Maura is a “she.” It’s one of the central points of the show.
January 23, 2015 11:33 AM   Subscribe

 
This is an inherently difficult issue when it comes to writing about the actual process of transition, though. I mean, take one of the sentences to which the main piece in the FPP takes exception:
Andrew Wallenstein of Variety refers to Maura as “a sixty-something father who decides to go public with the secret he’s harbored his whole life: his desire to live as a woman."
That is, though, what the show is about. It is about someone who has transitioned from male to female. The sentence would be simply baffling if rewritten:
Andrew Wallenstein of Variety refers to Maura as “a sixty-something mother who decides to go public with the secret she’s harbored her whole life: her desire to live as a woman."
I think when it comes to talking about the before and after you have to allow some use of pronouns that if applied solely to the post-transition subject would be objectionable misgendering.
posted by yoink at 12:28 PM on January 23, 2015 [17 favorites]


How about: "a sixty-something mother who decides to go public with the secret she's harbored her whole life: that she was misidentified as male at birth and has been living as a man."
posted by gilrain at 12:32 PM on January 23, 2015 [26 favorites]


It is about someone who has transitioned from male to female.

You're mistaking gender identity for gender presentation. Maura has always been a woman. She just hasn't always presented that way.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:37 PM on January 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


It may be, yoink, that in order to be both clear and correct, Wallenstein needed to rewrite the sentence, rather than just swapping out one pronoun for another. But he's a professional writer, and I just don't think that's too much to ask. If you can't write clearly and correctly, then you probably shouldn't be writing for a living.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:37 PM on January 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


How about: "a sixty-something mother who decides to go public with the secret that she's harbored her whole life: that she was misidentified as male at birth and has been living as a man."

That would make me think it was a show about an intersex person, not a transgender person. "Assigned male at birth" would be the most correct and polite terminology, but I think there's something to be said for being comprehensible to people who aren't already up on these issues, which is exactly the audience Transparent is trying to reach. Right or wrong, the societal conception of gender is that it's fundamentally congruent with sex. Even the medical model of transgenderism basically reaffirms that as a truism. "Misidentified as male" doesn't jibe with most how people would think of an AMAB woman, because there's no misidentification going on from their perspective: she is "biologically" male. Yeah, even that is more complex than it's usually handled in popular culture and understanding, but that's jumping in to the deep end before you've even put a toe in to test the water.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 12:39 PM on January 23, 2015 [13 favorites]


I think roomthreeseventeen pretty much has it in the Previously link:

Yesterday, the first season of "Transparent" went live on Amazon Prime, starring Jeffrey Tambor as a 70 year old transgender woman who is coming out to her family, and the world, for the first time.
posted by edbles at 12:39 PM on January 23, 2015 [25 favorites]


I watched the show but I don't recall whether or not Maura wanted her (adult) kids to call her "Dad" and refer to her as their father. I recall the kids called her "Dad" throughout but I don't remember what her reaction to that was.
posted by mullacc at 12:49 PM on January 23, 2015


That would make me think it was a show about an intersex person, not a transgender person.

Yes — unless there is a plot twist coming, the show's narrative has written her as the biological father of the three children characters.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:01 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's an interesting linguistic question here: are there conventions in the transgender community for how to use third-person pronouns when you're telling a story about someone from before they transitioned? It honestly wouldn't surprise me if 50% of the world had one conception of gendered pronouns and 50% had another.

I tend to think of gender in pronouns as a storytelling marker: this is a person, and here's a pronoun with a specific detail about this person so you can keep track. Thus the use of one gendered pronoun over another is a matter of reader comfort: I have portrayed this person as male, and you understand this person to be male (because I have not gotten to the point in the story where I talk about gender transition), so let's use the male pronoun for now.

And even after the gender transition, it seems like the use of one pronoun over another would be a great shorthand for discussing pre- and post-transition life: “Dad never used to let anyone interrupt him, but now she’s much quieter in conversation…”

But obviously much of the world does not see it that way, and obviously gendered pronouns are a much larger deal for someone who has dealt with gender dysphoria.
posted by savetheclocktower at 1:02 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Transparent has been a great opportunity for entertainment journalists to learn where that GLAAD link is; I've used it a bunch of times. There's also an intersex protagonist in a recent film, and the critic who wrote that review for us was good enough to send along with the review a link to a similar style guide he consulted when writing. (That one has the extra challenge of the protagonist not having a name.)

Part of the battle is just recognizing the moments when you need a consult.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:05 PM on January 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


The author seems to indicate that GLAAD and the AP Stylebook have an acceptable take on language for these issues. Do you agree? What authority should the writer of good will look to?

I don't understand why this article raised my hackles the way it has. I certainly agree with the author's nominal intent, though: "At this point, there’s no excuse for continuing to make rookie mistakes when the stakes are so high. So let’s do better in 2015." Let go of the Grrrr. Let go of the Grrrr.
posted by ssr_of_V at 1:22 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


The emphasis on language here is overplayed. Yes, trans people suffer abuse and discrimination. Yes, inappropriate language is disrespectful and completely avoidable, and the GLAAD guidelines are a decent standard, so they should be followed.

But trans people do not kill themselves simply because journalists fail to follow those guidelines. The suicide of Dr. Vanderbilt almost certainly had nothing to do with misgendering, much less by Hannan. Vanderbilt was running a nationally prominent fraud operation that was coming to light—that was why Hannan was investigating her to begin with. There is no evidence at all that Vanderbilt's suicide had anything to do with her being trans, other than that trans people as a group have a high suicide rate. Here's another group of people with a high suicide rate: publicly exposed con artists that could easily face criminal charges (defrauding investors, in this case).

