Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Jennifer Boylan on Trans Rights in the NY Times

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | August 12, 2011 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Media, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Jennifer Boylan, New York Times, transgender rights

Jennifer Boylan has written an extremely powerful op ed in the New York Times today. In it, she has written, in her own inimitable style, an extremely clear outline of what the trans movement is, ventriloquist-dummy.jpgits major obstacles, and its path forward, with that patented sense of wry and poignant humor of hers. But more amazing than anything she said is that it appeared in the op ed pages of the New York Times, rather than, shall we say, the Health pages, as suggested by one of the commenters, who disapproved of hearing from us outside of the bedroom. Fame has its uses.

She uses the metaphor of a ventiloquist's convention about which she once wrote. The metaphor is quite apt, given that we are often accused of not being authentic, and in our movement, we are forced to rely on the voices of our larger and better organized gay handlers. She describes our desire for "cake", as gay wedding cakes are cut with rejoicing, our struggles with prejudice and discrimination, our dreams of liberation and the lack of unity that holds us back as we squabble foolishly over who the "real" trans community is.

I'm at a trans spiritual retreat this week, where we discussed last night the spirit of the trans community, where we came from, where we're going, and what we can offer the world in our traditional role, in some communities, as healers who straddle worlds, and what we need in terms of healing as a community. It was magical, and it stuck with me as
I awoke this morning and read Jenny's article. It's wonderful that our message is getting out to the wider world, more and more. I hope and pray that we get the message ourselves, and that we can stop being the ventriloquist's dummy.

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As far as the LGBT is concerned, I wish Jenny Boylan would get her hands dirty and tackle the more serious issues involved. Does she consider herself a lesbian or a transgender person? Does a transsexual person who is only attracted to someone of their assigned at birth sex have any place within the LGBT? Or, are they simply someone who, as was said by someone elsewhere,

"[And simply because YOU] may have chosen to either have something removed in order to better fit into your personal need to move from “column A” to “column B”(which) doesn’t automatically make gender and identity, either personal or cultural, a simple equation.

and should they:

Grow up, stop hating and use that gray matter taking up skull space for something more than worrying about what’s in someone else’s pants

Should their employer construct a separate facility for them where they can shower and change because what's between there legs doesn't matter but what they were assigned at birth does and, ultimately can never be undone?

If these arguments don't matter, what kind of justification can there ever be for making surgery available to all the people in the NCTE/NGLTF study who say they want it? How will avoiding these questions help the "Forty-one percent of respondents reported attempting suicide; of those who came out as students, 78 percent reported harassment, 35 percent physical assault and 12 percent sexual violence. Nineteen percent said they had been homeless. Among transgender people of color, the numbers are even worse."

You ask (of Jenny):

Does she consider herself a lesbian or a transgender person? Does a transsexual person who is only attracted to someone of their assigned at birth sex have any place within the LGBT?

While I can't speak for Jenny or exactly how she may identify in answer to your questions, I can respond to your questions with a request for clarification.

First, sexual orientation and gender identity are separate things - so if there is no inconsistency with being cisgender and heterosexual, or cisgender and homosexual, or cisgender and bisexual, why would you think that being transgender and lesbian are an either/or proposition?

To put that another way, regardless of being cisgender or transgender, an individual can have a same-sex or opposite-sex sexual attraction (or an attraction to both, or neither). What happens to those who are trans, is that other people are often confused about how to think of their orientation because of the reverse polarity issue.

A transsexual person who is only attracted to a member of their (erroneous) assigned-at-birth sex is straight. The place they have within LGBT is as part of the T, since their gender identity is opposite that expected based on their erroneous birth-assigned sex. However it must be noted that there are some straight transsexual individuals who distance themselves from "LGBT," so the distraction this causes can create confusion. If we're dealing with it based on identity, we respect the individual identification as either belonging or not-belonging. If we're dealing with it based on objective classification, it's as I stated, unless we're proceeding from the assumption that post-transition, a transsexual individual becomes cissexual.

Certainly, no one should presume to exclude straight transsexual people who include themselves within LGBT, or to include those who self-exclude themselves, even if they are welcome.

You also ask (again, of Jenny):

Should their employer construct a separate facility for them where they can shower and change because what's between there legs doesn't matter but what they were assigned at birth does and, ultimately can never be undone?

