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#Transdocfail
January 14, 2013 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Julie Burchill being nasty again about trans people in The Guardian (in an article since replaced by an apology of the editor) is bad enough, as it might provide cover for bullying but much more worrying is the general disrespect and disdain many trans people receive from their own doctors, as documented in stories shared through Twitter and elsewhere.

Two weeks ago, one of the few doctors providing gender re-assignment outside the NHS, doctor Richard Curtis came under investigation by the General Medical Council, for alleged errors made during gender reassignment, including one alleged wrongful referral for surgery.

For many trans people this investigation looked like yet another attack on the already scarce resources for gender reassignment in the UK, once again focusing on the alleged harm that might have been done to people erroneously under going gender realignment therapies, rather than the everyday difficulties many trans people have with getting the right medical support.

This anger led to the establishment of the TransDocFail hashtag on twitter, started by trans activists Zoe O'Connell and Lib Dem councillor Sarah Brown, asking UK trans patients to relate their experiences with gender reassignment and health care in general. It led to a flood of tweets by trans people, often anonymously describing the problems and bigotry they encounter at their GP or hospital.

The heart of the problem still seems to be the idea that trans people need to be protected from making a potential mistake more than they need to be helped become what they really are, as well as a continuing transphobia amongst some health care workers, not often addressed in the news media. As Sarah Brown is quoted:
“The media are typically invested in presenting a rigid narrative about how trans people interact with medicine. The stories trans people would like to tell, stories of outrageous levels of systemic abuse and transphobia, don't fit this narrative and so go ignored and unreported. Social media is changing this. The stories trans people have to tell are reaching people who seldom hear them, and people are often appalled by what they hear. We can't even begin to tackle widespread medical abuse of trans people until there is wider awareness of just how bad it is.”
A related problem is the fact that so often, the only trans stories covered in the media are negative ones, which is something the We Happy Trans project attempts to do something about (as featured previously).
posted by MartinWisse (132 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fox News can't even report on trans issues without being offensive.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:57 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Minor point: Burchill's article was in The Guardian's sister paper, The Observer.
posted by Elmore at 2:02 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm preparing for a visit from an old friend this coming weekend, and I just know it is going to be an unmitigated disaster concerning exactly this very issue. It could be the last time we speak if my friend can't cool it.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:04 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here is a google cache of the original Burchill article
posted by Blasdelb at 2:05 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Fox News can't even report on trans issues without being offensive.

You can say that again.

Fox Hosts Mock, Laugh At Transgender Inmate's Appearance
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and Megyn Kelly mocked the physical appearance of a transgender inmate, repeatedly referring to her as a "he" and joking that she isn't attractive enough to be in danger of sexual assault.

During the January 11 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly and Kelly discussed a transgender inmate in Massachusetts - Michelle Kosilek - who successfully sued the state in order to acquire gender reassignment surgery while in prison. After criticizing the state for covering the cost of Kosilek's surgery, O'Reilly turned to mocking her appearance, repeatedly referring to her as a male.
Video.
posted by ericb at 2:09 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women – above natural-born women, who don't know the meaning of suffering, apparently – is a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: the boy who killed his parents and then asked the jury for clemency on the grounds he was an orphan.

Shims, shemales, whatever you're calling yourselves these days – don't threaten or bully us lowly natural-born women, I warn you. We may not have as many lovely big swinging Phds as you, but we've experienced a lifetime of PMT and sexual harassment and many of us are now staring HRT and the menopause straight in the face – and still not flinching. Trust me, you ain't seen nothing yet. You really won't like us when we're angry.


Good god. I hope she AND her friend get all the ire that's coming to her, from people with all sorts of genitalia and body images.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:11 PM on January 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


And here's "An open letter to Suzanne Moore" by Paris Lees.
posted by EvaDestruction at 2:14 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


And we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs.

....oh, my god.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:14 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


This continues to prove to me that the concept of "bullying" should be reserved for children's disputes, not adult relationships. A mean shitty awful bigoted columnist is no more "bullying" adult transpeople than those transpeople's choices are "bullying" women by their existence. Just, everyone stop saying Bullies.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:15 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


"This continues to prove to me that the concept of "bullying" should be reserved for children's disputes, not adult relationships."

You must lead a charmed life.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:16 PM on January 14, 2013 [15 favorites]


She, the other JB and I are part of the minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street and I think this partly contributes to the stand-off with the trannies. (I know that's a wrong word, but having recently discovered that their lot describe born women as 'Cis' – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff – they're lucky I'm not calling them shemales. Or shims.)

Are you entirely fucking serious. Because OBVIOUSLY the word "cis", because it sounds like "cistern", is EXACTLY as offensive as the word, "tranny", a slang derogative with a long and ignoble history of oppression and violence. I hope she catches fire.

(I have a very close friend, a transperson, who comes to visit me in my very conservative area of the country every once in a while. I'm not the praying type, but every day she's here I pray for her safety.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 2:16 PM on January 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


Some missing context here: Julie Burchill and Suzanne Moore are long-established high profile left-wing feminist commentators (who also express pride in their working class socialist/feminist roots especially) in the UK media. So this controversy is also causing delight in the right-wing, conservative press in Britain (Telegraph = the main "high brow" quality newspaper on the right in the UK. Much more respectable than, say, the Daily Mail, and often critical of the Conservative Party as well as the left)
posted by Bwithh at 2:21 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


For many trans people this investigation looked like yet another attack on the already scarce resources for gender reassignment in the UK, once again focusing on the alleged harm that might have been done to people erroneously under going gender realignment therapies, rather than the everyday difficulties many trans people have with getting the right medical support.

It seems like the harm done to people erroneously undergoing gender realignment is very serious and worthy of a great deal of genuine concern. I'm sure that health resources for trans people are scandalously bad, but it doesn't seem like the solution to that is to give a pass to doctors providing those services who don't follow the standard rules regarding when they administer gender reassignment treatments.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:24 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, at the centre-left New Statesman magazine, where this whole affair started, it's coincidentally Trans Issues Week:
"PS. I should add upfront that this theme week was planned before the recent Twitterstorm about Julie Burchill's article. We won't be hosting a response to that, as the idea of a New Statesman comment piece about an Observer comment piece about a Guardian comment piece about Twitter comments made after a New Statesman comment piece might be testing the patience of a casual reader."
posted by Bwithh at 2:25 PM on January 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


You must lead a charmed life.

Well I am pretty privileged, so fair enough. But I was bullied as a child, and people have been socially dismissive, rude, abusive and physically violent towards me as an adult now and then, and it was different. The combination of all those things plus the helplessness of being a child results in bullying. Without that helplessness, it's just various degrees of being an asshole or a criminal.

As it is, you just end up with everyone accusing each other without any criteria needed, as in this case, of this unfocused buzzword. Meanwhile ending children's bullying just gets more difficult. Sorry for the derail.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:26 PM on January 14, 2013


Fox News can't even report on trans issues without being offensive.

Like, okay. It's Fox News. Hell, it's not even Fox News, it's Fox Nation. On something as sensitive as trans issues, I would expect something truly outrageous here. And to be sure, the comments do not disappoint in the slightest - vile, vile shit.

But the article itself? The five paragraphs of actual article, not the responses? That seems entirely neutral to me. What's offensive about that article?
posted by kafziel at 2:27 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I know Burchill's shtick is being a troll, but I read her Observer article when it was first published and thought it was nothing but a hateful rant. She has every right to hold and communicate those beliefs, but they reflect ill on her and the newspaper. I mean, it was really shockingly bad stuff, and would have been surprised had the Daily Mail published something so bad.

For me, the highlight was, "To my mind – I have given cool-headed consideration to the matter – a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write looks a lot like how I'd imagine the Black and White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look."
posted by Jehan at 2:31 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am very glad to see the Burchill piece replaced by an (weak, cowardly, whiny, IMO) apology, but that it was published at all genuinely surprises and upsets me. That thing was just terrible--open, shameless hate speech. Unfortunately, the Guardian has published several anti-trans pieces recently; the Moore article is a lighter, less hateful example, while this awful thing is somewhere in between the mere defensiveness of Moore and the rank offensiveness of Burchill. I'm fairly sure I've seen others; I don't care to look them up.

I feel that the Guardian has pretty much made their stance on these issues, and it is shameful because it's pretty obviously not a stance in favor of human dignity and rights.
posted by byanyothername at 2:31 PM on January 14, 2013


Blasdelb: "You must lead a charmed life."

I think the best part is contrasting roomthreeseventeen's comment with Potomac Avenue's, one after the other.
posted by boo_radley at 2:32 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seems to me that bullying is personal -- i.e. you know the people directly and interact with them socially. Whatever you call Julie Burchill's actions, they aren't that. If you're persecuting a group on a political/social level, that's more like demagoguery, scapegoating, or persecution.
posted by msalt at 2:32 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Kafziel - the photograph they chose to accompany it was an egregious still from Mrs. Doubtfire when I first looked at the article half an hour ago. Seems they've come to their senses a bit in the meantime.
posted by zjacreman at 2:33 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


It seems like the harm done to people erroneously undergoing gender realignment is very serious and worthy of a great deal of genuine concern.

How many people ARE there erroneously undergoing gender realignment? Is this truly a serious problem?
posted by KathrynT at 2:33 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


That seems entirely neutral to me. What's offensive about that article?

I didn't read the article -- couldn't get past the above-the-fold graphic of Robin Williams, as Mrs. Doubtfire, holding a pair of pot lids over his chest as if to demonstrate his giant nipples.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:34 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


To my mind – I have given cool-headed consideration to the matter – a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write looks a lot like how I'd imagine the Black and White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look. That rude and ridic.
Well, good thing she's cool headed. Hate to see what she'd have written is she went off half-cocked.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:34 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, good thing she's cool headed. Hate to see what she'd have written is she went off half-cocked.

Umm, phrasing?
posted by kafziel at 2:35 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Julie Burchill should have stuck to writing second rate music reviews or silly columns about her seemingly ever-changing religious "convictions".

She[Suzanne Moore], the other JB[Julie Bindel] and I are part of the minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street and I think this partly contributes to the stand-off with the trannies.

Yet more evidence of what a great mistake the Reform Act and subsequent political and social changes in the UK have been.
posted by atrazine at 2:35 PM on January 14, 2013


But the article itself? The five paragraphs of actual article, not the responses? That seems entirely neutral to me. What's offensive about that article?

