Twisty Strikes (oil) Again!

This was originally going to be a comment on the Twisty blog, but as it grew and veered off topic, I decided here might be a better place for it.

Twisty’s patience with Newsweek is a limited, and that patience decided not to put up with lame-pseudo-newsiness (my evaluation, not necessarily Twisty’s) typical of Newsweek, which was this time applied to the ‘transgender question’ (I would more likely call this a “the patriarchy-brainwashed don’t get it” question).

So here are my somewhat random reactions to this thread; with any luck I’ll have it somewhat organized and intelligible.

A thought, provoked by wren’s comments:

The term ‘transgender’ exists because there is some strange (to me) concept that because a person has certain bits they are theoretically then programmed to act a certain way, because they’re male/female.

Post-revolution (when we all get to be human beings) we’ll have it figured out that what a person looks like has no bearing on his/her character, actions, feelings or state of being a ‘him’ or ‘her’.

Sound about right?*

*I second wren’s caveat. I haven’t been faced with this ‘choice’ (yet?) ∴ this is an attempt to understand, nothing more.

Twisty said:

It is the position of this blog that femininity and masculinity, as well as “woman” and “man,” for that matter, are synthetic constructs imposed by the dominant culture to bolster a class hierarchy that favors dudes.

Okay, so you took me that next step, placing values on the ‘two’ ‘choices’ (or being relegated to one construct or another).

I do get it that there are slight physical differences (the aforementioned bits) but why there’s a value placed on having one type of bits, and getting a lifetime supply of free cookies because YOU were selected to be born with those bits, this does not make sense to me.

Then Madeline quoth:

More important is to eliminate the gender dichotomy all together. Have female sex organs, want to behave any way you please? Great. Just don’t be oppressive. Have a good time! Have male sex organs, want to behave any way you please? Great. Just don’t be oppressive. Have a good time!

Can I live in your world, please? Geez I want that. I’m (technically) female, (generally) attracted to (technically) males, but I don’t really think of myself as a woman. I’m just a human, really. I feel like I was socialized female, but I have never really felt all that feminine. Not particularly masculine, either, mind you. I’ve just felt like me, and then I’ve felt like I’ve had to fit myself into a mold to be ‘right’ with the world; molds which never fit.

(Aside) I once took a “what gender is your brain?” quiz and scored exactly in the middle. Apparently my excellent spatial orientation is a ‘male’ trait. IBTP.

More Madeline:

I don’t believe, of course, that even if the gender dichotomy were abolished there wouldn’t still be some people who felt they were wrongly sexed. I don’t see what’s wrong with those people attempting to alter their biological organs. It seems to me that at that stage, altering one’s genitalia and taking hormone therapy would be more of a cosmetic change than anything. It would be like choosing to get breast reductions because you are made uncomfortable by your large breasts, or like choosing to get a tattoo (though obviously more extreme than either). At this point the question wouldn’t be about gender identity; it would be about whether you think drastic elective surgery is okay (I think yes; there’s plenty of reasons people think no; it’s off-topic to argue right now).

Okay, this gets me. I don’t see how altering one’s primary sex organs is “more extreme” than altering one’s secondary sex organs (i.e., breast reduction/augmentation) or, for that matter, stomach stapling and weight-loss surgery.

The difference between a transgender person getting the bits they feel they should have been given in the first place and a person who gets their stomach stapled is that the latter is catering to the patriarchy, and the former isn’t. Stuff that’s fully supported by the patriarchy (breast augmentation, cosmetic/weight loss surgery) is somehow ‘okay’, when a transgender people getting the bits they feel they should have is ‘wrong’ or ‘unnatural’?

Maybe that comparison is a bit extreme. It’s possible to see sexual reassignment surgery as something that improves the quality of life for the person who undergoes it, in the way that organ transplantation improves/extends life.

And Catherine Martell makes this part of my post thoroughly redundant:

It is quite different to change your body because a whim to do so strikes you, versus changing your body because society has shamed and intimidated you into doing so.

Either way, for the way things actually work, IBTP.

KMTberry said:

There are QUITE A FEW people born on this planet whose sexual “identity” has to be “assigned” at birth by, for lack of a better word, authorities.

