Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Dr. Oz Show and the Transgender Umbrella

For those of you who haven’t seen it, the Dr. Oz show recently did a story about transgender youth. (If you have not yet seen it, you can learn more here: For the most part, I have heard many Trans people applauding the show and the parents/families featured. Although I fully support the parents, the show, and the language used therein, was, difficult for me to handle. For instance, in one “explanatory” segment, the narrator (presumably Dr. Oz), states that “EVERY transgender child” feels they are the wrong sex. The show largely conveyed that the term transgender means, “changing sex” (female to male or male to female). This seems to be a growing trend: when the Trans community gets the chance to be visible in a large medium (TV shows, movies, etc), the term transgender is characterized as synonymous with changing sexes.

Although I fully support the visibility for the Trans community, and the amazingly compassionate parents featured on the show, I am disheartened by the misuse of language and the continued misconceptions about the wide spectrum of identities under the “transgender umbrella.” Where is the visibility for GenderQueer, Third Gender, Poly-Gender, Bi-Gender, Androgyne, Crossdressers, and all the other diverse Trans identities?! Why do these dialogues fail to mention other Trans identities? Why are these identities ignored? I can’t help but find this situation analogous to the GLB (gay, lesbian, and bisexual) community’s choices to ignore the Trans community in the past. Because gender-variant identities are harder for the public at large to understand, the majority chooses to ignore these identities; we are swept under the rug, if you will.

I’m not angry, so please don’t think that. Honestly, I am simply hurt and heart-broken. I have dedicated my life to Trans rights: and yet, as a GenderQueer, I am continuously treated as invisible in these extremely important dialogues. Where is the representation, information or even acknowledgment of other Trans identities outside the FtM and MtF spectrum?

My goal in writing this is two-fold. First, I hope that people who are outside the Trans community learn a little something: consider the possibilities of gender diversity and realize that not all Trans people are transmen or transwomen. This, of course, is nothing against my brothers and sisters who identify as such, but please remember the other identities within the Trans-family. This leads us to my second goal: please, to those within the Trans community, don’t forget about other identities represented by the “T” in the GLBT. You may not understand our experiences in gender; but we are not looking for you to understand us, just acknowledge and accept us as a part of this community. Don’t leave members of the Trans family out in the rain, just because our experiences differ from your own. In the end, we are all one family: let us start acting like it.


Véro B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shannong said...

While I truly understand your feelings of exclusion and frustration, I think it is important to understand that until recently there has been very little, if any, POSITIVE media representation of transgender people period.

TransYouth Family Allies, Inc. is the only national organization that educates and advocates exclusively for gender variant and transgender youth ages 18 and under and their families. We believe that most people do not understand the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation and believe that adults "decide" to "change sexes" for either sexual perverted reasons or for lifestyle choices that involve sex. When we educate using young children, who are NOT sexual beings, people begin to see that this is NOT a choice or about sex, but rather and ingrained sense who you are. While most of the families that TYFA works with are children who fit in the "boy" or "girl" roles, we have multiple families who have children that identify as neither "boy" or "girl" or they identify as both "boy" and "girl". Our work encompasses EVERY youth that doesn't fit society's gender molds.

While it is disheartening that we tend to have to use examples of youth that fit that "boy" or "girl" role to educate, please know that we do know you and folks like you are out there. We understand your pain and frustration but we have to meet people where they are to begin education. Right now, most of society only understands binary roles. Once we can get them to understand that who you are is not defined by what is between your legs and that there is nothing WRONG with people who don't identify with the sex they were assigned based on their genitalia, we can move on to the broader spectrum.

We truly believe that the children are the key to unlocking understanding for everyone under the umbrella and with time and more positive publicity like the Dr. Oz show, we will be able to expand upon the rest of the folks under the umbrella.

Thank you for your positive feedback and insight into your feelings. Please know that TYFA strives everyday to continue to educate about the gender spectrum and will continue to work hard to bring understanding to the rest of the world.

