You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2010.

One of the interesting things about blogging on WordPress is that I can see the search engine terms that bring people here. (Search strings for porn sort of make me laugh a bit but only because I know I’d be sorely disappointed to find this kind of blog when I’m really looking for some steamy pictures or video.) I’ve noticed on more than one occasion that someone will come here looking for info about coming out at church, though, and with Easter looming on the horizon, I thought this might be a good time to summarize my experiences for others to learn from and adapt, should they be interested.

If I were in the business of giving advice, I’d say that the single most important thing to remember is that no two coming out experiences are the same. The same person won’t react to the same piece of news the exact same way twice, and so those stochastic variations make it almost impossible to predict whether a person would have better luck than I did transitioning in her church, or whether there’s a better way to handle the coming out process. Everything can be done exactly right, I’m thinking, and it can still go straight to hell.

I came out to our priest in early 2008, around the time I started seeing my gender therapist. At the time, I was really only telling people, including my parents, that I was seeing a gender therapist and that I was transgender. In retrospect, being less sure of who I was, or what I wanted, probably just made it easier for others to think this was just a phase I was going through. I don’t think they considered that I might transition, and so, despite my attempts at providing a warning about impending changes, I think everyone just figured I didn’t know what I wanted myself, and so they just ignored me.

Our priest, however, did take it seriously, and that helped me a lot, especially with respect to coming to terms with the possibility that my marriage would end. Not all counsel is pie-in-the-sky promises, and sometimes it’s those hard things that are most important for us to hear.

Anyway, over the course of that first year, as I started taking steps towards transition, some people at church started to notice. I had been dressing more androgynously, wearing nail polish (which was usually color coordinated with the liturgical season; purple for lent, green for the season after pentecost, blue for advent), and letting my hair grow out. A few parishioners tried to find out what was going on by asking “whats up with the nail polish?” I always just replied that I liked the color, which was true enough.

Part of the dodge was that I wasn’t ready to answer more completely– I was still coming to terms with myself and couldn’t fathom how to explain this to people that were practically strangers, or my uncertainty about how far I might go on the path to transition. Additionally, the fact that I didn’t always know the inquirers very well made me reluctant to share what was still very personal information with them. Despite the fact that they could see what was going on, it still wasn’t any of their business.

Shortly before I started my RLE in 2009, the rector of our old church contacted me and said that he’d been receiving more and more questions from other parishioners. I don’t know the exact content of the questions, but I’m sure it was some variant of “what’s up with Josh’s nail polish?” We had talked the previous year about the potential need for an announcement to let everyone know what was going on and decided to wait until it was necessary, which eventually morphed into waiting until my transition took on a mind of its own and took me with it. It got to the point that I had to tell people because I couldn’t hide it anymore. I’d been on hormones for 5 months by that time and had to wear a sports bra if I still wanted to be flat chested. This was a bittersweet thing. My body was starting to look like it should, but I still had to hide it.

By the time I was asked to make the announcement, I was almost itching for the chance. I just wanted the whole thing to be out and over. I wanted to just be able to dress how I wanted at church, which included wearing a nice dress that I had. I hadn’t started wearing bras under my clothes yet and I was still always stressed out about how I looked, especially when going to church. So, one Sunday towards the end of March, I stood up during the announcements and said the following:

Hi everybody. For those that don’t know me, I’m Josh. I’m up here because I know that people have been wondering about what’s been going on with respect to my appearance. It’s not easy to be up here, pulling out the ‘dog and pony show,’ so to speak, but I think this is the best and easiest way to inform the parish about what’s been going on with me. It is difficult for me to be up here, it is difficult to speak, but it is necessary.

For over a year I have been receiving treatment for a medical condition known as Gender Identity Disorder (GID). This means that I internally identify myself as a woman, despite having been born male. This is a known medical condition, not due to an overactive imagination, nor is it a perverse refusal on my part to be a man. It is not a choice—it is a condition. If I thought this were a choice, I would not have chosen to put myself or my family through this. This is not a moral or sexual issue—it is an issue of how a person identifies herself. I am doing everything I can to learn more about this disorder, what I can do about it and what my treatment options are.

Christine and I have met with the rector and his wife, who is also a therapist, on several occasions. We were referred to a therapist who is qualified and skilled in helping people with my condition, and have continued with that treatment.

Transgendered individuals such as myself go through a series of psychiatric evaluations, and are then referred to other doctors for medical care as appropriate, such as hormone replacement and in some cases, surgery. Surgical treatments are not always the final outcome and there are other possibilities for successful treatment of GID.

This has been, and still is a very difficult issue for me and my family to deal with. Owing to the lack of general societal acceptance of people such as myself, I have kept this issue hidden for many years. It has caused me a lot of pain. Being transgendered has cost me both friends and work. This is the price that people such as myself have to pay in order to be proper and whole.

I am still married to Christine. Although this has been very difficult for both of us, she has been very supportive of me. We do not yet know what is in our future, but we are fully aware of the issues and continue to take advantage of professionals to help work those issues out.

I realize that there may be some people in this parish who will not be accepting of my condition nor tolerate the decisions I have made, and will make, about it. While we may disagree, I hope that we can continue to work together and worship together. It is important to me that you know that I believe in Jesus Christ, put my trust in him, and want to serve him with you in this parish.

If there are parishioners who are uncomfortable with having me in a prominent position serving at the altar, I will step down from my ministry as an acolyte. I do not want people to be afraid or unwilling to place their children in a rewarding and fulfilling ministry because of me. I urge anyone who wants to respond to talk to me, Christine, or the rector. Regardless of how you may feel, I ask that you pray for Christine and me. Thank you for listening.

