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Sex Role Compliance & Affirmation

The first divergent characteristic Kando examines is the degree of masculinity and femininity. Since he is a sociologist and not a queer theorist or post-structuralist he defines femininity and masculinity respectively as to be “in accord with cultural definitions of proper male or female roles, styles and attitudes” (p. 19). A feminine woman and a masculine man “behave as our culture wants them to” (ibid). Masculinity  and femininity can be measured with scales*.

Kando used a scale consisting of 26 items questioning respondents on attitudes, skills and responsibilities (in regards to men and women) as well as sex roles and gender attributes. Because I am lazy I will reproduce the examples he gives for each area:

I (would) love to have children. (attitudes)
I am the primary supporter of my family.
(skills and responsibilities)
My occupation is …
(occupational roles)
In general, I (would) submit to my husband’s (wife’s) decision.
(other roles)
Engagement and wedding rings are very important to me.
(gender attributes)
(p. 22)

Additionally he uses a scale measuring the endorsement of traditional sex roles (read: sexism) consisting of items that are the normative equivalent to the statements given above. This is done to account for MtTs decision to consciously live a sex role different from the one they were assigned at birth.

Women must have a greater desire to have children than do men.
A husband’s primary responsibility is to support his family, while a wife’s primary responsibility is to design the way of life of the family.
It is proper that most … should be men/women.
Ultimately, a woman should submit to her husband’s decision.
Engagement and wedding rings must be more important to women than to men.

(p. 23)

The following results for the three groups (women, men, MtTs) were obtained: males were the most masculine and MtTs the most feminine, i.e. the latter outperform women in sex role compliance. MtTs also ended up being the strongest proponents of traditional sexism, showing agreement with normative statements like the ones above even more strongly than men. Not surprisingly, women were the least likely to agree with the sexist statements.

This is underscored by the MtTs choice of occupation:

housewives (4) (This fact was “(proudly) declared”, i.e. they obviously felt validated in their feminine identity by filling this role which has robbed so much of so many women (p. 25).)
(4) (In the “sexual service” industry.)

Allow me the remark that those are occupations or activities which are solely dedicated to catering to men.

secretaries (3)
university-affiliated research scientist
(1) (The exception.)

Kando says that almost every interviewee showed “highly conservative views regarding proper sex roles” (p. 24). He gives the following examples which are all quite horrible and completely at odds with feminism:

“The ultimate criterion of being a woman is being a good wife, being able to make a man happy.” (Elinor, ibid)

“I feel that everything should be distinctly masculine or feminine. My boy friend[sic] has to look like a real man…. I’m opposed to those unisex clothes they’re selling in New York….” (Elizabeth, p. 25) (This probably means he is opposed to women in trousers, too.)

“Not at all! I feel that a man should make more than a woman!” (Maryjo on whether women should get equal pay, ibid)

“I don’t think men and women should make the same amount of money. A man should make more than a woman! Business executives should be strictly men… men should be the leaders!” (Sally, p. 44)

“Woman has no business being in business, unless there is something wrong with her… Men should be the leaders.” (Jane, p. 25)

“A woman has no business making money driving a cab, or anything like that, unless there is something wrong with her!” (Sally, p. 43)

“It’s true that men should win over women in competitive situations. But only because it’s better for their ego.” (Vanessa, p. 75) (I actually laughed out loud. This type of reasoning is even more amusingly misguided than the usual sexism insofar that biological determinism is replaced by an unquestioned need for male superiority. Obviously, women’s egos do not matter at all. They are empty shells to be filled with male reason.)

“But a woman could very well operate as a research consultant in the role that I have operated in; it is in the nature of a service job.” (Vanessa, p. 76) (Note that Vanessa tries very hard to sound a bit more enlightened than your everyday sexist by actually ascribing some measure of skill to women. Still, he manages to maintain conventional sex roles by emphasizing essential features he sees in “woman”.)

“The most important thing is to behave like a woman… no, behave like a lady, not a woman. I am very class conscious. I want all the respect that’s due a woman.” (Lisa, p. 58) (This statement is very confusing because I cannot figure out if Lisa wants to be treated like a woman or a lady and if he thinks both are the same. It seems like the lady aspect is more prominent. However, then it follows that he never wanted to be a woman to begin with but an image of an upper class lady that comes with all the romantic fairytale baggage which seldom became reality to begin with. Not to mention that “being treated like a lady” amounts to benevolent sexism, the belief that women are not fully human and rather like expensive and easily breakable China porcelain which needs to be guarded and carried around at every time. Radical feminists like me, however, and many women want to be human, not an decorative object.)

