Myth: The Standards of Care (SOC) have always been there to help trans people transition safely.
Reality: They absolutely have not. In fact, what the SOC have historically accomplished was the exact opposite of safety. When I said that the relationship between therapist and client has been and often still is strained, I was not kidding. (By the way, I am going to use past tense for the sake of sentence coherence, but please realize that this stuff still happens today.)
Therapists have been gatekeepers of one’s ability to access medical care. Whether you were able to get treatment at all was based entirely on convincing this one cis person, the therapist, that you were “really” trans, and you would frequently find that you had to convince this therapist who had their own wonky “theories” about transsexuality, or they towed the Blanchard/Bailey/Zucker line.
It has only been since the 1990s that the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH, formerly HBIGDA- Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association) began to even take trans people’s input into consideration, and it was just last year that the SOC were improved in significant ways that most trans communities approved of.
The earlier versions of the SOC—and for a very long time there were no major revisions made—unequivocally encouraged cis therapists to act as gatekeepers and to disallow all but the “most extreme cases” to transition. They had rather insane hoops to jump through such as the “Real Life Test,” which required people to live as their identified gender for 1-2 years WITHOUT hormone therapy. This was the step you had to take before you were allowed to even go on hormones. This “test,” which sounds a lot more like hazing to me, also required people to live “full-time” without the benefit of document changes or a support system, as it was demanded that trans people leave their jobs, divorce their spouses and children, and move to another town. Then you found yourself in the double bind of feeling suicidal for understandable reasons, yet having this be used against you as “proof” of your “instability.” And certainly we can’t have anybody like that transitioning!
You also were required to see a therapist for indefinite periods of time, which were naturally at their discretion. Many times you had to see both a therapist and a psychiatrist or two. Sometimes this stretched on for literally years. If you had any hope of transitioning ever, you had to continue going to these appointments. These are still to this day costly and not generally covered by insurance. How exactly were you supposed to finance this if you were forced to abandon your career, unable to reference any previous work history, and now finding yourself at higher risk for employment discrimination?
When you were in the appointments, the therapists would interrogate you about all kinds of things: your sex life, your fantasies, childhood traumas, “ideals” of femininity and masculinity, your hobbies and interests. The women were literally judged by a dress code. If you showed up in masculine clothing, you were turned away, as you must not be serious. If you showed up in feminine clothing, you were at least trying, but they’d still pick apart your appearance. In reports, they would write that your female appearance was “gawky,” “put-on,” and “awkward.” Instead of spending valuable time helping a person emotionally and logistically prepare for transitioning and for adjusting into a new role, the therapists would scan and condemn this person for any imperfections or lies.
Of course, this is super hypocritical because the SOC *required* trans people to lie. They had to lie about their childhoods, when they first knew, their sexual orientations, and the like to fit the narrative the doctors wanted to hear in order to be approved. When doctors eventually realized that people were telling them what they wanted to hear, they called trans people “liars,” “deceptive,” “manipulative,” “compulsive,” “psychotic,” and “schizophrenic.”
Yet the doctors *required* patients who had transitioned to actively lie about having ever been trans and to go into hiding. They called those who were open about being trans “schizophrenic,” “unstable,” “insane,” and “unsuccessful.” Even after transition, you were still expected to go to therapy appointments for follow-up. If you did not do this, or you did not fall into line with what they thought you should be (heterosexual, gender-normative, living stealth, financially and socially “successful”), you were accused of “backsliding” and your hormone prescription would be withheld. Also, how did the doctors have any right to be mad about trans people lying to them to get treatment they needed when the doctors consistently lied about if and when the patients might be able to get that treatment? With all this lying going on, it is difficult for me to locate the therapeutic benefit in all this. Furthermore, can you think of any other condition where therapists insist that their clients should lie about it?
This is why it is intensely hurtful when certain people accuse transsexual people of “trying too hard” (when they’re not accusing them of “not trying hard enough”), of being conservative or normative in gender, of becoming “a completely different person,” and of being tools of the psychiatric establishment. They are using the very things used to blackmail us to rebuke us.
You see, doctors and therapists claimed that these requirements were there to “protect” trans people from making “the wrong decision” by transitioning—something they might regret—and from the social discrimination an openly trans person could face. In reality, the SOC were there to “protect” the fraction of a fraction of cis people who *might* mistakenly transition and to “protect” cis people from knowingly being associated with someone who had transitioned.
I believe that the first, “protecting” people from transitioning “wrongly,” is ironically hollow. First, there is no objectively “right” or “wrong” decision around transitioning. It is merely a question of whether these treatments will help a person to feel happier and more functional, which they virtually always do. Different procedures will be right for some people and not for others, even if those people are trans.
Second, the fact that the SOC required one to lie made it impossible for people to be honest about what they were actually feeling. That is, having the strict “real” vs. “fake” transsexual dichotomy, all or nothing, with one maybe(?) receiving treatment and the other for sure not, obscured the diversity in trans people. When the therapists were so overly concerned with micromanaging people’s transitions, they weren’t able or willing to hear trans people say things like, “I want hormones but not surgery.” You are, in fact, more likely to end up with people doing things that they regret when you push them to be dysphoric about parts of their body they might not be dysphoric about, or to undertake steps that are unlikely to help them personally.
The ultimate problem with the old SOC was that they gave all the power to the therapists and doctors, who worked together to paternalistically decide if a trans person was sane enough to have bodily and personal autonomy. As I said the other day, no therapist or doctor can determine your identity for you. Even so, this coming together of doctors and therapists, who rig the game, forces trans people to fall in line if they want to get treatment that is vital to their health and well-being.
“But it’s such a big decision!” apologists wail. “You need a professional there to facilitate!” Putting aside the disempowering paternalism of us “needing” to be “protected” from ourselves, this is hogwash. We don’t require people to undergo extensive therapy for other body-changing procedures. Lots of things that people choose to do to their bodies will cause physical and sometimes permanent changes, carry some kind of risk, and maybe be a big decision: tattoos, diet changes, pregnancy, circumcision, plastic surgery, gastric bypass surgery, cochlear implants, chemotherapy, and so on.
I’d be more inclined to take no issue with the SOC if all people were required to undergo psychological screening to ensure that they’re not actually a trans person who isn’t transitioning because of social or internal pressures, something that we know is actively harmful to trans people’s mental and physical health. In fact, it’s quite interesting that we see such an intense concern for cis people mistakenly transitioning—an already ridiculously small, negligible proportion of people seeking this treatment—and yet such a dearth of concern for trans people who don’t transition. I think a lot of this comes from the difficulty cis people have in understanding the emotional pain of being incorrectly sexed/gendered. They don’t understand that it is *pain.* There is also the cissexist assumption that being cis is the default and therefore always the “safest” option.
