Friday, July 9, 2010

I'm Here. I'm a Gay Male and May Be Transgender. And I'm Not Used to it.


 [image/symbol and name of non-gender-conforming web-group is from here]

We live inside someone's realised idea. 
We live inside someone's realised physical idea 
for what the home or village or town or city you are in 
was be designed to look like. 
We live inside someone's realised social and economic idea 
of what the civilisation you live in was designed to do. 
We live inside the political idea 
of gender, race, and human being 
designed by those 
who want the oppressed 
to serve the oppressor, 
or just die off altogether.

 -- Julian Real, 9 July 2010 ECD

This post concerns the matter of choosing the terms which best apply to our subjective experience of ourselves, which fit with how we are seen by society, which resist how we are seen by society, and which locate oneself in particularly personally important political struggles for human liberation from WHM Supremacist societies and Patriarchal Palien Paradigms. (No, I won't say--or write--that five times fast. I realise the A.R.P. Glossary is expanding and I'm trying to be mindful that a blog post filled with self-generated acronyms and made-up terminology can be very, very problematic, especially for people for whom English is not a First Language.)

Sphere is a group I've never belonged to. As noted elsewhere, I'm not likely to be part of a group that would have me as a member, and I do believe Sphere would welcome me with open cyber-arms. I like and appreciate Sphere, but also haven't spent much time there.

Hey, I've got blog posts to write!

Am I transgender? It's a question that has surfaced in my body and psyche--which is one, not two, things. It is a question that has been slowly shoving its way onto a  front-burner, so to speak. And plenty in my life is already burning.

To answer the question is to get into the thick of what gender is--what being non-transgender is, let alone what it is to be transgender. I'll tell you this: I've never been adequately or even remotely comfortable identifying as a man. I was confused about identifying as a boy. I identified more with girls when a child, but did have some close male-boy friends. I played on the elementary school playground with girls, and was forced to play with the boys. I never wanted to, but I was made to. Even the principle of my elementary school noticed this, and sought to properly, and not unkindly, socialise me to play softball, which is a sport I despised with a passion. I liked jumping rope and kickball. And, let's note, there were girls who hated jumprope and kickball, and just wanted to play softball, basketball, and U.S. football. Soccer wasn't a big grade school sport yet. Middle class U.S. "soccer moms" didn't exist yet either, and if they existed in other countries I doubt the sport was called "soccer". I remember children walking to elementary school or being brought there by school bus, not being driven there by parents. There were no SUVs then, only station wagons. And yellow buses.

I have never felt comfortable identifying with gay men, even though, to some extent, I do. It's not the man-ness I identify with. It's the being male-bodied and being attracted to male-bodied people including some men that I identify with. I would never, ever, tell you "I'm a man" unless I was coerced or forced to. Even my profile to the right identifies me as "a gay male" because that's the best I can do, for now.

I've not been sure what to do with my body during sex, although I learned how to have dominant heterosexual sex. I've also learned how to have standard heterosexist gay sex. But I've practiced very little of each. What I have often felt like I was having was non-patriarchal sex, which is to say it has been non-heteromale sex that isn't phallocentric and more often than not, didn't involve my genitals, unless a man (or woman) wanted the sex to do so. I've never been heterosexual or bisexual. I've had sex with a very few girls and boys as a child, with a few women and men as an adult, but have never dreamt of having sex with a woman, ever. I've never "desired" sex with women. This isn't at all to say I haven't enjoyed being sexual with women, but it is to say that enjoyment was more emotionally based enjoyment than physically based. And most, and possibly all, of the female women I've been sexual with have been friends of mine. Most of the time I've had to dissociate to some degree to be sexually active with people. For about the last decade, I've not been sexual with anyone else, out of choice, and out of a desire to be asexual, which I've mostly accomplished.

The connecting between "being sexually active" and being gendered has to do with how my body feels, and the attention to it that is usually required to be sexually active. To be sexually active is to be engaged with a gendered body--my own, and with someone else's too, if that's what's going on.

This post mostly consists of me stating some positions, or beliefs, or stances, or analysis, about society and gender. This post also gets deeply into one person's story of being transgender. I'm going to tell you about the guests on a talk/chat show about being transgender. I've taken the time to type out the dialogue, and will use it as a point of discussion for later posts on this topic.

