The Transsexual Mirror Effect

by Cathryn Platine


Transsexual women frequently find themselves at odds with a wide spectrum of diverse groups.  Why is this?  Radical feminists label us "agents of the patriarchy", the wider transgender movement often labels us "elitist snobs", society sees us as hell-bent on deconstructing gender norms and the Catholic church recently has officially labelled us sexless and unworthy of marriage or religious office.  The religious right sees us as threats to children and the institution of marriage and agents of the "homosexual agenda", homosexual men frequently see us as gay men in denial and lesbian radicals as defenders of gender role stereotyping.  A lot of extremes for a fairly rare group of individuals to be saddled with!  The reality is that transsexual women are really acting as the mirror of the insecurities and fears of others.

Let's begin with what transsexual women really are and move on from there.  Transsexuals, both male to female and female to male, are individuals born with a varying degree of intersexuality.  The research of the past fifteen years makes it almost as certain as it's possible to be that transsexual individuals are born, at minimum, neurologically intersexed.  What that means is that the entire central nervous system of transsexuals is at odds with the apparent sex of the body at birth.  I personally suspect that before long, we will discover that the degree of intersexuality of transsexual individuals will prove to be even more involved.  In order to understand why transsexuals threaten so many people on so basic a level we have to dive into ancient history, gender roles, sexual differences and feminism.  Hang on, it's a long, convoluted voyage, so take a deep breath and we'll dive in.

In ancient times among the various Goddess religions there was a role some women played much misunderstood today......temple prostitutes.  The very word prostitute today conjures negative images due to western cultures discomfort with anything having to do with sex.  Several very good feminist historians have written on the subject and accurately explain much of the mystery surrounding position and place of the Holy prostitute.  It was a position of honour, of healing, a route men could take to understand and participate in the Goddess through the priestess.  The part these historians miss or misunderstand, is the role of transsexual priestesses in this office.  Being a part of the natural order of things, transsexuals have always existed.  Our presence in the ancient world, well documented from the earliest records we have, almost always in a role as spiritual leader, priestess, mystic, seer, healer and teacher.  The sacred prostitutes were as likely to be transsexual women (who had undergone the ancient version of reassignment surgery, full removal of male genitals) as they were non-transsexual women, it was only natural.  Only the prejudices of our society's view of sex allow this to be seen as "degrading" or immoral.  To understand this, you must understand that in "Pagan" (non-judeao-christian) religions, sex is not only not seen as for procreation only and tainted and dirty, but rather as a spiritual act of joy and celebration in the great gift it truly is.  Fertility of the earth was tied to prosperity in the minds of those who feel kinship with the earth rather than sought domination over it, a lesson we'd do well to learn today.  Sacred sex was practiced to insure fertility of the earth.  Sacred sex with a transsexual woman, not being tied to conception, was often considered a higher form of this type of worship and thus the elevated status of the transsexual priestesses.  In addition, our having spanned the sexes was viewed as a magickal gift and so we were valued as seers, mystics, healers and understood to be naturally spiritual.

Ok, we had a place, a sacred place, in the order of things, what changed?

In many respects, modern western thought has its roots in Greek and Roman history.  As is true today for the last remnants of transsexual priestesses, the Hijra of India, a male dominated culture was very uneasy with "males" who become women for whatever reason.  The greek and roman cultures grew out of a movement away from more earth centred, nurturing focus to a warlike, more dominating one.  An uneasy truce between the old ways and the new resulted.  At the time Cybele was "welcomed" into Rome during the Punic Wars as the result of a prophecy that She must if Rome was to survive, the average roman citizens were shocked at the colourful, loud and ecstatic transsexual priestesses, the Gallae, who came with Her.  While many who write about Cybele and Her Gallae correctly mention the Maetreum (temple) erected for Her in a place of honour on the Palatine hill, they miss the fact that the Phrygianum, home of the Gallae themselves, was put outside Rome, on the Vatican hill.  They gloss over or miss completely, that one of the roles the Gallae played, as Her priestesses, was "comforting" and healing returning roman soldiers to ease them back into roman society.  They usually leave out that for the bulk of their history in Rome, the Gallae were not allowed within the city except during the festivals honouring Cybele.  Already transsexual priestesses were viewed with suspicion tainted with awe and fear.

