What The Hell Do I Do With A Penis?

http://callan.transpractice.com/text/poems_c.html#Penis

Subj: What The Hell Do I Do With A Penis?
Date: 5/3/99

So, this is the question: what the hell does a femme do with a penis?

For femmes, a penis is less a root part of their identity than a fashion accessory, something to don when it will perfectly compliment an outfit, attitude or role. They are nice to have, but they get in the way.

When Tina came over last night, I gave her the one I made for her. It wasn’t complex, just a soft packy to compliment the strap-ons in her wardrobe, made from condoms filled with hair-gel and tied together in the toe of a nylon stocking.
We slipped it inside her pantyhose, under the long black silky knit dress print with tulips. she complained about it all night, how it stopped her from sitting nicely, and wandered about like it had a mind of its own. Her best friend Patrick, who we ran into at the drag show, told her that would happen as soon as she pulled his hand to her crotch to show off the “arts & crafts project” she had been gifted with.

healing, believing in beauty, power of sexual healing,

enormous moon, pray dammnit pray. not about what you want, about who you are.

Sex confuses me
I end up getting cast
as the one with the penis
even when my partner
sees me as a woman.

Or maybe
I’m just cast
as the old one,
the smart one
the healer
even for people
who are the healers
in other places.

My strength
My mind
My penis
overwhelming

I provide safe space
for others to find themselves
but where do I find safe space
to just relax?

I know what she wants
healing of a healer
by being enveloped
surrounded in a womb
and I give her that
but not with my body
which cries for the loss
dreams of femaleness
scratching inside my skin

yet this is the way of my body
this is the life I was dealt
the cards I was supposed to play
rather than trying to reconstruct
a neo-female body

I know I can wear whatever I want
and go wherever I want
but I also know
that is a lonely life
however you cut it
hiding my history in a reconstructed body
hiding my body in a reconstucted image
always hiding
always hiding
always lonely.

This is the challenge
even in bed
when the roles are assigned
and I feel erased
always lonely

I am not
a guru
a healer
a radical
a nutcase
a bomb thrower

I am
a human
with the power of story
and the weakness of flesh.

My penis works
but I never had
the cockiness
to work it.
Yet, it is the part
that ends up defining me
in bed
and wherever
the line between female and male
slices me apart

======================================
Women wish to be loved not because
they are pretty,
or good,
or well bred,
or graceful,
or intelligent,
but because they are themselves.
— Henri Frederic Amiel

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The Myth Of Identity Politics

Date:         Thu, 13 Nov 1997 10:28:13 -0500
Reply-To:     Queer Studies List <QSTUDY-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU>
Sender:       Queer Studies List <QSTUDY-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU>
From:         Callan Williams <TheCallan@AOL.COM>
Subject:      The Myth Of Identity Politics

It seems to me that the great myth at the core of identity politics is that people in any defined group have more in common with each other than with anyone else.  Gay men have more in common with any other gay man, blacks have more in common with blacks, women have more in common with women, and so on.  That means that, from a political viewpoint, only another person in the group can effectively speak for and advocate the viewpoints of any given person in the group.

This leads to all sorts of political notions, like set asides, where for example, the composition of a board is matched to the composition of a group, or to the ideal composition of a group -- half women, over half people of color and so on.  It leads to the attempt to build voting blocks by exclusion, to cut up any electorate into groups who follow the rules -- and means that people who span groups are often left in the cold.

Identity politics can mean that focused groups tend to ignore issues unless they are directly relevant to their group.  As Riki Wilchins says, NOW is firmly against rape, but not strongly working against prisoner rape, because those are men who are being violated.

The problem with this is simple, though: humans don't fit neatly into groups.  The issues of black millionaire may be different than the issues of poor blacks, and a poor white may speak more effectively for them, but identity politics would deny that.  Justice Clarence Thomas is a good example of the conundrum of identity politics, a black man who many blacks don't feel speaks for them, and therefore is branded as a traitor.