Of course, what’s the likelihood of that happening? Can you imagine how pissed cis people would be if they were forced to see a therapist for 3 months-1 year at least once a week, pay for this out of pocket, and be subjected to probing questions by “professionals” who assume they know better than them just to ensure that they weren’t “really” trans? Can you imagine if we made cis women who need estrogen treatments or cis men who need testosterone go through the kind of counseling trans people are made to go through? These people would be screaming obscenities, no doubt. If that’s totally understandable, then why the discrepancy in having any sympathy for trans people’s transitions being obstructed by arrogant “professionals”?
Be advised that we are now operating on SOC 7, published in 2011 by WPATH. Not all therapists use the SOC, but the attitudes in counseling are changing slowly but surely. These new standards are a godsend since they have relaxed the rigid requirements in previous versions. Among the changes are the following:
* Therapy and the “real life experience” are no longer required to start hormone treatments.
* The SOC are explicitly considered to be flexible clinical guidelines rather than hardline rules.
* There is more emphasis on providing care and removing barriers to it.
* Trans people’s identities and expressions are specifically noted as not being pathological or negative.
* There is now more information and recommended guidelines for puberty suppression in children with gender dysphoria, as well as a loosening of the requirement of being 18 to start hormone therapy.
* People with non-binary identities and paths are not excluded from treatment.
* There is acknowledgement that concurrent mental health issues should not prevent people from being able to transition.
* The informed consent model is encouraged over gatekeeping.
Myth: No one will ever love you or want to be with you.
Reality: This is one of the most heartbreaking myths to me, and what is sadder still is that so many of my trans friends, especially trans women, people that I know and care about, have resigned themselves to never having love, affection, or romance in their lives.
Love is a tough proposition for anyone, but this can be magnified several times over when you are trans. These myths you’ve seen so far—we’re deceptive, we’re REALLY [birth-assigned sex], we’re obligated to disclose— and the fact that trans women are hypersexualized/trans men are sometimes desexualized culminate to make dating hazardous. I know a lot of people who have lost relationships after disclosing their trans status. Disclose or don’t disclose, there’s the possibility that the person will react poorly either way. They’ll find some way to say that you “tricked” them or were “dishonest.” Tell them you’re trans off the bat and they turn you down in disgust because they just can’t see themselves dating someone like that. Wait to tell them and you were “lying” all along, you “traitor.”
Disclosure is fraught with imprecision. Knowing when exactly to tell someone is in many ways a guessing game. People have different ways of negotiating it, and with as sensitive as this information about ourselves is, I think it’s perfectly reasonable and acceptable for someone to judge for themselves what the appropriate time might be and wait to tell their partner until they’ve established intimacy and trust. See, that is the thing that people don’t realize or forget about disclosing one’s trans status is that when we do this, it’s a sign of TRUST on our part. Trust, though, is a two-way street. Trans people have extremely good reasons for wanting to manage who has access to that information about themselves, and it’s called self-preservation to disclose when you feel the time is right.
There are so many negative messages out there, microaggressions that trans people experience every day, emotional slings and arrows, that feeling as though one is even worthy of being loved can itself be a monumental challenge for many people. A “joke” about a man freaking out and vomiting after he realizes he’s been with a trans woman might make cis people laugh, but for a trans woman, it chips away piece by piece at your heart. “Tranny” might sound cutesy to a cis person, but to a trans person it is one more grueling reminder that trans = freak. Combined with the depression that many of us already feel, with dysphoria, with isolation, with loneliness, overcoming that is a Herculean task.
Trans people have different feelings about all this, but I will speak in general “you” with my own thoughts in mind. Finding the balance between people being interested in you for who you are and people being interested in you *because* you’re trans is also hard to pin down, and it can be extremely aggravating when it seems like people are either interested in you as a fetish or lose interest the second you disclose. You don’t want someone to only want to be with you because they imagine you as this sexual and gender unicorn thing, hyperfocusing on your trans status and neglecting to see the whole you. You also don’t want someone who will be with you *in spite of being trans*, on condition of expressly ignoring your trans status and denying your reality. You just want someone to understand you the way you understand yourself and to love you for yourself, not some imagined ideal or hush-hush tidbit.
Despite these hardships, my friends, I ask you to not give up. Don’t give up on yourselves or on love. We must always remember that we too are worthy of love. We have the same needs for friendship, affection, connection, and intimacy as anyone else. Transitioning was itself an act of self-love, as we did something out of profound concern for our own authenticity, and it allows us to be more in tune with ourselves and more present within our relationships. We repeat the phrase “true selves” for good reason, and part of continuing to honor our true selves is to not believe that we are less than, that we are unworthy, that we are ugly, or that we are unlovable. What better thing to love about a person than their fortitude in being who they truly are, no matter what kind of hell other people give them?
In the 7 years that Perpetual Transition has been around, I have seen lots of relationships bloom and thrive. Yes, sometimes relationships don’t survive transition and the break-ups are deeply painful, but I have seen more than a handful of relationships that did survive, most having improved after transition. I know several dozens of people who are still with their wives, husbands, girlfriends, and boyfriends. Even among those who were long-term single or lost relationships when they began transition, I have known so many who have been very surprised to find love when they never believed that they could. We have several relationships spring from members meeting each other at PT. I know one couple that is still together today 7 years after meeting at the group.
Sometimes trans people date other trans people. Sometimes they date cis people. But with 7 billion people on the planet, and the more people are educated and change their minds, please do not feel that you must forever be alone and celibate. There are people out there who will love and appreciate us in balanced, healthy ways, and do they not deserve the love we have to give? In PT, some people have said before that being trans is its own bittersweet gift. While being trans is stigmatized and can lead to a great deal of bitter rejection, the sweetness laced with that is that we have our own built-in system of weeding out people who are *not* deserving of our affections. Powerful as loneliness in the interim may be, it is better to wait to be with someone who will love and respect you for who you are, not salivate over what they envision you to be like in bed. And those people are out there! It is just a matter of finding them.
Myth: Trans people don’t spread myths.
Reality: Unfortunately, we sometimes do. Even with our living experiences, we are not immune to mythology or its dissemination. We are capable of finding and absorbing the same faulty research, of making the same wonky assumptions, of centering our own experiences and dismissing others’. Nobody is perfect. But simply being trans does not confer a seal of 100 percent correctness all the time to whatever that person, including me, has to say about trans issues.
