The facebook page “Lesbians and Feminists Against Transphobia” posted an email they received on their page. It was an email from a feminist cis woman asking about trans women. I’ll try to split up the email and respond to each part of it. The email is quoted with the permission of the author.
This is probably a really stupid question to y’all, but to me trans issues are kinda complicated and I don’t really understand, I’m trying to learn not trying to offend, I apologize if I do. But could you explain, in simple non academic language if possible,
Yes, trans* issues are complicated. The main reason trans* issues are complicated is that the existence of trans* people challenges the very core of society’s norms about gender, sex and sexuality. These norms are so engrained that they even introduce a significant bias in the sciences trying to understand the behaviour and development of humans and other mammals. Luckily several academics are challenging these biases now. I’ve written a bit about this on my English blog before, for instance here, and even more on my Norwegian blog here and here.
People sometimes complain that the language trans* activists use is too academic. Actually a lot of it isn’t academic at all, but terminology developed by activists themselves. That doesn’t mean it is necessarily straight forward to follow of course.
If say a transwoman considers herself feminist right, that would mean she agrees we get the short end of the stick in the gender department right, lower pay, rape and violence from men, all that shit. Why would someone who sees the raw deal women get, choose to transition to a place, that lets be honest, sucks to inhabit.
Yes, men have a lot of privileges in our society that women don’t have. In other cultures it’s even worse. It seems you think it sucks to be a woman. That is certainly a valid feeling, but keep in mind that the “raw deal” is not something that is inherent to being a woman, as one of the commenters on the page points out. Sexism is a product of society, not a result of being a woman. That is a very important distinction in my opinion.
I have no more choice in being a trans woman than you have in being a cis woman. It is a fundamental part of who I am. There are several examples in history of women living as men to avoid the sexism and lack of opportunities available to women in for instance education, politics and choice of profession. Some of these would undoubtedly have identified as trans men if they lived today, but I don’t think that explains all of them. Posing as male is of course a lot easier for someone assigned male at birth (AMAB) as myself, and yes, it certainly did award me male privilege for as long as I could stomach living the lie; or being “closeted” as it is commonly called.
It varies greatly how long trans men and women manage to do this. I managed it for two decades from the time I realised I was transgender at 15. Some people manage this for their entire lives. Hiding who you are can be an incredibly painful experience. What made it easier for me was the fact that I identified as gender queer for most of that time. My identity is however much closer to female than male, so living as male became unbearable eventually. It is much easier for me to live as a woman while just being myself. While neither “man” or “woman” fully describes me, “woman” is much closer to who I am, and for me personally the female role is less restrictive than the male role. Still, these are roles constructed by our society, and the way gender is constructed in different cultures determines how easy they are to adapt to for each of us.
How I see my own body is a little different. Our bodies do develop in two different directions depending on your exposure to hormones (which isn’t necessarily directly linked to your chromosomes). Even in a genderless society I would have wanted hormone treatment, but there would be no painful social transition. I am less concerned with abolishing human cultural diversity of expression than I am with abolishing restriction of which bodies are allowed to adopt what expressions. How you express yourself should be your choice alone.
I think if I were born in a male body, even if I felt feminine, I would just stay in that body for the perks of being a man, and I guess act “normatively” in work and etc and then be my possibly obviously feminine self in my own time with people who aren’t douches and probably not want to go through all that surgery, hormones, not “passing” harassment and whatever else y’all have to go through just to get to the place where I will be treated like a second class citizen for not being male. I realise you must see a reason in it or you wouldn’t do it, so it must give you something, but I see nothing to be gained by being imprisoned in a female body and subjugated to men by society in general. What’s the deal?
Being a trans woman has nothing inherently to do with femininity. I understand where you’re coming from though because it is a very common stereotype of trans women. Gender identity (woman, man, neither, gender queer, etc) and gender expression (feminine, masculine, androgynous, etc) are completely different aspects of being human. There is absolutely no reason to assume all trans women were “feminine boys”. I myself was pretty gender neutral and androgynous for much of my life.
We all know cis women with all sorts of gender expressions. In our culture gender expression and sexuality is also often mixed together. I have feminine lesbian friends who aren’t always believed when they say they are lesbians because they’re “too feminine”. Likewise I know masculine women who are assumed to be lesbians, but aren’t. Gay men suffer the same expectations of stereotypical behaviour, and so do trans men and women.
