Tag Archives: transmisogyny

A question of pronouns: two conversations on gender

“Some of the kids from the apartments behind us kept calling the Boychick ‘she’ today,” his teacher tells me as we all walk back to the light rail, in various states of exhaustion and overexcitement after a long day of feasting, protesting, and — apparently — gender policing.

I seek out the blond curls of my firstborn, his bright red “girly” blouse now covered by his bright red “boyish” coat. My tired-tight shoulders tense further in anticipation of too-long-passed events about which I now can do nothing, and make a noise for the teacher to continue his story.

“It was really upsetting him; he told them to stop, but they didn’t. I told one of them ‘some boys have long hair’, and he thought for a second” — here his voice fills with humor — “and he said, ‘well some boys do, but not with such a pretty face.’”

We both laugh, the conversation continues past my — yes, pretty — child’s eccentric relationship with gender performance and the discomfort it regularly provokes in his peers, and we continue home.

***

“I heard some kids were calling you ‘she’ at the party yesterday,” I ask, so-carefully-light in tone, as I set his oatmeal in front of him.

“Yeah.”

Sullen or distracted? How do you tell in a four (and a half, he would insist on adding) year old? I persist, lightly, lightly.

“Your teacher said you didn’t like it.”

Not distracted now, but agitated: “Yeah, I told them to stop calling me that, but they wouldn’t. They should have asked before calling me she!”

What is this? Echoes of our conversations on namecalling (“always ask someone if you can call them a name first, and only do it if they say it’s ok”), or something new?

“You wanted them to ask before calling you she?”

“Yeah, but they didn’t. They should have asked.” Really worked up now, oatmeal forgotten.

“But your teacher got them to stop, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, he did.” Calming again. Picks up his spoon, takes a bite. So do I. Then:

“Would you have minded if they called you she if they asked first?”

“They could have called me she if they asked first, but they didn’t ask.”

“Oh.”

We munch oatmeal while part of my mind wonders if talking with all four year olds feels so much like a scratchy record, skipping to repeat imperfectly but ceaselessly. Probably, another part responds.

The rest tries to count how many times I’ve asked this, to guess how many times I’ll ask again and whether the answer will ever change.

“Do you want me to call you she or he?”

A pause.

“He. They could have called me she if they asked. But I want you to call me he.”

“Ok.” I stand, pick up my empty bowl, bend over to kiss his still-chewing head. “Well, it’s good to know.”

It is.

Guest post: Why does the media show transgender children more sympathetically?

Welcome back Emily Manuel, of Global Comment, the Twitters, and my chat box, with a piece on the seemingly-benign “better” portrayal of transgender children compared to their adult counterparts.

Why does the media show transgender children more sympathetically?

For some reason, everywhere I go lately there’s stories about trans children.  Nightline ran an episode, while Dr Phil ran one on one trans and one intersex child.  And CNN currently has a video up of trans children about two children at the Gender Spectrum Family Conference.

Interest in trans people in general and trans children in particular isn’t really a new phenomena, of course, but what’s notable about these stories is how sympathetic and non-sensationalised these takes are.  While there’s of course the odd bit of sketchy language, the children’s rights and identities are largely respected, and in the case of CNN allowed to speak in their own words.

Of course, it’s not all hearts and puppydogs in the media–and there’s still a lot of scaremongering out there.  Just yesterday, a Canadian newspaper ran a full page anti trans hate ad that read “don’t confuse me. I’m a girl, don’t cause me to question if I’m a boy, transsexual transgender, intersexed or two spirited.”  And of course there was the “psychiatrist” on Fox in the Toemaggedon story (you know the guy).  The WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN mob always like to pretend as though there’s no such thing as a LGBT child, that we just need to violently enforce gender norms and then no child will ever be trans. Phew.

But still, compared to the mockery, bathroom panic, and blatant victim blaming of trans murder victims, trans children get a comparatively sympathetic media treatment.  As such it’s worthwhile contrasting the sympathetic treatment of trans kids with the continued sensationalist treatment of trans adults, particularly women, and why there might be a such a great disparity between the two.

