Archive for the ‘transsexual’ tag
I hesitate to jump into these shark-infested waters, but here goes.
I certainly have my own opinion on the “transsexual” vs. “transgender” debate that has ignited many a flame war on the internet over the last few months between those who want to separate our community based on those who have had or, at least, want to have, SRS, from everyone else, but I’m not going to express that here. Instead, I’m going to take a position that I’ve never seen expressed by anyone else, although some have come close. My position comes from my background as an attorney and my understanding of how anti-discrimination laws are written and are intended to operate.
Here’s what I know to be true: the dispute about who is transsexual and who isn’t is irrelevant to the fight for protections for transsexual, transgender, genderqueer and every other gender variant or gender nonconforming person in this country. Why? Because of how anti-discrimination laws are written for both practical and constitutional reasons.
On multiple occasions, when sucked into one of those soul-destroying conversations with anti-trans radical feminists about whether trans people actually have the right to alter our bodies, I’ve read a variation of this argument:
I get worried when academics and activists spend so much time discussing performativity, the possibility of multiple genders, and ways transgendering and crossdressing (before you get all up in arms–Im not equating these two) challenge gender studies and how we can create art and literature exploring genderbending, etc. etc. etc. What ever happened to the radical stuff–analyzing gender as an inequality? What ever happened to changing social structures such that people can be happy and healthy in the bodies they’re born with? What ever happened to the dreams feminists had of one day no longer having gender and its shackles?
It just seems to me that at base, trans is about not getting rid of gender. It seems to be about maintaining masculinity and femininity, when you cut to the chase. While I’m no authority on the issue, I have yet to see trans organizations or really any trans theorists and activists calling for an abolition of gender itself. I hope I’m wrong.
This is a perfect example of what I mentioned in my I Blame the Porno-iarchy post about how some feminists talk about utopian goals and neglect practical solutions. Or more specifically, how they tend to impose utopian goals on those whom the goals would affect most.
But this goes beyond that – beyond the insistence that since feminism supposedly has this goal to end gender, that all trans people everywhere must also want the same thing. That trans people must somehow fit into feminist theories about what gender is and why it exists. Per these theories, womanhood doesn’t really exist, therefore making it impossible for trans women (but not cis women) to be women. Cis women get to exist because they were born female. The reason that gender doesn’t exist is because it’s a social construct.
Social constructs include, but are not limited to: laws, governments, national borders, police powers, marriage, religion, families, property, citizenship, loyalty, love, money, cities, states, and nations. Few would argue that any of these things do not exist – people may question the basis of their existence, but the fact is that existing as a concept does not make these things imaginary, for good or ill. Similarly, gender is not imaginary. Gender is real, and part of our everyday life, again for good or ill.
This is also an incredibly patronizing attitude: The assumption that there is something inherently more valuable about not wanting to change your body than there is about wanting to change your body. That trans people would welcome a world where transitioning would never happen. That if we change our bodies, they are somehow no longer the bodies we are born with.
When they tell me these things, I feel like they’re trying to show me the true light of civilization, that perhaps they believe that transitioning is a prison that trans people are forced into. That society’s demands require us to transition, because we don’t behave like the sex we’re born into. And that when the glorious revolution comes and destroys the binary, then these demands would no longer exist, and we could exist as we truly should be, free to express ourselves without kowtowing to the oppressive medical profession.
Or in other words: This utopia that radical feminists describe to me is one in which people like me shouldn’t exist, that being trans is the result of living in an immature society. That my ability to transition, to stop living as a male, stop being seen as a boy, and start living as a woman, was anything but personal liberation for me.
Regardless of what newspapers constantly print about wheelies or people with illness or disability, I am not “Wheelchair bound”, nor am I “bound by my disease” or “bound by disability.” And I am NOT “House bound.” I say that because today, while I went down to the video store on the off chance they had released Supernatural Season 3 early (they do sometimes if it is a long weekend). The person denied that and wondered why I didn’t call and then said, “Oh….that’s right, you like to go outside.” Spoken to me as if I was some rare and unusual form of human or odd for a person with a disability.
I’ve seen multiple people with disabilities make the same point, and I have to wonder why cis people seem to see trans people as trapped by gender in a similar fashion.
