A graphic representing transphobia - "Transphobia... It sucks regardless of why."

“You can’t change your chromosomes.  If you were born with a penis you’re a man, and if you’re born with a vagina you’re a woman… and that’s that”…

Whether this argument comes from a fellow feminist, or whether it comes from some transphobic loon at the coffee shop it has one property in common.  It’s completely, bold-faced wrong.  The biological destiny is a pretty core argument that comes from the opponents of acceptance, and the trajectories of transgender people everyone, even intersexed people.  However, what does biology really say?

Genetics –

Well, to be certain, the issue of biologic predisposition is hardly over.  Biologic make-up is only part of who you are, or at least that is what science is saying… So what does that mean?  Well, it means that XX isn’t always female, and XY isn’t always male.  That your sex chromosomes while create the favorable conditions to create a male with a male gender identity, and proper sex organs, and a female with female gender identity, and proper sex organs that it is still only a “favorable” condition.  As Dr. Harry Benjamin put it, “Our genetic and endocrine equipment makes up either an unresponsive [or] fertile soil on which the wrong conditional and a psychic trauma can grow and develop into such a basic conflict that then a deviation like transsexualism can result.”  This story plays out in other areas of genetics in everything from genetic disease to other genetic predispositions.  What geneticists are learning is that genetics are not destiny but a map by which certain outcomes are probable.  Where this would apply too transsexuality is that even if there were a “transsexual gene” that doesn’t in and of itself mean that the gene will be expressed.

Intersexed conditions –

Probably one of the largest pieces against the biology is destiny argument is the prevalence and instances of intersexed conditions.  If biology is destiny, then why are some women born without the parts that are ‘uniquely female’ and some men without the parts that are ‘uniquely male’.  Much is still not know about what causes intersexed conditions and it is almost impossible to directly see the process as it happens, but what we do know is the end results.  But what does this have to do with the issue of gender identity and transsexuality… Everything.  Many of the things learned unfortunately from the narratives of intersexed people is that gender, sex, gender identity, chromosomes and the lot of things around that aren’t so “neatly assorted”.  Furthermore it demonstrates the tenacity of the phenomenon of Gender Identity.  Regardless of assignment at birth many intersexed people need and often do transition from their assigned sex to their preferred sex.  All of this happens in spite of the best laid plans of doctors, families and the psychotherapists who deal with the emotional, cultural, and social pressures that happen as a result.  So, situationally we can see through this condition that gender identity isn’t a nice neat little thing that simple or superficial procedures can fix, alter, or conform.  On a side note, studies have also revealed that the genes that govern the growth of testicles or ovaries aren’t even on the X or Y chromosome, and potentially many other areas within our genome have an effect on sexual development in fundamental ways.

Environment –

English: Human fetus

Image via Wikipedia

So then what causes the expression of transsexuality.  No one knows for sure, but there is very likely something in the underlying mechanism within fetal development.  For me specifically, my mother had severe hormonal issues during her pregnancy with me, and was exposed to chemicals and drugs know to have a ‘negative-impact on fetal development’.  My mother was subjected to many endocrine disruptors both via intake and environmental contact.  I have no doubt that this, among other factors led to me “in the end” being transsexual.  Endocrine disrupting chemicals make up an alarming amount of the environmental pollution we see in our water, food products, and other consumable products.  It would be unwise to ignore the effects these chemicals as well as the products of the pharmaceutical industry in America.  But if these chemicals were the sole cause of transsexuality the amount of scientific evidence would be piling up on the desks of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).  However, just like the case with genetics the effects of these pollutants either work on a fertile or infertile genetic, hormonal and biochemical landscape.  As with all drugs, and chemicals individual sensitivities vary because the human genome is nothing if not diverse.  Some people’s bodies can take in 4 times the dose that causes change and be nearly resistant to it, and some people will react with half the dose.  In the end it’s the different biochemical make-ups of different people leads to the diversity we see in medications.  One drug will work for patient X and the other won’t.

Mechanisms, Error in timing, chemical signaling –

English: Smokestacks from a wartime production...

