RavenKaldera.org » Transgender Archive

Disclaimer: These articles are historical documents. They were written in 2000-2004. The terminology and vocabulary used dates from that era, and was acceptable at that time. The descriptions of people and their interesting customs are descriptions of the east coast transgender communities that I hung out in at that time. If it doesn’t look like what you know today, that’s because it isn’t. I refuse to rewrite these documents because someday it will be important to have them available for historical reasons. In addition, I do not claim to be an academic or scholar, and I do not claim to speak for anyone except myself and all the transfolks who have given me permission to speak for them, which is quite a few. Have a nice day.

Excerpt from Hermaphrodeities

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Hermaphrodeities: Chapter 10


    "Graceful son of Pan!....
            Your fangs gleam,
    The curve of your breast is a lyre;
            Tinklings vibrate in your blond arms,
    Your heart beats in those loins
            that cradle a double sex...."
                        -Arthur Rimbaud

I think that there are blessings and challenges in taking into our lives as men what we learned and experienced as women, as being raised and identified as female. One of the profound ironies I felt in my transition was a female co-worker who worried that I wouldn't be able to make it in the "tougher" world of men, and at the same time, accused me of now having it easier because I now had access to the "old boys' network". I thought of all the things I had been through as a woman, and how strong those things had made me....and that if I could make it for 30 years in the sexist world as a woman, I could surely make it in a world of men. At the same time, no one is giving a trannyboy a free ticket into the old boys' network.

The mystery I see is how to take that strength with us and into our lives as men, without forgetting where we got it. To be men and to live, with those experiences and the knowledge that we gained, in a way that furthers justice and equity in our lives and in our world, and honors our spirits and journeys.
                        -Justin Tanis, clergy with Metropolitan Community Church

This chapter doesn't begin with one single myth, because I haven't found a single myth that adequately describes the female-to-male transsexual experience wholly and completely. Instead, I find snippets, patches, tatters, bits; tantalizing fragments of story that I long to patchwork into a quilt to cover us.

In a sense, the FTM transsexual experience is even more a creation of modern technology than the MTF one. In ancient times, priestesses like the Gallae stopped the onslaught of their hormones with self-castration, but although there are many records of women who dressed and lived as men, none of them had access to the kind of surgery or body-changing medications that we do today. While a castrated male might occasionally pass nearly naked as a flat-chested woman, latter-day FTMs would have had to hide their bodies fairly thoroughly. They would have had to conceal such things as breasts and menstruation, and be constantly seen as boys through their more delicate features and lack of facial hair. Some might have been able to pass for normal even in carefully controlled sexual situations with women - certainly individuals such as Sean O'Neill, an FTM teen who was prosecuted for having sex with unwitting teenage girls, managed to do it - but by and large there probably would have been more limited opportunities.

Testosterone changed all that. While certain cosmetic surgery techniques have been able to help disguise the masculine bodies and faces of MTFs, a sizeable percentage still don't "pass" perfectly (not that "passing" should necessarily be anyone's real goal) and are still perceived as androgynes. Testosterone is powerful stuff. Its permanent effects bathe the bodies of those exposed to it young like an indelible stain, and conversely serves to transform anyone exposed to it later in life so completely that they would not recognize their future selves in a mirror. Nearly all of us FTMs pass perfectly as men, not androgynes, after the stuff is through with us. It's almost frightening, or would be if we didn't want it so much.

We pass except for our crotches, that is. Nine out of ten of us don't opt for genital surgery; phalloplasties are expensive and give poor results and we're all waiting for better technology. In that one sense, MTFs are slightly better off than we are - vaginoplasties have at least a decent percentage of success these days. In one generation, we have passed from being people who might be perceived by clueless strangers as masculine women to people who those same strangers would perceive, ironically, as castrated men. What does it mean to transform, not away from, but into, a penisless man?

Of course, many FTMs do not choose to transition, and there is a whole range of people who wouldn't call themselves FTMs, who live as butch dykes, boychicks, FTVs (female transvestites) and other folk clearly still in the original mode of manly women. If there's a single clear dividing line between us, it's the moment of the needle in the arm, the start of the physical transformation, and yet even that line is pretty fuzzy. Butch dykes like Leslie Feinberg, who took hormones for years and passed as male, yet who calls hirself a "passing woman" and accepts either pronoun, blur the simple concept of pre-and post-transition still further. The question still remains lurking in the back of our minds, though: Does someone living as a butch woman share the same spiritual mysteries with someone living as a penisless man with a female history? Do they share some, perhaps, but not others? None at all? There are no answers, yet, to these questions, but I'd sure like to hear them discussed. They are as ambivalent as the fluttering, swirling ambiguity of the archetypes I've dug up.

