August 23, 2005

Come a long way baby.

There's a tranny girl working in the other office in my building. She's very sweet and always says hi to me with a shy little smile when we pass on the stairs. I like her instinctively. She's also very clockable, with an inescapably masculine voice and a certain undisguisable stubbly quality. These facts are coming to the attention of the other people in my office.

The taller project manager walked past me on the second floor yesterday and said smugly, "Switch hitter." I stared at him uncomprehendingly for a moment.
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"That person," he added helpfully. "He's a switch hitter."
I continued to stare.
"The person in the law office," he said. "I can't tell if he's a he or a..." He trailed off and tried again. "There's another word, but I can't remember what it is. Trans something?"
"Transsexual," I mumbled, hoping that the taller project manager's ringing voice wasn't carrying down the hall to the law office, or that at least it sounded more polite when it got there.
"Oh, is that it," he said vaguely. "I mean, I don't know, guy, girl, what?"
I sighed. "Look, if you dress as a girl you're a girl as far as I'm concerned," I told him firmly and stomped back to my desk.

It's very rarely that I can be thought of as an easy person to persuade. Jacob can tell you this. I reflexively resist every argument that's presented to me unless and until someone takes a metaphorical hammer and beats it into my skull. But people's gender identity doesn't have to enter my head through the normal door; it gets to go straight in without waiting in line with all the other ideas. What I mean is, not taking people at their word about their own gender isn't even a course of action that I consider. It would be like walking up to Einstein and saying, "I know physics better than you," and sometimes you just have to trust the experts.

Posted by dianna at August 23, 2005 10:05 AM

to be fair, it can get confusing. i know guys who wear skirts but wish to be thought of as guys; i know girls who wear big manly combat boots and man-shaped knickers but wish to be thought of as girls.

that one in your office sounds like an easy call though. and there's never a good reason to be rude about it. unless you're being really funny of course.

Posted by: didofoot at August 23, 2005 11:00 AM

actually, now i think about it, it's socially acceptable for women to wear pretty much any article of men's clothing. meaning there's no real way to dress "like a guy" anymore. so do men exist at all now? i'm gonna say no.

Posted by: didofoot at August 23, 2005 11:03 AM

Well, you can ask Einstein what the kinetic energy is of 24.8 million tons of matter moving at 98% of light speed if you're not sure. You just shouldn't go around with your fingers in your ears telling everyone not to listen to his answer.

Posted by: Dianna at August 23, 2005 11:08 AM

You've got a point there. Please consider the Utilikilt, though, and its more traditional kilty cousins. Soon we'll have no women either.

Posted by: Dianna at August 23, 2005 11:10 AM

it's tough to know the right way to phrase that question though, especially if you come from a generation where to say that dude looks like a lady (or vice versa) was a mortal insult. society just hasn't totally caught up to its new multi-gendered state with a corresponding set of manners, i think.

it also kind of feels rude because you're not supposed to question artifice (i.e. "is that your real hair color/eyelid color/smell?").

Posted by: didofoot at August 23, 2005 11:12 AM

This is true, and of course it's easier to be rude behind someone's back than to be rude to someone's face by asking. I'll be the first one to admit that.

And, in fact, it's easier to gripe about the taller project manager's phrasing behind his back than to suggest to him that it's impolite! I think I've just hit on something about the fundamental reason for the existence of blogs.

Posted by: Dianna at August 23, 2005 11:22 AM

P.S. Thanks a lot. Now I've got -- what is that, Aerosmith? -- in my head.

Posted by: Dianna at August 23, 2005 11:23 AM

I'd prefer to look at our generation and the following generation as pushing society into a state of genderlessness rather than multi-gendered. Who wants to further categorize people by giving us more options. Putting a person in a box is still putting a person in a box, no matter how many boxes we have to choose from.

Posted by: Clint at August 23, 2005 11:49 AM

true, though virginia woolf nicely pointed out that having multi-genders instead of one gender also allows for variety that you might lose if everyone's blended into one mishmash.

