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Xenophobia: “Us” and “Them”

| Jul 25, 2011
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Dallas Denny

I’ve been feeling singularly non-creative this week (no doubt due to the oppressive summer heat), so I dug up one of my unpublished articles. It was written in 1994. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time anyone other than me has seen it. I think it was pertinent 17 years ago is and still pertinent today.

Xenophobia: “Us” and “Them”

Two weeks ago, I was having dinner with an assortment of folks representing the major gender organizations in Atlanta: Sigma Epsilon (a Tri-Ess Chapter), Atlanta Gender Explorations (an open support group), the Southern Comfort conference, and AEGIS (a national information and referral service). Those present were all prominent members of the transgender community, and ranged from crossdressers to transgenderists to a post-op transsexual person (me).

I had just come from the annual meeting of the Eastern Regional division of Quad-Ess, the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, an organization of sexologists. While there, I had purchased a little book called Femalia.

Edited by Joan Blank and published by Down There Press in San Francisco, Femalia consists of more than 30 close-up, full-color photographs of female genitalia.

Femalia is a book by a woman for women. The photographs are a far cry from the usual photographs of female genitalia, which are produced by men for men and which eroticize and often airbrush female body parts. The photographs in Femalia show the genitals in a non-erotic, matter-of-fact way. The book was published so women, who are often insecure about the appearance of their own genitalia, can see that there is a great deal of variability in the appearance, size, and color of labia, clitoris, and vaginas, and that their own genitals fit within that range.

I was happy to find the book for several reasons. First, I was joyful that women now had such a resource, and second, I was pleased to have a book which transsexual women contemplating sex reassignment surgery could use as a benchmark against which to compare the work of various surgeons.

In my enthusiasm, I mentioned to the two crossdressers sitting closest to me that I had bought the book, and described what it was. I was not expecting their responses, which were a far cry from my woman-oriented viewpoint.

I won’t identify the two by name, but for convenience sake, let’s call one Sally, and the other Samantha. The two agreed that it was a good idea to keep women in the dark about how their genitals look. “You can tell them that it’s so ugly no one else would want to touch it,” said Sally. Samantha shook his/her head in agreement.

In that moment of male chauvinism and female denigration, I understood just how much my views about men and women differed from those of my dinner companions. For a horrible instant, it was 1961 and I was in the sixth grade again, listening to my male classmates talk about girls as if they were pieces of meat. Then, just as rapidly, I was back in the present, listening to two men in dresses make sexist remarks.

Our community can be seen as composed of those who are like us, and those who are like others, just as it was for me at that dinner. But there is no clear-cut and immovable dividing line. The community is no longer made up of those who identify themselves as crossdressers and those who identify themselves as transsexual. Neither is it divided between those who are sexually attracted to males and those who are attracted to females. Nor is it made up of those who are woman-oriented, and those who are not. No, the dividing line is wherever we wish to draw it at the moment, and we can literally draw the line anywhere, and move it at any time we wish.

Human being come in all sizes, colors, shapes, and varieties, and the real trick in life, I am convinced, is to appreciate the ways in which we differ while at the same time appreciating the ways in which we are alike. The fact is, people are much more alike than they are different, but we tend to focus on the differences and blow them all out of proportion. It’s an old human habit. It’s called xenophobia, and it’s the reason the people in Bosnia-Herzegovina, people who look and sound pretty much alike to most of us Westerners, are killing each other. And it’s the same all over the world: in Northern Ireland, in the Middle East, in Africa. People who differ in relatively minor ways are killing each other over those differences.

Our transgender tendencies certainly don’t exempt us from fear of others. Xenophobia surfaces in our community in many ways: as homophobia, as putdowns of crossdressers by transsexual people, and of transsexual people by crossdressers, by sneers at those who don’t pass from those who do, and by resentment of people who do pass from those who don’t.

The fact is that all of us– straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transgenderist, crossdresser, and everyone with individually made-up self designations– share many common factors that make it important for us to work and play together. Not the least of these is that in numbers lies strength. Ben Franklin said it best at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Our unity buys us political power, and in that power lies the promise of a future in which we are not persecuted and the potential of living openly without guilt or fear. Our unity buys us mutual support, and companionship, and self-respect, and self-empowerment, and a synergy which can make wonderful things happen.

And what do we have if we give in to our xenophobia and don’t band together? At best, little enclaves, powerless, closeted, and fearful.

One way to fight xenophobia is to make our organizations open to all. This is anathema to many proponents of focused or closed groups. They have lots of reasons for their groups remaining closed. “The wives can’t handle gay crossdressers,” many heterosexual crossdressers say, not realizing that the presence of gay crossdressers will confirm the heterosexuality of heterosexual crossdressers to those very wives. “She has transsexual issues, and we can’t help her,” they say, forcing the individual either out into the cold or into a setting in which sex reassignment is actively advocated. “He can’t come here; he’s a crossdresser,” transsexual groups say, denying the validity of the gender issues which brought the individual to them in the first place.

If we must draw lines, the most appropriate place to do so is between all of us who are struggling for civil and human rights, a sense of dignity and self-worth, and the right to express ourselves freely, and those who would deny us those rights. The other lines we draw disempower us.

Copyright 1994 and 2011 by Dallas Denny

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Category: Transgender Body & Soul, Transgender Opinion

Dallas Denny

About the Author ()

Much of Dallas' work is available on her website. Dallas Denny is a writer, activist, and educator. She holds a M.A. and was licensed to practice psychology for many years. She retired her license after relocating to Georgia. Dallas founded and was for eight years Executive Director of the American Educational Gender Education Service. She started the Atlanta Gender Explorations support group in 1990. She was part of the group that started the Southern Comfort conference and did programming for the conference. She has long been involved with Fantasia Fair, where she was Director for six years. Dallas was editor of the journal "Chrysalis" from 1990-1998 and "Transgender Tapestry" from 2000-2006. She has three published three books and many book chapters and journal and magazine articles. Dallas holds a number of honors, including IFGE’s Trinity and Virginia Prince Lifetime Achievement Awards and Real Life Experience’s Transgender Pioneer Award.

Comments (1)

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  1. tami ann tami ann says:

    Just read above. So true. So true. Just cannot understand one who is dealing with cd td whatever would give you such a negative feed back. Tami Ann
    (older tv cd)
    Just hired a new priest for oour church. when asked what he thought about Gays he replied “some people are left handed and some right handed” very thoughtful piece. Thank you.

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