Austen Crowder

5 "I can't help it" excuses that need LGBT help

Filed By Austen Crowder | June 23, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: I can't help it, LGBT community, prejudice, Questions, trans allies, transgender

Editors' Note: Austin Crowder is a Bilerico-Indiana contributor. We thought this post should be lifted up to the main site so more people could see it and add their own lists of common excuses and how to deal with them.

Thanks to Chaz Bono's decision to transition, I've found myself in a number of conversations on transgender issues in the past few weeks. For the most part this has been a positive experience; it's nice to see people open and willing to learn about transgender issues. However, I keep running into the same wall, time and time again, when some folks close their eyes and say "that's not possible" or "I can't help what I think."

The excuse is infuriating; it boils down to the classic schoolyard logic of plugging up the ears and screaming "lalala!" at full volume. It's a blunt-force object of ignorance, wielded specifically for the purpose of pigeonholing a group of people while simultaneously heading off at the pass all attempts of education.
HolyGrail028.jpgUnfortunately, this behavior is the de facto response to transgender people, whose issues are not taught in school, not expressly brought up in pop culture (save for Springer Shock Value), and whose people often spend their entire life trying to hide from the facts of their own identity. Many times we end up like the witch in Monty Python, held to the fire by impossible logical gymnastics. (At this point, I feel it necessary to state that I do, in fact, weigh more than a duck.)

The only option, of course, is to take these people to task for their opinions. This is hard to do, since the incidence of transgender people usually runs in the 1:3000 category, but thankfully 1:10 people fall under the GLBT umbrella and can all benefit from a little, shall we say, ammunition for these conversations. Here are five easy "I can't help it" opinions about transgender issues every GLBT person should correct, with answers born of personal experience.



  1. "We should be curing the disorder, not cooperating with it."

  2. "Transgender people are just men trying to cross an artificial gender boundary that shouldn't be there in the first place."

  3. "It's just plain weird! / It's against the Bible!"

  4. "Having them in my bathroom is just dangerous. What if someone gets molested?"

  5. "The poor dears had a rough home life / All they want is attention."

We should be curing a disorder, not cooperating with it.

This person is obviously better versed in the world of psychotherapy than the AMA and the APA combined. Be sure to ask where they got their degree, and what papers they've written on the subject of transition. This exposes their first logical fallacy: their opinion does not trump facts.

Transgender treatment is a problem-based solution. The problem is simple: the patient is depressed - often to the point of suicide - about how their outside doesn't match their inside. The solution is similarly simple: prescribe hormones, surgery, and real-life socialization. People who would have lived a few months before the depression would lead to taking their own life can now live happy, productive lives as functional members of society. It's impossible to justify this "cooperation" as a bad thing.

If all else fails, try the gall bladder routine. "Well," you say, seemingly affirming their opinion, "I think we should be curing gall bladders, not removing them. Anyone who thinks they have an infected gall bladder actually has kidney stones which will pass with time." Remind them that professional opinion (say, a doctor's orders) doesn't matter in the face of your own deeply-held opinion, and that you're going to stick to your guns on this one.

Transgender people are just men trying to cross an artificial gender boundary that shouldn't be there in the first place.

Again, this person is obviously well-versed on gender theory and psychotherapy. Be sure to ask for credentials, papers published, and their opinion on third-wave feminism. Chances are that you'll get some half-cocked response consisting of a couple of college classes, a pop fiction book on empowered women, or too much NPR. The opinion is offensive on two levels: one, it indicates that trans-people can be nothing more than girls in suits or boys in dresses; and two, it actually cements gender binaries by even suggesting that a trans person must cross boundaries to become male/female/etc.

These people are usually unaware of the internal anguish created by gender dysphoria, and cannot imagine a life where their minds and bodies are in conflict. Furthermore, they're convinced that there is no difference between men and women, save for the parts and the proportions. This is easily rectified; ask them to name a few things that men do/women do that they simply do not understand. (Everyone has a half-dozen of these, easy.) Then, when they've finished their list, let them know that transgender people get to live in that role, despite not understanding how people of the same sex actually think, and must live their pre-transition lives in a prison made of their gender.

If transgender living were as simple as gender roles, I'd spend my nights vacuuming my apartment in a pretty pink dress. It's not that simple; I tried. The two genders think differently, act differently, and behave differently, and no amount of feminist deconstruction will account for the strength of a trans-person's desire to match with the gender they were supposed to be.

It's just plain weird! / It's against the Bible! / It never used to be this way!

