Month: March 2005

Guest Appearance

Posted by – March 30, 2005

Author Josey Vogels has a couple of columns (“Dating Girl” and “My Messy Bedroom” she writes about sex online that are also syndicated in several Canadian newspapers. We “met” on a Book Television show a few months back.

She recently got a question from a young woman who was confused by the hot sex she had with her boyfriend when they were both in French Maid outfits, so she turned to me.

Do check out her online column on April 7th to see my ‘guest appearance’ as an advisor, or check one of these Canadian newspapers for the print version:

  • * Hour (Montreal)
  • * See (Edmonton)
  • * Current (St. John’s)
  • * Halifax Daily News (Halifax)
  • * The Baron (University of New Brunswick)
  • * The Interrobang (Fanshawe College, London)

Guest Author: Dana Johnson

Posted by – March 29, 2005

One of our MHB faithful wrote a piece called “Why Not Passing Ruins My Day,” and I thought it deserved a larger audience. – Helen

When we talk around TG issues, we are very careful.

We phrase things such that we do our best to respect and support one another. I am, in general, an enormous fan of this.

Unfortunately, it’s possible for that very politeness to mask out feelings we have, or to make us less willing to bring them up and feel legitimate doing so.

So I’m going to drop that pretense, and describe what this is like from inside my own head as clearly as I can. This is how I feel about what is going on with me, and may or may not have any real match-up with reality. It is, however, how this whole thing feels to me.

I begin at the beginning.

I am a woman.

I am not “expressing myself as a woman”. I am not “presenting as a woman.” I am a woman.

Nobody else sees a woman when they look at me, for the most part.

It was worse when I was a girl. Not only did nobody see me as a girl, but a lot of effort was put into making sure I was being a proper boy. It was quite clear to me that I wasn’t a boy, but everybody else insisted. I knew that I was supposed to be a boy, so I did everything I could to do what I was told.

Everything.

I drove myself half-mad, over the years, trying to convince myself that I was a boy, against my own perception of the facts. I tried to be interested in sports. I tried to date girls.

I succeeded at convincing most people that I was a geek boy, although I never managed to convince myself, really. Which is why it became such a problem.

I don’t try living as a man anymore. I live as a transsexual. That is, a man who is largely perceived to be mad, and who is generally recognized as attempting to live as a woman. This is not the same as being a woman, but it’s better than being a guy.

I may be seen as a guy in a dress, but at least I get to wear a dress.

One of the reasons it’s better to live this way than as a man is that I get brief windows into what it would be like if everybody just agreed with me that, yes, I am a woman. These windows are called “passing”.

If I am passing, and someone “clocks” me, well, it’s a grounding of a particularly painful sort. You see, there’s only two ways I am made aware of the fact that I’m not a woman. If I’m made aware of some component of my own anatomy (ie, facial hair, voice, plumbing) or if someone else points it out. Otherwise, I’m fairly oblivious. I am a woman, as far as my ability to discern and categorize myself is concerned.

I’m not necessarily aware that I’m anything other than a woman unless some idiot says, “Damn! It’s a Man!” or something of the sort, at which point I’m buried by the avalanche of an entire lifetime of bitter frustration.

Luckily, I’ve learned to cope with this a bit. It generally doesn’t result in days or weeks of navel gazing and depression. No, it’s now down to a few hours or an afternoon.

People don’t really understand why this is hard to get over. I mean, nobody gets what they want in life. So why should I expect to? In many ways, I suppose they’re right.

The problem I have is that I have found no way of successfully reprogramming my brain about this stuff. As far as it’s concerned, I am a woman. It’s not a question of not getting what I want, it’s a question of something I’m sure I already have not being there — kind of like when you go for your keys and they’re missing. You were certain they were there, and now they aren’t — where could they have gone. Someone saying, “No you aren’t a woman” always comes with that kind of cognitive dissonance — “I was certain that vagina was there a moment ago, but now it’s a penis.” Empirically, I have learned that “they” are right. But emotionally it has never sunk in. I still wake up every morning a woman, and have to readjust to the fact that there’s a penis down there for some reason.

