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Apr 02 2012

“Harry Benjamin Syndrome” Syndrome

You know, I’m sick of all this “umbrella term” nonsense. Why should I be associated with a bunch of freaks like drag queens, “butch trans dykes” and non-op transgenders? I’m a real transsexual, a real woman. I fought hard in order to be able to be accepted as a woman, and having a bunch of people who aren’t even interested in getting surgery, or wearing skirts, or doing guys, going ahead and jumping into our “community” and making us look bad is just undoing all of what us real transsexuals, who are really women, fought to attain. I’m sorry, but male means penis and female means vagina. You just need to accept that. It’s common sense. Yes, there are women like me who are born trapped in men’s bodies, who get surgery to have vaginas and therefore become women, but you can’t just say “I’m a woman” and have your “self-identification” magically make your penis no longer a penis. It’s crazy and ridiculous, and you make us women who were simply born with a physical defect and sought to have it corrected look crazy and ridiculous too. I don’t care what you transgenderists want to do with your weird perverted fetishes and such, but don’t go dragging us real women who are really transsexual down with you. I’m femme, androphilic, binary-identified and transsexual, so I count, and you don’t. I have Harry Benjamin Syndrome.

April Fool’s! That’s today, right?

No? I missed it?

Shucks.

Anyway, yeah, this is the kind of thing one actually does, sadly, come across in the trans community way more often than is (personally) comfortable. For all we’ve been through, trans people are not necessarily above falling into the same binary or hierarchical attitudes about gender common to our culture, nor does finding oneself on the receiving end of cissexism necessarily cause someone to immediately divest themselves of all the cisnormative ideas that have been drilled into them over the course of their lives. Deciding to transition doesn’t magically or instantly cause someone to let go of things like gender binarism, genital essentialism, misogyny, transphobia, the confusion of gender expression and role with gender identity, heteronormativity and heterosexism, the idea of sexuality and gender having a deterministic relationship to one another, the idea that gender and sex have a deterministic relationship to one another, or the one million and one ways that any given concept, object, characteristic or behaviour is gendered one way or the other.

And as a friend of mine once put it, “most people are only exactly as tolerant as is required to accept themselves.”

Not everyone has the strength and confidence to assert for themselves the validity of their identity in a culture that is overtly hostile to it. So when you have certain models or structures within that culture that offer some semblance of conditional external validation (no matter how absurdly high that bar has been set), people are going to build their sense of worth upon how close they get to meeting those conditions.

And the conditions themselves, the structures, the cissexism itself will often be internalized in accordance with the usual “system justification” things… the ways that people will have a sort of psychological predisposition towards wanting to believe that the status quo is just and decent, that things are okay the way they are. It’s difficult, psychologically, to perceive the system one is living in as unfair and flawed, and immensely difficult to believe that, whether good or bad, one’s position in life is undeserved. It’s only when the status quo is compromising other psychological needs like the importance of self-worth that it starts becoming “easier” to oppose the system than rationalize justifications for it, and in this instance, as said, the system is often providing us a means of finding a semblance of conditional self-worth without having to question its framework.

Given all these factors… how hard it is to immediately ditch a lifetime’s worth of cultural gender-baggage, how difficult it is for anyone to learn to extend their sense of tolerance and acceptance beyond themselves and their immediate circle, how immensely hostile our culture is to trans identities, system justification, and how validation is held as a perpetual carrot on a stick leading us to conform to social expectations of gender, be invisible, be non-threatening, and make as little of a fuss as possible… there will of course be trans people who’ll seek their validation through the cis-supremacist systems that invalidated them in the first place, building up their gender’s worth and “realness” in contrast to those of other not-so-”real” trans people, who “make them look bad”.

It becomes an especially tempting possibility for trans women who are “passable”, femme, androphilic, post-op, who transitioned early, who fit the imposed and expected narrative, and who were able to more or less effortlessly work through the gatekeeping system. When that system assures you your gender is valid, that contrasts you as one of the “good” ones, that supports you and provides you care, while most of the culture is attacking your identity, would you have the confidence, compassion and self-determination to question the gatekeeping system?  Even if accepting it means throwing those trans people who don’t fit the narrative under the bus?