The worship of Cybele was the last of the direct Goddess religions and references to it ruthlessly suppressed by the Roman Catholics.  Even then, no less a figure than St Augustine himself, referred to the Gallae as "castrated perverts."  Translators of Catullus, who wrote the only surviving poetic reference to the Gallae in the verse form they, themselves used, changed Gallae (feminine) to Gallus (masculine), clearly intended as insult since both words are latin and kept in latin in the translations.  To this day, almost all accounts of Gallae and other transsexual priestesses of the ancient world not written by transsexuals, refer to them as Gallus or castrated male priests of the Goddess.  Gay historians use them as "proof" of the position of gay men in the ancient world, lesbian and feminist historians avoid any mention of them as much as possible.  What gay man would cut off his own genitals and then live a female life?  Are we seriously supposed to believe that thousands of homosexual men would do this in a culture where gay sex was fairly accepted as normal?  Already, our very existence was turned into a mirror of other's visions of themselves and their place in the world.

Any transsexual woman who reads in depth about the Gallae instantly recognizes who they were and the truth of their lives, they are our sisters.  Others cannot see because of the blind spot of christian "morality" that is almost inescapable in western society or their need to prove something about themselves.  But our history was not written by us, but rather by those blinded others with their various agendas.  Recorded, not by our sisters, but those who feared who and what they were.  Even today, when the grave of a Galla was discovered in Great Britian recently, she was reported as an ancient crossdressing male!  The scholars were unable to process the idea she was a member of the transsexual priestesses of Cybele despite her burial with the trappings of her life and office.

All this leads us back to more modern times.  Throughout the 18'th and 19'th centuries the identities of transsexual women was mixed, by lack of understanding of the concept of gender identity as separate from sexual orientation, with gay men.  The "Molly" houses of the British Isles and europe were filled with transsexual women and gay male lovers, castration now the property of the Church and done for the creation of castrati singers or seen as the creation of eunuchs, now literally third sexed individuals rather than women.  Occasionally we find references to some poor transsexual who was exposed after their death, often to be then claimed by gay historians as one of their own.  Homosexual identity itself wasn't conceived until the mid 19'th century!  Whenever the Church encountered transsexual individuals in other cultures, such as among the Native American people, the response was typically to put them to violent death.  Gay behaviour was called inversion, the roots of the words introvert and extrovert coming from a simplistic view of innie and outie sexual equipment.  A male showing feminine traits, an invert.  The "macho" or sexual "tops" viewed as normal males, a viewpoint still found in Latin cultures today.  It wasn't until the work of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, himself a gay male, in 1930's Germany that the actual gender identity of transsexual individuals was once again noticed as a separate issue.  Dr. Hirschfeld's work via his Institute of Sexual Science was largely lost when the Nazis destroyed the records along with the Institute itself, but the seeds were now planted.

