Archive for December, 2009
To ring in the new year, Questioning Transphobia is going to start doing guest posts to expand the number of voices here and expose y’all to more bloggers writing awesome words.
For January, the guest bloggers are little light, Gudbuytjane, and Genderbitch. If they have bios they’d like to post, I will edit them into this post, or they can post them on their own. Either way, treat them well.
And thanks to Helen G and Queen Emily for kicking this into gear. I’ve had vague ideas along these lines before (which is how Em and Helen are blogging here in the first place), but never went all out.
Happy new year!
ETA: Tobi Hill-Meier will also be guest-posting this month.
A couple of weeks ago, Cell magazine published an article (Somatic Sex Reprogramming of Adult Ovaries to Testes by FOXL2 Ablation) by a group of scientists confirming that their research on mice has revealed that “the activity of a single gene, FOXL2, is all that prevents adult ovary cells turning into cells found in testes”.
From the News section of the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) website:
The decision as to whether a developing embryo will become a male or a female is taken at an early stage during the formation of the gonads. In an XY embryo, the Y chromosome gene Sry triggers the formation of testes. Substances made by the testes, particularly the hormone testosterone, then cause the development of male characteristics throughout the rest of the embryo. In an XX embryo Sry is not present, so ovaries will develop instead of testes, and female characteristics will develop because the male-promoting substances are absent. However, Sry is only active for a brief period in the early embryonic gonads, and it works by activating a gene that is neither on the X or Y chromosome but on one of the other pairs of chromosomes common to males and females. This gene, termed Sox9, functions to promote and then maintain the formation of Sertoli cells in the testes, cells that support and nourish developing sperm. Sox9 is active in Sertoli cells throughout life. If Sry is absent and Sox9 fails to be activated, then cells of the same original type become follicle cells, which serve to support growing eggs (oocytes) in the ovary. Because Sry, Sox9 and testosterone are all male-promoting, so that in their absence female characteristics will develop, it had been considered that female development happens by default.
Robin Lovell-Badge from NIMR’s Division of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics, in collaboration with Matthias Treier and colleagues at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, have shown that the activity of a single gene, Foxl2, is all that is required to prevent cells typical of an adult ovary from turning into those present in testes. When the gene is deleted from adult female mice, the cells rapidly change and begin to make male-specific factors including the male hormone testosterone. Moreover, these cells organize themselves into structures resembling sperm producing tubules ? although these tubules are empty because the eggs cannot change to become sperm. This work shows very clearly that the male pathway needs to be actively suppressed in the adult.
That’s the science, but what of the implications? Assuming that the same findings hold true for humans as they do for mice, then there are potentially several advances in the field of reproductive medicine. From the NIMR report again:
[...] For example, [these findings] may help to understand and treat some of the masculinising effects of menopause seen in some women, and some cases of premature ovarian failure where women lose all their oocytes early. It also offers for the first time the suggestion, although one that is still very speculative, that it might eventually be feasible to help treat some disorders of sex differentiation in children, for example, when XY individuals develop ovaries or perhaps when XX individuals develop testes or in intersex conditions. In some such cases it may be possible to retain fertility, which is otherwise inevitably compromised. Similarly, if it is possible to change adult gonad type from ovary to testes or even the reverse, it may eventually allow individuals with gender dysphoria, who feel they are trapped in the wrong sex, to change their gonads appropriately rather than having them removed surgically as part of their treatment to undergo gender reassignment. In such cases, however, while the new gonads might make the right hormones for their new sex, these individuals will lose their fertility.
To be honest, the only immediate benefit of this discovery that I can see is that, to quote Sophia Siedlberg at Intersex News:
the unholy dictatorship of “XX or XY” is over
I’ve no great wish to get bogged down in another interminable discussion of the nature/nurture dichotomy as applied to transsexual women, even so, it seems obvious that being able to ‘flip the Foxl2 switch’ would not instantly end an individual’s gender dysphoria. Unlike stem cell research, where I can imagine that – eventually – there may be the possibility of a body developing appropriate genitalia, it seems that with any Foxl2 therapy, surgery would still be required. And, of course, it would still not be a matter of ‘taking the blue pill’ and instantly becoming a woman; questions still remain around such factors as socialisation, gender roles and presentation, etc. And it seems likely that gender dissonance will still be invisible to an obstetrician, so the opportunity to activate the Foxl2 gene in utero, when it might, arguably, be most effective, will be lost.
Finally, there’s the ever-present risk that any benefits of such an emerging biotechnology will be co-opted by politicians and other vested interests, to advance the cause of eugenics as a tool for further enforcement of a heteronormative gender binary whilst simultaneously permitting drug companies to increase their profits still further.