For trans* people this stereotyping is strengthened by the way we have been treated by the medical profession when we have wanted to access medical transition. There has often been, and still is in for instance my country, certain restrictions on this access. In my country access is still limited by the assumption that only people who behave in certain stereotypical ways are “true transsexuals” and therefore have the right to hormone therapy and surgery. This is a highly misguided approach deeply rooted in outdated sexist and cissexist stereotypes.
p.s. I’ve read some nasty radfem comments saying very offensive things to transwomen and I want you to know even tho i subscribe to radical feminist viewpoints – as is my understanding of feminism based on my personal experiences of sexism as a born female – I can accept that a transperson, having different experienced may have different viewpoints based on them, and I think they may be valid to me and feminism in general not just trans people, I want to learn to be a better feminist, I have no ill will toward transwomen, I’ve never even really met any. Sorry if my question isn’t tactful, but i just find getting straight to my confusion will enable someone to get straight to an answer – if y’all choose to answer me that is, I don’t think it’s your job to educate me, but google isnt gettin me the info I seek and I was just hoping, from feminist to feminist, you’d talk to me. Thanks.
The transphobia and cissexism from certain individuals that label themselves feminists is often based on critique of a caricature of trans women, i.e. based in stereotypes, and not in the actual diversity of the transgender community. The claim that we uphold traditional gender roles and gender stereotypes is based in a lack of knowledge, wilful or otherwise, of actual trans* people and our life stories.
Sure, there are trans women who conform to society’s expectations of women. So does a large number of cis women, and a lot of feminists. To require a higher standard of gender non-conformity of trans women is a double standard and quite unreasonable. I do actually find trans* people to display a much larger diversity in gender expression and gender identity than the rest of society though. That shouldn’t be surprising given that we have to fight these gender roles and expectations every single step of the way, and for large parts of our lives. That also explains, in my opinion, why so many trans* people are feminists.
Many trans* people do find comfort in traditional gender roles too. How each of us adapt to surviving in this highly gender segregated world varies greatly. Some of us become rebels, some of us don’t. To demand all of us fight on the barricades is an unreasonable demand, especially given how much many of us had to fight on a personal level, often against our own families and loved ones, to get anywhere at all.
* * *
Yes, transitioning has made me have to face the sexism of society. The sexual harassment has taken the longest to learn to deal with. For example on the 10 hour flight I had three weeks ago I was stuck beside a drunk married guy that kept propositioning me and at some point asked me to go with him to the rest room to give him a BJ. As a consequence of being seated next to him I didn’t sleep for a second during the entire flight. The asshole was completely oblivious to how incredibly uncomfortable he made me feel.
The bullshit I have to face as a woman wasn’t even on my mind when I decided I had to transition. I did enjoy male privilege when playing the male role though. I was a feminist before I transitioned, and learned about women’s challenges through listening to other women, but it is completely different experiencing this first hand. I have avoided most of the additional transphobia a lot of trans* people face because people tend to assume I’m cis (passing privilege), so my load of intersectional discrimination is lesser than what it could have been. But, yes, I have exposed myself to more discrimination by coming out, and the difference is absolutely noticeable and affects my every day life.
Every single trans* person have to weigh the pros and cons of all this. The truth is that we have no idea up front how things will play out. You have no idea in advance how people will treat you. You also have no idea how well hormones will work for you. Age is a clue, but mostly it’s anyone’s guess. How well your body, after a year or two on hormones, conforms to society’s expectation of how a person of your gender is supposed to look like, is a gamble. I know several trans women who changed their mind and wanted to go back because it really was too hard. They usually change their mind due to the way society treats them though, and not because of regretting the transition on a personal level. That makes me sad.
So yes, you do have a point about the shit society throws at you whether it is for being a woman or visibly trans or both. Being a person of colour on top of being a trans woman puts you at the very top of the list of people at risk of violent hate crimes, yet these women still choose to transition.
The core issue here is much deeper than a simple choice. I have no say in who I am. I have no say in how the society I was born into functions. All I have a say in is how I choose to act within it based on who I truly am, and how I want to help fighting the limitations society puts on me and others. The solution is not to have people hide who they are, but for all of us to challenge the structures in society, to the best of our ability, that prevents all of us from being ourselves. Intersectional feminism is essential in this fight, and has been hugely important in the progress our society has made over the last couple of centuries.
