Transgender Sexism

This will be a short piece on the strange kind of sexism experienced by Doctor Ben Barres, a transgender man. When he was born in 1954 his gender assignment was female. At that time there were only two to choose from and the doctors had to give you one or the other. Sometimes there was “minor” surgery to make you fit your assignment. He grew up as a “tomboy.”

Ben Barres, known as Barbara at the time, did really well in school (MIT, Dartmouth Medical School, Harvard) and embarked on a successful career in neurobiology. Actually he did much better once he transitioned from female to male. While a woman he faced typical sexism. Accused of “getting help” from a boyfriend when he outshone his male classmates. Research supervisors unwilling to take him on. Lost scholarship to lesser candidate. Lost scientific competition to less capable male competitor. I think many women will recognize the pattern.

Perhaps the most interesting example of sexism came after he transitioned to male. People who didn’t know his history treated him with the respect due to a person of such accomplishments. Before the transition he didn’t get that respect. Most interestingly, after he spoke at his first seminar as a man, one scientist in the audience was overheard to say, “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but his work is much better than his sister’s work.” They thought Barbara Barres was his sister. This is a strange twist on the Matilda effect.

This makes me wonder what would have happened if the transition had gone the other way.


About arjaybe

Jim has fought forest fires and controlled traffic in the air and on the sea. Now he writes stories.
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