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November 07, 2007


I can't really add much to what hilzoy said, except to note that She's Not There is an absolutely stunning book that I think people will enjoy reading regardless of how they may feel about TGs. If you're at all curious what it is like to go through life with this kind of thing looming over you, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy.

someone with powers needs to edit G'Kar's comment slightly.




What about the book 'Middlesex', the account of a hermaphrodite?

[...] Moreover, the main obstacle to this is not some powerful vested interest; it's just the fact that most people don't know what it's like to be transgendered, or why they need these protections so much. As a result, there just isn't enough political support for extending rights to transgendered people.

The reason for that, I suspect, is just ignorance. If you aren't transgendered yourself and haven't thought about what being transgendered would be like, the idea of undergoing gender reassignment must seem pretty strange.

It seems even more complicated than that to me.

I've had two trangendered casual friends for a couple of decades, and a couple more transgendered acquaintances.

I'm not completely ignorant, although I certainly don't "know what it's like to be transgendered," but I do have a clear idea of why protections are needed, and I utterly support those changes in law being made.

But I can't say I really fully understand what it feels like inside to feel the way that transgendered people do, beyond the profound alienation.

My problem begins with the fact that I don't have any particular sense of gender identity at all. I have no idea how I'm supposed to feel "as a man" and how this would be supposed to be different "as a woman."

I just don't get what these words mean. I have some understanding of what they mean to others, but the feelings and ideas I've always seen people use to describe what it means to them aren't feelings or ideas that I've ever, or at least much, felt or thought or that feel applicable to me.

I certainly have sexual feelings and preferences. And those do relate to my sense of other people's gender, to a large, though not absolute, degree: I'm overwhelmingly more attracted to females than males (but it's also impossible for me to sort out how much of that is social conditioning or not).

But any sense of my own gender is pretty minimal. Perhaps I have more buried, to be sure.

I'm sure much, perhaps even all, of this is fish-in-water syndrome: because I've never been uncomfortable in any way with my sense of my own gender, such as it is, I've never been made to feel particularly conscious of it, and I suspect there's likely an awful lot more of it that might be found if I were mentally pushed and prodded by experts, perhaps.

But as it is, I'm 100 supportive of transgendered folks, and their right to a good life, but I can't say I have other than fairly abstract understanding of what it feels like. I'm sure that leaves me with some creeping unexamined prejudices hiding in corners.

I don't think it requires any particular understanding to support equal rights protections for transgendered people. It requires not being a douche, and saying that othering any group is generally a bad idea. There are legitimate reasons to discriminate in hiring--they're generally the types of things that would keep a person from physically being able to do the job--but your personal discomfort with another's expression of who he or she is gender-wise isn't one of them.

It requires not being a douche...

That was kind of what I was thinking. I'm not entirely sure that I'm a liberal, whatever that's supposed to mean these days. But it does seem to me that some of liberalism's greatest strengths lie in the kind of concern for the fair treatment of disregarded or persecuted minorities that this post exemplifies. Opposition to such causes seems plainly wrong to me, and I just don't get it (especially coming from people who purport to be "Christians").

It requires not being a douche...

Perhaps you can get a pony with that.

It would be wonderful if people all treated each other with the dignity they deserve as human beings. But since we don't live in that world, perhaps we should deal with how people really are, which is to say that people deal with issues like this on a case-by-case basis. The simple fact that ENDA can pass when it omits TGs from the bill makes in indisputably clear that people are quite capable of, to use your delightful turn of phrase, not being douches in some cases (gays, lesbians, and bisexuals), yet remaining douches in others (transgenders). We can, I suppose, complain that this isn't fair, and that they should consistently not be douches, but I doubt that will change many minds. Conversely, reaching out and trying to help people understand that TGs are actually human beings dealing with very difficult circumstances might serve to humanize them and help people to no longer be douches regarding TGs.

Transgender issues are hard for a lot of people to deal with. People who are perfectly decent and caring can still have a lot of trouble trying to wrap their mind around the idea that their friend/colleague/acquaintance who they've always known as Lynn identifies as male despite his physical gender. And how does one deal with someone you've known as Bob since childhood who shows up one day and asked to be called Brianna? It's all well and good to talk about being decent in the abstract, but it's a very different thing when you have to deal with it as a reality.

Helping people to think about this kind of thing as a reality, rather than just an abstraction, might just help however many TGs there are in the world live their lives with a little more focus on how best to live, rather than worrying about how they may have to live because of who they are.

Thanks very much for posting on this, Hilzoy, it's been on my mind lately.