World War II changed the roles of women and men in western society forever.  Coming on the heels of the Great Depression, the war effort spurred a technological revolution in which it was necessary to enlist women as vital players since most able bodied males were fighting the war.  Prior to the war, families were multi-generational out of necessity as they had been for thousands of years of human history.  After the war, America in particular, set forth on an unprecedented experiment in social engineering in order to return women from the factories to the home so that the returning male veterans could replace them and spur economic growth.  The very idea of family was redefined as today's nuclear family rather than the multi-generational model that was humanity's standard up to this time.  The new ideal was the levittown "cape cod" family nest with mom and dad and their kids.  Grandma and grandpa were expected to maintain their own, formerly multi-generational homes apart.  The new medium of television, fear of the "communist peril" and an endless stream of government films outlining "proper" male and female roles aimed at children who were forced to view them in school literally changed the face of society.  Any deviance from these new, imposed, norms could not be and wasn't tolerated.  Ozzie and Harriet and the Nelson clan were the role models of the new face of society.  When the religious right invokes the sacredness of the "family", they are talking about a return to this artificial era, not the model that was the norm throughout most of human history.  Christine Jorgensen paid a lifetime price for this when she was exposed as "America's first sex change".  Her very conditional acceptance depended on her rigid conformity to the new social order as a woman, sexy but sexless, stylish with no trace of maleness.........jobless except for the one avenue left to her since motherhood was denied her, show business.  She, through no fault of her own, set the pattern of future transsexuals for a generation.  In spite of this she still paid the price of being the brunt of endless jokes for decades, mirroring society's own discomfort with the new, rigid sex roles.

During the early 1960's the rumbles of discontent with the "new norm" started off slowly.  Women, given more and more "free time" by the very technological bribes as labour saving inticement to stay at home, became restless to have some real meaning to their lives.  Vast numbers of American women were literally drugged with "mother's little helpers" or Miltowns in an effort to keep them happy with their lot.  The "long" (in reality shorter than Moe of the Three Stooges a generation before) hair of the Beatles became an international scandal followed by their rejection of western values in favour of eastern ones.  Mary Tyler Moore had to threaten to quit the Dick Van Dyke show for the right to occasionally wear pants on the show even though more and more women were doing just that.  Samantha Stevens on Bewitched openly chaffed at the imposed housewife role of her marriage to mortal Darin Stevens (played by two different gay men), allowed to do so since she wasn't exactly human.  America's involvement in Vietnam was giving lie to the patriotic promises of the 1950's.  Revolution was in the air.

Out of the sixties grew the civil rights movement, the counter culture movement, the women's movement (reborn), the gay rights movement (started by gender variants) and a growing awareness that our environment was something we were supposed to protect, not subdue.  Dr Harry Benjamin was able to openly treat and write about transsexuals due to this new-found freedom.  In spite of all this, the seeds of gender roles sown in the fifties still had its part to play.

Transsexuals were forced to conform as a price of treatment.  Any sign of deviance from this meant no treatment and so they were forced into an almost "Steppford wife" model of womanhood.  An uneasy truce between transsexual women and society allowed them a place providing they conformed totally to their new gender role and denied their own pasts.  The women's movement, which initially pushed away openly dyke lesbians, was largely co-opted by them.  So much so, that the femme lesbians who were their counterparts of the fifties and sixties all but disappeared from view.  The new model of the liberated woman was a female-man presentation.  The gay liberation movement, touched off by a "queens" revolt at Stonewall,  then embraced a macho image by shoving out the effeminate members who were too identifiable as "gay".  Radical feminists, also trying to out macho the men and still stinging from accusations of too much male energy from the earlier feminists, railed against the transsexual women in their midst for conforming to the patriarcially imposed roles for women and calling them agents of the patriarchy.  Not content to leave it at that, they also started accusing transsexual women of the same "crime" they, themselves, had been accused of.......too much male energy when ironically the "crime" was acting too femme.  From a beginning of "biology is not destiny", the new feminists came full circle to "once male, always male".  Transsexuals once again became a mirror of the fears of others.

