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TransActive — Another Kind of Out

| Oct 19, 2009
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No, don’t worry. . . this is not another one of those Stealth versus Out articles. Goddess knows there’ve been more than enough of those and pretty much everything has been said. If ever I think up a fresh spin on that debate I might dive back in, but not this time. No, I’m on a whole new tack to make you cheer or boil over or go “Hmmmmmm. It’s not like I actually enjoy pissing anyone off, but I just don’t know how to write stroke pieces to make everyone feel all warm and fuzzy. Besides if I’m pissing you off just right, I’m also hopefully making you think.

No, what I want to toss under the spotlight is S-E-X, that three-letter word capable of turning otherwise mature and reasonable adults into giggling, uncomfortable twelve-year-olds. It’s a topic guaranteed to titillate, to outrage, to divide even across partisan lines. It’s a word used to control, to set social agendas, and to unleash the “check-writing nincompoops” as Frank Zappa once called social conservatives/fundamentalists — on self-righteous crusades. And, sadly, it’s a topic used to stratify the transgender community.

At the risk of repeating myself (my 1994 TransSisters article on elitism and my 2006 counterpoint to a Transgender Tapestry editorial entitled “Plain Vanillaâ€) I’ve given plenty of consideration to merging these two viewpoints. It’s my hope to nudge readers toward the conclusion that we can’t paint a rainbow with only one color and that diversity not only spices up life, it also makes us stronger by making us bigger.

Let’s begin with a little review, especially for those who missed either of the aforementioned articles. In 1995 the regrettably short-lived magazine Transisters published my article (now archived on my website) about elitism in the trans community. It stemmed from a conversation Kate Bornstein and I had over dinner about the unspoken hierarchy in the trans community, with post-ops ostensibly at the top of the totem pole and crossdressers supposedly at the bottom, depending on your point of view. It also addressed passability (as a GG) as another criteria in the hierarchy.

I wrote that article partly as satire but mostly to address the perils of fracturing an already tiny community along dividing lines. Given that our oppressors could care less about our defining boundaries — we’re all freaks to them — cutting ourselves off from each other seems an exercise in self-defeat. To quote Lincoln, “a house divided against itself cannot stand. This very tenet applies not only to solidarity within the full transgender community but also to our related alliance with gay and bi people. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had “fag yelled at me from cars packed with jocks whom I doubt would care about the difference should the doors fly open and they emerged with baseball bats.

Beyond the practicality of strength in numbers, there is also strength in diversity. By allowing others to be who they are without judgment, we foster the same right for ourselves. It also creates an atmosphere where people are free to explore and grow and discover who they are. This last benefit of inclusiveness recognizes that people do evolve and change in how they identify and express themselves. Allowing people the freedom to do that ultimately enriches everybody. This is one lesson I had to humble myself to learn.

Unlike the classic trans experience of knowing one’s gender issue at an early age, all I really felt was a strong and persistent sense of insecurity and discomfort in my own skin. My first sign of a gender issue was the erotic crossdressing I started at nineteen, but it took nearly seven more years to suspect I’d been born into the wrong body. Only after educating myself within the first year of my marriage did I realize my dressing was part of a much deeper identity issue.

Given that background it seems ironic if not downright hypocritical that I actually looked down on crossdressers in my early transition. Back then I saw them as less “serious than transsexuals; they were gender dilettantes whose public presentation of gender was usually laughable (in my jaundiced eye). I believed they reflected badly on we transsexuals. Most of all, I worried I’d be associated with them. I eventually realized I had unfairly projected my own insecurities.

As far back as Harry Benjamin and perhaps even much further, gender identity and expression have been recognized as a spectrum. While most people don’t travel as far as I did along the spectrum it is that full continuum that helps define identity. Yet even within a given area of the spectrum still further boundaries can be drawn. For instance, some see fetishistic crossdressers as inferior to those who do it as an expression of their feminine side. They see the sexualizing of women’s clothes as a perversion.

The problem really lies not in the object of the fetish but with the sexual context. When examined against our cultural discomfort with sex, the object of most fetishes — for a body part such as a foot, a material like leather, or an object of clothing — is completely benign in and of itself. How paradoxical a culture so obsessed and fascinated with sex is at the same time so ashamed of and uncomfortable with it. Even plain old face-to-face fucking makes most people squirm when discussing it. And when a fetish is thrown into the mix then it gets even more uncomfortable. (I’ll bet you reacted to “fucking just now, didn’t you? Point made.)

