Episode 24: Ferengi Gender Double Feature (“Rules of Acquisition” / “Profit and Lace”)
Image: Screen grab from the DS9 episode “Rules of Acquisition.” (Source: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Our new episode is available from our Podcast host here: Episode 24
We’re also listed on:
The episode “Profit and Lace” and our discussion of it touch on issues of medical transition, transphobia, transmisogyny, “man in a dress” tropes, dysphoria, social complications of transition, and similar subjects. Our episode is pretty lighthearted overall, but may cause discomfort (or worse) regardless.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes we reference:
- The subject of this episode
- “Rules of Acquisition” (2×07)
- “Profit and Lace” (6×23)
- Other (better) Ferengi eps
- Comrade Rom appears in “Bar Association” (4×16)
- Quark dresses down humanity in “The Jem’Hadar” (2×26)
- Some Season 6 episodes that are among the best in Star Trek, period
- “Far Beyond the Stars” (6×13)
- “In the Pale Moonlight” (6×19)
- I (Charles) cut it from the episode because neither of us are Jewish and therefore didn’t really have any particularly valuable insights, but we touched on whether Ferengi are antisemitic
- Some reactions to the episode of The Orville we mentioned
- “The Orville episode about an alien baby sex reassignment was exactly as confusing as it sounds” (Vox, 2017)
- “Disability, Intersex Identity, and Transgender Identity in The Orville’s About A Girl” (The Geeky Gimp, 2018)
- And some sources on “corrective” surgery on intersex infants, and the fight to prevent it
- “The Transgender Tipping Point” (Time, 2014)
- We make reference to the final scene from the movie Some Like it Hot, but did you know in the 70s it was adapted into a stage show called Sugar?
- One of its songs, “The Beauty That Drives a Man Mad” was performed as an opener to the 1998 concert My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies
- Another great performance from that concert is “Everybody’s Girl” from Steel Pier, performed by Debra Monk – which isn’t really relevant but I think everyone should see it
- “Somatic Sex Reprogramming of Adult Ovaries to Testes by FOXL2 Ablation” (Cell, 2009)
- This is the study that Tessa referenced on “flipping a switch” in gonads (which produce “sex hormones”)
- “Ovaries reveal their inner testes” (Nature, 2009) honestly I don’t love this article, but it’s more accessibly written than the Cell article it’s about
- Some sources on “lab-grown” vaginas
- “Tissue Engineering a Complete Vaginal Replacement From a Small Biopsy of Autologous Tissue” (Transplantation, 2008)
- “Lab-Grown Vaginas Implanted Successfully in 4 Teenagers” (Scientific American, 2014)
Hello, this is Assigned Scientist at Bachelor’s. I’m Charles and I’m an entomologist.
And I’m Tessa and I’m an astrobiologist.
And today it’s just the two of us to talk about two different episodes from Deep Space Nine about Ferengi and the topic of gender.
The episode you didn’t know you wanted.
Yep. So the Ferengi Gender Double Feature is on the season two episode, “Rules of Acquisition,” which Memory Alpha synopsizes as, “Grand Nagus Zek assigns Quark to initiate negotiations with a planet in the Gamma Quadrant, but Quark’s new associate is not what he seems.” And then the second is the infamous season six episode, “Profit and Lace.” “Grand Nagus Zek is deposed after he begins to promote female rights; Quark changes his sex temporarily to prevent Brunt from becoming the new Grand Nagus.”
It’s a lot
It’s a… it’s a lot. Um, yeah, I, what I’m really just dying to know is… what- how- how did… how do… how do you react to this?
So the season two episode I liked – it was a bit more straightforward, I think.
Maybe we should say, [right] off the top, for anybody who for some reason has not seen the episodes, but is going to listen to this episode, the season two episode is relevant because it turns out that Quark’s new associate is actually a female Ferengi, who has disguised herself as a man in pursuit of profit.
And I mean, again, that, that’s relatively straightforward. And I also like the fact that pretty much all the non-Ferengi characters are like totally chill with it. Like I love the fact that part of the complication is that this character, Pel, also has fallen in love with Quark.
What a surprise. What a twist.
Yeah, and Jadzia not only picks up on it, but it’s like, Yeah, no, no, you should tell him how you feel… Jadzia hasn’t even realized at this point that Pel is actually female. The other one? I’m gonna be honest, there are parts of it that made me distinctly uncomfortable.
I had a thought, while I was watching it again… I was like, should I have…?
