Five Questions With… J. Michael Bailey

J. Michael Bailey is the author of the much-heralded The Man Who Would Be Queen as well as one of the authors of a groundbreaking study on bisexuality released last year.
1. So, Prof. Bailey, what amazing things have you discovered about tomboys? Have you worked out that we’re more likely to beat you up in the bathroom if you say stupid shit about us, like you do about everyone else you study?
Thank you, Helen. I’m glad you asked that question. In fact, the title of my next book is “Tomboys: The Girls Who, if They Existed, Would Be Dykes”. It is a nonscientific scientific popular nonscience book, so it is pretty easy to digest. I’m proud to say that much of the work that went into writing the book was conducting in and around the campus. We’re engaged in exciting, cutting edge research here at Northwestern, and, assuming that human subjects rules apply, or even if they don’t, we are doing it safely. I think. Yes, there has been some controversy stirred up by a few hysterical ‘tomboy activists’, or, as I like to call them, ‘dykes’, but when you are on the cutting edge of scientific nonscience popular science, you learn to take these, um, blows.
Mostly, these dykivists have taken issue with the last third of my book, which deals with the simple fact that tomboys do not exist. Oh, they think they do. Their parents may even think they do. But I can quote many esteemed references I’ve never actually read to bolster the point that people often are deluded and lying when they speak to me. I mean, it just isn’t possible that so many people dislike me or disagree with my work. It has to be delusion. Has to.
But, in answer to your question: yes. If tomboys exist, then, yes, please don’t hit me.
2. From your “research” methods in The Man Who Would Be Queen, you seem to hang out in gay/trans bars a lot. I do too, so I understand. But I hang out in them because I love trannies, while you seem to have more of a love/hate relationship with transwomen. What gives?
Any reasonable person will conclude that I am very sympathetic to the plight of gender nonconforming boys. Very sympathetic. Very, very VERY sympathetic. Any reasonably observant person who happened to be at my favorite bar, Chick or Meat, will conclude that I absolutely love young, hot, feminine trannies.
As far as love and hate, well, yes, it is only natural. I love my time with the hot ones. When I come home, however, I have to spend a few hours in my Punishment Closet. Longer if I had to settle for one of the uglier ones.
As I have written in my lovingly crafted book, there are two kinds of transsexuals: the Faggos and the Uggos. So you have the “Homosexual Transsexuals” (Faggos), and, let me tell you, they are all pretty hot. These guys tend to transition early, date macho, straight guys like me, and make money as strippers. Then you have the “Autogynephilic Transsexuals” (Uggos) who transition later, are pretty homely, and if they can get a date, it is usually with themselves. Usually these guys can only find work as low grade prostitutes (ones who charge about $25 for a handjob, which really sucks because they won’t break a $50 or cash an NSF check).I wouldn’t date one of those men. Unless I was really hard up.
Or I couldn’t find a Faggo.
I love the Faggos. I’ve even loved an Uggo or two in my time, though human subjects and several pending law suits mean I can’t mention their names. I am not gay, though, just so you understand. I’m married, and everything.
3. Do you think bisexual men are really gay and bisexual women are really bisexual because that satisfies your fantasy of watching two women together? Or it because all of your research is really a life-long struggle to convince yourself that your interest in chicks with dicks means you’re still really het?

4. So what makes your plethsmograph really bump up?

I am so glad you asked me that, Helen. As a matter of fact, Everything gets my Penile Plethsmograph stiff. How do I know this? I’m not just a researcher, not just a dedicated scientist in search of the truth, not just an advocate and humanitarian who deeply cares about the plight of transsexual faggots. As someone once said, I can’t ask the troops to do something I wouldn’t do myself. And while that isn’t completely true, I do find that I prefer wearing a PP. All the time. Sure, it can be an inconvenience; for one thing, not a few people have asked me what the wires sticking out of my belt were for, and I’ve had to switch to wearing sweats most of the time. The side benefit is that the PP does really make it look like I’m packing some major Academic Rolls, if you know what I mean.
Let’s try a test. I have in my desk a selection of photographs. I’ll view them one at a time and give you the PP feedback. Here we go.
First up: A picture of Seigfried and Roy. With a soft, furry tiger. Oh, look, it’s a boy tiger. A big boy tiger. PP reading: “Tingly”.
Next: The Eiffel Tower. Long, tall, hard, erect, with a bulbous end. Years to build, by hundreds of sweaty Frenchmen in the hot Parisan sun. PP reading: “Ooo, la la!”
Next: Captain Kangaroo. Moustache. Side Burns. Deep, deep, deep pockets. Sailor. PP reading: “Ping Pong Balls!”
Next: A place of Nachos. PP reading: “Call Doctor if Erection lasts longer than 4 hours.”
Next: Tula.
Right, Helen, I’m going to have to get back to you. I need to, ah, recalibrate and rewire the PP. Yes, recalibrate. And change my pants.
mb J. Michael Bailey at Homecoming, date unknown.
5. I know you think you can tell a gay man by the sound of his voice, but did you know most gay men can tell you really like sucking cock if you suck cock all the time?
This has been a real source of frustration for me, Helen. When some in the Stanford audience giggled at some of the demonstrations in my talk (e.g., my playing the voices of gay and straight people), this was all in good humor. I can’t understand the fuss. It reminds me of when I was an undergraduate, and I demonstrated how you could tell the difference between real black men and white men in black face (in that groundbreaking study, white men with black face did not want watermelon). It was all in good fun. At least, it seemed funny to me, and that’s all that matters, in the end.
There is a difference, I would suggest, between cocksucking for pleasure and cocksucking For Science. I would not engage in the former. I admit that, in my nonscientific pseudoscientific science studies, I needed to sample–I’m sorry–collect information about the oral sex habits in the gay community. As senior researcher, it was encumbant upon me to collect this data first hand if possible. It was a great sacrifice, especially once my wife found out about it.
So, yes, I have sucked my share of cock. But you have to understand that I was not so much sucking cock as placing some strange man’s penis in my mouth, then stimulating this wonderful reproductive organ until ejaculation. There is a difference, and it does not mean I am gay. I swear, the hundreds of blowjobs I have given have meant nothing to me. Not a thing.
Except that one time in Bermuda. Oh, wait, that wasn’t for research. Can that be off the record?
(Happy April Fools, everyone! Thanks to Mad Megan Bailey for standing in for Mike.)