Much of this stems from us already being more knowledgeable about our healthcare than our doctors, about laws and policies than bureaucrats, and about social experiences of gender than most cis people. We are put in the educator role when visibly transitioning, especially if we want to access medical procedures and documentation changes. For good reason, based on our experiences so far, we usually believe that we are right about trans issues.
As we all know, however, there is plenty of misinformation out there, unintentional and not so much. Most people don’t spread these myths maliciously as much as they just repeat them without researching them more in depth or considering their implications. In addition to all previously listed ones, here are some myths that are regrettably widespread among trans communities:
* Bottom surgery for trans men is objectively bad. -> This one pisses me off royally, particularly since it is so common and is often spouted off casually in Trans 101 presentations. It’s one of those popular myths that people don’t question because “that makes sense.” No, it doesn’t. Especially with the development of microsurgical techniques, the quality of these procedures has improved significantly in the last 10-20 years. Don’t base your ideas about phalloplasty or metaoidioplasty on urban legends and sixtieth-hand accounts. Try meeting guys who’ve personally had these procedures done. All the guys I know are VERY happy with what they now have.
You will hear a lot of people say these surgeries are “unsatisfactory and ugly,” “fake or unrealistic,” and “non-functional.” None of those things are objective. If the trans man who has the procedure done is happy with his genitals and hasn’t had major complications, then it is successful. Plus, it’s just not cool to rag on people’s genitals, trans or cis. Say no to body hate and body policing!
* If trans women don’t transition when they are younger, they will never “successfully” transition. -> “Success” is what one makes it. Success is whether you have done something that improved your happiness in yourself. When people pull the “transer than thou” line, just remember that their jockeying is twofold: 1) it’s part of the same posturing and hierarchical definition that all humans take part in, and 2) it’s a holdover, particularly among those who are older and/or more personally conservative, from having to fit the therapists’ “standards” or not receive any treatment at all. These folks have it in their mind that they did it “the right way,” and they are resentful of those who aren’t held to those same “standards” or forced to jump through the same flaming hoops they did to get the care they needed.
* Only a gender therapist can tell you whether you’re trans. -> Again, this is a reflection of the gatekeeping role therapists have played. Want to get on hormones or have surgery? Need a therapist’s letter. Want to change your documentation? Need a therapist’s letter. Want to not be accused of fraud? Need a therapist’s letter. And the relationship between therapist and trans client has historically (and still is, in a lot of ways) strained, even abusive. Outside of places where informed consent is done, the therapist *entirely* controls one’s ability to access healthcare. If that therapist isn’t convinced you’re “really” trans, your chances of getting healthcare are effectively zero, so that external validation is important for people, both logistically and emotionally.
I get intensely frustrated with this mindset, which I find to be servile, but I understand its origins. In the end, though, being trans is and always has been a self-diagnosed condition. Only the person directly experiencing it can know whether they have it. No therapist or doctor can tell you with certainty that you are or you aren’t. Besides, self-appointed cis “experts” need to be taken down a notch or fifty.
* The COGIATI (COmbined Gender Identity And Transsexuality Inventory) test is in any way scientific, rigorous, and objective. -> This test is not, nor was it ever seriously intended to be, scientifically sound. I mean, really, the questions are things like “Did you play with dolls as a child?” and “Do you enjoy math?” This test is no different from astrology, Tarot cards, cold reading, or various other mental tricks. You see what you want to see. Do you take this test and then feel disappointed when the results aren’t what you expect? There’s a good reason for that.
* Crossdressers don’t face discrimination. -> There is sometimes tension between trans women and cis male crossdressers. The crossdressers will say trans women are freaks for wanting surgery and hormones or for “going too far,” and the trans women will respond that crossdressers are “weekend warriors” and don’t have real problems. Yes, there are differences in those experiences, the ugliness on “both” sides should stop, and it should be acknowledged that crossdressers don’t face all the same issues that trans women do, but it’s false to say that they aren’t discriminated against at all. Just tell that to Peter Oiler, a crossdresser who worked as a truck driver for Winn Dixie. When it was discovered that he crossdressed off the clock during his personal free time, he was fired. When Oiler sued, the courts ruled in favor of his employer.
* Genderqueers are confused, radical college kids. -> Not all of them. Try meeting people who self-label this way instead of brushing them off as “not really trans.” And hey, if we hate being told we’re confused, it’s probably not so awesome to tell other people that they are.
* “Real” trans women should at least try to “pass,” and if you don’t “pass,” then it’s your fault that you didn’t send the right messages and signals. -> We are not ultimately responsible for other people’s perceptions of us and our genders. Gendering, by its very nature, is strongly subjective. Besides, someone who tells you that you aren’t “passing” right probably doesn’t feel that awesome about themselves or their own ability to “pass.”
Any more myths y’all can think of? This list certainly isn’t exhaustive.
The hypersexualization and objectification of trans women take on their most disturbing forms in what are called “trans panic” defenses. Essentially the line here is that the trans woman flirted with, smiled at, touched, or perhaps even had sex with a cis man and “tricked,” “duped,” “deceived,” or “assaulted” him, so he killed her in “self-defense” or a blind rage.
Cis LGB people might recall that “gay panic” defenses were once the norm. Although these defenses are now inadmissible in some jurisdictions, you occasionally still come across them. Do you not remember at the trial of Matthew Shepard’s murderers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, the defendants claimed they had been made temporarily insane after Shepard allegedly made a pass at them?
Panic defenses are false, prejudicial, and truly appalling. They are false because they blame the victim and there is generally evidence that the defendant is lying about having “not known” the victim was GLB/T. They are prejudicial because they rely solely on evoking charged emotional reactions in people who are heterosexist/homophobic and cissexist/transphobic. A defendant is much more likely to get a reduced sentence or to be acquitted if he can get jurors to agree with him that a “faggot” making a pass at him or a “tranny” tricking him got what they “deserved.” It is nothing more than a cynical smokescreen. Finally, they are appalling because the underlying principle of this defense is that killing people is an acceptable response to an unwanted pass or finding out your assumptions about someone else’s gender and body are wrong.
While the gay panic defense is becoming less common, the trans panic defense is still used all the time, and the alarming thing is that it works. It seems most jurors—and those who read what little media coverage of these murders there may be—believe that “it just makes sense” when a trans woman is murdered. You can see all these myths coming back up to the surface: She’s REALLY a man, it’s deceptive if she doesn’t disclose being trans all the time, she’s a rapist, etc.
