Beyond faith-based debates

I follow some transgender activists on Twitter, and since I don’t subscribe to transgender dogma, I follow some “trans critical” or “gender critical” activists as well. I don’t expect to agree with anyone completely, but I like to find some community with others. Lately I’ve been disheartened by how much I’ve been disagreeing with all sides.

What bothers me more than the disagreement is that the takes on transgender feelings and actions are so uninteresting. The “gender critical” people are fighting to save “girls who believe they are boys,” while the trans dogmatists are fighting to save “authentic selves” from “conversion therapy.” Many of the “gender critical” activists is that they’re only concerned about a recent increase in “transtrenders,” and don’t want to get in the way of transition for “people who are really trans.” Meanwhile, some of my biggest fans get a hard-on talking about mythical “attractive HSTS,” who put all the big fat ugly hairy late-transitioning trans women to shame with their mutant femme beauty.

I follow some therapists who livetweet transgender-focused mental health talks and conferences, and those all focus exclusively on people who transition. For all these professionals, the thousands of people with transgender feelings who have decided not to transition, or have detransitioned, or haven’t decided whether to transition, seem to simply not exist. The first time they encounter someone with trans feelings may be when they’ve decided to transition, but everyone reports struggling with feelings for years before going to therapy. If the therapists only see them once they’ve made their decision the system is clearly broken, but nobody seems to acknowledge that.

All this screaming and pontificating and triage is based on a common faith that you can divide the world into real men and real women – and many also agree that there are real trans men and women, and maybe even real nonbinary people. But they all believe that these categories are fixed at birth, and transition is the exclusive destiny of the real trans people. Even the Blanchardians who concede that “AGP” people may benefit from transition do it begrudgingly, with a sense that it goes against their true nature as men.

As someone who practices skepticism and mainly wants to see people lead happy and healthy lives, all these faith-based debates and practices seem beside the point. We could transition all the AGP fakers and misguided butch teens tomorrow, and never transition any of the attractive HSTS and true trans men, and as long as they all led happy, satisfied lives I wouldn’t give a shit. Even setting aside the fact that these faith-based categories don’t correspond to anything I’ve seen in the world, I have actually seen people who would probably be put in the “not really trans” categories who were as satisfied as anyone with their transitions, and people who would be put in the “really trans” categories who struggled, doubted and detransitioned.

I don’t second-guess anyone’s decision to transition or not, but I tell everyone that the most important criterion they should use when making their decision is which gender they can realistically envision as hosting the happiest, most fulfilling life. In the end, everything else is bullshit, and nobody should consider transition without doing this basic visioning exercise.

But when I go on Twitter or Reddit and see the same faith-based screaming and pontificating, I feel like I’ve walked into the Council of Nicea and everyone’s yelling about whether Jesus is the same entity as God or not, and all I want to say is, “wow, what do you think about what Jesus said about how if you only salute your brothers you’re no better than the tax collector?”

I’m sick of hearing from people who already know it all and want to beat everyone else over the head with it. I want to follow people on Twitter who care about everyone who’s feeling trans feelings, regardless of what stupid category they’re in, and who’s trying to help them. I’m particularly interested in people who are finding ways to deal with these feelings without transition, but I’m really looking for compassion – and not just compassion for brethren. I hope there’s some out there!

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A world ruled by women

Everyone understands trans men. They see a world where men earn more, have more power and more options, and in some societies have legal rights over the bodies and futures of adult women. It seems straightforward to reject membership in an objectively oppressed class in favor of membership in a more powerful one.

People also sometimes understand why someone would want the status of women temporarily, to hide themself or their power, even to trick someone else. They have a much harder time understanding any other reason: why anyone would want to be lower-status, lower-power?

In practice there are several reasons why people might want to be women, given the choice. One I’ve never heard discussed is that when some of us first felt that desire, we lived in a world where women were powerful.

When I was a boy, I woke up every day in a house owned by my mother. I went to school, where my teachers were all women, and so were the Cub Scout den mothers. I went home and the house was often dark until my mom got home from work, because my big sister was still at school, in track team activities. When we were younger she locked herself in her room, leaving me to amuse myself. That was better than the times she insulted me or even pushed me around.