1. I believe gender is entirely a social-political phenomenon. It is cultural. It isn't natural or biological, which is to say that non-human animals, not a one of 'em, have anything resembling "a gender". They may be sexed in ways English-speaking humans call "female and male". And there may be some "role play" but that doesn't equal "having a gender", to me. And, there may well be, and probably are, naturally occurring intersex non-human animals. We do know that some animals are asexual and do not reproduce through the combining of a sperm cell with an ovum. Parthenogenisis happens.

It is foundational to Patriarchal Palien existence and politics to see the world in dualistic ways, usually also hierarchical. Gender is both in such societies: dualistic and hierarchical. To pretend it is only the former is to betray human rights battles for liberation for women and effeminate and feminised people from male supremacy and the gross domination of the planet by men.

To be a patriarchy-denier is to support gynocide. To embrace a politically activist view that renders patriarchal harm invisible, is to throw women under the CRAP-loaded bus.

2. Queerness is a relatively new prominent term used by many non-heterosexual people as an umbrella term that currently popularly includes lesbians, gay men, woman-loving women, same gender loving men, transgender people, and, increasingly, intersex people. It also often includes heterosexual non-intersex people who are "gay-friendly" or "queer-friendly" or who are genderqueer or gender benders or gender transgressors. It also often includes friends of all the above. It is so inclusive that the only people it seems NOT to include are anti-queer bigots.

BUT, a group within queer society is anti-lesbian, anti-feminist, and, especially and increasingly, overtly anti-radical feminist.

One reason some people, trans and non-trans, reject or are hostile to radical feminism, as it is accurately or inaccurately represented by its opponents, is that it is "transphobic". I would argue radical feminism is no more or less transphobic than liberal humanism, than non-radical feminism, and than patriarcal political philosophies and politically pro-activist perspectives. I'd argue dominant political perspectives, philosophies, and societies are more transphobic than "radical feminists" are, per capita. And that focusing on radical feminists as THE population of transphobes is misogynistic, anti-lesbian, and pro-patriarchal.

3. Transgender identity is not fixed. (In  some sense, by it's very social nature, it is unfixed! Hence the "trans" prefix.) There is no agreement among those who are transgender about what that term means. It is not seen as essentially a biological phenomenon or reality, by many transgender people. It is seen as a reality or condition--depending on how much one accepts medical, psychiatric, or dominant media representations of what being transgender is--that both challenges and reinforces dominant views of gender. It does both.

Being transgender doesn't tell anyone anything about one's political views. One can be transgender and homophobic, anti-lesbian, woman-hating, man-loving, or none of the above. Transgender people are lesbian-identified, gay-identified, bi-identified, heterosexual-identified, and none of the above. Some transgender people change their sexual orientation if they surgically transition from female-appearing to male-appearing. Some do not. This is a source of endless curiosity for talk show hosts. The question often arises, to those transgender folks who are usually white and class-privileged, if "going from being a man to a woman means one is still heterosexual" (if said person ever was, in fact, heterosexual).

I've heard one transgender activist state, quite truthfully and impactfully, "I'm transgender: what does being attracted to 'an opposite sex' mean for me?" Being transgender can, but doesn't necessarily, interrupt the gender binary which, in the White West, is always a gynocidal woman-hating political hierarchy and never not a this kind of hierarchy.

I've heard some MtF transgender activists identify as women, who, when born, were accurately or inaccurately male-assigned, and boy-raised. And I've heard some MtF transgender activists identify as transwomen or transgender, stating they are not "women" in the sense that a female-assigned-at-birth, girl-raised women are women. There is no agreement within transgender community about whether or not transgender women are and ought to be considered exactly the same as "non-transgender women".

I find transgender community to be about as diverse as community gets; it crosses class, race, ethnicity, age, ability/disability, sexuality, and, obviously, gender. Unlike non-transgender community, transgender community is comprised of people who have been or are wrestling--deeply, profoundly, and with great effort--with what their own gender is, what it means, what it feels like, what it requires, and what the consequences are for changing it. I see this as a particularly and uniquely transgender issue and experience, with some overlap with gender-non-conforming non-transgender people, and some, but by no means all, intersex people, as not all intersex people know they are intesex. This is also to say, not all non-transgendered people and not all non-intersex people know they are definitely NOT transgender or intersex.

