2009-08-17 11:04 am

For the Uninformed: Privilege, Perspective and The Little Things That Jab

I also guest posted this one on Deeply Problematic. Much thanks to RMJ for letting me rant in her space. XD

I thought I was going to wait on this one till tomorrow, but then I read through one of the most clear, beautifully written posts I have ever seen on how even caring, completely loving, well intentioned men act towards women in general at Shakesville by Melissa (Please read here: "The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck"). After that, I realized that this post can't wait.

I truly suggest that if you have ever heard the word privilege and didn't understand it or was offended by it, you read that blog post. I truly suggest that if you feel that feminists or trans folk or any marginalized group are angry, oversensitive or dislike you because you are white, cisgendered or a man or whatever, you read that post.

Like all For The Uninformed posts, these words are built for an audience that does not have the experiences I do. For the cisgendered folk. For the guys out there. For people without a background in the science and theory that these rights and acceptance movements are built on. As always I will do my best to make those experiences comprehensible and explain the terms I am used to that you may not be.

Imagine, if you will, that you are denied things for something inherent to you. Something not only not really changeable but something you don't want to change. It isn't just big things, like housing or jobs or access to certain rights. It's little things too. Respect for your needs, not hearing words used for or related to you used as insults, and like in Melissa's post, not having the very unhelpful "those people are so and so, but not you, you're different" when you know that the so and so claim is bullshit. But responding as such will just get you slid back into the group thought to be so and so.

There are, literally, thousands and thousands of small little attacks, jabs and pokes built into our very language against women, trans folk, gay people, black folk, hispanic folk, the Rroma and countless other groups that do not possess a majority and do not possess power. Imagine if every time you spoke to people who cared for you, family, friends, even lovers, these subtle jabs showed up. Not on purpose. Not maliciously. They are just there. A joke about a stereotype that hits you hard because that stereotype has been used as reason to beat you up. A half joking/half serious claim about "those people" when those loved ones forget that you are one of "those people".

For me (on the trans side of it), it's the people making the jokes about those "ugly trannies" and then saying, "oh but not you." Yes me. That's been used against me before. It's the guys who knew me before transition and still call me "bro" and then when I complain they say, "bro is a gender neutral term, I use it for girls too" when actually, they've never once used it for girls. It's the people asking really personal questions, questions they would never ask anyone else, about my genitals, about how I have sex. It's the people who speculate on things like that when I'm around, forgetting that hey, maybe I don't like to hear about that kind of thing.

For me (on the woman side of it), it's the people using the word "rape" as a word for crushing someone in a video game or getting trounced on a test. "Man, that test totally raped me". As a person who was fed drinks by someone I trusted and then sexually assaulted by them, hearing something like that is intensely painful. But the moment I bring it up I get the arguments, the perspective lacking arguments about how it's just a word and he didn't mean it that way. It's the guys that joke about how all girls are so shallow or so pissy and then wonder why I get irritated. It's the guys that stare at my tits, eyes glazed over, listening to not a word I'm saying. Yeah, I'm attracted to girls too. I don't do that. I have self control.

These things add up. One or two of them alone? I could see how that wouldn't be a problem. And from your perspective, there's only been one joke, one stare, one problematic stereotype exploiting comment. Nothing to worry about right? Except that it isn't one comment. It isn't one joke. It is one out of thousands a day, embedded in regular language, seen as completely normal. Why is it normal for rape jokes to be funny? Why is it normal for stereotypes to be slung around about women? Or trans folk?

That's where perspective comes in. See, a lot of people get huffy with me (or other folks who say, wtf? to this kind of behavior) because they're only aware of their one comment. They don't put up with this constant stream, this wearing away of patience, defense and sanity. The erosion of self esteem, safety, and control that is created by this is awful. And you don't experience it. So you don't have perspective. You don't know why we get upset because you aren't exposed to what is upsetting us. But what really upsets me (and many others I can see) is the fact that you just don't trust us (the people you love, care about, claim to trust, want to help and/or are close with) to comprehend our own experiences and know what we need. Because you don't listen. You don't hear. You don't believe that we are hurt for a valid reason. Or at the very least, you assume your hurt is exactly the same, of the same intensity. But, it isn't. If you aren't being subjected to thousands of things in language alone every day eroding your sense of safety and control over your life, attacking your self esteem, from people you trust, then you aren't hurting the same as us. And you don't have the perspective to say that we're wrong. And when you dismiss our complaints, or requests to not make a certain joke, or call me "bro", it shows your lack of trust, your dismissal. And that's even worse.