Well, I could fisk the whole article to show all the points where it isn't coming from a neutral perspective. Example: "Insist" isn't a neutral word and "quietly directed" implies that it is the government trying to sneak something in.

But the main thing is that it is called out at all. There are plenty of other things that states tell private insurance companies they MUST do that don't get reported at all. And those affect a much, much, much larger percentage of the population. The reason Fox Nation called it out is exactly for the comments and page views. And that's really offensive.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:35 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kafziel - the photograph they chose to accompany it was an egregious still from Mrs. Doubtfire when I first looked at the article half an hour ago. Seems they've come to their senses a bit in the meantime.

Oh wow, yes, they did remove it. Good for them, I guess? Here's the image that originally accompanied the Fox News Article about healthcare for trans people.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:36 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


This sort of thing was allowed in the 80s when Julie burchill first made her name. A A Gill is cut from the same cloth but at least he can still string a sentence together.
posted by Summer at 2:37 PM on January 14, 2013


How many people ARE there erroneously undergoing gender realignment? Is this truly a serious problem?

There's allegations about this particular doctor (i.e. people who he's referred for gender realignment who possibly shouldn't have gotten referrals because they didn't meet the criteria) at least one of them regrets the process. I doubt it's a serious problem generally, but it sounds like there's a decent reason to believe that it might be a problem with this one doctor, which is all it would seem that you would need to launch an investigation of this one doctor.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:38 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some missing context here: Julie Burchill and Suzanne Moore are long-established high profile left-wing feminist commentators

Yeah, but I didn't want it to be the Julie Burchill, Hateful Troll Show again. In the overall scheme of thing, she is more annoying than dangerous, even if some easily misguided people believe it is possible to be on the left and transphobic. Much more important is the outburst of sharing transphobic experiences the accusations against doctor Richard Curtis have led to. I only mentioned Burchill because she unwittingly helped raise these issues with her screed.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:41 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


And here's "An open letter to Suzanne Moore" by Paris Lees.

I'm going to go cry now.
posted by byanyothername at 2:42 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here's my general rule: When you decide to use your column to defend a friend's honor you're probably not thinking it through. If you insist you're unbiased while writing about someone of whose children you are godmother you are delusional as well.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:43 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm going to be reviewing an Against Me! show this week, and the singer has recently come out as transgender. What's the best way to be sensitive about that? Just use female pronouns and not mention anything else about it?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:45 PM on January 14, 2013


MCMN: But the main thing is that [the directive to reimburse gender reassignment treatments] is called out at all. There are plenty of other things that states tell private insurance companies they MUST do that don't get reported at all. And those affect a much, much, much larger percentage of the population. The reason Fox Nation called it out is exactly for the comments and page views. And that's really offensive.

I don't know, this seems like stretching to find offense. You're right that other treatments are required to be covered, but the story is covering the change, the newness of the requirement. The recent, new requirement to cover contraception got 100 times more coverage. That's a totally natural news story, for people on both sides of the issue. Frankly, I'm surprised how even-handed the Fox story is, and that it wasn't covered more in less conservative media.
posted by msalt at 2:49 PM on January 14, 2013


Julie Bindel, to whom she refers in the article, is pretty transphobic too.

Regarding 'tranny' - is it more offensive in the US than in the UK? There's a club here called Trannyshack, and a faux-queen performer who calls herself 'the tranny with a fanny'. Or is this just reclaiming the word as was with 'queer'? As a straight bio-lady (cis still feels like a weird word to me as it's one I only come across online rather than irl - sounds like La Burchill only saw it last week or something) I wouldn't choose to use it myself, but I wondered whether this was a linguistic divide like the oft-discussed-here transatlantic split on 'cunt'.
posted by mippy at 2:50 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


More a generational thing, I've found, with some "first generation" trans people prefering or not minding tranny, with younger trans people finding it offensive, polite/correct terminology having evolved from transsexual to transgender to trans and trans* and never used as a standalone noun.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:54 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


What's the best way to be sensitive about that? Just use female pronouns and not mention anything else about it?

Can you contact the singer and ask what they prefer?
posted by benito.strauss at 2:55 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, I read the original Suzanne Moore piece and thought the reference to 'Brazilian transexual' didn't appear to be particularly transphobic - more a reference to how the fashionable body shape for women is getting more youthful, slender and androgynous to the point where men (albeit beautiful ones) are able to catwalk model. It seemed pretty incidental to me - the meaning would be the same had it been switched out for '14yr old catwalk model'. The Twitter row I couldn't tell you about, but Moore's article seemed light years away from what Burchill wrote.

I guess what I mean is that I get Moore's intent by what was later pointed out to her as clumsy phrasing.

(On a forum I used to post on, JB was derogatorily referred to as 'Beachball', which always made me a bit uncomfortable.)
posted by mippy at 2:57 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]



Here is a google cache of the original Burchill article
posted by Blasdelb at 2:05 PM on January 14 [3 favorites +] [!]


Not any more.....
posted by lalochezia at 2:57 PM on January 14, 2013


Charlemagne, any chance you can ask the singer, or singer's publicist/agent? Or look to their website/concert info for guidance?

If I couldn't get any info from the individual person, and assuming that the coming out was very public/chosen (i.e. *not* that they came out to a friends/a small group and it got publicised), then I'd do what I think you're suggesting - use the pronouns and name that the singer prefers now. But since this is someone with a musical career, they're probably forming ideas about how they want to manage the career transition (or start entirely anew) and would appreciate the call.

on preview, oh hey benito
posted by heyforfour at 2:59 PM on January 14, 2013


I also think that for people with little or no contact with activist circles (it's contact I pretty much only have through Metafilter, but that's more than a lot) there's not much sense of how to appropriately refer to trans people. I had a colleague once who had a trans woman client and was steadfastly sure that the appropriate pronoun was "shim." As in, she was trying to be respectful and polite, and that was the word she chose. A term like tranny might be considered appropriate by people who are trying, but don't have enough experience with transsexual issues to know what to do.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:03 PM on January 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Thanks for posting the Paris Lees article upthread. I hadn't come across her before, and earlier I happened to be looking up an old Manchester band and reading an interview about Stephen Nancy and how he felt that working class culture was intrinsically homophobic. I think it's extremely brave for someone from a council estate to take the first steps toward living as LGBQT, and sad that someone who has styled herself as a working class voice (bollocks she is, by the way, she's not spoken to anyone on the sharp end of a giro for decades) is quick not to recognise that.
posted by mippy at 3:04 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]



Charlemagne, any chance you can ask the singer, or singer's publicist/agent? Or look to their website/concert info for guidance?

If I couldn't get any info from the individual person, and assuming that the coming out was very public/chosen (i.e. *not* that they came out to a friends/a small group and it got publicised), then I'd do what I think you're suggesting - use the pronouns and name that the singer prefers now. But since this is someone with a musical career, they're probably forming ideas about how they want to manage the career transition (or start entirely anew) and would appreciate the call.


The singer is performing midway on the bill of Australia's largest music festival, and they came out in a cover story in Rolling Stone magazine. If I get personal access to them it'll be by coincidence. I'll just use the female pronoun and the new name that the singer prefers. I suspect that there will be a bunch of insensitive comments by the Australian music press, but I hope I get proven wrong.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:06 PM on January 14, 2013


Bulgaroktonos - my mum does that with 'coloured', because it was the polite word when she was young whereas 'black' was not. She'd probably have a similar time of it trying to work out what The Right Word was. It's only recently that she's stopped describing Julian Clary and Sean from Corrie as 'a nice boy' or 'a bit that way'.
posted by mippy at 3:07 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


A queer colleague who spends lots of time in trans circles told me the other day that the best thing is just to ask, "What pronouns would you like me to use for you?"
posted by msalt at 3:08 PM on January 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


The criteria for "successful" gender and sexual reassignment are not without problems, themselves. Like leaving room for psychiatric professionals for confuse sexual orientation with gender identity (e.g. refusing to believe that gay trans people exist) or insisting that gender identity needs to be performed a certain way (e.g. being forced to perform extremely stereotypical versions of masculinity and femininity in order to be considered successful). I am curious to see whether the investigation of Dr. Curtis brings this to the fore.

Charlemagne in Sweatpants, Laura Jane Grace appears to have indicated a preference for feminine pronouns, at least in her public life. If you have reason to refer to gender as it relates to her pre-transition body of work, consulting her publicist about how to handle that would be appropriate. I would be surprised if that's the case, though, as personally I can't see that transitioning has substantially affected her music.
posted by EvaDestruction at 3:11 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


CIS: LGBT Movement Advancement Project's guide for allies on talking about transgender law has some good general guidelines about people too.
posted by klangklangston at 3:13 PM on January 14, 2013


Charlemagne in Sweatpants (CIS?): on page 4 of the Rolling Stone article, the singer asks the writer to meet for "an experiment" and appears as Laura Jane Grace. At this point the article shifts pronouns to "she". Wikipedia says s/he performs as Laura Jane as of last May. I'd go by that, unless the name on the show's bill goes back to Tommy Gables.
posted by msalt at 3:25 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think it's a stretch to call Burchill “left-wing”. She's a troll, a shit-stirrer whose agenda is to get a reaction. From her young days as a punk-rock journalist for a more radical NME through to her support for Israeli military actions, intensifying seemingly in reaction to the amount of discomfort it causes among the chattering classes, and now her hurling of crude slurs against transgendered people, wilfully dismissing the nuances of gender identity. Her politics and views seem to be guided by what will cause the most outrage.
posted by acb at 3:27 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


In the hateful Observer rant, mostly what I read is another example of a feminist generational divide. Trans*people put the lie to gender essentialism. If women all share X and men all share Y, leading to power imbalances Z, then trans*people.... fuck up that overly simplified equation.

Gender non-essentialism (egalitarianism) is a more central feminist principle than the sideshow of essentialism. How challenging it is for some feminists that trans* developments are logical outgrowths of core feminist work.

"A women's place is in the house and in the senate" works both ways. And some people choose to stay in both, or somewhere else entirely.

In other words, the ladies version of get off my (brazilianed?) lawn.
posted by Dreidl at 3:27 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


oh hey, heyforfour.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:28 PM on January 14, 2013


It seems like the harm done to people erroneously undergoing gender realignment is very serious and worthy of a great deal of genuine concern. I'm sure that health resources for trans people are scandalously bad, but it doesn't seem like the solution to that is to give a pass to doctors providing those services who don't follow the standard rules regarding when they administer gender reassignment treatments.

