2009-09-17 10:51 pm

Cis Appropriation and Other Speshul Snowflake Deeds

I'm sure you've all read up on the silliness from some well known trans folk on cis as a term. I'm certainly sure you're aware of the whiny privileged cis folk who bitched about it (like white people crying about being called white. What the fuck, people?). I'm sure you've seen the folk who have spoken against this cis oppression enabling idiocy (including my very angry, snarky self).

Cisgender, as detailed in the posts addressing this garbage about it being a bad or useless term, is simply a means to create discourse regarding transgendered people that doesn't other the fuck out of us. Yanno, because beforehand it was trans vs. normal. Because we know how well that goes for people, right? Right.

The whole reason why we have this word is to give us a way to describe the privilege attached to folk who aren't trans without going "normal people privilege! Not-freak privilege!"

So when people attack its existence, or insist it's weaponized, I tend to find them... well... stupid. Either that or they are fighting their darnedest to escape from any responsibility of owning their privilege (for the cis folks) or fighting their darnedest for those delicious oppressor cookies, which are apparently enough to even make Kate Bornstein, Monica Helms and Autumn Sandeen sell the fuck out to the cis folk. Also I'm fairly certain that there's head patting and free coffee for selling out. I can't be sure though because I've never sold out to the oppressors before. And I plan to never do so. (If I ever do, please firmly kick me in the ass, I will need it at such a point of awfulness)

But sometimes, well, sometimes we have a Speshul Snowflake. Someone so sparkly, so darn important, someone who (thinks they) get it so absolutely and wonderfully well, that they just can't understand why their Speshulness is not included! Enter the Speshul Snowflake land of Helen Boyd.

Apparently, if you're a partner of a trans person, you know exactly what we're going through, 100%, no take backs, nu uh totally take backs, no I called it first no take backs, fine you're a jerk. Did that sentence seem silly, to you? Well it might be because the sentiment itself is unbelievably silly.

But hey, if you don't want to go to the link, just read in this here quote box:

Telling me, & other partners whose lives are profoundly impacted by the legal rights / cultural perceptions of trans people, that we are “not trans” implies that we are also not part of the trans community. I’ve been saying for years now that we are. When trans people are killed, harassed, not hired, fired due to discrimination, denied health care, etc. etc. etc., their loved ones suffer along with them. Their families, their lovers, their kids especially. We are not just “allies.” We are vested, dammit, & a part of the trans community, so when “cisgender” comes to mean, or is used to mean, “not part of the trans community,” we are once again left out in the dark.


I'll tell you all what, I'm going to be an idiot and give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she doesn't understand how marginalization and privilege work. Lots of folks don't. In fact this kind of stuff tends to be mid level sociology course work, so chances are you won't have exposure to it unless you do some AP sociology classes in high school or take at the very least a basic sociology course in a community college (and actually that isn't sarcastic at all, sociology isn't required for many degrees and a lot of folk can't go to college. So really, I won't hold it against someone for not knowing, I will merely inform them) or have a background in the activist community and have dealt with the language before.

Marginalization applied to a given group is not applied to another group. Group 1 is marginalized. Group 2 is privileged. The marginalization of group 1 can have secondary effects on group 2. This is not the same as the marginalization. This is simply a ripple effect. You, as a partner, are not experiencing your partner's pain. Unless you're some kind of emotion psychic. In which case, good Aspects, hide yourself, the government is searching for people like you to create super soldiers out of!

At worst, you are experiencing the pain of seeing your partner hurt. And that sucks. Undoubtedly. You may also experience some personal backlash, say if your partner loses a job for being trans and you both have to tighten your belts. And that sucks too. But you didn't lose your job. You haven't been denied medical care for having a mixture of structures on your body. You aren't objectified by hundreds of fetish following chaser guys who care more about touching your genitals then they do about your feelings (on top of the set of het guys who fetishize all women). You won't get murdered for having a penis. You won't get beaten to within an inch of your life because you accidentally dropped your voice a little in the wrong place. You won't get exploited by manipulative people who know trans folk are vulnerable and scared and then raped and not be able to go to a single woman's shelter because you'll be turned away.

Basically, you being a partner? Doesn't fucking make you trans. It doesn't let you understand how that feels. You experience it, at best, through a proxy and a lens. And that ain't experiencing it.

Oh it gets worse. Because you see, she actually teaches about cis privilege and trans marginalization. So that benefit of the doubt I gave her? Yeah that was stupid on my part. She's trying to make an assessment and a claim built on nothing more than "I WANT A PIECE OF THE PIE TOO!" Because for some reason, apparently, a pie filled with nails, broken glass and thumbtacks that we are force fed by society looks so appealing to her.

