Whimsical, queer exploration of all things gender.

The subject of this week’s post was inspired when a couple of friends contacted me separately to bring a particular news article to my attention. To each of you – thanks for your interest! And for making choosing a topic for this post that much easier.

The article to which I was directed was published on the 11th December on the website of The Boston Globe Metro, and can be found here.

But before we get onto that, let’s talk about today’s topic title more generally. For the longest time, it was basically impossible to find mention of trans people in mainstream media. It was a topic that made people uncomfortable. People didn’t generally want to hear about ‘that sort of thing’, either finding it irrelevant, uncomfortable, morally outraging, or any combination of these things. Without going off on a massive tangent on this background of LGBT in media, things are slowly changing and finding pieces of mainstream journalism looking at transgender issues is no longer like finding a four leaf clover by the light of a blue moon. However, the problem with more people taking notice is that more people can – to paraphrase Hugh Laurie’s Prince George from Blackadder III – be absolute arseheads.

Aside: Why did society start having a problem with men wearing wigs and make-up anyway?

Many, many incredibly shitty things have been written about trans people. A (perhaps) surprising amount of this has come from feminist and gay/lesbian sources, with (simplistically speaking) some of the former considering trans men to be ‘traitors’ to womanhood, and trans women are ‘just men invading female spaces’. I wish I was exaggerating. A particularly infamous piece of damaging refuse can be found in the form of the 1979 book The Transsexual Empire by Janice Raymond, which contains this charming quotation:

All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves … Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive.

In a similar vein, the lesbian feminist journalist Julie Bindel has written some really horrible stuff about transgender people. She was nominated for Stonewall’s 2008 ‘journalist of the year’ award, not exactly a great message sent out from this huge LGB charity (note the absence of the ‘T’).

This offensive horror was printed with Bindel’s 2004 article (linked to above) in ‘The Guardian Weekend’, 21st January 2004. The gist of the article argues that transwomen are not real women, and their experiences as women are invalid. The badge reads ‘I’m a girl’. 

So yeah, this stuff is pretty unequivocally offensive – but you could easily be forgiven for asking how this relates to the original link to the news story ‘Led by the child who simply knew’, at the top of the page. I’d like to add, that in writing this piece, I conferred with a few trans and non-binary friends, to see what they thought of this article. I did this because of my cis-privilege. Having this doesn’t make me a bad person, but it is undeniably there, and important to bear in mind when I’m talking about transgender experiences. If I simply bust out a load of opinionated stuff on such issues without ever actually discussing it with someone it affects directly, I would be in danger of speaking for a minority group I cannot claim membership of, and in fact risk silencing that group despite my intentions. So yeah. Obviously the people I spoke to could only talk for themselves, but at least I can say I haven’t made sweeping and unchecked assumptions about how this article may be received.

The problems here are less loaded with malice. More comparable to the accidental but nevertheless cringeworthy racist comments that elderly grandparents can sometimes pop out with. It’s not okay, but to some extent we can understand why it happens, due to lack of a certain specific bit of education. To borrow a term from the (fabulous) writer Julia Serano, the original article engages in oppositional sexism, which Serano defines as:

[T]he belief that female and male are rigid, mutually exclusive categories, each possessing a unique and nonoverlapping set of attributes, aptitudes, abilities, and desires.

Right from the start, we catch phrases like “Jonas was all boy. He loved Spiderman, action figures, pirates, and swords.” – would he be less so if he didn’t? In the case of his twin, Nicole, is her being female only justified through the presentation of stereotypical feminine behaviour and traits?

It’s not wrong to talk about Nicole’s experiences. If she likes pink, and mermaids, and Barbies, that’s great! But it’s important to not imply that this is what makes her female identity ‘real’. Little boys can like these things too, and not be any ‘less’, even if some people might argue otherwise.

