Jessica Max Stein

Reluctance about Chaz Bono, 'The Reluctant Transgender Role Model'

Filed By Jessica Max Stein | May 13, 2011 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Chaz Bono, Cintra Wilson, Jessica Max Stein, LGBT, media coverage

Chaz Bono seems to be having his fifteen minutes of media, with the recent documentary Becoming Chaz, his new book Bono_Chaz_2010_crop.jpgTransition, and a flurry of accompanying publicity, including Cintra Wilson's dismaying New York Times Sunday Style section cover story "The Reluctant Transgender Role Model."

I understand Bono's reluctance to be a role model, especially if it subjects him to strange, far-reaching sensationalism, such as this from Wilson:

Could it be possible that the fact that Chaz is now a man is somehow Cher's fault? Did the toxic culture of celebrity damage Chastity/Chaz's gender identity? Did Cher's almost drag-queenlike hyper-female persona somehow devour Chastity's emerging femininity? Could Chaz's transition have been motivated by gender-bent Oedipal revenge?

First of all, blaming the mother is so retro. Second, almost drag-queenlike? I could go on.

Oliver Bendorf at Autostraddle rightly describes the Times story as "a sloppy piece of journalism, written flippantly and insensitively." Bendorf's work is worth a read merely for its spot-on analysis of the article's "classic trans-reporting mistakes."

Yet while Bono may be a reluctant role model, many in the queer and trans community are equally reluctant to claim him.

"Wilson's writing wasn't the only reason the article unsettled me so much - it was also Chaz' own narrative," writes Bendorf. "Chaz' definition of what it means to be trans does not resonate for me at all."

Similarly, memoirist Nick Krieger objects to Bono's gender essentialism, his claim that being trans is a "mix-up" or "a birth defect, like a cleft palate." Writes Krieger:

The nature vs. nurture debate will continue in gay and lesbian research circles just like the essentialist vs. cultural construction debate will continue in gender research circles. To fall completely to one pole as Bono does with essentialism is to ignore the very complicated topic of gender presentations, expressions, embodiments, roles, and identities as lived in our culture.

Others took umbrage with his sexist remarks about women.

But Bono's individual perspective and experience are not the problem here -- the concern is that not enough gender-variant voices are being heard, and an entire diverse community is being under- and misrepresented. Bendorf puts it best:

Chaz Bono is entitled to his own story, yes. But as a public figure, he has the mic, and it worries me when that voice, and the storytellers filtering it, are painting such an incomplete picture.

Mainstream media representation is so often a mixed bag. Kudos to Bono for speaking out about his own life; if his story enables just one person to understand at least his version of trans experience, then he's done a service. But let us hope that this is just the beginning of this kind of media attention, leading to a fuller picture of the trans community in all its vibrancy and strength.

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julimyers | May 13, 2011 8:47 AM

Chaz's definition of what it means to be trans may be offensive to some, but that doesn't make it incorrect or inadequate. I've always thought of my being trans as the ultimate birth defect, and I don't think I diminish myself or other trans people by calling it that. If my gender identity is female and my body is male, I'm not sure what better word there is to describe that phenomenon than "defect".

Just as I don't want someone outside of the LGBTQ umbrella to define what this experience means for me, I certainly don't want anyone from within to say that my definition of myself, who I am, and what I have (or anyone else's definition for him- or herself) is somehow inadequate.

"But let us hope that this is just the beginning of this kind of media attention, leading to a fuller picture of the trans community in all its vibrancy and strength."

Amen.

No one can accuse Chaz of seeking notoriety. It is literally his birthright being born to his particular parents. And secondly Chaz is comfortable in venues such as the Letterman show that might be challenging to others.

So, yes it is simply his perspective in a large and diverse community but worthy, I think, of applause. I'll also clap for Letterman admitting ignorance and apologizing.

What are you talking about? In one breath it's "gender essentialism" in the next it's "gender variance"? What is it?

But Bono's individual perspective and experience are not the problem here -- the concern is that not enough gender-variant voices are being heard, and an entire diverse community is being under- and misrepresented. Bendorf puts it best:

I firmly believe Bono can only speak for himself. You and the people you quote, however, write as if there is no such thing as transsexualism. Whether he is sexist or not, buying into to some pre-fab notion of males being sexist, or not, is way beside the point. What is the point is that transsexualism has little to do with "gender-variant voices" not being "heard" "enough". If I have any real criticism of Bono beyond the "birth defect" characterization it's his use of the word transgender. Why don't those promoting their own "queer identities" find their own spokesperson? What the hell do you know or any gender queer know about what it's like to be transsexual to begin with? I swear, not one works harder at the erasure of transsexualism than the "queer community".

I may have trouble accepting the "birth defect" characterization as overly simplistic but people who are transsexual are born transsexual. Those who can, do something about it. Whether those who consider themselves transgender and who have done something about it are born that way, or not, is not something I could help anyone understand. As far as sexism is concerned why don't you pick on someone your own size like Letterman or Craig Ferguson or someone who isn't transsexual who has more in common with you and other gender queers. What does Chaz Bono owe you?

There are Hispanics and there are different variants thereof. There are transgender(s)and different variants, one of which is "transsexual". Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, TransGENDER---unless of course a "transsexual" merely undergoes an anatomy change without undergoing a gender change as well.

