Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What a Difference a Year Makes!

I was looking at some pictures the other day and I couldn't help but notice how much I've changed in just the past year. This first picture is from last September, around the time I began living full-time as a woman.

Now here is a picture from yesterday.
My hair is the most obvious difference but I think there's more to it than just that. I think back to how I felt even a year ago and I feel that I've changed a lot. Not only do I feel that I've developed more of my own personal style and have learned what looks good on me, but I just feel more confident in who I am as a woman. I remember buying that outfit in the first picture and feeling that I looked really cute and feminine (that outfit still has a soft spot for me because it was one of the first I purchased after deciding to live full-time). I felt really confident in myself when I went to class for the first time wearing that outfit and while I would obviously make different choices in hairstyle and makeup now, I needed to feel that confidence then or I wouldn't have been able to walk out the door and say "I'm a woman."

I've generally placed the turning point between living as a man and living as a woman but I guess I was surprised to see how much I've learned, at least in terms of physical appearance, about the woman I am in just one year.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Maintaining the Sex/Gender System

After reading stories over the years from transgender women, one recurring theme that often comes up is someone in that person's life, usually her mother, telling her that she looks or acts very feminine. This post by Stana from Femulate is a good example of what I'm talking about - My Story - Part 1 . For many transgender women, this provided some of the first confirmation of how they felt inside.

I never received any positive reinforcement like that. In fact, I received the exact opposite; I was constantly told by others that I could never look like a woman, therefore I could never be a woman. I remember being in the 7th grade and having an idea for a class project that involved interviewing a historical figure. As I imagined it, I would be dressed in a woman's suit as a Barbara Walters-style reporter interviewing my classmate (I even wanted to call the presentation "40/40"). When I mentioned this to my mom, she took me to my grandmother's house and let me try on an old dress of hers, the only one she thought would fit me. When I came out in the dress, all she and my grandmother could do was laugh. Their reaction told me that I didn't look good as/like a girl so I didn't even bother arguing with them.

I received more explicit comments in this vein when I was in college. I was sent by my parents to see a Christian psychologist and even though he clearly didn't agree with being transgender, he took what could be described as a pragmatic approach in trying to convince me by saying that "it didn't matter if I had a sex change and became a woman, people would always see me as a man because my features are too masculine." He even said that he told transman he was seeing at the time basically the same thing, telling him that "his eyes were too pretty and feminine" to ever pass as a man.

This kind of feedback led me to not pursue transitioning for a long period of time. For many years, I didn't even crossdress at all and when I did, it was mainly alone in my house with the occasional trips to an anime convention.

I had always viewed this as a personal issue, my own private response to how people talked to me and treated me. But recently I realized that this kind of talk is part of maintaining what Gayle Rubin terms the "sex/gender system" in her article "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex." To admit that people born male can be women and that people born female can be men would completely destroy the system and physical appearance is the easiest place to attack because it's the most visible and it's also something that many trans people are uncertain and nervous about themselves. If this kind of talk prevents any trans person from being his- or herself, then the system has been maintained.

Update: For those who are interested, here is a link to Rubin's article on Google Books: "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Stress and Graduate School

In the August issue of Wired magazine, there is an interesting article on stress titled "Under Pressure." The main point made in the article is that chronic stress contributes to health problems and can even have a negative impact on treatments, such as medication and surgery. When stressed, the body releases a group of stress hormones called glucocorticoids, which "rapidly increase levels of glucose in the blood, thus providing muscles with a burst of energy," and "also shut down all nonessential bodily processes, such as digestion and the immune response" (136). This is great when your being chased by a lion but can over time have a lot of negative effects. Chronic stress puts your body in a state of constant alertness.

The article also argues that status can impact levels of stress. The lower status a person is the more stress they experience. Research has shown that in organizations where employees have access to the same healthcare, the lower status employees will face more health problems than higher status employees; the mail clerk is more likely to have heart problems than the executive. The higher levels of stress experienced by lower status employees is based on what researchers call the "demand-control" model of stress; stress is related not only to the demands placed on an individual but also on the level of control an individual has to respond to the demands. Executives often report feeling high levels of stress because they are making decisions that affect a large number of people but they have a lot of control over what they do, much more than the date-entry employee who gets chewed about by his/her boss everyday and has to just do what he/she is told to do.

As I read this article, I started thinking about stress in graduate school. Being a graduate student is an interesting position in society. Pursuing an advanced degree is seen as high status in society but within the organization of most university departments, graduate students are at the bottom in terms of status. (It would be interesting to study stress levels of graduate students compared to university staff and student workers, who are the lowest status people employed at most universities). Graduate students are treated differently depending on the situation. As instructors, they are of higher status than their students but most still have a supervisor in charge of the course they teach. With faculty, some treat grad students as colleagues but grad students are still students in many situations.

Most of the grad students I know, including myself, would consider themselves to be at least somewhat stressed. Grad students have to balance the demands of being an instructor, researcher and student. All of these responsibilities offer varying levels of control.

