Second response and follow-up questions

This is a response to purplesagefem’s response to the rest of my questions. [Content warning for the linked post: includes a paragraph about Fallon Fox misgendering her repeatedly and emphatically and accusing her of various horrible stuff, with a link to a whole post in that vein. Be cautious and take care of yourself.] It got long again!

I think that in many cases people believe they are the opposite sex because of internalized gender stereotypes and homophobia

A) Did you mean to use “sex” here? I have never heard of trans people believing their anatomy to be different from what it was – if you define “sex” as a cluster of anatomical facts, believing to be a different sex is not what’s happening here.

Although if you define gender as “behaviors, mannerisms or appearance”, that wouldn’t make sense either – one can’t believe to be a certain behavior, mannerism or appearance. There doesn’t seem to be a place anywhere in this dichotomy to describe the concept that actually applies here. (More evidence to support the notion that binaries provide just too little nuance to describe basically anything about human society or psyche.)

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.

Fair enough, especially since you didn’t claim that for all trans people.

Incidentally, this is precisely what frustrated me to no end when I first started learning about transgender issues – nobody seemed able to explain what gender actually is. People kept trotting out these stereotypes or saying things like “I just knew” or, even worse, “well how did you know?”, which was equally unhelpful, especially in my case.

I think there are multiple factors that might promote people trotting out stereotypes the way you saw and heard. (Although sadly, there are certainly also people who do have rather outdated, sexist, essentialist views of gender, among trans people as well as among cis people.)

Explaining gender as it applies to trans people is hard. I can’t do it even now – I can’t explain why “he” pronouns make me happy and “she” pronouns upset me, or why I’ve had no success trying to get used to having breasts but the somewhat flatter chest of bound breasts felt completely natural within a month or so of trying it for the first time (and within two, I didn’t ever want to go back). It doesn’t seem to follow any rhyme or reason, it just is. All I can say is “I don’t know why, but I like this way better and it makes me happy”, and that feels frustratingly inadequate and weak and nonsensical sometimes.

Trying to figure all that stuff out in the first place was like… I can’t even describe it adequately. Like trying to catch an invisible fish out of a river with bare hands, with everything feeling equally slippery. Grasping at observable, objective facts like what I played with as a child instead was very tempting – even if they weren’t really conclusive, at least they were something, and certainly more substantial than the soup of vagueness I was trying to swim through otherwise.

Such facts also would give me something I could show other people to support my claim to maleness – after all, most people do believe in some essentialist version of gender that has to do with stereotypes to some extent. And telling people about what I did as a child is much more comfortable than telling them about very intimate and vulnerable details like my feelings, especially some complete stranger who might already seem rather hostile or skeptical and might just impatiently wave away any mention of discomfort or increased happiness as imagination, all in my head, just a phase, or whatever. Being able to cite actual observable facts feels more legitimate even to me (until I remember that everybody I know played in some non-stereotypical ways as a child, and lots of people who do so go on to be perfectly cis adults, and that I played in some stereotypical feminine ways as well).

The second factor, and a rather big and important one, is one you mention yourself: stereotypical behavior is part of the diagnostic criteria stated in the DSM.
The DSM was not written by trans people, or even for most trans people – it is a standard we are forced to meet to be able to access badly-needed medical treatment. It’s a gatekeeping measure, and one that many trans people fear and loathe.

On a message board for trans men I know, there are regularly posts by trans guys worried that something about their appearance or their hobbies or their past or even their sexual orientation will be insufficiently stereotypically masculine in their evaluator’s eyes and cost them everything. One of the guys there was a metalhead, and like many metalheads of any gender had long hair that he really liked. Yet prior to his first psychological assessment, he agonized over whether he should cut it off, because a negative diagnosis would have kept him from getting HRT, and he had wanted to go on testosterone really really badly for months. It ended well for him, if I remember correctly, but how fucking sad is it that some of us feel that we can’t have long hair because it might cost us treatment?

