Low T: A Tale of Two Hormones (Gender Analysis 01)

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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…]

White House Response to Non-Binary Gender Petition

10464169_10201853698937124_3923966816234564280_nDon’t get too excited, folks. The response was about as disappointing as you might expect.

Thank you for your petition requesting that the executive branch legally recognize genders outside of the male-female binary and provide an option for these genders on all legal documents and records.

We know how important this issue is, and we understand the profound impact, both symbolic and otherwise, of having official documents that accurately reflect an individual’s identity. These documents play an essential, functional role, but also demonstrate the measure of dignity and respect afforded to our nation’s citizens. We cannot overstate the care and seriousness that should be brought to bear on the issue.

We recognize the importance of gender identification in particular and the Obama Administration is working to modernize federal policies in this area. For example, in 2010, the U.S. Department of State made it easier for individuals to update the gender marker in their passports. And last year, the Social Security Administration followed suit by simplifying the process for individuals to change the gender marker on their social security cards to reflect their identity accurately.

As you can imagine, there is considerable variance across agencies and levels of government. And so while the Obama Administration wants to make sure that official documents reflect the identities of the Americans who hold them, we believe proposals to change when and how gender is listed on official documents should be considered on a case-by-case basis by the affected federal and state agencies. However, that consideration must be informed by best practices and a commitment to honoring individuality and ensuring fairness.

Thank you again for your petition. We appreciate your input and the opportunity to convey our shared commitment.

It really just strikes me that the person who wrote this response (Roy Austin, Deputy Assistant to the President for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice, and Opportunity in the Domestic Policy Council) doesn’t have an understanding of non-binary sex, much less gender. Like how babies are born with “ambiguous” genitalia and there’s no legal option for designating their sex as something other than strictly male or female. (Not to mention the many inherent problems with designating sex at birth anyway.)

The original petition wasn’t worded super well anyway.

Legal documents in the United States only recognize “male” and “female” as genders, leaving anyone who does not identify as one of these two genders with no option. Australia and New Zealand both allow an X in place of an M or an F on passports for this purpose and the UK recognizes ‘Mx’ (pronounced as Mix or sometimes Mux) as a gender-neutral title.

This petition asks the Obama Administration to legally recognize genders outside of the male-female binary (such as agender, pangender, genderfluid, and others) and provide an option for these genders on all legal documents and records.

So yeah, an expected disappointing response. I’m glad there’s a way for us to engage our government more directly and show our numbers, but I had hoped for more.

If you wear jeans, you’re not a woman: Transphobia at women’s shelters

The case of a women’s shelter in Maine handily demonstrates the true inanity of policing gender via its expression:

But the women who complained said they believe that in at least one case, it was a ruse. They believe one of the people in question is a man who occasionally dresses as a woman to get into the shelter, perhaps for voyeuristic reasons. That person did not have any feminine mannerisms and often dresses in a T-shirt and jeans, sporting a 5 o’clock shadow of male facial hair, they said.

“If they’re really living as a woman, I think they have every right to be there,” said one of the women who complained. “But he wasn’t wearing makeup or wearing eyeliner or anything. Just a man wearing a skirt. It was just odd.”

Let’s take a moment to consider the following advertisement.

levis-womens-jeans“Women’s jeans”? This is clearly a contradiction – anyone wearing jeans, logically, cannot be a woman. Note also this recent photo of Lady Gaga without makeup.

rs_634x851-130724115515-634.LadyGaga.mh.072413In the absence of any eyeliner, how can we possibly accept that Lady Gaga is a woman?

Oh, that’s right – nobody questions or doubts the very genders of cis women who wear shirts and jeans, or don’t put on makeup. That unique treatment is reserved for trans women. Cis women can dress as they choose, and while they too are scrutinized no matter how they present themselves, none of this is seen as invalidating the fact of their womanhood. When cis women wear jeans, nobody claims they’re actually men. Yet trans women are held to a higher standard: the jeans and shirts that would be acceptable for cis women now only erode our own legitimacy as women.

Cis genders are solid and stable enough to withstand any change of dress, but trans genders are seen as so flimsy that the mere absence of makeup can upend them. We thus face the dichotomy that we must be either far more exaggeratedly, stereotypically feminine than is expected of other women, or risk being treated as “men”. What sense does this make? It is an instance of cissexism: the attitude that cis people’s genders are more real, more important, and generally superior to those of trans people.

Shelters are a crucial and necessary resource for homeless, abused, and vulnerable women, and it’s very important that these shelters remain safe for their residents. These concerns are also not exclusive to cis women. Trans women need these shelters just as badly – and they need them to be a truly safe place to stay.

In a 2011 survey of 6,450 transgender Americans, 22% of trans women reported experiencing domestic violence due to being transgender. 19% of respondents had been homeless at some point in their lives, a number which rose to 48% among those who had suffered domestic violence.

A significant portion of trans women will require the services of shelters at some point in their lives. However, 34% of trans women who had attempted to access shelters were denied entry outright. Of the respondents who did manage to access a shelter, 25% were evicted after it became known that they were trans. 55% were harassed by shelter staff or residents, and 29% of trans women were physically assaulted. 26% were sexually assaulted at shelters. Overall, 47% were treated so poorly that they chose to leave the shelter.

Again, this took place in shelters that are intended to serve as a safe, supportive environment for abused and vulnerable women. Think about what that means: At least one in four trans women in shelters have been physically or sexually assaulted while residing at the shelter.