There were men, but they didn’t have much power. My mom had moved us a hundred miles away from my dad, and had a boyfriend who didn’t want to take care of us. Later she threw him out and dated a guy who turned out to be a liar. Some of my mom’s friends were nice, and so were our next door neighbor and my elementary school principal and janitor, but none of them had much responsibility for me.

Even our cat, with her maternal energy, felt like an authority figure. There was one point, in between my mom’s boyfriends, when we also had a female dog, so I shared the house with four females.

Of course I knew that men treated women badly. I saw it in the way my father ogled waitresses, and heard the contempt in his voice when a woman disagreed with him. I saw it in the way boys chased girls in the elementary school playground. I heard it from my mother and my sister and my mother’s friends.

But I could also see my father’s loneliness after having rejected lots of worthy women and alienated all the rest. I could also see that boys who chased girls, whether physically on the playground or metaphorically in bars and parties, were not much happier. And it seemed that all the men I knew were in some way responsible for mistreating women, but at least some women managed to live free of guilt for mistreating men.

In my teens, my mom settled down with a man who treated everyone decently and showed me new possibilities in life. A few years later I spent some time moving in the world, being seen as a woman. Not very much time at all, but enough to get a taste for how women are treated on a regular basis. I also heard more from women about their experiences. I decided not to live full-time as a woman.

Once that decision was made, you might expect that I would no longer feel any desire to be a woman. But I discovered that things were not so simple. I continued to imagine myself as a woman, and occasionally to go out in the world as a woman.

One reason is that it is difficult to live in our society in any gender, and deciding to live as a man did not wipe away the bullshit that we put on men. And it turned out that once I had imagined that womanhood could be an escape from that bullshit, I kept thinking about it.

It seems the habits of thought and action that I had begun when I was a teenager had gathered too much momentum. If I tried to stop the actions, the thoughts kept coming back. If I didn’t act on the thoughts, it felt like I was denying myself.

You can be aware that women are treated as second-class, know about the bullshit women put up with, and still feel a desire to be a woman. When you’re a boy of ten or eleven surrounded by teachers, mothers and older sisters, it can still look like an improvement. This is just one of the ways that our lives are influenced by decisions that made much more sense when we were kids.

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Everyone has the right to say no

I have been asked for my opinion on the debate over whether it’s okay for lesbians to preemptively restrict their sexual partners to people who fit their definition of women, in particular excluding anyone who has a penis. The bottom line is that everyone has an absolute right to control their own sexual activity, and to say no to sex with anyone, under any circumstances.

People also have a right to decide who they want to flirt with, to date, to fantasize about. Everyone has an absolute right to exclude any individual or group from their pool of prospective romantic partners, for any reason.

To be honest, it would be hypocritical of me to say anything else, because I am pretty much only attracted to women. Not on principle, and not with a specific definition of woman that anyone else would agree with, but that’s what turns me on. None of that really matters at this point, because I haven’t been sexually active with anyone other than my wife since before we were married, and I’m very attracted to her.

This issue is particularly important to me because I was touched, without my consent, as a child. But it is something that everyone should care about, because it is a matter of physical and emotional autonomy. Even beyond the individual level, if we cannot all feel safe in our bodies, what effect does that have on our society?

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Dysphoria, misgendering and semantic frames

Part of the Frame Description of a Hotel Room

Body dysphoria is a feeling that there is something wrong with the configuration of the body, apart from any documented physical conditions. It is often contrasted with simple gender dysphoria, but some people instead portray gender dysphoria as a symptom of the same underlying condition. As I wrote a few years ago, there is an argument that body dysphoria is an innate “medical condition” deserving special protection. In that post I discussed multiple cases of body dysphoria appearing in adulthood, which contradict the idea that it is always innate.

So if not everyone with body dysphoria is born with it, how did those people get it? There is an alternative explanation for body dysphoria, based on the theory of semantic frames, that body dysphoria arises when gender dysphoria and transgender desire interact with the world. There is no reason to believe any of them are innate.

I also want to note that body dysphoria seems to be frequently triggered by the presence of others, or at least by people imagining how others would see them. The symptoms of body dysphoria – shock and distress – bear a strong resemblance to the feelings that many people feel when they are misgendered – classified by gender in a way that contradicts their intentions. The explanation that I give for body dysphoria also explains the reactions to misgendering. In fact, they are the same reaction, only with different triggers.

