Why Feminists Should Accept Transwomen as Women

Expect light posting from me until 2006 – I’m just too busy to spend a lot of time on “Alas.” But I wanted to point out this excellent discussion of transwomen and feminism, which took place in Feministe’s comments, mostly between three writers I respect a lot: Piny, Emma of GenderGeek, and Tekanji of Shrub.com. Tekanji, in particular, did a wonderful job of arguing that a definition of “women” that includes transwomen is compatable with, and desirable for, feminism.

From Tekanji’s final post on that thread:

I guess part of the difference in where we’re coming from on this is that you feel that to make a more inclusive definition of “woman” would be to eradicate, or at least de-emphasize, the current meaning. And, I agree, on some levels it would.

But, part of what I see as a gender democracy is that it focuses on adding to existing definitions, not taking away. Just because I choose to work outside of the home and not have children does not make some other woman’s choice to become a stay-at-home mom any less valid, right? In that same regard, the ability for a transwoman to call herself, and be seen as, a woman should not invalidate the womanhood of women-born-women.

Also, on the “helping our cause” area, I disagree. I think that in order to get society* to a place where the transgendered (et, al) are accepted – be they woman-identifying, man-identifying, neither or both – is to get to a place where a person’s choice is not seen as genderdized. In that way, I see the struggle of women-born-women and the transgendered (et, al) to be one and the same: we all want the same opportunities, rights, and freedoms as men-born-men have traditionally have, as well as the ability for the traditonally “feminine” to be seen as something of equal value so that men-born-men can aspire to it, too. If “masculine” and “feminine” were seen as equal, then I am quite sure that the gender binary wouldn’t be nearly as important as it is now. [...]

I don’t believe having a less strict (more mutable, more inclusive, etc) definition of “woman” necessitates the eradication of the subtleties of the current defintion. We already have a diverse set of people who fit under the word “woman”, we already need specific subsets to deal with their distinct needs, so what’s adding yet another subset onto that in order to help alleviate the oppression of some of our sisters?

That last paragraph in particular does a wonderful job of putting into words something I’ve thought about this question for years. Like Tekanji, I’ve long been disturbed by a strong streak of transphobia among some feminists; that was a major reason I grew disenchanted with the late, great Ms. Boards.

There’s more good stuff in the discussion at Feministe, so I’d recommend reading the whole thing.

NOTE: As an experiment, this comments thread is for feminist, pro-feminist, and feminist-friendly posters only. If you suspect you wouldn’t fit into Amp’s conception of “feminist, pro-feminist, or feminist-friendly,” then please don’t contribute to the comments following this post.
This entry posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, Transsexual and Transgender related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

196 Responses to Why Feminists Should Accept Transwomen as Women

  1. 101
    alsis39 says:

    Piny wrote:

    I think that comfort within one’s gendered body is much more of a spectrum than a dichotomy.

    Well, yeah. Also, I think that at least one difference between myself as an adult feminist woman whose always had this body and someone who has transitioned (to one degree or another) is this: Somewhere in the questioning of “how comfortable am I” must also come the question of “If I am uncomfortable, whose fault is it ? My body ? Or the culture that gave my body its societal status.”

    Just one little example: I take a walk up to a coffee shop on a busy street. I’m not wearing a bra because I hate bras and don’t have an employer to impress at the moment. My breasts move visibly, and some man standing outside the coffee shop stares at my chest as I walk inside. It’s obvious to me from his face that he doesn’t approve of my decision– either because he thinks that only “bad” women let their breasts move in public or because he thinks that breasts exist for his viewing pleasure, but that mine are past their supposed prime and thus unwelcome in his line of vision.

    So, there you are. A brief but unmistakeable moment of discomfort borne of having a female body. One of millions starting in childhood and continuing on until my demise at (I hope) a ripe old age.

    But where does that discomfort come from ? The body or the men who feel that they get to decide what it’s for and how it should look ?

    How a feminist is inclined to answer the question of comfort is probably an important part of how she views trans as a political issue.

    Oh, and thank you for your answers, Piny, and trey. Sarah ! Great to see ya’ !!

  2. 102
    piny says:

    Absolutely.

    >>Somewhere in the questioning of “how comfortable am I” must also come the question of “If I am uncomfortable, whose fault is it ? My body ? Or the culture that gave my body its societal status.”>>

    Well, a transwoman would have to ask that question in reverse: do I feel comfortable in this body and this presentation because of my own needs and desires, or am I reflecting the needs and desires of other people?

  3. 103
    alsis39 says:

    Yeah.

    Also, I agree that everyone has at least THOUGHT about life in another body from time to time, even if it was only at the age where we also routinely pretended to be ponies or teapots.

  4. 104
    piny says:

    >>Also, I agree that everyone has at least THOUGHT about life in another body from time to time, even if it was only at the age where we also routinely pretended to be ponies or teapots.>>

    Totally–although I think that we have extra tendencies towards considering those bodies that are privileged or permitted in whatever way we’re not. Especially if our internal, embodied lives are defined as removed in some way from humanity’s experience as a whole. Wistful thinking about what it’d be like to, say, live without breasts in a culture that can’t stop staring at them is different from wistful thinking about being double-jointed. IIRC, that was the only stage prior to adulthood in which I was able to consider what it might be like to live as a boy: in the context of flying dreams and what animal you’d most like to become.

  5. 105
    alsis39 says:

    So the million dollar conundrum is: If I were the kind of woman who wanted to have her breasts done away with so as to avoid having them stared at by jerks, my main alternative would be joining the class of jerks that struts around like they have the right to do the staring. I’d be hopeful that I could change over without actually becoming a jerk, but that’s like saying that I’d still be a trusting, generous person around my friends if I won a million dollars. Until it happens, how can I be sure ?

    [bangs head on desk]

    :o

    Well, we’ve definitely reached chicken-or-egg territory here, Piny. So I think that I’ll just go back to pondering some more. Thanks again.

  6. 106
    myriad says:

    As we are on the subject of thinking about living in a different body, I’d be interested to hear views on a controversial case in Aus. last year.

    A girl named Alex (at the time 12) appeared in Family Court to petition it to let her change sex to male. The history of the case was that Alex came from an (undisclosed) cultural background, and had been brought up by her father as the parents were separated. In this culture, it is tradition if there is no son born to raise the youngest daughter as a boy, and Alex’s father had done this. The father then died, and Alex was returned to the care of her mother, which did not go well. The mother was completely unaccepting of Alex’s identification as a boy thanks to her father’s upbringing, thought she was possessed, there was evidence of child abuse from both the mother and father, resulting in Alex being taken into state care. Unsurprisingly, this did not solve much and with puberty hitting, Alex tried to suicide, and was threatening to continue to attempt to suicide unless able to begin transitioning sex.

    Her petition was supported by 2 of her teachers and (from memory) another family member. Her mother remained very conflicted and there was little evidence she would accept Alex any better if she formally transitioned, but an Aunt had agreed to take Alex and that she could accept her situation.

    the result of the case was that Alex was allowed to basically go on the pill to remove menstruation, as it was obviously highly distressing; and would be allowed to start with non-reversable transitioning treatment at 16, surgery being still nontheless unavailable until legal adulthood (18).

    I found the case overall extremely troubling, and the decision appalling, with the exception of the treatment to stop menstruation. Basically it seemed from how the case was reported and debated in the Australian press that there was significant evidence that Alex’s gender dysphoria was entirely generated by first her father’s upbringing and then her mother’s fierce rejection. There was nothing to suggest inherent dysphoria, only evidence to suggest basically child-abuse induced trauma.

    Further, I can’t think of a single other case where a person of any age so distressed and ill as to be seeking suicide would be unequivocally granted their wishes – ie we don’t normally as a society treat people so emotionally distressed as the ones who should be making such huge decisions, let alone if they are minors. As one bio-ethicist put it (paraphrasing)- if Alex had been brought up to think she was a horse and threatened suicide unless granted the steps towards becoming a horse, would the court have responded in the same way?

    While removing the immediate distress was absolutely vital, it seemed incredible to me that the court went so far as to lay a concrete path for Alex, without any allowance that with time, counselling, a safe home environment and less pressure from puberty, she might actually change her mind. It seemed to basically confirm Alex’s very troubled world view, that there were only 2 choices.

    Obviously I’ve made my views here pretty plain, and I’ve done my best to remember all aspects of the case for others to comment on. I’d like to emphasise again that there were at least 3 adults supporting Alex’s request, but I can’t help but point out that 2 were teachers who apart from no doubt knowing Alex well and her day to day levels of distress and needs, were nonetheless unqualified to be used as a basis for this decision.

    Overall, what I thought was most striking about this case was that Alex’s situation derived entirely from a culturally-induced upbringing; yet despite the fact that most arguments for transexxualism are (to my knowledge and experience) science-based, this seemed to be turned on its head in this case.

  7. 107
    piny says:

    >>I found the case overall extremely troubling, and the decision appalling, with the exception of the treatment to stop menstruation. Basically it seemed from how the case was reported and debated in the Australian press that there was significant evidence that Alex’s gender dysphoria was entirely generated by first her father’s upbringing and then her mother’s fierce rejection. There was nothing to suggest inherent dysphoria, only evidence to suggest basically child-abuse induced trauma.>>

    It’s proper to use the preferred pronoun when referring to any person, whatever their birth gender, whatever their politics, and whatever their rationale. Alex prefers male pronouns, and therefore deserves them.

    How does Alex’s father’s decision to bring Alex up as a boy differ in effect from our parents’ decision to bring us up in one particular gender based on our genitals? Why is my brother’s male identity more valid than Alex’s? Why is Alex’s upbringing as male child abuse if it is not child abuse to bring up any male child as male? Why should Alex not be able to transition into the gendered body in which he feels most comfortable? And what is evidence of gender dysphoria besides a rejection of one’s assigned gender?

    >>Further, I can’t think of a single other case where a person of any age so distressed and ill as to be seeking suicide would be unequivocally granted their wishes – ie we don’t normally as a society treat people so emotionally distressed as the ones who should be making such huge decisions, let alone if they are minors. As one bio-ethicist put it (paraphrasing)- if Alex had been brought up to think she was a horse and threatened suicide unless granted the steps towards becoming a horse, would the court have responded in the same way?>>

    Transpeople are so treated; in fact, until some very important reforms took place, pain at the level of suicidal ideation was a requirement for some psychiatrists. Emotional distress does not prevent people from thinking clearly about the source of that distress, and believing otherwise would tend to create a pretty lethal double-bind for distressed people. The problem with the “horse” argument is that it’s used to support the position that the differences between men and women are definitely not on the same level as the differences between people and horses.

