Fuzzy Meanings and Transgender Politics

(originally published on http://www.tgforum.com on August 15, 2016)

Chip Morningstar, inventor of the avatar, once said that all technical arguments are ultimately about the meanings of terminology. I think this applies to political arguments too.

Much of the controversy in transgender politics flows from an ambiguity in meaning of the word “transgender,” People become angry, even vicious over misunderstandings of this word.

The definition of transgender has changed multiple times since we started using the word in the 1970s. Right now, there are two widely invoked meanings. 1) a euphemism for transsexual, and 2) an umbrella term for all gender-variant people.

Things were simpler in the old days — the community was roughly divided into transvestites (TV), transsexuals (TS), drag queens (DQ), & FtMs. The term “transgender community” meant “all of the above.” Transsexuals were defined as those who undertook medical treatment and made a permanent switch of public gender identity. (In this article, I will keep using the term TS to designate this narrower class, and use the term GC (or gender community) to designate the umbrella term).

After TV and TS acquired sexual connotations, both groups have tried to rename their categories to something more neutral. Transvestites are now crossdressers, and transsexuals appropriated the word transgender for the same reasons.

So we have a word that changes meaning in context. One meaning describes a subset of the other meaning. People with deep knowledge of our community can usually tell which. It isn’t easy, because some TS people try to exclude the rest of the GC and really want the word transgender to only apply to them.

For the larger world, it is a hotbed of confusion. Two recent examples are the controversy about erotic motivations and the controversy over medical treatment of gender non-conforming children.

Erotic motivations are important for many in the gender community. Female-to-male people are very sexual, as are many drag queens and crossdressers. Some transsexuals are, yet others are not, to the point becoming angry when viewed in the erotic frame. Using the umbrella term when talking about sexuality blunders into this mine field. So does using the word transsexual, for the same reasons.

With children, the problem is that many of the younger children who express an interest in becoming the opposite sex do not go on to becoming TS. They become gay or lesbian, or a crossdresser, or leave things as they are. You want them to sort things out before making permanent changes.

If a child is TS (meaning destined to medically and socially transition), then having to wait is just more torture. The devil lies in figuring out which ones are TS.

If you claim a child that is transgender (using the TS meaning) in conversation with someone who thinks the word transgender means the broader gender community, it sounds like you are recommending something dangerous without thinking it through.

Some activists attack the “80% desistance rate” claim arguing that the studies used a looser inclusion criteria. Obviously a scheme that reliably determines which children will become TS should have a 0% desistance rate. While this may be possible with the “gender affirming” treatments now in fashion, it is too early to know for sure. Until then, the war will wage.

Advertisements

A Visit to a Trans Sex Party

(originally published in TGForum on September 12, 2016)

Word was that another transgender sex party would happen on Saturday. It had been a few months since the last one. I checked the fetlife.com website, read the invitation and sent a message to the organizer who then gave me the address.

The address was for an industrial building in the East Bay. I arrived around 7 p.m. and opened the door with two pink balloons on it.

There were big loudspeakers along one wall. The music is a combination of hip-hop and ‘pole dancing’ beats.

The dimly lit stage was about 20’ x 30’ and was covered with mattresses, futons, and people upon. I went to the opposite side where there were chairs and a curtain. I took off my pants and top, revealing a slip mini-dress with panties and thigh-high ‘stay-up’ nylons and looked over the crowd.

Many of the faces are familiar. I have been to sex parties before and there are many regulars. One stunning trans lady, then unknown, introduced herself and her friends. Others were new, around 50 men, women, and trans women of all ages and sizes. This party welcomes the “trans attracted” as well as the trans (others are more restricted).

A man is kneeling, going down on a trans girl with short femme hair, a ruffled bikini top, and nothing else. A black guy, endowed and naked scans the crowd. A lovely trans-girl was dressed in a stylized maid’s uniform. More oral and intercourse is happening on stage. A group of trans-women are pleasuring each other. The edge of the stage has piles of (mandatory) condoms, lube, towels, and a box of under-used whips and paddles — “dungeon furniture” being notably absent.

A man asks if it is okay to touch me and I let him feel me up for awhile. Later a friend tickles my fancy while we talk about model trains.

Most of the people are not doing anything particularly sexual — they hang out talking. There is a table with food mostly eaten and a few wine containers mostly empty. There is a long bathroom line and a smoking area outside.

After more friends come and go, I wander home, happy that there are so many trans girls that celebrate their sexuality.

