Sorry for the hiatus-the Supreme Court decisions and the Texas filibuster occupied all my time. So many feelings!!
I have a special treat that was totally worth waiting for: an interview! Our first one on this blog. Mary Reid B, a friend of mine, recently shared her coming-out story on facebook and it moved me so much. It got me all fired up about transgender-theory and what that means, and I immediately wanted to write about it. I quickly realized that I know jack about trans-theory, so I thought I’d ask an expert! Here is the interview of our delightful conversation. Let’s start talking, folks!!
Interview: Mary Reid B.
Hi, thanks so much for agreeing to be my first-ever interview here! So, you recently came out as genderqueer on facebook. What made you decide to do that?
Hi Laura. Great question! There are several reasons that I decided to share my personal story as a transgendered person on Facebook, the first being that I had recently posted an article on trans issues within feminism and received a very pointed question about FTM people from a friend that I wanted to address. It struck me that there are a LOT of misconceptions about trans folk, and I wanted to show people that gender and gender-bendiness isn’t always obvious or weird, and certainly is very personal. That’s why I chose to share my personal story. I feel it is harder to hold on to stereotypes when someone is opening their heart and sharing their personal story. I also believe deeply in feminist, gender, and sexual advocacy, both in the personal and political spheres, and I want to use my writing for that purpose.
Can you tell me what being genderqueer means to you?
Genderqueer, by definition is an umbrella term for any gender identity that exists out of the gender binary (i.e. male, or female). This can refer to anything from a woman who, perhaps, like you, exhibits what are considered traditionally male attributes, such as drive and determination, but identifies as a female person. (I would argue that we should refrain from gendering such behaviors, but there has been a tendency to associate passivity, meekness, and submission with femaleness, and aggression, dominance, and bravery with maleness. If that is how we are defining gender, then I am most certainly a man!) Some other terms that I like are” genderfluid”—moving between genders, or openly expressing different gendered aspects at different times, and “gender-bendy,” which refers to someone who expresses gender differently—someone who might be male and who enjoys exhibiting feminine traits, or a female bodied person who identifies as male.
Interestingly, many trans and genderqueer people refer to their gender identity as a “third gender” and prefer to use gender-neutral pronouns such as one, ze, sie, hir, co, ey, or “they,”their” and “them.”
What’s the difference between being genderqueer and transgender? Is there a difference?
According to GLAAD, “’Transgender’ is an umbrella term often used to refer to people whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth. However, people whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth may not self-identify as transgender; some may identify as transsexual, trans, genderqueer, a person of transgender experience, etc. Transgender people may or may not use a different name or pronoun than the one they were assigned at birth, and they may or may not pursue hormone therapy or surgery. When in doubt, always defer to the way a person self-identifies.” So, both transgender and genderqueer ar terms that someone might choose who defines their gender in ways that defy the gender binary. I chose “genderqueer” because my current experience of my gender is somewhat fluid and malleable—it changes in response to my life experiences and hormonal fluctuations. For example, if I do end up having to undergo estrogen treatments to be able to conceive my second child (this is the ONLY instance at this point that I would consider taking hormones), I both fear and expect that my gender identity and experience will undergo changes due to an influx of estrogen. I also don’t full identify as a transgender pre-op FTM because at this point, I do not desire gender reassignment. Though the tensions between my internal male-ness and external femaleness cause me a good deal of conflict, I very clearly identify as BOTH. I value both my masculine and feminine qualities, and would not want to sacrifice one of them to be more fully the other.
You are a crusader for women’s rights. Do you feel any conflict between being pro-woman and being pro-trans-rights?
Not at all. In fact, I feel that feminism has an obligation to ally with and champion groups that are marginalized in society. In fact, I was for a long time, a member of a women’s group for gay, bi, and straight women and have not been able to return since I discovered that the group leader refused to allow trans women into the group. That is discrimination, pure and simple. Furthermore, the idea that a person with a penis cannot be a woman, cannot be a feminist, and is somehow fundamentally anti-women and women’s issues is just absurd. I feel that a person with a penis who identifies as female should be allowed in women’s groups. Discrimination on the basis of what’s between our legs is the same as discrimination against someone for the color of their skin, and it is EXACTLY what the women’s movement was about! Women didn’t want to be judged or forced into certain roles based on their vaginas. Having a vagina doesn’t make a person anything other than a person with a vagina. Whatever else they decide to be should be up to them and them alone. In fact, my version of feminism is more like humanism—I believe in advocacy for human rights, male female and third gendered.
