Social constructionism in sex

My inestimable colleague Crip Dyke reminded me that I’ve never justified the vocabulary I use in my writings on trans issues. In her post, “Every Other Trans Person is Wrong,” she explains that consensus is seldom achieved among minority communities, and yet this does not excuse inaction in the face of oppression on the part of majorities. It’s true–I couldn’t possibly hope to wrangle in the entirety of all trans people on the planet, but she is correct when she writes elsewhere that my word choices on trans issues are deliberate and calculated to achieve specific ends, despite the lack of universal agreement among those for whom the terms may apply. So today I’d like to show my work and demonstrate that calculation. I can’t form The Official Consensus of Teh Trans, but if you understand why I use the words that I do, you’ll be better equipped to respond to differences of opinion within the trans community, and thus the lack of apparent consensus may be less intimidating in your wish to materialize your good will towards trans folk into substantive action. (This post obviously assumes you have that good will. If you don’t, that’s a tirade for another day.)

Content Notice: I am going to invoke cissexism and endosex supremacy specifically as a means to discuss it. In addition there is a sex ed component where I show variations in genitalia in a non-sexualized fashion, but in our sadly unenlightened society that is nonetheless NSFW.

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Autogynephilia: A method of character assassination, not a scientific theory

Content Notice: Trans-antagonistic nonsense of many varieties.

Miranda Yardley has, much to my despair, started clogging the “transgender” tag on Medium, which is one of many ways I try to track what is being discussed about gender variance. For those of you who don’t know her–congratulations, count yourself lucky–she’s a self-described “transsexual male” who has politically aligned herself with a group of people who gleefully argue for her own subordination. She gallivants about the United Kingdom, coasting in on the benefits hard won for her by trans activism, all while arguing how harmful trans activism is. It’s the sort of hypocritical blinkered nonsense you typically see from the forced-birther movement, who often access the very services they protest. She is, basically, a British Blaire White, carving out a niche in profiting from telling the trans-suspicious what they want to hear while being simultaneously trans. This includes her latest invocation of one of the anti-trans types’ favourite cudgel: Autogynephilia, an idea (calling it a “theory” would be an insult to science) promoted by Dr. Ray “transsexuals will sort themselves out later” Blanchard.

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Who needs enemies with “allies” like these?

Imagine a world where the virulently misogynist words of Phyllis Schlafly were held up by feminists as representative of the opinions of all women. Imagine a world where the discrimination-denialist positions of Christina Hoff Sommers were held up as the pinnacle of women’s advocacy by feminists. Imagine a world where hundreds of feminists surfaced from the crevices of the internet to hail me as some kind of valiant free speech defender after campaigning for women to be banned from public life because one time, this woman threw hot coffee at me and no, I don’t have an independent link for you to verify that but I promise I’m trustworthy *pinky swear* smiley-face emoji :)

I don’t live in this world because it is, sadly, limited to cis feminists. A feminist publication called Athena Talks, whose mission is “to help young women mature, [to help] budding professionals become leaders and [to help] leaders become advocates for equality,” decided that all of the above absurdities were suddenly worthy of their editorial attention, strictly because it was re-purposed for animus against trans women.

To be clear, I don’t consider it a bad thing that my feminist works are usually held up to a higher standard. If I were to deploy the venom-spitting baffelgab passing for “reasonable dialogue” in the start of this post, I would be rightly shredded as a derivative thinker and deemed an asshole with an axe to grind. Instead I want to draw attention to cis feminism’s problem with shoddy double standards: If the topic is trans women, y’all start giving the “deer in headlights” look as if you’ve never encountered a logical fallacy before. (#NotAllCisFeminists, of course, but enough of you).

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the latest candy-glossed hate piece to make waves in feminist discourse: “I am not a ‘cis’ Woman, I am a Woman and that Matters.

Content Notice for trans-antagonism, in case it wasn’t already obvious from the title.

The author opens thusly:

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How to poison the trans well in five easy steps

Cis women occupy a unique position within the discourse between sex essentialist/trans-exclusionary radical feminists and trans feminists. As we’re about to see below, TERFs sometimes employ a subtle technique of rhetorical manipulation that disarms any trans critics long before we’ve even spoken. Since cis women in these sex essentialist constructs lack the various boogeymen and spectres that TERFs raise as evidence of trans women’s “male essence,” they’re able to more directly interface with the material without having to first waste time on specious accusations of “aggression” or “violence.” This is why I made a post eons ago briefly thanking M. A. Melby for her work–she not only acknowledges this unique position but actively uses it to expose the intellectual fraud of sex essentialist feminists.