There is the Jack-A-Roe, the woman wearing the horned mask of the earth god, giver of ecstasy, recalling both the stone butch who gives her partner pleasure while sacrificing her own, and the testosterone-enhanced libidos of the frolicking FTMs in the recent film "Alley of the Tranny Boys". So many of the vaguely FTM deities that I see are extremely sexual in some way, or have to do with sexuality; this is from figures created long before exogenous testosterone, as well. Perhaps this may be related to the social stereotype that men have "real", initiative sexuality and women's sensual natures are more passive and dependent on the attitudes of the partner. However bogus this idea is in and of itself, it may have been internalized over the years by women who found their internal masculinity to be a freeing doorway to aggressive sexual exploration.

The Jack-a-Roe also touches on the figure of the cross-dressed wandering woman, since there have been several folk songs and tales of "hir", including the popular one performed by the Grateful Dead. Usually the woman in these doggerels lives as a man in order to be a soldier or sailor, to search for and rescue a lost beloved, or to enter a traditionally male trade. That "Jack the Deer" or "Jack the Stag" was the woman designated to play the male role of the Horned God in early witch-covens (see chapter on Baphomet) reflects the idea that such cross-dressing is magical. (Ironically enough, the medieval Inquisitor Jean Bodin was apparently convinced that male and female witches frequently changed their sex by exchanging clothes with each other. Such is the lingering efficacy of ritual transvestism.) The name Jack is curious as well; it is traditionally the nickname for trickster figures, "knaves", and the hero who outwits rather than outfights the enemy in fairy tales.

As discussed in chapter 7, the figure of Baphomet does indeed seem to be a figure with breasts and an artificial-looking phallus - one recalls to mind the allegations of Inquisition-tortured "witches" that the Devil's phallus was as cold as iron - and the few remaining ritual items linked to hir worship show not only Baphomet's androgynous figure but that of bearded women, wearing open robes and carrying caduceuses. There are certainly records of leather and metal strap-on phalli in use going all the way back to ancient times; a "passing woman" in Germany was executed for using one on her "wife." The satyr-god is always Giver of Ecstasy, no matter whether he is framed as Pan (entirely male), Baphomet (androgynous), or other creatures such as Marsyas or the satyrs associated with the Dionysian revels. (Indeed, the "satyrs" on pottery depicting such revels have not only enormous false-looking phalli, but suspiciously false-looking beards as well. I recall some sources saying that no uncastrated men were allowed into the Dionysian orgies, and I wonder.) Those of us who have issues with our genitalia may be a bit taken aback or uncomfortable with the idea of taking on any patron who is associated with sexual ecstasy, and yet here they stand, dicks erect, waiting for us to notice them.

For some of us, the testosterone-induced increase in libido takes the "edge" off of our genital dysphoria; suddenly any erogenous tissue is useful, whether it's the right shape or not, and occasionally we can even fetishize our in-between state. For others of us, the dysphoria does not abate, and the tidal crash between the feelings of genital wrongness and the looming libido is like being crushed between Scylla and Charybdis. The mystery, says the Giver of Ecstasy, is not about sexual denial. S/he forces the issue, right into our faces, making us deal with it. It is hardly an easy gift; the Horned God with the giant strap-on is no pleasant fairy godfather. Hir unashamed lust and pride - verging on arrogant swaggering - is something that we, socialized as female, were taught to avoid. We were instructed, often too well, that this was not a power that we were allowed.

Susie Bright wrote tellingly about how disappointed she was by the FTM transition of a butch friend - she perceived him as going from a hard-edged, dangerously sexy butch to a soft, overly polite man, and thus he was no longer attractive to her. For many of us, having listened for years to tirades of what women hate about male behavior, as well as sometimes getting the brunt of that behavior personally, taking on manhood is something we can only ethically do by rejecting everything we or the women around us disliked about men. In some cases, we overcompensate by becoming too soft, too polite, too passive, so as not to offend women (who we perceive as easily offended). We may be well aware of the double standard that arrogant behavior that is acceptable in queer spheres in a butch is not acceptable in someone perceived as male. Or we may simply have had so little training in being assertive - especially sexually assertive - that we may have no idea how to do it.

