Are you transphobic? Am I?

This is a difficult post to write, but it’s been on my mind for a while. No one is obliged to comment, or to educate me if I’m wrong (which no doubt I will be), but comments are, as ever, welcome, to continue the discussion. I’ll start with some conditions – please read them first and try to bear them in mind if what I’m saying causes some rage. Edit: some very constructive comments have happened, so thanks to everyone who’s pitched in and been civil with it. I’ve also added some stuff to the end of the post.

- Transphobia is real. Hundreds of people are killed and abused every year because society says we must obviously present as male-men and female-women and some people disagree so much, fear and hate so much, that they think murder or assault is justified. It is not. Obviously.

- People within oppressed groups are justifiably angry, and it’s not their job to educate ignorant people. But the ignorant people who want to learn are not enemies.  It can be difficult to judge, and it shouldn’t be their job, but piling on people you’ve decided are worthy of vitriol isn’t necessarily constructive.

- Discussions of sex and gender can become heated, and while scientific-sounding ideas have been used as a justification of hatred in the past, acknowledging the reality of biological sex is not in itself transphobic. That, as a human being, a woman, a scientist, a “liberal” sort of person, is my view. I know people disagree. Please bear with me.

Edit: I think this could be tl;dr summed up as: sex, like gender and sexuality, may well be appropriately considered as a spectrum. However, the existence of spectrum does not negate the existence of its extremes; if we’re thinking greyscale, then white and black are still a part of that. Not more important, but maybe more frequent. Simpler, perhaps, and more widely represented throughout the world (not just in people). Language, however, does not name all the shades of grey, but we seem more capable of understanding and describing black and white.

Language

I believe this is the root of the problem. Many languages are based on the male/female sex binary. While English does not gender* all or most words like some languages do, we can still find it hard to accommodate some concepts because we don’t have the linguistic tools to do so. Given language is an integral part of our lives and predominant means of communication, it’s not surprising that trying to discuss emotive, personal subjects that our language does not even yet adequately describe is fraught with difficulty.
* Gender here being the linguistic term for words that have male/female properties (in reality or only in the language), not the gender expression of people.

It is now more widely accepted that gender is a spectrum; adult human beings are not all just men or women, but individuals often have and show qualities of both (or neither). But, just because there is a spectrum, and we don’t have language to adequately describe it, doesn’t mean that the concept of male and female sexes isn’t a real mammalian biology phenomenon. It is. It’s what the majority of the reproducing animal world does. M+F —> offspring**. That’s not a revolutionary idea, and it’s not false.

People not fitting neatly into the “norms” (a word I don’t like because abnormal has clear negative connotations; defaults? Standards? Typicality? Something like that) of sex and/or gender doesn’t mean they’re not still people who deserve respect and rights like everyone else. People having to alter their reproductive organs or being any kind of trans* doesn’t (shouldn’t) change the fact they’re still people. I’ve written a bit about LGBT+ labels before, it’s a fun tangent.

Edit: I changed the URL for this image due to a comment below, which highlights some controversy around its creation and use.

People have the right to identify as they wish. We have a need to categorise, to define and describe – indeed that’s what science (biology in particular) really does. But here we’ve moved out of biology and into more of a social arena – the two are quite different. While people might be conflating sex and gender all over the place, they’re also conflating biological concepts with human cultural concepts, and I think that’s another hindrance to progress.

The problem is, as I said, that transphobia is real, because we are very much stuck in the sex/gender binary (in language and culture), and discrimination happens because people fear what they do not understand. That shouldn’t be the case, and surely the way to address it is education. But if we actually cannot even talk about it because our language doesn’t accommodate the ideas and people only ever get frustrated – how can we achieve that?

A similar problem

A lot of the anger feels similar to the problem feminism has with its predominant “whiteness” and the justified anger from women of colour (WoC) whose voices are slowly being heard more widely. I would not presume to speak for them and I do believe it’s our responsibility to listen and learn, and not to demand teaching. People sometimes overcompensate and cause even more offence, and make themselves sound like idiots. It can be frustrating when you’re shot down when you think you’re doing A Good Job and it’s important to ask where your own anger comes from – is it because they’re wrong, or maybe you could do better?

Undoubtedly trans* voices need to be more widely heard (when I wrote about Juliet Jacques’ SitP talk, I did so because I found it enlightening, as something I was – and still am – hugely ignorant about, and I hoped more people could learn from it – you can read about her own experiences here). But a lot of the vitriol online is coming from “allies”, whose motives I would question given their tactics. I don’t think everyone they leap on is wrong and I don’t think the conversation is moving forward. Perhaps that’s because of where I’m standing, I don’t know. But I’d like to see an end, or at least a significant curtailing, to the name-calling that seems far more knee-jerk than considered, and far more off-target than useful. In addition, the language problem is perhaps unique to the trans* debate. It can of course also be offensive when other people are discussing you – if you haven’t seen Panti Bliss’ speech on homophobia yet, do take a few minutes.

Discussions

Sex is a biological concept. Gender is a cultural construction, a social idea, a form of expression  – to which everyone has the right. Both are spectra, both have “exceptions to the rules”. But the exceptions to the biological rules of sex do not invalidate them; its definitions apply to all mammals and many other species.  A problem has arisen where stating this seems to lead to attacks (but here’s a very reasonable reply), where the person saying it is branded transphobic and other things – is that necessary, fair, helpful, or true?

I’ve linked to Gia’s post above, and another situation I’ve experienced was the Soho Skeptics Trans* Panel (which Gia helped to organise, with the help of Bethany Black and Adrian Dalton – you can listen here). The room was full of people, many of whom were likely ignorant of any trans* issues at all, and no doubt they learned things there. But people on the internet decided it was wrong because they disagreed with some definitions and didn’t like that Julie Bindel was there, even though the panel itself got on fine. Bethany even quit Twitter for a while because of the abuse she received after the event.

Discussing the basic facts of biology is not transphobia. It isn’t hateful to say maleness and femaleness are things, that XY sex determination operates in human animals. It isn’t hate speech to say that the XX sex chromosome configuration in people tends to create female biology, and women who can reproduce through conception, pregnancy and birth. Or that XY sex chromosomes, under ‘normal’ (that again) conditions, create testes that make sperm and these can fertilise eggs; inside or outside of a uterus, now we have that technology (and indeed can create offspring without the use of male sex cells at all; but these are technological feats more than biological ones). The existence of the ‘outgroups’, the atypical, doesn’t nullify any of this; exceptions don’t destroy rules.

Just as we typically have 2 arms, 2 legs, a heart with 4 chambers and 20 digits. A human who has atypical biological features is still a human. That is a cultural issue; that we recognise the rights of all. To state that someone with Down’s Syndrome has an extra chromosome is a biological truth, not hate speech. Just as to state a MtoF transgender woman who has XY sex chromosomes is “genetically male”. Although it should be irrelevant in everyday life. The fact that it is not, that some people base thoughts and actions of hate on it, is why education is important.

People discussing trans* issues who want to understand are not doing so to cause harm. People laying into them for having conversations about this stuff, trying to understand, trying to work out better ways of using our imperfect language, of accommodating the needs of people of all sexes/genders – because some needs are specific to some people. One of the very few things I agree with RadFems on is that “women born female/women” will have different experiences from someone who has become a woman later in life [Edit: please see comment with valid point that I've phrased this wrongly] and hasn’t always experienced femaleness and the social effects. Culture dictates, experience shows. Arguing that is futile and helps no one.

From @boodleoops:

To say women’s oppression is rooted in female reproductive function is (clearly!) not to say that only those who reproduce experience it. What it does mean is that oppression of those believed to be female has its origins in a fear of, and need to control, female biology.

It’s frustrating because people arrive instantaneously with online hate-flamethrowers – and again I understand why they’re angry because there are transphobic people all over the place (a good place to start is deleting “tranny” from your vocabulary, which I’ve heard from too many who should know better. See the link for more.) – shutting down potentially helpful dialogues. Like the Soho panel. As I said at the start, it’s not other people’s responsibility to teach us – we need to listen too, but if you can’t even start a conversation without people viciously trying to silence you straight away, how can we expect to get anywhere at all?

More biology and culture

The species of animals living on Earth are typically composed of two sexes; male and female. Males and females together produce young. In human society, however, there are layers of culture on top of our basic biology and instincts, we have laws and rights and these do (or should) extend to every individual. We have choices, and we are as a whole and as individuals more than a basic desire to procreate. Discrimination, persecution, oppression and exclusion based on any physical characteristic or life choice (where others are unharmed) is unacceptable and any “social justice movement” seeks to address this.

** There are many exceptions to the male/female sex binary – it can be far more complicated than the simple dichotomy we tend to see and learn about from the get-go, for example things that asexually reproduce like bacteria, plants, fungi and aphids, but even then there are often further complications to that basic idea; hermaphrodites (animals with both sexes’ reproductive organs, usually invertebrates); gynandromorphs (animals with generally male and female physical characteristics, e.g. male on one half and female on another) and so on.

The major exception to binary sex that’s relevant to humans is of course intersex. But the issues that intersex people face are fundamentally different, as explained well in this short link. And the very real existence of intersex people (and other animals) does not mean that maleness and femaleness are not real. The issue with being assigned one sex or the other, the insistence on putting children in one of two boxes, is different from not personally identifying in gender terms with the sex of your own body. There are discussions around the usefulness of the “cis” and trans terms that I don’t think I can get into here.

Of course, women who do not choose to reproduce are no less women than those who do (though we childfree people have to battle with this a lot; with the inappropriate and intrusive questions, with the dictation of your own plans and future decisions by others, with the questioning of your purpose and morality, of being labelled selfish…) and women who cannot reproduce ever in their lives or following surgery/other treatments are also no less women than those who can.

So gender certainly is not dictated by our physical bodies – any trans man or trans woman is the gender they live as, defined by them, not their bodies. But  sex is also somewhat independent; surgical alteration of the body does not change one’s chromosomes. Cloning an adult trans man who was female at birth would create a female child (HT @flayman for that point). Whatever comes after that is irrelevant – from the biological viewpoint (again separate from the cultural one), that child will develop a female body as her XX-containing genome dictates. She may or may not become a woman. Questioning the concept of male and female because gender, and our language that describes it, is imperfect – and because some believe gender is a matter of brain differences, again I’m not going there – is an argument built on shaky foundations and a refusal to acknowledge genetics and developmental biology.

“But, were they a man or a woman?!” That is not important to us, get on with your day.

A major problem I see is choice and beliefs around how that works. If we can choose our gender (can’t see why not) can we not also choose our sexuality? Again some radfems would say no, and even that bisexuality isn’t a real thing. I don’t entertain that argument. Perhaps it’s partly genetic (most things are) – but is that important? Maybe, like sex and gender, it is also a spectrum – not just of preference, but of choice. Some choose, some do not and cannot. Some change over time. The bottom line is we are all people and must be treated as such. The hurdle to overcome is fear of difference; and not difference in a negative sense, but in the sense we all differ in many ways from each other, and that is not a bad thing.