Who speaks for gay men?  Does Larry Kramer and his pull for assimilation, or Edumond White and his fighting for sexual liberation?  Maybe Elizabeth Birch speaks more clearly for them than either of the men, or maybe Urvashi Vaid, or maybe even Madonna.  For some gay men, Ollie North or Hillary Clinton may be even be closer to who they are.  In the long run, people who only share the same sexual orientation don't have to share anything else, politically, class, regionally, family, work, you name it.

Now, if the only thing that we care about is human rights for gays (and maybe lesbians)  that might not be a bad thing, but I suspect that the truth is that every human is multi-dimensional with lots of parts of them they care about, lots of objects of desire past just an anonymous cock or a stylized vagina.

The political movements in this country tend to be identity politics based because it is easier to bring people together on focused issues, to create exclusive identities than to find cross connections.  Yet, democracy only works when we care more about what we have in common than what separates us.  Any government is inherently the system for joint ownership, shared resources, hopefully making our life easier and less costly by solving common problems.  Even helping the poor solves common problems, from being humanitarian to keeping a better quality of life by reducing crime that cannot be kept behind boundaries.  In the long run, engaging people in a positive system keeps car insurance rates down, for example, by keeping theft down, and having people more responsive to laws and courtesy.

To me, this notion of identity politics based on groupings versus the power of the individual to make many different connections across the community is the question of queer.  Queer says that boundaries and boxes are illusory, and that we all transgress them all the time, that we are all individuals with many truths, not easily essentialized.

This focus on the individual is great, but it is also hard, because it means that we have to find connection, coalition and caring on an individual basis, without the simplicity of identity props, the proper response to a sentry's "Halt! Who Goes There!  Tell Me The Password!"  Life with fewer fixed boundaries is life that demands individual involvement.

Riki Anne Wilchins facilitated a panel in DC over Halloween weekend about queer space, and her comment after was that while it's nice to see the academics talking about embracing queerness, the gays & lesbians she runs into are still deeply immersed in their identity politics and getting to normativity by exclusion.

This is the challenge that queers face.  If we say that the clear and fixed lines of identity politics are not useful, then what is?  How do gays, lesbians and other people who might identify as queer find a tool that works better than simply demanding of people to state an identity and ignoring or attacking them if that identity is not one they hold?  How do we move away from a push towards being a normal gay or normal lesbian to being a person who accepts the individual humanity in every person?

What are the political tools for queers?  Clearly they are tools of communication, to find connection, alliance and shared humanity across boundaries, but we still have trouble knowing how to make those tools easy to use.

Is the myth of identity politics, that separating people by groups means that people are better represented, true and valid?  Or do we need to move beyond that?

Callan

The Pleasures of Determinism

Date:         Sat, 2 Aug 1997 12:13:39 -0400
Reply-To:     Queer Studies List <QSTUDY-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU>
Sender:       Queer Studies List <QSTUDY-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU>
From:         Callan Williams <TheCallan@AOL.COM>
Subject:      The Pleasures of Determinism

What do terms like racism and sexism mean?  To me, they mean racial determinism, sexual determinism, the notion that some part of your anatomy determines much about you.

We have been fighting this notion of determinism for years. The idea that the color of your skin determines what water fountain you can use, or even if you can be owned by another person is anethemetic today, no matter how widely accepted it was in years past.  The idea that the shape of your reproductive organs determines your capacity to vote, or you ability to do any other task is one that women have fought against.

The problem comes, though, not when we see determinism that limits us, but when we see determinism that comforts us.  When we see determinism that we can use as a reason for our lack of success, or determinism that keeps us separate in a way that we like, we often embrace it -- and embracing determinism in any form maintains determinism.

There was a woman on the Today show who was happy being called "the Black Martha Stewart."  What separation by race meant to her is that she didn't have to compete with the "Martha Stewart" Martha Stewart but had her own separate ladder to climb where she could be the black version of someone who made a name for themselves in the broader culture.

