Tuesday, January 12, 2010

To QI & Mr Stephen Fry: Transgender Women Are Not Blokes And Are Not There To "Fool" Anybody

TransGriot Note: This is the text of a complaint letter sent to the BBC by Sass Rogando Sasot concerning a transphobic January 8 segment of a British TV show called Quite Interesting. For my UK readers you can watch that January 8 episode here, for the rest of us, the player isn't set up for viewing outside of Great Britain.

If you wish to send your complaint to the BBC, here's the link. You can also send it to the QI contact person Sarah Lloyd (sarah@qi.com)

Here's Sass's letter

Dear QI:

I'm writing to complain about the comments and questionable opinion of your host, Mr Stephen Fry, about transgender women in your episode entitled "Girls & Boys" on January 8, 2010. The disrespectful comments and questionable opinion of Mr Fry were said during the discussion that came after he asked the question: "How can you be so sure she's not a bloke?"

After discussing why the Adam's apple can't really be a sign that someone is a man, Mr Fry said that: "Basically, a good ladyboy can imitate almost anything female, in terms of how they hold(?) their legs and you know...anything like that."

Then one of the guests asked "Hands and feet?". Mr Fry answered that there are also other women who have large feet then he said: "A dainty ladyboy can easily fool and often has."

Finally, Mr Fry concluded this segment by saying: "The truth is,
Without undressing them or testing their DNA, you can't be sure what sex someone is. So be careful out there."

I find the comments disrespectful and questionable on the following grounds:

First, the term "ladyboy" is a term that is usually used in the sex industry, specially in porn that features Asian transgender women. This term has the same offensive connotation as the term "she-male". I suggest that you refrain using this term as calling transgender women a ladyboy is no different than simply calling them "boys/men", thereby disrespecting their gender identity as women.

Second, the comments about transgender women "imitating anything female" and "a dainty [transgender woman] can easily fool and often has" suggest that transgender women are out there to deceive people. Transgender women are not deceiving anyone because they are just simply living their gender identity as women. This is a courageous manifestation of one's inner truth and not a sinister ploy to fool anyone. More than disrespectful, this comment is also disturbing as this is the same line of argument being used by the perpetrators of violence and discrimination against transgender women to justify their acts.

And third, the opinion of Mr Fry that someone's "true sex" is determined by what's between our legs OR by our DNA is highly questionable.

The external genitalia is now losing ground in being the "true" determinant of someone's sex. As what Dr. Louis Gooren, a Dutch endocrinologist and one of the leading experts on transsexualism, said in his closing speech during The Council of Europe: 23rd Colloquy on European Law: Transsexualism,
Medicine and Law, that:

"It has always been assumed that the sexual differentiation was completed with the formation of the external genitalia. But it is NOT. Since the beginning of this century we have known that the brain, too, undergoes a sexual differentiation. This has been firmly established scientifically in lower animals, and it occurs relatively late in development, in most species just before or shortly after birth...What do we know about man, the human species? We know that the human brain, too, undergoes a degree of sexual differentiation...Long after you were born and after your sex had been determined by the criterion of the external genitalia, your brain still had a long way to go to become sexually differentiated; it does not do so not before the age of 3 to 4 years. These scientific findings may shed light on the problem of transsexualism where we find a contradiction between the genital sex on the one hand and the gender identity on the other hand."

And DNA testing is as problematic as using external genitalia as determinant of the "true" sex of anybody. As what Dr Eric Vilain, a clinical genetics specialist at the UCLA Health System: "Recent advances in the field of the genetics of sexual development have shown the extreme complexity of defining males and females from a biological standpoint. There is no one biological parameter that clearly defines sex. ”

In fact, the United Kingdom, with its Gender Recognition Law, is now one of the countries in the world that has now legally recognized that one's gender identity is the best determinant of one's sex.

I understand that the comments of Mr Fry were meant to be humorous. However, there's a fine line between having a good laugh and turning a group people into an object of ridicule. And as a quiz show, we expect that QI would be curious enough to discover and use information that reflects current discoveries and understanding of the concepts that are being discussed in the show. This segment is not about furthering scientific understanding but more about furthering the opinion that transgender women are "really" blokes.

I trust that QI and Mr Fry would rectify this unfortunate and unbecoming display of ignorance.

Thank you.


Ms Sass Rogando Sasot
transgender rights activist,
Communication Officer in Asia of
the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,
Trans & Intersex Association (ILGA)

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