The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

You’re Using the Wrong Pronoun

Posted by caitlinate on May 4, 2009

I’m angry, really angry.

There’s this article up at my favourite place, The Age, this morning. It’s titled: “Court lets girl, 17, remove breasts” and already they’ve ruined my day. Guess what? The court did not “let a ‘girl’ remove ‘her’ breasts”. The court let a (trans) male remove his breasts because they don’t fit with his gender identity.

Throughout the article they consistently use the wrong pronoun in describing “Alex”. Once or twice they used he, they repeatedly used his name to avoid using a pronoun and most of the time just went with ‘she’. When quoting the Justice that ruled on the case talking about him, and using the correct pronouns, they put his name in brackets afterwards. You know, in case any readers got confused with all this he-ing and she-ing. This is something that happens repeatedly in the mainstream media when reporting on trans issues. Think about how frustrating and silencing it is to see the word ‘sex’ being used instead of rape in the papers. Now imagine how it would feel if every time you read a report on trans related issues in the paper your entire identity was mocked, maligned and completely disrespected. It is silencing and hurtful to use the wrong pronoun when referring to a trans person. Sure, people make mistakes. A syndicated newspaper being lazy in checking in on that kind of thing? It’s not a mistake, they made a fucking choice and it’s an oppressive one and it’s not good enough.

The article also publishes examples of times when the Court has made a decision in regards to acts related to gender identity for minors that may have not turned out so well or when someone who has altered their biological gender regretted the decision. Yet no mention of the thousands of people who have changed their gender or reject gender or are happily and healthily trans. I can’t imagine why, she says with a sneer.

The teenager had been diagnosed with “gender identity dysphoria”, a psychological condition in which a person has the normal physical characteristics of one sex but longs to be the opposite sex.

Why don’t you go read a book? Gender Trouble by Judith Butler, Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein or Whipping Girl by Julia Serano could be good starting points. Bonus fuck you points for the emotive language of “longs to be”. I long for water when I’m thirsty. I long for gloves when my hands are cold. A person whose biological gender doesn’t align with their gender identity does not ‘long’ to be the ‘opposite sex’. They want to be and are sometimes able to be and in the process face institutional and personal hate and discrimination. Oh and p.s. sex does not equal gender. Sex is fucking or making love or ‘sexual intercourse’. Sex is something I generally do with another person. Gender is an ambiguous, fluid and nebulous concept that is regarded in some quarters as socialised and performative. It has nothing to do with my cunt so please stop trying to force it to.

But ethicist Nick Tonti-Filippini said mainstream medicine did not recognise hormone treatments and surgery as treatment for gender dysphoria. He said it was a psychiatric disorder qualifying under American guidelines as a psychosis because “it’s a belief out of accordance with reality”.

Having a gender identity that differs from your biological sex is not a disorder. How many times must this be repeated? If by mainstream medicine in America he’s referring to the American Psychological Association then he is referencing the group that only finally stated that homosexuality wasn’t a disorder in 1975. What a trustworthy and knowledgeable group they are. Plus, Nicky, could you maybe clarify exactly what your concept of reality is? Sarah Palin running for Vice President of the United States of America seemed completely removed from any kind of sane reality to me. The fact that you can get pancakes in a spray can is something I find hard to believe. There are millions of people around the world who are completely adamant that there is a dude who lives on a cloud in the sky and makes decisions about their lives – shall we rush them off to the sanatorium too then? Since when does anyone get to make decisions about other peoples lives and, not only their choices about how to represent themselves, but their self-knowledge of who they are and who they want to be?

Fuck Nick Tonti-Filippini, fuck the mainstream media and fuck mainstream medicine.

I sincerely hope you understand why I am writing about this here. If not:

A million years ago Simone de Beauvoir said: “One is not born a woman, one becomes one.” Trans men and women are punished and dismissed and beaten and murdered by our society because their gender identity doesn’t fit the ‘norm’. They are oppressed by gender the same way women are. Violence – whether physical or not – against trans people is a feminist issue. Get with it.


12 Responses to “You’re Using the Wrong Pronoun”

  1. s-j said


    I want to be surprised at how hateful and transphobic The Age are being but I’m not. Their track record of erasing/belittling trans people is long and hatefilled.

    Also, Nick Tonti-Filippini is a bad bad bad person.

