Tag Archives: transgender

Gender Extender

Tuesday 15 July 2014

The morning after my chat with the Fool on the Hill about the “transgender tipping point,” I left my bench on the Village green and walked over to Dogface Donuts. I took my customary seat on the plastic milk crate outside the front door. It was a good day for depending on the kindness of strangers: I soon panhandled enough for a medium latte and a Choco-Loco croissant. Mighty tasty. Crossing the street to the library, whom did I meet but my old pal Moe Rahn.  It was still ten minute before the library’s opening time, and I hadn’t seen Moe for a while, so it was good to catch up with him.

“Idiot! What brings you to our fine local bibliothèque? They painting your bench today or something?”

“No, Moe, I come by most mornings, use the restroom to brush my teeth, wash my face, tidy up a bit. Then I’ll do some reading, catch up on the news. In fact, just yesterday the Fool on the Hill and I were discussing this so-called transgender thing and I want to learn more about it.”

“Oh, yeh, the Laverne Cox story. Did you read that Time piece on her a few weeks ago? And how’s the Fool doing, by the way? Haven’t seen him in a while, either.”

“He’s good, but the eyes in his head see the world spinning ’round. And yes, that’s the article we talked about.”

“Come to any conclusions? Reach an agreement? I imagine you two see the issues differently.”

“Not really. He reminded me that human societies have always had to tolerate individuals who occupy a liminal sexual status. That’s the Fool’s preferred term, ‘liminal,’ but it seems some people now call this ‘two-spirit.'”

“True, but others use the term ‘third gender.’ In fact, the Supreme Court of India ruled a couple of months ago that this is now a legal category of persons. The law is mostly about welfare-state benefits and protection from discrimination, not so much about social acceptance. And you know, that idea is really old in India. There’s a line in the Mahābhārata I recall: ‘among men you will become a man in form, among women a female, among the third class an un-man.’ And you’re the grammarian after all. That’s what the neuter gender is all about, right?”

“Huh. Yeh. That’s interesting. Reminds me of Aeschylus’s Seven Against Thebes, where Eteocles demands the loyalty of everyone in the city, ‘man, woman, and whatever exists between them.’ What worries me, though, isn’t that there have always been such people, but where we think we’re going with all this redefinition. I mean, the ‘third gender’ itself is a basket of virtually infinite varieties and nuances of gender and sex, like Facebook’s hypostatizing list of sexual self-identifications. Eventually this can only render basic words like ‘male, female, masculine, feminine, man, woman’ meaningless. That doesn’t seem much like progress to me. Seems more like chaos.”

“Just fears, Idiot old friend, and timely too. Jerry Brown just signed legislation replacing the terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ in California state marital laws with ‘spouse,’ and another bill is heading to the California senate that would allow a woman to refer to herself as ‘father’ or a man to denote himself ‘mother’ on a child’s birth certificate. Once you finish your toilette, check those out. And you’ll want to read a recent Wall Street Journal editorial by Dr Paul McHugh on  the medical ethics of sex-change surgeries. Let me know what you think.”

“Paul McHugh, huh? Will do, Moe, and thanks for the tips.  See you around the Vill.”

I spent the rest of the morning in the library, following this trend as far as I could and wondering where it might be leading. The McHugh piece made sense: people who feel that they are a different gender than as they were born are suffering from a psychological disorder and deserve our understanding and proper treatment. Gender “reassignment” surgery seems nothing more than disfiguring mutilation. And one article I read made an interesting comparison to the Cat Man, that sad guy who really felt that he was a wild cat and had all kinds of surgeries to become one. Killed himself eventually. All the cases of sex-change changes of mind and the high suicide rates of people who still can’t find happiness after their surgeries — I don’t know; doesn’t seem like something we should be celebrating as a “new civil-rights frontier” in magazines. Seems a lot more like a serious medical ethics problem, a detachment of science and technology from humanism and nature. Some parts of the Hippocratic Oath still apply after all: “I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman.”

