by Angus "Andrea" Grieve-Smith

The role of family rejection in anti-trans violence

In 2013, in response to the murder of Islan Nettles, I talked about how a saner approach to sexual relationships between men and trans women, and between men and other men, would do a lot to reduce the number of murders of trans women, particularly poor trans women of color. There was another trans woman killed in the area that year whose story was a bit different, and pointed to another factor that makes a big difference.

Almost two years ago, Eyricka Morgan was killed in a boarding house in New Brunswick, New Jersey. News reports say that she was arguing with a man who also lived in the boarding house, and when the argument got heated he stabbed her in the neck with a butcher knife. Unlike the case of Islan Nettles, there is no mention of any sexual attraction between her and the suspect. It may have just been one of the many kinds of arguments that happen between any two people who live in the same house.

The question I had was why this argument turned violent. There is nothing in the reports to suggest a reason, other than that this was the second fatal stabbing of 2013 in New Brunswick. It may not have had anything to do with the fact that she was trans. These things happen to non-trans people – a point that deserves its own blog post.

Still I wondered whether things would have been different if Morgan’s living situation had been different. What if she had lived in a different neighborhood? What if she had had her own apartment, or shared a house with people she knew and trusted?

It seems likely that Morgan lived in the same boarding house with that murderous young man because she couldn’t afford a safer living arrangement. To understand why that might be, listen to Morgan herself (Part I, 25:30) describing why she left her family home in Newark at the age of fourteen or fifteen: she was regularly beaten by her grandparents and uncles. Later in the panel (Part II, 25:28) she said, “I missed a lot of years of my youth due to something that I did, so I wasn’t really around for my youth years.” If I understand her correctly, she’s saying she spent time in juvenile detention.

So what might Morgan’s life have been like if she had felt safe in her own home as a teenager? Being homeless is a huge drain on a person’s time and energy, and being incarcerated is a huge setback. What could she have accomplished if she hadn’t had to deal with that during those critical teenage years? Would she have been able to finish college on time? Would she have been better prepared for the adult job market?

We know that connections are very valuable when building a career. What might have happened if Morgan had not been cut off from all her family connections? Could her grandmother and her uncles have connected her with jobs if they hadn’t driven her away?

Many parents believe that it is part of their job to police the gender expression of their children, to make sure the boys grow up to be men and the girls grow up to be women. This probably comes from ancient tribal anxieties. The prescription is usually “tough love,” in the form of corporal punishment or verbal abuse.

Can we all agree now that this “tough love” doesn’t work? I’ve met trans people, and gay men, who’ve grown up with it. They didn’t stop being trans or gay. Some of them left home, like Morgan. Others just learned how to hide it. The “best” were able to suppress it. None of them could have “given it up” however badly they wanted to.

If we want to prevent murders like Eyricka Morgan’s, we need to stop parents and grandparents rejecting their kids for being trans or gay. We can fund homeless shelters and outreach programs; I’m sure they help a lot. But Morgan had outreach programs; they’re not enough.

Somewhere along the line, Morgan’s grandmother was taught that if you have a “boy” who wants to act or dress feminine, you should beat the kid, and if they still do it then it’s okay to let them run away and sleep on the streets. She passed that message on to her children – Morgan’s uncles.

In contrast, the first thing my parents did was to make sure I knew that they would always love me, and that I always had a place to stay, no matter what I wore or how I talked.

We need to stop sending parents and caregivers the message that a girly boy is something to be ashamed of. We need to support parents and grandparents who support their kids. That is something we can do to stop people murdering trans people.

We need support to decide whether to transition

As I’ve said before, trans people who have made up their minds to transition should be allowed to change their legal names and gender classifications, and modify their bodies with medically approved hormones or surgery, with no “conversion” or “reparative” therapy required, and legally protected against harassment and discrimination on the basis of trans status. They deserve access to emotional and psychological support services to help them cope with the immense stresses of transition.

Trans people like me who have made up our minds not to transition don’t need to change our bodies, legal names or gender classifications, but we still need to be protected against harassment and discrimination. And as I’ve written before, we need plenty of emotional and psychological support. This includes professional help, fully paid by insurance, but in my experience the professionals tend to be as clueless as everyone else, so non-professional peer support is also necessary.

