that’s above the 101. Perhaps there should be.

    And so, personally, I answer questions about trans 101 based on a sliding scale of what I perceive to be the intentions of the questioner, what they are asking, the tone of the question, what kind of mood I’m in, and how much time I have. I don’t hate doing trans 101, but I do believe there’s a time and a place for asking those kind of questions, and a time and a place to shut up and listen to the beyond 101 conversation.

    I think that your previous point was a “shut up and listen” situation. I found that post very interesting, as I am an FTM just coming out of the ambiguous stage, to my great relief. The ambiguity was hard and unpleasant for me; the constant monitoring of people’s vocabulary and actions towards and about me was (and somewhat is) a stressor in my life. So I find your experiences with ambiguity interesting. But I felt like, by the time I got to the comment thread, anything I might say or ask about would be lost in the noise of defending trans and gendered experiences.

  27. evil fizz
    evil fizz March 29, 2007 at 6:47 am | *

    On a completely personal note, I’m so glad you’re here, Ataralas! =)

  28. MrSoul
    MrSoul March 29, 2007 at 10:18 am |

    I personally would appreciate a Trans 101 website from a feminist perspective. I’ve already seen TRANSAMERICA! :D Something else, please!

    Little Light, Piny, Holly, etc: the whole derailment thing happens constantly, to everyone with “minority issues” that aren’t usually discussed in a radical way. It happens repeatedly during discussions of disability issues that aren’t at disability-oriented blogs. For example, a couple of weeks ago at Pandagon, in the thread about genetic testing of fetuses, someone comes out and says “don’t we have the right to refuse to give birth to a defective child?”–and I nearly went ballistic. Speaking of carpets, Holly! I felt like a carpet. Carpets are “defective”; humans aren’t.

    The whole thread could easily have been derailed by my fury, instead, I just stayed silent and let them compare me to a piece of merchandise.

    And what ABOUT that? Do we have to go back and explain the whole thing about disability being a social construct? Apparently, this person hadn’t heard. I get tired of re-inventing the wheel, too.

    Is anyone old enough to remember Firesign Theatre? I’d like to get a wav playing “Everything you know is wrong”–and just play it during the derailments. ;)

  29. Holly
    Holly March 29, 2007 at 11:25 am |

    Yeah, I have definitely experienced derailment on more issues than just this one. I sometimes feel like I am trying to have my cake and eat it too: I want to deal with these derailing questions in a way that hopefully opens someone’s mind up even a little bit wider to different ideas about this stuff, and I also want to be able to just carry on and have more complicated conversations that rely on some existing assumptions, or at least agreeing to disagree / having different viewpoints about those assumptions. (No intellectual conformity required, as far as I’m concerned.) So yeah, maybe trans 101 blog is a great idea, I’d try to contribute.

    I often get myself tied in knots trying to really provide a Super Duper Comprehensive Answer From All Angles to these questions, which is probably overkill… but it is also painful feeling like, when you answer someone’s basic questions about this stuff, you are representing all trans people everywhere, right? And of course that is the case with every other “minority issue” too and is one facet of how oppression works — making individuals represent all members of their class. But it’s hard to escape.

  30. Holly
    Holly March 29, 2007 at 11:27 am |

    Oh yeah, and totally, from feminist perspective. That is the trans 101 that is so badly missing from almost everywhere. There are trans 101s that are not unfeminist but often they’re speaking to a general audience that doesn’t have the same kinds of awareness/interest/questions and so the feminist perspective doesn’t really get factored in heavily. And then there are “trans 101″ kinda things which are just totally lacking in feminist insight… sigh.

  31. MrSoul
    MrSoul March 29, 2007 at 11:35 am |

    ….but it is also painful feeling like, when you answer someone’s basic questions about this stuff, you are representing all trans people everywhere, right? And of course that is the case with every other “minority issue” too and is one facet of how oppression works — making individuals represent all members of their class. But it’s hard to escape.

    ..and feeling like if you don’t “correct” the bad assumption/oppressive statement, it goes unchallenged and will therefore come back to bite some other poor gimp/transperson/whoever in the ass.

    At least, that is often why I speak up, simply because no one else is there to do it.

    That thread Piny linked at Little Light’s blog, was great. I would like to see more of those, that don’t completely melt down. But lots of good ideas there, if you bothered to wade through it. Full disclosure: I was a big Uhura groupie, at the now-deceased Michael Moore boards. She kicked ass and was a good person to have on your side.

