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Disclaimer: These articles are historical documents.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.

Feminist On Testosterone: The View From An Intersexual FTM

Originally published in Scarlet Letters, February 2003.

That's a quote on a button that I invented. I am a poet, not an academic; a shaman, not a scholar. This essay has no footnotes. It is entirely personal, and therefore suspect. Imagine me, sitting there across from you - always across from you, not next to you, because you are not yet sure how close you want to get to me. Imagine me in my worn leather jacket, my old barn boots caked with goat manure, my plaid flannel shirt; clothing selected not to make a statement, but because it's easily washed after hard labor. Imagine the gestures of my hands as I speak - large for a woman's, small for a man's. They could be either. They are corded with muscle; the veins stand out on their backs. Imagine my green eyes, staring you right in the face as I speak. My voice goes anywhere between contralto and baritone; sometimes high and lilting and sometimes low and gruff. My name holds no clue, either. My shoulders are broad and so are my hips. My arms are long, and so is my hair. I do have a beard, so you're sure I'm a man, sure that my button must be a snide comment, a piece of misunderstanding, until someone tells you about me.

If you get any twenty women together who claim to be feminists and ask them to define it, and you'll get ten different definitions. Not twenty, because some won't be sure exactly what it is, and will take the best definition they hear another woman come up with, but you will still get no consensus. There is no great feminist Pope who gets to say what it is and who gets to be one, so why shouldn't I call myself one?

Of course, there are some feminists who will say that I shouldn't claim that title. I'm an intersexual, born a little of both, raised female and lived that way nearly thirty years, transitioned over and spent the last five years living as male. On one level, I'm probably their worst nightmare - I learned all the theories, read all the books, considered everything....and shot up testosterone anyway. If you see me on the street now, you'd never guess that I spent thirty years being called "she"; that I once posed for girlie pictures; that I used to buy maxipads and wear tie-dyed skirts. You'd never guess, until you know, and then you search my face while I'm not looking, searching for the clues to my former life. You'll feel strangely comforted when you pick out a few; surely no one could change that much, that drastically. It couldn't be that easy to pass from one side of the abyss to the other, could it?

While I lived in the Boston area, I'd get visits maybe three or four times a year from earnest young female college students who wanted to interview me for some paper they were doing on FTMs (female-to-male transgendered or transsexual people). They'd ask me questions, and I'd answer them as honestly as I could. When I answered a particularly politically sensitive question, they'd get real quiet and get that look on their faces that said either You're lying or You must be an anomaly. I'm sure the rest of the FTMs must be different. Maybe it's because you're an intersexual (read: circus freak).

I never lie. The truth is always funnier. I'm not all that different from every one of my brothers, either, or we'd find nothing to talk about in those support groups. At any rate, I never got a single copy of any of these reports or papers. The last few interviews that I did, I took down phone numbers and called to find out how it had gone. Without exception, I got the same response. "Oh, that," they said airily. "That didn't work out. I decided to do something else instead."

Granted, college students are flaky, but I had to wonder why so many attempts to research FTMs have fallen through, or at least not appeared. There have been some, certainly - Holly Devor's enormous tome of data comes to mind - but not nearly as many as there have been studies on MTF trannies. You'd think women, at least, would be more interested in people who started out female, wouldn't you?

Or do we just scare the hell out of them?

As a rule, most of the vocal much-printed feminists avoid FTMs. They avoid talking to us, debating with us, referring to us in works except for an occasional dismissive paragraph. We don't even seem to evoke rage in them so much as a panicked blankness, a glazed look, a quick change of the subject. We're just traitors after male privilege, all of us, and if they bothered to think about it they could come up with all sorts of theories about our childhoods or socialization that would explain why we are traitors, except that they don't want to think about it. At all. Ever. And they certainly don't want to actually look us in the eye and discuss it. I've actually seen this reaction in many women when I come out to them. They stare at MTFs, rudely even, but us they can't look at, they turn their eyes away, won't make eye contact. It's as if we burn their retinas.