    >>Overall, what I thought was most striking about this case was that Alex’s situation derived entirely from a culturally-induced upbringing; yet despite the fact that most arguments for transexxualism are (to my knowledge and experience) science-based, this seemed to be turned on its head in this case.>>

    Arguments about transsexuality–the responsible ones, anyway–are made from a position of ignorance. We really don’t know why we exist. We’ve come up with a lot of hypotheses that don’t seem to work for one reason or another, and some that haven’t yet been demolished, but none that we can yet approve. Arguments for transition are made with that in mind, and are autonomy-based, not science-based or culture-based. The gist is that, in the absence of much evidence to support any overriding theory of transsexuality, and in the face of evidence to support the efficacy of transition, transpeople should be able to make their own decisions.

  8. 108
    Ledasmom says:

    To answer your questions, Piny, wouldn’t it be necessary first to say what we mean by bringing up a child as a girl or a boy? Is it only referring to the child as such – as male or female? It seems to me that, in accepting the reality of a person’s subjective determination of his/her sex, it’s not necessary to lose the objective definition of sex (generally, but not exclusively, by what genitals the person possesses) – which is really the only useable definition when you’re talking about someone, like a baby, who can’t yet speak for her/himself. Of course, all this might be completely irrelevant, for example if it were possible to raise a child without exposing it to any gendered terms at all, assuming that this did the child no harm (I have no reason to think it would; just trying to cover all bases).
    If anyone has a link about this case, I’d be fascinated to know exactly what, in this case, constituted raising Alex “as a boy”, and when Alex’s father started doing so – not from birth, I would assume from the summary above, but I could be wrong about that.

  9. 109
    piny says:

    >>To answer your questions, Piny, wouldn’t it be necessary first to say what we mean by bringing up a child as a girl or a boy?Is it only referring to the child as such – as male or female? It seems to me that, in accepting the reality of a person’s subjective determination of his/her sex, it’s not necessary to lose the objective definition of sex (generally, but not exclusively, by what genitals the person possesses) – which is really the only useable definition when you’re talking about someone, like a baby, who can’t yet speak for her/himself.>>

    Bringing up a child as a boy means referring to him as such and treating him as such in a world where being a boy means that people interact with you in very different ways than they would if you were determined to be a girl for whatever reason. Alex’s father presumably treated him as he would any other boy; if Alex’s father is like most people, he treated Alex far differently than any girl–and caused other people around Alex to do the same.

    Alex was treated as male all his life, while he happened to live in a body that supported that life. Then he was effectively forced to transition against his will: to accept a female body and live a female life. Because Alex’s mother’s decision to sex and gender him as female as based on the criteria we recognize, Alex’s unwillingness to go along with this program is read in a much different way than would any other boy’s. Contrast his treatment with the treatment of David Reimer, another person gendered as a girl who insisted on being a boy.

    While the “objective definition of sex” is–in Australia, anyway–based on genitalia and assigned at birth, _gender_ and _gender identity_ are very different things. There is no single definition of how anyone’s gender should be determined, and no recognizable circumstance that leads anyone to identify as one gender rather than another. To sex someone is to gender them, but their gender identity will not necessarily correspond to their assigned sex.

  10. 110
    mangala says:

    Interesting discussion! I’d never heard of the Australian case before reading your post, Myriad, but from what I’ve googled, it sounds like Alex will be receiving counselling and support before and during his treatment, and since it will be a few years before he’s allowed to begin any irreversible treatments, I would think that he will have ample opportunity to change his mind, or to choose to delay the treatments.

    Additionally, it looks to me like a psychiatric assessment was the basis for the judgment; I have obviously no way of knowing whether it was a good assessment – and I don’t know if there is any really good way of assessing gender dysphoria – but at least presumably it was done by someone with more qualifications than a teacher. (Link)

    The fact that Alex is a minor is a sticky point, I agree, but given that he’s old enough to give his own input into his feelings (unlike, for example, David Reimer), and he was assessed by several psychiatrists as far as I can tell, and there’s going to be ongoing support, and it sounds like he was greatly distressed by his female body, I think it sounds like a reasonable decision.

  11. 111
    myriad says:

    Hi Piny,

    I apologise if my referral to Alex as “she” offends you – I’m quite aware of the norms here, but think my slips indicate my level of confusion over this case – to the point that this is the one instance I know of where I do slip.

    >>How does Alex’s father’s decision to bring Alex up as a boy differ in effect from our parents’ decision to bring us up in one particular gender based on our genitals?

    Aside from the fact that in the first instance Alex imposed a gender on a child with the opposite sex, thus creating a situation of almost certain trauma in one form or another? While fully supportive of the fact that it is undeniable that some children brought up in one sex/gender find it does not conform to their sex/gender later on, it still remains a small percentage, ie if you’re a good parent and all other things being equal, calling a female child “she” and a male child “he” have a low probability of causing distress. What Alex’s father did was create a situation that had an incredibly high chance of causing Alex distress. I’d call that at best, highly misguided and selfish, and more accurately, highly misguideded and selfish child abuse.

    I wish I could find the link to the case background (what was publicly released, as obviously huge amounts were suppressed to protect a minor), because from memory it was evident that Alex was also extremely distressed by his father’s death, combined with rejection by his mother. This seems such an obvious, well-understood phenomenon, and one quite likley to reinforce Alex ascribing more fiercely and hard to the father in all aspects, including gender. I can’t help but wonder how time will play that out.

    >>Why is my brother’s male identity more valid than Alex’s?

    Assuming you brother is identifies male/man, the difference would be that Alex’s identity was utterly and deliberately contrived and imposed.

    >>Why is Alex’s upbringing as male child abuse if it is not child abuse to bring up any male child as male?

    see above.

    >>Why should Alex not be able to transition into the gendered body in which he feels most comfortable? And what is evidence of gender dysphoria besides a rejection of one’s assigned gender?

    I’m not arguing that Alex should never be allowed to transition; I’m arguing that a child is 1) physiologically incapable of making any decisions and understanding the consequences of them before their brain matures, and 12 unequivocally isn’t that point for either sex; and 2) that a highly traumatised child of all children is not in the best position to know what will make them ultimately more comfortable in life. I reiterate my support for Alex being provided with whatever non-reversible means to make life bearable and provide space for growing up and working out who ‘Alex’ is.

    >>Transpeople are so treated; in fact, until some very important reforms took place, pain at the level of suicidal ideation was a requirement for some psychiatrists. Emotional distress does not prevent people from thinking clearly about the source of that distress, and believing otherwise would tend to create a pretty lethal double-bind for distressed people.

    While agreeing entirely on the double-bind, and this being extremely difficult and delicate territory to navigate, firstly I see a very large difference between a suicidal adult and a suicidal child; and secondly I find it very difficult to agree with your assertion that being in severe emotional distress doesn’t preclude being able to identify the source of the distress. Perhaps the key I would suggest is the ability to make decisions. Severe emotional distress usually means that suicide is far beyond a decision and close approaching a compulsion – which leaves me more than a little worried about this as a frame of mind in which to seek other decisions and solutions.

    Ledasmom, if you do a google keyword search, you’ll come across plenty of press articles covering the case in brief. What I can’t find, and I suspect it’s because it’s now archived or subscription-only, was an expert opinion piece which had the most detail I ever found at any rate, on Alex’s background.

    I’ll keep searching around and see what I can find.

  12. 112
    myriad says:

    Ps – the one other part of the judge’s statement I agreed with entirely was his exhortation for Australian states to stop making sex reassignment surgery a necessity for a legal identity change.

  13. 113
    Sarah in Chicago says:

    the one other part of the judge’s statement I agreed with entirely was his exhortation for Australian states to stop making sex reassignment surgery a necessity for a legal identity change.

    Now THAT I completely agree with. My friend who I described above, is a pre-op as she hasn’t been able to afford the surgery since she is a grad student and her parents have disowned her. So, legally, she is male (as her home state requires surgery for such changes if I am remembering correctly), even though it’s blatantly obvious to anyone that she is a woman. If for some reason she were arrested, she’d end up in prison.

    And thanks Piny and Alsis (hey babe!! *kiss*) for the ‘welcome back’. I do miss the wonderful theoretical discussions here, but not enough to outweigh the homophobia and make my return permanent.

  14. 114
    Sarah in Chicago says:

    crud, I am having a bad evening … “If for some reason she were arrested, she’d end up in a MALE prison”

  15. 115
    hf says:

    I checked the “horse” reference. It didn’t come from Leon Kass, as I suspected at first. The quote comes from someone at the Southern Cross Bioethics institute. Let’s see what they have to say about abortion, shall we? (PDF) Their survey says,

    Australians are not persuadMosted that the present situation guarantees real choice. Most think women need more information..about the implications, risks and alternatives to abortion. Women should be assisted to consider carefully a range of choices, including carrying the pregnancy through to term…

    Never trust a bio-ethicist. I’m kidding, but I’m kidding on the square.

  16. 116
    Ledasmom says:

    But what evidence is there that the father’s decision to raise Alex as a boy actually influenced his gender identification at all? It was apparently quite clear to the courts that he was adamant about being a boy, to the point of wearing diapers rather than use the girl’s bathroom at school. In addition, if his identification is male, how much does it matter how it got that way?
    It seems to me, however, that the difference between raising a child that is physically a girl as a boy and one that is physically a boy as a boy is that, unless you assume a very great fluidity in gender at an early age, the assumed gender is more likely to be congruent with the actual (subjective?) gender of the child in the latter case. If there is hard evidence on the subject, I’d love to see it.

  17. 117
    myriad says:

    Found this article, that links to the original (publicly available) court finding – which is a bit of a trawl, but obviously a good thing to have. I’m pleased to see (embarrassment @ my memory aside) that there were a number of experts involved, which wasn’t reported well in the press.

    I hope I’ve made the link work right.

  18. 118
    myriad says:

    Let’s try the link again

  19. 119
    myriad says:

    Sorry hf, cultural difference, I don’t know what “kidding on the square” means! :o

  20. 120
    David says:

    I know it seems like a long shot coincidence that Alex was both raised as a boy and also identifies as a boy, because both of those conditions are at variance with his apparent morphologic sex. But it’s also hard to believe that there wouldn’t be some sign of it if he identified as a girl and was in conflict with the way he was raised. Such a coincidence may be statistically unlikely, but has to be considered in light of the other evidence. Also, how do we know that the father’s adoption of this cultural tradition wasn’t in part a response to his knowledge of his own child?

    If it were possible to determine a child’s gender by how they are raised, I would think precious few transpeople would exist. The David Reimer case showed how misguided that idea was. He knew he was a boy in spite of every effort to coerce him on the part of his parents and the professionals under the direction of Dr. Money.

