I have remarked here that my transition has proceeded from the inside out, meaning hormones, therapy, and talk with Mary Jo and others. There’s not much to show to the world for all this work right now, except perhaps a happier countenance that reveals an inner peace. One of my friends was observing that this lack of wardrobe (or any external presentation) brings up an interesting question of whether my sense of style will change (or has changed).

If you think about it, it’s awfully interesting to have nothing in my closet, isn’t it? (I mean, considering how full it’s gotten through all my disclosures, I guess it makes sense there’s no room for clothes, but that’s all about to change.)

I think the first thing to ponder is whether a person’s sense of style about their profession and their general relationship to the world is something that changes in a transsexual transition or whether it stays stable (but just shifts gender expression). By “stable,” I mean that a preppy man’s style would transition into a preppy woman’s style; and a “change” style would see that preppy man’s style transition into a goth woman’s style (just to pick something really different). In reading newsgroups and support lists and blogs and memoirs, I really can’t get any general sense of a trend. Some transsexuals make changes to their sense of style and others don’t.

If the transitioner feels that his/her old, repressed person had a style that was similarly repressed or stunted, then I can see where they might feel like overthrowing that style, especially if they aren’t in a field with definable uniforms and dress norms. For my own part, being an academic, I think there is a moderate range of styles of expression, probably more free than other white collar jobs, but not nearly so free as actors, artists, and musicians realize.

What I know about myself is that I’ve never been showy, and can’t possibly imagine becoming that way even through a transsexual transition. I’ve always been drawn to conservative, but stylish, suits, and I suspect that I will still be drawn to conservative, classic looks for professional wear in women’s wear. My favorite suits have been Armani and without having a lot of experience in women’s suits, I would imagine you could do worse than Italian.


For casual, I also feel like I’m going to be pretty stable, going from jeans and shirts for men to jeans and shirts for women. The other day when I went out to dinner with Miles and Khloe I wore jeans and boots, a cream-colored stretchy t-shirt with medium-length sleeves, and a bronze-patterned jacket that Mary Jo bought from Coldwater Creek. I liked the look, and could see doing a lot of it for casual settings.

But where I’m a lot less sure (and even downright confused) is in leisure-wear and business-casual styles. I could do dresses, skirts, pants, or all manner of separates. I do think a few classic and simple dresses (including the basic black dress) would be nice to have for times when I don’t want to wear a suit or pants, but I don’t think they’re essential right now. At this point, that’s about all I know, which is awfully vague, I realize, but it’s all I’ve got.

Perhaps more interesting than simply choosing what I want to look like is the question of balancing my stunted senses and feelings with those more sophisticated and refined around me. I’m trying to be mindful of these differences between my own sense of style wants to be (even if it’s ill-formed at this point) versus what Mary Jo and my friends think it should be. I already know I’m going to bristle if I want to get dangling earrings (for example) and Mary Jo tells me it’s too young (or something like that), and then I’ll be in a state of confusion as to which of the following is in operation:

  1. Mary Jo is all knowing and has the final say over my choices,
  2. I am right by virtue of some inner voice who, even if she’s eventually going to mellow out, knows what she needs now, or
  3. We’re both wrong and are commenting on my feminine choices with so much other mixed-in baggage that neither one of us is to be trusted.


You see, clothing (as with other aspects of expression) isn’t really a blank slate upon which you can completely re-craft yourself during a transsexual transition unless you’re truly dropping out of all of society and reemerging somewhere else in your new identity (and even then, I’d be really curious as to how many ingrained norms of behavior and style are retained). Rather, the dynamics of crafting a new identity occur within the context of an existing set of family and friends who are mature, smart, and professional–and while this provides a great deal of support and continuity, it’s it also fairly daunting, and I think it tests one’s self-confidence (assuming one’s new self is formed enough to have confidence at this relatively fragile time).

I don’t think this little essay is an plea for my friends and family to let me wear whatever I damned well please, or to argue that you should support me uncritically in all my makeup, fashion, and behavior choices. But I do think I would ask you, dear reader and dear friend, to put yourself in my shoes (10 or 10.5 US women’s, by the way) if you find my choices unappealing or questionable.