Cross-posted at Bird of Paradox
You Tube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrOc6CIQjtc
United Nations, New York, 10 December 2009: Panel discussion organized by the Permanent Missions to the United Nations of Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden on the occasion of the International Day of Human Rights.
Theme: Opposing grave Human Rights Violations on the basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
View the entire UN session on SOGI (Real media, 1 hour and 25 minutes) at:
(Curtsey to Emma at Support Transgenre Strasbourg for the links)
Cross-posted at Bird of Paradox
New Scientist magazine has published a lengthy article – Psychiatry’s civil war – about the proposed revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the “open conflict [which] has broken out among the upper echelons of US psychiatry” regarding the attempt to “extend definitions of mental illnesses so broadly that tens of millions of people will be given unnecessary and risky drugs”.
(Note: Since the article was posted, the American Psychiatric Association has announced that the publication of DSM-V will be delayed until May 2013 to “allow more time for public review, field trials and revisions”.)
The whole article is worth reading, but in particular it has this to say about the redefinition of gender identity:
We are who we say we are
Is history repeating itself? That’s the question facing psychiatrists considering how gender identity should be defined in DSM-V. The APA has a legacy of uneasy relations with the lesbian, gay and transgender community, having included homosexuality in the DSM’s list of psychiatric disorders until 1973. Some transgender activists want issues of gender identity kicked off the list of mental illnesses too.
These activists are up in arms over the membership of DSM-V’s sexual and gender identity disorders work group, in particular the selection of Kenneth Zucker of the University of Toronto, Canada, as its chair. Zucker is reviled by some transgender activists for his work on therapy to reorient children who feel that they were born into the wrong sex. An online petition objecting to the work group’s composition has more than 9500 signatures.
The group is nevertheless likely to recommend changes that could actually ease tensions. One of these is a change in the name of a diagnosis that as currently phrased is inherently offensive to transgender people. “‘Gender identity disorder’ falsely implies that the gender identities of gender variant people are in themselves disordered,” says Kelley Winters, founder of GID Reform Advocates.
The work group has not yet revealed its proposed name, but “disorder” will be dropped. “We’re sensitive to issues of language,” says Zucker. One possibility is “gender dysphoria”, which focuses on the inherent distress of people living in a body that doesn’t match their identity.
That would not satisfy those transgender activists who want issues of gender identity removed from the DSM altogether. But others argue for the retention of a renamed condition to make it easier for those distressed by the mismatch between their identity and their bodies to seek assistance, and also to help those who need sex-change surgery to get it paid for. Even now, many transgender people face problems when insurers refuse to recognise the treatment as a legitimate medical expense.
My opinion on the binary options mentioned in the last paragraph is somewhere between the two viewpoints: I would be more than happy for any mention of gender identity to be dropped provided that trans people are not, as a consequence, denied access to timely, appropriate and free medical treatment. Transitioning needs to be refocused away from a gatekeeping approach to one of facilitation and support.
Additionally, New Scientist has also published an op-ed companion piece – Time’s up for psychiatry’s bible – which suggests that:
With the advent of the internet, there is no longer any compelling need to rewrite the diagnostic criteria for the whole of psychiatry in one go. Yes, diagnoses should be revised as new scientific findings come in. But for this, specialists can be assembled when necessary to address specific areas that have become outmoded. Their suggestions can be posted on the web for comment. More research can be commissioned, if necessary. And when consensus is reached, new diagnostic criteria can be posted online.
Similarly, standing panels could periodically review issues that cut across the whole of psychiatry – such as the inevitable shift away from checklists of symptoms towards a system based on measurements of the underlying biological and psychological determinants of mental health.
Apparently there is resistance to this move towards such a “living document” because such a transition (no pun intended):
[...] would have hurt the APA’s coffers, as a book that becomes a required reference is a big earner; DSM sales since 2000 exceed $40 million.
Which rather leaves me wondering exactly where the APA’s real priorities lie: in providing a framework that would actually help the people who need it, or generating arguably obscene profits at the expense of our health and wellbeing.
(Curtsey to Martha T.G.O. on the TGEU listserv for the heads-up)
Cross-posted at Bird of Paradox
Bil Browning tweeted this today:
We know there’s a problem w/ Ronald’s post. Ed Team is deciding what to do about it now. Informal poll: What would you do in our shoes?
Take the post down. I’d seriously reconsider whether I’d want Ronald Gold to ever contribute again. Actually – no, I’d just boot him forever.