I have to readjust, every damn day, to the fact that I’m a woman who is balding, has a deep voice, and has a penis. Thankfully, my breasts are no longer missing. Still, it only gets so easy to do this. It always seems a bit off. Why would I have a penis? Are you sure it’s really there? Yes, yes it is. Why? I dunno. Can we get rid of it? Well, yes. Whew! Okay, so how do we ditch it? Um, well, it’ll take a few months/years/decades…

Once I manage to get over that little early-morning hurdle, I can ignore for the most part the fact that reality doesn’t match up with what my brain keeps insisting on. Except for every time I get a weird look, or I have to pee. Or some idiot says, “Damn! It’s a Man!” When one of those things happens, it’s painfully obvious, again, and I have to readjust, again.

Some days I’m just better at that than others.

It would still be nice to move from being a transsexual to being a woman, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m trying to be as pragmatic about all this as possible, and as respectful of others point of view — ie, that I’m not a woman — as I can. If I’m a transsexual and people are polite, well, it’s better than being a guy, and I do get to wear a dress. And every once in awhile, I pass, and I get to be normal for a brief window of time — the world and my brain in harmony with one another. I try to enjoy it while it lasts.

It’s always over soon. And it will never last the way it’s supposed to.

Happy Easter!

Posted by – March 27, 2005

A very happy Easter to all you who celebrate it (and thanks to the Pagans for the eggs and bunnies).

How To Relax

Posted by – March 25, 2005

sleeping endymion

Received Wisdom

Posted by – March 24, 2005

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve read or heard that when a CD/TG goes through a “slutty phase” it’s because they’re just going through their female adolescence, like all girls go through – experimenting with styles, wearing too much makeup, etc., I’d be rich woman.

While it may be true that teenaged girls experiement with makeup and clothes, it also occurred to me that I had never gone through a “slutty” phase. So I started asking other women – partners, friends, sisters – and amazingly enough, none of them had.

One woman (a trans-partner as well) pointed out that the “slutty” girls in high school – the ones everyone knew would have sex with nearly anyone – were the only ones who dressed that way. (She also pointed out that in retrospect, those girls were most likely subjected to sexual abuse or violence as children or young adults, which I think is entirely accurate).

Most of us were busy covering up our newly-exploding bodies, dealing with what it felt like to have curves, to be looked at sexually. It wasn’t easy. But the last thing we were doing was dressing like sluts – believe me, it comes as quite a shock to have thighs, get your period, grow breasts – and suddenly find that your male friends look at you differently. A lot of women I know just covered up – in whatever ways possible – until they’d made peace with their new bodies. And for a lot of us, that didn’t happen until college, if then.

So what are trannies really doing when they dress slutty? It’s my feeling that what they’re doing is indulging in a “look” that they – socialized as men – think is powerful. It’s part of the mythology that women are in control, that we use men to suit out purposes – you know, the “cold hearted bitch” myth that even Robin Givens is debunking on Oprah this week.

And that’s not so much what bothers me. What bothers me is how quickly we as partners are to accept this “received wisdom.” This crap wasn’t explained this way by a partner – I’m pretty sure of it. Because it does not compute. Any woman who has been raised as and lived as a woman knows it doesn’t compute, but we tell each other things like this to feel better about the way our partners are objectifying women in their choice of clothes. We fail to inform our partners, too.

The most beautiful women I know are not masters of their realm. They are usually more insecure than other women who don’t play the beauty game, actually. I was friends with a woman who was beautiful who would always make sure people had noticed her when she walked into a room; it helped boost her confidence, because otherwise she felt she had nothing to give. She waited by the phone like every other girl, wondering if he was going to call like he said he would.

So please – let’s drop this little bromide. Every time a partner tells you her partner is going through the “slutty” phase, just ask her: did you have one? My money is on the fact that she didn’t go through a “slutty” phase, and neither did any other woman she knows.

The Sanctity of Marriage

Posted by – March 24, 2005

Does it strike anyone else as insane that the “marriage is sacred” crew are the same people who have decided that Terri Schiavo’s husband can’t make the decision about what she would have wanted? I mean, isn’t that what marriage is all about? Isn’t being able to make this kind of decision what they’re trying to keep gays and lesbians from?

Do they even know what they’re talking about, or look in the mirror ever? I don’t think so. Neither does Dahlia Lithwick of Slate.

Another article, focusing on the privacy of decisions like this, and why our seniors have come out most strongly against this kind of governmental intervention.

