Or, How the Big Tent Transgender Movement Distorts Science and Holds Back Civil Rights for Transsexuals
In the early ’90s, Beth Elliott, using her nom de plume Mustang Sally, wrote an essay entitled, “The Incredible Shrinking Identity” in which she decried the social effects of subsuming transsexual people into the larger umbrella of “transgender”, which with each passing year seemed to be growing at its margins to include more and more people who just a few years before, would never have been considered to be in the same grouping. Of course, she was mostly talking about cross-dressers, autogynephilic men, who as we know, are in fact in the same etiological taxon as autogynephilic MTF transsexuals. In the ’90s, it was possible to ignore this complaint as being specious on the social level, given already rampant socially unwanted and scientifically unwarranted lumping of autogynephilic and exclusively androphilic MTF transwomen.
But what started as merely political embarrassement (for AGP transwomen) has now become a serious scientific and civil rights issue as the term “transgender” has now been stretched to the point where it has little meaning as to actual sexual, social, or gendered behavior. It is no longer enough for scientists to differentiate between autogynephilic/late onset vs. androphilic/early onset MTF transwomen… nor even between autoandrophilic vs. androphilic FtM transmen… now we must differentiate between an ever growing host of self-defined “other” gender categories and underlying behaviors, identities that are lumped under “transgender” to the point of making the term meaningless to sexologists and social scientists alike.
Flashback, 1980: Hanging out in the L.A. transsexual community, as it gained a political self awareness, was a teenager; let’s call her “Lee”. Lee would tell anyone who asked that she was “transsexual”… yet caused great confusion to all who met her. She was natal female, short even for a woman, pleasantly plump, and decidedly feminine in both appearance and manner. She was in no sense gender atypical. And during the time that I knew her, over 18 months, she never made any attempt to present as a man, nor even as butch. She was always on the femmy side of androgenous to the point of being decidedly “cute” as she hung out, mostly with younger MTF transwomen whom she seemed to admire. Had she been hanging out in this same manner in the gay male scene, they would have likely labeled her a “Fag Hag”. The transsexual community, while leery of non-trans males who would have acted this way, affectionately accepted Lee’s non-threatening presence, while secretly rolling their eyes when she declared that she was “FtM”.
Thinking back on Lee, I’m fairly certain that she never transitioned and I’m willing to place fairly high odds that she married and had kids, probably now has grandchildren, none of which have any idea that she once hung out in the trans-scene. At the time, we had no label for her. Today, on the internet, the FtM transsexual community does have a label that would have applied, “tucute”, as in “Too Cute” to be trans. If you visit the FtM pages on Tumbler, you are sure to run into a few… and will also note that they in turn, grumble about the negative feedback they get from “Truscum” (androphilic FtM) for not accepting that they too are just as “trans”, even if they are in no sense gender atypical or gender dysphoric.
Recent Events: A couple years ago, via her facebook page, a very socially liberal, rather prominent (and wealthy) venture capitalist in my professional circle proudly announced that her teenaged child was “transgender”. I’ve been living “mostly stealth” in that most of my professional contacts do not know of my medical history (yes, I “pass”). But in a move to be supportive and perhaps even help her with the emotional issues that almost always come with a child’s transition I came out to her. BAD MOVE! Nope, upon learning more about her child, it became very clear that her daughter had always been very gender typical as a girl, was not the least bit gender dysphoric, and had no intention of legally, socially, nor medically transitioning. No, she just wanted to be recognized as “transgender” and have everyone around her use gender neutral pronouns (cause she is so special, she deserves it).
There is another name for this behavior, “TransTrender”, as in it is now “trendy” to be transgender. Back in my college years, hanging around Stanford University, I would often hear complaints from actual gynephilic women, real lesbians, about the phenomena of primarily androphilic women taking social positions as “Political Lesbians” and “Lesbians Until Graduation”. The “transgender” community now has the same phenomena. It seems to have become “cool” in some comfortably well off, very socially liberal teenaged and young adult circles to be associated with the LGB and now T community, as though being associated with a marginalized group made up for their obvious social privilege.
One could well imagine the growing resentment felt by those of us who have experienced familial rejection, social disapprobation, economic deprivation, and psychic pain from a lifetime of gender atypicality and dysphoria towards those who misappropriate an identity from the protective cocoon of indulgent family, liberal universities, and the anonymity of the internet.