Fear

Because the groups of people who do not fit into the categories we are comfortable with – both biologically and socially – are relatively small (not insignificant), others traditionally have taken advantage and because of their fear have caused them pain, which is wrong and something that many activists, Gia included, try to address if they can. That doesn’t mean we’ll never be wrong just because our intentions are good, far from it. But perhaps we could reassess who or what the enemy really is.

This piece on fear is excellent. It says what I want to say:

A feminism whose primary aim is validating these fears – one that supports and thrives on them – is no feminism at all. It is, at best, a diversion, a support group. At worst it reinforces the oppressions it claims to challenge. It denies any possibility of change, presenting self-definition as a substitute to challenging oppression at all.

I am tortured by the fear of being a terrible person but not of being called one. There are worse things than name-calling. Most of us know what these things are. They’re what feminism should be there to challenge.

So if you want to call people transphobic because you think they’ve misstepped in their handling of our imperfect language in an imperfect culture, which we are all hoping to make better, for everyone, then you can do that. It might be abusive, though. And it really doesn’t help.

Edit 20/02/14: I didn’t elaborate much on the background before this post (most of which I’ve not been involved in), or the other aspects of sex that aren’t genetic. If that’s something you want to read about, go here –  a good post that explains why (again, quite justifiably) a lot of people are angry about this stuff. It’s life, and human lives are complex, and – again – the oppressive culture that affects many people is very real but can easily be ignored by those of us who are not directly affected. Further insight to be found at TransHollywood.

The comments below are important, too. I did not wish to chime in on this to be “splaining” and condescending to those for whom it is all very old stuff; like a man telling feminists what to do. It’s come across like that, however, and that’s a failing on my part. What I meant to do was ask why this particular issue is so hard to discuss compared to some other things, and my personal conclusion is that it is partly down to the limits of our language. I think the complexity of human sex and gender is inadequately covered by our current vocabulary, understanding, and ability to express these ideas and lived experiences. An interesting article on the effects of language on our thoughts and behaviours has come out, showing that specific gender references in language can cause us to identify in certain ways at certain times, compared to speakers of other languages.

My main point is that, while I absolutely acknowledge that these restrictive ideas and the words themselves can be and are used to oppress (which I do not condone), it is surely not the case that any use of them is, in and of itself, oppressive. We have to have language to communicate. Scientific language specifically is by definition reductive; words are used and created to describe ideas and discoveries. We cannot at every point explain the fine details, the exceptions, the contexts, of every single word we use – if we did that, we’d be like Ents, and we’d never get anything done.

Alex’s article makes the fair point that perhaps the scientific language could, therefore, change – if circumstances require. It is after all up to science (and scientists) to accept new findings and alter conclusions accordingly. I think the sex/gender issue is peculiar to human mammals – even if other species exhibit similar exceptions to a simple male/female “dyad”, the cultural issues of gender expression, of oppression in society, would appear not to exist. This was a point I tried to make in saying we could distinguish between biology and culture. Obviously science does not stand apart from culture entirely, it is part of it – one affects the other. But it is still the case that procreation is what life on this planet does in order to continue being life, and mammalian animals do that, primarily, with two sexes. Humans are of course more complex, we live and we love and we die – the sex bit (both the act and the state of being) is rather more complicated than it is for our animal cousins.

I hope these extra words clarify some things, along with the extended discussion below. Edit even more: I’m really not Lewis’ biggest fan by any means but enjoyed this on intersectionality “uses and abuses”, *and* the comments. And I can say I’m not a fan without turning into a bully, remaining willing to listen.

Related:

74 Responses to “Are you transphobic? Am I?”

  1. Allison Granted Says:

    Just an FYI, that genderbread image is actually an issue with some trans people because it would seem the white, cis, het man that has published it actually plagiarized it. http://storify.com/cisnormativity/the-genderbread-plagiarist

    I am a cis, bi, white woman. So I can only speak to this as someone who has spoken with trans women and men and who has done a lot of reading and searching to understand trans issues and problems.

    While talking about sex as biology is scientifically accurate, it’s still a triggering thing for trans people to hear. Talking about a trans woman having a penis and saying it’s a male organ is hurtful to many trans women. It tells them that they aren’t fully women unless they have surgery.

    It may not help to “forward the narrative,” but if people aren’t willing to understand and work with the anger coming from trans women and men, then that’s on them. And the same goes for white feminists making mistakes with black feminists, womanists and women of color feminists. The onus is on us to do better and to learn that some subjects are touchy and it’s best if we listen and research instead of asking insensitive questions.

    At the end of the day, does it really matter that a trans woman may have a penis? I really hope not. It certainly doesn’t matter to me.

    • noodlemaz Says:

      Hi Allison,

      Thanks for making the genderbread point. Plagiarism is awful and it’s a shame if he’s got all the credit for something that wasn’t his. I didn’t know that when I included it, and I did so because I think it’s a useful, at-a-glance, comprehensive introductory guide to people who haven’t even started considering these kinds of issues before (which is pretty much everyone who is heterosexual, “cis”, white and so on, I think – we are in a bubble of people who regularly think and talk about these things).

      I identify in basically the same manner as you so am also aware of my limited personal experience and incomplete insight, which is why I hope for some more comments.

      The things you mention may be hurtful, but they are also true – and I would say it’s important to consider context. If someone is using something against you in an oppressive way, then of course, that’s wrong. If as here we’re just using those words without anyone in mind and with no intention of putting anyone down, I fail to see how that’s worthy of attack. Penises are male organs throughout the animal kingdom. But I would not presume to tell anyone they’re not a woman without surgery – people can live as women without having a “typically” female body. Which is what I was trying to get at.

      I agree it’s important to work with the anger.
      But within 5 minutes we got this

      https://twitter.com/BernieValleroy/status/435398024471523328

      And that’s the pointless stuff I’m talking about.

      • Oolon (@ool0n) Says:

        A trans woman stating she doesn’t give a fuck what a cis woman thinks about trans experience and trans bodies is “pointless”? I’m a cishet man and I’m quite aware of ally-101 which is to say that my uninformed opinion about womens rights is not welcome. It would be massively condescending for me to wade into a discussion about a nuanced issue in women’s oppression and mansplain it to them. Women are perfectly capable of understanding, deconstructing and solving their oppression, they need agreement and support from men, not men taking over. Definitely not men telling them about their experience and how they don’t understand it! So to avoid ironically doing this myself or speaking for trans people I’ll link heavily and state this is all my understanding having *listened* to what trans people say. (So it could be wrong!)

        Unfortunately it appears that cissplaining is exactly what is going on here, this blog post to a small degree, and Giagia’s to a much larger degree. I’ve read in-depth discussions about biology in trans womens blogs such as this from years ago ->
        _skepchick.org/2011/12/bilaterally-gynandromorphic-chickens-and-why-im-not-scientifically-male/

        Trans* people, women and men are not idiots, to cissplain biology-101 to them in the context of their own experience is massively condescending. The issues I see are people using absolutes about biology to hammer them and perpetuate transphobia. It’s all very well you saying that exceptions do not invalidate rules… You then say, to pick one example ->

        “Just as to state a MtoF transgender woman who has XY sex chromosomes is “genetically male”.”

        First “MtF” is not an approved umbrella term, there are style guidelines out there. _www.glaad.org/reference/transgender … I understand some trans women may identify as “MtF”, others find that an erasure of their experience of *never* being “M”. Then this is stated as an absolute – but it is relevant that there are exceptions of XY *women* giving birth to children, one particular one where she had an XY daughter! Any exception to a statement of absolute like the one above *does* invalidate it. I think very few people would consider someone assigned female at birth, brought up as a girl/woman and gave birth to a daughter is “genetically male”, it’s a ridiculous thing to say. They are genetically *XY* NOT male. To state absolutely someone *is* male based on genetics is transphobic IMO. You are using “science” (In “” as one aspect of scientific sex determination, ignoring the social construct) to force a woman to identify as “male” in your opinion.

        The science is imprecise and trying to hammer people into one side of the gender binary is what seems to be massively pissing off the trans activists I follow on Twitter. It really isn’t that they want to change the scientific “reality”, they want to point out it’s no where near as “real” as some people make it out to be. From what I’ve seen trans people are perfectly able to understand all this, they do understand it and in the context (As I see Ally Fogg mentions below) of virulently transphobic radfems this merry-go-round of condescending explanations of biology to trans people is not at all helpful IMO.

        Imagine this as a post from a man explaining women’s oppression and how they are too angry, how they don’t understand the subject that is core to their very existence and all pervasive to them. Wouldn’t go well I’d guess!

        (PS I also learnt in ally-101 that tone policing is a silencing tactic used by white people to shut up “angry” black people, by men to shut up “hysterical” women, and it seems cis feminists to silence angry trans women. Don’t take my word for any of this, follow @BernieValleroy and other trans* ppl on Twitter and see why they are angry, don’t dismiss them because they are angry!)

      • Matt F (@flayman) Says:

        So hey, I have a solution. Let’s just none of us talk about any of this at all. “Cissplaining”, “whitesplaining”, “mansplaining” and all that seems a very convenient way of shutting down discussion, but I put it to you that when people speak they are not always attempting to explain something. They might just be positing a viewpoint and asking for input and clarification. That’s how we learn. So now here I go cissplaining myself. And even when people understand something intellectually, that is not to say they can never be prone to rationalisation that blinds them to to some extent. Cissplaining again. Oops. I can’t help it; it’s just how I talk. No, actually some people do not fully understand biology and terminology, and all of this is very emergent thinking anyway. There is no 101 introductory lesson in how to frame discussion of the trans experience. In time this will settle down unless we’re all just shouting and nobody is listening. Or none of us are talking. If people never talk about or attempt to understand anything they have no personal knowledge of, then that’s fairly safe. But is that what you want? You want, I suppose, the world around you to behave the way you think it should right now this minute. It takes time. We can have on the one hand cissplaining, on the other we can have cissinquiring. We could have cissshuttingthefuckup. Fine, I’ll go away and pretend none of this really matters. It’s too much. Call me what you will.

      • noodlemaz Says:

        Thanks Ool0n, I appreciate this comment.
        This comment of mine above in reply to another contributor might also interest you, as an addendum to the main post.

        Firstly, regarding the tweet I posted: it says “No one gives a fuck” (disproved by this very comment thread), not “I don’t give a fuck” (the latter being a perfectly acceptable expression; but my response would be fine, don’t read any of my writing and don’t talk to me then, no one is forcing you). It’s also randomly aggressive; as in the post, I’ve tried to say that I’m sympathetic to a lot of the anger – I hope you’ve read it through and not just zipped to the “biology-101″ sections, as it’s important to take as a whole, I think.
        Finally, it was posted so soon after Gia retweeted it, there’s no way they even read the post. So it’s not about this, it’s not about anything in particular, it’s just rudeness: and that’s what I meant by “pointless”. Not that the opinions of trans people are pointless, I never said that. I’ve had discussions with other trans people, here and elsewhere, that haven’t started and ended with rudeness and nothing more.

        Re: comparisons with feminism/misogyny, again, I agree with a lot about where you’re coming from here. Hopefully you can see from the “Similarities” subheading bit I put in, it is something I was considering, too. I have been instantly angry with men coming along acting like they know what they’re talking about when they clearly don’t. Because yes, when you suffer the effects of cultural oppression and discrimination every day, to whatever extent, it is boring. People popping up and telling you how wrong you are gets really old really quickly. I get that.
        But I’ve equally become more annoyed over time with certain (again this is kind of particular to Twitter) activists who are really just nasty people. I stop caring that I identify with one particular label (the feminist bit), I don’t want to know them as people, and I don’t want them to speak for me.