It doesn’t take much digging or scouting to find that the claims of “I didn’t know [she] was [trans]” are frequently complete fabrications. Take the case of Gwen Araujo, a trans teenager in Newark, California, who was murdered by four cis guys: Michael Magidson, Jose Merél, Jaron Nabors, and Jason Cazares. They claimed they were unaware Gwen was trans and were disgusted when they discovered her genitalia, even though two of the four men had had sex with her before. At a party in October 2002, a group of people, including the girlfriend of one of the defendant’s brothers, forcibly stripped Gwen down in a bathroom while accusing her of lying and betraying everyone. The four men then became violent and savagely beat her to death, burying her in a shallow grave. Evidence indicated they had been planning this for over a week, and police ignored the multiple witnesses who said the men knew Gwen was trans.
The trial ended in a hung jury after the defense argued that Gwen was guilty of “sexual deception.” Some journalists even outright stated that Gwen had “raped” the men. The Alameda County Assistant District Attorney said, “Gwen being transgender was not a provocative act. He’s [sic] who he [sic] was. However, I would not further ignore the reality that Gwen made some decisions in his [sic] relation with these defendants that were impossible to defend. I don’t think most jurors are going to think it’s OK to engage someone in sexual activity knowing they assume you have one sexual anatomy when you don’t.”
Speaking of “provocative acts,” perhaps you have heard of Angie Zapata. Angie was 18 years old, trans, and living in Greeley, Colorado near Boulder. The day after having oral sex with Allen Andrade, a man she had very casually been dating for a short period of time, he confronted her about whether she was trans. He grabbed her genitals and asked her again. Angie smiled at him and said, “I’m all woman.” Andrade beat her to death with a fire extinguisher, later telling police he had “killed it.” His defense attorney stated, “At best, this is a crime of passion. When (Zapata) smiled at him, this was a highly provoking act, and it would cause someone to have an aggressive reaction.”
Julia Serano said it best in her book, Whipping Girl: “Deception. It’s the noose that the narcissistic drape around the necks of transgender women. … Transgender women are portrayed as deceivers so that rabid heterosexuals can turn a blind eye to the transsexual porn ads that litter the back of men’s magazines like Hustler and Penthouse, so that mainstream moviegoers can watch The Crying Game and act surprised to find out that the woman who performs in the drag bar happens to have a penis. ‘Deception’ is the scarlet letter that trannies are made to wear so that everybody else can claim innocence.”
She adds: “Everyone chose to tiptoe around the subject because they were too afraid to put themselves in Gwen Araujo’s shoes, if only for a moment, to ask what the world looked like from her view: To imagine how frustrated you might be if you were unable to explore your own sexuality without having other people turn your body into a lightning rod for their own insecurities. To imagine how unjust it would feel to be dismissed as a fraud despite being the only nineteen-year-old in your known universe with the guts to truly be yourself. To imagine how frail masculinity would seem to you if you had seen a pack of young men in their twenties exude pure fear over one feminine transgender teen. To imagine how flat-out foolish those boys must have seemed as they confronted you with the question, ‘Are you a woman or a man?’ And to picture the blank stares on their faces when you replied, ‘Isn’t it obvious?’ To imagine how hollow accusations of deception would sound to you if you understood that the real question that needed to be asked was ‘Who’s deceiving whom?’”
There is also the case of Chanelle Pickett, a trans woman around Boston, who was harassed out of her job and, unable to find work elsewhere, had turned to prostitution out of economic desperation. In 1995, she met William Palmer at a club. They quickly hit it off and began a relationship, dating over an extended period of time and even exchanging love letters. Eventually, Palmer offered to let her come live with him while she was getting back on her feet. One night after coming back to his home, he strangled her to death.
Palmer claimed that he had never met her until the night he killed her, which can instantly be proven false by the letters, eyewitness accounts, and even a surface investigation. What’s more is that he claimed he didn’t know Chanelle was trans. After a relationship that extensive, one that was known to be physically as well as emotionally intimate, do you really believe that he didn’t know? It becomes even less plausible when you consider where they met: Playland, a gay club. Witnesses identified Palmer as a frequent patron of the bar, one with an eye for and a pattern of getting into relationships with trans women, specifically those who were in rough spots financially and emotionally. Even with all this evidence, he was found not guilty of murder after using the trans panic defense and being portrayed by the media as a clean-cut white-collar guy, where Chanelle was seen as a low-down black hooker. Palmer was instead convicted of assault and battery and sentenced to 2 years in prison.
There are many, many more cases just like these. Don’t let people sell you the “I was tricked/she lied to me” line. Not only is it false more probably than not, but ask yourself, “Is killing someone an acceptable reaction to someone being deceptive?” While I don’t believe trans women are deceptive for simply existing, even if they were being deceptive, a reasonable person would leave and process his own feelings away from the person who made him angry. He would not shoot, stab, strangle, or beat that person.
Unfortunately, just as you sometimes see women joining men in blaming other women for being raped (“She shouldn’t have been drinking, she shouldn’t have worn those clothes, she shouldn’t have been out by herself”), trans people will often join cis people in blaming other trans people for being killed (“She shouldn’t have been hooking, she should have told him she was trans, she should have been trying to ‘pass’ better”). Victim blaming is bullshit, no matter who it is coming from. Period. End of story. I don’t tolerate this stuff from trans people any more than I do from cis people. Once again, the sole blame for these murders goes to the murderers. Trans people are not responsible for the cis person’s reaction, and we *are* lying to ourselves and each other if we think that we are. The only deception I see here is self-deception.
People pose the question, “Should the trans person tell?” Let’s reframe this the way it should be framed. “Should the cis person ask?” If being trans is a problem for that person, they are the ones responsible for saying so. If this were truly about being unpleasantly “surprised” by finding out someone is trans, then cis people *would* be asking that question. Of course, that’s not really what all this is about. Instead, the real problem cis people have is that a trans person not disclosing takes away their “right” to assume that everybody else is always cis and their “right” to decide whether they would dare to associate with trans people.
In the last segment I talked about a little about the hypersexualization of trans women. I said that since most people can’t envision why a “man” would “want to become” a woman, they assume that it must be for one thing only: a sexual fetish or kink. Let’s discuss that some more today.