  32. twf
    twf March 29, 2007 at 12:01 pm |

    Maybe just a “Trans-issues 101″ post? Get some of the trans-people who comment here to each answer some of the common, basic questions in their own way and collate the answers. Keep the thread open for comments of the ignorant cispeople and patient transpeople indefinitely. Then, whenever someone asks (in a discussion of, say, the complexities of appearing an ambiguous gender) “so why would someone want to transition anyway? Isn’t gender just a social construction?” they get told “that discussion is in that post, please stay on topic here” and any further unrelated discussion gets deleted.

    I know that once again this is work on the part of transpeople, to educate the non-trans, and it’s not their job. But maybe it’s a practical solution.

  33. Karen Bachman
    Karen Bachman March 29, 2007 at 3:12 pm |

    Ok here is a good place to look, This is a 2000 vintage document but still relevant, this is a link to it ,the doc. is as I recall 150 pages m/o/l/. http://www.thetaskforce.org/reports_and_research/trans_equality . I have used some of the info here in a “T” presentation to the State Dem. Party . If you really want to know read this…Karen

  34. Mandolin
    Mandolin March 29, 2007 at 4:04 pm |

    As a non-transperson (I think I read piny to say it was okay for cis people to comment here; if it’s not, please delete!), I think trans-only or trans-accepting only spaces are a peachy keen idea.

    I might have some issue with trans-accepting, because I certainly view myself as a work in progress in that regard. I could probably manage a prohibition not to derail — or at least do my best and shut up if I did derail — but I admit to being one of those gender constructionists who gets stuck on theory questions. I don’t understand, however, why theory questions ever affect one’s support for trans rights.

  35. Eddie
    Eddie March 29, 2007 at 4:12 pm |

    A Transdude that would like say:
    We don’t choose.
    Why would we create our own turmoil of hell inside?
    It’s a “why me?” concept – we don’t want to feel this way, we just are.
    That person needs some proper trans tutoring.

  36. StacyM
    StacyM March 30, 2007 at 6:59 am |

    Speaking as a trans person, I’ve no problems with labeling certain threads as “trans-accepting commenters only.” I don’t mind these kinds of restrictions because in a comparable way, I’ve seen many feminist spaces wrecked by a constant influx of hateful, disruptive jerks. Does anybody remember the unmoderated feminist newsgroups over at Usenet? Also, if anyone wants a reminder of what happens when anti-trans commenters are temporarily given free reign, we need only remember the fiasco that unfolded at I Blame The Patriarchy in December. Of course, these are both extreme examples, but there’s enough animosity toward transpeople in some portions of feminist bloglandia, that it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to foresee similar trainwrecks in the future.

    Ultimately, where moderation starts and ends is up to you piny, regardless of the presence of thread labels. It will always be a matter of personal judgement. However, pasting a specific kind of label on a thread might provide a very useful tool in your moderation toolbox. I’ve no problems with that.

    As for “trans-only” thread labels… I feel a little odd about that. I personally like interacting with a diversity of people from varying backgrounds, both transgender and cisgender. I think I have a lot more in common with, say, a trans-supportive, cisgender feminist than a transperson who is critical of both feminism and the push to undermine society’s notions of masculinity and femininity.

    On a somewhat different topic, piny, I think that the label of “transgender” is a very broad and inclusive label that includes a wide variety of people who experience gender in a myriad of ways. If you want to continue applying that label to yourself, then go for it! I mean, heck, you’re transitioning for the second time, which is more than many of us have done, I’m sure. You’ve lived as both a woman and a man. If I understand correctly, prior to the beginning of your second transition, you experienced a dissonance between your social identity, your physical form and your own sense of what felt comfortable to you. That sounds pretty darned familiar to me. If those things don’t describe the experiences of someone who is transgender, then I’m not sure what does.

    If you still want to apply the label of transgender to yourself, I think that you have every right to. If you no longer want to apply that label to yourself anymore, well, that’s OK as well.

