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rant

A liberal's discomfort with trans-gender

Unlike some people bothered by the trans-gendered, I wasn't raised in a "Mad Men" world, and I don't pine for it. I was raised in the feminist backlash against a "Mad Men" world: we watched "All In the Family" after dinner, and I nearly memorized the album "Free To Be You And Me". I was brought up to believe that your physical sex should have no bearing on your choice of toys, occupations, social and economic roles, clothing, etc.

Which leaves me puzzled when I hear of people who decide they "should have been born male" or "should have been born female". Why should it matter, for any purpose other than excretion and sex? (Two activities in which, combined, I expect to spend perhaps 1% of my life, leaving 99% for activities that have nothing to do with the shape of my sex organs.)

I took Home Economics in junior high school, because I liked cooking and wanted to do it better, and because I didn't know much about sewing but thought a competent person should. I knew I would be teased for it -- I already got a lot of abuse, and accusations of being "gay", for the twin crimes of being small and smart -- but I thought it was the right and brave thing to do. If I were in junior high school today and made the same choice for the same reasons, would I be diagnosed with gender dysphoria and advised to consider hormone treatment or even surgery? If, furthermore, I were exploring my teen-aged sexuality and found some attraction to other boys, would that seal the diagnosis? I certainly hope not!

When trans people win the battle to change their sex and be accepted in society as their new sex, it tells me we lost the war: your physical sex does determine your role in society after all. The trans movement seem to me to be working very hard to escape from prison... so they can check themselves into a different prison, when I would have preferred to raze both prisons to the ground.

To use a different metaphor, gender reassignment strikes me as a hardware solution to a software problem. I have a spreadsheet program and need a Web browser, so instead of installing a Web browser, I change the CPU to one which interprets the instructions of a spreadsheet program as those of a web browser. It just seems terribly inelegant and inefficient.

Mind you, I'll fight vociferously for your right to declare yourself male or female, and be treated as such; see here and here. But I'm deeply disappointed at your need to do so.

Comments, particularly from transgendered people and their loved ones, are welcome: I don't understand the motivations, and I really want to.

Comments

(Here via the Home Page)

To use a different metaphor, gender reassignment strikes me as a hardware solution to a software problem.

I think that covers it perfectly.

No one can change genders/sex. It's a biological impossibility. DNA determines if you're male or female, and that can't be altered any more than you can alter the color of your eyes or how tall you are.

People who claim to be or wish to be the opposite of what biology and reality says they are are deeply mentally ill. They need help to get their thinking in alignment with reality.

What they don't need is people agreeing with their delusions. And what the rest of us don't need is them shoving their views down our throats day and night, DEMANDING we agree with their delusions, and changing laws in order to make the world around them conform to their delusions.

No one can change genders/sex. It's a biological impossibility. DNA determines if you're male or female, and that can't be altered any more than you can alter the color of your eyes or how tall you are.


But people can alter the color of their eyes and how tall they are -- either temporarily, with contacts and heel lifts, or permanently, with surgery. Likewise, people have changed their "visible" sex temporarily (with makeup and cross-dressing) for thousands of years, and permanently (with surgery and hormones) for decades.

One can reasonably argue that those aren't real sex changes, because they don't change the chromosomes. That implies defining sex in terms of chromosomes, not in terms of external genitalia or clothing or occupation or social roles or checkboxes on birth certificates. Which is fine with me -- but if you define it that way, and acknowledge that the other things may not match cleanly, then you lose the justification for most rules that treat males and females differently. (And of course it doesn't tell you what to do with people whose chromosomes are neither XY nor XX, or chimeras whose chromosomes are different from one part of the body to another -- but those are fairly rare conditions.)

People who claim to be or wish to be the opposite of what biology and reality says they are are deeply mentally ill. They need help to get their thinking in alignment with reality.


People who claim tomatoes are not a fruit, in contradiction to what biology and reality say, are deeply mentally ill, and need help to get their thinking in alignment with reality.

In both cases, why does it matter? If I have XY chromosomes and call myself "female", or if I call tomatoes a vegetable, what harm does it do to me or anyone else, other than perhaps losing a few points on a biology test?

The reason it matters which gender pigeonhole I say I'm in is that society associates lots of other things with that choice: if I tell you my gender, you can guess at my clothing, my aggressive and nurturing qualities, my occupation, etc., thus saving you the trouble of checking which of those attributes I really have. In the Feminist Paradise, those associations wouldn't exist, so there would be no need to put myself in one category or the other. My doctor and I would care about my chromosomal sex, for purposes of predicting what medical problems I'm likely to have, but nobody else would.