Five Questions With… Vern Bullough

Vern L. Bullough is a SUNY Distinguishedvern bullough, helen boyd Professor Emeritus, was a past President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, was honored with the Kinsey Award for his research, and is the author of Crossdressing, Sex, and Gender, along with 50+ other books on various subjects, most of them involving sexuality.
< Helen with Vern Bullough at IFGE 2004.
1) In terms of trans and gender subjects, what do you think is the most important piece of your scholarship?
The field of trans research is rapidly changing as it moves more into the mainstream of variant sexual behaviors. I think the best back ground is the book that my late wife Bonnie and I did, entitled Cross Dressing, Sex and Gender. The best survey of the field up to l997 was also one that Bonnie and I edited entitled Gender Blending. The best for female to male transsexuals is that by Holly Devor, entitled FTM. There are more specialized books coming out now but I think these three are the basis for a good understanding.
Continue reading “Five Questions With… Vern Bullough”

Doing What You Do

Recently, a suggestion was made that I quit doing what I do as a moderator on the message boards, or maybe that I do a little less of it, or a little less frequently, or zealously. Or something like that.
Since then, I’ve gotten numerous emails and comments from people that I really should cut back, that it’d be good for my sanity.
Maybe it would.
But the thing is, I moderate the boards the way I do because I like the way they are, the way they’ve attracted intelligent, occasionally captious types who are also funny, creative, and supportive of each other. I mean where else on the trans internet are you going to find a Trans Periodic Table and abstracts to Blanchard articles? There’s a 15 page thread on football (football!), too, and that’s in addition to the empathetic comments from a TG who saw a young child made fun of for wearing nailpolish.
The boards are, in some way, the kind of community I was looking for years ago, before I wrote My Husband Betty, and it’s kind of nice that the book has given me the kind of reach to create that – to fill a void, as it were. I’m proud of them, and pleased to be doing the work that makes them a good place for both support and debate.
Sometimes I can be sensitive to criticisim – precisely because I do spend a lot of time moderating the boards – and it hurts to have someone tell me I should be doing it differently, or could be doing it better – tempting me to say (mostly to myself) “you get what you pay for” on a regular basis. But snarkiness aside, I enjoy the boards, and I’m proud of having built them – so they would come.
Most of the time that’s enough – other times, it’s just nice to hear that others appreciate them and are getting something out of them they can’t find anyplace else. For the nearly 500 of you who are registered users, and the 60 of you who post regularly, and to the lurkers, I’m thankful, not burdened.

