Julie Peters

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This paper will be on male to female transgendered; that is my area of knowledge.

Julie Peters is a transgendered, who is interested in gender politics and performance and writes in both areas. She was born the eldest boy in a family of nine children. She has a B.Sc.(Melb) majoring in Genetics and works as a Director of Photography, Lighting Director and Television Technical Producer. e-mail: julie@natasha.ironbark.id.au

Transgender Diversity

by Julie Peters: 1995


Introduction

This is an interesting period in the history of the transgendered. We are starting to be visible and have a voice. The diversity in the transgender community is becoming more visible. This is both because the transgendered are changing and the society we live in is changing. I believe a study of this diversity will shed light on the interaction between the individual and a society's binary gender classification.


Dysphoria And Conformity

Not long after infancy, when we start to communicate we soon realise we are considered to be either boys or girls and we are expected to behave in certain ways because of this classification. As a child I felt robbed! This culture allocated me a sex-role because I had a penis. No consideration was given to what my spirit craved. In fear of ostracism, I kept the real me secret. I was only expressing a very small part of my personality. So I spent a lot of time dreaming instead of living.

Most people in our culture have felt a dissatisfaction with the restrictions of gender at some time: ``Why am I paid less because I'm a woman?'', ``Why do I have to pay for the dinner because I'm a man?'', ``Why can't I make love to a woman because I'm a woman?'' Those we see as transgendered are so dissatisfied with the restrictions of gender that they do something drastic about it. So it makes sense that transsexuality is far more prevalent in cultures that have more restrictive binary gender roles. A joint study (Ross et al (1981)) by Flinders University, South Australia and St Jorgen's Hospital, Gothenburg, Sweden showed that Australia, with it's very rigid conception of sex-roles compared to Sweden had 4 times the rate of transsexuality.

Another major factor in choosing what to do about gender dysphoria is how severely the society you live in punishes gender role transgression. Many traditional American Indian tribes that have rigid sex-role differentiation, such as the Mojaves and Crow, supported transgenderism as an acceptable social role. (Living the Spirit (1988)) They often had a special position such as shaman.


Denial

In societies where the penalties for crossing over are severe many transgendered deny they are dissatisfied; this is a very stressful and unhappy solution; their spirits are suppressed; many have suicidal tendencies, suicide attempts (and successes?) and slower forms of suicide such as substance abuse. Many of the transgendered go through a stage like this. Jane Langley (1994a)
I had decided that if I couldn't live the rest of my life as a woman I would end it as a man.

Hyper-denial

Re-enforcing masculine stereotypes Most people don't question the binary gender classification. This is not difficult for many; they become the people others expect them to be. Many, who find their assigned role difficult, try to deny their dysphoria. Many dissatisfied males deny their spirit by continually trying to prove their masculinity, particularly in job choice and in relationships. I know many transgendered who have lived competitive, aggressive, angry, macho lifestyles; they became shearers, engineers, soldiers, mountaineers, yachtsman. I have met some of these, who have a transvestite hobby. I personally know a lot of transgendered who lived like this in their youth, and there is some evidence of this in some of the published transsexual biographies, such as Roberta Cowell's (1954) and Jan Morris' (1974). I sometimes wonder how many ``macho '' men are transgendered ``protesting too much''. Many Australian transgendered today are acknowledging their dissatisfaction at a younger age; they are not trying to prove they are masculine. Although I have met a number of younger transgendered who are homophobic and try to distance themselves from the label ``homosexual''.

Transgression

There is a myth in white Australian culture of rugged individualism, a cynical disrespect for authority, that Gabrielle Carey (1995) suggests can explain both the the ANZAC's disrespect for British leadership and the world's largest gay celebration, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. This tradition of individualism may make it easier for Australians than others to assert their individuality in gender. Gays and lesbians transgress the rules about who one should love; transgendered transgress a far broader range of rules for gender appropriate behaviour. Some fear the consequences of their transgression and do it secretly or part time. Ed Wood (1995), like very many Australians, would dress as a woman in times of high stress and wear feminine underwear. In 1971 Jandy transgressed; she started to dress femininely at the age of 12 and at the age of 14 she ran away to Sydney to avoid a medical attempt at prevention of her transgender behaviour. She lived on the streets, dressed as female and worked as a prostitute to survive. Most of those we know as transgendered transgress by dressing and living as women and this has consequences.

