For as long as I can remember, I have been a heterosexual, cis-gendered, any-ethnicity-with-melanin female with bold opinions about transgenderism trapped in the body of a heterosexual , cis-gendered, pasty white female who cannot bring herself to express her bold opinions about transgenderism for fear of being vilified and castigated.
Today—in the spirit of courage and heroism—I am opening the door to reveal my authentic self. I am sure you will be supportive, loving, accepting, and tolerant.
In spite of my typically cynical, flippant approach to everything else in the world, I’m going to try really hard to be respectful. In spite of the fact that I look askance at many priesthood issues, gender issues, temple issues, and a host of other issues more sacred than “gender identity,” I’m aware enough to know that our culture simply disallows certain things. You can mock Mormons, but you can’t mock Muslims. You can bash women who wear knee length dresses and twist their hair in odd configurations, but you can’t bash men with large Adam’s apples and five o’clock shadow who totter about in heels. It’s just the way of the world. I reluctantly embrace it—for this post—to the extent I can muster.
Remember, it is improper to contradict, disrespect, or shame the truly authentic.
Breathe. Breathe. I’m OK. You’re OK. Love is love.
It’s All About the Bruce
The entire tabloid-ish (plus Facebook) world is still talking about the man formerly known as Bruce Jenner and now known as Caitlyn Jenner. My memories are of him as an Olympic powerhouse but that’s gone the way of the world and he’s now mostly known for being part of the worst reality TV family ever and flipping on his third wife.
Everyone is now publishing super angsty posts and status updates about how warmly and keenly they embrace Caitlyn Jenner with all the sugary love and goodness and kindness (especially kindness, because that is the most important thing we Mormony Mormons can do!) they can muster. He (and the rest of the 0.3% of the population who claim to be transgendered) must be indulged in his womanliness, because any behavior that revolves around gender or orientation or feelings simply must be hugged, nurtured, and coddled in its fragility (as long as it’s anything that used to be considered weird, disturbed, or wrong). The science is settled.
As an exercise in counterpoint, I’m going to pose some questions that have occurred to me over the course of the past couple of years. I don’t have conclusions (yet), so I’m asking you to contribute your thoughts. I’m going to use the infallible Wikipedia as the definitive source to discuss how these definitions only confuse me more.
To be clear, I have presented a number of specific questions below and I’d really appreciate cogent answers to them, with regards to what “transgenderism” is.
Definition #1 – Of, relating to, or designating a person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender roles, but combines or moves between these.
What do “gender roles” have to do with biology?
I’ve spent the better part of my life (47 of 51 years) trying to prove that my XX chromosomes do mean some things but do not mean everything they’ve historically been said to mean. Below is an inexhaustive list that applies outside of a chromosomal defect or abnormality. (Yes, I know it’s not kosher to say anything is “abnormal” (unless it’s some Christiany moralistic kind of thing), but just go with me here for a minute.) (Wait…is it kosher to use the word kosher?)
- Female/male genitalia will be present
- Predictable physiological development throughout lifespan can be expected
- Can/cannot bear children
- Donation of egg/sperm to offspring
XX/XY Does Not Mean
- One is illogical/logical
- One is emotional/stoic
- One is nurturing/brutish
- One is able/unable to control one’s thought or behaviors
- One is dumb/smart
- One is physically or mentally weak/strong
- One can only be a nurse/doctor
- One can only be a flight attendant/pilot
When I was about six, I sat in the basement chatting with my dad while he was painting something or other. (For the record, I was also his regular companion while he did all the family grocery shopping and making the nightly dinner salad, which may form foundational proofs that Dad wasn’t unambiguously male.) I told him definitively that I wanted to be a boy.
Fortunately for me, my parents didn’t see this as a sign to transition me with testosterone shots (or whatever they use to make girls look sort of like boys)—because I kind of like being female these days—but instead saw a chance to ask me what I thought I was missing out on. As it turned out, my reasons were:
- I did not want to change my last name because I liked Moore and my dad had already made it clear he couldn’t marry me just so I could keep it.
- Boy Scouts did way cooler things than Girl Scouts (and I wasn’t really supposed to be a Girl Scout anyway because the church didn’t really like them).
