17 August 2007

GID and Transgender Links

Regarding my "Born to Choose" post, a friend gently suggested the whole discussion gets more complex, thorny, and controversial if you include discussion of transgender issues. This is very true, and though I had considered adding something about the controversy over Gender Identity Disorder (GID), my knowledge of that subject is superficial, and I figured I was going out on enough of a limb already that I probably shouldn't risk inadvertently simplifying a subject so vital to people's lives and livelihoods.

My friend made the useful distinction (which she says may have come from Julia Serano) between de-pathologization of transgenderism and de-medicalization of it, with the former being desirable and the latter not so much, given how much distress trans people can be in before they can get support or therapy, or before they are able to transition.

Though I can't offer an informed opinion on this topic, what I can do is provide some links to discussions of GID by people more knowledgeable than I. Please add others in the comments if you know of any.
Update: A couple new links that were emailed to me:


  1. It gets even messier if you go into the congenital intersex conditions.

  2. I reviewed Jonathan Ames's anthology Sexual Metamorphosis for American Book Review a year or so ago. It presents some well-written and illuminating excerpts from memoirs by Christine Jorgensen, Renee Richards and others.

  3. The Ames anthology looks really interesting -- I missed it when I was reading a lot about trans issues (around the time I reviewed a pretty good anthology on transgender rights for Rain Taxi Online, though I think the review suffers a bit from having originally been written for the print RT, where I was very limited on wordcount).

  4. Would a polite reminder that a true skeptic consider opposing viewpoints be welcome? Because your links only include positive interpretations of transgenderism, and I'm sure that was just an oversight.

    For the basic premise of transgenderism to be valid, one must believe that a penis is mandatory if one is to exhibit traditional boyish traits. Personally, I believe there is a much more simple answer than believing that brains are divided into boy brains and girl brains; or that personality and character are also divided in a similar fashion.

    No doubt a big part of the reason females have a much lower rate of Body Dysphoric Disorder is that society permits and accepts much more variation within female gender roles. A smaller number of parents will "correct" a girl who exhibits more traditional boyish attributes. Parents are more likely to attempt to "steer" a boy into avoiding "girl toys". Plus, society at large denigrates "girl stuff" with a sneering tone which provides further incentive for boys to internalize the idea that "real boys" do not exhibit traditional girlish traits.

    If a little boy feels like he wants to wear his hair long, wear pretty frilly clothes, or play with dollies instead of trucks and building blocks, he gets constant hassle and disapproval from his parents, whether they're imposing their own moral views on what a boy is and what a girl is, or whether they're just socially conforming and have their child's best interest at heart (don't want him to get picked on/stared at/beat up). He'll internalize this feeling that "if I want to play with dolls or like the cooperation mentality of girls instead of the rough-and-tumble attitude of boys, then I must really be a girl".

    It never seems to ocurr to anyone that "real men" are gentle and nurturing. If a male feels like that, then he couldn't possibly be a "real man" and so must be something else instead. He isn't sexually attracted to men, so he must be a girl who is lesbian! Or he's a girl who is sexually attracted to males! But no matter his sexual preference, he must be anything other than a "sissy boy" because in our sexist culture, to be an "effeminate male" is the worst thing possible.

    And of course, research indicates that even babies within the first year can recognize differences in biology ("mommies have breasts and non-mommies do not") and notice that there are different behaviors associated with each gender.

    Please notice how the households who are producing these children also tend to unconsciously reinforce gender roles ("girls do these things while boys do those things"). Some of these parents believe they are being progressive in their acceptance of their transgendered child, yet fail to examine how they constantly reify gender roles.

    And then of course, you have the transfolk who really are fetishizing the clothes of one gender, or fetishizing the genitalia. ("Oh but those icky folks couldn't possibly be similiar to us genuine transgendered!")

    The more I consider the basic premises of transgenderism, the more sexist and misogynistic it looks.

  5. There aren't any anti-trans links because I'm not going to pretend that I think it's an equally valid ideology. I'm a die-hard social constructivist, and certainly can see the attraction of stereotyping transfolk as being over-obsessed with gender roles -- and some are, of course, just like plenty of non-trans people are over-obsessed with gender roles -- but plenty of trans people reject any binary representation of gender, have various levels of hormone therapy or surgery (or not), etc. It's much more complex than you make it out to be and far more nuanced than you imagine.

    I have no interest in continuing a debate on this site about this topic, especially since this is an old post, so I'm going to close comments on it, but if you would like to see where there has been more discussion on it -- sometimes ugly and hateful, sometimes informative and thoughtful -- take a look at the comments on this article at Alternet and the comments at this post at Feministing.