September 22, 2011

Take part in research on "Trans Gender Embodied States of Recognition"

Tre Wentling invites transgender people to participate in the Trans Gender Embodied States of Recognition research project, which explores recognition and experiences using personal identification documentation (IDs). 

The survey, which may take 10 to 30 minutes to complete, includes questions about your gender identification, IDs and experiences using them, name and pronoun recognition, your transition-related decisions, how you have felt in the past week, and basic demographic information.

Tre adds:

September 17, 2011

Julia Serano on the concept of autogynephilia

The International Journal of Transgenderism has a paper by Julia M. Serano on autogynephilia in its latest issue. It was published late last year, and I tweeted the news, but I haven't had time finish the post until now.

Julia Serano  is a biologist and a trans-activist, and one of the few that has dared to look into the role of crossdreaming in transsexualism in a constructive manner.

Serano follows up on the critique of the autogynephilia concept made by Moser, and I guess this is another intervention in the battle of the American DSM-5 (The American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), .

In other words: Are men who fantasize about having the body of the opposite sex paraphiliacs (perverts), as the autogynephilia theory claims,  or are they just another variation of this wonderful thing called life?

For a popular summary of the autogynephilia theory, see my article: Autogynephilia on a Napkin.

The Case Against Autogynephilia

In the paper "The Case Against Autogynephilia" Serano (who is herself a transsexual woman) notes that Ray Blanchard, the father of autogynephilia,  and his followers have used the term  to dscribe to significantly different phenomena:

"First, it is used descriptively to denote a type of erotic fantasy common to many (but not all) MtF [male to female] spectrum individuals in which they become aroused at the idea of becoming women."

This Serano calls cross-gender arousal, which is -- I believe -- more and less the same as I call crossdreaming.

Like me Serano readily accepts that such fantasies exist.

She continues:

"Second, the term [autogynephilia] has been used to theoretically describe a paraphilic model in which the aforementioned fantasies arise as a result of a misdirected heterosexual sex drive (i.e instead of or in addition to being attracted to women, the individual becomes attracted to the idea of becoming a woman) and once established, such fantasies become the primary cause of any gender dysphoria and desire to physically transition to female that the individual might experience."

September 11, 2011

Julia Serano on the transsexual separatists and crossdreaming

Those of you who have followed the transgender vs. "true" or "classical" transsexual debate, should take a look at Julia Serrano's recent article in the Transadvocate, and her following comment over at her new blog.

Serrno is probably one of the most influential transsexual activists in the USA today, and yes, she supports the transgender alliance of crossdressers, gender queer and transsexual people.

Activism requires alliances

She writes:

"...I have mostly avoided this debate because of the name calling, disparaging stereotypes and nonconsensual sexualization that are sometimes associated with it. But recently, I read a post where someone referred to me as being firmly in the 'transsexual' (rather than “transgender”) camp. This was the second time that I had seen such a claim, and frankly, it surprised me.

"Granted, in my book Whipping Girl, I argued that the transsexual experience is different from other transgender trajectories, and I also decried the manner in which some cissexual gays and lesbians appropriate transsexual identities. 

"But I never once advocated that transsexuals should completely split off from the transgender or LGBT communities. Rather, my intention was constructive criticism – I hoped to make those alliances more aware and respectful of transsexual voices and perspectives

"So, for the record, I am in the pro-umbrella camp, even though I acknowledge that sometimes umbrella politics are messy and less than equitable. In other words, I believe that the pros of umbrella politics outweigh the cons."

Why this is important

There are separatist transwomen who make serious, coherent and constructive arguments for why they do not want to be part of a movement that encompasses crossdressers, gender queer and homosexual people. They often argue that (1) they have nothing in common with homosexuals and (2) that they refuse to be forced into a club that do not fit their needs.

Fair enough. I am not going to repeat the arguments for why it makes sense to have an umbrella term here. I think Serano explains this well. But these arguments made by the constructive members of the separatist side are definitely legitimate.


