Genital-based insults and transgendered people

Christina here…

So last week I posted a The Daily Twitter in which a person with whom I engaged in conversation with attempted to “insult” me by asking if I was born a man.

In another The Daily Twitter, I was called a hermaphrodite, presumably because of my lack of belief in god.

Fellow blogger Natalie Reed over at Sincerely, Natalie Reed had this to say:

I just love being a go-to insult, actually being everything that supposedly undermines a human’s worth and credibility.

Natalie says of herself: “She was born with a Y chromosome but totally kicked its ass.”

In case you didn’t catch that, Natalie is transgendered. As such, whenever someone throws an accusation of “born a man” or “hermaphrodite” at someone else, that someone is using people like her as an insult.

A lot of folks (particular of the religious variety) seek to undermine or discredit Transgender people by denying the identity of the trans individual. They see transgenderism as a type of insanity. They claim that trans people who undergo sex changes don’t “actually” change their gender.  They call transgenderism a destructive lifestyle. They say trans people erode the very fabric of society. They claim trans people would be better off dead. They use quotes when referring to somebody’s gender, or deny the gender of trans people (i.e. “Scott, who was born a man, says he is a woman. He even insists everyone call him Shelley”).

Some people barely see trans people as human. Having attractions to trans people is taboo. Having a mere interest in wearing the clothing of one’s perceived opposite sex is a diagnosable paraphilia.

Transphobia isn’t acceptable.

An individual’s worth and value is not diminished by being trans – or gay, queer, disabled, old, young or poor… you get the idea.

Rationality and critical thinking can destroy transphobia (and other phobias, for that matter). Being able to think beyond, “that’s distasteful to me, therefore wrong” or, “that’s atypical, therefore wrong” is a good start.

While I’d like to pin the blame on religion and religious teaching, that’s not the whole answer. “Changing your sex is wrong because you were born that way” is just as irrational (and missing the point) an argument as, “Changing your sex is wrong because god made you that way”.  Yet the latter requires no religious justification.

Learn more about Christina and follow her @ziztur.

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  • eric

    An individual’s worth and value is not diminished by being trans – or gay, queer, disabled, old, young or poor… you get the idea.

    Neither is an individual’s argument. That’s what makes it such a nonsequitur. As you said, grade school insults. Its just bafffling to think this would come from an adult. Hearing someone come back with ‘were you born a man?’ is like hearing someone respond with ‘up your nose with a rubber hose’ or ‘oh yeah? Well I’m rubber and you’re glue.’

  • Martin Wagner

    It’s a grisly fact of humanity that so many people only find empowerment in dehumanizing and devaluing others. Religion does enable that. But some people are just broken and would do it eagerly without help.

  • Yoritomo

    Actually they have a point about eroding the fabric of society. Our western patriarchal society is built on rather strongly enforced gender roles and the society the religious folks would really like is even more so. Trans people, by their mere existence, erode these gender roles.

    But why is that supposed to be bad?

  • busterggi

    “Scott, who was born a man, says he is a woman. He even insists everyone call him Shelley”

    What would Shell Scott say?

    O/w I agree completely.

  • Kevin

    I have to say that it took me quite a while to wrap my head around transgender issues. I’m still not sure I “get it” completely, probably because I’m boringly heterosexual and my level of exposure to the transgendered in “meat space” is tiny, if not nonexistent. But I have had a couple of gay friends who expressed a similar level of perplexity, so at least I can proclaim my cluelessness is not exclusively due to my sexual orientation.

    But I can spot an attempt to marginalize someone from a mile away.

    It’s a good old-fashioned “ad hominem” attack. If you can’t make your case effectively against the facts and logic, you attack the person making the effective case. Using whatever bludgeon you think would be most effective.

    I think it ought to be some sort of internet rule that the first ad hom attack is always leveled by the loser of the debate.

    • Robert B.

      Believe me, being gay does not give me magical rainbow knowledge that makes me understand trans folks. I have to work at it just like every other cis person. Because actually, gender and sexuality are completely different things. They get discussed and studied together because they both challenge some of the same traditional ideas, and they probably have more in common than, say, gender and race. But they’re different things, distinct and independent variables. You can be straight and cis (like you, I gather), or gay and cis like me, or straight and trans like Natalie, or gay and trans like a friend of mine.