One of the most insidious aspects of gatekeeping is the way that it demands we play along. We have to smile and nod and jump through all the hoops and not dare openly question the process from within lest we risk having our application (for hormones or surgery) declined. Which is a risk that I wouldn’t blame anyone for being unwilling to take, even if it means we have to play along with a process we vehemently oppose. We have to dress up as “gendered” as we can, and make ourselves sound totally, completely certain in a binary identification, play up everything about ourselves that fits the cultural role of the identified sex and play down absolutely everything that doesn’t, or that might be non-binary or “off”. And like any process where you have to behave as though you believe in its validity, some people inevitably start actually believing in its validity. Especially given everything I mentioned above. Especially especially when the system is rewarding you. It’s hard to be critical of the letter-grade system when you’re getting straight As, much like it’s hard to question your religion when you’re naturally disposed towards the behaviours it describes as righteous.

So we end up with trans people who the system says are “the good ones” believing that they’re the good ones. We have trans people basing the idea that they’re “real” women or “real” men on a contrast to lesbians or non-ops or tomboys or late transitioners or genderqueers, and whose sense of worth becomes dependent on maintaining the cissexist hierarchies that granted them their privileged station. They become the capos and Quislings of the trans community, passing on information to the guards of the gender prison in exchange for an extra cookie on their lunch tray.

The name that has gradually come to be associated with this aspect of the trans community is “Harry Benjamin Syndrome”. The idea here is that these “real transsexuals” are suffering from a particular unique medical condition, the titular HBS (named for one of the pioneering medical practitioners in the field of transgender care). The idea is that HBS is a sort of intersex condition in which the brain is more or less literally the one sex while the body is the other, and that HRT and SRS are the appropriate medical treatments for the physical “birth defect” of having been born with the inappropriately sexed body. Implicit in this is the idea that non-binary gender identities, or the dysphoria experienced by non-ops, or late transitioners, or gay trans people, or whatever, is merely psychological in nature, or at least of a profoundly different etiology, and that it’s damaging to associate these transgender people or “pseudo-transsexuals” with the “true transsexual” suffering from HBS. The idea of these other identities being “lesser”, or simply divorced from their own, is often reinforced by leaning on various cis sexologist’s (usually highly dubious) theories of transgenderism, such as autogynephilia.

So long as we’re making up silly medical conditions to account for minor variations in a socio-cultural category (derived from a loose cluster of related etiologies of gender), how about “Harry Benjamin Syndrome Syndrome”, a psychosocial disorder born from a dependence on external validation of one’s variant gender identity and marked by the denigration of alternately variant identities as inferior to one’s own, therefore artificially inflating the sense of one’s own identity as meaningful within the current assumptions of the culture? Sound good?

I think it’s not necessarily a problematic thing to interrogate the various more or less pronounced differences that occur across distinct types of gender variance, and I think it often is important to not blur the distinctions or confuse particular types of transgenderism with others. I, for instance, become livid when uninformed cis folk make the mistake of thinking drag queen, transvestite, cross-dresser and transsexual are all the same thing, or simply different points on a spectrum. And I find that I don’t really have anything meaningful in common with drag queens or cross-dressers. I’ve often been asked advice from the latter and found myself at a loss for anything substantive to say, and I’ve repeatedly been infuriated by the former’s insistence on often speaking for the transsexual community in the media on matters that pertain to us but not them, such as the relative offensiveness of the word “tranny” or the Libra tampon ad. It’s important, in advancing our understanding of gender, to be able to discuss these distinctions, nuances and subtleties, to think about what they mean, and to disseminate that discourse beyond the boundaries of our own community and into how our culture as a whole understands and interprets gender.

But, where the problem with HBS lies is not simply marking distinctions but in creating hierarchies from them, and suggesting that political coalitions are a bad idea on the basis that the “upper” strata of the hierarchy will only be hindered in their push for acceptance (in accordance with externally imposed standards) by cooperation with the “lower” strata. What makes it especially creepy is that we see this happening on other levels of the queer community, too. The exact same argument is brought forth by LGB people as a reason to drop the T from the acronym, to not bother fighting for trans rights, reaching out to trans people, accommodating trans needs, discussing how trans people are impacted by any given issue, or using trans rights as nothing more than a bargaining chip in politics free to be discarded as a “compromise” to attain greater rights for LGBs, etc.