It doesn't help matters that in the sexual-appeal hierarchy FTMs are definitely on the bottom of the heap. Even after taking out of the mix all the heterosexuals who will only be attracted to fully male or female bodies, the only genderfuck seen in any kind of mainstream porn is MTF bodies. When the average person says "hermaphrodite", they are usually picturing MTFs. Although being pictured in tacky she-male mafia porn is hardly a fate to be avidly desired, the fact that we don't even exist sexually for nearly all of our society can be pretty hard on one's sexual confidence. When I showed photos of naked, post-mastectomy, extremely built and (to me) quite attractive FTMs to a variety of people, a number of gay men and heterosexual women were disturbed by what appeared, at least at first, to be a completely castrated but otherwise normal man. A few men even instinctively grabbed their crotches as if to save them from this fate. Perhaps if we weren't so sexually invisible, folks might have some kind of mental template to work with in order to consider us attractive and sexual beings. Perhaps we need to learn something from the Giver of Ecstasy about how to reclaim our swagger, how to flaunt our bodies with pride, to make them believe that we're really something worth drooling over. Certainly we won't get anywhere by being polite and retiring about it - except to get shoved even further back in the invisibility closet, that is. At this point, we may well have little to lose.

There is the troubling and difficult figure of the woman warrior, as well. "Amazon" is the word that is popularly used, but so many myths have grown up around that term for the last 3000 years that it is very difficult to separate them from the realities of any actual bands of woman hunters and warriors wandering the Anatolian plains. The ancient Greeks claimed that Amazons cut off one breast in order to better draw their bows, but there is no such evidence of this whenever they are pictured in ancient art. (Of course, most views of Amazons in ancient art are actually just excuses for the sculptor to be able to draw or carve athletic, half-dressed women, so depicting such a mutilation might be counterproductive in an aesthetic sense.)

There is some evidence, however, that tribal people of the areas said to be the original homes of Amazons sometimes pictured their deity as an androgyne much like the Hindu Ardhanarisvara, who is divided vertically down the middle with one side male and one side female. It is possible that any such mutilations were done to make one more like the Divine Androgyne physically, or (more likely) that the myth simply came down as a tangled story from the sight of such statues. Historically accurate or not, the myth of the Amazons has a powerful pull in our subconscious. By tilting one's head sideways and trying to see a transgendered aspect to it, one courts danger, for it is hardly accurate to label the archetype of the woman warrior as "masculine", and much has been done in modern woman's spirituality to reclaim her as just as feminine as mother and nymph. To assume that boldness, courage, and even violence are naturally the attributes only of males is to make a huge error. Granted, there have been societies where the warrior role was such a province of men that women may have had to assume other male trappings to get it, but that may or may not have been in the eye of the beholder.

And yet there is a segment of women warriors who did seem eager to take on those male trappings, not only as a way of cementing their role, but of embracing their masculine natures. From Athena to Joan of Arc, there is a magical tradition of a woman cross-dressing in male clothes in order to gain powers of victory. The skein is tangled, and the line between warrior woman and "male" soldier is blurred and vague, as blurred and vague as the similarly debated line between butch and FTM.

An example of a Native American "amazon", so to speak, is the Hopi Pohaha. She was said to be a woman warrior who was so fierce that she saved her tribe from neighboring enemies several times. Her name comes from the words "po", meaning "wet", as it was said that killing people gave her a sexual thrill; and "haha" meaning laughter, because it was also said that she always laughed gleefully while in battle. Pohaha exists still among the Hopi as a kachina, a symbolic protective figure created in mask and figurine, and like her M2F counterpart He'e (see chapter), carries a bow and arrow in one hand and a sacred gourd rattle in the other, balancing male and female.

Traditionally, the most frequent reports of cross-dressed female-to-males in history has been in and around the military. Women have masqueraded as men in order to be soldiers and sailors seemingly more often than they have done it in civilian life. One could make the argument that war has been such a guarded male preserve that it was the only way that women could take part in it, but this sidesteps the fact that many of these women became career military men - and thus career transvestites. Perhaps being a soldier or sailor or military doctor was worth living in permanent disguise, or maybe there was something else going on in their minds. At any rate, these women were not only good at what they did, many were very good, being given awards for bravery and courage under fire. Some were "discovered" only after having received terrible wounds. There does seem to be something very powerful about donning the (specifically male) warrior mask, as opposed to the equally powerful but less culturally pervasive female warrior's face.

