The Stonewall/Bindel affair, and the politics of transsexuality

The Stonewall/Bindel affair, and the politics of transsexuality

What would a revolutionary gender politics be? I don't have a clear answer, but certainly the area is one where there aren't many clear arguments of much use. The recent debacle involving Stonewall and Julie Bindel does allow us though to think about where to start.

Julie Bindel’s nomination for the Journalist of the Year prize (which she didn’t win) at the Stonewall awards this month ignited a storm of controversy, with many within the broad 'LGBTQ community’ outraged at the organisation’s recognition of a commentator with a long record of writing which they see as ridden with ‘transphobia’. This led to a colourful demonstration outside the event, and a not so colourful counter demonstration by the 'Julie Bindel fan club'.

Bindel, the Guardian’s stable ‘radical feminist’ has come up here before. Her stance on prostitutes organising was used as an example of moralistic thinking precluding effective action in this blog entry. Clearly, as a self-described ‘good liberal’ she is pretty far from any kind of anarchist/libertarian communist position, and so we shouldn’t expect much from what she writes – interesting as it is in showing how much ‘radical’ feminism in actual practice translates into simple radical liberalism, unable to go beyond various forms of civil rights activism. Her writing on transgender issues is pretty sloppy too, and the opposition to her 'transphobia' centers around two main and contradictory arguments she has made over the past few years:

1. Gender reassignment treats gender as an internal biological condition when it is not, and therefore surgically altering the genitals of transsexuals is the mutilation of gays or lesbians who identify with aspects of the ‘wrong’ gender and who are attracted to those of the same birth gender.

2. Transsexual women are not ‘real’ women, should not be treated as such, and should not receive support as such.

The first argument comes up in a number of articles, such as this, in which Bindel writes: ‘Feminists want to rid the world of gender rules and regulations, so how is it possible to support a theory which has at its centre the notion that there is something essential and biological about the way boys and girls behave?’ Claiming that ‘sex change surgery is unnecessary mutilation’, she argues that ‘my concerns about the increasing acceptance of "transsexuality” as a diagnosis are based upon my feminist belief that it arises from the strong stereotyping of girls and boys into strict gender roles.’

Though of course containing its own moral assumptions in seeing choosing to alter the genitals as “mutilation”, this argument is reasonably straightforward.

The second argument was used in some of Bindel’s earlier and most controversial articles on transsexuality, in particular an article from 2004 on the case of Kimberly Nixon, a male-to-female transsexual who had a human rights ruling in her favour in Canada overturned – the woman in question had been turned down employment from a rape counselling centre on the grounds that she wasn’t a ‘real’ woman: ‘The arrogance is staggering: having not experienced life as a "woman" until middle age, Nixon assumed "she" would be suitable to counsel women who have chosen to access a service that offers support from women who have suffered similar experiences, not from a man in a dress! The Rape Relief sisters, who do not believe a surgically constructed vagina and hormonally grown breasts make you a woman, successfully challenged the ruling and, for now at least, the law says that to suffer discrimination as a woman you have to be, er, a woman.’ She then, contradictorily, argues that genders ‘...are not real. We play at them. We develop traditional masculine or feminine traits by being indoctrinated, not because we are biologically programmed to behave in those ways.’

In which case it would be impossible to make claims about who is a ‘real’ woman or not. If it is the experience of ‘being’ a woman, then for Bindel’s argument to work you would have had to have been a ‘woman’ from birth, living some shared experience that possession of a ‘natural’ vagina entitles you to irrespective of real divisions (as if a cleaner and Deborah Mearden share any meaningful commonality despite both having vulvas, much the same as if a Muslim postal worker and a Muslim entrepreneur have any meaningful commonality as part of the ‘Muslim community’); having lived as a ‘male’ (with a real cock), however this played itself out, at whatever point in your life would disqualify you. Moreover this experience of being a ‘real’ woman is only accessible to those born as such, meaning it isn’t acted because in order to work it comes down to 'natural' genital endowment. This contradicts her arguments about not accepting arbitrary, institutionalised binary sexual identities, and clearly just dresses up her own gender essentialism.

She is right about one thing though: feminism’s most vital insight and argument was to decentralise the production of gender from a given biological ‘fact’ to a contingent social relationship. Gender is acted out through norms of behaviour, speech and comportment. Interpretations of this run from the fairly general acceptance that gender and sex are two different things - biological sex being the material facts of the body, gender being the roles and behaviours assigned to binary categories of people - to more radical analyses which criticise the ways in which biological sex is already a gendered category, seeking to understand the way in which sexual organs, hormonal differences, height and the rest to have meaning within a binary gender discourse in the first place.

But either way, gender must be understood as something which is learned and acted, and that a society that we’d want to live in would involve the dismantling of binary gender identities.

It is this argument which seems to be causing so much anger in the transgender community. Ultimately it comes to clash with the underpinnings of much trangender activism. Gender reassignment surgery does reify gender, it seeks to objectify and materialise a social relation. The argument that sex change surgery makes you a man or a woman is clearly reactionary – the belief that surgery makes you more of a woman is reactionary whether it is a transsexual or Katie Price doing it. And here is the controversy. Lefties of many varieties who will criticise cosmetic body modification as the attempt to make bodies fit into binary, ideal gender types when ‘natural’ women have it done will see the same argument applied to the modification of the body by transgender people as ‘transphobia’. It is not a coincidence that gender-reassignment surgery is supported by fatwa and easily available in Iran, whilst having sex with someone with the same genital arrangement is punishable by death, as the setup there reifies heterosexist, binary gender norms.

What matters, then, is the practical implications of the best insights of feminist theory. Clearly, the violence and intimidation transgender people routinely face is unconscionable. But the question again boils down to the contradictions between the politics of affirmation and the politics of negation. This may at first seem strange. As Slavoj Žižek amongst others has argued, the difference between the politics of oppressed and marginalised groups seeking to defend themselves and the politics of class struggle is that class struggle seeks as its end point the abolition of class. “Class pride” is a reactionary concept, and though class relations can and do express themselves through communities and class identities, if class struggle is to be part of a revolutionary project rather than the affirmation of the working class within capitalism then it must abolish capitalism and with it abolish class. Class is furthermore a material position within capitalism – those who have nothing to sell but their labour and who must work for the money necessary to live, those dispossessed of ownership of capital and who must sell their labour time and labour power to those who have or administer it. It is not a sociological category, but a condition and a social relation. The struggles of women, ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians insofar as they are organised around the marginalised group must struggle for recognition of various kinds. But this, as so often, is an oversimplification. The various marginalised roles are themselves constituted within the process of their marginalisation – and though the material proletarian condition which is the prerequisite for capital accumulation is demonstrable in a different way to the constitution of various marginalised identities, we can still see the issue in terms of affirmation or negation: in the case of gender, either liberal feminism’s affirmation of women as bourgeois subjects with equal legal standing, or the radical project of the negation of gender binaries and with it gender identity.

So what would this look like in practice? I don’t pretend to have the answers. In the case of negating the proletarian condition, the answer is relatively straightforward: the direct communisation of the means of production, the abolition of wage labour and the replacement of the state by the construction of real human community through linked councils. Gender cannot be negated in the same way, though the same processes of seizure and transformation growing out of class antagonism. Its fairly easy to imagine that a society where the production of the entire social environment is no longer alienated would allow for a new kind of society and more radical possibilities, but its not enough to talk abstractly of revolution as being the cure-all we must invest our faith in.

But we do know where it can’t start – certainly not from the reification of binary gender identities. The task must be to destabalise and desacralise gender, and this cannot be done whilst upholding a belief in the ability to “match” bodily organs to gendered behaviour. The critique of gender cannot be held back because it offends the sensibilities of marginalised groups, and whilst we recognise the difficulties transgender people face, we can’t let those difficulties be an excuse to suspend critical thought.

Comments

Django
Dec 5 2008 14:49
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Well, yes, at least as far as they are rigid and they are associated with each sex.

