Feelings, beliefs and actions III

Recently I wrote that most of us under the “transgender umbrella” – transvestites, transsexuals, genderqueer, non-binary, drag queens, butch lesbians and all the others – all feel either gender dysphoria or transgender desire, or both. Our interpretations of these feelings may be different. But more importantly, there are a wide variety of possible actions in response to those feelings, and none of those actions are more automatic or necessary than any other.

A lot of us feel a desire to be a particular gender. Whether we see the goal as changing our gender or others’ perceptions of it, the feeling is similar. We also feel a desire to escape a gender, whether or not we see it as our true gender. Not all of us feel both feelings, we don’t all feel them to the same degree, and the feelings are not constant for any of us. Most of us, to one degree or another, feel conflicting desires to remain in or return to another gender, or discomfort with our target gender.

There is also a difference in beliefs, and how these beliefs inform our interpretations of our trans feelings. Some trans people believe that they are and have always been, innately and invisibly, the “other” gender. Others believe that they are simply “expressing their feminine side,” or “performing female masculinity.” Some believe they are and have always been genderfluid or bigender. Some believe that “true trans people” exist, but that they are not among them, despite their feelings. Some are skeptical of all these claims about invisible essences.

The biggest differences lie in what we do about those feelings. Some transgender actions are public: being visibly trans or talking about being trans in public spaces or in the media. Some involve interacting with the public, but more quietly: social or legal transition, public crossdressing, ambiguous gender presentation.

Some trans actions are more personal, although they can affect our presentation in public: hormones, surgery and soft body mods. Some can be private, like private crossdressing, underdressing, secret fantasies or even doing nothing.

Some of these actions are irreversible and involve a permanent commitment. Some are reversible with difficulty. Some are reversible with time, and some are easily reversible. In many ways, doing nothing has consequences over time.

I’ve seen a lot of people on Tumblr and Reddit asking, “Am I trans?” Someone half-jokingly responded that if you ask the question, you’re trans. And I responded that the real question is what you do about it. As Jamison Green said, “there is NOT one way to be trans.” There is no one set of actions that all FTM trans people take, and no one set for all MTF people.

Transgender actions, after all, are a means to an end. That end is making us more comfortable with our transgender feelings, relieving our discomfort with the gender that we live in and our longing to be another gender. Of course one way of doing that is to live, as much as we can, as the gender we long to be. But it is not the only way.

Which is the right path, the right set of transgender actions? Nobody really knows for sure. The decision is easiest if you know you’re either in the “transition or die” group or the “transition and die” group – where you would commit suicide if you transitioned, or if you didn’t. Those in the “transition or be miserable” or the “transition and be miserable” group can be fairly sure of themselves – to the extent they know whether they’re in one of those groups!


Those of us in the “transition optional” group will just have to muddle along, trying one thing or another, seeing what seems to work for other people and what doesn’t seem to work. But it’s important to keep in mind that our choices, our transgender actions, don’t necessarily say anything about what we Really Are Inside, or what our True Destiny Is.

What is an ally?

What is an ally? No, really. The way people have been using the term in identity politics is a significant extension over previous uses. It’s important to understand this, and its implications.

Allies have been a tricky topic in trans politics lately: how should they be treated? Do allies have rights or responsibilities? How does someone earn ally status? Are lesbian, gay and bisexual people automatically allies? What about bondage, domination and sadomasochism fetishists? Are different kinds of trans people (transvestites, transsexuals, genderqueer) automatically allies with each other? Can ally status be revoked? What does it mean to be an ally, anyway?

When I hear the word “ally” outside of identity politics, I think of the Allies of the Second World War. The thing about them is that they were allied for a very specific reason: to win the war against the Axis. Maybe there were noises about Freedom and Civilization, but 75 years later it seems pretty clear that those were just propaganda. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were allies for the partition of Poland, but once that was over the Nazis didn’t need the Soviets, and the alliance was over. The Soviets joined the Allied Powers, and after the Nazis were defeated we went right into the Cold War. The countries were allied while they shared a goal, and when they didn’t share that goal any more, they were no longer allies.

