The Harry Benjamin Syndrome Part 1: When transactivism becomes transphobic
Some of you may have heard about the so-called Harry Benjamin Syndrome.
It is a term developed by transwomen who vehemently oppose any association between them and whom I have called crossdreamers, among them crossdressers.
The argument is that science has proved that this particular group of transwomen, the HBS women, are real women brain wise, and that transitioning male to female crossdreamers (men who get turned on by the idea of having a woman's body, including crossdressers) are not.
In three posts I will take a look at a new book from the Harry Benjamin Syndrome camp, and see if their arguments hold water.
Not in the Wikipedia
Fleur Black tried to get the following paragraphs into the Wikipedia:
"Harry Benjamin Syndrome is not the same as transsexualism or transsexuality but is the medical correct term for the very small group of people who genuinely feel to be trapped in bodies that do not match their brain.
"All who claims to be similar, but refuse to to accept the logic, tests, evidence and accuracy of HBS - Harry Benjamin Syndrome are bigots, fools, transgenders, transvestites, crossdressers or autocunniphilics."
(I love the word "autocunniphilics", a great pun on Blanchard's "autogynephilia".)
Violet Grey quotes this Wikipedia entry in her introduction to the book HBS Harry Benjamin Syndrome Comes of Age, a book written by Rose White.
"Unfortunately," Grey writes, "the Wiki board (...) allowed HBS to be lumped in with the transexualism label that many non-HBS crossdressing men claim in order to legitimise their autogynism and homosexual urges."
(And yes Black, Grey and White are probably the same woman).
Harry Benjamin Part 2
Rose White is explicitly considering her book a continuation of Harry Benjamin's enormously important work The Transsexual Phenomenon. Benjamin had indeed argued that there were biological men who felt themselves trapped in a man's body.
White goes on explain why there is a natural continuation from his book, to the idea that the HBS syndrome is completely different from what people like me call other types of transgender conditions:
"Harry advanced the study of truly transexed people and codified diagnostic criteria that has still not been improved on despite the protestations of generations of transgenders and it is only fitting that the condition should actually be known as Harry Benjamin Syndrome - or HBS - to separate its sufferers from all the gay, lesbian, bisexual, crossdressers, transvestites, transgenders, genderqueers, autogynes, non-ops and others who claim to be afflicted with exactly the same condition that Harry found when in fact they have nothing but various degrees of mis-nurturing to account for their weird urges."
One major point in the book is the need for a term that does not associate the HBS transwomen with "transgenders". You may already have met classical transsexual activists that redefine the word "transgender" to mean autogynephiliacs and effeminate gay men only. White takes this line of argument to the next level, by arguing that the word "transsexual" has become tainted as well.
"In practices HBS do not like to have the word 'transsexual' applied to them as it has been adopted by a vast number of people who are not but not merely give the impression of being of opposite sex and/or gender to that they really are. Thus crossdressers, transvestites, genderqueers and similar claim the label 'transsexual' when in fact they are perfectly happy with their bodies and genitals and would not accept genital surgery if offered to them."
White argues that only HBS (and, I presume, XX women) are naturally feminine. All other transgender, wannabies, crossdressers, maningas (men how have SRS just for sex), non-ops are not.
The proof is that HBS' have a second puberty when taking female hormones, argues White:
"The MtF HBS shows it by behaving like stereotypical late teenage girls in taking delight in the changes brought to their bodies and faces by the estrogen regime and indulging in the love of shopping for fashions, makeup and accessories that so mark the teenage girls. (...)
"Now that we know about BSTc [a brain section that is thought to indicate a female gender identity] it is easy to realise that the truly-HBS brain will respond to the estrogen regime exactly as does the pubescent girl. If a wannabe transsexual does not show this adolescence to any great extent with an estrogen regime then the truth of the matter is simply that they do not have a female brain trapped i their male body!"
