Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How Radical Feminism Gets Trans Wrong

A couple of utterances from a well known RadFeminist thinker came to light today that I think deserve to be addressed:

First is the following interview:  Sheila Jeffreys on Transgenderism and Feminism
Followed by this article on The Guardian:  Let us be free to debate transgenderism without being accused of 'hate speech'

I'll start off with Ms. Jeffreys' interview, as it contains a great many clues as to what is wrong with the Radical Feminist stance towards transgenderism. 

Right at the top, we find the following:
I understand transgenderism to be a diagnosis of the medical profession constructed in the late 20th century. It seems to have come from work that was being done by sexologists in the mid 20th century when the sexological profession – endocrinologists and so on – invented the idea of gender
There are several points in this sentence that I think are important.  She has confused the evolution of the notion of gender as distinct from physical sexual attributes with the work of Dr. Harry Benjamin.  Her reference to endocrinologists seems like a bit of an attempt to diminish the significance of the work that Harry Benjamin and others did in breaking ground for the treatment of transsexuals.  She is also conveniently ignoring the fact that formal study of cross-gender behaviour predates Dr. Benjamin quite significantly, with Magnus Hirschfeld having coined the term "transvestism" as referring to cross-dressing in the early 20th century.
there were two categories of them [men who wanted sex reassignment surgery]. One category was definitely homosexual men, and in fact the first transsexual surgery that got a great deal of publicity in the US was [performed on] a man called Christine Jorgensen, who actually specifically said that he was homosexual, and in fact we have it on record that it was his doctor who said to him “no, you’re suffering from a condition which affects every cell of your body” and so on. His was the first case, and that was basically about the gay-hating of the general society, which causes men like him (and unfortunately there are still many men like him) to have surgery because he could not bear to love other men in the body that he had.
Here's the next big point.  Notice that Ms. Jeffreys has chosen to use masculine pronouns with respect to Christine Jorgensen.  Not only is this profoundly disrespectful of Ms. Jorgensen's lived gender, it also makes it abundantly clear that Ms. Jeffreys has either not read Ms. Jorgensen's own autobiography or is choosing not to acknowledge much of the narrative that Ms. Jorgensen expressed in it.

As far as I can see, Ms. Jeffreys is falling into the trap of using sexual attraction to describe someone's gender.  This is a tactic that we see all too commonly from the "Christian" far right when they want to invalidate a transsexual.

Ms. Jorgensen may well have been attracted to men, but in her male past was unwilling or outright unable to engage with men sexually for a variety of reasons.  That may have resulted in her describing herself as homosexually attracted in her pre-transition state, but that doesn't make her homosexual per se.  In fact, it tends to suggest that she is a straight female.

The second point that I take great exception to is Ms. Jeffreys' insistence on attempting to frame transsexualism in the context of the homosexual world.  While a good number of transsexuals do inhabit the gay community for a variety of reasons, it is folly indeed to try and glue the two together as though transgender people are simply a subset of the GLB population.   By arguing that Ms. Jorgensen transitioned out of shame or in response to the social pressures against being homosexual, Ms. Jeffreys is denying the fundamental validity of the transsexual's drive to transition. 

Speaking for myself, I didn't transition out of any fear of consequences for being homosexual.  In fact, my own experience of the process of transition was that the pressures against a transsexual undergoing transition were at least as harsh, if not more so, than the pressures that homosexuals experience. 
Nonetheless, queer theory, which is very social constructionist, created this idea that gender is socially constructed – which is true – but then [within this framework] there can be all kinds of genders, and gender doesn’t have any kind of relationship to the actual material reality of the subordination of women and the dominance of men from which gender actually arises
Queer theory doesn't adequately describe transsexualism either.  Trust me, I've studied enough of Foucault, Butler, and others to long ago realize that social constructionist theories cannot account for some key aspects of transsexual narratives.  Among the key factors that transsexuals often express is an awareness of being different as one of their earliest memories, sometimes well before any development of socialized gender behaviours.  No constructionist view of gender accounts for this, and usually the response when confronted with this fact is to attempt to dismiss it as "unsubstantiated essentialism".
At the same time there was the development of plastic surgery. The medical profession had to develop certain skills in order to make transgenderism happen – they were indeed engaged in a project to create heterosexual correctly-gendered people, but they needed endocrinology, they needed plastic surgery, they needed anaesthetics in order to do transgenderism.
Here's the next bit of idiocy.  Ms. Jeffreys is now trying to conjure the idea that the medical professions set out to create an industry for themselves.  While there is no question that the treatment of transsexuals (and other transgender people) makes a small number of professionals a very healthy living, there is no evidence that this is a result of some kind of conspiracy on the part of them.  Having studied the work of so many of the early pioneers in the treatment of transsexuals, there is no evidence that supports that kind of hypothesis.
So there’s really a campaign of censorship on the net, which frightens people and it’s not just feminists that they do this to. There was an American sexologist called Michael Bailey who wrote a book back in I think 2004 called ‘The Man Who Would Be Queen’ in which he made arguments that transgender activists do not like — that transgenderism for, not those men who have been homosexual and do not wish to be in that category, but the other large category of those men who decide that they’re transgender who come from cross-dressing, who’ve been sexually excited by women’s clothes. Michael Bailey argued that for that category of men – which is a very large one – who’ve usually been married with a couple of children and decide they’re transgender in their 50s or so – he said that that was sexual and it was about sexual excitement, at least in its origins.
So, now she wants to martyr Michael Bailey.  Bailey wasn't shouted down by the transgender community simply because he argued for a particular model, but rather because that model was based on a horrendously bad set of research, assumptions and inferences.  Attempting to describe the entirety of transsexuals based on solely on interviewing people who hang out in drag bars is a guaranteed way to fail.  Bailey tried to defend an indefensible position by telling a lot of very clear-headed people that they were "deluded".  Hardly a way to "make friends and influence people.

