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Even the most casual reader of this blog must know that I love in-depth analysis, of any topic. I’ve also been fascinated by the concepts of “sex” and “gender” for a while now. So you should be able to predict what happens when I run across someone doing a research-heavy analysis of sex and gender.

In recent years, prescription testosterone has become a booming industry around the world. From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of men over 40 in the US who were prescribed testosterone replacement grew from about 0.8% to 2.9% – more than a threefold increase. And data from 41 nations shows that yearly testosterone sales have increased from $150 million in 2000 to $1.8 billion in 2011. Meanwhile, chains of “low T clinics” focusing on testosterone therapy have opened dozens of locations across the country. …

If your T is low, you feel bad; if your T is higher, you feel good – right? This is the approach that’s fueled an explosion in testosterone usage. The problem is, it’s not just a number. In reality, “low T” levels are uncertain, the symptoms are vague, and the relationship between levels and symptoms really isn’t so direct.

 

This is related to the gender binary, the notion that aspects of gender and sexuality fall into only one of two opposing categories: people are either male or female, masculine or feminine, attracted to women or attracted to men. Under this model, there are men and there are women; men do this, women do that; men look like this, women look like that.

Pretty much everyone knows this isn’t actually true, because the idea of such a binary is easily refuted by reality. Some people are nonbinary and their gender isn’t completely and exclusively male or female. Notions of how men and women are “supposed” to look have changed significantly over time, and plenty of people present in ways that could be considered androgynous or gender-neutral. And, of course, lots of people are attracted to men and women, or to neither, or to people who aren’t male or female.

This is pretty basic stuff. But even when people see that space exists outside of two narrow categories, they often still treat these categories as endpoints of a spectrum – a single spectrum.

 

When it comes to transitioning, many people seem to equate living as a woman with being stereotypically feminine. It’s a common assumption that trans women express their womanhood via conventional or even excessive femininity. Movies and TV shows often depict trans characters as far more feminine than most cis women – at times absurdly so. …

Many scholars and commentators have simply parroted these assumptions, using them to criticize the process of transition and even trans people themselves. …

all of this still rests on the assumption that trans women are universally feminine. Why would that be the case? Gender and gender expression are not the same thing, and womanhood isn’t synonymous with femininity. Most people know better than to assume that cis women all present themselves like housewives from a 1950s sitcom. Are trans women all that different? How stereotypical are we, anyway?

 

being visibly trans in public can be dangerous. In a study of over 6,000 trans people in the United States, those who were seen as “visually non-conforming” were more likely to be harassed in retail stores, hotels and restaurants, and they were more likely to be attacked when using public accommodations such as restrooms. Practically all of us have faced the fear or the terrifying reality of being heckled by strangers just because of what we look like. Passing isn’t just about aiming to reduce our own dysphoria – it’s also about keeping ourselves safe from everyone else.

 

My talk today is … about basic awareness of trans-related things, and specifically the positive or negative effects this can have on trans people’s self-understanding and self-realization: the process of coming to know that they’re trans. It’s my belief that by studying and targeting the factors involved in this, we can help facilitate trans people’s personal development on both an individual and societal scale — or, to put it simply, spawn more trans.

 

I’d like to examine passing in practice. Most people think of passing as a one-way street, as though the responsibility for passing or not falls solely on trans people. We often see cis people feign helplessness and protest that they just can’t see us as our gender. This serves as an excuse to misgender us.

But we’re not the only variable in this equation. It’s easy to assume that perception is an objective sense – that we all reliably see a person exactly as they are, just like pointing a video camera at them. Yet perception isn’t really like that at all, and this means that there are aspects of “passing” that are completely external to trans people.

It’s a fantastic series, in my opinion. If you agree, consider chipping in a few bucks.

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