4. "Gender transgression" is a social stance, a set of actions, a mode of being, that has been embraced as "revolutionary" and "radical" within some queer communities. By and large, I consider it neither revolutionary or radical, and in fact find most of what I see from people who identify as "gender transgressors" to be liberally reinforcing the status quo, or, at least, doing nothing at all to uproot or transform white supremacist (palien) heterosexist patriarchy. Speficially, "drag shows", "burlesque", "queer porn", pro-BDSM politics, and other aspects of both heterosexual and non-heterosexual societies, are, to me, utterly PPP-serving and "politically correct", not at all transformative. I support the politics of radical social transformation, not liberal transgression.

5. For me, coming to terms with being transgender is similar, but not the same, as coming to terms with being gay. But I'd like to outline, below, how they are similar, possibly also noting how they are different, for me.

I'm next going to take you through a program I just watched, about being transgender.

I am carefully watching an Oprah show, with a guest, former U.S. high school football (not soccer) player born with the name Paul McKerrow. Paul was the Montana-born and raised high school quarterback and captain of the boys' football team, senior class president (at that time, misogynistically and typically chosen to be a student who was a boy, and most likely also male). Paul grew up wanting "to be one of the girls". Paul began cross-dressing, appearing as a woman in some social spaces, and as a man in others. Paul began taking "female" hormones, and in Paul's 20s, she transitioned surgically from male-appearing to female-appearing, at least to doctors doing the surgery, and to Kimberly (formerly Paul).

Oprah and others in the media discuss this as "being in the wrong body". It needs to be pointed out that even post- surgery, one is still in the same body--there is no such thing as a "body transplant". And it needs to be noted that having saline or silicone breast implants, or a non-cancer related mastectomy, or a hysterectomy, or a vagina-like structure fashioned from the skin of a penis, or a phallus constructed in any number of ways, or intersex genitals, doesn't make or not make someone the gender they are.

When media reinforces an idea that some transgender people who have "gender re-assignment therapy", including "sex-reassignment surgery" genitally, as "finally being in the right body" are misrepresenting a whole helluva lot about what gender and sex are. Dominant social designs flourish, and those of us who do not fit or don't wish to fit, are left out... again. Surgeons do not make people intersex on purpose, as a "final goal", usually. Surgeons do physically and emotionally traumatic things to children's bodies to fashion them into someone's design, some society's idea, of what "the male sex" and "the female sex" look like. As if that's all there is.

If I have the money to pay for it, and I want to have male genitals fashioned into something that is neither male, female, or intersex, which surgeon would you suggest I contact? If I want my gender to be neither manly or womanly, with which social-political architects would you have me consult?

Under Kimberly's name, the words "born a boy" are written. Kimberly (birthname Paul) was not "born a boy". Paul was assigned at birth to be "the male sex" ("as opposed to the female sex"). Paul was made into a boy, through socialisation, which includes decisions and force and fear.

As a male, in Kimberly's words, she was with males and females, or what dominant society calls "bisexual". She didn't really like being a boy, but is glad she grew up being a boy, so as to be given social permission to be bold, and not withdrawn. She felt an "unearned" "license" "unearned" to behave in ways not so allowed if one is a girl. When doing a paper route as a child, Kimberly dressed as a girl.

I'm never entirely sure what that means, personally. As girls I knew dressed more or less like boys. Same with women and men. When some white sexist gay men wondered if I'd ever "done drag" I asked them: do you mean dressing up like a woman?" When they said "Yes", I said, wearing a t-shirt, sweathshirt, and bluejeans, "I am right now". The women I knew wore those clothes, and didn't consider THEMSELVES to be "doing drag".

As many people in the non-heterosexual community have noted, everyone is in drag. Straight white boys are "in drag" if in football gear, for example. Or if in t-shirts and jeans.

First part of her life was denying being a girl, second part denying I was ever a boy. Now it's about embracing both parts of my life. She wishes girls had male entitlements boys have in a patriarchal/male supremacist societies.

