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Monday, June 11, 2012

Do the Gender Police Confront You?

Sheri Berenbaum: Peers are the gender police.
Sheri Berenbaum led a thought-provoking discussion about the often-debated topic of gender differences. An inquisitive crowd kept Berenbaum on her toes as she answered questions concerning whether gender differences are innate or learned. Drawing on over 15 years of research on congenital gender disorders—and using props such as Legos and make-up kits to illustrate her points—Berenbaum challenged the audience to "think outside the box" about the mix of social and biological factors that make us male or female. Sheri can be found on the web and also at her University, Penn State.

The Gender Police have drawn hard lines on people of my experience. We have the extreme Right who would say our very existence is an abomination and we have the extreme left who insist that we must identify as some blend of gender that is neither wholly male or wholly female. I find one as constraining as the other.

I wonder where it came from that if we were free and perfectly healthy individuals that if we identify as women, we are not respected as women or if we identify as men, we are not respected as men. This is the problem of the extreme Right. We simply want to live our lives and be left alone to the right of privacy as any other American Citizen.

The other side of the equation exists from the extreme fringes of Feminism and is solely an extension of Womens' Studies professor Janice Raymond's ideology. Even today as she rewrote a foreward to her book The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the SheMale.  Even with her new forward, which is a rather shallow apology to transsexual women, she still sees us as victims of a patriarchy. She was unable to and continues to fail to recognize that we are woman who for many different reasons ended up at odds with our assigned gender. The majority of these do not involve obvious anatomical variations. For this reason being politically coerced into a continuum known as "Gender Spectrum" includes vastly different presentations because of vastly different etiologies, makes us pawns in a political struggle between Left and Right.

Interestingly, the most negative people about the realities of our lives both as individuals and in varying collectives include the extreme Right and the Extreme Left.

For one group, our very existence on the earth is anathamema. For the other group, our very right to a unified gender identity is sacriledge. I find both extremes both nullifying simultaneously.

At this time in our culture, very few who wish to fall under the umbrella  of transgender identify as gender queer. They have every right to that identity. It's not my identity. I do not consider them to have the same orientation of gender or have much in common with me other than a political desire to be left alone and become the best me I can be.

Similiarly people who feel a mix of their genders but have no burning urge to match their physical being to their identity, may be known as transgenders, crossdressers or by other labels that they define themselves by, have every right to be left alone and become the best people they can be.

Simply put, I am a woman. This is not a sociological statement, nor is it a political statement. It is who I am. There are more women who were correctly assigned at birth and individuals such as myself who were not, but sought to correct that error. I do not identify as a third gender or a fourth or a fifth. I'm just a woman.

This is a dual journey that I travel. I am the gender therapist and the gender patient, I bring my experience, professional and personal to the therapeutic alliance. All therapists do that. It is somewhat more unique for my patients as I am also someone who has been going through a legitimate process per the standards of care established by the World Professional Association of Transgender Health, a body of which I am proud to me a member.

As many of you know, I have been developing a comprehensive health care system for transgender people in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. I have been instrumental in initiating the Speech and Language Department of my health care system to offer voice and communication therapy for transsexuals in order to be able to communicate in a gendered manner that is congruent with our identity.

In announcement to a health care online network, this program was rebuked with a harsh and in my opinion, unwarrented attack. The author of this attack who is a faculty member of a large institution of higher learning, stated that she found it highly offensive that such a program would state that the therapy offered would improve the ability to communicate in a more masculine or feminine style, depending on the preference of the patient. She stated that because of this, she would not wish to refer anyone there for voice therapy.

Personal disclaimer: I was involved in the initiative to develop these services, provided a number of training resources and linked them with other Speech and Language therapy professionals who are members of the World Professional Association of Transgender Health in their field who could be of further help in developing the program that we offer. In my opinion, they have developed a quality program that I myself have participated in and am so more than just comfortable in referring my patients who are interested in these types of services.

What I find to be most outrageous of this experience is the lack of forethought in the reckless condemnation of a service that person has no personal knowlege of, just a blind conviction of an ideology leading to  the same type of rigid results that the extreme right can be accused of (and rightfully so at times).

This is why I always say that I have found as much as bigotry, prejudice and hatred on the far right and the far left.

