On the Science of Changing Sex

Exploring The Science of Transgender

Posted in Editorial by Kay Brown on July 16, 2018

Through Knowledge, Justice…

27867072_1811649452220144_4426664495691531655_nThis blog is on the science of transsexuality and transgender sexuality.  There are many myths and misunderstandings about transsexuality and transgender people.  Our scientific understanding of the transsexual phenomena has increased and dramatically improved over the past fifty years, yet much of what is available in popular literature is misinformation and disinformation.  Much of what the public, including transsexuals and transgender people themselves, believe about the etiology and epidemiology of transsexuality is based on wishful thinking on one hand and deliberate distortions on the other.  Worse, many cherry-pick among the scientific papers, choosing those that, in isolation, appear to support a given thesis.  Many transsexual and transgendered people have read misinformation and disinformation regarding the science, denying or decrying the science, often in emotionally inflammatory language (including vicious attacks on the characters of scientists and educators), that makes its rounds in the echo chamber of the web and social media.  Indeed, there are fora that will instantly ban any who discuss this science in any truthful way.  This blog is an attempt to correct this situation.

Learning an unpleasant truth is better than believing a comforting lie – Don’t let the “tribe” tell you what to think – Trust only evidence, not vehemence

All information found in this blog is supported by peer reviewed science and referenced (cited) in essay posts covering a given topic found on this site.  Many topics are interwoven with other topics, as they are interlocking issues.  Please explore the entire site for a full explanation of each topic.

One can find a bibliography for this blog if you wish to quickly find papers of interest.  You may wish to review the Glossary if a word is unfamiliar.

Remember as you read this site;  Transsexuals and transgendered people are good people, worthy of our respect, and even of our admiration.  Nothing in this material is meant to imply otherwise.  If you are a transsexual or transgendered person:  You have value as a human being.  You have the right to be respected, valued, and even celebrated as the gender to which you identify and aspire regardless of etiology.

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Detransitioners Are NOT The Enemy

Posted in Editorial by Kay Brown on June 21, 2018

Kay BrownTransgender folks should not fear detransitioners.

When I was 18 years old, on my own, effectively disowned by my family.  (I say effectively, as I was given a meagre allowance with the stipulation that I was NOT to come home or be seen by any of the family’s connections.)  I was fully socially transitioned and was just beginning HRT.  I had found a room to rent with kitchen and bathroom privileges.  The owner, a young divorced mom with a young daughter and her twenty something brother lived downstairs.  Two other women rented rooms upstairs.  Oh… and they often had boyfriends spend the night… so this wasn’t some female only space by any means.  In fact, I even had a date with the brother, went to a Jr. College dance together.  I couldn’t really afford the rent, so I did babysitting of the daughter in exchange to lower it to what I could afford.  I should mention that I couldn’t afford to eat either!  I went hungry for weeks at a time.  One of my high school friends found out about that and organized a food drive for me.  I ate a lot of strange stuff from cans for a while !  After several months of this… well, disaster struck.  I got read and outed.  No one in that house wanted a transsexual in the house, I was forced to leave.

So much for the theory that if people know an LGBT person, their hatred will be reduced… not in 1975 it didn’t.

So, I had to find a new place, fast… and I didn’t have enough money to rent my own space, no matter how humble.  I didn’t know a single transperson.  I had never met a transperson.  I was completely alone, no community, no mentors, no one I could turn to.

I was told about a place called the Alternative Community Center, where they had a bulletin board listing housing.  I hoped that I could find an LGBT friendly space.  I inquired at a goodly number of situations… While I found plenty of L friendly spaces, some G friendly spaces… there did NOT seem to be any T friendly spaces… In fact, in one mixed house I got quite the cold shoulder, openly hostile and vile comments.  But as I walked out, one of the straight men, ran after me and excitedly talked to me, actually trying to flirt with me, then admitted he was a closeted cross-dresser (i.e. a gynandrophilic autogynephile)… and while he clearly wanted to be my buddy, he also wouldn’t stick his neck out to support my joining the house-hold.  I was becoming depressed and disparate.  Then, my luck changed.

A very butch lesbian had a room available in a rented house near the beach.  She explained that it was temporary, it being winter, the off-season, so she had rented it dirt cheap.  I could have the room dirt cheap.  Her name was Curly Hummingbird.  She was totally cool with me being MTF trans.  I couldn’t believe my luck.

Living there was comforting and I felt more than welcome.  Curly even set me up with a man.  She loved sharing with me that all her lesbian friends had the hots for me.  She didn’t tell them I was trans.  She also made it VERY clear that she too found me attractive.

As time went on, we had many late night discussions.  It turned out that she was a detransitioner.  She had lived for three years passing as a man.  Yes, when gays, lesbians, and straights were all horribly transphobic when confronted by an actual transperson, a detransitioner was my savior.

After several months, winter turned to springtime weather and the house rent went up.  Curly was moving on and so must I.  I thought I had found a new savior, a mid-twenties, self-described “straight” transwoman I had met at the Stanford Clinic’s “Grooming Seminar Series”.  But she turned out to be a predator instead (as I wrote about years ago in another essay).  So, I learned that transwomen could be even worse than detransitioners.

But interestingly, at that “seminar”, Dr. Laub, Sr., the surgeon of the clinic made an announcement that one of the popular members of that little community of autogynephilic transwomen had decided to detransition AFTER having SRS.  This sent shock waves through most of the attendees, save for one twenty-something lesbian identified post-op who philosophized that “he” had found what he needed on his life’s journey and that no one should feel sad about the situation.

Thus, the earliest lessons I learned in the transcommunity… detransitioning was real.  It happened.  It was not tragic… and they were not my enemy.

Having said that, I will admit that there is one very loud asshat of a detransitioner who clearly is our enemy, Walt Heyer.  But notice that he seems to be the lone voice, beloved by the transphobic alt-right and Xtian Right alike.  He is the exception that proves the rule.

Finally, I want to point out that someone who begins social transition and/or HRT but backs away from that in a short period of time should perhaps not be considered a detransitioner?  After all, we used to have a consensus in the caregiving community that there should be a “Real Life Test” period sufficient to determine if such transition and medical interventions were the right thing for a given individual.  Perhaps we need to view such “detransitions” as not being detransitions so much as having conducted the medical / social / psychological tests and found that they were not right and count that as a win?

Oh, Curly, if you read this, please contact me?  It would be great to catch up after all of these years.

Further Reading:

Essay on Tranwoman as Predator

External Further Reading:

“I Wanted To Take My Body Off”: Detransitioned

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Shameful History of Reparitive Therapy of Transgender and Gay Children & Youth

Posted in Editorial by Kay Brown on June 11, 2018

Kay BrownThere is an ongoing ‘war of words’ concerning the best course of treatment for gender atypical & dysphoric youth.  Lately, as our society has learned to accept and even celebrate LGBT youth, there has been a reaction from religious and reactionary bigots who would wish to return to the days when parents and medical caregivers could treat gender atypicality as a serious psychiatric disorder that needed drastic interventions in and of itself, rather than a non-pathological variance found in all human societies.  So, perhaps its time to review the history of such interventions in the light of more recent scientific and humanitarian knowledge.

First, one must understand that historically, gender atypicality concerns were mostly focused on male children, sissies.  It was often assumed that ‘tomboys’ would outgrow it, but sissy boys would all too likely grow up to be homosexual or transsexual, both equally considered as disordered, criminal, and to be avoided at all costs.

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To understand the nature of a given intervention one must first understand the underlying assumptions about the etiology of gender atypicality, dysphoria, and sexual orientation that a given intervention was designed to address.  During the mid-20th Century several competing theories vied with each other but there was a common thread, that of a disturbance of nurture.  That is to say, that they rejected the role of biology and focused on the environment.  So, if the environment is broken, so will the child be.  From there, several theories emerge, first up, faulty family constellation, lack of “appropriate” role modeling, and the “Smother Mother”.

The faulty family constellation theory is from observations that many children grow up in so-called “broken homes”, where single mothers are raising children on her own, with no man in her life.  The theory is that a boy child simply has no male role model and thus learns only feminine behavior and identification.  But, this wasn’t true of all feminine boys.  So, another term was added, the “emotionally absent” father.  This was a man, who though physically present in the home, rejected his son and thus failed to mold the young boy’s behavior toward the “healthy” masculine norm.  Of course, a modern understanding would be that the boy’s femininity had been the cause of the rejection by a homophobic father, not the other way around.  Also, many masculine heterosexual boys had grown up in single mother households, so they had to add the term “vulnerable” to the description of the boys, that is to say, only those who were “vulnerable” to this absence developed into sissies.

The theory also holds that the mother in these families tends to ‘smother’ a boy, hold him close to her body for excessively long periods, ‘tie him to her apron strings’, etc., such that he can’t form a separate gender identity, or even any identity, of his own.

The intervention designed to ‘fix’ the faulty family constellation is to introduce a “healthy” masculine male role model to the boy and encourage identification and subsequent modeling upon that man.  Since it isn’t always practical to require a single mother to find a suitable husband willing to take on the task of ‘toughening up’ the sissy boy, the goal is to place the boy in therapy sessions with a suitable role modeling therapist.  For a pre-teen this would often mean “play therapy” with sex typed boys toys.  Ideally, there would also be family therapy where the boy’s father would be encouraged to take a greater role in the child’s upbringing and similar withdrawal of the mother’s involvement.  Playing with girl’s toys is to be actively denied, taking away beloved toys and dolls, often lampooned as “Drop the Barby” therapy.  Another aspect would be to restrict the boy from having female friends and require them to participate in single sex activities such as scouting, etc. where they are often exposed to peer disapproval and even bullying.  It sounds almost gentle and acceptable… but underneath, the message to the child is that they are not “ok”, that there is something wrong with them, that they are not lovable as they are, leading to reduced self-esteem and increased loneliness.

While we can all applaud the idea of family intervention to encourage more paternal involvement and bonding, the idea of decreased maternal involvement is simply not justified given that we now know that the faulty family constellation theory is just plain bogus.  Further, if a homophobic father can’t step up and bond with a feminine boy, that boy will need his mother’s acceptance all the more.  Further, placing the blame upon the mother for having “encouraged” the boy’s femininity in this manner is just plain evil.

{Personal Note:  At the age of ten, I was sent to such “play therapy” with Dr. Peters (you can’t make this stuff up), a tall bearded man in a large room filled with toys.  I don’t remember seeing any girl’s toys in the room, ever.  According to my parents, separately, since they divorced when I was a teen, I trust that they were both being candid with me, it had been the school psychologist who had insisted that I be refered to Dr. Peters and only Dr. Peters.  This would also explain why my teachers interfered with my female friendships and forced me to interact with boys in class, and there was nothing subtle about it.  —  What I find saddening about the episode is that in my case, the faulty family constellation theory is completely reversed.  My mother, though an amazingly capable and caring parent, was the one who became emotionally unavailable and rejecting.  It was my good fortune that my Dad was always a very warm, loving, caring, and devoted father to all four of his children… though, if we are all honest about it, I was likely his favorite.}

Another intervention that gained some currency in the mid to late 20th Century is, in effect, to place a child into a Skinner Box, that is to say, create a deliberate reward & punishment system, in therapy, in the home, and in the classroom, in which gender typical behavior is consistently recognized and rewarded, perhaps with tokens redeemable for desirable privileges, while gender atypical behavior is penalized.  This type of environment is often used in cases of extremely “disturbed”, aggressive, or violent children and teens where cooperative behavior is rewarded and aggression is penalized.  Here, the theory is that child is held to be “gender disturbed”, expanding the definition used for one class of children requiring extraordinarily harsh and controlling interventions to another.  There were a number of ‘therapist / researchers’ who have published and recommended such interventions using just this pathologizing language.

One of these, George Rekers, a self-hating closeted gay man, not content to label gender atypical boys “disturbed”, not satisfied with the stigmatizing term “effeminate” boy, coined the even more powerfully pathologizing and stigmatizing term “feminoid” in the manner of the racist stigmatizing of those with Down’s Syndrome as “mongoloid”.  One of Reker’s recommendations included abusively “spanking” (beating actually) young feminine boys when they committed some feminine behavioral infraction.  Interestingly, Rekers own research showed that such feminine boys were essentially like gender typical girls,

The amount of feminine play by the feminoid boys was found to be significantly greater than that of normal boys, but not significantly different from the predominantly feminine play patterns of the normal girls.”