Oh, the post is: No to the Notion of “Transgender”
In this post, Ronald Gold reduces transgender to two concepts: drag caricatures and transsexual men and women. When he mentions transsexual men and women, he explicitly says that the “equipment” we’re born with belies (overrides) everything else about us.
He goes on to say that gender isn’t a part of personality, and thus people can’t really be transsexual or transgender. He further states
I hope I’ll be forgiven for rejecting as just plain silly the idea that some cosmic accident just turned these people into changelings. What happened, more than likely, is that, from an early age, when they discovered that their personalities didn’t jibe with what little boys and girls are supposed to want and do and feel, they just assumed they mustn’t be real little boys and girls.So, parents of such little boys and girls, do not take them to the psychiatrist and treat them like they’re suffering from some sort of illness. Explain to them that, whatever the other kids say, real little girls do like to play with trucks and wear grimy jeans, and real little boys like to prance around in dresses and play with dolls. And make sure the teachers are on the same page.
an incredibly stereotypical and ignorant set of assumptions as to why transsexual people transition.
I’m not linking this because I want to spend energy countering a cissexual, cisgender man who insists that all transsexual people have an imaginary condition foisted upon us by the medical profession, who argues that it’s necessary to stop the medical profession from allowing trans people to transition, and who thinks his ignorance about trans people and lives gives him a position of authority from which to condemn who and what we are and how we live our lives. Telling us to avoid the gatekeepers who give us access to the treatments we need because we should be perfectly happy with the sexes assigned to us at birth, thinking in his faux-benevolent trans-hating and erasing way, that he knows who we are better than we do.
I’m linking this because I want people to be aware of what was posted.
I also appreciate many of the responses to Ronald’s post, from cis and trans people alike.
Edit to add: An editor’s note was added to the top of the post.
Editors’ Note: All posts published on Bilerico Project do not reflect the opinions of nor any endorsement by the Editorial Team. Many Bilerico readers and contributors have found Ronald Gold’s op-ed offensive or needlessly coarse. The idea behind Bilerico Project is to encourage dialogue among different facets of the LGBT community that might normally never interact this intimately. We encourage all readers to continue responding to Mr. Gold in the same spirit his post was written – with positive intent while bluntly stating your own opinion and experiences.
So now hate speech is written with “positive intent?”
There’s going to be a little bit of trans-feminist ranting strewn in here, so bear with me ;)
A definition is required to begin with: The word “cissexual” was coined in the early 1990s. General records seem to indicate Patrick Califa invented it. The meaning of this word is “a person who has only ever experienced their unconscious and physical sexes being aligned.”
Essentially, one of the biggest problems with being trans is that we are sexualized in every corner – by the person on the street, by the media, by academia, often by our own therapists – from the word go. From the very beginning of the emergence of a coherent transgender movement/transsexual movement, mid-20th Century, trans women were forced to jump through a set of hoops put in front of us by the medical/psychological establishment to be able to transition.
The original standards of care forced the transsexual to lie constantly. They forced you to lie if you were bisexual or a lesbian; they forced you to lie if you didn’t care to wear skirts or dresses or makeup; they forced you to lie if you were a feminist; they forced you to lie if your interests lay outside of traditional homemaking and “feminine” pursuits; they forced you to lie if you were so badly off that you felt you would die if you didn’t get treatment right this minute, right this second. Trans women were routinely forced to quit rewarding, well-paying “masculine” careers and take up “feminine” jobs that paid a fraction what they were making pre-transition. And they forced you to begin presenting as a woman for an indefinite period of a year or more before receiving the hormones that most trans women need to be able to both feel at one with our bodies and pass successfully in society. In short, you were required to be a 1950s stereotype of femininity, that was even outdated THEN.
After transition, they still forced you to lie; trans women were required to make up and enforce “consistent” (i.e. cissexual) personal histories, and remain romantically heterosexual, or risk being accused of “backsliding,” which was essentially a threat of having one’s hormone prescriptions withheld. Trans “support groups” at that point in history were not so much “support” as an institutionalized way of keeping trans women “honest” – an ironic word given the amount we were expected to lie. Trans women would be expected to primarily discuss in these fixed forums how feminine they were becoming and what men they were trying to find.
Relationships would be severed; ties with children deliberately undone and obscured. The way that trans women would be treated under this regime was little more than the destruction of the old person and the creation of a completely unrelated new person, often in a different part of the country, without history they could refer to or the ability to fall back on any sort of safety net or social support structure. Many trans women fell into sex work because under these strictures it was the only work they could acquire (remember this, it’s important later).