I'd agree as far as that goes. But dragging transsexualism into this? Transsexualism does not reify gender roles. We transition for other reasons. Unfortunately, we risk more if we break gender norms, so we may have to take on certain gender signifiers before, during, and after transition. If we don't match the corresponding gender, people may question whether we are in our assigned sex (before transition) or our (brain sex) adopted sex (after transition). If people question that, we may face physical attack, blacklisting, or any variety of other threats.

The idea that 'transition' from birth sex to another does not reify gender roles is a bit weird, but maybe its a problem of differing definitions. I mean, the argument on the blog you posted above doesn't really get at the problem at all - saying that people who don't surgically 'transition' are reifying gender as much as those who do through having genitals is evasion, and it makes no distinction between gender as basically performance and gender as the nature of your genitals, as if the latter isn't the reifying act which is being discussed. Its pretty disingenuous.

So this:

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Cis people reify gender categories even more strongly. Because, beginning in a category, and not only staying in it but actively defending its boundaries against trans people is fucking reifying it.

is an absolutely ludicrous strawman argument.

In order to think that it is possible to match "brain sex" and genitals through surgery you'd have to have a essentialist idea of what gender is. Thats the point. Now there are plenty of trannies who don't see the need to undergo surgery, and who don't see the structure of their genitals as being what gender is about. They certainly aren't reifying gender in the same way as transexuals who require genital surgery in order to 'match' their brains and bodies are.

Thats the point of the blog, that there is a fundamental tension between having a view of gender which sees it as being the matrix of activity, speech, comportment etc which we act out,which has a normative role in sexist societies and which logically has no bearing on the genital structure of the doer and one which sees the need to root that matrix to whichever binary genital category, which transexuals seeking surgery clearly do.

The fact that trans people do get threats etc is beside the point, which is said repeatedly in the blog.

Gender is a more complicated thing than the category you are born into and are expected to act out.

Marja Erwin
Dec 5 2008 14:53

Well, it can arise non-naturally, when the mother takes sex hormones or endocrine disruptors during pregnancy. For example, it is more likely among male-assigned children of mothers who took DES. It can also, apparently, arise naturally. For example, there are various groups in south and southeast Asia, formerly described as Eunuchs, including the Hijra in India, and others. Some of these are quite low-status groups. Nonetheless, on the order of 1 in 500 assigned males chooses to join these groups. That's comparable to Lynn Conway's figures for the number of MtF and FtM trans people in the west: http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/TSprevalence.html

I don't think it is "the symptom of overbearing gender roles mapped to types of biological bodies." Growing up, I was reasonably comfortable with masculinity, and rather dismissive of femininity. I wanted to be a tomboy.

"How can someone simply feel they are somehow in the wrong body, not merely that they don't like their body but that they are in the wrong one?" There can be a generalized disconnect from one's body, particularly from the organs of the wrong sex. In particular, my body-map didn't correspond with my body. I had this persistent sense that there should be the normal female features, and yet keep encountering certain normal male features instead. There are other, similar concerns that are harder to explain. I feel more comfortable, and more alive, while taking estrogen and anti-androgens than I did before taking them. Of course, that can be attributed to the placebo effect.

Marja Erwin
Dec 5 2008 15:23
Django wrote:
The idea that 'transition' from birth sex to another does not reify gender roles is a bit weird, but maybe its a problem of differing definitions.

Because it isn't about gender roles - it is about subconscious sex. I believe that if we eliminated gender roles, or made them equally accessible to either biological sex, about 1 in 500 people would still feel a need to transition from one body sex to the other body sex. (Obviously, that doesn't change genetic sex or, I would assert, brain sex).

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In order to think that it is possible to match "brain sex" and genitals through surgery you'd have to have a essentialist idea of what gender is.

You might say so. But the essentialist idea might not involve gender roles - that's the point - it might not even correlate with gender roles. That's why so many trans people equate gender identity with brain sex and distinguish gender identity/brain sex from gender roles.

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Thats the point. Now there are plenty of trannies who don't see the need to undergo surgery, and who don't see the structure of their genitals as being what gender is about.

Transgenderism is an incredibly broad category. It includes cross-dressers and drag queens who focus on gender roles. Few of them have any interest in transition.

Many transsexual people question whether transsexualism belongs within the transgender category. A few insist that these are exclusive sets: nobody who is transsexual can be transgender, and nobody who is transgender can be transsexual. I think that goes too far, but transsexualism at most overlaps with transgenderism. They are not different degrees of the same thing.

Many genderqueer people identify as transsexual. I assume that genderqueer identities reflect intermediate/mosaic brain sex (or intermediate/mosaic BSTc structure). There's no reason, if you have brain sex, that you can't have an intermediate brain sex.

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Thats the point of the blog, that there is a fundamental tension between having a view of gender which sees it as being the matrix of activity, speech, comportment etc which we act out,which has a normative role in sexist societies and which logically has no bearing on the genital structure of the doer and one which sees the need to root that matrix to whichever binary genital category, which transexuals seeking surgery clearly do.

Again, I think there are two different things at work here. There is gender identity, or subconscious sex, which may be rooted in brain sex (as in the Dutch studies). And there are gender roles, most of which seem to be independent of any biological basis (especially since they vary from culture to culture).

I believe that body sex should correspond with gender identity.

I do not believe that gender roles should correspond with either body sex or gender identity.

Django
Dec 5 2008 15:56
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You might say so. But the essentialist idea might not involve gender roles - that's the point - it might not even correlate with gender roles. That's why so many trans people equate gender identity with brain sex and distinguish gender identity/brain sex from gender roles.

I don’t think this split between ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender roles’ makes much sense, especially as the function in your argument is to see one as essential and ahistorical and the other as socially and historically contingent. There isn’t a difference. Gender identity is as contingent as gender roles are (and that applies to ‘naturally’ born men and women too), which makes the idea that ahistorical biological ‘brain sex’ naturally couples with with gender identitiy dubious to say the least. Leaving aside the dodgy idea that there is ‘subconscious sex’ its still just naturalistic fallacy.

I mean the argument that ‘oppressive’ gender roles are bad but that we should have a society where people could feel the full flowering of their natural femininity or masculinity means acting like all the developments in feminism since the 1960s didn’t happen (or just totally misrepresenting them, as in the ‘transphobic tropes’ article you linked to.)

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Again, I think there are two different things at work here. There is gender identity, or subconscious sex, which may be rooted in brain sex (as in the Dutch studies). And there are gender roles, most of which seem to be independent of any biological basis (especially since they vary from culture to culture).

I believe that body sex should correspond with gender identity.

I do not believe that gender roles should correspond with either body sex or gender identity.

This is very illogical though. If gender is independent of any biological basis, being socially and historically contingent then there is absolutely no reason to believe that there should be a need for the two to correspond. Theres nothing in your argument which leads to the conclusion that there is any necessary link between the two, in fact in other posts you have contradicted that, and so the only reason I can see for it is sticking with received essentialist ideas of what gender is – that it is rooted to whether you have a penis or a vagina.

If you separate sex and gender in such a way, that there is a subconscious ‘sex’ which is independent of the socially contingent construction of gender then you are left with sex without mediation and the impossibility of having a ‘gendered mind’.

Still, I can’t see any difference between this argument and those of women who get boob jobs because it brings their bodies in line with their internalised view of what feminity is and makes them feel more like a ‘real’ woman.

Marja Erwin
Dec 5 2008 16:20
revol68 wrote:
How on earth did end up feeling you had the wrong downstairs mix up? Do you think there can be some a priori conflict between your subjectivty and biology? That you have some sort of female soul but it got put in the wrong body?

The most common explanation is that we have the instructions for typically-female and typically-male BSTc structure, and other sexually dimorphic midbrain structures. Just as different hormone levels can trigger either male or female instructions in the formation of the genitals, they might trigger either male or female instructions in the formation of these midbrain structures. Prenatal hormone supplements do affect the chance of transsexualism (as well as genital intersex conditions). Hormone replacement therapy, however, does not seem to affect these structures in adults.

I'm sure there are evolutionary advantages to having the body map hard-wired in the brain. Same for our sense of "healthy" vs. "sick" hormone levels.

