Saturday, September 01, 2007

I'm a Boy, I'm a Boy, But My Momma Won't Admit It

I heard a story last weekend about a trans man in a rock and roll band. This was on NPR. The story can be listened to here:

The singer in the band started out as a woman, then did the guy thing. I was thinking that it was a pretty good story on the whole, and a little different from the Same Old Story. For one, it was about a transman, and for another, it was about music and gender-- the protagonist sounded like a smart guy, and I felt good for him.

One thing that gave me pause, though, was this-- he said he's not taking T-- not for the usual reasons, but because he doesn't want to lose his female singing voice.

And I thought, oh for heaven's sake.

It struck me as an example--not a particularly nefarious one-- of the way transpeople want to "dance at both weddings." That is, he wants most of the topography of maleness, except for this one part of femaleness that still does well by him. And my first thought was, as the church lady used to say, Ohh, how con-VEEN-ient.

When I transitioned I was well aware not only of what I was gaining--a sense of peace and solace-- but of what I was losing-- male privilege (such as it was in my case) and a more stable world (in many ways). I accepted that moving from one gender to the other meant that I was surrendering, in large measure, most of the goodies that came with being a boy. I didn't mind too much; what I was gaining meant more to me.

We echoed some of this discussion in the thread where we were talking about the way transmen are considered "honorary women" at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival; Julie Serrano's book talks about this eloquently.

And so I kind of thought, jeezo-peezo man, don't do the crime if you can't do the time. If you're gonna be a Jet-- well, you konw. Be a Jet All the Way, from your first cigarette to your last dying day.

BUT THEN. I thought, well jeez, man. Is this really just another example of the ol' binary thing raising its head again? Who says a man can't have a singing voice like a woman? Is that really such a bad thing for trans-dom? It sounds like it's a good thing for this singer-- so why can't I--of all people!-- just say, okay, brother. You go.

I mean, after all, I've written at great lenght about how, as a woman, I have masculine traits that I'm not going to apologise for. I'll be just as masculine or feminine as I wanna be, thanks very much.

And yet, i wonder if this is the same thing as deliberately not taking testosterone in order to keep your masculine voice?


Vickie Davis said...

I wondered if he would miss not getting all the other things that T would bring him. He is never going to look really masculine without it, more like a butch lesbian, I would think.

I have not transitioned all the way yet, and may never do it all the way, but I sure could not have done what I have done without estrogen. Modern chemistry can do wonders for us.

It is his choice and I guess all that matters is that, can he live with his choice? Some have not transition all the way for love. I guess he is doing it this way for his art.

Autumn Sandeen said...

I just spent the weekend at the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association (NGLJA) convention in San Diego. The "gang of four" transwomen at the event were Christine Daniels, Ina Fried, myself, and a young transwoman named Diane, who will be coming out at work in the next month or two. During -- and then after -- a breakout dinner for the event's women journalists on Friday night, we talked into the next morning about our lives, our transitions (or very soon transition), transgender issues, and transgender diversity.

Christine and I are baby boomers. We have somewhat typical transitions, in that we both were in testosterone driven careers (Christine as a sportswriter and I as a 20 year military veteran), were white and middleclass, we both had "heterosexual" marriages to women that have ended prior to beginning our transitions, and both fought off our transitions as long as we could before we realized we absolutely needed to transition. And hilariously (at least hilariously to me), we both were in very feminine dresses for our evening out. Christine's was a black party dress with a handkerchief skirtline, and I was wearing a teal, gauze, crinkle dress with a gathered bodice.

Ina is a Gen X-er, and a tech writer for CNET. Ina transitioned pretty much as soon as she heard the word transgender. She has taken some medical steps as part of her transition, but she consciously decided to more than minimum work on her voice. (One can see her back and hear her voice in this YouTube Video on Microsoft's Surface.) Ina laughed as she described to us how she's often mistaken for an early transition F2M vice the M2F she is. She's legally married to an F2M. She was dressed in a comfortable plaid top and cargo cropped pants for our evening out.

