Subject: We Got No Choice?
From: TheCallan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sat 09 May 1998 - 13:50:16 BST
The question of a public creation myth for transgender and/or transsexual
behaviors seems to be rooted in the key issue: "Do transsexuals have a
We know that black people have no choice about their skin color. We also know
that there was legal discrimination against them, including slavery and forced
emigration, so we know that because they had special negative status in law,
they deserve special positive status. The question of if that is an ongoing
status, or only a repairative status that should be removed after a time is a
good one. Does the special status leave an incentive for them to remain
unequal, continuing the separations to maintain the status and political
In any case, the question is choice. Should the transgressive behaviors that
queers choose to make be protected? Why should we protect those choices?
Should the argument be that we have no choice because we are simply acting out
a biological condition? Conservatives would argue that even in rapists and
murderers have a biological predilicton to rape and murder, those acts are
destructive to culture and should be prohibited, just like gender
transgressive acts, including homosexual acts, are destructive to culture and
should be prohibited. This is the idea of the RC church, in love the sinner,
hate the sin -- your nature is fine, but acting on it is wrong.
I believe that we need to speak for the power of choice, because when we start
to try to justify those choices because of some biological predisposition we
get into real nasty places where we give our power to choose away to others
who treat and manage those biological challenges. We surrender power to the
medicalization that Michael discusses, removing our own agency, and creating
new boundaries that limit people. If TS is a biological event, is
I wrote the following in January 96 and posted it on the Internet. Rosalind
Helgenveld has published it, but only in Dutch. . .
Do Transsexuals Have A Choice?
Callan Williams Copyright © 1996
I believe that we have no choice about being
born with a predisposition to transgender, no
choice to be transsexual or whatever other
word you use to describe it, but we do choose
what we want to do about it. The notion of
choice -- and of taking responsibility for that
choice -- is crucial to our being able to become
the best we can be in this world. To be able to
choose is to be empowered in this world.
Many transsexuals argue that they have no
choice but to have surgery, that they have no
choice over the chain of events that leads them
to surgery. For some, this fundamental tenet
of faith is so strong that they feel if a person
feels they have choice over SRS, they are not
really a transsexual, for transsexuals have no
choice. This is a key part of their history, and
many get distressed when anyone talks about
the choices a transsexual person has to make in
Where do choices end for transsexuals? They
choose where they go for surgery. They choose
when to have surgery. They choose how to pay
for surgery. They choose to have a graft or not.
They choose where to transition, choose how
and what to tell their friends and family. They
even choose what they wear to and from the
hospital. People choose all these things, but
many insist that they don't actually choose to
gendershift and have surgery. You may
wonder what they would have done if surgery
was not an option -- as it wasn't until about 40
years ago. Life is about the cycle of death and
rebirth, and we all choose to die in some way --
and be reborn, though the death of the
physical body is the ultimate choice.
I actually had one TS argue that no rational
person would choose gendershift and surgery,
so therefore it can't be a rational choice. Is it a
rational choice for a CD to put on a dress and
go to the mall? The rationality of decisions is
very much about the way you view the options.
This culture wants to convince us that no
rational person would do either, and enforces
that decision with stigma. Who would choose
to take the pain that one has in telling their
mother, their kids, their wife that they choose
to change gender and/or sex -- if even
temporarily? Heterosexism requires the
separation of men and women, and works hard
to tell us that to cross that line is a horrible and
bizarre thing. But it isn't -- or at least that is
the message of the transgender paradigm.
The difference seems to be as simple as the
difference between "I had no other choice but
to have surgery" and "I felt I had no other
choice but to have surgery." The first statement
denies any possibility of other choices, while
the second affirms that we saw surgery as the
right choice for us, whatever the drawbacks.
I do understand that many TS people who have
chosen gendershift and surgery do feel they
had no other choice, that they had exhausted
their other options -- but that is not unique to
transsexuals. The ability to relinquish
responsibility for our actions because we saw
no other choice than to drink, leave, kill, (or any
other action) opens up an excuse for all. This
makes me very uncomfortable.
I believe that TS people who choose surgery
make the best choice they can under the
circumstances -- but actually going through
with gendershift and surgery has been made to
seem so selfish and harebrained that they
choose to claim no choice in the matter. "I
didn't want to do it! I had to! My nature
forced me into it!"