Discrimination and vilification

One of the consequences of transgression of social norms is the daily vilification and pervasive discrimination many transgendered face. Nearly all have a period in their lives when people point at them in the street and laugh. Because of the ravages of testosterone poisoning very few transgendered, except the very young, can pass as women when they first change over. Most take many years of hormone treatment, surgical intervention and cultural training before they can walk down the street in daylight without being vilified.

Roberta Perkins'(1994) work shows there is extensive discrimination against the transgendered. Their risky lifestyle, low self esteem and the ostracism they receive often leads to a desperately lonely existence and often drug addiction, crime, incarceration and suicide. She found the educational level of the transgendered is significantly higher than the general population, but they have a much lower employment rate. About half of the transgendered in most job categories lost them when they announced their transgendered status. Of course the number of show girls and sex workers increased. Of the 157 surveyed 49 had been raped and 18 pack raped. Many transgendered have such low self-esteem that they enter into relationships where they are abused. Roberta asked how many felt they had been discriminated against and by whom; 59 reported discrimination from gay men, 52 from straight men, 50 from police, 58 from their families, 43 from lawyers, 32 from other trannys, 24 from doctors, 20 from lesbians.

Jane Langley (1994a)

Shortly after my change, and still eminently springable, I stood outside a restaurant on Chapel Street waiting for my dinner companion. In the five minutes I waited, I was berated for soliciting by one man, and another wanted to know how much.

If a transgendered is lucky enough to have a job there is often a very low glass ceiling preventing promotion. Jane Langley (1993)

In 1990 I started to work for a large insurance company and made many changes to their accounting procedures in my department, twice being awarded ``employee of the month''. And when I applied for a job with prospects for advancement, a computer operator, my marks on the aptitude test were the highest ever recorded and I did not get the job.


Stress in the queer community

Personally I have found very many gay men are very supportive of the transgendered. But Roberta Perkins' (1994) survey showed that the group that most harassed the transgendered was gay men. Many transgendered socialise in gay venues and many club-going gays are highly critical of those ``tragic dogs'' who aren't stereotypically attractive. There are other gay men who distance themselves from the general public's sissy image of them and see the transgendered as reactionary. Some make that very heterosexist assumption: ``the only reason you'd want your dick cut off is to have sex with men''. Some are jealous that transgendered can pick up straight men and be seen as ``normal''. Some are just simply misogynist and see trannys as women.

Many transgendered live and socialise around the lesbian community. Sexual preference, sexual identity and gender role are independent. Frank Lewins (1995) found that sexual preference is usually unaltered when transgendered start to live as women and found close to half are attracted to women. Most transgendered who live in the lesbian community and pass as women choose to be invisible. They are out about their transsexual status only to their close friends. These lesbians and transgendered are very supportive of each other. The transgendered who don't pass as women and are attracted to women also want to be included in lesbian activities. But they are visible and many lesbians, at a deep emotional level see transgendered as the other side of the binary, men and want them excluded.

Some lesbians refer to us as men to create a class of men they are more powerful than, who they can exclude and so feel they've had a win over patriarchy. It's a pretty shallow victory; very few of the transgendered enjoy any form of male privilege, and are fellow victims of patriarchy. The visible transgendered were expelled from the 1994 Brisbane Lesbian Confest. Kat Costigan (1994)

In some of the most aggressive and violent scenes witnessed at a lesbian confest, speakers from both sides were booed, heckled and abused.

Janice Raymond (1979), was one of the first radical lesbian feminists to articulate our unsoundness;

All transsexuals rape women's bodies by reducing the real female form to an artefact, appropriating this body for themselves. However, the transsexually constructed lesbian feminist violates women's sexuality and spirit as well.

Lesbian Transsexual, Kate Bornstein (1994) believes this viewpoint has its basis in the notion of essentialism, that there is some ``essence'' of womanhood, possessed only by those born women;

the notion that someone is born a woman is ridiculous. I like everyone else, was born a baby, any notion of gender came later.

