Robyn's Perch

Thursday, July 20, 2006



The first three or four months of my transition had me very angry. I don't like being angry...but when people step on my toes, I tell them it hurts...and I tend to tell everyone else about it, too.

Anger is something I have always tried to avoid in my life, to the extent that I would keep quiet about my anger. That's not a healthy have to let the anger out somewhere.

People still call me "he" or "sir" from time to time. I smile and correct them. If it is repeated, I ask them to reexamine their words. If they still do it, with no sign of regret for the "slip," then I take it as intentional. People who do such things will hear about it...but perhaps not in the way they want... instead of me yelling or screaming, I ask to talk to their supervisor. If I get no apology, I ask for that person's supervisor. I'm prepared to go as high as it takes to get that apology, but I do require it. Supervisors don't like to handle this type of stuff, and it is not me they get angry at, but the people who gave me the crap in the first place. That is my intention.

Getting angry with people just reinforces their feelings about you. That's what I learned. And showing anger leads to more situations in which you will get angry, because there are a lot of people who will use your anger against you.

I was not "successful" in my transition until I learned to let go of the feel the pain that causes it and to learn to own that pain. It made me a better person, I think.

That doesn't mean that I don't speak out about injustices done to me or anyone else anymore. I just try to do so in a more reasoned choose my words better and use the words, not volume, to express my anger.

One always has to keep in mind who one's friends are. Getting angry at them isn't a good idea. Just because someone is angry continually doesn't mean hir transition is successful. Sure, s/he may get people to stay out of hir leave hir alone...but angry people don't make friends easily. I don't know about you, but friends are important to me now, in a way they never were before. For some reason, people like me now that I have mellowed. That anger from before is in control, to be used sparingly, like cayenne. Too much of it is not a good thing.

We survive transition by showing everyone what better people we have become.

People often work from a lack of knowledge. Instead of getting angry with someone that exhibits their ignorance about us, even to the point of being offensive, perhaps sharing some knowledge that we ourselves have would seem a more useful tack. If all everyone does is get angry at that person, his or her opinion of us will not change...perhaps it would deepen into worse feelings.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Review

Bernice Hausman, Changing Sex: Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender, Duke University Press, 1995.

It has always bothered me when someone writes a book that attacks the being of people with a different outlook on existence. It frustrates me a whole lot more when the person writing the text does so in the name of philosophy, cultural anthropology or sociology. When that person espouses her opinions without having all the facts, it makes me sad. But when the author doesn't have all the facts because she has failed to do her homework, it makes me angry.

Ms. Hausman has indeed done some homework in writing this tome. Anyone needing to know about the history of gender in the first two thirds of this century will find it quite useful, provided they can get past the way she has chosen to emphasize certain aspects of the discourse. The problem is that she uses this "history" as she has constructed it to vilify a group of people. Her goal, as near as I can tell, is to contribute to the deconstruction of gender. What is sad is that she truly seems to believe that the way to do this is to destroy the being of transsexual people.

The best thing about this text, from my admittedly biased position as a transsexual woman, is that it is such a difficult read that very few people are going to struggle through it. Ms. Hausman never uses a small word where a big one will do. And none but the heartiest gender theorist is likely to comprehend her chain of logic (or illogic, as the case may be). Unfortunately, that is still too many people in my opinion.

The author's point, I gather, is that if it weren't for the existence of transsexual people and intersexual people (which I will identify as a group by the term "gender variant") and the medical and psychological professionals who studied them in the earlier in this century, the modern concept of gender would not exist. And eradication of the concept of gender and gender stereotypes is considered a Good Thing in Ms. Hausman's view.

Ms. Hausman seems to view transsexualism as some sort of monolithic evil because of the way it reinforces gender stereotypes. The fatal flaw in her vigorous attack, however, lies in her unadulterated stereotyping of transsexual folk. The use of stereotyping to counter the existence of stereotypes hardly seems to be a rational approach. It strikes me rather as an academic way of saying "So's your mama!" Time and again, the author misses the point since she has already decided what her conclusion is going to be and refuses to let anything (such as fairness or facts) stand in her way. I can only hope that other readers find the text as truly distasteful as I did.