In short, if Ms. Jeffreys wants to "debate" transgenderism in the context of feminism, that's fine.  Until such times as Ms. Jeffreys wants to start dragging into her space a whole bunch of utterly bogus assumptions about transsexuals that are so fundamentally flawed as claiming that we are really homosexuals, or dragging Bailey's autogynephilia nonsense into the conversation.  In short, if you are going to debate the subject, treat the people you are talking about with some respect.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

On Jenna Talackova and "Double Dipping"

Barbara Kay over at the National Post is busy ranting about how there's something wrong with Jenna Talackova participating in a trans-oriented beauty pageant in 2010 and then Miss Universe in 2012.

Ms. Kay is arguing that there is a degree of inconsistency to Ms. Talackova's behaviour in this regard.  How can you claim to be "just a woman", and at the same time participate in an event focused on transgender women?  
Is Ms Talackova a woman or a transsexual? Are they one and the same thing? Because if they are one and the same, then how is it that Ms Talackova did not see a conflict of interest in taking part as well in The Miss International Queen pageant in Thailand before she took part in Miss Universe Canada?
The problem with this kind of reasoning is that it is a false dichotomy.  In order for Ms. Kay's dichotomy to hold together, it would require Jenna to not just ignore her past, but to actively deny it.

For example, I am a woman.  Make no mistake about it - I have been a woman for quite a while now, and I'm perfectly comfortable with that.  At the same time, I am a woman with a transsexual history.  In other words, when I was born, I was assigned a male gender role based on some dangly bits that the doctor could see.  I do not deny this, nor do I deny the reality of my transition.  Were I to attempt to do so, I would basically walk right back into the emotionally confining closet that was part of my pre-transition past - a place that was very unhealthy for me to live in.

I see it as a matter of Ms. Kay not fully understanding how being trans can affect a person's life and personal narrative.  To deny the reality of your past is guaranteed to be destructive, and there is so much work that goes on in transition that is very constructive that it would be ridiculous to entirely deny your past experiences simply to make Ms. Kay's assumptions about post-transition women hold together.

As an example, for the most part, I live and work with what I call "an open secret".  I don't talk about the fact of my trans history with anyone who isn't in my inner circle for a lot of good reasons.  That said, if someone were to ask me about it, I certainly do not deny my past either.  In fact, I  try my level best to be honest and open about it.  

One of the reasons I do not deny my past is because in matters of public policy (which is really what Ms. Kay is trying to influence), it is very easy for decisions to be made that directly affect others who are in the midst of their own journeys towards their correct gender.  One example of this would be the recent changes to airline boarding rules which could create all sorts of havoc for someone who is trans and needs to travel for any reason.  In these situations, it is perfectly appropriate for me to speak out not just as a woman, but also as a person who has been in the very situation that would be affected.  

To do less, in my opinion, would be to do an injustice to the rest of the transsexuals who live in our society and do not feel free to speak out for fear of repercussions.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


So, why do I keep writing about the nonsense that Walt Heyer throws up?

Largely, it's because every time he opens his yap on a subject, I end up finding a few more articles written elsewhere that seem to be all too quick to echo his sentiments without bothering to do any real research.

Take, for example, the article recently published in the Kelowna Daily Courier newspaper entitled "Transgendered kids a bunch of baloney".  Too much of this article reads like the writer has run across Heyer's blog, and or possibly watched one too many Fox News interviews of Keith Ablow who runs around making all kinds of scurrilous claims about transfolk and homosexuals, claiming authority because he has a PhD.

These kinds of idiotic arguments need to be called out for one simple reason - to fail to do so would be to tacitly accept the lies that they contain.

Living Full Time vs Trying To Live Full Time

This is another post challenging some of Walt Heyer's rubric about his failed transition.

In this post, I'm going to take apart and analyse Heyer's own narrative about his life as Laura a piece at a time, and expose the glaringly obvious problems that contributed enormously to the outcome of his attempt to transition, and explain why Heyer is not an example of typical transitions.

