I make it well known that I seldom have the patience to dialogue with the most hardened and dedicated advocates for the cluster of trans-antagonistic positions derived from the sort of radical feminism that makes other radical feminists grimace. There are many reasons why, but today I wanted to expand on one of them specifically, exhibited in this dialogue from Skepto that I signal boosted yesterday. Note that my response cannot be generalized as a response to all arguments suspicious or antagonistic of trans people and our rights; it could only be transferred to any other argument premised similarly.
Content Notice, again, for virulent trans-antagonism, the kind that triggers so much adrenaline you have to do a lap around the neighbourhood not to explode. Additional content notice as I cover the history of abuses perpetrated by medical systems against trans folk.
In the dialogue, the TERF in question advances the following claim:
I think that in many cases people believe they are the opposite sex because of internalized gender stereotypes and homophobia
When I see this, it upsets me on many many different levels. I’m not exaggerating when I say I have to suit up and go for a jog–this is enormously triggering, and I’m happy to explain how and why.
Despite the brevity of the sentence, you’ll note the degree to which my response has to expand. This is because the author in question has breezed past two extremely important concepts detailed in the sordid history of the medical establishment’s treatment of gender variant people, plus a third concept that is simply taken for granted rather than properly measured.
These are the three pieces which we need to address: The first is any measurement more specific than the undefined “many” trans people exhibiting gender stereotypes to determine whether trans people are indeed likely to be stereotypical; the second is why those of us that do exhibit internalized gender stereotypes do so; the third is whether internalized homophobia could be conclusively linked to compulsions to transition.
It’s important to note that these points aren’t new, they’ve all been addressed before. Full disclosure that this post is two-thirds the work of Skepto and Zinnia Jones, I take credit mostly for marrying the two posts in addressing the wordpress user “purplesagefem” plus elabourating commentary.
Point one: Are trans people more likely to be stereotypical in their gender presentation?
Data on this question are not as thorough as I’d like, but we nonetheless have some information to work with. Administration of the Bem Sex-Role Inventory, a questionnaire which asks participants to rank certain behaviours as they are true or relevant to themselves, attempts to measure the degree to which a person adheres to stereotypes by gender (not necessarily their gender, mind). Again I stress that this sort of question is difficult to answer to begin with, but this at least gives us some data which is arguably preferable to baseless speculation.
Jones summarizes two studies that compared the responses of cis people and trans people: (emphasis original)
A 2002 study in Poland used a derivative of the Bem Sex-Role Inventory to evaluate 132 trans people and 438 cis people. Among the cis men, 4% were classified as feminine, 48% as masculine, 24% as androgynous, and 24% as undifferentiated. In comparison, trans men were more likely to be rated feminine, less likely to be masculine, and more likely to be androgynous. These results don’t really align with the suggestion that trans men exhibit stereotypical or excessive masculinity. And among cis women, 34% were rated feminine, 16% masculine, 28% androgynous, and 22% undifferentiated. While no trans women were classified as masculine, only 52% were rated feminine, with the remainder being androgynous or undifferentiated. Trans women were actually more likely to be rated androgynous than cis women.
A 2012 study in Spain used the inventory to examine 156 cis people and 121 trans people, with somewhat different results. Here, trans women were less likely to be rated feminine than cis women, and more likely to be rated androgynous and undifferentiated. Trans men were, again, more likely than cis men to be classified as feminine, and less likely to be masculine.
And I turned up this 2016 study led by R.J. Factor with my Google-fu, as well.
Self-reported personality characteristics scored as feminine of trans women were not statistically different from those of their cisgender sisters, but were significantly higher than self-reported femininity scores of trans men, genderqueer individuals, and cisgender brothers. Self-reported personality characteristics scored as masculine of trans men did not differ significantly from those of their cisgender brothers, but were higher than those of trans women. Trans men and cisgender brothers were viewed by their siblings in a more sex-typed way than they rated themselves, whereas trans women and cisgender sisters were rated by their siblings in a less sex-typed way than they viewed themselves.
To parse out some of that academic-speak:
- Women, cis or trans, were more likely to rank higher femininity scores in their self perception.
- Siblings of women, cis or trans, ranked their sibling as less feminine than said sibling ranked themselves.
Point one is therefore “unsupported” at best and “contradicted” at worst. But it’s almost besides the point, because even if I were to concede that we are more likely to adhere to stereotypes, I can still demonstrate a different reason for that other than our TERFs explanation.