Vanderbilt was not just a trans person: she was a person. And people—cis and trans alike—do nasty things. And when they are publicly held to account for it, they sometimes kill themselves. Did her being trans, or Hannan's outing of her, contribute to her suicide? Possibly. Or possibly not. We don't know. That doesn't excuse Hannan's behavior; it does, I think, expose Allen's deeply fetishized relationship to this subject.

And failure to follow the GLAAD guidelines does not necessarily reinforce or even reflect anti-trans bias. Take the Brietbart article mentioned. That article, considered as a whole, was extremely respectful, noting the larger problem of transgender violence and discussing the victim in the same family-oriented style that would be done for any other murder victim. The fact that it used the phrase "born a man" rather than "assigned male at birth" is more or less unimportant—even though I agree the latter is better. The important thing is what the author meant and what her intended audience was likely to understand, not whether the specific language complies with some stylebook.

It is utterly solipsistic of a journalist like Allen to write a piece assigning her profession such importance. Even if every single journalist were to comply 100% with the guidelines starting tomorrow, anti-trans violence and bias would remain. Transphobia is not, by and large, the product of journalistic misbehavior; the causality runs the other way. And while disrespectful language slows the progress of trans equality, so does fetishizing trans people for use in moralizing litmus tests.
posted by andrewpcone at 1:23 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


The fact that it used the phrase "born a man" rather than "assigned male at birth" is more or less unimportant

I disagree with that a little, if only because "born a man" is actually just incorrect. No child is born a man.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:25 PM on January 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


It is utterly solipsistic of a journalist like Allen to write a piece assigning her profession such importance.

From TFA:
Granted, misgendering a fictional character in a TV show is a far cry from hounding a woman on the brink of suicide. But Hannan’s missteps in January are an extreme case of a general principle: If you’re not actively trying to respect transgender subjects in your work, you’re probably doing more harm than good.
Allen probably can't do much to prevent a trans woman from getting stomped to death outside a bar; she can point out a small piece of the larger problem and exhort her colleagues to stop doing it.
posted by Etrigan at 1:33 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Would "born morphologically male" have been an acceptable way to describe the situation and reduce confusion without offense?
posted by dilettante at 1:33 PM on January 23, 2015


I agree with you: the category "man" is a matter of social construction or personal identity, not something inherent to the body just born.

But even if we agree that "born a man" is incorrect, the more salient question to me is whether it is *important.* The point of the article is that someone was murdered. Another point of the article is that there is violence directed specifically at trans people.

That is what matters here. And to the extent a journalist for a right-wing publication had the courage to draw attention to that problem, she should be commended, not shat on because her phrasing did not agree with the current progressive paradigm around gender.
posted by andrewpcone at 1:34 PM on January 23, 2015


Etrigan: in my view, it is puritanical fetishists like Allen, not ham-fisted sports writers like Hannan, that we should be exhorting to stop.
posted by andrewpcone at 1:35 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Etrigan: in my view, it is puritanical fetishists like Allen, not ham-fisted sports writers like Hannan, that we should be exhorting to stop.

Wow. Really? You're saying that the person who hounded someone to suicide is less deserving of our disapproval than someone whose crime is saying "Hey, let's not misgender people"? I cannot fathom how someone arrives at that point.
posted by Etrigan at 1:41 PM on January 23, 2015 [20 favorites]


I think part of the problem is people's general unwillingness to talk about genitalia directly even when that is what they are really talking about. If you want to say that someone was born with a penis then why not just say that? All this talk of 'biological sex' or 'male sex organs' or 'born a man' is really just a way to avoid having to say 'born with a penis and designated male at birth as a result'. A labia and vagina can be 'male sex organs' if the person who has them is a man. "biological sex' falls apart as a concept the more you learn about how biology actually works. No one is 'born a man' as roomthreeseventeen points out, everyone is born a tiny little baby and they get sorted based on their genitals so why can't we just say that?

I think we cling to these proxies because the alternative is asking ourselves why we are so concerned with what all of these cute babies have in their diapers. If everyone had to ask "does your baby have a penis or a vagina?" instead of "is your baby a boy or a girl?" I think the question would get asked a lot less and children would hopefully have more room to define their gender for themselves. As long as we (cis people) keep letting ourselves use these euphemisms and proxies we will continue to fail to realize how gross it is that we are obsessed with talking about people's private parts all the time.
posted by metaphorever at 1:42 PM on January 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


No, not less deserving of disapproval. Certainly what Hannan did was incomparably worse, and I did not say otherwise.

But you are comparing apples to oranges. I'm talking about who we should be exhorting to stop. Hannan was thoughtless and immature; hopefully he and his editors have learned their lesson. Allen has had time to reflect on the topic, and is opportunistically doing something shitty.

Hannan has already been liberally exhorted. Allen deserves some exhortation too. One journalist's mortal sins does not excuse another's pecadillos, especially when the former has already been extensively held to account.
posted by andrewpcone at 1:44 PM on January 23, 2015


I watched the show but I don't recall whether or not Maura wanted her (adult) kids to call her "Dad" and refer to her as their father. I recall the kids called her "Dad" throughout but I don't remember what her reaction to that was.

posted by mullacc at 3:49 PM on January 23 [+] [!]


I don't think this counts as a spoiler but maybe spoiler warning. Sarah and Ali start calling her Moppa after Ali in an altered mental state invents it. Josh sticks to Dad for the entirety of the season arc. Maura seems to register disappointment with Josh but makes no verbal comment.
posted by edbles at 1:47 PM on January 23, 2015


roomthreeseventeen: "I disagree with that a little, if only because "born a man" is actually just incorrect. No child is born a man."