So now I'll answer all the questions, including the ones that every Women's Studies student wants to ask and is afraid to. They'll only be true for me, because I can only speak for myself, but conversely I know that many FTMs feel similarly. And some don't, because there are many right answers to these questions. So take up the challenge, face me. Look me in the eye. Listen to what I have to say, and don't run away from it.

1. Why did you hate being a woman?

First of all, there were things I loved about being a woman. I loved the fact that I could wear so many things - velvets, brocades, silks, any color in the rainbow if I so desired. Men were limited to half a dozen items of clothing or variations thereupon, in half a dozen drab colors. I'm a costumer, and I mourned the days when both sexes wore lace and ruffles. I loved the concept of women's space, even though I was intensely uncomfortable with the "selection process" and secretly knew that I didn't belong there. Still, the image of the happy dancing women/goddesses/amazons seemed beautiful to me. I even got an admittedly unfair ego boost from being a member of the "oppressed" gender instead of the "oppressor" one, and I told myself that women were more politically and socially aware than men.

There were, however a handful of things I did hate, and they tormented me more than I can express. Eventually it got to the point where the good things (all of which were cultural/social) did not overmatch the problem points, which I list below.

Top Nine Things I Hated About Being A Woman:

(Disclaimer, disclaimer for all you oversensitive types, lest ye pole-vault to conclusions! I think all the following things are wonderful....on other people. Like nipple piercings and pink hair.)

1. Menstruation. Having to shed blood and have nasty cramps for 25% of my adult life - one week out of four. No way.

2. PMS. Yes, it's real, I had it, and I hated it.

3. Having a cycle - up, down, up, down. I like being steady-state, or as much as my hormone delivery system will let me. No more lunar cycles; I Sing The Body Solar-Electric.

4. Having to worry about getting pregnant when I slept with most penis-people. I did go through pregnancy once, and it was awful. I'm grateful for my daughter, but I'd far rather that someone else could have done that job for me.

5. Having breasts. Now, breasts are great things - again - on other people. Mine just got in the way, bounced when I tried to run, made my clothes fit poorly, and forced me to wear a bra or suffer pain. The only time I was grateful for them was the fourteen months I breast-fed my daughter. After that, I became completely sterile and they were useless. They gave me far less sexual satisfaction than they did trouble, so I got rid of them...because I could.

6. Being short. Well, this one I just have to live with.

7. Not being able to put on enough muscle. Before testosterone, no matter how hard I worked, I could only bind so much muscle to my body. I'm a farmer, and I like having the strength to do the heavy work around my farm.

8. Not having enough body hair. This sounds strange, but I really like having facial and body hair. It's soft and fuzzy and neat to touch. I was always hairy for a woman, and at first I was ashamed of that and plucked out my beard, shaved my body. Then my wife convinced me to just let it grow, and I did. And I wanted more of it. After T, it thickened even more, grew in all over my body like a halo of blond fur, an animal's pelt. I know that right now beards and fur aren't fashionable; that even straight men are starting to shave their chests, but it's what I want on my body.

9. Not having a penis. Why did I want a dick? Why, to have sex with, of course. Sure, you can strap on, but it's not the same as having something with nerve endings that you can penetrate your lovers with. Of course, phalloplasty being the not-very-satisfying experiment that it is, I have to deal with what I have.....which is more dicklike than what I started with, at least.

Many of you are probably wincing as you read this list, and you can't understand why I wanted these things, Well, I'm not entirely sure either, and I scrutinized my thought process until it was completely disassembled, and I dead-ended at this strong desire. That's one reason I think it's biological. Certainly a "loosening of social gender mores" wouldn't have made a dent in this list, except perhaps to allow me easier access to surgery on demand. When I'd point out to myself that I couldn't "want to be a man", because I couldn't be sure what "man" actually meant and did not mean, I came back to this list. I wanted to be a tall, flat-chested, muscular, bearded, hairy human being with no uterus and a penis. If that was "man", great. If not, OK. The label for that collection of traits didn't matter.

