Defined By Genetalia

Last night I attended Cedar Crest College’s GSA, OutThere. At the meeting, we had a discussion about what it means to be a woman which was incredibly interesting. I shared a story last night that helps give some perspective to my earlier posts talking about dating and what it means to be a woman, though the story is just my personal experience.

Some of you know I have been on a few online dating website. Regardless of the social stigma, I do truly believe it is a good way to meet people in the area. I’ve already made some really amazing friends off OkCupid. Over the past week or two, I had been talking to a girl with whom I seemed to have chemistry. We were flirting the past few days over texts when she let slip something that really changed things. She sent a message saying (more or less) how excited she was to go on a date with a guy.

This took me aback, I wasn’t sure how to respond for a while. I am very clear on those sorts of sites that I am trans, just as I am very open in conversation about my gender. I had talked with this girl the night we first met about the fact I was transgender. We bickered playfully over the definition of what it meant to be a woman. I made the argument, just as I did in my previous post, a woman was more than a vagina. I thought I had changed her mind, but her comment above revealed that, in her mind, she was a woman because she had a vagina and I was not because I did not.

In the age of feminists, equal rights, woman’s liberation and empowerment, it’s seems odd to me that so many woman define themselves as such based on their sexual organs. I’ll point out again, the only thing that seperates me from having a vagina is about $20-40k and a few months of recovery. Unless it is your opinion that the ovaries are truly what define “woman,” to which I’d refute there are many women with hysterectomies who are still women after that procedure.

Its also really hard for me, personally, as a transgender woman to be flirting with someone, feeling so much chemistry, only to have the person turn around and say something that so strongly invalidates who I am as a person. I suppose though, things similar to this happens in dating a lot for people with many conditions.

New Site Structure

Some of you may have noticed some pages on my blog over the past few days. I’m in the process of implementing a new structure to make this site more useful and usable. I wanted to highlight a few of these changes and hopefully get some feedback.

The biggest change is adding several new pages you can find along the top bar, “About Me”, “Information”, and “Activism Tools”. For now, some of these sections are somewhat bare bones. I plan to flesh out each of these sections over the next few days, especially the “Activism Tools” section, which will include lists of event ideas for LGBT based groups, and some best practices from my experience as an activist. If I can find a free half hour over the next day or two, I hope I also have time to make an actual blog entry!

Children Through A Transgirl’s Eyes

Last night, I spent some time with a couple that I am friends with and met their young daughter. It was the first time in a long time I’ve had any prolonged interaction with a child. It was a lot of fun, seeing how full of energy the young girl was, jumping around, smiling, playing with her toys, wanting to join in the adults’ conversation. Something about being around such innocence and optimism can be a truly amazing experience, though for me, it was also intensely melancholy. It dawned upon me that this probably isn’t now most adults react, but being transgender complicates what should be relatively simple.

As a note, I’m not going to talk about my childhood or anything like that, but a typical response to a transgender person interacting with a kid. My personal story is for another day.

Seeing a young child can often be a bittersweet experience for a transgender person, especially when that child is born into your chosen gender. Ever since transition, my immediate reaction to seeing a child seeming so happy is envy. On some level, many trans people feel almost jealous of cisgendered people who got to experience childhood in what later became their chosen gender. Things as simple as getting to wear dresses, play with dolls, or even take the role of mommy when playing house, these are the things a typical transgender woman do not have, even if we desperately wished we could. Many transgender people feel as if they were robbed of their childhood, a period that should be blissful and happy. We never had our mothers teach us how to brush our hair or what to wear, or the feeling of being our father’s princess. And its something you can never get back.

Thats not to say we all hate our childhood, or are angry at kids who are lucky enough to be born into bodies that will match their gender identity. Even if we did not have that, many trans people had very happy childhoods, and even if it wasn’t happy, it shaped us into who we are today. While it is alright to reflect on what could have been, its important not to get caught up in regret, which happens with unfortunate frequency for many transgender people.

New Page: Workshops

Some of my readers may have noticed the new pages popping up in the menu just above this post, “About Me“, “Public Speaking“, and “Website Developer“. All of these pages are very much works in progress, but for now they get some basic info out there for anyone looking for a public speaker or for any website work. Feel free to follow the links for more information about getting in touch with me!

Earlier today, I added my newest page “Workshops” under the “Public Speaking” category describing some of the template workshops. If your group is looking for someone to speak on transgender issues, LGBT theory, or oppression at large, make sure to check it out!

What Makes a Woman?