It's actually interesting, in a horrifying sort of way, to look at the way monstered populations have their childhoods denied like this. Trans women are often described as "born men" and not "born boys"—both are incorrect, of course, but the latter at least allows for an innocence, a childhood, on the part of the juvenile trans girl.

You can see the same patterns in the popular response to the police murder of Tamir Rice: his boyhood, his childhood, was denied; he was constantly described as either a man or, where applying that word to a twelve year-old was just too ridiculous, "a male".
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:49 PM on January 23, 2015 [33 favorites]


> hopefully he and his editors have learned their lesson

We can do more than hope. We can critique how gender is (mis)used in both arts and investigative reporting, and discuss how to do better. There are other larger issues, but there's no reason that a variety of harms, large and small, can't be tackled simultaneously by different people.
posted by rtha at 1:52 PM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Hannan was thoughtless and immature; hopefully he and his editors have learned their lesson.

That doesn't mean that it shouldn't be held up as an example of a remarkably insensitive thing -- the story as it ran (and continues to run, with a link to Bill Simmons' mea culpa but no response whatsoever from Hannan) was bad enough, even if you don't want to accept the idea that Hannan hounded Essay Vanderbilt to suicide.

Allen has had time to reflect on the topic, and is opportunistically doing something shitty.

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I think her concern over how journalists should talk about transgender people was far, far less shitty, for example, than your calling that concern a "fetish" three times in two comments.
posted by Etrigan at 1:56 PM on January 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


are there conventions in the transgender community for how to use third-person pronouns when you're telling a story about someone from before they transitioned?

Yes. The convention is to consistently use their preferred (read: post-transition) pronouns. Some people will prefer otherwise, and they'll tell you if so. Switching pronouns when referring to someone based on point in time highlights their trans status, which is often undesirable or outing.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:21 PM on January 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


Etrigan: I believe that her "concern" is, to some degree, not genuine. I think that's clear enough. Her approach to the to the topic is, I believe, a fetish about a currently focal social justice topic more than a bona fide concern about the welfare of trans people.

Evidently you disagree. OK.
posted by andrewpcone at 2:24 PM on January 23, 2015


Her approach to the to the topic is, I believe, a fetish about a currently focal social justice topic more than a bona fide concern about the welfare of trans people.

Why do you believe this about her?
posted by rtha at 2:30 PM on January 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Just a few days ago I learned the term "gestational father" for a trans man who has given birth to children. I don't know what the equivalent would be for Maura - and it's not a term that was intuitive to me the first time I heard it - but it seems to me that the more visibility trans people have, the more these language gaps will surface and be filled, and the specter of having to choose between awkward and confusing A and misgendering B will fade as we get better alternatives.
posted by Jeanne at 2:31 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Her approach to the to the topic is, I believe, a fetish about a currently focal social justice topic more than a bona fide concern about the welfare of trans people.

Who gives a fuck? If I like being nice to gay/black/trans*/whatever people because I think its cool or hip, isn't that an order of magnitude more preferable than not being nice to them?

Or think of it another way, isn't it an order of magnitude to be nice to people rather than complaining about someone being nice to people and accusing them of being disingenuous?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:50 PM on January 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


From the article: So let’s do better in 2015.

I have to say, as a cis gendered male who is politically and socially progressive, who wants to do the right thing, and who does NOT want to intentionally or inadvertently upset anyone in the trans* community, I often feel completely lost in these discussions regarding the right ways to discuss gender identity, gender presentation, etc. I will try to do better in 2015, but even after reading the article, my takeaways from it and the above discussion are:

1. Even though I try to be respectful and use gender terms correctly, I Am Doing It Wrong.
2. I will always be doing it wrong.
3. There are nuances to discussing gender and gender-related topics that I will never, ever fully appreciate as a cis gendered individual. My simple existence as a cis gendered individual makes me unsuited to participate in a discussion about issues related to gender identity, gender politics, and the terms used to describe the issues related to these topics.
4. Members of the trans* community use terms associated with gender and its attendant qualities with a precision and specificity that's daunting and difficult for a cis gendered individual to fully grok.
5. I have a sense that even within these bullet points, I am using the term trans* incorrectly, and probably hurting someone's feelings, and I am sorry about that.
6. The English language is either a very blunt tool or a very sharp scalpel w/r/t gendered pronouns and their usage, and yet I feel like I wield this club or scalpel incorrectly every. single. time. I attempt to engage in this discussion. See #1, above.

Consequently, I try to lurk as much as possible ("Lurk even more!" is no doubt on someone's lips or being typed even as I write this), but "lurking even more" isn't necessarily going to help me become better informed, or use the correct term when all eyes are on me and it is my turn to speak. At the same time, calling me out for being ignorant about this topic isn't helpful, either -- I'm trying, I swear! I understand that this constant, daily struggle for acceptance and acknowledgement is difficult and exacting, and that the folks on the front lines of it are, in some cases, paying for it with their lives. I assure you, I am not trying to add to that pain or discount anyone's existence.

