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  1. This came from an article about the 2005 book Born Gay, and was shared in a thread in the Tech and Science Geeks club a few days ago. In attempting to prove that being gay is genetic, the authors found it necessary to suggest that bisexuality does not exist. I can understand that. If people are genetically either gay or straight, phenomenons like bisexuality become hard to explain. Easier to just pretend they don’t exist and omit them from the equation so you can more easily prove what you’re trying to prove. Of course, that’s pretty shitty science. As for these ‘physiological studies’, they were clearly not performed on me or anyone I know, and the idea that bisexuals are just sluts with super high libidos who will fuck everything is not only utter bullshit, but deeply harmful in perpetuating stereotypes that we in the bisexual community have been trying really, really hard to get rid of. (Not that there’s anything at all wrong with being a slut who will fuck everything; you do you.) Is my attraction to men and women exactly equal? No, not all the time, and I’m attracted to different things in different genders as well. Women are in general more aestetically pleasing than men, in my opinion. But then I do also really like dick. (Yes, can I have a non-op mtf enby with a side of sexual dominance, please? Thanks!) None of this takes away from the fact that I am in fact attracted to both men and women, and to people who are both or neither. If you were to measure my arousal levels while watching gay, straight, lesbian, and transgender porn, assuming it’s good porn you’d get a pretty strong physiological response from all of it. Anyway, this isn’t really the point of this blogpost. I wrote a post five years ago on biphobia, monosexism, and pansexuality. The point is erasure. The point is that there are people, probably even people on this site, who don’t believe that I exist. I mean, that I, Thorn Wilde, writer and wacky weirdo, exist is indesputable (or is it? Maybe I’m a robot from the future). But my identity, the person I claim to be, is not real, according to some. I guess I’m either lying or crazy. I carry two labels that experience a great degree of erasure. I’m bisexual (or pansexual, in my case these are one and the same), and I’m gender non-binary or genderqueer, which falls under the T in LGBT. I currently consider myself to be trans masculine. I wrote about this not too long ago, too. The more I try to embrace these parts of myself, the more I feel like people try to erase me. I wish I could say that it was all straight people, but as evidenced by the beginning of this post, this is not the case. Both gay and straight people often do not want to acknowledge the existence of bisexuality. We’re just undecided and haven’t picked a team yet, or we are, as previously mentioned, sluts who fuck indiscriminately. Not saying some of us aren’t, just saying #NotAllBisexuals. As for being non-binary, it gets even more complicated. You’ve got your angry TERF lesbians saying that being butch or dressing like a man doesn’t make you not a woman (which is perfectly true, but they’ve missed the point), you’ve got the general population largely ignoring actual scientific proof by saying, ‘Only two genders!’, which is demonstrably false, and you’ve even got some trans people who feel that the rejection of gender as binary erases their gender identities (which it doesn’t; saying that gender isn’t binary isn’t the same as saying that the categories man and woman don’t exist). The more visible I become, the harder it gets. A few days ago I had some asshat on facebook tell me that nothing about me was masculine and that if I wanted to be a man I should act like a man. (I told him that if acting like a man meant being a reactionary fuckwad, I didn’t know a lot of men.) And even though I don’t require other people’s validation of my gender, it still hurts. Just like it hurt when people I thought were my friends said I only said I was genderqueer because I wanted attention. I wish I could say this shit is just annoying and doesn’t get to me, that I could just shake it off and move on, but the reality is that it’s painful. And it makes you question everything. Am I really non-binary? Is it really a thing? Am I actually trans? I don’t want to transition medically. Does that mean I’m just pretending? Am I allowed to think of myself as trans even though I’m genderfluid? Am I really bi? I’ve only ever had one girlfriend and I’ve only had sex with, like, two or three girls depending on your definition of sex, vs. four long term boyfriends and a handful of fuck-buddies and one-night-stands. Am I making this up? Am I a fraud? An impostor? And I can’t even tell my emotional brain and my rational brain apart here, because all this is new territory. There are a couple of things I do know: I know that I loved my ex-girlfriend and I’ve loved all my boyfriends, and I totally dug having sex with all of them. And I know that wearing my binder and men’s clothes and going out feeling like there are people who won’t look at me and immediately think ‘girl!’ feels amazing. And I know that being called ‘he’ makes me happy and makes me feel good about myself. These are my truths, and they’ll remain true no matter how much the world tries to erase me. Edited to add: There’s one more thing I feel like I ought to say as well. I wrote this post using my own lived experiences, but this isn’t really about me. It’s easy to say fuck those guys and they don’t matter; they don’t, not to my life. But there’s a bigger, wider problem here. A bigger picture. These attitudes are a problem. I’m thirty, and this shit upsets me like this. Imagine how it affects someone younger and more vulnerable, someone in their teens struggling to understand their own identity. Imagine how much it hurts to essentially be told that what they feel isn’t real. It eats away at the insecurities that are already there. I probably seem like I’m whining by harping on about this stuff, but as much as I feel these things myself, it’s not about me. I think these are conversations we need to be having, especially when it comes to bisexual and trans erasure within our own community, because that’s where it’s at its most destructive. We need to be aware and pay attention and comment when we see it rather than just letting it pass because we think, who cares what those assholes say? That’s why I keep writing about this. Not for sympathy or support (though I appreciate all of you deeply for giving me that as well), but because it’s a real problem, and it’s harmful
