Transgender people in the media: Anti-trans women bias?

I haven’t touched much on transgender issues so far in this blog, but recently there have been three interesting pieces.

The first is a story on ABC News, I Want to Be Seen as Male, about a transgender (female to male) teenager, Jeremy and his process and struggles around transitioning. I thought it was a (surprisingly) thoughtful piece.

The second is a short film, Mookey’s Story: A Transgender Journey,  that has been entered into the VC Filmfest in Southern California, also about a transgender (female to male) person and his transition. It’s good to see trans people of color being discussed and highlighted as well.

It’s important to note that these stories–which represent trans people in a mostly positive and humanistic light (yay!)–are both about trans MEN (female to male). Trans activist and writer Julia Serano, author of the upcoming book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, has written some really interesting stuff about the representation of trans women (male to female) and I think this is another example of her theories about how most depictions of trans women in the media are negative (like trans women prostitutes) and focus a lot on their appearance (particularly the act of getting dressed or putting on make-up).

A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

The most recent example of trans women being represented in the media is the NY Times video and article about a shelter for homeless transgender youth in Queens, NY. While not an entirely negative depiction, it does paint these women in a light which emphasizes their difficult pasts: broken homes, sexual abuse and drug problems. A very stark contrast to the seemingly well-adjusted trans men in the first two pieces.  

Is this just another reflection of sexism? There has been some discussion around the idea of trans male privilege (that by living and identifying as men, trans men achieve some level of male privilege), and this seems as if it could be related. I also think that people are more frightened by the idea of men giving up their male privilege to become women than the idea of women wanting to be men, leading to what could be called trans woman phobia. Just some thoughts.

Apparently women don’t have a sexual orientation

A recent NY Times article argues that human sexual behavior is a long drama whose script is written quite substantially in the genes. Author Nicholas Wade explains how science has made it crystal clear that sexuality, and sexual preference, is completely determined by genetics.

He focuses on the brain–which, shockingly enough, is a full fledged sexual organ–and explains that the two sexes have profoundly different versions of it. Thanks for clearing that one up for us, now I get it, men and women have different brains! Forget feminism and arguments about equality—let’s just accept it boys and girls, god made you different!

Apparently scientists, theorists and feminists have been wrong all along, at least according to one doctor from UC Irvine. The most infuriating thing about this article is the author’s blaise and sexist tone, which implies that “Oh wow! Now the mystery is solved.” Not only does he argue that women don’t really have a sexual orientation (while male sexuality is determined before birth), he also argues that homosexuality in men can be attributed to the “fraternal birth order effect”—having older brothers.

He also quickly dismisses all arguments about social and cultural influences on sexuality.

The most direct evidence comes from a handful of cases, some of them circumcision accidents, in which boy babies have lost their penises and been reared as female. Despite every social inducement to the opposite, they grow up desiring women as partners, not men.

What?!? Circumcision accidents? There have got to be better ways to try and debunk the social constructionism myth than that one.

His conclusions seem based more on his own shaky opinion than any scientific fact, and he only occasionally cites a handful of studies or researchers. He makes no mention of the existence of bisexuality, intersex or transgender people in his arguments, who could all through a wrench in his neat theory.

Blog against Sexism Day!

Blog Against Sexism Day

So, in commemoration of International Women’s Day (which I want to make a plea for us all to have as a holiday–let’s replace Columbus day, come on) it is also Blog Against Sexism Day, or Blog for Gender Liberation. I personally like that title the best, and will interpret it in my own way.

I like the opportunity to bring up this subject, because it’s one of the main reasons I identify as a radical doula. It’s also one of the reasons I pulled back from the midwifery/birth activist community a few years ago. As I got deeper into theories about the social construction of gender and sex (particularly Judith Butler), I started to push back on the rhetoric used by midwives and birth activists about women’s bodies.

How did some of this logic fit into an understanding that the biological difference between men and women is really socially constructed? How do birthing women (and the ability to reproduce) fit in? Butler has some interesting responses to these ideas, which I admit are kind of obtuse and difficult to decipher. But once you get through the intense academic language, there are some important ideas there. Bear with me.

The midwifery/birth activist movement is very heavily based on embracing femininity and the female body, particularly its perceived reproductive capacity, as the necessary center of the movement toward gender equity. This idea is kind of problematic, particularly if you believe that we need to move beyond these perceived biological differences.

Keep reading for more explanation…

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