Pronouns and the Purpose of Language

The purpose of language is communication, whatever our other aspirations for it may be. Toward this end, it must be easy to use, flexible and clear.

Once in a while, someone tries to change language for idealistic purposes. A convenient example is feminists’ perennial attempts to change the word “women” to something like “womyn” to separate it, philosophically, from the word “man.” The word spellings are only related, feminists argue, because men are considered the default sex and women are defined in relation to men. We should stop spelling the words to reflect these old biases.

Admirable goal. But efforts like these have always failed. That’s because this isn’t how language works. Language is a tool, not a PR kit. Thus, it changes organically, never by decree. Trying to change it into a vehicle for propaganda, however well-intentioned, takes it further away from what it’s designed to do.  It’s for communicating, not signaling

That’s why dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive. And that’s why people on all sides of the political spectrum are misguided when they petition to change dictionary definitions, as when a trans-rights group recently petitioned to expand the definition of “woman,” and then a radical feminist group, in turn, petitioned to further restrict that definition. Neither side should win. The dictionary should reflect common use. It’s a reference.

That brings us to “preferred pronouns.” Though journalists are doing a fine job of using them to signal, no one’s faring as well when trying to use them to communicate.

Let’s start with this fact: “preferred pronouns” are for people who don’t pass. People who do (though I maintain that’s rare) don’t need to tell you their pronouns. In practice, this means that to ask someone to use your pronouns is specifically to ask her to say the opposite of what she means. Then, those listening, if they’re to understand, must interpret what she says in a way that’s unintuitive. Both speaker and listener must work harder, and all this for less, rather than more clarity. That’s our first problem for communication, out of the gate.

But the problem is not just theoretical. Here are some examples of how I’ve watched this particular language prescription fail.

The first is from personal experience. At some point after a stint of light cross-dressing, my ex began to say he was “literally” a woman and that he wanted to be called “she.”

At the same time, he didn’t dress excessively “feminine.” This is something he was proud of. “Women don’t go everywhere dressed to the nines,” he said (this all changed later, but that’s another story). So he wore a lot of things like jeans with a subtle floral pattern, scarves, and high-top tennis shoes. In practice, this meant he looked a man with some flair, not a woman.

One time we met another couple (a man and a woman) at a bar. The three of them arrived before me, and my spouse started a tab. At this particular bar, one opened a tab without providing a credit card. The bartenders just remembered your face. The three of them got their drinks and took a seat in a booth not far from the bar.

When I arrived, the spouse informed me of the tab. So I went to the bar and ordered a drink. Mind you, this was a bar, so it was loud–people talking, TVs playing. At the same time, my party was in a booth nearby, within earshot of the bar–especially if I talked loud, which I had to do to be heard.

“Are you on someone’s tab?” the bartender asked.

“Yes,” I said, and pointed toward my party.

“Whose tab?” the bartender asked.

And here’s where, in order to please my spouse, I needed to point at him and say: “hers.” Remember, he was within earshot.

But if I had done that, the bartender would have assumed that I was talking about the only woman at the table. That’s what “hers” means, for communication purposes–the tab belonging to the woman. Signaling is another story. But signaling doesn’t get the job done, especially when the conversation is loud and fast-paced and casual.

So I had to say something else, and “that person’s” sounds a bit objectifying (as well as unexpected, and thus unclear). How about “I am on the tab belonging to the person in the t-shirt with the mermaid on it?” Too long. The bartender is in a hurry. He wants to know the answer to his question. He does not want to participate in a signaling song-and-dance that helps me hide reality from my insecure partner.

“Her” can be used in an article about a “trans woman,” where there’s plenty of space and time to tweak for clarity. “Her” can’t be used in this way to communicate in practice.

My second example is from personal experience, too. I’ll soon be speaking on a panel at a conference with three other graduates, and we’re coordinating our plans on an email thread, with our professor. Only one male person is involved. Let’s call him Richard. The other students, and the professor, are female.