  37. prosphoros
    prosphoros March 30, 2007 at 9:15 am |

    It pisses me off, these sorts of derailings, and it reeks of unexamined privilege to me, as well. That some obstinately clueless person can walk in and demand that all conversation they don’t understand come to a grinding halt so their own ignorance can be addressed, on their terms, pisses me off even more. The burden of education is not automatically on anyone who falls outside of some mythical ideal of ‘normal’, and yet to even suggest that leads to dismissal and accusations of incivility, of not being willing to help people who “just want to understand” (but dont’ want to do any of the work themselves, and honestly look like they just want their own prejudices reinforced after a deceptive good faith effort).

  38. Kim
    Kim March 30, 2007 at 5:08 pm |

    Can you filter certain phrases, I’m thinking particularly of ‘man in a dress’, as needing further scrutiny?

    For the record, if “man in a dress” is indeed an inflammatory phrase, that wasn’t how I meant it, and I definitely apologize. (One of the works I read included the phrase repeatedly, in a very offhand way, and was written by a man who was in the very early stages of transitioning. I suppose it’s just sort of been floating around in my head since then.) By my usage, I meant to signify a person who doesn’t care about the rules of gender performance.

  39. StacyM
    StacyM March 30, 2007 at 8:07 pm |

    You know, prosphoros, I’m beginning to understand how one can get so pissed off over this. Although I’ve not really thought of it in that fashion before, it is indicative of speaking from a position of relative privilege. How many times does the average cisgender person have to stop a conversation in order to explain how they could possibly identify as a woman or a man? Not too often. As folks have stated up thread, transfolk get asked the same old questions far too much in the blog world and it’s truly a pain in the bottom.

    For some reason, though, if I’m talking to a person in the real world, and they express an earnest, respectful interest in learning more about my life and what I’ve experienced, I don’t mind opening up to them. It’s a teaching moment, and for some reason, if it happens in a personal, one on one basis, I’m happy to embrace it. In an online format, however…ugh. I’m starting to get really tired of it for some reason. Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t have the personal intimacy of a friendly conversation or maybe it’s because the conversation can rapidly degenerate into a pile-on of hateful trolls. Regardless, I prefer real life conversations, thank you very much.

    As for those folks who have closed their minds and simply state that I’m actually a man, a freak, or a supporter of the patriarchy, it doesn’t matter whether I talk to them in a virtual format or in real life. My response inevitably ends with some variation of, “Wow, would you look a the time? I’ve got better things to do than argue with a bigot. Have a nice life.”

  40. Regina
    Regina March 31, 2007 at 3:53 pm |

    It pisses me off, these sorts of derailings, and it reeks of unexamined privilege to me, as well. That some obstinately clueless person can walk in and demand that all conversation they don’t understand come to a grinding halt so their own ignorance can be addressed, on their terms, pisses me off even more.

    I’m just a cis dropping by, but prosphoros’ post caught my eye.
    When these people come across me (in other contexts), it drives me crazy both because I think their real focus is more on making themselves comfortable with the conversation than with really learning anything, and because it strikes me how much they could learn if they would just shut up and listen. And nobody ever just wants to shut up and listen.

  41. Mandolin
    Mandolin March 31, 2007 at 3:58 pm |

    “As opposed to someone who transitions, if I understand you correctly? I don’t think that’s a workable dichotomy.”

    It’s totally not.

    At the risk of derail, I think some of us who don’t feel the sensation of being outside one’s gender just really wish that people could feel free to divorce physical sex and gender performance. That’s what I read in Kim’s comment, is a wistfulness for a day when gender/sex lines are no longer policed to make sure they align – when someone could have male genitals and female presentation, or choose to change their genitals to have female genitals and female presentation, and both would be morally neutral and unremarkable.

    Someone mentioned earlier that they wished there were cis people to take the derailers aside and explain things. The other prominent suggestion that caught my attention was a trans 101 blog. These seem a bit different to me, though they could overlap.

    As to the first, maybe someone could set up a system where cis people who are… a little more informed… could volunteer to be sent people with questions, so that when one of these derails happens, piny or whoever is running the thread, could A) tell the derailer to contact the volunteer by email, B) could send the derailer to the volunteer’s blog, or C) could ping the volunteer to come into the thread and be the one to primarily field the derailer’s questions. A and B would remove a derailer from the discussion; C would allow hir to stay, but hopefully in a way where sie would not receive inordinate attention.

    Some problems I see with this are:

    1) Identifying volunteers. I’d be happy to do it, but I’m not sure I’m satisfactorily qualified. I imagine there may be other cis people who feel the same way.