Transgender sex parties happen all over the world. London has one (or more) each week. You find out about them by word-of-mouth or by looking on a fetish Internet site, as I did. You usually have to convince the organizer that you know the basics of sex party etiquette, which comes down to “ask first” and “take no thank you for an answer.” Most cities have a BDSM society, like the Society of Janus in San Francisco, which offer orientations. BDSM societies usually have a sub-group of sexually active trans people who can clue you in.

Gender In The Lab

(originally published in http://www.tgforum.com).

Gender Studies is not thought of as being a laboratory science. For me it is.

I work at a San Francisco start-up that operates a social networking site called FriendLife.com.  FriendLife is like Facebook except that we allow you to use the name of your choice and we focus on helping you find new friends rather than recruiting your existing friends. We also emphasize Life Streaming, which is the process of sending video from your phone or desktop to other members in real time.

Other companies do this too. We offered this before Meerkat and Periscope did. Facebook added this recently.

When you visit FriendLife, you view a “feed” similar to Facebook, showing posts from your friends. Included are invitations to view their LifeStreams. There is also a list of active LifeStreamers you can view, curated by our machine learning algorithms. We use hash tags and those figure in.

So where is the Gender Lab? It turns out FriendLife is a Gender Lab in itself. Gender is everywhere.

Girl LifeStreamers are very popular, drawing 20 times as many viewers as boys do. Like our competitors, we discourage “Cam Girls” or explicit electronic sex work. We have a team in Costa Rica that watches all the streams and flags the violators.

We pay a modest amount to our streamers. This leads to a competition to attract viewers and the girls push the limits and our content policies push back. We crack down on nudity and instead girls show more cleavage. We limit the amount of cleavage and the skirts get shorter. Its an eternal game.

Some girls act demure for several minutes waiting for the stream censors to move on and then push the edge. We tried to limit that by withholding payment for bad streams. If we think participation is trending-down, we may loosen up a bit to bring the numbers back up.

Some women join and try streaming and then get turned-off by the rude comments some men make. To reduce that, we tweak policies so as to avoid showing newbie women to men we think may act offensive. We also try and separate the racy from the prudish and the children from the adults and find that a few children will gladly lie about their age.

Men try LifeStreaming and become discouraged because the women get much more attention than men do. The exception is for boys who present as “Teen Idols.” These are boys who appeal to young girls who are just discovering their attraction to boys. Some of these boys get more viewers than our popular girls do.

Our recommendation engine uses a machine learning model that tries to predict which streams any particular viewer would be interested in based on their demographics, hash tag interests, and past behavior. A related model recommends new friends to follow. Like Facebook, we improve our model regularly and the actual details are a company

I use our streams as test data for the video distribution system. It is fascinating to see how boys and girls from different parts of the world reach out to each other. Some bore you to tears, others open your eyes. My favorites are well-illuminated women who talk and move around a lot appearing on marginal WiFi connections.

It’s fun working at FriendLife.

Review of Galileo’s Middle Finger

Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science

Alice Dreger, Penguin Press, March 10, 2015

by Jamie Faye Fenton

Galileo’s Middle Finger (GMF) describes Alice Dreger’s career as an academic and an activist. Her story intersects ours in her involvement in the Bailey affair. Dreger’s retelling of this story has reignited passions and draws renewed attention to an unsettled controversy over the basis of transgender identity.

I have a standard formula for reviewing a book: 1) Say what the author says. 2) Describe my reactions. 3) Make sense of the experience. 4) Ponder what to do. I gloss over much and focus on the transgender aspects. I also assume a basic familiarity with the “Bailey Controversy” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Would_Be_Queen) and “Autogynephilia” (the claim that transgender identity emerges from the erotic). ((https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blanchard%27s_transsexualism_typology)

Content

Alice is a historian of science. Her first focus in the social justice movement was on intersex people, where she crusaded against early medical intervention for disorders of sexual development, preferring to empower the individual.

During this time, the Bailey Affair happened, which she observed from afar. Later, a friend introduced her to J. Michael Bailey, then battered by a concerted effort by transgender activists to ruin him for publishing a book entitled “The Man Who Would Be Queen” (TMWWBQ). TMWWQ had many flaws, the most outrageous was presenting “autogynephilia theory” as scientific fact. Dreger explains what the autogynephilia theory is, why it is controversial, and why Bailey’s book explaining it incited the backlash. Alice then starts digging into the backstory and discovers that Bailey’s transgender opponents were indeed using appalling tactics to destroy him.

