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Monday, August 21, 2006


Posted by on August 21 at 15:52 PM

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,” 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 “transmen” 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….” 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,” 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.

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I'm curious, do you know if the writer (Paul Vitello) is gay?

Women go to bathhouses? In the gay sense of the word?

Dan, you pointed out years ago in your article that men are far more into anonymous sex than women. So no, of course not: Women don't go to bathouses (they're usually called 'spas') for sleazy sex. They go to them for !Surprise! steam baths, saunas, massages, macrobiotic diet-food, pedicures, you name it. They don't offer these things for guys, of course, because !Surprise! straight guys have difficulty relaxing while watching a guy giving out free blowjobs. It's a real drag (no pun intended), and it's inevitable once you hang up the "Men Only" sign.

Women go to non-sexual bathhouses, like that one near the Wild Rose, and many women, straight or lesbian, would be a little freaked out to see a former chick with a testosterone-enhanced micro-penis relaxing in a gals-only space. Male privilege not withstanding, no one should be able to visit gals-only and guys-only spaces within the same week.

I think the Michigan women's music festival threw out some transexual MTFs on the grounds that the fest was only for "womyn-born womyn".

Gender Studies teaches us that gender is constantly changing. Fouccault and Hegel teach us that reality is fluid and progressing. Womyn are more in touch with the fluid nature of reality, and more open to change. How many "straight" men walk into their wives and tell them they are "gay"? Thousands? Tens of thousands?

Just because gay men practice gender oppression, does not mean everyone has to. Z bois and gender queers unite!

Michelle Tea wrote about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and their stance on who's allowed to attend for the Believer a few years ago. The content is mostly unavailable online [believermag]

Gender Queers and the like will quote you Michele Foucault till you either agree or commit suicide. While his ideas had merit, they hardly take into account the way things are. We live in a gendered society and the idea of "queering" everything does absolutely nothing to get people to respect LGBTQ and other non-sexual and non-gender conformists. It is unfair to demand that people open up their personal private space if they don't want to, regardless of how much you have the right straddle the gender line. Some people are comfortable with static gender and sexual roles. One of my big beef's with Queer theory and all it entails is that, whether it means to or not, it becomes expected neigh enforced that you embrace this gender free pan-sexual idea for yourself (at least thats been my experience with the ideas and the people who agree with it). Queer theory needs to take a lesson from itself and allow those of us who adopt a static gender or sexual role to be. Gender isn't inherently bad and not everybody "practices gender oppression", but we do need to figure out a way that both mainstream gendered people and those that are not can respect each other.

What gives Gender Studies, Foucault, and Hegel such privileged access to reality?

Face it. When it comes to sexuality we men are biologically different than women.

The only oppression I see is women oppressing straight men with all the shaming, withholding, and contingencies placed around sex. In the gay community where it's all guys, men are free to be the sluts they really are.

I'd trade my heterosexual privilege for wild gay sex in a heartbeat. Christ, it's hard enough for breeder boys to find a woman who will take it in the ass, let alone give you a rimjob while some stranger you picked in a bar sucks your cock. But that's just another weekend for my gay friends.

I used to think I was lucky to have my choice of millions of pics and videos on the internet of hot women engaging in nasty sex.

Then my gay friend showed me some of his web sites. Not only do you get the pictures, but you can actually meet up with the guy in a matter of minutes for free, bell-ringing sex.

Wow, only in my straightboy dreams.

The NY Times article was a little overheated, in my opinion. One could argue that the lesbian community as a whole is far more welcoming and supportive of transmen than society is of transwomen. And lesbian society is much more accepting of butch women, which gives potential transmen a _huge_ way to relieve their gender tensions, at least for a while.

If you think about it, it's not surprising that a trans person would avoid facing that reality if there were other options that could offer reasonable comfort. Being trans is NOT guaranteed to be the greatest fun you can have. If you think that people don't understand gays, try being transsexual. Because there are so many more options for transmen to find comfort in lesbian society, without fully transitioning, it was perfectly sensible for them to wait until their gender needs became certain before they took that step.

I wonder if the apparent fluidity of lesbianism is a consequence of our society being much more open to gay women than gay men? Provided the lesbians in question are young and femme, and don't mind the odd camera pointed in their direction, of course...

