“Cheerleading” And The Dangerous Irresponsibility Of Jennifer Finney Boylan

Us trans folks, tossed aside from society’s central mass and out into the margins, shunted into relative cultural invisibility, have a very, very hard time finding ways to see ourselves reflected in our culture. When trans people appear in television, movies, comic books and other media, we’re typically portrayed as jokes, psychotic villains or “shocking” plot twists. In the few occasions that these portrayals are meant to be sympathetic, they usually nonetheless end up being glaringly inaccurate, offensive, patronizing, misrepresentative and still damaging in terms of the myths they feed.

Real life trans people in positions of success or power are likewise rare… not for a lack of existing, or for some kind of dearth of talent in our community (there are lots of really amazing trans folk), but due to the ways the usual forces of privilege, discrimination and bias operate to stack the deck against us achieving the recognition or visibility we deserve, and how recognition and success can often be conditional on keeping one’s gender status private. The net result is a community in desperate need of role models, figures to suggest that transitioning and living a trans life does not have to mean compromising your ambitions, interests or the rest of who you are, but for whom shockingly few such figures are provided.

So when certain trans people do arise to relative prominence, we end up investing them with considerable attention and significance. These few public trans figures end up meaning the world to us, playing very key roles in our lives, and making a genuine difference for us, especially during the early stages of our transitions. In virtually every transition narrative there is at least one such role model, a touchstone that helped provide us with strength and a realizable goal when we needed it the most.

We also look to these figures to represent us in the world as a whole, as they’re the only ones with the relative clout to not be shuffled into the general invisibility of our community. We depend on people like Kate Bornstein and Mara Keisling to do a good job on the Melissa Harris-Perry show. And we pour a lot of emotion into whether or not they do. “You’re us up there”, we think, “and we don’t get many chances. Please don’t blow it.”

With the incredible degree of personal, cultural, social and political significance invested in these figures by the trans community, there comes a great degree of responsibility. What these people say gets taken seriously… by trans people and even by cis people. And what they say has meaningful, real consequences. As the only real guiding voices of our community, whether they’ve opted for it or not, when they speak, they speak to and for all of us. So considerable care is demanded. When they speak recklessly, without thought to the consequences, actual people get hurt. Lives can be damaged. Even destroyed. [Read more...]

Lazy Sunday: Got Monsters

First of all, a quick note: sorry there was no recap yesterday. I just figured since the week had so few posts (again… -sigh-) that it wasn’t really worth sacrificing a greatly needed night away from the blaggy-blegs. I’ll recap this past week’s posts when I do the recap this coming Saturday. Moving along to this week’s video…

I feel adding much in the way of commentary would spoil this, but for the sake of context, this is from Mina Caputo, singer of the metal band Life Of Agony, who back in the summer publicly revealed she was transitioning. This song and video’s release predates her coming out.

Slightly NSFW, albeit not egregiously so.

In the words of an e-friend of mine “That’s not subtext. That’s text.”

And links… [Read more...]

Is Gender Identity Disorder A Disorder?

In 1973, homosexuality was largely removed from the DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the guide to diagnosis and classification of mental illnesses and personality and mood disorders for use by the psychological and psychiatric community. Initially, a vestigial diagnosis, “Ego-Dystonic Homosexuality”, was included in its wake but this too was ultimately shed in 1986.

This stood as a very significant step forward in the normalization and acceptance of homosexuality as a naturally occurring variance in human sexuality rather than a pathological disorder that required diagnosis and subsequent ethically, scientifically and medically dubious “treatment”. It was perhaps the first major success of the gay rights movement, and signified that progress was being made, that the fight was worth fighting.

Similar debates are now occurring within the transgender community regarding the inclusion of Gender Identity Disorder (or, alternately, Gender Dysphoria), in the current edition of the DSM. So much of the thinking goes, if declassification of homosexuality was such a significant achievement for gay rights, such a significant step in the direction of its normalization and acceptance, and was so deserved by the gay community, why does the trans community deserve any different? Are we, comparably, “sick” relative to the “healthy” nature of gay, lesbian and bisexual people?

