Friday, April 12, 2013

Part Three: the 2013 article

This section completes my reflections comparing two New Yorker articles on trans-identity, one from 1994 (before I came out; an article that lingered in my memory) and one from 2013.  I hope you enjoy.  As always, leave a comment -- I'd love to hear about other influential articles on this topic.

Okay.  Jump ahead to 2013.  (I know, I’m skipping over a lot.  Maybe, in my copious free time and if anyone expresses an interest in it, I will go ahead and find some articles from the middle years.)  Talbot’s article “About a Boy” also leads with a picture: a soft-colored, brushed-feeling, photo of a teen boy (think early Justin Beiber) looking away from the camera.

The shift in tone and terminology is incredible.  In one sentence, Talbot waves away the entire premise of the 1994 article saying that FtMs have “rarely sought surgery” in the past, then adding that Skylar, the subject of the article, has had top surgery.  In the following pages, surgery gets a few short mentions, a paragraph or two of description (no “pulsing hot dogs”), but is largely relegated to the margins as too expensive or impractical, with the subtext that it is regarded as unnecessary by many FtMs.

What is at the center of this 2013 article is that gender is wide-open.  The 1994 article had one line in which gender was described as a spectrum, as fluid (noting that this idea tended to make people uncomfortable).  The 2013 article celebrates this. Gone is the notion that transsexual means surgery or even a definitive moment of change.  Instead, the article is full of interviews and conversations celebrating gender as way of being and expressing, as a lived experience – it is not clinical, it is not fully biological.  Rather, it is about self and comfort and finding the right place to inhabit.

If the 1994 article alienated me (then and now), the 2013 article made feel old.  Talk of FtMs as wanting surgery and male genitalia produced the “not me!” response.  Talk of gender role exploration and puberty suppressors produced a “kids these days!” feeling.  As usual, I’m somewhere in between.  Hormones, yes; surgery, no.  The idea of being this or that… and only this or that, leaves me uncomfortable.  But so does the idea of being neither/nor.  Of course, I accept both.  I accept that gender has two end-points; I accept that gender is fluid spectrum; I accept that someone might find themselves anywhere; that that anywhere might change on a given day. 

Mostly, though, I am grateful that this discussion and exploration continues and that it is something that can be written and spoken about.  That 1994 article hit me hard: it was the first response from a universe that had, as I saw it, denied me a vocabulary.  Now, it is rare for me to use the word “transgender” and find someone unfamiliar with the term.  For all the common usage, though, I am no more certain of what it means for me, let alone for someone else.

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