Often “normal” people find it difficult to relate to the issues I face as a transsexual person. My issues are often approached by others as an outside, new, foreign set of concerns. One of the first things I try to do when speaking to a mostly heteronormative crowd is bridge that gap between myself and the audience. I do this by asking a simple question. “What makes a woman a woman?” There is a range of typical answers I get from this question. I’d like to go through some of these answers and show how the issues I face every day are things everyone has to deal with at some point in their life.

  • A woman can have babies while a man can’t – There are numerous women in the world who, for whatever reason, will not give birth. Maybe they had a hysterectomy, or have some hormonal condition, or do not have the body to be able to endure child birth, or maybe these women just dont want to have children. Regardless of why, many women won’t have babies and to suggest a woman’s role is just to pro-create will make many feminists angry.
  • A woman has boobs! – Well, hopefully its stated in a more.. delicate fashion, but this is not entirely true. Breast development is related to hormones. There are men who, due to hormonal imbalances, have breasts. Not to mention, I had breasts after a few months on hormones, several months before I outwardly presented as female.
  • Its all about the genitals – Whether the answer describes how women are defined by their vagina, their ability to have penetrational sex. To this answer I simply point out that, for about $40,000 and a few months of recovery, I would have a vagina as well. Also, there are numerous intersexed people born every year with ambiguous genetalia that blurs the lines between sexes.
  • A woman’s chromosomes are XX and men are XY – Another frequent answer I receive, especially in college settings. However, this is not an absolute definition either. There are many people who are born with chromosome arrangements other than XX and XY. For instance, Klinefelter syndrome is a condition where a person has a chromosome set of XXY, or Triple X syndrome (no its not a porno), a condition where a woman has XXX chromosomes. Also, there are numerous reports of men living their entire lives not knowing they actually had XX chromosomes. So this is not a good definition either.
  • Girls wear women’s clothing – Of course, drag queens, cross dressers, genderqueer people, and hundreds of other people break this rule, so its not a very good criteria.
  • Girls act feminine – Another comment that would rile up some feminists. There are some girls who act incredibly masculine and some who act very feminine. Some girls love to go shopping, chit chat on the phone, try on shoes, etc. Other girls love cars, grease, sports and so forth. Sex does not determine how a person will act.
  • A girl is a girl because she was born a girl – I find this concept somewhat insulting, as it insinuates that a trans person will never actually be the gender they wish to be. I consider myself a woman, absolutely, despite my birth sex. Also, this argument is again refuted by intersexed people. After all, this entire argument is about defining what it is to be a woman, and being born a woman cannot be the definition of being a woman.

When you really take time to think it through, it seems almost impossible to clearly define what a woman is. Besides a person saying they are or are not a woman, its hard to clearly define what a woman is. Even a completely heterosexual woman who has never known a transgender person can struggle with this question. Its a question that faces absolutely everyone, whether they are transgender or not, though it is a question that a transgender woman, someone who wasn’t born female and thus had to make the transition to female, is uniquely positioned to answer. I’d like to share my answer, though I want to preface this by saying not all transgender women agree on this. In fact, I can think of a few trans girls that may strongly disagree.

In my opinion, being a woman has little to nothing to do with any of the characteristics listed above. Being a girl isn’t about clothes, genitals, chromosomes, behavior, reproduction, or sex characteristics. Some will say being a girl is about self identification, if you identify as female, thats all you need to be female. However, I think there is more to it than that, though self identification is a huge component in it. To me, being a girl is also about waking up in the morning and spending a half hour debating what to wear, or waking up and thinking “screw it, I dont care what the world thinks” and dressing in the first thing you grab. Being a girl is walking down the street and meeting eyes with a stranger who looks at you and makes a judgement if you are a man or woman. Being a girl is about feeling emotions deeply, and ignoring that when you need to. A girl has to deal with shared experiences; being stared at by men, the ‘glass ceiling,’ being viewed as a sex object in society, facing assumptions they are less capable than men, facing all of that and fighting it, or try to get by in a world that is just that way.

In short, in my opinion, what makes a woman a woman is a combination of self-identifying as a woman combined with the experience of being a woman, of living as a woman day to day, of experiencing life as a woman, and interacting with others as a woman. Regardless of where we come from as women, we all share the experience of being women, and to me, that defines what it is to be a woman.

Again, this is simply one transgender woman’s perspective. Don’t take it as absolute, but it is absolutely how I feel.

Dating as a Transgirl

Up until the past few months, I’ve had very little experience with dating. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in serious relationships lasting upwards of a year; I just never dated. My previous relationships always started with someone I was already friends with. So the last month has been a crash course on the whole courtship ritual.  Needless to say, it’s been intensely educational, even more so than it would be for most women in my situation. On top of dealing with the trans thing,This is also the first time I’ve ever gone out with men as well.