How do you feel that the feminist movement has addressed the transgendered community? What have we done right? Where have we failed?
I don’t feel that the feminist movement has addressed the trans community. I think that trans folk within the feminist movement are trying desperately to speak up and have their voices heard, but let me tell you…in a world where lesbians and straight folk have struggled to accept bisexuality as a valid experience, try explaining the complexity of opposition between body and gender identity! More than anything, the majority of folks don’t even understand the concept, much less the experience of being trans or genderqueer. Furthermore, due to the extreme violence, discrimination, and stigmatization of genderbendy folks, most of us are in deep, deep hiding. Some, like myself, were so deeply indoctrinated in societal gender expectations that we didn’t even realize until late in life who we actually are, and why we always felt such deep inner turmoil at being the wrong person, or a person who doesn’t fit. More and more articles are beginning to pop up on the desperately needed union between women’s rights and trans rights, but I think it is going to be a long road. What grieves me on this count is that I believe that trans people are in a powerful place between genders and can act as intermediaries between male and female experience, and can stand outside of prejudice in a way that traditionally or cis-gendered folks cannot do as a result of their inherent privilege of being gender normative. And yet, because we don’t understand trans folk, we marginalize them and pretend as though trans folk don’t exist. The first step is to begin educating ourselves about what transgender actually is, and creating safe spaces for people of all genders, and those who are between genders. Then, slowly and powerfully, we can begin to build relationships and activist movements between groups. There are already a large number of transgendered activist groups—but often, it is trans people acting in isolation. I’d like to see the trans and feminist activist groups begin to merge into one big badass movement.
There is a lot of (sometimes confusing to me) vocabulary involved here: gender, identity, sexuality, attraction, etc. In regards to self-identification, what do you see as the most important piece of the puzzle?
I don’t think any one piece of the puzzle is more important than any other. We are complex human beings with bodies, sex organs, sexualities, minds, souls, and complex experiences of being in the world and being in relationship with others. I think we should be careful to boil gender identity and sexuality down to the issue of what type of genitals a person has. Yes, genitals are a part (and only a part, mind you) of gender identity, sexual identity, and sexual desire, but they are a part of a much larger whole. Furthermore, the existence of intersex people (people born with dual genitals—with characteristics of a penis and a vagina) and asexual people—folks who are not particularly sexual, illustrates that even the proposition of attempting to understand gender or sexuality based on genitalia is inherently flawed. And when I say that the majority of sex is actually in the mind, and that the brain is the largest sex organ, I DO hope you know what I mean! 😉 I’d also like to take a moment here to say that, for those of you who do not know, intersex “correction” (oh god, I shudder at the term) surgeries are still being performed in the United States. They are unlawful in Canada, but happen every day here in the U.S. How horrific! Why can’t we just leave a person’s genitals alone and let them develop as they may? I think having a penis and a vagina, or perhaps a vagina with an extra-large clitoris would be amazing! Besides, how big does a clitoris have to be in order to be considered a penis? How small does a penis have to be in order to be considered a clitoris? Human sex organs are all formed out of the same material. Clits and penises are the same thing; just different sizes, the vulva and scrotum are made of the same material, as are the testicles and ovaries. Makes sense, right? Who cares what ultimate formation they take?
What does total equality look like to you, in any form:
What a loaded question! First of all, I have to be honest and say that I have no idea what total equality looks like. I’m not even sure if it’s entirely possible or entirely desirable. I have no desire to be the same as anyone else, I simply want the freedom to be who I am, whatever that looks like, provided, of course, that I am not doing harm to anyone else in the process. But let me clarify— “doing harm” IS NOT pissing people off because they disagree with me, or challenging assumptions or pushing the limits of what is societally acceptable. These things may be painful—paradigm shifts always are, but just because I am outside your limits and it causes you some discomfort does not mean I am doing anything wrong and ought to stop. Setting aside the terrifying totality of the concept of “total equality, “ I would just say that I would like to see people on the fringes of anything and everything working together and seeing each other as fellow travelers on a similar path. GLBT folk, polyamorists, polygamists, and many others who do not fit into society’s norms are all fighting for similar things. Nothing saddens me more than seeing one of these groups discriminating against another. Talk about not practicing what we preach!
