What trans means to me

Well, it seems like we’re in need of another Trans 101 post. Feministe has had them before but still, every time a contentious post is made about trans issues (like Jill’s recent post) the same basic issues are brought up: why are people trans? How do we approach trans stuff as feminists? What does this all mean? What is it like to be trans? Is transitioning actually an acceptable thing that we can approve of? And what the hell does “cis” in cisgendered mean? (It means “on the same side of” as opposed to trans, “on the other side of.” Literally suggests that someone has not changed genders.) These aren’t bad questions, in fact I’m glad that folks like asdf are curiously asking things like:

Changing the definition of gender into something other than a biological descriptor, into something innate in a person’s personality, does that not require buying into the concept of innate differences between the sexes?

… because I think these things should be discussed and answered. But maybe not in a thread about how many transgender women have been killed this year, and how some people exploit the remembrance of that? So let’s start a new discussion.

Opening up a post for questions with very little content to riff off of can feel kind of like staring at a blank piece of paper. So I thought I would write a little post with my own personal thoughts on the subject, inspired by queen emily’s recent post as well as drakyn’s. I usually don’t get into this level of detail regarding my personal feelings, my own take on gender and trans-ness… it’s always safer to keep it a little more abstract, about material conditions and institutional forces and community response. But here we go. Everyone else, feel free to chime in with your own perspective and add your thoughts. Keep in mind this is intended as a Trans 101 thread, so all questions and inquiries are welcome. If something seems confusing or raises questions in your mind, ask them and people who have experiences with the topic at hand will hopefully answer.

I’m trans. For a while, especially when I was in the process of what they call “medical transition,” I used to identify as transsexual. When I was searching for community and commonality and a politic to link together common experiences of oppression, I started to use the word transgender more. And I’ve used words like genderqueer or “of trans experience” to describe myself too.

But mostly, I just don’t like gender. I really don’t, I wish it would stay away from me. Of course, nobody in this world has such luck. Everything is gendered.

I sometimes have conversations with friends, acquaintances and relatives who tell me (apparently because I’m trans) that they don’t really see themselves as being gendered, that gender isn’t an important part of who they are. Usually part of what they mean by this is that they don’t fit into classic stereotypes of hyper-masculinity or hyper-femininity, and don’t want to. As much as I sympathize with that, part of me still wants to scream, because everyone I’ve had this kind of conversation with is in fact, quite gendered, men and women both. Not in a stereotypical or really obvious way, but enough so that they can shake the hands of random strangers and be immediately recognized as a man or a woman; not necessarily a “traditional” one, but still. They don’t have to think about their gender because they’re taking a certain chunk of it for granted, a chunk that includes their haircut, how they’ve learned to talk and move, what kinds of clothes they wear, the name they use. Even if it leaves a bad taste in their mouth, they’re not allergic to all that basic gendering stuff. Not like I am.

I don’t think I could ever say “gender isn’t an important part of who I am,” because I’m uncomfortably aware of most of the gendering that’s going on all the time around me, and subtly aware of even more that’s below the liminal threshold. Trying to move through the world without being gendered is just as impossible, or moreso, than trying to move through immigration at a border without a passport; we’re gendered pretty much every time someone sees us, hears us, reads our data in a computer file. So I have to suppress a crazy giggle sometimes when I hear people say that, you know, they don’t really think about it that much. Just like fish don’t think about water; just like some people don’t have to think about race or class or misogyny.

That’s basically where my experience of being trans begins: when I first became aware that I was being pigeonholed by gender. It didn’t come up that often when I was a kid, in part because I was raised in a fairly progressive, feminist family and in part because I was assigned male. Boys aren’t subjected to quite as many constant restrictions as girls are; it’s part of male privilege. Of course, there are most definitely things boys aren’t allowed to do, and things boys have to do in order to prove themselves sufficiently masculine. As soon as I was old enough to be aware of this kind of thing, I had a twisting feeling in my whole being, like my foot was caught in a bear trap. That feeling only grew stronger as I grew older, until by the time I was eleven years old I was completely positive that I did not feel like a boy.

At this point, the usual response from the peanut gallery is “but why didn’t you just buck the system and be a non-traditional boy, or reject gender without transitioning to become a woman?” Oh yeah, they make it sound so easy and so effective! This is an absurd question coming from anyone who hasn’t actually tried and gone through all of this. And even then, the answer is complex and individual. For one thing, bucking the system has consequences, especially when you’re a pre-teen. I have the scars to show it. For another, that question makes it sound like putting on some mascara and a dress would be enough to get my foot out of that bear trap. It’s not. Not for me, at least.

Different things work for different people; all of us who have trouble fitting into a gendered system have to find some way to make some kind of accommodation with it. Some people are fortunate or privileged enough to have more options in that regard. Others don’t, and have to adapt one way or the other, lest they be crushed. By the time I was a teenager, I could barely stand being gendered male by anybody, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Male seems to be the “default” gender for human social perceptions, and our culture doesn’t have any boxes to fit people in other than male and female.

On top of that, I also experienced body dysphoria for a long time, where a lot of things about my body just felt wrong, like I was crawling out of my skin. There are ways to manage that feeling, to compartmentalize or cope with it, but it doesn’t go away. These are the feelings associated with being trans that people speculate about the most, whether they’re caused by something biological in the brain or what. Frankly, I don’t think the exact etiology is of supreme importance, or that it’ll ever be conclusive. Maybe body dysphoria is related to the rejection of gender I described earlier, and maybe it’s not, but I’m fairly skeptical of anyone who claims to know for sure.

What really matters is that trans people who genuinely have body dysphoria — and it can certainly be misdiagnosed, confused with other issues, don’t get me wrong — experience it persistently, often from an early age. What matters is that there’s no known cure, no way of doing brain surgery to “fix people” in their heads (would we even want such a thing?) no way to alleviate it except for figuring out what works for your body and your self. Finding a place where you can live in peace.

So eventually, despite feeling overwhelming guilt and anxiety about it, and hearing a hundred scare-you-straight stories about what kind of horrible life to expect, I eventually decided to get out of the gender and sex that I was assigned to, and go somewhere different. Where to? It’s not like there are that many places you’re allowed to live in terms of gender; it’s not like they even tell you about that many options. For most of my life that I can remember, I always identified more with girls and women, even if I don’t know what people mean by “feeling like a woman.” (And I still don’t!)

If I had been raised in a culture with more than two genders, would I feel differently? Maybe… it’s impossible to say, of course. But my body also seems to think that this configuration, with a different set of signals flowing through my endocrine system, is healthier and better for it. As far as social and psychological well-being, I have better relationships with friends, dates, my family, and myself. And I’ve been lucky enough to avoid discrimination for being trans, probably because most people I interact with don’t realize I am. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

The worst crap I’ve had to deal with in the last decade is exactly the kind of stuff that most women in the world cope with: sexism, in the form of getting patronized, talked down to, sexually harassed, threatened, stalked by creepy assholes. But that’s the deal I could find to make with this unpleasantly gendered world we live in; it’s the niche, the crack in a hostile cliff wall, that I could carve out for myself to be able to live, grow, resist, despite that misogyny and transphobia, racism and homophobia that I’ve had to deal with.

The fact that I carved it out myself is very important, you know? Being able to make a choice, some choice, any choice, to make my way in a hostile world. I had to get out and do a gender my own way, find a livable cranny within a system that fucks with all of us and messes with our heads whether we realize it or not. This is the most important reason why the “why did you have to transition” question makes no sense. I did it because it figuring out and expressing our own gender is one of the choices we all should be able to make. Because it was a viable and healthy choice for me, and I struggled for it and claimed it. I don’t really need any other reason.

So… I don’t see “trans” as a particular ideology or politics. Trans people have too many different experiences, lives, takes on things. I don’t expect other trans people to share the exact views described above. Some people are excited by and want to celebrate gender, which can be a vibrant and beautiful way to express yourself through your manner, your performance, your adornments, your body. I’m happy for them, even though I’m generally too nauseated to perform any role with a “lot” of gender unless it’s totally theatrical. (Some friends describe me as having only a small amount of gender… I went from being a pretty androgynous boy to a pretty androgynous girl, and I’m just lucky that I learned to slip by either way without too much scrutiny.)

When you get down to it, being trans is just a loose common set of experiences. Experiences around having a gender, internally or externally, that is not considered universally valid. Of being troubled by gender–not just the injustice and misogyny of your prescribed place in it, but by the very fact of your assignment. Of having to leave one gender for another, being a migrant, trying to settle somewhere new and dealing with the trials and frustrations involved. Of having looked at gender, this ridiculous, constructed edifice we’re stuck in, and known that you had to carve out a new place to live in it. We all experience these things differently, come away with different truths, different interpretations, different lives. But that’s beautiful too.

Any questions?


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About Holly

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170 Responses to What trans means to me

  1. Em says:

    FYI, asdf did not respond to my off-thread offer, but our charming friend Renee did. She claims not to be asdf, or to have noticed that the invitation was specifically extended to asdf, but you know. Wev. Trolling with leading questions? It’s happened before. It might be worth checking IPs if you can do such a thing. Though I would consider it delicious, if they are indeed one and the same, that the question that sparked this post is going to end up educating allies. And asdf, if you are a separate entity, the offer stands. Cheerio, I’m off to bed.

  2. Lisa Harney says:

    I always identified more with girls and women, even if I don’t know what people mean by “feeling like a woman.”

    Since I do feel I’m a woman (I hate saying “feel like”), I’ve tried to write down what that means, and I got nothin’. I know I’m a woman, and before I transitioned, I “knew” I was a girl at a very intense level. Or my body was dissonant from my brain’s very clear expectations of a female body. I picked up a lot of gender socializing from that – “This is expected of girls, so this is what I should be doing.” And then that covered with “If I don’t want to be beaten within an inch of my life, this is expected of boys, so I should try to at least pretend to some of that,” which I wasn’t too successful at.

    In other words, except for my being lesbian, my narrative is a pretty classic example of a trans history. But I can’t, no matter how hard I try, explain what it’s like to “feel like a woman.” It’s sort of like explaining what it’s like to be alive, or to be Irish, or to be a lesbian.

    All I know is that I see myself as a woman, and I’m treated as a woman, and I know that it completely lacks the fingernail-on-chalkboards experience of being seen as and treated as a boy.

    Thank you for posting this, and I am sooo far behind on posting my own.

  3. belledame222 says:

    I’d be surprised if asdf were Renee/Bliss; R/B changes names frequently but doesn’t seem to be able to change the disc, like, ever. she’s also notoriously not been shy about inviting herself into other peoples’ emails and lives. -gropes for crucifix and garlic-.

    anyway. great post, Holly, thank you.

  4. Trin says:

    I have a question for people who transition, and for people who specifically ID or did ID as transsexual. I suspect it’s the sort of thing different people will give different answers to.

    Are there two phenomena: discomfort with how people treat you and discomfort with your body, or are these two phenomena inextricably linked and don’t pull apart? Because what I sometimes see being said is something like:

    Cissexual person: I don’t have a gender identity! I don’t know what it means to feel like a woman or a man! You evil weird transfolk are making something up that I feel.
    Trans(sexual, specifically?) person: Okay, I guess that’s understandable, but do you have this persistent sense that something is not right about your body and that it should be different?

    which makes me wonder if the big dividing thing isn’t entirely sum-upp-able in terms that don’t reference bodies — and “gender identity” at least at first glance doesn’t sound like it makes any reference to a body, which might be part of what confuses some people who are fine with their bodies but not fine with what, say, patriarchy tells them “a woman” is, and thus see themselves as out to abolish gender. (which doesn’t strike me as right even if gender is totally divorcible from bodily anything/totally socially constructed anyway)

  5. Trin says:

    gah, i hope that was even remotely clear…

  6. brandann says:

    i admittedly know very little about trans people, except that they are people and that what they have under their clothes is no one’s business but their own. in my only sociology class ever, we spent two classes on sex and gender (they showed us “the crying game”, and i remember very little from that long ago) and i was taught that sex is what you are physically assigned and gender is how you identify yourself. i always took for granted that this was accepted and true. is it? and if not, how are we supposed to think about the two terms? what do you consider the difference?

    lastly, in order to better defend the rights of trans people as a whole, how do i educate myself, and do so in a sensitive and caring manner? i actually worry that i will be offensive if i ask too many questions, which is why i appreciate this post, very much. are there any good books you would recommend? also if i said something offensive and don’t realize it here, please let me know. it isn’t my intention, which is why i realize the need to educate myself.

    whew…that was too long…sorry.

  7. katie says:

    Thank you for this post! While I fully support legal recognition of a change of gender, how exactly would it work? For instance, you are employed, and have health insurance that covers, say, prostate health. You were born as a male, but later transition to being a female. Would your insurance be changed to identify you as a woman? Let’s say you get prostate cancer.. But you’re identified as a woman… What then?

    I know this is a pretty dumb scenario, but seriously I do wonder about stuff like that. I also once read this article that say mtf trans should be allowed in womens’ spaces. Which I support, ofc, but where should the line be drawn? I hesitate to bring up the scenario but I have to ask.. what if there are men who are opportunistic and abuse that privilege? I’m not speaking of actual transgender, just some jerk who sees a easy way to sneak in the locker room..

  8. pocochina says:

    I was trying to formulate my questions, and then I refreshed, and….exactly what brendann said.

    This:

    is something I wonder about a lot in my observation of normative gender roles, and while it’s part of my feminism in general, it’s something that I lack the framework to understand as an ally, so thank you for that in particular.

    Thank you for this.

  9. Holly says:

    Or my body was dissonant from my brain’s very clear expectations of a female body. I picked up a lot of gender socializing from that – “This is expected of girls, so this is what I should be doing.”

    I can definitely relate to both parts of that. I mean, until I got to the point where the crisis of my life and my body and my gender had relatively settled down into stability, I didn’t really feel able to tease all this stuff out. My body sending me certain kinds of signals, my intense discomfort with gendering sending me others, my desire to actually mark out a place to stand in the whole benighted mess maybe a third or fourth or fifth factor. I guess at the moment I think of the body-related stuff as being quite distinct from any sort of “feeling like a woman.” But the fact is, when I was a teenager I was much more identified with women than with men (which is different from identifying “as,” I think) — I was really disgusted and appalled by men and couldn’t imagine growing up to be one. That definitely affected what kind of messages I absorbed about gender, and not positively… ugh. Beauty myths.

    I guess that kind of answers Trin’s question for my part:

    Are there two phenomena: discomfort with how people treat you and discomfort with your body, or are these two phenomena inextricably linked and don’t pull apart?

    I used to kind of think of these as the same thing, until I realized they weren’t. I dealt with problem signals that my body was sending me, about my own relationship with my body and how my consciousness has to inhabit it. But I still had and have a lot of problems with gender. I wish I could find my copy of Whipping Girl (what else is new) because Julia Serano does an excellent job of teasing out what is usually called “gender identity” into several components that don’t necessarily line up monolithically.

    There’s what she calls “subconscious sex,” which is something like, what your brain thinks your body should be like, regardless of what you’d like it to consciously. Then I think there’s “subconscious gender” (I might have her terminology wrong) which has more to do with the differences in gendered behavior that you see in kids, regardless of what gender they’re assigned or how they’re socialized, from an early age. Gender identity, in her taxonomy, is more of a conscious choice, as is gender expression.

    It’s funny, sometimes I get questionnaires related to being trans that ask for a gender identity, and I think they expect me to write “trans woman.” Plenty of trans people I know would just write “woman” or “man,” because “trans” is not a gender most people identify as. I’d be inclined to put “none” except for the fact that I’ve adopted “woman” as a functional and operational point from which I can interface with the rest of the world. And the rest of the world recognizes, treats me like, and expects me to behave like a woman, with all the shit that entails. I think that actually makes my gender “woman” and my gender identity “oh god, whatever, please stop calling this number.” But oddly, my subconscious sex is definitely “female.” And my gender expression is “sloppy military-influenced dykey rocker chick with angry robot tendencies.”

    Back in the day, people assumed these were all supposed to line up: the total horror (for me at least) of the Unified Transsexual Narrative. You have a female subconscious sex? Well, that means you must identify as a woman, your gender expression must be feminine, your sexual orientation towards men, and you had better be happy about it! Thankfully, the days of that being mandatory are over, although I feel like I caught the tail end of it, and it was really traumatic. There were lots of horrible makeup tips, and I got very tired of hearing how lucky I was to be a little asian girl with good cheekbones. Ugh.

  10. pocochina says:

    I lose. First block quote:

    lastly, in order to better defend the rights of trans people as a whole, how do i educate myself, and do so in a sensitive and caring manner? i actually worry that i will be offensive if i ask too many questions, which is why i appreciate this post, very much. are there any good books you would recommend? also if i said something offensive and don’t realize it here, please let me know. it isn’t my intention, which is why i realize the need to educate myself.

    second one

    with friends, acquaintances and relatives who tell me (apparently because I’m trans) that they don’t really see themselves as being gendered, that gender isn’t an important part of who they are.

  11. katie says:

    I am also apologizing in advance but I really would like to know the answer to that. I am 100 percent in support of transgender issues and was just as po’d as rest of y”all at the hate crimes bill fiasco. But seriously, what is the legal standard here? Must the transgender be fully regendered (as in post op), pre op, what, to receive legal recognizition of their reassigned gender???

    How do we prevent abuse of the legal precedents, whatever they are?

    Ofc in an ideal world, I wouldn’t wonder… But..

  12. Holly says:

    in my only sociology class ever, we spent two classes on sex and gender (they showed us “the crying game”, and i remember very little from that long ago) and i was taught that sex is what you are physically assigned and gender is how you identify yourself. i always took for granted that this was accepted and true. is it? and if not, how are we supposed to think about the two terms? what do you consider the difference?

    First, I’m totally horrified that they showed you “The Crying Game” to teach you about sex and gender. Although I think that movie does have some merits, they’re definitely not in how those subjects are handled and I can’t imagine how your instructor used it as an example.

    As for sex and gender, I think that’s a pretty good definition in under five words each, yeah. Of course we can expand on those a lot to get all the detail. We’re all assigned a sex and a gender at birth, congruent to each other. Some people are forcibly assigned a sex through surgery right after being born. Sex is supposedly based on physical characteristics of your body (starting with genitals) while gender has to do with the social component, how you’re treated and how you absorb messages based on your assignment. But sex is also a social fact and has social interpretations; legally there’s some precedent now that sex has many dimensions, including genital, gonadal, chromosomal, hormonal, phenotypical, psychological, not necessarily lining up in a neat row if at all. I tend to think most sociobiological accounts of “psychological sex” differences are overblown, but at the very least, Julia Serano’s idea of “subconscious sex” (see above) accounts for a lot of trans people’s experience and doesn’t rely on obvious stereotypes about men and women.

    As for books, I really do think Whipping Girl is one of the best places to start. I also like How Sex Changed by Joanne Meyerowitz, Invisible Lives by Viviane Namaste, The Testosterone Files by Max Valerio Wolf, and Genderqueer which is an anthology. Books by Riki Wilchins, Pat Califia, and Kate Bornstein are not too bad either.

  13. I also want to say thank you for this post.

    I get so flummoxed when thinking about transgender(ism?) A huge part of my feminism and my world view is that I’m not a gender essentialist. I don’t think that there are personality traits or mannerisms that are inherently male or female. The way women walk is socialized…at least that’s how it seems to me. And so, when I hear people say that gender isn’t a part of their lives, I understand this as, gender is this sort of arbitrary box that the culture in which you live seals you up in. Whereas, actual people may exhibit traits that are identified as being masculine or feminine and that coupled with their sex is how we pigeonhole them.

    I loved what you said about how maybe if our world had more genders to choose from, it might be different for you. I think it would certainly be different for a lot of people. I would love to be in a world where you didn’t have to pick man or woman. Where you could be who you are without having to fit in a box. And I think it must be terrible to feel who you are, but to have other people treat you as though you are something else, just because they don’t have the words or reference to understand you.

