sillyolme, TERFs

Gender Nonconforming

(Post in question #1)

(Post in question #2)

For years, clinicians, therapists, researchers, and transfolk alike have remarked that “younger transitioners”, transkids, “homosexual transsexuals”, “early onset” (whatever label or demarcator in fashion) MTF transsexuals simply ‘pass’ better than “older transitioners”, autogynephilic transsexuals, “late onset” MTF transsexuals. For years, I wanted to conduct a study about this. Well, now we have clinical data to test this observation.

Who would have realized that male-attracted females are more gender-typical.

The Dutch have long contended that age of onset was the salient signifier, while those in North America contend that it is sexual orientation, specifically “homosexual” vs. “non-homosexual”, which readers of my blog, and those familiar with the literature, know gives a strong signal / correlation with autogynephilia in MTF transsexuals.

‘The Dutch’ have published empirical studies showing this is the case for a number of other variables, while showing sexual orientation is a lesser factor. Furthermore, the homogenization of North American trans researchers to represent Canadian researchers and then Anne Lawrence is interesting considering that a number of clinics that Brown and Blanchard and co. criticize are also from North America. Moser, a critic of Blanchardianism, is also from North America. The clinics in my area don’t follow Blanchardianism, neither have any of my therapists or psychiatrists.

In the graphs below, a higher score means more gender incongruent appearance (i.e. ‘readable’), while a lower score means more gender congruent (i.e. ‘passable’).

Modern society has the unfortunate phenomenon of gender stereotypes and gender norms that are enforced on trans and GNC individuals. This means that people who choose to present themselves as something incongruent with their gender, they are ostracized. This effect is magnified for trans people who choose to present in this manner (feminine trans men, masculine trans women).

passingtrans

Interesting results, but the lack of controls for choice in presentation is problematic. I can’t tell what the lines are supposed to represent, but I’m guessing that it’s either error bars or range, either of which add some important caveats. If it’s error bars (my initial interpretation), then it seems as if the correlation is inconclusive. If it’s range, then we can’t make claims about universal ‘passability’ because there’s such a large range of results. I’d be interested to see the results for GNC cis lesbian, GNC cis straight, GC cis lesbian and GC straight women as a reference point, of course using a subgroup of post-transition trans people to ensure we aren’t comparing mid-transition trans people to cis people.

Or yet another way of putting is that the least passible androphilic is the same as the average non-androphilic transwoman

Assuming that the bars represent the range, then she’d be wrong. The least passable androphilic trans women is far higher than the average for non-androphilic trans women.

There’s one other interesting graph in the study that Brown ‘forgot’ to include. The only about BIS (Body Image Scale) that measures how satisfied an individual feels about their body.

transBIS

We can clearly see that the difference between androphilic and non-androphilic trans women is negligible, visually and statistically:

With regard to overall body satisfaction (i.e., BIS scores), no significant differences between sexual orientation and onset age subgroups were found in both natal sexes.

If non-androphilic trans women and androphilic trans women are equally satisfied with their body image, then it begs the conclusion that non-androphilic trans women are (relatively) content with their gender atypicality and probably even choose this. Among cis lesbian women, there is a much higher rate of chosen gender atypicality, as in “butch lesbians”, and the phenomenon of butch lesbian trans women has been documented by Leslie Feinberg.

If we hypothesize that the salient signifier is sexual orientation and NOT age of onset, then we would expect that the relative score for early onset would be intermediate between androphilic and both non-androphilic and late-onset (which is predominately non-androphilic at 79%).

The homogenized ‘Dutch’ believe that age of onset is a more significant signifier for a number of other variables, not exclusively passability.

That is to say, variation in the data is explained completely by sexual orientation and that the variation of passability with respect to age of onset is from the correlation between sexual orientation and age of onset.

The conflating of saliency with a variable explaining all of the variation of passability is disingenuous. The fact that one variable has the most significant single variable explanation does not mean other variables do not matter, or that 100% is explained by one variable.

However, given clinical experiences with each, the meaning of age of onset is quite likely different. If 43% of non-androphilic transwomen really did have an early onset… why do they all wait so long to socially transition?

I’ve given this some thought and come to the conclusion that if the etiology of FEFs is the internalization of gender dysphoria, then of course non-straight trans women are going to socially transition later on average. Regardless, we know this isn’t universally the case: Grossman et. al 2006 found that a majority of trans youth are non-“homosexual”:

While youth used a variety of terms to describe their sexual orientation, a majority of the FTM youth (15) used the word “queer”; other terms chosen were heterosexual, bisexual, and lesbian, with four youth not wanting to label their sexual orientation. In comparison, of the MTF youth, 14 identified as heterosexual, 8 as gay, 4 as bisexual, 3 as trans, 1 as lesbian, and 1 did not to select a label.

Now this is self-evidently anecdotal, but the only adolescent trans girls (I hate the term ‘girls’ but it’s the only applicable term I can think of here) that I’ve met are lesbians. And there are some interesting result about passability in this study too, so I recommend giving it a read.

