Saturday, January 19, 2008

Susan Stanton in the Whirlwind of Separatist Controversy

Susan Stanton, the transitioning transsexual woman who first became the subject of the news media when she was fired from her job as City Manager by government officials in Largo, Florida, was quoted in an article I found on Google, in The Ledger (a newspaper published in Polk County, Florida) on January 4, 2008 in an article - you can find it at:

However, the article first appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on December 31, 2007 - here is the URL for that (it did not come up in my Google search, while The Ledger article did):

Here is the section with the quote:

Susan has met hundreds of other people like her. She was among the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people lobbying for a law that would make it illegal for others to discriminate against them.But Susan has said all along that she's not like other transgender people. She feels uncomfortable even looking at some,"like I'm seeing a bunch of men in dresses."Eventually, she decided it was too early for transgender people to be federally protected. People need more time, more education, she says. "The transgender groups boo me, now, when I speak. Isn't that ironic?" But I don't blame the human rights groups from separating the transgender people from the protected groups. Most Americans aren't ready for us yet, " Susan says. Transgender people need to be able to prove they're still viable workers, especially in the mainstream."The biggest issue against the federal legislation is that politicians think the ladies' rooms will be invaded by guys in drag," Susan says, "instead of someone like me."

Now, I have it from someone who actually spoke with Susan that she states that she was actually misquoted - and here is a link to Susan's own website that indicates the same:

(And an excerpt for those who don't want to click, or in the event the URL gets stale . . . ):

"I was shocked and disappointed when I read the recent article in the St. Petersburg Times entitled "Susan Stanton’s Lonely Transformation". The St. Petersburg Times is an excellent newspaper and I consider Ms. Lane DeGregory to be a gifted writer and a personal friend so I am not sure how my words could have been so terribly misunderstood. ""During the last year, I have had a very unique opportunity to become acquainted with many members of the transgender community and the wide diversity of life experiences. Contrary to the St. Petersburg Times article, I do not see members of the transgender community as "men wearing dresses." However, I do feel there is a fundamental misunderstanding by the general public that being transgender is simply a matter of men wanting to "dress up as women." Most people do not understand the medical nature of being a transgender and therefore cannot understand the need or justification for non-discrimination protection in employment and housing. During the extensive discussions associated with my termination, many reasonable people felt it was irresponsible conduct for a government official to be "dressing up in women’s clothes" let alone expect to someday "come to work in drag." In my extensive discussion with the national media, transgender people are still perceived to be living unhealthy lifestyles inconsistent with family values. It is my belief that
until the general public is properly educated on the diversity of gender identification and expression, attempts at passing comprehensive federal legislation prohibiting discrimination will not have the necessary support in Congress."

There is more, a lot more.

Personally, I think Susan Stanton's explanation is pretty clear, and as someone who has been misquoted in the media myself, quite believable.

(And I think it’s likely that she said was that the *general public* sees all of us as "men in dresses, frauds and deceivers." (and somehow that morphed into what ended up in print.)

While my initial reaction to the St. Petersburg Times article was to characterize Susan from that picture as a "transsexual separatist," it really doesn't necessarily appear to be the case.

(For a picture of what transsexual separatism looks like, one can visit

and take a look – but don’t expect the nice folks who operate that website to admit to anything like "transsexual separatism!" – just look for yourself and see it it looks, walks and quacks like a duck.)

Susan's explantation is nuanced - she does not reject the transgender "umbrella" but she believes that it takes education for people to understand that there is a diversity under that umbrella, and that Susan and those most like her are not "men in dresses."

The last of the quoted sentences is important - education of the general public is necessary. The problem is that doing the education faces problems from the Christianist conservatives whose misinterpretation of their own Bible makes the education an uphill battle.

Susan Stanton's nuance is one that does not rely on separatism. Unlike some of the advocacy one can see at that TS-Si site, it does not rely on a rigid belief that those who are post-op (or at least scheduled for surgery) are fundamentally differentand have no common ground with those who are unable to have surgery due to medical issues.