Separatist feminists, while saying that women should not be limited by their sex, also say that women should be able to limit males by their sex.

The argument is simple: "We have been separated so long that we don't stand a chance of success in the culture at large, so we deserve our own space to develop beyond cultural pressures."

This, of course, is the argument for Affirmative Action, the notion that there should be separate ladders based on anatomical characteristics that have social implications.

What comes after affirmative action, though?  Do we really want a society where there is only one big ladder, or do we want to continue the separations based on sexual & racial determinism where they benefit those groups?

The answer from almost everyone is that we do want an equal playing field, that everyone should have a fair chance.

However, some argue that now is not the time for moving beyond determinism, that more change has to come, more wrongs redressed before we can move beyond determinism.  Determinism was "negative" for so long that it must be continued as a "positive" force for longer until we can drop the walls and boundaries.

The challenge we have is not giving up the deterministic separations that oppress us, it is in giving up the deterministic separations that comfort us.  White men resisted strongly giving up the benefits of racial and sexual determinism that benefited them -- why should women or people of color want to give up their benefits from the same systems any easier?

To be on an open playing field is to lose our edge, our benefits and our excuses.  We want to believe that our actions and choices will only be seen in our own context, that we don't really have to deal with people and situations that challenge us and make us uncomfortable.

The truth of dropping determinism, though, is that we will be challenged by everyone.  We will have to play in the big world, not just on our isolated playing ground.  Just as American business had to face global competitors as boundaries dropped, and white men had to face women and blacks as barriers dropped, everyone had to face the challenge of the whole world when the barriers drop.

I think of the reaction to bisexuals by both homosexuals and heterosexuals.  If your partner is bisexual then you don't just have to compete with other women, but with other men too.  This can be a scary concept, and rather than focusing on how you can make your relationship so good that your partner won't look elsewhere, often we look to ways that we can wall off our partners so we won't have to compete.

This is the question that we have to answer: Do we really secretly like the pleasures of determinism, of separating people by sex, race or any other way?  Are we arguing for a truly boundary free world, or simply arguing that determinism that limits us should go away?

This is the secret of heterosexism: people gender themselves not simply to avoid the stick of stigma, but to gain the rewards of compliance with the system of separations.  By fitting nicely into a group, assimilating well, we get the benefits of that group identity, including people who desire us, support systems, and our own separate ladder to climb on.  Desire is a primary force in creating separations -- to be normative -- is to be open to being desired by your counterparts.  There is a cost to being a good woman, but there is also a benefit, for when the costs outweigh the benefits people start fighting.

As long as we keep listing ourselves as the "first woman to," "the highest ranking black,"  "the only gay man who," we maintain the separations that also limit us. We continue a determinism that says our gender, sex, race, sexual orientation, or any other factor make us different from the people around us.  People can then use that difference to give us benefits or to deny us those benefits.

Prejudice is simple: it assumes that we can use some sort of determinism to know something about a group, that we can prejudge people on their classification.  Blacks are this, Methodists are that, Lesbians are the other thing.   When that prejudice leads us to decide to benefit that group, it is privilege, and when that prejudice leads us to decide to deny that group, it is discrimination.

Prejudice depends on grouping people along some deterministic lines.  To erase prejudice, to accept people as individuals, is to erase both discrimination and privilege.

Are we really ready to give up determinism, grouping of people by a single characteristic and assigning values and prejudices to those groupings?  Does giving up determinism simply mean changing all the prejudices about a group to positive ones, or does it mean dropping the prejudices altogether?  Are we ready to be judged on our individual characteristics, or do we like having a group identity to defend?

These are hard questions.  Determinism, like any other separation, is often very comforting and useful, while also being limiting and destructive.  To drop determinism and the prejudices that come with it is to drop bot the pain and the pleasures.

And for many, the pleasures of the separations of determinism are too hard to give up.

