Many Roads to Rome

I transitioned in the early eighties in my early twenties.  I guess that makes me an early transitioner.  It was a time of gatekeepers and group meetings.  I had beeDivided Highway Signn seeing my family doctor to start hormone replacement until he became uncomfortable with continuing the treatments and he referred me to the local Dallas psychiatrist that ran a group of people transitioning.  Dr. May would be my first gatekeeper.

One needed to meet privately with this elderly doctor before you were allowed to go to the next step of the process.  He had a set number of private meetings which was pretty straight forward.  Much like the initial meetings I’ve had with the many doctors that my parents had sent to me in the past.  The first was a conversation about current status, then a meeting for the tests and the final meeting was his final judgement.  He approved the next step, and referred me to an endocrinologist and the transsexual group meetings that Dr. May held on Tuesday nights.

This group meeting would be the first time I would meet other people going through the process.  I didn’t have a clue about what to expect.  I guess that I thought everyone would be just starting out, and that there were several groups meeting on different nights for those at a different point of their transition.  Of course, I was wrong.  The group was a small set of people in different places of their transition and going different directions.  As the newest member of the group I was also the one earliest in transition.  The group very clearly expressed their disappointment that I had come straight from work and I was still in male clothes.  They quickly judged my commitment to completing the process.

This group of people represented every stereotype you could imagine.  There was the post-transsexual woman acting as one of the Grand Dames instructing everyone on the one and only path to transition.  There was the drag queen trying to decide if she needed to go the next step and lose her career.  There was the butch lesbian working the best man impression she could muster.  The other Grand Dame was a what would be called a non-op.  She didn’t see the need to go for that surgery, but continued to come to the group for the hormones.  The two Grand Dames constantly argued and fought over who was a real woman and who wasn’t.

Also in attendance were a couple of female to male transitioning clients.  These guys were amazing to me.  They were well along in transition and looked very handsome to me.  They were also much more understanding of the many paths than the two Grand Dames.

The group meeting was actually in two parts; the first part was the hour-long meeting in Dr. May’s office where we discussed success’s and failures of the previous week, and the second part which was when everyone would go to local gay friendly bars for drinks and ridicule.  During the office group meetings everyone was on their best behavior because the good doctor was there, and he was the keeper of the path, or so we believed.  It was the meeting after the meeting that I learned the real lessons this group had to offer.

Once free of the monitoring, the group would really let you know how your transition was working or not.  First, they would not even allow you to come to the bar if you didn’t pass well enough.  The Grand Dame’s of the group would go item by item until you felt like a small wart on the ass of a frog.  Secondly, once they deemed that you were presentable (meaning that you wouldn’t embarrass them in public) each of them would lecture us on the proper way to go through transition.  Each member of the group’s path was the only and true path.  All others were wasted time and money.

Oddly enough, even though each person of the group believed they were the true gatekeeper, none of them were.  I learned two main lessons from this group.  One, everyone comes to this point in transition from a different place, and two, everyone leaves this point at a different pace.  There isn’t a single path to a place of “completeness.”  There isn’t even a single destination where everyone must end.

Whether it is today’s transsexual versus transgender wars, or like it was in the eighties Dallas group fight of the Grand Dames or even like the  during Dies Sanguinis (The Day of Blood) on March 24th in Ancient Rome.  There will always be those true believers that argue with the unfaithful.  There have always been those who believe that their path is the only path.  Their ideas are the only good ideas.  Their pain is the greatest pain.  Everyone has a path, an idea and their own pain.  There is a saying “All roads lead to Rome,” but in the case of human beings reaching that place of self understanding and wholeness, there are “Many roads to Rome.”  And Rome is where your heart lives.

On Being Stealth

For me and me only, stealth is about being a woman first and trans second. I don’t need to announce to everyone I meet that I’m trans (they can mostly figure that out on their own). I don’t need to bring it up in every conversation, and I don’t inform every customer that they were just served by a trans.

If and only if I feel safe enough to talk to people about my history, and if and only if they ask, will I begin the conversation. If that is trans-phobic, then I am sorry. I don’t think so.  That doesn’t mean that I hide in the woodwork, I don’t. I do my bit for our common causes. I donate to trans educational organizations, and I lobby for the American Equality Bill.

There was a time (way back in Texas) that you needed to identify yourself as gender-variant. Either with a button or at least one piece of “assigned at birth” clothing. To me, that was the same as the pink triangle of the concentration camps.

I mention all of that to say, If you want to be out and about wearing a trans button to show that you are serious about being a trans, fine. I don’t need to. My life that I live is my button. To me (and only me), living an authentic life is the best activism.

