Thursday, August 9, 2007

Gender Identity In Five Parts

I. Anorexia Saved My Life

Growing up, the notion of being transgender never crossed my mind any more than the idea of being a director. I liked boys so I was a straight girl and I loved the theater so I’d become an actress. If only life were that simple.

Anyone who’s ever had an eating disorder knows what it’s like to be utterly uncomfortable inside one’s own skin. The ultimate goal of therapy is to get the patient to the point where she can accept herself, where she can live inside her body with all its flaws and imperfections. And I can proudly say that after a decade of hard work, I reached that goal. And then I dug deeper.

Puberty is hard for anyone, but it’s especially tough for a teenager who finds herself longing to be the very same guys she’s got crushes on. “Luckily,” anorexia like any drug can calm that confusion. But when the numbness completely wore off ten years hence, I was left with all the same questions – save for one difference. My years of therapy taught me how to enjoy my own skin, to be comfortable being a woman. And I am – even though I don’t feel like one inside. That’s the beauty of achieving peace of mind. I’m comfortable with the disconnect. I don’t need testosterone injections and a crewcut to be who I am. I don’t need to see my soul reflected daily in the mirror when I can feel it in my heart. I refuse to believe that my female form is a mistake. It’s not. It’s me in all my perfect imperfection.

II. Man Enough To Be A Woman

It wasn’t until after I’d recovered that I discovered I wasn’t like “other girls.” My big awakening came after reading Jayne County’s autobiography. Though Jayne dressed and lived as a woman she drew the line at having surgery. After trying hormones she realized she was just going along with her transgender crowd, was conforming to peer pressure, not listening to her inner self. Jayne knew she was a woman – but she also knew she’d spent a lifetime in her male body and had grown accustomed to it and – horror of horrors! – liked her genitalia! She was “Man Enough To Be A Woman” (the title of her book) – and I nearly broke out in a cold sweat from terror after reading it. I had never considered myself transgender, yet I completely recognized myself in Jayne. No, I was sure I wasn’t a girl inside but I also wasn’t about to let all the hard work I’d put into recovery, into feeling comfortable in my skin, go to waste on a sex change! That was when I made the decision to let society conform to me rather than vice-versa, to accept my own limits, to do the best with what nature gave me.

III. An Undercover Agent In The Mainstream World

I don’t dress like a boy for the same reason fat people shouldn’t wear string bikinis. I dress to flatter my outside even if it doesn’t mesh with my inside – to draw less attention, to fit in. In this way I’m an undercover agent in the mainstream world, able to do more damage (to the status quo) in disguise. I hate the term “Gender Identity Disorder,” as if being transgender, two-spirited, is a sickness, something to be cured with hormone pills and operations. The Native American communities never pushed their two-spirited members to have sex changes, to conform. Why was my being mismatched something that needed to be fixed?

Indecisive about my gender in the womb I’d chosen both sexes, which put me in the unusual position of inhabiting a biologically female body – yet having not a clue as to what it felt like to be female. But I’d grown tired of fighting this disjunction, certainly not willing to take up arms of hormone pills and operations. I’d come to accept my experience as necessary, a requisite path.

IV. The Discovery Channel

A Sundance Channel documentary series on transgender college students stayed in my head for days. Watching a female-to-male transsexual named Lucas struggle with the decision to inject testosterone, seeing a male-to-female named Raci living in fear of being unmasked as a man broke my heart – and made me as outraged as the punk youth I once was. Lucas was surrounded by hormone shooting transsexuals, “friends” encouraging him to transition with drug pushing peer pressure. (Were they afraid if Lucas “just said no” they’d have to question their own reliance on chemicals to make them men rather than trusting in their male souls?) Raci didn’t realize that even if she passed as a woman – what had she proven? Her friend Apple who didn’t pass was more of a real person than Raci. You could see Apple’s seams, her “flaws,” making her the courageous one, the individualist who told society “fuck yourself – I am 100% woman, dick and all!” Raci was merely an “idea” of what a woman should be. Raci didn’t exist.

