Monday, July 28, 2014

two articles (plus thoughts on autogynephilia as the transgender equivalent of slut-shaming)

note added 9-1-14 regarding point #2 in this post: The following week I had a chance to more thoughtfully and extensively reply to that Michelle Goldberg article. The Advocate ran my op-ed entitled “An Open Letter to The New Yorker," which is my formal response to the article. Following that, I published a blogpost called Final thoughts on that Michelle Goldberg article, faux journalism, and recognizing bias, which linked to other critical reviews of the Goldberg article and includes my closing thoughts on the matter.

Two things happened today:

1) I have a new article out on Ms. Magazine blog today called Empowering Femininity, wherein I revisit some of the ideas I initially forwarded in the chapter of Whipping Girl called "Putting the Feminine Back into Feminism." Check it out!

2) Some of you may be aware of a New Yorker article by Michelle Goldberg that came out today entitled "What Is a Woman? The dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism." It is basically about how Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists (TERFs) are increasingly becoming marginalized within feminism, and it is mostly written from their perspective (e.g., about ways in which they have been personally attacked or "censored" by trans activists). Let's just say that it is not the piece that I would have written on the matter.

I do not have the time or energy to write a formal response to the entire piece, but since I am one of the few trans voices included in the article, I feel compelled to make a few points "for the record" as it were:


1) When Goldberg interviewed me for the piece, I talked extensively about TERF attacks on trans people: About the hatefull speech I (and other trans women) regularly receive from TERFs on my Twitter feed, blog comments, etc., and how much of it is of a sexualizing nature. I talked at great length about Cathy Brennan who is notorious for her personal attacks and outing of trans people, her various websites where she engages in smear campaigns against trans women (once again, usually of a sexualizing nature). I mentioned how, after my appearance at a SF Dyke March forum on AGE DIVERSITY AND GENDER FLUIDITY - which was designed to build bridges between trans-positive queer women and those (often of older generations) who are trans unaware, and which resulted in respectful and constructive dialogue on all sides - several TERFs crashed the Facebook page and spewed so much hateful speech that they had to shut the whole thread down.

None of this made it into the story, which will likely lead uninformed readers to presume that trans people are simply mean and out of control, rather than reacting to the transphobia/trans-misogyny/sexualizing comments we constantly face from TERFs.

2) I am very disappointed with the way that the issue of "autogynephilia" was handled in the piece. I understand that Sheila Jeffreys cites the concept in her book in order to engage in a form of transgender slut-shaming (i.e., citing trans women's sexual histories as a way to entirely dismiss them and their opinions), and that this fact could be relevant to the story. But to have a paragraph detailing Jeffreys's and Blanchard's views of "autogynephilia" without any counter argument or mention of the fact that THE THEORY HAS BEEN DISPROVEN here and here and here, or that cisgender women experience analogous sexual fantasies, is downright reckless. When (later on in the piece) Goldberg mentions that Jeffreys paints me out to be an "autogynephile," I am sure many uninformed readers will believe that to be true, because no counter argument to the concept had even been mentioned.

And Goldberg's omission here is not for lack of knowing: I discussed my concerns about this matter with Goldberg in two follow up emails - to clear the record, I will paste those emails at the bottom of this blog-post.

3) I would not exactly describe my interactions with MichFest attendees when I attended Camp Trans in 2003 as "cordial." There were some good, positive interactions, but others were tense and somewhat hostile. I discuss this "mixed bag" of experiences in chapter 2 of my book Excluded.

4) Seriously, can we finally put to rest the "one in 10,000/one in 30,000" people are transsexual statistic. It is ancient and it has been repeatedly debunked.

That's it. Now here is what I emailed Goldberg regarding "autogynephilia"

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first email:

Hi Michelle,

I mentioned this recent Vice Magazine interview with Blanchard in our phone conversation the other day and said I'd send you the link. Here it is if you're interested:

http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/heres-how-the-guy-who-wrote-the-manual-on-sex-talks-about-sex

Also, I know you said that you will be referring to autogynephilia as "controverial." I do think that it's fair to say that multiple lines of research by numerous researchers have shown that while the fantasies are a real phenomenon, Blanchard's theory (specifically, that there are two "types" of trans women, and that the fantasies drive transsexuality/transition in one group) does not hold true. Also, the two researchers who actually used cisgender female controls in their studies both found that analogous fantasies are experienced by a significant number of cisgender women. 

