Monday, June 25, 2007

Aphabet Soup

GLBT…no…LGBT…or, rather…LGBTQI…or should it be LGBTQIA!!

I have decided, amidst this plethora of letters, to indiscriminately add one additional letter. So…Lesbian, Gay. Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Ally, Whatever is my newly adopted interpretation of our community’s acronym: to wit, LGBTQIAW.

In the patriarchal world within which we reside, a case can be made for many different combinations and permutations. Well…the L should go first because, generally, women have historically been accorded second-class citizenship. But, gentlemen always open the door for ladies…is putting the L first merely another mode for patronizing women? Perhaps we should put the T first, since transgender is the new “untouchable” class of individuals. No…those “trannies” need to wait their turn…they don’t deserve to go first.

Is this a serious issue or just mental masturbation? No one knows the answer. Of course, we would like to think we are above such petty squabbles, but, like it or not, the community which comprises those who would embrace sexual and gender diversity is a microcosm of the world at large. We mirror all the petty infighting and dissension that one would find, for example, in a modern political party.

We modernists have a penchant for acronyms. Perhaps it’s a result of living in the age of computers; perhaps it comes from our predilection for multi tasking and the quest for economy of words and time. Or, maybe we have just been infected by the effect of the military in our lives. The armed forces are, perhaps, the all-time pros at acronymizing, and it boggles my mind to think that they can remember all of them…forget recollecting what those letters even stand for.

Or, maybe it’s a nomenclature thing and merely an extension of our need to label. In our patriarchal society, we don’t go for ambiguity or ambivalence. Everything needs to be neat and orderly and in its designated spot. Acronyms are just that…neat and easy…the ultimate in expedience. Not only that…they add substance to institutionalized elitism…you need to be “in the club” to know what the acronym means…and…not knowing is tantamount to displaying our ignorance!!

I guess modernity has a way of infecting all of its separate parts, like some kind of virus, and the coalition of lesbian, gay, transgender, et al, is certainly no exception.
Given the perception that we are stuck with the need to use SOME kind of abbreviated moniker, I think that my suggestion of LGBTQAIW is going to have to do…we don’t have enough vowels with which to create a word that would be apropos and would include all the constituent elements. And, we can squabble about the order until we are hoarse. But, we all know that we can’t please everyone, so I have decided to suit myself. And…anyone who chooses to may situate themselves right along side of me…

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Binary Paradox for M2F Transsexuals

Having just finished my second reading of Jason Cromwell’s excellent article, “Queering the Binaries: Transsituated Identities, Bodies, and Sexualities”, a rather contradictory picture emerges for transsexuals living in the early years of the 21st century. My perspective is that of an M2F pre-op TS. Our dilemma is that we are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. In order to “qualify” for a professionally monitored and administered transition, we are forced to jump through a series of hoops that establish our bona fides. Simultaneously, we are chastised for perpetuating gender and sexuality stereotypes, which empower the assumption that all ways of being in the world are reducible to categories and nomenclature.

This conundrum is situated in the ongoing effort of many of us to effectuate the deconstruction of a binary model, which stipulates that there are only two manners of expression for gender and sexuality. Historically, gender and sexuality were assumed to have been one and the same. Cromwell cites the formula “body-equals-sex-equals-gender-equals-identity”. I have written previous articles (The Bathroom Issue, 2007) setting forth my theory regarding the etiology of this formula. Simply stated, its roots may be found in an examination of a patriarchal worldview, one predicated upon a labeling system, which demands clarity and certainty, while eschewing any ambivalence or ambiguity. The line between male and female, masculinity and femininity, is clearly drawn. Gender variant individuals blur that line; they wreak havoc upon the system. They jeopardize a mindset that has been previously established as fact, at least in the minds of the so-called dominant male population.

The truth of the matter is that we, as gender variant individuals, are only too happy to comply with and assist in the toppling of this archaic model. We see it as a system with no substantive basis in the real world, one constructed to enhance male prerogative and status, and one that is couched in misogynistic trappings, both overt and subliminal. The message is and has been clear; namely, that only biological men may assume “King of the Hill” status. M2F transsexuals are lambasted for having voluntarily ceded their birthright of innate superiority, advantage and priority. Conversely, F2M transsexuals are deprecated for their alleged attempt to usurp a status to which they were neither natural nor biological heirs.