What follows is not an attempt to convey The Whole Truth (tm) of a situation that is, after all, not mine in the first place, but to raise some points of similarity that may be a help in bridging some gaps of understanding.

Even if we aren't ourselves diabetic, most of us have a pretty good general sense of what it involves - some key metabolic processes are broken, and the diabetic has to help out the body's own skewed resources through diet, and often through medication, special exercise, and so on. Modern life gives us some exposure to an ever-growing list of conditions that rise from part or all of the body doing something it shouldn't.

This is one way of thinking about the problem facing transgendered people: what's wrong is not tumors or insulin deficiency, but that the cellular switches that set sexual characteristics went the wrong way. They're not crazy; they have messed up bodies. In the past, this was a kind of mess-up that there wasn't much to do about except to hide it; now there's surgery for it, and getting better as time goes by. But in the meantime, they've got combinations of features that make them look...not like freaks, not like someone with a third arm or the sort of extreme sensitivity to bright light that comes with some of the porphyrias, but as members of a group they don't belong to.

For me, given my own experience of living with big complex disability, this is basically a health matter. Legal protection against discrimination for their condition gives them the space in which to work out what their various individual responses to it will be. I'm for that.

While I'm at it, a bit more reading on transgendered experience: What Becomes You is a book by my acquaintance Aaron Link and his mother. I would never claim to understand Aaron all the time, nor to agree with him when I do :), but he is never, ever dull, and he brings a real warmth and freshness to whatever interests him. (This account of reading from the book at Powell's captures a lot of his style in one post.)

And for commentary within the context of liberal to left politics, Lisa Harney's weblog Questioning Transphobia can be very interesting. Lisa's been a good friend and rhetorical sparring partner of mine for a long time, and I've learned a lot from her. Some of the issues she raises will be unfamiliar to readers outside that scene (often including me), but some of her writing calls for very little esoterica at all, like the cisgender privilege checklist highlighting things people who aren't transgendered can generally take for granted and "How Not to be Insane When Accused of Transphobia".

"But it does seem to me that some of liberalism's greatest strengths lie in the kind of concern for the fair treatment of disregarded or persecuted minorities that this post exemplifies"

That concern comes from empathy - even if it's knee-jerk empathy.

Empathy, as a cognitive process, is the absolute core of liberalism. I think we'll see scientific studies that bear this out.

Probably not using "douchebag," a word that's an insult because it refers to that which is used to clean an, eeeuuuuuwwww, woman's genitals, might be part of the habits involved in attempting to not make some of the people around one uncomfortable.

Although that observation opens on the meta-conversation on the pros and cons of language choices, alas.

Not a documentary, but I would also recommend Normal, Tom Wilkinson as a simple, country man who realizes he is "supposed to be a woman" and Jessica Lange as his confused, ut ultimately supportive wife. Excellent film and well worth seeing. (Much better than TransAmerica, for all that I love Huffman.)

My sense is that most people don't get this at all. If you don't happen to be transgendered, or to know (that you know) someone who is, or to be a blogger who researches it and finds herself thinking "holy sh!t", it's hard to understand. And without that understanding, I think that the attempt to win employment protection for transgendered people cannot succeed. This is what has to change.

I think that the point has been made before, but as much as I distain “prime time TV” it may play a significant role here.

I believe that Will and Grace did a lot to enhance the acceptance of gays in America. Newer shows have the possibility to do the same for transgendered folks. I’m sure that they wouldn’t agree with some of the stereotypes portrayed – but given the number of people who watch these shows they do have the power to make something unfamiliar like this (to many of us) seem commonplace.

Not that I would want to tell these folks “Just wait for a couple of TV seasons and we’ll try again.”

In place of "douchbag," I recommend the much funnier Sadly, No! staple, "cobag," short for "colostomy bag."

Wow, great discussion. :) hilzoy covers the sense of being trans fairly accurately. Gary's post is great, and he nails the big problem a lot of us have trying to explain "transness" to cissexual people - it's really hard to put it into words that a lot of people can understand.

Media about trans (or intersex) people that wasn't created by trans or intersex people is likely to be loaded down with some odd (to trans people, at least) assumptions. Middlesex is problematic because they're written with assumptions that tend not to play out in real life. Julia Serano covers how trans women are stereotyped in the media. Her book, Whipping Girl deals with both trans women and specifically how femininity in general is devalued in society - it's not autobiographical, unlike much of what you find in trans writings, which is why I point it out. Another good author is Patrick Califia.

Also, I agree that Trans America was awful.