Okay, so the 'rate of regret' for transition is not really known precisely, other than that it's low (see pages 13 and 14). The studies of 'success' after transition are pretty fucked up--they do things like equate being on disability with a 'not successful' transition. But if you want to find them, I dug them up in some other trans thread.

So what does this have to do with Dr Curtis? There are (I think) three complaints against Curtis being investigated by the GMC. It's possible that he's behaved outrageously and should have his license revoked. More likely, though, is that, as (again I think--someone please correct me) the primary option for trans people seeking care outside the NHS, he's seen enough patients that 3 complaints is to be expected.
posted by hoyland at 3:30 PM on January 14, 2013


You really won't like us when we're angry.

I don't like you now.
posted by Snyder at 3:36 PM on January 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


From the article in the link (which doesn't have the number 'three' in it, which I swear I read earlier today):
The allegations include commencing hormone treatment in complex cases without referring the patient for a second opinion or before they had undergone counselling, administering hormone treatment at patients' first appointments, and referring patients for surgery before they had lived in their desired gender role for a year, as international guidelines recommend. One patient allegedly underwent surgery within 12 months of their first appointment. He is also accused of administering hormones to patients aged under 18 without an adequate assessment, and wrongly stating that a patient seeking gender reassignment had changed their name.
Part of the issue is that the Standards of Care (the 'international guidelines') don't require 'living in role' for a year before hormone therapy or surgery. Nor do they require a year of therapy. Nor a second opinion. They do have a separate protocol for those under the age of majority, which does include at least some of those things. As I understand it, all those things are standard in the NHS, though, regardless of what the Standards of Care say. (It's not like the Standards of Care are law--they're a bunch of guidelines some people with a fair few qualifications in the area sat down and wrote (several times).) I believe the NHS officially claims they're using the Standards of Care, but they're known not to be following the current version and I think it's thought they're not using any even vaguely recent version. I do not know whether Curtis is bound by a set of rules matching or approximating NHS policy.
posted by hoyland at 3:50 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hoyland: agreed on Curtis. In addition, as a doctor working outside the NHS, I'd say he's probably likely to have seen many patients who are desperate for treatment and frustrated with the slow pace of the NHS trans process. While it works out well for some -- I saw his predecessor -- it puts more onus on the patient having their ducks in order.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:52 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, since no one's re-linking the original article, The Observer has received permission to reprint it - "Here is Julie Burchill's censored Observer article", and here's the article in which they believe that it shouldn't've been censored in the first place: "The Observer's decision to censor Julie Burchill is a disgrace."
posted by Zack_Replica at 4:12 PM on January 14, 2013


Telegraph, Zack, and thank you for posting that. I've been sitting here with the vile Toby Young's link in another tab for the last fifteen minutes thinking a) being aware of this I really should post this for the benefit of those reading here who want to know what all the fuss is about and b) I cannot bring myself to post this. The comments are particularly unpleasant. DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS.

Thank you for solving the problem for me.
posted by motty at 4:16 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


This continues to prove to me that the concept of "bullying" should be reserved for children's disputes, not adult relationships. A mean shitty awful bigoted columnist is no more "bullying" adult transpeople than those transpeople's choices are "bullying" women by their existence. Just, everyone stop saying Bullies.

Oh my god what the...
posted by odinsdream at 4:21 PM on January 14, 2013


I admit I'm not in the mood to read the Telegraph's explanation of (I'm assuming) why Burchill's article was a-okay, but 'censored' is a weird word. You censor something before it goes out. Plus, it's usually a government action. (Hence why I'm assuming it's some bullshit about free speech that totally ignores the lack of government involvement.*) I'm pretty sure the right verb is 'withdrawn' or just 'deleted'. I don't think I agree with removing it and (perhaps more importantly) the comments from the website, given the option exists to insert a giant disclaimer. There's plenty of precedent for editing articles in place, but for errors. I don't know offhand that something's been pulled from the website like this in the past.

*Though the international development minister wandering into the middle of all this is likely inappropriate.
posted by hoyland at 4:22 PM on January 14, 2013


Ah, dear, why don't I listen to advice? Has the phrase 'comments powered by Discus' ever lead to anything good?
posted by forgetful snow at 4:22 PM on January 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


Yes: The Telegraph. Thanks for the correction, motty. My mistake, I was doing too many things at once.
posted by Zack_Replica at 4:23 PM on January 14, 2013


I'm going to be reviewing an Against Me! show this week, and the singer has recently come out as transgender. What's the best way to be sensitive about that? Just use female pronouns and not mention anything else about it?

Contact them privately and ask what their preference is.
posted by odinsdream at 4:27 PM on January 14, 2013


Jesus Christ, Toby Young really is vile.
posted by hot soup girl at 4:28 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


What disturbed me when I read the article was how quickly Burchill switched from:
- defending her friend against a *few* transgendered women who harassed her
to
- condemning *all* transgendered women with name-calling and slurs

Was it right for a few T-women to harass her friend on twitter? Maybe yes, maybe no. But either way, the people who harassed her friend are a small subset of all transgendered women.

There are all sorts of annoying people out there. Some are transgendered. Some are gay. Some are black. Some are straight. Some are white. Even if a few are jerks doesn't mean they *all* are.
posted by sarah_pdx at 4:58 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I realized back in 1980 that reading Julie Burchill is a waste of time. She was a rock critic for the New Musical Express and it gradually dawned on me that she only gave bad reviews. This was tenable when she was just reviewing the odd album here and there, but one week they gave her the singles page, where one journalist reviews all the singles released that week. She gave every one a bad review, and then went into a rant about how she hated all music except the Sex Pistols (who had broken up some years earlier) and old Tamla Motown records.

As I thought at the time, it's one thing to have specialized tastes, but what kind of dickhead takes a job reviewing modern music when they hate all modern music?
posted by w0mbat at 5:25 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, I read the original Suzanne Moore piece and thought the reference to 'Brazilian transexual' didn't appear to be particularly transphobic - more a reference to how the fashionable body shape for women is getting more youthful, slender and androgynous to the point where men (albeit beautiful ones) are able to catwalk model. It seemed pretty incidental to me - the meaning would be the same had it been switched out for '14yr old catwalk model'.

I think the Brazilian transexual stereotype (Carnival and all that) is very different from the androgynous, svelte high fashion catwalk model stereotype. Don't transexuals typically want to come across as strongly male (if FTM) or female (if MTF) rather than androgynous (which is a different style/look?)?

very much "?" because I dont have personal experience and realize I am generalizing vaguely
posted by Bwithh at 5:37 PM on January 14, 2013


As generalizations go, that's on a par with saying "Don't women typically....", Bwithh.
posted by clavicle at 6:09 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And I meant for that to be illustrative, not snarky.)
posted by clavicle at 6:11 PM on January 14, 2013


As generalizations go, that's on a par with saying "Don't women typically....", Bwithh.
posted by clavicle at 6:09 PM on 1/14
[1 favorite +] [!]



Well since the excerpted quote that was commented on used a stereotype and the comment I commented on used a stereotype... Which is why I flagged my own comment on stereotypes with some uncertainty.... That's the thing about stereotypes *shrug*
posted by Bwithh at 7:30 PM on January 14, 2013


Well since the excerpted quote that was commented on used a stereotype and the comment I commented on used a stereotype... Which is why I flagged my own comment on stereotypes with some uncertainty.... That's the thing about stereotypes *shrug*

I understood clavicle to mean one can't successfully generalise about women, because all kinds of people are women (or, perhaps, more to the point, express and understand that they're women differently) and, similarly, one can't successfully generalise about trans people, because all kinds of people are trans (and express and understand that differently). Okay, we've made some generalisation that we're using to fit people into the 'women' box or the 'trans' box (or both!), but that generalisation is sometimes a bit of a kludge anyway.

(And to answer your question implicit in your stereotype directly--how trans people express their genders runs the same gamut as how cis people express their genders. It's perhaps handy at times if one is super duper masculine or feminine (telling people they're not masculine or feminine 'enough' is one of these #transdocfail things, for example), but not everyone is.)

I do think you're right that Moore wasn't aiming for the model stereotype.
posted by hoyland at 8:08 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the hateful Observer rant, mostly what I read is another example of a feminist generational divide. Trans*people put the lie to gender essentialism. If women all share X and men all share Y, leading to power imbalances Z, then trans*people.... fuck up that overly simplified equation.

Gender non-essentialism (egalitarianism) is a more central feminist principle than the sideshow of essentialism. How challenging it is for some feminists that trans* developments are logical outgrowths of core feminist work.


There's a shocking number of "feminists" who uncritically believe every bit of patriarchal gender essentialism bullshit this culture feeds them- they simply invert the values. It's like how if you worship Satan, you're still a Christian, just you disagree on who the good guy is.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:12 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


I read the original Suzanne Moore piece and thought the reference to 'Brazilian transexual' didn't appear to be particularly transphobic

Well... "Brazilian transsexual" was used as a punchline in that piece, presented as something inherently ridiculous and laughable, comparable to all those jokes about ladyboys from Thailand, a porn stereotype. Which is bad enough, but there's also the simple fact that quite a few Brazilian trans people have ended up murdered over the years, making the joke less than funny.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:08 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Regarding 'tranny' - is it more offensive in the US than in the UK? There's a club here called Trannyshack, and a faux-queen performer who calls herself 'the tranny with a fanny'. Or is this just reclaiming the word as was with 'queer'?

As a fellow this-side-of-the-ponder I think it is a reclaimed word, and still offensive if used in anger or carelessly.

Kind of like how loads of lesbian stuff is called dyke this or dyke that, but I would get angry if, say, Toby Young wrote an article complaining about 'these dykes'. Or how my friends and I will say things to each other like, "I have been referred for 12 months more psychotherapy because I am as crazy as a loon bird", but I have met precisely one person without mental health problems who referred to those with mental health problems as 'crazy', and he was a very unpleasant character indeed.
posted by Acheman at 2:21 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm glad some good is coming of this awful bloody mess. The hoops that trans people have to jump through in the UK are ridiculous, and I think doctors will respond to women en masse with perhaps a little more thoughtfulness than they give to women who are alone and vulnerable.

Also, Julie Bindel will hopefully grace the pages of the Grauniad no more. She has definitely put transphobia on their radar, and I strongly suspect a plurality of guardian readers favour human rights and freedom from persecution for all people. An article full of pejoratives for you (being used, not mentioned) in a national newspaper? Stunningly bad form, even if it was an editorial oversight and not malicious.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 2:44 AM on January 15, 2013


I complained to the PCC about the original Burchill article, by the way, and I still think the Observer should be censured for printing it in the first place, and the Telegraph strongly censured for reprinting it.

