Saturday, June 22, 2013

Gender post follow-up

Dear guys and gals,

First of all, I want to say thank you all for the kind words and thoughts that have been shared my way since the day before yesterday - I literally have not had a single negative thing said to me about my situation. That being said, I told you all I'd address your questions and I intend to do just that.

The biggest question I've been getting is how I can personally say that I call myself male yet still identify as a woman. To be blunt, I believe that this ties back into coping with what I was told by several people throughout my life: you will never be a woman, you will only play pretend. I like to think of myself as a realist - albeit a generally positive, optimistic one - and I felt like, to an extent, these people were right; I would never be able to bear children, nor could I change my chromosomes, nor erase my history or legal status as a male.

And I was okay with that.

Just because I realize that, biologically speaking, I'm probably your standard XY male when it comes to sex (I don't technically know for certain, never had that sort of test) that doesn't mean I can't be a woman when it comes to gender, or that every time someone else identifies me as a woman, I think to myself, "yes, but..."

Some people have told me this is something called "biological determinism," and isn't necessarily fair to myself or other transgender people. Hormones are malleable and vary wildly from person to person; I don't actually know my chromosomes; we don't think of castrated men as not men, etc. This brings me to another point I want to be very clear about:

What works for me may not work for you, and that's fine. People have talked to me about how I should be angry with Mike. I'm not, and not just because I believe, like he does, that yup, I'm biologically male. I'm not angry with Mike because I don't believe in being angry with someone for believing differently from me. I have several amazing, hardcore Christian friends, and I know this may shock some of you, so take a seat, but I'm not Christian. My Christian friends likewise have some very close Hindu friends. They in turn have Buddhist friends. Religious beliefs are some of the most tightly-held, personal beliefs and life choices someone can have, and yet this web of people is connected together just fine, no spiders in sight.

In short: we can disagree and still be cool with each other.

I've also received some questions seeking advice. This happened a lot when I first came out at Iowa State as well. While I wish each and every person who has ever come to me asking for advice the best of luck in their journeys, each of these journeys is very personal, and I can't possibly give you the proper advice without knowing you far more intimately than is possible through Twitter and email. That's what therapy is for, and why it's a required part of treatment. The best advice I can give: follow the program, be honest with yourself, and do what you need to do.

Lastly, people have asked me how to approach someone in my position; do you address someone as "he," "she," "ze," "they"? What if you can't tell? It's rude to assume, but isn't it also rude to intrude and ask? Again, this will be different from person to person. Usually someone who falls outside the gender binary will make it clear how they wish to be identified, but if they don't, I feel it's not rude to ask, so long as you're asking "How should I address you?" and not "So.. what are you?" Transgender individuals tend to prefer being referred by the pronouns which reflect their presented identity, i.e. a male who presents as a woman (such as myself) would prefer you referred to them by feminine pronouns.

Both sides must be patient with one another; those of us who stray from what has been the norm for a very long time must understand that people simply may not understand what's happening or what they should do, while those who are seeking to learn must truly attempt to learn and listen.

Thank you all again for reading. Several of you have contacted me offering financial assistance for my transition and I can't deny that's very tempting. Honestly, if someone were to approach me with the money or a funding solution, I don't know that I'd turn it down. If that's something people really want to do for me, then I have to think on it. Right now, I don't feel I really have done anything to deserve it. I don't think of myself as more needing the funds than anyone else in my situation, and I try not to let my ego get too full of itself. I suppose we'll see where that goes.

For now, I thank you again for reading, and for those of you wondering when I'm gonna be getting back into games journalism, all I'll say is don't worry; this blog won't just be here to address this snafu-whatchamacallit, and I have an independent project I'm currently developing and prepping for on the side.

Thanks again!

Sincerely,
Sophie

20 comments:

  1. "People have talked to me about how I should be angry with Mike."

    I think that's what's upset me most about this whole thing, that some people leap to anger and hatred instead of seeking to educate.