Part 1 of 2

But people can alter the color of their eyes and how tall they are -- either temporarily, with contacts and heel lifts, or permanently, with surgery.

Superficially. But not in actuality.

Likewise, people have changed their "visible" sex temporarily (with makeup and cross-dressing) for thousands of years, and permanently (with surgery and hormones) for decades.

Again, superficially. No amount of pumping the body full of hormones or cutting off/adding on body parts actually changes a person's chromosomes. It's just an outward change. It's no different than people having surgery to try to be a parrot or a dragon. (Two real life/real people instances I did find on YouTube. Sorry, I am sick with a cold right now and don't have energy to go seek them out.)

One can reasonably argue that those aren't real sex changes, because they don't change the chromosomes.

Well, yes. That's exactly my argument.

That implies defining sex in terms of chromosomes, not in terms of external genitalia or clothing or occupation or social roles or checkboxes on birth certificates.

That's just basic biology. A hundred years from now, if Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner's remains are examined, they will show this was a male.

Which is fine with me -- but if you define it that way, and acknowledge that the other things may not match cleanly, then you lose the justification for most rules that treat males and females differently.

I'm not sure what you mean. Treated differently, but in what way? Men and women ARE different. Even leaving genitalia aside, men and women have different physical abilities, they think differently, they view the world differently, they make different choices in life, etc.

Why should that be viewed in any way as a negative thing? Men and women have different strengths and weaknesses, and these are meant to compliment one another.

It's not that much different than acknowledging that one person has an aptitude for music and another person has an aptitude for science. One is not better than the other. They're different strengths and skills, that's all. Both are valuable.

(And of course it doesn't tell you what to do with people whose chromosomes are neither XY nor XX, or chimeras whose chromosomes are different from one part of the body to another -- but those are fairly rare conditions.)

Those are difficult situations. But as you say, they are rare. It's never a good idea to form public policy on the basis of the very rare examples of this or that.

(Continued)

Re: Part 1 of 2

But people can alter the color of their eyes and how tall they are -- either temporarily, with contacts and heel lifts, or permanently, with surgery.

Superficially. But not in actuality.

I don't see the distinction. If I have leg surgery and end up an inch taller or shorter than before, I am actually an inch taller or shorter than before. If I have an eye transplant from somebody with blue eyes, I actually have blue eyes after the transplant. Or are you prepared to define height and eye color genetically too, ignoring the actual distance from feet to head or the actual color of the eyes in your head?

Even leaving genitalia aside, men and women have different physical abilities, they think differently, they view the world differently, they make different choices in life, etc.

How true is this, really? Yes, an average man is taller and stronger than an average woman, but the tallest 25% of women are taller than the shortest 25% of men, and the strongest 25% of women are stronger than the weakest 25% of men (at a guess). And even that difference is probably as much nurture as nature.

The same goes for "world view", "life choices", etc. There's so much variation within each sex, and so much confounding effect from cultural expectations, that knowing only someone's chromosomal sex doesn't tell you much about their world view or life choices.

But do you really think that whether a person is male or female is not a big deal? Not just to the person, but to society as a whole? It's the foundation for a human being's entire identity.

That's true in our current society, but does it need to be? Would society be happier and freer if it weren't a big deal? What if people were evaluated based on their individual strengths and weaknesses, rather than the strengths and weaknesses assumed based on their sex?

Most people learn at least the basic idea of whether they are a boy or a girl by the time they are potty trained.
Yes, they know what equipment they have below the waist, and how to excrete using that equipment without making a mess. Eventually, they'll probably learn how to use that equipment to have sex. But do those anatomical lessons have any essential connection with the rest of the traits we associate with "boy" vs. "girl"?

Re: Part 1 of 2

I don't see the distinction.

Then I can't think of what else I can say to you. The fact that you choose to compare so-called "sex change surgery" with either superficial changes like contacts/heel lifts or even some kind of surgery to make someone taller, (I haven't see eye color surgery), shows me you don't seem to understand basic biological facts.

Every cell in the body is either male or female. That't be altered. So any changes one does to the outward body does not change the reality of what they are - no matter how much they "feel" or wish this or that, no matter how much they demand others agree with it, no matter how many laws they push to alter society to fit their feeings/wishes.