As the researchers in the article found, control is sought by most people; people want to feel that they have some control over what happens in their lives. Research is probably the area grad students have the most control. While the thesis and dissertation can be intimidating projects, grad students are often eager to begin working on these projects because they signify a grad student's independent research, as opposed to doing something to fulfill a class requirement.

Many grad students also take control through ownership of the decision to pursue an advanced degree. Feeling that you chose to attend graduate school instead of being required to can help an individual feel a sense of control over their education and may help reduce stress. Related to this decision is the ability to leave. Because grad school isn't a requirement, many people feel a sense of control by recognizing that they could leave and find a job elsewhere. After finishing my Master's, I worked at a legal publishing company for a year or so before leaving to pursue my PhD. That decision to return to grad school has been one of the things that has helped me deal with stress; I experienced the corporate world and knew it wasn't for me and returned to academia.

Finally, a way many grad students deal with stress and gain a sense of control is through the common, but not much discussed, "bitch session." Go to any grad student office in this country and you will often find the occupants arguing over or debating university policy, course requirements, etc. What may be seen as nothing but whining and complaining from the outside I would argue is an attempt to gain some control over the grad student experience; the ability to talk about your situation with people in the same situation helps people feel some sense of control over what is going on in their lives. I know from experience that employees in corporations also take part in similar forms of talk. While they may not be able to do much to influence the policies and decisions made by higher-ups, grad students, and others, are able to exercise their freedom to talk about these decisions through these "bitch sessions." It's not surprising that cubicle workers are more likely to engage in this kind of discussion than the executives in the corner offices. I would argue that the "bitch session" is an important means for people to deal with the stress they experience.

These are just a few thoughts I had in response to the Wired article. I would love to hear from others about how you deal with stress.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Firefighter's Widow's Fight

Nikki Araguz's husband, Thomas Araguz III, was a firefighter in Wharton, Texas, near Houston, who tragically died in the line of duty. Now, Thomas' family has come forward with a lawsuit against Nikki charging her with fraud, asking for her marriage to Thomas to be declared invalid and for her to not receive any benefits related to her husband's death. Nikki's crime? Being a transsexual woman.

This case was brought to the attention of many in the Texas transgender community by groups like TENT and the Transgender Foundation of America (TFA). Nikki is being represented by noted Houston-area lawyer Phyllis Randolph Frye, a transgender woman herself. As reported by KHOU news, a judge in Wharton today has frozen access to benefits related to the death of Mr. Araguz for both his family and his widow until the case is decided.

Phyllis Frye expects the case to be a long fight. "This will be a landmark case. We face a long legal battle which will likely reach the U.S. Supreme Court and will define future law on transgender recognition and same-sex marriage" (TFA-Help Us Win Justice for Wharton Widow). If you would like to contribute to Mrs. Araguz's legal fund, you can send contribution to (from TFA):

Transgender Foundation of America
604 Pacific
Houston, TX 77006

Make checks payable to Transgender Foundation of America. Please make sure to note that the payment is for the TG Center Nikki Araguz Fund.

Credit card contributions can be made using the following link:


The case of Nikki Araguz focuses attention on the uncertain marriage rights facing transgender people. Mrs. Araguz's opponents are basing their claims on the current status of transgender people in Texas law. Texas law currently does not allow for the ammending of sex on birth certificates and on the 1999 Texas Court of Appeals case Littleton v. Prange, the ruling of which can be read here. In this ruling, the Texas court ruled that Christie Lee Littleton, a transsexual woman suing a doctor over the wrongful death of her husband, "is a male. As a male, Christie cannot be married to another male. Her marriage to Jonathon was invalid, and she cannot bring a cause of action as his surviving spouse." The court cited lack of legislative and legal precedent in deciding the marital status of a transsexual woman. Because transgender people lack protections of their gender/sex identity, they can still be denied their rights as legitimate spouses.

Transgender people need to be more vocal in their support of marriage reform. Transgender people are often left on the sidelines in issues of rights because transgender issues are seen as more contentious even than gay rights issues. A case like Mrs. Araguz's could force change of the legal and legislative status of transgender people. Mrs. Araguz's case also brings attention to the need for transgender couples and spouses, along with gay and lesbian couples, to create legal wills to protect the legal rights of their partners in the event of their death.

But until a transgender woman is recognized as a woman and a transgender man is recognized as a man, transgender people will continue to face these sorts of challenges to their rights.

Monday, July 12, 2010


After an unintended 6 week break from updating, I'm back and hopefully will be posting a little more frequently. Part of what took up a lot of my time these past few weeks was moving to a new apartment. Even though I was only moving around the corner, the move still took up a lot of my time.

Whenever I move, the issue comes up about how to move my clothes. My family has helped out with many of my moves but because of their negative feelings about my transgender identity, I've always had to try to hide my clothes in some way. The increasing size of my wardrobe has only made hiding things more difficult. To avoid this issue and because the move was only a short distance in town, I decided to ask my friends for help and avoid having to ask my family for help.