And another, focusing on the political grandstanding, which mentions the fact that although the Catholic Bishops have recently started a new campaign against the death penalty, Bush and DeLay and their boys aren’t interested in it. “Culture of Life,” indeed.

Are You a Yale Alum?

Posted by – March 22, 2005

As many of you know, I took a panel of crossdressers to this year’s “Trans Issues Week at Yale” in order to elucidate the issues het crossdressers face. Other events later in the week focused on female masculinity and trans youth issues. The only problem is – the funding that financed the first two “Trans Weeks at Yale” has ended. In order to have a 3rd, and 4th, and 5th, funding is needed.

As a result, I’m looking for Yale alum who identify as trans, or who are interested in helping promote trans awareness at Yale. Yale is the college for “future policy makers of America” and as such, is a great place to be having these conferences.

Please contact me at helenboyd(at)myhusbandbetty.com if you are interested in helping get involved in this event – either by donating directly or by helping fundraise for it.

Thank you,
Helen Boyd

Our Boy Overseas

Posted by – March 21, 2005

I got an email the other day from a 19-year-old crossdresser who was reading my book.

He mentioned how lucky he felt to be dealing with this stuff at 19, before making any permanent commitments in his life.

And then he mentioned that he’s an Army truck driver in Iraq, who parents made him join because it would do him “a world of good.”

He doesn’t get a lot of mail, or packages, and as we all know, our Army guys are taking the hardest hit in Iraq. As a result, I thought it might be cool for a bunch of us to send him mail, email, and even care packages.

Now remember, he wants to fit in with the rest of the guys, so no boxes full of panties (though he is looking for a copy or two of Girl Talk, if anyone’s got a copy they can spare.)

Send letters, cards, gifts, etc to my PO Box, and I’ll ship them to him (though mark them “for our boy overseas” so I know who they’re for). Likewise, send me emails at helenboyd(at)myhusbandbetty.com, and I’ll forward them to him.

Website Re-Design

Posted by – March 20, 2005

In about a week, Betty and I will unveil the new website design for www.myhusbandbetty.com, including the new name for my blog.

A lot of the same information will remain (or simply be updated) but there will be a couple of new features as well that I think folks will like. It will of course look entirely different as well.

If I seem a bit absent from the message boards, or don’t post new blog entries here, that may be the reason.

A Happy Holy Week to all who celebrate Easter.

Couples’ Night

Posted by – March 18, 2005

Since around November, a group of couples has been getting together on Friday or Saturday nights for dinner. We’ve been very lucky in that the restaurant East of Eighth has provided a good spot – it’s big, they don’t mind if we’re there for a while, and we can hear each other speak.

We’ll be going out together tonight again.

If anyone is interested in joining us for an upcoming gathering, please check the TG Events Listings part of the MHB Boards.

My Best Audience

Posted by – March 18, 2005

aeneas being read to

Helen, reading the pitch for the next book to a fascinated Aeneas, who has gender issues of his own.

When we first got the boys, we were told they were a brother and a sister. I never bothered to check. As good cat parents, we took them to the vet for their shots, where I asked about when we should have them neutered. “I don’t want any kittens on my hands.”

The vet looked at me as if she didn’t know quite what to think.

“They can’t have kittens,” she said.
“No? I thought them being siblings wouldn’t prevent that,” I added.

Finally it dawned on her: “They’re both boys – I guess that explains why this one’s named Aenea.”

Not only did it turn out Aenea was in fact Aeneas, but he was the more sexually mature of them, and could have started spraying at any moment. In a few short days, he went from female to male to eunuch (but he’ll always be a princess to me).

The founder of Rome never had such problems, I’m sure of it, though Dido sure came close to castrating him.

Helen & Betty on Canadian Bravo

Posted by – March 17, 2005

Hey Canadians! Our “lust lit” episode of Richler Ink is going to be on Bravo in Canada on March 17th, at 10pm:

For the actual listing, check out Helen & Betty on Richler Ink

Obvious

Posted by – March 16, 2005

This may seem obvious to the rest of you, but I’ve had a major revelation tonight.

I’ve been reading Judith Halberstam’s Female Masculinity – just started it, in fact – and I’ve been looking forward to reading it since I was given it – so much so I hurried through the end of another book (yes, about gender too) I’d been reading.

