April 2008

Opening the Door to the Inclusion of Transgender Peopledoor

New publication provides invaluable ‘how-to’ advice to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations seeking to become fully transgender-inclusive

The National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force today released a joint publication titled Opening the Door to the Inclusion of Transgender People: The Nine Keys to Making Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organizations Fully Transgender-Inclusive, geared toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizations.

[Download it in pdf]

“Transgender inclusion has been an important issue in the LGBT community, particularly in the past year. Yet, many organizations struggle with how exactly to become fully transgender-inclusive. We are excited to offer this free new resource,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE).

Opening the Door, which is based on years of personal and professional experience within LGBT organizations, makes the case for full inclusion at every level of an organization. It examines the need for genuine, consistent advocacy for inclusion of gender identity and expression in policies, programs, legislative stances and public positions, and explores critical issues such as understanding the transgender experience and the role of an ally, how to address staffing issues, dealing with prejudice and ways to further outreach. The voices of LGBT leaders discussing real-life experiences with transgender inclusion are found throughout the guide.

The guide is co-authored by Justin Tanis, program manager of the National Center for Transgender Equality, and Lisa Mottet, an attorney with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force‘s Transgender Civil Rights Project. Mottet works on transgender-related legislation and policy and is the co-author of Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People. Tanis, Ph.D., has a 20-plus-year career in LGBT nonprofits and is the author of Transgendered Theology, Ministry and Communities of Faith.

My own sense of gender has never been 100% masculine or feminine, as I have always felt more or less androgynous, especially when I was a little child and at other times of relative freedom from rigid expectations from family, work, or society. I was such a girl when I was growing up! Not a girly girl, but a tomboy girl, as was my sister, Liz. We did everything together: dressing up with my mother’s fabulous furs and pearls and makeup and heels, playing army man out on the vast ranch where we grew up, creating doll-houses for GI Joe and Barbie and horses and horny toads and other things to make really cool scenarios, cooking on what I guess would be the precursor to the little light-bulb-powered kids oven, and generally singing and playing and being ourselves, genderless and free. It was a really wonderful childhood.

I really can’t pinpoint when it changed. The first jolt was probably going to school in kindergarten, beginning the long, inevitable process of education and socialization. We all have to leave the nest and grow up, of course, but I think I probably felt a deep sense of melancholy at my losses. I remember being very curious about how other girls moved, stood, held their heads. At a time when boys wanted nothing to do with girls, I (not wanting trouble) wanted nothing to do with them; however, I studied them and pictured myself in their company, one of them. Sex was mysterious, as it must be for 7-10 year olds, but I distinctly remember that the bigger mystery for me lay in the riddle of just what it was that made them different from me.

Puberty must have been another jolt. I recall that I willed myself to stop being so chatty, so sissy, so vulnerable around 5th or 6th grade. I would now be the the boy with piercing and solitary silence. I would speak only when spoken to. I pictured myself as standing outside of society, a philosopher and observer of human nature not unlike Cane in Kung Fu, which debuted when I was in 7th grade. I built an immense wall around me, maybe to keep the little girl safe from the outside world, or maybe to prevent her from showing her face. I still maintained a nice balance of gendered activities, playing football and singing in choir and enjoying both equally, keeping equal number of girl and boy friends, but never, never revealed the girl behind the wall.

When I think of the story of my gendered life, it’s not so much a tragedy of horrible pain for 30 years, but rather the story of stunted development. Joyce was categorized as an oddity or an aberration who couldn’t socialize or even find embodiment, and I think my feminine side became squashed down because of not having any place to be. She was a latch-key child who peeped out of the house from time to time, desperate to become herself, but also increasingly terrified of what’s out there in the world. George was encouraged to be the winner, the guy’s guy, the competent and masculine firstborn son of the firstborn son of the firstborn son, a position that was both honorable and oppressive. Because of the honor and in spite of the oppression, those expectations sunk in, oozed down into my the dark corners of my emerging personality, penetrated every hallway, landing, and closet of my psyche, so even when I wanted to rebel, my rebellions were largely symbolic. I grew my hair longer to make my father angry. I argued for blood, no matter how absurd the position I took. I was tenacious in all things.

Regardless of these symbolic rebellions, I was also at heart the good kid, the smart kid, the golden child, and that role pushed Joyce into a tinier and tinier room because it would be devastating for such a winner with such high expectations from family, teachers, and society to admit the existence of such a horrible inner self to the world, wouldn’t it? Yes, I write “horrible,” for that’s what the latchkey child eventually becomes, being locked away, unsocialized, unrealized, unkempt and unloved. Bringing her out into the light of society would be mean disappointing all those people, and the golden child is motivated by pleasing others. Giving a life to Joyce would literally mean the death of the main character in the story of my family, the story that has been living me all my life with a script that was written before I was born.