Which is why I’m leaning more and more towards a home birth/birthing center with a doula/midwife. Even the remotest possiblity of my (not yet created, thank you) pregnancy being treated as a disease is something I want to avoid.

The thought of some doctor deciding what ‘gender’ my child will be (on the off chance there’s some doubt) is just infuriating.

This is right up there with not finding out the ‘gender’ of my child, to stave off, at least for a while, the inevitable influx of blue/pink from the rest of my family.

Speaking of, erin ambrose reports:

all this makes me think of a news story i overheard a few days ago about a great new test they’ve concocted where at 6 wks into a pregnancy you can know the sex of the fetus. Human rights folk are worried that this will cause a rise in the aborting of “girl” babies since most want “boys”…
on a lighter note, they joked that this test will allow parents plenty of time to paint the babies room pink or blue.

holy crap…theres so many problems with this my head starts to spin.

but its a sobering example of the very real dangers of this ridiculous gender binary crap as well as the assumption/dictation that our sex organs predetermine our gender expression.

sad sad humans.

For some reason this reminds me of the assumption of, well, almost everybody, in the movie “Children of Men” that the child who would be born to finally save humanity from terminal infertility would, in fact/of course, be a BOY. Because important = boy. *rolls eyes*

I posted a little more at the Twisty blog, and maybe it’s worth reading. Other people’s comments certainly are. Thanks for stopping by. ^^

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15 thoughts on “Twisty Strikes (oil) Again!

  1. I surfed on over from Twisy’s to read your take on this. It’s interesting!

    I just want to add something about the sex assignment surgery done at birth to intersex newborns (since you mention it above post). Sex assignment surgery isn’t always done just because the external sex organs are ambiguous, it’s sometimes done because the function of the “ambiguous” organs might have larger health ramifications for the child. (For example, when the urethra is diverted in such a way as to cause urinary problems.)

    Anyway, I agree with you that pregnancy and childbirth is not a state of disorder requiring medical intervention at all stages!

  2. I can understand that exception, for sure. I mean, health is health. Having a functioning urinary system is, well, important to staying alive.

    But the “we just can’t tell so we’ll decide for this human being who just can’t argue with us yet” line of reasoning bugs me. I don’t know if that goes through any doctor’s head, but that’s how the situation translates in this brain.

  3. Hi! Wow, the fact that gender would be “assigned” for a urinary malformation is EVEN WORSE! I assume that the MALE babies have XY Chromosomes and the females XX…..they are STILL creating people who will PROBABLY feel very “wrong” about their bodies..doesn’t it seem like they should at least BEGIN with assigning the gender that the CHROMOSOMES say?

    I really wonder, from the thread at Twisty’s, what the genetic raminfications are…..it seems at least POSSIBLE, to me, that the transgender people who just feel all wrong about their gender identity might be totally RIGHT, and their genes could be just very unusual.

    I also wanted to comment that I have given it a lot of thought, and I think the ladies who object to transwomen in their midst becasue they are trying to get away from “men”, and the intersex people who object to being lumped together with trans people, are being bigoted and transphobic. GAH, if being hated on and discriminated against has taught you ANYTHING, it should have taught you to QUIT BEING MEAN. I think the continuum model is a lot more apt than otherwise; I have a friend who is intersex, literally having one ovary and one testicle, and he fathered a child. Obviously this supports the continuum model; but hey, that’s my real life experience (or rather his!)

  4. Kathy,

    I had that reaction too, but then I was worried I might be on the wrong track, so I decided to ponder it more before jumping to conclusions (you may have had the opportunity to give it a lot of thought; this is a new topic for me).

    In any case, assigning gender (a social construct) based on chromosomes (a biological feature) is exactly what society/the patriarchy does on a broad scale. That is the reason folks whose concepts of themselves don’t fit with the gender forced upon them (justified by biology!) have problems in the first place.

    As do what doctors do when faced with this decision (which I would guess they feel it is their duty to ‘correct’, they’ve been indoctrinated into the patriarchy too) is as individual as the doctor + the situation.