I haven't read any of the comments and really hesitate to post this. But maybe somebody will learn something....if not of Truth than at least of the hangups of that particular subset of 40-something, left-of-center, hetero male defined by myself.

As you say, hilzoy, to be transgender is not to be gay. It is, rather, a benign form of insanity. When a person "becomes a woman," do they have all their y chromosomes removed? Or do they really just undergo a radical form of cosmetic surgery?

I work as an EMT in a Big Liberal City, where when we treat people for medical emergencies we are ordered to identify them on legally admissible patient records that will impact their treatment as the gender with which they verbally identify - even if physical evidence indicates otherwise. (It often does, unequivocally.) Are we as a society getting just a little bit too detached from reality on this issue?

If a man dons a tricornered hat, stands on a soapbox and declaims his True Belief that he is the Emperor Napoleon, we call him mentally ill. If a person with x and y chromosomes and fully functioning male genitalia declares himself a woman, we take him at his word. When does accomodation become enabling....or codependence?

I'm sure many will consider this a troll, but really, I'm a longtime progressive who just pulls up short at this idea of transgender equality. Maybe I'm just gettin' old.

AmericaBlog, not a fan of Baldwin, celebrates ENDA 's passage in House.

BF, there is at least one transgendered person posting in this thread, with links. Rather than sit guessing, it may be worth your while to read her posts and those of the people she links to and see what they say about their own lives and experiences.

I find them persuasive, because I've been living with a rebellious body as well. It's not at all the same thing, but it is a similar thing in some ways. Others who are not transgendered have also found such accounts persuasive for a wide variety of other reasons. But the question of whether transgendered people deserve the legal protection found in an encompassing version of ENDA doesn't actually require you or me or anyone to agree that they're right, any more than the protections for religious freedom require us to agree with a person's creed.

Rilkefan: John Aravosis sure can be pretty loathsome. There is a class of person in every minority group I know of - racial, disability-related, and so on - who's really interested only in their own situation and that of their buddies, and who's quite happy to kick down the ladder once they've got theirs. John's that way with the transgendered - rewriting GLBT history to ignore past contributions of transgendered activtists, perpetrating vile stereotypes with condescending language and then complaining that his targets must not be interested in cooperation when they object, the whole deal. Some of the worst bigots I ever knew were upper-middle-class white gay men, and John's right in there, at least when it comes to the T part of the coalition he claims to speak for. That final insult is a particularly unpleasant insult, given the reality that supporters of transgendered inclusion had to spend as much time fighting bigots within the coalition's own ranks, like him, as dealing with outside opposition - all that inclusion required on his part was for him to do nothing, rather than go out of his way to cut down an existing deal in favor of a less inclusive one. *sigh*

"When a person 'becomes a woman,' do they have all their y chromosomes removed?"


But how important or unimportant, outside reproduction, is that to one's identity? Is it something one is aware of? Does it change one's consciousness, or sense of self, or behavior?

I don't know the definitive answer to those questions, but it's certainly not obvious to me that the answer is "yes" for anyone.

Therefore the relevance of the point arises. I don't dismiss it, but I'd suggest that an affirmative case would be need to be made to demonstrate why chromosomes are relevant to whether society, and people, should consider, or treat, transexual people differently than non-transexual people.

"Or do they really just undergo a radical form of cosmetic surgery?"

"Real" is a philosophical question I leave to the many professional and student philosophers among us.

But when a significantly large enough mass of people in society describe this thing they feel, and feel strongly enough to completely change their lives, including, as you note, engage in serious surgery, it's obviously of critical importance to those people.

And generally speaking, if nothing else, my sense of courtesy points me towards treating people's desires, and beliefs, where they don't otherwise harm me or others, with respect.

Just as I'd hope they'd do the same for mine.

And, after all, much of the world, and America, believes all sorts of stuff I consider actually pernicious, or stupid-inducing, such as beliefs in the supernatural, and most people seem to wholly lack tools of reasoning I consider essential, such as understanding the scientific method, what skepticism entails, what fallacies are, and so on.

I'm a lot more inclined to be bothered by those things, in their many incarnations and iterations, than I am apt to be bothered by the inner workings of other people's heads, and how they work them out, so long as they don't harm me or others. Why would it be any of my business, even if I did disapprove for some reason (which I don't)?

I'm fairly sure transgendered people aren't into conversions, after all.


I'll echo Bruce's comments, and add that perhaps the real problem is the assumption that genders are so thoroughly discrete that it is in any way appropriate to simply select one for treatment options.

