February 10, 2011

When Four Tribes Go to War Part 1

I promise you, I am not going to turn this blog into a war zone. I do feel a need to finish the discussion on transsexual separatism and the place for crossdressers and crossdreamers, though. This is the first post of a two-parter on the conflict between the various transsexual and transgender clans. Then I'll go back to regular reseach based blogging.

In a comment to my post on Dyssonance, Jamiegottagun makes the following comment:

"Dyssonance is known for only one thing, really: causing problems, and trolling. She also often stoops to all the things she accuses her enemies of, like misgendering to dismiss people."

Dyssonance is definitely more proactive than others, and if she has been misgendering someone, that's really bad.

Still, you could probably blame many of us for the TS/TG wars, including me.

There has been times I have felt so depressed from all the attempts at labelling crossdreamers and crossdressers as pathetic perverts, that I have wanted to strike back and hurt the people who are attacking "my kind".

It is like being back in the school yard again. I feel like I am being bullied for not having cracked the code for what is needed to be accepted by the in crowd. That's childish, I know, but hey, I'm human!

Vicious circle

It is easier for me to let it pass now. I am starting to get a much needed distance, seeing the suffering behind all the hostile snarling.

But we need to talk about this. For many crossdreamers and crossdressers the first meeting with the online transgender community is with aggressive transwomen telling them go hide in the closet.

I have also seen lack of respect for transwomen among some crossdreamers. There are, for instance, those that fall into the Blanchard trap, arguing that all transwomen are nothing but "autogynephiliacs". Some M2F trangender persons have a rather weak gender dysphoria, and manage quite well to include their "otherness" into their lives as men. Then they mistakenly believe that all transgender persons are like this, failing to realize that some M2F transwomen truly are trapped in an alien body.

In many ways we are facing some kind of self-reinforcing vicious circle here: People express their insecurity, there is a counter-reaction, then the first ones get aggressive, the other party gets hurt and starts hitting back. Finally you end up with TS and TG clans fighting it out Somali style with AK-47's and rocket launchers.

At that point the various clans are busy defining their own identity as something different from the others, that all real communication breaks down.

There are at least four types of separatist clans as far as I can see:

The People's Front of Judea

1. There are some organized crossdressers, who insist that they are gender variant men, and who would rather not see androphilic transgender or transsexuals at their meetings.
The operative phrase here is "We are men".

The Judean's People's Front

2. Then there are the Classical Transsexuals (CT) who argue that they have nothing in common with "fetishistic crossdressers" and "gay effeminate men".
The operative phrase here is "We are women".

Campaign for a Free Galilee

3. The Harry Benjamin Syndrome crowd (HBS) preaches an extremist version of the CT gospel, where even feminine looks and mannerisms are inborn.
The operative term here is "We are ladies".

Judean Popular People's Front

4. The transkids have adopted Blanchard's and Bailey's theory using it to establish a difference between androphilic (man-loving) transwomen on the one side and gynephilic masculine "autogynephiliacs" on the other.

The operative phrase here is "We are naturally feminine."

The Romans

There is a fifth group as well, but they are not separatists. They are the unionists, people focusing on what these clans have in common.

Many of the unionists are active as the T of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trangender) movement. Some of them can be as violent as General Ulysses S. Grant during the American Civil War. They are not the focus of this post, however, so I am not going to discuss them any further.

The longing for normalcy

What the separatist groups have in common is a strongly felt need to be understood as "normal" in one way or the other.

Admittedly, the crossdressers find it hard to be accepted as "normal" men according to the common understanding of the term, but they can at least hope to achieve recognition as heterosexual males, i.e. they are not gay or transsexual. That may stop their wives and friends from worrying too much.

The transkids accept Blanchard's terminology, calling themselves "homosexual transsexuals". This implies that they are gay men. Still, they believe that true femininity is the preorgative of natural born women and feminine gay men, thus leaving the gynephilic crossdressers and crossdreamers out in the masculine cold.

In other words: the androphilic (man-loving) transwomen -- the transkids -- are naturally feminine, which is one kind of "normal". The crossdreamers, crossdressers and gynephilic (woman-loving) transwomen are obviously not.

Gender conditioning

I understand this need to be accepted as normal. As young kids we sense the social environment surrounding us, trying to ascertain what is OK behavior and what is not for your particular type of human being (clan, sex, class, nationality...).

For a child the need to be loved is imperative, and as children we are willing to do a lot in order to get that respect and recognition. If your true nature is violating social expectations, you'd better suppress it.

We take this baggage with us when we grow up, at a time when our need to be respected is -- in fact -- as strong as ever.


The pressure from others and/or internalized homophobia and transphobia make it imperative for some to develop narratives that ensure that they are not understood as one of the freaks. The message is that they have nothing in common with "the others".

