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

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

Planet Fitness and Cis Tears

CN: transantagonism, discussion of hypothetical sexual assault/rape

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The internet has been abuzz over this thing that happened:

[…] a Planet Fitness gym in Midland, Michigan revoked the membership of a woman who complained that the trans woman she was sharing a locker room with looked too much like a man.

Of course, this event has stirred up a bunch of conversation around whether trans people (often trans women) should have access to certain gendered spaces, namely bathrooms and locker rooms. Trans people and allies are basically of the opinion that it’s no big deal to let people pick the bathroom that’s appropriate for them and cis people need to shut the hell up about it. The opposition centers around how it can make (cis) women uncomfortable, and how there’s a chance that (cis) men could dress as women any time they wanted to gain access to these spaces and maybe attack the cis women.

It occurred to me recently that if a cis dude wanted to dress as a woman to enter a gendered restroom, he would have to a) pack the clothes and change into them right before entering the bathroom, risking detection by anyone paying attention, or b) wear the clothes out in public on the way to his dirty deed of peeking or whatever. (Which–if peeking is what you’re worried about–would mean that any cis women attracted to women would also not be allowed in the women’s room. Just saying.) Continue reading “Planet Fitness and Cis Tears”

Planet Fitness and Cis Tears

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)

Spawn More Trans: Transgender Awareness and Activation (Live at Social Justice Calgary)

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Remarks as prepared for Social Justice Calgary 2015:

Hi, I’m Zinnia Jones. I’ve been publishing my work on YouTube and on Freethought Blogs for several years now, covering secular and LGBT topics. I’m very honored that the University of Calgary Freethinkers have invited me here.

Most recently my focus has been on transgender issues. I’ve been transitioning for a couple years, and I’ve covered this topic like I would pretty much any other aspect of my life — telling the internet everything I think about it. I’ve also done a lot of research on it, because it seemed like no one else could really tell me all the things I wanted to know about going through this. So that’s a gap I’ve felt I should try to fill by sharing what I’ve learned with a wider audience. Continue reading “Spawn More Trans: Transgender Awareness and Activation (Live at Social Justice Calgary)”

Spawn More Trans: Transgender Awareness and Activation (Live at Social Justice Calgary)

Some Advice on "Passing" (Gender Analysis 04)

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Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. The term “passing” is typically used to describe whether or not a trans person is perceived as noticeably trans. For a trans woman, to “pass” is to be seen as a cis woman in everyday life, and vice versa for trans men. Most people tend to assume that passing is or should be a goal for every trans person, and it’s easy to see why. Some of us do find it necessary to look like cis people of our gender, because that’s what it takes to relieve our dysphoria. In other cases, the changes that we need in order to feel comfortable just happen to push us more in the direction of passing. And when people don’t know we’re trans, it can eliminate some of the insecurities that can arise when people do know, like wondering if they really see us as our gender or they’re just humoring us.

More than that, being visibly trans in public can be dangerous. In a study of over 6,000 trans people in the United States, those who were seen as “visually non-conforming” were more likely to be harassed in retail stores, hotels and restaurants, and they were more likely to be attacked when using public accommodations such as restrooms. Practically all of us have faced the fear or the terrifying reality of being heckled by strangers just because of what we look like. Passing isn’t just about aiming to reduce our own dysphoria – it’s also about keeping ourselves safe from everyone else. Continue reading “Some Advice on "Passing" (Gender Analysis 04)”

Some Advice on "Passing" (Gender Analysis 04)

Low T: A Tale of Two Hormones (Gender Analysis 01)

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Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. In recent years, prescription testosterone has become a booming industry around the world. From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of men over 40 in the US who were prescribed testosterone replacement grew from about 0.8% to 2.9% – more than a threefold increase. And data from 41 nations shows that yearly testosterone sales have increased from $150 million in 2000 to $1.8 billion in 2011. Meanwhile, chains of “low T clinics” focusing on testosterone therapy have opened dozens of locations across the country.

So what’s behind this growth? Let’s take a look at one commercial for prescription testosterone gel:

“I have low testosterone. There, I said it. See, I knew testosterone could affect sex drive, but not energy or even my mood. That’s when I talked with my doctor. He gave me some blood tests – showed it was low T. That’s it. It was a number.”

Companies selling these medications increased their spending on testosterone ads from $14 million in 2011 to $107 million in 2012, using a snappy new name like “low T” and the promise of a quick and easy pick-me-up for older men. If your T is low, you feel bad; if your T is higher, you feel good – right? This is the approach that’s fueled an explosion in testosterone usage. The problem is, it’s not just a number. In reality, “low T” levels are uncertain, the symptoms are vague, and the relationship between levels and symptoms really isn’t so direct. Continue reading “Low T: A Tale of Two Hormones (Gender Analysis 01)”

Low T: A Tale of Two Hormones (Gender Analysis 01)

White House Response to Non-Binary Gender Petition

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Don’t get too excited, folks. The response was about as disappointing as you might expect.

Thank you for your petition requesting that the executive branch legally recognize genders outside of the male-female binary and provide an option for these genders on all legal documents and records.

We know how important this issue is, and we understand the profound impact, both symbolic and otherwise, of having official documents that accurately reflect an individual’s identity. These documents play an essential, functional role, but also demonstrate the measure of dignity and respect afforded to our nation’s citizens. We cannot overstate the care and seriousness that should be brought to bear on the issue.

We recognize the importance of gender identification in particular and the Obama Administration is working to modernize federal policies in this area. For example, in 2010, the U.S. Department of State made it easier for individuals to update the gender marker in their passports. And last year, the Social Security Administration followed suit by simplifying the process for individuals to change the gender marker on their social security cards to reflect their identity accurately.