This idea comes from a variety of angles. First and foremost, it comes from cis people feeling entitled to—and usually not realizing that they are behaving with entitlement—objectify trans people by obsessing over our bodies and what kinds of sex we must be having with them, reducing us to hormones and surgeries, and having an intense interest about the minutiae of our lives that exceeds natural and *passing* curiosity. Since most cis people’s first instinct is to locate sex in the genitals, many times to the exclusion of those other 5 categories of sex, that leads them to have strong reactions to The Surgery, meaning genital reconstructive surgery, without noticing the ridiculousness of the idea that transition happens in one fell swoop. The nature of genitals being what it is, a lot of people seem unable to view us as anything other than perverts and sexual freaks right off the bat.
As you’ve seen in recent posts, since most cis people assume they don’t know any trans people or think they have “only seen them a few times,” media is the biggest influence on their ideas of what trans people look like. But there is a specific type of media that reinforces these ideas more strongly than anything else: pornography. Most people are able to immediately start conjuring up images of “tranny hookers,” prostitutes, “shemales,” “chicks with dicks,” and the like.
Notice that trans men are very, very rare among these images. I really only notice people picturing trans men if they are GLBT- or queer-identified or otherwise have some kind of personal exposure to trans men. For most cis people, especially heterosexual ones, it’s going to be the former rather than the latter, in no small part because that is what is most taboo and makes up easily 97 percent of the images of trans people they see.
Before you think about mentioning Buck Angel, the trans male porn actor, please note the huge disparity in power dynamics. First, Buck Angel controls his own image since he is a small, independent producer. Most trans women who appear in mainstream trans pornography—and often they are actually cis male crossdressers—are not controlling the direction, casting, production, marketing, or anything else about the work they are appearing in. I would also note that while he did receive Transsexual Performer of the Year at the AVN Awards in 2007, his reception was pretty chilly, maybe lukewarm at best.
Second, Buck Angel targets a niche market and most of his client base is cis gay/bi men and queer-identified people. Mainstream porn targets straight-identified cis men. Contrary to what lots of people believe, attraction is based on much more than just the genitals. Not all the men who are into the trans porn are closeted gay guys or confused straight guys. While we generally watch pornography to see genitals, that isn’t all there is to sex, even for cis, straight men. Men might be specifically attracted to trans women, which is sometimes an all right thing (depending how the trans person in question feels about it) and sometimes it’s just icky. When it comes in the form of “trannychasers” or simply “chasers,” it can be gross.
Many times since people can only picture trans people as sexual things, they develop a particular attraction toward us, which borders on or explicitly is a fetish for some people. While most chasers are relatively benign, if annoying and entitled and mildly creepy, some are more harmful. Trans women bear the brunt of this, and I have had way, way too many friends who have been in abusive relationships and treated like absolute crap by guys who only fetishized them for being a sexual oddity, a novelty, a plaything, a slave, a dirty little secret, or a dirty whore who will take a lot of abuse in a not-fun way. This is an element of relationships that trans women often find themselves in. These kinds of chasers are adept at manipulating trans women’s insecurities and fears that no one else will ever love them.
Yes, trans men sometimes are fetishized, but my admittedly limited experience leads me to perceive that we get it much, much less frequently and that those who target us tend to have very particular physical interests that cause them to typically ignore us after we begin to be presumed cis males. I notice that chasers of trans men, who are usually cis queer women but occasionally cis males of any orientation, seem to expect us to look like boyish or butch women or a young Adonis. Most will not likely be attracted to a fat, hairy guy like me, even though I otherwise have a body they might like. In any event, while some folks have no doubt been icky in their expression of interest in trans men, we are more often lionized in cis female-dominated GLB/queer spaces (“trans men are so hot/cute/ handsome/sexy”) or desexualized in cis gay male and straight spaces (“[no tits and] no dick, what’s fun or hot about that?”).
For trans women, hypersexualization also stems from academia, especially psychiatry and sexology, which has a more direct effect on trans women’s access to medical care. Throughout the history of transsexuality being treated in the United States, psychiatrists and sexologists have largely judged trans women’s “fitness” to transition based on how sexually attractive and desirable they would be as women. In fact, there is strong correlation between the use of the word “attractive” in reports and those who were allowed to transition. Basically, if you weren’t pretty or sexy enough to the doctors, you could forget about transitioning.
I remember being in a contemporary social theory class in 2008 and having one of our reading assignments be the 1967 “Agnes” case study by the ethnomethodologist, Harold Garfinkel. She is described in extreme detail:
“Anges’ appearance was convincingly female. She was tall, slim, with a very female shape. Her measurements were 38 – 25 – 38. She had long, fine dark-blonde hair, a young face with pretty features, a peaches-and-cream complexion, no facial hair, subtly plucked eyebrows, and no makeup except for lipstick. At the time of her first appearance she was dressed in a tight sweater which marked off her thin shoulders, ample breasts, and narrow waist. Her feet and hands, though somewhat larger than usual for a woman, were in no way remarkable in this respect. Her usual manner of dress did not distinguish her from a typical girl of her age and class. There was nothing garish or exhibitionistic in her attire, nor was there any hint of poor taste or that she was ill at ease in her clothing, as is seen so frequently in transvestites and in women with disturbances in sexual identification. Her voice, pitched at an alto level, was soft, and her delivery had the occasional lisp similar to that affected by feminine appearing male homosexuals. Her manner was appropriately feminine with a slight awkwardness that is typical of middle adolescence.”
This idea that “real” trans women can be distinguished from “transvestites” who just “think” they’re trans goes a long way back, and it is still a prevalent idea today in both psychiatric/sexological establishment and also, sadly, in trans communities themselves. See, I don’t think anyone has ever given me a satisfactory answer as to what the difference between being trans and “thinking you’re trans” might be. Because from where I am standing, being trans *is* mostly about what you think about yourself and what, in relationship to that, makes you feel happiest, most authentic, and most relaxed in expressing that self-understanding and occupying your own body.
There is this concept of “autogynephilia,” popularized by the Canadian sexologist Ray Blanchard in the 1980s and 1990s and building off the earlier work of Kurt Freund, that is still around, including being listed in the DSM, despite its flimsy theoretical premises and lack of evidence. Essentially, Blanchard’s theory is that all transsexual women belong to one of two types: “autogynephiles” and “homosexual transsexuals.” He believes “autogynephiles” are otherwise “normal” straight men who are turned on by the idea of themselves as women, and they are generally oversexed. “Homosexual transsexuals” are those he posits as highly feminine gay men who want to be sexual objects of desire for straight men, and he believes they are stone in sex, covering their bodies and especially their genitals as much as possible, or are celibate pre-transition.