And then I came to this, on page 28:

Because female masculinity seems to be at its most threatening when coupled with lesbian desire, in this book I concentrate on queer female masculinity almost to the exclusion of heterosexual female masculinity.

My enthusiasm dropped like a lead balloon, then, but I read on:

I have no doubt that heterosexual female masculinity menaces gender conformity in its own way, but all too often it represents an acceptable degree of female masculinity as compared to the excessive masculinity of the dyke.

And there you go: not only is she not talking about masculinity in heterosexual women, but she managed to get a dig in about how “acceptable” my masculinity is. (Tell that to all the boys who wouldn’t date me, and all the kids who called me dyke over the years, Prof. Halberstam!) So not only did I not find validation, but found its opposite.

I’m sure for a lot of you, finding stuff about drag queens (or even crossdresser erotica that ends with the CD being sexual with a man, or the stories about how most MTF transsexuals end up dating/marrying men, etc) had the same effect, the same kind of let-down, the hope of finally reading something about yourself only to find, in fact, the author is precisely not talking about you.

What I realized is that in some ways, this is my connection to crossdressers: of being gender variant in a heterosexual context. In fact, one young TG just came on our boards trying to figure out where to meet girls who might like his gender mix; I spent most of my teens and early 20s trying to find a guy who liked women who weren’t models of prototypical femininity, and let’s just say: I found a lot of friends, and not a lot of dates. (I did get asked out by women an awful lot, though.)

Although I probably knew this at some level before now, the actual experience of opening this book with expectation – that I might learn something about who I am and how I fit in – came to an abrupt and unsatisfying halt: oh cool this is about – well maybe it is – no she doesn’t seem to be – oh, it’s not about me at all… like the judges on The Muppet Show.

After writing damn in the margin, I kept reading, and found out that the clitoris was officially discovered in 1559 when two Italian anatomists . . . gave the organ a name and ascribed it a function (p. 60). So far, aside from the academic writing style (which makes me want to take out a red pen) it’s chock full of goodies like that one, despite the fact that I won’t find any answers to my own questions in it.

In solidarity,
Helen

Transvestites and Terminology, Redux

Posted by – March 14, 2005

I wanted to reiterate one point: I’m not calling for people to start using the term transvestite if it makes them uncomfortable. I am all for people calling themselves what they themselves choose. In the same light, I’d love to see crossdressers accept the fact that some people will opt for transvestite- whether it’s because they’re from the UK, as a queer strategy, or for any other reason. We don’t have to agree on terminology in order to educate, by any stretch, and angrily arguing with another person with a male body who wears women’s clothes about what he calls himself seems counter-productive; likewise, writing a letter in response to a journalist’s use of the word is also pointless. My over-arching point was that it’s not the terminology that will make or break the chance of crossdressers and transvestites achieving public acceptance, but education as to the broader issues.

But I also think understanding where terms come from is important. Transvestite was coined by a fellow transvestite; I’ve just learned that Magnus Hirschfeld crossdressed (though if anyone can back up that claim, I’d like to see the evidence, as I’ve never run across it before). As much as I can understand a community choosing a new term over a word that had become loaded with negative connotations, I also strongly feel that taking back those words – emptying them of their charge – is equally valid. (I just learned that ‘Suffragette’ was a slur against the women who called themselves Suffragists, in fact, as if to minimalize and ‘make cute’ their issue. The Suffragists were not deterred by the slur and it certainly didn’t stop them in their tracks, since they won the right for women to vote not long after.)

Again, what words we use is not the important issue.

One of my themes recently has been that we need to be more gentle with each other within the trans community. We also need to ‘wait and see’ a bit more. I was accused not too long ago of using the term ‘real woman’ in one of my workshops. I was made aware of this fact by a transwoman who hadn’t read my book and who told me how offended she was, how hateful and hierarchical the term was, about a minute after my workshop ended. I was dumbfounded. As any of you who speak to groups know, you’re not always conscious of every word choice while you’re speaking. Still, I was pretty sure I hadn’t used the term – except perhaps in quotes, to indicate what someone else might have said. (Later, a transwoman and friend of mine, when she heard how upset I was, confessed that she had been the one to use the term in my workshop, and immediately volunteered to explain to the angry transwoman that she had attacked me unnecessarily. At the end of the day, the issue was resolved, but not before I’d felt attacked and shaken for having said something I never said.)