As far as enabling insanity, that kind of comment is why I am so glad hilzoy is urging people to read about what actual TGs have gone through. Is Jenny Boylan insane? It's hard to read She's Not There and come away with that conclusion. You still might, of course. But I think you might find that learning the kinds of things TGs go through actually helps you to understand their particular brand of 'insanity.'

Lisa, thanks for the pointers.

Might you offer a few words as to what you think failed about Transamerica? I've not yet seen it, but was thinking of getting around it eventually, and would be curious to have some idea as to what you found wrong with it.

BF: First of all, if you send me your address (my email address is in the post, and I promise I won't abuse it), I'll send you a copy of the book. It's a great read whatever you think of transgendered people.

Second: transgendered people feel that their gender does not match their (original) bodies. There seems to be a neurological basis for this: see here, here, and here. (Short version: one of the neural structures that seems to be central to gender identification is strikingly different in men and women, except that TG people born male have the female conformation, and TG people born female have the male conformation. This does not seem to be the effect of e.g. hormone treatment; it seems to be congenital.)

If what TG people meant by this was: that their chromosomes did not match their (original) body, then that probably would be crazy. But that's not what they mean at all. They know perfectly well that their chromosomes match their biological sex. Likewise, they know perfectly well what sort of genitalia they have. They are not confused about that at all. What TG people before transition feel, as I understand it, is: that these are the wrong sort of genitalia for them, and in fact that their entire bodies are the wrong bodies for them to be in. As I said, this seems to have a neurological basis. And I don't see how it would be countered by pointing out to them something they already know.

TG people who have undergone gender reassignment are not just people who've had a very complicated form of plastic surgery. They also take hormones, which affect not just things like e.g. breasts, but also how you think and feel and experience the world. This is something that might come across more clearly if you read the book: the extent to which Jenny Boylan really changes, inside, as a result of becoming a woman.

I'd really urge you to email me, let me buy you a copy, and read it. (It's also very funny.) Enjoying it doesn't in the least require any initial sympathy for TG people and their issues; just an interest in very well-told stories about humanity in its infinite variety, and for sharp and generous and humane observation. Or even just humor: Jenny's argument with a male friend about breasts, after the hormones have started kicking in, is worth the price of admission all by itself.

There are, incidentally, several copies left. Everyone else: don't hold back. :)

G'kar brings up something important, about whether physical sex and mental gender are as discrete as they often seem to those who don't knowingly come in contact with transgendered people very often. With the repeated warning that all analogies are necessary limited, two analogies. :) First, there's how Americans often perceive people from the Caribbean: to American blacks, Caribbean people generally seem very "white" thanks to the legacy of British colonialism, while to American whites, they generally seem very "black" for skin tone and the shared legacy of slave culture and post-slavery cultural developments. The truth is that American categories of black and white simply don't quite fit, and that adding more options does better justice to the reality. Likewise, if you only ever listened to some dogmatists, you might think that American politics has only two possible categories, liberal and conservative. In fact, it doesn't - there are flavors within each, between them, and elsewhere in the political universe.

Lots of things are usually just A or B but not necessarily so, and the testimony of transgendered people makes it turn out that this is one more of them. (This is quite apart from the fact that an approach to sex and gender definitions that allows more possibilities turns out to be really useful for thinking in fresh ways about groups within the major categories, like wimpy/sissy men, butch and femme as assemblages of physical and social elements, ways of communicating effectively to people socialized really differently than you, machismo and other status markers, and so on.)

"I'll echo Bruce's comments, and add that perhaps the real problem is the assumption that genders are so thoroughly discrete that it is in any way appropriate to simply select one for treatment options."

I've done it here before, but it's always a good time to point to the archived Raphael Carter Androgny RAQ.


Felicity Huffman plays a trans woman who's been on hormones for some time - at least a year, probably longer. The movie opens with her in her pink house, putting on her pink clothes and her pink makeup, which plays into the idea that trans women are into stereotypical femininity as a general rule, as well as reinforces the idea that trans women's femininity is more of a mask. I mean, this stuff gets way more attention than it does with cis women, and this is covered through the movie.

That aside, it's not a bad movie, and it couldn't hurt to see it at least once. I shouldn't have said it was awful, but rather that it catered to a particular awful stereotype.

"Lots of things are usually just A or B but not necessarily so, and the testimony of transgendered people makes it turn out that this is one more of them."

It's true even if transgenderism somehow didn't exist. Intersexuality.

Current medical thinking, for BF, or anyone (I'm not counting on BF reading the comments).

Intersex FAQ. (There's more than one.)

PBS Nova.

