Transgender LA Times sportswriter Mike Penner dead in suspected suicide
November 29, 2009 6:19 PM   Subscribe

Mike Penner, sportswriter at the Los Angeles Times, died on Friday in an apparent suicide. Penner was best known for his sports journalism until April 2007, when he publicly announced that he was transsexual and would begin writing as Christine Daniels (previously). He detransitioned in October 2008, returning to work under his original name, but without offering explanation.

The story of Mike Penner's transition and detransition provoked comment on the issue of "regret", a topic which can be difficult for the trans community.
posted by Sova (184 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
wasn't this done earlier?
posted by Balisong at 6:24 PM on November 29, 2009


It's actually over in MeTa, but folks thought it should be here.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:29 PM on November 29, 2009


It was posted on MetaTalk by planetkyoto, whom I should thank for letting me repost here.
posted by Sova at 6:29 PM on November 29, 2009


ok, derail over?


The comment section of the USA Today link are both better than I expected and a bit frustrating with the HufDuf "god made man and woman..." How would you like to live with him?" type comments. They must be moderated to remove the blatant screamers but allow for the moral objectionists wankers.
posted by edgeways at 6:30 PM on November 29, 2009


The article linked on "regret" mentions the opinion of a therapist that most detransitions have to do with external pressures--not actual gender identity. I wonder what it was like for someone in a very masculine profession, at the very top of his game, to suddenly lose his male privilege and become a middle-aged woman?

Ben Barres (a female to male transsexual, and research neuroscientist) has discussed how much easier it was to be taken seriously in the sciences after his gender transition. Penner's gender identity meant a transition the much less privileged sex.
posted by availablelight at 6:44 PM on November 29, 2009 [24 favorites]


This is so sad.

I was just thinking about this writer on Thanksgiving--my younger cousin is taking a human sexuality class and they had a panel of MTF transgender women come talk to their class about their experiences. She (my cousin) wanted to talk to me about it because she was so horrified at how rude her classmates were to them and that she was really moved by their stories (and presumably because I'm the queer one in the family, and I've made it clear at previous, more awkward Thanksgivings that I know a lot of transgender people and I think they're perfectly normal). I wanted to tell my question about the sportswriter in question, but sadly, this story has not ended how I hoped it would.

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posted by Tesseractive at 6:51 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


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posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:52 PM on November 29, 2009


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posted by elsietheeel at 6:55 PM on November 29, 2009


This is heartbreaking stuff. To anyone reading who is transgendered I just wanted you to know, some guy on the internet is proud of you for being brave enough to be you. Don't let the bastards get you down.
posted by nola at 7:01 PM on November 29, 2009 [57 favorites]


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posted by emilyd22222 at 7:01 PM on November 29, 2009


That's genuinely tragic. I know there's a lot of hated people in the world, but what trans-people face often feels to me like one of the most abiding and socially acceptable forms of prejudice. I don't know, reading back over that it feels like an awkward and uninformed comment to make, but when something like this happens, it never feels like the moment of silence says enough.

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posted by emperor.seamus at 7:02 PM on November 29, 2009


.

I can't imagine what it's like to come out of the closet at 50, and then find out that you can't deal with all the shit you're going to have to deal with. I can't imagine having to put yourself back in the closet again.

If you want to think about "regret", is it regret for what he did, for trying to sort out his identity? Or is it regret for what he couldn't do?
posted by cotterpin at 7:06 PM on November 29, 2009


If you want to think about "regret", is it regret for what he did, for trying to sort out his identity? Or is it regret for what he couldn't do?

I don't know. It's hard to know what he was feeling emotionally without him saying so explicitly. I think many trans people see this as him having been pressured into detransitioning, and that eventually leading to suicide. There are other possible explanations, but that one holds the most moral value to some people, I think.
posted by Sova at 7:17 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


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posted by BaxterG4 at 7:17 PM on November 29, 2009


Articles like this leave me conflicted.

I feel like there is, or should be, some tension between feminist and transgender community. Maybe there is, and as a more or less straight male white guy who's not in the humanities I'm missing out on it.

Feminism, in my eyes, is largely about denying the social importance of sex and working against gender stereotypes, or really even the very concept of gender. Ultimately, we should aim for a society in which there are no notions about what a woman or man essentially is or should be, socially speaking. But the proponents of transgender/transsexual identity seem to necessarily affirm the importance of gender constructs, and seem to go out of their way to fit rigid stereotypes of gendered behavior.

If a friend of mine said they wanted to be female gendered (regardless of their biological makeup), and this was causing them a great deal of emotional turmoil, I wouldn't know what to say. To the extent gender exists at all, it's a really a set of labels and behaviors we associate with them - e.g. this is how women should act, this is how women should be treated. I would like for there to be no such labels or ideas outside those justified by biology - e.g. the special treatment of women in relation to their ability to give birth, or their relative inability to defend themselves (which is an extremely complicated discussion in itself). In an ideal society, there would be no reason to want others to label you differently, as it would inconsequential. If you want to wear a dress, go for it, but why would we identify you as a different sex? Why would it matter? You're just a human being with a Y chromosome who wears a dress.
posted by phrontist at 7:17 PM on November 29, 2009 [17 favorites]


Also,

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posted by phrontist at 7:18 PM on November 29, 2009


I was one of two male legal secretaries at my first job, and our desks adjoined. At a staff meeting, the other secretary announced he was transitioning and would start coming to work as a woman. Aside from one or two slipups with pronouns and her old name, I was able to mentally switch over. It was an interesting experience, to have what I had believed my principles were in theory put to an actual real-life test – and also (unfortunately) interesting to witness firsthand how some people's attitudes towards her changed immediately. I wonder how she's doing. Sexuality is an amazingly convoluted thing, and sometimes we get strangled by the convolutions. I'm sorry Daniels ran into this, and sorry for her family that they have to deal with how the public eye is going to intrude into their privacy during this really shitty time for them.
posted by MikeHarris at 7:22 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


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Peace.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:23 PM on November 29, 2009


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posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:25 PM on November 29, 2009


The article linked on "regret" mentions the opinion of a therapist that most detransitions have to do with external pressures--not actual gender identity. I wonder what it was like for someone in a very masculine profession, at the very top of his game, to suddenly lose his male privilege and become a middle-aged woman?

I recently read the (truly fascinating) memoir of transsexual tennis star and ophthalmologist Renee Richards, and she observed that often men who are coming to terms with their transsexualism find that they've spent their lives working in typically hyper-masculine professions beforehand, as if attempting to overcompensate for their true nature. Richards (formerly Richard Raskind) was a professional athlete and served in the Navy before seeking gender re-assignment surgery.
posted by hermitosis at 7:26 PM on November 29, 2009


Oh man, phrontist, you have no idea. I'd say the more significant issue with transwomen and feminism is that gender is significant and matters, and that for some cisgendered feminists, male privelege is something you do not lose once you transition or come out as transgender.

For maybe one good example of tensions between (and within) feminist, transgender, and transfeminist communities, you might want to read up on the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival and its transgender exclusion policy, and Camp Trans.
posted by Tesseractive at 7:27 PM on November 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


In an ideal society, there would be no reason to want others to label you differently, as it would inconsequential. If you want to wear a dress, go for it, but why would we identify you as a different sex? Why would it matter?

It doesn't matter -- much, to most people -- but when it does matter to someone, it matters a lot. There's a big difference between wanting to wear a dress or "pass" for a woman and wanting to experience sex as a woman.
posted by hermitosis at 7:31 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


If a friend of mine said they wanted to be female gendered (regardless of their biological makeup), and this was causing them a great deal of emotional turmoil, I wouldn't know what to say. To the extent gender exists at all, it's a really a set of labels and behaviors we associate with them - e.g. this is how women should act, this is how women should be treated. I would like for there to be no such labels or ideas outside those justified by biology - e.g. the special treatment of women in relation to their ability to give birth, or their relative inability to defend themselves (which is an extremely complicated discussion in itself). In an ideal society, there would be no reason to want others to label you differently, as it would inconsequential. If you want to wear a dress, go for it, but why would we identify you as a different sex? Why would it matter? You're just a human being with a Y chromosome who wears a dress.

It's not so much that people are adopting labels. There are transsexual people in every society, in places where gender roles are totally different. It's about feeling wrong. It's about having been born with a body that doesn't match your brain. Transgender people adopt the gendered behaviors of their desired sex because they want to be perceived by society the way they have always perceived themselves.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:32 PM on November 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


There's a big difference between wanting to wear a dress or "pass" for a woman and wanting to experience sex as a woman.

On the former case, the above comments are all I've got. The latter seems impossible to me.
posted by phrontist at 7:34 PM on November 29, 2009


To the extent gender exists at all, it's a really a set of labels and behaviors we associate with them - e.g. this is how women should act, this is how women should be treated.

An incredibly weird phenomenon that came out of the civil war was the interplay of privilege between the patriarchal cult of domesticity that surrounded white households and the racist segregation systems that prevented black women from participating in that cult. Black women were scornfully told they were "playing the lady" when they tried to arrange their families in the same way as white families. They were supposed to be part of the work force along with men, because their race was too inferior to allow different gender roles. But at the same time, those white families were arranged in a powerfully oppressive and patriarchal way themselves. I think what you're talking about is something similar. I don't know what to actually do about it besides making sure that we try to remember how all these things work together.

I've seen some tension between feminist and trans communities, but I think that tension is unnecessary. Not that I'm a woman or trans, but I think we can figure out a way where everyone can live how they want to live if we work at it hard enough, and I think that's what everyone at least claims to be working toward.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 7:36 PM on November 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


Feminism isn't about denying that women and men are different. It's okay for men and women to have different contexts and act gendered, if that's what feels right to that individual. Feminism just says there's no reason why women should be treated worse than men for the reason of being female.
posted by amethysts at 7:38 PM on November 29, 2009 [28 favorites]


I've seen some tension between feminist and trans communities, but I think that tension is unnecessary.

If there is tension between feminist and trans communities shouldn't there be the same kind of tension with people who are gay. Being gay means you have a preference for a certain gender, or am I missing something?
posted by nola at 7:40 PM on November 29, 2009


The latter seems impossible to me.

That's why I recommend Renee Richards' book. She doesn't dwell on sex, but to the extent she discusses it, she is quite candid and it's very moving to read about. When someone has this surgery, it's only fairly recently that there are any guarantees as to how the resulting body parts will look or function. In Richards' case, she describes the wonder and relief of discovering that she could actually have vaginal orgasms.
posted by hermitosis at 7:43 PM on November 29, 2009


Being male was easier. Externally, anyways.

When I decided to transition, I was the public face of an online game with a tight-knit community. I was in charge of the community and in charge of the game's continuing development -- when the company I worked for was going to close the game, I bought it from them to keep it going.

Then "BSR - Anthony" became "BSR - Andrea" in the chat room, with a link to a FAQ.

We lost 60% of our monthly revenue right away. For months, I questioned myself. But at the end of the day it was the right thing to do. Even if it took nearly a year to get back to pre-transition revenue levels.

During that time of transition, I was called everything you can imagine. These were customers *and* friends, or so I thought. I knew many of them in person, and had spoken with even more of them over the phone. That didn't matter too much. Many of the people who stayed in the game "in spite of the transition" applied pressure privately and publicly to undo it. Or for me to go away. Or for me to sell the game. Or something. I was hurting "their" game, after all.

My point: Transitioning is one of the hardest things a human can do to themselves on purpose. And unless you are very lucky or very young when you start, you never get 100% acceptance. You'll never be "real" to them. And, if you allow yourself to be defined by others' expectations you will fail in transition. It is a very, very difficult road and it is not one I would advise unless and until every other possible option is explored first. And, even then, it might not be enough.

Rest In Peace.

And, to tie it all together: I once worked with the LA Times.
posted by andreaazure at 7:45 PM on November 29, 2009 [104 favorites]


There are transsexual people in every society, in places where gender roles are totally different.

So?

It's about having been born with a body that doesn't match your brain.

In what way can a brain not match a body? This seems to imply there is such a thing as female mind, or a male mind, before social conditioning, something I have yet to see any evidence for.

Transgender people adopt the gendered behaviors of their desired sex because they want to be perceived by society the way they have always perceived themselves.

As I said above, they apparently see themselves in terms of societal constructions that I feel limit human potential.
posted by phrontist at 7:45 PM on November 29, 2009


Being gay means you have a preference for a certain gender, or am I missing something?

Homosexuality is being attracted to someone with the same set genitalia, not gender per se.
posted by phrontist at 7:48 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


you might want to read up on the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival and its transgender exclusion policy (Tesseractive)

Could you give me some good links for this? I'd like to read about it.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:50 PM on November 29, 2009


andreaazure I think there are only a few things in the world that take real bravery. Jumping on a grenade to save your fellow soldiers, giving birth, growing old, coming out, and being strong enough to be Trans. Bless you.
posted by nola at 7:51 PM on November 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


As I said above, they apparently see themselves in terms of societal constructions that I feel limit human potential.

We'll be sure to bring up all the human potential you fell short of in your obituary thread.
posted by hermitosis at 7:52 PM on November 29, 2009 [25 favorites]


Homosexuality is being attracted to someone with the same set genitalia, not gender per se.

That seems really reductive, but maybe that's because I believe girls exist. I'm just a hick from Tennessee so I'll cop to not understanding much.
posted by nola at 7:54 PM on November 29, 2009


Nola: If I understand you correctly, you are asking why there is no tension b/w gays and feminists, but there is b/w MtFs and feminists? If so, my perception: is that being gay is a question of who you LIKE/are attracted to, whereas transsexuals are dealing with a question/difference in who they are in terms of gender. So, in the embracing of feminine power/wome(y)n hood, they might shun men who *identify* with women, without having experienced being a woman from birth. Or something along those lines.
posted by NikitaNikita at 7:55 PM on November 29, 2009


We'll be sure to bring up all the human potential you fell short of in your obituary thread.
posted by hermitosis at 7:52 PM on November 29

posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:57 PM on November 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


Phrontist, I completely agree with your first comment, and I have wondered about that for a long time. When I first met MtF transsexuals as 13 year old, tomboy feminist, the idea that wearing a lot of makeup and simpering was what made someone a woman, or more of a woman, was deeply, deeply offensive to me. It seemed like their idea of what a woman was, or the difference between men and women, was more sexist than the most sexist vanilla guy I'd ever met theretofore.

