Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ether Radio

Last Tuesday I took the day off work to run errands.  Around 8:30 in the morning I was sitting in my boyfriend's car by a gas pump.  Peter was inside collecting American Spirits and hot chocolate.  "Wait, I don't want hot chocolate.  Yes, I do.  Wait, no I don't."  I turned up the radio and took out my pressed powder. There were two men on the other side of the station with deep, dark voices and plenty of enthusiasm.  They were pleased with themselves, ripping the airwaves with base male vigor and blithe energy.  It's oddly stimulating, the way men talk to each other, their reckless, wild banter border lining on affectionate.  I leaned in closer when I realized they were talking about transsexuals.  The conversation wasn't serious, it wasn't a debate or terribly informative.  In fact, it was closer to slander. 

     The hosts of 104.1, The Edge's morning show were discussing transgender women in public restrooms.  It wasn't the main topic of their broadcast, but it took center stage when I tuned in.  They were asking each other if a transgender woman should be allowed to use a female restroom if she was passable.  The phrase they used wasn't "passable," of course.  I believe the terminology was closer to, "she has the hair and she has boobs--she has the boobies..."  I think the softest response was something like, "I can't speak for women, but...if he still has a penis--if she still has it, then she shouldn't, because that's still technically a guy."  There were other remarks to pre-op transwomen being "dudes" and "having their manhood," which inevitably lead to joking and references to the movie The Hangover 2. The bottom line of their rhetoric is that transgender women are "technically guys" unless they've had their penises removed and shouldn't be allowed to use the female restrooms because it's not fair to women. 

     Men and women are entitled to crude assumptions and it's alright to argue or debate hot button issues like restrooms and gender.  It's fairly acceptable to joke or speak your mind.  None of us are above criticism or parody.  My objection isn't to The Edge's crude nature.  It's to the lack of research the male hosts performed before they misinformed people over the radio.  It's obvious they were curious and openly discussing this strange minority for the first time.  It's obvious they were still forming an opinion on a subculture.  But while no one was holding guns to their heads and screaming, "read up on transgender women before you talk about them on the radio," they might of pretended to be adults about this and discover whether or not a transgender woman needs to have genital surgery in order to use a female bathroom (or be considered a legal female) before assuming and impacting the viewpoint of such a large audience. What really bothers me is the fact that this audience, a high percentage of them, barely know what a transsexual is

     I made a few notes when I got home.  I reminded myself, hoping to spawn a longer entry, how easy it's become for me to forget that I'm a minority, to forget that I'm transgender, to forget that I'm a non-op transsexual, to forget that I'm a minority within a minority.  Online, and in transgender support groups, we can't always agree on what regimen, or mindset, or surgery or document makes you a real transsexual.  This is what we call trans-elitism.  It's essentially another way of projecting your insecurities upon someone else.  And so while it's true I can't tell you what a transsexual is canonically (aside from the textbook definition: a transgender person who is  undergoing a physical metamorphoses using hormone therapy, surgery or a combination of the two), I can tell you what a male to female transsexual is not: It is not someone who appears to be a girl but is "really a dude."  That, 104.1, is the misinformed mindset that murdered girls like Gwen Araujo.  It is not someone who needs to use to men's bathroom to spare "real women" discomfort.  It is not a gorgeous character in a movie who turns in to a heavy punchline.  It's not someone who's trying to deceive you.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Icons: Jaye Davidson, Dil and the Crying Game

Screw Hedwig.  Jaye Davidson's ultra-believable Dil from 1992's The Crying Game is my favorite transgender character.

It's not that I didn't enjoy The Angry Inch.  I thought it was lovely and thought-provoking.  I just didn't find it very relate-able   Dil is a complicated Bohemian living in the modern world of gunshots, dead boyfriends and lovers who puke when they get you undressed.  She threw a goldfish belonging to her ex-boyfriend out the window in a torrent of glass.  She has a day job and a thyroid condition.  But while Dil is definitely transgender, she's not what you would call a transsexual, meaning she isn't portrayed pursuing a physical transition of hormones and surgery. When the film's lead character Fergus (Stephen Rea) spends the night, he's shocked to find Dil has a penis and a very flat chest. Why is this physical journey never explored? For the sake of plot structures and shock factor? Probably because it's not relevant.

