New World Order…
… 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.