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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » I tought I basically understood transness, but maybe it's trickier than I tought

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Author Topic: I tought I basically understood transness, but maybe it's trickier than I tought
naplement
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this is a long post with no urgency in it. It isn't even about an offline relationship with a trans person, just thinking about some online acquittances.

I'd like to have a terminology question:

I believed that the biological sex/brain sex/gender distinction is that which made possible to talk about what someone's identity, gender and "brain sex" is while living in a differently sexed body [as an example, femme man with female body], but I've read trans people objecting to that, telling stuff like "I don't have a male body, I am 100% woman and there isn't anything male about me". I wouldn't start to argue with them, because talking about their own body and identity, they have the priority in defining it, but my question is: has the language been updated while I wasn't paying attention? Or this just means that in some situations, it's necessary to talk about the hardware [wetware] of a person, but if I'm not their doctor or their partner, I should just not think about it at all? (I do want already to no think too much about it, but I need to have a model in my head.)

I was thinking that this men/women =/= male/female idea was so neat and clever and respectful, but I see that others don't feel that it's appliable to them...

maybe the response is just that trans people are, just like everyone else, different, and they have a lot of different theories in their heads about themselves and there is no single theory that won't hurt anyone... but I am ready to update my imperfect theory to a slightly better one, if you have a suggestion.

ps: some don't even agree on dividing people in the three categories of biologically male, female and intersex (with the disclaimer that there are a lot of blurry lines), but I think that the statistical correlation between biological male and female traits is too high for this, if we want to remain intellectually honest. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_dimorphism#Humans An archeologist can look at a single hipbone and tell you with a huge percent of accuracy the sex of the person the bone came from. I understand if talking like this is triggering for some, because they have been typecasted for too many times, and I don't want to define other people forcedly, I just want to have a working model in my own head.

Or I just have to learn that the tactful and honestly good thing to do is sometimes to tell what needs to be told, and keep my own theories to myself. But it seems dishonest. But honesty is less important than not hurting others without reason. Life is complicated.

sorry for the rambling. Any ideas?

[ 01-11-2012, 04:09 AM: Message edited by: naplement ]

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Saffron Raymie
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Hello naplement, concepts around sex and gender are changing all the time, so I wouldn't worry.

I'll try to explain this in the best way I can.

Bodies aren't 'male' or 'female'. Those are catergories society assigns to us. If an archeologist found a skeleton has the kind of wider shaped pelvis more suited to birthing, it still isn't a foolproof way to tell which genitals it had; for as you said, there is actually way more variation than we think; especailly when you consider surgery and such - when sex can be completely constructed (literally!). However, it's likely that the skeleton belonged to a body that had a uterus; but that doesn't mean everyone with a uterus or a vagina should be catergorised under the heading 'female'.

Furthmore, some people are also born with that kind of pelvis suited for birthing and have a penis also at birth.

However, for sure, some people have vulvas, and uteri; some have penises and testicles; and some don't have either of these things, have both, or call a penis a vulva or a vulva a penis. I think the hugest problem with catergorizing these bodies as vulva = 'female' and penis = 'male' (as well as totally excluding intersex folk) is the focus on difference rather than similarities. A vulva, after all, is like nothing so much in the world as a penis, and vice vera. The testicles are like ovaries; the glans of the penis is like the clitoral glans; the body of the penis is like the clitoral bulbs etc. In fact, there are actually very few things that are found in one body and not in another in some form. Even before birth; up to the seventh week of gestation; all fetuses will have the same gentitals.

People with vulvas and people with penises have very similar bodies overall - and to call one a 'female' body and one a 'male' body based on what are quite small differences (which exist just for reproductive purposes - if there wasn't that difference we wouldn't be here! [Smile] ). These differences also don't affect much of our day-to-day lives (save trying to prevent or co-create a pregnancy) as sexual orientation is about gender, not sex, because we don't really start to be attracted to someone by seeing them naked - so we just don't know what they're genitals are specifically like.

You're right, sometimes doctors need to know about penises, uteri or vulvas; but apart from reproduction and health - the small differences of genitials become irrelevent. The sex we have with ourselves or with a partner is about our brains far more than our reproductive organs. More on that here: With Pleasure.

When you look through the lense of pleasure, rather than reproduction; we all have extremely different bodies - with wide variation from individual to individual - whatever our gential's specific reproductive function. A person with a penis may be more similar to a person with a vulva in what they like, rather than someone else with a penis.

Does that help?

[ 01-11-2012, 07:23 AM: Message edited by: Seashy Rae ]

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Redskies
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Hi Naplement, I thought I might mention a couple of different angles to the ones Seashy Rae discusses - though big caveat, I identify as cis, so although I've tried to grasp as best I can from trans* writers, I'm sure I'm not the most reliable source on this.