Went to college in the San Francisco Bay area, where "anything goes". She tried dating men as a man. She kept feeling "I have to be female." And describes "a female life" on one side of the bridge, and a male life on the other side of the bridge. She was, when Paul, an exchange student in Norway. She realised she always there: her transgender self was always there and her need to be female was always there.

She's in a documentary film about her life called "Prodigal Sons".

Kimberly Reed is white, "pretty"--made up with cosmetics to be "pretty", and blonde, and is someone who isn't fat. She is wearing black high boots, and a black outfit that isn't overly femme but is not butch.

Oprah describes Kimberly as "the quarterback who became a woman". She went to her 20th High School Reunion in Montana. The party is at the man who was the teenage boy who was the co-captain of the football team. She meets up with Claire, who Paul dated in high school.

Tim was Paul's best friend in high school, and friend since first grade, actually. He's joined via satellite from Missoula, MT. He is still a best friend of Kim. He told Kim, "Wow! You went ALL THE WAY!!" "She was good at basketball and other sports. Mark, a brother, wanted to excel at sports like Paul, but never did.

Oprah, to Tim: "I heard you were kind of attracted to her [Kim]."

Tim: "Well, sure... I mean... LOOK at her!" Everyone chuckles. He goes on "I didn't know if she was gay or straight..." and tried to "just be in the moment, and take it as it comes".

Kimberly recalls how these former football players show up with cases of beer, and felt "this is going to be all right; this is going to be okay".

"After a while there comes this point... that [old friends] realise "I am the same person". Even while she acknowledges she looks different.

Oprah: "She is more authentically herself now".

Kimberly: "I was having so many problems trying to figure out my gender. I used to have these games, I'd play. If you don't [win the game of the day], you'll have to be a girl tonight", and then would lose on purpose to be a girl. Reflecting on watching footage of old high school football games, Kimberly says: "It's a shame that I just had to forget half of my life." "I wish I had done it [transitioned MtF] earlier.

Oprah: "Kimberly [is] a woman from head to toe, and also a lesbian."

Mark was adopted, held back, and was in the same grade with Paul throughout grade school. At 21, he got into a car accident, and has suffered brain injury, clinging to the past. "I was more popular than him!", Mark exclaims. He asks Kimberly if she's been reading the Bible (some unidentified version and translation of the Christian New Testament).

Mark was taken to jail. "There was all this jealousy about you being 'the golden boy'." Kimberly agrees. Their mother strongly felt the sibling rivalry, partly because Mark was adopted, "but also because he had his own strengths, but single-mindedly wanted to be Paul."

Kim's mom says, of Kim's gender transition, "I knew this was a decision that was painfully arrived at."

"I had been this perfect son" to my dad. "I was afraid to take that away from him." Kim was reluctant to tell her, and his health was an issue so Kim's mom postponed telling him. She got herself into therapy and on the third visit brought her husband and told him. She was also juggling the whole extended family.

Kim: "I put her through a lot". "I'd do it differently now." (By coming out earlier). Maybe in the future--due to Kim and others being out about being transgender--someone can come out at fifteen. And then maybe earlier.

Claire is Kimberly's girlfriend of ten years.

Oprah [to Claire]: "You say Kimberly is more feminine than most women you've met?"

Claire: "Well, let me put it this way... I think we're all a little bit in drag, and trying to project ourselves in one away or another. And for women, that's 'feminine'. And I know I tried real hard to match up to a standard of what feminine was. [Oprah interjects: "what femininity is. Yeah."] "But what's striking to me about Kim, and attractive, was that she was so comfortable [with] herself. And that, to me, is feminine. That's a female strength that is really attractive."

Oprah: "It's all about what is authentic, what is true for you, isn't it? [Oprah nods and also says "Yeah." Sort of affirming the validity of her own understanding and words to herself.] Claire nods in agreement, saying "Yeah" or the equivalent.] And I imagine that when you... 'cause you're a lesbian, right? You had to be lesbian, correct?

Claire says, very affirmatively: "Yes." And nods and smiles.

Oprah: "So when you're lesbian, are you trying to strike a balance between 'what is feminine', 'what isn't'"?

Claire: "I don't... I had some gender struggles of my own. Certainly nothing like..."

Oprah: "How feminine to BE, how feminine NOT to BE?"

