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Biological Sex and Transgender People

  • Posted on January 12, 2019 at 5:29 pm

I’ve nothing against trans people, but they are not …

It’s fun to work out how many ways you can say a trans person is either of no gender or definitely the ‘oppposite’ of what they say they are. Isn’t it?

This is a particular form of protectionism that can be very hard to understand. A justified fear of male violence leads to assumptions that all trans people (no, let’s be honest, trans women) are a potential danger.

  • There is no evidence that this is true.
  • Trans women are much more likely to be attacked violently than non-trans women.
  • No man intending harm to women is protected by trans rights, and trans rights do not better enable him.
  • Policing people by their outward appearance harms androgynous people everywhere.
  • Presenting gender identification documentation at every venue will never be a requirement.
  • Gender documentation is no defence for criminal behaviour or intent.

Anyone with antipathy against patriarchy wants equal and fair treatment. Destroying patriarchy is not destroying men or maleness, nor is it creating a matriarchy (though I often feel that might be better and safer). By putting trans and/or intersex people into a category or categories of their own may not seem harmful, but is a distinct way of othering them, and originates primarily from a lack of understanding that intersex people and those with what has become described as gender dysphoria, are what they are as a result of their pre-natal development. Being trans is not a behaviour and is not a psychological disorder, and trans people are everywhere and always have been. This attitude of trans people as other helps no-one, solves nothing and undermines the principles of equal and fair treatment. You do not know or notice most of us, but by othering trans people as a class, you attack that anonymity – and everyone has a right to that kind of anonymity.

Trans people aren’t weird, do not behave uniquely or distinguishably, and their gender or sex has nothing to do with their equally innate sexuality. Why do trans people make you uncomfortable?

  • They dress strangely. (Well, you never notice the ones who don’t.)
  • I don’t like talking to a woman with a deep voice or a man with a high one.
  • I used to know this person as the ‘opposite’ of what they are now.
  • God doesn’t make mistakes; this is just wrong behaviour.
  • I like to know where I stand when I meet someone and people who don’t match my stereotypes mean I don’t.
  • It’s all about sex isn’t it? (You mean sexual behaviour, which surely must be odd, perverted or strange.)

Why are we happy to acknowledge intersex conditions as ‘what can happen during prenatal development’, as an effect of in utero hormones and developmental triggers, and yet not acknowledge the same for trans people? This article sets out some comparisons, if you will excuse the term ‘transsexualism’:

I am not saying that intersex conditions and transgender are the same, just pointing out both have underlying causes that may be very similar.

Sex is absolute, gender is a social construct

It depends on your language and your culture even whether sex and gender are different words. Some languages do not distinguish, and you could examine the history and past use of the two words in English, but it wouldn’t help. Words convey concepts, they have their own definitions for shared understanding, but they define nothing.

Many ancient cultures and traditions have more than two sexes and/or more than two genders. Naturally, because that’s the way we find human beings. And yet certain modern western feminist ideologies, borrowing from western religious ideologies and culture, insist there are only two ‘biological’ sexes and only offer minor and unhelpful reference to intersex people as exceptions. More people are intersex than have red hair.

As of October 2018, the Trump administration in the USA has tried to move to binary determinism: that every person is irreversibly the sex given to them at birth. And yet many cases of intersex are not identified at birth, maybe only late into puberty. And so the US HHS (Health and Human Services) has proceeded to delete all references to ‘gender’ from their website, the US Department of Justice has ruled that transgender people (presumably because they no longer are supposed to exist) can be discriminated against in any way from health to rights of property or services, or to employment, and the USA is reported to be urging the United Nations to eleiminate all reference to ‘gender’ in favour of only referring to ‘sex’. (See above about different languages and terms.)

Understanding sex is the business of scientists and clinicians, not religion or politics

There is plenty of material from a clinical point of view that explains the complexities of sex determination. Everything that follows from the argument that ‘biological sex’ is a clear and binary thing has no real foundations.