Bingo...........the gender of someone born transsexed is just as fixed as anyone else at birth.

Transsexuals, in fact, do transform the body to match the gender.....so no, transsexuals do NOT change their gender.

In trying to be a flippant boor, you nailed it.

I don't know where this will squeeze into along this thread but I apologize for my overheated response. If my experience and Chaz' experience bear any similarities, however, our circumstances have nothing to do with making a political decision.

I was in a hurry this morning. I did not have a chance to read the Autostraddle link. I skimmed over Nick Krieger's piece and read it a little more thoroughly just now. His remark, quoted in the main post, is truly demonstrative of how treacherously the concept of gender is used:

The nature vs. nurture debate will continue in gay and lesbian research circles just like the essentialist vs. cultural construction debate will continue in gender research circles. To fall completely to one pole as Bono does with essentialism is to ignore the very complicated topic of gender presentations, expressions, embodiments, roles, and identities as lived in our culture.

The nature and nurture debate will never end. It goes way beyond " gay and lesbian research circles". The most recent example of the nature and nurture debate is the one between Daniel Everett's work with the Piraha people and Noam Chomsky's ideas. So what? The reason the debate will never end is because of thick headed false dichotomies. Both nature and culture exist and they influence each other in an interactive way. Nature and culture are not mutually exclusive.

"Essentialist" and "cultural constructionist"? Salami, salami, baloney. If there is no "essential gender" how can one be "gender variant" if there is nothing there to vary from? "Gender presentations","expressions", and then
"embodiment"? What in the name of names does gender mean? Is one's "embodiment" a "gender expression"? When does gender mean sex? When does it not? If every "gender variant's" experience is equal the experience of one who has had transsexual medical care, does that mean we remain "essentially" the same sex but our "gender expression varies" and our bodies are nothing more than "expressions of gender"?

It's treacherous to avoid the word sex and imply that gender sometimes means sex and other times it doesn't. Ultimately, this amounts to utter dismissiveness of a transsexual persons experience and the body they inhabit. Forget about "gender essentialism". When is the issue of SEX essentialism going to be confronted? "Gender" has become a most duplicitous concept.

Gender theory is being used overtly to pathologize transsexual people as is evident in the work of Az Hakeem whose abstract to one of his papers locked behind a pay per view wall reads:

"In this theoretically informed clinical study the author draws upon the psychoanalytic and group therapeutic literature in addition to the works of Judith Butler and his own clinical group analytic work with trans-gender in order to discuss the author’s hypothesis that binary gender rigidity stands at the core of trans-gender states. The author suggests that the analytic task is to deconstruct gender and trans-gender constructions in working with these patients. In addition to working towards greater analytic understanding such an endeavour may also be considered as a social, political and cultural exercise in working towards shifts in our societal foundation matrix."

All one has to do to understand what's at stake for transsexual people is to Google

Deconstructing Gender in Trans-Gender Identities - Az Hakeem

to get the picture. I am sorry but it is very difficult to be polite when confronted with dismissive attitudes based on gender theory. The stakes are very high.

I've seen Chaz twice on TV now, once on Letterman and once with Piers Morgan on CNN. Each time he was a calm, articulate, and likeable face for the issue. In fact, he seems so complete and "balanced" now, one just feels happy for him. Good Job Chaz!

Jay Kallio | May 13, 2011 10:21 AM

The blogosphere firing squad aimed at Chaz Bono is really disheartening.

I'm not addressing this to anyone who has commented here yet, but it's painful to me to hear all the "friendly fire" harsh criticism of Chaz Bono's interviews, in which to me he sounded very fair, real, and sincere. I cannot fathom why so many people seem to think Chaz has either the obligation, or even the right to represent anyone but himself, and tell the truth of his own journey.

No one can authentically represent the inner life of another, that is their job alone to communicate to whoever they wish to have understand them. If someone doesn't feel represented by Chaz and his life story the responsibility is incumbent upon them to write their own book, not push that responsibility off on someone else. Chaz is a person with a life, not a fictional character who can be rewritten at will and according to someone else's demands.

I feel it is appropriate for people to demand that media present us as human, in all our complex strengths and failings, not as mentally ill perverts as they will try to, and that is a worthwhile effort. But Chaz doesn't control how the media portrays people of gender variant experience. He is simply another struggling human being, thrust into the limelight, not a spokesperson or paid elected official with an obligation to represent a constituency. There's a huge difference.

The sense of entitlement of many people who seem to feel they have a right to demand others take the onerous responsibility to represent their lives is astounding to me. It seems counterproductive at best, and overtly destructive and meanspirited at worst to cut down anyone who takes the risk to come out and tell their story. I give a tremendous amount of credit to anyone who takes on the brutal task of coming out of stealth and honoring our personal truth in full view of a hostile public, therefore becoming a target for the bigotry, hostility, and treachery of others who detest and loathe us. Whatever the nuances of someone's gender identity, it requires courage to stand tall and tell our truth.

I would never lay the expectation on someone else to tell my story. No one can, but me. It's my job, not theirs'.

If Chaz Bono had tried to tell the story of all those who are elsewhere on the gender identity spectrum as they seem to expect him to, my guess is that people would be howling mad at him for "co-opting" their stories, and shrieking at how they don't "resonate" with how he presented them, and how dare he speak for others...

