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Author Topic: I'll Label Myself, Thanks
TenohSetsuna
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If anyone here reads The New York Times Magazine(inside the newspaper on Sundays), you'll probably have noticed an article from the May 26 edition about a kid who was called "M" who is a pre-op FtM in middle school, and keeps his biological sex hidden from his classmates and a good number of his teachers. He has a girlfriend who doesn't know he's biologically female, which brings me to the point. [If you don't get the Times, you can probably access it from www.nytimes.com, the archive requires you to get an account, but it's free]

Today in the Letters section of the Magazine, the following letter appeared:

By definition, a person anatomically and gentically female who prefers sexual contact with other females is lesbian, despite the fact that M. does not percieve the contact in that way. I consider M.'s girlfriend to be potentially at great risk for emotional trauma once she realizes that she has been involved in a "lesbian" relationship. She certainly should not be used to encourage M.'s self-delusional behavior.

This letter unsettled me, to put it lightly. But my basic point is that, while the dictionary definition of lesbian is a female who is sexually attracted to females, M. identifies as straight because he considers himself a boy. This woman may be right by the dictionary definition, but does she have any right to tell M. what to identify as?

Also, does anyone think that M.'s girlfriend is actually at "risk"?

[This is a little side rant on the article about M. No pictures were used of M., which I approve of, as he wishes his identity to remain secret, but throughout the article there were pictures of a face half stereotypically "boy" and half stereotypically "girl" swirled together, which seemed to send the message that transgendered people are freaks. The NYTM could have done better. They have more class than that.

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I don't want eternity. But Arashii is mine.

"I never said I was a boy." - Tenoh Haruka, episode 92, Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon


Posts: 102 | From: SoCal | Registered: Dec 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Heather
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In terms of the girlfriend's risk of emotional trauma, I'd have to say yes, she is. Really, no matter what the issue, having a partner keep a Very Big Secret from you can really be an awful betrayal. having that thing be their gender can be especially hard because that girlfirend, her friends, and her family may have feelings about orientation and gender that would make her choose a different sort of relationship, or make different choices, based on those feelings.

Obviously, it is certainly a wrost-case scenario, but the Brandon Teena case is an example of how bad that can get when kept a secret from most people involved. In a word: very bad.

So, I agree with you, Tenoh, that people should not be arbitrarily labeled as was done in this letter, and I also agree that what could be perceived as a lesbian relationship probably isn't where the greatest source of the problems could lie.

I'd be more inclined to say they'd like with a partner not telling you the truth about themselves, and by doing so, not allowing you to really give consent and make your own choices and judgements.

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Heather Corinna
Editor and Founder, Scarleteen

My epitaph should read: "She worked herself into this ground."
-- Kay Bailey Hutchinson


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Dzuunmod
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For anyone who's interested, the letters can be seen at the bottom of this page, once you've registered. Unfortunately, the article is gone from public view on the Web, unless you want to pay for it.

I'm of a different mind about this, I think.

While I understand why it can be infuriating to have other people labeling a group of people (or even a single person), words aren't there for every person to attach his/her own meaning to. Dictionaries exist so that everyone who speaks a language has the same understanding of it. If we don't have that, what have we got?

Homosexuality, bisexuality and heterosexuality, if I'm not mistaken, are terms that deal with sex - as opposed to gender. If I'm not mistaken again, sex isn't up for debate in the same way as gender is. I can say that my gender isn't so well defined, if I like, but my sex is. With few exceptions, one's organs make it clear whether you're a male, or a female. In this case (and I read the original article by the way), M. is female. M. is attracted to females, and that makes M.'s relationships lesbian relationships. M. can certainly make a case that gender-wise, he's male, but sex-wise, I don't see anyway around this.

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Why don't you admit, you don't have the balls to be a queer?
-Screeching Weasel, "I wanna be a homosexual"


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Rizzo
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That was an interesting article... here's my two cents.

I agree with Miz Scarlet, that yes, there is a risk of emotional trauma for M.'s girlfriend. If the girlfriend considers herself 100% straight, then finding out that perhaps it's not so simple could cause a bit of anguish. And then, of course, there's the previously mentioned "Very Big Secret" thing.

About the photos that accompanied the article: I thought they were pretty cool, actually! One side of the face had long hair, and the other had short, but other than that, they looked pretty much the same. I thought that was the point-- it's usually only superficial things that we look at tell us who's a girl and who's a boy. Afterall, M. can live a life as a boy merely because s/he has adopted the superficial looks and actions of a typical boy.


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logic_grrl
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quote:
With few exceptions, one's organs make it clear whether you're a male, or a female. In this case (and I read the original article by the way), M. is female.

Hang on a minute - the whole point, for trans folk, is that the genitals you are born with don't automatically define whether you're male or female. There's more to being a man than having a penis, and more to being a woman than having a vulva. So maintaining that an MTF transexual is "really" a man, or that an FTM transexual is "really" a women, as you seem to be doing, is something that would seriously bother most trans people.