See, Barbie can be fun for some boys too…

It’s also problematic that the name Nicole was given at birth is repeatedly used, and that she is referred to as ‘he’ repeatedly. As a baby and small child, she clearly wasn’t in a position to understand or communicate any gender identity. So why now her personal identity is clear, are inaccuracies of the past referred to? Gender identity isn’t immutable, but to frame the experience as ‘he’ was a boy who ‘became’ a girl implies both choice, and that being defined as ‘boy’ was the natural state of affairs – creating a hierarchy whereby genitals trumps identity. Not good!

The old cliché of “a girl in a boy’s body” is also touted. What is it that makes a body that of a boys? Lack of breasts? Oh hang on, little girls don’t have them. How about the other physiological markers? I’ve already talked about how this doesn’t really get one anywhere. Nicole identifies as a girl. Therefore, she has a girl’s body. Even if people ‘know what you’re talking about’, it’s potentially rather offensive to call a transwoman ‘biologically male’, or vice versa.

The article does do a valuable thing in providing some insight into the experiences of a trans girl and her family. The quotations from her parents about the experience help make the story relatable to people for whom this is totally alien territory. Whatsmore, Nicole’s self expression wasn’t smoothed down to being textbook-feminine:

“I would say my brother got lucky with me. Because we grew up with only boy neighbors, I developed a liking to shoot-’em-up and military video games,’’ she says. “I could have come out a lot girlier.’

It is important to recognise that the breadth of experience amongst trans people, just like cis people, is immense. Not everyone ‘knows’ from such a young age like Nicole, and that’s okay. Not everyone detests the bodies they were born with and want surgery, and that’s okay too. There aren’t ‘more’ or ‘less’ valid experiences of transgenderism. Unfortunately, breadth of experience isn’t something the mainstream media seems to have represented well just yet. There’s only a certain degree to which papers are prepared to challenge their majority readership. This article seems to me to be more sincere than simply a voyeuristic look at an atypical child, but could also be vastly improved upon with just a certain specific bit of education.

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Comments on: "When reporters write on transgender – common and subtle problems" (24)

  1. a) Firstly, thanks for reading the article I sent! Although it’s now been quite a while since I read it, I think that at the time I enjoyed it a lot and thought that it was extremely positive.

    Given that the article is telling the story from Nicole’s perspective and the writer is clearly ‘in her court’, I find it a little odd that you would spend all of this piece criticising how the article was written rather than any of the more obvious targets brought to light by the article itself — the school system; lack of education of other children; the legislature. These are all extremely important issues the article highlighted which you have not addressed.

    b) I agree with the general principle of what you say in terms of criticising the Globe’s reporting, but I’m not too sure about the specifics:

    i) “Right from the start, we catch phrases like “Jonas was all boy. He loved Spiderman, action figures, pirates, and swords.” – would he be less so if he didn’t? In the case of his twin, Nicole, is her being female only justified through the presentation of stereotypical feminine behaviour and traits?”

    — No, but as an illustrative turn of phrase this is not that offensive. It seems to me you’re picking on this because the writer didn’t say, ‘Jonas was all boy, in the most traditional normative sense that society likes to apply.’ But ‘all boy’ is in itself a colloquial, “folksy” turn of phrase, itself rather archaic-sounding, implying that the writer acknowledges that this initial description is not supposed to be taken as an informed perspective. Now, if she (Bella English, the writer) had written ‘Jonas was a boy. He loved Spiderman […]’, I would agree with you. THAT implies that the writer believes ‘all boys love Spiderman’. For me, ‘all boy’ is clearly a self-aware turn of phrase. As I’ll point out later, we’re also looking at the child from the parents’ perspective at this stage, and they didn’t know what the hell was going on to begin with.

    ii) Also, the writer is not writing a thesis on trans people. She’s talking about a specific situation, anecdotally. Furthermore, this anecdote, while not representative of everyone’s experience (or even necessarily the majority — I have no idea) does repeat itself. Maybe it’s a slightly lazy approach, but what’s she’s saying is accurate about the people she’s writing about. Journalists are not academics. They always talk in specifics, and they don’t tend to extend this to general theory.

    iii) “pink, and mermaids, and Barbies […] Little boys can like these things too, and not be any ‘less’, even if some people might argue otherwise.”

