In September of 1994, a discussion about transsexual lesbians took place on sappho, in the aftermath of several "TS dykes" being allowed to enter the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival for the first time in MWMF history.
The resulting discussion -- predominantly between lesbian women, some genetic females, some transsexuals -- is adapted here in "roundtable" format, as it originally appeared in Cross-Talk magazine in four parts between March and June of 1995; that is, responses by a list participant to another's comments have been inserted into the original message to appear in proper context. Participants are identified only by first name, except where a last initial was necessary to further differentiate between participants.
This is a complete transcript of the discussion, except that comments were not included which strayed from the main topic, such as a series of messages discussing the actual process of a transsexual's shift from male to female. Otherwise, the only editing was to correct spelling and to expand Internet "slang" into full definitions. Where a contributor preferred the term "womyn", it has been left intact.
Karen T.: This situation really forced questions of definitions. Does an intersexed person with both female and male genitalia "qualify"? Does a pre-op transsexual "qualify"? Is it fair to establish a policy for women who aren't transsexual to have a space for themselves?
Kathryn: Well, my feeling on it is that I am positive that a post-op transsexual should qualify, even though there are some I know whom I do not perceive as women. That's my issue, not theirs.
As far as intersexed people go, why not include them, especially if they were raised as women? If they were raised as men I have a bit more trouble. I guess it would depend on how the particular intersexed person identifies. There's a neuter person who works here at Kansas University. This person uses male pronouns on the grounds that they're at least nominally generic and he refuses to be an "it". So even though I don't think male pronouns are particularly generic, I'll use them for him. He's a militant neuter and does not identify as either male or female. I don't think he'd want to go to the MWMF and I'm not sure he should "qualify".
I have a hard time with the pre-op question. Some TS women can't afford the surgery. Others want to remain non-op for other reasons, such as great fear of anesthesia, a dislike of most SRS surgeons, or some philosophical reason like not wanting to muck about with equipment which, while undesirable, works in the hopes of getting more desirable equipment that might not work nearly as well.
This also relates to the whole issue of the function of womyn-only space and of single gender universities and such. What purpose is served by the MWMF that requires the exclusion of not only men but also people who have had some kind of male upbringing? The question is somewhat rhetorical, but I think it's an important one anyway.
Chel: Are the PC police now going to require a gynecological exam to get into MWMF ? Do we have to bring a birth certificate or a letter from our mommies? Where is all the outrage that would be generated if they tried to exclude another group because of their heritage or deformities? If a person self identifies as a woman and is post-op, in my opinion she is a woman. This is no more of a whim or a choice than being a lesbian is.
Debra: As a pre-op TS, I respect the rights of the separatists and I have no political agenda of my own. However, I really question the logic and practicality of the separatists. Transsexuals are not men who dress as women to take advantage of the unsuspecting. Mentally, I have always been a woman. That's the part that is impossible to fake.
Chel: in my opinion we spend more time fighting among ourselves than fighting our common enemies. Maybe it's time that all parts of the community -- separatists, dykes, S/Ms, transgendered, and bis -- just accept each other and fight the battle for our civil rights. We have enough enemies on the radical right and supposed Christian action groups; we don't need to alienate part of our community. We are all part of the rainbow of diversity.
Kymberleigh: As a non-op transgenderist, I have to agree. Am I less of a woman because rather than surgically change my body I choose instead to simply deny a stereotypical male identity and live as a woman 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year?
I believe gay/lesbian rights directly affect the transgendered community as well ... mainly because even straight transgendered people are perceived by the masses as being part of the gay/lesbian community.
Hillary: I respect that being transgendered is a difficult road and I think there is a unifying issue between lesbians, gays, and transgendered folks. I'm glad there's a "queer" umbrella under which we all stand.
Kathryn: I agree with you and I think that more lesbigay and transgendered/transsexual folks are coming to that conclusion as time goes by.
Hillary: I have personally known only two transsexuals, both MTF. I still feel that there should be some space which is respected as woman-born and/or lesbian. I'm not advocating any qualifying membership proof such as exams, notes, cards, etc., but I think that individuals who are not woman born and/or lesbian should respect that there are people who would feel safer in some situations without their attendance. If it were my festival. I would invite women who self-identify as women, regardless of gender issues but I would support women who wanted to create meeting/event/support space within the festival structure which would politely request honored separation.
I don't self-identify as a separatist. However, I do think that opting to be a separatist (in whatever manner and intensity) should be as viable a choice as opting not to be. Much of the talk of "PC police" seems silly to me in the context of "reverse discrimination" toward individuals and groups who want separation part or all of the time.
Erin O.: I can live with a "separatist space" at MWMF. Don't they have a S/M space and a mom's space and a clean & sober space? But to say that no TS women should be allowed, case closed/no discussion, is, in my opinion, a rather bigoted approach.
Linda: Should a "no blacks" space for those uncomfortable around blacks also be offered?
Kim: If so, is it okay for women of color to ask for woman of color-only space ... that is, to set rules that say "No white women"? If so, why? I think it is ok and I choose to respect it, even if it doesn't always make sense to me or seem appropriate or necessary. That's not my decision to make. I don't think the exclusion of white women is meant to be hurtful or hateful, but that a space is being sought where black women, or Asian women, or any "women of color", can have space that feels different from what they normally have to put up with.
Along the same lines, is it okay to say "women-only" or "no men"? Is it hatred and bigotry to exclude men, or is it about something else that is powerful and special to us? I don't hate men and I'm not a separatist, but I cherish time spent at women-only events. There is a sense of enhanced safety that I feel when I'm in women-only space. It is not an absolute sense of safety and there are no guarantees ... but nonetheless, there is a different sense of safety at an instinctive, gut-level. There is a letting down of the guard to another degree than what I usually allow myself to do.
Erin O.: This anti-TS BS is pure and simple bigotry that comes from ignorance and fear. And why the hell should TS people have to educate the ignorant? With this kind of belligerent attitude no one learns anything, no compromises get made and I seem like an a**hole to many.
But I do agree, those same women that don't allow TS women at MWMF wouldn't dare say "no blacks" or allow a "no blacks" space at MWMF. When couched in those terms you can just feel the hate and bigotry, can't you?
Hillary: I agree that it would be bigoted to create a no blacks, no Jews, or no Catholics space. But I go to a women's music festival for space away from men, space away from how most men treat women ... even nice men aren't immune from their upbringing ... and space away from ingrained responses of giving men more room, more recognition, more money ... plus I also go for space with women and all the positive and wonderful insights we have -- with our guard down and the way open. I'm still in a transition of seeing someone born and raised male as female. I'm more inclusive toward someone born male being a woman if she has made a commitment and gone through hormone therapy, surgery, living in society as a woman, etc.
But I do still see that being raised as a man is different in our society. How can you quickly separate from being in such a privileged group and treating others as such?
Samantha: I was born male in body only, and yes, it does take some work to recognize and rid ourselves of some of the BS we learned, but what group of womyn is that not true of? True, we face some different challenges, especially the one of dumping our poor opinion of ourselves. However, looking for evidence of coming from masculine privilege and trying to weed it out can definitely get out of hand. At one time I worked so hard on it that I was phobic of being strong on almost anything. I became almost totally ineffectual during that period. At what point am I acting as a good healthy lesbian should act, and at what point do I slip into exhibiting my male privilege upbringing? I think you can see that this is not a simple -- and perhaps not even an answerable -- question.
Hillary: I remember that there was a TS woman -- I don't know which -- at the West Coast Women's Music Festival when I went two years ago. I often saw her because we had the same taste in events and workshops. It was a great growth experience for me as I came to see her more as a woman by the end of the festival than I did at the beginning. At a separate event -- which was an S/M discussion -- a few years ago, I had an opportunity to be in a group with a TS woman. I found her arrogant, confrontational, and belligerent. I couldn't see her as a woman. She reminded me of what I consider the most unpleasant characteristics of a man.