An idealisation of children as innocent

We as a culture have a bifurcated view of children as either angels or demons (but rarely full human beings).  In the first view, children are idealised as innocent.  Innocence is a Christianised theological category, connoting not just a lack of culpability or experience but also purity.  A lack of sin.  In the second view, we have the monstrous child, the demonic pure evil child familiar to us from horror movies and Stephen Moffat penned Doctor Who episodes.  This is the mirror image of the angel, its opposite.

But, in realistic cultural representations, the trans child is likely to retain their innocent status regardless.  In trans negative views, the mother or father are usually to “blame” for their transness, the culpability is shifted elsewhere.

An idealisation of children as natural

If children are considered innocent, then they are also often considered more natural than adults.  The idea of childhood as closer to nature is an old one, widely popularised by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writings (eg Emile) in the 18th century.  Nature is pure, culture is tainted.

So for a child to be trans is to be more “natural” than an adult transitioner.  The desire to provide a scientific explanation for any kind of LGBT identity is, in effect, to call something “natural,” innate.  It’s not a choice, baby I was born this way.  To be natural is, in effect, in innocent.  So trans children already have an advantage here in being considered more natural.   If they’re closer to nature, then their transness must be natural, too.

In contrast, the adult transitioner is easier to critique – blame – for “choosing” to be trans.  Julia Serano noted in Whipping Girl that media representations tend to emphasis the artificiality of trans women, with a focus on make-up and clothes.  Trans people, especially trans women, are considered fake.  Not “really” as real in their sexes as cis people.

A cultural idea of children as not sexual

This is a really important difference between the two.  Media images of  trans women in particular tend to be extremely sexualised–the trans sex worker of colour is a stock figure in crime fiction for instance. The cultural confusion between gender and sexuality results in people considering transness as an intensified form of queer sexuality–the trans woman as a drag queen who went “too far,” the trans man as the butch woman who did the same.  And anxieties about trans people as “deceivers” go even further, because as trans academic Talia Mae Bettcher has argued, gendered clothing itself works as a form of symbolic signalling about genital status and hence sexual availability.  It’s a code, which is why we speak, nonsensically about “women’s clothing” and “men’s clothing,” as though the cuts of clothing somehow is necessarily linked to gender and sex.

So trans adults are a threat because they “mismatch” (as Bettcher terms it) the codes of cissexual heterosexuality, the organisation of genitally-determined sexed bodies into “potentially fuckable” and “not potentially fuckable.”  Wearing the clothes of the supposed other sex is “cross dressing,” is a violation of the cultural line between sexed bodies, gender identity and gender expression.  And because heterosexuality is so frequently premised on its melancholic rejection of homosexuality, to be attracted to someone with the “wrong” genitals is a kind of psychic threat, which often results in violence to trans people (especially from cis men).  As Julia Serano says in her poem “Cocky

“My penis changes the meanings of everything. And because of her, every one of my heterosexual ex-girlfriends, has slept with a lesbian. And every guy who hits on me these days could be accused of being gay.”

In contrast, trans children are considered to not be sexual yet – their transness is not as strongly mediated by ideas of sexuality.  Sympathetic portrayals of trans children are just about gender , without a sexual component1.  Adult trans people have long battled the assumption that they transition for a sexual reason, or that they’re sexually promiscuous or sex workers, but trans children don’t hit those some fears.  They’re not considered dangerous in quite the same way.

So in conclusion.

This view of trans children as sympathetic may not be quite as progressive as it seems.  While it’s wonderful to see trans children treated as actual living breathing human beings, and more positive representations will definitely help those children gain access to blockers and hormones, what happens when they grow up?

Because at some point, most of those children will become sexually active teens and adults–and then we’re at the same point as before.  Until we start to really interrogate the ways in which we idealise children and then demonise the adults they grow into (from innocent to fallen), things won’t really have changed so much after all.

  1. Though we should note in the negative portrayals the fear that gender variance signals a future homosexuality is made explicit. It’s just not as dominant a motif.

For your edification and edjumacation

Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiinks!1

In case yesterday’s overextended metaphor wasn’t enough for you, check out this piece on the dog and the gecko, an amazing metaphor for privilege. If you haven’t figured out what I mean by “privilege” yet, read this.

And then there’re dogs and smurfs: why women writers and stories about women are taken less seriously (don’t worry, it’s not a metaphor — or rather, interrogates a trope we take as metaphor).

