Stop with the psychosexual nonsense


I make it well known that I seldom have the patience to dialogue with the most hardened and dedicated advocates for the cluster of trans-antagonistic positions derived from the sort of radical feminism that makes other radical feminists grimace. There are many reasons why, but today I wanted to expand on one of them specifically, exhibited in this dialogue from Skepto that I signal boosted yesterday. Note that my response cannot be generalized as a response to all arguments suspicious or antagonistic of trans people and our rights; it could only be transferred to any other argument premised similarly.

Content Notice, again, for virulent trans-antagonism, the kind that triggers so much adrenaline you have to do a lap around the neighbourhood not to explode. Additional content notice as I cover the history of abuses perpetrated by medical systems against trans folk.

In the dialogue, the TERF in question advances the following claim:

I think that in many cases people believe they are the opposite sex because of internalized gender stereotypes and homophobia

When I see this, it upsets me on many many different levels. I’m not exaggerating when I say I have to suit up and go for a jog–this is enormously triggering, and I’m happy to explain how and why.

Despite the brevity of the sentence, you’ll note the degree to which my response has to expand. This is because the author in question has breezed past two extremely important concepts detailed in the sordid history of the medical establishment’s treatment of gender variant people, plus a third concept that is simply taken for granted rather than properly measured.

These are the three pieces which we need to address: The first is any measurement more specific than the undefined “many” trans people exhibiting gender stereotypes to determine whether trans people are indeed likely to be stereotypical; the second is why those of us that do exhibit internalized gender stereotypes do so; the third is whether internalized homophobia could be conclusively linked to compulsions to transition.

It’s important to note that these points aren’t new, they’ve all been addressed before. Full disclosure that this post is two-thirds the work of Skepto and Zinnia Jones, I take credit mostly for marrying the two posts in addressing the wordpress user “purplesagefem” plus elabourating commentary.

Point one: Are trans people more likely to be stereotypical in their gender presentation?

Data on this question are not as thorough as I’d like, but we nonetheless have some information to work with. Administration of the Bem Sex-Role Inventory, a questionnaire which asks participants to rank certain behaviours as they are true or relevant to themselves, attempts to measure the degree to which a person adheres to stereotypes by gender (not necessarily their gender, mind). Again I stress that this sort of question is difficult to answer to begin with, but this at least gives us some data which is arguably preferable to baseless speculation.

Jones summarizes two studies that compared the responses of cis people and trans people: (emphasis original)

A 2002 study in Poland used a derivative of the Bem Sex-Role Inventory to evaluate 132 trans people and 438 cis people. Among the cis men, 4% were classified as feminine, 48% as masculine, 24% as androgynous, and 24% as undifferentiated. In comparison, trans men were more likely to be rated feminine, less likely to be masculine, and more likely to be androgynous. These results don’t really align with the suggestion that trans men exhibit stereotypical or excessive masculinity. And among cis women, 34% were rated feminine, 16% masculine, 28% androgynous, and 22% undifferentiated. While no trans women were classified as masculine, only 52% were rated feminine, with the remainder being androgynous or undifferentiated. Trans women were actually more likely to be rated androgynous than cis women.

A 2012 study in Spain used the inventory to examine 156 cis people and 121 trans people, with somewhat different results. Here, trans women were less likely to be rated feminine than cis women, and more likely to be rated androgynous and undifferentiated. Trans men were, again, more likely than cis men to be classified as feminine, and less likely to be masculine.

And I turned up this 2016 study led by R.J. Factor with my Google-fu, as well.

Self-reported personality characteristics scored as feminine of trans women were not statistically different from those of their cisgender sisters, but were significantly higher than self-reported femininity scores of trans men, genderqueer individuals, and cisgender brothers. Self-reported personality characteristics scored as masculine of trans men did not differ significantly from those of their cisgender brothers, but were higher than those of trans women. Trans men and cisgender brothers were viewed by their siblings in a more sex-typed way than they rated themselves, whereas trans women and cisgender sisters were rated by their siblings in a less sex-typed way than they viewed themselves.