Further tarnishing transwomen’s sexuality is Ray Blanchard’s controversial theory of “autogynephilia that was popularized in J. Michael Bailey’s academically sanctioned hardcore pulp The Man Who Would be Queen. Blanchard and Bailey and their number one cheerleader, transwoman Anne Lawrence, insist than any transsexual woman is motivated solely by sex. We are either gay men who want to have sex with straight guys or we are fetishists — like pedophiles or sadomasochists — so erotically obsessed with having female bodies we undergo surgery. According to their theory, gender identity has nothing to do with transition. While the theory surely does apply to a few people who may identify as transsexual or transgender, it is wholly unscientific to make the blanket declaration that these biased clinicians have done.

The real tragedy of the autogynephilia controversy is its further pathologizing of healthy sexuality in transwomen. It’s understandable why a transwoman would deny her sexuality to avoid being unfairly tarred with this label, a self-imposed oppression caused by an unfair standard. But then women have always faced a double standard. In our culture sexually active men are “studs and sexually active women are “sluts. And I know from personal experience that anybody can fall victim to stereotypes and be constrained by them.

Long before I ever heard of Blanchard I had convinced myself that, despite my years of erotic crossdressing, lingerie no longer made me feel sexy. I know now I was merely reacting to the stigma attached to male crossdressing, even though I no longer identified as male. It was as though I not only feared I wasn’t woman enough, I believed that a “real woman could not enjoy or be turned on by wearing sexy underwear. I believed that enjoying lingerie made me a “pervert instead of a woman.

Then in 2005 I dated a woman who was 100% GG and who 100% loved sex, from plain vanilla to hot’n’kinky. She had a fabulous collection of lingerie in which she’d lounge, sleep and screw my brains out. It was then I realized I’d made a foolish assumption, that it was time to reassess my beliefs. Were Victoria’s Secret and Frederick’s selling only to crossdressers and to GGs who wanted to treat their men? Could a woman want to look sexy for herself? Was I holding myself up to an unfair standard because I was worried about other people’s opinions? (The correct answers are No, Yes and YES!)

These questions opened up a whole new can of worms. If women were only dressing sexy for the guys, were we also getting boob jobs and liposuction and face lifts and whatnot solely to please our men? Were we merely sexy automatons here to make men happy? I couldn’t imagine anything more anti-feminist. In that sense, I began to see sex-negative figures like Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon were actually anti-feminist for espousing beliefs that denied women their own sexuality and erotic autonomy.

This got me to thinking: if fringe feminists were wrong for denying sexual freedom to their sisters then what about the transgender community doing the same thing to itself? This brings me to my 2006 counterpoint article answering a Transgender Tapestry op-ed where the author went on at length about how sexually normal she was. The subtext seemed to reek of a moral superiority over anything that smacked of kinkiness. But this was far from the first indictment I’d seen of transwomen’s sexuality since I first transitioned in 1985.

Getting back to the transgender pecking order concept, surgical status and beauty are but two of the walls we erect between us. Transwomen who do sexwork, especially prostitution or pornography, are also frequently judged for being in that line of work. Having done sexwork myself, I know how that marginalization helps separate rather than strengthen our community. (Suffice it to say I believe in the right of consenting adults to engage in sexwork, a position I expound at length on my website.)

I do understand the our stigma against sexwork. Long before Ray Blanchard and his sex-obsessed theories, transwomen had a heavily sexualized reputation. As Calpernia Addams told me in an interview when her memoir Mark 947 came out, “What bothers me is the way every transgender character [in a movie or on television] is either a prostitute or a punchline. Add to this blanket sexualization of all transwomen by Blanchard’s cadre of academics and clinicians, it’s a wonder we don’t all overcompensate by joining a convent.

What seems so ironic is that transgender people must overcome negative public and personal opinion just to be who we are in the first place. Sometimes we make great sacrifices yet we find the courage to overcome all of that and be true to ourselves. Thus it seems puzzling we’d either deny our own sexuality and/or censure those who don’t elect to hide who they are just because we’re afraid of a stereotype.

