2009-08-31 10:36 am

Nonbinaries: The Secret Punching Bag of Everyone

In a discussion that originally was built around Kennedy's pragmatic (but sucky) dropping of the trans community in the ENDA during the Bush era (on the post about Kennedy on Alas, A Blog), the topic eventually turned to the visibility of nonbinary folk as a part of the trans community (and shifted to the link farm post as it started to get off topic). Well, a few comments in, it became abundantly clear that one of the commenters had some serious bigotry against nonbinaries. Ampersand, always a calmer speaker than me, put it best: "And since you’re not, as far as I know, non-binary, I find it more than a little arrogant of you to lecture non-binary people on what term they ought use to describe themselves and their lives." (You can scroll up and view most of the comment line, the only stuff relevant to this entry is the nonbinary parts)

It goes beyond just that particular conversation though. A pretty firm bunch of binary TS folk are actually pretty damn bigoted against nonbinaries. I've seen it in multiple support sites and even in an IRL support group (the anti binary bs was stamped down quickly in my favorite support group, unfortunately the one who ran it so well is moving on to other things. I've already wished her luck in person but I'm gonna miss her skills in keeping that place safe and supportive). On the Site That Shall Not Be Named (because seriously, I think the owner is just crazy enough to sue me over this truth and I can't afford legal costs even though I'd win. The STSNBN First mentioned here) the section of the forum for androgynes (the most prominent of nonbinary umbrella terms) was actually shut down several times for some seriously bullshit reasons and sometimes no reason at all. Numerous people on the site regularly hassled androgynes, claiming that they were just transsexuals who were on the fence or confused, or calling them "trendy" was regularly let go by the moderators, despite the rules against hate speech.

You would expect this mostly from the fallacy and paranoia driven vehement hate machine of the Neo HBS separatists but it's not just them doing this. In fact some of the Neo HBS separatists have actually done better than the rest of the TS community and taken a live and let live, just separately, approach with nonbinaries, which is hella better than attacking their very existence. I don't know whether some binary TS folk see nonbinaries as a threat to their own identity or if it's just the "omg difference" bullshit that sits at the center of every instance of bigotry in every case. Or if it's even an attempt to garner more safety by getting cookies from the cis oppression factory by kicking "those freaks" to the curb (which tends to be the Modus Operandi of the Neo HBSers). I do know that a lot of the arguments come down to the concept that we "have two sexes" and ergo can't have more than two identities. We already know that split between male and female and the exclusion of other variations in body structure is pretty much cissexist bullshit and a massive, even dangerous, oversimplification of bodily development. So right from the beginning, that argument is rife with failure. But there are also arguments that have their basis in the hypothesis that something about the brain creates the identity and the dysphoria. The Neo HBSers go with some kind of neurological intersexed (NI) model (which tends to just impinge on IS folk, but another story for another time) and others, like myself, attribute a bodily integrity instincts (BII) model which isn't essentialist and doesn't colonize IS folk. The previous theory's essentialist aspects are what makes them feel threatened by transitioning nonbinaries with dysphoria (essentially a nonbinary transsexual, although currently the terminology fails to reflect this) because it apparently challenges the concept of a "female/male brain". Well actually it doesn't, one only has to add more sexes onto the essentialist theory to accommodate nonbinaries. But that's not a great solution due to the flaws in essentialist theory to begin with.

And the latter theory is often coupled with a complete lack of realization that hey, if there's bodily instincts that reflect body structure (or fail to reflect it and create dysphoria in cases of BIID and some instances of GID) then they could reflect multiple types of body structure, even those outside of the male/female dichotomy. Which goes back to the brokenness of male/female binarism as already linked in the oversimplification mention above. So really, pretty much all of the theories (social model, NI model, BII model, psychological model, etc) are nonbinary inclusive, they just require people to get the fuck over their binarism and their binary privilege.

That's right, there's binary privilege. It's the privilege of having the very concept of one's identity and one's designation as far as gender goes accepted, unchallenged and validated by society. Binary trans folk, like myself, might get challenged on the basis of our bodies or transphobia, but the word woman and the word man and their connected pronouns are not themselves challenged and attacked. Unlike nonbinaries, who have to defend on two fronts. Specifically whether their pronoun is applicable and whether their identity exists at all.

Binary privilege (or bin privilege as I call it sometimes) is something I have and it is something my partner does not have. I've made some stupid statements about nonbinaries before to my partner, who was understandably upset, so like any form of privilege, it can affect (and often does affect) everyone within its zone whether you empathize with or care for a nonbinary. Including binary trans folks too who you would think would know better.

It's just absolutely enraging when bin trans people use the exact same fucking broken logic that is used against us to attack and marginalize nonbinaries. Hypocritical bullshit like that boggles the mind.

The conversation linked at the beginning was a bit of a first, though. I had yet to meet someone who used the misconstrued rad fem rhetoric to attack just nonbinaries and not transsexuals or individuals of transsexual history (when the twisted rhetoric is easily applied to binary transition and often is by rad fem transphobes). The sheer level of mind boggling hypocrisy and lack of awareness as to how inconsistent that was sort of blew me away. But it does give me an opportunity to address the rad fem twisting arguments as applied to nonbinaries and binary folk.

In the end, no matter how hard we fight, gender will not be stripped from society and removed as a force of harm any time soon. Which means that the people suffering need to do something in the meantime to survive. Marginalized women need to operate feminist discourse (even though it uses gendered language), transsexuals (binary or nonbinary) need to transition in some way to reduce the dysphoria and non TS transgender folk (binary or nonbinary) need to assert their identities and safeguard their self expression. All of this is done in the meantime. None of this means people aren't fighting the gender system. Any rad fem or person using rad fem rhetoric who tries to justify preventing these mid term survival methods is a fucking idiot transphobe and is also setting up cis women to be harmed (or alternately is inconsistent about the argument, since it can be applied to feminist discourse's language itself, fuck even the word feminism itself.)

So in the end, I've addressed trans binarism, rad fem transphobic bullshit used to skewer nonbinaries, and how the hypotheses of gender dysphoria don't exclude nonbinaries if you aren't a binarist asshole.

Because really, I think it's time we started taking note. Nonbinaries should not be our punching bags.
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.