Sunday, September 7, 2008

Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?

I’m getting a little tired of late in hearing transitioned transsexuals separating themselves in one way or another from the rest of the population of the transgendered community,

A woman (who shall remain nameless in respect for her privacy) on a Yahoo group to which I belong claims to be a woman to the exclusion of others who have not gone through SRS, apparently putting herself higher on a pecking order which has yet to be agreed upon by all involved. She has stated that she and other post-ops are transgendered while anyone who has decided, for one reason or another, not to transition is not.

On the other hand, I have seen postings by transitioned women on a blog entitled Enough Non-Sense, one of whom maintains a temple to the goddess Cybele. The main thesis of this blog is that these individuals have always been women and do not belong under the “transgender” umbrella with perverts like me.

I find this spiritual attitude particularly interesting since the Gallae, the transsexual priestesses of Cybele, by definition, became priestesses by castrating themselves and dedicating themselves to the goddess. The mystic aspect of such a priestess derives directly from the fact that she IS transgendered. That is the mystery. Take away the transgendered nature and you take away the title. (Although it must be admitted that in this priestess’s case, she was born intersexed, which, from a mythic point of view, is equally mystical.) From what I can see from at least one contemporary narrative, The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleus, the Gallae were no more accepted as natal women than are the present-day Hijra of India. And, as I said before, it is this transgendered state that gives them their spiritual power.

At any rate, the latter group wants to step out from under the “transgender umbrella,” while the former wants to hog it all for themselves. Either way, the rest of us are excluded.

I am a believer in inclusiveness. I believe in the transgender umbrella. (I must admit that I cringe a bit at the term, though, just as I despise the ugly word “transvestite” and hesitate to identify myself as a “heterosexual crossdresser; unfortunately the term "rather-dumpy-overweight-middle-aged-part-time-
lesbian-who-looks-like-someone’s-second-grade-teacher-in-1960" contains too many syllables.) I believe in finding similarities rather than belaboring differences. The fact is, whether we transition or not, all transwomen and transmen are faced, to a greater or lesser degree with some of these problems, if not many more:

1. Physical appearance
2. Voice
3. Adopting (or in my case “liberating”) mannerisms from one gender and banishing residual mannerisms from the other.
4. Acceptance by family, friends, and associates
5. Prejudice and stereotyping
6. Painful prices, both monetary and emotional

Even within the subgroups of the larger transgender community (yup, I’m continuing to use the term) there are varying agendas and definitions, and it is unfair to judge each other. We are all on different positions upon the continuum, and as such are faced with different conditions, options, and choices. My identity and comfort zone are not your identity and comfort zone.

For the record, I have not transitioned because
1. I did not want to alienate my children, nor give my 80+ father a stroke
2. I like my profession, and I saw what transitioning on the job did for Dana Rivers. I don’t want to be a cause célèbre, and I don’t want to go looking for a new career in my 50’s.
3. I can’t afford it.
4. I don’t want to kill off my male persona who is a pretty nice guy, if I do say so myself.

I must ask myself, do those who are so exclusionary in their title of “woman” feel that they have sacrificed so much that anyone who has not gone that far is a slacker?

I’ve heard transsexuals say that they were always women (reminding me of the little feminist girl in Doonesbury about 25 years ago saying, “It’s a baby woman!”). Why the operation then? What is the line of demarcation? Certainly, having gone through SRS will make it much easier to obtain a membership at Curves, but does SRS, HRT, FFS, voice training, etc., make an individual a woman? Is it a matter of how much practice, electrolysis, hormones and surgery an individual has gone through? Is womanhood to be bought?

To my sisters (and brothers) who have paid these prices and toed these lines I say, I am on your side. You have what I would love to have, but what exactly is it that you do have?

Some years ago I met Virginia Prince.

You may love her or hate her, but if it were not for her, and later the Internet, the vast majority of us would still be closeted and whining. If you can’t admit at least that, then it’s probably not worth carrying on this conversation with you. Pioneers are always embarrassing to those who come later. She was walking the walk before most of us were born.

In our conversation, she made a delineation between being “a woman” and being “female”. I thought it was a bit self-serving, and I still do. (Of course, if you’ve got an entire life to justify, you’re going to be self-serving. It’s called survival.) And yet… It’s about energy. I have known non-op transwomen who’ve exuded so much feminine energy they make Audrey Hepburn look like Broderick Crawford, and I’ve met non-op transmen who make Broderick Crawford – you get the idea. (Though this last has also brought up another argument against my own transitioning – my age. If you remember Highway Patrol, there’s no amount of HRT gonna turn you completely around.) I have also met post-op women who make me wonder why they ever went to the trouble. The spectrum is broad, and trying to define is like trying to build a workable staircase of sand.

Those who say they were always female, then, are tacitly agreeing with Virginia Prince in that they are talking about energy. Energy is conducted. Ultimately, it’s not about what we transmit, it’s about how that energy is received. We may know inside that our identity is at variance with our “assigned” role, but until that recognition goes beyond ourselves, we are doomed, at the very least, to disabling frustration. Despite Riki Anne Wilchins’ list of “21 Things You DON'T Say to a Transexual,” ( womanhood and manhood is conferred by those with whom the individual associates. That was the case in tribal societies; it is still the purpose of the Quinceañera in Latino society, in which womanhood is conferred upon a young woman by her family and friends. In some Native American societies womanhood was conferred upon natal males who identified as female, often coupled with recognition as a shaman. What validates our gender is acceptance by those around us. Womanhood is conferred upon me when I’m out to dinner and use the ladies’ room and nobody has a fit. It’s conferred upon me when the server says to my friend and me, “Can I get you ladies something to drink?” It is conferred on me when a natal friend suggests with a straight face that I patronize her favorite day spa.