If you read around a bit, you'll see that Helen has a very inaccurate view of how cis is used. Apparently we use it like a curse and we equate cis to being transphobic. This is categorically bullshit. You know what I use cis for? Not trans. That's it. That's what cis is. Cis is aligned together. Trans is aligned apart. So if your gender identity and sex are aligned apart then you are trans. If not than you are cis. It is not a weapon, it is a classifier, used for discourse only.

Like I said in my other post, I do not introduce hypothetical cis woman Candace as, "This is my Candace, she's a cis-woman" and no one should introduce me as, "This is RP, she's a trans woman." The word is not for common day to day use. In common day to day conversations I am a woman with no fucking qualifiers attached.. Just like any other woman, cis or trans.

To me, when a cis person criticizes the word cis it means one of two things. They either don't get the concept of privilege, othering and safe discourse (and that is normal and I work to help them figure it out in such a case) or they want to not have a word that means not trans. And that comes down to them being privileged selfish assholes who want to be seen as normal and default and have us be "those other people".

Helen comes across as a brand spanking new one though. Someone who doesn't like being told she isn't trans because omg she has a trans partner. And is maybe slightly variant in her expression. OMFG. That is some serious unique snowflake traits right there.

Now I can understand some confusion regarding cisgender vs. cissexual. Cisgender is purely gender vs. sex and cissexual is gender identity vs. sex. So Helen could very well be transgendered, if she's got some gender expression going on that isn't very mundane and is notable to get a response from cis society. Yes, if this is the case, she'll face at least some minor trans oppression. I can bet you though, that she is cissexual. That her GI and body match. That she possesses no bodily or role dysphoria related to her sexual structure or gender.

Of course if none of that applies to her, then she's cis, no matter how unique and sparkly her snowflake ice crystal edges are. And this goes for the rest of cis folk. Don't appropriate the trans realm. You only hurt us when you do that. And that makes you a shit ally.
2009-08-21 09:14 pm

Male/Female: Broken Language?

In case you didn't know (and you probably do) I am a MtF transsexual (by official definitions). By less official (my own) definitions I am a badass awesome genderfuckery factory who was born with a certain body and figured out that oh shit, that body fucking hurts me and that's not normal to feel that way (I assumed everyone did at first XD) and then proceeded to change it to a body that didn't hurt. And I default myself sociologically to this category called "girl" because it's just easier with breasts, curves, reduced body hair and (soon to be) a vagina to go by that title.

But enough about my atypical nature among the trans realm. Let's talk about that MtF section.

Male To (2, t, ->) Female. What does that mean? Well presumably, it means that I started out male (or still am male) and I transformed to (or I'm currently transforming to, or I'd like to transform to) female. But wait, what does that mean?

Here's where the water gets muddy.

According to science (specifically biology) female and male are terminology used to represent two sections of the variance present in a sexually dimorphic species. This, at the very most, is really just an expression that there is a certain type of human that generates sperm and a certain type of human that generates ovum and somehow the sperm and the ovum get together, either in one of the types or outside them both (like in many fish). According to the most basic application of this scientific language, the only parts of us that are male or female are the testis and penis and ovaries, uterus and vagina complex. And this language only treats one as relevantly male or female if these organs are all present and fully functional. So at its most basic application the description of sexually dimorphic characteristics loses all relevance to anyone without all of the relevant organs for one side or the other (hacked out uterus? No longer relevantly female, etc etc)

The reason why this isn't (scientifically) applicable past that point is that there isn't all that much evidence for sexual dimorphism beyond... well pretty much just those traits. The sheer level of variation between individuals actually outweighs any variation between the sexes. Not only this, but the closest you can get with "secondary sexual traits" (which is why science calls developed breasts on females, flat chests on males, body hair levels, body shape, facial hair etc) is a statistically slightly higher incidence of these traits in one sex or another. What is this dependent on? Estrogen and Testosterone (and a lower amount of effects from peripheral sex hormones like Progesterone). Why are these hormones (who are so intimately tied in our minds with female and male) resulting in different body types, shapes and looks? Well because they aren't guaranteed to be in the same levels in every "female" and "male" person. The variation is actually pretty high. There are averages but they aren't an epic majority and since responses to hormones (insensitivity vs. oversensitivity in receptors, please smack me if I get too biology science terminology heavy. XD) also differ between people, irregardless of sex. Sooooo, even averaged hormone levels won't react exactly the same between female people and male people.