In short, as Julia Serano wrote in Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, “at every turn, the gatekeepers prioritized their concern for the feelings of cissexuals who were related to, or acquainted with, the transsexual over those of the trans person.”
That trans women were able to put up with these horribly misogynistic, male-centered rules for transitioning should be an indication of how badly they needed to transition.
These same, very misogynistic and strictly gatekeeper-enforced restrictions on transition – which trans women deeply resented, chafed under and did everything possible to escape – were thrown back in our faces by the feminist movement, to which we turned to remedy our difficulties, through solidarity with other women, of the time as “proof” that trans women ourselves were a male-centric, misogynistic attempt to “colonize” femininity and “replace” women. It got to the point that Janice Raymond (who wrote the definitive piece of aggressive transphobic literature, Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male) successfully convinced the insurance industry that genital reconstructive surgery – an essential part of the transition process for many trans women – should not be covered under insurance because it was an “experimental, cosmetic” technique when in fact it is neither; its theraputic benefits are well-established and it is cosmetic only in the fact that the appearance of a body part changes.
I am not intending in any way to suggest that trans women are or have ever been wholly blameless victims. It is certainly possible for a trans woman, as with any other person on the face of the earth, to be petty, cruel, vindictive, calloused to the issues of their privilege and others’ disadvantage, all of the above. Many trans women in earlier years, transitioned late in life after a lifetime of working from a position of male privilege and power, and frequently failed to surrender the assumptions shaped by that privilege. However, transness, and trans femaleness particularly, exists at the nexus of a number of privilege interactions that makes life difficult for us.
In the modern world, of course, things are a bit different – not much, but enough to turn transitioning from an ordeal that is guaranteed to rip one’s life into pieces, into something that can be navigated with a minimum of trauma and difficulty. I particularly am fortunate that I managed to transition with my job, with my family intact and my friends mostly intact; and that my family seamlessly transitioned from thinking of me by my old name and he-pronouns to thinking of me with she-pronouns and by my new name of Katie.
The sexualization of trans women in public media is easy to see: It’s in all the places that we are portrayed as sex workers; portrayed as slinky and seductive lovers of powerful men (I love Candis Cayne to pieces, but Carmelita can go to hell); in all the times we are portrayed by cissexual actresses in movies (Nicole Kidman; Felicity Huffman) – and this doesn’t even count the “she-male” and “chicks with dicks” portrayals of trans women in pornography.
Sexualization in academia? Well, to start with, read the book The Man Who Would Be Queen. Written by Northwestern University research psychologist J. Michael Bailey based on a very limited-size sample (a mere dozen trans women found primarily by investigation of the gay bar scene in Chicago and at least two of whom are known to have slept with Bailey in exchange for letters of recommendation for genital reassignment surgery – and the allegations of sexual misconduct alone should have earned Bailey an ethics board), it has hurt trans women more profoundly than any book since Transsexual Empire. Queen casts trans women solely in terms of the sexual desires of heterosexual men; according to Queen trans women are either “homosexuals” – hyperfeminine gay men who wish to be desirable sexual objects to heterosexual men – or “autogynephilics” – otherwise-normal heterosexual men who desire sex with a “female image” of themselves. This is based on the “homosexuality/autogynephilia” dual theory forwarded by Dr. Ray Blanchard of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, ON (formerly known as the Clarke Institute, and referred to by its detractors as “Jurassic Clarke” or “the Cluck”). It is safe to say that Transsexual Empire and The Man Who Would Be Queen are the two most transphobic books ever published.
Bailey’s terms “homosexual” and “autogynephilic” transsexual are more accurately and correctly said to be, respectively, heterosexual and bisexual/lesbian transsexual women. He makes no effort whatsoever to apply his theories to transsexual men (female to male transsexuals). Doing so would require him to view male bodies and male sexualities with the same level of dehumanizing sexualization that he does female bodies and sexualities. He of course refers to transsexual women as “men” throughout his text, and repeatedly and openly asserts that he does not respect in any way our identities and our lived experiences as women; and indeed our past experiences as girls who went through a childhood and adolescence so traumatic that our language lacks words to describe it.
In its text, Queen not only reiterates Blanchard’s theory, but also goes further by adding racism, explicitly stating that trans women of color – the trans women most vulnerable to discrimination and violence – are “usually homosexual” (read: heterosexual, early-transitioning trans women) and therefore “exceptionally well-suited to sex work.”
In another passage, Bailey states “There is no way to say this as sensitively as I would like, so I will say it bluntly: Homosexual transsexuals are usually much better-looking than autogynephiles” – not only bluntly reasserting the stated premise of the homosexual/autogynephile binary theory, but also reasserting that the only purpose of heterosexual trans women is to serve as a sex object for heterosexual men.
