gender: transgender/intersex

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 an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter 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 an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter 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 an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter 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 an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter 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 an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter 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 an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Media depictions of trans people (almost entirely produced by non-trans individuals) tend to be fascinated by bodies. Since the (presumed) inappropriately gendered body is automatically monstrous, weird — or at the very least, available to be gawked at — the accessibility of trans bodies becomes a feature of their depiction.

A big thread that runs through most visual media depictions is a fixation on stripping trans people naked, implying the naked body as “true.” The Crying Game’s big reveal comes when Del undresses, while the penultimate moment of self-fulfillment for Bree in Transamerica is represented by her naked in the tub, touching her vagina. Pre-op Bree’s “parts” trap her in-between, as the movie poster so helpfully informs prospective audiences—without surgery, she’s “really” just a man in a dress.

Chest surgery fills much the same function for images of trans men. The body-centrism was so prevalent in the recently released Becoming Chaz, the documentary following Chaz Bono’s transition, one critic titled his review: “About a Boy or About a Body?”  We see a similar interest in trans-bodies in Boys Don’t Cry and the teen soap Degrassi:

(Still shot from film Boys Don’t Cry. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Films)

(Still shot from Degrassi. Courtesy of Alliance Atlantis)

In all of these cases, the trans person’s emotional and social existence is tied to the state of their body. Bree can’t possibly be fulfilled until she’s had surgery and can strip naked in front of an audience. Bono can “really” be a man only after top surgery and he can go shirtless. Most importantly, trans people appear to have no life outside of their body, and their transition sometimes forms a narrative arc of beginning (bad body), middle (fixing the body), and end (good body).  They are allowed to be a part of the story only as a person transitioning, their trans-status overwhelming everything about them that makes them unique individuals with complex personal stories.

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Avery Dame is currently a master’s candidate in American Studies at the University of Kansas, where he studies media depictions of trans folks and trans vloggers on YouTube. He also blogs at the improbably named Ping Your Spaceman.

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