On the Science of Changing Sex

It was just a joke!

Posted in Editorial by Kay Brown on September 2, 2017

Kay Brown 2010I recently had a very unpleasant facebook “dialog” when an old colleague posted a “humorous” piece in which the second “joke” was making fun of the growing acceptance of transfolk, in this case, a transman, in college today, as an example of “political correctness run amok”.  I tried to point out how vile that joke was and why posting the link to it was not OK.  He and several other people dumped on me saying that “It was just a joke!”  Well – no, it’s not just a joke.  It is a means to denigrate and dehumanize transfolk.  It is an example of “disparagement humor”.

I’ve written about this before, when I tried to explain why Robin Williams was no hero to the transgender communities.  But I feel that we need to have a larger exploration of the phenomena and to catalog some of the types of jokes that target transfolk and place it into the larger context of disparagement humor theory.

A number of researchers are exploring the psychology and sociology of disparagement humor and its effects.  Thomas Ford is one such researcher who explains this phenomena,

“Disparagement humor is paradoxical: It simultaneously communicates two conflicting messages. One is an explicit hostile or prejudiced message. But delivered alongside is a second implicit message that “it doesn’t count as hostility or prejudice because I didn’t mean it — it’s just a joke.”

By disguising expressions of prejudice in a cloak of fun and frivolity, disparagement humor, like the jokes above, appears harmless and trivial. However, a large and growing body of psychology research suggests just the opposite – that disparagement humor can foster discrimination against targeted groups.”

It can be frustrating to explain why such jokes are both offensive and destructive to those who hold implicit negative evaluations of transpeople.  I have found that even people who can recognize ugly racism in jokes about minorities can fail, epically, to recognize its cognate in transphobic jokes.  To them, “it’s just a joke!”.  Disparagement humor, as Ford has shown, fosters further discrimination against the targeted groups in those that hear the jokes when they already harbor implicit bias against those groups,

“On the basis of these findings, one might conclude that disparagement humor targeting oppressed or disadvantaged groups is inherently destructive and thus should be censured. However, the real problem might not be with the humor itself but rather with an audience’s dismissive viewpoint that “a joke is just a joke,” even if disparaging. One study found that such a “cavalier humor belief” might indeed be responsible for some of the negative effects of disparagement humor. For prejudiced people, the belief that “a disparaging joke is just a joke” trivializes the mistreatment of historically oppressed social groups – including women, gay people, racial minorities and religious minorities – which further contributes to their prejudiced attitude.”

These jokes are meant to signal to other biased people that they are not alone in holding their biased views while at the same time hiding their malicious intent from those who do not currently hold such bias yet subtly stretching the social acceptability of such bias even in the minds of those who previously didn’t hold such bias.  As Hodson puts it,

“The appreciation of humor is arguably a fundamental aspect of social life. Yet passing jokes off as “just jokes” can have serious and negative intergroup consequences (e.g., discrimination; denial of rights). We review some recent findings concerning how group dominance motives are expressed in humor contexts through cavalier beliefs about humor. These beliefs legitimize and provide psychological cover to avoid the appearance of bias. We propose that humor and ridicule play a critical part of the delegitimization process, operating in tandem with processes such as dehumanization (representing others as animal-like and/or machine-like) and system justification (i.e., maintaining the status quo in terms of intergroup hierarchies). As such, humor plays a key role in the delegitimization of others that occurs in much of everyday life, such as in the workplace or schoolyard setting. Disparaging intergroup humor effectively rules social groups in as acceptable targets for devaluation, working in tandem with dehumanization processes that rule others out as targets worthy of protection.”

Thus, these “jokes” which aren’t really jokes, are sociopolitical statements of who may be targeted for dehuminization and discrimination and even signal how they may do so (e.g. Dave Chappelle telling his audience that disrespecting and misgendering transwomen is not only acceptable, but trans-allies suggesting that he and others respect transwomen is morally wrong, “Motherfucker!”).

Interestingly, I believe the number and frequency of transphobic jokes has dramatically increased over the past several decades.  Part of this may be increased awareness of the existence of transfolk.  But there is another explanation which paradoxically may be good news for transfolk as Ford explains,

In another study, my colleagues and I demonstrated that this prejudice-releasing effect of disparagement humor varies depending on the position in society occupied by the butt of the joke. Social groups are vulnerable to different degrees depending on their overall status.

Some groups occupy a unique social position of what social psychologists call “shifting acceptability.” For these groups, the overall culture is changing from considering prejudice and discrimination against them completely justified to considering them completely unjustified. But even as society as a whole becomes increasingly accepting of them, many individuals still harbor mixed feelings.

In this research, we can understand that these disparaging “jokes” represent a sort of culture war pushback on the growing acceptance of transfolk in our larger society.

So what kind of transphobic or should I say, “tranny trashing” jokes do we hear?  Interestingly, the jokes seem to take two forms, not surprisingly, based upon the two types of transsexuals, one “homosexual” and the other autogynephilic.

