Friday, 25 January 2008

T is for...


An expansion of a comment (with some corrections) I wrote over at Bilerico, where the fractures and fault-lines of T politics are all too evident.

A Taxonomy stating how we differ, and what we have in common.

1. First, we're all human beings. That needs saying because we too often lose sight of the fact that everyone, even those we don't identify with, even those we feel uncomfortable being around, have human rights. And I speak as a conservative neo-con, not a tree-hugging kumbayah-singing liberal.

2. Then some of us are GLBT - people who do not fit in in some way with the standard bigendered model, where men look and act in accordance with society's norm for men and are only attracted to women, and women look and act accordance with society's norm for women and are only attracted to men. About the only thing such people have in common with each other is that it's the same people who persecute them. Many in this conglomerate - that is, a matrix containing parts of very different nature - don't remotely understand each other, and there's both phobia - fear - and loathing even when they do understand.

There's Androphobic Lesbians who see men, even Gay men, as a threat, Gynaphobic Gays who see anything redolent of femininity as beneath contempt, Homophobic Transsexuals who resent being conflated with those they see as morally corrupt, you name it. And straight Intersexed people who don't see why having an unusual medical condition automatically drafts them into a political activist group made up of weirdoes like mentally ill Transsexuals, Fetishistic Crossdressers, and perverted GLBs.

3. The there are some who are T. This is where it really gets confusing. T for Transgender. And what that word means changes from day to day. The original definition meant straight males who like wearing female attire, and rejected any insane body-modifiers or perverted faggots. Now to the bulk of the populace, it means those weirdoes who get a sex change. To political activists, it means anyone who "transgresses gender norms" of appearance, behaviour or body, except (for historical reasons) in the specific area of sexual orientation. Very often, arguments are based on both sides using different definitions, and sometimes changing the definitions in mid-stream if it supports the point they're trying to make. Again, many feel dragooned into being categorised and confused with other groups they not only don't identify with, but actively dislike, sometimes with good reason.

It appears that the majority of the "Transgendered" in the last definition, and certainly the ones with the most power and money, are (and I hate using RadFem vocabulary, but it fits) Patriarchal males in positions of relative privilege, but who are afraid (with good reason) that they will be marginalised if they have a high profile. The heirs to J. Edgar Hoover. They have much influence, a great deal of money compared to other parts of the TG mixture, but are largely unseen. Cross them, you get squashed like a bug. They have no interest in any medical or marital issues, and wish to disassociate themselves from the highly visible segments. Especially Transsexuals. They're with Virginia Prince on that one.

4. T is for....

Q: What's the difference between a cross-dresser and a transsexual?
A: Oh, about 5 years...

There's a big difference between the part-time cross-dressing male, and a post-operative intersexed woman. But there's gradations in between, and sometimes it's impossible for an external observer to tell where one begins, and another ends. Operative status is a nice, clean, easy metric to use - but is inaccurate for many reasons. Having major surgery is a Big Deal, not without risks, and neither is it free nor available to those who most need it. Conversely, there are many women who can live with physical deformities - be they having three breasts or one, or even having masculinised genitalia. Unless they intend having some form of love life, and that can be really dangerous for anyone who's transgendered, the benefits may be outweighed by the disadvantages.

My own view is that hormonal body modification is more a important divider, but even that isn't wholly reliable. So yes, there is a difference, but no, I can't give a simple test for it. You know it when you see it - the guys tend to bubble about silky underwear and frilly dresses, the women about feminism and childcare. However, those who are TS and unable to transition at puberty - and that means most - are evolving in their own identity. 80% cross-dress before transition.

I'll quote a very dubious source: Dr McHugh, who has been rightly demonised as intensely transphobic:
The post-surgical subjects struck me as caricatures of women. They wore high heels, copious makeup, and flamboyant clothing; they spoke about how they found themselves able to give vent to their natural inclinations for peace, domesticity, and gentleness—but their large hands, prominent Adam’s apples, and thick facial features were incongruous (and would become more so as they aged)
Well, I don't wear heels - except on special occasions. Makeup ditto, and my flamboyant clothing tends towards black T-shirts or blouses and a simple skirt, but I reserve the right to wear anything I choose. As for the rest, that's spot-on in my case - though what that has to do with gender identity escapes me. Others differ, and most who transition young (and some who transition old) are pretty rather than pretty awful. But all women feel like that. In our hearts, yes, we'd love to feel sexy, attractive, young... and some of us do, no matter what the calendar or the mirror say. But some of us think we could do with a little help there. To continue:
The subjects before the surgery struck me as even more strange, as they struggled to convince anyone who might influence the decision for their surgery. First, they spent an unusual amount of time thinking and talking about sex and their sexual experiences; their sexual hungers and adventures seemed to preoccupy them. Second, discussion of babies or children provoked little interest from them; indeed, they seemed indifferent to children. But third, and most remarkable, many of these men-who-claimed-to-be-women reported that they found women sexually attractive and that they saw themselves as “lesbians.”
And everyone knows that lesbian women don't exist, right? *Sigh* I really wonder if the good doctor ever actually met someone who was transsexual. I've seen what he's describing on some Transgendered support sites, and they don't want surgery. Transgendered, yes. Transsexual? Not as such. These days they can be themselves without having to pretend, and say what the Psychs want to hear. I don't understand them at all, but they're harmless, and mostly quite nice men. Weird though. (Zoe... er... some people would consider you a lot weirder... never mind)

A more pragmatic view would be to look at what concerns those under the great TG umbrella.

