Tina and I went out to dinner tonight, a sort of pre-New Year’s Eve because we will not venture forth into the world of drunken drivers tomorrow night. I mentioned that it was on this night 41 years ago that I decided to come out.
I was depressed, I had been raped in jail, assaulted in the streets and arrested for causing gender confusion on the part of some pigs who rousted me outside of Maud’s in the Haight.
I was part of a cadre, a 1960s version of a black bloc. I belonged and was afraid they wouldn’t accept me. The internal contradictions came to a head and it was either commit suicide or tell them. The Golden Gate was across the Bay and singing the siren’s song.
I was stoned on something and freaked out. My best friend, Morey, a beautiful boy my age talked me down. I wanted to tell him how much I was in love with him. Instead I told him there was something about me that I was afraid to tell anyone because I was afraid they would no longer be my friends if I told them.
He assumed I was gay and I was okay with that because I wasn’t sure of how to phrase things.
I don’t dress up the telling my friends what I was in euphemistic psychobabble about transition and all that. My roots are red/black and purple. I didn’t marry a woman, my first sexual experiences were with men. It was only after becoming part of the cadre that I tried having sex with women.
If changing sex had been impossible I would have been a queen. Prior to November of 1967 and reading the Hopkins Announcement I had assumed I would be a queen.
Transition? I changed the way I wore my hair. Wore women’s hippie clothes instead of guy’s. Took hormones.
I came out. I told people. I changed sex.
I had a vocabulary that I used that is now dismissed as being derogatory towards transgenders. It was the language of transsexuals and queens, the words we used before people who pretty much enjoyed heterosexual male privilege for xyz number of years started telling us how we had to describe our lives.
I’m still pissed with having some PC folks start telling me about 15 years ago that I shouldn’t even metaphorically describe being transsexual in terms of feeling like I was a woman trapped in a male body. WTF… My life, my right to describe my internal feelings in my own words without some supercilious overly privileged IFGE type telling me that using my words to describe my life experiences is oppressive.
As far as I am concerned I like the word “trannie” or “transie”. We grew these words ourselves in the sexual outlaw bars of the Tenderloin and Hollywood Blvd. Trannie is more deserving of the mantle of umbrella term than is transgender. Like Trans* it dooesn’t have an ending that favors one group over another.
And screw transition. My life has been one long series of coming outs. Coming out atheist, coming out red, coming out gay, coming out transsexual, coming out lesbian, coming out anarchist.
The over intellectualization that accompanies so much of transgender seems like a pasteurization process aimed at making it safe for the heterosexual cross dressers who have come out as transgender, a way of dequeering translives.
One of the more bizarre acts of the powerless that has become a substitute for direct action and demanding equality even for those who are different has been the use of euphemisms and word games.
Yesterday there was omne of those columns over at Pam’s House Blend that just left me saying WTF.
Way too much of the fighting between people with transsexualism and people with transgenderism has been about those with a political agenda hegemonically colonizing and erasing the lives lived by people who had sex change operations and do not hesitate to call them sex change or sex reassignment operations.
Many of us are as guilty of the use of euphemisms as those Transgender activists with the whole bit about it not being a sex change operation but sex confirmation surgery and it not being transsexualism but rather HBS. For that matter there is a particularly bigoted set that identifies as “Classic Transsexual” coded language of the same nature as the use of “family” by the bigoted Christo-fascist right wingers.
As for me I had a sex change operation as did my friends Diane, Laurie, (all five or so Lauries among my friends), Leslie, Kim, Jan etc. Screw Glaad. We used transsexual and sex change as well as trannie or transy 40 years before this language was declared Verboten by a bunch of politically motivated people in academe and transgender activists who wish to erase the differences between transsexual and transgender lives.
There are differences. rather than my getting pissed off and screaming about those differences I am going to make the point that we know, those of you who haven’t had a sex change operation do not know. We get angry when pre-ops and non-ops tell us there isn’t because no one knows what is between our legs. Or the one about how it is only important to my sex partners.
This is a particularly Barbie or Disney type genital erasing point of view that assumes one does not pee several times a day or wash. Yeah it matters and yes it is different. One of the big aha moments is the first time you pee after decatheterization and dekinking of your urethra.
I have my own style sheet. I do not use transgender as a substitute for transsexual or transsexualism when some has had surgery or is surgery tracked. I do not use transgender as an umbrella term when using it in that manner erases the differences between people who have had their lives defined by other transprefixed words like transvestite or transsexual.