Two stories come to mind here:

Groucho Marx told the story of how the 19th Century financier Otto Khan happened to pass a synagogue while walking with his friend, Marshall P. Wilder, who was a wildly popular comedian despite his horrendously curved spine. Khan turned to his friend and said, “You know, Marshall, I used to be a Jew.”
“Is that so?” said Wilder, I used to be a hunchback.”

The other story, from India, is quite similar:

An orphaned tiger is raised as a goat. When an adult tiger attacks the flock and finds this young tiger pretending to be a goat, the adult tiger takes the misguided youngster aside and shows the young one those things which pertain to a tiger. The tiger’s true nature was exposed, and a childhood pretending to be a goat did not ultimately detract from tigerhood.

You can’t leave it behind. We may bemoan the girlhoods we never had and the fact that we were forced to play “boys’ games,” etc. The majority of my friends are natal women, and they roll their eyes when they hear this. I know at least one natal woman who, because of an alcoholic father and abusive mother, had no childhood at all. For Goddess’ sake, quit your whingeing! You’ve had a unique experience which should, if you let it, give you insight and compassion.

Those who would repudiate the term “transgender” and those who would separate themselves from others on the continuum do have an option - one that has been taken by many in their position: withdraw. Go stealth. Dissociate yourselves from the community. Considering (thank Heaven) there is no Central Committee, you can define yourself (both figuratively and literally) any way you want to. And, if you are lucky enough that your definition and society’s definition gel, you are liberated from your concerns and unburdened of having to be associated with people like me. Of course, as I was reminded this afternoon by a very nice transman of my acquaintance, you’ve got a lot of concealing and subterfuge ahead of you if you want to truly lose the epithet “transgender.” And, unfortunately, no amount of petitioning, shunning, and snarling will rid you of the stigma if you are found out. There are plenty of Peter La Barbaras and Janice Raymonds out there who will not listen one whit to your claims and will shove you back under the umbrella with me.

Fact is, if you lack the empathy, compassion, imagination, and sense of your own absurdity to accept me, I’m not sure I’m any happier to be here with you than you are to be here with me.


Vulnavia Morbius said...

God the trannier than thou brigade drives me nuts. This is a terrific take-down.

I love the title, by the way, but I love Joyce Carol Oates. Great story. Have you ever seen the movie version?

(oh, by the way, YouTube was down last night. My vid is still there).

Take care.

Gillian said...

Honestly, I've met homophobic TG's and transphobic gays, etc. ad nauseum. One would think that being a member of a stigmatized group would engender a bit of empathy.

I could go on.

Thank you for the good review. I think I'll keep going.

I've not read the Joyce Carol Oates story, I'm sad to say. Where can I find it?

Saw your video. You play very well, and I like your singing voice.

Vulnavia Morbius said...

The story is in a book of the same name. It's also in just about every college level "Introduction to Literature" anthology published since the mid-1970s.

You're kind about my singing voice, but I can't even listen to it myself.

Take care.

Gillian said...

Holy Cow!
I haven't read that story since 1973! It's been haunting me since then, but I'd totally forgotten the title. That's what I get for spending all my time in everything but the 20th century.

Anonymous said...

It's not an issue of classic transsexuals being better than TGs, but TGs consistently stating we think that. Because we claim not to be like transgenders, doesn't mean we think we are better, but because we are different...and we are.

Gillian said...

Dear sa-et,
We are all different. I've known several transsexuals and no two of them have had exactly the same agenda. Of course, I've never been able to get inside anyone else's psyche to the point that I can claim to know the breadth and depth of their motivations or to be able to determine just how different they are from me. I live a dual existence, in that respect I differ from the "classic transsexual." I do, however, feel that the part of my soul that identifies as a woman is as legitimate a feminine energy as any. I won't dispute our differences, but in our little corner of the cosmos, and in comparison to everyone else, our similarities far outweigh our differences. And we all stand to benefit far more by stressing those similarities.

By the way, since we all tend to stand out in a crowd, it behooves us all to present ourselves in the most positive way. Call me a prude, but there have been plenty of crossdressers, drag queens, fetishists and, yes, "classic transsexuals" whose exhibitionistic behavior and presentation has made me cringe and worse.

Gillian said...

I should clarify the bit about "we all tend to stand out in a crowd." I was referring to the general population of "TG's" and "classic transsexuals" and not to individuals. On the whole, we may have larger bodies, etc.; however, many, many individuals in both groups blend right in.

Abby said...

Thanks, Gillian, for your analysis. Sometimes, I feel angry, but always I feel sad, when I see those with whom we share so much insist that we are different and don't want anything to do with the rest of us. (That, I think, is where the clear "I'm better than you" message comes from. If the HBS crowd are simply trying to explain how they are different, why the huge need to convince everyone that they're not like us and the insistence that no one else think that they are? If we're not somehow "bad" or "less than" in their view, why the drive to dissociate themselves from us?) Lastly, I think your comment that our similarities far outweigh our differences is where my sadness comes from. We need each other and there aren't enough of us that we can afford to lose the love and support, emotional and political, of any one of us. It's an overused and hackneyed phrase by now, but Rodney King said it best: Can't we all just get along?

Gillian said...

Dear Abby,

I started to ramble in an answer to your comment, and I've made it my next posting. I hope you won't mind if I address it to you.

Abby said...

Mind? Most definitely not! Instead, I am honored and touched.