Making the achievement of SRS surgery the only dividing line between those that"have theirs" and those who don't, is an unfortunate oversimplification that harms a significant but tiny number of people with Harry Benjamin Syndrome (HBS) (This is the term currently in vogue for what is referred to as "Gender Identity Disorder" (GID) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) used in the psychiatric profession.

Having medical issues that make my surgery too much of a risk for any of the surgeons to undertake (I am ready to pay for it in the US, Canada or Thailand, I already have the mental health professionals certifying me, but none of the surgeons is willing to do it, even those in Thailand who don't require a surgery letter, because of my medical situation), I find myself on the "other side" of the artificial divide (encouraged by at least some of the columns at TS-Si) where surgery completion is advocated as the sole criterion for legal recogntion of one's correct sex identity.

All in all, I don't think that *anyone* should have to wait for legal recognition of our right to dignity and fair treatment as human beings with the reasonable accommodation of having legal sex assignment corrected in accordance with our established sex identity (those who aren't "educated" yet do have many resources to avail themselves of already to learn about this), I can understand (while disagreeing with) Susan's pragmatism regarding the HRC willingness to allow "gender identity" to be dropped from ENDA.

There has been a lot of angry critical reaction from segments of the"trans" community to the original article, and even some severe criticism of the explanation.

I think it shows pretty well that even "under the umbrella" not everyone marches in lock-step to a particular tune, or applies a single "Transgender party line."It could also show that there are alternatives to the rather strict "surgery first before legal correction" standpoint that appears to be taken in some columns and other writings at the TS-Si site (and in other forums) - and that these (like mine) shouldn't be dismissed, as someone commented over at TS-Si in response to a comment I made to one of the articles published there) as"The rest of her [i.e. my] posting(s) are just more of the same TG party line donkey dung."

So, the bottom line question is "what can we learn from all this?"

  1. we have to be careful when being quoted by the news media; and perhaps have a strategy for what to do when news coverage goes wrong – and when we read the newspaper, or get "news" from other media – we have to remember that even in the bast cases, only about a quarter of what is provided as "news" is actually factual;

  2. the "trans community has to continue educational efforts aimed at both legislators and the general public – when we do the educating, and I really do think it is necessary to educate, we have to make it absolutely clear that while there is a whole range or spectrum of differences within the community of people who don't fit *exactly* as expected by society into its societal expectation of binary sex and gender, that there are basic human rights that should not be denied on the basis of that single common factor of not completely fitting into that societal expectation. There are, in addition, possibly different levels of "reasonable accommodation" of any of our various forms of not fitting in (even those of us who strive to fit in to the "opposite" sex from birth assignment, do not fit in perfectly), that may or may not apply across the board - and we should all be willing to give the benefit of the doubt to those in our communities whose self-identity is not identical or extremely similar to our own. The problem is going to be getting the *very* binary-oriented society to recognize that not everyone fits into the binary in accordance with expectations. Some fit in opposite those expectations and some fit in some ways into both, or don't fit at all well into either one.
  3. we need to get what it is that we are teaching to be consistent. In a discussion group I participate in, one of the members wrote: "Drag Queens and Transsexual women are very different animals." That is not necesarily or entirely true - it depends on the definitions of the terms. I do happen to know some transsexual women (not all of them pre-op, either), who have found employment in doing "drag" performance to be a better option than anything else available to them. At the same time, I think I understand that member's intended point. A male-identified gay man who dresses up as a woman for fun and perhaps profit, is *not* the same as a trans woman who identifies as a heterosexual woman, even if she is pre-op and even if she works in the same drag club (meaning that if you were to just *look* at them, their bodies might be nearly identical - their minds, however, are not), and even if both of them are attracted to men (one as a hay man, the other as a straight, but trans, woman).Part of the problem is that the less-than-fully-educated in society see that the bodies in that example are "the same" (at least what they can see -I'm not saying anything about BSTc or other things in this example) and would treat both as "men." Others who need education would be those who might be happy aligning things solely on whether people can "pass." (The result there would be the marginalization or ghettoization, or worse, of post-op TS women and men who don't "pass" well.) There are several minefields in the education process - one example is the situation where SRS is pushed as the *only* bright line to use for the correction of the sex assigned on identity papers. This approach marginalizes those who cannot have the necessary surgical procedures for medical or other valid reasons, but who have the appropriate self-identity. The British Gender Recognition Act permits correction of sex based on having had SRS, but also allows correction in cases where SRS is not medically advisable. (A similar 2006 proposal for New York City birth cerificate correction was tabled because of concerns over conflict with the then-forthcoming federal Real ID Act regulations).We all need access to appropriate medical care, not just for transition-related issues.We all need protection in the traditional areas of human rights - employment, housing, access to public accommodations, credit, etc. (though there mat be reasonable differences in exactly what the reasonable accommodation is going to be). Some of the more controversial ideas have to do with the binary itself. Society isn't going to abandon it altogether. But what it can do is recognize that it is not reflective of 100% of all reality - and allow for people to be "other" "both" and "neither" as well as "still the original assignment" or "opposite the original assignment;" and