If anyone wants to do likewise you can do it here. FWIW I suggested it was in violation of Clause 12 of the code of practice (Hate speech), for obvious reasons, but also Clause 1 (accuracy). Text of my Clause 1 reasons:
Clauses : 1. Accuracy: The author claims that trans women are not women, but men who have 'cut their dicks off'. This is clearly contrary to all current medical and psychological expert opinion. The author does not even attempt to argue this point, but presents it as if it were fact or received wisdom. The editors of the Observer should not have allowed what are clearly unsubstantiated and untrue allegations to be printed, particularly without any indication that they are merely the opinions of the author.
If anyone is still in any doubts about the 'persecution' of Suzanne Moore, here is a transcript of the twitter conversation that sparked it all off. Another cis woman (not a 'trans cabal') told her she liked the piece but thought the 'Brazilian transsexual' bit was out of place, and she became incredibly defensive and almost immediately began to make far more offensive remarks. The shitstorm wasn't over the line in the original article. I think everyone understands that sometimes people just say stuff that comes out wrong, and if Suzanne Moore had replied with 'Yeah, in retrospect that was poorly phrased', none of this would have happened.

Watching people who clearly do care about women and inequality and changing the world pull ridiculous and abhorrent shit like this always reminds me of when you're watching, say, The Crystal Maze, and one of the participants is in the Aztec Zone solving some sort of puzzle and they just cannot see that you obviously need to push the blue button, and their teammates are yelling at them to push the blue button, and you strain to get closer to the screen in an unconscious impulse to just reach through the screen and push the damn blue button yourself. And of course they ignore everyone and go ahead and push the red button and don't get the crystal and are locked in the Aztec Zone. Except imagine the 'crystals' stand for human beings feeling worthwhile and accepted, and the Aztec Zone stands for print and digital media, and the ridiculously difficult 'Crystal Dome' stands for our incredibly weighted and fraught democracy, and the golden and silver tokens blowing around everywhere stand for votes, and the array of shit prizes stand for a slightly better and fairer and more caring society.

This analogy may be overly dependent on your familiarity with early 90s British game shows.
posted by Acheman at 2:50 AM on January 15, 2013 [13 favorites]


suzanne moore I don't even accept the word transphobia any more than Islamaphobia

OH HAI racism.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:11 AM on January 15, 2013


'Sister' sounds a lot more like cistern than 'cis' does. Yet somehow, one of those words is kosher, and the other is terrible. Fuck that noise.

And trans healthcare provision here in the UK is terrible. It's been over a year and a half since I went to my GP, and I've yet to receive even an acknowledgement that the Gender Identity Clinic have received my referral, nevermind anything like an appointment time. This is also completely normal. Last I spoke to them, they were processing referrals that had arrived nearly a full calendar year before - not to give them appointments, to send them a letter saying "yes, we know you exist, now please wait while we find you a time". I'm expecting to be lucky to see a doctor who can actually help me (since at least NHS GPs are specifically forbidden from prescribing cross-gender HRT because... because what the fuck again, exactly? Oh no, think of the poor misguided people who'd make a wrong choice! Their welfare matters so much more than the welfare of people who actually ARE trans!) within 3 years of getting the referral made. And people want to go after what little private provision there is, which would make the NHS waiting lists longer? Fuck that. Especially when what failings Dr Curtis had pale in comparison to the mundane, everyday failings of the rest of the healthcare system in this country.

But damn, if it isn't sad that someone shouting 'tranny' means we can't have a discussion about some really important things, like the healthcare situation, and how royally fucked up the law and NHS policy surrounding it are.
posted by Dysk at 3:38 AM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


MartinWisse: "suzanne moore I don't even accept the word transphobia any more than Islamaphobia

OH HAI racism.
"

I know, right? What are the chances of a 2nd waver turning out to be a racist?

Oh wait.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:01 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


The accusations against Dr. Curtis may have been blown out of proportion quite a lot in that Guardian article. There's an informative post on that here on Zoe O'Connell's blog, from before the whole Suzanne Moore thing brought up.

I'm a twenty-eight-year-old feminist and don't remember a time when either Julie, Burchill or Bindel, was anything more than obviously horrible people with hateful opinions. I hope that after this Burchill will no longer be welcome to write for the Guardian or the Observer.
posted by daisyk at 4:11 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


On Feminism, Transphobia and Free Speech by Laurie Penny
posted by EvaDestruction at 5:17 AM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Watching people who clearly do care about women and inequality and changing the world pull ridiculous and abhorrent shit like this always reminds me of when you're watching, say, The Crystal Maze

This analogy may be overly dependent on your familiarity with early 90s British game shows

In the States, we had the similar Legends of the Hidden Temple around the same time-frame (late '80s/early '90s). It was basically an endless parade of hapless tweens trying (and 99% of the time, failing) to navigate a giant Indiana Jones-themed obstacle course, with the young contestants pretty much demonstrating all of the blithering innattentional-blindness that you describe. So yeah, we Americans know that feel, bro.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:38 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's a shocking number of "feminists" who uncritically believe every bit of patriarchal gender essentialism bullshit this culture feeds them- they simply invert the values. It's like how if you worship Satan, you're still a Christian, just you disagree on who the good guy is.

Let's not derail this with an essentialism discussion, K? That's an interesting and important issue, with strong arguments on both sides, but it seems absurd in a trans discussion. What in the world would trans essentialism even mean? "If you were a real hermaphrodite...."
posted by msalt at 8:20 AM on January 15, 2013


Let's not derail this with an essentialism discussion, K? That's an interesting and important issue, with strong arguments on both sides, but it seems absurd in a trans discussion. What in the world would trans essentialism even mean? "If you were a real hermaphrodite...."

I'm sorry, I've read and reread this, and I can't make a lick of sense out of it. Gender essentialism and trans issues are incredibly, inextricably tied together because trans* people explode any validity gender essentialism might have. Leave alone that essentialism is shit because it fails to adequately describe cis people, the existence of trans* people fundamentally ties essentialism's hands behind its back and shove it off a boat. You simply cannot discuss transphobia in any sense beyond vague "uh, transphobia is bad, I guess" without discussing the poison of gender essentialism.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:47 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Acheman, thanks for posting the original Twitter conversation between Moore, et al; it's important to see that the objections to the line in her piece were reasonable, while her own responses were not. Also thanks for the brilliant Crystal Maze analogy.

MartinWisse, thanks for explaining why the "Brazilian transsexual" line--apart from the inherent creep factor of saying "a transsexual"--is terribly hurtful. Also thanks for posting the thread.

Everyone who's angry about all this, thanks for being angry about all this. While the Guardian's pattern of transphobia has been hurtful to me, it has been heartening to see that once that kettle finally boiled over into abject hate, people got pissed off. I hope this means that more people will be reading the Guardian and any other major media outlet with a more critical eye; I hope transphobia becomes less acceptable across the board as a result of this mess. I must admit I'm surprised at the anger in response to Burchill here; I'm so accustomed to no one caring. Awareness of trans people and our lives actually does feel like it's rapidly increasing.

It's kind of a shame that the conversation has been dominated by the vile hatefulness of some of its subjects, but I hope some good can come of that. The difficulty of getting medical care as a trans person is a conversation very much worth having, but not one I really want to add anectdotes to. Bottom line: it's hard, sometimes impossible, and there's absolutely no medical, political or economic reason for the difficulty.
posted by byanyothername at 9:09 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Leave alone that essentialism is shit because it fails to adequately describe cis people... You simply cannot discuss transphobia in any sense beyond vague "uh, transphobia is bad, I guess" without discussing the poison of gender essentialism.

Let me rephrase; you have an axe to grind against essentialism, clearly. Perhaps you should create an FPP on that subject rather than steering this discussion (late in the game) toward supporting your position?
posted by msalt at 11:38 AM on January 15, 2013


I mentioned it once and you keep bringing it up, so methinks the msalt doth protest too much.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:01 PM on January 15, 2013


PG: Protest what too much? What am I hiding?

You're right that dreidl, not you, made the initial comment I responded to and I conflated you two. But that was not exactly your first critique of essentialism on the blue. And your fierce slam on it here ("shit...poison") kind of emphasizes the point.
posted by msalt at 1:42 PM on January 15, 2013


msalt, I vote we end this now. No one's discussing anything. Your 'What in the world would trans essentialism even mean? "If you were a real hermaphrodite...."' is offensive. ('Hermaphrodite' is now generally considered offensive--the preferred term is 'intersex', for a start (though I think that might even be changing--I'm not great when it comes to intersex 101). Then there's the not-so-minor issue that trans and intersex aren't the same thing. Sometimes trans and intersex people have overlapping concerns, sometimes people are both trans and intersex, sometimes people with an intersex condition don't know they have one, sometimes they do.) But, on top of all that, I believe the site convention is to not go digging up people's comments in other threads to attack them with.
posted by hoyland at 3:13 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gender essentialism involves the assumptions that there are two binary genders, and that those genders have essential, core characteristics to them. Things like the idea of mechanical men and nurturing women. Or, to put it in standup, "women drive like this."

A lot of people, even some feminists, buy into this. Michigan's WomynFest is an example — they ban trans women from attending.

And I understand some complaints from women about trans women — that the gender performative piece (which is different from gender identity) can read as a burlesque of femininity. At a Trans 101 training we had at work, a black queer woman confused drag and transgender, and compared trans women to black face. (I work at an LGBT advocacy org., so it was something that we got to talk about in a pretty safe space.)

However, and this is just me, I've known and worked with enough trans folk now to know that Gender essentialism is pretty much bullshit. There doesn't really seem to be anything discernibly essential about gender or gender performance on the individual level. People are all over the map, and can end up with identities and expressions that have far more variation — and validity — than most people assume. Something else that I think is worth noting is that a lot of the complaints about who's a "real" man or woman, and thus complaints about authenticity of expression, are both incoherent and unequally applied. Things that may seems like drag or cartoonish or whatever from a trans woman get a pass from a cis woman. The complaints about Angelyne never question whether she's a "real" woman, and she's totally a cartoon.

