The Whys of TG
Callan Williams Copyright © 1996
Why? That's what people want to know when I tell them that I am transgendered. The three key questions -- as asked by a partner, are seemingly very simple:
-- If you really love me, then why won't you just stop doing this TG stuff?
-- If you can't stop being TG, then why do you have to wield the symbols of TG? Why can't you just feel feminine/masculine without showing it?
-- If you have to show it, then why do you have to leave the bedroom/house? Why expose yourself (and your family) to the unsafe world?
These are the questions that all of culture asks. Why are you TG, and why can't you just stop being TG? Why do you choose to express it? And why do you do it where people can see it?
Why are you TG, and why can't you stop being TG?
The first question is the hardest to answer, and the easiest. The only answer we have now is "Just because."
Just because I am. Just because it is just a way some people are born. Just because my creator made me this way.
We know that TG people have existed in all recorded cultures at all times. In many, they were spiritual leaders, blessed with the gift of two-spirits. In others they have been entertainers, sages, counselors, and spies.
There are some who propose why, from a socio-biolgical perspective TG people exist, because they give strength to the tribe, a unique perspective and power to the group. There are some who look for biological reasons -- chromosomes, hormone shocks and what have you.
But we don't have a scientific explanation for transgender behavior, merely a clear understanding that it exists.
The hard part of the question "Why are you TG, and why can't you stop being TG?" is about blame and cure. Did parents do something wrong? Was it DES in-vitro, the lack of a good father figure, childhood abuse? Could we have changed it -- and can we now?
Who can I blame for TG -- and how can I cure it? I have wasted many years looking for the answer to those questions. Nobody has found a cause -- and no one has found a cure.
The question "Why was I born TG?" cannot be answered from an objective viewpoint except in the simple "Just Because." But for many of us, we have found that asking that question from a spiritual question can be enlightening. Anthropologist Anne Bolin has noted that "In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender transgression remind us of our continuous common humanity." Maybe that is a clue to why people are born TG.
Why can't you just feel TG and not express it?
The second question gets more complex, almost to the level of how humans operate. It is the question of meaning and symbol. Is meaning enough? Can we really explore the meanings and feelings we have without putting them into symbols -- words, images or other representations?
Does a human idea exist if it is never represented, never expressed to anyone else? And can that notion grow, stand the test and shaping of reality without putting it out in view where others can see it and where we can get their reactions, comments, reflections?
To have feelings, emotions and thoughts without being able to expose them to the light of day is to have obsessions. Everything grows twisted when deprived of light, and the spirit of a transgendered person is no different.
To have transgendered feelings without exploring them is to leave them stunted at the level of adolescent fantasy, childish ideas of perfection and desire.
Much of our transgender feelings don't exist at a the level of verbalizations. They exist at the level of metaphor and symbol. While it would be possible to express femininity with a shaved head and a shapeless jumpsuit, it cuts off many layers of communication.
To speak gender without using the language of gender -- clothing, adornment, cosmetics -- its almost impossible. Gender is a feeling, and it is expressed as an art -- though other means that logical language.
Some may argue that the symbols we use to express gender are constructed, shallow, and only on the surface. That's true -- but we use them to express something deeper, something we cannot verbalize. That may be a desire to be like other people, or it may be an expression of our unique selves. One problem with transgendered people is that they are not skilled in the language of gender, especially not in their target gender. They have much to learn -- but cannot learn it without experimentation.
Why do you have to expose your TG to other people?
The one thing that all transgendered people share is a deep sense of shame, of doing something that makes them a bad person and unlovable. Because they have a secret to keep, they keep people at arms length.
It can become almost impossible for a transgendered person to achieve real intimacy, even with themselves. they have spent so long hiding away anything that might tip their transgender status to the world that they don't know themselves.
To get over this feeling of shame, they need to be accepted for who and what they are. They need to believe that it is not what they do -- how they follow the rules for being the gender other people expect them to be -- but rather who they are that makes them lovable.
At some point, this means that you have to go out of the closet and be who you are. That doesn't have to mean shouting from the rooftops, or showing up at Thanksgiving dinner in a dress, but it does mean revealing yourself to selected and trusted friends, family and acquaintances and finding out that they don't find you perverted or disgusting -- just human.
The key goal of transgendered people is to get how they see themselves and how other people see them in synchronization. This may mean gendershift, changing gender roles -- but for many transgendered people it simply means showing people close to us a special part of us that we have learned to hide.