I think that, much like other historic struggles for equality, this one will require that the aggrieved continue to demonstrate forbearance while the rest of society catches up. Education, patience, and outreach are necessary and helpful, and are appreciated by folks like myself who want to do the right thing but find ourselves battling decades of careless and/or unknowingly imprecise language usage. I don't mean to hurt anyone's feelings, but as a cis gendered individual I have spent decades unknowingly "enjoying" the privilege of using gendered language indiscriminately. My eyes are open, and I understand that this imprecise and casual usage is near the heart of this issue. Thank you to those in the trans* community that have taken the time and made the effort to educate me. My struggles with the issues surrounding gendered language are very different than yours, but if it is ultimately important to both of us that I use these terms correctly, you will need to continue to educate me (and those like me) for some time to come. English can be a maddeningly slippery language, and the habits I learned when I was a baby and toddler are very difficult to change, especially after decades of use. Again: thanks for your patience, and please remain patient with me and those like me.
posted by mosk at 2:50 PM on January 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


I think most trans* people will recognize when someone is making a genuine effort to not offend and when someone is just being a jerk or oblivious.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:59 PM on January 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


mosk, I don't think you need to worry that much about always using the correct term. Just be gracious about if someone corrects you and tells you their preferred terms. If you're told different things at different times by different people, I don't think there's anything wrong with saying "Oh, I'm sorry, I was told by someone else that was the correct term, I didn't intend offense. I'll use [term] from now on in this case, but could you explain to me if this is just a case where people have different preferences, like African-American vs black, or if there's some nuance that I'm picking up on? Getting this right and using the correct terms are important to me."

It's just not nearly as fraught as you're making it out to be in practice. If people jump down your throat when you're making a sincere effort and you're handling your own missteps with graciousness, they're being rude assholes, and the vast majority of trans people aren't really rude assholes. The aggrieved actually generally are demonstrating forbearance, in my experience.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 3:04 PM on January 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


"There is no evidence at all that Vanderbilt's suicide had anything to do with her being trans, other than that trans people as a group have a high suicide rate."

You mean other than the email she sent to Hannan just before she killed herself where she rather desperately complains about how he has researched her private life, including things "germane only to [her]", and which she believed "Hate Crimes Legislation signed into Law by President Obama" would apply?

That's some determined effort you're making to argue that her suicide was all about the fraud and not about the outing. It's either (conveniently) uninformed or dishonest.

"Her approach to the to the topic is, I believe, a fetish about a currently focal social justice topic more than a bona fide concern about the welfare of trans people."

I can't really write what I want to write in response. How about "I strongly question both your assertion and your motivation in making it"? That's the gist.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:14 PM on January 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


mosk, I made this comment over in a different thread that might be helpful.
posted by rtha at 3:17 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the link, rtha. That does help.
posted by mosk at 3:23 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks. I'm glad it does.
posted by rtha at 3:27 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Any instance where a trans woman is described as 'really' male - ever, for any reason at all, at any point in her life - has consequences. 'Male' as a descriptor of something a trans woman is or was rather than something she was assigned is easy and unthreatening, but it's always going to play into the fact we constantly, casually use 'male' to denote men, the gender; masculinity, the gendered behavioural construct. There's no untangling that just by wanting really hard to be able to talk about distinct 'biological reality'. Categorising trans women as 'male' in any sense cannot but lump the desperately marginalised in with the dominant, the statistically high-risk in with the statistically high-threat, and leave vulnerable women held accountable for privileges they are literally dying for the lack of.

And this detail of language and categorisation is used as a weapon, right here, right now, to keep abused women, victims of misogyny, out of shelters which don't cater to 'male' service users; to attempt to have us driven away to be assaulted in 'male' bathrooms and changing rooms, to evidencelessly segregate us as a 'male' rape threat. I firmly believe - experience gives me reason to believe - that better language supplanting worse has begun to blunt these weapons and led to practical gains. Winning battles on language improves, hopefully saves lives, and will continue to. And the predisposition of certain parties to dismiss all discussion of language as trivial, and to respond to anyone focusing on language with the sort of weird, affronted aggression we see above, materially impedes that.

Anyway, I think there's a well-meant but ultimately counterproductive tendency to want to water down the realities of trans lives in an attempt to present a narrative that's so unthreatening, and contains so few new words or concepts, that 'the mainstream' will accept it. And I get it, honestly; there's value in reaching wide as well as deep. But shying away from something like assigned-at-birth terminology because it's difficult, and just letting people say 'born male' or whatever, strikes me as actively counterproductive - at some point you're presenting a version of transgender people's reality that's so easy to swallow it barely resembles reality at all. And we end up with people entirely capable of taking on board a few new words walking around thinking "gee, now I know it's nice to call a trans woman 'she', but she's biologically male and that's Science Truth," and honestly I'm not sure that's actually helping anyone.
posted by emmtee at 3:28 PM on January 23, 2015 [17 favorites]


If I like being nice to gay/black/trans*/whatever people because I think its cool or hip, isn't that an order of magnitude more preferable than not being nice to them?

I'm only one of those things, but I'd rather that your basic respect for me not be faddish, because that implies it's temporary, insincere, and reversible. So I'd go with "marginally" more preferable; at least with someone who's not nice based on bias, I know where they really stand.
posted by psoas at 3:32 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


are there conventions in the transgender community for how to use third-person pronouns when you're telling a story about someone from before they transitioned?

Yes. The convention is to consistently use their preferred (read: post-transition) pronouns


Thank you.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:34 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Along the same lines as rtha's comment, this comic is a good summary of how to handle using correct pronouns/accidentally misgendering someone. (Assigned Male is a gem in general, maybe this will be the impetus I need to finally make an FPP about it.)

About names names and narratives though, I couldn't help but notice this line from andrewpcone's comment above It is utterly solipsistic of a journalist like Allen to write a piece assigning her profession such importance. I don't think it's solipsistic in this instance, because historically trans* people haven't had much of a chance to speak out about their experiences. That's changing in a lot of ways now, but for a long time what you saw was movies or pieces by journalists designed to be as salacious as possible. And when you're going for salaciousness and scandal, it's easy to shape other people's lives to the narrative that draws the most eyes to the page, rather than way the subject might actually describe their own life.

