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An Interview with Anne Bolin (1993)

An Interview with Anne Bolin (1993)

©1993, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (1993, Fall). Interview with Anne Bolin. Chrysalis Quarterly, 1(6), pp. 15-20, 52.






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An Interview with Anne Bolin, Ph.D.

By Dallas Denny


Dr. Anne Bolin is an anthropologist who teaches at Elon College in North Carolina and does research in women’s bodybuilding, which she categorizes as a frontier in which women are redefining what it means to be a woman. In the spirit of participant-observation, Anne herself is a bodybuilder.

Anne’s doctoral research was also a participant-observation study. She attended meetings of the “Berdache Society,” a fictional name for a male-to-female transsexual support group in an undisclosed Midwestern city. Her dissertation was published by Bergin and Garvey in 1988 with the title In Search of Eve: Transsexual Rites of Passage.

Anne brought a new and important perspective to transsexualism. Because she is not a clinician, her interactions with transsexual people took place in the real world rather than in the artificial and highly structured treatment setting which had previously generated the majority of the literature of transsexualism. She discovered that many of the clinical “truisms” of transsexualism were not supported by her observations. For instance, just as in any other diverse group of women, the members of the Berdache Society had a wide variety of personal styles, modes of dress, and feminine presentations ranging from ingenue to matron to seductress to business executive to earth mother. She did not find the exaggerated feminine characteristics and stereotyped modes of dress so often reported in the clinical literature.

In fact, when Anne looked at the interactions between caregivers and transsexual persons, she discovered that each party had objectives which affected the relationship. Caregivers served as “gatekeepers,” and transsexual persons sought to convince or coerce the caregiver into opening the gates. For this, they used a variety of tactics, including the stereotyped feminine presentations which have been so often written up in medical journals. The caregivers seemed to have “clinical blinders” which kept them from seeing what was actually happening. In fact, transsexual persons themselves often looked through the same blinders.

The importance of In Search of Eve is that it reframed gender dysphoria, enabling those who bothered to look to see that transsexualism is much more than a phenomenon of patients sitting in waiting rooms in doctors’ offices. Transsexual persons come in all shapes and sizes and they need not conform to the expectations placed on them by psychologists and physicians.

We interviewed Anne in the summer of 1991 at her home in Burlington, North Carolina. We began by asking a question which had been on our mind for some time.


CQ: Anne Bolyn was one of the wives of Henry the Eighth. Are people always remarking on the similarities of your names?

Bolin: Yes they are, and there is an interesting story behind my name. My mother gave it to me on purpose. She’s Italian. During World War II, she emigrated to England, where she worked for the BBC. She met my father there, and must have been impressed with his name, which was George, the same as Anne Bolyn’s brother, with whom Anne was accused of having incest. So she named me Anne on purpose. I have a picture of Anne Bolyn on my office door.

CQ: Who were your biggest influences in the field of anthropology?

Bolin: Oh, strong women figures! Ruth Benedict, who was truly a pioneer. She never really fit in with her culture or her society. And her very close friend, who also is a very famous woman anthropologist, Margaret Mead. Both have influenced me a great deal, and they’ve influenced the field as well. They stood outside their time. Margaret Mead went off in 1928 to Samoa, when women just did not do things like that. Benedict and Mead are truly pioneering women—lineage elders. They had the kind of perspective that comes from being able to stand outside your own culture.

CQ: As you did when you were working on your doctoral dissertation, which later became your book, In Search of Eve. You did a participant-observation study with male-to-female transsexual people. You studied another culture without having to leave the country. I know you talk about it in your book, but tell us again: how did you get interested in working with transgendered people?

Bolin: In the early ’70s, I wrote my master’s thesis, which was entitled God Save the Queen: A Study of a Homosexual Community. In 1972, it was not particularly popular to write about this subject. But it was the most incredible of times. I had the opportunity to be the token heterosexual in the gay liberation front. I was, I think, the only heterosexual in the front. It was the result of having a friend in anthropology. He would take me out on weekends. We would go to the gay bars. He assured me that he was not gay, but he had gay friends he was sure I would like; maybe I could do one of my anthropology papers on them.