I mean, it’s not for… like, I kind of figured it is and honestly, anytime, where do you have a situation where like, a dude has to pretend to be a woman for plot reasons, it gets a little uncomfortable, partially just because it’s kind of the cringe factor of, Oh, my God, this person clearly doesn’t know what they’re doing… having had kind of a lived experience that’s somewhat analogous to what they’re going through, it’s like, Oh, no, don’t do that. Don’t do that either. No, this is not how this works. And there’s also just the fact that, you know, it’s obviously intended to be awkward, and that’s what’s being played for laughs… I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of awkward-derived humor in general, it just makes me anxious. Particularly in this situation, it was just a little odd, waiting for the other shoe to drop, as it were, because inevitably that’s going to happen. I also do find it interesting – and I mean, I’m sure they did this so the character would still be identifiable – where you can apparently get like complete sex change in like, a few hours at Deep Space Nine, but it won’t change your voice at all, even though that is something we can actually do now.
Yes. Well, yes. And it’s… there’s a, there’s a lot to dig into. But particularly, it’s not… like, in the reality of the episode, it is not just external surgical changes, it is apparently a holistic, including hormonal…
And I don’t know how I… like, part of the jokes were, like, Quark’s having mood swings, and getting all like emotional because of the hormones. And I don’t know how I feel about that, because on one hand, that’s really stereotypical. On the other hand, getting walloped by that much estrogen in that short a span, just having like a change in your, in the balance of your hormones that rapidly, can actually give you pretty bad mood swing, so it’s like…
Listen, we’ve all been through second puberty.
Yeah, yeah, it… it is a thing that happened. So I don’t know how I feel about that.
Circling back around, I actually would love to talk – just briefly – about “Rules of Acquisition,” because, as you said, it’s a much more straightforward kind of episode. And I always had mixed feelings about it because personally, I have never enjoyed “woman dresses up as man to do whatever” storylines… I think, in large part because the ultimate reaffirmation of her being a woman always made me uncomfortable.
You know, I could totally see that. I was kind of wondering if, you know, our reactions to these episodes would kind of parallel each other – that “Rules of Acquisition” might have like a deeper significance to you in your reaction to it, whereas, you know, “Profit and Lace” elicits a stronger response to me because that’s like hitting closer to home to our own personal experiences but yeah, I can totally see that.
I do want to note – I also find “Profit and Lace” very uncomfortable.
Okay, maybe it’s not just me then… maybe it’s just a really uncomfortable episode.
I mean, it’s a very uncomfortable episode in general but… I was watching it and I was thinking, like, maybe I should have warned Tessa… ’cause I don’t… I… like, I am uncomfortable about it, but it doesn’t hit me deep in the gut,
I kind of figured it would be like this because, you know, it’s television from the 90s. And you know, Deep Space Nine was extraordinarily progressive for its time, it’s just… cis people… it’s, it’s one of those situations that cis people just generally don’t know how to write in a non-awkward way.
Yeah, what actually really interests me about “Rules of Acquisition” is what it… well, (a) it’s so wild revisiting, like, the beginning of the second season knowing how all of these characters and relationships develop through the seasons… because, like, Rom is a completely different character in season two than in season six.
Yeah, I noticed and I also noticed that I think this episode might be the first time they actually mentioned the Dominion.
Yeah, I think… yes! Which is one of the great things about DS9 is that they weave it in… like we don’t really get into the Dominion in like a real way until basically season three but they’re dropping these crumbs left and right way in the beginning, which is fantastic. I love Deep Space Nine. But what was really interesting to me about “Rules of Acquisition” is also just what it says about Ferengi sexuality because all the Ferengi men keep repeatedly asserting that they want a submissive woman, they want a woman who doesn’t wear clothes, etc, etc. But whenever we see a Ferengi character express sexual interest in someone it is a very, like, assertive, confident woman.
Yeah, I noticed that… I mean admittedly we don’t see that many Ferengi females to begin with, so maybe like that’s part of it. But…
Yeah, like literally every Ferengi relationship that we see… Quark and Pel, Quark and Jadzia, Quark and the Cardassian woman he has another episode with… like all these other people… and then Rom ends up falling in love with Leeta and then even Grand nagus zek is interested in Kira, is interested in Jadzia, is interested in Ishka.
We never actually see a Ferengi man show real sexual or romantic interest in anyone except for these very self possessed, even sometimes aggressive, female figures. All these Ferengi men are saying one thing with their mouths and then saying an entirely different thing with everything else about them, and that’s fascinating to me. I don’t know that I have a lot to say about it, except that just another fascinating aspect of heterosexuality to really dig your hands into.
Yeah, you know, you were saying that… I’m kind of like, I wonder if like, this is like maybe like an unintentional metaphor for how toxic masculinity works?