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How does this differ from a young girl who under the pressure of idealised beauty types looks down at here small breasts yet feels that there should be big bossomy ones there? Likewise what about a black kid in a predominantly white culture who looks at his face in the mirror expecting to see a milky complexion and then starts skin bleaching?

Um, yeah, it is an awkward issue. Where does my identity leave off and these influences begin? Someone growing her breasts in adulthood might not get the same size as someone getting hers in puberty. And there is a lot of controversy about the top job among MtF folks.

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What is the difference between gender roles and gender identity.

Gender roles = what society tells us women and men should do, because they are women and men, not men and women, respectively.

Gender identity = a sense of what sex our bodies are supposed to be and how they are supposed to work. "Supposed to" is clear enough, I think, if there are mismatches due to injury or sickness; I think the same term can apply to mismatches due to the genitals developing one way and the brain developing the other.

P.S. Should a man who loses his penis not seek reconstructive surgery? If not, should someone who identifies as male but is female-bodied not consider the same option, after hormones? If not, should someone who considers herself female but is male-bodied not consider the reverse, which is technically simpler? The whole point of medicine is to make our lives better. Transition works. Avoiding it doesn't.

Marja Erwin
Dec 5 2008 16:28

The medical community, of course, initially dismissed transsexualism, like homosexuality, as a mental illness and tried to prevent transition:

http://www.bilerico.com/2008/12/the_gender_gulag_voices_of_the_asylum.php

Django
Dec 5 2008 19:06

But the problem is what these terms you are accepting uncritically amount to.

Take the idea that someone has a ‘female’ brain, lets assume this is true, even though there isn’t much evidence and the authors of the studies you have provided concede that there is limited scope for generalisation, as many of the sexually dimorphic sectors of the brain remain the same in transsexuals and non-transsexuals, and the (limited) studies on BSTs don’t allow you to talk logically about men or women or transsexuals having ‘female brains.’So even if we accept that dubious concept as being useful its not what transsexuals have (and this study finds that changes in brain structure result from the transition process rather than preceeding it)

But still if that hypothetical person felt anxious about having a cock rather than a fanny then theres no reason why if the genitals were surgically altered this would need to follow on to encompass wearing ‘female’ clothes or having ‘female’ haircuts (which all the ‘tomboy’ women I know still do) unless we decide these things are hard-wired into the brain as an essential part of having a physiological sex (which would be ludicrous). So even if we were to say that there should be a unitary relation between sexed brains and genitals theres no reason for transsexuals to enact a female ‘identity’ socially unless we understand that gender comes down to the matrix of behaviour, comportment, speech etc which is by nature historically and culturally contingent, that this is what makes you a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ in any meaningful way. In that case its not whether you have an inny or outy that makes you male or female at all, that becomes a separate thing entirely with little to no bearing on the issue of what gender is.

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How does this differ from a young girl who under the pressure of idealised beauty types looks down at here small breasts yet feels that there should be big bossomy ones there? Likewise what about a black kid in a predominantly white culture who looks at his face in the mirror expecting to see a milky complexion and then starts skin bleaching?

Um, yeah, it is an awkward issue. Where does my identity leave off and these influences begin? Someone growing her breasts in adulthood might not get the same size as someone getting hers in puberty. And there is a lot of controversy about the top job among MtF folks.

But surely this is the crux of the issue, as its impossible to presuppose some kind of unmediated, natural and essential gender identity. There is no break between your supposedly timeless sense that you have the ‘wrong’ body and the way in which gender is socially constructed because there is no break between ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender roles’, otherwise we would have a timeless ‘gender indentity’ which would amount to very little at all (bearing children? Penetrating women?) By the same token we’d see men getting their penises extended as the natural expression of their innate and timeless masculinity.

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What is the difference between gender roles and gender identity.

Gender roles = what society tells us women and men should do, because they are women and men, not men and women, respectively.

Gender identity = a sense of what sex our bodies are supposed to be and how they are supposed to work. "Supposed to" is clear enough, I think, if there are mismatches due to injury or sickness; I think the same term can apply to mismatches due to the genitals developing one way and the brain developing the other.

It looks like its requiring a lot of effort on your part to separate the two, as if the acceptance that societies produce norms of behaviour for men and women does not impact on how we feel our bodies should be. That theres clearly divergence with how sexed body parts ‘should’ be at different times and in different cultures (attractive penis and breast sizes and shapes) should set alarm bells ringing.

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P.S. Should a man who loses his penis not seek reconstructive surgery? If not, should someone who identifies as male but is female-bodied not consider the same option, after hormones? If not, should someone who considers herself female but is male-bodied not consider the reverse, which is technically simpler? The whole point of medicine is to make our lives better. Transition works. Avoiding it doesn't.

It depends on the context of the surgery – if he felt it was necessary in order to make him a man it would naturally be reactionary and very silly. However if there was some form of reconstructive surgery to allow the capacity for sexual pleasure (and that could mean the construction of a clitoris or something imbetween) then I don’t think anyone would oppose it.

But again, unless we accept that women getting boob jobs or labia reductions to make themselves more feminine is the same thing are we to disregard that she might feel much better after surgery, more comfortable in her body? In which case we’d just accept that this was the body she was ‘meant’ to be born in and now inhabits. The same with men who get penis extentions. So its not really an argument which allows for the naturalisation of the condition.

Even if we argue that transsexuality is about getting people in the ‘right’ body as it would be 'mapped' in the 'subconscious sex', it couldn’t succeed as a woman born a man cannot carry children as ‘natural’ women can, nor can men born women experience erections or produce semen as ‘natural’ men can not having prostates etc – so the bodies inhabited never become as they ‘should’, and the entire rationale is on shaky ground. So even if we were to accept those terms of understanding what gender is then it doesn’t work anyway and has an accompanying raft of serious problems.

So ultimately, even if we do accept that its possible to have mismatching brains and bodies (which I don’t) the conclusion that surgery makes you male or female still wouldn’t hold.

Marja Erwin
Dec 5 2008 20:23

The concepts of sex and gender are [primarily] intended to describe cisgender experience. They break down when describing transgender and particularly transsexual experience. A traditionalist concept of gender might say:

If you are born male, you are always male, and should embrace masculine gender roles; if you are born female, you are always female, and should embrace feminine gender roles.

Any of several movements (radical feminist, queer, cd rights, etc and their associated theories) would separate gender roles from sex:

If you are born male, you are always male; if you are born female, you are always female. If you prefer feminine gender roles, you should perform them; if you prefer masculine gender roles, you should perform them.

I eventually realized I am not into either set of gender roles, but I feel I need to be a woman. The above theories can't describe or explain what I'm feeling. I had to transition - and make up my theory as I go. Experience ought to come first, and theory ought to describe and organize experience, not dismiss it.

I think people are reacting against an inverted traditionalist concept:

If you embrace masculine gender roles, you are male-brained, and should be male-bodied; if you embrace feminine gender roles, you are female-brained, and should be female-bodied.

When most trans people hold a more radical concept:

If you are male-brained, you should be male-bodied for your own happiness; if you are female-brained, you should be female-bodied for your own happiness. If you prefer feminine gender roles, you should perform them; if you prefer masculine gender roles, you should perform them.

Unfortunately, cis people often question trans people when our presentations stray from one set of gender norms. And cis people sometimes discriminate against, or kill, trans people when they discover us. Yielding:

If you are male-brained, you should be male-bodied for your own happiness, and should adopt masculine gender presentation for your own safety; if you are female-brained, you should be female-bodied for your own happiness, and should adopt feminine gender presentation for your own safety.

That's survival, not sexism.

Most anti-transsexual arguments regard MtF people, so from here on I'll ignore FtM people. Now when people accuse us of reifying gender, I immediately assume they are referring to the assumed and incorrect if you embrace feminine gender roles you are female-brained, In this case, my first reaction is to note that trans women do not necessarily embrace feminine gender roles, and that there is other evidence for brain sex [specifically BSTc sex] which has nothing to do with gender roles. Since people point to other studies connecting supposed brain sex to western gender roles, things tend to bog down.