All this research is summarized in my review:
http://learningtrans.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/serano-agreview-ijt.pdf

and Charles Moser's review:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20582803

both were published in peer-reviewed journals in 2010.

The evidence is clear that the theory Blanchard created to explain these fantasies, and his assumption that such fantasies are transsexual-specific and cause transsexuality, are both untrue. That may not move you. But I wanted to share that with you, because it concerns me when the term "controversial" is used to give a disproven theory some legitimacy (e.g., as it is in climate change debates).

One last thought: I talked before about how the theory is often used (e.g., by Jeffreys) to sexualize trans women, thereby invalidating us. In my paper, I make the following analogy to illustrate why this is such this problem:

"Many natal women have rape fantasies. It is one thing to respectfully attempt to explore and understand such fantasies. It is an entirely different thing to insist that there are two subtypes of women - those who have rape fantasies and those who do not; to use the label “autoraptophiles” when describing women who have such fantasies and to insist that they are primarily motivated by their desire to be raped; to include “autoraptophilia” as a modifier in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; and to encourage the lay public to actively distinguish between those women who are “autoraptophiles” and those who are not. Such actions would undoubtedly have a severe, negative impact on women (who are already routinely sexualized and marginalized in our culture). Yet, proponents of autogynephilia have argued that transsexual women should be viewed and treated in an analogous manner." 

Anyway, that's all I wanted to add.

Best wishes, -julia

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second email: After speaking with the fact checker from the New Yorker, I found that there were several passages from my book Whipping Girl where I discussed certain aspects of my sexual history that were going to be included in the article - I believe that they were meant to show "my side" of the story in relation to Jeffreys painting me out as an "autogynephile." I am thankful that Goldberg did not include those passages in the final draft. But given that Jeffreys's views and the specter of "autogynephilia" were raised in her article with regards to me and without any counter argument, I believe that it is worthwhile sharing what I wrote to Goldberg about the potential inclusion of those passages:

Obviously, I haven't seen the whole article yet. And I understand that, as an interviewee, journalists I speak with will come to their own conclusions, and may portray me in ways that don't necessarily jibe with how I see myself. And I realize that I am (to a certain extent) a public figure who has put myself out there via what I have written, and that people may use that in ways that I didn't expect or do not want. So you are obviously free to write what you want. 

But I would like to share an analogy: Imagine a feminist author who writes seriously about gender and society, and whose ideas are well regarded in certain circles. And imagine someone who has very different views about gender and society - perhaps they are a religious conservative, or a men's rights activists, or an evolutionary psychologist, or whatever. And let's say that they wrote a book challenging feminism, and their central premise was that feminist women are primarily driven by their sexual desires (rather than out of a sincere concern about gender-based oppression or society). And when taking on this particular feminist woman in their book, they didn't focus much on the ideas and theories she has forwarded, but instead dissected her sexual history (which maybe she wrote about in the past because, you know, women have sexualities, and gender-based-oppression is designed to make some of us feel ashamed about our sexualities, and sometimes we have to speak openly about our own sexual experiences in order to debunk heteropatriarchal assumptions that others make about our sexualities).

Anyway, imagine all that already happened. And someone outside of the situation decided to write about this controversy for a mainstream publication. How would you prefer that they cover it:

1) Spend a lot of time discussing "both sides" of the woman's sexual history: describing the religious conservative's/MRA's/evolutionary psychologists's/etc.'s depiction of her sexuality, along with passages of her describing her own sexuality (which, while in her own words, is *more discussion about her sexuality*, and which is not germane to challenging gender-based oppression and other societal issues - the major focus of her work).

or 2) Simply say that, rather than seriously engaging in a debate about the feminist woman's ideas or theories, the author resorted to sexualizing her instead. And as feminists have shown, this is a tried-and-true method for smearing people's authenticity and credibility (as I discussed at great length in our last phone conversation). 

