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Fantasy and Reality in the Transgender Community (1998)

Fantasy and Reality in the Transgender Community (1998)

©1998, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1998). Fantasy and reality in the transgender community. Transgender Forum.

Over the years I’ve written dozens of columns for the online magazine Transgender Forum.





Fantasy and Reality in the Transgender Community

By Dallas Denny


I’m no stranger to fantasy, having engaged in my share of it, especially in relation to my own gender issue. When I was fourteen, I concocted any number of imaginary situations which would make it possible or even necessary to transition gender roles. One of my favorites was the “Some Like it Hot” scenario: I witnessed a heinous crime, and mobsters were after me to rub me out, see, and the only way I could survive was to abandon my life as a male and live in disguise as a girl while Thompson submachine-toting goons scoured the town searching for a boy who no longer existed. Another of my top ten fantasies was of a magical transformation, in which I would exchange bodies with a willing (or occasionally unwilling) female. “The next female I see,” I would tell myself, will be it: “I will be she, and she will be me.”

Those and other fantasies helped me to get by as I made my way through the second and third decades of my life. I still dust them off from time to time, and revel in them—whimsically, as they no longer have any practical purpose, for my transition and surgery are years behind me. The old fantasies are nostalgic, but no longer provide an escape from the undeniable fact that I was born in a male body.

I have new fantasies for a new life, the most frequent of which involves quitting my job of seven years and tooling around the nation in a motor home, exploring the national parks and anything else I might find interesting, and writing bestselling fiction on a portable computer. I know it’s an out, an escape from the pressures of a too-busy life. One of these days I may walk that road, but for now, it’s a pleasant diversion and not a practical plan for dealing with the immediate future.

Fantasy is important for everyone, and especially so for transsexual and transgendered people. Our imaginations provide us with alternative realities which are much more to our liking than our ordinary, mundane existences. They let us flee temporarily from bodies and social roles we dislike. It is wonderful to have such a useful tool as fantasy, as it helps keep us healthy and balanced. And yet, like any tool, fantasy can be misused. When the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred, we are liable to get into trouble.

The realities of transsexuals’ lives surpass most peoples’ fantasies. Alterations of genitals and changes of social roles stretch the limits of the imagination for most folks—which, I think, explains the media’s endless and boundless fascination with transsexualism. Altering a typically female appearance to that of a male or vice-versa strikes some people as somewhat magical. And yet, from hard experience, I can assure the reader such transformations do not require wizardry, but only the selective application of technology and a great deal of hard work.

When transgendered people begin to consider altering their own bodies, they have a clear picture of where they are starting from. They have, after all, been living that reality. Their future life and their future body, although perhaps a bit hazy, are nonetheless usually fairly well defined in their mind. The process of transformation—the “whatever it is that one does to get from here to there”—may not be well-thought-out and reality-based. But those who don’t understand or don’t want to deal with the actualities of physical transformation can easily substitute fantasy for the discrete steps one must take to make such a transformation work.

I can and do help transsexual and transgendered people learn about the realities of transformative technologies—what can be done with current medical techniques and what can’t; how to locate and gain access to those technologies; how to use those technologies wisely; and how to deal with the often harsh social realities caused by the change such technologies make possible. With this sort of information, many people can and do discard their fantasies about transition, and make practical plans. Others can’t, or won’t—and that’s a recipe for disaster.

I spend a great deal of time working the telephone help line, providing information and referrals to individuals who are transition-bound. Occasionally, I will be contacted by someone who seems to be deliberately out of touch with reality. The most frequent such calls are from males who want their own breasts, but don’t want other feminization and don’t want to transition gender roles. Some want to get their breasts by taking hormones; others want to use herbal estrogens and grow huge breasts; yet others want to have breast implants. I tell them 1) hormones are not magic bullets for growing breasts—their effects are global, and you cannot selectively choose which effects you want; and that breast development doesn’t occur overnight, but over a period of years; 2) herbal estrogens may lower your testosterone level a bit, but only if taken at levels which produce undesirable side effects, and any breast growth will likely be unmeasurable; 3) surgery is expensive and invasive and has considerable health risks, and 4) breasts are not prostheses that can be put on or taken off; they will not go away on their own, and can only be removed by surgery. And then I tell them, “What do you think would happen in your life if you went about your business tomorrow wearing under your shirt a bra with two grapefruit in it? Typically, they will say, “Oh, I couldn’t do that!” or “It would be pretty grim.” I follow up by saying something like “How much worse would it be, then, if you couldn’t remove those grapefruit? Do you think that perhaps getting a good set of prostheses might be more workable for you in your present situation? I would be happy to tell you where to obtain them.” Usually, they agree yes, they would like to know where to obtain prostheses.

But for some, the fantasies persist. I periodically get a call from a man who is in a long-term relationship with a male lover. He identifies as a gay male. He doesn’t want to be a woman and doesn’t desire overall feminization, but we wants a vagina in order to please his lover. He is nonplussed by the fact that his gay male sexuality would be destroyed by an operation to give him a vagina, and agrees that his partner, who has not asked for such an orifice, would probably leave immediately if he somehow managed to acquire one. Nonetheless, he continues to try to act on his fantasy. Whenever he calls (about once every other year), we go through the same conversation, and when we disengage, he is somewhat sobered.

For this man, the fantasy of having a vagina is harmless and perhaps healthy. Once it ceases to be a fantasy and becomes a life goal, it gains enormous potential to blow up in his face. If he were to find a competent, cooperative surgeon (not likely!), of if he went to a backdoor hacker, or if he took a knife to himself, he would be ruining not only the relationship he wants to improve, but any chance of finding a similar relationship in the future. There’s little doubt that he would be regretful.

We needn’t give up our fantasies, but we do need to identify them clearly as such, and to treat them as what they are.