Instead of constantly blaming and shooting down others like Chaz Bono who try to do something positive, I wish those folks would try actually doing something positive. It's very empowering once you try it, and ultimately much more constructive and satisfying an investment of energy.

Sorry if I am being unduly harsh, but the constant barrage of self righteous indignation and demeaning, hateful barbs aimed at every positive step forward (like Chaz has taken) is such an ugly energy drain.

Ultimately it baffles me that queers who are so adamant that others must understand and respect their self concepts and plethora of nuanced identities then are so rejecting and unforgiving when someone speaks of their own experience...

Some people are genuinely and innately men and women, firmly ensconced in the gender binary, and no one else has the right to demean them for it. Try giving the respect you want from others, they are then much more likely to give respect in return..

George Byrd | May 13, 2011 11:30 AM

That was perfectly written! I agree 100% and couldn't have said it better myself!

Jay, yours is the comment of the week, up tonight at 7pm.

And the TG/TS "community" can't even agree about who is a woman? Gay/bi/straight. Let alone the rarely regoconzed F to male.

So you think it's that easy

This is my choice for comment of the week from the Australian Administrative Decisions Tribunal:

http://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/action/PJUDG?jgmtid=151840

It's all there if you have the time to read it - who is considered male and who is considered female, there. I think there are eleven intersex people who the state considers defined as neither who will end up screwed by this decision. Where all this is going in this country is a worry. Do you know anything about Corbett v Corbett? Well, it was quoted in this decision and was quoted in Texas, too. What will this ruling mean? Oh, I forgot, not your problem. Good for you!

Oh shoot, I meant this to be a reply to Diek's comment, sorry.

So you think it's that easy

I grew up knowing it was never "easy".

Well said, Jay! (And this is not in response to the column, per se.)

However, I do find that Chaz's statements about women are highly sexist, and that's NOT a criticism of his journey, only the attitudes he has since developed. Calling a spade a spade, he now considers women to be chatty, gossipy tedious things and as a man, he just biologically doesn't have the capacity to care anymore.

Jay Kallio | May 13, 2011 10:46 AM

Agreed. I wouldn't marry him, either, LOL.

jill.gaulding | May 13, 2011 1:57 PM

Agreed. I don't think anyone needs to get a pass for making unsupported claims about sex differences (e.g., Chaz's claim that women talk more and gossip more than men -- see my earlier comments below and my comment at Feministing, which provide some contrary references from the science literature).

But the point, in any case, is not to somehow target Chaz; it's to challenge the media's dissemination of sex stereotypes. The media LOVES the concept of "men are from Mars" and will take advantage of any opportunity to trot it out again.

That's true. Chaz's unfounded stereotyped positions are one thing, but it's the media's willingness to say "OMG, I KNOW!" that's an equivalent if not bigger problem.

You know what's worse than Chaz's supposed gender essentialism and binary viewpoint... self-ID'd trans men who are over at Autostraddle, a dyke site, righteously whining about it. IMO, their critiques of Chaz are extremely naive, don't really take into account the fact that his story is being filtered through highly biased cissexual media, writers and filmmakers and that he's there because he's the son of celebs... not because he's supposed to be 'Chaz every-trans person'. So, he took T and became a bit of an a-hole... look who his male role model was. Give the man a break and some space... or you try going on Letterman and trying to explain to that block of wood what trans issues are.

Trans women have dealt with controlled, biased depictions of us for decades by Jerry Springer, gay men who want to make us into drag queens, Christians who want to make us into pedophiles and pervs and cis-feminists who want to make us men in dresses not to mention "Ticked Off Trannies with Knives." I think this is a case of people who are fairly recent transitioners getting their first dose of this and they better get used to it. No one can tell your story but you. Period. Chaz is only telling his in as honest a way as he knows how and shame on all the 'queerer than thou' critics who are dumping on him.

Eric Payne | May 13, 2011 1:07 PM

Gina,

Your comment is well written and apropos... but I'm curious about something:

Since your problem is with "self ID'd trans men who are over at Autostraddle," why gripe about that here at Bilerico? Are you debating those comments at Autostraddle?

I have and am! :) But I also consider myself a straight woman, albeit trans, so I try to not insert myself over there too much since it's really a site for queer women.

Eric Payne | May 13, 2011 1:17 PM

I was asking because I also read, and comment, to a number of news blogs, both gay and straight. I'm sure you've read comments left by people on site "A", where they've attempted (and, unfortunately, succeeded in most cases) to bring a comment war that's going on on site "B" to site "A".

I also don't like the term "birth defect." It tells others that I was not made correctly. I was made exactly the way Mother Nature (God) intended. "God doesn't make mistakes." We hear that as an intended weapon toward our lives, but I fully agree with that statement. That shuts up the religious bigots when I agree with them. I was made this way on purpose. Care to dispute God on that?

Nature is full of minor (and even major) variations throughout every species of plants and animals on this planet. Humans don't get to be the exception to that. There are no "birth defects" in the human species. Yet, the medical profession labels ANY variation from the accepted physical "norms" as a person being "defective." Some of these variations are life threatening, but they are variations nevertheless. Transsexualism is just another variation in the human species.

I see my transsexualism as a gift, or a blessing. I have been given the chance to see the world through the eyes of a man and a woman, and I didn't have to be reincarnated to do so. I actually feel sorry (just a little) for those people who live as only one gender until they die.