Five Questions With… Mariette Pathy Allen

Mariette Pathy Allen is the award-winning photographer and author of the books Transformations: Crossdressers and Those Who Love Them and The Gender Frontier. She has been photographing the trans community for 25 years now, and is unofficially referred to as the “official photographer of the transgendered.”mariette pathy allen Transformations was personally an important book for me (the only one about CDs that included wives’ words) and The Gender Frontier won this year’s Lambda Lit Award in the Transgender category, and she also took the cover photo of Jamison Green’s Becoming a Visible Man (which was a Lammy finalist as well). We had the great pleasure of being photographed by her last year at Fantasia Fair, and it was lovely to get to “catch up” with her. Her most recent news, which came down the pike after this interview took place, is that she will soon be the proud grandmother of twins!
< I took this photo of Mariette Pathy Allen with her camera at the 2004 IFGE Conference. And yes, that is Virginia Prince in the background.
1. You won the Lambda Literary Award for best TG book this year – how does that feel?
I wasn’t expecting to win-in fact, I thought I had it all figured out: the odds were so unlikely that I didn’t even have a speech ready. When I heard “The Gender Frontier” announced as the winner, I thought I would faint! Getting to the stage seemed to take forever: I was in the middle of the row, near the back of the auditorium. When I finally got to the stage, I realized that I was thrilled, and that this was as close to getting an Academy Award as I am likely to get!
Last year, Bailey’s book, “The Man Who Would Be Queen” was a finalist. It caused a furor among tg activists, and controversy at Lambda, finally leading to its removal from the list. This year, the selection of books in the transgender/genderqueer category was excellent-any one of the five deserved to win, and there was no drama.
I had the feeling that most of the audience had no idea what “The Gender Frontier” was about and that this was the time to tell them. I mentioned that it was a long time in the making because it chronicled events and people over the past decade, that my intention was to represent the range and variety of people who need to live fulltime as the gender in which they identify. and that the book divides into sections on youth, political activism, portraits, and stories. I can’t remember what else I said, but I know my last word was “gender variant”, and I hope the audience understood.
Out of all the LGBT prizes offered, it is odd that there’s only one for the “transgender/genderqueer” category. We have illustrated books, memoires, essay collections, science, and science fiction, enough books to be included in the range of GLB awards, or to add to our own category. I think we need at least three categories next year: “transgender/genderqueer fiction, non-fiction, and illustrated books”.

Continue reading “Five Questions With… Mariette Pathy Allen”

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.
Continue reading “Five Questions With… Interview with Jamison Green”

Our Old Friend Mike Bailey

Well, he’s done it again. Like a child you’ve told to quit putting beans up his nose, we’re once again in the emergency room, this time having a fava bean extracted.
Professor J. Michael Bailey, infamous for The Man Who Would Be Queen, finding no fault with parents who’d abort a gay foetus, and sleeping with his clients/research subjects, is in the pages of The New York Times with a study on bisexuality, where he concludes – big shocker! – that bisexuality is suspect. That is, that bisexual men, specifically, are either really straight or gay.
It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Blanchard & Bailey have made names for themselves with stating that TSs who aren’t autogynephilic really are, or might be, and that crossdressers really are turned on by crossdressing, even when they say they aren’t. And all this, thanks to a fabulous little device called a plethysmograph.
I’m not the only one who is fed up with this guy getting funding and coverage. It’s not just the trans community he’s misrepresenting anymore. It never was, really, considering he has audiences listen to recordings of men speaking and asks them to guess which speakers are gay, and that his whole judgement of transwomen was based on how attractive they are to him is pure, unadulterated sexism. He didn’t have much nice to say about crossdressers, either.
Anyway, I’ve written a Letter to the Editor of the NYT, as has our own newish board member Megan Pickett, and I’d encourage more of you to do the same. You can send emails to, but remember two things: 1) less than 150 words, 2) include your full name, address, and phone #.
Much thanks to Donna for several important links, and to the rest of the MHB Board Members who added useful insights and much-needed facts.

Protest or Support?

It occurred to me that around this time last year, emails and T newsgroups and mailing lists and blogs were inundated with protests about the nomination of Michael Bailey’s The Man Who Would Be Queen for a Lambda Literary Award. I was against the nomination as were so many of us, and the driving force behind the protest was pretty remarkable, if not always polite.
However, not one trans website I’ve found has actually posted anything about this year’s nominees. I noticed, of course, because I’m one of the people whose book has been nominated, in the transgender category, along with the likes of Morty Diamond, Mariette Pathy Allen, Jamison Green and Julie Anne Peters. There are some other trans writers up for awards in other categories, and yet I haven’t really read anything about it.
Did the Bailey controversy end up nullifying the awards for the trans community? Or are we just way better at protesting than supporting the writers and educators who are doing good work?
So here, without further ado, are a few of the book award nominees for the Lambda Lit Award:
In the Nonfiction Anthology category:
That’s Revolting!: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation edited by Mattilda, a.k.a Matt Bernstein Sycamore, Soft Skull Press
In the Children’s/Young Adult category:
Luna by Julie Anne Peters, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (which was also a finalist for the National Book Award this year)
In the Drama/Theatre category:
I am My Own Wife by Doug Wright, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (which has won so many other awards, like the Pulitzer and the Tony, you’ll have to check the website for the entire list)
In the Transgender/GenderQueer category:
Becoming a Visible Man by Jamison Green, Vanderbilt University Press (which also won CLAGS’ Sylvia Rivera award)
From The Inside Out: Radical Gender Transformation, FTM and Beyond edited by Morty Diamond, Manic D Press
Luna by Julie Anne Peters, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
My Husband Betty: Love, Sex and Life with a Crossdresser by Helen Boyd, Thunder’s Mouth Press
The Gender Frontier by Mariette Pathy Allen, Kehrer Verlag