But those are people who have made their decisions, one way or another. Trans people need help to make their decisions as well. That includes the initial decision to transition or not, and cases where someone changes their mind. Right now, people are just fumbling, and the therapists

Some people experiment with gender presentation. They often say that it’s to try out what it’s like to live as the other gender, but a lot of times it seems to me like simple wish fulfillment, and other times like desperate flailing. I’ve heard of therapists encouraging this kind of experimentation without regard to the ways that experimentation can change a person, putting a thumb on the scales and making it impossible to draw any reasonable conclusions about whether to transition. (This is a whole blog post in itself.)

From what I’ve seen, what passes for “support” for transition decisions on the Internet these days goes like this:

Q: I think I might be trans. I have trans feelings.
A: If you have trans feelings, you’re trans.
Q: I guess I’m trans, then. What do I do now?
A: Every trans person I know eventually transitions.
Q: I guess I’m transitioning, then! Where do I get hormones?
A: Here’s where I got them.

This is what Natalie Reed once told me she saw as her mission in the world. It’s bullshit, and it’s a bait-and-switch, and it needs to stop.

For the past several years, Zinnia Jones has been telling everyone to try hormones for a few weeks, and if they feel much happier then it means they’re Really Trans and should go ahead and transition. The evidence she based this advice on was pathetically scanty, and that alone should be enough to get her skeptic card revoked.

Support for people who decided not to transition and later reconsider is much the same. Once they decide not to transition, they are immediately classified as “not really trans,” and when they reconsider it’s the same Q and A as above.

Several detransitioners, both on the masculine and feminine spectrum, have said that they get virtually no support. As soon as they declare their detransitions they’re kicked out of the trans community (if they were ever accepted). It’s not too surprising that some detransitioned trans men convert to radical feminism after they detransition. It’s one of the few communities that will take them in. We don’t have anything like that on the feminine spectrum.

What I would like to see is trans people making a thorough examination and visioning of all the possibilities we can imagine, including what life might be like when we’re no longer young and pretty, then weighing them to find which one would be most satisfying. That’s what I did, but I don’t see anyone else doing it.

I’ve gotten a lot of email and blog comments from people who tell me how happy they are to find something beyond the usual dogma and flamewars. I do what I can, but nobody’s paying me to do this. I’m not a mental health professional. There should really be a group with a staff and a budget for this, but there isn’t.

As I said above, the principle that Experimentation Changes You deserves a whole blog post, maybe more than one. I’m working on one now.

The Sirens and the Green Witch

This one was kind of long so I thought I’d try posting it on Medium.

How to make love to a trans person (I mean me)

Here’s how to make love to a trans person,
(Actually, a transvestite,
Actually, me,
Because me is all I really know).

The first step is to enter your lover’s fantasy world,
(I mean my fantasy world),
And be their fantasy.

The next step is to let your lover,
(I mean me),
Be their fantasy.
For you that may be the hardest part.

Then there will come a time
During your lovemaking
When the fantasies run out,
When there is no escaping reality,
When your lover,
(I mean I),
Will have to face facts.

The fact that you are two people, two animals,
With real feelings that have been hurt before,
With real fears and sore spots and longings.

Then you must be ready
To stop being fantasy you and start being real you,
To stop making love to your fantasy lover and start loving the real person,
(I mean the real me).

You must be ready to be afraid and let your lover comfort you,
To let them be afraid and comfort them,
(I mean me),
To be two people alone together,
To be two animals grooming each other.

You must be ready to take pleasure in the real person,
(I mean the real me),
To let them take pleasure in the real you,
So that when you’re done making love
You will still have real love.

When you’re advanced you may be able to skip the first couple of steps.

That’s how to make love to a trans person,
(Well, actually, me.
Well, actually, there’s only one person who can make love to me now.
If that person isn’t you,
This might work for other trans people).

At the age of 70, they chose to change their sex

Text and photos by Clément Bürge, New York, for Le Temps, June 26, 2015.

Translated from the French by Angus B. Grieve-Smith, New York, July 4, 2015.

In the United States, the transition of 65 year old former Olympic champion and current reality TV star Bruce Jenner has cast a spotlight on transgender seniors. But his case is far from unique: a growing number of people in their fifties, sixties and seventies are changing their sex. Contrasting portraits.