Point two: Have trans people internalized gender roles?
TERF goes on to argue:
The reason I believe this is because trans people display it all the time. There is an endless supply of articles and videos where people say they knew they were trans because they liked things that are stereotypically associated with the opposite sex.
Although the claim it is displayed “all the time” is clearly unsupported, as we’ve discussed, purplesagefem is at least partially correct about the endless supply–from cisgender, non-academic media sources–of articles attempting to contextualize gender variance.
We’ll get to the data in just a moment, but there’s another a point I need to make first: The simplistic narratives cisgender, mainstream media received from its trans interviewees were attempts to explain our experiences by being intentionally reductive and simple. To then argue that these reductions–the only thing mainstream media allowed itself to air or print when it came to trans people–somehow represent a consistent thread in gender variant psychology, is a bit like trying to write an essay about a novel off the cliffnotes. Cis people asked for simple explanations, so we gave them “blank trapped in a blank’s body” and “I always knew.” If those explanations have failed to enlighten you, it’s because this isn’t a simple concept.
To put it another way, I don’t dismiss quantum mechanics because physics educators have characterized it as “electrons can exist in two places at once.” I know that just make anyone knowledgeable in physics cringe. That’s because I know reductive explanations are meant to pique your interest, not serve as the cornerstone of your rebuttal. The difference is that I don’t pretend to have any kind of informed opinion on quantum mechanics–I freely admit it’s all Greek to me, and I wish more people would do the same when it comes to the finer points of trans issues.
Of course, those simple explanations also came from somewhere, and that’s where we get back to the data. Specifically, the European and North American history of the medical establishment’s treatment of trans folk. Here’s the TL;DR version: “Blank trapped in a blank’s body” was actually the product of cisgender doctors imposing their requirements on trans people. No shit it’s our canned answer–our lives literally depended on us being able to perform it.
Hearing lots of trans women say shit like “estrogen makes you emotional“? Rewind to 1982 and you’ll find a doctor whose diagnostic criteria for “true” trans women was any patient who cried after he fucking bullied them.
Hearing lots of trans women emphasize the importance of “performing conventional femininity”? Rewind to 1973 and you’ll find a doctor who only admitted patients for healthcare based on their ability to look like feminine cisgender women.
Or 1971, when only those who mentioned childhoods filled with unambiguously stereotypical toys would get admitted for care. Ya think that might have anything to do with all the childhood toy mentions in the media?
Or 1979, when only those who mentioned a persistent and intense disdain of their bodies and genitals would get admitted for care.
I could go on. The point is that virtually every stereotype about trans women is manufactured by the gatekeepers to our healthcare. Cry and give me hysterics, or you’re not real enough for healthcare. Wear dresses, make-up, and heels, or you’re not real enough for healthcare. Tell me you hate your body every minute of every day, or you’re not real enough for healthcare. Tell me your interests are as unthreatening as possible to existing gender hierarchies or you’re not real enough for healthcare.
At no point were trans people actually asked to give their narratives. We had, still have to in some places to some degree, give the narrative, or get out.
If it seems like there’s no nuance in transsexual narratives, especially the safe ones we give to mainstream media, it’s because doctors beat nuance into oblivion by ejecting diverse patients from their system. Our stereotypes are merely adaptations to a system that is unconscionably hostile to any deviation it perceives.
No shit it comes across as internalized stereotypes. Convincing others we believed this was and to some extent still is literally our strategy for survival. Stereotypes is all the doctors would accept.
Of course, the other way we can shatter the stereotype nonsense is by, you know, actually looking for people who have the privilege and ability and desire to break them.
Instead of the tripe the media selects as newsworthy, spare a few minutes to read this nuanced piece about transgender parenthood by Brynn Tannehill. Or stay a while for Zinnia Jones making the stunningly obvious point that she transitioned because she damn well wanted to and that she’s kinda exasperated people need more than that. Or look up Sophie Labelle’s Assigned Male comic and watch her extend her personal experiences into aesops. Or read Sam Hope as they struggle to contextualize our world’s many gendered cues. Or read Skepto’s series replying to the TERF mentioned in this post. You don’t even have to leave my blag.
