Who’s Assimilating Whom?

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.

Who’s assimilating whom? That’s a good question. Am I becoming like you, because that’s the culture that I fit into, because male culture isn’t expansive enough for me to fit into it? Am I transcending gender because gender’s lines are too fixed?

And just what the hell is gender? Is it a set of actions that are culturally attributed to people based on genital sex? Is it something deeper, some ghost in the machine that we can’t currently define?

I don’t think that womanhood can be summed up as laundry list of social experiences. Womanhood exists on the desert island, she exists in the big city, she exists in our heads and our hearts, and she will not be programmed, prompted, folded, spindled, or mutilated; she is not a number.

So, if womanhood isn’t a social thang, I intuit, she must be living, in large part, elsewhere. And I hope she has a nice apartment, a room of her own, with a view. A summer cottage, a place in the Catskills, a beach house in Boca Raton. Maybe she is living in all these places.

Yuri says she lives in our minds.

And tonight, for the first time in my life. I agreed with her.

So, we were talking, Yuri and I, after she read some stuff to me that Suzanne Pharr had said to the LRC about the gender thing, and about who qualifies as lesbian, and implying that the Lesbian Resource Center was a bit of a dinosaur in their use of the word “Lesbian”.

See, there’s this movement, the movement to redefine to word “lesbian” to include artificial girls like me. Like there’s some kind of redefinition that needs take place. Almost as if, I don’t qualify the way the term was originally meant, like I didn’t work hard enough, like I didn’t cut it, like the docs did their best, but whoops, just didn’t go far enough, just couldn’t go far enough, like I was a rotten apple to begin with, and just cutting out the bruise wasn’t enough.

“Lesbian” is a strange word to Suzanne, because what is a lesbian? Is a bisexual woman who is currently dating another woman a lesbian? Is a bisexual woman who is currently dating a transexual woman a lesbian? Is a bisexual woman who is currently dating a man not a lesbian? Is a bisexual woman who is currently dating a transexual man not a lesbian? Are you a lesbian? Do you have an identity crisis because of whom your dating?

So, Suzanne wants to “redefine” the word, and she’s not alone. This whole “gender” thing is causing quite an uproar. It’s causing people to define me the way they don’t naturally want to define me, in an attempt to be sensitive to my situation. Well fuck that. Don’t do me any special favors, bitch, cause I belong there just fine with the old definition. I did my homework. I paid my dues. I talked the talk, walked the walk, and that’s just so sweet that you want to change your world view, but I already changed the world.

And now you’re having a crisis. Well, I appreciate that you’re trying to work it out, but really, you don’t have to do a thing.

I don’t “identify” as a woman to make it easy for you to define me. I am a woman and you had the choice to just accept it, but no, you’ve got to redefine the terms, have to change the rules, have to be inclusive of boys that wanna be girls, cause otherwise they’re going to start bustin’ up the place.

Well, I have news for you. I won’t accept that separate but equal shit, ’bout as well as Malcom X did.

Anyway, I folded. I agreed to Yuri that yea, gender was the thing that separated me from the boys. Hell, I’ve had so much wine tonight, I’d identify as a fruitfly.

But gosh, was it an interesting conversation. To try to make Yuri’s point clear, it’s basically that gender equals ethnicity and sex equals race. That there are Asian-bodied people that don’t identify as, say for instance, Japanese. And there are happa people and half African people and people with metal plates in their heads that identify as cyborgs.

So, fuck yea, I guessed, at the time, that I might as well be female, but not woman, or woman but not female or however you want to slice it. Cause it doesn’t matter, right, as long as people call me she?

But I’ll be damned if didn’t fuck up somewhere along the line.

See, cause what I didn’t realize is that right about that time, I was overcome by this intense desire to blow my fucking head off. No, really, I mean in a more violent way. I wanted to chop off a limb at a time, torture myself to death, shit I’m practically drinking and smoking myself to death at this moment, trying to fight off a low-grade fever and I don’t give a fuck I just want out of this fucking shitcan body.

Na, can’t possibly be linked.

So I cried myself into a bottle for about an hour and then I decided, hell I’ll write something depressing and put it on the website for people to read, cause that’s what I do to fill in the time between when get home from work and I wake up for work, at least when I’m not fighting off a virus.

And I’m realizing that as much as I call Yuri a friend, she is just like all the rest. I’m not “real” to her, though she’d never call me not real to my face. That my sex was never in question, that I was always a boy to her, one who felt very sincerely that I was female. And she is such a fantastically wonderful super-special person that she is kind enough to be sensitive to me, to be understanding, to be respectful of my “choice” to be “female”.

She is so good at not putting quotes around it when she calls me she.

Who’s assimilating whom?

Right now, I want to jump out of the fucking window, and I live in a pretty tall building. Tall enough to make this all pretty darn mute. Tall enough to make this text seem pretty darn pointless. Tall enough to make me neither male nor female. But not tall enough to make me like you.

I am a big-ass failure.

I have tried so hard to not fall into the “gender” trap, to prove to you that even though my body was made, that it’s still real. Real like my mothers’, real like yours.

I wanted to make this allusion. That I was like a photocopy. No, I’m not the original but I am a duplicate. You can still read the duplicate, still learn something from me, still put me in an envelope and send me to your best friend in the world. But like the duplicate, you have some sense that I am not the real thing, that your best friend in the world will wonder why you sent her a photocopy of a letter and not the letter itself. Do you not love her anymore?

I am the yellow form underneath the white form that you signed. I am the one you take home with your credit card for your records. The top form goes to the merchant, to be sent to your credit card company, as a verified original, containing your signature.

But the signature on the little piece of paper underneath, the one that you have, is it your signature?

And if not, what is it?

It’s me.

I am a picture of a picture. I’m the shadow of yourself. I’m the clone of your identical twin sister. Am I still your sister?

And if not, what am I?

I am an artificial girl. I have no love for you. I am not like you. I am separate and unequal. I’m allowed to use whichever restroom you feel comfortable with at the time, but you reserve the right to change your mind at any time. You will define me at your leisure. You will be sensitive to me when it fulfills your needs. As long as I stay in my place.

And, to add insult to injury, you will feel righteous when you do it.

Yea, you just go on feeling all righteous and shit.

I failed when I tried to talk you into believing. I didn’t want to put on a dress to convince you that I was female, instead I put on airs. I tried to reason with you, discuss it with you, let you have input. Have a conversation with you, and you insisted on defining things within a framework you could understand. Insisted on defining things your way. Insisted that you would determine my fate. Insisted that I was not you. Insisted that it would be you that insisted. I was just to be a good little bitch and listen.

That I could be female on your terms, that you would redefine the terms to include me.

Fuck you.

The one thing I have going for me is the future. Kate Bornstein, Martine Rothblatt, Kaz Susat, Spencer Bergstadt, Jason Cromwell and Leslie Feinberg are all nice kids, but they are just the beginning of a long line of intensely brilliant trans people who will rock your world harder than your world can stand. It’s my feeling that they rocked you just hard enough to get you to quiver. Just enough to scare the shit out of you, put the fear of god into you, get you up off your genetically supreme asses and find subsidized housing for us.

Oh, but it’s not over yet.

If I was, I’d be lying in a puddle on the sidewalk outside, surrounded by gawking pedestrians and ambulances.

Personally, that’s where I’d rather be. But they’d find out that I was “really a man”, and then you’d win.

And you won’t win.

I comment on Reddit

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.