One day, Michael’s nine-year-old son looked up from his homework towards his father sitting on the couch. For several months Michael and his wife had been in crisis. “What you feel is never going to go away, Papa,” the son said, calmly. “It will always be in you.” That is the moment when Michael, stunned by his son’s words, understood that he would have to cross the abyss. The next day he announced to his wife that, shortly before he turned fifty, he would become a woman.

This choice was all the more difficult because, unlike people who change their sex in their twenties, Michael already had established a life for himself. “My career, my family, my friends, I was running the risk of losing everything I had gained up to that point,” explains Stephanie, the charming blonde that he has become.

Born Michael Battaglino in 1958, she knew from childhood that she was not supposed to be a boy. “I grew up in a very religious Italian family,” she says. “I did not know how to understand what I was feeling.” So Michael decided to get rid of Stephanie, becoming as masculine as he could. “I played football. I weighed 236 pounds.” With his college diploma in hand, Michael got married. And then got married again, and then a third time. “Each marriage ended in divorce after several years,” Stephanie explains. “My life was a lie.”

Today, the insurance vice-president feels better. Her bleached blond hair, purple dress and bracelets stacked on her right arm give the 56-year-old woman a youthful air. “For the first time in my life I feel like myself,” she says, grinding a salad with her square jaw.

In the United States, transsexual seniors are finding themselves in the spotlight for the first time. The sex change of Bruce Jenner, husband of the reality TV star Kris Jenner, made headlines. The Amazon series Transparent, which tells the transition story of a seventy-year-old, won several Golden Globes. In total, it is estimated that around 700,000 people in the United States suffer from what doctors call “gender dysphoria,” including a growing number of elderly people.

“Trans, gay and lesbian culture has always been oriented around young people,” says Vanessa Fabbre, an assistant professor at Washington University in Saint Louis, who has just finished her doctoral dissertation on the subject. “But today, people between fifty and seventy are also joining the movement.” These seniors often have not had any other choice than to wait for the twenty-first century to imagine a transition like this. For them, changing sex at a younger age was impossible. Growing up in a more conservative society than today, their condition was not accepted.

Since then, the internet has arrived and popular culture has evolved. Transitions are easier. Very often, retirement marks the beginning of the process, because the fear of being unemployed has been lifted. “Sometimes a health glitch like a heart attack can remind a person that they are mortal,” notes Vanessa Fabbre. “They begin to count the years they have left and decide to stop hiding.”

Bobbi Swan, a blonde with a sepulchral voice, was born in 1930 in Buffalo, in the north of New York State. “In that era there was not even a word to describe what I was,” the 84-year-old woman remembers.
After finishing school, Bobbi Swan enlisted in the American army. She served in the Korean War and then built a career at Ryan Aeronautical. She worked there her whole life. “I would have ruined my career if I had changed sex earlier,” she explains. “Our main client was the U.S. Department of Defense.” Once she retired, she met people who found themselves in the same situation. She made her decision at the age of 71, traveling to Thailand for sex reassignment surgery.

But even after making their decisions, transsexual seniors face different challenges from their younger peers. Socially, the pressure may be heavier. “My friends all knew me as a woman for fifty years,” explains Dominic Don Gatto, a 63-year-old woman who became a man in his late fifties. “It was hard for some people to accept my transition after having known me for so long. Many of my lesbian friends didn’t want to see me any more once I became a man.” Strangers are quick to make judgmental remarks on the street. “The other day, some teenagers pointed at me and burst out laughing,” says Dominic Don Gatto, his arms covered with tattoos. “People already squint when they see a young trans person; imagine when they come across an old one.”

Physically, an older man or woman is also less able to handle a sex change. The body has become used to inhabiting a gender over the course of decades. For men, the shoulders will have widened and the voice deepened from years of exposure to testosterone. “They also lose hair on their heads and have more body hair,” explains Vanessa Fabbre. “It is more difficult for them to pass as women after a certain age.”
Monica Prata, a trained makeup artist, has made this challenge her career, as a consultant for men wanting to become women. “One of the biggest challenges is teaching them to wear clothing appropriate for their age,” she says. “You can’t wear a miniskirt or too much makeup when you’re seventy years old.”

