©2013 by Dallas Denny
My first contact with the transgender community was with Virginia Prince. The Society for the Second Self, Virginia’s support organization for heterosexual crossdressers, was working hard to get media coverage. In the Fall of 1979 I mailed away to Tri-ess a request to be put in touch with someone who could talk to me about my transsexualism. Eventually, I was given Virginia’s address. I sent her an envelope with a smaller stamped envelope inside; before long I had a reply from her. My letter to her was also enclosed, which is why I am able to share it now.
I chose not to join Tri-Ess not because it was an organization for crossdressers and I was transsexual, but because the leadership was clear about the organization’s no transsexuals / no gays membership policy. I knew joining would almost certainly put me in touch with other transsexuals, but I honored Tri-Ess’s discriminatory policy. It was more than ten years before I met another transsexual.
In my letter to Virginia, I poured out my heart, telling her of my desire to live as a female. In her reply she gave me advice according to her view of things.
I had just had a bad experience with the gender identity clinic at Vanderbilt University, and I was frustrated. Having read up on transsexualism in the medical library, I filled my letter with drama. Transsexuals were, after all, known to be histrionic. Sure they were. The medical journals all said so.
I am not angry with these, people, but I see them as a major obstacle to my progress. They have decided that I should live as a male, and will allow me to self-medicate, mutilate myself, and even commit suicide rather than assist me or give my any guidance in my chosen course to become a female. I have been doing the first (self-medication) for several months, have decided upon the second course orchidectomy), and the third, suicide, is, of course, an ultimate possibility. I am cognizant of the risks of all three, particularly of the irreversible nature of the second two. I have pointed this out to the clinic, and asked only for help with reversible changes (i.e. hormone therapy) but to no avail. I have set my own dosage of medication (Diethylstilbestrol, 5 mg. q.i.d., obtained by surreptitious means) and asked for feedback about this dosage, yet of course did not receive any.
That’s right. After taking nearly $500 from me and subjecting me to a series of psychological tests I had been trained to administer, the doctors at the clinic decided they wouldn’t give me access to hormones or surgery. Why? Because I was reasonably functional in the male role. I had been married for five years, had two college degrees, and was gainfully employed as a professional. In other words, I wasn’t fucked up enough to be transsexual. They offered me counseling to help me deal with being a man. I attended one session just so I could show them a journal article about self-castration. I was hoping that would cause them to bend. It didn’t, and I never returned
A couple of weeks later I received Virginia’s reply.
I was shattered by Virginia’s letter. She was, I now know, trying to educate me about the difference between sex and gender, but that didn’t register to me at the time. I thought she was saying I couldn’t be a woman. What she was saying, of course, essentialist that she was, was I couldn’t be female. It was 1980; I didn’t understand the difference between sex and gender– nor did pretty much anybody else in the world with the exception of Virginia and John Money.
.. part of your problem is semantic– that is confusing over the meaning of words as you use them. Your problem is that you confuse womanhood with femaleness and they are not the same thing. You will never become a “woman” because you castrate yourself or for that matter even if you got surgery.
What? What??? Surgery isn’t going to make me female?
Virginia broke form in the quote above, using the word woman where she would have ordinarily used female. She put it in quotes, but I nonetheless took it to mean my quest was hopeless.
Virginia says a number of times in the letter there would be nothing to stop me (save my facial hair) from living as a woman. In other words– just do it.
… your first problem regardless is to get your beard removed no matter how you live with or without surgery because you can’t do it conveniently after you start living as a woman (not a female)…. If you can pass OK as you say you can then why don’t you undergo electrolysis and then just take up living as a woman.
Not surprisingly, Virginia’s “no one needs surgery” attitude manifested:
I am afraid that from what you tell me that I have to agree with the Vanderbilt doctors; namely that there is no need for surgery…. All you have to come to understand is that living as a woman doesn’t require surgery that that shouldn’t be your goal.
What really shattered me, though, was this:
You don’t like deception, you say. Well you had better learn to like it because any change in your current status as a male and as a man will involve deception on one level or another. If you had surgery and then possessed a vagina you would still be deceiving because people would think that you had been born and raised that way. Any lover would have a right to presume that you had ovaries and could bear children, which you couldn’t. So deception is part of living.
Damn! So even if I managed to get surgery, I would be lying about being female?
I was dreadfully discouraged.
Virginia wrote more than I wanted to hear about sex…
… regardless of how you were dressed or what activities you participate in, two males having sexual interactions are having homosexual relations… if you provided the orifice (anal or oral) thereby acting like a female in so doing, it certainly wasn’t a penile-vaginal contact.
… but she gave me helpful advice about hormones:
You should be taking estrogen-progesterone combinations and you ought to be able to find an endocrinologist who would check you out and prescribe them…. If you get the right dosage of hormones you will be feminized to the extent of breast development; to an adequate degree– depending on your heredity.
To help with my “semantic confusion,” Virginia suggested I buy her book How to Be a Woman Though Male. She wasn’t pimping her product; I think she thought it would help me understand the difference between sex and gender. I bought it, and it worked for that purpose. I ignored the bulk of the book, which was sartorial in nature.
I remember a second letter from Virginia, probably written when I ordered the book, but if it survives, I’ve not come across it. There’s a chance it’s with my donated materials at the University of Michigan. I should check into that.
Although I was disappointed with Virginia’s reply– she wasn’t telling me what I wanted to hear– I appreciated her candor, and still do. I appreciated her taking the time to write to someone she had never met, offering her best advice. I just wish it had been less confusing.