I'll note that BF's comments highlight the need to help people to better understand this. BF does not, from the comments, strike me as in any way a bad person. He is just looking at the evidence of his senses and is trying to find a way to reconcile the disconnect. That's something everyone involved with TG issues has to do, especially including TGs, who at least have the advantage of being inside their own heads and therefore are able to know what they are thinking and feeling. But they still have to figure out why it is they feel like one gender when their bodies are clearly not that gender. How much harder is it for someone who has always felt completely comfortable in their own skin to understand what it is like to live one's life feeling that one's very body is wrong? Helping those people to see that this problem is very real and worthy of recognition is a very noble goal, and one I applaud hilzoy for.

Thanks for all the great links, Gary and Lisa.

I want to call attention to one aspect of life which people closer to the mainstream seldom have to deal with: having fundamental aspects of their identity, matters on which they've put thought and feeling and work and passion and prayer and all the rest, treated as subjects for debate. I'm not talking here about disagreement with their conclusions, but having the very existence of part of their selves taken as something they're only entitled to have if they can calmly persuade all skeptics in debate, no matter what charges may be thrown against them, no matter how logic and evidence might be twisted...and if they get annoyed at this, they're told that they're too emotional to take seriously.

It used to be common for people who were abused as children to face such hostile, condescending questioning, and for some people it's still part of present reality. But suppose, married people among you, that every benefit of your marriage were contigent on passing surprise inspections to show that you loved your spouse enough and in the right way - that you had to explain to strangers, who reserved the right to set the terms of debate, that you felt a true love, and were providing sufficient encouragement and supportive partnership, and so on. Furthermore, imagine that at random intervals you could be summoned to boards of inquiry composed of devout Wahabbists, old-school Mormom polygamists, anti-sex separatist gays and lesbians, and a couple teenage virgin Satanists to satisfy them as to the suitability of your marriage, and that if you failed to appease them, you could be barred from ever seeing your spouse again.

That's pretty much the situation transgendered people are in. They do have to appease all kinds of hostile authorities who can deny them jobs, housing, education, medical care, and all the other basics of modern life, as well as a hostile public, including self-described civil rights activists who wish to caricature them as freaks, stealth agents of bigotry, and worse. Having your very sanity taken as something that's proper for others debate isn't a lot of fun when you're just trying to get on your life just like everyone else in private life. Keep in mind, I'm not talking here about "I wouldn't want to live that way" and "I think your political ideas would have bad consequences" and like that - I'm talking about "the very idea that you would hold such an idea proves you're crazy, and should be cured of it however forcibly it takes". Very few of us have to live that way much.

There are ways of saying "I don't understand that all, and see a big gap between what I do know about how the world works and what you're telling me" that don't suggest the above. Actually asking questions is good, like "When did you start to feel this way about yourself?" and "What research is there about people who feel that way?" and "Who have you found good sources of information on what it all means?" (Listening to the answers is good, too, come to that.) And the Golden Rule comes into play: after all, there's nothing that logically exempts common ways of living from hostile scrutiny, too - we have collectively done it in the past with slavery, genocide, and the like, and there's no reason to believe that we've collectively escaped all grounds for hostile, skeptical, demeaning interrogation just right now. So...if you would prefer that others not treat you as presumptively crazy and worse, please extend the same courtesy to them.

It's okay to be baffled, confused, and just plain to not know much. The world's big, none of us know eveyrthing. But treating each other as subjects who deserve the same basic dignities we'd like for ourselves is a good way to go. "I don't understand, can you explain how it seems to you?" is a lot better than "You're nuts, unless you can talk me out of every objection I will ever raise."

"having fundamental aspects of their identity, matters on which they've put thought and feeling and work and passion and prayer and all the rest, treated as subjects for debate"

Standard consequence of living in a society and participating in its politics. You'd be surprised how many kinds of minorities there are and how many people are covered by one of those categories.

"Having your very sanity taken as something that's proper for others debate isn't a lot of fun when you're just trying to get on your life just like everyone else in private life."


"There seems to be a neurological basis for this"

Doesn't this prove more than you want? What if that research turns out to be entirely wrong - would that change your stance? What if n% of Ts conform to their chromosomal setup neurologically - what do you say about them? What if someone proposes a simple effective way of switching that module in the brain and people who undergo that procedure are happier than those who use conventional methods?

What if it turns out that the people who want to have a limb cut off have an abnormality in the part of the brain that decides what's foreign?

I don't think there is an algorithmic way to decide what is sane or insane or maladaptive from a human point of view. Society has to arbitrarily draw lines - but that's not necessarily relevant to questions of discrimination.

