Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. Suppose I were to show you some pictures from when I transitioned, and asked you to arrange them from start to finish, in the order you think they were taken in.
Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. Suppose I were to show you some pictures from when I transitioned, and asked you to arrange them from start to finish, in the order you think they were taken in.
Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. Imagine if the light switches in your house turned all your lights on or off at the same time. You flip one switch, all the lights are on. Flip another switch, all the lights are off. That would seem kind of bizarre, right? If you’re just going to the kitchen for a midnight snack, why do you need the lights to be on in the laundry room and the office and everywhere else? That’s pretty unnecessary.
What if they were all dimmer switches instead, so that every light in the house could be brighter or darker in synchrony? That kind of flexibility still wouldn’t help, because it wouldn’t address the underlying issue: why are all these lights stuck together? Who would design a house’s electrical wiring like that in the first place? What sense does this make? It’s almost like they missed the point of having different light switches.
And yet this is the way that many people tend to think about gender, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Conceptually, they see these as just a handful of light switches that are ultimately linked to only one thing. To them, all of these concepts are locked together, moving with each other in synchrony – they think changing one thing can affect the rest. [Read more…]
Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. In recent years, prescription testosterone has become a booming industry around the world. From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of men over 40 in the US who were prescribed testosterone replacement grew from about 0.8% to 2.9% – more than a threefold increase. And data from 41 nations shows that yearly testosterone sales have increased from $150 million in 2000 to $1.8 billion in 2011. Meanwhile, chains of “low T clinics” focusing on testosterone therapy have opened dozens of locations across the country.
So what’s behind this growth? Let’s take a look at one commercial for prescription testosterone gel:
“I have low testosterone. There, I said it. See, I knew testosterone could affect sex drive, but not energy or even my mood. That’s when I talked with my doctor. He gave me some blood tests – showed it was low T. That’s it. It was a number.”
Companies selling these medications increased their spending on testosterone ads from $14 million in 2011 to $107 million in 2012, using a snappy new name like “low T” and the promise of a quick and easy pick-me-up for older men. If your T is low, you feel bad; if your T is higher, you feel good – right? This is the approach that’s fueled an explosion in testosterone usage. The problem is, it’s not just a number. In reality, “low T” levels are uncertain, the symptoms are vague, and the relationship between levels and symptoms really isn’t so direct. [Read more…]
I’m launching a new video series, covering trans-related topics in my usual style, and I’ve set up a Patreon so that people can help support regular production of episodes. All pledges are greatly appreciated and will help to make my videos better than ever!
My good friend and colleague Kristin is working with photographer Martin Schoeller on an upcoming project featuring trans people during transition. Schoeller is well-known for his series of photographs of celebrities and other subjects in his signature close-up style. Kristin, herself a trans woman, has worked with Schoeller on earlier projects, and he is very LGBT-friendly.
We’re looking for people who are at the beginning of their transition and are willing to have face and full body photographs taken, followed by another series 12-18 months later. This project is likely to be featured in a number of high-profile publications, and could become a standalone book. These photographs will be taken in a tasteful and humanizing style.
Trans women, trans men, and nonbinary trans people are all welcome to participate. Currently, we’re looking for participants around New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area. If you’re interested, or know anyone who might be, please contact Kristin at email@example.com.
This year, Private Chelsea Manning was selected as Honorary Grand Marshal of SF Pride. As she is unable to attend, she asked me to serve as her representative due to our personal history, and I agreed. I’ll be present for various events this coming weekend, including the parade on Sunday. If you happen to be in San Francisco this weekend, I hope that you’ll have the chance to stop by.
Throughout my involvement in this case, I’ve occasionally heard from trans people with some connection to the US military – defense contractors, veterans, or active duty. Some feel that Chelsea’s actions reflected poorly on trans servicemembers, and have set back the movement for trans acceptance and inclusion in the military.
Regardless of one’s opinion on Chelsea’s conduct, the fact remains that she is a trans servicemember who is currently incarcerated in a men’s prison and is still being denied access to any transition treatments. As such, her case involves key issues like integration of trans people into the armed forces, and the ability of trans people in prisons to receive appropriate transition-related care.
The Army has refused to provide Chelsea with treatment such as hormone therapy, on the basis that transgender people are ineligible to serve. However, the Army is also unable to discharge her because she’s currently appealing her sentence. Chelsea’s fight for access to treatment while incarcerated could potentially set a precedent, with implications for the military’s policy toward the eligibility of trans servicemembers and the availability of necessary care for them. The importance of changing this policy should be clear to everyone, no matter our personal opinions of Chelsea herself.