There's a concept used to describe being in a position in which one is not exposed to or is protected from things like this. It is based on the English word describing the possession of an advantage not afforded to others. Privilege. This concept describes this complete lack of constant attack, an acceptance of one's form, structure, an actions as fine, as default, as unchallenged. It can be a component of bigotry, but it is not bigotry in and of itself. Privilege is a sparing from this constant challenging of one's existence and place in society, a sparing of the challenging of one's validity. One may have privilege in one area but lack it in another. Unfortunately this doesn't mean that a person will be able to see past their privilege in the former area just because they comprehend it in the latter. Because privilege is invisible and it is a component of a self propagating system.

Those are who not prejudiced or bigoted still defend their privilege because a lack of perspective that is so immense that those who respond to marginalization seem unreasonable, even hateful and bigoted towards them. When Melissa above says she doesn't trust men, many men would think to themselves, "but that's so bigoted! There are lots of trustworthy men!" and that would arise from their privilege of not having to be subjected to the awfulness that she is every day by people who profess to love her and care for her.

If the people you love constantly attacked who you were, without even realizing they were hurting you and were surprised or disbelieving when you said they were hurting you, would you be surprised if you stopped trusting them? And if all of those people were of a particular group, would you be surprised if you took a cautious wary tact with them from now on?

When I say that I'm wary of cisgendered guys, it may seem bigoted to a guy, but that guy lacks the perspective of hearing all sorts of awful jokes targeted directly at his group. Or of having his very existence challenged by the very language used in day to day talk. "Oh yeah, she's a trans woman. Oh I know, she looks so normal too! You'd never have guessed!"

What if that was this instead, "Oh yeah, he's white. Oh I know, he acts so normal too! You'd never have guessed!" And what if that was every day? Among thousands of other little comments that cut you from your friends. Said by people you cared for, valued the opinions of? Even a supposedly innocuous sentence like that paints me as a freak, an aberration, something to joke and express surprise over.

Another component of the self propagation of privilege is the fact that it is built into culture. You see it on television. You see it in the news. Children are taught it, if not by parents then by peers. Even the people who have kept themselves as separate as possible from the troublesome views espoused within a bigoted power system are still swimming in a sea of cultural connotations and impressions. They still use the language, with the bigoted words built in, and still operate under certain assumptions without realizing it. We all do. This is why ALL apparent white people are privileged. Why ALL apparent cisgendered people are privileged. Because these social elements are ubiquitous. They are everywhere in mass quantities. So if you are perceived as white by society, you are spared every inch of the things people of other races are exposed to by society and are denied that perspective. I have this problem too. I'm white. There are little references, jokes and things I say and do that are a part of that privilege. I guess the difference here is when that instinct comes up in my head to go, "oh come on" to a person of color who tells me to check my privilege, I push that reflex aside and go, "okay, gimme a sec to look over this and try to comprehend where I'm losing perspective"

One of the best ways to get a firm handle on privilege as a concept is to talk to someone who has shifted from privileged to unprivileged in a given area. It won't necessarily help you see past your specific privilege but it will make it easier overall to attempt to assess and comprehend privilege when you speak to the marginalized people who lack the privilege you have.

I am mtf trans (obviously from the blog title XD). I was born male bodied and I transitioned to female bodied. Unlike a lot of trans folk (who viewed things through the lens of their identities as a different gender and therefore wouldn't have had problems with how they were treated for the same reasons as others would) my identity hasn't really played a huge role in the lens I apply my own experiences. This was mostly because I came to the realization about why I hated the male structure I had very late in the game (I actually assumed it was normal to hate having a penis XD) So I consider myself formerly a guy who figured out that he needed a female body (due to dysphoria) and therefore was better off as a girl (identity and sociologically wise) for practicality sake. This is atypical, so don't expect all trans folk to have the perspective I do on gender.

Which means I experienced male privilege as male privilege (instead of being transformed into transphobia by the lens of identity) and I experienced the loss of male privilege (as I myself transformed from hormones and whatnot.)

It was a shock, I will tell you. As a person perceived as a guy by society, I was not constantly challenged, stereotyped, joked about and pushed down. There were some small things. Depictions of guys in tv were sometimes irritating. Occasionally there were jokes about the dumb guy stereotype. And there were constraints on self expression for guys that were a bit irritating. But even if I violated those rules, I usually could tell opposition to piss off or criticize my criticizers right back and everyone thought that was an utterly natural thing for me to fight the silly claims from people, even if they didn't agree.