        A lot of people are genuinely ignorant of the ideas of “privilege”, oppression, historical contexts, present inequality, microaggressions – all of those things, and more. Reading some posts can end up feeling like an introduction to a fucking degree – is that really how we want conversations with random people to be? It’s really offputting. Fine, if you’re writing for fellow “scholars” of the field; but really, if we’re just building walls and asking people to climb over them all by themselves, without offering some helping hands, some explanations, can we really expect people to bother? Especially when what’s on the other side is “look how wrong you’ve been” – however true that is.

        There is a time and place for softly softly, and ragey ragey also has its effective situations, granted.

        I’ve read the Skepchick piece before, yes. For a start, it’s written by someone with AIS, which is not as uncommon as people think and a well-understood phenomenon. They have their own groups, etc. (e.g. here, more here – and yes it says “genetically male” in the first sentence, because it is a medical term). Human sex determination, as I said in the main post, is through the XY chromosome system. Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies) are interesting to look at for examples of other sex determination systems, where it’s the ratio of sex chromosomes that matter, not the presence or absence of the male-switch chromosome, which is Y in humans. If the SRY gene doesn’t activate or there’s some other atypical turn in development, the foetus won’t develop the post-genetic male characteristics, hormones, gonads, physical appearance etc. etc.

        Sorry if that’s too “biology-101″ but again none of that, apart from the XX/XY stuff, is particularly common knowledge – both my degrees were quite heavy on the genetics, I’ve always found it fascinating as a subject as a whole. And none of the disgusting discrimination that humans engage in because of the weird categories of importance placed on things like physical appearance and reproductive potential really taint that. If people use scientific knowledge, or misunderstandings, to fuel their prejudice, that is something that socially we need to challenge (and pretty sure I’ve advocated for that quite hard in the main post – nowhere am I condoning ANY hateful behaviour for any reason).

        AIS people are not trans. Their issues have similarities, sure, like any of these issues overlap in some cases. But as I said in the main post, intersex and trans are different; AIS is technically intersex but because of the particular body outcomes, still AIS individuals will have different experiences from other intersex individuals. AIS and trans are different. I’m not sure I’d like to be conflated (particularly by someone complaining about an explanation of “biology-101″ who doesn’t seem to understand it..!), were I any of those things.

        AIS generally leads to infertility because the formation of the reproductive system is incomplete or proceeds in such a way that function is compromised, so I’d like to see a link to the example you give; indeed the presence of one or both sets of gonads is a serious cancer risk for these people (and that is my area!) – perhaps you are thinking of assisted reproduction methods? Which are of course a godsend for anyone who wants a family and has trouble achieving that. Also, genetic sex is VERY important for this condition. Without working out exactly what’s going on physically, the diagnosis (that’s wonderfully complicated – genetics is anything but simple, any geneticist would laugh at the notion I’m sure. Scary for some, fascinating for others- everyday in-your-face and all the issues that go with it for others) won’t be accurate enough to provide the best treatment. So I’d like to see some other AIS views on all this. Anyway, tangent.

        “sex is a loose aggregation of a variety of variables. Chromosomes, yes, but also hormonal levels, genitals, secondary sexual characteristics, skeletal structure and so on”
        Yep, which is why I said “*genetically*…” because I was talking about the chromosomes bit. That para’s a good description of the difference between sexing and gendering (having watched my sister, a vet nurse, gender all manner of baby animals when I was quite young, I always get a warm fuzzy feeling talking about sexing things – which probably isn’t common..!).

        “If one makes the declaration that my genes are the “biological reality” that makes me “scientifically male”, it implies that things like my skin tone, my lack of body hair, my hormone levels, my breasts, my scent and all the other female or feminized aspects of my body are all somehow just in my head, figments of my imagination”
        How does it? Surely that’s only the case if one considers Biological/scientific to be descriptors of things that are all-encompassing and all-important. Surely it is one’s personal view that anything other than biological/scientific is less, then? If we’re teaching people that how they feel doesn’t matter, that’s a huge problem to address.

        I like the thrust of the post, it poses some interesting questions and argues against the “privileging” of genetic sex well. THAT IS THE POINT! People are arguing that genetic sex isn’t a thing. I have seen that. But it is – saying it is is not transphobia. Saying genetic sex is the most important thing and well, if you’re XY then no you can’t be a woman and you can’t go in that bathroom or come to this country on that passport because it’s a lie – THAT is transphobia. Yes, that sounds “cissplaining” if you like, I realise that.

        Maybe one of the best analogies if we’re talking feminism is the co-opting of evolutionary biology and psychology to support misogyny. The field is not entirely nonsense; genetics is real, evolution is real, human societies have really evolved. It’s worth studying. But ignoring cultural contexts (like, in the post, the forensic scientist ignoring the deceased’s lived experience) is to add meaning above and beyond the conclusions one could reasonably draw, and the actions one could reasonably justify.
        Nothing about genetics says that some human beings should treat other human beings as less – whether we’re talking issues of sex or gender, of race, of intelligence, of anything. That is ethics, that is why we have human rights and law and judicial systems and that is why we consult our conscience. That is why *philosophy*. That’s a lot of what this is.

        None of that means the science isn’t also a thing! None of it justifies any harm done to another.

        Like I said, it’s about language. If people hear or say ‘male’ and aren’t specific about what they mean (it means a lot of things, as the post says), then that can be used in an oppressive way. I’m not disputing that. I’m disputing that talking about the biological phenomena in living species that we are and that we know is not in and of itself transphobia. No potential misuse of science should justify it being shunned. I don’t want to reduce that argument ad absurdum too much.

        “The science is imprecise” – not really, it is the goal of science to be as precise as possible, otherwise you can’t really conclude a lot and in medicine you won’t get very good treatments out. When people are talking about it outside of the context of the field then yes, it gets all imprecise – again, because language. I’m not saying only scientists should talk science; I do and I like sci-comm. Communicating science properly is another important job that should help to avoid the misuse of knowledge and its twisting by people with ulterior motives and preconceptions into something that hurts people. Scicomm, however, also has this problem where some people seem to think the only people who can do it are the ones who’ve done a degree, who know all the lingo (ironically) and have officially joined the club. Tangent again.

        “trying to hammer people into one side of the gender binary is what seems to be massively pissing off the trans activists I follow on Twitter”
        That’s what society does. I’ve already said gender isn’t binary, that’s relatively well-accepted now, but again in the “general population” it isn’t, and that’s worth fighting. It’s why I like Let Toys Be Toys, it’s why I love all pro-gender-bending (so does Gia btw) stuff… etc. Again you seem to be making points about things I never said.

        I’m certainly not trying to imply that trans people couldn’t possibly grasp any of this. But equally, being trans doesn’t exclude you from ignorance about a great many things, or automatically make you a nice person. I was actually talking to a trans scientist (as in her bio) on twitter earlier who didn’t like the post, but that seemed to be more because she disagreed with other things Gia had said (I’m not Gia, and Twitter isn’t the place for nuanced conversations like we’re having here – that’s why, I think, there’s so much hate on it around complex issues like this). She hasn’t commented yet, which is up to her of course. Be nice if she did.

        I understand the transphobic radfems are a real problem; just like the MRA shitheads are a problem, just like the advocates of Kill The Gays bills are a problem. There are degrees of shithead, and like Matt said, if people don’t like anyone else having conversations at all then yes, I can see why you’d jump in with the swears and the harrassment straight away to shut people up. But conversations are important to educate people who don’t know about any of this stuff, and aren’t bigots at all, but just ignorant of it.

        I’ll take your follow suggestion on board too, thanks for that. Must go do other things..!

      • Oolon (@ool0n) Says:

        @Matt F, no I really don’t think complaining about a word that is pretty well defined and accepted is in any way a “solution” (I’ll admit only accepted in some circles, this being a feminist blog I assumed ‘splaining was not controversial). Look at it this way, for “-splaining” read “condescendingly explaining to a marginalised group their own oppression (Or aspect of it) from a position of privilege”. In my experience using these words *never* stops the ‘splainer from continuing the “discussion”, as you put it O_O

        (BTW I’m all out of rude werdz to oppress you, but I’m sure someone will be along to collect your man tears presently ;) )

      • Matt F (@flayman) Says:

        “(BTW I’m all out of rude werdz to oppress you, but I’m sure someone will be along to collect your man tears presently ;) )”

        Yes, it’s very apparent that out of the two of us it is I who is condescending.

      • noodlemaz Says:

        Actually I don’t really like “mansplaining” as a concept. Given pretty much everyone is affected by misogyny, plenty of women participate in it, often more subconcsiously than men, sure… I don’t find it a useful term. Privilege checking, while initially a neat idea and generally something people could do with bearing in mind, seems to be now more of a stick that’s used to beat people with. Everyone has certain advantages and disadvantages in life, and people telling people they don’t even know that they’re more/less privileged because of one particular conversation? Bollocks. Anyone with an ‘invisible illness’ can tell you about that. I could, but I won’t, because I really do need to close this.
        Thing about mansplaining can go away, it describes a common phenomenon. So I guess that can be applied to other things too.

        Your closing comment to Matt is hilariously bad and makes me wish I hadn’t bothered to write such a long response before, really, as I wonder if you’re mature enough to consider it – or bothered to consider what I wrote before, as a result. Still, I appreciate the contributions, all are useful.

      • Matt F (@flayman) Says:

        I would just like to say that Oolon and I have had a nice chat now where we have accepted there was a bit of a misunderstanding. I think we get each other now, and probably the fault lies more with me. Thank you, Oolon, for behaving in a way that allowed us to achieve that.

      • Oolon (@ool0n) Says:

        I’ve apologised to Matt about the “male tears” joke on Twitter, fell flat clearly! Was in reference to some men who compare being called “splainer” to peoples experience of oppression, so making “teh menz” the real victims. Matt explained he was upset about the break down in communication and I misunderstood. I think he accepted my apology.

        The response from BernieValleroy was to Gia, not you. Amazed you are oblivious to the anger at Gia and think that comment was about your post. She has been tweeting things like “I’m identifying as a man today, so there, nee-nuh”, recently in an attempt to out do the transphobic radfems. Also ironic that you consider my childishness undermines me given her recent tweets. I like a bit of childish humour and it fell flat with Matt here, so I apologised, but never to ridicule a marginalised group like that. Erasing trans men completely and making a mockery of gender identity. Hence the ire was directed to her from @BernieValleroy with the context being increasingly transphobic utterances from Gia. You got caught a little in the cross fire as I doubt this post went up in many peoples estimation having been endorsed by her. Diverting the discussion to a biology 101 when it is not about biology!

        Natalie Reed has AIS? News to me… AFAIK she is a trans woman and transistioned, which she wouldn’t have to do if she had AIS. So not sure how any of that is relevant. Point was trans people understand the biology and don’t need it explained to them. Seemed that point was missed in preference to a description of what AIS is!