They tell themselves this, and they tell their friends after they have seen some nasty TV show making fun of crossdressers or "shemale" prostitutes: "Hey, I am not one of them. We have nothing in common! I am as normal as you are!"

If the same rules should apply to cispeople, men would have nothing in common with male drug lords and women nothing in common with female hookers. The fact is that we are all human beings - weak and vulnerable. But if you live in a cultural setting where homosexuality is a sin and you never invite prostitutes to dinner (regardless of what Jesus might have done), getting respect as a transwoman must be very hard.

Hence it is possible to understand why the classic transsexuals react so defensive.
What makes me really sad, however, is the amount of pain and suffering all this internalized self-hatred do to each and every one of us. In many ways the tormenters are suffering as much as the tormenters; yeah, maybe even more so, as they have in many ways become like the ones that once bullied them for being "sissy losers".

Normalcy is a myth

I personally do not believe there exists any "normal" people, neither among "normal" cispeople nor among the various transgender clans.

Sure, people may appear normal and play by the social rules, but as soon as you get to know them you find that they all have their own unique combination of traits and idiosyncraticies. Those traits are rarely uniquely male or female. In fact, I believe none of them are.

It is this unique combination of traits that make a person who he or she is, and which makes us love him or her. It is the diversity that makes humanity strong, not a division into the clean and the unclean.

The problem of classes

Many of the disagreements in this area could probably have been sorted out if people agreed on what it means to categorize people into groups.

The separatists are often trying to use terms that couple well defined categories with unique "etiologies" or causes.

The classic transsexuals argue that true transwomen have a female brain. For them transitioning is to become what they have always been. I believe they may be right about this.
But the next step in their argument is not so convincing: They argue that all crossdressers and crossdreamers have nothing but male brains. For the crossdreamers to get a female bodies would therefore be a perversion, a violation of the laws of nature (or the laws of God).

In other words: they argue that "transsexual" (or "HBS") is a completely different kind of human being than the perverted "transgender". Because of this they do not accept the word "transgender" as an umbrella term for all gender variant people.

The transkids have a weaker argument. If the androphilic transwoman is truly an effeminate gay man (as Blanchard argues), you could argue that sex reassignment surgery and hormone treatments represent an unnecessary self-castration and therefore some kind of perversion.
Still, if you believe that gay men have an inborn kind of femininity that is reflected in behavioral traits, mannerisms and even looks, turning him into her makes a kind of sense if this femininity has reached a critical mass.

This time the dichotomy is not male versus female brain, but masculine versus feminine brain. Again, the argument is that crossdressers and crossdreamers have no kind of innate femininity.

The main difference between the classic transsexuals and the transkids is that the transkids believe that all classic transsexuals are autogynephiliacs (i.e. perverted heterosexual men), while the classic transsexuals believe the transkids are perverted effeminate gay men. No wonder they hate each other!

The science and the myth

I have seen no believable proof for any of these positions being true.

There are M2F crossdreamers (i.e. male bodies persons who have had feminization fantasies) who are as gender dysphoric as any "classic transsexual" or transkid. Their motive for transitioning is rarely purely sexual. They strongly percieve their gender identity to be female. They have tried actively to suppress that feeling and adapt to lives as men, and they have failed.

To argue that they are not "true women" becuase they have been sexually turned on by the idea of having sex in a woman's body implies a very old fashioned view of women. Most of us have abandoned the Victorian idea of women being asexual beings more motivated by wedding fantasies than the desire for hot, steaming, sex. This view is a cultural artefact, not a reflection of what nature is truly about.

In fact, the sexual fantasies could as well be one way for their inner "femininity" to express itself, not a misdirected male sexuality.

The idea that "real transwomen" somehow look and act more "feminine" than crossdressers and crossdreamers -- as the HBS women and transkids argue -- sounds very strange to me. If you are born in a male body, you are born in a male body. Whether you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger og Jude Law must surely be a matter of genetic chance. Moreover, there are many XX women who look quite masculine. No sane person would doubt their "womanness" because of that. Their gender identity is in their brain, not in their broad shoulders.

However, I am not going to discuss the counter-arguments in detail here, as I have done so in other blog posts and will continue to so so in the future.

I would like to note, though, that it makes perfect sense for both classic transsexuals and transkids to insist that crossdreaming is an expression of male, and not female, sexuality. This tactic may protect them from the embarrassment of being associated with all the funny looking crossdressers.

Set theory

Even if the CT and transkid narratives are true, and the male to female crossdreamers are as different from "true transwomen" as men are from women, it would still make sense to use "transgender" as an umbrella term.