As far as Chaz goes, he is still an early teenage boy, even at his chronological age of over 40. Judging any of his actions or statements at this stage of his development is highly unfair to him. He's at the very bottom of the learning curve on being a man. Let's take a look at him in 5 years and see the changes. I won't be surprised, but I'm sure plenty of people will be.

George Byrd | May 13, 2011 2:35 PM

"Like!" :)

I agree that calling being transsexual a birth defect is problematical. Just like the "mam trapped in a woman's body" (& vice versa) cliché it carried too much negative baggage along with the grain of truth it holds.

I tell people it may look like a birth defect to some people, it may even feel like one for some, but it isn't really a defect at all.

Rick Sutton | May 13, 2011 10:54 PM

I am seriously seeking to expand my trans knowledge. I watched the Chas Bono documentary and learned a great deal. There were a couple of "oh no!" moments, but overall, it taught me a lot. I imagine it taught others, too.

Chaz was born to celebrity parents. It's all he knows. He appeared to be sensitive about the subject.

And I've learned a new phrase: "highly biased cissexual media." Now I'm scrambling to find out what the hell THAT means.

This is Bilerico the place that was just going to use something like "goring sacred cows" in its tag line isn't it? Well what could be a bigger sacred cows than Chaz Bono and the word transgender? Chaz has spent a great deal of his life in the LGBT community. Chaz spent many years as a lesbian and helped endear many in the LGBT to his mom Cher. Chaz in his letterman interview used his broad brush to label all transsexuals as transgender and to help with transsexual erasure how radical lesbian feminist of the guy. Also to put all of us in the LGBT. Then to make matters worse he makes sexist comments could it be maybe he's just a tad insecure in his penisless masculinity or is that why he identifies as transgender? I can't help but wonder when he's going to get pregnant.

Poor Amy. Chaz Bono, who doesn't know you from Eve has called you personally, a transgender person. How horrible that he is picking on you. I will pray to God that Chaz will never call you a transgender person again. That horrible, horrible man.

Indeed well played by Monica seems she wasn't joking about being connected to WPATH board members.Priceless. As you can now tell I am researching the WPATH board no sense in hiding it seems I've found some interesting things. A national news organization has offered to allow me to submit a story about transgender vs transsexual identity and it isn't Bilerico. Hope you and the some of the board members enjoy being included in it.

Jay Kallio | May 14, 2011 11:00 AM

@amy I don't see using the word "transgender" as erasing my transsexual identity in any way.

We really need to find some umbrella term that is acceptable to all people of gender variant experience in order to have a clear, concise political message for the public at large when we fight for anti discrimination and equal rights legislation. Messaging requires language, so some term will always be needed in order to identify our cause. The word "transgender" is in fairly common usage at this point, so perhaps it can be adopted by all. Perhaps not. I have no particular attachment to any term, but we do need to have a term for ourselves. I see this as a very broad identifier, just as the words "white" and "black", etc, are umbrella terms that do not in any way erase people's ethnic, national, or other identities. These terms have political utility when we are talking about anti discrimination efforts.

I have no idea whether you personally can ever feel comfortable with the word "transgender", but the word "transsexual" is too specific to be acceptable to other people of gender variant experience. They need to be respected as well.

Recognizing the individual identity, needs and issues of everyone is very important, and at some point I think we will need to trust each other and this political process if we are going to obtain the equal benefits and protection under the law we deserve as citizens. We have to make common cause with each other somehow, and resolve the bickering that divides us against each other. We must have some unity of purpose in order to make any headway, otherwise we dissipate all our energy fighting amongst ourselves, rather than addressing our common interests and concerns. Let's get this done and start putting our energy to more productive efforts!

Jay I think a non LGB associated word or set of words should be found. Here is an article that I think makes excellent points about why the word transgender is equally if more so problematic than the word transsexual.
http://www.thescavenger.net/glbsgdq/dont-call-me-transgender.html
I believe pressure should be put on WPATH to either change the name back or to adopt a name that doesn't place all T people unfairly in the LGBT or cause the type of confusion the word transgender does.

I know several people involved with WPATH and they have told me that they think this "transsexual elitist" crap is just that . . . crap. So, if you think you can put pressure on people who think your unsubstantiated, unscientific and unfounded viewpoint is going to be taken seriously, then go for it. I got me a good seat, and a big bowl of popcorn. I'm ready.

Monica maybe you have difficulty reading or with comprehension you should get it checked out with a doctor as well as your anger issues. The link I provided was to a WPATH member.

I comprehended alright. The President of the Board agrees with me, as do several others. One person will not sway the board. Your argument has a snowball's chance in Phoenix, in June. Lots of luck with that.

This popcorn needs more butter.

Jay Kallio | May 14, 2011 4:23 PM

Amy, In all the years I have been involved with the struggle for human rights, from the civil rights struggle in the 60s on forward, I have compromised and bent on countless issues for the greater good, because without the ability to compromise and focus on the issues we have in common with each other, we get nowhere. That is my only focus here - the practical progress toward equal rights. We are a tiny minority in a democracy where majorities rule, and we don't have the votes to pass the laws we need to life safely and obtain justice. We never will have the votes, if we stay separate and alone. We are simply too few. We need to be aligned with the somewhat larger LGBT movement in order to ever obtain equal rights.