      And by the way, you might have more meatspace exposure to trans folks than you think you do. I’ve certainly had some first impressions disproved.

  • naturalcynic

    We were all born as babies. You just had a few parts that didn’t fit right so later modifications were needed.

  • WMDKitty

    I don’t “get” the transgender thing, but, uh, I’m cool with doing what you need to do to get or stay healthy, mentally and/or physically, and I support the right to do so without interference from bigots and assholes.

    Though, um… I’m also not “getting” why some people have so many problems just letting others live their lives, man. We all know ‘em — the people who tell you what you “should” be doing, or how you’re “wrong” for being yourself, or even for existing, or constantly pointing out and reinforcing how you’re different to everyone else. What’s their deal? Why the need to criticize and control and conform?

  • Natalie Reed

    I don’t “get” why people have so much trouble “getting” it, or why they talk so much about not “getting it”.

    What’s there to get?

    I’m a woman. What makes me a woman is the same thing that makes any cis woman a woman. Which is, for the record, NOT your chromosomes, genitals, boobs, uterus, menstruation, whatever. All of those things are individually variable. Women don’t become less woman after menopause, for example. I’m also a woman in the same sense that cis women are women. There is nothing you can say is universally true of all cis women and universally untrue of all trans women without resorting to tautologies.

    But yeah… knowing that who you are is SO fundamentally devalued, hated, and ridiculed in your culture that it is constantly, casually thrown around as pejorative, the LAST thing anyone would EVER want to be, or even be called, as though we are inherently less than everyone else, that is a really shitty thing to have to live with.

    Worst part? It’s not just thrown around by religious folks and right-wingers. Ever read a comment thread on a liberal site regarding Ann Coulter? Hatred and ridicule of trans women is deeply interwoven in our culture. It’s so ubiquitous that cis people don’t even notice when it’s happening. I’d urge any cis guys reading this thread to make a point, next time they go out drinking with their friends, to note how many times even the playful insults are structured so as to cast aspersions on someone’s gender, or invalidate it, or directly insinuate they’re transgender or intersex in some way.

    • Natalie Reed

      P.S. You know 41% (that we know of) trans people attempt suicide? The thing is, this constant, inescapable, ubiquitous barrage of hatred, cissexism and transphobia, and invalidation of who we are, and constantly being described as the most disgusting, awful, pathetic, pitiable or ridiculous people in the world, that has consequences. Big ones. People are dying. Complacency in the climate of transphobic hatred gets blood on your hands.

    • WithinThisMind

      I don’t get it either.

      I mean, I get this part:

      If a person says he is a man, you use ‘his’ and ‘him’.

      If a person says she is a woman, you use ‘hers’ and ‘her’.

      But if a person doesn’t identify and it isn’t clear from context, or if for some other reason the gender doesn’t fit into the above two categories (such as speaking generally rather than about anyone in particular), what is the proper terminology? ‘They’ and ‘their’ feel grammatically incorrect, and ‘zie’ and ‘hir’ keep getting marked as misspellings on my term papers.

      The GLBT movement really needs to move proper gender neutral pronouns up on the agenda. Maybe right between ‘be accepted as people’ and ‘pick up dinner’.

      In seriousness, in spite of having transgender and homosexual friends, there are parts I don’t ‘get’. But, as someone who is bisexual, there are parts of heterosexuality I don’t ‘get’ either. I’m not sure I understand how someone could fail to find both men and women sexually attractive. It’s just an alien concept I have trouble wrapping my brain around. In some ways, I understand asexuality better than heterosexuality. I think that’s all that some people mean by ‘not getting it’.

      I don’t get everything about my friend Biya. I don’t get why every time she uses my bathroom she switches the toilet roll so that it’s under instead of over. I don’t get why she thinks naming both her cats Tim is still rolling on the floor level funny three years later. I don’t get how she can eat Pillsbury cookie dough right out of the tin. But I get that she is a woman and I have thrown someone out of my house when they stated otherwise.

    • Robert B.

      What’s to get?

      I dunno, maybe when some people say they “don’t get it” they mean something othering by it, or they’re expressing distaste, or complacency, or something.