Post sociological and HRT transition. What was an occasional flow of jokes, jabs and attacks became a torrent. I was bombarded. Television was filled with all sorts of stereotypes, attacks, mockeries of women. Pressure to conform was harsher and more persistent (instead of just guys calling me a fag for having long hair and wearing toe socks it was now everyone calling me a weird dyke or telling me that I need to femme out more for wearing guys cargos and t-shirts with a faux military jacket). And my attempts to dispute that pressure, my responses at all really (even the nice ones) were now regarded as me being a bitch, a harpy, a "feminazi" or being unreasonable. Whereas before, people disagreed and discussed with me, now, they simply dismiss it completely.

I was shown, completely (and perhaps embarrassingly) how little perspective I had on what society does to women. And that is why I understand how insidious privilege is. It is silent, it is crafty, it sneaks up on you, latches on and makes it impossible to even question it without seeming nuts. And there's the problem. We aren't nuts.

This shit is real.
2009-08-15 03:43 pm

The HBS Controversy and the Fun of Fallacious Reasoning (And For The Uninformed: GID)

For those that remember the last post about people finding cisgendered offensive based on some of the most fallacious and stupid reasoning applicable, don't forget, trans people are just as capable of fallacious silliness.

When in comes to fallacious arguments and pseudoscience, no one does it better than the Harry Benjamin Syndrome proponents. To give you a reasonably good idea of what they're claiming would require me to suspend about 90% of my biology knowledge, beat my head against my desk until it became numb and try very hard not to make the wtf face that my friends are so very familiar with nowadays.

I will do my best for you. But first, there may be uninformed cisgendered people here. Cisgendered people who (provided they haven't ran off from being so offended by the word cis) may want to know what Gender Identity Disorder (which is certainly not HBS) entails first. A point of comparison if you will. It's blindingly simple to describe so it isn't necessary to make an entire For The Uninformed post for it (but to be helpful, I will put a tag for GID and a For The Uniformed tag on this post).

For the Uninformed Mini Section: Gender Identity Disorder

Put simply Gender Identity Disorder (or GID for short) is a mental disorder wherein one exhibits a persistent (meaning it doesn't go away) urge to exhibit traits of a different sex. These traits may be the somewhat ethereal and short lived cultural elements assigned to a given sex. Or these traits may be a simple self conceptualization and involvement with the social group of a given sex. Or these traits may be the actual physical bodily structures that arise from the developmental path of a given sex (not necessarily all of them either). Or all three. GID doesn't specify, so it covers an epic shit ton (technical word) of symptoms.

GID is often characterized by dysphoria, which causes this urge and is persistent in and of itself. This dysphoria has triggers and normally the triggers are traits of one's birth sex. It's often described as a feeling of foreignness or wrongness to one's body parts and/or social and cultural roles and expectations and/or sociological group and conceptual description as assigned at birth.

Okay, maybe not so simple. My fault for being a biologist and loving technical terms. To make it a little bit less sciencetastic: Your body's sexed traits (penis, breasts, vagina etc) and/or your grouping in society (guys, chicks or androgynes), and/or your social/cultural roles and expected expressions (how society expects you to behave) causes you to hurt a lot and makes you want to change one or more of those things.

Ending of For the Uniformed Mini Section!

Transsexuality is more of a phenomenon then a disorder, it's the phenomenon in which individuals with the conditions described by GID (or other folk with different issues) seek out, attain or finish a process known as transition. This transition can be physical or it can be social or it can be both.

So what does this have to do with HBS? After all, HBS's website claims that it is an intersexual condition wherein the mind is the only section that possesses the traits of another sex (whereas more commonly intersexed folk may have genitalia and physical structures that do not strictly follow a male or a female development path alone). That doesn't sound much like GID right?

Well actually, "HBS sufferers" (you will find out why I used quotes shortly) experience dysphoria, often seek out physical and social transition and are pretty much entirely medically and conceptually described by the phrases "GID" and "transsexuality". In fact, the HBS people like to claim that HBS is "true transsexuality". Well shit. So that makes things a lot more interesting now, doesn't it?