One myth that seems to have grown up organically in the FTM community, such as it is, is the "typically" male story of the Great Quest. The Quest myth in general has taken a lot of heat from some mythopoets, who point out that in the quest stories that do not end up with the quester as King and Dominator, he inevitably ends up at home, finding in his own back yard what he set out to find in the first place. If that's the case, they reason, why bother to quest at all? It's just foolishness, a waste of time. I would argue that sometimes you have to grow a foot or two before you can reach the golden apple that hangs on that tree in your back yard, and until you leave home, you can't grow any taller. The experience of the Quest changes us forever; although we return home, we are not the people that we were when we left, and we can see - and reach - things that we couldn't when we left, and if we'd never left, we never would have noticed or achieved. The Quest forges us, and gives us the edge to be a keener tool for our own use.

The Great Quest imagery is rampant in FTM community....slogans like, "The Journey Begins"; "The Journey of a Lifetime", etc. abound. More than any man born with a penis, we have to struggle for manhood, a project often requiring leaving home and family behind, perhaps permanently, and creating our lives and support systems anew. This is not to say that the Quest can't be experienced by a MTF (or for that matter a non-transgendered man or woman), because it can. However, in this culture, manhood is seen as more elusive than womanhood; women become women at puberty while most bio-men wonder vaguely their entire lives if they're really "man enough". Part of the undercurrent of the quest is the threat that you could lose, that you could spend the rest of your life wandering about stupidly and never finding what you're after. If it's that elusive for a factory-equipped male, it may seem a galaxy away to someone raised female, without the benefit of naturally-grown male parts.

The man in the Quest story is sometimes a warrior, girding on sword and shield, but more often he is a fool, in the sense of the Fool in the Tarot deck - a wide-eyed, innocent beginner with the handicap of naivete and the resource of untainted instinct. Sometimes, the Jack (funny how his name is so often Jack) in question takes along the sword of his dead father, a sword that he is not trained to use. FTMs may recognize this sword, the verbal, physical, and strategic weapons of our own fathers and male role models; something we may have watched used but were not encouraged to practice with against our brothers. Ironically, in many of these stories, the Jack never actually ends up using the borrowed weapon, but has to outwit the enemies along the road, who are always better armed than him.

One interesting archetypal behavior growing up in the queer and transgender communities, and especially in their wide overlap, is the proliferation of female-bodied people who prefer to think of themselves as "boys" rather than "men". This seems to be especially true for FTM crossdressers, butches, and other people on the spectrum who do not choose to change their bodies, although there are a few transsexuals who see themselves that way as well. Men, they reason, are the ones who've spoiled the world, the authority figures against whom we rebel. Boys get all the fun and have little responsibility. (Ironically, my own personal feelings were just the opposite - to me, boys were the immature, and therefore dangerous, creatures who beat me up after school; men could be held accountable for their actions, or at least the police were more willing to arrest them.)

Being boys (or, as they are sometimes spelled when referring to FTMs, "boyz" or "bois") puts one squarely on that Fool's path, the Quest of the Jack who sets out, not for the warrior's goal of rescue, battle, or some other service to a goal, but to Find His Fortune. Girls in myths do sometimes go on quests, but it's almost always to rescue someone else, like the female heroines of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen", or the sister in "The Seven Swans" who rescues her brothers. Jacks and Fools have no such agenda. Their journey can go on for as long as it needs to; a lifetime if necessary, ambling from one adventure to another. As long as they are boys, they have the mythical permission to continue that quest. The Fool's Journey is less goal than process; a wild ride during which they gain skills and learn how to be better at being themselves. Sometimes it is scary or dangerous, but the Fool can make it through - as long as they only have themselves to worry about; as long as no other inconvenient people get in the way with their needs or goals. Transition is a lot like that.

June, 1994: I don't like the idea of transitioning; I'm afraid of it. I have made many excuses as to why I can't do it; can't leave home. They are all good excuses. No one could possibly fault me for them.

Then I dream one night that I am seized my a strange band of people. They wear bizarre tribal masks; they beat drums and shake rattles. Ragged strips of cloth and strings of beads swirl around them. They take me up a mountain on a forced march. Near the top, we approach a cliff, at the bottom of which is a great lake. The sun is bright overhead and I can see the clear blue water below...very far below. The strange people take a long log, a tall felled tree, and they push it out over the cliff many feet. They all hold down and anchor the end that is still on solid ground. The leader takes a big shining sword and throws it over the cliff. It sails down, down, turning end over end like a silvered thunderbolt, until it hits the lake and vanishes into it.