  21. 121
    myriad says:

    I think (from the article I linked to) this is the heart of it for me too -

    “What seems to have gone amiss in the case is how much did Alex’s exposure to masculinity, coupled with limited exposure to and growing resentment of, femininity born out of his mother’s apathy towards him, affect his ultimate gender identity? There is some doubt raised when you consider that Alex told a doctor in 2001 that “[he] ‘knows [he] is a girl but would like to be a boy’.”[19]”

    My other major concerns still remain Alex’s age and level of development, and from reviewing again the Court info, the lack of dissenting expert testimony.

    To respond to Ledasmom -

    >>”It was apparently quite clear to the courts that he was adamant about being a boy, to the point of wearing diapers rather than use the girl’s bathroom at school.”

    Agreed, but traumatised children are known to undertake all sorts of extraordinary behaviours that don’t necessarily at all get reinforced by adult recognition or approval, but rather are treated as symptoms of underlying problems. But it seems that the behaviours of children with gender dysphoria are treated differently, and while I never want to see a child’s life endangered and so support intervention to help Alex, I think it’s important to robustly critique this.

    >>”In addition, if his identification is male, how much does it matter how it got that way?”

    If Alex had been socialised to be a child soldier, and identifies as a child soldier, how much does it matter how it got that way? I just find this more than a little troubling. I find it more than odd, as David mentioned above, that in the David Reimer case people were absolutely appalled at the forced imposition of gender on Reimer, but somehow it becomes acceptable simply because Alex conforms to it.

  22. 122
    hf says:

    I got the phrase “kidding on the square” from Al Franken. It means something like “ha ha, only serious”.

    We’ve gotten into philosophical issues now. In the unlikely event that someone wants to know how I approach the issue, see here. Particularly the second-to-last paragraph. On a practical note, didn’t you say they won’t give Alex hormones for some years yet? And while hormone therapy may have irreversible consequences, so could failing to get hormone therapy early enough. This seems like a reasonable compromise.

    If it were possible to determine a child’s gender by how they are raised, I would think precious few transpeople would exist.
    Devil’s Advocate: Well, actually…

  23. 123
    mangala says:

    If Alex had been socialised to be a child soldier, and identifies as a child soldier, how much does it matter how it got that way? I just find this more than a little troubling. I find it more than odd, as David mentioned above, that in the David Reimer case people were absolutely appalled at the forced imposition of gender on Reimer, but somehow it becomes acceptable simply because Alex conforms to it.

    I don’t think that socialization to be a child soldier and gender socialization can really be equated; the former is obviously harmful, but I don’t think that it’s at all clear how much socialization contributes to gender identity. It may be quite a coincidence that Alex happens to have been raised as a boy and identifies as a boy, but I don’t think it’s impossible. The David Reimer case definitely suggests that there can be an inherent gender identity that may differ from how one is socialized.

    People weren’t enraged that David Reimer was raised as a girl; they were enraged by the imposition of a gender that clearly didn’t fit how David Reimer felt about himself. If Alex feels that he is male, and doesn’t feel that masculine identification has been imposed on him, then I really don’t see why we shouldn’t accept that.

    This is a roundabout way for me to say that as far as I’m concerned, if you’re living as a woman or a man and identify as one or the other, you ought to qualify.

  24. 124
    mangala says:

    Gah! “Qualify” as in “qualify as whatever gender you’re living as” – I didn’t mean anything about qualifying for surgery.

  25. 125
    myriad says:

    Alex will receive hormone treatment at 16 that will have some irreversible effects (hair growth, deepening voice etc.). I note that there’s ongoing assessment of Alex, which is good, except that as with the assessment of the case, as far as I can see it remains in the hands of experts who are already convinced that transition is the only way to go for Alex.

    It’s also as I understand it an issue of some debate as to when hormone treatment should start in adolescents, as it will obviously affect their normal development. Given the complex interaction between brain chemistry, and in crude shorthand, who we are & how we perceive the world, I am again left questioning whether the path Alex has been set upon will end up self-fulfilling, but whether that in itself will definitely mean happiness.

    It also seems from, for eg, other posts by Piny on other threads, that the more (for want of a better descriptor) traditional practice of physical alterations to affect a gender/sex (the bit where I get confused as it seems to vary so much from person to person) is dminishing, I’m left wondering why it’s being encouraged for a child.

    I think the best reponse I can give re: bioethicists is that there are bioethicists, and then there are bioethicists. : /

  26. 126
    myriad says:

    Actually hf, when I think about what you quoted, you quoted a survey carried out by the institute, and that quote you gave was some of their findings of surveyed Australian attitudes towards abortion. I think it’s an awful long bow to draw to imply that 1) this is therefore the view of the institute that did the surveying and 2) it has any relevance to one of the institute’s members comments.

    that being said, I really hope Piny has time to come back and I meant to say, I’d really appreciate a better unpacking of your comment Piny, re: the horse.

    cheers

  27. 127
    hf says:

    All right, if you doubt my view of the Institute, let’s take a look at their opinion pieces.

    From a piece bearing the title, Post-Coital Intervention Over the Counter:

    Altering the lining of the uterus so that the embryo when it reaches the uterus at about 6days old cannot implant [...]is not a contraceptive effect but an abortifacient effect.

    A review of the book From Darwin to Hitler starts with a “Social Darwinist” quote, and describes the quote’s author thusly:

    a public servant , an office bearer of the Victorian Royal Society, and co-founder of the Eclectic Association, a forerunner of Victoria’s Humanist Society, which staunchly supports birth control, abortion, euthanasia, and no-limits reproductive technology.
    [...]
    Although Darwin’s book presented no empirical proof of the evolution of even one species, his partisans vehemently proclaimed that he had proved the evolution of all species.
    [...]
    Social Darwinism, with its base-line conviction that life is devoid of sanctity, that is, merely animal, occupied this space in the bat of an eye.
    [...]
    Those who have probed the ethics of life’s sanctity, or the challenges of Creationism vs. Evolution, will be aware that they are dealing with two positions that seem unbridgeable by argument. My remarks are intended to assist understanding why this is so. Those who deny the sanctity of life, on the basis of what I style ‘stark raving rationalism’, have undergone a conversion experience that shuts off any return to pre-conversion sensitivity to sanctity arguments, even arguments of a prudential kind. By electing to emphasize this point, I have foregone comment on Weikart’s rich historical evidence about the initial deniers of life’s sanctity. Let me leave it by strongly recommending this study to any ethics student who wishes to understand the actual performance of denial in its initial historical manifestation. You will find that it presents a very different set of historical facts than those usually adduced by Darwin advocates.

    Never. Trust. A. Bioethicist.

  28. 128
    piny says:

    >>While fully supportive of the fact that it is undeniable that some children brought up in one sex/gender find it does not conform to their sex/gender later on, it still remains a small percentage, ie if you’re a good parent and all other things being equal, calling a female child “she” and a male child “he” have a low probability of causing distress. What Alex’s father did was create a situation that had an incredibly high chance of causing Alex distress.>>

    But it didn’t cause Alex distress. By this logic, the mother’s the abusive one, even setting all her other behavior aside. And there’s no saying whether all or most people would feel distress were they raised as the gender opposite their assigned sex, since that almost never happens.

    myriad: >>Assuming you brother is identifies male/man, the difference would be that Alex’s identity was utterly and deliberately contrived and imposed.>>

    And this is exactly what I’m saying. How is Alex’s identity more “contrived and imposed” than my brother’s? Why is my brother’s maleness more authentic than Alex’s? Why does the fact that my brother’s imposed gender–and necessarily gendered role–more natural and less traumatic merely because it happens to correspond to how we as a society define the condition and role concurrent with my brother’s genitals? Why is my brother’s comfort in his gender–or the comfort of any given boy–not as suspicious as Alex’s?

    David:>>If it were possible to determine a child’s gender by how they are raised, I would think precious few transpeople would exist. >>

    It may well be possible to determine the gender of _some_ children by how they’re raised. There are precious few transpeople, remember? We contradict the assertion that gender is _all_ nurture, or nurture in every case, not that it may be defining for many.

    myriad again:>>I find it more than odd, as David mentioned above, that in the David Reimer case people were absolutely appalled at the forced imposition of gender on Reimer, but somehow it becomes acceptable simply because Alex conforms to it.>>

    The point I was making by bringing up David Reimer is that people see his male gender, and insistence on it, as more authentic because he was biologically male, that is, assigned male at birth. Assigning him female and taking medical steps to maintain a feminized body was unconscionable intervention, but saying, “Oh, okay, I guess we were wrong to do that, since you’re so unhappy,” and subsequent medical measures to change his body further, is merely restoration of his rightful gender. No one said to David Reimer, “Why do you have to mutilate your body? Why can’t you just be a woman who does unconventional things?”

    There’s also the question of what is seen as forced. Why is Alex’s mother not seen as forcibly imposing gender on Alex? Say a hypothetical David Reimer were the focus of a similar custody dispute: mutilated in a circumcision accident and subsequently raised by his father, who fell in with John Money and decided that David would be much happier as a girl. David is unwittingly reassigned, and lives most of his formative years as a girl, Dawn. In his pre-teens, Dawn’s custody passes to his mother. She disagrees with Dawn’s father, and decides that Dawn has to become David again. Unlike the real David, Dawn doesn’t want to. Is Dawn’s mother’s decision a forced imposition of gender on Dawn? Is it contrived? What if Dawn neither objected nor communicated discontent with living as a girl?

    >>I am again left questioning whether the path Alex has been set upon will end up self-fulfilling, but whether that in itself will definitely mean happiness.>>

    If it is self-fulfilling–that is, if he eventually sees his gender identity as corresponding to his masculinized body, and his masculinized body as comfortable–how might he be unhappy in the context of his gender?

  29. 129
    myriad says:

    Hi Mangala,

    I find it pretty hard to believe that had David Reimer happily accepted his socialisation, there still wouldn’t be a significant amount of controversey over his case. Nobody knew how David Reimer felt about himself when the gender was imposed, as he was a baby. It seems pretty clear that Alex was too. I’m still at a loss as to why the imposition of a gender changes from appalling to fine based on how the child responds. Both instances involve a child in the most formative years; and in Alex’s case we can discern that he was getting only positive masculine reinforcement from his father, and
    rejection and absolutely negative reinforcement from his mother. Why and how does this this huge factor somehow become irrelevant?

    While the child soldier analogy was admittedly a tad extreme, I think you are overlooking well-known impacts on Alex’s health from taking hormones -eg liver damage. It’s not like this decision has no ramifications for Alex’s physical health; it clearly does. And while it can be fairly argued that at the time there was no doubt that some sort of intervention was required for Alex’s mental health, I still think the decision went way too far in confirming virtually only one decision for Alex to make him happy for his whole life. Yet this child at the time was 12 (turned 13 as the case was heard I’m guessing, as I’ve seen both ages given). So I’d argue that the jury (as it were) is still very much out in terms of whether this will play well for Alex’s long-term mental health.