A big part of the motivation for writing this post comes from the following doozy of a comment on his blog:

The key quotes I present will be taken from Walt's own autobiography Trading My Sorrows, Kindle Edition. at four years, he was pretty positive about the outcome of his surgery?  I'm not so sure about that.  In fact, about the only time he seems even remotely happy about the outcome of his surgery is when he woke up in the recovery room after surgery.  It all pretty much seems to go downhill from there if I understand his narrative correctly:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sometimes it feels like the "anti-trans" crowd is like a broken record, making the most assinine claims over and over as if repeating their lies will somehow grant them a degree of truth.

Over at Mr. Heyer's blog of "my failed transition means nobody else should transition", we find him arguing Hormone Blockers -- Criminal Experimentation, and getting it dead wrong.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Walt Heyer: No Discussions For You

Apparently Mr. Heyer isn't interested in actually discussing his views.  I took the time to make it over to his blog and responded to his post So Many Different Issues Drive The Transgender To Surgery, and pointed out how wrong he was to infer from a Swedish study that increased rates of mental health issues among transsexuals meant that transition and GRS were an inappropriate treatment.

He deigned to allow the first couple of comments to stay, but after that he has just been deleting them.  As shown below.

Step 1, add new comment:

Step 2:  An hour later note that the commment has been removed:

Roughly translated, like most other anti-trans wingnuts, Walt Heyer cannot, and will not discuss the problems with how they are mangling data when it doesn't suit their particular dogma.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Stunning ... or Stunned? You Decide!

In a pattern consistent with the anti-gay junk science of Paul Cameron, we find Walt Heyer grossly misconstruing two important studies in the last couple of years about transsexuals.

A recent Swedish study reports that having gender surgery increases suicide attempts and lowers the quality of life. It also points to increased occurrence of psychiatric issues and depression after sex change surgery. This research allows us to claim that changing genders is frequently more folly than effective treatment for the wide range of gender issues that do exist.
Shall we go take a closer look at what that Swedish study actually says?  Looking at the study in more detail, it claims that suicide among post-op transsexuals is approximately 19 times higher than in the general population.  That's bad - very bad by any measure. 

However, before we go diving off the deep end, let's examine the raw numbers a bit further, because they are very informative.

The Swedish study covers a very long period of time, from 1973 to 2003 - healthy thirty year period which is good for a longitudinal study like this.

Of these, we find that 10 of the patients tracked committed suicide in that thirty year period.  That is 10 out of a total population of 324 - approximately 3% of the transgender population.

If we go a step or two further, and look at suicide attempts as well as suicides, we have a total count of 39 out of 324 or 12%.

Both of these are disturbingly high numbers, but frankly any suicide is tragic, and deserves to be addressed.

However, that's nowhere near the brutal numbers of suicide attempts recorded by the NTDS Report on transgender health released in 2010.  (Unlike Heyer, who merely links to an MSNBC report on the study, I've linked to the study's download page so you can look for yourself)

When asked “have you ever attempted suicide?” 41% of respondents answered yes. 
Intriguingly, the Swedish study actually demonstrates a significant drop in the overall suicide rate compared to the raw data of the NTDS report.  Please recognize that the NTDS report didn't specifically study transsexuals, but rather the entire spectrum of transgender people, so we can't quite make an "apples to apples" comparison, but the numbers are interesting when compared with each other, since the NTDS study would include both pre and post operative trans people.

Heyer concludes that surgery is not a solution for transsexuals.  The Swedes are much more measured in their assessment, concluding that surgery alleviates the gender dysphoria aspects of transsexualism, but does not address other issues that the transsexual may be facing.
Our findings suggest that sex reassignment, although alleviating gender dysphoria, may not suffice as treatment for transsexualism, and should inspire improved psychiatric and somatic care after sex reassignment for this patient group.
While Heyer is quick to leap to conclusions that suit his agenda, they aren't really borne out by reading the studies that he is referring to.  He then goes on to claim that transsexuals suffer from a whole host of other conditions, and that the referring professionals are being negligent in their conduct:
Transgenders suffer from psychiatric issues ranging from dissociative disorders, separation anxiety to full blown delusional disorders. I don’t fault the individuals who suffer and eventually request the life changing surgery. In my view, the responsibility lies with the surgeons and approving psychologists, unqualified and unfit, who do not care about the long-term results of changing genders. The approving psychologists in too many cases are more about giving the wanna-be transgender anything he or she wants, than in providing effective diagnosis and treatment for real psychiatric disorders.
Yes, there may be comorbid conditions that the transsexual is suffering from in parallel with the gender identity issues.  A carefully executed transition will include dealing with those additional conditions.  Long term follow-up post-transition, post-surgery is also a valuable support, as transsexuals do face significant discrimination pressures in the world.

The real issue is one of dealing with the social hostility and discrimination that transgender, and especially transsexual, people face on a daily basis just living their lives.  The NTDS report is quite clear about the higher levels of stress and discrimination that transgender people face in society, and it isn't exactly rocket science to understand the connection between discrimination, economic and social, and suicide attempts.