Using correct pronouns isn't about having a "fetish" for social justice, it's about allowing someone agency over their own story. When I correct people who mess up my first name as a cis person it's not an inherently political act--why should it be for a trans* person?
See, this is how it is: I love my old name, but it's dangerous too. Because there's no weapon a cissexist can swing at you like a dead name, not even a well-placed painstakingly deliberate "sir" cuts deeper than the standard murder victim reporting method of using someone's old name as their "real" one...It's that clear message that your life is an illusion,and that a life you haven't lived in years is somehow more real than anything you know, delivered with the certainty that most everyone else will agree. Your story stops being real, stops being yours. When they've got your old name, everyone else starts writing the story for you, and you're nothing but a baffled passenger now.

-From About My Body (Because You Always Ask)
posted by ActionPopulated at 3:42 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Here's the thing, with all due respect to people who are honestly befuddled by how to talk about trans people having pretransition lives: my kid had no problem dealing with this when she was ten. I think it's just a matter of fully and easily believing that people transition to their true sex, and thus it makes no sense to refer to them by their pretransition pronoun. When a person comes out, they don't magically change from straight to gay, or from sex A to sex B, they just let people know that they are a lesbian or genderqueer or whatever. So, in talking about a trans man being a kid, my daughter needed no training to say, "Oh, back when Trent was a child he hadn't transitioned yet, and his parents sent him to an all-girls' school." (Not, "She went to an all girl school, which must be funny for him looking back.")

Speaking of a trans woman character as “a sixty-something father who decides to go public with the secret he’s harbored his whole life: his desire to live as a woman," is hardly murdering anyone--but in framing the character Maura as "really male," it's really depressing as a trans person to read, and so very easy to avoid! "Maura is a trans woman and parent who finally finds herself able to come out to her family and start her transition journey in her sixties."

Speaking personally, I don't jump down people's throats when they mispronoun me--I just correct them matter-of-factly (I mean, unless they are deliberately taunting me, which is another matter). Most trans people I know correct people in a matter-of-fact tone as well (despite the fact that it can feel really disheartening to be misgendered again and again). What I've seen in a few incidents in which a cis person has gotten really upset during a mispronouning correction were not cases of trans people snapping harshly, but of cis people who felt shamed to be corrected. And while I have sympathy for the fact that being told you've done something wrong often feels embarrassing, I have to note that it is more embarrassing--and in some situations dangerous--for the trans person who is being misgendered.
posted by DrMew at 4:09 PM on January 23, 2015 [20 favorites]


PLenty of trans people are fine using before and after pronouns, though. I was just recently talking to an FtM who refers to himself as "she" before the transition, and considers that portion of his life to have been living as a female - which was central to his unhappiness during that time. So using the pronoun makes sense - it was because he was living as she that something was inherently wrong - he had the wrong body, the wrong presentation, and needed to change something. He uses the old name to refer to who he used to be and says things like "you lost her in (year)" to family who have trouble accepting the transition.

Imagining that a pronoun should refer to someone's subjective inner experience rather than the public presentation just seems confusing. I understand the attempt to be as respectful as possible, but that information is far less available, and if someone hasn't said anything or acted any differently, it would be impossible to access. If we consider the pronoun simply a recognition of one's presentation, then it's a personal story whether they've felt that way from the day they were born, or suddenly woke up one day with a new need - and it doesn't matter. They can have whichever pronoun they would like.
posted by mdn at 4:26 PM on January 23, 2015


That's changing in a lot of ways now, but for a long time what you saw was movies or pieces by journalists designed to be as salacious as possible.

There's a not small part of me who feels like Transparent (or the success thereof) and the other trans-focused media content that we suddenly seem to have in the last two to three years is, while not designed to be as salacious as possible, is about satisfying 'progressive' cis people's need to feel good about themselves and cast themselves as allies without actually having to do anything or having to be challenged.

(Yes, I know the creator has a trans parent, which makes me feel a bit better about her role in it, but still feel like it's kind of exploitative.)

PLenty of trans people are fine using before and after pronouns, though. I was just recently talking to an FtM who refers to himself as "she" before the transition, and considers that portion of his life to have been living as a female - which was central to his unhappiness during that time.

1) A single anecdote is not data, 2) you'll note where "respect people's preferences" was mentioned and 3) for god's sake, don't use FTM as a noun (see (2) for a disclaimer).
posted by hoyland at 4:29 PM on January 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


" A labia and vagina can be 'male sex organs' if the person who has them is a man. "biological sex' falls apart as a concept the more you learn about how biology actually works."

Okay, here's where my understanding falls apart. Trans means that your assigned sex (the physical aspect of you) doesn't match your gender. If we start calling a labia and a vagina "male sex organs" then does that start to mean that the person's gender confirms to their assigned sex? Isn't trans basically the opposite of that? The sex doesn't match the gender and that's why we have sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy and all that? What am I missing? Because if you start calling sexual physical features both "male" and 'female" then technically everybody is basically trans and cis at the same time by that definition. Can somebody explain a bit more?
posted by I-baLL at 5:35 PM on January 23, 2015


*puts on radical transfeminist hat*

If you're a cis woman who identifies with being a woman and wants to consider herself some kind of trans* ally or feminist, and you're thinking "these weird extreme trans women are saying $foo, but this guy I know who says he used to be female says $bar, I think $bar makes more sense", you could probably spend some time meditating on how the fact that trans women are women and trans men are men ought to integrate itself with your values.
posted by thug unicorn at 5:35 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


"how the fact that trans women are women and trans men are men ought to integrate itself with your values."