     There are plenty of films with transgender characters dealing with the physical side of their journey.  Often times they tell a valuable story audiences haven't heard before, but more often than not the character comes across as hammy or cliche.  Case in point, Transamerica's Bree Osbourne. I can't think of a more underdeveloped, pale character in a worthwhile film.  Either this lack of depth was intentional or Bree's personality is just sort of lost in the larger message of the wide reaching film.  This is a common plot device used in educational films.

      So what makes an engaging transgender character?   Dil succeeds where Bree or Hedwig or a thousand showgirls fail because she's allowed to exist on screen as an individual rather than a vehicle who pushes the story along.  We're allowed to see glimpses inside her life as "hairdresser" and watch her struggle with male and female relationships.  The emphasis of the film is placed on each character's unyielding nature (Forest Whitaker cites this in his Scorpion and Frog speech) rather than the genital reconstruction and tedious tucking and pill popping of one transgender character.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Ozma, the child empress from L. Frank Baum's Oz series, is probably the earliest example of a transgender character in literature.  Her debut The Marvelous Land of Oz is without a doubt my favorite book in the series  Like its predecessor The Wonderful Wizard, the Land of Oz is home to some great character development and represents a more modern breed of fairy tale worthy of the Brothers Grimm or Andersen.  There's a lovely texture in the landscape that reminds of Tolkein's books, come to think of it, and we get to feel the drama and struggle of it's central character Tippetarius at every turn.  Tippetarius, it turns out, was a slave boy raised by the witch Mombi and happened to be a concealed form of the rightful princes of the realm, Ozma.

     I first read the Land of Oz when I was doing research for a novel.  Before the project I don't believe I'd heard of Oz's princess, the girl who was raised a boy.  The concept immediately appealed to me.  I was delighted to find the character and her path engaging and full of development.  Her back story makes her the daughter of Oz's rightful king, Pastoria, who was deposed by the Wizard when he arrived before the first novel.  To secure his rule he abducted the infant Ozma and took her to the witch Mombi.  Unlike the famous Witch of the West in the previous installment, Mombi is more of a village witch and outcast.  The reigning regent in her portion of Oz is Locasta, the Witch of the North who forbade anyone to practice magic because of its potential danger.  As such, Mombi practices in secret with her strange bedfellow Dr. Pipt.  Mombi was instructed to keep the princess away from her throne and turned the baby into a boy.  This is something you'd be hard pressed to find in children's books today.  Mombi makes a lot of use for the unfortunate boy in the form of chores, labor and house cleaning but never reveals a shade of his rich history.

    Eventually Tippeterarius (Tip for short) steals the witch's Powder of Life and sets off on an adventure that brings him face to face with Glinda, the Witch of the South.  Glinda sets a trap for Mombi, who has been retained for a revolution against the Scarecrow, Oz's king in absence of the Wizard, and forces her to tell the truth about Tip's birthright.  The boy is transformed by Mombi's magic one last time into her true form, making her the new empress of Oz.

      There's a lot of glamour in a story like this and a lot of relevance for transgender women.  Growing up I remember telling my father stories about how I was really a girl and once indulged a tale that I was a secret princess.  This was twenty years before I ever heard the name Ozma.  And while I doubt L. Frank Baum had transgender movements in mind when he wrote The Marvelous Land of Oz I wonder how many transgender children beside my self grew up wondering if they were really under a spell?

Asking Why

I take issue with people who use transgenderism--or more specifically, their stance with surgery--to discriminate against non-op transsexuals.  I've covered my reasons in the past, on my old blog geared specifically for gender as a metaphysical topic (a black comedy of a site called "The Akashic Records").  But now that I'm a few years older I have a few new reasons.