Now, that was a long time ago, and I've met many more transsexuals than those first ones on the street in the East Village. Not everyone falls under that stereotype, by a long shot.

But there are still issues there that I've never, ever heard anyone address, until you just did.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:58 PM on November 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


As I said above, they apparently see themselves in terms of societal constructions that I feel limit human potential.

I don't care that transgenderism doesn't make sense in your "ideal society". You chose a weird thread in which to push your made-up fantasyland, didn't you?
posted by fleacircus at 7:58 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


As I said above, they apparently see themselves in terms of societal constructions that I feel limit human potential.

And?

I mean seriously, and? That's your opinion, and you certainly have every right to have it, but why should trans people give a metric rat's ass what you think?

Feminism is for all women, not just women who were assigned a female identity at birth. Yes, there are women who self-identify as feminists (I'm looking at you, Michigan Womyn's Music Festival) feel like it's their job to police other women's genitalia. Other women who self-identify as feminists think that this is a giant load of toxic bullshit.

Who decides who is, and who is not, a woman? The woman herself. Anything else is hatefulness.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:58 PM on November 29, 2009 [21 favorites]


So, in the embracing of feminine power/wome(y)n hood, they might shun men who *identify* with women, without having experienced being a woman from birth. Or something along those lines.

Maybe so but it would seem like shutting out a kindred spirit and someone who may know something of pregidous and preconceived notions themselves. Which is a shame to my way of thinking.
posted by nola at 7:59 PM on November 29, 2009


*prejudice.

Sorry like I said I'm a hick.
posted by nola at 8:03 PM on November 29, 2009


We'll be sure to bring up all the human potential you fell short of in your obituary thread.

Tone is hard to convey online, so to clarify, I'm not in any way hating on trans people. I know people who identify as trans, and I don't purport to understand what they're going through, and I certainly don't want to come across as judgmental. I just think there is a conversation to be had about how people should deal with feelings of being incorrectly gendered, and what concerns me is that transgender behavior seems to implicitly affirm these gender roles that I think everyone (trans people included) would be better off with.
posted by phrontist at 8:05 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


But there are still issues there that I've never, ever heard anyone address, until [phrontist] just did.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:58 PM on November 2


Are you kidding me? That's like being shocked and impressed when some racist douche is all "oh I don't see race I don't even know what the difference is between black and white people I literally cannot see race merf a durf." It's just a safer way to marginalize discourse without saying that you want it to literally just go away. "I don't see black or white." "Just a person with a Y chromosome in a dress." Bullshit.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:07 PM on November 29, 2009 [15 favorites]


So, in the embracing of feminine power/wome(y)n hood, they might shun men who *identify* with women, without having experienced being a woman from birth. Or something along those lines.

Maybe so but it would seem like shutting out a kindred spirit and someone who may know something of pregidous and preconceived notions themselves. Which is a shame to my way of thinking.
posted by nola


It is a shame, but within even the gay community there's anti-trans sentimentthis too. Take for instance, Project Runway* (*fashion designer reality show) winner Christian Siriano, who described bad dresses as a "hot tranny mess" -- while he personally may not have been making an anti-trans statement, the catchphrase became popular and 'funny', and, eventually, shortened to just calling some stuff "tranny" as a negative. Ironically unfortunate, considering how some people in society use the word "gay/homo" and "bad" as synonyms.
posted by NikitaNikita at 8:07 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Homosexuality is being attracted to someone with the same set genitalia, not gender per se.

I have to take exception to this. While for some it may be that simple, there is a whole range of homosexuality spanning the gamut from a basic, occasional lust for same-sex naughty bits to full blown andro/gynophilia.
posted by quakerjono at 8:08 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I just think there is a conversation to be had about how people should deal with feelings of being incorrectly gendered, and what concerns me is that transgender behavior seems to implicitly affirm these gender roles that I think everyone (trans people included) would be better off with.

So start one, but doing it in an obit thread where people might be especially sensitive to tone is possibly a bad idea.
posted by hermitosis at 8:08 PM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


When I first met MtF transsexuals as 13 year old, tomboy feminist, the idea that wearing a lot of makeup and simpering was what made someone a woman, or more of a woman, was deeply, deeply offensive to me. It seemed like their idea of what a woman was, or the difference between men and women, was more sexist than the most sexist vanilla guy I'd ever met theretofore.

Yes, I remember having that reaction too, when I was 13 or whatever.

But when I grew up I realized it wasn't my job to police other people's gender identity or self-expression in any way.

My thought about trans women who choose to present themselves in ways that conform to media stereotypes/caricatures of "femininity" are: a) many cis women also choose to present themselves in those ways, and nobody seems to accuse them of being sexist by making those choices, so it seems like even though all women are women regardless of the gender they were assigned to at birth, trans women are the target of particular censure for making choices that cis women make without comment, and b) if indeed there are a disproportionate percentage of trans women who present themselves in ways that conform to media stereotypes/caricatures of "femininity", a more likely explanation than their own sexism seems to me to be a desire to communicate their female identity by choosing the most widely accepted mainstream self-presentation "feminine" codes and behaviors.

When I, as a cis woman, go for a job interview, I wear skirts and nylons and heels and makeup and jewelry, so that I will communicate a socially acceptable image of femininity. I can imagine that there are many trans women who feel, probably quite rightly, that they are as much "on inspection" by a hostile world every single day as I feel that I am "on inspection" in a job interview.

And the consequence of cis me not meeting some asshat's expectations for "acceptable femininity" in a job interview is not getting the job. The consequence of a trans woman's not meeting some asshat's expectations for "acceptable femininity" in every day life could be death.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:08 PM on November 29, 2009 [40 favorites]


In an ideal society, there would be no reason to want others to label you differently, as it would inconsequential. If you want to wear a dress, go for it, but why would we identify you as a different sex? Why would it matter? You're just a human being with a Y chromosome who wears a dress..

I don't know. Despite the core difference, there is a parallel here with sexuality: how do we know anything a person feels is correct? We don't, we simply have to accept it as sincere and revelatory. If you were to ask me why I am bisexual, or why I am a woman, I don't really have any answer other than I've thought about it, and I just am. I don't know if there is a better answer, and I fear that for people like Mike Penner, that feeling and its effects were all too real.
posted by Sova at 8:10 PM on November 29, 2009


I don't know about feminists and gay folks, but I know the transwomen of my acquaintance often express serious, no-holds-barred hatred towards gay men, and gay men appear to express similar dubiously-rational transphobia.

Dan Savage is perhaps the most public example of the gay men/ transfolk dichotomy, although he's got plenty of blind spots about plenty of other types of people too.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:10 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Optimus Chyme: What???

What discourse do you think I'm trying to marginalize and make go away?

How is talking about the fact it's a bit of cognitive dissonance on the one hand, to be told that that gender roles are dumb and oppressive, and then on the other hand, be told that it's wrong to feel weird when people act like acting out the most stereotypical gender roles possible makes them more a "real" member of X sex?

Why aren't we allowed to talk about that?
posted by Ashley801 at 8:12 PM on November 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


what concerns me is that transgender behavior seems to implicitly affirm these gender roles that I think everyone (trans people included) would be better off with

With deepest respect, it is not your business. It is not any more your business when Amanda Lepore wears bustiers and fishnets and coats her face with slap and wears false eyelashes than it is when Paris Hilton does the exact same thing: the fact that Amanda Lepore was assigned a male gender at birth and Paris Hilton was assigned a female gender at birth doesn't make what one does OK and the other one not OK.

If you are uncomfortable with any woman, regardless of her gender assignment at birth, portraying gender in over-the-top stereotypical ways, that's something to talk about. But singling out trans women as though they were the only women doing this is short-sighted at best.

Also, please note that drag queens are not necessarily people who self-identify as female. This is a very common error; some men embrace drag personas as self-expression, and yes, some trans women use drag as a part of the transition process, but conflating drag with MtF trans identity and sexuality as though they were identical is a mistake.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:14 PM on November 29, 2009 [13 favorites]


nola: I'm not trying to be prescriptivist here, I'm just saying that that seems to be how most people use the term. If I'm biologically male, and I'm in to women who act in a way traditonally thought of as appropriate for men, I don't think most people would consider me gay.

Sidhedevil: I mean seriously, and? That's your opinion, and you certainly have every right to have it, but why should trans people give a metric rat's ass what you think?

Conceptual clarification? Why else do people have philosophical/semantic conversations? I'm not trying to pick a fight here, I'm just trying to figure out how a value system I'd like to think of myself as on board with (feminism) relates to transgender identiy.

Who decides who is, and who is not, a woman? The woman herself. Anything else is hatefulness.

I think this is just question begging. I don't see how opposing gender essentialism is hateful.
posted by phrontist at 8:14 PM on November 29, 2009


You people are overthinking this like no plate of beans has ever been overthought before. A good man killed himself because he could not bear the pain of living.

.

That's enough.
posted by chairface at 8:14 PM on November 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


I just think there is a conversation to be had about how people should deal with feelings of being incorrectly gendered, and what concerns me is that transgender behavior seems to implicitly affirm these gender roles that I think everyone (trans people included) would be better off with.

It looks like either there are or there are not two genders or maybe even another possibility a gradient with regards to gender.

I'm of the mind that gender does exist and that there may or may not be some gradient to it. The idea of ruling gender out completely doesn't hold up to anything I see in the real world. The idea that someone born with male or female genitals but they themselves feel closer to the opposite is something that I can get my head around.
posted by nola at 8:14 PM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


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posted by willF at 8:14 PM on November 29, 2009


phrontist> 'experience sex as a woman'… The latter seems impossible to me.

I am trans, MtF. I am what is know in trans circles as 'no-op' - that is, I haven't had any genital surgery and am not planning on it. To put it crudely, I'm a dickgirl.

And yet I would say that, yes, I have experienced sex as a woman. It's not just about the physical parts; it's about the emotional stuff. My boyfriends have performed fellatio on me and yet they find it impossible to see me as anything as female. This attitude changes the act a lot and makes it a hell of a lot more worthwhile to me than pre-transition attempts at gay sex. I just didn't like myself as a boy.

It's been about six years since I started hormones. I finally always see someone cute when I look in the mirror. It's a long, weird, hard journey.
posted by egypturnash at 8:16 PM on November 29, 2009 [25 favorites]


That's your opinion, and you certainly have every right to have it, but why should trans people give a metric rat's ass what you think?

I don't care if they do or not. I am not trying to police their behavior.

I don't see how opposing gender essentialism is hateful.

How is saying "I think trans women are doing gender wrong" opposing gender essentialism? That's reinforcing gender essentialism--you're not critiquing cis women who are performing femininity in the exact same way.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:16 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Appropos of nothing, when I first saw the stories by Christine Daniels, along with the headshot, on latimes.com, I though "what an attractive woman," not knowing the story.

I soon learned of the story and have been reading her/him ever since. It's incredibly sad.
posted by Danf at 8:18 PM on November 29, 2009


I'm just trying to figure out how a value system I'd like to think of myself as on board with (feminism) relates to transgender identiy.

And I'm telling you: feminism is for all women, regardless of their gender assignment at birth.

Feminism is not about policing how women express their gender identity, regardless of their gender assignment at birth.

If you want to be a feminist, stop policing women's self-expression.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:18 PM on November 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


Just a quick note. Genotype does not consistently render sex, let alone gender. In other words, besides the fact that not everyone is XY or XX, XX does not always produce a "biological" female and XY does not always produce a "biological" male, and that's just two examples of the complex relationship between genotype and phenotype. This meagre complication doesn't even touch socialization, enculturation, idiosyncrasy, and cultural difference.

The idea that biology renders sex clearly is untenable in the real, empirical world.
posted by mistersquid at 8:19 PM on November 29, 2009 [8 favorites]


Ashley: I think that's a valid discussion, but I also think it could be framed in much less derisive and condescending terms than stating that transfolk "apparently" present and act in ways that the original commenter finds "limiting." There's a lot more actual content involved in the discussion of how transfolk construct and present their gender than just the presentation of an opinion in a tone that comes across as "I'm more evolved than those people are, so I don't see why they don't act like I would."
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:19 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


it's a bit of cognitive dissonance on the one hand, to be told that that gender roles are dumb and oppressive, and then on the other hand, be told that it's wrong to feel weird when people act like acting out the most stereotypical gender roles possible makes them more a "real" member of X sex...

So if you felt you were "male" -- to the point where you were inclined to undergo elective surgery to have your vaginal tissue reformed into a penis and become as biologically male as possible -- you'd still wear exactly what you wear now, right? Your sexually indistinct superuniform?

Trans people are incredibly diverse in the way they present themselves. You could hold up a few of them as "acting out the most stereotypical gender roles possible", but at that point what are you even discussing? I saw a trans woman working the Clinique counter at a mall once, I'm sure someone could write a sociological thesis on the significance of that, but right now we're talking about a lot of people who are trying to cope, blend in, and be happy.
posted by hermitosis at 8:21 PM on November 29, 2009 [8 favorites]


it's wrong to feel weird when people act like acting out the most stereotypical gender roles possible makes them more a "real" member of X sex?

Do you feel equally weird when women who were assigned a female gender at birth present their femininity in stereotypical ways?

If so, what difference does it make to you whether the woman making those choices is trans or cis? I don't present myself like Dita von Teese or Amanda Lepore, but I don't find Amanda's self-presentation more threatening than Dita's.

Trans women present their femininity in lots of different ways. Cis women present their femininity in lots of different ways. Suggesting that certain types of femininity are "sexist" when trans women do them seems problematic to me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:26 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


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posted by Lutoslawski at 8:30 PM on November 29, 2009


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posted by kylej at 8:30 PM on November 29, 2009


How is saying "I think trans women are doing gender wrong" opposing gender essentialism? That's reinforcing gender essentialism--you're not critiquing cis women who are performing femininity in the exact same way.

Sure I am! Just the other day I was being snide about a (presumably) cisgendered public figure's kowtowing to gender norms.