    How would that make anything better ever?

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    1. Totally tongue in cheek, but maybe Mike needs to hire someone who will be able to explain concepts he doesn't understand before he starts talking about them? ;)

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    3. Trisha, I hope this comes snark free. But I really really hope Mike doesn't hire someone to vet his opinions.

      I hope this is a learning situation. The joy one derives from reading, listening to, and watching remarkable people is understanding what makes them tick. Mike learned something, publicly we got to watch a very important person in our community learn something. That in and of itself is valuable, his donation aside.

      How often do you get to see someone admit wow, I don't know nearly as much about this subject as I thought... well I wish more people would allow themselves to have that kind of epiphany. I am also not jaded enough to think that his response is anything like the Paula Dean mea culpa, it showed thought, it showed stubbornness and it showed concern over clarity rather than a complete re-tractment of the initial statement. Most importantly it showed change.

      Secondly I've reread all of the comments so many times. And I'm no expert on Mike or on Transgendered Issues but he didn't make jokes at the expense of the community, he expressed his understanding of things. While I don't share those beliefs he really wasn't all that disrespectful in thinking or explaining them. Twitter does suck for making a point, I don't believe this was necessarily blown out of proportion, but I think it was a valuable moment for the gaming community, for the LGBT community to identify themselves as members of the gaming community and for a leader in the gaming community to recognize that at times there are consequences for having an ignorant perspective.

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    4. Did he? I don't know what Mike learned. He certainly didn't elaborate. He's said "I was wrong." What was he referring to when he said that? Does anyone know? I know I read him saying 5 days ago:

      "Wanna be a guy or a girl or a fox or whatever and I will be happy to treat you that way. But I think that is very different from the physical reality of your human body."

      and then:

      "I hate the idea that because I think boys and girls have different parts I am “transphobic” that pisses me off it makes me angry and so I lash out."

      Is he wrong about either of those things? I don't know, he hasn't said. Is he wrong about lashing out at people? I don't know, he hasn't said. What is he apologizing for?

      This is what's frustrating me. It's not that he hurt people, I appreciate that he acknowledged that he did and I appreciate that he donated to a worthwhile charity. I just don't want the end of the conversation to be "I'm not going to talk about this anymore". I think if you're going to admit that you're wrong, then I want to know why, and I want to know that you're going to spread that message to others, especially when you have a platform to inspire change like Mike does. How easy would it be to throw some relevant links up on the front page of his website to a page like http://transwhat.org/ , and try to reach out and educate on the matter? Why is it that he can be so vocal when lashing out and hurting people, and so silent when the opposite is what's desperately needed?

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    5. And to educate you, he made several hurtful comments at the expense of the trans community. Equating trans issues to wanting to be Batman, for one. Doubling down on his "women have vaginas" comments from the 7th. Saying that if people use the word cis, he hates them. "love the death threats. I think women have vaginas I think you call a person with a vagina a woman. more death threats please."? How is that anything other than an attempt to incite more upset and hostility? It's ridiculous to frame this as someone defending themselves from bullies when they make comments like that.

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    6. I honestly believe its the response of someone who is being threatened. I agree it was insensitive. On the flip side most of his comments prior to being threatened were simply his understanding as someone who is not familiar with or a part of the trans community. Frankly most of us have very biological understandings of gender, not because we have any intentions of being hurtful or being ignorant but because it is the prevalent experience that most of us have. Gender Identity for someone that has no experience with it as a question for the most part isn't a question for an overwhelming majority.

      I don't believe its his responsibility to be a advocate for the trans community or to make the donation that he made (although I feel it was a good gesture). He seems to be open to learning. To me that's a healthy step.

      Lumi, I know we're going to disagree but trust me when someone threatens to kill you its not alien to double down on your position stick your chin out and say "Go ahead and try".