White goes on to say that watching a group of HBS women will be like watching a group of genetic girls:
"..the body and face language, ways of sitting, holding glasses or cups, and socially interacting will be totally female without any of the effeminacy displayed by gay men or the TGs. In comparison the TGs will sit and look exactly like blokes in frocks..."
The HBS girls are exactly the same as a genetic woman, White says. They even share their enthusiasm for high heels, colorful makeup, and bright jewelery. The book has a separate chapter on why HBS women love shopping.
(Seriously! I am not making this up!)
There is also a sales site for the book called The Harry Benjamin Syndrome Review. The site has a picture of a HBS woman's hand with painted fingernails. The ad explains that the picture was chosen to show that
"(...) to a HBS women finding time to do her nails and the money for pretty rings is important - those who claim to be HBS women but angrily assert they should not 'have to' follow such female pastimes are not really HBS or else they would 'want to' - this conundrum is explained in Chapter 14."
It isn't really. Explained in Chapter 14, I mean. Exactly how this test is supposed to exclude transitioning crossdressers is unclear to me. One thing is certain: transwomen who find "pretty rings" less important are not real women, according to White.
What this means for genetic XX girls with no interest in such female pastimes is not explained, either.
Crossdreamers are gay men in denial
White argues that her theory is corroborated by TGs [trangender people] being predominantly late transitioners with homosexual proclivities:
"I know one person like this who was the effeminate little boy and is now a unhappy unconvincing homosexual post-op who sits legs gaping and has zero femaleness -- not even a handbag! Others I have had short contact with dress as male as possible and hate women's shops!"
Th HBS women may "goodhumouredly" make fun of a real HBS woman's bad choice of an outfit, White says, but...
"...they will not sneer and snigger as they do over the simple crossdresser who they can see and sense has zero femaleness and only dresses for masturbation or to invade the woman's camp for some reason. These older women are all well aware that most men (sic!) get sexual thrills from dressing and that they look ridiculous with their lack of femaleness perfectly obvious in the ill-chosen finery."
HBS female to male transmen, on the other hand, will find that transitioning with hormones bring an increased enjoyment in drinks, cars, girls, and sports, according to White.
The bad and the ugly
White has a complex list of categories that helps her sort out the bad seeds: transgenders, maningas, amazons, fetishists, amputation fetishists, autogyne (a variant of autogynephile; she truly hates Blanchard but find his terms useful when it comes to dismiss fake transwomen), malignant bisexual, homosexual, lesbian, pseudo-transsexual, regretters, drag kings, perverts, hermaphrodites, dual-moders, and so on and so forth.
The reason she makes this long list is to make sure that people know the difference between a real woman and the pseudo-transwomen. In spite of her second puberty theory, White admits that it can be difficult to see the difference between a HBS and another person who has had surgery. I guess some of the "perverts" even have hand bags.
Her test of sorting out male perverts who want to look like women, by checking if they want to keep their male genitalia, is not fool proof either, as there are "autogynes" who go for the full surgery package.
"When these patients are healed and emerge they may be perfectly passable as the opposite sex or they may conceal their body modifications under the exactly the same styles of clothing they have wore all their mature life. Thus it can be impossible to know without direct confrontation and intrusive questioning if the person leaving the clinic is a HBS waiting to disappear into stealth, a lesbian too long on vaginal estorgen who now feels a flat chest better sums her up or just a man who got a vagina because he has seen the porn queens writhing and moaning in constant climax and thinks that if he had a vagina he would be able to have the same endless orgasms."
However, elsewhere she argues that a HSB person can easily spot another HBS among all the transgenders jostling under the transgender umbrella and instantly feel an affinity with them that is different from the feelings all the others engender: "How they do it is a mystery known only to HBS, " White says. She is right about that.
No homos please, we are British
I have tried to find out whether White allows for homosexual HBS', i.e. gynephilic transwomen. I think not:
"Obviously everyone varies but by and large a HBS will have an internal image of themselves with a man and that man will be as idealised as any other woman's. This is in itself a marker of the difference between HBS and all other people under the TG umbrella who get sex change and choose same sex partners or get the genital surgery with sex in mind."