As a blatant and ugly example of humor targeting autogynephiles, one may start with the 1972 film, The Ruling Class in which during the opening scenes, we see very dry humor poking fun at Lord Gurney wearing a tutu (cross-dressing, but not a typical choice) while engaging in auto-erotic asphyxiation by hanging, all the while maintaining an air of upper-class distinction while his valet maintains an air of non-judgemental subservience as he aids his master to prepare for his masturbatory session (not shown).  His death due to mis-adventure during the act is meant to be “humorous”. Cue. Laugh. Track.

Analyzing the joke we see that it is meant to skewer the British upper-class, but it is done with the tacit understanding assumed to be shared with the audience that being an autogynephile and devotee of autoerotic asphyxiation (which are only loosely related, as one-third of those men found dead from similar misadventures, are at least partially cross-dressed, usually in lingerie, but the vast majority of autogynephiles are NOT into auto-asphyxiation) is a disreputable and dishonorable sexual behavior.

Other jokes about autogynephiles abound, especially in Britain, where the mere fact that a man is wearing female typical clothing is considered automatically funny.  The trope has a common name “man in a dress” (Cue Laugh Track).  This trope and the jokes surrounding it extend to post-transition transwomen who do not pass well, who become figures of ridicule and sniggering jokes in both media and in person.  This attitude comes from misogyny.  For a man to take on the attributes, even if only temporarily, of a woman is to degrade himself in the eyes of these misogynists, and by doing so, becomes worthy of being disparaged.  Proof?  A woman dressed as a man elicits no reciprocal humor.  For a woman to take on the attributes of a man is seen as attempting to raise her status in life.  Movies with men dressing as women are labeled comedies.  Movies with women dressing as men are labeled adventure/action.  (e.g. “Some Like It Hot” and “Sorority Boys” vs. “Mulan“)

(As an aside, this trope of women passing as men to raise their status is one of the reasons why historical examples of transmen are misappropriated by heterosexual and even lesbian feminists who disregard their transgender / gender dysphoric natures, misgendering them.)

Jokes about androphilic transwomen also abound.  But here the twist incorporates the fact that most androphilic transwomen typically pass unremarkably as women in their day-to-day lives.  So, the trope becomes that of the predatory homosexual man passing as a women to dupe innocent straight men into having gay sex with them.

A common trope is that the audience, and possibly other characters, in a story or film know that a lovely woman is “really a man” and laugh at the duped straight man.  Such a scene in shown at the ending of the 1988 Sherlock Holmes spoof, Without a Clue when our heroes Holmes and Watson knowingly and maliciously allow Inspector Lastrade, unknowingly to court a professional “female impersonator” (an historically common profession for androphilic transwomen before and during the early introduction of medical feminization treatment for transsexuality) and laugh behind his back at the ‘joke’.  This exact ‘joke’ has been repeatedly used in other films and TV sit-coms.  It relies on the notion that for a straight man to be romantically involved with an androphilic transwoman, no matter how physically and behaviorially feminine, no matter how desirable a personality or moral character, he is demeaned by the experience.  He becomes less of a man, either homosexual, clueless, or both, a figure of ridicule, while the transwoman is to be despised as a liar and a cheat, as well as an effeminate (misogyny) homosexual (homophobia).  The joke disparages both parties, increasing the discrimination that androphilic tranwomen experience and the likelihood of being severely beaten and murdered by transphobic straight men who find themselves attracted to such transwomen (whether or not they knew beforehand).  This “joke” is deadly to androphilic transwomen (no hyperbole).

Another common trope is that of the “confused” or “delusional” transgender… who doesn’t understand what sex they are.  This trope overlaps with transfolk stigmatized as mentally ill.  An example is a photo of a dog with the caption “Caitlyn Jenner’s cat”.   Another example was the reason for writing this essay, the ‘joke’ that parents helping their son move into his freshman year dorm room aren’t supposed to call his obviously female bodied transman roommie “her”.  This “joke” is essentially predicated on the belief that transfolk do not have any real medical or psychological reason for being gender dysphoric and should just, “look in your pants!”

Jokes about “Chicks with Dicks” trope is quite old.  I found a subtle example of it in a pre-WWII vintage limerick,

“Dame Catherine of Ashton on Lynches
Got it on with grooms and her wenches
She went down on the gents
And pronged the girl’s vents
With a “clitorus” reaching six inches”

In my essay on Robin Williams I observed how he uses a variant of this ‘joke’ when his character’s son discovers him urinating while standing in the movie Mrs. Doubtfire.  This entire film is one long “man in a dress” joke, punctuated by another very ugly and sinister false trope of the transgender as pedophile and rapist.  It is no coincidence that the movie included the bathroom discovery scene followed by his children’s horror, disgust, and fear for their safety.  This type of ‘joke’ about transwomen in women’s bathrooms has led directly to the so-called “transgender bathroom” bills in multiple states.

Transphobic jokes are not just jokes.  They are invitations to mistreat and discriminate against transfolk and as such are morally repugnant.  As Ford points out, sometime humor can be used to poke fun of such bias… but runs the risk of backfiring when viewed by biased individuals.  Subtly ironic satire of transphobic attitudes are not discerned by the transphobe…  So, at risk of such happening here, I share this wonderful comic strip.

Fears

Further Reading:

Essay on Robin Williams and his disparaging of transwomen as child care-givers.