Good Morning America did a segment about Megan Wallent, the Microsoft executive who recently transitioned from male to female. The comments on the story are pretty harsh, as is the commentary on the story by Newsbuster’s website, among others.

I myself am reminded of how blessed I am to have friends and family who are supportive, but I’m also curious, in light of these nasty letters and similar ones trashing Susan Stanton a year ago, whether my choices reveal me to be as egocentric and monstrous as the letter writers believe Wallent and Stanton to be.

I don’t know if it’s taking hormones, or feeling feminine, or being trans*, or being in therapy, or being in the middle of a long run of disclosures, or preparing to get to the hardest disclosures of all, but I am aware of a new fear.

I’m afraid of not being loved. It’s a feeling that’s slowly crept up on me, but I feel it more intensely these days.

I’m afraid my physical, social, and mental changes, while exciting and transformative for me personally, will drive away those who loved me as I was before. They will discover that their love was tied more strongly than they realized to a bundle of characteristics that was George and that while they’re happy for Joyce’s emergence, she’s not the person they liked or loved initially. The love and friendship will cool and die as the excitement about a transsexual transition becomes old news.

What initially seems an interesting evolution of physical characteristics will increasingly be felt as weird, and that weirdness will become a wedge driven between us. The weirdness will creep from the physical to the emotional and the social until everything has cooled like a meteor sitting alone on the desert floor after a fiery entry through the atmosphere, my only hope being that a meteor prospector will stumble across me accidentally and know the joy that I once felt and the connections I once had when I was a heavenly body.

I don’t want to be like that, unloved, unknown, alone. I want to be wanted and cared for and loved.

This is a follow-up post to my previous post on the nature of authenticity and legitimacy in any sort of transition.

I’m well aware of the tension and fear about not being a legitimate woman when my transition is complete — I think it’s often a constant fear for transsexuals, sometimes one that plagues them and other times something that’s they’re mildly aware of. I’m feeling quite authentic, but I’m anxious about being legitimate.

But what about sexual orientation? Mary Jo and I have discussed the fact that assuming I’m taken to be a woman, then we will be taken to be a lesbian couple. We talk about it from time to time and brainstorm how that social perception is going to affect both of us, but it has not sunk in for me that this identification involves belonging to a category called “same sex couple.” Having just come out to a lesbian couple who are longtime dear friends, though, I felt this morning a sudden pang of illegitimacy.

Not only do I feel illegitimate as a woman, never having been a girl or had a period or worried about being pregnant, but I also feel completely illegitimate as a lesbian. Just as I’ve enjoyed the male privilege all my life, Mary Jo and I have enjoyed the heterosexual privilege all our lives.

What rights do we have to identify as lesbians? How do you get to be lesbians? Is it a simple matter of private practice, or these days is there an expectation of a larger social identity? Helen Boyd often remarks on MyHusbandBetty.com that crossdressers would be a lot more sympathatic if they actually took the time to learn about women instead of imitating them, and I feel something similar about same-sex relationships.

As I look ahead to deeper and fuller transition (we’re only 10 weeks from May 24th, when everyone knows), I find myself anticipating challenges to legitimacy from various directions. I expect to be taken aside and be put in my place by women (you’re not a legitimate woman), men (everything we did together in the guise of a masculine bond was illegitimate), and lesbians (you’re just a straight couple who got thrown an interesting curveball, but you’re not legitimate lesbians).

I don’t know what to to with these feelings except to acknowledge their legitimacy and to engage my friends and colleagues authentically and humbly. I may not have been a woman, or a lesbian, or an activist, or a queer-studies theorist, or any number of categories into which I may transition, but I have an authentic desire to learn.

I have written elsewhere about the problem of using terms like authentic, true, and genuine to describe a transsexual’s new self because such terminology casts his/her former self as fake or false. I am, as you probably realize, very interested in keeping all of the good parts of my persona that I have developed over my male life and carrying through into my new female life.

However, I’m not against the word “authentic” at all. You might say I’m very interesting in retaining authenticity, and my use of the word seems perfectly aligned with my goals because it suggests a continuous personality, one that is committed to fine-tuning, self-improvement, and generally being authentic to its nature.

