Anna Quindlen on Jennifer Finney Boylan

Outside the Bright Lines
by Anna Quindlen
Newsweek, Aug. 11 issue
The most dispiriting moment in Jenny Boylan�s book is when she realizes that talking like a girl means sounding uncertain about your own name, like this: �Hello? I�m Jenny Boylan?�
THE FUNNIEST MOMENT is when her doctor tells her that gay men and lesbians don�t really have much in common with transsexuals. �Yeah,� Boylan replies, �except for the fact that we get beaten up by the same people.�
And one of the most telling moments in the book is when she goes to the credit union to have the name on her account changed from James Finney Boylan to Jennifer Finney Boylan. �You were named James?� the manager asks.
�I used to be a boy. Now I�m female. I had my name changed,� Boylan tells the manager.
�Huh,� she replies. �Okay, well this is simple enough. We�ll just change your name in the data field here.�
Boylan�s new book, “She�s Not There,” is a very funny memoir of growing up confused and a very smart consideration of what it means to be a woman. (Yeah, hormones make a difference.) It�s also the story of a writer and college professor who winds up married, living in Maine with two kids, all the while knowing that his true gender doesn�t match his body. It�s about becoming who you really are, which in this case meant becoming a woman.
But it is also about how good people can be. Because Boylan�s book is not about being shunned by her colleagues, losing her job, having her family ditch her. A good bit of it is merely about changing the data field. Even the woman who married Jim and wound up with Jenny responded with love, leavened with anger and pain, too. (�I want what I had,� she says at one point.) Boylan�s sons decided to call her �Maddy,� merging the titles of Mommy and Daddy. Her students still loved her��damn, girl, you look good!� one writes�and her colleagues rolled with it, the professors at Colby and the musicians with whom she plays in a bar band. (Although her friend Curly was chagrined when he asked what it was like to have breasts and she responded that the world doesn�t revolve around breasts. �I wish you could hear yourself,� he sighed sadly.) �As far as I�m concerned, you�re you, no matter what,� one friend said.
Tolerance is the rice pudding of modern behavior; it tastes sweeter than bigotry, but no one would confuse it with a parfait. What Boylan�s book represents is something deeper and more important than tolerance. The way in which people insisted on valuing her on the basis of who she was and not their confusion about what she had done represents the best of human behavior.
Doing that is hard. The old bright lines used to make things so simple. White was different from black. Male was different from female. Straight was better than gay. Gay was bad. So was sex, unless it had been sanctified by Alencon lace and a catering hall. Sanctified by God, some would say, or �natural moral law,� which is what the Vatican cited in its statement last week against gay marriage, the theological version of �because I said so.�
The God who suggested we love one another seemed strangely absent from all this. Look at the bright lines in the new movie �The Magdalene Sisters.� It�s a devastating drama based on the true story of unmarried Roman Catholic girls who got pregnant and were essentially imprisoned in Irish laundries called the Magdalene Asylums, sent there by their own parents for no crime other than sexuality. Who cares about compassion when you can have never-darken-my-doorstep certainty?
In his afterword to Boylan�s book her best friend, the writer Richard Russo, refers to a line in �The Great Gatsby�: he says his first reaction was to want �the world to be �uniform and at a sort of moral attention�.� That�s natural when the unexpected barrels around the corner. But for many years that feeling was the bedrock of a morality that was essentially immoral because it reduced human interaction to mathematics, without understanding or empathy. To have learned to think �you�re you, no matter what� about those we love and even those we don�t know has alleviated an enormous amount of unnecessary pain.
As for Jenny, she�s now the woman outside that she always felt she was within. The same salesman who tried to sell Jim a car and focused on the spark plugs tried to sell her one for $1,000 more and talked about the cup holders. She started ordering diet soda and salads, a cave to cultural stereotypes that made her nuts. She was cool about the demands her situation made on others: �If you�ve read this far in this note, it�s quite possible that you feel that the top of your head is about to blow off,� she wrote in a letter to colleagues explaining it all. One night at dinner her mother raised her glass and said, �I am so proud of my beautiful daughter.� Maybe there are those who feel she should disapprove, or hide it from her friends, or cut off contact with her own kid. After all, that�s what people did in the old days, to a pregnant daughter, to a gay son, to anyone outside the bright lines. But that�s just wrong.

