Men and Women: healing the wound of the planet

What is wrong with the relationship between Men and Women? Sixteen questions on how it could be put right, from Jamie Catto:

15) Where do non-binary, trans and LGBTQIA people intersect with these questions?

Mentioned as an afterthought, on the outside looking in, at the sharp point showing the conflict clearly. As the wise others, who can’t play the game, so have a clear view of its rules, or as people broken by normality and desperate to fit in, even if it means negating ourselves. Hoping to save the World, or hoping to survive. Let’s start with some of the easier questions.

14) Are there different laws in your country depending on your gender?

I have a detailed knowledge of the Equality Act rules on women’s services, where trans women can go, and the rules on when we might be excluded. Rape is defined as the penetration of a vagina by a penis without consent, and in Scotland these specifically include trans people’s surgically constructed organs. Only heterosexual sex counts as “adultery” or “consummation” in marriage law. I could get more technical if you like.

3) What checks and precautions do you take to feel/be safe when you go out in the evening?

If I have more than one drink I want to sleep in the same building. I just don’t go out, especially since March 2020. When I go out I don’t take precautions particularly and sometimes I have only just avoided trouble.

4) What would it take for you to feel safe without taking those precautions?

A bit more money, so that they did not seem like precautions- taxis everywhere, go out when I feel like it. Walking through a park alone at night? I just don’t.

13) Do you think men and women have different brains?

I know they do. Women have more white matter than men. The Bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, central section (BSTc) is twice the size in men that it is in women, slightly larger in gay men, and the same size in trans women as in cis women, but no use as a diagnostic tool because it can only be measured by dissection. I looked into this stuff, trying to work out whether I was truly transsexual, before I realised the only question is, would I be happier transitioned.

Men and women have similar psychology. There is no trait, vice, virtue, emotion, or aptitude, which is in one sex and not the other, or is not equally valuable in both, but gendered expectations exaggerate or squish traits, which harms everyone. People vary within sex far more than across it. So,

1) What are the most uncomfortable stereotypes you feel are associated with your gender?

Stereotypes affect us because of the demands or expectations of other people. I face the “tolerant”, who judge whether I am trans enough- “Have you had the operation?” I also face the hostile, for whom I can never be right- performing femininity I am a reactionary, enforcing a stereotype, but if I play with the stereotypes I am a man, not even a “transwoman”. Some accept me as I am. So stereotypes are uncomfortable which are furthest from who I am, like with everybody, and so will be different for everybody. But stereotypes which I fit are also uncomfortable, because they can be used against me.

The one which has harmed me most is conventional heterosexuality. I don’t identify as lesbian because I have my father’s sexuality: a pansy, or soft male, attracted to viragos, or strong women. I was so terrified of not being seen as a Real Man that I did not know that, and before transition I could not form relationships as I wanted a partner to complete my Normality disguise rather than to relate to. My mother died and my father found a new partner who was right for him, but I see men with the wrong woman who wants them to “be more manly”, and they try, making themselves miserable.

Stereotypes are harmful because they don’t take into account human variation and persist because seeing a human as they really are is hard, and the stereotypes often kind-of fit.

7) Do you want more touch that doesn’t necessarily have to lead to sex?

I want cuddles. To have sex would mean breaking down so many trauma-induced barriers that it may not be possible.

6) Do you have anything you need to be forgiven for?

Yes.

8 ) What would it take to be seen as you are without other genders’ preconceptions and definitions of what your gender is and should be?

When someone has expectations of me, it sets up a fear reaction in me: I must fit in or I will not be safe. So I have to accept myself as I am, know myself, and heal away all the inhibitions which prevent me from seeing who I am, which are reinforced by disgust and horror at who I am, and an inability to perceive who I am, or see that as in any way good. This has been a lot of work. One phrase I have for it is “step into my power”, which gets in the way for me, as my concept of power does not fit who I am. It has been a lot of work, and I am getting there. I am not weak, sick, perverted, disgusting, ridiculous and deluded, as I thought, but loving, creative, beautiful, soft, gentle, peaceful. For me a better word than “power” is “grace”.