The way I’ve presented the concept in the past is that body dysphoria is a feeling of discomfort with the body, specifically the idea that there is something wrong with the body, that the way it appears is not the way it truly is or should be. By contrast, I’ve defined gender dysphoria as a discomfort with gendered expectations imposed by other people. I’ve also tried to separate gender dysphoria from transgender desire, the desire to be seen and accepted as a member of a different gender. Many people experience all three feelings, but some people only experience one.

Continue reading “Dysphoria, misgendering and semantic frames”

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The importance of being hombres

On Facebook someone posted a while ago asking where in Queens there were bars showing RuPaul’s Drag Race. The answer was a bar called Hombres.

At gay bars and other places explicitly marked as male spaces, you’ll often find not just drag fans but drag queens, transvestites and other non-transitioning trans people. You will also find that when we get home from these spaces we usually take off the makeup and falsies and look a lot like men. Sometimes we change into guy clothes before we leave the bar. Sometimes we wear guy clothes the whole time.

This guyness extends to other environments. We usually present as guys at our day jobs, when we’re doing laundry, and when we go hiking. Interacting with the world as women is a relatively small part of our lives.

This is often used by transitioned trans women to deny that we are trans, and thus to deny us a voice in transgender politics. In 2014 there was a heated debate over who had the right to declare words like “tranny” taboo. RuPaul and other drag queens saw the words as either not particularly offensive or ripe for reclamation, while a group of transitioners saw them as potent slurs.

The transitioners were used to having the upper hand in these verbal hygiene debates by virtue of ideologies of linguistic self-determination, in which only members of a group have standing to determine which words are appropriate names for the group and its members, and which words are offensive. But the drag queens had long been considered part of the “transgender umbrella” with equal standing to transitioned trans people.

The transitioners’ response was to redefine “trans women.” Zinnia Jones wrote a petition stating that “Cisgender male drag queens are assigned male at birth, and they neither consider themselves to be women nor live as women in their everyday lives. Unlike trans women, they are not the ones who regularly face the consequences of widespread transphobia and transmisogyny, and they are not confronted with the fallout of normalizing transmisogynist slurs.”

It’s highly debatable whether people who regularly go to drag bars face less transphobia than people who are out during the day, but victimhood wasn’t originally part of the definition of transgender, and it shouldn’t be.

It’s also not clear that drag queens don’t consider themselves to be women. I’ve never been to Hombres but if it’s anything like the gay bars I’ve been to, chances are that inside you’ll probably hear all the drag queens, and even some of the more masculine-presenting people, referred to with “she” pronouns and in Spanish, feminine adjectives.

This may occasionally be a mockery of femininity, but most of the time it is a response to a simple desire to be classified as women in a particular situation. Some people have observed that it is relatively common for people to spend months or years living as men and performing in drag shows, and then later transition to living as women, for a variety of reasons.

That is only part of the story. Many drag queens and other trans women have decided that we don’t want to transition. When people are allowed to be free with our genders, we choose what works for us, from one column or another. Drag queens go to bars called Hombres and answer to “she.” I buy nylons for women and razors for men. I have friends who buy jackets for men and bras for women. Everyone mixes and matches on some level.

So are we transgender? Are we trans women? The key fact in my mind is that many of us experience one or both of the key feelings of gender dysphoria (in our case, discomfort living as men) or transgender desire (wanting to live as women). The fact that we cope with these feelings without adopting a full-time identity as a woman or modifying our bodies does not mean that we don’t feel the feelings.

If you force us to choose one gender and stick with it, we will probably say we’re men, and there’s a good reason for it. We’ve got these bodies and we’re not changing them, and on some level we’re used to living as men. We probably also know, maybe from firsthand experience, that being a woman is no picnic either.

If you know that you’re not going to transition, and you’re going to spend eighty percent, ninety percent of your life or more interacting with the world as a man, and if someone forces you to choose whether to think of yourself as a man or a woman, it makes sense to choose man. That means your internal self-image and your external self-image match for most of your week.

