Anti-trans memes: The trans-species argument

Dianne Skoll.
Dianne Skoll.

Please welcome  new contributing writer Dianne Skoll,  who describes herself as “a Canadian transwoman, all-around geek, and founder of Roaring Penguin Software Inc.”

Many times on the Internet (though not so often in real life), transgender people encounter someone who  says: “Being transgender is a mental illness.  If someone thought he was a cat, would you celebrate that?  Would you be OK with that person acting like a cat, getting fur implants and having a tail surgically
attached?”

Let’s take a closer look at this argument, because at first blush it does seem to have some validity.

First of all, there’s a big difference between being a person (of any sex) and a cat.  A person can function well in society, hold down a job and have normal human relationships.  A cat?  Not so much.  So if someone seriously thinks he or she is a cat (not that I’ve ever heard of that happening), then there’s a problem because that person will have severe problems coping in society.

Second, there’s plenty of evidence amassing for a biological origin of transgenderism.  It’s well-known that the brain exhibits gender dimorphism; studies of transgender people’s brains have shown that in many ways they resemble the gender with which the person identifies more closely than the genetic sex. These anomalies could be caused by fetal development. Because the genitals develop much earlier than the brain, a change in chemistry during fetal development, or a mutation that makes the brain less susceptible than usual to masculinizing or feminizing hormones, can result in the brain’s development diverging from the rest of the body’s.

Third, there’s no medication you can take that will “felinize” you or turn you into a cat.  However, estradiol will certainly feminize transwomen just as testosterone has dramatic masculinizing effects on transmen. This shows that our bodies may be one sex genetically, but that we all have the latent ability to develop in the  opposite direction.

If someone confronts you with the trans-species argument, you can make a judgment call.  If the person seems to have a glimmer of reasonableness, respond as above.  If not, simply say “Meow!” and give the troll a good old clawing.

— Dianne Skoll, LGBT Perspectives columnist

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“Let harmlessness be the keynote of your life.” — Alice Bailey

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6 thoughts on “Anti-trans memes: The trans-species argument”

  1. With all due and genuine respect, and in the spirit of education rather than confrontation – that you have never heard of something happening does not mean that it does not exist. Nor does it mean that those who experience it are deserving of being put down, even inadvertently, for it.

    This link leads to quite a good description of what a therian is (not a furry): http://en.wikifur.com/wiki/Therianthropy (and there is also some good info at therianthropes . com, particularly under the category “Therians” specifically, to sneak in a second source). In a nutshell, people do exist who feel that they were born in a human body but should not have been, and identify deeply as animals of a variety of kinds. It is no more a mental illness than transgender is, but it is still far less accepted socially in anything but a purely spiritual sense, so tends to be invisible and restricted to online communities. Few people that know me know I identify as therian, specifically a cat.

    To make this clear: I’m pansexual and my partner is a transwoman. I have supported her through good times and bad, and continue to support her and other trans* friends, and I am not minimizing the difficulties faced.

    However, demanding social acceptance using an argument of, “We aren’t like those freaks,” or dismissing something as irrelevant or bizarre or non-existent because it doesn’t lie within your own realm of experience… well, not cool. I’ve heard gay and lesbian cis folks use similar arguments regarding trans* people, after all, among other examples.

    When it comes to surgery and the like, it’s worth remembering that not so long ago, options for altering one’s body to match one’s gender were extremely limited, but there have nonetheless always been people who identified in other ways. The current availability of physical intervention is really rather immaterial as far as the reality of personal internal experience and identification. Some body mods are available for therians, though many choose not to do so for various reason, such as because the results typically are cosmetic, not functional – yet (take a look at the history of GRS and compare it) and because of social intolerance. If I could personally have feline ears that worked properly and expressed my mood, a tail likewise, and feline fur, I would sell everything I own including myself to have them – but until they can be functional, they’d be just a mask, just pretend.

    My partner, who is neither therian or furry and knew nothing about the former and little about the latter until meeting me, accepts this as a part of who I am and does her best to understand.

    Therians typically can function perfectly well in human society, barring other complications, though in some cases that involves feeling like one wears a mask all the time. That doesn’t make an internal non-human sense of self less valid, or the sense of dysphoria about one’s own body less real.

    So maybe the appropriate response to the question, “If someone thought he was a cat, would you celebrate that? Would you be OK with that person acting like a cat, getting fur implants and having a tail surgically attached?” should be, “Would it make that person feel happier and more completely and honestly themself?”

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    1. Very interesting. Spiritually speaking, as a Theosophist (theosociety.org) I have long believed in reincarnation and the idea that our (immortal) spirit has journeyed/evolved through the plant, then animal, then human kingdoms in the material world (for whatever reasons we choose to do so). I have always felt that some people show more animalistic tendencies — or animal identity — because they may very well have been an animal in their preceding incarnation, with emphasis on “preceding.” Sadly, if that individual as an animal was treated badly by humans and brutally slaughtered, he or she may be equally brutal in their first human incarnation — which may account for some of the horrible crimes some people commit, seemingly without a conscience.

      But the fact so many people love animals and have empathy for them also speaks for the common universal experience, that we are all ONE — manifestations of the primal source — no matter our presentation. Essentially, the spirit animating each living thing is the same thing. So, we are no different than the cat in essence.

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  2. Hi,

    Just to be clear, I am not the one making the cat metaphor. It’s some anti-trans posters on the Internet.

    Regards,

    Dianne.

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    1. I’ve seen many such metaphors on the Internet, usually in the readers’ comments sections of articles about people like Caitlyn Jenner. Transphobes use that sort of example all the time.

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  3. I think you’ve made a poor choice of metaphors. Cats can and do survive with very little human intervention. They live, reproduce and increase the number of cats. That is the definition of biological success. Their primary dependency on humans is we attract the vermin cats live on, the original reason for our partnership.

    I have a problem with the biological determinism because post-structuralist philosophers like Judith Butler have been telling me for quite sometime that gender is a social construct. Post-structuralist approaches argue that the clear cut division into ‘male’ and ‘female’, identified in social learning theory, does not allow for differences among women, men and resistances or choice. Post-structuralism emphasizes that meanings about gender and gender identity are fluid and historically and socially constituted, primarily through language. Butler (1990) 1 argues that gender is not fixed but variable and changes at different times and in different social contexts. In this sense, gender is performative – we all act out gender performances. Our gender performances vary depending on the social context.

    In my opinion, gender identity is a product of both nature and nurture, It doesn’t really matter how we got here; what’s important is where we are and the things we need to live in the gender roles that suit us.

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    1. Joanne, I think your last paragraph says it all: gender identity “is a product of both nature and nurture.” In some people, it may be more nature, in others vice versa. But I doubt it is totally a social construct, because so many trans people know at a very young age — even before they start elementary school — that something is amiss with their gender identity and designation. I lean toward the biological explanation more than the social construct theory.

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