  2. To preface: This is my blog, I have posted about politics and philosophy on it before, and I will continue to do so. I welcome discussion in the comments, but I ask that you keep it civil. Misogyny and transphobia will be reported, even if it means that this blog post is taken down. If you put words in my mouth, you will be summarily ignored. This is a personal and important subject to me. Please respect that. Today is International Women's Day. I've always considered myself a feminist. I firmly believe that the same societal structures that are to blame for misogyny are also to blame for homophobia, transphobia, and the oppression of many other marginalised groups. You can call it the patriarchy if you like, but that word tends to rub some people the wrong way. You could also call it toxic masculinity, but that one just pisses people off. So I'm not going to call it either of those things. I am simply going to call it culture. We exist within a culture, a social framework, that teaches us certain established truths. I'll preface my argument by pointing out that individuals are not to blame for this. It's not the fault of straight, white men. It's not the fault of Donald Trump or Harvey Weinstein or Brett Kavanaugh. It is an insidious culture that has grown as the result of centuries of social norms. While the actions of individuals and groups continue to perpetuate it, these people are not to blame for the culture (though they should still be held responsible for their own actions, as should anyone). Religion holds a great deal of responsibility for spreading this culture, Abrahamic religions in particular. Many older religions and cultures from around the world have no problem with homosexuality, operate with multiple genders, and have large degrees of gender equality. But even today, people use religion as an excuse for bigotry. It has been, and continues to be, a very effective form of social control. And countries where these bigotry based religions have grown strong roots, have spread the culture further via colonialism. India had no sodomy laws before the British arrived. Most African countries had no sodomy laws before the British arrived. Yet today, homophobia runs rampant in many of these countries. A lot of homophobia is based on the premise that gay men are effeminate and therefore lesser. Some gay men internalise this and feel that if they were to bottom they would lose some of their masculinity. The submissive role is the 'female' role. Conversely, gay women and other women in same-sex relationships are often asked which one of them is the 'man' in the relationship. For some lesbians this is also internalised; many butch lesbians think less of lipstick lesbians, that is to say gay women who dress and act in a more traditionally feminine way. How anyone can deny that these aspects of homophobia were born from sexism and misogyny is beyond me. Sexism and homophobia are steady bedfellows. They perpetuate one another in the culture. I said I wasn't going to call it toxic masculinity, but toxic masculinity is a symptom of the culture. And again, it has nothing to do with individuals. Nor is it saying that masculinity in and of itself is toxic. It isn't. But there are certain conventions within the culture that are harmful to men and women alike, and toxic masculinity is one of them. Toxic masculinity is when people laugh at men who are sexually assaulted by women. Toxic masculinity is when a man feels ashamed because he cries. Toxic masculinity is when we say 'boys will be boys' when a child hurts another or when young men sexually harass. Toxic masculinity is when a man reacts to strong emotions with aggression instead of facing them head on. It's when a man takes up so much space that it infringes on the space of other people. Many women also perpetuate these ideas, by demanding that men be strong, and by teaching their sons different values than they teach their daughters. And all that is also a symptom of culture. Another symptom is cis-sexism. This comes in many forms, and often from within the LGBTQ and women's movements. Many gay and straight people are downright rude, sometimes even violent, if they find out that a person has other genitalia than they expected. When I began my journey in earnest, one of my friends who's a lesbian said to me, 'I accept that this is who you are, but I don't get how wearing men's clothes makes you not a woman. I wear them all the time because they're comfortable and I like them.' Certain women's rights activists will use a similar argument. They'll say that girls think they're boys because they prefer dressing like them. Why do our daughters think they want to be men? And, conversely, they say of trans women that they're perpetuating stereotypes by conforming to traditional beauty standards and femininity. The truth is, in order to pass as the gender we are, we have to. I like pretty dresses and heels and make-up, but I don't feel comfortable wearing them right now because I would be immediately read as female. A friend of mine who's non-binary trans and on hormone replacement therapy, didn't dare cut their hair until they had facial feminisation surgery. Because they felt like they would have looked too masculine. Gender expression is a way to make our outward appearance match what's inside us. These are all symptoms of culture. Of homophobia, sexism, and cis-sexism. And they go hand in hand. Because we are taught from birth what we are supposed to be like, based on our genitalia. Girls are meant to like pink and play with dolls and like princesses and frilly dresses. Boys are meant to wear blue and play with soldiers and play war and like action movies. We are taught this to the point where it becomes hard-wired. We're not necessarily taught this by individuals, but by the culture that we live in. Many women experience internalised misogyny, where traditionally 'girly' things are shunned. How often don't we hear, 'Oh, I was always a tomboy, I preferred hanging out with boys, girls are just so much drama.' And there is value placed on that, on being less feminine, because being feminine is being lesser. Culture teaches us so, even if we don't realise it. Even if we don't believe it. Nobody lives in a vacuum. It's easy to think, oh no, I'm too smart to be affected by advertisement or TV or books or the news. You're not. You are affected, whether you're aware of it or not. The dominant culture in which you live will always affect your morals, your thought patterns, your feelings. The way we're raised affects us, and we're not solely raised by our parents. We are raised by culture. We can break free of that. We can learn to tell ourselves, this thing that I'm feeling or thinking right now, it's not true. But teaching yourself not to feel it at all is extremely difficult. I know I've never been able to, as aware as I am of why I feel that way. Anyone who's ever suffered from depression, for instance, can tell you how hard it is to unlearn internalised basic truths that we've learned about ourselves based on our experiences, truths that aren't true, but that's a topic for another day. One of the ways of making yourself aware and ridding yourself those thoughts and feelings is to deconstruct. To ask why. 'It's just the way things are' is not an answer. Things that are 'just the way things are' are born out of centuries of building a social framework. They are agreed upon truths that we simply accept. Deconstruct them. Pull them apart and look at the individual parts of these structures. Try to understand them, and you'll find that they don't make much sense. As a person who straddles the gender divide, I probably feel these things more strongly than most. I'm in a unique position to notice. I didn't make a choice not to conform; I innately don't. It's the same for other members of the LGBTQ community of course, but for trans people it's something we're reminded of daily, and something we are forced to be acutely aware of if we want to live as anything like who and what we are. And we need every tool in the toolbox to do so. I was going to march today, but I have a very persistent cold and don't feel well enough for that, sadly. I usually march every year, with the sex workers and the trans lobby; the feminists the traditional women's movement don't want, because we break with their established truths; that being a woman is a fact of gender assigned at birth, and that anyone who sells services of a sexual nature is a victim (also a debate for another day, and one I don't want in my comments today, please). It's an odd contradiction, to first deconstruct the idea that women are inherently unable to do the things that men do—that they are innately nurturing and are supposed to give birth to and raise