Best, Shannon Garcia, President, TransYouth Family Allies, Inc. (TYFA)

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment. I am a post operative MtF Transsexual but I actually consider myself bi-gender with a dominant feminine side and somewhat gender fluid. I often get frustrated with labels and terminology that don't quite fit.
Personally, I think Dr. Oz did a great show. I agree that it doesn't go far enough into the diversity of Gender Variance, but what it does point out by showing such extreme cases of gender inconguency is that Gender Identity is most likely inborn and not a lifestyle choice or an effect of parenting or environmental influences. That helps to combat the religious zealots that say we choose this and can be "cured" of our sin. We will constantly battle for equality until such myths are debunked. I think Dr. Oz was helpful in making the general public at least think about Gender Issues and how Trans people are misunderstood and unfairly discrimiated against. I will say that I think some Cross Dressing is Sexual fetish behavior and not a gender identity issue at all and is probably not inborn but linked to past experiences that were sexually provocative.

Jay Sennett said...

Great article.

I agree with everything Veronique wrote.

I am transsexual, a term I use as a way to indicate that I have changed genders.

Take care,

Anonymous said...

"Where is the visibility for GenderQueer, Third Gender, Poly-Gender, Bi-Gender, Androgynous, and all the other diverse Trans identities?!"

I'd probably change 'Androgynous' to 'Androgyne' since you're referring to gender identities.

Otherwise I think you ware wording quite well the feelings of some of those who don't fit the B's.

Sara said...

Transexuality is a condition that has a very clear-cut medical treatment protocol. I have no idea what one does for "gender-queer".

Good luck though!

Sara ...

Veronica Moonlit said...

M. Mae, you yourself didn't mention in your post the most numerous of those under the Transgender umbrella, the crossdressers. They easily outnumber, the GenderQueer, Third-Gender, Poly-Gender and Bi-Gender folks and the Transsexuals too for that matter, but they sure don't seem to get much air time.

Mercedes said...

That was my thought on the terms he used, too. I've heard a lot from people who say that "transgender" erases transsexuals, but it seems to me that (at least in recent years) it is actually a case of erasing everyone but, except for the way it's used in some LGBT circles.

I think people are sometimes squeamish about using the word "transsexual" for TS-specific issues because of discomfort with the "sexual" part (we're also talking about a show featuring trans kids here, so perhaps even moreso in this instance), but I do feel it's necessary when speaking of medical issues to be specific.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Shannon Garcia for your very insightful and compassionate reply. I agree that we must meet the public where they are at intellectually on this issue. Showing Transsexual kids is the best way to show that Gender Identity is not the same as sexual orientation and it is not a lifestyle choice.
Once the public is educated on that concept, then we can begin to expose them to the diversity of the gender spectrum and debunking the idea of a binary gender. Step by step. We still have to undo the crazy "Jerry Springer" and drag queen images that many people have of Trans folks.

Unknown said...

It is possible to physically transition to genderqueer or other non-binary gender identities. For example, a genetic female could take low or regular dosages of testosterone and/or have chest surgery to look and sound less female. There is also the possiblity of social transition though name change (legal or otherwise) to a gender-ambiguous, mixed-gender, or opposite-gender name, and a presentation involving clothing, hair, and accessories which are androgynous or combine genders. Similar paths are possible for genetic males wanting to express a non-binary gender identity.

Unknown said...

I agree that transgender lately does seem to be erasing non-transsexual people that fall under the umbrella. I think some of the issue may arise because transsexual has become such a stigmatized word with too many negative connotations attached to it for even many transsexual people to want to willingly identify as such.

Lena Dahlstrom said...

I definitely agree that the increasingly common use of "transgender" as synomyous with "transsexual" has had the effect of marginalizing, if not erasing, other kinds of trans identities. Just as transsexual-related issues (from lobbying to what discussions typically dominate many trans-related forums) tend to suck the air out of the room. Or for that matter, how the "standard narrative" marginalizes/erases life stories of a good number of transsexuals who's life story doesn't fit it.