Diane is in her early twenties. She just graduated from a university with a journalism degree. She's just starting in the field, and is going to begin transitioning "now" because well, she knows she's transgender now. She really hasn't decided what steps she's going to take in transitioning, but knows she's going to begin presenting as herself very, very soon. She was in "male mode," lamenting how she wished she were presenting as female for the weekend.

Just around our table of four, we had a diversity of life experiences, and a diversity of how we approached our transitions. We talked about how the narratives for the transgender experience were expanding beyond the "middle aged, middle class white woman trapped in a man's body," and how the published narratives of transpeople were within the past year beginning to include F2M's, genderqueers, minors, transsexuals who were on hormones but were planning no surgeries, and transexuals who've had surgeries (such as breast augmentation or breast removal) but were not planning to take hormones.

At this point in the conversation I got "on my soapbox," talking about how I felt the transgender community doesn't embrace its own diversity. Ina spoke up and agreed that our community was wide and diverse, and that we don't seem to always accept each others stories -- a journalist's job was to tell stories differently than we've heard narratives before. We all seemed to be nodding our heads at the concept that our lives held many similarities, but at the same time many differences, and that the telling of differences made for good story telling -- especially in main stream media.

For our small group of transwomen at the NGLJA conference, we seemed to all voice the conclusion that there doesn't seem to be a wrong way to be gendered. And, embracing our community's wide diversity seems a desirable thing to us, and the telling of that wide diversity of stories made for good journalism.

helen_boyd said...

First, thanks a whole lot for getting The Who song stuck in my head for the past week. Unshakable, that one.

I've been thinking about this a lot since you posted it, & I have to say first that it always surprises me when trans people get upset about someone taking some parts of their previous gender with them. Why? Because being trans seems hard enough without others expecting some kind of "pure gender" from you. If transness has any kind of "gift" to it, to me it's that ability to do what you want, even if I know trans people don't experience it that way.

What bothers me as a partner's advocate is that - at least in our case, & certainly in others I know of - it helps a hell of a lot if the trans person can being something with them, or rather, to leave some aspect of their former gender alone. Maybe it provides some connection to the past (when/if the couple met pre-transition).

But also - I don't know how to say this nicely - it seems less insane. Maybe because it"s evidence that the trans person making conscious decisions, & giving lie to that whole "juggernaut" model of transition.

All power to him, is all I can say. I just hope he has the ego strength to resist the "good advice" of other trans people.

Jennifer Finney Boylan said...

Helen, I wasn't trying to offer Lucas, or anybody advice, honest. What I mean to do is to share the fact that the trans business bewilders me, sometimes, even now.

And that sometimes my brain doesn't know yet the thing that my heart feels to be true.

So what I struggle with are some of these things:

1) i would surely hope that most trans people would take most of their character with them from one gender to the next (and anywhere in between). My thought is not about the "insanity" of "trying to be someone else entirely."

2) My thought is about the ethics of taking Gender Privilege with you as you go from one place to the next. MTFs get razzed on all the time about the male privilege--invisilbe though it may be, sometimes--they bear with them, even post surgery, even post everything. But as Julie Serrano writes, there's a double standard when it comes to FTMs-- they're celebrated for their vestigal femaleness, just as MTFs are sometimes condemned for vestigal maleness.

3) So is a Lovely Singing Voice "female privilege?" Or just a kind of a nice thing about Lucas' character that he's decided he wants to keep? From the interview, it sounds like he wants to avoid T primarily because he wants the Voice.

4) I believe Lucas can be exactly as Male, or Female, as he wants to be. I admire him so much. But I am asking if Keeping the Voice is anything like, say Susan Stanton in Largo, who is female now but who can't accept that she can't make $200,000 a year now? I have told Susan (whom I also admire), look, man. If you're gonna be a woman, don't get all shocked and hurt when they cut your salary.

5) What constitutes gender transition? I hope you know that I celebrate the middle; many of the people I have come to love and consider dear friends are TSs and TGs who are tryng to sustain that Middle Path.