I am truly amazed that the author could spend as much time and effort studying the phenomenon of gender variance as she obviously did in producing this work and yet could gain so little insight into actual gender variant people. But the reason why this happened is clear. Ms. Hausman studied gender variance by reading the works of non-gender-variant people which described the phenomenon (1). This is rather like studying the inhabitants of colonized areas by restricting oneself to reading the works of the colonialists. To be sure, Ms. Hausman did read some autobiographies by transsexual people, but none of these were published more recently than 1979, though she did acknowledge in an epilogue reading Kate Bornstein's book, "Gender Outlaw: on men women and the rest of us." Unfortunately, she did not apparently notice how this last text might have opened the door to a new line of study which might have invalidated some of her major points and allowed the book to be published anyway, including only a weak and defensive argument in the epilogue.

The stereotype about transsexual people that the author finds most irresistible is the notion that they change sex to be heterosexual (while at the same time she describes them as primarily asexual...she never seems to quite get a handle on this paradox). She claims that gender variant folk claiming an identity separate from that of homosexuals is nothing short of homophobic. Her perception of this heterosexism of transsexual people is central to her theory. It was indeed disheartening to discover that the author had spent so much of her time burying herself in theory written by non-transsexual people that she apparently failed to discover the one glaring fault in her logic, a fault that she would surely have discovered had she conversed or corresponded (or wished to know, for this knowledge would certainly have ruined her project) with any actual transfolk: while we don't have any actual figures, it is probable that more than half of transsexual men and women identify post-transition as lesbian, gay or bisexual (indeed the author must have known this from reading Bornstein's book, but she fails to mention it even in the epilogue). This fact is definitely not available from reading the works on her reading list. It was the people who wrote these works that were in large part homophobic. Gender variant people knew it then and know it now. It is the reason that they preferred not to discuss their sex lives and were hence labelled as being asexual by these researchers (which explains the paradox addressed above). After all, a male-to-female transsexual person who identified as a lesbian and a female-to-male transsexual person who identified as gay *would not* be accepted as a patient by these folks. Thankfully, times have changed. Unfortunately, Ms. Hausman's research did not reveal this change(2).

Another bone of contention I have with Ms. Hausman's work (I will not counter them all, or this review would approach the length of her text(3)) is rather more theoretical. She claims that a concept cannot exist before it is named. I find this a rather alarming statement coming from a supposed academic mind. If the concept does not exist, it surely cannot be named! Specific to her work, the concept that she approaches in this manner is that of "gender" as being separate from "sex" first and "gender role" second.

Ms. Hausman claims that it wasn't until the mid-1950s that John Money defined the concept...and that before that life was good, from what I am given to understand. It may very well be true (I have no doubt that Money lays claim to being the man who coined the term in this context, but one wonders what took him so long). After all, there were so-called sex-change operations earlier than 1955, so surely the concept must have existed in *some* minds. And I have no doubt that the concept of gender, if not its label, existed in the minds of gender variant people far before Money's definition. Medical doctors and psychologists do not just make up terms out of whole cloth. They see a condition and they attempt to label and describe it (being, as they are, so conditioned by the nature of their education).

Ms. Hausman attacks transfolk for their use of the terminology that the medical/psychological establishment used to describe their condition. While I agree with her that transsexual people tend to pattern their self-descriptions based on this terminology (to the point that some transfolk have even reinvented their histories to match the terms(4)), I rather think that the reason for this is that it was the only vocabulary that allowed transfolk and the doctors to communicate. Surely Ms. Hausman herself encountered difficulty in describing gender variant people using a language that did not include words to describe more than two sexes/genders(5). The author is apparently complaining that those early gender variant people did not develop their own vocabulary. This is tantamount to insisting that our community be nothing less than linguistic geniuses from the very outset. We *are* developing our own vocabulary, given the constraint imposed on us of being able to communicate with the society around us. If we have in someway hijacked terminology that she thinks should be used in other ways, then let her join in our discussions. We are, if anything, highly flexible people.