I’ve learned, as a feminist, that pointing out that I’m not a girl but a woman is met often with raised eyebrows. And this, within the trans community, where using the term transvestite instead of crossdresser or ‘real woman’ instead of ‘woman raised female’ can cause flame wars online and arguments in person! It’d be ironic if it were even a little bit funny, but it’s not. The constant use of ‘GG’ offends me regularly, for two reasons: because chromosomes are not necessarily the definitive evidence for one’s gender/sexing at birth, and because I’m over the age of 18 (as I like to remind my dad). But is it a big deal? No, it’s not. I mention it when someone refers to me as a girl, but if another partner or SO uses it for herself, I’m not going to correct her and tell her what she should be offended by.

Righteous anger over how transpeople are misrepresented is often needed, but a lot of the bickering and judgments we make of each other are unnecessary and distracting. I’ve read letters sent to newspaper editors, journalists, and the Lambda Literary Awards people that horrify me. Do we need to be righteously angry and insulting in order to get our point across? I’ve read exchanges on message boards that are more full of hate than I’d expect from my worst enemy. I understand anger, as I’m a punk rocker at heart, but are we really going to gain allies and educate the larger community by telling everyone they’re insensitive idiots? Must we use full-blown, dramatic rhetoric every time someone gets a pronoun wrong, or refers to a transsexual as transgender?

The question is whether or not we want to be heard beyond the trans ghetto, and if we do – what we need to get there. The community needs to be a place of support and power, a place that we go back to, to recharge and energize ourselves for the larger work of educating the general public. Time spent arguing about semantics among ourselves is time not spent coming up with creative ways to represent the trans community to the rest of the world in a positive way. Confronting each other instead of calmly suggesting a mistake makes it harder to collaborate in the future. Our words matter, but our attitudes matter more: the goal is tolerance by larger society, not who wins points on the message boards for telling a fellow transperson what-for.

Transvestites

Posted by – March 13, 2005

In the middle of a recent thread about the term transvestite, Betty and I were both challenged as to our use of it. A lot of people are offended by the word and its connotations of mental illness and perversity. As I mention in the glossary entry in my book, however, Betty and I never saw it that way, for several reasons: 1) because without transvestite you couldn’t have transsexuals or transgenders – because it was the first of the three coined, and the others were coined from it; 2) because the rest of the world uses the term; 3) because the man who coined it had no such judgments of perversity or mental illness in mind when he coined it – all that came later, and 4) for Betty there was always a sexual aspect to crossdressing, and taking that out was the equivalent of white-washing the sexual aspect.

Someone even mentioned that they think first of Glen or Glenda when they hear the word “transvestite” – and I wondered, are we ashamed of Ed Wood?

Transvestites scratch the itch of gender dysphoria through crossdressing, and that’s all. Transvestites are not in the DSM (only fetishistic transvestites are, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who fits that description). As Donna, one of our MHB board faithful clarified, “…the word “transvestite” was coined by Magnus Hirschfeld circa 1910, was used as a broad, entirely non-judgmental term that would encompass what today would really be considered the entire tg spectrum, and was *not* invented by the psychiatric profession to pathologize or perversify people.” It just wasn’t Hirschfield’s style.

So in a sense, the word transvestite is a link to the whole of the T community’s history. That it’s become a word with negative connotations is due to the lack of education, the silence surrounding the word, our own willingness to disown people like Ed Wood and maybe even Eddie Izzard for not being exactly as we’d like them to be. But if there’s anything the queer community has taught me, it’s that discovering your history as a community is vital and important work. Do gays disown Rock Hudson because he was closeted or because he died of AIDS? Joe Orton because his lover killed him, or because he was famous for having anonymous sex in bathrooms? Of course they don’t. Because when you’re out there, trying to show people you exist – and that you always have existed – you need to find the figures from history that provide proof.

The Chevalier D’Eon, Ed Wood, Virginia Prince, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf: none of them are perfect examples. I’ve been asked a few times how it is I can like Virginia Prince for some things and excoriate her for others, and the answer is easy: she’s human. But what she did for herself, for all trans people everywhere, is more than mind-blowing. Did Charlotte von Mahlsdorf inform for the Communist Party? Only she knows, and she’s taken that secret to the grave. Ed Wood looked on the 60s, as an old man, with envy in his heart, for a decade where sexuality might be freer, gender a little more blurred. He made some of the best bad movies ever. But all of them, in their own way, made transvestites a little more visible; they gave people the idea of it, at least.