Us Vs. Them

About a decade ago, I went to a forum about the cultural differences & rifts between African-Americans and Caribbean Americans. The first part of the forum was presented by a panel, very intellectual & cross-referenced; the second half was a Q&A, where tempers flared but remained polite. The basic issue was that Caribbean Americans hated being mistaken for African-Americans for various reasons, and the African-Americans hated being mistaken for Caribbean Americans.
I remember sitting there thinking, “My brother would call you all n******.”
But what that forum clarified for me was not the actual experience of Caribbean or African-Americans; it was the stereotypes of both that offended both groups. The Caribbean blacks hated people thinking they were African-American exactly because of what people think of African-Americans (that they’re all on welfare, etc) & vice versa. Some of these prejudices were based on truths or half-truths, like that Caribbean Americans all had AIDS. (At the time, Haitians could not donate blood because of heightened concerns about HIV infection). So you’ve got a group of African-Americans hating the fact that they were mistaken for having HIV, because they believed a lot of Caribbean Americans had AIDS, when of course it wasn’t all Caribbean Americans but only Haitians, and in fact Haitians had a higher incidence of HIV due to things that had nothing to do with their behavior, anyway (it turned out, instead, that it was linked with higher previous infections of TB in the Haitian population). Of course, too, no-one wanted to be mistaken for someone with HIV, either, because HIV had already been demonized as happening to people because of sexual conduct and/or needle drug use.
In effect, you had two groups of people who were both oppressed because of the shared color of their skin who spent an entire evening focusing on what they didn’t have in common instead of fighting the prejudices they faced because of their skin color.
I’ve come to about the same conclusion with the arguments between hsts “transkids” and other transsexuals. (I say “other” and not AGP or “late-transitioning” or “secondary” because I don’t think there are only two types of transsexuals). The hsts set doesn’t want to be told they’re paraphilic because that’s what the Blanchard-Bailey junta says about non-hsts transsexuals. The other transsexuals resent being both forced into a box they don’t fit and being told their motivation is sexual in some way or another.
So you’ve got the hsts set not wanting anyone to think they’re “perverts” or nutjobs because transitioning, for them, is about “practical” issues like social and sexual success in life. On the other hand, you’ve got the rest of the transsexuals – the non-hsts type – who don’t want to be told they’re not really transsexuals, or that they are somehow lesser, less real, secondary, or transitioning for some other than “practical” reasons.
And I have to say, my brother would still call you all “n******.”
Really, a lot of people might see hsts transsexuals as self-hating gay men who can’t deal with the homophobia and misogyny within and without the gay community, and who sidestep those issues by becoming women. A lot of people see the non-hsts transsexuals as deviants, perverts, mentally ill and selfish freaks.
Why it seems reasonable for any group to empower themselves by demonizing another group is foreign to me. Why any group would align themselves with a so-called scientist who has been known to abuse the power of his position in order to sleep with his subjects (even while they complain about the power and access other transsexuals have and use in order to educate the public about transsexualism) is also foreign to me. Why any transsexuals go out of their way to “out,” demonize, or work against another group of transsexuals as some kind of “strategy” is also beyond me.
That each of these self-identified groups has differences, to me, is cause only for each group to watch out for and protect their own. That I understand. If one group is neglecting the needs of a subset of their own population, then it stands to reason that that subset has got to be vocal about what they need – and failing help from the larger group – has got to figure out a way to provide their services to the population that needs it.
Instead, transkids are getting kicked out of their homes while other transsexuals are losing their jobs, and people are online fighting about which group is “right.” Essays are written, emails exchanged, posts added to message boards or newsgroups, and my brother is still calling you all “n******.”
So I’m gonna go listen to Leadbelly. I don’t know where he was from, or where he was raised, but he was one damn great musician, and to me, that’s all that ever matters.
Continue reading “Us Vs. Them”

'As Nature Made Him'

Gender change victim dies
WINNIPEG – A man who was born a boy but raised as a girl in a famous nurture-versus-nature experiment has died at age 38.
David Reimer, who shared his story about his botched circumcision in the pages of a book and on the Oprah TV show, took his own life last Tuesday.
His mother, Janet Reimer, said she believes her son would still be here today had it not been for the devastating gender study that led to much emotional hardship. “I think he felt he had no options. It just kept building up and building up.”
After the circumcision accident as a toddler, David became the subject of an experiment dubbed the John/Joan case in the ’60s and ’70s. Janet said she still harbours anger toward a Baltimore doctor who convinced her and her husband, Ron, to give female hormones to their son and raise him as a daughter, Brenda.
Kids were cruel to Brenda growing up in Winnipeg.
This gender transformation was widely reported as a success and proof that children are not by nature feminine or masculine but through nurture are socialized to become girls or boys. David’s identical twin brother, Brian, offered researchers a matched control subject.
But when David discovered the truth about his past during his teenage years, he rebelled and resumed his male identity, marrying and becoming a stepfather to three children.
David recently slumped into a depression after losing his job and separating from his wife. He was also still grieving the death of his twin brother two years earlier, their mother said.
Continue reading “'As Nature Made Him'”