  30. 130
    piny says:

    It also seems from, for eg, other posts by Piny on other threads, that the more (for want of a better descriptor) traditional practice of physical alterations to affect a gender/sex (the bit where I get confused as it seems to vary so much from person to person) is dminishing, I’m left wondering why it’s being encouraged for a child.>>

    It’s not diminishing at all. Transition is becoming more widespread, because being transsexual is less likely to get you fired, evicted, assaulted, raped, killed, etc. At the same time, transition is becoming more personalized: transpeople are allowed to make up their own minds as to what procedures they want to undergo, what doses of hormones they want to take. A desperate need to get rid of your original genitalia is no longer seen as a necessary condition for a transsexual diagnosis.

    An increasing number of transsexuals, but by no means all, are deciding that they prefer to keep their genitals the way they are. Some transpeople have no problem with their genitals as originally configured. Some are just doing cost/benefit analyses of some pretty flawed options. Rejecting current options for genital surgery, or opting out of the enormous expense, is not the same as unqualified comfort in one’s original body or a lack of desire for SRS as it might eventually be performed.

  31. 131
    piny says:

    I’m still at a loss as to why the imposition of a gender changes from appalling to fine based on how the child responds.>>

    You tell me. You don’t seem to have any problem with imposing gender on a child as long as it corresponds to birth sex.

  32. 132
    piny says:

    >>I think you are overlooking well-known impacts on Alex’s health from taking hormones -eg liver damage.>>

    Liver damage is an occasional side-effect of masculinizing hormones. It doesn’t happen often, and it has become far less common over the past few decades. Transpeople are monitored with regular, frequent blood tests to make sure that their livers are healthy. Problems don’t usually crop up after years of healthy life on testosterone, and they’re yet more unlikely in a healthy, fit person. In the rare event of a problem, the transman in question stops taking testosterone and ceases to have an unhealthy liver. There are side effects so common as to be general, but they mostly involve assuming a physically male body, with the attendant male risks.

  33. 133
    piny says:

    >>I think you are overlooking well-known impacts on Alex’s health from taking hormones -eg liver damage.>>

    It’s also worth pointing out that transpeople in general receive criminally negligent medical care. Any statistics on liver damage, cancer risks (especially anything related to the reproductive system), or any other health problem need to take into account that the population in question has good reason to avoid seeing a doctor or going to a hospital. The health risks associated with transition are far more social than physical.

  34. 134
    nexyjo says:

    Yet this child at the time was 12 (turned 13 as the case was heard I’m guessing, as I’ve seen both ages given). So I’d argue that the jury (as it were) is still very much out in terms of whether this will play well for Alex’s long-term mental health.

    i was born and raised jewish, though i no longer practice the religion. that said, in judaism, when a “child” reaches 13, he is considered an adult, with all the responsibilities that adults have. of course in today’s society, that really doesn’t happen until one is 18. or is that 21?

    oh, and it’s age 12 for females.

    i very much remember my life when i was 12 or 13. i have some of my most vivid memories from that period of time. it was during that time that i came to know that i was very different than the other boys, and what that meant as far as how my life might go.

    in those days, the 60′s, in suburbs of new york, sex changes were unheard of, at least by me. i realized pretty early on in my journey that i would have to come to terms with the fact that i’d be living my life as a man. i did not have an easy time of it.

    i won’t go into the details.

    my point is that by the time i was 12 or 13, i knew how i wanted to live my life. the way i felt then, is the way i feel now, and the way i’ve felt my entire “adult” life, assuming we use the jewish definition of “adulthood”.

    i can’t say how my life would have played out had i somehow managed to transition at that age. there’s no way for me to know, though i’ll admit i spend way too much time thinking about that very issue. my therapist attributes that to my ocd.

    further, i can totally understand why people are very much uncomfortable with the idea of putting such a young person on life-changing medical programs.

    but from my own perspective, i knew at age 12, as clearly and strongly as i know now, who i am and how i wanted to live my life. the jury is still out on whether i’d be better off now had i transitioned back then. though i like to imagine that my long-term mental health would have been in much better shape.

  35. 135
    nexyjo says:

    Personally, I hate that the David Reimer case is used so often to prove some point. I think what happened to him was a travesty, and I’m glad that he was able to take steps to reclaim the body he felt was rightfully and naturally his own.

    But I don’t think this is a case where any definitive notion of “born gender” can be proven…

    i’m totally with bean on this. david was 22 months old when he was “reassigned”, well past the time when children begin to know themselves and the world around them. frankly, i believe that process begins the moment we are born. i think the only thing this case proves, is the incompetence of the doctors who treated him, all of whom i believe should be held responsible for his death.

  36. 136
    cicely says:

    mythago,

    I’m sure there are many of us in this position. I’ve given it so much thought that my brain hurts because I actually want to have a ‘clear’ position, based on principles of humanity and fairness and not just politics. (Well, if my politics don’t include these things, what the hell are they about?) I support WBW space at all only on the grounds that, say in the case of michfest, the organisers have a right to determine ‘which’ shared eccsperiences (no ‘eccs’ yet, sorry) make up the festival commonality. Being socialised female from birth is generally a negative and disempowering eccsperience, and has this about it, or all through it, no matter how ‘well’ a woman might ‘do’ or how ‘happy’ she may become in life, and I think that’s the main commonality that underpins the festival. The acknowledgement of this, the sharing of it, the whole of it, and then that of the ability to become empowered and overcome it. The joy and positive affirmation of that. That the festival is built from the ground up and in every facet by women who were raised as girls to believe there wasn’t a whole lot they could do, outside ‘traditional’ female occupations. That’s why some women believe female to male transeccsuals should perhaps be more welcome than male to female transeccsuals. Also, as has been mentioned in this thread, male socialisation is what it is, set against all things that might carry ‘girl germs’. MTF transeccuals therefore have a different growing up eccsperience, whether or not they were ever fully embraced or ‘rewarded’ as males. How did they ‘see’ themselves, neccst to girls and women? Does a kind of ‘dominant’ or ‘I am central’ idea of self survive transition, and will it impact on a WBW gathering? These seem like awful, personal questions to be asking, but they are the ones being asked. Women are saying – ‘can’t we just be together for one week in the woods a year, without these complications? Is that too much to ask?’ (I haven’t even touched on the fact that most women there are lesbians as well, which is a whole other commonality…) It doesn’t seem to me that it should be, and yet…

    As I’ve said earlier, the ‘anti-trans’ politics used to defend WBW space, by some, are utterly offensive to me. Bio-women (??) ‘are’ doing more in the world, and I’d like to see any ‘need’ or desire for WBW space diminish correspondingly, rather than eccspand, which is not the same goal as anti-trans feminists, who would prefer that transeccsuals didn’t eggsist at all. So, if I support WBW space, and ask others to support it too, am I contributing to a radfem anti-trans agenda that I find abhorrent? I can’t do that.

    Then I’m thinking about numbers. Transeccsual women are never going to outnumber ‘born’ women at any womens gathering.Born women aren’t going to be ‘disappeared’. If we’re all honest and open about our own individual life paths, we all have someting to bring to feminism from our own unique as well as our shared eccsperiences. This is the way I see it. I can’t imagine how it could be otherwise in fact.

    I’m on the fence re michfest and other WBW events because I can’t demand of WBW who are ‘not’ coming from any kind of transphobia or prejudice that they make an accomodation they don’t wish to make, when that is such a ‘feature’ of the overall female eccsperience that they are releasing themselves from.

    I guess the slow path to resolution is if transeccsuals stop asking to enter WBW space, as many alredy have, if they’ve ever asked, and WBW be clear about what the space actually means to them, for as long as it means anything. And for those WBW who don’t have or agree with an anti-trans political platform or agenda, to state this loud and clear, to not ever just be silent when those views are being eccspressed.

  37. 137
    nexyjo says:

    …if Alex had been brought up to think she was a horse and threatened suicide unless granted the steps towards becoming a horse, would the court have responded in the same way?

    a big part of the problem, at least as i see it, is that there is no language with which to explain what being transsexual means. we use analogy as a big part of articulating ourselves and our feelings, as an integral part of our very language, though when it comes to being trans, there is nothing, no other experience, that even comes close.

    i find the use of animal analogies to be offensive, though i try my best to see those usages in a generous light. i can understand the use of the animal analogy by a person who is not trans because both are so far outside their own personal experience. but i can tell you that is the only thing they have in common; that for a non-trans person, both conditions are unknowable.

    i have also seen people use race or religion in analogies as well. while i can’t speak to the race comparison, as i’ve never wanted to live my life as a person of another race, i can say that transition was nothing like converting from judaism to wicca. sex and gender simply operate on a totally different level than any other human experience. there simply are no analogies that work, at least none that i have found.

  38. 138
    Nick Kiddle says:

    “What seems to have gone amiss in the case is how much did Alex’s exposure to masculinity, coupled with limited exposure to and growing resentment of, femininity born out of his mother’s apathy towards him, affect his ultimate gender identity?”

    This struck a raw nerve with me, because I heard something very similar growing up. I was raised by my dad and “abandoned” by my mum (absent mothers get a harsh deal, but that’s not the subject of this thread) and people queued up to ascribe my gender dysphoria to that. The best suggestion was that my mother’s having two sons by her second husband made me think she would value me more if I was a boy.

    I wonder how much Alex’s parents’ attitudes towards him provided a handy excuse for people who couldn’t accept his male identity?

  39. 139
    Ledasmom says:

    I was kinda wondering that myself, Nick. Since Alex is a minor, we really don’t know the details of his home life and so forth (and I’m still wondering about that bit from Myriad’s original post on the subject: what culture is it in which the youngest child is raised as a boy if there’s no boys born? It sounds like Alex was raised as a boy pretty much from the start; how often could you be that certain of no boys ever being born? And if this is cultural, and rearing a genetic girl as a boy did lead to a greater tendency to self-identify as male, wouldn’t there be a larger percentage of transgender people in this particular culture? I’m trying to remember the details of something I saw on TV ages ago; I believe the country in question was in eastern Europe, and it was accepted for a girl or woman, presumably unmarried, to choose to live socially as a man – often for the purposes of inheritance and having a “male figure” in the family, but one would presume sometimes for other reasons as well), but I do suspect that in a case of this sort someone could come up with an argument from environment for pretty much any home environment. No father, mother very feminine? Overcompensation! Normal two-parent family? Uh, excessive influence from a beloved male teacher? No falsifiability, no provability when you’re dealing with a single case.

  40. 140
    mangala says:

    Bean said:

    Personally, I hate that the David Reimer case is used so often to prove some point. I think what happened to him was a travesty, and I’m glad that he was able to take steps to reclaim the body he felt was rightfully and naturally his own.