Karen K.: And if this individual was a genetic female, would you have made these same generalizations about women who share another trait in common with this one? Was she a redhead? Tall? Large breasted? You make the jump so easy between one woman who acts this way in one setting, and an entire group of people? If I see one lesbian who is arrogant, confrontational, and belligerent, is it okay for me to assume that all are, and make that same generalization? Those kinds of generalizations are what the queer community has been trying to dispel for years. The African-American community and other non-white communities also fight these kinds of myths. Not all conservatives are pro-Ollie North. Not all women are pro-Ann Richards. Not all men exhibit the qualities you feel are unpleasant characteristics of men. Not all women exhibit what I feel are pleasant characteristics of women. The context doesn't change the gross unfairness that is happening in making such a generalization.
Hillary: What I meant was that there was little room for other's opinions in the room with her and she took an attitude of being more intelligent than any other woman in the room. I attributed it to her upbringing as a privileged white male who earned more money and had more opportunity than the rest of us.
Samantha: Why do you make that attribution? Just because she happened to be TS? I know many genetic womyn who exhibit similar traits at times. I'm really not trying to denigrate your experience but only to point out that you may be seeing some of this through a particular filter.
Gloria: Yes, there are genetic womyn like this. Sisters we may be in body but not always in spirit.
It does seem that the point about these womyn not ever being part of the "privileged male class" even though they are genetically men was absolutely correct.
Hillary: I'm aware that there will be trans women I don't like, just as there are individuals of whatever persuasion and opinion whom I don't like, but it is really a challenge to separate the "someone I just don't like" idea from seeing someone as representational of their "group" which I may be uncomfortable with or dislike.
Karen K.: It is a major challenge for everyone and it is a lifetime challenge to see people as individuals, and not color hordes of different people with different beliefs, experiences, opinions, etc. with the same swipe of the brush.
Robyn: Personally, I have no problem with people who wish to not hang out with me. I do have a problem, however, with women who extend their own feelings about transsexuals as a blanket over others. This is what happens at the MWMF. The separatists are in charge of the festival, which is generally promoted as the largest women's music festival in the world. If they wish to have it the largest women-born-women -- a nasty phrase if I ever heard one ... I was born a woman, albeit with the wrong phenotype, and I am a woman now ... they can't even bring themselves to use the word "transsexual" in their brochure -- let them promote it as such.
Debra: As often as I have heard the phrase womyn-born-womyn, I can't help but wonder why it is used in preference to something like the more precise genetic female.
Erin L.: Probably because it also isn't precise. I have a friend ... I believe that the organizers of the MWMF would refer to her as a womyn-born-womyn. However, her genotype is XY. When she was born, she was physically more "female" than "male" so her parents and the doctor made the decision to "make her a female." So, lots of little surgeries followed. When she was at the age that puberty normally takes place, she was placed on hormones. During this entire time, and until she was 23 or 24, she was told simply that she "had female problems." Her parents and the doctor were never honest with her ... not until the day she came out as a lesbian to her mother. In her anger her mother screamed something to the effect that she "should have known this would happen" and then proceeded to tell her why.
I once used an analogy during another discussion about how people easily accept that people will have varying heights and varying eye color, etc. So why do people not as easily accept that people may have varying gender or sexuality?
Lillian: Sometimes i get the feeling that the powers that are in charge of the MWMF are not just plain separatists but lesbian separatists who should really label it as a lesbian music festival ... sort of like they are afraid to use the L-word.
Samantha: As a post-op MTF I find myself largely in agreement that there are occasions that it is perfectly fair to request that only genetic females attend. Those occasions in my view should be limited to groups where the work only applies to genetic females. Those are relatively rare. Now, I do support the right of any group of people to try to exclude whoever they want -- the right to exclude, but not the right to be respected for it. The MWMF is obviously not a place for a general exclusion of non-XX females.
Laura: My question here is why is MWMF not such a place? Isn't it a privately funded function held on privately owned land? So, why shouldn't the organizers be able to exclude whoever they want?
Samantha: You misunderstood me. They have that right in the sense I spoke of above but not the right to be respected for it. MWMF is obviously not a place where such an exclusion makes any sense, as it is obviously not a place where only XX womyn can benefit or make a contribution. However, some particular talks or workshops might be. Only when an event is obviously only pertinent to XX females would I consider such an exclusion a respectable thing.
Hillary: What "occasions" in which it is fair to request that only genetic females attend? I think our opinions differ on the finer points in this area because, for one, I agree there would be few occasions in which the work only applies to genetic females. I see visions of varying levels of separatist women saying that non-genetic women don't have the issue of being treated like women all their lives, which makes for a very broad "occasion" in which to exclude.
My suggestion to give space to women who wanted separation from one thing or another was to honor their need for separation, not to determine what constitutes an appropriate reason for separation. By way of example, let me use the S/M thing. Although I am a leather dyke from way back myself, I understand that some women feel S/M is an expression of violence and imitates the patriarchy. I personally feel that S/M is not violent, because it is consentual. I also feel that it is not patriarchal because it is consentual and I see it as a lesbian archetype in the context I use it in. But I respect that some women do not agree with me. I do not camp in their space or attend their events when I want to play because I honor that we disagree. This is the attitude with which I think separate events and space should be approached. It honors that we do not have to agree, we do not have assimilate, and we are welcome to have separate opinions.
It's also like the concept of sexual harassment in the workplace. If I feel harassed, it is less important whether the harasser thinks he/she has harassed me.
Karen K.: The organizers of MWMF have every right to exclude anyone they want. It is their event, they have nurtured it to where it is today, and they deserve a lot of credit for all that MWMF offers to the multitude of women who attend the Festival each year.
To me, their "legal right" and doing perhaps what is right for our community in our community is at odds when they choose to exclude some persons in the greater women's community from taking part in their women-only event.
Laura: I agree. The "legal right" is not necessarily the best or the right or the most positive thing for the community as a whole.
Karen K.: In previous years, when the festival organizers were faced with opposing views between groups of attending women, a good faith effort was extended to both groups of women, and a result was worked out that tried to accommodate both groups of women's right to attend the festival. This has mostly taken the form of separate spaces for women inside the festival, should they choose it. By creating spaces inside of the larger festival, women with differences could still enjoy what the festival had to offer, and no one group was denied in a recurring pattern ... meaning that while excluded for a year, something was worked out so that exclusion did not occur for years and years as policy.
The greater cause, a for women festival, was respected, with no single group of women making all the decisions over another group or groups of women -- and by group, I mean more than just "festival organizers". This is democracy, where everyone gets a voice, and the majority-rules mentality is kept to a minimum. The number of voices one way or the other was never the deciding factor previously. We as queers know that our rights here in the U.S.A. are inherent to us as citizens, and should not be up for vote.
Laura: Knowing how the MWMF organizers had dealt with dissention in the past gives me a basis from which to start. It seems as though it was a benevolent dictatorship, with the dictators respecting the wishes of the masses. Unfortunately, whether due to fear or ignorance or peer pressure or power, this method of dealing with conflict was tossed out the window for certain issues.
Karen K.: Yes. Suddenly, an identifiable group of women are being denied access to the festival. No good faith effort is being extended to be inclusive, and this is what stands out to me. A tradition of inclusiveness is suddenly not being followed, and I have to ask myself why, and whether or not this is the correct path to take.
Laura: Good questions. And, in my opinion, the right questions to be asking. I wonder if anyone has posed these questions to the MWMF planning committee.
Karen K.: As Hillary suggested, some space could be made for those women who don't want to risk camping near a TS woman. That is how these conflicts have been resolved before. Why isn't this the way to resolve the TS issue now? My guess is that we have come upon a major bias of the organizers.