We must also recognize that transgender service in the military is not a hypothetical – it is a reality. As with gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemembers under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, many trans people are currently enlisted and serving in silence. The Williams Institute at UCLA estimates that over 15,000 trans people are currently serving in the US military, and finds that trans people are actually twice as likely as the total adult population to have served. This is not a question of bringing trans people into the US military for the first time ever; it is a matter of accepting those who are already serving.
In light of this, citing Chelsea’s actions to justify suspicion of all trans servicemembers is plainly absurd. Thousands of trans people already serve in the US military, and many more are allowed to serve openly in the armed forces of allies such as Canada, Britain, and Israel. Using one person to make generalizations about a group of thousands is as invalid here as it would be anywhere. Such fears are not due to the actions of any particular trans person; they are due to the widespread prejudice of cis people. The enemy is not a trans woman incarcerated in a men’s prison without access to treatment. It is a culture of institutional intolerance toward trans people – an intolerance that is never justifiable.
These are my views, and my views alone. However, in my role as her representative, Chelsea has also asked that I emphasize certain key points to the queer and trans community: that we have the right to exist as our genuine selves, that we are the only ones who can define ourselves, and that we should stand and make ourselves visible. These values are not centered around her circumstances – this is a universal message of pride for all queer and trans people. I believe Chelsea Manning’s message deserves to be heard at SF Pride.
26 June 2014
After trans adult performer Bailey Jay criticized trans people who object to the use of transphobic slurs in mass media such as RuPaul’s Drag Race, an anonymous person on Tumblr asked me why I took issue with her remarks. My response is reprinted here.
Anonymous asked: Why can’t Bailey Jay just have her feelings about RuPaul? Some consider her (Ru) part of the trans community, others don’t. The idea of a ‘transgender’ community or identity is a recent invention, and many people have the word ‘tranny’ used against them. just my two-cents from a twoc who’s found RuPaul empowering, even if you consider her just a Black man in a (fabulous) dress. Also fuck that last anon, you’re just as pretty as Ru! :P
I appreciate your perspective on this. I don’t consider drag to be something that’s strictly and inherently negative in terms of its consequences for trans people, and I can totally understand how it can serve as a gateway for trans or questioning people to explore gender. So I get how it can be empowering – I had a phase where I had no better way than “drag” to describe what I was doing, and that was a step on the way to figuring myself out.
What I really object to is RuPaul’s various statements about how the difference between drag and trans people is “$25,000 and a good surgeon”, and recently, the overt hostility toward trans people who’ve objected to these particular slurs being regularly used on TV. Were it not for that sort of thing, I otherwise wouldn’t really have a problem with RuPaul, or the others who’ve been involved in this.
If the idea of an overarching trans community is a recent one, then I can see why some of these people might think they’ve been unwillingly drafted into something bigger, and others are now telling them they can’t use their own slang. Personally, I’m not a fan of the “trans umbrella” concept either – there are a lot of serious distinctions between drag performers, recreational crossdressers, people who transition, and everyone else whose differences get erased by a blanket concept of “transgender”.
I try to look at things in light of the different challenges we respectively face – some of us will have to deal with the legal and medical system in the course of expressing our gender, issues with sex-segregated environments, coverage of transition-related treatments, and so on; others will not have to deal with any of this. I think looking at the specifics is more helpful than anyone just deciding to define us together, or define us apart.
But at the same time, I’ve recently seen a lot of these same people – Calpernia Addams, Andrea James, Justin Vivian Bond – suggesting that “transgender” really is such a broad grouping, and a label which they have equal claim to. Looking at how gender-variant people in general have been historically treated, I can see that there’s some truth to this. Bigots often haven’t bothered to distinguish between gender-nonconforming cis people, or drag performers, or crossdressers, or people who transition – to them, every one of us is a “tranny” or “shemale”. They don’t care much for the specifics of our lives and identities and experiences and what the differences may be.
The trans umbrella grouping may be recent, but it seems like the recognition that these are distinct phenomena is also just as recent. The other day, I was reading an article in the New York Times from 2000 about Calpernia Addams. The writer could barely figure out which pronouns to use, whether she was a woman or a “gay man”, the implications of this for her boyfriend’s orientation, and whether they were in a “homosexual” relationship or not.
