This weekend’s Sunday Styles section of the New York Times has a story by Paul Vitello about lesbians who decide to become men—or decide they always were men, to be transgenderly correct. (“The Trouble When Jane Becomes Jack,â€ť Sunday August 20, 2006.) The piece unpacks the debate among lesbians about butch women who decide to start identifying as men; they change their names, start taking hormones. Some get complete sex-reassignment surgery, some just have their tits taken off.
One of the ex-lesbians profiled, Shane Caya, had been in a lesbian relationship and was about to have a baby with his lesbian partner when he decided to make the switch. His lesbian partner left him. Another of the profiled ex-lesbians, Jacob Anderson-Minshall, was able to legally marry his lesbian partner, Diane Anderson-Minshall, after he made the switch. (Ah, our marriage laws. Two women can’t get married unless one of them starts taking hormones and changes her name. So two women can get married—so long as one has an elective double-mastectomy and hair on her chin.) Oh, and the happily-married-to-a-man-now Diane Anderson-Minshall? She’s the executive editor of Curve, a glossy lesbian magazine.
Anyway, two things jumped out at me about the story.
First, in addition to angst about lesbians accessing dreaded male privilege (to say nothing of the Anderson-Minshalls accessing heterosexual privilege), Vitello unpacks some practical issues…
What places should transgendered men have in women’s spaces such as bathhouses, charter cruises, music festivals, and, more tricky still, at women’s colleges, where some “transmenâ€ť taking testosterone are reportedly playing on school sports teams?
Women who identify as men and take testosterone shouldn’t be playing on women’s sports teams. Period. (If that’s not a loaded word choice in this context.) If it was unfair for the East German Women’s Swim Team to be taking testosterone, if it was illegal for Floyd Landis to be taking it, it really isn’t fair for the other women on the lacrosse teams to have to compete against bulked-up transmen.
But what really jumped out at me was “…women’s spaces such as bathhouses….â€ť Women go to bathhouses? In the gay sense of the word? Skeezy and depressing places where they meet for anonymous, soul-killing sexual encounters? In most cities lesbians are lucky enough to have a bar, but a bathhouse?
But this is what really floored me:
The fact that there is no apparent parallel imbroglio in the gay community toward men who become women is a subject of some speculation.If anyone in the gay male community is speculating about this, it’s new to me. But perhaps the speculating is all going on in the lesbian community, not the gay-male community. If that’s the case, I can clue you in, ladies, and put a quick end to the speculation:
The reason there’s no parallel imbroglio is because adult gay men don’t decide to switch their genders at anywhere near the rate that lesbians do. I’ve been out of the closet and gay more than two decades now and in all that time I’ve never known a single gay man who decided—particularly in mid-life—to run off and become a woman. Most of the men I’ve known who switched their genders began identifying as female at a very early age; a handful identify as lesbians. I want to say “they hardly ever identified as gay men before identifying as women,â€ť but I’ve never met or even heard of a single out gay man who became a woman.
I have, on the other hand, known lots of lesbians who decided to become men. Many more of the lesbians I’ve known have also decided to become—or revert to—heterosexual women. At the risk of being burned in effigy at the next dyke march, lesbian identity seems fluid past the point of all reason at times. I may have to worry about my boyfriend leaving me and running off with another man (he assures me that these concerns are irrational—but he would, right?), but I don’t have to worry about him deciding to get a sex change or walking into the kitchen and announcing that he’s really straight.
Gays and lesbians—our lives, our identities, our relationships—constantly feel like we’re being undermined from without. It must be distressing to feel like your relationship is at risk of being undermined from within.