        “Maybe one of the best analogies if we’re talking feminism is the co-opting of evolutionary biology and psychology to support misogyny.”
        — Haha, had that in the comment but thought it was getting too long!

        “I’m disputing that talking about the biological phenomena in living species that we are and that we know is not in and of itself transphobia. No potential misuse of science should justify it being shunned.”
        — As much as EvPsych is no barrier to feminism, the science of biology is no barrier to transfeminism. When trans activists are demanding scientists stop studying biology you may have a point. The science is separate to the question of do trans women have the right to identify as women and be treated as women? EvPsych may find an “evolutionary” reason for rape/pink/dating/etc, MRAs on reddit will rejoice, feminism will still be valid. Saying “you are scientifically male” is oppressive, inaccurate and using science in the way misogynists use EvPsych. That scientific terms are even inherently transphobic, given it is cis-dominated, should not be a surprise, any more than it can work to uphold misogyny and white supremacy. If the “scientific” term is “genetically male” then it should be changed, science is not free of bigotry, bias and oppression IMO. Genetically XY is more accurate, as I demonstrated via the XY woman giving birth to an XY daughter.

        “I’m certainly not trying to imply that trans people couldn’t possibly grasp any of this. But equally, being trans doesn’t exclude you from ignorance about a great many things, or automatically make you a nice person.”
        — Do you think the trans community can manage their own assholes and ignorant people without cis ppl barging in to explain things to them? Again turn it around, I as an opinionated man may decide some group of feminists are wrong about a great many things. As it happens I do, trans exclusionary radical feminists. I don’t think I need to save feminism from them, I do what I can to support feminism that is not transphobic. I don’t barge in and tell the whole feminist movement they are doing it all wrong because they have a minority of assholes on their team.

        “But conversations are important to educate people who don’t know about any of this stuff, and aren’t bigots at all, but just ignorant of it.”
        — We had this discussion on Twitter, people in the privileged majority wanting to express their “very important views” about the marginalisation and oppression of a group is rarely helpful. Again in feminist circles men “just asking questions” are not given much sympathy. The information is out there and the ones doing the work should be *us*, not the trans community. IMO, again, it’s contingent on cis-ppl as the privileged group to listen to the trans community before espousing our views on their oppression.

        Ultimately you are right, transphobic radfems are the real problem, if some cis feminists spent more time criticising them than criticising a few people in the trans community who they think are wrong / assholes / too rude etc … Well, I think those cis feminists would be a lot more popular with the trans community!

      • noodlemaz Says:

        I also apologised for the previously snippy comment as the joking stuff went over my head as well.

        I could go over every point in this but I don’t think that would be useful and I need to spend less time on comments here..!

        “Saying “you are scientifically male” is oppressive”
        I haven’t said that in the post (have I??) and yes, in most contexts, to say that to a trans woman would certainly be oppressive.

        “The science is separate to the question of do trans women have the right to identify as women and be treated as women?”
        I believe I have also said that in the post and obviously yes they do.
        I think the problem is the minority (and for some reason trans men are strangely quiet in this?) telling women how they can and can’t talk about themselves; you’re right it’s a minority and that shouldn’t be confused with the whole movement. I broadly agree with what you’re saying, and I’m not closed to the idea of the problems with writing something like this. That’s why I put it off for so long, but in the end this blog is where some of my thoughts go, for better or worse. I haven’t pushed it on anyone.

        I don’t think the “trans community” owns anyone; “their own assholes” seems like you’re saying people should only interact with “their own” and only their own should be policing them. That doesn’t seem reasonable. Just as I’m happy to say certain feminists don’t represent me; we might fly the same flag sometimes, but no one should be speaking for everyone else (hence the objections to ‘no one gives a fuck’).

        I’m not saying what I say here is a “very important view”. It’s just me. I’m not perfect, I’m learning stuff too.

        I completely agree with the problem of “just asking questions”, it can be insidious and undermining, and I was trying not to write something like that. Perhaps I have and that’s not a good thing. I hope what people mainly take away from it is that a) sex and gender are probably more complicated than you’ve ever stopped to consider and b) transphobia is a real problem and you should make sure you’re doing your best to tackle it where you find it.

        I appreciate that’s what you’re doing here, so again thank you for taking the time.

  2. noodlemaz Says:

    Someone I mentioned in the post said this on Twitter and I think it’s important to have this perspective here:

    “I’d disagree with the “becomes a woman” bit because that’s assuming gender identity changes at some point, which is not true.”
    – I agree, and apologise for being too concise and failing to make the point I was trying to make with those words.

    “also as a child growing up knowing I was female but with male sexual characteristics I identified as female and so a lot of thecultural hegemony that says women should be a certain way affected me far more than it did a cisgendered male. this is the thing that’s most commonly overlooked in discussions of this type.”

    – I think this shows the problem of language quite well, and thanks for this contribution.

    • Matt F (@flayman) Says:

      But wait. Nobody starts out a woman. Most women start out as girls. Becoming a woman is very much a transition for anyone as I’m sure you can attest.

      • noodlemaz Says:

        Absolutely, Matt, as above – it was poorly phrased as I think I copied or from an old fb comment written in haste!
        Of course it’s the societal expectation and “norm” that girl-> woman that is at play. (On phone, sorry for brevity)

  3. noodlemaz Says:

    Here’s a nice point I’ve just seen from another, unrelated tweet – from a mother, about her daughter:
    “Daughter (pointing at my chest): What are these?
    Me: Er… boobs.
    D: What are they for?
    Me: Um… milk. Used to be.
    D: Are they yours?”

    So, biologically, yes – breasts are “for” milk. Females of the mammalian species have them. In human terms, they vary a *lot* in their features, and their uses. They’ve been turned primarily into sexual features – again this varies by individual in terms of their agreement. Not everyone uses them to feed children; they’re still boobs, and they’re still a female secondary sexual characteristic, though. Whether flat-chested, living after a mastectomy, cosmetic reduction or enhancement – changing anything about one’s breasts, fulfilling their biological role or not, has no effect on womanhood. Sometimes it is used as a stick to beat people with – too small, too big, too natural (cover up your feeding in public, woman!) – and those are some of the cultural problems.

    Having breasts does not make a woman. Breastfeeding does not make a mother. Lacking breasts does not make a man. But it is the XX-containing genome (hormone fluctuations and drug treatments aside) that makes the breasts. That’s the biologically factual bit, separate in its truth from any human cultural issue.

  4. Ally Fogg (@AllyFogg) Says:

    I have the luxury / privilege of being very much an outside observer to all of this, as a straight cis male. I think you make a lot of good points, probably some others which people might furiously disagree with. So it goes. I’ll leave that to others.

    But I think there is a very important point you are missing altogether. As we all know there is a relatively small clique of virulently transphobic feminists, who both online and in the (so-called) real world actively work to try to see trans people argued, legislated or persecuted out of existence. The vast majority of feminists do not agree with them, however there is a reluctance to treat them as the hatemongering, harmful extremists they are. Consequently we get mainstream feminists writing “moderate” pieces about gender theory, who then go away and indulge in some mutual back-slapping with people who quite literally and explicitly wish trans people dead.

    An equivalent would be someone trying to write a reasonable, well-argued mainstream media piece about Israeli foreign policy, who then retreats to Twitter to laugh and joke and accept plaudits from Holocaust-denying anti-Semites. It wouldn’t necessarily make the argument about Israeli foreign policy wrong, but it would understandably make a lot of other people enormously suspicious of their motives and true beliefs.

    I just think we have to be careful when we write pieces like this that we acknowledge that it is not as simple as a theoretical, ideological or even scientific debate with equally valid opinions on both sides. it is not reasonable to expect people to be having calm, rational debates within a context where others are wishing them dead.

    • noodlemaz Says:

      You are right, I forgot (actually forgot, not deliberately avoided) to touch on that, and it needed pointing out – thanks for that. I got stuck on the rare radfem thing I do agree with, and the one that’s relevant to me (the biphobia). Fail.

      The validity of opinions/balance thing is also a good point. I did try to emphasise that the anger is often justified; precisely because, as you say, there are truly vile transphobes around.

      My point was just that the people having the chats, completely devoid of threats (death or otherwise!) are not those people. I don’t think the distinction is that unclear, some people do – I’m not sure what their aim is.

    • mirigam Says:

      The truth is that radical feminists never wished to see trans-people dead, this is all missinformation and lies, but maybe, as a privileged so-called “outside observer” , and as a straight cis male, far for being neutral, you’re interested in a way or another to demonize a bunch of feminists/lesbians that don’t conform to your views of the world.
      Radical feminist’s sole activism regarding trans-people is to make people aware of the fact that there are no scientific facts that can back up the claim of trans-gender people, so that, regarding their access to female-only space, like public toilets, the principle of precaution should apply. Yeah, you’ve heard right, public toilets. For the rest, I think that radical feminists couldn’t care less of what trans-people actually do, what they actually are, they can go freely in all other place they want, and be what that they want to be, really. The world is theirs. You call it “transphobia” ? I don’t.
      Radical feminists care about the protection of women, they don’t have no transphobia, and some of them, as member of the LGTB community, actually have done great things to permit trans-people to be more accepted in the society (a fact that is conveniently disregarded of course). The concern is, that while everyone will claim that a penis can be a “female-penis” and that men have the right to pretend they’re women, these people generally are not the ones who have to deal directly with the consequences, and face the real problems these abstractions sometimes create in real life for women, and lesbians, particularly. A lesbian who don’t want no “female-penis” in her bed will be accused of “trans-phobia”, and it really is becoming ridiculous (if it was not also very dangerous).
      As we all know there is also a relatively small clique of virulently misogyn trans-women, who actively send irrational and scary threats to women who dare disagree with them. It is indeed not reasonable to expect people to be having calm, rational debates within a context where others are wishing them dead. Of what I’ve witnessed, the death threats and the most virulent insults are coming from trans-gender people, not from rad fems.
      There is a reluctance to treat some trans-people as the hatemongering, harmful extremists they can be, because it is not politically correct, and their great suffering (that I don’t minimize) seem to give them a pass for being utterly agressive and abusive against women whose sole fault is to disagree with them. It can’t work.
      Thank you for accepting my approximative english, I’m not native.

      • mirigam Says:

        I was replying to Ally Fogg, of course. I found the article of noodlemaz quite acurate, and helpful to clarify the notion of “transphobia”.

      • Scaredofdoxxing Says:

        Oh hey the totally not transphobic noodle already has a raging transphobe backing her up. I’m shocked, SHOCKED.

        I’m curious about what’s going to be ya’lls excuse for slandering us as inferior and less-female-than-thou once the new generation of trans people, some of who have been living full time as their actual gender since they were friggin toddlers, reaches maturity and you can no longer bash us with that ‘male socialization’ club?

      • Scaredofdoxxing Says:

        The second half of my comment was referring to this:

        “One of the very few things I agree with RadFems on is that “women born female/women” will have different experiences from someone who has become a woman later in life [Edit: please see comment with valid point that I've phrased this wrongly] and hasn’t always experienced femaleness and the social effects. Culture dictates, experience shows. Arguing that is futile and helps no one.”

