The Economist- The Idea that trans men are ‘lesbians in denial’ is demeaning and wrong. by Charlie Kiss. July 3rd 2018
Link to the original article:
The idea that trans men are “lesbians in denial” is demeaning and wrong
Recently a journalist, Donna Minkowitz, wrote an important article in Village Voice, a New York newspaper, making a noteworthy apology. Back in the 1990s Ms Minkowitz had written a long article for the same newspaper about Brandon Teena—the inspiration for the film “Boys Don’t Cry” (pictured, above). The article was based on the premise that this young trans man, who was raped and murdered because he was trans, was in reality a lesbian in denial.
Ms Minkowitz now sees that her perspective distorted her reporting and in doing so grossly misrepresented what happened and Teena’s identity. She fell into the common misconception that trans men are “really women” who don’t like their bodies and have been indoctrinated into a hatred of womanhood. As a trans man who struggled for 18 years trying to be a lesbian, I am grateful for the apology.
I know I could not have tried harder or longer to be a true lesbian. Ironically, because I had never had sex with a man, I was sometimes regarded as the “gold standard” by other lesbians, even looked up to. But deep down, painfully, I desired a man’s body more than anything. I continually visualised having a man’s body. I tried not to. It made me deeply ashamed. And it was confusing because I, like most lesbians, considered men’s bodies unattractive.
I was also a strong feminist and had swallowed the myth that trans people conformed to stereotypes and lived in strict gender roles. The reality is that trans people are as diverse, and conforming or non-conforming to gender roles, as the non-trans population. We really are not special.
But the insurmountable difficulty caused by my having a female body was that sex was hugely problematic. It eventually dawned on me that sexuality, and sensuality, permeate every aspect of our lives. I felt uncomfortable being perceived as a woman, not only by straight men, but also by other lesbians—by everyone, in fact.
It felt strange having a woman’s body; as if it wasn’t really mine. This was in spite of all the affirmation of women’s beauty around me. In my thoughts, my mind would always present me to myself as a man. I was hugely influenced by lesbian separatism—I lived as a teenager for over a year at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, set up in 1981, outside a nuclear missile base in southern England. I spent my life around women. I still think the world would be a far better place if more women were involved in decision-making at all levels. But I gradually came to realise that I could support feminism while being true to myself and finally doing what would make me happy and comfortable.
So, why do so many people think trans men are “lesbians in denial”? I think that when people see older trans men like me, it might seem to them as if a part of the lesbian scene had decided to transition and become men. But that’s simply because when we were younger, trans men were unheard of. Instead transsexuals, as we were called then, were thought of as being only male to female, in the media and in general public discourse at least until the mid-1990s, when the first British FTM (female-to-male) support group was set up in London. Nowadays, trans men can work out much earlier that they are trans men, rather than trying to conform to a woman’s lifestyle, whether lesbian or heterosexual.
From my experience as a long-time attender and former chair of FTM London, a peer-support group for trans men, at least a third of trans men, probably more, were attracted to men before they transitioned. So they were seen as “heterosexual” and didn’t have anything to do with the lesbian scene. Some people’s sexuality changes after transitioning, and there are many trans people who consider that they did not even have a sexuality as such until they transitioned. The belief that trans men are lesbians in denial also betrays a stereotypical view of lesbians. No, lesbians do not all wear boots and have short hair. The overwhelming majority of lesbians are not in fact masculine-presenting. The notion of a trans man being “really a lesbian” is not supported by the facts.
There has been a bit of a panic lately over the reported increase in the number of girls attending Britain’s Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), the specialist national centre for children who experience difficulties in the development of their gender identity. Some people worry that tomboys are being referred to the service to be transitioned to male and that lesbians are being “erased”. But is important to note that about 57% of the 11- to 16-year-olds referred to GIDS are referred on to its endocrinology department. Those that do may be prescribed drugs that delay puberty; in Britain cross-sex hormones are provided only to those over 16. This is a clinical decision within the National Health Service—it is not illegal to provide these drugs earlier. The other 43% do not progress along the treatment pathway to transition, though this may change in adulthood.