Other lesbians believe transgendered have ``male energy'' because of their upbringing. The transgendered do not have a ``male'' or ``female'' upbringing, they have a ''transgendered'' upbringing; it was an upbringing that was so contrary to the spirit of the child that it severely inhibited normal growth and socialisation. Jane Langley (1994b)

If you deny that you have ``male energy'' you are automatically assumed to be attempting to subvert lesbian interests, and thus must have a severe case of male energy. Male energy is a furphy, it exists only as an idea that is used to oppress and exclude. I do not possess male energy, because male energy does not exist.


Conformity

How a transgendered looks makes a huge difference in how well they are tolerated/accepted in the straight, gay and lesbian communities. Transsexuals who look like women suffer a lot less vilification and discrimination from almost every group they mix with. There is a huge pressure to pass; not passing means you are a monster and suffer ridicule and violence. Passing means you can go to the corner shop and buy a litre of milk without being harassed. It gives you the space to get on with the rest of your life.

Invisibility

For some ``becoming invisible'' can become an obsession; they get rid of old friends, who have been supportive, who might blow their cover; they destroy all evidence of their past. The quest for invisibility can become the secret that drives you crazy. Some won't acknowledge their transgendered status, even to themselves. This invisibility denies the transgendered a voice. Kate Bornstein (1994)

Most passing is undertaken in response to the cultural imperative to be one gender or the other. In this case, passing becomes the outward manifestation of shame and capitulation. Passing becomes invisibility.


Re-enforcing feminine stereotypes

Most transsexuals, like most young girls growing up in this culture, do go through a stage when they embrace the male defined feminine stereotype. Most women grow out of this by their teens. Most transgendered behave this way in the first few years after they start to live as women. They believe the propaganda of the cultural beauty myth; ``I'll be happy if I could be a beautiful woman''. They invest a huge amount of time, energy and money in make-up, clothing, hair, hormones and cosmetic surgery. They dream of being an ordinary woman; some miss the point and become caricatures. So Sheila Jeffreys (1990) argues;
It is difficult to see how the gender fetishism of transvestites/ transsexuals could do anything but reinforce the construction of the whole of male-supremacist culture around the concept of gender difference.

Some of our male partners put us under huge pressure to pass, to be invisible, to be normal and to have the operation; so they will be seen as heterosexual. Interestingly more and more transgendered, wanting an equal relationship, have women or other transgendered as long term partners and have completely given up on the possibility of having an equal relationship a man.

The medicalisation of transgender

Transgender identity has only been considered a medical condition this century. I must admit, when I think about it, I am amazed that dissatisfaction with a social role can be considered a medical condition, albeit a ``mental disorder''. Even for those who do not consider themselves ill, medical intervention is the key to passing. Medical progress in hormone therapy and cosmetic surgery have advanced to such an extent that the transgendered can alter their bodies, to look very female with a reasonable degree of safety.

Many transgendered believe they are ill and need to be made well, hormonaly and surgically. Many want transsexualism to be a disease. They feel that if it is ''a disease'' with a clear genetic cause then the general public will be more sympathetic and they will more easily achieve better legal status.

Harry Benjamin (1966) proposed that there existed ``true transsexuals'', whose minds were at odds with their biology; he help shift the emphasis of the medical profession from the prevention of crossgendered behaviour to that of helping the patient with the acceptance and management of gender role transition; if someone was a ``true transsexual'' hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery was indicated. But things are changing; Walter Bocking and Eli Coleman (1992) believe this approach can lead to tragic results in personal adjustment. They initially look for and treat other problems such as manic-depressive, obsessive-compulsive behaviour and social inadequacy. Then they facilitate the healthy formation of identity and if still necessary the management of their sexual identity; they encourage diverse and creative solutions and so do not lead the clients to hormones and surgery as a matter of course. Post-operatively they address sexual dysfunction and help consolidate the positive aspects of the change.

Janice Raymond (1979) argues the medical profession are more interested in the financial benefits of increasing medicalisation of gender than in helping the individual or society to grow, and because the medical profession get transsexuals to ``prove'' they are true transsexuals by passing as feminine women, she believes the medical profession helps reinforce sex-role stereotypes.

THE operation!

For many the operation is about passing; passing when naked or passing in bed with a lover; some dream they will never be vilified again after the operation, because they will then be normal women. Not all transsexuals are as radically at odds with their biology as many perceive they are; many who are happy ``living as women with penises'' succumb to social pressure; some don't see the operation as necessary but may still choose to have the operation so it will stop obsessing them and they can get on with having a life. For the majority of transsexuals the operation is about asserting their identity as a woman.

