Monday, 4 October 2010

Do trans men struggle to be arseholes, and other musings on gender identity

    A couple of things have set me thinking in the blogosphere of late. Melissa posted a self-described rant about her personal statement of gender identity the other day and I had a "frank exchange of views" with Anne on the same subject in a comment stream over on Halle's blog.
    I can legitimately describe myself here in the virtual world as female because my brain has an unfortunate habit of asserting a female gender identity. But looking in the mirror on an average day, I'm a bloke. Let's get that straight right at the start. Beard stubble? Check. Bits? Check. Brow ridges? Check. Not ecstatic about it and never really have been, but that's the way the cookie crumbles for the gender dysphoric.
    I could fix that if I had the right conversations with the right doctors and embarked on the rocky road of transition, then I could describe myself as a woman. But even with all the chemistry and anatomy fixed I'm going to go out on a limb here and say I'd never be quite the same as a female at birth woman. No, this isn't about chromosomes, prostates and ovaries, it's about upbringing.  The one thing that unites all of us who are or have been blokes with brains from the girl parts bin is this: no matter how long ago we transitioned if we have, how well we pass, whether we choose to sleep with blokes, women, both or nobody, we all of us never had the chance to grow up as girls or young women. We're graduates of bloke school while they have degrees from girl academy. If you've ever met a girl who's XY androgen insensitive you'll understand what I'm trying to say, she's got similar internal anatomy and girl brain, same chromosomes as an MtF TS, but because she had the girl upbringing she doesn't have any of the baggage. From the very few I've met (completely outside this sphere), the chances are she's someone I can look in the eye too. Sigh.
     Bloke school teaches you that you can be an arsehole if you want to. It's quite socially acceptable to be a violent aggressive rude philandering misogynist bastard if you want to when you're a bloke. If you do it with aplomb, you're even respected for it, admired as some kind of Jack-the-lad. I'll never know at first hand what girl academy teaches you but its bloke equivalent is the school of which I am a summa cum laude graduate. I hope I've not committed any of my list of socially acceptable bloke sins that it equipped me for, but six years at an all-boys school means I sure am going equipped. I hated that school!
    We can't lose that bloke upbringing, however hard we might like to. It shapes who we are, and it's why so many of us get it slightly wrong so easily when we first stray into attempted womanhood. And in our character we've all got that bastard training sitting there too. Some of us never use it, some of us let it slip out occasionally and others never put it away. Tell me you've never met a trans woman in the real world with just that little too much of the bloke in her character, I know I have.
     I've often wondered whether trans men have the opposite problem, whether as they assume the male role they have problems learning to be the arsehole that blokes are sometimes expected to be. Their support networks rarely seem to intersect with ours so I've met so few trans blokes face-to-face I've never had the chance to ask. I know with a brain like mine I'm hardly placed to be an arbiter of masculinity, but from where I'm sitting if they don't manage to master that facet then they'll be all the better blokes for it.
    What am I trying to say? Really assuming a gender is not as simple as proclaiming yourself as such. I sure as hell wouldn't deny anyone the right to do so but  anyone who does so has to be able to back it up with more than just the assertion, whether they've seen the doctor or not.

20 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Although I agree in part with your conclusion - Gender is more than just a proclamation, I'm afraid I profoundly disagree with your logic in getting there, the logic of difference from upbringing.

    In fairness I can see where you are coming from, but what I think you miss from your perspective is the danger that attitude causes - the danger that those who have been through a transition are in some way different, always have been always will be.

    It is that difference that leads to different treatment - discrimination - and down a slippery slope that at best is a half life of people who have been through a transition being tolerated and accepted as a different class of person, a person aside, a man/woman/other thing, but at worst that slope leads to more tangible and dangerous discrimination and maybe risks of attack and violence.

    I may no apology for speaking out against that culture of difference. I sit firmly in the gender binary; I respect the position of those who don't want to, but thats not me. The difficulty is the culture of difference negates my selected place in the binary.