Laura: I would have to agree. Is there S/M space provided at MWMF? Or is the discrimination there a more subtle variety?
Karen K.: Just because someone is in charge of a company or an event doesn't mean that everything they do shouldn't be questioned, and it doesn't mean that their choices are "right" no matter if they are legally right. We all have biases. I have a pile of my own. When in a situation where a bias colors the outcome so, it shouldn't be out of range for examination.
Laura: Very true. We all have choices, and need to be prepared to live with the results of those choices. Yes, questioning the policy is a good thing.
Karen K.: If the best that people who wish to exclude TS women from MWMF and other women-only spaces can come up with for excluding some women is "it makes me uncomfortable", then that is a bias that just isn't good enough to warrant excluding people, in my opinion. It is not enough for white women to exclude women of color, and it is not enough for vanilla-sexed lesbians to exclude S/M lesbians, and it is not enough to make some women put their tops back on so as not to offend women against piercings.
I'd like to pull back into the greater society, and point out that not too long ago, today's "mainstream" lesbians and gays were considered "The Other". And as "The Other", people thought they were justified in treating us differently. Now, it seems that as mainstream lesbians and gays have become more accepted in this society, we are now pointing to groups that we used to welcome as "The Other". The S/M people, the TS people, the promiscuous people, the fetish people, to name a few. It's as if we are willing to sacrifice some of our own for that Newsweek cover, for the little acceptance we have been given. As if being mainstream is worth it in the U.S.A. today.
Do we have to do only what we are comfortable with? I am uncomfortable around giggling women who suck up to men in an unflattering manner, so I change my life to avoid them when possible. I do not work to get them denied into places that I frequent. I can't stand the fact that my boss is constantly twisting hairs on his beard and can't keep his hands off of the damn thing, but it is not for me to make what he chooses to do illegal or grounds to deny him anything. I wish that the organizers of MWMF would understand that there are experiences that they themselves have not lived, and which may prevent them from understanding what other women have come to know. But this non-understanding is not grounds enough to deny the other women's experiences.
Laura: I keep hearing people say that MWMF is not a place where discrimination should happen. I agree, but I also see no provisions being made by the organizers of the festival to deal with this discrimination.
Did the festival start as a money making project? Or a "let's help the community" project? What is it now? I think this is where some of my confusion is. In my mind MWMF is the pet project of two women. It does not belong to a democracy. It is a dictatorship. And as such, on private land, the dictators have the right to make perfect a**holes of themselves. in my opinion. I guess I'd much rather see a different festival created. One where the rules of engagement are clearly laid out. Where the purpose of the festival is clearly defined. Is MWMF clearly defined? Anyone know the stated goals of the festival?
Linda: The problem comes up with that definition of womyn and men. What constitutes a womyn? Was I always a womyn? Does the fact that I've changed my name, attire and shoe size make me a womyn? Does it come down to genitals? Was I born this way? My parents tell me I've been unwilling to conform to my "role" since earliest childhood -- not exactly female behavior, but unwilling and/or unable to adopt male enculturation. Perhaps I was dropped on my head at age six months.
Laura: And who is to do the defining? In general, I don't know. For the specific instance of MWMF, it seems that Bo and Lucy did the defining. Right or wrong, they made a definition. Now, their definition is not a terribly clear one. That is the point I have issue with. But, knowing their beliefs, their "rules", I can choose to ignore them, or choose to try and change them.
I guess I don't see MWMF as a public venture. I see it as a private one. And that alters how I look at the discrimination that goes on there.
Linda: If I had a conference and called it the WorldWide Human's Conference, but denied black people entrance on the basis that they were not really "human", should they be offended? Should the conference organizers be able to exclude such folk?
Kymberleigh: I believe that anyone who identifies as a woman regardless of op status -- and I define "identifies" as "lives full-time" -- should be allowed access to MWMF and any other event that celebrates being a woman.
If subsets of the set "woman" want their own space for their own focus as part of the larger event, I not only respect that but encourage it. I believe it is healthier for us to be united in the larger picture and unified in our separate interests than to be exclusionary in trying to make our separate interests the larger picture.
Karen F.: Though I tend to agree with Kymberleigh -- that's probably one of the more sensible solutions I've seen to this issue -- I wonder: How many womyn are we talking about at an event such as MWMF? How many are TS? What sort of percentage? My impression is that its not all that large.
Sometimes it seems like an awful lot of energy and verbage and arguing has had to do with a very small minority in the wider womyn's community. Another question that comes to mind is: How would one define those areas or events that TS womyn would not be invited into, other than negatively? For example, a space for womyn of color is for those womyn as opposed to being against white womyn. That doesn't imply that white womyn are less female. Yet, by comparison, any way I can think of to indicate that a space is to be for non-TS womyn only such as saying it's for "womyn-born womyn" tends to suggest that TS womyn are less womyn than non-TS ones.
Megan: While I agree, I don't feel that this excludes MTF folks who identify as lesbians.
Once I was happily BBSing on a gay board, chatting with people all over the world -- specifically women -- in the appropriate chat base. I made friends. One day, a woman arrived in the base, calling from another local board. We chatted. We hit it off remarkably well, and decided to meet face to face; we lived right around the corner!
Just before we met, I got a private note telling me that she was MTF transgender, and that if I didn't want to meet, it was okay. Well, I'll admit, I was flummoxed. And uncomfortable. So I thought about it a bit, and I went back to my new friend's posts, and I called her and talked about it, and you know, she is a woman! Writes like a woman, talks like a woman, thinks like a woman, flirts like a lesbian! Whatever was on the outside, on the inside, this person was dyke woman.
I believe that these folks are born women where it counts -- on the inside.
Sharon: I'll respectfully disagree. The MWMF is one place where I would draw a line between pre- and post-op TS women attending. Many women attend the festival as I understand it topless or in total nudity. The women I've spoken with who have gone have told me that the freedom from male eyes and male bodies are some of the most empowering and liberating aspects of attending the MWMF. And if I were in that kind of situation unlikely, since I don't much like camping, I would feel extremely uncomfortable about sharing that space with someone inhabiting a male body. I accept that one may be a woman inhabiting a male body. But I don't want to be in a "women-only space" and have that space populated with male bodies.
Erin O.: I don't know why the lesbian community has spent so much of it's time kicking women out. In the Boys community they'll take just about anyone -- the more the merrier! I do think that as the Religious Right gets more organized, it would be beneficial for all of us queer folk to get together as a united front and protect our rights.
Kim: Where do transsexuals fit into women-only space? I think the work still needs to be done on perceptions, fears, etc. The fact is that many ... most? ... women feel that MTFs are "really men". This doesn't mean it's right, but this is what needs to be addressed. After enough years with testosterone in one's system, many of one's features appear male, even after taking female hormones or having surgery. So, how do women who only see the male-ish exterior come to understand/know the woman inside? How does this education happen?
Hillary: I'm not sure it's only a matter for "education". I think it's also a matter for tolerance and room for both separation and togetherness. I think we can be educated and still want "safe-space".
Nancy: I think the problem of transsexuals in women-only spaces has nothing to do with the effect of testosterone on their looks, but rather, it is the effect it has on their attitude, their view of the world, their mode of interacting with others. Being raised male in American society confers upon the individual a privileged status that women have to struggle to attain. Boys are brought up to believe that they can be whatever they choose and that they have an inalienable right to be the center of everyone's attention and affection.
Michelle: Not quite true. Very few boys are brought up to believe that it is okay to be a full-time homemaker, nurse, or ballet dancer. They are told it is bad to be a sissy, to cry, to express their feelings, to coo over an infant. They are supposed to think that going to war is macho and if they don't they are called wimps and traitors and often considered ineligible for public office.
Parents today are often proud of their daughter, the doctor. But are they proud of their son, the ballet dancer?
