Receipt, Please?

Posted by – January 29, 2006

Natalie posted a “quit bickering” type post in a recent thread full of hot debate, misreadings & misunderstandings (since closed) about mosaic intersexed conditions, and her list, although well-intentioned, immediately garnered objection from Andrea – and from us.

Betty and I have both long hated the phrase “gender gifted” to describe this insane state of affairs.

The first time I attended the Eureka En Femme Getaway, I conducted a Saturday afternoon workshop with Gina Lance where I said something along the lines of wanting a receipt for this fabulous “gender gift.” I think at the time I compared it to the pink slip Betty got two weeks before our wedding – which to this day takes all awards for worst gift ever. (Later, when Peggy Rudd gave the banquet speech, she used the term “gender gifted” positively, and two partners next to me elbowed each other and then me, trying not to laugh too hard outloud. It really was, in some ways, the summation of the difference between Peggy’s and my styles, notwithstanding our respect for each other.)

And while I understand the way people come to understand transness as a gift, I really can’t think of it that way myself. I also understand why people need to think of it as a gift, but I can’t go to the mat asking partners to accept it that way – I just can’t. I can barely get partners to accept it as the worst freaking thing that’s ever happened to them, so asking them to consider it a gift would more likely end up perverting the meaning of the word ‘gift’ than making them positive, forward-thinking, supportive types. (Most likely result would be that they’d tell me to go to hell.)

So, the gender gift: being misunderstood by friend, peers, and larger society. With transition this gender gift implies extraordinary expense, job loss, and often divorce; without it, a sense of uncertainty at the very least.

That’s not to say there aren’t positive things that can come out of transness for the transperson and the partner – of course there are. But positive things come out of negative things all the time, depending on the outlook of the people making their way through the adversity. It can make you a more thoughtful person, deeper, more accepting of diversity, maybe even downright philosophical – but that doesn’t mean it will. People learn tremendous, important things about themselves and the universe when they get cancer, too, but that doesn’t mean anyone wants it.

To me, a gift is something unequivocally good, something you wanted when you didn’t have it, or something someone gave you that makes you happier. In the second sense of the word, transness could be a gift the way a high IQ or good vision is a gift, and I suppose that’s the way people mean it. But even in that case, it’s a lot harder to have any benefit come of transness the way good vision or a high IQ might; you might not use the latter, but it doesn’t harm you to not use it, either – where transness, more often than not, is a kind of niggling annoyance (at least) when it’s ignored, or a major disruption, or, at worst, leads to straight-up tragedy.

When people tell me they would choose being trans, I think they mean they would choose the things they learned as a result of being trans, and that they appreciate the journey of self-discovery they had to go on because of transness. But mostly I think if people could gain those things without the frustration, ostracism, self-isolation, shame, and cost – they would.

I know: I’m just a regular bucket of cheer, but I talk to partners a lot.

In my own experience, transness is more like fire: naturally destructive, but powerful when it can be harnessed; it’s difficult to harness in the first place, and still, ultimately, always a little dangerous. But you know I used to take the A train at 2am, too.

3 Comments on Receipt, Please?

  1. deborah says:

    “All that is gold does not glitter”. I don’t read very much but I think that was from Fellowship of the Rings and I always liked that twist on Shakespeare. But basically I agree with you.

  2. Mandee522 says:

    Helen- I agree with you. I think of my ‘gender gift’ the way Tevye thought about being one of the “chosen people”. If you recall in the play and movie “Fiddler on the Roof”- when his life is going down the toilet- he looks up in the sky and says “Choose somebody else!” If we are honest- TG is at best a “dubious gift”.
    You do have a marvelous way of “outing” bullshit Helen.
    Mandee

  3. Dear Helen,

    You are someone who is highly regarded within the transgender community. Through your writing, you have made impressive strides in bringing transgenderism to a wider audience. You also provide a great deal of support, compassion, encouragement and wisdom for transgendered people. I admire everything that you are doing.

    Because of your high profile, and literary esteem, I am most exceptionally concerned to read a post such as this. I must respectfully object to much of what you are saying here.

    In my opinion your message is alltogether dismal, and conveying a negative perception of transgenderism. While you may contend that you are speaking of stark reality, I say, our transgender friends have two choices… They can regard their transgenderism as either a blessing or a curse. Society will eventually adopt the same perspective.

    For this reason, I implore you Helen, as a leader and role model in the community, to strive to uplift our transgendered sisters. You are in a position to help them a great deal; conversely you have the power to hurt them deeply with pessimistic or careless wording. I feel your message presented in this article is damaging, yet I realize this is not your intent.

    In response to what you are saying, I respectfully offer a differing perspective. http://genderevolve.blogspot.c.....chive.html

    Love & Light,
    Michele Angelique
    http://www.genderevolve.com

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