Standard consequence of living in a society and participating in its politics. You'd be surprised how many kinds of minorities there are and how many people are covered by one of those categories.

There's a difference between being aware that people do this - and believe me, I am aware that people do this to more minorities than trans people - and engaging such debate. The fact that it happens to more people doesn't legitimize it. What framing a conversation this way does is send a signal to the person you're talking to that you consider them to be less than you are.

Of course a lot of people do this, and it's not just politics. But this does not make it acceptable, and most certainly doesn't mean that anyone has to take it when it's dished out.

As for the neurological basis, it may simply be correlation, not causation, and it's hard to generalize those results to mean anything right now. We need more data.

But even then, I doubt it would be considered to strictly define transsexualism. After all, we already recognize an autism spectrum rather than a single way to be autistic.

Also, it doesn't really matter of the BST-c is indicative of the cause, since you pretty much have to autopsy a dead person's brain to see. It's pointless to kill someone so you can diagnose whether they're TS. ALSO, the existing diagnostic methods for trans people work fine - we largely diagnose ourselves.

As for whether one can say if trans people are insane or not, it's pretty well agreed among psychologists that we don't show signs of mental illness.

Rilkefan, I don't see that it's a standard consequence at all, or that it's anything like so grave a threat to the basic well-being and capacity for self-determination for most people. Very little of the harassment I got in the years of establishing my status for SSI was as intense as what I've seen people like Lisa and Aaron have to deal with, for instance. Further, most of it ended sharply and clearly, much more thoroughly than the public and private attacks thrown at them, and much more quickly. Some parts of the SSI process were about as bad as parts of the transition process, but much shorter and much more thoroughly bounded. Something similar applies to the many years I spent trying to get the damn condition diagnosed in the first place - I was dismissed as simply mentally ill at some points, but there isn't anything like the institutional weight against transgendered people. Nor, for instance, did I have to deal with patient groups for lupus and cancer trying to cut off my or my parents' insurance and undercutting any effort to recognize immune disorders like mine as real problems. My friends, on the other hand, did indeed have to deal with that, and more.

(My antipathy toward ongoing assault as a way of life ties into my dislike of "free speech" regimens that end up conceding the turf to the loudest and most callous. I prefer that people not have to toughen up and learn to shut off their feelings to deal with society, and I think that the scars from requiring that feed directly into several dangerous trends in society at large. The rate of suicide and other undesirable responses to such stress is staggeringly high among transgendered people, and it's not a consequence of the transgendered condition but of chosen and changeable social response. Objectifying, distancing, alienating, and bullying people on the margins less would reduce all these things, and increase the health and well-being of the society as a whole. It's better not to have to live with being hated and abused, and it's better not to feel at liberty to treat the outsider as fair game. Being in the majority shouldn't ever be license to be the norm in the sense of requiring everybody else to jump through whatever appeasement hoops one cares to set up.)

And even if I thought it were, I would still be saying "It's better not to do it" and advocating that people not, just as I do even when I think the thing I'm hoping to discourage really is very common. Frequency is not correctness, after all, and "right where we are now" is as good a place as any to do the right thing.

(When the public at large seems to be on to a good thing, I'm happy to say so and encourage others to join in. But I don't make popularity a ground for determining what seems right and desirable to me, or what I recommend to others.)

rilkefan: I didn't say, nor did I mean to imply, that the fact that something has a neurological basis proves that it's not a form of insanity. That would plainly be wrong, since all sorts of mental conditions do have neurological bases.

I do think that the fact that something has a congenital neurological basis ought to count against the idea that it would be easy to dislodge or "get over". I think the reason I put it in, on reflection, was that I was responding to BF's "when does accommodation become enabling, or codependence?" That question really only makes sense, in this context, if being TG is something you can just get over, since only with respect to voluntary things can accommodating them possibly count as enabling or codependence. (I mean, we wouldn't say: "by having Braille on elevators, we are being codependent on the blind", or that by installing wheelchair ramps, we are acting as enablers (in the sense BF seemed to have in mind -- the sense from addiction literature, as opposed to the literal, "helping people to do more stuff" sense.)

Some thoughts on John Aravosis recently exhibited bigotry towards the transgendered on ENDA legislation.

I think Bruce Baugh[1] has John Aravosis down cold [see below], but bigots[2] such as John really aren't affected by appeals to fairness and since John thinks he gets "his" ENDA...he's going to be happy. However, there's a fly in John's ointment [well...not John's, but ordinary folks who are not as well connected].