Born from reaction to the rigid role set for women in the fifties and fueled by the radical lesbians like Janice Raymond, the new ideal of feminism became gender deconstruction, but only for "womyn born womyn".  Transsexuals who could not conform to the rigid roles and "marry Mr. Right" were left few options one of which was prostitution in various forms, but the new, degraded version rather than the ancient model.  Many men have homoerotic urges even if they don't identify as gay, something our culture has never been comfortable with.  The new visibility of transsexual individuals was seized upon by the pornography industry as a way to cater to these desires in a fashion that was less threatening to men who had these urges but needed to deny them in order to maintain their own vision of themselves as straight.  The She-Male industry was born.  Young transsexuals have very limited options if they come from poor families or, as is often the case, their families disown them.  Until just a few years ago, information about transsexuality was hard to come by other than the occasional, lurid, account in scandal sheets or articles tucked into porn to meet the new standard of "redeeming social value" set by the courts.  Many turned to a life on the streets, the luckier ones, the porn industry.  Starting in the early seventies, the porn market was flooded with a new type of pornography, she-male porn.  Much of it was, and still is, made up from pictures of women with male genitals superimposed on them but a few transsexual women found a way to make a living posing for this type of porn, often to save up the money needed for their own surgery.  This image of transsexuals as strange, otherworldly creatures both male and female was dependant on pretty faces, large breasts and pronounced male sex organs.  It appeals to both a taste for the bizarre and those men whose homoerotic urges could not be faced directly.  For those men, it's literally became now ok to be attracted to someone with male parts if they look female in all other respects.  It is the ultimate in the deconstruction of the sex differences and unfortunately colours the reaction of many to all transsexual women.  Yet again, the image of the transsexual herself became a mirror of someone else's fears from within.

In the eighties and nineties another shift came about.  As a result of the radical lesbian feminists preceding them, Women's Studies became a part of many college campuses.  Young lesbians, in particular, became enamoured of the idea of deconstructing gender roles in their own fashion.  Several dynamic transsexuals, themselves searching for their place in the scheme of things, became the darlings of deconstruction by positioning themselves as "third genderists".  At a time when public awareness of transsexuals and transgenders were growing due to a flood of television talk shows featuring trans issues, these pretty but not femme transsexuals ran with the idea of deconstruction of gender roles.  Kate Bornstein, Leslie Feinberg (a female to male) and Riki Ann Wilkins all wrote and spoke to this position, lost again was the lives of the average transsexual woman who merely wanted to transition and get on with her life.  The transgender movement was being born.  Crossdressers were more and more gathering in support groups and naturally, transsexuals, without a clue where else to turn, often found themselves grouped with them as well.  Some of these groups welcomed the transsexuals, others, such as Tri-Ess, had policies excluding both transsexuals and any homosexual oriented crossdresser to maintain the fiction that most crossdressers have no homoerotic urges. A new breed of activist, the transgenderist, emerged often pushing this idea of a genderless society.  Most transsexuals, unlike Riki and Kate, are decidedly gendered, their problems being that the gender is at odds with the role they were told they had to play so it was only natural that conflicts would arise.  This new idea of a "gender community" pushed by crossdressers, third genderists and transgenderists, all who felt that transsexuals, as the ultimate gender outlaws, is very much at odds with the wishes of most transsexuals to simply blend in.  And again, transsexual identity was lost to the mirror of others.  In this case, the mistaken idea that by correcting the hand nature dealt, the transsexual woman is the supreme expression of transgenderism, a sort of super crossdresser rather than a woman born with a correctable birth condition that she is.

Transsexuals do not trans (cross) gender by their very nature, by definition, their gender is rather firmly set at birth and stays so.  They correct the body to conform to the gender, however, they are widely perceived in the gender community as somehow being more legitimate for this out of the crossdresser's and transgenderist's own discomfort with their own, non-transsexual, identity.  Ironically, the grudgingly given concessions of society in the past that allowed transsexual women blend in and get on with their lives have increasingly come under attack due to the attention drawn by the gender deconstructionists.  The majority of transsexuals wish only to get on with their lives after transition and so are somewhat invisible by choice, the transsexuals the public sees and is aware of, are mainly the more vocal third gender deconstructionists so the public sees transsexuals, falsely, mainly like them.  Deconstruction of gender roles is what society fears most, it was the cause of the negative reaction to the women's movement, the reason bathroom usage becomes such a hot button issue and the root of much homophobia related to family law by religious conservatives.