So you still think that sex or gender is a clear binary thing? What do you intend to do with every person who does not fit within a certain median percent that matches all your criteria? You don’t know who they are, and quite often they do not know themselves. Are you right in the middle, having tested your chromosomes, checked your physiology and come to a researched conclusion? Or might you be like a deeply racist person who discovers from their DNA that they are 30 per cent what they hate? What would you do if you discovered that you have mosaic chromosomes, for example (where you have both XX and XY  combinations in different cells)?

Or do you simply find it simpler to go on believing it is a clear binary? You will have to run counter to science, to medicine and to honest human endeavour in pursuit of knowledge – but then plenty of people do run counter. Welcome to conspiracy theory, flat-earth, climate change denying society, you are not alone.

I have nothing against trans people, but …

I think what you really mean is that, like any group of people by any characteristic, some people who identify as trans are really quite marginal. There are strident feminists, there are strident trans people. There are criminal red-heads, there are criminal trans people. There are lovely kind policemen, and there are those who shoot with racial bias. And some are trans. Treating individuals based on a presumption of class characteristics is almost always unfair and wrong. And dangerous to some fellow human beings.

I would urge you simply to let the flock run away a while, stop and do your own Internet research about what determines sex determination, and prevalence of intersex and trans people in the world. Maybe you will come to realise that we do not choose this, we are this. And we are not to be feared, excluded, mistrusted or discriminated against. Every day, after all, you meet, are served by and interact with both intersex and trans people without knowing it. You may not even yourself be as 100 per cent as binary in biological terms as you think.

Trans is not a word to understand

  • Posted on September 14, 2018 at 11:28 pm

I think some people try to understand what it is to be transgender by trying to understand the words. If they can construct an argument about the words, their origins and use, they have grasped how real, people like me are.

Surely, I would be happy to have made no changes to my body or life if only this social construct of gender did not exist. Yes! I could have lived happily with a male body, dressed as I wished, shaved, gone bald with age and maintained all that cut and thrust of testosterone – because no-one would have minded. I could have just ‘been myself’!

Not so, dear reader, not so.

I am not a term to be understood. Etymology and use do not come near expressing what it is to be trans. Like old shoes, words get baggy with much use and don’t fit anymore.

I was not ‘born in the wrong body’ at all, any more than someone with red hair who hates it, or someone with a disability, or someone who has simply grown too tall from hormone problems. It is not the wrong body. I am what I am. It is just that brain and body development got a bit out of kilter somewhere early on. I can’t change my innate sense of self, but I can change my body.

What about you? Are you definitely a woman, or definitely a man? Are you sure? Or is your first question prefixed by ‘physically’, or ‘biologically’? If you do, you need to read up on the many aspects of what define ‘biological’ sex. Big time.

Or do you just know? I don’t think you need a mirror in the morning, or to have a feel around just to be sure. I don’t think you need a second opinion, and if it differed or was doubtful, I don’t think you might change your mind. When did you last dig out your birth certificate just to check out that your opinion of yourself matches that of the doctor or midwife?

Even if you live a non-binary life and dislike the idea of actually ‘being’ non-binary … you know what you are not.

Do you understand what it is to know if you are male, female or neither or a bit of both?

  • Seven years ago I began to understand.
  • Six years ago I began to live in a new way.
  • Five years ago I lived alone.
  • Four years ago I had transforming surgery.
  • Someone told me: ‘this is just the beginning’
  • Three years ago I began living with someone I deeply love.
  • And since then I have understood that for all the beginnings and endings, some will never understand.

I have been told that I am not a woman. I have been told that I am a man. I have been told that I am trans, or deluded, and many other things. I have been told that I am not lesbian, that I must be gay, or that I am still a hetero man because I used to be married while registered as a man.

I have been told many times what I am, what I am not, and effectively what I am not allowed to be.

What do you think? And where did you get your ideas from?