Many trans women are clearly in need of these shelters, and they urgently need these shelters to be a safe place to stay. But in pursuing the wholly valid and important goal of ensuring the safety of shelter residents, too many people have mistakenly viewed trans women as a problem, a danger, a threat. In rightfully seeking to keep women safe, they’ve wrongfully treated trans women as inherently suspicious un-women, refusing to see them as women who are just as much in need of support as everyone else there.

Fortunately, the shelter in Maine has refrained from casting doubt on trans women’s genders, and treats them as equally legitimate and worthy of respect. Yet the exclusion and mistreatment of trans women at shelters remains a widespread problem. The concerns that lead to this mistreatment neglect the reality of the situation: trans women are not the threatening ones at women’s shelters. They are the threatened ones.

And the more that people engage in this hostile, insipid questioning of trans women’s pants or makeup choices, the fewer trans women will be able to access these much-needed services during some of the most difficult times in their lives. This isn’t protecting women – it’s failing them.

“Cisgender” is not a slur, John Aravosis

In response to a post about a recent glitter-bombing, gay activist John Aravosis claims that the words “cis” and “cisgender” are somehow “a slur” against people who aren’t transgender. The term originated as a neutral counterpart to “transgender” in reference to the Latin prefixes “cis-” and “trans-“, meaning “on the same side” and “on the other side”. In contrast to people who are transgender, people who are cisgender experience an alignment of their gender identity and their physical sex. The term is not intended to carry negative connotations – just as the word “transgender” is not a slur against trans people, neither is the word “cisgender” a slur against cis people.

Aravosis, however, seems to think that calling cis people cis is comparable to calling straight people “breeders”, or calling trans people “trannies”. But it’s not exactly helpful to throw that out there without any explanation. If anything, it’s like calling straight people “heterosexual” by analogy to “homosexual” – a dispassionate and equitable way of referring to sexual orientation. Is “heterosexual” a slur against straight people? Hardly. It’s not a term of disparagement, and neither is “cisgender”.

Aravosis later provides a variety of justifications for his initial statement, and they’re not entirely persuasive. He first claims that the term cisgender is “not a word” or something less than a “real word”, and that most people “don’t recognize or use” it. But what makes a word a “real” word, and what makes it any more or less real than any other word? In this instance, the meaning of “cisgender” is understood and agreed upon, and this is how it’s used. Aravosis himself necessarily recognizes this in his criticism of the term. After all, if it weren’t even a word, then what would be the sense in objecting to it? Indeed, “cisgender” seems to be the only word specifically meant to refer to people who are not transgender. The fact that there may be a limited range of contexts where the term is applicable does not make it any less real than other words. Many people may still not understand what it means to be “transgender”, yet this is clearly a word. And “cisgender” is no different.

He then claims that the term is inappropriate because it was not created by cis people to describe themselves. Of course, straight people didn’t collectively reach an agreement that they would be known as “straight” or “heterosexual” before these words were used to describe them. Straight people may not identify as straight or heterosexual, or believe they need any words to describe their sexuality. But this doesn’t mean we can’t ever have neutral and nonjudgmental terminology to refer to straight people. These words aren’t an insult just because straight people, or cis people, didn’t come up with them.

He later argues that the word simply “sounds offensive” and “sounds like a slur”. Why? Apparently because it was used in the context of pointing out cis people defending and minimizing incidents of transphobia. That’s rather shaky ground for concluding that the word for cis people must therefore be a slur against them. Straight people, white people, and men may also be singled out for their ignorance or prejudice, but no one would say that the very names of these groups are intended to denigrate them. It’s even more troubling to suggest that calling out members of a majority for their mistreatment of minorities somehow constitutes an offensive and unjustified slur against them. This effectively demolishes any possibility of discussing such issues, and marks them as something that can never be mentioned for fear of offending majority groups by drawing attention to their misbehavior. This is an asinine restraint on meaningful discourse, and it only serves to benefit established majorities. The same objection could be made to any term for cis people other than “cisgender” – if it’s ever used in the course of criticizing cis people, that makes it a slur against them. How would choosing another word be an improvement? By this standard, there can never be any word for people who aren’t trans, and this actually seems to be what he’s getting at. In a very revealing comment, Aravosis says:

…we don’t label ourselves as ‘not trans.’ I can’t think of once in my life that I searched for a word to describe myself as not trans. I simply said I’m a gay man and people understood that that meant I was genetically and in my heart and soul a guy, and that I liked guys. There was no need, or even thought given, to how to define myself as not trans.

Consider the implications of this. By claiming that he should just be able to call himself a “man” and have everyone else understand that this means he’s cisgender, he’s asserting that cis people should be the default and unmarked class of people. To be a man is to be cis – a trans man cannot simply be a man, but must qualify his manhood and mark himself in a way that cis people don’t have to. The very purpose of the term “cisgender” is to eliminate this disparity. In reality, not all men are cis. Some men are cis, and some men are trans, and saying that you’re a man can mean that you’re a cis man or a trans man. Having a parallel term puts everyone on the same level here. Rejecting the possibility of any name for cis people as a group is akin to saying, “We’re not cis, we’re just people. And trans people are just trans people.” It’s really no better than if a straight man said, “I’ve never needed a word to describe myself as not gay. I just said I’m a man, and people understood that meant I was a guy, and that I liked women.”

Obviously, straight people are not entitled to ownership of the unqualified word “men” to the exclusion of all others. And neither are cis people. But believing that you’re exempt from having a name, while minorities are not, is very entitled.