Gendershift and surgery are fine and honorable
choices, not selfish or hare-brained. They are
often the best choice that we can make to get
on with our lives. I applaud and admire their
choice, as a transgendered and a transsexual
person to bring their gender, role and body
Stigma and The Closet
If it was easier to make the choice to
gendershift, we would not have so many TG
people twisted by the closet, torn apart by
being impaled on the horns of the dilemma of
which way to turn. We wouldn't have to wait
until everything else in our life is gone before
we chose to walk through the wall of gender --
and much of the pain of living with stigma
would be lessened and we could get on with
our lives and our contributions to the world.
But the model that says TS is a disease, a birth
defect, means it is something to run from and
deny, not to be proud of. I know many
crossdressers who longed to be TS, because
that was explainable, took you out of the range
of making a choice to change clothes. But
today even many transsexuals reject that illness
James Green was talking to a big old shrink at
an APA convention. When he told the shrink
that he was talking about transgender,
transsexuality, the shrink replied "I don't think
God makes mistakes. James simply answered,
"Neither do I." We are not mistakes, just
humans with special gifts and challenges, like
any other human. We can choose to see our
transgendered nature as a curse, or simply
another way humans are born.
This is a big deal. Do we actually have choice
over how we live our lives, even if we don't
have choice over who we are? Are we slaves to
the world, or do we control our destiny by the
choices we make?
What Is Choice?
Much of this discussion rides on how we define
"choice." It is clear that our choices are based
on both biological predisposition and a wide
range of other environmental factors, and it is
possible to argue that humans are merely
victims of their genetic and cultural
programming, and have no true choice. You
can argue that humans are so limited by their
history that free choice, free will is not an
option -- we are just meat puppets.
But to make that argument is to take away our
responsibility for change, for transformation. If
we are only slaves to our past, then we have no
personal responsibility -- or personal freedom.
We become only a part of the collective, not
individuals. Robert Schuller preaches on the
fact that this century has been one of
collectivism, of serving the machine, but the
pendulum is swinging back in the next century
to the individual. He reminds us of our
individual responsibility and choice -- "If it is to
be, it is up to me!"
Transgendered people make individual choices.
It is clear that well over 90% of people in this
culture don't have massive discomfort at living
in a standardized gender role. TG people don't
ask for the ability to change the role of
everyone, but the ability of individuals to
define their own role, either crossing the
sex/gender line permanently or exploring the
turf around it. We don't choose for the culture
as a whole, but we do claim the right to choose
for ourselves, to not simply take what is issued
Not every choice is for something -- we often
choose against something. We choose not to
be men, but does that mean we choose to be
women? For some of us we do, but for others
the choice is more complex. For many of us we
choose not to choose, but to let the world push
us where it will -- yet does that mean that we
haven't made a choice?
We always make the best choice we can -- even
if we don't understand why we made the
choice. Even when we make choices that
appear self destructive, we are choosing to
destroy something that is haunting us. We
often choose to paint ourselves into a corner so
that the only choice left to us is the one we
want, or the one that we think we deserve --
and so we get it without seeming to make a
choice. This is especially true of choices that
carry such stigma as transgender and sexual
orientation -- we are so afraid of being
shunned, isolated, separated for simply doing
what will satisfy us that we try to abdicate the
The Fear Of Choice
Erica Jong notes that one reason people are so
afraid of choice is because it seems so easy to
make the wrong one. It's so easy, especially in
a culture where choice is frowned on, one that
socializes us to serve the machine, to become
homogenized. People club us about our
choices -- "If you really loved me, you would
never hurt me this way!" -- when our choices
are not about hurting them but rather about
finding what we need. We become gun-shy
and afraid of losing love and connection, so we
try to find ways to not be isolated, to not have
to take the responsibility and the consequences
of our choices. We need to believe we are
lovable for who we are, not just because we
choose to do what others want us to.
We also recognize that taking responsibility for
our choices now means we always had
responsibility for our choices -- and then we
have to forgive ourselves our past
transgressions, which is hard for anyone.
Learning to love ourselves unconditionally, not
just for what we did or didn't do but simply for
what we are, is the basis of learning to love
others that way.
More Choices Than Ever
As others have noted, the range of choice that
is open to us is expanding geometrically. We
have choices of communication, of travel, of
medical treatments, of lives that were unknown
just a few years ago -- and the possibilities that
are just over the horizon are even more
boggling. We are not living in a world that is
getting more simple, but one that is getting
vastly more complex, where the range of choice
will allow any individual to become who they
want to be.
The simple fact that we have so much more
information available to us opens up our
choices immensely. We now see options we
would not have known existed before.