A couple of friends were able to help but because of shenanigans with the apartment management and lousy weather, my parents ended up coming to town for the afternoon to help me finish moving. This necessitated a change in clothing.

I have lived as a woman for over 9 months now and in that time, few if any of my friends have even seen me dressed as a man. After I changed clothes, my friend couldn't stop staring at me and said it was so strange to see me dressed as a man again.

Being seen by other people for the first time dressed as a woman or man is an important step in the life of any transgender person. This was the first time I experienced what I would describe as a "reversal" of this situation and had someone be so used to and comfortable with me as a woman that she was surprised to see me dressed as a man.

I hope this will be the only time I experience a "reversal" like this!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Transgender Academics and Sexism

A friend linked me to an article on Change.org entitled Experiences of Transgendered Profs a Case Study in Sexism. The article commented on an article by Shankar Vedantam in the Australian newspaper The Age entitled How the Sex Bias Prevails, which is an excerpt from his book The Hidden Brain. The subject of the article is interesting to me personally as a transgender woman in academia and I also feel that the comments to the online version of the aricle on The Age's website provide an interesting commentary on and support of the argument made in the article.

Vedantam begins by arguing that while sexism can be proven through laboratory experiments, it is often hard to prove in real life. He provided the example of a lab experiment in which two groups of volunteers were given the description of a manager they would be working for; for the first group the manager was named "Andrea" and for the second the manager was named "James." Nothing else about the description was changed. The experiment found that "[t]hree-quarters thought James was more likeable than Andrea" and that "four in five volunteers preferred to have James as their boss. Andrea seemed less likeable merely because she was a woman who happened to be a leader."

Vedantam argues that one way to prove the existence of sexism in real life would be to find people who are treated differently at different points in their lives when the only thing that changed about them was their sex/gender. He provides as a case study two trasngender biology professors at Standford: Joan Roughgarden and Ben Barres. While living as a woman, Ben described the various ways in which his intelligence and opinions were devalued, including having a professor say "You must have had your boyfriend solve it" after correctly solving a particularly difficult computer problem in a class at MIT. After transitioning, Ben found that people now treat him with more respect; "I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man."

Joan's experience was, not surprisingly, almost the exact opposite. As a young male professor, "it felt as though tracks had been laid down; all Roughgarden had to do was stick to the tracks, and the high expectations that others had of the young biologist would do the rest." After publishing a paper challenging the traditional view of the role of tide pools, she received harsh reviews but her "ideas were taken seriously." After transitioning, Joan "said she no longer feels she has 'the right to be wrong.'" She found the reception to be very different when she challenged Darwin's theory of sexual selection. Instead of engaging with her about her theory, many scientists would yell at her and be physically intimidating. "At a meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Minneapolis, Joan said, a prominent expert jumped up on the stage after her talk and started shouting at her." When asked about interpersonal changes after transitioning, Joan said that "'You get interrupted when you are talking, you can't command attention, but above all you can't frame the issues.'"

Experiences like these are not unfamiliar to anyone who has transitioned, either in academia or outside of it. I've noticed slight changes in the way even I am sometimes treated, even at a much earlier stage in my transition, such as having to work harder to get students to quiet down so that we can start class. I think my experiences are different from Joan's for two reasons. (1) I'm begining my transition at a younger age and don't have an established career as a male academic to contrast my current experiences with. (2) Communication, the humanities and social sciences seem to be more accepting of gender differences than the hard sciences, in my opinion at least, but again it's very early in my academic career so I haven't served on committees yet or had people yell at me after presenting a paper at a convention. I will be going to the national convention in my field this Fall so we'll see if my presentations receive any different of a response compared to when I've presented papers as a male in the past.

Not only was the article itself interesting, but I also found many of the comments to be very revealing. Most of the ones I'll be talking about come from a single commenter known only as "Alex." His first comment attacks Joan's theory in the same way that is being argued in the article. He then follows it up by questioning Joan's emotional state.

"How does a transitioner's hormone therapy (when emotional behavior such as paranoia is heightened) factor into these findings?"

This is a common misogynist tactic; women can't make logical arguments because they are too emotional. He then continues his attack on her work.

"The more I read this theory, the more I can see why her peers ignore her 'work'. It's the stuff of a feminazi manipulator. But who knows... maybe one day militants will quote her theory in the same way the nazis quoted Darwin as a reason as to why they were the dominant race, born to rule Europe."

He is accusing Dr. Roughgarden of having an agenda that influenced her findings (like a man could never have an agenda!). Again, it just continues the theme that the research done by women is influenced by internal/external forces, which is an issue in the "objective" world of science. While a male scientist can just objectively observe the world around him, a female scientist searches for anything to support her political agenda or emotional state! My criticism of "Alex" would probably be seen as supporting his argument.