But I’m not sure these two issues are comparable. I’m not sure it’s wise to assert that Gender Dysphoria is not a disorder. And I’m not sure that any theoretical, abstract benefits of removing it from the DSM would not be outweighed by massive and widespread harm, particularly to the least privileged members of our community, who are most dependent on asserting to the public, the medical community and those in power, that our access to things like hormones and surgery is a medical need, not a “cosmetic” dalliance or “lifestyle choice”.

There are five main points I’d like to address to make my argument on behalf of Gender Dysphoria. [Read more...]

The Comparison Of BIID and GID

I’m sorry, but I’m afraid it has to be another repost today. I’m dealing with some more nastiness right now that hit a bit too close to home. Just couldn’t finish the piece I was working on (“Is Gender Identity Disorder A Disorder?”). I know, I like repetition in titles. It’s a Gertrude Stein “after the flowers of friendship faded friendship faded” kind of thing. Will post it tomorrow, along with part two of my series on fourth wave feminism. This one is originally from Queereka.

A few days ago, Christina Stephens, a friend and partner of JT Eberhard posted a fantastic and fascinating piece on Body Identity Integrity Disorder over at Eberhard’s blog, WWJTD.

BIID, while one of those things that is widely “known of” (in the pub quiz night “ever heard of those people who voluntarily choose to have their limbs amputated” kind of way) is certainly not widely understood. Christina’s article was a wonderfully non-judgmental and well-researched look at the phenomenon. It basically stems from an incongruity between one’s internal “body map”, or the way that the mind or self “expects” the body to be, and the body’s actual physical configuration. This can create a profound sense of alienation, disquiet or disgust associated with a given limb, extremity, sensory ability or virtually any aspect of the body.

As is fairly common to these discussion, Christina referenced comparisons between BIID and GID, Gender Identity Disorder, the underlying condition that drives transsexuality. GID is also a disconnect between internal “body map” and the actual configuration of the physical body, in this case along the lines of gender. It creates a similar sense of alienation, disgust and so on. Specifically, Christina noted a similarity between the types of argument used against an individual with BIID’s right to elect for surgery to ease the incongruity between body and internal self, and noted how many of the same ethical justifications we’ve ultimately formulated for gender transition are applicable to “voluntary’ amputations or other procedures available to individuals with BIID.

These comparisons, however, have a tendency to put me very much on guard. In the comments, I expressed my discomfort with the comparison, with which I have a long and troubled history. I may, however, have jumped the gun a bit and reacted emotionally before giving it full consideration. [Read more...]

We Have Enough Martyrs

“So many transgender women of color are attacked and violently killed.  In this case, CeCe is basically being prosecuted for surviving.” – Billy Navarro Jr.

A couple nights ago I read this compelling piece by twitter-friend and colleague Erica Inchoate, regarding the curious silence from certain prominent figures in the trans community, such as Dean Spade, on the prosecution and incarceration of CeCe McDonald. CeCe is currently being charged with second-degree murder on account of one of her attackers being inadvertently killed as she defended herself from a group of white, cisgender men against a violent hate crime, clearly motivated by her gender and race.

What followed was a conversation on twitter regarding why the trans community seems comparatively so much more invested in those trans women of colour who lose their lives to such violence than those who survive, those who are still living with those risks, and those who are presently suffering from the injustices inherent in the system that produces this violence, like CeCe. Why, exactly, do we seem so much more keen on “remembering our dead” than fighting for our living?

And whose dead? Whose living? [Read more...]

