Subject: The Difference Between Transgendered People
From: TheCallan (email@example.com)
Date: Wed 10 Dec 1997 - 13:01:56 GMT
Some on this list have noted that accepting drag or other types of gender
transgression as coming from the same urge/basis/spark/desire as transsexual
behavior denies the essential nature of transsexuality.
I do believe that one of the key questions in Trans-Theory is if the various
manifestions of gender transgression are qualatatively different or
quantatively different. Are we talking about basically different phenomena or
are we talking about different ways that the same nature is expressed?
It is clear to me that the general public sees all gender transgressive
behavior as inherently similar, from men "acting as women in homosexual
relationships" to males transforming themselves into female appearing people,
from part time for performance to full time with surgery. There is less
visibility of the gender transgression of females, but, again, percieved
masculine expression is seen as similar, as rooted in the same way across a
As transgendered people trying to find our own unique identity and voice, we
have all learned how to identify the differences between us and other
transgendered people. We do that, in part at least, to justify our own
actions as being different from actions that we and others are uncomfortable
about. "I am not a pervert / clown / dilletante / liar / queer / whatever
While this self justification is useful for individual purposes, it is
contrary to building a shared story that allows us to come together to make
social and political changes that will ease the climate for trans/queer kids
growing up today. Our stories are political, and the political notion that we
are all discrete groups has limited effectiveness, especially if it is
difficult for people to easily see those differences between us and those
differences change over time -- crossdressers becoming transsexuals,
heterosexuals becoming bisexuals and on and on.
Personally, I cringe at the words "differential diagnosis" and would never
start a presentation with a discussion of categories and differences. Panels
that strive for "one-of-each" representation seem to me to miss the point that
we are all individuals, speaking for ourselves. An FTM does not speak for all
FTMs any more than a crossdreser speaks for all crossdressers.
I have been though the racks upon racks of stuffed study skins of birds,
coming from the era of shotgun ornithology, where scientists worked hard to
identify difference and variation. In life, though, studying the behaviors of
birds, we tend to see similarties, patterns, and see variation as
adaptability, a facet of how individuals respond to a rolein a complex
I am much more interested in that living community than in clinical dissection
of individuals. Anne Bolin says "In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-
polar, rituals of gender transgression remind us of our continuous common
This seems to be a key point of Trans-theory discussion: are we focused on
classification or on "continuous common humanity?"
The Difference Between Transgendered People
What are the differences between transgendered people? On one hand they are
unlistable -- to follow a transgendered path is inherently an individual
journey, and each one of us is as distinct and unique as a fingerprint.
Transgendered people come from different families, are identified as different
races, grew up in different cultures, with different religions and widely
varying desires of all types.
But they key differences in our transgendering are simple. It is the balance
between how we take what we are given -- our body, our training, our history
-- and how much we reinvent ourselves. From the gay man who becomes a diva a
couple of times a year, to the butch lesbian who is very masculine but remains
a woman, to the heterosexual crossdresser who looks like a woman but
identifies as a straight man, to transsexual women, born male and living as
women, and on and on, we all have to find that balance for ourselves.
There are many, many factors in how each one of us makes that balance. They
include physical issues, desire issues, family/social issues, among others.
Transgendered people use the word "passing" to speak about looking as if your
body was born the appropriate sex for the gender you present. Each one of us
has genetic pluses and minuses to this passing. A small male with a full head
of hair and delicate features will have different challenges than a large
balding and aging male. Testosterone is a magic substance, especially when
added during growth, and the results are hard to erase -- adams apples, larger
frames, beard and body hair, lowered voices and so on. The same issue applies
to transgendered people born female -- some pass with ease, others have
Many transgendered people choose not to work hard to alter their body to pass
as well as possible. This can come from a knowledge of the side effects of
drugs & surgery, a choices to put financial resources in other areas, or even
the requirement to move back and forth between the genders. They may know
that no matter how much they modify their body, they will never pass. Others
may choose not to work to pass for political reasons, feeling that passing
will erase their history, and will not open space for more open expression of
transgender in the future.
Family & social issues are also a challenge. We each have obligations to
social networks, and gender shift can cause a problem. If, for example, we
have to act as a man at work, we cannot easily be a woman at other times, or
we may not be able to switch back. Lots of social networks have this demand
on us, and we have to figre ot how to be the person people expect and be our
own person in some sort of balance.
Even in gender transition, those social issues can still be challenging. We
often feel pressure when we transition, having to keep our defenses up. When
we have no history of learning to cope with pressure as someone of the gender
we were not raised, we often raise defenses that show our history rather than
Desire issues are also a challenge. For a gay man who has learned to love
other gay men, becoming a woman means that she has to start dating straight
men -- quite a jump. The same challenge comes in many ways -- butch lesbians
who face becoming straight men, straight men who face becoming lesbians,
straight women who face becoming gay men. While there are people who have
made these leaps, they are not easy, and many people solve this problem by
dropping out of the system of desire that is coded by gender cues altogether
to avoid the problems with mixed messages, thereby also avoiding the benefits
Some people, of course, change their object of desire as they gender-shift,
going from a straight man who loves women to a straight woma who loves men,
but these shifts also involve real challenges. Desire shift is very
challenging, and a major reason why people have to work hard to balance who
they have been and who they are becoming.
All of these shifts, in learning new behaviors, dealing with social pressures,
political goals and the challenges of desire, mean that transgendered people
are forced into a kind of adolescence as they gender-shift. They have to
learn new ways of being before they can easily jettison the old ones they need
to live -- and there may be some changes that they choose not to make. After
all, simply moving from one constricting box to another is not often the most
desirable way to change.
This mixture of future and past in transgendered people, the mix of genders
that is visible in their bodies, voices, actions and choices, can be
disquieting to people. They may see that someone is calling themselves "she"
while still acting as a "he" or vice-versa. We may see, for example, someone
who looks, acts and walks like a woman but still identifies as a gay man,
simply because she doesn't choose to become a straight woman.
What makes transgendered people different? It is not the fact that they all
have a transgendered spark, a heart that calls them to express gender that is
not deemed appropriate for people of their birth sex, for this is what they
share. They are all transgendered, working to follow the calling of their
heart in the a world that has expectations that our genitals define who we
What makes transgendered people different from each other is how they balance
what they are given and how they reinvent themselves. Some work hard for
total reinvention, and others live primarily with what they are given with
only a glimpse of their transgressive heart. To support transgendered people,
the challenge is to open up room for people to more fully express their
hearts, while still being accepted in body, networks and desire.
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