When my children were much younger, they had a friend who was the most tomboy a child I have ever known. A little later, my son had a trans friend at school. That was it. No issue or problem. Unlike me (yeah, well!), they had gay and lesbian kids in their school, and that’s just how they were. Friends I had at university were gay, lesbian and bi. I came to know people with intersex conditions. I discovered that there are men born with micro-penis, women born without a uterus. A colleague had a hysterectomy at a very young age, and so could never experience what most women share. And friends with polycystic ovaries and hormonal imbalances. More and more women who divorce men and begin lesbian relationships.

I wonder what their many life experiences have each been like. Could I segregate them by their life experience confidently and exclusively as women and men? If I DNA tested them and mapped their chromosomes, would that help? What about their sexual attractions (or lack of)? Would that help me divide them into straight, bi, gay and lesbian? I wonder how clearly I could research and gather physical, psychological, social and mental attributes in such a way as to divide them up?

But why?

Surely their needs are different. Medically? Socially? Surely a trans person is not as really the gender they claim, as someone born with unquestionably clear genitals and chromosomes and sexuality? I mean, it is so confusing that someone born with enough of a penis but XXY, who used to appear straight male, lives as female and has a female partner and calls themselves lesbian. I mean, surgery doesn’t really change your sex does it?

You say it is only confusing because we squish people into socially constructed boxes. If only the boxes didn’t exist, we would all be happy; no conflict of definitions. Well, I place myself in society where I feel I belong. Why do you want to place me where you think I belong?

I find this kind of narrative about sex, sexuality and gender no different from nationalism. Once upon a time there was a golden age, where everyone lived and worked happily together, the sun shone equally on all, there was a roof over everyone’s head and bread on the table. Wars did not happen, no-one was cheated or downtrodden; a benevolent king was on the throne and life was … good. That must have been before others came in, invaded and spoiled it all, with different languages, different ideas.

Was there not also a time when men were men, women were women and we all knew our place? Well that wasn’t so good for women, was it? So now we have feminism, we must protect at all costs what it means to ‘be a woman’. And that’s where the parallel golden age of gender breaks down. It was never good. The patriarchy still rules, just as first nations people all over the world constantly face erasure and victors rule the historical narrative.

Keeping transgender people out protects nothing, and only ingrains trans resentment against the gender nationalists, even those who define ‘woman’ and throw gender out as false. Let’s be clear, a feminist who is more radical and excludes trans women as not being female or women, is a trans-exclusionary radical feminist. It isn’t just a slur, it isn’t derogatory, it is a description of a formula of feminism, originating in 2008, to distinguish feminists who were, and who were not against inclusivity of trans women.

However, if we are to be a society that listens, accepts diversity and seeks unity rather than division, it is no good boxing people up. But why not do it by letting people choose their boxes, and letting them choose their own mix? That isn’t a threatening or undermining thing to do, and it’s the way the human species has ultimately made its way all along. What we haven’t done so well, is add equality. ‘If you’re going to be that, you can’t do this.’

That takes us on to rights. Rights. Trans rights. LGB rights. What are they? Principally, they are protections to ensure equal treatment of people who are disliked and discriminated against, not for what they choose to do, but for what they are, in their being, in their humanity.

But I don’t want rights. I just want equality. And that comes from understanding that it is me you need to understand, know and respect, not words and ideas you don’t like, or feel are confusing. You don’t need to get your inner construct sorted, or your philosophy of gender or sexuality. Don’t fit me to your ideas in order to understand what I say I am, because that will only make me acceptable to you in your terms.

Anything else simply puts me in a ‘reserve’ box because you don’t really want me to belong anywhere too close to you.

Trans is not a behavour.
Lesbian is not a behaviour.
I don’t need accommodating.
I am here.
I am.
Just like you; no less.