Very little of it is due to ill-intent. As far as the specific terms, I agree with Mercedes that a good part of it is people (consciously or unconsciously) being squeamish about the "sex" within "transsexual."

Some of it inevitable given that those who are out publicly -- whether on Dr. Oz, lobbying, etc. -- are usually transsexuals. As Veronica Moonlit mentioned, crossdressers probably outnumber transsexuals by a factor of 10 (admittedly that's a guestimate), but they're so closeted that they remain the vast "dark matter" of the trans universe.

And yeah, one can legitimately argue the crossdressers' invisibility in large part due to not being willing to be publicly out. But one also has to acknowledge that crossdressers also face an even higher social stigma (and it's often debatable whether we're covered by the (admittedly limited) legal protections transsexuals have, so it's understandable the most crossdressers are gun shy),

Most people I've encountered "get" transsexuality, or at least they think they do, thanks to the "trapped in the wrong body" meme. But the idea that someone might have multiple genders tends to be greeted with the same sort of WTF? as bisexuals get in terms of sexual orientation. As Shannon Gracia said, most folks do only think in terms of binary roles.

But -- speaking as someone who crossdresses and also performs drag -- I do think it's reflective of the trans hierarchy I see all too commonly. I.e. surgically transition transsexuals are realer than transsexual who've "only" transitioned socially, who are realer than crossdressers, etc.; and that people who "felt I was born into the wrong body at age 4" are realer than people who weren't able to identify and/or acknowledge their transgendered feelings until later. And certainly there are those who seem to make themselves more "respectable" by putting down others on the trans spectrum.

Not sure really how we're going to change this sort of deep-rooted framing. I would ask that those trans people who are in the public eye try to make an effort to remind people that "my story isn't everyone else's story," and that other types of trans people exist. Admittedly, that message may get ignored. I know from people who've been on shows like Dr. Oz (or tried to get on them) that the producers often have pretty fixed ideas about the sort of people and the sort of stories they're looking for. But hopefully with enough repetition they and others will start understanding that there's that "trans" is a much broader spectrum of gender identities.

FWIW, I've also encountered similar kinds of marginalization from the gender queer communities. Some of the times I've felt most estranged and without a home have actually been during SF's Trans March, where the trans-masculine spectrum is celebrated, where being "gender queerer than thou" is celebrated, but the trans-feminine spectrum doesn't get a whole lot of respect.

I'm not angry either, but it's extremely disheartening and frustrating to feel marginalized not just by society at large, but also within the trans communities.

Lena Dahlstrom said...

One more thought....

I'm fully aware of the Catch-22: Feeling marginalized makes me reluctant to get involved with "transgender" organizations that really are made up of, and focus on, one type of trans-ness. But without people like me getting involved, it's not surprising that these groups are going to overlook/ignore people like me. But it's just tough to remain involved when I feel like I'm usually treated like the annoying little sister.

Electrocarrie said...

Is it even fine for us to continue to use the term Transgendered? I find it's basic definition narrow and exclusive. I find that, with the exception of the transsexual (I am MTF) category, the term transgender is applied solely to those who have a predeliction for clothing. It ignores the biases and expectations of the modern gender paradigm. A redefinition of the term is required, one that reflects the behavioural and supposed social intransigence of the modern gender warrior, be you a feminist, a butch lesbian, a femme gay man, a card carrying member of the NRA - whomever. If we are to truly move away from a continued obsession with gender as a binary, we need to turn and face the social variation that is gender diversity. Take LGB - the long debate, should there be a TQI at the end of LGB - of course there should be - every letter is by definition a gendered group and each one gender transgressers. Having sex with men does not indicate you might be gay, being a man who has sex with men does. Redefine Transgender.