There are a couple of things I should point out. You might notice that I said surgery isn’t always necessary, which is a statement that needs to be qualified. Some people that are trans will transition socially but not seek surgery. Sometimes it’s a matter of being able to afford it, sometimes it’s a matter of their health, sometimes it’s just not the right thing for them. For myself at the time, I wasn’t sure that I wanted surgery. I loved Christine, and thought that if everyone else accepted me as a woman, I could still be her husband.

That view has changed a lot over the last two years, and now I realize that it was kind of short-sighted. Of course I needed people to accept me as a woman, but I also needed Christine to accept me as a woman. More to the point, I needed to accept myself as a woman and I think the persistent desire to be her husband was a way of maintaining some stability in my life at the same time I was turning it upside down.

And over the last year, the surgery question resolved itself tidily: it wasn’t an all at once decision, and there wasn’t a pro and con weighing ceremony. It just solidified in my mind as the next logical step, the next thing I would do because I needed to and because I was ready to. I’m not sure I was ready to admit that to myself previously.

The other thing you’ll notice is that I volunteered to step down from my ministry as an altar server, which, if you’ll allow me to remind you, was part of what drove me to start writing about my experiences. I offered, and some of the people in our church took me up on it. At the time, it served a dual pronged purpose: it provided a way for others to increase their comfort around me– they wouldn’t have to worry about their kids being molested by a tranny, after all– and it also served as a barometer for how well I was accepted by the congregation. People can be really nice to your face, after all, and horrible behind your back. I knew that if it came to me stepping down, I’d probably leave the church, too. I offered, and expected to be asked to leave the church that same day. I offered, knowing I’d never go back if someone took me up on it. I hoped that people would be better than I expected.

After I finished reading the announcement, most of the congregation actually applauded, which really took me by surprise. After mass, several people came up to me and expressed support for Christine and me. Most of the people were really good to us. Things were a little tense for the first few months, but seemed to loosen up by the end of summer.

I had changed my name, people were being informed, and I made a point of not correcting parents or children when they misgendered or called me by the wrong name. I continually reminded myself that people needed to adjust in their own time and tried to be patient.

In October, I was contacted by the rector who stated that several people were asking for an update on my situation, and a few people were expressing levels of discomfort with how I appeared to be progressing: I heard that someone confronted the rector, demanding to know whether he approved of men wearing dresses in church. That I wasn’t a man didn’t seem to really matter much. But that’s just gender entitlement, and it’s not an experience that’s unique to the church we attended.

So, with my help, the rector produced a leaflet that was distributed on All Saint’s Day and was made available to all interested persons.

GENDER IDENTITY DISORDER (GID)
a statement from the Rector
November 1, 2009

One of Our Own
At the end of March, a man named Josh, a member of this parish for nearly ten years, addressed the congregation at the 9:45 a.m. Mass, and said, among other things,

For over a year I have been receiving treatment for a medical condition known as Gender Identity Disorder (GID). This means that inside myself I identify myself as a woman, despite having been born male. This is a known medical condition, not an overactive imagination, or a perverse refusal on my part to be a man… I realize that there may be some people in this parish who will not tolerate my condition and decisions I have made about it. While we may disagree, I hope that we can continue to work together and worship together. It is important to me that you know that I believe in Jesus Christ, put my trust in him, and want to serve him with you in this parish family… If there are parishioners who are uncomfortable with having me in a prominent position serving at the altar, I will step down from my ministry as an acolyte. I do not want people to be afraid or unwilling to place their children in a rewarding and fulfilling ministry because of me. … I want to do what is best for the parish. Regardless of how you may feel, please pray for … me. Thank you for listening.

The rector and his wife, a Marriage and Family Therapist, have met with this individual once or twice a year for more than two years. During this time the rector has striven to learn about GID. Now that more than six months have passed since Josh first spoke to the parish, the parish family is due for an update. By design, nothing was put in writing last March. Now it seems good to do so. This written update for the parish family was written by the rector with contributions from our parish member. The contributions are indicated by being indented.

What It’s Not
To be transgendered is not a sexual disorder. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation, activity, or desire; it is a matter of identity.

The first thing that people will usually notice about transgendered people when they begin treatment is that their appearance starts to look like that of the opposite sex in such things as dress. This is not having the paraphilia commonly called “cross dressing”, which is an attempt to connect with the opposite sex by dressing in their clothing. Transgendered persons dress in the clothing of the opposite sex because, for them, it is learning to identify who they really are inside. That is, cross dressers use an abnormal behavior to connect with the opposite sex; transgendered persons want to connect with themselves. The behaviors are identical but the motivations are completely different. One is a sexual disorder; the other is a monitored therapeutic treatment.

What It Is
GID is a kind of “birth defect”. There is neither choice nor blame involved in it. To be born with a birth defect like a cleft palate is obvious; to be born with a soul whose gender is different from, or at least out of balance with, the gender of one’s body is a highly complex defect that goes beyond the merely physical into the spiritual.

Peter Kreeft, in his book, Everything you ever wanted to know about Heaven but never dreamed of asking, has a chapter called “Is there Sex in Heaven?” In a section where he describes how we have sexual souls, he wrote, “A wholly male soul, whatever maleness means, or a wholly female soul, sounds unreal and oversimplified. But that is not what sexual souls implies. Rather, in every soul there is— to use Jungian terms— anima and animus, femaleness and maleness; just as in the body, one predominates but the other is also present. If the dominant sex of soul is not the same as that of the body, we have a sexual misfit, a candidate for a sex change operation of body or of soul, earthly or Heavenly. Perhaps Heaven supplies such changes just as it does all other needed forms of healing. In any case, the resurrection body perfectly expresses its soul, and since souls are innately sexual, that body will perfectly express its soul’s true sexual identity.”

