Month: October 2005
Ah, the official holiday of the crossdressed: good luck to all of you who are out there pretending not to be good at it this year!
Usually Betty and I are usually gung-ho about Halloween, but this year 1) I got a head cold that turned into a chest cold that turned into a cough that’s only now getting better, and 2) we never really came up with costumes, and 3) we spent a buttload of money on little Aurora’s vet bills and then got slammed with a $900 dentist bill we weren’t expecting. So, a quiet Halloween: Friday night at home, Saturday night at my sister’s for dinner, Sunday night continuing the reorganization of our living room.
But tomorrow we go see the Brooklyn-based Rasputina at Bowery Ballroom, and that should be odd and lovely, just like them. If you haven’t heard their music, you really should – especially if you like cellos and interesting lyrics.
It looks peaceful, but this lasts about 2 minutes at a time. Ah, what a Brooklyn backyard looks like!
Abigail Garner is a writer, speaker and educator who is dedicated to a future of equality for LGBT families and communities. She speaks from her own experience of having a gay dad who came out to her when she was five years old. Bringing voice to a population of children that is often overlooked, Abigail has been featured on CNN, ABC World News Tonight, and National Public Radio. She is the author of Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is (HarperCollins, 2004).
1) As a child of a GLBT parent, you’ve effectively become a ‘lightning rod’ for others children of GLBT parents. What has that been like?
It’s is really a joy to connect with “my people.” It’s really not what I originally set out to do, because I subscribed to many of the same misperceptions as the general public. Namely, that there are very few adult children of LGBT parents. My advocacy initially was to be a resource for younger children and their parents. In the process, however, I have been contacted by so many peers that I hadn’t let myself believe were out there — adult children in their 20s, 30s and older. I even chatted with a woman born in 1938 who had a lesbian mother and gay father. And despite whatever differences there are between us, when the common experience of having queer parents is reflected in another person, it’s exhilarating.
She was always one of my favorite models for activism – not someone out to change the world, not someone out for the power & the glory, just a woman who’d had enough.
Thank you, Rosa.
If you like the message boards, or this blog, please donate what you can so we can keep doing what we do.
Helen & Betty
The other night I attended a lecture by Arlene Istar Lev, author of Transgender Emergence and a respected therapist who aside from being an out lesbian herself, has worked with trans people for a long time. Likewise, she had originally worked in couples/family counseling, and as a result has worked with a lot of trans-couples (couples who, because one or more people in the relationship are trans, have to deal with gender in such – necessary ways).
Her lecture was on TransSEXuality, as the poster put it: not about transsexualism, but about the sexuality of trans people. She’s writing an upcoming paper, and this talk was delivered to a small research group that gathers once a month to talk about trans stuff. Some of the participants were trans, others of the larger GLBT, and were therapists, and academics, and scholars of various sorts. (I felt severely unlettered with a Masters in Lit., but I’ll get back to that in a minute.)
Unfortunately for all of us, the presentation was Lev’s attempt to circumscribe what we don’t know about trans sexuality: there is no research, there are no numbers. There are therapists with long backgrounds. There’s porn, and HIV rates. But mostly, we know almost nothing. We don’t really know how trans people’s sexualities develop, or really what they do, and to whom, and how they feel about it. We have stories, we have testimony, and we have guesswork. We have some literature about gay and lesbian sexualities that are only really useful if the trans person is gay or lesbian after transition, and sometimes not even then.
I was kind of struck by the fact that I felt like I knew more than most of the people in the room just by virtue of the fact that 1) I have sex with Betty, and 2) I have leant an ear to an unknown number of trans-partners, and 3) I’m not scared of seeking out porn and erotica geared to trans people or featuring them, and finally 4) because I’ve been lucky enough to meet some very honest, upfront trans folk who like to talk about sex (and who understand that I am one of them, in the odd way that I am.)
What I ended up with was this sense – as an unlettered writer who is sans ‘official’ psyche/sociology/social work background – that basically what we’re going on right now is 1) guesswork, and 2) qualitative research.
Which is pretty much what I do. So aside from the questions/frustrations that popped into my head about who I am and why I do this and legitimacy and authorship and credentials, I also realized that this is one of the reasons that narratives are so important right now. And I don’t mean narratives in the sense of “This is what I need to tell a shrink to get my letters” but rather in the sense of trans people and people who love trans people stepping up and saying “This is what we do” and “this is what works for us” and “this is how I’ve always seen myself.”