Well it’s clear it’s not genetics, or drugs and pollution alone, so what other factors can come into play?  Well even if there is no ‘disruption’ the process of developing fetuses from zygote to male and female infants, sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw that X or Y occurs with proper timing to break that process.  But moreover, there is a finite potential that the complex set of factors in play will not go as planned.  In addition to genetics there are chemical signals from the mother that need be sent to trigger the events that occur later in human sexual differentiation.  Missing one of these signals, interrupting them, or simply having an insignificant amount of said triggers can have a harmful effect on the end product of development.  Furthermore, as science continues to understand more about human biology they are learning there are factors other than just genetics, sex chromosomes or hormones that come into play.  Consider it like this… Human reproduction is like an assembly line producing thousands of new people every day.  Even with the best laid plans something is going to break.  Unlike cars each human has a unique blueprint.  And unlike automobiles you can’t recall, discard or destroy humans who come of the assembly line with unintended flaws… Flaws are what make us human.

Biological Destiny and Eugenics –

In that implication lies a more devious and dastardly tone.  The concept of Eugenics is hardly a new one, but one with a technology base quickly catching up with this harrowing possibility.  If genetic, developmental or biochemical defects can be found in the womb is it right to abort the child on that premise even if the child would be perfectly healthy though “Variant”?  Who has the right to decide which humans are suitable and which are not?  Does this start and stop in conception and birth, or does it go farther?  And this is the problem with the “Biology is Destiny!” argument.  There are others… variations in the plan, deviations that have both positive and negative effects on society.  Human beings are communal, and there is a tendency to embrace those like you and disregard those not like you.  In that sense then, there is many different groups that vary fundamentally from each other on the basis of race, religious affiliation, gender, biology and others.  Does any human being have to right to regulate others on the basis of their differences?  That very issue has been a problem with in human societies since the beginnings of time, and has been the source of much pain, bloodshed a war.  Who has the rights over the life of another autonomous being?  In my opinion, no one.

Socialization –

This is a prevalent space of discourse that falls within the nature versus nurture argument and there are hardliners that say “the debate is over” going both ways when it is very much a “live wire”.  Socialization certainly does play a role… However, just like the other factors it has been observed time and time again that it simply isn’t enough evidence to support it as a “stand-alone complex” as the popular anime coined.  While it certainly is a factor, it like other aspects of what causes the formation of gender identity, and what eventually causes that transsexuality are entirely depended on other factors… Given the number of factors that come into play a host of possible combinations of indicators can lead to the manifestation of transsexuality.  That has been a pretty common phrase to come out of long-term or in-depth studies, and out of the mouths of experts on the phenomenon about transsexuality.  And the evidence does seem to show that it is very likely that it is a combination of environmental, chemical, hormonal, genetic and socialized factors that leads someone to be transsexual and to transition.  Depending on the intensity or influence of the independent factors, one factor could supersede another or be more punctuated in the result.  And that is where we add one last factor…

Sexuality and Sexual Orientation –

I think this can have a profound effect on when, how, and how intense feelings of either gender conformity or gender incongruity can seem.  The evidence tends to support this conclusion.  The picture in this that starts to appear is that transsexuality is a complex that arises through multiple trajectories, with uniquely characteristic, highly variable but quite predictably outcomes.  Transsexuals attracted to people of the same-sex of their assigned sex at birth tend to come out, transition, and assimilate as their gender identities twice as early as those who are attracted to the opposite sex of their assigned sex at birth.  Gender and Sexuality/Sexual Orientation may be quite independent but also very interrelated.  The statistical prevalences are variable as there is heterosexual transwomen who transition later in life, and homosexual transwomen who transition early, but it is quite telling.  However, it is likely as mentioned before, that this is due to other factors.  It is uncertain if there is a therapy, or socialization method that can delay, or prevent the manifestation of the underlying transsexuality; however, evidence tends to show that give enough factors it is immutable to a degree.

The Core of the Argument –

It is through science that the nature of our existence will be revealed.