So I ended up doing my honors paper in anthropology on the gay community as I came to know it through participant observation. It was his friendship which led me to pursue it for a master’s thesis.

By that time, I was getting interested in gender in anthropology, and I noticed that there was not a lot of information available. It turned out that one of my mentors, Dr. Omar Stewart, who is the expert on peyotism in the United States, had written an article on homosexuality. He had looked at the cross-cultural record on the expression of homosexuality. I also ran across a little book called Mother Camp by Esther Newton, who reported on the phenomenon of transgendered people in the gay community—ay male crossdressers. It was a fascinating account, and it started me thinking about gender identity.

I got into the literature, and found that there were some real definitional problems. Our labels emerge from psychiatric traditions, which are firmly rooted in bipolar Western notions of gender. There are two genders—male and female—and those are the only two choices. In other cultures, there are other, supernumary genders—alternative genders. There were gender options out there in the world besides just two.I began to think that it would be a good dissertation topic to study those who were expressed their gender in alternative ways in the gay community. I was originally going to go to Hawaii, which I thought would be a good place to study ethnic variations. There is a gender clinic there. There is a native indigenous role, the Mahu, in which a person, usually a male, takes on the characteristics of another sex. I thought I might find the Hawaiian tradition of the Mahu overlaid with Western conceptions of homosexuality and transsexualism. And in Hawaii, there are other cultural traditions as well—or instance, a large Asian population, and a Caucasian population. I thought Hawaii had fascinating research populations. I still think so. I think one of the things missing in this field is cross-cultural data. In terms of those who get sex reassignment surgery, there seems to be a definite white, middle-class bias—the people who can afford it get it, get it. What about our Hispanic population, the Native American population, the Black population? Where do they fit in?

The Native Americans are particularly interesting, because they have a berdache tradition, in which a person can become the other sex, when there are two, or a third or fourth sex, depending upon how many categories the culture has. How do our psychiatric categories work in such a situation? We need to consider cultural variations.

CQ: Do you think transsexualism is becoming a cultural institution in the Western world?

Bolin: How are you defining cultural institution? Are you asking if transsexualism might becoming a third category for humans?

CQ: Yes. Certainly, the term is of relatively recent origin, but most Americans have by now at least seen transgendered persons on television. Many have had some personal contact with one or more transsexual persons. Do we now have a new category, with a new set of social expectations?

Bolin: That is an absolutely fascinating question! It even relates to the issue of our stereotyped conceptualization of gays and lesbians. Are they also considered transgendered populations? Because the stereotypes—and the stereotypes are not dead—are associated with gendered kinds of behaviors: how people look. On the other hand, peoples’ histories, and how we perceive them, are important. So—do we have another gender category, or are transsexual people and homosexuals perceived to be “sick” people of their gender? Is there becoming an alternative gender category, or are these people continuing to be stigmatized members of the two categories we acknowledge?

If there was another category out there, that would be a very interesting kind of thing. We have only two categories. It makes absolute sense that there be a third category for someone who feels conflicted enough to want sex reassignment surgery in order to have the full experience as we define it in the American culture, to be a woman—which is to be a person with a vagina, or a man, which is to be a person with a penis. I’m just saying that people with vaginas are considered women, which is what Holly Devor discussed in her book. Could we in fact have a new category, or categories? We could have a third gender, or two alternative genders—another way of being a man, so that people would not necessarily go so far as to have the surgery. They could be social men. And could we not have another category of social women with penises? Could that be a possibility in our culture? I think not at this point, because we are so biocentric—hat is, permeated with our belief in biology and genitalia as the sine quo non of gender. And that’s what Holly Devor talks about in her book, and I think my work points to it.