  4. Perhaps it is necessary for all of us to be aware of separatism within the trans community, and the possible deleterious effects of it (at the TS-Si site, for example, a comment to one article indicated that there were transsexual separatists working against the 2006 NYC Health Department proposal that would have made it possible for persons who couldn;t have sex reassignment surgery to have their birth certificates corrected; perhaps some are working against GENDA and other inclusive human rights legislation and regulatory amendments as well). Separatism is not only that of the post-op transsexual person who believes that rosurgery divides "real women (or men)" from "transgenders" – it includes those in the crossdressing community who see the people who seek surgical correction of their bodies to match their minds as being sick or delusional and that their surgeries are unnecessary. That is just as harmful.


  1. I guess I'm a TS seperatist. But while operative status is a convenient seperator, it's far too inaccurate. As you said, there are those who can't afford it, or have health issues, or who just don't like the risks.

    There are women whose discomfort with non-standard genitalia - be they TS or IS - is not so acute that they can't live with it.

    I couldn't, and had genital reconstruction, but YMMV.

  2. Thank you for your insightful essay. I was starting to think I may be the only person sympathetic to Susan. Imagine starting transition, being outed in a newspaper then losing your job. She's held up remarkably well in the media spotlight. She never volunteered to be a TG spokesperson and she's entitled to her views. I get the impression she desired a stealth life which she'll never have now.

  3. I would definitely identify as a separatist. I can't say I'm a "TS" separatist, since I prefer the newer term Harry Benjamin Syndrome, but I adamantly reject the label of "transgender." It is a meaningless social and political construct that began with Charles "Virginia" Prince, who created it as a term to exclude transsexuals.

    As to those who make excuses for not having surgery, well they are simply that, excuses. They want to play games with words. If they really needed surgery, they would have it. Money is almost always an issue. Any major surgery is scary. And let's be honest, there are doctors who are more willing to operate than others, regardless of health issues. I had health issues, but I pressed on.

  4. I have health issues, like I need a major organ transplant. I have a
    variety of issues, like would I survive anesthesia? or would it put me into liver failure? Coagulopathy is another issue. Will I stop bleeding? My
    surgeon, who is considered one of the best in the world in his field, says the risk is
    too great. Since he's kept me alive and recovering this long I'm inclined to follow his advice. Besides, Body dismorphic disorder isn't a requirement to be a member of the club. It's another pathology all together.