"Hmm, on the plus side because she is a she, some other femi-academic will feel sorry for her. And touched by all her troubles, she'll probably get tenure in some femi-faculty somewhere for being such a troubled woman.

Why couldn't she just resort to creating a good paper instead of whining?"

I always find it amusing when commenters are factually incorrect about the articles they are commenting on; if you read the article, you will see that Dr. Roughgarden already has tenure at Stanford. "Alex" continues his line of arugment by arguing that not only is women's research hampered by emotions and political agendas, but that these are the bases for academic advancement for women, not academic success. He argues that she is just "whining" instead of doing better research. While Dr. Roughgarden welcomes challenges to her theory, the strength or correctness is not the issue here. The issue is the way all women are treated when people disagree with them. The problem isn't that her theory could be stronger or might be incorrect but that she is being accused of whining and using what has happened to her to unfairly advance herself. It's the same argument that has been used against many underpriviledged and subordinate groups. Many people in dominant positions in society cannot recognize the advantages they've received toward advancement.

I'll leave you with two of "Alex's" responses to other commenters criticizing him, one female and one male. Notice any difference?

"Wow Lara.
Getting a bit emotional aren't you? I guess you can't help it, hey?

Shankar Vedantam is a man on a mission to sell books.
You should buy it Lara as it melds perfectly with your programing...though, it would be better if he was a she.
Isn't that right Lara?"

I believe you are addressing me. I also believe that this article is an advert for Vedantam's book. That headline about 'leaving no doubt' in the print paper is a bait and yes, I have bitten at it.

I bit at it as it truly annoys me... it annoys me that the research cited leaves many doubts as to the validity of Vedantam's commercial theories and Roughgarden's selective inter-species argument.
Ben Barres and Joan Roughgarden's experiences do not make for proof. Nor do Roughgarden's pet oystercatchers.

I too am familiar with Roughgarden's argument (though I'd forgotten her name until now) as I came across it a few years back but I quickly dismissed it as the use of a species of birds to prove anything to do with us, isn't logical. I suspect you read further into that argument than I did- your loss."


Saturday, May 22, 2010


I've found myself more attracted to men lately. Or, to be more accurate, more interested in the idea of being with a man. This attraction has long been present but it's taken a lot of inner struggle to accept this part of me. I think for a long time I viewed my sexuality as one thing that made me "normal;" I might want to live/dress as a woman but at least I was still attracted to women. I am still attracted to women but I do have to acknowledge an attraction to men as well.

I would currently consider myself bisexual but as I told a class of undergraduates, sexual orientation doesn't matter that much when you're not in a relationship. That brings me to the subject of dating. I've never been the most active dater but I feel that dating is difficult for transgender individuals. People expect people to fit into certain boxes, the most basic of which is gender. When you don't quite fit into the box you claim for yourself, it seems to confuse or upset people.

As I grow to accept myself as a woman, I find that dating is one of those areas where I still lack the confidence to be the woman I am. Particularly in regards to online dating. I think I do okay with in-person interactions but I still lack the confidence to get on an online dating site and select "Woman" for my sex/gender and open myself up to the negative reactions of people who came to the site looking for a "real" woman.

I think all you can do is try to be as open and honest as you can while still protecting yourself. That's one of the reasons I like to try to meet people through friends. My friends act as sort of a filter; they know me and know the other person so I trust them more than a dating site to introduce me to people. (Though I can't say it's made much of a difference recently).

I think another hurdle I face personally is that I don't really like the places people go to meet people. I've never really cared for bars and clubs, mainly because I don't drink. I think another reason I don't like trying to meet people in places like this is that meeting people in a club or bar seems to be mainly based on physical attraction (in my opinion at least). Physical attraction isn't that important to me; I usually don't see someone and think "I want to date them!" It's usually only after getting to know someone a little better that I find myself attracted to them. Now, I don't mean that I have to know someone for an extended period of time or be friends with them before dating; getting to talk with someone and get to know them better in the more private setting of a date works for me too. But the thing that leads to this type of conversation usually isn't seeing someone across a crowded club. I've also never really seen myself as the type of person that someone else would be attracted to in this way; I've never thought someone would see me from across the bar and think "I have to talk to her."

Dating is tough for everyone and meeting people seems to be the most difficult part. All I want is to find someone who can love me for who I am. But I'm going to need some help meeting that person.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Cumulative Effect of Negative Comments

After class tonight, I was hungry so I decided to go to the Golden Arches drive thru for a quick bite. I paid at the first window and picked up my food at the second window. As I took the bag, a young, male employee standing behind the person who gave me my food exlaimed "Aw, hell no!" and quickly turned to hide his laughter. I just took my food and drove away.

Most transgender women (and men) have experienced situations like this. I know it was far from the first for me. At this point, individual comments like this one don't upset me that much. They're like water off a duck's back. I differentiate all the little comments and strange looks and laughter from the more direct attacks and challenges to my identity as a transgender woman. But all of these comments still have an effect. The effect is just more cumulative.