CQ: Here’s a related question: Women’s roles in American society have changed. If you were to take today’s woman in her manner of expression and dress and compare her to a woman of 1920’s America, she would seem highly transgendered. Largely, the change in female gender role has been attributed to economics—the Rosie the Riveter phenomenon of World War II, when American women first entered the work force in large numbers. Do you see this kind of slippage occurring for men, and could it be done outside an economic context? In other words, with a sufficient number of gender pioneers and gender activists, do you think a change could be brought to the perception of what men are like in America?

Bolin: The Changing Men movement is a very interesting movement. The men’s movement is not a political movement. It is very different from the feminist movement. It is not concerned with dominance and power. These are men who are working from the inside. Their primary focus seems to be on the kind of emotional crippling that has occurred as a result of the more rigid stereotypes about expressing themselves emotionally. From my perspective, men and women have the same sets of emotions, but we learn to express them differently. What the men’s movement seems to be addressing is in fact this very issue of the denial of expression of their nurturing qualities. I think that a political statement needs to be made here. Right now, from what I understand, this incipient movement is composed of small groups of men who are learning to express themselves, exploring their relationships with women, getting in touch with the “natural” pasts.

Have we made headway? I think things are changing. We are seeing paternity leave. But are men taking advantage of it? We’ve made some steps forward, but it does seem that we have also taken steps back. There is a lot of regional variation in the United States, so far as men’s roles are concerned. I don’t want to engage in regional stereotypes here, but I do think we need to be aware of local climates, where we find pockets with less sex role disparity between males and females, and areas where there is greater sex role disparity. We have to look at these differences according to class and status.

I do see it is very difficult on a personal level. It is a constant struggle to have an egalitarian relationship and not slip into sex role stereotypes. An example is the Cinderella complex, where one waits for one’s knight to come and rescue one—no matter how professional one is as a woman. Those are things that many in the baby boomer population have grown up with. I think that for male persons, no matter how egalitarian they are trying to be, it is easy to slip into traditional male roles as well. Males have more to lose, in terms of power, and women have a whole lot more to gain as they proceed.

Is the feminist movement a threat? You’d better believe it. It’s a big threat. When my male students get concerned in my classes on gender and sex, I tell them. “You bet it’s a threat. It’s going to change everything.” But what do you get from it? You get partnerships in life. You’re both on equal footing. You can work it out with your partner according to your different likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. But to break roles down just because of some gender script is not the way to achieve egalitarian status. I do think that ultimately, for women to achieve equal status, we’re going to have to get equal pay. And in a capitalist society like ours, when women have achieved economic equality, then we will be a long way towards achieving equality in other areas. I think we’re in the process of achieving economic parity. We’re a long way from achieving political parity, but we’re making inroads. And as far as our somatic selves, that is the last area. It’s where my present research is going. It’s the ultimate area. We are denied what I and other researchers have called physical efficacy. We are on our way to achieving some economic, and hopefully political equality, but we’re still denied our physical selves, our bodies, and our ability to feel ourselves in the universe.

CQ: Much of your current research has to do with women bodybuilders, and you’re a bodybuilder yourself. How did you get interested in that? Why women bodybuilders? How did you seque into that, and what is the significance of bodybuilding for the expression of gender?

Bolin: My experience working on In Search of Eve was the most wonderful experience in my life. I have never learned so much in my life. I stopped taking gender for granted. I mean, you can talk all you want in theory about gender as a learned and constructed process, about gender as cultural, but nothing brings it home like living it. The people who helped me understand it the way they did created a whole new set of questions for me, about gender, and about the limits of gender, and about taking it in the direction of the physical self, and the relationship of the biological to the cultural. How we construct the biological in our society, and the meaning we give to biology, and the meaning we give to bodies. So when I saw this movie called Pumping Iron II: The Women, I found it very interesting, because in it was a woman bodybuilder, Bev Francis, who is the strongest woman in the world. They zoom in on her, and when you look at her physique, the first response—and I’ve shown this to numerous students—their first response to her is horror. She has the muscles of a man. In fact, my students will say, “She looks like a man.” She looks like a man as we in our society picture men with large muscles to look. She was a former power lifter, so she has very big muscles. So she seriously challenges our notion of femininity in this movie.

