2/19/2013

Identity Police: Internal Fighting in the Trans Community

When I first came out as Transgender, despite all the pain and bullshit that I faced in my life, I had always taken some solace in the fact that there was a community of some kind that had similar experiences to me. By ‘similar,’ I don’t mean that everyone had the same transitional experience, or even that people wanted what I did, which is to fall into the proper side of the gender binary for and be recognized as the Woman I am, always have been, and always will be in my heart. ‘Similar’ to me meant that there was a group of people seeking to express themselves in a way that society typically found unacceptable for their assigned sex and gender and as a collective, we were joining in some way in a unified and uniform struggle against the oppressions we faced to just exist as ourselves and our identities.
"San Fransico Pride 2011" ©2011, Marilyn Roxie, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

Since that time, my understanding and my definition of myself has evolved and grown. I have accepted that in addition to being Transgender, I am more specifically, a Transsexual. This term refers to an experience of having been assigned a sex at birth I did not see myself as because of our societies limited view of sex and not accepting my reality as a possibility. I still hold onto the Transgender identity because that refers to my experience of being perceived differently by society in the midst of my transition. It also refers to the fact that, even as a Woman, I am not, and in no way conform to false notions of femininity that our society tries to place on women that attempt to put Women down by proclaiming that they are docile and weak. Essentially, I am a Transsexual Transgender Feminist Woman who has become proud of my identity. This is how I identify, and nobody can take that away from me.

With all the growth I had experienced, my view on the Trans community had not changed. I held tight to the belief that the Trans community as a whole was in someway on the same page, despite barrages from the LGB parts of our supposed larger community that seemed to criticize us for being ourselves. I heard people clamor at the notions that we were not our identified sex and genders, I heard people attack Trans people for making LGB people look bad, and I heard people claim that Lesbians and Gay people were more ‘normal’ than Trans people.

This notion of ‘normal’ came from a separation of binaries that suggested that Gay People were essentially just men or women who happened to like the same sex and thus created four available categories of sexuality instead of the traditional two. Breaking those barriers, which many Gay and Lesbian People can’t understand because they have never been Trans is perceived as an ailment in much the same way that homosexuality was/is considered a disease by many. I had no disillusions that the wider LGBT community held us in a negative regard, often holding us down in a way that straight people had done to them in the past. However, I expected better from our community; I believed in my heart that for some reason Trans People, in all their talk about self expression, couldn’t possibly fall into the same traps.

My heart has sunk as of late, we’ve fallen into the trap. I have discovered that members of our community are policing each other and attempting to create a hierarchy of who is truly Trans or not. Many people are playing the same games of ‘normality’ that Gays and Lesbians have often pulled in an attempt to normalize themselves by othering people who are considered less normal. These situations really need to stop if we are going to strive for our goals. This shouldn’t be about picking each other apart, but pushing each other forward. It’s an easy temptation, I suppose, to sell out people who are not like you in order to advance yourself, but it won’t make change, and we will still be stuck always at the bottom of the barrel looking for a way to thrive in a world where we will never quite be accepted.

The primary belief I have seen is from people who insist that Transsexuality is more ‘normal’ than being Transgender. Often this is accompanied by acceptance that Transsexuality is an acceptable medical condition and occasionally with the belief that being Transgender is a choice and therefore not real. The Serpent received a comment and had one of Nina Ember Nova’s articles picked apart by JustJennifer who put forth a similar mindset. The biggest mistake that JustJennifer made is assuming that Nina, when writing her list of Cisgender privileges, was Transgender. For the record she is not Trans, she is Cis and wrote the list out of solidarity to the privileges she acknowledges she has.

Ignoring that however, JustJennifer’s arguments were inherently wrapped around the notion that if a person truly needed to transition from male to female they would dress and act like a ‘normal’ woman like she apparently does. She also claims that its wrong for someone to look like a ‘man in a dress’ and also claims that some people “invite abuse” because of their gender expression. She also seems to take it upon herself to become a gatekeeper for transitioning by essentially claiming that if others do not match up to her experience, then these other people are just performing “Transgender idiocy” and are essentially fake. Her arguments are also classist and ableist in the belief that people require SRS to have safe spaces while many can not afford or medically receive care for numerous reasons. The point is, her arguments cater to the mainstream audience of society and ask people to cave under the pressure of social expectation instead of understanding that she, despite her self described medical condition, is just as much of a gender rebel to the world around her. Also, Nina and myself will be working to respond to her more in depth soon enough.

