Tag Archive: transition


A Trans Sex Guide

I’ve been sitting back on Forever the Queerest Kids these past few months as my life has undergone some transitions—graduation from college, the start of a new job (that I tolerate), an internship with an organization that makes me excited for the next 10 years of my life, and the move to a new apartment (to come next month).  But I haven’t forgotten about you guys!  I’ve also been slowly collecting material to talk about, important things that I hadn’t gathered my thoughts on yet.

So here we go.

Looking through my bookmarked FTQK pages, I found that I suddenly had a lot of material on trans issues, and trans sex particularly, which is awesome, because I spent so much of last year trying to integrate more trans-friendly programming into my college campus.  I’m always on the lookout for intelligent responses to the incredibly difficult issues trans people face daily.  Here are a few.

My girlfriend recently alerted me to a really cool PDF Brazen: Trans Safer Sex Guide written by Morgan M. Page and published by The 519 last year.  The PDF is pretty groundbreaking just by the fact that it specifically deals with Trans issues AND sex specifically, but I thought the particular subtopics covered were even more interesting.  There’s a lot of stuff in Brazen that you just wouldn’t find in a safer sex guide aimed at cis-women.

For instance, Brazen devotes sections of each topic to dealing with people who engage in sex work.  Because the PDF is aimed at people in Canada, where sex work is technically legal (although there are a lot of restrictions around the trade), Brazen deals speaks to sex workers on amicable terms. There are concrete, specific tips for keeping yourself safe in the trade (don’t wear scarves or necklaces, as they can be used to choke you if a date goes wrong) and a no-nonsense approach to keeping yourself safe.  While it’s frustrating and sad that trans women are pulled into sex work out of necessity in inordinate proportions, I’m happy to see Brazen deal with that reality directly.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen sex work dealt with in a publication of this nature as anything other than among a laundry list of threats and potential missteps to a healthy sexuality.

Brazen also directly confronts the reality that many trans people are also recreational drug users.  Again, a sad and frustrating reality, and one that is NEVER dealt with in safe-sex guides for women.  Drugs and sex are very purposefully kept away from each other, in an effort to elevate the status of sex (by demoting drugs and distancing their combination in real life) at the expense of information.  Brazen makes very important points about mistakes people can make with drugs that are particular to trans situations.  EX: needles used for hormone injections are a different gauge than needs used for drug injections.

And on top of all that, Brazen does an incredible job of dealing with the nitty gritty of safety, like which activities put you at risk for which diseases, and how you can adapt condoms and other forms of protection to a trans or transitioning body.

Aside from safe sex, A Queer Chick, one of the columnists over at TheHairpin, had a great column back in march about navigating sex with a partner who has transitioned when you have never had sex/been attracted to that gender before.  She has great suggestions, like hanging out with dykes and watching queer porn, but the crux of her advice is strong for anyone, LGB, T or partnered with someone T, straight, queer, etc.

Don’t think about “how to have sex with a woman.” Think about how to have sex with your partner, your special beautiful sweet unique partner you’re crazy about. You don’t have to be a good lesbian, or any kind of lesbian at all. You just have to be with her.

And isn’t that how we need to think about trans issues in general?  That people are not their identity, but a unique individual who has come to their place in their own specific way?

But alas, it isn’t always that simple, especially for people who identify as lesbian or gay and fall for a partner who transitions to a gender that allows them to present as a straight couple.  Aja Worthy-Davis,who guestposted this article on Racialicious, writes eloquently on the subject.  She shows how complicated the intersections between race, gender, sexuality, and transition can be in a world where we wear our labels not only through our own actions and presentations, but through those of our partner.

I’m a queer Black femme prone to dating middle-aged divorced hippie White guys due in equal parts to my upbringing, my personality, and my personal baggage. He’s a Black man who has dated more than his share of middle-aged divorced hippie White lesbians. And (I guess this is the kicker) when we met in our staunchly Catholic high school over a decade ago, he was a girl.