The Ferengi are a perfect opportunity for some real homoerotic homosociality, because they’re essentially spending their lives in environments exclusively male, and yet we never even see a whisper of homoeroticism from any of the Ferengi and is this because it’s the 90s or is it because the DS9 writers lacked the imagination? Who knows?
Yeah, you know, I again, I’ve seen some stuff from Deep Space Nine that makes me suggest that it wasn’t for lack of imagination.
And any… for example, any time Garak and Bashir are on the same screen.
Yes. God bless you, Andrew Robinson, for giving us all that magnificent gift. I hope he’s having a great day.
So anyways, yeah, the Ferengi don’t have the barest hint of anything aside from very, very constrained heterosexuality.
Which is truly wild, because that’s the thing is, that, like, because Pel does kiss Quark and his reaction is very gay panic.
The final thing that I want to say about “Rules of Acquisition,” really, the character design for the Dosi is bad, but I appreciate that everybody got to have a tit window.
I actually noticed that. I… I liked the Dosi face paint, I will be honest with you. I don’t know if I’m sold on the costuming, but yes, they were at least consistent about it.
They all got a cleavage window, and I’m really happy for them.
I also particularly enjoyed the female Dosi, like, representative but that’s mostly just because she gave me very, very strong “step on me, mommy” energy.
Yeah, I feel like that’s a lesbian thing because I had no reaction to her at all.
So… [awkward chuckle]… “Profit and Lace.”
There’s a lot.
There’s a lot.
There’s a lot.
The, the first the most straightforward thing I would say is… it is wild because season six is famously such a good season of Deep Space Nine, and it has some… literally some of the all time best episodes, like – it has “In the Pale Moonlight,” which is regularly brought up as like the high watermark of Star Trek. It also has “Far Beyond the Stars,” which is just masterpiece of an episode. So season six has some of the… like, it has some of the greatest Star Trek episodes, not just greatest episodes of DS9, but some of the all time greatest episodes of Star Trek… it also has this nightmare.
The other thing that really struck me, and this also showed up a little bit in “Rules of Acquisition”, but it wasn’t quite as over the top, was the so much of what the Ferengi did… and I mean, I know it’s supposed to make them like unsympathetic characters, but so much of even what Quark does would not stand a chance in the sort of post-#metoo climate.
Well, exactly. And… because it’s further interesting, because we literally had this addressed on Deep Space Nine before, of one of Quark’s employees going to Sisko, saying, Quark is asking me to perform sexual favors and Sisko being like, not on my space station! And so… I believe that Quark would continue trying to do that, but that it serves as sort of the capper on each end of the episode is like, aren’t we better than this? By this point?
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, and especially since this whole episode has been, you know, supposedly a growing experience and a learning experience for cork. And it’s just like, we should be past this. It’s, you know, it’s six seasons in.
It’s very nearly seven seasons in, because it’s at the end of the season six. So that’s one… that’s one thing. And then also, this episode has some of the all time laziest naming in the entire season, like in the entire show. First of all, Lumba is… barely a joke.
So okay. But then also your very alluring employee is literally named Allura.
They, they really phoned that one in.
They phoned in a lot of this episode. This is really the other thing is, what on earth was… just… why would you do this?
Yeah, it’s again, it’s like one of those things that I can understand the impetus of, Oh, you know, let’s put this misogynistic character in a new environment where he has to reevaluate what he thinks he knows about women. It’s a very tired trope, but it’s one people use, but it’s again, one of the ones that cis people by and large, aren’t good at handling in a way that isn’t super cringe worthy.
I really wish we had, like, an elder trans on this episode, who could give us more context on what it, what… what it was like being trans in the late 90s. Because I haven’t experienced that, and you haven’t experienced that. Even more incredibly, I could imagine… well, I don’t really have to imagine because Seth Macfarlane’s, “this is basically Star Trek, except they wouldn’t let me make a Star Trek” show. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Oh, the Orville. Oh, yeah.
Yeah, I haven’t watched it because I don’t like Seth MacFarlane, although tragically, the woman who played Kassidy Yates is on that show. What a… you know? I mean, listen, as Missy Elliott said once, “girls girls get that cash.” So I understand. But what’s… what a real step down from the greatest Star Trek of all time to… Seth MacFarlane.
R-I-P. But I remember reading an article about an episode which had an all male species.
Yep, I’ve seen the episode actually.
Is it… bad?
Maybe we should, just to finish the contextualization… the premise of the episode is that there is a species that is all male, and if a female individual is born, they perform basically sex reassignment surgery so that they maintain the maleness of their species.