She is not the only person The Serpent has interacted with that has made the claim of a medical condition. Two commenters (one on Tumblr and one on The Serpent) to Robert Baldr’s article, “An Ode to the Trans Experience” offered a similar medically based argument. Elliot from Tumblr claimed, “being trans has nothing to do with gender roles and society, but everything to do with an individual’s sex characteristics which make them uncomfortable.” Meanwhile, Tom from The Serpent’s comments claimed, “Yeah, but I'm not 'gender-confusing' or 'normative-challenging'. I'm a man born with an unfortunate and debilitating medical condition which ruins my life in a lot of ways. I have no particular interest in confusing anyone's ideas of gender or challenging any particular norms.” The truth is, these comments give a small window into the normalization of Trans as a medical condition and more importantly, the desire to be seen as normal that I think we all experience from time to time.

The minute we, as Trans people, cross the gender/sex boundary, we are not considered normal any longer. We can go stealth and I certainly don’t take that away from any individual, but the mere act of having the courage to say, “Hey, I don’t belong to the group I’m assigned,” automatically introduces gender roles and the thoughts and opinions of society into the mix. It takes a certain level of internal thought and analysis to accept and understand something that much of society isn’t willing to accept as real. It is true that for some people there is a medical fix through hormones and surgery and the problem is more or less solved. Yet for others the acceptance and fight against a broken history and the narratives that are created for us as Trans People are problematic.

I am not asking any individual to fight for the cause, but you have already taken your part in the fight the moment you come out to someone because like it or not, being Trans is not considered normal. For many people, hiding behind an increasingly normalized medical condition is an easy way out that can allow for a sense of normalcy. All of a sudden, it isn’t your expression you are seeking, but a cure. It brings up nightmarish visions of a time when being gay was considered a medical condition. The problem is, medical conditions are also charged with stigmas and those who control that information would be happy to see you accepting that your sense of identity (which can be helped with simple medical treatment) is merely a medical problem and not about your desires as an individual. We all experience the desire to be perceived as normal every now and then, but we can’t do that by accepting what we are told and taking other people down, only by moving forward in our lives and fighting when we can.

Although I have not come across it personally, I have also heard stories of genderqueer and gender non-conforming people coming down on Transsexuals for being too much in the binary system of oppression. There are people who attack Drag Artists for mocking gender expressions and identities and being fake. There are those, from across the spectrum, who hate on people for not passing enough. Further, I seen people attack men and women for “cross-dressing” and have explicitly witnessed people tell women they should not wear pants because fabric has gender attached to it. Overall, I’m sick of the denial of identity and self. We all have a stake in this and we are all trying to achieve the same thing, a sense of personal exploration and freedom. These attacks need to stop because we don’t share the exact same story and that is okay.

I really do understand the appeal to being considered normal. However, there are two ways to go about it. One is to start tearing down the people around you and make sure you stand at the top of a group of people who are just trying to struggle to be themselves; the other is to fight side by side for all people to be recognized as having the right to be themselves and gain normalcy together. The choice belongs to individuals, but I choose the latter. I can’t see myself trampling over other people for being different. Being Transgender, Genderqueer, Drag, Gender Non-Conforming, or Transsexual is not a crime and does not make someone in one group less than another. We all have our unique experiences that change, grow, and develop. We do not need identity police in a movement designed around personal expression and growth. Those who do so are just the new overseers of normalcy and will support the privilege class because people seem to like to protect the possibility of normalization for themselves rather than be seen with the other rabble.


~Isidora Phoenix

29 comments:

  1. *Slow clap*

    Thank you for posting this!

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  2. Right on! How hard is it for some people, that you think would know better, to understand that there are an unlimited number of variations to gender diversity and that there is no "right" one other than what is right for you.

    Thanks.

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    1. Yes, but there are a lot of truly wrong ones....

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  3. A well written essay.. Part of the discontent arises when certain members of the T community attempt to represent the interests of all. We are indeed a diverse group. I believe Oprah has been helpful in increasing the public understanding whereas Ru Paul has not, for example.

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    1. No, the problem arises when the label "T community" is forced on people.

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  4. Thank you for posting this. Though I admit, I'm a bit surprised you're discovering it now... I noticed this stuff going on in the online community (usenet, at the time) about 15 years ago, and even then I got the feeling of having been caught up in an old battle. (Also, perhaps coincidentally perhaps not, one of the names that stuck out from then also went by the name 'Jennifer.')

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    1. That was very possibly me. My views have matured over the past fifteen years. Partly because of what I saw on Usenet. Interestingly enough, some of the more obnoxious "post-ops" there turned out to actually be non-ops.