Still, it seems to me that the majority of separatist bloggers and commentators are not against the transgender and LGBT umbrellas out of purely democratic or pragmatic reasons. They are against it because they do not want to be associated with people they basically despise. There is a lot of homophobia in these circles, and also misandry; but most of all there is a deep contempt for crossdressers.

Crossdressers are routinely accused of  being sexually obsessed perverts. They are considered men who harass women online and  in women's restrooms (sic!). It is therefore extremely important for these activists to explain that crossdressers and "autogynephiliacs" have absolutely nothing in common with post-op transsexual women.

As I have argued before, there is a huge difference between the male to female crossdresser who lives as a man and a transsexual woman. A large number of M2F  crossdressers and queder queer identify with their birth sex. They do not claim to be women, and should not be treated as such.

But there is one extremely big elephant in the room that these more vocal separatist do not want to acknowledge,  and that is that a large number of transwomen have a crossdresser/crossdreamer past.

This is why the Serano article is so important. Serano is a transsexual activist who not only acknowledge that the elephant is there. She does not hesitate to talk about it.

Two bizarre science stories about sex and gender (2)

In my previous post I looked at how a parasite may actually hijack the mind of a male crab and make him behave like a female.

This is the kind of research that points in the direction of gender behavior being based in biology.

Nature: 1 point!

In this post I am going to give you examples of how the very structure of language shapes the way we understand gender.

Culture scores!

Bizarre example No. 2: The biology of jargon by gender

In a recent article The Scientific American reports on sex and the understanding of numbers. I'll come back to arguments raised in a minute.

The article reminds me a bit about the linguist George Lakoff's amazing book Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things which explores the connection between the structure of language and how different societies perceive things in different ways.

Lakoff argued that the logical systems of languages are in now way as rigid and strict as formal logic, nor should they be. Hence the word "mother" can be used to refer to the woman who gave birth to a person, the woman who raised her, the surrogate "mother", or even a gay man raising the kid together with another gay man.

In other words: Normal language is not based on a one to one relationship between words and things "out there", but on metaphors.

That being said, there is an underlying structure of general principles that explains how concepts are classified.

The title of the book refers to the Australian aboriginal language Dyirbal, which classifies everything into two groups. On the one hand there are women, fire and dangerous things, and on the other hand there is everything else, men included.

The Sun and the Moon

It is a fair guess that this kind of categorization influences the way you think about things.

In Norwegian the moon has the masculine gender (månen) and the Sun the feminine (sola), while in Latin languages the moon is feminine (la lune), while the sun is masculine (le soleil). 

This assignment of gender to non-human object does probably influence the way we think about these phenomena

A feminine moon may be considered  emotionally shifting (a 28 day "menstrual cycle") and weak compared to the sun. Or: If you have a positive view of womanhood: It represents life, death and rebirth. A masculine moon, on the other hand, can be understood as  a strong male fighting the feminine darkness.  The Norse moon god, Máni, was male.

A feminine sun may be understood as nourishing, while a masculine sun is illuminating (a symbol for the male intellect).

I am not 100 percent sure if we can see these differences in the modern Norwegian and French reflections on the Moon and the Sun. The original metaphors are probably lost.

Still,  the research referred to in Scientific American tells us that we even now may be influence by such unconscious metaphors.

Numbers are gendered

J. E. Wilkie and G.V. Bodenhausen argue that numbers are gendered, and may even be so in languages that lack grammatical gender (like in English).

They write:

"We examined the possibility that nonsocial, highly generic concepts are gendered.  Specifically, we investigated the gender connotations of Arabic numerals. 

"Across several experiments, we show that the number 1 and other odd numbers are associated with masculinity, whereas the number 2 and other even numbers are associated with femininity, in ways that influence judgments of stimuli arbitrarily paired with numerical cues; specifically, babies' faces and foreign names were more likely to be judged as 'male' when paired with odd versus even numbers. 