“I think she [his daughter] senses and appreciates my basic feminine interests in her wardrobe, just like all women are interested.” (Vanessa, p. 72) (I wonder what he would have done if that had not taken place. Send his daughter to a psychiatrist?)

Seeing as MtTs are more feminine than women and are more likely to agree with sexism they must experience less dissatisfaction with the role they are now “forced” to play. Apart from a basic incompability with radical feminism that wants to erase all sex roles this leads to almost fantastical assumptions like the following one:

“[Before, I felt like a woman and if I behaved like a woman it was noticeable and nonacceptable, whereas now it’s acceptable.] In fact, a woman can behave in almost any way and it’s acceptable, I mean respectable. There isn’t as much emphasis put on how a woman acts as there is on how a man acts…. A man must act slightly masculine. If a woman acts masculine, people don’t notice it as much as they do when a man acts feminine.” (Sylvia, p. 26)

Of course, Sylvia would think that. He became an MtT to better navigate societal norms around gender and obviously experiences less harassment now that he is perceived as being role-compliant. However, to then assume that women can almost do anything without any repercussions is wishful thinking born out of Sylvia’s wish to make his decision for “sex change” surgery more rational. “Masculine” women are bullied in school by girls and boys alike for not being interested in make-up, dating or relationships and countless reformatory attempts are made upon their person throughout their entire lives to turn them more “straight”. They are often ridiculed in the streets, just like many “faggy” gay men, by their own families, and even in their own (lesbian) communities. On top of that, women are discriminated against solely for being women while men are almost never discriminated against on the basis of their sex alone. Transsexualism might obviously lead to a complete misjudgement of the world as it is.

“The ultimate criterion of being a woman”

Under the influence of this information I bet you are already eagerly awaiting how MtTs answered the question about what they considered the ultimate criterion of being a woman, especially juxtaposed to the male and female group. So have a look.

biology (13), no strong discrimination between vagina and reproductive organs
Not terribly surprising. Men relate first to our impregnability as it is most important to them.

“behaving like a woman” (11)
reproductive organs
Being socialized as a woman obviously takes its toll. Putting an emphasis on behaviour doesn’t mean, however, that the female group is more sexist than the male one –  we already saw that this is not the case. It just shows that behaviour is more present in women’s mind as it is sex role compliance they are most often evaluated by.

behaviour (10) (e.g. “being attracted to men”, “being loved and needed by the family”, “behaving like a woman”, p. 27)
emphasis on having a vagina
MtTs end up being most sexist so their answering pattern is foreseeable. There is an interesting difference between women and MtTs here: according to Kando’s words women didn’t give any specific examples for the behaviour they classified as making a woman into a woman. It seems obvious and everyday to them. However, the answering pattern of the MtTs revealed that they had individual criteria – two of the examples Kando gives are obviously sexist. Lesbians and socially isolated female members of society are obviously not women. MtTs seem to evaluate being a woman by the relative amount of social approval conferred.
The emphasis on vagina is likewise non-surprising: since an artificial vagina is the closest males can get to having a real vagina it makes sense to not mention reproductive organs. Focusing on pregnancy would negatively influence the MtT’s image of themselves as women.

Have some choice quotes from the interviews to get a better picture. (The quotes in this book are a goldmine.)

“It’s feeling like a woman. It is possible to by physically a man and yet truly a woman. It is one’s personality, mind, outlook, that make the difference.” (Elinor, p. 28)

“…behaving like a woman, since I can’t have sex and I can’t have children… What I’d like most is to have a child, but I couldn’t.” (Elizabeth, p. 28) (This is entirely strategic. Elizabeth knows that his body can never be that of a woman so he emphasizes behaviour.)

“Having a vagina. There a lots of masculine women, but this doesn’t make them males. Being able to bear children is not what makes the difference either: look at all the women with hysterectomy. I can love my children as much as if I’d gone through childbirth. My greatest ambition is to be a mother before I’m thirty, though adoption of course.” (Linda, p. 28) (Where have we heard these arguments before? As has been pointed out, the difference does not lie in women actually being able to give birth, the difference lies in the fact that it is only women who can give birth. What is most infuriating, however, is the nonchalant remark about adoption being equivalent to birthing a child. The pain and joy of childbirth is reduced to an inconsequentiality because it is too inconvenient to Linda. So a seemingly more nuanced comment becomes just as bad as the others.)

As Kando notes: “It appears that in every instance the transsexual’s criterion of real womanhood is one by which she[sic] qualifies.” (p. 28) It would do us good to remember this if we ever become confused by MtTs sometimes heavily diverging accounts of what they consider to be a woman. The following comment shows the extent of redefining involved in making generally masculine traits acceptable as feminine:

“I may not have turned out to be Miss Femininity herself, but that was to be expected. My deep voice doesn’t bother me anymore; I found out that people find a deep voice sexy, anyway. I also have a very heavy beard, it grows as much as before, but some women have as much facial hair as I do…” (Roberta, p. 69)

Having such an ultimately egocentric self-definition also explains why MtTs have so much trouble talking to radical feminists since we see us as a class structurally oppressed because of our biology.