One cannot become the opposite sex of what biology has determined they are, any more than someone can become a wolf or parrot or tree or any other thing.

That's just... reality.

Re: Reality

You said "people can't change their sex, just as they can't change their eye color or how tall they are."

I pointed out that people CAN change their eye color or how tall they are, either temporarily or permanently, so equating those things doesn't strengthen your argument.

You replied that these were only "superficial", not "actual" changes.

I replied that a "superficial" change to height or eye color IS an actual change to height or eye color -- it's not genetically heritable, but anyone who looks at you will say you're such-and-such height or such-and-such eye color, which is what matters 99% of the time.

You have a choice:

* define a trait purely in terms of genetics, in which case you get to draw the conclusion that it can't be changed with current medical technology, OR

* define it in terms of appearance and behavior, in which case you get to use it as a basis for legally distinguishing men and women. (I claiim that height and eye color are in the latter category.)

You don't get to do both at once unless you can also prove that the genetics determine the appearance and behavior, and can't be overridden by surgery, hormones, etc.

(As I understand it, people studying this issue use the word "sex" for the chromosomal definition, and "gender" for the appearance-and-behavior definition.)

If chromosomal men taking female hormones consistently lose this trait and gain that trait, it tells me those traits weren't determined directly by the chromosomes but by the hormones -- which implies that a chromosomal man who, for whatever reason, wants to change from this trait to that can do it by taking female hormones. No, this doesn't change the chromosomes, and it's not heritable, but it changes what the world sees (and what s/he sees in the mirror), which is what matters 99% of the time.

What's the essential difference among the following:

* taking opposite-sex hormones to change your appearance and behavior;
* taking same-sex hormones to change your appearance and behavior;
* taking vitamin and protein supplements to change your appearance and behavior;
* going on a diet or an exercise regimen to change your appearance and behavior;
* taking nap to change your appearance and behavior?

Re: Reality

I replied that a "superficial" change to height or eye color IS an actual change to height or eye color

No, it's not. It's a superficial change. You can sew on rabbit ears to a human head. (At least, hypothetically.) They would be permanently attached to the person's head. But that would not make the human into a rabbit.

As I said, you cannot change your DNA. It is either male or female.

(Sorry, time is limited. That's as far as I can go.)

Re: Reality

Are you actually telling me that someone who was 5'10" tall but has been shortened to 5'7" tall by surgery is still "really" 5'10"? What about someone who was 5'10" tall but has been shortened to 5'7" by age-related bone loss; is THAT person still "really" 5'10" too? Are you actually telling me that if I see someone with blue eyes, I can't say "that person has blue eyes" until I've checked his/her genetics to confirm that the blue eyes are congenital, not the result of contacts, dye, or transplant surgery? That strikes me as taking genetic determinism to a ridiculous extreme.

you cannot change your DNA. It is either male or female.

No argument, at least with today's medical technology. The argument is over to what extent your DNA determines the rest of your life. Does having XY chromosomes necessarily mean you have to have all these other characteristics associated with "maleness"?

Re: Reality

Are you actually telling me that someone who was 5'10" tall but has been shortened to 5'7" tall by surgery is still "really" 5'10"?

First of all, I've never heard of this done. Second, it doesn't matter because it's not an equal comparison.

Every cell in the body is either male or female. Period.

People CANNOT change from male to female or female to male. PERIOD.

That's biology. That's reality.

Re: Reality

People CANNOT change from male to female or female to male. PERIOD.

Well, no. You've argued that someone's chromosomes determine their sex. But that just means any technology that comes along that changes chromosomes will "really" (i.e. as you have defined it) change someone's sex.

Genetic surgery is a technology on the edge of becoming real. It's the use of engineered viruses to edit the genes – yes, all the genes in all the cells – of a living organism.

So let us say, for the sake of argument, that in twenty years it is possible to change an XX person to XY.

Where does that leave your argument?

Somehow I think you won't be fine with transgender people, just so long as they all get genetic surgery. You don't actually care, do you, whether sex is defined genetically, just so long as (you think) it invalidates someone's claim to be some sex you don't want them to be.

Your actual agenda is that you don't want people to "change" sex. It's far more important to you, isn't it, that once you (think you) know someone's sex, that you're never told you're wrong about it. You very badly want people's sexes to be permanent, and that's why you like the idea of genetically determined sex: because you like to think of genes as unchangeable.

