June 2009


Last night was one of those nights that, around here, are rare and magic. The sky was clear and dark, filled with celestial bodies free from light pollution. The wind wasn’t blowing, not even light breezing, and it was so still that I could hear, sleeping with only a screen door between me and the world, the tires on the distant highway, the dogs a mile away, the buzzing of insects. I woke up in this stillness and knew without looking at a clock that it was still hours before sunrise because no birds were singing.

I tossed off the light covers and lay there, feeling the cool air on my body. The world lay still and powerfully pregnant with possibility, and as the minutes passed, I also began to feel empowered and filled with possibilities, mind and body unified, past and future reconciled. I felt myself expand to fill not only my body or my room, but all that unseen natural space outside: the night air, the neighboring countryside, the dark and starry night.

Lying here, I do not fear this expansion, this metamorphosis, but instead anticipate it. In fact, I feel more and more that portals into alternative worlds have opened, and that I am empowered to explore and learn.

What’s it like one month before genital reassignment surgery (GRS)? As everyone points out, it’s a big deal. Oddly, I really don’t feel excited or nervous. I think I’m concerned about upsetting my health and our family’s summer plans.

When I tell people I could take it or leave it, they’re amazed, and I guess the general public equates transsexualism with body dysmorphia, so of course it’s perplexing for the to hear me say I could live without it.

For me (and everyone is different), my transsexual condition is/was about self-acceptance, feeling a part of things. As I took various steps to revise my identity, I felt more and more normal with each step (removing testosterone, adding estrogen/progesterone, removing body hair, removing beard, telling people, venturing out as Joyce, eventually being Joyce socially, psychologically, and physically. To my mind, I’ve finished the job, as I no longer feel any distress about sex or gender.

But what about genitals? Why do people (and other transsexuals) feel genital correction is so important? I can think of many reasons, and perhaps expressing them will help clarify. First, sex is a normal part of being human, and being a woman with a penis or a man with a vagina may not promote a healthy sex life (at least one that doesn’t involve being labeled a hermaphrodite or freak). However, there are also wonderful sexual relationships possible for all sorts of body-identity types, and there’s no inherent reason why genitals need to match psyche.

Second, general body-dysmorphic identity: some people strongly identify their sex/gender with their genitals, and thus could never feel legitimate without all body parts matching. And this is a fair argument, it seems to me.

Third, even without seeking “normal” sexual relationships or a “normal” genital match, one might want their parts to match for others in public and semi-public places like the emergency room and health clubs. A woman with a package may distress others in these places. Their distress is their problem, of course, but it’s the transsexual’s problem if their distress leads them to withhold medical care or call the police. And while I think it’s not my job to fix other people’s biases, I *do* want to live a healthy and relatively hassle-free life.

There must be many sorts of legitimate body-identity-types for different people, and the trick is to listen to your heart to see what you need to do (how you need to be). What is the transsexual community puts pressure on you to have genital surgery when you feel deep down that it’s not necessary? That’s almost like the pressure you used to feel from general society to be your birth sex, isn’t it?

I find myself wondering where body dysmorphia ends and cosmetic change begins — because I can certainly see my upcoming surgeries as entirely cosmetic: no more worries about packages, a whole range of pants and tops I can wear, cleavage, and so on, and there’s no doubt that I expect to feel more legitimate, more at ease in my shell. But is it necessary? No, I don’t think it is.

Much is written debating whether the rainbow alphabet acronym LGBTQ really needs to be that long, and specifically, why T needs to be included. The question of letters of political and legal coalitions isn’t just about acronyms, of course — it’s about political and cultural maneuvering in the pursuit of equality and fairness.

There are some (perhaps many) who are skeptical of the mash-up of L, G, and Q with T. Some lesbians and gays question the wisdom of having gay rights “dragged down” by transgender people, and there are some trans* people who feel very uncomfortable having their issues expressed as part of the rainbow agenda. In an ideal situation, family, friends, politicians, judges, legislators, and employers would have enough attention and interest to engage the LGBTQ communities separately, listening and learning about the specific concerns, issues, difficulties of lesbians separately from transsexuals, gay men separately from gender-queers, and so on.

But in the real world, society has lots and lots of different issues, and as far as most of the world is concerned, all the lesbians, gays, queers, and transgendered people are the same, and thus can be treated as one homogenous entity. To the outside world, we LGBTQ’s all violate two widely-held social belief systems.

The first is called heteronormativity, or the concept that what’s right and normal is men falling in love with women and that these dating/love/sex relationships are normal and right and everything else is abnormal and wrong. The second concept that rules the outside world is called gender normativity, or the system of clearly discernible differences in behavior between the feminine and the masculine, the rule that men are always masculine and women are always feminine, and a belief that adherence to these norms is normal and right and anything else is abnormal and wrong.

Theorists are generally able to distinguish between these two rule systems (hetero- and gender-normativity), but the rest of the world often conflates these two systems, and this conflation is what chains us all together and makes the LGBTQ acronym meaningful.

What do we mean by conflating, or mistaking, the two systems? Let’s use a couple of trite, but useful examples.

You may be a perfectly straight man with a girlfriend, thus adhering to all the “rules” of heterosexual normality, but if you violate gender norms, and are perceived by others to be a “girly-man,” a sissy, then some bullies are going to call you a faggot and give you a hard time. What are they reacting to? You’re being called a fag and yet you’re in a happy, heterosexual relationship. “Fag” is a verbal assault regarding your violations of gender-normativity, rather than your inner sense of what attracts you.

Or you’re a normal heterosexual woman who’s always been a tomboy, avoiding rigid gender expectations of femininity. Although you’re not a lesbian, you hear the insults of “dyke” or “lezzie,” and you’re lumped together with your LGBTQ friends whether you like it or not.

The same thing goes for gender-normal LGBTQ people, or straight-acting gays and lesbians. “Straight acting” means not showing public displays of affection for a same-sex partner, but it mostly means adhering to gender norms, so that women act “feminine” and men act “masculine.”

You need to ask yourself which is safer in the presence of homophobes, a gender-variant straight person, or a straight-acting homosexual? Do they care what you are?

See, I think that pushing orientation or identity, while feeling like a good and true strategy, is going about things all the wrong way. Orientation and identity are things are are essential and internal, while gender or sexual expression is external. No matter what you *are* inside, there’s no way for the outside world to know about your inner truth except via your expression of that truth. And that goes for gender, sexual attraction, philosophy, or any number of “essential” qualities.

If we’re interested in protecting transsexuals or gays or lesbians, I don’t think it’s enough to protect sexual orientation or gender identity — we should be protecting the expression of that sexual orientation or gender identity because that’s what’s observable to the outside world. It’s telling that more and more laws and policies are beginning to use language that says something like “sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or the perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” and this approach gets at what’s important: that you don’t need protection for what you *are*, but rather for what people see you express.

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