This is my entry to help people understand what it is to be trans or intergender, and what reactions can be even from within the GLBTIIQ communities. I am part of the “Hop Against Homophobia” campaign, and everyone who chooses to comment will be provided a free copy of my latest release, “Silence Is Multi-Colored In My World.” It is a bio-memoir of a courageous young Russian, who was gay, deaf, an orphan and former sex worker who beats the odds to find a home, love and a measure of peace. He too, abhorred homphobia.
My angle is from a “blow-by-blow” not having to just battle homophobes but from also within the GLBTIIQ community, those who say they represent but do not obviously understand the range of what that means and who it may encompass outside of their “sphere” and favorites and choose to try to hurt and vilify gays who don’t fit into their ideas of how gays should be or what they should do or believe.
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All photos were made by me at the annual CSD Parade in Berlin, Germany.
Although primarily addressing situations within the gay community, these ideas and thoughts can equally be applied to heterosexuals. Greater understanding, compassion and respect is needed.
A question posed at GLBT website was deeply thought-provoking (or should have been) to readers, yet the comments from others more fully told the tale: “Why is there a double standard?”
Title: “Why is it, trans people get grouped into the GLBT phrase, but…?
The OP further explained: “I’ve been grouped in with them, I’ve invested a lot of time understanding the “gay culture”, and getting to know lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, pansexuals, crossdressers, etc.
Yet, I’m constantly running into gay/lesbian/bisexual/crossdresser people who don’t do the same for transgender/transsexual individuals? They don’t understand us, some won’t even TRY to understand us, many won’t date us, etc.
At my GLBT group on campus, I’m asked to help out with gay pride events, coming out day, our campus drag show, AIDS walk etc. But when I asked the group to come to Transgender Day of Remembrance, no one even had a clue what it was.
So..why the double standard?” (Please read the full posting here at public domain location, Yahoo Answers, though I originally found it on a GLBT specific website.)
One of the replies:
“honestly do not know, but I have noticed the same thing over the years…. I identify as a straight woman and no longer attend any LGB functions. I think for the most part the LGB has used us in the past as a bargaining chip, as a group that can be thrown under the bus to get what they are after in the political arena.
If you spend any time at this forum it will not take long to see the misunderstanding, and in many cases the hate from the LGB. I personally notice it more from the younger females directing it towards Trans Women, as though we are attempting to break into there little sorority. I just want to live my life, not be a part of there club. There are also some very anti trans gay men here, one in particular that self claims to be a masculine gay man and academic…..”
- Have you heard or read the questions directed towards a transgendered woman, “If you’re still attracted to men, why didn’t you stay male?
- Heard anyone making the remark, “These are just women who want to be men because they are lesbians who want a penis”, or something along those lines?
As one person mentioned in the comments section of the article of the link placed above, some gays (male or female) continue to be focused on a certain reality according to their own perception and understanding, or lack thereof. When considering the questions above sometimes there is laughter and dismissal. Sometimes there are flat looks or further statements which clearly display lack of knowledge, sympathy and/or empathy towards transgendered person and others who are loosely grouped under that “category”.
Such attitudes completely discount the reality of the transgendered individual. For TGW (transgender woman), these ones didn’t see themselves as male in the first place. They felt themselves to be female although their outward appearance suggested male. In keeping with their feelings, they made the enormous choice, both personal and public, to elicit physical change. Questions like these, often in the setting or tone in which asked, come off as mocking or insulting.
For the individuals who become TGMs (transgender men), there seems to be even more stereotypes assigned by many other gays, yet in both cases, just like doubting heterosexuals, the premise behind the questions and dismissal is that these are just people who can’t live with their outward selves. If they were “real” gays or “real” lesbians, they would be strong enough to stay in their “gender” is the suggestion or assumption. What this doesn’t take into account is that these individuals do not feel they are IN the correct gender appearance.
Although it is still marginally labelled as a disorder in the DSM-IV, the “manual” of psychological terms and descriptions though a strong if comparatively small group is lobbying to have it removed, Gender Identity Disorder is a misnomer for many. Yes, they feel they are in the wrong gender outwardly, but usually disorders of any sort which develop, whether it’s depression or anxiety, are usually based on how people treat and perceive that individual, which is in many cultures, negative or ambiguous at best. By majority, they have no inherent mental problems (Lahey, 2007).
Body dysmorphia, another psychological term relating to the dislike and often intense hatred an individual can have towards their physical body which does not fit their own mental and emotional image of themselves, is also a serious condition which often is only eliminated or lessened if the process to change their bodies to a more acceptable and liveable appearance begins, or at the very least, they dress or make-up themselves to fit their mental image. In almost all cases, competent and knowledgeable professional help can be a relief and sometimes a necessity at various points in their lives (Lahey, 2007).