Riki Wilchins on the TG spectrum

from Riki Wilchins’ Gender Queer :
“Transgender was intended as an umbrella term, then a name of inclusion. But umbrellas don’t work well when one group holds them up. Today, trans activism is often focused on the problems (bathroom access, name change, workplace transition, and hate crimes) faced by those who have been most active in its success: postoperative male-to-female transexuals (any similarity to the author is purely coincidental).
Yet there is little being done today to address the needs of drag people, butches, cross-dressers, transexuals who do not seek surgery, or (besides the Intersex Society of North America) intersexuals. Cross-dressers especially have suffered from lack of representation, although they number in the millions and experience severe problems associated with child custody, job discrimination, hate crimes, and punitive divorce precedents.
Thus has transgender, a voice that originated from the margins, begun to produce its own marginalized voices. And in part because – as an identity organized around “transgression” – there is a growing debate over who is “most transgressive.” How does one decide such questions? For instance, as one transexual put it, “I’m not this part-time. I can’t hang my body in the closet and pass on Monday.” There is no doubt, from one perspective, that cross-dressers enjoy some advantages. They are large in numbers, most only dress occasionally, and they can do so in the privacy of their own homes. Does that mean they would live that way if they had a choice? Does it really make them “less transgressive”?
In fact, nobody wants men in dresses. There are no “out” cross-dressers, and almost no political organization wants them or wants to speak in their name. “A man in a dress” is the original “absurd result” that judges, juries, even legislators try to avoid at all costs when rendering verdicts or crafting laws. “Men in dresses” isn’t the next hit movie: It’s a punch line in the next joke.
Among genderqueer youth, it is no longer rare to hear complaints of being frozen out of transgender groups because they don’t want to change their bodies. In an identity that favors transexuals, changing one’s body has become a litmus test for transgression. . . .
Since trans activists have loudly and justifiably complained about being “most transgressive” and about being consigned to the bottom rung of gay and feminist concerns, so it is doubly unfortunate to see them developing hierarchies of their own, in which transpeople must compete for legitimacy and in which their own margins soemtimes go unrecognized. Indeed, like assertions over who has more “privilege,” debates over who is most “transgressive” are a form of reverse discrimination that seeks to confer status based on who has it worst. Which is to say, debates over identity are always divisive and never conclusive. They are divisive because at heart they are about conferring status, always a zero-sum game. For one person to win, another must lose. They are inconclusive because there are no objective criteria by which to decide. Winning such debates is always a function of who sets the rules and who gets to judge. And since postsurgical transexuals are most often in a position to judge, at the moment, the rules tend to favor their life experiences . . .
There is no denying that after a persistent 10-year struggle, the T in LGBT is here to stay. Will the new gay embrace of transgender be successful? Will gay organizations actually devote any real resources to transgender, and if so, will they give us anything more than transexual rights? On this, the jury is still out. Although a few organizations have led the way, most organizations have not brought to bear anything like real muscle, and what muscle there is continues to be channeled into “gender identity” and transexual concerns. In the meantime, butches, queens, fairies, high femmes, tomboys, sissy boys and cross-dressers have completely vanished from civil discourse. They are never mentioned in public statements by any major progressive organization. For political purposes, they have ceased to exist. Gender itself remains invisible as a progressive issue. If it is mentioned at all, it is carefully confined to transgender. . . . With gender stretched out across the whole surface of individuals’ relations with society, maybe it’s time to quit attacking the problem piecemeal, waiting for the next issue to appear on the front page of the New York Times. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge gender stereotypes as a problem we all share, a central concern, a way to come together: a human rights issue for us all.”

Breast Cancer

Since so many CDs buy breast forms originally intended for women who lose their breasts due to breast cancer, I thought it appropriate to get some of you to click on the Breast Cancer site & so raise money for mammograms and breast cancer research.
So click away, ladies!