    2) Making sure there are enough people that there will normally be a volunteer available despite the shifting demands of everyone’s busy lives.

    3) The system would work best if it were used to pair volunteers with sincere derailers. It would be no fun to be called into a war with a troll or an antifeminist. It would be okay to come in and talk to someone who is genuinely an uneducated feminist. I know it can be hard to identify one from another at times.

    4) Every other gigantic flaw I haven’t thought of.

  42. Mandolin
    Mandolin March 31, 2007 at 4:01 pm |

    Oh, and 5) it would probably work better if there were multiple blogs involved in setting up the volunteer system, to make sure there was a large enough pool of people and posts to justify the time and effort.

  43. Holly
    Holly March 31, 2007 at 6:12 pm |

    I think there are an awful lot of trans people who have quite a lot of wistfulness for a day like that too. I mean, since that day would probably be the day when a lot of us would no longer be getting persecuted and/or killed for having misaligned genitals, or criticized for choosing to change our genitals, etc. Trans people have the most to gain from that vision and I think most trans people would agree… so yeah, I appreciate the wistfulness too, but I’m not sure I get what the connection is to people who don’t feel the sensation of being outside one’s gender, or arguments like the ones in these threads.

    Is there still some ongoing confusion that trans people are getting surgery out of a belief that physical sex and gender performance can’t be divorced? Because that’s a flat out, half-baked stereotype that needs to be put to rest.

  44. Nick Kiddle
    Nick Kiddle March 31, 2007 at 6:41 pm |

    As to the first, maybe someone could set up a system where cis people who are… a little more informed… could volunteer to be sent people with questions

    That made me think of the “Men can’t breastfeed – how dare you call me transphobic” spatlet over at Alas, where someone who wouldn’t hear from Jay, or piny, or me, why men actually can too breastfeed finally started to at least listen when it came from a cis lesbian ally. It sort of gave me the feeling we weren’t considered fit to explain for who knows what reason, but the ally was OK because she was on the right side. My worry is that the sytem you outline would end up reinforcing that dynamic.

  45. Mandolin
    Mandolin April 1, 2007 at 12:41 am |

    “That made me think of the “Men can’t breastfeed – how dare you call me transphobic” spatlet over at Alas, where someone who wouldn’t hear from Jay, or piny, or me, why men actually can too breastfeed finally started to at least listen when it came from a cis lesbian ally. It sort of gave me the feeling we weren’t considered fit to explain for who knows what reason, but the ally was OK because she was on the right side. My worry is that the sytem you outline would end up reinforcing that dynamic.”

    I’m sure it would.

    I just know that there are arenas of activism where being challenged on the basic level makes me breathless with rage, despair, whatever. I’ve had a rape apologist on my blog, for instance. After a while, I sort of whited out and couldn’t deal with him. I would have happily handed off the situation to someone who didn’t have as much emotion invested in the situation.

    I try to do this, in a small way, for a trans friend of mine. She’s in a bad situation which makes her very tender, and small things can trigger her very badly, so I try to do what I can to help stave off assholes, since the emotional cost of me doing so is so much lower.

    I guess I just want to say that as someone who is trying to be an ally (and I realize I have flaws), if there’s shit work that needs doing, and it hurts you to do that work or just keeps you from doing more important work, I’m willing to do it, and I imagine other people are, too.

    I guess that involves a certain amount of privelege inherently, since the reason it costs me less emotionally to try to talk down transphobes is because of my cis-privelege. Adding in the privelege that would give someone more credence… yeah, I can see why it would be really problematic to put into effect.

  46. Mandolin
    Mandolin April 1, 2007 at 1:00 am |

    Holly and Piny,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to me.

    I apologize for making the comment in the first place; it didn’t belong on this thread. I looked back at my phrasing, and I think I tried to condense a couple arguments so that I could keep my comment brief, and I think therefore that I said some things that don’t really represent my opinion. That is, however, my fault, and I apologize for being cavalier about my phrasing. Further, I apologize for all the ways in which I am sure I have my head up my ass.

    I started writing some responses and clarifications, but then I stopped, because I imagine that you’d rather not have that conversation on this thread. :)

    I’ll cut off here for now, and let y’all decide whether or not you’re interested in listening to me blather. If you are, I’m happy to talk here, or elsewhere. If you’d rather skip it, that’s fair, too.