    I hope that I wasn’t being unclear in my comment regarding David Reimer – I don’t think this case can “prove” anything – but I think it suggests the possibility of an inherent sense of gender (at least in some cases) apart from socialization (even if David Reimer wasn’t raised exactly like a girl of that time period, I think it’s clear that he wasn’t treated exactly like a boy of the time either).

    Myriad said:

    It’s not like this decision has no ramifications for Alex’s physical health; it clearly does. And while it can be fairly argued that at the time there was no doubt that some sort of intervention was required for Alex’s mental health, I still think the decision went way too far in confirming virtually only one decision for Alex to make him happy for his whole life

    I’m not sure how well that represents the actual treatment that Alex will receive, Myriad. The treatment is graduated, so Alex will have time to change his mind, and the first part of the treatment isn’t harmful. In my view, this buys Alex time and space while assuring him that in the future, if he wants it, he will be allowed to undergo more treatments, and from what I could find out, he’ll be receiving psychiatric support and assessment in the interim.

    Maybe I have too much faith in psychologists – but I would hope that they, along with Alex’s aunt, would be in a position to recognize signs that he is changing his mind, or evidence that he is not yet competent to make irrevocable decisions about his treatments, and in that case would act to delay the treatments.

  41. 141
    David says:

    If it were possible to determine a child’s gender by how they are raised, I would think precious few transpeople would exist.
    Devil’s Advocate: Well, actually…

    I don’t mean to be obtuse, or humorless either :), but I’m not sure of what you are trying to say here. Of all the transpeople I know, none of them was raised with that outcome in mind, and in many cases their parents made tremendous effort to do the opposite, to raise them in the gender of assignment. I think that’s the norm, was my only point.

    We can’t prove a negative – we can’t show that Alex *doesn’t* have an inherent male identity that corresponds to the way he was raised, and we also can’t show that there is causation in one direction, if at all. What we can do is look at the evidence that there are people who defy the entire weight of their family and culture to live as the gender that they internally feel themselves to be.

    In spite of the best efforts of parents to raise their children to be a certain gender, if the child isn’t that gender it won’t work. I am saying that the preponderance of the evidence supports that conclusion, and not the conclusion that a parent can impose a gender on their child, whether it is concordant with their apparent sex or not.

  42. 142
    Q Grrl says:

    Assuming you brother is identifies male/man, the difference would be that Alex’s identity was utterly and deliberately contrived and imposed.

    All gender identity is deliberately contrived and imposed. Gender is not innate. All parents are complicit in establishing gender in their children — and I would argue that those who force a barbie doll femininity on *anyone* are the most abusive. Raising a female “as a boy” is not abusive unless you feel that the rigid gender norms of man and woman (in the adult variant) are socially healthy — a point which many feminists argue in the first place.

    I am a female, born to parents who were more or less control freaks and abusive. The one thing they could not fully control was my “gender presentation” — even though they did enough to establish a fundamental belief in the differences between boys and girls. I cannot claim a totality of being raised as a boy, but for all intents and purposes, I was. Most adults thought I was a boy, and a good many of my peers did too, despite my name being Sue. The running joke in the neighborhood when I was 3 or 4 was that I should have been born the boy and my brother should have been born the girl (he is homosexual too). When I was six I was riding my bike shirtless and an older bully boy stopped me and grilled me as to whether I was a boy or a girl…. knowing that “girl” would get my six year old ass beaten to a pulp, I answered “boy.” I was not troubled by this, or confused by this; I lived with the repurcusions of this answer until I was in high school. The same boy called me “man-girl” all through junior high and spit on my bicycle seat every-fucking-day for two years. It wasn’t until I was in my 30′s and started seriously reading feminism that I had any inkling of what “woman” meant in relationship to me and my lived experience. Up until then, I was just Sue. I did not think of myself as boy or girl, man or woman. Just Sue. And that worked for me. Still does actually. As an adult I have gone through my butch phase, b/c that gave me the greatest sense of strength and courage. Now I’m folding back more towards androgyny and slight, but dorky, femininity.

    I say all this just so that those who claim that transsexuals or transgenders are abherrent might realize that gender and identitiy aren’t necessarily *supposed* to mesh. But, even so, reading Piny’s words, it should be clear that this isn’t what transsexuality or transgenderism is about in the first place.

    Piny, thanks for keeping your cool in this thread and for being so eloquent. You say in post #57:

    And I had no problem at all passing as female”“there seems to be this corollary belief that transsexuals switch to the other gender because they’re terrible at being their birth gender.

    I think this keeps getting buried, and I’d love to explore this some more. It makes a lot of sense to me and seems to also speak to a highly nuanced interpretation that I can’t quite wrap my mind around. I’m thinking in terms of my not having problems when I was younger in passing as male. I accepted my ability to do so as just part of me; part of the activities I was engaged in — playing football, getting in fist fights (and winning), having crushes on girls. :) Puberty was, of course, the dark lining on that cloud — not only socially, but physically with the onset of breasts and menses (breasts b/c of sports and menses b/c I have a very short 21 day cycle and heavy cramps). Socially sucked b/c all my male friends dropped me and I hadn’t yet established female friends. The girls all looked at me as suspect b/c I refused to wear a bra, grow my hair, or stop playing football. I had a choice at this point, to either bow down to social pressure to pick a gender or to be an outcast. I chose gender. Or rather, I was coerced into making a clear choice.

    So what all does this have to do with the topic at hand…. hmmmm. I’m not sure. But somehow I think it is relevant — not just anecdotally, but also politically.

    Thoughts anyone?

    :)

  43. 143
    Q Grrl says:

    um, help Amp.

    [Fixed! And thanks for pointing it out - problems like this aren't visible on all browsers, so if you don't tell me, I might not see it. --Amp]

  44. 144
    piny says:

    Sure, Bean. Sorry if it’s confusing. I agree with what you’ve said about David Reimer; I would argue that he’s good proof that raising him the way his parents did did not make him a girl. However, because he was only one person and because we really don’t understand what causes what, we can’t really use him to establish a causative relationship.

    And everything Qgrrl said.

  45. 145
    piny says:

    …Well, sorta. All I know about the potential biological bases for gender is that nothing is known about the potential biological bases for gender. We’ve got a small population of people who’ve been fitted for a great many failed explanations, a far larger group of people who don’t seem to fit into any encompassing paradigm, and a few exceptional cases that can’t inform about the whole.

    If gender is socially constructed, and if gender-identity is therefore the result of social influence, they still don’t seem to correspond to how society sees gender. It’s not like you plug social pressure x into any given person and get outcome y. We deal with a multitude of influences, all of which weave into each other, and we negotiate them in very individual ways. So while gender may not be consensual, or natural, it’s not…impersonal.

  46. 146
    piny says:

    Damn it, Q-grrl, get your chocolate out of my peanut butter.

  47. 147
    Q Grrl says:

    Well, piny, we could get into a whole side track of the social utility of gender and its transparency. :)

    I agree though, that one cannot say it isn’t impersonal, as per my anecdotal childhood. I only argue that individuals don’t necessarily get to choose the medium or the concepts. But, then again, we really don’t get to do that with anything, once we’re socialized. Damn public schooling and all that.

  48. 148
    FurryCatHerder says:

    (Sorry, that’s Q Grrl’s post at 146. Urph.

    But, hey, it worked …)

  49. 149
    Tarn says:

    Piny said:

    And I had no problem at all passing as female”“there seems to be this corollary belief that transsexuals switch to the other gender because they’re terrible at being their birth gender.

    One function of that belief seems to be to neutralise the transgressive aspects of transition- if one person can perform both male and female identities at a socially acceptable and effective level then that raises questions about how exactly the whole binary gender system operates. The separate spheres assumptions of gender effectively require that people can’t switch. After all if someone was really a man\woman all along, and was really no good in their pre-transition gender, then it’s much less troubling that they’ve chosen to change; in other words, there aren’t any ramifications for Mr or Ms Normative.

    Similarly, that understanding of trans identity is also likely to understand transition as the discovery of another (correct) identity underneath the previously misperceived one. If you see trans identity as ‘discovered’ (hence the man\woman in a man\woman’s body) then rather than seeing trans identity as potentially transgressive or destabilising of gender norms it simply becomes an instance of a misinterpretation of a fundamentally correct principle.

    Q Grrl said:

    I had a choice at this point, to either bow down to social pressure to pick a gender or to be an outcast. I chose gender. Or rather, I was coerced into making a clear choice.

    Traditionally the approach applied by the gender industry embodied this kind of defusal approach- in order to qualify for treatment trans people were required to conform to the stereotypes of the gender they were transitioning to. The treatment model was set up to confirm a conservative understanding of trans identity- the gatekeeping system ensured that the only people who could transition were those who were at least purportedly conforming to a trans narrative that confirms the gender binary and didn’t divert from traditional gender norms. The result of those restrictions was a system whereby trans people memorized the requisite narrative and served it up to the professionals. The system as it existed, and as it’s still applied in some places, was essentially institutionalised gender coercion.

    The problem I have with much of the feminist analysis of trans people was that it-exemplified by Janice Raymond- conflated the institutional forces driving coercive practices and generating the dominant narratives about who and what trans people and gender identity disorder are with the authentic desires and lived experience of trans people themselves. The dominance of the medical narrative of transition has also filtered through to the social narratives that were presented in trans memoirs, television programs on trans people and so forth. Until relatively recently the overwhelming majority of the trans narratives produced cleaved to the medical narrative, because that’s what society said trans people are like and trying to play against that is really hard. The women’s health movement and women’s attempts to re-define health and normality against medical and patriarchally enforced norms are a pretty good analogy for the hurdles trans people have faced in trying to re-define our own experiences and subjectivity.

  50. 150
    piny says:

    Everything Tarn said, too.

  51. 151
    myriad says:

    I want to say thanks to the thoughtful and reasoned responses I have received, particularly from Piny and Nexyjoe. I would like to thank you in particular for not conflating my self-confessed confusion over this case with any rejection of Alex’s very real distress, or validity in identifying male. It’s my sincere hope that Alex is exactly right and will be happy male. I can’t think of anything worse quite frankly at this point than Alex changing his mind. My apologies also Nexyjoe for the horse paraphrase -thank you for explaining your response to it; this in particular struck me:

    big part of the problem, at least as i see it, is that there is no language with which to explain what being transsexual means. we use analogy as a big part of articulating ourselves and our feelings, as an integral part of our very language, though when it comes to being trans, there is nothing, no other experience, that even comes close.

    That certainly explains well how I feel, and yes, I do find myself groping for analogies.

    Qgrrl said

    All gender identity is deliberately contrived and imposed.

