gender: transgender/intersex

The representation of sexuality and safer sex in public health campaigns is fascinating given our simultaneous cultural obsession with yet pathologization of sexual behavior.  Safer sex campaigns and materials not only seek to increase prevention behaviors but also produce a range of social meanings surrounding gender, bodies, and desire.  Most are produced by organizations that fall well within the mainstream; others are not.  This post is about one of the latter (warning: sexual explicitness).

The following resource, titled “Top 5 Reasons to Fuck a Transguy” was produced and distributed by a collaborative project of the San Francisco-based Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center.  tm4m is a group for transgender men whose goal is to “provide information, education and support to transmen who have sex with men (both other transguys and cisguys).”

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This material is interesting for two main reasons.  First, it combines traditional health education with an erotic, sex-positive context that is missing from most public health campaigns.  For the most part, public health approaches to HIV prevention and sexual health promotion utilize a “sex-negative” approach to sexual behavior; in other words, sex is represented as potentially dangerous or problematic and focus narrowly focused on its negative aspects, such as disease transmission.  Even more progressive “comprehensive” approaches to sexual health education (that is, approaches that do not focus solely on abstinence) tend to center on the potentially dangerous outcomes of sex and how to prevent them while ignoring the pleasurable and fun aspects of sexuality.

In contrast, “5 Reasons to Fuck a Transguy” depicts a naked transman with safer sex barriers (condom and a glove) and uses explicit language (“fuck” instead of “sex” and “cock” instead of “penis”) and imagery.  For example, in reason #2 we see two people about to engage in strap-on play and in #5 we see a guy that appears to be receiving oral sex or relaxing in a state of post-sex ecstasy.  This sort of language and imagery is absent from the vast majority of sexual health promotion materials aimed at a wide variety of populations.  Thus, in “5 Reasons to Fuck a Transguy,” safer sex is not presented as distinct and separate from sexual pleasure.

Second, the material uses an embodied approach to highlight differences between trans and cisgender men while at the same time eroticizing that difference.  Starting with reason #1 (“trans guys are hot”) we are invited to see the transmale body as the object of desire.  Reasons #2, #3, and #4 call attention to the physical differences between cisgender and transgender male bodies and eroticizes the latter by emphasizing interchangeable cock sizes, more holes to penetrate, and smaller hands for fisting (or using the whole hand for penetration).  Finally, reason #5 alludes to a fetishization of transmen: the transgender body incites curiosity that will ultimately pay off in enhanced pleasure.

Not everyone agrees this is good.  Some posts on Tumblr challenged the idea that transgender men are a sort of erotic “other” or that they will necessarily consent to the activities depicted in the pamphlet:

You better not assume I’m comfortable using the one that “other” guys don’t have and you better not assume that being a guy means I’d be up for being fucked in the ass, either. Go fuck yourself and make your own goddamn third hole.

The “your dick can be any size you want!” argument is like telling a female-identified survivor of breast cancer who’s had a mastectomy “your tits can be any size you want!”

Just because I don’t have my own natural cock doesn’t make me this insane sex toy thing that’s such an anomaly and such a fetish object and so very very strange and different.

So, despite the disclaimer that “every transguy is unique,” some viewers saw the material’s approach as a problemtic eroticization of their bodies and gender.

In sum, “5 Reasons to Fuck a Transguy” moves beyond typical sexual health promotion approaches to include desire and pleasure, but doesn’t avoid the problem of sending its own cultural messages about gender, bodies, and desire, ones that may be problematic from an entirely different point of view.

Christie Barcelos is a doctoral candidate in Public Health/Community Health Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Wanna get clear on the relationship between sex, gender identity, sexual and romantic orientation, sexual behavior, and gender role?  Watch this video by the Vlog Brothers, sent in by Jeffrey B.:

UPDATE: Comments closed.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In Gay Rights at the Ballot Box, I analyze the long history of transgender smear tactics used by the Religious Right, a large social movement that opposes LGBT rights. One area where this occurs is the production of campaign ads addressing attempts to protect transgender individuals from discrimination. The ads almost always focus on either children or bathrooms.