If I could abolish the stereotypical parts of the DSM diagnosis, I would do so in a heartbeat.

An excellent, very well-researched and well-sourced post examining the area of conflict between feminism and trans women’s femininity is this one – I highly recommend reading it to get a quick but very good idea of the history behind the “trans narrative” that includes stereotypical child’s play and other common themes. (To lay out some clickbait: did you know that an actual clinician used to judge a trans person’s gender by whether or not he wanted to fuck them? I can’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure that a trans woman turning up with unshaved legs because she didn’t feel like conforming to that particular stereotype that day would not have passed muster.)

I personally strongly believe that people should be free to do whatever they want regarding gender-conforming behavior, and repeatedly finding the same sentiment in your writings is what made me seek this dialogue in the first place.

B) And yet you go on to cite Fallon Fox’ behavior and her perceived adherence to “the gender role of masculinity” as evidence that she’s not really a woman. How does that work? How do you reconcile believing in the freedom of every woman to be as “manly” as she wants with using someone’s behavior to disqualify her from being a woman? I can’t make these puzzle pieces fit. What am I missing?

There are lots of different reasons for being trans and these are only two of them. There are tons of teenagers identifying as trans now, and some of them have other conditions such as autism and PTSD.

B) I know of at least one trans person who has PTSD, and multiple autistic trans people. Being autistic or having PTSD doesn’t mean you can’t be trans – do you believe otherwise? If so, why?

MtF transitioners often have autogynephilia.

C) Everything I have read about autogynephilia so far matched mechanisms of arousal that are perfectly normal in women according to multiple sex self-help books, posts, etc.: thinking of oneself as a desirable, beautiful woman and possibly even wearing things to support that (things to feel sexy in, like lingerie) seem to make many women feel either sexually aroused by itself or more open to sexual arousal. Why do you believe “autogynephilia” is anything else than this? According to Wikipedia, autogynephilia isn’t even sexual arousal by doing “womanly” things, just the potential to be sexually aroused while doing them – is that not true for pretty much all women, some asexual women excepted?
a) If you believe that “autogynephilia” and being transgender are mutually exclusive: why?

What we keep seeing in the media is people who provide a list of silly sex stereotypes as proof they were trans, and who don’t necessarily feel uncomfortable with their sex organs. I’m starting to see that we need to differentiate between gender dysphoria and sex dysphoria, and I’ll explain that further in another post.

(I thought stereotypes were part of gender? What are sex stereotypes? These categories continue to hopelessly confuse me.)

I’d advise you to take media portrayals with an enormous grain of salt, or maybe a whole salt mine. I’ve heard from multiple trans women who got professional interviews, segments etc. done with and about them and reported that the various powers behind them had specifically wanted stereotypical footage of them putting on make-up, getting manicures, trying on dresses and the like – even when the trans women in question usually wore no make-up or nail polish and had little interest in that. The media are telling very specific narratives about trans people, to the exclusion of facts that don’t fit these narratives, and getting a good idea of the realities of trans people from media is rather unlikely.

As for the rest, well, I mean, I’m really happy that the responses you got provided food for thought and might cause you to develop a more nuanced opinion on the topic.
Buuuut I don’t think the suggested differentiation would help much, and I think it might do a lot of harm for the following reasons.

1. Dysphoria is not limited to or possibly even primarily about sex organs.
For example, many trans people feel uncomfortable about some of their facial features, their body shape (where they put on muscle or fat, their waistline, etc.), their voice, or other gendered features. Some of that discomfort might be more pronounced and more noticeable than discomfort with one’s reproductive anatomy, actually – after all, a uterus is pretty inconspicuous most of the time while a voice is there everytime you speak up.

Differentiating between dysphoria and “normal” discomfort can be quite challenging here – a woman being dissatisfied with her fat deposits is not exactly unheard of, so feelings of discomfort when you look at your hips don’t exactly tell you whether that is due to beauty standards or because you’re really a guy. And as you know, the reproductive organs themselves are subject to beauty standards as well – unless someone happens to have very conventionally beautiful anatomy, discomfort around it might be caused by the deviations from the standards or by gender dysphoria. (Or possibly by something else altogether, who knows.)