    Yes, I know. Although I would argue that your regular parents don’t deliberately impose it – they just live out the paradigm, and I see that as a critical distinction with Alex’s case. His father did quite deliberately choose to enact part of his cultural background that put Alex firstly totally at odds with his mother, and secondly totally at odds with society. Those are the two bits that really strike me – and yes, I think the mother was abusive as well, just in a much more straightforward manner. I think Alex was put in a very polarising position from day one – and I think the distinction that needs to be made is between raising Alex like a boy and raising Alex as a boy.

    and I would argue that those who force a barbie doll femininity on *anyone* are the most abusive. Raising a female “as a boy” is not abusive unless you feel that the rigid gender norms of man and woman (in the adult variant) are socially healthy … a point which many feminists argue in the first place.

    To the last point, obviously. I’d argue that what children need is not to have any gender norms imposed upon them as much as humanly possible.

    What I do find troubling in what you wrote is that you seem to be saying that raising a female as a boy is not abusive – - because boys have more freedom, respect, safety etc? I hope I’m reading you wrong, because that suggests to me you are saying that it’s more desirable to raise a female as a boy because it’s all too hard to raise a female as a girl with an understanding of their freedom, respect etc.?

    And while I’d agree that barbie-doll femininity is very damaging, I’ve know girls who were equally damaged by their parents determined trying to force them to reject ‘stereotypical’ femininity when – much as I might squirm at it as a feminist – it clearly made them happy, and makes them happy to this day – I guess I could patronise the shit out them by explaining why their happiness is this terrible thing built upon a profoundly damaging stereotype, but I happen to know they are intelligent women and to say that they didn’t choose would be extremely rude. So I don’t really agree with their choice, but I can’t deny they made one.

    Tarn said

    The system as it existed, and as it’s still applied in some places, was essentially institutionalised gender coercion.

    Yes, exactly, to all that you wrote, but in particular this. And colour me still a little unconvinced that this may be at work still in Alex’s case.

  52. 152
    myriad says:

    dammit! Sorry lost last bit to Tarn; the reason for that is I am not convinced the impact of Alex’s family situation was fully taken into account; and I find statements in the case such as “Alex could beat all the boys at arm wrestling” such a load of hooey as to be really troubling. I am 5′ 3″ and could beat all the boys in virtually any physical sport until I was about 13 – because after that the boys all hit puberty and started putting on muscle etc. So presenting as “evidence” that a pre-pubescent female could beat pre-pubescent males in strength competitions is completely irrelevant. Basic physiological development teaches this.

  53. 153
    piny says:

    What I do find troubling in what you wrote is that you seem to be saying that raising a female as a boy is not abusive – - because boys have more freedom, respect, safety etc? I hope I’m reading you wrong, because that suggests to me you are saying that it’s more desirable to raise a female as a boy because it’s all too hard to raise a female as a girl with an understanding of their freedom, respect etc.?

    I–who am not Q grrl–would argue that it’s damaging, and therefore arguably abusive, to raise children with gendered norms. Alex’s mother, for example, would have been and is giving into society’s mandate that she injure her child by making her child a girl. While it’s true that girls suffer more because their position in that dichotomy is the lower one, boys are also hurt.

    To the last point, obviously. I’d argue that what children need is not to have any gender norms imposed upon them as much as humanly possible.

    But this is contradicted by your argument about why Alex’s father’s conduct constitutes abuse:

    His father did quite deliberately choose to enact part of his cultural background that put Alex firstly totally at odds with his mother, and secondly totally at odds with society.

    Had Q-grrl’s parents decided to raise Q-grrl as a strong, brave, active, independent, girl-crushing, shirtless-in-summer kid, they would have been putting her completely at odds with society, and probably damaging her ability to interact with society on its terms. On that level, there really is no difference between raising a child _like_ the opposite sex and raising a child _as_ the opposite sex; both turn your kid into a little freak who will encounter a great deal of prejudice and violence in his or her life. Nor would there be much distinction between Alex the little baby butch and Alex the boy in the eyes of any tormentors. In fact, Alex the boy is currently on a path that in some ways is much safer and much more socially acceptable than butch womanhood.

  54. 154
    RedNova says:

    All of this is interesting, very interesting….I have a lot of questions in my head and areas I want to explore but for right now, since this is my first post and I didn’t find a place to sign in/up, I’m just experimenting to see if I can just jump in like this.

    Hello to everyone!!

  55. 155
    LizardBreath says:

    what culture is it in which the youngest child is raised as a boy if there’s no boys born?

    While I don’t know if this applies to Alex (none of the links I clicked on had his ethnic background), this happens in Samoa, in both directions (a boy-less family will raise a younger girl as a boy, and a girl-less family will raise a younger boy as a girl.) Of boys raised as girls, a substantial number go on to live in a roughly trans-like role, being socially treated as women. For some reason, the reverse doesn’t seem to happen — while I knew girls who were raised as boys, I didn’t know any who continued to live as men when they reached adulthood.

  56. 156
    NancyP says:

    Thanks for all the interesting posts and interesting links – this has been a high-quality thread, full of thought.

  57. 157
    myriad says:

    Hi Piny,

    I am either having a particularly obtuse day, or perhaps you missed a word out or something, because I’m finding it really hard to see how me saying:

    1) an ideal world would see kids raised without gendered norms impossed
    and
    2) Alex’s father’s very deliberate, conscious choice to impose a gender norm opposite to that which would normally fit within the paradigm is at best selfish and misguided, and at worst, abuse.

    constitutes me contadicting myself. Help!?

    On that level, there really is no difference between raising a child _like_ the opposite sex and raising a child _as_ the opposite sex; both turn your kid into a little freak who will encounter a great deal of prejudice and violence in his or her life.

    Except with the former, there’s a much higher probability that you are not going to grow up loathing your biological body; in the latter, there’s a much higher probability you are.

    Again, I think this is the crux for me – I feel that it’s hard enough that some people grow up utterly distressed & alienated by their body; I feel the actions of both Alex’s parents, but particularly the father, significantly increased the likelihood of that happening -and it did.

    I think we’ve well and truly established that you and I disagree here (?)

    I also find these statements of yours -

    And I had no problem at all passing as female”“there seems to be this corollary belief that transsexuals switch to the other gender because they’re terrible at being their birth gender.

    my open question – so where does this place a case like Alex?

    It’s also worth pointing out that transpeople in general receive criminally negligent medical care. Any statistics on liver damage, cancer risks (especially anything related to the reproductive system), or any other health problem need to take into account that the population in question has good reason to avoid seeing a doctor or going to a hospital. The health risks associated with transition are far more social than physical.

    1, I think there’s an inherent contradiction there – ie we know little or nothing about transsexual health, they get criminally negligent care, but the risks of transitioning are far more social than physical??? and 2, I think it rather starkly contradicts your last point in your last post -

    In fact, Alex the boy is currently on a path that in some ways is much safer and much more socially acceptable than butch womanhood.

    SoI’m wondering if a lot of the unresolved stuff I see above comes down to – so far we’ve talked nigh-on exclusively about the ‘nurture’ bit. I ask this honestly, with no attempt at a ‘gotcha’ moment – what’s your take on the “nature” bit?

    cheers

  58. 158
    myriad says:

    Ps- my honest take on the “nature” side is I have no idea, and while am open to us one day finding good evidence, I’m not sure we’re there yet.

  59. 159
    hf says:

    I think there’s an inherent contradiction there – ie we know little or nothing about transsexual health, they get criminally negligent care, but the risks of transitioning are far more social than physical?

    Doesn’t seem like a contradiction when you realize that a doctor who doesn’t want to treat transsexuals might pick any specialization except sexual reassignment surgery.

  60. 160
    piny says:

    1) an ideal world would see kids raised without gendered norms impossed
    and
    2) Alex’s father’s very deliberate, conscious choice to impose a gender norm opposite to that which would normally fit within the paradigm is at best selfish and misguided, and at worst, abuse.

    It’s the part where his actions are somehow worse because he’s imposing a gendered norm that happens to be opposite from the paradigm, or worse because he’s bringing his child up to be an outsider. What if he’d raised Alex as an unfeminine girl? Would that have been better somehow? It would have been an “opposite” upbringing, to be sure.

    Except with the former, there’s a much higher probability that you are not going to grow up loathing your biological body; in the latter, there’s a much higher probability you are.

    Again, I think this is the crux for me – I feel that it’s hard enough that some people grow up utterly distressed & alienated by their body; I feel the actions of both Alex’s parents, but particularly the father, significantly increased the likelihood of that happening -and it did.

    Why do you think that it would be more likely to cause distress in one’s body? Butch dykes express alienation from their bodies all the time.

    my open question – so where does this place a case like Alex?

    In a different position from that of most people undertaking transition. Other than that, I’m not sure. Do you think Alex’s desire to transition is based solely on his lack of training as a girl? I don’t know if that’s true.

    1, I think there’s an inherent contradiction there – ie we know little or nothing about transsexual health, they get criminally negligent care, but the risks of transitioning are far more social than physical??? and 2, I think it rather starkly contradicts your last point in your last post -

    That’s not what I said at all. There’s plenty of evidence that transition is not physically harmful–to wit, the transpeople who aren’t dying or suffering liver damage. Care providers who specialize in treating transpeople are very knowledgeable. There’s also plenty of evidence to suggest that transpeople are not receiving good medical care, and that they _are_ suffering injury because of that. Take Robert Eads, for example. It’s unfortunately true that a lot of people uncritically believe alarmist ideas about trans health that don’t control for quality of care–that’s where the “liver damage” meme generally comes from.

    And by “far more social than physical,” I meant that it’s transphobia that kills us, not testosterone. On the terms you seem to understand me, of course transition carries physical risks: murder is most definitely physical. But masculinizing hormones are not that risky.

  61. 161
    myriad says:

    What if he’d raised Alex as an unfeminine girl? Would that have been better somehow?

    My gut feel is yes. Because although I agree that some butch dykes express alienation from their body, it’s not to the extreme that requires radical physical intervention. Ie while this damn culture of ours makes it hard, it’s bearable. I worry that Alex’s upbringing, and the subsequent confirmation by the court of the effects (ie total biological body alienation) essentially denied him the possibility to find a level of comfort with his body.

    Do you think Alex’s desire to transition is based solely on his lack of training as a girl? I don’t know if that’s true.

    I honestly don’t know, can only say from what I read I felt far more strongly than I ever have from reading trans case studies that there was a much higher likelihood that culture /nurture was the sole reason for Alex’s distress, and so it concerned me that ‘nature’ might reassert down the track when it was all too late.

    Which brings me back to the nature question, and I found nothing in the reportage or the court doco that really convinced me there – but I’m also aware that this is a big grey area.

    re: health – perhaps it’s because I’m an environmental scientist, and thus the precautionary principle is pretty much ingrained, but I find it hard to conceive that switching hormone balances may not have unexpected and potentially serious health consequences, and it the lack of research here in relation to transsexuals is really concerning.