COS Banquet Speech

This is the speech I wrote for the COS banquet.
* * *
Thank you Staci, the board of COS, and all its members for inviting me here tonight to speak. I want to thank all of you who keep COS going for your time and energy and patience; without people willing to update the website and answer the phone, we’d all be sitting at home in our little black dresses, instead. That really wouldn’t be very fun. Besides, you all look too lovely not to be seen. The internet may be great for support, and chat, and swapping pictures, but if there’s anything I’ve learned about all of those on the TG spectrum, the real goal is going out and being seen. It’s good to be able to put faces to names and email addresses. It’s nice to be able to look out and see people who have said, “I’m going OUT.” Some of you are out for the first time; others of you have been out hundreds of times. For those of you who are out for the first time, or nearly the first time – try to breathe. It really does get easier. And I mean that for you partners, too, who are looking around this room thinking, “how on earth did I get myself into this?” I love that there are partners here. I really, really love it. Thank you. I get to feel very alone sometimes when I’m out with my husband.
I’ve been wondering how I ended up being married to a transgendered person long before I wrote a book and ended up speaking at an event like this, but believe me, I wonder it more and more all the time. Me? Talking about transgenderedness? I’m not even TG. I’m not even sure I understand what my husband and most of you go through.
I’m still trying to work that one out. I had a reviewer recently comment that I had no right to complain since I knew my husband was a crossdresser before I married him. Ah, so naïve, I thought, and cynical: are there people who really think you pick who you fall in love with? Call me a romantic, but there was no one in the world I could have married but my husband. No, I didn’t plan on marrying someone who crossdressed. I certainly didn’t plan on marrying someone who is transgendered. I didn’t really plan on getting married at all, really. But then again I didn’t plan on writing a book and I certainly didn’t ever plan on speaking in front of such a large group, ever. I mean, I’m a writer – and writers tend to prefer the company of cats and computers. But life sometimes has a way of throwing you curveballs, and if there’s any group in the world who would understand that, it’s you. I’m sure none of you planned to be transgendered, thinking as kids, “well when I grow up, I want to be completely misunderstood by the majority of the world, detested by some, condescended to by others, and otherwise terrified nearly every single second lest someone find out my secret.” No, you didn’t. So if you can sit there in the gender identity that makes you feel right, I suppose I can quit wondering what it is that compelled me to leave my desk and stand in front of you all.
I ended up writing My Husband Betty because a friend who worked in the publishing industry happened to call me right after the infamous Dr. Phil show, and after listening to me rant and rave for a full 20 minutes about how little people understand crossdressing, and how so much of the advice that’s bandied about is based on incomplete and very very outdated information, her publicist’s brain came to a conclusion: hey, you have a lot to say – you should write a book! Which others had told me before but had no way to help me do so; this friend, however, happened to be the chief publicist at Avalon books, and was very much in a position to help.
I found myself not long after writing a brief essay for Avalon’s editor on the mistaken assumptions about crossdressers, how they so often take a backseat to their transsexual sisters in terms of the public understanding and the media, and how the only crossdresser anyone can ever name is J. Edgar Hoover, who we’re not really sure was a crossdresser after all. (No one, it turns out, has ever actually seen the photos of him in women’s clothes.) As I wrote, I found myself getting more and more frustrated; like most of you, I had found online resources, and as the then-girlfriend of a CD, had learned the lingo and found the community I could talk to. I’d completely lost track of the fact that no-one outside the TG community knew anything about us at all. And then I read Amy Bloom’s book, and her smarmy attack on both CDs and their partners, and thought, “Well what about the rest of us? Surely the Rudds and the Fairfaxes do not represent ALL crossdressers and their wives!”
It was like being between pillar and post, with Dr. Phil on one side saying “leave your husband,” and Amy Bloom on the other writing, “what hypocrites.”
But don’t get me wrong. I’m at heart a very practical person, and I appreciated hearing or seeing any reflection of crossdressers and their partners no matter where or how, much like my husband, as a young boy, found the definition of the word “transvestite” in a public library and thought “at least there’s a word for it.” I thought, well at least some people do seem to realize we’re out there, that we EXIST, but why is it, I thought, that we get such an unfair shake?
It took me a long time to come up with that answer, and I’ll get around to telling you what I came up with. At the time, though, I had my hands and head full already with learning the alphabet soup (TG, TS, DQ, SO, CD, etc) of this so-called subculture I found myself in, and alternately wondering where on earth my husband had left my new lipstick. It took me an extra 20 minutes to clean our apt for visitors, because I had to make sure the transvestite refrigerator magnet, given to us by a lesbian friend, was put away. Had to hide Miss Vera’s Crossdress for Success, make sure the breast forms were in a drawer, – and where to hide size 10 pumps? Wigs and wigheads, away. Clothes my friends would know weren’t mine, away. I was starting to feel like I might as well be dealing drugs out of my apt with the kind of front operation we were living in. And by then we already had a dozen friends who knew, most of whom were gay or lesbian. We went out to dinner with one couple one night. One of them was job hunting. She told me the story of an interview she’d gone on, and couldn’t find the exact address as she was about to leave. She called her contact at the company and left a message on the person’s voicemail, and then called her own apt when she got near the place. Her girlfriend told her someone had called with the room #. Relieved, she made it to the interview on time.