What It’s Like

Explaining this is difficult; you get distillations such as being a “woman trapped in a man’s body.” Where that description succeeds in its simplicity is also where it fails. I have always felt like myself, though my understanding of that gendered person has never been anchored as firmly as the understanding that other people have.

When I’ve talked to people about being transgender, I am frequently met with blank stares—most people don’t actually think about or question their gender identity. I liken it to one’s digestive system—you don’t think about digesting food, you just do it, and probably don’t give a second thought to it unless something’s not working the way it ought. Even still, a person knows when they’re ill and needs to go to the hospital. That’s how I felt about my gender identity—I just knew something was wrong.

I started coming to terms with being transgender about two years ago. I was previously “ill” for nearly my entire life— I had felt since I was a child that I would have preferred to be a girl. I was not so naïve as to think that I was a girl, as I obviously wasn’t, at least not physically, but that didn’t alter the way that I felt about myself. I would frequently make believe that I was a girl, I definitely wanted to be a girl. I’m sure that like so many other transgender children, I prayed that God might make me a girl during the night while I slept. If God could make Adam fall asleep, and then make Eve out of a rib, then surely God could fix me overnight. It should be a piece of cake for Him, you see. As so many transgender people before me had already discovered, miracle cures are not usually a part of our experiences. We must make do as best we can, relying on medical professionals and our own certainties about who we are, and going from there.

For too long I felt incredibly alone. I felt like I had no one in whom I could confide. I wondered why God might have made me the way He did. I don’t have answers to all of my own questions, about what being transgender is all about. But I am quite certain that above all else, God sees me. My new chosen name, Jessica, is supposed to mean “God Beholds” and serves as a wonderful reminder of the fact that we are not alone. Knowing that God sees me and knows me, understanding that He is with me and that He loves me is an incredible comfort after so many years.

What’s the Treatment?
Much can be done to help transgendered persons, and sometimes people can learn to accept their status without sex-change surgery—depending on how severe the disjunction between body and soul is, among other factors. Sometimes sex-change surgery comes toward the end of treatment, but is often years away from initial diagnosis. Even then, all one can do is change the appearance of the body and, to a very limited extent, the functions of one’s body. The DNA, however, remains with the gender of the body with which one was born. There are some things that cannot be fully healed in this life; the Christian who suffers from such things can only endure and persevere on the path of sanctification with the burden he has.

Transgendered people, whether or not they have undergone the surgery, will, to some extent, always on Earth be strangers to their own humanity. Gender is our first identification in the world. When that primal identification turns out to be disordered, then one’s self identity is shaken at the very core of selfhood.

Over the last year and a half, I have been seeking counseling to deal with all the complexities. I have spoken at length with my Priest about these issues, and have received counseling through individual therapists as well.

My doctors and therapists diagnose me as having Gender Identity Disorder (GID). My acceptance of certain treatments has been based on my understanding that the best way to treat a transgender person is to have that person live in their gender of identification, not their birth gender. For me, this means that I have been living as a woman for almost a year. As part of this process, I have also changed my name from Joshua to Jessica. Since the summer I have been living what is called a Real Life Experience (or a Real Life Test). The purpose of this experience is to see whether cross-gender living is an appropriate long term solution to my GID. I live and present myself as a woman all the time, have legal identity documents in my new name, have a job, and have a home.

As I continue my transition, my experiences reinforce my identity as a woman. Just as a person knows they’re ill, so too does a person know when they’re getting better.

I would love for everyone to accept me for who I am. But I am also realistic. I know that not everyone will understand, and that acceptance is not always automatic. Regardless of how anyone reacts, the opportunity to be myself at long last has made me incurably and relentlessly hopeful so I will continue to believe the best of everyone, hoping that we can all move forward together from this point.

This Is Hard
Of course it is—for everyone. Family, friends, co-workers, and others who know a transgendered person can react in a number of different ways, but probably no one is indifferent or has no reaction at all. Most people are made uncomfortable to one degree or another, and that discomfort can last a long time—quite possibly always. Lack of sufficient factual information, fear, assumptions, or pre-judgment can cause great harm and hurt to many people.

I have friends, many who knew me previously as Joshua. While there have been periods of adjustment for everyone involved, I am happy to say that I am statistically unusual—I have not lost my home, my job, or nearly any friends as I have moved forward. I personally know people who have lost everything they held dear. While the loss is always heartbreaking, most transsexuals consider it a price that must be paid, not an optional cost. In order to live authentically as who we are, there are always sacrifices.

What Should We Do?
The best we can do as a parish is to ensure that this individual’s standing in Christ is secure. This is really the only solid and dependable thing anyone may have no matter who they are. The only possible place of solidity for anyone and everyone is in Christ. “Once you were no people, but now you are the people of God.”

At this point, it is okay for parishioners to call me Jessica (in fact, I welcome it). For those that feel unable to make that adjustment at this point, I would respectfully request that they at least cease using my male name. Individuals who are uncomfortable can call me Jess or “J” or just nothing at all. A hand on the arm or shoulder or a “Hi” will work just fine.

There are many things in life we cannot understand, and we just have to accept those things while remaining in Christian love. Ultimately for most people in the pew it is a question of whether they will 1) dedicate themselves to loving Jess “as is”, without prying into things that are personal, 2) realize that they do not know all the details of her situation and not jump to erroneous or prejudicial conclusions from partial information or guesswork, 3) ask questions when they have questions to ask, and 4) trust the Rector as chief pastor in the congregation to minister to all without compromise of Christian standards.

