Friday, January 16, 2009

Similarities and Differences Within the T of GLBT

I was asked recently if I was willing to help cover a big CD event and I said I am not sure I am the right person to tell their story – at least not until I can understand their story from their perspective. I can try, but I sure don't have the inside scoop on what motivates them.

Some of our conversation got into details that would be uncomfortable for me to present here, but this discussion made it clear to me that we are often tossed into the same pigeonhole by society – sometimes by our allies and people that are trying to understand us and who stand with us for our rights. I thought it worthwhile to explain what I see as the difference between what I am – a person that is bodily crossing the gender division - and most of those that are Cross-Dressers – people who dress and role play as the opposite gender. At first glance transsexuals and cross-dressers appear to be the same but there are some very pronounced differences in motivation and end-results.

There is a lot I don’t know and don’t understand about some of the other people that are lumped together in the “T” part of GLBT community and so I only speak from my own experiences. The T itself has it’s own rainbow of diversity – Intersexed, MtF, FtM, TV’s, CD’s, she-males, gender-queer and even a few that try to be non-gendered and each one has a different reason for why they are the way they are. Some of us are straight, lesbian, gay, transian, bi, flamboyant, butch, fem. & etc, and we have our admirers and our allies and some of us have partners in the mix too. Then we sub-divide on many other things like, are we into fetish and other “contact sports” or do we prefer to be more restrained or traditional in our lifestyle. Some are this way for right reasons and some for wrong ones, but I can compare us, for example, to a group of Christian people and point out that there are some that are there for right reasons and some for wrong too– and they all are still unique in their own way and all are very much human. We all deserve dignity and respect as members of the human family regardless of any distinctions that we can discern with our own senses.

So the only way to figure it all out is to talk about it as one human to another and encourage others to get into the dialogue too. Ultimately it boils down to just being y
ourself and being OK with everyone else being themselves, but we humans love our labels and our categories and strangely these keep us from understanding and loving our neighbors like we do ourselves. We group together based on certain traits and begin to exclude those that are different or hard to understand. I could stand up and preach about this in Church because only when we approach each other on the common denominator of being human can we actually love one another and not be judgmental – I think that was central to Jesus’ message and to the message of many of the world’s religions too. This is why I proclaim Faith without Prejudice and equal rights for all under the law at every opportunity.

The biggest difference I see is that a transsexual can't take this off and have an otherwise sane and healthy life because how we are created is an inseparable part of who we are. We (TS-folk), to some extent need to be a woman; to see that we are one is very important to our self-identity. Some can settle with a sort of compromise and not go through all the surgeries and procedures and some of us need to take these corrective steps to the fullest extent possible. It may not be the perfect solution but they provide a way to better living.

The few cross-dressers I know personally are perfectly happy being and remaining men. Some are straight and some are gay but they would never want to take hormones or be surgically altered and they can’t get real comfortable with the idea that I do. In my experience most cross-dressers get to wipe off the make-up, stash the clothes and go home to their wives and family or their partners and their jobs and their lives. Being the caricature of a woman was their playtime and apparently for many, both straight men and gay men the dressing and the role playing suffice to meet their needs and they can live their life sanely. I expect there is as much diversity amongst them as to motivations too. Some are fortunate enough that their spouse or partner understands or even supports them and they don’t have to be secretive though many do have to hide from loved ones to express this aspect of their life.

This is where there are similarities – in the hiding and the self denial, in the hunting for self-acceptance and the validation of self, trying to be OK while dealing with the problems caused by the fear of being rejected or getting hurt by people with closed minds. I had to hide and the hiding and self-denial were the most damaging things I have done to myself – worse by far than the drugs and the other madness I brought into my life while trying to cope with something that was truly beyond my control.

To those that might have observed me I suppose they would think I was just seeking some sort of erotic release, and I sometimes tried to have it be such a release so I could then (I hoped) simply change back and get on with life for a few weeks or months. However this did not help me or help me be at peace within myself – that disparity continued to grow until I simply could not function as a man any longer. It was as if the battle of the sexes raged within me constantly – a duality of spirit – one part male and one part female. Many Native American tribes understand people that are “two-spirit” and make provision for them – in many cases they honor them, but western culture sure has no safe place – yet. But they are starting to come around slowly – I have hope, and that is why I am here working it.