At first you’re horrified by her, because she looks like a quote “freak.” And of course the issue of steroids always comes up. Some of my students said, “She certainly looks like she did steroids. She’s a female taking male hormones.”

I thought, “Well, I know a little bit about that.”

I don’t know if Bev took male hormones, but her physique was definitely the kind of physique that a preoperative female-to-male might think would be one way to be a man, would definitely be desirable. And yet, as I listened to this woman talk, she was talking about just seeing how much she could subject her body to. And I thought, “This is very alien. I’m a woman, and I’ve always been taught to stop when it hurts. I’ve always been taught not to push myself physically. To get out of physical education class. To use my period as an excuse.” I had always been taught this, and here I was listening to these words. And rather than alienate me, Bev Francis really intrigued me. And I know she alienates my students at first, but as they listen to her story, they begin to develop an empathy for her. She’s truly challenged by the pushing of the physical self. That’s where she has really excelled. And she was punished for being a freaky-looking bodybuilder. In fact, in the show in the movie, she came in last. Dead last, and we are presented with several other archetype women, one of whom is Rachel McLish, who has muscles, but is very quote “feminine”. If you see the movie, you will really see some gender stereotypes being enacted here. I thought, “That’s anthropology.”

I had never in my life been in a gym. But I thought, “This is a very interesting idea. Here we have women who want to get muscles. Some of them want to get muscles as long as they are ‘feminine’ muscles. But what are feminine muscles? What does that say? How far is too far? We have these two archetypes. Bev Francis has gone ‘too far.’ Rachel McLish hasn’t.” I decided I would like to explore this.

Here we had men engaging in what some, including male bodybuilders, have called a beauty contest. Shaving their bodies, standing up on stage, and being judged on the basis of their physical appearance, not what they do. And in our society, men do, while women attract—culturally speaking. Women, if we look historically, have represented the adornment of males’ activities. Ever since the American frontier days, we have had a dichotomy, with males being judged on their achievement and females being judged on their beauty—which is why, in our culture, women and men are considered to age differently.

CQ: But you didn’t go to Hawaii. You stayed where you were and studied transsexual people.

Bolin: Yes, I stayed in the United States, in a large midwestern city.

CQ: Because transsexual people were there?

Bolin: Yes. Because I found them. It was wonderful. I was still working on my Ph.D. I was teaching sex and gender courses at a university, and I called up the gay community one day, and I put in my order. You’ll like this. I said, “Well, I would like some speakers. I would like a lesbian woman, a gay male. Do you have? I would like an S&M person. And do you happen to have a transsexual?” And they said, “Oh, yes, we have all of those. And we have a therapist who works with transsexuals. And we have some transvestites. We’ll send some people over to you.” And sure enough, in the course of two lectures, I had gays and lesbians, I had S&M, and they sent me over—I’ll never forget that day. I describe it in the book. They sent me over a therapist, and a preoperative transsexual, and a transvestite, and I had no idea who was who. I had never ever met a transsexual before in my life. In fact, I kind of pictured the therapist as one of the cultural women, even though she was the one who had been born and raised as a female.

I told them I was interested in doing my dissertation research on transsexual people. So they invited me to their group. It was incredible. I was terrified. I had no idea what to expect. I was sitting out in my little Volkswagen. It was freezing cold. I had on my bold slingback high heels, had to walk in them in the snow. I hadn’t known what to expect, whether or not to look like an anthropologist nerd. I expected something quiet, subdued, and I walked into this Christmas party. And there they were. A whole group of people who identified themselves as transsexuals and transvestites, and they were warm to me, and invited me in. I told them I was an anthropologist, and I said, “I’d really like to know what this is all about. Who are you?” I mean, the basic anthropological question: “Who are you? What are you up to? What is this all about?”