To parse out some of that academic-speak:

  • Women, cis or trans, were more likely to rank higher femininity scores in their self perception.
  • Siblings of women, cis or trans, ranked their sibling as less feminine than said sibling ranked themselves.

Point one is therefore “unsupported” at best and “contradicted” at worst. But it’s almost besides the point, because even if I were to concede that we are more likely to adhere to stereotypes, I can still demonstrate a different reason for that other than our TERFs explanation.

Point two: Have trans people internalized gender roles?

TERF goes on to argue:

The reason I believe this is because trans people display it all the time. There is an endless supply of articles and videos where people say they knew they were trans because they liked things that are stereotypically associated with the opposite sex.

Although the claim it is displayed “all the time” is clearly unsupported, as we’ve discussed, purplesagefem is at least partially correct about the endless supply–from cisgender, non-academic media sources–of articles attempting to contextualize gender variance.

We’ll get to the data in just a moment, but there’s another a point I need to make first: The simplistic narratives cisgender, mainstream media received from its trans interviewees were attempts to explain our experiences by being intentionally reductive and simple. To then argue that these reductions–the only thing mainstream media allowed itself to air or print when it came to trans people–somehow represent a consistent thread in gender variant psychology, is a bit like trying to write an essay about a novel off the cliffnotes. Cis people asked for simple explanations, so we gave them “blank trapped in a blank’s body” and “I always knew.” If those explanations have failed to enlighten you, it’s because this isn’t a simple concept.

To put it another way, I don’t dismiss quantum mechanics because physics educators have characterized it as “electrons can exist in two places at once.” I know that just make anyone knowledgeable in physics cringe. That’s because I know reductive explanations are meant to pique your interest, not serve as the cornerstone of your rebuttal. The difference is that I don’t pretend to have any kind of informed opinion on quantum mechanics–I freely admit it’s all Greek to me, and I wish more people would do the same when it comes to the finer points of trans issues.

Of course, those simple explanations also came from somewhere, and that’s where we get back to the data. Specifically, the European and North American history of the medical establishment’s treatment of trans folk. Here’s the TL;DR version: “Blank trapped in a blank’s body” was actually the product of cisgender doctors imposing their requirements on trans people. No shit it’s our canned answer–our lives literally depended on us being able to perform it.

Hearing lots of trans women say shit like “estrogen makes you emotional“? Rewind to 1982 and you’ll find a doctor whose diagnostic criteria for “true” trans women was any patient who cried after he fucking bullied them.

Hearing lots of trans women emphasize the importance of “performing conventional femininity”? Rewind to 1973 and you’ll find a doctor who only admitted patients for healthcare based on their ability to look like feminine cisgender women.

Or 1971, when only those who mentioned childhoods filled with unambiguously stereotypical toys would get admitted for care. Ya think that might have anything to do with all the childhood toy mentions in the media?

Or 1979, when only those who mentioned a persistent and intense disdain of their bodies and genitals would get admitted for care.

I could go on. The point is that virtually every stereotype about trans women is manufactured by the gatekeepers to our healthcare. Cry and give me hysterics, or you’re not real enough for healthcare. Wear dresses, make-up, and heels, or you’re not real enough for healthcare. Tell me you hate your body every minute of every day, or you’re not real enough for healthcare. Tell me your interests are as unthreatening as possible to existing gender hierarchies or you’re not real enough for healthcare.

At no point were trans people actually asked to give their narratives. We had, still have to in some places to some degree, give the narrative, or get out.

If it seems like there’s no nuance in transsexual narratives, especially the safe ones we give to mainstream media, it’s because doctors beat nuance into oblivion by ejecting diverse patients from their system. Our stereotypes are merely adaptations to a system that is unconscionably hostile to any deviation it perceives. 

No shit it comes across as internalized stereotypes. Convincing others we believed this was and to some extent still is literally our strategy for survival. Stereotypes is all the doctors would accept.

Of course, the other way we can shatter the stereotype nonsense is by, you know, actually looking for people who have the privilege and ability and desire to break them.