However, after further reading, I take it you’re challenging if you are female-brained, you should be female-bodied. If you point to various transgender people who do not seek transition, crossdressers simply are not transsexual. They have nothing to do with this. If you point to various transsexual people who do not seek surgery, genderqueer people and non-op transsexual people do seek transition and have different end-points. This can reflect the costs of surgery or it can reflect intermediate brain sex (BSTc sex). As long as the should is a matter of advice - not obligation - almost all transsexual people benefit from hormone replacement therapy, and few report regrets after surgery.

I hope I don’t have to explain why a male body / female body-map combination, or a female body / male body-map combination could result in gender dysphoria. [and yes, the inability to menstruate or bear children can leave milder gender dysphoria, it can also cause distress in AIS women and others]

Marja Erwin
Dec 5 2008 21:43

Revol68, are you trying to make an argument, or are you just stringing together offensive bullshit?

Is it essentialist bullshit that I wear glasses so I can see? Is it essentialist bullshit that I am careful to treat my asthma? So why is it essentialist bullshit when I try to treat my hormone imbalance? Would it be essentialist bullshit if it came from some other endocrine problem? Sometimes the same physical condition can be healthy for one person and unhealthy for another. They are healthy or unhealthy relative to the other aspects of the body and the mind. That fact that my untreated hormone levels wouldn't be too unhealthy for men, in general, doesn't make them healthy for me...

Django
Dec 6 2008 10:34

Come on, this argument transsexuals are 'male brained' or 'female brained' doesn't hold up even on the basis of the studies you have cited, because they also state that the majority of areas of the brain which are known to show sexually dimorphous variation (and other examples provided show how silly this idea can be even though there is more 'evidence' than in the case of transsexuals brains) don't show variation in the brains of pre-transition transsexuals. And other neurological change which has occured has also been shown to come from the process of transitioning and hormone therapy. So talking about 'male brains', 'female brains' etc in this instance (and I'd argue more broadly) is clearly an ideological exercise dressed up as naturalised fact, the same with other clearly reactionary ideas like "subconscious sex" which has now been reduced to natural "body mapping" - which would again be a explanation we'd never dare apply to "natural" men or women getting cosmetic surgery.

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Any of several movements (radical feminist, queer, cd rights, etc and their associated theories) would separate gender roles from sex:

If you are born male, you are always male; if you are born female, you are always female. If you prefer feminine gender roles, you should perform them; if you prefer masculine gender roles, you should perform them.

This isn't really accurate. The feminist/queer argument which ha been refined since the 40s is that "one is not born a woman, but rather becomes one." The point that feminist/queer arguments make is that gender per se is contingent, external, social and performed and penetrates subject formation, and that there is no timeless and essential "gender identity" that can be presumed to exist prior to this process. So you are not "always" male or female by virtue of what you are born because that would require a ludicrous and essentialist view of what it means to be "male" or "female". Separating "gender roles" and "gender identity" is disingeneous, and you are trying to make the arguments others have made fit into these divisions you are harbouring which allow for essentialist thinking. "Maleness" and "femaleness" encompass a much wider range of activity than some caricature of "traditional" masculinity or femininity - its not like tomboys aren't performing a female gender because they don't look like Audrey Hepburn, again that would require a ludicrously simplified view of what gender is.

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Experience ought to come first, and theory ought to describe and organize experience, not dismiss it.

But leaving aside the fact that this flatly contradicts the argument that we should invest our trust in the medical profession to make things better, there would again be no reason not to apply the same process to women and girls who feel like they should have bigger boobs or lips or smaller labias. Theory would be reduced to the position of justifying the experience of atomised individuals and naturalising whatever interpolated desires they may have, and so wouldn't be any theory worth pursuing at all.

I think your treatment of transexuality as isolated from the desire to inhabit a certain (contingent) sexual identity (as if it were about the desire to have a surgically altered body and absolutely nothing else) is disengeneous. The medical profession you're relying on certainly wouldn't agree, as would many transsexuals. I mean pretending that transsexuals end up inhabiting some form of identity which is only intelligible by reference to their presumed biological sex (like being a tomboy is) because they decide that although its irrelevant it makes life easier isn't very convincing, as clearly there is a well documented identification with the other gender and everything this means rather than just the belief that there should be a fanny when you look down and that this has no bearing on what clothes you wear, how you behave, carry yourself etc.

Personalising anti-essentialist and anti-gender arguments as being "anti-transsexual" ignores what has been said by many posters - that critical thought on gender no more attacks transsexual people than it does women who get boob jobs.

Joseph Kay
Dec 6 2008 10:57
Django wrote:
reduced to natural "body mapping" - which would again be a explanation we'd never dare apply to "natural" men or women getting cosmetic surgery.

to play devils advocate here, the difference between female and male reproductive organs is qualitative, the difference between small tits and big ones is quantitative, so if there was such thing as a 'body map' wired into the brain, it could refer to the presence or absence of expected organs (like the missing limb still 'felt'), not their particular characteristics. this would differentiate transsexuals from breast or penis enlargers.

Marja Erwin
Dec 6 2008 12:32
revol68 wrote:
Please tell me what was wrong with your body before the hormones, was your health threatened?

Stress problems, dulled senses, dulled emotions, fatigue due to the stress, breathing difficulties worsened by the stress, persistent discomfort, etc. The breathing problems had, more than once, put me in the hospital, back when I had insurance coverage.

... However, this frustrates me.

Because my experience contradicts your theories, my statements are taken for false consciousness. The fool! S/he believes in gender! I believe in gender dysphoria. I believe in body maps... I believe that I feel what I feel.

If someone feels gender dysphoria, this makes them unreliable. Who, then, can observe gender dysphoria and remain reliable? The nonexistence of gender dysphoria becomes an unfalsifiable claim.

Joseph Kay
Dec 6 2008 13:03

fwiw while it is the official term i don't think 'gender dysphoria' is a good way to describe the posited biological brain/body conflict you're describing. since gender relates to social roles and has nothing to do with biology i think the term only adds to the confusion, reflecting widely held essentialist views of gender.

Django
Dec 6 2008 13:22

But by the same token, leaving aside issues of the relationship between the individual's consciouness and the environment in which it is produced, if we decide that what someone 'feels' is by definition sacrosanct and unarguable then we are left with a tautology - I believe in it, therefore it is real.

Marja Erwin
Dec 6 2008 13:22
Django wrote:
Come on, this argument transsexuals are 'male brained' or 'female brained' doesn't hold up even on the basis of the studies you have cited, because they also state that the majority of areas of the brain which are known to show sexually dimorphous variation (and other examples provided show how silly this idea can be even though there is more 'evidence' than in the case of transsexuals brains) don't show variation in the brains of pre-transition transsexuals.

As I had noted several times, the male brain / female brain theory does not assert that the whole brain has to be male or female respectively, but only certain tissues - notably the BSTc and possibly other tissues relating to the body map and such features.

Obviously, we can rule out most male brain / female brain studies, where there's more overlap than difference, even if they are more statistically significant. Otherwise, there would be far more transsexual people, particularly genderqueer and other intermediate/mosaic ones. The cis male BSTc is about 5-6 standard deviations larger than the cis female BSTc.

Actually, there is a certain resemblance between theories of gender identity and theories of sexual orientation. They aren't linked in the ways that researchers expected, of course. There are stereotypes about hyper-feminine trans women and there were stereotypes about hyper-feminine gay men, which miss everybody else. Early researchers assumed that both were either extremely feminine biological men or extremely masculine biological women, described both in terms of a "third sex," "inversion," etc., looked, with statistically significant results but not diagnostic ones, for physical differences in genital size and the like, and so on.

I believe that sexual orientation is now attributed to structural differences in the midbrain - setting the baseline - and cultural pressures - in the west, shifting potentially-bisexual people some distance towards heterosexuality.

Quote:
And other neurological change which has occured has also been shown to come from the process of transitioning and hormone therapy. So talking about 'male brains', 'female brains' etc in this instance (and I'd argue more broadly) is clearly an ideological exercise dressed up as naturalised fact, the same with other clearly reactionary ideas like "subconscious sex" which has now been reduced to natural "body mapping" - which would again be a explanation we'd never dare apply to "natural" men or women getting cosmetic surgery.