Actually, this is a good way of rephrasing my question:

Aren't the differences between "women" and "men" mostly (if not wholly) biological (this includes hormones). So if somebody says that the biological features don't matter in describing somebody as "male" or "female" (as opposed to "man" or "woman") then what does "trans" and "cis" begin to mean?
posted by I-baLL at 6:08 PM on January 23, 2015


I-baLL,

Assigned-sex and assigned-sex-at-birth are clunky terms that encompass all these psuedoscientific and bureaucratic and knee-jerk ways the state and society genders bodies. its this socially constructed thing that more-or-less floats around detached from who you really are or how you live or would like to live and follows what are, when you think about it, really weird rules.

So yeah, human bodies fall along a two-peaked distribution, but as soon as we start giving social meaning to this, it becomes "gender".

so like,

if you identify with a gender other than the sex society assigned you at birth, thats being trans. "not being the gender that's the sex society assigned you at birth" doesn't come from doing hrt and srs, hrt and srs are just things strongly associated with being this or associating with the label "trans" we use to talk about it. In fact, no one knows where being trans comes from! so yeah, any given person's junk can be male or female, cis or trans, because any given person can be cis or trans. or nonbinary or whatever.

Just think in terms of "gendering people's bodies the way they'd want to be gendered" :)
posted by thug unicorn at 6:18 PM on January 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I-baLL, I know that the usual way gender transition is framed in contemporary narrative is that a person has gender identity X, but is trapped in sexed body Y. I think that that's actually very off base, in particular because I'm an intersex trans person. It's not that I was "born with a female body" but "have a male gender identity" that makes me trans--it that I was assigned female at birth and treated socially and legally as female, while having a (mostly) male gender identity.

From a perspective like mine, it becomes really clear that not only is the matter we're talking about social sex assignment, but that what the genitals one has are called is dictated by social sex assignment, not by morphology. Stick with me, here. For example, today in the U.S., children born with XX, CAH, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, are universally assigned female at birth. But these children are born with a phalloclitoris that is intermediate-to-fully-masculinized. Nevertheless, doctors (not trans or intersex advocates) call the genitals of an XX, CAH child a "clitoris"--even if what the child has is a totally typical phallus--because they plan to surgically alter those genitals to "normalize" them to match the female binary sex assignment they for some reason deem mandatory. Let me repeat that clearly. Doctors look at penises and call them clitorises, because they deem the child they are attached to a girl. (The logic the doctors employ here is that by giving the phalloclitoris its female name, they will soothe parental objections to the idea of removing a child's phallus. It's not "really" a penis, it's a clitoris, they say, so you don't have to feel bad.)

If a trans person says that they are not interested in modifying their genitals, because their genitals are already male/female/whatever, as they are attached to a male/female/whatever person, they are doing something medical doctors also do, if for basically opposite reasons (one of which I embrace, and one of which I deem repugnant, as it involves forced genital surgery on unconsenting children).

So, what do cis and trans mean? Not a relationship to genitals (which varies), but a relationship to social binary sex assignment. If you are comfy with that assignment, you are cis gender (or ipso gender, if born intersex). If you don't identify with that assignment, you are trans gender. Simple enough!
posted by DrMew at 8:11 PM on January 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Whoops, linked to the wrong comic before, should be this one.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:26 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


"it that I was assigned female at birth and treated socially and legally as female, while having a (mostly) male gender identity."

Okay, so this is where my understanding is still unclear. What is a "male gender identity" or a "female gender identity" then? As in what separates the gender identities?
posted by I-baLL at 8:34 AM on January 24, 2015


Would "born morphologically male" have been an acceptable way to describe the situation and reduce confusion without offense?

The ideal thing is to ask yourself (for the broadest definition of "yourself," i.e. all of you generally, not you specifically!) why it is always so important to define a trans person entirely by who they were "before." Because I think that's at heart what this impulse is about: taking a person's gender identity back away from them. If anyone has a sincere confusion over how to refer to trans people's lives "before"/"after" transition, the answer is actually fairly simple: 99% of the time, you won't need to. So maybe reprioritize that somewhere not so close to the top, first. Then, realize that you're exploring subject matter that is intensely personal, potentially traumatic, and that no two people will have exactly the same feelings here. There is no broad, blanket rule for how to talk about spiritual experiences, wartime experiences, rape, oppression, personal philosophy or anything else that is intensely personal and life-changing. Same deal here.

Finally, lastly, the rule of thumb: most trans people prefer to be referred to by the pronouns they actually identify with, even if they had been perceived in another way previously in their lives. So, refer to a trans woman in the feminine even when talking about her life "before." Refer to an agender person in singular they consistently. etc. Don't switch this around, don't be cute about it, resist your impulse to misgender someone just because you can.

There is no consensus, but there are good rules of thumb. I have known trans people who refer to themselves in a multitude of pronouns. Some of them are straightforward about it. Some of them have Byzantine personal narratives that definitely take some getting to know them to properly feel out. That's perfectly okay. Many people might be hurt by the typical, "born X but became Y" narrative but may not feel hurt enough by it to speak up. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Stop feeling like trans people are so fragile that any mistake you make will shatter us. Conversely, stop feeling like making an effort not to monster other human beings is going too far and asking too much of you. If you make a mistake, it's fine: apologize, move on, learn. Different people will have different reactions. That's how people are. This is something so many cis people make so much harder for themselves, possibly because letting go of the idea of gender as a straight dichotomy anchored to a straight dichotomy of sex is just too scary and many people want some kind of "in between," "training wheels" worldview when you really just need to get on that bike and go.
posted by byanyothername at 9:01 AM on January 24, 2015 [12 favorites]


