Alex Blaze

Transphobia exists: Kids pulled from transitioning teacher's class

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 17, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: cisgender privilege, elementary school, music, transgender, transmen, transphobia, transwomen, workplace discrimination

Here's a new study currently being worked on about discrimination against women:

A recent study has found a new way to examine pay disparities between men and women: Comparing the salaries of transgender employees before and after their gender changes.

The study in The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, an academic journal published by The Berkeley Electronic Press, found that while the average earnings for biological females who transitioned to male slightly increased after the transition, it fell by nearly a third for workers who went from male to female.

The research was based on interviews with 64 individuals employed before and after a gender transition with hormone therapy or surgery.

It should be interesting if the results are interpreted from the perspective of a scientist looking for patterns, not someone looking to prove a point. But can transitioning really be used to prove gender discrimination?

Right off the bat, if that study is meant to be quantitative in any way, it's seriously lacking in participants. Sixty-four trans men and women, all together, to compare pay and job discrimination differences between each group is hardly sufficient to make large claims. Especially considering differences in age, race, ethnicity, education level, nationality, ability, etc.

I can see the reason for a study like this. Some people say that gender discrimination happens because women are actually less qualified than men, that they don't push themselves as hard, etc. So why not find a group for which all external factors are controlled and compare?

What seems obvious to me is the blindness to cissexism, the privilege women born with women's bodies have in general compared to transwomen. While an employer may discriminate against women, a transwoman who doesn't pass 100% of the time is going to be treated differently.

The implication with this study, at least how it's presented in this article, is that transphobia doesn't exist, that its effects are negligible, or that transphobia works for transwomen the same way it works for transmen. None of which are true.

But the other half is that implication that transmen leave behind job discrimination when they transition to join the more privileged side of the patriarchy. But considering this story from earlier this week:

A teacher's gender reassignment surgery has caught the attention of some parents who want to know why the school district didn't notify them ahead of time about the change.

A music teacher at Foxboro Elementary School, who was formerly a woman, returned to school as a man at the beginning of the school year.

The teacher, who was not identified by KCRA 3, is now being addressed as "Mister."

Some parents told Travis Unified School District that they feel like their rights to know were violated.[...]

Parent Angela Weinzinger, who has three children at the school, said she has since transferred her children out of the class.

"I wasn't given the opportunity to make a choice on what I wanted to do with the situation," Weinzinger said.

So far, 23 students from 15 different families have transferred their children out of the music class and into a physical education class.

As Cara at Feminocracy puts it: "If you're going to be different you need to announce your intentions in advance so we can make time to shun you. Please."

The study's author says:

"I think the gap that we've found has to do with ideas about gender and how masculinity is valued in the workplace," said Kristen Schilt, a sociology professor at University of Chicago who conducted the study with New York University professor Matthew Wiswall.

All I can ask is that before Prof. Schilt's study gets published (in a book due out in 2010) that they interview that music teacher in California.


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It's a question of context. If someone transitions and earnings stalemate or decrease post-transition at the same job, there's a good possibility that the difference is attributable to transphobia more than anything else. If someone transitions to a new job where they're stealth (i.e. not out as trans) and earns less or raises / promotions don't happen at the pace they did before, that might be a little more persuasive (albeit with its own set of variables).

I do strongly believe that there is (and have seen) wage disparity. I just don't think that this study was contextually specific enough to demonstrate it.

I agree - there are interesting things to study here and, when it comes to gender discrimination, there is a lot of interesting insight a study like this could provide.

I just don't think that her sample size is big enough, for one, to accommodate the diversity of the trans community, and, for two, I think she's indicated a lack of awareness of transphobia and other transgender experiences that would skew this study.

It's odd that the study (or at least the article's representation of it) doesn't discuss any attempt to account for transphobia. Perhaps they are making the (false) assumption that the impact on men and women would be identical and thus cancel each other out (thus appearing to explain the slight increase in trans men's pay in comparison to the more significant decrease in trans women's pay).

But the biggest problem with this is the assumption that trans people are the perfect sample to see "man" and "woman" in the same person. It goes along with a frustrating assumption that trans people are one gender every day until they suddenly become the other.

In reality, there are many things about trans people's pre-transition experience that is radically different from cis people of the same assigned sex. A pre-transition trans person might still be identified as gender variant, or even trans, and receive very different treatment because of it. I've discussed with several of my friends who are also trans women the ways in which we were treated as women (subject to sexism, etc) even when we were being identified as male.

You can read the actual report in .pdf file at:
www.econ.nyu.edu/user/wiswall/research/schilt_wiswall_transsexual.pdf

I'm also wondering about this quotation from the article:

Schilt, who is currently expanding the research into a book slated for release in 2010, also did an analysis of U.S. legal cases involving transgender discrimination. Nine out of 10 cases involved biological males who transitioned to female, she said.

