In summer of 2000, San Francisco Bay Area transsexual activist asked me to contribute an essay on the meaning of the word "transgender" to the newly-launched Transgender Gazebo forum of gay.com. I was in the middle of trying to establish my rock band Glamazon in the Los Angeles market, so I only had time for this short piece. The point I most wanted to make was that the umbrella definition of that word was fitting because of the evolutionary and potentially fluid nature of gender identity and gender expression, not to mention a person's self-awareness.
When I wrote this article I had yet to learn it would be medically possible for me to have Sex Reassignment Surgery, so being stuck with a partially male body colored this article as it did much of my writing. Kate Bornstein's "third gender" concept was especially important to me, given that my physique was between genders, hence "trans."
Transgender: Not Just Another Label
by Christine Beatty
Twenty years ago, when I allowed myself to consider it at all, I only saw my crossdressing as a sexual kink, one that suffused me with tortured guilt. As a heterosexually-identified whiteboy from the 'burbs, it didn't matter that Penthouse Forum said it was okay, I believed it was "wrong." But I couldn't stop doing it. Not for very long, anyway.
Fifteen years ago I left my wife, finally convinced that whatever else I was, I was not the straight middleclass dude I assumed I was. Heaped atop a pile of circumstantial clues were two showstoppers: a book on gender issues I'd borrowed from the college library and the documentary Before Stonewall which chronicled gay life before the 1969 Greenwich Village uprising that marked the beginning of gay lib. We’re talking mondo identification. While it was becoming clear that my crossdressing was way more than a forbidden fetish, I wasn't quite certain what identity pigeonhole I fit into.
For a while, it was important to consider myself a Woman, because if I wasn't a Woman, then I had to be a Man. Yet as much as I wanted to claim Woman, it never felt 100% correct. Still, to call myself a man felt even further from the truth. This basic quandary tore at my sanity for years. I felt like I had no place in the world. The irony was incredible; in the past I had acted at maleness, and now I had to consciously direct myself as to how to do Woman. It was a losing proposition both ways. For 27 years I worried if I was enough of man, now I doubted my womanhood. Being a transsexual woman became almost as much of a prison as "manhood" only I got to wear the clothes I liked. And, if anything, I questioned myself more.
Seven years ago, I found myself beginning to internalize an important concept that Kate Bornstein had discussed with me a few years before she published Gender Outlaw, that of “third” or “other” gender. I was finally learning to count higher that Two. The bipolar gender dichotomy that ruled my thinking all my life began to lose its power. I no longer had to think of myself as one or the other. I was both and neither. I can be myself and not have to consider if my behavior, speech, thoughts, etc. are "correct" for my gender.
There is no “right” way to behave, think and speak, only that which feels right to me at the time. It is a blessing not to question my identity like I used to. However, sometimes I will crank up the Woman exterior if I'm around people I don't want to confuse or alienate. This Gender Liberation stuff is heady, but it as also very threatening to those deeply entrenched in binary genders, who may have difficulty interpreting these “mixed” messages. This has all led up to a multilayered identity, yet one that feels natural to me.
Another great value of the concept of "transgender" is that of socio-political presence. While some in our community cling steadfastly to their labels and decline to gather under the transgender banner, many of us recognize the value of inclusiveness and of power in numbers. It is our lack of visibility and cohesiveness that keeps us from having a stake in the various human and civil rights struggles that are being waged at this very moment. Effective and dedicated organizations like Gender-PAC are lobbying Congress and raising public awareness of Gender Rights. Rightfully, the transgender-as-an-umbrella concept deserves its own separate exposition, but let it suffice to say that word confers a sense of community that helps me feel less alone than I did several years ago.
All in all, I embrace the transgender label as one of unification, both of my own multigendered traits and of my community. It dispelled my self-doubt and brought together my ideas and my identity to exist in harmony. For the most part, anyway. It can do the same for our community.
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