Even if the cause for the conditions turns out to be different, the different groups all include persons suffering from some kind of gender dysphoria. And many of them find it hard to live up to the social expectations directed towards their biological sex.

I believe transwomen who say they have had a "female brain" since birth, in the sense of there being a biological basis for their gender incongruence. But there is no way you can avoid the fact that they have had a male body. They may even have male body parts, if they for some reason cannot go through sex reassignment surgery. This they share with the rest of the male to female transgender population.

This is basic set theory. The larger set is "transgender". Among the smaller sets we find "crossdresser", "crossdreamer", "transfag", "gender queer", "transsexual" and so on and so forth.

For comparison, you can use the term "immigrant". This term makes sense from a cultural and political point of view. Still, the fact that all the non-native people who have settled in Canada are immigrants, does not mean that the Chinese immigrants are Iranians. The Swedes does not suddenly become Indian because they get a work permit in Toronto.

Another example would be the term "water". Water can be a liquid (Perrier), a solid (the ice in the glass) or a gas (the steam raising up from a hot pool), and these differenct incarnations of H2O have very different properties. Still, they are all water. In other words: the various tribes could be different but the same.

The need for debate

For me the transgender term makes sense, even if the main objective should be to define what makes the different tribes different. A debate on what makes us different helps us find out who we truly are. But then we cannot start the discussion with a purely dogmatic beliefs, being that the faith in Blanchardism, the dogma that only male bodied persons who have had SRS are truly women or that gender identity is a social construct.

In part 2 I will take a closer look at the tribes, and also discuss whether the aim of this blog is to achieve some kind of normalcy for crossdreamers.

Image from the film Tank Girl.


  1. Oh, Jack,

    I'd like to give you some advice on tackling this subject, but I'm at a loss.

    All I can say is, I'm not sure you know quite what your letting yourself in for

  2. How cares about this guy ?

    Who cares about how he is called or seen ?

    If a trans want to be she but other people tell he, what is the big deal ? People are free to see themselves the way they want and other prople are free to see people to consider others how they want.

    Despite the fact my fantasy od tobe a girl, I don't see transexal as she.

  3. Thanks for being a beacon for those of us just entering the foray. I'm anxiously awaiting your next post.


  4. Thanks Jack for the wonderful post. In your list of tribes, I would fall in the Romans clan. I do believe that TGs and simply all TGs right from the least of feminine males to the most of classic transwomen are under a transgender umbrella and all of them are victims of the marginalization of gender-variants. They might be affected in different ways depending on their level of transgression from social norms, but that does not mean we cannot be united.

  5. Read this and see how fluid human gender is:

  6. Here is a nice little alternative explanation of whatr AGP is all about for lesbian and biseual transwomen.

  7. Jack,

    I too believe all the tribes share in common a biological variant in human development (i.e. a proclivity towards cross gender expression). We are all trans women, and the biggest difference is whether we were born straight or born gay...

    One who is born straight holds tight to her gender role and represses the feminine within herself because she wants to succeed as a woman-loving male. The feminine may become exotic to her and later, erotic. Finally after years, she transitions or comes to peace with being bi-gendered.

    One who is born gay will not hold onto her gender role as tightly because she doesn't have the drive to succeed as a woman loving male. So she naturally embraces the feminine inside her at an early age and it becomes part of her identity instead of an "exotic thing" that must be kept at bay. And so the realization that she wants to transition comes much much earlier.

  8. I wanted to add: a trans woman who lives full-time as a woman has very different needs when it comes to access to health care than someone who lives as a female part-time.

  9. @James

    Thanks for some very interested links. I have tweeted them.


    I definitely think you are on to something.

    One group is strongly motivated to play the role of men in order to attract heterosexual ciswomen. Another is motivated to play the role of women in order to attract heterosexual cismen.

    As is often the case in reductionist science, this is interpreted to mean that gynephilic transwomen are nothing but horny straight men and the androphilic nothing but horny gay men.

    If you add some kind of inner woman to the mix, however, both life trajectories make sense.

    I suspect the observation that androphilic transwomen up till now have appeared more naturally feminine than the gynephilic crowd (in general), can be explained by this.

    The androphilic allow themselves to express their feminine side, while the gynephilic have a stronger motivation for suppressing it.

    The androphilic transition earlier, as they find it harder to fool themselves into believing the pain will all pass when they get older.

    The gynephilic wait until they realized that nothing has changed, or when they find their dysphoria is getting worse year by year.

    They transition much later, at a time when their masculine mannerisms have set. In general older women look less feminine.

  10. Thank you Jack, that means a lot coming from you =)

  11. Whups, wrong google account lol. That last comment was from me...Chris(tine) =)

  12. you had me at tank girl, Jack. Nice analysis and great article too though :)


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