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    November 07, 2006

    Making gender a 'choice'

    Posted by: Chris

    If you still need evidence that lumping "T' issues in with "LGB" can undermine the core arguments of the gay rights movement, then look no further than New York City, where officials say they plan to let people change the gender on their birth certificate without undergoing sexual reassignment surgery, the New York Times reported today.

    The issue isn't so much the wisdom behind allowing easier gender change on birth certificates. Most descriptions of gender in government documents are intended to assist in identification, so changing gender to match the one presented by the individual makes sense, whether on a passport, voter registration, driver's license or Social Security card. The birth certificate, as a medical document,
    does seem to be a different matter, since it reflects the anatomy of the person at birth, but again that's not the issue for me.

    The problem is the way trans rights activists make their case: that gender is a matter of choice, or the result of "transgender identity disorder," or, as one activist put it, entirely arbitrary:

    Joann Prinzivalli, 52, a lawyer for the New York Transgender Rights Organization, a man who has lived as a woman since 2000, without surgery, said the changes amount to progress, a move away from American culture’s misguided fixation on genitals as the basis for one’s gender identity.

    “It’s based on an arbitrary distinction that says there are two and only two sexes,” she said. “In reality the diversity of nature is such that there are more than just two, and people who seem to belong to one of the designated sexes may really belong to the other.”

    Prinzivalli and her allies are certainly entitled to fight our supposed "misguided fixation on genitals" and the "arbitrary distinction" that says there are only two sexes, but please don't hitch that wagon to our gay rights movement. There was a time when the "gay liberation movement" was arguably more focused on "liberating" us from conventional ideas like "gender." But not anymore.

    The vast majority of LGB people are completely comfortable with their gender, as determined by their genitalia. Of course we also challenge traditional notions of gender, but in a very different way. Gay and bisexual men challenge the idea that men should only love women, just as lesbians and bisexual women challenge the same idea bout women.

    That's entirely different than blurring the lines between genders or suggesting the sexes are arbitrary or there are more than two. Taken to its natural conclusion, the transgender "liberation" from "two-sex" genders would eliminate sexual orientation itself, since it's based upon attraction to those who share (or don't share) your gender.

    Throwing these transgender issues, however legitimate on their own, into the debate over gay rights is only to sow confusion, but that's exactly what's happening. Witness how the New York Times presented the story today online. The "readers' opinions" on the article are part of a Forum called "Gay Rights," even though the story has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

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    1. Joann Prinzivalli on Nov 20, 2006 11:57:43 PM:

      Hi Chris,

      The transcommunity isn't hijacking gay civil rights - we're looking for civil rights for all sexual minorities. Why should you have your rights recognized before I have mine? Is it because you are economically well off and most transfolk are not? Is it a matter of gay male privilege?

      Marriage is my issue as much as it might be yours. The first and 14th Amendments to the Constitution are there just as much for my protection as yours. If there is a bill out there to address your unrecognized rights, why should that bill not also address mine?

      Sexual orientation is only one small aspect of the sex and gender matrix - right in there with aspects such as gender identity, dominance level, sex assignment, gender expression, gender social role, etc. The big four are Gender Identity, Sex assignment, gender espression and sexual orietntation.

      If you don't want to have me "transjack" your bills, then why not be a gentleman and make sure that I get *my* rights recognized first - then you won't have to worry.

      Given that you don't necessarily "get it" about what makes transpeople tick, I'm not surprised that you quoted that terrible article the Times printed, an article that had the sort of sensationalist misinformation one might expect from FOX Newschammel or the New York Post.

      Damien Cave of the New York Times wrote in an article published on November 7, 2006 entitled "New York Plans to Make Gender Personal Choice"
      as follows:

      "Separating anatomy from what it means to be a man or a woman, New York City is moving forward with a plan to let people alter the sex on their birth certificate even if they have not had sex-change surgery."

      . . .
      This article was slanted toward sensationalism and was not up to the journalistic standards of the New York Times on a number of levels.

      The headline alone cues us to the distortion - gender isn't a personal choice, it is a part of who we are. And the writer is clueless about anatomy - even after I gave hm background on the BSTc studies, and how sex/gender is physiologically based in the brain and the genitals should only be seen as an indicator that is right perhaps more than 99% of the time - but not always, and this proposal allows a *correction* in sex assignment for those whose treatment regimen might not, for whatever reason, not include a vaginoplasty or phalloplasty.

      "Separating Anatomy" as a lede was bad - that isn;t the issue - part of my anatomy (my brain) turned out to be female - why should that take a back seat to my genitals when it comes to sex assignment?

      Later in the article. Cave quotes noted transphobe Paul McHugh:

      “I’ve already heard of a ‘transgendered’ man who claimed at work to be ‘a woman in a man’s body but a lesbian’ and who had to be expelled from the ladies’ restroom because he was propositioning women there,” Dr. Paul McHugh, a member of the President’s Council of Bioethics and chairman of the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in an e-mail message on the subject. “He saw this as a great injustice in that his behavior was justified in his mind by the idea that the categories he claimed for himself were all ‘official’ and had legal rights attached to them.”