What questions did I leave out?

2) What would it take for Men and Women, and the nuanced genders in between, to step into their full potential together?
5) How can Men heal the abusive and violent sins of their ancestors?
9) What do the different forms of violence and abuse, on both sides of the gender divide, look like?
10) What positive progress do you notice in these areas? What gives you hope?
11) How do you perpetuate the sense of battle and divide between the sexes?

The “nuanced genders in between” are mentioned in the second question, and still an afterthought, because all these questions assume a conventional heterosexuality, with a man “wearing the trousers” in a relationship with a woman, and I can’t begin to answer them. I am not a man in that sense, and while I have suffered harassment as a woman- a man coming on to me on a bus, abused as a “whore” or “slut” when I did not conform to a man’s expectations that I would do what he demanded- it has been less, and as an adult. And I yearn to surrender myself, but to a woman, not a man. My scars are different.

16) What questions are missing from this list?

The questions address various aspects of

How are you hurt?
How have you hurt others?
How can we make things better?

So, ask those general questions directly.

And finally,
12) What would you like to do that you can’t do now if you changed gender?

I did! It liberated me to be myself!

Come, join me.

Transnormativity

How can a man live as a woman, or a woman live as a man? When gender stereotypes are enforced like moral laws, with disgust, contempt, derision, anger, resentment and violence fencing round how a man or woman can be, how can we express our true selves? Some strong or fortunate individuals might live like that- Elagabalus the Roman Emperor proclaiming herself Empress, or WC Blackwell the police sergeant of Calcutta, rounding up suspects while wearing women’s clothes- but most of us might pretend to be straight. Humans fit in to society, like bees or termites fulfilling a role. In the shadows, discreetly, some who cannot do otherwise express ourselves.

The psy professions- psychiatry, psychology, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy- find us, and because we do not conform we are called mentally ill. Scientists classify the extent and causes of our deviance,  to construct an understanding so we might be predicted and controlled, and devise treatments to return us to normality. In the 19th century, women were seen as mentally ill if either too feminine or not feminine enough.

Eugenics, the idea that the white race was superior and could be improved through selective breeding or degenerate if inferior people produced children, influenced the ideas of how humans should be. The male “invert” Lili Elbe could become an exemplar of vigorous European womanhood through genital operations, and the implantation of uterus and ovaries which killed her.

Gender variance was legitimised, made almost normal, by bodily transformation. We cannot know whether people would desire genital operations but for that fugitive hope of acceptance. Some doctors worked with trans people’s desire for operations, some were revolted by the idea of mutilating healthy bodies. Psy professionals found trans women could not be assimilated to an ideal of normal masculinity.

Transnormativity evolved: a concept of a “real transsexual” who might be suffered to exist on the edge of society, tolerated though not valued. This was constructed by psy and medical professionals. From press reports and other trans people, we learned the narratives the professionals required, and said what was expected of us. In order to keep control, the medical Standards of Care required knowledge “independent of the patient’s verbal claim” that the characteristics of defined acceptable transsexuality applied. From 1981, the Standards of Care required the psychiatrist diagnosing to be a specialist in gender therapy.

At the same time, intersex people had operations as babies to normalise genitalia and provide a role, either boy or girl. “It’s easier to make a hole than a pole” joked my mother’s midwifery tutor. You can’t “dress it in a kilt and call it Frances”. Gay men suffered aversion therapy and hormone treatment to suppress “homosexual” desire or attempt to create heterosexual desire.

Heterosexual people, conforming to gender stereotypes, were idealised and others had to conform to that as much as possible. Trans people sought the treatment, the psychiatric assessment, years of real life test, and surgery, to avoid the social violence enforcing conformity. It was important to pass as the other sex.