To be able to express transgender, but stay in a vacuum -- even with a partner -- can be difficult on everyone. It leaves secrets around, and it limits our development and health.
Healthy people are open and honest about who they are, in an appropriate way.
Making A Choice To Express Transgender
It is not the fact that my nature is queer that offends most people. It is the fact that I choose to act on it, to reveal it.
Why am I different from blacks? Because I can choose to show or not show my nature, when they wear it on their skin. I can choose to wear the clothes of the gender assigned to me at birth and look assimilated.
As a culture we can excuse blacks. They have no choice but to let their nature show -- and we then have to accept that nature as simply a part of humanity. But I can change my appearance -- so why excuse me?
We used not to excuse the choice that, for example, Jews made to follow their religion. You can choose to be Christian! we told them. But now most accept it -- and some still see them as targets.
And it's the same with queers, with gender transgressors. What you do in the bedroom is your choice, but why do you have to take it to the streets? Be gay, fine. Just don't let me see it.
The answer is simple. Because, like any other human, I get to express my nature.
What about limits of propriety? Where are the edges? I would argue that they are the same for other people. That means if a woman can wear the dress, so can a transgendered woman.
After all of this is said and done, most people are left with one unanswerable question: "But why? I just don't understand why anyone would want to take the humiliation and stigma just to wear different clothes."
The push to transgress gender is outside of the understanding of most people. It just doesn't jibe with anything in their experience. They just can't grasp what would push anyone to do it.
They want to know "Why?" Too often they try to make up motivations for themselves that they can grasp -- and that may be wrong. It's not about dressing to attract men or women. It's not about sexual stimulation. It's about who we are, how we feel and the song that God taught us.
I have discovered as I meet people who also share a unique perspective, that I don't understand why they feel the way they do. I may not understand their attractions, their choices, their essence.
But I do understand that no matter how different they are, they are the same as me -- just human. They have a different reality, a different gift, a different expression. I don't have to understand it -- just to accept it as their natural expression.
This is the core of most spiritual beliefs, the acceptance of others, no matter what color, nationality, gender, orientation or other differences, we are all human. To expect people to be alike on the surface can mean that we don't get to share the true and vast diversity in humans -- and that we never get to become all we can be, because we don't accept other people's uniqueness -- and don't accept and express ours.
For true freedom, and a true global family, we need to be able to start from a position of respect and acceptance -- even if we don't understand. For me, I have only one cardinal rule about behaviors I won't accept, and those are behaviors that are non-consensual. When people are murdered, raped, or even forced into acting in a way that will satisfy someone else, this is non-consensual behavior.
So when someone asks "Why?" I ask "Why Not?" Why should we be forced, against our wills, to show gender expression just to satisfy social expectations? Every transgendered person has to figure out for themselves their own level of comfort in dressing for others and dressing for themselves, like any person. But to be forced to be something you are not, to hide behind an acceptable persona means that we force people to be less than God made them.
Why do we express transgender? Because we are proud and honest about the way we are. And that's the best answer of all.
Why Does Gender Have to Be So Hard?
Callan Williams Copyright © 1996
I am touched and moved by people who are throwing up their hands in frustration at gender fluidity. "How can we even come to consensus on who we are if definitions of things as simple and basic as male and female keep changing?" they say.
Others get crazed with the convoluted and pedantic language, full of exception handling and conditionals, and based on metaphoric and/or mythic constructs we use to talk about something as simple as how we feel about ourselves and how we act towards each other.
Where are the touchstones we can grab? What foundation can I use that won't shift? How can I be sure that I am connecting, not setting myself up to be shot at? How do I know what or whom I am talking to? Where is shared ground?
These are very hard questions for me, too. If everything is fluid, what is solid enough to build a life on? We all want to build our identity out of solid structures -- and in this crazy, paradigm shifting world, what we see to be solid often turns out not to be. The job down the plant, the house we grew up in, our ethnic heritage, the people we trust, our sexual partners, and more all seem to shift away, turn to dust when we need them to hold on to rather than falling into the vortex of change.
People have talked about change being the only constant for years, but it is now, in an age where we are deluged with contradictory information, where we are transient in ways we never could be, where virtual communities spring up and are taken down in a matter of weeks, that the force of change appears to be going to knock us over and drown us.