So then what is the central issue.  Given the complex nature and all the evidence why does this continue to come up time and time again?  There are plenty of relatively easy to find dismissals of independent factors related to gender identity listed above.  It is clear that brain structure supports that there is indeed differences between transgender people and cisgender people.  There is also data indicating that brain structures are malleable, but then in transsexuality one would be asserting that “transsexuality arises as a result of transsexual behavior”.  However, that position is supported by no evidence and is dismissive of other factors…  Often times I find these dismissals after reading and reviewing their sources have a disconnect with understanding scientific evidence, or site faulty sources of data that have been refuted through peer review and significant amounts of data in other studies.  This is especially prominent in people’s understanding of the findings through statistics, and other source material.  They misunderstand the “small percentages and statistics” as a preclusion of the date being conclusive.  A 1 in a 1,000,000 percent chance is still a statistical likelihood if the event it relates to happens thousands of times a day.  In a body of research as little as a 10% difference between control groups and the subjects of studies can give insight.

Insufficient evidence claims –

Once again the key to understand is there is multiple factors which contribute to the arising characteristic, and you don’t need for a 100% level of distinction to decide that the evidence is conclusive.  All the evidence shows is that there is a difference given the factors of the experiment, testing or study and it can’t on its own account for the variations in the data.  Perhaps the effect of X factor from control group to group B is minimal or mediated through another mechanism, or perhaps it is even a flaw in the sample, sample size, or the scope of the experiment.  However, the one thing that does seem to be true in the studies of transsexuality is that a “pattern emerges” and is reproducible, and research does admit to a certain fact of error and are unable to account for the mechanism.  That is what science does, it researches from every angle until it can reasonably pin down the mechanism at work.  People who don’t understand how “theories” work in science often draw said conclusions that aren’t supported by the evidence.  This is something of a product of black and white thinking, in that evidence that isn’t either one or the other is dismissed as non-sense.

Bigotry, Mischaracterization and Discrimination –

But this isn’t the complete of the argument at hand…  There are those who dismiss claims on an evidential basis through misunderstanding the data, and it’s finding but much of the issues lie somewhere else.  The mischaracterization of transsexuals is part of it, but only a small key piece.  Transsexuality lies outside of the norms, and the bodies of pre- and post-op transsexuals fail to conform the bodily matrix ascribed in society on a whole (as do intersexed bodies).  As such, sometimes without doing extensive research, or listening to a lot of testimonials, unless you are a transsexual you aren’t likely to have a vivid understanding of it.  They call that ignorance.  As we know, ignorance is the meat and potatoes of fear, prejudice and discrimination.  It thrives on it.  So at the utmost core of the argument is this… Bigotry, plain and simple, run-of-the-mill bigotry.  The argument has no sound basis, and tends to exist more often in an absence of reasoning, and information.  It is also part of the “Othering” process of the bodies of those who are different that I have mentioned in other blogs.  And with that othering comes that relegation, and eugenically motivated biasing about the “place, validity, and rights” of the “others”.  As I established, no human being has rights over another man/woman/others autonomy, and the only instance where said violations of autonomy are acceptable is to protect the lives of others in society.  That is the only way in which power can be used justly.

False Equivocation, and False Insinuations of Harm –

Does that necessarily end the argument?  No… Because some people will then use that argument to say that “transsexuals disrupt society, they confuse our genders and the genders of our children, and disrupting the children is bad”.  The use arguments of false equivocation to justify their bigotry, to reinforce their position based on personal bias and not on reason and evidence.  Arguments like the one about people going out “Black Faces” as an equivocation for a male-to-female transsexual “Impersonating Women”.  There is not equal.  I understand that to a degree there is a fear that the construction of female genitals are going to deride the meaning of natural female anatomy this point is just not good enough.  Sex Reassignment Surgery, in some senses, is the recreation of female genitals in accordance with male perception of them.  It’s a sensate hole for the purposes of male and female intercourse, and in that sense SRS could deride the value and purpose of sexual anatomy about sex.  However, it isn’t possible, reasonable or can’t be done with current medical science to reproduce a viable alternative to the female reproductive system in MtFs and more over, the reverse isn’t possible either.  However, consider this… What if your choices as follows:  Live with a fully functioning reproductive system that makes sex psychologically traumatic (to the point of suicidal ideation), to almost unbearable; or reconstruct that reproductive system to an anatomically similar facsimile of the one that makes sexual intimacy possible and enjoyable?