When I was a kid, I was of course taught about dating. Everyone in our culture receives training on what is expected out of dating through tv, movies, our peers, and of course parents. There are other parts of courtship that may be more instinctive, a man looking for a very physically attractive woman or a girl looking for a stable man to become a good father. We learn these things almost subconsciously growing up. The guy pays for dinner and holds open the door. The girl smiles and laughs a lot at everything the guy says. As we grow older we make our own judgements on what we want out of dating. Some girls get incredibly ticked off if someone tries to open the door for them while some guy could absolutely love when their partner holds open the door for them. Of course, this all works out fine, a person can learn  what they want over the course of years and eventually (hopefully!) find the right person for them.

For a transsexual person, however, things significantly more complicated. Most trans people, including myself, went through childhood and teenage years in hiding, perhaps aware consciously or subconsciously about our sex/gender incongruency, but never speaking about it. We learn everything we are expected to learn, even if it feels wrong. Once we find the strength to come out and finally transition, we have to learn how to do everything that our chosen gender typically learns throughout their life. On top of that, we have to “unlearn” a lot of the things we were taught growing up.

Dating a guy for the first time has been an incredibly interesting experience for this transgender woman. I can see the lessons I learned as a child in his actions. It makes me wonder if gay/lesbian couples of 2 cisgendered people have a similar, familiar sensation to dating.

On a more overt level, there is the concern that I have not gotten gender reassignment surgery, and will not likely be able to for a few years. This presents an immediate challenge when dating, as I identify entirely as female, despite genetalia. When I meet a woman who I consider dating, I not only need to find out if she is interested in women, but isn’t the sort of lesbian who only wants to be with genetic females. When dating a man, I have to make sure they are attracted to women, as I am not interested in dating a gay man despite their occasional interest in me, and I need to be very careful that they don’t find out I am transgender in a dangerous way, as far too many stories like that have terrible endings for trans people.

For me personally, I choose to be as upfront about it as I can. I clearly state on my profiles I am transgender, and I am quick to have that conversation if I meet someone elsewhere. What this means is, before I even meet a guy or a girl face to face, I often have to have an intimate conversation about my genitals, which is an incredibly awkward situation, but at least it is safe!

Reaching Out to Build Up Events – Cedar Crest College

Last Thursday, I visited a local GSA, OutThere at Ceder Crest College, an all girls’ school near Allentown. It was such a great experience; it’s the first time in several months that I’ve been involved in a GSA meeting, and it was my first experience with an all woman queer group. I was really amazed by the passion and energy of this GSA, and they were eager to tap into some of my experience as a queer activist, especially with some of the events I’ve helped put together. There are many tips I have to make your group’s event bigger, more powerful, and more visible. Below are just two such tips, both involving reaching out in order to build up your event.

Reach out to Faculty – Hosting a speaker or panel can be one of the best ways to get some real information out there. The hard part is getting a significant attendance at these sorts of events, since they are not as fun and interactive as other events. The sad truth is, while many college students are interested in queer rights and would like to learn, the idea of going to another lecture after being in classes all day can be very unappealing. There are many techniques a group can use to circumvent this. Some examples include advertising heavily, having interesting and passionate speakers, getting the audience involved by letting them ask questions, providing food (pizza works miracles on a college campus), and keeping the length of the event reasonable (If its more than an hour, I’ve noticed interest quickly diminishes). One key strategy to bolster the attendance and get your group well known on campus is to reach out to the faculty. Find classes that are somehow related to the topic of the speech, even if the connection isn’t incredibly obvious at first. If you can explain to the professor how the event is connected to their class, they can tell their class about the event. For instance, while I was at college, I talked to several woman’s studies classes and got them to attend events focused on transgender issues by explaining how gender identity and gender expression were critical in a woman’s right to express however they wanted to. A professor giving just a few extra credit points to their class to attend you event can significantly improve attendance. Not only that, but it may bring in people who previously were not interested nor informed and help educate them. Of course, some of these people will not care and are only there for the grade, but it still exposes them to the queer community and forces them to at least acknowledge our presence.

Reach Out to Other Groups – I’ve talked before about the commonality of oppression, the concept that, regardless of whether you face hatred in the form of racism, misogyny, homophobia, or transphobia you are facing hatred that stems from the same source. That provides a good enough reason to reach out to other diversity based groups (such as the local chapter of the Black Student Union, NAACP, Woman’s Center, any social work groups, etc). There is another reason that is more practical though. If you host an event with, for example, NAACP, where you talk about Black Queer Women in History, the audience you will get will be significantly larger, as you will at least get part of the typical crowd from your events and NAACP events to attend. The impact will be greater than this one event though; it can have a lasting impact on your campus. In my experience on campus, one of the main causes of homophobia or transphobia was ignorance. Building relationships with groups that may not, at first, seem to be related to queer issues is an incredibly powerful way to fight this ignorance by exposing large groups of people in a very safe and comfortable way to LGBTQIA issues while they are surrounded by their peers. Sustain these relationships by trying to send some of your members to events hosted by these other organizations, and make it clear your group supports theirs. You may be surprised to find more of their members attending your group’s event as well.