They took a vote to see whether they accepted me to come into the group to study them.

In this group, there were two identity options—transsexual and crossdresser. In this culture, we have ourselves transvestites and transsexuals. Harry Benjamin’s model of a continuum I think is an interesting one, although one that reflects the Western psychiatric tradition. When you study other cultures, you see that there are many kinds of options out there. In fact, different cultures don’t even define the self in the same way. In many cultures, genitals will serve as your original designation as a male or female, but in terms of whether you are going to be a male or female, the work you choose to do is far more important than what genitals you have. For example, there is a wonderful tradition called wife marriage—and I like to use terms like wonderful liberally, because I’m so absolutely impressed with human diversity that I just celebrate it all the time. There’s a great capacity for variation by human beings. And I think that should give us all a little bit more relativistic perspective on the world, to not be judgmental in our terms. So when you go to other cultures, you can’t even use the term homosexual in the same way. It’s a completely different kind of thing.

Wife marriage is well-known in African cultures like the Nuer. It serves as a recruitment strategy. A barren woman—and don’t forget the name of the evolution game is of course reproduction and kinship and lineage—so a barren Nuer woman who cannot have children can then take a woman for her wife, and she will become a social male, and will make arrangements for her wife to have children, and she will be the social father of those children. So what we have is an opportunity for a woman to become not just a social male, but a father as well. That’s a custom or tradition known as wife marriage. And it’s a very interesting and intriguing one as well. How does an option such as that affect an individual? She can arrange for her wife—and it does have to be arranged—to get pregnant and have a child, and then she raises the child. These people are considered completely good husbands. There needs to be more research in terms of what the relationships are like. In terms of gender identity—what does it mean to be a social male? I mean, it’s very nice that our researchers say, “So this is an opportunity for a Nuer woman to be a social male.” But what does that mean? How do the Nuer construct gender as a category around that? Those questions are still not answered.

And there are some other wonderful options. They show us the multiplicity, the many voices that can be heard, and how cultures will construct these options, and then into these options is fit a diversity of identities and behavioral styles, so that your culture gives you the option, and you, who may vary in certain dimensions in terms of identity or preference for role or behavior, are selected. Serena Nanda gives a fascinating account of the Hijras of India. The Hijras show us these multiple layers.

The Hijra caste originated from hermaphroditic status. For us in the West, a hermaphrodite is someone who is born with physical characteristics of both sexes. The genitalia are very ambiguous. Well, with the Hijra, here’s a situation where you have a caste for people born with ambiguous genitalia, but you also have an option in which people can have surgery to in fact become like Hijras. These people are not born Hijras, but they too can achieve a hermaphrodite-type status. And then you also have these other options, as Serena Nanda has shown us, with homosexuality fitting into the picture as well. Some of the Hijras engage in prostitution to make a living.

The Navajo nadle are another interesting group. They have hermaphroditic status. And it is a very special status. The Navajo people have a recessive gene in which people are born with ambiguous genitalia. These people become nadle. But both biological males and biological females can assume the status of nadle without modifying their genitalia. If you are born into the category, it’s on the basis of what your genitalia look like. However, you can become a nadle, even though your genitalia are not hermaphroditic. So you have male nadle pretenders, and female nadle pretenders. And these people can become nadle as well.

CQ: How do they become nadle?

Bolin: Nadle is a very special role that has certain behaviors and tasks associated with it.

CQ: So it’s not a physical process, like it is for the Hijras, who undergo surgery of the genitals?

Bolin: Absolutely not. It’s a cultural process of behaving in ways in which nadle behave. Nadle are considered to be really good at babysitting, very good at economic tasks that females do traditionally. They’re allowed to do many tasks, and denied others. They’re not allowed to go to war, as I recall. So it isn’t a role where you take on the behaviors of the other sex, but a blended role. It has some characteristics from the male gender repertoire, and some from the female repertoire. But it isn’t based on genitalia.