    YMMV

    ReplyDelete
  3. It is only fair that I should wade in, at least a bit, in appreciation for the way you and others entertained and enlightened over at my little home on the web.

    I am with Jess on this.

    As a group, we do seem to concentrate on the extremes of behavior (at least I know I do), even though just a bit of observation tells you that lots of men seem to have gone to girl school and lots of women are very rough and tumble.

    One of the most feared bullies (physically) in my grade school (6 to 12 years old) was a female. She had definitely not attended girl school and had no intention of doing so.

    IMO, the good news for us is that gender behavior seems to be a continuum, hardly a binary. Others who have "walked the walk" can testify as to whether transition liberates them to be themselves or not. My guess is that would be the case, for me at least. Maybe I 'flunked' bloke school. Most of my re-education would be in finishing touches that are mostly physical.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You are right, in my haste to write a post that had been bouncing around in my head all day at work to address this morning's discussion with someone who would seek to deny womanhood to anyone who didn't meet her own exacting standard I have strayed rather towards a dangerous place.

    So, good point, taken.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Really assuming a gender is not as simple as proclaiming yourself as such. I sure as hell wouldn't deny anyone the right to do so but anyone who does so has to be able to back it up with more than just the assertion, whether they've seen the doctor or not."

    Wow, there is so much I disagree with here. And I find that statement as a direct challenge to everyone (pre, mid, or post transition) that they're not "woman enough" until they prove it. It reminds me of the same disagreements I've had with many of my religious friends who assert that "God made you male and you can't prove otherwise."

    I could be wrong here, but I don't have a thing to prove to anyone. My proof is in the pudding, I approve of myself, and I approve of this message. :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Well, at least you know you stuck your foot in it. :-)

    A woman born in the woods and raised by wolves is still a woman. A woman incorrectly identified as a man at birth is still a woman. There's a difference between experience and gender.

    And then consider for a moment how really different these experiences are for men and women in different cultures. Granted, the gender divide still skews in favor of men almost everywhere but apart from that, a woman from the Mongolian steppes was raised and lives with a radically different set of experiences than those of us in the western world, and yet we never fail to identify her as a woman.

    A daresay we place a heightened value on the whole "raised as a girl" experience because it's something we long for. At the same time, many many cis women wish their childhood and adolescent years were different...maybe not "bloke", but not what they got. We all have to live with our pasts but what happened yesterday is never more important than what we do now.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow! A lot of good stuff here. As the apparent catalyst of this thread, I would to address the various thoughts and also some misinterpretations of my position.

    For starters I do not set "standards for womanhood" akin to the "Game" proposed by the Transsexual Ferox, nor "deny womanhood" to anyone who self proclaims themself to be a woman.


    However, as Lori said above, "the proof is in the pudding". If it quacks, walks, and looks like a duck...

    Now, not to belabor a moot point that has already been seemingly laid to rest, what standard would YOU, Jenny, like to apply to this? "assuming a gender is not as simple as proclaiming yourself as such. I sure as hell wouldn't deny anyone the right to do so but anyone who does so has to be able to back it up with more than just the assertion, whether they've seen the doctor or not."

    How does one "back up" this assertion?

    You see, what I see happpening is a defensive perimeter being drawn around this assertion, "I am a woman, because I say/think/feel I am". And it is being drawn based on the assumption that "some people" do not accept that. And further, that because "those people" cannot suspend or deny what their senses or reason tells them, then "those people" are arrogant, elitist, bigoted, immature, insecure, yada, yada yada, ad nauseum.

    That is certainly an assertion and/or an opinion to which some of you MAY subscribe, and to which you are certainly entitled to hold. By the same token, I am (hopefully) free and yes, entitled to vociferously disagree. AND...I DO.