…[When he transitioned] My personal life sped up to where I thought it would slowly lead, and my mind was so wrapped-up in the practical questions (Where will we live? When will we go to graduate school? Who will do the cooking?), that it totally bypassed the more personal introspective question about how it would change my personal and relationship identity to be perceived as straight and be with a Black man.

While it’s easy, in theory, to acknowledge that the transition has not changed anything of substance in their identities, the way that a trans man and cis woman are seen is very different than the way two cis women are seen.  And I think it’s legitimate for there to be an element of mourning for the cis woman—the way she expresses her sexual identity has been changed.  She will, to most strangers, be forever read as a straight woman, and there’s not a whole lot to be done about it.

So at the end of the day, it’s a little stickier than just, “Well, this is the person I fell in love with, not the gender I fell in love with.”  Transition will affect many aspects of your life, and embracing that takes a lot of thought and work personally.  From the outside, it’s very easy to sing Love Makes the World Go Round, but inside a relationship, it’s more difficult.  But I would argue, inside that relationship is a complexity and strength that is a lot richer.

Trans-initiative

Now that the first of my group of friends have officially settled down and started having kids, I’ve begun thinking more about the obstacles faced not only by younger LGBT people, but by their parents as they try to navigate an intolerant and often resource-deprived world for their LGBT kids.

A couple of months ago, I stumbled upon Gender Spectrum, a support, counseling, and education community for parents ofgenderqueer/trans/questioning kids.  They host a conference every year on the subject, as well as offering online resources for parents to peruse.  This is a very good start, but it’s shortcoming lies in the same place that most LGBT services fail- they only offer information to parents who ACTIVELY seek it out.  In today’s world, 99% of the time, a parent-to-be is more concerned about a myriad of other issues- prenatal vitamins, getting a bedroom prepared for the baby, regular sonograms and checkups, the pain of delivery, etc- that gender identity issues are not something they plan to self-educate about.    Reasonable?  Yes.  Problematic when the doctor tells you that your baby has ambiguous genitalia and will operate to “repair” your baby’s equiptment and you haven’t read a thing about the subject.  MAJORLY.

There are so many aspects of maternal health and preparation that have become rote in today’s society; mothers read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” take lamaze classes, and learn about how to feed and care for their child.  Wouldn’t it make sense to start gender counseling at this critical stage?  Perhaps it’s a sensitive issue to broach- no one wants to believe their child will turn out “abnormal,” but with widespread educational programs aimed at eradicating stereotypes and educating parents, the ideas of normal/abnormal should slowly dissolve, right?

I’d love to hear some other takes on this idea, but also please use this space if you have other resources to share with LGBT people and their parents about these tough issues.

(In other news, I’m off to Kenya in T- 3 days!  Hopefully I’ll get one more post in before then, but otherwise, I’ll see you in 4 months!)

Trans________

I think for anyone who has read even 2 articles on this blog can tell you, I love talking about sexuality.  Especially how the practices and viewpoints which make up our psyche affect our interactions with language, with other people, and with ideas about normativeness and privilege.  So I was more than ecstatic to take Sex, Gender, and Culture, an anthropology class at American University as a way to satisfy a general education credit and a major requirement for International Studies!

So far, I’ve been loving the class, but yesterday our conversation delved into the realm of performance transvestitism (which I already dislike the term for, as “transvestite” has a very negative connotation in society and is often used as a pejorative way of lumping gender non-normative people together).

Regardless, we dove in, and I tried my best to play along, inserting gender-sensitive definitions wherever I could, but the conversation inevitably overwhelmed me as my instructor accepted glossed-over explanations of very complicated gender concepts and the students absorbed nothing (in addition to not having done the reading- an excellent piece about drag performance in the home and in relation to Carnival in El Salvador). At one point, attempting to draw the distinction between transgendered people and “transvestites,” the professor asked the class to define a transgendered person- a concept we had fleshed out earlier in the semester- and they could come up with nothing better than “a person who wants to be the opposite gender.  *sigh*  Really?  Is that the best we can do?

