Just Say No to Transsexual/Transgender Studies and Surveys

Yesterday a woman I like and respect posted a request for people  to participate in yet another survey or study of transsexual and transgender people.  She vouched for the person doing the study and due to her personal reputation I will assume that the person doing the study is honorable.

That isn’t really the point of my objection although we should always question the purpose of any study of any people in the queer alphabet soup.  We have a history of being fucked over by studies that are supposed to be to our benefit.  Michael Bailey’s Study should have been the final straw.

Gay and lesbian parents were sucked into Mark Regenrus study, which like Michael Bailey’s fraudulent study turned out to be a tool to abuse LGBT families.

I’ve participated in way more surveys and studies over the years than most people.  I came out early and was dedicated to cooperating with the doctors and scholars studying transsexual people in the belief that I was making life easier for transsexual and transgender people.

In 1980 at Johns Hopkins John Meyer and Paul McHugh did one of these survey/studies that nearly killed SRS in this country.  To be rated a success in this study one had to be a perfect fembot heterosexually married housewife with adopted children.  At a time when one was only able to change their birth certificate and therefore legally marry a man in twenty or so states.  At a time when feminism was still in full swing and many if not most natal women were questioning sex/gender role stereotypes.

Stanford asked me to take a ten year follow up survey/study in the early 1980s.  It was after I saw the movie Blade Runner and had picked up on the term Replicant, which was the respectful name for the genetically engineered clones in the movie.

Needless to say I didn’t like the study at all.  I told Stanford they were treating us like Replicants, almost human but not quite.  That they expected us to fit perfect stereotypes and even invent false memories to do so.  We were expected to do this in spite of the barriers that were erected to keep us in our places.

At the time I felt I was doing the best I could, I had gone back to school and was employed.  I was bisexual and preferred the company of women because straight men tended to be total sexist jerks.

Suddenly it seemed like people who had been really pretty open minded ten years earlier were now reborn as supporters of rigid sex/gender roles.

When I was chided for describing myself as a Replicant I mentioned how the rude label was skin job.

The point is I resented being studied like I was some sort of alien life form or someone whose life experiences were totally different from non-trans people’s life experiences.

It is dehumanizing as a class to be seen as group to be studied.  It doesn’t matter if that group is a tribal culture, a racial/ethnic minority or an LGBT/T group.  The very act of classifying us as a collective group suitable for study marks the one doing the study as serving the dominant culture and the group being studied as inferior.

Time to end the studies.  They really don’t promote our cause, bigots remain bigots.  Too many of the studies are used to promote bigotry and the whole practice is demeaning.

Too often these studies are agenda driven, particularly when they are student studies.  The reality is I don’t give a shit about helping someone get their Ph.D in Psychology or Gender Studies.

We don’t need any more caring psychiatric workers, making a living exploiting us.  We need equality and dignity instead and these studies help with neither.

19 Responses to “Just Say No to Transsexual/Transgender Studies and Surveys”

  1. deena17 Says:

    “The reality is I don’t give a shit about helping someone get their Ph.D in Psychology or Gender Studies.”
    This ^ is why I have never participated in a study or survey.

    • Suzan Says:

      The thing is I used to and even still do at times. But we’ve been burned so often and these studies particularly when done by students really demean.

      On the other hand I will participate in studies regarding discrimination and the like.

  2. Sharon Sinéad Gaughan Says:

    The studies you rightfully complain about are a misuse of the case study approach, mainly to justify a pointless Masters Degree.

    Truly professional case study research, using a combination of single and multiple case studies, focuses on quantitative evidence drawn from multiple sources analyzing and evaluating both the isolated data points and the relationship of multiple case study data groups to each other. Broad roll-ups of the aggregated case data (e.g., meta-studies) lend themselves to both generating and testing hypotheses.

    So far, most of the case studies related to transsexuality are based on statistically small and self-selecting data bases and, as such, are limited in scope. Theories are presented in a vacuum and their acceptance is based more on the personality of the researcher than the validity of the case study data.

    Even when properly done, a series of case studies, or even a meta-analysis of their results, are no substitute for rigorous longitudinal research with large datasets and extensive follow-up.

    I have long advocated a longitudinal study, similar to the approach used to study poverty, the status of women, race relations, and other important topics.

    In this case, a longitudinal study would involve repeated observations over long periods of time. A type of observational study, the longitudinal variant can be used in psychology to study developmental trends across the life span, and — in sociology — to study life events throughout lifetimes or generations. Longitudinal studies track the same group of people, minimizing the likelihood of cultural differences across generations.

