Gender Born, Gender Made

May 29, 2011

Did you know that about a month ago I made a promise to myself to update this blog twice a week with at least five hundred words to ensure that people would read it regularly- so it didn’t become another bead on the necklace (it goes around the earth FIVE TIMES) of blogs I’ve started and then abandoned- wrote that last post, and immediately started a hundred books, ensuring that I wouldn’t post anything ever again? It’s true. Way to provide free content in order to hook readers so you’ve got a built-in audience for when you get around to publishing a book, Imogen. Keep your bridges ROTTING, more like.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you that I did finish Gender Born, Gender Made, and I’m not sure what to do except to tell you that it is fantastic and I want it to become a big deal but now that Oprah’s cancelled, I don’t know how to make that happen. Maybe have Ms Ehrensaft go on NPR and argue with Ken Zucker again? I know I wouldn’t want to do that. And Dr Phil isn’t gonna have her on, if he’s still got a show. But despite some pretty astounding missteps that all fall under the heading “Diane Ehrensaft is writing about trans/gender variant/gender creative children, not adults”- she doesn’t really understand what hormones do, she pretty much sucks at pronouns, and at one point she quotes a fantastically misogynistic/transmisogynistic endocrinologist saying some pretty gross shit about women who transition after puberty, doing a pretty bad job of making the point that folks should be allowed to transition young if they want to, instead of forced to repress it until their bodies have matured into a gender they’re not stoked about- her book still made me cry weepy “I can’t believe we’re making this kind of progress” tears on the Megabus from Boston to Philadelphia, like, lots of times.

It’s interesting to read her make a lot of arguments that social scientists, cultural studies folks and queer theorists have been making for at least the decade I’ve been keeping up with this stuff, but for her to put it into a psychological perspective. Like, some of the way she describes some pretty nuanced stuff is very bull in a china shop, but she still comes around to pretty much the correct conclusions (correctness, of course, being relative in situations where there’s rational debate- which this is not, as Ms. Ehrensaft points out in her scathing and satisfying critiques of the anti-scientific, appalling, basically aversion therapy techniques that Ken Zucker and his colleagues sell) with respect to giving kids, youth and folks under 18 agency, trusting that they are not idiots, and acknowledging that even if a kid *was* wrong when they said they wanted to try out a new gender, then decided to switch back, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.


“Hey remember that time we called you ‘he’ for six months?”

“Haha, oh yeah.”

Who cares, y’know? Especially since Ms Ehrensaft takes the time to talk about how most of the things you’re going to do for a gender creative (I’m not gonna lie: while I agree with her that the term ‘gender creative’ does a better job of decentralizing cissexual experiences than ‘gender variant,’ it also still feels kinda hippie in my mouth) are not permanent- like for example that most surgeons won’t perform trans surgeries on people under 18, which is complicated for sure and also y’know. Something to talk about.

So by the end of her book, she’s built a convincing argument for trusting kids whose genders aren’t the ones assigned to them at birth: kids are not stupid, being trans does not have to be framed as a negative thing, here is what puberty postponement looks like, and here are a bunch of specific stories about what real trans kids are like.

This is not what J Mike Bailey writes about in The Man Who Would Be Queen; it’s a sober, non-sensationalistic popular psychology book about actual trans and genderqueer youth. While it touches on sexuality, it’s not *about* sexuality, and it doesn’t frame transsexuality as *about* fucking, either. It’s clear that Ms Ehrensaft has, like, spent time in rooms, listening to these kids, instead of making demands on them.

So how do we make it blow up? I dunno, man, go fuckin buy one, read it, and give it to somebody when you’re done with it. Borrow my copy and give it a glowing review on goodreads and librarything. Demand a second edition without the fuckin ‘Tootsie’ comment. Write Ms Ehrensaft and say thank you. Whatevs.

I think the feeling I’m left with is one of relief: that this book finally exists. It’s not perfect but it feels like a huge step in a direction I’d given up on hoping we’d go in. Like, okay, do you want to hear a story? This is how busted health care for trans people is. Anecdotally.

Lots of trans folks get their hormones from a pharmacy called Strohecker’s, in Portland OR. They compound their own testosterone and estrogen, and when you inject, you can stretch a forty dollar bottle out for a few months, which keeps hormone costs, y’know, more manageable than they might otherwise be, especially considering the fact that it’s a pain to convince insurance to cover them. So, a friend called me up the other day to ask, “when you get your prescription filled at Strohecker’s, do you need to send a prescription for needles, too?”

We talked about it for a minute and I was like “I don’t remember ever sending a needle prescription to them, but my doctor might just have included it” before I realized: uh, we could just ask them. Like, call the pharmacy and ask. The process of getting ahold of hormones and getting them into our bodies- medicine- is so occult, mysterious, and shot through with mystery, manipulation and scamming the system that two people who’ve been doing it for years are still more used to getting our information from each other than we are from our health care providers that it took us a ten-minute phone conversation to realize that it was even an option.


Things like that just make a clear-eyed reevaluation of the way trans healthcare gets done so vital. Because she’s writing about minors, the subject of sex (as in fucking) is pretty much off the table, which means Ms Ehrensaft has written a particularly effective critique of primary transsexual/secondary transsexual/autogynephilic theories of boring old patriarchal, het cis dude-centered trans health care. So thanks.


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