Here I document a specific strain of rhetoric which has the intention to demonize the transgender critic regardless of their actual behaviour. My hope is that cis women step up to the plate when they see it deployed, because they undermine its fundamental strategy simply by voicing a criticism while being neither transgender or a man. We’re looking at a recent piece by Julian Vigo, but the rhetoric used here is likely to make an appearance again.

All emphasis seen in the quotations are added by me unless marked otherwise. Typos are from the original material. Lastly, I use “trans feminist” to refer to a specific tradition of trans-inclusive feminism, not as “a feminist who is also transgender,” though they often overlap.

Content Notice for trans-antagonism and sexual assault.

1. Frame your critics as oppressors.

 

It’s not exactly difficult for those who experience misogyny to paint that experience as rather harrowing. There are countless disparities between men and women in virtually every metric you can think of from violent victimization to wage earnings to health outcomes. If one is invested in evidence as their basis for beliefs, it is virtually inescapable to conclude anything except that women as a demographic are treated unfairly in a myriad of ways (not that people don’t try). Despite the ceaseless statistical evidence, Vigo opts to use a personal narrative instead:

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Anything but trans

Given that trans-antagonism still possesses enough social capital to be routinely published in mainstream media outlets, we ought to consider its influence on those questioning their gender identity. There is an entire sub-genre within the topic of “questioning” prompted by notably not-trans people that I’m calling the “anything but trans” narratives.

Questioning your gender? Take a shot of Pimozide. Results supporting this idea may be based on a single case study and not an actual sample, but anything to not be trans, right? (This is entering not even wrong territory–the WPATH recommends psychosis be “managed” before transitioning but no longer considers it an automatic exclusion from gender dysphoria).

Questioning your gender? Hey, this anonymous Tumblr survey circulated by TERFs says 20% of “detransitioners” actually had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder instead, they just fixated on gender. What a relief you’re not trans!

Questioning your gender? Hey, this “expert” says autistic people are disproportionately represented among gender dysphoric youth. You’re “just autistic,” and not trans. Whew!

Just Autism. Just OCD. Just a perception disorder. Just mommy issues. Just a sexual fetish. Just a phase. Just personal preference. Just PTSD. Just just just. On and on it goes, a never-ending refusal to actually listen to trans people in a desperate bid to find a cis explanation for a not-cis phenomenon.

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Oh, the slightest criticism, obviously equivalent to being burned alive

You know whose breathless histrionics I haven’t enjoyed in a while? Jesse Singal’s.

I’ll share a little bit about Singal’s background here, because there’s a lot to unpack in Singal’s latest masterwank, “This is What a Modern Day Witch Hunt Looks Like” (a decidedly not burned cis white woman, apparently).

Back when Singal first started cluelessly meandering into trans issues, virtually every trans feminist academic I read approached him with kiddie gloves. Julia Serano gave an interview with him to help orient his slant on a Ken Zucker piece in relation to empirical evidence–he declined to use any of the information she provided. Same thing with Parker Molloy, who goes to great lengths to avoid calling Singal transphobic despite his omission of Molloy’s attempt to introduce the evidence to him. A blogger by the pseudonym of Cerberus has meticulously documented Singal’s foray into trans issues, and spends several years trying to patiently explain the sheer amount of denialism necessary to maintain the opinions Singal defends. Kelley Winters has tried to inform Singal (multiple times). Cristan Williams has tried to inform Singal. Zinnia Jones has tried to inform Singal. Casey Plett has tried to inform Singal. I’ve tried to inform Singal.

So I want to make it abundantly clear that Jesse Singal has had ample opportunity for respectful dialogue with trans feminists and gender psychiatrists, multiple offers of delicate hand-holding from advocates across multiple platforms of media, and dozens of attempts to offer clearer information for the purposes of his journalism.

It’s only under this context that I am now certain in saying Jesse Singal has exhausted any claim to good-faith argumentation. Singal is lying. More importantly, he knows he’s lying.