Just Chris said...

some Cross Dressing is Sexual fetish behavior and not a gender identity issue at all and is probably not inborn but linked to past experiences that were sexually provocative

I believe our brains are wired such that when we feminize ourselves, our brain interprets this as actual contact with a female and releases neurotransmitters — just as if we were in intimate contact with a woman. Neurotransmitters are powerful chemicals and produce sensations of pleasure, well-being, self-identity, and sexual gratification. Whether we are born with our brains *wired* this way or if it is the result of some sort of *life event* is still in dispute.

The neurotransmitters affect the reward centers of the brain, mimicking the addiction response. So we feel as if we NEED to cross-dress. We feel we can’t stop. We can’t stop noticing pretty feminine things.

But what is really going on? We can’t stop our brains from releasing neurotransmitters in response to cross-dressing. Our bodies crave the feeling these neurotransmitters produce and want more and more. But the longer we repeat the same stimulus (i.e. cross-dressing) the less dopamine is released. In order to continue to release high amounts of dopamine we must push the envelope of our personal cross-dressing.

We feel as if we need to go *further and further and further* with our cross-dressing. Mentally we begin to fantasize about female role-play. We identify ourselves as female. We try to feminize ourselves as much as possible and pass as a woman. We create a female alter-ego, give “her” a feminine name, and then refer to our alter-ego like “she” is a real person. Some will go further still and take hormones to enhance "her". The urge to transition is strengthened the longer we stay on this path, conditioning ourselves to the point of no return.

There is strong evidence suggesting the majority of the Transsexual population more appropriately referred to as Transgendered. They are not true transsexuals, but rather cross-dressers who needed a "bigger fix".

SarasNavel said...

The most accurate definition of transgender is "anyone that does not fit our society's expectations for either 100% male or 100% female". It's also the most useful definition socially and politically since it points out that the problem really lies in how people judge those that don't or can't fit a rigid definition of "man" or "woman" (itself a fallacy).

TYFA kids are transgender kids. Not all of them say, "I am a girl/boy" despite being assigned the opposite at birth. Some will need to fully medically transition as early as possible, some will wait. Some don't have body dysphoria at all. Some will just want to dress occasionally as they get older. Some will discover they are gay. Some will find that they are gay and not transsexual but society only presented a binary that didn't fit. And some will find a balanced or neutral identity from which to live out their lives and create love and happiness. They are us, all of us, that don't fit the idealized he-man femme-woman mold.

Shannon makes an excellent point about these kids being used as educational living proof that gender expression, gender identity and sex are fully independent aspects of each person. That in and of itself is enough to forgive the nomenclature sloppiness.

We need to get out and educate. Right now, TYFA is doing the heavy lifting by meeting with the media and then we follow up with criticism. We need to do our follow up as the adult cases. Instead we've turned inward with blogs and internal squabbling.

I want the world that TYFA kids grow up into to be one where the average person realizes that transgender can mean any of the following:

-Wearing the clothes of the opposite sex.
-Having the self identity of the opposite sex.
-Performing the social role of the opposite sex.
-Having the love or lust interest of the opposite sex.
-Needing the body of the opposite sex.

At the same time we must get the message across that transgender is a rainbow of separate groups that may only overlap in the transgression of rigid and inaccurate expectations of gender (since they don't know our sexes). We must simultaneously show pride in ourselves and pride toward that common goal.

Once we can do so, once the gays and crossdressers and transsexuals and genderqueers and bi's and lesbians can all say "I am transgender because I don't meet *your* definition of man (or woman)", the binary will begin to crumble and equality will be possible. But that would mean taking a chance, wouldn't it? Risking what you already have as an identity is scary. So until then, by all means continue the bickering over who owns transgender.

Finally and a bit off to the side, Stephanie Brill has a wonderful term to use for the kids: cross-gendered. It carries no baggage and allows them to be as fluid or queer or rigidly transsexual as they need to be until they are ready to take on an adult identity and label.

-SarasNavel (the Other Sara)

Battybattybats said...

I think in general comparatively the show was good. I still shudder remembering Dr Phils shows on the subject.