With a sinking feeling, I know what my job is. I have to retrieve that sword. There isn't even any promise that it will be mine afterwards, but I have to go down after it and bring it back. They don't force me, but I know it has to be done. I crawl out on that log, over the impossible drop, and look down. I will have to jump, fall all the way down into that lake, and live. Then I will have to swim underwater until I find that one item in the depths of the lake. Then everything will be all right.

I jump, I hit the water in a great splash, and I wake up. My first coherent thought is, "Swords! Water! Geez, psyche, couldn't you have been any more original than that?"

The warrior's quest is slightly different. There is usually little in the way of lightheartedness when he sets out; the mood is one of grim determination. This is no place for boys. The warrior is well armed and skilled; the test remains to see if he will be able to prevail against equally well-armed or skillful opponents. Usually he takes on his quest in service to some greater goal: a rescue, or a search for a way to save his kin and clan, those he loves dearly. Other people are depending on the warrior's quest to be successful; failure means suffering for more than just himself. I've found that this kind of quest is the sort of thing that tends to happen after transition, when you think that everything is going to be fine now, and then you realize that the battle has just begun. Maybe it's discrimination, or being beaten up on the street, or the struggle to find a mate now that you've redone your chassis, or finding a job with some woman's work history on your resume. Perhaps it is the fight against social expectations, or the fight to find one's own brand of masculinity. At a recent FTM support group meeting, several of the post-transition FTMs who had chosen not to have phalloplasties wanted to talk about dealing with post-change body dysphoria; the problem being that it doesn't go away completely, it just gets better, but still sometimes flares up. A new boy, just considering the idea of a change, heard them speak about their ongoing and permanent struggle and burst into tears, running from the building. It had not occurred to him that reaching that faraway personal goal would not fix everything, but only bring on new challenges.

The warrior has been through the fire, and been tempered, and is out to change more than just himself.

Another myth that at least a few FTMs found similarities to is that of the werewolf. In the post-Victorian folklore of this society, women are seen as the civilizing force, an idea that is present both in old-fashioned views that "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world", or "men always need a woman to look after them or they will behave badly"; and also in some modern feminist ideals of women as the "peaceful" sex. Men are seen as wilder, less controlled, having a less-restrained sexual or aggressive urge that might "leap out" and wreak havoc. Women are supposed to be less wildly sexual, more self-disciplined with their own aggression (or as just plain non-aggressive), and non-violent. I've seen this myth used both by women to bolster feelings of low self-esteem by claiming moral superiority, and by men to slyly excuse or justify uncontrolled violence.

The idea that men are more "animal-like" is also linked visually to the physical fact that men have more body and facial hair. This is especially true for Caucasians, who may have the strongest indoctrination in the aforementioned myth. When I did a poll of my heterosexual female friends, more than three-quarters preferred men who were hairless to moderately hairy, not extremely furry; in fact torso-shaving among men is becoming the fashion not only in the gay community but among heterosexuals as well. The women in question did, true to form, suggest that extreme hairiness seemed somehow less "human" and thus indicative of a violent, carnal nature.

When FTMs start taking testosterone, they often experience the simultaneous sensations of facial and body hair growth, a rise in aggressive feelings, and a spike in libido. Yet we come from an upbringing that taught us to repress (and if possible not to feel) our anger, to suppress our assertiveness, to value romance over lust. Ironically, although many of the FTMs I've spoken to (myself included) did notice that our anger was quicker to rise and harder to get around, none that I know became assaultive or beat our domestic partners. I have to wonder if the effects of the testosterone simply forced our assertive instincts up to a healthy level where we were required to overcome our early programming. I also noted that although many of us complain (or crow) over our enhanced, "rabid" libidos, we don't seem to be becoming rapists. There is a lot of fear there, though, around the twin urges of sex and violence; we speak in whispers about how it's difficult to rein them in, as if there was a beast suddenly leaping within us, clawing to get out.