    — They CAN, but isn’t the whole point about the reasonable ‘Personal gender is not a choice’ approach that a lot of this gender-role-based stuff is baked into the genes? At the very least I think it’s fair to say, “If you teach your boy that Barbies, mermaids and the color pink are for girls, and he still chooses to play with them, be aware that he may be saying that ‘he’ feels more like a ‘she’.” Don’t you think that’s a reasonable inference?

    c) I didn’t understand the picture with the “See, Barbie can be fun for some boys too…” caption. It’s only fair to read your piece under the same scrutiny that you apply to the other piece, in which case I have to ask, does the strap-on imply that boys will be more likely to play with the toys? Why? Are you saying boys are more sexual than girls, or more tempted to play with toys sexually? Or that girls would enjoy applying the strap-on to their toys less than boys? See, I think when reading pieces on this subject, it’s easy to find things to criticise if you choose to 😉 Perhaps I just misunderstood the joke.

    d) “Gender identity isn’t immutable, but to frame the experience as ‘he’ was a boy who ‘became’ a girl implies both choice, and that being defined as ‘boy’ was the natural state of affairs – creating a hierarchy whereby genitals trumps identity. Not good!”

    and later, “Nicole identifies as a girl. Therefore, she has a girl’s body. Even if people ‘know what you’re talking about’, it’s potentially rather offensive to call a transwoman ‘biologically male’, or vice versa.”

    — An initial thought. Personally if I were a male-to-female transgender person, I would prefer to be thought of as ‘a woman’, not called ‘a transwoman’ 😛

    But, to my main point: if genitals and body weren’t important — if “I identify as a girl therefore I have a girl’s body”, why would anyone bother getting hormone and sex reassignment surgeries? Clearly many trans people themselves feel that changing their biology is an important part of completing or establishing their personal identity as they see it. I think that, for someone who wants “sex reassignment surgery” (this is the term used in Wikipedia so I’m assuming it’s kosher, but I don’t know if there’s a preferred term), if someone is trans but doesn’t have the surgery _even though they want it_, they are saying “I am a girl but I am not yet ready to inhabit a girl’s body all the time.” Note, I’m not saying that “If you don’t have a body you’re not the gender”, or that “If you don’t have the body you can’t identify as the gender” — but I am saying that for many people, “She identifies as a girl, therefore she has a girl’s body” is wrong.

    e) Furthermore, it is simply impractical to write ‘she’ from the beginning of the article. If you did, the reader would not understand what was happening. We’ll put in a slightly more obviously traditionally male name, like Derek, and see:

    “Jonas was all boy. He loved Spiderman, action figures, pirates, and swords.

    Derek favored pink tutus and beads. At 4, she insisted on a Barbie birthday cake and had a thing for mermaids. On Halloween, Jonas was Buzz Lightyear. Derek wanted to be a princess; her mother compromised on a prince costume.”

    Bear in mind, this is BEFORE we’ve gotten to the “Wyatt felt that she was a girl”. The reader hasn’t yet been told about Wyatt’s gender identity, because the reader is discovering it along with the parents. “Wyatt felt that she was a girl” is quite an abstract idea for a very young child to express. Instead, you see signs through other things, like play — which is exactly what the writer is telling us. At this stage we’re seeing the child through the parents’ eyes. This transition, like a detective tale in which we are putting together the pieces along with the parents, makes it a coherent story. I don’t think this is an unfair approach at all.

    In conclusion — I enjoyed the article and I enjoyed your post, but I think that coming down like a ton of bricks on writers who are essentially pro-trans rights is a phenomenal misdirection of energy — energy that could be better spent defusing the people who actively attack the trans and usually also the LGBT communities.

    • Holy crap, your comment was longer than the blog post itself. Thanks for your efforts.