Callan

Feeling Like A ________

Date:         Sun, 11 May 1997 08:16:57 -0400
Reply-To:     Queer Studies List <QSTUDY-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU>
Sender:       Queer Studies List <QSTUDY-L@LISTSERV.ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU>
From:         Callan Williams <TheCallan@AOL.COM>
Subject:      Feeling Like A ________

What do testicles feel like from inside your body?  Is your sensation of your having a penis the same as for the male you are in bed with?  Can you describe how you make masculine choices, or feminine ones for that matter?

It's easy to examine someone's anatomy in an objective way.  In fact, the best time to do it is when they are dead and you can take it apart to examine without moral objections.

It's not so easy to examine someone's thoughts, feelings and spirit.  In fact, we only know two ways -- we can either have them use shared symbols to describe them, with all the limits of those symbols, or we can examine their choices and try to infer something from them.  In either case, the bias of the observer is key.

And when we examine those thoughts, feelings and spirit, how do we know if we are examining something that is rooted in biology or in society?  How do we know if it is nature or nurture?

When the question comes up "How can you feel like a woman with a male body?"  the first question is "What is feeling like a woman?"  Is it simply the shared experience of having functioning female reproductive organs?  How do we know how shared that experience is cross culturally?

I have trouble defining the essence of womanhood as reproductive organs, because to me, the cultural layering upon that basic difference is the tale, the story of gendering.  We don't know what is natural, only what is conventional.  Only through cross cultural examination can we begin to find what meanings about having ovaries are biological and what are cultural.

Where does transgender come from? Where does the urge to have relations with your own sex come from -- surely an urge to transgress gender norms in heterosexist cultures, cultures that place a very high value on breeding?  Is it in the testes, ovaries?  Is it in the erectile tissue?  Is it in the hormones?  The anatomy of the brain, as researchers in the Netherlands have suggested?  Is it in brain chemistry?  Does it stem from genetic differences or from a hormone shock?  How does a brain that leads people to gender transgressive actions compare to a brain that does not?  Is the brain of a transgendered male like a non-tg female?  Good questions -- but unless someone on this list is doing breakthrough work in brain biology, not questions we will answer soon.

That leaves us looking at cultural influences.  Do TG males feel like women, or do they just not feel like men, and in this bi-polar culture, that means they assume they are women?  Is this the essence of defining women as the shadow of masculinity?  How are we to interpret the symbols of transgender when that is the only way we have of communicating about it, when we can't directly examine the similarities and differences?

Gender is a social construct, no matter how rooted it is in biological differences, and simple cultural examination, either over time or between cultures will show you that the definitions of "what a woman does," "what a man does," and "what people who are not simply men or women do" are far from constant.

How does a man feel?  What makes him a man?  What is manly and what is not manly?  Is there any simple consensus on this?  If we can't answer these questions, how can we answer how a woman feels?

I personally believe that sexuality has an enormous amount to do with gender -- that we contextualize our sexual urges in the context of appropriate gender roles, in the choices and words that we are given about who we are -- our gendering.  Gender roles are used to regulate sexual behavior, to define appropriate sexual behavior for people like us.  Yo me, it is not the study of the fraction of time we are actually engaged in sex acts, lost in a moment of passion, that teaches, but the dance around those sex acts, the courtship and mating rituals that expose our choices -- and these rituals are richly gendered.

I guess the thing that concerns me most is the apparent underlying assumption "Well, I don't feel like a woman, so how could any other male ever feel that way?"

To try to understand queer, transgressive behaviors in the context of if we would do them seems limiting.  The nature of transgressive behaviors is that they are not normative, they are not standard issue, not easily understandable to the mass of culture.  "Why would people want to do that when it makes me feel sick?  They must be sick."

To understand transgressive behaviors requires first accepting the the words and choices of the people who do them at face value.  It requires accepting that in their reality, their choices are pleasurable and correct, that their choices come from some genuine thing deep inside of them.

If we don't accept that, then we try to find how someone is so damaged, so twisted, that they would allow some other male to insert a penis into their own anus, for example.  I believe they do that because they love it, no matter what my choices are about that behavior.