If you’ve ever asked yourself “Why does she stay with that jerk?” here are twenty answers. None of them is “she’s stupid” or “she deserves it”.

Filed under further rhetorical questions, would B. Manning be treated the same if out as a trans woman? As Emily says, not bloody likely.

Of course, being trans doesn’t mean Manning is, therefore, a woman — and being nonbinary doesn’t mean one is genderfluid, either.

Elizabeth of Spilt Milk is blogging at Feministe, and I couldn’t be happier. Check out especially Feminist mothers (you, being here, don’t need to be exhorted to read women who are parents and writing about feminism, but DO check out the other recommendations at the end of her post) and In defense of children.

Further to meta discussions of feminists, read this long and wholly worthwhile piece on white privilege in feminist organizations, especially those seeking “diversity”.

Race and gender are hardly the only axes (for lack of a better term) of privilege/marginalization, as you can read about in The Mental Burden of a Lower-Class Background.

But speaking of race and gender, do yourself a favor and watch Random Black Girl. (Lyrics, and a bunch of blather, here.)

This is, though rather male-centric, more or less how my mind works regarding writing.

Finally, this post is being pre-written and scheduled, because by the time you read this, I will have seen the final Harry Potter film installment, with the awesome Amy of Anktangle. But oh, do I wish we could have seen Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger series instead…

  1. For I am the zombie of the blogosphere, and posts are your brains. Tasty, intelligent brains.

Guest post: Sadness is my boychick (or girlchick)

Sadness is my boychick (or girlchick)

by Queen Emily

Bio: Queen Emily is an Australian trans woman in her early 30s, one of the co-bloggers at Questioning Transphobia and Hoyden About Town. She is quite amazing.

Title remixed from Lykke Li

I know how the story is supposed to go, for a trans woman. It’s supposed to go from unbearable pain pre-transition to happiness post, a journey that culminates with SRS1. This is the triumphant narrative the psychiatric/medical gatekeepers want, as proof of their success, and it’s a story we tell cis people in general to justify bodily interventions cissexists still find disturbing and fake at best and horrifying mutilation at worst. We’re supposed to be happy enough to live as a woman, to have the right body, to be accorded the minimal respect of a name and a pronoun (if not exactly full equality). And even trans positive discourses demand a certain positivity to address ciscentric narratives that value cis bodies more than trans, that objectify us as objects of mingled disgust and desire and utterly conflate femaleness with cis femaleness.

These are all true enough, but they’re incomplete. The pain Lisa talks about in the above Questioning Transphobia link continues to linger after transition. When it comes to trans people and reproduction, the predominant motifs continue to be assigned sex. In Western Australia, my home state, the government has been fighting through the courts for two years for the right to neatly align trans men’s sterility with their access to male legal sex documents (trans women’s sterility, however, which occurs permanently after approximately six months on estrogen, counts for precisely fuck all in gaining our access to the correct docs). Cis feminists have incorporated trans rights into pro-choice activism predominantly through the awareness of trans men and female-assigned genderqueers’ potential pregnancies. But these are all primarily concerned with assigned sex capabilities, treating trans populations as tacitly, implicitly, as “really” our assigned sexes.

Arch transphobe Germaine Greer has long had a riff where she declaims that no trans woman would possibly menstruate or get pregnant if it were physically possible. As Germaine appears to have never met a trans woman (her “research” wouldn’t deign to actually consult the population she so boldly declaims about), let me just say: it’s total bollocks. It fucking hurts that I can’t get pregnant.

This isn’t simply about being a parent. It is quite possible that my partner and I could have children one day — if her doctor says it’s safe with her disabilities we could go through IVF in Australia, and there’s surrogacy and adoption too (not that these are unproblematic by any means, just that there’s a possibility we could find an ethical solution). It’s not just about not having children — though it is undoubtedly part of it. And it’s not just about how society can use childlessness against women in general, or the links between homophobia and reproduction (ie the line of reasoning that says gay marriages aren’t “real” because there’s no potential of “natural” childbearing), or even how infertility has been specifically used against trans women (“sterile fucktoys” is one particularly charming epithet I’ve encountered from radfems).