Case in point: A young woman named Caster Semenya is currently getting put through "gender testing" (basically a scientific joke of arbitrary bullshit). Now there's a lot of awful crap at play here, like the delegitimization of common structure and looks among POC (people of color) in the face of the looks and structure of European women. I'm not going to go too deeply into that, because I, as a very white person with all the privilege my exceedingly pale skin and European features affords, am woefully inadequate in the perspective necessary to speak on issues POC face. A bit more on the more POC orientated perspective on this can be spotted at Womanist Musings where Monica (a trans woman of color, if I remember right) from TransGriot guest posted on the topic. The fact is, this gender testing is only being pulled out of the asses of the folks in the sports realm because she doesn't fit certain averages and not only that but averages of a given culture! They are using cultural averages (European) as a basis for sex in general! It doesn't get more arbitrary and stupid than that. The whole sports thing really shows just how troublesome these lines drawn in the sand are, because of how much of an effect training can have on both men and women in aligning their abilities. Sure they still sex segregate the athletes but more and more we see how unnecessary that is with all of the badass women athletes out there.

And then you have the Intersexed folk (here's where I give my IS cousins free reign to smack me around for my Not IS privilege if I am invoking it here) who have mixtures of many of these traits, less of some traits or may have a set of traits (xx chromosomes vs. fully average "male" structure) that just take the male/female terminology and beat it over the head with a half brick. They're also surprisingly common. Even more interesting here is how difficult it was for the ISNA to come to those numbers because and I am quoting this here: "To answer this question in an uncontroversial way, you’d have to first get everyone to agree on what counts as intersex —and also to agree on what should count as strictly male or strictly female. That’s hard to do." (source is the previous hyperlink to those numbers)

And that's because it is hard. All of those traits above are so wonky that it's hard to say whether one should factor them into sex or not and whether they end up just being entirely arbitrary ("penis must be this long to qualify, any shorter and its a clitoris" OH FUCK THEY DIDN'T SPECIFY WHAT YOU DO IF ITS ON THE DOT!). No I'm serious, quite a few doctors make the call on whether someone is intersex and then make the call on whether that IS person ought to be hack and slashed into a girl by how long hir penis or penis esque organ is.

Seems a bit... problematic, doesn't it? Well as it turns out, it is, especially for people who are on the edges of this somewhat troublesome and broken binary.

I can't speak for the IS community (to my knowledge I am not intersexed in any way, I was born more or less fitting the average view of what a male should be, beyond maybe a very small, slim, bigger hipped skeletal structure than expected, much to my luck, dysphoria-wise XD.) but it seems that there's a lot of rage at this nonconsensual arbitrary "homg you're a girl/boy now!" bullshit from the medical field. Can't really blame them, honestly, especially considering that used to result in nonconsensual surgery. You think circumcision is bad? It's a small fry in an ocean of big fish fuck ups with people's bodies when they're too young to stop it when it comes to the IS folk.

So what does this mean about sex? More specifically, what does this mean about sexual dimorphism in a species wherein the word dimorphic largely fails painfully to actually describe the morphic nature of that species' members? I can't really say. Mostly, it raises a lot of really unpleasant questions about whether or not male and female as a terminology dichotomy is even functional in the scientific field for humans, much less in the social realm for humans.

And as we use technology to bypass biological breeding constraints, things typically considered to break one out of the flow of evolution for the species are suddenly unimportant (being gay/lesbian, being a transitioning transsexual, having nonfunctional downstairs materials, getting your uterus removed, etcetera etcetera). Considering that the sexual dimorphism thing is based, at its lowest, most simple application, on a species' capacity to share DNA in generating offspring (instead of just cloning through binary fission) through a set of traits that allow that mixture (in this case, having different variants of mating tools and gametes or mating cells to do that combination) you really have to wonder how well that describes a species that is now mixing DNA using test-tubes, freezers, best friends/paid surrogates and even sperm generated from bone marrow (an oh shit moment if I ever saw one) and by the way, XY chromosomes don't play a role in the actual generation of sperm cells, just in determining whether they'll be a Y in those cells instead of just a bunch of X's. That means that XX chromosome containing marrow can make sperm (if only X type sperm).

Suddenly the sexually dimorphic model doesn't seem all that useful scientifically anymore. But hey it gets worse. You see, science didn't just stick to a "sperm maker", "ovum maker" model. It set guidelines for labeling one as male or female based on the secondary traits we talked about above. This is a problem. With all the evidence suggesting that these traits can't adequately be described using a binary box set instead of a multiple body containing spectrum of variation, why did science take on the female/male binary as a labeling system using the base sexual dimorphism from old school times as a basis?

Well as it turns out, scientists are people and even the wonders of peer review can't really overcome privilege and -ism's (racism, cissexism, sexism, etc) when a huge chunk of those peers are white guys of reasonable affluence (science school is expensive, it's why I'm possibly in over 100,000 USD of debt x_x). So peer review couldn't really catch the deeply ingrained social views about a binary sex system based on bodily traits. And it still fails to catch it with the IS folk and the medical community (who still like to fuck up in their basic regard for the self determination of IS folk on a regular basis).

