This editorial is headed Queer Concern, but I suppose its only natural, writing from my own perspective, that these articles should deal with issues that really only affect gay people, or are written from a gay male perspective. One of the age old problems with LGBT identity politics is that everything focused on the gay issue, and ignored the lesbian take. “Gay marriage” is a perfect example of this, since the biggest proponents of gay marriage are actually Lesbians.
This week, the editorial is different. Over the last couple of months we’ve had a few threads come up that have debated trans issues. Whatever the subject of the thread, it was impossible not to note the shocking lack of knowledge people displayed when talking about this. It goes without saying that a lot of peoples prejudices stereotypes and misconceptions regarding the Tran community stem from a lack of knowledge and understanding. This editorial will, I hope, go some way toward to addressing that.
Being a gay man, writing from a gay male perspective is obviously easy for me. Writing about trans is harder. While my experiences and contact with trans people are perhaps greater than those the article is aimed at, I certainly wouldn’t consider myself either knowledgeable or indeed an expert. So rather than write something that might well be wrong, I decided to call out for some help. You’ve no doubt seen her getting involved in the debates on the forums already, so I’d like to welcome to my little corner of the Helios, [user]ZoeB[/user]. I sent her a few questions on the issue, and this is the incredibly informative result.
There are many names being used for Transgendered people, I've always considered Transgendered to be the most appropriate, and Transsexual to be the medical term used for those goes through the operative procedures of a sex change. How would you best define people or would you prefer no labels at all?
"Transgender" was a term coined by Virginia Prince to differentiate those Psychos who got their bodies mutilated from the normal Men who dressed and socialised as women, often as a harmless hobby for a few hours a week. It did not include Transsexuals, who he thought were literally insane, letting a harmless pastime become an obsession.
Since then, depending on which part of the world you're in, "transgender" has been anything from "a person of one sex living as the opposite sex" (the Australian Passport Office's definition - which is based on documentation not body shape), to the US definition meaning anyone not strictly conforming to the binary male/female divide. This it includes fetishistic dressers, drag queen entertainers, and those whose bodies are Intersexed - congenitally neither 100% male nor 100% female. The latter category (Intersexed) has recently been found to most likely include Transsexuals too.
A good taxonomy is at http://www.firelily.com/gender/resources/defs.html
How do I define myself? As a woman with a transsexual medical history. Most formerly transsexual people just want to blend in. Most of us are not proud of having our medical condition ameliorated (not wholly fixed alas, we're sterile), any more than someone born with a cleft palate and subsequently treated by maxillo-facial surgery is proud that they were born that way.
Formerly transsexual women like me may take part in Pride marches - but usually as Lesbians, or part of a "Gay-Straight Alliance", rather than in a Transgender section. Those others who are Intersexed are invisible too, many strongly object at being categorised by others in some great conglomerate. Some of us are Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual, but this has nothing to do with being Transsexual, any more than being red-haired or tall does. Some transsexuals are tall and have red hair, after all.
What terms in particular would you avoid as offensive?
She-male is always offensive. "Tranny" is often worse, but may be acceptable. When used by one Tranny about another, it's like one N****r using it about another. See how offensive it can be?
But really, it's all in context. We have enough problems with violence and legal persecution in various jurisdictions to worry too much about names. When sticks, stones, bricks, baseball bats, and tyre irons are breaking our bones, we don't worry too much about being called "trannsexual" as opposed to "formerly transsexual".
Transgender is often considered to be a mental condition and treated as such, do you believe this to be the most appropriate manner in which to deal with the trans community?
As a computer scientist, how the heck can I be qualified enough to answer this? Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts, and whether or not "transgenderism" is a mental condition or not is a matter of fact. What I will do is quote the Australian Family Court, via http://www.austlii.org/au/journals/D...tml#Heading437
_At paragraph _: ‘In my view the expert evidence in this case affirms that brain development is (at least) an important determinant of a person’s sense of being a man or a woman. No contrary opinion is expressed. All the experts are very well qualified. None was required for cross-examination, nor was any contrary evidence called’.
_At paragraph _: ‘In my view the evidence is, in essence, that the experts believe that the brain development view is likely to be true, and they explain the basis for their beliefs. In the circumstances, I see no reason why I should not accept the proposition, on the balance of probabilities, for the purpose of this case.’
_At paragraph _: ‘The traditional analysis that they are "psychologically" transsexual does not explain how this state came about. For example, there seems to be no suggestion in the evidence that their psychological state can be explained by reference to circumstances of their upbringing. In that sense, the brain sex theory does not seem to be competing with other explanations, but rather is providing a possible explanation of what is otherwise inexplicable’.
_At paragraph _: ‘In other words (as I understand it) the brain of an individual may in some sense be male, for example, though the rest of the person’s body is female’.