It was so conceptually muddled that it was obvious the author was conflating so many distinct ideas – but back then, they just didn’t have the language or the models and understandings to articulate this in a more sensible and clear way. It was like that person on Tumblr who was like “Neil Patrick Harris is gay, not cis”, except it was an entire article full of that. And that was just 14 years ago.
I’m just glad that things have become a bit clearer since then – it may not be a perfectly clear split, the lines may be blurry, but it’s not all one identical shade of grey either. And I get how performers like RuPaul can have very different experiences from trans people, while also facing some of the same things, like the slurs and hostility. But I have trouble accepting the logic of: “we’ve been targeted by these slurs, they’ve been targeted by these slurs, they feel fine about these slurs, therefore let’s all continue normalizing these slurs in mass media”.
One imbalance here is that the particular people who are putting their stamp of approval on this language have a great deal of media reach and access. RuPaul has a really popular TV show. Calpernia Addams and Andrea James are advisers on trans portrayals in major Hollywood films. Bailey Jay is probably the single best-known trans adult performer. So they have a disproportionate impact, even when there may be hundreds or thousands more trans people who are really uncomfortable with the casual use of these words. They may not represent our views – but they’ve still ended up representing us to the entire world anyway. There are far fewer trans people with that level of access and popularity who have strongly spoken out against these words.
Another issue is that this has extended far beyond them having their own feelings about these words, about RuPaul, and so on. They also have feelings about us having our own feelings about this. Particularly, when we’ve expressed our discomfort with hearing these slurs all the time, they’ve called us “nutty”, “fringe”, “fascists”, “trans lesbians” in a derogatory sense (why they think this is derogatory, I have no idea), “newly minted queers”, “stay at home activists”, and accused trans women of having “male privilege”. They’ve attacked our orientations and genders. This has gone beyond a respectful difference of opinion.
Personally, I haven’t felt any need to misgender any of them during this, or use mental illness stigma against them, or attack them for their sexual orientation, or any of that. I don’t know why someone would do that and I’ve honestly been surprised that many of them have escalated this to that level. I’ve stuck to addressing their arguments, because that’s all that should have to happen here.
So it’s become about more than the words themselves. It’s also become about how the people who loudly, publicly endorse these words also just so happen to be loudly, publicly attacking trans people in ways that, if cis people were to talk about us like this, would be unambiguously recognized as severe transphobia. It’s been really uncomfortable to see them doing this time and time again, and it worries me that their support of slurs used against trans people is so often associated with outright hateful attacks against trans people. At a minimum, this is not breaking down the association between these words and transphobic hatred. It is reinforcing that association. I don’t like being on bad terms with people – I really, really wanted to be able to like RuPaul and Calpernia and Andrea and Bailey. What they’ve been doing lately is making that really difficult.
But even if they hadn’t done any of this, and even if they had otherwise respected us, I’m still not sure that this can be a live-and-let-live kind of situation. For a lot of trans people, those words can conjure up really traumatic memories of being beaten or harassed on the street or rejected by their families and partners or anything else that so many of us deal with from a transphobic society. It’s not even just memories – it’s a reminder of the real danger that some of us face just going outside every day.
And it’s a reminder that society has, at seemingly all levels, decided that the words we hear from people who reject our existence – sometimes violently – are totally suitable for mass media. That’s disturbing, and unsettling, and suffocating. The reality of having to live in this world can feel like we’re drowning and no rescue is coming. It’s like a nightmare we can’t wake up from.
So I find it difficult to accept that erring on the side of caution, here, means going ahead and continuing to throw these words around casually just because some people think it’s okay. I have to wonder what degree of deprivation that people will be subjected to simply by being asked not to say “tranny” and “shemale” – is the absence of these slurs from the conversation just as frightening as the everyday, inescapable transphobic climate that they’re so often associated with? I find that hard to believe.
I think erring on the side of caution would mean showing the decency of recognizing that these words often show up alongside some really, really bad shit for a lot of people who can’t get away from it. And I guess I really can’t grasp how these other people can feel so put-upon by that simple idea. I was being called a “tranny” and “shemale” on YouTube, years before I transitioned or before I even knew I was trans. It was never, ever, ever a positive thing, and even back then, there was no way that I was comfortable even saying those words out loud, let alone as some kind of joke. Even if others also have a claim to these words, I think it’s worth considering whether we’re really asking as much of them as they’re asking of us.