Nearly all of us are brought up believing that scientifically, there's two different and distinct sexes. It seems that when people really dig around in the science, it just isn't that simple, scientifically. There are different biological contributions to and ways of determining sex - someone's genitals; other characteristics like presence/absence of breasts, depth of voice, facial hair...; chromosomes; hormones. In reality, these don't always match. Just for example, someone may have the chromosomes of one binary gender, but "look" like the other binary gender, and have hormones usually associated with the second. A "female" or "male" body doesn't really have a solid biological meaning, although so much of our society - including some medics - likes to think it does.

Another way of thinking about that is, just considering cis people for a minute - we really don't know what's under someone's underwear, if we're not their doctor or partner, and nor should we have a reason to know. A cis woman might need to have breasts removed, her uterus removed, might have had severe FGM - and we would still not doubt that she is a woman, even if we knew those things - and we probably wouldn't know those things. So, what is a "female" body? What does a body have to have or do to be "female"? Put that way, it begins to sound a bit like "must be born female", which we know is horribly transphobic, and also, considering the above paragraph, not actually particularly scientific.

For a while, I too thought that it would be ok to talk about female/male bodies if one separated that from gender. I've read some awesome writings by trans* writers (mostly blog posts, and I can't remember where I found them all now) that told me very forcefully that I was wrong. Trans* people wrote about how it was a way of being completely separated from their bodies, as if it couldn't be their body, as if their body or their identified gender had to be "wrong" somehow. That usually, talking about a "female" or "male" body, different to how they identified themselves or their bodies, simply came back to saying that they couldn't "really" be the gender they identified as. It's far too close to conventional and widespread transphobia to be ok language to use.

There's a book I read, for anyone who's interested, that really discusses the scientific angles of a person's sex: Sexing the Body, by Anne Fausto Sterling. It's pretty detailed, but still completely readable and accessible to folk without a science background. It says these things much better than I did, above.

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Heather
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quote:
Or this just means that in some situations, it's necessary to talk about the hardware [wetware] of a person, but if I'm not their doctor or their partner, I should just not think about it at all?
I think it might also help to look at WHY we might think about it at all if we were not in positions like those where what's in someone's underpants really was our business.

In other words, when not providing healthcare for someone or directly engaging in their genitals, why WOULD we think about it? What information do we think knowing what someone's genitalia is like could give us? And, whatever your answer to that is, does that information seem likely to be not just useful to you and that other person, but reliable?

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bump on a log
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First off, I'm real impressed by your English.

Secondly, to add to the very good remarks made by the three people who've already replied: a lot of trans people will simply say, "I know that I am male (or female) and therefore what I have is by definition a male (or female) body. It may not look standard, but so what?"

You say, "maybe the response is just that trans people are, just like everyone else, different, and they have a lot of different theories in their heads about themselves and there is no single theory that won't hurt anyone." I reckon you've hit it on the nose there. [Smile]

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naplement
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Thanks everyone. What I have learned for this all is

-the sex/gender words differentiation is just a theory and it hadn't influenced enough the everyday, living, spoken english language. When an older-style feminist writes about, say, women in male bodies, they are using technical terms. In general terms, male still basically means man, and female still means woman, so that's why people don't want to describe their bodies in words that, according to the general definition, contradict their gender.

-and given that the feminist effort to cut away the meaning of "male/female" from "man/woman" was just partially succesful, the contemporary method of dealing with this is to let these two pairs of words kind of merge back in meaning, and when talking about people, if actually necessary, just mention body parts [ie. those who can get prostate cancer should be screened after the age of x]. This might not be medically useful, but we are talking about friendly interaction here, not biological research, which is not my job.

-I will still take my calcium as "female-bodied people are more at risk of osteoporosis", because this is still a statistically useful category. But technically, "people with more estrogen* are more.." would be more accurate. If they formulated the usual warnings this way, this warning could reach the high-estrogene-ed, non-female-identified people too, but on the other hand, it might have passed some women who are high on estrogen, but low on knowing anything about hormones**. So this is, after all, a communication problem of the medical community, not a scientific one. There are correlations and gray zones, but we can call them anything, depending of what we want to use the words for.

So that's the "memo" I was looking for.

*or whatever the exact correlation is
**especially if it is, as I suspect, not actually the estrogen, but something much more complicated even I don't know.

[ 01-11-2012, 05:56 PM: Message edited by: naplement ]

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Heather
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I think it might be a bit more apt, per the first bit, to say that male does NOT basically mean man and female does NOT basically mean woman. Male/female are terms about sex or chromosomes, while man/woman are terms about gender. While those things are related or "matching" for some people, they're not for others, so they're quite different, both in meaning and in practice.

I think the thing to recognize is that cisgender privilege -- and a long, historical lack of awareness in so many cultures about people being anything but -- is why those terms are presented as meaning the same thing.