Actually, no. From Kruijver et al. 2000:

Quote:
Our results might theoretically also be explained by a lack of androgens in the transsexual group because all subjects, except for T4, had been orchiectomized. We, therefore, studied two nontranssexual men (S3 and S5) who had been orchiectomized because of prostate cancer 3 months and 2 yr before death, respectively, and found that the BSTc neuron number of S3 was close to the mean of the male group and that the BSTc number of neurons of S5 was even the highest observed (Fig. 1), indicating that orchiectomy did not cause any decrease in SOM neuron numbers. Not only were five of the transsexuals orchiectomized, they all used the antiandrogen cyproterone acetate (CPA). However, an effect of CPA reducing the number of SOM neurons of the BSTc is highly unlikely because S5 had taken CPA during the last 2 yr of his life and his BSTc neuron number was at the upper end of the male range, whereas T6 had not taken CPA for the past 10 yr, and T3 took no CPA during the last 2 yr before her death, and they still had relatively low numbers of SOM neurons.

The BSTc SOM neuron numbers of two postmenopausal women [73- (M2) and 53-yr-old (P)] and of a 25-yr-old woman with Turner syndrome (S6: complete 45,X0, with ovarian hypoplasia) were completely within the normal female range (Fig. 1). If high estrogen levels would have a reducing effect on BSTc neuron numbers, the opposite effect (high neuron numbers) would be expected in the postmenopausal women and the Turner syndrome patient due to their low endogenous sex hormone level status. However, this was not the case. Noteworthy is that according to the available clinical data the two postmenopausal women did not receive any estrogen replacement therapy either. Although the Turner syndrome patient had been receiving hormone replacement therapy since she was 16 yr of age, her neuron numbers were even higher than P, whereas she had almost the same BSTc neuron number as M2 who did not receive such a therapy. Again, this argues against the probability of an estrogen-induced reduction effect on the number of SOM neurons. Finally, the BSTc neuron number of a 46-yr-old woman who had suffered for at least 1 yr from a virilizing tumor of the adrenal cortex (that produced very high blood levels of androstendione and testosterone) was also clearly within the lower spectrum of that of other women (Fig. 1; S1: latest androstendione serum level before death was 48.0 ng/mL; the normal range for women is 0.4–3.5 ng/mL; the latest serum testosterone level before death was 26.82 nm/L; the normal range for women is 1.04–3.30 nm/L). Thus, an increasing effect of testosterone on the BSTc neurons does not seem likely to be the case either. Furthermore, it should be noted that the FMT stopped taking testosterone 3 yr before death while having a BSTc neuron number clearly within the male range.

In conclusion, estrogen treatment, orchiectomy, CPA treatment, or hormonal changes in adulthood did not show any clear relationship with the BSTc SOM neuron number. In addition, we had the unique opportunity to study the brain of an 84-yr-old man (S7) who also had very strong cross-gender identity feelings but was never orchiectomized, sex re-assigned, or treated with CPA or estrogens. Interestingly, this man had also a low BSTc SOM neuron number that was fully in the female range (see Fig. 1, S7). This case provides an additional argument against the view that orchiectomy, CPA, or adult estrogen treatment of the transsexuals would be responsible for the reduced somatostatinergic neuron numbers.

Quote:
This isn't really accurate. The feminist/queer argument which ha been refined since the 40s is that "one is not born a woman, but rather becomes one." The point that feminist/queer arguments make is that gender per se is contingent, external, social and performed and penetrates subject formation, and that there is no timeless and essential "gender identity" that can be presumed to exist prior to this process. So you are not "always" male or female by virtue of what you are born because that would require a ludicrous and essentialist view of what it means to be "male" or "female".

Yes, but the feminist/queer argument does not challenge the biological categories with the same intensity that it challenges the move from biological sex to gender roles.

Quote:
Separating "gender roles" and "gender identity" is disingeneous, and you are trying to make the arguments others have made fit into these divisions you are harbouring which allow for essentialist thinking. "Maleness" and "femaleness" encompass a much wider range of activity than some caricature of "traditional" masculinity or femininity - its not like tomboys aren't performing a female gender because they don't look like Audrey Hepburn, again that would require a ludicrously simplified view of what gender is.

It's an important distinction for transgender people. Consider a TS woman in "boy mode," or a CD man "en femme." In each case, the gender presentation, and gender roles, differ sharply from the gender identity and subconscious sex.

Quote:
But leaving aside the fact that this flatly contradicts the argument that we should invest our trust in the medical profession to make things better,

What argument?

Quote:
there would again be no reason not to apply the same process to women and girls who feel like they should have bigger boobs or lips or smaller labias. Theory would be reduced to the position of justifying the experience of atomised individuals and naturalising whatever interpolated desires they may have, and so wouldn't be any theory worth pursuing at all.

A theory of regrets? A theory of social pressures? The theory has to explain the experiences. It doesn't have to justify them all. The problem is, arguments that "there is no such thing as gender dysphoria," or "there is no difference between gender roles and gender identity," not only fail to explain transsexual experience, they contradict it.

Quote:
I think your treatment of transexuality as isolated from the desire to inhabit a certain (contingent) sexual identity (as if it were about the desire to have a surgically altered body and absolutely nothing else) is disengeneous. The medical profession you're relying on certainly wouldn't agree, as would many transsexuals. I mean pretending that transsexuals end up inhabiting some form of identity which is only intelligible by reference to their presumed biological sex (like being a tomboy is) because they decide that although its irrelevant it makes life easier isn't very convincing, as clearly there is a well documented identification with the other gender and everything this means rather than just the belief that there should be a fanny when you look down and that this has no bearing on what clothes you wear, how you behave, carry yourself etc.

I don't understand what you're saying here.

Marja Erwin
Dec 6 2008 13:26
Joseph K. wrote:
Django wrote:
reduced to natural "body mapping" - which would again be a explanation we'd never dare apply to "natural" men or women getting cosmetic surgery.

to play devils advocate here, the difference between female and male reproductive organs is qualitative, the difference between small tits and big ones is quantitative, so if there was such thing as a 'body map' wired into the brain, it could refer to the presence or absence of expected organs (like the missing limb still 'felt'), not their particular characteristics. this would differentiate transsexuals from breast or penis enlargers.

Yes, there is an immense difference between phantom B-cups when you have As and a phantom vagina when you have nothing... Thnx

Jane
Dec 6 2008 22:51

I thought I might chime in to offer another perspective. Marja is lesbian but I'm a much better candidate for your revolutionary scorn, because I'm into guys and I don't "rock the boat" so much with assimilation to bourgeois life and whatever. And I'm transsexual.

Quote:
As Slavoj Žižek amongst others has argued, the difference between the politics of oppressed and marginalised groups seeking to defend themselves and the politics of class struggle is that class struggle seeks as its end point the abolition of class.

So yeah, um, I guess that this terminology makes me one of those "bad" reactionary transsexuals? I certainly am not working for the abolition of gender. I mean, I like gender for the most part, now that I've gotten my issues worked out and grown up and stuff. Although part of it might be that I'm generally a reactionary liberal...

I'm interested in allocating resources to marginalized groups (that I'm a member of) where I feel there is a strong claim that they are deserved. And I'll do what I can to pitch in to help other groups when it's not hard to do so - like I won't cross a picket lines or vote against gay marriage and so on, even if I'm not in a union or gay.

But also I'm not going to go tilting at windmills to help people in ways they personally don't want to be helped. I'm not going to assume false consciousness explains why the whole world won't do what I think is best for them... or worry that they are "reifying a problematic concept" as they get along in life.