If we try to examine other people's choices in the context of our feeling and our morality, rather than in the context of their feelings and their morality, our observations will be hopelessly biased, and we will never figure out what is going on.  This is a real challenge of queer studies -- it will bring up everything that squicks you and demand that you be able to see this as just another form in the rainbow of human behavior.  If you see others choices though your eyes, as about you, it will bring up all your stuff.

What does a woman feel like?  Can anyone born with an antomically male body actually think like a normative woman (whatever that is)?  What does a man feel like?  Can a man who engages in homosexual acts actually think like a normative man (whatever that is)?

The challenges of what normative means, and how our body, it's urges and the choices we make reflect on that are the questions of transgression, of queerness.

All I know is that the narratives of transgendered people, and the extreme measures that they will go to in breaking out of the gender role assigned at birth has assured me that they have a deep, in-born knowledge that they are different than other people with that genital configuration.  They face incredible stigma and still come, and I choose to see that as their own truth rather than some sort of warped behavior.

Does that mean that they are or are not a _______?  I don't know -- but I do know that the magic of assimilation and transformation means that, with enough work, they can enter any social role they want -- maybe not perfectly, but enough.

In other words, I accept their own individual narrative that drives their own mix of transgression and assimilation, even if it doesn't feel like the one I would ever choose.

Callan

Yes, Even Circus Freaks Have A Lobby

Mark Williams, Radio 810-WGY, 3:10-3:30 PM, December 10 1996 

I got this like five page e-mail from someone who called me every human rights abuser name in the book, including a facist, for me thinking it's funny that some guy who wants his hoo-haa whacked off is suing to use the ladies room. They didn't even hear the show, they heard about it third hand!  Wow!  Even circus freaks have a lobby!

They say that it's bad that therapists think they need to be diagnosed as ill because they want to get their hoo-haa lopped off.  Yeah right, like they are not sick!  Equal rights for circus freaks!

I looked up this thing on the internet, and there are like 3000 entry points on transgender, and more beyond that!  So much for these freaks!

A couple just got fined $500 each for for having oral sex in a Dennys.  In NYS, it's a human right to breast feed, the only state in the country.  If a woman can get her breast suckled in public, then why can't a man get sucked in public?  Where are the men's rights advocates when we need them?

We have normal people in a Denny's doing what comes naturally and they get fined, and the Circus Freaks sue to use the toilet!  It's crazy!

And besides, nobody has told me yet -- is there an organ bank for hoo-haas?

12/10/96

Subj:        Yes, Even Circus Freaks Have A Lobby.
Date:        12/09/96
To:        Comm…@wgy.com12/10/96

Today, Mark Williams seemed stunned that someone wrote him to decry yesterdays uninformed rant against the transgendered person who claims to have been beaten after using the public restroom at the Albany Public Library.  Mr. Williams did not focus on the allegations of physical abuse, intimating only that the issue was about access to public facilities.

In his words, Williams was surprised that “Even Circus Freaks Have A Lobby!”

If Mr. Williams would stop to think for a moment, rather than using the organ that he feels is appropriate to have suckled in public (as he announced today), he would understand that if anyone needs a lobby, it is those humans that some paint as circus freaks.

Do Circus Freaks deserve human rights?  Only if they are human.  And too often we forget that people who are not normal are just human too, whatever their “freakishness.”  Too tall, too short, impervious to pain, born intersexed, born transgendered, skin problems, those with stunted limbs, and so on — all the mainstay of the freak show at the carnival, and, surprise of surprises, all simply human.

It is when people decide to name call, rant with indignation at the requests of some to have access to public facilities, chortle with incredulity at the needs and demands of some, that people start forgetting that we are all just humans after all.

Williams took shots at the Americans With Disabilities Act, at mental deviants and more in his quest to be “irreverent” and humorous, stirring up his audience with a good old screed.  The line between irreverence and disrespect is one that may be fuzzy, but when you start categorizing people as less than human, as mere circus freaks, that line is crossed.