So yes, we call ourselves men, but that is because our binary society pressures us to choose men or women. It does not mean that we’re always happy being men, and it doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t choose both if we could, or whichever one fits at the time.

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Four observations about attraction to trans people

There have been a lot of arguments over whether it’s okay for some people to not find trans people attractive. I’ve got things to say about that, but first I wanted to get some facts cleared up.

  1. It’s not just trans women complaining about this. Recently a masculine-spectrum friend told me he was upset that a partner of his might not be attracted to him as a man. He wasn’t just personally hurt; he found it transphobic. So despite what you might hear from certain radical feminists, this is not just a plot by “males” to eliminate lesbians. It’s a concern for all kinds of trans people.
  2. Trans people are not inherently unattractive. Just look at the successes of “shemale porn” and Buck Angel if you want counterevidence. There are women who are attracted to trans women, men who are attracted to trans men, and trans and nonbinary people who are attracted to all genders.
  3. Sexual preference is not the only thing that determines attraction. A woman once told me that she was attracted to both men and women, but she didn’t find tall women with big shoulders attractive, or short guys with big hips. Just because people aren’t attracted to you doesn’t mean they’re not attracted to trans people.
  4. Attractiveness is not the same as validation of our gender presentation. Someone can find me intensely attractive because they think I’m a cute guy in a skirt and not because they think of me as a woman. Whether people mind this depends in part on how committed they are to their gender identifications.
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Definitions and protections

I’ve written before about how I would like to find common cause with other people who are critical of essentialist transgender ideology, but I get alienated by the nasty rhetoric that many of them throw around. A case in point is this article by Taylor Fogarty. I follow some people on Twitter who post good stuff, but they also tweeted approvingly about Fogarty’s article, which is

Fogarty begins with a reasonable attack on the concept of gender identity, which I have also roundly criticized on this blog as a faith-based argument masking a prescriptive set of identity-based behavioral expectations. She also critiques the “cotton ceiling” claims of some trans activists, which are not entirely without basis, but still very problematic, and deserving of a more nuanced critique.

The rest of Fogarty’s argument is based on a flawed understanding of how the law protects people from discrimination. It goes something like this: The law mandates punishment for people who hurt others based on their sexuality. In order to establish hurt, we need to define protected sexualities, and in order to do that we need to define sexes, all based on “objective fact.”

I am not a lawyer, but I know this isn’t the way the law works, and with good reason. My father was actually gay-bashed in the 1970s. He was a skinny guy with long hair, and he was waiting to cross Sixth Avenue at Waverly Place when he heard someone yell “Faggot!” and something hit him on the back of the head. He was knocked unconscious, but got stitched up at the hospital. The police weren’t interested, because at the time there were no hate crimes laws, and they didn’t have enough to go on for assault.

My dad was not gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, he just wasn’t. Neither was Ever Orozco, who was stabbed to death in Jackson Heights in 2013. But Orozco’s killer accused Orozco of blowing kisses at him, so he was prosecuted for a hate crime.

This is the way it should be, because the problem is not that these classes of people exist out there in some objective reality, and haters are picking one to beat up. The problem is that these categories exist in haters’ minds as threats, and therefore targets. They could construct a nonsensical category including Tibetans, Lutherans, plushies and maybe some Rotarians, and it would be just as destructive as any that Fogarty claims to be based on objective fact.

Fogarty’s logic is not the logic of the law. It’s the logic of fear, where the response to trauma is to divide the world up into the righteous, beleaguered Us and the nasty, savage Them, with strong laws and definitions protecting Us from Them. The idea that a straight man could be the innocent target of anti-gay violence has probably never occurred to her. She might find a way to say that they don’t deserve protections anyway, but maybe she’s better than that.

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What microaggressions are and aren’t

A few years ago I was shopping for clothes at a chain store in New York City. I had already tried on several dresses, and had found a nice suit I wanted to buy. As I was handing my discards to the changing room attendant, she said, “You need to use the changing room on the third floor.”

I had a guess as to what that might be about, but it still hurt to get off the escalator and see that the third floor was all menswear. There was no way I was marching in to the men’s changing room in a skirt and makeup. I brought my dresses back down to the first floor changing room. When the attendant saw me she said, “Oh you’re back,” but she still led me to a room.

