Depersonalization and gender dysphoria

Zinnia Jones recently identified a gap in research on gender dysphoria: The co-morbidity of GD with depersonalization, and more mystifying, Hormone Replacement Therapy’s capacity to alleviate it.

Since experiencing this completely unexpected shift in my consciousness, I’ve been deeply interested in what the physical basis for this change could be. While research on HRT in trans people consistently indicates that it can relieve depressive and anxious symptoms, very little information is available on the biological basis of depersonalization symptoms, let alone the specifics of how depersonalization disorder can affect trans people. Medical transition, particularly HRT, is associated with a reduction in depersonalization and derealization – but how? Intriguingly, estrogen itself modulates NMDA receptors, and some of its effects can be blocked by NMDA antagonists (implicated in the effects of dissociative drugs). Estrogen has also shown some success in treating the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, which have a degree of phenomenological overlap with experiences of depersonalization. There are many pieces that seem relevant here, but as of yet very little to fit them together into a more complete model of how the action of estrogen can treat depersonalization (and even less to explain how testosterone treatment is equally successful at reducing depersonalization in trans men).

In short, these phenomena fascinate me, and there is an urgent need for more research into these areas given the severe impact of this syndrome on those trying to bear this living death. Depersonalization wrecked my life, draining it of all the promise it supposedly held. It stole my soul without the courtesy of killing me. If there is anything that can help us fight back against this condition, that matters.

And that’s why I decided to try lamotrigine.

(She does so under medical supervision, so Don’t Try This At Home, Kids.)

Read more here.

-Shiv

Distinguishing between unaware, suspicious, and antagonistic

One of the ways Julia Serano and I diverge, apparently, is our positions on linguistics. I’m an extreme descriptivist, which means I acknowledge that individual words will take on different meanings for different people. This is what facilitates miscommunication, and my position is to always abandon the loaded terminology and say what we mean every time. Although I disagree with the conclusion of this article (that we should police our application of the label “TERF”), there was one piece in it I wanted to share that I thought had merit:

Upon considering this, as I was writing the essay Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates, I used three different terms to differentiate between underlying sentiments or motives that often drive expressions of transphobia. I have found them useful on subsequent occasions, so I recently added these terms to my online trans, gender, sexuality, & activism glossary. That new entry reads as follows:

Trans-antagonistic, Trans-suspicious, Trans-unaware: terms I have increasingly used since the mid-’10s (e.g., see here) to make distinctions between various types of anti-transgender attitudes or positions. Some expressions of transphobia stem from people simply being “trans-unaware” — i.e., uninformed (or under-informed) about transgender people and experiences. Other individuals may be downright “trans-antagonistic,” in that they are fundamentally opposed to transgender people for specific moral, political, and/or theoretical reasons. From an activist standpoint, this distinction is quite pertinent: Trans-unaware individuals tend to be “passively transphobic” (e.g., only expressing such attitudes when they come across a trans person, or when the subject is raised), and may be open to relinquishing those attitudes upon learning more about transgender lives and issues. In contrast, trans-antagonistic individuals often actively promote anti-trans agendas (e.g., policies, laws, misinformation campaigns) and are highly unlikely to be moved by outreach or education (unless, of course, they undergo a more comprehensive philosophical transformation). The “trans-suspicious” position acknowledges that transgender people exist and should be tolerated (to some degree), but routinely questions (and sometimes actively works to undermine) transgender perspectives and politics. For example, a trans-suspicious individual might treat me respectfully and refrain from misgendering me, yet simultaneously express doubt about whether certain other people are “really trans” or should be allowed to transition. While they often consider themselves to be “pro-trans” (on the basis that they tolerate us to some degree), their strong cisnormative and cissexist biases lead them to spread much of the same misinformation, and push for many of the same anti-trans policies, as their trans-antagonistic counterparts (e.g., see here). In a world where trans-antagonistic and trans-unaware attitudes are pervasive, trans-suspicious arguments tend to strike the average cisgender person as relatively “objective” or “reasonable” by comparison (although trans people readily see through this veneer).

The distinction between the trans-antagonistic and trans-suspicious positions was central to my “Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation” essay, as I was attempting to articulate (to a largely trans-unaware audience) why trans-suspicious views from the likes of Jesse Singal and Alice Dreger (both discussed in that essay) are so invalidating from a trans perspective. While these writers tolerate trans people to some extent (e.g., they are not calling for us to be entirely excluded from society), they clearly value cisgender identities, bodies, and perspectives over transgender ones, and they are inherently suspicious of anything transgender people say about our own lives (unless, of course, it aligns with their cisnormative presumptions). Hence, they push for many of the same policies (e.g., pro-gender-reparative therapies and anti-gender-affirming approaches to healthcare) and spread much of the same misinformation (e.g., psychological theories that have been rejected by most trans health professionals) as their trans-antagonistic counterparts, despite the fact that they seem relatively benign to outsiders.

You can read the rest here.