Concepts such as “The Transgender Community” or “LGBT”/”The Queer Community” are not meant to be overarching ideas of who and what we are. It isn’t meant to blur distinctions. The Transgender Umbrella doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge that cross-dresser is different from transsexual is different from drag queen is different from genderqueer, no more than using “Queer” is to imagine that gay men and trans women are the same thing. These are political coalitions.

You see, we may understand those nuances and differences. We know the difference between intersex and genderqueer, cross-dressing and drag, trans man and butch lesbian… but the haters don’t. They don’t really care. They see a big icky rabble of icky queers and they want us gone, no matter how exactly we differ from their heteronormative, cisnormative expectations.

Such political coalitions are useful and meaningful not on the basis of shared identity or shared etiology of identity, but on the basis of shared oppression. Queer, loosely speaking, means “differs from cultural expectations of gender and/or sexuality”. It’s useful to band together and cooperate on that basis because differing from such cultural expectations results in a similar form of oppression (the sexually-based oppression in fact often operating as a subset of gender-based oppression- It isn’t taboo to suck cock, it’s taboo for a man to suck cock). Transgender, similarly, means only to significantly differ from cultural expectations of gender expression, gender identity, or (arguably) physical sex. We cooperate because we all, “HBS” and non-op alike, are oppressed on that basis.

These kinds of internecine divisions, hoping to somehow move forward in cultural acceptance by ridding yourselves of the unseemly lower classes of whatever, do absolutely nothing for progress. What they do is reinforce the scaffolding on which the oppression was based (for instance, the idea that certain kinds of gender are more valid or “real” than others). Whatever extra cookie you may get on your tray when lunch is served in the prison, you’re still stuck in that prison, still dependent on the guards, and will remain so until we cooperate effectively and build a tunnel. We won’t be free until we are no longer dependent on someone or something else, like a contrived medical diagnosis, to say our gender is real and valid and worth asserting. We won’t be free until all of us have the ability to provide our own validation. Until we stop asking “am I a woman?” and start shouting “I am a woman!”

Which is why our movement needs to place that as our priority. Self-definition. Self-validation.

Then there won’t be any need to weigh your identity against any other. No need for sacrifice when you’ve gotten rid of the god you sought to appease.

48 comments

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  1. 1
    embertine

    “most people are only exactly as tolerant as is required to accept themselves”

    QFMFT. Your friend is extremely wise.

  2. 2
    William Burns

    It was a day late, but at least it wasn’t another “Some FTB blogger is leaving FTB for some wacky religion-related reason” post. Those got kind of monotonous.

  3. 3
    A. Person

    Well, you got me. I thought I somehow ended up at ‘Just Jennifer’.

  4. 4
    Christianne

    Having been the object of scorn for some of the HBS people, I’m totally down with this. I sometimes have to remind myself that for all their misguided notions about sex and gender, they’re in the same boat as I am regarding the broader culture. Doesn’t make it any easier to put up with them, though.

    I have to say, though, that while I was reading your first paragraph, all I could hear in my head was Chico Marx saying “You canna fool me. There ain’t no Sanity Clause.”

  5. 5
    Sinéad

    I love ya Natalie!

    The HBSers and Transsexual Separatists really make me as depressed as just about any transmisogynistic trope out there. I don’t think I can count how many have ruined my feeling safe to attend Trans support groups, or online.

    I understand wanting to validate one’s identity with something physical because the “mental” is considered “ill”. I have never had my chromosomes checked, and no doubt many if not almost all of these people have never either. It is wrong to co-opt intersex identity. Yes, sometimes I feel like it would help me understand why I am the way I am, but ultimately it is as inconsequential as being a reincarnated female in a male body.

    I have been hearing the intersex community discuss how the terms CAMAB and CAFAB are appropriating the surgical coercion orpf sex assignment. I am not educated in that area to make a claim for or against. However, I do believe there is a difference between being considered a “male” in utero or at birth upon seeing a functional penis and being “diagnosed” with ambiguous genitalia, the subsequent surgical decisions, the likelihood of being sterile, and the stigmas I don’t even know about. Even males with micropenis and hypospadias, are going to have different experiences that are not related to gender identity.

    I do wonder why my brain and body at odds with one another, but even if there were not, my gender performance should not be stigmatized and pathologized as a paraphilia. I still support the varieties of trans expressions, I don’t think drag queens can speak for transgender/transsexual people who live their lives in hiding or in public. I do believe that all of us have a right to live and be happy and feel safe.

