Transcendence 3: Thresholds

The following excerpted comments were written by Kendra Blewitt to Willow Arune and appeared on an "autogynephilia" online message board [1]:

Andrea has stated on her Web site that she is not opposed to [autogynephiles] being given [sex reassignment surgery]. Was she sincere, or was that just a political statement?  From the statement above one must conclude that her motive in saying it was okay for AGs to have SRS was political.  The “gatekeepers” are letting a lot more people through the gate than they used to.  You can’t go against a "fait accompli" . Also, I am sure Andrea realized that it was in her interest to keep the [transsexual] group together in order to fight legal battles, etc.

Andrea’s position seems to be

(a) she is a liberal who believes that people have a right to modify their bodies for sexual reasons, and

(b) she doesn’t want AGs like you and me to be called transsexuals because she doesn’t want any categorical association with our type.  

I think if a lot of AGs hadn’t already gotten letters from respectable gender therapists and then had the surgery, Andrea’s liberalism would have been overridden by her concern to deny any categorical association with our type, and she would have opposed allowing SRS to be given to AGs.

Willow, you and I are unwelcome arrivals on the scene to Andrea and her group.  It would be better if the likes of us had never shown up, but as long as we’re here they want to separate themselves from us as much as possible while preserving the usefulness we provide in political struggles for TS rights.

...

I think what we are up against is the traditional meaning of transsexualism, and Conway, James and group are essentially TS traditionalists who are opposed to change.  The tradition is that a transsexual is a woman who was born with a male body.  The transsexual was supposed to assimilate completely into female society and the fact that she was born male was supposed to be a tightly kept secret.  What you and I are doing, i.e., being openly transsexual, is a radical departure from the tradition.  It is heretical.
I think that something like a revolution is taking place in the transsexual nation.  There has gotten to be a lot of us who are not playing the game by the old rules, and now suddenly with the publication of Bailey’s book this development has become an issue.
What is at issue is the tradition, not Bailey’s book.  What are the likes of you and me doing in the midst of the transsexual nation?  That is the real question.

...

If the leaders of the group are saying that we are perverts who are stealing the good name of transsexual in order to get away with our revolting perversion, or to excuse it, as Andrea James has said above, or that we are subscribing to the autogynephilia theory because we are inept as women, and this theory excuses our ineptitude, as James has also said in the above quote, can we possibly feel that we belong to a community?

We are being seen in an ugly light.  Ugly people is what we are to the TS community.  Even if we let go of our pride and conceded that we were indeed ugly people we would still not be welcome, for no group wants ugly people for members.  Willow, you and I have no community.  We have TS friends, and there are TSes who respect us even though they dislike us, but we have no community.  A community is a political entity.  It is a political entity where you feel you belong, and where you feel you will be given support if you need it.  No such thing exists for us.  When the revolution that is fighting the tradition grows strong enough to be called a political entity you and I will have a community.  But not until that happens. [1]

Excerpts from my reply to Willow:

When I say you should be allowed to have vaginoplasty, it was both sincere AND a political statement. Let me see if I can lay this out clearly, since it’s very complicated.

First, I feel we all have the inalienable right to modify our own bodies in any way we see fit, whether it’s a nose job, bodybuilding, facial tattoos, birth control, a plate in your lip, basketball-sized breast implants, castration, etc., as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others. I see it as a 14th Amendment issue. However, I believe it is a very good idea for people to take a long hard look at why they wish to make certain kinds of modifications, to ensure they have realistic expectations and a full understanding of the potential consequences. Some of these modifications will have an effect on your relationship to society at large.

Second, I feel “sex reassignment surgery” is a misnomer which puts too much emphasis on an expensive procedure that I do not consider the liminal point for being considered female (to keep this simpler, I’ll stick with [male-to-female] matters). I would like to see the laws revised where vaginoplasty was not the legal threshold for female. It’s a form of institutional oppression on our poorest and most vulnerable women, and on those for whom this procedure is not wanted/needed. This is why I do not use the term "SRS" any more.

