The importance of being hombres

On Facebook someone posted a while ago asking where in Queens there were bars showing RuPaul’s Drag Race. The answer was a bar called Hombres.

At gay bars and other places explicitly marked as male spaces, you’ll often find not just drag fans but drag queens, transvestites and other non-transitioning trans people. You will also find that when we get home from these spaces we usually take off the makeup and falsies and look a lot like men. Sometimes we change into guy clothes before we leave the bar. Sometimes we wear guy clothes the whole time.

This guyness extends to other environments. We usually present as guys at our day jobs, when we’re doing laundry, and when we go hiking. Interacting with the world as women is a relatively small part of our lives.

This is often used by transitioned trans women to deny that we are trans, and thus to deny us a voice in transgender politics. In 2014 there was a heated debate over who had the right to declare words like “tranny” taboo. RuPaul and other drag queens saw the words as either not particularly offensive or ripe for reclamation, while a group of transitioners saw them as potent slurs.

The transitioners were used to having the upper hand in these verbal hygiene debates by virtue of ideologies of linguistic self-determination, in which only members of a group have standing to determine which words are appropriate names for the group and its members, and which words are offensive. But the drag queens had long been considered part of the “transgender umbrella” with equal standing to transitioned trans people.

The transitioners’ response was to redefine “trans women.” Zinnia Jones wrote a petition stating that “Cisgender male drag queens are assigned male at birth, and they neither consider themselves to be women nor live as women in their everyday lives. Unlike trans women, they are not the ones who regularly face the consequences of widespread transphobia and transmisogyny, and they are not confronted with the fallout of normalizing transmisogynist slurs.”

It’s highly debatable whether people who regularly go to drag bars face less transphobia than people who are out during the day, but victimhood wasn’t originally part of the definition of transgender, and it shouldn’t be.

It’s also not clear that drag queens don’t consider themselves to be women. I’ve never been to Hombres but if it’s anything like the gay bars I’ve been to, chances are that inside you’ll probably hear all the drag queens, and even some of the more masculine-presenting people, referred to with “she” pronouns and in Spanish, feminine adjectives.

This may occasionally be a mockery of femininity, but most of the time it is a response to a simple desire to be classified as women in a particular situation. Some people have observed that it is relatively common for people to spend months or years living as men and performing in drag shows, and then later transition to living as women, for a variety of reasons.

That is only part of the story. Many drag queens and other trans women have decided that we don’t want to transition. When people are allowed to be free with our genders, we choose what works for us, from one column or another. Drag queens go to bars called Hombres and answer to “she.” I buy nylons for women and razors for men. I have friends who buy jackets for men and bras for women. Everyone mixes and matches on some level.

So are we transgender? Are we trans women? The key fact in my mind is that many of us experience one or both of the key feelings of gender dysphoria (in our case, discomfort living as men) or transgender desire (wanting to live as women). The fact that we cope with these feelings without adopting a full-time identity as a woman or modifying our bodies does not mean that we don’t feel the feelings.

If you force us to choose one gender and stick with it, we will probably say we’re men, and there’s a good reason for it. We’ve got these bodies and we’re not changing them, and on some level we’re used to living as men. We probably also know, maybe from firsthand experience, that being a woman is no picnic either.

If you know that you’re not going to transition, and you’re going to spend eighty percent, ninety percent of your life or more interacting with the world as a man, and if someone forces you to choose whether to think of yourself as a man or a woman, it makes sense to choose man. That means your internal self-image and your external self-image match for most of your week.

So yes, we call ourselves men, but that is because our binary society pressures us to choose men or women. It does not mean that we’re always happy being men, and it doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t choose both if we could, or whichever one fits at the time.

Four observations about attraction to trans people

There have been a lot of arguments over whether it’s okay for some people to not find trans people attractive. I’ve got things to say about that, but first I wanted to get some facts cleared up.