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  2. Mike said you're a man because you have a penis. It's about more than whether you agree or disagree. There are other people who think exactly the same thing as Mike did, only they're not prepared to 'treat you like you want to be treated'. His thought process confirms and validates theirs. The representative in Tennessee, Richard Floyd (the one who wants to stomp a mudhole in a trans woman), also thinks that you're a man because you have a penis. The tolerance that Mike is prepared to allow you isn't enough, because to frame it as an act of personal goodwill in opposition to his actual views just makes it a matter of choice as to whether people decide to offer us acceptance or not. It makes tolerance voluntary.

    If you want to frame your existence as 'playing pretend', to whatever limited extent you choose to assign to it, I can't tell you not to. But I find that mindset deeply problematic, because it ties into negative stereotypes of trans lives not being honest or real or true, and it validates the idea that there is some 'extent' with which to determine the reality of trans peoples' lives. My life isn't part of an act, and I'm not prepared to lend any credibility to a mindset that regards being trans as anything other than as completely equitable, as completely real, to being cis. I am as real as any cis person, my identity is not a role I choose to perform, it's who I am. Yes, we can disagree and still coexist. But you're lending credibility to those that would argue that being trans is not 'real', that it's an act. Your viewpoint hurts me. That shouldn't be acceptable to you.

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    1. But can you not understand both sides?

      I'm 23 years old, and I spent the majority of my life not questioning the existence of two discrete sexes; Not out of fear or any particular belief, it was just what I was told and what I observed to be true. When I (And Mike, possibly, though I am not him) struggle to communicate about and understand the reality of trans individuals, I don't think it comes from a desire to "disagree" or from a conflicting personal conviction.

      In a lot of cases I, and others, simply lack the tools. I feel like this has been my mantra over the past few days, as I've taken to more than a few comment sections, but: We need your help. I think I've come a very long way in developing myself personally on this issue. It wasn't hard because I didn't want to do it, or because of some moral objection; It was hard because it was new to me! What's the right thing to say? How do I talk about these things in a way that doesn't further marginalize those involved? Accusations of transphobia were a great deal less useful than the people who helped me to learn better.

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    2. All I would ever ask of somebody that doesn't understand this pretty complicated ..thing.. is that they be willing to learn. If they can do that, all ignorance is forgiven.

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    3. Jen, I think that's a remarkably fair way to look at things. It is unfortunate that feeling certain of your beliefs is such a cultural Virtue. I mean really historically sticking to your guns despite all evidence to the contrary is the kind of thing we write heroic tails about.

      The problem is the timeline of being shown or proven wrong on a cultural matter is multi-generational at best. Its actually pretty amazing when you look at the last twenty-years and what it has meant/made for the gay community as a whole. Look at the Black American experience and how it has evolved in two hundred years. It has taken understanding on both sides of the fence, and there have been many actions taken by members on both sides that have slowed it down, and generally speaking the people that move cultural change forward find ways to speak to both the persecuted and the persecutor to pull them together. It really is working together that really does the most good.

      Ten years ago I lived Northampton, MA. It was and continues to be a bit of a mecha for the lesbian community - I could be wrong but I believe they elected the first "out" mayor in the country many years ago. While I was living there people would fairly constantly assume I was a gay male. At a point I remember confining in a lesbian friend that it really had started to bother me. I remember her challenging me as to why it bothered me, and I tried to convey that I think it is problematic to most people to be identified as something that they believe to be a core aspect of their identity that is not the case. It wasn't that I had issues with homosexuality at all, it just wasn't my sexuality. I don't claim to know but I'm sure its part of the frustration and in cases trauma that so many LGBT youths and adults go through in the world on a daily basis. I just happened to live in one of the very few communities where the expectation was flipped.