Imagine putting a gender typical girl through this… yes, that’s the moral and psychological equivalent.  I can’t even begin to express how evil I find this so-called “therapy”.  And this is what some parents and pundits wish us to resume?

Special Note:

One of the most important and yet at the same time, distressing aspects of this shameful history is that these abusive interventions came out of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in the late ’60s and ’70s.  At the very heart and center of this was Robert Stoller and Richard Green.  It was Dr. Green who gathered together these vulnerable gender atypical children to allow graduate students to conduct this shameful “research”.  Rekers, in his published paper on the “treatment” (read: torture) of Kirk Murphy (aka Kraig), thanks Dr. Green for providing him his victim.  Further, Dr. Green was personally involved in the research.  Knowing this has certainly lowered my esteem for Dr. Green who I had previously held in high regard.

External Reading:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Alan_Rekers

http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/06/07/sissy.boy.experiment/index.html

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

References:

Rekers, G., Yates, C., “Sex-typed play in feminoid boys versus normal boys and girls”, Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00917600

GEORGE A. REKERS AND 0. IVAR LovAAs, “BEHAVIORAL TREATMENT OF DEVIANT SEX-ROLE BEHAVIORS IN A MALE CHILD”, Journal of Applied Behaviorial Analysis (1974)
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1311956/pdf/jaba00060-0003.pdf

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Transphobic Propaganda Aimed at Parents of Transgender Kids

Posted in Editorial, Transgender Youth by Kay Brown on June 9, 2018

Kay BrownI’ve been interacting with parents of transkids for many years now.  What they go through is heart wrenching.  I’ve talked to both supportive and non-supportive parents.  I’ve talked to even more transfolk, both those who were transkids and those who were adult transitioners.  Each was impacted either positively or negatively by their parents attitudes… but none were hurt more than those transkids who had been emotionally abused or abandoned by their parents as teens.

TransSupportUntil the advent of ubiquitous social media, the main means of “trashing trannies” was mass media and churches.  But now, with social media, parents of transfolk are bombarded with conflicting messaging from all sides and can have difficulty knowing which information to trust.  Just as in politics, there is now a great deal of “fake news”, propaganda, misinformation, half-truths, even outright lies to be found online.  Some of it from people whose only interest is to hurt transfolk because of religious or socially formed trans- and homophobia.  Some of it is from transphobic parents of transkids themselves.  There are even websites and discussion fora created by these very same parents bringing together such like-minded folks to create a wave of disinformation, fear, uncertainty, and doubt in others so as to bolster their own decisions to deny their own children the respect, agency, and medical services they so clearly need.

In this post I will actively gather such propaganda and explore how it works and why it is wrong.  My goal is to help parents recognize when others are trying to manipulate their emotions to effect their decision-making.  This will be an ongoing effort so this essay will be updated whenever I see or remember an issue that needs to be addressed.

Therapy

In the past, it was near universal for therapy of gender atypical children, most often male, to mean attempts to “fix” them so that they were no longer gender atypical, as that was seen as a disorder in and of itself.  It was also believed, falsely it turns out, that if they could get these boys to be gender typical in their behavior, they wouldn’t develop into gay men.  Therapies ranged from gentle “play” with a masculine role model to direct punishing and shaming children for atypicality on one hand and rewarding gender typicality on the other.  Both philosophies encouraged parents to remove any and all cross-gender toys and activities and to shame children, especially boys, for such play.  Therapy for gender dysphoric teens was to “talk” them out of wanting to transition, usually by shaming them.  Today such therapy, along with therapy meant to “talk” gay & lesbians out of being homosexual, is recognized as being both ineffective and abusive.  Some states and countries have outlawed such practices.  Professional societies of therapists and physicians have declared them to be unethical.

{Personal note:  I was sent to play therapy as a ten year old with Dr. Peters (you can’t make this stuff up) a tall bearded man as a role model.  While at home, my mother would jump down my throat if I so much as looked at a girl’s toy.  Of course, that didn’t work, so I was sent to talk therapy at 15/16, but knew enough not to talk about either my sexuality nor my gender behavior and identity so as to avoid any opportunity to shame me.  Thus, I know about these practices first hand.}

Today, most caring therapists and other caregivers recognize that gender atypicality is not in and of itself a disorder.  They also recognize that most young mildly gender dysphoric children will desist on their own as they near adolescence, so there is no need for drastic measures either way.  However, extremely dysphoric children need outlets for their gender expression and that attempts to suppress or change their innate behavior is abusive and will only result in low self-esteem and shame.  They also know that such children need reassurance that they are loved by their parents.  If punished for gender atypicality and/or expressing the pain of dysphoria, the bond between parent and child is put at grave risk.  And yes, some therapists and their caring families recognize that some pre-adolescents and adolescents are better served by social transition.

This new kinder and gentler approach to gender atypicality and gender dysphoria has lead to disinformation put out by those who wish that they could continue to offer abusive  reparitive / conversion ‘services’, falsely claiming that such therapies do work.  Transphobic parents and members of the public also lament this situation and put out the lie that “affirming” therapists are forcing gender atypical children and teens to become transgender.

The basic truth is simple… just as it is not possible to “fix” LGBT people, it is not possible to force them to be LGBT against their nature.  Saying otherwise is an outright lie.

Another tidbit of disinformation is claiming that therapists regularly “ok” teenagers to get hormones with only one visit.  In over four decades of experience and discussions with literally… oh I can’t even guess the number of transfolk of all ages I’ve met or corresponded with.  It would have to be the hundreds now, the fastest I’ve ever heard of for someone to get their “letter” approving HRT from a psych professional was five one hour sessions.  And when others hear of that low figure, they are incredulous because most adults were required to have at least several months of weekly sessions and most had more, some over a year or more.  There’s a reason why therapists and psychiatrists are called “gatekeepers”.  For minors, it might be faster to get onto puberty blockers if they are seen in longer more intense sessions with at least one second opinion since the clock is seen as “ticking”, but to switch from blockers, or for an older teen, one already past puberty?  That will take longer.

{Personal Note:  I was that teenager who had only five hours in 1975, a record even for the Stanford Gender Dysphoria Clinic: three one hour sessions alone, one hour with my mother, and one hour with my father.  You may read about those interviews here.  And no, I have no real idea why I got my letter with so few visits, but if I had to guess, it was because I still had to wait until I was 18 because my parents refused permission… and that I had previously been in therapy that had been anything but “affirming”.  Interestingly, when I was 23 and had the funds for surgery, the surgeon, a private doc in Colorado, required two recent “letters” from psychiatrists.  I had six one hour sessions with one psychiatrist and one hour for the second opinion… this too was considered a record.  This one I did know why… emotional maturity, intelligence, and five solid years post social transition with a great work and education history.}

 Social Transition

transkids

Transkids after social transition

I see over and over claims that merely allowing a child to cross-dress or socially transition is a form of “child abuse” in and of itself.  I’ve even seen transphobes complaining that letting non-transkids know that transkids and transadults exist and should be accepted and respected, is a form of child abuse!  These claims are usually from the most virulently transphobic and homophobic members of the public.  However, there is a more subtle form of this parental shaming in that people claim that because many pre-teens who are gender atypical will not be gender dysphoric, that they are “forcing” their kids to be transgender.  This meme even floats in the gay and lesbian community claiming that parents do this because they are homophobic and would rather have a transgender child than a gay or lesbian one (!).  My own experience has indicated that homophobic parents are universally also transphobic, so the logic of this assertion is faulty and groundless.

Parents should be advised that many pre-teens who are gender atypical will in truth grow up to be gay or lesbian, but there is no magic bright line difference between transkids and LGB individuals.  That is to say, that from our current state of research, we can’t tell them apart… and indeed, there may be no etiological difference, that the difference may in fact be one of degree and not of kind.  We see cultural and life experience differences leading to differences in rates of gender dysphoria in different cultures and subcultures in what may be the same biological groups.  Given this, loving parents should be open to listening to the needs of their children as they grow up and be flexible in their hopes.

A recent meme making the rounds is that if a child is allowed to cross-dress as a pre-teen, to use a new name etc. they will have social and personal difficulty later when they desist from being gender dysphoric.  Some go as far as to say that this will cause them trauma, having spent years growing up presenting as the “wrong sex”.  But this only shows their own transphobic bias, valuing the lives and welfare of desisting children over persisting transkids.   Consider this from the viewpoint of persisting transkids, if having to grow up presenting as the “wrong sex” is traumatic and that transitioning is a social and personal difficulty at that later age, won’t these kids have had a similarly bad experience if they are not allowed to socially transition earlier?  Either both are true or neither is true.  Actually, the truth is that children who will desist later are still in pain now.  And desisting children detransitioning is no more traumatic than either type transitioning in the first place.  But the transphobic propagandists aren’t interested in nuance and dealing with things in such a way as to reduce pain for everyone on a day to day basis.  Remember this.  Their goal is not to help your child be happy and emotionally healthy.  They are only interested in frightening the parents of transkids into NOT allowing them to socially transition in the hope that denying them this at a young age will force them to not get puberty blockers, which will them force them to endure a puberty which will make it that much more difficult for them to transition successfully as adults, which will keep them from being “one of those people”.

One of the ugly issues I’ve seen thrown around is that of impugning the motives and values of various researchers and clinicians, on both sides of the issue of pre-teen transition.  Most professionals have nothing but good intentions.  Each has nuanced views because this issue is not black and white.  But many insist that it should be black and white… and thus will smear those who don’t agree with their own position.

After the age of twelve, social transition is, or at least should be, a no brainer.  If a teen was gender atypical and dysphoric as a preteen, their desire and need for social transition is one that they should decide for themselves.  In fact, attempting to socially transition is a great “test” since if it doesn’t help them, it will be an obvious fact.

Surgery

Perhaps the most common propaganda seen bandied about is the oldest.  In the mid-50s, as the public began to learn about transsexuality and its medical treatment, many were quick to note that “there is no such thing as a sex change”, as though that proved something profoundly debunking.  Well, this is both a true and yet misleading statement.  It is true in that no surgery, then or now, can take a fertile individual of one sex and result in a fertile member of the other sex.  What is misleading is that the goal of surgery was never fertility, but palliative.  It is to allow individuals who suffer, and suffer greatly, from somatic gender dysphoria to inhabit a body that approximates that of the opposite sex to a close enough degree that it alleviates their dysphoria.  Although many transfolk would love to be fertile in their new gender, they are willing to accept this trade-off to enable a good enough life.

Some people will point out that SRS sterilizes transfolk as though that were in and of itself medical malpractice, even incorrectly invoking the Hippocratic oath “to do no harm”.  This is a puzzling attitude since many medical issues are treated in such as way that also results in sterilization and no one calls that malpractice.  In fact, many healthy men and women chose voluntary sterilization which is an accepted practice.  For young adults (even if under the age of 18) to knowingly make the trade-off of continuing to suffer somatic gender dysphoria vs. accepting voluntary sterilization is a personal choice for them and them alone to make.

The next bit of propaganda is to describe the result of surgery as ugly, monstrous, or diseased to invoke visceral disgust.  Mary Daly, an extremely transphobic author in the 1970’s described post-operative transsexuals as “Frankenstein’s Monsters”, invoking the image of people hacked together by rogue mad scientist doctors.  Other comments focus on and exaggerate the potential for surgical complications.  Very recently (in fact, just this past week), I’ve seen an outright lie repeated and amplified in social media in which the result of Male-To-Female transsexual surgery is an “open wound” which is easily “infected”, rather than a functional neo-vagina.  What loving parent would want their child to experience such iatrogenic trauma?

A more subtle bit of misleading disinformation is to combine the two memes above, to describe the result of MTF surgery as taking functional male genitalia and turning it into “dysfunctional male genitalia” in an attempt to invoke disgust on one hand and parental concern for their child’s future happiness on the other.  The lie depends upon parents not being familiar with the cosmetic nor functional results because, lets face it, that’s not something to be bragged about in public.  So, I will attempt here, while remaining within socially acceptable bounds, to answer that, given that I myself have such “dysfunctional male genitalia”…   Ummmm… well… I’m VERY happily married to a straight man… and neither of us is unhappy with the results.  ‘nough said.