children, that they can't do what they want with their own bodies, and so on—only to turn around and perpetuate the idea that chromosomes is what makes a woman and to dictate what others do with their bodies. It also utterly erases the existence of intersex people. In spite of this, I continue to consider myself a feminist, just as much as I consider myself an LGBTQ activist. I don't have to be a Woman™ in order to do that, and even though I'm not, I'm still a person with a vagina and many things that the women's movement stands for are important to me. My feminism is about deconstructing a culture that hurts women, men, intersex people, non-binary trans people, binary trans people, gay and bisexual people; in short, everyone. It's nobody's fault, but it is everyone's responsibility, so that we can all be free. I kind of went off on a tangent I hadn't planned for this, and went way more philosophical than I had planned. Like I said, I welcome discussion if anyone has anything to say, but keep it civil, consider arguments put forth before you react, and don't put words in people's mouths. In short, don't be a dick. The more likely scenario is that no one will comment at all. Happy International Women's Day. PS: I wrote this little batch of poems a while back, and it seems apt to share it with you today. You can also read it here. #NotAllMen 1. misandrist you said i hated men and i said that would be weird since i’m transmasculine you said there was nothing masculine about me that if i wanted to be a man i should act like one and i said if being a man means being a dick, then i know few men you said fuck this and went home 2. incel she said no so he took a gun and shot three people for the crime of being women who wouldn’t have sex with him 3. feminists on the eighth of march you said when is men’s day? and the feminists said it’s on the nineteenth of november on the nineteenth of november you said fuck this and went home 4. traps are trans women traps? are traps gay? is it wrong to be gay? is it, though? 5. masculinity as the women aired their grievances you said what about the men? and the women said fine let’s talk about the men let’s talk about men’s rights paternity leave male birth control domestic abuse against men men who are sexually assaulted, by other men and by women let’s talk about why men can’t wear dresses about homophobia about aggression and anger let’s talk about why men get depressed why men kill themselves why men don’t report rape why little boys don’t cry let’s talk about why men are afraid to be vulnerable let’s talk about masculinity and which parts of it are toxic and you said fuck this and went home 6. man what makes a man a man? why am i not a man? or am I? it doesn’t matter but it does and sometimes i wonder do i want to be? when i know that most men will not accept me as one of their own not as long as i look like this 7. activism you said do something help us fix our problems and lists were made ideas shared we said here, these are things you can do to fix your problems and make your lives better here are your tools organise protest march fight like we have done but you said fuck this and went home
  3. Yesterday I was in the studio at school to record a jazz trio. Piano, drums and accordion, it was pretty weird and wonderful (I still have one of those songs stuck in my head...). I am the only one in my class who's not a cis man. Probably the only one who's queer. So hanging out with and working with these guys can feel kind of lonely, I guess. But after recording, my studio partner and I were packing down the equipment. Third guy had a concert he was mixing, so it was just the two of us, and via Christmas songs ('don we now our gay apparel'*) we got onto the subject of LGBTQ. I was wearing my binder yesterday and feeling pretty good about myself, and decided, fuck it. And I told him I was gender non-binary, and what that meant, and started talking about being trans masculine and social transition vs. medical transition and why I probably won't do the latter. And he listened, and asked questions, and was curious about how transitioning ftm was different from transitioning mtf, and we had a really nice conversation about it. Later I texted him and apologised for my complete lack of filter and just blurting out all this really personal stuff. He just said, 'Hey, don't worry about it. It was fun talking about something interesting and meaningful rather than just complaining about how other people coil cables.' I guess I wasn't really expecting any of these cis-het dudes I go to school with to get it, or be interested, or, you know, to not freak out at the whole idea. He surprised me, and honestly, I surprised myself by even talking about it to a person that I honestly don't even know that well. Later on I went to have dinner at a friend's house, cause my best friend and former flatmate is home from Dubai for a long weekend. I was still wearing my binder, and I felt like a boy, and I told my friends that I felt like a boy. Their acceptance wasn't a surprise; I was sitting around a table with a lesbian, an asexual, a bi dude who once wondered if maybe he was a woman, and a very friendly and accepting straight couple. But what did kind of surprise me was how validated I felt, especially when they asked me which pronoun they should use. I said I wasn't sure, and they said, 'Well, let us know and we'll adjust accordingly.' Aside from one half of the straight couple, these are people I've known since high school. The aforementioned bi dude and I talked a bit more at length while the rest of the party talked about other things. I told him about GA, and coming out to you all and how good that made me feel, especially with all the support I got. And then we all played Nintendo Switch, and that was that. No big drama. I've been trying to figure out how to talk to my mum about all this. She knows I'm non-binary, but she's never addressed it. She's very LGBTQ friendly, has lots of queer friends, talks at length about how hard it was for her gay best friend in the 70s, how sad it is that her American friend's transgender son can't get his legal gender changed, about name changes and how important it is to respect that, and has identified as bisexual for basically her entire life. (I came out to her as bi when I was fifteen or sixteen and she was like, 'So? I'm bi, too. I think almost everyone is.') But she scoffs at identity politics (which is basically just the notion that people should have the right to define themselves without experiencing prejudice), cause she finds it too individualistic and she's a marxist in everything but name. I've tried at length to explain to her how it's not about individualism, but actually about community and finding somewhere to fit in. I think if I were a straight up, gender dysphoric, want to definitely medically transition trans man, it would probably be easier for her. That's a box she can tick. But trying to make her accept me as primarily trans-masculine gender fluid is probably gonna be a little more difficult, and I don't even know where to begin. Given how she's never addressed the enby thing, and when I've tried to sort of bring it up she's seemed kind of dismissive, this is a conversation that we need to have. Just not sure how, or when. I'm gonna stop writing now, cause I'm basically rambling. TL;DR: conversations I had about my gender identity yesterday made me feel very happy and validated, but I don't know how to talk to my mum about it. * Interestingly, originally this part of Deck the Hall was 'fill the mead cup, drain the barrel'. It was changed during one temperance movement or another. The carroll itself is originally Welsh.