I think Michel Foucault can help us better understand the cumulative effect of these negative comments. In Volume One of The History of Sexuality, he argues that secrecy in regards to sex is part of the working of power against sexual expression. "Not only because power imposes secrecy on those whom it dominates, but because it is perhaps just as indispensable to the latter: would they accept it if they did not see it as a mere limit placed on their desire, leaving a measure of freedom - however slight - intact? Power as a pure limit set on freedom is, at least in our society, the general form of its acceptability" (86). For Foucault, power is created through discourse and the discourse surrounding sex is generally one of taboo and prohibition.

The negative comments directed toward trans women are a manifestation of this discourse of power. The negative comments are meant to have the effect of making trans women feel that being transgender is wrong or worry about their ability to pass. These comments are also meant to push trans women who are out back into the closet, to make them be more secretive about their trans identity.

I argue that the effect of this discourse is cumulative because one comment alone is usually not enough to have an impact but dealing with almost daily looks and comments can begin to have the intended repressive effect. Most transgender women downplay the effect of these types of comments and as I said, individually they don't have much effect. But we need to begin to pay more attention to this type of discourse because it is the most frequent form of repression transgender people encounter.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Transgender Women and Body Image

Transgender women, and other transgender individuals, face intense pressure from society about their non-binary gender identity. Many trans women internalize the feeling that being transgender is wrong, and it takes a lot of time and effort to overcome this feelling and be comfortable with who you are. But this is far from the only pressure trans women face.

I know from personal experience that one of the other major barriers to a trans woman being comfortable with who she is in public is the feeling that you could never "pass" or even look decent as a woman. I did not pursue living as a woman for many years because I belived I could never look like a woman. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was a man in a dress.

As I've discussed in previous posts, I've reached the point where I feel like a woman and see myself as a woman but seeing myself as a "man in a dress" hasn't entirely disappeared. When I catch my reflection in the mirror at a certain angle or see a picture of myself, sometimes all I can see are the parts of myself that scream "man!" I know many other trans women have felt the same way. We also worry about our weight, whether or not our feet look too big in a certain pair of shoes, if our hair and makeup look okay, etc.

To me, these are the same concerns with body image that all women share. There's nothing different from a trans woman and a "real" woman looking at herself in the mirror, taking note of the flaws she sees in herself and debating if it was really worth spending $50 on a new dress "because it just makes me look fat anyway."

We've all internalized society's standards of beauty, whether you were born a woman or just learning to be the woman you are. And thinking that trans women somehow escaped this pressue to fit into certain standards for body image because they weren't born women is ridiculous. There is currently no acceptable trans body image, no place in-between male and female. To be trans is to try to fit into society's standards for that sex. Some through trial and error develop the self-confidence to be who they are. Some, particularly genderqueer individuals, actively challenge society's standards. And some never leave their houses.

Trans women need to recognize society's body image standards for what they are: socially constructed standards. Every woman is a unique individual; very few people fit into the supermodel/Barbie standard that society has established for women. If you fit into this category, great! But most people don't. Trans women need to learn to see themselves as the unique individuals that they are. So what if we don't all fit into society's image of women! It would be a boring place if we were all the same. Be confident in who you are as a woman, not what someone else expects you to be!

I know this is a lesson I'm still trying to learn myself.

Friday, April 16, 2010

U.S. Manga Sales Down 20% in 2009

The pop culture business website ICv2 reports that manga sales in the U.S. were down 20% in 2009 from $175 million to $140 million. This is after a drop from a high of $210 million in 2007. To put this in perspective, the movie industry made over $10 billion in 2009.

I will be the first to admit that I didn't buy as much manga last year as I have in years past. As I looked at the pile of unread manga volumes on my desk, I couldn't quite down to the local bookstore and buy more when I knew they were just going to sit there for months as I focused on my grad school reading. Now I buy manga more in bunches; when I get a break, I'll read through the manga I have and then go buy some more.

It's interesting to note that the author of the ICv2 article points out the female fans as a factor in the decline in manga sales. Manga has long been one of the few pop culture forms that specifically targeted female fans and these fans can be rightly credited with the manga boom in the U.S. For many of the geek fandoms in the U.S., having female fans is just an added benefit, not a group to try to specifically appeal to. Now that these fans are in their late 20s/early 30s, the article argues, the shoujo (girls' comics) manga that led to the boom is not as appealing and the josei (women's comics) manga titles that have come out haven't caught on at the same level.

It will be interesting to see if the U.S. manga industry can find a way to keep these older fans interested in manga or find ways to appeal to a new generation of female fans. I just hope they will continue to bring titles to the U.S. that appeal to female readers and don't decide, like every other fandom, that the only way to survive is to try to be more appealing to males.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Be Yourself!