Being "right" doesn't get the job done in a democracy. For that you need friends, lots of them.

There is an art to working in coalitions, and they are always very fragile. We need these other people you appear to be condemning. I won't go there with you, because I care very much about their rights, also. On that issue we deeply and profoundly disagree.

Others don't necessarily need the special medical services that transsexual and intersex people need, and to meet those needs we also will need the help of others who do not share our concerns and issues. Without help we will never achieve the rights and benefits we need to live. Therefore, we need an umbrella term, preferably not one so long and unwieldy that it cannot be used in a news article headline (it's gotta be practical!). Yes, we will be subsumed under that umbrella term, whatever it is, temporarily. This has to be acceptable. No other way will work.

This is a long term process, and one success leads to the next, so winning a small victory will help us get to the next success. It won't be all at once justice. It will require many small steps, which requires delaying gratification, accepting less than all we want, and helping each other, as Chaz Bono has just done.

Now see there you go Jay saying we have to be aligned with the LGB the simple fact is we should never have been tacked onto the LGB.Also WPATH should have never ever have named their organization after a word that is LGB connected and was used in such in offensive way in the past and present towards transsexuals.As for your opinion that we live in a Democracy that is a half truth used by both Democrats and Republicans with devasting effects on what it means to live in a free Republic.You and your majority are about to learn what one person who feels they have been illegally used and abused can do.

I've been reading a lot of ups and downs all over the net about the documentary. Admittedly, I haven't been able to watch it yet (but I fully intend to).

I'm only commenting to the above statements: I agree, the only story that Chaz can really tell is his own. A transgender person's journey and their subsequent transition are such an individual experience that it really can't be universally summed up in a single documentary. There is so much that goes with each of our unique gender identities: whether it's the hoop-jumping needed to get medical treatment, or the social adaptation (or isolation) of our family and friends. There is no global standard for what is and isn't "the right way" to live and adapt as a transgender person.

While I think it might be a positive step forward that Chaz has used his celebrity status to share his story with American television viewers, I have a lot of difficulty with the idea of a "transgender spokesperson". There just isn't a capable way of a single person embodying or espousing the vast diversity that is the entire spectrum of gender identity.

Yes, share your experiences as you know them, but don't try to be the end-all-be-all. It's just not possible.

Jay Kallio | May 14, 2011 3:23 AM

Chaz never, ever claimed to be any kind of spokesperson for people of gender variant experience. That is how he is being characterized by the media, which he does not control. They pick how the headline things and the slant they want to take, often to our detriment. It's a risk one takes when you agree to speak with the media, it comes with the territory.

julimyers | May 14, 2011 5:59 AM

I am trans, and I am relatively new to the whole idea of being connected to other trans people, trans activism, etc.

Here is an observation, though, for what it is worth: I honestly believe that if you ask the average trans person what time it is, he or she will tell you how to build a freakin' watch.

Seriously. I have joined way too many sites where fierce debates rage on about whether someone should be consigned to the 9th ring of Hell for using "transgender" or (Heaven forbid!) "transgendered". Here, near-scholarly posts debate gender essentialism or whether or not someone has the right to call being trans a birth defect. (ANSWER: I have the right to call what I am/have any damn thing I please, and I have the right to do so without someone condescendingly explaining why I'm wrong.)

It seems as if, in the absence of a general acceptance by society, we'll just attack each other over semantics. The bottom line is, the average cisperson doesn't give a rat's ass what half a dozen serial commenters feel Chaz Bono represents; all they care about is if he comes across as weird. That's all they care about with any of us. Like it or not, if we want to be accepted, we have to get past that. Until we do, all the gender theory debates in the world are going to mean nothing at all.

Just sayin'...

I wish I could stay out of this discussion. There are two distinctly different issues being discussed, however. One is about freedom of expression the other is about what sex is. The second question has particular importance for transsexual people and intersex people, alone. Politics has nothing to do directly with the second question. There is a lot more involved than just semantics. There are legal implications and medical care questions involved that simply don't exist for those who simply feel oppressed by gender norms imposed by society, at large.

I believe there is a sex gender continuum but that is an issue for the whole of society. Transsexual and intersex are the outliers. It isn't as simple as being in the middle of a continuum for transsexual people. It is important to understand that for transsexual people because transsexualism involves contradiction, not simply being in between. It isn't as simple as defining male and female then lumping a group together as if they simply exist in the middle. Nature is not that neat and orderly. Not to clearly distinguish the nature of transsexualism from simple rebellion against gender norms is very unfair to transsexual people, who are a very tiny minority.

Jay Kallio | May 14, 2011 3:54 PM

Edith, I believe we still have a variety of concerns that we share with gender variant people - the needs for anti discrimination legislation in employment, housing, public accommodations, etc. For that we still need an umbrella term that covers all of us. I see no harm or unfairness in that.

There are additional needs and issues for transsexual/intersex people in regards to medical treatment, benefits, identity documents, etc. Those issues must be pursued independently, and over time I believe they will be rectified.

This is not a theoretical discussion to me. I am concerned not with elaborate treatises on gender deconstruction in society, but with people being able to use a bathroom safely, not be fired for transitioning, etc. The ivory tower folks can go wherever they need to go with discussions on the nature of reality, but in the meanwhile we need concrete laws on the books to protect people's safety and basic survival needs, such as housing and jobs. Once the practical concerns are dealt with adequately then I have much more space and interest in gender theory.