I realize that my transition has been a big adjustment for our parish family. I would first like to extend thanks and gratitude for the kindness and generosity that so many people displayed when I spoke in March. I have always felt like Blessed Sacrament is my home and I am very pleased to have been so well accepted and supported by people of the parish.

What Should We Tell Our Children?
A few people have asked what they should tell their children.

I suppose that I don’t really feel comfortable telling anyone anything about what to do with their children, but here’s what I know from hearing other people like me speak about their experiences:

If children ask questions, such as “does Mr. Josh think he’s a girl?” the discussions others have had usually take the following form—“I’m sick, and I’ve been sick for a really long time. I have a birth defect, and that means I was supposed to be a girl, but I was born a boy instead, so I’m going to the doctor and they’re going to make me better and help me to be a girl as I was supposed to be.” Parents may add more detail as age-appropriate.

It also seems important to let kids come to terms with things in their own timing. If they want to continue calling me Josh, for example, I might have to deal with that for a while. If a child asks what my name is, it’s appropriate to say, “Her name is Jessica.”

If there are more specific questions that any of the parents have, I’d be happy to answer them. I don’t have a lot of experience in this area as I don’t really have contact with any of the children in my family, so it’s hard for me to think of questions and answers a priori.

————-

Shortly before that Sunday in December when I was asked to resign my ministry, I was approached by one of the younger altar servers. I had been serving with her and two older kids during mass that day, and the older children continued to call me Mr. Josh. I don’t know if it was weird for them, but it was weird for me– it was getting to the point where I didn’t turn around every time someone called out, “Josh!”

So, I imagine this little girl heard me being addressed as “Mr. Josh” and got a little confused. So, after mass she came up to me and asked, very politely, whether I was a boy or a girl. I replied “I’m a girl. My name’s Jessica.” I pointed out my name on the schedule of servers so she’d know that it was me. Her only response was, “Oh. Okay.” And then she took off, possibly to correct the other kids who were still calling me Josh. She came back a few minutes later and asked, “Ms. Jessica, may I help you empty the thurible?” Of course I agreed.

I think that was one of the final straws– the parents of the two older kids I served with that day were two of the three people who confronted me and asked me to resign. I imagine their kids were being told on one hand that I was a man named Josh and being told on another that I was a girl named Jessica. Rather than explaining the situation so the children understood though, those parents decided I should step down from a ministry that I had participated in for the better part of 5 years.

Part of me understands their actions, even though I think it was the wrong thing to do. I understand that some people are unable to deal with some things, and I understand that some people just can’t go down this road with me. That was part of the rationale for offering to step down. I don’t want to force people to accept me, but I also knew that I’d rather not stay in a place where I couldn’t be accepted.

Part of me is hurt that it took so long for people to speak up, though as I’ve already noted, people need to adjust at their own pace. I continued to serve for nearly 8 months, thinking that maybe I was being accepted as myself, thinking that I dodged a bullet and then realizing that wasn’t true in the least.

I remember Christine crying when we discussed it and she said, “I wish we had just been kicked out in March. It would have been easier than being led on.” I share that sentiment, though I don’t know how strong it is for either of us anymore. At the same time I felt led on, I also realized that those people needed to adjust in their own time, as I pointed out above.

I’m going to refrain from discussing moral conflict and liberty, or offering any further exegesis on the matter. What I can tell you is this: I came out, was as honest with people as I could be at each individual point, and there were people in the church who couldn’t accept me and who couldn’t get past the fact that I used to be a man.

For a person who’s not as well known, they may have fewer problems at being recognized. And of course, I was in a very conservative parish. The church we’re at now is a bit more liberal (there is an LGBT group) so I don’t know how something like this would go over there. That there are LGBT people in prominent positions within the church makes me feel like it would be less of a problem, but one thing I think to bet on is that acceptance is never 100%.

The last bit of advice I’d probably offer is that coming out at church is both freeing and terrifying. I wouldn’t recommend it unless the person was willing to leave the church should things go bad, but most of transition is like that: we must be willing to sacrifice everything in order to save anything.

———————–

One additional edit– I don’t agree with the rector’s position re:crossdressing. I think crossdressing is a perfectly normal expression of a person’s personality– pathologizing it hurts transgender people of all stripes, including transsexuals, because then you have to differentiate the perverts from those for whom it’s okay.

There are rules against crossdressing in the Bible (well, in the Christian Old Testament), but nothing, AFAIK, that most Christians would consider broadly applicable today. We have compromised on most of the ancient laws of the people of Israel, which is possibly as it should be– we’re not Jews, after all (at least most of us aren’t). We eat shellfish, wear clothes made of mixed fabrics, cut our hair, and do not observe any laws about ritual cleanliness (unless you don’t allow your wife in the house when she’s menstruating each month). What makes the rules about sexual purity more important than the others is purely speculative guesswork on my part.

I would venture that Fred Clark at Slacktivist would say it has something to do with an oversimplification that has hurt the church quite a lot in the past several decades– the tendency to equate morality with sexual purity. As I’ve said before (and elsewhere), there’s more to being a Christian than just following some 5000 year old rules, and as a result, there are too many people that are not only putting a cart before a horse, but using a cart with only one broken wheel.

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The Michigan Women’s Music Festival has been getting some attention from Pam’s House Blend within the past few weeks. The festival’s policy of trans-exclusion got me thinking about acceptance (and the trans-exclusion policy of my old church, of course), and then I attended a luncheon with a Domme/sub group this weekend and that got me thinking about how we sometimes find acceptance in the places that we least expect.

