Yesterday evening I did the TV thing for Steve LeFevre’s Crunch the Week show on Made in Bristol TV. I had a lot of fun. My colleague, Liz Sorapure, from Bristol MIND, was having her first TV experience so she was rather less relaxed about things, but I thought she did very well. As for me, I have now done the Watch of Shame to see how I actually did.
Had the interview been on radio I would have been very happy. Some trans people will doubtless be unhappy with some of Steve’s questions, but that’s his job. I’m happy to be tested with that sort of stuff in a relatively friendly environment. I’ll talk more about the content later, but this is TV we are talking about so I need to consider what I got wrong.
First up, I need to smile more. I clearly have a habit of frowning when thinking. This is very bad on TV. I look much better when I smile. I need to do more if it. Second, I need to lose weight. I’m not that overweight, but on TV you are almost always interviewed sitting down, and often without the benefit of a desk to hide behind. Sitting down makes you look much fatter than standing up. Not that there is anything wrong with being overweight, but people do judge, and if you want to make a good impression on TV you have to look good. It is hard enough making the case for being trans without having to make the case for weight not mattering as well.
The other thing I need to do well on TV is facial surgery. Lots of it. But I’m not going to be wasting any money on that at my age.
Now back to the content. One of the things that Steve brought up was a news story about Northamptonshire Police adopting unisex baseball caps rather than gendered headgear for their officers. Their press release spun this as being to attract trans people as officers. I call bullshit. I think they just said that to get a bit of publicity. There are plenty of good reasons for have simple, gender-neutral uniforms, including fairness to female staff and cost reduction. As my pal Bailey from Gloucestershire Police pointed out on Twitter this morning, regulations governing how female officers may style their hair are a real problem for trans-feminine officers. Far more so, I suspect, that the sort of hats they wear.
The most interesting thing about the story was unfortunately ruined by the headline ticker at the bottom of the screen. Steve had carefully positioned a copy of the Daily Malice so that an overhead camera could see the story, but the ticker obscured the associated cartoon. That’s a shame because it showed a policeman with a large trans symbol on top of his helmet. That’s the combination alchemical symbol thing. If you don’t know what I mean, that proves my point. When Berkeley and I do training we recommend use of the symbol to signal inclusivity to trans people, but warn that most cis people won’t recognize it. The Malice‘s cartoonist has clearly made a study of trans culture, and doesn’t consider that symbol to be obscure.
The other thing worth commenting on is the confusion Steve got into regarding sex and gender. That’s not his fault. The two terms are not well defined, and Cordelia Fine spends some time on the resulting muddiness of discourse in Testosterone Rex. I tried to clear it up with reference to a distinction between biology and social construction, but that’s complicated by a number of factors that I didn’t have time to explain.
First up, despite what lots of people seem to think is a “scientific fact”, there are more than two sexes. That’s because there are several different biological factors that go into gendering the human body. They all have to line up to produce someone who is 100% male or 100% female. Often they don’t. Between 1% and 2% of the human population has a recognized intersex condition. That’s about the same frequency as red hair.
As far as I know, I didn’t have an intersex condition at birth. Nevertheless, I do exhibit classic transsexual symptoms. That is, I know I’m female, but my body was apparently 100% male at birth. Now it is, of course, a complex mixture of male and female features. The fact that trans people like me can’t be “cured”, that they are apparently “born this way”, hints at a biological origin, but one (or more likely several) that has thus far eluded medical science.
Whether there is a biological cause is largely irrelevant. What’s important from a medical standpoint is that trans people tend to be very unhappy pre-transition, and much happier afterward.
How we express our identities after transition is, however, culturally contextual. That is, how you choose to express yourself as a woman (or any other gender) will be influenced by the social attitudes towards femininity that you experienced growing up. Evidence from vastly different cultures suggests that social conditioning doesn’t affect whether you will be trans, but it does affect how you express your gender.
And, because so much of gender is socially constructed, people are free to express their gender in new and inventive ways. They can also invent new names for genders, and sometimes those new names will overlap and be generation-specific (think “cross-dresser” and “gender fluid” for example, which have a lot in common).
Alongside this you have a drive toward gender equity. For women to be truly equal to men they mustn’t be forced into gendered behaviors that restrict their ability to function in society and compete on an even footing with men. Equally a reduction in forms of gendered presentation and expression will reduce the ideas that men and women are somehow fundamentally different and unequal. There’s nothing in (sensible) feminism that says women can’t express themselves in a feminine manner. It just says that it should not be obligatory, and does not define what it means to be a woman.
Because of all this complexity, there are many different ways to be trans.
- You could be a classic binary-identified medical transitioner like me
- You could be a non-binary person who wants some medical treatment, but not the whole package
- You could be a non-binary person who only wants to transition socially
- You could be a binary-identified person who only wants to transition socially
- You could be an intersex person who was forcibly transitioned in childhood and wants to get back to a gender you are comfortable with
- And doubtless many other things that I haven’t thought of
Hopefully this explains how we can have 70+ different categories of gender and have a move towards gender neutrality at the same time.