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  5. i am parenting a young child who is an affirmed girl, despite her birth assignation, xy chromosomes and male body. she has lived as the girl she is for over four years now and she is only ten years old. she identifies first as a girl...then as a transgender girl. i have not heard the term 'transsexual' being used for someone as young as she, nor someone who hasn't yet undergone some sort of surgical procedure to align their external and internal experience of who they are.
    so your statement of identification more closely resembles that of my daughter, because she is not merely gender fluid, but highly disturbed by the betrayal of a wrong body given her at birth. so she, even before any surgery, is transsexual then? i have many transsexual friends, they are all adult, some of them haven't opted for full surgical alignment of their bodies to their gender identity. i have seen first hand how these women are often granted a lesser place in the lesbian community, but am relatively out of touch as to the 'identity police' within the trans community.
    thanks for this article. it is enlightening me as to the finer points of what my daughter may face from those ostensibly within her community.
    no big surprise to me. as a bi-sexual, or omni-sexual person,(a term i prefer because bi is allowing only two gender choices) persons within the lg part of the lgbtq community often marginalised my experience.
    too bad, it sounds like similar things happen in the trans community...but out in the open folk like you and others may educate people so that my daughter, in another ten years, won't have as much 'splainin' to do

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  6. "Her arguments are also classist and ableist in the belief that people require SRS to have safe spaces while many can not afford or medically receive care for numerous reasons."

    This is misleading. She's saying that a true transsexual will find a way. I don't agree with her completely, but far too often I see people are way too passive with regards to their own SRS and seem too unwilling to disrupt their current livelihood to try to get into a position to get it. I think a lot of trans people assume it'll be covered eventually or an opportunity will just land in their laps at some point, instead of taking positive action to ensure they can get it--such as massively cutting expenses, selling their house, taking a possibly harder or lower paying job that provides SRS as part of its health benefits, ditching everything and moving to San Francisco and getting on the Healthy San Fran plan or to California in general and getting on Medi-Cal. There are lots of options.

    She mentions that even with it handed to them on a silver platter, many still turn it down anyway. She thinks that most self-described trans people don't really want to be rid of their male genitals.

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    1. Actually, I observed it first hand. I worked for several years in HIV prevention. There were a number of "transgender people" employed by the project, and SRS was provided as a health benefit. Now, I worked, as you say, at a lower paying job (half-time) and I stuck it out for the benefit. But, out of my co-workers who were not post-op (three were) only one MTF had surgery. I think one FTM had top surgery, and another had some procedure, but details were not revealed. The rest decided to pass on it. In addition, I spent a lot of time working with a variety of "trans people." Overwhelmingly, they balked at the idea of surgery. Even ones who could have easily afforded it.

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  7. And further, do you really want male genitals visible to everyone in a girls' locker room?

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  8. When I first came out as mtf, I sought out a transgender support group. On only my second visit, I had a person come up and asked if I was transsexual or just a cross-dresser. After receiving my reply, this person stated, "I could never give up my male self. I live as male during the day and dress as a woman at night". That is a little different than me, but I don't personally hold it against her.

    I agree that there are different degrees of suffering and that some choose not to undergo surgery and that others can't afford surgery. I don't really care what is in someones' pants. I don't care how others live their lives. You only have one; so, live to the fullest. Try and be happy ever day of your life.

    Okay, here is the rub. For those that do suffer and wish to fully transition, there are many emotional and financial barriers. This is what I do care about. This is why the community as a whole should show solidarity. Many suffer workplace discrimination, health insurance that won't cover HRT counseling, or surgery. Many have been ostracized to the point of being able to obtain employment or medical insurance.

    These are areas that the so-called "normal" people never have to worry about. I, myself, pay for health insurance that doesn't cover treatment for transsexualism, but it protects my spouse and children. And it covers me for anything other than "transsexual" needs.

    As for selling my house, I wouldn't make myself or my children homeless. I wouldn't wish homelessness on anyone. I wouldn't come out as a child. Why, because my father would have killed me. I know because he told me so when I did come out.There are certain things we as "normal" human beings wouldn't do. That is why we need advocacy. So, we as humans can live our lives like everyone else.

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    1. The issue is not so much "what is in someone's pants," as the ones who insist that they "are really women" and are thus entitled to be in women's space sans clothing. Or who insist that they have the right to change their birth certificates to falsely state that they are "female."

      Funny thing... Before I moved to San Francisco, I had insurance that did not cover stuff, and yet they paid for my hormones. My doctor prescribed them, and they paid. Further, they knew my situation, since I changed my name of the policy. I bet a lot of people never even try...