_At paragraph _: ‘In my view the argument in favour of the “brain sex" view is also based on evidence about the development and experience of transsexuals and others with atypical sex-related characteristics. There is a vast literature on this, some of which is in evidence, and I can do no more than mention briefly some of the main points’.
_At paragraph _: ‘It seems quite wrong to think of these people as merely wishing or preferring to be of the opposite sex, or having the opinion that they are’.
_At paragraph _: ‘But I am satisfied that the evidence now is inconsistent with the distinction formerly drawn between biological factors, meaning genitals, chromosomes and gonads, and merely "psychological factors", and on this basis distinguishing between cases of inter-sex (incongruities among biological factors) and transsexualism (incongruities between biology and psychology)’.
_At paragraph _: ‘In my view the evidence demonstrates (at least on the balance of probabilities) that the characteristics of transsexuals are as much “biological” as those of people thought of as inter-sex’.
_At paragraph _: ‘I agree with Ms Wallbank that in the present context the word "man" should be given its ordinary contemporary meaning. In determining that meaning, it is relevant to have regard to many things that were the subject of evidence and submissions. They include the context of the legislation, the body of case law on the meaning of "man" and similar words, the purpose of the legislation, and the current legal, social and medical environment. These matters are considered in the course of the judgment. I believe that this approach is in accordance with common sense, principles of statutory interpretation, and with all or virtually all of the authorities in which the issue of sexual identity has arisen. As Professor Gooren and a colleague put it:-
“There should be no escape for medical and legal authorities that these definitions ought to be corrected and updated when new information becomes available, particularly when our outdated definitions bring suffering to some of our fellow human beings”.’
A lot of the problems faced by the transgendered community are perhaps caused by a severe lack of understanding among wider society as to what being Transgendered means and is all about. Could you perhaps summarise what being Transgender is and what causes it?
We know some causes of Transsexuality. For example, genetic males whose mothers were administered the anti-miscarriage drug DES have a 1 in 5 chance of being Transsexual to some degree, as opposed to the 1 in 500 in the general population. Only about 1 in 7 of those who are Transsexual to some degree will require surgery BTW.
There are many possible causes of classic somatic Intersex, and the same causes apply to Transsexuality. The cause can be environmental, genetic (repeated codons have been implicated), or timing defects of hormone levels that "just happen".
I'm a bit of a heretic, inasmuch as my judgement of the meagre evidence indicates that Transgender (not just Transsexuality), and Homosexuality also have similar biological causes. A proportion of the population will always be born Intersexed, or Transsexual, or Homosexual, simply because their bodies and/or brains were formed that way, it's not a matter of "choice" to be Gay or Straight, it's what you are. Intersex is emphatically not Homosexuality, and Intersexed people can be Transsexual as well, or Homosexuasl as well, just as Transsexual people can be Gay, or Intersexed, or both.
I surmise that it's all in the head alright: but that means in the way the brain was formed in the womb. Many Straights and some Gays are potentially Bisexual, but cultural background means their behaviour might be universally straight - or far more rarely, universally Gay. This pleases no-one, as it shows that for some, being Gay or Straight in behaviour is a matter of choice. But for most, it is inate and unchangable, and this should be the assumption unless strong evidence against it is found.
People who are "part time", or comfortable with a normally gendered body but incomfortable with a normally gendered social role have the same condition as Transsexuals, but in a much milder form. In theory, the same cause, but so different they should be treated differently. Both the Common Cold and Ebola are both caused by virusses, yet no-one thinks the two diseases are "the same".
This is an extremely unpopular view with Transsexuals, most of whom are Transphobic and often Homophobic due to their upbringing. I am too - both Trans and Homo-phobic, but those are feelings. I can't control feelings, but I can control actions, and I believe that Homophobia is just plain wrong, as is Trans-phobia. So though I distance myself from being categorised as Gay or Transgendered, I STRONGLY support Gay and Transgendered rights, as I think all human beings should do, be they male, female, gay, straight, whatever. Besides which, my Homophobia melts away when I'm amidst Gays and Lesbians, I see them as individuals, as people, rather than stereotypes.
In my defence, I was born in the UK in 1958, not exactly a very Gay-tolerant society. I'm a prisoner of my own background, prejudiced and bigoted, but doing my best to overcome those handicaps. I've never let feelings get in the way of actions, and fortunately those people I know who happen to be Gay have tolerated my odious personal flaws. Often they don't even notice.
Related to the last question, because its seen as a mental disorder, rather than say, a facet of personality like being gay is, sex change operations are considered by some to be indulging the "disorder" rather than an effective way of treating the condition. how would you respond to people who make these claims?
The only good, scientifically valid data I know is from the Scottish Office and a survey of transgendered or gay youth in Northern Ireland. 50% had self-harmed by age 25. Figures for suicide attempts are more rubbery, but one survey suggested that 90% of transsexuals attempt suicide at least once. The suicide (not just suicide attempt) rate is thought to be 30% by age 30, but this does not count the many deaths from self-destructive behaviour such as substance abuse or engaging in unprotected sex work.