Sexism is a two-edged sword and cuts deep from both sides.
Karen K.: I was brought up by my mother to believe I could be anything I damn well wanted to be, and that I didn't have to shut my mouth for anyone.
Not all women are quiet and demure, and not all men are pushy and rude.
Someone once told me that people act the way they are expected to act in the end, meaning if you assume they will act a certain way, and treat them as if they did, they will ... or you will see them acting that way regardless of how they are really acting.
Nancy: Girls have traditionally been taught that their first obligation is to marry and have children, that they can have careers only at the sacrifice of the first obligation, that their career choices are limited to the items in column C, and that they are entitled to whatever attention and affection is left over after the males have taken what they need. This is changing, but slowly.
Most of the MTF TSs I've met have been good people whose company I've enjoyed. But a change of hormones does not result in a reversal of upbringing and social programming. I believe it is this problem that results in the exclusion of TSs from women-only spaces.
Samantha: Most of the MTFs I know are if anything quite shy about taking space or energy for a variety of reasons. Many of us MTFs never really took to most of the male conditioning you talk about and the rest of us shed much of it. In addition many of us seriously study our attitudes and upbringing and do hard work to cure the residual nastiness that may have crept in.
There are MTFs that do exhibit some of the energy you speak of, but in my experience of a couple of hundred of us that is the exception and not the rule. I think you have tarred us with way too broad a brush, at the least. Your portrayal looks pretty stereotyped to me.
Kim: And why do we still buy into the "two gender system" when so much of the GLB population is into genderf*** anyway? What happened to the proverbial "spectrums" we talk about? Why can't this relate to gender as well? If we had a better society that allowed for and encompassed more than two genders, or didn't place so much emphasis on gender, would there still be a need for people to go to the lengths they do in order to have their physical body match their spirit? If we had a better society, would there still be a need for "only" space?
James: There have been five genders recognized in some societies -- Native American ones for example, including the berdache which encompasses them all and can be any one at a given time .
Linda: All this talk of "a better/more of/more genuine" "dyke/woman/lesbian" feels very hierarchical and "power-over-ish". It saddens me to see behavior that appears so contradictory to feminism coming from other women.
Cynthia: "Power over" is such an insidious and seductive thing, and we really need to watch ourselves because it is very easy to take on this sort of behavior ... our culture has been breeding it into us for so very long.
No one should have to wear a disclaimer! But as long as we persist in trying to place people in boxes, rather than along a continuum, we're going to keep tripping over the old "I'm a fill in the blank" or "s/he's a fill in the blank" or whatever!
Kitten: I don't understand -- just too bi, I guess -- why women reject other women ... whether they are young women, old women, fat or skinny women, women who occasionally sleep with men, or women who used to be men. Seems awfully counterproductive to me.
Samantha: I've noticed that many of you seem to think separatism is behind TS/TG exclusion. Having read a considerable amount of separatist literature, and knowing a fair number of separatists, I don't consider this true. There are separatists who feel this way and there are others who do not. There are many non-separatists who also exclude us. Separatism gets a bad rap, in my opinion.
Karen K.: Respect is different from using the power of separatist space to exclude other women. I respect separatists and believe in separatist space. I don't believe in then turning that space on our own, given the arguments I see and hear coming from those separatists who want "women-born-women only" space.
Hillary: So, if there is to be respect for separatist space, how can that space be maintained, or defined, or created without someone saying it's abuse of power? What is separatist space if it includes everyone?
Karen K.: It is my understanding that separatist space initiated from some women's need or desire to be around women and women's energy -- "women's ways" if you will -- and to be free of the seemingly inherent, society-institutionalized male power structure and maleness of spaces where men frequent or dominate. The "us" and "them" referred to the two sexes recognized at the time, male and female. Many women came to these spaces for a variety of reasons, too many to mention here or even know by any one person.
I don't remember these women's spaces ever excluding women who show up at their doorsteps until recently. And it seems to me that it is proportional to our rise in status and power in the greater community. It's as if recognition and validation by the greater community gives some the justification to then use that power against their own in the smaller community of LGBTO people. When we were less recognized, less accepted, less organized, we welcomed anyone who was for the greater cause, and the focus was outside our own communities. Is the increasing divisiveness among ourselves a direct conclusion of our power gain? Have we achieved so much space, so much recognition, so much acceptance that we can reject some of our own?
Laura: I don't know if it is a power level or population density that makes people feel it is somehow okay to reject others. Maybe it starts as a population density problem. Too many people fighting for a "cause", and the individuals begin to get lost in the shuffle. So, they start to band together into smaller groups, where they can relate to each other on a more individualized basis.
Maybe this is where the power trips and the "I'm better than you, because I'm -----" comes into play.
Karen K.: I am not questioning the need for safe space. That is not the point. I fully support space for women to go to if they want to get away from the male power structure and its trappings. An assumption seems to be made, though, about the effect of TS people on women-only space, and I am questioning the validity of that assumption.
Laura: Is this the only assumption you are questioning? I guess I see more than just male-female separatism, and see all of it as worthy of being questioned and challenged.
Karen K.: I don't see anyone questioning the separatists these days. I see their position carved in the stone that is part of our history, and I think it's dangerous to accept it without analysis or question.
Hillary: I experience just the opposite of you, Karen. There is often vehement opposition to suggestions I make regarding honoring separate space while valuing our diversity in the larger queer community.
I fear we've moved into an "either-or" situation with regard to separatism and in my opinion the solution lies not in killing separatism, but in valuing it as a spoke in the queer wheel, just as transgendered and bisexuals are.
Laura: I find I have little tolerance for people who are unwilling to even try to be accepting of others. I have even less tolerance for the institutional politics that seem to abound in large organizations.
Syndee: I used to consider my self a separatist; I wanted no men in my life, period, if I could help it ... and for a while that's what I did. But then sappho came along and my world got a lot bigger ... it was here that I first learned what TS/TG meant and where and the people who live these concepts. I would be lying if I said I was not taken aback by these totally new concepts, but I think I was given the chance to get to know people while figuring out where we all stood on the wheel of life. Now that I am a little older I have come to appreciate this.
It is perfectly alright to need or want to be alone or separate sometimes; it lets us recharge our souls. But sometimes solitude shared in silence is richer then solitude alone.
Lisa: Waiting at Camp Trans for Leslie Feinberg to speak, I was as uncomfortable as I've ever been in my entire life. I'd come to the festival to escape male energy, and here I was among these male-to-female transsexuals that I couldn't cognate into my experience: Persons with male pattern baldness yet long hair, narrow hips yet breasts, makeup but huge hands, all wearing skirts, of course. Every stereotyped, prejudicial response there ever was trooped through my brain.
Finally, when Leslie appeared I noticed that she was remarkably androgynous in jeans and white t-shirt, with strong arms, small hands, womanly hips, no breasts, and blond hair cut in a flattop; she has a face that is beautiful but hard to classify with its spare angles, sensual mouth, and gentle, engrossing, lively yet serious grey eyes. Every time I looked at her I saw her differently: Now male, now female, now both and neither. She said that when she walks down the street, she often experiences a wave of faces turning to look at her, all incredibly angry at her androgyny, at their own inability to "tell."
Woody: I think everyone has a right to a safe space, but this gets very complicated. Different people have different fears, phobias, ideas of what feels safe, etc. Some people don't feel safe around nakedness. Perhaps there should be a space at the MWMF where there is no nakedness for those who feel uncomfortable and yes, a space for those who don't feel comfortable around whites, blacks, transgendered, S/M, men, boy children, children ... period, aggressive women ... a "no sex" space, perhaps. It gets very complicated but I think that safe space is important and should not have to be defined and defended, it should be a given. Everyone has a right to feel safe and we as women and survivors some of us are often afraid to defend our right for safe space and set up boundaries for fear of offending someone.