Sometimes people don’t even realize they are doing it, the deferential treatment. With the recent successful repeal of DADT, cries of “Congratulations to the gays and lesbians who’ve served or are serving in the military!” Notice something about that statement? Where are the congratulations to the bisexual or transgendered individuals who’ve served in the military? Was it a victory only for gay and lesbians? Why not a “Congrats to GLBT people who’ve served or currently serve in the military”?
I pointed that out to whoever was manning the Twitter guns of “We Give A Damn”. It was curious that each message after that no longer specified it one way or the other, it was only a general congrats. So they’re suppose to be supportive of GLBT, among others, so why is there so often only focus specified to gay and lesbians when the range of gender and sexuality is fully broad across the spectrum? I believe this prevalence or omission can also contribute to the dismissive and uneducated opinion both gays and lesbians as well as heterosexuals can direct towards transgendered and intergendered people.
Intergendered or Intersexed Individuals
And what of the others: Intersex or intergender persons? Hermaphrodites, androgynes, and yes, even with that state, there can be variances. Therefore the term gender variant. Does the individual have both genitalia? Are the genitalia normal sized or is there a slight difference in placement and ability? Are they fertile as female, or only as male? Are they infertile as both? There are ranges of realities, so even assuming one term applies to all is incorrect; absolutely assuming and labelling them all “across the board” as transgender can be wrong.
Because of the nature of the differences, whether they are caused by genetics, mutation or an actual medical condition, there are often huge misunderstandings about intersex or intergender persons. The actual number of such individuals is not exactly known, only approximated, as some choose to have their history expunged. Although there are some records that usually are kept about the person’s birth, some intersexed persons choose a gender to focus solely upon. Some live only as a heterosexual male or female with only their most intimate partners ever knowing the unique aspects of their bodies. Some choose to never have a partner or sustained relationship (Online articles, 2008). This can often be the case in societies that are heavily religious or judgemental. In my opinion, this can be a country like the USA as well as a Muslim or strongly male predominant countries. In each, there is a tendency to judge and force upon certain individuals a general dogma or label, either overtly or covertly, and in the former, just upon individual whim.
And among gays specifically? Just like the young person questioned in the link above, and others replied, the discrimination and bias against people like us, transgendered and intergendered alike, by gays can be quite problematic regarding acceptance. The judgemental attitude can be upsetting for some, and the quickness you’re placed in a category, then a sub-category often makes it a waste of time and personal self-esteem if you let such attitudes bother you.
It brings me back to similar situations which have been discussed over time regarding various groups: black on black crime, violence of neo-Nazi Germans against Germans they consider too liberal and open, ones who have betrayed their race by marrying or interacting with “foreigners”, and so you have it among gays also: the divisions, the finger pointing, the biases. Such behaviours will be found among any society or culture to some degree, even those who come together because of common interests or aims, but how can we lessen this tendency?
Among gay males there can be as much mockery against transgendered females as any ignorant heterosexual has shown. For those transgendered women I’ve known, most learn not to go among gay men or bisexual men any longer or expect any fellowship or commiseration. Often, they live a very quiet and private life that might later include an understanding partner who often self-identifies as heterosexual.
As also noted by those commenting in the article above, many gays want you to go to “their” parades, but you are still not really one of them. You are expected to support causes like “We Give a Damn” and “The Trevor Project”, but just be honest, most of those focus on gay people, male or female. They do not focus in the same way on transgendered people although yes, you do hear of some stories. Unfortunately, you still continue to have the inferences, if not outright statements both from gay and heteros, that transgender people are the ones who have given in, given up and not accepted what they are, or they have “asked” for discrimination because they felt they needed to change their gender physical appearance.
When I posted a link to my article: “Two Spirits: Tradition, History and Future” to a gay fiction web group discussion forum, inevitably, there was the representative gay male who said, “Well, that’s just being transgendered! That’s not like gay at all. I am a man and I love other men! I (extra emphasis on I) don’t want to be a woman, so that’s not the same thing!” First, they used the wrong term and used it broadly and badly, completely misunderstanding the clear definition provided for two-spirit that includes all GLBTIIQ people who choose to identify as such. Second, you have someone with a level of self-absorption that automatically super-imposed their own beliefs onto other peoplem generalized and made a judgement against all. Who is he to tell me or anyone what and who were are or are not?
It is strongly demanded everyone understand their needs as gay men to be recognized, respected, accepted, understood yet many have not had the dignity of according the same to others. The extent of the Meism, the kind of which they don’t see their own behavior and biases, even when it is pointed out to them, no matter how easily, nicely, informatively, often they keep those biases. They justify their bias. They conveniently push the very important realizations away refusing to accept responsibility.