      I don’t tackle the targets brought to light in the article because I wished to focus on the writing of journalists, rather than comment on those areas, any one of which could easily be a huge post (or y’know, several books). I make criticisms of the article because I believe there are problems with it, that are interesting and important to consider. I certainly don’t feel I came down on Bella English like a ton of bricks, nor were my expectations of her writing akin to what I would expect of a scholarly article. As a trans ally, I hope to receive constructive criticism particularly from trans people in order to be more sensitive and effective in talking about such issues. I hope (indeed suspect, from her positive tones, as you say) that Bella English feels similarly.

      To look at your points…’b i’, I actually think the ‘folksy’ phrase itself is somewhat problematic. I don’t see it as a question of self awareness. I see it as a way to say ‘he exhibited traditionally expected masculine behaviour’. The phrase justifies ‘maleness’ through behaviour. People will know what the author means, but the problematisation comes with the implicit oppositional sexism that arises from such language use.

      ‘b iii’ – I do not think that (socially constructed) gender-role categories are immediately relevant to the limitations on the role of choice in experiencing gender identity. Phew, what a sentence. Also, it is not an inference I would be comfortable making with any certainty due to the nature of the variables in question. How ‘taught’ does a boy have to be to consider certain things ‘feminine’? plus what about his own interpretation and experience of what this means? Also I think the fact that boys CAN like these toys is quite important. Even if a minority, it makes it somewhat unfair to judge by these universal binary considerations.

      ‘c’ – I’m not writing a scholarly article either. The pun was that the boy ‘enjoying Barbie’ was the Ken doll, about to have some fine sexytimes.

      ‘d’ – This first point very much merits its own discussion, but would have been tangental in the article itself. All I can really say is that labels and identities are highly personal, some people prefer ‘woman’, others ‘transwoman’, others, many other things. For your second point, I’m not trying to claim that everyone will feel that identifying as [gender] will mean they feel they have a [gender] body. However, plenty of people do. I did say ‘potentially’ offensive. The problem is that one risks implying a hierarchical superiority of ‘the physical’ over identity. Whatsmore, once can feel dysmorphia and discomfort with one’s body, without regarding it in terms of the gender that one doesn’t identify as. For example, someone may identify as female, consider themselves to have a female body, but one that they wish to alter by having breast implants, etc.

      ‘e’ – I disagree on this claim of impracticality. It would not be too difficult to restructure the narrative to compensate, and allow for consistency without confusing a lay-audience.

      I’m also not trying to create ‘the perfect journalist trans-reporting style guide’. I’m pointing out some things that for some people, are potentially problematic but might otherwise be completely missed by many readers.

    • A brief comment on this that is I think sort of related to the later discussions:

      ‘An initial thought. Personally if I were a male-to-female transgender person, I would prefer to be thought of as ‘a woman’, not called ‘a transwoman’.’

      You might want to be. You might want to blend and not have to deal with all the bullshit that being outed as transgender brings. But to quote a transwoman I met in a group who had transitioned decades previously, you can never escape the fact that you are transgender. It is a part of you and your experiences. If you try to fully hide it from everyone, you will probably end up living your life in fear of being found out.

      I would like to be called and thought of as a woman, but I’m not going to pretend that I’m not trans, even after I get the surgery. Thinking of myself as just a woman without acknowledging the physical differences between myself and nearly every model of womanhood I’ve ever encountered is not healthy. Some people have to accept that they’re short or not athletic, I have to accept that I’m trans. I just don’t want my fellow transpeople to be the equivalent of my 4’11” cousin who is constantly wearing 5 inch heels to psychologically compensate.

      ‘If “I identify as a girl therefore I have a girl’s body”, why would anyone bother getting hormone and sex reassignment surgeries?’

      I don’t know if I’d want to get rid of the various markers of masculinity in my appearance such as I can if I wasn’t justifiably scared of facing harassment and violence if I went out in a blouse and a skirt while having it. But it makes it kind of a no-brainer.