I honestly prefer conservative transphobia to liberal transphobia because conservatives have specific complaints (like: you will teach my kids by example to be perverts) connected to relatively concrete claims that can be addressed relatively simply by explaining what trans people are really like, and maybe citing scientific brain studies or hadiths or pointing out Acts 8 or whatever. Then show that you have a good job and aren't looking for handouts and they're cool with you smile

Theoretical liberals have their heads so far up in the clouds that when they refer their initial "eww gross" reaction to transsexuality to try and justify it with their pre-existing beliefs (as everyone does) they tend to refer them back to something so amorphous, undemanding, and incoherent that it doesn't even make predictions you can show to be false. Like, it's so fuzzy that it's "not even wrong"... despite being used to justify claims that people like me should have our bodies and identities serve everyone else as some kind of token in a "more enlightened than thou" game played by culture warriors.

Quote:
The task must be to destabalise and desacralise gender, and this cannot be done whilst upholding a belief in the ability to “match” bodily organs to gendered behaviour. The critique of gender cannot be held back because it offends the sensibilities of marginalised groups, and whilst we recognise the difficulties transgender people face, we can’t let those difficulties be an excuse to suspend critical thought.

Liberal cis people talking about sex and gender remind me of that kid from Kindergarten cop who said "My Dad's a gynecologist, he looks at vaginas all day." I mean, yes, in some sense the kid was right, but he was mostly missing the point in a naive way.

So how about you, Django (I'm assuming you're a dude?), grow your beard out and start taking female hormones and wearing miniskirts. When people have a problem with it, you tell them that you have no gender (but please don't bring up terms like transgendered or transsexual) and that you're just doing your part to "destabilize and desacralize gender" like a good revolutionary should. After 8 years of that go ahead and start writing on the subject of sex and gender and I'll take you seriously.

I'll be invisible to that effort (I'm post-op, married, and don't talk about my medical history except online) and will not oppose you so long as you don't pollute the political capital of my marginalized group (transsexuals). And, assuming you're not going to go for the beard, boobs, and miniskirt plan, please umm... shut the f**k up about what trans people should or shouldn't do with our bodies.

How can you not see the similarities between you and the pro-life people telling women what to do with their pink parts? Like, what on earth makes either of you (liberals squicked by trans women or conservatives squicked by women who get abortions) think that your squickage is worth airing? As a general request: please stop telling people what they can or should do with their own bodies. It's called "body autonomy" and it's a really simple and easy principle to apply to diverse array of political questions.

Personally, I will continue to working behind the scenes, giving trans kids advice on navigating corporate and governmental institutions, commenting here and there on the net, and working to eliminate structural transphobia from medical insurance company's policies that (unless the girls are blessed with good parents who are also rich) usually seem to cause girls to lose years and years of their lives saving up money for medical care to simply feel whole.

---

Last note: if anyone is still reading this far and wants to read something coherent on the intersection of social justice and transsexuality, may I recommend that you check out Julia Serano's book "Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity".

radicalgraffiti
Dec 7 2008 00:01
Jane wrote:
I thought I might chime in to offer another perspective. Marja is lesbian but I'm a much better candidate for your revolutionary scorn, because I'm into guys and I don't "rock the boat" so much with assimilation to bourgeois life and whatever. And I'm transsexual.
Quote:
As Slavoj Žižek amongst others has argued, the difference between the politics of oppressed and marginalised groups seeking to defend themselves and the politics of class struggle is that class struggle seeks as its end point the abolition of class.

So yeah, um, I guess that this terminology makes me one of those "bad" reactionary transsexuals? I certainly am not working for the abolition of gender. I mean, I like gender for the most part, now that I've gotten my issues worked out and grown up and stuff. Although part of it might be that I'm generally a reactionary liberal...

What are you talking about? nobody has said anything about "bad reactionary transsexuals"

Quote:
I honestly prefer conservative transphobia to liberal transphobia because conservatives have specific complaints (like: you will teach my kids by example to be perverts) connected to relatively concrete claims that can be addressed relatively simply by explaining what trans people are really like, and maybe citing scientific brain studies or hadiths or pointing out Acts 8 or whatever. Then show that you have a good job and aren't looking for handouts and they're cool with you smile

We're not liberals or transphobes, we are not afraid of trans people and we don't hate them.

Quote:
Theoretical liberals have their heads so far up in the clouds that when they refer their initial "eww gross" reaction to transsexuality to try and justify it with their pre-existing beliefs (as everyone does) they tend to refer them back to something so amorphous, undemanding, and incoherent that it doesn't even make predictions you can show to be false.

we don't find something disgusting about transpeople and I don't even know what you mean when you say

Quote:
Like, it's so fuzzy that it's "not even wrong"... despite being used to justify claims that people like me should have our bodies and identities serve everyone else as some kind of token in a "more enlightened than thou" game played by culture warriors.
Quote:
Liberal cis people talking about sex and gender remind me of that kid from Kindergarten cop who said "My Dad's a gynecologist, he looks at vaginas all day." I mean, yes, in some sense the kid was right, but he was mostly missing the point in a naive way.

So how about you, Django (I'm assuming you're a dude?), grow your beard out and start taking female hormones and wearing miniskirts. When people have a problem with it, you tell them that you have no gender (but please don't bring up terms like transgendered or transsexual) and that you're just doing your part to "destabilize and desacralize gender" like a good revolutionary should. After 8 years of that go ahead and start writing on the subject of sex and gender and I'll take you seriously.

what are you talking about?

Quote:
I'll be invisible to that effort (I'm post-op, married, and don't talk about my medical history except online) and will not oppose you so long as you don't pollute the political capital of my marginalized group (transsexuals). And, assuming you're not going to go for the beard, boobs, and miniskirt plan, please umm... shut the f**k up about what trans people should or shouldn't do with our bodies.

people aren't talking about what trans people should or shouldn't do with there bodies

Quote:
How can you not see the similarities between you and the pro-life people telling women what to do with their pink parts? Like, what on earth makes either of you (liberals squicked by trans women or conservatives squicked by women who get abortions) think that your squickage is worth airing? As a general request: please stop telling people what they can or should do with their own bodies. It's called "body autonomy" and it's a really simple and easy principle to apply to diverse array of political questions.

but we're not telling you what to do with your bodies

The issue we have is that the reasons being put forward for why people want to have sex change operations don't make any sense, and that what people have been talking about. It's obvious that people should be able to do what they like to the bodies, but that doesn't make it possible for someone to have the wrong sexed body.

Lady Victoria
Dec 7 2008 05:53

I'll second the recommendation of Julia Serano's _Whipping Girl_.

And in my mature transsexual individualist feminist opinion, respect for and validation of the individual's own subjective internal reality is the key to this whole debate. If someone says she is a woman, then she *is* a woman. The consciousness of being a woman takes primacy over the tyranny of the majority *and* the body, and the consciousness of my womanhood is communicated and established by my pride, strength and confidence in moving, speaking and dressing as a woman. Primacy of consciousness over the body. Medical science has concluded that it is *much* easier to feminise a male body via estrogen, electrolysis and even vaginoplasty surgery, than to fuck with our heads by enforcing a conformist male gender expression that we demonstrably hate.

I suffered, while trying to pass as a regular guy, from extremely low self-worth, major depression, and anxiety, and feel much better about myself in recent years as a woman. I no longer have any doubt that's who I really am.

Rob Ray
Dec 7 2008 11:14
Quote:
If someone says she is a woman, then she *is* a woman

If I then define woman as "likes pink, lives in the kitchen, buys too many shoes" (which is something a lot of misogynist arseholes would laugh at and nod along to), how does that map to her *being* one?

As has been pointed out elsewhere, many trans people do not behave in a way generally defined as 'female' after an op, and if they do, it's sometimes down to societal pressure to then conform as a woman to avoid harrassment. If a post-op trans person subsequently decides to maintain a traditionally 'male' role of say, aggression, physicality, high sex drive, their definition of woman directly clashes with majority opinion.

'Woman' is just a word, and it is one which is heavily manipulated on a mass level and can mean polar opposites on an individual level (eg. I would simply define woman as a human with a certain body type, the Daily Mail might define it as someone who's mentally inferior and emotionally superior, soft and caring, impressed by shiny objects etc). So tbh it's not actually a very useful way of defining anything, it's simply too mired in a wide range of clashing prejudices.

