THE DRESDEN FILES Reading Challenge

My Blog List

Monday, March 15, 2010


Tonight, WonderWife and I watched what has got to be one of the most heart-wrenching, stomach-churning CNN specials I believe I’ve ever seen. No, it’s not about the Somali killing fields, or black civil rights, or anything that the normal world, so-called, would consider important. The fact that CNN thought it was important enough to do and put up is astonishing.

If you missed it the first time, please try and find it and watch it. It will rip your heart out, especially if you’re GLBT. It’s called HER NAME WAS STEVEN, and it’s about a transsexual woman’s journey to her real self. It is NOT easy to watch, believe me.

For those of you that read my blog on a fairly regular basis, you know that WonderWife is a post-op transsexual. It’s not an easy thing, to be a transsexual. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about transsexuals, and most of them, if they are not in the GLBT community, don’t know what they’re talking about. A lot of folks that ARE GLBT folks don’t understand it, either. The first question that a transsexual, or T, is asked is, invariably, “Where do you go to the bathroom?” The second question, if the person that’s being talked at is a Male-to-Female T, or M2F, is, “What happened to your penis? Did it hurt when the doctors cut it off?”

The “burning bathroom question” is rooted in the fear that all genetic girls, or GGs for short, feel when a man walks into the bathroom. The fact that said man is no longer a man simply doesn’t apply. Secondly, most GGs or GMs look at a transsexual and think “DRAG QUEEN”, or, more commonly, “FREAK”. There are a lot of drag queens that are Ts, but not all Ts are drag queens. The penis is not removed in Sexual Reassignment Surgery, or SRS; it is used to create the new-vagina. So, yes, it’s major surgery, but no, it doesn’t hurt any worse than getting your appendix out – but the changes that SRS makes in the lives of Ts is a profound one.

What is transsexualism? Transsexualism is a condition in which an individual identifies with a physical sex that is different from their biological one. A medical diagnosis can be made if a person experiences discomfort as a result of a desire to be a member of the opposite sex, or if a person experiences impaired functioning or distress as a result of that gender identification. So, OK, now we’ve got the diagnosis, and now we come to the question: what exactly is a T? They are people just like everybody else in the world, except for this ONE little difficulty: their brains tell them that they are not living in the right body. Physiologically, they look just as normal as everybody else – but their brains and their bodies are at odds with them, and this is pretty traumatic. Most of the M2F Ts are serious overachievers because they are always aware in their backbrain that they are NOT men, they are really women, and if they don’t root this out by being SuperBoy into SuperMan, then somebody is going to look at them and know that there’s something wrong with them. Most of the F2M Ts are the same way, except that they are even more aggressive in trying to prove to themselves that they’re women, with a capital W.

Know why that is? It’s not acceptable for a woman to not be a nurturer, to not be more interested in Kinder, Kuche and Kirch than in being a successful person, even in this semi-enlightened age. Gay men are pretty generally accepted as just being part of the landscape; lesbians are getting there, thanks to a concerted, generational effort on both parties’ parts. Ts are still regarded as freaks for the most part, and treated accordingly.

Most people forget, or have never known, that it was the T community that was responsible for the beginning of GLBT rights. Look up the Stonewall Riots ( This was an era where, if you were gay, and you were out, that people were perfectly free to beat the crap out of you, with no repercussions, that most people wouldn’t rent to you, that you got actively spit on when you went anywhere that straight folks went, that you were shunned as thoroughly as a leper (in later years, AIDs was another reason for this shunning – as if you could catch AIDs from a toilet set!) and treated as such. Ts were even more marginalized. So, one night, after the folks at the Stonewall Inn were rousted by the cops, there was a riot. It was started by a T, who threw her high heels at the cops. She got the crap beaten out of her for her temerity, but she started something that hasn’t stopped yet.