2. Dysphoria does seem related to non-anatomical parts of gender.
There are plenty of things that provide some short-term relief for gender dysphoria other than medical interventions. Some of them, like binding, tucking etc., might be related to one’s body and could plausibly be accredited to a relief of “sex dysphoria”, but others less so: pronouns and names, for example, can help or hurt despite not really having any direct connection to one’s anatomy. Engaging in stereotypically gendered activities and presenting in a somewhat stereotypical way can help as well – I often consciously adopted a very steretoypically masculine way of sitting (you probably know what I mean: legs spread and hanging back and taking up looots of space) when I felt particularly dysphoric, and it helped. So did buying body care products “for men”, and walking into men’s restrooms unchallenged (although that was usually also pretty scary), and having a cashier throw my ID back at me because “that’s a woman’s ID” before I ever went on testosterone.

Some of this might work indirectly via “sex dysphoria” – if breasts are sex organs (I don’t actually know if you’d classify them as such, and spontaneously wouldn’t do so myself), then being read as male by strangers might make me feel like they’re less important and/or less noticeable. But I’m unconvinced, and due to the difficulties with nailing down discomfort with one’s body as dysphoria described in the first point, such “secondary” measures might ultimately prove more useful in recognizing gender dysphoria.

Either way, the helpful potential of measures without direct relation to anatomy shouldn’t be overlooked. Portraying dysphoria as all about body parts could lead dysphoric trans people to believe they can’t do anything but wait for medical interventions to relieve their dysphoria, and that would cause unnecessary suffering that could have been prevented by getting a shower gel that smells like a car engine (or flowers the other way around, I suppose).

There’s a bit of a conflict of interest between having and using those measures on the one hand and abolishing the unnecessary gendering of everything on the other – overall, I think abolition would do more good, so I’m still in favor of that. But in the meantime, it’s something to consider.

3. Declaring discomfort with parts of one’s own body a criterion for transitioning promotes such discomfort.
Say someone wants to be recognized as [gender] and gets told their only way to achieve that is to feel really, really uncomfortable with parts of their body at all times and loudly and publicly proclaim this discomfort. What do you think would happen? Pretty soon, a new trans narrative would emerge that is focused on body discomfort instead of stereotypes, and people would follow it and learn it by heart just as they learned the stereotype one.

They’d also learn that this discomfort is something to be nurtured and kept and maybe even fanned for extra safety. Instead of trying to alleviate the suffering caused by the discomfort, and to gain what enjoyment can be gained from the affected body parts despite it, it would become a marker of authenticity. Don’t feel intensely uncomfortable? Curious about any kind of sex life? Enjoy masturbating? Too bad, your Official Trans Card would be revoked if you ever dared to speak about or act on these feelings. Better keep quiet and try to hate yourself so that doesn’t happen.

In some parts of your post, you don’t even just write of “discomfort”, but of “an automatic sense of revulsion” and even of “hatred”. I believe that many people don’t feel revulsion and hatred towards their own bodies and still benefit greatly from transitioning. They might feel that e.g. said organs are just fine and healthy, but they don’t really belong to me and I’d rather not have them, thank you very much, or that those organs are kind of okay but others would be so much better, and in both of those cases their quality of life might be significantly improved by medical interventions to change or remove the sex organs in question.

I’ve done my best to foster a positive relationship with my body, and I haven’t felt hatred towards it in about seven years – yet even the much less intense feelings of disconnect, of distance, were actually pretty fucking bad compared to the relationship I have with my body now. If I had been told that I had to feel hatred… well, I probably would have started hating myself again. Or, alternately, I would have told myself that since I didn’t feel actual hatred towards my body, it couldn’t be that bad, and I just had to grit my teeth and march on.

Either way, I would have missed out on much pleasure and groundedness and feelings of self-love, of my body being part of me, and yes, even of wholeness.