When you say "CANNOT", what you really mean is "SHOULDN'T". Because you don't like it.

Re: Reality

Your actual agenda is that you don't want people to "change" sex. It's far more important to you, isn't it, that once you (think you) know someone's sex, that you're never told you're wrong about it.



LOL! Judgmental, much? Who in the blazes do you think you are, claiming you know what my "agenda is?

You hear me and you hear me well. Sex/gender is determined by your DNA. That can't be changed. People who think they are or wish to be the opposite sex are deeply mentally ill. People like you who promote this mental illness are doing them a disservice in the name of "love".

You will not push it on me. You will not continue to push this delusion on society. You will not destroy children with it. Do you hear me? Good.

Re: Reality

Sex/gender is determined by your DNA.

From the tautology that one's genetic sex is determined by one's genetics, you've drawn the conclusion that one's gender in society is also determined by one's genetics, because you equate "sex" with "gender", and other people in this discussion don't. Do you have evidence that genetic sex and social/performative gender are, fundamentally and essentially, the same thing?

People who think they are or wish to be the opposite sex are deeply mentally ill.

There are people in this discussion far more qualified than I to discuss the definitions of "mentally ill," but I'm guessing you mean it in the sense of "not aware of or accepting of the real world." (With which brush one could paint almost anyone with whom one disagrees, but never mind that.) Anyway, it presupposes the other axioms that I mentioned. If those axioms don't turn out to be true, and you continue to refuse to accept that fact, then the "mental illness" is in you, not the trans.

Of course, disagreements don't necessarily mean one person or another is "mentally ill." If I like spinach and you don't, we can both go along with our lives, and even be friends. Even if you think the sky is blue and I think it's purple, it's probably a harmless delusion on the part of one of us, and we can both go along with our lives and even be friends. If someone has XY chromosomes but "looks" female to all appearances and goes by the name Christine, does that in any way harm you or anyone else?

You will not push it on me. You will not continue to push this delusion on society. You will not destroy children with it.

OK, that clarifies what we're really talking about. The existence of trans people is an affront to you, and therefore to society, children, and cuddly puppies. You are Standing Up for Decency and What's Right, Defending the Downtrodden and Oppressed, and all that noble stuff, like Don Quixote and the windmills. Problem is, like Don Quixote, you haven't shown that anybody is actually oppressed by the existence of trans people (other than you personally being squicked-out), so you have no imprisoned maiden to rescue. Your crusade serves no purpose except to make you feel like a crusader.

The other side in this debate also views itself as Standing Up for Decency and What's Right, Defending the Downtrodden and Oppressed, and all that noble stuff. The difference is that LGBT people really do routinely get fired from jobs, beaten up, and even killed for being LGBT, so there is someone to rescue.

Re: Reality

I've never heard of this done.

I haven't either, intentionally, but somebody who has surgery to correct a congenital leg-length difference is likely to end up either taller or shorter than (s)he started. Likewise, I haven't heard of intentional eye-color-change surgery, but if I needed an eye transplant and the best available donor happened to have blue eyes, I would end up with different-colored eyes than I started with. The point is that for all practical purposes except genetic heritability, the patient would now "really" have shorter legs or different eye color than before.

it doesn't matter because it's not an equal comparison.

Of course not; it's a reductio ad absurdum of your claim that a visible change that doesn't modify the genes isn't a "real" change. I'm trying to demonstrate that accepting that claim in its entirety leads to ridiculous conclusions, so something must be wrong with the claim.

Every cell in the body is either male or female. Period.

Agreed, with the rare exceptions we've already discussed.

People CANNOT change from male to female or female to male. PERIOD.

That follows logically if you also assume two additional axioms:

  • the genetics of individual cells in the body cannot be changed;

  • the genetics of individual cells in the body determines whether "you" are "male" or "female".


The first of these axioms is true with current medical technology, but could easily be false in twenty years (as siderea points out), so basing your argument on it is shaky.

The second of these axioms is the main question at hand It may be so obvious to you as to not need stating, but it is not obvious to me or to some other people in this discussion. It's why I proposed that reductio ad absurdum: if you believe that your genetics determine your "real" gender, do you also believe that your genetics also determine your "real" height and eye color? The latter is obviously ridiculous, so the former should probably be questioned.

