September 24, 2020

Feminist philosopher Judith Butler is crystal clear in her condemnation of transphobic feminists

Judith Butler presents a strong defense of transgender and nonbinary people in a new interview with The New Statesman. 

I have developed a deep respect for Judith Butler, feminist philosopher and gender theory developer. 

I do not agree with her in everything. I do believe, for instance, that her strong focus on "gender as a peformance" makes it harder to discuss the biological side of  the complex interplay between genes, epigenetics, hormones, mind, culture and society that shapes a gender identity.  

But here observations about how language, narratives and power leads to the oppression of women (and people in general) are very helpful. She is a hard read, though, which is why the interviews we have are so useful.

I am not sure Alona Ferber of the New Statesman really knew what she was letting herself into when she approached Butler for an interview. The recent British debate on feminism, gender and transgender lives has been colored by the vicious attacks of "trans-exclusionary radical feminists" (TERFs), and the way Ferber asks her questions it may look like she thinks J.K. Rowling and the TERFs represent mainstream feminism.

Butler, however, will hear nothing of it. She clearly and systematically describes a feminism that is inclusive of transgender women and where the TERFs are seen as allies of Trump and the transphobic extreme right.

This means a lot, because Butler is one of the most respected and influential gender philosophers in our time. When she says that the "gender critical" TERFs have misunderstood the basis of feminism, it is much harder to dismiss the arguments made against them.

Not that there is anything new in what she says. Trans activists have made the same arguments for years. But she presents them in a "I need to bookmark this" manner.

I have published a summary of the interview over at Trans Express that gives you the most important highlights of Judith Butler's understanding of feminism and the role of transgender women. 

Click here to read it

By the way: The quote in the image above is for an interview Judith Butler made with the Trans Advocate back in 2014. Her dislike of TERFs have been known for a while. I guess Ferber did not read it.

August 31, 2020

Another Way of Understanding The Diversity of Transgender Lives

Koloa presents a model for MTF transgender people that helps us understand how personality traits may explain why trans people take different paths on their trans journeys.

The two type model for transgender women

One of the most important lessons I have learned when writing about trans and queer issues, is to make sure that we distinguish clearly between between the terms and the model you use to understand the world on the one hand, and reality on the other.

As most well informed philosophers will tell you: We do not have direct access to "reality in itself". All we have access to is our own interpretation of our world. So when we see patterns in the world around us, we should always ask ourself: Is this pattern only a mirage produced by my own mind? Is it simply a reflection of my personal prejudices? Are there other models and terms that may explain what I see in a better way?

Since this is a blog covering transgender and queer issues, an obvious example of how badly this can end, is the way the two type typology of transgender women has been used to invalidate them. 

Many researchers have noticed that trans women who come out and transition late are more likely to be gynephilic (being attracted to women) than those who come out as trans at an early age. This has, until quite recently, been quite true on an aggregate level.

August 25, 2020

Zagria on Transgender History 4: Living as a Transgender Person

Roverta Cowell, transgender Spitfire pilot and racecar driver.

Zagria is the researcher, writer and editor behind “A Gender Variance Who’s Who”, the most extensive repository for transgender history on the web.  In this part  our interview we look at her own personal history and how that one reflects shifts in the way we think about transgender issues. We also talked about misgendering, the use of pronouns, deadnaming and those who do not transition.

See also:
The Transgender Historian Zagria, Part 1: "A Gender Variance Who's Who"
Zagria on Transgender History, Part 2: Key Concepts and Terms
Zagria on Transgender History 3: Key Transgender People and “The Tipping Point”

The Clarke

The Clarke Institute’s Gender Identity Clinic in Toronto (later known as the Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – CAMH) has played a controversial role in recent North American transgender history. 

It was the institution of researchers like Kenneth Zucker and Ray Blanchard, people who have actively contributed to an invalidation and pathologsation of trans men and women, for instance by presenting their identities as “paraphilias”.

Since Zagria did approach The Clarke to get help, she is also a witness to this part of transgender history, so we asked her about her meeting with the institute.

Russell Reid is a retired British psychiatrist who specialized in sexual and gender-related conditions.

You have a rather unusual transition history in first going to The Clarke, and then to Russell Reid. Could you compare and contrast the two?

My interactions with The Clarke was a series of interviews with the different personnel. I was fortunate that Freund was away that week so that I was not asked to experience his Plethysmograph [an instrument used to measure volume changes in body organs].

It is difficult at this length of time to member what each member asked. The major thing that I remember was the marked disinterest in my husband. Being in my mid 30s and working in informatics, I suppose that they assumed that I should not have one. They did have him in for an interview but it was pretty cursory.

The final session was with the entire team. It was like being fired by committee. It was made clear that they would not do anything for me, despite me being able to name others whom they had helped.

Their major comment was that I had not met the right woman yet. As I got up to leave one of them interjected that I should keep in touch as it was a research facility. Fat chance of that! I saw my doctor the next week and he then started me on hormones. I think that he had referred me to test my determination.