I feel horrible. I woke up early-ish on a Saturday morning to start streaming the show. And four episodes in....I don't like it. Why? I can't stand the kids. They're all boring and self-absorbed and vapid. The guy is a total schmuck. The youngest one is cute because she's Gaby Hoffman, but all she does is get stoned and run around with her trainer. I am very mildly interested in the lesbian affair, but I think it's only because Tammy is the only one with personality in the younger bunch (and I already suspect this isn't going to end well). I thought this show was supposed to be about Maura's journey and it feels like out of 30 minutes of episode, we see maybe 5-7 minutes of that. Most of the show is apparently about the kids and whatever boring shit they're doing and I don't get why the showrunner is soooooo fascinated by the kids rather than the title character that they get 3/4 of every episode. Bored, bored, bored. Have been zoning out waiting for Maura to appear again.

Seriously, folks, let me know if it's worth giving up the rest of Saturday to watch this in full. Do the kids get any less boring/noxious? Does Maura get focused on more? Or is this pretty much how it's going for six more episodes?
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:12 AM on January 24, 2015


Yes, the show gets better the more it focuses on Maura. Hang in there.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:33 PM on January 24, 2015


I find it confusing that on the one hand we're told that genitals and hormones have nothing to do with gender, yet then many transitions involve taking hormones and altering genitals. It is strange to me that people seem to be saying biological sex doesn't really exist, but that gender does. Surely if gender is completely a social construct we should just be trying to get rid of the concept rather than tying ourselves in knots semantically and for some people, surgically altering themselves to fit in with an imaginary social construct? I believe people should be free to live their lives as they wish but I can't help feeling that a lot of the ongoing discussion around gender is actually taking a backwards step rather than a progressive one. Or maybe I'm just stupid, I don't know, it's something I think about often but don't feel able to discuss without just coming across like a bigot or something
posted by KateViolet at 2:13 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Or maybe I'm just stupid, I don't know, it's something I think about often but don't feel able to discuss without just coming across like a bigot or something"

Maybe that's a clue?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:22 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


See what I mean? My point is, if something doesn't exist, how can someone think they are or aren't it? If someone feels like a different gender, didn't that just mean they have characteristics or personality traits associated with a social stereotype?
posted by KateViolet at 2:29 PM on January 24, 2015


Surely if gender is completely a social construct we should just be trying to get rid of the concept rather than tying ourselves in knots semantically and for some people, surgically altering themselves to fit in with an imaginary social construct?

It's hard not to read "you're inconveniencing me" into this.

Social constructs are not "imaginary" and you're veering dangerously close to "this is all in your head." And yeah, that is bigoted. Why not take people at their word, especially when it's their life on the line and not yours?
posted by desjardins at 2:32 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


"See what I mean? My point is, if something doesn't exist, how can someone think they are or aren't it? If someone feels like a different gender, didn't that just mean they have characteristics or personality traits associated with a social stereotype?"

My response was snarky, but I also intended it seriously. Regardless, this isn't the appropriate place to have a discussion about this -- it's inherently hostile to and disrespectful of the trans* folks present.

I became a feminist at the end of second-wave feminism and although I'm fully on-board with third-wave feminism and have been for a long time, I well understand where you're coming from in your concerns. If this is all genuinely new to you and your query was well-intended -- that is, it's not a disingenuous attack on trans* folk -- then If you'd like to discuss this via memail, I'd be happy to do so but, again, this thread is very much not the place.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:35 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guess I'm just idealistic. My perfect world would be one where everyone could just wear what they wanted, express them self as felt natural and their body was just a meat suit that didn't really matter unless they wanted to make babies. But I suppose that's like saying you're colour blind to race, and ignoring the reality of the world.
posted by KateViolet at 2:36 PM on January 24, 2015


Gender is a category of identity, so if people think that they have a gender, then it exists. It's a really complicated identity category: it works differently for different people, and I don't think anyone really knows where it comes from and why different people experience it differently. I don't think we know to what extent it's socially constructed, and if it is socially constructed, I don't think we have the first clue how that process works. What we do know is that it does massive psychic violence to people to try to make them deny their gender identity. And I don't think anyone should need to prove to your that gender is real before they can live their lives without that torment.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:41 PM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry to have seemed hostile, honestly that was not my intent. I don't think anyone should have to prove their gender to me, and I support anyone who wants to present themselves however they feel is a true representation of themselves. Clearly I need to go away and rethink how to formulate my queries and ask them somewhere more appropriate. Thanks
posted by KateViolet at 2:55 PM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


There's currently another post/thread here on MetaFilter that's somewhat relevant -- the main link in the post is to an extremely good article written by Cary Gabriel Costello who is, as it happens, our own DrMew who has posted in this thread.

If this is all new to you, then even though DrMew's article is specifically about the attraction that "gender critical feminism" can have for intersex folk, it goes into depth on a lot of relevant issues and I think it might familiarize you with some stuff and get you thinking.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:59 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


> My point is, if something doesn't exist,

Something that is socially constructed is still a real thing - it is not imaginary. It exists.

> Clearly I need to go away and rethink how to formulate my queries and ask them somewhere more appropriate.

Definitely go read the things in the fpp Ivan linked. There's a lot of information there, and a lot of food for thought.
posted by rtha at 3:05 PM on January 24, 2015


That is, though, what the show is about. It is about someone who has transitioned from male to female. The sentence would be simply baffling if rewritten:

Andrew Wallenstein of Variety refers to Maura as “a sixty-something mother who decides to go public with the secret she’s harbored her whole life: her desire to live as a woman."