And it’s, it’s implied that females have periodically popped up within their species for a long time, but for social reasons, you know, they just kind of got marginalized and eventually, you know, were all reassigned to male at birth. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be because it was honestly never played for laughs, it was played as a very complex and complicated and morally ambiguous subject, and, you know, something that is worth a lot of consideration and serious thought, you know, about is this the right thing to do or not? Yes, we’ve been what we’ve always done, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what we should be doing. One of the reveals in the episode, it turns out one of their greatest philosophers is not only still alive, but also was secretly female, and had like been living as a hermit, which was weird, but you know, she did show up in to, like, school the rest of them.
I will say sometimes when I tried to imagine myself living in the past, assuming a lot about gender, but assuming that I would be essentially as trans as I am now… I always imagined the best case scenario of me becoming basically a hermit philosopher monk. So I get it.
Yeah, yeah. But, you know, that’s how that particular character had survived in their society. It’s just by publishing all these books under her name, but never appearing in public so no one knew. And, you know, of course, she shows up and says, I know you all think women are inferior, and, you know, should be something to erase, but if you’ve done that you would have erased me and then you wouldn’t have all these books. And you should stop and think about that. It was done pretty heavy handedly, but at the same time, at the end, they ultimately give their infant, who is female, like the reassignment surgery. And you get the sense that the even the episode isn’t entirely sure what it was trying to do with that. I guess it’s supposed to like… it, you know, it’s clearly trying to make a point. And that, you know, maybe this isn’t a good thing, but they went ahead and did it anyways. And yeah, it was strange.
Well, it’s interesting also, and I wouldn’t be… I think we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that that has relevancy to trans stuff, but also of course, relevancy to intersex stuff.
Yeah, very much so.
And the ongoing human rights abuse of quote unquote corrective surgeries on intersex infants. … It feels like a very 90s episode, but at the same time, it I think it could have been on TV as recently as two or three years ago.
Cause I… when did you start transitioning?
Okay, I started in 2011. I think we’re in sort of a similar cohort of, we started transitioning right before, and it’s not completely accurate, but Time did have that cover with Laverne…
Bless her name, of “The Trans Tipping Point.” And I think that was… I’m like, I can’t remember exactly when that was, but…
Sometime between 2013 and 2015.
Yeah. And I saved that cover, and I had it up beside my desk in my apartment at university for several years. I love Laverne Cox… she’s not a scientist, as far as I know, but please come on the show.
Yes, we will, we would be delighted to have you.
Yeah, we’ll… we’ll make an exception. [quietly] Love Laverne Cox. [normal volume] Right. So we are in kind of a similar cohort of transitioning right on the cusp of like a really huge cultural change, both in terms of acknowledgement of trans people and general competency levels of understanding, which is weird to think about, because this does feel like a very old fashioned kind of episode. But at the same time until very, very recently, TV was in kind of a point of status regarding not well often being actively hateful, but if not actively hateful, then extremely misguided about trans people. Yes. And is it is literally only like now that we’re getting to the point where you can have more than a singular trans person on a TV show. Yeah, including in Star Trek, but Star Trek now has two trans people. So great job, although admittedly, one of them is playing a dead character – what can you do? So… “Profit and Lace.” I think an interesting question would be, is there anything that you think is really interesting and valuable about this episode?
Um. [long pause] Not really.
I agree. I did find that Nilva, before he made like aggressive sexual advances, was a fun character.
So that was nice. And I think if there’s one tiny, grubby little jewel that needs to be polished, and once you polish it, it’ll, like, lose most of its mass, but it’ll have a little sparkle, was Leeta saying very affectionately to Rom that he’s complicated.
I did notice that, yeah.
I think that was a sweet little moment. Other than that, though…
Yeah, even the lesson of Oh, Ferengi women should be allowed in society because they’ll expand the consumer base and that’s kind of like… yes, anyone who’s ever participated in the economy would know that
Well, (a) yes, it’s a very “duh!” kind of moment and then, (b), it’s a very like girl boss, lean-in feminism.
True, although I mean, admittedly, that is on brand for the Ferengi.
Yeah, exactly. I do… because that’s the thing is that, in Deep Space Nine I do find the Ferengi are often used to great effect. First of all, Comrade Rom and the episode where he leads a strike at Quark’s bar, and they, all the employees form a union. That’s a very good episode… Rom literally quotes the Communist Manifesto.
[Clip from DS9] Quark: Rom, can we talk about this?
Rom: There’s only one thing I have to say to you. Workers of the World unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.
Quark: What’s happened to you? [Clip ends]
And then Miles literally tries to beat up Worf for crossing the picket line and going into Quark’s bar, because the O’Briens are union men, God bless. So that’s a very good episode. And then also, there is a time when Quarks remarks to… it might be Sisko? It’s a human character, “I know why you don’t like the Ferengi…”
Oh, I know what you’re thinking, the line you’re thinking of, yeah.
