Between my own GID/Transgender issues, Dreamweaver's issues as a partner to a GID/Trans identified person, and the discussions that have been appearing on several lists we are on about the subject, I want think aloud here and at random about some questions regarding being transgender.
One of the discussions that has arisen obliquely is the exact definition of Transgender. First off, who defines "Transgender"? For that matter who defines sexuality and gender in general and how is it defined? As members of the GLBT community, a minority group that many do not even acknowledge as a minority in the strict sense of the word, we live daily in conflict with the dominant paradigm of society. Our over all culture here - and largely throughout the world is Heterosexual, divided into to 2 categories, male and female. This is a binary definition where society dictates that there are two boxes, if you will, one for male and one for female. Certain characteristics have been assigned arbitrarily to each box. Some are physiological - such as primary and secondary sexual characteristics, some are traits that have become associated with genders - being strong and stoic and good at directions, etc with being male; being emotionally expressive and intuitive, good with children etc with being female. (and I know there are immediate howls going up out there about the fact that no individual actually fits these boxes...yes, that's my point!) The trait list is a long one and includes how we dress for instance. Women tend to get away with a LOT more variance on traits and dress then men do...(the reasons for that are related to patriarchal world views and that is a WHOLE different blog entry unto itself - not going there right now!) women may dress in androgynous clothing or in out and out male attire, hold the same jobs as men, and be tomboys. While "masculine" women *do* come under fire, we seldom are treated as savagely as the men are with any gender variance.
I for instance (with the notable exception of "The Dress" for my stepsons wedding!) dress completely male - I wear NOTHING that does not come from the men's department except for the sports bra, people! LOL! And yet, when I have pointed this out to some folks, even those that are close to me, they are suddenly completely non-plussed when I point out that I am cross dressing quite deliberately! And that is because so many straight women are wearing similar clothing, if not the same, even if they don't present as male. Basically, as my startled bemused psych professor pointed out - "You couldn't 'cross dress' if you wanted to!" Men, of course are allowed virtually NO variation whatsoever...they cannot shop in the women's department for clothing and blithely wear it at will...they cannot in any way present as female, or they get kicked out of the gender box, violently ostracised and endangered physically and emotionally! Not to say that women who don't conform to the stereotypical gender schema DON'T risk prejudice and danger in certain areas, it's just that we do have alot more leeway today, which has not always been the case. A look back up the history of women's suffrage - there was a time when women were forbidden by law to wear masculine clothing
There are SO many men and women out there that by these "definitions" are failing the gender box test utterly. For instance, to look at the male gender box, if being sensitive and gentle, working well with children, lack of mechanical ability, being bad at directions, etc.(and this trait list comes from one of those on-line discussions that has been on-going, if you are wondering where I got that list from) means that a man is not a "real" man, then men with these traits are flunking the Gender Box by binary heterosexual stereotypes.
They may present totally as male, and be "straight", but their competence as Real Men is judged and found wanting by those standards. In fact, the above describes my father completely - he is sensitive, gentle and kind and great with kids, barely able to hammer a nail the right way, and SUCKS at directions! I don't know HOW many times I have gotten lost because I trusted directions he gave me and wound up totally in outer Mongolia! I now thank him profusely when he tries to tell me one of his *alternate*routes and then go find a map!!! (or consult my Dreamweaver - I am as directionally challenged as he is - the difference is I will admit it! LOL!)
And he is a very straight man - in fact he is a reactionary old wing-nut Conservative whose right-wing rhetoric more than makes up for any "sensitivity" he may have! (wonder if its over compensation? A way to fit the Masculine Box despite his supposedly non-masculine traits?) And anyone who has ever encountered a dour redneck shade tree mechanic who scorns anyone who cannot work on their own car knows that the prejudices are real! So...the question is that if we don't fit certain stereo types, ask yourself are these failures of the Gender Check list...or are they simply Human traits that are uniquely combined in us to make us the unique individuals that we are? There are no tests, no grades, and the Binary gender paradigm is a social construct, an illusion that dominates us falsely.
So if there is an over laying Heterosexual schema that dominates us, how does that inform or construct Transgender schemas? IS there such a thing as a Transgender socially constructed check list, paradigm, or Box? I think that one of the difficulties today is that there really isn't.
Understand, people of both sexes have been passing for centuries as the opposite sex. To give several accounts of this here - there was a woman named Jennie Irene Hodgers born in Ireland in December 25, 1843; by 1862 he was passing as Albert D. J. Cashier and was enlisted in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He fought in 40 battles, was captured once, but escaped back to the union army and mustered out at the end of the war, his secret undetected. For the next 48 years he lived quietly as a man, until at the end of his life, he was committed to an asylum for dementia and his secret was discovered. He was immediately forced to wear a dress and identify as a woman until his death in 1915...surprisingly he was buried in his soldiers uniform and identified as Albert D. J. Cashier on his grave stone! . In the 1970s, over 55 years later, a second tombstone, inscribed with both of his names, was placed beside the first tomb stone. There is a good illustration of the Heterosexual Paradigm at work, that society would feel driven half a century later to make sure the grave was identified as that of a woman, even though "he" had no heirs or family after him to care.