One young woman on the thread has printed “preferred pronouns” in her email signature. She’s listed “she/her,” “he/him,” and “they/them.” Because she wants all the queer cred. By the way, she’s a thin, pretty young woman with long blonde hair, a helium voice, and delicate skin, who primarily wears dresses. She also has a very feminine name. Let’s call her Alyssa.

If I started to refer to Alyssa as “he” on the thread, do you suppose anyone would know what I was talking about?

If what I said could in any way be applied to Richard, they’d assume I was talking about Richard. If it couldn’t, they’d assume they’d missed something or that I was simply making zero sense. Under no circumstance would people assume I was talking about Alyssa.

In fact, it would be so clearly absurd for me to do so, that they might think I was making fun of Alyssa’s pronoun request.

My third example is from a non-fiction audiobook I recently listened to. The author had interviewed a person named “Julie” who preferred the pronouns “they” and “them.”

Note that before the author can proceed, he must forewarn and explain the use of these pronouns. Simply using them, as though the goal were communication, is not an option. Here’s how the author opened. I’m paraphrasing:

“Julie is an expert in this field. They–Julie prefers the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’–have been studying this topic for many years.”

Great for signaling. We can tell the author is probably a liberal and an LGBT ally. But less great for communicating. As you’ll see, we can no longer follow what’s going on with Julie  once we abandon language as communication tool. Check out some of the statements that follow:

“Julie comes from a big Catholic family who lives in a small town, and they always wanted to move to the city.”

The family wants to move to the city, right? “They” is plural, and that’s what a sentence like this has always meant. No, actually Julie wants to move to the city, to get away from her family. The big Catholic family loves the country!

But the author didn’t write that sentence, he wrote this one:

“Julie comes from a big Catholic family who lives in a small town, and Julie always wanted to move to the city.”

Why? Because “they” doesn’t convey the intended meaning. Pronouns haven’t been swapped, here. They’ve been rendered useless.

Then he writes this:

“Julie joined a sorority and Julie started taking Spanish lessons.”

You can see why. Because the sorority, despite containing a plurality of members, is not who took those lessons. And the author can’t signal his allyship to Julie and communicate effectively at the same time.

Twice, now, Julie’s pronoun demands have inhibited the author’s ability to be clear. Rather than figure out how to make “they” work, he’s had to abandon pronouns altogether–an entire part of speech. And he’s writing, so he has time to figure something out. What happens when he’s talking, he’s in a hurry, and the person he’s referring to is named Sharmishtha?

Might as well wrap a hammer in six yards of plush fake fur, on the grounds that we want safer hammers, then ask a construction crew to build a house with it.

Women’s Clothing Is Always Drag–Even On Women

Have you ever been to a drag show where there were “drag kings”? Have you noticed it’s hard for women to do drag? After all, if they took the stage in jeans and t-shirts, or cargo pants and fleece hoodies, or shorts and flip flops, they wouldn’t look like they were in drag. They’d just look like they’d gotten dressed.

That’s because most “men’s” clothing doesn’t signal anything. It’s meant to be useful. Warm when it’s cold, cool when it’s warm. Full of pockets for putting things in.

So drag kings have to rely on those few articles of clothing that do signify masculinity: bow ties, neckties, the carefully tucked handkerchief in the breast pocket, the tuxedo with a cummerbund.

And they have to do less drag. Because there isn’t much to work with.

Men who dress as women, however, can wear almost anything off the women’s rack. Because women’s clothing is marked not by its usefulness, but by the opposite–its decorativeness. Ribbons, ruffles, polka-dots, movement-restricting skirts, wide-necked tops that fall off the shoulders, shoes that hobble the feet–these don’t help women do things. These “look cute” and/or inhibit the doing of things. Even women’s button-up cotton shirts, one of the least ornamental items available to us, are made with “darts,” those little stitches under the arms that tighten the garment around the breasts. Because God forbid a woman exit her house without emphasizing her breasts.