I’m going to Women in Secularism 3 this weekend, and I feel like this is a good time to get into something relevant: my experiences as a woman in the secular community. Particularly, my experiences as a woman whose gender is often considered debatable.
When Dave Silverman went to this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the secular community raised a lot of questions about some of the statements he made: Why, exactly, would the president of American Atheists suggest that abortion is the one human right that there’s a secular argument against?
But during the much-needed uproar over this, Silverman’s other statements were largely ignored. Yes, he implied that opposing reproductive rights can be a valid difference of opinion within the atheist movement. And that’s really not okay. But he also gave the impression that, unlike abortion, the issue of gay marriage was a settled and “clean cut” question for atheists.
Silverman later defended this on Twitter, saying:
How many anti gay atheists do you know? I can’t name any off top of my head. I know a few anti choice atheists.
School prayer, Death with Dignity, LGBT equality are 100% religious. That was my contrast.
There weren’t quite so many secular voices pushing back against the idea that opposition to LGBT equality is “100% religious”. Chris Stedman, a Humanist chaplain at Harvard, was one of the few to respond to this, saying:
I’ve heard from atheists who say that I’m too “effeminate,” that my being gay makes atheists seem “like freaks,” or that my “obvious homosexuality” makes me an ineffectual voice for atheists.
What does LGBT equality really mean?
It would be easy to think that support for the LGBT community is nearly universal among atheists. What reason would they have to dislike us, when they’re free of any religious dogma marking us as an abomination?
And polling data would seem to confirm this. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 88% of those with “no religious identity” supported the legality of same-sex marriage. A 2014 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute similarly found that 73% of the “religiously unaffiliated” were in favor of legalizing gay marriage. And the internet-based Secular Census, consisting of a self-selected convenience sample of secular Americans who volunteered to respond, found even higher rates of support: 97.3% of those who participated said that gay couples should be allowed to marry.
It does look pretty open-and-shut: support for marriage equality is apparently the norm among non-religious people, and most of that demographic has indeed settled on this as their answer.
There’s just one little problem. “Marriage equality” and “LGBT equality” are not synonyms. Believe it or not, equality for LGBT people does not begin and end with marriage. And a person’s support for marriage equality tells us nothing about their views on:
While there are plenty of polls focusing on marriage equality and the opinions of different demographics on that issue, far less attention is given to these other areas. And that’s a pretty serious gap, because many of these issues are of far more immediate importance to us than marriage. Certainly, marriage does matter – my partner and I are getting married this summer. But living in this society as a trans woman is something I have to deal with every day.
One thing I’ve often had to deal with is the opinions of other atheists on just about every aspect of my existence. Chris Stedman is far from the only one who’s faced hostility from atheists for what they perceive as a deviation from gender norms. Long before I came out, before I transitioned – before I ever talked about trans issues at all – just about the only thing I covered was atheism, and atheists comprised most of my audience. But even back then, plenty of people were already under the impression that I was trans. Here’s what some atheists had to say about my earlier work:
You can clearly see that these atheists have very positive attitudes toward the LGBT community – assuming the T stands for Thunderf00t. Really, what is going on here? From what I’ve been told, atheists should have no reason to treat us this way. And yet, here they are. So, does this mean that their transphobia is due to some failure to let go of religious views on trans people? Is it just a Judeo-Christian cultural value that they’ve absorbed, and haven’t yet overcome?
I don’t think so. When you look at what these atheists are actually saying, their claims have nothing to do with religion. If you’re wondering how they can be transphobic despite being atheists, you’re asking precisely the wrong question. They aren’t transphobic in spite of their atheism. They’re transphobic because of their atheism.
“Merely in the mind”
And I don’t mean that their atheism has made them merely indifferent. No – it’s actively made their transphobia worse. As unlikely as that might sound, it’s pretty obvious from the way they structure their arguments. It’s not an appeal to faith – far from it. They appeal to the values of science, observation, and reality, because they feel that these values support their transphobia. In many cases, they actually compare being trans to believing in God. They’re not speaking the language of religion, they’re speaking the language of secularism.
Here’s a really good example of this – from my YouTube comments, naturally:
The odd thing about having a transgender identity is that your mind does not match your biology. If you think you’re a dolphin but you’re not, your belief does not match reality and you’re delusional. If you think you’re a man and you have XY chromosomes, testes, and a penis, then your identity matches reality. How can you have disdain for the religious having no proof of the Divine and yet defend those with no evidence that their gender doesn’t match their genitals?