-Shiv

“Nonviolence means refusing to work with the police”

Violence is often a sticky topic in progressive organizing, with many preferring to espouse “non-violence.” However, Kit Harrington has some serious questions about what exactly that entails:

To put it simply: In my years of activism and journalism, it’s become quite clear to me that the single biggest purveyor of violence at protests are police. Police come to peaceful protests armed for war (literally, with military surplus gear), and police are better at turning a protest into riotous violence than any other group.

The physical violence they inflict is bad enough, but the subtle damage that cops do to justice movements is a form of violence too. In their love of protecting the government and corporate property and profits, police will infiltrate your movement, entrap your members, and do everything they can to tear you apart.

Arrests of activists ruin lives. Even charges hanging over a person can ruin their mental health — just ask any of the J20 defendants who have spent the last year wondering if they’d be spending decades in prison — regardless of the final outcome of the trials.

Cooperating with police ruins lives. Police and the Feds in Charlottesville have been charging left activists who previously assisted their investigation into nazis.

Police will show up at your protest whether you want them or not. But don’t cooperate with them. Don’t thank them for being there. And as any sensible lawyer will tell you, never talk to the cops.

Getting a permit for your march is just asking the state to commit violence on your behalf. So is asking them to arrest activists you disagree with. Protecting you is not the job of the cops, especially not at a protest. Their job is to maintain order and the status quo, and your permit won’t change that. They will attack you as soon as they feel you’re making a difference.

Read more here.

-Shiv

An example of material support

One of my peers in journalism, Katelyn Burns, interviewed the founder of Hypatia Software Org (unrelated to the journal of a similar name). Burns’ interview highlights a few key points to providing substantial, material support for trans people:

The cycle of systemic poverty and homelessness is nearly impossible for anyone to break out of. The combination of not having enough funds for everyday necessities under capitalism and a lack of a suitable shelter under which to sleep can be crushing to the human spirit.

Under structural transphobia, trans people are at increased risk for unemployment and homelessness, with trans women of color—who are three times as likely as the general population to be unemployed—bearing the brunt of this oppression.

When I began my own transition, of course, homelessness lingered as a fear in the back of my mind. I’d watched too many trans women be run out of their jobs under suspicious circumstances and subsequently struggle to find another job to believe I was entirely immune to the possibility.

Housing insecurity is a major issue for the trans community and already sparse shelter resources could potentially be a hostile environment for a trans woman, myself included.

As a trans woman, I have a natural fear of cis-operated spaces, as the potential for transphobia is ever present. For example, the Salvation Army has been accused several times of harassing or even banning trans women from their shelters. I wouldn’t even risk availing myself of their services.

Taking into account that a great many shelters and anti-poverty charities are affiliated with or operated by churches, I would be leery of seeking the same help as a homeless cis person.

And with trans people making up just 0.6% of the population, it’s especially difficult for organizations to provide appropriate local trans-specific resources and a welcoming support system in order to help folks breakout of the systemic poverty cycle.

In order to figure out the best ways to help trans people breakout of systemic homelessness, I turned to the trans-run organization Hypatia Software Org.

According to President/CEO, Lisa-Marie Maginnis, Hypatia’s mission is “to end homelessness and the disenfranchisement of people who experience transmisogyny through peer mentorship, emergency cash relief, and community building.”

Here are 4 ways they say we can help get trans people out of poverty now:

Read more here.

-Shiv

Trust women

Both of these things are true: 1) Forced-birther advocates are often misogynist in intent; 2) Forced-birther advocates are simultaneously also transphobic in impact. When arguing in favour of laws that infantilize people making decisions about what to do with their pregnancies, the rhetoric is often laced with the belief that (cis) women are flighty and thoughtless, and thus can’t make decisions for their own body. Unsurprisingly research has shown this to correlate with a variety of other misogynist beliefs.

In reality, the struggle over abortion goes back to Dr. Tiller’s slogan. The question is whether or not women can be trusted to make decisions for themselves like adults, or whether they should be relegated to second-class status, stripped of the right to bodily autonomy. Recent research, published over the past month, highlights how central this question is to the abortion debate and demonstrates that despite widespread skepticism about women’s basic decision-making capacity on the right, women are highly competent when it comes to knowing what they need and quite capable of taking control of their lives — if they are allowed to.

“The polling data that exists on abortion is so one-dimensional,” Tresa Undem, a researcher for the polling firm PerryUndem, told Salon. So Undem conducted focus groups and polling meant to go deeper, and find out what people really think about women who get abortions. What she found out was that, among those who oppose abortion, there’s a widespread belief the women who have abortions are unintelligent, irresponsible and thoughtless.

Anti-abortion respondents also seemed to believe that men understood abortion better than women. When asked whether men whose partner was having an abortion understood that it was ending a potential life, 51 percent of abortion opponents said yes. But when asked if women getting abortions understood the procedure, only 36 percent of anti-choicers agreed that a woman knows what she is doing. Abortion foes were also more likely to say they were more comfortable when women were housewives instead of seeking careers.

Very little forced-birth rhetoric reckons with the existence of transmasculine people–often the trick is to roll transmascs into “women,” and proceed from there with the similar beliefs plus added transphobia. Read more here.