Perhaps instead of trying to disown the transwomen who do sexwork and/or are open about their sexuality — such as the T-girls on social networks like MySpace and Facebook — why not instead raise the visibility of those who make contributions and accomplishments that even social conservatives acknowledge as valuable? The Jenny Boylans and Lynn Conways and Becky Allisons give depth to our community and expand our public image beyond the eroticism typified by trans porn stars like Meghan Chavalier and Delilah Vaniity, not that either of these women is dumb or uneducated.

We’ve covered a lot of ground here, and if there’s any overall message I hope you’d take away it would be the same message that we often convey when trying to instill acceptance or at least tolerance of trans people in mainstream society: it takes all types to make a world. Nature loves diversity, so why can’t we? To quote rock singer Mike Muir: “Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t any good, and just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it doesn’t make any sense.â€

The other message would be, don’t judge a book by its cover. A person who embraces all of herself, who is not ashamed of her sexuality or her body is no more or less “moral than the shrillest “family values politicians (who seem to constantly keep getting outed for hypocrisy). We don’t want to be judged based strictly on our gender, so why would it be okay to judge anyone else for their sexuality, as long as they’re not harming anyone else?

Philosophically, I view sexuality in the same way I view both transition and gender expression, they are all a means to defining self. They can also be a symbol of assuming control of one’s life and rebelling against an oppressive culture. Many parallels can be drawn if you look for them. Transition is an act of rebellion against a body that contradicts your gender identity and against a society that says you must accept the sex assigned to you at birth. Crossdressing is a rebellion against the culture that would constrain your full expression of who you are.

Sexual freedom is but another form of self-expression, a celebration of life and (to my way of thinking) a blow against an American Taliban that abhors the kind of diversity and expression we represent. In my opinion, that alone is a great reason to embrace all of our freedoms and to fight for them. Or, at the very least, not to separate ourselves from those who do. Boldly be yourself and allow others to do the same. It’s a winning proposition for everybody.

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Category: Transgender Community News


About the Author ()

Christine Beatty is a familiar name to TGForum readers. In 2010 she wrote the TransActive column here, and she was featured in the Perpetual Change column back in 2001 as part of the rock duo Glamazon. Along with her musical endeavors, she is also a TG activist, an author and a poet. She has recently published "Misery Loves Company" and has had articles appear in such publications as Chrysalis Quarterly, Transgender Tapestry, Spectator, and TransSisters.

Comments (3)

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  1. P.S. Ronnie, I sent you a friend request on myspace but it’s been flaking out on me as of late; several girl’s I’ve sent requests to never got them. Would you please add me?

    P.P.S. To other TGForum gal pals, please feel free to add me as well. The more the merrier!

  2. Intriguing theory about the pre/nonop pornstars winning us supporters; I’d like to hear more about it. I believe that people are attracted to honesty and courage above many other human qualities. Trans people as a rule have these qualities in abundance. It’s my feeling that any shame we feel, for whatever reason, leads others to sense we have something to legitimately be ashamed of.

    With regard to my earlier disowning of lingerie, I don’t think it was overexposure as much as it was insecurity. I believe on some level that enjoying those clothes made me more of a CD than a TS (not that one is “better” than the other) and in my own insecurity at the time — even with how I saw myself — I held myself up to a higher standard than I would anyone else. I’m glad I got over that stupid insecurity, because I love dressing sexy just to wear around the house with no erotic motivation at all. I love feeling hot! 🙂

    With regard to oversexed guys hitting on women who refuse to hide or apologize for their sexuality, attractive GGs have to live with it all the time. I’ve found it best to brush off the polite attempts with good humor and put the creeps solidly in their place. I’ve found it’s a skill worth developing instead of hiding who I am and letting creeps control my life.

  3. ronnierho ronnierho says:

    I’ve tried to hide my sexual side away for a couple of reasons: firstly to discourage some of the predators and creeps that open sexuality attracts like bees to an open can of cola. And secondly, because I’ve worried that showing that side would discredit me; that no-one would take anything I said seriously, because well, obviously I was a “whore”.
    But coupled with my new theory that it’s the “shemale pornstars” who are going to win us new supporters, I’m not sure the second reason still stands. Your thoughts?

    And at first glance I suspect your earlier disinterest with lingerie probably came about from over-exposure. It’s the old rule diminishing returns: one hamburger tastes great, two hamburgers good, three hamburgers not so much, four hamburgers ick. But that’s just a theory.

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