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naplement
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I have edited it, so I haven't seen what you wrote. I know that a feminist usage has tried to make these pairs of words to mean completely different things. Redskies said That usually, talking about a "female" or "male" body, different to how they identified themselves or their bodies, simply came back to saying that they couldn't "really" be the gender they identified as. and this suggests that the change in meaning was unsuccesful - because a lot of people still feel attacked in their womanness/manhood when others taled about male/female bodies that didn't "match" their gender. If male/female was really just about the hardware, then people won't be more angry when categorized by them unrelated to gender than when they are categorized base on bloodtype... but they still feel that these categories for bodies are intertwined with gender, so the next step from feminists was to give up on this intention of separation of meaning and try a different strategy - that's what I understood.

ps: in a framework where "male/female is about sex and chromosomes and man/woman is about gender, which is in the head", I know that I am male (or female) and therefore what I have is by definition a male (or female) body. It may not look standard, but so what? would be meaningless, because what one _believes_ is in the head and falls under the "gender" category. It only makes sense if we know that the separation of meanings was unsuccesful in general-use-english.

[ 01-11-2012, 06:11 PM: Message edited by: naplement ]

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Heather
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I'd not say that's just about feminism, though I certainly think feminism is where a lot of gender theory started. But even before that, the medical community knew about intersex individuals and transgender individuals, so changes were happening from that sphere a long time back, too.

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Redskies
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Partly, I agree that so far the separation of meaning of sex and gender has not been successful. When trans people are told that "you have a male/female body, therefore you have to be a man/woman", I think it's wrong to ask or expect trans people to accept the usage of male/female body, when it's used to oppress them.

I've read writings by trans people who do not experience a complete separation of sex and gender, though. I've read trans people who transitioned without surgery; maybe they didn't have the bodies that they would have freely chosen for themselves, but they felt ok in their bodies, and did not feel comfortable with surgery. A trans woman, for example, fully identified as a woman, and although she had a body that included what would anatomically be classed as a penis, she did not experience her body as "male". She was a woman, and did not experience anything about herself as "male". In cases like that, it would seem very disrespectful to me to call someone's body "male" if that's not how they experience it.

I do understand what you mean about the usefulness of categories of "male" and "female" bodies. I guess I personally prefer to think of those categories as very fuzzy, and remembering that not everyone fits neatly into one or the other, and shouldn't have to. I think there's still a limit to how useful medically these terms are, though. For example: a trans man who has had surgery is probably not "female bodied" in most people's definitions, and won't need many types of healthcare aimed at "female bodied" people. However, some health considerations for people who were considered female at birth may still apply to him. It also wouldn't make sense to categorise him with "male bodied" people for all medical things, for example, I'm guessing he wouldn't need prostate exams.

I also agree about it often being very hard to find language that is both trans-inclusive and immediately clear to all cis people.

I think it's important to really think about what we mean by a "female body" and a "male body". What do those things mean to you? How would you define them?

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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naplement
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Partly, I agree that so far the separation of meaning of sex and gender has not been successful. When trans people are told that "you have a male/female body, therefore you have to be a man/woman", I think it's wrong to ask or expect trans people to accept the usage of male/female body, when it's used to oppress them. That's what I meant: because this thing has been so many times told, I can say with the best intentons and with the theoretical basis that sex =/= gender that "you have a male body but you may have whatever gender" and they will still hear "...but preferably be a man", not because I wanted to say this, but because that's how the language works right now, despite the efforts.

She was a woman, and did not experience anything about herself as "male". In cases like that, it would seem very disrespectful to me to call someone's body "male" if that's not how they experience it. If sex meant something neutral, like blood type, and gender (and mind sex) would mean man, woman etc, then this wasn't disrespectful. But the words still mostly means which the theoreticians who tried to separate sex and gender words didn't want them to mean. So the best is to just give up and don't rely too much on these words.

we have a lot of misunderstandings in this thread, which illustrates just how hard is to find a language for this (and my crappy english skills, but this sounds less philosophical. [Smile] ) Anyway, my question is answered. thanks everybofy.

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Saffron Raymie
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Bump on a log; you've got me thinking I have a genderqueer body and I love it! Thank you very much! [Smile]

Also, napplement, I think you've got it there when you say if sex was something 'neutral' it would be okay. I'd also like to extend on that the if we lived in a world where sex wasn't something mentioned anywhere near as much, or something as focused on as some huge difference between two 'opposite' 'types' of bodies, it would be okay. [Smile]

[ 01-12-2012, 06:26 AM: Message edited by: Seashi Rae ]

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Redskies
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Naplement, I'm sorry for my part in a misunderstanding. I agree it is hard to find language for this. Also, not that you need my opinion, but I think your English is excellent, and I couldn't even begin to take part in a discussion about something as complex as this in one of my second languages.

I, too, love the idea of a world where people's bodies didn't mattter in that way, didn't cause any comment or any assumptions about the person.

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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WesLuck
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People who respect themselves and others, and who want to respect themselves and others, should be able to be themselves, and be with others if they choose to do so. [Wink]
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