So what does this all mean on top of the lack of evidence for secondary sexual traits being adequate line traits? Does it mean that the male/female sexual dimorphic system is broken language? Influenced by ciscentric and sexist thinking? Based on a false binary between traits that exist more on a spectrum and are tempered by the higher amount of variation between individuals then between sexes?

Yes. Yes it does.

All of this combined shows that male/female and sex terminology for the human species in general is subject to some serious, probably fatal problems in its applicability and functionality. Especially in the social realm but really even scientifically.

Some might be a little confused with this assessment after my post on "Identity vs. Objective Reality." There's a reason why I put the two updates at the top. That post was just about the unfortunate trend in the TG and GLB community to use terminology as though it was self referential (stripping it of any real meaning). To be honest, self referential definitions (provided we had the power to change these terms, right now) are a bad solution to this, as I said in that entry, despite the broken nature of these terms. These words will lose their meaning or worse yet, will be completely at the mercy of cultural shift (because of the lack of a concrete definition) and we will always be fucked by cultural shift. So really, this entry and that entry do not contradict. I just wasn't terribly clear in the earlier one that this wasn't a defense of the terms in a conceptual sense (hence the updates and the arguments in the comments XD) and I figure this entry will clear that up beautifully.

So, we've established that male/female is broken terminology, based on flawed arbitrary rules and a concept that isn't terribly applicable to a species that changes its breeding methods using technology. The question then becomes... what the hell do we do about it?

That I don't have an answer to.

We could refine male/female into male<---------->female (i.e. turn a binary into a spectrum) and basically treat male and female as the bodily extremes and anything outside of those extremes as spectrum positions. This one is tough though. We'd be fighting against cultural connotation, the sort of ephemeral meaning attached to a word despite its definition in science or academia, and a lot of people in the mid zones of the spectrum would be mistreated as a result. Not to mention the truly hypocritical cisgendered freak outs at not being considered female or male anymore. OH NOES, YOU MIGHT BE DENIED YOUR GENDER MARKER, IT ISN'T LIKE YOU DO THAT TO TRANS PEOPLE EVERY FUCKING DAY, RIGHT? RIGHT? ...crap. And the roughest part of this is the arbitrary nature of even a spectrum, which settles into "what is the middle?" Where is the exactly middle section? What is considered an equal number of male and female traits? In the end that would be just as arbitrary as the dividing line between male and female now.

We could get rid of the terms male and female completely and stop basing anything on sex at all, but instead just take into account body type. Breast possessing. Non breast possessing. Curvy. Not curvy. Penis holding. Not penis holding. So on and so forth. This one hits problems in that some of the body stuff is arbitrary too. We can get past that by shifting some of the definitions or creating bodily spectrums, or even dropping some of the bodily descriptions and adding qualifiers (large breasts, small breasts, flat breasts, flat entirely undeveloped breasts). Another issue would be the supreme level of social resistance to this. Largely born from cissexism but to a certain extent there's a good chunk of trans based identity wrapped up in the words female and male. Getting rid of them entirely takes away a self identifier word and that will not go down well with the community. The only ones that would seem to be fully supportive of eliminating the bodily descriptor terms would be the nonbinary folks and the gender deconstructionalists. So we would have our work cut out for us.

We could also make two boxes into two hundred. No I'm serious, that is an option, however unpalatable it might be. It runs into the same identity issues the previous does but it is the easiest to implement because male and female stick around, you just add a bunch more boxes for all the variation. It really is already being done by the nonbinary TG/TS community (words like neutrois/agendered and androgyne are showing up this way). So this one is the easiest to achieve but still arbitrary as fuck and prone to many of the same problems as the original terminology.

And finally,

We could take the terms male and female and downshift them in functionality to just describing the only truly dimorphic traits we have, sperm making and ovum making. This one is rough for the cis and trans identity reasons and it's largely a temporary solution because that making sperm from marrow practice may become common, and then, the whole system is screwed because sperm can now be made from anyone. (I wouldn't be surprised if similar things can be done for ovum too eventually).

None of the solutions are awesome. Some of them work really well but would be more than our community alone could implement and would require decades of cultural detox to make the new system functional. Others are easy to achieve but have serious epic flaws or won't last long as a solution.

I don't have the answers. But I can tell you this: There is a problem. We are now aware of it. And that is a big part of finding a solution. You're all welcome to comment on the problem itself (whether you think I'm exaggerating or mistaken and why) and on the solutions or even suggest other solutions I didn't think of.
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.
2009-08-13 11:29 am

The word "cisgendered" makes privileged folk cry, apparently.

Welcome to clusterfuck city. In order to give you folks a little bit of background here, there was a bit of an incident involving Pam's House Blend and a wonderful concept known as privilege enabling (or as I like to call it "oppression collaboration". More poetic that way.)