    I’m cisgendered (which I’m sure is obvious), and maybe as a result of the privilege that comes with that, I’ve always felt that my femaleness is only a very very tiny part of who I am. And I hate it so much when someone treats me as female instead of just as a person.

    I really just need to read Julia’s book. I’m sure it would answer so many questions for me. Because, if I don’t believe that gender is innate, then how do I reconcile that with the real experiences of transpeople? It feels as though I have two conflicting beliefs, and that causes headaches when I think too hard about it. I believe that a woman, born with a male body, is a woman. But, like people have said, what exactly is a woman, and what is it that makes her a woman? And I feel like it’s not my place to ask these questions, b/c I absolutely don’t want to make someone feel as though they have to defend themselves. And it’s not like it’s anyone else’s job to educate me about all of this. Are there any books besides Julia’s that would be good to supplement hers?

    Sorry, this was way longer and rambly than I meant it to be!

  14. Sorry, Holly! I didn’t see your post until after mine went up. So ignore my request for book recommendations.

  15. Holly says:

    While I fully support legal recognition of a change of gender, how exactly would it work? For instance, you are employed, and have health insurance that covers, say, prostate health. You were born as a male, but later transition to being a female. Would your insurance be changed to identify you as a woman? Let’s say you get prostate cancer.. But you’re identified as a woman… What then?

    This is a good question. You might be surprised to know that legal recognition of change of sex (as well as gender… legally, only sex is recognized, but gender is assumed to be congruent) has existed in a lot of different legal jurisdictions for decades now. Even at the federal level, even under the Bush administration. Part of the reason that even conservative institutions have had to deal with this is because people actually do change the shape of their genitals, and genitals are the basic legal standard that courts and governments tend to operate on.

    It’s all very haphazard and patchwork though — so in some states, for instance, you can have the sex/gender marker on your driver’s license changed without having had surgery, while others require proof of very particular surgeries. Generally speaking, most trans people working on these issues would like to see far less stringent standards than surgery for change of identification, since it’s not like your socially identifiable gender is dependent at all on what’s in your pants, unless you live in a nudist colony.

    Honestly, the worries about people abusing this system? They always come up, but they have little or no connection to reality. Trans athletes are now allowed to compete in the Olympic games, as long as their physiological profiles meet certain conditions that put them on the same playing field as other athletes of their gender. People complained that top male athletes would get sex changes so they’d be able to beat female athletes. Which is absurd–it’s never going to happen and there aren’t any cases of it happening. There are far, far easier ways for men to spy on women in bathrooms and locker rooms, too. Especially since it’s already very difficult for some trans women, especially if they’re visibly identifiable as trans, to even use public restrooms or locker rooms. It’s wildly impractical for a mere peeping tom to risk harassment or getting beat up or having the cops called on you, which is the treatment a visibly trans person often gets. And that’s why you never hear about that kind of thing happening in real life.

    Really, these kinds of “scary possibilities,’ if you ask me, are more an anxiety about gender borders breaking down and becoming indistinct. And we really ought to be interrogating our anxieties about that; what kind of boundaries do we need, in the short term? In the long term? What kind of world do we want to have, with regards to those borders, and the potential to cross or erase them? What part does this potential to change have to play in the greater projects of feminism and ending gendered oppression?

    As for prostate health — trans women have greatly reduced risk for prostate cancer, but it is a concern, as is health of the reproductive system for trans men, who often end up needing hysterectomies or oophorectomies after being on testosterone for a number of years. Trans people’s health insurance often is changed to reflect our gender identity. But if there’s anyone that needs to know your full medical history including all the anatomical parts you have, visible or otherwise, it’s your doctor. Finding respectful medical care from professionals who don’t throw their hands up in bewilderment or disgust about trans people can be difficult. But there are good doctors around. The bigger bureaucratic problem comes, as you’ve surmised, with insurance that gets very confused when a male patient has a claim for a hysterectomy. Or when men are getting pregnant. But some insurance companies are starting to realize that this is possible, and adjust accordingly; in other cases I’ve heard about, it’s taken lots of phone calls and explanations and finagling by doctors.

  16. katie says:

    Thank you for an excellent answer! I learned a lot.

    I don’t mean to beat the strawman who abuses the system.. But please rest assured my concern is not towards transgenders.. Its just my experience that, men, well, can be total shits when it comes to invading womens’ personal and bodily spaces…the stories you hear..my anxiety is not about gender boundaries breaking down, its about the backlash women have been experiencing from those who are overly invested in the patriachy. I think a lot of the fear that feminists feel are because they are aware of how brutual the treatment towards women can be. Thank you for pointing out that trans women and men share those same fears.

  17. Lisa Harney says:

    katie,

    Thank you for this post! While I fully support legal recognition of a change of gender, how exactly would it work? For instance, you are employed, and have health insurance that covers, say, prostate health. You were born as a male, but later transition to being a female. Would your insurance be changed to identify you as a woman? Let’s say you get prostate cancer.. But you’re identified as a woman… What then?

    I’ve heard of cases like this where:

    * Insurance refused to cover it because it was related to transsexual treatments somehow

    * Where doctors refused to treat the patient because they didn’t want to “freak out their other patients.” Specifically in this case, Robert Eads, who was turned away by two dozen doctors before he was able to find someone who would treat his ovarian cancer – and by then, the treatment was too late to save his life. For trans women, the problem is more likely to be breast cancer.

    * Where insurance covers it.

    Really, health-wise, it’s not completely prudent to treat a transsexual person as his or her reassigned sex in all circumstances because of stuff like this.

    I know this is a pretty dumb scenario, but seriously I do wonder about stuff like that. I also once read this article that say mtf trans should be allowed in womens’ spaces. Which I support, ofc, but where should the line be drawn? I hesitate to bring up the scenario but I have to ask.. what if there are men who are opportunistic and abuse that privilege? I’m not speaking of actual transgender, just some jerk who sees a easy way to sneak in the locker room.

    There’s nothing really preventing that whether you allow trans women in the women’s restrooms/locker rooms/music festivals or not. If a man wants to get into women’s space, and he can look femme enough to pull it off, he’ll get in. And of course, he wouldn’t always need to go en femme, he might just waltz on in. Letting trans women into these spaces (and we go into most of them already) won’t make it any more likely.

    I am also apologizing in advance but I really would like to know the answer to that. I am 100 percent in support of transgender issues and was just as po’d as rest of y”all at the hate crimes bill fiasco. But seriously, what is the legal standard here? Must the transgender be fully regendered (as in post op), pre op, what, to receive legal recognizition of their reassigned gender???

    How do we prevent abuse of the legal precedents, whatever they are?

    Honestly, the US should go with the same kind of law that the UK just signed, although the two year requirement is onerous. That is, allow trans people to change birth certificates, social security records, and ID markers to the preferred sex without requiring surgery first. This is a major privacy issue for trans people because those who haven’t had surgery are basically forced to out themselves whenever they show ID in some states, or after they get a job in every state.

    I don’t think abuse is likely, and can be avoided mostly by having some regulation.

    Right now, you need to have surgery before you can change the sex on your birth certificate or social security records. In one state, you have to have surgery in the United States – so no trips to Thailand.

    Trin,

    which makes me wonder if the big dividing thing isn’t entirely sum-upp-able in terms that don’t reference bodies — and “gender identity” at least at first glance doesn’t sound like it makes any reference to a body, which might be part of what confuses some people who are fine with their bodies but not fine with what, say, patriarchy tells them “a woman” is, and thus see themselves as out to abolish gender. (which doesn’t strike me as right even if gender is totally divorcible from bodily anything/totally socially constructed anyway)

    It’s not divorcible from the body. It’s entirely about the body. Whatever you call it, the sense of “wrongness” is based on the body being the wrong shape. Gender roles do get tied up into it, but this is because, okay… if you see yourself as a girl, you see what’s expected of girls, and you absorb those messages, whether you’re male-bodied or not. When I transitioned, I started wearing women’s clothing. But I didn’t transition so I could wear women’s clothing, I transitioned because I was trying to become a woman, and those were women’s clothes.

    A lot of the confusion about trans stuff is mired in putting the cart before the horse. Feminist theory, especially, insists that we transition because of superficial gender role-related reasons, when the truth is certainly more complex than that.

    Holly,

    Back in the day, people assumed these were all supposed to line up: the total horror (for me at least) of the Unified Transsexual Narrative.

    It was toward the end of the full swing when I transitioned. I had to follow a script to get hormones.

    The wonders of never allowing for honest patient-doctor dialogues on this stuff.

    Pocochina,

    with friends, acquaintances and relatives who tell me (apparently because I’m trans) that they don’t really see themselves as being gendered, that gender isn’t an important part of who they are.

    is something I wonder about a lot in my observation of normative gender roles, and while it’s part of my feminism in general, it’s something that I lack the framework to understand as an ally, so thank you for that in particular.

    Many people don’t see gender as important because they don’t have to live with the contrast. It’s like a fish doesn’t notice water until it’s gasping for breath on the beach. I was painfully aware of gender and sex because every day, every minute, I couldn’t help but be reminded that my body didn’t match my brain. It’s like being sick – pneumonia isn’t dreadfully important to you until it’s clogging up your lungs and your lips are turning blue.

    Or maybe it’s more like having a bad reputation. How everyone thinks you’ve committed some terrible deed, and nothing you say or do can convince them otherwise, or to treat you as a decent human being. Life before transition is kind of like that. Except when people treat you as a male (when you expect to be female) they don’t realize they’re treating you in a way that violates your basic sense of self.

  18. Lisa Harney says:

    Katie,

    I don’t mean to beat the strawman who abuses the system.. But please rest assured my concern is not towards transgenders.. Its just my experience that, men, well, can be total shits when it comes to invading womens’ personal and bodily spaces…the stories you hear..my anxiety is not about gender boundaries breaking down, its about the backlash women have been experiencing from those who are overly invested in the patriachy. I think a lot of the fear that feminists feel are because they are aware of how brutual the treatment towards women can be. Thank you for pointing out that trans women and men share those same fears.

    Definitely. It’s frustrating to come across stuff like Karla Mantilla’s “Men in Ewes’ Clothing” where she tries to raise panic against the idea of trans women at MWMF by falsely claiming trans women exposed their penises in front of the showers, or that trans women are just waiting for the right moment to rape unwary women, when trans women are in the same position as cis women when it comes to that kind of gendered violence – not so likely to be a perpetrator, more likely to be a victim.

  19. Azundris says:

    For instance, you are employed, and have health insurance that covers, say, prostate health.

    Sorry to go off on a tangent, but. a) You should have health insurance. b) It should cover health issues. That’s really all there is to it. Making a) depend on employment or randomly limiting b) is broken and inhumane, and the breakage is totally independent from whether the person in question is transwhatever; limiting b) for instance is like saying you can only have autism addressed as a kid.

  20. katie says:

    Yet another reason we need single payer health care/universal health care..*nod*

  21. KH says:

    Transgendered people are being asked to supply what no one else is asked to supply & what no one currently can supply: a well-confirmed scientific account of why anybody experiences her gender & body the way she does. If cisgendered people are curious they might put the question differently & ask themselves what specific differences make them the way they are; an adequate explanation of that would pari passu account for transgendered experience. If we knew, for example, why gender identity is as invisible as gravity for some people, we’d know why it isn’t for others. There’s a vast amount of conceptual confusion over the notions of innateness, social construction, etc., & clarifying these concepts is honorable work. But the truth is that no one will have a well-confirmed account of the range of human variation in this area any time soon. (I’d personally be surprised if any kind of thoroughgoing tabla rasa theory turned out to be true, but who knows?)

    But why are we so curious? It’d be intrinsically fascinating to know, I’m sure, but what question of justice, what part of the recognition that transgendered people are entitled to, turns on what causes variation in gendered identity? How could basic rights depend, for this group only, on some undiscovered fact about the microphysical properties of the brain? The answer is that they don’t.

    Transgendered people could be forgiven if they wearied of the occasionally bumptious curiosity & crackpot theorizing of their cisgendered neighbors – wouldn’t you? – but I my experience they’ve consistently responded conscientiously to questions about their lives. They have nothing to fear, & a lot to gain, from the progress of science & from better popular understanding. But the weight on their necks isn’t caused by the immature state of our knowledge of the mechanisms underlying cisgendered & trangendered experience. It’s an effect of our collective moral & political immaturity.

    Trivial quibble from the previous thread: can we agree not to use the word “ontological” to mean “not socially constructed”? It freaks out people who went to some expense to learn how to use it in its normal acceptations. Same with “epistemological.” When we misuse arcane philosophical terms, people begin to think we’re cranks.

  22. drakyn says:

    Are there two phenomena: discomfort with how people treat you and discomfort with your body, or are these two phenomena inextricably linked and don’t pull apart?

    Trin, I agree with what Julia Serrano and Holly have said, but I also want to add that when people misgender me as female it brings my gender dissonance to the forefront of my mind.
    It doesn’t matter how well I’ve been dealing with or ignoring the dissonance, when someone calls me miss I am immediately reminded of how wrong certain parts of my body are.

    A book I recomend (other than, as Holly has already mentioned it, Whipping Girl) is The Riddle of Gender. It’s got a lot of history, science, interviews, etc. of and with trans*people.

    Kissmypineapple, for some of is, it isn’t so much that gender is innate as that sex is. That brain-sex theory that Holly liked to in the OP fits what some of us experience. Some people have a sort of neural-map. It tells me I’ve got two arms and five toes on each foot and a penis.
    Mind you, I haven’t got a penis so it causes a lot of discomfort and pain because my neural-map and my body don’t quite fit. Certainly not everyone has a definite subconscious sex, and I doubt everyone’s is caused by a form of neural-map, but it fits my experiences perfectly so I feel it is true for me.

  23. Lorelei says:

    holly, i want to ask you this not because i think this hypothetical is exactly relevant, but i think what trans* people might answer with could possibly be helpful in articulating thoughts about ‘zomgggg!!11 gender constructions!!!!!1 bad trannies!!~’ argument:

    if society magically dropped gender roles and there was no genderization of anything ever anymore and people didn’t care about whether you had a penis or vagina or what the fuck ever, do you think the trans* identity would be, uh, necessary i guess, for lack of a better word?

    obviously, this is probably never going to happen and a serious discussion of this is a waste of time. but as a sort of frivolous hypothetical, i was wondering what you thought, on a personal level (fuck if i need academic bullshit). if you have an answer at all.

    um. i hope this question doesn’t sound really ridiculously rude. bahhhhh. it’s just something i’ve been thinking about because of all the ‘if there were no gender roles we wouldn’t have transfolks!’ arguments that happen on certain feminist blogs. and i think i have an idea but i can’t really put it together, and since i’m not trans* and i don’t deeply know anyone who is, i don’t want to be presumptuous about it.

  24. brandann says:

    first, thank you so much for the patient and tolerant answer, as well as the book recommendations. i realize it is not your job to tutor us, so thank-you again for this wonderful post.

    First, I’m totally horrified that they showed you “The Crying Game” to teach you about sex and gender. Although I think that movie does have some merits, they’re definitely not in how those subjects are handled and I can’t imagine how your instructor used it as an example.

    i went to high school in a very small, highly conservative town. i took this class my senior year as a dual enrollment course. looking back i share your horror that they used that movie, w/ no introduction to what we were seeing, why it was relevant, or any discussion about it at all. basically, we were very confused. (given the town, i remember some horrible commentary by my classmates) it’s been ten years, so i don’t remember much about the movie. i do remember the trans woman who lived in our town who was murdered the year before, and i don’t think it ever occurred to me to question why, even when i saw how horribly she was treated by people there. privilege comes in all forms. thanks for helping me to address mine.

  25. drakyn says:

    I know I think we would. Maybe not labels like trans, transsexual, genderqueer, etc. But I know we’d still have people that wanted to or needed to change their physical body–even if there was no hierarchy or roles associated with them.
    Because, as I said above, for some of us it really is mostly or just about our physical bodies.
    Cis*people, in general (I almost typed genderal -.-;;), have a tendency to dismiss our accounts of what our relationship with our body is and the pain that many of us feel before (and sometimes after) we take what steps we feel are correct for us to change our bodies.

  26. Lisa Harney says:

    Lorelei,

    if society magically dropped gender roles and there was no genderization of anything ever anymore and people didn’t care about whether you had a penis or vagina or what the fuck ever, do you think the trans* identity would be, uh, necessary i guess, for lack of a better word?

    I believe that in a society where there is no gender and both men and women are treated exactly the same, my brain would still expect my body to be female, and in order for me to function well, I would need to take hormones and have surgery.

    It’s not about the gender roles, it’s about my body.

  27. Dana says:

    I sometimes have conversations with friends, acquaintances and relatives who tell me (apparently because I’m trans) that they don’t really see themselves as being gendered, that gender isn’t an important part of who they are. Usually part of what they mean by this is that they don’t fit into classic stereotypes of hyper-masculinity or hyper-femininity, and don’t want to. As much as I sympathize with that, part of me still wants to scream, because everyone I’ve had this kind of conversation with is in fact, quite gendered, men and women both

    I’m feeling too tired to finish the whole thing right now but I find this very interesting. I am a cisgendered woman who has always resented her gender. I do not feel I am a man, though it would certainly be easier as I am attracted primarily to “masculine” activities etc.

    But it’s the being pigeonholed that kills me! I notice it every day, in the way I am treated, the way people around me are treated, the way every man and woman in every commercial or news article is presented and how their sex influences that presentation makes me feel like screaming, I feel smothered and panicked and so angry that nothing is ever taken at face value but broken down and shown as being less or more based on your gender.

    Sometimes I have little breakdowns just not being able to cope with the barrage of offensive generalisations, concious and unconcious. Of constant little arguments about the why of people’s actions (ie: that it’s not necessarily because of two XXs or a Y), of feeling paranoid about showing affection to children because there’s no way I could like children and not want them. A million million things and most people don’t even understand why it hurts me

  28. CBrachyrhynchos says:

    Yes what Dana said. I’m gendered but there are times when that is so frustrating to me that I feel like gnawing my arm off. For me, there is a bunch of BS that is there in the pragmatics of how straight men communicate that is just wrong to me.

    My only point in that other thread was to say that experiences of gender dissonance, frustration, discrimination and violence are shared by many people who identify as cisgendered. I’ve never questioned the need for an inclusive GLBT activism because I’ve never been able to say, “this was because of gender, and this here was because of sexual orientation, and that over there was misogyny.” My experiences as the target of discrimination and violence have included all three. And when “cisgender” is constructed in such a way as to exclude my experiences, it feels like I’m being made invisible again.

  29. Em says:

    Dana do I know you?

    Belledame, I figured R/B just took it upon herself to butt in, but I wasn’t sure. asdf said they’d ‘take their questions elsewhere’ at roughly the same time the email showed up, and I’ve yet to hear from anyone at least pretending to be asdf.

  30. Em says:

    Are there two phenomena: discomfort with how people treat you and discomfort with your body, or are these two phenomena inextricably linked and don’t pull apart?

    In my experience they are separate, and the it’s the second one that gives me no end of trouble. But through observation and interaction I find that they they are mostly co-present, although not to be conflated.

  31. Holly says:

    Dana & CBrachyrhynchos,

    I hope neither of you took my description of some annoying conversations I’ve had with particular friends & relatives who “don’t worry about gender much at all” to mean that I think everyone who’s not trans thinks that way. Nothing could be further from the truth. Quite a few of the people I’ve been closest to in my life have also been enormously frustrated by gendering, all the way from childhood through the present, regardless of whether they also felt the need to relocate their gender.

    Especially since I came out as trans, I’ve had conversations where some of these people wondered whether transitioning would be a good path for them. And I hope it’s obvious by this point that it’s a deeply personal choice and that everyone has a different path they have to take. Personally, I wish switching up genders was not such a big deal; I think more people should do it, it teaches you a lot about how this messed-up social construct operates. But unfortunately, it’s a traumatic affair that exposes you to a lot of danger and difficulty.