Finally, something that I try to keep in mind is that for a lot of the trans people that I know, this is the first time they're constructing a gender expression that matches what they feel as their gender identity. Us cis folks have had all our lives to play with constructing our gender expressions, and there are plenty of times when we've done it clumsily or awkwardly or cartoonishly. Holding trans folk to a higher standard because they're trans seems pretty bullshit. Especially since — for most trans folk — for most of their lives, there's been a real threat of violence around non-conforming gender expression.
posted by klangklangston at 3:48 PM on January 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


Gender essentialism involves the assumptions that there are two binary genders, and that those genders have essential, core characteristics to them. Things like the idea of mechanical men and nurturing women. Or, to put it in standup, "women drive like this."

A lot of people, even some feminists, buy into this. Michigan's WomynFest is an example — they ban trans women from attending.

And I understand some complaints from women about trans women — that the gender performative piece (which is different from gender identity) can read as a burlesque of femininity. At a Trans 101 training we had at work, a black queer woman confused drag and transgender, and compared trans women to black face. (I work at an LGBT advocacy org., so it was something that we got to talk about in a pretty safe space.)


"As for refusing to participate in some man’s delusion that he is a woman being just as disrespectful as throwing glitter onto someone, well I guess we are going to have to disagree. Using the words, ‘he’, ‘male’ and ‘man’ to describe a male human is simply an accurate representation of reality, nothing more, nothing less. There is nothing disrespectful in stating a fact.

"In actuality, the fact that men think they have the right to define themselves into womanhood and in the process redefine what it means to be a woman is HUGELY disrespectful of every single female on the planet. Moreover, it is an act of colonisation. Radical feminist resistance to this doublespeak needs to be nurtured, supported and applauded. It is clear that we disrespect this system that men have created to erase us and our collective right to self-determination. And this can only be a POSITIVE thing for women." - a deeply deranged person

posted by kafziel at 4:20 PM on January 15, 2013


Yeah, I came to doing LGBT advocacy through a lot of feminist theory, so it always makes me sad when feminists get all trans phobic.
posted by klangklangston at 9:10 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love how when a trans person does something, they aren't being male/female, they're performing it, but the reverse is true for cis people.

No wait. I don't care which of the two ways you conceive of it, but it's sure as shit the same for both.
posted by Dysk at 12:49 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


These aren't so much feminists as female supremacists in my opinion, but I can see how difficult it might have been for mainstream second wave feminists to come to terms with the idea of transgender, in the context of a long struggle to get equal treatment, acknowledgment of domestic abuse etc, when of course many 2nd wave feminists themselves had been indoctrinated with traditional views of gender and gender roles. I can understand that at a time when even lesbianism was radical and new, the idea of trans people could've led to confusion and distrust, but three or more decades on, it shouldn't.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:54 AM on January 16, 2013


Dysk: "I love how when a trans person does something, they aren't being male/female, they're performing it, but the reverse is true for cis people."

Not necessarily. I know a few cis female persons who talk about performing femininity, or feeling pressured to perform femininity.
posted by Karmakaze at 8:04 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know plenty of cis male and cis female people who are clearly performing their gender, often badly. But they're rarely aware of it.
posted by msalt at 8:24 AM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think Dysk was talking about how narratives about are presented with respect to cis and trans people, not any individual's actual lived experience of recognizing or not recognizing their own gender performance.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:28 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not clear to me what you're saying -- which narratives, presented by who? I think it's safe to say we've all felt societal pressure to conform to some assigned gender, and we pretty much agree the gender roles are artificial and limiting.
posted by msalt at 8:42 AM on January 16, 2013


It's not clear to me what you're saying -- which narratives, presented by who?

Part of the whole second wave feminist problem with trans people (well, trans women--they've largely failed to notice trans men exist) is that they claim trans women are 'performing' femininity and thus can't be 'real' women. These are the people who don't read Judith Butler (well, they probably have, but they don't agree with her). That's basically why this post exists. With all due respect to MartinWisse, the thing that triggered this post likely was Burchill's offensive column (using this very second wave perspective), not the investigation of Dr Curtis or the #transdocfail tag itself.
posted by hoyland at 9:32 AM on January 16, 2013


My read on Dysk's comment was that it was a direct response to kafziel's quotes, or, basically, what hoyland said.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:19 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Part of the whole second wave feminist problem with trans people (well, trans women--they've largely failed to notice trans men exist)

Oh, the so-called "radical feminists" haven't failed to notice. Surprise, surprise, they disapprove.
posted by kafziel at 11:41 AM on January 16, 2013


Thanks. I've heard the term "gender performance" bandied about but not in that context; I've always thought it was a nice description of the artificiality of socially imposed gender roles and the way people conform inorganically.
posted by msalt at 12:21 PM on January 16, 2013


Gender essentialism involves the assumptions that there are two binary genders, and that those genders have essential, core characteristics to them...

A lot of people, even some feminists, buy into this...

And I understand some complaints from women about trans women — that the gender performative piece (which is different from gender identity) can read as a burlesque of femininity....

However, and this is just me, I've known and worked with enough trans folk now to know that Gender essentialism is pretty much bullshit.


Doesn't being trans necessitate some belief in gender essentialism? Otherwise how can you claim to be an x trapped in a y body? Unless that gender is something specific and essential, it can't be an absolute, can it?

I don't have any problem with transgenderism and know people who have transitioned, but I have worried on occasion about the emphasis (some) trans people put on their new gender characteristics, or expected/ stereotypical gender roles. It seems to support a binary gender system in theory.
posted by mdn at 2:08 PM on January 16, 2013


Thanks. I've heard the term "gender performance" bandied about but not in that context; I've always thought it was a nice description of the artificiality of socially imposed gender roles and the way people conform inorganically.

I honestly have no business being in this conversation, but that's what the lyrics to the new Against Me! song, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, are about:

Your tells are so obvious,
shoulders too broad for a girl.
It keeps you reminded,
helps you remember where you come from.

You want them to notice,
the ragged ends of your summer dress.
You want them to see you
like they see every other girl.
They just see a faggot.
They'll hold their breath not to catch the sick.

Washed off on the coast,
I wish I could've spent the whole day
alone with you.
With you.

You've got no cunt in your strut.
You've got no hips to shake.
And you know it's obvious,
but we can't chose how we're made.

You want them to notice,
the ragged ends of your summer dress.
You want them to see you
like they see every other girl.
They just see a faggot.
They'll hold their breath not to catch the sick.

Washed off on the coast
I wish I could've spent the whole day
alone with you.
With you.


posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:26 PM on January 16, 2013


"Doesn't being trans necessitate some belief in gender essentialism? Otherwise how can you claim to be an x trapped in a y body? Unless that gender is something specific and essential, it can't be an absolute, can it? "

Well, first and most importantly, I'm not trans, so I'm not speaking for them. However, no, it doesn't. This is especially evident in the fair number of trans folk who identify as genderqueer, which means they adhere to neither of the dominant gender identities.

And the x trapped in a y body would rather presume that the gender wasn't essential to the biological form, wouldn't it?

I don't have any problem with transgenderism and know people who have transitioned, but I have worried on occasion about the emphasis (some) trans people put on their new gender characteristics, or expected/ stereotypical gender roles. It seems to support a binary gender system in theory.

I tried to deal with this a little bit in my previous comment; I've had the same feelings. But there are a couple of things to be empathetic about: That for a lot of trans folks, they're constructing their gender performance and identity without the leeway that either being a kid or being safe from violence gives them. So there are real worries about "passing" and about how to perform their gender — and I think that anxieties about performing gender are something that everyone goes through; trans folks just have to go through it more often. So I think that a lot of the stereotypical roles that are adopted come through an unsophistication and a novelty, combined with some, well, I guess I'd call it superstition for lack of a better term at hand, about how "women" and "men" are expected to perform.

One of the things that we do know is that the huge barriers to effective mental health treatment and support for trans people leads to all sorts of cobbled-together coping mechanisms, and I try to cut people some slack under the belief that they'll likely abandon most of their misconceptions about their new gender through the long road of lived experience.
posted by klangklangston at 5:45 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Doesn't being trans necessitate some belief in gender essentialism? Otherwise how can you claim to be an x trapped in a y body? Unless that gender is something specific and essential, it can't be an absolute, can it?

Gender essentialism is about believing that all women have property X and all men have property Y (and, I suppose, that no men have property X, and so on). But not believing that doesn't mean you don't believe people have genders. It sounds like you're cis and know what your gender is (I apologise if this isn't the case--I'm going to keep using this presumption, so substitute a generic 'you' if need be), but how would you explain it to someone? Do you say 'Oh, well, I have a penis/vagina, therefore I'm a man/woman'? Are your genitals really that important? If you're a man and lose your penis in an accident of some kind, you've not ceased to be a man. (I don't know that you can lose your vagina in an accident--usually people use a uterus as the 'woman-defining' lose-able thing.) You could use some stereotype to explain your masculinity or femininity. But, if you're not an essentialist (let's assume you're not), you don't actually think that stereotype defines your gender, it's just a handy way of getting your point across--whoever you're talking to has this stereotype, too. You're probably not going to have to give this explanation, unless you have a really inquisitive child, because people take cis people's genders at face value. But a trans person almost inevitably has to come out to a cis person and this person will (not maliciously!) ask how this person knows they're trans, which is really asking them to explain their gender. It'd be nice to say "I just know", but people insist on an explanation.

I don't have any problem with transgenderism and know people who have transitioned, but I have worried on occasion about the emphasis (some) trans people put on their new gender characteristics, or expected/ stereotypical gender roles. It seems to support a binary gender system in theory.

I want to challenge you to think about whether you have the same worries about cis people who embody stereotypical gender roles. A trans woman who wears skirts all the time isn't a tool of the patriarchy or whatever, she's someone who likes to wear skirts, just like my cis best friend owned roughly one pair of trousers the first three years I knew her because she wore skirts all the time (with no cultural pressure to do so).
posted by hoyland at 6:01 PM on January 16, 2013


"I want to challenge you to think about whether you have the same worries about cis people who embody stereotypical gender roles."

For me, the problem is yeah, I am critical of those gender roles when they're expressed by cis folks. It can feel weird to not be critical of those performances when trans folk also express them. And it's generally not something as mundane as wearing skirts, it's the burlesque of gender that can feel weird. I mentioned Angelyne for a reason.
posted by klangklangston at 7:37 PM on January 16, 2013


Doesn't being trans necessitate some belief in gender essentialism? Otherwise how can you claim to be an x trapped in a y body? Unless that gender is something specific and essential, it can't be an absolute, can it?