      If you want to participate in ‘normal’ society without huge issues, you kind of need to blend. You don’t have to, but particularly if you’re an XY who wants to use icons of femininity, and you’re obviously not XX, you’re probably going to run into some problems.

      I invite you to wear a dress, a pearl necklace and some lipstick and ride public transit for several hours in any major city to test out my theory. I would fucking love to be proven wrong, and if you genuinely managed to not suffer any harassment I’d probably want to move wherever you are and invite all my trans friends along. I’m not gonna test it out myself, thanks.

      Also, aside from everything else, hormone therapy alters your personality a little bit and your sex drive a _lot_, in ways that are generally very appreciated. JSYK.

      • You missed my point on this. When I said:

        ‘If “I identify as a girl therefore I have a girl’s body”, why would anyone bother getting hormone and sex reassignment surgeries?’

        I was quoting Ben’s original post, where he argued that, “Nicole identifies as a girl. Therefore, she has a girl’s body.”. I wasn’t supporting this perspective: my point was to counter it with a rhetorical question implying exactly what you just said — that there are plenty of reasons to have surgery or hormone therapy, e.g. harassment, sex drive, et cetera. And it seems to me to be naive to imply that there’s no difference between what you identify as, and your physical bodily attributes.

      • Just for clarification on what I was trying to say:

        In saying that ‘Nicole identifies as a girl, therefore she has a girl’s body’ I am not trying to legitimize an argument that hormones and surgeries aren’t desirable or vital for some individuals. I am simply trying to voice a legitimacy to individual’s gender identities. I do not believe people have the right to tell others that their bodies are not the sex or gender that the individual’s identify them as being. One cannot deny the existence of whatever one’s own physiology happens to be, but I do not see these things as essentially tied.

        I am not arguing or implying that to claim a girl’s body as a trans woman who has elected not to have, or is yet to have surgeries has no differences in physical bodily attributes from cis women. My point is one of language. I believe that to embrace one’s body as one’s own – even when unhappy or uncomfortable or highly distressed about elements of it that must be changed surgically or hormonally for one’s well being – is healthier and more concordant than connecting one’s body to an alien identity.

        There will be plenty of people who disagree with this idea, and that’s okay. Though one should not be ignoring the experiences of those trans individuals who wish to label their bodies with the same sex/gender as they themselves feel they are, regardless of what they wish to do with or how happy they are with their bodies.

      • David, perhaps in the future when you’re entering a discussion about the nature of language and reference, you would do well to clearly explain your beliefs and positions rather than use rhetorical questions and accuse others of missing the point. I suspect you do not know what might or might not be important to a transperson’s sense of validation when the society we live in constantly invalidates their self-perception, and encourage you to be more deferential when discussing matters of identity and privilege in the future. Check your privilege at the door.

  2. Ben, I’d also add this quote:

    “I have always known I was a girl,’’ says Nicole, now 14. “I think what I’m aiming for is to undergo surgery to get a physical female body that matches up to my image of myself.’’

    This is perhaps the strongest evidence of the style of thinking inherent in the whole piece, and I think what best indicates the difference between colloquial/stylistic differences and an ideological difference. Which is rather unsurprising when this whole situation has occurred without contact without a mainstream transgender education that focuses on the points you mention.

    ‘But, to my main point: if genitals and body weren’t important — if “I identify as a girl therefore I have a girl’s body”, why would anyone bother getting hormone and sex reassignment surgeries? Clearly many trans people themselves feel that changing their biology is an important part of completing or establishing their personal identity as they see it. I think that, for someone who wants “sex reassignment surgery” (this is the term used in Wikipedia so I’m assuming it’s kosher, but I don’t know if there’s a preferred term), if someone is trans but doesn’t have the surgery _even though they want it_, they are saying “I am a girl but I am not yet ready to inhabit a girl’s body all the time.” Note, I’m not saying that “If you don’t have a body you’re not the gender”, or that “If you don’t have the body you can’t identify as the gender” — but I am saying that for many people, “She identifies as a girl, therefore she has a girl’s body” is wrong.’