Now what’s really interesting is that nadle can marry and have relationships with either males or females. They cannot have relationships with other nadle.

So what have we here? At least six categories of people. Five. We’ve got nadle, which is your hermaphrodite. Male nadle pretenders, female nadle pretenders, women, and men. And the nadle and nadle pretenders are really one category. They have the option of being with anyone but another nadle. Navajo do not allow homosexuality. That is, they do not allow women to have sex with women, or men to have sex with men. But nadle are not women or men. Nadle are nadle. So I hope this begins to show us that our concept of homosexuality as we know it is really inappropriate cross-culturally. When we begin to think, “Well, what do you mean, the same sex?” I’m sorry; nadle are not the same sex. Nadle are something else. They are nadle. And some of them may have the same genitalia as you, but they’re not the same sex.

So Gilbert Herdt goes up to New Guinea—and these highland New Guinea types are known for hypermasculinity. We are talking about machismo culture par excellence.

CQ: With penis sheaths—

Bolin: —and institutionalized homosexuality. Where, in fact, every male in that society will go through a fairly long process at some stage in his life, where at one point he will become a fellator, and then later a fellatee, or the fellated upon. Are these men homosexual? We can’t even conceive of that. It is such a different experience for them. It is what all men do. Sperm is an important substance. Therefore, young boys must ingest it, so that they can continue to have it. They believe that later in life, women diminish the sperm. Sounds like football coaches, doesn’t it?

So here again, we have the ethnographic spectrum showing us that we have to really be careful with our assumptions. Even though our clinical terms are really meant to help us be scientific and impartial, they are bound up in our own notions and don’t apply cross-culturally because other cultures define sexuality and self differently. The self is an autonomous being, or the self is part of the group. And then you throw gender in.

CQ: What did you think when you started discovering things that weren’t reported in the clinical literature? You found that a lot of these things in the clinical literature just weren’t holding for your subject population. What were your reactions then?

Bolin: What I thought was going on what that clinicians are in a very special kind of relationship with the quote “treatment community”. As an anthropologist, I’m not in a relationship with the treatment community. I was in a relationship with people who became my friends, or I wouldn’t have gotten the data I got. And I hold that I maintained my scientific objectivity, yet at the same time, I myself was transformed.

So I had a very different type of relationship with transsexual persons than did clinicians. My field is anthropology. It’s a very critical and self-aware discipline. We are critical of ourselves as anthropologists. How do we tell other peoples’ stories? We don’t want other people to be exotic. We want their voices to be heard. But clinicians could also take that position of being self-aware and self-critical and stepping outside their own professions and analyzing themselves. That’s the only way we’re really going to begin to get a real feel and a real understanding for ultimately being scientists.

How do we tell other peoples’ stories? Is it better for me to take somebody’s narrative, translate it totally into my own scientific anthropology jargon, or is it better for me to intersperse throughout my story peoples’ own words so that the reader has their vision and can hear their words? Is that better, or shall I just translate scientifically? Well, a little bit of both. So clinicians could begin to be self-aware of their own circumstances—and I’m not being critical—but it would be interesting for clinicians, who are incredibly self-aware people, to begin to look at themselves as part of the interaction pattern. I think it would be really revealing. And they are doing that to a certain degree. The reason I got such a different perspective is that I was an anthropologist. Nobody has to prove anything to me. If you say you are who you are, I accept that. You’re not my client, looking to me for guidance. It’s not my position to decide to what degree are you conflicted, and whether or not the surgery is warranted for you. You tell me you’re a woman, and I accept you for who you are, just as you accept me for who I am. I’m not in that clinical relationship. I necessarily got a different perspective. I was a born female. I had special status. I had this incredible position in a group of people. I had this history that the members of the Berdache Society didn’t have, so that gave me a special status. It allowed us to have a shared relationship.