I have been watching America On Wheels on PBS, a history of 100 years of the automobile, the journey from horse to car, from depression to war, from flying fifties to oil crisis '70s seems mighty short. Drop someone from 1646 in 1696 and they probably wouldn't see much difference -- drop someone from 1946 in 1996 and they would be boggled. I can't even guess what 2046 will be like -- and while I may live to see it, I know there are people on this list who will see it.
The faster change comes -- and for TG people change is the norm -- the more I need something deeper that I can use an anchor. For me, the only thing that has worked is a belief in spirit. I choose to believe that we are connected, all essentially the same, and the separations and changes remind us of what lies at our core. Surface changes, but at our center we are all simply human. To me, we are not humans living a spiritual life, but spirit living a human life -- and that life is made of change, of opportunities to learn and grow.
I do keep wondering why gender -- and life itself -- has to be so hard, complex, fluid and exception laden. But when I get to a spiritual core I see that change is on the surface, not at the level of meaning --and at that level I can feel comfortable and centered.
That doesn't mean I don't have to understand or act in the level of surface, the illusion of the physical world that we all share. That is where we learn, and the symbols we exchange on that level are the ways we help each other grow and find their center. That's why I do a bit of deconstruction.
The meanings of symbols are always subjective, and to try to cast them in stone limits all of us. What keeps us growing is working to understand what people meant by the symbols they chose, not finding an arbitrary interpretation of symbols and applying it to people, which is very limiting.
But that deconstruction of symbol, at least for me, only helps me to reveal meaning, and to try to express my own meanings more clearly. It allows me to try to talk from my core rather than simply repeat the symbols I have been given.
I see identity as the mental image of who we are, and when we get that image in touch with our authentic self, we can create effective expressions. I do that so I can talk about other factors that affect that mental image, like socialization, learning and such -- but it seems we mostly have agreement. When we get our mental image in line with our authentic self, and create our expression from there, then we have a solid anchor in our own soul.
I see each of us building a gender expression like we build a work of art, to try to say the things we hold deep inside, to express our nature. That is not building who we are, but rather building who we think we are and expressions of who we are.
I feel boggled by change, by impermanence, by transformation, by the deaths that occur all around me -- after all, I live in the dying industrial belt of the Northeast. That's why I have had to being to believe in change by believing in rebirth, believe in symbols by believing in meanings.
Why do things have to be so hard? For me, it is because I don't trust the part that is easy -- the part where I simply trust my connection to the universe and everything in it.
In any case, it is the core of humanity -- or whatever you choose to call it -- at our center that provides the stability and the connection that we crave, not the shifting symbols around us. Without an inner stability, we will have no stability at all.
Callan Williams, ©1994
The way you deal with gender affects your gender issues. Sounds obvious, right? You know that your crossdressing, transgender, transsexual issues are all wrapped up with the way you deal with gender. You have been exploring feminine things for a while now. But you may be ignoring your gender.
The thing that many people forget is that there is not just one gender. At gender conventions, we tend to fall into the trap that Virginia Prince set, venerating all that is feminine. But the flip side of the gender coin is masculinity, and no coin with only one side has any value. To explore our gender, we must not only explore the feminine in us, we must also explore the masculine in us.
While inner explorations and masculinity would seem to be contrary, they are not. Many women, as they explore their own gender issues, understand that they must explore the masculine, strong, and outwardly focused parts of themselves in order to be whole. They must understand both the feminine and masculine inside of themselves.
This process of exploring our own constructs of masculinity can lead to surprising results. One guy, who joined a men's group, finally came out and told them he was transgendered. His process of exploration of gender through the group had led him to his own discoveries, and the group was very supportive of his decision.
Because most of us never explore what our masculinity means, we are cut off from that part of ourselves. For some that means clinging to stereotypical behaviors we learned from the men around us, even though they don't work for us. We do all the guy things, never realizing that they are not the only symbols of masculinity, but rather just a set of behaviors our father had. We wear a dress and growl, thinking that will prevent us from losing our masculinity, when our real masculine side is something that can never be taken from us.
For others, the lack of exploration means we deny anything that looks remotely masculine to us. We see the masculine as anathema, something to be despised, and we run from it. This cuts us off from a great source of power that women are learning how to tap into in themselves. We tend to stay down, and never take control of our own power and strength.
