Everything is pretty great* (Gender Analysis 15)

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2015 has been a fantastic year for the show, and we’ve come a long way since we started. In addition to better equipment and full HD video, we’ve brought more contributors on board, including a dedicated script editor. We also struck a deal with a major YouTube network to provide enhanced visual assets, promotion, and other optimizations. In terms of performance, viewers watched Gender Analysis episodes for more than 9400 hours this year, or about 393 days straight in total.

I’m very happy with everything we’ve accomplished so far, and so many of our viewers have played such an important role in supporting the show and advancing the conversation on trans issues. That said, there are certain trends I’ve noticed among a very small number of commenters that really only hold that conversation back. While these comments can be unproductive and at times even hostile, I’m confident that we can all try to avoid these missteps and work towards a better dialogue together. Remember: if it doesn’t apply to you, it’s not about you. And if it does, I want to help.


Unsolicited opinions about appearance

Presentation is a pretty important part of this medium, but a lot of the feedback in that area isn’t very constructive. For example, it seems like some commenters just don’t like my face. There’s a substantial difference between our perspectives here. To you, that’s your perception, and it might as well be reality as far as you’re concerned. To me, it’s more like sitting at a giant blinking switchboard of everyone’s judgment.


You are a drop in an ocean of opinions, most of which can’t decide whether I’m beautiful or merely very attractive. Who do you think I’m going to listen to?

Also, if you feel the need to remark on whether I “pass”, you are missing so many points. Think about it: do you really believe someone with a trans symbol tattooed on their chest is even trying to pass? How about when they’re hosting an entire show about their experiences as a trans person? I don’t doubt that you could tell I was trans, but it doesn’t really count if I’m practically waving a sign.


Not paying attention to the episodes

I love how so many of our viewers engage with the ideas presented in each episode. But if you leave a comment that makes it obvious you haven’t paid any attention to the video, you are the reason I get high all the time. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to spend two shows on the biological complexities of sex, just for some guy with a profile full of MRA videos to tell me XY chromosomes are “male”? This is a quantifiable problem: according to our stats, viewers only watch an average of 43% of the way through each episode.


Plenty of you are clearly paying attention; others not so much. Unfortunately for them, every part of the show is an important part.

To some extent, this is my fault. Our network actually recommends keeping videos under 3 to 4 minutes, but these are complicated subjects and it’s extremely difficult to leave that much out. Right now, the entire series is slightly longer than the movie Titanic, and I know that’s a lot to sit through. But if you have the time to drop your valuable thoughts on the internet, you could at least go to our blog first and speed-read through the transcripts. And if you still think your definition of “male” is somehow built into the structure of the universe, you need to read some Less Wrong or Slate Star Codex. Please don’t come back until you have.


Lack of clarity on “mental disorders”

It’s interesting to see how often commenters claim that trans people have a “mental disorder”, because they usually go on to ignore everything that implies. If you’re going to point out that gender dysphoria is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and can therefore be called a “mental disorder”, that’s like stopping a movie right before the best part. What else does the DSM say about it? What do major medical organizations say about it? What’s the scientific consensus on the most effective treatments for it?

Remember, you’re arguing about this with someone who’s actually received this diagnosis as well as the professionally recommended treatment for it – which is transitioning. This would still be medically effective and scientifically supported whether you call it a “mental disorder”, a “physical disorder”, or a “green beans disorder”. If you think you can present a comparable body of scientific evidence that more strongly supports another treatment, you’re welcome to try. But you probably won’t have much luck if you didn’t feel like reading past the title of the DSM.


Faux analogies about transness

It’s been 10 years since that episode of South Park, and some commenters still think they’ve found a knock-down argument: if someone can become a woman, what if someone wants to be a dolphin? Or a cat? Or a tree? Or a unicorn? Or Napoleon?

I have some what-ifs, too: What if human fetuses differentiated into humans and dolphins during gestation? What if babies were occasionally born with partial human and partial cat features? What if taking tree hormones induced secondary tree characteristics in humans using our preexisting tree receptors? What if every person’s ancestry contained an unbroken line of unicorns? What if half of the human population was Napoleon?

None of those phenomena are observed in the case of dolphins, cats, trees, or Napoleon. But all of them are observed in the case of physical sex in humans. People can be men. People can be women. If it were really that obviously impossible, you could just argue “What if someone wants to be a woman?” without resorting to unrepresentative comparisons.


“But have you tried…”

When commenters offer their suggestions for alternatives to transitioning, it usually goes like this: “It’s too bad you couldn’t just be a really feminine guy. Have you tried being a gay man?” Maybe they don’t know this, but yes, I have tried those things. I tried them for many years. The two most obvious issues were that I’m not really a guy, and that I’m not attracted to men. Estrogen makes me look and feel the way I want. Living as a woman is more comfortable for me, and healthy intimacy isn’t possible unless I’m a woman with other women. How much longer should I have “tried” something else before acknowledging it’s just not for me? The only reason I bothered in the first place was that I used to be just as lacking in introspection as these people still are.

Imagine if I were to suggest: “Hey, cis gay men, why bother being who and what you are? Have you tried being a lesbian trans woman instead?” But someone who knows they’re happier with their gender and sexuality shouldn’t have to force themselves to live otherwise before they’re finally permitted just to be themselves. Do you really think this is a satisfactory solution for trans people, or do you just not want to see anyone transitioning?


Bathroom fears vs. reality

Even on episodes that have nothing to do with public facilities, some commenters have expressed discomfort with the idea of using restrooms where trans people might be present. Many are quite vocal about what they would do if they saw one of us, ranging from threats of violence to simply not using the restroom while we’re there. What’s puzzling to me is that they have so many “ifs” but so few actual experiences.

You might think such a hostile group, so hyper-attentive toward trans people in restrooms, would be very willing to share any unpleasant encounters that would support their fears. Instead, all I’m seeing are the fears. What did trans people actually do to them, or their family or friends, or anyone? Somehow they never get around to that part. These non-events lack any element that would generate sympathy – I’m not going to feel bad for the transphobes who are anxious over nothing happening. But I am going to be very worried for the safety of any trans person who might run into them while just trying to use the bathroom. If you are the one being disruptive, violent, or exclusionary in that situation, you are creating the problem here.


Putting down other trans people

It’s always nice when someone shares positive thoughts about me or the show. If our work has been enjoyable or helpful to you, that’s wonderful to hear. But if you’re just going to tell me how much better I am than various other trans people you don’t like, I really can’t support that. For example:

We need more transgenders like you in popular media, because I thought transgenders were sexists in the extreme. Like Caitlin presenting herself as a woman for the first time in a SEXY fotoshoot.

This kind of comment makes me want to disappoint you. When you say this, it’s like a backhanded compliment against all of us. I know that because I’ve been on the other side of this, and it’s never a good feeling. I’m often the example used when some cis person wants to explain how much they respect trans people, as long as they’re not too outspoken and feminist “like Zinnia Jones”.

No matter whether you’re comparing me favorably or unfavorably, I have no interest in being used to construct a wall between the trans people you like and the trans people you don’t. I’m not going to be a building block for your standards of what trans people have to do before you’ll respect them. The only thing you’re doing right is telling me exactly how to get on your bad side.

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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