The reality of how the trans women that I know have sex is much more complex than this false dichotomy. Comfort levels shift with the days, with emotions, with different partners, and lots of other things. It is not this strict either/or thing that Blanchard and his acolytes propose. More accurately, “autogynephiles” are called bisexual or lesbian trans women; “homosexual transsexuals” are straight trans women. The “homosexual/autogynephile” theory fails the most fundamental test of scientific validity by being unfalsifiable, because any evidence that conflicts with the hypothesis is discarded prima facie as being biased and corrupted.
There is the analogous term “autoandrophilia” (women who are turned on by thought of themselves as men), but it is used very rarely. Once again, I suppose that women who are masculine, female crossdressers, and trans men just aren’t as fascinating to cis, straight male researchers. The reason this doesn’t happen? It would require these researchers to view masculinity and male bodies as being worthy of the same form of sexualization as femininity and female bodies are considered.
This theory was further popularized in the 2003 book, The Man Who Would Be Queen, by J. Michael Bailey, a research psychologist at Northwestern University. It was published with a National Academy of Sciences imprint, indicating the kind of support it found in academia. Bailey directly uses Blanchard’s “autogynephile” and “homosexual transsexual” terminology and adds in his own spin on this already rickety notion. He throws in racism by explicitly stating that trans women of color, those who are most vulnerable to discrimination and violence, are “usually homosexual” (read: heterosexual trans women) and therefore “exceptionally well-suited to sex work.”
In another passage, he writes, “There is no way to say this as sensitively as I would like, so I will say it bluntly: Homosexual transsexuals are usually much better-looking than autogynephiles.” That is, he is reasserting that the sole purpose of heterosexual trans women is to serve as a sex object for heterosexual cis men. He repeatedly refers to the women as “men” throughout the book and dismisses many of their experiences of living and identifying as women when they aren’t convenient to his theory. Naturally, he makes no attempt to account for trans men in his model.
Fun fact: The Man Who Would Be Queen was a finalist for the 2003 Lambda Literary Awards in the Transgender category. After trans people organized a petition to the Foundation protesting this nomination, the judges “reconsidered” the book and pulled it.
Bailey based his “research” for the controversial book—his use of phallometry and his studies of bisexuality, which effectively concluded that male bisexuals didn’t exist or were lying about their true attractions, have also been widely criticized—on 12 people that he found in Chicago area gay bars, most of them Latina or black and living in poverty. There have been allegations of impropriety surrounding his behavior with research participants.
Researchers such as Charles Moser, Jaimie Veale, John Bancroft, and Larry Nuttbrock have challenged the assumptions and faulty data in Blanchard and Bailey’s theory, which conflict with their own hypothesis. I will link to these rebuttals of the Blanchard typology, but I agree most strongly with them when they point out that cis women could be said to have “autogynephilia” as well, yet this is not considered a paraphilia. And really, I agree with the writer/blogger and activist Tobi Hill-Meyer: “When the main way to diagnose fetishistic transvestitism or autogynephilia is to look for the presence of sexual enjoyment, and trans women who enjoy their sexuality risk being given one of those diagnoses and denied trans related health care, that’s transmisogyny.” What is so wrong with thinking you are sexy or having a benign fetish? Smells like the same old sex-negativity to me.
There is also the matter of trans women being stereotyped as rapists for merely existing. This makes it virtually impossible to have an unbiased conversation about and addressing of sexual assault against trans women. You see this stereotype in bathroom panic and at sex-segregated events like Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, but not surprisingly, it also comes from academia. Here again we meet Janice Raymond and her book, The Transsexual Empire. In it, she writes, “All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves. However, the transsexually constructed lesbian-feminist violates women’s sexuality and spirit as well.” She also states that it is impossible for trans lesbians to have a consensual sexual experiences with cis women. “Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive.”
Several trans authors have commented on media portrayals, and one theme that persists in all of these works is the dichotomy of pathetic transsexual/deceptive transsexual. It’s a lot like the madonna/whore dichotomy all women are held to socially. Pathetic/deceptive appears in pop culture and academia alike, and its existence serves to reinforce cultural prejudices rather than to challenge them.
Both the pathetic and the deceptive type are overtly feminine, but their perceived ability to “do” femininity is what diverges. The pathetic transsexual is a joke, a caricature, or sometimes a noble victim. She is usually played by cis men since her appearance and voice is always more stereotypically male or masculine, and it is contrasted against her affected, often awkward, efforts at displaying femininity. We are encouraged to laugh at her relentlessly, pity her as a victim, or perhaps somewhat respect her as a person while also disrespecting her gender. The deceptive transsexual, on the other hand, is a plot twist, femme fatale, serial killer, or all of the above. She is usually played by cis women, as her appearance is conventionally or exceptionally attractive and presumed to be cissexual, and she is normally discovered in violent and humiliating ways and “punished” for her “deception.”
Deceptive transsexuals are seen in Dirty Sexy Money, CSI, Ace Ventura Pet Detective, and some argue The Crying Game. This is a staple of the Jerry Springer Show, Maury, and various other trash TV shows. There was also the case in the UK with the reality dating show, There’s Something About Miriam, in which one of the several women was—unbeknownst to the men— trans. The men threatened to sue the producers of the show for defamation, personal injury, and *conspiracy to commit sexual assault.* They eventually settled out of court, with each man receiving approximately $200,000 US. People who are older, into Gore Vidal, or just love trashy 70s movies might also recall Myra Breckenridge, based on the book of the same name, in which Raquel Welch plays a trans woman who attempts to “realign the sexes” by raping cis men with a strap-on.
(I think The Crying Game is more complex than people give it credit for, and the character of Dil is, I feel, a realistic portrayal of a young trans woman living life and experiencing love like any cis woman. Just as with trans women who are told in real life that they are “deceptive” for simply existing, Dil does not deceive anyone. Rather, Fergus *assumes* she is cis. But the scene where Fergus sees Dil naked, slaps her, and vomits surely burns an image into the brain. It’s what most people remember about the movie, which I interpret as them having been unconscious the rest of the time because I don’t see how you can miss so much of a movie that good.)
The pathetic transsexual is everywhere and, by design, instantly recognizable. We see her in lots of crime procedurals like Law and Order (SVU, I’m looking at you) and CSI, usually working as a prostitute, and in movies like the World According to Garp, Transamerica, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Transamerica is an especially good example of the pathetic transsexual stereotype. A lot of people really liked it because Felicity Huffman, a cis woman, plays Bree, but honestly, I downright hated this movie. First, it was billed as a comedy, but it was more dramatic—sometimes in a quite stilted fashion—than it was funny. I only recall a couple of one liners that were mildly funny, but they didn’t make up for the rest of the film. And no, including Graham Greene as the token Indian does not constitute humor.