  1. It’s not just trans women complaining about this. Recently a masculine-spectrum friend told me he was upset that a partner of his might not be attracted to him as a man. He wasn’t just personally hurt; he found it transphobic. So despite what you might hear from certain radical feminists, this is not just a plot by “males” to eliminate lesbians. It’s a concern for all kinds of trans people.
  2. Trans people are not inherently unattractive. Just look at the successes of “shemale porn” and Buck Angel if you want counterevidence. There are women who are attracted to trans women, men who are attracted to trans men, and trans and nonbinary people who are attracted to all genders.
  3. Sexual preference is not the only thing that determines attraction. A woman once told me that she was attracted to both men and women, but she didn’t find tall women with big shoulders attractive, or short guys with big hips. Just because people aren’t attracted to you doesn’t mean they’re not attracted to trans people.
  4. Attractiveness is not the same as validation of our gender presentation. Someone can find me intensely attractive because they think I’m a cute guy in a skirt and not because they think of me as a woman. Whether people mind this depends in part on how committed they are to their gender identifications.

Definitions and protections

I’ve written before about how I would like to find common cause with other people who are critical of essentialist transgender ideology, but I get alienated by the nasty rhetoric that many of them throw around. A case in point is this article by Taylor Fogarty. I follow some people on Twitter who post good stuff, but they also tweeted approvingly about Fogarty’s article, which is

Fogarty begins with a reasonable attack on the concept of gender identity, which I have also roundly criticized on this blog as a faith-based argument masking a prescriptive set of identity-based behavioral expectations. She also critiques the “cotton ceiling” claims of some trans activists, which are not entirely without basis, but still very problematic, and deserving of a more nuanced critique.

The rest of Fogarty’s argument is based on a flawed understanding of how the law protects people from discrimination. It goes something like this: The law mandates punishment for people who hurt others based on their sexuality. In order to establish hurt, we need to define protected sexualities, and in order to do that we need to define sexes, all based on “objective fact.”

I am not a lawyer, but I know this isn’t the way the law works, and with good reason. My father was actually gay-bashed in the 1970s. He was a skinny guy with long hair, and he was waiting to cross Sixth Avenue at Waverly Place when he heard someone yell “Faggot!” and something hit him on the back of the head. He was knocked unconscious, but got stitched up at the hospital. The police weren’t interested, because at the time there were no hate crimes laws, and they didn’t have enough to go on for assault.

My dad was not gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, he just wasn’t. Neither was Ever Orozco, who was stabbed to death in Jackson Heights in 2013. But Orozco’s killer accused Orozco of blowing kisses at him, so he was prosecuted for a hate crime.

This is the way it should be, because the problem is not that these classes of people exist out there in some objective reality, and haters are picking one to beat up. The problem is that these categories exist in haters’ minds as threats, and therefore targets. They could construct a nonsensical category including Tibetans, Lutherans, plushies and maybe some Rotarians, and it would be just as destructive as any that Fogarty claims to be based on objective fact.

Fogarty’s logic is not the logic of the law. It’s the logic of fear, where the response to trauma is to divide the world up into the righteous, beleaguered Us and the nasty, savage Them, with strong laws and definitions protecting Us from Them. The idea that a straight man could be the innocent target of anti-gay violence has probably never occurred to her. She might find a way to say that they don’t deserve protections anyway, but maybe she’s better than that.

What microaggressions are and aren’t

A few years ago I was shopping for clothes at a chain store in New York City. I had already tried on several dresses, and had found a nice suit I wanted to buy. As I was handing my discards to the changing room attendant, she said, “You need to use the changing room on the third floor.”

I had a guess as to what that might be about, but it still hurt to get off the escalator and see that the third floor was all menswear. There was no way I was marching in to the men’s changing room in a skirt and makeup. I brought my dresses back down to the first floor changing room. When the attendant saw me she said, “Oh you’re back,” but she still led me to a room.

The winter before last I was in a different store, shopping for a coat, wearing full makeup and jewelry (see the photo above). I went up to the mezzanine, where most of the women’s clothes were. A salesclerk asked if she could help me, so I asked where the coats were. She told me the basement, so I took the elevator down to find only menswear. I went back up and found the women’s coats on the ground floor. I didn’t buy anything.