  5. Joanna, you might be one of those extremely rare cases where surgery is simply not possible. Then again, you also seem to indicate that this does not really bother you. Body dismorphic order is not the same thing as HBS or if you insist, transsexualism. If you are truly happy with having a penis, then congratulations. You are not a transsexual, and can be happy in the knowledge that you will never be miserable without surgery. I was not so lucky. I was born with a female brain, and I simply could not accept having a penis. Personally, I would have rather died on the table than have continued living as I was. No, that is not body dismorphic disorder. That is simply understanding that a penis does not belong on a woman's body. And that is simply understanding the difference between transgender and HBS.

  6. It's called accepting reality. I like everyone have limitations on what I can do. As a disabled person I recognize what mine are and live within those parameters. I accept myself as I am. Only children throw a fit if they can't get what they want.

    I don't believe GID or HBS as you prefer are mental disorders at all. With any luck the DSM V will be changed to reflect that. A downgrade to something other than an Axis I thought disorder seems likely. Doesn't it strike you as odd that a mental illness can be cured by plastic surgery?

  7. There is a difference between accepting reality, and being happy with a male body. A lot of people like to play semantical games, saying things like, "I would really like to have surgery, but...I'm to afraid of major surgery, I can't afford it, or....whatever." I overcame a lot of stuff to have my surgery. I was not at all thrilled by the idea of major surgery. I am very knowledgeable about the dangers. And I struggled to find the means to pay for it. But it was important to me, because I could not accept myself as I was.

    And no, part of the idea behind the HBS movement is to remove it from the DSM. Most competent therapist no longer see it as a mental disorder, but only see their role as ruling out other possible conditions.

  8. I'm a happy and succesful woman. I've done a legal name and gender change. Surgery is not an option in the foreseeable future and I do have insurance that covers up to $75,000 in surgical benefits related to transition.

    This trannier than thou argument is so tedious. I'll be happy in my life. You win. You're more transexual than I am.

  9. No Joanna, it's really not about being more, or less transsexual. It is about simple reality. You can change your name, but any "gender" change to a birth certificate would have involved fraud. If you are happy, that is what matters. But, I stand by what I said. If you are happy with having a penis, then your issue is not transsexualism, or HBS. And if you are happy having a penis, then I honestly cannot accept that you are truly a woman. But how you live your life is your business.

    I looked at your blog. You are making a choice. Why not just be honest and say that you don't want the surgery. You have coverage. I know several people who have the same coverage, and they have chosen to remain intact males. It is their choice, but at least they are honest about it. I honestly don't understand why people feel the need to call themselves transsexual when they really have no desire for surgery.

    No, I'm not looking to win. I honestly don't see things that way.

  10. "You can change your name, but any "gender" change to a birth certificate would have involved fraud."

    I committed no fraud. The brief filed with my petition for change of name and gender explicitly stated that I had not had "gender enhancing surgery". I also included supporting statement from my hepatologist and internist as to why I was a poor candidate for ANY surgery other than a liver transplant. The judge has the authoity to overule the statuatary law if circumstances warrant it. She chose to do so. I can make a legitimate change of gender on my birth certificate as the underlying documents support that request. I expect I should do it before Real ID happens.

    My case, while not a precedent, serves as a model to others who are non-op for medical reasons. Not just in California but nationwide. Transgender Law Center in the city prepared and filed the case as well as represented me in the action.

    You may not consider me a woman but the State of California does.

  11. I'm sorry. I stand corrected. The judge in the case simply ignored California law, and allowed a fraud to be perpetuated.

    And no, a judge in California made a ruling in violation of the law. The State of California would still consider you a male. The law is clear on this point.

    And from everything I have seen and read so far, I have have no reason to believe that you are "non-op" for medical reasons. You are simply a transgender person, who has no desire for surgery. I really don't understand why you feel the need to claim otherwise. Are you ashamed of that fact? Do you believe that claiming to be something you are not makes you more credible? I have known a number of transgender people who have no desire for surgery, and I can respect that. They are upfront and honest about and have no desire to deceive anyone.