We are still left with an open question. Why do androphilic transwomen pass so much better than non-androphilic? Three possible hypotheses exist, 1) Having a truly earlier age of onset and social transition age, they experience less masculinization from endogenous androgens. 2) Self selection for passibility as they are motivated to fit into society better, being both physically and behaviorally extremely gender atypical (and not autogynephilically motivated). 3) Actually being, as a group, intrinsically more physically gender atypical. (That is to say, that the etiological cause for their behavioral gender atypicality causes physical atypicality as well.)

I think that this passage, particularly point #3, really exposes Kay Brown for her beliefs. She doesn’t believe trans women are women, otherwise she wouldn’t say “gender atypical”. Feminine trans women are gender typical, because femininity is associated with womanhood. Masculine trans women are gender atypical, because masculinity masculinity is associated with manhood. The only way you can conclude that “androphilic transwomen” are “gender atypical” is if you consider their gender to be equivalent to the sex they were assigned at birth which is almost universally male.

There have been hints from a number of studies that there is a correlation between sexual orientation and subtle gender atypical facial physiognomy. A new study just how strongly supports this observation. Using a deep-layer neural net AI trained to categorize faces as heterosexual or homosexual, can differentiate between two faces, one of a heterosexual and one of a homosexual, of the same natal sex at 91% accuracy for males and 83% for females.

Citing this incredibly controversial study without referencing any of the controversy is a c h o i c e. The study has some serious methodological and logical flaws throughout, and is entirely based on the psuedoscience of physiognomy. This Medium article articulates the points better than I could. By ignoring social signaling and how the choices of what to wear (glasses, makeup) and shaving, they base their conclusions on biology rather than the obvious conclusion: that stereotypes exist. And even more, this Calling Bullshit piece explains the scientific flaws with how the study interprets its results.

The study could alternatively support the conclusion that lesbian women (cis and trans) and straight women (cis and trans) can be grouped together based on physiognomy (not one that I believe).

Onto the second article.

There is no “standard” to which behavior should “conform”. There is only behavior, period

Her first mistake is confusing the prescriptive for the descriptive. People using gender nonconforming (very often researchers studying trans people) are not saying that people should or should not conform to anything, just that they do or do not. She also seems to have missed the point as to what standard the term refers to: societal standards. It is far more socially acceptable to be a masculine man and a feminine woman than the reverse (something that has been noted by Brown herself). Conform can alternatively be interpreted as conformation to the majority, or what is most typical of the population. Gender nonconforming is a useful term politically in the first sense because by emphasizing societal standards, we offer a way to highlight those who are harmed by them and advocate for their abolition.

However, if we look at, study in depth as scientists, a species we can say that there are behaviors that are far more commonly performed by them than other behaviors seen in other species. These we can label as “typical” for that species. If we see a behavior in a given individual of a species that is uncommon for that species, we may label it “atypical”; but we would never label it “non-conforming” since we can’t really say what standard that a given species should “conform” to.

Again, nothing about gender nonconforming terminology talks about what standard an individual should conform to (as that would be a prescriptive statement), it’s describing how conformity (a social phenomenon used everywhere in the social sciences, and sometimes in the natural sciences) functions in punishing feminine men and masculine women. This is actually something recognized later in the piece, where she uses the word conform to describe the same phenomenon, while failing to recognize the meaning of gender nonconforming:

Given the religious (or related social views of gender) prejudice, one can easily see how children who exhibit these gender atypical behaviors are placed under tremendous pressure to “conform” to gender behavior standards that tend to skew to the gender typical, or even an exageration of typical behavior.

The irony.

But even deeper, is my objection to the post-modernist idea that there are no intrinsic sexually dimorphic behaviors in humans, that there are only socially constructed roles.

The everpresent postmodern (-‘ist’ in this case) strawpersyn persists. Nothing about postmodern analysis precludes the existence of sexually dimorphic behavior and some queer theorist researchers have even incorporated that into their analysis.

This notion would state that since all differences in behavior observed between the human sexes are socially constructed and maintained, there must be a socially defined standard to which we can conform or not.

There is a socially defined standard to which we can conform or not, but that is not because of ‘differences in behavior observed between the human sexes are socially constructed and maintained’ (which is definitionally true if anti-constructionists would bother to read Ian Hacking’s The Social Construction of What?), it’s because we can observe this in society.

Thus, both of these ideas reduce any behavior that is seen in an individual that is uncommon in that person’s sex to an act of “gender non-conformity” either by accident or by will… but never by nature. I find both the notion that we stand outside of nature to be scientifically preposterous and philosophically offensive.

The assertion that gendered behavior is caused by social differences rather than nature isn’t saying that we stand “outside of nature”. Her logic is a non-sequitur. The nature-nurture dichotomy has been explicitly criticized by the so-called “post-modernists” she’s alluding to (she never names them by name, but the ‘postmodernists’ that study sex and gender usually fall into the category of queer theory). Dichotomies are constantly questioned by post-structuralists, including true-false, gay-straight, man-woman and so on. My favorite example is Judith Butler:

Lévi-Strauss’s structuralist anthropology, including the problemaic nature/culture distinction, has been appropriated by some feminist theorists to support and elucidate the sex/gender distinction: the position that there is a natural or biological female who is subsequently transformed into a socially subordinate “woman,”with the consequence that “sex” is to nature or “the raw” as gender is to culture or “the cooked.” If Lévi-Strauss’s framework were true, it would be possible to trace the transformation of sex into gender by locating that stable mechanism of cultures, the exchange rules of kinship, which effect that transformation in fairly regular ways. Within such a view, “sex” is before the law in the sense that it is culturally and political undetermined, providing the “raw material” of culture, as it were, that begins to signify only through and after its subjection to the rules of kinship.