Do you have any evidence for this second axiom that might convince somebody who doesn't already believe it?

Edited at 2016-05-31 11:14 am (UTC)

Part 2 of 2

In both cases, why does it matter?

Are you really going to use such an example? Whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables, or whether people think they're one or the other, is not a big deal in the world.

But do you really think that whether a person is male or female is not a big deal? Not just to the person, but to society as a whole? It's the foundation for a human being's entire identity. Most people learn at least the basic idea of whether they are a boy or a girl by the time they are potty trained. Obviously, they don't know much at this stage. But at least they are learning the categories and which one they are. As a side issue, that's why mommies and daddies are important. That's how children learn what being male and female is all about.

The reason it matters which gender pigeonhole I say I'm in is that society associates lots of other things with that choice: if I tell you my gender, you can guess at my clothing, my aggressive and nurturing qualities, my occupation, etc., thus saving you the trouble of checking which of those attributes I really have.

Well, certain things are generally true about men and women in these categories. Clothing is a superficial thing and can change depending on culture. (And even then, there are expectations for what is male or female clothing.) But men are generally bigger, stronger, more aggressive than women. Women are generally better at multitasking than men. Men are generally more driven in their work pursuits than women. Women are generally more emotional than men. Why should any of these differences be seen as a bad thing? Men and women each have different strengths and weaknesses. They are meant to balance each other out.

There are some generalizations. Not every single person fits every single category. But that's a far cry from saying that men and woman are exactly the same and interchangeable, except that they have these superficial body differences. It's just not so. Men and women are deeply, markedly different, and not just in their physical bodies.

Ask yourself why people who have lost a parent in their childhood or never knew one of their parents for whatever reason have such a deep longing to know that parent that is missing from their lives. They could have had a wonderful mother or father and other family members who did everything in their power to love that child and give them a good home. But that child as he or she grows up will still desperately long for that mother or father they lost or never knew.

Men and women are just... different from one another. And in very deep, significant ways that perhaps we can't even quite put into words.

What we have is a situation where certain people are, provably, objectively, testably, mentally-female or mentally-male.


This is what I don't get. My earnest-white-liberal upbringing says there's no such thing as "mentally-female" and "mentally-male" categories.

I'm open to be convinced that there are. To do that, one would list two large sets of personality traits A and B, such that all the traits in each set are strongly positively correlated with one another, and strongly negatively correlated with the traits in the other set; and furthermore that set A correlated strongly with having XY chromosomes, while set B correlated strongly with having XX chromosomes (we'll temporarily exclude from consideration the XXX, XXY, and XYY rarities).

If we have good evidence that the above actually exists, we can define gender dysphoria as having all or most of the personality traits from one set, but the chromosomes and/or genitalia associated with the other. And I could see that as a real ailment, in that it makes one's everyday life difficult.

But only if those sets of personality traits, with strong positive internal correlations and strong negative correlations with one another, actually exist. If the world is blurrier than that, and individuals often have a few traits from Column A and a few from Column B, then there's no sense talking about "mentally-male" or "mentally-female", much less prescribing medical treatment to bring one's body into conformity with one's mental state.


Excretion: if someone wants to use a urinal and they can do it without making a mess, go for it. They'll be ahead of 20% of the cis men I encounter.

Sex: if only people would write "I like penises" on their dating profiles, we wouldn't need to proxy our squishy bits using (perceived) gender.


Absolutely. My point was that the shape of your genitals actually does affect how you urinate and copulate (what you do with that difference is another matter), whereas it has no obvious effect on how you drive, paint, code, or the other 99% of life.
I concur with metahacker that this was a bit cringe-inducing. While, like him, I'm willing to grant this comes from a place of well-meaningness, to me it comes across as far less earnestly curious than it does fighty. You sound indignant about what you believe of transgender people, much of which is false.

I'm just going to quickly run down a list of bunch of things in your post which are erroneous and their corrections. I'll include some rhetorical questions I'll indicate with "Consider:". I am not asking you to answer them here, but rather to provide you with some questions to contemplate over time, with which to challenge yourself.

I'll start with the fun and funny one, because shame on you of all people for missing it:
Why should it matter, for any purpose other than excretion and sex?
Last night – I kid you not! – I ran into an old friend from my friend's list whom I hadn't seen in years, and discovered them now sporting a beard and large biceps. "There's been some changes," he said with a shy grin. He then invited me to a concert this weekend, where he was singing in the chorus. "I'm singing bass."