In the extreme case, we see both of these behaviors, with someone clinging to a set of supposedly masculine behaviors and then declaring themselves transsexual and supposedly running from the same behaviors. Yet the exercise can seem hollow to others, because the essential components are never changed, only the surface. It is not sufficient to just change on top - real change must always occur at the level of meaning.
People who do this kind of a flip-flop end up with the worst of both worlds, alienated from themselves and others. They live in a world where there is no stable underlying meaning that can bend and shape with the passing of time and interaction with others. Their reliance on dogma, and not on inner acceptance, leaves them brittle and isolated. Without depth, we are two dimensional, and must fight off any force, good or bad, that threatens to tip us over.
We cannot hope to address our gender issues without addressing the complete and total range of our internal gender: masculine, feminine and all points in between. The only successful way to deal with any part of your gender is by embracing it, not denying it. We must reach down to the bedrock of our own personalites to build a firm foundation for our future growth.
This process of inner exploration is crucial for anyone's growth, transgendered or not. Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson, in his book, Lying with the Heavenly Woman, talks about how much of the things that bring people joy - love, warmth, compassion, caring - are essentially feminine. On the other side, Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her book, Women Who Run With The Wolves, talks to women about accepting and using the wild, masculine parts of themselves.
Raising children also demands a respect and acceptance of both sides of gender. As parents, we have a responsibility to show our children effective ways to use all their strengths, not simply raising tough boys and sweet girls. Each child must be able to draw on a complete range of skills and behaviors, not just a limited set, or they will not be able to prosper in our changing world.
We become transgendered and happy not simply by amputation, but rather by a conscious process of creating a self that is whole and happy. This inner process is a key to being a good human, no matter what your issues are. Accepting your masculinity is a vital part of accepting your femininity, and vice versa.
There are advantages in exploring both sides you you. You may be able to find a "point of rest," as Joseph Campbell calls it, that lets you express the wholeness of your gender without having to go to extremes. On the other hand, a full exploration may mean that you are more comfortable when you do go to extremes. You will be more effective in the world because people see you as a whole person, not someone hiding something, even from themselves.
How you understand and deal with your masculinity is a key determinant to how you deal with your transgender. Taking the time to understand how you were raised, and to question the assumptions about gender that were passed to you as you grew is the best way to deal with you gender issues - all of them.
For lots of trannys born male, we stick everything that might be considered feminine away -- afraid it will reveal or expose us, afraid that following it will lead us down a slippery slope.
Every transperson born male faces the challenge of allowing themselves to express the feminine without having to dress up in women's clothes, which often makes us even more defensive, even less feminine. As one wife said, I don't need to stuff a sock in my pants and paint on beardshadow to take out the garbage, change the oil in the car, or watch football.
This is a poem about how much we lose when we take everything that might be considered feminine and stuff it away because we fear it. In many ways, it is applicable to everyone who grows up in a heterosexist culture where people are taught to fear that they might not be man enough, might not be woman enough.
Hopechest 1/27/94 11:23 AM
Put it away, there. It's
not for playing with.
You're not going out like that! Go upstairs and put that away!
That's not for you, it's your sister's. Put it away.
Put it away. Away in your drawer, away in the closet, away in your heart.
So many things to put away, so many things
not to play with.
So you don't play. Don't feel free, don't let loose.
Might break something, might make Mommy mad.
But somewhere in your heart is a hopechest.
Full of dreams, and hopes, and knowledge of your secret self.
The charms of your magic are there
as potent as the day you learned to put them away.
The Barbie dolls and stories, magic
crystals and paints
that let you play, that let you free
express who you are, who you will be.
It lays in a minefield, deep in your heart.
Protected by old taunts, and fears deep and dark
As it calls you shrink, visions of loss in your head.
From the top you grab an old pair of
pantyhose, a ratty cheap wig.
And feel the power those talismans have.
Everything tingles, you shoot for the sky.
The thrill of the forbidden.
But the hopechest is still there, layered
deep with treasures.
And the most magic is still at the bottom.
Sealed in layers and layers of shame guilt fear.
You know that it's there. It calls to you
And the only question becomes who is stronger
Your heart says you need your hopechest
But mommy says
Put it away, there. It's not for playing with.
You're not going out like that! Go upstairs and put that away!
That's not for you, it's your sister's. Put it away.
Put it away. Away in your drawer, away in the closet, away in your heart.