This very concept of sex-as-matter, sex-as-instrument-of-cultural-signification, however, is a discursive formation that acts as a naturalized foundation for the nature/culture distinction and the strategies of domination  that that distinction supports. The binary relation between culture and nature promotes a relationship of hierarchy in which culture freely “imposes” meaning on nature, and, hence, renders it into an “Other” to be appropriated to its own limitless uses, safeguarding the ideality of the signifier and the structure of signification on the model of domination.

and so on. For post-structuralists, a nature-nurture, nature-culture dichotomy is as incoherent as the man-woman dichotomy. Fausto-Sterling (who is not a post-modernist, but I expect would be similarly criticized by Brown) similarly criticizes the distinction between biology and culture in Sexing the Body (another fantastic read that shows how sex isn’t a natural phenomenon).

In other pages of this blog, I’ve made reference to the single most sexually dimorphic behavior in humans: androphilia (sexual attraction to adult males). In female humans, it is extremely common to be attracted to men. Approximately 98% of women are attracted to men while only approximately 5-10% of men were attracted to men. One could object to this being a ‘natural’ phenomena and say that social expectations have defined this. But it would not fit the evidence that has been amassing that sexual orientation is neither “chosen” nor “taught”.

The entire division of behavior by sexual orientation is a social construct. We can note that sexuality is constructed differently in many societies: Latin America and ancient Rome didn’t conceptualize penetration and being penetrated as equivalent forms of sexuality that are both classified under the label ‘homosexual’ or ‘gay’. In fact, penetration was classified as

Further, why should humans be unique in the world? Most mammalian species are sexually dimorphic in their sexual attractions. (No, I’m not denying that same sex behavior occurs in non-human species… only saying it is not as common as other sex attraction.) But, this isn’t the end of the story.

I will quote Daphna Joel and Lutz Jäncke on this matter.

Joel [,] has recently suggested that such evidence may be found in animal studies reporting that the effects of sex on the brain differ even to the point of opposition under varied environmental conditions and that sex-by-environment interactions may differ for different brain features. For example, Reich et al. [] found that three weeks of mild stress reversed a sex difference in the density of CB1 receptors in rats’ dorsal hippocampus. Thus, what was typical in one sex category under some conditions (i.e. low density of CB1 receptors in non-stressed females and high density of CB1 receptors in non-stressed males) was typical in the other sex category under other conditions (i.e. following three weeks of stress). A different sex-by-environment interaction determined the density of CB1 receptors in the ventral hippocampus, as the same manipulation (three weeks of mild stress) eliminated a sex difference in the density of these receptors in the ventral hippocampus.

and

In contrast to humans, genetic, developmental and environmental conditions can be highly controlled in laboratory animals. Thus, the variability of factors that might interact with sex to affect the brain (such as age, stress, housing conditions, nutrition, history of drug exposure; for references and review, see [,]) is greatly reduced. Consequently, brains of laboratory animals in a specific experiment are expected to be less heterogeneous compared with brains of humans in a single study. Therefore in laboratory animals, differences between the sex categories may indeed reveal the effects of sex rather than the effects of some chance difference between the sample of females and the sample of males in the study.

and

Although in animals there is probably no equivalence to gender as a social system, there are still environmental variables that, in addition to physiological variables (e.g. weight), correlate with sex category (e.g. number of animals in the home cage []). Studies in laboratory animals that use sex category as a variable should take special care to either control for (physiological) and avoid (environmental) sex differences in these variables, or systematically manipulate them.

and

This research has also been strongly influenced by animal research, where it is much easier than it is in humans to study genetic differences in terms of sex/gender, including at the molecular, hormonal, and neurophysiological levels , . However, it is not a simple endeavor to transfer results and interpretations from animal research to explain human behavior and cognition, since there are still some substantial differences between humans and other animals. One major difference is that the brain of humans is different in many respects from the brain of most other animals, although the human brain comprises the same neurons as even simpler constructed animals. The human brain comprises the largest number of neurons compared with all other animals in absolute terms . In addition, it is characterized by extreme, and in the animal kingdom unprecedented, interconnectivity that provides the necessary basis for the computation and storage of information, which is necessary for human learning and culture . This huge neural network is also significantly plastic and can be shaped by individual experience and practice

Let’s move on.

Had the strong social construction hypothesis of all gendered behavior been true, there would have been no correlation. We can reject this hypothesis.

Specifically note that she said correlation. Without causation, we cannot reject the social construction hypotheses because we could have not controlled for enough socioenvironmental variables.

This likely also extends past adolescence to explain the rather dramatic differences in passability between androphilic transwomen and gynephilic transwomen

Interesting how she overstates the ‘passability’ difference.