    And one final thought, I am a fairly hard femme gynephile, and no gentalia doesn’t define my attraction. I would have the surgery if it were financially feasible, but I am not going to live my life with utter hatred of that part of me, either.

  6. 6
    Sebor

    While most of the phenomena you talked about are very far removed from my experience, I could not agree more with the need for self-validation.
    Begging for acceptance on any level (queer, trans* or however narrow you choose to define your allegiance) only reinforces the notion that someone (straight cis men?) has the right to decide about your rights. Which they don’t.

    On a less serious note, “Harry Benjamin Syndrome Syndrome” doesn’t sound very sciency, how about “Narcissistic gender identity disorder”? The symptoms of a Narcissistic personality disorder only limited to the gender identity part of personality seem to fit disturbingly well.

    1. 6.1
      Anders

      Gender Validation Dependency syndrome?

    2. 6.2
      valeriekeefe

      Nah, leaving it as Harry Benjamin Syndrome Syndrome is great because it allows those who suffer from RAS* Syndrome to out themselves when they claim their extra cookie.

      *Redundant Acronym Syndrome

  7. 7
    thaismcrc

    In case anyone’s interested and hasn’t read it yet, there’s a really good series on system justification at the Crommunist’s blog: http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist/2011/10/20/why-are-you-hitting-yourself-an-intro-to-system-justification-theory/

    Great post and this part is just perfect:”Such political coalitions are useful and meaningful not on the basis of shared identity or shared etiology of identity, but on the basis of shared oppression. Queer, loosely speaking, means “differs from cultural expectations of gender and/or sexuality”.”

  8. 8
    hall-of-rage

    This is really an excellent piece.

  9. 9
    Sas

    A common tactic I’ve seen lately is HBSers blaming trans activists and non-ops for the violence against trans people. It’s not poor violent transphobes’ fault that they beat us, it’s that some of us are just so uppity they have no choice.

    1. 9.1
      Erin W

      Ouch. The usual bollocks from the HBSers is bad enough. Abuse-enabling bollocks is just a step too far.

    2. 9.2
      WilloNyx

      Got to love victim blaming from other victims.

  10. 10
    Melody

    The first paragraph – the one written in jest – is a real attitude that shows up way too frequently in trans-spaces I’m familiar with. It always makes me hesitate in sharing my own narrative.

  11. 11
    Anders

    I suppose it must be very tempting to fit in, and to forget those who don’t. And since those on whom you depend for security must be above criticism (because they can kick you out), the fault always lies with those who rock the boat. It’s not up to me to criticize them on a moral basis – I’m much too far removed from the conflict to be able to do that – but it reminds me of Franklin’s maxim “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

    Maybe it’s more sad than anything else.

    1. 11.1
      Anders

      So, I discovered a button that would allow me to reset my password. There’s one slight problem – I need to log in using my password to access it. *headdesk*

      Can trans people crosdress? I suppose that whenever a trans woman presents as a man it’s crossdressing, and vice versa for trans men. Although crossdressing has to me a tone of doing it for fun, not to survive. And I don’t even know what would count as crossdressing for a genderqueer.

      1. Natalie Reed

        Many cross-dressers definitely do it “to survive”, to meet a deep and unchanging emotional need. “For fun” is generally more how one would describe drag.

        1. Anders

          I guess I wasn’t up to specs on my definitions. Hmm… irritating.

          I meant what was done for show, so that would be drag I guess?

          1. Dalillama

            To answer that one, yes, trans people can and do perform in drag. I know several trans* drag kings and drag queens.

          2. Anders

            Thank you. I wonder if it’s a way of ridiculing their pre-trans existence, make it less threatening?

          3. Natalie Reed

            Yes, if it’s for show / performance, that’s definitely drag, not CD.

        2. Not My Usual Name

          Just throwing myself out as someone who crossdresses “for fun” but it’s really a private thing for me so I don’t really think of it as drag. It’s only really an emotional need for me in the sense that since I’ve grown up I feel I need to be honest with myself about what I enjoy doing.

          I’m only me of course. Everybody would have a different story.

