Category Archives: gender

Doesn’t God decide?

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I had a comment on an old entry in this weblog today, which really encouraged me to write back. I’m still quite ill, but hope my anonymous commenter doesn’t mind me copying her/his text here, and my reply. I wrote enough that it stopped being a reply, and became an essay, and I don’t expend that much energy without physical cost just now. So, it’s not profound, but here it is.

My commenter:

Hello, I just stumbled onto your page while looking up the dangers of manganese in showers!??? Anyway its very interesting and eloquent. May start watching it.

It’s certainly very surprising that feminists can be so needlessly offensive to an oppressed group. However I can’t say I find the basic argument that maleness and femaleness should be defined by biology, rather than personal identity, to be objectionable. To use your own comparison of race, do you think being black is about identity rather than biology/race? Is a person black if she or he believes herself or himself to be black? I don’t want to offend you but I do think sex/gender is defined by biology, in exactly the same way that I think being black is about race.

I just think that in an ideal world then people would not make a thousand and one assumptions because of a person’s gender. If being male or female was no more fundamental to a person’s identity than having a wide face or a thin face, or having a good sense of balance or a poor sense of balance, or having blood type A+ or A-. I’d love it if we had a gender-neutral pronoun to replace his and her. I think that ideally, gender would be just a physical variation which isn’t crucial for defining one’s sense of self.

- superfreak

Superfreak, firstly it’s a nice surprise to get a thoughtful comment on an old article – thanks! You’ll have gathered if you read newer articles that my physical health is in a mess just now so I’ve kind of ground to a halt here – but will try and pick up the trail soon. Your comment encourages me to do so, and I may even repost it as a new entry to try and restart my weblog – I hope you don’t mind. I don’t know if you’ll be back to read this, but anyway…

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No, your comments don’t offend me in any way. Any thoughtful comments, including those I disagreed with, couldn’t ever be offensive. How could they be? It’s a pleasure to get a response. But in fact I couldn’t agree with you more: I too believe sex and gender are determined by biology, indeed as you say, being black in terms of skin colour is about race (see catch below). The key here, is that they are determined at different stages in the biological process, as recent research is showing. Briefly and probably inaccurately (I’m not a biologist!): sex (if I can use that to mean body-parts, vaguely, in fact confusingly what biologists call “gender”) is determined by the foetus’s response to floods of hormones early on – all foetuses starting with a female shape – with the ones that react to androgen (because of XY chromosomes) turning male, forming testes, which continues the masculinising process, etc. Google for AIS to see what happens when a male foetus doesn’t react to androgen. Gender, in the way society/sociologists/the transgendered community use it, is about who you are – in your brain/mind. Again, there’s mounting evidence that this part (whether you feel like a boy or a girl) is formed by the effect of chemicals in the womb at a later (separate) stage of foetal development. The key here is that I’m agreeing fully with you: I think we’ll find gender identity is highly defined in the womb, but the gap between your slash in “sex/gender” is important. It makes it conceivable that people like me exist (and lots of us do) who can have one physical sex and the other internal gender identity – which really means a female brain in a male body, or vice versa.

Sorry this reply is so long. I hope you or someone reads it and finds it explanatory of at least my position, and many others, and I hope some of the rest of my weblog explains this a little too, rambling as lots of it is. As to your last paragraph, I agree strongly too. Gender role is a very separate thing from identity, an (understandable) invention of society, and it’s terrible when people are forced to act in a role they may be uncomfortable with, because of how their bodies look. Transgendered people feel this more keenly than anyone: it really hurts, and has for all of my life, and in our gender-inflexible society can kill. I’d also reflect this back to your comments on being black: like being “inuit”, or “gay”, or countless other things, these indicate strong biologically-determined identities: but can also quite separately refer to what I would see as analogies to gender role: they define who I feel I identify with, where my “home” is. And very important social roles can exist without biological pre-determining factors too of course: being “rastafarian”, or “pentecostal”.

You say in your last sentence:

I think that ideally, gender would be just a physical variation which isn’t crucial for defining one’s sense of self.

I’m not actual sure what my response is to this: I’ve often thought I’d like the world to consist of gender and sex-neutral blobs, when at my lowest and most pessimistic with regard to my own position. But I also often think sex and gender are wonderful things: giving us a sense of me-ness, of gentle polarity and definition which I’d rather have than blobness. And people don’t invent things on a whim: horrified as I am by modern (largely western) society’s christian and post-christian resistance to gender variation, unlike many other society’s acceptance of people like me as being natural variants rather than being wrong, bad or mad, gender roles seem to have evolved in every society we know of. There must be a reason for these roles being so deeply embedded, as well as the general need for sex differentiation for evolutionary diversity, and, being so pervasive it’s probably good for us in general, although of course good things can be used for bad so so often. This is however the least strongly emphasised paragraph I’m writing here, as I’m not sure what I think: certainly, the ubiquitous evolution of some social trait in all societies is no evidence of its moral worth.

It occurs to me in retrospect that resistance to gender role prison is what this weblog was supposed to be about from the start: saying I’m sick to death of acting out a male gender role when my gender identity is so clearly female. But I’m aware many others non-transgendered (cisgendered) people fight a similar fight with societal expectations. That’s why it’s so disappointing when those others who reacted against the same policing, referred to in the original article, deny us the same freedoms.

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Finally on gender-neutral pronouns! There have been a zillion attempts at this, but as a (very!) amateur linguist I’d say it’s very hard to force new terms into language – its progress is too organic. Memes sometimes catch, for very interesting reasons, but you can’t just invent a new one and hope that it catches on (see my whimsical attempts at doing this with terms like jeebo/beejo!). For some interesting history of attempts at creating gender-neutral pronouns, see an FAQ here. Lots of people do persist in trying to use terms like “hir“, but for me, the good old “they” works well enough. Prescriptive linguists of 50 years ago thought it improper to use plural terms about singular objects (“a person walked into my shop today: they wanted some flowers”), but linguists of today generally tend to be more descriptive, and say it’s perfectly acceptable and a good example of the flexibility of language. Jane Austen used it..!

Images taken from the film “Ma Vie En Rose”/”My Life In Pink” by Alain Berliner, which is probably a better way of understanding being like me than the above article. It’ll probably be in your local DVD outlet for rental.

A Day


An entry I wrote yesterday: my most shameful and dangerous, but why not just post it? It’s the truth about me, and how my days are. I feel like death today – on the edge of something very bad – so it may be gone tomorrow. I’ll take any help anyone has.

This entry deserves and will get no illustrations. You probably should not read it, and I probably shouldn’t publish it.

09:15
First memory of looking at the clock amidst usual mess of semi-lucid disturbing dreams. Usual sleep paralysis: heart-beating wildly, knowing I should wake myself to calm it, and sleep again. What am I dreaming: about work, about having to be at a meeting in town, for some reason with a schoolfriend, being late, stuck in a bookshop, and almost too ill to move: the usual mess of fears and being stuck, ill, wriggling in a web. Check: is my left ear screaming tinnitus? Yes… will it be a tinnitus day? Maybe. Pain in centre of chest. My hand stumbles across the bedside table to take a clonazepam: three a day, keep it up, and it might help me sleep – fleeting thoughts, always doctors – Dr Myhill says I need 9 hours a night – Dr Cheney says clonazepam protects the brain from the damage caused by CFS/ME. I dive back into the dream too quickly to wake and change it because my body’s too tired to do what it should and sit up for 2 minutes, I’m back in the bookshop, trying to keep a job, trying to keep my friend from when I was 14 happy, and worry worry worry. I’m late, always late, and clinging to the edge of the real world out there I actually left 6 months ago.

11:45am
I wake finally, like dragging myself from quicksand. Oddest most unusual dream, so unlike me: I am with my Grandpa, who died 20 years ago. For some reason we’re in Montreal, where he’s moved to in my dream, and we’re walking down a street, and he looks healthy, his face is full and happy like I’ve only seen in photos from before my memory starts, and I have my arms round his neck and I’m hugging him and jumping for joy: I have a girl’s body, I have hips, I’m about 18, and I’m so happy when I wake I feel a real gorgeous physical pain in the centre of my chest where the fictitious heart is. “I didn’t know you could be this happy” repeating over and over to him in my mind as I hug and hug him and he looks embarrassed and happy and healthy, to have a granddaughter who loves him and loves just being herself hugging him as they walk down the streets of his new hometown.