Being gender atypical in brain organization, it would naturally lead to later androphilia, gender atypical motor skills (feminine walk and hand gestures), and gender atypical vocal production (feminine or “gay lisp”).

Unfortunately, brain organization theory doesn’t have enough evidence to support it, especially given the predominance of the theory in contemporary neuroscience research. Rebecca Jordan-Young’s Brain Storm is a great read on this topic.

One would, at first glance, believe that those who hold the strong social construction hypothesis as true would then have no qualms about accepting gender atypical children and adults without reservation as breaking stereotypes.

Many do. For example, Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, Monique Wittig, Gloria Steinem are all examples of radical feminists who are in favor of trans people’s existence.

But, as we can easily discern, they often do not, as demonstrated by the minority movement within the gay and lesbian (mostly lesbian) communities of being “gender critical”

Overwhelmingly, adherents to gender critical ideology are women and most theorists are (or at the very least profess to be) radical feminists (the followers are somewhat different).

They philosophically approve of people being gender atypical… but only to a very specified point, accepting the gender normative roles that were established during the early Gay Liberation Movement.

I spend quite a bit of time reading and contesting gender critical ideology, so I like to think that I’m “educated” on it. I can definitely say that radical feminists and gender critical feminists believe themselves to be against gender roles. Their issue with trans people is that they:

  1. Believe that gender nonconforming people are erased by ‘trans ideology’. This is because they so often see female-attracted trans men transitioning (or very often themselves) who were previously butch lesbians, and male-attracted trans women that used to be feminine gay men. From their point of view, transitioning and claiming oneself to be a man/woman erases GNC individuals and turns them into gender-conforming individuals. A butch lesbian is GNC, a masculine man is not. A feminine gay man is GNC, a feminine woman is not.
  2. Believe gender roles are reified by ‘trans ideology’. While I do have gigantic issues with certain trends within some trans subcultures and communities, they by and large misrepresent the trans community to conclude that trans people reinforce gender roles. From their POV, telling feminine men that they must be women means that femininity in men is unacceptable and treated with transition. On the /r/GenderCritical sidebar (right side), there is a diagram that helps elucidate their actual beliefs.

sz2yhf3

By erasing the lived experiences of trans people and ignoring those important things called gender dysphoria and freedom, they construct their narrative that ‘trans ideology’ reifies gender roles. Now I do agree that ‘gender critical’ feminists tend to uphold and reinforce gender roles, it’s for quite different reasons than their lack of support for transition (which has more to do with a fundamental reification of the beauty of ‘original bodies’ and narratives about mutilation). When discussing and analyzing gay men and trans people, they tend to uphold the exact stereotypes they profess to oppose.

The moment that an individual steps past that point, there will be those who will denounce them as hewing to the very stereotypes that they break, but in the opposite gendered sense, denying that underlying sexually dimorphic behavior as valid.

They are (usually, but it varies based on the topic: they are often very opposed to drag queens) completely fine with feminine men, in fact that’s exactly what they wish trans women to live as. The unnecessary mutilation of their bodies is what they oppose (but as we all know, transition is neither unnecessary or mutilation).

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sillyolme

Whitewashing Colonialism: Fa’afafine in Samoa

(Post in question)

For those who do not know, fa’afafine are a culturally specific gender identity/role from Samoa. Fa’afafine most closely translates to “like a woman” or “in the manner of a woman”. The male counterpart for fa’afafine is fa’afatama. Although fa’afafine identity is often conceptualized as a “third gender”, this is fairly erasive and tends to frame non-Western identities and genders in the context of Western terminology and conceptualizations of gender and sexuality. Even more, fa’afafine organizations have explicitly spoken out against framing fa’afafine and fa’afatama as transgender:

The terms Fa’afafine & Fa’afatama are culturally unique and specific to Samoa’s 3rd gender. It is a social and communal gender fluid based status given to effeminate males and butch females within the Samoan cultural context. We go on record that we, Fa’afafines and Fa’afatamas, are NOT all transgender. Some of us are, but they are exceptions to the rule.

Boxing our issues together with Transgender issues under the LGBTIQ framework ignores our cultural connection or “fa’asinomaga” which is the essence and at the heart of every Samoan. The Samoa Faafafine Association is challenging this perception that Fa’afafines and Fa’afatamas are Transgender for the sake of convenience in the LGBTIQ framework

As someone living in relative privilege in Western society, I have to tiptoe carefully around issues of global majority gender identity for fear of inscribing my conceptualizations of gender and sexuality onto other cultures with a rich history and culture.

It seems to me that research focused on the fa’afafine of Samoa has become all the rage of late, at least for those interested in feminine androphilic males / “homosexual MTF transgender” folk.

Here’s the first issue. Fa’afafine are not some uniform category you can transcribe into Western categories. There is the issue of how European colonization of Samoa has transformed and twisted traditional Samoan culture, but further attempts to apply Western terminology are harmful and reproduce colonialism. Many fa’afafine identify as gay men, others as trans women, and more as a culturally specific identity.

The interest has at its heart, the hope that it represents a culture that is closer to what we might have had before large-scale civilizations began, one closer to what humans may have evolved within.