      2. Erin W

        The Philly Drag Kings have a lot of trans* and genderqueer performers. The thing with drag is, it’s not necessarily about dressing as the ‘opposite’ gender, it’s the exaggeration of gendered stereotypes that makes the performance. So the genderqueer ‘kings’ I know just perform whatever characters they find most interesting, sometimes going very femme or very butch, and sometimes just mixing it all up.

  12. 12
    Dalillama

    Very good piece, and a window into aspects of trans* issues that I haven’t really explored. Also, you provided a very concise explanation in re: what drag queens particularly are doing under the transgender umbrella, which had always rather confused me; like you, I’ve seen virtually no commonalities between drag queens and trans* people, aside from the trans* people I know who also do drag, of course. That said, I think that the ‘it’s not our commonality, it’s the common hatred from the outside that binds us’ effect that’s why drag queens will talk about reclaiming ‘tranny’: in popular culture, the term is often used interchangeably to refer to drag queens, trans women and male transvestites. I’m not going to make any judgments regarding legitimacy, but I suspect that is why drag queens often consider themselves to be legitimate reclaimers of the word.

  13. 13
    miller

    I always found HBS really fascinating, because I felt it exemplified something that privileged people tend not to see. That is, marginalization of a group tends to precipitate a lot of internal conflict as a secondary effect. But I also feel a little awkward about my fascination, because I’m looking at it from an outside (cis) perspective, as a case study, when it’s a real and serious thing for trans people. I don’t suppose there’s really anything I can do about HBSers, is there?

    1. 13.1
      Anders

      Good question. If their strategy is to fit into the gender binary I suppose any threat to that is a threat to them. And encouraging them to deviate from the script and not punish them when they do…?

      Something like that?

      1. miller

        I’m not sure that is a good idea. People can conform to the gender binary if they want. More to the point, I don’t know any HBSers, or even any “classic transsexuals”. I’m not even sure that it is something I should be doing anything about, besides educating myself, and supporting trans people in general.

        1. Anders

          Ok, you may be right. And simply not punishing them for straying from the bigender script is something we shouldn’t do to anyone anyway.

          1. Brin Convenient

            Anders, I’d like to ask if you meant “binary” instead of “bigender?” Bigender is yet one more distinct label beneath the Transgender umbrella, referring to individuals who identify as two (or more, in some cases) distinct genders. Some of us, myself included, present with two different gendered presentations as a way of expressing that gender. Note that the genders comprising the bigender person’s identity need not be binary. You can see more at my youtube channel (brinconvenient).

          2. Natalie Reed

            Wouldn’t identify as more than two genders be, like, “poly-gender” rather than “bi-gender”?

          3. Anders

            Yep.

            It’s like learning an entirely new language… :) Thanks for correcting me.

          4. Brin Convenient

            Yes, it would be, although, on bigender.net we’ve tended to say “multi-gender” … I suppose we prefer Latin to Greek prefixes. ;)

            It seems rarer even than bigender, but, to be honest, I include it to be inclusive. We multigender folks need to stick together. ;)

          5. Ace of Sevens

            Bigender parses ambiguously.

          6. Brin Convenient

            Ace of Sevens, how so? bi + gender = 2 genders.

            If it’s due to potential confusion with bisexual (conjecture, not intended as straw man), well, that word actually parses ambiguously, too. It’s only through social convention that we take it to mean sexually attracted to both (sic) sexes. It could mean having two sexes (and is, in fact, used in this sense by McCoy in the “Trouble with Tribbles” episode of Star Trek).

          7. Ace of Sevens

            I mean without the hyphen, it could also be parsed as “big ender”

          8. Brin Convenient

            Oh, of course! I’ve seen it both hyphenated and non and that point has been made a time or two as well. In fact, when I was originally looking to purchase a domain to host a bigender resource site, I found that bigender.com was owned by a company then calling itself “Big Ender Clothing,” and I had to settle for bigender.net and bigender.org. They’ve since changed their company’s brand to BE4, but they still own the domain.

            Also, I refer to the site as “BigEnder.net” to my host when speaking since it’s just easier to let them draw their own conclusions than have to explain what bigender is any time there’s an outage or change needs to be made.

  14. 14
    Chirico

    You know, from the opening paragraph I expected this to be about the cotton ceiling/radfems.