Third, as I have mentioned to Willow, I am not certain you are transsexual in the strict clinical definition of that term. I consider you a woman and a transgender woman, but the distinction Bailey and Blanchard wish to make in their behavioral model is literally divisive in an arbitrary way. It has been crafted as an assault on our rights via the psychology trade groups, and it appears to be in response to the threat we pose to [the Defense of Marriage Act]. This entire matter is about definitions, and my concern is about the political implications of set definitions. Bailey and Blanchard are involved in a conservative-run eugenics think tank, and their positioning of us as mentally ill men who are either extremely gay or autoerotic male fetishists completely effaces our rights as women.

You are absolutely correct that I see this as a legal battle. The case of Gregory/Gloria Hemingway is a perfect example. As you know, Dr. Hemingway had vaginoplasty yet still continued to live as male, particularly when in public. Our legal system is currently designed so you are assigned one or the other. During the recent court case regarding the Hemingway estate in Florida, there was a good chance that this vacillating person would have set the legal precedent as to whether any Floridian transsexual can be considered female in the eyes of the law. As you know, we have lost similar cases in Texas and Kansas recently. I consider you and Willow and Anne Lawrence to be liminal cases and easy political targets. To be honest, I'm not sure I could persuasively argue in a court of law that Anne Lawrence is transsexual, having met her and having read her accounts of her own motivations and interests. I absolutely cannot argue that Dr. Hemingway, the Unabomber, or Richard Speck were transsexual, though they are under Bailey's classification system.

My concern is a matter of expediency in a difficult political climate. Bailey and Blanchard have crafted an assault on our rights that is akin to the erosion of Roe v. Wade: go after the extreme cases to whittle away the larger precedent. You and Willow are extreme cases. It's not a question of attractiveness as you suggest, but of visible gender variance. I know women who could be ungenerously described as "unattractive" who are not visibly gender variant. It's about what is traditionally called "passing," and what I call assimilation. I would argue that the difference between a transgenderist and a transsexual is a matter of level of assimilation, and not genital configuration. This is because I consider "sex" a social construct rather than a scientific one. It's the reason I find myself having a harder and harder time defending the term "transsexual" as a useful or accurate term.

However, as a realist, I do not see the binary concept of two "sexes" going away completely in my lifetime, so I feel there's a need to address the matter in terms of a quick fix: the best way for our community to get mainstream acceptance is the same way the gay community did it. We must improve public perception by showing that the unassimilated/visible part of the community is a smaller part than most imagine. Right now it's pretty much all they see. It's the same way I feel Oprah does more to eliminate the notion of "race" than someone like 5O Cent. The paradox is that our best and brightest traditionally would rather "switch than fight," which means the visibly gender variant women are split off from the "successes" and left to fight the political battles on their own. While those who can assimilate may think that the discrimination faced by the visibly gender variant is not their problem, the legal precedent set by an individual affects all of us, so we are only as strong as our most vulnerable members.

I do not want to leave anyone behind, but I feel that we are at a crossroads. There are those who feel we deserve the right to be considered female, and those who see us as really just extremely gay or extremely fetishistic males. If someone self-identifies as a male with a sex-fueled mental illness ("autogynephilic"), I don't see a legal argument that I can make to justify their being considered female.

My philosophical position is a legal and political compromise. We are heading toward a federal definition of "male" and "female" in this country, and since those categories will probably not be eradicated in the foreseeable future, it is important that we put forth a consistent and persuasive argument. I don't see much wiggle room or compromise in your position.

I do not consider you perverts. Blanchard and Bailey do. "Autogynephilia" is a clinical diagnosis. A sex-fueled mental illness. As long as you subscribe to a disease model for your gender variance, you are in direct conflict with the larger movement to get transgenderism depathologized and to get past the idea that gender identity and expression is a paraphilia/perversion. You are like the gays who argued that they were mentally ill when the APA was working on depathologizing homosexuality in the early 70s. Bailey wants to keep gender identity "disorder" right there in the DSM-V for 2006, but with "autogynephilia" added in for good measure.

"Autogynephilia" means "love of oneself as a woman" in the same way zoophilia means "love of animals." If you have an erotic interest in vaginoplasty etc. and consider yourself to be a type of male, I am not certain I can legally defend your right to be called female.

References

1. Kendra Blewitt, September 12, 2003: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/autogynephiliasupport/message/737