Claire: "Yeah. And I liked a lot of boy things. Certainly not to the degree that Kim did."

Oprah: "Mm hmm. You weren't playing football."

Claire: "No. But yeah... I think I even overcompensated a little bit. I was afraid that people would look at me as lesbian. I mean I've grown out of that."

Oprah: "I think it's also evolving, isn't it? Isn't it changing?" (I assume Oprah means here that society is getting less homophobic/lesbophobic.)

Claire: "Yeah... yeah." (I wonder if Claire takes this to mean "how one's own identity, and comfort with it, is always evolving and changing.)

Oprah: "So that people can just be who they are."

Claire: "It's amazing how much time it takes and how much work it takes, to just shed that... that false exterior."

Oprah [back to Kim]: "Yes, but don't you find that when you shed your false exterior, that the world and your perception of the world also changes?"

Kimberly: "Oh absolutely."

Oprah: "When you change here, it changes."

Kim nods and says "yeah".

Oprah: "Yes, 'cause it responds to you."

Kim: "Yeah." [And she nods throughout what Oprah says next.]

Oprah: "And all the things that you were afraid of, the people you thought would reject you, the people who wouldn't love you any more, still did. The people who were upset and enraged and jealous of you, still are. None of that's changed."

Kim: "Yeah." 

Oprah: "It takes a lot of courage to stand up for who you really are. What I'm hoping is that this hour, number one, inspired you to see the movie--and if you would like to see where it opens in your city, throughout the country, you can go to, but also to inspire you to dig in and figure out what's keeping you from being 'the best that you can be', 'cause that's really what we all are here to do--is to become more of ourselves. Thank you for watching today. Thank you."

This is but one snapshot into dominant media's view of transgender experience. To me, it is a typically liberal one, and humanistically liberal in its unquestioned acceptance of being transgender. For a largely non-transgender and middle class audience, I'm happy to see that. I think many white middle class transgender people may feel a bit more validated, if they are in the category of being transgender that Kimberly is.

But most transgender people are NOT like Kimberly. Most are not white, are not middle class, are not "pretty" are not blonde, and are not media-friendly and media-savvy. Kimberly chose to have a film made about her, which indicates a level of comfort with "the camera" that, I, for one, do not share. So what about us? Most people who are termed transgender are not Western, are not EFL speaking, are not educated in the academy, and do not graduate from high school or the equivalent of it. Where are the poor or illiterate white transgender voices? Where are the Asian-born and African-born college-educated transgender voices? Where are the dark-skinned transgender people? The transgender people who are ALSO genderqueer and gender non-conforming? Where are the butch women, period? (Transgender or not transgender?)

What seems clear to me from the program, which is a snapshot that is tossed on a pile of similar snapshots I've seen on network and cable TV, where are those of us who question what gender is as a hierarchy primarily? I was very happy to hear Kimberly address male privileges and entitlements, that she had as a boy. I was thrilled to hear Claire discuss what SHE meant by struggling with her own gender issues.

But does this hour illuminate the lives of most transgender people, who will not seek out surgical or hormonal solutions to their gender dysphoria or transgender identity issues?

What about those of us who are transgender who don't LOVE the term "transgender" because it implies going from male to female or female to male, from woman to man or from man to woman, and that's not the gender journey WE'RE on?

What if "going all the way" doesn't mean getting our genitals reshaped surgically and presenting publicly as the gender we DIDN'T get assigned as a child? What it it means something else altogether?

See Sphere for more. I don't make any claims about it being a person of color-friendly space, a woman-friendly space, a lesbian-friendly space, or a feminist-friendly space, although I suspect it is most, if not all, of those. I also suspect it is comprised mostly of Western white, class-privileged, college-educated people, in part because it is an English-written site. It is designed to be most comfortable for people who do not speak ESL.

In a new post, coming soon, I'm going to compare my own struggles around coming out as gay, with coming out as Jewish, with coming out as white, with coming out as transgender, if, in fact, that's what makes the most emotional/psychological/social/political sense for me to do. Welcome to my coming out process.

It's now a few hours after this post was written, and I've decided, with all my privileges in tact, that what I am is "intergender". I'll explain more of what that is next time the issue of gender and sexuality is discussed here.

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