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Normalcy as the desired goal

There seemed to have been one aspiration the majority of MtTs revealed in their interviews, namely to neatly fit into the dominant society and to distance themselves from the deviant subcultures they might be associated with:

“By the time our interviews started, many of these transsexuals had definitely opted for a middle-class way of life. This meant that most of them wished to disassociate themselves from other transsexuals as well as from transvestites, homosexuals, and the entire underworld urban subculture, centering around striptease, prostitution, homosexuality, and other forms of deviant or commercialized sexuality. These transsexuals’ ultimate goal was to become married, adopt children and settle down, preferably in suburbia, for a life-long role of ‘average housewife’.” (p. 39)

“In any event, all transsexuals experience situations in which they try to de-emphasize their sex change and attempt to pass as natural-born females in order to gain the social acceptance which eludes them as long as their stigma is known.” (p. 45)

As has already been pointed out, four MtTs had married. However, as Kando now notes, three husbands were ex-convicts. I cannot say why this might be because he either didn’t ask or wasn’t given an answer. I suspect that the MtTs might actually have been so desperate for a mate to validate their “womanhood” that they went for the first one available. Sally, the case study to be discussed further down, reports that he met his husband John at a party and married him “right away” (p. 41). I do not want to diminish their relationship so I will add it is obvious that Sally holds him dear and appreciates his presence.

So let’s talk some more about Sally. Most curiously, his brother Elizabeth also became an MtT and was likewise interviewed for the study. They grew up in an Lutheran household and their parents cut off all contact to them, eventually disowning them both. The family background is obviously very conservative. In fact most MtTs came from denominations which could be considered more conservative than others and had not strayed from their original religion. To make matters “worse”, a majority either grew up in small towns (Oh, the joy, let me tell you.) or farms and came from lower to lower middle class families.

To come back to Sally, what is most interesting about him is his relationship to other MtTs. To put it mildly, it is lacking and more to the negative:

“Many of them live very unmoralistic lives; they go through a sexual binge after their operation. This is their way to find out how much of a woman they are. I guess we are all exhibitionists after our operation, and this builds self-confidence; but most transsexuals here in Minneapolis have no moral standards. Some of them are strippers downtown and they advertise themselves. They are sex changes; I’m merely a correction. The words ‘sex change’ and ‘transsexual’ are very offensive to me. I can’t identify with these terms. […] I think most of them are pigs. Most transsexuals only love themselves. So I can see why men categorize all of us as pigs. My sister and I are different. You see, I feel that I am better than the other ones, I have better morals…. There are many transsexuals who I feel much more uneasy with than straights… all my friends are straight.” (p. 42)

“John [his husband] doesn’t want me to look like a slut, like these other transsexuals, so I don’t use much make-up or anything fancy.” (p. 44)

Wow, where to begin? *laughs* First, I do not think that Sally can afford to call his parents “ignorant people” (p. 40) if he himself is truly Lutheran in putting so much emphasis on acting morally which seems to amount to spending his life as an obedient housewife led by a husband. It is also readily discernable that Sally has no interest in transgressing: hey, all his friends are straight! All this is accompanied by the familiar superiority displayed by the biedermeier set: I am better because I am a better conformist! They way to middle-class respectability lies in distancing yourself from all that could make you look bad in the eyes of Suburbia: because of this other MtTs are “pigs” or “sluts” and Sally is not.

Another example:

“I think it’s disgusting to advertise yourself as a sex change, like Renee. She is a fool to advertise herself like that… at her age she shouldn’t be doing that! […] Some of the other transsexuals have no morals… I have never been promiscuous; before the operation I always went steady with one guy at a time.” (Lisa, pp. 57) (Amusingly, even nightclub performers like Lisa attempt to claim the moral high ground even though it is thinkable that they would not be that well-accepted by similarly morally steadfast individuals like Sally.)

This charming disassociation from everything that could stand in the way of MtTs and their new-found identity also means that gay and transvestite behaviour is re-defined as being anything but and outright opposed:

“I lived as a female for seven years. I had two successful businesses that I owned and operated as a woman. Even some of my lovers didn’t ever find out. I was never a homosexual. I went to gay bars twice in my entire life. I was never part of gay society…” (Renee, p. 50)

“I hate homos! I never wanted sex with them. I had homosexual affairs in grade school and in high school, but only with normals. I was never a homosexual in any form. I never went to gay bars; I was not accepted by gay society, nor did I wish to be.” (Sally, p. 43)

I can imagine conservative gay men saying this to distance themselves from their same-sex experiences in an effort to preserve their middle-class existence with wife and children. These MtTs really do not seem to understand what homosexuality is or pretend not to know because in their eyes being an MtTs is more acceptable than living as a gay man seeing as the first option enables them to pass as “normal” when they are anything but.

