It never fails. Every time this TS/TG bullshit comes up over Pantheacon or whatever else in the greater umbrella community, there’s always aging second-wave feminists, too caught up in their own identity as the victims to see the actual progress that’s happened in the last thirty-five years, at the very least, who have nothing better to say but going on and on about The Plight of Wombynnes Everywhere, and how simply having a uterus is like walking about with a target on your back.
And my gut instinct is to defend myself.
But I don’t, at least not in the comments on other people’s blogs, because well, on the ultimate hand, I’m very secure in my gender and very secure in my knowledge of my perceived opponent’s ignorance. On the lesser hand, I really don’t have the time or patience to waste on such ridiculous people, especially not one-at-a-time. Last year, I had several urges to make a post similar to this one, explaining some of my experiences as a man of TS history and why, contrary to what some very ignorant and prejudiced people may believe, is not simply some perverse “ultimate manifestation of a woman’s self-hatred” (as one such person I can’t be bothered to remember to source once described men of my condition), but something I struggled with for years. Part of this struggle was because of a somewhat feminist upbringing, and part of this was because, being sexually oriented toward other men (and overwhelmingly cissexual men, but that’s simply because of my penis obsession), it’s honestly a helluva lot easier, in many ways, to live with an outward form more apparently female than it is to do so with an apparently male form.
My parents were probably rather unusual for people their age (mother thirty-five and father forty, at the time of my birth —and I was the second offspring of each, my mother having her first child thirteen years before me, and my father having his first seven years earlier) to have the idea to pretty much let my younger sister and I pick out our own toys and cartoons, within reason. My younger sister was actually more of a tomboy than I ever could have been, as I was “that weird bookworm kid” who spent all my spare time at the library or, after library hours, watching old movies, usually with my mother or maternal grandparents. I never saw a film, outside of anything nominally “for children”, made after 1969 until I was maybe eleven years old. I’d put on a lot of my own little versions of Broadway musicals with soundtracks either from my father’s record collection or copied onto compact audio cassette from the library. At the same time, though, I rejected anything pink, loudly protested the notion that my stuffed animals or “playing Barbies” with my sister meant that I “played with dolls”, and after coming home from school, I couldn’t wait to get out of my uniform dirndl and into a pair of jeans because I simply wouldn’t stand for the notion that I did anything “for girls”; eventually, this protest morphed into “doing anything [my younger sister] does” because my mother was seriously becoming distraught with this apparent gender confusion, so I changed it to please my mother —after all, it was only fair that I did so, because when I was six, I overheard my parents in an argument over whether or not to enrol me in this school for the gifted, my mother in favour of this, my father stubbornly against it because my younger sister (who everybody knew was his favourite) “would feel bad”, and my mother eventually blurted out (believing I was asleep and not at the top of the stairs eavesdropping) “That kid is smarter than the two of us combined and deserves this..”, and in spite of my advanced cognitive abilities, I was also clearly six, and since I knew my score, I interpreted this very literally and looked up something at the library the next day, after which, I had concluded that my parents were both borderline retarded, so clearly they just weren’t going to understand a lot of things.
I’m dead serious, too. I believed my parents were mentally handicapped until I was nine years old and it just suddenly clicked with me that it was highly improbable for my mother, a registered nurse, to be mentally retarded, nor was it probable for my father to be so, either (while my father was basically a rag-and-bones man, or as a family friend once put it, “the white Fred Sanford“, I can attest that at least somewhat-higher-than-average intelligence is needed for that work, and he also occasionally worked construction and other manual labour that would be unkind to those who weren’t quick-enough in thinking —I’d hesitate to wager that my father was as high-functioning as my mother was, but he was no Peggy Hill, either, much less a Corky Thatcher ).