Women’s clothing is costume. It does not serve other purposes. There is never any reason for a woman, or anyone else, to don women’s clothing, outside the purpose of making a “feminine” display of herself. A possible exception is a bra, which arguably serves the purpose of providing comfort to a large-breasted woman who jogs. 

It’s not like a spacesuit, which would be drag if a businessman wore it to work, but useful for someone who needs to walk on the moon. Or a hardhat, which is silly on a member of The Village People, but life-saving for someone working at a construction site. Women’s clothing is just decorative, all around. Nothing more.

This has always been obvious to me. When I’ve put on sparkly eye shadow or a dress suit, it’s hasn’t been because I have a “gender identity.” It’s been because I thought it would get me somewhere, socially. A date, a job, the ability to pass through a crowd unnoticed, because I’m dressed as expected. I wouldn’t put on a costume–whether it’s eye shadow or a bear suit–outside of navigating a relevant social situation.

I certainly wouldn’t put one on if it made my life harder instead of easier, as it does for a masculine “trans woman.” Thus, “trans women” don’t put on what makes them comfortable or helps them navigate the world or even what contours properly with their body type. They put on a costume.

Costuming is not an inherent interest of females. It can be one for fetishists, though.

My ex used to worry a lot about being confused with a drag queen. He had a whole complicated set of delusions around the difference between his cross-dressing and the cross-dressing of other men, including a belief that his cross-dressing was more “legit” (yes, that’s homophobia you’re detecting) and a belief that bystanders could detect his inner feelings and thereby determine that he was trans and/or an “actual” woman.

For other men, women’s clothing was drag, you see. For him, it was… natural. Or something.

But unfortunately for that narrative, women’s clothing is drag for everyone.

Since it isn’t any more “legit” for women to wear women’s clothing than it is for men–it’s just a display–it certainly isn’t any more “legit” for some men than other men.

Transgenderism’s Test of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

The United States is losing its mind. Dishonesty permeates every facet of life here, from academia’s illicit courtship with postmodernism to corporate buzzspeak to a journalism dominated by clickbait–to say nothing of political discourse. What has been going on since long before “I didn’t inhale” has culminated in “there is no pandemic” and since we accepted it then, we have little excuse to stop accepting it now. “Trans women are literally women” is but a symptom of this disease.

While the entire Western world is fucked in its own ways, I’ve come to understand–through travels abroad, conversations with international friends and now my experiences with presses and agents overseas–that much of the world is not as fucked as we are. Even in nations where the local conservative parties are more liberal than our liberal parties, people do not feel compelled to pretend that “trans women are women.” 

Many have noted the similarities between the language of modern transgender activism and the truth-obfuscating “Ministry of Truth” in George Orwell’s 1984. Conversion therapy has come to mean not turning gay kids into straight ones. Taking on a practiced and purchased persona has come to mean becoming your “true, authentic self.” A surgery to remove body parts is described as a way to make someone feel “whole.” “Trans women are women” is the new two plus two equals five. And whole news stories, WordPress blogs, Reddit forums, and even inconvenient scientific studies have gone straight down the “memory hole,” lest someone get exposed to the wrong thoughts. 

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, a linguistic theory that has gone in and out of favor over time, argues that language influences or even dictates thought. Like other feminists, I’ve observed the erasure of the word “woman” and watched that translate to an inability to speak about an entire class of people, leading directly to an inability to pursue activism on behalf of that class. This isn’t hypothetical; it’s playing out in the real world. Male activists are infiltrating and shutting down rape support groups, crisis centers, feminist consciousness-raising spaces, reproductive rights campaigns and even resources for pregnant women in the name of reducing their feelings of “exclusion.”

What I hadn’t thought as much about was how language might foster delusion in mentally-ill trans people themselves.