Yes I could take off the clothes and make-up but the female on the inside could not and would not be put off and I could not find a work-around for it. All my experimentations and needs to express this side of me had to be hidden away. I purged so many nice things so often it is a crying shame. For many years I tried to deny what I was and tried for many years to live as a male and be true to my body’s gender with only temporary crossings of the gender lines when I had to express my inner female self. I tried for a while to simply be a cross-dresser, but no – I could not be something I was not. Similarities to the CD/TV side of things stopped here.

The alternation of personas, for me was very difficult and seemed to be driving me towards madness because I could not establish myself as a complete person in either form – both personas felt to me like they were a lie – I knew inside I wasn’t a man like other men, but to express myself as a woman I had to hide and sneak and so I could find no moorings in my life. Cross-dressers seem able to switch with a snap of the fingers and that is partly why they can be such wonderful entertainers too. What I do isn't for entertainment, nor is it a way to seek pleasure or eroticism, but it is personal aesthetics driven by a necessity to live sanely and be at peace internally. That is not to say I and gals like me are not interested in those things, but they are not the motivation and they don’t define us.

I hesitate to say this because I don’t want to cause any further division amongst T-folk and I am trying to build up understanding and acceptance of us all, but sometimes I feel uncomfortable around cross-dressers and I have felt resentment towards the drag queens and flamboyant cross-dressers and their flashy, loud and brash ways of presenting because it is very difficult emotionally for me to be seen in the same context. In my estimation being a woman is simply entertainment for them, for each other and to the world. Most people in society point to the flamboyant and extreme and say “they are all like that”, so people expect me to be the same too, but I am not the same.

I finally had to accept myself as created and integrate the feminine aspects into my daily life and that was the turning point for me so instead of having this duality of spirit going on and a raging battle, there is peace. While there may still be a male spirit within myself along side the female there is unity and a feeling of peaceful wholeness now. Though I do like to look attractive and at times sexy and get out and have fun, the motivations are completely different and the hoped for end-result of my transition is that I will be a woman bodily as well as emotionally and mentally. A woman when I get out of bed and when I go through the day, a woman when I go shopping or to a show or when I go to the doctor, a woman when the make-up is down the drain and when I go to bed, and a woman especially when I share myself with a lover.

CD’s and TV’s have a real need for their kind of self-expression – I accept that as solidly as I accept my own need and I encourage them to be true to themselves too, just as I encourage everyone else – be true to you and live life to the fullest before God and man! Yet what they do seems to me to be only visual - they simply don't want or need to be a real woman. I can’t imagine what someone that is happily a cross-dresser went through to find the equivalent inner peace to mine – maybe some of you would explain it to me along with what does motivate you. If I were to host a documentary about you what would you want me to point out? What do you need to make known and what would make you feel accepted and validated?

Thanks for sticking with me all the way – this has been on my mind to post for quite a while and it is way longer than I had intended but I think I said all that I needed to.

Blessings and hugs,


  1. Hi,

    I just wanted to comment, not to counter anything you have expressed as you opinion, but to add another perspective and food for thought...and while I may quote some of the things you have said as examples, I am speaking generally and everything I say isn't being attributed to you personally.

    Also just for the record, I don't ID as TS *or* a crossdresser, although I share many characteristics both emotional and physical with both groups...if I had to pick a label I would probably pick "androgyne".

    As someone who feels essentially androgynous and has never had a true innate yearning to live in either established socially accepted binary role, I see this aspect of the TS/CD divide from a different perspective.

    What strikes me most often is an underlying desire among many transwomen to characterize CDing as being something frivolous and shallow and not to be taken seriously-

    "being a woman is simply entertainment for them..."

    "Being the caricature of a woman was their playtime..."

    "...what they do seems to me to be only visual..."

    and the implication that CDers have it so much easier-

    "...cross-dressers get to wipe off the make-up, stash the clothes and go home to their wives and family or their partners and their jobs and their lives..."

    "...Cross-dressers seem able to switch with a snap of the fingers..."

    Again I want to be clear that I only quote you as an example of a general trend, not to single you out- as these sentiments are pretty common.

    Where the problem lies from my perspective is that, as you to your immense credit acknowledge, "...there is as much diversity amongst them as to motivations too."