  15. 15
    Ace of Sevens

    Most systemic oppression works by enlisting the help of the oppressed group by giving them privileges. See also narcs, overseers, etc. You also will have people trying to kick out anyone with insufficient purity. See: radfems, bi erasure. Sometimes these overlap, as with HBS.

  16. 16
    Kate S

    “Concepts such as “The Transgender Community” or “LGBT”/”The Queer Community” are not meant to be overarching ideas of who and what we are. It isn’t meant to blur distinctions. The Transgender Umbrella doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge that cross-dresser is different from transsexual is different from drag queen is different from genderqueer, no more than using “Queer” is to imagine that gay men and trans women are the same thing. These are political coalitions.”

    Yes yes yes yes yes!
    Also, Libra tampon ad?

    1. 16.1
  17. 17
    scazon

    Hell. Yes.
    Thank you.

  18. 18
    Anders

    Someone should stage “The Merchant in Venice” with a trans man as Shylock and a HBS woman as his daughter. Could be an interesting production.

  19. 19
    WilloNyx

    I am so behind on my reading. It will take me forever to catch up.

    Short comment, I think of this like what I call the “Welcome to the Dollhouse” phenomenon. Everyone looking for the pond scum they consider to be beneath them and then acting like the bullies they themselves wish to escape.

    In my brutally honest opinion, it is difficult not to berate people sometimes. There are tropes your mind has been conditioned into partially believing just so you can survive this world. However, “good people” imo are the ones who never stop trying to tear down those false walls our brain has built to make us comfortable with reality. “Good people” hunt them out take a sledge happier to them and open new pathways to inclusiveness in the end.

    Not saying I am a “good person” only that I am trying to be one.

  20. 20
    Rasmus

    So I guess these people are analogous to people of color who say things like “I’m not a [N-word], I’m a responsible educated intelligent person who happens to have been born with a different skin color than you. I dislike the loser [N-word] idiots as much as you do!”.

    Like a bullied kid who bullies another bullied kid in the hope of putting one more body between him and the bottom of the schoolyard pecking order.

    This sort of behavior is sad and pathetic, but I think we have to understand it as a social survival strategy. As a relatively privileged person I can’t really hold it against them… Although I wouldn’t want to be friends with a person who embraces that strategy and who doesn’t stop when called out on it.

  21. 21
    daiyuhurst

    Great article!

  22. 22
    Penny Posh

    Late to the party here, but wanted to say thanks for a really well-written and thought-provoking piece. Although I have little to no experience in much of the trans community, I think what you’ve said here definitely applies in broader strokes to many other “alternative” or “non-normative” communities out there. (I use those terms loosely and with the greatest respect.)

    I think that it just goes to show: no matter what part of the heap you got thrown into, there is always someone farther towards the top and someone farther towards the bottom. The solution is not to look up and aspire to be on top of the heap; nor is it to look down and sneer because at least you’re not at the bottom. The solution is to climb out of the damn heap and stand on your own two feet… and then maybe find a compassionate and accepting way to help others get out of the heap, too.

    Anyhoo, thanks for the writing – I’m a fan. :)

  23. 23
    Jaycey Cleland

    No trans* person would want to keep their assigned genitals. Surgery is a must!

    Well I’m a trans* person, they don’t bother me THAT much…

    Well you aren’t a TRUE trans person.

    Oh wait, I meant Scotsman :)

    Thanks for the read. Shared on my facebook and Tumblr. I’ve read your work before, it’s wonderful :)

  24. 24
    Lisa K.

    Hmm I have never heard of this HBS(S) before…you wrote an interesting and thought-provoking article.

    I mostly understand that perspective though, having personally been an early transitioner (starting as a teenager). I was born with various feminine physical attributes that my biological brothers don’t have (5’5″, small hands and feet, big hips, “gynecomastia”, “micropenis”, late puberty). My brothers have big torsos, are at least a foot taller than me, and have relatively large hands and feet.

    So on the occasions when this stuff pops up (generally some medical thing where they’re asking a lot of menstruation-related questions), I generally identify myself as intersexed. This is not to put myself on a pedestal, but rather because I feel like it describes my particular situation better. I’ve never actually been tested for intersexed conditions because I don’t feel like my identity needs to be medically validated. I also never really felt attached to transgender or transsexual, because my identity is female, not trans*.