I’d previously heard about Michigan while reading Whipping Girl. Ms. Serano mentioned the festival as an example of discrimination against trans women—the event has had (and as far as I can tell, still does have) a womyn-born-womyn policy for festival attendees. In a way, I understand the idea—wanting the attendees to feel safe. Some of them have been abused and mistreated by men, and having women present that used to be men could be something of a traumatic experience. I get that.

I understand why someone would implement such a policy, but I also have reasons for disagreeing with it– primarily that I don’t think victims of discrimination ought to be protected via discrimination against others. I think there are very few cases where discrimination is justified, and this is not one of them.

It’s the mindset behind the womyn-born-womyn policies that will probably even keep me away from Dinah Shore in Palm Springs until I’m post-op (though I’d probably continue to protest against Michigan’s policy rather than ever attend it). As I’ve said before, I’ve had remarkably few problems since I started transitioning, and never really had any with being a trans woman in lesbian spaces, but I’m also usually part of a group and we’re going to a club where there’s not exactly strict entrance requirements.

Something like Michigan, or even The Dinah, would be a lot harder for me to navigate—I’d be constantly worried because I don’t usually make a big fuss about re-gendering stories about my past. I was, for example, on the boy’s cross country team in high school, not the girl’s. And so I’d be worried about tripping up and outing myself. I wouldn’t normally care about that, but there are times where it’s important not to announce that one is trans: for example, I don’t make a point of outing myself to the high school students I tutor (or to their parents). Being visibly trans has actually cost me some tutoring work in the past. Now, I don’t out myself to anyone unless that’s something they need to know. I wouldn’t out myself at Michigan or The Dinah, and I’m worried that my ease in talking about trans-related issues would lead to a slip that would out me.

The reason I talk about this is because the coordinators of Michigan tend to justify the exclusion of trans women by talking about the experiences of being born and growing up as a girl. That’s something that no trans woman knows anything about—except for maybe the 8 year olds that are starting to transition*. While it’s true that trans women don’t know what it’s like to grow up as a girl, under the thumb of the patriarchy, most of us, and I realize I’m speaking for myself more than others, would actually like to learn and share in what we missed out on, what we continue to miss out on because nature took it in her mind to be most cruel to us.

I’m not trying to play the “poor me” card again (though it seems I do have an inordinate amount of self-pity). I’m just trying to say that trans women have their own set of challenges, our own sets of problems through which we pass on our way to being women.

The things we have in common with cisgender women include being mistreated by men. When I was in school, I was teased, called names and bullied. I wasn’t sexually harassed (well, much, anyway) but I never had to kiss a boy out of fear for my safety. The threat of physical violence seemed higher against gender variant males than against girls, but that may just be my perception and I’m willing to concede that girls may have had it worse. I simply wasn’t a victim of the patriarchy in the same way as other women, but I was still a victim. I wasn’t oppressed, I was repressed.

A lot of cisgender people deride the notion of cis privilege, saying that it’s nothing more than my misplaced envy at not growing up a girl. I read some rant or other in which the writer was saying it wasn’t any different than being jealous of someone having a candy bar or a cute dog.

Consequently, I think this idea needs some clarification. First, growing up as a girl is in no way, shape or form similar to having a candy bar or a cute dog and if you think so, you’re dumber than a box of hair. I can go buy a candy bar or a cute dog. I can’t travel back in time and relive my childhood properly. That’s not just the worst analogy fail I’ve ever seen on the internet, it’s incredibly unsympathetic to people whose experiences the cisgender assholes know nothing about, so fuck them if they’re reading this.

What a lot of people, including some trans people, don’t realize is that trans folk benefit from cis-privilege, too. Let me explain: when I was a boy, yes, things were very confusing for me. I liked pretending I was a girl, and while I wasn’t happy, I didn’t have to put up with the same shit that girls did. That’s male privilege. The cis-privilege that I had was related to the fact that people didn’t question that I was a boy when I was presenting as one. Since I repressed my gender identity, I was able to make use of cis-privilege that in turn allowed me to take advantage of male privilege.

But trans people don’t get all the benefits of cis-privilege. Some trans women that express the “privilege” that a woman had growing up as a girl aren’t talking about how lucky a woman was to have been harassed or molested by males. The privilege that is being addressed is the advantage, the social advantage, to having your sex automatically authenticated by your parents, to be raised and socialized as the correct gender. Regardless of whether men have an easier time in society due to the effects of patriarchy, being socialized as the correct gender, even if it’s as a member of the oppressed class, is better and more useful than being socialized into the group to which you don’t belong. By way of example, I could talk about my experiences in having to learn how to use makeup, dress, style my hair when I was thirty, all the mistakes I made, and how embarrassing it was to be outed because I looked so terrible. I wasn’t socialized with experiences that were useful to me, and that’s at least one element of privilege.

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand what I’m saying. Cis women don’t have it easy, and I understand that socialization isn’t the most important thing in the world. A good education, a good job, having some money in the bank, having a roof over your head, having some kind of economic and social security is more important than knowing how to do makeup. Is knowing how to put my hair in a cute updo really going to get my ass out of the fire someday? Probably not. Then again, sometimes the most important details are the little ones. I had all of the things on the list I just rattled off, and I still wasn’t happy. I had to transition in order to take that label and make it mine. I was socialized into the wrong group and couldn’t be happy until I did something about it.