You initially asked to interview me about the "tensions between trans activists and some radical feminists" (which I provided my thoughts on over the course of the interview process). I honestly don't understand how sexual thoughts that I had over twenty years ago (as a young trans person trying to sort out my identity) has any bearing on these tensions, other than the fact that Jeffreys stoops to the transgender equivalent of slut-shaming in her book.   

Anyway, I haven't seen the whole article yet, so I will reserve judgment on the totality of it until it finally comes out. But I did want to share my concerns about this particular aspect of the article ahead of time. As a woman and a public figure yourself, I'm sure you can understand why having one's sexual history litigated in the pages of a mainstream magazine might seem troubling (to put it extremely mildly). And if you had/have ever written about your previous sexual experiences in a publication that primarily targeted your own demographic in order to help folks better understand, and not feel ashamed about, their analogous experiences, I imagine that you too might be worried about how those same passages might be misinterpreted by lay audiences if excerpted in a major mainstream publication (especially one your relatives, potential future employers, etc., regularly read).

39 comments:

  1. http://aoifeschatology.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/americas-got-abjection-the-trans-subject-as-sacrifice-from-stage-to-street/

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  2. I could only bear to skim through Michelle Goldberg's article. So many straw men arguments in it, so many skewed viewpoints and false perceptions, all misleadingly (if not to say maliciously) presented as objective journalism. Did she actually write it herself or just take dictation from Sheila Jeffreys?

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  3. I thought it was interesting that she quoted Lierre "Liar" Keith. I'm not sure how much non-vegans know about Ms Keith's book, "The Vegetarian Myth". But it's been thoroughly debunked and numerous strawmen arguments and factual inaccuracies pointed out. This would make me doubt anything Ms Keith had to say on anything.

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  4. I am a former friend of Heath Atom Russell, a radfem detransitioner interviewed in this article and I just want to make sure a few things are clear. The article says "Eventually, she proclaimed herself a woman again, and a radical feminist, though it meant being ostracized by many of her friends. She is now engaged to a woman; someone keyed the word 'dyke' on her fiancée’s car." Ok, first off, she wasn't ostracized by her friends--she cut us out and didn't tell us what was going on, and the next thing any of us knew she was buddy buddy with Cathy Brennan and misgendering trans people, and refusing to have any in person dialogue on the issue (claiming she didn't feel safe around "males"). She also wrote some very viscous and untrue personal attack pieces against various members of our community, including against people who had tried to reach out and support her. And now she has the audacity to try and imply that the trans community had something to do with keying her fiance's car, despite the fact that no one in the trans community would ever do something that terrible because despite what TERF's say, we don't hate lesbians. On top of that, that event happened before Heath embraced radfem ideas, and at the time, she and her girlfriend lived in one of the more conservative and reactionary towns in the area (the town has a reputation for being anti-queer and racist). At the time they blamed it on conservative reactionaries from the town since they had a Humboldt Pride bumper sticker on the car, which makes a lot more sense than time-traveling trans people going back to before her conflict with us and keying anti-queer language in the car.

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    1. Thanks for sharing this and sorry to hear about how that all turned out.

      Regarding the keying of the car incident: Goldberg's article was full of such insinuations (e.g., without any evidence, assuming trans folks were responsible for vandalism at MichFest). She was rather adept at implying that all trans people are either a form of deviant men and/or dangerous, or else realize that trans people are messed up and now side with TERFs, while at the same time giving the impression that she is impartial and objective about the whole thing.

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    2. If this person is now a friend of CB's, doesn't that strongly suggest that CB was an important source and resource for Goldberg (at least anonymously) in putting this article together? How else would Goldberg know about this person?

      Donna L

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    3. Russell has a significant web presence, was at the conference Goldberg discusses, and was in Jeffreys book apparently. So no need to invoke CB on this.

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    4. Donna: It's possible, but as the article says, Heath appears in Sheila Jeffreys’ new book, and she has made a name for herself in the radfem community. The last I heard she had moved to Crescent City to work with Lierre Keith, who is also quoted in the article and is another major figure in the TERF movement. So while Cathy might be involved behind the scenes, I don't think Heath's inclusion is strong evidence towards that idea. I mean, the radfem community is very well-networked, and I'm sure most radfems with any level of visibility are networked with Brennan.