Essay on the very high murder rate of young androphilic transwomen

“Psychology behind the unfunny consequences of jokes that denigrate – A joke isn’t just a joke.” by Thomas Ford

“Dave Chappelle Is Back—But His Transphobic Jokes Are No Laughing Matter” by Dan Avery

“Lil Duval Jokes He’d Kill a Sexual Partner If He Found Out She Was Transgender: ‘I Don’t Care, She’s Dying’” by Titiana Cirisano

References:

Hodson, Gordon, Rush, Jonathan, MacInnis, Cara C., “A joke is just a joke (except when it isn’t): Cavalier humor beliefs facilitate the expression of group dominance motives.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2010)
http://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0019627

Hodson, Gordon, MacInnis, Cara C., “Derogating humor as a delegitimization strategy in intergroup contexts.” Translational Issues in Psychological Science (2016)
http://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Ftps0000052

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Baby Hunger…

Posted in Editorial, Transsexual Theory by Kay Brown on July 9, 2017

female_scientistOr, Rubbing Salt Into the Wound

A couple days ago, a young androphilic transwoman from Portugal, who has been a correspondent for several years, since her late teens, wrote to me asking my opinion of androphilic transwomen’s desire for children.  She, like me, definitely has always desired to be around and to mother children.  She had recently been employed as a caregiver at a children’s group home and had loved it.  She recently entered nursing school and looks forward to someday marrying a loving man and adopting children, preferably babies.  She thought it was be a good idea for me to write an essay on this topic.  So, here it is.

Stoller, in his 1968 book, Sex And Gender, described androphilic transwomen as ardently wanting children including mothering, indeed bearing, infants,

sex-and-gender-the-development-of-masculinity-and-femininityThe ultimate progression for the transsexual … has not yet been reached in our society: he would not only like to have is body appear completely female but he would like to have his internal organs so changed (for example, by transplants) that he would now have is own functioning ovaries and uterus, ultimately to bear a child truly his own.

Stoller described a typical androphilic transwoman and concluded with “The patient is now married and hopes to adopt children.”

When I was first interviewed by Norman Fisk at the Stanford Gender Dysphoria Clinic as a 17 year old in early 1975, I told him of my hopes and dreams of finding a husband and adopting children.  I recall telling him about how much I enjoyed the two summers I had spent as a swimming instructor teaching very young children and of the then previous summer employed as a nanny taking care of two boys, aged four and ten, from early morning to dinner-time.  I had of course, actively sought out babysitting jobs all through Jr. and Sr. high school, with a promise to all of my regular families that I would break any previous engagement for a job.  I don’t remember him making fun of me.

I achieved both of these goals, though it took a lot longer that I had anticipated.  There were many things that had to be achieved first and many pit-falls to avoid along the way.

There are many obstacles for androphilic transwomen to overcome before becoming an adoptive parent.  First, one must have the social stability, an excellent support network, and sufficient family income to afford to raise a child.  Many never reach that goal.  Having a husband with a good income is a dream that is often out of reach.  Second, one has to navigate a system that would much rather find a home for a child with non-LGBT parents, especially for newborns.  Adopting a newborn, even for middle-class non-LGBT families, is difficult as there are always far more prospective families looking to adopt a baby than there are babies available for adoption.  It is becoming easier in some locales for LGBT people to foster-adopt older hard-to-place children, but it still requires surviving an extensive vetting process.  That process will black-ball any who have even the most minor of criminal records.  One also has to have the temperament and above average parenting skills to take in a child who will come with emotional challenges and maladaptive behaviors from early life experiences in a chaotic birth home.  In many locales, in spite of recent legal and social advances for LGBT people, being transsexual will mean not being seriously considered as an ‘appropriate’ placement.

Candice2

Kay Brown with her adopted daughter Liz

I first became a licenced foster parent in California in 1984, almost by happenstance when Cassandra, a 14-year-old lesbian, needed a supportive home of the sort that I could provide.  Now, 33 years later, she still calls me her Mom.  In the early ’90s while living in Oregon, I sought to become a foster, hopefully adoptive mom of a younger child and carefully researched the possibility.  I put out on the transgender social networks looking for any who had been able to do so.  I found exactly one androphilic transwoman on the east coast who was fostering her sister’s children while her sister was in prison.  (Children’s Services gives priority to relatives for placement whenever possible.)  That was it.  One family.  Special case.  I was breaking new ground when seven-year old Liz was placed in my household.  (There were several women living there.)  Liz was adopted on her ninth birthday.  I have since found one other androphilic transwoman who foster-adopted three siblings sometime after me.

There is always the possibility of surrogacy.  But that takes even more socio-economic status.  I have only one reference that may qualify as surrogacy.  Dawn Langley Simmons, who was white, married a black man then apparently faked pregnancy timed to the delivery of a mixed race baby.  The sire may have been her husband or the baby may have simply been unwanted.  We don’t have the details.

There have also been tales and hints that some androphilic transwomen have been aided by close relatives or friends volunteering to be gestational surrogates.  But those stories are kept very private for good and sufficient reasons.