Instead I went to a different store and found a nice coat. When I got to the counter the clerk looked me up and down, gave me a big smile and said, “You look great, girl! Going out tonight?”

Last week I didn’t even want to go shopping, but my boots were a little too big, so I went looking for some socks. figured it was a good time to buy some of the over-the-calf socks that were in style this winter. I went into a store, but the only women’s socks I saw, a small display by the cash registers, were ankle socks.

I looked around, and found a sign saying that in the basement they had men’s clothes and women’s clothes. I went downstairs, and the only socks I saw were men’s socks. I was heading for the escalator when a salesclerk asked if she could help me find anything.

“Socks,” I said.
“Right over here.” She led me back to the men’s socks.
“Those are men’s socks.”
“Right. You wanted – oh.”

She saw the look on my face and immediately apologized. She asked a co-worker where the women’s socks were, and he told her upstairs, by the register. As she led me back there she explained that she only really knew her department. And she told me I looked very good.

These four experiences have really clarified my understanding of microaggressions. The first experience, being told to change on the third floor, was ambiguous until I saw that the changing rooms on the third floor were for men. Because there was no way to avoid that fact, the attendant’s order was not a microaggression, it was just plain aggression. It was a way for her to tell me I wasn’t welcome in her changing room.

The fourth experience, being led to the men’s socks, wasn’t aggression at all. Women shop for men’s clothes all the time: for themselves, and for their husbands and boyfriends and sons. The salesclerk thought that was what I was doing. It hadn’t occurred to her that I could have been misdirected by the signs. I reacted strongly because I had had two negative experiences before.

The second example, being sent to the basement, is a classic microaggression. As Taylor Jones explained so well, microaggressions require ambiguity and plausible deniability. If I had tried to report the clerk, I’m guessing she would have claimed it was an honest mistake, that she thought I was a man who wanted to buy a men’s coat. To this day I myself still sometimes wonder.

The third example, receiving exaggerated compliments when I was just buying a coat, is a type of interaction that has sometimes been called microaggression. I didn’t really appreciate it because it felt forced, and it felt like the clerk wouldn’t have complimented me that way if she hadn’t thought I was trans. But it wasn’t a microaggression, because there was no possible interpretation that suggested any intent to hurt me. I had the impression that the clerk was not just saying these things to close the sale and make me want to come back, but because she wanted to be nice to a trans person. Again, not ideal, but I’ll take it.

“Microaggression” is a useful term precisely because it is so specific. It covers behavior where the intent may be aggressive, but the speaker can plausibly deny having any such intent. It does not cover situations where aggressive intent can be easily established, or where there is no evidence of any aggressive intent. Including those situations dilutes the concept.

Stop using trans murders

Lots of people are talking about the New York Times opinion piece, “My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s a Tomboy.” by Lisa Selin Davis and the responses to it. I was particularly frustrated with a Medium piece from Chase Strangio. Strangio attacks Davis and her argument from several angles, but the worst is when he privilege-shames her and essentially accuses her of inciting trans murders.

But connecting [questioning gender expression] to the affirmation of trans young people in their genders is reckless and dangerous and wrong. Trans youth are dying because society is telling them, telling us, that we are fake. Trans women and femmes of color are being murdered because the impulse is to believe that trans-ness is fraudulent, that our bodies are threats.

Strangio is a white trans man, not a trans woman or a femme of color, so it’s disingenuous right off the bat for him to refer to “our bodies.” It is not typically bodies like his – or even bodies like mine – that threaten people so much they kill.

Strangio is technically correct that some trans women have been murdered because people thought they were being deceitful, but to simplify the cause of violence against black and latina trans women to accusations of fraud is a gross distortion of the problem. This violence is intersectional: it is mostly directed at people who are seen as nonwhite, poor, immigrant, transgender, feminine, “gay,” and sex workers. Nonwhite poor immigrant feminine gay sex workers who aren’t seen as trans face a level of violence that is barely distinguishable from that faced by those who are trans.