Another reason these particular talking points work is that parents hang onto the false hope that their child will desist and be heterosexual.  While it is true that pre-teens who are gender atypical but not particularly dysphoric are more likely to desist than persist,  boys will most likely grow up to be gay, the girls may or may not be lesbian, given that many tomboyish girls are mislabeled as gender atypical.  These tomboyish girls will most likely grow up to be straight.  However, those teens who had been gender atypical AND gender dysphoric as pre-teens will not likely desist after age twelve.  Besides, one doesn’t perform surgery on pre- or even early teens.  One is required to wait until the late teens at the earliest and by then, it’s pretty obvious that surgery is right for those who know the trade-offs… and rationally chose to exchange genitalia which they will never use for those that they will joyfully use.

Another bugbear thrown around is the spector of post-operative regret.  I won’t lie in turn; this is a real phenomena.  However, what is not often discussed in the parental fora is that the vast majority of those who later regret SRS are “adult transitioners”.  (If you are not familiar with this term and its implications, please see my FAQ.)  These are usually males who have successfully lived as adult men, very often married to women, fathering children, etc.  They previously had extensive sexual experience as men, enjoying their ‘original equipment’.  Post operative regret is nearly absent from “early transitioners”.  And those few who were regretful weren’t regretting the loss of their ‘original equipment’ but complained of the rare complications that may occur with any surgery.

For parents of Female-to-Male (FtM) transkids, there is often fear that “top surgery” to remove/reduce unwanted breasts will be regretted as well.  This fear is especially potent in the mothers of FtM transkids because of the natural empathy one feels, of putting themselves into their child’s position and feeling angst at the thought of the loss of their own breasts.  Of course, this is putting their own shoes onto their child, instead of walking a bit in theirs.

Puberty Blockers

CoreyOne egregious lie that I’ve seen bandied about, even by physicians, is that puberty blockers cause permanent sterility.  They do not.  In fact, that was the whole point of puberty blockers, to reversibly delay the onset of puberty and its effects to allow teens some time to emotionally mature before making more permanent changes in the course of their sexual maturation.  Without such blockers, their bodies will make the decision for them… and this may be very much against their wishes (it certainly was against mine!).  Cessation of the blockers allows the natal puberty to resume, with no loss of fertility, unless other medical intervention is begun (such as cross-sex hormones).

Another outrageous lie that I’ve seen recently is the assertion that Lupron (puberty blocker) directly causes suicide.  I guess if one is going to lie, one may as well make it a whopper.  To be clear, there is NO reported association between puberty blockers and depression / suicidal ideation in transkids.  However, if a child who is extremely gender atypical and dysphoric experiences negative social and familial attitudes, that may be an independent source of stress leading to depression.  Depression is unfortunately common and people who are prescribed Lupron as adults are often under severe stress due to their underlying illness, leading to reports of depression.

I’ve also seen a rather strange assertion that having been on puberty blockers then switching to cross-hormone replacement therapy somehow leaves the child in a prepubescent state. In the sense that the child won’t experience the changes that would have occured had they not been on blockers, namely for natal females breast development or for natal males, enlargement of the penis and testicles, voice deepening, beard growth, along with increased upper body strength, this assertion is true… and indeed is the desired effect.  So why the strange assertion that this is somehow a problem?  The meme is also sending the false message that somehow the child will remain forever looking like a prepubescent child, never to appear to be as a sexually mature adult.  The fact remains that cross-sex HRT will allow the child to mature with all of the cross-sex secondary sexual characteristics in a manner closely approximating that of the opposite sex, which is, after all the goal.

Perhaps the most bizarre bit of misinformation is that somehow, if an MTF transkid doesn’t go through the typical natal male puberty to sexually mature, they will never be able to experience sexual satisfaction.  While testosterone does cause human male brains to develop at puberty, estrogen and micronized progesterone, both part of HRT protocols, will do much the same.  In fact, though never published, there is very strong anecdotal evidence that MTF transkids experience very strong libido development on natural estrogen (E2) compared to other sources (e.g. premarin or estinyl-estradiol).  If you think about it for a moment, this makes sense… given that women have sexual drives as much as men do… and they never went through a male puberty!

It could be argued (and indeed I have so argued), that it would be better to switch from puberty blockers to HRT earlier than some clinicians insist upon waiting, so that the final results are better and so that the teens will appear to be maturing on the same schedule as their peers, for better social functioning.  There are also concerns about bone strength later in life which may be impacted by extended use of puberty blockers.  This is an argument for earlier HRT, NOT against the use of puberty blockers.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

The most common bit of propaganda about hormones is that their use will be “life long” as though that was somehow an evil in its own right.

To make a personal digression, swallowing a few pills each day has never been a major issue for me these past four decades and some.  Far more impactful in my own life is the fact that I’ve been dependent upon asthma medication since I was five years old, medication which has far more harsh side effects (theophylline caused insomnia for years, rescue inhalers cause the heart to race and the lungs to itch uncomfortably, steroid inhalers increase the risk of fungus infection in the mouth and throat… and if the meds fail to control the asthma, a trip to the emergency room is needed or one could die, no joke).  Those who have diabetes are similarly dependent ‘life long’ upon insulin, a life saving medication.

However, forgetting to take one’s hormones for a short period of time is NOT life threatening, nor even very uncomfortable.  A few weeks of not taking them, if one has not had their gonads removed, they will begin to produce steroids again.  If they have had their gonads removed, they may experience ‘hot flashes’.  While not comfortable, they are not life threatening.  The greatest danger is the potential risk for osteoporosis.  But this an increase in the risk, not a certainty.

A number of individuals point to HRT as being inherently dangerous, increasing the risk of blot clots, etc.  These risks are no greater than girls taking birth control pills and if one is seriously worried about it, one can simultaneously take baby asprin as a blood thinner.

Another bit of propaganda is to grossly exaggerate the risk of breast cancer from estrogen.  However, with decades of HRT use by transsexuals, we have only seen a small handful of cases which were certainly NOT indicative of increased risk compared to natal females.  In fact, the risk seemed to be at about the same level as natal males who were not transgendered.  (Yes, men get breast cancer too.)

Interestingly, the risk of some cancers is significantly reduced in transsexuals due to surgery and HRT.  For example, top surgery reduces the risk of breast cancer prophylactically.  Radical hysterectomy (as part of ‘bottom surgery’) eliminates the risk of ovarian cancer.  For MTF folk, SRS eliminates the risk of testicular cancer and reduces the risk of prostate cancer, as does HRT itself.

As well as claiming risks of cancer, I’ve seen outright lies that HRT causes mental illness!

I think the silliest claim I’ve heard is that “Big Pharma” is pushing the diagnoses of gender dysphoria so that they can sell more hormones.  Given that gender dysphoria is extremely rare… but even if it is silly on the face of it, officials in the UK actually investigated that claim and debunked it.

Parents deserve accurate information, not propaganda and lies — from either side.

 

NOTE:  If you see anyone spreading these memes, please respond with a comment and a link to this post?  If you have seen other examples of false propaganda directed at the parents of transkids, please share them with me?   formertranskid@gmail.com

Further Reading:

Advice to Parents of Transkids

Shameful History of Reparative Therapy of Trangender and Gay Children & Youth

Further External Reading:

When Children Say That They Are Trans by Jessie Singal

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Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria

Posted in Editorial, Female-to-Male, Transsexual Field Studies by Kay Brown on June 6, 2018

Kay BrownIs this a newly emerging etiology?

Unless you’ve been under a rock the past few years, you will have heard of what many are describing as a new phenomena affecting natal female teens, “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” (ROGD) to join the old duopoly of “Early Onset” and “Late Onset” gender dysphoria seen in natal males.  The description of the putative phenomena is that gender TYPICAL and not at all previously gender dysphoric girls learn through the internet and perhaps from friends at school about transgender issues and then suddenly, because of ‘social contagion’, seemingly out of the blue, declare that they are trans.  There have been a number of speculative hypothesis regarding the putative phenomena which I will explore here.

One hypothesis with a lot of weight of evidence is that this is merely the outsider’s term for “Tucutes” / “TransTrender” / “TrendsGender” in which teenaged girls with no real gender dysphoria take on the social position of “transgender”, from identifying as a pre-transition transman to more recently as “non-binary”, a social position that doesn’t require one to actually have to socially, and certainly not medically, transition.  Without doubt, this is happening.  I first met such an individual in 1980.  Their numbers have grown in the intervening years.  But this phenomena, annoying as it may be for some gender dysphoric transmen, is not a major cause of concern to medical professionals in that they rarely seek medical intervention.

Some within the transcommunity have argued that these young people, including those labeled “Tucutes” are in fact the female equivalent of “Late Onset” natal males in that they are autoandrophilic.  This too certainly exists.  While some sexologists and therapists will deny that autoandrophilia exists, I know for a fact that it does, as I had a very close friend since high school who clearly experiences it.  Absolute proof of existence N=1.  We have more evidence than just my one anecdotal one from the years of reports on the sexuality of androphilic transmen.  Such individuals do experience gender dysphoria, but of a notably different character and developmental arc than autogynephilic transwomen.  But just as with autogynephilia, not everyone with autoandrophilia will develop extreme gender dysphoria and thus a range of accommodations occur.

Of course, there is another hypothesis coming from the gay and lesbian community in which they claim that these teens are simply gender atypical lesbians who have been falsely convinced by “Transgender Ideology” that they must be transgender.  At the heart of this is a misunderstanding or deliberate disinformation about the nature of transgender etiology and experience.  Either there are true transsexuals and true lesbians and they shouldn’t be confused… or there are only lesbians and transgender ideology gives them a false sense of gender dysphoria.  The evidence suggests that neither is wholly the case. Gynephilic natal female people exhibit a range of gender atypicality and gender dysphoria.  How they accommodate these within a given culture is variable.  However, when extreme gender atypicality and dysphoria are accommodated by social and medical transition, these are typically labeled “early onset” even if they transition in their 30’s.  If with changing attitudes more such individuals are seeking to address their gender dysphoria at an earlier age, we would expect to see just what we are seeing today.

The question is, are all of those who are labeled with ROGD actually either tucutes or autoandrophilic?  Are some actually gynephilic gender atypical and dysphoric natal females who were simply not recognized or acknowledged as such?  I’ve come to suspect that many may be.

Consider that pre-adolescent tomboys have always been given greater latitude than sissy boys.  In today’s climate of empowering girls to pursue sports and allowed to wear jeans and t-shirts… but just like boys, over scheduled and constantly under parental supervision, with little time for personal choices and expression, these girls may not have been acknowledged as being gender dysphoric… until the social pressures of adolescence to be heterosexual and feminine.

In recent interactions via social media that I’ve had with parents of teens who they claim have ROGD and further claim that means that they are “not really transgender” and they should NOT be encouraged, acknowledged, nor affirmed, I’ve had an extreme sense of deja vu.  What I sense is not that these teens are tucutes or ‘non-binaries’… as most of them have very laid back parents who allow their children to explore their place in the world, knowing that kids do that.  No, I sense both angry denial, genuine concern for their child’s welfare, combined with homo- and trans- phobia, saying “my child is not one of those people“.

Deja Vu

About that deja vu.  At this point I have to switch from academic exposition to personal anecdotal mode:

In very early ’75, at the age of 17, I had “come out” to my father about being transsexual (the word “transgender” did exist at the time, but it was reserved for heterosexual lifestyle cross-dressers = autogynephilic men and specifically excluded androphilic gender atypical MTF transkids).  The time and place had NOT been my choice, having been forced to do so by my mother.  (That’s a whole other story.  My parents were divorced and my mother had custody, as was usual back in the ’70s.)  He seemed calm and concerned, no anger or lamentation.  Instead, he suggested that we should seek professional advice and help.  I recognized an opening.

I had for some months been in contact with the Stanford University Gender Dysphoria Clinic.  I literally had in my possession, in my pocket, the contact information for them.  I gave it to my Dad who said that he would be contacting them.  I was astounded.  The clinic had told me that they would love to help me but that I had to have my parents make the arrangements.  But my mother had made it abundantly clear that she would never help me transition.  Now my Dad was opening the door for me!