There was a private effort in the transsexual community to develop ethical  biotechnology that would allow transwomen to carry a child to term in ways not too different from that prophesied by Robert Stoller… but that research did not reach our final goal.  Now, there are new developments regarding uterine transplants that may offer the final key.  Sadly, I’m too old now to participate, but I most certainly would if I were younger.

We have enough evidence here to show that at least some androphilic transwomen do have an intense interest in being mothers of both infants and small children.  But actualizing that desire is extremely difficult for most.

So, we see that though it is difficult for an androphilic transwoman to find a loving husband and build a family through adoption, it is not impossible.  But one wouldn’t know that from reading the literature on transsexuality when they discuss whether transwomen are interested in children, have maternal feelings.

In the 1974 paper describing psychiatric grand rounds at UCSD, “Gloria”, a 20-year-old androphilic pre-op transwoman already in a stable relationship with a straight man reported that she too hoped to adopt a new-born, to which an oh so ‘kindly and understanding’ physician throws shade on her coping skills, her character, and her motives for wanting to raise a child,

No matter which way this goes, Gloria is going to have trouble adjusting. A normal woman has trouble when she bears a child or adopts one; this new woman is going to have many more troubles.  At this point she wants a baby because that is part of her image of being a woman. And yet I do not know whether she really wants a baby or whether this is just the image, just as she stated that she doesn’t feel sexy if she doesn’t have a vagina.

But then we come to the most ugly of all comments coming from John Money in an abstract of a case series paper from 1968 in which we can easily discern that he is lumping together androphilic and autogynephilic transwomen together when he writes,

“All 14 patients desired adoptive motherhood, with a preference for small children, though not newborn babies. In general, the group appeared to possess a feminine gender identity, except for a masculine threshold of erotic arousal in response to visual imagery and an unmotherly disengagement from the helplessness of the newborn.”

Remember how hard it is for a post-transtion transwoman to become a mother, especially of newborns?  Remember how the clinicians made fun of “Gloria” for wanting to be such a mother?  Now, do you think it is possible that transwomen can pick up on that negative attitude, perhaps realize that if they state a desire for what is clearly unlikely to happen that it might be interpreted as having unreasonable life goals?  (One of the selection criteria that clinics used in the ’60s was whether their clients had reasonable expectations for their lives post-op.)  Further, is it in fact a good idea to pine for what can never be?  So… calling them “unmotherly” for looking to adopt hard-to-place children rather than hoping for that one-in-a-million chance to adopt a healthy baby was just rubbing salt into the wound.

So ingrained is our view that interest in children is a measure of womanly virtue it effects how autogynephilic transwomen attempt to portray themselves.  A few years ago, continuing my search for transwomen’s experiences regarding adopting children, I chanced upon an online forum where a number of transwomen were discussing how one could tell the difference between a “transsexual” and a “wannabe” [sic] by whether they noticed small children or not.  Of course, they all congratulated themselves on their interest in small children, telling stories of how they had noticed children in social settings, as did the women, while the men in their company, or even other (presumably “wannabe”) transwomen, had not.  Curious, I traced down each of these transwomen’s identities (people leave a lot of breadcrumbs behind them) and discovered that every one of them was in fact a late transitioner and more than one of them had very masculine occupations and interests.  They had not evinced any notable efforts to pursue being motherly, indeed, some had barely maintained contact with their own children from marriages prior to transition.  Their participation in this discussion was more in line with social desirability bias, impression management, and self-enhancement than in honest self-evaluation.  It fits with the well-known (to cognizant clinicians at least) phenomena of autogynephilic transwomen editing their history, experiences, and desires to more closely approximate those of “classic transsexuals”.

We need to conduct research on whether transsexuals and transgender people of all kinds are interested in being parents.  Interestingly Michael Bailey suggested a great instrument for this task in his book the Man Who Would Be Queen:

TMWWBQ CoverINTEREST IN CHILDREN
1. I greatly enjoy spending time with young children.
2. I get a lot of pleasure from holding babies.
3. I would enjoy taking care of a baby for a friend or relative.
4. I daydream about having a baby of my own.
5. Often when I see babies, I experience warm, positive feelings.
6. When I think about it hard, I have strong doubts whether the
rewards of raising an infant are worth the work and responsibility. (reverse scored)

This could be seven value Likert scored from “Definitely Do NOT Agree” to “Definitely Agree”.  Any interested in conducting the survey?

Further Reading:

Essay on Robert Stoller’s description of a “typical” androphilic transsexual.

New York Times Obituary for Dawn Simmons

Scientific American: How a transgender women could get pregnant

References:

Judd, et al., “Male Transsexualism”, (1974) Western Journal of Medicine
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1130141/

MONEY, JOHN Ph.D.; PRIMROSE, CLAY, “SEXUAL DIMORPHISM AND DISSOCIATION IN THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MALE TRANSSEXUALS” (1968) The Journal of Mental and Nervous Disease
http://journals.lww.com/jonmd/Abstract/1968/11000/SEXUAL_DIMORPHISM_AND_DISSOCIATION_IN_THE.4.aspx

 

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A (Wither) Spoonful of Poison

Posted in Editorial by Kay Brown on June 10, 2015

CloudyWhen transwomen think of transphobic attacks, they often think of Paul McHugh.  He was the adminstrator who shut down the John Hopkins Gender Clinic.  Of course, looking back, it was just a tiny fraction of a blip in time before it would have been shut down anyways – as all of the clinics in the United States were – a victim of its own success.  Yes, success, as their involvement in what was thought to be experimental became routine palliative medicine.

