Either/Or

This is the third in a series of posts about gender categories. In the first post I discussed the categorization theories of Eleanor Rosch and George Lakoff. In the second I took on the question of whether transgender people are men, women, some combination, or neither men or women, and discarded the idea that transgender people form some kind of “third gender.” In this post I will examine the idea that all transgender people are either men or women, and that there is no overlap.

There are two ways separating transgender people into men and women. One is to assert that each of us is either a man or a woman forever, and that this is determined before birth and unchangeable. The other is that our gender is dependent on a specific feature, and if that feature changes then our gender changes. I dislike the first approach intensely, and I find the second approach problematic.

In the first of these posts I discussed how there are two categories (man and woman), and it’s natural that people would prefer to be able to sort every person in the world into one of those two. The categories are so complex, it’s also understandable that people would prefer to have a single criterion for sorting. Sadly, the natural world eludes any attempt to pin down a single criterion. The most popular criterion is genitals, followed by chromosomes, since they’re the areas with the least overlap, but there are plenty of intersex cases that defy categorization on both criteria. There is also the difficulty that chromosomes are uncategorizable without special equipment, and genitals are also commonly kept hidden. Secondary sex characteristics like breasts and hip width are subject to a lot of overlap, and breasts can be developed with hormones.

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Eddie Izzard update

Who doesn’t love some Eddie Izzard news? Just saw his name headlining an ad for his new show The Riches and wondered what it was all about.

It seems like the show has been an occasion for lots of interviews. The Daily Telegraph has an interesting discussion with him about balancing cross-dressing with work, and although he works as an actor, I think what he says is true to some degree for any non-transitioning transgender person regardless of their line of work.

The Discovery Channel has an article that combines some of my favorite things: it’s a summary of a forthcoming article in Language and Communication by SUNY-Binghamton professor and University of Chicago graduate Douglas Glick where he analyzes the techniques used by standup performers, focusing on two Izzard routines. At the end of the Discovery News article, added almost as an afterthought, is a quote from Glick’s colleague Stephen Straight explaining why Don Imus really did use (as opposed to mention) both a racist insult and a sexist one against the Rutgers basketball team, and the fact that he was joking is not an adequate defense.

I’m a proud Binghamton alum, the last linguistics major declared before the Cuomo budget cuts put the major on hiatus for several years, and Steve Straight was my advisor. I remember, at Steve’s suggestion, doing a paper on frame semantics and reading Victor Raskin’s frame-semantic analysis of humor. I don’t know if Glick used Raskin’s work; I’ll have to wait until the article comes out. After Binghamton I got my M. A. at Chicago, but I don’t remember Glick; he must have been in the Anthropology department. Binghamton and Steve Straight, the U of C, linguistics, humor analysis and Eddie Izzard, all in Discovery News.

It’s your life and your choice

I may have said this somewhere before, but I don’t think I’ve put it in exactly these words. This is not an April Fool’s column; April Fool’s Day has always made me uncomfortable. This is really what I think.

Your life is your own, and it’s your choice to do with as you choose – within the constraints that we all operate under.

This seems obvious, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it by reading some of the things transgender people write. There’s a lot of agonizing about “Could I really be transsexual?” as if the answer will determine your destiny. Well, okay, maybe you’re one or the other, but don’t let that tell you how to run your life. In the past there have been transsexuals who’ve lived their lives without transitioning, and cross-dressers who’ve transitioned. Some have been happy, some unhappy, and what box they put themselves in seems to have had little to do with their satisfaction in the end.

Forget about your prenatal hormones, the length of your fingers, the size of your stria terminalis, and whether your mother first caught you in her closet at the age of three, thirteen or forty-three. Think about your life: your likes, your dislikes, your friends, your work and your hobbies. Think about what your life in your current gender is, what your experience of the other gender is, what you know about other people’s experiences in that gender, and what you could reasonably expect your experience to be. If you don’t have this information, then how can you expect to make a good decision?

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