Affirmative treatment, accepting our desires, will not set us free while the wider society and trans groups preserve transnormative ideas. We remain presented with limited choices- treatment and acceptance is for the “real transsexual” who wants surgery. If there is a wider acceptance of gender variance, rather than specific treatment paths, people will find better what is right for them. Gender variance is beautiful. Complexity is beautiful. Unfortunately conformists find others’ non-conformity threatening, and seek to prevent it.

I got much of this from the paper Transnormativity in the psy disciplines, at least one of whose authors is trans. Of course then I spun it and riffed off it following my own concerns.

Keira Bell

Keira Bell joined the legal action against the gender clinic. She had puberty blockers and testosterone, and when she was twenty she had chest masculinisation surgery, but has now detransitioned. She claims that aged 16 she was not mature enough to consent to hormone treatment, in a case which could radically reduce the treatment trans children can have. She has to shave her face most days, and some trans women her age, 23, shave their faces as well.

1 December: the High Court has decided that children can’t consent to puberty blockers. The decision is explained here.

My heart goes out to her. She “did not want to be a girl”, she says. And now she wants to be a woman. She was a tomboy, who hated wearing dresses, had few friends and was bullied at school. She says the idea that she was trans came from her mother, when she was 14, because she had noticed how tomboyish Keira remained. She asked if she was a lesbian, then if she wanted to be a boy. The stereotypes are so harmful: as if wearing trousers or climbing trees makes a girl a boy. The idea disgusted Keira, she says, but when she was referred to a therapist because she was truanting she told him of her thoughts that she wanted to be a boy. “I felt I was not being listened to at school and blamed it on being a girl”. By the time she was referred to the Tavistock Gender Identity Development Service, she was fully committed, thinking transition would solve all her problems. On puberty blockers after three consultations, she suffered menopausal symptoms.

Then aged 20 she wanted the chest surgery because she had been binding her breasts for years, which is painful, and did not like their appearance. Two years later she decided to stop having the T injections. She is growing her hair, and wearing women’s clothes, and wants to have her gender recognition certificate “annulled”, though it might be easier to get a second one confirming her reversion. Her father bought her prettily wrapped and feminine bath gels as a present: he immediately enforced the most feminine stereotypes.

“It was embarrassing changing my mind,” she says. Yet she had been put on the long path of transition, imagining that everything would be OK once she had completed it (me, too). We believe it will be better after the operation. We don’t assess clearly what the operation will change. She does not come across as determined and knowing what she wants: the idea that she was trans came from someone else, then she followed the path she was put on, until she just stopped taking T.

“I don’t want any more kids to suffer like me,” she says. Rather, if she succeeds children who would benefit from gender reassignment treatment will suffer when it is delayed or denied. Transition fits some of us.

Here is the crowdfunding page for the legal case. Keira implies she had gender dysphoria, dissatisfaction with gender; it’s just that transition isn’t the clear solution. Another claimant, Mrs A, says her daughter is “going through a time of gender confusion”. The problem is gender, the stereotypes, restrictions and expectations on all people. The Daily Mail article stereotypes Keira. “It is only her tiny hands and delicate arms which tell you that she was born a girl.” I wonder what they would think of mine. My sense of the inadequacy of my body as a man’s was part of my desire to transition. Yet while men are generally broader and bulkier than women, there are slim men and well-built women. It’s a matter of stereotype, what men or women should be, rather than observation of how people are.

Keira is embarrassed using women’s toilets with her boyish features and deep voice. So she is still the victim of transphobia and internalised transphobia.

Most of the support for her case comes from the hard right and evangelicals. The insane “Christian Institute” has a gloat, and calls Keira “a former transsexual”. The Guardian had a dry report of legal arguments, all in favour of preventing treatment, as it was a hearing to decide on adding Bell to the case. I wonder if we will see the arguments for the Respondents after later hearings.