I like this re-writing a great deal; there's an elegant "a ha!" moment that can push one right into Maura's experience if one wishes.

There's a fantastic blog post written by a mother whose daughter was able to be honest with her in her teens, who wrote about the experience of re-examining the past to find that her daughter was there the whole time. A dear friend of mine has talked to me about how he and his mom have revisited his past together, and her realization that he was always him. This is specifically an "a ha" moment for cis gendered people who have trans gendered people in our lives because we were part of the pressure on them to remain comfortably (for us) inaccurately perceived.

One resource I found valuable was/is Pharyngula's posts on gender. First post. CripDyke's subsequent postings. The threads are quite old, but the examinations CripDyke invites people to engage in are still valuable, I think. She recommends doing the activities then reading the discussion threads for other perspectives.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:24 PM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


KateViolet, it's true that your first comment came across as saying, "You people are being so horribly complicated about something you yourselves say doesn't exist," which sounds quite dismissive and got people ruffled. But since you've apologized for the way you came across and seem honestly to want to engage, let me run this by you:

"Race" is a social construct. The thing we mean when we talk about people's "race" in the U.S., which is framed in terms of biological difference, is, according to the American Anthropological Association, a mass of cultural beliefs imposed onto miniscule biological variance (94% of human genetic variance is within-race, human populations have been interbreeding forever, and people are categorized into racial groups in widely varying ways). So, a person might say "race is a social construct, hence imaginary, let's ignore it, it should go away." But racial inequalities are huge, hardly imaginary. Race has real effects--just like all social constructs. And the thing that we identify with--racial/ethnic culture--is a rich source of human diversity. People rightly love cultural traditions and identities, and don't want them to be erased as a requirement of bestowing equal respect on all.

And so it is with gender. While we may look down at our drivers licenses and see ourselves labeled black or white, male or female, these are social categories imposed onto minor variations in spectra of physical differences. But like racial/ethnic culture, most people understand themselves through gender, and it gives their lives meaning.

Now, many cis people are little aware that they have a gender identity at all, which can make trans people's constant talk about how fundamental gender identity is seem odd. But I can tell you this: I regularly tell my students to imagine that I have $5 million in my hand, and am going to do a reality show. I need a contestant who is cis gender, and who is willing to undergo a gender and sex transition, paid for in full, and sign a contract that they will live in that sex for the rest of their lives. After changing their pronoun, legal sex on their documentation, and manner of dress, undergoing hormonal therapy, removal of their facial hair or breasts, and genital reconstructive surgery, they'd get the $5 million. I tell them they can have the best surgeons, voice trainers--whatever body modifications they'd like. Basically, nobody takes me up on my offer. Maybe if you considered that exercise, you'd find your gender identity as a woman is in fact important to you.

On the other hand, perhaps if I asked you how you would feel if you woke up tomorrow and found yourself in the body of some guy your age, with a hairy chest and facial stubble and the typical male set of genital block and tackle, maybe you'd say, "Hey, I'd be ok with that, sexed bodies really don't matter to me." But what this would illustrate is not that gender identity isn't real, but rather that your gender identity is not like that of most women. Perhaps you're really agender in your identity, and just living life as a woman because that's the category you got plonked into. Agender people are not cis gender--but unlike people who identify as men or women or androgynes or what have you, they don't have some strong gender identity pulling them to come out and transition. And from what I understand from talking with agender friends, it took them a lot of puzzling about why people were so invested in something that seems so irrelevant to have the epiphany that finding gender irrelevant is in fact a sort of gender identity (just as asexuality is a sort of sexual identity).
posted by DrMew at 6:38 PM on January 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


Thanks for the comment DrMew. I read your article linked earlier and found it very interesting; I also came to pretty much the same conclusion as you. I would take you up on your $5 million offer and I think that I am agender. I suppose because I've always felt like a bit of an alien in the world of gender types, I struggle to see why people would fight for a place in a system that didn't seem to want them very much! But you've been very helpful in helping me see beyond that and I realise that just because it doesn't hold much importance to me, it does to others. Clearly me commenting on this was like a person with no tastebuds chipping in on restaurant review!
posted by KateViolet at 11:16 PM on January 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


Okay, finally finished watching the show. It got a little better. (Particularly the "whirlpool" speech and the talent show bits.) But still think the kids are all just awful, though.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:52 PM on January 24, 2015


@TheTweetOfGod: "For the betterment of humanity I should have transitioned into a woman a long, long time ago."
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:09 PM on January 30, 2015


My Transgender Experience
Secretly, I wonder what would happen if one day when I was 29, I showed up to work having permanently adopted my true identity. I would be a Pakistani-Canadian version of Carmen Carrera, if she were interested in sociology and jihadist movements. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Wouldn’t it also be great if no one even reacted, and they just looked at my gladiator heels and say “it is what it is” with it impacting nothing? The only difference would be my own happiness. Maybe that’s too much to expect in my lifetime, but it’s still worth hoping for such a world. Maybe things eventually will get better, in a substantive way. Otherwise, people like me and Leelah will always be reading each other’s suicide notes, wondering why the other person didn’t reach out, or hold on just a little longer.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:29 AM on February 12, 2015




Holy shit.
posted by rtha at 10:16 PM on February 12, 2015


Transgender Teen’s Suicide Note Goes Viral
When Zander’s bereaved friends from Austell, Georgia, saw obituaries and funeral mourners exclusively using his birth name, they immediately took to social media. They set up a memorial blog. Soon Tumblr was flooded with hundreds of posts by LGBT teens expressing grief and outrage.
posted by Golden Eternity at 6:11 PM on February 20, 2015


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