The “homosexual/autogynephile” theory of male to female transsexual identity formation fails the most basic possible test of scientific validity: It is unfalsifiable, because according to it, any evidence against it is to be discarded as prima facie tainted.
Bailey’s work is not conducted in a vacuum; it would not have found a receptive audience in academia if many academics studying transsexuality did not share his biases against transsexuals. We do have many good and positive allies and advocates, but those who make it difficult for us have enough influence to do much damage.
Guest post by Lucy, who originally posted here
Just when I was hoping that Julie Bindel had moved on from being actively transphobic, she’s appeared in an, at-best, centre-right magazine called Standpoint (What the heck is a feminist, especially a self-proclaimed radical lesbian feminist, doing cosying up with the right?) with an article entitled “The Operation That Can Ruin Your Life“. Three guesses as to what operation she’s referring to and the first two don’t count. I hate being a puppet dancing to strings being pulled by Ms Bindel, but I also can’t let this sort of hate pass by uncommented. I’ll mostly be snarking, so fair warning. I’m skipping large parts of the article because a full fisk would be interminably long. It’s also worth noting that in many ways this article is sort of her “greatest hits” on trans stuff in that she’s stitched together material from previous articles she’s written. She even includes the quote about trans people and Grease that she later apologised for, showing just how insincere she can be when apologising. That said, let’s get to her article.
Almost immediately one has to wonder what world Ms Bindel lives in. Referring to last year’s Stonewall awards she says that “I, along with a police escort, walked past a huge demonstration of transsexuals and their supporters, shouting ‘Bindel the Bigot’.” This should concern everyone. In that I mean it should concern everyone that a protest of about 150 people is a huge demonstration in Bindel’s eyes, that she remembers a chant that was not chanted, and that she also remembers having a police escort while others don’t. Of course since she also refers to the demonstrators as a “powerful lobby” who have been “hounding [her] for “five years”, the real point here is to establish that: a) trans people are possibly dangerous, b) there are a lot of trans people, c) trans people are not activists trying to assert their rights (as feminists might be described) but are like industry lobbyists, and d) trans people are personally out to get her. Notice how this is reinforced at the end of the same paragraph: “I now find that a number of organisations are too frightened to ask me to speak at public events for fear of protests by transsexual lobbyists.” Trans people are boogeypeople that scare people away from Bindel with their lobbying, ehr, protests.
“Feminists tend to be critical of traditional gender roles because they benefit men and oppress women.” Yes, yes, we do. I couldn’t agree with you more, Ms Bindel. Glad we could find common ground. Of course, then she completely rips that ground away by immediately following up by saying that “[t]ranssexualism, by its nature, promotes the idea that it is ‘natural’ for boys to play with guns and girls to play with Barbie dolls.” By talking about the “nature” of transsexualism (as though it somehow exists independent of actual transsexual people) and what is “natural”, Bindel is trying to hit us over the head with the usual “You naive fools, you don’t understand it’s all socially constructed!” thing. Just in case we were unclear on that she goes further with: “The idea that gender roles are biologically determined rather than socially constructed is the antithesis of feminism.” Again, I couldn’t agree with her more since I am a feminist. Gender roles are socially constructed. How could they not be? Of course the problem is that as a feminist and a transsexual woman, I see a difference between gender identity, gender expression, and gender roles. For Bindel, like other radical feminists, gender identity, if it even exists, is the result of the imposition of gender roles as is gender expression.
Now, tell us how transsexual people came to be, Julie! “Gender dysphoria (GD) was invented in the 1950s by reactionary male psychiatrists in an era when men were men and women were doormats.” Get that? Transsexual people did not exist prior to the invention of the psychiatric definition of gender dysphoria. Just like lesbians did not exist prior to Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886. Gender dysphoria was also invented by reactionaries making transsexualism reactionary as well and unable to be changed by transsexual people from those roots. Just like feminism can never change from its roots as a movement only concerned with the rights of some women. Hmm, maybe she does have a point there, after all. It’s also vital that we remember that the psychiatrists were male because this also makes transsexuality, and thus transsexual people, forever the handmaiden of patriarchy, eternally opposed to feminism. No transsexual person can really be a feminist (I’m a sparkly pink unicorn with a false consciousness).