Perhaps a transgendered person in open space may feel they are being "attacked" in some way, verbally or otherwise; they should be allowed to have a safe space for transgendered and people who support them to go when they need extra support. Such is the same with recovery space. We need to respect each other's space, but exclusion as a whole for TG people is not the way to go. If we are afraid of penises, then is everyone going to be expected to check in their dildos at the door? This invades all our privacy.
I just wonder, has a genetic woman, non-TG, ever been thought to be a TG and kicked out of the festival? Would she be expected to "drop her pants" and prove herself?
Lisa: I could accept a post-surgery male-to-female transsexual unconditionally at the Festival. That's the limit of my ability to accept right now. As far as transsexuals who can't afford surgery, we need more liberal health insurance. If they don't want surgery, then they don't want to be women; why would they want to intrude on women-only space?
Sandy: There are lots of reasons for not having surgery of any kind besides just not having the money. You're saying it implies a lack of commitment and I don't believe that's true. People have varying requirements for what they need to live the life they want.
Mary Ellen: While I agree that a MTF transsexual is a woman and should get into MWMF like any other woman, this brings up a point about the rhetoric of the debate about transsexuality that rubs me the wrong way -- the assumption that all transsexuals are MTF.
There are plenty of FTMs out there, too, and many if not most of them go through a period of living in the lesbian community before they begin their transition.
Debra: You make an excellent point. I have no figures on the number of FTMs out there, but I am told it is more than is generally assumed. I think we should include FTMs in the discussion, because it shows how lopsided the whole debate is. The bottom line is not about admission to certain events, but whether we define a person's gender by their anatomy, or how they function in society, and what is meant by "sex change". We don't talk about whether FTMs should be accepted in "men's space", but that is important too.
Linda: Men's space? Is FTM access to men's space an issue? Is there a men's space that FTMs have been denied access to? Honestly, I don't know ... I'm asking since I've never heard of such a thing.
We had a FTM who came to our TG support group in Santa Cruz for a while. He existed in lesbian separatist space for a long while before transition. He said he could be as butch as he wanted as long as he identified as a womyn, but he said he was quickly rejected by many of his former friends in the community when he came out as TS. This was eye-opening to me, since Santa Cruz is known for some lesbian separatists who also strongly reject MTFs. Seems like the discrimination axe swings both ways.
Mary Ellen: As far as the MWMF debate goes, what about our "sisters" who are born women but are really our brothers? Apparently they pass the test and can attend if they would want to.
Robyn: I'm sure that depends on the amount of hormone therapy and surgery that they have had. Testosterone is very powerful stuff and changes the looks immensely. Most of the FTMs that I know that have had hormone therapy for any length of time and the bilateral mastectomy would be immediately identifiable as men and not allowed in, in my opinion.
On the other hand, the majority of the FTMs that I have talked to said that they would not want to attend the MWMF because they would not female comfortable in an all-womyn environment.
Karen T.: Leslie Feinberg considers herself transgendered. She no longer has female breasts, and her voice is permanently lowered from hormones. How does the lesbian community take that?
Karen F.: I don't know about MWMF, but at Powersurge this year there were a number of FTMs who clearly live and identify as men ... have full beards, male appearance and were generally being referred to as "he". While I knew about their histories, I still found it odd considering that Powersurge is a woman-only conference.
At the same time, they only this year began to allow bisexual womyn to attend. They also allowed TS womyn to attend, but still barring pre-op womyn from dungeon parties. So it has seemed to me that while some self-identified men were allowed full access to the conference, there were definite limitations imposed on participation by some TS womyn especially those who were pre- or non-op, despite the fact that the handful of such womyn present clearly identify and live 100% as womyn and as lesbians.
Kathryn: I recently read Kate Bornstein's book, Gender Outlaw: on men, women and the rest of us. I agree with her contention that, in fact, gender is somewhat of a choice for some people and also that in an absolute sense it is limiting for TS women to say that they are "really" women trapped in men's bodies. It keeps the two gender system alive and admits no possibility of multigender systems.
So any possibility for change rests with the post-ops. And even for post-ops, it's scary. Coming out can't be taken back and I'm convinced that TS rights are lagging about 25 years at least behind lesbigay rights, so TS issues are where lesbigay issues were just before Stonewall. There's networking across the nation and that's new, and there's more overall visibility and that's new. And there are more out transsexuals who aren't celebrities and that's new. But TS women and men are still seen as freaks, even more so that lesbians and gay men. Heck, TS women are seen as freaks by some lesbians and gay men.
Robyn: I recall when I first came out, and for a time after that, people saying to me or about me, "if only you/he were gay ...", as if my life, or their acceptance of me, would somehow be easier. Yes, I was referred to as "he". I still get referred to as "he" sometimes. It disappoints me, but I try to be good natured about it.
Kathryn: I was at a gallery showing a few months ago. Several friends of mine had work on display. One of them is transsexual. There was an older gay man there who also had work on display who referred to my friend as "he or she". Maybe he's trying, but I found it trying. This man can probably refer to a bitchy, campy gay man as "she" but he can't call my friend, who looks very feminine at 6'2", "she".
The point is that why should a post-op transsexual woman or man come out when even in lesbigay space they'll be trashed? Where's the point when it seems that the mountain is as tall as the moon and as sheer as a glacial crevasse?
I think it's totally admirable that there are TS women and men who have come out and survived and who are changing the ground on which this battle must be fought. But much more change will be necessary before many transsexuals will feel comfortable coming out. For starters, there hasn't been a lot of feeling of community among post-op transsexuals. The general attitude has been that pre-ops have the transition in common but afterward two TS women have nothing more in common than any other two women.
Robyn: The "battle", as you call it, is fought in small steps. If I can change one person's mind about transsexuals in a week, I suppose I have made progress. Because the battle is mostly fought one person at a time.
Jeanne: Two summers ago some separatist acquaintances returned from Michigan with TS buttons, brochures and other stuff that they ripped off of a TS woman ... I don't remember who it was. These are highly PC women who uphold the PC-est of PC standards in our lesbian community. I had never thought about TS issues before, so I said nothing as they laughed and displayed their stash of stolen goods. This year, they came back still griping about the "men" who want into the festival, but this time, I wasn't silent. I couldn't believe their logic. They had to fight for their rights as dykes, how could these "men" step in and lay claim to "their" territory? Sheesh.
Robyn: I can't disparage post-ops for getting on with their lives. It is probably the easier row to hoe. Being out and working for transsexual rights and acceptance can leave one severely vulnerable. I imagine it can be hell on relationships since the partner must of necessity be the object of speculation/rumor/criticism/whatever from time to time.
Kathryn: Well, those who are lesbians might have something else in common and that's the exclusion by elements in the lesbian community. I've noticed that most of the out TS activists are lesbians or lesbian identified bi women ... or Leslie Feinberg. It seems that one goal the emerging TS community might have is to foster that spirit of community and identity. A post-op TS identity, what a concept!
Michelle: I read Gender Outlaws about a month ago. I agree to a great extent that the male/female dichotomy is almost totally a cultural dichotomy; i.e., it's all in our heads. I do not accept that women are inherently spiritually, mentally or emotionally different from men. Society has created a set of characteristics associated with maleness and femaleness and that folks may identify with one set of these culturally defined sets more than the other.
Suppose that we lived in a society where the set of culturally-defined gender sets were reversed; i.e., everything we believe spiritually, mentally, and emotionally about women was assigned to men and vice versa. Would you still consider yourself transgendered? What would be the basis of your gender dysphoria? Feelings that you should have different genitals or feelings that your spiritual, mental, and emotional self is more aligned with what society or you defines as the other sex?
From my point of view, all that is said to make a person a "woman" "on the inside" is non-gender specific. I consider all that "inside" stuff to be a cultural byproduct. Every single attribute that is not chromosomal or physical I feel could be in some hypothetical society equally exhibited by men as well as women and vice versa.