Instead of the tripe the media selects as newsworthy, spare a few minutes to read this nuanced piece about transgender parenthood by Brynn Tannehill. Or stay a while for Zinnia Jones making the stunningly obvious point that she transitioned because she damn well wanted to and that she’s kinda exasperated people need more than that. Or look up Sophie Labelle’s Assigned Male comic and watch her extend her personal experiences into aesops. Or read Sam Hope as they struggle to contextualize our world’s many gendered cues. Or read Skepto’s series replying to the TERF mentioned in this post. You don’t even have to leave my blag.

This is it, right here. All the nuance and subtlety purplesagefem attributes to a fundamental flaw of gender variance itself is simply a product of her inability to fucking Google some trans people who aren’t passing the media’s filter for “interesting.” As Tannehill noted:

The public doesn’t want that: They’re looking for a train wreck to spill their guts onstage. They want to watch Hoarders for the same reason: to feel better about themselves. It doesn’t matter that the material was well researched and presented. It’s as though they invited Stephen Hawking to speak, then were annoyed at him for talking about physics instead of how much Lou Gehrig’s disease sucks.

Now is it possible for a trans person to well and sincerely believe and advocate for harmful gender stereotypes? Sure. But being a sincere misogynist does not make one trans, the way purplesagefem suggests. If it did, we would surely compose greater than 0.3% of the population. Nor is the phenomenon of being both subject to, and apologetic for, oppressive systems an exclusive property of trans people that would warrant this inflammatory characterization.

Point three: Have trans people just internalized homophobia?

I suppose purplesagefem means to propose this as the other half of an either/or argument. If I haven’t internalized gender stereotypes, I’m just caving in to homophobia. Except for the part where I’m, you know, queer* and not straight. Pansexual, to be precise. This means I can be attracted to men but I am not exclusively so, relating to purplesagefem’s underlying premise that it is homosexuality for me to have sex with men.*

So already the hypothesis is on shaky ground at least with respects to me. I am not exclusively heterosexual so it seems peculiar to insist my motivation for transitioning was for the sake of bedding men. I could do that before. Did, in fact.

Unfortunately for purplesagefem, this idea has also been discussed to death and back. It’s just another reiteration of Raymond Blanchard’s ridiculous transsexual taxonomy, which I have discussed and refuted at length already. Or if you think my writing is inadequate, go look at Serano’s withering takedown instead.

Then–and here’s the real kicker–there’s the underlying assumption that it is easier dating as a heterosexual trans woman than a cisgender gay man. I don’t know in what fucking orbit you have to be in for this to be remotely plausible, but let’s sample the implicit attitudes of trans women by cis creators of media to get a hint at some common beliefs:

Since 2002, GLAAD catalogued 102 episodes and non-recurring storylines of scripted television that contained transgender characters, and found that 54% of those were categorized as containing negative representations at the time of their airing.  An additional 35% were categorized at ranging from “problematic” to “good,” while only 12% were considered groundbreaking, fair and accurate enough to earn a  GLAAD Media Award nomination.

And, you know, with it being almost exclusively trans people who are upset about this representation, I’d say it’s fair to say that vast swathes of the population consider us loathsome, at least on an implicit level.

Or, here’s some different stats: In 2013, 72% of overall American hate crimes against LGBTQ people targeted the T. Are we absolutely positive this fits anyone’s idea of “easy”?

I’m not done yet!

To get a sense of how attitudes toward transgender people might play out in the real world, we asked respondents how they would feel about having different types of people as neighbors. In many countries, the number of respondents who said they wouldn’t want a gay neighbor or a transgender neighbor were about the same. But in several — including the United States — respondents said they are far more opposed to having a transgender neighbor than a gay or lesbian one. Gay and lesbian neighbors are also far more acceptable to respondents in some countries than neighbors of a different race or ethnicity, especially in Europe.

“Easy.”

It as preposterous to seriously consider a sexual motivation for transitioning as it is to seriously believe my 5-foot 100-pound frame could win an Olympic weightlifting competition. There was nothing stopping me before from having sex with men when I was still wearing my man-mask and awkwardly dancing the man-dance. If anything, transitioning has now made me cognizant of the likelihood I could be savagely murdered if the wrong straight man finds me attractive and has drastically reduced the likelihood I would reciprocate a man’s advances, even if I considered him attractive.