Hmmm. I think that the following clause reflects a lack of understanding of the facts: "what they were assigned at birth does and, ultimately can never be undone."

What trans people are assigned at birth, is based on a cursory examination of the exterior signs of genital tract development, made by the attending physician or midwife. While this is a rather simple procedure, it is astonishingly accurate in gatting an assigned sex correct, provided the infant in question is cissexual and not intersex in any way (including transsex).

Where all the little ducks fall in a row, and the genetics and ontology that lead to brain development and genital tract development result in an infant that fits into the binary perfectly, that is wonderful.

But if the genetics and ontological development result in an infant that may have the genital tract development ordinarily associated with one sex, but the brain development ordinarily associated with the other, the initial assignment is incorrect. The gross shape of the 23rd chromosome pair is not the genetic determinant - it's actually a gene called SRY, and then there are other genes that have been found to be involved. The "long androgen receptor gene" can result in ontological brain development that is normally associated with a mullerian genital tract, but the SRY still pushes the wolffian genital tract development. Similarly, another gene that creates enzymes that are extremely good at processing testosterone can have the effect of causing a brain to develop that is normally associated with a wolffian genital tract, but the embryo develops the mullerian instead.

The short answer is that trans individuals do not belong in the initially-assigned sex.

Now, not belonging in the one sex does not have to automatically mean belonging in the other. Still, such a not-male/not-female individual can obtain treatment that will allow for a proper classification in the sex not initially and erroneously assigned. For some, HRT is enough - and for them, GRS is not medically recommended, or not affordable, or does not provide a reasonable solution. Still, HRT alone should be sufficient, since it results in an effective elimination of the utility of the genital tract, and provides many (but not all) of the developments that would ordinarily have come with a proper puberty.

An erroneous assignment at birth can be undone. Birth certificates can be corrected. The harm that was done to the trans individual can be dealt with. The birth-genital-essentialist position of the Roman Catholic Church is rooted in medical knowledge ca. 1965, as is the Roman Catholic influence of Mary Daly and her protege on the development of radfem philosophy. This position, adopted by social conservatives and others, is just as out of date as six-day creationism and the flat earth theory. The advances in medical science have shown a clearly different factual underpinning for the nature of an individual's sex.

I don't see what my question has to do with what you write. I wish you well in your N Y b c challenge. I was born in Tennessee. I don't want to wade through what the androgen receptor gene CAG repeat polymorphism study might imply. Good luck.

OK, simple answer.
Birth certificates are sometimes wrong. In most places, they can be corrected.
For example, my own birth certificate has two errors: one, with my father's name entered as my mother - that was corrected, but the correction was done by drawing lines through it, and writing the correct data; and the sex is listed as "boy" not "girl". That hasn't been, and under current UK legislation, cannot be, corrected.
Birth Certificates do not have magical powers.

Hi Zoe,

Regardless of whether one is able to have a birth certificate, passport, drivers' license amended or changed what real significance does it have if this is written into U S federal law:

Section 8(a)(3) CERTAIN SHARED FACILITIES- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to establish an unlawful employment practice based on actual or perceived gender identity due to the denial of access to shared shower or dressing facilities in which being seen fully unclothed is unavoidable, provided that the employer provides reasonable access to adequate facilities that are not inconsistent with the employee's gender identity as established with the employer at the time of employment or upon notification to the employer that the employee has undergone or is undergoing gender transition, whichever is later.

For the first time it will be written into law that ultimately, everyone is the sex assigned to them at birth, pure and simple, if one takes the reasoning contained in this paragraph to its logical extension. I am not in such a big hurry to see legislation pass worded this way.

There is a whole set of marriage issues that go along with sex recognition. I don't have time for this now but sex recognition affects immigration status whether it is sex recognition or gender recognition as in the U K system and probably, eventually the Irish system, too, which is essentially not much more than gender identity disorder recognition when one finally has a chance to look into it. All these things have implications which are glossed over to create a false sense of solidarity for the sake of political expediency.