Hi! I'm trans. I'm not an anything trapped in an anything else's body, thanks. I'm me, I inhabit my body, and I'm no more trapped in it than anyone else is in theirs. I happen to be a woman, so my body (being mine) is a woman's body. Of course, there are trans people who feel like they're a man/woman trapped in a woman's/man's body, but that's hardly all of us. For a start, there's bigender or genderqueer people, whose existence and identities are hardly confirming of a traditional gender binary.

Now, what do we mean by 'gender essentialism'? I'm going to take the term the way I tend to use it - the idea that each of us is intrinsically gendered in some way, whether that's male, female, some mix, something else entirely, whatever. Now see, I don't really believe in gender essentialism. I don't consider myself female because that's some intrinsic part of my psyche. Gender is a socially constructed phenomenon - without us to construct it, it wouldn't exist. However, by virtue of us (human beings in the form of a society) existing (and a whole bunch more of us having existed in the past) gender does exist in our society. It being socially constructed doesn't mean it isn't real - just that it's really socially constructed. It's contingency doesn't make it magically disappear into the ether, and nor does a recognition of its contingency. So, given that we have this framework for conceiving of human experience which is so pervasive as to be effectively unavoidable (at present - historically contingent!) I don't feel at all comfortable or at ease with identifying or being identified as male. In this particular historically contingent framework within which I was brought up and live, I feel at home identifying as female. Not because I believe in gender roles, or in any real differences between men and women (though there are wildly differing social expectations, which I do my best to ignore) but simply because I feel comfortable conceiving of myself that way. I can't really explain why, but it just feels wrong to be called by male pronouns or to think of myself as a man (something that I suspect - with a gender you don't identify with in place of 'a man' - is true of most everyone, trans or cis).

But I'm just one trans person. It would be wrong to take the above, and say that 'this is what trans people think'. As a group, us trans people having nothing in common, other than being trans. There are no secret meetings, there's no real consensus, just a mess of human beings, each with opinions. But does being trans necessarily entail an endorsement of gender essentialism, the gender binary, or gender roles? Hell no.
posted by Dysk at 3:27 AM on January 17, 2013 [12 favorites]


(And yes, my previous comment was indeed intended as a direct response to kafziel's quotes, as EvaDestruction correctly surmised)
posted by Dysk at 3:33 AM on January 17, 2013


For me, the problem is yeah, I am critical of those gender roles when they're expressed by cis folks. It can feel weird to not be critical of those performances when trans folk also express them. And it's generally not something as mundane as wearing skirts, it's the burlesque of gender that can feel weird. I mentioned Angelyne for a reason.

I must admit I'm at something of a loss when it comes to a response. I've never encountered anything I would describe as a 'burlesque of gender' outside something that was obviously a performance (in the art sense, not the performative sense). I've never been to LA, so my knowledge of Angelyne has been gleaned from Google. But the billboards would seem to put Angelyne in a different category than someone living their life more mundanely.

I did once know a, er, hyperfeminine woman (who was cis, coincidentally). I'm going to call her Mary. I don't know that she would have been memorable gender-wise except that she was very interested in having you know how feminine she was and would make sure you knew by telling you repeatedly. She'd make digs at other women that were always explicitly about their lack of femininity in her eyes. It was something about how she was wearing pink and they weren't or how she was wearing a dress or her makeup or her nails or her desire to be a housewife or her digit ratio (I kid you not). Looking back, Mary was noticeably immature, so I hope that if, god forbid, I run across her again, time will have made her more comfortable with herself and more pleasant to be around. But were Mary trans, particularly if she were newly out, there's suddenly this temptation to see her as engaging in a 'burlesque of gender', rather than as an unpleasant person who's more stereotypically feminine than the average woman. You'd be hoping, I think, that hypothetical trans Mary would change too--she may be similarly immature, if she's newly out, that may well be a factor--in basically the same way I'm hoping actual cis Mary changed. But it's also possible actual and hypothetical Mary are just unpleasant people.

I guess my point is that the Marys of the world are pretty rare. Who are these trans people engaging in a 'burlesque of gender'? Are they the trans Marys? I can say all kinds of mean things about actual Mary (she was unpleasant beyond the gender thing), but she's not mocking women or whatever the accusation leveled at a trans Mary would be.
posted by hoyland at 6:44 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


And the x trapped in a y body would rather presume that the gender wasn't essential to the biological form, wouldn't it?

No, it means gender has an essence, not a material form. If it's just biological, there's nothing essential (it's simply your sex), whereas if it can be the case in opposition to the material, there is something more fundamentally true and more closely linked to identity. If you can "know" you are female despite having a male body, then you are claiming femaleness as an inherent part of your selfhood. I am female the same way I am white and five and a half feet tall - this is my body, which I have had to learn from, learn through, and respond to reactions to all of my life. I'm not essentially female, I'm just physically female and I live in a physical world.

Gender essentialism is about believing that all women have property X and all men have property Y (and, I suppose, that no men have property X, and so on). But not believing that doesn't mean you don't believe people have genders. It sounds like you're cis and know what your gender is

I'm a bisexual/polysexual female who has had a variety of haircuts and clothing styles over the years (ie, more butch at times). I'm female because I have had the same body for many decades now. I don't really like the term "cis", for what it's worth. But I don't think I need to be considered "genderqueer" either. I just don't fit a particular stereotype, which I don't think is that uncommon. (That's why I don't like the idea of enforcing stereotypes by suggesting anyone who doesn't fit them is "genderqueer".)

Hi! I'm trans. I'm not an anything trapped in an anything else's body, thanks.

I hope you don't think I was insulting anyone; that's just one way people commonly try to communicate their experience.

I'm me, I inhabit my body, and I'm no more trapped in it than anyone else is in theirs. I happen to be a woman, so my body (being mine) is a woman's body.

Is your body a female body or are you extending the definition of a woman's body to include your body? If you mean you have what externally is a male body and you're female internally then isn't that a form of essentialism? what about you is female if it is not some essence of you?

Now, what do we mean by 'gender essentialism'? I'm going to take the term the way I tend to use it - the idea that each of us is intrinsically gendered ... Now see, I don't really believe in gender essentialism....
Gender is a socially constructed phenomenon ...In this particular historically contingent framework within which I was brought up and live, I feel at home identifying as female. ... I can't really explain why...


Well, that just seems worse to me, then. It seems like you're saying the binary roles of gender have made it uncomfortable for you to live as a man with non-standard male behaviors or traits...

I dunno. It's not up to me, and anyway it's more important that people get the most out of the lives they live than that we figure out some underlying causal principle. But perhaps my hope is that the move toward identifying in the grey areas continues...
posted by mdn at 9:20 AM on January 17, 2013


Hoyland, that's the kind of person I was describing earlier as a gender performer. I'm kind of sensitive to this because my younger daughter is in 7th grade, and a significant minority of her peers are acting just like "Mary." So I'm struggling to not react negatively to some of the (to me, absurdly forced) femininity, since anti-femininity can be a form of misogyny as well.

I'm not entirely convinced gender is 100% socially constructed; the fact that these girls are going through puberty might imply that some of these younger "Marys" are lightweights who simply can't handle their hormones. Or they might be insecure and/or predatory social animals looking for targets to pick on. Or they might be expressing their parents' cultural dysfunction. Or silly kids playing dress up. How could we ever be certain?
posted by msalt at 9:22 AM on January 17, 2013


Is your body a female body or are you extending the definition of a woman's body to include your body?

Neither. I don't think it's stretching the definition of a woman's body to mean a body possessed and inhabited by a woman. Or are you saying there's something essentially male about the fact that I happen to have a dick?

If you mean you have what externally is a male body and you're female internally then isn't that a form of essentialism? what about you is female if it is not some essence of you?

If my gender is essential to anything, it's my constructed identity, not to anything itself essential to me. The fact that our (all of us) identities are constructed obviously doesn't mean they're any less valid or true.

I hope you don't think I was insulting anyone; that's just one way people commonly try to communicate their experience.

Oh don't worry, I wasn't reading any malice into it. 'Twas a fairly sweeping generalisation nonetheless.

Well, that just seems worse to me, then. It seems like you're saying the binary roles of gender have made it uncomfortable for you to live as a man with non-standard male behaviors or traits...

Now, you don't know me, and please, don't presume you do. I didn't (and don't) really exhibit 'non-standard male behaviours or traits' to any particular degree. See, if we were talking traditional gender roles, I wouldn't be particularly female in any way (well, except maybe that I cook, like my father did in my family, and his father...). The last time I wore a dress was when I was baptised, at a few months old (as is the tradition of my people). I could go on and try and describe myself, list my hobbies and activities, but really, just take it from me that my behaviours, traits, interests, all of that, far more stereotypically male than female.

It's really not an easy thing to convey at all, and plaintext is hardly the best medium, but I felt ill at ease as a man. I was persistently and consistently angry, and rarely for any reason, nevermind a good one. Seeing myself as a woman (and to a lesser extent, being seen that way by others) has made me feel more at home in myself, and more at ease. Taking hormones and the way that has subtly altered my body (and not-so-subtly, in the form of boobs) has made me feel happier with myself, more comfortable, and just more correct in a way that I wasn't before.
posted by Dysk at 10:07 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I must admit I'm at something of a loss when it comes to a response. I've never encountered anything I would describe as a 'burlesque of gender' outside something that was obviously a performance (in the art sense, not the performative sense). I've never been to LA, so my knowledge of Angelyne has been gleaned from Google. But the billboards would seem to put Angelyne in a different category than someone living their life more mundanely."

Angelyne was just a handy example; being a dude, I encounter this much more from men, who adopt a hypermacho performance of gender. The kind of guys who use "mancave" unironically.

But yeah, Mary seems like a decent example, though I don't know her well enough to comment — the underlying assumptions that I'm talking about are that 1) there's one correct way to perform a gender, 2) people that do not perform that gender properly are inferior, and 3) that gender should be apparent and explicit at all times.

I will say that, and this is likely in large part due to my sample, the trans men I know are less prone to becoming hypermasculine than the transwomen I know have been prone to being hyperfeminine, but for the most part, I do think it's got to do with that gender performance being new and shiny and fun in a way that was proscribed before.

I'll also say that, like anyone, some trans people are just jerkass morons, but again, I try to go out of my way to be extra compassionate just because, frankly, trans folk get an extra dollop of shit on their sundaes just from navigating the world, and that can turn anyone into an unpleasant jerkass.
posted by klangklangston at 10:07 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


"No, it means gender has an essence, not a material form. If it's just biological, there's nothing essential (it's simply your sex), whereas if it can be the case in opposition to the material, there is something more fundamentally true and more closely linked to identity."