I see Transgender as Umbrella as a fiction. a political identity created by lazy people who wish to use those of us who had surgery to further the politics of those who have not.
Anti-colonial wars get fought over such matters.
By the way… To further discourse I agreed to stop calling names. I did not agree to surrender my principles. It does take two to make a fight and the systematic hegemonic erasure of the differences between transsexual and transgender is an act of unilateral aggression. It is not in the spirit of, “In spite of our having major differences let us work together for things that would benefit our different groups of constituents.”
Mostly though… Autumn, nice words and polite fictions are a piss poor substitute for an equality that recognizes differences and does not use those differences to deny rights every human should have no matter what their color or sex. The right to dress and present as one wishes is pretty implicit and shouldn’t require us to all be transgender or gender variants when gender itself is a fiction that oppresses women.
I’m looking forward to January, a time of fresh starts. Mostly though I am looking forward to the end of the holiday season with its semi-mandatory manufactured cheer.
The whole war on Christmas pile of right wing bullshit has made life harder for apathetic atheists to not become grumpy atheists.
I’m currently enjoying three books: Alan Berube’s, Coming Out Under Fire – The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two. Pam Tent’s, Midnight at the Palace, My Life as a Fabulous Cockette. Susan Jacoby’s, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.
They all present hidden history one does not find in standard high school or even grind History 101,102 classes.
Can’t have history that contradicts the the commercially pushed programming.
This last month several stories have intrigued me that I didn’t have time to blog about. There is a story of a four year old boy in Mesquite, who is being punished by the school for having sort of longish hair. This cute little moppet contradicts the conformist ideal simply by having slightly long hair. There are all these writers in the letters section expounding on and on about how rules are rules and if you let a four year old have long hair you are teaching him he doesn’t have to conform.
This brings me to Pam Tent’s book. I lived in Berkeley during that period after the decline of the Haight Ashbury. It was a wonderful era of non-conformity, when people were able to be free spirits, before the corporations were able to copy right and patent that rebellion to sell back to us in manufactured form something that was neither as much fun nor anywhere near as radical.
Some of us were political radicals and some of us were cultural radicals and many of us were both. The most threatening thing about us wasn’t our demonstrating in the streets even though that was the most obvious.
The most threatening thing about the counter culture was that we heeped scorn upon the plastic fantastic packaged consumerist lives. The Fugs, beat poets from the Lower East Side, the Alphabets of the East Village sang paeans to “Slum Goddess”.
We demanded free love because in the words of Emma Goldman. “How can love be anything but free?” We knew that father didn’t know best.
Transsexualism was was very DIY in those days. Queer/hip script writing doctors would give us a poke for a few dollars and a script to go up town or down for a lecherous feel.
I remember the Cockettes. I met Hibiscus at the Pentagon before his wings sprouted. He is the one in the famous photograph putting flowers in the barrel of the rifle. One sister I met at Stanford where she was getting SRS. Sylvester opened for Bowie at Winterland. Pristine Condition and the Tubes opened for the New York Dolls when they played North Beach.
A few months later I was living on Sunset and making it with lead singers, lead guitars and movie stars, although usually of the B-list. I made a point of going to bed with David Johansen. And others too…
You could live on air and the kindness of strangers in those days.
But then the economics got harder and the rents soured. Everything cost more and they convinced us all our lives would not be complete unless we had all this stuff. We worked more hours and tried to recapture the sense of freedom we once had when we were penniless but had lots of time to let our imaginations fly. The contradiction is that things do not really replace living. Pre-shrunk, pre-fab, pre-digested and packaged with a designer name and label for our consumption products do not make up for the emptiness of our lives.
Perhaps it is because I am of an age. I miss the freedom to be and not to buy.
I too caved in to becoming a wage slave and yes I like my possessions even though they possess me as much as I possess them.
Yesterday I was reading the New York Times and was reminded of what is missing. John Lennon was murdered shortly before Reagan took office and the decline of America to the place we are today accelerated. Reagan hated freedom and non-conformity. In 1969 he proclaimed (regarding People’s Park): “If it takes a blood bath, let’s get on with it.” A year before Kent State the police fired upon us, killing one and wounding many.
And so it goes. Now the battle lines include pre-school boys with hair too long, but shorter than John Lennon’s when he and Yoko first presented this ad 40 years ago.