All was going swimmingly until the interviewer quite casually mentioned speaking to my friend’s “roommate.”
She told me from that moment on she could hardly listen or answer questions as she was plagued with doubt. Should she tell the interviewer her “roommate” was her girlfriend? Did she have to? Would it be important? If she got the job, would she clarify then, or only when she’d been invited to the first office party? Did she have to stop the whole interview to announce she was a lesbian, and if she did, would that mean she was being too strident? Or should she just let it slide so that if she didn’t get the job she didn’t have to wonder forever if the reason she didn’t get the job was because she was a lesbian?
I don’t remember what my friend decided to do. I don’t even remember if she got the job or not. But I do remember how her story plagued me afterwards. It had honestly never occurred to me that a lesbian doesn’t have to be out. She could pass as a straight woman quite easily. There wasn’t any need for her to be a lesbian at work – honestly, it didn’t have anything whatsoever to do with her being capable of doing a certain job. It got me wondering. Why are gay and lesbian people out? I started asking other gay friends why they were. “It’s nice,” one told me, “to go to my boyfriend’s family’s wedding and be able to hold his hand.” Despite what Michael Bailey has to say, you can’t tell if someone’s gay by his voice or his mannerisms. Some, perhaps. Sometimes if you’re already in gay spaces where gay men and lesbians are free to be themselves. But the reality is, it wouldn’t take too much work for your average gay man or woman to pass for straight. Believe me, they did it for centuries, and lots still do.
So what does that have to do with us? My husband and I were lucky enough to know gay men and lesbians. One lesbian friend gave my husband an out of print copy of Mariette Pathy Allen’s book Transformations, which I read about a dozen times after he told me he liked to wear women’s clothes. Another sent me a copy of Leslie Steinberg’s Stone Butch Blues. And being a reader, I read. I read anything I could get my hands on. I think I’ve started the Brooklyn chapter of the International TG Library, at this point. But the point is – it was our gay and lesbian friends who tried to help. When I called them concerned about our safety, it was a butch lesbian who told me you never get a cab right outside of a lesbian bar; you walk a block first, and then get the cab. You never knew who is friend or foe, and it paid to be careful.
And I took anything and everything I learned and tried to share it with the people I was meeting online. And I kept trying to figure out why it is that a lesbian has a talk show while no one knows I exist. Why is it crossdressers are still completely invisible in an era when men can kiss on television? Why was it that Dr. Phil was so wrong? And why did Amy Bloom make all us partners look like long-suffering 1950s housewives?
One of the conclusions – the more historical one – I came to is that a long time ago, some crossdressers were so worried about being assumed to be gay that they distanced themselves from the gay and lesbian community. And look where that got us! Gays and lesbians are out, respected, demanding equal rights in all ways. And where are crossdressers? In the closet, for the most part. Imagine – we might already be out if we hadn’t isolated ourselves so early on.
But the more important answer as to why a man in a dress is still funny is because we’re not out. Tonight, we are – and that is absolutely something to celebrate. But to shut down the ignorance of the Dr. Phils of the world, we’re going to need to be out a lot more than one night a year.
But I’m not here to tell anyone to throw caution to the wind. Helen Boyd is a pseudonym, after all, which I started to use because my husband’s ex-girlfriend had started blackmailing us around the same time I went online to get more information about crossdressing. I had already learned to hide, because of her. Ironically perhaps, it’s because of her that I’m here tonight – a fact she’d probably find pretty frustrating!. An experience like that plants a seed that grows and grows inside you, like a vine. It grows till it fills your heart and your soul. We didn’t even think we were hiding anything; as I said, we already had friends who knew. But did we really want Betty’s parents to find out about their son from the vicious words of a hurt ex? No. Did we really enjoy telling his sister because we needed her to check their mom’s mail for anything incriminating? No. Did I enjoy worrying about running into my boss, or a co-worker, or a friend, when we went out? No. There were ways around it. We could simply not go out. We could use tricks CDs taught us, like if we were walking together and saw someone we knew, I could say hello while my en femme husband would keep walking. We could find our way around it.
But that seed his ex had planted grew. And neither of us liked it. That seed was all about fear, and lying, and hiding. And fortunately or unfortunately, my parents were both children of alcoholics. And in AA, they have a metaphor for alcoholism – it’s the elephant in the living room that everyone pretends isn’t there. Oh, you can walk around it, you can get under it, you can paint the room grey so you don’t notice it as much – but it’s still there. For me, my husband’s crossdressing was starting to feel a lot like that elephant. We went to meetings with others who had elephants in their living rooms, and people gave us great ideas for how to continue ignoring it. But as I said, I’d been warned. It’s really just not healthy to pretend there is no elephant in your living room. It was the blackmail that we endured that made that point very, very clearly.