Fourth Wave: Part One

“If feminism is the radical idea that women are people, then trans-feminism is the radical idea that women come in different containers”

I mentioned in my links yesterday a somewhat disposable exchange that occurred on the Ms. Magazine blog regarding the “conundrum” of how trans-feminism is to fit into the future of feminism. While in and of itself, this exchange isn’t particularly interesting, and is rather just yet another iteration of the increasingly tired (in a “oh come on are we really still asking this? This should not be any kind of deal” kind of way) validation of feminism’s cis-supremacist fringe, I find that there’s one little beautiful and highly radical question hiding in there beneath the vapidity. One that is likely just an accident on the original author’s part but that nonetheless coalesces several threads of thought that have been tangled up in my brain these past couple months. Coalesces into something rather important to ask:

Perhaps the future of feminism is trans-feminism? [Read more...]

Born This Way: A Skeptical Look At The Neurological Theory Of Gender Identity

Sorry, everyone! No posts today. I’m terribly, terribly exhausted, as a result of falling way behind on my schedule, overextending my commitments, and having a friend from Kelowna staying over. I need sleep! So here’s a repost from Skepchick- one that is in desperate need of a follow-up, as I no longer entirely agree with the concepts and arguments I advanced in this post. My thinking on this issue has changed a lot over the past five months. So feel free to use the comment thread for helping expand the conversation, and move it forwards towards something a bit better, a bit broader, a bit more inclusive, and a bit more useful. Cheers!

For some reason, political debates concerning LGBT rights and issues like same-sex marriage often end up getting caught up in the question of whether or not being gay, lesbian, bi or trans is a choice. I’ve always considered this to be something of a red herring. Why, exactly, does it matter? If it were a choice, is there anything to justify treating it as anything other than a choice someone has the right to make? Any reason other than “Because The Bible!”, that is?

It’s certainly an interesting question, though. What exactly does cause variance in sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression? Why do these traits seem to be so fixed and innate? Why are they so unresponsive to attempts at re-conditioning and reparative therapy, even when the individuals involved are genuinely committed and would give anything to be “normal”? And of course there are tons of important medical and bioethical considerations when dealing with transsexuality, which requires medical intervention. If it’s a choice, then those treatments can theoretically be considered elective or cosmetic, but if it’s an innate characteristic, then they’re medically necessary and deserve to be covered by insurance or national healthcare. That particular issue becomes pretty controversial when conversations come up in the trans community over whether or not Gender Identity Disorder should be removed from the DSM.

The hypothesis that most people in the LGBT community run with these days is that it’s some kind of inborn facet of our neurological wiring, rather than a psychological issue or socially constructed predisposition. A simplified version of the theory runs something like this: in utero, prenatal hormones are sort of washed over the developing fetus, and these help steer the child, both physically as well as mentally, towards one sex or the other. The different sexes needed to evolve some differing behavioural characteristics as well as physical ones in order for our whole sexual reproduction thing to work out. As a very basic example, the females needed to mostly be attracted to the males, and the males needed to mostly be attracted to the females. There are all kinds of other behavioural differences too, but I’m usually pretty uncomfortable getting into evolutionary psychology applied towards gender. People always seem way too quick to use it to justify 1950s gender roles or hard gender-essentialism, so I’ll just leave it at the basics. Anyway, we suppose this prenatal hormone thing doesn’t always go quite to plan, and sometimes certain cross-sex neurological or behavioural differences can be triggered without any noticeable physical changes occurring. Perhaps our brains, being as complicated and subtle as they are, are more likely to manifest noticeable differences from subtle changes than other organs and tissues? Chaos theory complicated systems single variables butterflies and hurricanes somethingsomething?

The theory is appealing for a lot of reasons. For one thing, there are the political, ethical and medical considerations above. But it also speaks to and matches our personal experiences of being gay, bi or transgender… that these things are a deep, innate, unchangeable aspect of who we are. Something we never chose, that we usually didn’t want (even if eventually we learned to accept ourselves or even embrace those aspects of our identity), and that feels like it was always there (even if we’re sometimes the last to really know). It’s a belief that meets our social, personal, political and cultural needs, and a belief that feels true.

But as a skeptic, I can’t simply believe something because it feels true, or because it’s convenient to do so. What is the actual science? Is there any hard evidence to support this theory? [Read more...]