      In the entirety of the time that I knew this friend, she wore her sexuality on her sleeve - by which I mean, made a point to clarify her sexuality at the same time from a gender perspective often emphasizing a sense of traditional masculinity herself. I remember fumbling for the words and then asking her, "Do you like it when people call you Miss or Mam?" and she said, "No, it makes me want to punch them". I resolved the issue by saying I never wanted to punch anyone, but felt the same level of frustration. We talked about it together for hours. She was a fantastic teacher and friend, and at the same point she credited me for realizing that not identifying personally with being homosexual itself isn't a homophobic act. It was one of the best conversations I ever had in trying to identify identity. I think even very open minded people who haven't been able to have that conversation with someone they know miss the ball - really on both sides of the issue. That the trans community is just from a numbers standpoint so much smaller than the traditional LGB community and sadly due to stigmas often so much more insulated either by choice or necessity, it can really make having those conversations hard to come by.

      Anyway, I hope anyone that reads this gets that I'm not trying to convey that I know anything, but that I'm willing to learn and even as someone who thought himself very savy and open minded, it took a remarkable friend and a long conversation for me to find the ability to want to understand the perspective. I was lucky in that I came to that point with someone that could value my perspective as well.

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    4. I really should have said my friend who happened to be a lesbian, not my lesbian friend. Its just that that happened to be the relevant description in the context of the anecdote... hope I didn't offend anyone.

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    5. Lumi, while I'm sorry to hear that my viewpoint hurts you, the truth is that IS acceptable to me. Perhaps that makes me an asshole, and that's fair of you to think, but I don't believe that I should change my personal views (or that Mike should change his) because they're offensive to someone. You said in your first message, "that makes tolerance voluntary." Yes, because that's how it should be. No one should be forced to call me something they don't believe I am, no one should be forced to change. Everyone should have the right to speak as they believe, regardless of how hurtful those beliefs may be (so long as the language isn't threatening, which I don't believe a reasonable person would say Mike or I am).

      Re: "playing pretend." No, I don't believe I'm playing pretend, and I don't believe Mike plays pretend when he addresses me by Sophie instead of my birth name, or by feminine pronouns instead of masculine ones. I know a lot of trans, genderqueer, etc. people don't agree with me on this, but I agree with biological determinism (or at least what I understand those words to mean). In other words, I was born with male genitalia, I more than likely have XY chromosomes, and naturally-occurring secondary sex characteristics say to me, "you are biologically male." However, being biologically male does NOT invalidate my life or identity as Sophie, or as a woman in general.

      I frankly could care less who feels validated or not by my beliefs. People will believe what they're going to believe. If people look at me agreeing with Mike about my biological sex as something that confirms what they already thought about trans people, well... it sounds like they aren't someone who was going to be very receptive in the first place. As I said to Mike when I first emailed him, I wasn't looking to tell him he was wrong, or that he should think twice, or anything like that. That's not what I'm interested in. Once upon a time I was very active in the LGBTA community, but my thought process (most often summarized as "live and let live" or "find common ground") lined up less and less often with an increasingly proactive movement. Maybe that's selfish of me, but I don't feel it's unfair.

      TL;DR: I don't mean to upset you, and I'm sympathetic to your feelings, but I don't agree that I've invalidated anyone's existence or validated anyone's prejudice, and I certainly don't believe that tolerance should be anything BUT voluntary.

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    6. If tolerance is voluntary, then that opens up for lawmakers to discriminate against you, for workplaces to discriminate against you, for landlords to discriminate against you, for private businesses to discriminate against you, for medical services to discriminate against you, for law enforcement agencies to discriminate against you... If they get the choice to 'opt in' to include you in society, then it stands to reason that there will be a fraction that will choose not to opt in. We know this to be true, because it's the world we live in right now. And look at the results! (Found here: http://endtransdiscrimination.org/report.html )

      Double the rate of unemployment in the trans population.
      90% of trans people report discrimination in the workplace.
      47% are fired, not hired, or denied advancement on the basis of their trans status.
      19% refused a home or apartment, 11% evicted from their home or apartment, for being trans.
      Twice the rate of homelessness, half the rate of home ownership, compared to the non-trans population.
      22% denied equal treatment by government agencies or officials.
      29% reported police harassment.
      19% reported being refused medical care.