Subject to debate

  • Posted on May 13, 2018 at 1:42 pm

As an avid blogger for over four years, I always felt there was something important to say, something that would help incrementally educate people socialised into transmisunderstanding. I hope that I did, by being a pretty ordinary person, articulate and reflective, from the inside of my own trans experience. Well, I don’t claim to be pretty, but I am still terribly ordinary. Time has passed, and being trans is no longer a significant pert of my daily experience. I have a life to live, and this was mainly something I (belatedly) sorted out. So I don’t talk about it much any more.

Except I am still subject for debate.

A lot has changed since my realisation of late 2010, that there was a perfectly valid reason for my discomfort with myself. Overall, in this neck of the woods, and indeed in a number of other countries, understanding of gender diversity has improved. I have often written about the constant undermining by religiously-constructed culture, and we see that writ large in Trumpism and authoritarian regimes rooted in traditions. Any regression in law, in perception, in support of bigotry, is directly harming the well-being of trans and gender queer people. But it isn’t just religion or tradition, it is other ideologies, some born of resentment at the aeons of patriarchal domination, violence and subjugation.

Whatever the origins, it runs deep. Just as we have seen strides forward in media presentation of the trans and gender queer experience, so the media has facilitated the notion that human experience is up for debate. Maybe it is fear in some that equality ground gained and held by one group might sometimes be held by another, even though against the same opposition. One of the great successes of scientific method, is that any discovery, any assertion, any finding – might be upturned by another. Certainty is only as far as the next piece of research. Social understanding is far, far less fluid. We hold onto our beliefs so dearly, because our personal values are described by them. And we won’t protect another person or group, if doing so makes us eat humble pie, and step into shoes like theirs.

It feels much easier to dither. Well, maybe these trans people have a point, but maybe those feminists who think the trans people are just predators have a point too. Let’s listen to both and see if we can compromise on this?

That may be well and good, when done respectfully and reflectively. We should be thoughtful and balanced people if we want to create and maintain a fair society. What media want (social, news, documentary opinion), however, is ‘lively’ debate. Let’s be provocative, let’s be controversial, because that creates audience and audience response, and that creates financial value. And so it was that financial value was the offset to plain human respect in the Channel 4 debate in the Genderquake series this week (8 May 2018). In these debates, the subject essentially is the validity of gender being what you experience, rather than an assessment of what sex-related body parts you have, or have had, or never had. The background is mainly male violence and protection from it. That is rarely the debate though; the debate is who gets to set the game rules for being safe against male violence. Panels are therefore typically selected for being controversial feminists (called ‘well-known/respected feminists’) or for being public trans figures (called ‘trans activists’). Maybe none of them represent the groups they are associated with. Maybe they are the ones guaranteed to grate with broader opinion, or to be particularly outspoken. If the trans minority voice is heard in a less than minority way, then the ‘activists’ are perceived to be suppressing debate. Because a feminist view is more important?

Let’s rather debate the options for tackling male violence. No; let’s rather debate the problem of male social acceptability. Not just violence, but what it means to ‘be a man’.

Also this week, I watched Peter Kay’s Car Share, in which the humour is the dialogue in the confines of a daily commute. Normally scripted, the final one (and it isn’t unfunny) was not. The dialogue revolved much of the time around what was on the local radio station. This featured the music-overlaid sob stories sent in by listeners (a pale reflection of the original on Radio 2). Today’s was sent in by a woman who discovered her partner was trans the day she walked in on [them] dressed in her clothes, with two others. Apart from the narrative about this (as it transpired) genuinely trans person being misgendered, it turned out all friends in the end. Maybe Peter Kay and fellow actor were role-playing, but it was a bad one, saying how pervy and disgusting it was for men to dress as women, and then to be accepted as a friend. You know the score. Entrenched, this view encapsulates with it that men must never be feminine, that gender, that sex, is heavily polarised, and that anything else is undermining and disgusting.