In fact, I’d say it’s vital that trans people (and those who love them) really start talking about what we DO with and to each other in the bedroom. How we identify, how we think about our (gendered or not) sexual roles, our development as sexual beings, our relationships with our bodies.
Because it strikes me that trans sexuality is about at the same place women’s sexuality was at in the 60s or so, when groups of women in CR groups were sitting on top of mirrors to look at their own vulvas for the first time.
But here’s the caveat, for me: I had this really weird feeling afterwards. I felt – exposed. And maybe a little judged. And kind of poked. What popped into my head was that Twilight Zone episode called People are Alike All Over, when a few humans are being kept at an alien zoo, and the sign on their cage says “Humans in their natural habitat.” I didn’t like the feeling, even if I understood where it came from, and why. Social workers and psychologists and therapists want to understand; one professor asked if we could develop “models” of trans sexuality – you know, to figure out their etiologies.
There was one point where I mentioned how, as a partner, I’ve stopped caring what people think I am – ie, lesbian, het, queer, bi, etc. And someone said that was a ‘sophisticated’ response, and then changed that to ‘mature.’ And I said, “No, just tired,” which it is these days, in a kind of think what you will but I’m gonna go home now and love my alien kind of way.
Ironically, it made me somewhat optimistic: at least we have the list of questions.
It just occurred to me that not all of you would know that you were missing some info about my next book by *not* reading Damian McNicholl’s interview with me. The last question he asked was:
DMN: Are you working on anything new?
to which I responded:
HB: Iâ€™m working on a book now called Boy Meets Girl, which is about the things I’ve learned about gender in relationships as a result of being with Betty and as a result of meeting a lot of gender variant people since I published My Husband Betty. What I’ve noticed is that until or unless thereâ€™s a problem with gender, itâ€™s invisible. We make huge assumptions about who a person is and who theyâ€™re supposed to be as a partner and lover based on gender â€“ and I came into this relationship thinking I was pretty smart about gender, and didnâ€™t do any of those things. But when your husband starts wondering if he should transition (thatâ€™s the PC term for a â€˜sex changeâ€™ these days), you have to think a lot harder about gender, and learn a lot more. Boy Meets Girl will be a memoir of my struggle to figure out what it might mean to our romance if my husband became my wife, and how what I learned in the process might help others in relationships of all kinds.
So there you have it.
The (en) gender message boards have been upgraded, and all went well. As far as we know right now, at least.
Helen & Betty
I interviewed Damian McNicholl, author of Lambda-nominated A Son Called Gabriel, and now he’s gone and returned the favor by putting up an interview with me on his blog. He’s also included some of his own thoughts about My Husband Betty, prejudice against crossdressers, and growing up with “inherited” prejudices.
Tonight it was brought to my attention that a CD in the online group A Crossdresser’s Secret Garden had warned another CD that my book was too heavy on the issues surrounding transition, and so recommended Peggy Rudd’s book My Husband Wears My Clothes, instead. I have to start off by explaining that I don’t have an issue with some people preferring Peggy Rudd’s book over my own; we both have our audiences, and as Dr. Rudd once said to me, ‘it’s not like there isn’t enough room for two of us.’ (She also told me I didn’t have to answer all the email I’d get, which was sound advice I’ve mostly failed to follow.)
It’s funny that this advice should come just now, but not just because my interview with Melanie and Peggy Rudd is the Five Questions With… blog post that precedes this one, but also because – well, transition issues come up in exactly one chapter of My Husband Betty. I told the story I did because it was part of my own experience. When I was trying to reach out to other couples, especially other girlfriends of CDs, I happened to meet Katie, and we had an instant rapport. At the time we became friends, every crosssdressing website emphasized the fact that *crossdressers don’t transition.* I found out otherwise when I watched my friend Katie go through a painful divorce that was caused by her crossdressing partner’s transition.
And while I’m happy to report that Katie and Elle have both gone on to live happy, separate lives, it was precisely because of that experience that I included their story – and how it affected our story – in my book. Because I didn’t want to see even one other Katie get blindsided like that, not ever again.
In the warnings about how “scary” my book is, the CD pointed out once again that CDs rarely transition. Or that a very small percentage do. And the ironic thing is that I know the group, and I know that quite a few of their members were CDs when they joined who later transitioned. Some of them – gasp! – were even married. So it makes me wonder why this information is re-iterated over and over again, when no-one has any idea how many CDs eventually transition.