Cynthia: Some cultures have recognized that gender is a continuum and have within them individuals who live as members of the opposite gender, as members of a gender that is intermediate between the others, and as those who have surgically altered their anatomy in some way the hijira of India contain examples of this. The berdache of the native American tribes and some Pacific islander tribes are examples of cultural recognition of gender as a continuum and not the bipolar construct of western culture.
Michelle: I don't accept the cultural definition of gender, but rather only a scientific one. I don't consider my spirituality, mental life, or emotions to be "female". I consider them to be "human" well, they are "female" in the sense that I, a woman, have them, but I believe that this exact same "inner self" could be exhibited by a man.
I don't deny that the cultural gender definitions are powerful, pervasive, and have a large impact on how we feel as persons and how we live. It would be silly to deny this. People of one physical gender who identify with the other gender as culturally defined may well be better off taking that label and, in many cases, having surgery to better resemble that sex. After all, our society places a heavy penalty on those whose physical gender is opposite their cultural gender and on those who don't fit the XX-XY dichotomy. Given the militancy with which the cultural dichotomy is enforced, it does not surprise me at all that we have many transgendered people.
Chris: I always wanted to be a boy because of all that they got to do, and in fact, until I was about 12 I played with boys and not girls. But I did not fit in either camp, boy or girl. Once I hit 12, I was not allowed to play football or baseball with the boys. The boys didn't exactly want me around so much either. I remember towards the end being told by one boy that I could not go hiking and looking for arrowheads because I was a girl. I pointed out that I was tougher than one of the boys. I fought him and won. The other boys wanted me to really beat him up, but I do not understand the need for brutality and I just couldn't.
Karen T.: We need to be forced into thinking about gender outside binaries, and pre-op TSs seem to be illustrating that the most effectively. Yet I have to say that if I was at Michigan taking a shower, and a pre-op woman was showering across from me, I would be disturbed to see a penis, because a penis is something that I associate with men, and the obvious contradiction would make me reel.
Debra: Heck, Karen, I'd be in shock to see a penis on a woman! Of course, that is precisely the problem that is driving me to seek surgery. Imagine what it would be like to have to live with an unwanted penis ...
Transsexuality isn't a political issue. It in no way infringes upon the rights of women or lesbians, unless of course you are talking about those who would seek to hurt others. I wouldn't ask you to accept me in my present condition in the situations such as Michigan. Just realize that I don't like the contradiction either.
Linda: I'll second that. I used to be heavily into my aerobics, and was certified as an instructor several years back. I stay away from the health clubs now. At work, I stay out of the women's locker room/showers.
I used to be fairly body comfortable -- it was the body I had. It wasn't until I started transition that I started developing a larger amount of body self-consciousness.
James: When I am feeling male, should I be excluded from "woman-only" space? If the definition of "feeling like a woman on the inside" holds, then if I feel male no matter my exterior should I be excluded? It seems that by the argument several want to offer, I should be.
It makes me wonder what space would include me ... I mean, always include me? If I am both genders or neither, or ... (?), then how can I be in a women-only space? And with a woman's body, I can't go to a men's-only space. Am I supposed to go off and form my own little group, all by myself? Who would ever join me?
This is a logical extension of the reasons MTFs should be included in women's space. Should my body qualify me for entrance, if my spirit is male? If this were completely true I probably wouldn't want to be in a women's only space, but follow the argument if you will. If its the spirit that counts, then how could you tell at the gates who can come in and who can't, except by taking their word for it?
Karen K.: I have come to the conclusion that it is a mistake to discuss something like TS-inclusion in "women-only" space, bisexuals in "women-only" space, queer rights even with people who are hell-bent on their "definitions" of how things are, and dare the reader to prove them wrong. The more points you make that undermines their original "definitions", the further they retreat into their own "previously non-stated side definitions". It sets up the discussion with the mirage of a "universal truth", one that is only "universal" in the mind of one of the participants.
I don't think we, as queers, have to prove why we are worthy of special rights. I don't think that we, the TS community and its supporters, have to prove why we should be included into space for women. I think if discrimination is practiced, it is up to the discriminators to prove why they feel they are justified. All arguments that I have as to why post-op TS women should be excluded from space for women are based on a faulty definition of what constitutes a woman. Not once has an advocate for "women-born women space" said that she would allow post-op FTM TSs who live and pass as men into "women-born women space" in my presence. In logical problems, all you have to do is show one case where the rule doesn't fit to annul the original postulate. In my mind, the "women-born women" stipulation has been shown to be faulty and is in urgent need of repair.
We need to counteract false assumptions and false statements of "truth", but we also need to recognize when we are being sucked into a game we cannot heard in, due to the dynamics of the original setup.
Spigi: We're not asking enough questions. Like where you say that some people would feel safer in a space without women who are transsexuals. Safer? Why are these people not feeling safe around transsexuals?
Karen K.: Safe space equals "away from men".
Many women who want to exclude TS women say that they are bringing a maleness into women's safe space.
Kim: The exclusion that we see go on -- "no white women", "no men", "no transsexuals", etc. -- isn't usually an attempt to use power to deny someone the privilege of being part of certain space. It is more often an attempt to protect something that feels special or sacred. Unfortunately, people use the former to obtain the latter without always being willing to reexamine the parameters.
I wish "safe space" could be so simple ... i.e, "if everyone around me could be just, I will feel safe". To some degree, that is very true ... we seek out people who can validate us and understand us without questioning, doubting, or denying us who we are. We expect that people who are like us will be most able to do that, don't we? I would love to have a simple equation I could follow for what is safe, not to mention what is right or just or fair. But isn't that how people get into trouble with most organized religions? They are seeking some black-or-white, clear-cut directions on how to live their lives, and end up living by human-made rules rather than living anything even approaching spirituality or faith, let alone thinking and growing.
How do we find ways to feel safe and also live in the gray area? How much of our safety depends on the "known" and the "comfortable" and how much can we push ourselves to grow so that those are not the only things that give us a sense of safety? How can we find ways to allow ourselves to keep thinking and feeling and adapting as we're faced with new issues, new people, new concepts? How do we create the political and social arenas which we desire without hurting and excluding those who feel they should belong in that space also? How do we find ways to talk about what the issues really are underlying the surface-level politics and semantics?
Fe: This pain and concern has to do with women's space and how relatively hard it is for us to gain any space anywhere to get together. Men so often push the boundaries ... come to the places where the meetings or dances are, hang round outside, hassle the owners of properties that want to be some kind of "women's space".
Samantha: While I understand how you feel, I think it is clearly not applicable to the situation with Camp Trans at the MWMF. A transsexual going in either direction literally puts everything they are and own on the line in order to transition and be as close to their correct gender as they can. Most of us lose most of our possessions, friends, family and our careers in the process. That is very, very different from a group of men pushing the aspect of male privilege that supposedly gives them the right of access to womyn in all settings. You are comparing a group of TS womyn asking for inclusion by their own to this. I think once you focus in on the difference you will see that this just isn't the case.
Fe: I have another concern which has to do with attention: Similarly men often seem to me in mixed groups to want to claim a lot of time and space and emotional attention. Lots of women have heaps of problems about giving themselves or other women anything like the amount of attention they really deserve and need.
As a feminist, when transgendered women claim attention I I sometimes wish that they had been able to stay where they were and stretch the definitions of what it is to be a man and I certainly don't need them to tell me how "unfeminine" I am. I wish that as societies we could be our full human range instead of this binary system of male/female, and I see that some trans people are very keen on the binary system, use it to describe themselves and can be very stuck to stereotyped notions of what "a woman" is.