That’s why circus freaks need a lobby.  We have to stand up for our
humanity.

Does Williams think we circus freaks don’t have the mental capacity to stand up for ourselves, that just because we might want to have our hoo-haa removed, our brains — obviously disordered to him — cannot actually think?  That we cannot counter his arguments of exclusion and derision?

Or does Williams think that anyone so deviant as a circus freak should be ashamed to stand up for their right to be treated with the dignity and respect any human is entitled to?

If the basic foundations of all being created equal do not include circus freaks, then you can be assured that circus freaks will stand up for their rights.  And because circus freaks are bright and proud of who they are, they will not hide for his comfort.

It is the circus freaks who need a lobby, to get out the message that Williams obviously doesn’t get — we are all simply humans.  The Constitution does not allow discrimination against classes of people — even circus freaks.

Of course, everyone should be held accountable for their actions.  Lewd, abusive or predatory behavior is wrong, and people must be held accountable for that.  However, simply showing something that would be appropriate on one person (e.g. someone born female) and deciding it is inappropriate on another (someone born male) is violating freedom of expression — a key freedom for anyone in the media.

For if circus freaks are oppressed, then even the carnival barkers outside the freak show, gathering crowds who may buy the products of advertisers, can be oppressed.

The circus freaks are angry because someone is speaking loudly saying that they are less than human, don’t deserve consideration and respect. Someone ignores the allegations of physical abuse and focuses on hoo-haa jokes.

Yes, the circus freaks have a lobby.  And until people understand and
speak up for the humanity of all, no matter how freakish, we will
apparently need one.

Callan

(To answer his “big” question, in Genital Reassignment Surgery, the penis is used to create the neo-vagina, so I am sorry to tell him that there is no organ bank of “hoo-haa” availible for him to select a new one.  And NYS does not now pay for SRS under Medicare, leaving more TS women without surgery to use the women’s room.)

Death, Please.

Subj:        Death, Please.
Date:       08/10/96

Why are TG people so focused on death?

Much of the organizing energy over the past few years has been on the death of a handful of TG people — Brandon Teena, Tyra Hunter, Chanelle Pickett, Deborah Forte, the gals in Toronto, Christian Paige.  Riki has her “We are not disposable!” speech down pat, and has been able to use these deaths very powerfully to get sympathy and support.

While the death of any individual is sad, we don’t know how mant TG people are killed — is it more than average for their profession and role, or less? Are we really under attack — or do we just feel unsafe?

I think that one of the reasons we all feel so unsafe is that one of the key parts of TG is death — the death of a persona.  When we gendershift, a part of us dies — and to some people, it feels like a whole person dies.

Maybe one of the reasons that the Benjamin Standards are focused on people “Who have always been a woman inside” rather that people who choose to be a woman, is because that makes SRS the birth of a woman — and not the death of a man.  The doctor simply frees the real vagina rather than killing the old penis.

Kate Bornstein writes in Gender Outlaw:

**********************************

Sometimes, it’s not the fist in your belly that gets to you. Sometimes, it’s when they’re quiet, even polite. Sometimes, it’s how they look at you day after day that finally gets to you.

They squint at you, like they can’t see.

It’s as if by squinting they might get a better make on you.

If they’re in a crowd, they shift their eyes so friends can’t tell they’re looking at you. Real subtle.

You can read the fear behind the smirk, The hatred just past the disgust.

You worry it’s your paranoia. and you always hope it’s only your paranoia. (Confidence, they’ve told you, helps you pass.)

But there’s always one of them who looks at you with longing. And that scares you the most, Because if you let that longing into your heart, you have to accept yourself just the way you are.

***************

I wonder if it’s not the people who would kill us with knives and fists that scare us, but the people who would kill us with kindness and acceptance.

When they stop being disapproving, start accepting us, we are faced with the horrible decision — is it time to die?  Should the man persona that has sereved me so well, that was so hard to build, the ego laden armor that protected the tender child within — should that be dropped, killed?