I've lumped these three together because they, at their core, all deal with the issue of validity. Basically, by debunking the validity of transgender experiences, the person can safely hold prejudice against transgender people. This process is one of the central processes of discrimination; after all, to hold a prejudice one must 1) create an Other, and 2) denigrate said Other into an inferior position. This is the cry of a person stuck in step one.

These people obviously speak from experience. For the weirded-out, be sure to ask what transgender person gave her this idea, since they've obviously spoken with a transgender person before. The answer will be no. The next step in this problem is simple: "Have you ever spoken to a transgender person?" In my experience, most people who were "weirded out" by transgender people change their tune when they actually meet one in person; suddenly the Jerry Springer stereotype melts away, leaving a normal, unassuming person behind.

For Biblical issues, be sure to ask for the chapter and verse where transgender issues are specifically called out as against His will. Most will point to Leviticus and say something about men laying with men; at that point, remind the person that a transgender person isn't a homosexual. People adamant in their religious prejudices will quote Deuteronomy 22:5: "A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this." If this comes up, be sure to mention that both midrash and Biblical history show that this verse was about laws and brothels, not transgender people.

But seriously. That's it, as far as negative Bible verses about transgender people go. Some may quote Genesis and the whole "God made man and woman" plan, but that's a good time to remind them that the Bible doesn't specifically admonish transgender behavior, and that this reading relies entirely on speculation to succeed.

If someone dares to try the "it never used to be this way" card, remind them that numerous cultures identified transgender portions of their population, sometimes even defining a new gender for said people. Some cultures even revered transgender people as prophets, wise men/women, or leaders. If they're Biblical, you can even point them to Isaiah 56:4-5; Acts 8:26-39; Matthew 19:12, all of which praise Eunuchs for their service to the Lord. But hey. It's against the Bible and history, right?

Having them in my bathroom is just dangerous. What if someone gets molested?

A popular "I can't help it," considering how much Focus on the Family pimps the idea. Again, be sure to ask for specific examples of someone using gender identity as a cover to commit sexual harassment in a bathroom. Be sure to remind them that a gender dysphoria -- the whole man in dress/woman in suit thing -- often requires patients to submit to long-term hormone therapy, forever affecting libido and brain structure.

Then, if they persist, be sure to mention that the only horror stories about cross-gender bathroom use comes from transgender people who are forced to use the wrong bathroom. These lead to verbal harassment, assault, etc. Not one case of sexual harassment by a transgender person in the bathroom has been reported in the 13 states that allow transgender people to sue the restroom of their choosing.

If they still say they're "weirded out," the conversation is no longer about bathrooms. Refer to the previous question for assistance.

The poor dears had a rough home life / All they want is attention / Their parents never loved them.

Again, be sure to ask them which transgender person told them that. (Noticing a pattern?) This popular notion achieves both prerequisites for prejudice in one fell swoop: it defines an other, and shows - through stilted logic - that the person is "above" transgender people. This one carries a sinister twist: by having pity on transgender people's "terrible experience," they feel that their prejudices are justified: after all, it's for their own good that they be brought back to acting like the man/woman they were born to be!

This fallacy is fed by religious groups attempting to peddle reparative therapy to bleeding-heart churches. It allows people to maintain extreme bias while simultaneously claiming "compassion" - a strange, she's-made-of-wood sort of paradox that only works if people never meet a happy, successful transgender person. If they did, of course, they'd have to face the fact that many transgender people had healthy home lives with kind, loving families, and never wanted for attention as a child.

I had a good home life. By all inclinations I was shaped into a forward-thinking, tenacious, successful male, who needed only reach out and take what he needed to achieve success. Wouldn't you know it, once I had the chance to reach for myself I reached for a gender change? The mind boggles. No molestation, no rape, no abuse, no nothing; I just needed to be a girl. As a girl, I'm happier, more successful, and more stable than I ever was as a man.

The same logic can be applied to gay, lesbian, and bisexual people as well. Just change all the cross-gender stuff with same sex feelings. It's pretty flexible.


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SammySeattle | June 23, 2009 4:42 PM

Great article! I often hear people (both gay and straight) say that they just "don't get" how someone can be transgender. My response: "I know, it's just like How can a guy like a girl?, I just don't understand that." It makes people think.

I must confess, I'm one of those people. I figured out a long time ago, though, that it doesn't matter if I "get it". I'm not the important person in the situation.