But this is a cis privileged perspective: We’re asked to participate in a revolution that would (so they believe) erase us. We’re asked to put our lives on the line for a utopian ideal that is not going to come to pass. We’re blamed for reifying the gender binary despite the fact that there are six billion men and women who reify the gender binary without the need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on hormones, surgery, electrolysis, etc. It’s a cis privileged perspective that by stepping outside of cisnormative society and crossing that line – going from man to woman or woman to man – that we’re reinforcing cisnormative society.
It’s also a cis privileged position because it places “no one ever transitions” as the ideal state for society. That this ideal society is one in which “everyone is cissexual.” It erases people who are different from the norm, treats them as part of the norm, and expects them to comply. I find the idea of such a society highly oppressive.
I also wish that feminists who talk about the social construction of gender would spend some time examining the social construction of sex. And yes, it is socially constructed even if you remove trans people from the equation. Decades of surgery inflicted upon intersex infants should make this clear.
Edit: Right after completing this post, I followed a trackback to Coilhouse, and found a discussion relevant to this post.
Edited to remove a problematic comparison
BANGKOK (AFP) — Thailand’s military will stop branding transsexual conscripts as mentally disturbed, and will list them in a new “third category” as neither male nor female, a senior officer said Wednesday.
Thai men are required to report for the draft once they turn 21. Under the current system, transsexuals are rejected as suffering from “a mental disorder.”
Gay rights groups complained that the label penalises transsexuals for the rest of their lives, because men are required to prove if they have completed their national service when they apply for jobs or bank loans.
When transsexuals submit their military rejection forms declaring they have a mental disorder, they are automatically disqualified from many jobs and mortgages.
Lieutenant General Somkiat Suthivaiyakij, head of the defence ministry’s Reserve Command Department, said the military would immediately stop using the mental disorder label.
The military is trying to find a new word for a “third category” that is neither male nor female, that would not discriminate against transsexuals, he said.
Until the army decides on the new category, transsexual conscripts will be turned away with a form saying they have an illness that cannot be cured within 30 days.
“It’s a temporary measure to deal with the problem as the defence and interior ministries work on a permanent solution,” Somkiat told AFP.
To qualify for the third category, transsexuals will have to report for the draft for three years in a row to prove they are really trying to live as women, he added.
The annual draft takes place in April, and transsexuals make up less than one percent of the conscripts each year, Somkiat said.
This is good, in that these Thai women will no longer be branded as incurably mentally ill in ways that will affect them in many aspects of their lives. It’s still disturbing that they can’t be categorized as women in this regard, and are still othered as a “third category,” but that may be my cultural centrism speaking – I don’t really know.
Hopefully, more steps will follow.
Speaking of othering, though – it still makes me twitch to see people referred to as “transsexuals,” sort of like people with cancer referred to as “cancers.”
I think she raises some interesting points about the idea of “passing” (and I hate that word, so don’t read too much into me using it there, or into what she wrote).
Sheila Jeffreys talks about how sex change is urged by gender bias. Looking at her take on lesbianism, it’s certainly clear that her political views couldn’t possibly blind her to the realities of trans people’s lives:
We do think… that all feminists can and should be lesbians. Our definition of a political lesbian is a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men. It does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women.
One of the refrains I read from radical feminists is that trans women are “not men” and are thus women by default just because that’s how the patriarchy works. I disagree with this perspective, but I find it illuminating that one can also find the view that “lesbian” can mean “a woman who does not fuck men,” rather than defined as women who are attracted to and form relationships with women.
In other words, this is a hypocritical stance, never mind what this practice has done to the lesbian community. But, that’s not the point right now, and I’m really writing this post to talk about Sheila Jeffreys’ complaints about why trans people transition for the wrong reasons.
CHIEF Justice Alastair Nicholson has done good work during his 16 years at the Family Court. The recent report on the serious problem of violence from male partners in child custody cases should cement his reputation as a judge who respects the human rights of women and children. But his decision last week to allow a 13-year-old girl to begin a sex change process breaks this tradition. Make no mistake: the decision violates the rights of this child.