I certainly don’t know the percentage. I just wonder at what point people think it’s okay to mislead spouses like that. I mean, if you had a 1 in 100 chance of finding out that your marriage was going to be dead in the water in a decade, would that be a high enough risk for you to maybe warn your future partner? 2 in 100? 5 in 100? 10 in 100?
And while I understand the need to help wives who are already married keep their wits about them and not freak out, I cannot abide the idea that anyone is telling a girlfriend or a fiancee of a CD not to worry about it – especially if they’re under the age of 30.
And while I also know there are no guarantees in this life, I also know that plenty of crossdressers said they’d never transition and did. Wives or no wives, children or no children. And I wonder why this urge to reassure wives comes so fast. I know after I found out that all those people who had told me that *crossdressers never transition* were full of it, I held them accountable for having bullshitted me. Because even if the chance is 1 in 1000, a woman deserves to know the truth, especially if she’s about to make a lifetime commitment. Or have children. Or buy a house with her husband. Or work more to put him through school. Or start saving for retirement.
A woman deserves to know – no matter what the situation – that there’s a chance her CD boyfriend may eventually become her ex-wife. I’m tired of no-one wanting to say it outloud. I’m tired of hearing how it’s a negligible percentage. I want to know who gave anyone the right to decide what “negligible” means when it comes to a person’s life. And I want to know too where they get the numbers that have convinced them it’s “negligible.”
Because I’d like to see them. And I know they don’t exist. My best guess why crossdressers think the number is so negligible is because transitioning women leave support groups intended for crossdressers when they transition, so crossdressers stop seeing them – a kind of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ phenomenon. Either that or they’re going by that whacked Tri-Ess logic, that says a CD who transitions was never a CD, anyway – even if they identified one for a couple of decades.
. . .
The even richer irony for me is that so many married transwomen and partners of transitioning women don’t read my book because the word “crossdresser” is in the title. Isn’t that rich? Sometimes I think I should find myself a small army of terrified CDs to go into the TS community and explain exactly how much My Husband Betty is about transitioning! Yet I had a partner in another group I’m in say – after having read my book – that there is nothing out there for spouses of transitioning people.
Papa Bear on one hand, Mama Bear on the other. Now both of them can’t be right.
It’s actually the partner of the transitioning person who’s right, in my opinion. My Husband Betty is not about transition; the story of Katie and Elle is a cautionary tale, only. It’s there so that others will understand it can happen. And it can happen even when the couple is deeply in love. I am hoping to write about what it’s like to live with someone who is considering transition in my next book, however, and I’ll certainly let you know if/when I do.
What I have always recommended is this: that any wife who is new to having a crossdressing partner read the first four chapters of My Husband Betty first, sit on them, mull over them, discuss them with her therapist and her partner. After a while, when she hits a certain comfort level, and she’s ready for more, she can read (the dreaded, terrifying, all-too-realistic) Chapter Five. She can read Peggy Rudd’s book(s) before or after mine – it’s not like there’s a whole slew of books by wives out there, is there? Some will prefer one over the other. Some will find them complementary in some ways. Others will hate and excoriate one and bless the heavens for the other. That’s not the issue for me; the issue is that sometimes CDs are so freaked out by the fact that I even talk about transition they remember the whole book being about it.
After my experience with Katie, and after doing all the research for My Husband Betty, I became convinced that if there’s anything a crossdresser’s wife needs to know, it’s exactly what crossdressers don’t tell her. You see, I didn’t write the book to scare anyone. I wrote it because I’m a wife, and I wish someone had told me everything I had to find out for myself. I wanted to spare any other wife the pain that Katie went through, and the fear I experienced. I wrote it once in the book, and I’ll write it again here: crossdressers do transition. Not all of them, not most of them, but some of them. And their potential spouses need to know.
Peggy Rudd is the author of My Husband Wears My Clothes as well as other titles about crossdressing. She was the first wife to write about the experience of being married to a crossdresser, and Melanie Rudd is her crossdressing husband.
1) Melanie, it strikes me that you and Betty are rare among trannies. What’s it like to be the subject of such intense – and published – perusal by your wife?