Transgender and Intergender Life
Why are transgender or intergender people so often seen as not really gay, because some TGM are attracted solely to men, or TGW to women? This is a very important question, and gay people and others really need to look hard at themselves and at the answers because it is a very real difficulty such discrimination that’s inflicted upon transgendered and intergendered people within the GLBT community by some of the very ones who actually “claim them.” I’m not saying it is widespread, or that everyone has thought about it or share those negative beliefs, but often when present it is vocal and vehement.
Though I am not transgendered, I am intersexed, an androgyne in the physiological definition of the term, I live my life male and gay, and when many people see me for some it is not easily discernable whether I am male or female, not unusual in this day and age in and of itself (or my location of Berlin, Germany, lots of “ambiguousity”), but once I speak, well… I have a deep voice. It’s a little comical perhaps, but I simply look like a person, though more male but likely because I wear my hair traditionally long, there is assumed a more female aspect to my personality. That’s culturally and sexually assumptive. Many non-native gays, in the US anyway, automatically assume I am transgendered. I’ve even had some, and not just a few, if we happen to be discussing this subject, say, “You’re not really gay”, as if its for them to judge and their determination applies to me.
When people infer there is something wrong with you, and often it’s also suggested that if you choose to live as a gay male, you’re somehow a pretender. Similar attitudes are directed towards transgendered men. Some think that if you’re intergendered, you are still a woman or mostly a female. Or the real kicker for me is that if you are intergendered it’s the same thing as transgendered. Especially in the physical sense, it’s quite different even if a wrongly similar in idea in many people’s heads.
When you are supposedly “part” of a community and even those within that community look at you as lesser further isolates and creates misunderstandings within a group which is commonly misunderstood. Many transgendered and intergendered or sexed individuals additionally have to deal with this reality every day, besides the negativity they can receive from “the rest of the world” and even their own families.
In my case, I just live my life. When in the US, I usually don’t date unless they are natives, who more commonly accept you just as you are, knowing of the two-spirit tradition which has been a part of the People for thousands of years and more. When in my birth country of Germany, by majority I live and get accepted for who I am, not a “tag” someone places on me, assumes and expects me to stay within, so they can have a further “sub-group”. If they have no interest, it’s based on normal “some people you like, some you don’t”, and not often in combination with justifications or judgements. If they have a question, they ask, and not in tones of disapproval or disbelief. If I choose to have a date or someone becomes interested in me or I in them, we’ll discuss it just like imperative condom usage, so that there’s no further necessity, and life goes on.
Dating With a Twist
But imagine dating with this special twist? Filling out those little questionnaires on a dating site, or something like that.
- Are out to everyone? Just to friends? Out to no one?
- Are you male or female or transgendered? (Hm, but there’s no option but a fourth choice, or the chance of choosing two)
- Are you male or female looking for A. male B. Female C. Transgendered individual
Sometimes I just seek that part, and say what I feel myself to be and what I am looking for: I am gay and looking for a gay friend, activity partner, etc. And that is absolutely correct (or nearly, I can be attracted to women but I mostly prefer men). Again in my case, I choose to “put it out there” rather early in conversation, even though if someone saw me naked (not to be crude but its fact) they wouldn’t question gender at all for I look male, but if someone is quick to judge or object early on, this is a clear indicator light for me to very cautious or steer clear.
For transgendered individuals, if you are male there is the reality of the visible changes of physical gender reassignment and all that can entail. It can always be a daunting task to get yourself back into the dating world or seek a partner especially if you find yourself attracted to men, but in some countries or areas, it can be challenging in a different way as the attitudes I mentioned above can prevail. There are always lovely exceptions to the rule, but many have expressed apathetic response. For those attracted to females, maybe it’s just “the nature of the beast”, heterosexual women have comparatively been found by many to be more accepting of the changes and their potential partner’s struggle for acceptance.
For the transgendered female, just like with a male, they have to overcome their own fears, gain confidence and self-esteem to be “seen” in their new way. Some find it exhilarating to finally, FINALLY be as close to their mental image as possible. Some understandably have fear and apprehension, not from their choice, because it is not a simple process or even a months long process so they work to prepare themselves, but from the attitude encountered when others find out or see the changes. For adults, it can take years for their body to change even if they’ve had surgery and hormone therapy will continue lifelong. The monetary cost continues to be problematic for many. Often, over years, in a number of stages, the gender reassignment takes place. To stop dating during that time or having a partner as your body and abilities change? Really think about how hard it is for them, in their imperative decision.
A scenario witnessed and experienced: “An advert says, or a person claims, ‘I am looking for someone honest, true, loving, intelligent, someone I also find attractive so we can enjoy a life together’…and you meet and it’s great, and they are attracted to you, then they find out you are also trans or intergendered. Total dead end. Done. No interest. On occasion, disgust or aggression. Besides possible personal preferences on physicality, are they so shaky in their own self that your reality threatens them? Who do they hate? Why are they are directing at you? So it was only about appearance after all, it was only about sex. It wasn’t about honesty, love or intelligence or even preference, in some cases, if they are bisexual for example.