First problem: HBS claiming "true transsexualism" (as a medical version of the word transsexuality, which is a fabrication in and of itself, as transsexualism is essentially the exact same damn thing) is a No True Scotsman Fallacy. In case you abhor hyperlinks, a no true scotsman fallacy is based around circular reasoning wherein the actual data or definition of a concept is ignored and counterexamples are dismissed as not being true so and so.

So if I were to say, "all MtF transsexuals like high heels," and then someone else were to dispute that by saying, "I don't like high heels and I'm an MtF transsexual" and I responded with, "you're not a true transsexual, therefore your example doesn't do anything" it would be circular fallacious reasoning based on misuse or complete ignorance of a definition.

Transsexual's definition does not specify a brain intersexed condition. It doesn't even really specify dysphoria or GID. So to make claims about "true transsexuality" or worse yet to attempt to pretend that transsexualism is a medical term replacing a political term, when those claims involve things that have nothing to do with its definition (while simultaneously dismissing all counter examples as not real transsexuals) is the textbook example of No True Scotsman.

And that is exactly what HBS proponents do.

Wait, it gets worse.

GID is established in the medical community for America and written into the DSM (diagnostic statistical manual, the book used to diagnose and keep track of the disorders that the psychological sciences know of). It has essential equivalents in the ICD (what the World Health Organization uses for the same purposes as the DSM). It's backed by the psychological field and biological field's research and the methodology of treatment has been tested and is detailed in the standards of care put forward by WPATH an organization of medical doctors, psychiatrists and other biology and psychology related scientists. It's also accepted by the American Medical Association (which is usually a good sign for its scientific authenticity)

What does HBS have establishing it? Well... nothing actually. It's a theory presented by a layman (an admittedly latently sexist word for non-scientist) named Charlotte Goiar and expanded on by more laymen, all of whom are transsexual and personally invested in HBS being taken as reality by the medical field. This theory is based on a flawed study that tested the brains of dead transsexuals who had already undergone hormone replacement therapy against the brains of dead cisgendered folk of the same birth sex who underwent no HRT. A study done in the 1990's I might add.

The reason why this is flawed? Because exposure to estrogen or testosterone changes the brain, as established in this study published in 2006. Oh and the fun part? They based this study on a group of people with GID and a group of people without it, took brain tests using MRIs and whatnot and then exposed the people with GID to hormone replacement therapy. Which not only tests to see whether HRT changes the brain but also establishes what a pre HRT transsexual's brain looks like.

The information revealed is pretty damning. The transsexual individuals had brains identical to cisgendered people of the same birth sex. After HRT, the transsexual individuals had brains nearly identical to cisgendered people of the same sex as their target sex. So this idea that trans people have intersexed brains? Completely and utterly unscientific. To the point where you can arguably state that the evidence used to back up the hypothesis has been scientifically disproven.

As a note: This is not to say that there couldn't be elements of the brain's structure that we can't detect with current methods that are sex specific and could contribute to or actually inflict GID on someone if they were mismatched with the external birth sex. But the only study used to back up the idea of "intersexed minds" has been disproven so HBS has been relegated back to layman unbacked hypothesis. Any attempt to claim that it is scientific, empirically proven or backed by research is at best shoddy pseudoscience and at worst outright willfully ignorant lying

So the whole HBS thing? Fallacy and a lack of scientific backing. Good times. As Laura from Laura's Playground has cautioned one should not take the HBS proponent's standards of care seriously, nor should one take what they say seriously. The fact that they continue to peddle this abhorrent pseudoscientific garbage as scientific and medical fact is a pretty good indicator of either willful ignorance or outright self inflicted delusion. Not a great bunch to be taking advice from.

There are a few people though (especially because of the note above) that would ask, "well isn't it possible that they're still sort of right? That there might be an intersexed brain condition or something causing GID?"

Perhaps. But something that is important to remember is that anyone who claims that they know the single cause of GID is either full of shit or doesn't understand how the disorder is named and defined.

You see, when I went over GID above, you'll notice that it is (basically) a name assigned to a collection of symptoms. The name doesn't yield a whole lot of idea about what might cause these symptoms and if you look around, you'll find that there's not a lot of ideas on what any causes might be. Considering the sheer numbers of substantially different experiences of dysphoria, transition and whatnot had by various trans people who still meet the definition for transsexual and meet the diagnosis of GID one would be hard pressed to make a viable argument that GID had one single unifying cause.