Parents aside, I grew up during a splendid time to be an assumed female gendered person in the age of television. Weekly, the house was filled with the sights and sounds of The Golden Girls, which displayed a fairly broad range of female characters with varied experiences —from upper-Middle Class Blanche Devereaux to Rose Nylund, the rural Midwestern career homemaker, to Dorothy Zbornak (played by the incredibly sexy Bea Arthur —also dead serious, with her 5’11”-ness and impeccable comic timing, oh, you sultry minx who seduces me from beyond Elysium…) and her mother Sophia Petrillo, both retired working-class. For menopausal women in the 1980s, they were shockingly sexually liberated, practically making them the Sex & the City of their day. My mother also frequently watched Designing Women and turned it on after homework when reruns hit syndication —similar to The Golden Girls, the focus characters were four women of varying backgrounds, but unlike The Golden Girls, the characters were aged from mid-20s to mid-40s and the plots revolved around them running a business together; it was a bit more feminist-minded and topical than The Golden Girls, but again, wasn’t shy of making it seem perfectly normal that women were strong, capable, and their experiences something to be celebrated. Another one that permeated the household was Who’s the Boss? While essentially a vehicle for Tony Danza and a lot of the show’s humour stemming from both the role-reversal of a male housekeeper to a thirty-something corporate executive and divorced single mother and the sexual tensions between the primary two adult characters, to a kid who was already growing up in a house much like that, with my mother working a standard shift and my father holding down the fort until mum came home, always at least starting on, but often enough just outright making dinner in time for her to come home, the fact of “gender role humour” just kind of escaped me when I was eight, and I was maybe ten when I finally realised that this was an unusual sort of household and started to appreciate that it was represented at all on television. To make matters even better for girls growing up in the household I did, my father was very adamant that girls were just as good at maths as boys could be, and delighted in the fact that my younger sister, who could barely read at a second-grade level in high school and nearly flunked Kindergarten for being far slower than average in learning how to write her own name, could do advanced calculus in fifth grade —I, on the other hand, wasn’t doing either gender a favour in the subject of maths, as I can still barely add fractions (but after years of cashiering at grocery stores, will often accurately blurt out the change due before the cash register can display it), clearly all of my IQ potential went to reading and comprehension and spatial reasoning (I always excelled at geometry chapters in elementary school, but the high school I went to had a mandatory requirement for Algebra 1 & 2 before optioning to take Geometry, and with my lacking abilities, I was stuck in SpEd maths for two years).
Clearly, if I was really a girl, all the media and parental influence I was exposed to during my most-formative years was actually far more woman-positive than most even today is. I’m not a transsexual because I hate women, that really couldn’t be further from the truth.
…but because I’m trans, I’ve had a lot of issues with women, and in my past had often (like some cis men) sought to scapegoat women, even feminism, for my problems.That said, I do still certainly agree with most Third Wave feminists that the Second Wave is fraught with problems, including the fact that it’s absurdly classist (my grandmother and her mother and her mother and further on were all Cockney factory workers, even in the $tates, my grandmother never stopped doing two things: 1, identifying herself as Cockney, and 2, working in a factory —the women in my family were never concerned with being considered competent-enough to work, but then, they never had the PRIVILEGE to have “outside work” as an OPTION, it was always required that both parents worked to keep the rent paid and food on the table) and often throws the concerns of non-white women completely under the bus for some reason that never seemed clear to me, since this was also a time of Black Revolution (and other “minority” races, that technically outnumber whites at a worldwide rate), and you’d think there would be natural allies, but considering that I wasn’t even born then, I reserve my right to find that whole clusterfuck of ridiculous known as the 1970s Completely Fucking Ridiculous.
As for my relationship with my body, which still largely fits a physiological definition of “female” (even though for all social purposes, I can say that I have a man’s body), it’s been a largely logical one since educating myself in sex-ed since the age of nine (I seriously spent a LOT of time at the library by my house). I knew about menstruation, and I also knew about all the wonderful things that physiological males experience in puberty. I also knew some vague descriptions of a few kinds of intersex conditions and, until certain events fell into place, I assumed my parents were just too handicapped to realise that’s what my deal was, but consoled myself with the knowledge that even if I might’ve been wrong, I had additional vague knowledge of transsexuals, though there was a routine lack of anything female-to-male related in those days; I internalised the latter fact as sort of a reinforcement of this vaguely feminist ideal fed to me by Designing Women, that men were useless and obnoxious and no-one in their right mind would choose that path, and women were strong and capable and givers of life and so wonderful that even people assumed to be men want to be one —I’ve since learned that this isn’t necessarily the case for either trans male invisibility or for trans female media prominence, but like I said, this is what I internalised for years prior to transitioning.
As to the apparent paradox of being physiologically of “female body” (until a hysterectomy, when my physiology will be more neutered, considering reproductive potential) while socially possessing an atypical “male body”, I’m perfectly content with this. Paradoxes are a natural thing; light exists as both particles and waves, and no-one is delusional for saying so. Because of a family history of cancer and cysts, I occasionally have to see a gynaecologist —while I’d prefer that the field is known as kolpocology, I also understand that the field concerns itself with more than just the genitals, and the current term is more succinct —and really, the overwhelming majority of people who go to such a doctor are women. That doesn’t mean that, outside the doctor’s office, I continue having a social body that is a woman’s. I possess the mannerisms of a certain kind of male, I fuck and get fucked thusly, and for all intents and purposes, the general public is interacting with a man who appears to have a short and fat man’s body. With tiny hands and feet —an uncommon, but not unheard of, thing for cissexual men to have to deal with.