    I’m sorry you feel invisible, CBrach. All I can say is that I think we should agree that gender coercion and what Serano calls “oppositional sexism,” the straitjacketing of roles and offensive generalizations and stereotypes that eat away at so many of us and understandably cause dissonance in all sorts of people, affects all of us. And that it should be a project of feminism and queer activisim and trans activism together to end that. As a queer trans woman I’m heavily invested in all three causes myself. Not to mention racism and so on.

    I also have to say that as unfair as it might feel, the onus is on you to speak up and share your experiences if it feels like they’re being left out. I can’t speak for you or guess at how gender dissonance, discrimination, violence have affected you and been affected in turn by misogyny, gender coercion, and homophobia. Part of the reason voices about trans experiences — about being a migrant between genders, looking for a safe place to stay — have become more prominent is because there are a bunch of us who feel the need to talk about it and answer all of these trans 101 question that vex people. But I couldn’t agree more that the umbrella needs to spread its eaves wider and include more people. If the “cisgender” label doesn’t feel like it accurately describes your experiences with gender coercion and oppositional sexism, then don’t use it! I don’t, in part because I’m aware there are a lot of people who don’t fit the idea of “cisgender” any more than “transgender.”

  32. kali says:

    It’s not about the gender roles, it’s about my body.

    Thank you so much for explaining this, you and drakyn. I think there is a tendency in our culture to identify our “selves” as being purely minds, and not bodies. I know that’s a mistake I have made most of my life, being a geek; and it’s the mistake that I was unconsciously making every time I felt confused by accounts of transexual experience. Something really deep has just clicked for me, regarding my personal issues around gender, so I really cannot say thank you enough.

  33. kali says:

    and given the post above mine, maybe I should paste in the part of my comment I cut out:

    I have a lot of stereotypical “male-mind” characteristics, even though I also have uncomfortably high levels of empathy in face to face interactions. Plus from when I was really young I always wanted to be treated like boys were treated, and when I was older I was viscerally disgusted by “woman-as-receptacle” way that so much of our culture frames sex. Plus I had this total sense of dissociation and disconnection from my body. Putting that all together it led to a lot of confusion in my early twenties about whether I was transexual, and I decided I couldn’t be, because if I was I would be much more sure of it, and because I really liked my boobs. And I kind of thought the latter was a pretty stupid basis for that decision. Only now has it clicked that it was an essential truth shining through my fog of confusion; that I love having a woman’s body and it is an important part of my identity. I may despise most of the other crap that goes along with being female, but that is different, and I just didn’t understand the difference before. I guess my confusion came from unconsciously buying into gender essentialism! My god, I am fucking slow sometimes. I can’t believe it took me so long to understand this. Thanks, peeps.

  34. miss sophie says:

    mmmmm made me think. I don’t see my self as a gender essentialist. So I’ve always been uncomfortable with some issues around transgenderism.

    Obviously people should feel free to be the person that feels right to them but I’ve never been able to get past my discomfort with the idea that (in my perception) transgender people are buying into the idea that there is something essentially different about men and women. I do believe that in the ideal feminist utopia there would be less trans men and trans women simply because if you live in a world where gender does not identify and define you then the factor of discomfort with with how people treat you according to a gender identity would not exist. This is not to say that I think there would be no trans men or women in that society. In this society here and now trans people exist and my discomfort with the ideas surrounding transitioning don’t relate to my very real support for trans people and their rights; whether or not I would make the same choices, or even support those choices, is irrelevant to supporting their rights.

    I think alot of my ambivalence towards trans is coming from my own gender identity. I’m not naive enough to think that gender doesn’t matter around me and I am constantly deeply affected by gender perceptions everyday. And I hate it. It makes me feel sick and upset and uncomfortable and alot of the time I wish I had a body that was less obviously gendered (you could not look more obviously gendered female than I do). And I have body dismorphia. I’ve considered surgery to androgynise my appearance a number of times. But those feelings wouldn’t be solved by me becoming a man. Or even androgynous I’d still be defined and restricted by a gender role, just a different one. I know I don’t feel like a “woman” in the traditional definition of what other people see as a woman. And I am completely disconnected from the physical aspects of my identity. But this is my body. It is a part of who I am even if I don’t feel like it is. In my head I am not a woman or a man, I’m a person. But unfortunately my head does not encompass the rest of the world, so I’m left having to fit into one box in front of other people.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are aspects of the trans experience you’ve described I identify with; not feeling like my assigned gender, deep discomfort with other peoples perceptions of my gender identity, hatred and dislike of ones own body and specifically the parts of it related to gender identity, but I have never considered myself trans, nor would I ever I think. There’s something that I just don’t “get” about the transgender which made this post very interesting for me. Thanks for posting this up.

  35. Language Foible/Grammar Police Rant to follow:

    And what the hell does “cis” in cisgendered mean? (It means “on the same side of” as opposed to trans, “on the other side of.” Literally suggests that someone has not changed genders.)

    This is one of the most annoying misuses for me, because it still creates a difficulty for me in ease of comprehension (I get it by context every time).

    “cis” means “on this side”, that is, “on the same side as me“.

    Thus, “cispontine” versus “transpontine” meant the north or the south of the river (Thames) – terms used by posh folks in London to refer to themselves on the northern bank versus the riffraff on the southern bank, way back in the 17th Century.

    Also, “cisPondial” or “transPondial” referring to the Atlantic, when I say “cisPondial” I mean a European or African, and transPondial would be an American (north or south). An American would use the terms in a diametrically opposite fashion.

    What this means is that when I see a term like “cisgendered” I think it’s a posh way of saying “the same gender as me”. When I see a woman write “cisgendered man” it looks like a contradiction in terms. It’s the same cognitive difficulty as if a satnav told me to “take the next wrong turning” instead of “take the next left turning” (“wrong” and “left” both being opposite of “right”). Even if you get used to the fact that the satnav does that, it still takes a moment of thought to realise from the context (of being given directions) what the satnav really means.

    To suggest literally that a person has not changed gender, then a different prefix is required. I did some research and thinking, and decided that it would make more sense to use the prefix “stato-” (literally, not moving) than “cis-” when referring to the opposite of transgender/transsexual.

    I know that I’m not going to be able to change the usage that seems to be pretty universal now, but it really bugs me. I wouldn’t mention it, except that the derivation was given and it’s mistaken!

    A more accurate explanation of the derivation of “cisgender” would be the appropriation of “cis-” as the opposite of “trans-“, and then applying that to the term gender to create a diametric opposite to “transgender”.

    Sorry for the rant, I’m done now.

  36. ataralas says:

    I’ll add to what Drakyn and Holly and Julia Serano have articulated and say that for me, it’s mostly about the body stuff. Before I transitioned (I am ftm), I was already living in a primarily male gender role, without necessarily identifying as trans. My friends treated me, almost universally, as “one of the guys”, and so I had some struggle when I was deliberating transition about why precisely I wanted to transition, if I was already treated in the way I found most comfortable by my important social groups. Additionally, having been part of social networks that often denied the importance of the body with respect to the intellect, I wasn’t really prepared to admit to myself how much the shape of my body meant to me.

    Then I realized: Trans people are not immune from the (often fucked-up) messages that society sends us about the relationship between sexed bodies and gender roles, about what our bodies look like and therefore how we should act.

    Think about that a moment. Now read it again.

    Trans people are not immune from the (often fucked-up) messages that society sends us about the relationship between sexed bodies and gender roles, about what our bodies look like and therefore how we should act.

    For me, a strong message that was sent was that the body is significantly less important, and the mind ought to be able to transcend whatever it is the body is/does. For others, the message they absorb is that a female body must present in a stereotypical feminine way—the not-infrequently seen (trans) woman who goes over the top with heels and makeup and nail polish and all the trappings of the feminine life. It is difficult for us, for all of us, trans and cis, to analyze critically these behaviors and messages and come out the other side emotionally intact.

    Or as, I think Daisy has said (though I can’t currently find the quote), we can’t hold trans folk to a different standard that we hold cis folk.

    Speaking personally again, now that I’ve been transitioned for about a year, I can say that my personal relationships and my “social gender” haven’t changed much. My friends treat me pretty much as they did before, and that’s peachy with me. The difference is that I’m much more pleased with my own body, which is priceless.

  37. evil fizz says:

    It’s not about the gender roles, it’s about my body.

    Lisa, I understand you’re speaking to your own experiences here, but I’m wondering about alternative narratives for people who do not feel that either gender label is appropriate for them or descriptive of their experiences.

    How does the concept of trans mesh with the idea of genderqueer?

  38. Holly says:

    SnowdropExplodes… that makes a lot of sense actually. I guess “cis” only makes sense with “trans” as a prior definition referring to (somewhat more accurately) the act of “crossing over.” I kind of don’t like the word in general (it’s just more latin prefixes most people aren’t familiar with…)

    Miss Sophie:

    Obviously people should feel free to be the person that feels right to them but I’ve never been able to get past my discomfort with the idea that (in my perception) transgender people are buying into the idea that there is something essentially different about men and women. I do believe that in the ideal feminist utopia there would be less trans men and trans women simply because if you live in a world where gender does not identify and define you then the factor of discomfort with with how people treat you according to a gender identity would not exist.

    Did you notice all the discussion above about the distinction between discomfort over gender and gender roles, and discomfort related to the body? It is quite directly about this, and I think the experiences and reflections of a lot of trans people contradict your assumptions to some degree. You might be right about “less” overall, but there are plenty of trans people who answer this question posed by Lorelei:

    if society magically dropped gender roles and there was no genderization of anything ever anymore and people didn’t care about whether you had a penis or vagina or what the fuck ever, do you think the trans* identity would be, uh, necessary i guess, for lack of a better word?

    … after having seriously considered and reflected on it, and would say that yes, absolutely we would still need to change our bodies, due to a dissonance that exists at a subconscious level. This is something that everyone really needs to understand who is considering how to conceptualize trans issues alongside and within feminism. It’s simply not all about the gender roles and social constructions thereof. That’s a huge part of the problems of trans people, and I am definitely in the camp that would rather exist with little or no gender (although I would not want to take expressive choices away from others, let’s be clear).

    Some people who theorize about trans folks seem to imagine that trans people have never considered the question Lorelei, when in fact I would guess that MOST trans people have though about this at one time or another. It’s a mind-puzzle that I first encountered in online support groups, and I’ve heard it asked in real life support groups as well; it’s vital for teasing out what exactly is bothering you about your gender assignment. Would you feel better in a world where there was no gender, where people’s clothing and movements and interests and hairstyles and adornment simply had no gendered meaning? I can imagine a world like that. I would LOVE a world like that, because I am no fan of gender even though I adore freedom of expression. But I have to echo drakyn and Lisa above and say yes, something way down in my gut, quite separate from all of the anxiety that gender roles and stereotypes and constrictions cause me, tells me that my body needs to be a certain way.

    I don’t have any explanation for why that is. I don’t think it needs to be justified by neuroscience or ideology or psychology, it just is and many of us just have to figure out how to deal with it. And I definitely don’t think that the existence of this feeling presupposes essential differences between men and women. Do you feel like that’s a necessary link? If someone says “my body is one way, but something in my consciousness, somewhere, tells me that this is wrong…” why does that indicate belief in essential differences? Although I do believe in anatomical and biological differences between male and female members of a species (it is hard not to) I also believe that the meanings of these differences are entirely socially constructed, and that’s not even approaching the subject of behaviors, which are socially constructed and affected from the get-go. So I’m a social constructionist when it comes to gender, I don’t believe it’s biologically innate (although there are other kinds of innateness when it comes to individuals) even if there are biological substrates they only acquire meaning and interpretation once they pass through this social layer where we relentless “gender” everything.

    If there’s one myth I’d like to put a rest to, it’s that trans people (in some kind of mythical unity of opinion) want “more gender” while feminism (again a mythical unity) wants “less gender.”

    I think most feminists and most trans people would agree that there should be less gender coercion and power differentials around gender, although there are certainly those that wouldn’t. And I would also hope that most of us believe that it would be a better (if far-distant) world where everyone was free to express themselves however they wished, but no privileges, power over others, or stereotype-laden straitjackets applied to particular expressions. That’s not “more gender,” it’s no gender. Because gender is a system of oppressive dynamics based on physical characteristics and outward expression.

  39. if society magically dropped gender roles and there was no genderization of anything ever anymore and people didn’t care about whether you had a penis or vagina or what the fuck ever, do you think the trans* identity would be, uh, necessary i guess, for lack of a better word?

    obviously, this is probably never going to happen and a serious discussion of this is a waste of time. but as a sort of frivolous hypothetical, i was wondering what you thought, on a personal level (fuck if i need academic bullshit). if you have an answer at all.

    um. i hope this question doesn’t sound really ridiculously rude. bahhhhh. it’s just something i’ve been thinking about because of all the ‘if there were no gender roles we wouldn’t have transfolks!’ arguments that happen on certain feminist blogs. and i think i have an idea but i can’t really put it together, and since i’m not trans* and i don’t deeply know anyone who is, i don’t want to be presumptuous about it.

    One (non-accredited by any professional organisation, but still useful to me) online questionnaire designed to help people address their gender identity issues, asked exactly the same question – “if gender distinctions disappeared, would you still display the gendered clothing/behaviour of the opposite gender?” I had a long think about it and decided that actually, I would still choose gendered self-expression in that way. Because I strongly identify both male and female, at different times, I think I would want that distinction. For the record, when I identify as female, it isn’t simply adopting “traditional” gender role/behaviour – in archetypal terms, I sometimes think my female self is more “masculine” than my male self!

    In fact, I would be a lot happier if people didn’t care about whether I had an actual, physical, penis or vagina – it would mean I could be much more confident in both gender identities that I possess, instead of having to display only one all the time (my male one, since that’s what I was born with).

    I find it hard to explain exactly why I would still want to dress (and identify myself) in gendered ways even if (social) gender were done away with, but I know that it isn’t just addiction to the current gender-binary system and the associations that go with that.

    The difficulty that I have with the feminists who argue that transgenderism and trenssexualism would disappear when social gender roles disappeared, is that they’re running their conclusions purely on the basis of theory; gender identity, sex identity, and sexuality, are all much more complicated and tangled and wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey than their theories ever account for.

  40. Mandolin says:

    “If cisgendered people are curious they might put the question differently & ask themselves what specific differences make them the way they are; an adequate explanation of that would pari passu account for transgendered experience”

    If I’m understanding you correctly, I don’t think this is a good tactic in this particular situation.

    The cisgendered feminist answer to this question is often “I am the way I am because I was raised that way” which extends to “Everyone’s sexual and gender identity is formed solely by social factors” which is what *causes* the stupid bigotry in the first place, yes? Defending the theory “I am the way I am because I was raised that way” becomes the most important thing, and the cognitive dissonance when confronted with people who apparently do feel a biological instead of social attachment to one sex or another* requires the invention of wild, paranoid theories.

    The presence of people who are, as Holly puts it, “allergic to gender” has to inform any theory of gender development in cis- or transgendered people. I don’t feel it’s a good idea to create understandings from cisgendered experience — we unmarked people been doing that for a long time now, and it leads to incorrect theories which in turn (in the inflexible) lead to cruelty. Theory must be inclusive, which means I think that it’s appropriate for cis people to be thinking about the gender identity of trans people.

    And yeah, I get that a lot of people are very negative on anything called “theory.” But it’s just a fancy word for “patterns I use to understand what’s going on in the world.” Some of y’all may focus only on individuals; others of us don’t — and there are marked and unmarked people on both sides. I get really sick of theory in itself being denigrated as oppressive — where would feminism be without feminist theory to look at individual lives and map a pattern out of it? Theoretical understanding may be of necessity incomplete, but so is any understanding based primarily on individual or concrete analysis.

    *I realize that some trans people do not feel that being trans is primarily biological, but the general assumption by radfems seems to be that they do.

  41. Mandolin says:

    “… after having seriously considered and reflected on it, and would say that yes, absolutely we would still need to change our bodies, due to a dissonance that exists at a subconscious level. ”

    Right. What I wonder is whether, in feminist utopia, there would be any need to mark trans people. There would be some people who change their genitals — I just wonder why anyone would find it relevant.

  42. alsojill says:

    First of all, thank you so much for starting this thread. Like many of the others here, I don’t feel equipped to talk about trans issues, b/c it’s outside of my personal experience, and I want to be sensitive/inclusive, but don’t know how to approach it. I will definitely check out the books that have been recommended.

    Second…okay, I don’t know how to articulate this right now without sounding a bit like an essentialist, which I am not trying to be, so bear with me. Second, I am reading all of this discussion of gender and the gender-free utopia, and I am discomfited by it. Not because I believe genders need to be distinct or that there is something essential, but because gender is part of all of our identities, even if we don’t always ally with the “right” one (for our bodies) or in the “right” way.

    I understand wanting to reject that influence, but I wonder if instead of eliminating gender, it is possible to imagine embracing it as a multifaceted, complicated, non-hierarchical concept. Is it possible to have a utopic world in which androgyny does not mean “non-gendered,” but rather is some kind of representation of one kind of masculine/feminine gender identity, which is then one of many different kinds of identities?

    Am I even making sense? Am I asking a question that promotes essentialism?

  43. Em says:

    How does the concept of trans mesh with the idea of genderqueer?

    That question is big enough for a whole other thread.

  44. CBrachyrhynchos says:

    I don’t understand why there is so much focus on changing bodies. When I got part of my left kidney taken out, there wasn’t nearly as much political noise about that.

  45. Holly says:

    I don’t understand why there is so much focus on changing bodies. When I got part of my left kidney taken out, there wasn’t nearly as much political noise about that.

    Ideally there wouldn’t any focus on it at all. In fact, I think that’s one of the end-goals of any kind of trans-liberation politic that I would support: exactly what Mandolin said, that there would be no need to mark trans people, changing some part of your body that our society sees as highly gendered or sexualized wouldn’t be any different than changing your haircut or getting part of your left kidney taken out. Part of your medical history; maybe something that meant you were bandaged up for a while, and quite possibly important to you, your sex life, etc. But no more political noise over it.

    I can only speculate as to why there’s so much fuss. Our culture is obsessed with genitals. Gender policing is rampant for all the reasons we see on many other posts here on Feministe: the state and conservative forces want to control reproduction, women’s bodies, who is allowed to partner with each other, what kind of pleasures are allowed, etc. And the system of gender policing is rooted in the body, especially the genitals and also other “sex characteristics.” Trans people are often caught in the same dragnet as undocumented immigrants, people who are considered “potential terrorist threats” and so on because there is something about us that doesn’t fit into this system. The modern nation-state, so often, is about policing the movement and the growth and the change of bodies; many kinds of self-determination are at odds with that, so action is taken to quash or quiet. But we resist, and “political noise” is generated.

  46. Holly says:

    I understand wanting to reject that influence, but I wonder if instead of eliminating gender, it is possible to imagine embracing it as a multifaceted, complicated, non-hierarchical concept. Is it possible to have a utopic world in which androgyny does not mean “non-gendered,” but rather is some kind of representation of one kind of masculine/feminine gender identity, which is then one of many different kinds of identities?

    This is far from being a bad question. In fact I think it’s a very important one, because all too often when we talk about a theoretical “feminist utopia” where gender is eradicated, the image that pops to mind is George Lucas’ THX 1138 — a future where everyone dresses exactly alike, you can’t see anyone’s body shape because we’re all wearing identical loose white pajamas and everyone’s head is shaved. But you know what? That’s not a utopia. That would require another form of coercion and limitation of people’s expression. THX 1138 is a police state.

