Thursday, February 10, 2011

Trans Wars aka Whose Patriarchy Pain Is More Authentic

There is an argument that erupts every so often about whose patriarchy pain is more authentic: the born woman or the trans woman. It erupted yesterday at I Blame the Patriarchy (yeah, me too!) and I thought I'd put my two cents into the debate.

Imagine, if you will, that every clothing store everywhere stopped selling any sizes but medium and large. I would imagine that a majority of people would be okay with that. It would make buying clothes easier, and most people probably fit into medium or large and there would be more of their size available, so cool.

There would be, however, a large number of people not well served by this decision, and they would fall, in the main, into two groups. On the one hand, you would have people like me, who wear a small or extra small. I can certainly wear a medium, but it looks terrible and I'd have to seriously invest in belts or spend a lot of time learning advanced tailoring techniques. I'd probably have trouble getting dates or professional jobs due to my newly created sloppy appearance, but I could get by.

On the other hand, you'd have people like my husband, who wears a size larger than large. He simply could not fit into a large, let alone a medium, and no amount of tailoring or belts would help. He would have to either wear obviously home made clothing (after all, everyone would know he didn't buy clothing that large at a store) or stay at home naked. He could not get by.

If case you haven't figured it out by now, I am using clothing sizes as a metaphor for binary gender in Western culture. You can be a woman or you can be a man, that's it. Medium or large, man or woman. In reality, there are about as many genders as there are people, and most people are not all of one thing or all of another, any more than most people are exactly a medium or exactly a large. Most people are going to find one size a little too small, the other a little too big, but whatever, close enough. I identify as a woman, but not all womanly aspects really apply to me, but I'm definitely closer to woman than man, so whatever, close enough.

As in our clothing metaphor, there are some people who are close to typical gender binary and others so far outside culturally determined typical for their sex/gender that they can't simply say "whatever, close enough". Some of them are like the smalls in our clothing example. They're women who are a little too butch for comfort or men a little too effeminate to be reasonable*, but in a big enough city, in the right atmosphere they get by. Some people, however, are like our 2XLs: the gender binary simply does not fit them no matter how hard they try. You simply can't fit 10lbs of potatoes in a 5lb bag, and a man who identifies as a woman in our gender binary is the 10lbs of potatoes.

So, to continue my metaphor, imagine the argument going like this: I've always been bigger than a large and have had to deal with that my entire life. I've always been the subject of pointed fingers and bullying, always had trouble getting jobs and finding a place to fit in. You, you Johnny-come-lately to the world of binary fashion, only recently gained enough weight to be an XL, and now you're going to tell me how hard it is? I'm 6'8", I couldn't lose enough weight to fit into a large, you could just go on a diet. Cry me a river, asshole.

Oh, so you're a trans woman, are you? Was somebody stuffing you into pink dresses as soon as you were born? Were people shoving Barbies into your chubbie little fingers on your second birthday? Really, you're a man. You still have a penis and you could present as a man and not have to deal with the patriarchy bullshit ever again. Bleed me an ocean**, jackass.

The best answer, of course, would be to start the revolution that ends with me as Empress of the Entire Freakin' World, at which point I will abolish the gender binary and end the patriarchy. It will be a gender free-for-all in which public restrooms will be big rooms with stalls that have floor to ceiling doors with deadbolts and open to all and driver's licenses no longer carry a notation regarding "sex"- other than "yes", "no" and "kinky". The Empire's various police forces uniforms will be fabulous, Hessian-inspired and include skirts over pants just to cover all options. On alternate Tuesdays, everyone will wear bras and high heels and the following Thursdays, we'll all wear ties***.

Until that happens, however, arguing whose patriarchy pain is more authentic is entirely missing the point. And as long as we engage in these arguments, the patriarchy wins. We don't want that, people.

*In a societal sense, not my opinion. I don't care what other people do in that realm and I was surprised when I learned other people did.

**If you're not familiar with Acidbath, I don't know what to tell you.

***Perhaps the world at large should have been a little nicer to me.


  1. Quoted and reblogged. This is awesome, thank you.

  2. Weird.

    Gender = genitalia. Everything else is fluff.

    I'm sorry, but while I am tactful and will respect a person's wish to be identified with a gender other than the one they're anatomically suited for, I reject the notion that wanting to be a man and believing yourself a man and behaving like a man makes you male. It does not.

    That's just me, though.

  3. Regular reader (Friend of Geds) here, just wanted to say thanks. Perfect metaphor, wish I'd thought of it myself when trying to explain this stuff. This made a lot of things much easier for me to think and talk about.

  4. Whateverman,

    "Gender" may not have been the right word, but her point still stands.

    You've probably heard at one point that certain psychological studies have shown everyone to be, to one percentage or another, "gay" even if they are, in fact, dominantly straight. Whether you call it gay, gender, sex, or something else entirely, each individual falls somewhere unique on the masculinity-feminity paradigm, in some cases entirely irrelavent of their actual biological hardware.