And another one:
I understand that people can perceive gender and sex to be different. But like an anorexic’s self image vs. her actual body, one is merely in the mind with no empirical evidence to back it up. When your belief crosses the line where you are willing to mutilate yourself because of it, it’s usually called a disease.
And then there’s this person:
THERE ARE TWO SEXES; MALE AND FEMALE. SOMEONE WHO THINKS THEY ARE THE OPPOSITE SEX IS CALLED MENTALLY ILL.
Notice how this is closely related to the tendency to conflate religious belief with “delusion” or “mental illness”. That itself is a problem – do these people not realize that atheists can have mental illnesses too, and that this isn’t anything like being religious? It’s not like I can just pick up a Dawkins book and decide to deconvert from having depression and anxiety. This alone shows that these people don’t have a very good grasp of what mental illness even is.
So it’s not surprising that they’re prepared to dismiss just about anything that they label a “mental illness” – in this case, being trans. But when they go on and on about this, it comes off as more of an expression of a stigmatizing attitude, not an articulation of some uncomfortable truth. They’re not rocking the boat here. They’re not being edgy, they’re not upsetting the status quo. Instead, the sheer redundancy of such a declaration exposes their total unfamiliarity with the medical consensus.
So what’s your great idea?
Since 1980, three editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders have included some kind of diagnosis related to being trans, under names like transsexualism, gender identity disorder, or gender dysphoria. “What the hell is the diagnostic manual of whatever?”, my bewildered atheist YouTube commenters might ask. Oh, it’s just a little book by the American Psychiatric Association. It’s generally considered authoritative by doctors, researchers, insurance companies, and other delusional folks like that.
So, let’s say you’ve been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. What happens now that you’ve been diagnosed with this “mental illness”, as my friends in the comments put it? Well, I already know what happens, because I’ve actually been diagnosed with this!
Spoiler alert: I transitioned.
And this wasn’t some original idea of mine that I had to convince anyone to go along with. There are millions of trans people around the world – it’s so common that there’s an established treatment protocol for us. It’s called the Standards of Care, published by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. Here’s what it has to say about our condition:
Some people experience gender dysphoria at such a level that the distress meets criteria for a formal diagnosis that might be classified as a mental disorder. Such a diagnosis is not a license for stigmatization or for the deprivation of civil and human rights. … Thus, transsexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming individuals are not inherently disordered. Rather, the distress of gender dysphoria, when present, is the concern that might be diagnosable and for which various treatment options are available.
“Stigmatization” – how about that. Maybe it’s not such a good idea to spout off about how we must be “delusional”? I assume that all the decent people out there already understand this, but apparently some of you need it spelled out.
And what about those various treatment options? Let’s take a look at section VIII:
Medical Necessity of Hormone Therapy
Feminizing/masculinizing hormone therapy – the administration of exogenous endocrine agents to induce feminizing or masculinizing changes – is a medically necessary intervention for many transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming individuals with gender dysphoria.
And section XI:
Sex Reassignment Surgery Is Effective and Medically Necessary
… While many transsexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming individuals find comfort with their gender identity, role, and expression without surgery, for many others surgery is essential and medically necessary to alleviate their gender dysphoria. For the latter group, relief from gender dysphoria cannot be achieved without modification of their primary and/or secondary sex characteristics to establish greater congruence with their gender identity. … Follow-up studies have shown an undeniable beneficial effect of sex reassignment surgery on postoperative outcomes such as subjective well-being, cosmesis, and sexual function.
“A medically necessary intervention”. “Effective and medically necessary”. “An undeniable beneficial effect”. And now you know how this particular “mental illness” is treated.
By the way, that’s from version 7 of the Standards of Care. There were six editions that came before it, dating back to 1979. This is not experimental – it’s an everyday medical treatment. So I really don’t know what these people expect from me when they start yelling about how I’m “mentally ill”. I already saw a therapist about this. And then they referred me to a gynecologist. And pretty soon they’ll refer me to some surgeons.
On the one hand, there’s the constellation of medical professionals who are working with me on this little upgrade, and the hundreds more who’ve worked to develop protocols for this over several decades. On the other hand, there’s FluffyFeralMarmot, esteemed YouTube commenter. Tell me again who I should be taking medical advice from?