The narrative that casts indigenous cultures as ‘primordial’ is extremely problematic, and again reproduces colonialism. To quote Joanna Schmidt’s paper on fa’afafine gender identity,

However, suggesting that non-Western cultures are more accepting of non-normative genders and sexualities frequently involves casting these cultures as ‘primordial’, ‘implying that ancient history lives on in the contemporary lives of non-Western peoples, who are then called upon to exemplify “our [Western] sacred past”’ (Towle & Morgan 2002, 482). Alternatively, the use of psychological and sexological terminologies to ‘define’ fa’afāfine suggests that these Western scientific discourses contain the ‘truth’ of these non-normative identities (Schmidt 2010). Both of these approaches are fundamentally flawed because they position Western understandings of gender and sexuality as more ‘evolved’ than their non-Western counterparts, and/or elide the cultural specificities of the identities being discussed, assuming an equivalence between all instances of apparent transgenderism or ostensible same-sex desire.

Colonization has nearly irrevocably changed Samoan society and any attempt to compare modern Samoan society to ‘an environment in which humans evolved in’ implicitly requires the denial of colonization and the association of the Samoan people as being ‘primitive’.

Thus, if we were to predict the ratio of androphilic vs. non-androphilic transwomen based upon the relationship between the Hofstede Individualism Index and the percentage of non-androphilic transwomen found by Lawrence, we would expect almost no non-androphilic transwomen.  And indeed, one never sees them mentioned in connection with Samoa.

The conflation of trans women (not ‘transwomen’ Brown, there’s a space) with fa’afafine is representative of a fundamental misunderstanding of fa’afafine identity based on a misinterpretation of the literature. As stated above, fa’afafine identity is not something that can be easily translated into Western (specifically Anglospheric/English) terminology without reducing and erasing specific cultural attachments to these identities. Fa’afafine identity comes with a large variety of gender presentations/expressions and blurs the lines between ‘gay’ and ‘trans’ (as masculine gay men and feminine trans women can and do identify as fa’afafine):

However, the extent and manner of their gender presentation varies, and fa’afafine have male gender roles as well3. Though traditionally defined as women by society, they are a heterogeneous group in which some pass for women, others only adopt elements of female presentation, and still others are more masculine4. Some may dress as a woman full-time, part time, or only adopt certain aspects of female appearance like make-up or nail polish. Some fa’fafine identify themselves more as men. It should also be noted that fa’afafine may not always present their gender in the same manner day-to-day. Many identify as women, but most would define themselves as biologically and socially distinct from women

If one is using fa’afafine as a case study to analyze trans identity outside of North American/European countries, it is necessary to exclude those who would not be classified as trans.

Furthermore, there are some issues with the Hofstede Individualism Index that is being used to correlate ‘collectivism’/’individualism’ (which are amorphous terms that are defined as somehow contrasting, yet are not inherently mutually exclusive). Are individualism and collectivism event cogent concepts to apply to cross-cultural comparisons? Voronov and Singer argue they are not.

Furthermore, the way that the HII actually ends up functioning doesn’t seem to be the way that Brown is using it;

Based on our analysis, we suggest that Hofstede’s Individualism–Collectivism index be relabelled as Self-orientation vs Work-orientation and GLOBE’s In-group collectivism as Family Collectivism.

Analyses of the HII show that is has relatively small reliability, and other individualism vs collectivism metrics show more correlations with important metrics. There are numerous other overall problems with Hofstede’s analysis, some of which are still debated, but it’s safe to say that Hofstede’s Individualism-Collectivism is not a useful or applicable scale in the way it is being applied here.

In Samoa, there is almost no stigma attached to being a feminine male.  Feminine male children are not bullied.  Fa’afafine adults are not discriminated against in employment.  There is little to no stigma attached to masculine men finding Fa’afafine sexually attractive.

Naive. Fa’afafine face many issues in regards to their femininity, specifically because of the Western colonization she notes later on.

Violence is not uncommon

The violence fa’afafine experience is tied to male privilege. Samoa is a male-dominated culture in which women are socially disadvantaged7. Fa’afafine have increasingly experienced public discrimination. Inaccurately referred to as homophobia, this de novo misogyny is part of a pattern of oppression and marginalization of women and non-man genders that is pervasive in the culture. It is the marginalization of women, but of third-gender women. Stemming from this marginalization of women, violence is a psychological and physical reality for fa’afafine. Violence serves to isolate the fa’afafine, disrupt their access to and utilization of health services, and may be responsible for certain health outcomes.

And fa’afafine activists note the struggles of being fa’afafine:

However, these are the same relationships which prove challenging at times. Although we lead the choirs, organise the decorations for the church and so on, it is the same church that tells us that the way we live our lives is wrong. This then gives way to those who may look at us with contempt and suspicion justification maltreat fa’afafine.

Several fa’afafine have been victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence based on their chosen expression. I have certainly had my own personal experiences; however, I have been able to rise above them.

As President of the SFA I am able to work with a lot of young fa’afafine and to train them to be resilient and also advocates for other fa’afafine. The SFA provides a space of familiarity, where fa’fafine can come together to share and learn, network, create friendships and family bonds. It is a space where we can collectively navigate the issues that we all face, and recently it has been a space where we can work with communities and churches so that they understand who we are.