  47. prosphoros
    prosphoros April 1, 2007 at 10:44 am |

    Upon reflection, part of what pisses me off about these sorts of interruptions has obliquely to do with what was mentioned above, that any trans person who engages to talk specifically about their history and their perspectives is then taken to speak for all trans people at all times. Most of the time, it seems that those who take the deep breath and try to constructively engage fall more or less into a flavor of trans that is able to be parsed as within the dominant paradigm (at least to the popular mind), that is, generally mtf or ftm, and then discussion centers around transition and related issues.

    I’m not saying these aren’t legitimate and important issues, not at all, but they’re certainly not the only trans issues, just as transsexuals aren’t the only kind of transgendered folks. I feel like that’s becoming my most consistent complaint on trans issues, but from my own perspective (a not transsexual transgendered person), I’m disinclined to jump into a conversation that’s turned into one about the difficulties of transition because it is a legitimate and important discussion, but that I also have no personal experience or stake in it (other than the general stake in all people being treated with respect). Once the Raymondesque critique of transsexuals is in play, I’ve even less an inclination to engage; if people refuse to recognize the legitimacy of transsexuals, I see no likelihood for them to recognize my subject position, either.

  48. nexyjo
    nexyjo April 1, 2007 at 5:13 pm |

    … any trans person who engages to talk specifically about their history and their perspectives is then taken to speak for all trans people at all times.

    i find that this is not specific to trans people, but virtually all minorities, especially when the listeners have very little experience with said minority. i try to be specific when i speak about my experience of living trans, that i am speaking about my personal experience which may or may not be common among all trans people. but i am not usually successful in getting that point across. and especially when i’m talking with people who do have some experience with a specific trans experience, and have applied that understanding to *all* trans people, i’m accused of being “unique”. a challenging situation at best.

  49. kali
    kali April 2, 2007 at 6:28 am |

    Another cisgendered person piping up to say that sometimes I have the impulse to derail threads, or ask annoying personal questions of RL trans acquaintances. I mean, it’s not political enlightenment holding me back, either, it’s just politeness. And I’ve learned a lot from piny’s posts and from the “shut up and listen” stance generally, but sometimes it’s like you’ve walked in in the middle of a movie and you’re still not sure who that guy in the suit is, and you don’t want to ask because it’ll annoy everyone else who already knows what’s going on but it’s hard to understand the movie without asking. I wanted to say that a trans 101 blog or post from a feminist perpective would probably be effective for shutting up the alterna-versions of me whose ravening desire to learn stuff outweighs their politeness– the derail you cite seems to fall into that category. And I think in feminist circles that kind of derailer is likely quite common, moreso than in the population at large.
    (You have no obligation, of course, to satiate anyone’s desire to learn stuff. I just think it might work.)

  50. MrSoul
    MrSoul April 2, 2007 at 3:15 pm |

    but sometimes it’s like you’ve walked in in the middle of a movie and you’re still not sure who that guy in the suit is, and you don’t want to ask because it’ll annoy everyone else who already knows what’s going on but it’s hard to understand the movie without asking.

    Well said.

    Like, somebody threw out the adjective “Raymondesque” up there. Huh? Raymond Chandler? Raymond Henry Williams? Who? Yes, I can google too, and I found the Raymond in question, but that kinda thing does make you feel a little confused (and stupid) at times.

    And there are countless other examples, in trans-oriented threads. We really need a remedial version for some of us!

  51. prosphoros
    prosphoros April 2, 2007 at 4:17 pm |

    MrSoul:

    Like, somebody threw out the adjective “Raymondesque” up there. Huh? Raymond Chandler? Raymond Henry Williams? Who? Yes, I can google too, and I found the Raymond in question, but that kinda thing does make you feel a little confused (and stupid) at times.

    And there are countless other examples, in trans-oriented threads. We really need a remedial version for some of us!

    But you did find the info. There is no shortage of info available to anyone who’s willing to look. While not directed at anyone in specific, I have a hard time believing that folks who are genuinely interested wouldn’t be able to dig up at least introductory questions on their own. Or at least ask a question that’s more reflective of effort than “Explain this to me”. While from the outside it may look obvious that it’s in the best interests of trans people to carry the burden of education at all times, in all cases, sometimes we just get tired of it. Someone asking a good faith question goes a lot further to set the expectation that this is a potential ally asking, rather than just another person who demands to have hir own biases affirmed at the expense of the Other.

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