I had several intake interviews with Dr. Norman Fisk, the man I would later learn had coined the term “gender dysphoria”.  At the time, I had no idea how influential and expert he was in the field.  He was just a guy who might be able to help me get medical help.  He asked about my sexuality.  I told him about the boy I had a crush on.  He asked me about my dreams for the future.  I told him about how I hoped to find a husband and adopt children.  I told him about my summer job as a nanny and of the two summers I volunteered teaching little kids to swim.  And sadly, I told him about how unhappy my parents were about my behavior and how I had been sent to therapists (who had been anything but affirming).

Then I had a joint interview with my mother and a week later another with my father.

During the interview, my father made it abundantly clear that he thought transsexuals were sick perverts.  Dr. Fisk assured my Dad that transsexuals were NOT mentally ill and that social and medical transition was the typical course of treatment.  My father then became very agitated, objecting, “My son is NOT transsexual.  I’ve never seen anything feminine about him.  This is just a phase!  It will blow over!”  Dr. Fisk knew better, having talked to me and more importantly talked to my mother.

My father focused on the fact that he and I had over the years gone fishing and hunting together (ignoring that during their courtship, so had he and my mother).  That we spent hours working together on projects (that he usually chose).  That I was a Boy Scout (ignoring that he had insisted I and my two brothers join since he had been a Scout as a boy… and the deeply mortifying incident in which I had been kicked out of the first Troop though I had done nothing objectively wrong in any sense… but none of the boys wanted the “faggot” around… and that the Scout Master declared to my Dad with a sneer that I was “not Eagle Scout material”… and that my Dad had to find another troop for me to join that accepted queers).  At the end of the interview, my Dad stormed out making homophobic references to Dr. Fisk to me in the parking lot.  (Dr. Fisk was straight, married, and had a son near my age.  I learned that they lived only blocks from my mother’s house.)

The interview with my mother the week before was quite different.  Far from being in denial, she was petulantly resentful that she had such a first-born child.  “I have known for years that he wanted to be a girl.  But I thought that was (morally) wrong.  He was very different than his brothers.  All their friends were boys.  His were always girls,” naming several of my friends over the years, but couldn’t remember my friend who had been my only guest on my tenth birthday.  “Marian,” I interjected for the only time during the whole interview.  “He was always very prissy.  He would walk clear around even the shallowest puddles.  When he was little, I would put him in clean clothes on Monday and on Friday they would still be clean.”  She confirmed that I had been sent to a therapist about my behavior when I was ten years old… and again when I was 15/16.  She came away under the impression that she had spelled out all of the things about me that needed to be fixed, that Dr. Fisk and the clinic would endeavor to make me a normal, healthy, masculine heterosexual man and had shared that impression with my father.

So, it was a shock to my Dad that Dr. Fisk was recommending to him that my family accept that I was never going to be a masculine straight man.  That I was going to transition.  And when my Dad objected, offered this bit of advice,

“Denial will not serve.  You will win a few battles but lose the war.”

At home my mother began sharing comments such as sweetly asking, dripping with obvious false concern, “What will your friends think of you when they find out?”

“They already know,” I replied honestly, having grown used to the twisting knife within her tone.

“I could understand it if you were petite like your sister (she was 5’2″ – I’m 5’7″, our brothers were closer to 6′).”

“That’s funny, Cassie (school friend) is 5’9″ and she has no problems,” I demurred.

“No man will ever love you,” she taunted.  I couldn’t answer back, it hurt too much, but I could feel my eyes smouldering with suppressed anger.

My father came over to see me and begged me not to transition, “You’ll be throwing away a chance for a career.  No one will hire you.”  I couldn’t answer him, having the same fears.  He also tried to shame me, telling me that I was embarrassing the family, that we all have our “cross to bear” and that I should think of my siblings and how they might be treated at school and by friends.  I replied that it was unfair that they should ask that I be extremely unhappy my entire life so that they could avoid some mild embarrassment.  In that same conversation he begged me to live as a closeted gay man, promising that the family would look the other way when I had boyfriends.  My thoughts on this were bitter, as that would put me in the same position as his gay brother, the one we weren’t allowed to meet or talk about.  He then tried to sweeten the deal by offering to pay for vacations in which I could dress up as a woman (!).

I lost my temper at that and loudly replied, “I am NOT a part-time woman!”

Conclusion

I hear that same combination of denial, anger, embarrassment, resentment, desperation, and socially & religiously motivated transphobia in those parents who now describe their teens as having ROGD. Which to them indicates that they are “not really transgender” and should not be allowed to socially transition nor allowed to use puberty blockers much less actual HRT.  These parents sound suspiciously like my parents.

Epilog

I think it worth describing how things went down after the events above, as a sincere warning.

Candice_Caltech

Kay Brown in college

I had already been in the process of social transition, presenting as a girl after school but continued to dress as a boy at school until graduation day.  But had already made arrangements for my high school records to be changed to my new name, female gender, and even to have it say that I attended girls P.E.  It became very apparent that my family, led by mother, was going to do everything they legally could to stop me from successfully transitioning.  Although I had been accepted at a four-year college, I was made to understand that I would not be supported if I continued to present as a girl, so was unable to attend.  I was kicked out of the house by mother and my father was not to take me in.  I started HRT right after I turned 18, forgoing food to buy them.  Using documents from the clinic, I was able to have my driver’s licence and social security ID changed to my new name and gender that summer.  I was given a meagre allowance for about a year with the proviso that I was NOT to show my face anywhere near home.  I attended community college part-time, as they were nearly free the next few years.  I became, in the modern vernacular, a housing and food insecure student.  It took me a few years, having no financial or social support or capital.  But I managed to climb back out of the hole that being effectively disowned had thrown me.  I established a career in Silicon Valley, first as a secretary at age 19, then working my way up.  At the age of 23, I had saved and borrowed enough for SRS.

After SRS, it was perhaps ‘barn doors’ and all… but slowly my folks then began to extend more social and financial capital to me… perhaps also in embarrassment when comparing how they had treated me compared to my siblings.  One had gone to Stanford as an undergraduate and was then attending Baylor Medical School while living in a condo provided by my mother’s family money.  Another was working as an engineer in Silicon Valley, living in a condo also provided by her money.  My sister was going to a small private college… oh… you get the picture.  I had earned a BS soon after SRS, on my own resources, combining credits from four different community colleges and all of my upper division credits earned entirely by examination.  I was then admitted to Stanford Graduate School.  At that point, my father began offering emotional and logistical support and a couple of years later, my mother’s family provided the down payment on a condo for me.

family

Kay, Jeff, Liz, & Reese

Over the years, my mother never really accepted me and we haven’t spoken in decades now, just as I haven’t spoken with any of my siblings.  Oh… and she was wrong.  One man does love me… and we’ve been married these past two decades and I did become an adoptive mom.

And my father was wrong.  My career took off.  I rose to executive rank and even founded and raised venture capital for a start-up which I sold to Samsung.  My father and I speak often… and he makes it clear that he loves and is proud of me.

So, if you are a parent of a transkid or a so called “ROGD” teen.  Please recall Dr. Fisk’s advice to my Dad.

“Denial will not serve.  You will win a few battles but lose the war.”

Further Reading:

Essay on TransTrenders & Tucutes

Essay on Androphilic Transmen being Autoandrophilic

Advice to Parents of Transkids

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(Cherry) Picking The Transgender Brain

Posted in Brain Sex, Editorial by Kay Brown on May 31, 2018

27867072_1811649452220144_4426664495691531655_nOr, How To Ignore Brain Science That Tells A Story You Don’t Like

Psychology graduate student and computer coding instructor Sophie Searcy, responding to the recent over-hyped study of transkids brains (mentioned in previous post) has produced an excellent example of transgender brain science cherry picking.  The one that REALLY stands out as egregious is that she cites the Joel study that she claims… well… let Searcy tell it,

“Indeed, not only is the existing literature on sex differences in brain imaging likely biased, but recent work does significant damage to the idea that there are distinct, separate, “male brains” and “female brains” at all. A research group led by Daphna Joel summarizes the findings of their meta-analysis that included brain images from 1,400 participants: “Brains with features that are consistently at one end of the ‘maleness-femaleness’ continuum are rare. Rather, most brains are comprised of unique ‘mosaics’ of features, some more common in females compared with males, some more common in males compared with females, and some common in both females and males.”

So what’s the problem?  Well, it’s dishonest cherry picking to cite a study that another group (Chekrouda, et. al) responded in the same journal with a similar study that showed that if Joel had conducted a multi-variate analysis they would have found out that male and female brains scans WERE in fact differentiable by a mathematical model at 93% accuracy.  As I explained previously I did a bit of calculation and found much to my amazement, that to “guess” the sex of the brain to 93% accuracy means that the effect size (Cohen’s d) would, if it were a single dimorphic feature, be a whopping 3.0 !!!!  That’s an over the top value.  Thus, as we get better imaging tools to see the fine details, we are learning that the human brain, in terms of multivariate statistics of multiple measurements at all points of the brain, is in fact extremely sexually dimorphic.  The problem is that no one area is all that dimorphic, but in aggregate, they are quite dimorphic.  That is to say, if one area is slightly dimorphic, giving a small statistical clue as to the sex of the individual, and a second area is also slightly dimorphic, giving a small clue as the sex of the individual, the two can be used together to give a medium-sized clue to increase the accuracy… and with many many areas, each additively pointing towards one sex or the other, the accuracy gets quite good.

Searcy should have noticed this second paper which shows that Joel’s paper does NOT debunk the hypothesis that discernible male and female brains exist.

So, why did she write this article and cherry pick the science?  Perhaps we can get a clue from another statement she makes,

“In a 2017 paper, Bakker and colleagues summarized similar work on adults as finding that “adults with GD [gender dysphoria] differ from both cis-gender [sic] men and women.” In other words, adult trans brains appear to be distinct from adult cis brains of either sex. Should trans adults be worried? In that same paper, the researchers actually found mixed results for adolescents. They looked at nine brain regions each for trans girls and trans boys. Of those 18 regions, the researchers reported significant differences in only four out of 18 areas. One area where trans girls differ from both cis girls and cis boys, two areas where trans girls are similar to cis girls, and one area where trans boys are similar to cis boys. What does this mixed bag suggest if we are to believe that trans brains must be similar to cis brains in order to be seen as legitimately transgender?

Ummm… this result is in complete agreement with another hypothesis that many transwomen find uncomfortable, one made by Ray Blanchard, in which he hypothesized that late transitioning transwomen would have brain structure differences from both men and women that would NOT be sexually dimorphic; while young (“homosexual”) transsexuals would show shifts in sexually dimorphic structures toward female morphologies.  There was an earlier review of previous studies (which I also wrote a post about) that had shown that hypothesis to be supported.

Searcy is likely to have written her article in an attempt to discount the growing evidence from transgender brain scan research that shows that the two type taxonomy for transwomen is supported.  Where once older transitioning transwomen cherry picked the brain structure research in an attempt to spin it such that all transwomen had female brains.  She is spinning the science to lead us to believe that brain structure research is unimportant and should be ignored, first by saying that there is no brain structure sexual dimorphism of any consequence and then say that what differences between transgender folk and nontransfolk is unimportant anyway.  I believe it represents a growing fear by autogynephilic transwomen that the brain scan science will undermine their own identity as transwomen if the public were to become aware of what the evidence means.

Further Reading:

Essay on Chekrouda paper

Essay on Transgender Brain Sex Review

Essay on Cherry Picking Brain Research to Prove All Transwomen Have Female Brains

References:

https://www.them.us/story/brain-scans-transgender-identity

Chekrouda, et al., “Patterns in the human brain mosaic discriminate
males from females”  http://www.pnas.org/content/113/14/E1968.full.pdf

 

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Transgender Teens Brains Crossed-Sexed

Posted in Editorial by Kay Brown on May 25, 2018

Teenage-brainBreaking News

A study out of the Netherlands (our favorite clinic where science is still happening) showed that adolescents with Gender Dysphoria, both MTF and FtM, have brain structures and activation like that of the opposite natal sex:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180524112351.htm

Please remember, this data only applies to “early transitioners” / “early onset”…. NOT adult “late onset” / “late transitioners”.  Given earlier studies which show that late transitioning transwomen do NOT have cross-sex brain structures we don’t expect to see the same results in adults.  I will follow up when I can find more information.