The Intersexed are concerned about medical, and to a lesser extent, legal issues. Many have had medical treatment without their knowledge or consent, sometimes sterilising them, sometimes removing all genital sensation, and sometimes leaving them Transsexual, looking like the wrong sex. Many have issues with hormones or electrolyte balances that can be life-threatening, and must confront medical ignorance that can kill them. They sometimes have to fight protracted legal battles to have even the most unimpeachable marriages validated. Generally, they try to stay out of the limelight.

The Transsexual are a subcategory of the Intersexed as far as I'm concerned, I consider the evidence overwhelming. Their concerns again are medical and legal, but unlike most of the Intersexed, they can't hide their condition until after it's been treated. When in transition, they are particularly vulnerable: they go from being unremarkable, to being far too visible, to being unremarkable again- if they wish to be, and if the treatment gives a good result. Often it can't. They are forced by the medical "standards of care" to use target-gender restrooms before surgery can be authorised, hence the concern about rest-rooms. After transition, they suffer all the problems that the Intersexed do.

They suffer the most discrimination in employment, in violence, in legalised persecution (Wisconsin's odious "Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act" - the only legislation anywhere in the USA that specifically forbids necessary medical treatment to a paticular minority group - comes to mind), and in many other ways.

How would the GLB majority react to a similar law preventing treatment of Gay inmates for HIV? Yet most GLB activists won't have heard of it.

Now none of these pressing concerns affect GLBs, except perhaps negatively. Gay men are sometimes perceived as being "men who want to be women", and that attack on their masculinity can lead them to persecute Transsexual women just to prove their detractors wrong. (Can't it, Barney?) The "mentally ill" weirdoes who want to get their dicks cut off are an embarrassment to them. Unless those falsetto voices are silenced, they will damage the cause the Mattachine movement has worked for so long to see reified - Gays as just normal people, not mentally ill, the people next door.

And don't get me started on the pecking-order politics of fully-stealth post-ops who are "just women" looking down on post-ops who can't be bothered with hiding their past, and they in turn looking down on pre-ops, who look down on non-ops, who look down on cross-dressers, who look down on fetishists, who look down on effeminate gays.... Enough.

As for me? Technically I'm Intersexed, and one of the weird "ideopathic" varieties. One that causes a natural apparent sex-change, without treatment. I identify more as Transsexual, because I see no essential difference between a transition that's 80% natural and one that's 100% artificial. Especially since so many TS people are mildly IS in other ways anyway. And my sexual orientation went from asexual/lesbian to straight in the process. So I have little time for categories that are merely good approximations being used as absolutes.

I do think that it might be better for all concerned if we were a confederation rather than a union though. We should support each other, with various degrees of enthusiasm, but work towards our own ends, and acknowledge that sometimes what will benefit one group will disadvantage another. We should then get that sorted out internally before facing external foes, and even agree to take different stances on different issues, openly, and without rancour. As it is, and as the ENDA debacle has shown, hypocrisy, treachery and mendacity result if we don't. Some in power still take different stances, while pretending they don't, so disenfranchise and denigrate those who they victimise to avoid admitting what they're doing. They even speak for their victims, against their interests, to advance their own.

Anyway... that's an explanation of why some people resent being called "Transgendered", and why some don't like the recent fashion of using the word as a cognate for "Transsexual" by people who are only trying to be polite and PC. To avoid the S..x word.

It's not as if the situation wasn't complicated enough without the politics.


Anonymous said...

Of course, there is the old line that the difference between a transsexual and a cross dresser is that she can't wait to get home and take her bra off; he can't wait to go home and put one on. :)


Anonymous said...

Great blog piece, Zoe. And,, may I refer y'all to the following for more about this issue of people being called what we are not, over at TS-Si?

Lisa Harney said...

Kinda belated, but:

I've seen what he's describing on some Transgendered support sites, and they don't want surgery. Transgendered, yes. Transsexual? Not as such. These days they can be themselves without having to pretend, and say what the Psychs want to hear. I don't understand them at all, but they're harmless, and mostly quite nice men.

If you mean people who live as women without seeking surgery (but often seek hormones), I haven't yet met one who is or identifies as a man.

Zoe Brain said...

If they live as women they're women.

I was referring to the great majority to whom it's about "dressing up" on a very strictly part-time basis, even using mild hormones so they can perfect the look. That's *most* of them.

Those who are merely non-op women are, well, non-op women, and not men at all. They are a minority though compared to the men. However, they probably outnumber post-ops/pre-ops.

I make no distinction between post- and pre-. The only distinction I make between *some* non-ops and the above is the degree of feminisation of the body-image embedded in the brain. And many non-ops are only non-op because of health reasons. Others don't like the risks. Some can't even take hormones for health reasons, which is why I don't think taking hormones is a completely reliable metric.

So I don't make any significant distinction between pre, post, non.

I do make a distinction between male and female though. But even then, some don't fit either.