snakeoiled: (masculinity/femininity)
The Birds and the Bees - Within Genders, Without Genders, Across Genders

Pages 36-37:

The traditional view of the animal kingdom -- what one might call the Noah's ark view -- is that biology revolves around two sexes, male and female, with one of each to a pair. The range of genders and sexualities actually found in the animal world, however, is considerably richer than this. Animals with females that become males, animals with no males at all, animals that are both male and female simultaneously, animals where males resemble females, animals where females court other females and males court other males -- Noah's ark was never quite like this! Homosexuality represents but one of a wide variety of alternative sexualities and genders. Many people are familiar with transvestism or transsexuality only in humans, yet similar phenomena are also found in the animal kingdom.


Many animals lives without two distinct genders, or with multiple genders. In hermaphrodite species, for instance, all individuals are both male and female simultaneously, and hence there are not really two separate sexes; in parthenogenetic species, all individuals are female and they reproduce by virgin birth. A number of other phenomena in the animal kingdom -- for which we will use the cover term transgender -- involve the crossing or traversing of exisiting gender categories: for example, transvestism (imitating the opposite sex, either behaviorally, visually, or chemically), transsexuality (physically becoming the opposite sex), and intersexuality (combining physical characteristics of both sexes).

Page 39:

A good example of the difference between behavioral transvestism and homosexuality is in the Bighorn Sheep. In this species, males and females lead almost entirely separate lives: they live in sex-segregated herds for most of the year and come together for only a few short months during the breeding season. Among males, homosexual mounting is common, while females do not generally permit themselves to be mounted by males except when they are in heat (estrus). A small percentage of males, however, are behavioral transvestites: they remain in the female herds year-round and also mimic female behavioral patterns. Significantly, such males also generally refuse to allow other males to mount them, just the way females do. Thus, among Bighorn Sheep, being mounted by a male is typically "masculine" activity, while refusal of such mounting is a typically "feminine" behavior. Males who mimic females specifically avoid homosexuality. This is the exact opposite of the stereotypical view of male homosexuality, which is often considered to be a case of males "imitating" females. It is also a striking reminder of how important it is not to be misled by our preconceptions about human homosexuality when looking at animals.
snakeoiled: (masculinity/femininity)
This review was initially posted on Goodreads. There, I have the book tagged "queer"; I was seriously tempted to create another tag just for this book: "queer but not that queer", because to me, labelling something as queer indicates that it's fully queer-friendly -- to the entire queer community, not just some small subset of that community. This book is not remotely queer-friendly, despite its place in the M/M genre. Here's why.

Catch Me If You Can (Romano and Albright #1) by L.B. Gregg
Rating: 1/5

(This review is 1) long, and 2) may contain spoilers, although I have done my best to avoid them.)

I initially liked this book. I did. I liked it a lot; it's tremendously funny, and the characters are extremely well drawn. But it also gnawed at me, and I spent most of the book trying to justify what struck me as borderline transphobic content -- until I reached the climax of the mystery, and it went from borderline to blatantly transphobic.

I have no problem with portraying anyone, transgender (henceforth "trans*") or not, as an asshole. I have no problem with flawed characters. I have a big problem with making fun of a person's trans* status, and I have a problem when not just one, or two, but all the cisgendered (henceforth "cis") characters regard the trans* person's identity as a "lie", as some sort of trickery or deceit. I have a big problem with the cis characters thinking they have the right to freely discuss the shape of the trans* person's genitals just because they happen to know about that person's trans* status. I have a big problem with using the shape of a person's genitals as a form of mockery. I have a big problem with passages like this:

"Pretending to [redacted to prevent spoilers] was pretty smart."

"Pretending to be a girl was even smarter," Poppy added.

"She fooled me. Shit she fooled everyone." I never questioned Rachel, even when I knew the truth about her... condition. Dr. Bronner had certainly earned his five thousand dollars.


I had to know. I'm sure everyone was wondering the same thing, so I came right out and asked. "Did you... uhm... see her... parts?"

This book isn't just disrespectful to trans* identity. It's extremely hurtful. It reinforces negative stereotypes, reinforces the idea that cis people somehow have the right to know what's between another person's legs or whether their birth certificate matches their current legal identification -- as though cis people somehow have the right to other people's deeply personal information, the right poke and prod and jab at whatever doesn't match up to society's idea of "normal". And it's depressing, because it's yet another example of LGBT and allied discrimination against members of the LGBT community. It's not historical fiction; it's contemporary fiction, set sometime in the past three years (as dated by the reference to Adam Lambert), and it's long past time that such vitriolic mockery of the trans* community should be deemed acceptable by any part of our culture -- not by the mainstream community, and definitely not by the LGBT/allied community.

I don't believe the author is consciously transphobic, or intended to condone transphobic behaviour. I think the author is probably uneducated when it comes to trans* issues, as evidenced by the use of the word "hermaphrodite" (an outdated term for intersex people that is no longer used due to its negative connotation) -- and by the fact that the trans* person actually used this word to describe herself, which struck me as highly unrealistic and raised the first warning flags in my head.

I really, really wanted to like this book. The writing is good, the story is good, the characters are entertaining -- but the portrayal of the trans* character's transition as nothing more than a disgusting sham made me sick. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend a book that I believe belittles the lives of so many people. All its merits aside -- and its merits are many -- I feel compelled to give it the lowest rating possible.


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March 2012

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