The tight squeeze in which both F2M’s and M2F’s find themselves is, at best, untenable and at worst, results in marginalization and exclusion. We are strung out between the polarity of gatekeeper mandated therapy and biological determinism. In order to achieve the coveted diagnosis of GID…Gender Identity Disorder, we need to conform to a regimen that has been artificially established by a male dominated medical and psychiatric profession. This system, as intended, is not all bad. Harry Benjamin was not only a pioneer in the diagnosis and treatment of GID, but his Standards of Care have many salient qualities which make it applicable today, as long as it is administered flexibly. Therein lies the problem. Many caregivers see the Standards of Care as a monolithic code, which never deviates from its proscribed course. This method of application, coupled with a male dominated profession, oftentimes runs contrary to the best interests of the individual. Carte blanche determinations as to who may and who may not qualify as a suitable candidate for transition are meted out by some (not all) professionals and it is in this sense that they have become gatekeepers.

Concomitant with a gatekeeper model of therapy is a community of well-read and prepared transsexuals who know exactly what is required of them to pass through the gate. They have read all the literature, have untold numbers of real life accounts from previously transitioned persons, and know just what the therapist will ask. Common questions include what toys were desirable as a child; were you always dissatisfied with your birth gender; have you ever felt like you were trapped in the wrong body; are you presently, or have you ever been attracted to members of your same birth gender; has dressing in the opposite gender role ever had a fetishistic component. For M2F individuals, additional questions involve crossdressing, wearing mother’s or sister’s clothing, trying their makeup, etc. Wrong answers mean an unsatisfactory diagnosis; correct, or “appropriate” answers mean a satisfactory diagnosis.

The irony is that gender variance is just that; namely, a departure from conventional gender roles which may or may not include having felt, or looked, the way the therapist suggests one must feel or look. Any individual’s experience may or may not conform to any given therapist’s paradigm. There is not, necessarily, any one way of expressing gender variance; in fact, there may be as many ways of expressing such diversity as there are individuals who believe they are gender variant.

The need to be able to successfully jump through gatekeeper hoops is at cross-purposes to the deconstruction of gender and sex stereotypes; the very nature of the standards imposed upon transsexuals enforce those very same stereotypes. The reason for this is that most therapists’ philosophical and practical models are embedded within that same binary system. A person is male or female and must successfully demonstrate opposite biological presentation and a profound sense of feeling that the “other” gender is more appropriate than their birth gender.

Within the rock and a hard place model, the therapists are the rock; the hard place is constituted by a feminist and/or gender warrior ideology which decries the existence of gender and sex stereotypes while simultaneously excluding anyone from their midst, e.g. M2F’s, who were not born female. That exclusion has also been rendered to F2M’s. the former category are intruders, wolves in sheep’s clothing, while the latter are turncoats. The irony is that, in reality, this ideology simultaneously both negates and affirms biological determinism, as well as those stereotypes aforementioned. Feminism, by its very definition, views the misogynistic predilection for domination of patriarchalism as classist, separatist, and obsolete as an effective model for the future. The exclusion of M2F’s and the expulsion of F2M’s is nothing less than a return to the phenomenon they wish to deconstruct and a bolstering of biological determinism.

What is the key to this conundrum? Wherein lies the solution? Perhaps it is the fact that we are so consumed by labels, categories and nomenclature that we cannot see the proverbial forest for the trees. We allow the proliferation of descriptive terminology, which is initially intended to help us to understand how we, as individuals, may be situated within the broader range of the gender/sexuality continuum. Or, perhaps more accurately, the goal is to understand just how our personal and distinct way of being in the world, with regard to gender and sex, is the same or differs from any other person’s way of being in the world.

Labels, however, as I have remarked on many occasions, are double bladed swords. They can be useful, but only up to a certain point. Beyond that, labels become confining, delimiting, and counter productive; they become traps, or prisons; they become straitjackets; they impede our psychological and emotional mobility. If we are truly to embrace diversity, we must find a new paradigm in which labels are prevented from becoming traps.