I'm sorry if I've caused any offense to any people who identify as trans. In criticizing an idea which I admitted from the get-go I didn't understand very well I was just trying to have a conversation, not to direct any judgment or otherwise bad vibes at real people. Notice the first thing I said was that I was conflicted, that the issue was anything but clear to me. I was just trying to present my thinking on the matter to hear opposing arguments.
posted by phrontist at 8:34 PM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hermitosis:

I said in my first comment that there are many, many people who can't fall under that stereotype.

Is it possible to have a serious, critical conversation about this topic, or does anything anyone says about it have to be hearts and rainbows or they'll be tarred and feathered? Come on.

I wear what I wear to feel feel comfortable in myself, and comfortable with society, yes, and so that would have to change if I were a man. But what I wear doesn't MAKE me any more of a woman. If I became a man, what I wore wouldn't MAKE me any more of a man.

And yes, you can say in this society women typically wear X and men typically wear Y. But that doesn't mean wearing X, acting like X, talking like X is the foundation of what a woman is and what it means to be a woman.

That's all.

And Sidhedevil, although I do agree with a lot of what you said, when Paris Hilton or Jessica Simpson do "girl"- the dumb giggly act, I think their portrayal of "girl" is sexist, too.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:36 PM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Is it possible to have a serious, critical conversation about this topic, or does anything anyone says about it have to be hearts and rainbows or they'll be tarred and feathered? Come on.

Repeated for emphasis: this is an obit thread.
posted by hermitosis at 8:37 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


That should read: In criticizing an idea which I admitted from the get-go I didn't understand very well. I was just trying to have a conversation, not to direct any judgmental or otherwise bad vibes at real people.
posted by phrontist at 8:37 PM on November 29, 2009


It's really even more complex than that, because even if you did have some proof that trans people skewed deeply towards one side of a gender identity, you would have to figure in the fact that the they were heavily socialized away from such things for all their lives and had to live with some deeply alienating and painful identity questions that the non-trans people don't.
posted by fleacircus at 8:38 PM on November 29, 2009


I'm shocked and saddened to read this news. I remember reading that other thread and being very impressed by this person's story (and thinking that would be a tough row to hoe). Now to hear this ending to the story--very sad.

.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:40 PM on November 29, 2009


How do you know you're a man?

No really, how do you know? (Any of you.) Do you have to look at yourself in the mirror to remind you what gender you are? Did you learn what gender you were at school? Did your parents have to remind you to act like a boy?

Chances are, nobody told you and you don't have to remind yourself. You know inside yourself what gender you are and you feel varying degrees of comfort playing that societal part. Your body matches the perception you have of yourself.

But, what if instead of looking in the mirror and seeing something that matches, you saw something totally different? Imagine having your same brain in a woman's body, or vice versa. Not all people who identify as transgender feel so specifically body-swapped, but I think it's a powerful thought experiment. I like to ask such a question to my students, as an introductory way of thinking about gender identity, but also where knowledge comes from.

This thread is making me think back to how I first learned about all this. I was really involved with LGBT organizing on campus when I was an undergrad, at a (relatively recent) time where a lot more people were starting to come out as trans (many more FTM folks than MTF folks, FWIW) (I can taste the acronyms). I've seen more than a few friends and acquaintences transition. Oddly enough, some were televised: Transgeneration, a reality show about four trans college students, was partially filmed at my school. I would strongly recommend the series (it's short) to folks who want to get to know more about TG issues from a young people's perspective, as opposed to a historical or medical view, or from USA Today...
posted by Tesseractive at 8:42 PM on November 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


First, yay for trans women on metafilter and positive discussions of trans stuff here.

Second - phrontist - I don't want to pile-on at all and I think that that has the potential of happening here. It seems like you're coming from a good-faith place. I had some similar perspectives to you at one point but those perspectives changed after I did some reading (and talked to more trans activists, and thought more about my own gender identity) and I wonder if you'd be interested in reading some other perspectives about this stuff - since you're clearly interested in thinking about gender, feminism and trans issues. Both Juila Serano and Leslie Feinberg have a fair amount of thoughtful content on their websites. I believe that the feminist principles you are concerned about would be shared by both of these authors. They also have books if you want to go deeper.
posted by serazin at 8:42 PM on November 29, 2009 [11 favorites]


I was just trying to present my thinking on the matter to hear opposing arguments.

I think people (myself included) read you as somewhat unsympathetic. I don't think you are but I do think you've let a preconceived notion about gender get in the way of thinking about this topic. Maybe I'm out of line for saying that. What I'm trying to say is, I'm sure you're a nice fellow. Shit! Not "fellow" just, I'm sure you're a nice person. All kidding aside I'm sure you're a well meaning person.

Also, never mind Optimus Chyme. Not a nice person even if said person is always willing to stab someone in said person's gut for PC reasons. Don't hurt me Chyme !
posted by nola at 8:43 PM on November 29, 2009


Repeated for emphasis: this is an obit thread.

Respectfully, I think the point of the last two links in the OP was to start a conversation about the topic in general. And your own first answer was about reading the bio of Renee Richards, not about the deceased specifically.

I don't think it's disrespectful to the memory of Mike Penner/Christine Daniels to talk about these things here or anywhere else.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:46 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's disrespectful to the memory of Mike Penner/Christine Daniels to talk about these things here or anywhere else.


With respect for Christine, I think it's good to have an honest discussion about this because of what happened to her. Her story needs to be heard to put an end to the prejudice and the hateful jokes Trans people deal with every day. I'm also proud of Mefi for having this discussion in a respectful way.
posted by nola at 8:51 PM on November 29, 2009


Every trans person I have known sees gender as a playful and multifaceted thing.

In order to get hormones or surgery to become the person they want to be, they need to recite a script, or the doctor won't provide the prescription.

"I have always felt like I was an x".

"I hate my current body and I hate myself when I identify myself with the body I have".

etc.

Trans people, in my limited anecdotal experience, are much more questioning of what gender means and how natural it is or is not than your typical feminist (not saying they are two separate groups of course - I have only known one trans person, out of the many I have met, who was not a feminist).

A person who carries through the act of transitioning from one gender to another publicly, even if they are doing it within a strict framework of gender, is doing much more to challenge gender in society than someone claiming that gender is undesirable or just a social construct. And many, many trans people would not be so stereotypical about their gender if they could go to a doctor, say "I'm gender queer, and I want to grow a beard and be more muscular", and get a prescription for some androgens.
posted by idiopath at 8:52 PM on November 29, 2009 [9 favorites]


Appropos of nothing, when I first saw the stories by Christine Daniels, along with the headshot, on latimes.com, I though "what an attractive woman," not knowing the story.

Christ, seriously? Good thing she was pretty, huh?

This is such a sad story.


.
posted by sugarfish at 8:55 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's disrespectful to the memory of Mike Penner/Christine Daniels to talk about these things here or anywhere else.

Yeah, but remember that people are also coming in here with their own personal connection to the subject and may have an unusually emotional reaction to your comments.

If you have something to share, share it. If you have something to ask, ask it. If you have an observation to make, observe away. Might want to give your comments a double-once-over sensitivity check before you do, is all I'm saying. You have your whole life to be serious and critical.
posted by hermitosis at 8:58 PM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Fare enough hermitosis.
posted by nola at 8:59 PM on November 29, 2009


I don't see how opposing gender essentialism is hateful.

Because you're implying that I should somehow feel bad because I like being and acting like a women. Today I'm wearing a push up bra and a short skirt and you somehow seem to think that's holding me back ('gender is limiting'). I'm also doing complex statistics and data analysis while aggressively pushing my career forward so clearly I don't follow all the stereotypes, but sometimes acting and feeling womanly is a great thing and there's nothing wrong with my enjoying it.

The problem is you've totally misunderstood feminism. There's nothing wrong with men and women being different and nothing sexist about each of us expressing our gender however we like, as long as no one is being discriminated against because of it. Feminism focuses on being equal not being the same. Being equal means giving everyone equal opportunities too, allowing each person to live up to their potential in any way they like, so that's where things like letting girls know that they can do maths or play sports if they want to come in. But there's nothing in there about removing or denying gender along the way (and actually, the idea that we have to ignore our gender before we can be equal is kind of sexist too).
posted by shelleycat at 9:02 PM on November 29, 2009 [21 favorites]


On preview, I'm glad that I was able to delete my first paragraph after other commenters addressed what I was going to say but with rather less sarcasm. It's frustrating to see an obit thread, of all things, turn into the trans 101 that basically every conversation about trans people, ever, turns into, but hey ho; outnumbered by cis people again.

I feel awful for Mike. I don't understand where he was at, really -- I transitioned young, threw away all my previous networks, and never looked back -- but I do understand the myriad horrible ways the world can chip away at you, trans or not, and I will remember him, and all the other trans people we've lost this year, by their own hands and by violence, including my friend, with a moment of silence.

.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 9:04 PM on November 29, 2009 [20 favorites]


It's a sad and discouraging thing that's happened to Penner/Daniels here.

It would really make me feel better about it if I could find someone to be angry at. If I could feel like it wasn't all of us at fault, but it was just this or that person or group that's to blame.

But let me say only "rest in peace," because if I say much more, I think that anger would start spilling out at some of the people in this thread.
posted by tyllwin at 9:13 PM on November 29, 2009


This is from a Youtuber I came across some time ago. It's a bit long but I found it moving. Maybe because of his age maybe because it seemed unreal, but here it is for your consideration.
posted by nola at 9:25 PM on November 29, 2009


There are always unwelcome or simply forbidden opinions on transgenderism on MetaFilter, and today it’s Sidhedevil who’s holding the clipboard with the list. Sure hurts when you get whacked over the head with it, which is always justified to stop transphobia in its tracks.
posted by joeclark at 9:43 PM on November 29, 2009


(Not clear what it is about this issue that flips joeclark's switch, but this isn't the first time. Whatever it is, I hope you figure out how to deal with it.)

RIP, Christine.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:49 PM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


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posted by Hildegarde at 9:56 PM on November 29, 2009


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posted by flippant at 10:18 PM on November 29, 2009


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posted by gingerbeer at 10:25 PM on November 29, 2009


Kevin Bronson, former sports and music writer for the L.A. Times and current editor of the Buzz Bands blog eulogized his old friend Mike/Christine in a post tonight:

In his circle of friends — most of whom couldn’t even spell Hüsker Dü, let alone correctly pronounce it — the Penman became the arbiter of good rock ’n’ roll, committing his favorite songs of the year to mixtapes he named for his own mythological radio station, KPEN, and gave out as holiday cards. The one he gave to this lowly sports deskman in 1992 began my transformation from enthusiastic-but-casual music fan to indefatigable music geek.


.
posted by tyrantkitty at 10:29 PM on November 29, 2009


I've been a feminist for as long as I can remember, my best friend is a gay man, and while I wouldn't identify as trans by a long shot, the issue of my gender identity tends not to be particularly singular. Essentially? I occasionally identify as male. For a very long time I didn't see this as something which made me a crossdresser or bigendered or anything like that, dreaming that you were a man sometimes was just something that all girls did as far as I was concerned. It was just normal. I got to a certain age and I started dressing a lot of the time in suits and ties, I wore mens coats that were far too big for me, specifically masculine clothing. I strapped down my breasts, stuffed my pants, tied back my hair, and walked around with my shoulders squared pretending to be a clean cut businessman.

I got a little older and got some valuable advice on how to convincingly fake facial hair, and I've honestly never in my life been happier. Maybe it is just me adhering to a construct of society, but there's something about a mans dress shirt and a goatee which just feels every kind of right to me. I don't do it because I want society to accept me as a man and therefore I have to go to the furthest extreme possible to prove something to someone, and I don't do it because I hate women. All it is is putting into the physical form something that's been there with me for as long as I can remember.

Of course the gender constructs of society aren't perfect, and of course the trappings and accessories of those constructs don't define the entire gender, but whether you like them or not, they exist as pieces of larger identities which are enormously dominant in our society, and people live their whole lives being controlled by them. Maybe one day in an ideal world, we'll all be genderblind and no one will care what genitalia they're born with, but honestly even if that's what you want, with the very best of intentions, that's not going to do shit for the teenage boy who only feels sexy in high heels and has to go through the rest of his life in this universe.

What really struck me reading over the comments here is the strangeness of wanting to tell trans women who dress femininely and wear make up and perfume etc, that doing all of that doesn't make them any more female than if they dressed in butch clothes and sensible gender neutral shoes. Honestly, I'm pretty sure that on the checklist of things that make you a woman that they've already had to overcome, the requirement for makeup and perfume was not on the top of the list. These are people who understood themselves to be women when they were in the bodies of men. If they choose to be feminine? Let them be feminine, it they choose to be gender neutral let them be gender neutral. I'm pretty sure that when it comes to knowing a womanhood that does not conform to societies expectations of it, they've seen a hell of a lot more of it than most people.
posted by emperor.seamus at 10:32 PM on November 29, 2009 [15 favorites]


I'm also doing complex statistics and data analysis while aggressively pushing my career forward so clearly I don't follow all the stereotypes, but sometimes acting and feeling womanly is a great thing and there's nothing wrong with my enjoying it.

I heartily agree that there's nothing wrong with being yourself, but I've never really understood the idea behind framing one's identity so strongly in terms of gender. It's just not something I do when I think or talk about myself.

Obviously, a lot of other people do think about themselves this way, and that is thoroughly fine, but I've never really understood why. It doesn't seem (to me) like a particularly useful construction when the whole concept of what is or isn't "womanly" (or "manly") is so ill-defined. For instance: I (female) like to cook. I also like to solve network flow optimization problems, and I work part-time as a carpenter. I don't consider making apple pies to be particularly "womanly" or "feminine" any more than I consider mathematics or carpentry to be particularly "un-womanly" or "un-feminine". Since I and plenty of other women do all of these things, doesn't that make them all de facto womanly activities?

Because I look at the world like this, I too come away puzzled by transgenderism. I understand that a lot of people find they can live happier, better lives by changing their gender identity, and I'm totally down with that. But I've got to say I don't understand why it happens, and I suppose that's largely because I don't really grok the idea of gender identity in the first place -- it runs completely contrary to the way I view myself and others.