Seconded. I can't imagine what it's like to be trans and I don't pretend to. The idea of being stuck in a form that doesn't match my mind is upsetting just in theory so I can only speculate in how much more-so it must be in reality.
Me understanding that feeling, and me being supportive of the person are two separated things. Understanding might help, but it isn't required for me to accept and support the individual in question.
You don't have to 'get' these feelings, you just have to accept them and the person who has them.

agreed. I would never expect someone to understand what is going on between my ears -- frankly, it's a crazy mess in here, and the less you know the better. However, the TL:DR of this essay is this: people use this lack of understanding as grounds for discrimination, and _that_ is what we must combat.

Not understanding is not the same as not accepting. I don't understand why people go four-wheeling in the mud, but I accept it as an okay use of a car. By the same token, someone who doesn't understand transgender minds can accept that transgender people have a valid point.

I don't get any of this stuff either. All I know is that I got dragged into it by something in my brain and it's not shutting up. :)

Reading the "cooperating with the disease" response, I'm reminded of the KRXQ incident... a lot of people who make these arguments have absolutely no interest in actual scientific evidence. Unfortunately there tends to be a backlash against academia based on assumptions of "elitism" and that they're making a ton of money off transfolk. Happens in every field, this is no exception.

Okay, so people aren't listening to logos, and are instead relying on pathos to make intolerant decisions. The secret is to show that the loud voices screaming transgender intolerance have no credibility (ethos), and replace their voice with the voices of credible experience.

If Aristotle did it thousands of years ago, we can sure-as-heck do it today.

I don't have a lot of comment, I just thought this article was fantastic.

"You were not put on this earth to 'get it,' Mr. Burton!"

Austin,

One major flaw in your statement.

THe incidence of *transgender* people is not 1 in 3000.

That is the incidence of a small portion of them known as some transsexuals.

(Current report is 1 in 30,000, but prevalence estimates based on available data show low end of 1 in 7500 and high of 1 in 1500.

Transgender people, however, when one does a metastudy of various parts of it, are easily as common as one in 10.

By themselves.

Because transgender includes heterosexual crossdressers, for example, which have a stated incidence of around 1 in 30.

That *one* aspect alone massively increases he size of the transgender population.

ANd if you expand it as I do to Trans* (in comparison to Cis and Inter), then you have an even wider net -- that of all gender variance.

And that groups size is enormous.

Easy to forget for transsexuals like myself, but I work hard to remind us all that we are not a small group. We are a large one, and if we put *our* effort forth, those stupid excuses fade away fast...

If the only issue you have with the essay is this semantic detail, I'm glad! I find myself using transgender/transsexual interchangeably -- more a nasty force of habit than anything else -- and mostly wanted to demonstrate the point that transitioning folk are vastly outnumbered by cisgendered and gender variant people. The point was not to give an accurate account of gender variance so much as it was to paint a hyperbolic example, a call to action that people could get behind.

Numbers don't lie; they tell stories.

I did the same interchanging, right up until I started doing the work.

Numbers can't tell stories, but they can convey a concept that stories cannot.

*giggle*

Now, if'n ya want me to look at it *semantically*, well, I can do that too, but I don't think either of us wants me to do that.

I'm in way too weird a mood.

btw -- I use the transvestites as my example purposely -- it reminds me to keep my ming open since I really don't *get* that. Indeed, it sorta bugs me a little.

As was noted, I don't have to get it.

I do not need to understand it, in order to be understanding *of* it.

Rev. Donna Lee | June 23, 2009 11:33 PM

as a transsexual womyn I would like to say that I found this article interesting. No one however can express the joy I feel when I wake up every morning and look in the mirror and see me as I really am and was meant to be. it's not that my childhood sucked even though it did, and I am certainly not interested in using the bathroom to molest and to me the bible is a bad work of fiction.
For me It's living as me, the whole real me. I am womyn, see me live life to the fullest and cherish every second of it, even the parts that sucks. Unless you have lived through thisI really feel you can't truly understand what it means to be a T. It's like they say in my program of 16 years being a friend of Bill, only an alcohalic can ubderstand another one.
My biggest problem is that so many trans folks want to pass so badly that they stay closeted. I am as out as you can get. I am proud of who I am. My reply to womyn who question me is simply to say, You where born a womyn, I had to pay to be one. I am today as content as I have ever been and that's all I can say.

Thanks for the info. I'll use it when I get the opportunity.

Unfortunately, the most appropriate response is, "You poor, ignorant, bigot. I feel sorry for you and hope you will some day recognize your error and suffer embarrassment and shame so great that you collapse to the sidewalk, and when you sob, "Help! I've fallen and I can't get up," all who pass by point, stare, and laugh at you."