In the end, though, the emotional reason that I did this to myself is that it made me happy. I look in the mirror now and I grin like a fool. I'm at home in my body for the first time in my life, and that's worth the draconian measures. Why did it make me so happy? Damned if I know, and I've thought about it a lot. It's not about how I'm perceived; that was important back when every "she" rubbed it in my face that I didn't have the body I wanted, but now I don't care about what people see when they look at me. If I could keep this body, I'd live in a matriarchy and be the oppressed gender again. That's how much it means to me.

2. What about male privilege? Did you want it? Do you have it now?

Actually, the idea of male privilege made me shudder. What, join the oppressor class? Give up all that moral high ground? And for what? Being treated better in the hardware store? (Yes, I am, now. And in the fabric store, the little old ladies behind the counter wait on me last and look at me like I'm an escaped convict. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.) I had to give up jobs that I held that were women's jobs - not so much jobs that were socially mandated for women, but jobs that catered to women and that women wouldn't patronize if they were run by men.

The longer I've lived as male, the more I realize that male privilege is only what your class, ethnicity, and social grouping allow it to be. A white woman in a suit has a better chance of being hired in a corporation full of suits than a black male with long dreads wearing tie-dye, even with the same resume, penis or no penis. You only get into the old-boy network if you are the right kind of old boy. I've got long hair to my butt ("...hippie!"); feminine mannerisms ("...faggot!"); no college degree ("...ignorant!"); work a physical labor job ("...low-class!"); live below the poverty level ("...redneck!"); wear big boots and a leather jacket ("...thug!"); and I'm an out FTM intersexual with a female history ("...freak!"). If there's a male privilege club around, they haven't come knocking on my door. It doesn't cut any ice with the women in my life, either; since most of my female-identified lovers and friends are strong women who don't take shit. Some of them have passed as male in their former lives, and would laugh in my face at any abortive attempts at machismo.

"But at least you're safer on the streets now," I'm told by some women. Safer? This must be some new meaning of the word safer that I've never heard of before. Men are just as likely to attack other men as they are to attack women, and for different reasons. As a butch woman, looking as tough and don't-fuck-with-me as possible helped me get by on the street; women are generally attacked if they appear vulnerable rather than strong. Some men get attacked if they look wimpy, sure; an easy target is an easy target to someone trying to look good in front of his buds. However, if they really want to look tough, they have to pick out someone tough-looking and beat them up, so you're damned if you walk tough and damned if you don't. You're especially damned if you're a guy on someone else's territory wearing the wrong uniform.

FTMs in general are shorter and slighter than the average male, and that puts us even more at risk. As men, we don't even have the residual chivalry against hitting women that some men still carry working in our favor. One FTM I know used to be a feisty little dyke who got into the faces of people who harassed her friends; the harassers always backed off, embarrassed. After transition, he tried it and got instantly decked. Sure, you're safer....if you stay in the closet, toe the line, wear the right clothing, have the right haircut, move with the right body language, laugh at the right jokes, and don't get in the way of people who are actually doing something you as a former woman might object to. That's not safety. That's a prison. Step out the door of that cell and you are no longer safe. Maybe some FTMs actually have male privilege that serves them in some useful way. I shudder to think of the price of silence and fear they are having to pay for it.

3. What did testosterone do to you? Did it make you want to attack and rape women?

This is the one they never ask. They're afraid to, but I can see it floating around in their eyes. I wish I could say, "It gave me a deep voice, facial and body hair and a receding hairline, muscles, redistributed my body fat, thickened my neck, increased my blood pressure, and cured my depression, and that was all." But I can't. First of all, it's not true; the boy-juice did affect my mind, my emotions, my behavior. It started affecting them within twelve hours of my first shot, and I notice the fluctuation at the end of each two-week shot period, and if I miss a few days or a week. Besides, I know that they're asking about sex....and rage.