Yes, Jay,

There are a lot of problems with oppression, economic equality, and the like that has an impact on the lives of everyone and those who society brands "gender variant" and "gender deviant" are the furthest down on the ladder.

I've been exposed to gender crashing, gender queering, the spoken word that accompanies it. I actually reveled in it. I started to realize, however, that since I wasn't a college age woman from Wellesley, Smith, Mt. Holyoke it really wasn't about me. I love the environment, though. It can be a lot of fun and very sexy, too. I've always been wild but responsible at the same time. I can't afford to be transgressive. I just want to get along, see everyone do well, work for peace if the important leaders allow me a chance to contribute somehow and, also, work for justice because we all know there is no peace without justice. I've always been into that and along the way I realized I was transsexual, that it wasn't part of some political movement and that it is the most devilish thing to try to live as someone you are not. Problem is, once you find yourself and realize where and how you belong, anyone who is privy to your personal history wants to drag you back into that hole you struggled so hard to climb out of.

You know, I don't care about anyone else's "space". I just need my own. Really, I think you probably have had more support than I will ever be able to imagine. I can't blame you for not wanting to give that up. Me, I'm just a wayfaring stranger, for eternity. Buena Suerte!

Edith read this entire interview with the president of WPATH it gets real interesting towards the end. If you'd like to contact me off Bilerico just follow the link thru my name. I'd like to talk to you off Bilerico since your a home girl.

Good point, Jay. There's a place for theory and there's a place for action. The two are related, of course, and they should be informed by each other. I have always tried to keep in mind that criticism of each should be restrained by practical reality.

Tall Stacey | May 14, 2011 9:51 PM

Let me start by saying that as for me the only defect that I have dealt with, the only transition, is away from the illogical binary gender mandates imposed by society. I have managed to escape that and present my true self in all the natural beauty that is my God given if not birth right. Like me or not, I know who I am, who I have always been, I have not changed. I have changed the facade I present, but I have not changed my spiritual essence. I am still tall, still broad shouldered (I love that double entendre!) still dominant, still a woman, I am the same one I have always been. Since I do not fit the societal pigeon holes I have stopped pretending to, stopped trying to. When you stop letting them stuff you in their male or female, gay or straight, or right or wrong boxes then you are free to be you. “Gender essentialism", "gender variance”, your experience or mine, what difference does it really make? You are fighting the wrong battle. The issue is not who/what/why we are, it is resolving the societal prejudice and discrimination against us in order to achieve equity and justice.

Pardon the expression, but there is an old adage that says life is like a shit sandwich, the more bread you have the less shit you have to eat. I am sorry but Chaz has been privileged to an experience that certainly most of us transsexuals have not. The same circumstance that has enabled his celebrity and appearance in the media are the same circumstances that have insulated him from the blatant discrimination and inequity that most of us suffer at the hands of society. I am sorry but just because of whom his parents are/were, he does not have to worry where he will sleep tonight or how he will eat tomorrow. The probability of Cher’s kid getting beat up tonight by a bunch of rednecks just for being T is just about the same as my being on Letterman tonight. Those who live in the tolerant east and west coast meccas of GLBT tolerance have no idea what us small town middle Americans endure on a daily basis. Be it bread as in food, or money, or fame, opportunity or accepting environs, those who have more of it have to take a lot less crap to get by.

Sure, I could write a book with my side of the story too, but getting it published, much less read without celebrity status is another story. Who want’s to read the biography of an old tall transsexual farm woman in a town so small that the entering and leaving signs are on the same post? So telling my story is not the issue, getting somebody to listen to it and care is.

So Chaz has grabbed the brass ring of opportunity, has presented on national TV as a relatively normal person (albeit as pointed out above from a newbie/teenager perspective of inexperience) and has put a positive nationally recognized face on what most people just wrote off as weird before him. For that we all need to be thankful. He presented us better than many of us do for ourselves.

Chaz presented as a normal person just going about his minding-my-own-business. He did not present as a cross-dressing sex worker or holding up his skirts at a urinal in the men’s room or stealing some woman’s man on Jerry Springer. He did not present as a drag performer or a female impersonator, or as an obnoxiously over sexed caricature of the opposite sex or gay sex on a pride float. He did not present as even promiscuous, an orientation stereotype or in-your-face-activist there to change the world. He presented normal.

He presented like the respectable guy next door that nobody would mind having for a neighbor. I don’t know about you but that really is what I want. I want to be able to live my life, have my job and a social life and a love life and a family life just like everybody else, without fear, persecution or denial of equality.

For our own community under the T umbrella, there is so much unification we have to do. The TV vs. TG vs. TS animosity has to end with all sides not only burying the hatchets but modifying their public behaviors in realization that what you do in public today affects how the public treats me tomorrow. In the larger community, G&L&B have to accept that we are every bit as G or L or B or straight as you are, and we are not a threat to you. Yes we are a minority subset in the minority, but either support us or divorce us, you cannot continue to use us as concessions to be negotiated away for your benefit. As a GLBT coalition, if we expect the respect of society we need to earn it by being respectable. We need to focus on the universal goals of equity and justice for all rather than this limited interest or that one. We need to be positively proactive rather than defensively reactive. If we expect to get this bus to our destination of equality we had better get a map and a driver! The opposition is well organized and focused against us, it is time we put away our petty differences and unite to the common cause.