"The power of logically irrelevant numerical stimuli to connote masculinity or femininity reflects the pervasiveness of gender as a social scaffolding for generating understandings of abstract concepts."

So the number one is considered masculine, while the number two is considered feminine. If you are sensing some kind of implicit sexism here, it is probably because the underlying cultural logic is sexist.

What these researchers have done is to pair both foreign sounding names and baby faces with numbers. If a name is accompanied by the number 1, people tend to believe it is masculine. If a baby face is paired with the number 2, people believe the baby is a girl -- regardless of the baby's true sex.

"Our tendency to see gender in everything, even numbers, is a reminder of how fundamental gender is to how we perceive the world," the Scientific American argues. "When people are led to believe that an object possesses one gender or another, it changes how they relate to that object."

The machine

Stanford researchers Clifford Nass, Youngme Moon, and Nancy Green had people interact with a computer that was programmed to have either a male-sounding or female-sounding voice:

"They found that when the computer had a female-sounding voice, people saw the computer as less friendly, credible and knowledgeable, as compared to the male-sounding computer. People did this openly, despite knowing perfectly well that they were making judgments about a machine and not a real person."

This is why our culture's tendency of labeling kids with pink and blue markers are so important.

Our expectations towards a pink baby (a girl) are different from our expectations to the one in blue. Because of this we treat them differently, which again changes the way the kids understand their role in society.

Not even toxoplasma gondii  can change that.

September 8, 2011

Two bizarre science stories about sex and gender (1)

Teaser: In this post I take a look at a parasite that turns males into females.

There is nothing that makes people so emotionally engaged in the gender and transgender debates as the question of whether "maleness" and "femaleness" is inborn or a product of culture.

Those who have followed this blog for a while know that I believe we are both born like this and made like this.

The core of our sex identities is probably inborn, but the great variety of personalities and behavior among both men and women tells us that there are few, if any, personality traits that are uniquely "feminine" or "masculine".

A woman can be strong, muscular, agressive, dominating, tall and extremely self-confident and will still be considered a woman.

In today's Western cultures there are limits to how far a man can go before being ridiculed as a sissy, but we still recognize calm, introvert, loving and nurturing men as men.

In the mix

The reason for this is that personality traits, behavioral patterns, looks and mannerisms are based on a complex interplay of a large number of biological, social and personal factors including:
  • Genes (although the few number of genes only can explain a small portion of human behavior)
  • The combination of genes
  • Proteins triggered by genes or combination of genes
  • Epigenetics (whether genes are activated or not, which may depend on anything from the mental state of your mother when you were in the womb to what you are eating right now)
  • Pre- and postnatal hormones. (The alchemy of hormone therapies clearly proves that hormones can radically change the looks and behavior of a person)
  • Food and other substances
  • Diseases
  • Learning and training, not only as "information stored in the brain as if it was a computer", but in the sense of changing the neurological network of the brain (the plasticity of the brain).
  • Conditioning through upbringing in a "boys don't cry" kind of way ("Oh, Amanda, did you bring me flowers? How sweet you are!"  "Wow, you scared me, son. You are such a tough pirate!")
  • Psychological trauma
  • Anxiety and the longing for an ordered universe
  • Erotisation of situations, objects and bodies
  • and so on and so forth.
I am going to give you two examples from  recent issues of the New Scientist and Scientific American, to illustrate the complexity of sex and gender.

Bizarre Example No. 1: Invasion of the body snatchers

The parasitic barnacle Sacculina is a free swimming larva that infects crabs. It develops into a structure within the animal's abdomen that resembles a regular egg sac.

September 1, 2011

Call for trans and genderqueer poetry

TC Tolbert and Tim Peterson are editing a new collection of trans-poetry and are asking for contributions.

They say that their assumption is that the writing of trans and genderqueer folks has something more than coincidence in common with the experimental, the radical, and the innovative in poetry and poetics:
"With your help we’d like to manifest that something (or somethings) in a genderqueer multipoetics, a critical mass of trans fabulousness."

The deadline is November 30. You can read more about it here.