If you know anything at all about FTMs, you'll know that the testosterone increases the size of our clitorises a great deal. Mine grew to about the size of the end joint of my thumb and looks just like a miniature penis, complete with foreskin. To my surprise, my orgasms became twice as long and twice as intense. My sex drive skyrocketed - I wanted to do it all the time. It wasn't psychological; it was just that as each bit of T was slowly absorbed into my bloodstream, it affected the spinal ganglia attached to my dick, and made it get hard. It was terribly random, and had no connection to what I was doing at the time - taking out the garbage, riding the bus. Having fairly constant context-irrelevant sexual stimuli going on all the time is not something that women can generally understand or relate to, and I had to find ways to cope with it.

I started with jerking off. I'd never had any shame about masturbation (luckily), but before T it had been something I did once in a while in order to make myself feel good. Now it was something I did two, three, or four times a day to relieve an itch, so to speak. I had to learn to treat it like urinating; when you need to relieve yourself, you don't wait around and hope it'll go away; you go off and deal with it as quickly and efficiently as possible, and go back to what you were doing. I had to learn that having a hard-on was not an excuse for having sex, because there were just too darn many of them. I had to learn ways to think through them and ignore them if jerking off wasn't appropriate; I learned that violent physical activity can relieve them.

I also learned something chilling about my new sexuality - it was far, far more programmable than it used to be. Before T, my sexual interests were fairly static and increased slowly, one new thing at a time. If I didn't like something, I just didn't like it. After T, I discovered that if I could think about something heretofore not sexually interesting during approximately six masturbation-to-orgasm sessions, that item would become a turn-on in and of itself....no matter what it was. I could literally program myself in a Pavlovian manner to be aroused by whatever I wanted. I found this out by accident, after I inadvertently added a few new dishes to my arousal buffet without meaning to. When I realized this, I sort of sat in shock for a while, and then I said to myself, "Boy, you're going to have to be very, very careful from now on."

So in one fell swoop I learned the reasons for all those guys compulsively collecting porn on the Internet. It's not that women don't do it - I've met some who do - it's just that it seems almost par for the course with testosterone, a constant issue that doesn't go away, that you just learn to live with like you learn to live with daily sexual thoughts. Could I lift them out the way that I could insert them? Nope, didn't work that way. I understand the real nature of fetishes now, though; how one can have a mental stimuli without any psychological baggage, lifted clinically away from its emotional context and inserted into one's sexual template, a cold, blank erection that doesn't mean anything more than itself. I think most female researchers wouldn't get that concept because they probably don't have it very often (if at all), and most male researchers wouldn't get it because it's too familiar, the air they breathe and the water they swim in.

But the big question: Did I turn into a rapist? Nope. I'm still sane, still fully in control of myself. The T may have affected my urges, but it did not affect my actions. I can still choose how I will and will not express a particular urge, and the line between fantasy and reality hasn't budged an inch. This would suggest to me that when a man goes wrong somehow, it isn't just about what's giving him the urge so much as what's keeping him from controlling it. Testosterone may be a contributing factor, but not an excuse.

I am a little quicker to anger though, and it doesn't go away as easily as it used to. Time was, I would get pissed, do nothing about it, distract myself with another activity, and it would go away. At least I thought it had; the colitis attacks and nervous tics seemed to suggest that a female hormone pattern isn't useful so much for not having rage as being more successful at repressing it down to the subconscious where it can fester. After T, if I get angry, I have to work it out of my system either with a cathartic resolution or some kind of hard physical work. If I don't, I'll stay angry for a long time, sometimes even for days. It sounds awful, but I find it's actually healthier in the long run. Anger is the emotion most likely to eat you up inside. Better to split wood or run five miles than to live with it inside you. Of course, this is the self-observation I will freely admit is most likely to be altogether too subjective and personal to me, so take it with a grain of salt. The inarguable conclusion, though, is that I did not become more assaultive. Again, no excuse.

4. Do you really think that you feel like a man?

I don't know. I don't know what all men feel like, or if there's even a consensus, but I'm pretty sure that I now know what some of the biological realities feel like for most biomales. I've learned some of the mysteries, and they are found in the body and the bloodstream and the brain wiring. I don't think it matters, though, whether or not I feel like a man or a woman or something entirely different. I think that what matters is that I feel comfortable with myself and my body.