I most often hear gender essentialism being used in the context of tying gender identity to the one assigned at birth, and don't think that necessarily makes it entirely congruent with sex.

But I still don't see an argument that essentialism is required for a trans view of gender — instead of one feminine essence, you could take the constructivist view that it's the combination of multiple traits — none essential — that influence what gender one is most comfortable identifying as.

"If you can "know" you are female despite having a male body, then you are claiming femaleness as an inherent part of your selfhood. I am female the same way I am white and five and a half feet tall - this is my body, which I have had to learn from, learn through, and respond to reactions to all of my life. I'm not essentially female, I'm just physically female and I live in a physical world."

That doesn't follow, and it seems you really are setting that essence back in the physical. If gender is constructed through a combination of factors — none being necessary nor sufficient — then there's no "essence" so much as a preponderance. In the construction you've offered, "physically female" is treated as necessary and sufficient; for trans folk, it's not.

" I don't really like the term "cis", for what it's worth."

For yourself, or in general? Because, in general, I like it because it's a fairly standard term for "not trans," like Cisalpine Gauls versus Transalpine Gauls, or molecules that are cis or trans isomers. It reminds me that we use "trans" in a lot of other ways aside from gender, and that it can be fairly neutral.

"Well, that just seems worse to me, then. It seems like you're saying the binary roles of gender have made it uncomfortable for you to live as a man with non-standard male behaviors or traits..."

Why would that be worse? And can't a preponderance of traits convince someone that they belong to the other gender without therefore necessitating an "essence"?
posted by klangklangston at 10:20 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Klang, I think some of the difficulty comes from the medicalization of transgender. It is covered under insurance in many cases because medical doctors are diagnosing it (untreated) as a malady that needs treatment, which pays for the costs.

If it's simply a question of feeling more comfortable with a differently shaped body, I think people can fairly ask "How is this different from any other plastic surgery? Why should e.g. the City of Portland pay for this surgery with tax dollars? What if your feelings of comfort change and you want to change again later?"

For the general public, there is also I think considerably more sympathy for something "essentially" mismatched. I'm perfectly happy with a genderqueer society, but for the majority of Americans, the argument that homosexuality was inborn and not "a choice" was a crucial halfway step to the current tide toward acceptance.
posted by msalt at 10:32 AM on January 17, 2013


If it's simply a question of feeling more comfortable with a differently shaped body, I think people can fairly ask "How is this different from any other plastic surgery?

LOTS of plastic surgery is covered by insurance or tax dollars. A friend of mine's nine-year-old got into a collision during a hockey practice and a skate opened her face from her chin to her cheekbone; that was closed by a plastic surgeon, paid for by insurance. My niece was born with a large dimensional hemangioma covering a great deal of her face; that was dealt with via plastic surgery, paid for by insurance. Another good friend had a mastectomy to treat breast cancer, and her reconstructive surgery was paid for by her insurance.

"Plastic surgery" doesn't equal "unnecessary surgery."
posted by KathrynT at 10:57 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


If my gender is essential to anything, it's my constructed identity, not to anything itself essential to me. The fact that our (all of us) identities are constructed obviously doesn't mean they're any less valid or true.

hm, I guess that's the point where we diverge - to me, a constructed identity can be deconstructed and reconstructed and generally played around with, or even just forgotten and ignored if it's not very interesting (like perhaps one's racial identity at times - the recognition of what that means often only occurs when challenged). It seems a kind of essentialism to come to a full stop on it.

It's really not an easy thing to convey at all, and plaintext is hardly the best medium, but I felt ill at ease as a man. I was persistently and consistently angry, ... Taking hormones and the way that has subtly altered my body (and not-so-subtly, in the form of boobs) has made me feel happier with myself, more comfortable, and just more correct in a way that I wasn't before.

Fair enough, and I'm glad you've found a way of life that suits you. I don't mean to hold your needs up as negating mine or anything, and I do recognize the complexity of these things.

you could take the constructivist view that it's the combination of multiple traits — none essential — that influence what gender one is most comfortable identifying as.

Okay, I'll give you that, but what traits would you use other than physical form? To me anything else starts to make assumptions about what traits should belong to which gender.

it seems you really are setting that essence back in the physical.

Well, in a sense, but I'm trying to say there just is no essence. To distinguish essential from physical is to say there is some "essence" that can be separated - a spirit or psyche that holds one's true nature. I'm saying you just are your body, so being female is just a mundane fact of having a female body, like being big or small or tall or short. Or if you want to think there's an essence to a gender then you have to define the nature of an entire category - there must be something all women share. I'm saying females don't have to share particular traits. It's just a division of body types. It's a question of whether you need to see an OBGYN or not. Beyond that, you're an individual, although, the way our society is formed, being recognized as having one type of body or another may have a significant impact on your experience as a member of the world, and the capacities of that body may impact life choices.

If gender is constructed through a combination of factors — none being necessary nor sufficient — then there's no "essence" so much as a preponderance.

how does this gender get constructed for the individual? AGain this seems to support a binary notion of gender norms if one creates and chooses a gender based on their tendencies and how they fit into the expectations of culture.

Because, in general, I like it because it's a fairly standard term for "not trans,"

I know, but to me it implies that anyone who is "not trans" fits a standardized model of their specific gender, as if that is a known and essential thing. I'm "not trans" the way I'm "not christian" or "not japanese" - it's just one of many things I'm not, but it doesn't say anything about who I am.

Why would that be worse? And can't a preponderance of traits convince someone that they belong to the other gender without therefore necessitating an "essence"?

Okay, well, maybe saying it's worse is the wrong way to go about this. I relate to it less, I guess. If it's constructed, then you have the power to move past it and change the culture that is imposing these rules and expectations, instead of following them and being "convinced" to live as the other gender. But I guess if you like the culture or have no interest in changing it, then that doesn't make any sense.

My problem is far more with the expectations of the culture, and that is what I mean by gender essentialism - that there is something about "being female" that a female person has to live up to or do that is distinct from mere genetics.
posted by mdn at 12:07 PM on January 17, 2013


Okay, well, maybe saying it's worse is the wrong way to go about this. I relate to it less, I guess. If it's constructed, then you have the power to move past it and change the culture that is imposing these rules and expectations, instead of following them and being "convinced" to live as the other gender.

Man I'm glad I can just up and change the culture I live in. It's like it isn't some all-pervasive thing made up of everyone else or anything...

hm, I guess that's the point where we diverge - to me, a constructed identity can be deconstructed and reconstructed and generally played around with, or even just forgotten and ignored if it's not very interesting (like perhaps one's racial identity at times - the recognition of what that means often only occurs when challenged). It seems a kind of essentialism to come to a full stop on it.

It's entirely possible. I don't really see anyone claiming to come to any sort of full stop on anything - what do you mean?
posted by Dysk at 12:18 PM on January 17, 2013


I'm thirty three, transitioned at twenty-odd, and have been talking to people on the internet about it ever since. One conclusion I've come to in that time is that it is impossible to describe the experience of sex dysphoria to a cissexual person. I throw my hands up in the air at these conversations because they always revolve around gender roles and artefacts of gender and the way the trans person feels but the fact is:

No-one knows why people are trans. Some people just are. There is enough evidence to suspect that there is a certain configuration of a certain part of the brain that is shared by cis and trans women, and a different configuration shared by cis and trans men (with lots of overlap, naturally). It is also reasonable to suspect that it is this part of the brain that is responsible for the dysphoria, for the knowledge of what sex the person is.

That little bit of brain in a cis woman tells her she is female, and a woman. She doesn't hear it because the rest of her, and society agrees. That little bit of brain says nothing to her about what it is to be a woman in society; that's up to her to decide.

That little bit of brain in a trans woman tells her she is female, and a woman. We hear it because it's the only bit of us making sense, and we listen.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:18 PM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


If it's simply a question of feeling more comfortable with a differently shaped body, I think people can fairly ask "How is this different from any other plastic surgery? Why should e.g. the City of Portland pay for this surgery with tax dollars? What if your feelings of comfort change and you want to change again later?"

Funnily enough, the numbers have been run. From page 21:
The UK trans campaigning group, Press for Change, has done extensive research on the cost to the State of gender reassignment treatments. In order for a trans woman to undergo these treatments including vaginoplasty would be around €10,000, and the cost of treatment including mastectomy and hysterectomy for a trans man would be around £8,000. Compared with the costs of lifelong psychiatric care which, assuming monthly sessions and a short in-patient stay every two years, would cost around £4000 per annum, gender reassignment surgeries are a bargain. It should also be noted that psychiatric care would need to be continued for a very long time, as there has never been a published report, in the psychiatric or psychotherapeutic literature, of transsexualism or transgenderism being cured.
(I don't know what to make of the €10,000. If it's meant to be in GBP, it's £8361.44. The number they mean is somewhere in the £8000-£10000 range in any case.) The number of trans people not requiring the level of psychiatric care used in the calculation should be offset by the people not wanting all medical interventions included in their total cost numbers. Those numbers would be higher in a country without a state healthcare system (e.g. the US), but I don't think that matters. Granted, this argument isn't particularly compelling to private insurers in the US, but I think that's attributably to transphobia rather than actuarial science. If an insurance company's paying for therapy (which they will probably try to avoid doing, trans-related or not), access to medical transition is cheaper. This is good for their profit margin. There's even a slim chance they'd pass some of the savings on to you in the form of lower premiums. But! You asked about taxpayer-funded healthcare. So all that about cost savings still applies. However, improved quality of life and improved mental well-being should lead to increased earnings, which, oh wait, leads to increased tax. I don't know that anyone's tried to calculate it, but the City of Portland's investment could quite plausibly be repaid over the remainder of someone's working life.

As discussed many comments above, the rate of de-transition is low enough (and trans people rare enough) that the City of Portland loses way more money funding knee replacements (which cost roughly the amount of money we're talking) for people who die shortly after. (I have no idea if the City of Portland funds any knee replacements.)

(Anyone in the UK know if the above argument was compelling enough to the NHS that they started funding transition-related care without the trip to the ECHR that seemingly any progress for trans people in Britain requires?)
posted by hoyland at 4:28 PM on January 17, 2013


With the given that cross-gender HRT is available on the NHS (as it is, at least in theory), there are the savings involved in lower doses (and the stoppage of anti-androgens post-surgery for trans women) to consider also.
posted by Dysk at 4:46 AM on January 18, 2013


The problem with that analysis, hoyland, (beyond much higher costs in the US for medical care), is that everything there could also said about cosmetic surgery. More attractive people are well documented to be more confident, more successful, earn more money, etc. so you could construct an analysis where getting rid of that big bumpy nose or crooked teeth that have made you neurotic would pay off.