As I walked back to the Village green I wondered ‘How’d we get to this point?’ I could detect filaments of Romanticism, Nietzsche, Deconstruction, feminism, the sexual revolution, anarchism, multi-culturalism, diversity — one gnarly knot of notions. Back on my bench I then remembered Moynihan’s fine and famous article “Defining Deviancy Down.” Good old Moynihan. And that’s it, really: the advance of the anti-normative over the normative. The very concept of norms is increasingly viewed as oppressive, while deviation from norms is increasingly regarded as heroic, liberating, deserving of favored or special treatment for all those who might claim restitution for some real or imagined past injustices. That is, for all of us. And not as members of a society or civilization but as separate claimants upon society for its social goods.

Well, at the Village Odeonplex they were showing the classic Dog Day Afternoon, wherein Sonny and Sal hold up a bank to get money so that Sonny’s lover Leon can get his sex-change operation and be a woman. Based on a true story.  More or less.

To be continued …

Gender Blender

Friday 20 June 2014

In which the Idiot and the Fool discourse upon our sexual confusion of late.

The Fool on the Hill came down to the Village green the other day. Many a merry flagon did we crack in our college days, the Fool and I. But nobody wants to know him, they can see that he’s just a fool. Anyway, there I was on my usual bench, reading an old issue of Time magazine I got from the trash. The cover photo was of a statuesque black woman, one Laverne Cox by name. The caption alerted readers to a “transgender tipping point,” which it called “America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier.” I had not heard of Ms Cox before. She seems to be a personality of the televised kind and rather nice.  But her present popularity appears to be due chiefly to the fact that she was born a boy and has assumed the persona of a woman. I was baffled. How peropportune, therefore, that the Fool came by just then. He was an anthropology and sociology major back in the day and still keeps current with such developments.

“Fool,” said I, pointing to the Time cover, “can you explain this to me?”

“Idiot,” quoth he, “don’t you remember Christine Jorgensen, back in the 50s, 60s?”

“Oh yeah,” I replied. “The GI who went to Denmark for surgery to make him seem female in certain genital respects. Then he married a guy, right?”

“Well, it’s the same with this Laverne Cox. As a boy, he always felt like a girl, so he had some accommodations made and here she is, a Time icon. She’s dating a guy now. And you know about that dude in Massachusetts, what’s his name, Kosilek, who strangled his wife when she caught him wearing her dress? Now he’s in prison demanding the state pay for the same kind of surgery, and a judge has decided that was okay. After the operation he’s gonna go to a women’s prison. That’ll be interesting. Same situation with that Army leaker Brad-, er, Chelsea Manning. Curious last name, in the circumstances. Kinda like ‘Cox.’ Just sayin’.”

“Haw haw. So, Fool, are these guys just transvestites, like Sissy back in Wyoming or like the lumberjack in Monty Python? Or is there more to it?”

“You’re confused, my friend. Sissy’s a married guy with grown kids and does guy stuff. He just likes women’s clothes. Those other people are, like, girls born in guy bodies, so they say, and dress accordingly. And by the way, it goes vice versa too.”

“Hmmm. We’ll get back to that. So transvestites aren’t homosexuals, then?”

“Not necessarily, but it’s complicated. You saw Rocky Horror Picture Show, right? Remember Frank N. Furter, the sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania? He didn’t have any operation but he went both ways somehow, sexually speaking. Or how about that androgyne in The Crying Game, Jaye Edgar Hoover, whatever? Dressed and acted like a girl but liked guys?”

Jaye Davidson, Fool. Hoover was the G-Man with the tommy gun. And come to think of it, they say Hoover was a bit of the same — in private. Awkward. Okay, so, if you are a guy but feel and dress like a girl and are attracted to guys, does that make you a transvestite gay? Or are you then heterosexual?”