Nonwhite trans women are more likely to be poor and sex workers. Not because they’re seen as deceivers, but because many of them are already in financially precarious positions, and then their families tend to throw them out for wearing women’s clothes. This drives them deeper into poverty and forces them to choose between sex work and hunger.

When a john accuses a transgender sex worker of “being a man,” he’s not just accusing her of romantic deception (if even that), he’s accusing her of fraudulent business practices. Sex workers get killed based on smaller accusations.

Poor communities in the United States tend to be less accepting of homosexual relationships than middle-class ones, which puts pressure on anyone who might be seen being involved with a trans woman. If a man is seen as gay, that can lead to loss of social standing, ostracism and harassment. And if he’s seen interacting with a trans woman, people in those communities will label him as gay. Some courageous men stand up to that kind of attack, but many others will take it out on the trans woman.

Strangio comes to this with an agenda: he wants himself and every trans person to be able to assert a gender without being questioned. I too want to be able to wear a dress without someone shouting “you’re a man!” at me – or even targeting me with microaggressions.

But let’s assume we could bring about Strangio’s vision of the world, where everyone could simply state their gender and receive title to all the roles, spaces and relationships associated with it. Who’s to say that all the dissatisfied johns and intolerant parents out there wouldn’t just move the goalposts and say that it’s okay to beat or kill a sex worker who doesn’t advertise that she has a penis, or to cast out a child who abruptly asserts a new sex without asking?

Still, let’s assume that somehow by legislating acceptance of gender declarations we can somehow prevent nonwhite, poor and immigrant teenagers from being thrown out of their family homes and killed for being feminine and trans. They still may wind up as sex workers because they’re poor, and they still may wind up getting killed because they’re poor, nonwhite and/or immigrants. Strangio seems to hint that questioning people’s gender is tied up in white supremacy, but he doesn’t explain how.

This lecture on privilege was written by a white lawyer with a large readership working for a nationally renowned nonprofit, and widely shared even as he laments that his Medium page is “lesser-read” than the New York Times. If Strangio had really wanted to center the challenges faced by poor, nonwhite trans women, why didn’t he just link to a post by a poor, nonwhite trans woman? If he couldn’t find anything written in response to the article by poor, nonwhite trans women, why didn’t he encourage some of his nonwhite transfeminine friends to write responses and then promote them?

This is not about nonwhite trans women. My feeling is that Strangio finds the article threatening for any number of reasons, so he fights back by saying one of the worst things you can say in his circles: privilege. But here’s the problem: Strangio is a white professional man criticizing a woman, which is one of the most privileged positions you can be in. His trans background is not really enough to overcome the gender difference, and he knows it. So he invokes the sufferings of black and latina trans women.

Can we please not do this? We should absolutely be talking about the murders of trans women and femmes, and what we can do to prevent them. And on this issue we should be letting the people most affected speak, and listening to what they say, as much as possible. But we should not be dragging this issue into an argument between two assigned-female white professionals over a white assigned-female child.

A Skeptical Trans 101

I was very honored that the members of the AURA club at Fairleigh Dickinson University invited me to give a Transgender 101 talk last Wednesday for their Pride Week. Looking over my Skeptical Trans 101 page and imagining how someone in college today would read it, I realized that I’ve learned a lot since I originally wrote it almost four years ago, so I updated it. Here’s the new version:

Why it’s okay to be skeptical about transgender politics, while still being respectful:

  1. As Jamison Green said, “There is NOT one way to be trans.” A story about a single person won’t tell you about everyone.
  2. Lots of people hide their trans beliefs, feelings and actions. We don’t know about them. Anything about transgender issues that contains “most,” “all” or any percentage is probably wrong.
  3. We don’t hold elections. Any person talking to you about their transgender beliefs, feelings or actions is not authorized to speak on behalf of anyone else.
  4. Brain science is not at a point where it can tell us anything reliable. Anything about transgender issues that talks about specific parts of the brain is probably wrong.
  5. People are not reliable – about transgender issues or anything else.
  6. Most people desperately want to be normal, and are willing to lie to themselves and everyone else to feel normal. Anything that makes anyone look normal is probably wrong.
  7. Your beliefs – about gender and everything else – are your own. Don’t let anyone tell you what to believe.

