Interview in Curve

An interview with yours truly is in this month’s Curve magazine – the best-selling lesbian magazine – two pages of interview and photos. It’s issue 16#1.
From the interview:
“Sometimes transpeople seem to see any gender variance as latent transsexualism. Kind of like when you learn a new word and it shows up three times in a week. When you have transsexuals saying, ‘I should have known the first time I put on a dress (or a tie) that I’d end up having surgery,’ it prevents people from exploring. ”

Gender Queer Hets

I’ve had an idea haunting me for a long time now; Tristan Taormino planted the seed with her discussion of ‘queer heterosexuals’ (the passage quoted in Chapter 6 of MHB) and so has my existence, so to speak. Because it was only once I met Betty that I went back in time some and revisited my younger self – the childhood tomboy I was, the punk rocker who’d opted out of gender, the young adult who was “sirred” regularly, the crewcutted co-ed who got asked out more often by lesbians than by the boys I sought.
But at some point I learned to be more traditionally femme, mostly in order to date boys.
And then of course you might remember I got upset with Judith Halberstam by dismissing the masculinity of heterosexual women.
Today at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, where Betty and I were in a panel about trans relationships, I talked to a femme who has dated a few transmen pre-transition. She, like I, felt liberated by being with someone who was not traditionally gendered, not male or female; she, like me, found it enabled her to be who she was. In her case, she was a natural femme who had tried desperately to “look like a lesbian,” and at some point I joked with her that we should have switched either gender identities or sexual orientations.
And while it seems like I’m just going to point out again that gender identity and sexual orientation don’t go together, what I’m really after is where the genderqueer heterosexuals are.
Because I asked our contact at HMI whether or not – if such a person existed – if a heterosexual, out teenaged crossdresser would be welcome there. And then Betty and I wondered out loud why we know he’d never come out in time to go to a GLBT high school. I want to know why he’s invisible, or why het crossdressers, and late-transitioning, lesbian-identified transwomen, all seem to “come out” so much later (much later than the GLBT kids we saw hanging around today).
I decided the problem is heterosexuality. Not being heterosexual – that’s what it is. But when a crossdresser writes to me,

Sexually, I have never been attracted to ‘a man presenting as a man’ and think I would run a mile if I had discovered a penis in any one else’s knickers but my own. Similarly (or is that conversely) FTMs are (to me, and please, I would not say this to them) sexually attractive. In fact I find muscular, athletic females, and those frequently described as ‘butch dikes’ more often than not attractive too. Now the awkward bit… so are some transwomen – at least from the very limited views available on their own sites. I have no idea how I would react if I met them. . .

I wonder whether or not gender queer sexuality is just kept under wraps.
I wonder if there were guys who were attracted to me because I was kind of dyke-y and I just didn’t recognize that because – well maybe they were waiting for me to ask them out. Or maybe I was so intent that masculine boys were my only option that I didn’t see them as potential romantic partners (and maybe they didn’t see me, either). What I’m thinking these days is that heterosexuality stifles genderqueerness, while homosexual cultures – for whatever reasons – give people more room to express gender variance.
And I wonder what it would take to queer gender even in heterosexual reality. It might mean we’d have to rewrite some of the love songs. Change expectations.
When I play The Sims, for instance, I often let the women do the wooing, and it tickles me no end to see the male being wooed put his hand to his forehead, swoon slightly, and giggle in response while my female seducer, down on one knee, serenades his pretty self. But like that commercial for the guy in his wife’s slip, there is no template for that, is there? It’s like us genderqueer hets simply don’t exist.
But we do, don’t we?

Five Questions With… Melanie and Dr. Peggy Rudd

peggy rudd, melanie ruddPeggy Rudd is the author of My Husband Wears My Clothes as well as other titles about crossdressing. She was the first wife to write about the experience of being married to a crossdresser, and Melanie Rudd is her crossdressing husband.
1) Melanie, it strikes me that you and Betty are rare among trannies. What’s it like to be the subject of such intense – and published – perusal by your wife?
Melanie’s life has not been the same since My Husband Wears My Clothes was published in 1989. Mel/Melanie’s life story was open to the world or at least anyone who read the book. This book, as well as the other three that followed, were affirmation of the support, acceptance and un-conditional love Melanie had sought for so many years. The most joy and fulfillment from Peggy’s books has been the thousands of transgendered individuals and their significant others worldwide who have told Peggy and Melanie in writing, telephone calls and face to face contact how much the books have helped them in their search for answers. We are certain that Helen and Betty have experienced this joy and fulfillment because of Helen’s book, My Husband Betty. Now if we could only clone Peggy and Helen!
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Five Questions With… Raven Kaldera