A recent conversation with a native Japanese speaker showed me that the English language presents the “perfect storm” for the transgender lobby’s insistence upon “preferred pronouns.”  In her language, she said, it isn’t possible to demand that others use particular pronouns because pronouns don’t exist.

The romance languages, like French and Spanish, also muddle the pronoun issue, but for the opposite reason. They have pronouns for everything. People have genders, objects have genders, concepts have genders, and even adjectives reflect the gender of other parts of speech. The word for “it” sometimes means “he” or “they” but not “she”–how would you affirm a non-binary femme in such a language? Choosing a pronoun isn’t straightforward; it’s subject to myriad and complex rules. The person being referred to is but one factor and not always the most important one.

In English, however, pronouns exist and they refer primarily to people. It’s easy to insist that others call you “she,” because “she” is a word and it isn’t being used so indiscriminately that it loses its “affirming” potency. When someone calls you she, they must think you’re a woman!

Though there’s a widespread belief that late-transitioning, primarily-straight men are “faking it,” my ex does believe that he is a woman. Yes, it’s hard to imagine the cognitive dissonance. And yes, the carefully-curated selfies, the cries of “exclusion” and the frequent identity-related meltdowns reveal a deep insecurity around identity. But delusions are a thing, however little sense they sometimes make. He also experienced delusions of grandeur and delusions of persecution (more in my book–coming soon!).

And here’s the thing–as he received more and more “affirmation” from others–from friends using “preferred pronouns” to social media accolades–his delusions grew worse, not better. 

Suppose the idea that one is the opposite sex is a straightforward break with reality, not qualitatively different from other types of delusions. Perhaps, then, it doesn’t promote the health of a transgender person to “affirm” his gender, any more than it promotes the health of a schizophrenic to “affirm” the microchip a foreign government implanted in his brain.

Statistically, the numbers of transgender people are climbing exponentially in the U.S. and the U.K., both English-speaking countries. Anecdotally, though we don’t have sufficient studies, that isn’t happening in Japan or much of Western Europe. Are English-speaking people with gender dysphoria sicker than their counterparts who speak other languages? Could we be watching the power of language to influence thought, particularly in the vulnerable?

Trashing the LGB: What’s the Motivation?

You know that redneck uncle who finds a reason at every family gathering to say, “look, I’m not prejudiced… BUT… [insert story about i.e. black guy who “really is” a drug dealer].”

You’re well within your rights when you say, look, I don’t care if that guy’s a drug dealer or not; I don’t trust your motivations. What’s behind your need to ferret out misbehavior among minorities? What’s behind your need to collect random stories of minority misbehavior and repeat them? I’ll tell you what’s behind it: you’re a racist.

You can apply the same judgment to the trans people with the insatiable appetite for trashing the LGB. On the list of “undesirables” thus far: Ru Paul, Ellen, Boy George, Rose McGowan, Martina Navratilova, bisexuals who don’t call themselves “pansexual,” lesbians who don’t date transitioned males, lesbians who do date transitioned females, and others too numerous to mention.

It’s called homophobia.

The difference is, your uncle doesn’t usually claim to belong to the minority he’s trashing.

When Your Values Are at Odds with Transition

One thing that happens when you write a memoir is that your values become abundantly clear.

A memoir, even when it’s about the author’s encounter with a difficult person, is about the author herself. It won’t resonate with readers if it’s a just list of complaints about someone else.

If you’re doing your job while you’re composing a memoir, you’re asking yourself:

  • Why did that one incident, in particular, bother me?
  • What was it I found odd about the other person’s stance that I couldn’t quite put my finger on?
  • What was I trying to say in that argument we had?
  • What couldn’t I abide, in the end, and why?
  • What final straw broke the camel’s back?

What’s become clear is that my values were at odds with my ex’s. Specifically, my values were at odds with the values he acquired as he became involved in transgender activism.

My ex likes to twist any value difference between us into “transphobia” on my part. For him, it simply isn’t possible to hold legitimate values at odds with his own. There are only illegitimate ones, namely, conservatism and aversion to difference. Thus, if I’m not on board I must be a conservative and a person who was “disgusted” with his presentation.