        It might have been confusing since Mirigam’s post was mostly about how we’re viciously attacking the radfems *it’s true! Just look at that recent story where one of the most prominent and well known trans activists revealed a 16 year old girl in Colorado’s real name to the web just because she had the nerve to exist as radfem! That poor radfem girl was so overwhelmed by the vitriol she received that she had to be put on suicide watch.* and makes no mention of male socialization.

      • Xanthë Says:

        The usual descriptive term for the stripe of radical feminism that has an irrational loathing of transgender people is TERF, or Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminism, however I’ve occasionally argued that for some people within this extremist fringe, a better term would be Trans-Exterminationist, since they hold that transgender or transsexual people shouldn’t exist. As my first example — and I’ve no particular desire to quote her at greater length — we can turn to page 178 of Janice Raymond’s “The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male” (1978) where the second sentence of her Appendix “Suggestions for Change” she states:

        I contend that the problem of transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence.

        She then goes on to discuss the morality of legislating to outlaw the medical treatment and procedures, and her preference for “consciousness-raising counselling” to accustom transsexual people to their birthed sex – which rather resembles the so-called “gay therapy” that attempt to change people’s sexual orientation away from homosexuality, and is now being recognised as highly damaging to the people who’ve undergone it.
        It is a matter of history that Raymond then went on in the 1980s to do what she had suggested, by persuading the Reagan administration to adopt policies that would restrict the ability of transgender and transsexual people to receive medical treatment. This is quite simply inhumane and despicable, and almost certainly led to the deaths of many transgender people who needed help, and were turned away.
        If any further quotes of extremist, ‘exterminationist’ attitudes are wanted from a more recent generation of transphobic bigots, there is no shortage of possible quotes I could serve up here, but this comment is already far longer than I wished it to be.

      • mirigam Says:

        Janice Raymond’s book “The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male” is from 1978. I never read it, but if what you say is true, I would like to say that I don’t agree at all with someone saying that “the problem of transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence.” It’s shocking, and I understand how it can have been damaging for a lot of trans-people. It’s kind of awful. But maybe she was speaking from a feminist point of view, and was already tired to deal with trans-women trying to make feminism centered all about them. I think it’s always better to read a quote within a social/historical context.
        Now, believe or not, but the radical feminist movement also has evolved since then, like a lot of groups certainly did. I think it would be nice that trans-people actually articulate some answers to some legitimate current questions, rather than keeping demonizing a small group. It seems to take them a lot of energy, and I wonder if they don’t have a kind of irrational cis-phobia going on.
        I really don’t entertain an irrational loathing of trans-people, on the contrary, I’m persuaded that a lot of them have a charming personality, and I find that they’re interesting people. They totally have a right to exist, as much as I do.
        Now, I have more difficulties when some of them impose their identity upon women-born-women, and tell women that from now on, they’re going to arbitrate on certain specific feminist questions, and pretend to be the authority on the matter of feminism, and tell feminists what they must think/do. Women who disagree immediately are labelled “TERFs” or transphobiacs, and it becomes impossible to voice an disagreeing opinion without being demonized or told to “die”. It’s abusive.

  5. Alex Gabriel (@AlexGabriel) Says:

    Broad human dimorphism is certainly a thing – glossing it as male/female, however, is most certainly a social construct.

    • noodlemaz Says:

      But male/female are the terms we used to describe the broadly-two-categories phenomenon. Which is what I tried to get at at the start. It’s a social construct in that our language is limiting, but it’s a phenomenon in mammalian/animal life regardless of whether or not we actually bother about describing it..?

      • Alex Gabriel (@AlexGabriel) Says:

        Yes, but we can choose our language. I don’t think anyone’s arguing sexes don’t exist, but describing them as ‘biologically (fe)male’ takes you into away from the empirical and into the social. There’s no more of an a priori reason to call a penis male than there is to call a quark or blood type male.

      • noodlemaz Says:

        Do people oppose the description of cable jacks as male/female depending on whether it’s an “entering” or “receiving” part?
        I’m all for acknowledgement/promotion of non-PIV sex and acceptance of gay relationships but I don’t, for example, find that nomenclature of real animal kingdom sexy norms is a problem. Maybe I’m wrong there, I dunno.

      • Alex Gabriel (@AlexGabriel) Says:

        (‘takes you away from…’*, in case that wasn’t clear.)

  6. Iain Coleman Says:

    > One of the very few things I agree with RadFems on is that “women born female/women” will have different experiences from someone who has become a woman later in life and hasn’t always experienced femaleness and the social effects.

    I’m actually quite suspicious about this point. I mean, I’m sure it’s true as far as it goes, but it’s the way it’s used that bothers me.

    Consider cisgender women for the moment. A woman who has gone to public school and trained at Sandhurst before standing for a safe Parliamentary seat will have had different life experiences to one who has been made homeless in childhood and developed polysubstance abuse problems that have kept her in desperate poverty. These differences might be very important in some contexts, less important in others, yet neither of these women would face being excluded by RadFems for not being female enough.

    We all have different backgrounds that affect who we are now in ways that are not necessarily visible or obvious. So why single out trans women in this way? It does seem to me to be mainly used by RadFems as a rationalisation for an instinctive, reflexive rejection of trans women for which the term “transphobia” would be entirely apposite.

    • mirigam Says:

      neither of the women you mention would face being excluded by RadFems, because despite their difference, one thing is sure, it’s that none of them would previously have been a man.
      It’s very rational.

      • Iain Coleman Says:

        Well, I’m glad you’ve cleared that one up. Much obliged.

      • noodlemaz Says:

        I’d again be careful of the distinction male/man there. If a trans person has always felt they are female/a woman, no one else should tell them otherwise. But society will have treated them differently (in a range of ways). Please see above comment for valid criticism of my “become a woman” phrasing, which I should have said differently, because that’s not quite what I meant.

    • Hell Bedlam Says:

      A rich, straight, able-bodied black man living in a major metropolis in the global north would have a different life experience than a poor, disabled black lesbian living in a rural village in the global south. Do we now believe racism is an unimportant axis of oppression and that white people can identify as black? After all, some black people are albino and many people are mixed race, blah blah derp. Why is sexism the only axis of oppression subject to this constant dismissal – could it have to do with denying women 1) any language to talk about their lived experiences & 2) any boundaries?

      • Iain Coleman Says:

        Trans women suffer many of the same disadvantages as cis women in our society (such as the gender pay gap – see http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/02/why-do-i-earn-less-woman-i-did-man). It seems quite artificial to oppose their using the same language to talk about the same lived experiences.

      • noodlemaz Says:

        Thanks for this comment.

        I think Iain’s reply is interesting too – “Trans women suffer many of the same disadvantages as cis women in our society”. True, but they will also not suffer some of the disadvantages (which is where the radfems come from, from what I can tell), and they will share some experience with other trans people e.g. trans men that no non-trans person will experience. Just as you have pointed out – rich/poor people share things in common whatever their race, sex, gender, sexuality. People of one race will have some things in common whatever their wealth, sex, gender, sexuality – and so on.

        For no group of individuals will everyone have the same experience – we’ve said that above with reference to ‘growing up female’, and I’ve said it in terms of ‘atheists’ (though beliefs, I think we would agree, are quite different from biology/bodies/essential identities – mainly because they can be changed, but then there’s another grey area where we’re in danger of invalidating people who do change e.g. sexuality over time).

        I’m lacking a point here – but I think we seem to be in agreement that language is generally a limiting factor. It can be inadequate in identifying ourselves as we want, it can feel oppressive if someone uses words to describe them and you disagree upon their fit (perhaps a root of radfem anger at trans women and the idea of appropriation).

        All of it seems like a fight where there needn’t be one. I’m not saying it’s insignificant, because as I said in the post there’s real hate out there. But convincing people it’s not coming from you can feel futile.

  7. noodlemaz Says:

    I’ve been accused of “cissplaining” on Twitter (quelle surprise) and there are now some facebook comments that I’d like to expand on – feel free to add more below!

    “1) I’m not sure that biology is particularly relevant to a debate that seems to me to be about peoples’ right to define themselves” – indeed, which is why I tried quite hard to separate the biology stuff from the cultural stuff, and make very clear that everyone should absolutely be free to define themselves as they wish and live the life they are comfortable with, without fear of hateful, violent behaviour directed at them simply for doing so.
    But that also shouldn’t mean that people talking about the biology stuff should be instantly labelled transphobic, just because it is a) the source of personal turmoil for some and b) the reason some bigots go and do harm to others – the science is independent, and it shouldn’t be taboo because of those cultural failings and personal challenges.

    “it seems a bit like people who go into debates saying “well the Oxford English dictionary definition is…” I don’t think anyone’s denying that XY chromosomes produce (generally, barring interesting things like androgen insensitivity syndrome) produce bodies that in a scientific sense, if we were doing an experiment with rats or something, we’d call male.” – they are, if you can be bothered to read e.g. Gia’s timeline, but I can’t recommend it for blood pressure safety reasons.

    “But unlike other animals we humans have an opinion on who we feel like and who we want to be treated as, and except in a very small number of instances where biology becomes relevant (medically, whether you have parts to get cancer in say, or whether you’re taking hormones that interact with medication, or sexually in terms of the body parts you’re attracted to) I think how people feel about themselves is more important.”
    – absolutely it is, which is again the distinction I feel is important between culture/rights/social behaviours and the basic underlying biological factage. We are different from the other animals because of our consciousness and our massive, emotional brains and all the complication that comes with that – and we should be nicer to each other.

    ” And I think getting hung up on terminology – which words can be applied to sex, which words can be applied to gender, isn’t particularly helpful – if you’re not a doctor or a potential sexual partner then if someone wants to call themselves a female woman I don’t really think any characteristic of their biology matters.”
    – nope, it doesn’t. People obsessed with what’s in other people’s pants, or what they do in the privacy of their bedrooms, is often the gateway to bigotry and infringing on human rights. That’s a problem. But defining oneself is important for everyone, really, and if there isn’t adequate language for you, or the restrictions of language cause problems – I think it’s worth talking about. Which is what we’re doing here – and which more people should surely be free to do (trans or otherwise, as long as no one’s deliberately being horrible). Right now a lot of people are scared, for different reasons. It’d be good to fix that.

    “2) I don’t think you can really say someone is born a man then becomes a woman – if she feels she’s a woman then she’s always been a woman (well, or a girl at some point) it’s just people may not have been treating her as such. And by virtue of being a woman she’ll have had female experiences, even if those experiences are different from what other women experienced growing up – I’m not sure you can even really say there are universal female experiences, so much is culture or individual variation. I mean people point to things like starting you period in geography class or whatever but I’m cis female and I didn’t share that experience – I started my period very late due to undiagnosed coeliac disease but that doesn’t mean my experiences growing up were any less female.”
    – a) see comment above agreeing that ‘becoming a woman’ was poor phrasing on my part, and apologies.
    b) That’s kind of the point though; a MtoF transition *will* be a particularly different experience from F living as woman/female forever. No, not every woman does the menstruating thing – because condition like you mention or whatever else, but it is *typically* a woman-born-female experience. I don’t have kids, but I’m not going to deny that childbirth hasn’t affected me as a wider issue living in this culture – it has. I have a uterus, therefore I am in a position to feel those consequences, and have in some ways, even if my birth canal is (thankfully) untouched by a foetus/baby. I don’t think it’s offensive to anyone to talk about typical experiences; it depends how that conversation is going, and whether you would exclude or dismiss based on it as to whether it’s objectionable.