Transsexualism appears in the two major diagnostic manuals used by mental health professionals worldwide, the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM, currently in its fourth edition) and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD, currently in its tenth edition). The ICD-10 incorporates transsexualism, dual role transvestism and gender identity disorder of childhood into its gender identity disorder category, and defines transsexualism as "[a] desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by a sense of discomfort with, or inappropriateness of, one's anatomic sex, and a wish to have surgery and hormonal treatment to make one's body as congruent as possible with one's preferred sex.” The DSM does not distinguish between gender identity disorder and transsexualism, and defines transvestic fetishism as a separate phenomenon which may co-occur with transsexualism. The DSM diagnosis requires four components:

1) A desire or insistence that one is of the opposite biological sex (that is not due to a perceived advantage of being the other sex)
2) Evidence of persistent discomfort with, and perceived inappropriateness of the individual's biological sex
3) The individual is not intersex (although a diagnosis of GID Not Otherwise Specified is available, which enables intersex people who reject their sex-assignment to access transsexual treatments)
4) Evidence of clinically significant distress or impairment in work or social life.

According to the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association's Standards Of Cares, this diagnostic label is often necessary to obtain sex reassignment therapy with health insurance coverage, and states that the designation of gender identity disorders as mental disorders is not a license for stigmatization, or for the deprivation of gender patients' civil rights. The word transsexual was used by Harry Benjamin in his seminal 1966 book The Transsexual Phenomenon to describe transsexuals on a scale (later called the "Benjamin scale") that recognizes three levels of intensity of transsexualism:

1) "Transsexual (nonsurgical)",
2) "Transsexual (moderate intensity)"
3) "Transsexual (high intensity)".

Benjamin described "true" transsexualism in this way: "True transsexuals feel that they belong to the other sex, they want to be and function as members of the opposite sex, not only to appear as such. For them, their sex organs, the primary (testes) as well as the secondary (penis and others) are disgusting deformities that must be changed by the surgeon's knife." Transsexualism is often included within the broader term transgender, which is generally considered an umbrella term for people who do not conform to typical accepted gender roles, for example cross-dressers, drag queens, and people who identify as genderqueer. Most transsexuals really object to this inclusion. They don’t see this as a battle over sexual orientation, but rather a fight that they fight to be the person that their brain TELLS them they are to begin with. Some transsexual people even prefer transgender over transsexual, because this minority sees the issue to be about gender rather than sexuality, and that’s the term that’s most commonly used today – and oh, BOY, is it misleading.

Cross-dressing is a choice. Transsexualism is not. Therein lies all the difference.

And this brings me back to HER NAME WAS STEVEN. The description of the program: “Susan Stanton doesn't seem much different than any other woman: She struggles with her weight, she tries to balance her career with being a parent, and she worries about her teenage son who is just learning to drive.

But Stanton has been a woman for only about two years.

Stanton -- who knew very little about the transgender community -- practically became the poster child for the transgender rights movement. Like many transgender people, Stanton struggled with serious depression and suicidal thoughts during her transition. The loss of her job and her marriage were the two most difficult side effects of the process.” (continued at

Please don’t get me wrong here; I applaud Susan Stanton for her courage, and I feel her pain – literally – because I’ve lived through it myself. Unfortunately, there are a lot more s out there whose stories are just as compelling and who have suffered as much if not more than Ms. Stanton has. There’s a T lawyer here in Houston named Phyllis Randolph Frye ( who suffered just as much. There’s a T lawyer in DC name Alyson Meiselman ( or Christie Lee Littleton (, whose marriage was invalidated by the Texas Courts, the Federal courts, and whose case SCOTUS refused to hear.

Most Ts lose their families when they transition. Most Ts lose their jobs and are no longer employable. Most Ts, if they’re married, lose their marriages and their kids. Most young Ts get thrown out on the streets with the clothing on their backs, whatever change they’ve got in their pockets, and whatever shoes they can grab – and they’re left to starve on the streets. Most of the youngsters turn to prostitution and drugs when this happens. Remember BOYS DON’T CRY? How about Gwen Araho? This is normally what happens to a T.

We’ve been through that ourselves. We’re still going thorough it. That doesn’t invalidate Ms. Stanton’s story; it just shows how much more work there is to do.

No comments:

Post a Comment