We are reminded of our own gender identities every time we open our mouths and hear ourselves speak; we are reminded of how other people see us. I had a patient who was a cisgender woman with a two pack a day habit, and a tendency to be addressed as "Sir" on the telephone; she did not find this funny or irrelevant, she found it humiliating, and it was probably her single greatest motivation to try to stop smoking.

My points here:

(1) The physicality of masculinity (and femininity) are not limited to genital structure and function! In fact, it's often the secondary sexual characteristics which are of critical emotional interest to transgender people of the sort you've been talking about. The horrified-fascinated cisgender majority is terribly interested in what's in transgender people's pants, but transgender people are very often more interested in what's under their shirts – and on their faces and in their gloves. Consider: completely aside from gender identity, i.e. what someone "is", is it reasonable/comprehensible for someone to deeply want to have, purely for reason of strongly held aesthetic convictions, a male/female voice, male musculature, female breasts, female/male facial structure, female/male skin texture? If so, is it not sensible that someone might want to "be" the sex not assigned them at birth because that is the sort of body they very strongly want to have?

(2) Gender performance is not only an issue for transpeople. Cisgender people – most of them – who are misgendered by others find it uncomfortable at best, and often find it provokes strong negative emotional reactions, especially when it happens a lot over time. Gender performance is both for ourselves and for others; when we receive feedback from others that indicate their perception of our gender performance is not congruent with our desired or intended gender performance, that feels dismaying. Consider: Have you had experiences being mistaken for a woman? (Not including any time when you were in costume attempting to portray being a woman.) If so, what was it like for you? If not (and as a cisgender man, it is unlikely you have), what do you think it would be like for you to be chronically randomly addressed as "Ma'am" and "miss" by store clerks and police officers, to have coworkers invite you to women-in-tech and girls-night-out activities not as an ally but as someone assumed to be female? Would you feel the need to change your gender presentation in the hopes of reducing the frequency of that mistake? Would you feel you had an obligation to others to do so to reduce their distress at the awkwardness of having to correct/disabuse them?

[continued]
[continued]

Moving right along:
If I were in junior high school today and made the same choice for the same reasons, would I be diagnosed with gender dysphoria and advised to consider hormone treatment or even surgery?
No, you would not. To get diagnosed with gender dysphoria, you would actually have to tell someone, at length, and over a great period of time, that you hated being a man and were convinced that you either were, or would be happier being, a woman, or at least not a man. Nobody is diagnosing or even suggesting gender dysphoria because of chosen activities.

To quote scripture:
My dog is a plumber
so he must be a boy.
Although I must tell you
his favorite toy
is a little play stove
with pans and with pots
which he really must like
'cause he plays with it lots.
So perhaps he's a girl
which kinda makes sense.
Since he can't throw a ball
or can't climb a fence.
But neither can dad
and I KNOW he's a man;
and mom is a woman
and SHE drives a van.
So perhaps the problem
is in trying to tell
just who a person is,
by what they do well.
From Free to Be... You and Me.
Which leaves me puzzled when I hear of people who decide they "should have been born male" or "should have been born female".
That puts you in the company of a whole lot of trans people!

You're looking at something that's a historical artifact, and now being challenged by trans activists.

The early trans pioneers pursuing surgical intervention pursued a rhetorical approach to convincing surgeons to perform surgery on "perfectly good organs" that the surgeons were otherwise loathe to operate on: they argued that they "really were" the sex they were not assigned at birth, and that therefore their primary and secondary sexual characteristics were "mistakes", like growing a sixth finger, that surgeons should have no qualms about "correcting".

This wound up baking into the nascent field of transgender healthcare the presumption that a transgender person was someone who "felt they were in the wrong body". So of course, trans people who wanted to avail themselves of surgery absolutely had to conform to that narrative or they would be considered not trans enough to qualify. There were, in fact, a number of such narrative requirements that trans people pursuing surgery had to meet, so trans people, en mass, swore that that was how it was for them – lying as much as necessary to get past the gatekeepers. For instance, if you were sexually attracted to the same sex as you identified with, that was grounds for surgical (and endocrinological) disqualification, because transitioning to one's desired sex would "make" one "gay". So to receive medical assistance in transition, married trans people had to disavow their spouses, and assert they had never loved them or desired them, it was all "living a lie". Similarly, surgery was made contingent on the trans person demonstrating they could "pass" as the desired sex, full time, for two years. A trans woman, for instance, who was not feminine enough in presentation for her medical team's taste, was in jeopardy of being denied care.

