Sunday, April 14, 2013

One more post on Transgender in Print...

So, after the last three posts (comparing two New Yorker articles, one from 1994 and one from 2013, on transgender identity/individuals) I kept thinking: that's a large time span.  I started hunting around for something squarely in the middle (2001-2004) and didn't find anything I liked too much (feel free to correct me if you know of a good one).  Instead, I went back to the interviews I gave in the late 90s about my own take on trans-identity.  One is from the Baltimore Sun ( and one from the Washington Post (preview, full available for purchase) both published in 1997.

Rereading these two articles, I see in them the dominant notion that why I was interesting was that I was providing a new line under the transgender identity: the no surgery, no hormones line.  In 1994, the idea of FtMs was new and exciting (MtFs being more familiar for a variety of reasons).  In 2013, the idea of transitions (of a variety of types) earlier in life was of interest.  In the articles written about me in 1997, what appeared to fascinate the journalists was the way in which I insisted gender and sex were not the same thing. As Paula Span, in the Washington Post article captured it: gender is a feeling, a decision.

This line rubbed me the wrong way then... and it still does now.  It comes with the suggestion, for me, of "choice" and agency and also a certain lightness "nothing more than" a feeling. Yet, I do think that gender is not biology (and therefore not sex) and does come from feelings.  Of course, then, from those feelings come actions and performances and enactments and everything else.  And it might be a decision to stop hiding and live this way... but it's not a decision to feel this way in the first place.

I give Span full credit for putting together the assertion that gender is a "mutable social construct" (Ah, the 90s).  I prefer that so much to the biology as destiny implications of the surgically oriented 1994 article.  Reading through both this article and the one from the Baltimore Sun, I can assess now that both reporters found me to be asking for a lot: to remain female and be treated as a man.  To insist that biology didn't matter.  To them, I was a contradiction asking to be treated as a single fact.

Much has changed in my life since those 1997 articles.  Most salient to the issue is that I have been taking hormones for many years now.  Before rereading what had been written about me, I approached with some trepidation: would my 1997-self bash those taking hormones, call them sellouts, insist that one didn't need them to be a man?  Would my past self be disappointed in my present self?  

I am humored to see how closely I walk that line, how I assert that I was happy the way I was and didn't need to change my body.  How I maintain that I didn't need hormones (or surgery) to live successfully as a man.  I am even happier to read the end of Span's article, where she recounts my declaration that I insist upon a caveat -- I don't need hormones now, but I might want them in the future.  "I'm famous for changing my mind," she quotes me as saying.  Yes, yes indeed.  I think I anticipated my future self pretty well.

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