The fight for LGBT rights is ongoing in Norway, as everywhere else. We as a nation like to boast how good we are at respecting human rights; handing out the Nobel Peace Prize every year. But is it true? Are we that perfect? No. Absolutely not. Norway is one of the countries criticised by Amnesty for violating the human rights of trans* people by requiring sterilisation for legal gender recognition.
in 2008 equal marriage laws passed, taking effect January 1st, 2009. Last summer a set of anti-discrimination laws passed as well, one of which protects against discrimination on the basis of sexuality, gender identity and gender expression. This law took effect on January 1st, 2014. The inclusion of gender identity and expression was not automatic, it had to be argued for why it had to be stated explicitly.
So far so good, but more work remains. We have an advisory body (LDO) funded by the state that employs lawyers and experts to interpret the anti-discrimination laws, handle complaints from the public, and provide legal advice and recommendations. LDO has no direct legal power, but their advice usually ways heavily in discrimination cases. At the moment they’re working hard to test the LGBT anti-discrimination laws on cases and complaints.
A principle in these laws is also prevention of potential discrimination. For transgender people revealing someone’s transgender status puts that individual at risk of discrimination. Any individual with a gender expression and identity that does not match their legal gender have this information revealed by the state through the social security number.
The Norwegian social security number, like in most Scandinavian countries, has key information encoded into it. In our case it reveals the date of birth and your legal gender. The main reason for this, according to the Norwegian Tax Administration who owns and runs the National Population Register, is that it both makes the 11 digit number easier to remember, and it contains essential information about the individual.
The number looks like this:
The six first digits are the date of birth, the next three are sequential numbers with certain conditions, and the last two are control digits. Since year of birth is two-digit, information of century is encoded into I1. Legal gender is encoded into I3 by even numbers meaning female and odd numbers meaning male. Foreign nationals with a work permit, but not permanent residency, get a so called D-number, which is generated by adding a value of 4 to D1.
As you probably can see the current system is made for a relatively small population. The system has been in use since 1964, and the numbers given to people born from 1855 and on. Due to the encoding of the century, there is currently room for a little under 500 individuals for each day, not including temporary D-numbers. That includes newborns and future immigrants born on this date. That is a very low number, and is already causing trouble. It gets even worse in 2040 when the number is reduced to just over 300 due to other factors of the algorithm, and they run out of new numbers from 2055. Because of this they are working on a new system as population growth is making a change relatively urgent.
Last year the Tax Administration proposed a set of new systems for evaluation. The recommended solution retained the encoding of gender, not even considering the fact that gender is not binary. Fortunately someone pointed this out somewhere along in the process, and they started working on gender neutral numbers late last year. Earlier this year LDO wrote them a letter (Norwegian link) explaining the progress of society in terms of recognition of gender identity and the fact that several nations now allow for more than the two traditional genders.
I and a couple of trans* activists in my organisation, the Norwegian LGBT Association, decided to do the same. We met with the consultant who worked on this case with the Tax Administration, and had a long, productive meeting. We wrote a four page note listing a number of the key challenges transgender and intersex people face with the current system. A few of these are that the social security number is used on all forms of ID even if gender is not stated on the majority of them (only on passports). The number is also used for all tax, medical and other public purposes. This includes use by employers. Since gender is encoded, most systems have no option for specifying gender in other ways, and consequently anyone with the wrong legal gender is listed as the wrong gender in these systems.
This exposes trans* people to potential discrimination when seeking employment, and exposes us to risk of having personal medical information revealed by medical professionals, and a host of identification issues in everything from banks and post offices to the entry into pubs and clubs. It also exposes us to risk when in need of medical care as medical institutions will naively assume your body conforms to the gender indicated by this number. For me this has lead to a number of both infuriating and absurd comments on things like blood tests, and I’ve lost count of the medical professionals I have had to personally educate on trans* medical issues. I am NOT a medical professional, so this lack of knowledge is potentially quite dangerous.
But it worked. Our letter was taken into the subsequent review process, and two weeks ago the consultant from the Tax Administration called me and announced that they are now going for the gender neutral option. They wanted me and one of the trans* guys who co-signed the document to join the director for the Population Register when it was released to the media. So we did, and here’s the news release (in Norwegian).