Posted by: didofoot at August 23, 2005 11:54 AM

With all due respect, if you hang a deer skin on your ass, you don't thereby become a deer. Nor do you become a bird by draping yourself in feathers and flapping your arms. Likewise, covering your dick with a dress doesn't make you a woman. Reality's a bitch.

Posted by: Douglass at August 23, 2005 11:37 PM

With all due respect, prepending "with all due respect" onto an insulting and tritely idiotic statement doesn't make you any less of an ass. You're a bitch.

Posted by: Jacob at August 24, 2005 06:27 AM

Go Jacob!

Posted by: Dianna at August 24, 2005 07:20 AM

While I can respect Ms. Woolf's views on variety, I'm clearly biased due to my same-sex proclivity. Might I rephrase my prior statement in that rather than there being a genderless society, that we're moving toward a society where gender is fluid rather than rigidly defined by who wears a dress and who does not. I'm probably just misinterpreting your use of the phrase "multi-gendered" by bringing my own crap to the table. I feel like the phrase multi-gendered is saying lets sort everyone into three boxes rather than two. The way I see it, when a "boy" puts on a dress, he's not creating a third gender, but breaking down the heteronormative contruct of what it means to be a man or a woman. Society has been well on it's way towards that for a while. As previously mentioned, a woman can wear virtually anything that has been categorically considered masculine clothing without a second thought. It's taking much more time for men to make that change, but that's not surprising given the patriarchal society in which we live.

Posted by: Clint at August 24, 2005 09:03 AM

do you think douglass is a lass named doug? i do love the irish.

Posted by: michele at August 24, 2005 10:37 AM

or the scottish. really anyone who can convincingly pull off the word 'lass'.

Posted by: michele at August 24, 2005 10:39 AM

by 'multi-gender' i was thinking lots of genders, sort of like 'multi-racial' and about as meaningful a term. but i imagine once we have lots of genders what we will really have for all intents and purposes is "man" and "non-man" even as we now have "white" and "non-white." so maybe you're right that we should abolish it altogether, and actually woold suggests that too somewhere else in the same essay. and you know i refuse to have any opinion not bolstered by woolf.

Posted by: didofoot at August 24, 2005 10:54 AM

woolf not woold. dur.

Posted by: didofoot at August 24, 2005 10:55 AM


I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings. I do respect your opinions, even if they are divorced from reality. Seriously, if I sew a rhino horn to my head, am I transformed into a rhino? If not, why does a chick's grafting of a dick-like appendage onto her vagina transform her into a man? Answer: it doesn't. You don't become something else simply because you mutilate your body or change your clothes. If you feel good *pretending* that the "tranny" is a woman, that's fine. But it has nothing to do with reality.

Posted by: Douglass at August 24, 2005 08:20 PM

It's not, as you so crudely and ignorantly put, the grafting of a dick-like appendage onto a woman's vagina transforms her into a man. It's that the person to whom you are referring identifies as a man already and is merely having a surgery so the his genitalia matches his gender identity. This is why a lot of the transgendered people I've met in NY refer to it as a corrective surgery.

Posted by: Clint at August 24, 2005 09:35 PM


There are people who "identify" as all kinds of things, including animals, aliens, famous historical figures and so on. The point, which you so ignorantly fail to grasp, is that "identifying" as something is not the same as actually being something.

Posted by: Doug at August 24, 2005 10:01 PM

And I'm sure someone missing a limb due to a birth defect shouldn't get a prosthesis. No doubt, you would find it entirely acceptable to point your finger and proclaim, "You don't *really* have an arm, you dirty cripple!"

As for not grasping points, I'd take a good, long read through these last few posts. The purely biological "being" categorization you cling to like a life raft is ridiculous. Especially since you don't even acknowledge post-op transexuals. When someone gets braces, their teeth are actually corrected. How is a sex change operation any different, other than that braces don't make you sexually uncomfortable? The problem lies within, Doug.

To put it another way, I don't think you'd apply your "identifying" dismissal to someone who chooses to join a religious group. Biologically, they might as well be any other religion. But try telling a Protestant that they're just a Jew with another Testament slapped on. I'm sure you'll tell me "it's different," but I fail to see the fundamental distinction.