The people I worked with gave me my Ph.D. That’s how I see it. So what can I give them? Well, hopefully, I can give them a book that will help other people who are in a similar position by telling their stories and making sense out of it in some kind of way so that it becomes more meaningful to the reader. And yet, the peoples’ words are their words. When they were transsexual, their transsexual words are there, and as they become women, then their womens’ words were are, too. They gave me so much, and what did they want in return? They wanted me to help them with a history they hadn’t experienced. I was happy to tell them about being a female, and what it was like.

CQ: When you got into the literature of transgender, what was your first impression? And as you continued to get into it, what was your evaluation of this literature?

Bolin: As I got into it, I definitely thought that there was going to be some sort of model in which Mommies did it. A Mommy model, as it were. The literature of homosexuality claimed that mothers smothered their little boys and made them homosexuals. This was an early theory.

I discovered that transsexualism had started to get that theory attached to it. Mother blame is based on traditional notions of parenting, with absentee fathers and overprotective mothers who didn’t make their little boys into men. The mothers are blamed for smothering the little boys with nurturance and love. And so I looked at those models. I saw a lot of them in the literature. And then I ran across Richard Green’s work, and I was really impressed with that, because what he did was to look at behavioral patterns that went beyond notions of family dynamics. He began to look at culture and society. I thought “Aha! This is definitely an improvement.”

I finally centered on a social learning model—and you have to understand—this was done just from the literature. I had never met any transsexual persons at that point. So my notion was, what you find is some male individual happens to be born either physically feminine or to have certain behavioral characteristics that make them appear effeminate. Then they go through a career, as it were. And I don’t think this is all wrong. I just didn’t know how much variability there was out there. It seems to be true for some people. I do think that people get channeled. So you can see Green’s model being applied here. Somebody became effeminate, and their options began to be limited, they became labeled, and they found themselves in a trajectory. Little did I realize that this is not the only way to end up labelling and calling oneself and seeing oneself as transsexual. I didn’t know that. I didn’t realize how many transsexual persons out there were really good at being men. Darn good at being men, but feeling like women inside. I was completely unaware of that. I was completely focused on an effeminate model. That’s certainly one way of having your life and self of self given a trajectory, by external factors.

I came to realize that there are multiple ways of expressing gender. I would cite Ariadne Kane’s movement for androgyny as one option. I think that would be comfortable for many people. It may not be such a comfortable one for other people. And it may not be comfortable for the audience doing the labeling, for we really want to know whether someone is a man or a woman, as we define them in our culture. But I do think that as a complex society, we have the option of having complex layers and layers, complex identities that people can come into. And they’re out there. It’s not so clean. I really believe that we see these identities being much more of a continuum than I ever expected. For some, the option is definitely going to be surgery. Other people may not be so firmly committed. And the gender centers can help these people become who they are—help them to negotiate society—it’s very important to do that. Would you see that for AEGIS?

CQ: Oh, I think so. We’re always telling people, “Surgery. No one ever sees it. Who knows if you’ve had it or not? Don’t be so worried about it until you get the rest of your life in focus.”

Bolin: I know of a person who will probably go back and forth all their life. And this occurs in other cultures as well. In some other cultures there are options to take on another gender role for certain periods of your life, and then to switch back. For example, the xanith in Oman is a role for males, where they can fill the xanith role, which has been called transsexualism, but is not a transsexual role. Xanith is really another gender. And males can take on the xanith role and get themselves together economically, and when they’re self-sufficient, they can shed their xanith role and become husbands and men again.

CQ: Any concluding remarks?

Bolin: There’s much more work to be done. I hope for us to see the exotic in ourselves—not just the exotic in other people. We’re all the same kind; we’re all human beings. So often, we look at the ethnographic record, at alternative genders, and say, “Oh, other. It is the other. It is them, the exotic out there.” Hey, we’re pretty exotic, we Americans. We also need to recognize the other in ourselves. And that means of course recognizing in people who are transgenderists that they are not necessarily so other, either. That in fact we can begin to see our own gender interloping. I myself am a gender interloper in the world of bodybuilding, and I know many other women interlopers in the world of bodybuilding.