    And the views of Ben and I is that that is reflective of internalized self-hatred of herself as a freak. That a lot of people, even transpeople, have those attitudes doesn’t make it okay.

    The article is in line with a model of the transgendered woman who from the earliest possible age knows something is ‘wrong’ with her, constantly feels disordered until she has used every available technological advance to blot out her evil past, who ravenously devours every resource available to her to ‘fix’ her and make her ‘better’. This is the type of transperson generally trotted out by mainstream media sources, presumably because of it inherently reinforcing the binary and being the product of someone being sick with an illness and living the rest of their life fighting that illness. One can imagine much the same articles being written about homosexuality at a similar stage of public acceptance, like when it was still in the DSM all of 40 years ago. There’s a reason people like me, a transwoman who might want to keep her penis, don’t appear on the front page of newspapers, because we challenge and undermine the popular conceptions of sex and gender in a way that this charming little girl does not.

    There is an entire medical organization out there which historically operated (and I believe still operates) under the notion that transpeople aren’t real unless they hate their bodies and themselves for not matching their gender. Transgender people often have to lie about their gender identity to get the treatments they need, because WPATH is a bitch. This is inherent to the entire concept of transgenderness as a disorder to be cured, rather than an aspect of personal identity. While WPATH is awesome for their role in medically legitimizing the existence of transgender people as something other than totally insane, they have promoted the rigid binary notions of gender as well.

    And that’s bullshit. In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be a need for transpeople to present within traditional gender expectations in order to avoid hate crimes and prejudice, and whether somebody really wanted a vagina instead of a penis could be decided without various ‘trans-friendly’ societal elements having tried to teach me that I’m not really a girl unless I fit the above-mentioned model. Quotes like the one I started this post with to me appear bad and self-loathing and reflective of poor attitudes regarding sex and gender. It’s completely and totally fine for someone to decide they need ‘SRS’, but they should still love and appreciate themselves even without it, and a much healthier attitude would be ‘SRS will make me happier’ rather than ‘I need SRS to feel legitimate’.

    • Thank you so much for reading, and for this wonderfully eloquent comment reflecting on your identity and experience! I enjoyed reading this – I think we’re on the same page.

  3. I sympathise with your view that the person they chose to write the article about represents the current ‘orthodox view’ of ‘traditional’ transgender people and transgender experiences. This seems to me to be a question of taking issue with who they chose to write about — I have no problem with saying ‘You should have written a less stereotypical piece by picking someone else to talk about.’

    However, to tell this girl effectively that, “You are self-hating and you think that you’re a freak”, regardless of whether she says or believes that, seems to me to be the worst kind of projection of one’s own views on what is orthodox.

    How can you criticise the piece for accurately quoting her, or the girl for what she says about her own feelings, as pandering to ‘the model […] trotted out by mainstream media’, without acknowledging that by insisting that this girl’s opinions are “bad and self-loathing”, you are trying to enforce your own version of an orthodoxy upon her?

    As for ‘SRS will make me happier’ versus ‘I need SRS to feel legitimate’, since it seems to me again to be perfectly reasonable to talk in relative terms instead of absolutes, I don’t see a distinction between ‘happier’ versus ‘feel _more_ legitimate’, if increased feeling of legitimacy is the root of your increased feeling of happiness. However, I doubt that the girl would precisely word it as, “I want to feel legitimate.” My guess would be, since she has felt this way from a very young age, she would simply view it as, “I want to be who I know I am.” But this is all irrelevant, since this relates to her personal motivation and again, I don’t want to claim that anyone’s personal motivation should apply to someone else.

    By the same token, I’m not trying to devalue your views, opinions or experiences. I don’t think the views of the girl in the article should apply to you, just as I don’t feel yours should be applied to her. I don’t think it’s fair to attack other people for having different experiences; and while the article may be reinforcing a widespread orthodoxy, that doesn’t mean that the story it tells is not accurate for the person it refers to.