We really have to talk about gender, and about what it is not. Most of all, we have to focus not on gender, but on attitudes to each other. Jesting about a trans person is abusive. Shouting ‘you’re a man’ and ‘penis’ repeatedly at a trans woman on a TV show, and not being challenged, is abusive. Instructing your child not to associate with a trans child as a friend, is abusive. Putting gender up as the subject for debate, rather than challenging male attitudes to women, is abusive. Painting trans women as all being potential predators, as being essentially male, and painting trans men as failed butch lesbians, is abusive. Disenfranchising intersex people by not even including them is thinking about sex and gender, is abusive.

Making my gender legitimate, whatever I hold it to be, is not a medical thing. Refusing my gender on grounds of male attitudes to women for thousands of years, is not the right focus. False arguments about men making a legal pretence to be female in order to legitimise invasive and abusive behaviour, is a nonsense. And yet this is precisely the context of the current proposals for changes to the Gender Recognition Act, and why discussion of it has become abusive.

Let’s just talk about respect between human beings, about what attitudes are not acceptable, and about social privilege, whatever its form. Let’s talk about why men do not really want women to be equal. Let’s imagine what this world would be like now, if we had been equal determinants of it for thousands of years.

The problem with activists

  • Posted on January 20, 2018 at 10:37 pm

In 2004 I walked into local council offices for a conversation with local officials and advisers. Somehow I had come to speak on behalf of local residents about a concerning issue. It was the first time that I realised that to show concern and act on it turned you from being ‘a concerned person’ into ‘an activist’.

‘Activists’ always sounded like a nuisance, a busy-body, an intrusive person who disturbs the peace. I didn’t like it.

But I was an activist nonetheless for five years until the argument (which I still stand by) had been made so many times against such powerful interests, that I realised I had no more to contribute. I am not an activist in this area any more. In some ways I feel I betrayed the cause by falling silent; after all I had been analytical, measured, informed and articulate. What I really wanted to do was proper research, to follow a thread that I felt was intriguing and possibly important.

Benefits of being an activist

Being an activist brought me to meet and know a wide variety of people I would not otherwise have met. A hugely diverse crowd from a number of countries, we had a shared concern, and supported each other. Sometimes it was a bit of a bubble, but even the bubble had rainbow colours, and I learned a lot, and to widen my view.

Maybe this is why, three years after that came to a close for me, and I knew I had to respond to understanding myself as transgender, I decided to be very open, honest and proactive about the whole business of being trans, transitioning, observing being trans in the world (my strap line to this blog is still this), and how the world responds. And yet I am not an activist – am I? I don’t take days off to go to London marches, I don’t join trans pride committees, and six years on, I don’t deliberately associate with trans groups. In a recent post here, I discussed choosing how visible to be, Should I make it a point, so that I increase the number of people who knowingly know a trans person, and find them ordinary? Or does it stop me being ordinary by declaring my transness?

Problems of being an activist

Just as I recoiled from being referred to as an activist in 2004, when all I was trying to do was help people find a voice, so trans people find it difficult today. We speak up for ourselves, and sometimes we need to do it robustly, because no-one else does. But as soon as we do, there are those who say we are a ‘trans lobby’, that we have an insidious ‘trans agenda’, and that we are all ‘trans activists’ – simply because, like me back then, we have very pressing and legitimate concerns.

In 2004-5, I, with a few others, was knocking on lots of doors, talking, performing a well-structured survey and getting some meaningful analysis on it. My work was cited in Hansard for my pains. I took my concerns to council meetings, public meetings, judicial review, around the country, to Scotland, to Germany, corresponded with international scientists, joined a government agency committee, and considerably outside my original comfort zone, I tried to do what I could for a fair hearing. I feel I didn’t do much; many did so much more. But I learned a lot, and I hope I pushed conversations wider. I didn’t just learn; I opened up my whole scope of understanding.

And I was a nuisance. I felt the power of money, how justice could be bought, and how public consultation is so often a lie. I felt just how powerful corporates can be.