    Simply put, the idea that a non transition seeking CDer is someone who is "happy" with just being a man is a pretty simplistic notion that gets touted in books, but the people writing those books are often the same ones who classify TSism as a psychological disorder, in both cases with very little in the way of true scientific research to back up either claim.

    In my experience, while many CDers live what appears to be a relatively well adjusted life in a mostly male gender role, "happy" about it might not be the best word to describe it..."resigned" or "acquiescent" to gender norms might be better terms.

    If you accept the idea that gender dysphoric feelings have a range of severity, there are those whose very real gender dysphoria just doesn't rise to the level of needing to transition fully or full-time, who take the palliative treatment for gender dysphoria- living in a female role- when they need it, and no transition fully would be in essence over-medication.

    There is also the quality of life issue that is part and parcel of any treatment- a person with chronic pain might forgo taking medication because of non-medical issues, like wanting to be able to drive without being under the assessment is made and it is decided that the trade off for being pain-free is too great in that circumstance, so they go without and endure.

    It would be quite uncharitable in this example to then use that ability to endure their suffering against the person by claiming that if they were *really* in need of pain meds they wouldn't be able to do without them for any period of time.

    Yet that is precisely what happens to gender dysphoric people who are able to endure a male role better than is treated as de facto evidence that they really don't have gender issues at all and it's just a game, and they get slapped with a label of "CD".

    As to the common implication about CDing being an easier route than that of the TS...beyond the physical and logistical issues of transition, one must consider the basics-

    The very act of acknowledging and seeking a polarized gender role supports and reinforces societally approved binary gender norms...and as long as you pass, society rewards that.

    But the act of repeatedly transgressing gender norms by moving back and forth as CDers do, or staying somewhere between as non-ops, transgenderists and androgynes do, defies and repudiates societally approved binary gender norms, and those parts of society that highly value polarized gender roles don't like that at all.

    And in the ultimate irony this unites religious fundamentalists *and* many transwomen in their contempt for anyone who doesn't pick one role and stay there.

    Even the religious types can often soften their stand against gender variant people who seek to pass and reinforce the binary, and accept them as more or less "normal"- but not if they don't pass or define themselves in other than binary terms.

    With that kind of resistance from all sides working against those who regardless of the reason don't seek to "live as a woman" and either go back and forth or are in between roles, it could be argued that the way of the passing TS living a polarized role is far easier than that of CDers...

    obviously getting there is no walk in the park and not everyone passes, but more acceptance of *all* gender variant people and less focus on differences and especially trying to guess their motivations can only help those TS's who can't easily blend into an approved gender role.

    I trust in your sincerity in your statements about trying to promote this acceptance and to that end I would ask that you and others consider the lives and attitudes of CDers and other non-TS gender variant people the way you would want them to consider yours- you would rightly be perturbed by people who aren't TS speaking about your motivations and what your life is like as if they knew it intimately...but too often that is exactly what TS people do when discussing the motivations and lives of CDers and other non-TS people, basing their opinions in large part on the same general literature on the subject that says TS people are psychologically disordered.

    One final comment- it's interesting to note the use of the word "caricature" to describe the look of CDers...interesting because when you look to the gender cues and traits sought out by transition seeking MtoF's, more often than not they amount to a socially distorted caricature of what a "real woman" looks isn't completely unheard of, but for the most part you don't see MtoF's aspiring to look like the very real natal women who are flat chested or big boned or have androgynous or mannish looks and are fine with it- they want to be be cute and curvy and have nice boobs and be pretty, if for no other reason than to accentuate and exaggerate those specific features/traits so as to instantly convey an idea (in this case, "femininity"), which is the essence of caricature.

    Food for thought.

  2. Thank you,
    I do appreciate your comments. And I do understand the simplicity of my views, but the only way I can learn is by putting what I know and feel out there for discussion. I take to heart your comparison of fundamentalists and their views with some of what I said - because I have felt slighted by them many times myself because they don't understand me and us and i was one of them for 14 years.

    Having been a Fundamentalist Christian and then having to grow in many ways so I could accept myself as created without being alienated from God in my view has taught me a lot - including that I have a lot more learning to do and a lot more experience with others within the "T" of GBLB as well as within the community as a whole to gain if I am going to be successful in drawing us together or even helping towards that end.