Posted by: Jacob at August 25, 2005 06:58 AM


Thanks for the laugh.

First, braces actually *do* straighten teeth. You need to work on your analogies.

In contrast, a so-called sex-change operation is purely superficial and does not actually change a person's sex. A male will not suddenly acquire female-sized gametes by removing his penis and putting on a dress. There will be no uterus. He will have no period. The change is basically cosmetic.

And the religious analogy is utterly absurd. Religious belonging is defined by belief and behavior, and people can change their beliefs and behavior. In contrast, gender, like species, is rooted in biology.

As I've stated, and you've failed to refute, you can no more change your gender than you can change the animal species to which you belong. Crawling on your knees and roaring doesn't make you a lion, even if you surgically implant a mane. Gender is no more a choice than species is.

So much for the âreality-basedâ community I hear so much about.

Posted by: Doug at August 25, 2005 08:06 AM

I'm declaring a moratorium on vagueness here. You all need to start specifying whether you're talking about anatomical sex, genetic sex, cultural gender, and/or emotional gender. They're not the same thing and you're all using different combinations of them. You can't carry on any kind of productive argument if you're not addressing the same things because you're not making clear which you're talking about.

Also, the next comment to use personal condescension instead of real argument will have snide editorial remarks appended to it. What, you thought I was going to say it would be deleted? Hardly. But if you want to look like a dick on my blog, I'd love to help you.

Posted by: Dianna at August 25, 2005 09:03 AM

dianna, if you put a dick on your blog, does that make your blog a dude?

Posted by: didofoot at August 25, 2005 09:42 AM

Doug - You're doing a bang-up job making all sorts of animal analogies. So how about this one: even though you wear clothes and shave, does that make you any less a poop-flinging monkey? The difference is basically cosmetic.
(That's a personal dig, but I'm trying to illustrate just how ridiculous the animal references are)

Religious belonging is defined by belief and behavior, and people can change their beliefs and behavior. In contrast, gender, like species, is rooted in biology.
Gosh. I would reply that transsexuals are changing their beliefs and behavior with regards to gender identity. While they might not have the physical attributes, neither does someone who converts to Judiasm. That is, technically, a convert whose mother is not Jewish is not themselves a Jew (a biological inheritance). These days that's seen as an overly-restrictive view. Much as constraining gender identity to physical sex is overly restrictive.

Rather than trying to convince you (since that's obviously not going to work on someone so calcified in their beliefs), I'll just flat-out state my position in two sentences, and leave it at that.

Sex (what you were born to) is not a choice. Gender identity is.

There we go.

Posted by: Jacob at August 25, 2005 10:02 AM

Kristen: no, but if I put dudes on my blog it makes them dicks?

Posted by: Dianna at August 25, 2005 01:19 PM

You know, I tried to make good on my promise of editorial snideness. I did. I ruthlessly footnoted two comments and then changed my mind and changed them back because I couldn't bring myself to mess up other people's comments. It's like scribbling all over a borrowed book.

But starting a retort with "thanks for the laugh" is a really obvious lie. If the comment you were responding to only made you pleasantly amused instead of irritated and/or threatened, you wouldn't feel the need to argue with it.

On the other side, saying someone is stuck in their beliefs and you clearly can't get through to them is a cheap-shot, cheater way of excusing yourself from an argument you're tired of.

That's all I've got, really.

Posted by: Dianna at August 25, 2005 02:02 PM

I'm coming late to this game, but: 3 terms from Gender Studies 101, mostly for Douglass:

Sex= biological sex (one is usually, but not always, born as one or the other). Corresponds to chromosomes, and, usually, to sex organs. Can be "changed" through surgery and hormones (for Douglass, I will translate this as "grafting a rhino horn onto your forehead.")

Gender= social construct. One's way of being in the world as male or female. Can be changed by adopting the dress, manner, etc, of another socially constructed gender, or by "genderfucking," i.e., trying to live in a way that does not correspond neatly to either gender category. Some people want to stay within the gender binary but dress, etc, as the other gender without undergoing reassignment surgery. Some people are confusing visually because they're pre-op: before they let you go through reassignment surgery, the law requires that you live (for a year, I think), in the trappings of your desired gender to make sure it's the right fit. Some people are much more comfortable living without regard to our notion of "gender." (Cool.)