In Conclusion

There’s a parsimonious explanation that is overlooked, something painfully simple in comparison to the twists and weaves of these creepy and frankly invasive sorts of psychosexual gobbledegook. We transition because we want to, because we’ve tried everything else, and because it makes us happier and healthier. Why in dog’s green mother fucking Earth is that inadequate?

The reason arguments like these give me such a nasty jolt is that they ignore a tremendous amount of information and context that would paint a clearer picture. I don’t know if it’s accidental ignorance or willful, but it shouldn’t matter. So few people participating in this discourse can be arsed to actually fact-check the most basic of their assumptions. And it ends up producing long chains of nonsense with little bearing on observable reality. All of which wouldn’t be upsetting if it weren’t being written into fuck mothering law in some places.

-Shiv


 

*I dated a trans guy once. I really want to know how purplesagefem would compute such a revelation.

Comments

  1. says

    In Germany you still need testimony from not one but two medical experts in order to legally change your gender. Though apparently a reform is underway and medical professionals support the abolishment of that particular requirement. So for decades trans people have had to perform their gender to the satisfaction of cis “professionals”. I always have this nagging feeling that a lot of cis women wouldn’t have passed their muster either.

    The reason I believe this is because trans people display it all the time. There is an endless supply of articles and videos where people say they knew they were trans because they liked things that are stereotypically associated with the opposite sex.

    It’s quite obvious that these people have no clue of the relevant literature on gender studies and sociology and they also basically don’t understand their own argument. Gender is a salient feature in our society and toys are gendered and children are very good at picking up cues.
    You don’t have to force girls to play with dolls and deny them trucks. They quite happily ask you for a doll and a toy truck will make them cry.
    There are some children who play with “opposite gender toys” because they like that particular toy, but they are few. On the other hand, you can easily make a child interested in any toy by using gender cues, just think about the Lego Friends series. There’s nothing in the bricks that makes them “boy” or “girl” and any child might ask for any particular set because they like that set*, yet most cis children will rigidly stick to the side that belongs to their gender, but a trans child might like a particular set as a means to express their true gender identity.
    I don’t expect any trans child to understand this and have (even in retrospective) the words to express that complicated relationship between a gendered toy, their assigned and their true gender. A trans girl may literally want to play with a doll because girls play with dolls**, not because they are immanently drawn to dolls. If girls played with supertrucks she’d want a supertruck.

    *My little one is still mightily disappointed in me because I haven’t opened my Ghostbusters Ecto set yet. She kindly offered to build it for me….

    **Most children will find amusement with most toys. If you have small kids and you visit people with small kids of another gender, they will usually have their 5 minutes of “ewww, that’s for boys/girls” and then they’ll happily find a toy they like and enjoy themselves.

  2. invivoMark says

    An excellent summary, and I appreciate the links and references you sprinkle into your writing.

    I only read part of purplesagefem’s arguments. After I was done cringing, it struck me how just about every one of her arguments pretty much only works if her claims are absolute. She might have a point if and only if gender is completely socialized, and dysphoria would never exist in an ideal society. Her arguments might work if and only if using a trans person’s chosen pronouns and offering surgery always leads to inferior outcomes than some other treatment. For her argument to make sense, trans people must always be victims of internalized gender stereotypes and homophobia.

    It’s never a good argumentative tactic to try and make or defend an absolute statement. I suspect a more skilled TERF would try and hide it better, but it’s very obvious from purplesagefem’s writing needs these absolutes. The existence of intersex people is a big elephant in the room that TERFs must sweep under the rug. But we shouldn’t let them get away with it. As soon as you have one person whose “biological sex” (whatever that means) is ambiguous, we have to fit them into whatever philosophy of gender and sex we subscribe to. As soon as we have one person who doesn’t fit the TERF’s preconceptions of how socialized gender works, their arguments start to unravel.

    And so here you are, a queer trans person, another elephant wandering into their room, and they have to deny that you exist for their world view to make any sense.

