Transcending Genders

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #103, Fall 2003.

? Why do transgender people often find themselves competing for the same seat at a table?

? What must you know about someone before you can even consider extending friendship?

Expectations of Gender

? Judy Osborne

At the moment of birth, a glance at a baby?s genitals confers lifelong legal and social expectations. These expectations vary greatly among societies.
Under our own social compact, a child is expected to fit into one of two mutually exclusive categories as soon as
the glance discovers the presence or absence of a penis. The gender so assigned correctly describes the child?s role in reproduction, but the social obligations of gender reach far beyond that essential definition.

In fact, the dichotomy of gender extends into almost every aspect of life. Rules of gender enforce such unessential features and behaviors as what toys we play with, who we choose as friends and how we deal with them, how we walk and talk, who is an acceptable partner and who is not, the clothes we wear, our jobs, our hobbies, even the color of the first blanket that warms our little body.
Most people find the dichotomy of
gender tolerable. Some even like the system because it gives them power. Many never question the dichotomy, accepting it as the natural order of things. Others fight against certain aspects of gender to gain more power and status for themselves. Seemingly normal people chafe their spirits trying to fit a variety of urgent desires and needs into their assigned either/or nature of masculine/feminine but dare not reveal that fact to others.

By definition, transgender people have an especially difficult time conforming to the norms. Most of us seem to exist somewhere between the two gender poles in places deplored by conventional society. Until our community came into being about thirty years ago, each of us found our own path to whatever balance we could create, most of us by keeping our dark secret deeply buried, always on the lookout for safe places to express our outlaw gender expressions, seldom even knowing in those days that anyone else had similar longings. We sublimated our needs and our secret by overachieving or dropping out, abusing drugs or alcohol, withdrawing from social life; perhaps going overboard trying to conform to our assigned gender role in an effort to ?say it isn?t so.? Sometimes we gave up the struggle and took refuge in depression and/or thoughts of suicide. We know of these tendencies from our own histories and the sad stories of others who stayed long in the closet, many coming out at last after retirement or the death of a spouse.
What did we do when at last we found each other and formed a community? We bought into the bipolar system and tried to skip happily all the way from one end of the gender spectrum to the other. Crossdressers mostly stayed rooted in their gender of birth but found ways to interact with society in often-exaggerated versions of the opposite gender. Transsexuals traded one rigid full-time gender role for another, so relieved were they to be shucking the burden of a false life that they willingly jumped through whatever hoops the gender change system placed in their way toward gender peace.

And there were hoops aplenty. Gate-keepers controlling access to hormones and surgery had little research to draw on. The rules of transsexualism instead came right out of fifties attitudes, rules rooted in rigid gender roles and the
rampant exercise of paternalism.

To be certified as truly transsexual, and therefore eligible for hormone administration and sexual reassignment surgery, candidates had to undergo extensive therapy during which they were expected to demonstrate that they:

? had lived full time for at least one year in the desired gender, sometimes two,

? could pass convincingly in the other gender according to conventional norms,

? would be heterosexual in the opposite gender,

? were employed or employable in an occupation suitable for a person of the desired gender,

? had been convinced of ?being in the wrong body? from their earliest memories,

? had exhibited the behavior of a masculine girl or feminine boy throughout life,

? seldom, if ever, had felt erotic arousal from dressing in clothing traditionally associated with the other gender,

? were disgusted by their genitals,

? and wished fervently to have their bodies corrected through surgery. (Anyone who failed to view sexual reassignment surgery as an urgent goal could not be regarded as serious enough to be certified into the opposite gender for legal or social purposes.)

As a whole variety of transgender
support groups emerged and transsexual candidates began to compare notes with veterans, the inevitable happened?we learned to lie. Our lies, duly collected, confirmed the standards which had been set for us. Such ?research? continued to guide gatekeeper therapy until recent times.

Although some of the criteria do apply to some transsexuals, a great deal of real-world experience casts doubt on the notion that all the criteria apply to many, if any. Instead we find in ourselves a fluidity of gender and sexuality that calls into question the culture?s tendency to categorize everyone by gender and then base a whole set of assumptions on the result.

When you watch what we do instead of what we say, you?ll discover that each of us is marvelously individual in finding our own niche of comfort within the kaleidoscope of gender and sexuality.

I hope you?ll find this information interesting and useful. You?re welcome to contact me at