The winter before last I was in a different store, shopping for a coat, wearing full makeup and jewelry (see the photo above). I went up to the mezzanine, where most of the women’s clothes were. A salesclerk asked if she could help me, so I asked where the coats were. She told me the basement, so I took the elevator down to find only menswear. I went back up and found the women’s coats on the ground floor. I didn’t buy anything.

Instead I went to a different store and found a nice coat. When I got to the counter the clerk looked me up and down, gave me a big smile and said, “You look great, girl! Going out tonight?”

Last week I didn’t even want to go shopping, but my boots were a little too big, so I went looking for some socks. figured it was a good time to buy some of the over-the-calf socks that were in style this winter. I went into a store, but the only women’s socks I saw, a small display by the cash registers, were ankle socks.

I looked around, and found a sign saying that in the basement they had men’s clothes and women’s clothes. I went downstairs, and the only socks I saw were men’s socks. I was heading for the escalator when a salesclerk asked if she could help me find anything.

“Socks,” I said.
“Right over here.” She led me back to the men’s socks.
“Those are men’s socks.”
“Right. You wanted – oh.”

She saw the look on my face and immediately apologized. She asked a co-worker where the women’s socks were, and he told her upstairs, by the register. As she led me back there she explained that she only really knew her department. And she told me I looked very good.

These four experiences have really clarified my understanding of microaggressions. The first experience, being told to change on the third floor, was ambiguous until I saw that the changing rooms on the third floor were for men. Because there was no way to avoid that fact, the attendant’s order was not a microaggression, it was just plain aggression. It was a way for her to tell me I wasn’t welcome in her changing room.

The fourth experience, being led to the men’s socks, wasn’t aggression at all. Women shop for men’s clothes all the time: for themselves, and for their husbands and boyfriends and sons. The salesclerk thought that was what I was doing. It hadn’t occurred to her that I could have been misdirected by the signs. I reacted strongly because I had had two negative experiences before.

The second example, being sent to the basement, is a classic microaggression. As Taylor Jones explained so well, microaggressions require ambiguity and plausible deniability. If I had tried to report the clerk, I’m guessing she would have claimed it was an honest mistake, that she thought I was a man who wanted to buy a men’s coat. To this day I myself still sometimes wonder.

The third example, receiving exaggerated compliments when I was just buying a coat, is a type of interaction that has sometimes been called microaggression. I didn’t really appreciate it because it felt forced, and it felt like the clerk wouldn’t have complimented me that way if she hadn’t thought I was trans. But it wasn’t a microaggression, because there was no possible interpretation that suggested any intent to hurt me. I had the impression that the clerk was not just saying these things to close the sale and make me want to come back, but because she wanted to be nice to a trans person. Again, not ideal, but I’ll take it.

“Microaggression” is a useful term precisely because it is so specific. It covers behavior where the intent may be aggressive, but the speaker can plausibly deny having any such intent. It does not cover situations where aggressive intent can be easily established, or where there is no evidence of any aggressive intent. Including those situations dilutes the concept.

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Stop using trans murders

Lots of people are talking about the New York Times opinion piece, “My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s a Tomboy.” by Lisa Selin Davis and the responses to it. I was particularly frustrated with a Medium piece from Chase Strangio. Strangio attacks Davis and her argument from several angles, but the worst is when he privilege-shames her and essentially accuses her of inciting trans murders.

But connecting [questioning gender expression] to the affirmation of trans young people in their genders is reckless and dangerous and wrong. Trans youth are dying because society is telling them, telling us, that we are fake. Trans women and femmes of color are being murdered because the impulse is to believe that trans-ness is fraudulent, that our bodies are threats.

Strangio is a white trans man, not a trans woman or a femme of color, so it’s disingenuous right off the bat for him to refer to “our bodies.” It is not typically bodies like his – or even bodies like mine – that threaten people so much they kill.

Strangio is technically correct that some trans women have been murdered because people thought they were being deceitful, but to simplify the cause of violence against black and latina trans women to accusations of fraud is a gross distortion of the problem. This violence is intersectional: it is mostly directed at people who are seen as nonwhite, poor, immigrant, transgender, feminine, “gay,” and sex workers. Nonwhite poor immigrant feminine gay sex workers who aren’t seen as trans face a level of violence that is barely distinguishable from that faced by those who are trans.