5. Why should I call you "he" if I don't believe you're a man, or call an MTF "she" if I don't believe she's really a woman?

Because it is about courtesy and consideration of another human being's needs. If your best friend Jane from high school shows up one day and announces to her friends that she's always hated the name Jane and has now changed it legally to Megan, and she'd really like it if you could all call her Megan from now on, and you burst out that she'll always be Jane to you, and you'll never, never call her Megan, you are being discourteous and inconsiderate. You are showing that your own resistance to change is more important to you than her feelings and needs, and you will probably lose her as a friend, and look like a jerk to boot. You can even keep calling her Jane in your head, but it's rude and callous not to at least publicly address her needs.

There is no appropriate pronoun in English for a masculine androgyne, or a feminine androgyne. The neuter pronoun in our language is reserved for inanimate objects. Therefore, by process of elimination, the only available and appropriate pronoun for a masculine androgyne (FTM) is "he", and for a feminine androgyne (MTF) is "she". To do otherwise is a blatant fuck-you, saying that you don't care whether or not you ever have any kind of meaningful communication with that person. Deliberately using a pronoun that you know will offend someone is no different than using a racist or sexist term to describe them. Either way, you are telling the world that they have no say in your public definition of them and the marginalized group that they belong to.

6. What do you think caused you to be like this?

I think that my transgenderism was caused by a prenatal misprogramming of my posterior hypothalamus, just as I know, medically, that my intersex condition was caused by a congenital misprogramming of my anterior hypothalamus and adrenals. I am something of a biological determinist, and this is a very unpopular thing to be in most feminist discourses. The fears around biology being destiny loom pretty large - not just fears of being dismissed as "biologically inferior", but fear around the perception that being "born that way" seems so irrevocable, so unfixable. As if we were helpless hostages to our genes; as if we had no control and could change nothing. I understand these fears, even as I look to nature to explain what I can't explain via nurture in my urges and feelings.

I also understand that this is not an opinion held by everyone in the queer, or transgendered, or women's community. That's all right, too. You don't have to like my answer to this question, or any of them, but it is unfair to assume that I believe this because I'm ignorant and don't know "the facts". I've studied a lot of facts, both biological and cultural, and I've come to this conclusion because it best fits both my own personal experiences and my observations. When cultural determinists can come up with an explanation of these that does not finally come down to my simply being in denial about everything I swear is true for me, I'd like to hear it. So far, I haven't found it yet.

This kind of fear of biological determinism was the template for the great We-Are-All-Blank-Slates-At-Birth mistake which has caused thousands of intersex children to grow up without functioning genitalia. The idea that one could simply alter infant genitals at will, raise to child in the "new sex", and assume that they would stay there is part of the Big Lie. In essence, the intellectual justification for cosmetically reforming these children was the far end of cultural constructionism - if there is no biological gender, then you should be able to raise children in the gender of your choice, and it should take, right? Yet again and again this is being proven wrong. Somehow, even when it's not told to us, we know. I did, and I changed.

I was lucky enough not to have been surgically altered, but I know plenty of IS people who weren't so lucky and are, as one of the few anti-mutilation surgeons put it, "hopping mad and out for blood". Parents are still told that IS children will definitely stay in the sex that they are assigned....as long as they are "treated like proper little girls". (95% are assigned female for the doctor's ease of surgery.) This puts pressure on the parents to reward stereotypically feminine behavior and punish perceived "masculine" behavior. I remember the feminine boot camp that my mother put me through, and the estrogens I went on to "keep me a woman". It didn't work, and I am not an anomaly on this count, either. It did, however, mean that I endured years of doctors refusing to help me with a sex change because I was an intersexual. To aid and abet me in this way would have given the lie to their lies.

Like John/Joan, the little boy who was made into a girl but still insisted he was a boy (and later changed back); like the many IS people that I know who get sex changes or live as in-betweeners, there is something more going on than just parental and social conditioning. Intersexuals should be another fertile source of information to most gender theorists, but again the research is not being done, and I smell something suspicious there.