McHugh has long been the darling of the so called “social conservatives”, translation:  homophobic bigots.  We can see this by how ardently he is admired by the Witherspoon Institute; the same Witherspoon Institute that funded and supported the academically fraudulent Regenerus paper which purported, but in fact did not, show that children of gay and lesbian parents were emotionally harmed.  In fact, McHugh has published yet another anti-trans editorial on their website.

In his editorial, he makes some rather amazing claims regarding transsexuality and transgender sexuality, mixing just enough scientific truth to sound credible.  But mixed in are some amazing falsehoods, not just mistaken ideas, but outright lies,

“In fact, gender dysphoria—the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex—belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychosocial conflicts provoking it.”

McHugh correctly identified that there are two types of transwomen, autogynephilic and non-autogynephilic… but then makes the most silly comparison that those with gender dysphoria “belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder”  He KNOWS better, or at least, he should.  Autogynephilia is NOT related to these two disorders in any way, shape, or form.  By making this statement, it is clear, as his final sentence in this quote shows, that he is attempting to mislead his reader into the false understanding that psychotherapy can treat autogynephilia and gender dysphoria.  It can’t.

McHugh bemoans the recent movement to outlaw the clearly ineffective and damaging practice of “reparitive therapy”, which he would like to see used to treat transkids.  A careful reading of his editorial will show that he fails to acknowledge that transkids are (with respect to their natal sex) “homosexual”.  It doesn’t take a super sleuth to know that the reason that he doesn’t mention this is because he would also like to see reparitive therapy used to “treat” homosexual teens under the guise of treating gender atypical / dysphoric youngsters.  But he knows this is even more unlikely to be allowed if society understood that the choice for transkids is one of living as a very gender atypical gay man or lesbian, or as gender typical heterosexual transwoman or transman, respectively; but McHugh wants that to be no choice. He wants such youngsters to be “repaired” to be gender typical heterosexual adults, which he knows, but seems incapable of accepting, is an impossibility.

I’ve said it before in a previous essay, but it bears repeating.  McHugh, a conservative Catholic, seeks to substitute religious bigotry for palliative medicine… and is quite willing to bend the truth to get it.


Notes: Autogynephilia, while NOT related to anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), is related to Body Integrity Identity Disorder, a member of the family of Erotic Target Identity Disorders.  This family is about sexuality and sexual orientations, which like heterosexuality and homosexuality have been shown to be very resistant to change, thus the move to outlaw “reparitive therapy”.  Erotic Target Identity Disorders are far more common in men than women.

Anorexia Nervosa is a member of the eating disorders and is far more common in women than men.  Interestingly, among the men, it is more common in gay men than straight, suggesting a connection with hypomasculinized brains.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy helps about 50% of clients.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a member of the Obsessive-Compulsive disorders.  It is equally common in men and women.  The disorder responds favorably with Cognitive Behavior Therapy in combination with SSRI’s.

Note that not only are anorexia and BDD not related to autogynephilia, they aren’t even related to each other!

For the record:  No study has EVER shown that ANY therapy can “cure” either type of gender dysphoria, autogynephilic or transkid.  One can only come to some accommodation.  Among those useful accommodations is social transition, HRT, and SRS, as was fully endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association.

Addendum 5/16/2016:  McHugh continues his anti-trans ‘crusade’.  You may wish to read another rebuttal of an earlier version of McHugh’s misleading op-eds:  http://www.transadvocate.com/worlds-experts-condemn-the-mchugh-hoax_n_13924.htm


Reference: Paul McHugh, “Transgenderism: A pathogenic Meme”
http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/06/15145/

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The Last N!gg3r…

Posted in Editorial by Kay Brown on August 15, 2014

CloudyMy husband has been trying to get me to write a book by this title for 17 years.  It started when we were dating.  At some point in a courtship, there comes a time when it just seems right to stay at home and enjoy each other’s company, rather than go out.  It was just such a night, our first night simply staying at his house, when he suggested that we watch some television and cuddle together quietly.  I resisted, saying, “I’m sorry, I’d rather not… I just can’t seem to watch a single night of TV and not be exposed to tranny-trashing.”  He thought I was WAY over exaggerating… but sure enough, later that evening, during the cartoon section of Saturday Night Live, a character tells another to “take the right at the corner with the transsexual”… cut to street corner scene where we see a very burly, broad-shouldered, hairy-chested man wearing a merry-widow corset, fish-net stockings, and high heels, provocatively poised, obviously “working” the corner.  I looked at my boyfriend/future husband drolly, “Cue, Laugh, Track”.

I’m minded to write this essay because for the past several days, we’ve all be subjected to numerous articles lionizing Robin Williams as a hero to the LGBT communities.  Well, he might have been a hero to the LGB, but not to the T.  All I can remember of him is his tranny-trashing.  But more on that later.