“[Gender dysphoria] is a term used to describe someone who feels strongly that they should belong to the opposite sex and that they were born in the wrong body.” Yes, it does describe people who think that. Of course, it also no longer exists as a diagnosis anymore, having been replaced quite some time ago by “gender identity disorder”. But if Bindel used the current term she couldn’t as easily ignore the difference between gender roles and gender identity. Also, a number of transsexual people disagree with the whole “born in the wrong body” thing. My body is not the wrong body, it’s my body. What other body would I have been born in? Also, I don’t believe I should belong to the “opposite sex” as this implies that there are only two sexes, that these are natural and not somehow socially constructed, and that intersex people do not exist (or exist only as “mistakes” of one of the two sexes). I do claim that I have issues with my body, but I have a hard time being able to articulate these issues in a way that is comprehensible to cissexual people, as it can not reach them unfiltered by societal and personal prejudices.
“[Gender dysphoria] has no proven genetic or physiological basis.” And your point is? Neither does sexual orientation or bipolar disorder (Thank you, Arwyn!). Does this mean that lesbianism doesn’t exist? Wait, I forgot, Bindel is a political lesbian who appropriated a lesbian identity as a result of her politics. Actually, I suspect that Bindel’s point is that this means transsexuality must be a mental (read: “not real”) illness with all the bad connotations that being “crazy” carries with it.
“But no oppressed group ever insisted its emotional distress was the sole basis for the establishment of a right. Indeed, transsexuals, along with those seeking IVF and cosmetic surgery, are using the NHS for the pursuit of happiness not health.” Bindel makes a complete disability fail here. People with mood disorders? They need to stop being treated by the NHS, because they’re only pursuing happiness not health. Women who’ve been emotionally abused? Not a health issue, because they’re just pursuing happiness not health. I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point. The idea that happiness is somehow independent of health is a privileged notion, expressed by those for whom happiness is not a health issue. Honestly, I don’t think transsexual people would be all that emotionally distressed if we didn’t have to deal with a world where Bindel’s views are the norm. The emotional distress arises mainly from the rejection of our autonomy, the insistence that we are bad, that we are wrong, that we are the symptom/cause of societal problems, that we are to blame for the prejudices of others. Speaking of autonomy, I base the establishment of a right to treatment not on emotional distress but on bodily autonomy, the same basis for the right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term or not. My body, my choice. But, of course, Bindel wants to portray transsexual people as emotionally disturbed, vain, and unnatural (don’t think I missed the comparison to IVF and cosmetic surgery) just the same as has been done to women seeking the vote and queer people seeking the right to live openly.
Speaking of treatment, can you tell us about it, Julie? “Treatment is brutal and the results far from perfect.” Wow, brutal. Why exactly is it brutal? Is it because it sometimes involves surgery? Do they not use anaesthetic? Or, is Julie just using inflammatory language? I’m glad that Julie is there protecting transsexual people from the mistaken belief that we can evaluate for ourselves if surgical results are acceptable enough for us for those contemplating surgery. But, no, surgery must be perfect. BTW, what exactly does perfect mean and who decides what is perfect (if not Julie, since I’m sure she can’t be called in for a consult for everyone considering surgery)? We already ruled out transsexual people. Maybe we should have a poll on the Daily Mail’s website? Also, I would say that hormone replacement therapy, which Bindel significantly fails to mention at all for transsexual women, is neither brutal nor far from perfect. It hasn’t hurt a bit and I’m fairly happy with my breasts (though not as happy as my fiancée is; ahem). Bindel’s preoccupation with surgery is typical of cissexual fixation on “the surgery” (which usually only means surgery for trans women) as though it were the defining event in all transsexual people’s existences (I’m certain she wouldn’t bring up the removal of facial hair for transsexual women at all if she couldn’t characterise it as painful). She willfully ignores the fact that not all transsexual people undergo any surgery, since some never desire surgery, some decide that the results aren’t acceptable for them, and some don’t like the pain that any surgery involves (I was personally less-than-thrilled with the pain of recovering from my emergency appendectomy).
Since Bindel has made clear she is totally not transphobic, she’d never misgender someone, a transphobic act. So this never appears anywhere in the article: “In other words, a pre-operative man could apply for a job in a women — only rape counselling service and, if refused on grounds of his sex, could take the employer to court on the grounds that ‘he’ is legally a ‘she’.” Nope, that does not appear in the article at all. Again, note the preoccupation with “the surgery”. After all, we all know that one of the requirements for counselling is that the counsellor expose her genitals to the person being counselled. Oh, hang on, no, it’s not. And, it’s not like such a trans woman would know anything about being raped because she might have been raped. Oh, hang on again, a trans woman might well know. So we’re left with the simple transphobic assertion that trans women aren’t women. Because “woman” is socially constructed and absolutely based on the determination made about the woman’s genitals at birth. It’s socially constructed on biological essentialism. As we’ve already seen above, physical sex can not be socially constructed. Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.