The issue at hand that I object to is that this person made a judgement that this person knows better for you than you do, therefore would not even grant you the opportunity to decide if this service would be helpful to you or not. Considering the philosophical orientation of this person, I find as much patriarchy in the Third Wave Feminist theory as they railed against in the Second Wave of Feminism. Each wants to control you, just to a different end, but neither will be the one of your own determination.

A pity, isn't it? I've seen absolutely no growth since Janice Raymond. 


  1. It would seem to me that personal development is so hindered from such a young age, that by the time a person reaches the stage that they MUST do something about it, as opposed to someone who can freely do something about it, that person is so mentally impaired as to need professional help, a situation I feel is propogated by those who support WPATH in order to further their own interests, which is a conflict of interest with the interests of those people who, if they had been given respect at a young age, wouldn't be in the mentally confused state they find themselves in and thereby needing your services.
    Will those who support WPATH stand up and confess to furthering a persons instability by claiming it to be a mental disorder rather than a physical disorder.
    I doubt it.

    All I see from the current day "profession," are people patting themselves on the back for encouraging families to shun those who don't conform, not because they don't wish to, but because they are unable to, unless they begin a lie, a lie that often lasts a lifetime.
    There is nothing to pat oneself on the back for in this.
    Until this "profession" begins educating the public that it is from birth, trans people will always be reviled and grow up with a stunted mind, thereby filling the coffers of those who should know better.

    The extremists will always be there but the fuel being provided to further their views is squarely on this so-called "profession"
    I have always respected you Sherri, my hope is that as a trans woman, you can make some inroads in showing that if recognised early enough as a variance and not an abherration, being trans will have the same acceptance as any other physical impairment.
    No bets on that happening in our lifetime.

    Self interest is the same as self-preservation, it all starts with self.........

  2. The incompetence of some professionals is both scary and exhausting.This "professional" that said she would not refer to your facility's speech therapy program seems to be very limited in her knowledge of communication skills.Speech therapy involves more than pronouncing words correctly.It involves body language skills,facial expression and appropriate gender inflection.I am surprised that this well know institution of higher learning lets her get away with this limited mind set.Patty Tancyus

  3. Sherri, Thanks for your blog. I share your frustration.

    I went to Amazon to see what they had to say about Janice Raymond’s "The Transsexual Empire." They had this, which I presume was from the book, possibly the forward to the paperback edition.

    "The Transsexual Empire"

    “Fifteen years ago, when it was first published, "The Transsexual Empire" challenged the medical psychiatric definition of transsexualism as a disease and sex conversion hormones and surgery as the cure. It exposed the antifeminist stereotyping that requires candidates for transsexual surgery to prove themselves by conforming to subjective, outdated and questionable feminine roles and "passing" as women. Then as now, defining and treating transsexualism as a medical problem prevents the person experiencing so-called gender dissatisfaction from seeing it in a gender-challenging or feminist framework. Transsexualism goes to the question of what gender is, how to challenge it, and what reinforces gender stereotyping in a role-defined society. In the new introduction to this feminist work, Raymond discusses how these same issues are now debated in the context of transgender. Transgenderism reduces gender resistance to wardrobes, hormones, surgery and posturing - anything but real sexual equality. It assimilates the roles and definitions of masculinity and femininity, often mixing and matching, but never really moving beyond both. In a similar way, transsexualism is thought to be a radical challenge to gender roles, breaking the boundaries of gender and transgressing its rigid lines. But if the transsexual merely exchanges one gender role for another, and if the outcome of such a sex reassignment is to endorse a femininity which, in many transsexuals, becomes a caricature of much that feminists have rejected about many-made femininity, then where is the challenge, the transgression, and the breaking of any real boundaries? This book will be used as a text in women's studies, psychology, sociology, technology and public policy, as well as by medical students, law students, and all who have an interest in feminist issues.”

    I can only speak for myself. I wish Janice Raymond had done the same. It seems to be characteristic of “feminists” to presume they can speak for all women. They don’t and they can’t. Raymond has a very shallow view what it means to be transsexual. Does she see the struggle, the denial, the lack of socialization that those who come to this point in mid life have to deal with. I suspect she misses the underlying impulse that drives us to become women in spite of all rational thought to the contrary.

    Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if she had celebrated this as an imperfect starting point and gone on from there to help us understand what it means to be a woman and what we have to look forward to living and expressing ourselves as women.

    The best description of what we have to look forward to was written by Deirdre McClosky in her autobiography, “Crossing.” I don’t think Deirdre was trying to lecture us, she was simply describing how her life and friends evolved as she settled into womanhood among her women friends. In my estimation reading the latter chapters of “Crossing” is as important an introduction to womanhood as is spending a year living as a woman as a prelude to GRS.

    Why can’t “feminists” understand that being a transsexual woman has nothing to do with being a man in a dress. Again, speaking for myself, being a woman is about things that are recognizably feminine, beauty, movement, clothes, adornment. Did I mention shopping for shoes? As I have become comfortable with myself at this level, I have come to see the deeper dimensions of being a woman. It is now about the company of other women and their acceptance of me as one with them and seeing life from a female perspective. Having never been socialized as a girl and then as a woman it amazes me how natural and exciting I find this exploration.

    Hugs, Jennifer

  4. I happen to commune alot with professional women and especially women who are either engineers or technicians in the aeronautics field (Jennifer Nelson can relate). Most of these women are outside of our company, whether from corperate or a customer represenative so they know me only as a woman, but they all have something in common: they have had a tough uphill battle to be recognized in a heavily male dominated profession and there is a subtle but evident anger when they talk of their job history and what it took to arrive at middle and upper management. Can anyone say, "male priviledge"? That to me is the same anger, or at least slight disgust, women have in general when they see late transitioners become women. There is a jealousy which breeds resentment that we got to profit from our male priviledge for decades with portfolios, titles, promotions and awards to show for it. I believe much of the bitterness the feminists have is rooted in a, "you never paid your dues into our club!" anger but what they don't realize is many of us, and I include myslef, would have given ANYTHING to have just have been born with the right body and that includes menses, lack of recognition and respect, being leered upon by lustful men ( those of us so blessed to attract that attention) and basically ignored except when the boys need food or someone to watch the kiddies and clean up.

    I am going to say something that may sound like a downer, but actually from my POV is not at all. Being post-op and living my life as myself is, on most days, not a big deal. As Fran Lebowitz is quoted to have said,"Being a woman is of special interest only to aspiring male transsexuals. To actual women, it is simply a good excuse not to play football." Now at first glance we only see the negative in her statement which she shows she obviously does not get us. But the undertone in the statement is huge, and that is women are simply women. They live their lives and rarely think of how blessed they are to be female. In fact some would wish they were men, at least for a while. I won't lie, I still enjoy having doors opened for me by men and catching a peripheral view of a guy staring at me while walking into a car in the parking lot. But most days are simply living life as me. I am very grateful I have arrived here, but I am learning to be quiet in board rooms, expect to be ignored by professional men when discussing technical issues and every mistake is amplified and my consistant professionalism and expertise in my field taken for granted while the men pat each oher on the back and take full credit for a team victory.

    It isn't just self proclaimed feminists that have a resentment or disgust toward us, it is the conservative, wife and mother too. Having said all that I love my life now more than ever, not because it's easier, but because finally everything is properly aligned. I finally feel right.

  5. I'm sure that Marsha is correct about the role of jealousy in the disdain that many have for transsexual women. But it seems that the main issue of the feminist is that transsexual women tend to embrace femininity. I'm sure they hold similar disdain even for cissexual women who embrace femininity. But trans women are an easier target, because: 1) we sometimes seek to shortcut the female socialization process via programs such as the voice therapy program you helped to set up; and, 2) since we start out as men, then this "desire" to be feminine must spring from a male ideal.

    It's the socialization that they hate, because they are convinced that femininity is nothing more than the brainwashing of a male controlled socialization process. They do not see us as women at all. They see us as men who take our feminine ideology to the extreme by actually trying to become the man's version of the ideal woman. It's much easier to hate an icon!

    What the radical feminists cannot seem to understand is that, while some feminine traits are learned and many can be faked (we all faked some masculine traits just to survive), others are innate. That is, they just are. And that doesn't mean that females must only be feminine. There is a great diversity to gender (where gender = a person's unique portfolio of masculine and feminine qualities). That is what I refer as gender spectrum.

    Nice blog sis. And keep up your good work.