Thursday, April 11, 2013

Part Two: Revisiting an Article from 1994...

(This continues yesterday's post, in which I reflect on two New Yorker articles on trans-identity: one from 1994 and one from 2013.)

Having downloaded the 1994 articleThe New Yorker’s online archives for subscribers are amazing! – I felt an immediate kinship.  There was the photograph.  Loren Cameron (back in 1997, I got him to come and speak at Harvard when I was a student there; I don’t know if I ever connected him with the article until now) and James Green, staring at themselves in the mirror.  It’s a strange picture.  It is black and white, and stark feeling.  Cameron’s side is to the camera; Green’s real (non-reflected) body isn’t visible, but their mirror images put their faces in view.  It’s oddly suggestive of not wanting to be seen, yet wanting to see oneself. 

I felt the same reaction now I felt nineteen years ago: they look like men.  And, smaller, that flip of jealousy: I want to look like that. 

But, reading through, I discovered I had largely forgotten the content of the article.  Indeed, all I remembered closely was the detailed and graphic description of a phalloplasty (including the phrase “pulsing hot dog” of flesh).  The article is so biological, so oriented on surgery, on sex as physical, as transsexual as a series of actions to complete a transformation. 

The start of the piece is the only place where gender is explored and where interviewed FtMs say things that I might have then (and do now) found resonant.  Things like the fact that they never felt comfortable with coming out as lesbian; that they had always felt misunderstood and unable to communicate exactly why.  But much of it, I think, distanced me back then from the idea of transsexual (the article doesn’t use the term transgender) identity.  In 1994, at 16, I think hormones and surgery seemed unrealistic, scary, a huge and unimaginable leap.  I liked that image at the start: the two men gazing at themselves, as if in awe of their own bodies, the realization that they had been women.  I just didn’t want to go through everything the article described.

Indeed, it wasn’t until I met transgender people who weren’t taking hormones and who hadn’t had surgery, yet were living as the other gender that I came out.  For me, it has always been about gender rather than about sex – a distinction buried by the 1994 article.  And that’s what I take away from this piece and the topic of terminology.  There it is: the term is transsexual.  Sex.  Body.  Biology.  The change.  That was the description and depiction of the identity back in the mid-90s.

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