The second example is that of Billy Tipton.Billy Tipton was born in 1914. He began living as a man full-time by 1940 at age 26, and “passed” completely as a male. He had a career as a jazz and swing pianist and entertainer and a common law marriage (unregistered but publicly accepted), and three sons by adoption. He recorded two successful jazz albums and had a successful career. Billy evidently pulled off his deception in marriage by a story of having been injured in a car wreck that affected his "genitals" and necessitated his chest to be bound. He was discovered to have been female-bodied after he died in 1989 at the age of 74 due to a hemorrhaging ulcer that he refused to have treated. (a very common thing for those who were passing back then and before – they routinely avoided medical care in desperate fear of being exposed, and this often led to death in serious medical issues. And I am hunting a reverse tale of a man or men who chose to live as a woman - when and if I find it, I will add it in.)
However, "transgender" is a modern word only a few decades old. It popularised in the 1970s to initially attempt to describe people who wanted to live cross-gender without sex reassignment surgery. In the 1980s it began to include all those whose gender identity did not mesh with their gender assigned at birth. It now also has a political dimension to define alliance of all those who have at some point not conformed to gender norms, (gee - would that not include the entire human race at some point or another!) and is used to question the validity of the heterosexual paradigm. Included under the transgender "umbrella" today are terms like Transsexual, Crossdressing, Transvestite, Drag kings and queens, Genderqueer, people who live cross gender, Androgyne, and more - and please note there is a raging argument going about whether any of those terms belong under "Transgender". In other words, the umbrella is LEAKING!
So, do we have a paradigm for Transgenderism? I would argue not. And while some people abhor labels, labels and paradigms and schemas are also about forming identity. No, no one individual fits a stereotype or paradigm perfectly, but all of us as we form our identities through out life do tend to fit more or less into certain ones and find that an important part of individuating and shaping our identity. The problem is not only do we not have a good definition for transgender, the whole concept of transgenderism challenges the Male/Female Heterosexual Stereotype at its very foundation. For that matter, it challenges the identity formation of everyone around the transgendered individual. When a GID / Trans individual elects to completely transition, the changes are huge and go far beyond the physical. Emotional and personality changes occur too. Floundering and struggle for identity and authenticity can wreak havoc as trans individuals struggle to work through the stereo types they have in their head of what male and female can be, and to realistically present their target gender. (and yes...the two individuals here started out life as the opposite sex from where they are now - Lynn was a man and Jake was a woman.) Male to Females struggle with presenting authentically, as they can begin by being far too the extreme of a feminine stereotype, drawing unwanted attention and scorn. Female to Males can struggle with male identity - wondering if they can live up to the stereotype, wrestling with temperament and behavior changes brought on by Testosterone treatment. This road is NOT for the faint of heart...
And it is a dangerous road too, for all too often, society can react violently to trans individuals, whether they are male to female or female to male. (for that matter, that is an issue all GLBT individuals can face.) Brandon Teena who's story is told in the movie "Boys Don't Cry" who was raped and murdered for presenting and living as a man and dating a young woman known to the murderers. Gwen Araujo who was murdered when she was discovered to be a young man biologically. Go to this link and see the list of names - it is a sobering thing. http://www.gender.org/remember/index.html And it is a reminder of how incredibly reactive and violent the reaction of those who can see nothing but the Heterosexual Binary as an extreme - remember that their violence is driven by fear and misunderstanding so huge to a hatred so deep I cannot begin to comprehend it. This is not a safe path to walk.
A straight partner of a trans man or woman, suddenly finds themselves being "identified" lesbian or gay, whether they wish to be or not, with all the prejudice and loss of heterosexual privilege that goes with it. A gay or lesbian partner suddenly finds themselves identified as straight, which can be unbearable after years of identity building and self individuation as gay in the face of a hostile heterosexual society. Spouses of transgenders suddenly find themselves with spouses who are no long the sex that they themselves are attracted to. And it is extremely difficult for a non-trans individual to begin to wrap their minds around what the actual experience is like for the trans person going though it from the inside out. It was suggested to me the other weekend by a trans person's spouse that it is impossible. It is extraordinarily rare for relationships to survive one of them transitioning. The experience can be so devastating that it becomes impossible for many to even try.
However, some rare ones do - Helen Boyd and her wife Betty are one of the most publicly known couples that are together and strong and are surviving the changes it has wrought on their relationship. (They can be found at http://www.myhusbandbetty.com/ on Helen's blog, en/Gender and I highly recommend her books on their journey through this together) I have also recently heard of a couple who are a man and his now male partner who was his wife who are still together, which appears to be even rarer than the other way around. Think about it...the husband is now, in so far as the world identifies him - a gay man, since his wife is now his male lover. Mind boggling!