Last week, a friend and I went to see the new film "How to Train Your Dragon: from Dreamworks Animation. The film itself was very good a features a younng Viking boy who struggles to find his place in his warrior culture. The film got me thinking about a prominent feature of many animated films.

The message of many of these films is "Be yourself!" Many animated films feature characters who don't fit in in their society. Po in "Kung Fu Panda" struggles to find his place in his father's noodle shop and in the dojo of the Furious Five. Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" is ostracized by the people in her community because she is interested in reading and seeing the world instead of marrying Gaston. "The Little Mermaid," "Shrek," "Lilo & Stitch," "Mulan" and many other films feature this message.

This is obviously a lesson that we as a society have decided is important and is something that we should be teaching our children. As a transgender woman I can't help but note the disparity between the message of these films and the way trans people are treated. It seems that we want our children to learn to be themselves, but only to a certain point.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Feeling Like a Woman

This morning as I got to the building my office is in, a guy was a few feet in front of me and stopped to hold the door open for me. It stood out for me because this still doesn't happen often for me. Most of the time guys just hold the door open for me if I'm right behind them, not far enough behind that they'd have to stop and wait.

Though it may not get people to hold the door for me, I feel more like a woman lately. This is something I've just started to feel in the last few weeks. For a long time, I still felt like a man dressing as a woman. Now, I'm starting to just feel like a woman. It doesn't feel like a special event anymore to dress as a woman; it just feels natural. Instead of feeling like a woman, I should probably say I feel like myself.

When I speak to undergrad clsses, I'm often asked a version of the question "What is different between being a man and woman?" It took me a while to find an answer to this question. At first, I would talk about how I didn't want to give in to stereotypes, saying that I didn't want to say being a woman let me wear clothes I like more or to be more emotional. Then I realized why it was so hard for me to answer this question: I don't know if I ever really knew what it meant to be a "real" man. It's not that I was a man and now I'm a woman; I've always been a woman. It's just that the outside now matches the inside! This answer always surprises people becuase I think they expect me to say that I don't know what it means to be a woman.

Whether that makes me a woman or not, I know that I'm happy with who I am!


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Blisters on My Toes

This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to talk with two Women's Studies classes about my experiences as a transgender woman. I was really looking forward to the opprutnity to speak with the classes because it was my first chance to speak with classes outside of the Communication department. I wanted to look my best so I wore my yellow blouse and black-and-white polka-dot skirt, the same outfit I wore for my Radio Interview, with a cute pairt of high-heeled black lattice sandals. While I thought I looked pretty good, if I do say so myself, I didn't plan on standing up for nearly four hours straight! Needless to say, my feet were killing me by the end of the second class and I woke up the next morning with huge blisters on my big toes.

I was very happy the gladiator sandals. pictured to the left, I ordered online from Payless arrived at my local store the next day. The sandals are really comfortable and saved my toes from more pain. I had been wanting a new pair of black low-healed shoes because I was wearing the same pair quite a bit, and I'm very happy with my purchase. I was also very happy with my experience ordering direct-to-store with Payless; I still like to try on clothes and shoes before buying them but I think I'll be ordering online again in the future when a style of shoes I like isn't available in my local store.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wardrobe Discussion

I'm visiting my family for the weekend and as I was chatting with my mom this evening, we began to talk about my degree progress and how things will probably go for the next couple of years. We discussed how comps and the dissertation will generally go and also talked about the possibility of applying for jobs in the Fall. For the last couple of years, I have been suffering repeated sinus infections, which seem to be much more intense and frequent where I currently live than any other place I've lived before, so improving health would be one of many benefits of getting a job and moving somewhere else sooner rather than later. My mom then said that when the time comes for applying for jobs, she feels that I need a new wardrobe. A male wardrobe. I couldn't bring myself to tell my mom that I don't plan on wearing male clothes for my interviews.

I feel that situations like this will only continue to increase in the future and I'm uncertain how to deal with them. Do I allow my parents to pay for new clothes for me that I don't intend to wear in order to not upset our relationship? I'm torn about decisions like this because I want to enjoy my relationship with my family for as long as I can but I also don't plan to stop living as a woman. I've been trying to balance my relationship with my family and my need to be who I am, and everything has been going very well. But I'm not sure I want my parents spending money on expensive clothes like dress shirts and suits that I don't intend to wear.

Fortunately, the "wardrobe situation" won't be an issue for a while so I have some time to consider my options.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Seeing Myself as the Woman I Am

Although I have been dressing as a woman for nearly 5 months now, it has taken a while for me to see myself as a woman, not as a man dressed as a woman.

Now when I see myself, I do see a woman. Sometimes I even catch myself wondering how other people can see me as a man.

My longer hair does help some but that's not all it is. I think it's mainly overcoming the years of being told that crossdressing is wrong or that I would never look good as a woman and being able to see myself as the woman I am. It's not about trying to copy someone else but learning to appreciate the things that make me a woman.

