Gender Analysis: On the science of gender perception and misgendering

I’ve just published an update and sequel to last year’s Gender Analysis episode “Trans Passing Tips for Cis People”, which explored how perception of gendered features can vary between individuals due to the influence of a number of documented factors. This episode examines further evidence for various biases in gender perception and attribution, and considers what this means for trans people in the context of widespread cis assumptions about “passing” and the intensifying debate on restrooms:

In everyday life, interactions between the expression and interpretation of gender are so diverse that whether someone “looks like a woman” isn’t always entirely predictable. This naïve model of gender perception treats gender as a property emitted from an individual, with all others as passive receivers who simply accept this expression at face value. Yet this is precisely backwards – expressions of gender are not objective and singular; they are subjective, interpretative, and multiple.

The same trans person, on the same day, with exactly the same appearance, can still have their gender read entirely differently depending on who’s looking at them. Why does this happen? At least in part, it’s because many of the variables involved here aren’t located within the one person being observed, but rather the multiple people observing them.

Keep reading at Gender Analysis >>

Gender Analysis: On the science of gender perception and misgendering
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Book review: Galileo’s Middle Finger, by Alice Dreger

In the aftermath of the controversy surrounding the withdrawal of the nomination of “Galileo’s Middle Finger” for a Lambda Literary Foundation award, I’ve reviewed the book’s sections on J. Michael Bailey and autogynephilia (a proposed sexual etiology of gender dysphoria):

The central theme of Galileo’s Middle Finger is the importance of the scientific pursuit of truth to the wider social pursuit of justice – to Dreger, these aims go hand in hand, with factual accuracy as a necessity for effective advocacy. Her recounting of the disputes surrounding this sexual theory is just one of many vignettes intended to support these principles. Unfortunately, her uncritical acceptance of questionable science, and her dissemination of a misleading impression of trans women’s lives, cast doubt on the book’s value in advancing the very justice she prizes most.

You can read the rest at Gender Analysis (or as a PDF here), including factual inaccuracies in the stereotype-laden caricatures attached to this theory, issues with the half-dozen epicycle-like excuses that have been proposed to explain away data inconsistent with the theory, and a look at some of the surprisingly personal attacks that have been made in the course of promoting the concept of autogynephilia. Many readers have been asking me to cover Blanchard’s typology and autogynephilia for a while, and the book presented an excellent opportunity. At almost 7500 words, this is the longest article I’ve published, but it’s mostly due to how much was wrong here.

The details of the relevant scientific research are obscure enough that there’s very little chance the average cis reader would be sufficiently familiar with the literature to recognize the full extent of the flaws in “Galileo’s Middle Finger”. Sadly, this lack of awareness leads to puff pieces and glowing reviews from otherwise reputable outlets, praising her values of “solid data”, “empirical research”, and “true scholarship” without the slightest recognition of the book’s stark inadequacies in those areas. The vast majority of cis people simply have no reason not to take her words at face value, and it’s disturbing how easily one high-profile source’s slanted coverage of this topic can filter down to a believing media and influence the wider public. My review-slash-scientific-critique is intended to remedy this. The science, the trans people who are the subject of this research, and the cis people who are interested in learning more about this, deserve better than the narrow and incomplete portrayal offered by Dreger.

Book review: Galileo’s Middle Finger, by Alice Dreger

An interview at TransEthics: Public outreach, healthcare, and community dynamics

I’ve just finished a wonderful interview at Victoria Darling’s TransEthics blog, covering topics like public awareness of trans issues, support for trans youth, barriers to healthcare access, controversies within the community, and more. A quick preview:

TE: Is it your goal with the series to make trans people more relatable to the general public?

ZJ: This is a theme of the series, but more than that, it’s a theme of all of my work. I’ve found that this is often a matter of actions more than words. Simply existing publicly as an out trans person means creating opportunities for people to become familiar with us – when they see me, they know one more trans person than they did before. They know about my life, my history, my motivations and ambitions, my unique and defining features and interests.

This is what it means to humanize a group of people in the eyes of the larger public. It’s easy to make quick and uncharitable generalizations about who we are when you have a near vacuum of actual knowledge about us as real individuals. Unfamiliarity reduces us to an abstract concept for the wildest array of misconceptions and fears to be projected upon, rather than actual people who are a lot like you and are sharing a world with you. My series more narrowly serves to highlight specific issues facing trans people – aspects of our lives that can be quite challenging, but that cis people would otherwise have no reason to consider or be aware of in the usual course of their lives. These are experiences that I want to convey to cis people – I want more of them to have a deeper and more meaningful grasp of what this is like for us.

You can catch the rest of the interview at TransEthics.

An interview at TransEthics: Public outreach, healthcare, and community dynamics

Welcome to The Orbit, an atheist blog network for social justice

Today we’re launching The Orbit, a blog network of atheists advancing the values of intersectional feminism and social justice, and offering diverse secular perspectives on some of the world’s most pressing issues. The network is home to more than 20 nonreligious commentators from many walks of life, all of them bringing their unique experiences, insights, and outlooks together to spark discourse and move conversations forward in secular and social justice communities alike.