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  5. Much more level headed and intelligent deconstruction than I've seen elsewhere on the internet.

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  6. Is Goldberg TERF?

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    1. I have read Goldberg's work over the years, and I have no reason to believe that she is a TERF (if I thought otherwise, I wouldn't have participated in the interview with her, frankly). She was always a fairly mainstream (but to the left politically) feminist.

      I cannot say why the piece ended up being so one-sided, as she seemed genuinely nice and interested when we spoke - I didn't get the impression that she was anti-trans, and she seemed somewhat sympathetic when I shared my stories and opinions.

      Some are speculating that after the backlash against one of her articles from earlier this year (summarized - with links - in this piece: http://quinnae.com/2014/02/06/the-chapel-perilous-on-the-quiet-narratives-in-the-shadows/) that maybe she is now siding with or chronicling other groups who she believes are also facing unfair backlashes (at least in her eyes).

      I hate to psychoanalyze writers. I'd rather consider them based on the body of their work. This piece was horribly one-sided. One doesn't have to be a TERF to write a bad article that paints trans people out to be monsters or sexual deviants...

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  7. Can you elaboratekon how some TERF are cool with trans men? And then trans men like don't care? Or how trans men are okay with being seen as female at Michigan Festival?

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    1. This is another misconception from the article. Almost all trans men I know (and I know a lot) are dismayed about TERFs just as trans women are. Difference is that TERFs like to claim trans men as part of their movement (which implies that they are women) so that they can insist trans women are really "men." Most trans people I know protest this argument. But the TERFs continue to make it...

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    2. Fair enough, but then why do trans men then still attend events like MichFest, knowing they are seen female, and that trans women are discriminated upon.

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    3. Most trans men do not attend events like MichFest. The few who do probably do it for different reasons. Some were lesbians for many many years and feel an affiliation with that community. Others are more genderqueer-identified than male-identified, so don't mind the misgendering as much. Some feel appreciated in those spaces and don't think about how their presence may undermine trans women's identities in those same space. But again, these are a minority of trans men, even if their actions have significant consequences.

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  8. Julia, I hate the idea of Autogynephilia, I feel it invalidates my transition. That said, I came to my knowledge of my own desire to transition due to cross gender (always anatomical, sometimes sexual) fantasies starting at about age 13. The idea that someone could have these fantasies and not be transsexual scares me because I automatically assume that would the case for me. That is what frightens me most about AGP.

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    1. First, fantasies are natural. Most trans people have fantasies of imagining themselves as members of the gender other than the one we were assigned at birth. And Moser (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19591032) found that according to Blanchard's definition, 93% of cisgender women would be categorized as having "autogynephilia." And Blanchard's theory is just plain wrong (as I explain here: http://learningtrans.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/serano-agreview-ijt.pdf). In my book Whipping Girl, I offered a nonpathological explanations for why the fantasies exist.

      The problem isn't the fantasies, but the way that some people (Blanchard, Jeffreys, others) invoke them to dismiss the identity/perspectives/legitimacy of trans women. Having just been described as an "autogynephile" in a national magazine, I completely understand your fears of the concept being used to invalidate our identities.

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    2. And looking at "autogynephilia" from another perspective, shouldn't we be expecting many trans women to have fantasies as women anyway, since that's part of a sense of self? Wouldn't it be more inconsistent if we fantasized about being men?

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    3. The fact you hate the idea means the idea is wrong ?

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  11. For the record, I deleted a few comments. The first was from a shirtless dude trying to woo trans ladies.

    Then there was an anonymous person complaining about "autogynephilic men" being fetishists followed by an anonymous response from someone who said those "autogynephilic people" are not really trans because they are fetishists. Both of these comments are part of the problem I am trying to articulate - so please take your conversation elsewhere!

    If you actually followed the links to research provided in my blog, you will find that the phenomenon Blanchard called "autogynephilia" exists in both cisgender & transgender women, and other male-identified trans-spectrum people (although the fantasies may be expressed in different ways in different individuals).