How we use gender:

  1. Every society we know of assigns people to genders. Usually this is “man” or “woman,” depending on the way their genitals look at birth. Some societies have a third gender that involves a combination of the roles of the male and female genders.
  2. Most people have the habit of classifying everyone they meet into one gender or another. Often this is reflected in aspects of language such as pronouns. Some languages, like French, even assign gender to inanimate objects.
  3. Classifying people is a means to an end. Classifying people by gender is a way to figure out whether a person will be safe, a good mate, a good worker, or even someone vulnerable. There will always be many exceptions.
  4. Every society we know of reserves certain roles, spaces and relationships for the exclusive use of one gender or the other, such as jobs, bathrooms and marriages. In these situations, gender is always a shortcut for some harder-to measure criterion, like strength or the ability to bear children.
  5. Every society we know of has gender expression: ways that people identify themselves as one gender or another. Some of these are behavioral, involving habits of speaking or moving. Others involve clothing, accessories and grooming.
  6. Many people fight over gender categories, particularly over who gets any benefits associated with belonging to one category or another, and who gets to speak for one gender or another.

How we react to gender:

  1. Everyone has feelings about their gender. Many people have gender dysphoria: discomfort with the gender they were assigned.
  2. Many people have transgender desire: a desire to be a gender different from the one assigned to them.
  3. Some people experience gender fog: an intense excitement associated with a significant gender event.
  4. Everyone has beliefs about their own gender. Some people have transgender beliefs that conflict with other people’s expectations.
  5. Some people take transgender actions: they are assigned to one gender but take on expressions, spaces and roles that conflict with other people’s expectations. These gender expressions may include modifying their bodies in various ways.
  6. These transgender actions are not new. We find them described for every society, in every time period.

Some bad news about gender:

  1. Some people attack other people for taking transgender actions.
  2. Some people reject their own children for transgender actions.
  3. Some people discriminate against people for taking transgender actions.
  4. Some people commit suicide over the intensity of their transgender feelings, or actions.
  5. Some people take transgender actions and then regret them.

If you have transgender feelings or beliefs:

  1. There is NOT one way to be trans. Base your decisions for your actions on how you want to live your life, not on a category.
  2. Gender fog can impair a person’s ability to make decisions. Avoid making long-term decisions while in a gender fog.
  3. You don’t need to change your gender classification to come out as transgender.
  4. It’s good to experiment with gender, but some experiments can change you permanently, and others can give you unreliable information.
  5. If you’ve decided not to change your gender classification, be aware that taking certain actions might undermine that decision.

How to respect gender:

  1. You will meet people who have strong feelings about their gender. Be sympathetic.
  2. You will meet people whose beliefs about their gender differ from yours. Respect their beliefs, and expect that they will respect yours.
  3. You will meet people who express gender differently from the way you expect. Respect them. Live and let live.
  4. You will meet people who want you to address and refer to them as a different gender than you might otherwise. Honor their desire.
  5. You will meet people who you would normally assign to one gender, but who want to take on roles and spaces that your society reserves for a different gender. Respect their wishes and accommodate them as much as possible.
  6. You will meet people whose sexualities interact with gender in unfamiliar ways. Respect them.
  7. You may be tempted to say something negative or mocking of transgender feelings or actions. Think about how that might be heard. Think about your fellow human beings.