    I apologize to any that don't go to extremes as I described and to any that feel slighted by my stated inexperience and simplistic statements. But please be aware that many people do get the idea that one can simply wipe off the woman and then go back to being "normal" (so called) - that is how it seems to me and I was trying to explain my true feelings and not just repeat the same old lines. I am not unjustified in that opinion. I want the world to know that it isn't usually that simple - and it is impossible for myself and many others to switch back at all. if we are to stand together in unity we have to understand how others see us and find common facts upon which to base that unity.

    I was moved to post what I did because I was asked to tell the story of many CDs who are into the shows and the glam - something which stated I am not and don't understand and could not do until I knew more from "their" perspective, so in a long and roundabout way I was asking for help to understand. My main purpose was to learn as I now am from people that live in a way that I can not fathom. Your response is of the exact nature I was hoping to get - spoken with patience and kindness to educate and enlighten one who knows she is still in the dark about a lot of things. Up until about 3 years ago I had never met any transgendered people of any kind (other than the ones I preached to - in error - on the streets of LA and Hollywood in my fundie days in the 80's and 90's). And all I knew was I had to gross the gender boundary to live sanely. I have a lot of catching up to do now and I know it.

    As for looks, like I said, I only know a very few CD's personally so I have a very small statistical sampling of my own and I was speaking from that very limited sampling and truthfully from my own experience. The CD/TV's I met at a few shows and have watched on TV are pretty exaggerated - way beyond anything that would pass as a woman and their portrails of women seemed extreme and caused me a bit of anguish when I was lumped into the same category back when I was newly "out" and still learning how to dress and apply make-up tastefully. These things don't just come to a girl naturally - it takes practice to not look ridiculous.

    Also as I mentioned, my quest isn't necessarily to look like another woman in styles of dress and make-up, but is to be one to the fullest extent I can be without the clothing and make-up and motions and so on - it is myself for whom I seek to pass well. But, meanwhile, one does need to look decent in public if one wants to be generally accepted - that seems pretty basic to me.

    I wish I had a petite frame that would allow me to seek the more subtle feminine traits of which you speak and could just naturally blend in. But I am tall and big boned like my grandmother - in many ways I resemble her now. I may have to go to take a few cosmetic remedies to tip the scales in my favor (to counter the damage done by OD-ing on testosterone most of my life) - "real" women do that all the time in our society and it does not render them a caricature unless it is something extreme. I was very hefty as a male - fairly muscular at 240 lbs - so I strive for and would be quite happy with realistic feminine traits that match a 5' 10", 195 lb woman (and I am getting there). But you are right many TS do not seem to have a good sense of aesthetics and to them I encourage getting out more and looking around at the people they find attractive and learn from them and emulate them and practice, practice, practice until some things do come naturally.

    We could go on for hours and there will always be flaws to find in each other's reasonings and experiences. Fortunately, not even genetic women and men are perfect and none ever exactly fit any stated "norm". There are always imperfections but that is what it means to be human.

    Thanks and hugs,

  3. Hi.
    I think you might find some of my own blog posts interesting where I discuss my own emotions etc on the issue

    Thing is many crossdressers I know online or have met face to face are not playing or acting a role or being charicatures but expressing a deep innate need within their heart. One that many try in vain to fight. And they too have plenty of steps where they are trying to 'just be a..'.

    And being a goth I've seen fashions that put most drag queens to shame on natal-women. Just week ebfore last I met a natal woman goth friend for coffeee and she had the most outrageous false eyelashes on I've ever seen, a tight corset with deep cleavage, huge platform boots and brightly coloured dreadlock-style hair extensions.

    So outrageous appearance is not confined to drag queens but are sometimes shared by natal women.

    I hope you'll find some of my own blogposts interesting and perhaps informative and feel free to ask any questions!

  4. Thanks for your comments.
    At a quick glance I much of interest there on your blog and I will take a closer look in a couple days when I am at home again.

  5. Buy into anything transgender, you buy into it all.

  6. True - I jumped in with both feet and I am very glad I did. I would like to understand the others in "here" and be understand too. Our stories are so amazing and so worth telling. We are so very diverse, but I had no idea how diverse until I actually started getting actively involved in things.
    Thanks for dropping by.
    Hugs, E-G!