Further Remarks on Gender and Sexuality

(This is a follow-up to my previous post, Iran in Transition?)

The key to the IRI regime's approval of male-to-female gender reassignment ("sex change") is the assumption that all transgender people are heterosexual-identified; that is, they want to transition to the desired gender (in this case female) and then have relationships with the "opposite sex" (men). But in fact, leaving aside for a moment all the misogyny and homophobia of the islamist regime, this is a false assumption. While accurate statistics are hard to come by, transgender activists now estimate that about half of all TG's - both male-to-female and female-to-male - are gay identified. That is, they are born as males and become lesbians, or are born as females and live as gay men.

"But if you were born as a guy, and you like girls, or you were born as a girl and you like guys, then why go to all that trouble? Why make life twice as hard for yourself?" Because gender identity and sexuality are distinct from one another - although they are interrelated. Everyone knows that men and women are different, and that therefore a relationship with a man is different from a relationship with a woman. By the same token, doing a relationship as a woman is different from doing a relationship as a man; there's simply a different dynamic to it.

The subject of "transhomosexuality" and its evil twin "transhomophobia" (to use the ten-dollar words currnet in the queer community) is still new. There has been tremendous progress in the gay world in recent years. (And for you nitpickers, I'm using "gay" in the broad sense because I hate having to hit caps-lock every time and say "GLBT".) But before we go further in discussing lesbian- and gay-identified transgenders, we need to take a quick look at the relations between the transgender and lesbian/gay communities in the West in recent years.

One of the ironies of the gay movement of the 1970s was its quiet disenfranchisement of the transgender community. Ironic because many of the activists of the Stonewall rebellion (most notably the late Sylvia Rivera) were either cross-dressers ("drag queens") or transgendered people. Ironic, too, because the gay liberation movement began mirroring the same prejudice it experienced from the outside world.

The gay movement believed that "fitting in" was the key to success. (I realize this is a bit of an oversimplification, but I'm referring to the mainstream gay movement, which by definition had to be ... well, mainstream.) Gay and lesbian stereotypes were frowned on - but in a telling asymmetry, butch lesbians were accepted while effeminate gay men were not.

During the same period, a similar tactical move occurred in the feminist world. Feminists bought into the fallacy that "in order to be equal to men, we must be like men". Consequently, it became "politically incorrect" to acknowledge any innate differences in gender, other than the obvious reproductive differences. All apparent gender differences in behavior, mannerisms, temperament, language, style of learning, and so on, had to be dismissed as the result of "gender stereotyping" and the "nurture" school prevailed over "nature".

So women tucked themselves into unisex business suits in the "dress for success" fashion, while gays worked hard to prove they were just like everyone else ... except for the small matter of being gay.

These intellectual fads had serious consequences for the transgender world: because if there are no internal differences between women and men, how are we to understand the case of someone who believes they properly belong to the opposite gender? For women throwing off the shackles of patriarchy, it could only mean one thing: betrayal. Women who wanted to be men were betraying the cause of their feminist sisters, and must be trying to gain "male privilege" by going over to the other side. Even worse, men who wanted to be women were charlatans, trying to take away from "real women" the one thing women could call their own: their identity. Such were the attitudes of early feminists toward transsexuals.

Transsexuals represented undesirable "baggage" for the gay and lesbian community, by being visible, and different, and everything gays weren't supposed to be. Perhaps they also made gay men uncomfortable, as many gay men have experienced harrassment for their own feminine mannerisms. Certainly lesbians, being both gay and (perforce) feminists, did not take kindly to the thought of biological males - even postoperative transsexuals - intruding on their world. This was the era in which "womyn-born-womyn only" music festivals like the legendary Michigan Womyn's Music Festival were born.

But as Meg famously declared in A Wrinkle in Time, "Like and equal are not the same thing at all." Countless experiments in egalitarian child-rearing, and mountains of laboratory studies, eventually dispelled the notion that gender differences could be ignored. As lesbians became freer to explore their own sexuality, they discovered that some of their own number were so far at the "butch" end of the butch/femme spectrum that basic assumptions about gender had to be called into question.

In recent years, the lesbian community in particular has made dramatic advances toward the acceptance of differently-gendered people. The MWMF, which still strictly excludes transsexuals, has engendered a protest movement, and the policy is now a matter of serious debate in even the most orthodox lesbian circles. And major lesbian magazines were affected: Girlfriends confronted its readers with the news that one of its columnists, veteran activist Pat Califia, would soon be Patrick Califia; and Curve, in a groundbreaking article titled The Opposite of Opposite Sex, tackled the unique challenges of transgender relationships. [Note: if the article is no longer available at the original link, you can view it at my reference page.]

And now we are back to transhomosexuality. In the previous post, we saw that some authorities in islamist regimes can accept transsexuality within certain limitations. But it is these limitations that tell us everything. No mention is made of female-to-male transitions. Nor does the article say anything about lesbian relationships; but we may assume that transsexual women in Iran face the same prohibitions as other women, including this one.

In the West, of course, things are much better. But it's instructive to look at traditional attitudes toward gender and sexuality, because they often reflect an internalized model of a "gender hierarchy" which has difficulty grasping relationships that don't fit a particular paradigm. And I'll write more on that soon, but I have to stop for now.