Girl Talk magazine

HB & Gina LanceThere is a GREAT, full color, glossy magazines for MTF TG people that I love – called Girl Talk . It’s not a ‘support’ type magazine but rather just upbeat & positive & features great professional photos of people who look amazing. The range is CD to TS – and has features on beauty (of course), interviews (with people like Eddie Izzard), advice, etc. Basically, a ‘lifestyle’ magazine for the TG crowd.
Anyway, I highly recommend it. You can check out a preview online.

October 11th: National Coming Out Day

I read an FAQ at the Human Rights’ Campaign’s website yesterday about Nat’l Coming Out Day, and was quite pleased to see that ‘transvestite’ made their short list of transgender categories.
http://www.hrc.org/ncop/faqs.asp
What occurred to me is that it would be great if crossdressers could really rally to coming out to someone this year: a wife, if she doesn’t know yet; children or parents, or more likely, a friend. Even if you’re not ready for that, you could come out to a stranger: go buy those size 11 pumps and tell the clerk at Payless (or Kenneth Cole) they’re for you!
Of course there are a million reasons to come out (a bunch of them are in the FAQ above) but I think the best reason is it can make YOU feel better. In the long run, of course, every crossdresser who comes out makes some other crossdresser’s life a little bit easier. (Shoot, look at how liberating Eddie Izzard’s being out has been for so many of us! But more on him some other time.)
So what do you think? Will you come out to someone this October 11th?

Eddie Izzard

You *have* all heard of Eddie Izzard by now, haven’t you?
He’s a comedian & actor who happens to be a transvestite, and who performs – as he did last night here in New York – in heels, skirt, & makeup. He’s done a couple of routines about being a transvestite as well – the famous one about “executive transvestites” and “weirdo transvestites” is a favorite of mine, but last night he did a whole routine based on how much superheroes & transvestites have in common:
“Both superheroes and tranvestites have to change before they help…” but then mimed a whole scene where a kid gets hurt and the tranvestite takes so long to get there (because it takes him 20 min to put on his makeup) he only arrives in time to trace the body outline with his lipliner!
He’s brilliantly funny about this stuff, a kind of comedic ambassador for transvestites everywhere!! (He’s also an incredibly talented actor, as well).
Anyway find out if he’s touring near you, and about his other adventures, at his official website, www.eddieizzard.com
and here’s the NY Times review of his show.

Lacey Leigh's new book

I’ve been reading Lacey Leigh’s newest book, 7 Secrets of Successful Crossdressers, and it’s wonderful, all about purging shame and living life out in the open. For those of you who don’t know her, her previous book, Out & About: The Emancipated Crossdresser, is a great book, full of useful info, safety tips, and is full of humor & a positive attitude. I recommend it highly, and 7 Secrets builds on where Out & About left off!
You can check out more about Lacey at her website, www.laceyleigh.com.

Fall Appearances

Helen and Becca
Me with Becca of the En Femme Getaway:

Betty & I will be going to two events this October:
Fantasia Fair, a transgendered festival held in Provincetown, MA, October 19th thru October 26th. I will be doing a reading from My Husband Betty on Thursday, October 23rd at 3PM .
The Eureka En Femme Getaway, a vacation held in Eureka Springs, AR, from October 30th to November 2nd.
We both hope you can join us at either one of these events! We are planning more readings for the Winter and Spring months, but if any of you have suggestions, let me know!