Therefore, Brown’s conclusion that:

But because there is little to no stigma attached, androphilic males are free to express as much or as little femininity as they find in themselves with little incentive to attempt to suppress it as occurs in many other cultures.

is clearly false.

Fa’afafine are universally androphilic and have sex with masculine men.  They don’t have sex with each other because they are attracted to masculinity which is not especially abundant in fa’afafine.

Predominantly androphilic, I’d tentatively agree with. But “universally” is a mischaracterization of an understudied field of research, especially in regards to the trans women population within the fa’afafine population and perhaps outside of it. Fa’afafine have typically been studied as an entire group, rather than trans women specifically, so applying research on fa’afafine to “Samoan trans women” is disingenuous and makes too many claims from the limited body of research present.

But those episodes with masculine men are typically “one night stands”.  I can’t believe that they wouldn’t choose to have long-term romance in a committed relationship.  Although not well publicized, and not nearly as common as we might like, such long term relationships do exist between masculine men and androphilic transwomen in Western cultures.  So I must conclude that it is the Samoan culture, non-fa’afafine family members and others, that in effect prohibits or discourages such relationships.  I would like to be proven wrong on this… I really would.

There is very little literature on the entire topic of fa’afafine sexuality or fa’afafine in general, so it’s pretty early to be making conclusions on fa’afafine and their sexualities.

An educated reader will perhaps recognize my quip of a title from Margaret Mead’s 1928 book.  They may also know of how she was attacked by Derek Freeman.  Maybe I’m just biased by my friendship with Alice Dreger, since I don’t believe a word Freeman says… but the episode does offer a cautionary tale regarding the potential changes that Christian missionaries have already brought to Samoa

The entire reason that Samoans are so hesitant to engage with Westerners now, especially sexuality is because Mead went there, collected some data and then misrepresented it to create her thesis that painted Samoans in a false light.

From Feu’u 2014:

Mead’s study has been challenged by anthropologist Derek Freeman in his book, Margaret Mead and Samoa: the Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth Refuted (1983); and Lowell D. Holmes in his PhD, The Restudy of Manu’an Culture: A Problem in Methodology (1957) (see also Margaret Mead and Samoa – part 1 to 6, 1988 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pw1NZjNkAYI). Several Samoans also strongly criticized Mead’s findings (see Margaret Mead and Samoa – part 5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8puR-AaSrg) and entreated Freeman to correct her mistaken depiction of the Samoan culture (Freeman, 1983: xv). Talitiga Dr. Venasio Sele, for example, argued that Samoa and American Samoa have been misunderstood by anthropologists ever since Mead wrote about Samoan girls supposed promiscuity (Claire, 2002: p. 2)

Mead’s research has been described as a hoax, similar to the Manti Te’o hoax (see http://www.wnd.com/2013/01/manti-teo-meet-margaret-mead/). One of Mead’s participants, Fa’apua’a Fa’amu, confirmed and confessed she was lying to Mead about her stories, saying “Samoan girls are terrific liars when it comes to joking but Margaret accepted our trumped-up stories as though they were true” (cited in Kaltenborn, 2003: p. 30; see also Margaret Mead and Samoa – part 5 of 6 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8puR-AaSrg).

Schmidt (2005) encountered difficulties in studying fa’afafine in Samoa and Aotearoa/New Zealand, specifically because she is Palagi. She experienced harsh criticism from older, university educated individuals in Samoa who had considerably more influence and insider knowledge than she had with many of the fa’afafine she spoke to (Schmidt, 2005: p. 71). Some Samoans feared that Schmidt’s research would describe Samoa as a ‘gay paradise’ (ibid). She explains that the image of a ‘gay paradise’ was a consequence of Mead’s research (ibid). It left Samoans extremely wary of non-Samoan researchers, especially those who evidence any interest in sexuality (ibid). She reports that almost all Samoans seem to know
Mead’s name and many are aware of the belief of promiscuity among Samoan youth that Mead propagated (ibid). This suggests that some Samoans do not wish for history to repeat itself as a result of Mead’s research and may explain why there is such reluctance to participate in research with non-Samoan people.

Independent Study Project by non-Samoan Teake (2010) also experienced problems researching fa’afafine. Participants in Teake’s (2010: p. 5) research were concerned that yet another misinformed representation would be produced with the potential to negatively impact fa’afafine’s image internationally. One participant refused to participate in Teake’s research because he was concerned that he had no control over how the information would be used (ibid). Another participant remained cautious of any misinformed or distorted study that might centre disproportionately
on discussions of sexuality or sexual practices. One other participant mentioned that he did not like Margaret Mead and aimed to clearly ascertain the nature and ultimate purpose of Teake’s research, for example, “What is this for exactly?”….Psychology? Sociology?….Sexiology?” (ibid).