    “3) I think in the end we’re probably all transphobic, you and me both – we do all hold unconscious biases (ever done one of those implicit association tests? I’m a feminist in a relationship with a Black guy and I come out about as sexist and racist as average), the important thing is to be aware of them and question them. Agreed there’s a lot of incivility, but that doesn’t discredit the basic point that people are making that they deserve to be able to define themselves and have that respected.”
    – agree, but there’s a distinction to be made, I think, between the accidental transphobia/sexism/racism/homophobia that happens because none of us are immune to what we’ve grown up in, or can communicate beyond the linguistic tools we have, and then there’s the active, deliberate, hate-filled bigotry that comes when people decide they don’t like somebody because reasons.

    Without talking about all of this, surely it’s even *harder* for people at risk because of shitty ideas to make those distinctions, and surely it’s harder for people who don’t want to hurt other people to learn about what they should avoid and how they can do better.

    • Matt F (@flayman) Says:

      Where this all breaks down of course is when women get abused by some very militant trans* (why do we use the asterisk?) activists for describing their body parts as female (as happened to Gia), or I suppose vice versa, which I haven’t personally seen. The fact is that those reproductive body parts are either male or female. Taking it right down to the biological level in the process of reproduction, this is scientific fact without which our species could not carry on. It is not simply that a cis woman like Gia has the right to call her body parts female and her husband’s male without being vilified. This is what we call them. That’s the end of it.

      • Allison Granted Says:

        You don’t use the asterisk. It’s actually a cis thing to add the asterisk and it makes non-binary and genderqueer folks a foot note in the trans umbrella.

        The abuse that’s happening to “militant” trans women is a result of gender/sex essentialism and often results in the denial of rights for trans women as well as mental, verbal and physical abuse; often ending in trans women being killed because they aren’t “female.”

        Cis women who aren’t willing to realize that reducing trans women to their genitals don’t remember how cis women are still often reduced to their genitals.

        Scientific fact should not override people’s actual lived experiences. Especially when the scientific discussion is used to invalidate trans experiences.

      • noodlemaz Says:

        Did you mean I don’t use the asterisk? I have and I do in some cases. I’m not fully versed in the disagreements on its use, so sometimes I prefer not to. It’s inconsistent, I realise that.

        In my post I was trying very hard to say that ANY denial of rights and ANY abuse is not right. The science/biology is irrelevant to that- people should not be abusing and discriminating against others. That was one of my main points – sorry if I’ve failed to convey that clearly.

        I was not attempting to reduce anyone to their genitals; people are people, quite apart from what they have in their pants and what they do in their bedrooms. Again I don’t support any discrimination on that. But it doesn’t mean that genitals don’t exist, and shouldn’t be discussed without fear of abuse – which is what has been happening on occasion.

        Scientific fact doesn’t override lived experience. But lived experience often relates to or relies on scientific facts. If I didn’t have XX chromosomes, I wouldn’t have the organs that remind me of their presence every month, I wouldn’t have the fear of pregnancy scares, the people questioning my decision not to have children, the health screens specific to my female organs and so on. It doesn’t completely define how I present my gender to the world – that’s influenced by loads of things, most of them cultural.

        As has been said above, people being told they’re transphobic for saying “I’m a woman *and* I have a vagina and a uterus and there are issues in my life because of this, because of misogyny” etc. – I find that absurd and wrong. Just as people who say “But if you have a penis you’re a man, you can’t be a woman, you look wrong to me, you can’t come in here pretending” etc. are absurd and wrong – and actually transphobic.

        Obviously it’s hard not to sound like a bastard dictating to other people what is or isn’t -phobic (which is also why I linked to Panti) but I feel like this case is so exaggerated and so frequently… explosive, I felt the need to comment. For some reason.
        And thank you for your contribution!

      • Matt F (@flayman) Says:

        These are good points Allison. I still think that a woman should have the right to call her genitals female without being told off because some men have periods too. What Marianne and Gia are trying to say is that for most everything in life, the genitalia should not matter. If you are a man or a woman, then it’s really nobody’s business (except perhaps a sexual partner who may wish to produce children) what your DNA says about you. The experiences are what make up your identity. However, there is no getting around the completely irrelevant fact that the reproductive anatomy is sexed. And the acknowledged difficulties arise from that fact that we don’t live in that perfect world where people are always free to be who they are.

      • noodlemaz Says:

        Thanks Matt, yes, that’s a better summary than what I’ve jotted down I think.

  8. Juliet Cat-Brando Says:

    Here’s an interesting documentary from 2005 that addresses variations in *biological* gender beyond just chromosomes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWY2MWAmkSM

  9. Aphra Behn Says:

    If you are uncomfortable with the term “norms” why use it? “Defaults” is good, as accurate as “norms” without the judgemental baggage. You can caveat that if you like, just as you caveated “norms”.

    Now I shall have to read this twice, slowly, to see what you are actually saying.

    • noodlemaz Says:

      Thanks – for me, defaults could potentially have the same problem, as I’m not approaching the people who are e.g. offended by ‘norms’ from the same mindset. I’m not – I consider myself abnormal in a lot of senses, again for me it would depend how it was used! If someone comes and says “that’s not normal… you’re weird, I hate you”, that’s pretty different from a measured, clearly not-intending-to-be-offensive comment about something that’s normal, and different from what I am/do. Hope you see what I mean!

      I could edit it to have defaults instead of norms, but then everyone else would be confused…

      • Aphra Behn Says:

        On reflection and re-reading, I quite like “typical”. There is no need to edit the original – it’s more important that you think about what you have written than that you alter the text.

    • JayH (@WereNotTheEnemy) Says:

      “Defaults” is not good, especially when discussing socially-imposed norms, which *are* very much judgemental. “Typically” may be more useful here; it’s the word I’m starting to adopt. E.g. an XY individual will typically have a male body. When someone is desperately clinging to the idea of “natural”, you first need to get the idea into their head that Nature is not as simple as they thought.

      • noodlemaz Says:

        Hi Jay, thanks for this.
        Indeed, if I were to say default, I’d be talking about a biology-type-default. Although I think we can also default to things socially, that’s probably another discussion. I’m also thinking, from other comments as well, that ‘typical/atypical’ is the best way to go for now.

        Natural is a fluffy concept as it is. As I have plenty of dealings with alt med and anti-science stuff, the natural fallacy is everywhere (“Natural = good/best/harmless! Unnatural = bad! Whatever those things even mean) and that’s frustrating.
        Nature is wonderfully complex – I can tell there are plenty of science-lovers in this thread, which is excellent :D

  10. Aphra Behn Says:

    I am really sorry, because I know you mean well, but meaning well is not enough.

    There are many things I could say in response to your post, but I respect the fact that you are trying to work things out, and are basically thinking out loud. So I am going to restrict myself to three points.

    1 – Please don’t “other” Trans* people – you know several already, how do you think they will feel reading your post?

    No-one knows how many Trans* people they know. Not even Trans* people. I was once in a room of 100 people with two Trans* people neither of whom knew the other; it was only because of specific social circumstances xyz that in the end anyone knew at all. 2 in 100 and no-one knew.

    Many post-transition Trans* people don’t tell people their gender history because of well-intentioned things like your post,
    because of salacious nonsense discussed in this – http://www.motherjones.com/mixed-media/2014/01/katie-couric-transgender-laverne-cox
    and this – http://www.latimes.com/local/abcarian/la-me-ra-transgender-20140206,0,1612052.story
    and because of the venom and malice criticised in this – http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2013/mar/22/richard-littlejohn-transgender

    And after transition, some Trans* people remain activists, but for others being Trans* is not the most interesting thing in their lives. Their career, their family, their interests are all more important. It’s patronising and almost prurient to be surprised by this.

    So your colleague who works on the 2nd floor, your brother-in-law, the photographer you met in the pub who all transitioned years ago, your cousin who hasn’t come out yet, may all be Trans*. Seriously, you have no idea how many Trans* people you know.

    2 – Transphobia is not about language – it is far more visceral and far more viscous than that, and saying it’s about language is to respond …. um …. really oddly to the huge number of Transmen and Transwomen attacked and murdered each year. http://www.transgenderdor.org/

    Transphobia is closely tied to misogyny, but there’s a castration fear there, and for many people there’s a huge ikk-factor – hence the obsession with questions about genital surgery.

    You can be more intelligent than this.

    3 – Would you ever for a moment head a post “I am a racist”? If you would, then fair play, but if you wouldn’t then why on earth was it ok to head one “I am Transphobic”?

    Just asking.

    There is a lot more I could say, but I don’t want to wind myself up. As I said, meaning well is not enough. Please, think. Trans* people are not “other”. If you want to know more about Trans* people then their testimonies have never been more accessible.

    A/B

    • Aphra Behn Says:

      Damn, I spent ages on this, and missed an obvious error:

      “I was once in a room of 100 people with two Trans* people neither of whom knew the other was Trans*”

      • Aphra Behn Says:

        And the other – transphobia is vicious not viscous. Though that one is quite funny, if your sense of humour works that way. I despair of my inability to proof-read what I write.

        Question for you – are you more interested in Trans issues as personal or societal phenomena?

        A/B

      • noodlemaz Says:

        That’s absolutely my kind of humour, I like linguistic quirks, and perhaps that bias is why this post has come out the way it has.

        In what way do you mean personal vs societal? Both? Do you mean because I know trans* peeps (I do) or because I care about what goes on worldwide (I do – e.g. arrest of Danish ex-politician, a trans woman, denied by Russian authorities. Of course. Of sending the woman trying to just holiday in Canada, who was sent to a male prison facility because she’s pre-transition; real, vicious… rather than viscous, transphobia).

        I’m interested in lots of things. Sex and gender are interesting. Sexuality is interesting. Why people are shit to each other and what we can do about it is interesting. I think most of these issues affect everyone to some extent, but I also don’t believe things should have to personally affect us before we care.

      • Aphra Behn Says:

        More trying to understand what being trans might be like (the personal) compared with how society understands and responds (societal)

    • noodlemaz Says:

      Hi Aphra,

      I’ve been replying to bits of this in my head while I was away from keyboards so this will likely be nowhere near as good but I’ll try, then I’ll have to retire from comments for today.

      First I appreciate your taking the time to comment constructively, and there’s no need to apologise – this post, really, is not aimed at you because a) you are not ignorant of transgender issues and b) you are clearly not the kind of person to mercilessly attack others seemingly for the sake of it. But to continue.

      “I know you mean well, but meaning well is not enough.”

      I didn’t say anywhere that meaning well is enough – in fact I specifically said “That doesn’t mean we’ll never be wrong just because our intentions are good, far from it.”
      What I intend to convey is that meaning well is a start and those who mean well (like Gia and myself and whoever else has refrained from even asking a question for fear of the pile-on) do not deserve to be sworn at and repeatedly told they are full of hate and prejudice because we haven’t used the right word. Meaning well is a fucktonne (I’ll be swearing a lot, that’s not because I’m angry at you, I just like swears for emphasis) better than never questioning and never trying to approve and not being considerate in everyday life. I’m not saying anyone who means well deserves a fucking medal – it’s just being a decent human being, it doesn’t deserve praise. But falling short of perfection doesn’t deserve vitriol, either.

