Damned Either Way

In the space of a week, I went from SJW to transphobic. WTF?

I've been a conscious feminist since I signed a petition at the mall demanding an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution to ensure gender equality. (I was 12; still waiting on that one, BTW.)

I was raised to accept homosexuality as normal and unremarkable and, in the details, none of my business. At some point in my life, American culture hit a tipping point for agreeing with me. First Will could date guys while living with his bestie Grace, and now finally same sex marriage is the law of the land. (But again, no Constitutional Amendment ensuring equal protection.)

I went to Berkeley. 'nuff said.

So it came as quite a surprise when my 18yo babysitter, after taking a weeklong class for high school students on gender and society, told me that I'm transphobic.


I'm not transphobic. I'm more trans-skeptical, which I guess is the same thing to the people who have reclaimed the "SJW" label from the trolls.

To whit, I think that, apart from truly intersex people who were born with genetic abnormalities or physiological malformations that make their sex truly ambiguous, people who believe that their gender identity does not match their genitalia are deeply sexist, in that they believe there is some essential "woman-ness" or "man-ness" that is distinct from the plumbing that grew in or on them. It is THAT quality that is individually and/or culturally defined--unlike sex, which is an objective biological fact 99.9% of the time.

The angry activists may call me biologically determinist for that assessment, but these same activists will argue for hours about how wrong it is to wear a sombrero at Chevy's Restaurant on your birthday because it's "cultural appropriation" or disrespecting someone else's culture. Rachel Dolenzal was forced to quit her job and was widely mocked because nobody accepted that, even if she "identifies" as African American, she is provably a white chick from the suburbs.

As to the notion that other (always unspecified) non-Western cultures--which somehow includes "Native Americans," as if THEY, of all people, didn't live in the West--acknowledged more than two genders, "Two Spirit" is a MODERN term to describe people who didn't quite fit into the biological gender duality, and as such it is about as authentically Native American as the term "autistic," which was created in the twentieth century to describe something that undoubtedly existed for time immemorial before that but was not recognized as a distinct category even by people who were dealing with it (poorly).

Before I get burnt in effigy, I should state that it is of absolutely NO consequence to me what is inside people's pants. If you want to be called he or she, contrary to my initial assessment of your gender, please let me know. I will apologize and oblige out of respect for you as an individual person. If you want to dress in drag, it is NONE of my business and it will not affect the way that I treat you.  This is not hypothetical to me. I won't lie and say "some of my best friends are trans," but I worked with a transitioning transsexual, and when I was "warned" in hushed tones that I was about to meet Stephanie (née Steve), I said, "OK. Stephanie. She. Her. Got it," and I didn't stare, whisper, give the stink eye, or judge.

Most fundamentally, it is absolutely, unquestionably, undoubtedly WRONG for people to be assaulted or killed for something as trivial as what they are wearing or the pronouns they prefer to use.

As to discrimination, the devil is in the details. Should you be denied a job based on perceived gender or sexuality? No, of course not. But is a lesbian trans (but not transitioned) woman's* right to live her gender identity more important than the rights of the (undoubtedly totally transphobic) ladies in the gym locker room, as her flaccid penis swings in the wind and sexually harasses them? Harder to answer. Now, what if a penis is a "trigger" for a sexual assault experience of one of those ladies?  Whose right to feel comfortable and safe takes precedence? And what's more, how do you distinguish the legitimate lesbian trans woman from an opportunistic super-creepy, toxically masculine cis het- dude...without being able to read minds? Because you know there could be one of each.

My analysis as a rational and compassionate person and as a feminist is that the psychiatric community has failed trans people by encouraging their rigid ideas about gender roles and limitations rather than in helping them to adjust to objective reality and telling them that their sex does NOT limit what they can do in life. Be a flight attendant or attend the Citadel, wear fake eyelashes or don a tuxedo, regardless of which color toys your parents bought for you or what is in your Underoos! (Biologically, there quite simply ARE hard limits. It would take a long series of medical miracles for a transsexual woman to conceive, give birth, and nurse a baby, regardless of how sure she is that she's a "woman" by her own subjective experience and unique definition.)

And in particular, I wonder whether in 50 or 100 years, history will look back on sex reassignment surgery the way we do electroshock therapy and lobotomies, as a brutal, grotesque, unnecessary, ineffective intervention that the medical community forced on vulnerable patients rather than dealing with their mental state.

I am asking questions, not making absolute assertions, and I guess we'll see as this drama unfolds. And  I'll try to be respectful while the dust settles.

*A "lesbian trapped in a man's body" used to be a joke, but now it's one of a myriad valid gender/sexual identities that were are supposed to be educated about and respect.

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