If these issues had stayed on the pages of tumbler and facebook, it wouldn’t be a problem for science or those seeking better civil rights for transitioning transfolk. But it hasn’t.
Consider a recent paper published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence in which the authors very laudably explore the issues of safety and bathroom access for “transgender” youth. Ah… you are probably anticipating some of the problems that this might entail and you would be right. But let’s explore each of them carefully.
The authors cite the now popular William’s estimate of 0.7% of the population in the US as “transgendered”. The problem with that study is the number who identify as “transgendered” because William’s did not apply any operational definition beyond asking if they were “transgendered”. Yet we know that only 0.03% of the U.S. population has actually socially transitioned, according to US Census study that cross-correlated with name/sex status changes to Social Security cards (arguably the absolute best estimate we will ever get to the number of individuals who actually transitioned). This means that less than 5% of those who identify as “transgender” ever transition. Thus, by definition, more than 95% of those who identify as “transgender” never transition, that in fact, they aren’t all that gender dysphoric. So who are they? Well, given that 80 to 90% of MTF transsexuals are autogynephilic and that 4.6% of men in the general population are autogynephilic, while only 0.5% of women are autoandrophilic, we can surmise that the vast bulk of those who identify as “transgender” adults are autogynephilic males, otherwise gender typical heterosexual men who cross-dress in the privacy of their homes and perhaps occasionally have a “girls’ night out” with other cross-dressers.
We know that autogynephilic males are gender typical growing up. They are also gynephilic. These are, save for their secret cross-dressing and sexual fantasies of being or becoming female, typical, average, run of the mill straight men. Thus, autogynephilic males who have not transitioned are not socially visible. Further, we know that the median and average ages of transition for autogynephilic transsexuals (the moment that they become socially visible) is 35 and 40 respectively. In fact, in the Nuttbrook study, which surveyed 571 transgender women, only one gynephilic (and presumably autogynephilic) individual had begun transition before age 20 and of those who had begun transition before age 20, only 7% said that they were bisexual (of which a number of them are likely to be autogynephilic, as we know from other studies).
Now, compare that to the number of early onset / androphilic transwomen who transition before age 20… that number is half. HALF. Further, we know from study after study that such transwomen are very notably gender atypical, as well as gender dysphoric. THESE are the kids who will be the most socially visible as youth, NOT autogynephilic “transgender”. On the FtM side, the Autoandrophilic population similarly transition later as adults, not teens. It will be the rare, very rare (remember, only 0.03% of the total US population transition) exclusively gynephilic, gender dysphoric kids that will be socially visible as youth, not the TuCutes and the TransTrenders. These are the kids who are socially and personally vulnerable as youth, not the vastly larger number of individuals who will identify as “transgender”.
How badly off are the numbers? In the Wernick study they found 86 individuals who self-identified as transgendered out of 935 students. Seriously, 9%? NINE &^%$#@ percent?!? That’s more than ten times the number of adults who self-identify and three hundred times the number who actually transition. That’s on the same order as are found to be gay or lesbian. Are all of the LGB kids claiming to be “transgendered”??? Or is this representative of all of the secretly cross-dressing and cross-dreaming boys plus the TuCutes and the TransTrenders, all balled into one? Because, if the schools were statistically representative of the population as a whole, with only a thousand or so students, we could only expect a one in three chance of finding an actual transsexual among them, most likely an autogynephile who will transition as an adult and only one in fifteen chance of finding a transkid.
The design of this study was flawed from inception, as the numbers surveyed were never enough to find any statistically valid number of transkids, while using self report of being “transgendered” without a valid operational definition lead only to a measure of the trendiness of the label in the teenaged population.
So we see, that truly gender atypical and gender dysphoric individuals will be a very small percentage of youth who will self-identify as “transgender”. These are the kids who social scientists and policy makers should be concerned with, not those who have yet to transition or never will. These are the kids who, while finding more and more visibility in the press as they transition, are the ones who are getting lost in the crowd in social science studies and policy making because of the failure to apply appropriate operational definitions.
Wernick, et Al, “Gender Identity Disparities in Bathroom Safety and Wellbeing in High School Students”, Journal of Youth and Adolescence