FTM guys are guys, whether they're pre-op, post-op, or non-op - and that's an incredibly basic part of their identity. Since M., as far as he's concerned, is male, and attracted to women, he's straight. His girlfriend is female, and attracted to someone who, as far as she is concerned, is male - how can that make her a lesbian?

However, I agree with everyone else that it's wrong for M. to keep the fact that he's FTM hidden from his girlfriend. This is something that might well affect her judgements and choices, and so I think it's something she has a right to know.


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Dzuunmod
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Just for future reference, when I speak of male and female here, I'm speaking of sex. Man and woman, for my purposes, refer to gender. It's just easier for me to say that, rather than making the distinction every time I use one of those words.

quote:
Hang on a minute - the whole point, for trans folk, is that the genitals you are born with don't automatically define whether you're male or female. There's more to being a man than having a penis, and more to being a woman than having a vulva.

And this is exactly what I'm getting at. While there's more to being a man than having a penis, there isn't more to being male, biologically, than having one, it seems to me.

I said that sex and gender are two different things. One is biological, the other is not. If someone wants to give themselves a gender-label, that's great. Dzuunmod is all for that. However, once people start wanting to decide what their sex is, without any concern for science and the meanings that humans have attached to words, that's when I get concerned.

A male, in the dictionary I'm looking at (www.m-w.com) is defined as "an individual that produces small usually motile gametes (as spermatozoa or spermatozoids) which fertilize the eggs of a female."

Homosexuality, being about sex as it seems to be, could only then refer to males who are attracted to males, or females who are attracted to females.

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Why don't you admit, you don't have the balls to be a queer?
-Screeching Weasel, "I wanna be a homosexual"


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logic_grrl
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quote:
While there's more to being a man than having a penis, there isn't more to being male, biologically, than having one, it seems to me
.

But that's the definition you're choosing to use. For example, in the OED, the definition of "man" is "an adult male person" (and there are no references to penises at all). So, for the OED, men are male and adult males are men - no distinction at all. Even different dictionaries define things in different ways. The usage of words varies, changes and evolves over time and has been doing so throughout history.

quote:
A male, in the dictionary I'm looking at (www.m-w.com) is defined as "an individual that produces small usually motile gametes (as spermatozoa or spermatozoids) which fertilize the eggs of a female."

That's a definition strictly from the biological sciences - but if you apply that to human beings, then that would mean that an infertile guy isn't "male", which I assume isn't what you intend to say.

quote:
Homosexuality, being about sex as it seems to be, could only then refer to males who are attracted to males, or females who are attracted to females.

You're using "sex" in two completely different senses here. In one sense, "sex" means "sexual activities". In that sense, yes, homo/hetero/bisexuality is about "sex".

The other sense of "sex" you are using refers to the distinctions between male and female as drawn by biologists (anatomy, chromosomes, etc.). In that sense, there's no reason why homo/hetero/bisexuality should be about "sex" rather than "gender".

And in fact, in many cases sexual orientation does seems to be about the gender of one's partner rather than their biological sex. I know one straight pre-op FTM guy who's happily involved with a straight woman (who knows that he's FTM, by the way), and neither of them experience this as conflicting with their orientation at all.


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TenohSetsuna
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There's a forum discussing whether M. should be allowed to live as a boy at the NYT Magazine site: http://forums.nytimes.com/webin/WebX?50@112.gQqxaMKKMGe^1810440@.f2bf7ab/0

"Sexual orientation may not be a choice, but sexual identity is." ---Dan Savage

Just thought it was a point to be considered in the "M. must be a lesbian" thing.

------------------
I don't want eternity. But Arashii is mine.

"I never said I was a boy." - Tenoh Haruka, episode 92, Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon


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Dzuunmod
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quote:
Originally posted by logic_grrl:
But that's the definition you're choosing to use. For example, in the OED, the definition of "man" is "an adult male person" (and there are no references to penises at all). So, for the OED, men are male and adult males are men - no distinction at all. Even different dictionaries define things in different ways. The usage of words varies, changes and evolves over time and has been doing so throughout history.

The OED also defines 'sex', and by extension, 'male' and 'female', in a manner that's consistent with what I've been saying. So, I guess contradictions abound in dictionaries, or something.

I'm not going to get into the specifics of the rest of the debate. Suffice to say that when I said homosexuality seemed to be about sex, I meant that as opposed to gender (like I said in my first post).

This last bit isn't specifically directed at you, logic_grrl, but it's something I was thinking about last night. And let me say that I think groups of people should be able to label themselves in that if they don't like a word that's used to label them, it ought to be changed (like Negro was, for instance). But, if homosexuality is genetic (like so many other things that we don't get to choose about ourselves) and so is gender (as some people might argue) why should anyone believe that if someone just says they are female, or gay, that it's so?

To make a comparison, if I say that I think I'm gay or female, some people are just going to take that at face value, and say, 'there goes Dzuunmod, the lesbian'. Meanwhile, if I say that I'm 6 feet and 5 inches tall, and Hispanic, probably most of those same people are going to say, 'there goes Dzuunmod, the crazy 5 foot 6 white person, who wishes he was taller and Hispanic.'