In other words, the reduplication and reification of repressive gender normativity by trans people was, for decades, something forced on trans people by cisgender authorities.

Over the last 30 years, this system of oppression has been being dismantled, and as it has, trans people have been "coming out" as having all sorts of other interesting experiences and narratives of being transgender. There absolutely are, still, people whose experience is "being in the wrong body" or "should have been male/female", but that's not the only narrative.

Other narratives coming to light include:

• "I was male (female), but I've come to the conclusion I would be happier as female (male)."

• "I don't feel comfortable with the gender I was assigned at birth, but I don't want to be the 'opposite' one, either; I would rather not have a gender."

• "I've always felt a strong yearning to be the gender I wasn't assigned at birth."

[continued]
[continued]

(Okay, I lied about "quickly".)

The trans movement seem to me to be working very hard to escape from prison... so they can check themselves into a different prison


Good news: genderqueer and agender people also exist! They are also part of the trans movement.

As per above, your perception about trans people reinforcing gender norms is somewhat dated, and really about something more done to them than done by them.

You might be interested to know that these are things much on the mind of the trans movement. For instance, there was considerable controversy and argument in the trans activist community on-line about Caitlin Jenner's coming out on Vanity Fair's cover. On one hand, yay trans visibility. On the other hand, way to reinforce the idea that to be a "real" woman, you have to meet "feminine" beauty norms to a level that non-millionaire, non-white women, cis or trans, will probably never approach in their lives.

when I would have preferred to raze both prisons to the ground.


Consider: Ah, but would you? I know you've sported a beard of your own from time to time; I've never known you to pursue a particularly androgynous presentation – am I mistaken? When you say that you would prefer to raze both prisons to the ground, what exactly is it you want to raze? It is the obligation to conform to gender norms for one's sex, assigned or identified? Is it the very existence of sex differences? Is it the social pertinence of sex differences?

Some of the things listening to the accounts and thoughts of trans people has given me, are:

• The realization that my thinking about gender and sex – just what they were – was naive and inadequate, and I had to up my game. Thinky trans people were asking very deep questions along the lines of, "What does it mean about gender that I feel so strongly about it? What is this gender thing I feel so strongly about?"

• The realization that people vary in how they relate to their own genders/sexes. For some people, maybe even most of them, gender/sex is a huge part of their identity. For other people, myself included, it's much less pertinent. The fact that I have very little response to being misgendered (which has happened to me) aside from worrying if the person doing the misgendering will be upset to find out they were "wrong", means that I can't generalize to other people by introspection.

• Thus I realized there was this little way in which I, too, was genderqueer; not in the usual sense of identifying with a sex I wasn't assigned, but in the unusual way I related to the sex I identified with, i.e. weakly.

[continued]
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• It illuminated for me how social gender performance is. You say, it tells me we lost the war: your physical sex does determine your role in society after all that begs the question of what the war was over. If by "role in society" you mean "whether or not you get to be CEO", I 100% agree that's not something we want. If by "role in society" you mean things like "heterosexual men regard me as in the class of potential mates and heterosexual women regard me as a fellow member of the class of people regarded by heterosexual men as potential mates, and not a potential mate of them", then... is that what you want?

Is what you want a society in which there is no performance of gender at all, except in private for purposes of gendered sexual intimacy?

Because I'll tell you, I think that sounds wonderful, but I don't think many people agree with me. I read about an SFF LARP where the intensive costuming requirements completely androgynized the players – the pictures were gorgeous — and they were role-playing a society in which sex is considered a personal secret and all normal healthy people are assumed to be fully bisexual. And I thought, I think I would really like living in that world.

Are you like that, too? Or do you like living in a world with public, evident sexual dimorphism and gender performance?

And at the same time, I also have come to appreciate the idea of gender performance as a kind of art. Heaven knows, it's a skill. Someone once said, "We're all born naked; after that, everything is drag." I have come to see gender performance as a kind of play – both in the sense of "game"/"recreation" and in the sense of "theater"/"acting". It is, as they say, performative.

I have to stop now and go write something profitable, though I probably have missed a lot of what I have to say. I hope this is useful to you.
My new stepson is transgender, and I knew this person since the last almost two years before the transition from Kate to Eamon. Which happened within a year of Brian's passing.

