I may have mentioned before that I spend a lot of time on Second Life, a virtual world where you can interact with others by way of an avatar image of yourself. Thanks to the anonymity of the environment, I can be myself — a bearded guy in a dress — and wander around in public without fear of the negative effects of doing so in “RL” (real life).
Anyhow, my constant search for others like me often takes me to some groups catering to the transgendered community. Although I have found one or two straight, non-transitioning crossdressers most of the crowd are transsexuals at some point along the way of their transformation. I still like talking to them because although we don’t have any common ground in terms of hormones and identity issues, we certainly understand self-acceptance as well as acceptance issues from family, friends, spouse/girlfriends, and the world in general.
So a newcomer wandered in yesterday just beginning the process of self-discovery, not even sure if SRS is what she wants (I use “she” here as that is how this person was presenting at the time). Her questions were rather deep, along the lines of (and I’m paraphrasing here) “how do you know what gender you are, and what you want to be”.
I started to comment on internal identity vs. biology vs. society’s expectations, but before we got very far I was shouted down by people saying that my use of those terms was unacceptably transphobic and cis-centric. Right, here is a man wearing a lavender prom gown being called transphobic.
This opposing faction said that the concepts of “male” and “female” are whatever we want them to be, not subject to a cis-dominated, oppressive culture that would force outdated gender roles on us. I tried explaining that I’m not talking about socially defined gender roles but simple biological fact — testosterone inclines us to be more aggressive and physically strong; estrogen inclines us to be more emotionally sensitive and nurturing. These folks warned me that talk like that was offensive and just plain wrong; I cited the first few research papers I could find linking testosterone to aggression and they countered with some wiki articles that tell us that genitalia do not determine gender.
The more we went around in circles on this, the more enraged the other team became. I honestly thought I was being supportive in the interests of transfolk of all stripes, but instead I was branded as a transphobic breeder (apparently it’s OK for the oppressed to use disparaging terms).
On the one hand, I can understand their defensive posture — the transgender community certainly does suffer some terrible discrimination and abuse that could make anyone skittish about engaging in dialogue with outsiders. I can even understand their frustration with the limits of a language that really was not built to include grey areas where concepts of “male” and “female” blur and blend and mix and change. But as much as they wish otherwise, the world is not going to start using terms like “male” and “female” to mean what these people want it to mean; better instead to *add* to the language. Let “male” continue to mean someone with Y chromosomes and a penis and “female” mean someone without Y chromosomes and with a vagina (don’t even get me started about their use of “boobies” and “vajayjay”), and come up with other terms that more accurately describe people in transition, or people with a mix (“intersex” comes to mind), or whatever other concepts are missing from our language.
The poor newcomer who originally asked the questions was overwhelmed. Her native language isn’t even English and here we were bickering over semantics; her requests for specific articles explaining gender identity were met with condescending advice to google ridiculously broad (no pun intended, heh) terms like “third gender” and “genderqueer”, which of course yield millions of results. “It’s called research, duh” is NOT how you help a confused transperson come to grips with an identity crisis.
The newcomer privately explained to me something I wasn’t aware of, that there is an offshoot of the transgender community who vehemently reject any form of gender identity not only for themselves but for all others; the whole notion of a binary dichotomy is abhorrent to them.
So… great, for you. If you want to reject society’s labels about yourself, go right ahead. I’ll call you whatever you prefer (and, in return, I prefer not to be called a “breeder”; I performed that act twice more than twenty years ago and it doesn’t make me a breeder any more than my one effort at growing corn in my garden several years ago makes me a farmer). I’m all for campaigning to get organizations that require you to identify your sex to allow more choices than male/female. But you can’t demand that the 96% of the population satisfied with their gender identity (a very loose estimate based on Sharon Preves’ study suggesting that upwards of 4% of the population are born intersex) stop using terms they prefer for themselves, any more than the rest of us should demand that you pick “male” or “female” and stick with it.
Can’t we all just get along?