Transcending Gender

Janice Raymond (1979)

Behind the quest for the body and the sex role and the identity of the opposite sex is the quest for deeper selfhood. ... the quest for transcendence

Janice does goes on to say that transsexual medical intervention violates bodily, personal and social integrity and so makes such transcendence impossible.

If you get to a stage where passing as a woman isn't an issue, you can get an ordinary job or go back to school. But then new things become important, you start to emotionally realise the place of women in this culture. There is now a huge social pressure to get you to conform to feminine stereotypic behaviour. When this starts to happen you gradually get a really deep seated awareness of both the arbitrariness and constructedness of gender. Transsexuality is not an end in itself but a step on the journey towards wholeness, a drastic step to break our gender programming.

Tranny Power!

- building self esteem} The first step in gaining personal power is high self-esteem. Jane Langley (1994b)

As a male, I was shy and awkward around most people; what I have is the empowerment that comes with liberating myself ...... Living as a woman is the closest way I have of living the way I want. The real me is best expressed in our culture by living as a woman.

And as self esteem grows so does assertiveness; Jane Langley (1994a)

It is no longer OK for the rest of society to hold us up for ridicule, and exploit, beat, rape and sack us, it is also no longer OK for us just to be hapless victims. We need to remember that in spite of the difficulties of our situation, we still enjoy some rights, we still possess the same talents and abilities as we did before, and we are entitled to our fair go in life. I believe that the way we must put our psychological affairs in order, to effect a successful change, makes being transsexual a kind of blessing. Accordingly, some of my tranny friends are among the most together, psychologically and emotionally healthy people I have ever met! .... Let us insist on the rights and respect due to the worthy, lovable, smart, fun and precious people that we are. We must make sure that we do have a choice!


Politicalisation

High self-esteem is essential to be able to ask for rights, human rights. It is not possible to have any influence if you are invisible. So it is essential for transgendered to be visible.

The transgendered are starting to demand legal rights in areas such as anti- discrimination, anti-vilification, birth re-certification, the removal of gender restrictions to marriage for transsexuals and for the non-operative transgendered flexible sex-identification or the abolition of sex certification. Roberta Perkins (1994) says such legal intervention is essential in a healthy society. Justice Michael Kirby and Prof Henry Finlay (1988) urge legal changes to make the law relevant and humane in a society that allows the medical profession to carry out gender reassignment surgery. In 1994 a US group called Transgender Nation disrupted a American Psychiatric Association meeting to protest at the inclusion of Gender Identity Disorder in their diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders and demand its removal much the same way homosexuality was removed in the mid 70's.

Breaking down gender and stereotypes

Every time a ``oman born woman'' is kindly or a man assertive; they reinforce sex-role stereotypes. But I see these as positive characteristics and don't want them to stop. If we were to act in a truly ungendered way half the things we did would reinforce a binary gender stereotype. One has to act how one believes is the correct way and live with the possible side effect of reinforcing a stereotype.

The existence of the transgendered proves that masculinity and femininity are not essential characteristics of males and females. The transgendered who don't pass disturb the stereotypes. The transgendered who passes and behaves in a non- stereotypical way helps break down stereotypes. The transgendered who pass and are ``out'' break down stereotypes.

A role?

Many traditional cultures have had shamanistic roles for the transgendered. Kate Bornstein (1994) suggests that our journeys give us an unusual perspective on life. And that we must fight to claim a role in this culture; a role that promotes inclusion, is consensual, and empowers the individual. The shamans were the healers, the mystics, the channellers of the truth of their time; they were the tricksters, the jokers, the jesters, whores, poets and priestesses. She suggests that because people laugh at us anyway, why not take on a court jester role. In court the jester was the only person who could be honest with king, queen and peasant. She suggests we do so using the media of queer theatres in alliance with the lesbians, gays and others.

A Personal Statement

I have grown substantially since dealing with my gender dysphoria. I still live in a binary gendered culture. And by being seen as a woman, albeit transgendered tom- boy, the assumptions people make about me based on gender are closer to the real me than ever before. I see gender as an arbitrary social construct, and by saying I am culturally a woman, I am able at a deep psychological level to ignore a lot of my cultural programming related to being a male. I can express who I am. I no longer spend most of my life dreaming. I won't be ``cured'' because I have found a part of myself that was stolen from me as a child and I'm not about to give it up. I have altered my body to free my spirit. My politics said it was OK to alter my body, but it wasn't OK to strengthen the patriarchy by reinforcing gender. This is why I believe it is important to be ``out'' about my transgender status.