I’ve seen cases where discussion of cis-privilege led to cis people feeling resentful and attacked, and that’s not what I’m trying to do here. Most frequently, the cis person trying to defend themselves ends up saying something cissexist, and then the discussion deteriorates into a flamewar. I’m not out to start a flamewar. I’m trying to point that when a cis person claims to have no gender-based power to exert over others, that their privilege isn’t a privilege, that they’re making a demonstrably false statement. Maybe it’s just because of the blind spots in their experiences, the things they take for granted. Part of the definition of privilege (at least my working definition) is that it includes the blind spots in one’s own thinking, and it’s no surprise to me that some cis women don’t understand their privilege, just like some men don’t understand theirs.

In other words, there is some gender-based power in that role. Women may not always have more than men, but they’ll still have some. Cis-privilege is having your gender identity automatically assumed to be authentic by others. For trans women, there may be obvious tells that give us away, and rather than benefiting from cis-privilege, our identities are not accepted and we frequently become victims of cissexism. For most trans women who are out, our identities are almost always assumed to be automatically false and affected (trans-facsimilation), and almost always by cis people. That’s the power that others wield over us, the ability to accept our self-identification or humiliate us through a blatant denial. Cis women can ridicule a trans woman just as severely as a cis man, though it may not devolve into physical violence. That power is wielded by all members of society against trans people. In other words, the vehicle of the power behind cis-privilege is cissexism.

Once the privilege is expressed through cissexism, it’s not a matter of shrugging it off and ignoring the people who treat you badly. Sometimes we’re forced to deal with people who won’t accept us, who degrade and belittle us. Relying on someone who hates you is humiliating, an insult to the human dignity of the trans person. Trans people, as a result, feel that they can’t be themselves or else they’ll attract unwanted attention, possibly even violence. The end goal of the exercise of cis-privilege is the repression of trans-identities.

The experience of the Festival can also bring up some challenging feelings. Because most womyn feel uniquely “safe” at the Festival, they can experience feelings about the lack of safety womyn feel in many communities. The unique freedom womyn feel to be themselves at the Festival may bring up feelings about the burden of being “closeted” at home.

The freedom to be yourself in the above quote is exactly what cis-privilege is all about (the text is from the information page of Michigan’s website). It’s a freedom that trans people don’t have in WBW spaces, and it’s a travesty that there’s not room at the table for women of varying histories to be able to share their experiences.

Over the weekend, I experienced that freedom to be myself. I didn’t go to a WBW space, I didn’t go to a lesbian club. I went to the monthly “Munch” for LAD/s, the LA Dommes and subs group. I went with a very nice Domme** that I’ve been making friends with, and there were probably about 15 people or so at the meeting.

One of the group leaders came over and introduced herself to me and about two sentences in, just started in on how gorgeous I was. It was a startling experience, partly because it’s never happened before. I’m used to not passing, to being laughed at, pointed at, or ridiculed. I expect it, mentally preparing for it when I leave the house. I do this because if I can avoid the shock of being clocked when I don’t expect it, I can probably at least keep enough of my cool to a.) not cry and b.) get out safely. It’s a defense mechanism, and maybe what it’s done to me hasn’t been the most attractive thing in the world, destroying my self-esteem, but my safety is a little more important than my own good self-image.

Anyway, at one point near the end of the meet-up, I got up to use the restroom. Now, I *always* wonder what people say about me when I’m not around. As a trans woman, especially. I wondered how many of the Dommes and their subs had clocked me. I was more than a little defeated on the ride home when my Domme told me that, “everyone in the room knew you were trans.” I had been hoping I passed at least a little better than that. She continued her part of the story. “But while you were in the bathroom, every single one of them came up to me and told me how gorgeous you are.” I sat there in the passenger seat of the car, glowing, no longer crestfallen. She looked over at me and said, “How often has that happened, having everyone in a room know you for who you are and accept you?”

As I pondered her question, I thought about my family, my job, my church. I thought about the places I frequent online. I have never experienced that kind of acceptance, ever, anywhere, in my entire life. That realization was almost heart-breaking at the same time that it was elating.

Thinking about it in terms of WBW policies, such as the one at Michigan, is even harder. I think WBW policies encourage stealth dishonesty on the part of trans women who want to finally feel like part of a group, that in order to be themselves they have to cover up parts of their past, and I think that’s a horrible thing. I think what we all want, as women, is to feel safe, to feel un-closeted or unbound, to feel at home in our bodies; what we want is to be ourselves, just ourselves, with no pretense.

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*There was one on Dr. Phil a year or two ago. I could have gotten plastered playing Helen Boyd’s Trans Documentary Drinking Game while that was on.

** who shall remain nameless. She doesn’t know I’m writing about her, for one. I’m hoping that she’ll be none too pleased about this particular development, and decide that I’ve been a very bad girl and must be spanked***.

*** Obviously, I have a kinky streak a mile wide. I could probably write a whole post on what it’s like to be trans and into kink, and maybe I will at some point when I have something worth saying. I think it will suffice to tell you that when I was trying to make sense of my gender identity, I had my kink conflated with it. That was a very hard thing to parse, and I would purge clothing without understanding the root of the problem, which was my gender identity. If I expressed my kink as a woman, it felt like two sins. What I mean is that I couldn’t come to terms with being a woman and that kept me from coming out of the closet as a kinkster, too.

On the plus side, my Domme is one of the only people who has understood my emotional anguish over discarding custom-made corsets or latex skirts in one of my guilt-induced purges. It’s nice to know someone who appreciates good clothes.

Since I like talking about sex, I thought I’d talk some more about sex ;-) — this decision after two weeks of several false starts on other posts whose topics ranged from the draft of my surgery letter to my breast cancer scare (I’m okay and cancer free!) to why God is *still* a cocksucker. So, going with the theme of the latter, but not the content, I’ve been… trying some things.