It seems to me that women are generally more able to explore any homosexual leanings they may have, although I'm sure many a lesbian would have horror stories to the contrary. So maybe more girls try it out, then decide to wander back to the breeder flock after all. Or discover that they like women from a heterosexual standpoint.

As a transguy, I've given up all right to "women's space" the moment that I realized that I was trans (well before I started hormones or got surgery). Not all transguys do invade women's and lesbian's space, believe it or not. The fact is, I am a man, I want to be seen as a man (and no, male privelege is NOT part of the deal for me), so I give up the spaces that I was once welcome to. As far as it goes, I frown upon (and so do several other transmen I know) any transguys who DO try to invade women's spaces when they've already figured out their whole gender confusion. If we want to be seen as men, why be in a space designated for females?

Was male privelege ever a reason for me transitioning? No. And that's a largely held- and very damaging, mind you- misconception. Often times anyone who is read as trans is treated and considered sub human. Ever have to worry about whether you'll actually be taken care of by doctors because of your sex and gender? ever be scared to fly because you could be pegged as a terrorist for having "false" (sex marker on ID doesn't match presentation) documents? What about having to worry about (or actually) getting beatten up for just having to use the bathroom? I hardly consider any of these things to be under the heading "male privelege". Not to mention all of the things that any transgendered person has to go through in order to obtain a sex change (it's not just walking into a surgeon's office and handing over money, that's for sure... it takes a lot of time and a lot of work before you can be CONSIDERED for hormones or surgery... and that's excluding the costs) and certainly doing it for the male privelege would deny you the chance to even make it to the doc in order to get your hormones.

My final issue with the article (and a huge one) is that it persistantly uses the word "chooses" in reference to identifying as male. My being male is no more a choice than yours, Dan, in being attracted to men. I could have choosen not to opt for hormones or surgery (although it would have led to a very very miserable life... not one in which I would be unhappy because I was unable to "fool" the general population, but one in which I would have been physically unable to stand living in my own body and dealing with myself), however, I have never once made the choice to identify as male. I tried suppressing it for most of my life- surprise! it doesn't work.

Truth is, I don't get why the gay community can't just accept the trans community. We're all being discriminated against by homophobic assholes. We're both denied rights that cis-gendered, hetersexual people are allowed (a lot of transguys can't marry their female partners because their state will not allow them to change their sex marker on documents, and therefore not grant marriage). We don't pose a threat to lesbians. We don't go rushing in and start recruiting as many as we can get our hands on. If a relationship goes sour because one comes out, that's not too different than a heterosexual couple going sour because one finds out they're gay... There's no agenda. We're not trying to take over lesbians communities and spaces. We're simply just trying to seek happy lives and actually feel at home in our bodies for once in our lives.

Where did I say that I didn't "accept" the trans folks in our community? Acknowledging and discussing the difficult issues that confront transmen, their partners (before and after), and transmen (and women) themselves isn't an unwillingness to accept. It's an unwillingness to refrain from thinking and discussing.

Dan, FTM questioned why the "gay community" could not accept transpeople - it was not directed at you personally. (I personally don't think you *get* transpeople, but this isn't the place to engage you about it.)

Still, I have to agree with FTM - gays, just as much as straights, have a hard time with transpeople. Look of the post about skirts below ( -- the comments didn't show much acceptance of gender variance for men, did they?

This article, Dan's reflection on it, and the majority of the comments here, all reflect the fact that as a whole, we conflate sexuality and gender. Most people, whether gay or straight, have a very difficult time separating the two, and expect certain behaviors along one continuum (gender) to be inherently tied to the other (sexuality) in some logical way. I think what most trans people get that you've still not grasped (and I don't mean this confrontationally, Dan) is that both can be more fluid than most people are comfortable with, and independently of each other. What saddens me about this NYT article about purported lesbian rejection of FTMs is that it is painfully way behind the times when it comes to trans issues. The quote from Kate Kendal in the article is spot on: “The view in some lesbian corners that we are losing lesbians to transitioning is absurd. Given our history of oppression, all lesbians should encourage people to be themselves even if it means our lesbian sister is becoming our heterosexual-identified brother.” It is about people being able to be what they feel are their "authentic selves"--sexuality and its relation to gender should not be a hindrance to that.