Suffering doesn’t start at a level of suffering so all-encompassing and constant that you can never have any kind of pleasurable feelings involving your reproductive organs. The permission for improvement cannot start there either.

(Many lesbians don’t feel much revulsion at being with men, and many are able to have some kind of pleasure with their partners; they just don’t feel sexual attraction to them. But nobody should be required to have sex with partners they’re not attracted to any more than they should be required to live with a body they don’t feel connected to – it’s perfectly legitimate for those lesbians to identify as lesbians, seek out other women, and reject men. In my opinion.)

I feel like that’s a bit of an issue even now – on transgender message boards and blogs, there are so many people espousing hatred and revulsion towards their own bodies that people who don’t feel as strongly might feel under pressure or be embarrassed and afraid to talk about that, or doubt themselves. This leads to pressure to have surgeries as well – after all, if you feel very negatively about your body, you’ll surely go to any lengths to change it, even if the change is risky and doesn’t offer much benefit for you personally (looking at you, phalloplasty). If you don’t, people might start to doubt your gender and question or outright deny your dysphoria (or euphoria for your actual gender). This is causing unnecessary harm.

However, I think this is really rare, and it’s a medical condition, not an identity.

D) How do you differentiate between medical conditions and identity (or rather, components of identity – I don’t think anyone feels they’re describing themselves as accurately as possible just by naming their gender)? Are there things you recognize as both? (For example, autism is classified as a medical condition, but also part of many people’s identity; homosexuality used to be a medical condition and is part of many people’s identity now.)

There have been people who transition and are happy for 10 years and then become unhappy after that.

Becoming unhappy sucks, and if there’s something such people have in common and that people who remain happy don’t have, I’m absolutely in favor of finding out what that is and how best to intervene to help future people not to make the same mistake while preserving their autonomy and freedom of choice. (If it actually is a mistake. I know of at least some detransitioners who still value the experiences they made transitioning in the first place and the happiness they felt during that time – if such feelings are more common than feelings of regret, preventing them might not be appropriate.)

E) Are you referring to specific people here? If so, do you have links/other material about them you could give me? (I’m always curious about detransitioners or other regretful people – I definitely feel that there’s something valuable to be learned there.)

Some lesbians get people asking them when they’re going to transition and calling them by neutral or male pronouns even though they are women

F) My first reaction to this was abject horror, because misgendering people is extremely rude and disrespectful in my eyes. Then I realized this was somewhat ironic considering who I’m talking to. So… if you don’t believe that pronouns can do any harm, as you said in your previous post, why do you feel that calling people by male pronouns against their will is bad?

A lot of trans kids are being transitioned by their parents because they are playing with the wrong toys.

I’d be extremely cautious with allegations like that because there’s no good way to assess whether kids are transitioning or being transitioned from way outside. Parents supporting their actual trans kids, who already have various religious and otherwise conservative people and organizations yelling at them for that, would get caught in the fire.

However, I did read an article recently that made me worry about that possibility. Since medical interventions with permanent effects are not available to young children anyway, the effects are probably not too dire, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind and a big reason to burn the whole gender divide in toys to the ground ASAP.

People probably pushed them not to transition because they knew it wasn’t right.

G) What do you mean by “knew it wasn’t right” here? Do you mean “they believed it wasn’t right based on values I share, such as valuing unmodified bodies for their own sake”? Or something else?

I’m pretty sure my sister did not text my ex-boyfriend that scum like me should be exterminated because she valued my body’s wholeness, and also pretty sure my grandmother didn’t tell me I was selfish and tearing the family apart for that reason. The vast majority of people putting pressure on others to remain in their assigned gender very likely do not do so out of concern for their bodies’ wholeness.

Family members care about them and don’t want them to make drastic changes to their bodies and become life-long medical patients who may never actually pass as the opposite sex.