Reluctant activist

Transitioning inherently takes you out of your comfort zone. In fact you leave it entirely in order to remake a new one. Along the way, like a lizard changing its skin, you feel incredibly vulnerable, your new skin very soft and thin. And you do get attacked, and accidentally trodden on. To be robust, you have to stand up for what it means to be trans, you find yourself associating with people very different to yourself, people you may not otherwise choose to be friends with, people you disagree with, or even not like as people.

If you explain yourself, you are an activist.
If you defend yourself, you are an activist.
If you fight back you are an activist.
If you suddenly start standing up for trans rights, you are an activist.
If you refuse to accept transphobic humour and slurs, you are an activist.

Am I an activist because I am transgender? Is it inevitable? The quieter I become, the less activist I feel – until the conversation is public, until there is antagonism in the media, until I hear people taking us down, until I don’t hear ordinary people joining in against discrimination, bigotry and bias.

Right here, in the middle of #metoo, the real atmosphere is #notme. LGBTQI inequality and discrimination has nothing to do with me because either I am not personally affected by it, or I am not LGBTQI so it’s none of my concern. And this is writ large when it comes to trans equality.

#notme and the GRA

As I write, amendments to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (it was an important year!) are under discussion, It’s all about depathologising gender. Did I really need a psychiatrist – or four – to tell me I am trans, not mentally ill? Did I really have to undergo gender confirmation surgery in order to know my own gender? Did I really have to go it alone for two years ‘trying out’ my true gender before I could have even hormone treatment? And get sworn legal documents, gather a large wad of proofs that I had been ‘living as’ a woman, and pay a fee, so that I could be ‘certified’ legally in my gender? Surely you do know your gender when you wake up in the morning, and no-one else can tell you … That’s why the Act needs updating.

And this is why there is a strong backlash (mainly feminists of a particular kind, and conservative religious bodies) who say that the size and appearance of genitalia at birth can only and forever mean you are decisively in one of only two categories. And consequently that trans does not exist, only confused men and women.

And of course, to them, that means trans women are potentially dangerous men. These people will insist that trans men use women’s loos. (And that vulnerable trans women use men’s.) Because falsely (and more easily?) claiming that you are trans in order to legitimise perpetrating violence is a thing? Yes, really. Here in the UK, we are as vulnerable to inadequate law as ever. In the USA it is far, far worse and potentially retreating decades. Stonewall currently has a campaign Come out for Trans Equality that illustrates the harms done in all aspects of life to large proportions of trans people. This is real. Transition, claiming your gender, is not easy, even if you make no effort to legalise your position (and many object to the demeaning process).

Am I sounding like an activist? Because there are powerful groups who have a view that we are simply delusional, aggressive, dangerous and undermining society? What else should I say?

What I do want to say, is that leaving this nonsensical ‘debate’ about gender identity to trans people, when such deep-seated bigotry is seeking resonance with religious cultural roots in society and calling on ignorance rather than learning – is a betrayal of our humanity. We need you, dear ordinary cis (non-trans) and thinking reader, to be more than just kindly towards us. We need your voice, we need your concern, we need you to call out the transphobic humour when you hear it. We need you to express our equal humanity with yours, because we are not the dangerous ones.

Going Out: Eastern Germany 2017

  • Posted on January 1, 2018 at 1:22 pm

She doesn’t quite catch my hand
it falls—shatters on the ground.

You never quite know.

Windows down the empty way,
nostalgia with suspicion —
a Trabi sits on the lot, a tiny
sufficient reminder
that trust is fragile, still.

I look down at my hand
the pieces silently explain
why I had danced apart last night
to rock, metal and stones, a
wrong fear of anyone too right.

They pointed at us.
They looked disgusted.
You just didn’t see.
At the fruit blossom fest last year,
—and I recall.

The pieces of my hand reluctantly
rearrange themselves, reoccupy
my glove, find my pocket;
join every love darkened by fear
es tut mir leid.

Yes, and knowing
that this is not how change happens.

 

2017 © Andie Davidson