Since it is legal under ENDA to discriminate against people who's behavior and looks do not conform to their natal gender any upper class white gay man [such as John] who does not conform to what heterosexuals consider "manly" would be subject to employment termination under ENDA. As for getting hired in the first place...snicker...nudge..nudge.

Here's Lambda's take:

"In addition to the missing vital protections for transgender people on the job, this new bill also leaves out a key element to protect any employee, including lesbians, gay men and bisexuals who may not conform to their employer's idea of how a man or woman should look and act. This is a huge loophole through which employers sued for sexual orientation discrimination can claim that their conduct was actually based on gender expression, a type of discrimination that the new bill does not prohibit."

And here's another bit of bad news in ENDA for folks further down the ladder from John's "nosebleed" section of society.

"This version of ENDA states without qualification that refusal by employers to extend health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of their employees that are provided only to married couples cannot be considered sexual orientation discrimination. The old version at least provided that states and local governments could require that employees be provided domestic partner health insurance when such benefits are provided to spouses."

Lambda's take on ENDA should carry a lot of weight, unlike John, they've actively tried to help people who are being discriminated against.

One more thing before I close, every fetus begins it's development as a female, chromosomal as well as chemical stimulus from the mother pushes the fetus towards gender development. Fetal development requires a lot of re-wiring. In John's world this process is perfect, in the real world it is not.

The record of transgendered stretches at least to Herodotus first works [Circa 440 BC] and "Gallae" were known throughout the ancient Mediterranean and mid-eastern world.

The fact that John could have been given so many advantages in education and wound up so willfully ignorant is truly a testament to the perversions of the USA's class based system.

S Brennan



[1]John Aravosis sure can be pretty loathsome. There is a class of person in every minority group I know of - racial, disability-related, and so on - who's really interested only in their own situation and that of their buddies, and who's quite happy to kick down the ladder once they've got theirs. John's that way with the transgendered - rewriting GLBT history to ignore past contributions of transgendered activtists, perpetrating vile stereotypes with condescending language and then complaining that his targets must not be interested in cooperation when they object, the whole deal. Some of the worst bigots I ever knew were upper-middle-class white gay men, and John's right in there, at least when it comes to the T part of the coalition he claims to speak for. That final insult is a particularly unpleasant insult, given the reality that supporters of transgendered inclusion had to spend as much time fighting bigots within the coalition's own ranks, like him, as dealing with outside opposition - all that inclusion required on his part was for him to do nothing, rather than go out of his way to cut down an existing deal in favor of a less inclusive one. *sigh*

Posted by: Bruce Baugh | November 07, 2007 at 09:02 PM


Some legal thoughts on ENDA:


Further info on John A's background can be found here:



[2] Transgender people are not beggars at the civil rights table set by gay and lesbian activists. They are integral to the struggle for gender freedom for all. By Susan Stryker

hilzoy, I wasn't discussing insanity - as noted I think that's in the darüber muß man schweigen category. And I doubt anybody thinks that being TG is easy to "get over" - no one serious argues it's a whim (I hope). Presumably the question is whether to assign it to the different-strokes or the wanting-to-saw-your-leg-off category, and then to address the public policy issues around funding for hormone therapy and surgery and so forth on the one hand or other approaches elsewhere on the spectrum. My point was that the above doesn't obviously have anything to do with the ENDA policy question.

S Brennan: I'm going to replace Susan Stryker's story with a link to the Salon page. I suspect pasting entire stories in might violate copyright; it's certainly hard on people without a scroll wheel.

Wow. S Brennan, that's the sort of post for which the gods gave us the word "magisterial". Thanks.

John Aravosis loves these tactics, too.

He accuses trans people of being homophobic because we didn't want to be dropped from a bill that's not going to ultimately pass. (fallacious flip)

He tells us that he'd be happier to support our rights if we were nicer (drowning maestro)

He accuses us of playing the transphobe/victim card (insatiable martyr)

I don't recall specific examples of the others, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear about them. Maybe not the carom-scarom, but the others.

He never stops relentlessly mocking the idea that he's transphobic, homocentric, misogynist, etc., but if he wanted to stop being accused of these things, he would have to stop saying them.

I'll have to blog about this stuff soon.

People don't always realize that genderdysforia can start at a really early age. In the Netherlands we have a special team for transgender kids between 12 and 18.

Once it is establised that they really are transgender and have been from an early age (4-7 is not unusual) they will get hormones to block reaching puberty. When they are 16-18 they will, if they still want, get cross-sex hormones and will start treatment.