We’re very happy with this decision. It will protect trans* people who either are in transition or who refuse to comply with the current demands for legal gender recognition by the Department of Health. This last point will change soon. The requirements are currently under review, and will hopefully be changed by the end of next year. The other consequence of gender neutral social security numbers is that we are no longer limited by algorithm to two genders. As legal gender now is moved to a different database entry there is no longer a restriction on the options unless they’re dumb enough to make it a binary 0-1 field, which I hope they will not after this process.
So, yes, we’re having progress. One step at a time. I can see the end of the line for the battle for trans* people in Norway when it comes to recognition and protection under the law. There is a lot left to do when it comes to social acceptance and inclusion though, so we still have the work cut out for ourselves and our organisations. Especially for those of who belong to ethnic minorities in addition to being LGBT. We also have a huge international responsibility in both receiving people fleeing from persecution for being LGBT and also to help promote progress elsewhere. With our current xenophobic right wing government that is a huge battle ahead of us.
This piece is also published on Skepchick.
In a society where sexism is so deeply ingrained in our culture, a lot of it goes by undetected and unchecked. Today I watched the 8th episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. The show is excellent, don’t get me wrong, and this episode titled “Sisters of the Sun” covers the discovery of the chemical composition of the sun and other stars, a fascinating topic. Especially to me as a physicist with a special place in her heart for astrophysics.
In this episode we meet the brilliant astrophysicist Cecilia Payne. She was the one who discovered that the sun is mainly made up of hydrogen and helium, something that ran counter to the conventional wisdom of her time. Neil deGrasse Tyson describes her 1925 Ph.D. thesis as one of the most brilliant theses in the history of astrophysics; although it did take 20 years before her discovery was recognised. In a series where the focus on men is dominating, which given the history of sexism in science and education isn’t at all surprising, it is very refreshing to have an episode where the main characters are women.
Despite this Fox decides to describe the episode in this way, and this description follows the episode all over the internet:
Discover the remarkable story of Annie Jump Cannon and Cecilia Payne, two incredible women who challenged conventional wisdom and uncovered the real-life story of the stars. Cannon led a group of female astronomers in the early 20th century to catalogue the spectral characters of stars, and two decades later, young British beauty Payne joined forces with Cannon to analyze the data and uncover the chemical compositions of the stars.
First of all, they were astronomers. You never hear anyone refer to astronomers as “male astronomers”, so why the need to use the phrase “female astronomers”? The text already states that these were women. There is never any need to specify a gender with a profession whether it is “male nurse” or “female astronomer”. It’s a red flag signalling that whoever wrote the text believes this is a profession best suited for one specific gender. An astronomer is an astronomer regardless of gender, and so is a nurse, airline pilot, or whatever other profession who traditionally have been subject to strict gender roles and stereotyping.
In addition, they just had to make a comment about Payne’s looks. A “British beauty”. The piece of information is not only utterly irrelevant to the story, looks is also a common distraction used about women who stand out. The old stereotype that smart girls are ugly and pretty girls are dumb is so ingrained that a smart and pretty woman is exceptional enough that it simply must be commented on.
As revealed in this episode of Cosmos, Payne left England because she, as a woman, was not allowed to receive a degree in science even though she completed her education at Cambridge. Being brilliant was irrelevant if you were a woman, and even today in our society this comes at best as a second to your looks in the eyes of the public. That folks, is institutional sexism.
How many discoveries and how many brilliant scientists haven’t the world missed out on because of sexism? Payne was brilliant in her own right, but we only know of her because she was so brilliant that even the men of her scientific field noticed her. The amount of brilliance needed to overshadow male privilege in the fields of physics and astrophysics is well illustrated by the fact that in over 110 years, and 196 Nobel Prizes awarded, only two have been given to women.
So why do we still think it’s so exceptional that women can do this that we need to state multiple times that the person in question was a woman, and also manage to talk about her looks instead of her more relevant battle against sexism? When I tell people what I do, women without exception tell me they could never do that, and many follow up by asking me how many other women work with what I do. The fact that the majority of the Ph.D. candidates at my department are women always surprises them. I don’t blame them for asking, but I blame gender stereotyping for the need to even ask.
Even if things are changing within the field it is still assumed by society that this is a men’s profession. That obviously affects how many women prepare for a career in the sciences and how many choose to apply in the first place. It is still true that a woman needs to work extra hard to catch up to the head start male privilege gives the men. More and more do, and as they do, that head start shrinks a little, but it is still very much there. The steps on the academic ladder gets harder and harder to climb as a woman the higher up you get.