The author does in truth point out some disturbing trends among transsexual people. It is indeed true that we read whatever we can find about our condition in order to learn about ourselves and all too often we rely on the the conclusions drawn in those writings to describe our own existence, rather than speaking our individual truths. Largely this is because we must develop the vocabularity to discover our commonality, but we sometimes do tend to go overboard. We do not have to all be the same anymore, as was once the case. And some of us are addicted to surgical intervention to change more than our genital morphology. And some of us claim unknown, perhaps even unknowable, biological sources for our condition instead of just accepting that we are the way we are because that is how we feel (which, to my way of thinking, is not a bad thing...since when are feelings and convictions inherently evil?). And some of us, to our shame, *are* probably even homophobic. We are just people, perhaps not like everyone else, but people nonetheless. We have our faults and we have our virtues. It woul have be nice if Ms. Hausman had spent some time examining some of those virtues.

We did not construct gender roles. They existed long before we began upsetting the binary gender apple cart. Nor do we monolithically reinforce them. There is no such thing as the typical transperson. While it is true that all too often we are willing to be stereotyped, willing to phrase our truths in the terms that doctors and therapists need to hear in order to get the type of treatment we desire, our lives do not end when we have surgery. To target the period of our lives spent pursuing our dreams against an often unfriendly society is equivalent to blaming us for any maltreatment we may receive. Too often we have seen feminists jump on this bandwagon and Ms. Hausman has seen fit to join in with this transbashing.

That Ms. Hausman does so while purporting to be a truly enlightened academic is truly unfortunate.

Robyn Elaine Serven, Ph. D.
University of Central Arkansas (at time of review)
Bloomfield College (now)

(1) To be sure, Ms. Hausman does mention visiting a conference sponsored by the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE) in 1991. That she failed to understand that the IFGE is primarily run by non-transsexual people but is rather much more dominated by transvestites is truly regrettable.

(2) Yes, the author did visit an IFGE conference, which she found to be quite homophobic. I attended the organization's 1996 convention and came away with the same sense. Perhaps the fact that most of the participants were in fact heterosexual, as transvestites are known to predominately be, might explain this.

(3) Among them are her use of outdated statistics, such as the fact male-born transsexual people outnumber their female-born brothers by a ratio of 8:1, though she does mention that it is converging. In fact, the ratio is approximately 1:1 and has been for some time. Assumption of the statistic she mentions, however, allows her to further marginalize our female-born brothers by eliminating them from much of her discourse. Like Janice Raymond and other anti-transsexualists, it is the male-born transfolk who are to be the main target of their declamations.

(4) The author also stresses cases in which gender variant people have *lied* and the description of transsexual people as being consumate prevaricators that exists in much of the early literature. Again, given the homophobic and transphobic (Money himself at one time separated transfolk into two groups, one which he labelled "criminal transsexuals") nature of the so-called "care givers," I believe such past licentiousness with our truths at least understandable. It is my hope that more and more of us are forgoing this unfortunate ritual.

(5) I personally found some of the author's use of pronouns while describing gender variant people to be offensive.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006



When I first went to see Kurt, I was a real basket case. I knew the shit was going to hit the fan at school and consequently that I had no idea of what the future held for even the next day. I was highly stressed because of that, emotionally glued to a relationship that was falling apart, and quite angry at both myself and the rest of the world that I had waited until I was 44 years old before seeking help. To be honest, the only thing that was keeping me going was the knowledge that the alternative of death would at least end the pain I was feeling and that it was perfectly alright to check out whenever I wanted or needed to.

