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.
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.
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.
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)”→
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.
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.
[…] 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”→
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)”→
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)”→
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)”→