Coming to a place of self acceptance and then disclosing my authentic self to others these past three months involved erasing that role and writing a new one for me, and that process was far more traumatic than being transgendered. A lot of my current joy comes from that feeling that I’m actually living my own life with my own complex body and psyche, perhaps for the first time since those girlish, androgynous childhood days. It’s corny, but I feel I’ve given the wounded inner child a chance to heal, and she’s getting stronger and stronger every single day, pointing the way to a fully-realized Joyce, whom I love for the first time since childhood.

This journey of becoming is powerful medicine that operates in my psyche and in my relationships, and is perhaps far more powerful than the hormone medicines that operate on my body. Sometimes it seems as if my existence is so different than it used to be — and that it’s continuing to differentiate steadily from what it used to be — that every week is like waking up from a groggy dream. I’m simply amazed at this process — hell, I’d be fascinated by this process even if I weren’t going through it myself.

But I am.

Simultaneously frightening and exhilarating, it is process that ties up a bunch of loose ends from the first half of my life and opens up a ton of new possibilities for the second half of my life. It’s astounding, really, to have finally broken through the fear and shame to undertake something I’ve known I needed to do for decades, to look at my body and recognize newness in it, to feel emotions and connections with awe and power. I may have daydreamed this transformation in youthful and melancholy fantasies, but I never, ever, visualized or imagined the power that comes with actually taking these steps, the power of life that follows the little girl who, released from her locked-in state, takes her first steps into a brave new world and becomes human.

Having heard, verbally and in emails, that what I’m doing is brave, courageous, or inspiring, I have to assume that my actions are perceived truly as people say they are, even though I don’t feel I’m exhibiting anything remotely like bravery, courage, or inspiration. I have to assume that others see my actions and writings as indicating that I’m following my bliss or being true to my self, and that they are worthy of discussion by others.

Dear readers, I don’t mind being talked about, especially if the conversation makes you feel good (and I’ve heard from many of you that this is precisely what’s happening when you talk about my transsexual transition with each other). When you talk and feel good, I feel good. I feel connected. I feel like my life isn’t just the story of one person acting out on her selfish fantasies, but rather an occasion for synergies that are far more complex than the laughably-simplistic story of one person’s “choice” to change sex. I think it’s essential that those synergies come into being via sharing with one another because they create (as they must) more possibility and more creativity and more understanding. In other words, I do my thing, you talk about it with me or one or two other people, those people talk with their partners and friends, you write me to tell me about these developments, and I hear about it with a warm heart and reveal more about my thoughts into this feedback loop.

Not being selfishly inert, a person like me becomes a catalyst for more activity, a particle shot into a critical mass of uranium or plutonium that sets off a chain reaction of creativity and love and respect. Rather than feeling like a major actor in all of this, I feel as if I am a very small cog in a much bigger process, and it fires me up like you can’t believe to know that my little cog-like movements are helping to turn bigger engines.

“For a Married Couple, a Sex Change Raises many Legal Issues” New York Times 4/27/2008

See also
Feministe on how this story is damaging

The enGender blog on the complexities of this story

“We’re one of the few of our friends who are still in our original marriage,” Denise Brunner said.

But it is not exactly the same union, as evidenced by their marriage certificate, which they have enlarged to poster size to make the point. The original, from 1980, listed Donald Brunner as the bridegroom and Frances Gottschalk as the bride. But a sex-change operation in 2005 turned Donald into Denise. Fran stood by her spouse, and the couple secured an amended certificate, putting “Denise” next to “bridegroom” for lack of other options.

read the rest at:

I am aware of something like a geometric progression and necessity of becoming — my original plans of slow emergence into an embodied Joyce are feeling increasingly plodding and unnecessary. Community and laughter and belonging are needed. For what would a transsexual on a transitional journey be like with only her raw, disembodied thoughts of a solitary blogger, separated from the society she inhabits–her colleagues, neighbors, students, and family?

Cold, that’s what she would be. Cold and lonely.

That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight, losing my repression.

Gender is very possibly one of those things you never notice until something jolts you, and then, like the karaoke singer who suddenly realizes she can’t really hold a tune, you become very, very conscious of gender — your gender, more specifically. Me, having sung the entire Beatles repertoire off-key for the past 18 months, am beginning to realize how badly I was singing and am now finding that I’m beginning to sing right again, thoughtlessly, without worries. I’m really looking forward to a time when I go days or weeks without thinking about gender at all.

I feel as if I am being radically transformed from the inside out, losing my repression and morphing in my body and my mind. Back in December, I wrote about cognition in hormone therapy, and all of what I felt 4 months ago still applies, but just amplified.