There has indeed been a big change in the sex ratio of those referred to GIDS in recent years. In 2009-10, 58% of the 12-to 18-year-olds were male at birth and 42% female; in 2016-17 those shares were 31% and 69%. Outside that age range the ratio is roughly evenly balanced.
Here’s what I think is behind this massive increase in the number of teenage girls thinking about gender and possibly transitioning, relative to teenage boys.
First, it is much harder to present as female and come out as a trans girl in secondary school, than it is to present as male and come out as a trans boy. Most trans women I know endured hell at school for not being masculine enough. They were bullied and often suffered physical violence. The UN reports that students (gay bisexual or trans) who fail to conform to masculine norms are more likely to experience physical violence.
Second, a rebalancing is under way because now, at last, trans men are getting some visibility in the media. That makes it easier for people to imagine this as their future; to envision possibilities and establish if they would be happier if they transitioned to male. I also think it is very likely that the male-to-female ratio will balance out evenly during the next few years, as is now the case for pre-12-year-olds and post-18-year-olds.
I caution that this is a difficult path to take. There is a lot of discrimination. A survey in Britain by an employment-law firm found a third of employers saying that they would be “less likely” to employ a transgender candidate for a job. A further 47% admitted that they would be unsure about hiring such a person. If you don’t “pass” (that is, you are not seen and accepted as female if a trans woman, or male if a trans man) you are likely to suffer verbal and perhaps physical abuse. Transgender Trend, a lobby group, claims that the desire to transition can spread by social contagion, and that many young people who identify as trans are going through a “phase” or have somehow been misled. They argue that publicly celebrating young trans people is therefore dangerous. That they can make such claims is quite incredible to me. These young people are not celebrated—far from it.
Transitioning is not temporary and affects your entire life. In Britain, trans people are already legally protected under the Equality Act of 2010 and can enter single-sex spaces without having changed their legal gender. Employment and health-care issues are much more of a priority to trans people than changing their legal gender; currently few bother. Consequently, the government is consulting on reforming the Gender Recognition Act of 2004, which sets out the process whereby someone can legally change gender. It proposes that people would be able to change their legal gender by making a statutory declaration (rather like a sworn oath; it is important to note that making a false statutory declaration is a criminal offence). This would encourage more trans people to obtain a gender-recognition certificate and thus a new birth certificate, if they wish, which is necessary if you intend to marry, adopt or make a nationality application.
Being trans is not easy, because of other people’s prejudice and hatred. But for me and for the vast majority of trans people, transitioning is infinitely preferable to remaining as we are. Regret after surgery is incredibly low. A recent extensive survey puts it as low as 0.3% for trans men and 0.6% for trans women. And there is an abundance of research demonstrating that if you are trans, the opportunity to transition vastly improves your mental health and well-being.
Link to the original article:
The idea that trans men are “lesbians in denial” is demeaning and wrong
Other published articles:
The Guardian – Prison is a desperate place if you’re trans
Changing your gender – never a simple matter.
The proposal by the Government to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004 has produced some extraordinary panic-induced articles and media outrage of late. Why on earth is this? Partly it is due to unpleasant prejudice but I can’t help but think much of it is based on misconceptions of how people transition.
The only procedure proposed to be changed is the one by which a trans person obtains a gender recognition certificate (GRC), thereby an amended birth certificate and becomes male or female in law. In most cases it is illegal to ask someone to show their GRC, but birth certificates can be requested.
Trans people already change their name and title on their passports and driving licence and request that people refer to them as he or she without obtaining a gender recognition certificate. In fact they are obliged to have these types of official documentation in their ‘new gender’ and demonstrate that they are comfortable being ‘male or female’ and seen as such, before they can be considered suitable for hormones and or surgery.
