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Transsexuals Just Want to Feel Comfortable in Their Own Bodies (1997)

Transsexuals Just Want to Feel Comfortable in Their Own Bodies (1997)

©1997, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (1997, 11 July). Letter to the editor: Transsexuals just want to feel comfortable in their own bodies. (1997). Pittsburgh’s Out, 17. A Response to “Woman Trapped as Man” Or Unable to Accept Being Gay?” by Paul Varnell. Pittsburgh’s Out, p. 17.

Thumbnail Photo: The late Paul Varnell frequently wrote fact-free letters to GLBT magazines claiming transsexuals are ego-dystonic gay men and lesbians.

11 July, 1997

Out Publishing Company, Inc.
747 South Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15221


Dear Editor:


I wrote the attached in response to the “Opinion” by Paul Varnell in the December, 1996 issue of Pittsburgh’s Out. I hope you can see the way to use it in the paper.

Thank you.



Dallas Denny




Response to “Woman Trapped as Man” Or Unable to Accept Being Gay?

By Paul Varnell

Pittsburgh’s Out, December, 1996


By Dallas Denny

American Educational Gender Information Service, Inc.


The December 1996 issue of Pittsburgh’s Out contained a very interesting opinion piece by Paul Varnell, in which he postulated that many transexuals come to the conclusion that they are “trapped in the wrong body” because of an internal unwillingness or inability to deal with their homosexual feelings. In other words, their desire to “change their sex” is a symptom of their internalized homophobia.

It’s offensive when heterosexuals attempt to explain homosexuality, having never been there, and it’s equally offensive when nontranssexuals attempt to explain transsexualism. I’m sure Mr. Varnell’s intentions were good, but his opinion is ill-informed and in my opinion should never have seen print. Quite frankly, transsexuals neither need nor want facile analyses of transexualism by nontransexuals.

Mr. Varnell’s speculations seem to be based on his experience with a single individual. As the founding director of the American Educational Gender Information Service, a national clearinghouse for transexual and transgender issues, I have worked with thousands of people who identify as transexual over a ten-year period. Add one to that, for I am transexual myself. I can say with certainty that while Mr. Varnell’s theory is true for a few self-identified transexuals, it certainly doesn’t apply to most of us.

It’s hardly surprising that in a homophobic society, men and women with homosexual feelings might come to believe a change of sex would legitimate those feelings. And certainly, transexuals, like everyone else in this society, must come to terms with their sexual desires. But transexualism is not about who one has sex with; it’s about who one is. Many post-operative male-to-female transexuals—as many as one-third, by some accounts—have a primary sexual orientation to other women, and many female-to-male transexuals identify as gay men.

Mr. Varnell speculates that male-to-female transexuals modify their bodies in order to wear womens’ clothing. Transexualism is not about clothes, but about identity. Transexuals, like everyone, must wear clothing, and like everyone else, they wear the clothing in which they feel most comfortable. While some transexuals are erotically stimulated by clothing in their early years, this is a transient phenomenon and quickly fades. Some post-transition transexuals take delight in dressing formally—as do some nontransexuals— but most spend the bulk of their lives in sweats and jeans. After all, the most popular item of transexual wear these days is the black Transexual Menace t-shirt.

Mr. Varnell accuses transexuals of having abstract notions of womanhood. Transexuals have frequently been criticized—almost always by those who have little or no real-life experience interacting with us—for having stereotyped notions of manhood and womanhood, and indeed, some of us do. But most don’t. In a study of a support group of transexuals, anthropologist Anne Bolin found the same range of personal styles and modes of dress that she would have encountered in any like group of women. Certainly that’s been true of every one of the many transexual support groups which I have attended.

Neither do transexuals seek to change their bodies because of inadequate personalities, as Mr. Varnell suggests. Yes, there are transexuals with personality and character problems, but most of the transexuals I know are remarkably well-adjusted, especially considering how roughly they are treated by society. Consider: many gay-bashings are brought about by perceived “differentness,” and transexuals are the most visibly different members of the gay community. When transsexual women turn up murdered, as they do in astonishing numbers, the gay-bashing stats go up, for there are no trans-bashing statistics.

While every one of Mr. Varnell’s criticisms can be applied to some transexuals some of the time, they are not what transexualism is about. Transexualism is about making oneself comfortable in your own skin. Pre-transition transexuals feel little different than any reader would feel if he or she woke up tomorrow morning in a body of the opposite sex. It’s not the one they want to go through lives with, and they do something about it. They change it because they must. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.