    Women, as a rule, do not proclaim, declare or "present" themselves to be women. They just ARE. As Renee is so happy to point out, a woman raised by wolves might not act walk or talk like a woman. In fact, she might not even walk or talk at all, and act downright feral. She would have to learn in order to fit in and function in society. Nevertheless, she would still be a woman, would she not?

    Now let us consider the case of an individual born with Complete Androgyn Insensitivity Syndrome, (CAIS). They have XY,(male) chromosomes, but do not develop fully and completely with male genetalia. In most cases they are surgicaly "corrected" as infants, reared as girls, and in most cases this works out well.

    In some cases however, things do not work out well. The 'girl' is 'brain-wired as a boy, and the result is 'Gender Dysphoria'.

    So, in a perfect world, what is to be done? Well, obviously, the simplest thing would be just to re-adjust the hormones and restructure the genetalia.

    Would that life were so simple. Unfortunately it is not and we are left to deal with the proclamations of priest, rabbis, mullahs and other assorted "experts" with their "standards of care" etc, ad infinatum.

    As Halle and others have pointed out, there is no single standard, no "right way" to "be a woman". We just are. We come in all shapes, colors and sizes. We each adopt those behavioral patterns, and styles of dress that best suit who we are and how we want to be percieved and reacted to.

    It really is not all that complicated. We have all been gifted with free will and with that gift comes the responsibility of accepting the consequences and rewards of the exercise of that freedom.

    ReplyDelete
  9. @ Anne

    The problem isn't how you back up your assertions, it's to whom you have to demonstrate your proof. If you have to back up your assertions, there must be someone out there that you are presenting your evidence to. Who is that exactly? You? The doctors? A panel of cis women somewhere? Cis men? Who?

    The whole argument presumes that at some point we have to appeal to some higher power to be judged. I don't think anyone should hold that power over anyone else but putting that aside, could someone just tell me who they think a credible authority would be for assigning gender identity to someone else? I'm not being disingenuous with the request...I know people must have some ideas and are afraid to say so because it's politically incorrect. But if someone would just spill it maybe we could talk about specifics.

    For my part, I completely disavow the ability to make such judgments about people. I'm not the person we're looking for here.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I knew I'd excite some controversy here :)

    But if you say something based on personal experience then you have to stand by that part of it.

    I am female, because I feel I am. I am not a woman, because I haven't unlearned the parts of me that have enabled me to survive as a bloke for 40 years. Your mileages obviously do vary, and I'd really love the chance to shed all that, but circumstances haven't allowed me to. There. Does that make sense?

    AIS, I'd better quickly give an AIS 101 because I think the difference between complere AIS and partial AIS needs to be enunciated. Without going into too much detail I have very good reason to know about the difference. AIS as described by Anne is PAIS, and it comes in a spectrum from full-on bloke all the way through as Anne describes. CAIS as I described is full female gender identity and externally female genitalia but no uterus etc, raised as female.

    Fortunately unless the NHS fertility lab got their sums wrong I'm unlikely to be a PAIS sufferer myself.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I saw your comment on a recent post of nix's and followed you back here. Interesting post, but the fact is there is no "female experience". As someone else said, it varies across cultures, but it also varies within cultures. I see transphobic feminists say trans women could never really be women because they didn't have this or that experience growing up as a girl, but I didn't have those experiences, either, even though I was female-assigned at birth. Don't buy into the idea that how you were raised is what makes you a woman.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I guess some of you will not have seen the television program on UK tv called 'Ladette to Lady' in which several 'young ladies' (the term being used very loosely) attend a kind of 'finishing school' to convert them to being refined young women instead of 'blokish wannabees'. Oh yes, they have it in themselves to be women by nature but they seem to have chosen a different path. I can only speak for myself here but from my perspective I tried my best NOT to act like a bloke. It just wasn't who I am. I had therefore to act like and be like a female from the sidelines as it were. I took no part in blokish things and was never interested in the things common to the male species. So I have to disagree with your statement up to a point but I do understand what you are saying. Love
    Shirley Anne xxx

