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23 April 2013

A rejoinder to Kay Brown’s “What is a Transsexual?”

Last week Kay Brown, the one-time author of Transsexual, Transgender, and Intersex History (which she later took down) and pioneer in liquid crystal displays who has become the major lay advocate of the Blanchard binary, posted a short and straightforward account of that two-type model.  For those who would like to read a succinct and uncritical account of Blanchardianism I would recommend it.  It is probably the best such account.
This is Kay’s description of a “homosexual transsexual”:
“The prototypical feminine androphilic (“homosexual”) transsexual was called a “sissy” by her peers growing up.  She avoided rough & tumble activities.  Her primary social circle consisted of one or two girls.  She actively participated in girls games and imaginary play.  Her parents were embarrassed by her femininity, and may or may not have sought professional help in trying to discourage her behavior.  As a young teen, she became interested in girls fashion and make-up, often exploring how she might look as a girl by dressing up and experimenting with make-up.  This did not, of course, involve erotic cross-dressing.  She had crushes on boys at school.  Her peers thought she might be homosexual.  She was hassled, perhaps even bullied, by homophobic boys, but otherwise was reasonably popular in her chosen circle.  She was considered very neat and well dressed in boy’s clothes.  She sought out opportunities to interact with small children and infants, taking on babysitting jobs.  As she approached adulthood, looking at her own nature, her potential future, both romantic and economic, made a rational decision to transition to living as a girl so as to grow up to be a woman socially.  Her family may or may not have disowned her in late adolescence.  As she is naturally feminine and passes quite well, she found that she was socially and romantically more successful as a woman.  She actively dated men while pre-op, but assiduously avoided direct contact with her penis, finding that emotionally uncomfortable.  Being young and lacking capital, she lived several years as a woman, taking feminizing hormones, before having SRS to improve her sex life, replacing genitalia that she didn’t use with those that she did.  She may or may not have found a husband and adopted children.”
You may care to compare this description with Kay’s autobiographical sketch that she provided for TS Roadmap at a time when she and Andrea James were on better terms.  You will notice that the two accounts are similar.  It is always easier to believe in a theory that matches your own life experience.

The distinctive characteristic of Kay’s life is that she was an early transitioner.  Other such are April Ashley, Caroline Cossey, Diane Kearny, Rachel Harlow, Suzan Cooke, Margaret O’Hartigan, Matene, Romy Haag, Hedy Jo Star, Kim Petras,  Veronique RenardLauren Foster etc.   While many of these persons acquired a husband at some point in their life, I would not describe any of them as ‘homosexual’.  Their quickly abandoned male persona did not either have a male lover or indulge in gay sex.

On the other hand there are gay transsexuals, many of whom are not early transitioners.   This is a common pattern among trans men, many of whom spend some years as lesbians, often gaining a female lover who stays with them when they become men.  Similarly many trans women spend some time as gay men on their way to womanhood:  Jennifer North, Poppy Cooper, myself, Roz Kaveney, Dawn Langley Simmons.    ++And there is Susan Cannon, science historian, who went to Dr Biber at age 55 after decades of sex with men.

Kay Brown embraces the Blanchardian model because it matches her life experience; I reject it because there is nowhere in it for me or anyone like me.  And, unlike Kay, I made the mistake of actually applying to the Clarke Institute, as it then was.  They did not know how to categorize me.   I was then 36 and working in computers so they therefore presumed that I was autogynephilic – except that there was a problem in that I had a husband.  Their solution was to refuse me all help, to ignore my husband and tell me that I would meet a woman and change direction !!!

The two groups that I have just summarized, the early transitioning trans women and trans women who spend some time as gay men on their way to womanhood are obviously two different types of trans women – that is if you want to divide us into types.

However Kay insists on labelling the former group as ‘homosexual transsexuals’.  This is obviously confusing.  Blanchard uses the term as he is working in the tradition of cis sexologists who have been doing that for over a century now.  These sexologists also refer to trans women as ‘male transsexuals’ and trans men as ‘female transsexuals’.   John Randell in the 1960s and 1970s upset many of his mtf patients by referring to them as ‘he’ and saying to them ‘you’ll always be a man’.  Even Harry Benjamin in The Transsexual Phenomenon refers to trans women as ‘male transsexuals’ and trans men as ‘female transsexuals’.   This terminology of course reveals that the very sexologists who were arranging surgery for trans patients did not actually accept that transgender surgery constitutes a gender change.  It is also downright rude.  For many years Ray Blanchard was urged to say ‘androphilic’ rather than ‘homosexual’ for heterosexual trans women, but would not do so.  The site, previously edited by Kiira Triea and now by Kay, includes a defense of this refusal to be more descriptive and polite.  Trans activists have been talking to the professionals for some time and many are now using more polite language.  Kay is obviously sensitive to this issue and uses the cumbersome ‘strictly homosexual with respect to their natal sex’ rather than simply ‘homosexual’, but like Kiira refuses to drop the word.

However there is a bigger issue: The ongoing erasure of gay transsexuals.   In 1966 Benjamin accepted Virginia Prince’s typology of transvestites as Pseudo, Fetishistic or True (Femmiphilic) which eliminated all gay transvestites.  Vern Bullough systematically ignored all transvestites and transsexuals who had male lovers. Blanchard and Brown misapply the term ‘homosexual transsexual’ to early transitioners, and thus totally ignore the existence of trans women who spend some time as gay men.  Excuse me for protesting, but I feel that for most of my life sexologists have been telling me that I do not exist.

See also Rejoinder to Kay Brown 2: the Gynephilics.


There are other important aspects that I could bring up including the crude positivism of Blanchard’s axioms; the disinterest in different types of homosexuality;  the biased selection by taking as subjects only those trying to get approval under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan so that it will pay for surgery; the disinterest in other theorists such as Frederick Whitam; the disinterest in history; the rudeness of the concept of autogynephilia and even more so of that of Erotic Target Location Errors;  the equivocation between behavioural criteria and identity criteria.  I will return to some of these, but today I am just doing the above.

++See also my discussion of Anne Vitale's similar typology.

1 comment:

Zagria said...

I forgot to mention. In Kay's Transgender History she wrote: "It is unfortunate that Dr. Benjamin followed the lamentable practice of the first half of the century of using gender pronouns consonent with sex assignment at birth even after transition". A position that she has backed off from.