It’s a bald-faced lie. I vote democrat. I’m 100% pro-choice (unlike my ex, who once said pregnant minors should have to consult their parents before getting an abortion). I recognize and sympathize with the oppression of minorities. I’m in a same-sex relationship. I support the right of everyone to love who they love and wear what they want. I’ve dated “girly” boys and “manly” women (for lack of better terms). I supported my ex’s identity in many ways, before he lost his mind, from buying him clothes and manicures to role-playing in bed.

So no.

I am not a conservative and never have been. My ex’s values changed, not mine. The values I hold, which I’m about to share, were once his, too. Or at least he said they were.

These are the values I hold that interfered with our relationship after he began to pursue transition:

  • Honesty. I couldn’t keep lying to someone and for someone. I couldn’t keep moving my mouth in the service of dishonesty without feeling dirty and compromising my soul. I couldn’t keep biting my tongue and censoring myself to keep from blowing over someone else’s house of cards. I intend to live and speak the truth, however inconvenient for others.
  • Body-positivity. It’s kind of a dumb modern phrase, but the concept is sound. It’s better to love your body than to hate it. It’s better to treat it kindly than to harm it.  It’s better to age gracefully than to pursue youth and beauty. A person’s value comes from his mind and his ethics, not in the conformity of his body to some standard. Physicality is superficial. A failure to come to terms with one’s physicality is a failure of mental health because it’s unsustainable: our bodies deteriorate and forever move toward an undesirable state. There is no a way to “support” a transitioning person without encouraging or condoning his bodily hatred. And because I’m not religious, bodily hatred is self-hatred. There aren’t “good” reasons to hate your body, and I can’t, in good conscience, support someone’s idea that there are and watch him injure himself in the service of that self-hatred.
  • Emotional intimacy. You aren’t being emotionally intimate when you’re lying or being lied to. You can’t become close when you’re evading topics because you don’t want to hurt feelings or you fear increasingly frequent outbursts of temper. When calm and rational discussions must end because of thought-terminating phrases about “triggering” and “feeling safe,” real communication has been lost.
  • Physical intimacy. This is threatened when one partner’s addiction to role-playing supersedes normal sex. It’s threatened when one partner removes and suppresses the sex characteristics that turn the other partner on. It’s threatened when one partner’s self-centeredness precludes his interest in pleasing his partner.  It’s threatened by the decreased sexual response that are a side-effect of hormones. It’s threatened by surgery.
  • A tremendous respect for female people. It is simply not possible to value women in all our uniqueness while defending or accepting the idea that we are nothing but a collection of indistinct traits, indistinguishable from kangaroos, smoke and mirrors, and men who play Grand Theft Auto and jack off to tranny porn. Women are people who are shaped by intense shared experiences from childhood sexualization to the need to subdue rivers of blood to the knowledge that a new human being can emerge from our bodies if we’re not careful. This is not trivial.  One cannot respect women while subordinating women to whichever men utter the right incantations.

I won’t apologize for valuing honesty, body-positivity, intimacy and a respect for female people.

Instead, opponents need to explain why dishonesty, self-hatred, a compromised ability to participate intimately with a partner and a hatred of women must become a necessary consequence of gender dysphoria.

The Wrong Side of History

No, it’s not when women want private spaces of their own.

It’s when straight white males support a movement that sterilizes lesbian and gay children and promises to convert them into straight people.

Important to note: straight white males have always felt justified and honorable and righteous when they’ve done such things.

Is it Kind to Lie to a Transgender Person?

Being in a relationship with a “trans woman,” under the currently popular ideology, means telling an extraordinary number of lies. The most obvious of these is “you are a woman.” I’ll get to some of the others in a moment.