(Update 5/27/2018:  I still haven’t seen that paper, but I did learn that the adolescents in the study were taking Triptorelin to suppress puberty.  Some wags have already claimed that this effect was caused by the drug.  But, this is very unlikely as puberty suppression means that the activating effects of testosterone should be suppressed to allow us to see the earlier organizing effects or the lack there of more clearly, if only we had controls who were not gender dysphoric.  Someone else pointed out that sexual orientation is a known confound and was not controlled for.  This IS a concern if one believes that gender identity is potentially an atomic / neurological difference between gays & lesbians and transkids… which many of us, including myself, do not believe.)

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Historic Transphobia in the Gay & Lesbian Communities

Posted in Editorial by Kay Brown on May 20, 2018

The Gay, Lesbian, and “Feminist” Backlash Against Transgender Inclusion

{I originally wrote this essay as supporting material for my TransHistory Class at the Harvey Milk Institute twenty years ago.  There were a number of minor historical errors which I have attempted to correct here.  I am republishing this material because I have been disturbed at the level of historical amnesia and because someone recently made a “both sides” criticism regarding transfolk and the so-called “TERF” war.  It is my contention that the animosity between the two groups was essentially one-sided from the 70’s until the 90’s and that intelligently and strategically confronting transphobia in the gay and lesbian communities, while discomforting in the short term, led to GREATER support within the LG&B community, not less, in the same way that gay and lesbian protests of homophobia helped us all earn greater support from the straight community in the long term.  All comments in curly brackets are modern.}

The modern era of the gay & lesbian rights movement is usually marked as starting on a hot July evening at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The New York police, as many city police departments across the United States did, made period raids on sexual minority bars to harass and arrest the patrons. On this particular night many resisted arrest touching off a riot that continued for three nights running.

In the next year, three transgendered people, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and Angela Keyes Douglas would play pivotal roles in organizing the emergent Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. The goal of the Gay Liberation Front was complete acceptance of sexual diversity and expression. But by 1971 the gay men’s community had returned to the assimilationist strategy as the lesbians, in 1973, turned to separatism and radical feminism. There seemed to be no room for transgendered people in either camp.

In 1971, the GAA wrote and introduced a bill to the New York City Council that was the first omnibus anti-discrimination bill to protect homosexual people. However, in spite of early and avid support of the GAA by transgendered people the bill completely ignored transgendered people. Silvia Rivera, disgusted by the betrayal, said to the leaders of the GAA, “It’s not us that they are afraid of — its you! Get rid of us. Sell us out. Make us expendable. Then you’re at the front lines. Don’t you understand that?” This marked the first serious betrayal, but certainly not the last.

Disillusioned by the GAA’s betrayal of transgendered people, Angela Douglas attempted to form the Transsexual Activist Organization along the same lines as the GAA, with some of the loftier ideals of the GLF. She began publishing MoonShadow, a quirky newsletter for and about transgendered people and the struggle for legal rights.

In early 1970’s, Beth Elliott was active in a number of organizations including the Alice B. Toklas Gay Democratic Club, which she co-founded, the Board of Directors of the California Committee for Sexual Law Reform working to repeal California’s anti-sodomy laws, and the Daughters of Bilitus. The Daughters of Bilitus had been a pioneering lesbian organization during the 1950s and ’60s, but was losing membership in the ’70s as the lesbian community turned to more radical organizing. In ’73 Ms. Elliott was asked to stand for election as the Vice-President of the San Francisco chapter of the Daughters of Bilitus. Late in her term of office her transgender status became a point of contention at the West Coast Lesbian Conference, where she was outed and vilified for being a MTF transsexual. The complaint was that Beth Elliott had insinuated herself into a position of power over women as a patriarchal man, a propagandist ploy that was to become common when attacking other transgendered people . At the conference she was forced to stop her music concert due to the catcalls from the audience by women that knew nothing more about her than that she was transsexual. She was required to sit through a popular vote of the attendees to determine whether they would let her finish her set. In the weeks and months to follow she was further vilified and even betrayed by women who had once called her friend. The treatment she received led her to become “stealth” for many years after.

In July of 1973, during a “Gay is Good” rally, Sylvia Rivera was on the same stage as lesbian separatist Jean O’Leary. She denounced transgender people as men who, by “impersonating women”, were exploiting and mocking women. It was the beginning of a series of such high-profile transphobic attacks from the lesbian community.

In 1977, at the height of the Right Wing / Anita Bryant anti-gay rights backlash, the lesbian feminist separatist movement was busy attacking an even smaller community that only wanted to work within the lesbian community, lesbian identified transsexual women. Central to the conflict in ’77 was transsexual recording engineer, Sandy Stone, working at Olivia Records.

Sandy Stone was a recording engineer for A&M Records before her transition. Olivia Records needed a recording engineer with skills and experience to help their fledgling all women’s recording studio. They found it in Sandy Stone. She recorded a number of their early albums, training other women on proper recording and mixing technique. When word got around that Olivia had a transsexual in the company, lesbian separatists threatened a boycott of Olivia products and concerts. Olivia Records was on the edge of profitability. A boycott would destroy them. Olivia supported Stone at first but eventually crumpled beneath the separatists demands, asking for Sandy’s resignation.

Angela Douglas became upset at the vitriolic, absurd, and transphobic comments broadcast on listener sponsored station KPFA in Berkeley, California and letters published in the feminist journal Sister. She wrote a very tongue-in-cheek satirical letter to the editor of Sister, lampooning the fear mongering and hatred, the night before the 1977 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade.

{Personal Note:  I was physically there the night she wrote the letter, standing behind her shoulder as she typed it.  She pulled it out of the typewriter and asked me what I thought of it.  I advised her NOT to send it as it was too “filled with anger”.  She plucked it from my hand and sealed in an envelope with a dismissive ‘hurumph’.  I stand by my original opinion, her letter was a mistake.}

The next day, at the Parade, a “gender bending” gay man handed out fliers that was written in protest of the Parade Committee’s policy of exclusion of “Drag Queens, Transvestites, and Transsexuals” . The policy was formulated in the hope of heading off the media which tended to focus on the flamboyant, instead of the very serious issues of Gay & Lesbian community pride and efforts to fight homophobia in society. However, transphobia had operated in the Parade Committee to equate transgendered people with “flamboyant” social unacceptability and political liability.

After the parade, Angela Douglas wrote a short essay with photos for the Berkeley Barb, in which she decried the efforts to exclude transgendered people. She asked if there shouldn’t be a counter parade by transgendered people, to be held on Halloween, a day that one is supposed to be flamboyant!

{Personal Note:  One of the photos was of Douglas by me using Douglas’s camera, my very first publication credit.}

Two years later Janice Raymond in The Transsexual Empire, wrote of the events of 1977, casting Ms. Stone as an agent of the “Patriarchy” and “divisive”. The letter that Angela Douglas wrote as satire was quoted out of context, as an example of transsexual hatred of women, by Raymond. Her quoting out of context a letter written by Douglas was tantamount to intellectual dishonesty, with scholarly repercussions.

Janice Raymond was a professor at the University of Massachusetts. She is infamous for having written her post-modernist doctoral thesis attacking transsexuality, denying its medical reality, and for viciously attacking individual transsexuals, notably Sandy Stone and Angela Keyes Douglas in her book, based on her dissertation. The book uses insensitive and transphobic language throughout, while vilifying feminine MTF transsexuals as tools of patriarchy for upholding stereotypes of women, and vilifying androgynous lesbian identified MTF transsexuals for being tools of patriarchy, fifth columnists infiltrating women’s’ space and “raping womens’ bodies”, a typical ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ trap. She dismisses FTM transsexuals as deluded and misguided lesbians, afraid of the label “homosexual”. Her thesis rests entirely on arguments that sex/gender identity are fixed within the genitals at birth, an essentialist theory that excludes the possibility of transsexuals being a form of intersex, a topic which Raymond never addresses.

The book, while it did not create the transphobic attitude in the lesbian community, did tap into and ‘validated’, at least for the transphobes themselves, the discrimination they practiced. Thus, what began in the ’70s, occasional attacks on individual transsexual women, became institutionalized discrimination against all transsexuals in the ’80s.

The Transsexual Empire, was not the most damaging writing that Raymond penned. Far worse was a United States federal government commissioned study in the early 1980’s on the topic of federal aid for transsexual people seeking rehabilitation and health services. This paper, not well publicized, effectively eliminated federal and some states aid for indigent and imprisoned transsexuals. It had a further impact on private health insurance which followed the federal government’s lead in disallowing services to transsexual patients for any treatment remotely related to being transsexual, including breast cancer or genital cancer, as that was deemed to be a consequence of treatment for transsexuality.

{Personal Note:  As a member of the ACLU Transsexual Rights Committee in the early ’80s, one of my tasks was to read Raymond’s government reports and respond to them.}

Ms. Raymond is closely associated with another noted transphobic writer, Mary Daly, who described transsexuals as “Frankenstein’s Monsters” in her book Gynecology, which Raymond quoted in her book.

Transgender participation continued to be controversial in the Gay & Lesbian Community. Transsexuals taking leadership positions in the community were especially subject to attack.

Ms. Carol Katz was on the Christopher Street West Gay Pride Parade and Festival Committee, serving as Security Coordinator from ’79 through ’81. However her position on the committee was a controversial one as many gays and especially lesbians objected to the presence of a transsexual. She recruited a number of transgendered people, both MTF and FtM to work as volunteer parade monitors and festival security each year . Her background in law enforcement facilitated greater cooperation between the Committee and local law enforcement organizations, LAPD and the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

{Personal Note:  I was one of the parade monitors one year.}

In 1980 Ms. Katz was asked to serve as Security Co-ordinator for the “Women Take Back The Night March” in Hollywood. She agreed to help. However… lesbian feminist separatists threatened to boycott the march due to her presense. Carol offered to step down in the interests of the larger community, with some private bitterness. The Committee accepted her resignation. But at the very last-minute, due to overwhelming details in doing the job without her… and perhaps a realization that it was wrong to push her out of her participation… the committee asked her to take back the job the very day of the march. The controversy over Ms. Katz’es leadership role lead to the effective banning of broad transgender community participation in event planning and execution in other events during the ’80s.   However transgendered people did march that night.

{Personal Note:  I marched that night.}

It should be noted that the memory of the gay & lesbian community is short, as demonstrated by the efforts of the transgender community in Los Angeles to win inclusion in the Parade and Festival in 1995; Transman, Jacob Hale faced a Festival committee that believed transgendered people had never been participants before. The work of the transgendered community in ’79-’81 had been completely forgotten, erased by the silence of the 1980’s.

In 1991 Nancy Burkholter was ejected from the Michigan Wymyns’ Music Festival at 1:00am by security staff suspicious that she was transsexual. She had done nothing to warrant eviction. She was forced to find transportation back to town to fly home, a holiday trip ruined by transphobia.

Unknown to the transsexuals who had been quietly attending the festival for years was an unpublished policy of the festival organizers that transsexuals were not welcome “on the land”. The policy was written out in the material for the next year that only “Wymyn Born Wymyn” may attend. The language was clearly designed to exclude transsexuals while avoiding debates regarding whether MTF transsexuals were “Wymyn”.

The next year, in 1992 TransActivist Anne Ogborn began organizing a protest to be held at the Festival, unable to go herself, she enlisted Davina Anne Gabrielle to attend. Davina and non-transsexual woman, Janis Hollingsworth handed-out buttons to women reading “I might be transsexual” at a table to enlist festival attendees in a dialog over the transsexual exclusion. Davina was ejected from “the land” in accordance with the written policy.

In 1993, the transgender community pitched CampTrans outside the main entrance. Jessica Xavier, Leslie Feinberg, among others attended to protest the Festivals’ “Wymyn Born Wymyn Only” policy. “Woman Born Transsexual” read a new button worn by CampTrans inmates. At the camp, workshops and concerts were presented as an alternative to the Festival. A number of women came out of the festival to participate in discussions. Notable was the participation of younger lesbians, especially members of The Lesbian Avengers. TransActivist volunteers stood outside the gate taking a poll of the festival attendees attitudes toward transsexual exclusion at the festival. The poll revealed division on the issue, but the majority of the women attending indicated that they would welcome transsexual women.