    I can understand genital ‘(re)construction’ being done in the situations where the child’s urinary tract health is in serious jeopardy. I also recognize my lack of medical training, expertise, and practice, so I can’t really make any judgment on whether or not doctors should make changes when performing surgery for health reasons, or even what sort of changes they make.

    I think the thing to do is to work towards making people aware of all the biases and complexities surrounding gender politics, so that the question whether or not to ‘correct’ an intersex child becomes something that doesn’t happen until the child is old enough to make the choice themselves.

    That’s the nutshell version of my problem with compulsory sexual assignment surgery — it leaves the person most affected by the results out of the decision entirely, when it should be entirely their decision.

  5. “The term ‘transgender’ exists because there is some strange (to me) concept that because a person has certain bits they are theoretically then programmed to act a certain way, because they’re male/female.”

    Yea-huh. That’s exactly why it exists: because there is a concept (and a whole, nearly invisible world of power strutures that go with – You “cookies” line).

    Sexism [I’m quoting myself here {*embarressed*}] is what happens when we make assumptions about someone’s abilities, potential and proclivities based on their gender. By “someone’s proclivities” I mean those things they tend toward (tastes, habits, intentions, valuations). Not just what they think or do, but what they are likely to think or do. What they are apt to want to think or do. Does that make sense? Sexism is drawing conclusions on the basis of alleged gender (=genetic) determined characteristics.

    This is a hard point to make because groups do have shared behaviour and experiences. Sometimes boys act like boys, black people act like black people, catholics act like cathoics, trade union members act like trade union members. The question is whether the source of this sameness is genetic. Yes! say our mad-doctor scientists. But they always say that. About African-American, or Jews, or Native Americans, or “Asians” (as though they were all the same), or Welshmen, or Gypsies or women… Or men. Or boys. They don’t say people are the way they are because we treat them differently, teach them differently, tell different stories about and to them.

    It’s bad enough to assume you know what a friend or family member thinks or wants, or is apt to think or want, or is capable of thinking and wanting. To make assumptions about a whole class, race or gender is just a mean-spirited delusion.

  6. Before I forget: Thanks to everyone for stopping by! (You’re all three new commenters. Thanks!)

    Wendell,

    They don’t say people are the way they are because we treat them differently, teach them differently, tell different stories about and to them.

    I’m sure some of those groups you mentioned have some characteristics in common that make them a group — the trade union members, members of religious organizations — some common belief or goal that might cause them to, I don’t know, protest unfair wages or capital punishment.

    I don’t see discrimination against union members being the same as discrimination against people based on their race, ‘gender’, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. For some reason that just doesn’t ring true to me.

    Treating some people differently than others based on genetic disparities from the ‘norm’ (old white dudes) does, I agree, have a great bearing on the behavior of the dispossessed and downtrodden.

    The system’s treatment of individuals based on an externally-imposed classification system does have an effect on these ‘groups’, especially in giving them something to band together over — effectively making the system right (see? they’re all acting the same!)

    Still, the point of the patriarchy is that, because they classify a group as a group, they can ignore the individual, and dehumanize/demonize these group, so that making assumptions about their behavior is, to the patriarchy, justifiable.

    If they’re not human, you don’t have to treat them as if they were. This line of thinking just makes me sad.

  7. I’m like you. I’ve only ever felt human. It always seems strange to me that everyone doesn’t feel this way.

    Lumping people into two big groups (with some outliers) and then believing that people in one group have to be one way, and people in the other group have to be this other way is just silly.

  8. I saw you on WordPress top posts. : D

    Once I read an article about a convention in Philly for transchildren and their parents… what a difficult decision for a parent to make! I wanted to respect and sympathize with them, but it’s nowhere near an easy ethical choice. In some ways, children experience behavioral gender distinctions very keenly because their biological sex isn’t so distinct: therefore, pink vs. blue, Barbie vs. G.I. Joe or whatever the boys have these days, and so forth. Maybe it’s even more clear-cut for children to know that they want to belong to XX group rather than XY group, or vice versa. But I can’t get over the sadness of needing biological sex to match sexual behavior.

  9. Jodie, welcome! Lumping people into groups *period* is kind of silly. I mean, my sister and I are siblings, but just because we share genetic material, background, heritage, family traditions and some interests doesn’t mean we’re the same! We’re very different individuals, even though we have very much in common.