I understand that older crossdressers cringe when they hear it; they found that word in adult bookstores, in pulp erotica, and on the covers of sensationalist magazines. Betty found the word in the dictionary at a library growing up, and thought, ‘I guess that makes me a freak, but I know I’m not the only one now.’ Tri-Ess introduced “crossdresser” instead, to get rid of the negative connotations. The only problem is, I don’t see how the use of ‘crossdresser’ over transvestite really changes people’s minds; I can’t imagine any word that would describe a man dressing as a woman that wouldn’t be offensive to someone – especially to people who don’t like any kind of boundary-crossing, much less crossing the boundaries of sex or gender.

I’ve been in crowds shouting we’re here / we’re queer/ get used to it and I know what it does. It takes a word that was used to hurt – a word more full of negative connotations even than transvestite – and turns it around.

Now it’s in the title of a popular TV show. Believe me, no one would have imagined that even ten years ago, much less 20 or 50 years ago. But it happened. And it didn’t happen because queer people made themselves less queer. It happened because queer people made themselves visible, and got angry, and got organized, and demanded that even perverts are people, too.

Because today, in America, a show for kids gets taken off the air because a rabbit went to visit a little girl in Vermont whose parents happen to be lesbians. The show was funded in order to provide diversity education, if you can believe that, but as we well know, lesbians are still a little too diverse for some people. They’ve got their civil unions; they’ve changed the language to make themselves more palatable, and you know what? They still can’t be shown on a children’s television show about diversity.

Either people are going to respect you for who and what you are or they won’t. Cleansing ourselves of negative connotations is not as simple as word choice. If only it were that easy! But Tri-Ess started using “crossdresser” instead of transvestite a few decades ago, and I don’t see that it’s opened the doors of mainstream acceptance. Instead I saw Sam Walls go down in flames when he ran for office in Texas once it was shown he was a crossdresser. No one even called him a transvestite, mind you: all they needed were pictures of him en femme. A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words.

And once they have that picture, it doesn’t matter what thousand words you use to try to explain it. Not saying the “L” word didn’t save Buster from getting bumped. Calling Sam Walls a “crossdresser” didn’t make him more palatable to voters (neither did explaining that he wasn’t a homosexual). Had he stood up and said “Yes, I’m a transvestite” could that have harmed him any more?

Friday Cat Blogging

Posted by – March 11, 2005

betty endymionFriday Cat Blogging, for those of you who don’t know, has become a tradition of the lefty blogosphere.

Some notables of the lefty blogosphere:
Atrios
Kos
Talking Points Memo

Friday Cat Blogging began with Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly, after he heard the news about Iraq and looked to his cat, but it only become a “thing” later.

I think it’s a good way to start a weekend, myself.

Betty with our big, sweet boy Endymion (weighing in at nearly 20 lbs). (I don’t know what Betty weighs.)

Sneak Preview

Posted by – March 9, 2005

These photos are from a contact sheet given to us by the brilliant Mariette Pathy Allen, which she took of us at Fantasia Fair last fall. Mariette’s book The Gender Frontier is also up for a Lammy (against MHB, unfortunately) but she is the official/unofficial photographer of the transgendered.

It was a pleasure and an honor to be photographed by her, despite how freaking cold it was on that beach!

Donate, SVP

Posted by – March 8, 2005

If you can, please donate to help offset the costs of maintaing the site, our outreach, and my time.

Thanks to all who have before, and thanks in advance to all who will this month.

TIC

Posted by – March 7, 2005

Where to begin? What a day, what a conference! The TIC conference (which stands for “Translating Identity” and is pronounced tick) in Burlington, VT was probably the single best conference Betty and I have attended. Aside from the fact that it’s FREE, the workshops were informative and covered a huge range of issues – from intersex activism to partners’ issues to “not feeling trans enough.” They addressed both real world concerns and theory, and the presenters were all inspired, educated, and well-spoken.

Eli Clare did the plenary session on the idea of “translating identity.” Eli is a really engaged person – he speaks about his twin identities as a disabled person and transman as if there were no shame in the world. Aside from being so pleased that he came to my roundtable at the Women’s Center the previous day, I found conversations with him enlightening and funny. He asked hard questions about trans-people and intersex outreach in an intersex forum I went to later in the day, too.

