A Clarification or Eight

I’m aware that publishing a brief interview with Christine Benvenuto has caused some chagrin, and my explanation for why I did so even more.

So I’d like to point out a few things:

  1. I was unaware, when I read Ms. Benvenuto’s book, that her ex was Joy Ladin, who has also written a book about her transition.
  2. I will be reading Ms. Ladin’s book and doing a brief interview with her, in future.
  3. I do not claim to know what “really” happened between them. No one does but them, and they don’t agree, so really: no one does.
  4. I would like to point out the phrase “despite transphobic tendencies” – which I used to describe Ms. Benvenuto’s book. Her transphobia is not lost on me, by any stretch. Some of the most vitriolic transphobia comes from ex spouses, specifically of trans women.
  5. That does provide an interesting problem, doesn’t it? Why is it that the ex partners of trans men don’t similarly explode with transphobia? Some do, no doubt. But not anywhere near the same, at least not from my perspective, and I know plenty of trans men and plenty of people who have been partnered to trans men who aren’t anymore.
  6. Suggesting that people who are going to need to transition, do so YOUNGER than they have historically, is not essentialism. I do not now and have never believed that all trans people need to, want to, or will transition, and many are very happy being something like crossdressers and not transitioned women, either. I respect any choice a person makes when dealing with transness, even the awful ones, to be honest. Transness in a deeply transphobic culture is a really difficult thing to manage.
  7. Do non transitioners need more support? Fuck yes. We all do. Therapists are still pathetically under-educated when it comes to dealing with holistic treatment for trans identities, much less support for partners and families and loved ones. Most gender therapists are only, if ever, prepared to deal with transitioners, and the rest of us are still left out in the cold. Good therapists – Ari Lev and Reid Vanderbergh come to mind – are aware of this sad state of affairs. Most are not.
  8. Finally, at long last, I’m going to reiterate that I found a lot of what Ms. Benventuo had to say about her ex offensive and difficult. It is not my story. Whether or not it is accurate, or The Truth (which is a thing I don’t believe exists, for those of you who are wondering) has nothing to do with it. The experience, as she told it, is very typical, whether or not it was true in her case. A lot of partners and former partners will find some kind of resonance, and so healing, in this book. And that’s again why I’m standing by having blurbed it and having interviewed her.

I’ll leave it there for now. There’s plenty more coming, I’m sure, as these pieces make their way through transland.

12 Replies to “A Clarification or Eight”

  1. Suggesting that there’s any way to know that someone is going to “need” to transition twenty years from now is essentialism.

    It’s not just that we need more support. We need to be visible and respected and honored as a way to deal with transness.

    In my experience, a few years ago when you were interviewing Lev and Vanderbergh, they came across as very essentialist, prescriptive, and ignorant of non-transitioners. Based on what I read back then I wouldn’t want either one as a therapist. And yes, I know they’re both probably going to read this.

  2. I’m also really uncomfortable with the phrase “more than crossdressers and not women.” As before, I don’t know where to start, but I can count at least three things that bother me about it.

  3. When I was in the thick of “the community” and trying to help people find their way(I would argue that I was successful, in a small way) I used to wonder why some of my other trans friends seemed to “retire” from the ongoing conversation about being trans and just went on with life.

    I don’t wonder anymore.

    I don’t have much of a problem with your statement “more than crossdressers and not women.” but I know why it triggers people; trans women (and I’m including many crossdressers in that term) are wildly and unpredictably hierarchical and paranoid about how they are percieved and their “place” amongst each other. We all have different lives, situations and responsibilities, and I would argue, using a kind of Mobius logic, that sometimes the right thing to do as a female-brained parent, nurturer and provider is keep living as a man.

    I’m still earning a living as a “man”, I’m not out to my kids, and I’m not entirely happy about it, but I could frankly care less about following a verbal cage fight between Cathy Brennan being cheered on by the HBS(the trans version of the Vichy french) crazies and the Trans Word Police waiting for the next celebrity slip of the tongue.

    I have one trans acquaintance who just became a foster parent; no one wants talk to about her, possibly because her transness isn’t the only thing that defines her.

    I’d better stop talking now.

  4. 5.
    a) FTMs usually start in the lesbian community, where expectations of “you will have a marriage and it will define your place in the universe” are much fainter.
    b) when they were married to men, those men were less likely to hang so much of their financial well-being and their psychological sense of self on the peg of their marriage.
    c) but yeah, sometimes we give our wives unnecessarily bad experiences that make it easy to be transphobic.

  5. Not bad – not bad at all. A good honest attempt at explanation and clarification, not that I agree with everything. But still, not bad.


  6. Hah! Helen, I know you’re under pressure from both sides. I really appreciate any rejection of essentialism.

    Darya has it right pretty much. “More than” is a loaded term. Why did you set any parameters for what actions people can take to deal with trans feelings?

  7. Hah! Helen, I know you’re under pressure from both sides. I really appreciate any rejection of essentialism.

    Darya has it right pretty much. “More than” is a loaded term. But more importantly, setting those parameters undermines the next sentence where you say, “I respect any choice.”

  8. ah, ladies. you’ve always kept me honest. here’s the change in phrasing:

    “…being something like crossdressers and not transitioned women, either.”

    i hope that’s acceptable.

  9. I’m not sure I was really criticizing or asking for a change. One thing that drives me crazier than anything in our crowd is the constant debating over how many of us can dance on the head of Radical Feminist and who has hurt our feelings the most this week.

    “…being something like crossdressers and not transitioned women, either.” walks the center line a little better, if it still makes your point.

    Some of us just remain in wonder of the entire process; being someone who can truly experience being the other gender(unless we want to argue about that now, too) is a pretty remarkable thing on it’s own.

    We just live in a culture that’s currently too ignorant and backward to appreciate it.

  10. Okay, I know you were frustrated, Helen, but I wasn’t just bitching. I was genuinely tongue-tied trying to figure out how to get across to you what the problem was.

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