An example of an alliance like this is gay men and MTF trans people uniting for greater police protection, because bashers don’t respect our categories and will target us as “faggots” or “trannies” regardless of what words we use. There is a shared goal that unites us, regardless of ideology, and that is personally relevant for us.

Allyship in identity politics is usually not like the Allies of World War Two. On the surface, at least, it’s about shared goals, but these goals are not equally relevant to both groups. Bathroom rights are tangible to me but abstract to a gay man who never imagines using the women’s room. Same-sex marriage is important to my gay and lesbian friends, and even to my trans friends who may be in a relationship that would be denied recognition under certain laws, but to me it’s abstract.

On the surface, again, there is often an appeal to principles. Just as the Allies in World War II talked about Freedom and Civilization, allies in today’s identity politics appeal to Equality, Fairness, Acceptance and Mutual Respect. In theory that should be enough. Don’t you want fairness for everyone? Just sign onto our agenda!

In practice, high-minded principles like Fairness and Acceptance go out the window when they conflict with Our Goals, just like Freedom and Civilization went out the window when it looked like the Soviet Union might take over all of Germany. You can expect some individuals to hold to principles, but politicians rarely do. We kind of understood that after World War II, but we have trouble with it when it comes to LGBT alliances.

On a deeper level there’s more to alliances than that. I’ll get to it in a future post.

We are the same…

Some people seem perplexed that sometimes I talk as though transvestites and transsexuals are the same, and sometimes as though they’re different. There’s really no mystery here, though: in some ways we’re similar and in other ways we’re different. It’s like cats and dogs: they’re similar in lots of ways, and different in others.

In future posts I’ll talk a bit about ways that we’re different, but tonight I want to focus on what we have in common: feelings. In particular, the desire to be “the other” gender and unhappiness with “the current” gender. I’ve found that these two feelings are present to some degree in every trans person I’ve met, whether transsexual, transvestite, cross-dresser, drag queen, two spirit, queen, genderqueer, genderfluid, non binary or anything else under the umbrella.

There have been some arguments lately about whether you have to be dysphoric to be “really trans.” Some have claimed that if you don’t hate every minute of your life as your assigned gender, you’re not part of the club. Some have argued that you need “body dysphoria” – a hatred of everything that feels like the gender you were assigned. My body dysphoria is relatively mild and mostly involves my weight, but gender dysphoria in general captures a lot of what I feel like I have in common with transitioners and other trans people.

The desire to be the other gender is not the same as dysphoria, but it is connected to dysphoria. Some people feel dysphoria but not desire, others feel desire but not dysphoria, and many feel both. There are other feelings as well, particularly gender fog, that seem pretty common; I invite you to look at my list of feelings and see which ones you feel, which ones you don’t feel, and which feelings you feel that I didn’t list.

It’s important to point out that these feelings are never constant. No feelings are. I’ve seen a lot of people post on Reddit and Tumblr that their dysphoria or desire seems to have recently increased, or diminished, or even disappeared entirely. That’s normal.

These feelings can also be connected to thoughts about the short term or the long term. Some people want to be a man for the rest of their lives, and some people want to stop being a man for the rest of their lives. Some people just want to be a woman for a day or an evening, and some people just want to stop being a woman for a year, or an hour, or long enough to get past those guys on the corner.

I said that every trans person I met has expressed one of these two feelings, but I don’t want to go from there to making universal claims about who’s trans and who isn’t. I’m open to the possibility that there are people who don’t feel these feelings, but are still trans in some meaningful way.

I also want to point out that a lot of so-called “cis” people have had these feelings at some point. In general, I have the impression that most people who would call themselves “trans” have the feelings more often, and more intensely, than others. But I regularly hear about people who have fairly intense dysphoria or desire who say that they’re not trans.

As Jamison Green said, “there is NOT one way to be transgender,” and there is not one set of actions to take in response to these feelings. In recent posts I’ve talked about transgender feelings and beliefs, and I’ll talk about transgender actions in future posts.

These feelings aren’t the only thing that trans people have in common, but they’re a major source of the things we have in common. We do have things that separate us, and I’ll talk about those in future posts as well.