A reasonable estimate of mortality from being TS is 75%., mostly before age 50. A very conservative estimate would be a 50% mortality rate over a lifetime. It is a horrofically uncomfortable condition, and although societal prejudice accounts for much of the causation, it would be nasty even on a desert island.
Better, more reliable figures for the success of SRS are available. 97% of FtoM and 80% of MtoF SRS's result in significant improvement of the patients position. Much of the "failure" can be accounted for by poor surgical outcomes.
For any other condition with a 50% mortality rate, and a surgical procedure with an 80% improvement rate to be called "unneccessary" would be laughable.
The specialists in the area agree that SRS is the best therapy for some, often the only therapy that will keep the patient alive and functional. Those who are ignorant of the research, or relying upon long-discredited texts based upon falsified data usually disagree.
One point: is someone who thinks they are Blind suffering a "Mental Disorder" if their eyes are normal, their optic nerves are normal, but the visual cortex in the brain is under-developed? How about those born with a chronic serotonin deficiency (causing chronic depression), due to a problem with their brain's cellular receptors?
In my view, "mental disorder" and "physical disorder" are mutually exclusive. Physical disorders can be so uncomfortable that mental disorders result, disorders that can remain long after the trigger has been successfully treated, but are amenable to treatment via psychotherapy. The two conditions I alluded to above cannot be cured by any amount of psychotherapy: the first in untreatable, the second manageable by SSRIs. Transexuality, being caused by a congenital anomaly in the brain, is similar. It cannot be cured, but hormones, surgery, and sometimes psychotherapy can ameliorate the discomfort.
Is there anything substantial behind the common perception that transgendered people are gay?
Yes, but only in one area. Many late transitioners from MtoF end up being lesbian, far greater than the general population. One hypothesis is that women have a greater gender fluidity (more likely to be Bi), and 40+ years of socialisation in a male role encourages this natural trait. Another (one I prefer) is that any woman whose brain has been bathed in a male hormonal mix for 40 years will be changed sexually by this awful experience.
The rates for FtoM and younger transitioners are about the same as in the general population.
The trouble is, many consider MtoF women to be Men, so the lesbians are considered straight, and the straight gals considered Gay.
The perception possibly isn't helped by the inclusion of transgendered people among the Queer community, the LGB and T. Do you think it right that transgendered people are counted alongside Gay and Lesbian people?
It makes slightly more sense than counting Aleut Eskimos and those born with one eye brown, the other red. Slightly. All are minority groups. One view is that it doesn't matter to those who want to beat us to a pulp, to them we're all the same. GLB, Transsexual, Transgendered and Intersexed people are quite different. Heck, even Gays have different concerns from Lesbians for that matter. If 'twere me, I'd put GL in one camp (pardon the pun), TS and IS in another, and TG/Bi/Queer/Pan in a third. Then have all three gather with straights to press for human rights.
I'm not happy with the GLBITTQ conglomerate, and I think it drastically disadvantages the Intersexed by spreading misinformation. It disadvantages the Transsexed to a slightly lesser degree. It probably disadvantages the TGs too, I'm not sure. But there are advantages in Unity too. So even though I'm not comfortable with the situation as is, it may be for the best.
Remember, Gays get disadvantaged too. They're MEN, and should not be conflated with those women born with male bodies.
Whats the biggest issue affecting the transgendered community at the moment?
Education. It's not what people don't know that is the problem, it;'s what they know that ain't so. Once the existence of the Intersexed is recognised, that these people are victims of a congenital condition and deserve extra respect, not derision, then the first battle will be won. Then we can move on to the Transsexuals, and then the Transgendered. But my priorities might be influenced by my transphobia, so take them with suitable NaCl.
How hard is it to gain acceptance among the wider community?
Once people are aware of the medical situation, not hard at all. But then, I look ugly but normal. Those whose appearance is that of a "Drag King" or "Man in a Dress" have it far worse.
What is the Goal of Transgendered people?
Same as for non-TG people. No-one wants to be anathematised, stigmatised, or have the crap beaten out of them for what they are, be it ManU supporters, Gays, or Dubliners.
A massive amount of thanks to ZoeB for some incredibly informative answers there. I know this is long but I strongly urge you to read, and learn from it, you might just become a better more knowledgeable person.
For me, a medical or scientific fact is a fact, and you can’t argue them. Its like debating whether wood is wooden. Its not a matter of opinion, its something that is. Sadly, a lot of people seem to disagree with this, and try to disprove scientific and medical fact with theology and personal moral values. So long as such idiocy persists, I guess debates will always continue, but on this forum, we’ve always prized intellectualism and informed debate. So read the above, and then come debate these issues from a solid base of fact and knowledge. Then we’ll really have some fun!
the Black Prince
Quote of the Week
"I just wish more of my fellow queers would come out sometimes. It's nice out here, you know?" – Elton John