    When I transitioned in the mid-late 90′s, I found it really hard to relate with the trans* community. I found it very hard to connect with people who had half a clue what I was going through. Most of the information I got was online…but the internet was still a novelty at the time. There wasn’t a Jazz or Kim Petras out there telling their stories to big media outlets. All the people I met locally were at least 15 years older and most of them had been married or looked/acted completely masculine, so there was a huge disconnect.

    I guess what really turned me off the most from the trans community were my interactions with this crazy narcissist, Donna Rose, who appeared to only be transitioning for attention and seemed to really relish in this idea of assuming a transsexual identity and trying to be some kind of trans* celebrity. She really rubbed me the wrong way and I didn’t want to be associated with the type of community she was representing.

    So yeah I can totally understand the perspective of someone identifying as HBS(S) to distance their particular situation from the situation of some of the creepier members of the trans* community.

    But on the flip side I really understand and agree with a lot of what you said. I especially don’t understand why hetero cis men are given liberties to pathologize the issues of gender-variant women (or men, GQ’s), any more than they are given liberties to legislates women’s reproductive rights.

    I’m also bisexual, which I feel also gets stigmatized quite a bit. And I’m poly-curious. And I tend to be in interracial relationships. So I get annoyed with things the LGBT community does, like turning the rainbow flag into an LGBT icon instead of a humanist icon celebrating all different kinds of diversity including racial and religious diversity.

    So perhaps for me the phrase “most people are only exactly as tolerant as is required to accept themselves” was true to an extent, at least when I was in transition and for the first couple years when I was more or less assimilated into the cisgender binary system….but I found myself becoming more uncomfortable with the heteronormativity that I was getting sucked into. But overcoming religious dogma, having a friend of mine come out as FTM, watching all the re-enactment videos of the prop 8 trial, dealing with racial issues, etc, has really changed my perspective on things, so I feel a lot more inclusive of others.

    So while I don’t feel like I need to throw myself under some umbrella label, I do agree that we need to band together to bring about more change and try to end discrimination wherever possible. I get frustrated when LG throws the B and/or T under the bus. When the oppressed become the oppressors.

    I wish we wouldn’t judge each other so much. I really do understand how messed up various caste systems are, but having personally experienced life from many different angles (even from an economical standpoint) it’s hard for me to really judge people too harshly for finding a comfortable conformity and distancing themselves from communities and ideas and past experiences that are stressful to them.

    Progress takes time, but at least society seems to be moving in a better direction.

  1. 25
    Loving my own narrative « Planting Rainbows

    [...] Not from an external gatekeeper who told me I must behave in a certain way, not really from any HBSer who poisons trans women by telling us not to transition if you have any doubts, not from any source [...]

  2. 26
    An interesting MRA argument « Jadehawk's Blog

    [...] on how closely someone manages to conform to cisnormative and heteronormative rules is called the Harry Benjamin Syndrome. And exactly the same happens to gender-roles. Because men are higher in the hierarchy, masculine [...]

  3. 27
    Trans-On-Trans Oppression Is Still A Cis Problem | Sincerely, Natalie Reed

    [...] oppressive, kyrarchal behaviour by trans people, such as those who rally under the banner of “Harry Benjamin Syndrome“. Nor to say anything of the actual acts of violence committed towards trans women at the [...]

  4. 28
    Certain Propositions Concerning Callout Culture, Part Two – Ozy Frantz's Blog

    [...] who do oppressive things are privileged. See also: Michelle Malkin. Trans women who believe in Harry Benjamin Syndrome. Misogynistic women from Phyllis Schalfly to Suzanne Venker. “Ex-gays.” Et cetera, [...]

  5. 29
    Question Eight: Why are people trans, and what does it really mean? | a gentleman and a scholar

    [...] between people with different opinions, and different ways of living their lives – from the HBSers who don’t want to be associated with the awful genderqueers, to militant non-interventionists who [...]

  6. 30
    Pomosexuals and the “Classic Trans Story” | TransFinite

    [...] [UPDATE: It seems that many trans people refer to what I call "The Classic Trans Story" as "Harry Benjamin Syndrome"] [...]

  7. 31
    The New Trans Separatism is the same old White Supremacy | fakecisgirl

    [...] divisions come hand in hand with this New Separatism, and the end result becomes much like the old-school HBSer separatism: you end up with a bunch of white people of a specific set of experiences, almost all of whom are [...]

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