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    2. I definitely agree with you. Ones' rights can not trump another persons. I am personally married and I spoke to my spouse and we agree that someone should at least be in transition, which should be documented. We all know there are crazy people out there and I don't mean trans. I mean all the unstable people doing these shootings around this country. I don't believe any one person that throws on a dress should be using the women's restroom. I person in transition should be afforded the ability to utilize public accommodations in there identified sex.

      The dangers to women and men in transition are real. Imagine for a moment a trans man being outed in a male restroom. What could possibly happen? Maybe Brandon Teena comes to mind. So, the trans man goes to the female restroom.... what would happen? Protections are needed for trans men and women, but others rights should be protected as well. A letter from a doctor certifying that a person is on HRT and in the process of transitioning seems reasonable. And I think I speak for the majority when I say nobody wants to see someone's junk in the locker room.

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  9. Wow, at equating selling your house with becoming homeless. It's not like you could get a 2-bedroom or 3-bedroom apartment for your family, is it?

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    1. Erika, I know the meaning of sacrifice trust me. I am a disabled veteran. I was trying to make the point that there are many reasons that people transition at a different pace than others. Wouldn't it be much easier if we as a community could simply be recognized as more than a bunch of crazy loons that make the punchline of a Saturday Night Live skit? I grew up very confused and alienated. I never even knew what a transsexual was until I was stationed in Hawaii. The first transsexual I ever met propositioned me. I was a young, yet to be out of the closet, girl and it was quite eye opening.

      There was another thing I just wasn't willing to do to aid my transition. In a lot of ways I guess that lady was a lot stronger than myself. But, why should we have to anything like that to end our suffering. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of successful, powerful transsexuals in our community. But, everyone knows that for every success story, there are probably 10-20 or more young women that have been disowned by their parents and/or family. Many more yet that can not find gainful employment or are fired when they come out.

      When I came out and needed to find an endocrinologist, I contacted every doctor in my county. Out of 16 endocrinologists, only one treated transsexuals. That's a problem. As I stated before, I am a veteran. I never spoke of being who I truly was for 15 years. Was that a choice, yes, but it was survival. But, I served faithfully and that should mean something. Until recently, you couldn't get treatment at a VA hospital and you still can't get surgery.

      What is it about being transsexual or transgender that is so hard for people to understand? Why is it so hard for people grasp that you can be "normal" and yet be different? This is what we should be fighting for. We should be working to change the heart and minds of those who lack understanding. There are those who lack the ability for compassion or reasoning that we will never reach, but if we march proudly in solidarity change will come.

      My name is Jennifer Leigh Snyder, if you wish to look me up on Facebook. I am always looking for new friends!!! :)

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    2. If you have enough equity to be in a position to sell, you are also in a position to borrow against that equity. It is all about excuses, not reality. People say "I can't afford," when they really mean, "They will take my penis when they pry my cold dead fingers from it..." And many claim "I have medical issues." That is almost always bogus. It is extremely rare that there is a condition that actually prevents surgery...other than a lack of need or desire.

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    3. Okay, from one Jennifer to another, Jen take a Valium and a glass of wine and chill babe!!! lol

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  10. Bravo. I respect you for opening people ayes and show then a truth that has been working against our community for long time now. I agreed with you. Groups at the top; the ones who we have trusted to represent us they become just like those heterosexuals and homosexuals in charge. They look upon some groups down and consider themselves to be better. Thank you for the bottom of my heart you are in the right track and I only hope that you keep on with your ideas. I had been talking about "passing" for a real long time. That is something than other than help us it has hurt us from long time. In the 70's girls were force to look and act just like biological women to be able to get hormones and so on. Nothing has changed since then. It is up to us to change behaviors of the people we have around. Education about ourselves doesn't have to be in books for us to pass it on. Just like our biological sisters we come in all shape and forms. No all of us have to look like movie stars or have huge asses made of silicone or soft voice and petite hands and long hair. Thanks for bringing this issue to every one attention!

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    1. Let me be clear on two things. First, I am NOT nor will I ever be a part of your "community." I am not transgender, and I object strenuously when someone tries to force that label on me. Second, I actively oppose most, if not all, of the outrageous stuff pushed by transgender extremists.

      Bottom line...if you are not a woman, I am not going to pretend you are.

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  11. For the record, I welcome the ongoing debate. Any who wish to challenge my views are welcome to comment on my blog. There is only one rule, which is respect privacy. I don't tolerate outing anyone. If someone does not voluntarily reveal their past information, it is not allowed. Beyond that, my blog is censorship free (unlike 99% of transgender blogs). Of course, your views will be challenged, so, if like some, you cannot handle that, you might want to avoid it and attack from protected space...