Sexual orientation is a seperate issue. For most people sexual orientation doesn't become an issue till they hit puberty. Sexual orientation is about your (sexual) relationship with OTHERS, transgender is about yourself.

Though they hate to be lumped together, in my head transgender is more comparable with intersex/dsd than with homosexuality. Chromosomes is one thing, genetalia/looks is another but gender identy is not always depending on either.

Hilzoy: do you post internationally ;) ?

I think Hilzoy's point that she wouldn't mind trying out being a man for a week sort of gets it. Imagine if you got this opportunity. But something went horribly wrong, and you couldn't trqansition back. That's what it must be like. YOU would know you were still your original gender (presumably) but the rest of the world would see you differently.

If that happened to be I would opt for gender reassignment surgery. Thankfully, nothing has gone wrong for me.

For some people it has. It happened at birth (or conception if you prefer)

I think Hilzoy's point that she wouldn't mind trying out being a man for a week sort of gets it.

Kind of like Holodicks?

Sorry, that was a really, really flip comment at the end of an otherwise serious and thoughtful thread. Let it stand as a monument to what can happen when I post before achieving some minimal blood-caffeine level.

One lesson I remember vividly from college: half the art of good scholarship is learning which questions are the important ones. When it comes to unusual ways of life, in my experience, sane versus crazy is often not the important one, or at least not the one to lead with.

To take an example from the people I work with...

Writer A believes that he is a dragon soul in a human incarnation for a lifetime or few to learn some useful lessons, after which he will return to wherever it is dragons go.

Writer B believes that Saddam Hussein had an awesome arsenal of WMDs, which are now hidden in Syria and perhaps elsewhere, and will be unleashed on the US by Hussein loyalists any day now.

Both are married and, as nearly as I know, good husbands, reliable neighbors, gainfully employed, and so on. Writer A holds a view that could, in conjunction with a hypothetical breakdown, get him institutionalized. Writer B would not face psychiatric scrutiny for his belief. And yet it's B whose belief led him to support the inflicting of (to me) nearly unimaginable death and misery on others and to put the nation's well-being at risk for a fundamentally mistaken conviction.

Or looking at another couple...

Artist A is gay and in a long-term relationship that would be formalized as marriage if the state they lived in had provision for it. He often draws subjects in horror and fantasy genres. He and his partner are both serious students of the occult. Both are tremendously kind and generous, and though their income is small, they give a lot to local causes and global ones, and are responsible for a lot of good in the world.

Artist B is unmarried (been engaged twice, and in both cases his prospective wife broke it off), is a Pentacostalist Christian with a deeply misogynistic streak and an equally deep bigotry toward immigrants of all kinds and non-Americans in general. He generally illustrates military and action themes.

If they were to seek to become foster parents, A would face much more hostile scrutiny and be much more likely to get outright rejection than B. If A did become a foster parent, he would have to expect a much higher level of review and interference, too, despite his years of volunteer efforts with children that have accomplished great things in learning to read and the like. Statistics make it clear that B is at much higher risk for child abuse than A, but the entire system of fosterage is set up to take B as presumptively safe and normal and A as presumptively dangerous and weird.

This is not a denial that there is such a thing as mental illness. There is. I've dealt with severe depression myself, and know others who've battled with schizophrenia and other phenomena arising from genuinely broken brain chemistry. But when it comes to outlooks and ways of living, I think that any judgment of sane versus crazy is likely to miss the point, and to steer away from questions I think should matter more, like "If this person is allowed to, can they live a happy and productive life, be good to themselves and others, work and love successfully, and otherwise be an asset to the world?" Since the answer with regard to transgendered people allowed to pursue the changes they desire is an overwhelming yes, I have no particular interest in trying assess them nuts by what seem to me like irrelevant standards.

Unusual, even really unusual, simply isn't in the same spectrum as nuts.

*pauses to hand Slarti the extra-caffeinated Generic Morning Beverage*

Thanks for the civil replies to my earlier comment, which together with the earlier comments (which I've now read) give a lot of food for thought.

Hilzoy, thanks for the offer but I'll pass on the book - Big Liberal City doesn't pay that poorly. ;) You're recommending She's Not There, right? I'll take a look for it, as well as follow some of the links that've been posted as I have the time.

BF: yes. It's really good, just considered as a book. And, as I said, she has no particular agenda, other than wanting to show what it's like. Thanks.

hilzoy: Wow. You kick butt. Doing something concrete and constructive for transpeople. Educating the outsiders. putting your money where your mouth is.

After listening to so many bigoted homosexuals debate my right to exist, you are truly a breath of fresh air.

Thank you. And rock on.

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