  3. dentedbluemercedes Says:

    One of the first things we’ve faced in Canada under a neo-liberal government is the death of the census and defunding of research studies. After a number of years of this, for institutions across the board, it has deprived them of evidence to make them effective. This has affected womens’ groups, Aboriginal groups, environmental groups, LGBT groups….

    Historically, you’re absolutely right, the research that has been done has been often abominable, and is still sometimes initiated with these old predispositions, and skewed toward those same conclusions. Be selective, absolutely.

    But we will need comprehensive studies to grow as a social movement. We’ll need data, evidence. What I’d like to see instead are trans people driving or informing those studies. And personally, if I know who is conducting the study and/or that there is a genuine awareness there, I’m still happy to participate in and promote that study.

    • Suzan Says:

      Aaah you nailed it my main objection is to non-trans people conducting these studies. Hell LGBT people, social workers dealing with minority groups on a regular basis are one thing. But treating us like an exotic tribe of aboriginal people, subjects to be studied by the dominate culture is another.

  4. Regina Kleinzeller Says:

    Whenever I have (in a moment of weakness) filled out surveys, it’s been easy to tell, within about 2 minutes, the total lack of knowledge or vast oversimplification of the subject matter by the person who’s concocted the survey. Moreover, it’s almost always so painfully obvious as to the purpose, and researcher’s viewpoint that one has to wonder what possible use or objectivity such surveys could have. They largely seem to be tacked on to much more subjective writing to give it an air of academic objectivity. And this is why case studies and surveys are so dangerous, because the participant studied tend to have zero input over the highly subjective interpretation of the ‘findings’ by the author nor any control over how such ‘facts’ are quoted in other (possibly horrendous) studies.

    Here’s a great example. In the mid 1990s, the Center for AIDs Prevention Studies (an arm of Univ. of Calif. @ SF) did a very targeted study of trans women doing sex work who used several trans-related community centers in two low income neighborhoods (the centers were created by UCSF for disseminating AIDs information to these populations) and found out that two-thirds of those women had been previously incarcerated. Around 2004, the Bay Guardian (a free progressive rag in SF) had a poorly written article about trans people stuck the INS system, and did a large pull quote saying “two thirds of transgender people have been incarcerated.” Now, they were quoting someone who incorrectly quoted that study (and the study was NEVER to have been about the entire trans population, much less trans men, much less trans people who lived outside the Tenderloin or parts of the Mission District). I contacted the paper who refused to print a correction or to even acknowledge how mis-representing such facts could have a negative impact on trans people seeking housing or employment. I’ve seen this statistic continually misrepresented over and over again by different organizations and media outlets (who are quoting the Bay Guardian) most recently in a video about trans people in prison. One study… multiple errors, all supposedly backed up by ‘research.’

  5. Jolene Gillies Says:

    Can we re-title this to sometimes say no? I would agree we should say no to poorly done studies that clearly have no face value which is evident to even a novice. We should say no to studies or claimed studies that are done with the intent to harm or result in harm. However I think we need the exposure that a good study with community involvement can bring. We need supportive allies or transgender people ourselves deciding our fate not people like Zucker or Blanchard who were put in charge of deciding what we should be labeled because they had done so many studies they were considered experts. We need to be our own experts so we decide our fate.I just applied to be a researcher at U of CA Berkeley. In the literature on their LGBT studies program I saw that the T was subsumed under the sexual minority heading and that the information about the program dealt with sexuality and did not distinguish T as any different from LGB. Even if they don’t pick me I offered to help them rewrite their program description to be more transgender competent. We’ve got a long way to go when the literature for an LGBT studies program uses the term transgendered but nowhere did I see the term gayed. Let’s hope that some of these young children, who come out as transgender when they are in their pre-teen years, become psychologists and write about us and become our experts. Lets hope that whoever writes about an LGBT program in the future will know the difference between T and LGB and maybe even be T themselves. For the record I have a Ph. D. in psychology
    Jolene Gillies Ph. D.

    • Suzan Says:

      Actually no. I’m not going to retitle this. I’ve been an activist of one sort or another for the last fifty years and have a chary view of academics in many fields. Psychology is one of those fields that I sort of lump in with theology as being an tool that is used to perpetuate the patriarchy along with the oppression of non-conformists and minorities..

      I would hope none of the kids coming out young become psychiatrists.