    Hormones – one of the most complex, still-yet-to-be-fully-understood areas of medical science. And of course it’s very hard not to think for eg, of the ‘oopsy’ moments with regards to the blithe prescribing of HRT to post-menopausal women, and the belated significant negative side-effects that has, once we bothered to look into it.

  62. 162
    Lis Riba says:

    I think there’s an inherent contradiction there – ie we know little or nothing about transsexual health, they get criminally negligent care, but the risks of transitioning are far more social than physical?

    Doesn’t seem like a contradiction when you realize that a doctor who doesn’t want to treat transsexuals might pick any specialization except sexual reassignment surgery.

    Transsexual health goes beyond transition. Pre- and post-op, they need primary care physicians, regular checkups, maybe specialists depending what does on. They may need emergency room services at times…

    Maybe doctors who don’t want to treat men can go into gynecology (I don’t know if there are any comparable specialties for doctors who don’t want to treat women) but the notion that someone can totally avoid a certain class of patients seems dangerously ignorant. [Dangerous for the patients, I mean.]

  63. 163
    nexy jo says:

    Because although I agree that some butch dykes express alienation from their body, it’s not to the extreme that requires radical physical intervention.

    i’d agree with this except for the fact that close to 12 million people had “radical” cosmetic surgery in 2004, and i have to believe that virtually none of them were trans.

  64. 164
    piny says:

    i’d agree with this except for the fact that close to 12 million people had “radical” cosmetic surgery in 2004, and i have to believe that virtually none of them were trans.

    Thank you, Nexy! You don’t have to raise a girl as a boy to make her consider radical physical intervention.

  65. 165
    Q Grrl says:

    Exactly, just raise her as a girl and she can undergo labial or vaginal surgery just to keep up with the Jones.

  66. 166
    piny says:

    Again, I disagree that transsexuality and a desire for breast implants arise from the same cause. But if you’re working from “body-modification bad,” and you want to raise a hypothetical child in a gendered culture without any desire to modify his, her, or hir body….There may not be a way to ensure that. Remember, too, that Alex is a kid in a class of his own. We don’t really know whether other kids in his situation or similar situations would begin to feel body dysphoria as they hit puberty such that they would need to transition physically.

  67. 167
    piny says:

    Here are a couple of abstracts on long-term health and morbidity in mtfs and ftms; the second is an update of the first. The study unfortunately tracked fewer ftms than mtfs.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=2528051&query_hl=5&itool=pubmed_docsum

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=9373456&query_hl=1&itool=pubmed_docsum

    I’m curious about the 10% weight-gain thing; I don’t know many transmen who didn’t gain weight during transition, but it meant filling out and gaining muscle. Acne I can definitely vouch for, but…that’s puberty for you.

  68. 168
    myriad says:

    Hi Nexy,

    I personally consider ( with the exception of for eg, breast reduction when lumbered withdisproportionally large and painful breasts) the vast majority of cosmetic surgery to be a sign of the increasing pressure, alienation and fetishisation many people particularly in western culture express towards their bodies.

    The increasing rate of people feeling compelled by society to radically alter their body to fit some mythical and impossible perception of cloned physical perfection is not a benchmark to encourage or embrace – especially if we step outside the transsexual narrative here for a minute, and consider how what we are talking about here forms a fundamental feminist narrative critiquing the effects of hetero-normative- patriarchal -consumer-capitalist- society (breathe!) on women, and men.

  69. 169
    cicely says:

    The increasing rate of people feeling compelled by society to radically alter their body to fit some mythical and impossible perception of cloned physical perfection is not a benchmark to encourage or embrace – especially if we step outside the transsexual narrative here for a minute, and consider how what we are talking about here forms a fundamental feminist narrative critiquing the effects of hetero-normative- patriarchal -consumer-capitalist- society (breathe!) on women, and men.

    myriad,

    I have no dispute with the fact that the capitalist/consumer society drives the cosmetic industry, but with regard to feminism I wonder what you make of the dramatic rise in male participation? When both seccses are being coerced/seduced into and/or choosing to pay closer attention to their appearance, (queer eye for the straight guy; the dramatic increase in male participation in fashion and skincare all across Asia; Richard Gere and David Beckham cosmetic co. contracts etc, etc…), when does it stop being a feminist issue?

    Humans have always adorned and beautified themselves in one way or another, but the burden of doing so has historically fallen heavily onto women under patriarchy. Maybe as personal power and agency between the secces equalises men will have to work harder at attracting partners. Could this represent a feminist triumph rather than the reverse – or am I getting carried away….:). Just a thought.

  70. 170
    Ledasmom says:

    Triumph, reverse – I don’t know; it all sounds like the Red Queen’s race to me, but then I speak as someone who’s never even tried makeup. Pretty much all standardized beauty rituals seem like so much effort just to be unremarkable, whether it’s eye-liner or a butt-lift. If anything, it sounds like an increase in the base level of pointless exertion in the world, which is never a good thing.

  71. 171
    piny says:

    The increasing rate of people feeling compelled by society to radically alter their body to fit some mythical and impossible perception of cloned physical perfection is not a benchmark to encourage or embrace…

    I’m not sure I accept the idea of the extremity and increasing invasiveness of body alteration as caused by increased alienation rather than advanced technology. A hundred years ago, breast implants and liposuction simply weren’t available, and cosmetic surgery didn’t exist; instead, women stuffed and wore girdles. History is full of nasty and painful beauty treatments–some of their ill effects, admittedly, unknown to the consumers at the time. During that same period, there was no medical transition to speak of; people who wanted to cross-live had to cross-dress. That doesn’t mean that they were any happier with what they had, merely that there were no alternatives.

  72. 172
    dorktastic says:

    Just a quick comment since I’m really enjoying this conversation and I’m interested to see where it goes…

    piny – I think there is substantial evidence that the pressure to live up to an impossible standard of perfection is relatively recent. While there have always been culturally-specific ideals of beauty, these pressures would have been mild before most people had access to the kind of communications technology necessary to perpetuate these standards (magazines, print advertisements, radio, television). In The Body Project, Joan Jacob Brumberg has some really interesting historical documentation of the rise of these kinds of pressures on young American over the 20th century.

  73. 173
    Myca says:

    Dorktastic -

    While I do agree with you that the pressures to live up to an unrealistic standard of beauty are much more widespread now than they were in the past, (thank you, mass media) I’m not sure that the westernized ideal of beauty is actually more unattainable or unrealistic than it’s been in the past. That is, I see the problem now as one of width, not depth.

    As evidence, I would cite waist-reduction corsetry (as an unhealthily impossible historical western beauty standard), footbinding (as an unhealthily impossible historical asian beauty standard), and female circumcision (as an unhealthily impossible historical/modern african/middle eastern beauty standard). I’m just not sure we have beauty standards now that can compete with these for sheer insanity or cruelty to women.

    —Myca

  74. 174
    dorktastic says:

    oh – one other quick comment
    I am a non-trans woman who recently had breast reduction surgery. Although my breasts were disproportionately large, they did not cause any significant pain. My major reason for choosing to go through with the surgery was intense discomfort with my body after many years of dealing with years of unwanted sexual attention beginning at a very young age (11), not being able to buy clothes that fit, and having my breasts be the first thing people noticed about me. This is something that I have trouble admitting to fellow feminists IRL because I don’t want to face the judgement that goes along with having this kind of surgery for largely cosmetic reasons.
    Having the surgery is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I think it’s really unfortunate that my choice to have this procedure is subject to such intense criticism with no recogntion that living in a body that is not seen as normal or acceptable is a very emotionally painful and damaging experience. Of course these personal narratives should be understood in the context of a misogynist and body-negative culture, and be subject to feminist critique, but it needs to be a more nuanced discussion than cosmetic surgery = mutilation except in extreme cases.
    Oops – I guess that neither of these comments were actually quick ones!

  75. 175
    dorktastic says:

    Myca
    I think that contemporary beauty standards do meet the standards of corsets and foot-binding for insantiy and cruelty.
    Extremely high rates of eating disorders, that can lead to death (anorexia has a mortality rate of between 5-20%), dangerous weight-loss surgeries that can lead to a lifetime of malnutrition, people who inject botulism into their faces to get rid of wrinkles, skin bleaching creams, and high heels that lead to permanent damage to joints and tendons are a few examples. Of course, there’s also the widespread practice of episiotomy (slicing open the perenium during labour in order to widen the birth canal), which is also used by doctor’s to retain vaginal tightness for the pleasure of sexual partners even when it is not medically necessary and there is a lot of evidence that the resulting scars can be very painful and diminish a woman’s ability to experience sexual pleasure.

  76. 176
    Myca says:

    Hrm. Good points, all.

    I’m still not convinced that things are actually worse now, and a number of the things you cite have historical analogies as well, which are often worse. Would you rather have your feet bound, or wear high heels? Would you rather use botox, or arsenic face powder? Episiotomy or female circumcision?

    On the other hand, anorexia does seem to be a solidly modern malady, and some of the other things you cite seem to be either modern or exacerbated by the modern world. I’m happy (happy? oy.) to concede that things are just as bad, barbaric, and awful now as they’ve ever been, though now they’re often cloaked in the veil of modern medicine.

    —Myca

  77. 177
    piny says:

    On the other hand, anorexia does seem to be a solidly modern malady

    Modern like the telegraph, not modern like botox, although it is definitely increasing. It existed at least as far back as the Victorian era.

  78. 178
    Myca says:

    *nod*
    But wasn’t the Victorian era sort of the beginning of our national love affair with sickly, pale, wan looking women?

    The whole “oh, she’s got tuberculosis! She’s so dreamy . . .” thing.

  79. 179
    piny says:

    Well, sure. But it predates the plastic age by many years. And, IIRC, the Victorian age was before the cut-off The Body Project loosely uses for when the body-obsessive tide began to turn and little girls switched from, “Must become more generous person,” to, “Must fit into bikini.”

    This thought is only half-baked, but…I’m bothered by an apparent reading of surgery/corsetry/foot-torture as special cases or a special trend or even a special focus on the body. All they are, assuming they are new or newly extreme for cultural rather than technological reasons, is a decision on the part of the patriarchy to put women’s bodies to different uses. It doesn’t mean that women are less embodied or body-obsessed, merely that–again, assuming–they’re ordered to control other parts of their bodies. Is an eighteenth-century woman who feels compelled to have children until her body gives out less mutilated than a woman with breast implants? Are the effects of those demands more natural or less extreme?

  80. 180
    piny says:

    And I guess what I should be asking is, is a woman taught to see her body as a baby-making machine less alienated from that body?