    A couple posts ago I was trying to go to lengths to make sure that I wasn’t sounding like I wanted to eliminate everything that we currently refer to as gender: “where people’s clothing and movements and interests and hairstyles and adornment simply had no gendered meaning.” Like Mandolin said about genitals, it simply wouldn’t matter. Your expression–your choice of clothes, body shape, hair, movement, speech–might have personal meaning for you, just like any other way you express yourself. What would (ideally, I don’t have a practical plan here) be eradicated is the separation of people into classes on the basis of these things, and the hierarchy of those classes where one is on top (men) and one is on the bottom (women). This is still a deeply terrifying thought for people who believe that we need gendered classes in order to reproduce the species and have an orderly society. But we really don’t. And even if we didn’t, I still think we would collectively want to allow whatever kind of personal expression that people wanted for themselves (an it harm none).

  47. Holly says:

    Lisa, I understand you’re speaking to your own experiences here, but I’m wondering about alternative narratives for people who do not feel that either gender label is appropriate for them or descriptive of their experiences.

    How does the concept of trans mesh with the idea of genderqueer?

    I’m one of those people, and you can read my thoughts on the subject at the top of this post. The thing is, I’m also trans; part of being able to reach a point where I could feel OK about having to deal with gender (as we all haev to) was hopping over to the other side of the fence. But that doesn’t mean I embrace gender labels for myself. Genderqueer is also a pretty big umbrella and means different things to different people. (It’s also a word that has its roots in mostly white, mostly middle-class liberal arts colleges, I should note. Very much an “identity label” as opposed to some attempt at an objective descriptor…) Genderqueer folks express themselves in many different ways, some through clashing gender signals or androgyny, others only through words. Most genderqueer people are identified by most of the world as being one gender or the other, at least in this culture, because we don’t have concepts of other genders.

    Personally, in my everyday life, people ID me as female. And that is due to deliberate movement to that location on my part; if I have to be categorized somehow, this works better for me, for a whole host of reasons including stuff having to do with my body that has nothing to do with gender, and the fact that I was uncomfortably pigeonholed as male for most of my childhood. But I’m also not content just being gendered female; for one thing, the whole gender system has too many fucked-up problems with it for me to be gleeful about being classed as a woman. For another, I just don’t like getting gender all over me more than I have to. I deal with this in a number of ways. By switching it up occasionally and wearing a suit, even if people still ID me as female, I’m deliberately shaking off what I’m expected to be doing; by just being an androgynous-looking person who’s close to the border anyway. The borderlands can be dangerous places; any butch dyke, feminine guy or trans person who’s crossed over who can tell you that. I sit in my shack near the minefields, looking out and smoking cigarettes. I have a safe vantage point here, but sometimes I go out and dig a mine up and try to disarm it. So far, I haven’t been blown to bits.

    Another way to put all of this… if we’re moving towards a point where we can say, there’s “subconscious sex” stuff that some people experience dissonance around and must deal with, and there are gender straitjackets that we all experience, that some people cope with by relocating and aligning with their subconscious sex, and others want to reject entirely… that’s where the fields of “trans” and “genderqueer” overlap.

  48. Maayan says:

    So, I posted about the Shania Twain song in the other thread and, in retrospect, man, I feel like an asshole. For that, I genuinely apologize.

    Holly, thank you for starting this thread. I’m a lurker, as a rule, but I’ve been reading avidly. drakyn, thank you for posting what you did about the neural map. That’s a perspective I hadn’t thought of before, and it makes a lot of sense.

    WRT to what I wrote before about not knowing what it’s like to feel like a woman, that was actually too glib. I didn’t mean, as Holly suggested, that I don’t experience gender. Fuck yes, I do. What I meant is that I wish I didn’t. I’m conscious of being female in situations where gender roles are being imposed upon me. When I said that “I feel like a person,” (and seriously, what an asshole thing to say! It just drips smug!), I think what I meant is, “I wish people would treat me like a person, not a woman.” Woman being Other, and all that.

    But I totally agree that that’s just one side of the story. The other side, the feeling that my body isn’t what it’s supposed to be, is one that I haven’t experienced, and I agree that that’s cissexual privilege right there.

  49. alsojill says:

    that would (ideally, I don’t have a practical plan here) be eradicated is the separation of people into classes on the basis of these things, and the hierarchy of those classes where one is on top (men) and one is on the bottom (women)

    That’s exactly what I was trying to articulate. I don’t think gender is bad thing for those who choose to embrace it (nor is rejecting it a bad thing for people who choose to do so), if (and ONLY if) gender is non-hierarchical, non-coercive (or -coerced), and, ideally, multiple.

    I was actually responding to someone else upthread (too lazy to go look) who had first mentioned the genderless society–as you said, Holly, that seems scary and coercive to me. Your original point seemed much closer to what I was trying to say–even though you are allergic to gender (I *love* that phrase, by the way), you don’t make judgments on those who choose to embrace parts of it.

  50. CBrachyrhynchos says:

    Well, before that gets taken the wrong way. I made a choice to undergo a surgical intervention based on consultation with multiple professionals looking at long-term health risks and outcomes. I don’t see why SRS should be considered on other standards beyond looking at the long-term health risks and outcomes for the people who need it.

    alsojill: I’m off two minds about this. I suspect that because “masculine” and “feminine” are defined as mutually exclusive polar opposites, that I don’t think that you can get to a pluralistic gender from our current starting point and keep those concepts intact.

    The English of previous generations had a rich vocabulary and grammar for talking about social status in terms of slavery, and feudal class that was central to how one communicated in society. Today, most of those terms are archaic. We don’t have a critical need to distinguish freemen from slaves (or their descendants) in day to day conversation. And the you/thee distinction is only used by a few plainspeaking Quakers, and usually only among intimate family, in worship settings, or for emphasis. English has lost the distinction between the formal “you” which was used to address people of higher social status, and the informal “thee” which was used to address intimates of equal social status.

    So my feeling is that if we ever made radical leaps towards gender freedom or equality that masculine/feminine along with their multiple incarnations in how we use language will become more archaic and fuzzy.

  51. Em says:

    When I said that “I feel like a person,” (and seriously, what an asshole thing to say! It just drips smug!), I think what I meant is, “I wish people would treat me like a person, not a woman.” Woman being Other, and all that.

    It’s not an asshole thing to say. We all want to exist, and personhood (i.e. our humanity) trumps gender at the very bottom. Seems to me you’re just expressing your wish that Woman did not supplant Person in the many situations where Person is the appropriate affirmation. Where it is relevant is where you want to be affirmed as a Woman and a Person. They can be together (both/and) or alone (Person only), but should never be reversed (Person before Woman but never Woman before Person, lest the fact that Women are Persons be lost). Does that make sense? When you are a gender before you are a human, that’s sexism. How you related your wish on a trans-focused thread is a little problematic, but the sentiments are the same. Anti-trans activists but the Trans before the Human, so we’re all in the same boat, as Jill said much more eloquently on the other thread.

  52. Em says:

    Really, CBrach? I never knew ‘thee’ was informal. Why do all the old-timey Bibles use it, then? Purely b/c it’s impressive-sounding?

  53. alsojill says:

    Why do all the old-timey Bibles use it, then? Purely b/c it’s impressive-sounding?

    It’s meant to emphasize the closeness we can have with God. Our relationships with God can be personal and intimate, and that is represented by the use of the word “thee” or “thou.”

    Or so I’ve heard.

  54. EG says:

    When those Bibles were translated, it wasn’t impressive-sounding, just standard English. Informal usage like “thee” and “thou” can denote familiarity (I’d call a friend or a close relative “thou”), that the person being addressed is of inferior status (you’d call a servant or someone below you in a hierarchy “though”), or simply a singular/plural difference (one friend is “thou,” a group of friends is “you”)–it’s roughly analogous to the difference in French between “tu” and “vous” (and linguistically, you can see the relationship between “tu”/”thou” and “vous”/”you”). So when the commandments are translated as “Thou shalt not kill” (or whatever), “thou” is being used because God is superior to humans and does not have to accord us the respect of formal address. “You” could have been used there in order to denote that he’s speaking to all of us, but I believe that the commandments are supposed to be personal.

  55. alsojill says:

    Oh, and also, the authorized English Bible (the King James translation), as well as the unauthorized translations before that, all arose out of the Protestant Reformation (with the exception of the 13th-century one…Wycliff? maybe?), which placed a greater emphasis on the individual relationship with God, and rejected the concept of needing an intermediary–a priest or the Pope–to facilitate divine-human interaction.

  56. EG says:

    Heh. Sorry, alsojill, I didn’t think of the more positive spin on God using “thou”! My own ideas and values coming into play there. Obviously you’re right, as well.

    (all will become clear when my comment comes out of moderation!)

  57. Em says:

    @54 – AH-ha. That the NIV has never used “thee” but the KJV does–that now makes much more sense to me! Thanks.

    Sorry for the OT…..gender discussion anyone?

  58. Trin says:

    Thanks for answering my question, all. That helps.

    I do think there is a strain within feminism (and actually within the wider culture at large as well) to try and hmmm… “edit out” body discomfort and re-map that discomfort as role-discomfort, and I’ve run up against that myself. I have, as some of you might know, some weird body stuff as well, and it’s led me to wonder repeatedly throughout my life if it means I’d want to transition.

    I’ve always decided that it doesn’t, but it’s always seemed different from wondering “is it okay for a woman to be this way or that way” because it’s about how I feel in my body, how I felt when on the Pill (basically, as if my… for lack of a better word spirit… were violently allergic to more estrogen, and horrified by the slight-to-anyone-but-me-“feminizing” changes this wrought), etc.

    (Feminizing is kind of a bad word here, as I mean changing my body, making my breasts slightly bigger, hips slightly wider, rather than “making me feminine” in the sense of behaving, performing, etc.)

    I also have a lot of questions about what gender means, what’s appropriate to this one or that one, whether “woman” and “female” or “male” and “man” are really these things that map one to one even for cissexual people, but I don’t think those are the same as the violent feelings of wrongness when my body was even slightly more feminized than what puberty did to it. That was something else, something that had to do with an internal map.

    Which is why the whole feminist “let’s de-gender the world” thing puzzles me. I don’t think feelings regarding lack of body-congruence (or even something like the less intense “hey, I really should change this, it doesn’t quite feel right. it’s all slightly out of whack” that I see in some other genderqueer people) would disappear in Gendertopia.

    (and honestly I think a place in which we had more genders, rather than none, and people could choose between them freely without mockery or violence or othering would be a far better Gendertopia than a world where everyone is gendered exactly the same.)

  59. Em says:

    Trin, I understand what you mean. My own experience with HBC was profoundly negative, but not in ways that I can seem to vocalize to a doctor. I also share your frustration over terminology. The conflation of body characteristics and personality traits into a single gendered word makes it nearly impossible to either properly define the word or use it without an explicit disclaimer of what you don’t mean.

  60. alsojill says:

    “thou” is being used because God is superior to humans and does not have to accord us the respect of formal address

    Well, that’s also true. :) I was thinking of it in the human-to-God address, as opposed to vice versa.

    (Sorry to keep going OT, but I did want to respond to EG, now that her comment’s out of mod.)

  61. evil fizz says:

    I do have one question that’s completely unrelated to everything that’s been thus far discussed.

    For those who have chosen to transition and taken a new name, how did you approach that process?

    (One of the things that tends to bother me about news articles is that there’s a whole obsession with “Michelle, who used to be Mike”, as though Michelle hasn’t always been Michelle, and I wonder how the whole choice of appellation fits into that.)

  62. VicSin says:

    Holly, thank you for posting this. I had originally asked what the “cis” meant in the thread re: Heart’s post. I asked at that time because I was trying to completly understand what I was reading, and unfortunately, I can’t always google my answers as I’m at work when I’m on the computer and the oddest stuff is blocked for who knows what reasons…At any rate, I really appreciate your answers and willingness to speak about this. As I’m getting older I’m learning more about myself and my world, as I suppose everyone is. In college most of my film minor electives dealt with women and gender issues, and as a result, I’ve been interested in how our world views both. However, this was 5-10 years ago and there was only so much time that we could go in depth and discuss…what terminology I may have learned may be outdated or lost in my brain wrinkles. I appreciate people for being people, and my questions mainly have to do with terminology, not justification of a persons life. This must be a difficult subject for many transgendered people to broach, as not matter what it appears, questions will arise regarding personal issues and so on. So again, thank you for sharing not only terminology, but personal experiences which, well, by their very nature are personal! And thanks for providing other links and sites to check on my next break!

  63. CBrachyrhynchos says:

    Em: It’s complex. English originally had thou (singular, familiar) and ye (plural, formal). The King James Bible uses thee and thou in places to express familiarity as the metaphor of “god the father” implies the intimacy of thou, in other places thou is used because it was the form of address used by social superiors to social inferiors. In some liturgical language, thee is used to mirror the original Latin distinction between singular/plural.

    Thee and thou fell out of favor because from the 17th century on it was used by many as a form of disrespect. I think one way to think of this as analogous to the way that “girl” and “boy” can be used disrespectfully to address an adult peer, or as a form of endearment between adult intimates.

  64. Em says:

    It’s pretty universally agreed that using someone’s birth name is not appropriate, but I think that Serano’s discussion of the public’s before/after fetish explains the continued practice in just about every trans-related media story. Name choice is mostly a personal thing, though, and it doesn’t have much to do with the phenomenon you’re talking about. Some people deliberately choose a name that is similar to their birth name; some do exactly the opposite. Some people choose a family name, or do research into appropriate names for their ethnicity, region, and time period, while sSome just go with a name they like.

  65. CBrachyrhynchos says:

    And to bring this around to gender, I think a part of the downfall of the thou/you distinction also reflects the way in which social class status radically changed in English speaking countries over the same time period. So I would hope that as gender because less relevant a marker of social status that linguistic signifiers of gender become more fuzzy and archaic.

  66. Holly says:

    I do think there is a strain within feminism (and actually within the wider culture at large as well) to try and hmmm… “edit out” body discomfort and re-map that discomfort as role-discomfort, and I’ve run up against that myself. I have, as some of you might know, some weird body stuff as well, and it’s led me to wonder repeatedly throughout my life if it means I’d want to transition.

    About that strain…

    Frankly, insisting that all kinds of discomfort related to gender are entirely social in nature is just as ridiculous as trying to deny that there is a biological component to alcoholism. As usual I feel like the “nature/nurture” clash is rooted in some fundamental misunderstandings about what “biological influences” are. Even if you have a family history of alcoholism, that doesn’t mean your biology is somehow forcing you to drink another shot; you can’t isolate biological factors from social and psychological ones, how you were raised, the decisions you make from moment to moment, your capacity for self-reflection, etc.

    Similarly, it can be empirically shown that yes, we do have substances in our bodies that our society has labeled “sex hormones,” and depending on what kind of organs your body comes with, you produce different amounts of different kinds. Hormones affect the shape and development of your body, including your brain, which means that yes, you can have feelings and behaviors influenced by hormones. (Would it really be feminist to deny this?)

    That doesn’t mean you have to immediately leap to ridiculous stereotyped conclusions like “hormones make men into aggro sex-beasts and women into gentle, empathetic nurturers who like salads.” Obviously, there is more at play, including socially-enforced gender roles. But neither does it make sense to deny the existence of biology, to deny the body and insist it’s all in the mind, to deny the fact that the mind exists in the body; I have always felt like there’s a strong strain of Western-philosophy-influenced mind/body dualistic splitting going on in that kind of argument.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned about hormones in many years of dealing with endocrinologists and doing my own research on my health, it’s that we don’t know all that much about hormones. We have some ideas of what they do–the signalling system of the body — but there’s a whole lot we don’t know. Which is a good reason that taking hormones shouldn’t be treated too lightly, even though I think the balance weighs heavily on the “scare-you-straight tactics” side at the moment. Ideally, one day we’ll know a lot more about the subject, and a lot of people — even people who don’t want to change their body or their social role significantly — will be able to figure out what balance of hormones works best for their overall well-being. “Just stick with what you came with and don’t mess with it” is not a sufficient response!

  67. Hector B. says:

    Some things I have thought about and wondered about:

    Isn’t part of gender identity how people treat you? From the day you’re born, people want to know what sex you are, but they use that information to decide how to treat you in a stereotypical way: are you one of our team or the other side? do you get pink or blue clothing? do we pierce your ears or not? dolls or trucks? ballet slippers or fielders’ glove? etc. Kids absorb this somehow: our toddler niece rebelled at wearing pants and overalls and demanded dresses, even though none of the adult women in her life wore anything but slacks. But then, a friend’s four-year-old son plays with dolls, cherishes his pink tote bag, and wants to put on makeup. Is he in the wrong gender?

    Do transgendered individuals usually struggle a long time with their gender/sex identity? A woman I used to work with married a man well known in his field called “Bob”. He was in his forties and she was in her thirties. They had a child, and she decided to stay home to raise it. Suddenly, journal papers appeared, no longer written by “Bob” but by “Bobbie”. Same surname, same professional affiliation. But he had lived half a century, married, and reproduced, before publicly identifying as female.

  68. Holly says:

    For those who have chosen to transition and taken a new name, how did you approach that process?

    That’s a good question too. I think it really varies. A lot of trans people I’ve known “practice” using different names online, or in video games or roleplaying games, or in other kinds of liminal circumstances. Naming is a complicated business and I feel like for me it really came down to what felt like it fit. Holly is a name I use online in some circumstances, but it was also my “second choice.” Didn’t quite fit though.

    My actual name that I use every day, I chose for a whole bunch of reasons. For one thing, it’s more ethnically appropriate than my old name, which sounds weird, but my birth name was also a common name for people of an entirely different heritage than my own, but I’m “mixed” looking enough that people would get confused about my ethnic background and subject me to even more bewildered questioning than I’d otherwise get. I also chose my name because although it’s not the “female version” of my old name (that felt kind of cheesy to me, personally) it has a similar assonance and shape, plus it’s funny when written backwards. Finally, my name means “beauty restored” when written in Japanese, which I like, but it’s also a fairly common name in the US. Hah, at this point it’s like a riddle, it’s probably not that hard to figure out what my first name is.

  69. RachelPhilPa says:

    Note that I’m posting this comment w/o having read the entire comment thread, so I might be redundant…I’m doing this on my lunch break.

    kissmypineapple @13:

    I’m cisgendered (which I’m sure is obvious), and maybe as a result of the privilege that comes with that, I’ve always felt that my femaleness is only a very very tiny part of who I am. And I hate it so much when someone treats me as female instead of just as a person.

    Yeah, especially the first sentence, that’s part of the “my road is smooth, I can’t see the potholes you’re hitting” viewpoint that privilege gives to those that have it. It’s like white people (such as myself) never have to give any thought to how hard it is to try to catch a cab while black.

    I really do wish that my femaleness could be a very small part of who I am. But being trans, I’m kind of stuck in a trap. If I do not emphasize my femaleness, if I do not work really hard to send out those signals that people need to gender me as female, they will treat me as male instead of just as a person. And that grates like nails on a chalkboard, and puts me in danger when people take the next step, “oh, ‘he’ is male, ‘he’ must be a fag, or invading my space” or wev. Therefore, femaleness has to be a big part of me, because I have to send out those gendered signals, for my own safety.

    And, there are some days that I just want to wear loose jeans and sneaks, and I do that sometimes, but then I get gendered male, and I’m back to the nails on the chalkboard.

    Well, that’s my take. For other trans*folk, their mileage may vary. I know a couple of quite butch trans women, who have been able to ditch many of those patriarchal norms.

    katie @ 7:

    I hesitate to bring up the scenario but I have to ask.. what if there are men who are opportunistic and abuse that privilege? I’m not speaking of actual transgender, just some jerk who sees a easy way to sneak in the locker room.

    Holly, Lisa, and others have answered this question better than I can. I have to say, though, that these kinds of questions that raise up straw-men-women-trans-whathaveyou, really get my back up, even on a 101 thread, b/c this is one of the most frequent tactics that transphobes engage in (I’m not saying that is why you asked that question, just that from transphobes, it’s not a question, but a judgement). Let’s put responsibility for rape where it belongs – on the men who rape – and take it off the backs of victims – women, cis and trans, and trans*folk, and feminine men, and men we dehumanize by imprisoning them for smoking a joint.