  4. I like labels... self imposed labels of course. It's human nature to want to put things in little boxes, even things that don't fit. Organizing them by similar characteristics so we can better understand and define them. I like this. But I believe people can only be labeled by themselves in most cases (if you have red hair your a red head deal with it or dye it lol) so I label myself and express these labels loud. So no one can do it for me and get it wrong! I have always known who I was, my personality has been the one thing I was always sure of (even my flaws). I am intelligent I am emotionally strong I am open-minded I am confident in my abilities I can be a bitch I can be judgmental (though I usually keep it to myself, and I'm working on this one) I am wise beyond my years I am independent I am an introvert I am a book-worm These are my self-imposed labels... but some of them are a little murky these days... I am a ....girl? NO ...boy?both?neither? umm.... ask me later. I am straight... umm except when I'm a boy then I guess I'm gay? so Can I be sometimes gay? ... Umm... I like cock. Am I still MOTHER even if I'm boy? Can I be confident and insecure at the same time? Ugg... I'm too old to deal with this shit! (Jokes!)
  5. So... the mega-million question everyone some time in their life would ask themselves. Please be honest about your own selection. That is, how you truly believe and practice in your own life, not what is considered socially acceptable (which could go either way, by the way), or what you believe to be the ideal. If you have a background story that affects how you define your own sexuality, feel free to share at your own comfort level. This is by no mean a scientific study, but a survey out of curiosity. It is not to be used to define what sexuality is in an objective measure. So please keep it civil and academic. And I keep it only two options so it forces people to choose only one. I know to plenty of us love and sex are inseparable. But if you can only choose having just one, which would you be rather having? Currently I am limiting the question to only gay people (gay and lesbian), because I believe it might be more helpful to understand just one focused group rather than include bisexual, pansexual, asexual, straight people into the formula, who might have very different answers due to very different circumstances. If this survey proves to be meaningful (and please keep it civil and academic), then we'll move on to other spectrum of the sexuality. Let's face it, it's pretty complex just within this selected group. I confess Lesbians might have very different rationale than gay people also, but I believe it's good to include lesbians in this mix, due to the commonality that our relationship is strictly committed to just one gender (besides straight couples). I will reveal my own opinion on this subject later, as not to sway the outcome of this survey by setting a tone. So what do you think that made you gay? Sex or Love?
  6. The Unsolvable Riddle Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a reporter and lawyer, began writing a series of tracts which when finished in 1879 was called “The Riddle of Man-Manly Love.” In these booklets, he discusses the nature of sexuality including the innate quality of some men to love other men exclusively. As with Karl Kertbeny, Ulrichs wasn’t happy with the common references to gay men such as pederast or sodomite. He created some Greek referenced terms for sexual identity, Dioning for straight men and Urning for gay ones. Hubert Kennedy has written extensively about Ulrichs and his writings. Below is a link to one of his papers and it’s a fascinating read if you’d like. Ulrichs opines about “animal magnetism” of the draw between two lovers as well as about Urnings and Dionings. Here is a quote of his as he struggles to explain his idea of the innately Urning man. “This outwardly recognizable female essence I call the female habitus of the Urning. . . The female habitus is quite particularly in us in our childhood, before we have been reared into an artificial masculinity, and before we have had the depressing experience that every expression of our female essence will be ascribed to us as a disgrace (!) by our playmates as well as adults, before, that is, suffering under this external pressure, we began to carefully hide that female trait. The Urning shows as a child a quite unmistakable partiality for girlish activities, for interaction with girls, for playing with girls’ playthings, namely also with dolls.” (Inclusa, 13–14)” Kennedy page 9. Obviously, Ulrichs was trying hard to explain his own Urning nature had been from childhood and therefore innate and not “made” or “influenced” into gayness. He was making the same point as his contemporary Karl Kertbeny that gays weren’t created but had their preference from birth. It’s interesting how many of Ulrichs’ characterizations became stereotypes of “gay behavior” or noticing “gayness” in people. Attributing female attributes or tendencies would become the norm in western culture. We have to remember though that Ulrichs and Kertbeny were making an important point. Homosexuals or Urnings weren’t adopting non-normative sexual desires. They were simply expressing how they felt not perverting nature. Ulrichs soon found there were other men who identified as Urning but didn’t have the “female essence.” Instead of finding this “third sex” as being consistently effeminate, he discovered there were several men who were attracted to and desired other men but weren’t “carefully hiding the female trait.” They simply were oriented towards other men. Ulrich created other categories within the Urning system of classification to accommodate this. Here is a simple representation of what he found. The Human Male: A. Dioning(1) “Heterosexual” B. Urning(2) “Homosexual” 1. Mannling(3) “Straight acting and appearing homosexual” 2. Weibling(4) “An effeminate homosexual” 3. Zwischen(5) “A homosexual who exhibited male and female traits” 4. Virilised(6) “A homosexual who is with a woman” C. Urano-Dioning(7) “A bisexual” What Ulrichs stumbled across was the spectrum of sexualities. Without intending to, he discovered sexuality wasn’t an either/or proposition. Eighty years later, Kinsey would measure sexual behavior in males and find the same kind of array. He developed a scale which measured human male sexuality into a rubric. Ulrichs wasn’t a researcher in the sense he had a formal academic study with subjects and control groups. Yet, he managed to find that human sexuality was something quite remarkable and diverse. Ulrichs’ work wasn’t transformative like later activists would be. But, this German Urning found that like Gay Authors writers and readers, sexuality, love, and human behavior, is a rich source of ideas and expressions. His work over a hundred and fifty years ago is fascinating. The question of sexuality will never be answered. However, it sure is interesting exploring it. http://hubertkennedy.angelfire.com/FirstTheorist.pdf http://www.lgbtdata.com/karl-ulrichs-sexual-orientation-classification-scheme.html