     First of all, let me preface by saying there is nothing radically opposed to surgery or TS's who want surgery in my mindset.  It's simply a matter of context and preference.  In my previous entry I outlined a few of my reasons why.  My issue is with women who use their commitments to surgery (commitments, I understand by the way, and applaud) to harass some of us who choose otherwise or are sometimes unable to because of health.  Often times this kind of ignorance stems from undisciplined, abrasive, shallow people (the intuitevly blind) or the sort of transsexuals who are  projecting their issues onto other people.

     We're free to disagree, of course, and on the Internet there's far too much of that counter productive, blog-based squabbling which keeps my eyes rolling in perpetual motions and stops me from reading most of the Internet's TS weblogs, but my argument is based on two simple maxims:

"I do not base my entire gender identity on one part of my body."


"What I do with my penis is none of your business!"

I suppose my issue is that no one asks why, why don't you people plan on having surgery?  But I suppose there's less room for debate when they hear, "I'm comfortable where I am in my transition " or "I have a health condition barring surgery" or "I can't afford it" or "I can't do this to my family right now."  

     For a while my status was a non-issue but I was reminded recently when I spoke to an older transgender woman who's surgery is approaching next year.  She was telling me about a support group she went to and the crowd of younger transsexuals she called, "cross dressers."  Apparently, everyone who isn't planning for surgery in the near future is stuck in CD mode.  She told me how a younger transsexual described herself as "full-time."  I imagine she was somewhere between 20 and 25.  

     "Bullshit," my conversationalist said. "Do you sit down wen you pee?"

     "Eh, no..."

     "Then you're not full time."

      First of all, this is an invasive, trivial question typical of the intuitevly blind.  While I'll admit there's a side of me that has to admire her passion and drive for surgery, the rest of me hangs my head in something shy of pity, pity for all the insecure, overbearing people of the world who project their insecurities onto anyone who isn't afraid or repulsed by their lack of convention.  

     But this is all beside the point.  At a certain point I realized belittling and over-illustrating your point is just as ridiculous in the greater scheme.  After a while we have to become Jesus about it and turn the other cheek, then take your turn when things cool down and voice your point of view calmly and rationally.  Hopefully it will enhance someone's point of view or at the very least engage them.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Negative Confessions

"Sometimes I feel like being transgendered is like being a part of a Mystery Tradition,"  I told my boyfriend several months ago, "There's just so much bad information out there."  Dead ends.  Misconceptions.  Right away I'm reminded of Ancient Egypt's Negative Confession, where a dead person would stand before the goddess Maat and have their heart weighed.  According to the "Book of the Dead" they had a litany to recite, "I have not cheated in the fields...I have not caught fish in their ponds...."  I am not a dragqueen, I am not a crossdresser, I am not porn star, a prostitute or a gay man.  I do not own a copy of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

     That was half a year ago.  The other day I went to a grungy, Bohemian cafe (my favorite) and sat by myself.  I was writing a script and chewing my pen.  A girl on the other side of the hall called over from a couch, "I love your dress."  I was wearing a two-pieced vintage dress my boyfriend's mother gave me, all floral prints and buttons with fishnet stalkings, black boots and a beaded rosary.  She came over a few minutes later to compliment my fashion sense.  Halfway through the conversation I mention being transgendered.  It happened pretty organically when we were discussing hardcore feminists.  That was the first time I successfully "passed" in public.  The girl across from me flinched, shook her head and asked me to clarify.

     "You're transgendered?"  I'd like to think in some alternate dimension Past-Me heard us and smiled.  I sure did.

     But being transgendered and passing isn't the finish line.  Which brings another misconception to mind:  "Being transsexual means you save up for surgery."  This isn't necessarily true.  For me, it's a Negative Confession.  Surgery is not the final goal for this transsexual.  Legalization is, my name change is, the F on my driver's license is.  And yes, for the longest time, passing was.  It still is, and I look forward to the day I pass one-hundred percent of the time, but it's less important than it was three years ago.  When I first started transitioning, passing was one of the biggest goals for me.  So was surgery, down the line.  But as I pressed on these things lost priority.  It took a long time for me to realize where I stood on the surgery scale but when I finally realized how female my mind and body had become I had several epiphanies.  And that's why I'm blogging, to create epiphanies, to share secrets, to shift paradigms. To share my experiences as a non-op transsexual.