  70. Mandolin says:

    “what if there are men who are opportunistic and abuse that privilege? I’m not speaking of actual transgender, just some jerk who sees a easy way to sneak in the locker room.”

    Passing is also a learned skill. For most people (some actors excepted), it’s difficult to take the subliminally understood gender signals that exist to allow us to differentiate men and women on sight, and implement them in one’s behavior. It would be a lot of *effort* for a cis jerk to pretend to be a trans woman, just for the purposes of locker room gawking.

    Remember also the risk involved. A trans woman who is passing poorly is at risk for violence. Your ordinary cis jerk would probably be unprepared to deal with that for gawkage purposes.

  71. Trin says:

    Frankly, insisting that all kinds of discomfort related to gender are entirely social in nature is just as ridiculous as trying to deny that there is a biological component to alcoholism.

    YES. I mean, I knew some things about how I felt I should/wanted to behave sexually from very young, and — well, yes, we do get social messages about roles in sexual encounters from childhood, but my sense that what people were telling me women did with men was *flat wrong* for me… I don’t think that came from “no, I don’t like heteronormativity.” I don’t think I even knew all that much about sex and sexual pressure at, like, age eight, where I went “wait, he does this and she does that? and I’m she? that’s *wrong*”

    and y’know, hearing about things like the cows that have a predilection for mounting other cows or the rat tests where giving a rat a certain hormone at birth makes it present to other rats or mount them always made me wonder: what if it is as simple as hormones? what if a whole lot of this really IS hormone baths?

    I’m not asserting this to be true — I think totally ignoring social construction is something we do at our peril. But I also don’t think that saying “wait, maybe some of these body-feelings have something to do with hormones, or genes, or brain structures, or *something* and maybe that’s all really complex and fixed” is threatening to feminism.

    Because to me, all that feminism says is “there should be room for everyone, and all these huge slices of the power-pie that go to heteronormative men need to get re-cut and go to other people.” It doesn’t matter why people are the way they are to do that.

  72. Trin says:

    (my above comment makes it sound like I’m assuming heterosexuality as “right.” I’m not — I’m just saying that was all I knew very much about as a young child, and what I knew about THAT was whispered playground gigglings about PIV.)

  73. Mandolin says:

    “what if a whole lot of this really IS hormone baths?”

    Could be… As a woman with atypical hormones, though, this kind of thought process makes me nervous because it suggests my behavior (and that of something like 10% of the female population) should be out of whack with my gender roles in a way that it isn’t.

  74. Tapetum says:

    Thanks for this thread, Holly. I was (and mostly still am) one of the people whose gender is entirely congruent with my body. I’m not just female, but a sturdy, muscular sort. I’m pretty sure I’d feel wrong in a male body, and possibly even more wrong in anything tiny and dainty. But I doubt I’d recognize the water I swim in if it weren’t for the experience of pregnancy. Pregnancy weirded me out in a low-key way. My body-image absolutely refused to conform to the new shape. I was constantly running my belly into things because my subconscious simply wouldn’t acknowledge this thing attached to my front. People rubbing said belly weirded me out considerably, not just for the unwanted touching, but because they were paying attention to this thing that really didn’t feel like part of me. Interestingly when I gained weight afterwards – right back up to the weight were I gave birth, I had no body dismorphia problems. It was only pregnancy that affected me that way (both times). And they were both wanted babies, so it wasn’t resistence on that front.

    I can’t imagine the discomfort of feeling that way, only more so, every single day.

  75. Rachel says:

    Not sure if this is the best place to talk about this as this is less of a question and more of my 2 cents. But I agree with Trin that a lot of feminist are threatened by the thought that hormones affect behavior. Because we (feminist) are used to hearing all the time that estrogen makes all women want to stay at home, barefoot and pregnant.

    On the other hand saying that gender makes no difference in ones life and we need to transcend it also is a pretty shitty thing imho. Because being a ciswoman is part of my existence and I dont want to give it up. But I also do a lot of things considered “masculine” like watching sports and playing video games and I dont see those two things as mutual exclusive. I think the goals of feminism and trans activism are to allow for self determination of behavior and gender. Because ultimately individuals know what is right for them more than anyone else can.

  76. nonskanse says:

    Great post!
    I think that societal genders need to disappear.
    I don’t do many things like a woman (in our society) even though i 100% identify with being a woman (and was born with XX and the anatomy to go with it). Even though i wear my hair long and am obviously female in all ways, I still don’t “fit” well enough for some people. So maybe on a scale of societal genders where male is 0 and female is 100, I’m a 70-80. I don’t nurture (even when I play with relatives or friends kids, it is in a more “male” way,although i am juding on interactions i’ve seen so far), I work in a “male dominated” field, no makeup, bitten nails, video games, kind of aggressive..

    It seems here that to be accepted if you’re trans, you have to be a lot closre to 0 or 100, and ALL THE TIME.
    I’ve even noticed this. I met a mtf trans woman and my brain immediately thought male, even though she was post op, wearing lots of makeup, long nails, long hair, female clothing, voice adjusted. The thought-freezer was that she sat in a “male” slouch playing violent video games, and a couple of subtle things about how she walked and facial structure… very unfair thoughts, I felt guilty.
    Hell I’m more “masculine” than that, and yet I still couldn’t get my brain to accept “woman”.

    What can I do in this situation other than respect people’s wishes and refer to them as they wish to be referred to?

  77. Holly says:

    I think the goals of feminism and trans activism are to allow for self determination of behavior and gender. Because ultimately individuals know what is right for them more than anyone else can.

    I agree. The usual rejoinder to this, however, is something along the lines of “well, if you just let individuals decide for themselves, they’ll just end up being manipulated by the patriarchal power structure! You don’t really have free choices, even though you think you do.” Which for me carries significant overtones of “you don’t know what’s best for you… WE do. So shut up and drink the kool-aid.”

    Undoubtedly this point of view is correct in that we’re all being pushed around, consciously and subconsciously, by our incredibly unjust and distorted social environment. But there’s something deeply untenable about suggesting that you can’t ultimately rely on individuals to make choices for themselves. Of course everyone can benefit from education on any number of subjects; of course we need to give thought to how and why and what we do. But sometimes, we do all this — trans people do all of this — and we’re still told that we can’t really self-determine in this world, so we ought to quit while we’re ahead and get in line with everyone else. I just don’t believe that.

  78. nexyjo says:

    the root of the problem in the mainstream misunderstanding of trans people, i believe, is two fold. first, we are all using words, such as “sex” and “gender”, which have varied meanings to different people. and with a closer examination, words such as “male”, “female”, “man”, and “woman” can also mean different things to different people.

    second, we are all (trans and non-trans alike) seeking to understand what trans is from the perspective of a life long experience in a society that has the false (imho) view that there are two biological, and mutually exclusive “sexes”, each of which “should” exhibit a specific, and mutually exclusive set of behaviors and attributes.

    and while some of us may cognitively reject either or both of those notions, we are all socialized within that construct, and affected by that socialization.

    so when people ask me, as a trans woman:

    if society magically dropped gender roles and there was no genderization of anything ever anymore and people didn’t care about whether you had a penis or vagina or what the fuck ever, do you think the trans* identity would be, uh, necessary i guess, for lack of a better word?

    i find myself unable to honestly answer that question. in the real world, gender roles are things that we’ve lived within (whether an individual follows them or not) for our entire lives, and our culture has had them as a tradition for centuries. our very language was formed around gender roles, and in a very real way, our thought patterns are influenced by our language. for most of us, we “think” in our language. so if there are no words for something, or only ethereal words for something, it’s extremely difficult to not only think about it, but to covey whatever it is we are thinking about.

    i lived for over 40 years as male, because that’s how i was assigned at birth, and subsequently raised. when i began transition, i realized that i couldn’t just go from “male” to “something else”. really, the only choice is transitioning from “male” to “female”. there are no other choices. and from my perspective, “female” isn’t a very good fit for me just as “male” wasn’t. but i felt it was better enough to justify my personal investment in my transition.

    my body dissonance was centered mostly around my body hair, not my genitals. in fact, i was very much undecided about whether or not i’d have grs (gender reassignment surgery) even as i made my appointment for surgery (there was a two year waiting list, so i had plenty of time to decide).

    the reality of living in a society that forces us to “choose a side” so to speak, kicked in however. so when the time came, i felt i’d be better off, specifically, the quality of my life would be improved, if i had the surgery. the state i was living in (nj) forces an individual to have surgery in order to be afforded the legal recognition of changing their sex designation on their identification papers.

    and it’s extremely difficult to function in society if you “look” like a woman, but your i.d. says you’re a man.

    that’s not to say i wouldn’t have had the surgery if it wasn’t dictated by my local government. a post operative body was also attractive to me as it better fit into how i enjoyed intimacy with other humans. i can’t say if that attractiveness would have compelled me in and of itself, to have the surgery. how would one measure that?

    for me, transition was all about improving the quality of my life. i would not have transitioned if i felt that i wouldn’t be able to integrate back into society as female. even though “female” was a state that also had some major problems for me, i felt (and fortunately, it turned out i was right) that it would work better for me. being “in between” somehow, and being seen that way, is a dangerous place to be in our society. i don’t like danger.

    anyway, for me, i become frustrated in trying to define what exactly it is that compelled me to transition, other than i felt it would improve the quality of my life. it “felt” right. i don’t believe i have a “gender identity”, as it is commonly defined, because i have no idea a what a “woman feels like”, or what a “man feels like” for that matter. as a child, my body informed me what “sex” i was, and therefore, what my gender was, at least in the commonly accepted definition of those words. i never felt like “a woman trapped in the body of a man”, again because i don’t know what a woman or man feels like. and to be perfectly honest, until i grew a beard, many people gendered me female through my teens and early twenties.

    i believe there’d still be transsexuals if we somehow managed to eliminate gender, or at least eliminated the meanings we have associated with being male or female. but that too is a gut feeling – really, how would one measure that?

    anyway, i’ll wrap up with this:

    I don’t see my self as a gender essentialist. So I’ve always been uncomfortable with some issues around transgenderism.

    yeah, me too. i believe gender is a total social construct. and i’m also uncomfortable with some issues around transgenderism. just like i’m uncomfortable with some issues around being white, and jewish, and american – other labels that define me.

    so i suggest we work together toward resolving as many of those issues as possible, without letting our theories interfere with the fact that we’re dealing with the lives and bodies of human beings. and remembering that we need to listen to those folks who live the lives upon which we force those labels, and not to dismiss their narratives.

  79. Dr. Confused says:

    Thank you very much for this, Holly and everyone doing the answering. I know how tiresome it can be having to answer the same 101 questions over and over.

    My only question is about prevalence. I only know people online who are out as trans to me. Nobody in my “real life” has told me they are trans. What percentage of people transition? Is it more likely that I don’t know any transpeople, or that I do but they pass and choose not to share their medical history with me?

    And a comment on the “transpeople are buying into gender and therefore keeping us from our genderless utopia” argument. I don’t see the people making this argument personally taking on the task of transforming gender themselves. They’re not out there messing with people’s perceptions of gender. Almost everyone I know, including radical feminists, makes it clear every moment of every day what gender they belong to. I am not particularly “feminine” but I definitely send out “I am female” signals. It’s way too hard in this current culture not to be identified as one gender or the other, and anyone who tries would be punished in a myriad of ways. So why do we insist that this should be the job of transpeople? What did they do to take on that responsibility? Why should only transpeople have the responsibility of dismantling the gender system, while the rest of us get to comfortably fit society’s expectations of one gender or the other while we wait for the transpeople to build our utopia for us?

  80. drakyn says:

    I’m not genderqueer, but from what I’ve seen genderqueer folks say… Some people would like a genderless society (generally those who identify as nongendered or genderless) and others would hate it. Most genderqueer folks would love a pluralistic approach to gender.
    For some, more genders would solve all of their problems, but other genderqueer folks would still want to medically transition. What sort depends, some genderqueer folks just want to be on very low doses of hormones, others just want surgery (no hormones), some want to go on hormones temporarily for certain effects, etc. And there are some genderqueer folks who are fine with their bodies they way they are.

    Also, for those of you who don’t think cisgendered fits you yet you aren’t trans*… Some people, such as myself, use cisgendered and cissexual to mean different things and are trying to expand their definition to more than just “not trans”. I use cissexual to mean, “a person whose subconscious sex aligns with their body/assigned sex”. And I am still not quite sure what I mean by cisgendered, but it is more about (assigned?) gender identity and possibly gender expression fitting them.

    And Holly, I just want to clarify that I don’t think that we need science to justify us, but I like the neural-map theory because it really fits my experiences. In my post about what trans* means to me I did come to the conclusion that it is pretty much a body thing for me.

  81. Mireille says:

    I think part of the reason that trans women are targeted and trans men are treated pretty much as invisible is due to, as Julia Serano pointed out in Whipping Girl, a cultural devaluing of femininity and the assumption that trans women transition solely to express their femininity. Some trans women do feel a need to express themselves in dress and action in a completely feminine way, but many of us do not.

    Even some feminists see the mere possession of feminine traits as being anti-feminist, and therefore trans women are a mockery of feminism itself. I think what is anti-feminist is insisting that only women can possess what we define as feminine traits, and since women are “weak”, feminine traits are inferior. And since masculine traits are associated with men, and men are strong, and men have for most of history been “the deciders”, masculine traits are desirable. Therefore, trans men transitioning makes sense, they are assumed to be embracing “positive”, masculine traits. Which is probably just as false as the assumption that trans women transition to be soft, cuddly, docile patriarchal wet dreams.

    There is nothing naturally better about masculine traits or feminine traits. I don’t think any of us are completely one or the other (at least, not on the liberal side where most of us can see shades of grey between the black and white) and we all find the traits that fit our lives and that we are comfortable with.

    I understand the idea that the personal is political, but sometimes… the personal is just personal and despite the political ideologies that may be appointed to some of our decisions, they are decisions we have to take, and sometimes they are literally choices between life and death (or a life where you feel you would be better off dead).

  82. nexyjo says:

    Is it more likely that I don’t know any transpeople, or that I do but they pass and choose not to share their medical history with me?

    yes. if you knew me from my current job, you probably would not know i’m trans.

  83. Holly says:

    What can I do in this situation other than respect people’s wishes and refer to them as they wish to be referred to?

    Now THAT is a really good question. It’s hard, many people struggle with this. Even trans people do. Our brains pick up all sorts of subliminal cues about people’s gender as well as more obvious things, and there’s often not a lot we can “do” about our perceptions. But you absolutely can control your behavior, as you’ve surmised. We can all check ourselves when we have an automatic reaction or perception that clashes with how we feel about something when we give it more thought (i.e. your realizing that you’re actually more “masculine” than this other woman, but you’re unconsciously gendering her as male).

    Heck, we all have these kinds of reactions and issue when we apprehend someone’s race or class as well, even if we’re not aware of it. For me it’s all part of being deliberate and mindful in life, and trying to do what’s right.

    Actually, you know what really helps? Just interacting with people more and treating them respectfully. If you spent more time with that woman, referred to her as a woman and checked your own stereotypes frequently, you’d probably get used to that. And it really is re-training your brain not to automatically pigeonhole people into gender categories based on stereotypes of how people sit, etc.

    Of course, some people think this is brainwashing or a form of insanity. I have a book somewhere from a French gender clinic where psychiatrists are counseled not to refer to patients in terms of their “chosen gender” except when it would upset the patient to do otherwise. The reason given is that health care professionals who interact with a trans person extensively can start to “lose their gender bearings” (no shit, direct quote) and actually believe that a trans woman is a woman or a trans man is a man! Horrors, we wouldn’t want that. It just goes to show that these perceptions are socially constructed and therefore malleable. And that is a GOOD thing.

    I get people’s pronouns wrong sometimes myself… mostly people who prefer gender-neutral pronouns like zie or they or no pronouns at all, since it’s just trickier linguistically. Pronouns are one of my least favorite things about English, actually… I wish we spoke a language in this country where we didn’t constantly have to gender the third person. In Japanese, for instance, the only commonly used pronouns that have gender significance are first person ones (like “I”) which, of course, you use when talking about yourself. That gives speakers the opportunity to select or even change up their pronouns, and there are few situations where you have to gender some third person you’re talking about. Way less problematic.

  84. kathygnome says:

    Sorry for an omnibus post.

    For those who have chosen to transition and taken a new name, how did you approach that process?

    You go to the court house and file a legal change of name. From memory $60 to the court and $80 to advertise it in the newspaper.

    If you mean how do you find a name, I wanted something completely separate because I didn’t want it to resonate with my old name. I chose a name (Kathleen) that had been in my family in the past and that was somewhat popular for people my age so it wouldn’t stand out. There were some other considerations, for example I wanted a name that had several possible nicknames so I could sort of find my own space. My middle name was a surname and became my last name. My middle name is a feminized version of my old first name.

    I hesitate to bring up the scenario but I have to ask.. what if there are men who are opportunistic and abuse that privilege?

    The vast majority of women’s spaces allow transwomen in them and the problems that the anti-transpeople bring up simply don’t happen. Men who want to invade women’s spaces don’t study the internal policy on transgendered people. They come in directly and harrass people. This one has already been tested by reality.

    Do transgendered individuals usually struggle a long time with their gender/sex identity?

    Yes. I knew I was trans from a very early age, but only started to transition at 36. I looked into transition, but it was terrifying–the social stigma, the long evaluations from psychologists, and all that. I tried being a gay guy, that was totally wrong. I spent a long time living as an andro guy with a lot of typically female hobbies. Some others try to immerse themselves in masculinity thinking it will help.

    A generation or two ago gay people went through the same type of thing trying to avoid being gay (some Republican Senators apparently still do), now it’s something you (mostly) come out as when you’re in your teens or early 20s. I suspect that this will eventually become the norm for transgender people as well. Because like being gay, when you actually come to terms with all of this, it’s really not that big a deal.

  85. drakyn says:

    Nonskanse, I think the best thing to do would correct yourself each time you mess up (even in your mind! Though don’t make a big production of it, just act like you would if you accidentally called someone by a different friend’s name); hopefully this would help your subconscious(?) realize she’s female.

    Dr. Confused, yeah, a lot of us have noticed that as well. There’s a whole lot of talk about utopia and revolutions, a whole lot of castigating us for not helping to bring this about, and yet it certainly doesn’t look like some of the ones throwing stones have done much to dismantle the gender binary.

  86. Holly says:

    My only question is about prevalence. I only know people online who are out as trans to me. Nobody in my “real life” has told me they are trans. What percentage of people transition? Is it more likely that I don’t know any transpeople, or that I do but they pass and choose not to share their medical history with me?

    Nobody has tried to do a rigorous study of the prevalence of trans people, especially because there are basic questions about how you’d decide who’s trans or not trans. Lynn Conway has a page devoted to this topic, where she estimates the prevalence of sexual reassignment surgeries in the United States to be 1 in 2500, and goes on to guess more roughly that if you include people who haven’t had surgery, it’s more like 1 in 500 or even 1 in 250. I can’t really hazard a guess as to how reliable these numbers are, since it’s not my strong suit. But there are a lot of trans people out there, a lot more than most official studies assume, and the numbers just get bigger if you include crossdressers, bigendered people, genderqueers, etc. As Conway says, “many people nowadays know a transsexual or know of some in their school, company or small community” and that’s not even counting all the trans people who don’t talk about or broadcast the fact that they’re trans. Most people I interact with assume I’m not trans, which I think is silly — I’ve had to correct people many times, although most often I don’t bother — but non-trans people are the norm, the expected, the most common.

  87. Seth Gordon says:

    In my circle of face-to-face friends and acquaintances, there are three people who told me they were trans. One is a co-worker, one is the partner of an old friend of mine, and one happened to spend a month or two praying in my synagogue (which does not do any particular outreach to LGBTs).

    If I can meet that many trans people without any particular effort, then I think Conway’s 1-in-500 estimate is very credible.

