This post is a part of a series of posts based on the book Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society by Holly/Aaron Devor. My introductory post on the series can be found here.
This is the second-last post about this book, and it discusses their post-transition life. My final post will summarize what I learned.
One of the interesting things about their post-transition life is they didn’t all see themselves as men. Sure, lots of them did, but below I’m going to quote those who didn’t, because this makes an interesting discussion. Although most of them said they were “born this way,” in regards to being born transsexual, I started wondering, if you’re “born that way,” what way were you born, exactly? Because they weren’t all in agreement about whether they had become men. Some saw themselves as some sort of third sex. I don’t think it can be said they were all born male or transsexual, as I will demonstrate below. They just seem to have been born themselves, as unique individuals. As people are.
Devor says “Ed, Walter, and Peter saw themselves as belonging to an intermediate sex called transsexual (p448).” About her participant Bruce, she said “Bruce appeared to have very mixed feelings about within which gender boundaries he wanted to live. He retained both a strong attachment to his lesbian past and a profound uncertainty about joining the ranks of men. As did Ed and Walter, Bruce would have preferred to have found a niche somewhere between genders and between sexes (p448).”
I’m going to give you this long quote by Bruce because it’s very interesting.
“I’m a lesbian man…I’m very committed to the lesbian movement. I’m very committed to women. And to their struggle in this life. I just happened to be born with tits. And I feel like, and I’ll be real honest with you, I feel like a third gender. I feel like I don’t have to have a penis to get through life. But I can’t have tits…I never used to look in the mirror. Now I shave every other day…I look in the mirror at myself, I’m proud of myself. I have something to do with my face besides put mascara on. So I feel like I’m a third gender. And I think that twenty years from now they will discover the third gender. There will be somebody that says, “Yes, it’s okay to have both sets of genitals, or to function normally in life or to have both identities.” But for right now, I have to be a transsexual man because there is no place for me as a third gender. I would like to be able to be a lesbian without tits. But I can’t. I would like not to be on hormones because they’re harmful to my body. I would like not to have lower surgery. I would like to keep my libido. I would like not to have tits which is what I don’t have. I would like to be able to shave. Although I can’t without the hormones. So it’s like I want the best of all these different worlds (p448–449).”
I know that comment about the mascara is going to make you want to tear all your hair out, but please focus on the fact that this person doesn’t feel male, because that’s the point here.
There is some talk of “living openly as men with female bodies (p450).” This is about them feeling like they only need to transition because society doesn’t accept “men” with female bodies and therefore they have to transition in order to be recognized as men. This is an interesting discussion but I wish people would distinguish between gender and sex when they discuss this. Do they mean living openly as masculine while having female bodies? Because it wouldn’t make any sense the other way, living as male-bodied while having a female body. That’s a direct contradiction. Here’s an example:
“Keith was able to credit that there were socially meaningful differences between men and women, but he argued that the only real differences between men and women were in the attributions made by others. According to his views, the only reason for sex reassignment was that it was the only way for females to live their lives legitimately in those ways which society reserves for people who are deemed to be men (p450).”
So in other words, Keith is disappearing biological differences between men and women and only identifying social differences (i.e. gender roles). He is saying that females have to transition in order to live in the masculine gender role. This is exactly what I’m against. Any female should be allowed to live in the masculine gender role if she wants to without having to change her body or deny her femaleness. The expectation that all females should be feminine is called sexism and feminists aim to eradicate sexism so people can be themselves. Keith says:
“The acceptance of other people of me as a male rather than as a female is the argument in favour which made me go through with it…That’s really the only reason for a sex change because if a person was biologically a female and had not gone through the sex change, and they were able to be completely accepted by society as a male, then there would be no reason for them to go through any physical changes to be accepted as a male (p450).”
Hey look, she does understand biology! So which is it, Keith? Do you want to be recognized as male even though you are female or do you want to be recognized as masculine? Because you cannot possibly be recognized as male when you are female, (that makes no sense), but you can be recognized as masculine any time, without modifying your body. Just go ahead and be masculine.
This is why transgenderists have turned “man” and “woman” into social categories that people belong to by virtue of being seen that way rather than biological categories that we are born into. It’s because they don’t want their biology to stand in the way of expressing the gender role they want to live in, and they cannot or will not see that the gender role is simply a collection of sexist stereotypes that should be abolished.
A couple of participants expressed being forced into a recognizable category and not being able to just live in the middle.
Participant Luther said:
“This gender stuff is just outrageous. Why must it be? Why must it really be? There are some of us, like myself, who are going to have to make that change, but some people are being forced into the change because no one has a place for them. They just can’t be. And so they’re forced either to be transsexual or homosexual or heterosexual. They can’t just be “sexual.” We just have to let folks alone to be what they want to be (p451).”