And as for Mr. Bono: the question is what does he do next? Will he use up his 15 minutes, quietly assimilate into the population to live in stealth, hook up, get a cat and never to be heard from again? Or will he step up to capitalize on his notoriety to champion our mutual necessity? Will he take me, or you, with him to tell our stories to Letterman next week? Or maybe to Congress to tell our stories? Or the Whitehouse? Reluctant or not he is a valuable asset that we all – G L B and T need to embrace and support. He needs our support, and we need his. Whether you like it or not there are a whole lot more people talking about, thinking about, evaluating their own positions on transsexualisim, gender and orientation than there were last week. That is an improvement. Thanks Chaz!

Oh yes, just FYI, for those making the comments, our nation is not a democracy but a constitution-based federal republic. We do not all vote on all issues, our elected representatives do. Even our President is by representatives we elect to an electoral college. In the Congress there it is not simple majority rule but a necessary prescribed plurality, and presidential veto requiring even higher percentage to overide, all in a system designed specifically to prevent dominance over the nation by a limited vocal minority in what was never envisioned as a 2 party political system but a group of strong State centered statesmen working for the common good. It was designed to prevent the establishment of the religious theocracy we are now so very threatened with!

Honestly Amy,

I find myself upset by your comment about "penisless" masculinity. I don't look at sex that way, especially when it comes to transmasculine people. I don't think the situation for transsexual to female people is a simple one hundred eighty degree diametric opposite phenomenon. I'm not a fan of WPATH, either. I don't know where that leaves me. I definitely don't see sex in terms of penises and vaginas but I definitely know vaginoplasty makes a huge difference that is almost always dismissed by those who don't feel the need.

I am aware of way too much diversity. I don't think you really understand where I am coming from. Tracie O'Keefe is from Australia. I don't know much about her. The situation, there, is very complicated politically. That much I know. There is more than transgender and transsexual. There is intersex, which is the constituency most often left out of the loop because, like transsexualism, it really isn't part of the gender loop. Unfortunately, I don't know many intersex people who are very sympathetic to the problems transsexual people face. Actually, the intersex people I know like words such as transgender because it helps them keep transsexual people at arms length. There is more across the board prejudice against people who go the full route with medical treatments to change sex than there is against anyone.

Most intersex people have been tampered with by clinicians and surgeons in one way or another against their will. So, they have an antipathy toward medical intervention. The medical and legal issues affecting the political situation transsexual people face is enormously complicated by the history of non consensual medical interventions on intersex people. The political activists involved in so called "gender issues" vastly underestimate how much of an obstacle that represents. I have read O'Keefe's Scavenger article a few times. I am mostly sympathetic to what she has to say. Her move to change LGBT terminology to ISGD is very problematic, however. There is a lot of opposition to that. I am mostly sympathetic to the reasons why the people I know are opposed.

I am very unhappy with the medical treatment I have received, not the surgical treatment, which was excellent. I think WPATH with their focus on gender and dismissiveness toward the realities of sex and biology are to blame for a large part of my problems. It has to do with sex essentialism, nothing to do with "gender variance". Yes, Amy, I did drive through Natick today.

Edith my comment reflects my dissaproval of his towing the LGBT/WPATH line it sounded way to coached to be an authentic from his heart interview.Add to that the recent discusion about using "Goring Sacred Cows" as a possible tagline for Bilerico and I ran with it. Sorry if it offended or bothered you I'm trying to learn to be more diplomatic but like I said the goring sacred cows thing got the better of me :). Anyways as always you are far more reasoned and diplomatic then I. I do believe that if you actually got to know me you would be surprised about how much I know and how many different kinds of people I've met.I do hope Monica remembered to put on her depends I hear extra butter on popcorn is tough on old people.

Amy, I said upset, not offended. Check out this video:

http://leninsbeard.blogspot.com/2008/07/small-penis-competition.html

Go to the 6:40 mark. Disregard all but the three guys who won the contest. This is a good example of intersex MEN - intersex but MEN. I don't think any of them have a penis any bigger than a man of transsexual experience who has had a metoidioplasty. One of these guys has pretty large breasts. One has breasts of different size. Some people have cells throughout their body that have totally different karyotypes - some xx, some xy, or other combinations. I would say the guy with the two different sized breast is an example of how that can be. Something like that is not caused by a person's "gender identity". The guy with the big tits didn't have breast surgery to make him a man and his penis doesn't make him one but he is obviously a man who shouldn't have to feel insecure about being one because of the size of his penis.

I know a lot of intersex people. The requirement that they have surgery to conform to a sex typical body to have a sex/gender assignment changed or be diagnosed as having "gender identity disorder" is totally oppressive. I have been told by a male friend of mine that vaginectomy is problematic for transsexual males. I know I don't understand completely. I know I can't judge.

I know an intersex guy who was brought up female who didn't masculinize until he reached puberty but who married legally without any surgeries who has been told by the state of Ohio, that because of the Real I D Act or Homeland Security or something like that, he has to have his driver's license issued in his birth assigned sex. What WPATH and various states do is require people to certify that they are mentally ill before they can have a sex designation changed. The U K requires a GID diagnosis before they'll change "gender" assignment on their registries.