  12. You've called me a lier twice now. I am not. The judge set aside the statuatary law and granted my petition in the interest of justice. She has the power to do that. It was part of my lawyers' strategy. I could have tried to sneak by with a doctors letter to the effect that "Joanna has completed all appropriate proceedures" but I didn't. I took the chance that my case was so compelling she would grant my petition. California considers me female whether you like it or not.

    I don't have a problem being called transgender - you do. You have no portal into my mind and it's desires so stop claiming you do.

    I don't need to convince you of anything. I'm considered permanently disabled by the people that DO count. Someday I may be able to have surgery and it will be back on the table. Until then I'm working on a new career and contributing to my community as best I can.

  13. The question of "who is a woman and who is a man" has a lot of different answers, depending on point of view.

    The reality is that no one who is *not* cissexual ever really becomes cissexual. The underlying reality is that we are all "other" in some way, not-male and not-female - no matter what we do in the way of hormones and surgery to conform our bodies to ouridentities.

    So for any of us who do try to fit ourselves in the binary, recognition of our membership in the sex assignment we believe we should belong to is not a matter of absolute right. The government generally starts out assuming that we have to be binarily classified based on birth genital shape into the "wrong" binary assignment.

    Changing legal sex assignment is something that is done in different jurisdictions based on different criteria. In New York, I am legally female for DMV purposes, pursuant to DMV regulations. I am not female for purposes of marriage as my birth certificate has not been corrected. I am female for social security purposes, having had the record corrected in accordance with the regulations as they existed prior to October 2002. These are all *correct* legal assignments, even if some of them conflict.

    One of the issues with the Real ID Act is the fear that disparate government agencies will require *all* legal assignments to be consistent.

    For WBT post-ops born in Ohio, Idaho and Tennessee, the law does not permit correction of a birth certificate, leaving these post-ops technically "legally male" despite having completed SRS (MBTs whould still be legally female in these jurisdictions. For those who cannot have SRS, Britain has a law that recognizes the correction of sex assignment for them.

    Whatever the rules are, they do vary, and all that does is point out the fact that no matter what we do, we never, ever get to be cissexual, having our sex the correct assignment by matter of right rather than matter of "reasonable accommodation.

    Instead of sniping at each other, why not discuss what the minimum legal requirement for recognizing sex correction could be, and why it would be most appropriate to use such a standard; whether there should be different standards for different purposes, as well, instead of a single uniform standard.

    Be prepared to discuss the way your "ideal" might adversely impact those who don't fall within the shadow of your particular standard, and what you would do to ameliorate the adverse impact.

    Since this *is* a blog that includes religion, perhaps the following passage (Matthew 18:23-35) might be a source for reflection:

    23 "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.
    24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.
    25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
    26 "The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.'
    27 The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
    28 "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.
    29 "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'
    30 "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.
    31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
    32 "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.
    33 Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?'
    34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

    Please try to keep the discussion civil, at least.


  14. Again, the judge violated the law and created a fiction. But, such is California at times.

    And you seem to have avoided my rather direct question. But that does not surprise me.

    Still, it does puzzle me why you feel this need to tell people you are something you are not?

    And for what it is worth, my advice to you would be the same as my advice to anyone. If you can truly live without surgery, then don't have it. But at the same time, please don't call yourself a transsexual. It just confuses things.

  15. Goddess, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

    Have a nice life, Jennifer.

  16. I would have to say I am an intersex separatist as well. I am one of those who don't want transgender and transsexuals within intersex.

  17. Hi Nick,

    Thank you for posting a comment to my blog entry "Susan Stanton in the Whirlwind of Separatist Controversy."

    I have been exposed to "intersex separatism" before. It's usually based on something like "we've got a legitimate medical condition and aren't delusional psychos like those apotemnophiliac trans people."