Where on earth did this dream come from? My Grandpa was old and thin in all my memories, a shuffling humble quiet man, worried about her daughter’s car crash of a marriage. Was I his daughter in this dream, who he loved so much? Was I my own mother, now gone too? Did they two have this flicker of an experience once, of hugging on a street, of sheer joy at each others love, the simplicity of a love between a man and his own sweet daughter? Is it a gift to me, for a second, now they are gone? But I don’t believe in the dead living again, or messages from when they are gone. They did, both: “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through”. But my Grandpa moving to Montreal? Impossibly stupid thought from a jumbled sick sleeping mind: he always seem a frail ghost after his wife died, hobbling through the 80s, fighting against the wind. He would, could, never have left these shores for the west – he spent too long in the east when he was young. And I never usually dream I have a girl’s body, or that I am happy, much as I yearn that my subconscious would take me there. Why now? Darkness and loss and the stupid randomness of my dreams descend and the pain of joy in my chest just turns into mundane familiar pain.

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The UK Gender Recognition Act

(As promised at end of last entry… please bear in mind caveats there. It’s been a bad two weeks, so this may be incoherent even if dry. The worst of both worlds.)

public flogging

I won’t be surprised if most people reading this even in the UK haven’t heard of the Gender Recognition Act, which came into force on 4th April. It might come as a shock, against the background of current regressive steps on civil liberties seemingly happening all over the place, that somewhere a pen slipped in Parliament, and they’ve brought in a relatively enlightened piece of legislation; or depending on your viewpoint, that they’ve opened the floodgates to gay marriage, open group sex in Trafalgar Square, the public flogging of bishops and the complete disintegration of the social fabric of Britain as we know it.

I’ve tried to plod through the legislation out of interest, but seemingly continuous exhaustion prevents me from understanding all the wherebys and heretofores. For those with more keenly interconnected neurons, it’s here, although you may want to postpone reading them for now:

The Act
Explanatory Notes

As in all great British institutions, the Explanatory Notes of course require explanatory notes, so a website has been set up to explain them. There are other third party sites explaining it too, like GRA-info.

The Act has been plodding on quietly through the Lords and the Commons since November 2003 (see that link for the archaic way these things happen), provoked by an event in July 2002 when the European Court of Human Rights found that the UK had acted illegally in two cases concerning discrimination against post-operative transsexual people, which implied they should have the right to change their “sex” on their birth certificates, with all the consequences this would bring (positive and negative) in terms of retirement ages, who they can marry, etc. etc.

What I wanted to talk about, if I’ve understood the Act right, is how silly it is in many ways. And also to (shhh) keep quiet about it, because passing this kind of silliness is a big step-forward anyway. I don’t want anyone to think I’m against it please! It’s a great step forward. The paradox though is that, having passed it, it’ll probably be revised drastically as a stepping stone to more sensible thinking on gender and biological sex, and maybe even same-sex unions. The latter of course is just what the extreme conservative elements fear, the left say “nonsense” to, and Blair denies they are even thinking about; but when you start to think hard about sex vs. gender, you can see the conservatives may well be right. Good-o!

First, a brief summary of the Act, as I understand it. I may be horribly wrong in aspects of it, as I don’t have anything approaching a legal brain, so please correct me if you do.

The basics: anyone can gain a “gender recognition certificate” which gives them the full national rights of their “acquired gender” if a panel agrees that the applicant:

* has, or has had, gender dysphoria,
* has lived in the acquired gender throughout the preceding two years, and
* intends to continue to live in the acquired gender until death.

“Dysphoria” is just an ugly way to make being transgendered sound weird and medical. On recognition, the applicant is entitled to a new birth certificate reflecting the acquired gender and can marry someone of the opposite gender to his or her acquired gender.
Previously, birth certificates were immutable, and although you could change some legal documents, this was skin deep as you couldn’t marry someone of the opposite gender to you. You were forced into gay marriages by the state.

There are all sorts of qualifications, such as a limit on applications in the first 6 months (to keep the admin down), what happens to someone who’s already married to someone of their own acquired gender, sub-sub-paragraphs about state pensions etc.

Clanger

To me the Act is packed with interesting anomalies, which reveal the underlying confusions over gender and biological sex in our culture: it’s of great academic interest to me to see what happens now this step’s been taken and the realisation dawns. I’ll try and explain some of the clangers I think I see, but please bear in mind I’m not criticising the Act’s existence. I’m all for it: I just think it’s the tip of a cultural iceberg.

First point of great interest to note: although the panel assessing applications requires “either a medical practitioner or a chartered psychologist”, it is not a requirement that you’ve had any surgery for a successful application. It will of course help, but you just have to prove you’ve been living in your “acquired gender” for a specific period of time. This is a surprise to me, where most other countries would require your genitals to be a particular shape to allow you to be legally treated as that gender. I’m not sure whether this is just a kind of oversight, or consciously enlightened and a recognition of the difference between gender and biological sex.

Secondly, “acquired gender”? I’d like to see someone “acquire” a gender – it’s not like you can pop into Woolies and buy one – again I’d argue this is a confusion between gender identity and role, but we’ll allow an implied “role” here. If we do though, are we back to the pre-feminist days of requiring people to act a certain way in order to be considered a woman (or a man)? Wearing heels or chopping wood? Hmm. Maybe we should legislate that every woman found doing a course in car mechanics is transferred to male legal status, pension rights, etc.?

little black dress

Thirdly, I considered all this academic to me at first, as the Act would be for those who have undergone surgery, and I’m sure it still is largely, but it does make me think fancifully “could I apply one day?”. Almost for fun. I certainly satisfy criterion (1) above, and how do they define “living in my acquired gender”? Almost everyone who is close to me, and most people who just know me know my gender self-identification: that I am, and ask to be treated as a she. Most of the other she’s I know wear the same clothes as me: usually jeans. Does the Act require that, say, once a week you slip into a little black dress and go clubbing? I’m referred to as female by almost everyone I know, albeit that my life is largely online or conducted by email right now. I am called something that is largely recognised as a female name: and what if I was called “Robin” or “Alex” from birth, or some other non-gender specific name? Would that constitute “proof” or would I have to change it to another female-sounding name?. My mother’s middle name was one generally recognised as a boy’s name – could she have just adopted it into more general use and successfully applied? This page on GRA-info explains the “evidence” required a bit better than the official documents, indicating that I’d need to prove a “transition date”, but implies I’d really just have to show that I’m paying phone bills with a female-sounding name, and the word “transition” implies it would have to be different from my birth name. Which is all a bit odd if you have a non-specifically gendered name at birth. In fact, non-transpeople (in the UK) aren’t required to have names that fit a gender map, but transpeople are? Am I being picky?

I certainly intend to live the rest of my life this way, satisfying criterion (3). So all I’d need to do is ring the phone company, and tell the few remaining people in my life who haven’t visited this weblog yet? Or would a government official need to follow me round Boots with a clipboard to check I’m wearing lipstick?

Fourthly, the right to marry someone who is not your own gender is a very sensible and natural right, if you like marriage, or at least the right to be given the same social status in a partnership as any other woman or man. But doesn’t this make you feel that the whole heterosexual marriage ethos is creaking at the edges? Not because transwomen are any less women than others, but, what was going on before the Act? Transwomen could only marry other women. And now, if they apply, they can marry men and are forbidden to marry women! And what if two transwomen want to marry? Why, all they have to do is only one of them apply under the Act! What will they do to protect same-sex marriage from mockery, legislate that all transpeople have to apply under the Act, whether they want to or not so that the State doesn’t condone a gay marriage by mistake. There are probably tens of thousands of gay marriages carrying on now in Britain undetected as we speak between transpeople and others – we must stop this evil!