      How can we ever hope to live in a better society where all this stuff about who has what bits and who sleeps with whom just doesn’t fucking matter if we can’t even have a chat about it, having professed some ignorance or asking a question? The fact is we don’t live in a perfect world sadly, and with any movement for change there is a period of transition during which time the people who are being hurt stand up, make themselves heard, gather support and then the change can happen. It shouldn’t be like that, none of this shit should happen, but people suck and it does. So to change it, we have to educate. So many people still do not even question gender/sex binaries – the more educated people need to accept that, however depressing it is. No, it’s no one person’s responsibility to teach, but the vocal minority that are shutting conversations down are doing no one any favours.

      [sci-fi tangent] I’m reading Iain M Banks’ Culture novels and they’re great – in this future, humankind lives a lot longer and it’s just standard for people to change sex at least once in their lives, to live as both men and women, to experience fatherhood and motherhood or just the different sex stuff. It’s not a big deal, it’s not a tool of oppression, everyone gets on with it. In The Player Of Games, another Empire is introduced in which there are 3 sexes; male, female and an intermediate or “apex”, who is dominant and oppresses the other sexes >male >female. The visitor finds all this quite baffling. Anyway [/scifi tangent]

      I am entirely sympathetic to the anger that comes from frustration due to being met with the same tired old arguments – I feel this frequently when discussing feminism, typically with men (but not always). But meeting ignorance with hateful, offputting words is not generally useful. I reserve the unfettered hatred for the obvious MRAs, the people whose timeline is full of misogyny, the convicted DV perpetrators without remorse, and so on. There are grades of failing-to-be-a-decent-person.

      It’s also hard to be a decent person sometimes! We’re all brought up in this imperfect culture with its stereotypes and its narrow definitions, and often those basic things aren’t challenged until well into adulthood. Who here, of even the scholar-level trans rights activists, can say they always knew all these things? I don’t think anyone did. We all continue to learn.

      That’s not to say, at all, that the struggle to do better is even close to the hardship that oppressed groups suffer day-to-day. It would be ridiculous to think or say so.

      And we all judge other people, we all label other people – we have to, in life, it’s what we do. I wouldn’t go out with anyone who said feminism was a load of shit, because it’s important to me, who I am, how I do things. I might date someone who wasn’t sure because they’d never really thought about it, and there was no evidence of them being particularly sexist. I might date someone who was a Srs Feminist because that’s cool, we have stuff in common. I wouldn’t date someone who was a Srs Feminist Who Constantly Fights People They Feel Aren’t Meeting Their Gold Activism Standard, because I don’t like abusive people, whatever walk of life they are from, whatever causes they claim to fight for.
      It’s possible to be essentially right, and still be a horrible person.

      Please don’t “other” Trans* people – you know several already, how do you think they will feel reading your post?

      I would only “other” trans* people in the same way I’d other anyone else with a different identification/experience from me. Again, we all label ourselves and others, that’s not inherently hateful. One relative of mine is “other” because he’s a bloke and I’m not and he’s married and I’m not, he’s a computer programmer and I most definitely am not. Another relative is other because she’s got kids, is older than me and a widow, she’s got a different educational background and a different haircut. The importance is which of those people are often discriminated against for – being trans is one, having kids is one, having limited education is one.

      How will trans* people feel reading this? I do know several, some have replied, no one has expressed distress – it’s not for me to tell them they must come and comment.

      Transphobia is not about language

      While I have certainly focused on the language problem, I’m not trying to say it’s the only cause – I also emphasised fear of those who differ from us, ignorance, and what we are all taught from day 1. It’s a more complex problem than “I don’t have the words” but I think it’s a piece of the puzzle that’s neglected, and again it means missteps are common, and people are being attacked for those disproportionately.

      saying it’s about language is to respond …. um …. really oddly to the huge number of Transmen and Transwomen attacked and murdered each year

      And that horrific and inhuman death toll is the first thing I linked to in the post. Again, I’m not saying it’s all language – obviously the fear->hate part is the motivator (well, I assume so, it’s the only way I can rationalise such a thing, as a non-homicidal person myself) and the fear/understanding comes, I think, in part from not fully understand and describing the full diversity of the human condition. I am optimistic that this will improve in time – I don’t know whether we’ll see it in our lifetime, but it would be great to.

      You can be more intelligent than this.

      This is pretty patronising, but again I appreciate you’re probably keeping frustrated anger at bay, so I can quite easily let it, and the other thing that got to me in a previous comment, go – it read like “sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done”. I’m not a child and I don’t appreciate being talked to like one, but I have also accepted my relative ignorance of these matters so I can also see where some feeling of superiority would creep in on your part there. Like I said, I appreciate the comments.

      Would you ever for a moment head a post “I am a racist”? If you would, then fair play, but if you wouldn’t then why on earth was it ok to head one “I am Transphobic”?

      Erm, yes, yes I would. “Are you racist? Am I racist?” – absolutely no problem with that. Here’s one: http://www.atheistnexus.org/profiles/blogs/am-i-racist?xg_source=activity

      Partly because I think most people are – but as I’ve tried to distinguish here, between some “transphobia” that’s by accident or misstep, there are different levels of racism. And misogyny. People can be racist on a far lesser scale than, say, Hitler (d’oh) – it’s all part of the same framework, it still needs talking about, challenging and fixing, but it’s hardly the same thing, and I don’t think we need to assassinate/wish dead people who make mistakes. There’s MRA misogyny and there’s the insidious, creeping, everywhere misogyny, with the jokes and the women who don’t hire other women despite being better qualified than the man.

      It has to be ok to question these things. It has to be ok to use words when there is no clear victim- especially in private places such as this where, as you say, it’s a braindump. And people shouldn’t be hounded off Twitter; Gia is absolutely an activist for free gender expression, yet because she dares to say “there are male and female sexes determined by XY or XX sex chromosomes” or similar at the beginning of a talk, she’s called a hateful transphobe and told she should go and die. Huh?

      I called the post what I did because that’s what people do when someone calls them something they firmly believe they are not. If someone told you you were classist or disablist, would you not question it? Maybe you are a bit, maybe it’s inescapable because of this culture, but maybe we can also do better.

      My point is that doing better includes having conversations that help us move past ignorance.

      meaning well is not enough. Please, think. Trans* people are not “other”. If you want to know more about Trans* people then their testimonies have never been more accessible.

      Trans people are other people. People like me, but people with experiences unlike mine, and unlike anyone else who is not trans. Just as no man-born-male will ever truly know what it’s like to be a woman-born-female. Just like no white person can know what it’s like to be a person of colour. We are all other, we only have our own eyes to see through. It depends how we act towards others, though.

      To me, “Be better, don’t just mean well” sounds a lot like “Read minds – know what people want to be called!” whereas “ask what someone’s preferred pronouns are” is far more helpful and useful. Most people are still ignorant of all this. That’s a shame, but if all people on the outside can see is sweary hate-filled diatribes, who’s going to bother learning anything if they don’t need to?

      The internet is a big place, and “look it up” only goes so far. It also doesn’t help when you’re faced with a real-time face-to-face situation. There’s a lot to fix, but I feel like people trying to help aren’t deserving of some of the crap they’re getting.

      • Aphra Behn Says:

        Thanks for taking my rather snippy comment so thoughtfully. I cannot respond until this evening. The underlying points about trans-allies opening up civilised discourse and keeping it civilised is an valid one, though I tend not to start discussions on trans issues now for a bunch of reasons, only one of which is the venom the topic engenders.

      • Aphra Behn Says:

        I said I’d get back to you, but I’ve been putting it off. I feel drowned in words. Which is one of the reasons I avoid Trans* debates, tbh. So many words.

        I should also accept that I’ve been thinking about gender identity and exploring gender identity history on and off for decades and that it’s not a new, exciting or puzzling topic for me. It’s not straight-forward, far from it. Just not new or shiny.

        What I am saying about “othering” Trans* people is that there’s a tendency for straight people and maybe some LGB people to talk and treat Trans* people as something exotic, and to show off their token trans* friends. I’ve done this in the past and I am uneasy about it.

        Would you head a post “I am a racist”? – yes you would. Well, as I said, fair play. I thought that heading the post “I am transphobic” was in astonishingly poor taste, if not worse, because of the normative power of language. But your blog, your choice.

        A few other thoughts. I am intensely curious about what you might term the silent Trans* world. I am curious to know whether and how large a group there is of people like Dr Stone (recently and horrifically injured by a stag in Scotland) like Stephen Whittle (a Trans Rights political activist of a previous generation) and Jan Morris (an author and ground-breaking transwoman of an older generation again) who simply get on with their lives, who are open and out or who choose to be stealth, but who don’t engage with the shrill and over-heated debates with rad fems.

        I am cross with and intimidated by the TERF end of the debates, which seem to be the loudest. The agression frightens me. The irrationality confuses me. They do a huge disservice to feminism, to Trans* rights, and to all who engage with them and they are impossible talk with so I choose not to talk with them at all. This was why I had such grave misgivings about the Westminster Skeptics event.

        I wonder how much contemporary Trans* experience is forced to conform to specific stereotypes or narratives, either by TERFs, or in response to them. I burble.

        Oh, and with science fiction, I’ll match you Banks and raise you le Guin, both on people who express both genders (The Left Hand of Darkness) or socialist societies (The Disposessed).

        tldr: It’s complicated, people need to think about it but I’ve served my time and should stfu. And TERFs are mad and dangerous.

      • noodlemaz Says:

        There are many words, I don’t blame you! I think I feel similarly; having just added even more, definitely.

        First, though, you’ve twice misquoted the title of the post: “Would you head a post “I am a racist”? – yes you would. Well, as I said, fair play. I thought that heading the post “I am transphobic” was in astonishingly poor taste, if not worse”
        It says “Are you transphobic? Am I?” not “I am transphobic”. Interesting slip.

        I think it’s perfectly reasonable to avoid certain arenas. As I’ve said to others above and elsewhere, I do so with e.g. creationism. It’s just not worth my energy and resulting increase in blood pressure. I’d rather take other avenues (exposing organisations that bring creationist teachings to our schools etc.) than argue with people to the effect of bashing one’s head against a brick wall.

        I also completely understand the “it’s not new any more” feeling – I’m starting to get that with some of the aspects of feminism, and it is hard to engage people who are completely new to it, feeling you’ve said it all so many times and why haven’t they heard any of this before?? So, I hope I’ve made clear, I accept those frustrations – it’s why I tried to be clear I didn’t expect anyone to come forward particularly, in order to educate and so on.

        I was very aware any time I mentioned trans friends that it could sound like tokenism and I didn’t want to do that, but equally I don’t want to exclude people who have expressed an interest in the conversation, or fail to acknowledge when they have stepped forward to talk about their experiences.