The medical risks are also higher. “An older person will take longer to recover from an operation,” says Marci Bowers, a surgeon who specializes in sex changes. “Once the genitals are modified, a senior patient will have more difficulty regaining sensation in their sexual organs. It is not impossible for them to have orgasms after the operation, but it is more complicated.” Many patients are also wary of the effects of hormones at that age: “I recently decided to lower my testosterone dose,” explains Dominic Don Gatto, who sports a light beard on his smooth cheeks. “I worry too much about getting cancer or high blood pressure.”

The combined cost of cosmetic surgery, electrolysis, sex reassignment surgery, hormones and clothing changes can also take a toll on older people’s finances. Patricia Harrington, a tall blonde 63-year-old woman with laughing eyes, was ruined by her transition. “I used all my savings to pay for my operations,” says the former programmer. “I have no money left for retirement. I will work to the end of my life.” In contrast, a young trans person will have more time to restore their financial health.

The same bell tolls for Lorna, a 72 year old former piano teacher who underwent her final operation a year ago. “In total, it cost me $400,000,” explains this thin, chic grande dame. “I saved for fifty years for this.”

Little by little the situation improves. Today, ten states in the U.S. require health insurance companies to cover costs related to transition. When celebrities like Bruce Jenner discuss the issue, that may draw public attention to the problem. “What she did is fantastic,” says Stephanie Battaglino. “She has become a spokesperson for all transgender seniors.”

The black sex appeal of Professor Doležal

As I noted in my linguistics blog on Saturday night, there have been several comparisons between Rachel Doležal’s claiming of a black identity and transgender identity claims, and lots of articles condemning any such comparison. Most of those have been faith-based, along the lines of “Their god can’t be the true god, because it says in our holy book that our God is the true one.” But I study transgender phenomena from a skeptical point of view, and I’ve noticed some important commonalities. Of course race and gender are not the same thing, but we deal with them in similar enough ways that one can be a mirror to the other.

Rachel Doležal ca. 2002

You want to dissolve stereotypes …by wearing a black turtleneck in your artist publicity shot?

On Saturday I noted the contrast between the absence of African American English features in Doležal’s speech and the numerous African American features in her appearance, most strikingly of course her hair. I compared it to the many transgender people I know who have spent long hours and serious cash on their visual appearance with no thought given to how they sound. Now, for a non-linguistic angle, I’m going to talk about being sexy.

Maybe I’m reading the wrong blogs (or the right ones), but after three days I haven’t come across anyone talking about how sexy Doležal is. This is funny, because most women in the public eye (and most who aren’t) are subject to constant commentary about their attractiveness – or lack thereof. Here I am looking at her cleavage-baring blouses, her tight pants and tailored jackets, and her curve-accentuating heels, and everyone’s sticking to the script: skin tone and hair. It’s surreal.

When I went looking tonight, I did find two insightful comments that articulated what I was also thinking. An anonymous commenter on the “Toddler” section of the YouBeMom forum, of all places, wrote, “Rachel Dolezal was an awkward looking white woman and is now attractive as a light skinned black woman. Say what you will about her lies but her new skin and hair suit her.” Writer Calaya Reid had a much longer take which is worth reading in full, but here’s the key part, invoking Jessica Care Moore: “Maybe she’s trying to tap into her Black girl juice. Maybe she’s admitting what everyone knows and what everyone seems to want you to forget — that there’s a power to this thing of being a Black woman. That there’s some wizardry, some cosmic brilliance to this skin you’re in. There really is Black girl juice.”

I should note that I’ve only seen five or six pictures of “white” Doležal, and she was pretty young in most of them. “Awkward” wasn’t the word that came to mind, but I was definitely thinking “demure.” The publicity photo she used right after she graduated Howard in 2002 was a bit more sophisticated, but really didn’t do much to counter the impression of being a well-brought up Christian girl from Montana.

I’m not sure I need to say this, but it is definitely possible to be sexy as a white woman with straight blonde hair. You may have seen a few on television. Superficially it seems like it would be easier for her to go with her natural assets, but Doležal chose to dye and perm her hair to be a sexy black woman with utterly unnatural “natural hair.” Why?

I get the impression Doležal is her own hairdresser, so only she knows for sure. But here’s where her actions feel familiar to me as a transgender person, and as a transvestite in particular. Because I only feel like I know how to be sexy as a woman. I know what clothes flatter my body, and what makeup and hairstyle go with the clothes to make a sexy look. As a guy, I only go with what people tell me, but I never know if I’m doing it right. I constantly feel like I’m fumbling in the dark.

