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Should All Transsexuals Publicy Identify Themselves? (1990)

Should All Transsexuals Publicy Identify Themselves? (1990)

©1990, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (1990, Winter). Should all transsexuals publicly identify themselves? Insight, 9.






Should All Transsexual People Publicly Identify Themselves?

 By Dallas Denny

I read Janice Raymond’s book The Transsexual Empire last year. It was difficult for me to take seriously a work as loaded with rhetoric and venom as was Empire. Still, the main thesis was troubling: Women are being purposefully rendered obsolete by the creation of “male-to-constructed-females” by a clique of male physicians. But even more bothersome was Raymond’s major recommendation—that these “constructed” women permanently brand themselves as creatures separate and distinct from (real) women.

The Transsexual Empire should have vanished into the mire along with a lot of other separatist feminist dogma. Unfortunately, some people are echoing Raymond’s sentiments. Rachel Ward, a former lorry driver, and, in her terms and Raymond’s, a male-to-constructed-female, is a member of England’s House of Commons. As such, she is highly visible. In her book, Bodyshock, Liz Hodgkinson parrots Ward’s (and ultimately, Raymond’s), claims that transsexualism will never be accepted by the general public until transsexual people quit disappearing into the woodwork and instead live their lives as publicly identified transsexuals.

There is some truth in what Rachel Ward says. Change will not be achieved without sacrifice. The person who has gone totally undercover is not furthering the cause. He or she is not changing attitudes and opinions, not making it easier for those who come after. People know her only as a woman, or him only as a man, and so her pleasant personality, his good works, her good looks, and his friendliness are not causing neighbor Joe to say, “You know, these trans-people are pretty good folk. Just like you and me—well, maybe more like your cousin Luke. But good folk.”

On the other hand, are transsexual people not in search of individual happiness, and do they not deserve it? And is happiness to be found in public identification as a t-person in a society which is homophobic and transphobic, or in true integration into society in the gender of choice?

Fame (or, for transsexual people, notoriety) is all right for some folks—they get to go on Geraldo and Oprah, write books which they plug on Donahue, and maybe even get to be on the board of IFGE. To these few, loss of privacy is a small price to pay. But for every t-person who gladly steps into the limelight there will be four or five or ten others who are unwillingly dragged into the open, to be famous for five minutes— and for them “fame” consists of being found out at work, discovered by a lover, told on by a supposed friend. It can and does wreck their lives.

I have said in these pages that transsexual people often confuse toleration and acceptance. I maintain toleration is the best that can be expected if one’s transsexual status is known by nontranssexual people—by one’s neighbors and coworkers. Acceptance comes only with transcendence of transsexualism and entry into the real world as a man or woman, no more or no less than other men and women. Otherwise, everything one is and does is viewed through a transsexual filter. “He’s pretty short, but that’s not surprising—after all, he used to be a woman.” “She’s not sitting very femininely.” Things which would otherwise pass unnoticed become foci to be seized upon and discussed by others.

As far as I am concerned, the primary purpose of a transsexual people is to become women, to become men. Transsexuality is a whistlestop along the way. One is a transsexual only when in flux. When all is said and done, one is, as Anne Bolin has pointed out in In Search of Eve, a former transsexual.

Where, then, will change come from? Who will work to change public attitudes and make it easier for those yet to enter transition?

Well, former transsexuals will be change agents. It is possible to work to change attitudes without compromising one’s status. One can write under a pen name, give anonymous interviews, work behind the lines. By compartmentalizing, danger of discovery can be minimized. With care, those few who “know” can be kept separate from those who do not. A little such work from a large number of people would go a long way towards gaining acceptance of transsexual people. Probably most will not bother—but that is their choice.

Celebrity transsexuals will also be change agents. They are a small number, but their visibility is high. The daytime talk shows, for all their silliness and lack of taste, have done much to present transsexualism in a relatively positive light to the everyday American.

Those who have stayed on in their old lives will be change agents. By opting to continue in long-term jobs, to remain in their old neighborhoods, to persist with previous partners, anonymity will be impossible. By handling their transitions with dignity, they will have the opportunity to make positive impressions on large numbers of people.

And finally, those who don’t pass will be change agents. Those with physical difficulties which they cannot or have not overcome will be read by passersby, co-workers; this will give them wonderful opportunities to make friends and influence people.

To answer the question in the title of this article, no, all transsexual people should not publicly identify themselves. Some, like Rachel Ward, may choose to do so. Others may choose to work behind the lines. But the majority opt for complete integration in society, and there must be no outings, no being forced to wear pink triangles, no registrations, no “T” marks on foreheads.