  7. This is a very interesting blog on the culture of homosexuality within Native American tribes and their concept of gender variance - specifically, the idea of "two-spirit people". Sadly this widespread cultural acceptance and positive view of gender difference amongst native peoples has been affected by the malign effects of Christian influence but, encouragingly, there are signs that Native American tribes are returning to their traditional views on sexuality: As Joe Medicine Crow, a Crow traditionalist, told Walter Williams, “We don’t waste people the way white society does. Every person has their gift: http://www.gay-art-history.org/gay-history/gay-customs/native-american-homosexuality/two-spirit-native-american-gay.html
  8. I used to think being gay made life complicated, but after listening last week to the BBC R4 Analysis programme "Who Decides If I'm A Woman?" I've realised I don't know the half of it ... ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Broadcast Date:18.03.13 Presenter: J Fidgen Taking part in order of appearance: Ruth Pearce: Postgraduate Researcher in Sociology, University of Warwick Stephen Whittle OBE: Professor of Equalities Law, Manchester Metropolitan University Richard O’Brien: Writer of Rocky Horror Show Lord Alex Carlile QC: Liberal Democrat Member of House of Lords Julie Bindel: Feminist and Journalist Melissa Hines: Professor of Psychology, Cambridge University James Barrett: Consultant Psychiatrist and Lead Clinician, Charing Cross National Gender Identity Clinic --------------------------------------------------------- FIDGEN: It’s a pretty safe bet that you’re a man or a woman. Isn’t it? PEARCE: Gender queer, gender fluid, androgynous, bi-gender … (fades) WHITTLE: Who decides whether we are men or women? Is it the midwife who you know has a quick glance? I’ve seen four children be born. I know how quick that glance is. “Oh you’ve got a girl.” Well how do you know we’ve got a girl? You’ve not done anything but a quick glance. O’BRIEN: I believe myself probably to be about 70% male, 30% female. FIDGEN: 70% male, 30% female…? That’s Richard O’Brien, by the way, the writer of the Rocky Horror Show. His 1973 hit musical threw all the conservative ideas of sexual propriety of the time into the air, and celebrated everything queer. But back then, unlike his creation, Frankenfurter, Richard was afraid to reveal he himself wasn’t all man. No one knows how many people share this conviction that their gender identity doesn’t match their body, how many people are transgendered - but the numbers seeking treatment are on the rise and policy makers and social commentators are on the case. A vicious spat flared earlier this year when the columnist, Julie Burchill, dismissed male-to-female transsexuals as ‘a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs’, and voiced a view held by some feminists that they could never be considered women. The article caused so much outrage it was pulled from the Observer website. Some of what Julie Burchill wrote was undoubtedly pure provocation, but it tapped into a deeper debate. As we’ll discover in this Analysis, scientists and policy makers have been redefining - in quite dramatic terms - what it is to be a woman or a man. Before, I would have told you quite confidently that I was a woman. Now I’m not so sure. Our story begins 25 years or so ago, when a bearded man walked into the office of then Liberal MP, now Lord, Alex Carlile. CARLILE: When I met him, I realised that I would have had absolutely no idea that he’d ever been anything other than a male! He is male, looks male, sounds male, behaves male. FIDGEN: In fact, he’d been born female, but was living as a man and had come to see the MP because he was having difficulties. CARLILE: It seemed to me that he had been greatly disadvantaged in the workplace and so on, and that he was a bit of un-person in many ways. FIDGEN: In what sense? CARLILE: Well for all official reasons, he was regarded as female. You know if he went into a gentlemen’s lavatory, he might have been accused of doing something wrong. The first issue I took up for this gentlemen was whether we could have his birth certificate changed, and it proved that for statutory reasons, old Acts of Parliament, there was absolutely nothing you could do. FIDGEN: In 1996, Alex Carlile tabled a gender identity bill. It didn’t get anywhere with the Conservative government of the day, but it did pique Labour’s interest, and in 2004, the Gender Recognition Act was passed. Professor of Equalities Law at Manchester Metropolitan University, Stephen Whittle: WHITTLE: The Gender Recognition Act still is the state of the art act in relation to this anywhere in the world. It allows people after two years of living permanently in their preferred gender role to ask for that preferred gender role to be recognised in law, so their gender (and therefore their sex in terms of law) is changed from that point forward, and for all legal purposes they’re recognised in the new gender/sex. FIDGEN: Professor Whittle has a vested interest in this - he’s a trans man – in other words, he was brought up as a girl but now lives as a man. WHITTLE: I first started feeling I don’t want to grow up to be a girl probably about three or four, five, when my younger brothers were born and I saw some of the clothes, for example, that were bought for them. You know why wasn’t I going to be one of them? I was ten when it was school races day and there were girls races and boys races. And I remember that so clearly. It was my light on the road to Damascus - this sudden realisation that I was always going to be in the wrong race. FIDGEN: When he was 17, he sought medical help. WHITTLE: I transitioned in 1975 when getting treatment was extremely hard. In 1979 I had my chest reconstructed and I had a full hysterectomy at that point. Unfortunately there wasn’t really any surgeons in this country creating penises, but we got one later and in 2000 I had my penis constructed. But it didn’t mean I had to get rid of everything else at the same time. That other part of the genital surgery is actually very difficult. So I live with a sort of mixed body. FIDGEN: Stephen