      I'd go on, but I feel like I've made the point pretty clearly. If you believe tolerance should, or MUST, be voluntary, do you feel that the outcomes trans people face as the result of discrimination are fair, reasonable and acceptable?

      I have to ask, too: just now you've said you don't feel that you're playing pretend, but in your initial post you said people have told you through your life that you're playing pretend, and to a certain extent they're right (that you are playing pretend to some extent). Can you elaborate? Also, from what I gather, you mention that you believe in biological determinism, but then you state that you believe that you are biologically male, but that doesn't invalidate your life or identity. Biological determinism is (I'll quote this because it's the most concise definition I've found): 'the idea that people’s attitudes, behaviors, affinities, and other qualities are determined – in part or in whole – by their biology.' e.g. if you're biologically male, then your behaviors, affinities and other qualities are either partly or wholly derived from your maleness. Is that your understanding of the phrase? I'm trying to get a sense of how you feel your biological characteristics relate or interact with your identity, because to be honest the only arguments I've seen relating to biological determinism in regards to trans women are along the lines of 'born a man > have privilege over women', which seems to me to be verifiably false, on the basis of the aforementioned discrimination trans people suffer. What's your take on biological determinism?

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    7. Intolerance in terms of justice is related to but not exactly the same as intolerance or ignorance of a personal opinion.
      It's the personal feelings about gender and identity that inform the discrimination, yes. But when we deal with someone's ignorance, do we have to completely change their mind, does Mike have to accept Sophie's view, or your view, on gender identity the first time he's been thoroughly informed about it?
      I would argue no, for one big reason and one small one.
      The big reason is that it's unrealistic. Perhaps you have never had a prejudice about anything, but changing your behavior and being pretty respectful is pretty good. It shows some empathy, and at that point I believe that his personal views are his to grow and care for. Stopping his hate speech, having conversations and asking questions, these are good, and to demand him to adopt fully tolerant views internally on the spot is unrealistic.
      If I had a boss who treated me and other people essentially well, but 'didn't get' gay marriage, as a queer I would maybe hope he would come around, and if he apologized and said he would try not to say hurtful things, I wouldn't demand that he repeat my own views on the relevance of gayness or gender to licenses issued by the government. You can want that but realistically it isn't very likely anyone is going to change instantly after being informed.
      If you can get someone on your side that the consequences of serious discrimination are bad things, that the statistics you list are something wrong with the world, you still don't have to be his friend, but maybe there are better people in the world to be angry at.
      And finally, expecting proper tolerance to follow shortly after being well informed is unfair. It's not the same level of unfairness as being beaten to death or disowned by your parents, but it's still a bit unfair. When you're six you can rather easily be told that the kid in the wheelchair is not a monster, but if you've grown up surrounded by likeminded, seemingly intelligent and good people who are terrified of the disabled, the road to tolerance will be difficult for you. I'm not saying we have to be Mike's mom and hold his hand, but it's more likely to work than just staying angry forever.

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  3. Mike said things that were still transphobic, even if they were said in ignorance. He had been told by multiple responses that his comments were problematic and transphobic in nature, in what were very measured, very non-confrontational terms, back on the 7th. A good thirteen days later, Mike was saying the same things.

    This is the initial twitter post on the 7th: https://twitter.com/cwgabriel/status/343130484202692609 . You'll note that there is not a lot of vitriol being directed at Mike, and there are multiple constructive attempts to educate him and others.

    This is the 20th: https://twitter.com/cwgabriel/status/347754845387751426 . I mean, this is no longer ignorance, this is active hostility. Mike can't claim that he was ignorant of the issues nearly two weeks after people tried to enlighten him. This was mean, and it was an aggressive act from a place of privilege. It's utterly unreasonable to portray this as a poor ignorant soul set upon by the ravening hordes. Utterly unreasonable. This narrative always seems to appear when a cis person decides to direct some vitriol at the 'trans community'. It was the same narrative pushed after Julie Bindel got her hate speech published in the Guardian in January.