Melanieâ€™s life has not been the same since My Husband Wears My Clothes was published in 1989. Mel/Melanieâ€™s life story was open to the world or at least anyone who read the book. This book, as well as the other three that followed, were affirmation of the support, acceptance and un-conditional love Melanie had sought for so many years. The most joy and fulfillment from Peggyâ€™s books has been the thousands of transgendered individuals and their significant others worldwide who have told Peggy and Melanie in writing, telephone calls and face to face contact how much the books have helped them in their search for answers. We are certain that Helen and Betty have experienced this joy and fulfillment because of Helenâ€™s book, My Husband Betty. Now if we could only clone Peggy and Helen!
Betty is planning to update the message boards in the next 48 hours, so please read her announcement about it.
It seems that Victoria’s Secret is still using unrecycled papers for their 900,000 catalogs, and the folks at Forest Ethics are still pissed off.
Their new ad is for the holiday season.
You can donate money so they can afford to run it in The New York Times.
For more information and a sample letter you can send to Victoria’s Secret, check my previous post about this issue.
I received this email through one of the partners’ groups I’m in, and I thought it was a perfect articulation of the kind of thing I’ve heard happen over and over again. She called it “Bait and Switch” which is a term I’ve used more than once in describing what it was like to go from accepting Betty as a TG to watching her wonder if she would transition.
I feel deceived.
I met my husband online – over 4 years ago. I was looking for a BDSM relationship – I wanted to be dominated. Jack* responded to my ad – and with a few emails it seemed like we might make a good fit. A few long phone calls full of “me too’s” and giggles – and finally a real date. We really hit it off!
So, we share with each other, our fantasies, our wishes, our dreams. It’s all so lovely.
He liked to dress me. Take me shopping. Put me in clothes and shoes I’d NEVER have picked out myself. Made me feel sexy and admired… wow! I ate it up!!!!
He mentioned that he’d dressed up as a woman once or twice – but felt like he made such a horrible version of the female gender he’d not done it anymore.
So, once in awhile, when we’d feel like dressing up in some fetish wear – he’d slip into a skirt. Then he began to order high heel boots for himslef online. And, while shopping with me and in the women’s underwear department – he asked if I’d mind if he bought himself a pair or two of silky, ladies underwear. Of course I said “sure” – who could resist wearing such comfy silky things – more power to him.
I’ve been openly accepting – encouraging even. Everytime he’s left alone in the house – he dresses up. Now he does it everytime we have the house to ourselves. Whatever… if it makes him happy – right?
But – then there’s me. He doesn’t dress me up anymore. He doesn’t admire me. He’s obsessed with shopping for his clothes, finding new outfits. He seems to think it turns me on – when it certainly does not! He doesn’t understand why I’ve lost my entire labido – I have NO desire for sex – because he does’t turn me on at all… I’m feeling more and more seperated, lonely, desprate, deceived.
Am I alone in this? Is his desire to dress as a woman more important than our relationship? should I accept that and move on… this sucks.
I posted it here because I want CDs to see it. I hear CDs bemoan the fact that they don’t have an accepting, supportive woman in their lives, and yet time after time, I see posts and emails like this from accepting, supportive women.
I’m sure a lot of people would just write it off as ‘gender euphoria’ or ‘being lost in the pink fog’ but I think that makes it the partner’s problem, something she should ‘wait through’ – letting ‘boys be boys,’ as it were, in the meantime. Some of you, no doubt, will say to yourselves, “Well if I had an accepting wife I’d never treat her that way” but then – why does it seem to happen so often?
Unfortunately, sometimes an email like this is followed up a few months later by the “Now he says he needs to be a woman!” email, too.
I wanted people to see this, so simply put, so heartfelt, so dejected, because these feelings are so typical of the kind of pain I see partners in, and the kind of pain I’ve felt myself. You give your CD partner some room to be himself sexually, to relieve himself of the shame and guilt he’s suffered with all his life, and for a ‘thank you’ you get neglect, a partner who seems more interested in ‘her’ than you, and an assumption that his crossdressing actually turns you on.
Pah. I’m never sure what to say, either, – especially if after I ask if she’s talked to him about it, she says “Yes, I have, in no uncertain terms.” Then what? A 2′ x 4’?!
* Jack is not his real name.
Some of you may have noticed a new link in the right navigation of this page titled (en)Gender Consulting.
I’ve decided to try this out for a few reasons.
One is the very obvious time restraint. I expect to be working on a new book shortly, which is going to cut down significantly on the amount of time I have available. My priorities, once I start writing, will be 1) to write, and 2) to continue to make some money. This way, I can continue helping others without robbing myself of my writing time and while also continuing to pay the rent.