An FTM friend came back from seeing a movie starring Jack Nicholson as a mild-mannered executive who gets bitten by a werewolf and suddenly becomes hairier, stronger, more athletic, more sexual, more likely to attack and rend those who threaten him, and gains keener senses. "That's just what testosterone was like for me!" he exclaimed in wonder. To my eyes, of course, he himself was still a mild-mannered sort, not the type to savage anyone in the park; this was simply an internal awakening generated by the mind-and-body-altering chemicals. "Boy juice", as another friend calls it, is an intense experience - turning up the volume on emotions such as lust, anger, and joy. I also noticed that it changed my sense of smell - for the first time in my life I could perceive specific bodily odors of other humans, and tell them apart by their scent. (The garbage can, however, remained the same.)

Of course, I have to lay in a disclaimer that the FTM chemical experience is a very individual one, and different FTMs will have differing reactions. Not all have discernable mood changes, a few will not notice an enhanced libido, hair growth patterns vary with race and genetics, and my change of smelling ability is by no means universal. Therefore, the issue of the Beast Within may not seem familiar to every one of us. On the other hand, I've seen it come up as a topic too many times in FTM support groups for it to be an anomalous experience. One single FTM admitted half-shamefully that he had been reduced to combing the late-night Internet for more and more "perverse" pornography to satisfy his new masturbatory urges; another one, married, recounted how the moment he came home from work every day during the tumultuous first year of his transition, his wife would send him off to the bedroom to masturbate before he was allowed to touch her, in order to take the urgency out of their later lovemaking.

It is certain that even if a specific FTM is not terribly troubled by said Beast, their female partners (male partners of FTMs tend to be less bothered by such things) fear that they will be. The single most common worry I hear from female partners of would-be FTMs is that "testosterone will make him violent and abusive". In some cases, I've also seen this fear exacerbate the problem, as the female partner anxiously scrutinizes every aspect of their metamorphosing partner's post-testosterone behavior and creates a climate of distrust that may trigger outbursts or withdrawal. The Beast Within is a potent visitor, even when it doesn't actually show up.

This is not to say that an FTM's loved ones are necessarily imagining all changes in his behavior. We may well become snappish or argumentative as we navigate our new emotions. Many FTMs report that they allowed themselves to spend a certain amount of time - usually a couple of months - indulging in a certain amount of "bad" stereotypical male behavior on a small scale, which gave them the "elbow room" they needed to come to terms with both chemical changes and social expectations. All report "getting over it", and that it made their adjustment period that much quicker. In FTM support groups, there is a certain level of understanding that FTMs have to learn about the more physical - and animal - side of things, something that they were not often allowed the way boys are in childhood. A term that has grown up to describe FTMs who transition at the same time, and support each other throughout that difficult time, is "litter-mates", implying a rebirth into a phase of strong scents, bouncing, nuzzling, and physical play.

Wrestling with the Beast isn't an easy task, especially for those of us who were not trained to expect it. Genetic men, it seems, are taught to deal with the onset of this chemical that makes our feelings so much harder to ignore by getting rigorous, brutal, almost crushing training that frequently forces them out of contact with all their feelings. This is akin to using a nuclear warhead to restrain a werewolf.....surely there is a better way?

The Beast Within lives in everyone, regardless of gender or hormones; he crouches in the trees or the tall grass of our DNA, with only one thought, and that is Survival. Anything that threatens him or that which he loves is worthy of fight or flight. Struggling for dominance and territory is his lifeblood. He is akin to the prehistoric ancestors who donned the skins and masks of animals in order to bond with, hunt down, and become like their animal brothers. When we meet him, eye to eye, in our psyche, we need to react not by trying to put him in a cage, which is the instinctive response of many a female faced with a male "monster", nor by attempting to kill him, which never works anyway. Running away is also not a good response, because Beasts of any stripe will chase you if you run away from them. The way to deal with a Beast is to speak to them in their own language, and wrestle them if necessary, and show them who is the Alpha - namely you. Not your politics, or your socialization, or the needs of your loved ones.....you.

Discussion questions part 2 (for transmen):

What is maleness? Physical? Mental? Biological? Social? How well do these things cross cultures? (If you don't know, it's time to do some studying.) What is masculinity? The same thing as maleness?

How much do you think that the male psyche is bound up with the physical nature of the male reproductive organs - the penis thrusts forth, quests for sensation, climaxes in a burst of creative seed, and then is limp and withered; the testes give forth hormones on a steady basis rather than a cyclical one? Not at all? Some? A lot? When you ask your biomale friends about this, what do they say? (If you don't have any biomale friends, try to remedy this situation ASAP. You will learn a lot from them, even if some of the lessons are hard.) How will you learn about the mysteries of the male body, and how it affects how men think?