The transgender person thinks this particular lie is true and doesn’t know that his friends are telling him a story. The transgender person’s friends think this is a polite lie for the sake of kindness or a purely semantic concession and don’t know that the transgender person genuinely believes otherwise (such a level of delusion seems unlikely to many). The fact that neither side knows what the other is thinking is one of the hazards of choosing to lie.

I think a case can be made for never lying in any arena of lie.  It’s a goal I work toward every day. Starting from a place of sound ethics and bravery can make it possible to tell the truth in a compassionate way.  Sure, you can tell your friend that you like her ugly haircut and probably never suffer any consequences. Or you can say nothing, which is my recommendation in this situation. Or you can learn to say, if directly asked, something honest: “It’s awfully short, isn’t it? I have to say I preferred it when you wore it a little longer. But if you like it, that’s all that matters. That’s a popular style now. A lot of people like it!”

But let’s put aside the question of whether one can live without lying, ever, and focus on the question of lying to a transgender person.

Is it really kind?

A detransitioned female I’ve met, who sometimes writes under the name Maria Catt, says it isn’t. I’m paraphrasing from memory, because the post has been made private, but she said there’s “no respect” in simply acquiescing to your friends’ demands instead of treating them like capable adults who can handle the truth.

Here are some of the lies we tell to transgender people. My examples are skewed toward male-to-females, as that’s where my experience lies.

Lie #1: You Pass

During the time I spent heavily involved in the transgender community I met hundreds of transgender people. Some used cosmetic enhancements or prosthetics only, some took hormones, some had undergone a few surgeries, and some had undergone every surgery you can think of.  General (but very reliable) rule: these people do not pass. By and large it’s just not a thing. And importantly, when someone comes close to passing, the event is wholly unrelated to the interventions they’ve done. Skinny young dudes with good skin sometimes come close with no interventions whatsoever. People who’ve had every surgery known to man sometimes still look like guys in drag. 

But we tell transgender people they pass and we further we imply it via “gendering” and insincere compliments about their beauty.

Lie #2: You Can Pass

As mentioned above, interventions generally do not increase the chance of passing. So why does society perpetuate the myth that they do?

Suppose there was a line representing appearance as indicated below. “Masculine” looking people are at the left end, at the value 1. “Feminine” looking people are at the right end, at 200. As it turns out, looking masculine versus looking feminine correlate quite well to sex. Numbers 1 to 100 are men and the average man sits at 50. Numbers 100 to 200 are women, and the average woman sits at 150.

Transgender males who take hormones see themselves move from 50 to 52 . It’s an actual change. There are A-cup boobs there when there weren’t before. There’s a softening of the skin. And because transgender people, like people with other forms of body dysmorphic disorder,  spend a lot of time evaluating themselves in the mirror, this difference is heightened to them. They think it’s a 130. But the rest of us see a 52. To the rest of us, a 52 comes nowhere near approaching the most masculine female we know. Strangers who aren’t attuned to the political culture are unlikely to even notice in some cases.

Transgender people think their interventions are working. Everyone else knows better. Neither side knows what the other is thinking.

Consider the hazards of perpetuating the myth “you can pass.” Not only does it encourage the transgender person down the path of hormones and surgery, and the attendant health problems with that, but it does so for literally no objective benefit. That’s just sad.

Cognitive dissonance is a fickle thing and it sometimes wanes (I’ve seen it happen). It’s a hard wake-up call when that waning accompanies a realization that one’s finances, relationships and health have been compromised in the service of a lie.

Lie #3: Sex Isn’t Real

Because of that aforementioned mirror-gazing, transgender people are legitimately under the impression that bolt-on tits and eyeliner create a reasonable facsimile of a woman.

Recently I vacationed on the coast. About a mile away from me a beach security vehicle stopped and the driver opened the door. I expected the driver to be male because, you know, unconscious bias. But the driver was female. She wasn’t especially curvy and I couldn’t see her tits or her eyeliner (if any) from that distance. In fact, she was in a shapeless uniform and had short hair. But it was clear she was female. She started a slow walk toward me and eventually crossed my path, where I could confirm, though it wasn’t necessary, that she was in fact a woman.