Or, as someone used to say to Jane Curtin on Saturday Night Live, "You ignorant slut..."

Furthermore, they're convinced that there is no difference between men and women, save for the parts and the proportions. This is easily rectified; ask them to name a few things that men do/women do that they simply do not understand. (Everyone has a half-dozen of these, easy.)

This statement bothers me and I'm a trans woman.

I can think of a half-dozen things that men and women do that firmly fit into little pink and blue boxes that *I* don't quite understand. Lo and behold, I still identify as a woman. I've certainly known my share of cis and trans people who look at standard gender expectations and think, "How odd. That's certainly not me."

The whole point for me is that the wide diversity of behaviors and ways of being that humans express can't be easily stuffed into a binary system of categorization. In spite of this, we cling to this system of categories and invest tons of individual and institutional resources forcing ourselves and others to conform.

Any queer person who has run up against that conformity can attest to how the system doesn't work. It hurts people. That's the whole raison d'ĂȘtre behind homophobia and transphobia: to hurt those who do not conform. Loving someone of the same sex/gender violates standard gender expectations. So, people fear and hate lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. Transgender people violate gender expectations by shifting physical form and/or expressing non-conforming gender behaviors. So, people fear and hate trans people. That fear and hatred leads to social repercussions that effectively force people to conform or face violence.

I know that this perspective doesn't play well with mainstream folks because, yeah, they are deeply invested in conforming to the norm. Try to tell John and Jane Q America that a rigid gender binary oppresses people and they are going to look at you like you have two heads.

In the long run however, this perspective makes more sense to me. The system is broken. There are many, many people whose lives do not fit into this system. It needs to be fixed. It's going to take generations to do this, however. As long as human beings cling to the rigid notions of male/female/masculine/feminine there's always going to be a certain amount of hatred and mistrust of queer people.


Marja Erwin | June 24, 2009 5:52 PM

I would go farther.

I am transsexual, and yet, I delayed my transition, my own life, because I associated trans* with patriarchal gender roles. If we were to abolish gender, or, more likely, restructure gender without assigned roles, some of us would still face this disconnect between brain sex and body sex.

Transsexual issues cannot be reduced to transgender ones.

I need to correct a missunderstanding you have. An easy enough one to make because an artificial divide of hate and falsehood has been thrown up between sections of transgender, much of it coming from self-deceptions caused by internalised issues and from attempting to justify themselves by othering other parts of the community.

So let me point out MOST, the VAST majority of crossdressers are not dressing for kicks or fun but beause they have a real undeniable need to see and express themselves as feminine and female at least some of the time. The most repressed do find it becomes sexually focused but thats far from all and of those as self acceptance grows that ceases to be the case.

Many refer to it as a curse and wish for and beg for a cure. They cannot quit of course because it's not a kink, not done for fun. Many try to negative effect. The closet is as harmful on them as it has been on GLB.

They just have a milder dissconnect to TS. Enough that forces them to act but not enough to make them all go as far as surgery (though very few indeed haven't thought about some degree of it) and for quite a few they can't be happy giving up their maleness either but are forced to try and find a way to embrace both.

This supports the hypothesis that being a CD is either a milder or partial or varient form of the same biological phenomena as TS, much as there is an Autism spectrum.

And there are very few issues that are not shared. Surgical needs can occur in degrees, hormones are taken by not just those who get full SRS. I.D. issues are shared by out CDs especially the 24/7 ones but merely to go outside the front door expressing who you are as a CD can invite discrimination based on I.D.'s sex marker. Housing and employment and vilification and hate-crimes and all that are shared by CDs too.

Artificial phobic walls have been built between crossdressers and transsexuals of different sexuality, between people of differing level of surgical and medical needs. These are stupid and pointless. Merely bus-throwing taken to the most ridiculous extreme where both tackle each other under the bus and get nowhere. When almost all issues are shared they split people who should be cooperating (and as CDs are very numerous excluding them loses most of the powerbase!) and where they are only partially shared it loses natural allies.

Bridges need building. Desperately! If even a small proportion of the CDs can be encouraged out and to be active the GLBT powerbase could be vastly inreased. As dyssonance says above the broad TG numbers are HUGE! Getting them as active as the CisGLB population active could double the GLBT power! Seriously!

I'd like to second the notion that driving a wedge between people who fall into different subgroups of transgender expression is an extraordinarily bad idea.