Humor has been used since time immemorial to attack, denigrate, humiliate, and dehumanize minority groups.  We have “Pollack”, Asian, “Blond”, Jewish, “women drivers”, “Fag”, and of course, “N-word” jokes.  In the United States, we have a history of an entire genre of denigrating ‘coloreds’, most especially African-Americans… with stereotypes of lazy, shiftless, clueless, careless, Black men and women.  It can be very instructive to review how ugly, and how “entertaining” for racists, it can be, so here’s a great video compilation of some of it, from the mid-20th Century.

Sometimes, the message is more subtle.  The best example of this the way that all women were denigrated in the film Tootsie.  I still recall with horror my first viewing of the film in the theater, in the company of another transwoman, at the personal invitation from a non-trans* person who thought that we should enjoy the film for its trans* theme.  Not so.  First, its not really about trans* anything.  But it is an example of subtle anti-feminist agit-prop.  The underlying message of the film is that any, random, second-rate man is better than all female people ever could be.  The plot is that a has-been ham dresses en-femme drag to pass as a woman… and very soon thereafter becomes a national sensation as a feminist heroine, a role model for all women to emulate.  The, hit-the-audience-over-the-head, message is that any random man makes a better “woman” than all females.  To add insult to injury, Dustin Hoffman has in recent years portrayed his experience as “Tootsie” as having given him insight into women’s lives, that Tootsie was an enlightening feminist film.  (No Mr. Hoffman, it wasn’t and it didn’t.  Instead, you should be apologizing for your role in the film’s production.)

While they have not truly disappeared, offensive stereotypes, images, and jokes about other groups are at least pointed out, and often removed and/or resulted in apologies in the recent decades.  But not so for such offensive stereotypes, images, and jokes portraying transgender people in a negative, often extremely derogatory, manner.  We are, “The Last N!gg3r”.

Which brings me back to Robin Williams, and the underlying messaging of his tranny-trashing jokes and gags.  While they were no doubt not limited to Mrs. Doubtfire, this is one of his most well known films in which the underlying premise of the film, augmented by very pointed jokes, is that transgendered people of all types are to be belittled and dehumanized.

For example, in Mrs. Doubtfire, he sets up a joke in which he switched the phone # in an ad… so that he was the only one calling his wife about the position of nanny to her children… then called up to pretend to be various undesirable caretakers, including a post-op transwoman… which when “she” revealed this fact, his wife is horrified and hangs up… thus, the message is that transwomen are not to be trusted with children and the audience knows and agrees. Cue laugh track.

As a transwoman who, in real life, was just such a nanny as a teenager, who later was a foster-mother to two girls, adoptive mother to one of them… and who continues to have contact with children and teens, I’m deeply offended at this message and the manner in which it was delivered.  I’m also deeply concerned that this very message could be delivered and not immediately repudiated.  And even more deeply concerned that this message, though a scurrilous falsehood, is one that many people actually agree with.

Lest we think this is a one off for Williams, in the very same movie, later on, we see a scene in which “Mrs.” Doubtfire is standing up to urinate when his eldest son accidentally discovers him. His instant reaction is horror and the need to protect himself and his siblings from this male bodied transgendered person. The gag depends on the audience knowing who Mrs. Doubtfire really is and that it is OK for him to be doing this… after all, he’s not really transgendered, but it wouldn’t be OK for a REAL transgendered person to be working as a nanny.

But Williams (and the film’s writers, producers, actors, etc.) aren’t done educating us on the dangers of transgender people being around children.

In yet another scene, we see our putative hero having to hide the fact that he is dressing as a woman from the social worker coming over to check him out.  While it could be argued that that had he been discovered, it would blow his cover as Mrs. Doubtfire, the real subtext is that it is not OK for a parent to be transgendered in any way;  That the social worker would have, rightly, recommended against him as a parent of his own children.  Nowhere in the film was there a parenthetical comment that this discrimination against transgender natural parents is wrong or unacceptable.  In fact, given the above scenes (and others in the film) the subtext is clear:

The entire premise of Mrs. Doubtfire is that transgender people are not to be trusted with children, neither their own, nor others.  This underlying message is not funny, but is dangerous.  This false stereotype has caused many late transitioning transfolk to lose parental rights, visitation rights, etc.  It is unknown how many transkids have lost opportunities to be foster-parents or adopt.

I’m saddened by Mr. William’s untimely death.  No one should have to turn to suicide and I’m sorry to see such talent lost… But more because I will never get to hear that apology he owes to me, and others, as a transwoman who cares deeply about children.  Perhaps we can get one from Harvey Fierstein, who should have known better?