Back in April, voters in Anchorage, Alaska, rejected Proposition 5, which would have created a law protecting residents from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Such laws are primarily to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) residents. Transgender inclusion in the potential law was the focus of two commercials by the organization Protect Your Rights.

In both of these political ads, figures of large, hairy male-bodied individuals in dresses, described as “transvestites”, represented transgender inclusion. They present transgender individuals as grotesque and threatening. At the heart of these ads and other transgender smear tactics is anxiety about bodies in gender-segregated spaces that are typically occupied by women.

The women’s bathroom in particular is a site where gender conformity is policed. According to scholar Judith Halberstam in her book Female Masculinity, women’s bathrooms “operate as an arena for the enforcement of gender conformity…a sanctuary of enhanced femininity, a ‘little girl’s room’ to which one retreats to powder one’s nose or fix one’s hair” (p. 24). In this ad, the locker room operates in parallel way, as a space where gender conformity and bodies are strictly policed:

The other ad focused on the possibility of a “transvestite” getting hired at a daycare facility:

In addition to the use of stereotypically-presented “transvestites” to represent all transgender individuals as grotesque and laughable, the ads also argue that employers should have the right to discriminate if they think their customers are prejudiced toward a particular group or uncomfortable with them in certain jobs — an argument that has been used to resist allowing racial minorities and women into various careers. The ads also suggest that Anchorage is already sufficiently tolerant and thus doesn’t need to address the issues Proposition 5 supporters claimed were a problem.

Ads that raise fears about transvestites teaching in the classroom have been used since the 1970s during ballot measure campaigns, and the Religious Right has been raising concerns about transgender women in women’s bathrooms since the late 1980s. These two ads from the Anchorage Proposition 5 campaign are among the newest additions to the long tradition of ads that rely on stereotypes of LGBT individuals as predatory, dangerous to have around children, and having ulterior motives.

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Amy L. Stone is an associate professor of sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

Elizabeth sent in a link to a long and judicious New York Times article about biologically-male, gender-variant children, written by Ruth Padawer.  It’s well done, laying out the struggles even liberal-minded parents go through, including the mixed messages they get from “experts.”  It also briefly addresses the hormonal and genetic research, but acknowledges that the measures of femininity and masculinity used in these studies — and in daily life — are socially constructed.  That is, what is considered masculine or feminine is different across cultures and changes over time.

The picture of three boys at a camp for gender-variant children, waiting for their turn in a fashion show, was particularly interesting (photo by Lindsay Morris). I was struck by not just the emphasis on the dress/skirt, but the nail polish, jewelry, and high heels (on at least two of the children).  Their poses are also striking, for their portrayal of not just femininity, but sexualized femininity. It’s hard to say, but these boys look pretty young to me, and yet their (or their camp counselors?) idea of what it means to be a girl seems very specific to an adult hyperfemininity.  (After all, even most biological girls don’t dress/act this way most of the time and lots of girls explicitly reject femininity; Padawer comments that 77% of women in Generation X say they were tomboys as kids.)

In contrast, girls, when they enact a tomboy role — and now I’m off into speculation-land — don’t seem to go so far into the weeds.  We don’t see girls dressing up like lumberjacks or business men in suits and ties.  They don’t do tomman, they do tomboy.  There’s something more woman about how some of these boys perform femininity.

Some research on tomboys shows that girls who adopt it are sometimes, in part, trying to put off the sexual attention that comes with growing up.  So perhaps tomboyism is a way of rejecting one’s maturing body.  In contrast, perhaps femininity appeals to some boys because we adultify and sexualize young girls; it’s a form of grown up play as well as gender deviance?