There is also my question about SRS availability and the NCTE/NGLTF survey where so many respondents express a need for it. How does one justify a need for something by saying it doesn't matter which we hear over and over again from those who want to insist it is all about "equality" and "non-discrimination"? The ENDA wording discriminates between those who are assigned a sex natally and those reassigned all so it doesn't discriminate between those who have SRS and those who "express gender" even if they only do so on the third Friday of every month. I've read Orwell. That kind of reasoning would stretch even his imagination.

Ventriloquists are people too!

First of all, congratulations to Ms Boylan for writing an incisive, thoughtful, and even humourous piece. It's great to see her publishing to such a wide audience. It's wonderful, and head clearing.

But I know it's the 'New York Times', so the discussion is going to be very sanguine: "we want right too." As tenured faculty in the American education system, and an owner of property and real estate, Boylan is fortunate to receive a great deal of rights. Why has she succeeded where so many trans women have not?

I felt the article might have addressed the very recent case of Ms Yang, and her successful lawsuit against the TSA. Is this not a sign of something?

But what I really want is for the difficult issues to be addressed. LGB people are moving ahead because normative society has an easier time distancing their queer identities from their social roles in the workplace and so forth. This wasn't always the case, of course . . . look at the hysteria around Milk in office. But so long as we trans people avoid dealing with the real phobic issues here . . . the 'bathroom' debate . . . the fears about men masquerading as women, augmented with a few over the counter pills . . . this is the real paranoia that Boylan does not acknowledge. It's triggering . . . but check out a Youtube video about Yang's case. The comments are nauseating, but it will give you a sense of what a lot of people are thinking about trans people as anatomical aberrations.

The stigma against trans people, of course, it not entirely different from what LGBers face. But, and Boylan very briefly recognises this, the moral panic mostly lies in wanting to BECOME not to be ALONGSIDE in terms of normative gender prescriptions.

So, again, it was a great article. But I really wish people would tackle the issues behind the rhetoric against trans people, rather than rehearsing the all too familiar (and rather generic) statistics about suicide, unemployment, and so forth. Quite frankly, I'd rather see more trans politicians, and less trans professors, to help in this fight.

I have to admit, Jenny Boylan does have her charm. I don't know about the ventriloquist metaphor, tho, along with my other objections. The message? I just don't know if I read it the way Dr. Weiss does. All I can think of is the punch line to the introduction of Dan Hicks' Jukies Ball - where the "Hot Licks" sing "what can you say with a wooden head?" and Dan says, ". . . the talking dummy (such a deserving handle, too)" and finally the dummy get his chance and says, "This is quite an opportunity!" and the audience hollers out "YAAAAAY!!!"

What a "wonderful" way for the world to learn what the "trans community"(whether you signed up to be a part of it or not) is all about. Hurry, hurry!!! Step this way! The strangest sights on the island from the four corners of the world! One gets to come along for one thin dime, one tenth of a dollar! Hurry, hurry, hurry . . .

I didn't go for the ventriliquit metaphor either. Why can't people talk about successful policies at many corporations, cities states and make a case for their expansion. NY has marriage because other states put it in place first. So there was an example to be found.

NYT is nice exposure
But puppet, lap sitting dancing dummy?
Cmon folks we can do better

Excuse me, I'm not trying to be sniping . . . it's a great article. Much applause. -- And I'm guessing that Ms Boylan's FB page is already full of well deserved praise for her very clever article -- but I'm really looking forward to more feisty and serrated approaches to transphobia. At the very least, a NYT piece from someone who transitioned before securing gainful emplyment, for example . . . and therefore had to fight full on against discrimination whilst trying to secure work as a trans person . . . could very well offer more details on the subjects to which Boylan alludes. It's always the same voices . . . articulate ones, to be sure, but also dictionally repetitive.

For a GLB-only Transphobic hate-fest, just look at the comments on Queerty.

"Trans are not our allies. They are homophobia in action."

"as far as I’m concerned, trannies are just leeches."

"What a bunch of whining ass Babies these transgender people are crying because they aren’t getting the full attention and efforts of the Gay and Lesbian communities because the rest of the community won’t buy into they’re fantasy"

"We would have ENDA if it wasn’t for trans."

"Trans folks hijacked themselves onto the gay movement for their own self-serving reasons. "

"Can you get more fucked-up than being transgender??"

There seems to be a mythology springing up too:

If the gay community so consistently ignores Trans rights. Then please explain two things to me….