I’m sorry to sound flippant, but for me it does make a mockery of the whole state and church-sanctified same-sex marriage malarkey. Maybe it’s just me. But it doesn’t make any sense, if the state is suddenly going to start accepting transsexual people in the gender they say they are, if they still allow them to marry people of the same gender should they deceitfully not apply under the Act and declare their true gender. Of course, what I’m really saying is not that there’s an underground transgendered menace in the country (even though there is, evil laugh etc.) but that it’s ridiculous to sanction unions based on gender, or biological sex, or a misunderstood mess of the two things. Or indeed in other areas. Do they really want male-gendered minds in female prisons? Or is it only genitals that matter? And what about in loos? I could go on, but… won’t. I’ll let someone else do it for me.

church in a vice

A quick diversion to look how caringly parts of the church are taking this. I feel bad about raising this, as I dearly love some churchgoers and don’t for a second think they feel the following way. But take a look at the self-appointed Christian Institute site which concentrates its analysis of how wicked the Act is based on spreading fears that (a) church leaders may be fined if they disclose transgendered people’s identity and (b) (seriously) that old ladies don’t want to meet those horrid transgendered freaks in the little girls’ room. They call this a fight for “religious liberties”. With a special gift for missing about 20 points at the same time, they go to great lengths to say how kind christians should be to intersex people, just so that they can diss the transgendered, by pointing out they are not the same (duh) and say how immoral it is to “deform and damage a healthy body”, which would presumably stretch to people who remove non-malignant moles or get their hair cut. They say point-blank that people who have ops have a “disordered or unhealthy mind”. See the “Helpful Notes” page, first document. In the second document, they show the church in a vice, drag up the usual dross about “some people regret sex changes”, spread a little fear about the church being fined and meeting “them” in the loo, and refer to transwomen as “he” throughout. In the final document on that page, they display staggering and desperate hate-speech by referring to a transwoman and her partner with the caption “These Men Want To Marry” and say it would be a offence against “public decency” to allow a transwoman into a female-designated church activity. In a fabulous set of faux-pas, they seem to entirely miss the point that the Act does not require surgery, and thus people like me presumably aren’t committing some mortal sin unless we clip our toenails. It also omits to mention transmen, presumably because the scare tactic isn’t as high.

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It comes as no surprise having looked at the registered address of this Institute that the feverishly anti-gay pro-creationist anti-pluralist Rev David Holloway from Jesmond, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne pops up in these leaflets, a man who signed his name on a letter by a Dean Jensen claiming he “did not call Rowan Williams a prostitute; I did not refer to him by name or by title”, which sounds a bit to me like claiming you didn’t call your sister a fat cow because you didn’t use her actual name. Instead of contemplating his mean pinched little face any longer, I’ll return to my main theme: but hope, and would be delighted to hear, that other parts of the church have a more enlightened and less doomed-to-failure approach. The Bill’s been passed and the Act’s in place! Update your webpages and get over it!

So finally, a quick look at birth certificates themselves. A large part of the struggle for this Act in the last decade or two has centred around the wish to change birth certificates, specifically the box ticked when a child is born for “sex”. Prior to 1969 you said “boy” or “girl”, after then “female” or “male”. Does this mean “biological sex at birth” (it is a birth certificate after all). If so, does it make sense to change it later? Or is the Act recognising that it really is a gender box? Or is it just a bad patch up to give transpeople the rights they deserve according to their gender which depend upon birth certificate, but shouldn’t?

If it’s acknowledged somewhere that it means “biological sex at birth”, then I guess I don’t mind mine staying “M”. If it means gender, then I do, because they guessed wrong. If I had surgery, I still can’t see in theory that I’d need to change it from my birth biological sex (although of course if certain rights depended on it, I’d want to). And if I were intersex, I’d want it to have a M/F, or a star in it. Preferably gold for “special”.

A “gender” and a “sex” box would make it nice and clear, but then you’d have to fill the gender box in later, which is pretty silly for a birth certificate. A continuous “life” certificate would make a lot more sense, which gave people access to certain rights, if we have to differentiate rights based on gender identity or body differences at all.

Or of course, there could just be a jeebo box.

Two Turned Tables

Two reversals, one concerning illness, one gender, and ending up with a plate of baked beans.

1. The Liverpool ME/CFS service: an apology


First item concerns one of the highly disturbing job adverts for the new UK CFS/ME centres I included excerpts from halfway down this entry.

Many ME/CFS sufferers will know that a recent job description for trainee CFS therapists in Liverpool has caused distress and offence to patients. It contained information stating that therapists might be exposed to verbal aggression from ‘some clients with CFS’. As the Clinical Lead ultimately responsible for the job description I apologise unreservedly for this statement (though I was not aware of the wording until after the document had been released). Although incidents of this nature are very rare in any patient group, some might think it fair to mention their possibility to trainees joining
a therapy service for the first time. Nevertheless, the explicit reference to verbal aggression in the context of ME/CFS was bound to be seen by the patient community as an assault on their integrity. The suggestion that there might be at any stage a breakdown in trust within the client-therapist relationship was deeply destructive and in no way reflects the true ethos of the ME/CFS service either locally or nationally. If there were any point in raising the issue of inter-personal difficulties, it would be to ensure that trainee therapists have insight into their own limitations and can recognise and ameliorate any signs of overwhelming distress in their clients. The job description has been withdrawn, and in due course will be re-written with advice from patient representatives, emphasising the collaborative nature of the patient-therapist relationship. If this relationship can be further strengthened and developed, then perhaps some good will come from this unhappy episode.

The Liverpool ME/CFS team are passionate about their role in assisting patients recover from this destructive and neglected disease. Our main concern is that patients who might otherwise find our service helpful will now feel reluctant to use it. May we reassure all our clients, present and future, that we will continue to strive for the highest standards of care, and for the best possible relationships between staff and patients.

Dr. Fred Nye.
Clinical Champion, Liverpool ME/CFS Clinical Network Co-ordinating Centre

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What I see in the apology above is a mealy-mouthed damage limitation exercise by someone trying to distance themselves from a PR mistake, rather than actually saying what was said in the job descriptions was wrong: it was “badly put”. The use of the adjective “distress” immediately puts us on a back foot as the meek, over-sensitive and tender ill, and why is he addressing us as patients? If you live in Liverpool, “potential patients” might just work; or “potentially less likely patients”. The “althoughs” and back-coverings in the mail are enough to convince me this is just PR. One can imagine what will be said behind closed doors to the interviewees about “the fuss” with the original job description, and how it just confirms the diagnosis of somatic disorder. I might sound a bit angry, bitter or sarcastic, for which I apologise, but really, this wind of change we’re catching sight of in the UK is simply terrifying.

I’d concur strongly with the opinions expressed in this mail to CO-CURE:

Could any “explanation” from Dr Nye be considered acceptable? No, of course not, because it is patently obvious what the mind set of Pauline Powell’s clinic is and that what is required are not “apologies” or “explanations” but a radical shift in attitude, and nothing less than a full investigation
into the model of care which has been adopted for this service and is in the process of being implemented – but not just in this clinic and in Epsom and St Helier, but throughout the rest of the country.

2. Julie Burchill vs. Germaine Greer


This one’s much more fickle and childish on my part. Germaine Greer and Julie Burchill have separately contributed in various ways to consistently encourage transphobia, try to place us in positions of public ridicule, and generally be plain nasty just to carve out their own careers.

A few examples. Julie first:

… And, yes, I know that they’re not the same, but may I say that I feel even less patience with transsexuals. Male to female transsexuals are Michael Jackson to the transvestites Ali G; not content even to dress up temporarily as the Other, they presume that its authenticity can be theirs through a few cosmetic adjustments.

… Transsexualism is, basically, just another, more drastic twist on the male menopause, which in turn is just another excuse for men to do as they please.

Queue up Germaine to join in the kicking:

… I should have said ‘You’re a man. The Female Eunuch has done less than nothing for you. Piss off.’ The transvestite (sic) held me in a rapist’s grip…. Knee-jerk etiquette demanded that I humour this gross parody of my sex by accepting him as female, even to the point of allowing him to come to the lavatory with me.