Transphobes call us mentally ill because they think it’s an easy way to try and shame us for who we are. The problem is that they didn’t give a moment’s thought to what would come after that. They didn’t bother spending five minutes learning about how this is treated, because they were too busy calling us “delusional”. We don’t need medicine to certify who we already know we are, any more than cis people do – but if you’re going to bring science into this, you should make sure the science actually says what you think it does.
Again and again, I see this pattern being repeated by atheists who think they’re equipped to debate trans issues. They assume that science and evidence support their position, when actually this most often supports the exact opposite of their position.
I’ve seen atheists argue that trans women shouldn’t be allowed in women’s restrooms, public facilities, or other spaces, because we’re supposedly going to rape everyone. After all, nothing says “rapist” like testosterone blockers, suppressed libido, genital atrophy, and erectile dysfunction. In reality, a majority of trans people have been harassed just for trying to use public restrooms. Have a majority of cis people been harassed by trans people in restrooms? I haven’t seen any studies suggesting that this is the case. Do you know of any? 55% of trans people in homeless shelters or domestic violence shelters have been harassed while residing there. Have 55% of cis people been harassed by trans women in shelters? I’m not sure if there are any studies on that either, but feel free to find them, if you can.
I’ve seen atheists argue that it’s unfair for trans women to be allowed to compete as women in professional sports, or that this gives them a competitive advantage. Actually, the Association of Boxing Commissions, the NCAA, USA Track & Field, the UK Football Association, and the International Olympic Committee all allow trans people to compete as their declared gender after medically transitioning. Obviously the International Olympic Committee has to ensure that no one has an unfair advantage – but have they consulted that dude on Facebook who won’t shut up about trans women’s “bone structure”?
And in the midst of all this, it’s practically a cliché for them to say “it’s 8th grade biology!” whenever they’re enlightening us with yet another tautology about chromosomes. I guess the American Psychiatric Association just needs to go back to middle school, right? You’d think that these science enthusiasts would realize that early education isn’t a core of foundational truths upon which all later knowledge is built. It’s a rough approximation designed to be understandable to grade schoolers, and it becomes progressively more nuanced as students advance. But instead, they’re doing the equivalent of citing “4th grade science” to claim that plasma isn’t real, the sun is a myth, and who are fluorescent bulbs trying to fool, anyway? Personally, I’m glad that the surgeon who’s going to cut my balls off decided to stay in school after junior high.
So, why would people who engage in this transparent nonsense claim that they have science behind them? They don’t exhibit any honest interest in the process of science and its actual findings about reality. They only seem to have a selective interest in the idea of something concrete that would back up their preconceived beliefs. If I didn’t know these people were atheists, I don’t think I would have been able to tell.
What else do you call it when someone knows nothing about science and thinks they can blather on and on about it anyway? What do you call it when someone refuses to change their beliefs when faced with evidence? What do you call it when they try to tell us there’s some nonexistent “controversy” to be debated? What do you call it when they think their own intuition and baseless conjecture are more reliable than any research? And what do you call it when they don’t even care that this lack of acceptance makes life so much worse for trans people? I sure wouldn’t call that a secular value.
How is believing I’m a woman any different from believing in God? Really? Here’s a question: How is believing that transitioning is “mutilation” any different from believing that vaccines cause brain damage? How is believing that trans people have an unfair advantage in sports any different from believing the earth is 6,000 years old? How is believing in an epidemic of transgender rapists any different from believing in “irreducible complexity”? And how is believing that trans people are “deluded” any different from believing that atheists are just angry at God?
Sorry, but you’re not Neil deGrasse Tyson giving a science lesson to middle America. You’re Ken Ham telling an audience of faithfully ignorant sycophants how Adam and Eve rode around on a T. rex. Science and observation and reality should matter to everyone, and I hope they matter to you. But if you’re leaving out the science, the observation, and the reality, you suck at being a skeptic.
1. A many-sided debate
It’s been almost two weeks since the publication of our open letter regarding Calpernia Addams and Andrea James, and I feel it’s had quite a useful impact. My goal in this was to present a loud, powerful, and broad-based protest against what would otherwise be unopposed transphobia by two women who are perceived as community “leaders”. And this chorus of opposition consists of none other than those most affected by this: trans women and transfeminine people ourselves.