This awesome video discusses the pseudo-science behind the claim that men and women are so different. Such arguments are often used to support treating men and women differently and to support discrimination and bigotry. Many base these kinds of arguments in biology, but there is no support for such claims in biology. Media is also often guilty of promoting such pseudo-scientific claims. The video also discusses the parallels to similar claims made by advocates of racism in the past.
The video also talks a bit of extremism in various religious, atheist and men’s rights activist communities. These arguments are also put in a historical context.
The video is almost an hour long, but mostly it’s in the form of a presentation, so it can just as easily just be listened to. Enjoy!
The video discusses Thunderfoot several times. Thundefoot is an anti-feminist atheist video blogger who frequently uses the claims this video discusses.
This post was first published on Queereka.
Yet again RuPaul’s questionable usage of transphobic slurs on his show has angered the online trans* community. Trans* public figures Calpernia Addams and Andrea James have not as much defended RuPaul as they have personally attacked one of the other trans* activists speaking out. I used to like Calpernia Addams, even if I often didn’t agree with her, but I am appalled and disappointed by her article in The Huffington Post, and James’ article on BoingBoing.
In her response, Addams declares:
All these angry, attacking women seem to share certain telling characteristics. Perhaps conditioned to bully and take by a lifetime of white, heterosexual, male privilege in academia and business, these women seem to relish the co-opting of yet another source of power: Often in only a year or two, they drop the mantle of white, straight, male privilege, having wrung every benefit that a 20- to 30-year-old person can from it, and take up the currently unassailable position of being a queer female with all the zeal of a new conqueror. What’s the thing they rail against when not decrying other trans people? “Cis-het privilege”?
The irony of this angry, attacking article is that it is disturbingly close to echoing Janice Raymond’s transphobic rhetoric of co-opting and invading spaces. Just in place of women’s spaces we here have what appears to be Harry Benjaminesque True Transsexual™ activist’s spaces.
As one of the type of people Addams apparently despises, namely a late transitioner who transitioned well into her thirties, I find her characterisation of my group of trans women and trans men highly offensive. Not only do most of us, as she does too I’m sure, have a life-long history of struggling with our gender identity faced with cisnormative and heteronormative society, but we all also move through the landscape of sexual identities in the process as these tend to be defined in gender binary terms.
The amount of privilege you enjoyed pre transition in your assigned gender role reflects how well you were able to pass yourself off as a cis man or a cis woman. As soon as you step over those boundaries you start losing that privilege. Boys and men who do not challenge their gender roles generally do not experience the kind of oppression and disadvantage that gender non-conforming people as well as cis women do. Accusing outspoken trans* activists, and especially trans women, of displaying male privilege and entitlement is a common accusation made by the TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical “Feminists”). It’s ironic coming from people who claim to be feminists, as women have always been put down for being assertive and outspoken, but it’s even more ironic coming from a trans woman who calls herself an activist.
For trans women who have lived in the male role for many years the sense of freedom that once came with male privilege can take some time to wear off. Now, the thing about the benefits of privilege is not that the benefits themselves are bad, but the fact that only some people have them. Any person should be free to be assertive and outspoken regardless of gender identity. During and after our transition we all have to adapt to a society littered with institutional sexism. The fact that it takes some time before the implications of this dawns on us is not a problem. For every trans woman who gives in to sexist gender roles, the cause of women’s rights loses a voice. The world is full of loud, awesome cis feminist women. No one accuses them of male privilege.
This cheap shot at trans women whose initial reaction is to fight back when privilege suddenly takes a dive is not only uncalled for, but counter productive. Many of these trans women do get involved in the wider LGBT and trans* activist community, and input their experience and enthusiasm into the important work of educating mainstream society, and lobbying for better legal protection and healthcare option for the trans* people coming after us.
I can agree with one part of Addams’ criticism: that the online trans activist community can sometimes be quite angry, and that anger sometimes is unproductive. I also agree that we need to build bridges, especially in the wider LGBT+ community, but also in intersectional feminist spaces. However I flatly reject the elitism of both Addams and James and their gross generalisations of “younger transitioners” that is presented in both these pieces. Gay and lesbian culture have their own set of normativties, and many of them are trans* exclusionary and outright cissexist. Drag culture can also often times be quite misogynistic. I have no problems with drag queens in principle, in fact I love it when someone challenges gender norms no matter what the person identifies as, but I refuse to cater to the problematic sides of lesbian and gay culture and throw half the trans* community under the bus in the process.