But that doesn’t quite get at the pain I’m describing. When I say hurts, I don’t mean metaphorically. I feel this inability of my body in my body, feel the wordless dull ache in my stomach, inside where my uterus should be, between my legs. It’s there in the strain of muscles, the odd twitch. Between them, my cousins have had three babies (all female-assigned) in the last few years, and my sister and her partner are gearing up some of their own. Sometimes it’s hard to be around, because I am envious, and there’s no cultural space for me to say so without it reinforcing my own supposed inferiority as a trans woman.2

Without fail, I clutch a hand to my tummy when I see them, to feel that pain, but also to feel the could-have-been, the should-have-been. I can’t explain why it’s there, any more than I explain the feeling-not-feeling sensation of my body before hormones. It doesn’t make sense, because it is sense. So what I’m saying is there’s a history and a geography of loss and inability written into my sense of my lived body. It doesn’t overwhelm me, but it’s there when I’m alone as much as the times someone close to me has a child. It just is, and I expect it may well always be in some form.

The thing is, if there’s loss, then there must be mourning too; if you have grief, then you’re already grieving. Freud changed his mind several times on when mourning is accomplished. At first he thought that mourning is completed when a new love object is found, when devotion has been transferred to another love object. And it’s true — love helps you heal from pain. Seeing my friends and family happy with their pregnancies and their children, babysitting those children, is a joy.

But it is nevertheless bittersweet. Emotions don’t cancel or replace each other, as Freud imagined early on. Later he suggested that mourning finishes in incorporation, when you’ve incorporated the lost loved object into yourself. In her wonderful book Precarious Life, Judith Butler suggests that mourning is “when one accepts that by the loss one undergoes one will be changed, possibly for ever.” Mourning is accomplished by transformation, a transformation that “cannot be charted or planned in advance,” because one can never truly know who one is or will be.

And this, to come full circle to my title, is where I’m at. Sadness, loss, grief, are a part of me, incorporated into my sense of myself, my body, my family, in contradictory and ambivalent ways. Sadness is my child, and that’s ok.

  1. Ed note: Sex Reassignment Surgery.
  2. Arwyn style footnote: cis women, please stop saying “you’re so lucky not to have periods!” to trans women. You may as well just punch me in the stomach.

10 Myths About Gender Neutral Parenting

I had a fabulously fun time on the radio yesterday talking about gender neutral parenting on OPB’s Think Out Loud, and while the session went great (you can listen to it at that link!), many topics came up we weren’t able to address in the time alloted. Many of those topics are fundamental misconceptions about what I and many parents mean when we say “gender neutral parenting“. To that end, in what I expect will be a number of upcoming posts on the subject, here are 10 myths (plus a bonus!) about gender neutral parenting, debunked:

Myth: You’re trying to do away with gender.

TRUTH: While I can’t speak for all parents who identify with the term “gender neutral parenting”, that is certainly not the goal of my family or those I know who are practicing this style of parenting. The last “wave” of gender-neutral parenting, in the 70s and early 80s, arguably had the goal of “androgyny for all children”, based on the belief that gender was entirely culturally created and imposed — and then, when (shockingly!) the kids had their own ideas, we as a culture appear to have thrown up our hands and said “to heck with it, it’s all innate!” The truth, which I believe the modern “gender neutral” (more accurately called “gender diverse”) movement is based on, is somewhere in between. Gender, it is true, is innate, and so to some extent is a desire for a traditional or nontraditional gender performance — but what gender performance looks like and what the culturally accepted gender roles are are almost entirely socially constructed, and thus malleable. Today’s gender neutral parenting is not about doing away with gender (if it ever really was), but about doing away with many of the unhealthy pressures around gender, and giving our children the freedom to figure out what gender means to them.

Myth: Your child will never learn about gender if you don’t teach it to them.

TRUTH: It’s always amused me, in a dark and Alanis-ironic sort of way, how the people who most argue that sex = gender also seem to think that gender is so fragile that any sort of variation in rearing practices will damage it. The truth is we all have some sort of gender identity (even if, for some of us, it’s a strong feeling of not having a gender at all, or if it changes over time), and all, in one way or another, perform that gender identity either according to or in a flaunting of our culture’s expectations (or, most often, some mix thereof). So of course our children will learn about gender, what gender means to us, what gender means to the people around them, and what gender means to their society.