Society doesn’t make it easy –

A segment of a social network

Image via Wikipedia

I know the very act may seem to a degree a product of patriarchal malarkey, however, what other practical option do transwomen have.  Some can’t and never will be able to enjoy sex as their birth sex and not due to unwillingness.  I don’t know of any doctor who would or can voluntarily recreate a complete female reproductive tract (functional or otherwise), nor do I know of any technique that would make it possible for a transwoman to menstruate in the way a natal female would.  At least not yet.  There may be room for assertions that no transwoman would want to take those factors upon her, to menstruate, to bleed, to cramp or otherwise, but that is where you would be wrong.  Those things are seen as a rite of passage, something to confirm one’s entry into womanhood to a degree, and even natal cisgender women (or intersexed) who lack those capacities feel a loss for their absence.  It would be wrong to assert a transwoman wouldn’t do it if she could, even if they weren’t reproductively viable, or were part of a painful procedure.  But that isn’t the point here.

I don’t like the fact that many surgeries available to transwomen seem to be based on the male image of female sexual utility, though this is starting to change and will hopefully one day not be true.  I don’t like that the surgeries are economically not possible for so many, and that so many women like myself die waiting for an opportunity to get them.  Last of all, I hate the way society views us as neither, others, and derides our value.  I don’t like it one bit.  I wish that I could experience all that it means to be a woman, but I can’t.  I don’t have an ulterior motive behind this.  It feels more right to me than the lineage I was granted being born male.  I feel cheated, I feel I was denied the gift that comes from being content with one’s own body, and sex.  Perhaps in that it is the reactionary response to “not being normal”, or not conforming to societal expectations.  Not for lack of trying, but sex as my old role would dictate felt hollow, incomplete, lackluster, and ultimately not worth having.  I am going to do the best I can with what I have, and I wish there was a better way.  Perhaps one day there will be.

Conclusion –

I hope these points of illustrated to many exactly why the biological destiny argument is wrong, whether you be a man or woman, transsexual, bi-gender, neither, other, neutrois or otherwise.  Biology plays a big role in our lives, no doubt, as it can cause illness, or even prevent others.  However, biology doesn’t have the last word, and it’s hardly the only factor at play.  I think I have reasonably presented that case that it isn’t as simple as any one factor alone.  In fact, one could even conclude that it is impossible for one factor in these situations to act alone.  The evidence tends to point this way, and the patterns certainly suggest it is so.  Perhaps this issue will never be settled beyond the shadow of doubt, however, I’d argue that eventually there will be enough evidence that it will be undeniable.  I just hope that we get it right, and that we can avoid (as much as possible) the messy mistakes and missteps that occur along the way from discovery to acknowledging the truth.  But underlying it all is the fact that much of the issues with understanding is founded in baseless claims, unchallenged beliefs, prejudices, and bigotry.  I think, in my opinion, that the evidence and experiences of those like myself can go a long way to helping us understand, but that is just an opinion.  I am not beyond being wrong.

However, I am fairly sure that most people making the namesake of the blog’s argument in earnest don’t care about evidence, or have an overwhelming and unreasonable personal sentiment driving it.  In fact, most times the people making them are completely oblivious to much simpler examples in science.  However, the evidence is out there.  But, bigotry is bigotry.  Part of the trigger for this blog as been a few comments of “biology is destiny” both on my blog on other blogs, and with in the body of some people’s blogs…  Specifically a comment on one of my feminist blogs calling for an end to the attacks of feminists on transgender people and transfeminists.  I hope this has been helpful, and if there are any errors I am open to critique.

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