… at the New Women’s Conference.
In the late ’90s, a transactivist friend (the same friend with whom I had dinner in in the City just last year) cajoled me into attending the very last of the “New Womens’ Conference” events. I was extremely reluctant to go for several reasons. First, I had no emotional desire nor need to attend a gathering I knew would likely be comprised of only “older transitioners”, with whom I, save political interests, have nothing in common. In addition, one of the suggested activities was to bring dildos and share a group masturbatory session together. Fortunately, that was universally disapproved by all the rest of the conferees! I went because of my friendship, and the fact that she worked on my interest in trans-history research, and my love of being witness to such historic events.
During one of the sessions, Dr. Anne Lawrence, gathering research material, asked a forced choice question, “Would you rather be very beautiful, but unable to pass; Or be plain but pass perfectly.” Anne seemed very surprised at my very impassioned exposition on why I would chose passing. “One needs to pass to have a normal life. One does not need to be beautiful to find love. Lots of plain women find loving husbands.” Looking around the room at the rest of the transwomen gathered there, all of whom were lesbian identified, I found no nodding of agreement, only uncomfortable silence. I don’t want to sound narcissistic… and you can confirm for yourself by viewing my photograph, that I both passed and am reasonably attractive… while the rest varied from ‘could pass at the grocery store’ to ‘couldn’t pass in the dark’. I very much doubted if any of the others was living as “stealth” as I was.
This difference is generalizable to all transkids and AGP transwomen. In my years of talking to other transkids, they universally would prefer to be 100% passable, even to being beautiful. Most of them were passible. Some were also beautiful. The need to be passible, and to actually pass, to live as stealthily as one can, is likely to be so important, as to be a major factor in the “transition/don’t transition” decision making process for transkids. Bailey, in his book, The Man Who Would Be Queen, commented on this process, noting that it was indicative of a rational decision process whereby transkids made go/no go choices on which direction would lead to the greatest social success. But for AGP transwomen, the ability to pass doesn’t seem to enter into their decisions in the slightest.
The definition of “passing” seems to me to be different for transkids and older transitioners as well. “Passing” for a large number of AGPs seems to me to consist of the ability to go shopping or to a restaurant without receiving rude comments. For the majority it does not seem to mean the ability to live in society for years, going to work, school, participating in civic affairs, visiting neighbors, all without any of them being aware, or even suspecting, of her transsexual status or history. Yet, for most transkids, this is passing. As one transkid wrote on her own blog, passing for her is going out into the street at three a.m. due to a fire in the apartment building, no make-up, no padding, in a overly large T-shirt, and the firemen calling her “Miss”. Anything less is not “passing”.
Having stressed the importance of the ability to pass in MTF transkids, I now have to explain that not all transkids do this well. One may view my video field guide and note that a couple of the transkids there don’t meet this standard. Kiira, in several of our lengthy correspondences, noted that socio-economic status (SES) seemed to be correlated with passability. She advanced the hypothesis that as SES increased, the requirement that one be able to truly pass increased. She felt that transkids weighed their opportunities as girls against their opportunities as femmie gay boys.
As SES increases, the opportunities as femmie gay boys/men increase. One can go to college, study the arts, get a job in fields where being gay is less of a problem, and might even be a benefit, etc. While for low SES transkids, there are far fewer opportunities for them as femmie gay men… and many more opportunities and less social disapproval, and even the chance for a normal and fullfilling life, as a woman. Further, in the lower classes, those individuals who are on the edge of being transkids vs. drag queen / femmie gay may be better off as a transkids. Thus explaining why we find more “in-betweenies” as Kiira called them, on the street. Kiira quiped that if one wanted to see a truly pure example of a transkid, one needed to look to the upper-middle-class. (I should note, that I myself was raised as upper-middle-class, and after some difficulty in my early adult years, rose back to that level in my mid-20s.)
Thus, we see opposite effects of socio-economic status in transkids vs AGP populations in that higher SES means fewer transkids and more AGPs.
Although there is limited statistical and anecdotal published data to support the above hypothesis, no one has, to my knowledge, done a proper study to develop a path model for transkid decision making. <Hint to grad students> I look forward to such a study.
Throughout the posts of this blog, I have explored the two types of MTF transwomen from the published literature, mostly peer reviewed journals. But it is extremely difficult to get a real sense for who transfolk are in real life, their nuanced presentation as individuals, from tabulated statistics, as Stoller pointed out. In this post, I will endeavor to provide a video field guide of sorts to the two types. This is not an easy undertaking. First there are the ethical considerations. It would be, in my opinion, unethical to search the web for personal videos and then embarrass their owners by “diagnosing” them here. However, I believe that exploring and critiquing published documentaries on transsexuals, in which the individuals on screen have (or should have) given full permission to the filmmaker for the use of their images and identities, is ethically acceptable. The second problem is to show the full range of the human experience that transsexual woman have, unflinchingly… yet not introduce nor support stereotypes. For this, I believe we should purposefully include individuals from the best to the worst. Transwomen run the full gamut of society, from very successful academicians, scientists, politicians, businesswomen, etc. to the very lowest, incarcerated criminals. So, please allow me to show you that full gamut.