    • ‘As for ‘SRS will make me happier’ versus ‘I need SRS to feel legitimate’, since it seems to me again to be perfectly reasonable to talk in relative terms instead of absolutes, I don’t see a distinction between ‘happier’ versus ‘feel _more_ legitimate’, if increased feeling of legitimacy is the root of your increased feeling of happiness.’

      By saying that she wants a physically female body, she is referring to her current body as not physically female. She is delegitimizing her present physical form. This is where the distinction between happiness and legitimacy comes from. It’s not about her using the word ‘legitimate’ explicitly, it’s about her appearing to take it as a given that she’s not legitimate unless she gets SRS.

      I can say ‘dammit I fucking wish I had a vagina’ without implying I’m not a girl with a girl’s body anyway. I can and do, or try to anyway. The words ‘her penis’ in any context gives me chills of validation.

      It’s really awesome that she’s able to have the physical modification that she desires. And maybe she’d have wanted it anyway. But I really wish she could have grown up in a world where she wasn’t taught that her birth genitalia was a symbol of her being a boy, because I think that might have made a difference. And in a world of Freudian penis envy and the many other ways that the penis is used a symbol of masculine power, that isn’t really possible, and I expect that she has been led to internalize the linkage of penises and masculinity/maleness.

      I’d love to reach the point where we don’t have an arbitrary distinction that certain sorts of irreversible plastic surgery require years and years of an exhaustive screening process while others depend on the surgeon’s informal and unregulated sense of who ‘doesn’t feel right’, just because we’re so spooked at the idea of an XY wanting to take on physical icons of femininity or an XX wanting to take on physical icons of masculinity. I’m not saying I want next-day SRS, but the distinction seems pretty fucking unjustified to me. Genitalia have a powerful symbolic nature in our society, in a way that is detrimental to the self-worth of transpeople who don’t separate their identity from societal influence.

  4. Just a small thing, where you say “to tell this girl effectively that, “You are self-hating and you think that you’re a freak”” – I don’t think Afuckwad was talking about the girl in the article, but about the hypothetical girl that you used to talk about someone wanting surgery but not not feeling ready for it. As far as I see it, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that Nicole thinks such negative things about herself. The passage where “internalised self hatred” was raised isn’t discussing Nicole at all.

    For many people saying ‘she’s a girl, therefore she has a girls body’ is wrong, be they cis or trans. However as I went into regarding the problems in defining sex by body characteristics, I believe that a consistent and supportive way of framing this would instead be to say that she (that is, your hypothetical MtF woman who wants surgery but doesn’t feel ready for whatever reason) has a female body, but one with which she personally is not comfortable or happy. This model of consideration then doesn’t frame things in absolutist terms. How happy someone is with their body is an entirely personal experience, and is of course often related to the presence of male/female genitals and secondary sex characteristics. But I would argue these things are not what makes a person male or female, or masculine or feminine for that matter. I think that to tie a *definition* of ‘male-ness’ or ‘female-ness’ to bodies is very problematic because of the standards that then implies. When discussed in terms of identity, an individuals body becomes ‘more their own’, one can’t then be told that one doesn’t meet social standards because of lack of (or possession of) some particular component or another.

    My point in what I wrote is more to do with exactly what you say you sympathise with – that the story that has been written about is the same old polished socially acceptable trans narrative. This, and the combination of stylistic/linguistic and factual issues I take with the way it was then written.

    • This is exactly the issue I was referring to. I did intend to refer to Nicole’s statement as being self-hating, though that phrasing might be too inflammatory.