Before I finish, I wanted to give a personal thank you to all of the members of Cedar Crest College for making me feel like a welcomed member, not just a guest. I’m really glad I came; it really recharged my activism batteries, so to say. I look forward to working with all of you more soon, and I’ll be there Thursday night this week for sure!

5 Things About Being Trans

Many people have asked me what life is like as a transgender woman, now that I have transitioned. This question, I have realized, is an incredibly loaded one. I would usually answer in a very broad sense, like how amazing it is to actually be comfortable in your own skin, to have the freedom to express myself without constantly having to lie and filter. Often, I would tie in how transitioning has mitigated the overwhelming devastating sense of incongruency between my mind and my body I felt in the past. These are very “big picture” sorts of answers. However, there are many other “small picture” answers about what my day to day life as a transgender woman is like. Here are just 5 things that a transgender person may experience on a day to day basis.

5) Dealing with anyone in any sort of professional capacity is inherently more complicated until you are several years into hormones and have gotten all of your paperwork changed (which is, in many cases, impossible). Be it going to a bar (a bartender once insisted on calling me Sir after they saw my ID), doctors, or even calling your bank on the phone, you will have to either offer up some satisfactory excuse as to why this woman has a boy’s name, or be forced to out yourself and hope that you aren’t dealing with a transphobic person. Sometimes this can be an interesting thing, a great conversation starter. Often it means jumping through extra hoops to constantly prove you truly are who you say you are. Somewhat less common, it can be a very bad thing, where a trans person’s life can be in danger.

4) Binaries seem strange, after a while. Maybe this is more my reaction to transition, but I still find it noteworthy. Physically transitioning challenges the boundaries that are imposed on us by almost our entire society. After crossing a line that is considered by so many to be impossible to change, I’ve started questioning other boundaries society dictates. I think this may be why many transgender people are at least open to the idea of polyamory, many of us want to try new things, and makes many transgender people good with creating unorthodox solutions to problems.

3) Love and sex have several extra layers of complexity. I think the best way to explain this is with a quick story. I was out to dinner with some friends the other night, one of whom considers herself lesbian. We were talking about romance and dating, and this person hadn’t thought much about how she’d feel about dating a trans person. Despite the fact she identifies as lesbian, she thought she would probably rather be with a transman, due to the anatomy, than a transgirl. While she is absolutely 100% justified in that, it highlights an issue trans people face when dating. Even if you find a girl who likes girls, they may not be interested in dating a trans girl. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve had to deal with gay men who simply can’t understand why I am not interested in them. The difference between sex and gender and peoples’ preferences for each makes it even more difficult to find someone.

2) Medicine has numerous effects on a transsexual person’s life. First and foremost, in my case, I am on 2 medications for transition. Even with good insurance, that is at least $20 a month, $240 a year (I wont even bother saying how much it’d be without insurance..). The medications themselves have various side effects. In my case, one of my medications affects my blood pressure, resulting in dizziness and light headedness frequently. Taking estrogen also let me experience some really interesting things most girls don’t deal with in their early 20’s, such as hot flashes. Oh, did I mention many, many transgender people give themselves bi-weekly intra-muscular injections for their hormones? Thats when you (skip to #1 if you’re squeemish) stab a needle 3 inches into your thigh by yourself, which is not at all fun.

1) The number 1 thing that effects my day to day life as a transgender person is the need to be prepared to be outted in a dangerous situation. Despite how well I pass, how comfortable I am, and the fact I am pretty good at talking to people about it, being transgender can put a person at significantly greater risk. Verbal, emotional, physical, and even sexual violence can all result from being outted in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are hundreds of stories out there of a transgender person being outted at a party and being attacked, of trans people being murdered when their boyfriend or girlfriend finds out what is between their legs. Even authority figures whom we are supposed to feel safe with can be incredibly dangerous. I read a terrible story of a transman being arrested by the NYPD and, once they found out he was trans, they treated him incredibly inhumanely, leaving him handcuffed to a wall for 8 hours with no food or water, nor allowing him to use the restroom, all the while casting judgmental looks and uttering transphobic slurs.

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