But, take an extreme: say George Bush announces one day she's a woman. She'll take no hormones (don't want to mess with the war effort), won't be doing electrolysis (because it would hurt), doesn't want to dress any different (she loves that Annie Hall look), will have no change in affect (doesn't want to mess things up with Laura). In short: same George. But now she's female. Why? Cause she said so? ARe we all, you know, okay with this?

My answer: the hell yes I'm okay with that. I would love to live through a time where such a thing would happen. But I'd also say that I'd struggle with it a little bit, because I'd wonder, well, what does transgenderoisty consist of then? If it's not affect or physicality or spirit or social-- is it really all, in the end, what's in our hearts?

I'd say, maybe it is. Maybe that's exactly what it is. Or what it is more than anything else.

But I'd also admit, I'd spend a lot of time scratching my head and saying, Whoa Scooby. This is like-- freaking me out.

helen_boyd said...

I should have clarified: I didn't mean you were offering advice, Jenny. We know so many people who are non-medical transitioners, & they feel a ton of pressure - overt & otherwise - to go on hormones. Even when they don't need them to pass. Even when their gender dysphoria is largely social & not physical. Etc.

I don't know the answers to your questions except to say: for me, the issue with MTFs bringing their male privilege along is their sometimes complete ignorance that they've got any at all. It may just be an attitude thing; a lot of FTMs I meet/correspond with are deeply bothered by issues of straight privilege, or male privilege, so there's an awareness there that sometimes MTFs seem to gloss over.

I'm all for the 'what's in our hearts' idea.

Paul D. said...

I can relate to the voice thing. I sing as a bass and would not want to change my voice. As for missing T, maybe that is a compromise or maybe he feels psychologically he doesn't need it.

I also appreciate Autumn's comments about transgender diversity by the way.


Alan R. Weiss said...


Hi again, from Alan in Austin. I have to say I am not at all certain about this "male privilege" thing, being essentially bigendered but outwardly male. What advantages do you think males have, exactly? [I ask rhetorically because we both know they are simultaneous existent and nonsensical].

Perhaps the expectation that you will go to work and die working 7 years earlier, on average, than females? Or that you will always be expected to be in control and have "the answer" no matter what? LOL

I sound mocking. I mean it lightheartedly. As you know, being male ain't all its cracked up to be, and gender privileges are at best antiquated and at worst are really little prisons we allow ourselves to buy into.

But then again, being female has its own problems, too. Which, come to think of it, can be said of being ANYWHERE on whatever gender spectrum you design.

I understand your ambivalence in your posting. I do, really, understand it. In the end, you're right in asking, "what is so terrible about individual choice" (implicit in your final comments). For me, the answer is clear: Not. A. Thing. Individuals should have the right to be treated as they wish to be. Some MTF women want to be known as T's. Some want to be known as women. Gee, if Barry Gibb can make a living singing falsetto ... :-)

Does this make it more difficult to interact with each other? Yes. Yes, it does. It means the whole absolutely so-last-century bathroom thing has to be resolved as "which do you prefer?" It means asking the individual, "gee, no offense, but how would you like me to interact with you and refer to you and treat you?" and being willing to adjust.

You're right about a new woman not expecting to make as much as a man, mostly because we're at that awkward stage in the USA of having our LGB comrades sell us up the river whilst expecting that Nanny Government can "protect us" from discrimination (which is a very Faustian bargain at best, and in every case is quite impractical). Perhaps we need to use the free market, boycotts, and gentle but persistent education to change hearts and minds, all the while not accepting 2nd class treatment. Simply not accepting it.

Or starting our own businesses and creating our own futures, which is what I did.

I love your writing, and I love your "voice". I would love you, but my wife of 24 years doesn't think "Big Love" would work, and besides, I haven't actually asked you if you loved me, too. :-) Please take the above as a compliment, awkward syntax and all.

Hugs and Regards,


P.S: the more I read about the HRC, and the sell-out, the more irritated I am by it. But again, I persist: we shall never gain rights by asking. They must be taken, or the paradigm shifted.