The HBS have many enemies:
"The enemies are Fouratist homos, the public, the press, bigots and fools, ignorant medics, penny pinching political manipulators, BRSS dykes, religious pedophiles, closed homos and unfortunately the unaccepting homos a.k.a. Manginas who themselves try to become HBS in the vain hope that masquerading as a woman will help them refuse to confess that they are just homos and not HBS."
Blanchard is Belzebub
White, who is British, wants the EU to get out of the clutches of the American psychiatric manual, the DSM, as this one is dominated by arch enemy number 1: Ray Blanchard. (The fact that the Europeans do not follow the DSM is apparently of no importance).
Ray Blanchard is the man that coined the term "autogynephiliac" for men who get aroused by the idea of being women. Personally I believe his observations were close to the mark, but that his explanation for this phenomenon (that they are heterosexual men suffering from a target location error, where they internalize their external love object: women) is unfounded and insulting.
White has no qualms about calling crossdressers "autogyne", using Blanchard to smear them, but she hates Blanchard's other type of transsexual: "the homosexual transsexuals", as she correctly concludes that Blanchard believes that these are nothing but gay men. She therefore often refers to Blanchard and his followers as BLZB (for Blanchard, Lawrence, Zucker and Bailey = Belzebub):
"He [Blanchard] is personally fixated on dreaming up all sorts of silly names for what are basically natural human conditions and persuasions and by doing so ensures that vasts numbers of people with simple desire to cross gender lines or go as far as sex change are labelled perverts, queers and freaks -- or has he has it peedoheebeejeebies, autogynes etc."
White is of course doing exactly the same as Blanchard does in her book -- i.e. labeling all non-HSB's as perverts -- but that is all right, I guess.
What does this all mean for crossdreamers?
White's use of language and complete lack of serious argumentation tell much of the story. I find it very hard to respond to this book as if it was a scientific, philosophical or political work. It is more like a piece of hateful extremist propaganda. It is homophobic, sexist and -- who would have believed it possible? -- even transphobic. It definitely undermines any serious attempts at turning the Harry Benjamin Syndrome into an alternative to the transgender narrative that presently dominate research and health care.
It is hard to imagine what could have possibly made White write this book. It could be that she has been urged on by others taking part in HSB discussion forums. But that does not explain why she ended up in those circles in the first place.
I have no problem understanding the existence of gay-bashers, racists, sexists and transphobic persons. Such people are normally driven by a deep sense of insecurity and a need to sort everything into neat and clean categories of good and bad, the clean and the tainted. Normally such persons project their own dark sides out on others, especially on people that do not follow the norm and they do not understand. By doing this they are able to generate a feeling of superiority and they get an easy target for their own frustration and anger.
But White is a transsexual woman. She has most likely been the victim of prejudice and bigotry herself. Like many transpeople she has probably been called a sissy, a fag, and a pervert, and she should therefore know better than copying the practices of her own tormentors.
But maybe this is the explanation. Maybe the crossdressers and the crossdreamers remind her of her own past, and the very fact that she once had the body and maybe even the mannerisms of a man. She therefore constructs this strange tale about this ultra-feminine stereotype of a second puberty, to keep the distance from a part of herself she would like to forget. If that is the case, we are witnessing a personal tragedy of gigantic proportions. Unfortunately that does not excuse what she is doing.
The classic transsexuals
There are some more serious activists out there who share White's contempt for "the trangendered" and who agrees with her idea that crossdreamers have nothing in common with what they call "classic transsexuals" (CT), even if they are angered by the bigotry of the HBSers.
So even if White's book cannot be taken seriously, some of the arguments require a serious discussion.
In the next two parts I will look into the basis for White's arguments:
- Does the research she refers do really prove that there is a difference between HBS and what she calls "pseudo-transsexuals?
- Would Harry Benjamin have supported her?
This is a slightly revised version of a post on HBS originally posted over at my Crossdreamer blog.