I get the feeling from the trans people I know and this site that there simply are more transwomen than transmen, and that might be part of this. Is that true?

The official numbers often show more trans women than trans men. But lots of people think that's more a reflection of visibility. Trans women are a lot more visible than trans men.

First off, people making gender attributions default male and it takes 4-5 female characteristics to balance out one male characteristic. So patriarchy's influence on gender determination allows trans men tend to pass a lot more easily than trans women.

And from the very beginning, society's obsession/revulsion of trans people have focused on women. Trans women got to be the focus of early transphobic doctors. The focus of the media's obsession with shocking stories. The focus of psycho-killer movies. The focus of "you slept with a dude!" Jerry Springer-esque shows and jokes. The focus of crime show sex worker characters. The focus of one liner jokes in movies. The focus of anti-trans hate campaigns. The focus of the "bathroom wars." And so on.

Being invisible certainly comes with it's drawbacks too, but the intense visibility that trans women have endured in comparison to trans men seems to me like it might account for that 9 out of 10 number.

My experience, Alex, is that none of the numbers regarding the trans population are valid, and that no one can acurately give any demographic info. Some of the cited stats would mean that, just based on my personal knowledge of trans people, counties with a total population of 50,000 should have a population of several million if those numbers held up.

FTMs are less visible as Tobi said, for a variety of reasons. But with the increased awareness of the last several years, if there is a disparity, I think it will vanish.

A lot of this has to do with definitions and research methods. Chances are, the only people who are counted as trans are people who have transitioned, and that's a minority. I also suspect that the only people who they consider transitioned are people who've completed SRS. That's even a smaller minority. It's probably where most FTMs fall under the radar.

People only seem interested if someone makes a penis go away. If you don't, it isn't serious or important.

I also read the study. If you read in the beginning, you will see that she had to eliminate some of the 64 people for not fitting into the parameters she set for the study. This made the sample amount even smaller.

Prof. Schilt was the person who analyzed the Transgender Veterans Survey, but we had 827 people to provide her with a good crossection. Like her, we also had a filter, but the 827 number is after the filter was put in place. We had two questions that related somewhat to her study.

One asked: "Are you currently working at a job that you trained for or have a degree in?" - Yes: 331, No: 491

Other: "Are you currently working for more than minimum wage?" - Yes: 509, No: 305

Like Alex, I would have liked to see the sample amount to be a couple of hundred to get a number that we can work from.

Hi Monica. As someone who responded to the TAVA survey, I'm interested in the filtering that happened with the analysis. Can you explain how that worked?

We wanted to make sure that only veterans who happened to be transgender were the ones we got information from. If a person did not put what branch of the service they served in, then we couldn't assume they were veterans. If they left that one question blank, then they were filtered out. Even though we were able to use 827 respondents, 174 people actually filled out part of the survey and left that one question blank.

Monica, thanks for letting us know. I didn't recognize the researchers name!

Alex,
Here's a link to a page that gives her bio. Rather cute, if I do say so myself.

http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~soci/faculty/profile/schilt.html

Thanks for the info. Her background gives more confidence than the article did.

Jamie Tyroler | October 18, 2008 4:44 AM

Monica, would your question about working in the field that you were trained in or have a degree in eliminate someone who, for example, has a psychology degree but has worked for 10 years in software support? Or might someone's response depend on how they define job training?

Thanks.

Jamie,
We can talk more about this privately, if you like. You have some good questions.

tava1@earthlink.net

Well, I am making less now than I was before, but then that is partly due to the fact that I went through a career change, about the third or so in my life, so it is to be expected that I would start out at a lower wage.

Now I pass for the most part, but I am open about who and what I am, so it would be hard to determine where a disparity might lie. I can however make the claim that, due to being trans and open about it, job discrimination is alive and well, even in a city like Austin, which has an ordinance to cover such things. Of course no one ever came out an said anything that was actionable in a court of law, but it is pretty easy to tell after an interview when someone has moved you from the head of the list to the no way catagory. When some one is just dying to meet you and is so excited about your qualifications, then suddenly decide that you just are not a fit, well it doesn't take advanced calculus to add it up.

The real kicker is, the firm that finally hired me was moving operations from the bay area to Austin, and of course didn't bat an eyelash at my being trans or lesbian.

Part of my problem getting a job could be attributed to my being a female applicant applying for a male dominated position, Help Desk and technical support. Some of the positions I applied for may have screened me out for that reason, again, it is hard to prove. They could also have screened me out for being over 50. I will never know, since many positions never went to interview stage. I was certtainly well qualified, over 13 years in all phases of technical support counting my time at Apple and at Dell.