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She goes on in her book “The Whole Woman” (chapter: “Pantomime Dames”) to mock AIS intersex women as being “failed males”, saying that they should go be males instead of living as women. Further, she asks why no one asked ‘real’ women whether they accept trans-women as ‘one of them’, handing the keys to gender prison to those she deems fit.

Both miss entirely the irony that they, as feminists, are demanding of others a level of physical appearance in order to conform to their own stereotype of “woman”, which is what I’m sure they felt they were fighting against all the time; seem blissfully unaware that 50% of transpeople are male-bodied; and fall into classic essentialism by arguing that there is an “essential” woman’s experience, and policing it.

Julie Burchill is sometimes funny in a tabloid way when she’s not mocking minorities in danger of imminent physical threat.
Greer’s contributions a few decades ago to feminism seem to have wound down to snipey pieces on late night BBC2 and stomping out of reality TV shows saying she didn’t approve of them anyway (having taken the cheque). All’s the more pity because of their contributions in the 70s and 80s, to snappy punky journalism, and feminism in that order. Their fire went out, long-distance sight dimmed as it does with age, and they ended up joining the mob, I guess. One does wonder what their reactions would be to an article claiming some black people “weren’t really black”, using them for a bit of humour, and then suggesting that “real” black people should be asked permission for those concerned to identify as such.

Anyway the point of this is really just to be snippy. It’s nice to see Julie Burchill turning on Germaine Greer: “My feminist hero has become a rancid bore”; in which she accuses Germaine of being “offensive” amongst other things, which is a bit rich as it’s her own raison d’être.

If you want a quick dip into some intelligent dissection of Germaine’s flopsy philosophy on this, you might want to take a look at a short discussion on the livejournal transacademic group; for some more in-depth discussion, see: Gender Basics & Transgenderism (a third of the way down) by Lynn Conway, and some of the links above.

For a even more ridiculous position look no further than the Guardian yet again, to an article by Julie Bindel, trying rather desperately to fill Other Julie’s shoes in more ways than one. One wonders why The Guardian of all papers seem to be ploughing this furrow of transphobia with such determination. For commentary on this piece of nonsense, you could take a look at this discussion on Barbelith, and Charlotte Cooper’s article Oh Julie!, which is a more succinct summary than I could manage, drawing much the same conclusions I’d draw about Burchill and Greer’s flailing of wings:

But times are changing. I was a fledgling queer in the 80s when women like Bindel were lionised for their “uncompromising” tranny and bi-baiting dogma. Now, in 2004, it must be quite a shock to find out that they are no longer at the top of the lesbian food chain. They’re finding it out the hard way.

To top it off, the excellent Ms Cooper ends up trying to resolve the situation by challenging Ms Bindel to:

a public wrestling match. With me. In bikinis. In a gigantic tub of baked beans. You know I’ll win because I’m bigger and stronger than you and I can wrestle like a motherfucker.

Yay Charlotte!

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Lego Language in the Garden of Eden

After yesterday’s stark, awful entry (only to those UK residents with CFS/ME, maybe), I’ve been trying to get less anxious by diverting my tiny brain. I tried looking at pictures of kittens on the internet, but it didn’t really work, so while talking about nonsense with a friend of mine on MSN, I decided to just get really silly playing with the terminology thing and see where it would go. Let’s pretend we’re in the Garden of Eden, and we want to say who we are, and what we like. If I can express states of biological sex vs internal gender identity with terms like jeebo and beejo, why not have an optional attachment to be able to succinctly state your sexual preference?bricktest3smal.jpg Again, I stress that the point of this isn’t just silly wordplay: I’m trying to find ways to scratch the current categories of words, which can be misleading, and express important facets of human nature in the simple most elemental terms, like Lego. It’s playing with bricks, yes, but might illuminate why I feel uncomfortable with the current set of labels, or if I’m just being picky.

So let’s play with some bricks: what if you’re a girl-in-a-boy-body (g-i-b-o – “jeebo“) and you like boys? Then you’re a jeebobo.
What if you’re a non-transgendered man, who’s straight? Then you’re a beebojo. What if you’re a bisexual transman? beejobojo. You could even use the order of the suffix to order your bisexual preference, if you wanted: -bojo if you tended towards men, and -jobo if the reverse. Or I guess beejobi if you really didn’t want to express a preference, loathe as I am to use any previous terminology, as we’re imagining here we’re children in the Garden of Eden, starting with language again. So I’m going to use -bojo and -jobo interchangeably.

Pushing a little further, imagine a world where we think freely enough about gender/body variance that people differentiate between whether they are attracted to particularly-sexed bodies, which might be at variance to their preference for the mind contained therein. Some people are attracted to transgendered people. This is easy to incorporate too. If you’re a biological and gender-identified woman who is attracted to FtM transpeople, you’d be a jeejobeejo.

What about if you’re a transperson who’s had surgery? Then I guess you can define yourself in relation to your body as you see it. If you’ve always identified as a woman but were born in a male body, you were a jeebo at birth; if you subsequently changed your body sufficiently that you feel it identifies as female, you can call yourself a jeejo now. It depends on what your stance is on whether hormones, chromosomes or sexual organs define a body’s physical sex. It really doesn’t matter, and gets rid of the monolith of gender=sex. And you actually could go onto Jerry Springer and say “Hi Jerry, I used to be a jeebo but now I’m a jeejo”. If you were a masochist. That’d flummox him.

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I presume most of my readers are beebojos and jeejobos so I can imagine your patience may be wearing thin. I’ll add one more qualification to really walk a tightrope, for fun. In genderqueer circles in the US, being butch or femme seems to be becoming more of a conscious identity badge too, so to really push this to extremes, you could add a third suffix to express this: -fee and -boo. An example: if you were a FtM transperson who is attracted to biological girls, and sees herself as femme, you’d be a beejojofee. If you were a butch gay man you’d be a beeboboboo. I think the last word is possibly my favourite.

I’d love to make a website where you could tick boxes as to your physical sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and femme/butchness which would then punch out an icon for your website, but I’m too stupid to make one. If anyone wants to help please say!

The other point you’ll have noticed is that precedence is important here, so you don’t confuse your jee’s bo’s and fee’s. It’s dead simple. Just as it is on the map in the human heart, the most central important concepts come first. The order is:

[gender-identity][body][sexual-preference][gender-roleness]

And of course in most cases you’ll only need to use the first two, (or even one?), so you’ll say to your Edenite friend when she calls you “he”, “oh, actually I’m a jeebo”, at which point, she’ll laugh, apologise and share an apple with you.

I feel I should leave a set of exercises with multiple choice questions for the reader like instructional books do at the end of each chapter. “What would you call a bisexual transwoman who identifies as butch and is attracted to mainly women?”. First one to answer this one in a comment gets a gold star! It’s remarkably easy to construct these terms when you get used to it, and a whole lot easier than leaving a messy syntactically complicated sentence to express your identity should you need to at a cocktail party.

I think this jeebobojofee‘s said enough.

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Afterword: it comes as no small surprise having written this that this book exists: I’m happy to give it some publicity in return for images. Apparently it’s a bit controversial. The author is quoted as saying “And while it may strike some people as odd that God called on an atheist to illustrate the Bible in Lego, remember that Moses was a murderer before he was called, and Paul a persecutor of Christians. So by comparison, I’m practically a saint.” His website, The Brick Testament is fun, and hardly more profane than the supposedly sacred and downright terrifying With You Always site.

Naming II:

This is the second in an exciting series of entries about names, and why they’re important, and the strange synchronicity between naming problems with the two things this weblog is mainly about: having CFS/ME and being, um, transgendered. Two preliminary comments:

1. Note the “um” in the previous sentence. It’s hard not to preempt the whole point of this entry about names by naming what you’re going to talk about. Note also the gap after the colon in the title. Um…

2. I’m going to say this a million times, but I don’t want to imply any synchronicity between the physical states of having an illness (CFS/ME) and being born in a body whose biological sex is different from the gender of the mind it contains. The second is not an illness, doesn’t need a cure, and is just difficult to live with in our current, unusually cisgender-oriented society. I’ve talked about this lots elsewhere, so I shall desist from ceaseless babble.