There was some fine commentary on how asinine it is to let people dodge their privilege and continue othering trans folk on QT and a really brilliant analogy for the kind of nasty power cis people (I refuse to stop using that term. Outright. Refuse.) have over trans folk at Femmessay (which I commented on in thanks)

I won't go too deep into the details (that's what the links to the wonderful blogs are for, with the exception of Pam's little coffee shop of privilege) but the basics are as follows:

A gay cis male decided that the word cis is offensive to cis folk and compared it to several common trans slurs. And then discourse on the topic (and by "discourse" I mean any attempts by trans folk and allies to address this pretty clearly privileged bullshit) was silenced. Gotta love enablers, right? Nothing makes it easier to stomp on the heads of trans folk than someone discouraging the critique of privileged behavior and encouraging the use of othering and cissexist separation of terminology like trans vs. normal.

I may have expressed some things on this blog that folks have found privileged, but I've never once silenced the discourse on it. I address those comments because privilege is a serious goddamn problem. So if you're in the position of being accused of using it or speaking from a privileged perspective, it is always a good idea to keep that discourse open in case you are actually privileged and didn't realize it.

I'll do a relatively mild analysis of cis as a word here and why that is epic and privileged bullshit on the commenter's part to act that way. I may follow up with a slightly less enraged "For The Uninformed" post after this one rehashing the description of cisgender as a term and discussing privilege in general (I'll throw in some other important descriptors too). They're closely intertwined because cisgender is a word used to articulate the differences (including privilege) between those who are or are not trans without othering the fuck out of us trans folk.

Oh look, just that sentence alone summarizes it doesn't it? You see, a marginalized group and their allies have to be able to create discourse on not just their marginalization but the privilege of the majority/empowered group(s) that either oppress them or benefit from the oppression of them (usually both).

One of the key important cardinal needs of that discourse is to avoid phrasing, word structure and tone that is in and of itself a component of that marginalization or the privilege of the oppressing/majority/empowered group(s). I know, I'm getting verbose and science-y.

To make it basic: if the words we use to talk about our problems, our oppression and another's (i.e. cis folk) privilege are oppressing to us then we are just defeating our own efforts. Language has an effect on things. It's why slurs actually do have power and marginalizing language can actually train marginalized people to submit to their oppression.

The single most best example (and most relevant to the term cis) is the othering of trans people. Before cisgender came into play as a term the way that trans folk and cis folk were referred to was as such:

(nonbinaries weren't really mentioned back then and they still get screwed now. Oppression is like a layer cake made of fail.)

After the word cis came into play (and we cut the qualifier from the gendered word itself):

Trans woman
Cis woman
Trans man
Cis man
(unfortunately, as you can see, nonbinaries are still othered quite a bit. Not a lot of great solutions have been come up with there)

Notice the difference? The above (old school version) made trans folk out to be an abnormality, an adjusted man or an adjusted woman. Cis folk were assumed to be the natural state because the phrase applied to them was the overall phrase for man or woman (if anyone has more knowledge of nonbinary terminology back then and now, please comment. This description is incomplete without nonbinaries). By applying the word cis to cisgendered people's descriptors when discussing a comparison of trans and cis folk (and just applying the actual gender word itself to the people it applies to, whether cis or trans) we succeeded in reducing the othering effect of the terminology we use for discourse on trans oppression and cis privilege. It also, as you can see, offered up a term that can be used to describe that privilege that cis folk have. I mean fuck, what did we even call it before then? "Normal privilege"? "Non-Trans privilege"? That's terrible for discourse and othering as hell.

So the phrase has a defined, specific purpose that is only relevant in certain contexts (much like trans ought to be). I'm not going to walk around and call cis folk, cis woman or cis man when I introduce them to people. "This is Candice, she's a cis woman." Just like no one should introduce me like "This is R.P., she's a trans woman." Although in Candice's case, she won't get beaten, killed, raped, denied jobs or etc etc etc for being revealed as a cis woman. But quite honestly there's no reason to apply the word in a day to day basis. Only for trans related discourse.

So now we know why it's around. What if someone finds it offensive? What if it makes a "privileged person cry" as I so cheekily put into my title? Well, let me put this as nicely as I can:

Get the fuck over it.

As described by the very nice lady at Femmessay, there is a huge worlds' of difference between having your feelings hurt by a phrase that doesn't sound nice or seems unfun being applied to you and being subjected to a level of oppression that defies description. Many of us aren't even fucking allowed to piss in a bathroom that is safe for us. Yeah, I'm sure privileged tears are so awful in comparison to that.

It's like us white folk saying it's offensive to be called privileged. Oh boo fucking hoo, folks. Or calling affirmative action "reverse racist" (the most godawfully stupid phrase in the universe, by the way). Here's a more prickly barb for the commenter himself: It's like straight people saying that the word straight is offensive, because "omg I'm normal, not straight". Yeah. I went there. Because its the same exact thing.