It really makes me angry that they are trying to paint this woman as mentally disturbed for committing an act of the utmost sanity in lashing out against one of the world’s most misogynistic and oppressive institutions.
For some 1600 years the Catholic Church has spread its oppressive fiction based superstition, waged genocidal wars against all those who did and do not cave into its vile and exploitative abuses.
It has perpetuated the lie that women are evil and that their role is secondary to that of men.
It is the foundation of all Fundamentalist Christo-Fascism.
Free Susanna Maiolo
The opening sentence of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
I am half Polish American on my father’s side of the family, the drunken asshole side that dominated so much of my teenage life.
Most holidays put the dysfunctional aspects of Catholicism mixed with homophobia, misogyny and alcoholism on display. Beaten down by hard lives and hard drinking as well as the sexism of the 1950s the men would gather in the living room to watch sports, the women in the kitchen.
Unwelcome anywhere I was often given the task of minding the kids ranging in age from a year or two to ten or twelve.
As I grew older and more obvious I was the teen aged queen no one knew what to make of, subject to comment from both aunts and uncles.
My dysfunctional family wasn’t as mean as some and while my feelings were often hurt by the mean comments I was not thrown out while I was still too young to take care of myself.
Aside from my obvious girlishness I was an earnest kid, who tried hard and didn’t give up.
Part of why I was trusted with watching the children had become apparent that summer. My uncle John, a New York State Trooper and My uncle Mike, a college basketball player and several other family members were on a beach when my younger brother started to drown. I jumped up before either of my uncles could react and rescued him.
That year for Christmas my mother made me a sweater. She gave me a pattern book of virtually identical boy and girl sweaters and told me I could pick one I liked. She vetoed a couple, telling me they were too obvious and that considering the skin tight jeans I favored my wearing those would have been like my wearing a skirt to school.
Instead she made me a beautiful ski sweater. Years later I showed it to my boyfriend, Jerry and he said, “Everyone must have known that was a girl’s sweater. How did you get er to make you that?”
It was a reward for saving my brother’s life as well as reward for working so hard and taking the scholarship exams.
In spite of all the meanness no one in my dysfunctional family said anything cruel about my new sweater.
It was also how some dysfunctional families treated their teenage transkids.
When I told a woman (also New Yorker now living in Texas) at work we were thinking of going to a movie on Christmas she said, “All you need to do now to be Jewish is go for Chinese food instead of cooking.”
Sounds like a great suggestion.
In lieu of the usual Friday Night Fun and Culture here’s a little multi cultural tidbit
Editors’ Note: Guest blogger Rachel Dunn is an out and proud trans-lesbian filmmaker living in Los Angeles. Although very supportive of community events, her primary activism comes in the form of fostering and contributing to queer and minority film projects as a cinematographer, producer, writer and consultant. Some of her work can be seen at www.racheldunn.com
The entire queer community has gender issues – not just the transfolk. Gay and lesbian people have a big gender issue – otherwise the gender of the people they love would not be an issue.
Being punished for failing to adhere to heteronormative gender roles is part and parcel of a common problem we all share. When a male child is harangued, harassed, and humiliated for showing emotion, gentleness, crying or displaying other “feminine traits”; that is transmisogyny – whether or not they identify as trans – or even gay.
Continue reading at: Solidarity: “Transmisogyny” & “Faggots”
Tis the darkest day of the year, but one I dearly look forward to since working retail.
As an atheist the Solstice means we are in the final stretch of the real reason for the season. Already they are blowing out the cheap crap from China festooned with boring Christmas cheer that some how loses so much meaning when mass produced by child and slave labor.
I actually tried to be a Wiccan but for someone who finds the concepts regarding monotheism to have to many magic invisible all powerful patriarchal dictators the idea of of many invisible magic beings was a bit much.
For me the magic is in the science and in nature. The solstice less a festival than the marking of the wonders of nature with this the darkest day giving way to a lengthening of the days.
In a few days I will have completed my ninth year of sobriety.
The solstice marks the point when Tina and I started our relationship, a long distance one at first with her helping me to make the final steps towards becoming an alcoholic who no longer drinks.
Perhaps we will soon see the passage of some sort of health care bill, probably offering little to the people and yet more profits for the already obscenely rich fat cat of the corporate over lords.
But for today it is off at dawn for another overly long day in the windowless space of the sales floor.