  2. Matthew Gretton said

    Very well said! I was shocked at the ignorance and bias in the article – enough to look around on the net and find your blog.

    That Nicholas Tonti-Filippini is a resident fellow at the John Paul II Institute of Marriage and the Family may explain a lot. That the journalist didn’t see fit to mention this may also explain quite a bit.

    It was a dreadful article.

  3. Kate said

    I just read the same article in the SMH’s physical paper. The headline is somewhat better: “Court supports girl’s wish to be a boy”, but is still problematic.

  4. kt said

    While I’m totally with you on the issue of reporting and language use in this article, I have a really hard time with prepubescent and barely pubescent people taking hormone supplements and undergoing irreversible surgery. (Seventeen seems a sensible time to start this kind of process — young enough for treatment to have a genuine effect on the body but old enough to understand the repercussions and make an informed decision.) I accept this means a few extra (and painful) years in the wrong body; this seems a reasonable price to pay when you’re talking about such life-altering decisions and such large quantities of synthetic hormones in a still-developing brain and body. And isn’t it problematic when, in male-to-female cases, the family chooses very early intervention on aesthetic grounds? Can a person only feel like a woman if she arrests biology in time to stay slim and ‘pretty’? I would have thought that ‘passing’ was not the aim here. I’m a lesbian, and I’m more interested in bigoted people learning to embrace difference than in my differentness escaping their notice.

    • Early intervention isn’t usually done for aesthetic reasons, though, Kt – it’s done to avoid the trauma associated with the body’s transformation during puberty. Imagine if you thought that one day you’d grow up to be the boy you always knew yourself to be, but suddenly your body starts developing breasts. Puberty can be a time of major trauma for young trans people – early intervention aims to minimise that.

  5. claire said

    What makes me doubly mad is that Karen Kissane is a senior journalist, with over 25 years experience, who has written a book about the Ramage case.
    “I sometimes wonder if that’s why I’m in journalism today,’’ she says, “because I was told that, as a girl, I couldn’t have a voice. Maybe I’ve been pushing against that ever since.’’

    I would have expected more sensitivity and understanding from her, not this transphobic crap.

  6. […] Also discussed at Hoyden about Town and The Dawn Chorus. […]

  7. Kay Scarlet said

    While Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, BA (Hons) MA (Monash) PhD (Melb.)is probably not a quack, his words show how out of touch he is on medical and psychological knowledge on transgender issues. In his role as a spokesperson for the ultra-conservative Catholic Church, he probably doesn’t need to keep up with developments in gender studies, or gender and psychology. Even the American Psychological Association’s DSM categories are more advanced than Nick’s words suggest. If he wanted to be better informed he should read articles by Dr Milton Diamond of Hawaii University. Dr Diamond’s research shows how innate brain gender is, regardless of the body’s biological appearance. Therapy doesn’t change the brain, so current medical practice for transgender people is to change the body to match the brain.

    Other young FTM guys that I know have tried hard to avoid socially condoned forced feminisation and totally support early treatment. How many 17 year old guys do you know who are forced to grow tits because they couldn’t get medical treatment?

    Nick’s ill informed words are hardly “news” or expert comment, but maybe the inaccuracy doesn’t matter if you’re a journalist who just wants some sensational words for a news headline. Irresponsible journalism is nothing new, and it may be many years before there is enough general understanding and acceptance of transgender people to avoid this type of story. At least the Judge was better informed and that offers some encouragement.

  8. Kat said

    I think this quote from Bryant is fantastic

    “But if people were put in the position where they had to decide about a particular case, then I think the majority of people would come to the same conclusion — just on the basis of the evidence, and the level of absolute human unhappiness, and the opportunity to make a real change to somebody’s life for the better. That’s what it’s about.”

    You can argue that breaking down gender stereotypes and what constitutes “normal physical characteristics” could prevent much of the desire for trans* procedures (hormonal and surgical). But the fact is that we don’t live in that world yet and young people still have to deal with these issues.

  9. Korolev said

    “Having a gender identity that differs from your biological sex is not a disorder”….

    Hm. I’m not so sure about this statement. The idea that biology and genetics plays no role in determining sex is a little bit strange.

    Y and X chromosomes are real things – you can even see them with the right type of microscope. They exist. Sexual dimorphism is also something that is quite real. I have been studying genetics for a number of years (although I am not a geneticist, but I am an up-and-coming molecular biologist at UQ), and I can quite confidently say that genes play a role in it. To say that one “becomes” a woman is a little bit strange – I suppose if you say that “woman” is a political term that might be right. But female is a biological term.