raven kalderaA female-to-male transgendered activist and shaman, Raven Kaldera is a pagan priest, intersex transgender activist, parent, astrologer, musician and homesteader. Kaldera, who hails from Hubbardston, Mass., is the founder and leader of the Pagan Kingdom of Asphodel and the Asphodel Pagan Choir. Kaldera has been a neo-pagan since the age of 14, when he was converted by a “fam-trad” teen on a date. His website, Cauldron Farm, contains extensive information about Pagan practice as well as his activist writings on transgender and sexuality topics.
Having met Raven and attended workshops he’s given, I’m always surprised that every time I see him I’m newly amazed by how much his presence is both strong and gentle. His answers, too, are of the ‘pulls no punches’ variety, without obfuscation, and he manages to explain complex ideas – about spirituality, sexuality, and identity – in plain language. Okay, I’m a fan! – I admit it!
1) I think the most vital thing I’d love for you to talk about is how most IS people view T issues, and whether or not they identify as T, and why.
Most intersexuals do not consider themselves transgendered, and are very uncomfortable being associated with the trans movement in general. I think a lot of this comes out of lifetimes of being shamed for being physically different; if it was a terrible thing that had to be medically corrected and then desperately hidden from the world, what’s up with these people with “normal” bodies who are seeking out changes? Not to mention that many IS folks view transpeople as freaks, and are desperate to be seen as “normal”.
The problem is with the cross-section. I don’t know how big that cross-section is, but there are more and more of us popping out all the time – IS folks who decide that they’d rather be a gender other than what they were assigned, and get sex reassignment, transsexuals who discover that they have IS conditions in the middle of their changes, and so forth. We make it difficult for either side to separate from each other. Our bodies are spread across that gap between the two movements. It’s important for me as one of those bridgers to be sensitive to the needs of both sides, getting in the way of the IS folks assumption that we’re freaks; getting in the way of the transfolks’ attempts to colonize the IS struggles.
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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.
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In the middle of a recent thread about the term transvestite, Betty and I were both challenged as to our use of it. A lot of people are offended by the word and its connotations of mental illness and perversity. As I mention in the glossary entry in my book, however, Betty and I never saw it that way, for several reasons: 1) because without transvestite you couldn’t have transsexuals or transgenders – because it was the first of the three coined, and the others were coined from it; 2) because the rest of the world uses the term; 3) because the man who coined it had no such judgments of perversity or mental illness in mind when he coined it – all that came later, and 4) for Betty there was always a sexual aspect to crossdressing, and taking that out was the equivalent of white-washing the sexual aspect.
Someone even mentioned that they think first of Glen or Glenda when they hear the word “transvestite” – and I wondered, are we ashamed of Ed Wood?
Transvestites scratch the itch of gender dysphoria through crossdressing, and that’s all. Transvestites are not in the DSM (only fetishistic transvestites are, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who fits that description). As Donna, one of our MHB board faithful clarified, “…the word “transvestite” was coined by Magnus Hirschfeld circa 1910, was used as a broad, entirely non-judgmental term that would encompass what today would really be considered the entire tg spectrum, and was *not* invented by the psychiatric profession to pathologize or perversify people.” It just wasn’t Hirschfield’s style.
So in a sense, the word transvestite is a link to the whole of the T community’s history. That it’s become a word with negative connotations is due to the lack of education, the silence surrounding the word, our own willingness to disown people like Ed Wood and maybe even Eddie Izzard for not being exactly as we’d like them to be. But if there’s anything the queer community has taught me, it’s that discovering your history as a community is vital and important work. Do gays disown Rock Hudson because he was closeted or because he died of AIDS? Joe Orton because his lover killed him, or because he was famous for having anonymous sex in bathrooms? Of course they don’t. Because when you’re out there, trying to show people you exist – and that you always have existed – you need to find the figures from history that provide proof.
The Chevalier D’Eon, Ed Wood, Virginia Prince, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf: none of them are perfect examples. I’ve been asked a few times how it is I can like Virginia Prince for some things and excoriate her for others, and the answer is easy: she’s human. But what she did for herself, for all trans people everywhere, is more than mind-blowing. Did Charlotte von Mahlsdorf inform for the Communist Party? Only she knows, and she’s taken that secret to the grave. Ed Wood looked on the 60s, as an old man, with envy in his heart, for a decade where sexuality might be freer, gender a little more blurred. He made some of the best bad movies ever. But all of them, in their own way, made transvestites a little more visible; they gave people the idea of it, at least.
I understand that older crossdressers cringe when they hear it; they found that word in adult bookstores, in pulp erotica, and on the covers of sensationalist magazines. Betty found the word in the dictionary at a library growing up, and thought, ‘I guess that makes me a freak, but I know I’m not the only one now.’ Tri-Ess introduced “crossdresser” instead, to get rid of the negative connotations. The only problem is, I don’t see how the use of ‘crossdresser’ over transvestite really changes people’s minds; I can’t imagine any word that would describe a man dressing as a woman that wouldn’t be offensive to someone – especially to people who don’t like any kind of boundary-crossing, much less crossing the boundaries of sex or gender.
I’ve been in crowds shouting we’re here / we’re queer/ get used to it and I know what it does. It takes a word that was used to hurt – a word more full of negative connotations even than transvestite – and turns it around.
Now it’s in the title of a popular TV show. Believe me, no one would have imagined that even ten years ago, much less 20 or 50 years ago. But it happened. And it didn’t happen because queer people made themselves less queer. It happened because queer people made themselves visible, and got angry, and got organized, and demanded that even perverts are people, too.
Because today, in America, a show for kids gets taken off the air because a rabbit went to visit a little girl in Vermont whose parents happen to be lesbians. The show was funded in order to provide diversity education, if you can believe that, but as we well know, lesbians are still a little too diverse for some people. They’ve got their civil unions; they’ve changed the language to make themselves more palatable, and you know what? They still can’t be shown on a children’s television show about diversity.
Either people are going to respect you for who and what you are or they won’t. Cleansing ourselves of negative connotations is not as simple as word choice. If only it were that easy! But Tri-Ess started using “crossdresser” instead of transvestite a few decades ago, and I don’t see that it’s opened the doors of mainstream acceptance. Instead I saw Sam Walls go down in flames when he ran for office in Texas once it was shown he was a crossdresser. No one even called him a transvestite, mind you: all they needed were pictures of him en femme. A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words.
And once they have that picture, it doesn’t matter what thousand words you use to try to explain it. Not saying the “L” word didn’t save Buster from getting bumped. Calling Sam Walls a “crossdresser” didn’t make him more palatable to voters (neither did explaining that he wasn’t a homosexual). Had he stood up and said “Yes, I’m a transvestite” could that have harmed him any more?

