If I am a lousy feminist for admitting that men first made me feel female, I would be even more remiss as a humanist in trying to convince you otherwise.
Where I will claim feminism, so be it at the risk of ostracism, is in challenging the taboo on talking about sex change surgery. I prefer the term "sex change surgery" over the politically correct "sex reassignment surgery," since, when I look down, I see a body that was changed, not just "reassigned." Moreover, the euphemism -- misnomer, even -- conceals a question that the transgender movement seeks to dissuade us from asking: Are transsexuals transgender?
By transsexual, I mean people who undergo surgery to change their sex to match their gender. By transgender, I mean -- well, what, exactly, does "transgender" mean these days -- can anyone know?
One thing I do know is that, before I had surgery, I assumed a stance of militancy about gender. I got angry when I was "misgendered," or when others expressed confusion or ignorance about anything transgender.
The reason why was that I had something to prove. I did not, despite my protestations to the contrary, feel fully female yet.
And rather than face the truth, I unleashed this insecurity through frustration with others for failing to understand what I myself failed to bring to life: my own identity.
Prior to surgery I lived in shame. I walked hunched forward, heavy on my feet, instead of wearing life like a summer dress and opening my heart to the world. I changed under a towel in the women's locker room. And I sought out men who reinforced my feeling of less than, while I pushed away compassion.
Going to bed with guys who were into pre-op transgender women was really weird. Sure, I appreciated the chance to be with someone, to kiss him and to be touched. Yet their sexuality unnerved me: fixation on the one remnant of maleness on my body began to cause nausea just as the idea of fathering had. After all, I did not gender transition because everything was wonderful; I went through it because living in the wrong body was the suffocation of hell.
Surgery made a difference in everything for me.
A few months after my operation, during a discussion about identity and relationships between the sexes, my dad said, "You've graduated from being transgender. You're not trans-anything now. 'Trans' has to do with movement and change, and you're done changing. You're a woman."
The problem is, some men did not see it that way. (Nor do they still.)
"So, when do you think I should talk about the subject?" I asked.
On the one hand, I explained, I want to give men a chance to know me before my past drives them away. On the other, I should protect myself from falling for someone incapable of falling back.
"You have to figure that out," my dad said, suggesting that the conversation should happen before either person starts to feel emotions for the other.
So the upshot is that I am no longer transgender...until I am again. The point at which it happens varies in each instance, and there is no telling whether the difference will matter.
There is, at least, one thing that remains constant: the effect of being loved.
And here is where I will be a lousy feminist.
In love, all the characteristics of the experience that you would recognize come into play -- joy, passion, desire, infatuation and comfort in the world. Yet for me there is another component: getting to feel like a woman.
I mean, I have tits now -- I grew them myself. And they have indeed changed things, even if femininity is more than the outside and I am the same person within. After all, a different body attracts different people: I am straight, pretty much, and, as far as I know, so are the men I date.
Except for young adulthood (when my face remained androgynous and I wore long lair), I spent my life up until my mid-20s being identified by people as male. I moved about in male bathrooms and locker rooms, where others behaved as if there were no females around, and, in romance and the bedroom, all of my boyfriends were either gay or bisexual.
The world I experience is no longer the same now, which brings me full-circle to a question at the heart of the matter: when did you first know you were female?
Well, would you believe me if I told you that I don't know if I've ever known, since I don't really know what a woman is, other than a concept that exists outside me -- still, I know that I have felt like one, a woman that is, yet the way I know is from males?
I confess: how else can I have any idea how a woman feels, except through the sense of being desired, body and soul, by a man?
Intimacy after surgery has at times been a lantern in the dark as I swam through the night of transition across the river in between me and whom I could be. I might have grown lost without the men who helped along the way. They saw me as female before I did, really; they saw beyond transgender -- to me. And there, a place of potentiality, they made love with the woman they perceived.
In The Meaning of Human Existence, biologist Edward O. Wilson wrote, "The stories that compose the conscious mind cannot be taken away from the mind's physical neurobiological system, which serves as script writer, director, and cast combined. The self, despite the illusion of its independence created in the scenarios, is part of the anatomy and physiology of the body."
Whether transsexuals are transgender, is for me, a tautology. Changing my physical form to match my soul made a difference -- the only question is to what degree.
To be continued...
This blog post is from my mini-book Transgender No More.