That brings us to Singal’s “witch hunt,” notably absent of any fires and show-trials constructed through Catch-22s and loaded misogyny. Rebecca Tuvel managed to get a dubiously sourced-and-argued article published in Hypatia comparing Rachel Dolezal’s bastardization of “transracialism” to gender variance (“transgenderism,” as the cis insist on calling it). Tuvel has, not without reason, taken some flack for it. Trans academics–you know, the people that actually study and live this stuff–still struggle to have our work taken seriously, especially in academic contexts, but hey, if you’re cis and have the right stamp on your certificate, you can coast straight through the uncritical editorial vision of (also cis) feminist editors. But Jesse Singal thinks our objections to Hypatia‘s publishing of Tuvel’s piece to be a witch hunt.

Cue my esteemed colleague, Crip Dyke, emphasis added by me:

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Four Signs Your Trans Healthcare Opinion is Cissexist Claptrap

At some point during my career of fact-checking the trans-antagonistic self indulgent wankery that passes for journalism these days, things started to blur together. I could play a game called “Who Said It: Transphobic Radical ‘Feminist’ or Catholic Priest?” when examining the statements and sometimes mix them up, their tangled logic and moralistic aggression seemingly borrowing from one another to the point of being difficult to tell apart. In this morass I began to notice a number of repeated rhetorical tricks frequently present in these anti-trans hit pieces, tricks which I’ve documented below. These rhetorical devices often obfuscate the increasingly-clear evidence to their hypothetical questions, which are themselves posed to give the impression of being unanswerable–so just go with your gut. You know, the gut that’s more willing to accept a conspiracy theory than some statistics.

And so, here we are, four red flags common in cissexist healthcare op-eds.

1. It positions “trans” and “healthy” as mutually exclusive.

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Science says…

The National Organization for Marriage decided, for reasons unfathomable to me, that YouTube comment sections are precisely the sort of thing that ought to be spray-painted onto the side of a hideous orange bus to be toured around the country in the name of Science! Gawd! Biological reality! Privacy! Safety! “free speech.” I’ve wanted to write about this for a while and honestly, the one thing I was stuck on is that NOM didn’t really… argue… anything.

Their messaging is ridiculously scattershot, the sort of rambling I’d expect from a freshman who accidentally wrote the same essay for four different classes while nibbling on marijuana brownies. It’s utter nonsense from start to finish, a manic conspiracy theory scribbled in crayon on the back of a diner napkin. So for a while I didn’t even know where to start, until I figured that my complete bafflement at whatever the fuck they were trying to say was a good way to lead as any.

Content Notice for seven degrees of transantagonistic eliminationist bullshit:

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Trans 101: Put Down the Map

One common theme you’ll see throughout the work of some trans feminists is a distinct reluctance or distaste for ever broaching the topic of “Trans 101.” Asher explicitly says as much in his “Not Your Mom’s Trans 101” (which is officially recommended by me) when he says “Trying to teach a new perspective to the victims of this extremely aggressive brainwashing can be daunting.” Cristan Williams, whose work is exemplary within The Discourse, makes no explicit sentiment in this vein–but her Trans 101 is also enormous, and the lack of brevity is itself a message that we resist quick and easy reductions.

This is in my estimate because “trans” isn’t a 100-level topic. Embedded in the culture in which we live are many assumptions which often muddy The Discourse, rendering productive conversation impossible, causing countless instances of two people talking past each other. This does not mean that my attempt will be overly complex, but it’s probably not something that could be captured in a Twitter hashtag.

To bring us to the task at hand, we must first acknowledge a few guiding principles:

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BBC’s “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?” p3: My old friend, eighty percent

This series on BBC’s “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?” is co-authored by HJ Hornbeck and Siobhan O’Leary. It attempts to fact-check and explore the documentary’s many claims concerning gender variant youth. You can follow the rest of the series here:

  1. Part One: You got Autism in my Gender Dysphoria!
  2. Part Two: Say it with me now…
  3. Part Three: My old friend, eighty percent
  4. Part Four: Dirty Sexy Brains

 

Eighty percent is tired. Eighty percent has had thrust upon its back the concern trolling of every clueless media pundit from Sarah Ditum to Jesse Singal. And the exterminationists, the “transsexuals will sort themselves out later” types, they too abuse my poor poor friend eighty percent. Eighty percent is the one and only quote the antagonists will reliably provide. Eighty percent is the crux of hundreds of thousands of very, very concerned words printed in very, very concerned columns.

Eighty percent is just exhausted, being expected to carry all this.

Eighty percent deserves a rest.

Recall from part two:

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