October 27, 2020

What is the connection between transphobic TERFs and behaviorism?

image

Over at tumblr guiltyidealist asked me the following question:

Hey! I saw a post of yours that grouped TERFs [trans-exclusionary radical feminists] with "behaviorists". Would you mind explaining what behaviorists are in this context? I'm a psych major, so "behaviorism" for me refers to Skinner boxes and shit. 😅

Here's my reply:

Actually, this was a meme originally posted by trans activist and engineer Kelley Winters over at facebook.

The whole text goes like this:

“If gender identities of cisgender children were as eggshell-fragile as behaviorists/TERFs say, the whole world would be trans, and we would be debating whether cisgenderism is a psychopathogy. Hard enough to get kids to bring their dirty plates into the kitchen, let alone control their gender.”

Pavlov’s dogs

The behaviorism of Skinner & Co was based on a view of human beings as stimulus/response machines. The most well known example used to explain behaviorism is, as you probably know,  Pavlov’s dog experiment. 

Pavlov saw that dogs would salivate in response to the food placed in front of them, but he also saw that his dogs would begin to salivate whenever they heard the footsteps of his assistant who was bringing them the food. Pavlov managed to get the dogs to associate the sound of a metronome with food. The metronome would from then on make the dogs salivate, even if they were not presented with food. This is what is referred to as conditioning.

People as programmable machines

Behaviorists ended up believing that nearly all human behaviors were the results of such conditioning. Since these “experts” refused to discuss the inner life of humans  – as feelings and thoughts were thought not to be  scientifically observable and therefor not “real” –  their “therapies”  basically consisted of “reprogramming” patients with new types of associations. 

This led to a lot of unsavory practices, including different types of “conversion therapies” where gay, lesbian and trans people where taught to associate same-sex attraction or gender variance with negative feelings, for instance by giving gay men electric shocks while showing them gay porn.

Given their completely inhumane understanding of what it means to be human, many of these “therapists” ended up as tools of a sexist, homophobic and transphobic society. They became the torturers of cis/het “normalcy”.

October 26, 2020

Are all transgender people gender dysphoric?



No, the headline is not another variant of the “you cannot be trans if you are not gender dysphoric” meme, often used by transmedicalists and transgender separatists who think they more trans than other trans people.

The headline rather refers to our understanding of the term “gender dysphoric”.

Could it be that the “you have to be dysphoric to be trans” statement is based on a misunderstanding of the term “gender dysphoric”?

Over at CDL Carah Maisie (who is herself a transgender woman) makes this argument on the basis of an analysis of the DSM-5 “gender dysphoria” diagnosis. Her argument is inspired by an article written by Jocelyn Badgley.

The DSM-5 manual and its criteria for being gender dysphoric


The DSM-5 is the current edition of the American psychiatric manual. “Gender dypsphoria” is not seen as a mental illness in the manual, but it is included all the same to ensure that trans people get access to health services and proper insurance.

Carah and Jocelyn list the various criteria that indicate gender dysphoria in the DSM-5, and some of them do indeed refer to a mind/body misalignment:
  • A strong desire to be rid of one’s primary and/or secondary sex characteristics
  • A strong desire for the primary and/or secondary sex characteristics of another gender
But these are not the only criteria. Others refer to social and societal dysphoria:
  • A strong desire to be of another gender
  • A strong desire to be treated as another gender

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.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!