Whenever people bring up female genital mutilation in the third world, I always bring up mutilation of the genitals of intersexed infants that happens right here in sterile hospitals in America. I usually get the same sort of familiar blank stare that I'm used to. That's different. We're talking about the mutilation of real women. Those people are just wrong. They're mistakes, freaks. They should be fixed, made normal. Obliterated. Made to go away so we don't have to see them, think about them. And, obligingly, the medical community does its best to do just that.

Often, some of the people arguing the most vehemently against female genital mutilation have a vested interest in there being two clear Gender Camps, Male and Female, with a big uncrossable gulf in between. It's that old human xenophobia again: Us/Them, Friend/Enemy. What would it do to modern gender theory to interview a whole group of adults who had grown up with various combinations of phalluses and vaginas, in supportive families, able to choose their own way? Probably something along the lines of what plastic explosive does to an overpass.

As much as it's true that many transgendered people have a lot to learn from feminism, it's also true that feminism has a lot to learn from transgendered people. For example, my MTF wife and I have one of the most nonsexist relationships that I've ever had in my life...or for that matter, ever seen. This is not bragging; it's simple realism. Since we've both been both, the ordinary assumptions of what men and women do in relationships goes completely out the window for us, and we are forced to create a structure based on our personal needs rather than the constant defaulting to older, unquestioning roles that I see so often in other relationships.

It's not that we have no old programming to defeat, but male and female roles and programming are so jumbled up in each of us that we can't "fit together" in that nice unthinking way where the brainwashing just clicks and you're running on autopilot and you can't quite remember, later, why you did what you did. We keep each other off balance, and therefore awake, alert, questioning everything. Thinking. Noticing. These things we have in common: are they cultural, personal, or something else? These things that are different between us; where did we learn them? People who are of different genders have a hard time relating to each other a straightforward human beings, without the gender getting in the way. I think we've come as close as it's possible to get to that. However, all the single-gendered people have this weird reluctance to use a couple of freaks as examples of how to sort out who does what household chores or who should initiate the nightly sex act. I can't imagine why.

There's a joke in the tranny community that relates to pre-transition transsexuals in the early "denial phase" of their life; the MTFs are all in the military, and the FTMs are all either housewives or getting degrees in Women's Studies. Seriously, I know so many FTMs who did the Women's Studies thing in college that it's not funny. I know, too well, what was going on there; for biowomen it's a way to learn about what being a woman entails; for us it's an attempt to learn how to be a woman, to learn it so well that someday you might actually enjoy it. After all, if you haven't gotten it from eighteen years of growing up, maybe college can teach you. When they finally transition, they tend to drift away, assuming that their perspective is not one that will be valued - or even useful - to their teachers. And yet, on top of this willful blindness around FTMs, I read one feminist writer mourn how she wishes there were any "matriarchal males" in existence. Aren't some of us pretty darn close?

You'd think that people who have lived as both sexes would be the first place gender theorists would turn in order to add some semi-neutral data to their hypotheses, but no; for some reason that just Isn't Done. Most seem to be afraid that they'd be laughed out of the Inner Circle if they said, "Well, I talked to a bunch of transsexuals about this theory and they said..." Yet our perspective is not only useful, it's invaluable, and it's being wasted. In order to study something you are immured in, you need to talk to people who have been both there and elsewhere, and have something to compare it to. To ignore us is akin to the researcher who wants to cure a disease but refuses to study creatures with anomalous responses to it. There's a place in that hell called "transition" where you are passing from one side to the other, and you are suddenly so much both that you are neither. For some, it's a split second; for others, several years, but we never forget it. We may repress it, but we never forget it. Some of us are living in that sacred space right now. Ask them what it's like. Ask me, I remember it. Some days I live there still.

We did not choose to be what we are, and we cannot unchoose it. But being what we are has given us choices, choices the likes of which you can only hope to imagine.

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.