      I think that referring to self as not having a ‘physically female body’ as she does in her quote reflects a slight but still very real disrespect or dislike for one’s transgenderness, that I think should be rejected in favor of ‘trans pride’ in the same vein as black pride or gay pride. I think this scene in Transamerica is a fantastic demonstration of the sort of sublimated self-hatred that comes out of the sort of thinking inherent to the phrase ‘physically female body’ (sorry for dub, but the dialogue is still mostly audible): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0kHeduDyM8#t=2m44s

      I’ve actually read materials which advised against using the word ‘passing’ in regards to a transgender person being treated as if they were cisgender because of its connotation in reference to African-Americans being treated as if they were white. I think the struggles involved in the idea of ‘passing’, and even in the ‘hetero privilege’ experienced by bisexuals in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, are very similar. You’re waiting to be legitimized by societal standards rather than asserting your worth and value independent of them.

      Say it loud – I’m transgender and I’m proud, and if I decide to get ‘SRS’ it will not be because I don’t believe that I have a ‘physically female body’.

      (The use of ‘physically female’ doesn’t need to have connotations regarding the person’s present gender, I am aware, but it’s an icky loaded term – that’s why phrases like ‘fe/male assigned at birth’ are better! They identify the physical characteristics of the person in question without implying that there is any legitimacy of their sex categorization, all while making it easy and natural to talk about intersex people!)

      • This sort of becomes an argument the concept of sex as a category, I think. Which I’m totally cool with.

      • I suppose maab/faab is actually exclusionary and less pleasant for intersex people in that it connotes gender assignation to physical parts, as many/most intersex people are raised as if they were one gender or the other. Which sucks. But it’s still generally an improvement over terms like ‘physically female’.

  5. I suppose maab/faab is actually exclusionary and less pleasant for intersex people, when used in they way I refer to as opposed to being purely indicative of socialization. Using it to connote gender assignation to physical parts is bad, as many/most intersex people are raised as if they were one gender or the other. I apologize for misapplying the concept.

    Probably the fairest/simplest way to refer to people’s physical makeup at birth would be a chromosomal descriptor and subsequently any/all abnormalities which caused them to deviate from the norm, such as guevedoces.

    • Well, even though gender assignation by physical parts is very problematic, it’s still the cursory way in which gender is dished out when filling out the good old birth certificates. For this reason, I like the terms maab/faab, I just obviously have a problem with the act of the assignation itself.

      Also – apologies for misconstruing you with regards to your stance on Nicole’s comment! I’m not going to go too far down the potential avenues of analysing her thoughts on trans stuff. Hey, maybe she’s really heteronormative and socially conservative, who knows! Plus, she’s only 14, and (hopefully) bound to develop her thoughts and positions.

      Really interesting and important stuff! Though also a tangent to the original post. I’m glad discussion has come of it.

      As for chromosomes – perhaps, given your essential clause about recognising chromosomal variation… scrutiny and consideration could mean a potential blog topic perhaps…?

      • Yeah, it’s not totally fair to rebuke her for something on scant evidence, but especially given her family’s attempts to make her ‘normal’ and their general lack of liberalness, I would suspect that she’s never been exposed to the concept of a woman with a penis who’s totally fine with that. I expect the idea might give dear old Christian dad a heart attack. It’s certainly a concept I would not expect a mainstream news article would want to bring up.

        MAAB and FAAB are great phrases for describing socialization, and socialization is super important, but I was trying to imply that they could be used to denote physical differences, which makes intersex people invisible. I am completely theoretical when it comes to intersex people though, so I don’t know what they tend to care about.

    • Ah, but chromosomes aren’t everything. SRY is really the only thing on the Y chromosome that counts for how genitals and gonads are formed during development, and it can be missing or sometimes present on an X chromosome. Basically I don’t know shit about my karyotype and neither do you.

      I still don’t know how to properly alter the ‘maab/faab’ terminology to include intersex people, but I know chromosomes shouldn’t get involved.

  6. @Afuckwad, I have no desire to engage in some kind of “battle of wills” with you, nor to respond to ad hominem attacks on my perceived “priviledge”. Evidently I have offended you by not treating your arguments with the “deference” you feel they deserved.

    Ben, I’d be very grateful if you would please remove my comments on this article — including this one.

  7. This comment appears to be an advanced form of spam, the linked site is a site for hosting appliance referral links.

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