-Shiv

Siobhan in The Establishment: Whisper Networks Are Flawed — But Not Because Of How They Affect The Accused

I would get my introduction to something called the “whisper network” on a crisp winter afternoon in 2014. The pub was a dive, orange hues cast over white and burgundy upholstery, a bar riddled with battlescars of patrons past, a jukebox collecting dust underneath a suspended speaker. I saw myself in the other patrons; women with the wild and vibrant hair I desperately wanted, hard femmes in glistening leather, mascs dressed so sharply they could cut glass with their suits. It smelled of wood and whiskey, still a reprieve from the biting cold.

I was sponsored by a woman in the community. “Munches,” as kinksters have come to call these events, are social gatherings meant to help you network in a safe, non-sexual environment as you enter the alternative underground world — the kind 50 Shades authors can only imagine through frosted glass. But my sponsor had soon abandoned me to navigate strange waters on my own, so I did what any good introvert with self-esteem issues would do: nursed a coke and ice while brooding on an empty couch, quietly chiding myself for thinking I could summon the courage to strike conversations with total strangers.

Read more in The Establishment here.

-Shiv

Paranoid fantasies

If you’ve ever had a sense of deja vu reading anti-trans feminist rhetoric, it’s for a good reason: It’s all pages from the same playbook.

The way sexuality is used to demarcate the difference of the other and to marginalize the other is a widespread phenomenon with deep historical roots. In terms of the recent rally against transgender children, the language of these anti-trans activists is incredibly stock. They depict trans school children as pedophiles, as likely to engage in bestiality, as likely to participate in group sex. It’s the overblown moral panic language of, “it’s not only this, but it’s that”. It’s the argument that one thing leads to the other that sexual or gender variance is a slippery slope. For these anti-trans people, it’s not only that trans children are bad, it’s that they’re going to try to have sex with your children; it’s not only that, but then they’re going to molest your barnyard animals and domestic pets and, not only will they engage in these solo acts of sexual perversion, then they’ll engage in group sex!

As I said, they’re shifting the conversation away from the inequality trans school children face. Instead, they’re rendering any recognition of this inequality as a sexual threat to cis children. These are paranoid fantasies. It’s that somehow these children will invade the intimate spaces cis people inhabit; it’s the argument that these intimate spaces will be invaded if other groups –in this case, trans school children– are dignified.

The basic message is that the existence of trans school children represents a general lack of morality. The bestiality language has been part of anti-gay discourse for decades and the pedophilia rhetoric dates back at least to the 1920s and 1930s for gay men, if not earlier. These are long-standing anti-gay tropes. Now, the really strange thing going on in the quotes from that rally is that there is the assumption that because the child is trans –that is, the child is aware of their gender dysphoria– that awareness somehow sexualizes them for these anti-trans activists. I find that to be a really strange and interesting leap they’re making. While, in actuality, a child having an awareness of their gender dysphoria isn’t about sexuality, for these anti-trans children activists, there’s somehow a coupling of gender identity and sexual desire so that, if a child is aware of their gender identity, they must somehow be hypersexualized and therefore dangerous.

The logical leaps that these anti-trans activists are making within the political spear are so long and convoluted, it’s worth noting. For them, a desire to be honest about one’s gender identity is to mark oneself as being over-sexualized. They believe these children are wolves in sheep’s clothing. It’s quite strange when you parse out the twisted way they’re viewing trans children.

That’s from an interview by Cristan Williams with Gillian Frank, a researcher exploring reactionary rhetoric. Read more here.

-Shiv

We warned you

Although I am reluctant to signal boost the New York Times for their particularly egregious role in excusing Trump’s incompetence, they’ve published a piece by Lindy West that’s too good to pass by.

Content warning for descriptions of sexual assault:

“All rape is an exercise in power,” Brownmiller wrote in 1975, “but some rapists have an edge that is more than physical.” Sometimes, the 1975 text suggests, rapists “operate within an emotional setting or within a dependent relationship that provides a hierarchical, authoritarian structure of its own that weakens a victim’s resistance, distorts her perspective and confounds her will.” “Against Our Will” has been available in American libraries since its publication, which was in 1975.

Ansari would have been 7 or 8 years old in 1991 when a feminist group at Antioch College fought to establish the school’s Sexual Offense Prevention Policy (informally the “Antioch rules” or, more commonly, the “infamous Antioch rules”) requiring affirmative and sustained consent throughout all sexual encounters, and he was 10 when “Saturday Night Live” mocked the Antioch rules in a sketch that cast Shannen Doherty as a “Victimization Studies” major.

Also in 1991, Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, detailing repeated sexual harassment at the hands of her boss, Clarence Thomas, who is still on the Supreme Court. Like Ansari, I, too, was 8 in 1991, and I vividly recall my mother explaining sexual harassment to me in the living room of my childhood home: “For example, a man might say, ‘I have a big penis, and I bet you’d like me to —’ well, you know.” She cut off, disgusted.

Read more here.

-Shiv