I can only say that Eamon is happier as Eamon than Kate ever was. The most amazing thing in all of this to me is that the woman Eamon knew even as Kate married Eamon in October of 2014. If that is not love, I don't know what is.

I can't begin to imagine the mental and emotional calisthenics that my husband's conservative parents had to undergo to accept the situation, but they've done so with equanimity and grace. I was at that wedding, eight months before mine, and at subsequent family gatherings since, so I've witnessed this equanimity first hand.

It seems a lot of trouble to go through physically to change outward appearances so drastically, and I know genetics can never be changed, but Eamon and Audrey are happy. The younger sister got an older brother, and their parents got a son, though the mother would die of cancer not long after. Everyone is still devoted to each other as they ever were.

I don't want to imagine how my family would handle a similar situation. Let's just say that it will indeed be an interesting day when certain people meet for the first time.

Edited at 2016-05-22 03:42 am (UTC)

The story so far...

I'm going to take the perilous step of checking whether I understand these various arguments by re-stating them. I almost certainly won't get any of them 100% right; I'm hoping for about 80%.

I tried to argue that the differences between men and women are so superficial and insignificant that trying to switch from one to the other should be unnecessary.

mosinging1986 "agreed" by arguing almost the exact opposite: that the differences between men and women are so deep and fundamental that trying to switch from one to the other is not only impossible but insane.

siderea and metahacker pointed out a number of things I didn't know, wasn't sure of, or hadn't considered:

  • "trans" does not necessarily imply a change to physical genitalia, only a change from one "gender identity" to the other;

  • "gender identity" is not merely about public presentation, but internal experience, how your body feels to live in (e.g. secondary sexual characteristics), etc.

  • "being born as the wrong sex" is not necessarily the experience of many trans people, but a narrative they had to fit into twenty or thirty years ago.

  • Many (most?) people are perfectly happy to identify with a particular gender and conform to most of its expectations; this is not necessarily evidence of antediluvian-patriarchal thinking on their part.

  • Sex hormones really do strongly affect the brain and a wide variety of personality characteristics, so it's hard to tease apart hormones from personality.

A few thoughts

1. Thanks for honesty. Always a rare commodity in public conversation. Even if some find it "cringeworthy," how do we explore things of meaning without the willingness to say cringeworthy things, and the tolerance to hear them.

2. As I grow older, I find many things about my physical body do not match my self image of myself. I have all manner of physical activities I feel I should be able to do. Now, in my case, they are based on experience. There was a time when I could run through my various Aikido kata. There was a time when I could function on less sleep. There was a time when I could spend an hour scrubbing the bathroom floor (as I did yesterday) and not have a horrible time straightening up.

From this experience, however, I am able to generalize that other people may feel uncomfortable with their bodies -- even without prior experience telling them what they should be capable of doing.

3. For the same reason, I wouldn't think of it as a failure of society. This is in part a question of personal visualization. We as a society can accept that all jobs and professions have value, and still have personal desire to work at one type of job and not another. We can accept that all people have value no matter what their gender, but an individual may still feel that their self-visualization is of a different gender.

4. While it is in some ways odd to class transgender and sexual orientation in the same category (much as I, a student of Asian History, find it odd that we in the U.S. lump the cultures of a content together for Asian American heritage month), it makes sense if we consider it a matter of self-definition. Love whom you love. Be who you envision yourself to be. It is not a matter of self-worth, but a matter of self-actualization.
That's a fair cop. In my (partial) defense, feminism has been a part of my awareness for as long as I can remember; LGB issues have been a part of my awareness for about twenty years; and trans issues have been a part of my awareness for less than five years; researching the experiences of trans people hasn't been a priority for me until very recently. I don't think I'm unusual in that among American liberals, so whatever misunderstandings and misconceptions I've got are probably widespread.
While looking at the added commentary, my mind went at random to a scene from a Stephen King novella (as Richard Bachman, I think) titled "The Long Walk."

In a dystopian future, young men volunteer to undergo a walk-athon that has a fatal penalty for dropping out, with a prize of the contestant's choice for the remaining winner. While they are lining up, the protagonist notices a sign or billboard stating, "Remember: May is Confirm Your Sex Month."

Here's to hoping that confirming one's gender identity will remain firmly in the private sphere, and not something forced upon from the outside.