      . . .
      It's not so bad that writer Cave used an inappropriate quote from noted transphobe McHugh, but Cave never explains that the term "transgendered man" if used appropiately, is a reference to a female-to-male transsexual. That leads to worse . . .

      Then Cave writes about me, falling into McHugh's insulting terminological structure:

      "Joann Prinzivalli, 52, a lawyer for the New York Transgender Rights Organization, a man who has lived as a woman since 2000, without surgery, said the changes amount to progress, a move away from American culture’s misguided fixation on genitals as the basis for one’s gender identity.

      “It’s based on an arbitrary distinction that says there are two and only two sexes,” she said. “In reality the diversity of nature is such that there are more than just two, and people who seem to belong to one of the designated sexes may really belong to the other.”
      . . .

      Apparently adopting McHugh's nomenclature in violation of the Times stylebook, writer Cave misidentifies me as a "man" - even if he caveats it with a "who has lived as a woman since 2000."

      Here is an Op Ed piece I submitted to the Times but which they did not have the courage or professional ethics to run:

      Fixing gender: a correction, not a choice

      By JOANN PRINZIVALLI

      THE New York City Department of Health recently proposed amendments to the Health Code, and held public hearings on October 30, 2006.
      The morning was devoted to trans fats, while the afternoon was devoted to transgender. News coverage of the former was widespread, while coverage of the latter was initially limited to the gay press and did not appear in the New York Times until Tuesday, November 7th, in a front page article entitled “New York Plans To Make Gender Personal Choice.”

      Unfortunately, the Times article seemed to be terribly slanted. At first glance it looked like the sensationalism one would expect from the New York Post rather than the staid and factual news pages of the Times. After talking with the writer, I realize that the distortion may not have been intentional, which makes it a perfect opportunity for some education about transgendered people.

      Gender is a fairly basic aspect of our society. When each of us is born, the first question everyone asks is “Is it a boy or a girl?” There are only two expected answers. No one expects a “We don’t know” or a “both” or “neither.” The attending physician notes the shape of the baby’s external genitals, and the result is duly recorded on the baby’s birth certificate. Babies born with intersex conditions that result in ambiguous genitalia are often subjected to genital mutilation, and in many cases, the hasty choice made by doctors is the wrong one. Babies who grow up to be transsexual, according to some studies, will develop a small section of their hypothalamus, the basal stria terminalis, deep inside the brain, which may be the determinant of the individual’s gender identity. No one can ask a baby how it identifies. As a result, for those who are transgendered or intersexed, the assignment of sex on a birth certificate should be viewed as tentative and subject to change.

      Based on the answer to that binary boy/girl question, we begin our lives wrapped in either a blue blanket or a pink one, and the expectations of family, friends and society as to our socialization will flow from that.
      For the vast majority of people, the sex assigned to us at birth is consistent with the way we feel about ourselves. But that assignment is only based on the doctor’s cursory examination of the newborn’s external genitalia, and in some small fraction of the population, that initial assignment is terribly wrong.

      The proposed change to Section 207.05 of the City’s Health Code is intended to take into account the reality that initial sex assignment based solely on that initial cursory examination could have been wrong. The proposals would make it easier for transgendered and intersexed people to have their birth certificates amended to conform with their true inner reality.

      For the cisgendered people among us, whose brains, bodies and souls are in harmony from birth, the world is easily divided into a black and white spectrum of two and only two kinds of people – dominant masculine male men attracted to women and submissive feminine female women attracted to men. In this strict binary view of the world, anyone who does not fit into these arbitrary designations is a freak and a deviant, to be relegated to the shadows of society. Based on this strict binary view, homosexuality was listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), a catalog of psychiatric disorders and treatment codes, until 1973. Transsexual people are still listed in the DSM, with an entry for Gender Identity Disorder (GID).

      The DSM entry is often used to pathologize and stigmatize the members of the transgender community. The real problem is with a society that arbitrarily bases its decisions on what sex to assign a person on genital shape at birth. The essence of GID treatment is first to identify the individual as having a gender identity at odds with their birth sex assignment. There are no brain scans or blood tests that can help here. The next step is to deal with the cultural stress that comes from living in a society where family, religious and secular leaders, employers, landlords and others view the transgendered individual with loathing and disdain. The key is to first find self-acceptance, and then to chart the course for transition from what society wants to who we really are. Treatment often includes the administration of hormone therapy and the use of various surgical procedures to help the individual cope better in a society that is fixated on genital shape as the sole determinant for sex assignment.
      There is an ideological war out there. There are those strict binary-genderists who see me and people like me as psychotics acting out our delusions by wearing opposite-sex clothing, or who see us as full time impersonators who are really members of a birth-assigned sex the binary people see as “immutable.” Many of them still erroneously believe that sexual orientation is a matter of a personal moral choice, and that homosexuality can be cured. There are even well funded religious-right organizations that are dedicated to “curing” gay and trans people.

      The concept that gender is diverse and is not strictly a two-answer question can be frightening to the cisgendered, who cling to the black and white binary concept of sex and gender. The New York Times article about the public hearing on the proposed regulatory change took this erroneous black-and-white view when it mischaracterized me as “a man who has lived as a woman since 2000, without surgery.” According to the Times, I must be either mentally ill or a phony – neither assumption is true, and, if left uncorrected, might even be actionable.