    People with two XX chromosomes and female genitalia are…. well, female. People with XY chromosomes and functioning male genitalia are… male. Now, there are unusual cases in which people can be born with a make up of XXY, XXX, XYY and so on, but these are genetic abnormalities, although it is true that they fit into their own category which they can define for themselves.

    If someone is born with a female body and a male mind, is that not a disorder? It causes suffering, does it not? If 95% of a species develops one way, and 5% develop in another way that gives them no perceivable benefits, isn’t that a disorder?

    Let me give you another example: There is a small group of people who have a desire, and overwhelming need, to get rid of one or more of their limbs. This is a real disorder, you can search it up. The limbs are perfectly functional and healthy and cause no physical pain. Yet these patients still insist on cutting off one or more of them. They do not appear to be delusional and can carry on a rational conversation. If the doctor will not amputate, they will often try to do so themselves (they usually end up dying in the process). When they do successful amputate one of their healthy limbs, they usually do not regret it at all, and deny the use of a prosthetic.

    Frankly, consider these people to be looney-tunes. Something has gone dreadfully wrong during the development of the brain. Currently, nothing can be done to persuade these people to stop. There is currently a huge debate going on as to whether or not surgeons should co-operate with the desires of these people.

    Now, I do consider the longing to be a female, when one is a male, to be a disorder. Something has gone wrong – because the initial situation into which these people were born is not ideal. They have a female brain, in a male body or a male brain in a female body. That is not an happy arrangement.

    Now, because we have a loose understanding of what parts of the brain control sexual identity, we cannot change peoples brains to fit with their bodies. We can only change peoples bodies to fit with their mental image of themselves. This is why I support gender re-assignment surgeries, because it is the only way to bring these people happiness.

    But the initial condition IS a disorder – it’s clearly abnormal, it clearly causes unhappiness, and biologically it serves no discernable function in relation to procreation (and therefore, should not be selected for or against in evolutionary terms). Being a female brain born in a male body or a male brain in a female body, is quite clearly, a biological screw-up. Something went wrong.

    Of course, the only way forward is to fix it, by either changing the body to fit the brain or changing the brain to fit the body. Since we cannot change the brain (with current tech), we must change the body, which can do, to some extent.

    Trans-gender people deserve happiness and medical science can bring it to them. However, the initial circumstances into which they were born is a clear-cut disorder.

    So is homosexuality a disorder? No, as it causes no biological distress, only social stress. Homosexuals, I believe, would be comfortable with who they were if it were not for society. Plus, due to the over-population of the planet, I think Homosexuality is a good idea – less children consume less resources.

    As for saying that people who believe in an invisible man in the sky are delusional – I would whole-heartedly agree! I think religion is a form of insanity, and CLEARLY a disorder which needs to be corrected.

    • caitlinate said

      Gender are sex are different things. Your ‘sex’ may well relate to biology. Your gender is taught/socialised. You ‘become a woman’ because the way you behave or interact or live as a woman is not inherent, it is a result of the way society has taught you to do these things.

      The main reason being trans causes unhappiness is because the outside world often doesn’t accept what people identify themselves at, preferring to project their own definitions onto them. The same way you are doing here.

      You seem very attached to the male/female binary and very quick to deem anyone that falls outside of this as abnormal or disordered or insane. It would seem healthier if maybe you opened your mind a little bit and accepted that not everything falls into simple definitions, boxes and categories.

    • SANTARII said

      I understand a lot of what you say, and I think, that the physical dysphoria that most trans people suffer from is a negative thing, one that if it were cheaper or possible, should be dealt with psychologically. At the moment however, it is a lot cheaper to physically transform trans people, and unlike wanting to chop off a limb, quite safe.

      However, it should also be taken into account, what other people think, how society treats people, sex changes often solve a lot of social problems.

      I think though, that whatever their body, their gender should be able to be expressed however, and also hormone treatment, should be available to all people, because that is not just body dysphoria, that affects the feelings.

      Although, people should be able to present themselves however they wish, but the distress it causes is a massive problem.
      I think the best way to help in the long term would be to find a way of letting people feel comfortable with their body but not take away their desires to change it.

      Body dysphoria is a disorder, gender identity is not.

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