Second, the movie starts out by immediately objectifying Bree. After the requisite opening scene of putting on stockings, practicing along with a Finding Your Female Voice video, stuffing her bra, putting on make-up, painting her nails pink, and putting on a conservative pink dress suit, we hear Bree describing to her psychiatrist all the work she has had done: 3 years of electrolysis on her face, facial feminization surgery (FFS), a browlift, forehead reduction, jaw recontouring, and a tracheal shave. Yet Bree still wears heavy layers of makeup, apparently to cover up a beard shadow that she would no longer have if she had been through electrolysis, and still has a stereotypically male appearance. There are also way too many scenes of her dressing and undressing, standing to pee, and being physically clumsy and dowdy in her mannerisms. In one scene, she meets up with trans friends at a support group, who are all played by real trans people. Of course, they’re only in one scene, which just screams tokenism to me. It’s interesting that Bree is shown to be more “artificially” feminine than these people. Where they are flawless, Bree is trying too hard and making it obvious.
In essence, what movies like Transamerica do is neuter trans women and make them non-threatening by implying and showing their femininity is artificial. I have seen this happen with depictions of trans men too, such as in the film Romeos where everything the trans protagonist Lukas does to masculinize his body is obsessed over—one more torso or weight training shot and I would have screamed—while the cis guy he is interested in, Fabio, looks like a sculpted Abercrombie and Fitch model, but the camera does not ask us to delve into everything Fabio does to masculinize his body. Truthfully, though, it happens more frequently with trans women.
As Julia Serano pointed out in Whipping Girl, this manipulates the pre-existing cultural belief that femininity, even in cis women, is artificial. That is why women are alleged to be naturally feminine but are also expected to devote hours of work into primping their appearance to meet conventional standards. Men, however, are thought to derive their masculinity from their activities and from their internal, personal drives. This creates a complicated catch 22 for trans women. If they behave in feminine ways, they are accused of being scheming and putting on airs, but if they behave in masculine ways, it is deemed “proof” of their “true” maleness. Much of this anxiety comes from the premise that female and male are “opposite sexes.” If femininity is contrived, masculinity is innate. If femininity is impractical, masculinity is practical. You get the picture.
In all portrayals of trans women, it has been assumed a priori that they aspire to traditional modes of femininity. Butch trans women aren’t really anywhere to be found, and when they are seen, we are explicitly pushed to not view them as “really” women. Trans women are also depicted as being naïve dupes because never are they treated as though they are aware and intelligent enough to distinguish between femininity and femaleness.
This is why in virtually every documentary of trans people, even ones that are supposed to be about specific topics like trans homelessness or employment discrimination, there will be a scene with trans women putting on feminine clothes or make-up. You see, it’s not enough for trans women to simply wear these; they must be shown actively doing those things, which plays to the belief that trans people’s genders are costumes. I have had many trans women friends who have been passed over for interviews and documentaries because the producers and filmmakers didn’t feel they were sufficiently feminine and therefore interesting to look at.
The before and after pictures play a role in that as well. I have mentioned before that people are very often disappointed in seeing my “before” pictures—never mind that I don’t feel like I have a “before” and an “after”—because I look pretty much the same way I do now. These shows and documentaries don’t focus on trans women who were very feminine or trans men who were very masculine pre-transition, even though many if not most trans people would fall into those categories, because the “change” doesn’t seem as dramatic. Instead, if someone gets a look at my pictures or Julia Serano’s pictures, they get the sense that transitioning merely affirmed our natural genders. But when they show Jenny Boylan in her military uniform as a man, or Buck Angel walking the catwalk as a female model, it highlights the “drastic” nature of our “transformations,” which drives home the point that this is “unnatural” and “artificial.”
Trans women contend with the problem of hypersexualization as well. I will go into more depth with this one in the next segment, but you can see easily how hypersexualization ties in with both the pathetic and the deceptive transsexual. In both cases, they are used as tools to evoke misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic reactions, mostly in men. Beyond the fact that we already culturally code femininity as sexualized, trans women get a double dose of this precisely because they have “chosen” to be women. Since people can’t wrap their heads around the idea of why someone would give up male privilege, people instead shift to the one power they really do think women have, which is seductive femininity aimed at attracting cis, straight men. Throw in the tranny porn, “chicks with dicks,” and a lot of gender anxiety, and it’s a potent mix.
Remarkably, pathetic and deceptive can occur at the same time, sometimes in real life. This was seen in the news coverage of Sanesha Stewart’s murder. On the one hand, reporters and gawking neighbors speculated that she had “tricked” a john into thinking she was female because she had breasts and other feminine traits. By the way, they assumed that she was a sex worker because she was trans and African American, but they were WRONG. On the other hand, neighbors wasted no time in commenting on her 6 feet+ height, supposed Adam’s apple, and jaw. So, she was so obvious that neighbors could clock her, but an alleged john couldn’t?
This happened with another young, low-income, black trans woman named Kellie Telesford. The media reported incorrectly that she was a sex worker, even after it was noted that Kellie actually worked two jobs, one in a hair salon and another in a flower shop. She had never engaged in prostitution. At her murderer’s trial, she was described as having a male level of strength. This is not very likely since she had been on estradiol, which decreases muscle mass and strength levels. Yet at the same time, she was “stealthy” enough to “trick” the man into having sex with her, believing her to be a cis woman.
Myth: Transsexuality is an invention of the medical establishment.
Reality: Yeah, no. Throughout history in every culture, there have always been some people who significantly didn’t conform to sex/gender expectations, engaged in cross-gender behaviors, and had long-term, stable cross-gender identities. There have always been people that we might call proto-transsexuals.
Although we have no conclusive evidence as to the etiology—assuming there is only a singular cause—of transsexuality, the strongest evidence points toward biological predispositions. From my personal experience, this is also what makes sense for me. I don’t believe the entirety of our sex/gender is located in the brain, and so neither can they be “determined” by it, but neurology doesn’t get nearly the amount of credit that it should. We forget that our brains *are* parts our bodies; you can’t therefore separate the mind and the body. This is why I maintain that I have always been male in some respect.
So while I might have chosen to undergo social and medical transition, I didn’t “choose” to instinctively feel myself to be male any more than a cis man “chooses” to instinctively feel male. I also couldn’t consciously affect my hormone levels without the benefit of medicine, and sometimes it makes me wonder why my estradiol levels appear to have always been in the same range as a cis man’s. Suffice it to say, I am pretty sure a lot of this is hard-wired. I suppose my way of looking at it is that there *is* a normal level of natural deviations; nature loves variety. I don’t think transsexuality has emerged inorganically. It has simply come to be named (the German sexologist, Magnus Hirschfeld, used the word and described the concept in the 1920s and 1930s), recognized, and treated.