“I think homos are pigs. I no longer tolerate them. I don’t even want to read about them. Homos get what they deserve! All my friends are heteros…” (Sally, p. 43) (We get it, Sally.)

“I had three homosexual affairs before the operation. They were all unsuccessful… I despised them. To me these affairs were not homosexual. They were one-sided. I played a passive role. I derived no pleasure from them. I felt I was a woman…” (This is a matter of self-acceptance, not of transsexualism. Note that none of the MtTs in this sample actually identified as lesbians. Elinor’s problem is self-hate, a particularly stubborn one at that: he just cannot be gay, he must be a woman. Elinor “despises” his “homosexual affairs” because he cannot see himself as gay.)

“I can’t answer that. It would be better to ask what is the ultimate goal. I was always a woman, I wasn’t a man. I tried terribly hard to conform to male roles, I tried to survive. I dressed well and neatly, I never cross-dressed. I tried to express the difference between a woman and a man in my appearance. But Donald looked like a nelly boy.” (Adelaide, p. 28) (This is probably because you are a “nelly boy”, Adelaide. Your transsexualism is an outcome of your lacking self-acceptance and society’s hatred for your sex role non-compliance.)

What I find particularly troubling about the last two statements is the unacknowledged assumption that you cannot be a man if you are gay and do not manage to show an appropriate amount of masculinity. It shows the close link between homophobia and sexism insofar that the MtTs in question refuse to or do not recognize their own homosexuality because they are too sexist to accept themselves as the men they really are.

Disassociation is not the most extreme form of overcoming the conflict between self and society, however. Sometimes homosexuality is legitimized by marrying the man the MtTs were already having a gay relationship with to achieve status validation:

“Patricia, like many other transsexuals, maintains that her sexual relationship have never been homosexual ones, since she was in effect always a woman, the surgery merely setting straight a minor aberration of nature. Her husband, she says, has always been very influential on her. ‘We agreed that I should get the operation… he urged me… it’s much better now.'” (p. 46) (Of course, we do not know why “it’s so much better now.” Perhaps because Patricia finally has found peace from his self-hating husband, perhaps because he himself thought a gay relationship was too much to bear, perhaps both.)

“It was mostly a matter of social acceptance. I was rejected by both heteros and homos; I didn’t fit in anywhere. […] All my life, like in high school, I felt like an outcast, people were on my back, I felt different. You got mark put on you for being feminine… I was very effeminate…” […] Well, we have been dating for three years. I became Catholic because he was Catholic, and now I am his girlfriend… […] Well, we sort of agreed that I should [undergo sex change]… I am independent. I have been engaged twice since surgery.” (Renee, pp. 49)

I think it’s interesting that Renee maintains he is independent despite doing so much, most obviously the conversion to Catholicism, for his religious boyfriend. In light of this I am not so sure about an “agreement” because it is quite feasible that Renee’s refusal to transition would have led to consequences. However, social conformity was obviously the driving force behind the “sex change” in this case, too, more precisely a fear of being destroyed:

“Anything that anybody doesn’t understand, they want to destroy. If they don’t know, there is no ill feeling at all…”  (p. 52)

Kando notes that at the time of his study there was no sub-cultural overlap between the transsexual and homosexual communities. Gay men were mostly present as partners willing to heterosexualize their relationship:

“[…] homosexuals involved in the transsexual-transvestite subculture are generally so by virtue of some personal relationship. For example, one frequently sees homosexual couples consisting of one ‘regular’ homosexual and one transvestite. For such couples, the outcome of the surgical feminization of the transvestite is a heterosexual relationship, possibly even a formal marriage. This indicates that the transsexual-transvestite subculture ultimately believes in heterosexuality, not homosexuality. In this sense, it sides with the culture at large and not with the gay world.” (p. 128)

In his conclusion he summarizes succinctly:

“It is from all those who abandoned the traditional conception of sexual morality that the transsexual differ. Unlike militant homophiles, enlightened therapists and liberated women, transsexuals endorse such traditional values as heterosexuality, domestic roles for women, the double standard of sexual morality, the traditional division of tasks and responsibilities, and the discreditation of deviant sexuality. Unlike various liberated groups, transsexuals are reactionary, moving back toward the core-culture rather than away from it. They are the Uncle Toms of the seuxal revolution. With these individuals, the dialectic of social change comes full circle and the position of greatest deviance becomes that of the greatest conformity.” (p. 145)