Why did the community pull the ENDA bill when it didn’t contain protection for Transgender rights? The community would have had Federal ENDA legislation if not for that.

Oh Jeez. It was only 2007, not 1507.

And if the GLB community "pulled" ENDA in 2010, I think someone might have noticed.

"At the very least, a NYT piece from someone who transitioned before securing gainful emplyment, for example . . . and therefore had to fight full on against discrimination whilst trying to secure work as a trans person . . . could very well offer more details on the subjects to which Boylan alludes".

I totally agree that would be much better but I won't complain about the general public hearing more about trans people in a good light(except for the part about "going to be with" and "going to bed as"). We've been in the shadows, and sometimes very dark shadows of seedy places, far too long. The more the public hears about us the better. I've always thought there should be more study of those who transition late in years as this could bring to light just the point you've made. I began my public transition, (not to mention that my transition was taking place from as early as I can remember, in baby steps while living in the closet), at 54 year old and was fired from my job in 2006. I haven't worked since except for some part time jobs that I held while I went to school for retraining. I filed suit under Title vii, but settled because I was duped into agreeing with an arbitration agreement under the guise of a stock option agreement(I should have read the fine print) and I couldn't bring my case to the U.S. courts.

Can you imagine what my resume looks like after working in male dominated fields(including my USMC military history) for 30 years? It's must seem strange to the HR department that the person they are reading about is a "female". My own resume dooms me every time I send it out. I sympathize with Diane Schroer, but I can't get in the front door before outing myself.
I was going to say how good it was to hear about an article that was about trans people and it didn't have anything to do with barrooms and sex, but alas, after reading the article there it was, barrooms and bedding down. It's not about who I want to go to bed "with" or who I want to go to bed "as". I want to go to bed as "me" and it doesn't matter who I go to bed "with". That part was disheartening.

And yes, you are right about this:

"It's always the same voices . . . articulate ones, to be sure, but also dictionally repetitive".

I've been thinking about what has been written here and who is represented by the various transactivist organizations along with the ironies, the quotes like this one:

Forty-one percent of respondents reported attempting suicide; of those who came out as students, 78 percent reported harassment, 35 percent physical assault and 12 percent sexual violence. Nineteen percent said they had been homeless. Among transgender people of color, the numbers are even worse."

and the events swirling around the Christy Lee Polis affair. The account given here, in spite of the brutal use of male pronouns:


which seems, in some ways, more sympathetic to Chrissy's situation than the ones given by those who wanted to turn it into a cause celebre for the LGBT "community" where polite pronouns are used but where the significance of transsexual genitals never rise beyond the level of understanding of "neo-surgiholes" and one's status as male or female goes as unrecognized as it does on these politically incorrect pages.

Chrissy wasn’t following the script at all but was telling the truth. Chrissy was not dumb enough to follow the advice of privileged middle-aged males(sic) who wanted and needed to make him(sic) into a victim martyr for the idea that females violently oppressed him by treating him(sic) as female. Chrissy was used to passing as female and being treated as female and didn’t have the male sense of outrage over the female treatment he received from the teenage girls who gave him the beatdown.

Chrissy doesn't have a PH.d, JD, advanced degrees and didn't graduate from an Ivy League or tier one small college. She does not seem to have come from a background that was privileged, at all. The neighborhood she lived in seemed like a very tough one which would not only be a very difficult environment for those mentioned in the NCTE/NGLTF study but also for those girls who did the beating. Somehow she was able to find a way to finance her surgery. She has a very sympathetic mother, it seems. It also seems her mother would have provided no resistance to her needs but actually would have been very supportive. There was no father who appeared on the scene. It seems that Chrissy probably didn't have an oppressive father figure in her way and was able to get the help she needed when she was young.

As it says in the gendertrender account:

"Chrissy was regarded as female by the police and the Baltimore Press, and his(sic) transgender(sic) status was never mentioned in the initial reporting of this incident. The fact that Chrissy was treated as female was very confusing to transgenders."

"This “beatdown” video, like hundreds (thousands?) of others was posted online. Go to YouTube and search “beatdown” or even “McDonald’s Beatdown” and you will see what I mean. There are hundreds of them. Public violence filmed on cellphones is a huge infotainment trend."