What medicine has done is to develop and provide us, cis and trans, with the ability to produce exogenous hormones, which can be used for any number of reasons. Remember that we aren’t talking strictly about steroid hormones like estradiol and testosterone here. The insulin that diabetics take is also a hormone, and it is also available by way of modern medicine. Yet how many people, outside of certain religious sects, do you hear condemning diabetics for supporting an evil, corrupted medical establishment by taking insulin or for going against the “laws of nature” by taking a hormone their body doesn’t produce enough of or even at all?
Surgeries have been developed that are beneficial to transsexual people, but all of these surgeries, including ones specifically operating on the genitals, have their origins in being used to treat cis and intersex people. It was only later that they were applied to the process of medically transitioning for transsexual people. If we are sympathetic toward a cis male soldier having a phalloplasty after losing his penis in a traumatic war injury and understand his need for undergoing this procedure, then why begrudge a trans man this same surgery?
Again, remember that since the cause of our transsexuality cannot be readily seen, we historically have been assumed to be insane and delusional. Most doctors refused to work with transsexual patients and referred them to the same cruel “reparative therapies” (a bitter misnomer if there ever was one!) that cis GLB people have been subjected to: psychotherapy aimed at changing one’s orientation, institutionalization, electroshock, and aversion therapy. These pseudo-therapies are still performed on trans and gender non-conforming children by people like Ken Zucker.
In the United States, it wasn’t until the German-born and German-trained endocrinologist, Harry Benjamin, began to treat these patients medically in the 1950s with hormone therapy congruent with their identified sexes that the tide slowly began to change. What Benjamin and eventually the other doctors who followed him found was that they had no shortage of patients requesting, many times desperately so, this treatment. They also didn’t have to work very hard to find the patients, who came to them after having located their names through word of mouth. People like Dr. Benjamin clearly didn’t invent this condition; they merely provided us with a technological and personal path we hadn’t had before.
An especially conspiracy-theory variation on this myth that you sometimes hear, usually from a small number of second-wave feminists, is that transsexuality was invented as a way to make cis GLB/gender-nonconforming people into straight, gender-normative people. This idea, which originated with Janice Raymond and her book, The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-male, and is repeated in things like the writings of the Stonewall vet gay activist Jim Fouratt and the movie The Gendercator, is patently false.
First, transsexuality was considered aberrant, taboo, weird, disgusting, and undesirable by most of the medical establishment. Transitioning was definitely not recommended as a first line of treatment for anyone, even the so-called “primary” or “true” transsexuals who were thought to be the only ones who “really” needed it. The Standards of Care (SOC) were written in such a way that intentionally *prevented* the vast majority of people from ever transitioning, no matter how much they begged to be treated.
The goal was explicitly to keep as few people from doing it as possible and to “protect” cis people from either transitioning wrongly or from having to know that transsexual people lived among them. Those who did successfully receive treatment were forced to go stealth even if they didn’t want to, relocate, leave their jobs *lest it cause embarrassment to the employer*, divorce their spouses and leave their children even if they didn’t want to. Doctors even believed that it was preferable to tell children that their parents had died or simply went away and weren’t coming back than to tell them that their parents had transitioned. And after obliterating people’s support systems and isolating them, the doctors then wondered why and jeered transsexual people for being at such a high risk of suicide even after medical transition. Transsexual people were to never tell anyone that they were transsexual, and in fact, it was recommended BY DOCTORS that they actively *make up* childhood memories that they had never had in order to “pass.” They were also told to avoid other transsexual people, so peer support was out of the question.
Doctors were much quicker to recommend psychological treatments than physical ones. Outside of a handful of doctors and a dozen or so university-affiliated gender clinics in the 1960s and 1970s, this was never considered an acceptable treatment, and the doctors who facilitated this process were often looked upon by their peers as quacks and snake oil salesmen. That is why trans people have been and many times still are asked to swear themselves to secrecy about who their doctors were/are. These doctors don’t want to become the mecca, the “transsexual doctor,” lest it ruin their credibility and reputation. This myth greatly overestimates the ease with which people could acquire this treatment.
Second, it is interesting to me that people talk about “forced sex changes” when it comes to transsexual people, those who really want the treatment, but they don’t generally discuss the cases of actual forced sex changes, which happen mostly to intersex children but have also been known to occur in very rare cases with cis people, such as David Reimer, who I mentioned in a previous segment, and Alan Turing, one of the fathers of computer science, code-breaking, and artificial intelligence.
After Turing was arrested for homosexuality, which was still illegal in the UK in 1952, he was given estrogen treatments as an alternative to prison. Made terribly miserable by the effects of these treatments, he committed suicide 2 years later. The goal in administering estrogen to Turing was not exactly to make him straight, though. It was to reduce his libido and make him impotent, which did happen. We can see then that Reimer and Turing both experienced *dysphoria* upon having these treatments. That is, transitioning will make a cis person just as miserable as not transitioning will make a trans person. That is why I keep hammering on the theme of consent. This is all about whether the individual in question wants and needs the treatment.
Third, this completely disregards those of us who transition but are not heterosexual and/or gender-normative in our identified sexes/genders. We cannot be accounted for in this myth, and yet we certainly exist.
What strikes me as being most ironic about those feminists who believe this myth is that they don’t hesitate to claim that trans people are in alliance with the religious right to eliminate cis GLB people (sometimes by pointing to the situation in Iran, which is another matter altogether…I also recommend the film Facing Mirrors for the perspective of trans Iranians to give it a different light), yet they use the religious right’s tactics to discredit and harass trans people.
In case you thought that Raymond’s book was just theory and didn’t have an effect in the real world, think again. Not only do I continue to see this book cited unironically and without thoughtful analysis in social sciences texts even today, but in the 1970s, Janice Raymond successfully united with religious fundamentalist activists and lobbied the insurance industry to exclude genital reconstructive surgery under their plans because it was an “experimental, cosmetic” technique when in fact it is neither; its therapeutic benefits are well-established and it is cosmetic only insomuch as the appearances of body parts change. Nonetheless, the insurance industry bought this argument and to this day it is still an uphill battle, even with recommendations from the American Medical Association and theWorld Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), to get them to cover our medical care. Raymond is also credited with the dissolution of the university gender clinics in this same time period.
Image credit: Barry Deutsch of Amptoons