I could be totally off-base with this, but I get the feeling that Doležal feels like she only knows how to be sexy as a black woman. She knows not just the hair and the clothes, but the jewelry and the eyebrows. And when she’s tried to make it work as a blonde woman, she never knows if she’s doing it right.

The irony here is that if I achieve any actual sexiness as a woman, it’s superficial and it never attracts anyone that I actually want to attract. Sometimes it looks good in still photos, but I’ve been told by people whose opinion I trust that in person it feels false and disconnected from my true self, not necessarily because of gender. Meanwhile, I have on some occasions managed to be sexy as a guy, usually just by being able to relax, to be myself and to own my true sexuality. Of course, nobody can tell you how to act natural.

Again, I feel the same way when I watch videos of Rachel Doležal. The moment she moves, the moment she opens her mouth, the sexy black professor disappears and I see a scared white girl hiding inside. A profoundly unsexy scared white girl. But I hope that for her sake, she has also managed at times to relax, and to be as truly sexy as I have been. It’s a beautiful feeling.

Selections from the Facebook chats of Myra Breckenridge

Mike Silver: Yo Myron! Wow, dude, I had no idea.
Myra Breckenridge: I’m not Myron.
Mike Silver: Sorry, man, I get it. Myra. You look way hotter than you did as Myron.
Myra Breckenridge: I never was Myron. Who’s Myron?
Mike Silver: Whoa, sorry, bear with me. Yeah, you were always Myra inside. I felt it, man! There was always something girly about you, even that time when we snuck under the bleachers to look up Emma Liu’s skirt.
Myra Breckenridge: No, you don’t- I’m not- Fuck!
Mike Silver: ??? Anyhoo, some people are worried on your wall.
Myra Breckenridge: How’d you find me, Mike?
Mike Silver: fb asked me to tag you in your profile pic

Grayden Liu: Hey Myra, your trans too? You look awesome! Did you get your hormones at the Eastdale clinic? I’m so jealous! They have a wait list for trans men.
Myra Breckenridge: What? Emma Liu? !!!

Myra J. Breckenridge: You fucker! Identity thief! You know how long I was on the phone with Banana Republic trying to get my rewards points back? If I ever track you down I’m gonna kikk your ass!

Steve Daniels: Wow, u are a hot tranny! so feminine. still have ur dick? That’s how I like it! are u on Grindr?

Stephanie Ridgenbreck: Myron? Mike Silver posted that he found you. Don’t do this to me again, Myron! I mean Myra! Bear with me, sweetie. I’ll get it right eventually! Come back, we’ll go shopping with Jen at Target!
Myra Breckenridge: I always hated shopping with Jen as a boy, mom. Why would it be better as a girl?

Laverne Cox: I welcome our sister Myra Breckenridge to Facebook and wish her luck in her acting career. But while her struggles are significant, we must remember the pervasive violence and discrimination that trans women of color face daily.

Jordan DiGiulio: Hey Myra you look GORGEOUS! Mike Silver told me you transitioned, but I didn’t believe it. Your skin is flawless! I’m so jealous.
Myra Breckenridge: Coming from you, Jordan, that is quite a compliment! You were always the most popular girl in tenth grade. How are the kids?
Jordan DiGiulio: Aw, you’re so sweet! Anyway, here’s this BuzzFeed article that made me think of you
Myra Breckenridge: The one about the women in Kyrgyzstan who wear “Man hats” when they pick apples? Yeah, I saw that one back in October.
Jordan DiGiulio: I bet you can totally relate!
Myra Breckenridge: Oh, totally.
Jordan DiGiulio: I mean, gender!
Myra Breckenridge: Thanks for thinking of me! 😀

Justin Haripaul: Hey Myra! You look great! Why didn’t you tell me about this?
Myra Breckenridge: Oh Justin, I didn’t think you’d understand.
Justin Haripaul: Listen, you’re my friend and I’m there for you. We’ll make things work for you in New York. You didn’t need to run away!
Myra Breckenridge: You’re so sweet!
Justin Haripaul: Where in California are you? Samantha and I will get a flight out there. We want to make sure you’re safe.
Myra Breckenridge: I’m actually not in California.
Justin Haripaul: Huh?? Where are you?
Myra Breckenridge: Hackensack, right near the Anderson Ave station
Justin Haripaul: Hackensack?
Myra Breckenridge: This is as far as I could get without showing ID

Icky surgeries

I’ve always been disturbed by the idea of transgender surgery, and of surgery relating to appearances in general. Part of it is because surgery is generally icky, part is because it’s objectively dangerous, and part is because there are doubts about how effective it is at helping us to deal with our transgender feelings. There are situations where most of us would agree that surgery is ineffective or not worth the risk. I’ve met some people – trans and not trans, of all genders – with facial features that are clearly artificial, unattractive, and worse-looking than if they had just left things the way they were.