Argentina´s Congress annual prize to the ‘Distinguished Woman of 2009’ unleashed a wave of controversy this year as the recipient of this national award was a transsexual, who recently prevailed in a 10-year-long court battle to receive a new identity document recognizing her as a woman.
Marcela Romero is 45 years old, and had gender reassignment surgery years ago. She is one among hundreds of cases in Argentina striving to have their new gender identity legally recognized, according to the queer.org organization in Argentina.
A decade in waiting
“I am what I am. The right of one person is the right of all,” said Marcela Romero during an event last Tuesday in the Argentine Congress. Her award suggests that “no other person would have to wait 10 years or more in order to receive a national identity document with their name and gender identity”.
Ms. Romero is a known activist, fighting for the abolition of various civil codes across many provinces of Argentina, where being a transvestite is considered a criminal activity. Romero, who is vice president of Argentina’s Association of Transvestites, Transsexuals and Transgender People, was chosen from among a dozen nominees for the award, including women active in combating poverty, drugs and environmental degradation. After the announcement, news services reported that some in the audience walked out.
“I don’t know democracy … I would have liked, for example, to go on studying, but I was rejected by the educational system when I assumed the identity of a woman”, she told Todo Noticias, a local news channel.
A decade in waiting
It wasn’t until August 2009 that Romero could finally stop responding to her male name every time she would visit a public office. Her new identity card shows her with long blond hair and red lips.
She told the BBC that the approval of a new law would open doors to start working together with the government to decrease the violence in her country. “We know that women are victims of a very patriarchal violence, and transsexuals are included in this group”.
Reposted with permission:
by Tommi Avicolli-Mecca, 2009-12-14
You’d think that if anyone could get along, it would be a bunch of shrinks. Apparently not. At least not when you’re dealing with the American Psychiatric Association and its revision of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, the bible of its profession.
The tome, which is used by psychiatrists worldwide, contains a listing of all the conditions or behaviors that the shrinks feel are problematic for humans, as well as ways to treat them. The effort to update the book, designated DSM-V, is being described as a “civil war.” It is contentious, to say the least. And well it should be. A lot is at stake.
One of the leading critics of the revision process, Allen Frances, a former editor of the DSM, published his critique in Psychiatric Times. He believes that the shrinks should tread lightly in making changes in conditions and illnesses.
Frances writes that “a seemingly small change can sometimes result in a different definition of caseness that may have a dramatic and totally unexpected impact on the reported rates of a disorder. Thus are false “epidemics” created. For example, although many other factors were certainly involved, the sudden increase in the diagnosis of autistic, attention-deficit/hyperactivity, and bipolar disorders may in part reflect changes made in the DSM-IV definitions.”
Then, too, there is the “skillful pressure likely to be applied by the pharmaceutical industry,” Frances says, “after these new definitions are published. “To promote sales, the companies may sponsor “education” campaigns focusing on the diagnostic changes that most enhance the rate of diagnosis for those disorders that will lead to the increased writing of prescriptions.”
In a country where 20 million grade school kids and 50 million adults are already hooked on all sorts of heavy duty, and often dangerous and toxic psychiatric drugs to control their behavior or moods, it’s insanity to encourage the creation of more conditions that can be diagnosed and medicated — at a huge profit.
Forget the war on recreational drugs. Let’s declare war on psychiatric drugs. The new pusher on the block is not the guy lurking around the school yard. He’s the school shrink.
There’s another problem with the DSM: its propensity to declare our every proclivity a mental illness. What is a mental disorder and what is human behavior that merely deviates from the norm?
A person who talks to the dead for money is a spiritualist, but a homeless man who communicates with the un-alive is mentally ill.
It wasn’t that long ago that lobotomies were commonplace, women who wouldn’t obey their husbands were “schizophrenic,” and gay men were administered electric shocks to their genitals to “cure” them. Transgenders, according to the DSM, still suffer from “gender identity disorder.”
I’m not denying that there are people who need some sort of treatment. But that treatment should be well conceived and humane and should not merely involve pushing pills on vulnerable kids and adults.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca is co-editor of Avanti Popolo: Italians Sailing Beyond Columbus, and editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation, which has been nominated for an American Library Association award. His website is www.avicollimecca.com.
Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation is one of those books that fills in the missing blanks in the history of the movement and helps explain why various groups sometimes talk past each other rather than to each other.
Some myths have a core of truth.
One of those myths about life around the late 1960s and early 1970s that has a core of truth to it is that it was important to pass.