Once women were allowed to keep their own names and do cool stuff and they could be doctors and pilots and CEOs (instead of only being nurses and stewardesses and secretaries) and men could be florists and designers and scrapbookers (think Kirby in Sons of Provo), why would anyone need to claim and be recognized as the gender they do not possess in order to subvert “conventional notions of male or female gender roles.” Why not just do the “unconventional” thing you want to do?
If it’s about communal acceptance, who is more likely to be publicly embraced these days, a female pilot or male-claiming-to-be-female pilot?
Does anyone have an identity that “conforms unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender roles”?
While I admit I don’t even know why “conventional notions of male or female gender roles” matters anymore, I understand less why we think identifying unambiguously with a gender is meaningful. Do I have to love knitting, sipping tea from fine china, and smiling blankly in the parlor to be an unambiguous woman? Does Caitlyn?
Perhaps more concerning is the fact that I pitched on the first Little League team in Utah to allow girls and I like math and computer programming. So…get out my jock strap and suit me up for the transition.
Definition #2 – People who were assigned a sex, usually at birth and based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves.
Feelings Aren’t Science
DNA and genitalia tell the gender story in approximately 99.93% of live births. (According to the APA, 0.07% of live births are intersex.) In a fraction of a percent of live births, there are “abnormalities of the external genitals, internal reproductive organs, sex chromosomes, or sex-related hormones.” Some examples include:
- External genitals that cannot be easily classified as male or female
- Incomplete or unusual development of the internal reproductive organs
- Inconsistency between the external genitals and the internal reproductive organs
- Abnormalities of the sex chromosomes
- Abnormal development of the testes or ovaries
- Over- or underproduction of sex-related hormones
- Inability of the body to respond normally to sex-related hormones
These are complex cases and of course we love the people in question and help them reach their human potential. But it doesn’t require that we stop calling their conditions “syndromes” (such as Turner, Angelman, Jacobsen, Wolf-Hirschhorn, etc.) and start calling them “normal” any more than we should start calling Down’s syndrome just another lifestyle.
Outside of these rare abnormalities, why are we negotiating on DNA results based on feelings? If you want to talk about science deniers, here is your case study: claiming that a man or a woman isn’t a man or a woman because they don’t feel like they are.
Does anyone feel their biological gender assignment is a complete description of themselves?
When I describe my children, my relatives, my friends, politicians, or anyone else I would ever want to describe, I have never felt it satisfactory to simply explain whether or not they had a Y chromosome or just another X added to the obligatory X every one has.
Hi, this is my husband, Sam. He has one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. And…well…that’s pretty much all there is to him! You can see why I fell so madly in love with him!
To be clear, no one thinks biological gender is a complete description of any human who ever lived. So how is this a distinction bestowed on a few to prove transgenderism?
Definition #3 – Non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the sex (and assumed gender) one was assigned at birth.
How does one “identify” with a sex?
This feels like deja vu. Again, I’m not sure what this means in a day when so many gender stereotypes have gone the way of Ma Bell.
What does it mean to “identify” with the gender you biology dictates? Does it mean you like the sound of the word? Does it mean you like the decades-old, very gendered society and want to be part of the other half that used to exist? (Meaning you would really like to hunt wild game for the family to eat or you want to cook the wild game for your male protector to consume?)
How does one “present” as a sex?
What does it mean to “present” as the gender your biology dictates? Does it mean you’re a woman who wants to wear a suit? Does it mean you’re a man who wants to wear a ball gown and pearls? Does it mean you choose a name that is gender-specific? (John, Henry, Charles—good. Sally, Jeannie, Rosemary—good. Jamie, Taylor, Skyler—bad.) Is it because you like to dress like a woman (like my friend’s friend who is a married, heterosexual female impersonator) but the package isn’t complete unless you claim you really are the opposite gender? Does it mean you want to look like the hyper-sexualized version of the opposite gender (like Caitlyn Jenner in a corset (because that’s how all real women dress))?
Women wear pants, men wear earrings. If you’re a woman who wants to wear a tuxedo or a man who wants to wear a heels, I really don’t care. (I might think you’re really stupid on the heels, but that’s because I think everyone who wears heels is stupid—is has nothing to do with your biological gender assignment.)