Many transgendered people were in a relationship with one of the opposite gender before they revealed their desire for gender reassignment. Whether they were gay or straight or not, this can be traumatic for both people. The ramifications are long lasting. Dating takes on a new twist, a angle, a new dread. Few people not directly involved know of the enormous stress, anxiety and pain experienced every single day, the disappointments, the slighting looks. Too many assumptions are made, too many terms used that others (gay or straight) think are acceptable, or “just in fun” such as “she-male”, “he-she” or even less savory terms with more crude descriptions. Many transgender people hope and dream of acceptance for WHO they are, not WHAT they are, but that’s not common in all too many cases.
It is a triumph to me whenever I see or know someone who is transgendered. Intergenders have yet another unique aspect to their reality as well.
Here’s a memory of mine as an example:
In 2010, I put out an advert while searching for a model to photograph for one of my books. I put down my specifications and received response and eventually set up appointments with a few candidates. And so to meet them. ‘We can meet at so-and-so location, I’ll be driving a black Volvo, and will be wearing jeans, a blue shirt and ballcap,’ for example. I always give them a link to my website so they can research me beforehand if they wish.
I met one actor/model at a convenient Panera Bread Company café, and we easily began to engage in conversation. I sensed he shared a personality like mine which tends towards the no non-sense, silliness or pretense. We travelled to the shoot location, did what we needed but continued to talk. I liked it when he asked me what being “intersexed” was instead of merely assuming, for he’d seen one of my websites. In general I find that as compared to the younger generation, many of whom seem to think they know everything already and state some of the most far-fetched ideas as fact and hate to be corrected or informed, some older people or those with insight, simply ask.
I gave him a brief overview that I would give to anyone: I was physically born both. The female characteristics tend to be focused upon first in some cultures because if you don’t have an aggressively masculine appearance for some reason people tend to assume you are just a masculine looking woman or lesbian. I lived as a gay male. But in any case, as a Native American, males tend to have much less or no facial hair than other ethnicities and often faces and body types are similar between the genders. Many wear their hair longer in general. The gender gap is not as wide as in some ethniticies.
“When I first saw you, I thought you are a female, but once we started talking, then I didn’t think about that at all,” he said. (In the USA, among non-natives, people seem to more quickly assume that, but in Europe I rarely have that problem.)
I laughed. “Well, for those who men who doubt me I just tell them mine’s as big yours and I can prove it, and leave it at that.” He laughed with me then. After the shoot, we had a few beers and smoked a few cigarettes, which I will do socially upon occasion, and found we’d become friends.
If all meetings could be as easy as that. If dating could be so easy. Just accepting a person as they are instead of trying to force them into one’s own view of the world and people?
This article is not one of activism, or a cause or movement, it is simply asking that each and every person take the time to honestly ask themselves the questions and give honest answers in order to decide a future course of action or response which include offering others equality and empathy. It’s a written request to not believe one’s own views, behaviors or terminology is more important than the person it is being directed towards. It’s a request for respect and deeper thought and consideration. There are many people who think of themselves as open-minded but they need to “stretch it” a little wider.
Questions to consider:
- Do you think of a transgendered man who considers himself gay as really being gay or not?
- Do you think of a transgendered woman who loves men as being a gay male who betrayed himself?
- Do you believe transgenders are the same as intersexed people, androgynes or hermaphrodites?
- Do you believe it is correct for intersexed persons, hermaphrodites and others to generally be included under the “transgendered” label when they are NOT transgendered? (i.e. GLBT or LGBT vs. GLBTIIQ)
- Why the double standards and discrimination towards transgendered men and women?
- Do you agree with the differentation between transgendered men/women vs. just using men/women for them? What about the terms “she male”, “he-she”, “he-bitch”, etc.?
Ask yourself these questions. Answer honestly. Please don’t be part of the problem we are all (supposedly) seeking to overcome. And the next time you lament the difficulties of dating consider if you had an extra “twist” of being trans or intergendered.
Author Note: This article had new meaning for me considering the recent situation with the transgendered Miss Canada candidate who was removed from competition (March 2012) because she wasn’t considered a natural women, or basically: not woman enough. Though they toggled back to rescind that initial decision (4April 2012), and though Jenna Talackova did receive sympathy as well, typically the thousands of comments across the web often referred to her as “he” or “his” and were disgustingly ignorant, both from men and women, of all sexualities.
BTW, the next CSD Parade in Berlin is 23 June 2012. The theme: “Fair play for diversity.” I’ll likely be there.
Lahey, B. (2007). Psychology: An Introduction (9th ed.). McGraw Hill, Boston, MA: Learning Solutions.
Various articles at Intersex Society of North America, 2008. Retrieved on 5 April 2012, from http://www.isna.org/.