Bailey’s primary tormentors are Lynn Conway, the renowned engineer, economist Deirdre McCloskey, and advertising copywriter/transgender activist Andrea James. They do a host of dirty deeds, including filing complaints with Bailey’s university alleging violations of Federal Regulations, accusing Bailey of inappropriate sexual conduct & practicing psychology without a license, of impairment due to alcohol dependence, misleading the women he wrote about his intentions, and “outting” them. James put up (on her web site) pictures of Bailey’s kids with obscene captions, accused him of spousal abuse, called Alice’s child a “womb turd”, made threatening statements, and created denunciation pages on her web site attacking people whom she thought supported Bailey. Alice quickly earned one of these.

As Dreger learns more about her detractors, she finds evidence of autogynephilia in their backgrounds and narcissistic rage in their responses. The lady(s) doth protest too much, methinks.

Alice digs into the charges and finds them all to be a sham. She interviews Bailey, his subjects, autogynephilia theorists, and the few Bailey opponents who will talk to her. Her report is published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, along with dozens of peer commentary articles, both pro and con.

This was a powerful counter-punch to James and Conway, who react with outrage and denounce her efforts as being part of a transphobic conspiracy, Alice is now a prime target as derided and beleaguered as Bailey. While the ASB article is well received by the community of sex researchers, it does not undo the damage and scientific inquiry into transgender etiology slows.

The ASB article leads to a  Guggenheim Fellowship to study the modern persecution of scientists for politically incorrect research. This leads her to stories of an anthropologist falsely accused of genocide, a sex researcher who claimed that adult/child sexual contact is not always devastating , another researcher who believed rapists were motivated by both power and sexual desire, and more. Bailey isn’t alone.

Returning to the fray as a bioethicist, Dreger tangles with Dr. Maria New, who gives a drug called DEX to prevent susceptible pregnant women from producing a lesbian daughter, and the quest continues.

Reactions

Just before I came out, I read the DSM-III-R description of transvestitic fetishism and purged for the last time. I have no love for the psychiatric view of transgender as a mental disorder. I also saw what happened to Dylan Scholinski in mental hospitals while I was living with his mother. I know where our outrage comes from.

I also know firsthand what it is like to have a run-in with Andrea James. I was part of the “Autogynephilia Support” Yahoo group, and my participation garnered one of her “denunciation pages” (Just Google “Jamie Faye Fenton”, its still there). I was there to develop a better theory yet found myself under attack for doing that. I also was appalled at the tactics that James and Conway were using — I knew that the IRB complaints were bogus, that having sex with a research subject didn’t matter, and that the laws in Illinois covering psychotherapy licensure specifically exempted university professors and had written about these things.

Unlike most transgender readers of GMF, I am torn between wishing Alice had more empathy for the transgender predicament and gleefully cheering her on for calling out Andrea. Alice trod the same path I did and was getting attacked in the same way I was. Unlike her, I gave up trying.

Reading GMF felt like PTSD. It was worth it.

Meanings

The transgender community is treating GMF as a shameful sequel to TMWWBQ. Like TMWWBQ, GMF was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award which was later rescinded due to TG community pressure. It is also clear that most of the strident critics of GMF have not actually read it.

One problem with discussing TMWWBQ and the autogynephilia theory is that you have to explain it, and it isn’t simple. Its easy to mistake a lengthy description for advocacy. Most opponents handle this by weaving in course threads of condemnation. Alice doesn’t. Moreover she gradually tends partisan as her own experience of blowback builds.

Another criticism of Dreger is that she does not fully appreciate the moment in history that the TMWWBQ controversy was. For many, it is our “Bastille Day” when the transgender community rejected stigmatizing origin stories once and for all. While Dreger has been counter-stigmatized, she can find comfort in having earned that courageously. She has not, like us, escaped and then been threatened with return. The TMWWBQ uprising was about a lot more than an ugly book cover and the overreaction of three people.

Despite these distractions, Dreger’s main point stands. This victory was earned through a vicious ad hominem campaign with attendant collateral damage. None of the basic facts that Dreger found have ever been disputed.  Threatened, her critics pile on more ad hominem, straw-man characterizations, and accusations of transphobia. It continues unabated.

You can’t prove you are not crazy by doing crazy things.

Ultimately GMF is not about Bailey or autogynephilia, it is about Alice’s journey as a scientific activist. The validity or invalidity of the theory does not matter — what Dreger saw was a flawed political response to a scientific problem, and she is right.