That person was built to satisfy the expectations of others around us.  How do we tell those people who learned to love that persona that he has to die so another can be born.

All TG people are born with drama in their soul.  And the ultimate high-drama-event is simple — death and rebirth.  It is required.

It’s true that every good-bye is a hello, every death a rebirth — but the reason we hold joy for the birth of a baby is because we believe in the joyous possibilities a baby has in front of them.

Yet who can hold joy for the birth of a loud, queer human?  Do we have to make promises of acceptance and future to accept rebirth — or can we just leap.

These are the questions of the hero quest, no doubt.

We do need to mourn out bothers and sisters who have died at the hands of another — even at their own hand.  But I suspect that one reason we fight death so much is because we fight our own death, the death that being profoundly TG still requires.

It is the death of so many things.  Of the ego patterns and protections we have build up to create a gender role that doesn’t fit us.  Of a past that isn’t useful.  Of a son or a daughter that parents have expectations for.  Of a parent who children look up to.  Of one career.  Of the dreams that we would be able to fit in.  Of all the work and pain we used to try to fit in, to stem the flood of TG.

It is also the birth, a new birth, full of new possibilities and new power. It is the birth we must focus on, it is true — knowing that while we are forever changed, we are also forever the same.  Everyone has their own way of embracing the new birth — from Rachel Pollack’s mythological bent to other people’s total rejection of their past.

Yet, if we don’t die, we can’t be reborn.

I want to talk about death, about how we embrace the death that is required, about how we deal not just with our grief & mourning — which is mild, because the dream of a new life is planted deeply in us, or we would not leap — but of how we help the others around us though the process.  Can we?  Or do we just have to abandon them, do off in the woods to die and be reborn on a journey, the traditional transexual way as in “In Search Of Eve?”

I do not believe my life as a man was imply a canard — or that the relationships that people had with me as a man were not true.  I don’t hate my life, and don’t want to — and that makes death harder.   But we constantly have the pressure of rebirth – and for me, that involves being born out, public and loud.  Scary.

Does the gender community help people with death and rebirth, or does it simply try to relieve the pain and avoid death.  Questions.

But whatever it is, we are obsessed with avoiding death — as most of the culture is — and that continues to be a block to transformation.

Where do we look to find comfort in embracing death — and choosing a new life?

Callan

TG & Identity Politics

TG & Identity Politics

Copyright © Callan Williams, 1996

Are identity politics the salvation of TG people,  or the downfall of them?  It is a question worth  discussing.

I got a packet from Dallas Denny, with Chrysalis  10 and AEGIS News 6 & 7.  The theme of this  Chrysalis is Transgender Gothic, with an image  of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” painting on  the front, doctored by JoAnn Roberts to have the  heads of Virginia Prince and Harry Benjamin.

It contains my IFGE speech, where I call for  transcending the Prince-Benjamin model.   Dallas’ big piece is on the myth of the  Heterosexual Crossdresser, and the  communities and people who remain  untouched by the traditional gender community  — and how labeling has left them out in the cold.

Both pieces focus on the limits of the old  models, on how the groupings of people into  convenient labels and concepts limit all of us.

AEGIS News #7 is lead by Vision 2001, Dallas’s  analysis of the TG communities national groups.   Jessica Xavier writes the lead on politics, noting  that to be effective, we have to create people  whose primary identification is “transgendered,”  like the gays and lesbians have done — and if we  don’t do that, we will fail as a movement.

I also read a piece in The Sunday Gazette by Carl  Strock who went up to the National Women’s  Studies Conference up at Skidmore.  He came  away with amusement at the triumph of identity  politics, of how people grouped themselves  under labels, and how limiting that was — even  though it seemed to be the central cannon of  women’s studies.  In fact, the conference theme  was Boundaries: What separates and connects us?  I  suspect the answer to both questions was labels  — identity politics.