      • Jayme Says:

        Ahh, I’m sorry to read this. As a gender-queer, trans identified, activist, radical, anti-oppressive type person who is training to become a psychologist, I do plan to do some research regarding trans youth and childhood trauma. I am sad to hear of all of the bad experiences that people have had with surveys and research. I know it is true that there is a lot of crappy research. However, I am also hopeful that by increasing the numbers of people like me in the profession, we can really make a difference. I also strongly believe that when GOOD research gets out there, we can make better cases for actual trans- knowledgeable care and for better training for all of us in the mental health profession. I hope when my survey comes out (which is being vetted already by a number of trans folks) that people will stop for a moment and consider taking it. It may make a difference for how we get funding and resources for trans youth in need of help. Thank you for bringing this problem to peoples’ attention.

        • Suzan Says:

          Screw research. This is a bunch of neo-liberal academic bullshit.

          While you are othering us with the gender queer crap most TS/TG people are dealing with working crappy insecure jobs due to the collapse of the middle class.

          Marx and Engels have far more to offer than all the psychiatrists and queer theory people put together.

          But then I’m post-transsexual and don’t consider myself to be gender queer or even transgender. As for my connection to transsexual, I had an operation a long time ago and view things differently from transgender people of today. For one thing I use the term transsexual, or more accurately post-transsexual. Transgender rights are identical to those of other despised and dispossessed minority groups. The needs are the same, security, a place to live, a source of income (a living wage) dignity and equality.

          None of this comes about from “studies” or queer academics.

          I have more respect for activists than academics.

          Try putting your body on the line for the right of Walmart workers to unionize, or to stop Tar Sands mining. Join Code Pink and protest the wars that are bleeding social services.

          Some of this stuff is so basic. And stop exploiting TS/TG people to further your academic careers. Study Tea Baggers, or Fundie Christers, they are the problem.TS/TG people aren’t the problem, the oppressors are.

          Michael Harrington did the definitive study in the 1960s “The Other America: Poverty in the United States”. I defined the problem and hasn’t been surpassed.

          The problem is poverty, misogyny, racism and bigotry.

          • Jayme Says:

            Huh. Well, I’m not sure how my identity as gender queer “others” anyone else. And, I’ve dealt with many years of “crappy jobs” myself. I have been a long-time activist and if you lived in my city, you’d likely have benefited in some way from some of the work I’ve done. I just don’t see a benefit in degrading one type of WORK over another. Yes, Marx and Engles do have a lot to offer but at the same time, transgender youth who are being beaten at home and kicked out, denied services and living on the street also need immediate help. Work on poverty and misogyny, racism and bigotry will help them in the long term but right now there are kids being traumatized. Our social service system (which you worry about being gutted) doesn’t know how to deal with them or treat them or even realize that there is a problem. So, research like I will do will help bring awareness to those who do provide social services that there is a crisis needing immediate attention. This to me is meaningful and important activist work. Have you ever read about participatory action research? Very cool, very participant-focused and anti-oppression focused. I applaud everyone who is doing work to help others. But, researching a population is not a punishment. If some people do shitty unethical research, well I know QUITE a few people who do shitty, unethical “activism.” My stomach churns at some of the horrifying behavior I’ve seen in the name of being a “radical activist.” Anyway, I wish you well and perhaps from both ends of the spectrum (working withing and from without the system), important changes can be made that benefit all.

            • Jayme Says:

              Oh, I should also add that I, too, have been annoyed at the crappy surveys I’ve seen come out recently. Transmen’s sex lives! Transwomen and what jobs they do! Where do people get hormones? Not only YAWN but exploitative! Researching something because it is “cool” or “fun” or “sexy” is dead wrong. I refuse to do research that doesn’t benefit the participants in some way.

  6. Cait Says:

    Reblogged this on Cait.

  7. Debbie Brady Says:

    I refuse to be put under anyone’s microscope, I am not a bug to be studied and pigeonholed by some grad student. Being a Transsexual woman is just one aspect of who I am. If I am to be pigeonholed at all, I prefer the category of lifelong cage shaker and activist.

    • Jayme Says:

      That’s fine. You can just not participate. No one makes anyone participate. I just ask people to keep in mind that EVERY population of people gets studied including activists, people from Virginia, folks who were adopted, artists, women, men, children, left-handed people, addicts, CEO’s etc. There is nothing “special” in being studied — it isn’t a punishment or a sign that there is something wrong with a population. It simply is a way to understand how the interaction of social, familial, cultural and genetic forces come together or not to create unique human experiences with implications across medical, mental health, housing, community, activist, food production etc etc etc fields. The more we know about how different people are impacted by different forces, the better we can make community that works for everyone.

      • Suzan Says:

        Unfortunately there isn’t a transgender community. There are a bunch of different trans communities. Just having one’s life impacted by a trans-prefixed word does not make one a member of a community.

        Rights are rights because everyone should have them not because someone is a member of a screened and approved of by academics “community.”