The first step, of course, is saying it out loud. It’s admitting it. People I’ve met doing the research for this book have found way to admit it in many ways. A lot of them admit it online. Others tell a close friend. For many, many crossdressers, they finally find the courage to tell their life partners. Others are discovered by a photo, a hidden pair of shoes, a tattered copy of Transgender Tapestry. Others find marriages ending in divorce, and have their crossdressing exposed to the courts and their community in vicious custody battles. One crossdresser in my book decided to come out when his wife said he’d tell everyone they knew if he didn’t fork over $100,000, so he told everyone they knew first. He saved himself humiliation and a hundred grand. No matter how horrible the reasons someone came out, I’ve yet to meet anyone who regrets being out.
We found that telling one more person – another friend, actors at my husband’s theatre – weakened the fear. No one we talked to – including our gay and lesbian friends – really understood what transgenderedness was about. But none of them stopped being our friends, either. When it came down to finding community and support, I still had to go online to find other partners to talk to about sex and sharing clothes and the um, interesting ideas my husband had about femininity. The real nuts and bolts stuff – like how to shop for three on a budget built for two, or where to find a gender therapist – required the kind of networking and support the Internet and groups like COS provides. It meant realizing that some people we knew would see us very differently than they had before. It meant I had to have a few long talks with girlfriends who were worried my husband was gay. It meant explaining to gay friends that my husband wasn’t gay. It meant people assuming I was a lesbian sometimes, and having to explain I wasn’t. It meant a LOT of talking, to each other, and to others. Every time we went out strangers asked us personal questions, and still do.
But let me stop a minute and clarify: my husband and I just don’t care anymore if anyone thinks we’re gay or lesbian. Unfortunately for gender variant people the world over, any variation from traditional gender roles – or presentation – immediately results in relegation to being gay or lesbian. But as many of you can attest, we know that’s just not the case. But does it matter? I’ll tell you when it matters: when your mother worries your marriage isn’t happy or won’t last because she thinks your husband might be gay because he wears a dress – which is when you can tell her he just loves women in a way most straight guys can’t imagine. It matters when gay men or lesbians assume we’re gay because we’re both closeted and ashamed of ourselves. It matters to me when the wives of crossdressers assume I must be lesbian or bi because I can enjoy my husband’s femme self emotionally and sexually, and so dismiss anything I have to say about how I got my head around being with someone who is transgendered. (I’m not sure how they work out the little problem of how a lesbian ended up married to a man, but I digress…) And it matters when my husband asks to try on pumps and the clerk immediately assumes I’m his friend and not his wife, because I am proud of our relationship and want it recognized by others.
But despite all of the questions we are asked, and the curiosity people have about who we are and why we are and what we are, the reality is – coming out to our friends and family meant that we didn’t have to be scared anymore, and that we could start to speak up for others in the same situation who couldn’t take the same risks. We are a writer and an actor living in New York City, after all, and we don’t have children and don’t work for giant corporations. Not everyone has the same luxury. We knew our only risk was to ourselves, and we took the risk because for us, not taking the risk meant being in the hands of someone who sought to hurt us.
Since the book, we’ve told just about everyone else we know – including my 70 something Catholic parents. And my father, who is a devout and private man, said simply, “don’t ever let anyone treat you like a 2nd class citizen.” When my parents met Betty en femme for the first time, my mother ended up wiping Betty’s lipstick off my father’s cheek, and the both of them laughed about as hard as I’d ever seen. They laughed – and then they asked me when I’m going to publish a book under my real name.
But more importantly is that since the book came out, I get emails – wow, do I get emails – from all sorts of people. Husbands who have realized they are TS and don’t know how to tell their wives. Wives who don’t know why their husbands are so angry. Girlfriends who want to know if TG is more about sex or identity. Young CDs who have decided to be honest with girlfriends and find themselves single again after telling. And the one thing I can tell you – if you’re not sure of this by now – is that there are a LOT of us out there. TG people and loving partners. Parents, friends, and children. P-Flag (the organization of parents and families of GLBT people) estimates that if 1 in 10 people are GLBT, then 1 person in 4 knows or is related to someone who is GLBT. One in FOUR. That’s the kind of thing it’s useful to keep in mind. Next time you’re in church, or stuck in traffic, or listening to President Bush talk about the Federal Marriage Amendment, remember – one in four people out there is related to someone who is GLBT. One in FOUR.
Now imagine what would happen if all the stealth transsexual women and men, and all the closeted crossdressers stood up to be counted.
Imagine what would happen if all of us came out to a family member or close friend. Imagine if we all decided to do that this coming Tuesday. Imagine, by Wednesday, how many more people would then know someone who was GLBT. Imagine. And then imagine what would happen if we organized for protection against discrimination. If we fought for inclusion of transgendered education for all. Imagine what it would be like not to have to start a conversation with a friend or boss or co-worker with what “transgendered” means the same way that no-one has to explain what “gay” or “lesbian” means.
Imagine boys and girls who could grow up without spending so many years in the closet. Imagine husbands who could marry women who knew long beforehand what having a crossdressing husband meant. Imagine what it would be like if your mom could have bought you a doll instead of a car for your 12th birthday.