How to help:

  1. Some people spin myths about transgender feelings, thoughts and actions. Some of the most destructive myths are spun by people who are trying to help. Be skeptical, while still being respectful.
  2. There is NOT one way to be trans. Don’t assume everyone with transgender feelings will take the same actions.
  3. Dealing with transgender feelings is hard. Offer support (but not advice unless asked).
  4. We hear lots of nasty things about people who violate gender norms. Say a few nice things.
  5. Some people attack people who violate gender norms. Protect people from these attacks, and speak out against attacks.
  6. Some people discriminate against people who violate gender norms. Help balance that out.
  7. It’s hard for people to find love. Consider loving someone who does gender differently.

Does the Authentic Self even have a gender?

I was raised by beatniks in the seventies, and regularly told to be myself. I agreed with this and lived it, and it got me into trouble. I would fight with kids when they told me not to cry, and get punished in school for refusing an assignment that felt too conformist.

In high school one of my classmates went on a long rant about plaid. The next day I dressed for school in a plaid shirt and a homemade button that said “Plaid Rules! If you don’t like it, FUCK OFF!” (I then thought better of it and covered it with a piece of paper that just said “Plaid Rules!” but he ripped the paper off.)

The point of all this is that I had no trouble showing my true self to people, and never have. When I started trying on my sister’s clothes in junior high it was not about identity, it was about loneliness, jealousy and fear.

There is a story trans people like to tell, that gender expression is about bringing out the “authentic self” that we’ve been hiding from others all our lives. This is a cousin of the “woman trapped in a man’s body” story that was popular in the late twentieth century. It’s at best a gross oversimplification of the little we know about the diverse and variable motivations for unexpected gender expression.

Some people talk about my feminine expression as a different person: “When are we going to see Andrea again? Have they met Andrea yet?” I do use a different name and pronouns, and speak and move differently, when I’m wearing a skirt and make-up. But this is not because I am “really” Andrea inside. It’s because I want people interacting with me to have a consistent experience.

The fact is that I feel like the same person no matter what I’m wearing. Maybe if I’m wearing a dress I can express some things I can’t express when people see me as a guy, but that’s true the other way too. Is my true self just too big to fit in one gender?

If it’s not to express my true self, why do I want people to see me as a woman? Honestly, I don’t know, and I don’t know why it matters. All I know is that I treat myself and the people around me with respect and compassion no matter what I’m wearing, and that’s all that should matter.

Part of treating people with respect and compassion is taking their gender presentation at face value. If someone sends me a signal that they want to be treated as a man I’ll treat them as a man. I don’t need to know whether their true self is a man or not.

Does this mean that my authentic self has no gender? Probably. But am I then part of a small minority, in a world full of strongly gendered selves? My conversations with other people suggest otherwise. I’ve known transitioners who were similarly non-conforming before transition, and some who, before transitioning, identified strongly with their assigned genders.

I strongly suspect that the authentic self has no gender. Trans people have a variety of reasons for transitioning – or not. “Being your true self” is either a convenient fiction, like “I’m a man trapped in a woman’s body,” or a religious belief, like “God made me trans.” This particular one resonates with people raised with be-yourself values.

These destiny statements are very useful for transitioners, giving them a story that satisfies at least some of the doubters, and may even quiet their own doubts. They’re not so good for non-transitioners and genderfluid people like me. They do a special disservice to people who are trying to decide whether transition is right for them. Please think about all of us the next time you’re tempted to repeat one of them.

All other things being equal

I’ve said many times before that I don’t believe in second-guessing anyone’s decision to transition. But there are many trans people out there who are still figuring things out, and looking for advice. This is for them, and for anyone who might be in a position of advising them.

I wrote years ago that we can divide trans people into five groups. One group would commit suicide if they didn’t transition, another would commit suicide if they did transition. There are people who might not commit suicide if they didn’t transition, but they’d still be pretty miserable, and people who would be miserable if they did transition. Then there are people who could make it work either way.

I would put myself in the “transition optional” group, and I’ve argued before that it’s probably the biggest group. Note that this grouping is not meant to indicate some essential or immutable qualities. They are states of mind, and people can and do shift from one state to another based on the circumstances in their lives.