To be prepared to handle this range, we have
to start teaching kids to make intelligent
choices, not merely to follow rote patterns. We
can't simply crave going back to a simpler time
-- it isn't going to happen, and those simple
times weren't really all that much fun because
we were chastised, stigmatized, humiliated and
declared criminal for the choices we made that
seemed "anti-social." The drug problem is a
good example. While some people tried to
have kids "just say no," those in recovery found
that they couldn't kick until they took
responsibility for their own choices, and
trusted, rather than fought, the callings of their
Society has an interest in making the choice to
be TG -- or to live as a gay person, or lots of
other choices -- as difficult as possible. The
easier the choice, the more people will take it --
and that may be seen as a destabilizing force.
If people thought they could choose to change
without stigma, they would -- and where would
we be then? There are reasons that the hurdles
for SRS are so high, reasons the gatekeepers
fight so hard -- and that we become who they
expect us to be in order to get what we want
and what we need.
Taking Responsibility For Choices
I watched Martine Rothblatt confound an
interviewer on local TV. As the interviewer
tried to get the "no choice" phrase out of her,
she simply said she had lived as a man and had
always wanted to live as a woman, and her
wife and kids thought it was OK, so she did.
The interviewer looked stymied, not
understanding how anyone would gendershift
just because they chose to. Gendershift is so
drastic, so irreversible, so weird, so isolating --
why would anyone choose to do this?
But Martine knows that she made a choice for
change. It was her time and her way. She was
born transgendered, and she chose to
We have no choice in the gender we are
assigned by our parents, no choice in what they
expect us to wear, to do. For them it is a
simple process of only looking at what is
between our legs -- not what is in our hearts.
Some children like red shirts, others blue ones.
Do we look for a cause in these choices? Could
we find one if we did? But when some
children with penises prefer dresses and some
children with vaginas prefer no dresses, we
look for a cause. Why are these choices
different? Because the world says they are,
The Pressure To Make the "Right" Choice
I understand the enormous pressure that comes
from growing up gender queer, transgendered,
or even transsexual in this culture -- to know
what is expected of you was somehow contrary
to your nature. I understand that for many, the
pressure is so intense that choosing surgery is
the only choice they see for happiness -- and
that many of us were in so much pain that they
saw the choice between surgery and death as
the only choice at all.
But taking responsibility for your choices in no
way diminishes the pain and suffering you felt.
In fact, taking responsibility confirms your
ability to do something about your pain and
By choosing to gendershift, have SRS or
transgress gender in other ways, you cease to
be a victim to the pressure the outside world
puts on you to conform to gender standards.
We are shaped by peer pressure whether we
resist it or conform to it, but by choosing our
own path we become not merely followers or
reactionaries, but actively responsible for
shaping our own life and future.
Choices and Power
Declaring the ability to choose the shape and
direction of our life gives us the power to
transcend our history, to become more than
slaves to our predisposition and our
environment. Our choices will be shaped by
who we are and where we have been -- but
they will not be limited by that. I have a role
that I wouldn't have chosen for myself given the
stigmas of this culture -- but somehow it feels
like the absolutely right choice. This is the
dilemma of humans.
Think of the people who moan: "I have no
choice but to go to work because of the bills!"
But you can reduce the bills, choose to live
more simply, choose other work -- you do have
choices, even if some of them require you to do
unpleasant things, to renounce something you
want now in order to get something you want
more later. When you choose to work for long
term happiness, you have stopped being a
victim -- and that means you are in control.
The point is that, whatever limits we have to
free will, in the long run it is our choices -- not
the least of which is how we choose to see the
world -- that determines the ultimate direction
of our life, and determines our ultimate
happiness. It only takes a little bit of choice to
make a big difference to any human life. We
can transcend our history -- we are humans.
If we want to stop being victims, we must take
responsibility for our choices -- even those
choices which are almost unfathomable to most
in this heterosexist culture. We must be able to
satisfy ourselves, to become congruent and
whole, even if some people think we are just
Even if we simply say "I didn't choose to kill
myself and put an end to other's
embarrassment with me, rather I chose to live
in a way that I could be happy and effective,"
we need to take pride in our choices.
To paraphrase what JoAnn Roberts often
reminds us, in the words of John Steakley, "You
are what you [choose to] do when it counts."
Once we have control of and responsibility for
our own lives -- and we don't simply give in to
nature or the culture -- then we can start to
become full and complete individuals.
And to me, that choice is worth working very,
very hard for.
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