“This is what comes from reading too much Aristotle back in school, Idiot; you’re hung up on categories and hierarchies. Don’t you recall Prof. Von Drake‘s lecture on the berdaches, like Little Horse in Little Big Man? They call them ‘two-spirit’ now, though I’ve always liked the term ‘liminal.’ Things are more complicated now. You’ve seen Facebook’s new list of fifty — and growing — customized sexual identities, haven’t you?”

“I don’t do Facebook.”

“Yeah, I know, but you are aware that there is this social medium on the Internet called Facebook, and that people use this medium to make virtual friendships with other people, some of whom they only know via Facebook, right?”

“Okay, fine. So what’s with the identities?”

“Well, to advertise yourself and to look for people you might have things in common with, you give certain information about who you are. And since sex and gender are basic to who we are, and since the binary choices ‘man’ and ‘woman’ don’t really express all the nuance of people like Laverne Cox, some people at Facebook put up this list of fine-tuned options so that people could advertise themselves more accurately and not be limited at the male-female node. It breaks down like this: “sex” is your set of physical characteristics; your “gender” is who or what you yourself feel that you are and how you dress and act; and your sexual attraction to other people is just that. I forget my statistics, but you can imagine the possible combinations. Just keep in mind, though, that somebody might find any one of these terms ‘offensive’, that being now a high crime against humanity. For example, you could describe yourself as a “BDSM male lesbian polyamorist.”

“I don’t even wanna know. Reminds me of What’s My Perversion? But why stop at 50-some? I mean, in theory, every individual could have his/her/its own self-defined custom gender/sexuality/attraction, correct? Talk about categories. And what’s the point, anyway? It doesn’t help us make sense of anything, just seems needlessly and endlessly confusing.”

“That is the point, Idiot, definitional destruction, leading to the obliteration of gender as a viable concept or meaningful term. It’s similar to what’s happening with altered definitions of marriage, the object being to define marriage out of use, except maybe as metaphor.”

“Fool, I still don’t get it. Say a male person feels that he’s a woman, gets the operations, injections, whatever. Now say there’s a female person who feels that she’s a man, and does the same on her side. Okay, so these two people meet and are attracted to each other and commingle. Are they a heterosexual couple? How can any of this turn out well?”

“We are living, my boon companion, in the Age of the Outcast Hero, when honor, esteem, and value flow not to the normal — which is now a Very Bad Word, by the way –, not to the successful or the prosperous, but to the marginal, the oppressed, the frail and the damaged. These special terms admit such a person to the status of disadvantage and entitle them to vindication. In their view all definitions of society and of social relationships must oppress someone at all times. Maybe another manifestation of Lenin‘s ‘kto kogo’, I don’t know. All this sexual expressionism seems to be weaponry in a social revolution. Laverne Cox et al. are now leading the charge on this ‘civil rights frontier’ you’ve been reading about.”

“Sort of like Stan the insurrectionist in The Life of Brian, the guy who wants to become a woman named Loretta and have babies? Francis said that this was symbolic of their group’s struggle against oppression and the leader Reg said it was ‘symbolic of his struggle against reality’. That was good.”

“Well, now you’re being judgmental, Idiot, and that is no longer permissible. See, when you make judgments, you are appealing to a set of norms and assuming that everyone else adheres to those norms. But as I just said, all norms are part of a system of oppression since they were established by oppressors to maintain their power and status. Norms can’t help but marginalize someone. Therefore to judge is to oppress. So watch yourself, buddy.”

“Wow. I always thought that a system of norms and, yes, judgment was a de facto definition of society, since we can’t get along without them. So these people really want to destroy society itself? Are they anarchists, really?”

“Maybe. I think they believe that anarchy is preferable to society. Like the Cyclopes, they want to live entirely individually, without society, laws or customs.”

“If that’s what they really want, I’m worried. Out of every anarchic state arises a tyrant. You know that as well as I do.”

“I do indeed, my friend. But now I see the sun going down. Time to get back up the Hill. To be continued.”

“To be continued, my good friend, and thank you for your insight.”

As the Fool left the Village green, I lay down on my bench and pondered these dark mysteries.