But i agree that non-binary and non-transsexual folk need more respect and a place at the table.

So what can we as a community do to find our best spokespeople and get them into the public eye to educate?

M. Mae said...

Thank you everyone for your comments. I just recently got internet and cable back after the Friday wind storm in NH so it may take me a while to read through all these. However, @drejl and @Veronica Moonlit: I have made the changes you mentioned. Thank you for catching those things and letting me know.

Thank you again everyone and I'm hoping to write back a bit more detailed response to many of you. Thanks!

Véro B said...

There is strong evidence suggesting the majority of the Transsexual population more appropriately referred to as Transgendered. They are not true transsexuals, but rather cross-dressers who needed a "bigger fix".

What is this strong evidence and where is it found? Just wondering.

Sarah said...

Honestly, I think we've failed in accurate education. A month ago two local newspapers ran two separate stories and in both of them transsexuals and trans educated allies, conflated transgender and transsexual. One of the allies even going so far as to be quoted saying the two terms were completely interchangeable.

Then last week I participated on a trans panel as the wife of trans woman and I couldn't help but cringe as my own wife and others switched back and forth between transsexual and transgender as they were describing their experiences. I did take the time during my own little bio to explain the very real differences between the terms and all the other identities out there that are affected by rigid societal gender boundaries. I don't know. I just couldn't leave there wondering if those present would figure out the differences on their own, or worse in my mind, perpetuate the misinformation even further down the line.

I went and watched Dr. Oz's recent show and while I was more impressed than I have been in quite some time, I have to agree with the original post and even take it a step further. It's not only they non-transsexuals who are affected by this. We do no one of any identity any service if we do not force ourselves to educate accurately.

Battybattybats said...

I find myself regularly being increasingly convinced that the Umbrella term of S&GD is far more accurate. Sex and Gender Diversity. Which i first encountered when contributing to the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissions Sex and Gender Diversity comunnity consultation.

Not only does it allow for a more accurate use of Cis/Trans descriptors so we can have Cissexual Transgender, Transsexual Cisgender etc but far more importantly it allows for greater recognition of civersity when dealling with issues that effect Intersex, Transsexuals, Crossdressers, Genderqueer etc who all have different facets of the same human rights needs and who need to work in cooperation to be sure that all peoples needs are met fairly, none are left out and none have their needs met in a way that harms the rights of others.

A poorly worded legislation to protect Intersex Infants from unwarrented surgeries could for example prevent Trans kids from getting much needed hormone blockers where a well worded one would solve both problems equally and fairly at a single penstroke compliant with everyone's human rights needs.

I think we need to:
* Support increasing the usage of S&GD as a better umbrella term.

* To increase exposure of the diversity covered in all parts of the media especially in actively finding spokespeople from closeted and more invisible/erased parts of the S&GD population.

* To emphasise the Human Rights at the core of each S&GD issue. To oppose in every circumstance arguments of exclusion and hostility between groups.

* To foster increased cooperation between organisations and grass roots activists accross the S&GD spectrum in an inclusive fair human-rights-focussed manner.

* To make more easilly acessible to the general public info on what companies orgs and politicians put their efforts where their words are and contribute to progress and which shamefully profit from the S&GD community without contributing to the community.

* To reach out to closeted communities and disparate orgs to provide greater access on information on preventing and ending horizontal hostility and the effects of internalised oppression to stop pointless internecine conflict, bring more out of the closet and help them find their voices.

* To build connections to non-S&GD groups which have shared Human Rights issues with S&GD people and/or S&GD members

The broader definition of Transgender is a huge chunk of the population, crossdressers alone are variously estimated as between 2% and 10% of the population. Thats a big demographic with the capacity for economic power and even election-swinging political power.

Anne said...

I agree with most of what was written in the original post. A simple distinction needs to be made between the two related terms. Much like apples and oranges are both fruits, they are different. They are not points on a continuum

Battybattybats said...

Anne, what do you base your opinion that they are not points on a continuum upon?