      But there’s also a human tendency, when we interact with others, to imagine the world from their perspective, to step into their shoes. This is easy to do when the other person’s perspective is much like our own. It’s also easy to do when the other person’s perspective is the dominant cultural narrative, like being male or cis or straight or (in the USA) white or Christian – the media, fiction and news and so on, are very often looking from that kind of perspective. So even if it’s not your own, you get a lot of experience with it.

      But when someone is coming from a different place, a place not your own and not the “default” for your culture, it’s harder to get in their shoes like that. For example, Natalie, remember in one of your comment threads recently I was surprised by your opinion of the webcomic El Goonish Shive. I shouldn’t have been surprised, because once you explained it your position was quite reasonable, but I was. I could not accurately imagine how things would appear to you. Of course, being trans is hardly the only important thing about your perspective – you’re also a woman and a geek and a skeptic and a blogger etc. It’s probably not even the most important thing. But I’m sure being trans has an effect on how you see the world. One of the reasons I like reading your writing is because I don’t understand that perspective very well, and I’d like to.

      So that’s what I thought the other commenters were talking about when they said they didn’t “get it.” Maybe I was wrong – I assumed they meant what I would mean by the same phrase, and uncritically assuming that others are like you is often a mistake. But there’s at least one reasonable thing to mean by “I don’t get it.”

  • Natalie Reed

    Oh, and thanks for this post Christina! :)

  • Clarissa

    Atheist men have short dicks. Thats why they are so angry. Right, JT?

  • Grikmeer

    I always have trouble in my head when this comes up. I identify as trans; I know that inside I am a woman. But I present myself as a straight male because a: for me the closer things look the more it emphasises the things which are wrong and b: I am a little scared about the concept of surgery and the aftermath.
    I speak about it in a specific blog here >

    My trouble is that I feel like I don’t really belong in the trans community. Because I don’t suffer the way others do; I’m out to most people close to me, who have never reacted in a bad way but I’m not going to draw the ire of a stranger because as far as most people are concerned my gender matches my sex…

  • Clarissa

    Hey, JT, glad you finally got rid of that picture that made you look frigging insane.

    So, no more pictures, just drawings, O.K.? That spot on your head looks like some kind of…well, you know.

  • Janee

    Not to nitpick, since I completely agree with this, but the first time you refer to Natalie as trans* you say “transgendered” which is wrong for the reasons explained here:

  • ImaginesABeach

    They claim that trans people who undergo sex changes don’t “actually” change their gender.

    I must be missing something. Isn’t it a true statement that people who have sex changes do not change their gender, they are just changing their bodies to conform to their gender?

    • WithinThisMind

      I admit, this is one of the things I get…but don’t get.

      I think of gender as a fluid, social thing. I don’t believe in a male/female binary for behavior or attraction. The only ‘purpose’ of a scrotum or uterus is reproduction, the rest is all window dressing.

      To me, someone’s outward gender appearance is like clothing. It doesn’t actually ‘tell’ you anything, but society makes assumptions and people tend to conform, to various degrees and with various willingness, to those assumptions.

      So I get why someone would choose to change their outward gender appearance, and also why someone wouldn’t. It’s how you want to present yourself to the world. Some people go to work in a three piece suit and some people go to work in jeans and a t-shirt, and that lets you make assumptions about that person, but off the top of my head I can think of dozens of exceptions to those rules and those rules don’t actually tell you anything about the worth of the person in the clothes.

      But I’m not sure I get the part about ‘I always knew I was a man/woman trapped in the wrong body’, because I don’t really get how the body defines man/woman or what the definition of man/woman is. Having a vagina may make me a ‘woman’, but what does being a woman make me?

      It’s not that I don’t get ‘transgender’, it’s that I don’t really get ‘gender’. I have a friend named Paul that was born male, considers himself a man, is homosexual, and dresses as a woman most days. And I have a friend named Biya who was born male, considers herself a woman, is heterosexual on the cusp of bisexual, and dresses herself in jeans and a t-shirt more often than a skirt and heels. I accept that when Paul says he is a man, he is, and I accept when Biya tells me she is a woman, she is, even if I’m not sure I understand the why of the difference.