  88. Trin says:

    Could be… As a woman with atypical hormones, though, this kind of thought process makes me nervous because it suggests my behavior (and that of something like 10% of the female population) should be out of whack with my gender roles in a way that it isn’t.

    Mandolin,

    Good point. It does seem, though, that there’s evidence that this stuff sometimes matters. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that it’s yet another of those “well sometimes/often/noticeably frequently, you get such and such, but sometimes you don’t.”

  89. Em says:

    Good point. It does seem, though, that there’s evidence that this stuff sometimes matters. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that it’s yet another of those “well sometimes/often/noticeably frequently, you get such and such, but sometimes you don’t.”

    Quite likely that receptivity to a given effect of a given hormone differs quite a bit from person to person.

  90. Trin says:

    Even some feminists see the mere possession of feminine traits as being anti-feminist, and therefore trans women are a mockery of feminism itself. I think what is anti-feminist is insisting that only women can possess what we define as feminine traits, and since women are “weak”, feminine traits are inferior. And since masculine traits are associated with men, and men are strong, and men have for most of history been “the deciders”, masculine traits are desirable.

    Yes. There’s a lot of hating on femininity that cis women do, even aimed at other cis women. Add someone who people think “should not be” a woman and it gets worse. Whch I think is very threatening to some cis feminists because it’s hard to look yourself in the eye and realize that *you*, a committed feminist, might be demeaning another woman and basing it on gender-assumptions you claim you’ve managed to reject.

  91. Trin says:

    Quite likely that receptivity to a given effect of a given hormone differs quite a bit from person to person.

    *nods* Yeah. And I’m not saying it explains me, actually — I’m only saying I wouldn’t be *surprised* to discover someday that it did. Hell, I had a doctor, completely at random as far as I could tell, suddenly want to test my testosterone levels. Who knows what that proves or means. Maybe just that she buys into stereotypes and I was/am too butch for her comfort. But it’s always seemed interesting, maybe significant, that she suddenly asked me that out of nowhere. I don’t know.

  92. Lisa Harney says:

    Quite likely that receptivity to a given effect of a given hormone differs quite a bit from person to person.

    Also, the effects hormones can have vary a lot depending on when they’re introduced. As CAIS women show, androgens start a fetus developing into a male, but androgens after birth will never turn a female into a male. A “hormone bath” in the womb will not have the same effect as hormones during puberty or adulthood.

  93. Cara says:

    Hi Holly, I haven’t read all of the comments and I don’t have any questions. I just wanted to add to the chorus of voices who thank you for doing this. No one is obligated to share their story or to educate others about their lives/experiences/oppression, etc. I think that people forget that, which is where so much offense comes in. But opening yourself up like this is a generous and brave thing to do, and it requires MUCH more patience than I would ever have to explain just about anything. I’ll admit that some of the questions here make me wince . . . but everyone has to start somewhere and I do appreciate that people are trying to learn.

    I hope that you have not received any rude/hateful responses. The only thing that makes me angrier than a racist feminist is a transphobic feminist.

  94. Lisa Harney says:

    Evil fizz,

    Lisa, I understand you’re speaking to your own experiences here, but I’m wondering about alternative narratives for people who do not feel that either gender label is appropriate for them or descriptive of their experiences.

    I kind of wish you’d also asked why I feel that way with my comfortable gender role, too. Is there an assumption here that because I do feel that “woman” is appropriate for me, that my ability to separate my body dissonance from my gender is suspect?

    Please don’t assume the worst and get defensive here – I’m trying not to be. The way you worded your post bothered me, but I realize it could be completely innocuous.

    I do feel clearly that at a young age, before I was really socialized in terms of gender roles, that I knew I was a girl. I can look at my early memories and see that I’m trying to imitate what adult women were doing, at least until I started getting punished for being too feminine. But for me, I can see that my sense of myself as female is why I accepted the socialization aimed at girls (never mind trying to absorb and use the socialization aimed at boys as a shield). If you take that socialization away, I still have, at the root of it all, my sense of myself as female.

    I understand wanting to reject that influence, but I wonder if instead of eliminating gender, it is possible to imagine embracing it as a multifaceted, complicated, non-hierarchical concept. Is it possible to have a utopic world in which androgyny does not mean “non-gendered,” but rather is some kind of representation of one kind of masculine/feminine gender identity, which is then one of many different kinds of identities?

    alsojill,

    My idea of a utopia includes the possibility of multiple genders, the possibility for people to invent or express new genders, and the ability to modify our bodies any way we please. Plus, the ability to migrate from gender to gender as being socially acceptable – if you want to be a man for a week, be a man for a week.

    Of course, this requires a lot of social and technological advancement, and I’m not sure that it’d ever come to pass, but I wish it would.

    Maayan,

    WRT to what I wrote before about not knowing what it’s like to feel like a woman, that was actually too glib. I didn’t mean, as Holly suggested, that I don’t experience gender. Fuck yes, I do. What I meant is that I wish I didn’t. I’m conscious of being female in situations where gender roles are being imposed upon me. When I said that “I feel like a person,” (and seriously, what an asshole thing to say! It just drips smug!), I think what I meant is, “I wish people would treat me like a person, not a woman.” Woman being Other, and all that.

    No, this makes sense. I’d like to be treated as a person too. All too often, my identification as a woman is used as reason to deny me personhood. Not in the same way as happens to you, but in the sense that I’m a deluded freak for thinking I’m a woman in the first place.

    I used to be surprised when I’d see men actually get almost abusively angry over books (roleplaying games, usually) that found ways to alternate masculine and feminine pronoun usage rather than use masculine all the time. Sure, they’d talk about how the masculine = default (feminine = other) was the Way Things Are and Should Never Change. And this was ground that had to be defended violently and loudly and never an inch given, because using feminine pronouns for indeterminate people was eroding the English language away to nothing.

    And this, more than anything, verified for me that language can be and is sexist. I mean, you just didn’t see people go up in arms like this over “y’all” or “ain’t.”

    CBrachyrhynchos,

    My only point in that other thread was to say that experiences of gender dissonance, frustration, discrimination and violence are shared by many people who identify as cisgendered. I’ve never questioned the need for an inclusive GLBT activism because I’ve never been able to say, “this was because of gender, and this here was because of sexual orientation, and that over there was misogyny.” My experiences as the target of discrimination and violence have included all three. And when “cisgender” is constructed in such a way as to exclude my experiences, it feels like I’m being made invisible again.

    Cisgendered is such a problematic word because this conversation happens around it all the time. I think that part of the problem is that it’s not a binary, but is seen as one, and that “transgendered” and “cisgendered” are both relatively vague terms.

    I see it as a circle, mostly. Cisgendered’s in the middle, and transgendered is around the outside, and there’s a lot of territory between them that can be any number of things that don’t strictly fit as either, but can be seen as either depending on context. Like butch lesbians can be treated as cisgender or transgender depending on context, although I’m sure some would identify as cisgender, and maybe some as transgender, I expect many would reject both (and have rejected both in similar discussions).

    I’m also not sure that “transgender” is positively the outside border, as opposed to just another band in this imaginary circle.

    Anyway, I agree that misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia are pretty inextricably linked, and I think they come from the same basic source.

  95. wellie says:

    Yes. There’s a lot of hating on femininity that cis women do, even aimed at other cis women. Add someone who people think “should not be” a woman and it gets worse. Whch I think is very threatening to some cis feminists because it’s hard to look yourself in the eye and realize that *you*, a committed feminist, might be demeaning another woman and basing it on gender-assumptions you claim you’ve managed to reject.

    perfectly stated, trin. i get very frustrated with people that don’t have the strength to self-examine. there are too many people out there, including cisgendered feminists, that tend to hide behind a shield of feminism as a deflector.

    and lovely post, holly! sorry i’m so late to the game… i’ve been hiding from my ‘puter again *hangs head*

  96. Mandolin says:

    ” Who knows what that proves or means”

    If you have unusual body hair, weight problems, skin problems, menstrual irregularity, etc, she could have suspected polycystic ovarian syndrome.

    “Also, the effects hormones can have vary a lot depending on when they’re introduced. As CAIS women show, androgens start a fetus developing into a male, but androgens after birth will never turn a female into a male. A “hormone bath” in the womb will not have the same effect as hormones during puberty or adulthood.”

    Right.

    So, I guess I mean I don’t have a problem with the idea that hormones are a component of some phenomena with some people… but the conversation about hormone levels and gendered behavior tends to end up being simpler than that, and doesn’t account for hormonal abnormalities among the population that conforms to expectations.

    I suspect we’re all on the same page. :-D

  97. drakyn says:

    I actually have a question. There’s this one transphobe on eljay, who is rather efamous for her bigotry, who often says that trans*people are schtiziod, similar to pro-anorexic folks, sociopathic, and generally crazy/disordered/demented/etc.
    Since I don’t actually know all that much about mental “illnesses/disorders/etc”, does anyone here know more and can you refute this?

  98. miss sophie says:

    yeah, me too. i believe gender is a total social construct. and i’m also uncomfortable with some issues around transgenderism. just like i’m uncomfortable with some issues around being white, and jewish, and american – other labels that define me.
    so i suggest we work together toward resolving as many of those issues as possible, without letting our theories interfere with the fact that we’re dealing with the lives and bodies of human beings. and remembering that we need to listen to those folks who live the lives upon which we force those labels, and not to dismiss their narratives.

    I agree with you so much when you say this, and it’s the main reason I’m often really wary of discussing transgenderism; my theories are just that, theories and peoples real life choices and experience are so much more important. It doesn’t really matter why people are trans, the fact is that people are and they deserve rights, respect etc. But because transgenderism is such a culturally sensitive issue, and one that isn’t easily understood by people who are not trans, it can be really hard to discuss the theory without it impacting the personal simply through lack of knowledge. 101 things like this are brilliant opportunities for the non-trans to, as you say Holly, resolve those issues. Thanks again.

  99. Lisa Harney says:

    Because trans people typically don’t fit the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia or any other mental disorder.

    In general, trans people don’t show signs of mental disorders, and treatment that works for mental disorders fails for trans people. It takes profound ignorance and prejudice about both trans people and people who suffer from mental disorders to use those terms as an insult.

  100. evil fizz says:

    Because trans people typically don’t fit the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia or any other mental disorder.

    Where does body dysmorphic disorder and related conditions fit in then?

  101. drakyn says:

    Okay, looking at the criteria we really don’t fit that (this bigot’s reasoning was that we are deluded and aren’t in reality).
    Okay, the next time she shows up and tries to pull this sort of crap I’ll have links and stuff.

  102. little light says:

    Tapetum @74, I think that’s a really interesting dynamic you bring up, especially considering that you seem aware of how unfair the standards for trans people vs. say, you, are, and aware of the extreme gender policing trans people are subject to.
    I’m not a particularly “feminine” woman in a lot of ways–for one, because I refuse to buy into the idea that traits can be “feminine” or “masculine,” except as a culture assigns them. My mother always used to ask me why I couldn’t be a feminine man, or a gay man, and those didn’t make sense to me. For one, I’m oriented primarily toward women; oops. But for another, I have no problem with the notion of “feminine” men, and would have found it perfectly acceptable–and much easier–to just be a man who liked opera, say, or even wearing skirts. (Trust me. If this had been about the clothes, I wouldn’t be sitting here in my t-shirt and jeans nursing the ridiculous nausea I get from my hormone pills. I’d be out swanning around in something frilly and not having cramps.) It would have disrupted my life a great deal less and been much simpler for my loved ones. But that didn’t work.

    I spend most of my life in blue jeans. I drink whiskey straight, I enjoy a good fistfight, and I tend to be happiest in boots and a leather jacket out making trouble with my friends. I fall in love and lust with women almost exclusively. I’m not the Donna Reed stereotype that, some years ago, I would have had to pretend to be in order to get my treatment, and I’m lucky enough that I can read to people as a woman in that t-shirt and jeans. Yeah–I wear makeup on occasions, to job interviews, and when I break out. I have fun with it, even. I wear my hair long, and I get a little vain about it. There’s plenty about me that some people choose to gender as “masculine” or “feminine,” from my crying at movies to my unwholesome love for spicy food to my ability to change a tire.

    I don’t buy it. None of those things “make” me a woman or a man. I could have been a man with my personality, interests and desires; I happen to be a woman with my personality, interests, and desires instead. So it’s not about essentialism, because I don’t think there’s an essential “womanly” principle or set of qualities, let alone one I’m aspiring to, you know?

    I’m very lucky. Many of my brothers and sisters out there don’t have the benefits I do and the “passing privilege” of being able to swig a beer in blue jeans and still read as the woman I know I am. And they have to work really, really hard to preserve anything like privacy for their lives or medical histories, and they risk their physical safety and that of their loved ones every day because their history is worn on their sleeve. I remember before I started medical transition how much makeup I had to wear to cover my five-o’-clock shadow, how hard I had to work to shout “WOMAN” at people so, like with your friend, they wouldn’t see me as a man. If I chose to be scrubby or didn’t want to bother with all the mishegas with heels and makeup one day or didn’t sit up straight and stick my chest out or whatever, I didn’t read as a woman on her day off trying to relax; I read as a boy. These days, that problem crops up less and less every day, and I have a little more freedom to be the kind of woman I am–the kind of woman my tough, badass feminist mother raised. It was never about the traits I have or don’t, who I’m oriented toward, whatever. It was about the basic daily dissonance I felt unceasingly until I went and got my transition rolling.

    That make sense?

  103. I want to clarify, b/c I think I may have raised some hackles (and I’m terribly sorry if I’ve hurt anyone’s feelings at all, I certainly was not in any way trying to call into question your lived experience), and after reading some of the responses, I think we’re actually pretty much in agreement…I just don’t think I’ve articulated myself very well.

    When I talked about a genderless society, I’m thinking of the same thing that people upthread talked about: Where there are actually myriad ways to gender oneself or express oneself in that manner. To me, if there were limitless ways to do that, then the word gender would become sort of meaningless. There wouldn’t be (obviously) just masculine or feminine to choose from. There wouldn’t even be just 100 different genders or expressions to choose from. So, I guess when I say genderless I actually mean that I want there to be no coerced gender and no hierarchy. If we could get to a place where our entire society disentangled sex from gender so that you could choose both the sex of your body which feels correct to you and then separately the gender expression which feels correct to you, then there would be endless possibilities for people.

    And when I say that I feel my femaleness is a tiny tiny part of who I am, I am speaking not of how I am percieved. I meant, I prioritize personhood before gender (how it should be), but have others prioritize my gender before my personhood, and how that makes me hate being female, b/c of the sexism in our society. I didn’t mean that I am able to go through life without noticing my gender. Certainly, it isn’t the burden that it is for many transpeople. I don’t mean to appropriate that experience at all. I just wanted to clarify my earlier post.

    Does that make sense now? Or am I still coming off badly?

  104. Lisa Harney says:

    evil fizz,

    Where does body dysmorphic disorder and related conditions fit in then?

    One of the symptoms of BDD is seeking to alter one’s appearance and not being satisfied with it. For transsexual people, altering our appearance is satisfying.

    There’s more differentials as well, and the treatment for BDD just doesn’t work for trans people.

    It’s like, okay… if GID were like BDD or anorexia, then a trans woman wouldn’t stop with hormones and possibly surgery. She’d keep trying to become more and more feminine, obsess over masculine flaws real or imagined, and just keep trying to reach for that next bit of femaleness. That’s just not how trans people function in general. I mean, yes, I can think of a couple trans women who are plastic surgery addicts, but I can think of cis women who are as well.

    I’m not trying to use that one criteria to differentiate the entire disorder, but just reading the description makes it clear to me that it isn’t the same thing.

  105. Acer says:

    Thank you to everybody who is answering questions. It’s probably frustrating having to answer the same 101 questions over and over, but you all are being so very gracious about it. This thread has helped me understand a lot of things.

  106. Christopher says:

    Apparently there’s a strain of thought in Feminist circles that says, essentially “There are no essential differences between men and women, therefore, it makes no sense to prefer to be one instead of the other”.

    It’s weird to me that it’s as prevalent as it is.

    I mean, I have long hair. I live in Portland, OR and mingle with artistic liberals. I could have any haircut at all and it wouldn’t matter in the slightest.

    But I wouldn’t want a buzz-cut.

    That doesn’t mean I think people who have buzz-cuts are morally inferior or belong to a different social caste or something.

    I don’t see what’s different about physical gender.

  107. Lisa Harney says:

    Well, some of the more transphobic feminists also confuse dissatisfaction with one’s gender role as defined by society with body dissonance. Like, as said above, being treated as a woman often stands in the way of being treated as a person, and so these feminists believe that trans men transition because they hate being treated this way, and not because they’re just honestly happier being men.

    It also leads to a lot of the convoluted reasoning about transitioning for heteronormativity – changing sex to not be gay, or to be free to be feminine/masculine, or whatever. The basic premise “My neural map clashes with my actual body” isn’t acceptable for some reason, just these based in the feminist theory that says gender is oppression (and I’m not saying that it isn’t).

  108. Mandolin says:

    “That doesn’t mean I think people who have buzz-cuts are morally inferior or belong to a different social caste or something.”

    I think this is slightly misleading.

    Your analogy works on some points — there’s nothing wrong with buzz cuts. People who want buzz cuts are moral. There’s nothing wrong with SRS. People who want SRS are moral.

    However, a buzz cut is something relativley trivial, which someone could eschew… gender dysphoria is an intense situation, and that failing to address it often leads to depression or suicide. The desire for a buzz cut seems substantively different from the desire to transition… and in many ways I tihnk it’s the passionate need for transition that scares many of the bigoted anti-trans feminists.

  109. evil fizz says:

    I’m not trying to use that one criteria to differentiate the entire disorder, but just reading the description makes it clear to me that it isn’t the same thing.

    Right, and I take your point, and perhaps I should have been a little clearer. It was my understanding (and you can correct me if I’m wrong) that some mental health diagnoses have been used in to obtain medical treatment for trans people owing to the monstrosity that is our health insurance system.

    I have one hell of a cold and could be completely misremembering everything, so I appreciate everyone humoring my questions.

  110. Lorelei says:

    holly and lisa,

    thank you for answering the question. i know you had all probably thought about it — and i had come to the same conclusion. i just wanted to ask for a trans* person’s perspective to make sure that i wasn’t being presumptuous. i know that transgenderism isn’t really about gender roles, and your answers have helped articulate that for myself, because even though i knew it, i didn’t know exactly how i would say it.

    thank you!

    :)

  111. Lisa Harney says:

    Yeah, “gender identity disorder” is the diagnosis used to obtain treatment.

    Lots of transphobic people like to use the fact that GID is defined as a disorder to dismiss us as crazy. A favorite example is “If someone thinks he’s Napoleon, he’s delusional,” but others like to talk about people who want to be surgically altered into horses, and people who want to change their skin color. Abstractions used to attack the concrete.

    Strangely, I never see any diatribes against tanning beds when the race thing gets brought up.

  112. kathygnome says:

    can you refute this?

    Actually we can’t refute it in any meaningful way and its meaninglessly to try because, as you said, the person is a transphobic bigot. You can reason with people who are quietly and uncomfortably prejudiced, who are ignorant, but you can’t reason with a hatemonger. When someone has made prejudice and hate an essential part of who they are as a person, you simply can’t argue with them or persuade them.

    Also, by arguing their points, one legitimizes their argument. Most of the supposed reasons “feminist” transphobes are giving for their transphobia aren’t sincere. They were excuses found after the fact to support a predetermined bigotry. It’s best to just point out that they’re bigots.

    Or that’s my take on it.

  113. Lisa Harney says:

    So, I guess I mean I don’t have a problem with the idea that hormones are a component of some phenomena with some people… but the conversation about hormone levels and gendered behavior tends to end up being simpler than that, and doesn’t account for hormonal abnormalities among the population that conforms to expectations.

