The trans-sex perplex

[Pentimento: Reading this again, ten years later, I greatly regret its unkind and dismissive tone. I’m not going to clean it up, since I think that would be a bit dishonest — sanitizing one’s own history. This is what I thought then; it’s not exactly what I think now. In particular, my harsh words about transsexuals in their social capacity seem grossly unfeeling. I continue to believe that gender theory is nonsense, but I could have been more sympathetic to people caught up in it; experiencing deep distress and trying to find their way out of it. I offer a most sincere mea culpa.]

All the transsexuals I’ve ever met have been crashing bores, and very bad company. Admittedly, it’s a small sample — half a dozen or so — but the lineaments of tediousness have been pretty consistent. The level of self-absorption is extraordinarily high — approaching, or even exceeding, adolescent levels. The range of interests very narrow. Transsexuals don’t flirt like girls and they’re not chummy like guys and no matter what you say or do, you end up feeling you’ve put a foot wrong. They’re like 70s feminists, except with big feet and hoarse voices, and wardrobes that aren’t at all butch but don’t quite make it as femme.

If I were Sex Commissar I wouldn’t ban it, of course. Liberty Hall, that’s my motto. Get the hormones and the surgery if you like, and good luck to you.

These ruminations got started in my head by Chelsea, nee Bradley, Manning, a great hero of mine, and the subject of a very fine piece by Jacob Bacharach, the former IOZ.

Chelsea is fully entitled, as a matter of courtesy if nothing else, to the name and pronouns she prefers. And in spite of her somewhat dismal choice of given name, my admiration for Chelsea remains entirely undimmed. If I were President, I would pardon her, give her the Medal Of Freedom, and pay for her surgery out of my own pocket.

In all fairness, it must be said that Chelsea, in the photo above, looks a lot foxier than any fait-accompli transsexual I have ever met. Of course when the picture was taken, I suppose she was, technically, a transvestite rather than a transsexual(*). And everybody knows how fabulous transvestites are.

Perhaps this is partly because transvestites are still navigating the shadowlands of gender — they have, so to speak, a foot in both camps. Their answer to the ‘identity’ question is, in effect, ‘None of the above’. Which is almost always the right answer to any multiple-choice question.

This American Life — I believe that’s an NPR show, right? — is one lockdown after another: day care, school; the office, or prison, or the army; and finally the old folks’ home or the ironically-named ‘hospital’.

We’re an institutionalized nation. No wonder we dream wild dreams of a wholly other life; some fence we can jump and find lusher, greener pastures on the other side. Of course the fences we might jump are laid down by the culture we live in, and the far-side pastures are as fenced in as the hither-side.

Perhaps the transsexuals I have known are so grumpy because they’ve realized that being a girl in America is no improvement on being a guy, although it may sometimes seem so to us guys.

Lemma, for you girls: Being a guy is also not much of an improvement on being a girl. We’re all fucked, more or less. Okay, you rather more than us. Fair enough.

There were some sourly funny sequelae to Chelsea’s self-revelation. The Nation magazine, for example, tried to crank up a campaign to get the prisons to provide ‘hormone therapy’ and indeed — they’re very radical at The Nation — sex-change surgery, for the Incerceration Sector’s long-term guests.

This struck me as a classic example of crackpot realism. Take it as given that the jailers will have a shocking number of us in their charge, for ever and ever, amen. Let’s make them kinder, gentler jailers.

(*) Lord, how dismal this bastard Latin-Greek vocab is.

5 thoughts on “The trans-sex perplex

  1. To be fair, Michael, most of us are pretty boring. And isn’t it true that when someone has a radical change, a conversion if you will, that is all the person talks about. What is was like before and what it is like after, not realizing that maybe not as much has changed as the person thought. My brother is a drug addict. Been through treatment twice. But throughout, drugs have been one way or another the subject of conversation. Boring, to put it mildly. And look at the former Trotskyists. Their sect consumed them then and it consumes them still. No doubt the institutions make us incapable of anything but being boring. It’s hard to see a way out of our cages, no matter what we are or try to change into. I try to keep on the move. It’s at least a quick fix. Plus, life does go on, and that is interesting, some of the time at least.

    Good point on the crackpot realism at the Nation.

  2. “Lord, how dismal this bastard Latin-Greek vocab is.”

    A quite legitimate complaint, if you were referring to homosexuals or television, but pure-Latin transvestites and transsexuals are innocent on this score.

  3. Michael Yates makes a good point about how self-absorbed and boring we can all be.

    Michael Smith, I have had a quite different experience of transsexuals. I think you are only seeing one end of the spectrum, because those are the transsexuals who are obvious. That alone can make someone grumpy.
    Many transsexuals simply blend in as ordinary women. You’ve probably met a number of us and just didn’t know it.
    How well a transsexual can simply live an ordinary life in the target sex depends on the luck of the genetic draw, how old you are when you transition, how much male socialization you absorbed, how much you are willing and able to give up parts of your personality and various social competences, how much you are willing and able to sort out other psychological issues, and how much social status and support and money you have.
    And of course, it takes time to learn all the skills involved to living as a woman (or as a man). Even genetic women take years to learn. So it is natural that at the beginning, you can be uneven and inconsistent, and more noticeable. And some transwomen remain stuck somewhere in the middle. Some like it that way. It feels natural to them to be in the middle or out of the dichotomy altogether. But others feel themselves stuck in the middle. And that certainly can make you grumpy.
    Yes, the process of gender transition is inherently narcissistic, for basically the same reasons as adolescence: you are trying to figure out who you are. It is a commonplace among therapists that a transsexual does not become a woman, she becomes a tween girl. And it is even harder to do the figuring out of who you are if your body is 35 or 45 or 55, even 25, not 10 or 11. Most of the transsexuals I have met understand all this, sort through much of it, and are capable of keeping what is left under wraps when that is appropriate.
    And the hoarse voice. The voice is one of the hardest parts of transition. There is no reliable surgery, there is no hormone treatment that will change the voice. To take a throat that has been physically altered by years of testosterone and get it to talk with the pitch and thinness of an ordinary female voice is a skill that takes serious practice. Some transwomen never do master that skill.
    The lack of a sense of humor is true for a certain type of transwoman but most of the transwomen I have met had a good sense of humor. Many of us are wicked funny. Being out of the ordinary and in a vulnerable position often hones one’s powers of observation.

    “Of course when the picture was taken, I suppose she [Chelsea Manning] was, technically, a transvestite rather than a transsexual(*).”
    There is a difference. Chelsea is a pre-op transsexual. A transvestite dresses in the clothes of the opposite sex and that itself is the point. A transsexual dresses in the clothes of their own sex, although that may not yet be their physical or legal sex.
    Chelsea is an extraordinarily brave woman.

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