Now we get to where Bindel clearly misrepresents a quote while failing to properly attribute it. She introduces it with “A definition of transsexualism used by a number of transsexual rights organisations reads:” which is then followed by a paragraph which I will reproduce in a moment. I tracked down where the paragraph of quote came from since I’m always suspicious of direct quotes loosely attributed to unidentified organisations. It turns out she copied it from Beyond the Binary: A Tool Kit for Gender Identity Activism in Schools which was put out in 2004 by the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, the Transgender Law Center, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (notice how only one of those is specifically a trans rights organisation and it’s not exclusively for transsexual rights). The paragraph Bindel quotes in her article comes from a section at the beginning entitled “What is Gender?”. Bindel quotes the paragraph thusly:
Students who are gender non-conforming are those whose gender expression (or outward appearance) does not follow traditional gender roles: “feminine boys,” “masculine girls” and students who are androgynous, for example. It can also include students who look the way boys and girls are expected to look but participate in activities that are gender nonconforming, like a boy who does ballet. The term “transgender youth” can be used as an umbrella term for all students whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth and/or whose gender expression is non-stereotypical.
She then uses it to say that “According to this definition, a girl who plays football is trans-sexual.” Harharhar. Only Bindel is being intellectually dishonest. She doesn’t quote the whole paragraph which continues on to say:
Some transgender students transition or change from one gender to another. Transition often means changing the way you dress, selecting a new name, and sometimes getting help from a doctor to change your body.
But, wait, I thought this was a definition of transsexualism? Why would they say that some transgender students transition since that’s what transsexualism involves? It’s simple. This is not a definition of transsexualism, it’s an explanation of gender non-conformity and transgender (including transsexuality). In a nifty sleight of hand, Bindel uses the explanation of gender non-conformity as though it’s explaining transsexualism. Which lets her make her snarky little comment, which isn’t even that original (WARNING: link to trans hate site). Of course, last I checked, football (that’s soccer to North American-types) is played by girls and women. World Cup? Olympics? Is any of this ringing any bells? Maybe Julie could catch a match at the London Olympics in 2012? Heck even when I was a child (centuries ago) girls played to a remarkable lack of comment. Anyway, moving on from the fact that Ms Bindel seems to be completely clueless about girls’ participation in sports, there’s the far more important issue that she feels that twisting, warping, misrepresenting… Heck, let’s be honest. The far more important issue is that she lies. This was not simply misunderstanding. She went to some effort to twist what was said to be able to use it to imply that transsexualism causes transsexual people to mistake one thing, lack of conformance to norms of gender expressions, for another, having a gender identity that conflicts with one’s body. We have a false consciousness. Except, of course, we don’t. But Bindel is hardly one to let reality stop her from getting her way.
Of course Julia next trots out Claudia, the same woman who she’s been using as an example of how damaging transsexual treatment is since 2003. However, the problem with using Claudia as an example of trans regret is how Claudia ended up transitioning. I’m not going to go into it here, but looking at the article Bindel originally wrote about Claudia in the Guardian, the facts are more complex than “Here’s a trans woman who regretted her surgery.” In fact, Claudia’s case reminds me of the sorts of situations whereby lesbians and gay men can end up married to someone of the “opposite” sex and with children before they come out.
Skipping a bit, Bindel again lays down the unalterable facts of biology for us. “Medical science cannot turn a biological male into a biological female — it can only alter the appearance of body parts. A trans-sexual ‘woman’ will always be a biological male.” I could go into how even the most ardent of transphobes, Janice G Raymond, acknowledged that what defined male and female in a biological sense was a combination of chromosones, types of gonads, primary and secondary sexual characteristics, hormone levels, and so on (although she, like Germaine Greer and others ultimately fetishises chromosomes) and the fact that we’ve already covered the erasure of intersex people, but I’d rather just say, “So what?” Even if we grant what she says is true, that there is some sort of absolute, non-arbitrary measure of biological sex, what does biological sex have to do with social gender? By using the case of a trans woman rapist, Bindel implies rape is only by penis and no penis means no rape. This erases the fact that some FAAB people rape (even though English law does not classify it as such) and shifts the blame from people to body parts. More insultingly, it erases the fact that trans people are far more likely to be victims of rape (eg, when trans women are placed in men’s prisons) than perpetrators.