On the main subject though, it has been interesting to hear that many trans people don't adhere to gender stereotyping after the op, largely seems to confirm that we're talking about a form of body dysmorphia here (revol - this is not necessarily the same thing as wanting a boob job) rather than about a need to fulfil a specific gender-role?

Jane
Dec 7 2008 20:35
revol68 wrote:
of course there is nothing pathetically liberal with the argument that "it's my body and i can do what i want with it, with no requirement that I actually engage in any sort of discussion, dialogue or rationalisation" nope nothing in that line of argument resembles the argument of bourgeois property rights.

Um, but I admitted to being into "bourgeois" notions from the get go. There's a lot to be said for picket fences and a tidy kitchen and being friendly to your neighbors and co-workers. It's not insulting to me to have my beliefs labeled with a commonly understood term that's basically accurate.

It has negative emotional valence for you, I get that. But it doesn't have the same valence for me. If you want to respond to my arguments in a way that connects you'll need to read more deeply.

I used to be really into anarcho-syndicalism. I still have fond feelings for it. I just realize from having participated in that kind of thing that it's not a defect-free arrangement of the world anymore than any other arrangement would be. It's just different warts is all. I'm trying out a different system now.

::shrugs::

On the other hand...

revol68 wrote:
I don't give a fuck about transexuals or what they do to their bodies anymore than I give a fuck about some girl getting DD tits

So... does this mean you're admitting your gross (in the sense of broad spectrum and unnuanced) misogyny up front but claiming that it's a coherent take on the female gender and/or justified by something?

Or are you going to sputter and insist that you don't actually have serious problems with women and/or femininity and are not a misogynist?

radicalgraffiti wrote:
but we're not telling you what to do with your bodies. The issue we have is that the reasons being put forward for why people want to have sex change operations don't make any sense, and that what people have been talking about. It's obvious that people should be able to do what they like to the bodies, but that doesn't make it possible for someone to have the wrong sexed body.

And the issue I have is that I don't think any "reason" I put forward in a community like this would be listened to with any kind of sympathy. And in the meantime, statements that damage the credbility and/or authenticity of trans people deeply affect our social lives and our access to medical care. If we lose sympathy, we lose our medical care.

And more to the point, the kind of sentiments that people in this forum are directing at trans people are precisely the sort of thing I expect I'd get every so often if I was open about my gender history out in the world. I would understand if a number of you read me as "being in the closet" about my transsexuality - but it's not wanting to deal with reactions like yours that cause me to make the choices I do.

You (with your insistent questioning of my very existence while you sit around secure in your feelings that your gender is totally authentic and will never be questioned by anyone) are part of my system of oppression : - (

revol68 wrote:
On a simple political level I don't understand why I should give a fuck about transexuals beyond a basic defence of trans people not to be scapegoated or harassed, they are a tiny minority of the population and essentially irrelevant to everyone but themselves.

Because we're a corner case that exposes a huge number of raw nerves. We're sort of like canaries. How a society treats trans women reveals very much about how it treats anyone with any gender. I think there are *way* more options available than the choices being offered in the blog post that started this discussion but this is on the right track:

Django wrote:
It is not a coincidence that gender-reassignment surgery is supported by fatwa and easily available in Iran, whilst having sex with someone with the same genital arrangement is punishable by death

It's not binary choice. It is possible for trans women and trans men and gay guys and lesbians and gender queers and cross dressers and so on and so forth with the diversity you find out in the long tail of gender-related neurology and the cultural variations on top of that to all be supported in expressing their deepest and best selves. And if we were able to do that, imagine what kind of openness and vivacity and acceptance of subtle truths that would require of a culture... and what that level of openness, vivacity, and truth-appreciation would mean for everyone.

It would be nigh utopian : - )

Django
Dec 7 2008 23:41
Marja Erwin wrote:
As I had noted several times, the male brain / female brain theory does not assert that the whole brain has to be male or female respectively, but only certain tissues - notably the BSTc and possibly other tissues relating to the body map and such features.

In which case its clearly an abuse of language to talk of a "male brain" or a "female brain" based on this, which should make us think about why these concepts form such common currency within these debates. These kinds of ideas are clearly ideological, naturalising as they do socially produced categories. Especially given that you are talking about having a subconscious and natural "gender identity" which finds expression through existing gender ideology. I mean, I could accept this purely hypothetical idea of a "body map" despite the consequent problems it would carry, but to leap from this to the idea that we are born with a gendered subconscious which aligns perfectly with our historically produced gender ideology is apologism and nothing more.

Marja Erwin wrote:
Actually, no. From Kruijver et al. 2000...

Yeah I read the study, but given that you are consistently talking about “female brains” piloting male bodies, even though you conceded in part that its not possible to talk about a “female brain” on the basis of BSTc variation, I presumed that you were referring to other neurological change which has been attributed to transitioning, such as here, which is why i didn’t say “BSTc variation has been shown to be a result of transitioning”. You seem to be assuming I did.

So why is it necessary to talk of male or female brains? Thats clearly not whats being discussed. A form of body dismorphia of this kind has, as has been stated before, no impact on what gender is. It might lead to you being placed in either biological sex category, but that isn’t what makes gender, as being biologically male or female isn’t what makes you a “man” or a “woman”.

Marja Erwin wrote:
A theory of regrets? A theory of social pressures? The theory has to explain the experiences. It doesn't have to justify them all. The problem is, arguments that "there is no such thing as gender dysphoria," or "there is no difference between gender roles and gender identity," not only fail to explain transsexual experience, they contradict it.

I mean, leaving aside the idea of neurologically caused body dismorphia, the reason that gender identity and gender roles cannot be separated is because, as has been said elsewhere, these things are independent of biological sex unless we take a ludicrously reactionary position and decide gender ideology is the natural expression of biological truths. Theres plenty of women I know whose hair, dress etc which are clearly socially contingent and not expressions of some "natural femininity" are perceived by them to be simply expressions of their gender identity. The same with men drinking and fighting. Now unless we decide that these things are hardwired into the brain then they are clearly the performance of socially contingent gender (meaning gender per se), which is totally different from biological sex and has no necessary relation with it. Given what you are hypothesising comes down to a “body map” and nothing more, this would be being expressed in and through an ideology of gender which is no more natural and timeless than an ideology of race or nation or whatever. A “body map” of some kind could exist hypothetically, but subconscious and pre-existing identification with whatever historically produced gender category can’t.

So the fact that people experience their consciousness through existing ideology which is neither "natural" nor desirable doesn’t really have any impact on the important arguments, as pretty much anyone with an interest in thinking critically would accept that consciousness is always a product in some form of the ideological environment in which it is produced.

Marja Erwin wrote:
Yes, but the feminist/queer argument does not challenge the biological categories with the same intensity that it challenges the move from biological sex to gender roles.

It frequently does, actually. Whether I agree with it is a different matter.

Rob Ray
Dec 7 2008 23:21
Quote:
I used to be really into anarcho-syndicalism. I still have fond feelings for it. I just realize from having participated in that kind of thing that it's not a defect-free arrangement of the world anymore than any other arrangement would be. It's just different warts is all. I'm trying out a different system now.

Frankly this just makes you sound like a middle-class tourist who 'tried' anarcho-syndicalism for a while and the got bored of being radical when you realised it would be hard work. How close am I?

Marja Erwin
Dec 8 2008 01:14
Django wrote:
These kinds of ideas are clearly ideological, naturalising as they do socially produced categories. Especially given that you are talking about having a subconscious and natural "gender identity" which finds expression through existing gender ideology. I mean, I could accept this purely hypothetical idea of a "body map" despite the consequent problems it would carry, but to leap from this to the idea that we are born with a gendered subconscious which aligns perfectly with our historically produced gender ideology is apologism and nothing more.

I'm not sure where the last idea comes from.

Let's assume that we can plot people's appearance from "very male," to "androgynous," to "very female." Hormones and certain types of surgery can shift someone's appearance from one side towards the other side. Many people start hormones while stealth, before coming out. However, this affects everything from breasts (mtf) to beards (ftm) to the shape of the face (either). Cis society questions people who look physically ambiguous.