What is the thing you want most for cis-gendered people to know about you?
Actually, what I want them to know has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with them. I would want traditionally gendered boys and girls to know that just because they have penises or vaginas doesn’t mean that is who they are. Sex is great and bodies are good, but who you are and who you want to become are entirely up to you. Take what you want and what empowers you from all genders and create a fabulous smorgasbord of traits that is uniquely you—and in this way you are challenging the gender binary. None of us is “traditionally gendered.” We are all born with the sex organ we are born with, some of us are born intersex, and some of us chose to change our equipment, but we all get to choose who we are and who we become. And that is the important part. Be wary of deterministic gender roles. Don’t ever do something just because it is the lady-like or gentlemanly thing to do. Do it because you like being kind, or because you enjoy wearing lace or frills and not simply because it is feminine or because your mother or society told you to do it.
Try cross dressing, just once. This goes for both men and women and everyone in between. Intentionally take on a different role. Try it on at home, in the mirror, or in a play. What does it feel like? What does the role evoke for you? What are the positives? The negatives? What emotions do you feel? Women…what does it feel like to NOT be the bearer of children? To be the breadwinner? To be responsible for your family’s entire financial well-being? Is it really so great to be a man? Try hitting on a woman while dressed as a man. Not so easy is it? By stepping out of your chosen gender role for a night, you will learn things that never occurred to you about the other side. You will learn things that you like better, and things that fucking suck that you never ever thought of. And when you take off the mantle of the other gender, try and incorporate the things you liked about the other gender into your life, and be compassionate toward other gendered people who may have struggles of which you are completely unaware.
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing (about anything), what would it be?
If I could wave a magic wand, I’d want to make it so that we were all born without gender. I’d love to live in a world where we could choose our sex organs and our gender at will, and move in between them freely and as we pleased. I mean, c’mon, if you could switch genders without consequence and knew you could go right back when you wanted, wouldn’t you want to know what it was like to be a hetero man, or a lesbian woman, or anything at all? And wouldn’t this go a looooong way towards helping us understand each other’s experiences? Talk about cool, ACTUALLY being able to walk a mile in another person’s shoes, all Atticus Finch style. For now, though, reading about other’s experiences, asking them about it, having an open mind, and yes, cross dressing, are the best suggestions I have for simulating this experience.
Mary Reid offered these resources:
- Check out Jennifer Finney Boylan’s work. She is a FAB writer and an inspirational human!
Stuck in the Middle (2013) by Jennifer Finney Boylan (my favorite)
She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders (2003) by Jennifer Finney Boylan
- My Princess Boy
- Olivia and the Pink Princesses
- True Selves, by Mildred Brown (A
- Trans Forming Families, Mary Boenke,
editor (Family members tell their own
stories about transgender loved ones)
- How Sex Changed: A History of
- Transsexuality in the United States, by
Joanne Meyerowitz (Indiana State Univ.
history professor’s introduction to how ideas
about sex and gender have evolved)
- Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
(Green relates his insights into what it
means to change from female to male)
- TransGeneration – Eight-episode
documentary focused on a year in the lives
of four transitioning college students.
- Ma Vie En Rose (My Life in Pink) – the
story a little girl born in a little boy’s body.
- Normal – the story of a husband’s transition
to female after 25 years of marriage (with
Jessica Lange and Tom Wilkinson)
- Transamerica – an MTF (Felicity Huffman)
awaiting sex reassignment surgery learns
she has a wayward teenage son whom she
bails out of jail. Together they take a road
trip across the country.
- Southern Comfort – documentary of the
final year in the life of a 52-year-old FTM in
Georgia dying of ovarian cancer that doctors
refused to treat.
Search “Jazz” and “Trans” and you will come up with a plethora of amazing videos about a little boy that began living as a girl early on and her amazing family. Great stuff! There’s also tons of stuff on YouTube and the internet with various testimonials by trans folk to watch. Just start digging!
So what do you think, team? How can YOU start being more trans-inclusive? Thanks for reading, and tune in next week for my thoughts about the Texas filibuster and my new superhero, Senator Wendy Davis!!