This was originally published online in April of 1998. I was once a very passionate advocate for trans liberation when I wrote and posted essays on the Android Sisters blog that I ran for a few years in the late ’90s. The contrivance of Android Sisters was that I was an artificially constructed person — much as I was a biologically constructed woman — writing about meaning and identity and realness and what that meant.
Warning: I write about self-medicating with alcohol and tobacco, self-harm, and suicide here. No spoilers, but I survived and did not go through with any self-harm scenarios.I do not recommend self-medicating with alcohol, tobacco, self-harm, or suicide. In fact, I highly discourage them.
I don’t know what I “live as” but I sure am expending a lot of energy living it.
The Internet machine lets me type on it and I can’t resist a box with a blinking line in it.
Not rude at all, you were very polite. Thanks. Let me preface by saying this is my experience, and my perspective on my experience, and I’ve made no attempt at all to adjust for other’s experiences and perspectives. I’m old. Long, long ago, when the internet was new and shiny, the word “transgender” was used among trans people to describe those of us who wanted to “live the role of someone of the other biological sex, without seeking medical intervention.” I grew up reading weird science fiction where people could switch bodies while keeping the same mind. Those stories resonated with me. I had an uncomfortable relationship with my (male) genitalia from with my earliest memories: puberty was very traumatic for me. Growing up, trans people on television were portrayed as jokes and/or sex workers and usually ended up as incidental murder victims on cop shows, illustrating the decline of civilization. That wasn’t me, I would think, so I never built an identity as a trans person. But what I felt I was internally never left me, and when I started to read more about it on Usenet what seems like a million years ago, I was able to talk with and read stories of trans people much more like me, who sought biological change, not social change. You ask, “what’s the difference between changing biological sex and changing gender”. For me, it was as simple as saying I wanted to change what I was, not who I was. I like who I am! I’ve liked who I am for my whole life. But I was deeply uncomfortable in my physical body. I’ve met trans people who share those same feelings, but I’ve also met plenty who were mostly uncomfortable with their social role as determined by their biological sex. (Saying “biological sex”, by the way, is completely redundant, but I do it with purpose because the terminology gets so skewed with usage.) Back in the day, and probably still now, we are required to partake in quite a lot of therapy to suss out exactly why we want to make this change. My therapist described her experience as a lesbian growing up in the bad old days, thinking it would be so much easier for her to change sex than to be accepted as a lesbian, and she sought one out, but the therapy process helped her identify what she really sought out of life: which was to be comfortable with her same-sex attraction. There are quite a lot of us who see this process as a type of oppression and have worked very hard to remove it from the process of transition. There are quite a lot of trans people who feel that the whole medicalization of their identities is a type of oppression and have worked very hard to redefine the trans experience as a non-medical, completely social process. I fully support their desire to have a non-medical, completely social, gender change process. I can’t see into their hearts and divine what makes their life complete, so I have to trust that they will do what is best for them. I just don’t believe that it should supplant what I feel I need for myself, and unfortunately, there are cis-sexual people who benefit from trans people being defined completely through a gender lens. Most trans people just want to be able to use the bathroom that we feel safest in, and work and live in peace. I’ve watched, over the last twenty years, a bargaining take place with the left. I remember when the Pride parade in Seattle was the Gay and Lesbian Pride parade. They begrudgingly added bisexuals and fought for years to exclude trans people. In the end, in order to be included we gave up being transsexuals and agreed to be transgender. Because who cares, right? It’s just words. Nobody really cares what those words mean anyway, and as long as I can have some peace, it’s worth giving up a definition without a distinction. Well, the chickens are coming home to roost. I said in another comment, 90% of this is about bathrooms, and when people think about bathrooms, they think about penises and vaginas. The conversation on the left has been about how people feel inside, regardless of their outsides, which is a beautiful conversation because sex-reassignment surgery is incredibly expensive and there are people who will never be able to afford it. Oh, yeah, and we gave up calling it sex-reassignment surgery. I think I might be one of the last people to have gotten sex-reassignment surgery. I signed paperwork with the surgeon in 2001 to pay for it and everything read “sex-reassignment surgery” but after the surgery, when they sent the letter that I’d have to use later as proof, it read “gender-confirmation surgery”. I made them change it — because I am a belligerent, pedantic asshole — and they did. But by that time, the whole pipeline had been changed to “gender-confirmation surgery”. As for me, personally, my gender and biological sex don’t match. I am the bro-iest bro that ever brah’d, but I have a surgically-constructed vagina and breasts that grew in at the ripe old age of 28, from the estradiol I was injecting. I do have very long pretty hair, but that’s never been a Seattleite trait that was tied to a specific sex or gender. We have a map of our bodies that is wired into the folds of our brain. If we poke the brain with electrodes, it makes us feel sensations in our body. My hypothesis is that my brain map was the female one, not the male one; though I had the male body. Since I couldn’t change my brain map, and medical technology has gotten to the point where we can do some pretty decent terra-forming, that’s what I went with. I am very, very happy with how things turned out. Could they have turned out better, certainly. In the future, when we can change the brain map to match the territory? Those will be interesting times. Humans are strongly attached to the identities that we form to match our ideological terrain. Deaf communities reeled at the invention of the cochlear implant. Trans communities will certainly reel at the invention of a “brain fix” for what we call Gender Dysphoria. When I was a kid, I devoured science fiction, because it detailed a world where people were free to be what they wanted to be. There was a strong libertarian streak that ran through the fiction I read that I felt an affinity toward. In the future I hope for for my people, we can have both brain fixes and body fixes and people can choose whichever fits their own situation best. Maybe that’s utopian, but that’s my dream. In the meantime, I am very cognizant that whenever I enter a women’s restroom — even in Seattle — I have a responsibility to alleviate the anxieties of the people I share the restroom with. When I pee, I’m a sitter, so quite often a men’s restroom isn’t the best choice for me. But I’m a big scary person to someone who hasn’t met me and I’m not very feminine. I am, however, exceptionally kind and courteous. I would like to see my people using that as a tactic to earn our safety in the restroom debate, not assertions of oppression. Let me end by saying that I, and every other trans person I’ve ever met, has been horrifically scarred and traumatized by this experience. Most of us are so embattled that every interaction triggers the fight-or-flight reflex and we become very difficult to have any kind of empathy with or sympathy for in those moments. When you see us with a grimace or a scowl on our faces, it’s because we are mentally preparing ourselves to be harassed and/or harmed. It’s not about you, it’s about survival instincts that get triggered by living a traumatic life of exclusion and shame. I wish I could write more, but this is already deep, deep into tldr territory. Thanks for being courageous and asking for information. I wish people would be more kind to people who are curious about other people, so I hope that I’ve treated you with the kindness you deserve. tldr I’m a weirdo, but I’m not a bad person.