Take memory. I don’t think I’m remembering facts, dates, scholarly facts, and those types of things anything better or worse than I used to. But I really think differently — the way I process things and contextualize the past and the way I see the present is very, very different. My memories seem to be modified, even while my memory function (broadly speaking) seems to remain about the same as before. For example, I feel (and find myself saying and thinking) that I have always enjoyed things like long, slow kisses or snuggling. When I actually say such things, Mary Jo looks at me and we burst out laughing together because no, I did NOT always enjoy those things, and I even seem to remember that I didn’t do those things, yet I feel deeply that these things have always been part of me.

I don’t know if it’s a problem of the brain, cognition, memory, or psychology. I don’t even know that it’s a problem. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t think it’s a sign that I’m constructing a fake past, but I honestly feel certain things that are probably not true. To keep from sounding so obviously mistaken, I’ve learned to say “I love to kiss for hours” instead of “I have always loved to kiss for hours,” which, semantically at least, gets around the problem.

However I’ve arrived at this point, I think it all points to a shift in some of my deep core processes, memories, beliefs. Maybe it has to to with finally coming to terms with my authentic self, and all of these cognitive changes are psychological; or maybe they’re all attributable to the hormones. Frankly, the reason for these feelings isn’t really important because the indisputable fact is that I absolutely love where I am, mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically. There is no amount of enticement on this earth that would make me give this up or go backwards into my former misery. I feel more connected to life and to people, more physically embodied, and more whole to myself than ever before.

So if this is a brain problem, then give me more of it. It’s the end of the world as I’ve known it, and I feel fine.

Transgender, transvestite, transsexual… what do they have in common? Gender variance? Sure, but I’m thinking of the Latin word “trans” and I would like to continue thinking about what it means to transit (i.e. cross locations from one place to another).

I have really come to find “trans” unfit to describe gender variance, and not that I have anything against “trans” — it works great in transgression and transform and transmit and a bunch of other handy words, but in matters of sex and gender and clothing, I just think it doesn’t work metaphorically.

As I write in my Trans101 page, it seems to me that the key things we are interested in are sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, and that all four of these variables are a spectrum, rather than a binary. It’s the gender binary that gives rise to “trans” words, and that’s what I have a problem with. If gender were a binary, to take one example, with “feminine” actions, beliefs, mannerisms, clothing, and so on on one side, and “masculine” ones on the other side, and there were absolutely no overlap and nowhere to stand in between the two poles, then “trans-gendering” would make sense. The term would mean that a feminine individual would cross the great divide to take on all of the attributes of the other gender. In that case, “trans-ing” is a good metaphor — it’s like trans-Atlantic voyage, starting on one side (Europe) and ending on the other side (America). You can’t call it Trans-Atlantic if you travel from Callais to Dublin, or New York to Nova Scotia, can you?

These variables (sex, gender, clothing) are not binaries in any sense of the word — they’re spectrums where the value of masculine gender can be anywhere from 0% to 100% on any given day — the same goes for sex and clothing. If that’s the case, then “trans-ing” is simply the wrong concept.

A person can

  • trans – sex
  • trans – vest
  • trans – gender

Conventionally thinking, we’d take this list to mean something like this, but it’s far, far more complex, as we shall see below:

  • trans – sex (i.e.men becoming women and women becoming men)
  • trans – vest (i.e.men wearing bras and women wearing jock straps)
  • trans – gender (i.e.men being feminine and women being masculine)

Sex (and trans-sexing)

We can start with sex, since it’s the category most easily argued about. There’s males and females, and nothing in between, right?. Well, I hate to break it to you, but no, that’s not the case, at all. Sex can be defined by genitals, by chromosomes, by biochemical hormone balance, by the presence or absence of internal organs. Any combination you can think of is biologically viable (penis + ovaries, XX chromosomes + lots of testosterone, and so on). I am not intersexed, or at least I don’t think I am, but many people are and may not even be aware of it. So sex may be defined as these previously-mentioned things, along with secondary sex characteristics, such as body appearance, body hair, breasts, and so on.

So when we trans-sex, just how many of those characteristics do we think we’re changing? What if you add breasts and lose body hair? Is that trans-sexing? I was trying to get at this concept in my “Minimalist Sex Change” post a month or so ago, but the idea is very relevant here. You can change some of these things and not others. What about removal of the beard and no more? Or all body hair and no more? Or growing/removing breasts and no more? Switching your biochemistry from a typical man’s to a typical woman’s, or vice-versa? Sex isn’t one thing, but it’s a lot of things. And even these variables have middle ground, and what do we do about that vast space between male and female, chromosomally, hormonally, emotionally, physically?