Which parts of "men's mysteries" apply to you, and which don't? What parts of traditional masculinity can you relate to, and which leave you bewildered or cold? What sort of men are your role models? What sort of men are you repelled by, and why? What do you hope your relationship to men will be in the future? To women? To other transmen? To transwomen? To transfolk who have not yet or are not intending to transition? What commitment will you make to help your brothers?

What do the men and women in your life tell you that you have to work on the most?

Inner activity #1:

When faced with the Beast, first you need to learn his language. He may not speak in words. He may converse in gestures, or noises, or imagery, or just raw emotion. Think about what sounds he might make when he is triumphant, or frustrated. Close all the doors and make them. Then imagine that you are facing him down, eye to eye. Growl at him, in your mind. If he growls back, growl louder. Make yourself bigger. Do not back down. If he looks like he's about to leap, don't panic - leap first. Imagine getting your teeth around his throat. Imagine bowling him over, letting him scream and snarl, holding him down. Be patient. Endure. You are not going to kill him, you are going to wait until he shows throat, however long that is. If he fights you, just hold on. You can win this battle. (Biting a pillow helps with this exercise. Make sure it's an old one you can afford to destroy.)

When he rolls over on his belly and submits, however grudgingly, let go. Make a triumphant noise, something he'll understand. Then explain to him, in his language, that you are the alpha in this body. You feed first, and you'll decide when he feeds, when he gets his needs met. If he acts up, you'll put him down again.

Now that he's submitted, he is now your dependent, not your enemy. Your job as alpha is to hunt for him, make sure he gets at least some of what he needs, whatever that is, when it's appropriate. Don't neglect him, or he'll get uppity again.


(Gary Bowen is an FTM Ghost Dancer of Native American descent. He is also the founder of The American Boyz, a national support network for FTMs/butches/masculine women, etc., and the yearly True Spirit Conference for transgenderfolk.)

HMAD: Please describe yourself and your gender identity.

Gary Bowen: I accept the term "female-to-male transsexual" as the label the dominant culture puts on me, but it's not culturally appropriate. I am a mixed blood Native American, and each Native culture has its own terminology. Because we are mixed blood, my family has inherited a fragmented tradition and I don't know what the word is in my ancestors' language. However, I did grow up with "FTM" gender role models like my great-grandmother, a mannish woman who was described as "the old battle-axe", and "we always know who wore the pants in the family". It took me a long time to understand what feminism was about because the women in my family had always done the things that feminists were fighting for the right to do.

Unlike many transgendered people who reject their families of origin, I feel very much a part of my family, and the elders in my family accept me as a unique individual. They are delighted with my interesting the family history, and are busy passing on information to me.

HMAD: How do you feel about having a nonstandard gender role? How has it been for you?

Gary Bowen: It is a gift of the Creator. Creator is a hermaphroditic being, and He/She/It created human beings like itself; men, women, and hermaphrodites. In Native American English, the word "hermaphrodite" refers to people who are spiritually part male and part female. The hermaphrodites, since they resemble Creator, are believed by many traditional people (but not all) to have a special connection with Creator. The role assigned to them varies by tribe; they have lived and served their communities as doctors, nurses, counselors, foster parents, warriors, hunters, dancers, etc. Since this is a gift from Creator, it would be sacrilege to turn my back on it, or to denigrate it.

When I was young and didn't understand much about the world and didn't know much about Creator, it troubled me a lot; but the trouble was not from within me, it was from members of the dominant culture who persecuted someone who was different. Being from a culture outside of the mainstream, I can see that a great deal of transphobia is motivated by xenophobia; the dominant culture, for all its claim to be "colorblind", in fact operates on the assumption that the dominant culture is the only legitimate one, and it is colorblind only as long as people of color act like white, middle-class people. I have personally witnessed quite a lot of abuse directed at Native American people who assert the validity of their indigenous cultures; they are assaulted with a combination of xenophobic, racist, homophobic, gender-bashing language and exhorted to "get over the past" and to join in the mainstream culture. Give them some silver body paint and they sound an awful lot like, "We are the Borg. You will be assimilated."

HMAD: Describe you spiritual path and how you got there.