There’s something that I think needs to be said, and I don’t think I’ve ever said it before: If you don’t have to transition, it’s not a good idea to transition. Medical procedures (hormones and surgery) will disrupt the functions of your body and leave it more vulnerable to biological and social challenges. Being visibly trans invites harassment and discrimination. The process of transition can alienate friends and family. These social factors may not be fair, but they are there.

Some of you might be thinking, “well, yeah, that’s obvious,” but there are a surprising number of people who act as though transition is always a good idea. Zinnia Jones famously created a site called “Should I Transition?” with one word on the page, “Yes,” indicating that if you’re asking the question then your destiny is to transition. For people like this there are no possible downsides and no false positives. And if any of them have read this far, they’ve probably marked me down already as an Enemy of Trans People for suggesting it.

So let me put my position out there: Should you transition? Only if you would be miserable otherwise.

Envy, glamour and not transitioning

Vee is the spouse of a non-transitioning trans person and a long time reader and commenter of this blog. She writes, “Dealing with feelings of love and commitment to each other yet trying to cope with the envy and enticement of transition. But not wanting to give up our life which we have invested in. How do you cope with envy? Thoughts?”

That is such a good question, Vee, that I felt it deserved its own post. I definitely feel that kind of envy when I see pretty young transitioners all dressed up, dating and having fun, while I get older with bigger shoulders, thicker facial hair and a bigger belly.

As you acknowledge, the first principle of trans stuff is that Nobody Knows What’s Going On. I can’t tell you what will work for your husband. But with that in mind, here are some things that have helped with me.

When I feel this envy, it’s not just garden-variety envy. If I see someone with a fancy new phone, I’ll feel motivated to save up to buy that phone. If I see someone casually picking up heavy things the way I used to do before I hurt my back, I’ll feel wistful. Neither of those are really anything like what I feel when I see a fully-lasered trans woman with long flowing hair giggling with celebrities on television. What I feel at that point is the glamour longing, as described by Virginia Postrel:

By binding image and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning. It makes us feel that the life we dream of exists, and to desire it even more. We recognize glamour by its emotional effect—a sense of projection and longing—and by the elements from which that effect arises: mystery, grace, and the promise of escape and transformation.

The glamour longing is at its heart a symptom of the desire to escape – to escape from something in our lives which is almost unbearable. It is triggered by these other trans people, who seem to have escaped. But just as a red car is rarely an escape from a dead-end job, a mistress with blond hair is rarely an escape from a loveless marriage, and a bigger house is rarely an escape from feelings of inadequacy instilled by prejudice, transition is very rarely an actual escape from whatever it is that traps us.

One thing that has helped me a bit is to actually live that fantasy for brief periods. I’ve walked through the streets of Manhattan and had people (men and women) say admiring things as I went past. It got me high for a while, but even at the time I was aware of how uncomfortable it was wearing falsies, Spanx, high heels and a ton of makeup. Most women don’t get dressed up like that every day.

After I came down (and boy was it important to come down after that, and it took almost two weeks. Remember to spread out your significant gender events!) I realized that presenting as a woman in public hadn’t really changed anything in my life. I was still married to the same woman, with the same kid, the same apartment and the same job. I’m generally happy in my marriage, but even if I had been looking for someone else, none of the people who showed interest in me were very promising as long-term partners. In a lot of ways, the whole exercise felt like a waste of time.

Another thing that helps is to get to know the people you’re feeling envious of, or to read what they write about their day-to-day lives. These cute, younger trans women are people too. Some of them are doing okay, some are frustrated, some are downright miserable. None of them seem to be having all that much better a time than I am. Transition didn’t magically solve any of their problems.

But you don’t have to go out in public, or even meet anyone else, to deal with this envy. Here’s a key piece that I’ve observed in my own glamour longing: it gets stronger when things are going badly in my life, and it’s weaker when things are going well. This has been particularly true with my romantic life: my interest in being a woman disappeared for several months after the first time I kissed a girl, and the same thing happened after I moved in with my wife.