This is it, right here. All the nuance and subtlety purplesagefem attributes to a fundamental flaw of gender variance itself is simply a product of her inability to fucking Google some trans people who aren’t passing the media’s filter for “interesting.” As Tannehill noted:
The public doesn’t want that: They’re looking for a train wreck to spill their guts onstage. They want to watch Hoarders for the same reason: to feel better about themselves. It doesn’t matter that the material was well researched and presented. It’s as though they invited Stephen Hawking to speak, then were annoyed at him for talking about physics instead of how much Lou Gehrig’s disease sucks.
Now is it possible for a trans person to well and sincerely believe and advocate for harmful gender stereotypes? Sure. But being a sincere misogynist does not make one trans, the way purplesagefem suggests. If it did, we would surely compose greater than 0.3% of the population. Nor is the phenomenon of being both subject to, and apologetic for, oppressive systems an exclusive property of trans people that would warrant this inflammatory characterization.
Point three: Have trans people just internalized homophobia?
I suppose purplesagefem means to propose this as the other half of an either/or argument. If I haven’t internalized gender stereotypes, I’m just caving in to homophobia. Except for the part where I’m, you know, queer* and not straight. Pansexual, to be precise. This means I can be attracted to men but I am not exclusively so, relating to purplesagefem’s underlying premise that it is homosexuality for me to have sex with men.*
So already the hypothesis is on shaky ground at least with respects to me. I am not exclusively heterosexual so it seems peculiar to insist my motivation for transitioning was for the sake of bedding men. I could do that before. Did, in fact.
Unfortunately for purplesagefem, this idea has also been discussed to death and back. It’s just another reiteration of Raymond Blanchard’s ridiculous transsexual taxonomy, which I have discussed and refuted at length already. Or if you think my writing is inadequate, go look at Serano’s withering takedown instead.
Then–and here’s the real kicker–there’s the underlying assumption that it is easier dating as a heterosexual trans woman than a cisgender gay man. I don’t know in what fucking orbit you have to be in for this to be remotely plausible, but let’s sample the implicit attitudes of trans women by cis creators of media to get a hint at some common beliefs:
Since 2002, GLAAD catalogued 102 episodes and non-recurring storylines of scripted television that contained transgender characters, and found that 54% of those were categorized as containing negative representations at the time of their airing. An additional 35% were categorized at ranging from “problematic” to “good,” while only 12% were considered groundbreaking, fair and accurate enough to earn a GLAAD Media Award nomination.
And, you know, with it being almost exclusively trans people who are upset about this representation, I’d say it’s fair to say that vast swathes of the population consider us loathsome, at least on an implicit level.
Or, here’s some different stats: In 2013, 72% of overall American hate crimes against LGBTQ people targeted the T. Are we absolutely positive this fits anyone’s idea of “easy”?
To get a sense of how attitudes toward transgender people might play out in the real world, we asked respondents how they would feel about having different types of people as neighbors. In many countries, the number of respondents who said they wouldn’t want a gay neighbor or a transgender neighbor were about the same. But in several — including the United States — respondents said they are far more opposed to having a transgender neighbor than a gay or lesbian one. Gay and lesbian neighbors are also far more acceptable to respondents in some countries than neighbors of a different race or ethnicity, especially in Europe.
It as preposterous to seriously consider a sexual motivation for transitioning as it is to seriously believe my 5-foot 100-pound frame could win an Olympic weightlifting competition. There was nothing stopping me before from having sex with men when I was still wearing my man-mask and awkwardly dancing the man-dance. If anything, transitioning has now made me cognizant of the likelihood I could be savagely murdered if the wrong straight man finds me attractive and has drastically reduced the likelihood I would reciprocate a man’s advances, even if I considered him attractive.
There’s a parsimonious explanation that is overlooked, something painfully simple in comparison to the twists and weaves of these creepy and frankly invasive sorts of psychosexual gobbledegook. We transition because we want to, because we’ve tried everything else, and because it makes us happier and healthier. Why in dog’s green mother fucking Earth is that inadequate?
The reason arguments like these give me such a nasty jolt is that they ignore a tremendous amount of information and context that would paint a clearer picture. I don’t know if it’s accidental ignorance or willful, but it shouldn’t matter. So few people participating in this discourse can be arsed to actually fact-check the most basic of their assumptions. And it ends up producing long chains of nonsense with little bearing on observable reality. All of which wouldn’t be upsetting if it weren’t being written into fuck mothering law in some places.
*I dated a trans guy once. I really want to know how purplesagefem would compute such a revelation.