Participation in CampTrans and the results of the poll energized the transgender community to become active once again, after the community’s silent withdrawal from the larger gay & lesbian community the previous decade.

National and local transgender activist worked for months to gain inclusion in the 1993 March On Washington. Transgender volunteers aiding in organizing the March, notably Jessica Xavier, worked with March organizers for months trying to gain inclusion in the name of the March. There was a ‘divide and conquer’ politicking by transphobic gays & lesbians that pitted bisexuals against transgenders. They told the bisexual community members who were also working toward official inclusion that it was either transgender or bisexual, but not both. To their credit the bisexual members did not buy into the ploy. However, the issue of inclusion was still couched in such terms by the foes of transgender inclusion. When the issue was put to a vote by the organizing committee the bisexuals won inclusion easily. The vote for inclusion of transgender was divided. There were actual cheers from the gay and lesbian community when the committee announced their decision to exclude transgender which deeply dismayed the transgender community volunteers.

A new pattern emerged in the mid 1990’s. The generation that had grown up since Stonewall welcomed transgender people without reservation, perhaps even with a tinge of adulation for their contribution to the struggle for Queer Rights. The older generation, those who had struggled just after stonewall, those who had read The Transsexual Empire when it was new, had not changed their minds significantly. Those that had been accepting during the 1970s remained so, those that had been sitting on the fence now came down on transgender inclusion. But those who had adamantly opposed trans-inclusion in the ’70s still fought against it in the ’90s. In 1994 The Transsexual Empire was reprinted and used as a textbook in transphobic “feminist” classes once again.

{Note:  The original publication in ’79 was by Beacon Press, the publishing arm of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  But by ’94, the Unitarians had a change of heart, now understanding that supporting lesbians does NOT mean supporting transphobia after a number of grassroots meetings with transfolk who were dismayed that the UUA had published Raymond’s hateful screed.  Raymond had to find another publisher.}

In 1994 CampTrans was pitched again with Riki Anne Wilchins taking a leading role. The turn out was smaller than expected. It was not due to a feeling of failure, but rather a feeling that the issue of transgender inclusion in “wymyn only space” was being by-passed by larger and more important issues.

Also occurring in 1994 was the Gay Games. When transgendered people wished to participate they discovered similar transphobic attitudes that the International Olympic Committee held . The Games organizers refused to allow transgendered people to participate except under very restrictive rules, namely that had to prove that they had surgery or at least lived two years full-time, with hormones, in their gender of identity. Bi-gendered individuals were completely excluded. This reliance on rules that on the surface seem to come direct from the HBIGDA Standards of Care, offended the transgendered community.

Transsexual Menace of New York organized to protest the restrictive and discriminatory rules. In street protests the group held up a banner that read, “Gay Games to transgendered: DROP DEAD!!” The uproar and embarrassment forced the organizers to drop the rules and allow unrestricted participation.

Some gay columnists were calling the events the “transgender Stonewall”, comparing 1994’s protests to ‘the gay riots of 1969’, totally ignoring the historic irony that Stonewall itself included transgendered people and that if anything, the Compton Cafeteria Riot of ’66 in San Francisco meant that the Stonewall should be called the “gay Compton Cafeteria”. This lack of historic recognition sparked another protest in New York, demanding inclusion in planned events to mark 25 years since Stonewall.

In 1994 the issue of discrimination against sexual minorities became the biggest issue. The gay & lesbian community was working towards passing a bill in Congress, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA);. Transgender activists worked with the gay & lesbian community and the bill’s sponsors in Congress on transgender inclusive language for the bill, only to discover that the language was removed before the bill was introduced. When the issue was researched by Phyllis Frye, she discovered that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) had objected to the language. Once again transphobia in the gay community had resurfaced as betrayal.

The betrayal by the HRC was echoed at the local level. In 1995, transactivists in Oregon worked with gay & lesbian activists with the Right To Privacy Political Action Committee (RTP) for a state version of ENDA. Once again language was changed at the last-minute by RTP, behind the back of the transgender community. Later, RTP board members denied this fact when charged by transactivists, claiming that it had been the sponsors who demanded the change. However, transsexual law student and legislative intern, JoAnna McNamara was in the meetings that were held with RTP and the bill’s sponsors. RTP representitives did not know that Ms. McNamara was transsexual, who later provided information to the local gay press regarding the betrayal.

{Personal Note:  I co-chaired the Ad Hoc Committee of Transsexuals to Recognize Alan Hart which sought to convince RTP to stop misgendering him, using him as a mascot, refered to by his dead name and calling him an “historically oppressed lesbian”, for the RTP annual fund raising dinner… and to work with RTP to include trans in the local ENDA and to stop sabotaging trans rights efforts.  We were actively supported in our efforts by the local chapter of the Lesbian Avengers.  I later worked closely with Joanna McNamara to directly lobby the Oregon legislature to protect employment protection that she had earlier won in court.  See my “about” page and the previous essays for more info.}

The transgender community lobbied the HRC and other organizations to amend the language to include transgender and gender variant gay & lesbian protection. Each year saw organizations that had previously supported the bill, drop its support in sympathy with the transcommunity. Each year of the second half of the ’90s saw organizations officially add transgender to their mission statement. Each year saw what started as inclusive lip service become real support until finally even HRC came to support transfolk.

{Harvey Fierstein took a New York state G&L organization to task for the very same backroom betrayal of the transgender community on an episode of In The Life in the early ’00s.}

In 1998. the Gay Games was held in the Nederlands. Ironically, while transsexual pop singing star Dana International performed at the opening festivities, the transgender community protested the reinstatement of the same restrictive rules that had excluded some transgendered people in New York four years earlier. However, European officials of the Games were unmoved.

In 1999, five years after the disagreement between the HRC and the transgender community over inclusion in ENDA surfaced the controversy continued, one of the bill’s Congressional sponsors, openly gay Representative, Barney Frank, played the “Bathroom Card”, saying that employers will not accept transgender people as employees since they won’t be able to convince their other employees to tolerate transgender people in the restrooms. This was quickly denounced by transgender activists as truly expressing transphobia, though Frank’s supporters countered that he wasn’t transphobic in that he had earlier voiced his concern regarding violence and discrimination against transgender people in the wake of the death of Tyra Hunter.  Transactivists then pointed out the irony as the “Shower Card” was used against the gay & lesbian community in its fight to gain the right to serve in the armed forces earlier in the decade.

{Frank’s public comments of “support” for murdered transfolk while simultaneously working against trans rights in Congress could be seen as morally the same as today’s “thoughts & prayers” for mass shooting victims at schools.}

In 1999, at the close of the 20th Century, the gay & lesbian community was still divided over transgender inclusion. Camp Trans was once again pitched in front of the gate of the Michigan Wimmins’ Music Festival. This time post operative male to female transsexuals were allowed ‘on the land’, but pre-operative MTF women and post-operative FTM men were not. The issue had now come down to possession of a penis. Although they were now allowed on the land, vocal transphobic lesbian separatists menaced transsexual women, while members of The Lesbian Avengers supported them.

{Working to confront transphobia should be done intelligently… NOT with violent words on internet fora.  In fact, forward thinking transactivists should work to calm the war of words and focus on results.  The so called “TERF” are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the public.  Don’t feed the trolls.}

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Invisible Transgender People: Stolen History

Posted in Editorial by Kay Brown on May 20, 2018

Stolen History — Secret Lives

{Note:  I wrote this essay nealy twenty years ago as supporting material for my TransHistory class at the Harvey Milk Institute.}

Transgender people are often disrespectfully addressed by the wrong gender pronouns. It should come as no surprise that historical figures are wrongly assigned to their birth sex, their gender identity ignorantly or deliberately disregarded. The reason that this is done bear examining. One clue to the possible reason is found in the glaring disparity in gender vector of those whose identity is stolen. It is far more likely that a female-to-male transgendered person is to have his life misinterpreted.

The explanation is that those who willfully steal FTM identities hold to the Oppression Theory to explain the presence of transgendered people. Oppression theory relies on historical oppression experienced by homosexual people and women in many professions. The professional discrimination theory does not have any explanatory power for the presence of male-to-female transgendered people, but the gay oppression does. However, a woman is still more likely to experience greater discrimination in most professions than a closeted gay man. Thus Oppression Theory is easier to apply to FTM people as it easier to imagine a ‘woman’ to be willing to hide her sex to gain entrée into a profession than for a ‘man’ to hide his sex to gain access to male lovers, though it is sometimes applied.

Dr. Joshua Gilbert, who assisted Alan Hart with his transition, published Hart’s case in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders in 1920, but kept his patient’s identity a secret. The fact that Dr. Gilbert’s “H” and Dr. Alan Hart were one and the same was first publicized by Jonathan Ned Katz in his Gay American History (1976). Katz portrayed Hart as a victim of internalized homophobia, who assumed a false identity as a man to love whom “she” chose and who even had surgery to lessen her “guilt” about her Lesbianism. Katz says of Hart, “The story of [Hart] illustrates only too well one extreme to which an intelligent, aspiring Lesbian in early twentieth-century America might be driven by her own and her doctor’s acceptance of society’s condemnation of women-loving women.” But the facts of Hart’s life clearly show that he was not a victim, but rather a transsexual man who had the courage to be true to himself, who sought help to live in his gender of self-identity.

It is perhaps revealing that the gay historians who revealed Dr. Hart’s secret life were unable to interview his widow, “Ruddy” Hart, because they had alienated her by referring to her dead husband as a lesbian, and by association calling her a lesbian. Mrs. Hart insisted to her dying day that Alan Hart was a man.

Some historians dispute applying the term “transsexual” to Hart since he himself did not use the term. But why should he? The term was not coined until 1923 and not widely used until the 1960’s, around the time of Hart’s death. Although, according to Dr. Gilbert, Hart “accepted [his] condition as one of abnormal inversion,” it must be recognized that in the early 1900’s the concept of sexual inversion blended aspects of what today are considered entirely separate issues of gender identity and sexual orientation. After his transition, Hart had no desire to identify himself as anything other than what everyone accepted him to be: a man. Thus he was a transsexual — a true pioneer — one that is seen as a hero by today’s transsexual community.

In the 1980s, a Gay and Lesbian political action committee in Oregon, the Right to Privacy PAC (RTP) , named an award and annual award dinner after Alan Hart… or rather after his birth name, Lucille Hart. While there were occasional complaints from transgendered people they were ignored. It took united transgendered community protests at the dinner in 1995 to force the board of RTP to listen to the Ad Hoc Committee of Transsexuals to Recognize Alan Hart. In early 1996 they dropped all reference to Dr. Hart.

{Personal Note:  I co-chaired the committee with Ken Morris, himself a transman.  Misgendering and stealing our history wasn’t the only issue the trans community had with RTP.  They had repeatedly thrown transfolk under the bus in political maneuvering in lobbying the state government.}

Transgendered man Billy Tipton died in 1989 and was ‘outed’ by the coroner. Soon after, non-transgendered people speculated as to why a “woman” would live fifty-six years as a man, not telling even his wife and kids! The notion that he was transgendered did not often enter their thoughts…. Columnist Clark Humphrey however quipped, “… only wish Billy Tipton, the deceased Spokane jazz “man” who wasn’t, had recorded a duet with Wendy Carlos.”

Diane Wood Middlebrook, an english professor at Stanford University, wrote a well researched book, Suits Me, on Mr. Tipton’s life and times… unfortunately, she is unable to acknowledge Tipton as a transgendered man, taking great pains to ‘prove’ that this was a woman who needed to present as a man in order to survive… and failing miserably. Middlebrook’s thesis is that Tipton began ‘passing’ as a man to play jazz in the ’30s, was trapped by his success at passing as a man, and would have ended it if he could. However, Tipton had many opportunities to step back from his life as a man, and refused to his dying day. Many of Tipton’s friends, his ex-wives, and his children, now knowing full well that he was female bodied, insisted that he was a man in the psychological and spiritual sense. His friends spoke for him… when he could no longer speak for himself.