There are straight folk who have done that. Who have said, to my face and others faces, that the word straight is offensive and why is it necessary for gay people to apply a word to them? Well because its awfully hard to have a discourse about gay rights and straight privilege if the word gay is compared to the word "normal, assumed, expected, standard state of affairs". Welcome to being othered. Your hypocrisy, commenter on Pam's house blend, has been noted.

So there's the comparison. The fact is, the only thing, the exact only thing the word cisgendered can do applied to a cisgendered person is make some hurt feelings. Just like the word straight applied to a straight person. Guess what the word trans can do? Some helluva worse things than cis can do, that's for sure. Not only can it hurt our feelings, it can act as a reminder of past oppression or be accompanied by beatings, rape, murder, denial of service, denial of use of bathrooms, denial of medical care, denial of children, denial of bodily domain and self autonomy, denial of a home and loss of family, friends and loved ones.

And you know what? If cis is removed from discourse and we just use the word trans, the othering will make it all worse. So wow, folks, I'm really choked up about how hurt you are with the word cisgendered and all, but really, you're just going to have to get the fuck over it.

Be a little more mindful of your privilege, offended cis folk. As for Pam and Co.? I used to go to that site pretty often (I wasn't a member yet) but I will gladly avoid your privileged bullshit (and privilege enabling) site from now on. For the transfolks working there, I hope the pat on the head and the hair ruffling from the oppressors was worth alienating the rest of us.

Must have been a damn good hair ruffle.
2009-08-06 10:07 am

The Reality of Gender

There seems to be some serious misunderstandings going on about gender as a concept. It happens in the feminist community, it happens in the genderqueer community and the trans community and really, it happens everywhere. Some of these misunderstandings and misconceptions are simply an attempt to describe something that we don't really have good terms for, using the phrase "gender" with a qualifier attached (identity, brain, natural, social, etc). Some of these issues and mistakes are a little more political, built from strawmen fallacies and willful ignorance to back up an agenda which, amusingly enough, isn't actually threatened by any of the current facts out there about gender.

Let's hit the "brain sex" fiasco first, shall we? After reading about a bit of a kurfluffle involving a cissexual genderqueer activist and a transsexual activist documented at QT: (Linky: Critiquing Genderqueer Transsexualphobia), as well as commenting, it occurred to me that more ought to be said on the topic beyond what I can fit into a reasonably sized comment. The brain sex argument, in its more reasonable form, isn't really a brain sex argument at all. It's more a bodily integrity instincts argument. Now there are other cases involving bodily integrity instincts, namely, BIID or bodily integrity identity disorder. This disorder does not involve secondary sexual characteristics but instead involves your limbs. Folk with this disorder want a limb removed (sometimes multiple limbs) because they feel foreign and wrong. Much like how many of the dysphoric transsexuals (including myself) want our bodies changed because the birth sex characteristics feel foreign and wrong. Notice a parallel? I did. Bodily instincts are not a sexed trait but it stands to reason that they would also apply to sexed traits. So it stands to reason that if your bodily instincts are miswired, your birth sex traits (some or all of them) will seem off and wrong and another sex's traits will seem like they fit. I say another sex (not the "opposite sex") because this theory includes nonbinaries. After all, biology does tend to result in multiple variations on one set of changes, especially in the brain. And there are nonbinaries that transition (agendered/neutrois folk getting nullification surgeries, certain variants of androgynes getting mixed traits to their needs) and clearly are subject to their own dysphoria. If you want to learn more about nonbinaries from them particularly WhatIsGender's forum is a good place to ask (you'll have to register, but its free and they don't spam you)

So to claim that the bodily instincts theory (misnamed by many as the brain sex theory and subject to toxic misunderstandings between it and the utter bullshit of HBS) is binarist is patently untrue and a misconception.

One thing that muddies the waters here is how psychological identity flows. For a lot of folks, when your body's sexed traits seem wrong to you for seemingly no reason and you discover that the bodily traits of a different sex seem right, that's going to have an impact on your self image and self conceptualization. For an individual who has less knowledge of feminist and gender theory, biology and less self awareness regarding psychology, I can see how someone might say, "well my brain must be a female or a male or a mixed or a whatever brain". It would seem like the only way to articulate those feelings. Unfortunately, certain people take this as the official concept instead of the scientific explanations and the actual theory itself.

As a note I'm one of those people who sees GID (a disorder classified by its collection of symptoms, not its cause) as having a high likelihood of being multi-causal. The bodily instincts theory is a theory of one of those possible causes, but its presentation does not mean it is the only cause. I'm sure there are instances of GID where social pressure and mistreatment have caused similar symptoms, among other causes and issues.