Frustration mounted in me, but it came to a boil when the professor, in an attempt to focus the discussion on gender performance instead of gender identity, wrote the word “Tranny Prostitutes” on the board and then crossed it out, illustrating that this phenomenon was not what we were talking about.  I’m still at a loss for when, in an academic environment, it would ever be appropriate to use that phrase, except to deconstruct how horribly offensive and inaccurate it is.

The problem is that cis-gendered people are horrifically ill-educated about gender and the different ways that gender non-conformism occurs.  Transgender, transsexual, transvestite, transitioning, gender non-conforming, gender non-normative all mean the same thing, if they’ve even heard the words.   The use of the word “tranny” in everyday conversation is just one more example of this: rather than recognizing the word for what it is (a nasty way of referring to non cis-gendered people), people just see it as a shortened word, a harmless abbreviation.  Asher Bauer, whom I’ve featured before, talks about this concept brilliantly in his article, The T Word.  Ze further goes on to say how the term tranny is disproportionately placed upon trans women (biological men who dress/live as women), and in that regard he is spot on.

My professor implied, through the use of the phrase “tranny prostitutes” two inappropriate things, both of which stem from the poor intersection of sex and identity: one, that the sexualization of transgender or transitioning women is not legitimate; and two, that said sexualization can only occur within the bounds of “bad industry” such as sex work.  By pairing “tranny” with “prostitute,” he unconsciously equated the connotations of the two words.  AKA- prostitutes are bad, and trannies are bad, therefore tranny prostitutes must be REALLY BAD.  Ignoring the vilification of sex work, which bothers me equally but isn’t relevant here, the association made is that trannies can only be sexual when they are prostitutes, as if that is the only sphere in which they are acceptable.  Coming back to Bauer’s point, this critique only seems to apply to trans women, as trans men are excluded from discourse about prostitution altogether (despite the fact that the industry exists, the same way there’s a market for straight and gay male prostitutes).

I know that this isn’t the way my professor actually meant his comments, but the juxtaposition of his words was not an accident: it betrays a cultural misunderstanding and vilification of  trans and gender non-conforming people.   So lets all take a moment to run through our vocabulary list and consider the ways in which we oversimplify our understandings of sex and gender.  If you haven’t taken a look yet, I’ll direct you to Susan Stryker’s “Transgender Terms and Concepts,” which is in the downloadable blog articles box to the right of this post.  Educate yourself.  Watch the associations you make in speech, and apologize when you slip up.  We don’t vilify the people who make mistakes, only those who refuse to learn from them and become better.

Stay cool, queer kids.

This really is the beginning of a bad joke. For those of us privileged enough to have been born with a body that matches our internal gender identity, it’s hard to comprehend the difficulties that many trans and transitioning people must go through in order to align their physical and mental genders.  For those who choose to transition, there are hormones, surgeries, and legal battles to fight, visits to psychologists and extensive, rigorous hurdles to simply being given the medical o-k to have any sex-reassignment operations.

For those who choose not to transition (0r not to do so fully with the actual reassignment surgery), there are intense more intense legal issues, social misunderstanding, and terrible discrimination in the healthcare system.  Because of the deep-seated prejudice and lack of understanding that most Americans have for the needs and complications associated with translife, many doctors simply have no idea how to care for transpeople.  Not only do they lack a personal familiarity with the issue of transgenderism, but their training in medical school was largely centered around a binary understanding of gender and before many of the latest medical breakthroughs in sex-reassignment were made.  On top of that, many people are simply repulsed by anything non-normative and deny transpeople care because of their prejudice.  A really good article about that here.

As the article explains, there are two types of transgender specialties in the medical field: transitioning health care(hormones, surgeries, counceling, etc. aimed at helping a person change their bi0logical sex) and care of non-normative bodies (people with either ambigious genetalia/ intersex persons, people who are using hormones but don’t intend to fully transition, and so on).