Hegel and Foucault teach us that Gender and reality are constantly changing. Oppression is everywhere, even within ourselves. Only by moving beyond gender can we find freedom. Those who refuse to accept us, who cling to the dominant culture's definitions of gender, are our oppressors.

Dan, I wasn't trying to say that you weren't accepting of the trans community. I do believe that you could use a little more education on it though. But that's neither here nor there.

Rather, the point of my post was to give a more rounded view of the situation. My grievances were with the article and with the gay community at large (of course, I've known many lesbians who are perfectly fine with transmen and women and I've also know those who despise them blindly and openly). I was hoping to give a bit of more insight into what goes on in a transguy's mind in order to add to the discussion.

For the record- I'm just as sick of Hegel's and Foucault's teachings as the next guy.

Perhaps one of the obstacles in the acceptance of transpeople is that gay people have been told by conservatives that they should follow gender roles. One theory on why gay men are hated more than gay women is that a gay man is seen to be more like a woman, therefore inferior.

I was raised learning that men and women were only really different physically. I was raised in a town where women were athletic stars and just as many boys as girls played with Barbies. I despised the conservatives that claimed that men and women were fundamentally different - in my experience, they aren't.

Now, I have met transpeople who believe the same thing as the Robert Knights of the world (at least about differences in the sexes). I have had transmen tell me that they knew they were men because they were "logical" and "driven" and not "emotional" and "frilly." Now, perhaps they could just not articulate their feelings and thoughts, but, as a woman, their comments pissed me off.

Maybe I watched PBS too much and am deluded, but my theories on sex and gender are much different than the transpeople's I met. Instead of resisting against gender roles, the phenomena of several lesbians transitioning into men appears to reinforcing the gender roles.

I know I cannot understand what it is like and I believe that transpeople should be respected, but I feel torn because I know that if a XY-born man said that men were "logical" as opposed to women, I would be furious, but if a ftm said that, I would bite my tongue because I am trying to be progressive.

I’m the Jacob Anderson-Minshall mentioned in the New York Times article. Yes, after 20 years as an out butch-identified lesbian (one who co-founded the lesbian magazine Girlfriends) I came out as trans and took steps to transition. But it isn’t like I just woke up one more and say, geez, I’d like to be a man. My gender issue is something that my partner and I discussed many many times over the 16 years we’ve been together.

Prior to my transition, I was far more likely to wake up and say geez, I don’t want to be a man. I’m a good women’s studies trained feminist who wrote my masters on lesbianism as a form of political confrontation. If I felt like I could continue to be a woman without lying to myself and everyone around me—I would have. I despise the patriarchy and I’m not interested in privilege.

Does that mean I haven’t gotten any? As a white trans person who appears male and straight—of course I do. Just as some gay men do. I was able to get legally married. But of course that marriage could be contested at any time, and as Michael Kanteras learned, won’t always be upheld. One thing to remember is that in most locales in America it is STILL LEGAL TO DISCRIMINATE AGAINST TRANS PEOPLE. So don’t try telling even passing-trans men and women that they’ve got it good. They’re being fucked too, just differently.

And the minute you are out, the minute you start writing a weekly column about trans people (TransNatio) and having your face in the New York Times or what not, that is also the minute that much of the supposed privilege can fall away.

As far as lesbians having fluid gender identities: PLEEZE. How many femmes have you seen become men? How about lesbian femmes going straight? Sure, there’s some reason to believe that women’s sexuality is more fluid while men’s is rigidly fixed between polar opposites—which is why, I guess that gay men like to insist there is no such thing as a bisexual.

If it explains anything, it is merely how lesbian couples can stay together after one transitions—the woman is still bound more by an emotional connection than mere physical attributes of their partner. However, to make a statement that lesbians could and would at anytime become men is simply ridiculous.

If you don’t think lesbians can be virulently opposed to all things remotely male, just read some of the posts on the MichFest message boards in regards to the conflict over MTFs.