And now, on to the "GENDUR ISN'T REEL" idiocy. I'm not going to be gentle. It is idiocy. Completely inexcusable idiocy too. Because you see something that is socially constructed still exists. Social constructs are still real. They may not have basis in biology, and it's fine to say that. They may not be inherent to all individuals of a given sex structure, and it's not only fine but important to say that. But to confuse something being socially derived with not existing at all is a level of ignorance about reality itself that really defies description. And of course, the people that use this idiotic argument to try to delegitimize transsexuals, well, I can't respect people like that. Let's be entirely clear. It is a strawman argument based at best on layman misconceptions and mislabeling of a certain phenomenon that really ought to not be called gender identity in the first place. It is based on a completely ridiculous misrepresentation of the meaning of the word "real". And it is used to delegitimize and attack transsexuals on behalf of a political agenda, that (in reality) is not at odds with transsexuals at all.

So not only is it fallacious bullshit that's used to hurt people who need help to deal with our distress, it's completely unnecessary fallacious bullshit that's used to hurt people who need help to deal with our distress. I'm all for cutting as much of the gender role enforcement and assumptions that gendered behavior is inherent to a given sex, biological or needs to be labeled as such out of society. I'm all for going in and revamping out culture so that "gender expression" starts being labeled self expression and the pressures to conform due to your sex (birth or attained) are removed. I'm all for slashing and burning the patriarchy. And I am fucking tired of being misrepresented by a bunch of paranoid assholes who think that by existing, I threaten the cause. Yes, there's a little bit of rage here, but the rage is carefully meted out with educated knowledge.
2009-07-21 08:36 pm

Identity vs. Objective Reality - Updated (2)

(Well, you've all waited long enough and finally had an evening free to write. I've decided to come from the "questioning" angle on this because offense is usually incurred when you start making claims about how things ought to be. So instead, I'll ask why the current system works the way it does and how we expect to deal with the problems caused by it.)

Update 2: After a lot of discussion I came to agreement with the idea that if someone's well being is at stake, concerns about communication and definition are completely secondary to that. So in the end, if you're faced with situations where communicating clearly or applying the definition is going to hurt you, then don't do so. In no way should linguistics come above the lives of people

Update - Fun times. I guess I wasn't clear enough in how I put this across (which sucks because I spent days agonizing over how to put it.) To make it unnecessary to wade through the sea of comments generated by a simple misunderstanding I'm going to put up a point of clarification right here at the top.

I am not in any way or form saying that male or female should retain their same definitions. Just because I dislike the self referential definition doesn't mean that the current state of affairs is perfect, great or even acceptable. What would be a good solution that takes identity into account is a redefining like this:

Female: one who either possesses (and is content with) or wishes to attain (for whatever reason) or self conceptualizes more closely with the bodily structure commonly created by the XX triggered developmental path.

And there you go. A simple and easy way to create a definition of the word that is not self referential and doesn't nonsensically destroy its own capacity to communicate any meaning. While still protecting us from cissexist abuses of the biological classification system from which female and male originally came. I hope this makes it abundantly clear that I'm not a linguistic purist trying to enforce the current definitions of male and female as perfect while also making it clear that self referential definitions are not necessary to safeguard ourselves.

I think we're all pretty aware of the nastiness of identity politics and elitist hierarchies built into the sub communities of GLBT. Especially how they're used to elevate some and detriment others in an attempt to break associations that some might consider damning to them (when in reality the hate is going to spill on us all, whether we look "normal" or not). And of course, identity crises are pretty awful in and of themselves. Even when not induced by attacks by a bunch of community shredding jackals, they can still shatter self image and leave a person feeling completely lost. There are also situations wherein one using a given label, despite its base conceptual accuracy, is woefully impractical. A good example would be an individual who is well aware of their bisexuality but is attracted to so few women (and so rarely) that mentioning that bisexuality is at best irrelevant and at worst seriously misleading to interested women.

All three of these things are really good reasons to put some protections into place for people's identities and to allow some leeway in self description. Support groups (good ones anyways) tend to frown very fiercely on questioning someone's identity, pronouns, self image and etcetera. Outsiders are usually regarded as a bad judge of what someone's identity is and the common wisdom that a person knows oneself best is usually expected to be followed. None of these things are a problem. It is certainly positive to prevent the identity attack infighting that is so very endemic in the trans community (but is also a problem in the gay, lesbian and bi community as well, most noteably directed very nastily at bisexual folk). It is also benign and ultimately positive to allow simplification of the social interactions that depend on labels, because I know that (were I in the situation mentioned above) I wouldn't want people I'm not attracted to trying to get in my pants just because I'm attracted to one or maybe two members of that particular sex.

This all being said, I have to say I'm a bit confused by what seems like serious overcompensation in response to these problems.