Like most disorders named after a collection of symptoms (like Multiple Personality Disorder was before it became DID) you really don't know if there's multiple causes. Whereas a disorder that is named including a causative agent (Dissociative Identity Disorder, same effects as MPD, but caused by dissociation fragmenting one's identity and self conceptualization into multiple individuals) can definitely be shown to have a single cause.

So to sum it up GID does not contain a cause mention, nor do scientists really know the cause(s). And people with GID have had really radically different experiences. What does this say, logically? That it is highly likely that GID is multicausal. This means that there could be an intersex brain condition version of GID (maybe called Neurological Intersexuality Disorder if it exists, is discovered and split off). This means that there could be a sociologically and psychologically induced dysphoria version of GID (after all, there's a few folks out there for whom the body is not the issue but the way society treats them is). This means that there could be a self conceptualization version of GID, unrelated to society (which would probably still be called GID if others are split off, honestly). This means, overall, that there could actually be quite a few different types of GID caused by different things (going beyond even what I listed above).

All of these versions (with the exception of hypothetical ones that defy what we do know about the brain, body and GID) are possible because nothing about what we know of GID suggests that any single cause is responsible for every case of it. So when people start talking about "true GID" or "real GID" or "the real cause of GID" they are, for lack of a better way to say it, full of shit.

Always good to keep that in mind for medical trans discussions.
2009-05-09 12:38 pm

For the uninformed: Dysphoria

As a mild disclaimer: I can not reasonably state that my dysphoria is exactly the same as anyone else's. So expect results to vary when you ask other trans folk to explain their feelings to you. But this is how it feels to me:

Have you ever seen a broken leg? I don't mean a normal broken leg. I mean the nasty freaky broken leg. No exposed bone or blood, but the knee is bent the wrong way. The leg doesn't go in the direction it's supposed to. It's something that's sort of terrifying to behold because you know it's absolutely horrifyingly wrong deep down in your most instinctual parts of your brain. Now imagine that you look down at your own leg and it's broken like that. You're not feeling the pain but you are feeling the utterly freaked out feeling of "OMFG MY LEG IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE BENDING THAT WAY." (Yes. The caps lock is required)

Not a pleasant feeling, right?

Okay, let's go further. Let's pretend that this freaky bent broken leg is seen as utterly normal by everyone else. They look at your body and go, 'what's the problem?' There's nothing freaky about them, you're the only one with the freakishness driving you nuts but no one else sees it. Forget the leg and just remember the feeling. The feeling of intimate, screwed up, almost grotesque wrongness. Like the very laws of how your body ought to be are violated, just like if you had that bending the wrong way leg. Imagine that feeling applied to everything about you that is male or female. Imagine seeing the male/female parts you have and getting that "OMFG MY BODY IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THAT." (Caps lock still required.) That deep down instinctual feeling of "what the fuck"-ness that you get when you see a shattered knee bending a leg the wrong way or even worse see that bent leg on yourself. It's not rational. It doesn't make logical sense. It's utter instinctual response.

That's bodily dysphoria.

Now. Imagine living with that every day for the rest of your life.

Suddenly me going a little crazy from it makes a bit more sense, doesn't it? The drastic measures taken to make my body feel like it ought to be makes a bit more sense, now doesn't it? Because there's no other way to make that feeling go away.

Therapy doesn't get rid of it. There's no meds that do. This feeling is omnipresent. Sometimes I can cope with it better than other times. When my emotional resources aren't drained from other stresses, like relationships, work, school, etc. But no life is without stressful times and when that happens and I'm drained, it hits me really full force.

To a certain extent the identity has followed up with it. I mean think about it, if my body being male hurts me in the way I described above and changing it to female helps fix that, I'm naturally going to start thinking of myself as less of a guy and more of a girl. Knowing that you'll eventually have the body of a woman sort of changes the equation for self identity (it doesn't work like this for everyone, some people get the woman or man identity first and the bodily dysphoria after).

But for me, I really feel myself settling into the self identity of a girl. The self descriptive words I use have changed (tomboy, bitch, cute, pretty, lady, woman as opposed to tough, asshole, handsome, rugged, dude, man) and with that comes a change in my abstract psychological view of myself. So that adds a bit more pressure onto me on top of the bodily dysphoria.

I'm lucky in some ways. I'm not too upset about social things. The whole tomboy part is very much me not giving a shit about gender expectations and gender roles. I'm quite content having my own awesome self expression and not seeing it as girly or guyish. But others get hit with that in harsh ways.

I hope this helped get the idea across. It can be really hard to express these feelings to people who have never experienced similar things.