Trans-activists, in the name of being inclusive, thus often work against the wishes and needs of the majority of transsexuals.  As a result there have been an avalanche of judicial backlash type decisions reversing the quiet steady gains of the prior thirty years made as accomodation for transsexuals who didn't rock the gender role boat.  Long time transitioned transsexuals are finding that their marriages are no longer valid, even years after the fact, if anyone cares to challenge them.  Rules about changing names, drivers licenses, social security id and birth certificates, all needed just to conduct one's basic daily living, have been tightened making finding employment during the mandatory one year crossliving year prior to surgery permission extra difficult thus trapping many transsexuals without the resources (since most reassignment surgery is paid by the individual) to finish surgery.  Some courts have gone so far as to ignore the law in their attempts to "punish" these uppity transsexuals.  In Ohio, one case had to go all the way to the State Supreme Court for a simple name change, denied repeatedly in violation of state law even by the Appeals Court.   Some trans-activists have openly opposed laws that would make changing ID easier on the basis that doing so would make it easier for transsexuals to disappear into the system!  This last is particularly important.  There is a wide spread article of faith among trans-activists, who tend to be transgenderists and third gender deconstructionists, that transsexuals owe them to be "out" and tell long time closeted transsexuals they are wrong to simply want a fairly normal, quiet life.  If a transsexual joins the trans-activist community and has the gall to suggest that transsexual needs are different, they are often subjected to very nasty attacks, known to include attempts to out them and interfere with their jobs!  They are called elitist snobs even though the issues they are concerned about can be literally life and death for transsexuals.

So why do formerly closeted transsexuals get involved with these groups?  As a result of the recent increased security intrusions into what was formerly considered no one else's business, even long time transitioned transsexuals find themselves being forced to explain their lives unexpectedly.  States no longer respect the legal changes/decisions made in other states, again in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the courts willfully ignore these violations.  The other factor is loneliness.  Having done something that few could be able to do, transsexuals have been forced to deny attempts to out them or even share their concerns with others like them.  The system was designed to keep us apart after we complete our change.  With the availability of the internet and its explosion of gender related material, facts about gender variance are now accessible.  Naturally some reach out to contact others like themselves only to find they are insulted and demeaned for having "woodworked" or "gone stealth", both terms meaning the individual simply attempted to have a somewhat normal life. Further, when a formally closeted transsexuals life is blown open due to the changed political climate, they often find themselves recruited as activism "poster-trans" by the trans-activists.  If they are involved in litigation, they are insulted if they don't win for setting the "cause" back with unfavourable results, if they win,  they are often castigated because they profited when others suffered.

Like it or not, transsexuals are different than transgenders.  Unlike the other members of the so called "gender community", transsexuals are forced to dance to the tune of medical and psychological gatekeepers just to treat a birth condition and get on with their lives.  Having done so, they are still often subjected to embarrassing questions about their genitalia.  The efforts by non-transsexual gender variant people to replace "transsexual" with a catchall "transgender" has had a negative impact on our lives.   It's amazing, but true, that total strangers will ask extremely intimate questions about one's anatomy, questions that would merit a sexual harassment lawsuit done to any other woman, within minutes of learning someone is transsexual.  Civil servants feel free to demand intimate, very personal, information as if it was their right and duty to do so with no empathy for the extremely embarrassing position they just put another human being into.  If outted, we can be fired without any other cause in most of the U.S. today and the very governmental agencies set up to handle sexual discrimination complaints will refuse to even take a complaint on the grounds that as transsexual women, we have no sex.  After all the changes, compromises and prices we pay, we have no sex?  We have become pawns in the tug of war between the religious right and trans-activists.  We have become the mirror of everyone else's insecurity about gender roles, homophobia and what it means to be a woman or a man in today's society.  And all we wanted to do was live our lives.
 


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