So, to those of you who do have significant portions of your identity wrapped up in your gender: What are those parts of your identity? Why do you associate them with your gender? Do you make those associations by choice? If you've changed your gender identity, why? If you haven't, why not? In what specific ways do you differentiate gender from biological sex?
posted by Commander Rachek at 10:39 PM on November 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


I can't help thinking, what if gender wasn't the reason for Penner's presumed suicide? Just one equally likely possibility: he worked at a dying, dysfunctional newspaper where the axe has been falling on friends and colleagues repeatedly, for years, and there are allegations that the yutz who drove it into the ground slurped up the pension fund. Folks have checked out for less. RIP, in any case.
posted by Scram at 10:46 PM on November 29, 2009


I'm just sad that Mike/Christine didn't feel that they could identify themselves anyway they wanted to (and change that definition at any time) and still live a life where they felt love/acceptance/ comfortable in their own skin/okay.

Whatever was going on for them, I'm sorry that they felt this was best or only step they could take. That's a sad, sad thing.

.
posted by anitanita at 10:48 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nightcrawler: They say you can imitate anybody... why not stay in disguise all the time? You know, look like everyone else.
Mystique: Because we shouldn't have to.


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posted by tzikeh at 10:54 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Very very sad. Thank you to all the trans people who commented here.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:08 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm with you, anitanita. This is nothing but tragedy.

.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:10 PM on November 29, 2009


So, to those of you who do have significant portions of your identity wrapped up in your gender: What are those parts of your identity? Why do you associate them with your gender? Do you make those associations by choice? If you've changed your gender identity, why? If you haven't, why not? In what specific ways do you differentiate gender from biological sex?

It just is. Conversations with cis people often come down to this sort of thing, and while I can appreciate that the questions are genuine, the only answer I can really offer is: it just is; I just am. I'm a woman. There was stuff about my body that didn't fit, and it was bad enough that it was like playing music with one instrument out of tune: it had to be fixed before I could settle down and sing.

Since I and plenty of other women do all of these things, doesn't that make them all de facto womanly activities?

A woman is not what a woman does. A woman is who a woman is. Whatever I do, I do, and I am a woman not because I am doing it, but because I am.

I know that's not a very satisfying answer, but I don't find it a particularly answerable question.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:12 PM on November 29, 2009 [13 favorites]


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posted by vespertine at 11:16 PM on November 29, 2009


Sad to see on the "regrets" list Dani Bunten, creator of the greatest Commodore 64 games.
posted by Kirklander at 11:23 PM on November 29, 2009


When I, as a cis woman, go for a job interview, I wear skirts and nylons and heels and makeup and jewelry, so that I will communicate a socially acceptable image of femininity.

What I thought phrontist was saying, is, why are people are okay with the idea of a 'socially acceptable idea of femininity'? Feminism (for some values of feminism) argues that there should be no judging of people as 'acceptably feminine'. That girls shouldn't be expected to wear skirts. Transgender seems to move the opposite way, where people are going to significant effort to be considered 'acceptably feminine'. How do these two movements reconcile those apparent differences?
posted by jacalata at 11:45 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, to those of you who do have significant portions of your identity wrapped up in your gender: What are those parts of your identity? Why do you associate them with your gender? Do you make those associations by choice? If you've changed your gender identity, why? If you haven't, why not? In what specific ways do you differentiate gender from biological sex?

I'm afraid I might not actually reply to the letter of your questions here, as it's sort of tricky for me to self dissect with the level of precision that would require, but I'll try to rephrase my own understanding of how this has worked for me.

It is not, and it never has been that there are two columns in my subconscious for "boy activities" and "girl activities", or anything as simplistic as gravitating towards stereotypical masculine or feminine interests or habits and seeing a clear line between the two. Honestly, the earliest understanding I had of it was that when I was a little girl playing knights and dragons, I wanted to be the prince. That meant I wanted to rescue the princess, I wanted to slay the dragon, and I ended up getting called a lesbian by an older, more worldly child when I made my princely declaration of love. I didn't make the declaration of love because I was gay, hell, all of this happened before I even really understood romance or attraction or anything. I just said it because that was what the prince said, and I wanted to be the prince.

Maybe if at that age, I'd had books about princesses who wanted to go out and slay dragons, then I'd have wanted to be the princess instead. Maybe we did have books like that and it didn't matter, It was honestly way too long ago for me to remember for sure. One thing I do remember is that when I got to maybe eight years old and my best friend at the time wanted me to play at being Xena Warrior Princess with her, I declined both the rolls of Xena and Gabrielle in favor of being The Monkey King (No, I'm not sure how the hell I shoehorned him into a game about Xena either, but I was pretty determined that I wanted to be the hairy martial arts guy rather than the womanly warrior princess.)

When I stopped running around pretending to be other people and began to grow up, I began to develop a sense of personal self, not just the roll that I was casting myself into, but actually who and what I was as a person.

This is the bit where it gets really hard to articulate, but okay, consider this: The question of gender has never been a big part of your identity because you're female. It's no big deal, you've always been female, and as far as you're concerned if you'd been born male it wouldn't change you as a person because it's something so constant that you take it for granted. It's just there, and it's always been there. For me? Something else has always been there. I'm lucky. I'm a progressive feminist from a progressive feminist family, so I've had the liberty of taking my being something else for granted as much as you have your being female. Before I even really understood what that something else was, or what it would mean when I got out into the big wide world? I'd already accepted that it was who I was, and who I was was sort of at least partially male.
posted by emperor.seamus at 11:55 PM on November 29, 2009 [8 favorites]


Transitioning late in life (after 30 or so) is very difficult for a variety of social and psychological reasons. I think this person was 50 or so after he attempted to transition and then went back.

I don't really know much about the person. I do know that the whole issue of transsexualism and transgenderism is confusing for a great many people. I also know that there is a dearth of professional support for people going through gender identity crisis .

I know someone close to me who changed gender over 20 years ago. She doesn't talk about it much and only her closest friends know of her past. I do know that she doesn't think it a courageous thing to do at all and I think I understand her point. It takes courage to do what you really don't want to do. It merely takes determination to get what you really need.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 11:56 PM on November 29, 2009


And I'm telling you: feminism is for all women, regardless of their gender assignment at birth.

Feminism is not about policing how women express their gender identity, regardless of their gender assignment at birth.

If you want to be a feminist, stop policing women's self-expression.


This is the feminism I can get behind. That mysoginistic trash about how women are allowed to dress and present themselves? Not so much. "Women shitting on women" is not a great improvement on "men shitting on women".

It's tragic that someone who had to go through so much to become a woman didn't find what they needed, and tragic that they had no better course.
posted by rodgerd at 12:03 AM on November 30, 2009


I don't consider making apple pies to be particularly "womanly" or "feminine" any more than I consider mathematics or carpentry to be particularly "un-womanly" or "un-feminine". Since I and plenty of other women do all of these things, doesn't that make them all de facto womanly activities?

Let's say you're an architect. When you are designing buildings at your job, you're an architect. When you are at home cleaning the toilet, you're still an architect—but you probably don't consider cleaning toilets to be part of the way you relate to the world in your role of an architect.

But I've got to say I don't understand why it happens, and I suppose that's largely because I don't really grok the idea of gender identity in the first place -- it runs completely contrary to the way I view myself and others.

I'll try another metaphor (and hope these are not taken too literally).

Assuming you're generally healthy, you probably never consider the fact that you have two functioning legs to be a part of your identity, or particularly notice the way that being able to walk around without trouble influences so many things you do. However, someone who has had bad knees their whole life might have very different ideas about the importance of walking to one's identity, even if one is not aware of it.

Just think of it as the invisible tote bag of cisgendered privilege, har har.
posted by fleacircus at 12:12 AM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm sure there are many people in this thread who are much more versed in these things than I am, and I hope I'm not getting too “basic” or off-topic here (and please correct me if I'm wrong), but it seems to me that the elephant in the room is the distinction between second- and third-wave feminism.

The people who are saying “I thought feminism meant down with gender roles, gender doesn't exist, we're all (or should all be) the same, gender is 100% socialization, so what's with trans- (and also cis-)gendered women acting all femme? Isn't that sexist?” – these people have absorbed the talking points of second-wave feminism, which is what the kind of feminism from the 1970s is called.

However, these people haven't absorbed the points of third-wave feminism, which is 1990s-to-now feminism, which takes for a granted a slightly different worldview: most relevant to this thread, the idea of sexes being “equal but not the same.”

I'm sure it doesn't really need to be said, but because this is Metafilter: in this context “equal” is not a synonym for “same”; it refers to equal rights and equal treatment. It does not mean male and female bodies/brains are in every respect “equal” structurally.

Also, I'm sorry to hear about Mike/Christine.
posted by skwt at 12:43 AM on November 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I've only skim read the thread since I'm putting off going to a funeral, but I've a question to ask about the subject before I leave...

From first glance, it looks like we have a few M2F peoples on Meta, but I don't think I've seen any F2M. Is this me missing something as I skim; a case of M2F being more common than F2M; a chance stat about this thread / Mefi in general; or something else completely?

I've no doubt this question will have upset someone in its wording. If so, please assume that it's my cluelessness and the fact I'm a fucking mess right now.

I've I've not been flamed or deleted, I'll be back in about 12 hours...
posted by twine42 at 2:37 AM on November 30, 2009


"From first glance, it looks like we have a few M2F peoples on Meta, but I don't think I've seen any F2M. Is this me missing something as I skim; a case of M2F being more common than F2M; a chance stat about this thread / Mefi in general; or something else completely?"

1. Less FtMs than MtFs tend to be active on internet boards. Don't even ask.

2. FtMs on average tend to bee less outspoken on the subject. Again, don't ask.

3. FtMs generally know when it's prudent to let sleeping dogs lie.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 2:45 AM on November 30, 2009


1. Less FtMs than MtFs tend to be active on internet boards. Don't even ask.
2. FtMs on average tend to bee less outspoken on the subject. Again, don't ask.


I'm asking. Why so mysterious?
posted by The Tensor at 2:58 AM on November 30, 2009


.

I tried to respond on cis privilege and the obvious pain that led to such a horribly final decision and the assumptions at play in various comments above, but it comes down to this:

.

I'm so sorry.

What I as a ciswoman can take so easily for granted can get a transwoman or transman killed: Memorialising 2009. Every year so many of us pray and protest and hope and work for fewer names on that list. Please, let the day come soon that there will be none at all to memorialise.
posted by psychostorm at 3:18 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


So we're all embracing tying gender/gender roles to sex again, now? Nobody thinks the idea that there are proper male and female ways of being and behaving has anything to do with why trans people suffer in this society?


If you want to be a feminist, stop policing women's self-expression.

This is the feminism I can get behind. That mysoginistic trash about how women are allowed to dress and present themselves? Not so much.


No, you've got me wrong there.

I don't think there's anything wrong with a biological X identifying as a Y.

I don't think there's anything wrong with a trans or cis woman or man or person of any configuration of physical attributes, performing "femme" as self expression.

I don't think there's wrong with any of the above people performing, as self expression the most extreme, stereotypical kind of femme there is, with all the giggling, superficiality, pretending to be stupid, and makeup and high heel wearing they can muster. Saying, "this = ME."

I begin to have a problem when someone says those superficial things = woman.

Yes, including when cis women do it.

Because at that point, it ceases to be a statement of self expression, and becomes a statement about women as a whole. It becomes a statement about me, too.

There is a big difference between saying: "I am a woman, a woman who expresses mySELF with X," and acting like X makes one a woman.

I'm going to stop belaboring this, but I just don't think it can be had both ways. I don't think we can embrace re-attaching gender/gender roles to sex (or at base, just our physical bodies) on the one hand, and ever live in a society that completely accepts trans people and lets them express themselves and be themselves.
posted by Ashley801 at 4:16 AM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


[writes post, deletes post, writes post, deletes post, writes post, del... aw, screw it]

> From first glance, it looks like we have a few M2F peoples on Meta, but I don't think I've seen any F2M.

Hi.

> I'm asking. Why so mysterious?

(I was about to say "MeMail me", and then I realized how absurd that was in context.) I'm not going to try to speak for Poet_Lariat, but I'll hazard my own thoughts:

-- last time I was actively engaged in an FTM community (one online, one IRL, both several years ago), I noticed a lot of tension related to whether people were "really" FTM or "only" tomboyish/faking it/in it for the lulz (seriously?), and the hardliners tended to favor a "strong, silent type" gender presentation. Standard caveats apply: this is not necessarily a representative sample of the larger FTM community, &c.

-- more introspectively: I now occasionally find myself navigating the strange waters of being perceived to be in a position of societal privilege. So although I'm now 'heard' more often in social contexts, I've given up a certain amount of cachet in discussions of privilege in which I choose not to out myself, which tends to make me quiet in those contexts.
posted by dorque at 4:52 AM on November 30, 2009 [11 favorites]


Now, I'm pretty well privileged myself, being a cisgendered white American male, and I want you to keep in mind the high-and-mighty perch from which I'm speaking when I say this: The societal constructs built around sex, and gender, and genitalia, and men's roles and women's roles, and family structure, and inheritance, and power structures, and everything else directly or tangentially related to any of these things or anything in some way connected to them... are fucked up. Seriously, dangerously fucked up, and they've been that way for thousands of years. People suffer and people die because of it. It's got to stop, or at least be ameliorated somehow, because it's hurting each and every one of us, even lucky privileged folks like me.

But a Gordian Knot solution isn't the answer. We'll never be able to extricate ourselves from this nonsense without rebuilding civilization from scratch, and that's just not going to happen without an apocalypse. People are going to see differences between men and women until the end of days, and we're all just going to have to suck up the filth and evil that comes along.

So what is the answer? What can we do to help? I've only got one suggestion, and that's be nice to people. Treat them the way they want to be treated, without exception. Establish a baseline of respect that you show to everybody, even to the evil and stupid, and even if your baseline isn't any higher than "don't kill them," it's still a start, but I'm sure most of you reading this are capable of much, much more. So play along, give people what they want and what they ask for, and remember that as long as nobody's getting hurt, what people do with their bodies and the bodies of other consenting adults is none of your damn business.