I have been focused on the adjective “authentic” for the past 6 months, but I suddenly find a new word, “legitimate,” has crept into my consciousness and I would like to take this little essay to distinguish between the two terms because I think they tie up some concepts that I have been grappling with in earlier essays.

Authentic
First, let’s look at authentic.

au·then·tic [aw-then-tik]: not false or copied; genuine; real:
In terms of synonyms, authentic, genuine, real, veritable share the sense of actuality and lack of falsehood or misrepresentation.

From the Greek, autos “self” + hentes “doer, being,” we get the word authentes , or “one acting on one’s own authority,” thus rooting the action firmly within the doer and not with the rest of the world. One who is authentic is being true to herself and is accepting responsibility for that truth about herself. As we move towards being more authentic, then, we are communicating to ourselves (and perhaps others) an effort to align our bodies, actions, dress, and other things with our own sense of self. As Polonius says to Laertes in Hamlet, “to thine own self be true,/And it must follow, as the night the day,/Thou cans’t not be false to any man.”

In previous essays, I have argued that self acceptance makes up only about 50% of transsexual transition, with re-forming one’s social ties comprising the other 50%. I like the term “authentic” and the action of trying to become more authentic as this personal journey to one’s self.

Legitimate

The second part involves legitimacy, I believe, and here’s why. If authenticity is all about the self, even having “self” as a Greek root of the word, then legitimacy is all about the rest of the world because of the root leg-, meaning legal (think “legal” and “legislation” for such words).

le·git·i·mate [adj., n. li-jit-uh-mit; v. li-jit-uh-meyt]

1.according to law; lawful: the property’s legitimate owner.
2.in accordance with established rules, principles, or standards.
—Synonyms 1. legal, licit, sanctioned, valid.

Why look at law, you ask? We’re not talking about laws that congress or city council passes, but rather any set of rules that are created and reinforced. And what’s important about this concept isn’t the law-making process (which queer studies would identify as heteronormativity or perhaps rigid gender binaries), but rather the idea that your legitimacy does not come from within, but must be conferred upon you by others, the keepers and enforcers of these rules and norms.

You may recall a discussion Mary Jo and I had with Sherry Gladstone and John Oleander back in November when we were in Greece for a conference. I had asked Sherry what was required to change one’s identity (she had just finished a graduate class on racial identity), and she said “loyalty.” In my blog post where I tried to process this concept, I took “loyalty” to be equivalent to “commitment.” But having started thinking about legitimacy, I instantly realized that “legitimate” and “loyal” have the same roots that tie both concepts to law:

[Loyal: French, from Old French leial, loial, from Latin lēgālis, legal, from lēx, lēg-, law; see leg- in Indo-European roots.]

My understanding of “loyal,” however, was fairly accurate in that blog post because it involved the transitioner agreeing to adhere to the norms of the desired group, making an argument, in effect, to be allowed into that group eventually, or to be made legitimate by virtue of having followed established rules, principles and standards of that group. I noted that it’s still up to the desired group to confer legitimacy upon the requester, and that power that’s held by others would comprise the other part of a successful transition, something I also wrote about in “Minimalist Sex Change.”

The rules and norms that are most evident in a sex-change would be those around the categories of “woman,” “man,” “feminine,” and “masculine,” since sex and gender are getting changed in a transsexual transition. And I’m aware that I will be asking for legitimacy from society to become a woman by virtue of adhering to the generally accepted norms of “woman” and “feminine.” That request produces plenty of anxiety on its own because a request to belong always implies the possibility of rejection, doesn’t it?

However, I think there are other requests that I’m becoming aware of, and I write about those categories and the difficulties in requesting membership in those groups in the next blog post.

See also: “Valid” and “Authority

I received a relationship email today from a salesman at Malloy’s, a high-end store in town where I’ve bought several nice Italian suits in the past:

George, We have received two medium and light gray suits from Zegna that I know would not only make great additions to your suit wardrobe but you would like the look of them. Please stop by this weekend and take a look at them.

It’s funny, but this feels vaguely sad to me as I realize I will never buy another man’s suit again. I have written elsewhere that I hold no grudge against my male self, and don’t fault myself for having turned out the way I have. I never hated buying menswear except for the feeling that I was shopping for an inauthentic self or that the salesmen made all sorts of categorical assumptions about me (and men, in general) that were not true. These little things aside, I have always enjoyed buying nice suits, ties, and shirts, and certainly enjoyed shopping for them much more than for jeans and work clothes.