The second reason isn’t so much a reason as a story. I recently had a well-intentioned person let me know that I’d helped them a lot, and I really appreciated hearing it. But he went on to explain that “I’ve paid my therapist $150/week, and she hasn’t helped that much, but you’ve helped a lot more than she did, and you’re free!” It was just one of those moments of realization, an epiphany.
The third reason is simply that I want to keep helping people, but I get more and more requests every day. Everyone just wants “one question” answered and I nickel-and-dime my day away answering them; it’s literally gotten to the point where I already don’t have enough time to get to all of them, especially if I’m simultaneously moderating the message boards, writing blog posts, working on a book, writing articles, helping people organize partners’ stuff at conferences – and of course, bookkeeping. I didn’t want to cut out the individual support because I think in some ways it’s the most important part of what I do.
So, you get the idea. If you have any questions, feel free to email me, as per usual, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
People ask me why I chose “Helen Boyd” for my pen name, and just tonight on the boards Andrea wondered if there was some connection to it being more “WASPy” than my given name, but no.
I chose it for being queerer, actually.
Helen’s my middle name, and there’s nothing exciting in that except that I was named Helen for my grandmother, and the name “Helen” (and its variants, Eleanor and the like) fill in a lot of my family tree. (My cousin, who did our geneology, likes to joke that there are only two pages in the Polish naming book.) I’m proud to bear it, as my grandmother was one of my role models growing up.
But Boyd is a little more complicated.
I certainly didn’t choose it to sound WASPy, as I’ve always regretted I didn’t get one of the more ethnic names – like Frollo or Topolski – I might have had (if we lived in a matriarchy).
It’s not Brooklynese for “bird,” as Mariette Pathy Allen once mused, either.
The thing is, I’d already been using ‘bettysgrrl’ with “Helen,” so I was turning up in people’s address books as “Helen B.” So I needed a last name that started with B, and it was the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay who loaned it to me.
In 1919, before she became a famous and popular poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote some early magazine pieces under the name Nancy Boyd. She was infamously bisexual, and some of the love poems she wrote were – gasp! – written to women. Thus, the pen name, borrowed from the phrase “nancy boy” which is slang for a sissy, a momma’s boy, an effeminate male. Millay, who signed her name Vincent (never Edna), was “Nancy Boy’d.”
I’ve always thought it was funny, and genderbent, and a nice bit of queer literary history, as in: a woman poet writing lesbian poems to girls straight out of Vassar uses a genderslur about feminine boys as her pen name, and in choosing my pen name in order to write a book about my feminine husband, I thought it was only appropriate to borrow Millay’s pansexual, genderqueer joke, since I admire her both as a woman and as a poet.
Recently it’s become even more lovely that I chose Boyd since Neil Gaiman – who is a favorite writer of mine, and one who coincidentally has written more than one cool, sympathetic story about a tranny – just published his new novel Anansi Boys, which is again another pun on “nancy boy” but this time borrowing from the Jamaican stories of Anansi the Spider.
An ironic coincidence is that after I chose the name, it turned out to be the actual name of one of my Jewish friend’s grandmothers – ie, someone who would have been the last person I’d have asked if he had a relative named “Boyd.” Go figure.
(Well, I think it all makes perfect sense.)
And for those of you who are wondering, and who have asked: please keep calling me Helen. I actually prefer it to my given name.
The AFA (American Family Association) and an anti-Choice group called The Pro-Life Action League (ugh) are boycotting the company American Girls for two reasons:
1) They are pro-Choice and pro-contraception.
2) They encourage support for girls dealing with sexual orientation issues.
Girls, Inc. – the company that produces American Girls – was taken aback by this boycott. The president of the company, Joyce Roche, said “Girls Inc. takes positions on public policy issues if it believes women’s rights and opportunities are at stake. ‘Our philosophy is that women should have the right to make decisions about themselves,’ Roche said.
Crazy idea, that.
I haven’t mentioned, and should have, that a group of couples who’ve met via these boards has started meeting once monthly at the GLBT Center. The meetings take place the first Tuesday of the month, from 8-10pm, and we split the cost of renting the room by however many people show up.
If anyone reading this is in the NYC area is interested, do check out this thread about how we came to choose the place/time, and then please get in touch with me first if you’d like to come.
It’s a private group, and not listed in the Center’s calendar, for now.