  3. Greta Samsa says

    When I read

    I think that in many cases people believe they are the opposite sex because of internalized gender stereotypes and homophobia

    I immediately thought, “what do they think of gay trans people?”. I’m glad you pointed out that failure of reason. Of course, we unfortunately do know that they believe gay trans people – women at least – to be sex hounds (hence their concern about being in the same bathroom, since they don’t realize the much greater – that is, actually extant – danger they’re subjecting those women to). Apparently they’re incompetent to realize that being a gay trans woman actually makes it much harder to find women who are attracted to you, and continuing to pretend to be a man would be a more effective strategy if sex was the only thing that mattered.

  4. says

    It’s never a good argumentative tactic to try and make or defend an absolute statement. I suspect a more skilled TERF would try and hide it better, but it’s very obvious from purplesagefem’s writing needs these absolutes.

    Yes, she is not very good at her own arguments, as they don’t only require absolutes but she herself invalidates those absolutes in the next sentence. I’m working through that whole mess right now and it’s clear that she has not really thought those things through and is not very well versed in feminist theory. She also seems to be somebody who never reached the stadium of being an adult where you recognise that your personal preferences are not the objective truth, as it becomes obvious in her position about body modification.
    But I enjoyed the phrase “anatomically correct pronoun”

  5. Siobhan says

    lol, I didn’t actually expect y’all to jump into Skepto’s comments. I need a shower because of purplesagefem’s replies.

  6. Enkidum says

    I’m wary of wading into these waters, since (a) I don’t want to piss people off or upset people, and (b) I’m very far from well-informed enough. However having read your response, I think your first point misses the mark. That is, I don’t think the claim is that trans folk have highly stereotypical gender presentations that match their birth sex, quite the opposite. I think the idea is that, e.g., a typical transwoman “origin story” would be that of someone who (a) has strongly internalized the idea that “men” present as “manly” and “women” present as “femme-y”, (b) presents as more femme-y than is typical for a man, and hence (c) has a strong pressure to view themselves as a woman, to solve the cognitive dissonance, or something like that. As I understand it, this is a fairly typical version of the psychosexual story?

    I don’t want to argue that the claim is correct, but your evidence in point 1 suggests that (b) is accurate in many/most cases. I think the crux of the matter, as you bring up in point 2, is really whether (a) is true, and whether that even matters.

  7. anat says

    She also seems to be somebody who never reached the stadium of being an adult where you recognise that your personal preferences are not the objective truth, as it becomes obvious in her position about body modification.

    Oh yes. When I read her talking about all the things people should do instead of transitioning, or before considering transitioning, I keep asking myself – to whom are trans people obligated to refrain from transitioning? Also, a person who doesn’t feel at all inclined to transition has a significant amount of privilege to be checked before telling people with gender identity issues how to live.

  8. Siobhan says

    @Enkidum

    That is, I don’t think the claim is that trans folk have highly stereotypical gender presentations that match their birth sex, quite the opposite.

    I don’t think anyone claimed this, not even purplesagefem.

    As I understand it, this is a fairly typical version of the psychosexual story?

    If I were to answer that question honestly I’d say it has never been measured. It’s typically trans-antagonists that characterize gender variance solely by its relationship to gender roles. As I linked to a number of trans people who are nonconforming in one way or another to their identified gender, I provided an equally anecdotal counter-example to point out that without data we can’t really comment on what is “typical.”

    I don’t want to argue that the claim is correct, but your evidence in point 1 suggests that (b) is accurate in many/most cases.

    I don’t think it does suggest that at all. Only one study found that trans women were more likely to be feminine than cis women, another found that trans women were less likely to be feminine-conforming and a third found no appreciable difference.

  9. Enkidum says

    Ah… after re-reading your post, I clearly misread something somewhere. Never mind.

    The one thing I’ll add is about my use of “typical”. I didn’t mean that the story I gave is typical of trans people, rather that it is a story that is typically told about trans people by the psychosexual crowd. I doubt it is typical.

    Thanks for the education.

  10. Enkidum says

    addendum to the above: I doubt it is typical IN THE FORMER SENSE (i.e. that it is the typical “origin story” for trans folk).

  11. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Siobhan, I love you work, and we agree about most everything.