        Of course there are many people who “simply get on with their lives” – and just as people become weary of argument, some people never bother starting. That’s an entirely valid choice, and again I don’t think it’s anyone’s responsibility to be a “warrior for the cause”. If people choose to do so, great. If they don’t, it’s for their own reasons. While, for example, I sometimes wish more women would just “get” that feminism is still important, and it’d be nice if they identified as such, learned about it, spoke out more – it’s not like it’s anyone’s duty to do so. It might mean others have to shout louder – and maybe that’s where these vocal minorities of quite horrible people come from?? – but no one should be forcing anyone else to engage when they don’t want to or are better off not doing so.

        I’ve seen a few really disturbing conversations the last few days on twitter, people shouting terf this and that, more vitriol going back the other way and so on and so forth – it just seemed like a playground, and one I had absolutely no desire to go anywhere near. I don’t blame anyone, from any “side”, avoiding that! That’s mainly what I was talking about, really. The Twitter mobs get everywhere – that’s what I meant when I said one can be right, but still be an asshole (to take an American turn of phrase). Or indeed, wrong but not a horrible person.

        le Guin sounds interesting, thanks for running with that!

        Don’t feel you “should” stfu, only do so if you want to!

        May I, though, pick you up on “mad” (and I’m not being 100% serious, as someone with mental health concerns of my own but with terms like crazy firmly established in my vocabulary because, again, language) – I expect plenty of people might accuse you of trivialising MH problems there. You can judge whether or not that would be fair.

      • Aphra Behn Says:

        You are right, I mean irrational. I have great respect for those dealing with MH issues but forgot the history of the word.

  11. mississippist (@missistreet) Says:

    One of the points that I would have liked to be touched on in the intersection of trans politics and sexuality politics. Where people argue “it shouldn’t matter if a trans woman has a penis”, many lesbians are getting attacked for not being willing to consider relationships with someone who identifies as a trans lesbian. Many radical feminists are lesbians, though most lesbians are not radical feminists, but where do we all end up when trans activism leads to calling female homosexuals bigots for being exclusively attracted to the same sex? If we believe in human dimorphism but that coding that dimorphism as male/female is a social construct, where does homosexuality fit in? Or heterosexuality for that matter? There is a reason homosexual women can be attracted to butch and femme women, but not trans women who adhere to femininity. Is it now “transphobic” to be attracted to the same sex of all so-called gender presentations, or must we only define sexuality based on those sex-role stereotypes?

    • noodlemaz Says:

      Thanks for this point.

      Personally I think it’s ridiculous to try to police anyone else’s sexual attraction and sex life decisions. Whatever those decisions are based on, someone *not sleeping with people* isn’t hurting anyone. If they’re also going around talking crap about the people they’re not attracted to sexually, sure, have a go at them.

      I’m personally quite sensitive to this because I’ve never been attracted to a non-white man (closest I got was central Russian/Tartar descent… not sure that counts) and if I say well, my ‘type’ seems to be white boys, I get “you’re racist!!”. I’m sure I have and do make errors because I’m a privileged white woman, but I really don’t see how my lack of physical attraction to various races makes me racist. Just as no homosexual person is “heterophobic” by default.

      People do sex and relationships in many different ways. Love is important for some people, not others. Some people do different kinds of relationships in different ways too; limiting some kinds of people to e.g. short-term/casual interactions and others to long-term/committed things – there are many different ways, and as long as no one’s getting hurt, I don’t see the need people have to try to police other people’s decisions in that kind of private matter.

      If someone who isn’t attracted to trans men or women just isn’t, I don’t know why a trans man or woman should take personal offence, unless that individual has also been obviously transphobic in speech or actions otherwise. Sounds like bitterness, like the MRA “women are all bitches who hate men, stupid feminists!” level of reasoning.

      Some people find all genitals quite repulsive and want nothing to do with them. Maybe some people feel that way specifically about penises or vulvas. So, they don’t have to go near them. And no one should try to make them.

      • mississippist (@missistreet) Says:

        Unfortunately, while I agree that no one should take personal offense when someone doesn’t want to sleep with them- that’s not what is happening. Take a look at concepts like the “cotton ceiling”.

        In fact, Julia Serano, noted trans woman activist, had this to say recently (please note the use of the slur “dyke” by someone who is not a female homosexual):
        “…when the overwhelming majority of cis dykes date and fuck cis women, but are not open to, or are even turned off by, the idea of dating or fucking trans women, how is that not transphobic?”
        (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/14/the-struggle-to-find-trans-love-in-san-francisco.html)

        Or try on this one for size, by Avery Edison, a young trans woman blogger/activist:
        “Look, it’s not like I require the women I date to be cool with having my dick inside them. In fact, I’m fine if that never happens. But being shut off from the very idea of it, not even considering that having my penis inside you is different from having a man’s penis inside you?”
        (http://bygonebureau.com/2013/10/21/the-best-of-both-worlds/)

        Many lesbian critiques of trans politics are because of the insistence that unless lesbians are willing to “deconstruct” their homosexuality to include trans women, we are bigots. And as I saw in above comments, many of these critiques are being silenced under the guise of being extremist “RadFem” transphobia, irregardless of whether or not a woman is a radical feminist. Merely believing in female homosexuality as a feminist is enough to be labeled as a “TERF”!

      • Matt F (@flayman) Says:

        That seems to be coming from a position of frustration, and it’s understandable. However, it is ridiculously unfair to accuse someone of prejudice because of what does and does not turn them on. Just like a cartoon I saw recently where a guy got upset for being “friendzoned”, nobody is entitled to a relationship. Sometimes people click, sometimes they don’t. It may be completely superficial and shallow, but tastes and likes are personal and not for others to dictate. Nobody is required to date you.

      • Matt F (@flayman) Says:

        On second thought, there may be a good point poorly expressed there. If you set a bar for yourself saying “I will not have sex with a trans person” or “I will not not date a black person” then that does seem to be an expression of prejudice. It differs from the situation some find themselves in where they have not had occasion to have that desire. Marianne says that she has never been attracted to anyone other than white guys. This bothers her. She may one day meet a non-white guy to whom she is attracted and would like to date. She has not ruled it out. She may one day want to date a woman she has met. If you are otherwise attracted to a person until they reveal something that makes them seem unattractive (like maybe they’re super scary religious), then that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

      • noodlemaz Says:

        No, it doesn’t bother me – I’m attracted to who I’m attracted to. It generally doesn’t occur very often. It bothers me when people call me racist for never having dated someone “other” in terms of race, and projecting that I’m not likely to based on that experience and feelings. Whereas e.g. my friend who’s only ever been super-attracted to East Asian men, no problem, it’s quirky. I really think it’s more about one’s general behaviour, and I get annoyed when people police others’ attraction, it’s absurd.
        Like you said, setting a bar: “I won’t date x type of person because” – unless that type is avoided because of likely harm coming to you, that can be a problem. On the other hand, as I also said, “straight” people saying “I don’t date men/women” isn’t frowned upon because, well, if you’re not attracted to the same sex, you’re not! I’ve met people who consider themselves a “kinsey zero” and I wouldn’t like to question that; each to their own. Like you said, no one is entitled to a specific relationship.
        Also, I do date women. Thnx :P

      • Matt F (@flayman) Says:

        Sorry for suggesting it bothered you. Would it have been more accurate to say that you were self conscious about it?

      • noodlemaz Says:

        Again, no, I’m not. Who I date, who I’m attracted to, who I sleep with – those are all my business and no one else’s (apart from the involved individuals). The only thing that bothers me is when people insist I’m prejudiced because of my choices, which stem from my emotions, which I do not control. It gets on my nerves because it’s come up a few times (conversations happen) so that I am perhaps paranoid people judge me unfairly. I don’t know why who anyone dates should bother anyone else – but there you go, it does, we’ve got homophobia and all that stuff. It’s a common obsession.
        The idea that someone is transphobic because they haven’t slept with a trans person and thinks they probably wouldn’t? Well, I can see why someone would argue it – indeed I’ve had, for example, Asian guys argue with me on a dating site after a short conversation when I’ve refused to meet up and they assume it’s a race thing. Again, no one is owed any kind of romantic/sexual engagement, people should only do what they wish. If other people get hurt, that’s another matter. People can be short-sighted and inconsiderate. Separate issues.

      • Matt F (@flayman) Says:

        Gotcha. And I don’t think you ought to be self conscious about it. The only reason to be is the potential reaction of others, which I agree is annoying. Another thing that bothers me is this: would I be view as homophobic because I flat out say (let’s forget the fact that I’m married) that I would not have sex or even a romantic relationship with a man? I would hope not. I might one day change my mind of course, but men just don’t do it for me. Sorry, men. I still like you. I hope we can be friends. A person is no less a person simply because I would not choose to get naked together. A trans person of either gender may take refusal as the implication that they are not a real or somehow less of that gender. I don’t really know what to say. It all comes down to the same thing. Is a trans person living in the assumed gender different to a person born to that gender sex? I say yes. Are they lesser in any way? No.

    • JayH (@WereNotTheEnemy) Says:

      “many lesbians are getting attacked for not being willing to consider relationships with someone who identifies as a trans lesbian”
      I’ve yet to see this happen. I’ve seen lesbians verbally attacked for not being “real” lesbians because they date a trans woman.

      • mississippist (@missistreet) Says:

        I am a lesbian and I am telling you this happens. If you don’t see it, despite being pointed to two articles that attempt to label homosexual females “transphobic” & having a lesbian tell you it happens, then you are probably not paying attention or aren’t willing to see it.

      • JayH (@WereNotTheEnemy) Says:

        Since mississippist’s reply is below the indent threshold, I’ll answer here.

        Reacting to the idea of a relationship with a trans* person as, basically “ooh icky, yuk, they’re not real men/women, I could *never*” is transphobic. No ifs or buts. Just as saying a lesbian isn’t a real woman because she doesn’t sleep with men is a profoundly rude and lesbophobic statement.

  12. Matt F (@flayman) Says:

    There another important point which is missing from the “It’s Transphobic To Refuse To Sleep With Trans* People And Also You Suck” analysis, and I really wish it allowed comments. Whether we know it or not, the heterosexual dating ritual is really a mating ritual. There is a strong survival of the species instinct and our attractions are designed to help us find suitable mates. So imagine you find that perfect someone and then discover that this person cannot produce children with you. This often happens with straight couples who are trying to conceive only to find that one or the other is infertile. Sometimes they stay together and look for alternatives, and sometimes they don’t. The urge to procreate is strong. This of course doesn’t apply when discussing gay sex, but who can really say how our attractions and repulsions are constructed? “Phobic” is unfair. Give a person a chance to get over the initial surprise at least.

  13. narrativeeschatology Says:

    You are straight out lying about trans reactions to Soho Skeptics and about Gia’s transphobic views. I, and many other trans people, therefore view everything you say with a very great deal of skepticism.

    • noodlemaz Says:

      You’re well within your right to be skeptical, of course. I report the reactions I saw, after the fact, having attended the event. And what I see and understand of Gia’s views. She is, after all, the only one who actually knows what she thinks.
      She is not a hateful or generally bigoted person. I would not put her even close to, say, Burchill, who has done plenty of work for feminism herself despite some of her prejudices (which I’m not defending).

      Twitter is an awful medium to discuss these things. People’s constant hateful replies tends to bring out the worse. I think we all get further in person and where that’s not an option in more long form settings like blogs etc.


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