met his partner, Sarah, soon after transitioning, and they have four children by donor insemination. The Gender Recognition Act allowed him to adopt those children. It also established a process by which anyone over 18 can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate, which allows you to change your sex on your birth certificate. And get this - if I wanted to reclassify myself as a man, there would be no obligation on me to change my body in any way - through hormones or surgery. All I would have to do is have a psychiatrist confirm that I had been living fulltime as a man for at least two years. Can that be right? As far as the state’s concerned, I can officially be a man, yet have the body of a woman? WHITTLE: Absolutely. It’s perfectly possible for you to get a Gender Recognition Certificate, to get a new birth certificate in your preferred gender, but still basically to have the body of somebody of the opposite sex and yet to be able to, for example, get married as if you were the new person. In fact for the last seven years, we’ve seen all sorts of pairings of genitals getting married, and when people are shouting about same sex marriage, I really want to just say calm down, it’s been going on for a long time now. FIDGEN: The state appears to have divorced body and mind, sex and gender. This is radical stuff. Or is it? Radical feminists like Julie Bindel think it’s an ultra-conservative move. BINDEL: The Gender Recognition Act is further entrenching the notion of gender. It’s saying that there is such a thing as a female brain, that there is such a thing as a real man and a real woman, and this is precisely what feminism is tasked with challenging. WHITTLE: There is an argument that the Gender Recognition Act has effectively entrenched gender stereotypes. It’s done something very different from that because actually what you now have is people who are legally women going round with penises and even getting married as women with penises. I can’t see anything that more challenges the stereotypes than that. FIDGEN: Hasn’t Stephen Whittle got a point? This looks like an unrivalled opportunity to disrupt gender stereotypes. Well, that’s not the way Julie Bindel sees it. She thinks transgenderism is damaging feminism. BINDEL: What ultimately feminists want to do is to eradicate the straitjacket of gender. What transgender people want to do is defend gender and keep a very strong hold on it as integral to their identity. They rely on gender to showcase femininity and masculinity. So for a person who feels that they’re transgender, to go to a psychiatrist to convince them you have to play on every single harmful stereotype available. PEARCE: I’m often scruffy, I wear jeans, I wear t-shirts, I wear baggy hoodies. FIDGEN: Ruth Pearce was born a boy. As a teenager, she realised she wanted to be a girl. She says Julie Bindel’s criticism that psychiatrists insist on trans women having big hair and high heels is out of date. PEARCE: Certainly once I got to the gender clinic, I wasn’t encouraged to dress or act in a stereotypically feminine way, and that’s something that’s changed over the last two decades or so. As a feminist, I believe that a trans perspective and a feminist perspective aren’t necessarily at odds. FIDGEN: Ruth Pearce’s experience has informed her work as a sociologist. She studies transgender issues at the University of Warwick. PEARCE: We move through a world in which feminine and masculine are things that exist. What we can do is seek a world in which this doesn’t matter anymore, but in the short-term I think it is important to acknowledge that there are differences in ways that people interact. When I was effectively living as a teenage boy, a lot of my ways of expressing myself were seen as weird or strange. I was asked if I was gay by people. The behaviours I happen to have, the interests I happen to have fitted more easily into the somewhat artificial category of girl than they did into the somewhat artificial category of boy. I think transgenderism as we understand it now would not exist in a world free of binary gender. Transgenderism is a reaction to the world as it is now. FIDGEN: So there’s trans woman Ruth Pearce agreeing with the radical feminists, that one explanation for people wanting to change sex is social pressure to conform to gender stereotypes, to fit into a gender binary - with man on the one side, woman on the other. But the desire is often accompanied by a visceral dislike of the sexual characteristics of one’s body - an experience known as gender dysphoria. Scientists are trying to understand what exactly is going on - though without much success. HINES: We are frankly mystified by what might be the cause of an individual wanting to live as a person of the other sex. FIDGEN: I went to meet Melissa Hines, a gender expert and Professor of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, in the hope that she could at least nail down some basics for me. (To Hines) Can you start by giving us a definition of what sex and gender are in your view? HINES: People have separated sex and gender and suggested that sex is biological and gender is culturally determined. I find sometimes it’s hard to make this distinction. FIDGEN: Can you tell me then, in pretty basic terms, how you would go about determining what sex somebody is? HINES: I would ask them. FIDGEN: It’s up to them? HINES: I think it should be up to them. FIDGEN: You can choose whether you’re male or female? I need to find some solid ground here. What can we be sure of? Well, we do know that while we’re in the womb, sex hormones determine whether we develop male or female genitalia - and experiments on animals suggest they may also have an impact on the way the brain develops, and on behaviour. HINES: This is a fire-truck and this has a ladder, and boys typically play with this toy more than girls do. We also have a fantastic tea-set. FIDGEN: How children play with toys is of particular interest to Melissa Hines. Her focus is on children born with ambiguous genitalia and how their gender identity develops. HINES: The available research suggests that genetic information and hormonal levels before birth contribute to gender related behaviours and that the individual comes to society already predisposed in certain directions. FIDGEN: Wait a minute. This is threatening the very foundations on which modern feminism is built. Many feminists want to believe girls aren’t born liking dolls and preferring pink - they are taught to behave that way. For them sex is a biological reality, a question of chromosomes - but gender is made-up, a social construct, a set of rules