I want to talk about sex specifically absent the talk about crying. I want to examine my own (perceived) gendered behavior and my gender identity in both my fantasies and in my interactions with others*.

In real life, I’m always a bit flirty in social situations. If sex is a taboo subject, I tend to be pretty awkward, never knowing what to say, and never interested enough in the weather. I don’t always tend to believe everything in my horoscope, but Scorpios are supposed to be intensely passionate and sexual, and I find those to be particularly accurate descriptors. If I can talk about sex, that’s a great way for me to open up, and then I can help to keep a conversation going**. I know that immediate run for the intimate details turns some people off, and while I can try to tone it down, it seems that I can never completely shut it off. And just like in social situations, my private sex life is very similar—sex is an integral part of who I am. And I’m not talking about just my body, but my mind as well. I don’t necessarily tend to get bored easily, I just have to be thoroughly engaged with my lover in order to be happy—I prefer sex that involves my brain, not just my body.

In fact, as I’ve transitioned, the former has become much more important. It is often said in gender circles that the biggest sex organ is between your ears, and while estrogens very frequently cause erectile dysfunction in pre-op trans women, some of us are still able to perform in that capacity if our brains are sufficiently engaged.

For myself, being intimate with my wife requires a lot more than the quick ask-and-answer that it used to, especially where I’m concerned. While her needs (and buttons) haven’t changed much (though probably some), mine are drastically different. And it’s not that I require an extensive amount of foreplay. In fact, all the foreplay in the world can be quite useless sometimes. She can jill me off all night long, but as long as my brain can go elsewhere, it will, and nothing will happen. And some nights, I’m just not that into it, and even if everything else is right, we might still end up joking afterwards that Houston we have a problem.

What I usually need is something that pushes my brain, urgently, into the now, the situation where we’re both in bed, where she says or does something and my brain doesn’t just wander in from whatever recesses, it is compelled. Sometimes, it’s as simple as her cumming during oral sex—her getting off gets me really turned on, and I go from semi-interested to oh sweet merciful just fuck me now.

The problems don’t tend to start until it’s my turn. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance going on—I’m presenting as a woman all the time, even to my wife, even when we’re intimate. I don’t talk about having a penis anymore. For example, if we’re flirting, or I’m thinking about her in the middle of the afternoon, I might tell her that I’m wet and that I want her when I get home.

When we’re actually having sex, and I say something like that, I inevitably start crying—the point where my body is directly contradicting what I’m feeling, and I can’t brush it aside with a quick and simple hand wave. But the thing is, when I say that to her, that she gets me wet, I really do feel wet—my brain is just sort of in a different gear, synced up to a body that doesn’t exist.

What I’m trying to bring into the discussion at this point is the concept of a brain-body map. And like I’ve said before, it’s not that I think I’ve got a vulva, but there are instances, in fantasy, or when I’m particularly aroused, that my brain starts acting like I ought to have one. It’s the simplest way I can explain it, even though it’s not entirely correct. Much like being a woman trapped in a man’s body, I just don’t think we have words for how I feel. If there are words for it, they’re jargon in some lexicon I don’t understand, and they’d be useless here anyway. So, I’m stuck with saying I ought to…. But however I put it, I feel it as distinctly as I can scratch my elbow with my eyes closed. The interruption of that connection between my brain and what should be is jarring, the realization that what I’m experiencing is more like the descriptions I’ve heard of phantom limb phenomenon, that what I’m feeling doesn’t exist. And despite all the wishful fantasizing, there’s an odd persistence in my mind that says it ought to be this way, not that way. That’s what makes me want to cry.

But I don’t just want to talk about crying. In fact, since I want to talk about sex in ways that aren’t entirely related to crying, I’m going to step out of real life for a bit. In solitary fantasies, my imagination is already in high gear—I can hand wave away the discrepancies I feel as just part of a story. If I’m touching myself, I process the sensations from both my hand(s) and pubis as though I was touching a vulva and not a penis. It’s completely unsupported by the physical reality, but I’ve been doing this for a very long time and have gotten quite good at it. In fact, when masturbating, I very rarely get upset to the degree that I do during normal sex. Part of the problem with sex when a partner is involved is the juxtaposition of her cis body on my trans one—I’m confronted with my fantasy construct and its world breaks down before my eyes—this is what a vulva really feels like, and even if she says something to me such as, “oh my god, you’re so wet” I know at that point that we’re both just playing along with something that’s untrue.

For some, roleplaying to that degree just results in laughter. If a straight couple is role-switching, a cis guy might just think it’s ridiculous for him to be wet. For me, wanting and needing so desperately for it to be true just makes me sad. It’s possible that what I really need is more experience at roleplaying something that is distinctly opposed to what my senses tell me, and to see if I can find a resolution to the problem from that angle.

The path I’ve been exploring lately, though, is one that just disengages my body completely. Writing (or even flirting with someone online) is a way of taking my perceived self, a trans woman that is already post-op, and putting her in an interaction with another human being, even if the entire thing exists only in my head. I project how a different person, such as a lover might react to me, how I might react to them, how I want to be treated as female by them, how I want to treat them. The lack of physical contact in writing makes it distinctly unlike sex with my wife, but it also frees me from the fear, confusion and embarrassment of a body that doesn’t match my presentation.

Thinking about my behavior when I interact with a man, for example (even an imaginary one), I notice that I automatically assume a more passive role than I do with most women, though I should add that’s not necessarily a submissive act. If he wants to take me, I let myself be taken, but I’m quite active even as a bottom, and will top from the bottom when it suits my mood.