    Yeah, totally. The implication that estrogen could affect one’s personality in a discussion on the MWMF forum nearly caused a firestorm.

    Weirdly, the explicit suggestion that trans women take testosterone to stop wanting to be women didn’t trigger much of anything from those same people. Weird. . .

  114. Holly says:

    thank you for answering the question. i know you had all probably thought about it — and i had come to the same conclusion. i just wanted to ask for a trans* person’s perspective to make sure that i wasn’t being presumptuous. i know that transgenderism isn’t really about gender roles, and your answers have helped articulate that for myself, because even though i knew it, i didn’t know exactly how i would say it.

    Just a point of clarification since I feel like maybe some experiences aren’t being represented here… “transgender” is a very big umbrella term and includes all sorts of people, including folks who do not feel the need to alter their bodies in any way and don’t. For some people who fall under “transgender,” it actually is all about gender roles and being able to have multiple gender expressions, etc. Or escaping from gender roles completely. I think most of the trans folks commenting on this thread could be categorized, to use a slightly more old-fashioned term, as transsexuals, because most of us have talked about the bodily dissonance / subconscious sex side of things. But transsexuals are far from the only or most important kind of trans people.

    The important point is that there are a lot of things going on. Gender roles, gender identity, sex assignment, subconscious sex, physical bodies, and how people react to the personal tangle that they’ve got. There are a lot of different potential combinations there, which is why there are many different kinds of people (trans and otherwise) when it comes to what kind of relationship you have to gender and your body.

  115. Lisa Harney says:

    I think there is some value in disassembling their arguments – even though they’re just excuses – because people who are not disposed to just hate trans people on principle do hear them and are swayed by them. Being able to say “These are wrong, and this is why – plus the people who said them are bigots anyway, and here’s how they show it” does help.

    I mean, I don’t think Drakyn really wants to debate Dirt, but it helps to know where Dirt’s arguments are not just bigoted, but unsupportably wrong.

    Of course, it’s possible for bigots to suck the energy out of you when you try to engage them. Especially those who sound like they’re open to your ideas.

  116. Tapetum says:

    In terms of a “medical disorder” the closest fit I’ve seen to GID as a recognized disorder is apotemnophilia – the desire to be an amputee. Some (possibly not all, I’m not an expert) apotemnophiliacs feel very strongly that one of their limbs doesn’t belong on their body, and will do nearly anything to get rid of it, including self-mutilation to the point where they would need to be watched 24/7 to be kept safe. Interestingly, a doctor (I believe in Scotland), tried doing a medical amputation on a few of particularly bad cases. He was very successful. The amputees showed none of the adjustment trauma of a normal amputee, and generally professed themselves very happy with their new bodies. There was no recurrence of the desire for removal of another limb.

    The most interesting thing about the whole experiment to me (and the relevence to GID), is the reaction I’ve seen to the experiment. One group (not coincidentally, also very transphobic), declared emphatically and nearly unanimously that the doctor should be disbarred and the treatment never allowed – that it was preferable to lock apotemnophiliac patients up in asylums for life if necessary, rather than allow them to have a limb removed. The positive results of the experiment made not a whit of difference to them. Which seems rather similar to the attitude that it doesn’t matter if gender transition works for the patient, it’s not permissable on the face of it regardless of results.

  117. Lisa Harney says:

    Also, regarding my above (currently in moderation) post, addressing and deconstructing the transphobia helps trans people who find this stuff and don’t know how to address it. I’ve had at least a few tell me that they appreciated what I had to say in response to Questioning Transgender because they found it upsetting and difficult to respond.

    Even so, Dirt won’t be addressed on my blog. She’s about as intellectual as Lucky Nkl, with twice the knuckle dragging.

  118. Em says:

    Lisa, I LOL’d.

    Seriously, Drakyn, no matter how many of your friends she’s insulted, she’s not.worth.it.

  119. Cecily says:

    Umm…since this is the thread for people to post questions that would be irreverent on the TDOR thread, I am posting a comment that seemed irreverent on the Thanksgiving/Mariah thread.

    Namely, DAYUM, #1 on Xbox Live!?! Wow. I’m only in the 40’s on that song so far. (I do Vocals).

  120. Dancinghawk says:

    This may be semi-off-topic, or not.

    I was filling out some survey the other day that asked about sexual/gender identification, and gave options for straight, gay, bisexual, and transgendered — with the option of only picking one.

    While I understand why LGBT falls under the same socio-political umbrella a lot of times, this sort of baffled me. I’m cisgendered and bi-sexual myself, but doesn’t catagorizing things in this manner — again, with the option of, you can be straight, gay, bisexual, or trans, limit things? One of the transwomen I know is a lesbian, my thirdgendered friend is either lesbian or gay depending on what gender sie’s identifying with at that moment (and who sie’s finding attractive); and I’ve known straight trans people too.

    I guess I’m just curious if always lumping trans in with LGB (in that it catagorizes people as one, and only one of the four) is a frustration for people and hinders understanding at some level?

  121. JenLovesPonies says:

    This is a kind of random question, but I feel like I hear/read references to it often enough. Where should trans (ok, should that have an *?) people go to prison? I feel like they are likely to get beat up in either jail. How does the law decide where the trans go to do time, and what would the ideal solution be?

  122. Holly says:

    I just got unseated and now I’m #2!!! Ah well, my reign over the bass line of Maps has ended. Also, my plastic Stratocaster finally busted like all the rest of them out there.

    I guess I’m just curious if always lumping trans in with LGB (in that it catagorizes people as one, and only one of the four) is a frustration for people and hinders understanding at some level?

    First of all, the survey you filled out was totally ridiculous, conflating sexual orientation with whether someone’s transgendered. Actually “only picking one” is kind of problematic in any case. The only surveys of that kind I like at all are ones with fill-in-the-blanks. Where I can write “queer” if I want.

    That said, I think there are important political reasons to ally, besides just the fact that lots of trans folks are queer and vice versa. The gutting of ENDA recently is a good example: it not only ripped out protection for trans people but for a lot of non-trans gay folks as well, in the same stroke. Heternormativity and gender coercion overlap a lot more than some might think, and they’re more effectively fought together in my opinion — unless your goals are extremely narrow in scope.

    I don’t think using the acronym “LGBT” necessarily means that people have to be only one of the four. Even if you’re not trans, your identity might shift between those. What’s usually the most frustrating about “LGBT” is that all too often, some of those letters are simply tokens that aren’t actually paid attention to. The T is usually the most gratuitous inclusion, followed by B, L, and finally surprise surprise G, the most well-heeled and biggest donors of the bunch.

    This is a kind of random question, but I feel like I hear/read references to it often enough. Where should trans (ok, should that have an *?) people go to prison? I feel like they are likely to get beat up in either jail. How does the law decide where the trans go to do time, and what would the ideal solution be?

    For a long discussion of this subject, please see The War in Here, a report which has a LOT of information on this. The brief summary is this: if we have to have prisons, trans prisoners deserve to be housed in facilities where they won’t be at a disproportionate risk of violence and sexual assault. They deserve to be safe. Experience has generally shown that the safest choice is usually a women’s prison — for trans people regardless of gender or sex. However, the unsurprising standard right now is to assign people to prisons based on their genitals.

    But let’s not fool ourselves — violence and incidences of sexual assault and exploitation, even by prison staff, happen far too often in women’s prisons too, and 1 out of 10 male prisoners is raped. The situations in prisons is incredibly bad for everyone, and most of our society treats it as a joke or something they’d rather look away from. Even though you’d think, as as culture, that we’d consider a 10% lottery chance of rape to be pretty cruel and unusual. For trans women, there are no statistical studies but our experiences at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project working and corresponding with a lot of trans prisoners is that it’s more like 90%. We’ve had clients who were forced into prostitution by prison guards, and threatened with death if they said anything about it. Trans prisoners sometimes are the target of so much commotion and violence that they are confined to 24-hour lockdown just for being trans, not for doing anything else — a punishment that’s now widely considered inhumane, cruel, and psychologically damaging.

    Ideally, I think our society would not be so fixated on genitals or assume that the shape of someone’s crotch is somehow a determinant of whether they’ll be violent or sexual towards other inmates, which it’s not. Trans prisoners should be housed in facilities where they’ll be safe, and prison officials should stop freaking out about people’s genitals. Everyone should, it’s sick and wrong.

  123. Rebecca says:

    If I am understanding the terms correctly, in a perfect world (one where gender roles were by choice, rather than arbitrary) I would identify as genderqueer: androgynous and asexual. I say that because I don’t identify strongly as either male or female, despite my breasts and girly bits. I don’t have dominant traits (agressiveness or fragility, for instance) in either direction and I don’t have much of a sex drive, though I find both men and women attractive and fun to be around.

    Given half a chance I wear comfortable clothes – tunics and loose trousers – keep my hair cut short and while most of my hobbies and interests are ‘feminine’ in nature, that just reflects the fact that I am a creative person who likes to keep busy and make stuff; most ‘creative’ hobbies are female oriented. Male quilters, crocheters, beaders, etc, are the exception.

    After hearing some of the stories, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve managed to find a niche where I can pursue my interests in peace and not have to force my body into a preconceived notion of what is ‘right’, i.e. long hair, makeup, heels, other outward appearances of femininity. Would be a very unhappy bunny in that situation.

    To be honest, I rarely think about my gender, since in my mind there is a sort of ‘non-gender’ answer when on those rare occassions I do think about it. I rarely even refer to myself as a woman and if pressed, generally say female. The only time it is really brought to the front of my mind is when someone else is obviously uncomfortable/uncertain about it. I once had a kindergartner ask me if I was a man or a woman. (Actually, she asked if I was a mommy or a daddy.) I had to stop and think about the correct way (and the correct level, she was only five, after all) to answer that and finally told her I was a girl, like her.

    I don’t mean this bit to sound pompous, but there’s not good way to say it. Sorry! I’ve always found the fuss about gender and identity interesting and rather nonsensical, since my own gender and identity offer me so little to go on. I guess it’s like asking a hawk what it feels like to swim. The bird doesn’t know anything about water, beyond the fact that there are tasty fish below the surface. I don’t know much about gender and identity, except that it is of great concern to most everyone but me.

  124. Holly says:

    Rebecca, do you get a hard time about your gender from other people? Strangers, people in bathrooms, well-meaning friends or relatives, etc? If you don’t, I would have to take a wild guess that either a) you live in very fortunate and protected circumstances, or b) you are giving off enough gender cues that you can be “easily gendered” enough that most people don’t get bothered. Because there are a ton of people (and institutions) out there that get their hackles up when they can’t readily gender someone. I’m just curious because I can’t really imagine being able to rarely think about gender — I’d have to either be able to ignore people’s attitudes, leave society, or blend in well enough that I don’t arouse suspicion. Most of the time I opt for option 3.

  125. oknoid says:

    I know I’m jumping in here late, but wanted to voice my appreciation for all of the wonderful and thought-provoking discussion on this thread. I also wanted to add my personal story.

    I’m a confused/questioning/genderqueer person myself and have had some serious concerns over whether my personal situation ‘qualified’ me as a ‘real’ transgendered person or not. When I was a teenager I tried to broach the subject with my therapist and was told an affirmative “No, you’re not trans” in a way that made me ashamed of ever daring to ask the question. I never brought it up again in our sessions, despite the fact that said question completely consumed my conscious thoughts (and dreams) for most of my high school years.

    Admittedly, it was impossible to extract my gender identity issues from the other personal/existential problems I was having at the time…after a while I hoped that If I could just stop hating myself, my body, society, and other women so damn much and learn to be a healthy, happy person, then that pesky gender problem would just go away on its own. In other words, I believed what my therapist, friends and family were implying and thought that it was a phase I could grow out of. After all, I didn’t identify exclusively as one gender or the other (though I leaned strongly towards male at the time), so I must’ve just been halfassing it, right?

    So here I am, nearly ten years later. I love myself, I love my body, I’ve become a feminist and purged a LOT (though not all) of the internalized sexism that stained my thoughts then. It’s no longer super important for me to have a sanctioned or approved label for who and what I am. And yet.

    When I imagine my ‘real’ self in my head, it’s not the female I see in the mirror.

    Ideally I would like a partial transition…but as other commenters have eloquently explained, balancing on the knife’s edge (or hopping to and fro at will) is not usually the safest or most feasible option.

  126. drakyn says:

    Don’t worry Em, I know she and many of her faithful are hopeless. It’s more for anyone else reading, to annoy her, and in case anyone else ever brings up that “argument”.
    If I remember correctly, the closest to engaging her I’ve ever come is emailing the mods of a few of the communities she trolls to tell them she’s snarking public and locked entries.

  127. drakyn says:

    Rebecca, there are actually genderqueer/third gender people who identify as nongendered or genderless (or similar identities).

    And yeah, we have been rather focused on trans*folks who need to medically transition.
    My problem is that I don’t want to speak for genderqueers and non-op/hormone folks. I know a little bit about genderqueer stuff, because I hung out in genderqueer on livejournal for awhile when I was first coming out (I erroneously thought that I might be genderqueer because I’m not masculine or straight–yay internalized essentialism!).
    Non-op and no-hormones refer to folks that either or both desire neither any operations or hormones to feel comfortable in their bodies. One of my offline friends was no-ho for awhile, but he eventually changed his mind (though obviously not all no-ho/op folks do).
    There are genderqueer folks who identify as both man/woman or male/female, as neither (nongendered), as something else (like butch, boi bearded lady, trannydyke, galla, etc), androgynous, etc. Some need to medically transition, others love how their body feels without any medical intervention, and others would like some changes but don’t feel they need them. For some genderqueer folks gender roles are the problem, others their bodies, some both.

  128. oknoid says:

    I wanted to clarify my terminology in my previous comment:

    The partial transition I mention probably overlaps some with the concept of a third or other gender. It’s difficult for me to describe my feelings about this clearly because it encompasses more that just the physical appearance of my body (which I would like to alter slightly rather than completely change) and has a lot to do with how I feel at any given moment, so it’s really variable.

  129. Lirpa says:

    I’m not trans, (cisgendered female) but I am engaged to someone who is trans. I hope that anyone who identifies as a feminist but doesn’t like transwomen “infiltrating” their group will try to think of it differently… I wrote a (somewhat long) blog about this same issue, partly inspired by this post. I hope that people of this mindset willl read it. It can be found here.

  130. Christopher says:

    Mandolin:However, a buzz cut is something relativley trivial, which someone could eschew… gender dysphoria is an intense situation, and that failing to address it often leads to depression or suicide. The desire for a buzz cut seems substantively different from the desire to transition… and in many ways I tihnk it’s the passionate need for transition that scares many of the bigoted anti-trans feminists.

    This is true. The main thing I’ve learned from this thread is that some transgendered people find being the wrong gender incredibly unpleasant.

    Which, on the one hand, is obvious; Why you you take all the shit you get for getting a sex-change operation if there wasn’t an even bigger reward?

    But I only knew that in an abstract sense, rather then a more visceral sense, if you understand my meaning.

    Lisa Harney:One of the symptoms of BDD is seeking to alter one’s appearance and not being satisfied with it. For transsexual people, altering our appearance is satisfying.

    I also have occasionally wondered about how best to articulate the difference between body dismorphic disorder and gender dysphoria (boy I hope those are the right terms)

    And now I know.

  131. Lisa Harney says:

    Tapetum:

    Yeah, the more I hear about people who want to be amputees, the more I think there’s something there that’s similar to, but not exactly like, what transsexual people have to deal with. A neural map that somehow disincludes a limb instead of expecting a different sex.

    Transgender stuff:

    Like drakyn, I’m not really able to speak for genderqueer and various thirdgender/bigender/etc types as I don’t know enough about them to say much more than their definitions and descriptions of themselves should be respected. I don’t intend to silence them or imply that I’m speaking for them – just speaking for myself.

    Dancinghawk:

    That’s just really weird. Why would G, L, and B be exclusive from T? That’s just frustrating.

    I would’ve checked L, as that’s more important to me than T under most conditions. Anyway, it shouldn’t be confusing, although apparently it is for a lot of people.

  132. woodland sunflower says:

    snowdrop explodes @35

    “cis” means “on this side”, that is, “on the same side as me“.

    I notice no-one else seems to have picked up on this, so I should probably leave it alone. But we grammar ranters are bad that way. I don’t care for the “stato” suggestion at all. Words develop specific meanings to particular groups all the time, a fact noted many times at Languagelog and pointed out again, forcefully, again, just yesterday.

    I first encountered cis in chemistry, and thought it was a great appropriation, as a contrast to trans. Cis was groups on the same side of the benzene or other ring-shaped molecule, and trans-groups were across. So it seems obvious to me that if transfolk have gone across from their original gender, then cisfolk have stayed with the birth-assigned gender. It has nothing to do in either case with the gender or sex of the viewer/reader.

    And, of course, for those not liking the binary label, there’s still the ortho and para prefixes left;) though personally I think it’s useful for cis people to think of themselves as just one more option rather than the default. So to me, it’s a good prefix.

    And like a lot of other people here, I’d like to think that a lot of behaviors currently coded one gender or the other oughtn’t be. My favorite example are all the frills and laces rich european nobles of both sexes wore during the 1600s and 1700s. We think makeup and gewgaws are feminine, but they’re not: some people just like to dress up. Others, not so much. In a perfect world, dress up when you feel like it, jeans when you don’t. And so on and so forth.

  133. Trin says:

    I’m a confused/questioning/genderqueer person myself and have had some serious concerns over whether my personal situation ‘qualified’ me as a ‘real’ transgendered person or not. When I was a teenager I tried to broach the subject with my therapist and was told an affirmative “No, you’re not trans” in a way that made me ashamed of ever daring to ask the question. I never brought it up again in our sessions, despite the fact that said question completely consumed my conscious thoughts (and dreams) for most of my high school years.

    ocknoid (I’m sure I’m spelling that wrong), I had similar experiences. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with them and with my feelings — my narrative is clearly not a transsexual one, and at least in my experience there are a lot of clueless therapists out there who will only take you seriously if you say “I know exactly what I need. Gender isn’t a question, a problem, something I’m unsure about or just can’t parse.” They tend to think that if you’re confused, that means you’re “just confused,” and there’s some other problem at the root of it all. And then they go grasping for something that really has nothing to do with, well — they hear

    “you know, I just don’t *get* this gender thing, and sometimes I hate my body, in these ways for these reasons. Ms. Professional, can you offer me a place to explore this?”

    and say things like “Oh, stop being so essentialist and go find feminism (or, if you already have, more robust or better feminisms.) There are all kinds of women out there!”

    And… not to diss feminism, but feminism isn’t therapy, and feminism isn’t body-comfort either. Feminism can teach you that yes, it’s all right not to be feminine if it’s not comfortable to you, but it can’t always make you comfortable in your skin if the reason you’re not *isn’t* sexism.

  134. Em says:

    but it can’t always make you comfortable in your skin if the reason you’re not *isn’t* sexism.

    Well said.

  135. Speck says:

    And… not to diss feminism, but feminism isn’t therapy, and feminism isn’t body-comfort either. Feminism can teach you that yes, it’s all right not to be feminine if it’s not comfortable to you, but it can’t always make you comfortable in your skin if the reason you’re not *isn’t* sexism.

    Interestingly enough, feminism has done a remarkably bad job teaching people that yes, it’s all right to be feminine if it’s comfortable to you. Which in no small part underlies the conflict that sparked this post to begin with.

  136. jayinchicago says:

    So it seems obvious to me that if transfolk have gone across from their original gender, then cisfolk have stayed with the birth-assigned gender. It has nothing to do in either case with the gender or sex of the viewer/reader.

    I’ve been trying to stay out of this for the most part because, when it really comes down to it, I may be “trans” and am definitely transsexual, I kind of chafe at the “gender” in “transgender”–a label I don’t particularly like.
    I see you’ve said “birth-assigned gender”, which I guess I can’t argue too much with, but I’d usually say that my “gender” hasn’t changed. The birth-assigned gender was incorrect. It isn’t too big a deal, but for me it definitely has been about body changes and fitting my subconscious sex in with a bodily changes brought about by testosterone.
    This makes it difficult to try to fit into cisgender/transgender for me. Usually I keep kind of quiet about it because it seems to confusing, but if we are talking about “correct” labels, I thought I’d mention it.