We might also be life-long medical patients after failed suicide attempts, or due to addictions developed (partially or wholly) to cope with our dysphoria, or due to the depression comorbid with gender dysphoria in many cases. Or just be fucking unhappy a lot, and never as happy as we could have been, which is actually more important to me than not being a medical patient. (What’s wrong with being a medical patient anyway? If the choice is between gratuitous suffering and being a medical patient, I’d hope that many, many people become medical patients.)

People’s expectation for trans people’s “passing” should not be a deciding factor here either, because:

a) Most people only have really shitty estimates of that, maybe because they don’t know how much medical interventions can do, or because their only examples of trans people come from really bad media portrayals, or even because they see their trans family members or friends through a gendered lens that makes them overestimate their gendered features. (My grandfather accidentally misgendered me yesterday, at a point where no stranger would ever do it spontaneously – I don’t know if he actually sees the person I am now differently, or if it’s just a brain thing.)

b) Transitioning helps even people who don’t get read correctly consistently afterwards. We have to live with and in our bodies 24/7, not just during those hours where we can also get misgendered by strangers – being more comfortable by ourselves can and does make a big difference even for people who might never get all strangers to read them correctly. (And supportive non-strangers who gender us correctly help a lot as well.)

I think lots of more or less well-meaning family members etc. could actually find out about both of that if they actually bothered to talk and more importantly listen to us. Sadly, that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

If someone is in a lot of pain and they are fixated on the idea that transition will solve their problems, they’ll do it at any cost, even if it means going against their family’s wishes.

Or they’ll kill themselves, as many LGBT people do, because being in a lot of pain is actually really really bad, or they’ll eventually transition but irrevocably lose agonizing years in trying to force themselves to become a different gender so they don’t lose their family, or they’ll keep telling themselves it’s not that bad, I’ll get used to it eventually over and over and over and suffer completely unnecessarily in the meantime.

I mean, hell, I would have transitioned a lot earlier if there hadn’t been so much pressure against it. I could have saved myself years of struggling.

“You might make it out okay anyway” does not justify any of what is being done to LGBT people every day around the world.

And on that extremely cheerful note, I’m done for today!


What I actually spent the most time thinking about and agonizing over – your paragraph about Fallon Fox – I haven’t written about yet.

I’ve heard Fallon talk about her father taking her to a gay reversion therapist when she first came out to him. I’ve watched Game Face and heard Fallon talk about being suicidal in front of her daughter Taylor, I’ve seen how much it upset Taylor and listened to her say “I don’t know what I’d do without you”, I’ve heard Fallon and her girlfriend Amy joke about her getting cranky when she’s hungry. I’ve watched Fallon fight Ashlee Evans-Smith to the crowd chanting Ashlee’s name and booing Fallon, and I’ve seen her cry just a little about it afterwards. All of this has made her an incredibly strong and resilient person in my eyes, and I admire her a lot.

I don’t know what your opinion of her is based on. It almost always fucks me up quite a bit to see people judge others negatively when there is so much person there, so much to recognize and empathize with, so much common ground to find, and I only ever get close to understanding it when there is apparently too much pain and fear to be able to view someone else as a full person. (I don’t really know if this paragraph is intelligible. This is hard to put into words.)

I don’t think there’s much to be gained for either of us from discussing Fallon Fox specifically – there’s a big divide here, and the bridge is too fragile to rely on in this matter. But I didn’t want to leave it entirely uncommented either, so I half-assed it.

I saw you posted a first response to all our responses – I’m looking forward to reading that and hearing more, and I hope I’ll get to finish the puzzle eventually.

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2 thoughts on “Second response and follow-up questions”

  1. Hi, I’m one of the other people who responded to purplesage’s questions, and keep getting roped into commenting over there.

    This response is great, the whole thing is extremely eloquent and gives the topic the space it deserves. But thank you in particular for the last section about Fallon Fox. I tried several times to come up with some way to respond that wasn’t too angry to allow the dialog to continue, and failed. I ended up saying nothing. You handled it beautifully.

    I’m going to finish reading the rest of these questions and responses on your blog, cheers!

    Like

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