Now, you see that phrase underlined in the last paragraph? That’s the issue at stake here: what to call someone born in this condition (me!), and whether (and what) subsidiary terms could be applied to this term for those who have sought to adjust their body to cope with either their own self-image or current western society’s inability to countenance such a person existing.

Note two starting blocks here too: firstly, I’m not again going to debate whether this state of being exists right now: it’s a bit like me asking you to debate whether your mum and dad actually existed.loo-purple.gif Secondly, I’m going to assume it does make some approximate sense for people to call themselves “male” or “female” or “a man/woman”, and because words are just convenient bendy ways in which humans approximate the world, it makes sense to apply these terms to what we really think of as ourselves – our insides, ours hearts. Physical intersex conditions do of course exist (rather more commonly than believed) in which the person is born with physical characteristics of both sexes, but self-identified intergendered people seem a whole lot rarer. The sense in which anyone can sum up their whole identity as man or woman might seem only approximate if you think very hard on a rainy day, but brain differences really are there, and it should be at least as valid for a person in my own state of being to be able to assign myself a internal gender as it is for you. So I’ll be using “man” and “woman” to mean internal gender identity here. Besides, it’s snowing outside for the first time this year, it’s really pretty and I’m tired, and there’s only so long that this entry can be before I need to stop and just look at the nice white featheriness through the window and stop zapping my achey body with thought.

In time I might get used to referring to gender identity as “man/woman” and physical sex (chromosomes, hormone levels, sexual characteristics?) as “male/female”, but intersex people teach us it’s all greyscale physically anyway. And I’ve discussed elsewhere how stubborn I am on the existence of a core wired-in gender identity in each of us (contrast with mutable gender roles), and I’ll continue to be stubborn about that. So give me a break! I bet everyone reading this knows if they’re a man or a woman. So do I.

So. Like all words associated with the birth of new concepts, particularly contentious ones, they’re stirred up and spin into popular use in a linguistic baptism of fire, forking into many different terms with crossover meanings, all communicated, misused, redefined and qualified by the subculture which forged them into existence (in a rush to become visible) and the critical culture around them. The result is linguistic soup. I say “new concepts”, of course recognising that it’s not really new, but re-emerging: lots of others cultures already had words for us without blinking.

The most obvious words existing for people like me begin with the prefix trans-: words like transgender, trans(s)exual, transwoman, transman, and then some other words that are really associated with quite different things such as sexual persuasions or kicks: transvestite, etc. Then there’s a slew of associated terms, MtF, FtM, transgenderist, etc. and again a lot of misleading seemingly associated terms, which are actually about sexuality and using characteristics of the opposite gender, usually surface roles, to make a point: for instance in drag. Hopefully I don’t have to explain that sexuality has little to do with being, um, transgendered.

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The most balanced general description of the history, developments and disagreements about these terms I can find readily is on the Wikipedia website. I quote for the definition of transgender:

The term remains in flux, but the most accepted definition is currently:

People who were assigned a gender at birth, based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves.

Another one is: Non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the gender one was assigned at birth.

Transgendered people may or may not have had medical gender reassignment therapy, and may or may not have any interest in such a procedure.

When referring to the two basic “directions” of transgender, the terms Transman for female-to-male (which may be further abbreviated to FtM) transgendered people and Transwoman for male-to-female (which may be further abbreviated to MtF) transgendered people are often used. In the past it had always been assumed that there were considerably more transwomen than transmen. However, the ratio is approaching 1:1.

I’ll have to dive in here and say as I’ve said before that I don’t like the trans- words, particularly when applied to gender (but will often nevertheless use them because they’re the best of the little-understood words). Here’s why:

Think quickly: what does trans- imply to you? I’d suggest one of two things which are more or less closely related:

1. Changing or moving from one place to another: transfer, transport, translate;

2. Being between two states or lying across a boundary: transverse.

So, what does the word transgender imply to Homer Simpson? I’d imagine he’s thinking (if he thought) of someone who either (a) is lying between the two genders mentally, half girl/half boy, or (b) has moved from one gender to another.
We can dispense with (a) quickly: there’s already a word for people who (relatively rarely) think of themselves between genders: bigendered. As for (b) I’d contend that’s impossible with gender identity (as distinct from gender role, with which it’s of course possible to swap and play around). As David Reimer said so memorably before his death with regards to being raised in the opposite gender and his eventually traumatic rejection of this:

As Nature Made Him

I was never happy as Brenda, never. I’d slit my throat before I’d go back to that. I’d never go back to that. It didn’t work because that’s life, because you’re human and you’re not stupid and eventually you wind up being who you are.

Some people might disagree with this hard line on the immutability of gender: but I’ve talked about Jerry Springer enough.

Note that transgender as originally coined in 1970 was sometimes actually supposed to mean “lying between genders”. It’s now however generally used as an umbrella term as defined above.

So where did the word transgender come from? Probably as a reaction to the word transsexual for two reasons: firstly because people like me who haven’t resorted to medical intervention need a word, and secondly because anything with “sex” in makes people think of, well, “sex”, before they think of physical sex (“male”, “female”, chromosomes, hormones, unmentionable body parts and all that).
So what about the word transsexual? Much as I dislike it (see above connotations) it makes a bit more rational sense if applied (only) to those who’ve undergone sexual reassignment surgery (not “gender reassignment surgery” which would require a brain transplant!), at least as far as changing the outward sexual characteristics go. But it’s not as if all your XY chromosomes are flushed out and supplanted with XXs, or vice versa, or that you suddenly become fertile in your self-assigned new sex. In a sense, you become intersex, although not born that way. I suppose both trans- definitions above therefore do apply, but they encourage the usual confusions (“I used to be a man, now I’m a woman”), and have become something that sometimes sound a bit negative to me. To me I should stress, as it’s very subjective, and probably TV and my impressionability’s fault.

What of the other words? Transwoman refers to someone whose gender identity is a woman but whose birth body was male, and vice versa for transman. But because of the confusion of the trans- prefix, I have a feeling they used to be used the other way round, and my friend in Sweden tells me they still are there: in Sweden I’d apparently be referred to as a transman, which would lead to a whole new level of mess, and I don’t want to be referred to as any kind of man. Plus, they sound a bit Star Trek. MtF and FtM? Horrid abbreviations, make you sound like a genus of grey alien, and, like
“transman” in Sweden, the subliminal first hit of the first letter to someone new counts for a lot. If someone hears “transman” they think “man”, and I’m pretty sure if you flashed the letters “MtF” at someone in a lab with electrodes in their brain they’d first think “man”, when the whole point is they should be thinking “woman” first. “MtF” is supposed to stand for “male-to-female” (see “transsexual” discussion above) – why on earth not rather say “FfM” (“female-from-male”) if you have to have a three letter acronymn. The “F” or “M”ness at the beginning matters, I’m quite sure.

So where do we go now? Coining new words rarely works, and I’m not usually one for battles about names: the constant fights in the world of CFS/ME to invent new names, while meaningful, are exhausting. However, I think words so misleading at first sight (which is what matters) can really be a problem to a beleagured minority. much as I have to continue to use them for now. I think we might need a word for being born in a body whose biological sex is different from the gender of the mind it contains that isn’t “transgendered” and I don’t think it should be “transsexual”, as this logically implies surgery. “Genderqueer” is gaining some acceptance in the U.S. as an umbrella term but it’s not specific enough for use in this instance, and to most U.K. people “queer” connotes sexuality still, rather than “not like you”. I’ve wondered about silly invented terms while trying to sleep like XYXism (“zicksism”?) but that falls into the same traps as everything above – it’s not about chromosomes. Reverse the words? “Nanow” for me, “Nam” for a transman? Silly night-time reveries that don’t really imply the simplicity of the fact of existence for people like me, which really isn’t a hard concept, at least to someone in a teepee.

Brandon Teena before his death

Brandon Teena

I keep falling back on jeebo and beejo! Just because they most simply express a concept children can understand (from real experience): I’m a “girl-inside-boy-outside”, g-i-b-o or jeebo.
Brandon Teena was a beejo. They’re fun words, they sum up the essential facts of existence, and they don’t imply any necessary physical intervention: they describe a state of birth. I can see this weblog’s going to need a glossary.