“You used to be like us.”
Well, not only that you used to be like us, but, you know, we never had wars the way you did. Yeah, sure, we’re greedy, but we’re civilized about it.
[Clip from DS9]
Quark: Humans used to be a lot worse than the Ferengi. Slavery, concentration camps, Interstellar wars. We have nothing in our past that approaches that kind of barbarism. You see, we’re nothing like you. We’re better. [Clip Ends]
So I think that the Ferengi can be used to great effect, but I think the politics of gender when it comes to Ferengi are often… lacking, shall we say?
Yeah, and I mean, admittedly, it doesn’t help that the position they start out from of literally, they expect women to be naked and submissive. I know Star Trek plays a lot with comparing different cultures, and, you know, sometimes that’s for effect, but I really don’t understand the effects they’re trying to get other than maybe justifying why we haven’t seen a female Ferengi so far.
Yeah. Well, it also brings up a question of, because I think circling back around to my grievances with Discovery, which I understand, like… Erin likes Discovery, you know? I know that there are Discovery fans in who listens to us and in the world, and they’re valid, and I validate them, and I affirm them, and I respect them. However. One of the problems that I have with the glossy aesthetic, the modern, like, “Oh, we have money now” aesthetic is that… Star Trek is very silly.
This is true. This is true.
It’s very silly. Like even at its most serious, you still have to dis… you can’t… when I am watching or reading something fictional I never forget that it’s fictional. It’s not a problem for me, and this is probably part of why I like musical theater, because I, you know, I always know that there’s artifice, so you might as well make the artifice really engaging.
And so I think something falls apart when it looks real, but it is still so silly.
You know, I think you’re really onto something with that
Well… well, I love to hear that. Similarly, like, I believe that there is probably some form of life somewhere else, just statistically, right? The universe is huge. But the likelihood that they would be bipedal, and that we would be able to easily translate our languages to each other and share a common enough system of values that we could form an intergalactic Federation…? It stretches believability, let’s put it that way. And so fundamentally, when we talk about aliens in science fiction, and particularly in Star Trek, we’re not talking about aliens, we’re talking about ourselves.
Right, it’s always been very allegorical.
It’s always been very allegorical. And I don’t remember where I was initially going with this… Oh, here it is! If we take it within the universe, it does not make any sense that this would be such a novel circumstance… they have hyper complex and advanced surgical tools, and this is the first time anybody has thought of doing this? Like, that’s ridiculous.
But from the perspective of, this is being written by people in America in the 90s… then you get into a lot of stuff about like, well, what are they actually saying here about gender and biological essentialism?
Right. I definitely got… there were a lot of mixed messages in that respect from this episode.
Because like part of it was obviously well, women can be just as clever as men, yada, yada, yada, although they kind of subverted that by having Quark, do it, but also the whole thing, “Oh, the hormones are making me emotional.” On the other hand, like we discussed, suddenly altering your hormonal balance can lead to mood swings, so it’s not like they’re wrong. But it’s… I think it’s weird that they emphasized it as much as they did.
I mean, it’s a very lazy, like, hack. 90s humor moment.
I think really, ultimately, this episode is extremely affirming of a trans medalist point of view, do you know what I mean?
Yeah, no, I can see that.
And for all the, for all the cis people in the audience, so maybe just my dad, “transmedicalism” is basically a perspective on transness that is very affirming of gender being binary and being explicitly and inextricably tied to sex, where the only valid trans people are old school transsexuals of, I am holistically dysphoric about my body and I want to holistically change it to conform to a very binaristic definition of, this sex has these characteristics and that sex has these characteristics, and gender maps on to that perfectly.
If it’s not already abundantly clear, this is not a podcast that affirms transmedicalism. I have no interest in that.
Wouldn’t that be such twist? If you were like, actually I am truscum.
But I… because ultimately, there’s the little capper on the episode where Quark has to literally derobe and I assume they see whatever Ferengi female genitals are.
Yep, that was definitely uncomfortable.
Yeah, and then Nilva is like, Well, you know, good enough for me, which explicitly… intentionally or not felt a little like, the moment at the end of “Some Like It Hot.”
No, no, like I was wondering if that was a call back to that, because that definitely reminded me of that,.
But you don’t understand Osgood… I’m a man! Well, nobody’s perfect.
Because Nilva was basically saying, I don’t care what you have been, I care only what you are now, which would be nice if Nilva had not just attempted sexual assault.