    I can’t imagine that two random members of these “groups” have as much in common as my sister and I do, and yet we can mentally classify any two people who are different from us in the same physical ways as “oh, they’re just like that”.

    tanglethis: You did??? Whee!!!! I’m a grown-up blogger now!

    But I can’t get over the sadness of needing biological sex to match sexual behavior.

    Or gender behavior intended to shape later sexual behavior. It begins so young. I’ve already griped (here and elsewhere) about my niece (not the youngest child, either) getting no books for Christmas from her grandparents. Everything she *did* get was pink, or went with pink, and was highly gender-specific.

    I can’t imagine having to make the choice (or even being presented with the problem) of what biological sex my child would have, let alone having to choose once the child had already been born. Ethically, I’d want to leave that choice to the child, but as you say, it’s an incredibly difficult situation: male, female? wait? do nothing? The ethical choice in each situation is, again, as individual as the people involved and the influences they bring into the decision.

  10. I’m just tired of the “after the Revolution” riff. -what- freaking Revolution, and how exactly does one propose to go about it, and what exactly does the world look like when we’re through? Because if it’s one giant Michfest…sorry, not interested, personally.

    and, there are so many, many problems with that whole line of thought, starting with “if we as a Class actually have no power–certainly none to -oppress,- we -never- do that, power is constant and monolithic– then how d’you propose effecting this giant sweeping Revolution?”

    but mostly, it’s particularly insulting when it’s used as a way of there-thereing people whose -actual lives are made difficult in a particular way that yours is not.- No gender, what a bunch of crap. Do you go by and accept female pronouns? Use the ladies’ room without a thought? Wear a skirt (yeah, even the “crunchy, free-flowing, completely non-sexbot sort) without worrying about getting beaten up for it? Congratulations, you have gender privilege. Yeah, really. As in, your gender is congruent to the sex you were assigned. Yeah, there are some gender-incongruent women who deliberately don’t go the TG route for political reasons, or their own reasons, so fine for them–but, as noted there, they still don’t speak for everyone, and more to the point, most of the more hateful transphobes there are not, in fact, in that category.

    and particularly the public bathroom thing, which is what came up last time. like, damn, so now some people have to wait until after the Revolution to use the -can-? Damn, that’s cold.

  11. Hi belledame. Thanks for coming by and commenting. ^^

    My basic point is this: we will none of us be free until gender identity no longer has a stigma attached. (See the first Madeline quote in the post above).

    That’s what I understand the “revolution” to mean: that someday in the far-distant future people will realize we’re all human and not worry/have to worry about discriminating against/being discriminated against another gender/class/race/other artificial social construct.

    How? I can’t force all people (or any people) to change — all I can do is help to create an environment in which change can take place. For me that’s striving to be completely myself, in spite of privilege or lack thereof; to be aware of others who don’t enjoy the privileges I do, and to shut up and listen when they speak; and to try to teach others by example to do those things.

    That’s what I feel I can do now. I can’t fight this whole thing by myself, but if I don’t do something, that’s one less voice speaking out.

  12. Sorry I didn’t address all of what you mentioned in your first post, belledame. I had to find out what you meant by Michfest and the whole bathroom controversy (i.e., the part about cisgendered women not wanting transwomen in the ladies’ room).

    I don’t really know how I’d react to a transwoman (pre-surgery or not) in a restroom. I would hope I’d remember that the “ladies'” room was the safer place for a transwoman.

    I’m not good at it yet — let me say that first — at seeing and recognizing my privilege. I get all the privs except the male one, so I have plenty to learn.

    That’s what I’m here for. Thank you, sincerely, for giving me something more to consider.

  13. belledame, thanks for that link. The redaction of the worst-of-the-worst comments reminded me not so much of what you might likely find on a feminist blog (okay, by feminists) but on YouTube.

    Amongst those comments I saw the old false dichotomy of IF not p, then q; if not a woman, you must be a man; never mind that these concepts are social constructs.

    And the question of what bits that person in the next stall has? Sounds like it goes back to the old definition of rights: my rights end where they infringe on another person’s rights. Considering the purpose of a restroom, who has what is definitely NOT my business!

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