Surgery is also expensive. This means that making cosmetic surgery the norm – whether for trans people or for large segments of the population at large, as I’ve heard it is in places like California, Korea and Venezuela – gives an advantage to people who can better afford it.

While I have no interest in getting any such surgery, there are a few things that have made me more comfortable with the idea for other people, and in general.

The first was a discussion I had with some friends in grad school. One guy told a story about a time when he was driving home from work late at night, overtired, and blacked out and hit a telephone pole. The impact split his face open, but surgeons were able to reconstruct it. I was shocked, because I had no idea that anything had happened to him. He told me that his beard helped to hide the scars. At that point I realized the value of that kind of surgery: it had spared him a lifetime of disfigurement.

The author, pre-"surgery"Another was the realization that I have in fact had cosmetic facial surgery, on a small scale. In the past I’ve been complimented for having a youthful, feminine face, but I thought that was all luck of the genes. Then one day I read that the width of a person’s mouth is a major factor when people judge a face to be a man’s or a woman’s.

When I was a kid I had crooked teeth, basically because there wasn’t enough room in my mouth for all of my teeth. When I was fifteen my mom took me to get braces, but my orthodontist said that before he put them on I had to get four bicuspids removed so that all the teeth could line up. So he sent me to an oral surgeon. It’s certainly not what most people think of as surgery: the procedure took about an hour, and the anesthetic was just a relatively high dose of novocain. (The oral surgeon offered me a valium, but I declined.) But removing four large, healthy adult teeth and then sewing up the gums was a fairly major procedure for dental work.

If I had not had those teeth removed, I would probably have had to have my wisdom teeth removed a few years later, but all my teeth together would probably also have taken up more space, giving me a wider mouth and a more masculine appearance, and maybe even making my jaw grow bigger than it has. So I believe the result was some permanent facial … not exactly “feminization,” but anti-masculinization.

As I said, surgery is generally icky, and dangerous, but there are some times when it is clearly life-saving, like an appendectomy. I think most of us can agree that it was also good that surgeons were able to reconstruct my grad school friend’s face so that people didn’t grimace when they saw him. On the other hand, even in circumstances like those there are people who would not care about the grimacing and would choose the minimum amount of surgery to be able to physically function, and forgo anything beyond that.

It is important to recognize that when people choose to have cosmetic surgery, they are often not acting rationally. They may be under a mistaken belief that the surgery will satisfy a glamour longing that they feel. They may be addicted to the danger, or to the excitement of a new image. Their minds may be clouded by gender fog. Many people are not well-informed of the risks of surgery – even the simple risk that what they get may not look very good, or may not age well.

The bottom line is that adults should be free to choose what kind of surgery is done to modify their bodies, and children should be allowed to make reasonable modifications that they are not likely to regret in the future. Part of living in a free country is giving people the freedom to act irrationally, or in rational ways that are beyond our understanding.

Transgender, and 55+ years in the closet

One thing jumped out at me from Bruce Jenner’s ABC interview about his transgender feelings, beliefs and actions: he has been wearing women’s clothes in private for over fifty-five years. I noticed this when I listened to Lana Wachowski’s speech to the Human Rights Campaign, and even when I read interviews with Richard O’Brien. All three described being fascinated with women’s clothes since childhood. Why didn’t they feel comfortable telling anyone about it before they started taking hormones and wearing women’s clothes in public?

Let me be clear: I am not blaming Jenner, Wachowski or O’Brien; they are completely entitled to their choices. I can understand people not wanting to talk about a private aspect of their life, and nobody is required to talk to the media about their transgender feelings or beliefs if they don’t want to, no matter how famous they are. Actor, director, sports star, stepfather to reality television superstars, everyone has a right to privacy.