While Addams and James caters to a media that still views trans* people as fun afternoon entertainment, newer and more influential voices like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, with their zero-tolerance for media’s cissexism, manages to both be successful and bring a clear and concise message to the wider cis society as well as unite the trans’ community both online and offline. Janet Mock, with her #GirlsLikeUs campaign, is also part of “the eyeroll-inducing ‘hashtag activist’ movement currently infecting the internet” that Andrea James despises so much. While some of these campaigns are driven by anger, many of them are not, and they mean a lot to many trans* people.
Calpernia Addams must believe people like me have nothing to contribute to the progress of trans* rights and inclusion. I spent many years acting as a straight male, that is true, but in safe spaces I identified as bi-gender, asexual-bisexual. A huge part of that was due to living in a small, conservative town where LGBT people allegedly didn’t exist. That town hasn’t changed much since I moved away seven years ago. Now, as an out and loud trans woman, I have joined the largest Norwegian LGBT organisation at a time where trans* people have gotten a brand new anti-discrimination law and are in the process of getting a major revision of the entire trans* healthcare system. A process we are directly involved with and included in.
My organisation is one of the major driving forces behind the current changes for trans* people in my country. The wider LGB community works with us, and we with them, but one of the main forces behind the changes comes from the youngest of our members in the queer youth organisation. Most of them are in their late teens and early twenties. They’re radical, loud, and challenges every norm in the book. They have gone right to the top and lobbied the prime minister when they felt they needed to be heard. They get shit done. Age (or trans* age for that matter) is not important, initiative is.
At the other end of trans* history many of the older and self-proclaimed wiser trans* people who remember the days when drag queens, trans women and gay men all got invited to the same parties, seem to distrust the new breed of trans* and queer activists. Maybe out of fear of their own diminishing relevance? There is certainly a division in the trans* activist community. On one hand you have a good deal of the older activists who went through a lot of the gatekeeping of the past, and who have internalised much of the cisnormativity forced on them. On the other hand you have younger activists who tend to have a more intersectional approach. The fact that Addams flat out rejects the term “cisgender” and presumably it’s derivatives, places her squarely in the former group. A career of catering to mainstream media may be a reason, but it may also be a lack of understanding of the terminology of transfeminism. Reading a bit of Julia Serano’s excellent analysis of the intersections of trans activism, queer activism and feminism would do her a lot of good. At least if she wants to be relevant in trans* activism in 2014.
I’ve had a lot of requests for this recipe, so I’m going to actually post a recipe post for the first time! This is a red wine sauce that I found on a Norwegian blog. The original recipe is available here. It is possibly the best sauce in the known universe!
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried thyme or similar amount fresh
2 dl* red wine
2 dl* chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 tsp of brown sugar
salt and pepper
* 1 cup is everything from 2 to 2.5 dl depending on where you are in the world, so use about 1 cup.
- Fry the onions on low heat until they’re soft, and add the tomato paste for a couple of minutes at the end. This will round of the taste of the tomato paste a little.
- Add the wine, and let most of the alcohol boil off.
- Add the stock, thyme, sugar, vinegar and worcestershire sauce and let it boil for a while until it is reduced to about half the original volume.
- Strain off the onions and thyme.
- Reduce further until it’s thick, or thicken with corn starch if you want a less intense taste.
- Add salt and pepper to taste. The sweet/sour balance may need some tweaking too, so use balsamic vinegar and sugar for that. I usually have to add a little extra vinegar.
Been a while. Too much to do, too many blogs to maintain. In the mean time here’s an awesome video about sexism!
I’m reading an excellent book at the moment on the science of sex difference. The book is written by Rebecca Jordan-Young, and is titled “Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Difference”. Highly recommended reading for anyone interested in the subject. You can check out her website and buy her book here.
There’s so much interesting material to discuss, but I wanted to take a look at the assumptions in much of the early research about sexuality. Jordan-Young splits it up in time windows as what is considered “masculine” and “feminine” sexuality has changes so dramatically over the last 7-8 decades that the completely opposite conclusion is often drawn from the exact same data. Not a very good indication of rigorous and objective science to put it mildly.
