While Kristen Schilt offers a broad overview of the experiences of transgenders, and it is impossible to represent all experiences of equality or inequality, this is a fascinating work. I do agree that in some rare instances that she cites there is an increase in equality in certain professions (Schilt 2010: 2), but we are still dealing with the same prejudices and generalities that Hume discusses. If we don’t admit to our prejudices, defining them as they really are and not as we would like to sugarcoat them to make ourselves feel good, we will accomplish nothing, even as we admit that equality has increased over time. Society is not as evolved as it should be.
In Chapter One, “Framing Transgender Difference,” Schilt elaborates the attitudes of the psychiatric and medical communities in the 1960s through the 1990s that viewed the concept of homosexuality and transgender sex changes as deviant, abnormal, and “against God”. Given the fact that this was supposed to be the dispassionate medical and scientific communities, it is interesting to note that society’s prejudices and it’s propaganda influenced these “scientific” leaders so vehemently. Society still evolves slowly and resists as much as it can, though regional and cultural differences play a role that is difficult to realize without witnessing that treatment firsthand. The climate for transgenders has always been difficult and different because “heteronormal” individuals have a difficulty in understanding gender identity versus sexual identity because of cultural conditioning fueled by fear of the different.
The recognition of the social genders of men, women, and transgenders becomes an interesting observational judgment based on cultural conditioning and “legal” defining, depending upon the context. For some, the visual cues are enough, and for others, even the legal name change as well as the so-called sex change are not enough to hold up enough in a court of law presided over by a judge who is unable to see the prejudices that are so plainly evident. There are also the semiotic language cues in “the affected group” of GLB minorities who utilize “mainstream” derogatory terms as a means of taking ownership of the negativity and transforming it into something positive, the same way that some racial and ethnic minorities have. But interestingly enough, transgendered men are not socially able to take advantage of these terms after their transformation once they become a member of a social majority (Schilt 2010: 53).
This is a study of inequality, primarily the navigation of female to male transgenders. But Schilt managed to address the persistent inequality that exists between men and women in the workplace and the fact that most transmen are aware of this inequality and sexism in the workplace because of their unique position as former women (Schilt 2010: Chapter 3). This is immaterial to transmen, but I am still surprised that in 2012 men continue to justify such inequitable treatment of women based on some outdated idea. Do transmen receive a substantial raise following their transition and do transwomen receive a substantial but unfair pay cut following their transition? When are we going to stop tolerating such “reasoning” to justify an inequality in pay?
Social processes make gender, and social processes also reinforce stereotypes. Cultural conditioning is such that most people are predisposed to treat people and individuals based on their superficial physical appearance, and thus we return to generalities and David Hume. Transmen, on the other hand, given their perspective, based on who they really are and their original biological markers, are in a unique position to slowly or rapidly change the perspectives of those around them simply by existing and by questioning those biases sincerely.
Schilt, K. (2011). Just One of the Guys?: Transgender Men and the Persistence of Gender Inequality. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.