    That said, I am far less willing to generalize from any study’s cohort’s results to a larger population of trans* people. At best we can say something about **out** trans* people, but I never see studies’ conclusions written this way, much less articles (or blog posts) written for the general public.

    I think that it is quite telling that many organizations’ tracking of anti-QuILTBAG hat crimes find 50%+ of those hate crimes target trans folk – the T, and just the T – in that string of initials. And it’s not like stranger-identifiable trans* folk are more than 50% of all the identifiable QuILTBAGgers. (Indeed you called out one organization’s results in your text, though the trend through multiple organizations with different methodologies makes the conclusion even stronger.) Thus we must conclude that there is still disproportionate violence against trans* folks, and as a result there is still a strong set of reasons to conceal one’s trans* identity, experience, and history. The parsimonious assumption to make, then, in trying to identify the full population of trans* folk is that very many trans* folk are still closeted, and neither the number of those closeted nor even a reasonably justified estimate of the proportion can be currently known.

    While I think the broader point you’re making here about autogynephilia is well made, think about the logic of passing as cis: those least likely to be able to pass as cis post-outing and post-transition are those with the most reason to withhold from others there trans* understandings of themselves. This inevitably makes them (far!) less available to researchers and provides a strong bias towards perceived femininity in out MtF folk as compared with the entire population of MtF folk, whatever we might find that to be in a hypothetical world where nearly all of us were out.

    While I consider studies like Serano cites on stereotype-conformation (or non-conformation) in trans* folks to be positively-motivated studies, and while I acknowledge that there might even be some reason to do them rather than concede the ground entirely to researchers and writers who wish to claim MtF folks are in bed with feminine stereotypes…

    …I feel that if we’re going to use them, we should be very, very careful about making sure that people understand the selection biases inherent in the recruitment of cohorts of trans* subjects AND in what direction the parsimonious expectations of the closeted portions of trans* populations would expect those trans* persons to diverge from the population available for recruitment into the study’s cohort AND thus why we should expect a study to be stating a minimum or maximum value for the characteristic under study, (if it is a valid value at all and other flaws aren’t present which doom the study to irreproducibility) given that the more broadly we begin to recruit from under-represented portions of trans* communities, the more we should expect new studies’ estimates of the value to trend toward a higher or lower number.

    Here, your point is only strengthened by this argument: one study found a larger number of “feminine conforming” MtF women among all MtF women studied as compared to “feminine conforming” non-trans women among all non-trans women studied? But of course! More masculine trans* women have disproportionate reason to fear being outed and thus disproportionate reasons to carefully conceal their identities from (everyone, including) researchers.

    The takeaway is this: in order to argue as they do, people like purplesagefem ***must either disregard the existence of anti-trans* violence and/or the logical and otherwise-rational responses to that violence by trans* persons seeking to increase their own safety***. Ironically, many of the feminists who seek to equate the visible trans population with the entire trans population in order to make their points are consistently aware of how violence not only removes women’s voices from the public arena but disproportionately removes the voices of certain women who have more to fear even than the average woman.

    By forcing these commenters to face their contradictions, lurkers can more easily spot their bullshit and people sympathetic to purplesagefem (including, probably rarely, the purplesagefems themselves) can take in a refuting argument that requires them to understand neither the complex methodological choices of a certain set of researchers nor the current background consensus against which the outcome of a particular study must be understood.

    This is simple feminism, and while they can set entirely outside feminism any research about gender that happens to include trans* folk amongst the “people” available for study, they can’t reject the argument from feminist methodology without rejecting feminist methodology.

  12. says

    CD

    Here, your point is only strengthened by this argument: one study found a larger number of “feminine conforming” MtF women among all MtF women studied as compared to “feminine conforming” non-trans women among all non-trans women studied? But of course! More masculine trans* women have disproportionate reason to fear being outed and thus disproportionate reasons to carefully conceal their identities from (everyone, including) researchers.

    It’s also that us Cis women largely don’t have to care. We can get away with it and maybe even get some cookies of male approval for doing guy stuff (but only form some men). I doubt that anybody would praise trans women for their elaborate set of power tools.

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