How To Tell Your Wife

I was recently asked by a CD how he should tell his wife on a mailing list I’m on, & since this is definitely one my most “Frequently Asked Questions” I thought I’d post the ’10 Guidelines For Telling Your Wife or Girlfriend” here. It always makes me so happy to know a CD wants to tell his wife. I know the urge is a little bit selfish on the part of the CDer, but it’s also a great sign of the respect & love he has for his wife.
After that, there is no simple answer. There is no guarantee she’ll deal well with the new info, or accept you. That said, I still think it’s worth it.
The things I’ve learned in doing the research are that:
1) The sooner a man tells his wife the better. Before marriage is best, but still – the sooner the better.
2) Know what your CDing means to you, so you can talk to her about it in some intelligent, sensitive way. If after you tell her, every answer afterward is “I don’t know” she’ll freak out. Be prepared for the ‘Are you gay?’ and ‘Do you want to be a woman?’ questions, & don’t get upset when she asks them.
3) Does she know gay & lesbian people? Any close friends or family members? Does she have any firsthand experience of discrimination or feeling ‘different’? How does she feel about being a woman, herself (ie is she a feminist, traditionally feminine, tomboyish, etc?) But keep in mind her general open-mindedness or political liberalness might go right out the window on this issue.
4) I’d recommend not hitting her with all of it at once – that is, tell her a story about yourself as a kid, putting on your mom’s nylons or whatever your first childhood experience was. Make sure you bring this up in a quiet time between you, conversationally, & you give her time to tell some childhood stories of her own. (In general, the ‘announcement’ method isn’t very good, it has to be more of a conversation, as unconfrontational as it can be.) Or, you can say you’ve been thinking about doing some female character for Halloween (please not a hooker or slut! Wonder Woman, an Amazon, some cool woman or heroine is usually better!) & see how she reacts. If she wants to play Charlie Chaplin to your Louise Brooks… you know she can ‘play’.
That doesn’t mean you can stop there. She needs to know the whole of it. I’m just saying it might be a good conversation starter. Eventually you will have to explain why you didn’t tell her sooner, apologize for not having done so, and be clear that you understand you screwed up.
5) This one’s personal: letting your fear & vulnerability about how scared you are of her acceptance worked like a charm in our case! All women differ, though – sometimes a woman might freak out if you come off as too feminine, or ‘soft’ – it depends on her. If she thinks it’s great you can cry at sad movies, then she might appreciate how much it means to you/hard hard it is for you to tell her. Not in a ‘woe is me’ kind of way – but just so she knows you’re sharing something about yourself that you wouldn’t trust most people to know.
6) After you tell her, don’t bring it up again until SHE does. In the meantime, read some books about women (not glamor magazines, biographies of famous women, or gender theory, or whatever. I just read “Am I A Woman?” by Cynthia Eller & recommend that.)
7) If she is accepting, make sure it’s fun for her and not all about you! Let her take the lead in figuring out how it can be. That is, if you suggest she be Charlie Chaplin for Halloween, she’ll just feel bad – but if she decides to, it might be totally empowering for her! Alternately, I’ve now heard of three happy younger couples who all went, for their first Halloween together, as “starlets.” You both get to glam up & feel sexy –
8) If she’s freaked out by it, drop the subject & wait wait wait to bring it up again. Don’t wait forever, but do give her time to sort out her own emotions about it. Be sensitive – if she seems like she needs to talk, ask her if she wants to. But don’t start the conversation with “So have you made up your mind about my crossdressing?” but more with something like “Do you have any questions?” Don’t assume crossdressing is what she wants to talk about. She may be wanting to discuss your little problem with leaving your dirty clothes outside the hamper.
9) Know your wife, make sure you keep up all the other romantic things you do for/with her. Bring her flowers, buy her gifts, & be less inhibited about telling her how much she means to you. Don’t lay it on too thick – just tell her how you feel about her, honestly. You CDs are all romantics, imho, so let it out!! Re-emphasize your non-CD life together, even if she is totally accepting! (as I like to put it, I don’t mind having a girlfriend, too, but I still always want my husband!)
10) Listen until your ears bleed. You have “known” a CD all your life – but this is probably the first time she’s met one! So it will take her time to get the idea wrapped around her head. In fact, when you first tell her, what you’re telling her may not even ‘register’ at some level. She won’t have any idea in the beginning that this is a permanent thing. Expect phases of anger, sadness, fury,disappointment. Try to remember that if you, as a CD, sometimes wish you weren’t a CD, she’ll have similar feelings.
P.S. If the husband needs to stay in the closet, so that she can’t tell anyone either, make sure she knows there are other wives of CDs who she can get to know & let off some steam with.

Book Progress!!!

So, Helen just received her “pass pages” which is basically the book all laid out and everything but printed on regular paper. Now she gets to go through it with a fine-tooth comb. One more step to final publication!
Anyhoo, I’m just super proud of her and wanted to announce to all!