That’s how I identified when I came out.
I knew I wasn’t a transsexual with an urgent need to change my body. I had figured out the limits of what we could do with a male body already, so I knew there was no way I could get pregnant or change my big bones. Remember, I read Harry Benjamin’s The Transsexual Phenomenon when I was 17. There wasn’t going to be any magic sex change for me.
I knew I wasn’t a transvestite in the Prince school. I knew I didn’t want a Second Self. I was working on integrated software at the time, and integrated was what I wanted to be. Remember, I first heard Virginia Prince on the radio when I was 14. I knew a split life wasn’t going to work for me.
So I went to my first gender group meeting with a spirit of gender play. My goal was to become more open to expressing the feminine part of me, to find some way to get more in balance.
I wore what might be called gender fuck or gender queer today. I didn’t shave my chest, didn’t try to pass as female. And when people asked my name, I gave them the name my parents gave me. I was a guy, a guy in a dress.
To me, it was gender play. It was exploration, fun. My goal was to take the next step in my gender journey and see if being a guy who can express feminine was good for me.
In the end, it turns out it wasn’t. I remember steps along the way, like the first time my then partner saw that the woman part of me was real. That was the end of that relationship, though it took awhile.
Or when my name came to me, after months of scribbles. Callan was deliberately gender neutral. But the first time I used it was in 1993 at Southern Comfort Conference, when I met TBB and she pulled me on stage. In fact, in the first session I attended, one of the three panellists was there when I first came out as gender player, and I identified me to the audience as guy, guy-in-a-dress.
She told me later that I had helped her understanding of gender some, because I refused to play into the binary. The binary of man/woman, sure, but also the binary of TV/TS. I opened her eyes to more possibility.
When I first met Kate Bornstein after doing my big speech at IFGE 1995, she asked me when I was going to have surgery. When I said that I didn’t think I would have surgery, she started talking about Miss Vera’s Academy for Crossdressers. I told her that I didn’t think that would fit, either. The Gender Outlaw, whose book I gulped down in the parking lot of the bookstore right after my order came in, still believed in the TV/TS duality. Since my speech had called for the end of the Benjamin/Prince models, I didn’t.
Miqqui Gilbert, who I helped with a nail polish stain at her first conference, once called me a crossdresser when she explained of my idea of “crossdresser years,” the idea that the more out you are, the faster you grow and develop. I wrote and told her that I never identified as a crossdresser, and she went off about being sick of people and identity politics. Well, in this case it was she who assigned me an identity, who played identity politics, but that wasn’t something she was going to face.
I respect people wherever they are on their gender journey, because I know that any step out is always hard. But the people I respect most powerfully are the people who respect others, whoever they are.
I was speaking to one young woman who told me that her father transitioned just as she was hitting puberty and I felt so bad for her, because I know how much a girl needs a man to push off of while she is trying to find her own womanhood, and two nascent women in the same house must be a killer. She was here, though, understanding and ready to respect.
Too many transpeople of any identification have a negative self-definition. They know what they are not, but not what they are.
SSS, for example, knew that they weren’t gay and weren’t transsexuals, and told everyone that those boundaries were the only way that wives could accept trans behaviour. Telling wives that trans expression wasn’t erotic, though, well, that wasn’t something they could easily believe.
Transsexuals often got negative too, ready to tell the world who was and who was not a true tranny. Somehow, it always turned out that they were, and the people who challenged their gender solution in any way were not.
I had lots of areas where I had to learn. My biggest challenge was to not be a “balloon-burster,” not be so critical that I deflated the dreams of others. Transpeople need aspirations, need hope, and even if they never get to the place of their dreams, that dream has to sustain them through change. I didn’t know it all, and magic was possible beyond the realm of the probable, so I had to let dreams take flight and encourage even the improbable dream as a way to support the magic of hope and dreams. I may have known what I saw, but the important thing was always what was encouraging what was in someone else’s heart.
I know lots of people who identify as transvestites, as transsexuals, and many who have even identified as both. I know that they are each on a journey to self-awareness, even if today they bound that journey with the limits of their stated identity. I know that they all deserve respect and dignity, because I know they are all challenged humans and all have a mind and a heart that can open.
As a queer person, I have to hold open the space for transformation. I need to know that whatever someone is today, change is possible. That is often a burden when I want to write someone off because they continue to act in ways that hurt me, but it is my sacred obligation. Whatever you call yourself today, it is your essential humanity, that divine spark that comes between piss and shit, that makes you real and worthy.
To me, the way we grow is to go beyond the boundaries we hold today, to get that the separations and divisions aren’t real, but constructs of our mind, of our culture.
And I do that through play and exploration. How do I push beyond, get a deeper understanding, become new?
Did I know I would end up in this basement today when I went to that first gender group meeting? Hell, no. I had no idea what shape my journey would take.
But I did know that adding more binaries, more dualities wasn’t an answer for me, so if I needed to move beyond man/woman, transvestite/transsexual wasn’t going to help with that.
What do kids say right after “I won! I won! I won!”? They say “Now you try!” To them, play is a way for everyone to try, explore, own and achieve mastery.
And that’s why that scary dark night when I walked into the bar, the only thing I was sure of was that I had to be free to play with gender. I had to try something new, explore the possibilities, own my own heart and achieve some mastery over my life and expression.
Gender Play seemed the only way for me.