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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Failure to Communicate: Arnold Scwarzenegger, rape, and the problem of being transgender

The Carolinian -- Arnold Schwarzenegger, my favorite former actor turned Republican Governor of California to date, signed a law at the end of September which limits the "gay panic" defense. This defense is becoming popular, or infamous, in cases of attacks on people who are transgender.

The scenario goes - as it did in the murder of Gwen Araujo, for whom the law was named - that a transgender person, we'll say one that was born a man, is living as a woman. That person then has sexual relations with a straight male. The straight male later finds out that the person he was with is not a woman. Then there is violence.

There is another crime here that is not discussed very openly, as it is usually overshadowed by the horrible details of these attacks. After being outed as a man, Gwen Araujo was beaten and then strangled to death by three men - previous lovers - who then attempted to bury Araujo in a California desert. No one outside of evangelical Christian clergy would defend these three monsters, who have since been convicted of their crime. There is, however, an uncomfortable point that needs to be made here.

Gwen Araujo was "living as a woman." This is how they phrase it. Living as a woman. But Araujo was living as a woman in the sense that if I put on a hook and get a parrot, I'm living as a pirate.

Full column

I foresee this column getting more hate mail than anything I've written so far (or at least so far this semester), so I should clarify a couple things. I'll be referring to male gender reassignment here, since it's the more common and more effectively done surgery. "Sex change" is a poor term for this procedure, since one can never change their sex. Gender and sex are different things.

First, I am not stating it to be my opinion that a man cannot change into a woman. It is a fact. A man can not ever change into a biological woman. He can be altered to appear to be one, but he will never be one.

Second, this surgery does not give a man a vagina. It changes his penis into something that looks like a vagina. This is just genital origami, it only looks like it's something else.

EDIT: So I was right about getting a lot of feedback from this column, though it's not nearly as hateful as expected. Or, at least from strangers it's generally positive. I've got friends from other colleges calling me up to argue, which is fun.

On a positive note, a friend of mine studying law at Wake Forest told me that just a few days ago in one of his classes the professor brought up the Gwen Araujo case while discussing the nature of rape. Apparently I'm not that far off.

And, most importantly, people love the final line. Eat that, Kathryn.


Blogger Kitty Campbell said...

Then again, since a penis and a vagina are made of the same embryonic cells in the first place, molding one into the other is like changing the shape of a lump of clay. And since all penises start out as what becomes the clitoris in a woman, removing the phallus and re-molding the skin that, had one chromosome been different, would have become a vulva anyway, can be argued to turn a man into what he would have been without that Y-chromosome. But, on a chromosomal level, you're still right - he is still a man, technically.

Columns like this are why I have to respect you - you trample on political correctness in the name of logical reasoning. As a supporter of transgendered rights, it was uncomfortable for me to think of this MtF as having committed rape by having sex "as a woman" with an unknowing man - but when I really think about it, I have to admit you're right, especially considering your analogy. Although, I have to say that his/her murder after being outed is the exact reason why s/he would have been hesitant to tell any lover the truth unless s/he really trusted them. It's one of those goddamned gray areas that make life hard.

10/24/2006 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Kitty Campbell said...

Oh, and the more technical term than "sex change" is in fact, "gender reassignment."

10/24/2006 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Luke McIntyre said...

I'm glad you think so. This isn't the first time I wish I had about a thousand more words to explain a bit more what I meant, but it's a column and not Luke's ranting post. It would have been good -- though off topic for the point I was making -- to attempt to address how horrifying it must be to live as a person who people would love to beat to death for simply existing (though that applies to a lot of the LGBT community), or how some guys are so homophobic that they might react violently if they were confronted with the possibility that they were attracted to another man.

Important points to make no doubt, but unless I wanted to fill an entire page with a rant on transgender issues I don't think I could have fit it in. Maybe Opinions will be running light next week. I'll talk to Brook.

10/24/2006 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger Brook Taylor said...

...ditto to what Kitty said.

And i definitely think you're right to expect a big response on this one. People were talking about it to me this morning before I had even had the chance to flip through the paper.

10/24/2006 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger Luke McIntyre said...

Brook: Good. If we're going to claim to be a gay campus then we should talk about some issues that will actually spur conversation. Things that people actually disagree on, not just "Yay gay marriage, boo Republicans."

But, just to reiterate, yay gay marriage and boo Republicans.

10/24/2006 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Killian said...

What is it about this column that I'm supposed to disagree with?

10/24/2006 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger Luke McIntyre said...

Joe: Judging from the arguments I've had, especially in the past 48 hours, everything. The main point of disagreement seems to be whether a man who undergoes gender reassignment can actually consider himself a woman. If he can then there's no need to inform future lovers of the operation. This is what he is now, living as a woman.

I say that's complete bullshit. A man cannot become a woman, so he needs to inform all future lovers that he is not a woman, he is just a man who looks like a woman.

10/24/2006 04:38:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Killian said...

Hmm...I suppose there are no hard and fast ethical rules in this area, but it seems to me that even if you've had the reassignment surgery letting someone know this would be...the polite thing to do.

I guess it could be argued that if you're having sex with someone you don't know well enough to know whether they were, at one time, another gender...then you're sort of in for whatever you're in for (mixed emotional messages, the chance of sexually transmitted diseases, the chance they're married or have a bf). But this doesn't seem like a very good argument to me.

It may not make much difference at the time (an erection tending to cut into our higher reasoning abilities) but it could concievably be very important information that would be uncomfortable (and perhaps dangerous) to impart later.

I think you get into shaky ground arguing that withholding infromation that might lead the person not to have sex so that they will have sex is rape. By this definition there are all sorts of things (being secretly married, having an STD, having had sex with all that person's friends without their knowledge) that you'd have to impart to them in order for them to make a proper decision about whether they wanted to have sex with you. Would a woman who had breast implants have to tell someone about this before having sex with him/her or risk being accused of rape for making herself appear as something she isn't in order to get that person to have sex...? It's a strange area, certainly...but something as fundamental as your gender...I have to agree it's best to tell the person well ahead of time.

That said...I've read a couple of accounts of this young transgender woman being killed and I have to say...how the hell did three guys have sex with her without realizing she was transgender?

10/24/2006 05:26:00 PM  
Blogger Luke McIntyre said...

Either plastic surgeons are that good or men are that dumb.

10/24/2006 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger Kitty Campbell said...

That, and the old "I want to remain a virgin so it has to be anal" excuse is not something most men will argue with.

10/26/2006 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Killian said...

Why is it I always hear about those girls, but never meet one - or anyone who has?

All the same...I'd like to think that however I was having sex with someone, I'd notice that...you know...they had balls.

10/26/2006 01:09:00 PM  

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