So, you know, ups and downs in this episode, because here’s the other thing, here’s the other thing… is that, this gets brought up sometimes when people talk about the impact of increasing medical resources and advances on the meaning and the experience and the community of being trans, where… if we have all of these kids who essentially can get blockers early enough, or not even need blockers, but affirm themselves when they’re seven, and then when they get to the point where they would start puberty, just start on quote unquote, cross sex hormones, and then just develop from the jump affirming, you know, their perceived gender in that way. And then what does that do to quote unquote, the trans experience, and the trans community?
I’ve actually had some discussions with friends about that, you know, if we are sort of a, you know, if we’re part of the sort of an ephemeral or transitory generation that, you know, the experiences we’ve had of living part of your adult life as one gender, and then the rest of it as another is something that isn’t necessarily going to happen in the future… because of that, kids, trans kids, developing as the gender that they identify as from the start, you know, I don’t know. I mean, with some people, I suspect, it may always just take them a little while since, I don’t know, I didn’t figure out I was trans until I was 26. You know, yeah. And I had trans friends. So it wasn’t for lack of information. It just took me a long time to put all the pieces together.
Because I figured out that I was trans when I was 17. But I, I had read a couple of books about trans people… I, like, knew about trans people. And I actively was like, I don’t like those trans people, because I had very radfem misunderstandings of what it meant to be trans.
Like, “I’m mad about these people who want to affirm gender stereotypes. I’m a girl, and I hate all girly stuff, and I wear men’s clothes, and I don’t like being called a girl, and I don’t want to be a girl, and I feel really weird about being a girl interested in boys, and that all means that trans people are wrong!”
It didn’t. But… because I had feelings that I now link to like gender dysphoria, like an existential terror at first puberty before I went through it, but I had no framework, right, to interpret those feelings. And so I ended up going down entirely the wrong path until I then found trans people online who had common experiences with me when I was 17. And I was like, Oh! Oh.
Yeah, that’s some… you know, I kind of had a similar experience of discovering that people, you know, their stories sounded extraordinarily similar to mine, sometimes even using the exact same language. And that’s kind of what cinched it… my point is, while Yes, there may be a few people who will and always takes a little while longer to figure out, just because identity can be hard sometimes, we will see sort of a shift, at least for I guess, more binary identified trans people, towards you know, you only go through one puberty, but it’s the right one.
Yeah. Because I always have mixed feelings about it. Because like the, the part of my brain that cares about other people is, like, Yeah, of course. Yes. If we can avoid the trauma of an unwanted puberty for anybody, then duh, right? But on the other hand, it does get to that sort of feeling of, the very particular experience that you’ve had that then draws you into community with other people being ephemeral.
You know, I don’t necessarily worry too much about that personally, mostly because, I mean, yes, it is a shared experience. On the other hand, the stuff that I usually bond with over friends who are trans is like deeper than that. You know, just because there are some things we’ve all experienced, regardless of when we transition, because I do have some friends who transitioned early – teenagers or younger. There’s still a lot of common reference points despite that, but… and the other thing is, of course, knowing from my own experience, had I known I was trans at age 13, I would have wanted to get on blockers immediately, and probably would have gotten catatonic otherwise. Like, in some respects, the fact I was so ignorant of what I was experiencing not being the norm and what other possibilities could be out there, it was almost kind of a shield for me. So yeah, if kids don’t have that, I definitely want them to have access to medical transition if they want to.
I’m so mad at everybody in the UK, who is trying to ruin trans kids’ lives.
Oh, yeah. Well, actually, not just trans kids’ lives… they’re apparently making noises about it’s, like, how people under 25 shouldn’t have access to medical transition.
God! I’m just mad. I’m just so mad about it.
All the time. Just what? And people have to wait for like five years to get off the waiting list?
Unbelievable. It’s just absolute cruelty. There’s so much cruelty around, when you could be cool and watch DS9 instead.
But not this episode, because you might get some weird ideas.
The other ones, though, definitely check out “Far Beyond the Stars.” That one’s great. As I’ve said before, Avery Brooks, despite being cis, is allowed on this podcast. If any, if anybody who’s been in Star Trek wants… I mean, I don’t want to make unilateral decisions.
Oh, I’m fine with this. Yeah, if we can get a Star Trek cast member on here, sure. Go for it.
Yes. Anyway. So it’s very, basically, it’s very affirming of transmedicalism… And so basically, the, the end point is that it’s, it’s, it’s interesting as sort of the premise for thought experiment about what it would be like being trans in the 24th century, or whenever they are… I never know, because they don’t say the date… like they’ve changed to star dates, and those are meaningless. But what it would be like… because that’s the other thing, is that to access this kind of stuff, you would need to be able to understand yourself as somebody who would need access to it.