Clearly previous research on Samoa by non-Samoans or non-fa’afafine has not been wholeheartedly endorsed. Mead’s fieldwork has undermined the trust attributed to ethnographers whose task is to represent others to academic and nonacademic audiences (Goldsmith, 2000: p. 48). I would argue that Mead’s research has had a negative lasting impact on Samoan people in general. It is possible that the wary participants exemplify what Rohatynbskyj and Jaarsma (2000: p. 10) describe as feeling “outraged at being talked about, spoken for and represented” by non fa’afafine or nonSamoan researchers. I suspect that the unwillingness of Teake’s and Schmidt’s participants’ derives from suspicion about sharing information with someone who is non-fa’afafine and/or non-Samoan and concerns about how information will be used by the researcher. Another possible explanation for reluctance to participate could be a result of what Smith (1995) calls ‘conjuring up bad memories’ of previous western research. Schmidt and Teake did not have the advantage as I had as an insider when interviewing fa’afafine (see Chapter 3).

To conclude that portion, Mead is a hack research who was unaware of Samoan cultural intricacies, and her non-Samoan status made it nearly impossible for her to relate with Samoans. Her research left Samoa with a particular picture on the global scheme that Samoan refute, and she’s viewed negatively by most Samoans.

From a wonderful study by Hsu, we know that such men tend to be autogynephilic as well.  Although Samoan autogynephilic men are not likely to transition to presenting as women, that does not mean that they won’t seek out their prefered external sexual partners, women and feminine males, to wit fa’afafine.

Interesting that Brown supposes that ‘autogynephilia’ is universally cross-culturally prevalent given her previous comments about establishing autogynephilia in populations.

I have no contest with the rest of her analysis on Petterson’s work. I’ve read the study, found the research interesting and well-needed, but don’t exactly recall or have any comments on the conclusions of the author. I agree on the confounding aspect of the variety of fa’afafine gender presentation.

sillyolme

Biphobia: Invalidating People’s Identities Is Never OK

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J. Michael Bailey. Oh, he’s such a joy.

Bisexuals have lambasted him for showing that true bisexuality in men is actually quite rare.

Bisexuals have “lambasted” him for invalidating their identities. He claims to have objective knowledge of intersubjective experiences of attraction, as if phallic arousal represents all attraction. His research has a number of methodological flaws which I won’t waste my time getting into here, but the point is that he invalidates bisexual people’s identities on the basis of “raw objective science” as if science isn’t a domain of power by which minorities populations are subjugated, their experiences poked, prodded and invalidated. Science is not a neutral zone where we can find “rational truth”, it’s something created by ideology and power.

Gay people have maligned him for his philosophical stance that if it is “OK” for parents to use genetic screening or manipulation to effect a non-critical trait such as eye or hair color, then it is equality “OK” to select for the equally non-critical trait of sexual orientation  (meaning that Bailey sees gay or straight as equally valuable and acceptable outcomes in children), falsely accusing Bailey of supporting anti-gay genocide (ummmm… no… he equally supported chosing FOR being gay… as they were morally the same).

Here is where Brown misrepresents the opposition to Bailey’s position. Gay people oppose his position specifically because it enables a heterosexist homophobic society to erase gay people by eugenics. It allows society to prevent gay people from being born in the first place, to fuck with genetics, to screw up our sexualities. By equivocating the support of the choice to prevent gay sexuality from developing to the support of the choice to prevent straight sexuality from developing, Brown assumes that gay and straight are mutable and interchangeable categories with identical perspectives and histories. But we’ve seen that the socially produced power dynamics between straight and non-straight people create a privileging of heterosexual opinions that would intrinsically erase gay people. It is not possible to support “genetic screening” for sexuality without supporting the effect: religious homophobes genetically modifying children’s sexualities to prevent q\er children from being born. There is virtually nobody that would modify a fetus’ sexuality to be non-heterosexual. By allowing the non-heterosexual population to be systemically eliminated, Bailey’s position would reproduce societal cisheterosexism, and as such his position is indistinguishable from generic anti-gay positions.

sillyolme

On Closets

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Kay Brown embodies the elitist sense of all-knowing. She claims to know and understand lesbian trans women’s experiences, forcing her totalizing narrative upon their lived experiences to justify her dogmatic ideology. In this piece, she tries to force lesbian trans women to “come out of the closet” as “autogynephiles”.

So, knowing that all of the transwomen you know are also… go ahead… be brave… say the word out loud… autogynephilic!  Isn’t it time you and your friends talked about it?  Honestly talked about it.   (… and being honest about it also means not trying to lie to yourself or others… such as saying that non-transwomen also experience autogynephilia… they don’t).  Isn’t it time to face this secret, to own it, to use that self-knowledge to guide you toward a happier future?

The word “autogynephile” does not fit everyone. Kay, will come out and call yourself a “homosexual transsexual” instead of the clever evasion of the terminology via the shift to “transkid”? We didn’t think so. Fundamentally, Brown wants to preserve the stigmatizing and poisoned terminology that came from Blanchard’s bad tree. Even if his theories were correct, his terminology has been forever corrupted in the trans and public memory. TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or as I like to refer to them: trans-exclusionary reactionary fascists) regularly use “autogynephilia” and Blanchardianism to invalidate lesbian trans women or an outright incorrect application of his schema to invalidate all trans women as fetishists. This can be seen on “Gender Critical” spaces like the subreddit /r/GenderCritical, MumsNet, blogs like Gender Trender, Autogynephilia Truth and Sex Not Gender. Blanchardianist rhetoric, terminology and ideology is used as a rhetorical weapon to bludgeon lesbian trans women into submission, back into the closeted spaces they’ve existed for their whole lives. “Coming out” as autogynephilic is not going to help trans women, it’s going to hurt them.