I’m very pleased that this has helped to force a long-simmering and much-needed conversation about the continuing tensions between trans women, drag queens, and the cis people who mistakenly conflate these two groups. That conversation has since elicited a variety of reactions: [Read more…]
Trans Women Oppose Recent Attacks by Calpernia Addams and Andrea James
We, the undersigned trans women and trans-feminine individuals, are appalled at recent attacks on trans woman journalist Parker Marie Molloy published by Calpernia Addams and Andrea James on the Huffington Post and Boing Boing. Addams’ and James’ hit pieces exhibit a pervasive hostility to young, queer trans women, and indeed any trans woman who is uncomfortable with the use of transmisogynist slurs by cisgender drag queens like RuPaul. They display homophobia, transphobia, ignorance, dishonesty, and hatred throughout.
We believe that these pieces should not have been published, and that they are not representative of the views of trans women as a community. Calpernia Addams and Andrea James do not speak for us.
1. Absence of good-faith arguments
James variously describes trans women who take issue with RuPaul as “hecklers”, “shut-ins” who “spend their waking lives online”, “victim cultists”, “self-haters” engaging in “attention-seeking behavior”, “elitists”, “the language police”, “finger-wagging schoolmarms”, “fucking stay-at-home transactivists”, and “trans separatists” with “internalized transphobia” who “transition from male to female with the zeal of a religious convert.” Unlike James, we do not believe that objecting to transmisogynist slurs makes someone any of these things. We also find it doubtful that James genuinely seeks to “resolve this dispute like professional journalists”, as her column exhibits very little sense of professionalism at all. If, as James says, “experienced activists seek to build bridges and establish empathy”, we are skeptical of her experience.
2. Misleading personal attacks
Addams and James have chosen to focus on an individual trans woman and personally attack her at length. In doing so, they give the impression that opposing the use of transmisogynist slurs by cisgender drag performers is an isolated and marginal position held by, as Addams puts it, “nutty trans hacktivists”. In reality, the conduct of RuPaul and others has been widely criticized by vast swathes of trans women. This is not a new critique that has only arisen due to a lack of experience among young queer trans women. It is a long-standing and well-supported objection, one which has been articulated by trans women of all ages and sexualities. Addams and James ignore this in favor of needlessly inflammatory rhetoric, a regressive defense of gay and lesbian transphobia, and unmitigated contempt for the gender and sexuality of queer trans women. Their columns do not contribute to this discussion in any meaningful way.
3. Traditionalism and ageism
We reject Addams’ portrayal of young trans women like Molloy as “newcomer[s] to transition and lesbian/trans issues”, a description which suggests young trans women are less informed, less competent, and less qualified to argue their viewpoints on these topics. To the contrary, young trans women can offer a fresh and contemporary perspective to balance the traditional and stagnant views of those like Addams and James. Whatever decades of experience with trans issues that Addams and James have had, it has not served them well in these recent columns.
4. Misgendering and accusations of “privilege”
We find it completely unacceptable that Addams would accuse queer trans women of being “conditioned to bully and take by a lifetime of white, heterosexual, male privilege”, using “the gains and habits of this privilege”, and having “lingering ‘cis-het privilege.’” It is baffling and incomprehensible to imply that an out queer trans woman is somehow capable of wielding heterosexual, cisgender, male privilege to her advantage. This isn’t a new tactic – it is commonly used by transphobes to misgender trans women and dismiss anything we say as coming from a place of supposed “maleness”. Here, Addams has done exactly that. This is not a meaningful argument; it is only more of the same classic transmisogyny.
5. False hierarchies of trans women
We oppose Addams’ and James’ oversimplification of queer trans women’s sexualities, unique personal histories, intersectional experiences, and self-understandings. Addams describes her own “feminine and soft nature” and experiences of being “rejected from participating in heteronormative culture”, while claiming that queer trans women “presumably lived most of their lives with the tacit approval and support of a society that viewed them as heterosexual, white men”. Her presumption is unwarranted, as is James’ description of these women as “newly-minted queers”.
If a trans woman is attracted to women, this does not mean that she always lacked a “feminine and soft nature” (whatever Addams thinks this means), that her sexuality was never called into question by others, that she was not “a participant in LGBT culture”, or that she was never attracted to men. Many queer trans women who are attracted to women share these experiences – their queerness is not “newly-minted” by any stretch of the imagination. Addams’ and James’ false dichotomy uncomfortably echoes the long history of straight trans women being judged as more legitimate in their womanhood and more “feminine” than queer trans women. This constitutes the same kind of implicit misgendering as Addams’ claim that queer trans women possess “lingering” privilege, while Addams herself supposedly does not.