We were after all still illegal in many places and failure to pass could mean arrest or at the least police harassment.
It was a time before anti-discrimination laws and policies so our very ability to work at anything other than sex work was dependent upon our ability to pass.
This does not mean one had to be beautiful or cute. Often those that passed without question were less attractive than the divas. Nor should the valuing of passing be interpreted as meaning stereotypically feminine or the embracing of sexist stereotypes.
I was considered flawless not because I was glamorous, although I was cute. I looked like a typical left wing Berkeley hippie chick.
And yeah we wore dresses more often than women do today because women wore dresses more often in those days. A lot of time we wore skirts or dresses because work dress codes required them.
What does passable mean? For one thing it meant getting rid of facial hair prior to getting SRS.
It might have been a harsh reality sandwich for certain people, who because of physical build, bone structure would never pass. One such person, a long time friend who introduced me to micro computers transitioned in the 70s only to detrans in the 80s and retransition once again in the late 1990s when the transsexual and transgender movements had made it more possible to be obviously transsexual or transgender even though people would still give negative feed back.
We moved to greater acceptance and that is a good thing and yet those who pass still have an easier time even when they are out TS/TG activist than those who do not.
But this is a matter of dealing with the world at large and the powers that be, who provided our health care were less dictators of a policy than advisers as to the difficulties people would face .
NHS Northwest – Health Equality Library Portal, UK
Domestic Violence: A resource for Trans People
Publisher: Barking and Dagenham PCT <http://www.bdpct.nhs.uk/>
Author: Greater London Domestic Violence Project
Published date: 31st Aug 2009
This resource was written principally to assist trans people who experience domestic abuse, although it will also be of use to service providers, family and friends. The document builds on previous work by Barking and Dagenham PCT in London, who previously developed domestic abuse resources for lesbian, gay and bisexual men and women. Barking and Dagenham was a demonstration site for domestic violence for the NHS in London in 2008, and launched the regional resource site www.domesticviolencelondon.nhs.uk to help improve the support provided by healthcare professionals to individuals experiencing and affected by domestic violence and abuse.
Click here to view resource
© 2009 NHS North West
Jacob Hale— “Trans lives were lived, therefore trans lives were livable.”
I read a piece over on Questioning Transphobia written by Kittyburger:
There is an assertion made in the second paragraph that displays a fictitious set of mythology that is divorced from the historical reality of the situations and manner in which people with transsexualism or with what is now referred to as transgenderism negotiated their lives during the period following World War II to the early 1980s.
The original standards of care forced the transsexual to lie constantly. They forced you to lie if you were bisexual or a lesbian; they forced you to lie if you didn’t care to wear skirts or dresses or makeup; they forced you to lie if you were a feminist; they forced you to lie if your interests lay outside of traditional homemaking and “feminine” pursuits; they forced you to lie if you were so badly off that you felt you would die if you didn’t get treatment right this minute, right this second. Trans women were routinely forced to quit rewarding, well-paying “masculine” careers and take up “feminine” jobs that paid a fraction what they were making pre-transition. And they forced you to begin presenting as a woman for an indefinite period of a year or more before receiving the hormones that most trans women need to be able to both feel at one with our bodies and pass successfully in society. In short, you were required to be a 1950s stereotype of femininity, that was even outdated THEN.
There are so many mistaken assumptions I’m not sure where to start. Hopefully what I am writing will start a discourse and further the understanding of our history. I don’t want to start another counter productive flame war.
Since meeting Susan Stryker and Jacob Hale in the mid-1990s I have become aware of my part in history and how my involvement over the last nearly 50 years has made me a repository of a good deal of transhistory.
In the early days one had to be an autodidact who scoured libraries and connected random bits of information from obscure sources in order to get the medical treatment we needed. One also had to advocate and educate the doctors as to what we needed to get their assistance in changing sex.
I use the phrase changing sex and sex change operation rather than all the current “gender” language because we didn’t much think in terms of gender. Indeed I tend to view gender theory with the same skepticism as I view other religions.
In the comment thread at Questioning Transphobia Lisa Harney gave me pause to think that perhaps the old days that some refer to now happened in the post-1980 time frame when GID entered the DSM and the accompanying Benjamin Standards of Care. In this particular piece I’m going to take us to about the mid 1970s.