The fact is that many M2fF individuals prefer an ultra-feminine presentation, just as many F2M individuals prefer an ultra-masculine presentation. And there many individuals whose gender presentation is neither ultra–feminine nor ultra-masculine. When we speak of deconstruction of a binary, we are not necessarily speaking of deconstruction of masculinity or femininity. We are speaking of the deconstruction of the necessity to be wholly one, or the other, or the proscription from either being something in between or reserving the right, to oneself, to have a flexible or changeable self image of one’s gender or of one’s sexuality. In my view, the most important part of a new understanding is that, however one envisions oneself and however one expresses oneself, it is perfectly alright. There are no conventions, requirements, standards or rules.

There are those who believe that deconstruction implies reconstruction. I don’t see this as a necessity. If and when we are truly able to support the concept of diversity, there might be no reason to reconstruct anything. The expression of one’s individuality would be a self evident reality, without any additional layers of meaning which would need to be deciphered. As the old expression goes…what you see is what you get. Of course, this implies the end of the patriarchal model as the one and only valid worldview. It implies equality for all, regardless of gender, either by birth or as expressed, as well as equality regardless of one’s sexual orientation. It actually mandates that morality be relegated to actions and consequences rather than to identity, and, as such, is part of a bigger revolution of thought which encompasses equality for all persons, regardless of gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, race, religion, physical disability or any other determinative.

Or…perhaps…reconstruction need not necessarily be seen as something negative. There is the possibility that, in reality, what we are accomplishing is the deconstruction of discrimination and bigotry and the reconstruction of equality. In that case, the world we should have reconstructed will have the embracing of diversity as its foundation and binary thinking will not only be unnecessary, but obsolete.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Good News, Bad News, Take 2

Some of you may be aware of the ongoing battle some of us have waged with the North Carolina DMV regarding appropriate gender markers on driver’s licenses and identification cards. We have been at this task for some 8 or 9 months now…not really that long, in the scheme of things. The good news is: yesterday, the DMV finally acceded to giving me that coveted “F” on my driver’s license. The bad news? I know that the DMV is still unwilling to change the language in their driver’s license examiner’s manual, and that I was, essentially, “bought off”. To my knowledge, I am the second person who has gone to the DMV, in NC, with a physician’s letter stating that they were under her care. And, it would seem that, even though the exact language in the manual has not been amended, some kind of interoffice memo HAS been circulated specifying the reinterpretation of the policy for granting changes in gender markers.

A brief history: The process was initiated by a close friend, who contacted Mr. Wayne Hurder, director of NC DMV. The director has wavered…agreeing, then backing off that agreement. This on again, off again treatment was repeated several times. Subsequently, another colleague approached NC Senator Cowell at NC lobby days, and persuaded her that this was a worthy issue and she communicated the nature of the problem, once again, to Mr. Hurder. I contacted Senator Cowell’s administrative aide and, after a few conversations, she was able to get a confirmation from Mr. Hurder that, yes, they would be willing to amend my driver’s license with a letter from my physician stating that I was under her care.

What, you may ask, is the remaining problem? We have asked that Mr. Hurder change the language within the manual to be more specific. It used , and continues to use, the following language:

“To change gender markers on a driver’s license or identification card, a person must have either a court order or a letter from a physician stating that they are in the process of procedure of having their sex changed”

Previously, this language had been interpreted to mean that a surgeon’s letter was necessary. Now, it would seem, the same language is being interpreted to mean that an individual must be under a physician’s care. The problem is that, given the nature of the director’s change of mind, and given the fact that Mr. Hurder is unlikely to be Director of DMV forever, a more substantial use of language with greater clarity would certainly seem to be in order. How do we know that a change is not in the works? A new driver’s license examiner’s manual has just been issued and the language of the provision is identical to its previous version.

Rest assured that we will NOT be bought off. I will remain in contact with both Mr. Hurder and with Senator Cowell’s office and will not rest until we see a substantive change in policy, complete with language that is crystal clear. I have learned the value of incrementalism. Nevertheless, we will continue to push the envelope, keep up the struggle, and remain staunch in our efforts to work for equality for transgender persons.