Further Reading:

Essay on why transphobic jokes aren’t funny

Essay on Transwomen and the difficulties adopting children

“Jill Soloway calls SNL’s Pat character “anti-trans propaganda” “ By Sam Barsanti

“Gay jokes about Trump aren’t funny — they’re dangerous” by Katie Dupere

“Dave Chappelle Is Back—But His Transphobic Jokes Are No Laughing Matter” by Dan Avery

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One in Twelve

Posted in Editorial, Transsexual Field Studies by Kay Brown on August 27, 2013

Kay BrownOne in twelve transsexuals is murdered.  That was the ‘back of the envelope’ estimate that I made back about 15 years ago for my transhistory class that I taught at the Harvey Milk Institute.  As I had posted some of my notes and power point slides on a website for that purpose, it was picked up by many in the LGBT community, much to my amazement, to become one of those unquestioned internet memes, but it had morphed to one in twelve “transgendered”.  One in twelve “profoundly transsexual” MTF (NOT “transgendered” people) was my estimate of how many of us were murdered in our (shortened) lifetimes.  That math was based on two numbers available to me at that time.  First that the estimate of how many “profoundly transsexual” transwomen there were was one in 11,200 male births, from a study in the Netherlands; second that at the time I made the estimate, that approximately one “early / transitioning” transwoman was murdered a month in the United States.  Either number may have been wrong, or subject to change over time.  However, with those numbers I estimated that of the 260 million US residents in the late ‘90s, 11,600 would be such “profoundly transsexual”.  I defined “profoundly transsexual” as those born males living full time, or nearly so, as women socially since an early age.  This by definition excluded private cross-dressers and part-time transfolk, who would not be exposed to transphobic violence in their daily activities, and those who transitioned later in life, that is to say, that it excluded the majority of so called “transgendered” people.  If one “young transitioner” is murdered per month, and one can normally expect to have had a life-expectancy of 80 years, then the lifetime risk of being murdered is approximately one in twelve.  An actuarian may take issue with my simplistic treatment, but the math is basically sound.

But, as I have been at pains to explain here on this blog, there are two types of transwomen, Autogynephilic (AGP / “non-homosexual”) and transkids (exclusively androphilic transsexuals), which do not have the same risk profile.  As I shall explain further, it is transkids, (i.e. exclusively androphilic) transsexual women who bear the significantly greater risk.

(If you are not familiar with the two types, please read this FAQ and this essay describing the two very different populations:  A Clinical View)

Further, this issue is not an academic one for me.  In keeping with the feminist credo that “the personal is political”, I share with my reader that my own life has been touched with transphobic violence.  When I was a teenager, I suffered a number of attacks and beatings, directly due to my gender atypicality, perceived (correctly) sexual orientation toward men, and my transgender status.  One of the worse beatings I suffered was when I was 14 years old, when two older boys, who layed in wait along my path through a dark orchard just a block from my home, first taunted me, then beat, knocked me to the ground, and proceeded to kick me viciously, all the while yelling homophobic slurs.  Their exact words included,

“FAGGOT!” “PANSY!” “PANTYWAIST!” “YOU THINK YOU’RE A GIRL?” “YOU MAKE ME SICK!”.

Candice_Caltech

Kay Brown in college

Fast forward about five years, when I was 19, a good friend of mine, Tere, invited me to go with her to a beach party her crowd was throwing.  Tere was also my brother’s girlfriend, someone I had known for a number of years from high school.  Mind you, I had been out as both trans and into guys in high school, so a number of the kids at this party knew who and what I was.  Somehow, I stupidly didn’t think this might be a problem.  A couple hours into the party, after having had a good time talking with, and gently flirting with a number of cute young men, I was lured some distance from the party, where perhaps seven or eight young men surrounded me and started taunting me and laughing among themselves, “Are you a boy or a girl?”  “Hey, let’s pants it and see”…  At that point, I was terrified, knowing full well that after they had torn off my clothes to reveal my pre-op body, that I would be beaten and kicked by four times as many, older and stronger, young men than when I was 14.  To my everlasting relief Tere jumped into the middle of the boys at that point and yelled, “You leave her alone!”  In the sudden confusion of her interruption, Tere grabbed my arm and escorted me at a very fast walk to my car.  I have no doubt that had Tere not intervened, I would have been hospitalized, at best, or killed at worst.

In the news, only this past month, was the beating death of 21 year old Islan Nettles on a street of New York City, the beating death of 16 year old Duane Johnson and the severe beating and attempted rape of her roommate, Kiki, in a slum of Jamaica, and the video recorded beating of a young transwoman in a park in Russia.  The “one in twelve” number may not be exactly correct… but it certainly seems to me to be close.  The website, “Remembering our Dead” has long memorialized these murders, but it fails to note that most of these deaths are of transkids, not their older and far more numerous AGP “sisters”.  Note that most of these murders are perpetrated by younger men… and their victims are mostly young transwomen.

Perhaps a couple more random examples that have stuck in my mind, to illustrate my point? In 1978, the transkid community in Los Angeles was saddened and horrified to learn of the death and mutilation of a young transwoman whose body was found in a dumpster with her (silicone enhanced) breasts slashed.  It was understood that she was to be seeing a new beau that evening.  About a decade ago, a young transwomen was murdered at a party in the San Francisco East Bay Area by a group of young men, several of whom it was later learned, had had erotic encounters with her before they had learned of her pre-op status.