Samantha: Many of us go through a period of trying to live up to some notion of what a woman is in our society that we have picked up and dreamed about all of our pre-transition lifes. Unfortunately the shape of that woman is often a very sexist one, as we have not had the chance by experience to learn better. So many of us will go through a phase of trying hard to live up to some fantasy cheerleader or June Cleaver image that we have dreamed about from the time we were very young. Most of us do get over it and take a hard crash course in what it really means to be a woman in the world. Most of us take a blitzkrieg course in feminism and redefining what it means to be a womyn in the process. But we do go through this stage first quite often. Personally I never presumed to tell any womyn how she should present herself but I did go through a phase of always wearing dresses and skirts, makeup, etc., that is actually foreign to me, because I was trying too hard to shift myself closer to home and had weird ideas of where home was. It's funny. If you showed me my "soft butch" present self back then I would probably look on it as a failure to make it.
Fe: I am aware of somehow monitoring the amount of attention and energy that trans people demand. But at the same time it's maybe just a realistic response to living in a world which has had and indeed often still does have such lethal attitudes and actions against women.
Sandy: There are many groups at the Festival that demand a lot of attention: sober dykes, single women, disabled women, S/M dykes, and on and on. It sounds like you're singling out the "trans people" because you're thinking of them as men and then making generalizations about their behavior. Lots of these other groups can be just as obnoxious as you expect from men.
Samantha: If you do see us as womyn I think the need for that monitoring or perceived need will go away. I find that most of us, if anything, don't ask for the attention and energy that we should.
Fe: In the queer coalition spaces, I guess I think that transpeople are equal to me in terms of the amount of time and energy they demand -- though I hope they will want to gain an analysis of sex-role stereotyping -- but in women's space I hope that they will support the need for women to be self-caring and self-nurturing and not demand extra attention, time, emotion and energy.
Sandy: I object to this stereotyping of all women as nurturing and caring. And are you willing to allow any special interest group of women to demand attention, time, emotion and energy as long as you perceive them to be women?
Samantha: If you don't think we demand a disproportionate amount of time in one place then why do you think we do in the other?
Karen K.: Are only TS women allowed to speak up here for their rights to be included?
Chel: Plain and simple bigotry is bigotry. MTF transgendered are women by choice or by necessity, just as all of us are lesbians, by the grace of the goddess, for whatever reasons. If MWMF chooses to exclude women based on gynecological or genetic testing -- which is ludicrous at the best and probably illegal -- if certain separatists want to avoid MTFs, bisexuals, S/Ms and whatever, they can have their own space, but the common areas should be open to every woman. What if certain women were offended by differently abled people? After all, they want to have space free of anyone different from themselves. Women of color already have their own tents. Where will we go to see the diversity of our community when no one ever wants to see anyone not like themselves? We are all women in women's space no matter what we were born. This includes color, ability, sexual identity, or sexual orientation. Who is the ultimate determiner of what is a woman?
Why are so many woman defending MWMF's Bigotry? If you bar any one who is a woman, it is bigotry.
Debra: What I experience when I look at average woman is a longing to be what she is, that is a woman in both mind and body. I make this statement because I want to emphasize that regardless of the condition of my body, it does not accurately show who I am inside. For some, the physical "evidence" that was present at my birth presents an insurmountable barrier to understanding. For others it isn't.
Some women have a penis. Some men have a vagina. We try to correct the problem, or at least learn to live with it.
Michelle: Although I personally believe that gender is essentially a social construct, I don't think this has any real implications for how we treat or react to transgendered folks. Like it or not, and whatever the ultimate cause, our society is gendered and we're not going to be able to change that overnight. Gender dysphoria must often be extremely traumatic and we owe it to our fellow humans to open our arms and say "I accept you as you need to be accepted".
Marnie: If male and female are merely gender identifiers, a way for society to place a person in specified roles, then, for that person to be attracted to the same gender as themselves, be it, as female or male, they would be a homosexual, right? The fact that they are able to switch from one gender to another isn't the issue, is it? Isn't it that the body of the person feels attractions to the same and opposite sex? Therefore, the person's body is bigendered. This is so very complicated.
Kymberleigh: Remember that in Elizabethan times that men wore clothes we now associate with women. The roles are more arbitrary than you give them credit for and society drives the concepts of what is "masculine" or "feminine".
Woody: My question is, what makes us so uncomfortable? My lover is uncomfortable with it; she was raised as a boy and gets very offended when people call her "sir" and think she is a man. She is a woman, a lesbian, very intelligent and very strong, very comfortable with her body and self confident.
Caitlin: I figure it this way: Anyone who'd want to go through all that, just so they could end up taking a tumble on the societal power scale from het male to dyke female -- heck, from male to female at all -- as far as I'm concerned, that's proof enough for me of being committed to one's female identity. I mean, why would one lie about that? To go to all that trouble ... the slings and arrows of outrageousness, if I might be permitted a badly-misplaced pun ... all for the sake of ending up with a more difficult life -- and don't we all know that that's true of any woman's life in this society, let alone a lesbian's -- speaks to me of a fairly evident sense of certainty about one's identity.
Robyn: Many transsexuals never tell anyone that they have had the operation and sometimes it works fine. But we always have to be afraid that someone will come along and tell our friends or that we will make a slip. That leads to having to edit our personal history, which is not a way to make close friends. Close friends might catch inconsistencies.
Hillary: Does this mean that it's less acceptable to most folks to have the surgery than not? I would have thought just the opposite.
Robyn: No, what I meant was that post-op TS women sometimes blend into the landscape of women and never mention it again. But there is always the fear of being outed about being transsexual.
If you are asking me exactly why people can't handle it, I don't have much of an answer for you. I wish I knew. I mean, there are some who feel it violates their religious beliefs, there are some that think that if they are friendly toward us it will bring stigma upon them. I've had friends disassociate themselves from me because of rumors that we were sexually involved, at a time when I was celibate.
It is true that transsexuals in transition are rather self-involved at times. Some of this comes from the fact that many of us were very unconcerned about our lives before transition and when we finally come out of our shells and learn to love ourselves, we tend to go a bit overboard, I suppose. Some of it is because the transition is difficult and presents problems that seem to require self-involvement.
Erin O.: And those with teenage girls will tell you those raging hormones will tend to make a person self-absorbed too! Remember that getting used to a new set of hormones can be quite a trial.
Ariel: I've noticed that many of the TSs are trying to be involved in women's spaces. I've also noticed that it is usually in lesbian-dominated women's spaces. I've read discussions, on both sides, regarding acceptance and about the reasons why we should be accepting. My question is: Have many of the TSs tried to get acceptance in "straight" women's spaces, and what has been the overall outcome of those attempts?
Robyn: I have tried to gain acceptance in women spaces of several varieties. Not having any interest in men at all puts me at a disadvantage sometimes with my women friends who are, but otherwise I have gotten fairly good treatment. I'm not saying it hasn't been painful at times, because it has.
One specific example I can think of was Sister Circle at the Rainbow Gathering in July of 1993. As far as I could ascertain, the women there were predominantly het or bi. The first reaction to my request to join in was not very good and I ended up feeling very depressed. I went back the next night and did feel accepted, but not by everyone.
I have not had as much luck locally. I have expressed my interest in joining the University Women's Club on campus and have yet to be sent any information. I am apparently persona non grata there. On the other hand, I was temporary president of the local NOW chapter -- mostly non-lesbian -- over the summer.
I am joining the Association for Women in Mathematics and hope to become active in that organization.
I'm not sure if this has any relevance to your question.
Susan: I was at a presentation by the Ingersoll Gender center here in Seattle. One of the FTMs said that when he was perceived as a woman he liked men. After his sex change he still liked men. His wonderful quote is "they operated on my body, not my mind". That might explain why many MTFs end up lesbian ... they were always attracted to women.
