9 comments on “Transphobia – a heresy for our time

  1. Pingback: Leave the Kids Alone « Mish's Matters

  2. One can almost cut your frustration with a knife. 🙂

    Some of what Dreger wrote resonated with me. After first trying to live as a gender conforming male and then as a gender conforming female, before saying to hell with it, I have tried to answer the question of what would my life have been like if people had simply accepted for the person that I naturally am. Would I have still opted for surgery?

    And I don’t really know the answer. I take hormones and am not minded to stop. I am post GRS and have had not a second’s remorse. Am I buying into the gender binary? Perhaps. I am generally taken for female, except on the phone, despite making bugger all effort beyond shaving facial hair.

    I tried living both as a gender conforming male and as a gender conforming female before giving up trying. I find people relate to me better in social settings if they see me as female and I deduce from this that much of my childhood and early life misery stems from me not being able handle the assumptions people made about me when they saw me as male. And yet…I do see men who do not conform to the stereotypical image of how a man should be and they appear to get by OK and they are not even all gay. Hell, they are not even mostly gay!

    Pre surgery, I was a surgery sceptic. I hate surgery and I hate hospitals. To a large extent, I felt I was following the surgical path because….well, because I had to in order to validate myself and because that where the care pathway led. Looking back, they both seem like pretty crap reasons, now.

    To my surprise, no matter how hard I try now, I cannot envisage returning to life with a penis.

    The gender binary seems to be very deeply buried in the human psyche. It seems that we have to know someone’s gender before we know how to relate to them…a relic from the fuck it or fight it gene, perhaps. It is deeply embedded in most cultures, affecting what people are allowed to do and how they are allowed to look.

    So, given that it seems unlikely that society will stop thinking about gender in such straight-jacketed way any time soon…what is your take on how gender non-conforming children should be treated in the world as it is, bearing in mind that non-conforming is a social crime?

  3. OK, there is no short answer possible to a question like this, Polly.

    It has to start with education, and several educationalists have looked at this in the UK, and people such as Debbie Epstein I admire greatly; she was working from a specifically Lesbian and Gay perspective, but I do think that what she was aiming at would have benefited gender non-conforming kids generally. I do see what we are trying to address, socially, as very much the same problem that radical feminists have identified – the gender roles are pretty screwed up, and the problem starts from the day kids are born and people start asking whether it is a boy or a girl. Why do they ask? So they know whether to respond to the child as a boy or as a girl – and so begins the cycle. My position is that gender non-conforming should not be a big deal, not something that needs to be medicalised, and something that is accommodated within education – children not steered down a choice of one of two tracks, outcomes left open-ended, and not a problem. Calling them ‘trans kids’ for a start, when that may not be what they are, is a big problem; that forecloses diversity and possible outcomes, it labels and categorises them.

    I was pretty screwed up by the whole gender thing, but mainly because it didn’t really make sense to me, I liked girls, my friends were all girls, and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to continue playing with them as a kid. It was complicated by having surgeries that meant my genitals stopped being like what they had been like, and I would have liked them to have stayed the same as they were. I didn’t want the genitals of a boy or a girl – I wanted mine. I didn’t want to be a boy or a girl, I wanted to be myself. It was pretty miserable, really, but it took me many years to realise what that sadness was all about.

    So, I am not an educationalist, at least, not at the age it really counts. I have taught undergraduates, and they are refreshingly receptive – even the gaggle of guys who start out sniggering at the back, usually end up quiet and attentive, and appreciative, once you explain the way this stuff all hangs together. I found black women often ‘get’ the way the oppression works better than anybody.

    But, my partner is knowledgeable in the relevant age group. And this is something we put together in response to a question about this on FB. It came out of a short brainstorm, but I think it captures the main points; if I get a chance to work on this further, I will put it up as a post in its own right. The key thing is that just because the world does not accommodate gender nonconforming kids, I cannot see that allowing them to be bullied into one of two synthetic choices is the rights answer. That is not about idealism, it is about liberty. School often kicks the best out of kids, and this is just one aspect of the travesty that plays out in schools every day. If I had been able to have had kids, I doubt I would have wanted them to go to school.

    Observation is important. What the kids see adults do and how they relate to one another and other kids. Also, the parents/teaching observing one another and how they interact with kids. Usually, people unconsciously relate differently to those they perceive as boys or girls. So, teachers and parents should watch each other and see how they interact.

    One problem is that in early childhood, where kids learn their most important lessons about life, most teachers are female, and have traditionally avoided construction play. That means boys will gravitate to that area on their own, while girls will not.

    Boys tend to be happy playing independently away from the parent/teacher, while girls gravitate to the adult. That can be addressed by teachers looking for opportunities to engage in boy’s play, while encouraging girls to play independently.