As you can imagine, there is considerable variance across agencies and levels of government. And so while the Obama Administration wants to make sure that official documents reflect the identities of the Americans who hold them, we believe proposals to change when and how gender is listed on official documents should be considered on a case-by-case basis by the affected federal and state agencies. However, that consideration must be informed by best practices and a commitment to honoring individuality and ensuring fairness.

Thank you again for your petition. We appreciate your input and the opportunity to convey our shared commitment.

It really just strikes me that the person who wrote this response (Roy Austin, Deputy Assistant to the President for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice, and Opportunity in the Domestic Policy Council) doesn’t have an understanding of non-binary sex, much less gender. Like how babies are born with “ambiguous” genitalia and there’s no legal option for designating their sex as something other than strictly male or female. (Not to mention the many inherent problems with designating sex at birth anyway.)

The original petition wasn’t worded super well anyway.

Legal documents in the United States only recognize “male” and “female” as genders, leaving anyone who does not identify as one of these two genders with no option. Australia and New Zealand both allow an X in place of an M or an F on passports for this purpose and the UK recognizes ‘Mx’ (pronounced as Mix or sometimes Mux) as a gender-neutral title.

This petition asks the Obama Administration to legally recognize genders outside of the male-female binary (such as agender, pangender, genderfluid, and others) and provide an option for these genders on all legal documents and records.

So yeah, an expected disappointing response. I’m glad there’s a way for us to engage our government more directly and show our numbers, but I had hoped for more.

White House Response to Non-Binary Gender Petition

If you wear jeans, you’re not a woman: Transphobia at women’s shelters

The case of a women’s shelter in Maine handily demonstrates the true inanity of policing gender via its expression:

But the women who complained said they believe that in at least one case, it was a ruse. They believe one of the people in question is a man who occasionally dresses as a woman to get into the shelter, perhaps for voyeuristic reasons. That person did not have any feminine mannerisms and often dresses in a T-shirt and jeans, sporting a 5 o’clock shadow of male facial hair, they said.

“If they’re really living as a woman, I think they have every right to be there,” said one of the women who complained. “But he wasn’t wearing makeup or wearing eyeliner or anything. Just a man wearing a skirt. It was just odd.”

Let’s take a moment to consider the following advertisement.

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“Women’s jeans”? This is clearly a contradiction – anyone wearing jeans, logically, cannot be a woman. Note also this recent photo of Lady Gaga without makeup.

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In the absence of any eyeliner, how can we possibly accept that Lady Gaga is a woman?

Oh, that’s right – nobody questions or doubts the very genders of cis women who wear shirts and jeans, or don’t put on makeup. That unique treatment is reserved for trans women. Cis women can dress as they choose, and while they too are scrutinized no matter how they present themselves, none of this is seen as invalidating the fact of their womanhood. When cis women wear jeans, nobody claims they’re actually men. Yet trans women are held to a higher standard: the jeans and shirts that would be acceptable for cis women now only erode our own legitimacy as women.

Cis genders are solid and stable enough to withstand any change of dress, but trans genders are seen as so flimsy that the mere absence of makeup can upend them. We thus face the dichotomy that we must be either far more exaggeratedly, stereotypically feminine than is expected of other women, or risk being treated as “men”. What sense does this make? It is an instance of cissexism: the attitude that cis people’s genders are more real, more important, and generally superior to those of trans people.

Shelters are a crucial and necessary resource for homeless, abused, and vulnerable women, and it’s very important that these shelters remain safe for their residents. These concerns are also not exclusive to cis women. Trans women need these shelters just as badly – and they need them to be a truly safe place to stay.

In a 2011 survey of 6,450 transgender Americans, 22% of trans women reported experiencing domestic violence due to being transgender. 19% of respondents had been homeless at some point in their lives, a number which rose to 48% among those who had suffered domestic violence.

A significant portion of trans women will require the services of shelters at some point in their lives. However, 34% of trans women who had attempted to access shelters were denied entry outright. Of the respondents who did manage to access a shelter, 25% were evicted after it became known that they were trans. 55% were harassed by shelter staff or residents, and 29% of trans women were physically assaulted. 26% were sexually assaulted at shelters. Overall, 47% were treated so poorly that they chose to leave the shelter.

Again, this took place in shelters that are intended to serve as a safe, supportive environment for abused and vulnerable women. Think about what that means: At least one in four trans women in shelters have been physically or sexually assaulted while residing at the shelter.

Many trans women are clearly in need of these shelters, and they urgently need these shelters to be a safe place to stay. But in pursuing the wholly valid and important goal of ensuring the safety of shelter residents, too many people have mistakenly viewed trans women as a problem, a danger, a threat. In rightfully seeking to keep women safe, they’ve wrongfully treated trans women as inherently suspicious un-women, refusing to see them as women who are just as much in need of support as everyone else there.

Fortunately, the shelter in Maine has refrained from casting doubt on trans women’s genders, and treats them as equally legitimate and worthy of respect. Yet the exclusion and mistreatment of trans women at shelters remains a widespread problem. The concerns that lead to this mistreatment neglect the reality of the situation: trans women are not the threatening ones at women’s shelters. They are the threatened ones.

And the more that people engage in this hostile, insipid questioning of trans women’s pants or makeup choices, the fewer trans women will be able to access these much-needed services during some of the most difficult times in their lives. This isn’t protecting women – it’s failing them.

If you wear jeans, you’re not a woman: Transphobia at women’s shelters