      Dr. John McHugh, the current head of the Psychiatry department at the Johns Hopkins medical school was also quoted in the Times article. He is well known within the transgender community as a man with overvalued and erroneous ideas on sex and gender that are used to further the limited perspective of gender as immutable based on initial sex assignment.

      The reality is, as Dr. Milton Diamond of the University of Hawaii has said: “Nature loves diversity, but society hates it.” Dr. Diamond is the expert in gender studies who debunked the theories of the late Dr. John Money, formerly with the department of Psychology at Johns Hopkins, who had falsified the experimental data in the infamous John/Joan case study.

      Dr. Money’s basic theory was that gender is changeable. Dr. McHugh believes it is not changeable, but he erroneously views sex reassignment surgery as “changing” a person’s sex, rather than confirming the sex of their brains and souls by making the rest of their bodies more consistent.
      What Dr. McHugh does not realize is that the gender in a “secondary-emergence” transsexual like me is not changed – it has always been what it is, despite the incorrect initial assignment of sex. Gender dysphoria comes from the psychological strain of trying to assimilate in the wrong gender because of family and societal pressure. Some transgendered people, like any other people, have other issues to deal with. Some of these issues are related to GID, others are not.

      Some of us cannot have surgery. For me, morbid obesity and badly controlled diabetes have thus far been a bar to getting a surgery letter. Some choose, with their medical professionals, a course that does not include all the possible surgical procedures. For many female-to-male transssexuals a phalloplasty is terribly expensive and the results are not necessarily justifiable. The proposed regulatory change is welcome because it means the Board of Health will take into account the variety of approaches used by medical and mental health professionals in dealing with the cultural stress caused in transgendered people by the binary expectations of cisgendered society and by their earlier attempts at trying to assimilate in the wrong gender.

      As with most other transsexual people, I personally fit in with the sex opposite that assigned to me at birth. Still, not all transgendered or intersexed people feel they should have to fit into the two-and-only-two classifications of being “male” or “female.” That is one reason the regulations should continue to offer, as an option, either the deletion of any gender marker, or a designation of “other.” In a society that still expects two and only two sexes, though, it may still be difficult to cope with societal expectations. The federal REAL ID Act, for example, requires all of our identifying papers to be consistent, and the result can be devastating to a transgendered person whose records with various government agencies might have inconsistent sex assignment information.
      The regulatory change is welcome. Gender will not be, as the Times put it, a matter of “personal choice.” Rather, the Board of Health will recognize that the sex assigned to us at birth could have been in error, and will correct the record so that the sex assigned in our birth certificates is consistent with our true gender.
      ---
      Joann Prinzivalli is a lawyer and the director of the New York Transgender Rights Organization.

    1. Chris on Aug 13, 2007 8:38:42 PM:

      "That's entirely different than blurring the lines between genders or suggesting the sexes are arbitrary or there are more than two. Taken to its natural conclusion, the transgender "liberation" from "two-sex" genders would eliminate sexual orientation itself, since it's based upon attraction to those who share (or don't share) your gender."

      so, trying to understand - are you afraid that if the anti-"gender-binary" crowd gets their way, then you won't be gay anymore?

      i don't see a need, personally, to "eradicate gender" and all that nonsense. i don't get it. a lot of people i know don't. but anyone who can read a book or an article is capable of figuring out that yes, there are more than 2 sexes, technically. does the fact that there are people that are intersexed threaten you in some way? how? why?

      it sounds like, by your logic, if there's more than 2 genders, then you can't reject the "other" in favor of your own. which is important to you clearly. how else could we maintain this huge divide between gays and straights?

      i've never understood people that are so enamored with slapping labels on themselves and their lives. what happened to that whole "love is love" kind of rhetoric we heard in support of gay rights and acceptance of gays?

      personally, i'd rather have an open mind about life and love. yes, i have a preference, an orientation, whatever is PC to call it these days. as they say "I'm straight, but not narrow." i don't exclude people out-of-hand on the basis of gender. God forbid people might be attracted to the person, not just the package.

      by the way, since you seem to be all for it too, can we set up a petition or something so that we can unhitch our "T" from your wagon? they *are* completely different issues, and although i'm not a huge fan of a lot of the transgendered "community," i see no reason to be lumped in with gays at this point. especially guys like you that don't want us around and don't want to stand with us when it's not convenient. overall, i've seen a lot more support for the gays by the T's than the other way around.

    1. Buy Online kamagra 100mg on Jun 11, 2010 9:58:53 AM:

      I’ve already heard of a ‘transgendered’ man who claimed at work to be ‘a woman in a man’s body but a lesbian’ and who had to be expelled from the ladies’ restroom because he was propositioning women there,” Dr. Paul McHugh, a member of the President’s Council of Bioethics and chairman of the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in an e-mail message on the subject. “He saw this as a great injustice in that his behavior was justified in his mind by the idea that the categories he claimed for himself were all ‘official’ and had legal rights attached to them.”

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