to keep men and especially women in their place. And yet, here’s a scientist saying we come to the world already gendered in some ways. HINES: I think the idea that all of gender is a social construction is a political point of view. From a scientific point of view, although socialisation is important, there also are some inborn factors that contribute to gender development. So, for instance, girls who are exposed to very high levels of testosterone prenatally show more male typical behaviour after birth. So, they’re more likely to like toys like cars and trucks and weapons that boys usually gravitate towards and they’re less interested in toys like dolls and tea-sets that girls might usually like. FIDGEN: So will those girls grow up wanting to be boys? HINES: The girls who are exposed to high levels of testosterone are more likely than women in general to want to live as men in adulthood despite having been raised as girls, so that suggests some possible contribution of testosterone prenatally to gender dysphoria. On the other hand, the vast majority of women with this disorder don’t want to change to live as men, so it’s not as simple as hormone exposure leading to this outcome. FIDGEN: Researchers are exploring other avenues too – a mooted link to childhood abuse is one. Another that has caused a lot of excitement was a comparison of the brains of transgender and non-transgender people. It discovered that a part of the brain that is central to sexual behaviour is typically smaller in females - and in the brains of male-to-female transsexuals. HINES: But this sex difference appears to develop after puberty. And so that makes it a bit confusing because most people who want to live as a person of the gender other than their physical appearance have wanted to do so from before puberty, so it’s not clear what the causal relationship is between this brain region and gender dysphoria. It might be that the experience of gender dysphoria causes the change in the brain. FIDGEN: While the evidence of a biological cause for transgenderism is far from conclusive, there is enough for international disease classification bodies to question whether it is time to stop labelling it as a mental illness - as they did with homosexuality in 1973. As it stands, anyone in the UK who wishes to take hormones or have sex reassignment surgery – available on the NHS - has to be seen by a psychiatrist. Most - 1400 last year - are referred to the Charing Cross National Gender Identity Clinic in London, where James Barrett is lead clinician. BARRETT: It doesn’t really matter what I think a boy is or a girl is or a man is or a woman is. It’s not for me to judge that. FIDGEN: For Dr Barrett, your gender identity is how you feel about yourself - plus how everybody else feels about you. BARRETT: It would be fairly disastrous if I thought this person, oh he’s very much like a woman - they certainly look that way, they certainly talk that way and relate to me that way. That’s not really important, they’re not going to spend the rest of their life talking to me. They’re going to spend the rest of their life buying cheese in Tesco and getting on with their job, so what matters is how well it works there. FIDGEN: If I came to see you and said to you, “I’ve been born into a female body but I’m a man,” what would you ask me, what would you want to know? BARRETT: I’d want to know something about your sense of yourself and how you behaved when you were smaller: what kind of clothing choices you were making, what kind of playing with toys choices you were making; but often just spontaneous utterances like “When will I grow a penis?” said at the age of four to your mother is suggestive that perhaps at that age there was already something up. FIDGEN: The earlier you change sex, the more convincing the outcome. Just under two years ago, approval was given in the UK to hormone blockers so that gender dysphoric 12 year olds can stop their bodies developing. At the age of 16, they can choose to start taking cross-sex hormones, and at 18, can have surgery. Last year, just over 200 children were referred for medical help. 19 are on hormone blockers. Julie Bindel - a lesbian and a feminist - is worried about where this might lead us. BINDEL: Many children who present as transgender end up identifying as either lesbian or gay in later life and no longer identify as transgender. Definitely had I been taken to a psychiatrist when I was you know in my early teens and was being bullied because of living outside of gender rules, I may well have been given a diagnosis of being transgender and I could be sitting here talking to you as a male. So I think hormone blockers for children are a dreadful idea. FIDGEN: She’s also concerned about the practical consequences of men becoming women. BINDEL: I was volunteering at a service near a street prostitution area where the women had an appalling history of child sexual abuse and who were being abused on the streets. And a male to female transgender person, pre-op, came in - beard, stubble, very short skirt, sat with her legs very widely splayed and obviously had male genitals and proceeded to behave aggressively to the other women. And there was nothing that the manager of the service could do to tell her to leave because she legally has the right to be in that space as a woman. There are also examples of trans women who are in women’s prisons, and often these trans women are in there for inflicting violence upon women; that their rights are viewed as more important than the women in those prisons. FIDGEN: Is this the unintended consequence of a legal reform to give equal rights to a disadvantaged group? I raised the issue with Lord Carlile, who first brought transgenderism to the attention of law makers. CARLILE: You know if somebody goes into a court and is accused and their original name was ‘John Smith’ and they choose to call themselves ‘Jane Smith’, they will be tried as ‘Jane Smith’, and I don’t see why what a court recognises should not also be recognised by the prison service. FIDGEN: Taking an extreme example … CARLILE: Yeah. FIDGEN: … a male to female transsexual who has not gone through surgery, speaking bluntly still has a penis, rapes somebody, is sentenced but is officially recognised as a woman. Which prison does she go too? CARLILE: Well in my view, arrangements should be made for that person to go to a female prison. I think that the arrangements that can be made in prison are very varied. The person concerned may spend a great deal more time on their own, but I think that their right to be a male or a female is a very strong right and that should be