Another thing that happened recently that boosted my confidence came after speaking in front of a class of 250 undergrads. After my talk, I was discussing it with the professor and she said she noticed that I was saying "I feel," which to her is a very feminine way of speaking, instead of "I think," which to her is more masculine. She asked if I had made a conscious decision to do that and I said no because it's something I hadn't even realized I was doing, it's just the way I talk. I often get asked during the Q&A portions of my talks what I feel is most different about being a woman or what I like more about being a woman over being a man. It's always difficult for me to answer these types of questions because I don't feel that I act all that differently; I feel in many ways that I've always been a feminine person, it just seems to match better now that I'm living as a woman instead of as a man. I may not have ever really known/understood what it meant to be a man.

As good as I may have been feeling recently, life always wants to remind me that others don't always see me the same way that I see myself. This evening I went to see a friend in a community theater production. When I got to the box office to pay for my ticket, the woman behind the counter said "Can I help you, sir?" That little honorific was all I needed to be reminded once again that not everyone will see me for the woman I feel I am.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Transgender Geek

After nearly a month, I'm finally back for a new post. It's always tough for me to get into the groove of things again at the start of a new semester and often makes it difficult to find time to other things, like post to a blog (at least that's the excuse I'm using for not having posted in so long...).

Anyway, I've been wanting to talk for a while about being a transgender geek. By "transgender geek" I mean a transgender person who also identifies as a geek, not a person who is a geek for trangender things (though I may be one of those too since I love discovering anything new related to trangenderism, including films, TV shows, books, blogs, etc.). I touched on this topic a little bit in an earlier post, Cosplay and Conventions on September 18, 2009, but I want to talk about it a little more in depth.

My life as a geek began at a very young age. I remember as a child watching cartoons like G.I. Joe, Voltron and He-Man but those were just preparation for what I consider my first geek passion: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I loved the cartoon and would spend hours playing with the action figures I had collected. The show also featured prominently in my early transgender identity. I remember watching the show one day and wishing I could grow up to be like April O'Neil, the Turtles sexy reporter friend, but feeling I was more likely to grow up to be like Irma, April's frumpy assistant. Dreaming of being a woman when I grew up did not seem strange to me; I was more interested in what type of woman I would be.

April O'Neil

My geek identity continued to develop along with my transgender identity. I've always tended to be more into viusal texts, the Star Wars films, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Audrey Hepbun films, etc., than other forms of expression. I've always been a slow reader and may have felt a little intimidated by the numerous books that made up long-running scifi and fantasy series. I was also really into videogames in junior high and high school, even receiving a scolding from my mother once for having my nose buried in a videogame magazine which she felt would lead me to "never get a girlfriend" (if she only knew at the time what she would be getting upset at me about in the future...). I still play videogames, I do have a Wii, when I can but videogames are usually the first thing to be put to the side when I get busy.

Not long into my high school life I discovered anime and that has remained my main geek passion for over ten years. After twisting my knee at a summer church camp, I was recuperating at home when I first saw the series Sailor Moon. Though I had seen some anime before, Sailor Moon was the first show that seemed noticably different to me. I loved the monster-of-the-week story that expanded as the series went on, the characters you could identify with and, of course, the cute costumes. The series also stood out to me because it featured a cast of female characters in the "boys only" world of afternoon cartoons.

Sailor Moon is a good example of the difficulty I have in separating my geek and transgender identities. For my developing transgender identity, shows like Sailor Moon proved an important milestone by offering female characters to identify with. My love of anime has grown over the years to include many more great shows and great characters. I also regularly attend anime conventions and participate in cosplay, dressing up as my favorite characters and also in my Gothic Lolita finery.

No one's identity can be defined by only one aspect. I believe people need to continue to explore the different aspects of their identity and the way these different aspects interact. I also don't think transgender people should have to hide certain parts of who they are; we've had to do too much of that in our lives. I'm not ashamed to have been a fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to play videogames or to be an avid anime fan. I also don't think that having these passions make me any less of a woman. I hope that all transgender people can be as open about who they are and have been, not having to hide certain parts of who they are to try to fit some idea of what it means to be a woman or man.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Radio Interview

This afternoon, I was interviewed by the local radio program "Information Underground" about my experiences as a transsexual woman and the impact that has had on my life as a graduate student and instructor. The interview can be heard here Information Underground January 10, 2010. The interview should begin playing immediately and my segment begins at around the 19 minute point.

Above are a couple of pictures of the outfit I wore to the interview. A friend that I had dinner with later joked "You sure look nice for your radio interview."

I know I've discussed this before but I do like to look nice. It's really just my personal style, not anything to do with my feelings about gender roles or how other women should or should not dress. According to Claudine Griggs (1998) in S/he: Changing Sex and Changing Clothes, "MTFs seem to dress in extremes during their transitions, often wearing stereotypic and/or provocative fashions, overdressing for informal occassions, and wearing clothes that are too youthful for their age . . . Many MTFs seem to delight in ultra-feminine clothes during the early stages of transition" (p. 14-15). Griggs also discusses her own fashion choices during her transition, moving from a June Cleaver-esque "initiation stage" of dresses, heels and makeup to a "rebellion stage" of faded jeans, sweatshirts and drip-dried hair.