I am in awe of the bravery of every transgendered person I know, and that includes those who have commented in this thread. I can't pretend to know what you experience in life, but I know it hurts, and I'm glad that you keep on living and contributing to the world despite that pain. You have my respect and my support.

A . for Penner, and a . for each and every person who's died because society has failed them.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:53 AM on November 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


And for Mike Penner/Christine Daniels, a heartfelt

.
posted by dorque at 4:53 AM on November 30, 2009


From first glance, it looks like we have a few M2F peoples on Meta, but I don't think I've seen any F2M. Is this me missing something as I skim; a case of M2F being more common than F2M; a chance stat about this thread / Mefi in general; or something else completely?

There are trans men on mefi; that none have publically identified themselves in this thread doesn't really mean a lot. For all that anyone can estimate, trans men and women are about as common as each other; for various reasons, trans women tend to be more visible than trans men.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:54 AM on November 30, 2009


.
posted by h0p3y at 4:54 AM on November 30, 2009


Hmm, shoulda clicked "preview". *waves to dorque*
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:56 AM on November 30, 2009


.

god, i cannot imagine how difficult this must have been, and for how long. not just all the issues with transitioning and retransitioning, but doing it so far out in the public eye. RIP.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:09 AM on November 30, 2009


.
posted by rtha at 5:56 AM on November 30, 2009


Ah "male privilege." Here we go again. The privilege to be drafted. To do dangerous jobs. To be denied custody of children. To be expected to be the family's primary provider by culture and the courts. Increasingly, to be disfavored for many kinds of jobs in the information economy.

As a hetero male, I sometimes wish I had a little less fucking privilege.

This guy didn't go from male privilege to female lack of privilege. He went from "normal" to stigmatized. But let's not miss a chance to bash males anyway.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:16 AM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


And yes:

.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:16 AM on November 30, 2009


I begin to have a problem when someone says those superficial things = woman...

I am sorry that you think there are people saying this, Ashley801. Because as far as I can tell, no one is saying this. Not in this thread, not in real life, not that I know of. Which is why the point you're decidedly not belaboring is so unwelcome here.

Because at that point, it ceases to be a statement of self expression, and becomes a statement about women as a whole. It becomes a statement about me, too.

I'm sorry that you think this is somehow about you. It isn't. This is about a category of people for whom fitting in to accepted ideas of femininity can be a life or death matter. People who, as you can see by clicking some of the links in this thread, are murdered at an alarmingly disproportionate rate -- some despite their camouflage, some no doubt because of it. I don't know if you still have that mixed up in your head with drag queens or something you saw on TV, but if you think all someone has to do to make a statement about all women is affect some superficial female stereotypes, then you've set the bar for your concept of your own femininity ridiculously low.
posted by hermitosis at 6:25 AM on November 30, 2009 [9 favorites]


Homosexuality is being attracted to someone with the same set genitalia, not gender per se.

As I understand it, woe be to those homosexuals who do have an attraction to someone of the same gender.
posted by jock@law at 6:25 AM on November 30, 2009


ArmyOfKittens, I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. I clicked on the link in your profile and was heartbroken at how many names were on the list just for 2009.
posted by availablelight at 6:27 AM on November 30, 2009


As a hetero male, I sometimes wish I had a little less fucking privilege.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:16 AM on November 30


i am playing the world's most ignorant violin for you
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:28 AM on November 30, 2009 [40 favorites]


I hadn't known about Mike/Christine's story, and I am saddened to hear of another transperson dying violently, in this case by their own hand.

Part of the reason it's difficult to address the questions raised in this thread is that it's difficult to make broad-based generalizations about what gender means to particular individual. Transpeople may be grouped into one big sociological category, but their experiences of the world and of themselves are as multifaceted and complicated and varied as those of people with more conventional relationships to gender and the bodies they were born with.

That said, I have an anecdote that might help people understand why transgendered folk, who are more attentive than most to the constructedness of gender, adopt or embrace gendered norms or behavior. Years ago, an FTM acquaintance of mine decided he wanted to have a Bar Mitvah. He wasn't Jewish, nor did he have any intention of converting to Judaism. I found this somewhat ignorant and dismissive of the role the Bar Mitzvah plays in Jewish tradition, but then I understood: a Bar Mitzvah was a celebration of becoming a man, and there was no established equivalent to that in Christian or secular society that he could use to mark his transition into being the person he wanted to be.

If you are a "woman-born-woman" (to use the parlance of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival) it is easy to see or dismiss the acts that come with conforming to gender norms, such as wearing certain clothes or behaving a certain way, as burdensome or oppressive. But for many transgendered folks, engaging in gendered behavior -- whether it be a Bar Mitzvah or wearing makeup -- can be an act of self-affirmation.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 6:53 AM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


but if you think all someone has to do to make a statement about all women is affect some superficial female stereotypes, then you've set the bar for your concept of your own femininity ridiculously low

So affecting superficial stereotypes about a group isn't making a statement about a group, has nothing to do with that group, the group is selfish and insecure to act as if is, and members of that group need permission to talk about it. Just curious, is that true for all groups or just for women? Is it true for, say, people of color?


This is about a category of people for whom fitting in to accepted ideas of femininity can be a life or death matter.


I wholeheartedly agree. I don't know why you find it so offensive that I think the whole business of gender roles is at the root of why it is a life or death matter in this society, so maybe we shouldn't be so quick to re-embrace them.

I'm sorry that you find my speech to be unwelcome and want me to just shut up, but I think talking about what goes in to making/being a man or a woman, and the related issues of society, gender, sex, bias, stereotype, are not inappropriate here.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:01 AM on November 30, 2009


In what way can a brain not match a body? This seems to imply there is such a thing as female mind, or a male mind, before social conditioning, something I have yet to see any evidence for.
posted by phrontist at 10:45 PM on November 29


There do appear to be some structural differences between the male and female brain, although the field of inquiry is still quite nascent. I am by no means an expert, but according to a 2006 article in Nature Reviews Neuroscience by Larry Cahill that reviewed all the then-current research in the field, the size of the hippocampus is greater in females (after adjusting for body size), and stress level can influence the role it plays in learning. In males, the amygdala is larger. Additionally, when forming emotional memories, males show more activity in the right amygdala whereas females show more activity in their left amygdala. There also appear to be differences in the rate of serotonin synthesis, which may explain the disparity between male and female incidence of serotonin-linked disorders.

Cahill, L. (June 2006). Why sex matters for neuroscience. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7, 477–484. doi:10.1038/nrn1909
posted by Houyhnhnm at 7:06 AM on November 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


god, i cannot imagine how difficult this must have been, and for how long. not just all the issues with transitioning and retransitioning, but doing it so far out in the public eye. RIP.

Yeah. That.
posted by mediareport at 7:12 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


OC: i am playing the world's most ignorant violin for you

It may surprise you that White, male, and non-straight are three of the highest risk factors for suicide. A visual comparison of suicide rates between Asian-, White-, Black-, Hispanic-, and Native Americans.

In the United States, males are four times more likely to die by suicide than females. Male suicide rates are higher than females in all age groups (the ratio varies from 3:1 to 10:1) [...] By race, in the United States, Caucasians are nearly 2.5 times more likely to kill themselves than are people of Native American descent or Hispanics. [...] Gay and bisexual male youths are over 13 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual male youths. No such difference was found between lesbian and straight female youths. [here]
posted by kid ichorous at 7:19 AM on November 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ashley801, I'm having trouble following your argument here. If you're saying that reductive definitions of what men and women are and should be are destructive, arbitrary, and can ruin and end the lives of cis and trans people alike, then I agree with you wholeheartedly. But you also seem to say, earlier in the thread (and I apologise if I'm reading you uncharitably here), that you are made uncomfortable by what you see as exaggerated expressions of femininity from some trans women, to which I say, walk a mile in their shoes before passing judgement.

I'll give you an example. I have been transitioned for about a decade now, and haven't been outed or exposed or had someone guess at my trans status in almost that long (there's a picture in my profile if you're curious). And yet I still feel the pressure to maybe wear a little more makeup than I need or want to, to avoid certain types of clothing, to downplay my "un-feminine" hobbies, because the penalty for "doing woman wrong" is so much more severe for a trans woman than it is for a cis woman. That's not to say that cis women aren't punished for not being feminine enough, but that the consequences of outing yourself as trans are too often measured in violence and death.

Am I more feminine than I would be if I had been born cis? Maybe and maybe not; my life has been dominated by my trans status. Am I "too feminine"? I certainly don't think so, but then I've been transitioned for a long while, have many advantages and privileges over other trans women (I'm white, middle-class, British, short, small-framed, etc.), and have very much relaxed into a comfort zone; and yet I'm still more at risk of violence than my imaginary cis-self would have been at this point in her life, so I feel the pressure.

Criticising the femininity of trans women is a hobby of those who are, in this area at least (and perhaps alone), privileged.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:22 AM on November 30, 2009 [16 favorites]


As a hetero male, I sometimes wish I had a little less fucking privilege.

Well, you could vocally stand up for the rights and dignity of all varieties of queers and transgendered people every chance you get. As an out ally, you'd be fighting the good fight AND tarnishing your privilege at the same time!
posted by desuetude at 7:23 AM on November 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Seconding desuetude. I can't think of a better way to rid yourself of some of your privelege than to champion the rights of the oppressed.
posted by prefpara at 7:45 AM on November 30, 2009


I used to get all up in these arguments, I think because I felt like transpeople threatened my own gender identity (which sounds, in some ways, close to emperor.seamus's--I identify as female, like my genitals, but also identified really strongly with "masculine" gender roles both as a kid and have stuffed and cross-dressed, among other things) in some way. But then, I used to get all offended when other people got plastic surgery, too. Now, I think, just, fuck--whatever makes people feel comfortable with themselves and their bodies is fine, and more importantly, none of my business.

Also, I think ya'll should take deep breaths and watch this youtube vid: 2 Hot Transexuals Finally Give Some Answers! (might be NSFW--they say "tittyfuck", at least).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:46 AM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


But most importantly, for Mike/Christine:

.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:46 AM on November 30, 2009


I don't think Ashely801 is saying anything hateful; from her first comment, I've seen her comments as questioning gender essentialism across the board. This obit thread may or may not be the best place to raise a critique, but she's opening a valid discussion in general. Actually, though, I believe that the heightened expression of feminine "norms" she is pointing to in some tranny style has the effect, ironically perhaps, of actually denaturalizing those norms in a way that Paris Hilton can't. The brief dissonance one experiences when witnessing a tranny performance of the hyperfem can make even the stereotypical man or woman on the street pause and wonder about the open meanings of essences -- even if that performance is heartfelt. And I say performance intentionally, in the sense that we are all performing our identities when we communciate the intricate blend of who selected from all the signs and signifiers floating around to choose from in our world.
And:
.
posted by fullofragerie at 7:47 AM on November 30, 2009


.

One thing that jumped out at me from the article where Mike becomes Christine is when she states that her writer's block will go away now that she is female. I was surprised that what seemed like unrealistic expectations hadn't been dealt with in the therapy it seems like people must go through in the transitioning process.
posted by fermezporte at 7:48 AM on November 30, 2009


who we are, not who selected
posted by fullofragerie at 7:49 AM on November 30, 2009


I'm sorry that you find my speech to be unwelcome and want me to just shut up, but I think talking about what goes in to making/being a man or a woman, and the related issues of society, gender, sex, bias, stereotype, are not inappropriate here.

I don't think it's wrong or inappropriate. Sure, this is an obituary thread, but I knew people would probably take it as a chance to discuss transsexualism. I don't feel that trans people embrace gender roles/stereotypes, or even necessarily gendered things at all, in order to create their identity. There's no "I do X and Y therefore I am a woman". Rather the identity comes from within, and though that leaves us in the unsatisfying position of having no explanation for transsexualism, it does allow trans people as much flexibility in their gender as any other man or woman. Of course there are social expectations about what a man or woman is, and trans people may feel them more keenly than cis people. But I've known trans men and women who refuse to conform to gender, yet still maintain they are men or women as they identify.
posted by Sova at 7:50 AM on November 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


(might be NSFW--they say "tittyfuck", at least).

Whoops, "pityfuck," actually. And titties. Don't know how I conflated the two.

(If you're interested in vlogs about one transperson's experiences transitioning, I'd really recommend anything by freshlycharles on youtube--they're really, really terrific. The only reason I haven't made a FPP is that I know how poorly threads on topics related to transexuality sometimes go on here.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:57 AM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


This makes me so incredibly sad. Of course we'll probably never know all the complex causes and reasons behind any suicide, but I do know that people who have transitioned and then de-transitioned are some of the most counselled people in the US, and yet some of the most misunderstood both inside and outside the transgender community.

Just as there is a lot of pressure to maintain the fiction of binary genders within the population as a whole, there is a lot of pressure to maintain an essentialist definition of the transgender experience. A lot of this is because it is a classified disorder with set symptoms and paths of treatment. A lot of this is because transgender people are, well, people, and they bring their own cultural assumptions and prejudices into their experience and relationships with others.
posted by muddgirl at 8:23 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


the fiction of binary genders

Is it really a fiction? I always figured gender was similar to "black" and "white" or "on" and "off." I see so often people referring to a "third gender," but these third genders just seem to be a sort of mix, like "grey" is to B/W, or "blinking" is to on/off.

If you mean "fiction of binary genders" as in, denying that an in-between exists, or denying that women often do "manly" things, or men often do "womanly" things, I'm with you there.
posted by explosion at 9:05 AM on November 30, 2009


For Mike/Christine: . Whatever the proximal causes of suffering were, they're over now. RIP.

I don't think there's anything wrong with a biological X identifying as a Y.

Which is irrelevant. No one needs your permission to identify as they please, and there is nothing, not one thing, that is more intimately personal than self-identification.

I don't think there's anything wrong with a trans or cis woman or man or person of any configuration of physical attributes, performing "femme" as self expression.

I don't think there's wrong with any of the above people performing, as self expression the most extreme, stereotypical kind of femme there is, with all the giggling, superficiality, pretending to be stupid, and makeup and high heel wearing they can muster. Saying, "this = ME."