  81. 181
    Myca says:

    I’m bothered by an apparent reading of surgery/corsetry/foot-torture as special cases or a special trend or even a special focus on the body. All they are, assuming they are new or newly extreme for cultural rather than technological reasons, is a decision on the part of the patriarchy to put women’s bodies to different uses.

    I think that there’s absolutely some truth to that, but I don’t think it really encompasses the issues I was pointing to.

    I tend to think that there are a few issues of injustice here. First, and most all-pervasive, is the injustice you’re referring to . . . the idea that a woman’s body isn’t her own, and that she is to be compelled to use it in certain ways for the good/amusement/asthetic appreciation of others. This is a real problem, and a big one.

    The issue I was looking at was more the specific ways in which she is compelled to use her body, and whether there are more or less extremely horrible ways that womens bodies have been used. Discussion and recognition of one doesn’t preclude discussion and recognition of the other.

    Think of it this way: A 19th century housewife, kept in the absolute lap of luxury, waited on by her servants, and very much in love with her husband is still expected to have his children whether she wants to or not. In this specific case she may want to, and in this specific case her loss of freedom may not be as onerous as it would be for, say, an enslaved prostitute who is beaten and burned when she rebels against her pimp.

    There’s still a loss of freedom for both of them. In one way, their situation is the same. Both of them are having their freedom curtailed and their bodily autonomy stolen by the patriarchy. I think it’s important to recognize that commonality.

    At the same time, it’s also important to recognize that in other, concrete ways, their situations are utterly different. The houswife wouldn’t choose to swap lives with the prostitute, and the prostitute likely dreams of a life as comfortable as the housewife’s. Without recognizing this difference, I find that the whole discussion ends up lacking credibility.

    It’s the whole “We’re both sisters in oppression!” “No we’re not. You’ve got a good life and mine sucks ass.” argument.

    —Myca

  82. 182
    piny says:

    And I happen to agree with that. I’m talking about something else, namely, how this kind of demand is seen as newly physical/body-related, or newly invasive, or newly alienating.

    The maybe-not-really borders I was pointing to were different ones and ones which can be controlled for class–say, between an upper-middle-class eighteenth-century woman who has children because she believes she should and an upper-middle-class twenty-first-century woman who gets breast implants in her mid-twenties because she believes she should.

  83. 183
    Myriad says:

    Hi Cicely,

    I have no dispute with the fact that the capitalist/consumer society drives the cosmetic industry, but with regard to feminism I wonder what you make of the dramatic rise in male participation?….. when does it stop being a feminist issue?

    I think you have to remember we are talking about the patriarchy, ie the rule of white older elite men; it’s easy to forget this and think that patriarchy = all men. Not at all. The quote that always reminds me of this critical difference is Churchill’s saying something like “war is a gentleman’s agreement between countries to kill each other’s young men”.

    “Young men” (in this sense, men who are not members of the elite) are kept in support of the patriarchy because of course they are rewarded more by it, and because they have the carrot of one day joining the elite dangled in front of them continuously. For this, they fight and kill each other, and compete in every sphere.

    But that doesn’t preclude or negate the fact that ‘young men’ are also fodder for patriarchy – to fight their wars, and drive their consumer-capitalist economy, just as women are. Previously the divide between the use of men and women has been more stark; the critical change I think is consumer-capitalism. It is a beast that must always be fed to keep achieving “growth” (ie wealth accumulation for a relative few aka the patriarchy); and thus it simply cannot afford to be based solely on women as consumers. Thus we see pressures that have traditionally predominantly fallen on women spreading to men – in this day and age, cosmetic surgery and the whoe ‘metrosexual’ meme are good examples.

    IOW, I’m saying that men are victims of the patriarchy too. Not to the same extent as women, but they are nevertheless in the majority, grist for the mill one way or another.

    So no, I don’t see this remotely as a feminist triumph. :/

  84. 184
    Myriad says:

    PS Piny et al., I’ll come back to other responses in a bit. It’s the weekend here, and I owe my girl some serious quality time. :-)

  85. 185
    seranvali says:

    I feel terribly conflicted over this one.

    As a caring and empathetic person I would dearly love to welcome trans folk as whatever gender is most comfortable for them.

    On the other hand it bothers me that the definition of ‘masculine’ in our culture is so narrow that men who don’t fit it feel that the only way they can be accepted, or accept themselves, is to become a woman.

    Then there’s the problem that the term ‘woman’ is being used as a kind of default for anyone who doesn’t fit the prevailing definition of ‘masculinity’.

    I think that maybe the long term solution is probably to change the expectations of ‘masculinity’, rather than have people endure the pain and trauma of medication and surgery that would enable them to live as women.

  86. 186
    piny says:

    On the other hand it bothers me that the definition of ‘masculine’ in our culture is so narrow that men who don’t fit it feel that the only way they can be accepted, or accept themselves, is to become a woman.

    Then there’s the problem that the term ‘woman’ is being used as a kind of default for anyone who doesn’t fit the prevailing definition of ‘masculinity’.

    I know some butch dyke transwomen–and some high femme transguys–who would love to talk to you.

    Look, read the thread. IIRC, there are several transpeople on it who dispel the oft-repeated myth that transpeople transition because they don’t fit into conventional ideas about masculine men and feminine women. Might be hard to believe, but I was feminine. I made an awesome woman. I’m currently a C-minus at masculinity. I’m not sure where the second part of your “problem” is coming from, but I assure you that no one’s trying to make “woman” the default catch-all for everything not-man. Okay, maybe the patriarchy. If you have more time, you might want to check out, ftmichael.tashari.org for resources, or read Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein for a meditation on gender role and identity.

  87. 187
    Nick Kiddle says:

    Might be hard to believe, but I was feminine. I made an awesome woman. I’m currently a C-minus at masculinity.

    I’ve got to post one of the pictures of me in hospital looking femme enough to have my trans card permanently cancelled. Everyone who’s seen it thinks I look beautiful, but I just think it makes me look like a stranger.

  88. 188
    nexyjo says:

    ummm, yeah. maybe i just don’t understand what the words “masculine” and “feminine” actually mean. i wore a dress twice in 2005, once for a friend’s wedding, and the other when i got married. and both times, i couldn’t wait to get back home and put back on my jeans and t-shirt, the types of clothes i’ve been wearing my whole life.

    my husband’s truck door handle wouldn’t make the door open again a few weeks back, so i grabbed my tools, pulled off the door panel, and readjusted the door latch actuator. is that feminine or masculine? should i care?

    i think a big part of the problem is that there is no language that accurately (or even inaccurately) defines what it is that drives people to transition, and that folks who are not trans can’t help but to understand the need to transition in the context of gender roles, and how one “fits” (or doesn’t “fit”) into them.

  89. 189
    cicely says:

    Thus we see pressures that have traditionally predominantly fallen on women spreading to men – in this day and age, cosmetic surgery and the whoe ‘metrosexual’ meme are good examples.

    IOW, I’m saying that men are victims of the patriarchy too. Not to the same extent as women, but they are nevertheless in the majority, grist for the mill one way or another.

    So no, I don’t see this remotely as a feminist triumph. :/

    I hear you, Myriad. I have to give more thought to the connection between capitalism/consumerism and patriarchy. I’ve always also understood capitalism to be kind of like a cancer in that it has to keep growing to survive… which is scary. I’m no economist though, and I’m not a full on socialist either. (because I treasure individual thought, I think. Wholly socialist governments have been frighteningly oppressive from my observation). I favour democratic socialism as practised in Scandanavia – where the intrinsic value and dignity of all of the people is more important than the accumulation of individual personal wealth, but it’s still a capitalist economy.

    It seems that the essentialist versus the social constructivist viewpoints are a major sticking point in this question of whether feminism should accept transeccuals as women. Transeccsuals are struggling to make yourselves understood or believed about your motivation to transition, and that it has nothing to do with ‘gender roles’, no matter how often this is repeated. (well, people are always hearing it for the first time too, I get that…) That may not come down to a belief in essentialism for all transeccsuals (no ‘eccs’ on keyboard), I know it doesn’t in fact, but I wonder, as I’ve seen it written elsewhere – would essentialism be the problem it is if it wasn’t ‘in bed with’ political oppression?

    If it happens to be so that some things, like transecsuality or homosesuality ‘are’ innate or hardwired for a percentage of people, this will be a never ending debate until ‘something’ is irrefutably proven. I wonder why we can’t move forward politically by allowing for both possibilities since neither is ‘provable’, on its own. Because I believe in the innateness of some things, it doesn’t follow in my mind that feminism is doomed.

  90. 190
    NancyP says:

    cicely, here’s hoping iour keiboard gets healthi soon.

    dorktastic, non-trans reduction mammoplasty is often done for reasons such as yours – to become less noticeable. It is a little different from getting breast augmentation, and more like getting sticking-out ears pinned back. Other people might do non-surgical strategies, such as changing clothing style or hair style. I considered reduction once because I was self-conscious, but found that a little clothing change and a little weight loss and a little “piss off” attitude towards leerers made me feel less out-of-norm. I had a real aversion to general anesthesia for cosmetic reasons, knowing that there is a small but real risk.

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  92. 191
    Florene says:

    I am pissed off I missed this conversation while it was going on, but glad I got to read it anyway.

    I was recently informed by a FTM that my comments would be deleted if I continued asking radical feminist questions on his blog. Some of those questions have been addressed very well here, but not entirely. (I was referred to Piny, and lo and behold, here is Piny. Where can we talk further?)

    I am in fundamental disagreement with most of what you say, but at least you reply in provocative and interesting ways. :)

  93. 192
    piny says:

    I am pissed off I missed this conversation while it was going on, but glad I got to read it anyway.

    I was recently informed by a FTM that my comments would be deleted if I continued asking radical feminist questions on his blog. Some of those questions have been addressed very well here, but not entirely. (I was referred to Piny, and lo and behold, here is Piny. Where can we talk further?)

    I am in fundamental disagreement with most of what you say, but at least you reply in provocative and interesting ways. :)

    Who was this? Did he actually say, “You may not make radical-feminist comments on my blog,” or did he take issue with particular things you were saying because he found them offensive?

    I recently put up a post on feministe (feministe.us/blog) saying that I’d take good-faith questions on feminism; that seems like the most appropriate place. I’m in rather a tired mood right now, but I should have time within the next few days. Shoot.

  94. 193
    lyssa says:

    Hi, everybody…I just read this thread, well as much of it as I could in two hours, And I had a question:

    Is anybody here trans or intersex?

    I’d love to know where these interesting viewpoints are coming from culturally.

  95. 194
    lyssa says:

    I just read the ENTIRE thread. Ignore the last post.

    nexyjo, come back soon…

  96. 195
    Eva says:

    Lyssa – and anyone else who may be interested – in viewing/participating in a current dialog regarding this subject go to
    http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/episode-495