Any word defining a minority makes that minority seem… well “not-normal” and can lead to pity or brutality just as public consciousness of this minority begins to emerge. A good way to combat this is to define the majority and set up a friendly polarity, so that the majority think “hey I’m something too” rather than just feel normal. “Heterosexual” is the best example, and I bet Europeans didn’t think of themselves as “white” until they met people who had different skin colours. “Monosexuals” is another nice way for bisexuals to point out that hetero- vs. homosexual aren’t the only two valid options. In this sense, most of you, dear readers will be either jeejos or beebos. Please spread this meme!

I’ll leave you with a thought about the word “cisgendered”, coined with very respectable Greek heritage to mean “not transgendered”. The alternative to coining new words of course is reclaiming hate speech as your own: “queer” and “nigger”. This thought from the Wikipedia article:

If trans people can be called trannies for short, then cisgender people can be called “cissies”.

Because we shouldn’t have to.

Nightcrawler: They say you can imitate anyone, even their voice.
Mystique: [as Nightcrawler] Even their voice.
Nightcrawler: Then why not stay in disguise all the time? You know, look like everyone else.
Mystique: Because we shouldn’t have to.
- X-Men 2

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I recently discovered via Wikipedia that I’m a gender refusenik, or, even better, a gender otkaznik (Otkaznik (ru: “отказник”, from “отказ” (refusal, rejection)). Brilliant! Nothing like being told what you are by an encyclopedia. I imagine many gay, lesbian and transgendered people have had the experience sometime around their early teenage years, but I didn’t really expect it at my age. “Refusenik” has generally got two accepted uses:

1. Those denied permission to emigrate abroad, particularly Soviet Jews.

2. Those who refuse to serve in occupied territories, particularly in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

So, two shades of meaning, one implying denial of certain freedoms by external circumstances, and the other a personal unwillingness to participate in something you don’t believe in. I’d like to think my otkaznikking is very much a case of the second definition; but there may be a bit of the first thrown in too. We’ll see.
Why a gender refusenik/otkaznik? Well, it’s very much a case of “I thought I was the only one”, but the quote from the film X-Men 2 at the top of this entry sums up my feelings on being a person who, on being born and surprisingly finding herself in the odd position of having a body that doesn’t match her insides, looks around, sees transgendered culture as popularly (self?-)identified on the web, and doesn’t much like it. I should add I didn’t like X-Men 2 much either, but the person I accompanied to see it in a rural Irish cinema was thrilled, so I was happy. Just as I was beginning to doze through the mutant/alien/special effects mush (sorry!), the quote above jumped out at in such a bizarre non-literary environment and brought tears to my ears because of the resonance with my own feelings. The context (for those like me who don’t really do scifi) is that a segment of the population grow up as mutants (but are misunderstood very nice people really), and can do standard stuff like freeze people by touching them, runnng through walls, and, oh I don’t know, turn enemies into hedgehogs or something, and these mutants are persecuted as a minority. Mystique above mainly runs around in a sprayed-on blue scaly body suit in the film, which is presumably as near to nudity as the film-makers dared go for the parents’ sake while keeping their options open for a children’s certificate. She can apparently turn into other shapes at will; the above dialogue explains the rest. Why doesn’t she just morph into looking like a non-mutant and stop being persecuted? Because she shouldn’t have to.
I may have lost most of my cisgendered (that’s you) readers already, and I can feel disapproving glances from transgendered readers. But I’m really uncomfortable about lots of aspects of transgendered culture, to the extent of not liking the trans* words at all (see my Naming II entry whenever I write it) and not even wanting to have used them in reference to myself to friends , but they seemed like a shorthand I felt I had to use at the time: with hindsight, I’m not sure I would use them again in such an email.
The basic fact of being born this way, is that your brain and therefore mind, personality, soul if you’re religious, identifies itself very early on as being of a different gender to your body. If there was a word for “girl-inside-boy-outside” (and I bet there is in Finnish, or Anglo-Saxon) then I’d use that. The prefix trans- raises lots of problems, discussed elsewhere, implies a transition from one place to another, and using a suffix referring to either gender or biological sex after it just confuses more. Frankly, I’d rather be called a g-i-b-o (but please, at least, let’s pronounce it “jeebo“).
So “girl-inside-boy-outside” (and vice versa for b-i-g-o’s: recent studies show there are just as many beejos as jeebos) is how we are born. And since sex reassignment surgery existed, it’s been seen as “the answer to the problem” within western society – the goal being to change your external appearance sufficiently that you become invisible as such a person, and disappear into the mass of people with the same internal gender as you had all along anyway – in my case, a woman. Those who can’t or choose not to do so are told they in an incredibly high suicide category, they’ll never be happy, etc.
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And yet, in lots of other societies, this just wasn’t and isn’t the case. No room for details here and cultural interpretations vary: but most Native American tribes recognise two-spirit/Berdache or Winkte people, Tongans Fakaleiti, Indian culture Hijra, part of the Arabic work Xanith, Maori culture takatäpui täne ki wahine. Modern western culture lost this idea somewhere along the line.
Being of one gender in your brain while another physical sex in your body is about as difficult a concept as understanding that some cars come left-hand drive and some right-hand drive, regardless of whether they’re made in the UK or France. Sure we’re made for a minority market, but we’re not badly manufactured: just specially made. The few children I’ve explained the jeebo thing to have casually shrugged, asked a few impertinent questions (brilliant!) and carried on quite happily. I’ll never forgot one response when I told a small gorgeous wide-eyed child I was a girl on the inside and a boy on the outside; an hour later when we were walking along a quay, he said “we’re outside, does that mean you’re a boy now?”. He looked a bit glum when we all giggled; I had to rephrase it and he was happy.
As we get older, we seem to get a big block on this. If someone looks like a girl, they’ll feel like one inside, right? I’m not referring to gender role here, but identity: who she feels she is. If she thinks (and has always thought) she’s a he, then for some reason, this can’t be so. She must be mistaken, have suffered some childhood upset, be unhappy about her gender role, or just be mistaking being a tomboy for having a central male gender identity. But it’s such an easy concept to understand: body doesn’t always match brain. How did we get such a blind-spot that such a thing might happen, when most other societies saw it plain as day? Imagine biting into an apple pie and finding out it’s cherry: “Oh! I didn’t realise! How nice!” would probably be a more sensible response than telling the cherries they’re really traumatised apples.
It could be that I’m a bit transphobic, just as many gay people were homophobic a few decades ago. I’m certainly not very self-liking just now. But I just feel very uncomfortable about the reams of websites by transgendered people, particularly transwomen, that endlessly display photos of themselves made up for the studio, discuss hair removal techniques, vocal training techniques, and show what to me looks like a ghetto. I’ll repeat myself frequently on this weblog, but for me it’s always been more about hearts than handbags: there’s nothing wrong with any of the above but I just sense a deep lack of balance about where the heart (identity!) is in all this. All the above methods are ways in which transwomen can appear to have always had the body considered as more congruent with their internal gender. It’s (some would say necessary) subterfuge – the ultimate goal being to “pass”, dread word, i.e. not be spotted as a transgendered person, and then in many cases to slip out of the transgendered community into “normal” society, bolstering up the view that such mixes of brain and body don’t occur in nature.
Obviously this just encourages the self-perpetuating view that being transgendered is, well, odd, rather than just unusual. The current way the state deals with people who seek reassignment surgery is to make “patients” prove their intentions, by conforming to some idealised (almost 1950s) view of their internal gender identity: “living as a woman” for a specific period of time. Lipstick, nail varnish and heels get you a huge tick on the road to surgery. Why is this necessary? Isn’t it a confusion of gender role with identity? In what sense am I not generally living as a woman now? The name almost everyone calls me by is generally recognised as being more feminine than masculine; I wear “girls’ clothes” (jeans and tops, some jewellery, like my other girl friends); my partner has seen me for years as a girlfriend. Equally insane to the idea that a transman (beejo!) should be out chopping wood and fighting bears every day.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with reassignment surgery!mystique2.jpg If it makes someone feel good, that’s good, just like if you don’t appreciate the shape of your nose, getting it bashed with a hammer might help how you feel about yourself (or might not). For me it would be very convenient to step inside a little booth and come out looking as if I was born as a genetic sexual female as well as a woman inside. I’d probably be blissfully happy for a month, because the upset of being addressed as male (which really does sting) would just disappear. But this isn’t going to happen. It would be misleading of me to imply that my refusenik status is all to do with the proud non-combatant second definition above: my body’s quite ill and probably wouldn’t take the strain, and my judgement is too that the process wouldn’t achieve the ultimate aim, which is I maintain a form of camouflage: to appear to have always had a physical sex that society reckons as congruent with your internal gender. So if I’m truthful, I’m also probably a category one refusenik – no visa to travel. Sure, it would make things easier if I could, but couldn’t there at least a bit of the world have a stab at seeing me female inside without having to jump pre-feminist hoops? This of course requires you, dear reader, to make the little leap of imagination a few year ahead of when your culture does the same.
Yet a little category two refusenik voice inside me keeps asking: would it be truthful in some sense for me to alter my appearance so dramatically? I’m a girl-inside-boy-outside – a jeebo – and at the moment a gender otkaznik. So do I have to feel my whole life that I’m not going to be happy if I don’t alter how I look? “You know, look like everyone else.” A very large bit of me does think, like Mystique that I shouldn’t have to.