Brandon Teena who was murdered along with several roommates, because he was transgendered, became the subject of an independent film by two women. The women consistently refered to Brandon as a lesbian, thus stealing even a contemporary transgendered man.

While FTM transgendered people are usually usurped by those who want to use their putative victim status to make a political point, MTF trangendered people are usually belittled and denied their accomplishments, sometimes their very existence.

In Out For Good, the authors usually mention transgendered people only by their description, their names are lost to history. The only two transgendered people mentioned by name are Beth Elliott and Silvia Rivera. Ms. Elliott is mentioned only in connection with her appearance at the West Coast Lesbian Conference in 1973, and her subsequent transphobic expulsion from the Daughter’s of Bilitus. No mention is made of her work to reform California’s anti-sodomy laws, or her work in founding the Alice B. Toklas Gay Democratic Club. Nor are her years as a columnist in a gay & lesbian newspaper mentioned. Her life and contribution to the formation of the Gay Rights Movement is conveniently ignored. Sylvia Rivera gets more mention, but with a knife that is twisted, as she, along with Ms. Elliott, is constantly referenced by masculine pronouns. Ms. Rivera is further denigrated by reference to her attire as campy and slovenly. No surprise, not one FTM person is mention in the entire book!

Thus, are transgendered people made invisible.

Addendum 6/24/18:  Interestingly we now have a mea culpa from the lesbian who broke the Brandon Teena story in the Village Voice and set the tone of misgendering him and stealing our history,

“It also proved to be the most insensitive and inaccurate piece of journalism I have ever written.

For years, I have wanted to apologize for what I now understand, with some shame, was the article’s implicit anti-trans framing. Without spelling it out, the article cast Brandon as a lesbian who hated “her” body because of prior experiences of childhood sexual abuse and rape. … I saw this youngster’s decision to lead a life as a straight man as incredibly bold — but also assumed it was a choice made in fear, motivated by internalized homophobia.

At the time, I was extremely ignorant about trans people. Like many other cis queer people at the time, I didn’t know that there were gay trans men, trans lesbians, bisexual trans folks, that being trans had nothing to do with whether you were straight or gay, and that trans activism was not, as some of us feared, an effort to stave off queerness and lead “easier,” more conventional heterosexual lives.”

“How I Broke, and Botched, the Brandon Teena Story”
The original writer of the Village Voice story that inspired “Boys Don’t Cry” looks back on her reporting — and the huge error she still regrets
by DONNA MINKOWITZ JUNE 20, 2018

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An Old Essay

Posted in Editorial by Kay Brown on May 19, 2018

TransGender Theory

{Note:  I wrote this essay twenty years ago for my TransHistory class website.  I believe it is useful to look back and see where we were and note how much more we have learned.}

To understand the history of transgender people, one must also understand how both transgendered people themselves, and non-transgendered people explained the presence of such apparent misfits in the otherwise neat binary sex/gender social fabric. One can understand how law, medicine, and society in general treated transgendered people only within the context in which the transgendered person fit into a theoretic framework. If transsexuals were a medical entity, one still needs to know if it is a psychiatrically pathological entity, or a developmentally intersexed entity. If the former, one would expect that “cures” would be attempted, if the latter, then compassionate, though not always welcome, medical treatments might be applied. The law could see the transgendered person as a civil identity question, a criminal pervert, or as a medical entity. The law’s treatment very much depends on the explanatory world view surrounding the transgendered in society.

Judeo-Christian-Moslem culture, drawing on a single verse in one old testament book, Deuteronomy 22-5, held that cross-dressing was an “abomination in the sight of the Lord”. Some biblical scholars hold that this line refers to a prohibition of the Hebrew people from participating in religious practices of the neighboring cultures, which included the followers of Cybele whose priestesses were post-operative male to female transsexuals. This single edict, surrounded by edicts that are seldom if ever followed today, save for the Ultra-Orthodox Jews, is sometimes quoted as sanctioning the worst transphobic treatment of transgendered people. Other old testament laws detail the status of “eunuchs”, males whose genitals have been surgically removed. Primarily these laws prescribe a second class status to the eunuch, since they are no longer “men”, they do not have male privileges, including the right to “testify” in court… since they no longer have the required equipment, testicles. (This is not a pun, but literally the origin of the words… one needed testicles to testify… and the old testament really does refer to the story, or testimony, of patriarchy.) Thus, built into Judeo-Christian-Moslem is the assumption that MTF transgendered people are untrustworthy abominations. This explains why Judeo-Christian-Moslem cultures have mistreated transgendered people while other cultures have either tolerated, or sometimes, venerated transgendered people, why Joan d’Arc was burned at the stake for wearing men’s vestments as well as armor, while the hijra of India have houses that have been in existence for hundreds of years.

Early in this century, as the United States population moved to the cities, transgender people, though extremely rare, started finding each other, just as they had in other city cultures in more populated countries as China and India. These gatherings of transgendered people were noted by their neighbors. These good people, educated in Christian values, complained to the civil authorities, who duly passed ordinances outlawing transgender expression, society, and existence. It was the cities who passed the laws against transgendered people. It must be noted that these laws were passed in the same climate and time that produced laws prohibiting citizens of African descent from owning property in the city limits, or of Catholics to operate schools. It should be noted that while the cities passed ordinances against transgendered people, the States were concerned with criminalizing homosexual conduct. City police, when they wanted to harass homosexuals, used the ordinances against the transgendered as more visible targets. Thus, the Stonewall riots of 1969, naturally began with the standard sweeping arrests of transgendered people. The ordinances began to be repealed in the 1970s. It is perhaps fitting that the first governmental bodies to atone for past discrimination by passing anti-discrimination measures in the 1990s should be the very cities that once had laws designed to expose them to criminal sanction.

Laws criminalizing homosexuality were also used to incarcerate or force medical treatment on the transgendered. In the name of eugenics, homosexual and transgendered people were sterilized against their wills. Later, when hormones became available, various medical treatments were devised. Some sought to reduce the libido by suppressing natural hormones, others sought to replace putatively low hormones. These actions were done under the theory of enlightened criminologists that many lawbreakers were rehabilitatable using modern medicine. It was rarely questioned in law enforcement that the law itself was in need of rehabilitation. But there were movements to do just that, lead by social reforming physicians such as Magnus Hirschfeld in Germany.

There were times, when the transgendered person came to the attention of the courts through the medical establishment, rather than the police, when compassionate justice prevailed. Until the mid to late century, the prevailing mechanism for transgendered people to gain protective legal status was to seek a change of sex status through correction of birth certificates or registry in the same manner as was done in cases of intersex, where physicians provide for a ‘second opinion’ as to a person’s sex later in life. The law literally saw transsexuals as a form of intersex and helpfully corrected sex designations when asked. It was not until the popular press created the myth of “sex change” that the law began to see transsexuals as separate from intersexed people. Only after this change in perception was it necessary for specific statutes needed to secure a mechanism for transsexuals to change birth certificates and identification cards. Even then it was done as an extension of the intersex theory, a reaffirmation, to counter the “sex change” paradigm.

At the turn of the century, the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity were conflated. One was either a normal man or woman, or one was an abnormal psychosexual invert. In some respects this concept is closer to the modern concept of the classic transsexual in that it was conceptualized as a person who both identified with and shared the same sexual object as a normal member of the opposite sex. Only through education by the homophile community and open-minded sexologists such as Evelyn Hooker and Alfred Kinsey was the homosexual person viewed as having a congruent gender identity, merely finding one’s own sex to be the chief object of amorous affections. This left the concept of gender identity separable from sexual attraction, opening the door to conceptualizing the categories of the lesbian identified male to female and the gay male identified female to male transsexual. Still, it took the work of FTM transman Lou Sullivan in the late ’70s, early ’80s, to get the medical establishment to recognize the distinction.

{Read my 2009 essay on how this perception of separability of gender identity and sexual orientation actually works against understanding transfolk:  The Invisible Transsexual}

There are three main currents of thought on the origin of gender identity in humans, Essentialism, Social Constructionism, and PsychoSocialism. In academic circles these differing theories are hotly debated. But in the lives of ordinary people, especially transgendered people, the model that is applied by the medical, educational, legal, and even parental authorities that transgendered people interact, as individuals and as a class, deeply influence the interaction and the outcomes.

PsychoSocial Theories

Though Sigmund Freud was from Austria originally, his work influenced North American thought to a greater degree than European. His thoughts on the developing sexual identity and sexuality of infants and children profoundly influenced how transgendered people would be viewed in North America. Freud felt that gender identity was mediated by the existence or absence of a penis, directly. In the case of the owner of a penis the discovery that not all humans have one occasions deep anxiety lest that delightful organ of pleasure might be removed. This “Castration Anxiety” led to a distancing of the owner of the penis from the caretaker who did not own one… presumably because that person might want to steal it. While simultaneously, the owner of the penis wishes to emulate the other caretaker who by good fortune still owns a penis. Thus the owner of a penis learns to be a boy. Meanwhile, the infant who does not own a penis discovers that there are individuals who do own one. This occasions extreme jealousy. This “Penis Envy” leads one to court, and compete for, the affections of the caretaker who owns this marvelous appendage, while simultaneously emulating the caretaker who does not own a penis, who demonstrates ways of successfully courting the affections of the owner of a penis. Thus the one who lacks a penis learns to be a girl.

The existence of transgendered people brought the theory a serious challenge. How to explain people who end up having the exact opposite reaction to the presence or absence of a penis? The first answer of any theorist to such a challenge is denial, “transgendered people are psychotic”, likening the transsexual to a delusional man who believes himself to be Napoleon. This glib answer sufficed for those who had never actually spoken at length with transgendered people. But the diagnosis of psychosis failed to hold up upon examination. The challenge remained.

For FTM transgendered people the failure to resolve “Penis Envy” was enough explanation. But MTF trangendered people were still a mystery. The psychoanalytic theorists response was to posit a family constellation involving an overly close mother, who kept her son wrapped up in her emotional world, and a distant or absent father. The son could not make the emotional and subsequent identity break with his mother. Perhaps we can call this theory “Castration Envy”? This seemed at first glance to hold up well, since such family histories were indeed present in MTF transgendered people. Except it didn’t explain all of the cases since many profoundly transsexual MTF individuals had extremely good relationships with their fathers. The theory further broke down when comparing the statistics with non transgendered people. The were many families with an absent or emotionally distant father, the vast majority of single mothers, whose sons did not show signs of being transgendered. Though it remained popular to blame mothers, especially single mothers for all sorts of society’s woes, transgenderism was not able to hold up as being caused by family dynamics when tested statistically.

Still the psychoanalytic model held for most of the 20th Century, in spite of repeated failures of psychoanalytic therapy to dissuade transgendered people to abandon their gender identity. It is probably responsible for the prevailing attitude that Gender Identity Disorder is a psychiatric illness as defined by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistic Manual.

Toward the middle of the 20th Century, as the psychoanalytic model for all mental illness began to be cast into doubt, a new model of gender identity came into vogue, “Imprinting”. One the chief proponents of the theory was John Money, Ph.D. Observing that intersex infants with the same physical features at birth who had been assigned to different sexes both seemed to adjust equally well, Money theorized that there was a critical period in the infant’s early life when the parents’ sexually dimorphic treatment imprinted upon the child a congruent gender identity. The notion of imprinting comes from observation that some animals imprint the image of a caretaker in infancy. The popular image is that of goslings first sight of a farmer’s child, who subsequently is followed around as “mother”. This lead to the standard procedure of early genital surgery for intersexed infants to unambiguously assign a sex, any sex, to child so that an unambiguous gender identity will be imprinted by parents and family who “know” the childs sex. It lead to a medical ethic of misinforming even the parents as to the intersexed nature of the child. It also resulted in sterilization of thousands of male children, who born with a phallus too small to be comfortably described as a penis were reassigned as female.

Transgender people were explained by the imprinting theory similarly to the psychoanalytic model, blaming the mother. Again, an overly emotionally close mother, and sometimes the father as well, coset and pamper a male child in a manner that the hapless male child gets the message that it is female. Sometimes it was noted that the feminine male child was “physically beautiful”, that is, like a pretty girl child, eliciting a response from adults in a manner that reinforces the mistaken identity as a female child. Similarly, a physically adventurous female child might elicit masculinizing responses.