Gary Bowen: My spiritual path is Ghostdance...When I was twelve, I went to powwow for the first time - it was 1973. The drums spoke to me and I had my first Vision. In it I saw myself as who I truly was: a Native American traditional man. This was something that baffled me for a long time as I had no grounding to explain what had happened to me or what it meant. The beads that make up my hairpipe choker were obtained at that time, and I wear them with pride. Elder Native Americans remember how things used to be, and they recognize history in my choker. This is important because ever since "Dances With Wolves" came out, it has been chic for people to try and "reclaim their Native American heritage".

Unfortunately, you can't "reclaim" something you never had. I am mixed blood, I don't try to "reclaim" anything. I try to come to terms with the elitism, racism, culture bashing, mixed messages, and shame that I grew up with about my ethnic origins (combination Native American and rural Southern "cracker"). Each time I take a step in the right direction for dealing with my culture, gender, religion, family, or other issues, the Great Mystery reveals another piece of the puzzle to me. Four years ago, when I went in for my hysterectomy, I had my second Vision. I was standing in the hallway at 6:30 a.m., waiting for my chance to register, when it happened. I can't tell you what it was, but as a result of that Vision I pledged myself to the Ghostdance.

HMAD: Describe how your gender identity affects your spiritual path, and vice versa.

Gary Bowen: Spirit is universal There is no piece of it that is specific to any person or type of person. No human being can have a monopoly on Spirit, though many people claim to do so. What I think you're really asking here is if there are any rituals specific to FTMs. Rituals are the ways people use to open themselves so that Spirit can illuminate them. Rituals are not religion; they are the outward expressions of faith that we use to remind ourselves where we came from, who we are, and what we believe about the Great Mystery. Rituals are specific to particular cultures and have meaning within those cultures because they are the accumulated wisdom and experience of that culture.

An FTM has to grapple with their place in their religion, and to understand the lessons it has to teach. But these are human issues, not spiritual issues. The Spirits are not like human beings, although they are often transmogrified into a human form to help people grasp some facet of their nature. when Spirits look at human beings, it is like human beings looking at birds. Can you tell whether a bird is male or female? Most people can't. And generally speaking, it doesn't matter. When Creator gives gender-specific rituals, it is doing so to satisfy the tremendous importance gender and sex have for human beings. Creator is opening a path that people can follow to the Great Mystery - no matter how compulsively they are wrapped up in the activities of the flesh.

HMAD: What do you think that people of nonstandard gender have to offer everyone else?

Gary Bowen: An example of faith. Each of us has the ability - and the duty - to transform our lives in order to live in accordance with the Great Mystery. It isn't necessary to explain, or even understand how it happened. The thing about "mystery" is that it is mysterious. If we can get past the rationalizing part of our brain, then we can accept that there are a lot of things we don't understand and don't need to understand. I don't need to understand nuclear physics - the atoms whirl around whether I understand them or not. And I don't need to understand Mystery; as it unfolds itself little by little, my own understanding grows, but I can never understand it all.

This is the thing Native American elders have taught me; No one can encompass the totality of the Great Mystery; therefore Creator has revealed unto each people the rituals and ways of believing that work best in their culture. While they appear to contradict one another, and some seem more attractive than others, no way is superior to another. Therefore it is contingent upon people to examine the religion of their own culture, and to come to terms with it. Many people reject their religion of origin because they are so closely associated with it that they can see that people are imperfect. They call them "hypocrites" and blame the religion for hypocrisy, when it is only the inadequate understanding of human beings that makes it so. Disillusioned, they do not try to penetrate the mysteries of their own religion; instead, they look for somebody else's religion to see if it would be more appropriate. Being on the outside of that other religion, they don't see the bickering and conflicts among the people within that religion. If they learn enough about the new religion to realize that it is practiced by imperfect human beings, they are disappointed and move on to find yet another religion. But they will never find a suitable faith until they have the faith to believe that even though people are imperfect, there's nothing wrong with them. I doubt that anyone can achieve religious faith until they start tolerating human frailties.

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Disclaimer: These articles are historical documents. They were written in 2000-2004. The terminology and vocabulary used dates from that era, and was acceptable at that time. The descriptions of people and their interesting customs are descriptions of the east coast transgender communities that I hung out in at that time. If it doesn’t look like what you know today, that’s because it isn’t. I refuse to rewrite these documents because someday it will be important to have them available for historical reasons. In addition, I do not claim to be an academic or scholar, and I do not claim to speak for anyone except myself and all the transfolks who have given me permission to speak for them, which is quite a few. Have a nice day.