There is no clearly-identifiable sex binary outside of what we see in the beautiful people on TV and in advertisements, and thus, there is no trans-sexing. Why? Because there’s nowhere to start the trans-ing, and nowhere to end in the journey. You can’t cross from one place to another if neither place exists.

Gender (and trans-gendering)

I don’t really know anyone who is 100% masculine — or 100% feminine. Who would want to be around such people? If we list everything we can think of to describe masculine and feminine attributes, we’re going to see a lot of great qualities in both lists. I think men who are strong, compromising, nurturing, mechanical, gifted, funny, intelligent, etc. are a lot better than those who are just strong. Characteristics like strength, which isn’t gendered — I would hope that men, women, boys and girls all acquire strength in their lives.

You and I may argue about very small details, about whether they’re masculine or feminine, however, and I suspect we’ll get further in our discussion that way. Let’s start with makeup. It may be gendered or it may not be. Routine eye shadow may indeed be something that we see in western culture as gendered feminine. But not all makeup counts–how do you think Harrison Ford looks all beat up as Indiana Jones? I suspect they put dark makeup on him instead of actually beating him up. In fact, the more I think of it, makeup involves more about performance than about gender. If I want my eyes to be big and pretty, perhaps that desire is feminine-gendered, and I achieve that impression with eye makeup. But the makeup itself isn’t gendered.

Any more than silk or any other fabric is gendered. Or any color. Or a gesture. But even if these are gendered, they must exist on a spectrum from 0 to 100. And anyone trans-gendering wouldn’t really move from 0 to 100 in every single variable, but more likely shift a few variables this way or that. In other words, in gender, as in sex, I don’t think “trans-ing” is quite up to the task of describing just what kinds of shifts are possible, and that’s because gender, like sex, doesn’t exist in a binary, but in a spectrum.

There is no doubt that gender exists on a spectrum, and the levels of granularity are measured in the thousandths, not in halves or thirds. Our gender exists on that spectrum not as a dot, but as a powerful electron, zipping around in an energetic cloud, vectored up this way for a while, tilting down that way for a while, occasionally getting knocked out of orbit by an energy particle, maybe settling down in an oscillation around a relatively new spot on the spectrum.

Clothing (and trans-vesting)

You can in-vest, di-vest, and trans-vest. The first two make sense because in-vest means to clothe yourself and di-vest means to disrobe, or take off your clothes, “vest” coming from the word “dress” in Latin. Even though clothes typically fall under the category of “gender,” since “Trans-vesting” is such a big and taboo thing in our society, I figured I’d treat this one separately. Like sex and gender, above, trans-vesting implies a crossing from one set of vests to another set of vests. It is certainly true in certain periods that clothing is more differentiated in the sexes than in other times. It is also true that manufacturers of clothing make them, market them, and target them to men or women, but usually not to both.

Nevertheless, I don’t think there’s anything particularly gendered about clothing. You’ve got your pants, your shirts, your socks, your shoes. Yes, we have styles that we all say are masculine or feminine, but it’s us who makes them gendered through imbuing them with meaning.

Take brassieres. Clearly feminine clothing, right? Well, hold on. I don’t think bras are necessarily gendered. If we see them as functional garments, then we’d say they support breasts of women (and even men with gynecomastia), and that’s hardly a gendered function, but rather physiological. Bras can serve an artistic function — think of Madonna’s dancers or ask yourself why a garment would have lace on it if it’s strictly functional. Bras may mean torture and bondage to some people, growing up to other people, sexual arousal to yet other people — it’s the meaning we assign to bras that gives these garments their meaning, and not the bras themselves that carry any meaning.

Clothing, like sex and gender, falls over a broad spectrum. Men wear pink, men wear bras, men wear rings and earrings. Women wear blue overalls, cowboy hats, and work boots.

The problem with trans-anything is that the imagery depends on binaries to work because to “trans” requires a movement from one place to another, metaphorically. If gender or sex or clothing aren’t binaries, but spectrums, where exactly does the trans-er transit from and where does she transit to?

Since I don’t believe in these binaries any more, I don’t believe in trans-ing any more. If anything, we should come up with a term more like ‘vector” or “move,” employing the Latin migr (as in migrate) or mov (as in move) or a concept like “change,” using the Latin mut (as in mutate). So instead of getting all tongue-twisted around whether you’re trans-sexing, trans-vesting, or trans-gendering, you could say you’re sex-tweaking or gender-shifting or clothes-mutating. Anything but trans-ing.

The only catch is that it has be catch on, be catchy, be able to be caught by the general public, employers, friends, family, and journalists. After all, it’s one thing to describe yourself in all your complexity and richness and subtlety, but it’s quite another for someone else to get even a fraction of all that. As much as I dislike “sex change” for all its naivety and simplicity, it may be more accurate and easier to understand than trans-ing or any of my experimental words above.

See also “T”

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