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    1. Julie Burchill, not Julie Bindel. My apologies.

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    2. I don't believe disagreement is active hostility, and as you stated he was literally receiving death threats. This comes across to me as the retort of the bullied standing up for themselves.

      Being twitter blitzed isn't the same thing as being educated and its not the same thing as having a conversation. When you threaten someone's life they can generally be bullied into backing down or they can stand up for themselves. I'm not saying he's right or wrong I'm saying the response was clearly directed at the people who were acting in a threatening manner. Compare that to Paula Dean's current fiasco (someone who the more information comes out seems to be clearly in long term guilt of racism) and her reaction was to back down and beg forgiveness in hopes of preserving her empire. Post Arcade writes a thorough argument as to why Mike and Jerry need to be removed from PA as visible leaders, personally I think that's ridiculous as to do so is essentially getting rid of PA.

      There's a certain media expectation to these kind of events, I think people expect and want to see the humbled figurehead meekly accept that they should be swept away but asking for forgiveness. I don't agree with, but can't really begrudge Mike's retort. As with so many other examples bucks the trend and the expectation. He does not back down from bullies, at the same time is able to show over time that he is trying to learn and grow from the experience. But, what do I know.

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  4. Sophie, I just wanted to both thank you for sharing your story and for putting up with my sharing and questioning on your comment boards. I hope I was respectful in explaining where I was coming from and I'll keep quiet for a bit as I may have over shared a bit.

    I truly wish you the best of luck and hopefully next year you'll be on a panel at PAX, it would be marvelous to hear you speak on gaming.

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  5. I'm pretty confident that you're sick of this subject but on the off chance you're willing to engage me I wanted to make sure I put this on your blog.

    The video gaming community is not the most progressive when it comes to queer issues in general so it takes a great deal of courage to speak out on issues that are important to you. Whenever we do, it's important to keep the conversation going and I think you've done an excellent job at doing just that. What started out as a cesspool of truly hateful comments and death threats directed at someone who didn't intend to be disrespectful in the first place turned into a very productive dialogue nonetheless.

    Unfortunately I agree with Lumi that Mike's response left plenty to be desired and while I do believe he doesn't want to be the source of anyone's pain, at the end of the day he didn't seem to learn anything. It just doesn't sound as though he takes you very seriously as a human being. The distinction I feel is important. That's where he lost me personally.

    I can understand how little weight that statement carries considering it's ultimately your situation to deal with, and your choice as to how you regard it. Here's how I would describe why other's like myself might feel his response was more condescending and belittling than he might have intended.

    First of all, we seem to have framed the conflict here as two competing but equally valid convictions. No offense but this is horseshit. Even if we are to ignore the fact that we're talking about your body and the fact that you and only you is going to know enough about it as someone who had been occupying it for years would, there is established social science in the field of gender studies that backs the legitimacy of the gender/sex duality that gender dysphoria bases its premise. We've crossed a point where these beliefs become established fact. Mike on the other hand hasn't given any effort to project himself into your shoes nor has he attempted to even casually educate himself on this issue. A quick google search would have answered 90% of his questions he stubbornly seems confused about. He seems completely uninterested in understanding these issues and yet he has some audacity to talk about your body as though somehow he knows you better than you know yourself.

    There are a handful of scenarios when you can tell someone that their point of view is definitely NOT valid. This is certainly one of those scenarios. We should expect a better standard of respect from our peers because as Lumi points out, even though Mike might be a nice guy, it helps pave the way for some not so nice guys. In a perfect world, tolerance would be voluntary, but there's a very good reason why it often isn't. We have to come out strong, lest we allow others to define us to the point where we are placed on the outskirts of society without access to housing, work, or medical care. That's what voluntary tolerance does to many people. For a lot of people it's not good enough for them, even if it may be good enough for you.

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