Oh well. I just know it took me almost a year to find another job, and that there were a few positions that I didn't get because I was trans.

Hi Alex,

In another post on bilerico, you commend Bil for admitting the need to learn about transgender issues.

If the administrator of a blog dedicated to daily experiments in lgbtq doesn't know enough, why would you expect parents at Foxboro Elementary School to have the level of understanding required to accept with equanimity the arrival of a transgendered teacher.

I believe the language of 'phobia' needs to be used carefully and with reflection. Society is still in the process of receiving the new social movements related to sexuality and gender. A half-century is not a long time. Some of the people opposed to these movements are "phobic," some are uninformed and many are uncertain.

I can understand a parent's hesitation to have their child learn about a conception of gender and the body they may not understand themselves or still be in the process of figuring out. It would be phobic for the parents to call for the teacher's dismissal. But I don't believe they are being transphobic if they hesitate to give their children tacit approval of a concept of gender about which they themselves are uncertain or uneducated.

I'm a psychotherapist, I'm still reading and thinking and I haven't yet arrived at a theoretical framework for understanding gender dysphoria. I used to think of gender dysphoria as a psychological disorder often medically treated with varying levels of medication and surgery. I'm not sure about the term 'gender dysphoria' itself any more. I'm not sure what I believe or think. Does not knowing make me transphobic or merely wearisome in a world in which folks like me should simply get out of your way?

Reading all the debates in the comments section among transgendered people, it seems like the meaning and content of being transgendered/transsexual/genderqueer is still very much in process. Is my own confusion transphobic? I guess it could be, if transphobia is understood as the inability to understand something one is still in the process of learning to understand.

While I'm learning to understand, I don't know if I'll end up agreeing. Is that transphobic? If I'm learning with my mind made up ahead of time, then I'm not really learning, I'm just propagandizing myself. Sometimes that feels like what's demanded of me. "Go ahead and learn, but with the understanding that you'll agree with us in the end."

I don't know if what I've said will now bring a barrage of criticism about how ignorant I am and how frustrating it is to have to deal with people who are learning. I'm sure it is frustrating and I'm offering my thoughts in all humility.

-Nico

Well, I think that there's a difference between saying that one doesn't fully understand transgender people, trangender politics, or GID, and not wanting to associate with transgender people.

The former is understandable, to me, as you point out. There isn't consensus from trans folk on everything, especially on why some people are trans.

The latter doesn't make sense and is based on some idea that a transgender teacher would do his students harm in some way. While their children might learn something, as you put it, there's no need to assume that learning that some people are transgender would harm a child.

I think it's interesting that there isn't a unified model to understand GID. It's not self-propaganda, it's simply saying that you're not in a position to "agree" or "disagree" with someone else's gender identity.

About the parents themselves, I emailed contributor Dr. Jillian T. Weiss about this, who works on transgender workplace issues. She said that the school was wrong and that HIPAA doesn't apply. She thinks they should have informed the parents. It could have provided a good teachable moment for them, instead of throwing this poor teacher out there to the wolves by himself.

Well, I think that there's a difference between saying that one doesn't fully understand transgender people, trangender politics, or GID, and not wanting to associate with transgender people.

Bingo. That's the dividing line for me too.

Nico says -

"I can understand a parent's hesitation to have their child learn about a conception of gender and the body they may not understand themselves or still be in the process of figuring out."

I don't know. It seems to me, kids learn the difference between male and female at a very young age. My grandkids started talking about mommies and daddies, and boys and girls, from pretty much the time they could talk. I think by the time they're in school, they already get the difference. Body issues really shouldn't be coming into it. Nobody's going to be naked or having sex. Besides, last time I checked, they only teach music in music class, not gender identity, sociology, psychology, or anatomy.

You wouldn't explain at the begining of a school year about how any other teacher is a man or woman. You just say, "this is Mr. or Ms. X", and kids will take it at face value.

"It would be phobic for the parents to call for the teacher's dismissal."

If every parent refused to have their kids taught by this man, that would be tantamount to having the teacher fired. The school can't be paying teachers they cannot keep in classrooms.

"But I don't believe they are being transphobic if they hesitate to give their children tacit approval of a concept of gender about which they themselves are uncertain or uneducated."

Except they aren't giving tacit approval. They're giving disapproval. Nothing says, "I don't trust you" like not allowing your children to be around someone. And kids get that message.

"I'm a psychotherapist, I'm still reading and thinking and I haven't yet arrived at a theoretical framework for understanding gender dysphoria."

Transition is the accepted treatment for gender dysphoria. Since this teacher has transitioned, theoretically, he is no longer dysphoric, and there isn't anything special to understand about his gender.