Nonwhite trans women are more likely to be poor and sex workers. Not because they’re seen as deceivers, but because many of them are already in financially precarious positions, and then their families tend to throw them out for wearing women’s clothes. This drives them deeper into poverty and forces them to choose between sex work and hunger.

When a john accuses a transgender sex worker of “being a man,” he’s not just accusing her of romantic deception (if even that), he’s accusing her of fraudulent business practices. Sex workers get killed based on smaller accusations.

Poor communities in the United States tend to be less accepting of homosexual relationships than middle-class ones, which puts pressure on anyone who might be seen being involved with a trans woman. If a man is seen as gay, that can lead to loss of social standing, ostracism and harassment. And if he’s seen interacting with a trans woman, people in those communities will label him as gay. Some courageous men stand up to that kind of attack, but many others will take it out on the trans woman.

Strangio comes to this with an agenda: he wants himself and every trans person to be able to assert a gender without being questioned. I too want to be able to wear a dress without someone shouting “you’re a man!” at me – or even targeting me with microaggressions.

But let’s assume we could bring about Strangio’s vision of the world, where everyone could simply state their gender and receive title to all the roles, spaces and relationships associated with it. Who’s to say that all the dissatisfied johns and intolerant parents out there wouldn’t just move the goalposts and say that it’s okay to beat or kill a sex worker who doesn’t advertise that she has a penis, or to cast out a child who abruptly asserts a new sex without asking?

Still, let’s assume that somehow by legislating acceptance of gender declarations we can somehow prevent nonwhite, poor and immigrant teenagers from being thrown out of their family homes and killed for being feminine and trans. They still may wind up as sex workers because they’re poor, and they still may wind up getting killed because they’re poor, nonwhite and/or immigrants. Strangio seems to hint that questioning people’s gender is tied up in white supremacy, but he doesn’t explain how.

This lecture on privilege was written by a white lawyer with a large readership working for a nationally renowned nonprofit, and widely shared even as he laments that his Medium page is “lesser-read” than the New York Times. If Strangio had really wanted to center the challenges faced by poor, nonwhite trans women, why didn’t he just link to a post by a poor, nonwhite trans woman? If he couldn’t find anything written in response to the article by poor, nonwhite trans women, why didn’t he encourage some of his nonwhite transfeminine friends to write responses and then promote them?

This is not about nonwhite trans women. My feeling is that Strangio finds the article threatening for any number of reasons, so he fights back by saying one of the worst things you can say in his circles: privilege. But here’s the problem: Strangio is a white professional man criticizing a woman, which is one of the most privileged positions you can be in. His trans background is not really enough to overcome the gender difference, and he knows it. So he invokes the sufferings of black and latina trans women.

Can we please not do this? We should absolutely be talking about the murders of trans women and femmes, and what we can do to prevent them. And on this issue we should be letting the people most affected speak, and listening to what they say, as much as possible. But we should not be dragging this issue into an argument between two assigned-female white professionals over a white assigned-female child.

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A Skeptical Trans 101

I was very honored that the members of the AURA club at Fairleigh Dickinson University invited me to give a Transgender 101 talk last Wednesday for their Pride Week. Looking over my Skeptical Trans 101 page and imagining how someone in college today would read it, I realized that I’ve learned a lot since I originally wrote it almost four years ago, so I updated it. Here’s the new version:

Why it’s okay to be skeptical about transgender politics, while still being respectful:

  1. As Jamison Green said, “There is NOT one way to be trans.” A story about a single person won’t tell you about everyone.
  2. Lots of people hide their trans beliefs, feelings and actions. We don’t know about them. Anything about transgender issues that contains “most,” “all” or any percentage is probably wrong.
  3. We don’t hold elections. Any person talking to you about their transgender beliefs, feelings or actions is not authorized to speak on behalf of anyone else.
  4. Brain science is not at a point where it can tell us anything reliable. Anything about transgender issues that talks about specific parts of the brain is probably wrong.
  5. People are not reliable – about transgender issues or anything else.
  6. Most people desperately want to be normal, and are willing to lie to themselves and everyone else to feel normal. Anything that makes anyone look normal is probably wrong.
  7. Your beliefs – about gender and everything else – are your own. Don’t let anyone tell you what to believe.