Transgender people need to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. That is the key! I myself have chosen to live as a boy in a girl’s body – and not fix something that wasn’t broken in the first place. I refuse to view myself as a mistake made at birth. I’ve learned to embrace both my female body and my male soul. I don’t need to choose one over the other. We need to stop mutilating ourselves to conform to society’s decree, “inside must match outside.” Yes, life would be much more sensible if I were born a boy, but I wasn’t – and I’ve made peace with that. I’m comfortable living with the longing inside. The minute you start popping hormone pills, the second you opt for a sex change, you’ve given society the power to define you. The terms of the debate have to change!

It’s time for the transgender community to separate from the gay community at large for its own mental health. Historically, transsexuals bonded with gays because gays were the only “club” that would have them. But this “club,” like the majority of society, is made up of men and women whose insides match their outsides and who believe overall in the myth of “Gender Identity Disorder” – and that it can and should be cured through medical innovations. (And, ironically, I’m of the transgender minority that is actually gay. Most transsexuals affiliated with the gay community are in reality straight women in male bodies and straight men in female ones. What do these transgender people know about being attracted to the same sex anyway?)

There’s a huge difference between expressing oneself (one’s gender through clothing and such) and mutilating oneself. But my viewpoint on gender is also alarmingly subjective, so I decided to solicit the opinion of my male-to-female transsexual friend Rikki who was scheduled for surgery. Her response? She agreed with me completely – but she herself was tired of fighting society and just wanted to live her life as a part of it, no matter how messed up it was. Knowing Rikki and her conservative Cuban upbringing I sympathized. She wasn’t the restless rebel that I was. More importantly, Rikki made me doubt. In a way, wasn’t I as much of a conformist as she? No amount of surgery would ever allow me to pass as a guy the way pretty delicate Rikki could pass as a girl. I had the bad luck of genetics. No hormone pill could create the 6’3” bodybuilder with the 10” dick I had inside me, no level of surgery ever would make me the male I dreamt of becoming, the guy I saw when I looked in the mirror. If my opting to be a cute chick over a petite sissy wasn’t conforming to societal standards what was? The truth is I enjoy the perks society grants me as a pretty girl – it makes life easier. Though I’m a romantic idealist, I’m also a pragmatist, a realist. Those transsexuals who opted for surgery knowing they’d still never pass – were these the true rebels or merely the hopeless dreamers?

I cling so fiercely to my belief in gender bending over passing because gender bending is all I have. My view of surgery might be very different if surgery could make me into a stunning man. If the possibility to live inside a body that looked like any of my former lovers’ were within reach I’d snatch it in a heartbeat. For me, it was either embrace my female form or spend a lifetime being jealous of people like Rikki – whose ability to construct her outside to match her inside was a dream that really could come true. Rikki said she was tired of being an “unfinished work.” How funny that I’d always considered myself a “work-in-progress,” a more hopeful interpretation of my soul.

V. The Mission

There’s always a love-hate relationship with the community you see yourself reflected in that renders you invisible. Rikki felt the same way about her exclusion from the sisterhood of straight women as I did of the brotherhood of gay men. I realized I was on a mission and my desire to reach out to the gay community with my book had little to do with sales. I viewed “Under My Master’s Wings” as my Trojan horse, addressing my own gender queerness through an erotica cover. As a gay man in a woman’s body I’d long been invisible, confined to my transgender closet by both straights and gays alike. What’s a biological female who feels like a boy – and is attracted solely to boys – to do? Get a sex change and either A) bed a lesbian or B) never have sex again? I chose practicality – to accept and live in my female form, to “pass,” while seeking out relationships with bisexual men so I wouldn’t have to censor my male self. I felt it important that I “come out” so others like me (they’re out there, aren’t they?) could one day do the same.

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