"I used to think of gender dysphoria as a psychological disorder often medically treated with varying levels of medication and surgery. I'm not sure about the term 'gender dysphoria' itself any more."

You might be interested in following the debate that's now going on about the appropriateness of listing it in the upcoming DSM-V, and how.

I think if you approach this subject without being judgmental, and are willing to hear what trans people tell you about our lives, that's all we can ask.

In conventional trans-speak, any failure to totally understand and embrace what any individual trans person believes is transphobia and cis-priviledged. Ok, tongue firmly in cheek there but there is a bit of truth to that.

Seriously, I have debated and discussed the etiology of transsexuality (specifically classic transsexuality) with first class minds for years in both psychology and psychiatry. I wrote a blog entry you might find helpful http://radicalbitch.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/towards-trans-sanity/

Personally I have experienced transphobia on the job but it is often mixed in with gynophobia and thus hard to separate. My business failed post-transition, for example, on pretty much pure gynophobia with zero transphobia but I was denied employment several times on openly expressed transphobia as well.

In conventional trans-speak, any failure to totally understand and embrace what any individual trans person believes is transphobia and cis-priviledged.

Understanding that's tongue-in-cheek, but still, haven't we heard the same thing from Rush Limbaugh about feminists and sexism? Or even some of my college professors who refused to be "indoctrinated" into an anti-racist diversity plan that would allow students of all races to participate in their classrooms. The whole "fill-in-the-blank-oppression is just a hammer to force you to agree with anti-oppression activists" is a tired line used to denigrate anti-oppression activists of all kinds.

If you really want a sense of what transphobia is and isn't, take a look at how other systems of oppression work. If you've got a good sense of women studies, ethnic studies, etc, then you've got good grounds for comparison. And if parents were pulling their kids out of class because the teacher was a woman, or was PoC, or queer, then we'd definitely call that sexist, racist, or homophobic.

Tobi,
I was in the forefront of the trans-civil rights movement for years, even founded federal and state level trans rights organizations.
I'm disabled today because as a result of transphobia on the job.......and still I'm tired of hearing the cis this and cis that and everyone discriminates against me because I'm trans. Sometimes people treat you like an asshole because you are acting like one. Sometimes it's BECAUSE they see you as a woman and sometimes it's something else beside that, like being an out Pagan in a country full of religious nut cases.

Every discriminated against group goes through this stage too, those who blame every shortcoming in their lives to being whatever minority they are part of when it's just not true. Simple fact of the matter is I have experienced far more transphobia in the form I call neo-gynophobia from the trans community than from without it. When will that be addressed? What do you call it? Transgender-privilege?

Cathryn,

I'd agree with you that there's something else going on when trans folk attack other trans people over in a "transier than thou" way, which is a larger part of what I assume you're referring to about neo-gynophobia.

Part of that I would actually say is an internalized transphobia. Especially if someone is telling you that you're bad for being post-op, or pre-op, or binary, or non-binary, or passing, or not passing, and so on.

But in some cases I'd wonder if there's usefulness in coming up with a more specific term. Julia Serano coined the term subversivism, to denote the valuing of things that are more "subversive" such as how genderqueers are "cooler" than transsexuals. And I've heard genderqueerphobia to talk about people who will work to make non-discrimination policies that will protect transsexuals but not genderqueers.

But in the end, I think it's important to make the distinction that it's not that trans people will randomly attack anyone who disagrees with them, but instead that there are trans folk who, like everyone else, perpetuate some forms of oppression, including their own internalized transphobia.

Tobi,
Very observent, and concise. Thank you.

I must disagree with your analysis of the implications. The study shows that both sexism and transphobia exist, and that their impacts are similar.

Let's assume that only sexism exists - and that it causes a 15% pay loss for women, all other things being equal.

Then someone earning $100 who does an f-to-m transition would get $115, and if they did an m- to-f transition they'd get $85.

Now let's assume that only transphobia exists, also worth a 15% pay loss. Then both m-to-f and f-to-m transitioners would get $85.

Neither of these scenarios matches the figures. But combine them....

Say sexism accounts for 16.5% and transphobia 15%.

Then the f-to-m would get +16.5% for the "promotion" to male privilege, but lose 15% for being TS. A total gain of 1.5% (vs the measured 1.5% gain).

And an m-to-f would get -16.5% for the "demotion" to female underclass, and lose another 15% for being TS. A total loss of 31.5%, again close to the measured figure.

The surprising thing to me is that sexism is even more pernicious than transphobia, by about 10%.

Well, that was pretty much my analysis of the implications, minus the numbers. It's that I don't think that her sample size is big enough to make that level of nuance.

Or that transphobia works equally for transmen and transwomen.

But, yeah, both exist.