    The point of this post is to talk about how people use the specter of autogynephilia to slut-shame & invalidate other people. I discuss this at great length in the following essays [PDFs]:

    http://www.juliaserano.com/av/Serano-TransInvalidations.pdf

    http://learningtrans.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/serano-agreview-ijt.pdf

    and in my book Whipping Girl.

    This is a personal blog & I will not tolerate slut-shaming (whether related to autogynephilia or not) here. Period.

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  12. I was the second anon. Thanks for the deletion. I was wrong and I apologize.

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    1. wow, a comment that both misgenders me and accuses me of "censorship" - how unsurprising. It is not "censorship" to moderate your own personal blog (which this is). You are free to say anything you want (however incorrect or hateful) anywhere else on the Internet. But not here.

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  14. Why being trans for erotic purpose is a problem ?

    All people organize their life around sexual fantasies : why do straight men marry with women and support silly kids ? For sex !

    The question for me is not if someone changes sex for the kink or not.

    The question is if this person will feel happier or at least not less happy after the sex or gender change.

    Will he be more balanced, nicer, opener, happier or will he fall into depression and isolation.

    I bet that an intelligent autogynephile could make a better transition than a dumb uneducated transexual.

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  15. Who knows what it means to be really trans ? Nobody.

    Everybody is unique. Some people follow the process of sex change and are called trans.

    Your are trans if you changed your social role and like it. If you just dream, you can never know what you are.

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  16. To see if people have a fetish is useful if we suppose that a life can not be constructed on a fetish because when the lust goes on, you remain a women, you can not go back.

    So people who change sex for a fetish ONLY can feel lost once the lust is over.

    But if the fetish does not means that there is no other motivation.

    The fetish can even be the visible part of the iceberg. Like men express they are men by having a fetish of fucking women.

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  17. And there is no shame in any fetish. There is no good and bad sexuality.

    The stupid religions make people afraid of sex. Sex is good. Nothing wrong in having the fetish of being sexy !

    The question again is : will the person like her situation once she changed her body ?

    Only this matters.

    There are probably tones of trans with no fetish who killed after sex change and many fetishistic trans who are happy after sex change. Am I wrong ?

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  18. Telling that trans have no fetish is an uptight sexist vision invented by homophobic psychiatrists.

    Why the hell would the trans be the only person on earth with no fetish ?

    Probably all trans have more or less fetish. So what ?

    They often tell they have none because they know they are expected to tell they have none.

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  19. Everybody should be free to choose his life.

    Even people with fetish.

    A trans should have the right to have a fetish.

    Stop using fetish as something shameful.

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    1. Why on earth did you feel the need to leave 6 comments? I am open to comments, but not individuals single-handedly dominating the comment thread. So I request that you not do so again.

      And I have no idea who your comments are addressing? I do not believe many of the things you accused me of.

      If you actually read what I have written (this review on AG: http://learningtrans.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/serano-agreview-ijt.pdf PLUS other articles here: http://www.juliaserano.com/TSetiology.html), you'll see that I am pro-sex and pro-sexual fantasy. I believe that AG as a theory and taxonomy (i.e., way of categorization) is incorrect, but the fantasies exist and have been misinterpreted by Blanchard and others. (again, read the aforementioned links.)

      Also, I do not believe in the concept of "fetish," as it is invariably judgment laden (i.e., as you allude to, if a sexual fantasy is considered by psychologists to be "normal," it is not a fetish). I write about this here: http://juliaserano.blogspot.com/2013/10/in-defense-of-partners.html PLUS see links at the end of that piece.

      Please read what I have to say before assuming things about me and my views.

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  24. The aforementioned person sent me a barrage of harassing comments and Twitter messages. They have been banned from posting here. From here forward, all comments will be moderated, so expect delays for them being posted.

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Feel free to leave a comment. Dissenting opinions are welcome, provided that they are respectful (i.e., non-flaming). Deliberately inflammatory comments may be deleted. Due to recent online harassment I've experienced, all comments will be moderated from here forward, so there will be a delay before your comments are posted on this site.