6. Hypocrisy and feigned offense
While any use of “drag queen” to deny or delegitimize a trans woman’s gender is obviously unacceptable, we decry James’ hypocrisy in taking offense to the accurate description of Addams’ history as a drag performer. James herself notes that trans women have a history of “working alongside drag performers”, and that there “was no separation of drag and trans” in “pre-Stonewall Manhattan LGBT social life”, but then claims that “drag queen” is a “transphobic slur” when referring to Addams’ involvement in drag performance. This is, at a minimum, inconsistent. It is absurd that James would denounce this accurate statement of fact as “transphobic”, while she and Addams promote false generalizations about queer trans women and implicitly misgender them with accusations of “male privilege”. We particularly note the hypocrisy of Addams’ call to defend “trans people who choose to… associate with gay and lesbian people”, given her own hostility toward queer trans women.
7. Siding with mainstream prejudice
Contrary to James, we do not accept that drag performance is itself a valid excuse for cisgender people to use transmisogynist slurs. James believes that “taboos around language” – language such as “shemale” – are “practically begging drag queens and kings to violate these taboos”, and that drag is an “art form with countercultural subversion at its heart”. Such a rationale is nonsensical. When a word becomes so closely associated with open hostility toward a marginalized group that it is widely considered a slur by the group it targets, this is not itself a justification to continue using this word. It is rather obviously a compelling reason not to use it.
Cis people using transmisogynist slurs are not violating a taboo when the use of such slurs is already broadly accepted among cis people. Most of society does not consider it taboo to refer to trans women in these terms – there is no taboo to break. Repeating a one-word distillation of a culture’s hostility to trans women is neither countercultural nor subversive. It is mainstream. In light of this, James’ commitment to “siding with offensive artists” is hardly a laudable choice.
8. Disingenuous conflation of “transgender” with drag
We reject James’ classification of RuPaul as transgender, as well as any implication that cisgender male drag queens are therefore entitled to use transmisogynist slurs. Cisgender male drag queens are assigned male at birth, and they neither consider themselves to be women nor live as women in their everyday lives. Unlike trans women, they are not the ones who regularly face the consequences of widespread transphobia and transmisogyny, and they are not confronted with the fallout of normalizing transmisogynist slurs. Likewise, Addams’ statement that she “hate[s] the term ‘cisgender’” shows a lack of understanding of the importance of this distinction.
9. Hiding behind “homophobia” to defend transphobia
We further reject Addams’ argument that trans women’s criticism of the use of transmisogynist slurs by cisgender drag performers is a form of “homophobia” or “hatred or derision for gay and lesbian culture”. Trans women’s objections to transphobia do not become any less legitimate when that transphobia comes from “gay and lesbian culture”. This transphobia is no more excusable – it is equally deserving of scrutiny. While Addams recognizes that “being trans is not a free pass to be transphobic or homophobic”, she appears to believe that being gay or lesbian is indeed a free pass to be transphobic. We do not share this belief.
10. Elitism and exclusion of queer trans women from queer culture
Addams attacks trans women who object to RuPaul’s slurs as “hate-filled, angry and inexperienced folks” who “hop the fence at this late stage and try to dictate our culture rather than learn and build and participate in it”. We believe that trans women have every reason to be angry at the mass media legitimization of transmisogynist slurs by cisgender men, and we question the value of learning from this culture or participating in it, let alone building upon it. It is no point of pride to tolerate a transphobic culture. Accusing young queer trans women of trying to “dictate our culture” implies that they have less of a claim to gay and lesbian culture than Addams, and lazily dismisses legitimate objections to the harms of this culture and the attitudes it has normalized.
We ask that Calpernia Addams and Andrea James refrain from publishing further columns exhibiting this variety of homophobia, transphobia, transmisogyny, misgendering, ageism, and unwarranted hostility toward other trans women. We further ask that Huffington Post, Boing Boing, and other outlets refuse to give a platform to any columns endorsing such prejudice, whether by Addams and James or by others. As Addams notes, “you choose your community’s voices and heroes.” We reject Calpernia Addams and Andrea James as voices of our community.
Skyla Marchel, activist
If you are a trans woman or otherwise trans-feminine and would like to sign this letter, please email Zinnia Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org with your full name and occupation. This letter will be updated regularly.