My sadness comes, I think, from a sense of breakage — the particular thread of my narrative simply stops at this point, the thread (or theme) being shopping for men’s suits. The break is attributed to a transsexual transition, which becomes the agent of the breakage. When viewed this way, I think it’s easy to see how transition feels like serial abandonment of values, even as it’s also a story of the acquisition of new values. There are a hundred little rituals like buying men’s ties or being called sir or using the men’s room that grind to a halt, thus creating a sense of grief and loss — that is, if you choose to emplot the threads of the story as breakages.

However, what if they’re not breaks at all? As we do with Justin Tanis’s excellent observation that transsexualism may not be a curse, but rather a blessing or calling, what if we refuse to see transsexual transition as a collection of breakages and try to see them as a series of continuities? It’s more than a linguistic trick, but it does involve asking yourself, a la Derrida, “Are we positing a false binary here? Could go up one step in meaning to find a missing term that describes all the experiences of the closeted-male, the transsexual, and the post-transition female?”

In other words, rather than see my email from Malloy’s as a sign that signifies another loss, what if we read it as a sign of continuity of the value of desiring to look and feel professional, a value that simply has different modalities? If we do this, then my email invitation could simply be seen and felt as an invitation to allow Joyce to give form to her professional side, to continue her long-running trend of dressing up for class and for faculty meetings and for giving academic papers.

The false binary terminology is “male-female,” and the story takes on a feeling of loss or breakage when we think of shopping for clothes, but the new term, one which encompasses male and female, new professor and old professor alike, would be “professional,” which is quite capable of describing my transition in ways that do not suggest a sudden break in the narrative arc of my life.

So I’m feeling a lot better and a lot less sad.

But now I think of my often-felt sense of loss over these past 12 months and wonder how many of these signs I’ve seen and interpreted as breaks, when they just as easily could have been seen as reinforcing and continuing values and personality traits I already hold.

Strange fits of exuberance have I known, and I will dare to tell, but in the reader’s ear alone, what last night to me befell. With Mary Jo gone for the weekend, I slept with weird dreams, or more accurately, visions. In one of those sweet dreams I slept, kind nature’s gentlest boon! I haven’t really felt specifically like this before, which is going to sound weird coming from a transsexual, who you’d think would have this thought in her mind all the time, but several times last night (maybe in a dream or semi-awake) I was very conscious of a new and newly-crystallized thought. What fond and wayward thoughts will slide into a transsexual’s mind! “O mercy!” to myself I cried, “I really do want to be a woman!”

Interesting, huh? Maybe I’m becoming aware of a kind of synergy that comes from the observable physical changes to my body, the cumulative effect of hormones, all the laser work on my body, and all the encouragement I’ve been getting from my friends and colleagues. Having dwelt among the untrodden ways, I have long felt there were none to praise, and very few to love, so it’s possible that all this praise for being true to myself and the love I feel from friends, family, and colleagues has pulled me back into the more trodden paths of connectedness.

A less lofty and psychological explanation is that this raw enthusiasm simply bubbles up into my consciousness when I’m in bed alone and allow myself to be more open, even to myself. Whatever the reason, these were surprising (and surprisingly assertive) thoughts for me to have.

At one point, maybe around dawn, I got out my PDA and looked at the schedule between now and the end of the semester, asking myself if it wasn’t feasible to speed things up. “Whoa,” I said aloud. “Where did that come from?” My plan is already pretty speedy, and it strikes me as unwise to improvise, but what’s interesting about this thought isn’t its content, but rather how unusual and surprising it is, revealing a kind of impatient exuberance about the whole process.

I am a realist, of course, and it is simply not feasible to accelerate this process, for my boys have to be ok with my changes, and it’s not fair for the family who don’t know about my trans* nature yet (sister, uncle, among others) to truncate their opportunity to talk, grieve, and process my changes. Although I feel I have lived unknown, and few will know when George ceases to be, I must be deliberate and thoughtful before I cut the cord because my family’s acceptance makes all the difference to me.

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