PIV and… vaginal orgasms?

The majority of the MtTs had engaged in PIV after their respective operations and several claimed to have achieved “vaginal orgasms” (p. 6). Apart from the fact that an artificial vagina cannot be used to achieve a vaginal orgasm not actually being a vagina, it is hard to believe how this can be the truth when Kando also says that “[m]uch of the sex drive is lost” (p.6) after surgery.
However, consider the significance that a vaginal orgasm was supposed to have for women in the 60s and 70s: it meant you were a fully bodily and mentally developed woman while clitoral orgasms signalled immaturity. Having a vaginal orgasm is a symbol of sex role compliance – it means you are a “true” woman, possibly better than those of us who rarely or never come by way of PIV. It makes sense that MtTs would have embraced this sexist dichotomy when this study was conducted.

Three MtTs were married, one husband didn’t know. Several of the unmarried had also slept with men (including as prostitutes) who weren’t able to see a difference between an artificial and real vulva. Kando remarks that this was “the ultimate test of womanhood” (p. 6). Being fucked as a “woman” means being a woman. Apparently, other people are often unwitting instruments to MtTs attempts at self-validation. Quite interestingly this emphasis on sexual behaviour seems to have found its way into the queer community by way of MtTs creating a “cotton ceiling”.

Mommy dearest?

What is particularly interesting is that some transsexuals seemingly casually mention characteristics that could have been considered psychological flaws in their mother’s behaviour according to the diagnostic criteria of the time when Kando conducted his study.

“But then, she [Renee] felt the need to explain that her parents raised her in an effeminate fashion [That’s not true insofar that Renee stated he had always been effeminate. His parents never actually seemed to have “intervened”.] , that her mother had always been domineering and that she never had a close male identity figure.” (p. 112)

“My mother is a very domineering person; she wore the pants in the family… […] My mother is the one who took the operations the hardest. She had always been proud of giving birth to a first-born son.” (Sally, p. 40)

“When she was carrying me, she had only girls’ names picked…. She was never happy as a woman….” (Sally, p. 112)

“I rather think that my mother wanted a girl when I was born….” (Roberta, ibid)

“The new situation is the hardest on my mother. She prefers men. Superficially everyone likes it, but there is partiality towards boys in my family… my mother is uncomfortable with me. My father is fine….” (Vanessa, p. 73)

As Kando remarks:

“In sum, most transsexuals seem to have reconstructed their biographies in such a manner that their becoming transsexuals is understandable. Many have worked out an etiology for their gender condition, often borrowing vulgarized psychoanalytic motives that stress faulty childhood socialization, particularly the alleged unresolved Oedipal relationship. The mother may then alternatively be described as rejecting or overly protective, as either too feminine or too masculine. The main point is that she is given an important role in the sad series of events that lead to transsexualism. These etiological accounts explaining the pathology are given, while at the same time transsexuals claim that there is nothing wrong with them, that they have been females all along and that sex surgery was merely ‘corrective’.” (pp. 113)

If you ever read Kando’s book you will notice that MtTs seem to mention traumatic events without being asked about them specifically. When you conduct interviews and something like this happens, i.e. individuals suddenly change the topic or interesting patterns of emphasis emerge in all interviews, this is an indicator for the importance of certain events. MtTs might claim that they suffer a medical or psychological condition that renders them unfit as men, however, the fact that they spend so much time talking about social ostracism and discrimination reveals how this claim is instrumentalized to hide the true motivation behind their “transition”, namely a certain inability to deal with social rejection while at the same time placing much importance on social acceptance.

However, I will deal with this in part 2.


*A scale in this sense consists of a number of statements with which respondents are asked to agree or disagree. Likert scales are used most of the time. A good example is at the bottom of this page.

Scales can be statistically analyzed. Let’s say a scale consists of 5 statements to be rated from a number of options between “Strongly agree” and “Strongly disagree” with the first being assigned a value of 7 and the latter a value of 1. On three items you agree with a value of 3, on the remaining two you even agree to an extent of 7. Those values are then added up giving you a total score of 23 with a maximum of 35 and a minimum of 5 in general. Those added-up values can be divided into categories: for example, 5-10 (very feminine), 10-15 (quite feminine) until 30-35 (very masculine). If you leave out one item the entire scale becomes invalid and you are not counted in the analysis.