I think my first words to Kurt were something like: "I know I am transsexual. I didn't come here to have you tell me that. I understand that I am required to have a therapist for at least a year before I can have surgery. While I am here, we may as well use the time wisely talking about the fact that I grew up in an emotionally abusive home because my father was an alcoholic, that I grew up in the wrong gender, and that I have been in an abusive marriage for the last 23 years." My tone expressed anger, I'm sure, because that is what I felt.

Remarkably, Kurt didn't toss me out of his office. He smiled that little buddha-like smile of his and spoke to me calmly. By the end of that first hour, I knew that I had found a true friend, someone who would hold on to me while my world was shattered to bits.

Over the course of our meetings, first weekly and then later every two weeks, Kurt told me about himself and his philosophy of life. I knew that he was gay. Ralph had told me that. He told me he was buddhist and I found that to be an unexpected bonus. He told me that he had treated only two transsexual people in the first 18 years of his practice, but that in the time surrounding my first visit to him, he had four transsexual patients. I never asked and never found out who the others were. When I found that out, I started bringing Kurt little tidbits of information that I gathered. When I got online, that grew to a steady stream. He provided me with information in return that he got from other sources, always asking for my comments on them as he picked my brain about my thoughts on my condition.

At the same time, we dealt with the issues I stated at the beginning. Additionally, he helped me eliminate my driving and money phobias. I had not been a driver ever, having only once had a driver's license, during my time in the army, when not passing the military driving test would have resulted in me being sent to infantry school and sent onward to Vietnam. Kurt helped me change I love to drive.

His examination of my relationship led him to remark that it was the most abusive one he had ever seen and that my behavior was the worst case of codependency he had ever seen. Much of the problem stemmed from my phobia about money which we discovered traced back to my having to lie on the phone to creditors about my parents being home. When I married, I let my wife handle the money, which was like letting Imelda Marcos have access to the Home Shopping Network. My wife was a user of people and lived in a reality where everything existed merely for her benefit and she required someone else to bail her out of trouble when everyone else's reality collided with hers. My life job had been to keep her out of trouble, to pay for her mistakes, to shield her so that her reality could exist. With Kurt's help, I learned to untangle the poisonous vines that had bound the two of us together for so long.

I have memories of some of the days I spent visiting with Kurt that will be forever etched in my mind. I remember the day he had his first "breakthrough" to understanding what it was like to be me. That was when he realized that even though I was 45 at the time, I was going through puberty and that needed to be factored in to our discussions. I remember the surprise on his face the first time he realized that I was a lesbian. The look was priceless...I don't believe I have ever physically seen a jaw drop before except in cartoons. I remember the first time I wore a shortish skirt to his office, when he admired my legs. I remember discussing life and death with him, from my taoist perspective and his buddhist one. I remember the times when he would be playing his piano when I arrived. But mostly I remember his hugs at the end of the sessions. He was one of the best huggers ever.

Towards the end of our sessions together, his health started deteriorating. While at a buddhist retreat in California, he had to be rushed to a hospital for emergency stomach surgery. He had to cancel a Caribbean cruise because he was sick. Our visits became a bit more special to me. He never told me exactly what his condition was, but I knew. I could see the AIDS literature in his living room while I waited for him to finish with another patient in the den. I saw the condolence cards that he received from his friends. None of them said, "Get Well Soon."

Finally came the day when I asked him to write my surgery letter. He told me to write whatever I would like and that he would sign it. And then he told me that he was retiring and that this would be our last professional visit. He asked me to keep in touch though. I'm afraid I wasn't very good at that. I wish I had done better.

Last Tuesday, at Ralph's therapy group, I found out that Kurt had died. I kept my feelings inside until last night...I'm a teacher and teachers never get sick until Friday. For the last few days, though, I have felt myself spinning downward. I know that Kurt would not want that. So I've been letting the tears flow and trying to fight my way back up.

I'll make it, Kurt. And I'll always remember those hugs.

--February 9, 1994