Before getting to the videos, I would recommend that you first review the nature of the two types of MTF transwomen by reading my FAQ and even Bailey’s somewhat tongue in cheek questionaire / “test”.
First, lets explore the worst, the least successful, in the documentary film “Cruel and Unusual“. In this out-take we meet six MTF transsexual women, in and out of prison environments. Make no mistake, these individuals have made mistakes in their lives. They all have exhibited poor judgement. At this point, I would ask you to choose whether you want to view the video and judge for yourself which type of transwoman, transkids vs. AGP each individual is likely to be, or whether you wish to jump down and review my exploration and explication before viewing the film segment. Pay close attention to body language, motor movement, vocal production, etc.
As I ‘read’ them, Ophelia, Ashley and Yolanda are all quite obviously transkids. Equally obvious to me are Anne, Patty, and Linda, who are all autogynephilic (AGP). Note that if you close your eyes, the voices are quite noticeably feminine for the first three, while uneven to just plain masculine for the second three. The body language, gestures, postures, walking styles, facial expressions are similarly dichotomous. Although it may sound catty and mean of me to point it out, Linda’s inexpert use of make-up is common enough among AGP transsexuals. Note that Anne, Patty, and Linda have all worked construction trades as men before transition and even afterwards. The first three have been petty criminals since their teen years. Yolanda has also earned money as a prostitute. Of course, the fact that Anne has fathered a child is a dead give-away that she had sex with a woman as a man.
Now let us turn to the more socially successful transwomen. It is also important to note that autogynephilic transsexuals can and do transition young. It is important to be able to differentiate between the two even at this age, as the social expectations and therapeutic needs of each type are very different. So, lets examine two young transitioning transwomen in college:
Again, we see distinct differences in body language, vocal production, motor skills, and walking style. Raci is a transkid. Gabbie is AGP. Raci has fluid movements and swings her hips while walking. Gabbie is hunched over, her hips locked into place, and is almost “jerky” in her movements. Not only do we recognize Gabbie’s telltale behavioral signs, at one point we see a poster in Gabbie’s room of two very attractive women in sexy lingerie (likely heterosexual fashion models) in an unrealistic lesbian sex motif. The poster forcefully brings to mind the type that would typically be found in a heterosexual teenaged boy’s room. Gabbie is exclusively gynephilic (as is confirmed later in the Transgeneration documentary). At the risk of reinforcing stereotypes, we note that Gabbie is studying computer science and programming, while Raci is studying social studies and taking classes on acting. One has to watch more episodes of the show to learn some details, but it is interesting to note that Raci has been living as a girl since middle school, while Gabbie has only recently transitioned. Further, Raci, though she has lived for years as a girl, still has no hope of getting SRS soon, though would dearly love to, mirroring the experience of many MTF transkids. Raci is going to college on an academic scholarship, living in her aunt’s apartment. Gabbie, on the other hand, will very soon have SRS, paid for by her very well off parents, who can afford both Gabbie’s on campus college expenses and her SRS. Thus, we see that Gabbie has very high socio-economic status (SES), even while quite young, fitting the general model of AGP transitions being more likely in those who have high SES, and that high SES allows for a very rapid social to surgical transition.
I also find it noteworthy that Gabbie is quite outspoken about being transsexual, with no effort being made to pass as natal female, while Raci is quite concerned about passing as natal female at all times; She is especially concerned lest classmates learn of her medical status. One has to wonder if she truly understood what participation in this documentary might mean for her privacy when the film began to air on national television? In any case, I believe that this clear difference between Raci and Gabbie demonstrates an important personal and sociological difference between transkids and AGP transsexuals. “Passing” means entirely two different things to each.