I’ve heard similar stories from many other trans people, and it makes sense if the envy is really a longing to escape. So here’s my top recommendation for your husband, Vee, and anyone else who’s feeling this way:

Try to change things that make you feel trapped or hopeless.

It could be your job, your parents, your marriage, or anything. It may mean you need a new job or a new spouse, but it doesn’t have to. My wife and I spent years working through issues that had nothing to do with my gender expression. It didn’t make my transgender feelings go away, but it did reduce their intensity.

And to reassure you, Vee, it also doesn’t necessarily mean that the problem is coming from the spouse or the employer or the landlord. It could be the way that the trans person approaches those relationships, and most likely everyone shares some of the blame. The important thing is to figure out what feels hopeless and change it to get the hope back.

This is a part of my recommendation to invest in your masculine identity. If your husband has chosen to live the rest of his life as a man, Vee, he needs to make that a life worth living. It sounds like he has a good partner for that in you.

I wish you the best of luck, and to all the other non-transitioners and partners out there struggling with this. Other non-transitioners and partners reading this: what’s worked for you? What hasn’t?

Don’t recommend Bailey either

If you read my blog at all, you know I have very little patience for transgender dogma. I don’t have much more patience for the Blanchard model either, but it seems to be the most popular alternative. Alice Dreger is right that my “community leaders” have been nasty to Ray Blanchard and friends, but she also seems to think that Blanchard’s theory is actually worth something. Last month I posted about the difficulties of coming out about transvestite sexuality, and I got a very nice email from someone who asked if that was the same as “autogynephilia.” I found the blog of a therapist who questions transition, and she recommends that parents of dysphoric children read Michael Bailey’s The Man Who Would Be Queen.

Of all the books I could recommend to an anxious parent, The Man Who Would Be Queen is one of my last choices. If you forced me to choose between that and a transition-cheerleading book I would probably throw them both in the pulping bin. It’s a nasty, polemical, judgmental screed that offers little hope to any trans people. And that, really, is the message I’ve gotten from the entire Blanchard camp.

Ray Blanchard developed his dichotomy between “autogynephilic” and “homosexual transsexuals” in the 1980s, based on work by Kurt Freund and others in the late 1960s and early 1970s,* when the primary mission of therapists working with trans people was gatekeeping. There was a real danger that people would make all kinds of body modifications, get fired from their jobs and ostracized by their friends and family, and wind up broke and destitute. They found that the “HSTS” were more likely to succeed in their transitions – and in those days that meant blending into society post-transition and being able to live “stealth.”

There was probably some value in the “HSTS/autogynephilia” dichotomy as a gatekeeping heuristic, just like there was some value in the “we’re all women trapped in men’s bodies” idea for getting people to relate to transgender ideas at all, but they’re both based on wild oversimplifications, ignoring a vast quantity of exceptions. Both camps have spun elaborate essentialist theories and spent the past thirty years searching for biological evidence to support those theories, and neither camp has come up with anything particularly satisfactory.

My biggest beef with Blanchard, Bailey and friends is that as far as I’m concerned, they’ve done fuck-all to help me and other trans people to cope with trans feelings. I decided not to transition with no help from them, I came out of the closet a year later with no help from them, and I’ve spent the 21 years since figuring out how to live out and proud without transitioning. Where is their guide to doing that? It’s not there. All they cared about for decades was preventing me from transitioning (didn’t want to anyway), and attacking the Everybody Must Transition dogmatists.

I wish I could offer the therapist a book she could recommend to worried parents instead of Bailey’s book. For that matter, I wish I could offer a book that people could recommend instead of Julia Serano’s book. The problem is that the parents want certainty. They want a book that will tell them How Things Are, and What To Do. But the fact is that when it comes to transgender feelings we don’t know how things are. We don’t know what to do. We’re all fumbling blindly in the dark. The difference is that some of us are prepared to admit it.

* I had originally said that Blanchard developed his taxonomy in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Someone wrote to correct that. I regret the error.