August 24, 2020

William Shakespeare’s Love for a Transfeminine Crossdreamer

Southampton in his teens, c. 1590–93, attributed to John de Critz
The third earl of Southampton en femme.

If I told you William Shakespeare was in love with a transfeminine crossdreamer, would you believe me? 

Some will tell you that gender variance is a recent phenomenon. It is not. Transgender and gender variant people have existed all the way back to Antiquity and beyond, and they have been found many different cultures. See, for instance, my post on the poem written by a European Medieval transgender woman  and the article on transgender characters in the Indian Kama Sutra.

And yes, Shakespeare was in love with a male to female crossdreamer/gender variant person/transgender woman.  Our modern terms do not translate easily into the context of the English Renaissance, and we cannot ask dead people about their identities, but I am pretty sure that at least one of these terms hits pretty close to home.

August 23, 2020

Zagria on Transgender History 3: Key Transgender People and “The Tipping Point”

Zagria is the researcher, writer and editor behind “A Gender Variance Who’s Who”, the most extensive repository for transgender history on the web. In part 1 of our interview we talked about how she does her research. In part 2 we discussed key concepts of gender variance. In this part we ask her about trans people who have influenced her thinking. We also look at recent political and cultural trends, including the increased visibility of transgender men.

April Ashley, transgender Vogue model and actress in the 1950s and 60s. Photo Ken Walker.

Most influential transgender person

If you were to pick one person from transgender history who has influenced you the most, who would that be? And which trans and  gender variant persons are the most underrated, as you see it?

There was no internet when I transitioned in the 1980s. The most famous trans women were performers such as Coccinelle and April Ashley. I never thought that I was going on the stage. So there is no one such person. I was influenced in many things large and small by the individual cis and trans women whom I knew. 

Some trans persons have been overrated, as I see it. Overrated does not mean that they did not achieve anything. It means that a lot of attention has been directed to them while other people who have done as much or more are ignored.

The following have been given a lot of press and academic attention. They don’t need more. The attention would be better directed to those in the underrated list.

Some examples of those overrated: John Radcliffe-Hall, Gertrude Stein, Lili Elevenes (Elbe), Caitlyn Jenner, Major Griffen-Gracy, Sylvia Rivera, Virginia Prince, Jack Bee Garland, Susan Stryker.

Underrated:  Most activists etc in South America, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. North America/Western Europe is well reported, but at the cost of the rest of the world.

Some underrated individuals: Barbara de Lamere, Masha Bast, Janine Roberts, Diana Sacayán, Simone Heradien, Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi. Sally Mursi, Yollada Nok Suanyoy, Rachel Webb, Toni Ebel, Demet Demir, Marie André Schwidenhammer, Chloe Dzubilo, Johnny Science, Brenda Lee, Marcello Di Folco, Alejandro Portadino. There are many, many more.

August 18, 2020

Zagria on Transgender History, Part 2: Key Concepts and Terms

Zagria is the researcher, writer and editor behind “A Gender Variance Who’s Who”, the most extensive repository for transgender history on the web. In part 1 of our interview we talked about how she does her research. In this part we ask her about her understanding of key concepts like transgender and gender variance.

Part 1 of the interview can be found here.
Transgender historian Zagira (private photo)

The word "transgender"

Your site is very inclusive. You explicitly refer to gender variance in the name of the blog, instead of transgender people. 

Could you say something about how you see and understand the transgender community, and the development of the terms used to describe it?

I wrote an extensive discussion of the history of the word Transgender and pointed out five distinct meanings of the word:

1. To change gender full time, but without surgery.

2. As a synonym of transsexual, e.g. in the expression ‘transgender surgery’ (which turns out to be an early usage). Given that transsexuality is not a sexual orientation and that it is more a matter of gender.

3. Rejection of the gender binary. This has a definite history, and was articulated by Gay Lib, etc. and encompasses gender queer, non-binary, street queens etc. Such persons were generally rejected both by gays concerned to be gender normative and by people such as Virginia Prince with their false-consciousness concepts of respectability.

4. At least as far back as Magnus Hirschfeld there has been a need for an umbrella term for all who do not conform to the expectations of their birth gender. Harry Benjamin designed a scale. Leslie Feinberg and others proposed the term ‘transgender’ as an umbrella term, and it has been generally accepted since.

5. As a rejection of the medical pathologization implicit in ‘transsexualism’ and ‘gender dysphoria’. As an articulated usage, this is associated with queer theory, but the implicit attitude goes back to the early days of Gay Lib. Some of the anti-transgender people, especially those who identify with HBS or Truscum [i.e. communities of transsexual separatists], actually affirm themselves as having a medical condition.

In some ways Trangender is a good word because it is polyvalent, it has a richness of meanings. However – particularly when discussing pre-1950 and more so previous centuries – the term has baggage that is better avoided.

It is also damaged by boundary disputes. Some of the people are said by other people not to be transgender: drag performers, femmiphilics, cross-dreamers, gay transvestites, ‘female husbands’, butch women, non-binaries etc.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!