But rather than telling them what their gender is in some sort of absolute, often coercive way, and giving them a narrow prescription of how they are supposed to perform that gender, we give them time and freedom to use their amazing observational and social skills to figure out gender for themselves, much as we might give them time to learn to walk — all the while modeling it for them, and trusting they’ll pick it up when they’re ready. Not on their own, or without guidance, but at their own pace, with an awareness that they might come up with answers we may never have thought of.

Myth: You’ll damage them. / You’ll confuse them.

TRUTH: In “traditional”, phenotypical sex = gender = gender performance families, it is guaranteed that 1-5% of children are confused and damaged. These are the 1-5% of children who are transgender, “gender variant”, or gender “non-conforming” — that is, whose internal sense of gender does not accord with the gender assigned to them based on their genitals, who may not fit neatly into the genders “boy” or “girl”, or whose gender performance preferences do not conform to their assigned or declared gender. Being raised in such an environment, with inflexible gender assignments and rigid gender expectations, is highly damaging for many of these children. Being trans* is not inherently, unbearably stressful; being trans* in a culture that rarely even acknowledges the existence of people like you and mocks them when it does often is, and is much more confusing for children, who aren’t even aware of what is happening.

On the other hand, there is no evidence that children raised with gender freedom and a celebration of diversity of gender expressions are damaged or confused at all. The key here is the difference between coercion — which can happen both toward strict traditional gender norms or toward gender-elimination or “androgyny” — and freedom. Coercion around gender is harmful for children; freedom is not and cannot be.

Myth: You’ll make your kid gay!

TRUTH: Oh, if only.1 The simple fact, proven over and over and over again both experientially and scientifically, is we can’t control, predict, or change our children’s sexuality.

(What we can do is make life easier for queer/non-straight children, by modeling for all our children celebration of various sexualities, and by being educated ourselves not just about straight and gay but the whole QUILTBAG2. We can raise confident queer kids and strong straight allies, and part of how we do both is by not assuming we know their sexuality until they tell us.)

But back to the myth, which comes from a conflation of gender performance and sexuality. That is, it is only a reflection of:

Myth: Gender = gender performance = sexuality.

TRUTH: There are many permutations of this myth, including the above “Dressing your boy in pink will make him gay”. Other variations include “How will she know she’s a girl if she dresses ‘like a boy’?” and “Oh, what a handsome little lady-killer!” They all rest on the conflation of gender (one’s innate sense of boy, girl, or neither/both/other-ness), gender performance (how one presents one’s gender through clothing and speech and movements and accessories) and sexuality (the gender[s] or lack thereof one is attracted to). These are three different things, and though sometimes they go together in ways we expect, they often don’t. There are femme lesbians and girly straight boys and trans girls who are tomboys and every possible variation under the sun — and then some. The thing is, people are not stereotypes, even those who appear to fit the stereotypes.

How does this relate to gender neutral parenting and especially to gender diverse parenting? One of the goals of this parenting style is to recognize that each of these things is different (and that phenotypical sex is yet another distinct category), so that our children can choose the combination that is right for them — yes, even if what’s right for them appears to conform to the stereotypes.

Myth: Gender neutral parenting means banning Barbies and trucks and princesses and Nerf guns.

TRUTH: Some parents do ban one or all of those things, and often for well-thought-out and highly personal reasons, but it’s certainly not required in order to practice gender-neutral (or especially gender-diverse) parenting. What is discouraged is only having one “type” of toy, whatever it is, or disallowing one “gender” of toy in favor of another (even if it’s cross-gender: that is, banning dolls, but not trucks or guns, for an assigned-girl).

Instead, a gender-diverse household tends to have lots of different kinds of toys, preferably ones that encourage open-ended imaginative play: for example, blocks to build a garage for Barbie to park her truck in, knocked down by a sudden Nerf attack! And if we find our children exclusively playing with one sort of toy in one sort of way, we might use Playful Parenting or similar tactics to encourage a broadening of play; but most children rarely get so stuck as to call for any sort of even subtle adult redirection.

Myth: Gender neutral parenting is impossible. / It’s all or nothing.