People can tell females from males, even at great distances. It’s more than tits and eyeliner. It’s the tilt of a pelvis, the shape of a back, the curve of an ankle, the length of a forearm. Even a female’s cough sounds different from a male’s. There aren’t enough interventions to override this incredibly pervasive cellular information.

People (including children) know what sex other people are because it’s an innate and necessary skill. It matters when evaluating threat, choosing allies, maintaining family relationships, and evaluating sexual partners.

That brings us to the next lie.

Lie #4 Straight Men and Lesbians Want to Date You

My ex once posted that straight men were “too cowardly” to date him. I don’t engage with him but I wanted to scream, for his benefit more than anyone else’s, the much simpler explanation:  Straight men like pussy!

There’s a huge amount of propaganda out there about the dating prospects of trans people, especially post-op. The LGBT world promotes the lie that lesbians are attracted not to female bodies or female people, but to invisible female-identification occurring in the other person’s brain and/or to female-impersonating bodily modifications. It doesn’t work that way. Lesbians are attracted to females, not to disembodied tits. Otherwise they could glue a bra to a robot and never leave the house.

The medical community perpetuates another set of myths: that hormones won’t interfere with erections and surgery won’t interfere with orgasm. Finally, the mainstream news is full of stories about trans people with supportive partners or vibrant dating lives. The rare reportage of breakups and divorces places the blame on the partner’s failure to adapt.

Everyone ignores the elephant in the room: people who prefer men prefer unaltered men, and people who prefer women are not satisfied by facsimiles of women.

In an illumination of the two-facedness of this lie, everyone pretends it’s someone else’s job to step up and date trans people. I wish I had a nickel for every person who criticized the way I was managing my relationship, despite telling me they would have bailed after the first confession.

Meanwhile, trans people themselves are all over social media posting, “So weird and utterly inexplicable, but I can’t find anyone to date!”

People care about the sex organs of their partner. They care what they are, whether they work, and whether they can be named and enjoyed without a meltdown on the part of their owner. People care very much. People want to enjoy sex, not ineffectually stroke non-functioning and/or simulated organs.

This may sound mean. But it’s even meaner to wait until transgender people have undergone these interventions before letting the harsh truth sink in.

Pretending that hormones, surgery and a rejection of one’s own sex has no effect on dating prospects is nothing short of cruel.

I Think of You As a Woman

No, you don’t.

You’re not trying to fix him up with your dad. You’re not asking him for advice on natural childbirth techniques. You’re not inviting him to ladies night at the wine bar.

And he has noticed. But he’s choosing to cling to the pleasant lies you tell instead of the unpleasant reality you represent.

Lying isn’t a good thing. I couldn’t keep doing it. I couldn’t keep doing it for the sake of my own soul and I couldn’t keep doing it for the sake of his.

Lying to yourself is even more pernicious than lying to others, because it makes you ill-equipped to handle life. I couldn’t enable that any longer. Enabling a person’s self-deception is harmful to their survival.

This is intuitive–we don’t tell anorexics they need lipo or Michael Jackson he needs another nose job. But it’s more than philosophical. It was my experience in direct practice, as well. The more my ex pursued the comfort of lies, the sicker he became, the more he hated himself, and the more depressed he became–until he was contemplating suicide.

There’s no easy answer. But being honest and ethical has to be a start.

“Listen to Trans People’s Stories”

“Listen to trans people’s stories!” is a common response when women hint at the possibility that being trans is not exactly the same thing as being female.

As someone who was married to a “trans woman” and tried to make it work, I can’t be accused of not listening to trans people’s stories. I heard them in the most honest, most intimate setting possible, over and over again for more than a year.

As someone who has attended trans support groups, I can’t be accused of not listening to trans people’s stories. I heard them straight from the source: trans people in trans spaces.