And then that brings up a lot more questions about, how do you realize that? Because I probably would have gone through my whole life without realizing that the misery and alienation I felt from my body had any kind of a solution, if I had not found other people whose experiences overlapped so meaningfully with mine.
And so then if you create the situation where people who have gone through this effectively are 100%, unambiguously assimilable, then there is less of that kind of community of generalized information.
You know, I don’t know if that’s necessarily going to be an issue, because… if for no other reason than, I have a lot of trans friends who are writers, they write the sort of stuff that they read when they were younger, because they didn’t understand what was going on, specifically to like, offer a guide or a reassurance that, hey, this is might be what these feelings you’re having mean, and this is what you can do about it.
Well, and the sort of the threat of full assimilation also ignores non binary people.
Who I assume will be around.
I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t, yeah.
Because that’s the other thing, is that the very strict, only two genders and nothing else, sort of cultural norm of Star Trek is not a reflection of reality now or through like, most of human history, where there have always been people… there has been a more expansive gendered system across cultures, across time, than, like, 90s American TV is willing to acknowledge
I mean, it’s interesting also because the presentation of a… I’m going to use the term sex change, because that’s, that’s really what they’re doing in this.
Because it’s, it’s presented as an extremely binary thing. And then circling back around, not only to non binary people, but to even many binary people… sort of that notion of, you have to change absolutely everything…
Right, right or it doesn’t count. Yeah.
Or it doesn’t count… is unappealing to a lot of people like right particularly often non binary people.
A lot going on. And is there anything we haven’t touched on?
Not that I can really think… we talked about the voice thing, which again, I still find hilarious.
Yeah, like even now we have tracheal shaving.
Oh, yeah. Why don’t we have, like, voice surgeries. I mean, they can be sometimes a little hit or miss, but have friends who have had it and they sound great.
I have such a void of knowledge of a lot of, like, the other side of the aisle type experience, because essentially medically transitioning, if you’re going on testosterone, is just, just a process of being very lazy.
No, I mean, you do have to deal with top surgery which, so that’s like, not trivial.
No, but a lot… because, I mean, that’s really the… one of the essential differences in experience, I think, is that like a lot of the recommendations for passing, which of course, is a fraught concept. [pause] We don’t have time.
Yeah, that’s a whole other episode.
It’s like five other episodes, at least! But the whole concept of passing… a lot of the recommendations for men are, “men are gross, and they don’t take care of themselves.”
Yep, pretty much. And, you know, I’ve actually, there’s been a meme for a long time that, you know, testosterone is more effective than estrogen. And I’ve actually seen people, trans men specifically, argue, no, it really isn’t. It’s just a standard for men are so much lower than they are for women, that that’s why it seems stronger.
Like we don’t have to do more stuff, basically.
You know, there are a lot of traits that are more… that sort of carry more weight in strangers’ perceptions, than a lot of other ones, because it often gets brought up that trans men who talk about it being so much easier to pass as a trans man often are smaller chested individuals. Because if you have a prominent enough chest, a lot of the time people will interpret you as a woman, regardless of what else you do… like I have friends, like have had beards, and still gotten misgendered.
I believe it. Yeah, yeah.
And it also just depends on like… I get misgendered less in Arizona than I did in DC.
I could believe that as well, yeah.
I mean, a lot of it is just contextual. As Judith Butler said, to quote, another not as staunch, not as impressive, a philosopher as Missy Elliott, but… up there, “gender is performance.”
This does lead us into a new sort of question that we’re going to add to the rotation of questions that our guests can answer, which is, are there any advances in like medical transition technologies that you think about, that you would like to exist?
If we’re talking about like near term, you know, they’ve been working on vaginal transplant, or actually no cloned vaginal tissue over GRS for transplant, and it’s still very much in the developmental stage. And they’ve also talked about uterus transplants, although that’s it’s been done in sis women, when it’s probably still quite a while off for trans women. One thing I’ve heard a little bit about that I would sign up for, like in a heartbeat now was this idea of you get some go national tissue, testicle or ovarian depending on what you are after you wrap it in a semipermeable membrane, so blood can perfuse but antibodies won’t, and then you implant it. And it basically acts as an in vitro hormone pump, I have no idea help. Like, actually, well, that would work. Because I feel like the chance of rejection is still going to be super high. But it’s an idea I’ve seen kicked around, possibly by people who don’t actually know biology.
Yeah, I am somebody who knows biology, but not this kind of biology.
My wife is shaking her head, and since she’s the one who actually has a medical science degree, I’m gonna assume it’s probably not a good idea.