This brings up another, more subtle difference between transkids and AGP transwomen. As the above out-take opens, we hear Raci speculating that “being transsexual means observing people”. Although I’ve never seen this remarked upon in the published literature, I have to agree with Raci, but with the caveat that it is only true of transkids. As Gabbie clearly demonstrates in other episodes of Transgeneration, she can be entirely clueless to social cues from those around her. At one point, she seems oblivious that a cute young man is trying to flirt with her. In another episode, she again seems oblivious that she is invading another young woman’s personal space. In another out-take from the first documentary, Cruel and Unusual, we learn that Linda believes that she has what it takes to be a street prostitute in Hollywood, where she imagines that transwomen can make a living as such, totally oblivious to the facts regarding such “she-male” prostitutes and the, obvious to the viewer, fact that she is exceptionally unsuited to be such. I’ve had numerous conversations with MTF transkids and non-transsexual women that have remarked upon observing these very same clueless behaviors in many autogynephilic transwomen. There is a small hint that this behavior may be related to a suspected link between Autism Spectrum Disorders and autogynephilia, as noted in the recently published American Psychiatric Association Task Force on Treatment of Gender Identity Disorder report.
Although eight transwomen is not enough to be a statistically valid sample, it is worth noting that all of the AGP transwomen are white, while the transkids are nearly all ethnic minorities. This mirrors the statistically valid sample showing that AGPs are more likely to be white than transkids found by Nuttbrock.
Note that at no point do any of the putatively autogynephilic transwomen above mention autogynephilic sexuality. But then, the filmmakers didn’t ask about this phenomena. Yet, we know from multiple papers from multiple, independent sexologists, that autogynephilic sexuality is present and motivating their transition.
Two days ago, on the 2nd of November, my friend and collaborator on the transkids.us website, Kiira Triea (AKA Denise Magner), died of cancer. I am not alone in mourning her loss. Her sister will miss her most. But our mutual friend, Alice Dreger will miss her acutely. Alice has written a fitting tribute to Kiira on her blog, far better than anything that I will be able to write.
I first corresponded with Kiira in early 2008, as I had just discovered Alice’s article on the contretemps surrounding Bailey’s The Man Who Would Be Queen and wanted to learn as much as I could about the events for myself, as I felt an irrational personal guilt for not having paid attention to what happened in 2003. I felt guilty for not having spoken out against the rampant ugliness at the time. I needed to do something. In Kiira, I found a path forward. We corresponded at great length and had long, almost weekly phone calls. After a year or so of these conversations, I gathered the courage to finally speak out and write an essay of my own to add to those already on the transkids.us website. I knew full well that I was inviting down the wrath of those who opposed the science that Bailey had written about… and was not disappointed. However, I had joined good company.
With Kiira’s encouragement, I began this blog to explore and explicate the science… to tell the truth.
Our correspondence and conversations also covered our personal lives. Strange, that in Kiira, whose biology was so different than mine, I should find a kindred spirit.
Correspondence and long distance phone calls are all well and good, but no substitute for face to face, in person dialog, so a few years ago, I bought her tickets to travel from her home in Maryland to my home in California, as Kiira and her sister were as poor as church mice. My daughter and I picked her up at the airport. From her writing and her wicked, witty, dialog during our phone conversations, I had always pictured her as a strong, almost Amazon-like, warrior. Instead, she was a frail, delicate, very feminine middle-aged woman who I felt concern for her lest the cold California winter winds whisk her away. She spent a week at our house, during which I had the uncomfortable feeling that I was seeing in her a deep pain that could never be healed.
Though I will miss her, I sincerely hope that she can now find healing balm.
When I began to write this blog, Kiira impressed upon me the guidelines that she and the other contributors to the Transkids.us website followed, of keeping the essays largely non-personal, only describing ourselves to the extent necessary to explain who we were as a population, not as individuals. This had two purposes. First, it protected the identities of the young people who were involved in creating the content of the original 2004-2005 website (whose identities and photos she DID share with me). Second, it was an effort to be as objective as is humanly possible regarding the differences between the two types of MTF transwomen. This effort to protect the identities of the contributors allowed a number of people who opposed publishing and exploring documentation of the differences to question whether such individuals even existed, even to the extent of stating and/or insinuating that Kiira made up those individuals as a “hoax”, in an effort to cast doubt on the information contained on the website. In a way, it was an unearned complement to Kiira, as it presupposed that Kiira had the literary talent to write in what even a cursory examination of the essays will show are completely different and consistent writing styles, the individual “voices” of those very real young transwomen. The simple truth was that Kiira loved these kids, and as the website-mistress, worked hard to protect them from being “outed” and libeled, by those same opponents. Opponents who have shown themselves to be devoid of honor and decency, having gone to great lengths to vilify and smear those who have merely said or written about the science or politics of the transcommunity.
Those in the trans-community who know, or just suspect, who I am, know that from my many years of transactivism and personally aiding transfolk of all kinds, that I would never participate in any “hoax”, and that I would never do anything I knew would harm any individual or community. Kiira is gone. I have inherited her mission. I intend to maintain the existence of the transkids.us website largely untouched, as she created it, to honor her and those young transwomen who created it. But her passing has left me to my own ideas of how I should explore the differences, both scientific and political, here on my own blog.