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Letter to Boy’s Own (1998)

Letter to Boy’s Own (1998)

©1998, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (1998). Letter to the editor. Boy’s Own (FM Network, UK).

About the thumbnail: Boy’s Own was the name of assorted publications for boys printed in the UK in the mid-XXth century. It was also the name of the newsletter of the UK’s FM Network.

I’m unsure if this letter made it into print.


3 January, 1998

Boy’s Own
FM Network
BM Network
London WC1N 3XX
United Kingdom


Dear Boy’s Own:


I am writing in regard to the letter by Allan in Boy’s Own #23, and its responses in #24, and in particular to the discussions about whether the FM Network should be for transsexuals only or should include transgenders, and whether the interests of transsexuals are served by alliances with gay men and lesbians. Of course, it is the FM Network’s prerogative to set its own membership requirements.

The 90s saw the same sort of dialogue in the U.S., with a resulting change of consciousness. The term transgender arose in the U.S., and seems to be radiating into other countries. It has had a profound effect on both the way most transsexuals feel about themselves and our relationship with the gay and lesbian community. While there are still a minority of transsexuals who feel that they have little in common with transgenders and homosexuals, most acknowledge both their commonalities with these groups and the importance of building a strong common front.

As an individual who is transsexual-identified (MTF), I would like to point out several things:

(1) The traditional model of transsexualism, as delimited by Harry Benjamin, won us limited acceptance, but at a high cost: We were required to be invisible. By believing we were no different from nontranssexual men and women, that we were merely “born in the wrong bodies,” and that all we needed to do was fix the physical self, we robbed ourselves of the essential power of who we were. It was a model that made it difficult to be proud because we were trying so hard to “overcome” our transsexualism. It caused us to fixate on the pain of our experience, rather than the joy. Just check out one of the many pain-filled transsexual autobiographies to see what I mean.

There were other problems with this model. It punished those who did not pass—not a large consideration, to be sure, in the FTM world, but a huge problem for MTFs. And it also imposed an “all or none” system: one was either transsexual, in which case one should of course transition, with hormones and top and bottom surgeries; or nontranssexual, in which case it would be horrible if one was to do anything other than remain as before. And of course for every individual who wanted to avail themselves of every technology, regardless of the cost to their wallet or forearms, there were many more who eschewed surgery or hormones, or both, and those who desired to change their body but did not because of fear, health reasons, lack of money, personal commitments, or religious beliefs.

Under the Benjamin model, it is easy for those who consider themselves to be “true transsexuals” to disparage those who do not profess a desire for those technologies as frivolous or non-serious or unsure of their identity. Several of the letters in #24 express this viewpoint.

The transgender model emphasizes the essential transgender nature of us all, whether transsexual or transgendered. It is an empowering model, for it does not require us to view ourselves as sick or unfortunate, and it does not channel us into sex reassignment all or none, but lets us discover the particular gender space that feels best for us.

Many transsexual men and women like this model, for it allows them me to be out and proud as transsexual, even if they are passable and capable of having a “normal life.” It enables them to say with pride that they prefer the bodies they have to those of nontranssexual men and women. It lets them live with pride and honor—most find their level of acceptance much higher than under the transsexual model, in which they would have insisted that they were no different from nontranssexual males and females, even though of course they were. Few nontranssexual males have XX chromosomes, after all, and few nontransexual females have XY chromosomes. But most of all, it lets them live without anxiety of being outed.

I am convinced that the primary difference between “transsexuals” and “transgenders” is in the way they choose to interpret themselves. I have seen many people come through my support group who would have traditionally identified as transsexual, but who, because of the arise of the new model, identify as transgendered. They go through the same processes of coming out, seeing a therapist, going on hormones, changing their names, cross-living, having surgery, and moving on into new lives—but without the hard edge of “transsexuals.” They have no need to insist to the world that they are “really” men or “really” women, and they do not seem to have the same need to vaidate themselves by insisting that they are different from (and presumably superior to) gays, lesbians, and transgenders.

(2) Much the same thing is true of homosexuals. Gay and lesbian identities are every bit as constructed as are transsexual identities. Many, and perhaps most gay men and lesbians have significant gender issues. Many will acknowledge these issues; others won’t, but usually even the casual observer can see them. The modern images of “masculine man loving masculine man” and “feminine woman loving feminine woman” are of recent origin and limited to the West; in most of the world, and in our own culture in the past, gay identity encompasses what we think of as transgender—see the films “Sunflowers” or “Ladyboys” for a graphic example of this with people we would consider MTFs, or read Radclyffe Hall’s “lesbian” novel, The Well of Loneliness, which features a character better described as FTM than lesbian.

I believe gay men and lesbians and transsexuals are cut from the same cloth. We all transgress gender—some of us by changing our bodies, some by our choice of sex partners, and some by doing both of these.

In the U.S., the idea of separating ourselves from the gay and lesbian community, and the idea that transgendered individuals and transsexuals have little in common have fallen by the wayside. I suspect the transgender revolution which took place in the U.S. in the early 1990s is now happening in Britain. As such, I consider Allan’s letter and the reactions to it to be healthy. I applaud Boy’s Own for airing all sides of this complex issue.




Dallas Denny, M.A.
Licensed Psychological Examiner
Executive Director, American Educational Gender Information Service, Ind. (AEGIS)