Monthly Archives: September 2013

Male Privilege Dies Hard

This Tuesday’s New York Times Op-Ed offerings included a piece by a college professor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, who has taught and lived as both a man and a woman. I’ve been pondering a reference in the column to

“…having gone from a world of male privilege to being a member of one of the most marginalized groups in the country…”

In my experience, male privilege dies hard. Since publishing my own story, I’ve heard from the wives of transitioning husbands who tell me they see their own experiences reflected in mine: men they once loved, trusted and admired transformed into aggressive, narcissistic bullies in their quest to become women. Perhaps even more telling, I’ve also heard from a handful of transgender women who say that they’ve encountered these same qualities of self-righteous belligerence in the trans world, and have chosen to distance themselves from what might otherwise have been their community.

Trans people have historically endured many adverse circumstances, including instances of violence that make marginalization look like the least of their troubles. I don’t know what sort of marginalization the writer, a white, middle-class professional, has endured as a result of joining this group. Economic? Social? A struggle to access health care? Those are three of the kinds of marginalization I have experienced as a single mother. Many people in our country are marginalized by race, class, ethnicity, disability, and other factors. I wonder if transsexuals who find themselves cast to the margins of society are losing a life of privilege because of their choice to transition – or if maybe, due to factors like these, they never had such privilege to begin with?

One thing’s for certain: marginalization, can’t, in this case, mean no one speaks your name. These days there seems to be upbeat media coverage of trans issues daily. 


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Male Development

The New York Times reports that a new study finds 

“the gene responsible for activating male development is surprisingly unstable, leaving the pathway to male sexuality fraught with inconsistency”.

Surprising to whom?

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In Search of Julia Child

An essay in the New York Times this past Sunday described the writer’s unwillingness as a high school student circa 1972 to man up and take shop, preferring the cooking classes his school saw as the exclusive terrain of girls. With the support of his parents he got his wish, embarking on a lifelong love of cooking instead of being forced into a gender-typed wielding of tools that held no interest for him.

The subject sends my thoughts and memories in a myriad of directions.

I recall impassioned arguments in my own high school days in which we girl feminists essentially declared to the boys: We’re as good as you are! And to which the boys’ ultimate rejoinder was always: We’re better at everything! Even the best chefs are men!

As teenagers, a complicated analysis of the culinary arts professions was beyond us all. The assertion caused consternation. Who were the best chefs? Best and worst, chefs did seem to be male, didn’t they? But that was because men were always hogging the top of the heap if there was power to be won there, and money to be made, wasn’t it? In any case the boys’ message was clear: We even win at your games.

I guess I have a bit of the reaction I had then – frustration, incredulity, rage – when I hear now that transwomen deserve consideration, support, and admiration for their heroism far more than women and girls who were born women and girls. That the obstacles they face are far worse, and more deserving of urgent, societal attention than the challenges of women and girls worldwide.

It was my naïve assumption as a teenager that mine would surely be the last generation to struggle against a cultural, professional divide by gender that was, even as we bickered, in the process of crumbling. Personality characteristics, pastimes, vocations would all be equal-access arenas for male and female alike. Right?

In 1972, a boy who preferred the uses of a spatula over a soldering iron might have said: You don’t have to wear a dress to like cooking. Could he say that now? In our politically enlightened times, such a boy would be welcomed into the kitchen and handed a spatula. He might also be offered a dress, hormone treatments, and sexual reassignment surgery.  

Reading this essay, I couldn’t help but recall the statements I’ve read by transwomen saying they knew they wanted to be girls when they realized they liked cooking. Our notions of gender have supposedly been blown wide open. And our notions of human characteristics, human endeavor? Maybe not as much as we’d like to think.

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Manning, Transgender Prisoners, and Human Rights

Chelsea-née-Bradley Manning’s request for hormones and surgical treatment for gender dysphoria again raises the question of gender treatment for prisoners.

The issue became news a year ago with the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf that a Massachusetts prisoner, Michelle Kosilek, be granted sexual reassignment surgery. Michelle, then known as Robert, was convicted of murder in 1992 and is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. While in prison Kosilek had a legal name-change, received psychotherapy, and successfully sued for electrolysis and hormone treatments. Following the ruling last year, which is being appealed by the Department of Corrections, Kosilek returned to court, demanding further electrolysis.

Judge Wolf’s position is that all these treatments are medically mandated by Kosilek’s transgendered condition. His ruling has sparked questions about whether the sense that one’s internal gender identity and outer body are out of sync constitutes a terminal condition to be addressed surgically and cosmetically. About whether the state should pay for such therapies when most health insurance companies don’t. About whether a convict has a right to sexual reassignment surgery in a nation in which there is no right to health care of any kind for people who have not been convicted of crimes.

Different questions preoccupy me. I find myself wondering why these particular convicted criminals are the focus of so much impassioned concern, with many protestations of support for their rights and well-being. Opinions may differ over whether Manning is a traitor or a hero. Kosilek is a murderer.  Their crimes are irrelevant to determining the medical necessity of surgery or electrolysis for transsexuals. Are they also irrelevant to their status as poster children for transgender rights? In a number of news outlets, arguments in favor of the treatments Kosilek demands site the concern that he is “sad” without them.

Here’s a story I find sad:

On May 20, 1990, a fifteen year old named Timothy McCaul needed a ride home. But when he phoned his house to ask for one, no one was there to take the call. That afternoon his mother, Cheryl, came upon his stepfather, Robert Kosilek, dressed in her clothes. They argued, and Robert strangled Cheryl, using both rope and wire and nearly decapitating her. He put Cheryl’s body in her car and drove to a mall not far from their Massachusetts home, where he left the car in the parking lot, taking a cab for the return trip.

Some news accounts of reactions to Judge Wolf’s ruling reported that there were law-abiding transsexuals frustrated that a prisoner would receive surgery they themselves found prohibitively expensive. This reaction is understandable. What I missed in all these stories was the cry of outrage from the GLBT community, and from the mainstream press, that the perpetrator of a hate crime had become a cause célèbre in a movement for human rights and dignity.

Wife battering, not to mention wife murder, is widely recognized as a hate crime against women.  How would the trans community respond if someone convicted of a hate crime against a transgendered person won an unrelated legal battle and was then celebrated by supporters, with little or no mention made of his or her victim, and no censure of the crime?

Those who argue for human rights might consider broadening their definition of whose humanity, whose rights, and whose lives have value.




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