While I like being more passive when interacting with men, I do still like being an active instigator, and I like being on top (at least sometimes). As a man, I was always sort of top-by-default (as a friend of mine put it), but I really consider myself a switch. I like being on top and bottom, and as I’ve already said (more or less), I’m very active. Furthermore, I find that I can start to feel a little resentful after a while if I always default to one position or the other.

When I was talking to my therapist about this during my last session, he was very interested to compare and contrast my behavior with partners of different genders. I think my automatic assumption of passivity around men derives from a societal expectation that a man wants to feel in control. Whether that’s true or not isn’t something I’m really all that positive about. Certainly when I was a man, I didn’t mind a woman taking control, at least occasionally. In fact I kind of liked it, though it seems like most of the messages we get through media portray men battling back against the control that women assert over them, so I always just assumed I was an outlier.

Contrasting my feelings towards men with my perceptions of women, I find that I’m more inclined to be submissive to a dominant woman than a man. I think it has something to do with the fact that women are already expected to be submissive to men in so many other facets of life, that this is one place where I’m just not willing to do it. That, in itself, is an attempt to wrest back control of my own life, but only in miniature. It is my transition writ small. I’m taking sexual control of my body from men (to an extent) and I’m taking complete control of my life from my family, the church, and society.

From the perspective of being transgender and feeling like I’ve missed out on a lot of experiences, I also wonder how much of my willingness to be submissive to other women is an attempt to learn something from them, an effort to learn some of the socialization that I missed the first time around, or to understand how my body works now that it’s more appreciably female. In essence, I would trust Christine (or a domme, or any woman, really) to know how far she can push my body, what feels amazingly heavenly, and how to touch me just so, while I’m much more reluctant to try something new with a man (even in fantasy).

Not to say that those are things that men can’t know and can’t learn, but it’s more like trusting a woman’s experiences with her own body, that she can appropriately apply them to mine. In fact, my experiences (both real and imagined) with other women, especially in cases of being on bottom, tend to be quite educational for me. She might say something to me that gets my heart pounding, blood racing, and oh god yes that’s good. Just thinking about having Christine touch me, bringing me to the heights and brink of ecstasy is enough to get me in the mood.

On the other hand, I know that there are women who are pretty ignorant about what’s in their underwear, and there are some guys who really know their stuff (I like to think that I used to be one of them, at least to a degree, but I also realize how intensely ignorant I really was), so I should point out that those statements above are just generalizations. They’re by no means applicable to all people and relationships, and they’re really even only rules of thumb for me, not hard and fast boundaries. When I write, there are some characters to whom my self-insert would always be submissive, and others for whom she would never be(such as a man).

As I’m contrasting my thoughts and feelings about men and women, I may as well discuss how my sexual preferences have changed during the course of transition (I’ve sort of talked around this subject before, so forgive me for repeating myself). When I first started out, I wasn’t really interested in guys at all, but after Christine and I saw our priest for the first time, and talked about getting an annulment, we were told that both of us would be able to marry again if we so chose. I sat there with a funny look of shock on my face, my jaw practically on the floor, the idea of being married to a man so unfathomable to me at the time. It was the first time in my life I ever considered what it would be like to be romantically involved with a man. The idea was a little repugnant at first, partly because I was trying to stop being a man, and involving myself with one seemed like a cruel reminder of the life I was trying to get out of.

I don’t know if it’s hormones or all the socialization that we receive, but a lot of trans women change orientations when we emerge out the other side of this process, just so we can at least fit the heterosexist mold, even if we don’t fit the cissexist one. I’ve noticed for myself at least, that I like the idea of men. I’ve been at the pub and had a guy talk to me, and I flirted back, and liked him enough to think that if I weren’t married, and if he weren’t married and if I didn’t have a penis… and then I realized there were a few too many stipulations for an afternoon fling with the cute investment banker.

While those problems hold me back in real life, my fantasy life is not so fettered. There are even people that I interact with online who know that I’m trans, and also know that I’m pre-op. Where that would interfere in real life, these people never knew me previously as a man, and that means that there’s no adjustment period. They don’t go through a phase of misgendering me or calling me by my old name. The information processes and we move past it. If anything, the fact that I’m trans is something they forget, and some of my best experiences are friends that tell me that I’m all woman to them. If I flirt with them, there’s no difficulty with it– they’re as readily able to imagine this post-operative-reality as I am (they may even have less trouble with it than I do).

It’s really that, the ability to be someone else, or more properly, to be myself, that’s truly important. Being myself is the entire point of transitioning, and understanding how all these pieces fit together is a huge part of it. Figuring out my sexuality is something I put off for a while, understanding that there would probably be time to work it out. And now that I understand a little more about who I am, I’m trying to learn a little more about who I like. My sexuality feels like the face of a Rubik’s Cube, like it’s an integral part of figuring out who I am, but not the entirety of it.

At some point, I may talk about some of those things I mentioned way back at the beginning of this post, but this is the thing that is in my foreground right now. It was kind of getting in the way of all those other topics, so maybe now that it’s out, some of the other ideas can escape as well.

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*By others, I’m really only talking about my wife, though possibly past lovers, too. I flirt quite a bit with my friends, and I also have been writing some erotica on the side, so some of that might creep in, but when I’m talking about physical sex, it’s primarily Christine I’m talking about.

** Just today, we went to lunch with an LGBT group consisting of a lot of people from our church. I said wildly inappropriate things about handcuffs, bed restraints and then stuck $60 down the pants of the guy next to me as we were leaving (I had to pay for our food, after all). I may have made a fool of myself in the process of all those things, but at least it wasn’t a dull lunch.