Figure 6.2 summarizes how characteristics of sexuality were interpreted as either masculine or feminine in studies of human brain organization through about 1980. Qualities that could be quantified were put on scales with masculine at one end and feminine at the other: libido, number of partners, and number of sexual positions enjoyed. Which end of the scale is which? Brain organization researchers almost always treated this issue as though it goes without saying, and the simple rule was “male is more.” More libido, more partners, more “versatility” in terms of actual positions, and more ways to be aroused were all a part of scientists’ ideal for masculine sexuality. In contrast, there was scarcely any conceptual space for autonomous feminine sexuality in these studies. Given that scientists consistently interpreted behaviors such as initiating sex, expressing intense physical desire, or masturbation as masculine, it is scarcely an overstatement to suggest that sexuality itself was seen as a masculine trait. Female sexuality—if not an outright oxymoron—was nonetheless thought to be decidedly responsive rather than autonomous, requiring a masculine sexual partner to move it from mere possibility to expression.
I get the very clear impression from reading the definitions used and considering the fact that the majority, or at least leading, researchers are all male, that the research is incredibly male-centred. It took quite some time before women’s sexuality even “existed”, let alone lesbians, or for that matter trans men (i.e. men assigned a female gender and sex at birth).
Jordan-Young goes on to discuss the paradigm shift that happened in the late sixties and early seventies when what was considered “female” sexuality and “male” sexuality did almost a complete 180. It is quite astonishing, as she notes, that one trait that was considered masculine at one point, could be considered as clearly feminine just a few years later, even by the same research team! The worst part is that nobody seemed to notice this.
In addition the way scientists looked at masculinity and femininity changed.
Most scientists no longer worked from a behavioral paradigm that looked at sexuality as one-dimensional, in which masculinity and femininity occupy opposite poles of a single continuum. Another way of thinking gained currency in the 1970s and is now (at least officially) more favored than the idea that masculinity and femininity are trade-offs. It had long been known that normal female animals routinely display both “male-typical” and “female-typical” behaviors (and the same is true of male animals), but this observation fit poorly with mid-twentieth-century theories about human sexuality and gender, which assumed that “normal” and healthy development involved either consistent masculinity or consistent femininity. In 1974, psychologist Sandra Bem (1974) proposed the “orthogonal” model, suggesting that masculinity and femininity are two separate domains of personality and behavior. According to the orthogonal model, any individual may be more or less masculine and, independently of their masculinity, more or less feminine.
In my experience people who take on an exclusively masculine, or to an extent a feminine, expression, seem incredibly caught up in these alleged differences, and also often incredibly insecure. Psychology has recognised for a long time that masculinity and femininity isn’t polar opposites, though sometimes it is still presented like that, especially in outdated approaches to trans* health care like we have here in Norway. I believe that a fluidity in gender expression and a freedom to express yourself in the way that feels most “right” (or comfortable) to you, makes you a much better and more well-functioning individual. Not just for transgender people, but also for cis people. I don’t believe there is a a trans/cis binary either. It is an as artificial a binary distinction as male/female is. Reality is much more fluid and the so called binary labels are just poles in a landscape, not two areas separated by a ravine.
Jordan-Young elaborates on the research by Bem:
Bern’s model specifically departed from the traditional psychological “assumption that it is the sex-typed individual who typifies mental health” and suggested that “in a society where rigid sex-role differentiation has already outlived its utility, perhaps the androgynous person will come to define a more human standard of psychological health” (1974, 162). Research has tended to support this view, indicating that androgynous people are better able to engage in “situationally effective behavior without regard for its stereotype as more appropriate for one sex or the other” (Stake 2000; Shifren, Furnham, and Bauserman 2003; Lefkowitz and Zeldow 2006; Hunt et al. 2007).
Gender roles are restrictive. In 2013 they may not feel as restrictive as they once were, and they will never feel equally restrictive to everyone, but just because you as a person don’t encounter these restrictions, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. This, I feel, is a point frequently missed by women who think feminism is overrated and unnecessary in today’s society. Some will feel that way because they have adapted to a state of fighting the system, but that itself indicates that there’s a problem. Why should you have to fight to be yourself or to express yourself?
We should be very careful when dismissing the huge influence gender roles and gender stereotypes have on both society and scientific research. It is quite disheartening to see how often research done on sex difference confirms gender or sex stereotypes. Not because it’s an inconvenient truth, but because the results stem from badly constructed research that produce results that only reflect the definitions used in the input data. That’s not science, that’s confirmation bias.