Jerry Springer – The Nopera

The recent furor (read: minor fracas) in the UK over Jerry Springer – The Opera was largely aimed at two things – the number of swear words used – apparently an impressive 8000, although you have to remember “chick with a dick!” repeated by 27 cast members 5 times (as is opera’s annoying way) counts as 27×5, not 1; and secondly, at the portrayal of Christ as “a bit gay” and a bit daft. I didn’t get as far as the second half, as I found it all a bit annoying, so have no comment on the latter, and as to the former, well I like the odd swear word from time to time – the etymology of rudery is a fascinating thing particularly when the words so clearly come from Anglo-Saxon and were respectable back then (ref: shitten). I guess the Norman invaders in 1066 just wanted to make the natives look rude. The origin of the F-word (see, even I’m being coy for sensitive readers) to which I could devote a long entry remains shrouded in mystery and myth interestingly, but the parentage of most of the rest is pretty respectable, or at least charmingly onomatopoeiac.
No, the reason I didn’t take to JS – The Opera, was that I was disappointed in Stuart Lee, one of the co-writers and the erstwhile Lee and Herring and Fist of Fun Lee, who I quite liked because they were so childish (for international readers: british comedy duo of the 90s who repeatedly failed to get their series renewed by the BBC). Disappointed because, from the first half I saw, he didn’t really do anything but regurgitate the typical Jerry show in a supposedly ironic way. I suppose it’s not his job to challenge but merely to make some money, which he at last has seemed to manage to do, but he did seem to have some ability to dissect hypocrisy and go for the jugular. But the constant attacks on sometimes vulnerable transpeople that Jerry perpetuated like a circus act in almost every episode seems to have gone beneath Stuart’s radar or at least his previous dislike of bullying. I suspect his audience might have been reduced if he had actually critiqued this a bit, and you can always dress up layers of irony as (“ahhhhh!”) actually having a go. But I don’t think he was; he was just joining in with Jerry’s subliminal bullying. He certainly seems happy that Jerry endorsed it: the latter apparently took a bow at the Opening Night. Simon Cowell, Angus Deayton, Michael Moore and Sir David Frost (yeah: that lot) are used to proudly puff up its reputation on the show’s webpage, while supposedly subliminal messages like “Chick with a Dick” flash by on the website in sub-Jam style, 10 years too late to look anything but a desperate grasp at the provocation that Jam did so well. David Hasslehoff and Dido are big fans. Jim Davidson might have been proud of all this, but it’s all a bit disappointing from you, Stuart.
So, it didn’t feel fair or interesting writing something about just how subtly damaging the original Jerry Springer show was to transpeople, because it’d be like complaining that the Colosseum games in Roman times were a bit mean on the lions, christians and slaves thrown into the ring. Of course Jerry and his production company wanted people to get hurt and end up throwing chairs at each other, because the majority enjoyed it. Jerry’s previous incarnation, Jerry Bentham would probably have approved: “the greatest good of the greatest number”.
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But, Stuart could have done this differently. He retains transsexuals as circus clowns, perpetuates the idea that they’re all screwed up, just as the cinema of the 50s and 60s did about gay people, and even seems (in my reading) to confused high camp with being brain/body differently gendered – possibly even mistaking it for another sexuality or a version of being gay. I won’t repeat the quote, but you can see it here at comment 4 if you really want to – this was addressed by the mob at the queening supposed transsexual. I’m sorry: “gay man’s”? Most straight or bisexual transgendered women, being women, tend to prefer straight men.
Stuart can claim of course that he’s just reporting it as it happened on the show, the crowd baying for blood and sieg-heiling Jerry – but he’s not, as he has a surreal dig at religious sensibility at the end which I never saw in any JS show. He’s just made another roman circus for fun. Which is fine, but I’m allowed to say it doesn’t help people like me, so here I am saying it.
The nub of the matter is the original show’s insistence that transwomen “used to be men” (and vice versa, although transmen I don’t think were featured heavily, because they’re not as funny). This of course is a common thing you hear everywhere including on supposedly supportive programs on the BBC, but it doesn’t make it any less false. From this vital first premise, on which many a Jerry Springer show spun to its inevitable chair-throwing conclusion, lay the idea that the transperson was being deceitful in not telling her lover that “he was really a man”. Many of the participants (some of whom, with hindsight, appear to have been actors or heavily staged) played along with this, more fool them, although in the last episode I blinked at the girl was heard to mutter a little submissively “well Jerry would say I became a women, but I’ve always been one…” before the lions were let loose. Much the same tricks have been played on UK TV recently, borrowing from American-style formats: the Sky series There’s Something About Miriam (the “something” being, fairly obviously from the start, in her pants) seemed to almost fetishise Miriam’s status as an inter-op transsexual woman being chased by a gang of unwitting men – and portrayed her as “I’m really a man”, which she stupidly played along with, presumably because the money was good. Why then did the program refer to her as “she”? Because the production team were stupid and confused and it would of course have ruined the enjoyment of the hundreds of beered-up Sky viewers clutching their groins and ooing at their 56″ plasma screens. Transsexuals as the new performing bears.
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Because this idea is so pervasive that post-operative transsexuals “used to be men” (or women), and because so many transsexuals bow to the same pressure and use the same phrases in the rush for acceptance, we have to ask “how do we define a man or a woman?”. If your answer is purely on the basis of what’s attached to the front of the body (“Miriam’s” frisson, played to suspiciously fetishistic extremes with bikini shots), then why the same excitement and furor on Jerry Springer when a post-operative “confesses” to her boyfriend? Surely she’s a woman then, and he has nothing to complain about? If neither of these, chromosomes maybe? But 1 in 2000 births are intersex in one way or another, one of the deepest taboos of our time, which means there’s a fighting chance one of the readers of this weblog will be intersex and not know it. What about an AIS woman? They’re XY (male chromosomally) but their bodies didn’t respond to the masculising androgen in the womb, and they usually grow up happy and secure in their identity as women, even though XY, many never finding out. If you think gender’s down to any of these, what’s your gender? Had your chromosomes checked recently?
The answer is that, of course in all likelihood you know what your gender is: it’s what you know you are inside, and always have, and probably not given a thought to. You may be uncomfortable with your gender role at times: how your current society expects you to act. But you’re probably pretty sure if you’re a man or woman, and if your doctor told you tomorrow your chromosomes were unusual, it wouldn’t change your mind. It’s called gender identity and it’s somewhere deep inside you – in the Map of the Human Heart, and likely created by the unique timing of washes of hormones in the womb.
That’s why Miriam, unless she made some horrible mistake electing for surgery always was a girl, and why Jerry’s victims always were the gender they’re supposed to be lying about being just before they get beaten up on his shows.
One day, there’s going to be a program called “Jerry Springer – The Nopera”, for non-operative transpeople like me – the ones who choose to keep the body they were born in, either because they can’t or won’t change it, because they stubbornly expect society to catch up and understand that your gender identity might not fit your body, that gender is more about the heart than handbags or hand-drills, and expect in time at least a few of their friends and family may be able to leap the gap and address them with (and think of them as) their real gender. It may seem like a big leap, but other societies have been recognising (and welcoming) this since history began. If you’re a Christian and are campaigning against Jerry Springer – The Opera, save a little of that energy and also use some of Jesus’s compassionate intelligence in revisiting gender identity instead of following the mob. If you’re not, like me, but are born in a Judeo-Christian culture, have a go at re-examining the tradition in which you’re currently embalmed, that seems to have uniquely blinded us to variations in gender identity. If you’re from another culture, you may live in one of the lucky ones where you can see this clearly! Heck, even supposedly tyrannical Iran is arguably more progressive than the UK and US.
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So Jerry Springer – the Nopera. It will feature non-operative transgendered people, who will confess that they have been lying all along about their gender: that in spite of their bodies, they are and always were a different gender inside compared to what may be expected from the outside. I’ll be on first, apologising to the headmaster of my single-sex school for breaking school rules, that I was really a girl all along, and didn’t think to mention it, but really should have done so and popped next door to the girl’s school. I’ll confess to my first partner when we were 16 that I was really a girl, and that I’m sorry I put her in the position of having a lesbian relationship without knowing it, but reassure her that it doesn’t make her a lesbian (dread thought!). Several other “noperas” (as we will decide to call ourselves) will follow, some with the opposite polarity to me, confessing that they should have explained earlier to their parents why they screamed when told to “put on a nice dress for your gran”, always ended up climbing trees, and really started scaring them by binding their breasts as teenagers. Few chairs will be thrown. Scatter-cushions will be used instead for some gentle biffing. Viewing figures will be abnormally low. Simon Cowell will not appear at the premiere, claiming he has instead to wash his hair that night.