As I said in my entry “Friday Night Fun and Culture”, I am currently reading April Ashley’s second biography The First Lady. A few months back I read Aleshia Brevard’s book, The Woman I was Not Born To Be. April Ashley got her SRS from Dr Burou in 1960. She went to Casablanca for it and claims to have been his 9th patient. Aleshia Brevard got hers around the same time. Add to that Roberta Cowell’s biography, Coccinelle’s, Hedy Jo Star’s and Patricia Morgan’s along with Christine Jorgensen’s and you find a cross section of the people who got SRS before the John’s Hopkins announcement in 1966 and Dr. Benjamin’s book in 1967.
Let’s look at society and gender during that period. Homosexuality, in spite of Kinsey’s study was firmly in the closet or underground. There were small activist groups such as the Mattachine Society, One and the Daughters of Bilitis as well as the bar scene. One could find information of the gay and lesbian world in pulp paper backs and scandal magazines and tabloids but it was the love that dared not speak its name in serious novels or in movies. (even in the pulp paperbacks the gay was often more subtext than graphic).
As early as Lili Elbe (1882 – 1931) sisters did not conform to the attracted to men only paradigm. Lili was married to a woman prior to getting treatment and SRS.
Further… Prior to coming out they did not necessarily conform to the mythical assertion of always being obviously feminine individuals.
When the news of Christine Jorgensen’s sex change operation broke the tabloid headlines blared “Ex GI become Blonde Beauty”. This implies that at least during the draft anyone days of WW II she was masculine enough to not be considered too queer for the military. Roberta Cowell was a fighter pilot during WW II and raced cars after wards. I think she was married to a woman prior to her transition and SRS. Hedy Jo Star, Aleshia Brevard, Coccinelle and April Ashley were drag performers. Although even there, is the biographical detail from April Ashley of a stint in the British Merchant Marines. Patricia Morgan hustled. Sisters did what they had to do to find their own paths to getting surgery.
Even in a world where information was rare and obscure these sisters were able to find it. And they were able to locate doctors who were willing to treat them. They also managed to find each other in the drag queen and transvestite undergrounds that later evolved into the transsexual and transgender network of support and advocacy groups of today.
In 1960 women wore skirts and dresses. If they wore pant those pants went by a different name such as capris, slacks etc. All this was prior to Betty Friedan publishing The Feminine Mystique. For what it is worth when I came out in 1969 classified ads were still separated into “Help Wanted-Men” and “Help Wanted-Women”. When the Mattachine Society picketed the Capitol in the the mid-1960s demanding civil rights for gay and lesbian people the gay men wore suits and ties while the lesbian women wore skirts or dresses.
The pop culture/hippie culture of the mid to late 1960s introduced more androgynous looking clothes for both men and women. Zippers on women’s pants had been in back or on the hip and wearing front fly zipped pants were used as reason to harass and arrest lesbians for being in drag up until the late 1960s.
Transsexual and transgender sisters had to live in ghettos such as the Tenderloin in San Francisco. Up until the late 1960s being obvious and daring to venture beyond the ghettos was asking for police harassment and arrest. Passing equaled surviving. Prior to coming out I was too obviously different. My appearance confused people regarding my sex/gender in 1968 I was both assaulted on the street by a stranger and was arrested and charged with impersonation while dressed in masculine male clothing. Initially the police thought I was a dyke. (I was living in the Haight Ashbury rather than the ghetto of the Tenderloin)
I came out in 1969. Supposedly the bad old days. I was living in a radical left hippie commune/cadre. We had moved across the bay to Berkeley. I applied for Welfare in drag using as reason my being transsexual, needing help and not having the documents that would permit me to get a job.
This was early in the cycle of Second Wave feminism and the main professions open to women were teaching, nursing, sales and office. Then you had the entertainment field. Loosely interpreted the entertainment field also includes things like waitressing and sex work.
I was part of a particular class of transkids. My peers included the runaways and throwaways. The hippie queens and recent high school graduates out there looking for a space where they could be themselves. When it came to employment we kidded among ourselves that our career choices were hustling, hair dressing or performing.
But as early as 1966 the queens and transsexuals of the Tenderloin were trying to break out of that rut. In 1966, nearly 3 years prior to Stonewall there was a riot at Compton’s Cafeteria in the heart of the Tenderloin by TS/TG sisters who were fed up with being pushed around. The sisters involved got together afterward and started organizing. One of those organizations turned into the National Transsexual Counseling Unit that I co-ran from mid 1971 through early 1973.