The decision means that the girl named “Alex” will embark on a course of female hormone treatment to suppress menstruation, which can be expected to lead to male hormones at 16, and surgery when she reaches 18. The decision abrogates the child’s right to change her mind. And it removes her chance to grow up in a healthy female body and develop her identity long before an age when she’d be considered old enough to drive or drink alcohol.
She’s talking about Alex, a 13-year old who had to go through the Australian court system to receive treatments to stave off puberty long enough to give him a chance to live as a boy and ensure that this was the right course. Actual testosterone wouldn’t be administered until he was 16. Judge Nicholson approved the treatment for Alex, it did not mandate the treatment. First of all, if Alex did change his mind between 13 and 16, he could and have a normal puberty. If he changes his mind between 16 and 18, he could just stop testosterone and live a normal life. Surgery’s really the only irreversible step, but by then Alex would have five years to change his mind, and he’s still not required by the court to have surgery if he doesn’t want it.
The other thing here is that Sheila denies that trans people are often aware of our identities well before puberty. Alex’s wishes and identity here aren’t important to Ms. Jeffreys, however. Just her ability to have access to hormone replacement therapy. The phrase “healthy female body” is also standard transphobic panicmongering, as it introduces the idea that trans people seek to mutilate completely healthy bodies without bothering to acknowledge why we seek surgery, or even considering the dehumanizing language that “mutilate healthy bodies” entails. Once we have surgery, we’re mutilated, unhealthy creatures.
There are a number of cases in which men, for instance, have come to regret reassignment surgery later in life, and become reconciled to being heterosexual or gay men. But they cannot reclaim their penises and testes. Treating this child as a boy with all the authority of medicine at 13 won’t permit her to keep her options open. Male hormone treatment at 16 will narrow her options further, since it will begin irreversible physical changes and make it harder to change her mind. Both the female and male hormones may adversely affect her health.
Now Sheila descends into hyperbole. There are men who have sought hormones and surgery who made a mistake and later regretted it. “A number of cases” is an exaggeration, however, especially compared to the number of trans women who are happy with transition and surgical results. However, pointing out that the majority of men and women who undergo voluntary mastectomies or vaginoplasties are happy with the results would undermine Ms. Jeffreys’ crusade. She also erases those who successfully transition in their teens.
The medical profession’s belief in the efficacy of female hormones delivered as hormone replacement therapy, for instance, has been seriously undermined. Treatment with male hormones, which has to continue for life, has risks of liver damage and the shortening of her life.
This is more panicmongering. It is true that there are risks to hormone replacement therapy, which is why it’s standard practice now to conduct HRT under an endocrinologist’s supervision, or at least a GP who specializes in dealing with HRT. It’s normal to require blood tests and liver panel tests every three months, as well as to educate the patient as to the signs of harmful side effects, such as liver damage or (for estrogen) deep vein thrombosis. Because of the relatively high doses, they have to be and usually are monitored.
This decision was reached through an inquisitorial, rather than adversarial, process. Only those elements of the medical profession who support the idea of hormonal and surgical treatment for “gender identity disorder” (GID) were called by the court. They were relied on in reaching its decision as if they speak the “truth”. In fact, they should be seen as products of their time and the ideological biases of male dominance.
Indeed, their “truth” should be regarded as political opinion. They rely on the notion that there can be a “female” mind in a male’s body and vice versa. Their solution is to use chemicals, amputations, castrations and sterilisations to make the bodies of GID patients fit with their interpretation of what’s happening in the patient’s mind.
Sheila seems to believe that there’s a large body of medical evidence that contradicts the existence and treatment of gender identity disorder/transsexualism. Or rather, she believes her politics trump medical professionals who specialize in treating GID. That the idea of a female mind in a male’s body just isn’t real, solely because her theory says it can’t happen. Of course, her theory hasn’t been tested, simply asserted. It’s a theory based on the politics of destroying gender – and thus the patriarchy – and not on any scientific basis. It also erases the lived experiences and realities that trans people have to navigate on a daily basis. What we say about ourselves – what Alex says about himself is not to be considered, because it contradicts the theory.