    If you haven't had the chance to do so, I would suggest that you might want to survey some of the literature that refers to studies done of the physiology of the hypothalamus:

    Here is a popular science type magazine article about the first study:

    Here is something about a follow-up study:

    I think the following is the article itself rather than the "free" abstract:

    Now, obviously, the studies are not totally conclusive, but they do lead to the possibility that transsexualism (GID or HBS or whatever) is physiologically based in certain structure or structures in the brain - if it is the case, then transsexuality *would* be an intersex condition.

    Of course, some intersex people are transsexual, and some are not. (And how am I defining this? If I base the definition of transsexual as having a "sex identity" that is opposite the *assignment* given the individual at birth, then it makes sense.)

    I do have a question about intersex separatism, though - are there CAIS separatists and PAIS separatists., Kleinfelters separatists, etc.? There isn't one single "intersex condition" so I do wonder why it is that some intersex activists focus on a single condition, the evidence about which indicates that it is a type of intersex condition itself, and adopts a "prepare to repel boarders" separatist attitude.

    None of the different types of separatism really make a great deal of sense to me. Then again, being inclusivist, I think that everyone in the non-cissexual community (or if you'd rather, "communities" gets appropriately reasonable accommodation in a world where the vast majority of people are heteronormative and cissexually binaried, and we, all together, represent a rather tiny minority or group of minorities.


  18. I would have to say that intersex is largely based on Genetics and DNA.

    I'm one of those intersex seperatist that Have Kallmann's syndrome. The thing with intersex seperatist is that a few do not like the ideas that the transgender community or transgender actavist aspuse. It's rather that Intersex is more about treating the medical condition and finding a cure rather than being a social cause to latch on to.

  19. Nick,

    I think I understand your point of view. Most transsexual women just want to get things straightened out and get on with their lives, too.

    The main reason for political activism, though, is that despite having purely medical conditions, society sometimes perceives people who are not completely heeronormative and cissexual as being strange or different and "outside" - and as a result, human rights are endangered.

    Now, it is possible to be cissexual and intersexed (based on the definition I used earlier), or transsexual and intersexed.

    I Wikipediaed Kallman's Syndrome just now, and it doesn't appear from the description alone that it would involve being seen as trans as well as intersexed, unless some well-meaning doctor decided when the individual was born that a boy with a micropenis would be better off as a girl and mutilated the baby at birth and had their parents try to raise them as a girl.

    That is one of the things that society has to change.


  20. Joann,
    The problem I see as an intersex is that you have transsexuals who have no history whatsoever of being intersex or being born intersex barging into intersex groups and demanding to be treating like one of them.

    Their so called claim to intersex is that they assume that they have something in common with the intersex. Which to me means nothing because as an intersex, I see nothing in common with the transgender.

    The thing I am seeing more common is transsexuals who are either pre or post using the intersex label as an excuse or alibi for their transsexuality and use the intersex label to explain away why they are transsexual.

    It's very extremely rare for someone to be intersex and transsexual at the same time, though you do hear those who claim to be both intersex and transsexual when in fact after discovery that they are more transsexual than intersex.

  21. I have seen it within intersex communities where you have transsexuals who try and claim intersex as a way of explaining their transsexual status and to deflect the questioning of the transsexual status.

    I know a few transsexuals who outright lie about their intersex status, just so they can be shielded from the transgender communities stigma. It's kinda sad when you have transsexuals misusing the intersex name and perverting the intersex label for their own good.

    It makes it harder for me to tell people the difference between the two and when I tell someone I am intersex, the first thing that comes out of their mind, "Dose that have something to do with the trannies". I have to deal with the confusion caused by the transsexuals who barged into intersex community and blurring the differences.

    I have confronted transsexuals who lie about their intersex status and have been attacked by them just for confronting their intersex status confronting them to see what medical condition they have.

    The thing i see is that the transsexuals are claiming that they share the same experience that intersex has, though the two experiences are not the same at all.