You see, all of the responses above are perfectly reasonable. They still account for objective reality, they just prevent infighting, personal attacks and social complication. None of them outright contradict reality or counsel one that it is fine for them to do so. They might let a few people through who don't have a firm grasp of reality, but that's ultimately not a serious problem for an individual in the GLBT community. It isn't like in the pagan community where misusing words and allowing identity to contradict reality actually decontextualizes and delegitimizes cultures and tends to come from entitlement and ethnocentrism.

But when the self image a person has contradicts reality, that still is a problem. At the very least for them.

So we hit the actual issue. There is a trend in the GLBT community wherein individuals may take on any term describing themselves, even if they do not even remotely resemble the objective definition of said label. This is... troubling. For one, it makes communication unbelievably confusing and it also creates a level of social complication out of that confusion that kills any simplification excuse immediately. You aren't simplifying things if you're a single bisexual individual but you call yourself heterosexual and then get upset when lesbians don't show interest in you.

The basis behind this is what bothers me the most. I get the impression (and have been outright told by some people) that the terms lesbian, bisexual, gay, homosexual, heterosexual, straight, woman, man, male, and female quite simply all mean "one who identifies as x" wherein x is the term that we are defining. Example: bisexual is one who identifies as bisexual. Not everyone uses this basis, this is just the most common one I confront.

Why is this troubling? After all, this does mean no one can question another person's identity anymore. There's no identity crisis because if you feel like you aren't a lesbian then you aren't. If you feel like you are, then you are. Sure it makes things complex socially, but since when has social life ever been simple?

Well the reason is because the definition "one who identifies as x" (wherein x is the term being defined) is a self referential definition that yields absolutely no more information than every single other one of the words. The whole reason why I can summate the preferred definitions of those words into just one line with a variable for the term is because the definition is virtually the same among each of the words.

Now, if the only thing you feel like communicating to someone is that you personally feel like you are "term x" and absolutely nothing else, this works just fine for you. But if you actually feel like communicating your sexual attractions to someone, or whom you are more likely to date, or your body structure, or the social group you are a part of or really any other information than your own self image, then you've just utterly destroyed the usefulness of those words. And the worst part is, you've already expressed that you think you are term x if you apply term x to yourself. The definition is utterly redundant. If you say, "I am term x" then we already know that you see yourself as x. We don't need the word to mean, "one who thinks one is term x".

When I tell someone I'm a lesbian, I'm telling them that I am interested in female folk. There's a certain amount of leeway as lesbian can be stretched between principally dating a given group (women or female folk) and just being attracted to that same given group. The split between woman and female also arises from the complication that trans folk throw into the mix. I'm not trying to tell people that I think I'm a lesbian. I've already expressed this just by the context of the self application of that word. So it just strikes me as sort of... well... silly.

Of course, trans folk have trouble with this too. I can get pre op, pre hormones folk using the words woman or man because those words stretch to fit the sociological groups too. It works just fine. But when we start using the term female (or male) for ourselves when our bodies are still physically our birth sex, that's when things start failing to meet with reality. This is especially a bad idea for trans folk (at least those who require physical transition) because we need to be able to articulate to our health providers and doctors that we require a physical transition. If I were to call myself female before hormones and surgery, how am I supposed to tell the doctor that I need a female body?

Me: "Sorry doc, I'm already female but I need boobs and a vagina."

Doc: "Wait... what? o_O"

I get that the terminology is especially painful for us trans folk. I have dysphoria triggers from the word male simply because it is a firm reminder of the genitals I have. But you don't have to use painful terms either. There is nothing saying we have to apply labels in a social setting. You don't have to say that you're male or female or think about it at all. The situation certainly doesn't require something so drastic as to strip virtually all meaning from the words male/female. (Note that this applies to nonbinary as well, but usually with the medical condition word; intersexed.)

It has honestly reached the point where I've literally had to avoid the terminology in certain situations just to avoid the debates that come from GLBT folk on just my word choice. Instead of discussing my sexuality as lesbian, I've had to talk instead in terms of being a male to female transsexual who is physically attracted to the female form because I've had people who thought lesbian meant one who identifies as a lesbian and told me I automatically was one, even if I was into guys. (There's someone here who might think this is directed at her, but really hun, you were very respectful and reasonable when you brought it up. You even asked permission first, so please don't think this particular example is directed at you. I've had these conversations with a lot of people and you were the absolute best about your view.)

I don't know about anyone else, but I see it as a problem when a word loses its meaning almost completely. I also don't see the point of using labels if all their meaning is already expressed by you applying the word to yourself in conversation. That's my view on it.

I wouldn't mind alternate explanations, clarifications and corrections if I have the wrong impression about this. It's very possible I've misunderstood the justifications or even misunderstood the attitudes on identity labels. I will mind getting a shitstorm of asinine screaming at me for "attacking identities" though. Let's be mature people. That's pretty much all I'm asking here.