Speaking to Students

This past Thursday I had the opportunity – for the second time – to speak to a group of students at a highly esteemed college. Last time it was for a group of students gathered at the Women’s Center of Yale University as part of Trans Week, and this time it was Columbia, and a class in “Feminist Texts I” offered by the Institute for Research on Women and Gender.
There is something remarkable for me about speaking to (and with) a class of mostly female, intelligent, empowered young women. They are full of hope and confidence; they have questions; they ask for clarifications and will tell you when they don’t know what you’re talking about. They are students in the true sense of the word – the root of student is “zeal” – and one has to ‘go on’ with a backbone of steel.
I have been at TG conferences where people whose lives are lived largely in trans spaces tip-toe – or don’t ask, and only gossip – about whether or not I would be okay if Betty transitioned. But in this class, instead, I got asked, “How would you feel if Betty had surgery?” and “Are you attracted to your husband when he’s a woman?” and “Why do you use ‘she’ and ‘husband’ in the same sentence – why don’t you call her your wife?”
And as blunt as they were, they were also polite; I think every question asked was prefaced with “If this is too personal you don’t have to answer, but…” They always gave me an out – but what kind of educator would I be if I’d taken it? There is nothing that thrills me more than people who want to know, who want the truth, who need information.
I started out by asking whether they needed for me to present “transgender 101.” They nodded they did. So I explained the MTF/FTM divide, the various people within the larger spectrum (crossdressers to transsexuals), the concept of gender dysphoria, and how the experience of gender dysphoria is often experienced as an intersection of frequency and intensity. I explained that when one says “transman” you’re referring to someone identified as female at birth who has gone on to live in/present as someone of the male gender. (Lots of nods and thanks for that clarification. They want to be able to talk without stumbling, too.) I talked about my own experience – of being a straight woman who met a straight man and who didn’t understand anything about what crossdressing was even though it didn’t freak me out or offend me. We talked about gender roles in domestic society, the sense of expectations, safety, and what it’s like to have my sexuality determined by my relationship when we’re in public. We talked about Betty’s safety, and my fear for her when she thinks she’s presenting as a man and someone’s reading her as a woman.
Helen Boyd speaking to a class at Columbia University
We also talked about how trans-ness both subverts and defends existing gender roles, in
that on the one hand, Betty is a person legally identified as male but who is feminine, but who embraces sometimes culturally-constructed notions of gender. I passed around photos of Betty performing the song “Falling in Love Again” at Fantasia Fair, and one woman said “David Bowie” when she saw them.
The one thing they all agreed on is that they would all feel put out of joint by having a husband who inhabits the “feminine ideal” more easily than they do, and from there – we talked about images of women in magazines, the sense of a “natural feminine” (and how ironic it is that my husband, born male, inhabits that space more “naturally” than most women I know, and what that might mean).
Overall it was a heady and friendly conversation; a group of mostly women (there were two men in the group) talking about who we are, what we’re supposed to be, and what “feminine” is. My thanks to the class, Professor Tricia Sheffield for inviting me, and to Columbia for an amazing couple of hours. Thanks also to Ariela, a photographer, who took a few photos, and whose other artwork is at