On of the greatest misconceptions about transpeople is the understanding that you cannot be trans unless you have or intend to undergo sexual reassignment surgery.  As I have said before, this is clearly not true.  There are many people out there who identify as trans who are very comfortable simply cross-dressing, or only undergoing chest surgery, without the genetalia to match.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

This article, “The Operative Word” does a good job unpacking some of the assumptions about transpeople and surgery.  I highly suggest you read it.

And to wrap up, this is a lovely interview with a transman from Boston, where he explores the way perspective and emotions change as one transitions from female to male.

Stay queer, cool kids.

This is Just Not the Body for Me

Alright guys, just for today, put away your hatred for all that is the commercial shallowness that we all associate MTV with and listen up.

First of all, thanks to my coworker back home in Pittsburgh for tipping me off about this show.  MTV has a series called True Life, and one of my fellow waitresses let me know that there was one specifically about transgenderism called “True Life- I’m Changing My Sex.”

Verily, I was skeptical, because this is a serious topic and MTV is not exactly known as a serious network.  But I was more than pleasantly surprised at the tactful, nuanced way the show dealt with transgender young adults and the process of gender re-assignment surgery.  The first good sign was actually the title itself, which you will note says, “I’m Changing My Sex,” not “I’m Changing My Gender,” which is an important distinction which you can learn more about in my earlier article, Midnight Philosophy and Gender Identity.

There are 3 things I love about this episode, which you can watch in full on MTV’s website here: http://www.mtv.com/videos/true-life-im-changing-my-sex/1631489/playlist.jhtml

  1. The eternal positivity of the two young adults transitioning.  Both of these situations were very real and had outside factors that affected them- Elle’s mother died during the period of her transition and Teddy had financial stressors which made arranging surgery difficult.   Through it all though, both of the young adults were extremely happy about their transformations and affirmed the fact that there was nothing wrong with them- they were simply becoming the person they were meant to be. After one of Teddy’s surgeries he simply said, “I have the chest I should have been born with.”
  2. Showcasing varying degrees of acceptance among family and friends.  So often shows about LGBT (especially transgender!) teens end up being sob stories about how parents have abandoned their children and friends rejected their peers because of their identity.  In this episode, however, MTV shows what full acceptance looks like: “I remember initially feeling a sense of mourning having to let go of my son.  But I was shocked how quick and easy that was, because it was true [that Elle was actually female].  And once you realized that, you have to do whatever is necessary to make that happen. “  -Elle’s mom .  On the other end of this, of course, Teddy’s parents, while acknowledging his transgender identity, treated his surgeries as unimportant and elective, which trivialized the process of his transition without outright saying “You are wrong- you are a girl and should not do this.”  Showcasing that kind of reaction is so important for understanding the different forms of discriminationand misunderstanding that trans people can go through, besides straightforward hate and discrimination.
  3. I love, love, love that Elle went through full sex reassignment surgery and Teddy did not.  May trans people find that they are comfortable with genitals that don’t match their gender identity, and that is a much misunderstood concept for people looking at the trans community.  While I’m sad that MTV didn’t get a chance to have Teddy talk about this particular topic, at least it was showcased in general.  Trans people have options- some only cross-dress, some transition using hormones only, some have chest surgery, and others get the full-haul with sex-reassignment surgery.

“Both Elle and Ted were, as Ted said after his consultation, “full steam ahead” and had “no second thoughts” about surgery whatsoever. And their resolve made a lot more sense to us once we got to know them and realized that this was not just a medical procedure to them. This was a way to finally allow them to show off on the outside who they truly were on the inside –- and, in fact, nothing on the inside was changing.” – Producer’s notes

If you have a chance, I would highly suggest watching this short 40 minute episode.  It may open your eyes to the less sensationalist, but equally relevant, difficult, and rewarding parts of being transgendered.

Stay cool, queer kids.

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