  137. Heron says:

    Pardon me if this is a rude or inappropriate question, but can women who were born men have orgasms? I’ve always been quite curious about that but it isn’t the sort of question you can casually ask someone in real life.

    Thanks, and rock on with the posts. They’re really informative for straight clueless people like myself who are sympathetic but awkward.

  138. Holly says:

    I see you’ve said “birth-assigned gender”, which I guess I can’t argue too much with, but I’d usually say that my “gender” hasn’t changed. The birth-assigned gender was incorrect. It isn’t too big a deal, but for me it definitely has been about body changes and fitting my subconscious sex in with a bodily changes brought about by testosterone.

    Again, part of the problem is that we mean too many different things by “gender” (and slightly fewer by “sex,” a problem closer to being solved with the introduction of “subconscious sex” etc.)

    Your gender identity (male) hasn’t changed, Jay, but your gender has changed in the sense of what gender you are socially. I tend to think this is actually the most significant sense of the word “gender,” because although gender identity is obviously crucial for trans folks, it’s also invisible and inside an individual head. The tangible facts of gender are in the way society treats people, the social conception of genders. Gender, in this sense, is very much a social construct.

    If you look at it this way, you have changed gender. You (at least sometimes) receive privileges you didn’t previously, among other things. Change in gender is a massive and often wrenching part of many trans people’s transition, regardless of whether they’re also going through physical changes.

    I’m not saying this to try and get you to adopt the word “transgender” — I don’t really use it either, I tend to say “trans” unless I’m talking about whole communities of people or the impact of the Patriot Act or whatever. But I don’t really think the “sex is your body, gender is your mind” adage that floats around sometimes in simplistic trans 101 explanations gets at the fact that gender is a social fact, misogyny and heternormativity and stereotypes operate on gender, etc. And trans people often change sex in one way or another, but almost always change genders.

  139. Holly says:

    Pardon me if this is a rude or inappropriate question, but can women who were born men have orgasms? I’ve always been quite curious about that but it isn’t the sort of question you can casually ask someone in real life.

    Since it’s not real life and you’re not asking an individual person about their orgasmic capacity, I think you’ve avoided being rude! =D

    The answer is yes.

  140. jayinchicago says:

    I see what you are saying and I understand it explained that way. I guess I just bristle at the mention of cis/trans gender because while I lived as a girl/woman for 25 years, I don’t want to grant too much importance to that–especially considering I was never a gender-normative (or whatever we are calling it these days) woman. And in 10 (or 50) years, will it matter much? But that’s just me unnecessarily personalizing gender theory, I suppose.

    I would much rather be recognized as a man than a transgender former-woman. And I generally get the sense that in trans-space this is understood and acknowledged. But considering a general audience, I see too much “transgender as noun” going on to get the sense that many trans people don’t consider it a gender identity.

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  142. Trin says:

    Interestingly enough, feminism has done a remarkably bad job teaching people that yes, it’s all right to be feminine if it’s comfortable to you. Which in no small part underlies the conflict that sparked this post to begin with.

    YES. There’s a lot of discussion of femininity as social pressure-thing, but not much about femininity as how-people-act-thing, unless that gets slotted into “how people have been trained to act.” Which I really don’t think is the whole story, at all.

  143. Holly says:

    I see what you are saying and I understand it explained that way. I guess I just bristle at the mention of cis/trans gender because while I lived as a girl/woman for 25 years, I don’t want to grant too much importance to that–especially considering I was never a gender-normative (or whatever we are calling it these days) woman. And in 10 (or 50) years, will it matter much? But that’s just me unnecessarily personalizing gender theory, I suppose.

    I would much rather be recognized as a man than a transgender former-woman. And I generally get the sense that in trans-space this is understood and acknowledged. But considering a general audience, I see too much “transgender as noun” going on to get the sense that many trans people don’t consider it a gender identity.

    So don’t emphasize the trans part of your history and experience and past, then. I mean, any word you use (trans, transsexual, transgender) is going to bring up the fact that you were assigned female, no two ways about it. But it’s not like you should be forced to focus on or foreground that; when I teach classes on other subjects or go to a conference and talk about my work, I generally don’t talk about being trans, because it’s really not relevant. Problem solved.

    I agree that “transgender” as a noun is problematic, mostly because I think turning people’s experiences into totalizing nouns (A = B) limits individuals to single categories, denies intersections of experience, and essentializes them as one thing at a time. Adjectives all the way.

  144. Nomie says:

    The cis/trans thing always makes me think of Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul.

    Holly, I am almost positive that you and I share the same first name. (I use the nickname-version as my online handle but it’s fairly transparent.)

    And that’s about all I have to contribute, other than saying that I think it’s pretty awesome how respectful this thread has remained.

  145. Lisa Harney says:

    I try to use transgender, trans, and transsexual as adjectives, describing something about a person rather than standing in for the person.

    I certainly don’t see trans as an identity, and it bothers me when people treat me as if “trans” is an identity, because they usually do it to thirdgender me against my will.

  146. drakyn says:

    Yeah, i hate it when people use trans, transgender, ftm, mtf, etc. as nouns (ie: so-and-so is a ftm, all trans think xyz, those transgenders, etc.).
    I have a hard time using transsexual as an adjective though–I’m so used to seeing it as a noun and using it as a noun that I forget to add person onto it (transsexual person; not transsexual).

    I see trans* as an identity–just not my identity and I also don’t like it when I am ungendered. >.

  147. alsojill says:

    Yeah, i hate it when people use trans, transgender, ftm, mtf, etc

    I just find it *confusing.* I see “trans woman” or “trans man” and it takes me a second to figure out which way the “trans” went. Now, obviously, that’s my own ignorance, but it also seems unnecessary. The person is a woman or a man. The “trans” part only matters if you actually care that he or she was born with the other set of genitals. So…yeah.

  148. drakyn says:

    Alsojill, it is correct to use whichever the individual identifies most with. So a trans*man is on the female-to-male spectrum and a trans*woman is on the male-to-female spectrum. unfortunately, sometimes you have to look at the context closely because a lot of bigots like to ungender us by purposefully using the wrong words and sometimes people are ignorant of trans*ism and trans* etiquette.
    (And in case you or others are confused I said that I hate it when those words are used as nouns)

    Some people identify more as a trans*____ than ____; other times you need to or want to make the distinction between cis* and trans* people (such as in a trans* 101 thread or when talking about all of those who can menstrate–trans*women will not but trans*men generally do or did).
    Being trans* does affect our lives and it would be wrong to pretend that their aren’t power and experience differences between cis* and trans* people(though obviously these intersect with other things). Maybe you didn’t mean it this way, but to me you sound sort of like someone talking about being “colorblind” in regard to race and/or ethnicity.

  149. Thene says:

    I’ve a question; how would you advise cis people to respond to transphobia in public spaces? My best friend is m2f – I’m sure you know what sort of behaviour I’ve witnessed when we’re together; stuff that ranges from nosiness to catcalls to drunk people asking her for sex. Is there a more useful way to deal than ‘keep walking, maybe laugh conspicuously loudly, go somewhere the hell else’?

  150. Lisa Harney says:

    trans woman = woman. Trans man = man. Trans women are to cis women as trans men are to cis men.

    The point to saying “trans woman” is that you’re talking a woman who has a trans history, who was assigned male at birth, and for some reason you need to distinguish that you’re speaking of a trans woman instead of a cis woman, or of all women which includes cis and trans.

    The point of saying “trans woman” or “trans man” instead of transsexual, mtf, ftm, transwoman, transman, and so on is to explicitly not thirdgender transsexual men and women. The important thing to remember is that if you see “woman” we’re talking about a woman and if you see “man” we’re talking about a man.

    The point of saying cis woman or cis man in contrast is to avoid labeling non-trans people as the norm and trans people as the aberration.

  151. alsojill says:

    Maybe you didn’t mean it this way, but to me you sound sort of like someone talking about being “colorblind” in regard to race and/or ethnicity

    Yeah, after I posted, I realized that was *exactly* what I sounded like. I do apologize, b/c I didn’t mean it that way, but I definitely came across that way. /embarassed.

    I understand the reasons behind using trans*woman or trans*man, and I’m glad you’ve pointed out the adjective form, which seems more organic. I just find that the distinction often gets used in contexts where it seems unnecessary and/or marginalizing.

    Again, I suppose it’s a question of choice. For those who choose to use trans* as a key part of their identities, it should be necessary to say “trans* woman” or “trans* man.”

  152. Lisa Harney says:

    To be honest,se “men” and “women”, but a lot of the time – because my blog is about trans* stuff – I end up needing to use it a lot just for the sake of clarity.

    I’m trying to figure out more ways to disinclude “trans” and “cis” from my writing and still be clear that I’m speaking of trans (or cis) without implying that one is normal and the other not or some such thing.

  153. Lisa Harney says:

    “to be honest, I prefer to use”

  154. Cadence says:

    I’ve only made it through about comment 36 so far, but a memory occurred to me and made me quite curious.

    Being trans has always made a vague amount of sense to me, if only because it is something I am decidedly not. I suppose I’d say that my “subconscious sex” is solidly the same as my birth sex. When I was really young I did the thing I’m sure many people do – I saw the crazy gender expectations for women, and I was clever and independent and not enamored of most of traditional femininity, and I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t you rather be a boy?” – to which the answer was a visceral no. I like my female body; it’s not a matter of practical concerns, it’s a part of my identity.

    But I can certainly imagine having a different reaction there. The closest I can come to the feeling – and I hope this doesn’t come across too simplistic – is like when I’m standing close to a group of people who are 6″+ and broad. I feel tiny, and it gives me a pretty strong feeling of dissonance, since I see myself as tall (I’m 5’8″). I can only imagine that being trans is a similar feeling, only deeper and all the time and with lots of crazy gender expectations (and danger because of them) mixed in.

    Does that even begin to align with your feelings, or am I way off base?

  155. jonk says:

    Is there any good trans fiction (leaving aside story anthologies) or memoir that anyone would recommend?

    thanks, great discussion
    :*

  156. little light says:

    Cadence, you’re getting close, but you got much closer when you weren’t trying.
    You describe considering the question, “Wouldn’t you rather be a boy?” And your immediate reaction is a “visceral no,” that you like your female body, that that visceral body is part of your identity.

    You don’t have to imagine having a different reaction.

    Now take that reaction–let’s ignore the height thing, the talking about gender expectations thing, table them–just take that visceral reaction, and then consider how often you’d have it, being told every day, every hour, every minute that you are a boy. No matter what your reaction, often no matter your appearance or actions. You have to walk into the men’s restroom, fearing for your safety every time and feeling like a liar. You have to sign ‘M’ on form after form. And if you try and buck it, you’re treated like a crazy person for that “visceral no,” and if you try and assert it, everyone says, “Wouldn’t you rather be a boy?” “Aren’t you really a boy?” “You’re a man.”

    Take that and multiply it, and you’ll get much closer than with all the sidebars about height and gender expectations. Just that one visceral reaction, spread throughout a day, starting with waking up and looking down at your body and wondering who the hell pulled the switch while you were asleep, this isn’t how it should be, isn’t how it is–you feel your own skin and get back a visceral no.

    Then imagine you get the chance to alter your body and not start and end your day with no.

  157. Tara says:

    I think this is tangentially relevant, at least, I hope!

    I am interested in why we have gender on birth certificates and driver’s licenses, and whether it would be a good idea to work towards eliminating it. Once upon a time (and still in some jurisdictions), such records would also contain a religion indicator, and that’s now considered, at least in North America, an inappropriate thing for the government to take such a close interest in, for the purposes of official identification. My gut says that we should absolutely be eliminating the gender category from government identification as well, but it’s a topic I haven’t researched much and that I imagine that some of you may have been thinking about much longer than I have, so I wonder what your thoughts are?

  158. Jamie says:

    I liked this post and all the comments a lot. Seems like some of the comments broke down into semantic arguments in a few places, but that always seems to happen in discussions about gender/sex. So I thought I’d do the same thing. I just want to know if anyone else has an issue with the word trans? Because some of us thoroughly gender divergent people are way, way too ambivalent about our physical sex to ever consider transitioning, but as I understand it, I still qualify as transgendered. Atleast my therapist says I do. So then people start throwing the term trans around, and I get a little confused as to just what they mean, so I have to say, I’d much prefer a title of transgender 101 or transexual 101 to trans 101. That’s ok though, I’ll be down the hall in the Queer/Genderqueer/femme-fag/andro/I-give-up lounge anyway. :)

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  160. murcielago says:

    You know, that’s interesting, Cadence and Jamie. Because when I ask myself “would I rather be in a boy’s body?” the answer isn’t anything so visceral and comes down to practicalities.
    I’m forced to conclude that I’m some kind of liminal case between cis- and transgendered. I mean, I get the phantom-penis thing I’ve heard about — but only sometimes. I have large breasts which, when I’m thinking about how I look, I generally disguise. I really have “en homme” and “en femme” days, although people probably only notice the former because my body is fairly conspicuously female, so most of my efforts in the area are directed at looking more androgynous, which I think I more-or-less achieve when I work at it. Is there a set of people recognised as being, in the way that some people are instinctively male or female, instinctively androgynous?

    Oh well. I guess I’ll be in the “I-give-up lounge” with Jamie then.

  161. sbsanon says:

    I’m catching up on my blog reading and just came across this post now.

    I want to thank everyone for this really interesting and enlightening post and thread. Thank you to those of you who mostly answered questions for being so patient and sharing your personal feelings and experiences. And thank you to those of you who asked questions for asking questions I have also had. Reading this was very timely as I was just recently thinking about trans* people and realizing that there are things I don’t understand and that consequently make me uncomfortable. I wanted very much to really talk to someone about it and try to get beyond the things I didn’t understand. This post was exactly what I needed to become a much better informed and more understanding person in relation to trans* people and issues. I also intend to add Whipping Girl to my reading list. Thanks again.

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  163. Zoe Brain says:

    TS 102

    Or… Transsexuality For Beginners.

    This is a primer for those who don’t know too much about the issue. They see weirdos and freaks, obvious nutcases who get their bodies mutilated for some perverse reason, and think they’re crazy, dangerously so. They disapprove anyway, and just based on grounds of “common sense”, I can’t blame them. It seems obvious that it goes against Nature, and for Believers, God.

    But here’s the medical facts. It explains why these people do what they do.

    I have to start with Intersex conditions generally, where people have bodies neither wholly male nor wholly female. It’s estimated that 1.7% of the population qualify technically, but essentially only about 1 in 1000 have problems from it. If say 1% of your cells are of the opposite sex to the majority, it probably won’t affect you.

    There are hundreds of different serious Intersex conditions. Some result in ambiguous genitalia or none at all, or partial ones of both kinds. People can be Chimeras (fusion of opposite-sexed twins in the womb), Mosaics, or Kleinfelters, the latter with neither 46xy (male) nor 46xx (female) but 47xxy. Most such people are just normal men with a few anomalies in their bodies (and sterility). A few are normal but infertile men, a very few are normal fertile women.

    The most disconcerting ones are the serials – those born looking like one sex, then changing to look like the other from natural causes. 5ARD and 17BHD deficiency are the most common causes, though there are others.

    It can be devastating for a young woman to find out that the reason she has been unable to get pregnant is because she has no ovaries or womb, just the external genitalia. Some are even chromosomally male, they have “complete androgen insensitivity syndrome”, so look totally female, with female brains, minds, and genitalia. It’s only on an ultrasound that the differences are apparent.

    Now talking about female brains and minds, there are two papers on the subject:

    Zhou J.-N, Hofman M.A, Gooren L.J, Swaab D.F (1997)
    A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality. (PDF here)

    Kruijver F.P.M, Zhou J.-N, Pool C.W., Swaab D.F. (2000)
    Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus (PDF here)

    Male and Female brains differ, both on the coarse scale (BSTc layer of the hypothalamus) and fine scale (number of neurons – brain cells – in each structure). Autopsies on transsexual women, that is, women with mostly male bodies, have shown they have female pattern brains.

    Note that gay men have male pattern brains though.

    From ArzteZeitung this year, detailing studies using fMRT – “brain scans” of living people:

    “Radiologists can now confirm what transsexuals report – that they feel “trapped in the wrong body” – on the basis of the activation of the brain when presented with erotic stimuli. There is obviously a biological correlation with the subjective feelings.”

    So to say that a transsexual woman is “male” is at best a half-truth. The visible parts are. The parts that determine her personality, her gender (since we know that neither chromosomes nor external appearance is reliable), are female.

    So anyone can just “say” they are Transsexual, dress up as the opposite sex, right?

    Wrong.

    To go through gender re-assignment – to modify the body so it fits the brain – a number of hurdles must be crossed.

    The first is a full assessment over at least 3 months, sometimes years, by a qualified psych. Then and only then will a formal letter be written authorising an endocrinologist to start the process of hormonally altering the body.

    After some time, usually years, enough so that the body is changed enough to look ambiguous, a period of living in the target gender is required. This is at least 1 year, often 2 or more. During this period, the patient must use the correct restroom for their target gender, and also maintain employment. If they break either condition, the period starts over again, and they may be refused treatment altogether.

    That’s not the end. For a second psych, who must be a post-doctoral specialist in the area, must then review the case and provide yet another letter formally authorising surgery.

    This formal procedure, a “best practice” adhered to scrupulously in the USA is at http://wpath.org/Documents2/socv6.pdf.

    More data on Intersex conditions is available from the Intersex Society of North America at http://www.isna.org/ , the UK Intersex Association at http://www.ukia.co.uk/ and Organisation Intersex International http://www.intersexualite.org/English_OII/English_OII_index.html

    People born with any of these congenital conditions suffer terrible stigma. Most Intersex people can and do hide their condition. Those with “serial hermaphroditism”, and those who are transsexual, cannot. They have to endure being confused with Gays, called “perverts”, and even subject to violence or arrest. But you knew that. Now you know why though.

    I’ve simplified some things – for example, not *all* of a TS person’s brain is cross-gendered. To have the condition, it’s only necessary that the bit determining whether the person is a Boy or a Girl is mismatched, and the mismatch has degrees. Usually many parts of the brain are affected, but this varies between individuals. They may also have other Intersex conditions too, not just the neurology is cross-gendered. But sometimes adding details only clouds the issue.

    These are Men born with feminine bodies, or Women born with masculine ones. If you think that is perverse, un-natural and wrong, well, so do they. That’s why they try to fix the situation, no matter the great cost to themselves. Though as with all Intersex conditions, it’s technically not “Un-Natural”. Like other congenital conditions, it happens to other species too. It’s as natural as Cancer.

  164. Lisa Harney says:

    Hey, thanks for that primer, Zoe.

    I don’t consider it to be perverse, unnatural, and wrong. I do consider it to be deeply frustrating and would rather not have gone through it.

  165. Zoe Brain says:

    It would have been nice to have had xx chromosomes. To have had a normal childhood, girlhood, teenagerhood, young womanhood, motherhood. Every time I think of that, the pangs of longing are so poignant, they’re almost unbearable.

    And yet… if I had been born with the body that matched my mind, I wouldn’t have my son. Other children yes, but not him.
    So all in all, 40 years of Hell was worth it. I’m glad those days are over though, no matter what the difficulties transition has caused.

    I better add a disclaimer: I’m one of the weird serials. The diagnosis was changed from “undervirilised male” to “severely androgenised female” before I started a course of treatment for inducing transition, as the result of the natural changes. The medical team had to be a bit creative with the SOC too. But psychologically, I’m so vanilla standard TS I could have been taken straight out of True Selves. Never did dress though, that would have been like putting lipstick on a pig. I looked far too male before the change.

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