Height and sexuality, many people say, are both genetic. So why is it that my words can change the label I have for one, but not the other?

------------------
Why don't you admit, you don't have the balls to be a queer?
-Screeching Weasel, "I wanna be a homosexual"


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logic_grrl
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quote:
This last bit isn't specifically directed at you, logic_grrl,

Don't worry, I think this is an interesting debate .

quote:
but, if homosexuality is genetic (like so many other things that we don't get to choose about ourselves) and so is gender (as some people might argue) why should anyone believe that if someone just says they are female, or gay, that it's so?

There are some indications that there may be a genetic factor in homosexuality (the research is pretty controversial), but that's different from saying it's just "genetic". If you say someone is gay, for example, you tend to be talking about how they identify and how they behave, not what their genes are like. Even if a "gay gene" was identified, I doubt if people would ever say, for example, "well, this guy says he's gay, and he's attracted to and has sex with other men, but we can't know if he's really gay or not until we've checked his genes."

Ditto with gender. For example, take women with AIS (androgen insensitivity syndrome). These girls grow up from birth exactly like other girls, except for typically having a shallower vagina (and a few other traits like a tendency to very good skin). They look female and identify as female. But a genetic test will show they have XY chromosomes. In fact, when the Olympics went through a phase of "sex tests", they discovered that a small percentage of women, who'd lived all their lives without thinking they were in any way different from other women, had XY chromosomes.

The question is, do you want to say that these women are "really", in some existential sense, "male"? Or do you want to say: well, they look female, they act female, they identify as female, to all practical intents and purposes they are female.

Here's an interesting thought: like most people, I've never had my chromosomes checked. I seem to be female. I don't have any obvious physical signs of unusual chromosomal arrangements. But in fact, it's still perfectly possible that I have XY chromosomes. So should I say that I don't know whether I'm female or not?

The point is that, when it comes to human beings, sexuality and gender are both, to a significant extent, about how you live, behave, and identify. Height, on the other hand, isn't.


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TenohSetsuna
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Do you have any links on AIS and the Olympic "sex tests"? I'd be interested.

------------------
I don't want eternity. But Arashii is mine.

"I never said I was a boy." - Tenoh Haruka, episode 92, Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon


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logic_grrl
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I got most of my info on this subject from books - especially Natalie Angier's "Woman: An Intimate Geography" (which I'd seriously recommend to anyone living in or near a female body ) and Anne Fausto-Sterling's "Sexing the Body".

But if you do a quick search on the net you should be able to turn up plenty of references on AIS and other "intersex" conditions - there's a bunch of links at http://directory.google.com/Top/Society/Transgendered/Intersexed/ and an AIS Support Group at http://www.medhelp.org/www/ais .

You might also be interested in the piece at Scarleteen on being intersexed at http://www.scarleteen.com/politics/gender.html .

[This message has been edited by logic_grrl (edited 06-17-2002).]


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Dzuunmod
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Sounds good, logic. I'm just bothered by the hypocrisy when some people argue that homosexuality is completely genetic, and then say that people can label themselves however they want. In one sense, they can (objecting to words they don't like) but in another, they can't - not if they believe that something's totally genetic.

It's nice to debate, and come to agreements, for lack of a better word, like this.

------------------
Why don't you admit, you don't have the balls to be a queer?
-Screeching Weasel, "I wanna be a homosexual"


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Heather
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I think it's worth noting that labels for sexual orientation are VERY tricky, because they try and serve as umbrella descriptions for so many things at once: for gender attraction, for past and previous sexual experiences, for relationship choices, for gender identity, and so forth.

So, simply saying that ALL of those things are genetics is -- I agree, Dzuun -- more than a little crazy. But I think more times than not, the arguments and descriptions get so sketchy and tough to manage because anything OTHER than textbook heterosexuality and very binary gender as identified by birth-genitals is so marginalized, that the descriptions for the massive diversity of those things are abbreviated -- and expected to be -- to a ridiculous level.

Because you know, the average person is going to have one helluva time absorbing a real description of all those things at once, and saying I'm a "soft butch femme-identified biowoman pansexual Kinsey 2 blah blah blah," etc. is a bit of a mouthful.

And it's at that point where it is very important, methinks, to make clear that someone can't attach all of those things to a person they don't know with a single word. Unless, I suppose, that word was "complicated."

------------------
Heather Corinna
Editor and Founder, Scarleteen

My epitaph should read: "She worked herself into this ground."
-- Kay Bailey Hutchinson


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bethany
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Poor M. Can you imagine? The first conclusion we could come to is that it's terrible for him to decieve someone with whom he is so deeply involved. But we might want to amend that conclusion when we think of his emotional tumult. Really, the poor guy...he must be so afraid of losing her when she finds out that he is a "biological girl", and that their relationship has been "lesbianic".

I think he needs to get some counseling. At this point, the situation is so deeply tangled in deciet that it would be dangerous to just give his situation the chop. He should be given guidance and strongly advised to tell his girlfriend the truth.

It will be a shocking event for both of them.


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