However, the deeply frayed social contract around health care in the US is based on covering medically necessary treatment rather than optional improvements. The examples of plastic surgery that KathrynT lists are all medically necessary and would not be controversial.

Which brings me back to my original point -- in the American system, messed up as it is, insurance coverage for transition is dependent on a medical diagnosis of some malady. (The psychiatric treatment in your cost analysis obviously presupposes such a diagnosis.)

My point was, such acceptance of transition treatments as there is is predicated on the notion of some sort of essentialism that is awry. If the reason for transition is a vague sense of discomfort with a constructed persona, I think that both legally and politically that acceptance goes away. There's a shrewd socio-political strategy behind Lady Gaga naming her influential song "I was born that way," an d that's just about being gay.
posted by msalt at 10:46 AM on January 18, 2013


The problem with that analysis, hoyland, (beyond much higher costs in the US for medical care), is that everything there could also said about cosmetic surgery. More attractive people are well documented to be more confident, more successful, earn more money, etc. so you could construct an analysis where getting rid of that big bumpy nose or crooked teeth that have made you neurotic would pay off.

You've ignored the part where not allowing people access to medical transition costs money because you're providing them care anyway. In our stereotypes of purely cosmetic surgery, this isn't the case--there aren't that many suicides on account of crooked teeth. But suppose it were. Your options are then 1) get them to a place where they don't need surgery or 2) fund their surgery. In the case of trans people, we know 1) doesn't work. The presumption is that if crooked teeth are causing someone great pain, 1) will work. And, quite frankly, if it doesn't, employ the argument above and straighten their damn teeth.

My point was, such acceptance of transition treatments as there is is predicated on the notion of some sort of essentialism that is awry. If the reason for transition is a vague sense of discomfort with a constructed persona, I think that both legally and politically that acceptance goes away. There's a shrewd socio-political strategy behind Lady Gaga naming her influential song "I was born that way," an d that's just about being gay.

I'm not sure what you want me to say. Yes, society presumes a gender binary. Look at your driver's license or your passport. There are like three countries in the world that will put something other than M or F, and sometimes that's a result of a fucked up attitude towards trans people. Yes, that presumption of a gender binary helps binary-identified trans people. Why? It privileges all binary-identified people. Is it based on some kind of essentialism? Yes, that M or F on your passport was determined by looking at your genitals at birth. Is that problematic? Yes, of course. Essentialism aside, normal human variation means that not everyone's genitals at birth readily go into the M or F box or that the doctor doesn't make a guess and guess wrong (relative to identity or chromosomes or whatever). None of that's the result of the international trans cabal sitting down and plotting. Not least because they don't exist. That's what the situation has been since, I don't know, when we first had identity papers.

Do you experience your gender as a constructed persona? Is it real to you? Is there any reason why it shouldn't be real to a trans person? I mean, I think religion is a construct. There are an awful lot of people out there who are really damn sure God exists. Heck, they have to reconcile their belief with the existence of other religions. There are two basic options: assume the other people have been misled by Satan (or whatever) or assume that their religion is somehow isomorphic to yours (you're worshipping the same god(s) in different ways). A nontrivial number of them take option two, which supposes religious practice is a cultural artefact.
posted by hoyland at 11:40 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's hard to call vaginoplasty for example 'cosmetic' when it fundamentally alters the function of your genitals. Beyond that, sufficiently severe conditions DO cause routinely funded purely or largely cosmetic surgery - think accident victims, birth defects, etc.
posted by Dysk at 11:59 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The examples of plastic surgery that KathrynT lists are all medically necessary and would not be controversial.

Medically necessary in what sense? The breast cancer survivor wouldn't have different mortality or morbidity rates without reconstructed breasts. My niece wouldn't have had a shorter lifespan with the strawberry hemangioma. The hockey player's health wouldn't have been at risk if she'd had a visible scar. I chose those examples over other plastics procedures like repairing a cleft palate specifically because the problem they address is feeling comfort with one's own body.

You're right that they're not controversial, and they shouldn't be; neither should gender surgery.
posted by KathrynT at 12:09 PM on January 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm thirty three, transitioned at twenty-odd, and have been talking to people on the internet about it ever since. One conclusion I've come to in that time is that it is impossible to describe the experience of sex dysphoria to a cissexual person.

As a cisgendered person, I've reached this conclusion, too. So much of the conversation about transpeople seems centered around explaining their experience to me, and I get that impulse, but it's absolutely never worked or even come close to working. The closest parallel is when people try to explain the experience of being mentally ill to me, and that actually works a little better (not equating the two except in depth from my own experience).

The thing is, I don't need to be convinced that your experience is legitimate or even real in order to decide not to be shitty to you about it. Transpeople are going through something serious, so I'm going to try to be nice about it, even if I can't even come close to understanding what that something is.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:34 PM on January 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't want to question your experiences. We are probably just not expressing things very well to each other...

I don't think it's stretching the definition of a woman's body to mean a body possessed and inhabited by a woman. Or are you saying there's something essentially male about the fact that I happen to have a dick?

But it seems pretty clear that transgenderism confirms gender essentialism to me. There is nothing essentially male about having a penis - it is just anatomically male. To be female while having an anatomically male body means to believe in a female essence that is distinct from the physical form.

And that's really all I was getting at in the beginning - that I am sometimes concerned about the way that the support of a gendered "essential nature" in the trans community could effect the expectations of culture. It supports the idea that our "true selves" are gendered and whether we know it or not we really want certain things since we really are a certain way.

That little bit of brain in a cis woman tells her she is female, and a woman. She doesn't hear it because the rest of her, and society agrees. That little bit of brain says nothing to her about what it is to be a woman in society; that's up to her to decide.

If she decides that being a woman means shaving her head, growing a beard, getting a mastectomy or taking testosterone supplements, is that little piece of her brain still working by your account? If it's truly up to her to decide what "being a woman" is, then what is the piece of her brain telling her - that she should use a certain word?

If transgenderism were framed more like transhumanism - a transgression of given boundaries, an exploration of alternate gender options (and I realize for some people it is) - then it wouldn't cause any concerns. But because it so often centers around a claim of an inner ideal gender, that is inherent, absolute, and inescapable - and that we all have but some of us are just so fully immersed we don't realize it - I feel as if it plays against the idea that we can see gender as flexible, permeable, somewhat socially constructed, and not centrally important.

Maybe it's like the gay vs bisexual thing - that some people are just "kinsey 6" in terms of how gendered they are on the inside, so to speak...
posted by mdn at 9:41 PM on January 18, 2013


mdn: "It supports the idea that our "true selves" are gendered and whether we know it or not we really want certain things since we really are a certain way."

The existence of trans people in such numbers proves the following:

1. People are innately sexed. Most of the time this lines up with their chromosomal sex. Sometimes -- in non-XX/XY people, in intersex people, in trans people -- it does not.
2. Some portions of gender expression are innate.

To argue otherwise is to wish for a different reality. There are too many of us and our stories cohere too well for us to be lying, or delusional, or just plain wrong. In addition, adventures in brain dissection after we die are creeping along towards supporting these notions.

mdn: "If she decides that being a woman means shaving her head, growing a beard, getting a mastectomy or taking testosterone supplements, is that little piece of her brain still working by your account?"

Yes? There are plenty of butch women! And plenty of people whose gender identity is not so binary who try and get themselves somewhere else, cis and trans alike.

But because it so often centers around a claim of an inner ideal gender, that is inherent, absolute, and inescapable - and that we all have but some of us are just so fully immersed we don't realize it - I feel as if it plays against the idea that we can see gender as flexible, permeable, somewhat socially constructed, and not centrally important.

Yep. I mean I take issue with some of your words there because it's clear you're coming from a place where you wish this wasn't the case ("ideal"?) but: yep.

Our existence says something about sex and gender identity. The sky is blue; stop staying indoors theorising about the reflection of light off clouds and go look at the sky.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:42 AM on January 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is nothing essentially male about having a penis - it is just anatomically male.

So you're saying that anatomy is essentially male. I'm saying that anatomy is exactly what we want it to be since we define gender. I don't understand how you're failing to grasp that I don't believe in essential gender - I have a sense of identity (not in the sense of what I do, not identity in so mundane a sense as 'white' or 'hockey player' or whatever, but in that a sense of a self, a way or referencing the self that is distinct and different from referencing the other) that I am most comfortable conceiving of as female. This is a product of the sense of self I have constructed as a result of the interactions of my mind, psyche, and society. It's based on received wisdom, and is contingent on the experiences I've had. It's not my 'true self' - it's my own perception of myself, is all.

To be female while having an anatomically male body means to believe in a female essence that is distinct from the physical form.

How is it anatomically male? You're ascribing that to it as some essential component - I'm arguing that there isn't anything inherently male or female about a dick. I don't believe in any essence - I just don't see why I should consider myself male purely because I have a dick, and some people (yourself seemingly included) believe that that is inherently male.

But because it so often centers around a claim of an inner ideal gender, that is inherent, absolute, and inescapable - and that we all have but some of us are just so fully immersed we don't realize it - I feel as if it plays against the idea that we can see gender as flexible, permeable, somewhat socially constructed, and not centrally important.

And because it 'so often' centres around that claim, you're refusing to listen to those of us who are trans and telling you that this is not what we think it's about?
posted by Dysk at 3:53 AM on January 19, 2013


Or at the risk of slightly oversimplifying for the sake of getting my point across: I'm not saying that I am a woman, and thus I identify as female. I am saying that I identify as female, and thus I am a woman.

And how you can claim to be arguing against gender essentialism while claiming certain anatomy as essentially gendered is kinda beyond me. No anatomy is 'mundanely' intrinsically male or female, just as no body is intrinsically small or tall or short or whatever - these are entirely context dependent, and make no sense outside of them. A tall person is only tall compared to our ideas of height. A small person is only small within a framework of expected sizes. All of these are culturally constructed, and culturally and historically contingent - in the UK, I am tall. In Denmark, I am of average height. Calling a characteristic 'mundane' does not mean you can ignore that it too is constructed and context-dependent.
posted by Dysk at 4:07 AM on January 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


No anatomy is 'mundanely' intrinsically male or female, just as no body is intrinsically small or tall or short or whatever - these are entirely context dependent, and make no sense outside of them.

I would like to underline this in all sorts of colours.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:08 AM on January 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


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