For those of you who are new to this blog, I’m Zinnia Jones. I’m a professional writer and researcher, a radical feminist, a secular activist, a trans woman, and a mom, living in Florida with my partners Heather and Penny. As a former Christian, I’ve been vlogging on YouTube since 2008, addressing faith issues and political developments with a focus on LGBT topics. After transitioning in 2012, I’ve increasingly covered trans-related subjects with an emphasis on the experiences of trans people and the impact of structural prejudice on our lives. These themes have featured prominently in my web series, Gender Analysis. I’ve written at Freethought Blogs from 2012 to 2015, spoken at the Florida Secular Rally and SF Pride, participated in panels at Women in Secularism III, and made appearances on Al Jazeera America and CNN to discuss trans healthcare access in prisons. Continue reading “Welcome to The Orbit, an atheist blog network for social justice”

Welcome to The Orbit, an atheist blog network for social justice

How Do You Know What it’s Like to Be…? (Gender Analysis 08)

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Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. As trans people, we’re often asked how we would know what it’s like to be our gender. Trans women are expected to explain how we know what it’s like to be a woman; trans men are asked how they know that they’re men. At first glance, this might seem like a simple enough question: what is it about our experiences that aligns with womanhood or manhood? But this line of inquiry, innocent as it may be, runs parallel to scrutiny and invalidation. And when you break this question down, it doesn’t really make any sense.  Continue reading “How Do You Know What it’s Like to Be…? (Gender Analysis 08)”

How Do You Know What it’s Like to Be…? (Gender Analysis 08)

Stop Calling Trans Women "Male" (Gender Analysis 07)

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Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. Calling trans women “male” is like the background noise of transphobia. It comes from many directions, and it’s pretty much constant. On one level, it’s a lazy invalidation of who and what we are, offered up by armchair biology fans who insist that trans women are always and forever “male”. On another, it’s unwittingly perpetuated rhetoric by people trying to provide 101-level explanations of what it means to be transgender while unaware that they may be causing even more confusion. And, of course, it’s overtly weaponized as a rallying cry of those looking to keep our genders from being recognized and protected under the law.

But this concept of physical sex as permanent and inescapable is actually incomplete, inaccurate, and irrelevant. Are trans women really “male” in any way that matters? I don’t think so. Continue reading “Stop Calling Trans Women "Male" (Gender Analysis 07)”

Stop Calling Trans Women "Male" (Gender Analysis 07)

Support Stephanie's legal defense

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(Donate to Stephanie’s legal defense fund!)

Stephanie Guttormson is the Operations Director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. She’s advised secular advocacy groups on trans issues, she debunks pseudoscience on her YouTube channel, and she’s a good friend. And now, she needs our help.

Recently, a lawsuit was filed against Stephanie by a so-called faith healer, Adam Miller, after she pointed out that his claims of faith healing are completely unsupportable. I mean, it’s faith healing. Seriously, does anyone actually think that does anything? Miller wants her video removed from YouTube, but his allegations of “copyright infringement” and “defamation” are extremely unlikely to hold up. This is just another frivolous lawsuit intended to harass critics and silence debate.

Open critique of religious claims is not something that can be considered disposable in a free society. And this takes on even greater importance when “faith-based” treatment is being offered as a substitute for actual medical care. This is like pharmacies that stock homeopathic products next to real medicine: bad enough on its own, but imagine if they sued anyone who pointed out why this is so irresponsible.

Stephanie has a legal defense fund set up at gofundme.com/srglegalfund. I hope that people will do what they can to support her defense. Stephanie is far from the only one debunking bad science and bad arguments on YouTube – harassment and silencing of skeptics is something that affects all of us. Support Stephanie. Screw faith healers.

Support Stephanie's legal defense

Bathroom Bills: Dehumanization and Control (Gender Analysis 06)

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Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. Ever since I transitioned, I’ve noticed something interesting: a lot of cis people really seem to care about where I go to the bathroom. Over the past few months, lawmakers in several states have proposed bills to ban people from using restrooms and other facilities that don’t match their sex assigned at birth. Practically speaking, this would have the effect of forcing trans women to use men’s restrooms and trans men to use women’s restrooms or face fines, jail time, or more.

This is an issue that’s been around forever and it makes life incredibly difficult for us. We’re painted as a threat to a cis population that in reality poses more of a threat to us. This much larger and more institutionally powerful group now seeks to enshrine their bathroom policing into law. And they’ve presented this as if it’s an actual controversy with genuine issues to be debated.

Well, it’s not.  Continue reading “Bathroom Bills: Dehumanization and Control (Gender Analysis 06)”

Bathroom Bills: Dehumanization and Control (Gender Analysis 06)

Trans Passing Tips for Cis People (Gender Analysis 05)

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Did you know that parents tend to see newborn boys as larger and newborn girls as smaller, even when they’re the same size? Welcome to Gender Analysis.

Last time, we talked about how transgender people are affected by the expectation of passing – the idea that we should blend in as if we’re cis people. We discussed how this can force us to become secretive about every part of our lives, how it can keep us from advocating on our own behalf, and how it can isolate us from other trans people.

Now I’d like to examine passing in practice. Most people think of passing as a one-way street, as though the responsibility for passing or not falls solely on trans people. We often see cis people feign helplessness and protest that they just can’t see us as our gender. This serves as an excuse to misgender us.

But we’re not the only variable in this equation. It’s easy to assume that perception is an objective sense – that we all reliably see a person exactly as they are, just like pointing a video camera at them. Yet perception isn’t really like that at all, and this means that there are aspects of “passing” that are completely external to trans people. Continue reading “Trans Passing Tips for Cis People (Gender Analysis 05)”

Trans Passing Tips for Cis People (Gender Analysis 05)