Money’s hypothesis and recommendations lead directly to the tragedy and “experiment of opportunity” of John Theissen, a man whose penis was accidentally destroyed during circumcision. Mr. Thessien was later surgically reassigned as female. His parents then proceeded to raise him as their daughter, while his identical twin brother served as “control”. When the children we several years old the clinics declared that the reassigned child was accepting “her” gender as a girl. The case became known as that of John/Joan. Money published this case as proof of his hypothesis. Unfortunately, John Theissen as a teen refused to continue the program, insisting that he was a boy… he grew to be a man, obtained phalloplasty, married, and is raising three children from his wife’s prior relationships. It can be said that his is a case of surgically created transsexuality, as his personal gender identity was at odds with his sex assignment as an infant. Mr. Theissen’s story was published in Rolling Stone magazine in the mid ’90s after a scientific paper was published by Milton Diamond, a proponent of pre- and neonatal hormonal brain sex differentiation.

{Sadly, we later learned that “John”, actually David, committed suicide, a tragic end to an evil experiment conducted on an unwitting child.}

Social Constructionism:

As the Second Wave of Feminism grew in strength, criticism of discrimination against women led to a reaction to prescribed restrictive societal roles for the sexes. “Biology is not destiny” became a rallying cry. What started out as a criticism of socially constructed roles developed into a theory of gender which denied Essentialism in every form, stating instead that society took the biological differences of procreation, and instilled in them an artificial behavioral difference. The theory, thus expanded, denies that there is any natural basis for gender identity. Thus it denies to transgender people any rational cause… while at the same time, presenting no reason why not.

To some authors this meant that transgender people were free to express themselves in any manner they chose since all gender expression is as valid as any other. Only societal convention stands in the way of such freedom. Such conventions can be modified by the society as is deemed desirable. To some, all such restrictions are to be avoided, in a live and let live ethos.

Other authors, Janice Raymond and Germain Greer being notable examples, saw MTF transgender people as exploitive of women, aping the forms of femininity, supporting the artificial sexist forms that oppress women. It is interesting that in this regard they exhibit a hidden Essentialism, one that focusses on the genitalia as defining classes of human beings. They decried the restrictions on one class, while despising those of the other class when they break those very restrictions.

Still the existence of transgender people poses a challenge to the social constructionist theory. One must explain both why gender identity exists, how it is perpetuated, enforced, and why some rare individuals “chose” to express a gender identity at odds with societally prescribed gender expression norms.

Performance Theory has it that we are taught to Perform Gender, to act it out, in the same way that we learn to act out social roles like teacher, student, friendly store clerk, police officer, etc. One is said to “do gender” rather than “have a gender”. This is very similar in basics to the psychosocial theory of imprinting, save that there is no instinctual basis for having the ability to absorb a particular gender identity. We are taught a set of gender behaviors that become so ingrained as habit that we forget that we are merely acting them out.

Transgender people are explained by this as having been improperly instructed. Even among those inclined toward psychosocial models as one would expect physicians to be, one finds this theory in currency. It is the model used in justifying Behavioral Modification Therapy to treat Gender Identity Disorder in children. Under the assumption that even though gender identity is arbitrarily socially constructed and taught to children, one should not allow children to express gender behavior different from the norm. Some rationalize it on the basis of wanting the children to fit in, experience less rejection and bullying, a “blame the victim” mentality. Others are simply moralists that insist that God has ordained that we should all behave in a certain prescribed manner.

One Post-Modern philosophical theory, one that has a striking resemblance to the psychosocial theory that transgendered people are simply crazy, has it that transgendered people are suffering under a “false consciousness”. That they are not really experiencing a gender at all… but an alienation from their social and biological reality. This theory is perhaps the most transphobic of all theories in that it denies what is called in Post-Modern cant, “agency”, the characteristic of experiencing and expressing their existence and very real psychic pain.

Oppression Theory starts from the assumption that transgendered people are very much in command of their faculties and have made a rational decision to avoid societal restrictions on desires they experience. The usual script is that an ambitious woman noting that she is unable to succeed “in a man’s world”, dons mens clothes, assumes a fictitious identity as a man, in order to achieve career success. These “passing women” are the darlings of the feminist historian because they are revered as daring pioneers for women’s liberation, or they are held as examples, proof, of how horrible conditions were in some past epoch. To the feminist historian, modern FTM transsexuals are an embarrassing disproof of the theory. Similarly, Oppression theory is used to explain modern MTF transgendered people as being examples of internalized homophobia in gay men, too ashamed to live openly, and so have to “pretend” to be women in order to express their desire for same-sex relations. To such gay male chauvinists, the fact that half of transgendered people identify as lesbian or gay male after transition, are an equally embarrassing disproof of the theory.

Social Constructionist theories fail to note that ethnobiological studies of sexually dimorphic behavior in animals is not socially constructed for non-humans. Nor does it explain the cross cultural similarity and temporal stability of core gender identity throughout history around the world.

Essentialism:

Essentialism posits that men and woman are “made that way”. It is a deceptively self-evident fact that most everyone accepts since, for over 99% of the population, there is a clear-cut correlation between genital morphology and gender identity. It is easy to for the average person to ignore the disquieting cases of intersex that cast doubt on the simplistic assumption of binary sex assignment. The question of which sex an intersex person “really is” demonstrates the essentialist bias through much of Western Society for the past two centuries. Historically, Essentialism divided on which of two somatic characteristics was indicative of the “real sex” of an individual, genitalia or gonads. For most people the genitalia, the presence or absence of a penis was the overriding feature. As medical science grew more sophisticated in the 19th century, the gonads came to be the indicative feature. But early in the 20th Century the newly discovered chromosomes, specifically the presence or absence of the “Y” chromosome, became the newly crowned final arbiter of “real” sex. The faith in microscopic examination to “scientifically” determine one’s sex was unquestioned.

In 1968 the International Olympic Committee instituted chromosomal karyotyping for all female athletes. Any that did not have the required 46,XX chromosome karyotype were disqualified from competition, informed that, scientifically speaking, they were not women. The demonstrable fact that they had female genitalia, had lived as female all of their lives not knowing that they did not have the officially approved karyotype for women, did not enter into the unfeeling officials minds. Reductionist Essentialism had no room for intersexed people. They were counselled to fake an injury, slink away into silence to keep their shame of being “not female” from becoming known.

In 1970, the Corbet vs Corbet decision to nullify the marriage of a MTF transsexual to a non-transsexual man used karyotyping as the “scientific” marker for sex and gender that the law was henceforth to follow in the United Kingdom, throwing the legal status of transsexual and many intersexed people into limbo, neither male nor female.

Although essentialism has often been used as a philosophy to ‘prove’ that transsexuals and transgendered people do not have a valid claim to their identity, Essentialism still has explanatory power. If the locus of gender is found, not in the genitals or chromosomes, but elsewhere, transsexuals could be rationally described as “men trapped in women’s’ bodies” or “women trapped in mens’ bodies”. There are several loci that are, or have been proposed as the Essential Seat of Gender, but they come down to two main categories, “Brain Sex”, and “The Soul”.

Many religions have a concept of an essential self, separable from the body. In Judeo-Christian-Moslem belief systems one’s soul separates from the body after death. This soul retains the sense of self, including gender identity. Some religious thought includes the concept of the soul entering the body at some point in becoming a living being… and therefore must become, or always have been a gendered self. For religions that included the concept of reincarnation, the notion that a being always returns to the same-sex body suggested an explanation for transgendered identity. Once in a while, a soul finds itself in the wrong sexed body. This idea was openly discussed in newsletters published in the ’60s and ’70s by the Erickson Education Foundation, as this was the personal belief of Reed Erickson, the Foundations benefactor. The Church of latter-day Saints (Mormon) debated the issue of pre-born souls finding themselves in the wrong body with Kristi Independence Kelly in 1980 at her excommunication. The Church held that, though the pre-born souls did have a gender before birth, God did not make mistakes: “There is no such thing as a man in a woman’s body or a woman in a man’s body” was declared, ex-cathedra by the leader fo the Mormon faith. Apparently, intersexed people must have also intersexed souls?

Some non-Judeo-Christian-Moslem cultures held that transgendered people were indeed gendered souls in the wrong body. Some believed that this juxtaposition have the transgendered person a special status with the spirits of nature or the powers. In ancient times in the mediterranean culture, MTF transsexual women became priestesses, Galla, of the goddess, Cebele. The Hopi Nation held that a transgendered spirit, or katchina, sent visions to transgendered people. In India, the hijra, transgendered and intersexed people are both reviled and revered, given varying circumstances. Mystical Essentialism has played an important role in various cultures, including our own.

The early 20th Century european researchers and medical practitioners believed that gender and sexual behavior in general are the result of a sexually dimorphic brain. That is to say that the brain itself has a sex. This sex usually conforms with the chromosomal and the genital sex. However, just as there can be chromosomal and genital intersex conditions, the brain might also exhibit intersex morphology leading to behavior and that elusive personal experience, gender identity, at odds with either somatic or chromosomal sex. Magnus Hirschfeld, a leading early researcher described the entire spectrum of what today we would call Queer expression, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, as forms of “Sexual Intermediates”, or intersex. This was not a metaphor or a rationalization. Instead it was an earnest theory, based on careful observation and scientific generalization, understanding the then current lack of neurological science. Hirschfeld and his colleague, Harry Benjamin believed that as our understanding of the brain grew we would discover just where and how the brain was organized to produce sexual orientation and gender identity. For Hirschfeld, there was no major divide between non-conforming sexual orientation and gender identity, they were simply different forms that intersex could take. Thus for Hirschfeld, the late 20th century division between the concepts of gender identity and sexual orientation, the great political divide between the gay & lesbians and the transgender community would be meaningless. To Hirschfeld, we are all transgendered, gay and transsexual alike.

In the first decades of the century, experiments with cross sex gonadal implants in animals suggested that there was a connection between hormones and gender specific behavior. This lead to horrific experiments in humans during the NAZI era and beyond as hormones became available as a common pharmaceutical. Testosterone was administered to gay men and MTF transgendered people in an attempt to ‘cure’ them. The hormone treatments had no effect on the sexuality or gender identity of the experiments. No lasting harm was done to the gay men. But the supermasculinizing effects on the transgendered victims was severely traumatizing.

In the later decades of the century, neuroscientists found significant sexual dimorphism in microstructures in the brains of animals and humans. Experiments on rats indicated that hormone levels during a period in late gestation and early post-natal development to be critical to the development of these structures and subsequent behavior. Gorby was able to create what he described as a laboratory model of transsexuality in rats. He demonstrated this in both MTF and FTM cases. When he introduced them to each other, the FTM rats mounted the receptive MTF rats.

Using human children to explore gender identity and sexual orientation would be extremely unethical in the laboratory, but science often uses “experiments of opportunity”. Simon La Vey used autopsy material from straight and gay men who had died from aids to find that a small microstructure of the brain differed in the two populations, suggestive of a sexual orientation controlling microstructure. The same technique of using autopsy was performed by Swaab to discover a different structure associated with gender identity. Shaffer, in an as yet unpublished study, used MRI data from a large pool of controls, MTF and FTM transsexuals to demonstrate that the corpus collosum showed sexually dimorphic structures that, on a statistical basis, correlated with gender identity. Both Swaab’s and Shaffer’s work ruled out effects of hormones in adulthood.  {Note: We have since learned that this was simply not correct.  HRT was indeed the cause of these effects.}

The early data is tantalizing, and agrees with laboratory findings using animals. However, it is also known that experience can shape the brain. Lack of sensory stimulus and a chance to work out problems leads to dramatically less brain development in infantile rats. In humans there is a suggestion that early musical training affects the shape of the corpus callosum, building greater connectivity between the two hemispheres of the brain. These early experiences suggest that early gender experiences could also lead to sexual dimorphism in the human brain by a similar mechanism. This would agree with Dr. Money’s imprinting hypothesis… But would be at odds with Gorby’s work with rats, and the results of the case of “John/Joan”.

Science could very well demonstrate that the seat of sexual orientation and gender identity is located in the brain. How that arises developmentally is still open for further research.

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