    Mixing up the roles/functions is worth looking at – can teachers challenge that, things like resisting typical behaviours (e.g. female attachment).

    Adults tend to respond to boys differently to girls from boys in pitch and tone and volume. This can be monitored, listen to each other.

    If boys hurt themselves, they are expected to have a quick recovery with minimal intervention – while girls can often be indulged.

    Discipline is quite a big issue. Boys can get away with worse behaviour than girls, which is often written-off as being typical boy behaviour.

    Mix the curriculum around so that dress-up and accessories are placed where boys typically play, and construction materials (blocks & woodwork) are placed where girls typically play.

    Images in the centre should include gender neutral/diverse people – books, posters, etc. can provoke opportunities for discussion with the kids.

    Songs and stories can be looked at to see if they can be used to reinforce ideas about diversity.

    All these things are suggested to deal with the ways in which kids begin gravitating into gender roles – and by challenging this, and talking about it, it opens a way for kids that don’t feel comfortable in a particular role, or in any role, to not have to.

    It is a huge struggle, but it is this expectation that children will conform to clearly defined gender roles that lies at the root of surgical sex reinforcement for intersex kids, gender reinforcement for gender variant as well as intersex kids, and of homophobia (the homophobic stereotypes are strongly related to gender nonconformity as much as sexual practice per se). This is one of the reasons OII in Australia sees intersex activism as needing to be firmly located within LGBT, as I – because the oppression that gay, lesbian, trans and intersex people is, ultimately, the same oppression: heteronormativity; being straight men or women is normal, and anything else is not.

  4. In my own childhood, I have a strong memory of choosing friends because I liked them. I played British Bulldogs and cars with the boys. I played skipping and dress up with the girls.

    I think you present a bleak prospect for IS or GV children growing up in the foreseeable future…society’s attitudes change very slowly and there will always be pockets of antediluvian opposition.

    I think, too, that surgery remains the best option for some transsexuals wanting to lead some semblance of a normal life. Whether that need would change in a world which was not obsessed with gender, I don’t know and, short of a major shift in society, I can’t think of an ethical way to research the outcome. Sitting on the fence, I think my expectation that it could be that there might be some shift away from surgery, but I suspect that there will still be those for whom surgery remains the best option for the individual. Until and unless society changes, we can’t know for sure how it would turn out and until then, it seems to me that it would be an unacceptably harsh regime that denied enabling treatment for thousands of people. I would not want to ignore the human cost in waiting for society to change, if it ever did.

    The situation is reversed for IS who often suffer non-critical non-consensual surgery based again on society’s perceptions of gender and sex (in many people’s minds, the two are the same). Here, I think the situation is worse for the patients because treatment is imposed upon them and there is a long history of lies, deceit and shame. I am not qualified to assert too much, but it does seem to me that it is essential to get a dialogue going between the IS community and the medical professional. I think it is the larger problem which, oddly, is less well known than GV.

    While we wait for an imperfect world to be perfected, perhaps we need to accept solutions that, for some within the GV community, are less than perfect.

  5. Adults are free to make their own choices, as far as I am concerned, and I am not interested in the state restricting what people can and cannot do in this respect. It will never be perfect, but I happen to think that medical intervention has the potential to harm these kids more than leaving them alone. Once people are adults, they are free to make their own choices. Children need to be listened to, and helped to develop in ways that they can express themselves comfortably, their dysphoria eased as much as possible without making it into a problem.

  6. Pingback: Don’t interfere with kids just because they might be trans « Mish's Matters

  7. Pingback: Risk and the “Trans-kids” Agenda « Mish's Matters

  8. I’m actually shocked to read this standpoint. It can only come from a person, who only ever experienced the gender side of the condition. For a lot of people, experiencing the alianation of your body, how it feels develops contrary how you instinctivly know it should be is really a hell, as it was for me.

    Noone wants to impose medicine to make the visible sexual characteristics match with the behaviour. That would be insane. But not helping that subset of childs who live in this hell or surely will do is an act of torture.

    I can happily agree to “Don’t force anything on children”, but helping is not forcing anything, its what they like and need.

    • I think that if you read what I have said here and elsewhere in my blog, I am only too aware of the physical aspects of gender-based interventions on children. I am not at all clear that physical interventions on children are the best way to deal with psychological issues. If adults wish to seek physical cures for psychological issues, I can support that, but not children. I understand that these psychological issues can appear to the ‘sufferer’ as though they are physical issues – but that does not mean that they are, and science has not yet managed to demonstrate that people with gender identity problems are biologically what their brains are telling them they are. On the contrary, science shows that these days most transsexual people with XY chromosomes who develop as males are male in every sense of the word apart from in their own minds. This is very different from Harry Benjamin’s day, where nearly half of those he treated were underdeveloped males, and there did appear to be a clear link to a biological basis for those people’s dysphoria.

Comments are closed.