respected when someone is sent to prison. FIDGEN: So far, so problematic. But what about people who say they’re neither male nor female, or perhaps they’re both. If Rocky Horror Show writer Richard O’Brien committed a crime, where would he be imprisoned? O’BRIEN: It’s my belief that the human being is on a continuum. There are people who are hardwired male and there are people who are hardwired female, but most of us are on that continuum and I believe myself probably to be about 70% male, 30% female. I was six and a half when I said to my big brother that I wanted to be the fairy princess when I grew up. And the look of disdain, it made me pull down the shutters. I knew that I should never ever say that out loud again. FIDGEN: Richard kept the secret for half a century, but now the shutters have been well and truly flung up! O’BRIEN: I have been on oestrogen for about ten years. For the first time in my life, I’ve started to put on a little bit of weight, which I like, and I’m getting little tits and things like that. It takes the edge off the masculine side of me, the testosterone driven side of me. I think I’ve become a nicer person in some ways, slightly softer. Anton Rogers, the actor, he described me as “the third … the middle sex,” he said. “You’re the third sex.” And I thought that’s quite nice. I quite like that position really. I don’t know, I just feel … (sighs) I don’t have to be a man anymore. Do you know what I mean? I feel I don’t have to pretend anymore. Being a man is very tiring. All the pretence. You’ve got to talk about cars and you’ve got to do this and do that. It’s just … It’s so boring. It is terribly boring being a man. FIDGEN: Richard O’Brien doesn’t want to have surgery, but to find a happy medium between maleness and femaleness. And he has scientific backing for his belief that we are on a gender spectrum. Cambridge psychology professor, Melissa Hines, believes he’s right - there aren’t just two distinct sexes. HINES: I think that the research in this field suggests just the opposite - that there is not a gender binary; that there’s a range of gender, and there are many dimensions of gender and an individual person can be in a different position in terms of how masculine or feminine they are on each of these dimensions. I think the source of people’s inability to really incorporate this idea into their thinking has to do with the human minds wanting things to be simple. They want things to be yes/no, male/female, black/white, and that’s not the nature of the world. FIDGEN: But this poses problems for psychiatrists at the sharp end. James Barrett of the UK’s main gender identity clinic. BARRETT: People who live in a rather ambiguous gender role, those patients are thought about really carefully. The concern is that one doesn’t want to do anything that’s drastic and irreversible and then have them in a position where they’re not happy and can’t get out of the situation that they’re in. Most of the people who I end up dealing with in clinical practice do not see themselves as on any kind of a spectrum. They see themselves as unremarkably male or unremarkably female. Now it may well be on biological findings that in fact everybody’s on a spectrum, it’s just that the way society works most people don’t think of themselves as on any kind of a spectrum at all. The same is probably true of sexual orientation. Most people don’t describe their own sexual orientation as being on a spectrum, although actually, practically speaking, it very much is. FIDGEN: Maybe we’ll all soon be defining our gender identity in percentage terms just like Richard O’Brien. If you think this is fanciful and that it’s hard enough to get your head around the new territory policymakers have led us onto, then brace yourself - this may be where we’re heading next. Trans campaigner Ruth Pearce: PEARCE: I think a massive battle still needs to be fought legally and that’s for trans people who don’t identify as female or as male - trans people who might describe themselves for instance as gender queer, as androgyne, as bi-gender or as gender fluid, to use just some terms that people use to describe themselves. And I think the big legal battle at the moment is moving beyond binary gender to a place where people can move through the world legally without having to say that they’re female or male. FIDGEN: Change is coming. Law professor Stephen Whittle: WHITTLE: What’s been happening to the law over the last twenty years is that we have been de-gendering the law. So take, for example, the Sexual Offences Act. Rape is rape whether it’s done by a man or a woman. Similarly, the Road Traffic Act used to require you to declare whether you were a man or a woman. Well you don’t have to declare that any longer. In Australia you’re no longer required to have M or F on your passport. You can choose to have an X. FIDGEN: What difference would it really make if the state stopped taking an interest in our sex or gender identity? Women and men before long will be collecting their pensions at the same time; same sex marriage is likely to get the nod. Penning a law won’t change society overnight - but cultural attitudes do tend to catch up. WHITTLE: I remember when we had twin babies. Sarah was feeding one and I had the other with a bottle. And our two other children, Gabriel and Eleanor, were sat at the dinner table with us. And Gabriel, who was about three and a half, turned to us and said, “How do you know that they’re girls?” And I looked at Sarah, my wife, who went, “Well Gabriel, we don’t know whether they’re girls. We know that most people born with vaginas will grow up to be girls and we know that most people born with penises will grow up to be boys. Sometimes that’s wrong. So if we’ve got it wrong with the twins … We’ve made a guess, but if we’ve got it wrong, when they’re big enough and old enough, they’ll tell us and then we can sort it out then.” That was a perfectly good answer for them both. FIDGEN: Who, then, decides if I’m a woman? I do. Scientists and policy makers agree on that. This quiet revolution has taken place without many of us noticing - maybe because we thought it concerned only a small minority of the population - but it affects all of us and the way we organise society. If we can accept that sex and gender are a personal choice - with a whole range of possibilities between the extremes of male and female, man and woman - the battle of the sexes as we know it will be over. What comes next? Perhaps, a new model of society where we negotiate relationships with each other and the state on our own, individual, terms.
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