I actually know one couple who live near me -pictured here - he was an FTM; they are happily together, with kids, and to the outside world, they would "appear" a straight couple. I invited them to come speak at a class with me on trans issues; he had to work, but she came - her words were powerful and positive as she spoke of their relationship and the journey they have had together. So...it can be done! And they are a shining example of it!
And just because I am looking at all this gender bending wildness, don't forget the guy who began life as a woman...and then after transitioning, and marrying, he and his wife discovered that she could not have children to term. So he, having not undergone a full below the waist transition, undertook to bear their children. Frankly, I thought that it was an absolutely beautiful human gesture of faith and love on both their parts to do this. However. the level of freak show, nasty hateful treatment they received was heart breaking, when it should have been treated as a triumph of the human spirit! (and talking about gender bending relationships and stereotypes! - fixes things, takes out the garbage AND has the baby! Talk about the perfect husband!!! LOL)
So....where I am I in all this craziness?
For my part, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am male in a female body. What I see in a mirror does not match what I am. (talking about avoiding full length mirrors like the plague!) ....however I also know, just as deeply and profoundly that the things that are feminine about myself that would be changed by transitioning, I am not willing to give up either. I have a very strong identity as a lesbian that I am very comfortable with. I feel a part of the Lesbian Community as well as a part of the Trans. Thats important to note - most FtMs that pass through identifying as Lesbian on their way to Transitioning find that it is a poor fit. They may be in a woman's body and attracted to women, but they are NOT women. They are men and the dynamics are completely different. In my case, its as though I feel like a man in a womans body AND a woman who is a Lesbian. I have a Trans Identity and a Gay Identity. Go figure....I can't explain it - I don't think the English language has invented the terminology yet. The genderqueer community is trying, but I think until and unless the primary straight binary paradigm is altered to become simply an inclusive human paradigm, our struggle to express concepts like this to other people are doomed to failure.
Feeling male or not inside, I really DO like things about myself that are female. I like myself as I am, even if it is confusing or difficult or stressful at times. I do not want to transition and risk these huge changes. If forcing me to deny what I am by making me try to present as a feminine heterosexual woman (and I did try, people, for 36 years of my life I tried!), then transitioning with testosterone, and surgery is also and equally a denial of myself as a lesbian woman. I also have physical issues that make transitioning completely a huge risk - I have had a hip replacement surgery and the risks of infection that can go with such extensive surgery are completely contradicted. I would have a very hard time getting a doctor to even begin to consider me for trans surgery, with those issues present - nor is it a risk that I want to run.
And perhaps most importantly, I am in a relationship with an incredible woman, who despite her fears and doubts, is utterly committed to me irregardless of my choices and working HARD to relate positively to the earth-shattering realization that her partner is trans. However, as I said above, transitioning is a life change that can and will shake a relationship to the utter ground. Very few survive it. While I feel positive that Dreamweaver and I would survive if transitioning was the right choice for me, I have no romantic illusions as to the cost of those changes on us and our relationship. No one who truly must transition to live will be stopped by relationships, even their most intimate ones. But since I am already sure that transitioning is not the answer for me, then it becomes infinitely even more important not to risk the most precious relationship of my life! Dreamweaver and I will find our own way through and we will do it together. (and yes, she is talking to her therapist and on a transpartner list - she is not floundering alone! We are doing all we can to help each other and communicate, clearly, often and always.) And I will remain her cute little butch dyke/trans boi, and the woman who is her wife! And I love her with all my heart!
For me, what makes my scenario so ground-shaking is that I since I will not be transitioning...therefore, where IS my balance, my path, my center? I am coming to understand that the difficulty is that I collide daily with that Heteronormative Binary Juggernaut of a cultural Paradigm every minute of every day of my life - as a woman in a patriarchial society, as a lesbian in a straight society, as a transman in a binary - focused society. Encounters at church, at school, in the store, trying to buy clothes, using a rest room (I have used the mens room by accident, yes, REALLY, and the guys in the restoom did not even realize I was a woman. I totally "clocked" as male. Really WEIRD moment!). I see it constantly in entertainment industry. in popular music, in the newspaper editorials and the news. I see it in the pain and fear in my parter's eyes as she goes through this with me...pain and fear for me and what I go through, pain and fear of the changes it has brought to our relationship. Even knowing intellectually, who and what I am, and knowing what I know about how society constructs itself, emotionally it is a continual shocking jolt, day in - day out.
I dont have an *easy* answer (as if tearing your whole life and body apart and putting it back together could be considered an easy solution! *snort!!!*) Androgynous does not explain me, it is not an equal blend, and yet I am truly both. I am learning step by step as a unique human being that my path will be unique as well...just as every persons path in life is. Mine may be a little more unique than some peoples...and that is not a comfortable feeling at all! But it is who and what I am and I am learning to value myself for that.
So...there are some of my thoughts on Transgender issues and how they can affect our lives....
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference."