Another one of the books assigned for Human Sexuality, which I was nearly done with before I learned that the teacher had been reassigned. I finished it anyway, of course.

I have a lot to learn about trans issues, so please feel free to correct me if I use wrong/outdated terminology, or for any other reason.

Adding “in the modern western world” to the end of the subtitle would have been a good idea: the book does not even touch upon pre-modern or non-European/non-European-descended American concepts of transgenderism. I am certain that a more wide-ranging book exists, and I wish one had been assigned; I kept thinking, “Are you ever going to mention hijras? Two Spirit people? Sikhandi?” She did not.

As a history of transgender (and intersex) activism and history in modern Europe and America, though, it seems reasonably good, not that I’m an expert. Rudacille, a cisgendered woman (a term which never appears in the book), includes a number of interesting interviews with trans people. They are, however, similar kinds of trans people: all American, at least in their thirties, and people who strongly identified with a single gender and, to some degree or another, medically transitioned. Race was not stated for anyone, and was not made clear from the interviews; unless I missed something, there was no one clearly identified as non-white. Neither are there in-depth interviews with anyone who identifies as genderqueer or anything non-gender-binary, anyone really young, anyone who decided not to physically transition, etc, though some such people are quoted.

I couldn't help wondering if Rudacille, probably unconsciously, selected her interview subjects according to who she felt comfortable talking to (and who felt comfortable talking to her,) and so ended up with a bunch of people who were demographically similar to her and who more-or-less shared her beliefs. Irritatingly, sometimes she'd give a nod to diversity by quoting someone for one line, prefaced with something like, "So-and-so, 19, who self-identifies as a Radical Faerie trannyboy," and then not follow up with an interview.

Rudacille has somewhat biologically determinist and stereotypical views about gender, in the sense of believing that certain qualities, like compassion, nurturing, adventurousness, analysis, are inherently masculine or feminine. She also comes down heavily on the “nature” side of questions like “why are boys more aggressive/better at spatial relations/etc,” not to mention on the “oh hell yes” side of questions like “Is it even true that boys are more aggressive?”

The trans people she interviews mostly hold at least somewhat similar beliefs, citing their gender non-conformist behavior in childhood as an early indication that their true gender didn’t match their bodies. (It’s more complicated than that in some cases; some of the people she interviews are intersex.)

Rudacille concludes with a chapter making a case that DES and other environmental estrogen-affecting chemicals may affect fetuses, causing them to be transgender. I kept waiting for her to add, “Though of course, while that may be true for some people, it cannot be true for all, since transgender people pre-date the existence of any of the chemicals I’m talking about.” Alas, no.

I suspect that a subjective sense of gender is inborn, and that some people have it more strongly than others. I know people, male and female, who don’t have a strong sense of their own gender, and others who do. This seems to have nothing to do with whether or not you match a gender stereotype. But I would guess that the stronger the sense of your gender, the stronger the distress if you have a body which doesn’t match it.

I have always had a very strong sense of being female, but I was so gender-nonconformist as a child that it was a significant source of conflict. I liked “boy stuff.” I had “masculine attributes.” I liked to dress “like a boy.” But I never wanted to be a boy; I was just into stuff which (bizarrely, in my mind) was labeled “boy stuff.” I was so convinced that I was female, despite everyone telling me that I was in no way a proper one, that I decided that none of the things I liked could possibly really be boy things. I was a girl, and I liked to climb trees. Q.E.D., climbing trees was also a girl thing.

I mention that as an example of how biological sex, gender stereotypes, and the internal sense of gender seem to me to all exist independently of each other. They may all line up. Or some of them may. Or none of them may.

There must be some trans people who stereotypically fit the gender they were assigned at birth, and yet still feel that it’s the wrong one. (Say, a female assigned at birth who loves looking pretty and shopping, but knows that in his heart, he’s a man – a man who loves looking pretty and shopping.) I wish Rudacille had interviewed a couple of them, because that might have shaken her annoying beliefs in the inherent masculinity and femininity of abstract traits.

Any recs for something a bit more radical, less gender-stereotype-essentialist, and/or with more pre-1800 history and perspectives other than European and American-minus-Indians?

The Riddle of Gender
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