Who knows.  The truth is — and the article does a good job of communicating this — we have no idea what’s going on here.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Men and women in Western societies often look more different than they are naturally because of the incredible amounts of work we put into trying to look different.  Often this is framed as “natural” but, in fact, it takes a lot of time, energy, and money.  The dozens of half-drag portraits, from photographer Leland Bobbé, illustrate just how powerful our illusion can be.  Drag, of course, makes a burlesque of the feminine; it is hyperfeminine.  But most all of us are doing drag, at least a little bit, much of the time. 

Here’s an example of one we have permission to use for the cover of our Gender textbook:

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Many more at Leland Bobbé’s website.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Earlier this month NPR profiled Alex Hernandez, a member of a Mexican third gender.  This prompted me to re-post our discussion of muxes from 2008.  Images of Hernandez, taken by photographer Neil Rivas, are added at the end.

A New York Times article this week briefly profiles muxes, a third “gender” widely accepted in Oaxaca, Mexico.  According to the article, this part of Mexico has retained many of the pre-colonial traditions.  One of these included flexibility around gender and sexual orientation.  From the article:

There, in the indigenous communities around the town of Juchitán, the world is not divided simply into gay and straight. The local Zapotec people have made room for a third category, which they call “muxes” (pronounced MOO-shays) — men who consider themselves women and live in a socially sanctioned netherworld between the two genders.

“Muxe” is a Zapotec word derived from the Spanish “mujer,” or woman; it is reserved for males who, from boyhood, have felt themselves drawn to living as a woman, anticipating roles set out for them by the community.

Not all muxes express their identities the same way. Some dress as women and take hormones to change their bodies. Others favor male clothes. What they share is that the community accepts them; many in it believe that muxes have special intellectual and artistic gifts.

Robin B. pointed us to a slide show at NPR.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sonita M. sent in a report from the Movement Advancement Project about the state of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) families.

LGBT families are more likely to be poor than non-LGBT families.  Nine percent of married cis-gender different-sex couples live in poverty, compared to 21% of gay male couples and 20% of lesbian couples:

LGBT couples may be more likely to be in poverty in part because of wage differentials between gays, lesbians, and their heterosexual counterparts.  Research shows that gay and bisexual men earn significantly less money than heterosexual men, whereas lesbians make somewhat more money than straight women.  Gay men would be more likely than heterosexual men to be in poverty, then.  But what about women? Women in same-sex couples face the same wage disadvantage that all women face, but also are not married to the heterosexual men that are making so much money (making it so that heterosexual women can make less money than gay women, but still be less likely to live in poverty). Make sense?  I hope so.

The second reason that LGBT couples with children are more likely than cis-gendered different-sex couples with children to live in poverty is that Black and Latino LGBT people are more likely than White LGBT people to be parents, and Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately poor to begin with:

Among same-sex couples, being a parent is also correlated with immigration status, which also correlates with class.  Non-citizens are more likely to be parents than citizens:


The two million children in America being raised by LGBT parents, then, are more likely to suffer from class disadvantage.  The authors of the report go on to discuss the ways in which formal policy and informal discrimination contribute to this state of affairs.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(source)

In this post I’m happy to feature two short clips of sociologists at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas talking about the sex industry in Las Vegas.

First, in this two-minute clip, Barb Brents discusses the way that the sex industry in Las Vegas is set up in ways that protect “referral services” (the organizations that arrange for what often includes sex work), while exposing sex workers to policing and criminalization:

Second, Crystal Jackson, takes two minutes to explain that the stereotype of sex workers — women who have sex with men — makes male sex workers invisible and transgender sex workers seem deviant. This has consequences. It means that men in the sex industry are more able to evade the police (who aren’t looking for them), while transgender sex workers are even more likely than women to experience abuse from both the police and clients. This means that patriarchy is an insufficient theory with which to theorize sex work.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a Visiting Scholar at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming Introduction to Sociology text. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.