The ultimate theme of GMF its that Truth Matters and it is hard-won.

Imperatives

Science is ultimately about the agreement of experts. The Bailey affair ran many of them off. We now have a situation where broad agreement isn’t possible. Transgender critics of the autogynephilia theory have struggled to make their case, but decisive victory is distant. It does not help that engaging with the proponents is so dangerous. The lull in scientific progress is tragic.

To the outside world, it seems that James and Conway are living up to the description of them as wounded narcissists with internalized autogynephobia. Ironically, they are quick to retweet and share everything Alice Dreger writes.  Their antics draw renewed attention to themselves and deflect criticism of their tactics. Its like the Ayatollah and Salman Rushde, an epic troll that rolls on and on.

If we want this war to end, we need to be able to talk about autogynephilia and transgender psychology without fear. Otherwise it will lurk as a hobgoblin over the progress of the transgender movement. We can only kill the messenger so many times.

As for the book, please read it! It is well written, captivating, and makes important points. It is also making history.

FAQ about the Autogynephilia Controversy

Do you accept the autogynephilia theory?

Some aspects make sense. Some do not. The theory leaves stuff out.

It undisputed that many MtF trans people have what Julia Serano calls “Feminine Embodiment Fantasies” that eroticize their predicament. Any “unified theory” needs to explain those.

Where is the autogynephilia theory wrong?

Most trans-people think there is more going on inside them then just sexual desire.

The experience of gender dysphoria that FtM trans people have is quite similar to that of MtF trans people, even those who have FEFs. Autogynephilia theory does not account for this.

The symmetry of experience between MtF and FtM is strong evidence that something more than eroticism is involved.

Back in 2004 you published a list of “flawed criticisms of the autogynephilia theory”. Doesn’t that make you a supporter of it?

It means that that I thought the critics were making flawed arguments. I made a similar list of flawed arguments for the autogynephilia theory.

One of the life-lessons I learned is that logic and nuance get you nowhere in politics.

In 2005, you announced you were the Poster Girl of the Bailey International Autogynephilia Society. Doesn’t that make you a supporter?

BIAS announced their Poster Girl selection on the first of April. A surprising number of people fell for it. The pro-Bailey faction was not as amused.

What model for transgender etiology do you think is right?

Eventually we will develop a theory of genetic/memetic interplay that explains it all. Its a way off, and the journey will be perilous as there are many sacred cows standing in the road.

As for why trans people have FEFs, as Joan Roughgarden put it: “the male to female body must survive testosterone”.

What should happen with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the APA?

I would drop the concept of paraphilia entirely. Ray Blanchard’s definition of paraphilia is in contrast to “heteronormative” sex. I feel its absurd because everybody has unusual sexual interests they would rather not explain.

What to do about pedophilia, necrophilia, sexual homicide, etc., then?

Create a category for problematic sex. Don’t include stuff that is only problematic because you don’t enjoy it.

It is revealing to look at books about sexuality that are 100 years old. Everything beyond the missionary position for procreation had a creepy latin name.

What do you think of Alice Dreger?

Alice Dreger is spot-on. Nobody has disputed the facticity of any of her writings. The criticisms are all about her point-of-view. Essentially: “Since you won’t join our lynch mob, you are one of THEM!”.

What do you think of Lynn Conway, Deirdre McCloskey , Joan Roughgarden, and Andrea James?

I get along with Lynn, Deirdre, and Joan just fine. It took some of them a few years to get over my dissent over their methods. We don’t agree on every thing.

Andrea James, whom I consider to be the main author of the “bat shit crazy” aspects of this affair, is a self serving bully.

What about Kenneth Zucker?

Dr. Zucker is the leading authority on caring for transgender children in the world. It is a shame to run him off.

That said, I agree that his methods are out of date. So are everyone else’s. We need to create an “extended liminality” for gender-variant children that gives them time and space to make their own choices. The “well worn path” of what I call the “transitional narrative” is not the only way.

Much of Dr. Zucker’s recent troubles are a consequence of his having published Alice Dreger’s take-down of Conway and James in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, which he edits.

What recommendations do you have for more information?

Julia Serano is a thoughtful critic you can find at: http://www.juliaserano.com/TSetiology.html

Madeline Wyndzen, whom I met on the autogynephilia Yahoo group, has a great web site at http://www.genderpsychology.org/.

Alice Dreger has http://alicedreger.com/. She tweets often as @AliceDreger too.

Lynn Conway and Andrea James each have an extensive web presence.