Conclusion


Diversity

The main factors effecting the diversity and total numbers of the transgendered are; how strongly a society believes in and enforces a binary gender classification; how strongly the individual transgendered feels restricted by and is restricted by this gender classification both before and after any gender role transgression; the consequences of gender role transgression and the strength of character of the individual in demanding self expression.

Personal Growth

For the individual, transgenderism is not an end in itself; it is a journey towards wholeness, via gender transcendence. The transgendered can start to take advantage of their abilities to take the best parts of being male and female in our culture and be truly themselves. Those who do grow through these limitations have to transcend gender and grow into wonderful whole people who can offer a unique perspective on the operation of sexism in our culture. The transgendered seem to have reached and are crossing a threshold, the threshold of seeing transcendence rather than conformity to gender as the goal.

Social Growth

This century has seen the most serious questioning of the validity of the gender class system. Transsexuality stems from an individual's extreme dissatisfaction with the gender they were assigned. We are seeing an unprecedented increase in discourse on transsexuality and in all transgender behaviour and in the assertiveness of the transgendered. Even the transgendered who are still trying to fulfil gender stereotypes definitively show us that gender is arbitrary and constructed. Marine Rothblatt (1995) believes gender is graduated not binary, there are five billion genders in the world and believes we have the right to define our own individual gender (genderless?) identity. If gender is transcended then it makes no sense to claim you are gay, lesbian, straight or bi. These categories no longer exist. The transgendered, by living integrated lives which are less restricted by gender than most people can help others find their own individual gender. This will help break down the restrictions of gender classification and it's consequences, sexism and patriarchy and so encourage growth toward social wholeness.

Bibliography

Harry Benjamin (1966) THE TRANSSEXUAL PHENOMENON. The Julian Press

Walter Bocking and Eli Coleman (1992), GENDER DYSPHORIA, A comprehensive approach to the Treatment of Gender Dysphoria, Haworth Press

Kate Bornstein (1994), GENDER OUTLAW, Routledge.

Gabrielle Carey (1995) THE SUM OF US: Good Weekend, March 25, 1995

Kat Costigan (1994) LESBIANS ON THE LOOSE (NSW): August 94:

Roberta Cowell (1954), ROBERTA COWELL'S STORY, William Heineman.

Henry Finlay and William Walters (1988). SEX CHANGE - Medical and Legal Aspects of Sex Reassignment. (with forward by Justice Michael Kirby) Finlay and Walters.

Sheila Jeffreys (1990), ANTICLIMAX - a feminist perspective on the sexual revolution, The Women's Press

Jane Langley (1993) Submission to REVIEW OF THE EQUAL OPPORTUNITY ACT 1984, Parliament of Victoria

Jane Langley (1994a), TRANNY POWER: Melbourne Star Observer, February 1994.

Jane Langley (1994b) and Julie Peters, THE TRANSGENDERED IN THE QUEER COMMUNITY, Melb Inter-University Gay and Lesbian Studies Seminar Series.

Jan Morris (1974), CONUNDRUM, Penguin

Roberta Perkins et al (1994) TRANSGENDER LIFESTYLES AND HIV/AIDS RISK, School of Sociology. University of New South Wales.

Janice G. Raymond (1979), THE TRANSSEXUAL EMPIRE, The Women's Press.

Marine Rothblatt (1995), THE APARTHEID OF SEX, Crown.

Ed. W. Roscoe, LIVING THE SPIRIT, A Gay American Indian Anthology 1988: St Martins' Press

Ross, M.W.; Wallinder, J.; Lundstroms, B. and Thuwe, I: CROSS-CUL\-TURAL APPROA\-CHES TO TRANS\-SEX\-UAL\-ISM: A comparison between Sweden and Australia. (Acta psychiat. scand. (1981) 63, 75-82)

ED WOOD (1994), biographical screenplay by Scott Alexander, Touchstone Pictures. \end{document}




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© Copyright Julie Peters 1995
Contact julie@natasha.ironbark.id.au