My biggest surprise of the day – which hopefully didn’t show – was that when I walked into the room where I was going to give my “trans-sex and identity” workshop, I discovered a LECTURE HALL full of people: partners, transfolks, allies. TIC tech were on hand to find me a mike, since this is a workshop I usually give to a small group of 15-30 people, and it’s usually interactive. So I had to think on my feet; I had an hour and a half, and normally I ask the group to participate, but with a group that big – that wasn’t a possibility. Luckily I had some friendly faces down front: aside from Betty and David, Myrna and Kyrie (p. 46 of MHB) came down from Montreal, and Cindy – a partner in a yahoo group I belong to – were also there.

I am continually amazed that I can speak to people. It’s like someone else is channeling through me, to be honest. I’m normally so shy – shoot, I used to sit in the back of my graduate classes! – but now I find myself talking without shame about strapping it on in front of a lecture hall full of strangers. Granted, I’ve always liked talking about sex, and since I’ve met Tristan Taormino, the rest of my hesitancy has fallen away. Betty – who is one of the most private people I know – has also come to enjoy and celebrate my being able to talk about these things, and that is indeed a gift. For those of you who are often in audiences, please know that those of you who nod and smile are the single best encouragement a speaker could get.

I explained a little what I was doing there, why I wrote My Husband Betty, and about what our road has been like in exploring our sexuality. When I said, “sometimes trans-people seem to be more gender-constructed than the rest of us,” instead of the usual deer-in-headlights looks, I got a lot of nods. It was a great group to talk to; I felt like I was home. (How and Why Betty and I feel so comfortable in younger groups of transmen and their (mostly) lesbian partners could be the subject of a whole other essay.)

On top of everything else, I sold every book I brought with me, even selling the one I’d intended to give to Leslie Feinberg!

After that, TIC provided a $5 lunch that was delicious. Nothing elaborate – just sandwiches and salads -but it was all very good – and very cheap. Much better than the rubber chicken we have to pay $20 for, usually.

After lunch, I went to a workshop on Intersex issues by IS/TS activist Raven Kaldera. His story is full of pain but also of redemption; his spiritual center is nearly visible. I was touched when he explained that he felt he has to be doing what he’s doing – that it’s his job, according to “the goddess that owns my ass,” as he put it. He really helped clarify, too, the intersections of Intersex and Transness, since he was raised as a girl and identifies as both. When Eli Clare mentioned that as a TS activist he is often asked about IS issues, Raven clarified that as long as TS educators are clear about the different issues and provide accurate information, he’s happy to have us do it, too – since there are not so many IS activists – not enough to go around.

The last workshop slot of the day I was presenting a partners’ caucus with the partner of an FTM named Jill Barkley. Jill is a short-haired, high-heel wearing dyke, and I loved her energy and her concern. She, like me, is tired of the partners’ lists being full of “perpetual cheerleading” and we both wanted to provide a space where partners could talk about how hard this life is sometimes. From the girlfriend who was dying to know what her trans boyfriend’s female name was, to the wife of a CD who was frustrated by the lack of male sexual energy, to the story a partner told about being asked what her partner’s name was (“Steven,” she said, and her questioner said, “but I thought you were a lesbian?” To which she replied, “I am.”), the stories of partners should be required hearing for anyone who is trans. Betty suggested that in some ways, even the language we use is defeating us, and that maybe if the transfolks themselves identified as partners first, and trans second, that our relationships would not always seem to be an afterthought for the transperson.

Alas, we didn’t have enough time, though we did manage to make a list of “issues” and “solutions” that I hope to post here. (To the TIC committee: we want a double session next year!)

Next we were all off to hear the closing remarks, given by the one and only Leslie Feinberg. Wow. I read Stone Butch Blues a long time ago, and I knew Leslie was a powerhouse, but hir speech blew everyone away. At one point, ze asked the 700+ of us in the chapel to shout out our identities: “trans,” “boi,” “femme,” “queer,” “ally” – even “republican” – there must have been a few dozen called out. And then Leslie asked us all to applaud our identities. It was a moving moment.