Some of the goals of that original group were to gain medical access and to help us mainstream our lives by using the War on Poverty and anti-discrimination push to help us gain us access to legitimate careers and a way out of the permanent underclass. This was the early 1970s and while the Office of Economic Opportunity was open to helping us get job training the opportunities for training for underclass women both cis and trans were still in the help wanted male/help wanted female mindset. So yes our career options were still stereotypical. They were for all underclass women.
Let us touch on the idea that we had to lie and could only like men. Most of us in San Francisco liked or had boyfriends. Having a boyfriend offered a certain level of protection. But even in the feminist circles of cis women many lesbians were still identifying as heterosexual. At the same time many of us were in relationships with each other and there were militant lesbians.
We were all going to the same clinics and we were all being fairly honest about our sexuality As we saw it at that point and time. The fact that it was often more fluid or that we might not settle into heterosexuality after SRS and might like women both cis and trans didn’t necessarily occur to us. Context is important, we were part of society that was in tremendous upheaval.
Some of the larger collections of myths surround our group sessions at the Gender Clinics. I attended the one at Stanford where I got my sex change operation. Yes, that is what we called it prior to our indoctrination into post-modern new-speak and euphemisms.
They may have been different before and they may have been different later but in many ways they more closely resembled cis-women’s consciousness raising sessions within the feminist movement than they did the myths I hear taken as gospel today. One of the details that has been spoken about in a manner that gives it the worst possible spin is how we showed the results of our surgery to each other and to sisters who were scheduled for surgery in the near future. Sisters who had their SRS before us reassured us we were healing normally, sisters coming soon after us received graphic details regarding what they faced. We didn’t have our version of Our Bodies, Ourselves to tell us what to expect. Some sisters had never seen a naked female.
We talked about jobs, school, family relationships, relationships with friends and lovers. Hopes and aspirations. Those of us who held the stereotype of the young, pretty and attracted to men paradigm as what transsexualism was all about met sisters who were middle aged, married and attracted to women as well as having fathered children. We saw them showing the same dedication to the goal of SRS that we were showing. We also got something from them. Many of them were engineers working in the aerospace or the newly emerging Silicon Valley. Eventually many of us went on to receive training and build careers in the computer field.
We saw that not every sister was a “diva”, that we come in all shapes and sizes. We learned that some who claim to be like us are truly insane and not transsexual at all. We saw there was a difference between how those of us who got SRS dealt with life and how those who live as women without SRS dealt with life. Perhaps because we were dealing with each other face to face we were able to be more aware of each others humanity than many seem to be in the on-line world of today
Yes we saw stealth as pretty much the only viable option. In the early 1970s many of us were living underground with cobbled together identification papers and name change via common usage. We were unable to change our names legally until after SRS and obtaining a California ID Card or Driver’s License that reflected your new name required both that legal name change and a letter from your surgeon attesting to the completion of SRS. Other things were easier to change.
Nonetheless among sister it was shared common wisdom that keeping your mouth shut about your medical history was the wisest course of action in most situations. Here again our individual mileage varied considerably. Some were always more open than others.
The greatest pressure to conform to stealth, and appropriate culturally sanctioned current heterosexual female norms came from other sisters. The idea that we were as a whole terribly anachronistic in our ideals or image of what was appropriate female behavior was something that seemed more common in the TV/TG arena.
When I came out as lesbian some sister reacted badly yet others treated me like the L-Word’s Shane and looked to me for their “lesbian” experience and for me to tell them their pussy looked and tasted right.
This is a good place to end this particular post but not this subject. I realize some will claim I am using anecdotal evidence based on biography rather than academic based on the articles of scholars but I think our stories have more validity than the studies of us. It is our history and it is time we own it.
Ashley, April with Duncan Fallowell April Ashley’s Odyssey 1983
Ashley, April The First Lady 2006
Benjamin, Dr. Harry The Transsexual Phenomena 1967
Brevard, Aleshia The Woman I was not Born to be 2001
Costa, Mario A. Reverse Sex 1962
Cowell, Roberta Roberta Cowell’s Story 1954
Driscoll, James Transsexuals Transactions of the _____ circa 1970
Jorgensen, Christine Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography 1967
Meyerowitz, Joanne How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States 2004
Morgan, Patricia The Man-Maid Doll 1973
Rechy, John City of Night 1963
Star, Hedy Jo I Changed My Sex 1963
Star, Hedy Jo My Unique Change 1965