"Chrissy was regarded as female by the police and the Baltimore Press, and his transgender(sic) status was never mentioned in the initial reporting of this incident."

"Chrissy Lee Polis was not attacked for using a restroom. A teenaged girl (who assumed Chrissy was female) started a fight with Chrissy for “talking to her man”. Chrissy had already used the restroom without incident when the confrontation occurred. There was no bathroom incident and the confrontation had nothing to do with bathroom usage and did not occur inside, or relating in any way, to the bathroom. Chrissy was treated exactly the same as a female because the teens assaulting him(sic) thought he was female. He was beaten “as a woman” by a woman who accused “her” of talking “to my man”. That’s why the teens called him(sic) “she”, “her” and “bitch” on the tape. According to Chrissy he(sic) was attacked as a woman by a teenaged girl for talking to her man."

I don't find it ironic that the gendertrender writer uses the term "transgender" to sexually neuter her, thus enabling the writer to gender her as a neutered male - a "capon", a cat that has been "fixed", a "steer" being fatten for the slaughter - with a surgical accessory capable of accommodating a penis.

I don't know. This situation speaks more to me than Jenny Boylan's derisive New York Times op-ed piece. Christ on the cross!?! "Judean People’s Front"?!? Funny stuff, for sure. But, what does that
have to do with the price of beans?

Britney Austin | August 15, 2011 2:40 AM

I think it is great that these issues are getting more exposure and we all know that the New York Times is a highly circulated newspaper. I would like to see less "watering down" of these unique issues, however. It appears to me that Ms. Boylan is arguing against the transgender movement breaking down into smaller factions. It is true that smaller numbers tend to mean less political power.

What I would like to see, however, are more of these unique issues being addressed on their own. Often when I or others recommend this, we are called separatists. I don't see it as separatism at all. If these unique issues were "separated" out and all brought to the political table as distinct but all very important issues, I think it would actually increase political power. Some people including me prefer the umbrella acronym to be LGBTTI instead of LGBT for this reason. It is a lot of letters but to me it is actually bringing more to the table instead of less.

Ms. Boylan and others may want to kind of gloss over the war of terminology but the truth is that words which are poorly defined have little meaning. If a word doesn't mean anything as far as I'm concerned it doesn't have a lot of influence. If Jane Doe knocks on the door of Joe Schmoe and says "I am a male to female transsexual who has completed transition" then Mr. Schmoe generally has a solid idea of who Ms. Doe is. He may not understand all of the procedures involved in such a transition but he gets the general picture that Ms. Doe used to be Mr. and is now Ms. If instead, Ms. Doe says "I'm transgender" or "I'm trans" he won't know what that means. "Trans" or "tranny" to most people refer to a transmission in a car. He won't know if "being trans" means she is transsexual, transgender, transvestite, crossdresser, drag queen, male-to-female, female-to-male, androgynous, genderqueer, third gender, third sex, or something else. Further explanation will typically be required.

I'm sure some people think I'm being a word nazi here but words do have meaning and power and the more accurately they are used the more effective they are. This is precisely why a lot of transsexuals prefer not to be called transgender or to be compared with part-time crossdressers or drag show performers. In fact, many part-time crossdressers and drag performers do not want to be called transgender either or be compared with transsexuals. It isn't (or shouldn't be) out of prejudice against those other groups but instead for the purposes of distinguishing differences.

Since Ms. Boylan was referring to the lack of civil rights for these people it is even more important that these issues be seen as distinct and clearly defined vs. confusing and blurred. The truth is that not everyone's needs are the same which I am glad that she pointed out. Marriage equality will typically be quite important for gays and lesbians but may not be the top issue for a straight post-transition male or female transsexual. Transsexuals who need HRT and SRS along with the legal system recognizing them as their correct sex won't have the exact same needs as crossdressers or androgynous people who wish to express their gender in ways that are not common in society. All of these issues are extremely important but they need to be brought to the political table in a clearly defined and distinct fashion. If they are brought to the table under the one word "trans" and "trans" is not accurately defined to address all of those distinct issues then it causes confusion. A public that understands us is more likely to accept us than a public that is scratching their heads in confusion.

Nonetheless, I'm glad that these issues are getting more exposure (especially by the NYT).

Well said Britney, well said indeed ...