I used to be confused by the motives of the young men who perpetrated these horrible crimes.  But one late night drive in my car, I chanced to tune in a talk radio show in which the topic was transsexuals. Led by a ‘phobic shock jock, his callers revealed their anger and hatred of young transwomen, especially pre-op transkids, who had “fooled” them into dating them.  Listening carefully, I learned that their reactions were driven by a very special form of “homosexual panic”.  The classic “homosexual panic” is created in insecure straight men when a gay man shows romantic or erotic interest in them.  The thought that then goes through their mind is, “oh my god… a gay man thought I might be gay too!”  But, though the anger and hatred may be great, it isn’t nearly the threat to an insecure man that the certain knowledge that, in the case of a cute transwomen, they had without any doubt been romantically and erotically attracted to a male bodied person, “oh my god, I’m turned on by a guy!”  The violence that that realization evokes is explosive and unreasoning.  Add to it young men in groups, men who need to prove to themselves and their buddies that they aren’t “fags”… perhaps add some alcohol or other mild intoxicant, the result is one or more beaten and dead young transwoman.

Of course, none of the above has been corroborated by careful study.  So, to any researchers who may find my blog, I suggest the following protocol to test my hypothesis.  Present to two groups of young heterosexual men a photo of a very attractive young woman.  Ask them to write an essay on what a perfect first date with this woman might entail.  Half of the men you then inform that that the woman was “actually a boy who is hoping to “get a sex change” but is still pre-op”, the other half do nothing.  Then test both groups for implicit anger and animosity to transwomen and gay men, as well as their feelings about their own sexuality.  I’m betting that the group who is told that their “dream date” woman is a transsexual will exhibit a great deal more anger, transphobia, homophobia, and sexual orientation anxiety.

If I’m right, we can contrast this experience with transphobic discrimination experienced by older AGP transwomen.  Not to put too much of a fine point on it… ummm… lets be honest, fewer of them inspire as much erotic interest in younger men, the men most likely to perpetrate these crimes.  Fewer of them will date any man without that man knowing their full medical history, given the statistically known fact that few of them live “deep stealth” or successfully pass well enough.  All of this on top of the fact that most AGP transsexual women will have no interest in flirting with and dating any men.

Thus, although it is still a ‘back of the envelope’ calculation, when we subtract the number of older AGP transwomen, we can infer that one in twelve MTF transkids really is murdered, and their greatest risk exposure is when they are fairly young.  Given that more transkids are people of color than AGP, this risk is also falling disproportionately upon transwomen of color, as noted by Shelby Chestnut in Matthew Fleischer’s story on Islan Nettles,

“If nothing else, Chestnut hopes Nettles’ death will bring to light the tremendous violence faced by transgender women—particularly transgender women of color.  Seventy-two percent of anti-LGBT murders in America affected people of color and 53 percent of those were transgender women”, Chestnut said.  “The only way to end anti-LGBT violence is to keep talking about it and let the public know that incidents like the one that left Nettles dead are hardly uncommon, Chestnut said. Victims of hate violence also need to have the courage to come forward and tell their stories.  Reporting violence helps end violence,” says Chestnut. “Unless we know where violence is occurring, we can’t do outreach in the area. We can’t reach out to the general public know that anti-LGBT violence shouldn’t be tolerated.”

I would add that it’s time that the larger LGBT community recognize that there are two types of transwomen, and that our lives, as transkids, including our risks of transphobic violence, are quite different from the far larger autogynephilic “transgender” community.  We need to do several things to fix this continuing violence.  One, pass anti-discrimination laws so that young transwomen can work in decent jobs.  Two, pass higher minimum wage laws so that working people can support themselves.  Three, pass laws ending the use of the so called “gay panic” defense (as California already has).  Four, add transgender / gender expression to anti-hate crime laws.  Five, help educate law enforcement about who is really at risk and why (and stop pretending it is “all transgender people”.

(Addendum 10/4/2015:  In the past year, the number of MTF transkids being murdered reported in the media has increased.  But a disturbing new meme has also been circulating to the effect that these transkids are all “just prostitutes” and it has nothing to do with being “transgendered”.  This is disturbing on two fronts:  First is the obvious dehumanization and victim blaming; the second is the failure to understand that though some, but not all, of these victims had resorted to ‘survival sex’, the need to exchange sex for food and shelter is a direct consequence of being a transkid, disowned by one’s family at a young age, forced to live on the street with no skills or social capital.  Transkids are by no means the only young people to be so disadvantaged in this manner, but the percentage of transkids that find themselves is this situation is very high.)

Further Reading:

Demographic data on the number of transsexuals in the United States.  You may have read that there are almost one and a half million “transgender” people in the U.S.  This is only the number who “identify” with transgender people, the vast majority being heterosexual men who cross-dress in private.  The actual number who have transitioned is only 90,000, and even then, most are “late transitioning” / autogynephiles.

Essay on the large number of teenagers and young adults who falsely claim to be “transgender”

Clinical differences between MTF transkids and AGP MTF transgendered.

External Reading:

“Lil Duval Jokes He’d Kill a Sexual Partner If He Found Out She Was Transgender: ‘I Don’t Care, She’s Dying'” by Titiana Cirisano

References:

http://news.yahoo.com/transgender-woman-dies-beating-front-nypd-precinct-201642369.html

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/08/11/jamaica-transgender-teen-murdered-by-mob/2639995/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/20/russian-transgender-woman-beaten_n_3779723.html

http://www.buzzfeed.com/dominicholden/evidence-contradicts-police-account-of-possible-anti-transge#.odGmvNbPp6

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