What is “autogynephilia” and why is there a snarky Internet web page with Jamie Faye Fenton’s name on it?

If you do a Google search of my name, a web page about autogynephilia comes up.  It claims to represent my views. I don’t agree. The reason that page exists is an interesting story.

Autogynephilia is a word coined by Ray Blanchard, a professor of psychiatry in Toronto. The word unpacks to mean “auto” (with one’s self) “gyne”  (woman) and “philia” (attracted to). An autogynephile is thus someone whose sexual orientation is being attracted to (the image of) themselves as a woman. In Blanchard’s world, there are also androphiles (who are attracted to men). Heterosexual men become autogynephilic women, Gay men become androphillic women.

Blanchard claims that autogynephilia is the prime motivation for gender transition for heterosexual men. This is the controversial part. Most male to female trans people think there is more than just that going on. I am one of those. Autogynephilia is also considered a type of paraphilia, which places it within the purview of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association.

When these ideas were first introduced back in the 1980s, they were liberating. Before then, admitting to any erotic aspect of your transgender journey disqualified you from getting hormones and surgery. Trans people learned to lie about that. With Blanchard’s theory we could acknowledge our sexuality at long last.

This changed as the transgender rights movement advanced. Our mention in the DSM was being used by our opponents to label us as sex perverts. A movement to remove transgender expression from the DSM arose and it progressed. Part of our strategy involved de-emphasizing the erotic in favor of a narrative evoking innate gender identity.

In 2003, things were coming together, then hell broke loose. A Northwestern University psychology professor named J. Michael Bailey wrote a book called The Man Who Would Be Queen” which presented Blanchard’s autogynephilia theory as scientific fact. It didn’t help that he chose an offensive cover image and made “tone dumb” politically incorrect statements about transgender people. This pissed a lot of people off.

The angry included Lynn Conway, a celebrated computer engineer, economist Deirdre McCloskey, and ecologist Joan Roughgarden. There was also Andrea James. I knew the first three and have tremendous respect for their scientific acumen. I was also becoming dismayed as I saw them attacking the author’s scientific claims in non-scientific ways that became more bizarre every day. It went from insults to attacks on Bailey’s colleagues and family to filing multiple bogus claims of misconduct with the University and State.

Against my better judgement, I entered the fray. I thought the best way to defeat a scientific theory would be to develop a better one. I also believe in engaging with everyone involved to find strengths and weaknesses. This lead me to a Yahoo Group called “Autogynephilia Support” which, despite its name, was a discussion venue that encouraged vigorous debate.  I had useful conversations with Bailey, Anne Lawrence, Madeline Wyndzen, and others.

One member of the group, hiding behind an assumed name, was Andrea James. She did everything in her power to shut it down, and eventually succeeded. Andrea also created “denunciation pages” about each of the active group members, including me. Andrea was also corresponding with me directly and I responded. My goal with her was to open her mind, which turned out to be a fools errand. Curiosity was answered with insult and I eventually gave up.

Her version of the interaction lives on at her web site. (My actual positions differ). It comes up near the top when you Google my name. I have asked her to put it behind a robots.txt file (which directs Google to only index the file internally). She agreed to, but never actually did. Its not as bad as Rick Santorum’s “Google Problem”, but I am sure she intends the same effect.

Andrea James and her cohorts met their match in Alice Dreger, an academic historian of science. Dreger wrote an extensive article about the Bailey Affair which was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. They went after her too. A year ago Dreger published “Galileo’s Middle Finger”, which describes what happened to Bailey & her, as well as what happened to other scientists who offended political sensibilities. GMF casts Andrea James and Lynn Conway in a poor light, who are now campaigning to brand the book and author as transphobic. (It isn’t).

I have resisted writing about all this for many years. Andrea James is a troll – someone who causes trouble to draw attention to themselves. Even negative attention will do. She has been doing this for years and has made a host of enemies.

Usually it is best to ignore trolls. I encourage you to do so.

Jamie Faye Returns

Like many others, I had a blog going for a year or two in the early 2000s.

I stopped for awhile and went to Facebook.

Facebook is not a good place for publishing complex writings. Everything gets automatically pushed out of attention over time, so you are encouraged to write short paragraphs.

So now I try WordPress. We use it at Transgender Forum, however I need my own place for my own ideas.

There is a lot of stuff over on jamiefaye.com from my past that I won’t be moving over now. If you want to look back 12 to 22 years, visit http://www.jamiefaye.com.