Similarly, let's assume that we can plot people's most comfortable gendered behavior on a spectrum from "very masculine," with the median being "androgynous," to "very feminine." Cis society pressures people who appear as women towards the "feminine" side, and people who appear as men toward the "masculine" side.

Anyway, before transition, trans women have been pressured towards "masculine" behaviors, and trans men towards "feminine" behaviors. More so for trans women. After transition, trans men are pressured towards "masculine" behaviors, and trans women towards "feminine" behaviors." If we could separate personality from socialization, we might say that half of any group are more "masculine" than the median for the whole population, and the other half of any group are more "feminine" than the median for the whole population. I think that's actually true of trans women, and of trans men.

However:

1. Trans people may put off certain gendered behaviors before transition, and then compensate after transition.

2. Trans people may deliberately experiment with gendered behaviors.

2. Trans people may choose gender presentation to avoid being outed.

Looking gender-ambiguous does present certain problems. Trans people can sometimes use baggy clothing or shaving to temporarily conceal the changes. Trans people may adopt an androgynous style, to minimize the costs of being outed, or a gender-specific one, to minimize the chances of being outed. That is a personal choice. Almost all trans men and most trans women can pass as cis men or cis women, respectively, after some time on hormones, and either top jobs or hair removal, respectively. However, there are still risks, which do affect what people wear and do. [And yes, I'm outing myself by using my full name. But I'm mostly talking about face-to-face situations.]

We'd expect about one-half of the people who identify as women to identify as feminine, wouldn't we? And, under the circumstances, we can't expect the other one-half to identify as masculine, but to work with butch and androgynous identities.

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Yeah I read the study, but given that you are consistently talking about “female brains” piloting male bodies, even though you conceded in part that its not possible to talk about a “female brain” on the basis of BSTc variation, I presumed that you were referring to other neurological change which has been attributed to transitioning, such as here, which is why i didn’t say “BSTc variation has been shown to be a result of transitioning”. You seem to be assuming I did.

I thought it was a clear shorthand for "certain brain structures, probably including the BSTc and possibly including others as yet unidentified." Sorry. I am aware that other changes can occur during transition.

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So why is it necessary to talk of male or female brains? Thats clearly not whats being discussed. A form of body dismorphia of this kind has, as has been stated before, no impact on what gender is. It might lead to you being placed in either biological sex category, but that isn’t what makes gender, as being biologically male or female isn’t what makes you a “man” or a “woman".

Are there better terms? We can't use terms which out us and/or third-gender us all the time. Besides which, people challenge the terms "male" and "female" due to our reproductive problems. When coming out, I considered the phrase "gender-free woman," to distance my identity from the roles.

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I mean, leaving aside the idea of neurologically caused body dismorphia, the reason that gender identity and gender roles cannot be separated is because, as has been said elsewhere, these things are independent of biological sex unless we take a ludicrously reactionary position and decide gender ideology is the natural expression of biological truths.

The term "gender identity" comes from the medical establishment. Most researchers assumed either:

1. That transsexualism was rooted in purely psychological causes, or

2. That transsexualism was connected to natural femininity (or later natural masculinity), or

3. Both.

Due to the gatekeeping system, and the pressure to go deep stealth, it took some time for people to counter the second claim. Newer patients asked the older patients what the doctors wanted to hear, and post-SRS patients disappeared.

By the time the original reasons for the association of "gender identity" with gender roles, gendered performances, etc. fell apart, it was the established term.

Marja Erwin
Dec 8 2008 13:54
revol68 wrote:
Lets put it this way why do youse need medical treatment on perfectly healthy organs?

Health is relative to the rest of the body and the mind.

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p.s. I also don't know why transexuals hitch their wagon onto gay, lesbian and bi sexual politics, as they are entirely different matters.

Partly because about 30% of trans people are lesbian or gay before transition, and another 30% are lesbian or gay after transition, with some minor overlap. Another 30% or so are bi or pansexual. Partly because transsexual rights issues overlap with transgender rights issues, and the gay rights movement has shamelessly appropriated transgender history, e.g. Stonewall, while distancing itself from transgender people.

Rob Ray
Dec 8 2008 16:01
Quote:
a black kid bleaching their skin or a small breasted girl hating her body

I'm not sure about the parallels here, I mean there's no major bonus for say, a male-female transition in this society, wheras a black kid wanting to be white or a girl wanting bigger breasts potentially has a significant positive impact in terms of access to jobs, societal rank etc. There's a difference between body dysmorphia as something intrinsic to your brain's programming and body dysmorphia as an extreme response to societal pressures.

Django
Dec 8 2008 16:45
Quote:
I don't know where this idea comes from

Let's assume that we can plot people's appearance from "very male," to "androgynous," to "very female"...

Marja, I don't think you're looking at the arguments at all here.

Rob Ray
Dec 8 2008 17:23

Hmm well I don't think I'm going to dismiss dysmorphia potentially being er, hardware as well as/rather than software, so to speak, largely because I don't think I have the expertise to definitively say otherwise.

I also generally work on the 'follow the money' principle, and I don't see enough of a gain to trans people, certainly male to female, for social pressure to be the sole factor in their decision to change. What's in it for them apart from months of difficulty, a high probability of losing friends and family, a lifelong problem of prejudice etc?

With a black kid wanting to turn white, there's usually a very specific trigger of 'white is good, whites get good jobs, society loves white people'. So I can see that being a societally induced dysmorphia. But there's no such trigger when talking about a man becoming a woman. There might be a 'dropping out of macho culture' thing but I doubt it is the overriding one.

However, working on the principle that it is possible (though again, I'm not talking definites because I'm not well-enough read to) for a form of body-dysmorphia to exist does not mean that people are talking about 'the wrong soul in the wrong body' here.

We'd be talking about a genetic abnormality (please note I don't mean this in a bad way, being double-jointed would fit in the same category) where the brain is wired to think it should have a female body attached when it doesn't or vice versa. Given all the other things that can go wrong with the body during pregnancy, I don't think that's tremendously far-fetched.

Marja Erwin
Dec 8 2008 20:46
Django wrote:
Quote:
I don't know where this idea comes from

Let's assume that we can plot people's appearance from "very male," to "androgynous," to "very female"...

Marja, I don't think you're looking at the arguments at all here.

Right, I'm looking at the things people do to avoid getting killed, beaten, or just discriminated against.

Jane
Dec 9 2008 08:52
Rob Ray wrote:
Frankly this just makes you sound like a middle-class tourist who 'tried' anarcho-syndicalism for a while and the got bored of being radical when you realised it would be hard work. How close am I?

Not very. Raised working class but thrifty. I was poor and saving for surgery and interested in utopia. I found cool people and cheap food and rent... but a lot of inefficiency on top of that and no real interest in the practicalities of maximizing the goodness-to-the-world of the institutions we were participating in. Lots of shirking. Very few people interested in figuring out the budget. Good parties but not so much enthusiasm for cleaning the toilettes the next morning. We had Food Not Bombs using our kitchens, preparing food for hungry people (yay)... but ruining kitchen equipment through thoughtlessness in the process (net impact: negative).

The more I learn about the pragmatics of the world, the more it seems to me like the globe is already a very mature anarchy, with certain syndicates having found that they survive and thrive better when they organize themselves like political parties or banks or armies or advertising firms or whatever. The only syndicates that think of themselves as "syndicates" seem mostly ineffective to me. And that framing indicates to me that improving the world is more a matter of vision, persistence, and planting the right seeds.

I was up for hard work - I wasn't up for being taken advantage of or wasting my time. I learned a lot and miss some of the social elements, but if I want to materially improve the general state of the world I figure I can do it with entrepeneurial work and donating to well chosen causes. Not that that's the"ultimate best thing ever that everyone should be convinced of and working on"... it just seems like a more efficient allocation of resources to me.

::shrugs::

I didn't come here to get so involved in politics politics. I just wanted to chime in on the trans stuff because transphobia affects me kinda personally. In which vein: Is revol68 a troll? Is he just doing the stereotypical transphobic schtick for the lulz or, um... is he really that inflexible, linear, and humorless in general?