The crucial thing is that you do not need a gender recognition certificate to change your gender and of course anyone can already go into a changing room of the other gender, though granted it helps if you look ‘male or female’ (which is why most people wait until the hormones have started working)
Since when have you ever been asked to show a birth certificate when entering a toilet? Before I transitioned to male I was forever being told to leave the women’s toilets. I would just mumble, ‘It’s okay I know I should be here’ or I’d ignore them. At the end of the day, people know which toilet they should use. The vast majority of trans people try hard to fit in so that they don’t stand out. If anything, the person who is nervous is the trans person especially the first few times trans people go to the ‘other’ toilets.
There are incidentally no laws that say that men have to use the men’s toilets and women have to use the women’s toilets. Countless times in theatres and clubs, I’ve witnessed women using the men’s toilets to avoid the queues.
So, just because the process of obtaining an amended birth certificate might be made easier, this is not going to result in loads of ‘perverted’ men putting on dresses to enter women’s toilets or other women’s spaces because quite simply- they could already do that now. I doubt they’d even hear about the less bureaucratic and cheaper method of getting an amended birth certificate. As for deciding who uses which changing rooms or toilets, that’s a matter for each organisation though best practice is of course to allow those transitioning to use the appropriate toilets but this has nothing whatsoever to with being legally male or legally female.
Realistically, it has far more to do with how you appear. Gender neutral private cubicles seem a welcome prospect to avoid monitoring of people’s presentation.
It is a commonly held belief that women’s toilets are the area of contention. Surprising then that the ‘British social attitudes’ survey, see page 14, states that 72% of women say they are comfortable with a trans woman using a female toilet, compared with 64% of men saying they are comfortable with a trans man using male toilets according to their research. Thinking about it, this is quite obvious given that women’s toilets have private cubicles.
I was disturbed at the recent incorrect reporting of ‘boys’ sharing girl’s showers at girl guide camps -again more scaremongering. This is such a gross distortion of facts. No, these would be trans girls, who are not happy with their male bodies, being offered separate private cubicles as the girl guiding literature, shows. However, it is not possible to obtain a GRC before you are 18 in any case.
Some people imply that helping trans people more easily obtain legal gender recognition would mean that men would go through the process to define as women to avoid men’s prisons and attack women but that wouldn’t work because there are already policies in place to protect women in prison. Dangerous women, (trans or non-trans) are placed in male prisons if they are deemed to be a risk to other women. Again, this has nothing to do with if someone has a GRC or not. Remember anyone ‘self-declaring’ would swear to be female or male in every area of their life and permanently.
Getting a GRC and amended birth certificate is a cumbersome, lengthy, bureaucratic process. You have to pay a fee, currently £140, provide two medical reports that you’re transitioning (even though surgery is not actually required) provide proof that you have lived in the new gender role for two years using documents such as a passport.
Consequently, very few trans people bother! It is only useful in very specific purposes for instance, if you apply for dual nationality, like I did, or if you wish to marry. Incidentally the original birth certificate stays in existence. The new amended one is simply provided to be able to show employers or other authorities that you are who you say you are without needing to out yourself as having transitioned.
Since the Gender Recognition Act of 2004, only approximately 6000 people have obtained a GRC. Personally, I know tonnes of trans people who haven’t bothered obtaining one. I believe the majority don’t.
‘Making it easier to change the gender on birth certificates will not affect how transgender people access single-sex services because they can already use the self-declared gender recorded on their passports and driving licences as identification’ say the Scottish Transgender Alliance
So the proposal is that instead, you can make a legal declaration so called ‘self-declaration’ in front of solicitor or judge and state that you intend to be male or female permanently and pay a much-reduced fee. Making a false statement on a legal statutory declaration is a serious criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment.
Ireland brought in ‘self-declaration’ in 2015 and less than 250 people have self-declared’ since then, Not exactly indicative of a decision on a whim. Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Colombia, Denmark, Germany, India, Ireland, Malta, Nepal, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and also the states of Oregon and California in America all have more inclusive gender recognition procedures than the UK. It looks like here in the UK, we’ll be behind again.
Charlie Kiss- author of ‘ A New Man- Lesbian/Protest/Mania/Trans Man’
13th December 2017
For more about my life as a former lesbian feminist and my transition to male -Buy the book’ A New Man’ here