As someone who has attended trans spouses’ support groups, I’ve heard more intimate, honest, letting-the-guard-down “trans stories” than anyone else I know, from women who wanted to stay married to trans people–the people who are most invested in hearing and understanding trans stories.

And as it turns out, the “trans story,” or at least the “trans woman story,” is overwhelmingly a story about sexual paraphilia.

A paraphilia is an “experience of intense sexual arousal to atypical objects, situations, fantasies, or behaviors.”

The majority of “trans women,” especially the ones who did not consider themselves gay at a young age, are sexually attracted to feminine clothing and to themselves in it.  Most started with erotic cross-dressing. At some point later they became more interested in looking in the mirror than looking at their partner. For people born male, the line between “transgender” and “transvestic fetishist” is by no means a clear one.

Some are also turned on by acting “girly,” by the bodily functions of women such as menstruation, by the idea or reality of having breasts and constructed sex organs via hormones or surgery, or by several of these in conjunction.

Their marriages break down in large part because fetishism, by definition, is an interest that takes over and pushes out other, normal, partner-centered intimate activities.

This is hard for some to believe because we spouses of “trans women” often stay silent, lest we get mowed down by an angry mob with torches on social media. Over something we’ve experienced directly, and they’re merely guessing about!

It’s also hard to believe because “trans women,” my ex included, are out there marching on the platform that the sexual component is a dirty lie (all the while at home asking me to pull down his lace panties and call him a bitch). 

Of course that’s the official story. The true story–the sexual one–threatens to open a real dialog on whether trans women should access women’s locker rooms and other spaces.

But the medical community is well aware of the sexual story. A phenomenon called “autogynephilia,” a “male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a female,” “underlie[s] transvestism and some transsexualism.” Although activists have tried to discredit the term, a search on something like Pub Med shows it’s alive and well among medical professionals.

Here, transsexual psychologist Anne Lawrence compiles 249 first-person accounts of trans women describing sexual attraction to themselves in feminine clothing or situations.

Did you know that men with fetishes and paraphilias tend to have more than one? And that “transvestites” fit that model?

Please note that all above links are to studies or medical or legal sources, not blogs or opinion pieces.

You might ask why the medical community supports transition in light of the fetish connection. Here are some interesting facts:

1. Up until recently, they did in fact oppose transition for fetishists. That changed after pressure by transgender activists to eliminate such “gatekeeping.” It’s worth thinking about why the transgender community does not want to ferret out fetishists from their midst, nor to see them denied transgender medical services.

2. Prescribing hormones to transgender people is still an off-label use. That means hormones are not approved by the FDA for transition. Doctors who prescribe them in such a way do so in contradiction of available research.

3. Many medical professionals are sounding the alarm about the lack of “robust evidence” behind the current protocol, some calling it a “medical scandal.”

Now let me make one thing clear. I don’t necessarily think fetishists are awful people. I’m not here to make judgments on paraphilias one way or the other. I think that topic is complicated, and in any case, it’s not my area of expertise.

But I also don’t think we have to pretend that men with fetishes are women. After all, “Fetishism is seen almost exclusively in men” per the DSM.

So yes, listen to trans women’s stories. You could start with the ones where numerous “trans women” on Reddit confess getting “spontaneous boners” from wearing women’s clothes and thinking about transition. (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 +)

We can listen to trans people’s stories, be fearlessly honest, protect the rights of trans people, and protect the rights of women and girls all at the same time.

No one should be denied employment or housing over how they dress. No one should be beaten up over what they look like.

But protecting the rights of trans people doesn’t have to mean redefining “woman” as anyone who gets a hard-on while wearing a dress.

Protecting the rights of trans people doesn’t have to mean making a civil rights crisis out of a tampon fetishist’s desire to share a women’s locker room with pre-teen girls.

Listen to trans people’s real stories, not the lies that are sanctioned by the activist community.

And when you do, consider whether those stories are the stories of women.