TRUTH: While 100% “gender neutral” parenting perhaps is impossible, even for the families who decline to share the phenotypical sex of their child and do not assign them a gender, there is a wide spectrum possible between that absolute idealism and the most rigid of “traditional” sex-segregated and stereotyped parenting. In truth, most “mainstream” parenting falls somewhere in-between as well, with very few parents completely disallowing all dolls or light colored clothes for assigned-boys and even fewer banning balls or blocks or pants for assigned-girls.

What most self-identified gender-neutral or gender-diverse parents do is try, as much as is practical or possible in their own lives, to move closer toward the “ideal” by turning down the sex-stereotyping and offering their children more options. In truth, many “gender neutral” families look not much different than many “traditional” families, especially past the infant months, whether due to following the child’s own preferences, gifts from more traditional family members, a bias in hand-me-downs, concerns about push-back from the public (especially in more marginalized families, who may depend on extended family or social services), or any number of other reasons.

Certainly as a child ages and comes into their own identity, it may be harder to tell a gender-neutral family apart from any other, which brings us to:

Myth: Gender neutral parenting is a failure if your girl wants to wear pink (or your boy refuses to).

TRUTH: All children are individuals, with their own preferences, and eventually with their own awareness of their gender and preferences about their gender performance. For many children, especially during a period shortly after coming in to a solid internal sense of their own gender (usually somewhere around 3-4 years old), this means wanting to align themselves strongly with what they perceive to be the cultural norms for that gender. Far from wanting to do away with this process, gender neutral parenting is all about leading up to this process in an entirely healthy way, for children of ALL genders and gender performance preferences, including the probably-majority who fall along “stereotypical” lines.

Thus, after years of wearing blues and browns and reds as well as pinks and pastels and purples, and with a closet full of similar diversity, when your 3-4 year old now-self-proclaimed girl wants to wear exclusively pink, you can know that it is her own knowledge of her gender, her personal preferences, and her awareness of her culture’s gender norms that are driving her choices, rather than highly segregated, sexist programming she might, in a more traditional household, have grown up with. And, you can know that just because this is her preference for now, it might not be reflective of her desires for all time, and you can use the tools of gender neutral parenting to continue to offer her an array of options, while honoring her choices, in the years to come.

Myth: You’re engaging in a social experiment with your child! / You’re indoctrinating them!

TRUTH: All parents “indoctrinate” or “experiment” with their children, in that we follow our own beliefs or our cultural memes and myths and parent accordingly. Everything we do with and for our children communicates to them our ideas about how the world works, how it should be, and what we want for them. The only difference with paths such as gender neutral or gender diverse parenting is that we are going against the current cultural mythos, that says boys and girls are two distinct, discrete genders that as such need to be given entirely different sets of clothes, toys, names, endearments, and role models — which is hardly a universal human belief itself.

Myth: Gender neutral parenting only benefits children who don’t conform to gender expectations.

TRUTH: While as previously mentioned gender neutral/gender diverse parenting is especially beneficial (and necessary!) for non-conforming children, it has numerous benefits for “stereotypical” children as well. For one, also as previously mentioned, it lets us know that if our children do conform closely to socially-approved gender expectations, this is authentic and is coming from within them. But also, many “normal” (cisgender and gender-typical) children are less strongly gendered than traditionally thought, and when raised in a gender neutral way care less about the “boy” or “girl”-ness of their clothing and activities than we might expect.

Further, as peer pressure increases and their awareness of gender norms expands, having a gender-neutral/gender-diverse base (meaning both their home life and the early years of gender neutrality) helps them question the “rightness” of culturally assigned roles and stereotypes, and the very existence of unnecessarily gendered products. And, gender diverse parenting helps prepare even the most culturally-conforming child to be more aware and more accepting of diversity, making them more supportive friends for their gender non-conforming peers.

BONUS Myth: Your children will hate you for screwing them up.

TRUTH: Well, maybe. But that’s pretty much a risk for any parenting path, most definitely including “mainstream” parenting. Considering the very little we have to lose, and how much we have to gain, isn’t it worth it to take that risk on something you believe in? Isn’t it worth trying some variation of gender neutral parenting?

  1. I jest!
  2. Queer Unlabeled Intersex Lesbian Transgender Bisexual Asexual Gay.