After all these years of writing about sex, do you still not understand the difference between sexuality and gender? It’s not surprising that some masculine identified female-bodied persons first identify with lesbians, who are perceived as having exactly those attributes. Just as some MTFs try being gay before identifying as women, some (but clearly not all) trans men come out of the lesbian community.

If you are to take the numbers bandied around in the New York Times article, we are presumably looking at five million lesbians in America around 30,000 masculine-identified female born trans people. How in the world would those numbers indicate a mass exodus from lesbian to FTM or that any lesbian might at any moment switch genders?

For some who formerly identified as lesbian it is not their bodies or sexual orientation that has changed but merely the terminology they use to describe them. There are butches and femmes both, for example, that are attracted to the transgender moniker because they haven’t always identified with the descriptive categories of female or women.

It’s frustrating when people outside the LGBT community overstate their presumptive conclusions about trans people. It is much more irritating, Dan, when it comes from within the queer community, especially from such a respected writer as yourself. I hope in the future that you will avoid such simplified generalizations of a wonderfully diverse community.

Jenny - that topic is hotly debated among transwomen, believe me. My personal suspicion is that there are some innate differences between natal men and women, but they are not as immense as some people would make them out to be, and individual characteristics would override those for specific persons anyway.

If nothing else, hormones really do make a difference in how people feel and act -- even if everything else was exactly the same, those hormonal differences are huge. It's very noticeable! I'm sure our transmen can chime in with their own tales of testosterone. ;-)

Hormones are complicated business. Yes, it's been harder for me to cry physically since going on hormones (not because of social expectations... trust me, my parents raised me in the same situation that you grew up), but at the same time, the majority of my depression also cleared up once I went on hormones (due to no longer suppressing my Gender Identity Dysphoria as well as relieving a lot of stress and work that it took to get to the point of getting a prescription for hormones).

Honestly, the changes that happen emotionally once going on hormones (due to a combination of hormones themselves as well as general increased happiness from positive change) are increased difficulty in being able to cry, increased libido, and OCCAISIONALLY increased aggression (also a touchy subject... aggression is only a problem if the testosterone is too low- true of XY men as well... and in the end, it's always about self-control... those who aren't violent people, won't become violent because of hormones).

Other than that, Jenny, I have never once claimed that I knew I was male because I had more reasoning than females or was less emotional (remember, I had depression). I don't think that ANYONE has a right in saying that males are more reasonable than females. In all honesty, I knew I was male simply because I just KNEW. When I was 5, I just saw myself as male and was honestly confused why others didn't. After supressing those feelings (for being teased and tormented at school) I'd just always felt very very awkward in my body, like it never fit correctly. At the first realization that I might be trans, it just made sense... like the final puzzle piece being put into place.

Just think for a moment, what if you had the body of the opposite sex but the same mind? How would you then view yourself (ignoring how the world saw you). What about if you had no genitalia or secondary-sex characteristics but the same mind? Would you still see yourself as female? Why? Certainly not because your emotional reactions or level of reasoning (whatever they might be), but simply because YOU yourself know that you are female. True, there is very very little difference between males and females other than their physical bodies (sex) and women are just as capable of doing things as men... but at the same time, there is a level of perception in the mind (gender) of a person that determines whether they see themselves as female or male, completely ignoring societal expectations. For most people sex and gender are the same, but for some, they don't match up perfectly (or at all).

Again, I was raised in a gender neutral household, where I was able to play with Barbies just as much as I was able to play with action figures (as was my brother). I was allowed to play any sport I wanted (I chose hockey) and I was told constantly that I could do any profession that I desired and that I could do it as well as anybody else. I believed all of these things, but still saw myself as male... this was also well before society got its claws on me and told me I had to act and look a certain way based on my genitals.

A note in news- I hear that the Michigan Women's (or is it Womyn's?) Festival is now allowing out MTFs. I haven't found the article (I actually keep forgetting to look for it, actually), but I'm hoping it's true.

Am I the only one who thinks it's odd that people care this much about someone else's personal life? What the hell gives anyone, feminist or fundamentalist, the right to intrude on someone and say that in order to conform to their idealogy, they can't transition?

I'm not personally transexual, nor do I completely understand what would make someone feel that way, but a person's body and life is their own. Don't overthink it, just let it be.

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