I begin to have a problem when someone says those superficial things = woman.

Yes, including when cis women do it.


Who has said anything remotely resembling that? No one. You've built a straw man out of your interpretation of the gender performances of a select group.

Because at that point, it ceases to be a statement of self expression, and becomes a statement about women as a whole. It becomes a statement about me, too.

There is a big difference between saying: "I am a woman, a woman who expresses mySELF with X," and acting like X makes one a woman.

I'm going to stop belaboring this, but I just don't think it can be had both ways. I don't think we can embrace re-attaching gender/gender roles to sex (or at base, just our physical bodies) on the one hand, and ever live in a society that completely accepts trans people and lets them express themselves and be themselves.


There is an element of attaching gender to sex inherent in SRS that is in conflict with second-wave feminist ideology. This is true. And it can be difficult when deconstructing gender to recognize this is intimate and personal more than it will ever be theoretical and political. This isn't just about "What happens to feminism if people feel compelled to make physical changes to align their gender presentation with their gender identity rather than expressing that gender identity to the fullest they can within the body they have through birth and any body-altering incidents since (such as accidents, circumcision, athletic training) that may affect gender presentation?" This is about "What happens to this individual if hormone treatments, laser hair removal, SRS, and other gender-presentation-affecting options are undertaken, denied, available, not available?"

There are lots of people who perform gender differently from you. Some of them identify their gender as you do: woman. Some of them were raised male and transitioned or are transitioning. All of them are unique. All of them traveled their own paths in idenifying their gender and constructing their presentation of it. In many cases, we emulate others we respect or find attractive, consciously or not, when performing gender. For some, the person to emulate might be a beloved schoolteacher or coach. For some, a parent or other family member. For others, sports heroes, supermodels, actors, royalty, singers. Who is to say that a gender performance based in some part on Barbara Walters or Nancy Reagan is any more or less valid or acceptable than one based in part on Tina Turner or Ru Paul*? If it offends you when a woman or femme performs her gender with impossibly high heels, glitter, big hair, bold makeup, short skirts, and revealing blouses, your offense says more about you and your comfort level with these tokens of performance than it does about any statement of what it is to be a woman.


*I grew up with no close feminine women, and although I felt feminine inside, I did not express it well on the outside. I walked like boy, wore whatever hand-me-downs I was given, and dispaired of ever learning to make my gender performance express my internal gender. Enter Ru Paul as fabulously feminine bitch with swish and swagger to give me a shove in the right direction
posted by notashroom at 9:19 AM on November 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I mean the fiction of a gender that is tied to a biological, strictly binary sex. (I am using gender here not with the linguistic meaning but with the sociological one).

... but these third genders just seem to be a sort of mix, like "grey" is to B/W, or "blinking" is to on/off.

Theoretically, digital bits can only have two states - 1 or 0, True or False, Hi or Lo. That's binary. The color spectrum between black and white is not binary. Biological sex is not binary, and neither is gender.
posted by muddgirl at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Is it really a fiction? I always figured gender was similar to "black" and "white" or "on" and "off." I see so often people referring to a "third gender," but these third genders just seem to be a sort of mix, like "grey" is to B/W, or "blinking" is to on/off.

If you mean "fiction of binary genders" as in, denying that an in-between exists, or denying that women often do "manly" things, or men often do "womanly" things, I'm with you there.


Binary gender is a fiction. It's an oversimplification. Sex is closer to binary, but even then, it's at its simplest more like 6 different chromosomal combinations (X0, XX, XXX, XY, XXY, XYY) that can result in viable fetuses. As was pointed out upthread, genotype alone is not enough to determine sex; there is also phenotype, which is largely hormone-dependent but can be affected by other factors (radiation exposure, for example).

Gender is so much more variable than sex, and trying to reduce it further than even sex can be logically reduced is a fool's errand and a position of privelege. Not picking on you, because I don't think you meant this maliciously, but reinforcing a binary narrative or construction of gender is hugely erasing to many people.
posted by notashroom at 9:30 AM on November 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


You people are overthinking this like no plate of beans has ever been overthought before. A good man killed himself because he could not bear the pain of living.

I couldn't disagree more, when the pain of living was likely raised to an unbearable level by callous social pressure and prejudices.

.
posted by treepour at 9:49 AM on November 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


emperor.seamus: I sort of understand what you mean when you say you "wanted to be the prince." When I was a kid, I wanted to be the prince, too. What I don't understand is your reason for wanting that. For me, it's just that the prince seemed to have so much more fun: I wanted to ride around with a sword and have adventures; waiting quietly in a tower to be rescued was completely unappealing to me. This ultimately had nothing to do with wanting to be male, I just wanted to be able to do the fun stuff the prince got to do -- slaying dragons, seeing far-off lands, etc. I wanted/want to be courageous, strong, adventurous, and self-sufficient; I think you'd agree that these ideals are in no way incompatible with being female. But what more is there to "being the prince"? It seems to me that once you've got all those honorable qualities, there isn't that much more to describe about him; I don't know of anything about the prince that is innately male besides his title; he is usually defined entirely in terms of his heroic deeds and qualities. But you say you want to be a dude (sometimes) and I don't, so there's something else at play here.

fleacircus: Let's say you're an architect. When you are designing buildings at your job, you're an architect. When you are at home cleaning the toilet, you're still an architect—but you probably don't consider cleaning toilets to be part of the way you relate to the world in your role of an architect.

But from what people have said, it sounds like gender identity is something more innate than profession. In your example, I'm an architect because I design buildings; that's how I know I'm an 'architect' and not a 'short-order cook' or 'professor of English Literature'. But no one has been able to pin down some set of behaviors or patterns of thought or anything at all that makes them know they're "male" or "female" without having to be told.

So maybe all that's a long way of saying that I appreciate y'all's answers, but I'm just as much in the dark as before.
posted by Commander Rachek at 10:08 AM on November 30, 2009


.

I work at a school where a MTF is going through her transition at the tender age of 14. I'm proud to see that most of the students around her, who knew her at younger ages, seem to have accepted her for who she is.... for the most part. Mostly I'm sad for the fact that she had to be emancipated from her parents to find her way. Brave girl, all the way.

And I've known several trans-people. i think that many of them simply go unnoticed in the real world. The MTFs you notice who are doing the hyperfemininity thing are often in the beginnings of their transition and playing a role for the psychiatrist they are beholden to to approve their surgery. Which, btw, sucks bigtime. Having to suck up to the gender presumptions of some "professional" who has your life in his hands, who has his *own* preconceived ideas of being a woman can really fuck up the process, IMO. I know because I knew one of those psychiatrists as the parent of a boyfriend, and he was the only game in town if you were transitioning. I imagine there are many towns away from the big cities where this process is run by One Middle-aged Guy who's got a piece of paper on his wall that says he's qualified. Playing a role for that one available therapist would not be a process I'd wish on anyone.

(Also, in some ways, isn't that hyperfemininity thing sometimes a sort of neo-adolescent role searching? As adolescent girls, ciswomen go through stages of deciding how they want to present themselves to the world. MTFs have to go through this too--it's just more obvious and awkward because... well, having an adolescent stage when you're in your forties is more obvious and awkward.)
posted by RedEmma at 10:10 AM on November 30, 2009 [8 favorites]


I wanted/want to be courageous, strong, adventurous, and self-sufficient; I think you'd agree that these ideals are in no way incompatible with being female. But what more is there to "being the prince"? It seems to me that once you've got all those honorable qualities, there isn't that much more to describe about him; I don't know of anything about the prince that is innately male besides his title; he is usually defined entirely in terms of his heroic deeds and qualities.

I think this is, in part, seen as true because it's more socially acceptable for little girls to role-play male gender roles. I think this is a good thing, actually. But, as emperor.seamus, there's still some external labeling on kids who do this as "lesbian" or (subsequently) as somehow wrong.

This might work better as a thought experiment if you think about little boys who roleplay as princesses: they might be attracted to a princess' kindness, or her glittery outfit, or her prettiness, or that she frolics with woodland creatures, none of which are intrinsically female. But you can bet that, often, people external to the kid are going to question how well the kid fits into their birthsex based on this--like my best friends from high school, twin boys who, when they were playing Shera at four, were told by their father to "ask God to kill them and have them come back as girls." Girls who roleplay traditionally male roles sometimes also hear this stuff--or are at least aware of it based on the fact that those displaying prince-like qualities are almost never female. Maybe little kids don't always absorb these messages, but it's difficult not to grow up to see different many careers and roles as somehow inherently gendered in our society.

This is why, by the way, I think Tamora Pierce is awesome, and wish I had read her stuff when I was a kid. Since, for what it's worth, this was my favorite outfit when I was ten.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:38 AM on November 30, 2009


But from what people have said, it sounds like gender identity is something more innate than profession. In your example, I'm an architect because I design buildings; that's how I know I'm an 'architect' and not a 'short-order cook' or 'professor of English Literature'. But no one has been able to pin down some set of behaviors or patterns of thought or anything at all that makes them know they're "male" or "female" without having to be told.

So maybe all that's a long way of saying that I appreciate y'all's answers, but I'm just as much in the dark as before.


Gender identity is more innate than profession for the vast majority of people. Evidence: how many people change professions, vocations, careers at some point in their life vs. how many change gender identity. I am not [insert gender here] because I do x, y, z. I am [insert gender here] because it is simply part of who I am, how I recognize myself, part of my point of reference for all things.

Performing that gender externally is usually about 2 things: reinforcing my own identity internally, and having others recognize me as belonging to this gender -- or at least not that one with which I definitely do not identify. Most people will instinctively mentally assign man/boy or woman/girl -- the binary system's allowed choices -- to people they encounter. When they encounter someone whose gender signals read as "off" in some way -- the hands are bigger than expected, or the hips wider, or the voice higher, or the movements don't take up enough space -- they often assign a third category of "mixed gender signals."

Genderqueer people deliberately manipulate those signals to make you question your understanding of gender and what significance it holds for you, but there are a number of transpeople and others with genders that are more complex or less familiar than "man or woman" who would rather be in that third category than in the wrong one in the binary. "You may not have me right, but at least don't get me that wrong."
posted by notashroom at 10:42 AM on November 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


.

Thanks to all the transgender folks who've bravely chimed in here. I feel like I've relearned a whole bunch of stuff I hadn't even realized I'd forgotten.
posted by stagewhisper at 10:58 AM on November 30, 2009


But no one has been able to pin down some set of behaviors or patterns of thought or anything at all that makes them know they're "male" or "female" without having to be told.

Also, and maybe this is obvious, but people do tell children these things, no matter how illogical or arbitrary the definitions of gender identity might seem. It's not like these ideas exist in a vacuum independent from actually people. And some transpeople are, of course, interested in changing their physical sex in addition to their gender--and in order to do so, the medical establishment requires that they conform to (often traditional) gender norms.

I guess I just don't understand what's not to understand here.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:04 AM on November 30, 2009


I work at a school where a MTF is going through her transition at the tender age of 14. I'm proud to see that most of the students around her, who knew her at younger ages, seem to have accepted her for who she is.... for the most part. Mostly I'm sad for the fact that she had to be emancipated from her parents to find her way. Brave girl, all the way.

Wow. When you say "emancipated," do you mean the county, or relatives, took her away from abusive parents, or...? Just curious about how a story like this would happen, and whether surgery is performed this young.
posted by Kirklander at 11:16 AM on November 30, 2009


But I've got to say I don't understand why it happens, and I suppose that's largely because I don't really grok the idea of gender identity in the first place -- it runs completely contrary to the way I view myself and others.

So at a wedding, when they ask all the single women to go try to catch the bouquet, you have no idea who is going to stand there?

You don't know what bathroom to go into? What about your father? What about your mother? Which bathrooms do they go into?

Which friends of yours tend to wear bras? I bet you already know without asking them to lift up their shirts.


So, to those of you who do have significant portions of your identity wrapped up in your gender: What are those parts of your identity? Why do you associate them with your gender? Do you make those associations by choice? If you've changed your gender identity, why? If you haven't, why not? In what specific ways do you differentiate gender from biological sex?

You have a significant portion of your identity wrapped up in your gender. If you don't think that you do, go ahead and dress like another gender and go about your day, to the same places you normally go. So I could ask you all of these same questions, really. Do you associate high heels with women by choice? Do you associate boxers with men by choice? Etc. They all apply.
posted by kathrineg at 11:54 AM on November 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


I wanted/want to be courageous, strong, adventurous, and self-sufficient; I think you'd agree that these ideals are in no way incompatible with being female. But what more is there to "being the prince"?

Well, generally you get to sweep the Princess off her feet, have her swoon when she sees your handsome self, kiss her hand chivalrously, have her admire your manliness and biceps and stuff, ride off into the sunset with her on your white steed, and eventually have penetrative sex with her while she says things like "oh, Prince Charming!" but YPMV*


*your prince may vary and may identify as male, butch, or some other gender that I'm forgetting
posted by kathrineg at 12:01 PM on November 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


I may have to make "your prince may vary" my new personal slogan
posted by serazin at 12:30 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is it really a fiction? I always figured gender was similar to "black" and "white" or "on" and "off." I see so often people referring to a "third gender," but these third genders just seem to be a sort of mix, like "grey" is to B/W, or "blinking" is to on/off.

As it happens, there's a great article on runner Caster Semenya in this week's New Yorker that explores this very issue. Basically: it 'aint necessarily so.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:31 PM on November 30, 2009


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posted by humannaire at 12:35 PM on November 30, 2009


a lot of the hand wringing over feminism reminds me of an ani difranco line

People talk about my image, like I come in two dimensions - like lipstick is a sign of my declining mind - like what I happen to be wearing the day that someone takes a picture is my new statement for all of womankind

the MtF who femme out are doing it for a host of complicated reasons and very few of them are tied to how all people should see all genders and sexualities. from the ladies i've known, they do it because they've never been able to before, because they were met with all manner of abuse for even considering it from their earliest memories, they do it because it makes them feel good and for the first time in their lives they've gained to courage to stop caring how offended or not some random baby dyke or frat boy is by it. they do it because it is safer than only half "passing". they do it because they can. which brings us to another ani lyrics, one that friend of mine would sing at every chance after her transition...

i do it for the joy it brings because i'm a joyful girl
posted by nadawi at 12:43 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think a certain amount of the behaviors that strike us cisgendered folks as "hyper-feminine" or "hyper-masculine" when transpeople do them are the bits of gendered body language, speech patterns, and the like that seem forced simply because they have to consciously learn them (or allow long-repressed impulses to express themselves), which is no small feat at age 20 or 30 or 40.