    Unfortunately, most societies have conflated the ideas of biological sex and masculinity/feminitity, creating two pigeonholes for infinitely variable dispositions, which just leads to a whole lot of undue confusion and frustration. It is my belief that that's what this post is really about.

  5. @ Whateverman - The problem is that everything else isn't just fluff. Sexual orientation is complex and often problematic; self-perception of sexual identity, likewise. And both those things are very, very important to people.

    There is a significant percentage of the population which is willing to undergo major surgery - expensive, specialized surgery, at that - in order to make their physical body match their self-perception. However incomprehensible you find that desire (and I believe most trans folks would characterize it as a "need" rather than a "desire"), anything that motivates people to that level of action cannot be accurately described as "fluff".

    If you want to argue that such things shouldn't be that important, go right ahead. Arguing that sexual identity isn't important pretty much says to me that you've never had trouble with yours. In Sociology terms, you're showing your priviledge.

    And, come to think of it, even genitalia isn't always as straightforward as you seem to think it is.

  6. Great post. I can't stand these who-has-it-worse pissing contests. Because you know who wins? Patriarchy. And the rest of us are stuck standing in piss.

  7. Whatever -

    further, you have actually CONFUSED the definition. SEX is what = the genitals. according to both pychological definitions and physical medical definitions.
    GENDER is "what the person thinks they are; their display of masculinity/feminity/etc"

    so... yeah. be less wrong? or something. because everyone else is right - what you FEEL is at LEAST as important as what genitals you have, and people who have "mixed" genitals [or missing genitals, etc] aren't any less PEOPLE for being born with something odd. XXY is the LEAST of the intersex scope.

  8. I got flamed - cool!

    The few definitions I consulted suggested that while gender can include "societal norms", the definition itself is very fluid.

    Ergo, you might consider it to be whatever the person identifies with. I might consider it to be biologically based.

    Obviously, whether my comments were "right or wrong" depends on which definition you choose to adhere to. I'm sticking by mine. I'm respectful of whatever a person wishes to portray themselves as. I will not, however, consider them male, female, trans-gender or whatever they label it if the anatomy doesn't support that label.

    I realize that anatomy isn't cut-and-dry. It's a whole heck of a lot more cut and dry than subjective opinion is, though...

  9. @Whateverman, you won't accept someone's self-identification of "transgender" unless the anatomy "matches"? Are you an idiot or do you just not read what you write? Anatomy has nothing to do with a transgender identity. In fact, that's kinda the point.

    Also, is a woman who has had a double-mastectomy less of a woman? She's got less of the anatomy.

    What about someone with XY chromosomes but who developed as a woman because of androgen insensitivity disorder. Male or female?

    Someone with XO, who never goes through puberty? They look female...but are they *really*?

    What about tetragametic microchimeras, who be XX in some parts of their body, but XY in others, regardless of what their "anatomy" is. Male or female?

    What about XXY individuals?

    Do you possess psychic powers that let you know the chromosomes of anyone you happen to see?

    Do you examine the genitals of everyone you meet, to make sure they match?

    In short, are you sure you've thought this through?

    If you don't know what you're talking about, it's quite prudent to shut the fuck up.

  10. Whatever,

    not only what Sierra said, but your little dig - that *I* might think the definitions are as i said - is BS, because as i stated, THOSE ARE THE MEDICAL AND PSYCOLOGICAL DEFINITIONS. these are not "MY OPINION" - these are the STANDARDS set by the AMA and other medical organizations.

    so... grow the fuck up, get over yourself, and realize that you still haven't been flamed. this wasn't even "toasted". this was "explained facts to"

  11. godsdamn i cannot spell


  12. Sierra wrote:
    In short, are you sure you've thought this through?

    If you don't know what you're talking about, it's quite prudent to shut the fuck up.

    Prudent, yes. But far less entertaining. Biological Binarists are second only to Flat-Earthers in their amusement potential.

    The trouble is, there's so many of them, because our education system teaches the biology so poorly. I can't blame Whateverman too much, though I think a little Googling might have saved some embarassment.

    Besides, I'm guilty of the same kind of thing myself. I talk about neuro-anatomy defining sex, not genitalia or chromosomes, but I don't always make it clear that sex isn't a strict binary, it's a multidimensional bimodally-distributed continuous vector. People can be more or less masculinised or feminised in their neurology in different areas, just as they can with the rest of their anatomy.

    Simple version: Trans = Boy Brain in Girl Body or the reverse.

    See for example a paper now 15 years old, this is not exactly new or cutting-edge:

    A sex difference in the human brain and its relation to transsexuality. by Zhou et al Nature (1995) 378:68–70.

    Our study is the first to show a female brain structure in genetically male transsexuals and supports the hypothesis that gender identity develops as a result of an interaction between the developing brain and sex hormones

    Whateverman, and whoever else is interested - please have a look at Dr Kate O'Hanlan's presentation to the AMA on the subject.


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