Karen T.: One of my co-workers is a transsexual gay man, and I have had issues with him. He exhibits sexist behavior, and it really pisses me off. I find myself thinking he should know better. He was in a group with some other FTM transsexuals and was telling me about some of the meetings he went to. He was really obnoxious about the fact that he "looked" good, and that they didn't. He mocked the fact that some of the men in the group weren't sure how to "act" male; while he felt pissed because he did. I realized about a week ago that I'm so pissed off at him cause he is such a guy.
Woody: I have been in a transgender discussion group on the Net for a little while and the more I read, the more confused I get. Originally my only complaint was that I feel very uncomfortable in my body. That's it, that's all, no one ever mistakes me from a man. In fact, the more "masculine" my clothes the more people call me "ma'am". Perhaps its all the intensified "femininity" training I had while in the church cult I was a part of for five years.
I don't like macho bullsh*t, I have a phobia of men, and I feel uncomfortable in my body. No one ever thinks that I am "butch" in anyway. Everyone sees me as femme. So what am I ... who am I? A transgendered gay man who loves femme women? I love that gay man look and that's how I want to look, act and be seen, as a "nice" man. I don't want these female "parts". If it was simpler, less expensive, less scary, etc. etc. I would really want them out of me. That's it. That's all there is to it and so it's pretty strange.
I don't know if there really is a safe space anywhere.
Erin O.: I do a bit of girl drag or high femme in a man's three-piece suit -- I'm into this suit thing lately with my hair in a french twist and dark lipstick -- but I'm not very flamboyant. I've been accused of being elegant ... it's the french twist and black velvet. I also think that drag queens and drag kings are really special, but then I hang out in a drag community where the boys do boy-drag and girl-drag and dyke-drag and fag-drag and lots in-between, and then the girls do it all too! And I can't tell some people are the same when they change their wigs and clothes and I get teased about it ...
Liz: I sometimes feel sorry for men because they can't take makeup or leave it like women can -- men who aren't drag queens, anyhow. Actually, I have known men who wear very, very, very subtle makeup to enhance their appearance. The merest hint of liner, a whisper of blush ...
James: I feel that drag queens are all very dignified, elegant, and should be respected simply for being a drag queen. The fact that I am stereotyping these queens, means something about what I want to see. I feel so much compassion and empathy for a drag queen who is treated like a freak, like the bigot is missing on something so important, that s/he can't see how wonderful the queen is. I'm not sure why I feel this way, and I'm sure there are drag queens who are real bitches. I suppose it has something to do with why I feel so happy to see two men being affectionate, knowing they must be feeling very strongly about each other, to overcome society's pressures against male affection. A male married couple seems, to me, to be more precious than straight or even gay women couples. I know this isn't fair, but women, at least, are allowed to hold hands and hugs their female friends. I also know it isn't always true, but it's the romantic in me I guess.
Liz: There's maybe something profound here. Vanity vs. Pride? Vanity being attributed to women? The pleasure of being Looked At and subsequently Admired? I'm still pleased when I remember the moment at Wigstock this year when I, while lighting a cigarette, realized that one of the many photographers there was actually taking my picture. I'm female, about 5'3", was wearing black velvet leggings and black platform hi-top sneakers making me 5'5", a man's jacket and Ray-Ban sunglasses ... in short, pretty cool but I'd thought no competition to the many extravagant drag queens on parade ...
For that matter, I still remember sitting in the sculpture garden at the Museum Of Modern Art on a school field trip when I was about 17 and some stranger took my picture -- I even remember what I was wearing, platform shoes maybe, a pastely flowered dress and a very femmey straw hat.
Lisa: I've always been one who found drag shows pretty offensive in their glorification of female stereotypes. I guess it's that same feeling which has made me uncomfortable when TS women go through what others have referred to as the "adolescent" phase. That was useful to know -- I went through a similar phase while trying for about ten years to impersonate my idea of a straight woman. We're all the victims of stereotypes.
Debra: I am reminded of something Kymberleigh posted in alt.transgendered once: "Look between your ears for who you are, not between your legs." To me, that is the only definition of myself that I consider relevant. It is the obsession with labels that has resulted in the torrential flood of senseless logic over gender.
Kym -- again in alt.transgendered -- also said: "The real answer to the man vs. woman, male vs. female, straight vs. lesbigay, genetic vs. transgendered, is to find where you feel you really belong and then be that person. The rest of the world will adjust more easily than you think once you're giving off the `vibes' that you're comfortable with who you are ..."
Susan: I think that Kymberleigh is right on. I have a male friend who wears dresses to work sometimes. He's comfortable with himself and others seem to follow his lead. It takes some of us lots of work and many years to come to being really comfortable with who we are.
Woody: I come at things from an interesting perspective, as an ex-born again that has really had to stretch myself to understand things and not be afraid of things, such as Wicca, women with short hair, lesbians, transgendered, etc. etc. Perhaps I see it in that light. As a born again I had "privilege" and I lost that "privilege" when I left and came out. I lost everything, but even I didn't lose as much as a transgendered person. I didn't lose my job for it ... I didn't become alienated from society for it.
What is male privilege? Is it the privilege to be forced not to ever cry or ever to let anyone see you cry? The privilege to hide your pain, even to the point of being viewed as cold and callous? Committing a violent suicide, committing violence against others, or dying of a heart attack? Society, I think sometimes, is to blame for "creating monsters" out of men. It used to be that lesbians were viewed as angry loud obnoxious feminists, separatist, etc. etc., so who would blame them for all the hurt that society put on them by arresting them, molesting them, committing them to mental institutions, etc., etc.? I wouldn't be surprised if there were some angry transsexuals out there, and we should understand their pain. No one likes being forced into a mold, any mold. So what did these TG women have the privilege of? Being beat up, being hated, being stared at, being forced to be in a body they hated and to dress and undress in front of men -- they are women, remember -- and to go to the bathroom in the men's room. Think about how scary that would be for some of us women. I never thought about it a lot before, but I'm beginning to realize that perhaps "male privileges" are not really "privileges" to TGs. Perhaps even women have privilege. Privilege to be able to report a rape or sexual abuse without being laughed at. Privilege to cry in public and get support and hugs rather than being yelled at for being a cry baby and maybe beaten up.
Samantha: Even as a woman in the world I still question gender roles -- as opposed to identity -- much more strongly due to having experienced attempting to align myself with both sets and several variants at different times in my life. Gender roles as such are very obviously quite socially constructed to me and I take it as part of my job in life to learn to be myself as the woman I am and not as society defines a woman should be. As a lesbian I find that there are role and identity signals in that world that I am mostly happy with but occasionally they feel artificial ... like the whole butch/femme thing: I threw away my makeup when I understood the bill of goods Madison Avenue has sold women about never being good enough as we are and selling us overpriced and generally harmful remedies for that. So some people would see me without makeup, in pants and with short hair as being "butch". Then they would see the soft really sweet parts of me and consider me "femme". I confuse some lesbians and most straights as a result. The point is that I am not in one of those boxes or the other. While I have gender identity as a female as far as roles go I don't act male or female. I simply am the woman I am and to hell with what I "should" do to be accepted. I think I would feel this way and bend gender roles even if I was not born TS.
But back to the main point. Are we "real" women? Depends on what you mean. Are we like XX females? In some ways yes, in some ways no. Are all XX females alike? More so in some of the ways we aren't like them menstruation, some sex organs, XX chromosomes, socialization as females than us but they are not uniform. Do we need a separate category or sub-category for us? Don't know. On the one hand we are different and perhaps should respect and affirm that. On the other hand if I look at the difference as being simply a medical accident it doesn't seem like there is much to be gained from going around feeling proud of having suffered this complication. From that point of view it may be actually curative to "go into the closet" in the sense of trying to forget about this past as much as possible and just look at myself like any other woman and live that. I think probably a bit of both needs to be done. I'm not sure exactly how to do that in the proper balance yet.