For a friend of mine, the surgery was no sweat compared with the painstaking process of re-shaping the way she speaks and moves. A woman is very much who she is, has always been, and wants to be, but because she was encased in a man-shaped body and had to present and perform as one most of the time until she transitioned, she had to spend decades actively suppressing her tendency to learn "acceptably feminine" presentation by osmosis as we GGs learned it and to train herself instead to imitate "acceptably masculine" movements and speech patterns. As she describes it, it sounds like the process by which gardeners force plants to grow in specific configurations. Anyhow, trying to unlearn what has over decades become "natural" or superimpose a different set of behaviors on it . . . Jesus, I can't imagine the exhaustion of that.

And this is one area where we cisgendered women have a fair amount of privilege since our range of "acceptable" behaviors, speech patterns, voice qualities, hairstyles, clothing choices, etc. is huge compared with cisgendered men and transpeople. Obviously that's less true in some enclaves, regions, cultures, sub-cultures, age groups, but at least in the US of 2009, I can perform gender in a kaleidoscope of ways that are considered OK -- especially since non-conformity and eccentricity are right there in the job description of middle-aged white single womanhood.

As for the false binaries, we've made a lot more progress in recognizing a wide continuum or spectrum when it comes to sexuality/orientation than we have about gender. Certainly privilege enters into why some of us don't identify particularly strongly with either side of the binary, but just as certainly some of us do identify more as neuter or androgynous (by nature or nurture) than others. I know that as a little kid, I had a lot of trouble understanding why boys and girls often played separately or "hated' each other, etc. because I didn't see them as markedly different and didn't feel I belonged more with one group than the other.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:08 PM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I also have a pretty weak gender identity, and can't imagine I would feel "female" if I didn't have a female body. I don't wear make up or jewelry or skirts or have hobbies / interests that are traditionally feminine. But I absolutely accept that a) there is probably a scale, like the Kinsey scale, of gender identity, and those of us more toward the middle are probably a smaller portion of the population given how many women do seem to love skirts and how many guys do seem to like playing with guns (or whatever), and b) there are probably components of gender identity I'm not really aware of since I don't experience a conflict.

One thing that made me reflect was when a friend of mine transitioned FtM, and I initially felt a little betrayed by the choice - as a woman she was a butch dyke, whereas as a man he is a pretty standard straight guy, and I think part of what I felt was lost was the willingness to bend gender and question social norms, instead of trying to live within them. Of course I got over my problem and realized it was a very personal ordeal for my friend and not about a political cause, but it made me see that in a sense I had a kind of reactive gender identity, in that I was more inclined to things which specifically went against expected gender role.

So in a sense, I thought it was cool to shave my head or wear boots & military jackets, or I thought guys who had long hair or wore skirts or liked to knit, were cool for rejecting expectations, yet when men shaved their heads or women wore skirts, I was unimpressed. Once my friend transitioned it seemed like I had to accept decisions and interests individually and not as representative of a group. Maybe people do what they like because they like it, want the bodies they want because it feels right to them, and should be supported to pursue the life that they want, rather than questioned as to why they want it. Whether it's social pressure or innate chemistry almost doesn't matter - they feel the way they feel now.

Gender identity is more innate than profession for the vast majority of people. Evidence: how many people change professions, vocations, careers at some point in their life vs. how many change gender identity.

So at a wedding, when they ask all the single women to go try to catch the bouquet, you have no idea who is going to stand there?

You don't know what bathroom to go into?...

Which friends of yours tend to wear bras?...

You have a significant portion of your identity wrapped up in your gender. If you don't think that you do, go ahead and dress like another gender and go about your day, to the same places you normally go. So I could ask you all of these same questions, really. Do you associate high heels with women by choice? Do you associate boxers with men by choice? Etc.


At the same time, comments like these bother me a bit. I don't wear high heels, and I do wear boxers (boxer briefs) simply because they're more comfortable. I think the clothes I wear on a day to day basis are essentially gender neutral (jeans, tee shirts, hoodie, etc). I only wear a supported undershirt because my boobs will ache at the end of the day if I don't, but I don't wear lingerie style bras, and when I was younger I usually just went without. I have never tried to catch a bouquet, have no prob with unisex bathrooms and often pop into the boy's room when they're differentiated, if it's a one-person room and the women's room is taken, and I believe I have no interest in changing gender exactly because it isn't innate for me, i.e., why would I go through complicated surgery to change something that couldn't be wrong?

I'm not saying there can't be anything about me which is innately female - I just don't know what it is and it certainly isn't these kind stereotypical things. I have worn high heels in my life, but my current dress shoes are doc marten shoes; I have worn jewelry and skirts at times but it feels silly to me and I don't really see the point so I try to avoid situations where it would be expected. I'm not against being feminine, but most of the time it just seems unnecessary. I don't think I'm trying to be masculine - I'm just not very attached to gender-specific roles. I tend to go for things which are likely to be suitable for people of either gender.

I'm not saying other people should be more like me on this - as I said above, my feeling is that there is a scale, and just as some of us are bisexual while others are strongly homosexual or heterosexual, I think some of us are more gender neutral while others identify strongly with a particular end of the scale. But just as I respect other people's rights to femininity or masculinity as they see fit to define it, I hope others will understand that these categories aren't the ultimate (or even an important) source of self for everyone.
posted by mdn at 1:19 PM on November 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Can I suggest Kate Bornstein's My Gender Workbook for anyone interested in thinking about these issues more, and in a way that includes some self-inventory?
posted by liketitanic at 1:32 PM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, mdn, I hear you. I couldn't care less about an individual's gender expression and in no way feel that someone has to strongly identify as any particular gender. At the same time, saying that one doesn't "see" gender or "see" the people in their life in a gendered way, is patently ridiculous, which is what I was trying to point out in response to a specific comment.
posted by kathrineg at 1:39 PM on November 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


There IS a scale, although I can't remember the name of the book that popularized it. I first heard about it from Megan Wallent (the whole blog is absolutely fascinating, especially since Wallent isn't really involved in the online transgender/ally community as far as I am aware). I can't find the post right now, but from what I remember Wallent considers herself to be somewhere in the 7-8 range if we were scoring this from 1-10.

I think Wallent also a great example of how gender identity is still a very different beast from personal style or what might even be called gender performance.
posted by muddgirl at 1:46 PM on November 30, 2009


I'm not saying there can't be anything about me which is innately female - I just don't know what it is and it certainly isn't these kind stereotypical things. I have worn high heels in my life, but my current dress shoes are doc marten shoes; I have worn jewelry and skirts at times but it feels silly to me and I don't really see the point so I try to avoid situations where it would be expected. I'm not against being feminine, but most of the time it just seems unnecessary. I don't think I'm trying to be masculine - I'm just not very attached to gender-specific roles. I tend to go for things which are likely to be suitable for people of either gender.

Not trying to argue with you about your own identity, but it seems to me, in the position you've constructed in your post, that your gender identity is partly formed around subverting gender role expectations -- queering gender and playing with androgyny. Perhaps this is just my interpretation and you don't feel that way, but it sounds like your gender performance has a lot in common with various genderqueer friends and associates of mine.

I have a friend who identifies himself as "genderqueer transman," who binds and packs, wears a crew cut, shops for his everyday clothes in the men's section, yet goes by "Mom" with his daughter and sometimes wears hyperfeminine drag (such as feather boas and big wigs). Some gender identities are more deliberately constructed than others, and some draw from a wider range of expression.

I'm not saying other people should be more like me on this - as I said above, my feeling is that there is a scale, and just as some of us are bisexual while others are strongly homosexual or heterosexual, I think some of us are more gender neutral while others identify strongly with a particular end of the scale. But just as I respect other people's rights to femininity or masculinity as they see fit to define it, I hope others will understand that these categories aren't the ultimate (or even an important) source of self for everyone.

What if that scale isn't a simple Kinsey slider, but a multi-dimensional scale? I think it's a much better model for both gender and sexuality. I have no idea where on a one-dimensional scale my friend could be found on either gender or sexuality (he's poly, with primaries who are trans men and a cis woman femme). I have no idea where I'd place myself on a one-dimensional sexuality scale. I need that Q in the LGBTQ, because otherwise, I'm just "other," and no, I'm definitely not bisexual. I don't even believe in bisexuality, because it reifies the binary-gender paradigm (not because I have anything against people with partners of or desires for more than one gender).
posted by notashroom at 1:47 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


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posted by Gridlock Joe at 2:03 PM on November 30, 2009


At the same time, saying that one doesn't "see" gender or "see" the people in their life in a gendered way, is patently ridiculous,

Of course that's ridiculous and I do not try to claim that. I apologize if I wasn't sufficiently clear above. To summarize: I don't understand the idea of people having completely internal "gender identities" that are independent of anatomy. Because I don't understand this, I don't really understand transgenderism, but I would kind of like to understand it. That's all I was trying to say.

I think I shall step out of this thread. Passions are running rather high.
posted by Commander Rachek at 2:41 PM on November 30, 2009


People suffer and people die because of it. It's got to stop, or at least be ameliorated somehow, because it's hurting each and every one of us, even lucky privileged folks like me.

I don't have personal experience going through this, and for me luckily gender was never any issue. But I do know what it's like trying to live up to the unrealistic expectations of others. You have to let that shit go, or it will kill you or make you miserable and eat your soul. People who are dealing with this need to become comfortable within themselves, and if changing hormones or outward gender orientation through surgery and other methods is the key to becoming yourself, then that's exactly what someone should do. Living a lie is the worst possible life to live. For them it's much more difficult just being yourself, because society rejects it, but that's all anyone can be. I agree, we should let them and give them support, but educating people takes time.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:57 PM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


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posted by EmilyClimbs at 4:12 PM on November 30, 2009


As it happens, there's a great article on runner Caster Semenya in this week's New Yorker that explores this very issue. Basically: it 'aint necessarily so.

From page 6:
In the nineteen-nineties, a movement spearheaded by an activist who used to call herself Cheryl Chase, and now goes by the name Bo Laurent, insisted that what was needed was a new identity. Chase founded the Intersex Society of North America (now defunct) to draw attention to the frequently tragic consequences of doctors’ performing irreversible surgery on newborns to enforce a sex—one that the baby might just as easily as not grow up to reject. The society advocated assigning intersex children a gender at birth but leaving their bodies intact, so that upon adulthood they could make their own choices about whether they wished to undergo surgical modification.

Then something unexpected happened. “The intersex identity started getting inhabited by people who weren’t really intersex,” Dreger said. “The people who accumulated around the intersex identity tended to be queer and out and comfortable with this identity outside the gender binary.” They felt that refraining from interfering with infants’ ambiguous genitalia was the first step on a desirable path to dissolving gender altogether. To them, this idea was “as politically inspiring as it is utterly disconnected from the actual experience of intersex people or the heart-wrenching decisions their parents have to make when an intersex child is born,” as Vernon A. Rosario, a professor of psychiatry at U.C.L.A., put it in a recent issue of The Gay and Lesbian Review.

posted by kersplunk at 4:14 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


To summarize: I don't understand the idea of people having completely internal "gender identities" that are independent of anatomy. Because I don't understand this, I don't really understand transgenderism, but I would kind of like to understand it.

So this is an obvious enough way to try to understand that you've probably already thought it through, but just to confirm-- you feel like it doesn't really much matter to you whether you have a male or female body? You believe it would feel just as comfortable, appropriate, fitting to have a male body? If for whatever reason you were forced to transition to be male tomorrow-- operation, hormones, the whole works-- you figure that once you got used to it, it'd be all the same to you?

If that's really true, I don't mean at all to suggest there's anything wrong with you for feeling that way. But I think that might be more the exception than the rule (not that it matters! we should respect each others' experience of gender regardless of how common it is.) As for me, I don't think I generally act or dress in traditionally/stereotypically feminine ways, and being female isn't a very prominent part of my identity-- I don't generally think of myself as a woman, I just think of myself as me! But nevertheless, the idea of having a male body seems wrong, seems not-me... a whole different kind of change than any other major physical changes I can think of (breast enhancements, gaining 100 pounds, losing a limb, whatever), which when I try to imagine them seem like they'd be big changes to adapt to but don't give that feeling of not-me. Obviously I have no idea what it feels like to be trans, but I sure as heck don't want a male body because it wouldn't fit who I am, so that makes it easier for me to try to empathize and understand how transwomen feel (and then transmen by extension.) If you don't have that feeling, I can see how it would be harder, but at some point I think you just have to take it on faith, because it's pretty hard to explain.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 4:54 PM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm glad such a soul-searching discussion came out of such a tragic event. After reading this I find myself more comfortable in my own skin, even as a straight white male. I identify with Commander Rachek--the core of my self-identity is not gender-specific. Or rather, my likes and dislikes are truly personal and sample both (or more?) genders. In fact I've always been more comfortable around girls, no competitive nature whatsoever, no interest in sports or most other testosterone-laden things, etc. And the past few years have seen me become disturbingly fixated on fashion and interior decor. :) It it weren't for a firmly hetero sexual preference, who knows where I'd be.

Which, I think, might be at the heart of some of us who are newcomers to this discussion not quite catching on. We all have very different perceptions of sexuality, gender, and personality. We're not used to addressing situations where your hardware, your gender-role, and your sexuality don't all line up into binary--but these are all distinct variables, and arguably there are many more.

But EmilyClimbs, I'd like to posit that there are people out there for whom being a boy or girl is essentially just playing along, bemusedly, to varying degrees of enjoyment. Given the magic, I'd probably never go an entire week as the same gender. For me, my set gender/body isn't necessarily right or wrong--it's a limitation.