I can understand people not wanting to discuss their life plans before they’re finalized. If someone is planning to go back to school for their MD, or move to Portland, or live the rest of their life as a woman, they need to figure out how to do what’s right for themself while honoring their obligations to family and friends. It may take a long time to do that, and they don’t need to tell anyone.

And yet, Jenner and Wachowski are just two in a long line of trans women who talk about wearing women’s clothes in secret for years before declaring their gender transitions. (O’Brien is a bit different: he made his feelings and beliefs pretty clear in his plays and movies.) There are hardly any famous trans women who feel comfortable talking about their feelings or actions while deciding whether to transition, let alone wearing women’s clothes in public. And among those famous trans women who have decided not to transition, very few are out about it in any way.

you dont have to transitionFor me, as someone who decided long ago not to transition, the support that these declarations receive from some quarters rings a bit hollow. Often it feels like people are cheering the transition more than expressing support for people who have trans feelings. And it makes me wonder: what would they have said in 1995 if Wachowski had simply mentioned in an interview that she was considering transitioning but hadn’t made up her mind? Or in 1985 if Jenner had told Phil Donohue that he was a cross-dresser? It makes me wonder: would these people show the same support to someone who chose my path?

Would you show the same support to someone who chose my path? Would you want to know about my transgender feelings, regardless of what I do about them? Would you defend me against discrimination? Would you support my right to use bathrooms consistent with my gender expression, even if my gender expression changes from day to day?

If so, please tell the world. Say it louder. Because I don’t think Bruce Jenner heard you.

Predators, prey and gender overlap

In 2013 I wrote about how I and many other people sometimes interact with the world as a woman, and sometimes as a man. Some people are very uncomfortable with this. They may accept the idea that a person is “really” a different gender inside, or that they have to live as a different gender, but they want everyone to transition and get it over with. They hate the idea that someone could be a man one day and a woman the next and a man again the following day, or even both simultaneously.

hello fellow1s

I puzzled over this for years, but I think I’ve figured out now why some people are violently opposed (many of them quite literally) to the idea of someone being both a man and a woman. It is because they see the two categories as not just incompatible but as antagonists, even enemies. It is because they see men as predators and women as prey.

Our culture has many metaphors based on this model. We talk about sexual predators (the vast majority of them are men), men being out on the prowl, women as trophies and feathers in caps. We talk about the chase and about the thrill of the hunt. There are other metaphors where women are valuable prizes won by men, and in the other direction where men are fish or bears, and women are trying to catch them with nets and traps, but the ones where men are hunting women are more common.

These metaphors are not created out of thin air. In my first grade class a common pastime of the boys was to have “girl chases” (I boycotted them on principle, so I don’t know what happened if a boy ever caught a girl). When I was a teenager I learned from movies and songs that getting a pretty girl – or at least having a pretty girl say that she liked him – was one of the main goals in life, and a way that a boy could get people to like and respect him.

I have known people who really do relate to the other primary gender in those terms most of the time. I’ve known men whose first reaction on meeting a woman is to size her up as a potential mate. Those who are suitable they pursue, and if they catch them they may use them and drop them. Those who are not suitable they try to ignore, or to relate to as “one of the guys.” If that fails, they are often at a loss.

Similarly, I have known women who evaluate all men as potential threats. Those who turn out to be threats they may run away from, or grit their teeth and try to bear it. Those who are not threats they try to ignore, or dismiss as annoying boys. If that fails, they are similarly at a loss.

Some women reject the idea that trans people who were raised male can be women, but are occasionally willing to make an exception for passable trans women with lots of female socialization – provided that they transition, get rid of as much of their maleness as possible, and then stay transitioned. If we spend any time as men, we’re automatically disqualified. This makes sense if they are thinking of us as predators: we can’t be simultaneously predators and prey, so we must be wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Similarly, men who attack trans women seem to do so when they feel attracted, but there is some unmistakable sign of the trans woman’s maleness. This also can be understood (not excused, of course) if they are thinking of men as predators and women as prey. Just when they think they have caught their prey and begin to let their guard down, she turns into a predator before their eyes!

Anyone who has actually made the effort to relate to people of other genders as human beings knows how superficial this way of thinking is, and how unrewarding. The reality is that both men and women are people, and every person is a complex individual. Some are nice and some are not. But of course, if they’re treating you either like a predator or like prey, you can’t get to know them anyway.