Sexual orientation= not the same as either of those two things. Who you want to fuck. May be gender-based or sex-based, both, or neither.

There is an insanely beautiful, sexy trans woman who works at the nonprofit agency at which I volunteer. She was born with male sex organs and XY chromosomes; i.e., of the male sex. She always perceived herself to fit the female gender. She underwent surgery to correct her genitals, hormone therapy, had a really amazingly great set of breasts installed, wears rockabilly-chick womens' clothes, and is now a gorgeous, tough, sexy punker woman on whom, it may be painfully apparent, I have an out-of-control crush. I like women. I am attracted to her because I perceive her as a woman. She has an Adam's apple and used to have a dick, but that doesn't change the fact that when I see her, I see a totally gorgeous girl. Actually, I don't, because my eyes are totally stinging due to the fact that I sweat profusely whenever she's around. I copped to my crush in a conversation with one of our clients, and he said, sotto voce, "Did you know she's an M-to-F? She just told me." Of course I did. To me, it's all about the "to F" part. It's not just that I'm indulging her in some fucking charade. My brain - and my entire body, for that matter - registers her as a woman.

In general, the trans folks I know would prefer that people just ask them what gender - if any - they prefer to present, and what gendered pronouns - if any - they'd like people to use in speaking to/of them. I haven't quite gotten the hang of pronouncing "ze" and "hir," though.

Posted by: katie at August 26, 2005 11:54 PM

Katie, I have an issue with "ze" and "hir" upon which you might be able to opine (being as you are both a language geek and rather more knowledgeable on general gender-queering than I).

As I've heard it explained, they're pronounced essentially "see" and "hear", which is excruciatingly New Agey. If you don't wear broomstick skirts and have a cat named Luna it seems like it would be a worse fit even than the gender pronouns you're trying to avoid.

So my question is why the hell, if you want a gender-neutral pronoun, not just pick up a real one from another language? I just hauled out a bunch of my language books to see what I could find. Sanskrit has tad, te, and tani (depending on number). In Mandarin (disclaimer: I haven't started actually studying the book so I don't know if I'm taking this out of context somehow), it appears that both the male and female subject pronouns are ta.

I can understand not using "it" because of the stigma attached to it. Okay, the same might apply to the Sanskrit neuters. But doesn't an interchangeable both-male-and-female pronoun sound like an absolutely perfect solution (which is probably repeated in several other languages if you don't happen to like the sound of the Mandarin one)? I guess this isn't really a question at all. I'm just indignant that this isn't the generally-accepted approach.

Also, thank you for chiming in. I hoped you would eventually.

Posted by: Dianna at August 27, 2005 09:31 AM

Look! Look! You don't even have to go all the way to Asia! Finnish and Hungarian have only gender-neutral personal pronouns. Look!

Posted by: Dianna at August 27, 2005 09:40 AM

sailor moon has a cat named luna!

Posted by: michele at August 27, 2005 09:53 AM

I'm sure ze does.

Posted by: Dianna at August 27, 2005 11:06 PM

Yeah I think someone should slip Douglass a copy of Judith Butler's "Gender Trouble" into his stocking this year for Xmas.

Posted by: Clint at August 28, 2005 12:09 AM

He does have a point in that you don't become a woman simply by identifying as one and mutilating your penis. Calling such a person a woman is a little misleading as the term implies quite a few things. I think using another word is a reasonable solution. "Tranny" works for me.

Posted by: dr v at August 28, 2005 12:48 AM

Personally, I feel that if a transexual person goes through the tremendous process of a year of therapy, having your penis turned inside out and into a vagina, breast implants, brow and adams apple shaving and the myriad of other things that they do to make their appearance less masculine and then have to take estrogen hormones for the rest of their life, she has earned the right to call herself a woman if she so chooses. There are plenty of post-op transexuals that pass as men and women on a daily basis - more than you probably realize. And given the hell they've been through with their transition I can't blame them for wanting to just pass and tell no one of their status. In fact, the only time I feel she even needs to tell anyone about her transition is when she enters a relationship. I feel that it's their duty to tell the other person so that they can decide whether they want this relationship with all of it's comlications and social stigma's. As a gay man, when I enter into a relationship with another man, I'm making the choice to do something outside of the social norm. Some unsuspecting straight guy should be given the opportunity to make the same decision.