And I'd like to echo the sentiments of some others in this thread; that more of us should stop trying to live or oppose gender roles. I'd love a world where we stop conforming into communities and really start building our own identities, rather than doing what feels a lot like joining a political party and subscribing to groupthink. If we didn't feel the need to protect our interests by affiliating in larger scales to the ____ community, we'd be a lot closer to our true selves.

...The very concept of binary gender is deeply artificial! Would someone born with two penises be more male than someone born with only one? Do we need clitoral measurements to preclude a phallus? If we start replacing our bodies cyborg-style as we age, but don't bother with genitalia, will we continue to possess binary gender? What if we all opt for a full-function suite, or really get to innovating and move into the trunk, tentacle, pouch, node, and membrane market? ...Maybe I should stop there.
posted by Phyltre at 7:13 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do you associate high heels with women by choice? Do you associate boxers with men by choice?

On re-reading this, I realized I no longer associate high heels with women or boxers with men, but high heels with men in drag and boxers with butches. I'm not sure when that changed for me, but those are now my initial associations.
posted by notashroom at 8:16 PM on November 30, 2009


Phyltre, it's nice that you oppose gender roles, but I don't understand why that doesn't mean that you accept those people who self-define gender to include stereotypical elements. Rejecting societally constructed gender roles doesn't have to mean that we all start wearing sexless unitards. If you feel comfortable with what you perceive to be a neutral or mixed or gray-area gender identity, that does not mean that preference is right for anyone else or gives you the moral high ground. Frankly, I see a lot of privilege in your comment. It's nice when society defines your innate preferences as "normal" and you can pretend you're a rebellious hero for being interested in interior design, but I don't get the sense that you've seriouslly attempted to understand what it might be like to have a biological gender M and feel that your "true" gender is not-M.

Also, all this hating on gender... it's sort of a standard trope to say that gender is limiting and we should transcend it, but for some people gender is deeply enjoyable. It can be really fun to femme out or butch out, and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. It is not the same thing as being brainwashed by the patriarchy.
posted by prefpara at 8:24 PM on November 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


I think what people may not be understanding is that people who make the decision to undergo transition are not doing so (solely) because of gender roles. They are doing so because (many of them) feel wrong inside their bodies. In part. There are other reasons and it is a very complicated decision and for some but not all, gender expression is a part of this. This part is tricky if not impossible to separate from the physical aspect because we intertwine sex and gender and sexuality into one complicated and messy little bundle.

(Please excuse any terminology that I may stumble over. I am trying to speak with care and I am considering my words and any offence is unintentional.)

For those of us who are cisgendered/cissexual), it is hard to understand simply because we live comfortably inside the bodies we were born with.

It is perfectly normal and natural for me to get up and go about my day knowing that I was born female. I have a vagina, ovaries, etc, etc, you get the idea. I am comfortable with them. I don't question them, I never have. I wake up with them, I go to bed with them, I deal with them in the day to day bits of living that involve bathroom functions both excretory and menstrual. I use them for sex, both solo and with a partner.

I mention these things because your body is a large part of who you are - you live with it every moment of every day, as cliche as that sounds. And you interact with your body in ways determined by your physical sex all of the time and sometimes we never even realize it. For most of us, we take it for granted because it has always been there for us and we are used to it.

As an example, even sitting here typing, I've adjusted my bra, considered the pressure of my bladder, adjusted my bra again (it's a particularly annoying bra today), brushed my hair (oily because I'm a week from my period) and tried not to fidget with a blemish on my cheek, (see "week from my period"), adjusted the goddamn bra AGAIN (seriously, I need to just ditch this thing) and added tampons to my grocery list.

Not to mention the weight of my breasts on my chest (that I'm used to), the way I sit comfortably in a chair (that I don't even think about except just now), the cut of my shirt and jeans (equally as dictated by my physical sex as my height and size) and the fact that THIS BRA IS REALLY ANNOYING.

That's ten minutes and I probably missed some. And yes, I am being deliberately humorous about the bra, but when I was coming up with a list of things that I do that are dictated by my physical sex, that was one of them. For me.

I am used to all of these things. I have a difficult time imagining being me in a different body.

For someone who has been born with one set of physical attributes, but feels as though they should have another, it seems to me that all of those myriad little things most of us do every day would feel somehow wrong.

The best analogy I can come up with, and it is a very poor analogy but I am at a loss for one that someone could actually attempt is for you to try to switch dominant sides. For everything. Not just writing. Eating, drinking, typing, walking, vision (yes, you can be dominant there too), sports, nail clipping, eating Doritos, using the remote, playing Lego Batman, masturbating, whatever. Everything. Every moment of every day.

Perhaps it might be easier to think of it as two potentially overlapping issues.

1) Issue with being of one physical sex but believing that you should have been another.
2) Feeling caught in a particular gender identity when you believe you should act as another.

It is a sliding scale. Some people may just have #2. Some may have #1. Some may have both in various degrees.

Thus the people who choose to have surgery and change their gender expression, the people who take hormones but do not opt for surgery, the people who have had cosmetic surgery but have not opted to change their genitals, the people who are intersexed and don't want to get surgery, the people who are fully one physical sex or another and act with another gender identity, the people who 'queer' gender by mixing and matching and the people who get surgery and possibly regret it and every other combination that I can't think of because it's late.

Ideally, #2 would not be so much of a problem, if we lived in a society that said that gender roles were separate from physical sex. We are getting closer and closer to this all the time.

#1 is not something that can be solved by total gender equality. Because simply put, even if we lived in a society where I could rock a Gomez Addams haircut like my dad's (I have my dad's haircolor and texture) and my boyfriend could totally wear a purple-and-blue-lacy-blouse (he looks better in blue than pink. Pink makes him look sort of dead) and no one would blink, it's still not going to solve the problem of someone who was born with a penis but really really REALLY believes they should've had a vagina. Or vice versa.
posted by FritoKAL at 10:43 PM on November 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


Huh. Derail...I associate briefs/jockstraps with butches, probably because they make it easier to pack, vs boxers.
posted by kathrineg at 7:22 AM on December 1, 2009


So this is an obvious enough way to try to understand that you've probably already thought it through, but just to confirm-- you feel like it doesn't really much matter to you whether you have a male or female body? You believe it would feel just as comfortable, appropriate, fitting to have a male body? If for whatever reason you were forced to transition to be male tomorrow-- operation, hormones, the whole works-- you figure that once you got used to it, it'd be all the same to you?

I think we've run in to some confusion in terminology here.

I, for one, am not talking about bodies. I'm talking about behaviors. If you want to have surgery to aesthetically alter your penis/vulva/chest/secondary sexual characteristics, rock on, not my thing, but whatever floats your boat.

It's the acting like and expecting to be treated as the "opposite" gender. I see no way of doing so without buying in to gender essentialism - some form of "[women/men] act like X and should be treated like Y because they are mentally different and occupy different social roles" - which I oppose for [insert first/second wave feminist rationales here].
posted by phrontist at 12:49 PM on December 1, 2009


phrontist: and how is a person with a penis who would prefer to be less masculine to deal with this? For many, if the go so far in their genderfuck as to be taken at first for a woman, they are literally risking their lives if that initial impression is contradicted. Of course the real problem is the men who think they have to kill someone if they at first appear "female" and then later appear "male", but I think taking on a fully "female" identity is a reasonable alternative for someone who is uninterested in being "male". And to do that they are compelled to exaggerate that "female" performance - because the alternative is the very real threat of murder.
posted by idiopath at 1:01 PM on December 1, 2009


It's the acting like and expecting to be treated as the "opposite" gender. I see no way of doing so without buying in to gender essentialism - some form of "[women/men] act like X and should be treated like Y because they are mentally different and occupy different social roles" - which I oppose for [insert first/second wave feminist rationales here].

First, there is no such thing as "opposite gender." I know, we're so used to the term "opposite sex" reifying the binary construct of sex, and by implication, gender, but it's about as meaningful as "opposite fruit." Is a strawberry opposite a pear? Is a kiwi opposite a mango? Those are ludicrous propositions, right? If you step outside the comfort zone of binary models of gender, you'll see that "opposite gender" is just as artificial a construction.

That said, two points specifically to the substance of your comment: first, you are absolutely correct that second wave feminism is somewhat at odds with transgenderism and transsexuality because powerful influences in second wave feminism would like to essentially do away with gender constructs and use sex only as an indicator of who has potential for what role in species propagation, should they choose to participate in that, and those that don't take it as far as erasing gender still see all persons not both born and raised as female as enemies under a patriarchal system. First wave feminism pretty much disregards the existence of transpersons altogether, and third wave is trying to sort out these questions and reconcile notions of sex and gender and identity and autonomy (see Bornstein, Wilchins, Bergman, any number of authors).

Second, I'm repeating myself here, but, "[T]here is nothing, not one thing, that is more intimately personal than self-identification." Which means that women are women because they say they're women, not because they were subjected to tests of any variety, and that each and every woman gets to decide for herself how woman manifests for, by, and through her. If she performs woman in heels, shirtwaist, and pearls like June Cleaver or if she performs woman in black leather chaps, engineer boots, and a compression shirt or if she performs woman in khakis, button down, and loafers or if she performs woman differently every day, it is all still real, valid performances of woman and it matters not what her chromosomal profile says or whether she has a dick in a drawer or between her legs or anywhere else.
posted by notashroom at 2:03 PM on December 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


phrontist, an argument based on gender essentialism would look more like: "Wo/men act like X and should be treated like Y because their biological differences demand that they occupy different social roles." Essentialism argues that there are masculine and feminine essences attached to male and female bodies that determine the roles men and women play in society, and therefore social/cultural values do not define those roles, but merely reflect the natural order. I suspect you get the sense of this, but it's not exactly what you outlined as the essentialist argument above.

Using women as an example, I think it's possible for a cis or trans woman to pattern her gender performance on a socially acceptable feminine ideal without believing that there's any biological reason justifying that performance. In fact, my experience has been that on average a trans woman is probably more likely to be doing this than a cis woman, since trans women experience the difference between sex and gender in a heightened fashion. And it's certainly not hard to identify what a society values as ideal femininity, for whatever culture or subculture an individual is part of. So I do see how it's possible for someone to choose to pattern her behavior after a particular gendered ideal because it makes society easier to negotiate, without being mired in essentialism herself.

As for whether the choices of trans people undermine a feminist agenda by feeding into rigid social ideals of femininity or masculinity ... I think that, as a feminist, I have certain responsibilities to disrupt the value that society attributes to masculinity and femininity and how those constructs affect men and women. I think that challenging stereotypes around femininity and masculinity is important. But I do not think that the route to an equal society goes through The Valley of Your Gender Performance Is Undermining My Liberatory Agenda, because all too often, those conscious and unconscious choices an individual makes about their gender performance are a matter of survival, for cis and trans people alike. On an individual level, I believe it's more constructive to support people who are pushing gender boundaries in directions that I think are healthier for people (individually and communally), in the hope of creating models that others will follow, rather than demand that people perform or not perform gender in certain ways.
posted by EvaDestruction at 3:42 PM on December 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


If you want to have surgery to aesthetically alter your penis/vulva/chest/secondary sexual characteristics, rock on, not my thing, but whatever floats your boat.

It's the
acting like and expecting to be treated as the "opposite" gender. I see no way of doing so without buying in to gender essentialism - some form of "[women/men] act like X and should be treated like Y because they are mentally different and occupy different social roles" - which I oppose for [insert first/second wave feminist rationales here].

Okay, now I'm seriously just confused. You say you don't believe there are/should be differences between people based on gender, and yet you simultaneously refer to "acting like and expecting to be treated as the 'opposite' gender"-- those two statements do not compute, how do you reconcile those things? What does "acting like the 'opposite' gender" mean to you? If you think that people of all genders should be able to act in all sorts of different ways (regardless of which gender those behaviors may be more traditionally/stereotypically associated with), then why does that suddenly go out the window when it's referring to a person who happens to also want to change their body, so that it becomes okay for you to start "opposing" the way they choose to act?

It sounds like you're suggesting that you're cool with the physical changes only if the person does not act too much like the gender they're changing to look like. But if it's fine for a biological male to sometimes act in ways that are considered feminine, and if it's fine for a biological male to change physically to feel and look more feminine, why is it a problem to do both simultaneously? When a person who was born in a female body (but has changed it to be more male) acts similarly to a person who was born in a male body, why do you draw distinctions and suggest the transman is doing something wrong? That seems like it flies right in the face of your "what gender/sex you are doesn't matter and should be totally irrelevant" rhetoric-- if you really think biological sex doesn't matter, why are transpeople even a distinct group you'd pay attention to and care about?
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:21 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow. When you say "emancipated," do you mean the county, or relatives, took her away from abusive parents, or...? Just curious about how a story like this would happen, and whether surgery is performed this young.

The school is quite protective of the privacy of students. I only know because I remember her as a female dressing "emo-boy" in junior high (I'm a substitute teacher) and puzzling over her gender (she dressed tight jeans, multi-colored cuff-bracelets and girl shirts back when she was about 13, but I believe carried a boy's name--not unlike the few semi-out gay boys at that age that I see around), and now only know her by her female name. I happened to have lunch one time with the high school counselor, who was imparting some business to me on the part of said student. Offhand, he mentioned that "Susie" was once a boy. Which I acknowledged I knew. When I said that she was lucky to have parents who supported her transition, the counselor answered that this wasn't the case and she was in foster care. Whether that means they were abusive, or the girl simply refused to live with unsupportive parents and repeatedly ran away or otherwise exhibited self-endangering activity to force a move, I don't know.

I suspect it may be the latter. In any case, I know nothing of how the state handles children in their charge who want to transition. Nor do I know if this girl *wants* surgery or whether she will get it before she turns 18 and then has the power to make that decision for herself.

I haven't been able to observe whether she has a lot of friends or not, if any. And she is rather awkward and shy as are many 14 year olds who have disrupted family lives. I do know that the school she attends has a pretty accepting culture of sexual identity differences. Students are more likely to ignore her for her shyness than be rude about her transition.
posted by RedEmma at 1:15 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Questioning Transphobia just posted a great article that briefly touches on some of the points of ignorance displayed in this thread, then continues on to talk about transphobia in academic studies of transsexualism.
posted by muddgirl at 11:05 AM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


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