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June 16, 2015: Keeping the Conversation Going

June 17, 2015

I’ve read so many columns and op-ed pieces since Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover came out. Good. This conversation needs to continue, and Jenner’s transition has accelerated it. The opinion pieces that decry transgenders don’t even bother me; at least they are bringing more attention to the transgender rights issue. They are typically written by cisgender people who know nothing about what it means to be trans; and they are being answered by trans people and allies.

Case in point: A New York Times op-ed piece criticizes transwomen for defining women a certain way (sexualized), based on the Vanity Fair cover and disputes Jenner’s quote that she has a female brain (as if that means that women are not as smart or competent as men). The piece was refuted in a article by a transwoman, who addressed many of the statements made in the Times article.

All of this is great. It addresses the broader picture of trans issues and women’s issues. But two things in this particular conversation jump out at me:

First, the definition of a female brain. Here’s an article from NHS Choices, a U.K. health website, that explains research that shows how some embryos, all of which start out as female, become male. It all has to do with a surge of male hormones to the embryo that tell the body to develop as male and another surge that tells the brain to be male. In MtF transsexuals, the male hormones that are intended for the brain don’t make it. So, when Jenner (and other transwomen) say they have a female brain, they are simply referring to how their brain identifies in terms of gender, not necessarily to how they might behave, like wearing nail polish, going shopping and doing other stereotypically female activities. In fact, I know some transwomen, who don’t wear dresses or use make-up, just like many ciswomen.

Second, the whole idea of MtF transsexuals having male privilege is bothersome. Yes, at one point, they did have male privilege. But after transition, they lose it. In fact, society is rougher on them than it is on ciswomen. Trans people have a 41 percent suicide attempt rate, compared with the national average of 1.6 percent. I remember the months leading up to Mara realizing that she needed to transition — seeing her come home from work with red, puffy eyes from crying all the way home, and evenings spent on the couch with her head in my lap while she sobbed for hours. She was on anti-anxiety meds for awhile, and even those didn’t stop the pain completely. And yes, ciswomen makes less money than men doing the same job. But, with a few exceptions, transwomen can’t even get jobs, just because of who they are. In fact, despite the progress that has been made in many states and nationally toward transgender rights, transpeople still struggle to justify their own existence — a struggle that no one should have to go through.




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