What constitutes a failed transsexual?
I’m not sure that there is anything like a failed transvestite; unless you are following someone’s rules, like FPE/SSS how can you fail.
And I don’t think that transgender is something you can fail; it’s a process to claim yourself in the world beyond gendered boundaries. This may or may not include body modifications, but it is about authenticity.
Transsexual, though, has always felt like something that you can fail at. The goal is to re-sex your body well enough to seem like like you went through puberty in the sex typically assigned to your new gender role.
A range of interventions are used in that process, from voice retraining, hair removal, body sculpturing, facial surgery, hormones, genital surgery and more.
For people committed to succeeding in this transsexual dream, the process almost becomes an end in itself. The goal to erase all vestiges of your birth biology and cultural training so well that you can become seamless in your new role, to apparently really change your sex, takes intense work, pain, money and drive.
Like so many trans kids (and every trans adult was once a trans kid, even if we were invisible and abused in those days), I regularly dreamed of waking up transformed. I wanted the transsexual dream, wanted it badly.
By the time I came out in the late 1980s, though, that transsexual dream appeared unavailable to me. I had seen enough failed transsexuals and had enough understanding about my own big bones to have my own heart broken as those dreams were crushed under my own feet.
If I believed that I would fail as a transsexual, I needed another choice that might be effective with the body I had to work with.
Beyond that, I knew that women turned my head, not men. While I knew many other transwomen who would be effective as straight girls, as a transsexual I would be double queer, a woman with a trans history who loved women.
To me, that choice had to be transgender. I needed a way to express my own femme nature in the world, a way that would work for me in the world that I lived in. Everything I have done since then has been on that peg, focused on how to show my heart rather than on how to hide my history & biology.
My choices were my choice. I always supported other transpeople as they chased their dreams, affirming their choices to change their bodies or whatever else they needed. Some found me a balloon burster, but I was striving to mirror them in the best way that I could. Does believing in a dream when other people don’t really get it empower or limit you?
Over the decades, transsexual separatists have assaulted my transgender stand, claiming that it doesn’t respect their truth. They are, they would tell anyone who would listen, true transsexuals, unlike those dilettante transgenders, tied together by the blood sacrifice they made to reveal their transsexual truth. Anyone who didn’t have the fire in the belly, the will to mould themselves into passing, well, they were just wannabes colonizing the hard earned preserve of true transsexuals.
A differential diagnosis was the holy grail, some proof of who was real. Surgery used to be that until too many people who chose it realized they wouldn’t achieve their transsexual dream and started to claim transgender status.
For some who could not get surgery due to health or cost issues, other diagnoses had to be brewed up, couched in manifestos that allowed them to slam and marginalize others who weren’t true women, true transsexuals, true of heart and mind.
Speaking for transgender, I was clearly one of those people who weren’t true in their book and they acted out against me, getting invitations rescinded and other indignities applied. I didn’t buy into the binary, didn’t hold for one or the other existentialism, so I needed to be silenced as much as possible.
The transsexual separatists were failed transsexuals, angry and needing to externalize the blame they felt over not finding the normativity that they believed genital surgery should include. Someone had bled away the magic they were promised and those trans freaks who wouldn’t play along were the easy targets. Successful transsexuals just faded into the woodwork, blending into society, so while they may have had inner pain over erasure, they had no need to attack anyone.
Many people have stories about being bullied in school, about being denied entrance and status. I don’t have those stories, though, because with the defences and denial I had to develop to endure my mother, no simple school kid could break through the shell. You couldn’t get me to cry and I always found a way around, which frustrated bullies, but what the hell.
The bullying of the transsexual separatists amused me much more than it hurt me. I worked very hard to get a clear understanding of what I believed and what they believed, so I knew where I was right and where they were just rationalizing. Their technique was usually to try to upset others by removing woman standing, but that didn’t work on me.
What they seemed not to understand was that I had exactly the same transsexual dream that they had, the same aching desire to be transformed into someone beautiful, feminine and valued. I just understood that dream was just fantasy, that it could never come true for me, that if I chased it I would just end up another failed transsexual, living inside a lucite bubble.
So many people carry their own fantasy beliefs to try and deflect the challenges and truth that reality always imposes on us. They rationalize and imagine that if they just get the next object of their dreams that their life will be perfect. Looking at people who have claimed that object and are still struggling is something that they don’t want to do; they need to hold tight to fragile dreams.
I still hold my transsexual dream inside, imagining the magic which will give me the body and the status to easily make the choices that reflect my heart. (Today that dream includes the youth to start over too.)
Being a failed transsexual, though, is unappealing for me. Instead, I chose to be the best transperson I knew how to be, exploring the territory where my history and my heart could come together, the liminal space which would resonate with my own unique voice.
Follow your dream, but if that dream is a reach too far, find a better way to claim your truth & power. God, grant me the courage to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Claim the success you can claim, revealing the best of you, even if you always will be living on top of your failed, beautiful dreams.
3 thoughts on “Failed Transsexual”
What was it like to be trans in the 1980s?
Allison Washington, on Medium: https://medium.com/@allisawash/quora-asked-me-about-my-experience-during-the-trans-dark-ages-648f060fa458#.b97u46ufq
Wow, Callan, I’m honoured. A pity it’s one of the darkest things I written… And I really wonder, has anything changed?
> Successful transsexuals just faded into the woodwork, blending into society, so while they may have had inner pain over erasure, they had no need to attack anyone.
(Kindly bear in mind that I’m a product of my time, a time when ‘transsexual’ was the only option.)
I never bought into ‘failed transition’ as something that could be defined, pointed-at, criticised, but the fear of failure was constant. Still is.
I’m a woodworked woman. I guess that means I was/am ‘successful’, but it doesn’t feel like that: the fear of failure has not abated. I don’t get clocked (at least not any more often than tall cis women do), but I clock myself often. I’m too tall, large-boned, I have a Neandertal brow, my hands and feet are huge, my breasts are weird, my vulva isn’t quite right. It never ends.
I’m not just woodworked, I’m deep stealth. Meaning that the men I’ve loved, slept with, lived with, didn’t ‘know’. I’m between men at the moment but have plans to fix that. When I do, it will be back to the fear of discovery – of failure – as a way of life. I envy you: women are so much easier, some of them ‘get it’, most of them don’t care. Not so with men: they explode. I wish I could change my bent – I even tried – but I can’t; it’s men or no one.
I used to be an ‘8’, maybe even a ‘9’ sometimes; now I’m just 59, a faded flower. I still dress nicely, I’m not too stout, but it’s hard to wrap the eyeliner around my sagging eyelids, and my hair is too thin to really work my magic anymore. It never ends.
Your pain and profound sense of loss come through your words: I feel them. A part of me wants to say ‘but…but you can do this too…!’ You can have your dream. Just like me. But it’s a lie: I don’t really have the dream either. There were long periods when I forgot that I wasn’t cis, but I never was cis, and trans always came back, even if only in secret.
Successful? Maybe-ish? But never successful enough. Never completely. Never permanently. The goal is always moving away, receding, and you reach after it. If someday someone digs up my bones and measures them, they will assign me male, once again.
Callan, thank you for writing,