The Reality of Passing Privilege

I want to state right here at the start of this that passing privilege is a real thing and it is something that one has or one doesn’t.  It is not fair nor is it something to be discarded.  It can be a tool to help transitioned individuals ease into a normal existence or a weapon used to alienate people with real pain and suffering.

Recently, there has been a hue and cry about the differences between those who claim the transgender identity and those who choose to restrict themselves to the transsexual identity.  There are political, social and personal merits to each sides leaning’s, and I’m not addressing the plus’ and minus’ of each argument.  I am going to attempt to address what I believe is the reality of passing privilege.

During some very heated online debate around the transgender/transsexual issues, there was a claim made that the transsexual contingent want separation from the transgender contingent because of a perceived passing privilege.  I search around different online resources and I found many varied descriptions, but none that I would call definite.  The main understanding I have of these descriptions was when a person who was “assigned a gender at birth” is successfully operating in social interactions as their target gender.  Whether that target gender is the same assigned at birth or after a transition to the opposite assigned at birth.  So, even a cis-gendered person would be considered to have passing privilege.

The claim of passing privilege hurled at transitioned transsexuals seems to imply that they are behaving with an air of superiority or elitism toward individuals who do not believe they have passing abilities.   While some transitioned transsexuals may indeed have an air of superiority towards those that may not pass so well, it is not due to a perceived passing privilege.  I believe that no one who has transitioned from an “assigned at birth” gender to a target gender has accepted a passing privilege.

The process of transitioning itself ingrains a deep sense of “otherness” which never dissipates or resolves.  To internalize a privilege and act socially as the benefit of that privilege, one must believe that the attribute of that privilege is real and permanent.  A transitioned transsexual, at least none that I’ve talked to, will never truly internalize the privilege of passing.  We are always at the alert for the possibility of being “clocked.”

Let’s look at the concept of privilege and compare a couple of privileges.  The ever popular online Merriam-Webster defines privilege as a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.   Although, I’m sure that many other definitions can be found, let us stick with this one.  I like this definition because is states that privilege is granted.  It must be given, and therefore it must be accepted.   In the context of this article, privilege is seen to be cast as a haves and have not dynamic.  Either one has privilege and exercises it or one does not.

A couple examples of privilege that we can look at is male and white privilege.  I believe that this would be a right or immunity granted to males or white people as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor of their sex or race.  This particular form of privilege is seen as birth right, and the “assigned at birth” male baby or a white child was granted this by simply being born.  Whether this privilege is acknowledged or taken advantage of by the male or the white child is up to that child, but one thing is certain, a cis-gender male or Caucasian rarely questions their maleness or whiteness.

These individuals that I’ve described can happily move in and out of social interactions and conduct day-to-day activities and never stop to think about the dynamics of those interpersonal relationships.  Their privilege is ingrained and expected to help them set the expectation and roles for the interaction.  This is neither good or bad, but all parties must agree to participate.

I have a couple real world examples.  Imagine a person who is early in her transition from male to female.  This young woman has difficulty passing and is repeatedly questioned on her gender and sex.  She walks into a local coffee-house to purchase a hot beverage.  As she walks up to the counter the person behind the counter actually retreats.  The salesperson looks the customer up and down and with a sneer asks what she wants.  The rest of the interaction is stilted and awkward.  This person does not have passing privilege.  This person will continue to suffer the prejudicial and discrimination attitudes based on appearance and assumptions.

Now imagine this same person many decades after transition was completed.  It has now been many years since she has been questioned on her gender and sex.  She again decides to walk into a different local coffee-house still looking for that perfect hot beverage.  This time as she walks up to the counter she is greeted with a broad smile and a hearty willingness to serve.  This time she is granted passing privilege and the transaction is completed with ease and to a satisfying conclusion.

This now older woman certainly remembers the last time she entered a coffee-house many years ago.  She is still on her guard, and is expecting the same reaction she received.  She will always carry the pain of the previous encounter.  It is more than this transaction, she carries this reality on a daily basis.

This is the main point I’d like to get to (finally).  Even if we truly have a passing privilege, we can never expect or take advantage of that privilege.  If the person who has male or white privilege is ever put into a situation that his maleness or whiteness is questioned on a daily or hourly reality, they will never again be able to believe in that privilege.

This is the same with transitioned individuals, we may in fact have a passing privilege, but we can never truly believe that we completely pass.  So, in my opinion, it is wrong to hurl a claim of passing privilege at person who restrict their identity to transsexual.  We do not believe for a moment that we can pass completely, and we have all been at some time or another un-passable.

We all are in the same place.