How we use gender:

  1. Every society we know of assigns people to genders. Usually this is “man” or “woman,” depending on the way their genitals look at birth. Some societies have a third gender that involves a combination of the roles of the male and female genders.
  2. Most people have the habit of classifying everyone they meet into one gender or another. Often this is reflected in aspects of language such as pronouns. Some languages, like French, even assign gender to inanimate objects.
  3. Classifying people is a means to an end. Classifying people by gender is a way to figure out whether a person will be safe, a good mate, a good worker, or even someone vulnerable. There will always be many exceptions.
  4. Every society we know of reserves certain roles, spaces and relationships for the exclusive use of one gender or the other, such as jobs, bathrooms and marriages. In these situations, gender is always a shortcut for some harder-to measure criterion, like strength or the ability to bear children.
  5. Every society we know of has gender expression: ways that people identify themselves as one gender or another. Some of these are behavioral, involving habits of speaking or moving. Others involve clothing, accessories and grooming.
  6. Many people fight over gender categories, particularly over who gets any benefits associated with belonging to one category or another, and who gets to speak for one gender or another.

How we react to gender:

  1. Everyone has feelings about their gender. Many people have gender dysphoria: discomfort with the gender they were assigned.
  2. Many people have transgender desire: a desire to be a gender different from the one assigned to them.
  3. Some people experience gender fog: an intense excitement associated with a significant gender event.
  4. Everyone has beliefs about their own gender. Some people have transgender beliefs that conflict with other people’s expectations.
  5. Some people take transgender actions: they are assigned to one gender but take on expressions, spaces and roles that conflict with other people’s expectations. These gender expressions may include modifying their bodies in various ways.
  6. These transgender actions are not new. We find them described for every society, in every time period.

Some bad news about gender:

  1. Some people attack other people for taking transgender actions.
  2. Some people reject their own children for transgender actions.
  3. Some people discriminate against people for taking transgender actions.
  4. Some people commit suicide over the intensity of their transgender feelings, or actions.
  5. Some people take transgender actions and then regret them.

If you have transgender feelings or beliefs:

  1. There is NOT one way to be trans. Base your decisions for your actions on how you want to live your life, not on a category.
  2. Gender fog can impair a person’s ability to make decisions. Avoid making long-term decisions while in a gender fog.
  3. You don’t need to change your gender classification to come out as transgender.
  4. It’s good to experiment with gender, but some experiments can change you permanently, and others can give you unreliable information.
  5. If you’ve decided not to change your gender classification, be aware that taking certain actions might undermine that decision.

How to respect gender:

  1. You will meet people who have strong feelings about their gender. Be sympathetic.
  2. You will meet people whose beliefs about their gender differ from yours. Respect their beliefs, and expect that they will respect yours.
  3. You will meet people who express gender differently from the way you expect. Respect them. Live and let live.
  4. You will meet people who want you to address and refer to them as a different gender than you might otherwise. Honor their desire.
  5. You will meet people who you would normally assign to one gender, but who want to take on roles and spaces that your society reserves for a different gender. Respect their wishes and accommodate them as much as possible.
  6. You will meet people whose sexualities interact with gender in unfamiliar ways. Respect them.
  7. You may be tempted to say something negative or mocking of transgender feelings or actions. Think about how that might be heard. Think about your fellow human beings.

How to help:

  1. Some people spin myths about transgender feelings, thoughts and actions. Some of the most destructive myths are spun by people who are trying to help. Be skeptical, while still being respectful.
  2. There is NOT one way to be trans. Don’t assume everyone with transgender feelings will take the same actions.
  3. Dealing with transgender feelings is hard. Offer support (but not advice unless asked).
  4. We hear lots of nasty things about people who violate gender norms. Say a few nice things.
  5. Some people attack people who violate gender norms. Protect people from these attacks, and speak out against attacks.
  6. Some people discriminate against people who violate gender norms. Help balance that out.
  7. It’s hard for people to find love. Consider loving someone who does gender differently.
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