Secular Woman recently released a petition for the Southern Poverty Law Center to start tracking the hate site “Gender Identity Watch”. I am one of the original signatories of the petition and statement. I have explained why these people need to be watched before. Cathy Brennan and her collaborators are responsible for a long list of hate sites where they target trans women, their favourite target.
In a counter statement (if you can call it that) on their infamous blog they label us Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs). That alone is just plain absurd seeing that Secular Woman as an organisation, as well as original signatories of this petition, have been a target of hate speech from MRAs for quite some time. If there’s anyone here that resembles the MRAs in any way it is Gender Identity Watch and their associates whose tactic it is to publicly name and shame anyone who disagrees with their message, putting people in real danger of hate crimes by publishing personal information online.
They write in response:
Calling political speech that does not toe the liberal line “hate speech” is a common tactic of Queer and Liberal organizations. Rather than free and open debate, such MRAs want you to embrace thought-terminating cliches like ”Transwomen are Women.” These MRAs – who are invariably White Males who “identify” as Women or heterosexual “Queer” Women who have no investment in Lesbian community – continually harass the Southern Poverty Law Center, which actually has its hands full tracking racist hate groups across the country.
I understand this is a conservative group that despises “liberals” and “queers”. That much is obvious. Adhering to pre-feminist gender segregation ideology is of course something you’re free to do, but it generally doesn’t fly in modern progressive society. This type of groups have been banned from public venues before because of this, just like patriarchal fundamentalist religious groups have.
I am sorry that statements like “transwomen are women” are thought-terminating to you. That is of course always a problem with conservative thinking. Going beyond the established dogma is difficult to comprehend, but if you’re prepared to open your mind just a little it isn’t actually that difficult. Feminists have been doing this for a couple of centuries now, and feminists are continuing to do so today.
Of course to justify their position they need to classify trans women as “men”. Usually they will assume only trans women support such a petition, but they have realised that most people with a healthy open mind and a minimum of social consciousness will oppose their bigotry, so they’ve added “heterosexual women” too. Since they usually claim that being supportive of trans women is also homophobic, for some absurd reason, they need to deny cis lesbians their identity as lesbians if they were to support trans inclusion. Hence the reference to “queers” in quotation marks, and to “heterosexuals”.
This is quite an absurd mind-bending argument of the “no true Scotsman fallacy“-type. There are plenty of cis lesbians who see trans women as women and as potential partners in the same way they do other women. That doesn’t make them any less lesbian. It is also perfectly reasonable to have preferences regarding anatomy without being transphobic. Choice of sexual partner is a personal one, and not to be dictated by anyone – especially not Cathy Brennan.
In addition they chose to add “white” to the above list just for good measure. Presumably because the people behind this statement are all white. I know for a fact that people of colour, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, pansexuals, trans and cis men and women – pretty much every identity on the race, gender and sexuality spectra – have signed this petition. Undoubtedly a very inconvenient fact. The “white” argument is especially appalling since the group of trans women most at risk from hate crimes are trans women of colour. The list of trans* people murdered each year contains a large proportion of trans* people of colour. If there is anyone from our group that is especially vulnerable to these hate groups’ tactics it is them.
But sure, if you want to debate bigoted ideologies amongst yourselves, feel free. It’s your right, and no one is denying you that right. We have the right to publicly disagree with you though. The problem is that you are exposing trans* people to danger by publicly outing us, stalking us and harassing us. You expose us to dangerous situations, risk of losing our jobs, homes and community, in the name of what? Traditional gender segregation, othering and bigotry. That is why you’re a hate group. And calling yourself “Gender Identity Watch”? Can you be more pretentious? You better tuck in your privilege. It’s showing.
Today, November 20th, is the Transgender Day of Rememberance (TDoR). This is the 15th annual occurrence of this event, since 1998. As usual before this date, a list of victims of who have been murdered the last year has been published. For the last 12 months this number is 238, but only reported and confirmed cases are counted. Today is the day we talk about them and remember them. But we shouldn’t forget about the struggles of trans* people the other 364 days of the year.
You can find an overview of many of today’s events from all over the world on www.transgenderdor.org.
There’s also a facebook page available with links to many of these events.
The organisation GLAAD also has an overview of articles and blogposts related to TDoR.