How dare she? Mine very similarly is the idea, not of an implantation of somebody else’s grown adult tissue, but whether… Would it be possible to sort of flick a genetic switch in actually existing gonads? And then like…
Yes, they’ve done that in mice. So yes, I can’t remember the gene off the top of my head, but they’ve done that.
Mice get to have all the fun! And this is probably more relevant for, like… me, because this is the thing and not…. I don’t know how personal we want to get on this podcast. [pause] But I’m not especially interested in the reality of external testicles, because frankly, I think it sounds like a hassle.
It, it is. I’ll be honest with you.
I believe you. But because this is sort of the eternal conflict with whether to get, and I don’t know what the medical term is now, but what I have heard referred to, I think erroneously, as a “full hysterectomy,” where you remove, not just the uterus, but also the ovaries… Because here’s the thing: do I want ovaries? No, no. But do I want to have no organs producing quote unquote sex hormones, and then have my bones fall apart? Also no.
As someone who is post gonadal, it is a bit of a hassle. I actually have to supplement a small amount of testosterone because my body just does not produce any anymore, in addition to the estrogen I take, which I think is very ironic.
Yeah. And it’s not that I… I already apply testosterone every day of my life, like I’m in that habit, but I have absolutely no faith… Well, I used to have a little bit of faith in the state, and now after a pandemic, I have no faith in the state. And I don’t want to be subject to the wild whims of the American medical institutions as to whether or not my bones are going to fall apart.
No, I get that.
On the understanding that lots of people don’t have gonads anymore, cis and trans… it’s like, I don’t want to fearmonger too much about it, like your bones aren’t literally gonna break apart. But I do also have generalized anxiety disorder.
Well, the other thing is, even without your bones falling apart, it took me about a… Let’s see here. I had GRS in April of 2017, and it took me six, seven months before I started doing the testosterone thing. And turns out not having any testosterone at all on your body is not pleasant, even if, like, it wasn’t to the point that my bones were falling apart or anything. Obviously, that’s not true for everyone. I know some people who have had no problem at all. But for me, like, it was having minor but annoying effects. You know, my anxiety level was higher. I had less energy, my nails and hair completely went to hell.
It hurt that you used to be so swole and then you just lost it.
Oh, no, that happened long, long ago. But yes.
That is one of the things that I enjoy about testosterone is… I often wish I had a platform to talk to the youths, not because I think I have anything particularly interesting to say except for one thing, which is that, it’s very easy – and I got into this mindset, of sort of catastrophizing about the limited timeline of effects of going on hormones, where I had it in my head when I started, okay, I have three years.
And after that, my body is just going to be static, basically. But the reality of the human body, which is its joy and its downfall, is that it, like everything else in the entire universe, is constantly changing. And going on hormones not only causes a cascade of short term changes, but it directs the path of long term change.
When I was at, like, that three year end of going on testosterone, I felt a lot of hopelessness of like, I’m not masculine enough. I don’t have enough facial hair… I still don’t have enough facial hair, but that’s probably a genetic thing. But it.. like… the like, I didn’t start getting chest hair until I had been on testosterone for like six years.
Oh, yeah. Yeah, no, no, that’s about right.
And that’s just you know, that’s just the…
Puberty takes a while.
It takes a while. Yeah, I wish that were emphasized more in “so you want to start hormones” literature, because I didn’t hear hide nor hair of that when I started.
And it did put me in this like catastrophizing mindset of, I got three years and then if I’m not immediately like, head bear of Bear Mountain, my life is meaningless.
I mean, yeah, like on the other side of it. I’ve had occasional episodes of breast growth periodically for the last six-going-on-seven years, most recent one was like earlier this summer, so… and you know, for me, you know, I the opposite of going from being a perfect rectangle of 34-34-34 to… God, I’m 38-33-40, but it took like years to get there.
This is the thing about me is that, I am a small person, but I am a barrel chested individual, like my pre t under-bust chest measurement was 32 inches, and now it’s like 39.
Yep, that’s how it works.
Part of that is also that I’ve done aerial and I’ve got these big beautiful lats, just gorgeous lats. And I’ve got these little scars… right after I got top surgery, because you know that they’re the drains that are put in…
And so I’ve got these little, little scars of where the drains were that kind of looked like USB plugs. And they’re less prominent now, which is a little bit disappointing, but I really liked having them when they were more prominent because it made me feel like a very advanced android.
As it should.
I mean, that’s the dream really, right. That’s the real future of transition. Forget Human body changes! Robot body implants!
If people want to find me online, I am on Twitter @cockroacharles.
I’m on Twitter @spacermase.
The show is on Twitter @ASABpod or at our website where we post show notes and transcripts for every episode, asabpodcast.com.
And until next time, keep on science-ing.