If it isn’t plain, I find the definitions, explanations, and apologetics unclear, ambiguous, contradictory, and confusing. In our attempts to be selectively tolerant, we have jumped the shark from kindness to kookiness.
The recent craziness with Rachel Dolezal—the Spokane NAACP president who’s been pretending to be black for a number of years, in spite of her whitey white whiteness—brings the trans-issues to a head quite nicely.
Melissa Harris-Perry (the MSNBC wingnut who dons tampon earrings) actually, really, truly asked this week:
But is it possible that she might actually be black? The best way that I know how to describe this—and I want to be very careful here, because I don’t want to say it’s equivalent to the transgender experience. But there is a useful language in trans and cis, which is to just to say some of us are born cis-gendered, some of us are born trans-gendered. But I wonder can it be that one would be cis-black and trans-black, that there is actually a different category of blackness, about the achievement of blackness, despite one’s parentage?
But of course. If one can be transgender (something with real DNA markers that are, yes, almost exclusively binary), then why not transracial or transethnic (something with limited identifiers)? Why can’t race and ethnicity be what we feel?
If I could have chosen my physical persona as a college student, it would have been Janet Jackson. She could sing, dance, had gorgeous hair, and the perfect skin tone. Plus cool. Plus rich and famous. (No, I wouldn’t trade places with her now. Not for all the wardrobe malfunctions in the world. OK, I’d still trade bodies, but I like my life better.) My sister was in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for years and encouraged me to join. “No way,” I told her. “If I’m joining a religious choir, it will be Gladys Knight’s choir. They sing the good music.” My favorite religious songs of all time are Ain’t Got Time to Die and Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel. I could certainly claim a non-white inner being.
Two of my girls have “enough soul” that they always get the “black girl songs” when there is no black girl to sing them. Isn’t this enough proof that, in spite of appearances, we have some multi-generational black blood flowing in our veins? (I might have said “African-American blood” but a friend who lives on my street is an American who was born and raised in Africa—and she’s (nearly) as white as I am.) If my kids say they are black girls trapped in white bodies, can they apply for ethnic scholarships? Will you respect and support them in that effort? What if they really, really feel it?
These are sincere questions. In today’s political climate, this is the new intellectualism.
There are now groups who claim to be “transabled.” These people are not physically disabled, but feel they are or feel they need to be in order to be “whole.” And that, apparently, is all that matters. The professed disabilities include:
- Massive contagion
And, while we’re at it, why not transspecies? If I feel like a unicorn, why won’t you respect that and call me courageous for my authenticity?
Before you think I scoff, as noted here, this really is a thing. It’s called “otherkin.” In this authenticity bubble people believe they are partly or completely non-human. Sometimes they are sprites or fairies. Sometimes they are aliens or monsters. Sometimes cartoon or other fictional characters. Some claim to be earwigs, brooms, mirrors, or even bodies of water—all trapped in human bodies by some curse of nature.
What about those who are translife (who want to commit suicide)? What about transfamilial (want to claim another family as their own)? Have we considered the needs of the transmarried (those who want to switch partners)? Or the desires of the transagist (those who want to be older or younger—count me in on the latter!)? And what about the transmental? (If people want to be depressed, anxious, psychotic, schizophrenic, anorexic, bulimic, or paranoid, shouldn’t we encourage them to do so and help them get to their happy place? Shouldn’t we, in fact, call it normal, natural, and healthy?)
Embrace the trans. I can be anything I want to be if I just want it enough, if I feel it enough, if I proclaim it enough. And you, my dear reader, must embrace it, accept it, and celebrate it or be held personally responsible for anything that becomes of those with such issues.
But will you embrace/accept/celebrate these things? Or perhaps might you suggest—as did Dr. Paul R. McHugh (the former psychiatrist-in-chief for Johns Hopkins Hospital and its current Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry):
Policy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment and prevention.
Today it’s popular to encourage the idea of gender fluidity along with a host of other orientations, lifestyles, and spectrums with the associated vast social re-engineering that necessarily accompanies such shifts. We do so largely (1) without knowing how they will impact society long term and (2) without taking the time to see if the emperor really has any clothes.
What once were considered disorders become publicized and politicized. Suddenly the diagnoses change and the problem behaviors become officially just another norm to be accommodated, adored, and, of course, covered by Obamacare.
How far does rational tolerance and acceptance go?