Ye, gods, do I hate buying
little boys’men’s shoes.
But yes, my body….
I have to say, while I acknowledge that some, maybe even most ostensibly cissexual women experience The Menstrual Mysteries (and I know this because they claim it, and I have no reason to assume they’re all just making it up), I also know that I never had some grand epiphany, natural or induced, with menstruation (unless you count that time I popped three Midol, and had a caffeine high that was directly responsible for discarding Libertarian politics completely in favour of Socialism —but that had nothing to do with menstruation and “the oneness of wombynne” or whatever). As far as I was concerned, it was a bodily function like any other, and while emotionally it felt like some foreign process to me, I’d batter those feelings down with the rationale that I have those parts, this is what those parts just do, and I should just deal with it, cos at, say, fifteen, it didn’t look like anything short of either an obscenely precocious menopause or my family’s history of ovarian cancer was going to make it stop any time soon, so my M.O. was to deal with it, and try to make the physical realities of it as comfortable as possible, if only so that I wouldn’t be so preoccupied with how emotionally uncomfortable it was making me. For the most part, it worked, and while I don’t understand any positive spiritual aspect of menstruation, I also don’t see why so many cultures for millennia have made it seem such a shameful thing. It’s just… what some bodies do. And for some of the people inhabiting those bodies, it’s an enriching spiritual thing, for others… not so much, sometimes due to physical discomfort (which can usually be relieved inexpensively and fairly effectively), and sometimes due to some sort of body dysphoria, and sometimes even to just complete ambivalence about the whole thing.
All this said, I’ve kind of glossed over my non-relationship with Artemis in the past, but I’ll illuminate it somewhat as it’s a little relevant. I also want to state that it strikes me as odd, this non-relationship, as I have a fondness for Boiotia’s national hero, Orion, who’s regarded in some myths as a companion of Artemis. Obviously, Artemis, being a Goddess of wild things, and wild things explicitly in the wilderness that’s not of the man-made variety, probably isn’t too fond of my urban spirituality. I also get the impression that Artemis either completely dislikes trans men, considering us an abomination, or possibly even all trans people —but, not being a trans woman, I’m not going to get presumptuous. I’ve really tried, in the past, to reach out to Artemis, and I know of a few (ostensibly cis) men who do have (or at least believe themselves to have) a spiritual relationship with the Delian Maiden, and it’s not like the mythology or historical accounts portray Artemis as completely rejecting all men, at all times, and everywhere, but since the last time I tried to foster some sort of relationship with Artemis only to find myself turned down on account of “[my] kind” being “repugnant and offensive” to Her, and apparently Her alone (I’ve experienced no such rejection from other gods), I’ve had this suspicion that it’s more than just the urban spirituality, and specifically my TS status, that has led to Her words to me. All other deities of Hellas I’ve tried to get to know, have some kind of relationship with (even if it’s not even half the relationship I have with, say, Narkissos), don’t seem to have any sort of problem with any aspect of my being, at least as far as I can tell, but I sincerely believe that Artemis hates me, albeit not in a vindictive way, as Her last words to me was that the best way for me to honour Her is to leave Her alone — an “I won’t bother you if you don’t bother me” sort of arrangement, and since my only interest in honouring Artemis was for the sake of “completeness”, I can live with this. Maybe my suspicions on being rejected for a TS existence is presumptuous, and Her rejection is solely on my urban connectedness, I’ll never know, as I’d rather honour Her wishes and leave her be. I imagine, if I were a woman, this could be possibly distressing, as She’s sort of important to various women’s mysteries, in the ancient traditions. Even as it is, this was a little worrisome, at first, but not for any internalised feeling of being a woman who needs Artemis, but simply because I was now at a loss of what to do “in order to Do Hellenismos Right™”. Just like my now-former menstrual cycles, I figured the best way to deal was to just get used to the fact that, barring some major event in my life to change my core essence, this fact probably isn’t going to change, so I can do as I was told and get used to it, or don’t and risk offending a Goddess who might just smite me while She still can —I wouldn’t put it past Her, She has a mythology ripe with portraying Her as a Goddess Who likes to have Her boundaries respected, and Who can be very quick to ruthlessness when they’re not, possibly even if you didn’t even intend to disrespect those boundaries and it was a complete accident.