    ReplyDelete
  13. Some of us had no choice but to act like boys, because we were raised by homophobic and transphobic parents, who strictly enforced masculine behavior and attitudes on us. If you were smart, and knew what was good for you, you kept your femininity deeply closeted, and you complied with the standards of behavior that were expected of you. After two decades of enforced masculinization, your femininity gets so deeply buried, that you can't even admit to yourself that you are not a man, and you continue on for another decade or two, trying to prove to those who raised you, and to all of the other homophobes and transphobes in your life, that you are not what they have taught you is most pitiful creature of all, an effeminate male.

    Unlike those who were allowed a greater degree of personal expression as children, you did take part in masculine pursuits. 1st because you were made to, and later because that's what you had been conditioned to do. After a while, you may have even developed an interest in some of those pursuits. That doesn't mean you are any less female on the inside.

    This is why some people think that gender dysphoric children can be conditioned to be masculine. Well, yes they can, any many are, but that doesn't cure them of their underlying GID. They may act like men, or blokes if you prefer, but they never feel totally at home in their male skin. They often feel like frauds, because in spite of all of the masculine socialization, they remain females at heart. This is a perspective of transsexialism that many, including those who were freer to pursue transition, have a difficult time understanding. So one's gender identity really is all about personal one's perspective, and not about the subjective judgment of others.

    Melissa XX

    ReplyDelete
  14. Errr......correction:

    Make that one's personal perspective........

    Melissa XX

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hope you will not mind an FTM putting in tuppence worth. Would I want to be an arXXhole to fit in, is that the sort of man I aspired to be as a child. No, course not. You can, I believe, choose how to express yourself.

    BTW I'm also non-op and in a very good relationship.

    Alex

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thanks everyone, it's good to have people talking. And feel free to express yourselves as you see fit, if I espouse controversial views I have to be prepared to take the flak. I'm glad that people see where I'm coming from even if nobody shares my personal view. But that some others in our community could follow suit.

    I find most resonance in Melissa's post. My parents have always been great and I had a very happy young childhood as a closet cross-dresser, but being thrust into an awful traditional British boys school had a similar effect on me.

    And Alex, only tuppence? Go on, make it a sixpence at least! :)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Ok, ;-) Well, you realise that I wouldn’t fit her subjective standards either. Nope, if nurture and all the other pressures to conform had made me a woman I wouldn’t be here. It isn’t what you learned to do it is what you are.

    If you feel you really missed out on doing though why not treat yourself, have a second childhood and adolescence, make pretty buns, do something you would love to have done when smaller.

    Me and mine gather wild berries and make sauces and pickles together which wasn’t in his childhood and cooking wasn’t in mine.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Now um.. How do I say this without offending yet another group within our broader community? There's something er.. disturbing about grown men acting the part of young girls! :)

    On a serious note, yes, I am having a second childhood. Not in quite that way though as I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity and encouragement in that direction from an early age. Fruit chasing and culinary endeavours are a major way of channeling energy to keep on top of GD for me, see posts passim.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I want to address a different part of your post (read less controversial). My support group has lots of FtM chaps, so I know a bunch. Some do have a bit of the girl still in them, but testosterone has a way of inspiring cockiness and arseholery. They aren't bad or unpleasant people, but the natural arrogance of the natal male asserts itself well in the group. They usually have no problem passing when that has been mastered.

    This is the first "Jack-the-lad" usage I've seen, outside an early Elvis Costello lyric (Get Happy, maybe?). I hadn't a clue about the phrase, but thought of Jack as a verb. It's not! Love those British idioms...

    ReplyDelete
  20. I'd never realised it was especially British in its usage, but yes, a "Brash, cocky young man".

    I must have been seeing the nature effects of the testosterone surge among my contemporaries rather than the nurture effect of the School for Young Arseholes then.

    ReplyDelete