The NHS has announced an expert review into GIDS treatment. 2590 children were referred to the GIDS last year, out of 11.5m children under 16 in the UK.

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3 December: The case makes treatment for trans children considerably more difficult, but the Good Law Project considers it wrongly decided and the NHS is seeking leave to appeal.

The case, if not overturned on appeal, is a binding precedent on the High Court, and so practically sets out the law on consent to treatment for now. It says it may be impossible for a child to consent to treatment, because they do not understand things they will care about later, which objectively ought to be given weight (para 132).

The case does not comment on matters where parents consent to medical treatment on behalf of their children, because in this case the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) sought consent from the child.

These are the matters of law which the court decided, which is for the moment binding precedent. However, it found facts about GIDS in a problematic way. Its finding of fact is not binding, so it cannot be said that puberty blockers (PB) is unlawful treatment.

The court found that once a child went on PB, practically always they went on cross sex hormones (CSH) after. GIDS said PB gave a waiting period so that the child could decide about CSH later, but the court said that did not happen in practice. Therefore, they said the child aged 14 who consented to PB was in effect consenting to all the effects of CSH, including probable infertility and lack of “sexual fulfilment”.

With respect to another child, a court could find the facts differently, that PB was intended to give time to think about their gender identity, as Dr Carmichael of GIDS explained, para 52, and to alleviate current distress, para 100. It is difficult to challenge findings of fact on appeal, but not impossible. The facts of the case are here. The law is explained here. Liberty and Amnesty International made a joint statement.

You Be You

What happens when you let a child explore their curiosities, predispositions and inner creativity beyond their gender? The answer is clear: they’re allowed to be the best versions of themselves. You Be You is a charity seeking to break down gender stereotypes from primary school level.

They say, “We want every classroom to be a safe, supportive, open environment where children can explore their interests and express their feelings.” That is, they want children to develop as whole human beings, not shamed or restricted for who they are. Because the stereotypes which oppress us are seen as normal or natural, in school and out, teachers need trained to see them and combat them. Now, there is a pilot of their training at two primary schools in London.

Much of this is around empowering girls to be active and assertive. On their news page, there are two articles from May 2017 about girls playing football and girls and the Outdoors. The first article on their useful links is “Girls lose faith in their own talents”, and among the research papers is “Parent gender roles at home and child aspirations”. I am glad I was taught to aspire to university, less glad that my feelings were not valued so I chose the wrong course to do there.

They write, Interventions mostly focus on women and girls, but we need to focus on men and boys just as much. Why don’t more men take a lead role in parenting and go part-time at work? Why don’t more men become teachers and nurses? Why are men more likely resort to substance abuse and violence as a response to stress, anxiety and depression than women? Why are roughly 3/4 of suicide victims men? Both men and women suffer from gender inequality.

Women and girls should not be blocked from achieving, should be able to value their talents and have those talents seen and developed, should be able to be active in any role they choose. Yes! Hurrah! What anyone in this valuable work wants for boys is less clear. We want them happier, more at ease with themselves. But, do you imagine boys cannot be happy following masculine stereotypes? What, none of them? Who do you want to benefit? Aha: If we don’t start teaching boys that it’s ok to express themselves, nurture others, and show vulnerability, we’re never going to chip away at the walls women keep running into in adulthood.

In Resources for parents, there is a list of books, including “Stories for Boys who Dare to be Different”, which includes a picture of Grayson Perry in a frock. The alternative type of hero is a man who checks his privilege and who is kind, selfless, courageous and not afraid to stand up for what’s right.

There is a blog. This has lots of useful stuff, such as a study showing that children whose friendship groups emphasised traditional gender stereotypes were shown to have lower well being than others. Those who chose ‘being tough’ as the most important trait for boys, or ‘having good clothes’ as the most important trait for girls, had the lowest well being of all.

It seems the pilots are about to start. Even in a school full of enthusiastic, creative teachers, and is really committed to supporting the mental health and personal development of its pupils, teaching about “feelings and kindness”, stereotypes remained, including the idea that housework was for females.