As I was reading Gender & transgender in Modern Paganism (an unfortunate title, in my opinion, but I also can’t think of a better one to convey the same things), something in Raven Kaldera’s essay struck me as something I could identify with: “…the biggest reason was that the Gods and spirits told me that I had to do it.”
In contrast to Kaldera’s essay, this was never presented to me as a “do it or die” thing, no, I’m too stubborn for suicide and while cancer is certainly likely with a physiologically female body, especially with my family history (breast cancer on both sides, ovarian and uterine cancer on my paternal side, ovarian cysts of indeterminate status on my maternal side), I’m on Medicare, so either way, I’ll either nip it in the bud early and take care of it, or I won’t, and even if I do, there’s only so much I can do (the rest is up to science and the Theoi), but it was more a “do this, or eventually you’ll be locked up in a mental hospital” sort of thing —which, for me, is like a fate worse than death, there’s no consolation for that sort of deprivation of freedom; it’s not life, it’s one of the few ways that mortals have figured to kill the souls in otherwise healthy people1. So, you see, I had to do this; my very essence was at stake.
And so that’s ultimately what brought me here today, where I’m at now-ish. Could I have taken off with the transition a little sooner than I did? Probably, I guess, all things considered, but personally, at the earliest point I could have, I also ran into a few “de-transitioning” stories on-line, personal accounts I’ve now lost over the last eleven or twelve years, and I thought maybe it would be best to work though the issues I’d developed with women before seeking therapy, as I tend to work on these things better alone than with another, and shortly after, I also ran into Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw. A lot of TS/TG people I know really love that book, and I can certainly see why: It’s part memoir and part “genderqueer manifesto”, for lacking a best-suited term to really describe it. My opinion? It was probably the worst thing I’d ever read pre-transition, and it probably set me back 2-4years, all things considered. She had (at the time of writing it) this really persuasive way of writing that makes you really want to believe everything she’s saying, even when she oversimplified the description of FTM genital surgery to the point of being grossly inaccurate, and especially when she places this pointed preference on a non-binary gender identity, to the point that it really seems to logically follow that any TS person who maintains a gender identity on a binary continuum is a societal dupe who never actually sat and thought about what their gender is. At her best, she’s naïve and idealistic, but at her worst, she’s appallingly transphobic (and continues her disparaging commentary about trans men by buying into “butch flight” propaganda), and I’m amazed that there are still TS people who take her seriously. If you actually can get some good out of the book, and are secure enough in yourself when reading it to separate the wheat from the chaff, go you, but in good conscience, I cannot recommend Gender Outlaw,/i> as anything more than a quaint and historic curiosity piece that, at best, may be worthy of re-envisioning without the latent transphobia between its lines. It could have been worse, but at the time I read it, I needed something a whole helluva lot better! See, I really tried to fashion myself into some kind of 3rd Sex Superpower of One for a couple of years, and on the surface, I assumed that a medical transition was out of my reach because of money and so this was more practical and anyway, it showed that I was smart enough that I recognised the “lie” of gender, but I also really wanted to believe that the best and goodest and smartest TS people were non-op and let the cissexuals have their way and identify as something outside the binary, because really now who are we TS people to say that we know what the experiences of men and women are? But at the end of the day, I can’t hate her, if only cos I know there are bigger enemies out there and I don’t need to waste my time on hating an old woman whose relevance is circling the drain.
So that’s it. Nearly 4000 words of it, and some pretty pictures to keep your attention —I said it was going to be long, but this is my self-defense against Second Wave Feminist transphobia spouted by people who think I’ve only gone through this cos of some presumed “patriarchal lie” that I never experienced. And considering how I’ve only ever paid for hormones, and less than a dollar a dose, even though, to be perfectly honest, it really looks like I should be paying more; at the very least, I should have gotten billed for the nipple revision I had to suffer through because the surgeon told me I could shower with skin grafts. But I haven’t. Over the last four years (this June 13), I’ve haven’t even paid $50 to transition2, I think maybe some god or another wants me to live as male —such a notion is certainly within the realm of possibility.
1: Please don’t misunderstand; I acknowledge that there are some people who can actually benefit from a stay in such a place, and then there are a handful who are truly better off at such a place, but by and large, it’s my experience that those places are only sometimes used for the good they were intended to give, and the rest of the time, it’s a system abused by those who simply want to destroy what they don’t want to understand. For every one or two people who gets a noticeable benefit from psychiatric medication, there is maybe one other who is misdiagnosed and over-prescribed.
2: Not counting, of course, donations for replacement prosthetics, and the donations I received totalled well beyond what I actually needed to cover that sudden cost.