Shoot, imagine how many more brands of shoes would come in size 11, if that’s what you need.
Right now, the gay and lesbian community barely knows who we are, or what we do, or what problems we face. They are – maybe by default – our closest allies, only because they’re the most recent group to fight the discrimination against them. We can learn from them. They need to know who we are, and we need to tell them. But if they don’t know us – if they’re only beginning to get an idea of how many of us there are – imagine how invisible we are to the rest of the world. The media may be catching on to transsexual experiencess – the recent shows on CBS and NBC and HBO have proved that – but where are the rest of us? Where are the people who identify as TG, because they’re in the middle or unsure exactly as to where they fit? Where are the crossdressers? We’re not on TV, and I’m sure Eddie Izzard is really, really tired of being the only out there.
But like I said, I’m not here to tell people to throw caution to the wind. We all know there is danger out there – danger of job loss, child custody, blackmail, and even to our own physical safety – danger to our very lives. I don’t want anyone to be unsafe, or to throw the work of a lifetime away. But I do think many of us can find a way to take it up a notch. How?
First, admit to the elephant in the living room. Use whichever words or labels you like. “I’m a crossdresser,” or “My husband is transgendered.” Admit it, first, to yourself. Get used to it. Find a therapist if you need to.
Then, tell someone else. An old friend, a hairdresser, a clerk in a store you’ll never see again. I remember one Valentine’s Day shopping for my husband’s present, and having the clerk look me over and tell me the size I was holding would be fine for me. “Oh, but they’re not for me,” I said, “they’re for my husband.” She was embarrassed for me, and a few other customers swiveled their heads. “He’s transgendered,” I added. I’m sure I was blushing from my shoulders to the top of my head, but I’d said it. And then I did the same thing with the florist. And at the card shop. I outed myself and my husband all over the West Village that Valentine’s Day. And you know what? I’ve never seen any of those people again. And you know what? They didn’t care. I didn’t care. But it made it a lot easier down the road when I needed to tell my mother.
Then find a group like the CT outreach society, or a group online. The NTAC. GenderPac. Tri-Ess, even. P-Flag. The HRC. Use your femme name to join if you need to, and get a PO Box for the mail. But Join. Join one local and one national group. We need to be countable. And give those organizations money. Volunteer. Make sure you get the newsletters and emails that will keep you up to date on what’s going on with GLBT-friendly legislation.
Once you know what’s going on, you can get involved. Vote. Vote as a GLBT person, however you need to do it. Write to the President using your femme name if you need to. Tell your story. Tell it to anyone who will listen. Know who your elected officials are, and make sure they know there is a GLBT person – you – who votes in their district. The more local the rep, the more likely that one of their staff will actually read the letter.
I hope, for the most part, I’m preaching to the converted here. My real message – for all of us, myself included – is that those of you who can’t be out for the million reasons not to be, you can still be heard and seen and counted. For those of you who are out, spend a little more time on issues and outreach and education. Get outside of our community and its alphabet soup and insular battles and tell someone who doesn’t know we exist who we are. And be patient. Don’t scream when someone uses the wrong pronoun. Explain. Remember that they have not read the message boards and the books, and they don’t know the fine distinctions to be made between a crossdresser and a transvestite. Half the time we don’t even agree to definitions like that amongst ourselves.
In closing, let me say this. As a partner, I’ve seen firsthand how hard this is for my husband. He shook with fear the first time he let me see him en femme, and he shook with fear the first time we went to a club, and the first time we went to a restaurant, and two months ago he had to meet my parents en femme, and he was terrified then, too. Sometimes I think it’s been easier for me because I’m not TG, and I haven’t built up a lifetime of hiding and shame that I have to get past. That might be one of the best reasons it’s vital for us partners to get involved, and another reason I’m so happy to see other partners here – we are part of this community, the source of strength and love for so many of you. One of the things I learned publishing the book is that people might be willing to listen to me and ask me questions when they felt embarrassed to ask the TG person – because they didn’t want to offend, or pry, or upset them. But they know I’m an insider and an outsider, and I’ve learned how to live as one of you. The entire TG community needs to put more effort into making us feel welcome. Years ago my husband showed me TG forum, and I remember looking at it and quickly coming to the conclusion that it wasn’t for me – it was only for the trans people themselves. But if women and men are going to decide to be with trans people, we need to feel welcomed – not everyone is going to be as stubborn as I am. And while you’re at it, read a book about women’s lives – it is National Women’s History Month in March, after all.
This life isn’t easy on any of us, and although we have differences – partners’ worries are different from the TG person’s, transitioning people have different worries than CDs, and the T part of the GLBT has different issues that the rest of the GLB – we can only work for common goals if we can see past our differences, and focus on the issues that concern all of us. Right now, the choice is quite simple: we need to work on visibility. And as I said at the start, you are all too lovely NOT to be seen.
Thank you.
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