The biggest gift that The Prince brought to  transgendered people was identity politics.   Labels and separations — not only of those who  were not femiphiles or heterosexual  crossdressers, but even of those who were sort  of crossdressers but disagreed with The Prince,  as Dallas points out in her essay.  And to this  day, we debate the costs of that gift — the  balance between group idenitity and group  separation.

The question we have today is a tricky one.  Do  we, for political reasons, embrace identity  politics, as Jessica Xavier suggests, or do we,  again for political reasons, transcend identity  politics, as Dallas and I suggest?

Where are transgendered people to get an  identity?  Our birth families are very different  than we are, and are almost unanimously un- accepting, forcing us to lie about who we are, to  create a false self.  We don’t get support in our  schools or churches either, limiting our  geographic or spiritual identities.

Lesbian and Gay people have the same issues,  but they do get support from their lovers.  They  create families of choice out of a drive for  companionship and sexual satisfaction.  But  Transgendered people don’t have those drives.   We don’t share an attraction to partners like us.

We end up coming together under concepts,  under banners.  And for a long while, those  banners were simple: transsexual, het- crossdresser, drag queen.  Problem is that we  don’t fit neatly there — the labels were forced,  and they were not, as Jessica Xavier notes with  some frustration, our primary labels.  If TS we  wanted to become women (or for some, men) if  TV, we were normal het males, and drag  queens, normal gay men. We wanted to stay  away from the TG label.

And why not stay away?  What is the benefit of  the TG label?  Does it carry status, power,  glamour, affirmation?  In most cases, no — it  only carries entree to a few support groups —  ane often they were simply places of fear and  sublimation.

On a personal level, the transgender label, the  history and a few role models, can help us find  our own worth, transcend our own shame.  But  after all is said and done, we have to live inside  of a community, and while some have  postulated the creation of utopian transgender  communities, none exist.  The best we can get is  queer communities, like the gay ghettos of San  Francisco, Toronto, Atlanta, and so on.

I suspect that we would find that the level of  immersion of a gay or lesbian person into the  local gay or lesbian community is directly  related to how they primarily identify.  If they  are active, they are lesbians or gays first — but  for many, who have settled like any other  person, they may be lawyers, perents, blacks,  town dwellers, council-members, Christians or  some other identity first.  It is a question of the  group you see as being your first home — and  acknowledgment that we all live in many  groups, many worlds.

Life, for most people, is beyond the simplistic  views of identity politics.  And the gift of  identity politics that Virginia Prince brought to  the gender community is a double edged  sword, cutting the space for TG people to be  themselves — and cutting separations between  TG people and others in their community.

Politically oriented people will jump and run,  tell us that the only way to be effective is to be  part of a distinct group that can follow them and  fight for rights — by giving time, energy and  money to support the battles.

But many of us will wonder how that helps us  be more effective in the communities in which  we live.

Transgendered people have always been, and  probably will always be rare.  One or two per  nomadic tribe of 50 or so was enough.  They  have also always spoken for individual  expression — there was never a handbook on  how to be a shaman, only stories and tales that  lead us to find our own personal ways of power  and transcendence.

To be effective, transgendered people must  create alliances with many others around them —  it is not sufficient to find an isolated community  where only TG people live, for such a thing has  never existed.

Can we really find our voices as transgendered  people using the sword of identity politics?  I  don’t think so — the separations it creates cut us  off from our natural powers of bridging worlds,  of showing connection, of cutting across  boundaries.

But that doesn’t stop people from trying to  introduce more identity politics into the world  of transgender, and using the fear of separation  to drive people together.  “If you are not with  us, you will be alone, isolated, harassed, killed.   Only by standing together can we be powerful!”

Lily Tomlin: “We are all in this alone.”  I think, that  while I would never want to give up my  connections to other transgendered people, I  never want to primarily think of myself as  transgendered — or any other label relating to  that, like TS or TV.  I want to be essentially  human, and connect with other humans.

Are identity politics the salvation of TG people,  or the downfall of them?  It is a question worth discussing.
Chrysalis Quarterly, Vol. 2 No. 4 (Winter, 1996-1997), page 10