There are many intesex people like the guy from Ohio. I know a few. The problem, from my point of view, are people who are neither intersex or transsexual implying transsexualism isn't real and sex changing hormones and surgery is all about gender. As I said before, intersex people can lack understanding as much as others. Not all intersex people live a life that is in conflict with a sex assignment.

There are intersex men who have lived all their lives as male who have atrophied ovaries, etc. One person, from Germany, just won a big lawsuit against a doctor who took out her ovaries during an appendix operation without her consent. I am using the female pronoun because when she got older she decided she was female even though she had been raised as male from birth. The judge, during the trial, insisted on using male pronouns to refer to her. On the other hand, there are guys who have lived as men all their lives who can't have their sex assignment changed because they haven't had their female reproductive parts surgically removed, even though they had atrophied to the point of being meaningless long ago.

All this stuff is serious business. I just don't appreciate people theorizing about gender when sex is such an obvious issue in the lives of so many people who SERIOUSLY find it impossible to live in a birth assigned gender, especially when it has so much to do with sex and biology for them. Sex is extremely complicated. I don't think there will be justice for any transsexual or intersex person until it is realized how much sex can vary from person to person.

Amym440, what in the world is wrong with you, to write something like that in a public forum about another human being? Because, what, her definition of trans happens to be different from yours? Is that how you speak to people in person? Shame.

Portia if you think my comment was that bad you must be extremely naive about Trans issues both TS and TG and what has been posted on the web. I want to give you some links and I hope that you follow them and read what is being said and by whom. The first is an interview of Dr. Walter Bockting the now President of WPATH it gets interesting towards the end especially his views on Transsexuals.
http://positivelyaware.com/2008/08_04/walter_bockting.shtml
Now here is a link to the WPATH transgender resources page. If you follow the link options down you will get to one that says transsexual womens resources it will take you to Anne Lawrence.
http://wpath.org/resource_transgender.cfm
Anne Lawrence is a highy controversial person google her and her positions and do a little reading.
Now as for me picking on transmen Heres a couple videos by one.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcZzyfg_dec&feature=related
This next video is by the same person but supporting female masculinity. I see this person as sending very mixed messages and I find that is common amongst the Transmen I've met.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoyWHfzww04&feature=related
Most transmen I've met could care less about having a penis and are quite happy to engage in vaginal sex.So I can hardly find reason to believe taking a shot at penis less masculinity is going to get them all in a tizzy. In case you hadn't noticed not one transman has left a comment about it and believe me they are here. I will say this if any post-op or pre-op transman is offended by what I said I apologize whole heartedly to them. I realize that there are transmen out there that require bottom surgery to feel whole and in no way shape or form am I out to make fun of them for it.Matter of fact I respect those who are undergoing the surgeries knowing full well they aren't perfected but that they can only become so by those willing to be operated on.They are pioneers of the same caliber as Lily Elbe and all the early MTF's who underwent surgeries that helped to make SRS better for todays MTF's.

Edith I am an Environmental Science student and a PHI Theta Kappa member.I chose that major based on my belief that DES exposure brought about my Gender Identity Issues.So I have studied a lot about endocrine disrupters and to some degree about chromosomal abnormalties. The british did a study on men born with micropenises. They found that the condition affects one in three hundred males born in the UK. Everyone they studied tested positive for pthalates. Pthalates are the chemicals that makes plastics flexible and are also found in many health and beauty items.I believe that endocrine disruptors play a major part in both transsexualism and intersexed birth conditions. While I see both as having similar causes and effects I'm not quite comfortable totally putting the two together as being the exactly same. I do however believe that Transsexuals and the Intersexed should join together to work for rights separate from the negative impact of LGBT association and umbrella terms. I see an uneasy dialogue beginning to open up between the two groups and I hope that a stronger alliance can be built. There are many issues revolving around both groups that are being silenced by WPATH and the LGBT that need to be brought out into the open.It is kind of funny that you posted the link this morning because last night I went of to study Transmen a little more and found this interesting video about butch lesbians accusing transmen of trying to out butch them.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcZzyfg_dec&feature=related
Then this video by the same person about female masculinity. I see a mixed message coming from this person.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoyWHfzww04&feature=related
I do realize that there are indeed very real FTM transsexuals but they are being silenced just as heavily as MTF transsexuals and the intersexed.

Amy, thanks for that link to Bockting's article.

We are now recognizing that a MTF transsexual is not simply a woman, or woman may not be the best way to describe that person’s experience, but instead realize that this person is transgender.

Hasn't got anything to do with Chaz Bono but that says it all about the WPATH name change, his Internation Journalism of "Transgenderism" right there.

He's a psychologist. His job is to characterize us as mentally ill freaks. He's doing dirty work for the Endocrine Society. "Bi-gender" and "transgender" are the same thing according to him. That is what the GID is for. People with mental disorders don't make very good witnesses for themselves. Why shouldn't anyone who has a transsexual background not despise him and those who support him and his characterizations?

So the TG and TS "community"
who can't ever seem to get along/compromise... AGAIN.
BIG surprise?

Why is this always the dykes and homo's problem??

We are we getting DODT/marriage/adoption/immigration rights recongzined and addressed.

And the TG/TS "community" can't even agree about who is a woman? Gay/bi/straight. Let alone the rarely regoconzed F to male.

The clock is ticking on this fan-fare.
Tick. Tick. Tock.

It's already old.