Gender identity clinics can only diagnose the condition using the understandings of gender that exist at this time and place in history. Feminists like myself envisage a time beyond gender when there is no correct way to behave according to body shape. In such a world, it would not be possible to conceive of a gender identity clinic. The idea of GID is a living fossil that is, an idea from the time when there was considered to be a correct behaviour for particular body types.
Those with penises were supposed to play with particular toys and show “masculinity” such as desires to play aggressive team games and show little emotion. Those with vaginas were supposed to show “femininity” such as desires to be self-denying, do unpaid housework and wear high-heeled shoes. Gender identity clinics enforce correct gender behaviour through retraining, or through hormones and surgery. In this way, the medical profession can be seen to perform a political function as an arm of male dominance.
And here she establishes her theory: That GID diagnosis and treatment is based on the idea that there are correct ways to behave based on physical sex, and that those who do not fit the male norm must switch to female, and those who do not fit the female norm must switch to male. She’s just erased feminine gay men, drag queens, male transvestites, and butch lesbians in two paragraphs. People who – assuming they’re not taking on those identities to deal with transsexualism – violate those gender norms she’s talking about. This is because no one ever went to a doctor and said “I played with dolls as a boy, and I like to wear dresses, and I think this means I should be a woman.” If Sheila Jeffreys were to familiarize herself with the work of Harry Benjamin, she might discover there’s more going on here than her theory that transsexualism is about conforming to stereotypical gender roles and nothing more.
To be fair, it is true that medical professionals who specialize in gender have (and probably still do) focus on trans people’s ability to adopt stereotypical traits of femininity or masculinity to judge whether they’re really transsexual, but this is a problem with the system, not with the existence of transsexual people. This was a self-reinforcing process because the requirements for getting treatment were both strict and available to transsexual people seeking to transition. Since it was necessary to present one’s self as stereotypically masculine or (especially) feminine to get treatment, transsexual people did this. But that doesn’t mean that this was who we really were, it’s just what we had to do to get medical support for transitioning.
But this information is inconvenient to Sheila Jeffreys, who sees transsexualism as an enemy to be destroyed, not a real problem that we must accommodate.
The reasons why adult women seek reassignment surgery stem from the inequality of women, from male violence and from lesbian oppression. Women who have been abused in childhood seek reassignment so that they can escape the bodies in which they were abused and gain the status of the perpetrator in order to feel safe. Some want to gain privileges they perceive to be open to men. And many feel unable to love women in the bodies of women because of societal repression and hatred of lesbians.
Feminists seek to transform society so that male violence against women and girls will end and so that women may have equal rights and love women while remaining in their healthy female bodies.
But women who seek reassignment believe that a physical solution will solve their individual problems.
Rather, it compounds the damage. The Family Court should not be recommending this solution for a child.
She then goes on to make an assertion about trans men – that they seek SRS because women are not treated equally in society, that it’s all about escaping abuse and gaining status, becoming the oppressor. Again, she refuses to acknowledge trans men’s voices when they tell us who they are and why they transitioned, she has to frame transitioning in terms of patriarchal oppression.
This article compounds the damage – the damage that radical feminism inflicts on trans people every chance it gets. It erases us as individual human beings with a condition that requires treatment in order for us to live and thrive, and replaces us with ciphers that ape the “wrong” gendered behaviors and seek to transition to legitimately access those behaviors. It especially erases trans men and replaces them with women who can’t stand to be oppressed in patriarchal society.
Sheila Jeffreys should refrain from writing about trans people until she bothers to learn about us and engage us as people, not as tokens for her political prejudices.
Nix Williams points to an article describing: Suggested Rules for Non-Transsexuals Writing about Transsexuals, Transsexuality, Transsexualism, or Trans
- 12. Ask yourself if you can travel in our trans worlds. If not, you probably don’t get what we’re talking about. Remember that we live most of our lives in non-transsexual worlds, so we probably do get what you’re talking about.
I like this rule specifically because it directly addresses the tendency to attack transsexual people on cissexual terms, but refuses to acknowledge what we have to say about cissexual people, especially as they relate to us.
I also like this Trans Inclusion Policy Manual For Women’s Organizations, which I found in Nix’ sidebar.