Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis

Rating: WORTHY!

In a seemingly radical, but ultimately common-sense challenge to status quo, this author asks whether it's ever necessary to require someone to have their gender flagged on something like a birth certificate or a driver's license. He examines four areas where a true unisex environment is called for - not just to not use a binary sex-marker, but to dispense with sex-markers altogether. These areas are (from the blurb): "sex-marked identity documents such as birth certificates, driver's licenses and passports; sex-segregated public restrooms; single-sex colleges; and sex-segregated sports." A section of the book is devoted to each of the four topics.

While I support this agenda as a general principle - there are far too many areas where gender is irrelevant, but where it's made into an issue of one kind or another - I'd take some small issue with the way this argument is presented in some areas. I felt it didn't make as good of a case as it ought to have, and I felt it was a somewhat biased case - there wasn't much of a serious effort to look at the opposite side of the argument or to seek out opposing views and present them - and argue against them.

Yes, there were some objections raised and summarily overruled, but it felt more like the author was trying to steamroll his case through in preference to offering a completely calm and rational approach. Not that he was raving or ranting, but it felt a little bit like a high pressure salesperson, and I have little time for those!

One example of this was in the section where the author is talking about how long a person has to live as a woman before they're considered fully a woman. It's more complicated than that, and you'd have to read the book to get the full scoop on the issues and arguments, but for my purposes, this fell into the gripe I made about too little use of studies to back arguments and more reliance on personal opinion and anecdote than was healthy to make a solid case.

The author says, "...does it matter that some transgender women will have been socialized as boys and/or men for certain periods of their lives?" The problem with this is the inherent assumption it carries that they have indeed been fully socialized as their biological gender as opposed to their desired or self-identified gender.

I could see my argument being irrelevant if a need for a gender-switch was triggered from a head injury or by a sudden whim or need for attention, but this is flatly not the case. One thing I learned early in my reading about transgender people is that they had lived all their life feeling like they were the gender they eventually (hopefully!) were able to migrate to. So why would they honestly be socialized as boys/men or as girls/women necessarily?

It felt presumptive and patronizing to leap to the conclusion that they had or likely had. We had no evidence presented to support (or refute) this - it was just out there like it was self-evident, and this felt like the author had fallen into the same trap he was arguing against: if it's always been this way, why should we change?

Of course we haven't always been this way. Binary gender is just a convenient convention we fell into because historically we were too ignorant and blinkered to think it through. Maybe a biological male who has always felt female might be rather less acclimatized to male patterns of behavior and thinking than we should feel comfortable assuming, and so might a female in inverse circumstances. This is what I mean when I talk about making better arguments.

So one issue I had with the book was that it felt like it relied too much on anecdote - some of which was personal - which left some holes where a wider survey or study would have filled the gap. Some studies are quoted, but the inline references in this book are not actually links, which is a problem in this day and age for an ebook. In a print book you can flip through pages to get to end notes. It's a lot harder in an ebook, which is why actual links would have been a big help.

That said, the anecdotes were engrossing, saddening, disturbing, and downright horrifying at times, and this is the main reason people need to read this book, because the hit is still shitting the fan, even after all these years, and it needs to stop now. If getting rid of sex markers is guaranteed to do that, then I'm pretty well on-board! But I have some qualms about the arguments, mainly because of the area the book did not cover, which is medical care.

You can argue all you want about men and women and everyone between and on both sides being treated equally in areas of sports, rest rooms, college admissions, and state and government documents, but being treated in hospital is another issue because the fundamental fact is that men and women are anatomically and biochemically different and sometimes it genuinely matters what gender you are.

Let me give a simple example:- a traffic accident victim is brought into an ER unconscious, and xrays need to be taken. if this is a man, there's usually no problem, because men never get pregnant, but if this is a woman, the doctors need to be sure they're not harming a fetus.

Often, it's easy (or at least seems easy!) to tell what gender the patient, but also often it's not and it's downright foolish to make assumptions, as this author has pointed out often! If the woman is a mtf individual, then short of religious miracles, there's going to be no fetus, but if the doctors do not know, then there's potentially a problem.

I'd argue this is a case where gender does indeed matter and more importantly, knowing the gender matters, and while this is a simple demonstrative example, it's not the only medical instance where the gender (or sex if you like - I don't like to use that term because it's so loaded with baggage) of the patient matters. Men and women react differently to some medications, so knowing the gender of the patient can be vitally important.

Now you can no doubt press arguments against my simplistic example, and maybe against medical treatment and knowing the birth sex of the patient, but that's just the problem: since this critical topic wasn't covered in this book, none of this was ever addressed. Having a sex-marker on the driver's license could be in some cases, the difference between life and death here. So maybe we should not argue to eliminate the sex-marker at least on driver's licenses or state ID cards, but to make it voluntary? It's just a thought.

I don't typically comment on book covers because my blog is about authoring, not fa├žades and lures, but in this case I have to say that this cover was quite a stunner. The ambiguity and charm in it were remarkable! It's a credit to the book and a pity the publisher rarely sees fit to give some credit to the model.

One curious personal comment I found was when the author volunteered, "For example, my birth mother was white and my birth father African American. I identify as either biracial or black" but he never went on to explain why he doesn't ever identify as white. It seems to me he has an equal case for either or both. It's not a big deal to me, but I just found it interesting and curious that someone with one black and one white parent had to be (at least historically), considered black instead of white!

To me, that's just as screwed-up as the gender issues discussed here, but I guess it's none of my business; however, it was one of several times things were tossed into the mix which I found curious. Another was his reference to the 2013 movie Identity Thief. The author cites this as an exemplar of the inadequacy of sex verification as fraud protection.

I thought it was an inappropriate reference in a book that rightly tries to set a more scholarly tone, but the objection here was that, as the author explains, "...the fact that many people have gender-neutral or 'unisex' names, Sandy being just one of many examples." I get that this is irrelevant when credit card fraud is perpetrated over the phone,or the internet, but it does prevent some abuse in person when a woman might try to use a credit card which clearly has a male name on it. It's not foolproof, especially in these days of fast everything, but it does offer some preventive opportunities! The real question to ask is: is it worth the hassle some people might get for the prevention it offers in other cases?

But that's not the reason I thought the example of the movie was a poor one; it's that, in the movie (which I have not seen I have to say), the man whose identity has been stolen, Sandy, seems like a sad sack of an example to offer since he apparently never thought to report his card stolen and thereby avoid all of the issues he was subject to in the movie! Hollywood is not real life and I think it was a mistake to cite what seems to be a rather slapstick comedy movie in support of a serious topic like this.

That said, I recommend this because it needs to be read - it's that simple. It has important issues in it about an ongoing problem that needs to be cut off summarily at the ankles, and it makes some good arguments, especially in sports, which has long been a pet peeve of my own. Some of the sports anecdotes are truly upsetting, as indeed are the anecdotes in other areas. Read them and weep - seriously. I felt like it after reading what some of these people - including the author - have had to endure.

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