Participant Ron said:
“So basically, the way I feel about gender is, to me, there are no differences. For me, it’s just an emotional….and physical thing that I have to do. My feelings are, or my politics, are more androgynous. It was part of the change too. There’s just a realization that it doesn’t mean dick whether you’re a woman or a man. You know, it doesn’t mean anything to what’s in here… If society were a different place, we could be both at the same time. Like, just people (p451).”
What I’m seeing in all these quotes is not the idea that they are men, but the idea that they are trying to assert their personalities in a world that wants everyone to be either feminine women or masculine men. They are declaring to the world that they are “not women” but it’s not that they want to be men, it’s that they want to be themselves. There are a few moments in the quotes above when I see some of the gender rebellion that I know and love, but ultimately they all felt the need to conform to a category.
I’ve heard lots of lesbians say they feel like a “third gender.” There is a common feeling lesbians get of being “not women” and I think that feeling can either develop into a rebellion against gender roles or it can push her into an attempt to conform to the opposite gender role by passing as a man. I wish there was strong lesbian community where lesbians could discuss their feelings of being “not women” among other lesbians and decide what that means for us without getting caught in the trans cult. Maybe this is just the way it feels to be a masculine lesbian, and maybe the best cure for the discomfort is being around other lesbians who understand and can validate their personalities without trying to shove them into a box.
People should definitely be allowed to be ambiguous and somewhere in the middle. Since the publication of this book, it’s already become more acceptable to be somewhere in the middle—although I wish people could just be androgynous without having to label themselves as a “gender” other than their sex. You don’t have to redefine yourself and deny your biology just because you’re not looking the way people expect you to. Bruce said that she wanted to be a “lesbian without tits” but felt she couldn’t. She had to completely transition and look like a man. These days it’s becoming more common to be an ambiguous-looking flat-chested lesbian. I personally don’t support getting double mastectomies because removing healthy body parts is harmful and unnecessary, but I do agree that it’s okay to get a double mastectomy and then stop there—you don’t owe the world any other elements of transition just because you did that—you can just remain an ambiguous-looking person, and that’s okay. So in that sense, I support the “lesbians without tits.”
I really loved when Luther said “They just can’t be.” This is such a fantastic statement. People should be allowed to stop thinking about gender altogether and just be. This sounds like meditation to me, because in meditation you learn to let go of all the judgments and just be. Who cares what people think, who cares if they approve or not? People who think that “woman” is a performance that has to be performed a certain way are sexist and can fuck right off.
At the top of this post, I asked the question, “if you’re born that way, what way were you born, exactly?” Because it doesn’t look like these women were born men. It also doesn’t look like they were born transsexual, because they are saying they wouldn’t have to transition at all if they could be recognized for who they are without transition. I think the way they were born is just…they were born with their personalities. I don’t believe there is any such thing as having the wrong personality for your body and I don’t believe that at any point anybody needs to change their body to match their personality.
Even if you feel your degree of masculinity/femininity falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, (which honestly describes lots of people), I don’t believe you need to disappear your biological sex and refer to yourself as being neither male nor female, when you actually are one of those, as evidenced by your body. Further, I don’t think any living thing can be born inherently needing a type of medical intervention that has only existed for a short time period in human history and that is dependent on an exact set of social circumstances for its existence. We cannot be innately dependent on a recently invented social construct—that defies the meaning of the word innate.
All the participants had gender dysphoria, a condition that doesn’t appear to manifest the same way in each person or require the same treatment. But aside from that point in common, the most notable thing about their post-transition life is how unique they are, there is nothing to generalize across the group anymore at this point. They certainly are all biological females with a history of dysphoria and either a history of transition or a desire to transition, but the end result was very unique to each individual.
When they say they are men with female bodies, I always wonder what that means. What is it about the category of manhood that they believe they are? Is it muscles and hair, is it power and strength, is it being taken seriously as an authority figure? A few FtMs have attempted to explain to me what they think a man is, but I’m still not satisfied. They are always vague on purpose because giving a precise definition would leave someone out. But how can the definition of a man or a woman be vague? Surely if you identify as something then you know what it is? The participants in Devor’s study unanimously asserted that you can be a man without being born male. Some of them even talked about having a male spirit or soul. What do they think a man is, then? I remain convinced that the only coherent way to define a man is an adult human male, and therefore when females talk about having an innate maleness they sound silly and nonsensical and leave me frustrated.
I have finished the book now and there is one final post to come where I will summarize my thoughts on this.