haggis: (Celtic)
[personal profile] haggis
(It feels really presumptuous to be writing about this as a cis person and I am really interested to hear if trans people think I am way off base here but people seemed to like the previous posts)

Hester Tidcombe asked a question in response to the last post which I thought deserved a longer answer than I could fit in a comment.

"could you recommend sources to explain what gender is to people who have got as far as the GCSE Sociology type definition that gender is the social construct that most societies inflict on different sexes? I've been seeking explanations to counter the "gender is a social construct, therefore there's no such thing as transgender, just people with body dysmorphia promoting gender stereotypes " brigade, but explanations of trans on some favourable places actually make it sound like gender really is nothing more than stereotyping! Best I've found yet is Fred's diagram suggesting gender is something that people have in different amounts and if you have little of it, or have a lot but it matches your presentation, then that's great for you."

There's a link to Fred's diagram here because I think it is a really useful thing too!  https://assumebenevolence.wordpress.com/…/05/20/paint-chart/
My response -
I don’t have specific resources on that. I used to believe that gender was a social construct and it did not have any basis in biology. I unlearned those ideas by listening to a variety of trans people talking about their experiences which is a technique I strongly recommend but requires a baseline willingness to trust trans people talking about their own experiences.

Caveat – I am going to talk about gender dysphoria from the perspective of a cis person. This is something I struggle to understand and I am very open to being corrected by trans people.
Caveat – I am talking as if trans and cis are simple categories. As Fred’s diagram shows really well, it is a spectrum with at least two axes and most people would naturally fall somewhere in between if
we didn’t live in a society that demands everyone behaves as if they were completely cis.

I think that gender dysphoria is a really difficult thing for cis people to understand because we do not experience discomfort about our gender *in that way*, just like I do not notice my socks unless they start to rub. So when we hear trans people talking about this discomfort that we do not feel, it is very tempting to substitute a different discomfort around gender that we *do* experience and understand.
This seems to happen most often with three ideas:

  • Incorrectly assuming gender dysphoria is due to restrictive gender roles.

  • Incorrectly assuming gender dysphoria is due to gender presentation.

  • Incorrectly assuming gender dysphoria is solely due to physical body shape/hormone levels.

These things can all be components of gender dysphoria and they can cause intense distress and frustration for trans AND cis people. Broadening the range of acceptable behaviour and presentation for all genders may reduce or mitigate dysphoria and it is definitely a goal of many trans AND cis people.

But I have read lots of trans people saying that even in a perfect world, where all roles and presentations were acceptable for all genders, they would still need to transition. I know trans people who needed surgical or hormonal interventions to treat their gender dysphoria. I know trans people who have chosen not to have surgery or hormones. I know trans people who choose very conventional gender presentation and behaviour (just like lots of cis people) and trans people who have very unconventional gender presentation and behaviour. These things are related to dysphoria but they are not the root of dysphoria.

When cis people try to explain gender dysphoria (which we don’t experience) in terms of gender restrictions or gender presentation or physical body shape, then we miss the point and our prescriptions for how trans people should manage their dysphoria either miss the point or become actively harmful.

For example, some feminists see transition as a capitulation to restrictive gender roles or a waste of energy that should be put into changing society. In addition, if a trans person conforms to gender roles in their real gender, this can seem like an additional betrayal, even though many cis people conform in exactly the same way.

So my advice can be summed up as – listen to as many trans people as possible, because different people have different experiences and take seriously that they are describing a real phenomenon, even if it is NOT one that you can perceive.

Trans sources who have influenced my opinons
Julia Serano, Whipping Girl
Kate Bornstein - My Gender Workbook
Joan Roughgarden - Evolution's Rainbow
Sarah Brown (@clovehitched on Twitter)
Jen Yockney
Roz Kaveney
Jacq Applebee
Fred Langridge
Monica Roberts (Transgriot)
@Tyullan on Twitter
Cliff Pervocracy
Laverne Cox
and many many more.
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June 2017

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