I may be in my own "initiation stage" where I'm just so happy to be able to dress how I want, but I feel that too often people try to make to many generalizations about what being transsexual means. Just because one transsexual chooses to dress in a feminine style doesn't mean that every transsexual has to dress in a feminine style; likewise, just because dressing in a feminine style was for one transsexual just a stage in her development as a woman doesn't mean that it will be that way for every transsexual.

I guess only time will tell what it will be for me.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Seeing Male and Female

The chapter "Toward a Theory of Gender" by Suzanne J. Kessler and Wendy McKenna in The Transgender Studies Reader edited by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle provides an interesting discussion of how people attribute gender that is useful for transgender women and men. The authors' main argument is that people use a schema when seeing someone as male or female, the schema being that you "[s]ee someone as female only when you cannot see them as male" (p. 176). When reading the gender of others, male is the default gender that is seen, and people try to eliminate all male characteristics before seeing someone as female. The presence of any characteristics designated as male identifies the person as male for most people, even when confronted with contradictory information. The penis is the most powerful indentifying characteristic and is often enough to override other characteristics.

The authors conducted tests to determine how people attribute gender to others. In the first test, participants where allowed to ask 10 questions to determine the gender of an unknown and unseen person, without asking "Is the person male/female?" Questions typically dealt with physical characteristics like height and weight with occasional questions about social perceptions of gender, such as clothes worn and having a job or not. Secondary sex characteristics, such as prescence or lack of breasts and development of biceps, were occasionally asked about but genitals never were, which was seen by participants as tantamount to asking if the person was male/female. The interesting thing about this test was the way people were able to adjust the information they were provided with to fit the gender they perceived for the unknown person, for example thinking that a person over 5'8" would be male and then adjusting that perception to include tall women when presented with the information that the person has protruding breasts and wears skirts.

The second test involved plastic overlays of characteristics, including short/long hair, body hair/no body hair, wide/narrow hips, breasts/no breasts, penis/vagina and gender neutral clothes/lack of clothes, over a neutral face. The test again found that characteristics identified as male or female were not enough to identify the sex of the figure; information was usually made to fit the perception of the figure. Being able to see the genitals of the figure produced interesting results. The presence of a penis was enough to override all other characteristics identified as female (long hair, wide hips, breasts, no body hair) but the presence of a vagina was not enough to override characterstics identified as male (short hair, narrow hips, no breasts, body hair). This supports the authors' argument that male is the default gender seen by people, with the male characteristics needing to not be present to see someone as female. These characterstics are, of course, determined by the culture and not biologically.

The authors argue that the working of this schema is the cause of the difficulty faced by transgender women in "passing" as female; as others examine the transgender woman to determine her gender, the presence of some male characteristics override more obviously female characteristics, like breasts, hairstyle and dress. "The relative ease with which female-to-male transsexuals 'pass' as compared to male-to-female transsexuals underscores this point" (p. 176). Because of the tendency to see male as the default gender, "[i]t is rare to see a person one thinks is a man and then wonder if one has made a 'mistake.' However, it is not uncommon to wonder if someone is 'really' a woman" (p. 176).

While this tendency may seem difficult to overcome, the authors also point out that first impressions of gender are essential; we often work to support our first perceptions of another person's gender and find it difficult to discredit that perception. It is even difficult for other people to see transgender women as men if they have never known them as men. The authors argue that the first impression is crucial for transgender women and men, much more important than trying to maintain the image of the "perfect" woman or man. "If transsexuals understood these features of discrediting they would (1) focus on creating decisive first impressions as male or female and (2) then stop worrying about being the perfect man or woman and concentrate on cultivating the naturalness (i.e., the historicity) of their maleness or femaleness" (p. 177).

I will be interested to test the importance and effectivess of first impressions in the next couple of weeks. While I have taught and attended classes as a woman in the past, this will be the first time I will be starting a semester as Lucy. In the past, I began the semester as a man and made the switch to living as a woman during the course of the semester; it may have been difficult for my students and classmates to overcome their first impressions of me as a man despite the fact that I began living as a woman. I wonder what impact only knowing me as Lucy will have on my reception by and interaction with my students?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Goal for 2010

I have one main goal for 2010 and it's a fairly simple goal. My goal is to spend more days this year living and dressing as a woman than as a man.

I spent a lot of time in 2009 living as Lucy, a month or so in the Summer and most of the last 3 months of the year, but I want to spend even more time as Lucy in 2010. I feel that making the decision in September to once again live and teach as a woman full-time will make this an easy goal to accomplish. I have other goals for this year, including looking for a therapist and doing as much academic writing as I can, but this is my main goal for 2010.