Next, we move back to the “trans people are big meanies” line of argument with which Bindel started this article. “There is a handful of radicals in the world today who have dared to challenge the diagnosis of transsexualism.” I agree. That’s why there have been so few people at things like protests of the APA’s lack of reform of the diagnosis in the DSM. But, of course, what Bindel really means by challenging the diagnosis, as she has already made clear above, is challenging the rights to autonomy of trans people. Because if she was only challenging the diagnosis she would find that a lot of trans people would join her in doing so. I would. But in demanding that we submit to her ideas of what we should do with our bodies, she is not radical, nor is she challenging a diagnosis. She then goes on with examples of what big meanies trans people are and frankly I’m bored with that sort of thing and won’t address them (beyond saying that I do not endorse wishing a painful death or harm on anyone).
Now we come to the conclusion, where Julie shows her true opinion of trans people: we don’t deserve to exist. Or, as she puts it: “In a world where equality between men and women was reality, transsexualism would not exist.” To her, we’re a symptom of social inequality between the sexes. We lie when we talk about who we are not having to do with that (and, in fact, making it harder for getting people to understand who are because people assume it has to do with the fact that men are treated one way and women are treated another). She has decided what the truth is, and we’re not going to change her mind even if she has to lie to herself and others to insure that she doesn’t. Speaking of which: “Sex-change surgery is unnecessary mutilation.” She has not proven this because she can’t prove this even as she can’t prove trans people won’t exist in a world of gender equality. She can only assert it and ignore what trans people say about the matter, because, to her, we lack the knowledge of our own lives, our own bodies, society and so on to choose for ourselves. We need her paternalistic concern, her protecting us from ourselves, to replace the paternalism of the current gatekeepers of psychiatrists and others.
Finally, there’s this: “Using human rights laws to normalise trans-sexualism has resulted in a backward step in the feminist campaign for gender equality.” I keep seeing this assertion made by Bindel and others. I’ll be frank. I don’t see this. When people assert this they never point to examples of how this is happening that don’t involve the assumption that the advancement of trans rights is a defeat for gender equality, something I don’t buy at all. Only if one subscribes to the twisted fable of transsexuality that Bindel pretends is a reality does this make sense. The reality where I transitioned to wear pretty dresses and make up and am demure when I stay at home and cook for a man. The reality of a fantasy world. Here in the real world, I wear jeans and t-shirts, no makeup, am not demure at all, am a university student, and am working on learning to cook for a woman. Oh, yes, and I try to work towards actual gender equality.
Still, I’m sure all of this won’t change Julie Bindel’s views. She lives in that elaborate constructed fantasy where there’s a theory that explains why I’m trans (just like the psychiatrists have theories) and anything I have to say has no bearing on it. Instead, I write this to point out that in pushing this malarky, Bindel argues not for a world of equality but for a world where she gets hers and others pay the price for it. Her words also support treating trans people as incapable, incompetent, as less than others, as deserving the treatment we get. In other words, she may not directly encourage harm to us, but she certainly gives intellectual cover to those who do.
cross posted at Harlot’s Parlour
Since yesterday was World AIDS day I thought I’d drop some stats about seroprevalance amongst trans women, especially sex workers, worldwide.
Studies about HIV infection rates amongst trans women populations overall:
* 14% amongst trans women in Puerto Rico (Rodriguez-Madera and Toro-Alfonso 2005) and Chicago (Kenargy and Boswick 2005)
* 21% in Sydney (Alan et al 2005)
* 24% in Amsterdam (Gras et al 1997)
* 25% in Houston (Risser et al 2005)
* 35% in San Francisco (Clements-Nolle 2001)
Specifics (transsexual unless noted, some included transvestite or travesti sex workers)
* 63% of trans women of colour in San Francisco indicated HIV positive (Clements 2001)
* 74% in Rome among transsexual and travesti who use drugs. Most notably, the same study found 100% seroprevalence of people who had been in the same milieu for more than four years (Gattari et al 1992).
Rates amongst trans sex workers
* 46% in Lisbon (Bernardo et al 1998)
* 68% in Atlanta (Elifson et al 1993)
* 63.8% in Rio de Janiero (Surratt et al 1996)
* 62% amongst transsexual and travesti sex workers in Bueno Aires (Berkins and Fernandez 2005)
All of these statistics have been taken from Viviane Namaste’s recent research paper “Undoing Theory: ‘The Transgender Question’ and the Epistemic Violence of Anglo-American Feminist Theory” (Hypatia journal, vol 24, no. 3, summer 2009) where she argues that a feminist emphasis on what transsexual and transgender bodies mean has neglected the very real crises of violence and HIV infection amongst our communities. Namaste argues compellingly that HIV has ravaged communities of transsexual women worldwide, a “lost generation” whose disappearance has largely gone unnoticed. Looking at these statistics, I can’t say I disagree with her.