Furthermore, trans women have been known to be forced back into the closet by autogynephilic ideology: a very common narrative is happening upon Anne Lawrence’s website in the early days of the trans internet only to have “autogynephilia” and Blanchard’s typology shoved in their faces. Inevitably, the narratives forced upon young lesbian trans women’s experiences causes self-hatred, regret, confusion and often re-closeting and the delay of transition. Autogynephilia theory might even be a very minor factor in why lesbian trans women seem to transition later than straight trans women.

Because, when given a chance, in survey after survey, for decades, your friends and those like them quietly acknowledged that they were sexually aroused by cross-dressing, at least they did as teens… and a bit over half admit that they still do many years later.  Imagine that.  YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

The moving target of autogynephilia. Here autogynephilia is conceptualized as the sexual arousal to cross-dressing, but it the definition shifts by ideological convenience. Sometimes, only “real” autogynephilia is Blanchard’s original scale (without any specifications as to what values constitute autogynephilia and what don’t), the more literal etymological definition of “sexual arousal to the thought of being a woman”, conceptualizations as a fetish, a sexual orientation, a paraphilia, an erotic target location error or all four at the same time, sometimes as a model. The definition and conceptualization changes to fit the twists in logic that are required to create a psuedo-coherent theory.

So, they hid it, perhaps even lied about it to their therapist.  They hid it from even themselves.  Oh… if only those memories of being a teenager and finding those lovely panties, or a bra… slipping them on… feeling those delicious… oopsie… we can’t talk about that.

Lesbian trans women often don’t talk about it because it’s so often a part of their past, a past that they want to forget. When their feelings and sexual arousal is utilized as a weapon to deny transition, to invalidate identity and to malign, it quickly becomes something that must be hidden out of need.

But, the closet. Where we all hide our “true selves”. Or do we? The rigid dichotomy we construct to sever our closeted selves and “out” selves may not hold up to the scrutiny of analysis. Is there a fundamentally different person inside and outside the closet? For some, maybe. Some alter their behaviors and psyche to mold to societal expectations of what it means to be a “good” cisgender heterosexual man/woman, but this experience isn’t universal. Coming out hasn’t fundamentally changed me as a person. With each person I came out to, I didn’t experience some radical shift in personality, in experience, in existence, in personhood. Even more, do we have an obligation to “come out”? Must my experience be broadcasted for all to hear? A Eurocentric model of gender and sexuality insists that it must be publicized for all to see, that we must come out. But this experience is not available to everyone: safety concerns are rampant for many living in global majority countries. One of the most moving articles by a trans person I’ve read is Jennifer Coates I Am A Transwoman. I Am In The Closet. I Am Not Coming Out. Every time I read it, tears run down my face. Discussions of closets are not easy because the closet is formed by the qu\\rphobic violence of society, yet every qu\\r person has a close relationship with it.

 

sillyolme

Teena, Brandon: Names – Borderlands

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Now let me emphasize that I don’t disagree with most of what Brown wrote in this essay, in fact I think it’s a useful and interesting essay from which I learned a few historical events. I just wanted to add on to her point on Brandon Teena / Teena Brandon

Addendum 6/24/18:  Interestingly we now have a mea culpa from the lesbian who broke the Brandon Teena story in the Village Voice and set the tone of misgendering him and stealing our history,

I completely agree that misgendering Teena is unwarranted and transphobic as it comes (taking the assumption that Teena identified as a man), but there was an interesting point brought up by Jacob Hale, a trans man. His philosophical work emphasizes that there is no clear-cut distinction between ftms and butches as he conceptualizes the terms.

His paper can be found here. Some points of note are that there is little evidence Teena used the exact name Brandon Teena to refer to themself (using gender neutral ambiguous pronouns specifically because their identity is ambiguous and it’s disrespectful to assume someone’s identity). The “border wars” over whether Teena is a butch lesbian or a trans man aren’t going to be resolved today, decades after the death occurred, but Hale’s position can be interpreted as a reconciliation of the two camps in a way. Rather than create distinct and mutually exclusive categories of butches and ftms, he conceptualizes a border zone where one can occupy both categories simultaneously. (The literature on border zones is fascinating; Anzaldúa is a great read). The attempt to force an individual into one category or another intrinsically breaks down the border zone in an attempt to create a nonpermeable and clearcut barrier between the two categories that erases lived experiences.

(I particularly like this theory and paradigm of the distinction between trans people and SGL people because I so personally resonate with it. )

It can be argued that the trans community’s attempt to “claim” Teena as a transgender man erases his personal subjective identity. By perpetuating this, we make it more difficult for people struggling with their identities, those who live inside both categories and struggle to differentiate between trans and gay (which is in and of itself a Westernized dichotomy).