An Angel’s Map to the Human Heart

Today I started trying to write an introduction to this website, who I am and so on, and stumbled on the first sentence:

“The author of this website is a 30-something* person….”

* this statement released under the Artistic Licence

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I didn’t want to use the word “transgendered” in the first sentence – it’s not like that’s all I am. Nor is my whole identity “ill”, or “partially deaf” or “anxiety-disordered” – I have anxiety disorder, it isn’t me. I chewed my lip and cut and pasted a few times, and it slowly dawned on me that I couldn’t construct a sentence which didn’t refer to my gender in the first phrase, without it sounding unnaturally like I was spinning it out.
I’d wager that even those who profess to treat members of either gender more or less the same still tend to feel uncomfortable with “person”, expecting to see “woman”, “man” or similar very early in such an introduction, as if gender bores so deeply into us that we need to know it before we can even start to talk. We don’t require the same kind of read-out with regard to ethnicity, religion, and so on: you could happily get to know someone for years before realising their parents were Polish, for instance, and it wouldn’t (I don’t think) change your perception of them. Sexuality comes a little closer – you’d maybe expect to find out someone’s orientation within a month or two of knowing them, and in many cases in the first few seconds. Gender seems to be in some sense absolutely primary.
I’ve experienced this on IRC, by saying in previously unvisited channels (chatrooms) that I’d like to remain gender-neutral if that’s ok, partly to see what would happen and partly because I just wanted some rest from my internal gender wars. Excluding the “asl???” under-culture, even seemingly intelligent people seem to get at first amused, then faintly irritated, and in the finally stages (after say an hour or so, or two visits) either rude, as if you’re “fooling” them somehow (although they aren’t sure in which direction you’re fooling them or get fuzzy over in which way it’s dishonest to not declare your gender), or completely blank you (and make sure they tell you it’s because of your “game-playing” with gender before they do). I just can’t imagine the same reaction if, say, I declined to say if I was Caucasian, Afro-Caribbean or whatnot. The most well-natured tend to spend their time “guessing” at your gender, almost in what seems to be something like a flirtation to them, repeatedly and often in private, to the exclusion of all other types of interaction. They just can’t let go. They often assume you’re female, tell you you are(!) and that it’s ok, they will look after you if you feel intimidated or had a bad experience on IRC before. Gallant knights!
Although (ok), I was irritated as heck at the time by effectively being excluded from normal existence and becoming a cross between sideshow attraction and social leper, this isn’t really a criticism of their behaviour – well, apart from the patronising ones. I seem to naturally want to know others’ genders in the same way. On reflection it always seemed to me that these incidents just demonstrated something about the map of the human heart, how close to the centre-point each bit of our identity lies, and, probably in proportion, how much the hurt is if you’re misplaced, purposefully or through your own fear of identification (in my case) with something you think is shaming. The volume of pain due to the mismatch is of course dependent on circumstances too: ethnicity matters a lot to people where atrocity, race-hate or war have been involved; but it’s hard to imagine someone being (truly) emotionally hurt in more settled societies by their being assumed to be from a neighbouring city.
Moving closer to the centre of this identity map inside a human heart, being gay and not telling is a cause of great anguish to some, and immense relief once it’s just said and done; for others it’s of little consequence (I’m bi, but I often have to check myself before saying it without a preamble to some, because it seems so unremarkable to me now).
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But right near the bull’s eye, gender seems to lie. Attempted suicide rates for transsexuals are placed somewhere between 20% (Psychosocial characteristics of applicants evaluated for surgical gender reassignment. Arch Sex Behav 13: 269-276) and 80% (UK Parliament submission to the Joint Committee On Human Rights. Let’s ignore (can we?) those few left hobbling who would claim this is a tell-tale sign of mental disease, because they’re the same ones who talked about the mental disease “homosexuality” a few decades ago and proposed treatment, who say that Gulf War Victims are under some mass collective hypnosis of fictional illness, and who treated MS as a psychological problem between the wars. Being transgendered very often really hurts, unless you’re one of the lucky, brave ones who just say it out loud when you’re seven, like Ludovic in Ma Vie En Rose, who I guess stand a better chance. I can’t really explain to those who live permeated in the ether of a world naturally reacting in the correct way to their internal identity, just how many little hurts, hits and unintentional knocks a transgendered person has to smile through ever hour (knocks that aren’t really anyone’s fault) – well, not at least in this entry. Unlike Ludovic I didn’t tell anyone for decades, and there are still some that I’m only telling now with this weblog: all this for fear of what everyone would think of me. I’m still afraid of that, but I need to be one of the surviving ones (thus, this), particularly as I stand little chance of doing much about it because I’m ill, and not 18. But I suspect when the angels stand around in heaven flossing their teeth with their harp strings and puzzling over maps of the human heart, there’s a big big “G” at the centre: something the angels don’t understand, and might envy if they did.

Difference of sex no more we knew / Than our guardian angels do;

Today, just a hiatus for Christmas Day morning before we start this thing proper here. The most lovely thing anyone ever said, publically, that I knew was for me, privately.  A long time ago.

The Relic

When my grave is broke up again
Some second guest to entertain,
(For graves have learn’d that woman
head, To be to more than one a bed)
And he that digs it, spies
A bracelet of bright hair about the bone,
Will he not let’us alone,
And think that there a loving couple lies,
Who thought that this device might be some way
To make their souls, at the last busy day,
Meet at this grave, and make a little stay?
If this fall in a time, or land,
Where mis-devotion doth command,
Then he, that digs us up, will bring
Us to the bishop, and the king,
To make us relics; then
Thou shalt be a Mary Magdalen, and I
A something else thereby;
All women shall adore us, and some men;
And since at such time
miracles are sought, I would have that age by this paper taught
What miracles we harmless lovers wrought.
First, we lov’d well and faithfully,
Yet knew not what we lov’d, nor why;
Difference of sex no more we knew
Than our guardian angels do;
Coming and going, we
Perchance might kiss, but not between those meals;
Our hands ne’er touch’d the seals
Which nature, injur’d by late law, sets free;
These miracles we did, but now alas,
All measure, and all language, I should pass,
Should I tell what a miracle she was.
John Donne
(1572 – 1631)