Even their own children follow the stereotypes. They don’t fit gay and trans children, but just possibly there may be some “normal” kids they fit. I wonder how much anyone can bring forth the natural child, shorn of stereotype, and how much the training challenges the stereotype whether it is “natural” to the child or not.

I don’t know how much masculinity and femininity are social constructs. Nature and nurture interact like flour and eggs, and girls might be trained to be more assertive- if the nurture is different, and the child remains “feminine”, is that from her, or from other influences the trainer could not control? I have no idea. I know these matters are fiercely disputed. There remain restrictions on women, as on BAME people and LGBT.

I wish them well. I hope a trans child would flourish in the environment they wish to create. I hope none would be told they did not need to transition in this gender-free world, if they asserted they did. In any case, as a child, as a soft apparent boy, I would have benefited from it.

Blanche Girouard

All my life I have been accused of being masculine. “You’re really a man, aren’t you?” one particularly unpleasant ex-boyfriend joked. I can’t, now, remember why. Perhaps it was the fact that I was more assertive than he was. Or generally wore trousers rather than skirts. Or preferred whisky to wine and didn’t like handbags. Whatever it was, it bothered me, upset me and made me angry. What, I wondered, did it take to count as a woman?

Blanche Girouard wrote this in Standpoint magazine. It’s not a bad question, I worry about it myself. I would hope there could be various answers, and one important one would be that you want to. I also think a female reproductive system or certain intersex conditions would be sufficient without any other criterion, unless the person specifically wanted to count as a man. This is an answer on the libertarian end of the spectrum: many people who crave order and like clear definitions may have difficulty with it. Ideally, some people should be able to count as either, depending on how they feel at the time.

The story shows negging was a thing long before it was a word; men shared the idea in pick-up groups, but had been doing it spontaneously. Negging is a sign you should drop him, generally. I have a bottle of 12 year old Aberlour in my living room, wear trousers a lot, and don’t always carry a handbag- the clichés are no more a reliable guide for a trans woman than a cis woman. And someone who negs will always find a way under your skin, even if it has no relation to reality whatsoever.

Then, she brings up gender dysphoria. More and more young people are transitioning. Well, the shock figure of 2000 referrals to a specialist children’s clinic is still a tiny number compared to the number of children in the UK, and if you are going to transition you are probably better doing it earlier, rather than drifting through a painful and disconnected life until you do it in your thirties. People worrying about transition are telling young people they don’t know who they are or what they want, and also failing to trust the psychiatrists diagnosing and treating them. It is a confected outrage. Ms Girouard should be recognised as a woman if she wants, without stopping trans women from being ourselves.

Ms Girouard ends by saying “We must banish gender stereotypes”. Hear, hear. It is wearing being expected to wear high heels, even if you are a trans woman. I don’t know if I would have transitioned without gender stereotypes, but everyone benefits from a wider range of acceptable gendered behaviour, even people desperate for externally imposed rules to give a framework to their lives, who might object.

Also in Standpoint was an article by Toby Young, a journalist with no worthwhile education experience, who was sacked from the Office for Students for his misogyny and homophobia, though disgracefully not prevented from running a school. Should I read the whole thing? A comment shows how valuable the article is, with a paragraph of panic including the words “TRANNY MADNESS!!!!!!” I wondered why the writer thought six exclamation marks enough. Why not twelve? I glanced through the article. We need to separate the “T” from “LGBT”, he pontificates, ignorantly. What if these children have hormones and surgery? Well, they can’t, before age 18.

Rather, we need the acronym TGNC, which he uses fifteen times. “Trans and gender non-conforming”. That sounds more fluid. Yes, some people may want hormones and surgery, but should not think it necessary, or that they are not real trans if they do not want it. The trouble is, the obsession with us makes us desire to prove ourselves, and hormones and surgery are the way to do that.