On the Science of Changing Sex

Transgender Field Guide

Posted in Transsexual Field Studies by Kay Brown on November 22, 2012

female_scientistOr, How to Tell the Difference in the Wild

Throughout the posts of this blog, I have explored the two types of MTF transwomen from the published literature, mostly peer reviewed journals.  But it is extremely difficult to get a real sense for who transfolk are in real life, their nuanced presentation as individuals, from tabulated statistics, as Stoller pointed out.  In this post, I will endeavor to provide a video field guide of sorts to the two types.  This is not an easy undertaking.  First there are the ethical considerations.  It would be, in my opinion, unethical to search the web for personal videos and then embarrass their owners by “diagnosing” them here.  However, I believe that exploring and critiquing published documentaries on transsexuals, in which the individuals on screen have (or should have) given full permission to the filmmaker for the use of their images and identities, is ethically acceptable.  The second problem is to show the full range of the human experience that transsexual woman have, unflinchingly… yet not introduce nor support stereotypes.  For this, I believe we should purposefully include individuals from the best to the worst.  Transwomen run the full gamut of society, from very successful academicians, scientists, politicians, businesswomen, etc.  to the very lowest, incarcerated criminals.  So, please allow me to show you that full gamut.

Before getting to the videos, I would recommend that you first review the nature of the two types of MTF transwomen by reading my FAQ and even Bailey’s somewhat tongue in cheek questionaire / “test”.

First, lets explore the worst, the least successful, in the documentary film “Cruel and Unusual“.  In this out-take we meet six MTF transsexual women, in and out of prison environments.  Make no mistake, these individuals have made mistakes in their lives.  They all  have exhibited poor judgement.  At this point, I would ask you to choose whether you want to view the video and judge for yourself which type of transwoman, transkids vs. AGP each individual is likely to be, or whether you wish to jump down and review my exploration and explication before viewing the film segment.  Pay close attention to body language, motor movement, vocal production, etc.

As I ‘read’ them, Ophelia, Ashley and Yolanda are all quite obviously transkids.  Ophelia, Ashley, and Yolanda have been petty criminals since their teen years.  Yolanda has also earned money as a prostitute.

Equally obvious to me are Anne, Patty, and Linda, who are all autogynephilic (AGP).  Note that if you close your eyes, the voices are quite noticeably feminine for the first three, while uneven to just plain masculine for the second three.  The body language, gestures, postures, walking styles, facial expressions are similarly dichotomous.  Although it may sound catty and mean of me to point it out, Linda’s inexpert use of make-up is common enough among AGP transsexuals.  Note that Anne, Patty, and Linda have all worked construction trades as men before transition and even afterwards.  Of course, the fact that Anne has fathered a child is a dead give-away that she had sex with a woman as a man.  The most problematic is Patty, who was incarcerated for assault and battery which she claims was a “bar fight”, as though it was an unfortunate altercation between two equally matched men, but was in fact a brutal attack and beating of a woman in the women’s bathroom.

Now let us turn to the more socially successful transwomen.  It is also important to note that autogynephilic transsexuals can and do transition young.  It is important to be able to differentiate between the two even at this age, as the social expectations and therapeutic needs of each type are very different.  So, lets examine two young transitioning transwomen in college:

Again, we see distinct differences in body language, vocal production, motor skills, and walking style.  Raci is a transkid.  Gabbie is AGP.  Raci has fluid movements and swings her hips while walking.  Gabbie is hunched over, her hips locked into place, and is almost “jerky” in her movements.  Not only do we recognize Gabbie’s telltale behavioral signs, at one point we see a poster in Gabbie’s room of two very  attractive women in sexy lingerie (likely heterosexual fashion models) in an unrealistic lesbian sex motif.  The poster forcefully brings to mind the type that would typically be found in a heterosexual teenaged boy’s room.  Gabbie is exclusively gynephilic (as is confirmed later in the Transgeneration documentary).  At the risk of reinforcing stereotypes, we note that Gabbie is studying computer science and programming, while Raci is studying social studies and taking classes on acting.  One has to watch more episodes of the show to learn some details, but it is interesting to note that Raci has been living as a girl since middle school, while Gabbie has only recently transitioned.  Further, Raci, though she has lived for years as a girl, still has no hope of getting SRS soon, though would dearly love to, mirroring the experience of many MTF transkids.  Raci is going to college on an academic scholarship, living in her aunt’s apartment.  Gabbie, on the other hand, will very soon have SRS, paid for by her very well off parents, who can afford both Gabbie’s on campus college expenses and her SRS.  Thus, we see that Gabbie has very high socio-economic status (SES), even while quite young, fitting the general model of AGP transitions being more likely in those who have high SES, and that high SES allows for a very rapid social to surgical transition.

I also find it noteworthy that Gabbie is quite outspoken about being transsexual, with no effort being made to pass as natal female, while Raci is quite concerned about passing as natal female at all times; She is especially concerned lest classmates learn of her medical status.  One has to wonder if she truly understood what participation in this documentary might mean for her privacy when the film began to air on national television?  In any case, I believe that this clear difference between Raci and Gabbie demonstrates an important personal and sociological difference between transkids and AGP transsexuals.  “Passing” means entirely two different things to each.

This brings up another, more subtle difference between transkids and AGP transwomen.  As the above out-take opens, we hear Raci speculating that “being transsexual means observing people”.  Although I’ve never seen this remarked upon in the published literature, I have to agree with Raci, but with the caveat that it is only true of transkids.  As Gabbie clearly demonstrates in other episodes of Transgeneration, she can be entirely clueless to social cues from those around her.  At one point, she seems oblivious that a cute young man is trying to flirt with her.  In another episode, she again seems oblivious that she is invading another young woman’s personal space.  In another out-take from the first documentary, Cruel and Unusual, we learn that Linda believes that she has what it takes to be a street prostitute in Hollywood, where she imagines that transwomen can make a living as such, totally oblivious to the facts regarding such “she-male” prostitutes and the, obvious to the viewer, fact that she is exceptionally unsuited to be such.  I’ve had numerous conversations with MTF transkids and non-transsexual women that have remarked upon observing these very same clueless behaviors in many autogynephilic transwomen.  There is a small hint that this behavior may be related to a suspected link between Autism Spectrum Disorders and autogynephilia, as noted in the recently published  American Psychiatric Association Task Force on Treatment of Gender Identity Disorder report.

Although eight transwomen is not enough to be a statistically valid sample, it is worth noting that all of the AGP transwomen are white, while the transkids are nearly all ethnic minorities.  This mirrors the statistically valid sample showing that AGPs are more likely to be white than transkids found by Nuttbrock.

Note that at no point do any of the putatively autogynephilic transwomen above mention autogynephilic sexuality.  But then, the filmmakers didn’t ask about this phenomena.  Yet, we know from multiple papers from multiple, independent sexologists, that autogynephilic sexuality is present and motivating their transition.


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