I posted the piece about Agnes without critique.
Over the years there has been much criticism of Agnes. Some of it is ahistorical in that it expects of Agnes the adherence to cultural standards that are post-1960s in nature.
For example: Since Agnes was treated at UCLA I will assume she came from the Los Angeles area. The closest thing one would find to something resembling a pan-trans culture of that era (circa 1958) would be located in the downtown gay scene described in John Rechy’s “City of Night“. This book which helped me find and navigate the world of “cities of night” wasn’t published until 1963.
But let’s assume she found this scene and surveyed it. What she would have found was scary, a world were prostitution and constant police harassment was a way of life. A world not all that different from the trans-ghetto culture of San Francisco’s Tenderloin circa 1968 when I was exploring coming out.
If one could pass and live in a non-ghetto world when Agnes was coming out one did. The same for when I was coming out and the same today.
Describing Agnes as being 120% female sounds like a weird grammatical construct to today’s ears yet it was common place in 1950s television and advertising. Thus illustrating the danger of injecting modern constructs into the 1950s, an era prior to Betty Friedan’s landmark book “The Feminine Mystique“.
When Tina read the piece about Agnes and came to the 120% female part she made the comment, “Well I guess that means she gave them a boner.” Which is probably true and a subtext of any of the male doctors who project upon the physically attractive pre-op transsexuals, characteristics that they would not project upon equally earnest but plainer appearing candidates.
When I saw Dr. Benjamin some 10 or so years later he described me as, “One of the most perfect transsexuals he had met.” The reality was that I was both pretty and had never picked up the culture of the ghetto since I was still looking for friends, and had learned my sex/gender role behavior from the women of the left wing hippie feminist world. This probably led to the same assessment from virtually every doctor I encountered. Yet I was only part of a culture that was newly emerging, and had these same doctors seen me just five years later they probably would have seen me as being typical of a type.
Julia Serano calls the associating of women born transsexual or transgender with a concept of their being hyper-sexual, eroticization. While this plays a major role in the twisted works of Bailey, Blanchard, Zucker, et. al. I do not see it as the only thing at work in the process. Granted getting a boner is probably the biggest element in Bailey and Blanchard glorifying of “androphilic” transsexuals, particularly considering how easy it is to get demoted from that category by showing an interest in something other than dick and dick pleasing. Who knew one could go from AP to AGP just by going back to school and learning something in the computer field rather than continuing to be a sex worker?
Yet, there is a more subtle element, exoticization of a nature described as “Orientalism” by the late Edward Said. This is ascribing a quality of the exotic, projecting an aura of special knowledge upon a group defined as “other”.
White American middle class women are described as frigid whereas women of color or lower classes are described as “really knowing how to please a man”. The same projection is made regarding European and Asian women. Women of one’s own culture are described as arrogant and cold by men who are often ugly disgusting social failures and misogynists while women of other cultures are both exocticized and eroticized in a manner that bears a close resemblance to fetishization.
I have had more than one man tell me that transsexuals really know how to please a man because we once had male parts. When I hear that I can’t help but think, “Do you really want me to relate to your male parts the way I related to mine? ” That is to say with disgust, denial and avoidance.
Since that one fails the Occam’s Razor test perhaps there is a better explanation for what we do that leads to this sort of interpretation.
Avis, a car rental company used to run advertising that said, “We’re number two, we try harder.”
When we do this at work it is a combination of fear of discrimination coupled with insecurity that causes us to work harder than everyone else and still fear we will be fired for the smallest infraction. Is this over compensation on our part? Yeah… But that isn’t a pathology. That is what the poor and minority people do when they are trying to survive in a world where we are subject to irrational bigotry and discrimination.
Do we do this in personal relationships? Imagine being told as a child that no one will ever love you, not a man, not a woman, not even queer men and women. Add to that the bullying and abuse many if not most of us encountered as children and our behavior of trying harder becomes understandable. If we are perfect no one will abuse us and we might just have the same opportunities in life that “normborns” take for granted. If we work harder no one will hold our being working class, a person of color, a woman, a queer against us.
So many of the women of Asia where working harder and pleasing men is part of the survival package are exocticized and eroticized while white women of a certain class or higher wind up not having to work as hard or act as deferential. Power and privilege has its perks. Although the price that goes with those perks is often one of pedestalization and objectification. Perhaps as some argue the oppression is the same but it is far harder for one working the cement floor of industry or retail to see the “sameness” of that oppression, than it is for those who come from privilege. One of the perks of privilege being guileless and the inability to see oneself as having privilege that others do not share.
One of the most offensive aspects of this power equation is that blame for this striving and working harder is placed upon the people who have the least power and who are working to overcome discrimination and oppression. At the same time those doing the objectifying are given the pass of “objectivity” if their position of power is located in academe or “social science”.
It is only when that objectifying and exoticization/eroticization becomes sweaty and personal at clubs in the ghetto that it becomes scorned as “Trannie Chasing”. Yet aren’t all those “normborns” who make careers of studying transsexual and transgender people equally guilty of eroticizing/exocticizing us? Should they be allowed to escape the same critique leveled at westerners who exocticize and eroticize the much vaunted “Non-Western Cultures” for cultural features that would be considered criminal in many western cultures?
Perhaps there has been too much study, too much “Orientialization” of transsexual and transgender people. Perhaps it is time to turn the “objective” eye of study upon those in academe and”social science” who have made careers for themselves based on the othering of the things we do to survive.