        To many recent studies have focused on that manufacturing of an imaginary transgender community instead of issues. And that is the problem. Example I’m old and relatively poor. I have more in common with old people who are relatively poor than I do with a young TG/TS person who is working the streets. I may sympathize but we really don’t have much in common. Where I might have a lot in common with the older men and women I exercise with at the Community Center, who have the same sorts of health issues I have. There age is more a community builder than my life having once been impacted by a trans-prefixed word.

        • Jayme Says:

          Well, of course there is no “community”. This can be said for any group of people. There is no monolithic Laotian community or community of young people or community of smokers or single parents or Black people. In each grouping there are people who fit in more and less to that particular group and are more or less influenced by it. But one thing remains in common: our culture treats certain characteristics differently and therefore, has different impacts on different groups. Yes, you likely have more in common with other older folks than a young trans kid working the streets. Just in the same way that an older Black professor at Harvard may have more in common with his department colleagues than a young African American single mom who works at Walmart. Yes, but are there also ways in which our culture treats them in the same way? Yup. So, this is why good research actually accounts for these things. This is why I study youth separately from adults. I am not sure how studies “Manufacture” a community. By looking at ways that people are the same and different, I can find out that different groups have different needs. When I say ” a community that works for everyone” i mean Community. Like, the ways in which ALL people interact and have intersections of oppression. The ways in which a group of people who live in the same place may have older and younger trans people and older and younger black folks and people of different class backgrounds nad jobs and education etc. By understanding these intersections we can better work toward the health and wellbeing of all people in a given community, not just those with privlidge.

          Remember: who has gotten studied the most? 20 yr old white, straight students. Those are the people upon whom medicine and mental health interventions are based. Is that what you want? Or do you want interventions that actually help the full spectrum of people that exist in the world? Wouldn’t you rather have ways that I could actually work with trans youth who live in the streets that is based on their real needs, not based on a study of white college kids? Think about it.

          • Suzan Says:

            Actually I would rather see the young kids given the funding to run their own organizations that address their needs and the needs of their peers. The way Jan and I were given a grant to run the NTCU back in the early 1970s.

            We knew even as we were running it that we should get out after getting SRS and pass it on to others still struggling with the process rather than making a career out of it.

            That is part of the post-1970s sickness. Everything gets turned into a money making opportunity for the privileged. And the hustle is never ending because you have Baristas with Ph.D.s and working in big box stores because there is no demand for person with their degree.

            At some point the question becomes, “Who is being served, the group in need or the group of professionals who could very easily be one of those proles with an advanced degree serving up vente lattes at Starbucks?”

  8. tinagrrl Says:

    Gee, I’m late to this one.

    I must say, I was once an eager taker of surveys. That phase did not last long.

    First, I discovered that none of the supplied answers described me. Then I was instructed to pick the “closest one”. Of course, I wondered how that would in any way describe, or help, me. It became clear that some folks were attempting to show how we were one monolithic “community” — usually described by THEM as “transgender”.

    It was very easy to stop taking any surveys, filling out any questionnaires, after that.

    When all the Bailey crap came out, I was reminded about Jan Raymond’s “research”, as well as Judy Butler’s — none of which was either accurate or helpful.

    When a grad student says, “I want to help you through research” does he or she have ANY idea how paternalistic they are? How they are attempting to “help” some of us based on what they “know” is right — rather than asking us what we need?

    I am very surprised by the need for folks to lump us ALL into a “Community” when we are as varied as the general population. Age, class, ethnic background, race, religion – or lack of same, education level, attitudes toward surgery, desire for surgery, and, of course, surgical status. Add to that the sex you identify as – if any, and how you see your future.

    This supposed “community” is in no way the same as, for example, the Laotian Community. At least they identify as Laotian.

    Here we have transsexual, post-transsexual, transgender, gender queer, male, female, bois, transvestite, trans…………….., etc., etc., etc. There are those who will NEVER be “out”, those who refuse to leave either a gay or trans “ghetto”, those who have NEVER set foot in a gay or trans “ghetto”, those who DEMAND EVERYONE be “out” — and on, and on, and on.

    I was at a SAMHSA multi-day workshop and meeting some years ago. I was, at one point asked by some well meaning folks what they had to do to “attract” LGBT/T folks. I think they wanted to find a “magic bullet”. My response was, “just say welcome, the coffee’s over there – have a seat.” — in truth, nothing more is necessary in that setting.

    As you may well know, “throwaway kids”, and street kids have been through the “we want to help you” crap many times. They neither trust nor believe. What they need is security, and the belief that THEY can actually have a future. When you’ve been so damaged in your youth, you are not going to believe anyone or anything.

    Work on that before you do any more surveys.


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