Five Questions With… Interview with Jamison Green

Jamison Green is the author of Becoming A Visible Manjamison green (Vanderbilt U. Press, 2004), which won the CLAGS’ Sylvia Rivera Book Award and was a Lambda Literary Finalist. He writes a monthly column for PlanetOut, and is a trans-activist of unmatched credibility. He is board chair of Gender Advocacy and Education, a board member for the Transgender Law and Policy Institute and the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, and served as the head of FTM International for most of the 1990s*. He is referred to in many other books about trans issues, including Patrick Califia’s Sex Changes, Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein, and Body Alchemy by Loren Cameron.
1. Betty and I often repeat your “there is no right way to be trans” idea, and I was wondering if any one thing contributed to you believing that.
I guess you could boil it down to the desire not to invalidate other people, but that desire has been informed by exposure to a wide variety of transgender and transsexual individuals of many ages, from many cultures, and many walks of life. Some people take it upon themselves to judge other trans people, to say “You’ll never make it as a man” or “as a woman,” or “you’re not trans enough,” “radical enough,” “queer enough,” whatever the case is. But I’ve known people who were told those things who went on to have successful transitions and generally satisfying lives, though they often felt burned enough by “the community” to stay away from it. I think it’s a shame that people cut themselves and/or others off from the potential for community, and I think that if we all truly believed there was room for everyone and we could learn to truly appreciate other’s differences and each person’s intrinsic value as a human being –and if we worked to make that a reality– then we, as collective trans people, might really make a positive difference in the world.
2. In terms of your career as a trans activist/educator, what one thing are you most proud of having achieved?
I think I’m proudest (so far) of my book, Becoming a Visible Man, and that’s for two basic reasons: (1) It encapsulates a large part of my work in more political and educational settings, and in fact could not have been written without that work having been done, and (2) it is not a self-published or commercial book, but one vetted by an academic press, which is not easy for a non-academic writer (which I was in 2002 when they offered me a contract) to accomplish, and which means that it will very likely be in print longer than the average non-academic book. It is not an autobiography or a memoir, but it uses autobiographical material as a connecting device to move the reader through a brief history of contemporary FTM culture and an overview of the major social and political issues all trans people face. It is intended for both trans and non-trans readers, and it has been very successful in moving non-trans people to care about trans lives. Because it is separate from me and doesn’t rely on my ongoing presence to do its work, I feel it has the potential to contribute to a positive consciousness shift in our larger culture, as well as to inform and inspire individual lives. I hope it will encourage other trans people to become visible, too! Lest you think I’m resting on my laurels, however, I must tell you I know that this book isn’t everything: Vanderbilt limited me to 90,000 words, so there was a lot that I have to say that simply had to be left out this time around.
3. What sense do you make of the fact that transmen are often welcome in the lesbian community, while lesbian-identified transwomen sometimes aren’t?
I think this phenomenon is pure, essentialist, anti-male prejudice that is rooted in fear, hatred, and/or disdain of male genital organs and “testosterone-driven” brains and bodies. I think that often –not always!!– when transmen are welcome it is because they are regarded as either “special” or “not real” men, while transwomen are designated “not real” women. This position is disrespectful and dismissive of the autonomy and personal integrity of both transmen and transwomen because it claims to know the truth of every transperson’s life experience, basing that truth in the gonads. It completely contradicts one of the basic tenets of lesbian-feminism, that biology is not destiny; instead it rewrites that tenet as: biology is not destiny unless you are a transperson. It is a senseless position, and that is the only way I can make sense of it. I do think that some factions of the lesbian “community” is having to do a lot of soul-searching and re-evaluating these days, particularly those sub-sets of that community which have forced themselves into untenable social positions through their essentialist isolationism, which looks to me like a holdover from the 1970s. Some groups and individuals may have to go through (or have been going through) a painful process of honestly analyzing their reasons for exclusionary behavior, and then they will need to make some conscious decisions about how much a part of the world they want to be.
4. Do you see the divide between the FTM and MTF communites growing larger or smaller? Why do you think that is?
I think it’s a little bit of both, actually. In some cities, more and more individual activists and organizations are learning to cooperate and work together for each other’s causes and/or the greater good. In some cities, support groups are beginning to welcome (and some have always welcomed) transitioners from opposite directions. At the same time, I think in some respects the divide is growing larger, too. It is still very hard to motivate FTM political participation; FTMs as a group have not yet been the focus of scandalous research like J. Michael Bailey did concerning MTFs. MTFs still take the brunt of the social fallout against transpeople –in the form of job loss, law suits, HIV infection, assaults, murders– so FTMs are still flying under the radar to a large extent, and I think most FTMs don’t see a lot of reasons to buck those trends; it’s a lot safer to remain low profile. Certainly we have transmen who are bucking those trends, some of whom are suffering greatly for the loss of their children and other relationships, their health, their work, their safety. We also have some fabulous work being done all around the country by FTMs who have decided to become political, or to focus their energy on developing educational materials in the healthcare arena, or who are working on social science research while still in school, or who are doing fabulous work as literary, musical, film and visual artists (one of my favorite young artists today is, but most of these efforts still are not well-known outside trans circles, or even outside GLBT or FTM-specific circles. The fact that most transwomen or transmen don’t seem to bother to learn anything about each other’s different trajectories, histories, social conditions and issues indicates to me that we have not yet truly formed a trans community (let alone a GLBT one), but I do think we still have great potential to re-envision community and create the necessary linkages.
5. What’s up next for Jamison Green?
Well, where do I begin… I’m still working at my “straight” job full time, and I’m on the boards of 5 non-profits, so one would think I’d be satisfied with the ongoing work that comes from that, not to mention that I try to spend quality time with my fabulous wife, Heidi, my amazing daughter, Morgan (she’s a junior at U.C. Berkeley), and her brother in high school. I’m still doing some occasional public speaking, corporate trainings, and conference presentations. And I try to keep up with my email, though sometimes I’m less successful with that. Apart from my family, the most meaningful long-term thing on my plate is the work I’m doing for a Ph.D. in Law at Manchester Metropolitan University in England. I’m a part-time, distance learning student of Professor Stephen Whittle, OBE, and my other advisor is Dr. Milton Diamond at the University of Hawaii. In my dissertation, I am focusing on how medical expert witness testimony has been used in litigation to validate or invalidate gender, and I am hoping to generate a useful legal strategy to support individual claims to gender-based rights and responsibilities; while I think rights and responsibilities should not be ultimately grounded in gender or sex, the unfortunate truth is that they have been so grounded, and right now they remain so grounded far too often. I’m hoping to complete this work before I turn 60 in 2008, and I expect that the dissertation, with some rewriting, would make a good book, though possibly for a much smaller audience than Becoming a Visible Man has so far reached. After that, I’d like to continue doing policy work and education, and maybe stop doing the “straight” job and try teaching in a university environment, but I’d also like to win the lottery and retire and go back to writing fiction and doing art and photography, and just travel around the world enjoying life with my family and friends.
Becoming A Visible Man is available through, Lambda Rising bookstores.
* A complete list of the organizations Jamison Green is affiliated with is available at his website,