It doesn't matter to me that permanently transitioning to a particular sex has different considerations from living as that sex on a partial basis. I don't really care what the cause of being transsexual or being CD is. If they are both caused by the same mechanism, fine. If they are not, that's fine, too. What matters to me is that all of us get kicked around because society hates when people violate the usual vanilla, sexist gender roles. People don't like us, are frightened by us and disgusted by us because we ALL violate those norms. That's it. End of the line. Please exit the subway car, now.

We share a common struggle because the same social forces are oppressing us. The same drunken idiot who would give me or any other trans woman a beating in a dark alley is the same drunken idiot who would give Battybattybats a beating. We have the same adversaries and so, our struggles against oppression intertwine. Let us look past petty sectarianism and see that the well being of transsexuals, crossdressers, and genderqueer people are bound in purpose.

And let us not forget that homophobia grows out of the same social forces too. I discussed that in my first comment. The LGB portion of the alphabet ignored our common struggle and kicked trans people to the curb during the 2007 ENDA debacle. Do we really want to repeat history by tossing CD people aside, too? Have we not learned from our own exclusion?

And also, what about genderqueer people? They look at standard binary modes of gender behavior and find that there is no place for them. The comment, "ask them to name a few things that men do/women do that they simply do not understand" doesn't address the experiences of genderqueer people. It ignores those experiences.

Giving credit where due I am stealing this idea from the link below. Mr. Setzer's five magic words for dealing with people who question someone inappropriately is for them to be told in no uncertain terms by the questioned person "I do not need you."

In my experience this is best communicated by actions rather than words. After I started transitioning years ago I made it known to everyone in my life that if they did not treat me like any other woman they were history to me. I dumped a few friends along the way. I have new friends. No doubt my prior friends are still bigots.


http://rebirthofreason.com/Articles/Setzer/Five_Words_That_Spell_Liberation.shtml
Five Words That Spell Liberation
by Luke Setzer

Thanks for mentioning the rest of us dyssonance!

When a similar proportion of the huge chunk of silent and closetted transgender folk become as active as the GLB community we will truly make massive progress swiftly.

Trouble is many are terrified, confused, wracked with internalised transphobia and horizontal hostility and particularly regarding the 'het CD' community caught up with Cis concerns and Cis viewpoints because of their relationships with Cis folk.

More outreach needs to be done to get these folks on-side, to overcome internalised issues and to get more active and more out.

Because of the het/cis relationships of het-CDs outreach to partners of them is another vital issue. Without it they will too often act as anchors keeping them in the closet and inactive. With it however they could prove the lynchpin for releasing the largest powerbase of the TG community drawing their partners out and adding extra numbers and potency to the community.

Ah, but the how of that is a tricky one.

Great summary and discussion! This is really interesting.

mixedqueer mixedqueer | June 25, 2009 10:36 PM

wow! great article and comments!

austin said:

I had a good home life. By all inclinations I was shaped into a forward-thinking, tenacious, successful male, who needed only reach out and take what he needed to achieve success. Wouldn't you know it, once I had the chance to reach for myself I reached for a gender change? The mind boggles. No molestation, no rape, no abuse, no nothing; I just needed to be a girl.

i have tried to explain this to people during discussions of my own experience as a trans person. it's incredible how upset it makes people that i want to forfeit all these privileged identities. in her book whipping girl, julia serano suggests that misogyny plays a further role in this, especially for the trans phobia that exists within the LGB community. for example, in the common socialized mentality, maleness implies strength, dominance, rationality, independence, whereas femaleness equals weakness, dependence, submissiveness, emotionalism -- and who would want to be all that?

timberwraith:

Any queer person who has run up against that conformity can attest to how the system doesn't work. It hurts people. That's the whole raison d'ĂȘtre behind homophobia and transphobia: to hurt those who do not conform. Loving someone of the same sex/gender violates standard gender expectations. So, people fear and hate lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. Transgender people violate gender expectations by shifting physical form and/or expressing non-conforming gender behaviors. So, people fear and hate trans people. That fear and hatred leads to social repercussions that effectively force people to conform or face violence.

omg YES! even within the trans community there is a stigma attached to gender non-conformity. i tend to imagine gender as a spectrum rather than a binary. i seem to be fluidly existing within a large space between the poles. in my dreams i'm quite feminine but i have yet to be able to imagine a life where i look in the mirror and recognize the body staring back at me. my existance is a negotiation of my body vs my mind/soul as they exist within society.