But hir speech – I’m going to see if I can get a copy – was astounding, drawing parallels with the Women’s Movement, abolition, and social justice movements everywhere. He told a story about how Frederick Douglass was gender- and trans-baited when he stood up for the right of women to vote, having his own gender questioned, and how he stood up to them and affirmed that he was a “woman’s movement man.” Somehow – especially for a mostly younger crowd – Leslie knew exactly how to make all of us feel not so alone, not so brand-new, not so much like we were reinventing the wheel.

Afterwards, Betty and I watched for a while as person after person went up to Leslie tongue-tied and twitterpated. Leslie – aside from being one snappy dresser – is a warm, sympathetic, direct person. As soon as I introduced myself ze apologized for being on the road when I sent hir a copy of MHB (which I didn’t expect ze’d even remember). Ze also apologized for assuming Betty still identified as a CD. It’s that kind of human connection that was so apparent about hir all night, from when we were ordering pizza with the TIC committee later, to hir being in pictures with MTF trannies that were nearly double hir height.

To be honest, I knew I was in the presence of greatness – so humble, so intelligent, so caring. And – good news for the rest of us! – ze just finished hir new novel!

And of course, I have to say too that flirting with transmen is way too much fun. Samuel (who we’d met the day before) had just shaved his head, so I asked if anyone had licked it yet. He said no, and invited me to be the first, so I did. Believe me, I didn’t hold a cigarette for longer than a second before I had a transman with a light a foot away. They really are the coolest guys ever.

Finally – yes, there was more! – our own NYC drag king (Mil)Dred did a great performance. We’d seen Dred before, so took seats at the back, but there was tons of hooting and hollering. Mildred is a powerful force on stage, slipping between genders with a pair of shoes.
TICAnd finally – exhausted and happy – we went back to our hotel and slept.

Thank you to the TIC committee, to Tim Shiner, David Houston, Leslie Feinberg, Jill Barkley, and to all the others who welcomed us and who thanked us for our work. I have never felt such a strong sense of community, inclusiveness, and joy – despite all the shared suffering.

< Here’s a picture of us with CDOD veterans Gary/Kyrie and Myrna.

Burlington

Posted by – March 7, 2005

Where do I start? Betty and I spent four fantastic days up in Burlington, VT this past (long) weekend, and the entire trip was a pleasure – from the surprise of having a jacuzzi tub in our hotel room to the wonderful people we got to meet.

On Thursday, we were very excited to meet David Houston’s anthropology class on Kinship & Identity. They had already read the whole of My Husband Betty, and had posted comments on a blog which we both read. Their questions and thoughts were a joy to read. Their comments were an exploration of the riddles of gender, ideas of “normalcy,” and even the struggles and joys of being married. Once we arrived, there was at first a certain tension in the room, which I joked to Betty was really them trying to figure out which one of us was the tranny. But we sat down, David introduced us, and the class quickly became a session of “Ask the Tranny” (after all, they’d already read 300 pp of what I had to say!). Betty is a charming emissary for transness, let me say. Most of the time when we do these workshops, I talk and she contributes occasionally. But she was so enthused, and the students really started to relax. At one point, one of the female students started to try to ask about Betty’s anatomy, and Betty clarified, “you mean my dick?” Laughing added to the relaxation, and after that, the questions about Betty’s sexuality – and mine – started coming. Overall, it was a really satisfying experience. David was especially amazed that one of the students invited us out for a drink; he said he’d never seen that happen before. (Whew! So we’re still relatively cool, I thought.)

The next day I was presenting a roundtable on “Transwomen & Feminism” as part of UVM’s Women Center’s Women’s Herstory Month events. About 20 people came, including a few of the local transfolks, as well as other educators, allies, advocates, and others working with multiculturalism and identity issues. What a great group! The director of the Women’s Center, Tim Shiner, was a charming, warm person, whose encouraging nods throughout the roundtable only egged me on, and we ended up spending two hours together instead of the one that was scheduled. I also especially enjoyed meeting Samuel and Eli, two local transmen who would be coming to the TIC conference the following day; Eli, in fact, would be giving the Plenary address at 9am.

We had a lovely, relaxed time of it the rest of the day; window-shopped, had a lovely dinner, watched a bad movie and a ton of animal shows on TV, and enjoyed that jacuzzi! I’m going to leave the TIC conference for a separate entry – because there’s just so much to say about it!