Posted by: Clint at August 28, 2005 09:16 AM

Plus, I've met many people in the GLBT comminty that find the word tranny to be offensive. Many liken it to being called a faggot. This is why the community has been trying to adopt new gender pronouns and create a new vocabulary with words like Ze and Hir.

Posted by: Clint at August 28, 2005 09:20 AM

In response to the comment made earlier about a sex-change being purely cosmetic and that a M2F transsexual won't have a uterus or a period, science and technology is a funny thing. It advances over time. In fact, I was reading an article in the advocate earlier this year that said that scientists have almost found a way for two men to have a child. I'm recalling the article from memory from months ago, but from what I can recall, they're able to remove the female DNA from a viable egg and then insert one man's DNA and then fertilize it with another man's sperm. If we are close to doing that, who's to say that in 50 years, a transsexual can't have a uterus and a menstrual cycle.

Posted by: Clint at August 28, 2005 09:33 AM

I'm with Clint on calling trans people whatever they damn well want after they've gone through all that rigamarole. And on the disparaging nature of the term "tranny." We tend to be really willing to indulge peoples' desire for self-determination in other fairly stupid ways that have less of an impact on their lives - i.e., I've never refused to call a student by a nickname just because that's not their "REAL" name. What the fuck is this overemphasis that we place on authenticity anyway?

This - in light of "dr v"'s comment - is where I also feel compelled to trot out the old argument that it's really hard to find, in fact, a set of qualities which every single bio-woman on the planet shares. Not all women menstruate, for various weird health and biological reasons. Not all women have breasts. Some women grow a considerable amount of face and body hair. I suppose if you can imagine a woman whose lower half has been severed in an industrial accident, we could say that not all women have vaginae. Or, in the case of women who've had hysterectomies, would you say that they are no longer women because they don't have real, working female reproductive apparatuses? Or clitoridectomies? Because then there are very few actual women in Sudan, I think.

What was that bad '50s sci-fi movie, courtesy of MST3K: "The Head That Wouldn't Die?" With Jan the Pan? Di, you know the one? Anyway, it didn't spend a lot of time arguing about her gender status, although she no longer had any breasts or genitals, or for that matter anything at all below the neck. But she did have, as I recall, perfectly groomed eyebrows, which is in fact a feature shared by every one of my MTF aquaintances.

Posted by: katie at August 30, 2005 06:51 PM

Di, I agree that a neuter pronoun isn't exactly the same as a gender-neutral one. Or, rather, that neuter really is another gender.

I like the French pronoun "on," which is like our fairly impersonal "one," with the difference that I have heard it deployed suddenly when someone is talking about a certain person or event, usually when spinning some kind of a yarn (I think).

I also like the way that possessive pronouns refer to the gender of the object possessed, not to the gender of the possessor. Like if I talk about mon chapeau, it's because hats are gendered masculine, not because I am. Isn't Spanish organized the same way?

I like and don't like gendered languages. They can be a lot easier to deal with, and I guess I see why gender presents itself as the most obvious way of organizing difference. English is a lot less strongly gendered than most in some ways, in that we only gender animate things (and vehicles) and the entire world of objects and concepts isn't split according to masculine/feminine. On the other hand, that almost serves to emphasize the rigidly gendered status of people in our language.

In French, the masculine is a powerful pollutant. All it takes is the presence of, say, a single male infant in a room with 800 women to gender the whole crowd masculine. Funny, because that doesn't seem true to my real-life observations.

Posted by: katie at August 30, 2005 07:17 PM

The other night, Dianna read me a great excerpt from a Mark Twain something-or-other (essay?) regarding gendered German. Dianna, if you can find it online again, could you link to it or post an excerpt?

Posted by: Jacob at August 31, 2005 11:03 AM