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  12. What utter nonsense. Written by someone who has not the first idea what it means to be transsexual other than the drivel they read by other internet gender warriors. Where would you be today if the internet was not here .. totally lost!

    I started transition in 1978 at the age of 27, that was young back then, believe me. In those days the gatekeepers didn't allow all the nonsense we see today. If you had told Dr. John Randell that you didn't intend to have SRS you would have been thrown out on your ear. Heck, if you didn't get out and find a verifiable female type job you were told never to darken his door. He didn't care one bit if you couldn't pass or if you couldn't find a job, you were gone and no mistake. Dr Randell was to many a friend, but to far more he was a tyrant. Back then they would overdose you with hormones just to see how you reacted, how commited you were. Yes it was boot camp and it did one thing, it sorted out the girls from the boys.

    You sit and whine about rights and acceptance, hang on to the LGB coat tails like a lifeline and put on a big show and fuss every time someone looks twice at you. It's bloody pathetic. Yes there a a huge percentage of you that would not have SRS if they were giving it out free with a magazine subscription. That would spoil your fantasy, reack havoc on your oversexed libido's and generally put an end to the gender games you revel in.

    In the mean time, those of us that were transsexual now have to put up with all the negative BS you lot have created. Here is a clue .. it's not progressive .. cancer is progressive, Hearing loss is progressive, alzheimers is progressive, transsexualism is what you are born with, what you fight to overcome, what you aspire to someday end. It's not a progression from wearing your sisters panties and dolling yourself up to parade around at the local gay bar on a Friday night. Thats called transvestism or transgender if you must.

    Transition is supposed to be tough, if it wasn't then everyone would be trying it on, and come to see the drivel I read here, thats exactly what's been happening these past 20 years since.

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    1. Couldn't agree more with you, but I am saying that people have different reasons for the pace at which they transition. If you are not transitioning, then you are not transsexual you are transgendered or some other label. My point can be found at http://money.cnn.com/gallery/pf/2013/02/21/transgender-debt/index.html. Does everyone agree that there are things that could be made easier to transition through advocacy? Does anyone believe that gender-neutral bathrooms are the answer? Who do you really believe will be using those restrooms.

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  13. What makes it easier to transition is accurate information and access to qualified care. Advocacy for the most part is geared towards making it easier for the "men in dresses" crowd. True transsexuals have been transitioning for over sixty years. Gender neutral bathrooms are part of a political attack on the idea of gender, that is part of a larger attack on society's standards. It is one thing to provide bathrooms that are "gender neutral" to aid people who need assistance from someone who is the opposite sex (for example, an older adult, or a parent with a child), it is another to make them available to people who want to rebel can more easily do so.

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    1. Thanks for your blog. It's been a kick in my butt. Previously, I had been doubtful I would ever get SRS and even attempted suicide over it. I think it's partly because it seems that the general transgender community seems to like to make it out to be this completely impossible thing, unless you save up for years and years and years (read: a decade or longer) or were just lucky to have been born in Canada or whatever or were already rich. It completely encourages transsexual people to go into this depressive, resigned passivity that gets worse and worse, when in reality the transsexual person needs to be doing, trying, and playing to get surgery. I honestly have felt somewhat betrayed by the transgender community with its emphasis on bathroom bills, unisex bathrooms, adn stuff, while not even providing basic financial and occupational support to help someone get on the path to SRS--just instead pushing the attitude that it's impossible for me. Because of that, I've had to bump around a lot and I'm still working on it, currently interviewing for jobs that provide it as a benefit and preparing to move into a rooming/boarding situation to reduce expenses. I'm moving toward it, but I still have bouts of doubt and fear that I will never be able to have it; I know I will finally feel better once I've finally got it.

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    2. Erika, that is what I have been saying! I pay for medical insurance for myself and my family. But, that insurance is pretty useless for transition purposes. It does seem that things are changing slowly. More and more universities are providing coverage. Medicare now covers counseling and HRT. If you are like myself, you didn't begin to or won't begin to feel whole until you get SRS. Until then, people tend to put an asterick next to your name or identity. That is my personal experience. And many transsexuals feel that way until SRS.

      It is getting better for the younger generation. More is known about transsexualism and the visibility is greater than when I was young. Notice that I talk pretty much about transsexualism. Like I said before, it is a subset under the transgender umbrella. But, if you are not transsexual, you really aren't contemplating hormones and irreversible surgeries.

      As for the bathroom issue..... If you are in transition and you feel safe doing so, use the appropriate bathroom. There is a real life experience for a reason. There is no need for "special" bathrooms. That is segregation in disguise. Remember that there are many obstacles to transitioning, but it is your true self, the journey is so worth it. One life, live it!!!

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